National Young Writers' Festival 2015!

Thursday, August 27, 2015

The NYWF program has been announced, which is fairly exciting, since I'll be there this year! It's on from October 1 to 4 in Newcastle, and it promises to be excellent (and it's all free!). Here's a bit of a blurb on the festival from their website:

NYWF is Australia’s largest gathering of young and innovative writers working in both new and traditional forms including zines, comics, blogging, screenwriting, poetry, spoken word, hip hop, journalism, comedy, songwriting and prose. This year’s festival is set to be our biggest yet and will deliver an assortment of performances, debates, workshops, panels, readings, in conversations and roundtables on topics that push the envelope further and further.

I'll be talking on these two panels (there are so many amazing events, it's ridiculous - the program is here):

Publishing How To
With: Jennifer Dougherty, Steph Bowe, Samantha Forge, Eliza Henry-Jones

Everyone wants to know how to get their book published, right? But what does a good proposal look like? And do you need an agent or not? These editors and publishers and writers share their tips and tricks of the trade, from navigating the dreaded slush pile, to how to pitch.

Sat, 3 Oct 2015, 2pm

Venue: The Royal Exchange

YA Genre: Ahead of the Curve
Host: Jennifer Dougherty. With: Steph Bowe, Gabrielle Tozer, Lynette Noni


YA is often on the forefront of new movements when it comes to cutting edge themes, character diversity and the inclusion of debut authors into the fold. Why is it that so many young authors cut their teeth on YA? And why is YA so often a sounding board for big issues?

Sunday, 4 Oct 2015, 3pm

Venue: The Royal Exchange

Check out the NYWF website to see all the other awesome people who'll be appearing. I hope to see you there!

Meanjin Writers' Day Camp in Brisbane on September 5!

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

I'll be running workshops with years 7-9 students as part of Meanjin Writers' Day Camp on September 5 in Mt Gravatt! I'll be presenting alongside Kyrra Wilks, author of fantasy adventure novel The Seven - a very inspiring young writer!

If you're in years 7-9 in South-East Queensland and keen on writing, or know someone who is, you should register! You can find out more on the Australian Literacy Educators’ Association website. Here's a bit more info, from their site:

The Brisbane Meanjin Local Council of the Australian Literacy Educators’ Association (ALEA) conducts an annual writers' camp to encourage and develop talented young writers. This year students in Years 7, 8 and 9 from both state and non-state schools are invited to attend and have the opportunity to work with a well-known and established author as well as an emerging author.

WHEN: Saturday 5th September 2015

WHERE: Yarranlea Primary School which is located on the Mt Gravatt Campus of Griffith University, Brisbane

AUTHORS: Steph Bowe and introducing Kyrra Wilks

PLANNED ACTIVITIES:

  • Meeting the invited authors and hearing about their writing and stories
  • Working with the authors to help you with your own writing projects
  • Exploring writing, talking about writing, sharing writing ... and writing!
  • Finding out from authors how books get to print
  • Social activities with new friends
COST: $75 per child or $100 per family (max. 2 children from one family).

I'm pretty excited about it! Here's the link to register.

The Minnow by Diana Sweeney

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Tom survived a devastating flood that claimed the lives of her sister and parents. Now she lives with Bill in his old shed by the lake. But it’s time to move out—Tom is pregnant with Bill’s baby.

Jonah lets her move in with him. Mrs Peck gives her the Fishmaster Super Series tackle box. Nana is full of gentle good advice and useful sayings.

And in her longing for what is lost, Tom talks to fish: Oscar the carp in the pet shop, little Sarah catfish who might be her sister, an unhelpful turtle in a tank at the maternity ward. And the minnow.

A novel very unlike anything else I have read, both incredibly beautiful and incredibly sad. Tom has an innocence that is both lovely and heart-wrenching. So many tragic things befall her (losing her family in a flood is only the beginning), it's amazing that the story manages to be uplifting, in the end. Tom is a character with whom I sympathised, and I loved that she spoke to fish (it reminded me a little of Big Fish, the poignancy of it, or the surrealness, or maybe the use of fish as metaphors, or all three. That was my favourite film when I was ten. I must have watched it a hundred times). Her grandmother is the sweetest, and so is Jonah. Mrs Peck is horrendous, but Bill is most horrendous of all. The town itself is beautifully drawn and distinctly Australian, but still with a sense of being disconnected from the rest of the world (likely due to Tom's perspective).

It's authentic despite the surreal aspects, but if you come to this novel expecting standard contemporary YA, you'll be disappointed. It doesn't moralise or offer life lessons or clearly explain particular situations (many, many details remain vague, like those of the flood or how Tom came to live with Bill). The plot is not clear or neat. The voice of Tom and her journey are compelling enough. It reminded me of As Stars Fall by Christie Nieman, which was published around the same time and has a similar slow-burning moody atmosphere and surreal aspects expertly weaved into a realistic story.

The Minnow is original and unconventional and exquisitely written and heart-breaking/mending. It tackles huge, difficult events with aplomb and subtlety. This is, again, one of those novels that should hardly be limited to teenage readers. I think many adults will enjoy this, even those that don't fancy themselves as readers of YA.

The Minnow on the publisher's website

Night Beach by Kirsty Eagar

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Imagine there is someone you like so much that just thinking about them leaves you desperate and reckless. You crave them in a way that's not rational, not right, and you're becoming somebody you don't recognise, and certainly don't respect, but you don't even care. 
And this person you like is unattainable. 
Except for one thing . . . 
He lives downstairs.

Abbie has three obsessions. Art. The ocean. And Kane. But since Kane's been back, he's changed. There's a darkness shadowing him that only Abbie can see. And it wants her in its world.

A Gothic story about the very dark things that feed the creative process, from the winner of the 2010 Victorian Premier's Literary Award for young adult fiction.

This is a case where you can judge a book by its cover. The novel is atmospheric and spooky and the cover suits it perfectly. This novel is weird, which I love, dark and strange and interesting. Abbie is not always a likeable character, or a good decision-maker (she is obsessive to an incredibly worrying degree), and Kane, with whom she is obsessed, is often downright awful. It's paranormal, I suppose, but not your typical paranormal - there's not clear-cut romance or predictable plotlines. It is both real and unreal (and quite surreal, too, now I think about it).

It's distinctly different from both of Eagar's previous novels - Saltwater Vampires is more paranormal and more humorous, and Raw Blue is much more realistic and written in a more straightforward style. I think there are quite a number of writers from whom you can generally expect something similar with each book - whether that's the writer's doing or the publisher's is hard to tell. That's both a good thing and a bad thing. It's good in that if you discover a book you love, then there's more where that came from in the writer's back catalogue, and it makes it easier to clearly define a writer's style. It's bad in that some writers can become predictable. What I think is obvious from Eagar's novels is that she's a writer who is constantly developing and challenging herself, and as a result each of her novels published so far is unique. So I can't necessarily say if you loved Raw Blue, you'll love Night Beach, too - the writing style is more complex, the plot is supernatural, and the central character is far less sympathetic - but I can say that Night Beach is brilliant.

My greatest disappointment with the novel (look away now if you want to avoid a spoiler, though it's not a major one) is that a dog is killed, which I didn't think was entirely necessary. There are certain things in novels that I can't stomach, and this is one of them. (Though it speaks to how involved I was in the story that I found that event so horrendous; if it were a poorly executed novel and it had felt inauthentic, it wouldn't have bothered me as much.)

This book was published three years ago, so I'm a little disappointed I didn't read it until just recently - I think I have a tendency to favour contemporary in my YA reading. If this sounds like the sort of novel you'd like (weird/dark/intense) then do not skip over it. It is beautifully written, and very compelling, and different and strange and so worth reading.

Night Beach on the publisher's website.

Molly and Pim and the Millions of Stars by Martine Murray

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Molly has a strange life. Her mama collects herbs at dawn and makes potions, her father and brothers have gone away, and her house feels like a gypsy caravan.

Molly doesn’t want to know anything about herbs and potions. She wishes she could be more like her best friend, Ellen, who has a normal family and a normal house. But she is also secretly interested in Pim, who is inquisitive and odd and a little bit frightening.

When Molly’s mama makes a potion that has a wild and shocking effect, Molly and Pim look for a way to make things right, and Molly discovers the magic and value of her own unusual life.

This novel is The Loveliest. Sweet and splendid and magical, while still being of-this-world. Molly longs to be as normal as her friend Ellen (who gets muesli bars in her lunchbox and doesn't have a mum that wanders about the woods barefoot, collecting herbs for potions) and this is something I think young readers will definitely relate to (everyone has thought at some point "my family is the weirdest" - eventually you realise everyone's family is weird and that's okay and sometimes even great).

Molly does work out that she's pretty lucky to have her slightly odd mum, but only once something pretty terrifying happens. I don't want to give anything away (I think it's better when stories are surprising), so I'll leave it at that. Even though Pim features in the title (and Pim, with his interesting trivia and perspective of the world, is a great character), he doesn't heavily feature in the book. It's a story about friendship, but most of all it's about Molly learning to appreciate her mum and their strange life. (The fact that her father and twin brothers had mysteriously vanished in Cuba was such an odd but intriguing detail, and one that makes me hope there'll be another book about Molly, in which she finds them!)

There are so many sweet characters (apart from the incredibly horrendous neighbours, Ernest and Prudence Grimshaw), but I especially love Molly's mum, and Ellen (I would be friends with Ellen. She is so nice and sensible). The lovely little illustrations and glossary of herbs and such at the end of the book are a beautiful touch. I really quite enjoyed it, and I would've absolutely adored it when I was ten.

(How splendid is the cover? It's got lovely sparkly bits, in real life - have a look at Cait's review at Paper Fury for some lovely photos of it. Am I overusing the word lovely? That's what this book is. The Bookish Manicurist's painted a gorgeous manicure to match it. And now I'm linking to other reviews, I can't really stop myself: I love this review from a 9-year-old reader, as well as Danielle's thoughts at Alpha Reader on this book and middle-grade fiction in Aus.)

Molly and Pim and the Millions of Stars on the publisher's website

Saltwater Vampires by Kirsty Eagar

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

He looked to the sky, praying for rain, a downpour, some sign from the heavens … But all he saw was the bloated white face of the moon smiling down on him … And the sky around it was cold and clear and black …
They made their circle of blood. And only the moon witnessed the slaughter that followed.

For Jamie Mackie, summer holidays in the coastal town of Rocky Head mean surfing, making money, and good times at the local music festival. But this year, vampires are on the festival line-up … fulfilling a pact made on the wreck of the Batavia, four hundred years ago. If their plans succeed, nobody in Rocky Head will survive to see out the new year.

Saltwater Vampires takes a real historical atrocity (the mutiny and massacre of at least 110 people following the 1629 shipwreck of the Batavia) and reimagines it as vampiric turning ritual ('Vampires did it' makes it seem less awful, somehow). The historical angle is well-executed and intriguing. Most of the story occurs in the present day, and centres around Jamie and his friends becoming embroiled in another terrible vampiric plot centred around the local music festival. It's fun and fast-paced and a little bit outlandish, but there's still a sincerity to the story and the relationships between characters.

I loved the setting - an Australian coastal town over the break between Christmas and New Year - which is antithesis of setting in traditional vampire novels (where it is perennially dark, rainy, misty and thunderous in either a) an old time-y European castle complete with bats or b) a vaguely American small town that has frequent mysterious disappearances). The vampire mythology is consistent and credible - plenty of standard vampire stuff with a few little twists. Vampires are able to see the future in mirrors, which is an absolute torment for them, hence why they don't like mirrors, and the fact that they don't need to breathe allows them to live underwater. If you like your vampires sparkly and sexy, this is probably not the book for you - the vampires are creepy and sinister and really not the kind you want to encounter during an evening stroll.

(An aside: the plan of the vampires in this novel reminded me of the plan of the leviathans in season 8 of Supernatural. Juice = Turducken. Plus, the vampirates in the same season are not entirely unlike the saltwater vampires in this novel.)

The things that appealed the most to be about the novel weren't necessarily the things that were emphasised - the story of Jamie and his friends was what the majority of the story centred around, while I really wanted to find out more about the secret vampire society and the motivations and backgrounds of each of the vampires - like further explanation of Jeronimus Cornelisz's obsession with Lucretia Jans, how people get recruited by the vampire organisation (I'm keen on being pale and running really fast and being able to eavesdrop really well, can I join?), that sort of stuff. So it reads more like a contemporary YA, with vampires and sprinklings of history thrown in.

I'd recommend Saltwater Vampires to younger YA readers (the central characters are fifteen). It's a very enjoyable vampire novel with an interesting historical aspect, that's centrally character-driven - even if you're not a big fan of paranormal fiction, it's still worth picking up.

Saltwater Vampires on the publisher's website.

Afterlight by Rebecca Lim

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Since her parents died in a freak motorbike accident, Sophie Teague’s life has fallen apart.

But she’s just enrolled at a new high school, hoping for a fresh start.

That’s until Eve, a beautiful ghost in black, starts making terrifying nightly appearances, wanting Sophie to be her hands, eyes and go-to girl.

There are loose ends that Eve needs Sophie to tie up. But dealing with the dead might just involve the greatest sacrifice of all.

Dark, thrilling and unrelentingly eerie, Afterlight will take you deep into the heart of a dangerous love story, revealing the otherworldly—and deadly—pull of past wrongs that only the living can put right.

I am like 85% sure Rebecca Lim is not of this world. I don't know how she does it, but she's written a novel about a girl who follows the directives of a ghost and it's somehow believable. Authentic. Ghosts exist. There's these gate-keepers stopping them from getting at us. All of this makes perfect sense. She's got powers, is what I'm saying. I am fully convinced this all could've actually happened. I think this is due to a combination of two things: Sophie's hilarious, unpretentious narration (which reads like a friend telling you what they got up to at the weekend) and the astounding amount of geographical detail (I'd call it world-building but it's Melbourne which I'm fairly sure is not Rebecca Lim's creation - but who really knows, maybe I'm in a Rebecca Lim novel? Disappointing lack of babes/supernatural creatures makes me think this is unlikely).

I stayed up very late reading this novel and it is a very creepy novel and when I went to get a glass of water in the dark, scary night while reading the dark, scary book I was DEEPLY CONCERNED that there would be a ghost in the kitchen and/or outside the kitchen window (for some reason, outside the kitchen window is scarier, I don't know why). Fortunately there was not. But. This book: really, really spooky. (After I finished reading, I had weird, disorienting dreams. Possibly due to this book. Possibly due to the fact I usually have weird, disorienting dreams.)

I cannot believe Jordan Haig is not mentioned in the blurb because he's terrific, he's the most terrific character in the book, I can't believe it. Best love interest in a YA novel I've read in recent memory. It's a definite read-in-one-sitting book (both because it is really short and also because it is really compelling). There are some characters that I expected more development of or some resolution to their story, which makes me hope there's a sequel (for instance, Daughtry seemed underutilized - surely he could've helped out a little more?). I thought, at the very least, Claudia P (the very awful bully) would get some sort of ghostly comeuppance (or would that have been cliché? Possibly). Afterlight doesn't have the same degree of in-depth expansive development as Lim's Mercy series, but it does have the same fast-paced, punchy thrills of The Astrologer's Daughter. I'm just very excited to read whatever Lim writes next, sequel or standalone.

Read it if you like: Underbelly and/or Goosebumps; spooky stories; quick, compelling reads; paranormal romance/urban fantasy/thrillers or any combination thereof. Just read it. I reckon you'll enjoy it.

Afterlight on the publisher's website.
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