Tuesday, May 30, 2006

All good books

All good books are alike in that they are truer than if they had really happened and after you are finished reading one you will feel that all that happened to you and afterwards it all belongs to you; the good and the bad, the ecstasy, the remorse, and sorrow, the people and the places and how the weather was.
- Ernest Hemingway

Monday, May 29, 2006

Last words

I've written an awful lot of book reviews in my life. Nowadays I write at least five a month for the magazine, not counting all the snippets here. I often notice a strange urge to use a word I wouldn't use in any other context - reviewspeak takes a hold and I'm off, describing prose as purple or some poor sod as insightful - memoirs seem to quite often be gentle, and if I'm weary or it's late afternoon and I haven't had a cup of tea lately, I have to prevent myself from savaging people with adjectives such as "compelling". (I used "enigmatic" to describe one of my characters in a synopsis the other day. For God's sake, I muttered, there must be some other word that doesn't sound like a book blurb, but had to remind myself that it does have a meaning beyond Mr Darcy.)
Anyway, Ben McIntyre has translated some of those euphemisms used in literary reviews - and nowhere else:
Triumphant return to form actually means "I was expecting this to be as abysmal as the last one, but it was only mildly disappointing."
Gnomic Baffling.
Imaginative Fiction reviewers use this to describe a book that they wish they had written; nonfiction reviewers use it to describe a book they do not believe.
Compelling I managed to finish it.
Painfully funny / sad / poignant / long Demonstrates the deep sensitivity of the reviewer. A health warning also attaches to any book described as achingly, eye-wateringly or heart-stoppingly anything.
Arch I’m not sure if this is funny
Detailed Has footnotes.
Richly detailed Has lots of footnotes.
Densely detailed Has footnotes, endnotes, acknowledgements, epigrams, foreword, preface, bibliography, appendices, indices, and marginalia. Translation: unreadable. qv panoramic, workmanlike, painstaking, extensively researched.
Exquisite sensibility Gay.
Veiled sensibility Closet gay.
He's had fun with this. You can read the entire list in The Times.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Queer thing, reading

If I read a book that impresses me, I have to take myself firmly in hand, before I mix with other people; otherwise they would think my mind rather queer.
- Anne Frank

Reading pile update

Just finished John Wray's fine novel, The Right Hand of Sleep, set in Austria in 1938.
Now, you know when you begin reading a novel set almost anywhere in Europe in 1938 that you will spend most of the next few hours or days beset by a dreadful foreboding.
Wray not only brings that to a climax, but he also leaves you there in it, quite consciously, as if there's nothing more he need say on events after 1939, and their probable impact on his puzzling but somehow vaguely unlikeable protagonists. There are no simple equations here: of right or wrong action; of political answers; of fear versus courage. Kindly old uncles are vicious anti-Semites. Jewish friends are too drunk or fearful to comprehend the new order. Lovers keep secrets, hermits seek company, pacifists lash out with their fists, Nazis charm and cajole.
It's an interesting contrast - or perhaps complement - to Iain Pears' The Dream of Scipio, which I read last year and which continues to play on my thoughts. Here, the ethical threads that run through the three narratives are summed up by the book's conscience, the philosopher Sophia:
We must be just, we must strive, we must engage ourselves with the business of the world for our own sake, because through that, and through contemplation in equal measure, our soul is purified and brought closer to the divine...
You see how its impact carries on? Wray's may well be the same. We shall see.
So now I'm in my post-novel slump, which may last for an entire afternoon, in which I feel bereft and abandoned (perhaps cast out is a better term) of the imaginative world I've inhabited, courtesy of good writing.
But I recently read about a wonderful new translation of War and Peace, and it must be at least a year since I read it last. I've never warmed to my current copy, which was purchased in an emergency: all names are Anglicised, so that Nicholas rescues Mary, which doesn't seem nearly so romantic.
It's hard to feel the same way about a pale and suffering Prince Andrew. Our plumber is called Andrew. He's a lovely plumber, too, but I feel a Russian prince really ought to be an Andrei.
And when you get to the dramatic moment when the bandaged general exclaims, "You see before you the unfortunate Mack!" my guy says instead, "Vous voyez le malheureux Mack". Luckily I know what he means.
I need a long, happy voyage in a book right now, so I'm pushing aside that demanding reading pile and climbing back into the loving arms of Tolstoy.
As soon as I buy a new copy.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Knock out

What I like best is a book that's at least funny once in a while... What really knocks me out is a book that, when you're all done reading it, you wish the author that wrote it was a terrific friend of yours and you could call him up on the phone whenever you felt like it. That doesn't happen much, though.
- J. D. Salinger (who never answered his phone)

Postmodernism is history

Well, there you go.
Henry Reynolds, the brilliant if controversial Australian historian, reckons postmodernist theory is old hat.
In a discussion at the Sydney Writers' Festival, he said that postmodernism had provided an interesting take on the language of history but "it just goes round and round, with lots of lights and colours and doesn't get you anywhere".
I wish I'd said it like that.
His take on the role of history, especially in schools, is also interesting - as usual. You can read more about it here.

Reviews trickling in

Here are extracts from a couple of recent reviews of Ocean Without End:
"Lily Swann's transformation from slave to pirate princess as she searches for her father ... is surprisingly believable. Set off Santa Lucia, near Malta, the swashbuckling story also carries a palatable dose of history."
- Ann Packer, Dominion Post

"...A good narrative for either sex to get their teeth into. It is well-assembled in a young person's (not to say children's) sense, with sentences and paragraphs structured to meet the target audience.
... But an Enid Blyton tale this is not... There's a bit of everything thrown in - drama, violence, escape - as is required with a young person's read, but the yarn will keep them up to finish it. And then they'll want the next in the series. A good stimulus to get them reading.
If you give Ocean Without End to your offspring, remember to set the alarm on school mornings."
- Christine Jordan, Greymouth Star

Friday, May 26, 2006


It's the last day of my two weeks off work: next Monday, it'll be up at sparrow's fart, shoes on feet, hair combed, and back to the office to churn out another fabulous edition of the magazine.
So I should be writing like a demon but I'm not.
It's not that I'm stuck so much as bewildered. I have several things I ought to be doing next and I can't settle into any of them. I also need to get stuck into my coursework for the Children's Lit diploma - and I did, yesterday - but it's just yet another item on the list of urgent priorities.
The thing is, I'm dying to get into research for a completely new book, but not sure I should start it yet. It's not the next thing in the queue. But it's just all so fascinating - set in a place and a time and a community that I am desperate to understand better.
Oh what the hell. Where's that encyclopaedia?
[Tears up list of urgent tasks.]
I'm going to curse myself next week when I can't do any of these things. Not enough time in the week.
In the meantime, when in doubt ... Eat lunch.

[Update - the next day - wrote like a demon until late last night. Awake half the night writing in my head. I guess all I needed was food.]

Dipping in

There are books so alive that you're always afraid that while you weren't reading, the book has gone and changed, has shifted like a river; while you went on living, it went on living too, and like a river moved on and moved away.
No one has stepped twice into the same river.
But did anyone ever step twice into the same book?

- Marina Tsvetaeva

Tips from the top: Diana Wynne Jones on writing

Found a marvellous article from the eminently sensible Diana Wynne Jones on how to write stories. It's aimed at young writers but, as they say on the infomercials, there's something here for everyone.
My favourite tip:
Some people get stiff and unhappy writing because they think they can’t manage to write how it feels to have an adventure, or to be in the middle of very fast, exciting action. This is nonsense. Everyone knows.
What you have to do, if you are stuck this way, is to stop thinking in words and then shut your eyes and think how it would be if you were the one having the adventure, falling down the cliff or being attacked by a vampire, or whatever.
You'll know at once. Then you simply put down what you know. It may come out queer, but queer is good where actions and feelings are concerned.
Read the rest on her website.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

The new black

Apparently historical fiction is the flavour of the month (just as "adventure is the new fantasy" in children's lit). A happy juncture for some of us, but what's it about?
One could argue that a certain style of historical fiction, perhaps kicked off by I, Claudius and hovering in the space between Robert Graves and Georgette Heyer, has never gone out of fashion and indeed includes many best sellers of the last thirty years.
Pipes and Timbrels delved a little into this apparent rebirth in a recent edition, citing Shakespearean scholar Martha Tuck Rozett's essay "Constructing a world: how postmodern historical fiction reimagines the past", on the latest generation of historical fiction writers:
What they share with the new historicists - and what distinguishes their novels from traditional or classic historical fictions and allies them with postmodern fictions - are a resistance to old certainties about what happened and why; a recognition of the subjectivity, the uncertainty, the multiplicity of truths inherent in any account of past events, and a disjunctive, self-conscious narrative, frequently produced by eccentric and/or multiple narrating voices.
Clearly this applies more to Geraldine Brooks and Julian Barnes than to Bernard Cornwell, but writers such as EL Doctorow and Laurence Durrell were doing interesting and new things with modern history way before anyone barthed up (sorry) post-modernism.
I'd suggest that the new directions in history writing in general (fact or fiction) are based more in post-war and more specifically post-Cold War cultural uncertainty, greater access to archival information, the impact of modern history and particularly war, influences from fields as diverse as psychology and forensics, broader international dialogue between writers and researchers in history and archaeology, and new forms of writing that pre-date post-modernist theory.
That, too, has been a recent influence, but it is not the only nor the most significant one.
It's all part of the same wave, if you like, currents heading off in different directions, overlapping and clashing and sometimes drowning each other out.
I just made that up, but I'll call it a theory.

Or north, as the case may be

I read, much of the night, and go south in the winter.
- TS Eliot

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

This poem will save your life

Daisy Goodwin, in The Times, reckons a poem's as good as a lifebelt - or maybe a Valium.
"Poetry has got me through innumerable waiting rooms, traffic jams and airport lounges. It has soothed fractious children, diverted broken-hearted friends and made romantic points.
Patrick Leigh Fermor, author of A Time of Gifts, recited The Odyssey to himself as he walked across Europe; Brian Keenan used the poetry of Pablo Neruda as his touchstone during his long incarceration as a hostage in Lebanon..."

[Daisy clearly hasn't read his travel book about horse-riding across half of South America with fellow hostage John McCarthy, where Keenan bores everyone senseless with recitations. But I digress.]
"Everyone should have at least 10 poems that they can access at any time - building up a mental playlist of poems is a protection against boredom, mental atrophy, and you will never be at a loss when the batteries on your iPod finally run out. In an age of brandwashing, where advertising jingles and TV catchphrases stick in your mind, the ultimate luxury is to have what Coleridge called "the best words in the best order" always accessible."

Quite right, too.
Unfortunately the only thing that ever pops into my head in times of crisis is the Lord's Prayer, which isn't much help since I retract any semblance of faith as soon as the plane rights itself or the shark turns out to be a bit of kelp.
And she doesn't say anything about the agony of trying to remember what comes after the lines you know well:
In my wild erratic fancy visions come to me of Clancy
Gone a-droving 'down the Cooper' where the Western drovers go;
As the stock are slowly stringing, Clancy rides behind them singing,
For the drover's life has pleasures that the townsfolk never know.
And the bush hath friends to meet him, and their kindly voices greet him
In the murmur of the breezes and the river on its bars,
And he sees the vision splendid of the sunlit plains extended,
And at night the wond'rous glory of the everlasting stars.

I was awake for hours the other night, trying to locate the missing bits stowed somewhere in my memory. "I am sitting in my dingy little office/Where a... something something something."
But in less stressful moments, when life is not threatened and memory seems not to be utterly fading, it is as lovely to be able to run Sunne Rising lightly over the braincells as it is to sing Nessun Dorna at the top of my voice in the car when nobody can hear.
And believe me, nobody would want to.
Which reminds me, why do people on public transport sing along out loud with their iPods? Are they so transported they have no concept of the cringing world around them? It seems to happen much more than it used to with mere Walkman (Walkmen?). There's a thesis in that somewhere.
And why do they only ever sing the last few words of each line? A woman on the ferry the other day chorused "Oh yeah" over and over for what felt like 20 minutes. (It could have been worse: she might have sung, "Something something something - oh yeah".)
Oh for the days when people whispered a few verses of Browning silently behind a book.

Pleasure palaces

Book lovers will understand me, and they will know too that part of the pleasure of a library lies in its very existence.
- Jan Morris

Love libraries (mostly)

The Guardian reports that JK Rowling, Salman Rushdie, Irvine Welsh and Jacqueline Wilson are among 150 authors who have pledged to help galvanise support for public libraries in the UK and combat their growing image problem. It's part of the Love Libraries campaign, launched this month.
Rowling compared libraries to the World-Between-The-Worlds from CS Lewis's Narnia books, "where visitors could enter a thousand different worlds by jumping into different pools".
"When I got my eldest daughter a library card I felt as though I had bought her citizenship of that same fabulous world," she said.
Rushdie focused on the potential libraries have for disseminating ideas, saying "if knowledge is power, then the public library system gives that power to anyone who wants it."
But a recent UK study shows that 42% of adults haven't visited their local library in the past two years.
That doesn't necessarily mean people aren't reading. I hadn't visited a library for years and years - not since I stopped studying - but had to start all over again to research historical details for my books.
Even though the Auckland City Library's collection of material on Malta, for example, is limited (not a lot of call for it here, of course) it's quite good on ships and maritime history. And it does always seem full of people.
But don't start me on that library. I only love it on principal; in reality the relationship has soured. The Central Library has taken its entire Children's Literature Reference Collection out of general circulation and carefully stored it in "The Basement". Just when I started studying again. Sorry if I've mentioned this before, but it drives me crazy.
You can't browse or flick - and flicking, as we all know, can lead to the most sublime flights of fancy or blindingly brilliant ideas. But no. Flicking, fancy and flight are not allowed. Now you have to ask for a specific title and wait for the ever-patient staff to bring the book out of its hiding hole. Then, usually, you can't borrow it to actually read - it has to go back to The Basement.
Maybe if they didn't call it The Basement it wouldn't seem quite so sad and dark and lonely. The traditional "stack" always seems like a much friendlier place for books to be stored, as if they might be cosying up to each other, and partying when the lights go out. You can imagine Simon Schama interrogating Tolstoy, Pinter haranguing Hardy, and Margaret Mead scribbling it all down.
The Basement sounds as if it were a lost and found department, with books sitting about sulking, damply and dimly, like wallflowers at a dance wishing someone would ask for the next polka.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Winterson on wily words

After her neighbour's washing machine "gave up the goat", a bone idol Jeanette Winterson had to come to terms with the fact that there is no such thing as a damp squid.
Don't try working it out: you can read it here.

Out of the closet

Books, books, books had found the secret of a garret-room piled high with cases in my father's name; Piled high, packed large - where, creeping in and out among the giant fossils of my past, like some small nimble mouse between the ribs of a mastodon, I nibbled here and there at this or that box, pulling through the gap, in heats of terror, haste, victorious joy, the first book first.
And how I felt it beat under my pillow, in the morning's dark.
An hour before the sun would let me read!
My books!

- Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Book crossings

That new bookcase is full already.
Where do all those books come from?
I don't know how they get here at all, given that the posties seem to have lost not one but two parcels sent here this month. It's an emergency. I'm an addict. I must have my parcels. And fast.
Anyway, at least my lovely old set of Encyclopaedia Britannica is now on proper shelves, which only means I spend even more time learning vital things about subjects I never previously considered. I've never had a proper encyclopaedia before. It's terribly exciting. At every opening, there's a new story idea.
No time for reading.
But I just finished the last few niggling bits and pieces on my new manuscript. I think.
No rest for the wicked. Now it's on to the next one - on a topic which, you'll be amazed to learn, I stumbled across in the encyclopaedia.

A few new reviews

Here are extracts from a few more reviews of Ocean Without End:
"Captain de Diablo is bad enough, but he's being controlled by a mysterious man called Hussein Reis, an Irishman turned Turkish pirate. There are battles and adventures galore, resulting in Lily becoming navigator on a small ship crewed by likeable rogues. Lily is rather too mature and confident for her age - but hey, it's a pirate story. Young female readers will probably love a heroine who bosses grown men around."
- Lorraine Orman

"While some of Lily's exploits seem a touch unbelievable (how did a twelve year old learn to sword fight so well?) the book is fast-moving and fun, and exactly what many a twelve year old secretly dreams."
- Lois Huston, Storylines All At Sea Booklist

"All the romance of the exotic, in the great Victorian tradition of swashbuckling adventure, is here writ large... There must still be room in a curriculum where often literature is bent to pedagogic and ideological ends, to revel in an adventure of 'otherness', to weave a tale about an exotic past replete with characters both eccentric and mysterious."
- John McKenzie, Talespinner.

By the way, the Storylines themed booklists are terrific, and you can download them here, or have them posted to you if you join the organisation (the Children's Literature Foundation of NZ). The Storylines Festival kicks off next month.
Talespinner is the critical journal of children's literature produced by Christchurch College of Education.
A few people have asked about the swordfighting business, so all I can say is that I started fencing when I was eleven, trained nearly every day, and by the time I was twelve I had quadriceps like a rugby front-rower and I could have beaten any clumsy old pirate or sailor.
They never practised. Didn't have a clue. Preferred to bonk people on the head with a lump of wood. Errol Flynn was nowhere to be seen. It drove Hornblower crazy.
There's more about that in the second Swashbuckler book, The Pirate's Revenge.
Fencing, I mean, not The Horn (incidentally now back on UK TV in all his gorgeous knicker-bockered glory).

Monday, May 22, 2006

On historical fiction

Here's a mini-essay I wrote for the latest issue of Magpies journal, on writing historical fiction (you have to scroll down, but on the way read the wise words of Jackie French and Catherine Jinks on the matter).

Into what?

She is too fond of books, and it has turned her brain.
- Louisa May Alcott (1873)

My conspiracy theory

So this morning's paper brings revelations of yet another brilliant literary expose: TE Lawrence just pretended to have been sexually assaulted while in custody, and wrote about it in The Seven Pillars of Wisdom to get back at a political enemy of Faisal.
As you do.
What a crock.
Last month Shakespeare's plays were written by ... well, actually I can't remember now, there's a new Shakespeare theory every month. Maybe it was Elizabeth or the Duke of Norfolk or Henry V. Anyone with a lace collar. Can't have been Lady Jane Grey. But whoever it was, it wasn't Shakespeare. Might have been Wilbur Smith. I'm not sure.
It's all nonsense. Don't these people have something better to do with their lives?
Anyway, I know the truth. But can you handle the truth?
All right. Here it is. Prepare to be shocked. Your life will never be the same from this moment on.
Shakespeare's plays were actually written backwards and in Latin by Leonardo Da Vinci (hence all the Italian settings) on the back of a painting by a left-handed albino monk whose descendents include TE Lawrence, Lucille Ball, and Katie Holmes. Or maybe it was Paul Holmes. Or Sherlock Holmes. I haven't quite finished that bit of research.
But of course Da Vinci himself, as we all know, was descended from Lot's Wife, and ran off with Drew Barrymore in Ever After - they went to Denmark, apparently (hence Hamlet) and were thought lost at sea (Tempest) but were saved by the great-great-grandfather of the same Turkish captain who arrested Lawrence (but didn't lay a finger on him).
Amazing, for sure, but it's clearly worth a 1000-page hardback.
I'm expecting a call from the History Channel any moment. I'm planning a Special Premiere. No, dammit - a mini-series. It'll be called The Truth Behind the Da Vinci Bloodline: An Epic Saga of Conspiracy, Big Advances and Intrigue. And other stuff I haven't thought up yet.
See you in court, Mister Shakespeare. If that's who you really are.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Vale Marsden

Sydney is missing one of its icons following John Marsden's death in Turkey a few days ago.
John was always larger than life: forthright, loud, generous, emotional, loyal and funny. He knew everyone, knew everyone's business, and loved it. He loved the law and the justice system with faith and passion, even when it clearly didn't live up to expectations.
Sometimes, especially during his own court case saga, he was low and his face clouded. He worried about God, about judgement, about the world. He was no saint, but he worried about other people, supported thousands in myriad ways, stuck by people when they were down, and raised issues nobody else wanted to discuss.
We always had lunch in the same Italian restaurant, at the same table, and he always ate the same thing. Bright silk ties, striped shirts, suits cut just right - it was a bit like attending a baron down on his luck: people dropped by the table to say hello, or waved from afar, and he'd wink across the room.
He got mad at me a couple of times (with reason) and while I'd rather not be shouted at by John Marsden, I prefer his blunt, tearful and passionate honesty to other people's creepy backhand politicking any day.
He was one of the great scrappers - a good bloke to have on your side, and he was on the side of many. It's hard to imagine Sydney without him.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Hunter triumphs

Joy Cowley has won the New Zealand Post Book of the Year with her novel for young readers, Hunter. "This novel so impressed the judges with its power and originality that they singled it out as a tour de force of fiction writing with the potential to become a classic of fiction writing for young readers on the international stage."
The award was presented to Joy Cowley last night by the Prime Minister Helen Clark and New Zealand Post’s Chief Executive Officer, John Allen.
Mr Allen said: "The importance of nourishing children’s literature, and therefore encouraging our young people to read, cannot be overestimated. Books not only impart knowledge but more importantly they enrich the imagination, giving our children the ability to innovate and create."
The judging panel, chaired by Julie Harper of Jabberwocky Children’s Bookshop, read and debated the merits of 118 books published during 2005. "We were taken on many journeys – journeys that informed us or took us to imaginary, exciting worlds, journeys that made us laugh and cry and appreciate the experience of others," Julie said.
The category winners and honour award recipients are:
New Zealand Post Book of the Year:
Hunter by Joy Cowley (Puffin)
Junior Fiction Category:
Hunter by Joy Cowley (Puffin)
Honour Award:
Sil by Jill Harris (Longacre Press)
Young Adult Fiction Category:
With Lots of Love from Georgia by Brigid Lowry (Allen & Unwin)
Honour Award:
Kaitangata Twitch by Margaret Mahy (Allen & Unwin)
Picture Book Category:
A Booming in the Night by Ben Brown, illustrated by Helen Taylor (Reed Publishing)
Honour Award:
Haere – Farewell, Jack, Farewell by Tim Tipene, illustrated by Huhana Smith (Huia Publishers)
Non Fiction Category:
Scarecrow Army: The Anzacs at Gallipoli by Leon Davidson (Black Dog Books)
Honour Award:
Blue New Zealand: Plants, Animals, Environments – A Visual Guide by Glenys Stace (Puffin)
Best First Book Award:
The Unknown Zone by Phil Smith (Random House New Zealand)
Children’s Choice Award:
Nobody’s Dog written by Jennifer Beck and illustrated by Lindy Fisher.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

My bottom line

"When I get a little money I buy books; and if any is left I buy food and clothes."
- Erasmus

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

From the book pile

A new bookcase arrived. Oh joy, oh rapture unforeseen. We are now thoroughly organised although somehow, even though the new bookcase is enormous, there are still piles of books on and beside my desk. How did they get there?
I've been studiously working my way through the bedside reading pile. Not that it's a chore.
Just finished Geraldine Brooks' Pulitzer winner, March, her life of the missing father from Little Women. It can be difficult to get inside the head - as a writer or a reader - of a character you know to be rather feeble of will. Unless, of course, you are Proust. But Brooks has managed it, and manages to keep the reader engaged even though you want to slap March from time to time, and although even redemption seems to slip through his fingers - except, finally, as his discovers his only real purpose, as the father of the little women. It's deft, frustrating, and fascinating.
A pleasant change from a few mediocre kids' novels I've read in the last week. But let's not go there.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Conference city

I went back to Sydney last week. It’s been a while. I’m not sure that the sense of exile is quite over, but the sun was out in Sin City and Darling Harbour was filled with writers, illustrators, teachers, librarians, and school groups in uniform - all mad about kids’ books.
The Children’s Book Council conference began with the sound of didgeridoo and flute (the first notes rendered me utterly homesick) and over the next few days we heard from people like Emily Rodda (Deltora), Helen Oxenbury (Alice in Wonderland illustrator), Terry Denton (illustrator of Andy Griffiths’ books and much more), Libby Gleeson (guru), Michelle Paver (Wolf Brother), and Steven Herrick (poet).
Particularly thoughtful was Danish fantasy writer Lene Kaaberbol (The Shamer Chronicles). Even though I don’t write, or really read, fantasy, and haven’t read her work, I related to her accounts of the issues she had to confront in writing about good and evil, male and female characters, and also about the ways in which fantasy (or historical fiction) can hold up a mirror to the modern world.
The session on poetry with Wendy Michaels, Steven Herrick, Libby Hathorn and Jonathan Shaw was a treat – just to be sitting about discussing poetry (on board the old Manly ferry) was wonderfully luxurious.
And in the Expo section people just kept giving out books, Clifford the Big Red Dog wandered around hugging children, the were constant launches, and illustrators sat in a studio space showing how they weave their magic. I watched Bruce Whatley whip up a very familiar-looking wombat.
Speaking of luxury, I treated myself to a copy of the commemorative edition of Treasure Island, gorgeously illustrated by Robert Ingpen, and even lined up to get it signed – something I never do (I’m usually too shy).
And I spent an awful lot of time explaining that even though I had come from New Zealand I was actually Australian. Someone even asked me if I was Lynley Dodd. Hilarious. She’s about four feet taller than me and about six billion times more famous. But my poor dead dog Lil was the spitting image of Hairy McLairy.

More book reviews

Extracts from latest reviews of my book, as promised:
"Readers will be captivated by the story and will look forward to the release of the second exciting novel."
- Tomorrow's Schools Today

"I enjoyed the part where Lily gets sent down to work with the cook, because the cook is the only one at the beginning who is nice to Lily... I look forward to reading the rest of the series."
- Laura Rogers (aged 12), Timaru Herald

"Don't be put off by the awful cover: this book is a really good read."
- Marlborough Express

"Kelly Gardiner doesn't avoid the violence and death of the pirate world - Lily has to help the cook treat the wounded and dying in battle - but she has also created a fast-paced, swashbuckling story... the first of what promises to be a very lively series."
- The Press

"There's lots of action, daring acts of courage and detailed descriptions of seamanship... There's no great depth to the characters but action is the driving force of the book and, I suspect, the series. It's an exciting introduction to a time in history that rarely appears in history for children."
- Rayma Turton, Magpies Journal

I particularly like it when young readers write the reviews.
That’s an interesting comments about the characters, from Ray Turton at Magpies. There are many hidden depths and twists revealed in books two and three, so that’s a little lesson for me not to leave all the mysteries - or development - until too late. Good feedback.
But that comment abut the cover? The book's cover is exactly as I'd hoped. What do you think?

Faking it

Another literary scandal – another author with a fabulous advance turns out to be so brilliant she unconsciously memorises whole passages from books she read years ago and accidentally rewrites them into her own astoundingly successful novel.
Timely, too – just around the tenth anniversary of my personal favourite, The Helen “I Only Pretended to be Anti-Semitic” Demidenko Scandal.
Radio National's Lynne Malcolm caught up with her recently (now a lawyer in Queensland who goes by the name of Helen Dale), and - surprise, surprise - she still can’t see what all the fuss was about.
Lynne Malcolm: I'd just like to go back to your awareness about what you did. How did you feel about the possibility that you deeply hurt some people that were involved in that era of history, that it was offensive to people—you mentioned to me before the reaction that partner had to reading your book. It's not an easy book.
Helen Dale: It's not a nice book. No. I didn't set out to write a nice book, and I don't believe you can, about that particular period in history. People do not have a right to be free of offence. It's something that I've thought about very seriously over a long period of time. If a book offends you, don't read it. If people were offended, they were probably offended, rather than by anything that I'd particularly written, by some extremely thoughtless and careless media reporting. The way the media constructs something like this is—you get this situation where a complex issue is reduced to a brawl where you get the two most extreme positions, and yes, sure, someone's get offended. But people can't go around saying you've offended me, therefore you need to be quiet. In a fight, in a knock-down, drag-out fight between freedom of speech and freedom from offence, for me, freedom of speech will win every single time. In that sense I'm Dworkinian. Freedom of speech is a right; rights are trumps. Rights trump everything else.
Lynne Malcolm: Is there any aspect, though, that you feel a sense of remorse about, or do you regret anything—do you feel you've made any mistakes?
Helen Dale: Oh, I regret writing the book.
Lynne Malcolm: Why?
Helen Dale: Oh, from the get-go, but that's more an issue of economics, opportunity and opportunism on my part. The idea that you can make a living as a writer in Australia is completely nuts and I should never have done it ...

I don't know why I'm still astounded. My only hope is that I never get into trouble with the law in Queensland.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006


Sorry for the thundering silence - I've been ill and too stupid to think. Back soon.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Off the air

From tomorrow I'll be in Sydney, at the Children's Book Council conference, Book Now.
I have no idea whether I can blog from there, but I'll try to keep a few rational thoughts aside to post when I can.