Monday, May 30, 2011

EWF 2011 - Getting into Genre: YA

So after the literary-awesome of Reading Matters, I then spent my weekend at the Emerging Writers Festival conference weekend at the Melbourne Town Hall (which I hope to write up over the next few days), but the event I was most looking forward to was the Getting into Genre panel on YA, which was run in conjunction with the Wheeler Centre. Chaired by Andrew McDonald, the panel featured Tim Pegler (Five Parts Dead), Adele Walsh (Program Director at the Centre for Youth Literature and Persnickety Snark) and Fiona Wood (Six Impossible Things).

(Andrew McDonald, Tim Pegler, Adele Walsh and Fiona Wood)
  • Young adult fiction currently makes up approximately 13 - 15% of the Australian book market.
  • Andrew began the discussion by asking Tim and Fiona why they write YA, and why Adele reads it:
    • Tim claimed to have ""stumbled into it" and felt he was writing about but not necessarily for teenagers. He also made the excellent point that adolescence is a really exciting time - full of big (life-changing) decisions and stupid risks.
    • Fiona said she was "too much in-tune with my inner teenager" and also started writing YA somewhat by accident, and told us about how Dan from Six Impossible Things kept coming up whilst she was working on a screenplay.
    • Adele remarked that her own teen years were "so uneventful" and from reading YA, she's able to experience things she missed out on and make sense of her own experiences.
  • Tim talked about his experiences as a journalist with The Age and the effect it had on his writing and "shining the light in dark places". He also spoke about some of the student responses he'd had about Five Parts Dead (especially in regard to drink driving), which was great.
  • Then came the topic of voice - both Tim and Fiona's novels are in first person and set in present time. Fiona said her reason for doing this was that it gave a better sense of immediacy. Tim talked about the fact that he borrowed a lot from his own life for Dan in Five Parts Dead and also completed a writing residency at a school amongst Year 10 and 11s (and used this experience to add in slang, though it possibly added to much authenticity as his editor made him take some of it out!).  
  • Andrew bought up Adele's Top 100 YA Novels list which started a discussion about the definition of yound adult literature and some of the difficulties in classifying this area (Adele said that the inclusion of Pride and Prejudice on the list caused a bit of a stir).
  • Some of the most interesting discussion came from the idea of whether or not YA is (in itself) a genre. Fiona felt it was more of a notion or readership whilst Tim felt that YA has created a genre. Adele spoke about her love of YA, especially the fact that it isn't self-involved or pompous haha.
  • The importance of "writing what's real for you" and not what you think will fit with the current market - wise words Adele!
  • The trend (or more of a flood I would say) of paranormal romance in YA was also bought up. Adele made the excellent point that the sales in this area was being pushed by girls who weren't reading before (reluctant readers) and that she found it hard to criticise something that's encouraging people to read.
  • Marketing, publicity, media coverage and blogging all came up and Adele spoke to the trend in twenty-something-females blogging about YA (guilty). She also mentioned that a lot of Australian YA bloggers were passionate about getting the books and authors they loved out there. Adele also gave a little shout-out to librarians, booksellers and teachers who are responsible for a lot of hand-selling and helping great books find their way into the hands of teenagers. Something I also thought was interesting (and a bit sad) is that there is far less interest and respect paid to YA by the mainstream media.
  • In terms of practical tips (as it was part of the Emerging Writers Festival) there were some good ones - like being honest in your writing (and Fiona quoted Markus Zusak from his Reading Matters speech about writing the book that only he could write). Tim described YA as "sassy, emotionally honest and never dull".
  • Fiona also emphasised the importance of finishing what you write (which I definitely agree with) and to avoid the temptation of sending out a partial manuscript to a publisher or agent (again, having worked for an agent - I strongly agree). Tim suggested to not be too precious about your writing. Adele also reminded the audience that the Australian publishing industry is small and people do talk/know each other.
Other tidbits: I met up with Megan before the event (and she wrote about the panel here) and got to speak briefly to Braiden (mostly about Love Never Dies haha).

Thank you to the Emerging Writers Festival, the Wheeler Centre and the panelists for such a fantastic session! If you haven't read Six Impossible Things, Five Parts Dead or Andrew McDonald's The Greatest Blogger in the World, I urge you to race to your nearest bookseller and get your hands on a copy!

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Reading Matters 2011 - Part 4

If you are still reading this (Part 4 in my Reading Matters recaps) - thank you for sticking with me this far!
After some afternoon tea, we had a panel I was pretty excited about:

Cover Versions was something a bit different. It began with Zoe Sadokierski (a designer and academic) speaking about covers, her design process and some insight into her PhD work on the relationship between words and images.
  • Zoe has designed around 200 book covers including Good Oil, Beautiful Malice, Saltwater Moons and The Golden Day (check out her online folio for more - they are all stunning!). Zoe commented that she likes doing YA covers as the genre is "dark and hopeful" and reads the books before working on the covers.
  • Zoe then spoke about her academic research and showed some examples of the use of the graphic device in novels like Jonathan Safran Foer's Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. Unfortunately I didn't get a clear photo of any of Zoe's slides, but they were so interesting.
  • Zoe discussed some of her processes for working on covers and the way design is also incorporated into the layout and typesetting. She used The Golden Day as an example of a text which uses illustrations to connect the cover to internal design.
  • She commented on how many of these visual details "enhance the story".
Then for something a bit different: we got to see a Gruen-Transfer style panel. Three designers (Zoe, Tony Palmer and Bruno Hersft) had been given a brief for a YA cover (The Apothecary by Maile Meloy), they had two minutes to share and talk about their design before the covers would be judged by a panel made up of a teen reader, a bookseller and a librarian.
  • Tony went first and showed us some of his development sketches and discussed his process and then presented us with multiple covers, as he always does a number of options. His designs ranged from very commercial to some beautiful black and white pieces.
  • Up next was Bruno was presented one, incredibly striking image which played on the nuclear disaster hook of The Apothecary's synopsis. I also thought spine design (yes, he did that too) was amazing!
  • Then came Zoe, who created a cover which she wanted to have an "old feeling" without looking too retro. She also commented that she wanted to create a sense of duality on the cover.
  • The panel then gave feedback on each cover and thankfully, they did not have to pick a winner. We then got to see the real cover.
Time for the final panel of the day - Ron Brooks in conversation:
  • By this time, my note-taking hand and my neck were kind of sore, so I didn't write down much - plus it was nice to just listen to Ron talk about his career as an illustrator.
  • I have to say that I wasn't very familiar with much of Ron's work before this session, but it was still interesting to hear him speak about some of the issues he faced working on books like Fox, the way he payed homage to his grandparents house in Midnight Cat and how he found inspiration for Honey and Bear in his own backyard.
  • Ron ended the session by showing us a few sketch from a new story he is working on entitled The Coat.
Random comments and people-spotting:
  • The food was really, really good.
  • I was so thrilled when the lovely Aimee Said came up to me in Storey Hall and sat next to me for the whole day, and I was stoked to finally meet her (and was kind of massively fan-girling on the inside).
  • Also spotted (and got to say a brief hello to) Kate and Dugong Lady.
  • Had a quick chat with Adele, who had taken over MC duties for the afternoon and did an awesome job.
  • Spotted Amra Pajalic and Cath Crowley (who in my head, I still often refer to as Miss Crowley from my high school days), as well as soon-to-be-mega-author-star H.J Harper.
Whew! And now I come to the end of a long but very enjoyable day! To read about Day 2 at Reading Matters, head over to Megan's blog, Literary Life. Megan and I shared a pass to the conference (as both of us really, really wanted to go but neither of us could really afford to go on our own - so thanks CYL and SLV for letting us split a pass so we could both attend and blog about the events).

Overall I had a great time and I feel so lucky to have been able to attend and hear some of my favourite authors speak, as well as get to spend the day in the company of hundreds of other people who are passionate about childrens and YA books.

Links you should check out:
Centre for Youth Literature
Inside a Dog
Read Alert blog
Reading Matters tweets
Amra Pajalic's wrap-up of Reading Matters Day 1

Reading Matters 2011 - Part 3

The next portion of the day started with the annoucement of the IBBY Ena Noel Award, which went to Lili Wilkinson's Scatterheart (yay Lili!).

Great Expectations
This session was chaired by Adele Walsh (Persnickety Snark and the CYL) and featured a discussion with Melina Marchetta, Cassandra Clare and Markus Zusak. This was definitely one of my favourite panels and seemed to fly by (seriously, I easily could have listened to them speak for another hour!)
  • Adele began with a quote from Spiderman (hellz yeah!) "with great success comes great expectation" and started off the question "do your protagonists have expectations of you as an author?". Cassandra said her characters are frightened of her (as she can kill them off at any moment haha), Markus said that his characters "owe [him] everything" and that they should be thanking him and Melina said she pretends she has control over them (though it's not always the case...)
  • Adele then asked which was more challenging: expectations of the readers or your own expectations? Whilst Melina said she doesn't think of her audience at all, Markus works the opposite way with us being the first thing he thinks of and added this gem: "I try and look after you - until I get sick of you".
  • Each author spoke a little about international reactions to their books and at author appearances. Cassandra had a really funny story about being at an event in Spain that was "like a football match" with loud fans and Melina spoke about the way the ownership of the book is different in each country (and had quite an amusing story about reading Saving Francesca to a group in the US and they all thought it was strange hearing Francesca "with an Aussie accent".
  • All three writers talked about doing school visits and listed the worst question they've been asked at an event:
    • Melina: "How much money do you make?". She also said a lot of boys used to be disapointed when she came on school visits as she wasn't the girl from the Alibrandi cover or Pia Miranda.
    • Cassandra: "Can I have some of your blood?" (!!!)
    • Markus: (by some smart-arse kid with toliet-brush hair) "Are you a bisexual?" (to which Markus responded with "why, you interested?
  • Melina (in response to the question, does there need to be hope in YA?) said that she would never write a book without hope - awww.
  • The topic of film rights and adaptations was then discussed. City of Bones is in pre-production, with a Jace casting announcement to be made (hopefully) within the next few weeks, as they are down to the final couple of guys. The film rights to The Book Thief have been optioned but Markus is not involved in any screenwriting or pre-production (and made an excellent point about the win/win decision of selling the rights - if the film is bad, people will say the book was better and if the film is good, they'll go on to read the book). Melina has written a screenplay for On The Jellicoe Road (with assistance of Aurora Workshop and Screen NSW) and will hopefully have some news next year (yay!!!).
  • The session ended with their reading recommendations:
    • Cassandra: Knife of Never Letting Go (Patrick Ness) and Tamar (Mal Peet)
    • Melina: Yiddish Policeman's Union (Michael Chabon)
    • Markus: What's Eating Gilbert Grape (Peter Hedges), Wake in Fright (Kenneth Cook)

Taboo Words: Kate Burridge is a linguistics professor at Monash University and presenter on Can We Help? I didn't take a lot of notes during this session, I mostly just listened and was really interesting in Kate talk about swearing and taboo words (a topic she is very passionate about!).  For those interested, I did jot down:
  • That in Australia, swearing is part of our culture (from our past as descendents of convicts and sailors) and that our history is a melting pot of vernaculars.
  • There are four functions of swearing:
    • Expletive (in frustration and anger)
    • Abusive (to curse or insult)
    • Social (as a form of solidarity)
    • Friendly (as a "verbal cuddling")
  • Kate spoke at length on the topic of taboo words, swearing trends and the way our attitude to swearing has changed over time. It's honestly something I hadn't thought a lot about before, but was very interesting (and funny).
Part 4 to come shortly featuring Ron Brooks, discussion of cover designs and other observations.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Reading Matters 2011 - Part 2

Part 1 of my Reading Matters wrap-up is here.

Performance of scene from City of Bones

Cassandra Clare:
Cassandra's session also started with a performance from the theatre troupe (and they performed the same scene from Wednesday). Again, I'll do a dot-point recap:
  • Cassandra had a broken toe (which I mentioned in my Wednesday post) and she told us the story of how she broke it - by dropping her suitcase on it at Boston airport (ouch!!)
  • We were then treated to a reading from Cassandra's upcoming novel Clockwork Prince, the second title in the Infernal Devices series.
  • Cassandra then talked candidly about why she became a writer and she said that the shared quality of writers is that they all have peculiar interests that obsess them. She then shared a couple of hilarious stories - one involving her driving around with Holly Black in the boot of her car (as part of Holly's writerly research!) and the other about an urban exploring expedition at the abandoned Smallpox Hospital on Roosevelt Island (which ended with Holly and Cassandra surrounded by NYC police officers).
  • Cassandra Clare

  • The research process for Clockwork Angel was then discussed and the way immersed herself in the Victorian era by reading period cookbooks and etiquette guides to help create the sense of London in the 1870s. She also loves walking around London to get a sense of setting and to capture small details that contribute to the world of her characters.
  • Cassandra commented that she found that kids read "for the characters they love" and that they read to find out what happens to these characters and how they react in situations and respond to the world around them. She also noted that teen readers ask very different questions at appearances and events compared to adults (like "what is Jace's favourite colour? When is Alec's birthday? - details that Cassandra hasn't always thought about!).
  • Session drama - during question time, one guest asked a question which revealed a major spoiler! The audience was very vocal with their annoyance (though I expect most of them had already read the book). Without giving it away, it was about the ending of one of the books and was a pretty big bombshell. In regard to the bombshell, Cassandra said she wrote it hoping that it would "make you crazy and also make you want to read the next book". Well played Cassie!
Terribly blurry photo from the Damsels in Distress panel

The Damsels in Distress panel was chaired by Leesa Lambert (manager of The Little Book Room) and featured Lucy Christopher (Stolen), Ursula Dubosarsky (The Golden Day) and Leanne Hall (This is Shyness). Each of the above titles feature a young women place in some kind of predicament and below are the highlights of the discussion:
  • Ursula said she felt a few of her books are about isolated women without male authority figures.
  • Lucy suggested that young damsels are so prevalent in young adult fiction because "we need them" and this makes readers want to read on - to see how the damsels react and respond to the distress (and importantly, can they save themselves?).
  • Leanne agreed and commented that what makes the character interesting is what they do in distress". she hopes (and personally I agree) that she hopes girls in YA can rescue themselves - not necessarily in an ass-kicking action sequence and physical strength but in other ways too.
  • Lucy talked about the way she needs visual images of her characters in her head (she spotted a private school girl in London and 'found' her Gemma) and talked about her writing process, including going to the outback and writing pages of notes in Gemma's voice. She also spoke of moving from Wales to Australia as a child and the way the she was terrified and excited by the landscape, which went into Stolen.
  • Leanne talked about her own experiences as a "morbid teenage reader" and about stories being the "way of knowing you're not alone in the world".
  • One of the things I found to be most interesting that came out of the panel, was the idea of Ty in Stolen being a villain but also having "elements of Prince Charming" (Leanne Hall said this) and the novel being a "deconstruction of the Prince Charming myth". Lucy commented that there is a mix of fan reactions, many can't decide to love or hate him. Lucy researched Stockholm Syndrome as she wrote the novel, and actually changed the ending on the advise of her publisher.
  • On the topic of leading men and Prince Charmings, Leanne described Wolfboy as "too busy navel-gazing and full of angst" to be a proper hero (awwww, I love Wolfboy!).
  • Sorry! I didn't get a lot of quotes from Ursula, but there were quite a few on Twitter.
Jenny Niven, the program co-ordinator then came out to launch the schools program for this year's Melbourne Writers Festival. Yay! You can check out the program here. The youth sessions (which by the way, are not only for schools - anyone can go) will run from Monday August 29th to Thursday September 1st. Each session is $7 (and there are a few free events too) and feature both international authors like Maggie Stiefvater, as well as plenty of homegrown, local talent.

Parts 3 and 4 will be posted tomorrow and feature Cassandra Clare, Markus Zusak and Melina Marchetta (in a total made-of-awesome panel), Kate Burridge, Ron Brooks and some amazing cover art).

Reading Matters 2011 - Part 1

Hello! Yesterday I was lucky enough to be able to attend the first day of the biennial Reading Matters conference. Reading Matters is an event featuring local and international authors, which celebrates childrens and young adult literature and is run by the Centre for Youth Literature. I took lots of notes with the intention of being able to share some insight from the conference for those who couldn't attend (I also live-tweeted), so hopefully you find my next few posts interesting (as it was a full day of panels, I'll spread them out over a number of posts and I've attempted to make sense of my awful shorthand).

Inside Storey Hall

We were welcomed by Sue Hamilton, the Director of the State Library of Victoria who also thanked the numerous publishers and organisations involved in assisting with the conference. Paula Kelly, also from the State Library, who addressed the 'Top 5 Myths about Young People, Books and Reading'. This was really interesting and Paula shared some slides and surprising statistics (such as in 2010, the total Australian sales of childrens' and YA literature was approximately 66.5 million units, with about half of it being home-grown titles - yay!). Paula also emphasised the numerous benefits of recreational reading on the life of young people (better literacy skills, improved comprehension, enriches their cultural and civic life).
And now to the programme!

Markus Zusak:
Markus Zusak's session started with a performance from The Book Thief (by the same group who performed on Wednesday at the Cassandra Clare event - I think they were called Improv Melbourne).
It was a beautiful performance, simply staged and very effective. And then Markus came on! He is such an amazing speaker - he spoke honestly about his work and his success as a writer and was really, really funny. We were then treated to hearing Markus read an excerpt from his current work in progress, Bridge of Clay. Despite claiming to be "the worst reader in public", he did a fantastic job. He read two small portions from the work and wow, they were fantastic (seriously, if they are anything to go by, I urge you all to add Bridge of Clay to your wishlists for it's publication).

Markus also discussed the way he has changed over the past twelve years (since his first appearance at Reading Matters) and the way he is no longer embarrassed about being successful  - did you know that The Book Thief is still on the New York Times Childrens' Best Sellers list after five years? That is incredible! Markus also said that in his writing now, he was "just trying to be absolutely myself" and that he wanted his books to read as very him and as though they couldn't have been written by anyone but him.

Obstructed view of the Monsters Ink panel

Monsters Ink:
This panel session featured Kirsty Eagar (Saltwater Vampires), Ananda Braxton-Smith (Merrow), Brenton McKenna (Ubby's Underdogs) and Karen Healy (Guardian of the Dead) talking about myths and monsters in their writing. I toook quite a few (scribbly) notes during this panel, so I'll try and it's dot-point time (also I've tried as much as possible to avoid major spoilers, but please note there may be points that are spoiler-ish).
  • Each author has published a work which taps into a deeper, older knowledge and utilises myth (Celtic, Maori, Indigenous/Aboriginal, Batavia shipwreck with a vampire twist)
  • Karen noted that some of the interest and appeal of vampire stories could be traced all the way back to Lilith of the Old Testament. She also bought up the idea that monsters can be "used to explain the awful things in us".
  • Ananda made a really interesting point about merrows (who for those who don't know, are Irish mer-people) being reflective of adolescence (straddling two worlds, being half-in, half-out).
  • Karen admitted she grew up as a huge fan of fantasy fiction and stressed the importance of quests, journeys and the way that conflict drives story and that "if your characters aren't changing and learning stuff then nothing happens"
  • Karen also revealed some insight into her writing practices - that she starts with character and setting,as "plot is [her] weakness" and Guardian of the Dead was originally intended to end at Part 1.
  • Brenton McKenna confessed he wrote without an audience in mind and that he was "just trying to tell a good story". Brenton also shared that growing up he had reading difficulties and that he turned to comics, which helped develop his visual literacy (yay for comics and graphic novels!)
  • Each book had a strong sense of setting: Brenton McKenna's novel is set in post-war Broome (as Brenton grew up hearing stories from his grandmother, who is the inspiration for the character of Ubby). Guardian of the Dead is a story which uses Maori mythology and because of this, the land is hugely important. Similarly, the land was of huge importance to the Celtics and Pagans and Ananda made an excellent link between an island and the body of a young girl during adolescence and said that "the land came first and the girl grew out of the rocks". Kirsty said that her choice of setting in Saltwater Vampires was very deliberate and was inspired by the town of Crescent Head in coastal New South Wales.
  • There was also some really insightful discussion about death and ageing in these works. I also loved something Kirsty said about both Raw Blue and Saltwalter Vampires are being about "how to live" and how boring she thought immortality would be "really boring".
  • On the topic of death: Brenton quoted James O'Barr's The Crow (win!!!! one of my favourites - both the graphic novel and the film adaptation) that "childhood ends the moment you know you're going to die". I may have been so excited about hearing this quote that I didn't write down the final moments of the session ...
You can also read tweets from the Reading Matters conference here- there was lots of great live-tweeting!
Part 2 featuring Cassandra Clare, Ursula Dubosarsky, Lucy Christopher and Leanne Hall to come soon.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Cassandra Clare at the Westgarth

Tonight I met up with the lovely Megan of Literary Life to go see Cassandra Clare speak at the Westgarth Theatre, as part of the Reading Matters conference, in conjunction with Walker Books, Melbourne Writers Festival, Readings and the Centre for Youth Literature.

I feel like I should start this post with a confession - I have not read any of Cassandra Clare's Clockwork Angel/Mortal Instruments books. Eeeep! Sorry! I have, however, read her short story Cold Hands in the Zombies vs Unicorns anthology. Despite this, I still thought it would be interesting to hear Cassandra talk and she's such a big name in YA that I'd be silly not to go.

Firstly, the Westgarth is a beautiful venue! It's one of my favourite cinemas and it was rather nice to get to go there for a literary event. Adele of Persnickety Snark (and now the Centre for Youth Literature) hosted the event - it wasn't like any other booky event I've been to. The night started with a performance by a theatre troupe acting out a scene from City of Bones in full costume.

Leanne Hall then took to the stage, as the High Warlock of Brooklyn, Magnus Bane (check out this pic from Readings of Leanne's costume!) and introduced Cassandra Clare. I'm going to do a run-down of some of the discussion from tonight in dot-point and apologies if some of it is slightly vague - having not read the books, a lot of stuff went over my head!

Cassandra and Leanne in conversation
  • Poor Cassandra had a broken toe and managed to make it up the flimsy stage stairs in heels (that's dedication!)
  • City of Fallen Angels - the first book in the second Mortal Instruments trilogy, explores the dark side of the characters. Whilst the first three novels were centred around good vs evil, the next book look at inner evils and has many characters falling from grace (with some pretty borderline, almost unlikeable actions). Themes such as descent and temptation will play a bigger role in the new books.
  • There was some interesting discussion about Jace's journey in the new books (interesting for me anyway, having not read them) and the idea that his plots will look more towards him needing to find acceptance, self-belief and learning to love himself.
  • Cassandra was greatly inspired by John Milton's Paradise Lost and this has influenced City of Fallen Angels.
  • The "hot alley scene" (I'm assuming fans will know this) was fun to write after building a lot of pent-up emotions, desire and teen hormones with Jace and Clary.
  • When writing Clockwork Angel, Cassandra immersed herself in Victorian era books and poetry and watched films set in this time. With the help of a research assistant, she also read diaries and first hand accounts and used these details to bring realism to the work. She had a really good research analogy about an iceberg (10% is visible, the other 90% is under the surface).
  • There was some talk of the City of Bones movie. Cassandra has read (and likes) the screenplay and initially found out about the casting of Lily Collins as Clary via twitter (and since has been in more contact with the studio and is going to be a bit more involved). She also suggested that there will hopefully be some news with Jace casting in the next couple of weeks!
  • In regard to future novels, there are possibilities for more novels set in the Shadowhunter world, but Cassandra is also hoping to work on a contemporary YA adaptation of Pride and Prejudice.
  • Cassandra says the characters from her books that she is most like are Tessa from Clockwork Angel and Simon from the Mortal Instruments books. She also shares Jace's sarcastic sense of humour.
Following the discussion, there was an opportunity to get books signed (which I think most people did). I didn't get too many photos as Megan and I sat further back and I'm not great at using my phone's camera (Gen Y fail). However, there are some on Braiden, Megan and Adele's twitters.
Cassandra spoke well and was really funny, and even though a lot of the book-specific stuff went over my head, I always find it interesting to hear authors talk about their work and their writing processes. Hope everyone else who went had a good night!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Snack Size - David Levithan

I first discovered the amazing David Levithan through his YA collaborations with Rachel Cohn (Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist, Naomi and Ely's No Kiss List and Dash and Lily's Book of Dares) and John Green (Will Grayson, Will Grayson) and then went on to track-down his solo novels, which rest-assured, are just are heartfelt, funny and enjoyable. Below are three mini-reviews of David Levithan's titles, at 100 words each.

Boy Meets Boy
Published by Knopf, 2003

Boy Meets Boy is a charming and funny read, following Paul (an openly gay high-school student) from an incredibly open and accepting American town (it’s almost utopian in terms of its tolerance). Unlike the majority of LGBT YA fiction I’ve read, this isn’t so much of  a coming-out story, as it is a teen romance (complete with love triangles, epic romantic gestures and prom). There is also one of the most fabulous characters (ok, maybe tied with Tiny Cooper), Infinite Darlene, who if nothing else does, will put a smile on your face. Boy Meets Boy is sweet, quirky and slightly heartbreaking but highly-recommended.

Are We There Yet?
Published by Knopf, 2005

Now you know I love a good sister story, but Are We There Yet is one of the few YA novels I can recall reading recently with a focus on the relationship between brothers. Elijah (sixteen and perpetually chill) and Danny Silver (twenty-three year old workaholic) are tricked into going on a holiday to Italy together by their parents to help their strained relationship. The vacation starts awkwardly and the chapters alternate from each brother’s point of view and both tell of childhood memories and attempt to pinpoint why have become so distant. It’s a relationship story, a travel story and a coming of age story in one great book.

Love is the Higher Law
Published by Random House, 2009

Love is the Higher Law is the story of three teenage New Yorkers – Claire, Jasper and Peter, and the way their lives are affected following the events of September 11. Levithan’s writing is honest and sensitive and his characters felt incredibly real. I’ll admit I bawled my way through Claire and Kyle’s stories, and whilst I had some trouble initially relating to Jasper, ended up really caring for them all. Whilst the story is highly emotive and set amidst such tragic circumstances, I do feel like there is a lasting message of hope and the capacity for strength and community.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Teen Book Video Awards

Calling all (high school) filmmakers!!!
Are you an aspiring teen Tarantino, Coppola or Scorsese?
If so, have you thought of entering:

Random House Australia is launching the Teen Book Video Awards 2011, a competition for Australian high school students to create a 90 second video trailer for one of these Random House childrens' and YA titles. Winners receive $1,000 and $1,000 worth of Random House titles for their school.

The competition is only open to Australian high school students, you can enter either individually or as part of a group (perfect if you are more of a thespian than a Fellini) and entries close September 30th. This could also make an awesome, creative English or Media project!

For more information about the Teen Book Awards, watch the above video or check out the Random House website. Budding filmmakers, get cracking!

Friday, May 20, 2011

Mixed Bag #38

image source: we ♥ it

Please excuse my blogging absence lately! I'm currently house-sitting at a place with no internet (weird, I know!) and I was naughty/lazy and didn't schedule blog posts (eeep!). I do have lots of things planned for the coming weeks, so hopefully it won't be so quiet again this month.

Anyway, here are a few bits and pieces I've enjoyed lately:
♥ I'm in love with this review of Hold Me Closer Necromancer by Jenny at Forever Young Adult

♥ An interview with Curtis Brown literary agent Pippa Masson at the Australian Literature Review.

♥ ZOMG! Harry Potter in comic book form!!! These are all kinds of awesome, so check them out.

♥ Have you seen the first look as Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss? I think she looks great!

♥ Aimee Said talks research and your writing in Writing what you don't know

♥ As usual, Megan at Literary Life has had some great posts lately - I'm especially loving her Things I've been Loving Lately and Power of Words posts

Video time: I adore Paloma Faith and I think this music video is too cute - hopefully it brightens your morning/afternoon/evening (depending which timezone you're in)

Have a great weekend!

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Polyvore Profile - Beatrice May Ross

I've been looking forward to the release of Lili Wilkinson's A Pocketful of Eyes since late last year. I bought a copy the day it came out and devoured it in a couple of hours (and adored it!). I'm looking forward to reviewing it on here shortly and sharing the awesome-ness with all of you, but for now, here's a Polyvore Profile inspired by the novel's heroine, Beatrice 'Bee' Ross.

Beatrice May Ross

♥ Check out the gorgeous book trailer for A Pocketful of Eyes
Watch Lili answer some questions about the book
♥ More about A Pocketful of Eyes on the Allen & Unwin website

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Happy Things #61 - 65

Every so often, I chip away at one of my 43 Things goals - compiling a list of 100 things that make me happy. Here are five more things that make me really happy - feel free to share your own happy things in the comments, or on your own blog!

61. Feeling accomplished
image source: we ♥ it
When starting my job in September last year, there were things I was really scared of doing or didn't know how to do at all (and would feel like sick thinking about them). Recently, I have almost finished quite a big project I never thought I'd be able to do, and feel pretty darn good! I also learned tricks on Excel I thought were way beyond my limited knowledge, so yay!

62. 30 Rock
image source: we ♥ it
I adore 30 Rock (even though I found season 3 to be a bit meh, I liked season 4) and wish Australia would air the episodes a) in order and b) at a decent time. Instead, I wait until it comes out on DVD and watch the whole series in one glorious weekend. I think Liz Lemon is all-kinds of awesome, love Tracy and his entourage, get excited for the themed episodes, feel that Pete is underappreciated and that Cheyenne Jackson should be in more episodes.

63. Smiles
image source: we ♥ it
"I just like to smile, smiling is my favourite"

64. Watching movies with the commentary on
image source: we ♥ it
Ok, so this is slightly weird/obsessive and I know a lot of people who dislike this. If I love a movie, I get rather excited about the possibility of a re-watch and getting to people talk about behind-the-scenes stuff or little anecdotes. John Waters does the best commentaries on his own films (and also a pretty epic one on Mommie Dearest) and I could listen to them repeatedly (and sometimes I do, because I get a bit obsessive like that ....)

65. Shoes
image source: we ♥ it
They say most women fall into one of two categories: those who like bags and those who like shoes. I am definitely in the latter - I do like nice shoes. Also, as I am very short, I need all the extra height I can get.

What makes you happy?

Friday, May 6, 2011

Mixed Bag #37

Good morning friends! Here is my weekly collection of links to things that have amused or interested me recently. I hope you enjoy them:

image source: we ♥ it

♥ The Text Prize for Young Adult and Children's Writing is now accepting for submissions (until June 3rd - so Aussies, get cracking!).

Random House is having a pretty awesome book trailer contest, the Teen Book Video Awards, open to those still in school (unfortunately it has now been over five years since I left high school - wow I feel old - so all you young 'uns go enter for me).

♥ So far I've read 1 out of the 4 Books to Read Before You Die list on The Book Lantern, and will definitely have to add the others to my to-read pile.

♥ Oh mah gawd - I love this post from Cracked If Classic Movies Were Remade By Michael Bay (or if you hate clicking through slides like me, ONTD has the full list).

♥ Check out Gala Darling's list of 33 Movies to Watch When You're Sad, Glum or Bummed Out. My personal choices are Pee Wee's Big Adventure, Clueless and Grease (but I would also include what is definitely lacking from the list, my ultimate cinematic comforter - John Hughes films!!! Or Earth Girls are Easy).

♥ A surprising and beautiful letter from Iggy Pop to a fan. This really made my day earlier this week.

Video time: One of my favourite opening credits ever, from Adventures in Babysitting (sorry, the quality isn't great). I love this sequence!

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Aimee Said's Not-A-Launch

Heads up Melbourne friends! The lovely Aimee Said is having a celebration for the release of her newest novel, Little Sister at the Sun Theatre in Yarraville.

I should be going, so hopefully I'll get to see some of you there!

For more information on Aimee's 'not-a-launch', check out the Younger Sun blog and the Sun Bookshop website.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Guest Post - Aimee Said

I'm thrilled to be participating in my first-ever blog tour for Aimee Said's second novel, Little Sister and to welcome Aimee to My Girl Friday to share her thoughts on the growing presence of social media and it's role in her new book. You can read my review of Little Sister here.

Writing about social media, or how I learned to stop worrying and love Facebook

My first novel, Finding Freia Lockhart, had no references to Facebook, YouTube or Twitter. In fact, there wasn’t even a single mobile phone in the book! This was partly a deliberate decision because Freia’s family is very low-tech (dial-up internet + sites that refresh frequently = fail), but there’s another reason: when I started writing Freia in early 2006 social media just didn’t have the impact on our everyday lives that it has now.

Back then Facebook wasn’t available outside of selected universities, Tumblr didn’t exist, YouTube was brand new, Flickr restricted free uploads to 20mb per month (and digital cameras cost a fortune) and mobile phone costs were too high for most young people to have one. So Freia’s access (or lack of it) wasn’t that unusual. In contrast, social media – in particular Facebook – is practically a character in itself in Little Sister.

By the time I started writing Little Sister in late 2009, social media was everywhere. Facebook had over 300 million users, there were over 126 million blogs and the Bureau of Statistics estimated that two-thirds of Australian households had access to broadband. In the face of those figures, I knew that, unless Al was somehow cut off from society, social media would play a big role in her and her friends’ lives. While the temptation to set the book on a deserted island/in a post-apocalyptic city/in a galaxy far, far away was strong, the fact was that Al’s story was based in the here and now, so there was no avoiding it.

Writing the Facebook posts, IM chats and text messages in the book was fun, since I’ve always enjoyed novels that use letters, diaries, emails, etc. to add an extra dimension to the story. Especially in a story that’s told only from one character’s viewpoint, using these elements is a way of allowing other characters to express themselves without being filtered through the narrator. (Of course, as in real life, we only know what characters choose to share; Al’s imagined status updates at the end of each chapter are things she would never write if other people could read them.)

The one thing I really grappled with, from a writer’s perspective, is that the technology and trends that drive social media (not to mention who owns social media entities) change rapidly, which can really date a book so that in a few years’ time it looks ‘so 2011’. (This is also why many writers, myself included, avoid references to current hot singers, TV shows, etc. – if they fade into obscurity the references will be lost on future readers.) I guess I’ll have to take my chances on Facebook and Twitter merging to form Twitbook, or text messaging becoming obsolete…fingers crossed.

Aimee Said is a Sydney-born, Melbourne-based writer, editor and proofreader. She blogs at What She Said and is launching her second novel, Little Sister in both Sydney and Melbourne. Little Sister and Aimee's debut novel, Finding Freia Lockhart are both published by Walker Books Australia.

Make sure you check out the other stops on the Little Sister blog tour:
Monday: inkcrush
Tuesday: me!
Wednesday: Literary Life
Thursday: In The Good Books
Friday: The Younger Sun

Monday, May 2, 2011

Little Sister - Aimee Said

The Facts
Author: Aimee Said
Publisher: Walker Books
Publication Date: May 1st 2011
Length: 301 pages

The Fiction
From Walker Books: Al Miller wishes she was an only child.
Al Miller is counting down the days until her over-achieving older sister Larrie finishes Year Twelve and leaves Whitlam High School for ever. Then, Al is certain, people will finally see her as more than just “Larrie’s little sister”. But when a rumour about Larrie spreads around school, Al finds herself in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons. Who’s behind the rumour? And will it kill Al’s chances with school hunk, Josh Turner?

I was absolutely thrilled to get my hands on a copy of Aimee Said’s second novel, Little Sister. Most of you probably don’t know, but Aimee’s YA debut, Finding Freia Lockhart was the first title I ever reviewed on here!
Whilst I know from Aimee’s blog that she was worried about ‘second book syndrome’ with the release of Little Sister, I want to assure everyone that this novel is just as funny, clever and full of heart as Finding Freia Lockhart. Little Sister focuses strongly on sibling rivalry (Al is the titular little sister to perfect, studious school president Larrie), and also deals with homophobia and cyber-bullying with sensitivity and realism.
I think a lot of readers will identify with Al (and I did find it easy to sympathise with her at times), but maybe it’s because I’m an eldest child as a lot of Larrie’s mannerisms and behaviours were freakishly similar to my own in VCE (the obsessive study habits, being grouchy to younger siblings). Still, Al is a relatable character and even though some of her actions throughout the novel may have frustrated me a little, I was totally cheering for her at the end. I also adored Al’s group of friends - Maz (one of the best YA best-friends I have read in a while!), Prad and Nicko, and of course the delightfully-nerdy Simon (yay for gingers!) as well as the lovely fellows of Say Cheese, Dylan and Jay (working in a cheese shop – best after school job ever!). Aimee’s supporting characters are well-developed, entertaining and help provide some comedic fodder amidst the more serious issues raised.
One of the most interesting aspects of Little Sister for me was the way the novel utilised social media in the lives of the characters, as well as a narrative device (Al has these fictional status updates at the end of each chapter which was a little detail I loved). Aimee also examines the growing issue of cyber-bullying. Without being an ‘issues’ story (or going in the direction of an after-school special), Little Sister looks at the power of the internet, and the way it can be used to both empower and intimidate be used to intimidate teens. Scarily, in research for this review, I found out that according to a 2006 survey, 43% of American teens had experienced some form of cyber-bullying in the past year (and as this is prior to the mainstreaming of Facebook, I’d say those statistics are conservative!)

My reading of Little Sister also caused me to consider my relationship with my own little sister. I’m lucky (in a sense) that there is six years between us, and because of this age gap, we were never at high school at the same time (also, in my opinion, we don’t look very similar - photographic evidence - so teachers were less likely to make a connection and the inevitable comparison). In saying that, I’m probably more like Larrie than I’d like to admit and my own little sister is rather Al-ish and we definitely have our moments of intense sibling rivalry – though we also have a brother in between us, and he is definitely the favourite, so I think that helps diffuse sister vs. sister fighting. My original point is that Aimee has done a great job at capturing sibling rivalry and the way it impacts on the family dynamic. I’m sure most sisters will be able to identify with Larrie or Al and will be able to laugh, sympathise and appreciate their relationship.

Overall, I found Little Sister to be a really enjoyable read which manages to address a number of issues facing contemporary teens. It is also very funny, full of angsty-amusing observations, features a Battle of the Bands contest, soccer-playing boys and hi-larious games like Lucky Cats. Be sure to check back here tomorrow for a guest post by Aimee Said, as part of the Little Sister Blog Tour.

Sunday, May 1, 2011


image source: we ♥ it

Hello friends,

I just wanted to let you know about a few changes around My Girl Friday and some things that will be happening around here in the next few months:

♥ I've been getting a few review requests lately, so I've finally put together a short review policy for the blog. Whilst I'm still reading a lot, you've probably noticed that my reviews aren't as frequent as they used to be. I am being more selective in which books I'm featuring on here and am trying to spend more time writing about books I love and that I want to share with all of you.

♥ I also have written a short bio (because the mini-Blogger one doesn't give you much room!). I was thinking recently that the blogs I read and comment on the most, are the ones which I get a strong sense of the blogger through their writing and who have that personal element in their blogs. I'd like to start giving you more glimpses of my life on here.

♥ New features - this new series has not been forgotten! I've been working really hard on the first post in this series, and it's been a lot more time-involved than I had first anticipated, as I'm doing more research than I've done for any other series! I'm re-watching a lot of films, reading some really interesting articles and finding some really interesting connections between a range of texts - so please stay tuned as I'm really excited to share the first part soon.

♥ Literary events - Melbourne is hosting some amazing writerly events in May! I'm going to be attending the Reading Matters conference, the Cassandra Clare event at the Westgarth, the Emerging Writers Festival and the Get into Genre: Young Adult session at the Wheeler Centre. I'll be sure to write about these here! (and let me know if you're planning on attending any of these, as I'd love to meet you all)