Wednesday, August 31, 2011

MWF 2011: Politics in YA

From the MWF Program: Characters in Lili and Penny's books have their eyes truly opened to the power of politics for the first time, be it in Washington DC on the eve of Obama's inauguration, or via some difficult choices much closer to home. Come and hear these two leading authors discuss the explosive combination of fiction and politics.

Tony Thompson, Penny Tangey & Lili Wilkinson

So after a quick break, I was off to another session - this time to hear Penny Tangey and Lili Wilkinson talk about politics in young adult fiction. I was really looking forward to this session (possibly more so than any other during the festival). Once again, the even was chaired by Tony Thompson. To begin, Tony likened Clara in Washington to Alice in Wonderland, which I thought was a really interesting and insightful comparison.
  • Penny began by speaking about her interest in politics and political movements (starting with an assignment in primary school about the sufragettes). Though Penny said she doesn't necessarily like speaking about politics, she does enjoy writing about it and like most of us, is interested in standing up for what you believe in.
  • Penny also spoke about her research for Clara in Washington, including joining the DC Anarchists mailing group and shared a rather amusing exchange that occured online.
  • I loved something Penny said in discussing anarchism - that anarchists "see the world as flawed and don't accept that" and that they want to do better, which I think (in theory) is really admirable.
  • Lili then spoke about writing Pink and about the perceptions of political books/books with political issues as being something very serious. She made the excellent point that there are books out there that are pink, sparkly and funny and very political, like Meg Cabot's The Princess Diaries.
  • "I am passionate about writing books that are pink ... and have something to say"
  • Lili wrote Pink following some discussion David Levithan about writing about adolescent sexuality, and Lili spoke about having not read books where the teen protagonists weren't sure of their sexual preference and who didn't necessarily 'tick a box'.
  • What I thought was the most interesting strand of discussion was about the lack of political books written for a teen audience, and there are few contemporary YA titles with teen characters who are political (please note the emphasis on contemporary, as dystopian YA like the Hunger Games trilogy is incredibly political) - even less so in Australian YA, with Clara in Washington being the first/only Australian YA title to reference the 2008 presidental election. What's also noteworthy is that both Clara and a story that Lili is currently working on, both centre around Australian characters and politics, but are set in the US.
  • Lili also spoke about her PhD, which examines fandom and political activism in teens (which I found to be hugely interesting - partly because, and I think I mentioned it here before that my own major undergraduate essay was about television fandom, activism and social media). She talked about groups like the Harry Potter Alliance (who are extremely awesome and I urge you to check this out if you don't know about it) and YA for Obama.
  • Both Penny and Lili spoke about the possible dangers in writing about politics (such as sounding preachy to a teen reader) but through using humour, a variety of voices to highlight differing opinions and writing in an interesting way, were able to avoid this.
Another really great session - actually, I tweeted afterwards that it was my favourite so far. Again, Tony Thompson did a fantastic job chairing, and it was great to have the opportunity to hear two authors I adore speak about such a relevant and engaging issue.

You can read my review of Clara in Washington here (and enter my giveaway, which I'm extending until September 2nd), and I've also reviewed Lili Wilkinson's Pink.

MWF 2011: Emerging Writers

From the MWF Program: Hear from key people in Melbourne's best loved organisations supporting new voices in writing, and from freelancers making their way in publishing. In this session we discuss ideas on finding a community as a writer, routes to getting published and building your profile on your way to success.

Tony Thompson, Steph Bowe, Johannes Jakob and Lisa Dempster

Day 3 already - guys, this week is flying by! My first session today was Emerging Writers, chaired by Tony Thompson. It was a really strong panel and judging from the questions at the end of the session, split between students and aspiring writers. Here's a glimpse at what was talked about:
  • Lisa Dempster spoke about her role as director of the Emerging Writers Festival, and about the aims of the festival (writers talking to writers about writing!). Lisa is a vocal supporter of DIY, indie presses and self-publishing.
  • Johannes Jakob is the current editor of Voiceworks (which I subscribe to and urge you all to go and buy copies!), and is designed to bring attention to new writers. Johannes also has a podcast with Madeline
  • Steph Bowe is a seventeen-year-old blogger and published author (and I had the pleasure of seeing Steph speak at last year's MWF).
  • I'd like to take a moment to say what an awesome chair Tony Thompson was - I know the focus is on the panel during these things, but lately it's really struck me how important it is to have a good chair manning the session. Tony did a fantastic job introducing the guests and leading the discussion. Most of my notes below are responses to specific questions or topics bought up.
What should you do with a finished piece of writing?
  • Johannes: Leave it for a month (as hard as it might be) before doing anything with it, then you'll see it with fresh eyes and be more open to making changes and edits. Johannes also recommended sending your work to places you like reading.
  • Steph: Had other people look over her work (having built up some online writing contacts through her blog) to get an impartial opinion and generate useful feedback.
  • Lisa: Advocated getting your work online and spoke passionately about blogging - about the way a blog gives you regular writing practice, gives you feedback, encourages interaction and helps develop your writing skills.
How important is it to be a part of a writing community?
  • Lisa: Encouraged the audience to attend festivals and stressed the importance of "getting out of your bedroom and meeting other writers".
  • Johnannes: Spoke about the way that the internet and social media has helped eradicate some of the barriers that have previously existed - as writers can now approach and connect with other writers and publishing personnel online.
  • Steph: Talked about perceptions of writers, about her own shyness and and encouraged aspiring writers to put themselves out there. Interestingly, she also reminded the audience to not think of other writers as their rivals.
How can you stand out from the dreaded slush pile?
  • Steph: Research! Send your work to the right people (before submitting your work to an agent, published or journal - find out what they like and what they are looking for).
  • Johannes: Good writing! Write what you are interested in, are passionate about and send it
  • Lisa: Contacts! Whilst a good contact doesn't guarantee a publishing contact, interacting with the community can have huge benefits.
What are you reading?
  • Lisa: Wake in Fright (Kenneth Cook)
  • Johannes: 2666 (Roberto Bolano)
  • Steph: Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (Jonathan Safran Foer)
Once again I sat next to the amazing Megan Burke, so be sure to check out her live-blog from the session. Also, if you are an aspiring writer interested in sending your work to an agent, you can check out some of my tips in the series I wrote for Ricochet.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

MWF 2011: All in the Family

From the MWF Program: Dynamic duo Carole and Lili Wilkinson describe their books for children and young adults, and what it's like to be part of a whole family of writers.

Chris (chair), Lili and Carole - taken on my phone

I only went to one session today, because unlike last year, I'm now working full-time and am fitting in events where I can. I was really excited for this session because I'm a bit of a Lili fangirl and was bummed to miss out on tickets to her session on A Pocketful of Eyes. Talky

  • Before the session started, they ran a slideshow with photos of Lili and Carole (nawww).
  • The session was chaired by Chris (sorry, I didn't write down his surname) and he began by introducing both of the Wilkinson women.
  • Carole spoke about her first career as a lab technican and coming into writing a bit later in life - Carole wasn't published until she was 40.
  • Lili, on the other hand, was first published in Voiceworks at age 12, worked for the Centre for Youth Literature and had her first novel published at 24 by blackdog books (where she also did work experience in high school).
  • Lili spoke about the similarities between Carole's first book (Stage Fright) and Lili's own high school experiences in the stage crew (which she herself would go on to write about in Pink) and the way in which Carole "borrowed" bits and pieces.
  • Both women spoke about their writing processes, and the way they read each others work and give feedback, as well as using each other for procrastination and sharing writerly successes.
  • I thought it was funny that Lili and Carole skype with each other almost daily, despite living only minutea away from each other (mostly enjoyed this because there are times when I will speak to my siblings via Facebook chat when we are in the same house....)
  • Carole talked about the idea of the "zero draft" which was really interesting to hear about. This is the draft where you just get everything out and it allows you to sort out your structure and plotting, before going back and fine-tuning details or spending time perfecting your language.
  • Both Carole and Lili have studied screenwriting (which Lili said contributed to their writing style and practice, as screenwriting is very plot driven and emphasises the structural).
  • Lili talked briefly about Carole's meticulous research habits (filling lever-arch folders with notes about everything), and her own research in  A Pocketful of Eyes which included a behind-the-scenes tour at the Melbourne Museum.
  • Lili spoke about writing a "rom-crime" and gave us some insight into her upcoming novel, Love Shy (which I had already heard a bit about because I'm nerdy like that and it sounds really great and of course, will spend the next six months bouncing with anticipation for it's release). Lili spoke about not writing sequel books or part of a series, but that all her novels are somewhat similar - "nerdy chick lit" with an element of mystery.
  • Carole and Lili were asked about their writing to publication timelines - Lili takes an average of 18 months (and often works on things in between), and Carole works from a year to 18 months (it takes her around a year for each of the Dragonkeeper books).
It was a fun session - I was it had gone for longer and a bit more in-depth (the format of the session was slightly odd and kind of based around a Skype convo) but of course, it was a pleasure to hear Lili speak at the MWF again and I'm now looking forward to also start reading some of Carole's writing.

I caught up with Megan before the session and we sat together for this panel, so be sure to check out her post as she live-blogged from the festival.

Fellow attendees, what events have you enjoyed the most so far?

Monday, August 29, 2011

MWF 2011: Meet Maggie Stiefvater

From the MWF Program: Best-selling US author Maggie Stiefvater makes a very special appearance to talk about her incredible Wolves of Mercy Falls series: Linger, Shiver and now the long-awaited Forever.

Firstly I want to disclose the fact that I have (sadly) only read about a quarter of Shiver and so there may be a few minor mistakes in recording comments about the plot and characters of Maggie's Wolves of Mercy Falls series. I had intended to read Shiver before the festival, but unfortunately time got away from me - though after attending this session, I'm looking forward to reading the book shortly. Maggie was in conversation with the very awesome Adele Walsh (Program Director at the Centre for Youth Literature and blogger at Persnickety Snark).

Maggie and Adele (taken on my camera phone - sorry for the poor quality)
  • Maggie is an incredibly lively and engaging speaker! If you ever get the chance, I certainly encourage you to hear her speak.
  • Maggie spoke about some of the research involved in the writing of the Wolves of Mercy Falls series. She watched documentaries, read books and told us about her experiences actually getting to meet/touch real wolves in Hungary whilst she was on tour.
  • Did you know: Maggie's parents are dog-breeders?
  • I loved that Maggie referred to some paintings in Shiver (Grace's mother is an artist) as "breadcrumbs" for herself as a writer - something she feels could be interesting but isn't exactly sure where she wants to go with it, so the breadcrumb is a little reminder of something to come back to and explore later.
  • Did you know: Maggie Stiefvater is not a poetry fan! However, she does enjoy the work of Rainer Maria Rilke (and quotes I Am Too Alone in This World in Shiver) and Yeats, as they "make dark things beautiful".
  • Maggie and Adele discussed the relationship of Grace and Sam - and the way that unlike a lot of relationships depicted in young adult fiction, that it's quite stable and consistent (and opposite to that of Cole and Isabel in Linger). Maggie said that in writing the Grace & Sam romance, she wanted to write "an interesting relationship that you actually wanted to be in".
  • Adele bought up the point that Maggie's werewolves are based in science, rather than having a magical/fantasy story behing them. Maggie spoke about this being a conscious decision she made early on in her writing and stuck with it. She also wanted people to miss Sam when he changed, and therefore made the shift tied into temperature and the seasons rather than moon phases.
  • The role of parents in YA was touched upon - particularly the way that the Maggie has written absent (or dead) parents. I thought Maggie's rationale behind this was very interesting (and very true!): that she didn't want the adults in her books to be making all the big decisions for the younger characters (and as a reader, obviously it's far more interesting to watch as teenagers make their own decisions and read about the consequences of these.)
  • Maggie spoke about her desire, in writing Shiver, to write a story about losing your identity and being able to use the wolf motif to do this.
  • Did you know: David Levithan is Maggie's editor at Scholastic!
  • Maggie was super-funny and honest throughout the session. I love that she likened writing to "being pregnant with a really ugly baby" and that revisions and editing was akin to sending your ugly baby to private school to make it presentable.
  • Did you know: that Maggie wrote Sam's songs in the books, and the songs have been covered by artists like Jonas & Plunkett (featured in the Forever book trailer)
  • Like in the Why I Read session, Maggie spoke about her cynicism desire to toy with readers emotions. She also referred to herself as "that person you never want to be in the theater with".
  • Maggie spoke about the potential for a Shiver film - for those who aren't aware, the film rights have been optioned by Warner Brothers and Unique Features. The screenplay is finished and there is a director on board (and whilst Maggie won't name names, she is happy with the choice) but there are no recent developments.
  • She also shared some of her thoughts on idealised casting which included Rachel Hurd Wood as Grace and Alex Turner of the Arctic Monkeys as Sam.
  • Did you know: that as well as being a successful author, Maggie makes the most incredible stop-motion animations! Look at this!

MWF 2011: Meet Nick Earls

From the MWF Program: Author of best-selling YA books, including After January and 48 Shades of Brown, Nick Earls talks about his writing career and what has made his books perennial favourites with young adult audiences.

I feel like I should start this post with a (slightly embarrassing) disclaimer: I have only read one Nick Earls novel! I know, I'm completely ashamed. I have started 48 Shades of Brown at least three times, and each time (for some reason or another), I haven't finished it. After hearing Nick speak today, I have now resolved to rectify this as soon as possible!

Nick Earls & Mike Shuttleworth before the event
  • This event was chaired by Mike Shuttleworth and held in one of the ACMI cinemas. Megan and I were mistaken for teachers, and managed to score second-row seats when a large group of school kids realised they were in the wrong session haha.
  • Mike introduced Nick, and spoke briefly about Brisbane being used as the setting for all of Nick's novels (which I found to be interesting) and the way Nick has "helped give Brisbane a new image".
  • Nick spoke about studying medicine at the University of Queensland before deciding to properly pursue writing (originally, he had intended to do a gap year but was discouraged by his father).
  • I want to say now that Nick Earls is a really engaging speaker and that if you get the chance, go see him in person! He is extremely personable and just has these great anecdotes.
  • Nick spoke about writing real characters, about having embarrassing things happen to said characters and the way these things do happen to real people. He talked about the choices you make in writing and the way they "shape the story and the people in it".

  • Nick discussed the development of his writing, including the way Alex from After January developed from a character in a short story. He spoke about how much of his own experiences (and conversations with his mother!) ended up in After January, and mentioned that the story "almost became a film".
  • I loved that Nick spoke extensively about the film adaptation of 48 Shades of Brown (as if you read this blog, this is definitely an area I'm interested in - the relationship between texts in different media and adaptations of stories from page to screen). Nick not only shared some great insights from the set (like the film's producer arranging free beer and Chupa-Chups), but also talked openly about how, as a writer, he felt about his work being adapted.
  • Nick also talked about his writing process, including the way he plans extensive outlines before beginning a first draft. His most recent novel, The Fix, was started eight years ago and he didn't begin writing it until he had a 20,000 word outline! He likened his outlines to detailed road-maps, and said that he liked learning all the details to fit in his stories.
  • I found that I kind of stopped taking so many notes about two-thirds of the way into the session, as Nick is so easy to listen to and you definitely get caught up in his anecdotes! Another great event (good start to the School's Program!) and I now absolutely promise (I'm writing it here so you can all hold me to it), to read and review at least one Nick Earls novel before the end of the year!

MWF 2011: Why I Read

From the MWF Program: Why spend your time reading when there are so many million other things you could be doing? Maggie Stiefvater, Kate Grenville and Nick Earls share how reading has inspired them, and reveal their favourite classic and new books.

My first session at the Festival! I met up with Megan in the Atrium before the session and
As usual, I have taken paper notes (in my almost unreadable shorthand) and have attempted to decipher them below. Where quotes are used, I have done my best to use the most accurate wording possible.

    left to right: Kate Grenville, Nick Earls, Maggie Stiefvater and Paula Kelly.

  • The session was chaired by Paula Kelly, the Reader Development and Programs Manager at the State Library of Victoria, who began the session with a fantastic quote: "behind a great writer, a great reader is present". Each author spoke for about five minutes (except for Nick Earls!) about their love of reading, before a panel discussion lead by Paula about their reading history and habits.

  • Maggie Stiefvater spoke first - she informed us that she is not someone who cries at movies or while reading, except upon a second reading of The Time Traveller's Wife (which turned her into a snivelling, snot-bubbling mess). Maggie decided she wanted to be the author who ruins someone's day and loves toying with the reader's emotions.
  • Nick Earls spoke extensively about his early reading loves (Enid Blyton's The Famous Five, Arthur Ransome's Swallows and Amazons books and Richmal Crompton's Just William stories) and the impact these had on his writing throughout the 80s (when he moved onto Kafka and Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Peter Carey). It was Spaulding Gray's Monster in a Box, however, which had one of the biggest impacts upon his writing and was responsible for his perception of voice. Nick shared a very funny story about running into Spaulding Gray whilst in New York City, but being unable to tell him about the impact he'd had on Nick's life. About reading, Nick said that it "makes me a better writer, but still me".
  • Kate Grenville described herself as a "greedy reader", and spoke of her reading habits growing up (particularly growing up in a time without access to television, computers and the internet). Kate also discussed both the similarities and differences in consumption of books, film and TV. Whilst all are character driver, emotive and are about story-telling, Kate spoke of the way that television is designed to reach the widest possible audience, include paid advertising (TV) and is required to keep people in an "accepting mood". Fiction, however, has less cost involved (there isn't the same financial pressures as in film - where huge costs are laid out and expected to be recouped to be deemed a success), allowing fiction writers to take greater risks.
  • All of the authors were asked about reading as children and the impact their families had on their reading. Kate shared a lovely story about her brother teaching her how to read at the age of four. Maggie's mother used to read to her, but as a teen she turned to her father's reading preferences for inspiration. Nick's mother used to make up stories for him and his sister.
  • The authors then spoke about their preferences as readers/writers and what they value or place the most importance on. Both Maggie and Nick stressed the importance of character, with setting and plot coming second to this. Kate shared a great quote from Stephen King and spoke about starting with a character and a situation as the basis for her writing.
  • The group discussed the benefits of reading: Nick said "my mind is larger from reading", whilst Maggie spoke of learning how to be a hero and developing a sense of morality from reading. Kate bought up the idea of making time to read (like me, Kate prefers to read before bed) and mentioned that she plans on getting an e-reader!
The session was very interesting and seemed to go by very fast - the next thing I knew, Paula was calling for audience questions and it was all over! Megan, who was sitting next to me, was an absolute whiz on her adorable netbook and live-blogged during the session, so be sure to read her post.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Melbourne Bookish Events - September

image source: we ♥ it

Hi friends - I just wanted to take a few minutes to share some of the exciting literary events coming up in my lovely home city, Melbourne. Late August and September are especially excellent for all things bookish, and as you can see below, there is quite a range of events to cater to all reading interests (though I've chose to highlight those especially relevant to readers of YA).

2011 Melbourne Writers Festival
The biggest annual literary event in Melbourne! Running from August 25th  to September 1st, the festival has events for all interests - including an amazing schools program (which is actually open to all). Check out the huge range of talks, workshops and screenings at the festival homepage.

2011 Ballarat Writers Festival
Running on the 2nd and 3rd of September is the Ballarat Writers Festival - which is exclusively dedicated to childrens and young adult literature! Featuring authors such as Maureen McCarthy, Penni Russon, Gabrielle Williams, Steph Bowe and Leanne Hall (to name just a few), this two-day festival is jam-packed with literary awesomeness! You can read the program here and purchase tickets here.

A Thousand Words Festival
Held at Northcote Town Hall on September 23 and 24, this is the second year of the Thousand Words Festival. I am extremely bummed out that I will be missing this (as I will be overseas), so I urge all my Melbournian readers to attend on my behalf and take lots of notes and photos to share! The festival has a fantastic line-up of local authors, booksellers and bloggers including Michael Pryor, Leanne Hall, Holly Harper, Andrew McDonald, Megan Burke, Fiona Wood, Tim Pegler, Aimee Said & Cath Crowley. Tickets are only $20 per day (!!!) so seriously get cracking and do not miss this! Visit the website for more information.

The Wheeler Centre
There's always something on at the Wheeler Centre! Go check out their calendar for weekly events.

Maggie Stiefvater
Young adult author, Maggie Stiefvater will be in Melbourne in late August/early September. She will be appearing at:
♥ Melbourne Writers Festival (sessions: Why I Read & Meet Maggie Stiefvater (August 29) and Meet Maggie Stiefvater (August 30)
♥ Dymocks Melbourne - September 2nd at 5pm. Free but please RSVP. Go here for more information.
♥ Readings Hawthorn - September 3rd at 10.30am. Free entry but please RSVP. For more information, go here.

Penni Russon
Penni will be launching her newest young adult novel Only, Ever, Always at Eltham Library on September 18th. Go to the YPRL website for more information.

This post is part of Aussie August - a month of sharing all-Australian reviews and content.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

All I Ever Wanted - Vikki Wakefield

The Facts
Author: Vikki Wakefield
Publisher: Text Publishing
Date of Publication: May 2011
Length: 202 pages

The Fiction
From Text:  Mim knows what she wants, and where she wants to go—anywhere but home, stuck in the suburbs with her mother who won’t get off the couch, and two brothers in prison. She’s set herself rules to live by, but she’s starting to break them. Now Mim has to retrieve a lost package for her mother. Does this make her a drug runner? Why is a monster dog called Gargoyle hidden in the back shed? And Jordan, the boy she sent Valentines to for years, why is he now suddenly a creep? How come there’s a huge gap between her and her best friend, Tahnee? And who is the mysterious girl next door who moans at night?

Over the nine days before her seventeenth birthday, Mim’s life turns upside down. She has problems, and she’s determined to solve them herself. But in the end, she works out who her people are, and the same things look entirely different.

A book recommended by Fiona Wood and Cath Crowley? (oh you know, just two of my favourite Australian authors) - I’m definitely in! Of course I was not let down, as All I Ever Wanted is heartfelt, original novel which I completely adored.

One of the things I loved that most about this book was the fact that Vikki Wakefield has successfully written a ‘tough’ female character who is smart and loyal and independent. Mim is a brilliant and incredibly real character, who could have easily been turned into a “wrong side of the tracks stereotype”. Mim tries to live by her own self-prescribed rules, with the thought that these will be her key to family home and neighbourhood behind, and I love that she is so determined to make something of herself. The cast of supporting characters are also integral to the success of the novel and are well-utilised by Wakefield. What stood out to me was the range of strong, developed female characters in All I Ever Wanted, including Mim’s tough mother, her friend Tahnee, mysterious phone-girl Lola, and quietly-confident Kate.
The setting of the novel was also something that intrigued me. I don’t remember the place being named (though I could be wrong), but is described (beautifully) by Wakefield as “a lost street in a forgotten suburb, an hour from the city” which of course allows the reader the flexibility of being able to picture this small, somewhat seedy suburb in their own way. It feels almost a cliché to use this now, but I truly feel like All I Ever Wanted has so much heart – in its characters, plot and gritty writing. Mim’s voice is honest and her realisations through the course of the novel are so relatable, that you can’t help but find yourself completely submerged in this story.

This is a beautiful debut from Vikki Wakefield. In a very slim 200 pages, the book packs a powerful punch, with every word feeling so purposefully selected. For fans of contemporary young adult literature, please add this to your reading lists (and be prepared to add Vikki Wakefield as the next Australian YA author to watch!).

I want to end this review with a huge thank-you to the lovely sales assistant at Readings book shop in Port Melbourne, who recommended this to me – this has been one of my favourite reads this year.

This post is part of Aussie August - a month of sharing all-Australian reviews and content.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Snack Size #18

Here's another batch of mini-reviews -at a teeny one hundred words each (to keep me from rambling) and hopefully they provide a tasty teaser as to why you should read them! The below titles are not only all-Australian, but are all written from a male point of view:

90 Packets of Instant Noodles – Deb Fitzpatrick
Published by Fremantle Press, 2010
288 pages

As punishment for his recent involvement in some local crimes, Joel is forced to spend three months in isolation - a shack in the middle of nowhere, with very minimal facilities (think tank water and a drop toilet). There's no contact with the outside world other than the weekly mail, Joel id left to his own thoughts - and has time to refelct upon his ealier actions and what lead to his punishment. He seems to be close to the road to recovery, and then his old mate Craggs shows up. It's an incredibly honest story with a very authentic male voice.

Jarvis 24 - David Metzenthen
Published by Penguin Books Australia, 2009
264 pages

Marc Jarvis is a bit of an ineffectual-but-likeable protagonist (and a complete scatterbrain! Actually, he reminds me a bit of Joe in King of Whatever).  When he’s not spending time with his best mate, Travis (who is arrogant, a bit dumb and very funny), he’s working in a struggling used-car yard and becomes fascinated with a talented local athlete, Electra. Set in Melbourne, Jarvis 24 is an enjoyable read with an undeniably Australian-ness to it. The story is just the right mix of humour, romance and footy and was the winner of the 2010 CBCA Book of the Year Award.

Five Parts Dead - Tim Pegler
Published by Text Publishing, 2010
224 pages
Wheelchair bound after a traumatic accident, Dan is (understandably) pretty down when his parents force him onto a family holiday at a remote island. The island features a lighthouse with a mysterious past (how very Round the Twist!), and having found a logbook, Dan begins to lose himself in the history of the island. Pegler has done a brilliant job with two well-developed stories (Dan’s in the present – with flashbacks of the night of his accident and that of the lighthouse’s inhabitants). Also, this story features a graphic car crash scene that (hopefully) brands into the minds of all readers and reminds everyone of the horrific effects of drink-driving.
  Want to read about some of my favourite male-voiced YA novels? Check out this list I put together at The Blue Teacup.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Polyvore Profile - Clara in Washington

Almost immediately after finishing Clara in Washington, I knew I wanted to make a Polyvore Profile for Clara! I also can't believe I haven't done one since May, which is kind of crazy. Anyway, I hope you enjoy the appropriately patriotic-coloured Clara profile.


For my Melbournian friends, Penny Tangey will be at this year's Melbourne Writer's Festival at the following two sessions: Politics and YA (August 31st, 12.30pm) and Clara in Washington (September 1st, 10am). Further information and tickets can be purchased from the MWF website.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Clara in Washington Giveaway

As I loved Clara in Washington so, so much, I'm thrilled to have a copy to giveaway to one of my readers as part of Aussie August. I've made up a little red, white and blue prize pack which includes:

♥ A copy of Penny Tangey's Clara in Washington
♥ Pretty pen and bookmark
♥ A mini notewriting kit (complete with notecards, envelopes and stickers)
♥ A birdie 'hold me' - perfect for photos or sweet notes

As always, I like my giveaways be as easy as possible to enter. All you have to do is leave a comment with your email address before August 31st. You do not have be a follower (but I do always like making new friends), and this giveaway is open internationally. I look forward to announcing the winner at the end of the month!

This post is part of Aussie August - a month of sharing all-Australian reviews and content.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Clara in Washington - Penny Tangey

The Facts
Author: Penny Tangey
Publisher: University of Queensland Press
Publication Date: 27th June 2011
Length: 253 pages

The FictionFrom UQP: Living in Washington D.C. is meant to be all politics, glamour and great conversations but what do you do when you don’t have the words to join in, or the knowledge to ride the subway, or you’re scared someone will mug you and a million other disasters could be just around the corner?
For Clara, joining her mother on a three-month stint in Washington is her end-of-school adventure and a chance to be someone else other than the studious geek she’s always been. Although, starting an adventure is hard to do when you won’t leave the house. But Clara didn’t count on meeting Campbell and his anarchist group and she didn’t count on her new discoveries threatening to unravel all her plans. Will she still be the same after Washington?

So somewhere in the last week of June, between staying in the Macedon Ranges for work and flying to Brisbane, I was able to sneak out to a bookshop on my work break and buy Clara in Washington the day it was published! I was very excited, after having been looking forward to the book for a few months and was keen to read it on my trip (thinking I’d save it to read after work). Instead, the temptation of the book in my hand-luggage proved too much and at the end of my two hour flight, I was ¾ the way through and couldn’t wait to finish. I adore Penny’s writing and am really excited to share a few of my thoughts on this book with you.

Part travelogue, part teen-girl-independence story Clara in Washington is a fantastic, funny young adult novel by an Australian author. Just like with Catherine in Penny’s debut novel, Loving Richard Feynman, I adored Clara and could strongly relate to her. Penny writes this brilliant, not-deliberately funny (but I find it hilarious) chain-of-thought monologues for Clara, which are just spot on. Clara has quite a nervous personality, which at times ranges from cautious to paranoid. Whilst some might find this slightly off-putting, it was something that stood out for me (partly because I have a nervous, slightly-high-strung personality myself) and also because I feel like this personality type hasn’t really featured in other YA novels I’ve read of late. I also think that Clara’s tendency to over-think and her fear in the new environment is something that is actually quite common to Generation Y and the teen reader, and it’s refreshing to have this unease reflected in literature. Like Catherine, Clara also has such a funny, dry sense of humour, which I think balances her cautious personality and helps make it easy to relate to her.

During her time in Washington, Clara connects with a number of people and it’s interesting how these relationships impact upon her character development. A sizeable portion of the story is dedicated to Clara’s relationship with Campbell – a young man working at a local coffee shop and who tries to involve her with his group of Anarchists. Like Clara, I really didn’t know anything about what anarchists did or believed in, and again, I don’t think this is the kind of thing that has been tackled by many other YA novels. Penny explores the idea of anarchy, politics and social justice really well, particularly against the background of the 2008 Presidential election.

Other little things I loved about this book: the references to Melbourne (Clara is a Melbourne girl), that each chapter begins with a quote from a United States president and  being able to follow Clara throughout some of DC’s historic landmarks (as well as some lesser-known places, like the Spy Museum). Penny has also liberally used social media throughout the novel in a way which fits with the spirit of the story and themes of the story.

Clara’s journey to a greater sense of self-awareness and her experiences in Washington make for a very enjoyable read. Penny has given Clara a unique and likeable voice, and her story (like good YA should) manages to strike the right balance between these very innocent and unintentionally funny moments, and some more introspective revelations leading to a more-formed, complex identity.

I really loved this book, and if you’ve read it, I’d love to hear your thoughts on it in the comments.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Queen Kat, Carmel and St Jude Get A Life - Maureen McCarthy

The Facts
Author: Maureen McCarthy
Publisher: Penguin Books Australia
Date of Publication: 1995
Length: 435 pages

The Fiction
From Penguin: Queen Kat, Carmel and St Jude Get a Life - friendship, families, betrayal and love, and a tumultuous year in the lives of three unforgettable young women

I first read Queen Kat, Carmel and St Jude Get A Life over 10 years ago (oh my goodness, that makes me feel old). I was about thirteen and the ABC mini-series based on the book was about to air. I didn’t end up watching the series, but read the book and really liked it. A few years later I’d go onto read more of Maureen McCarthy’s books and the emotional impact of her writing would hit me later down the line. Recently I decided to re-read Queen Kat, Carmel and St Jude – a decade later with ‘fresh’ eyes.
The story is in five parts – the novel opens and closes in Manella, a small Victorian country town and home to the titular three young women. These sections beautifully frame the story, leading into (and subsequently bringing together) each of the girls’ parts. Written in first person, each portion has such a distinctive voice and really allows us to get in the heads and hearts of Carmel, Jude and Katrina. Whilst each of the three parts is written from a specific characters point of view, I love being able to watch their perceptions of each other change and develop throughout the novel.

Onto the girls themselves: there’s Carmel, a large girl with a big heart and an even bigger voice (which she keeps hidden for the first half of her book). Out of all the characters, it’s arguable that Carmel undergoes the biggest transformation during the course of the novel and (for me) had the biggest impact on the reader. Carmel’s lack of confidence, thwarted self-perceptions and her close-knit family makes her easy to relate to. Then there’s Jude, the daughter of a Chilean doctor killed amidst political unrest in Latin America – she’s hugely passionate about social justice and is determined to follow in her father’s footsteps by studying medicine. I think I really loved the idea of Jude, but overall ended up finding her a tad self-righteous and had trouble connecting with her (from my first reading, Jude’s section was the part that I remembered least). I felt from Jude’s section that I learned more about her father and her heritage than Jude herself. Katerina, like Jude, is a bit harder to like. Wealthy and beautiful (yet also cold and condescending), Katerina could easily fall into “poor little rich girl” territory, however McCarthy is able to elicit sympathy from the reader for her (and if you’re like me, will also have you banging you head on the wall in frustration at her naivety and thoughtless actions) and by the end of the novel, Katerina is redeemed.

Something that really struck me about this second reading was the relationships between the girls and their mothers. McCarthy has written three very different mothers, and as much as the story is about three young women dealing with entering adult life and independence, it’s very interesting to note how greatly you can pick out the way the influence of their mothers has shaped them as individuals.

Oh course, one of my favourite things about this novel is the Melbourne setting! Queen Kat, Carmel and St Jude is full of familiar Melbourne locations – Lygon St, Canning St in Carlton, Melbourne Uni, Brunswick St cafes, Port Melbourne and the Edinburgh Gardens. Even without specific references to landmarks and streets, something about the book just feels unmistakably Melbournian, comfortable and home-y to me.

I was relieved after re-reading that my feelings towards the book hadn’t deviated greatly. I feel like I ‘got it’ more and definitely was able to identify with the girls experiences at uni and in trying to forge their own identities away from their families and home town. Queen Kat, Camel and St Jude Get A Life has aged well (I was worried it would seem very dated) and whilst I certainly got a whiff of 90s nostalgia, like Looking for Alibrandi (which was first published two years before this), it has managed to stand the test of time due to the strong voices of its characters and it’s thematic relevance – I would certainly consider it an Australian young adult classic.
I'll leave you with a little blast from the past - when I was in Year 10 at school, we had Maureen McCarthy come out to speak about Chain of Hearts (which we were studying as a set text) and about writing in general. I was really excited to hear Maureen speak and afterwards, she signed my copy of Chain of Hearts and my English teacher took a photo afterwards:

This post is part of Aussie August - a month of sharing all-Australian reviews and content.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

City in Pages - Sydney Part 1

Now that I've taken you through my lovely home-city of Melbourne via some of my favourite YA books, I thought I'd move up the coast a little and give you a taste of Sydney! And who better to start off a little virtual trip than with the works of Australian YA Queen, Melina Marchetta- as her works Looking for Alibrandi, Saving Francesca and The Piper's Son are all set in Sydney, with a particular focus on the inner-west (Leichhardt, Glebe, Stanmore and Annadale).

image source: we ♥ it

Looking for Alibrandi
Published by Penguin Books Australia, 1992

Martin Place
In the Sydney CBD, Martin Place is made up of a collection of beautiful old buildings, including the Sydney General Post Office, Challis House and the Henry York Davis Building. It also houses the Cenotaph (a monument recongising the ANZAC forces who fought in WWI), a fountain and amphitheatre (which was where the Have a Say Day event in Looking for Alibrandi was held).
Darling Harbour and Circular Quay
If you have ever seen a postcard of Sydney, chances are you will have seen the Darling Harbour. It is the city centre of Sydney and the precinct is home to the Sydney Entertainment Centre, the Convention and Exhibition Centre and Sydney Aquarium (to name just a few). Circular Quay is a major transport hub (it has a bus, train and ferry interchange) as well as prime tourist and cultural attraction, with its stunning views and picturesque walks, and access to parks and restaurants. On New Year’s Eve, it’s also one of the best (and most crowded!) spots to watch the Sydney fireworks from.
University of Sydney
The oldest university in Australia, the University of Sydney was founded in 1850 and each year educates around 50,000 undergraduate and graduate students. Ranked as one of the Top 3 Universities in Australia, this sandstone university is spread across Camperdown and Darlington and has some of the largest (and most prestigious) Medicine and Law faculties. It is a beautiful campus, and not surprisingly Josie’s university of choice to study law in Looking for Alibrandi.
Sebel Townhouse
Once a hugely popular hotel in Kings Cross (and often frequented by celebrities and considered the hotel of choice for the Australian music industry). Apparently it was also the first hotel in Australia to accept credit cards! Unfortunately it closed in the early noughties and has since been converted into luxury apartments, like a number of other hotels in the area.

Saving Francesca
Published by Penguin Books Australia, 2006

Hyde Park
On the eastern side of Sydney’s CBD is Hyde Park, 16 acres of parklands which is home to the Archibald Fountain and the ANZAC War Memorial. Named after London’s Hyde Park, the Sydney park was originally used for various sporting events (including horse-riding and bare-knuckled fighting), but is now mostly used for leisurely walks and a lunchtime stop for tourists and CBD office workers.
The University of Technology of Sydney is the fifth largest Australian university. It came out of Sydney Technical College and the New South Wales Institute of Technology, and is the only Sydney university with a main campus in the CBD. The most distinctive feature on the Broadway campus is the Tower building (which is 32 levels high! and is often considered one of the ugliest buildings in Sydney). It also has one of the largest Business faculties in Australia and in Saving Francesca, Mia lecturers in Communications at UTS.

The Piper's Son
Published by Penguin Books Australia, 2010
Leichhardt Oval
Home to the West Tigers (rugby league, for those of you – like me – who don’t really follow sports ...) It’s a smaller ground (with a maximum capacity of 20,000), and despite its older facilities, still manages to draw a large crowd at the few home matches it hosts. 

Maroubra Beach
One of Sydney’s best surfing beaches (and also known as the beach of choice for the infamous ‘Bra boys').
The Italian Forum
Located in Leichhardt in Sydney’s inner-west, the Forum is a residential complex, which also houses a number of shops and eateries on the bottom level. I also have it on good authority that it’s home to excellent gelato (Tom, Georgia and the Finch-McKees and their friends walk to Norton St for gelato after a particularly heated dinner).

Central Station
The main transport hub for Sydney’s City Rail (I’m assuming it’s the equivalent to Flinders St in Melbourne!) and also the biggest train station in Australia. It has 27 platforms (!!) and the trains run from 4am to midnight. One of the things I thought was most interesting about the history of Central Station (which I discovered when researching this) was that the site of the station was previously used as the Devonshire St cemetery.

If you enjoyed this post and haven't read my City in Pages series before, check out the earlier posts:
Melbourne - Part 1
Melbourne - Part 2
Melbourne - Part 3

This post is part of Aussie August - a month of sharing all-Australian reviews and content.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Mixed Bag #40

Oh my goodness, it feels like ages since I've done one of these! Here are some links to things that I've enjoyed recently - I hope you like them too:

image source: we ♥ it

♥ Kate Gordon shares her Hottest 50 Australian Children's & YA Books of All Time. This is an incredible list and so many of my own favourites on here!

♥ I recently discovered Dear Teen Me (thanks Aimee!), where some of my favourite authors have written letters to their younger selves. Check out Aimee and Simmone's entries.

♥ Check out this interview with Leanne Hall at Listening to the Ants Scream, where Leanne talks about her novel, the paranormal romance genre and a possible sequel to This is Shyness (oh my goodness, everybody cross your fingers and think good thoughts!)

♥ Have you been to Literary Life lately? Megan's blog has had a facelift and is all shiny and new (but of course, still filled with all the usual awesomeness of her infectious writing).

♥ If you haven't already seen the Inky Awards Long List - go look and then run (don't walk) and read these books!

Guide to Aussie August giveaways:
♥ Win a copy of Beautiful Malice by Rebecca James at Book Probe
♥ Check out the Aussie Author Giveaway at The Australian Bookshelf
♥  Skye at In The Good Books is also giving away a fantastic pack of Aussie titles, go look!

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

A Pocketful of Eyes - Lili Wilkinson

The Facts
Author: Lili Wilkinson
Publisher: Allen & Unwin
Date of Publication: May 1st, 2011
Length: 324 pages

The Fiction
From the Publisher: Bee is in her element working in the taxidermy department at the Museum of Natural History, but her summer job turns out to be full of surprises:
A dead body in the Red Rotunda. A mysterious Museum benefactor. A large stuffed tiger in the Catacombs. A handsome boy with a fascination for unusual animal mating habits.
And a pocketful of glass eyes.
Can Bee sift through the clues to discover whether her mentor really committed suicide ... or is there a murderer in their midst?

I had been excited about this for a rather long time and I pretty much raced out on May 1st to get myself a copy. I’m a huge fan of Lili and her writing and was certainly not disappointed when I devoured it in an afternoon. Now I must apologise for writing the review so long after originally reading the book, which is mostly because every time I went to start writing this review I’d go ‘oh I’ll just read this one bit’ and end up re-reading half the book. Anyway, you can tell from its multiple mentions on my blog, that I enjoyed it quite a lot!

Our heroine, Bee, is definitely a girl after my own heart. Incredibly observant and a lifelong fan of detective novels, Bee is not only very smart, but has a brilliant, wry wit to her that makes her very endearing. Like Ava in Pink, I loved that Bee is slightly flawed and allowed to make mistakes through the course of the novel - in the way she navigates through the museum murder mystery and the changing relationships with both Toby and her mother, making her very real and relatable to a teen reader.
Now to the potential love interest, Toby – I don’t think I have swooned this hard in a while (and I’m not usually a very ‘swoony’ kinda gal). Call me weird, but there is something I find incredibly charming about Toby’s seduction technique of reeling off the courtship rituals of animals (seriously, did you know that male porcupines sing to the female before urinating all over them?). My love for delightfully nerdy guys (think Dr Spencer Reid in Criminal Minds or Sweets in Bones) is fairly well documented on the blog, so I don’t think it would come as a major surprise that I thought Toby received top marks in the ‘Teen Boy Love Interest’ category for me. Extra points must also be awarded for the snappy, fun banter between Bee and Toby, which remains consistent throughout. A Pocketful of Eyes also features a number of well-developed supporting characters, which certainly add to the likeability of the novel (of particular note for me were Bee’s D&D playing, fandom loving mother and her boyfriend, the Celestial Badger).

One of my favourite things about A Pocketful of Eyes is the way that Lili has successfully blended the elements of a traditional whodunit mystery with a contemporary Australian setting (another book set in Melbourne!) and the light-hearted, enjoyable style of a YA rom-com. Whilst aspects of the mystery genre are often incorporated in paranormal and dystopian YA, it was great to work nicely in a contemporary story (and I loved the way Lili references preceding literary sleuths from Poirot to Encyclopaedia to Trixie Belden).
Like any good mystery, this one had me guessing until the very end, and like any good YA, A Pocketful of Eyes has clever, fun characters, an engaging plot and a healthy smattering of pop culture references. As you can probably tell by my overuse of adjectives in this review, it's one of my favourite reads so far in 2011.

Lili Wilkinson will be appearing at the 2011 Melbourne Writers Festival in ‘In the Family’, ‘A Pocketful of Eyes’ and ‘Politics in YA’. For more information or tickets, go here.

This post is part of Aussie August - a month of sharing all-Australian reviews and content.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Aussie August

When I first heard about the suggestion for Aussie August on Goodreads– a month dedicated solely to writing about and reviewing Australian young adult titles, I’ll admit that initially I was a bit ‘ehhhh’ about the whole thing. Not because I don’t love Aussie YA, because if you’ve read this blog for more than a few weeks, you’d know that I am hugely passionate about supporting and sharing thoughts on local authors and Australian stories. My feelings toward Aussie August were originally the same as how I feel about Mother’s and Father’s Day – whilst it is nice to have a day to celebrate them, surely it would be better if we treated them (and shared our gratitude and love) all-year round.

Anyway, as you can probably tell that my momentary hesitation was surpassed by my excitement to share (as part of a group) my excitement for and love of Australian young adult fiction with the rest of the world! So I’m hoping you will all stick around for August as it will be packed with double the dose of all-Australian content. Not only will I be reviewing Australian YA titles, I’ll also be continuing some of my favourite blogging series posts (including Fiction to Film, the Film Companion and City in Pages).

Over the next 31 days, make sure you head to the central hub for Aussie August (put together by the lovely Lux of The Paperback Heart) for even more local content from Aussie bloggers including interviews, reviews and guest-posts. For my overseas friends, there will be heaps of giveaways (over 15 at a quick count), all of which will be open internationally! I hope you all enjoy the next 31 days!