Brisbanites! Book launch for YA novel Clancy of the Undertow - December 4!

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

I'm very excited to be helping launch Christopher Currie's first Young Adult novel, Clancy of the Undertow, at Avid Reader bookshop on Friday, December 4! (Not this Friday, the one after.*)

If you a) live in or near Brisbane and b) love YA (or just novels in general, really), you should come! This is what Clancy of the Undertow is about:

Awkward, titless, something approaching hopeless. That’s how Clancy describes herself. Harsh. But in a town like Barwen you only have to be a little different to feel like a freak. And Clancy, with a moderately dysfunctional family, a genuine interest in Nature Club and a major crush on the local hot girl, is packing a capital F.

As the summer begins, Clancy’s dad is involved in a road smash that kills two local teenagers. While the family is dealing with the reaction of a hostile town, Clancy meets someone who could possibly - at last - become a friend. Not only that, the unattainable Sasha, by far the coolest person in town, starts to show what may be a romantic interest.

In short, this is the summer when Clancy has to figure out who the hell she is.

For more info and to RSVP (which you should - book launches are an A+ way to spend your Friday night), head to the Avid Reader website!

(And for more info on the book, check out the publisher's website. HOW GREAT IS THE COVER.)

*Assuming you are reading this around the time I am posting this. If it is 5000 years in the future and you are a robot cataloguing the internet, you have missed the book launch. I am sorry, future robot.

Interview with thirteen-year-old author Kyrra Wilks

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Back in September, I had the chance to be part of the ALEA Meanjin Writers Camp held at Griffith University at Mt Gravatt, which was an incredibly fun day of working with young writers. I also got to present alongside one particularly inspiring young writer, thirteen-year-old Kyrra Wilks, author of The Seven.

It was awesome to see Kyrra speak to other writers the same age as her; it's so inspiring to see young writers achieving their goals. I think, even for older writers, there's always something to learn from other writers' perspectives and experiences. Kyrra was lovely enough to answer some questions for me about creating fantasy worlds, naming characters, her self-publishing journey, the benefits of being a young writer, advice she would give other young writers and more! I think a lot of her insights other young writers will definitely be able to relate to - I certainly do.

Steph: The Seven features a fantasy realm with rich mythologies, and clearly involved a lot of world-building. What advice would you give to people interested in writing fantasy for creating original and realistic worlds?

Kyrra: Sometimes to create something new, you must first look at something old. This is part of the strategy that I think about using when creating a new and interesting world. Sometimes looking around or thinking about different places that you have visited can give you the inspiration to create a new world. When creating original and realistic worlds it is important to think about the places that you have seen and then think how you can change or alter them to create the world that you imagine your character’s live in.

Steph: What inspires your work? Are there any particular novels, or people, who have been especially influential in shaping the writer you are now?

Kyrra: I definitely find a lot of my inspiration by looking at the world around me, and looking back on past experiences. Some of my main inspiration comes from other books and the amazing characters that other authors have created. I believe that if you are aspiring to be a writer, it is so important that you read, read and read even more. Other people that have helped me along the way are my parents, family, friends and teachers. They have all contributed in one way or another – by encouraging me, helping to read through my work, or teach me the basics at a very young age. Without all of these people in my life, I certainly would not be the writer that I am today!

Steph: Do you think being a young writer gives you a different perspective or writing process to older writers? (Can you better relate to younger characters, perhaps?) Or do you feel your age doesn't affect your process very much?

Kyrra: I believe that being a younger writer does give you a different perspective on certain things. I feel as though I can relate to people my own age quite closely, as I understand the thoughts that go through their heads and the different types of things that they experience. When I write about characters who are older than myself I feel that some parts of them may be a mystery, although this does not stop me from developing the character and making them interesting and unique. I believe that being a younger writer gives you a different perspective while writing, but also gives the reader a different perspective while reading which makes the book unique.

Steph: When I write, I tend to give my characters names that I like - which works for me, because I write character who live in our world. Your characters, on the other hand, live in a fictional world and a number of them have invented names - what's your process for naming your characters?

Kyrra: When giving characters invented names, the most important thing to do first is to establish the character’s personality and appearance. Based on age, appearance and character traits, I usually find that certain names fit the character, as if they were always intended to have that name. Sometimes I also look at names that are from a certain style and category and then match parts of words to create a suitable name.

Steph: You published The Seven when you were only twelve years old, which is awesome, and very brave - when did you decide you wanted to publish it? Can you tell me a little bit about the process of preparing the book for publication? What was it like getting feedback from people who read your book?

Kyrra: I decided that I wanted to publish The Seven, quite early on in the writing stages. I wanted to publish a book because I wanted to share my ideas and thoughts with other people, through a story that I had created. After I finished writing The Seven I let some people read through the draft and give me necessary feedback. Most of the feedback included fixing minor errors but the biggest change that I had to make was adding an extra chapter at the end of my book. I realised after this that it is so important to have other people read your book because what you might think of as finished and complete might not work when you put it onto paper, and it is up to the reader to decide that. After editing my draft and adding in all of the feedback, it was then time to start the publishing process. This process involved working with a Graphic Designer to create the front and back cover and then find a suitable publishing company. I decided to self-publish my book and I did this through the publishing company Blurb.

Steph: You worked on The Seven over the course of several years - did you ever get distracted by other ideas? What motivated you to complete the novel, years after having originally started it? 

Kyrra: The Seven took several years to complete. The main reason for this was time, finding time to write a whole book while also attending school and doing assignments can be difficult. However, another main reason that The Seven took me a few years to complete was because my ideas, likes and dislikes changed. I found that when I re-read the book that I had originally created, my writing style and ideas had developed. Therefore I had to go back and edit, and rewrite many parts of the book. Yes, I did sometimes get distracted when writing The Seven and I was always coming up with new ideas and writing stories. However, I do not think that these stories were bad or slowed my writing process, instead they helped to develop my writing style and technique that could then be used in my book, The Seven.

Steph: Do you plan to continue writing fantasy, and to continue writing for younger people? Or do you think you will write for an older audience as you yourself get older? Can you give any hints on what you're working on at the moment?

Kyrra: At the moment I am experimenting with different genres and styles. I am currently working on a mystery and have characters that are more around my own age – because I feel as though I can strongly relate to them. I believe that I will continue to write for a young audience, although it may be slightly older than the audience that The Seven targeted. I am planning to see how my current book progresses and then work from there, to see if I want to continue with fantasy, mystery or perhaps another genre.

Steph: Finally, what advice would you give to other young (and less young!) writers embarking on the path? Imagining you could travel back in time and visit your younger writing self without tearing the fabric of the universe, what advice would you give her?

Kyrra: There are a few main pieces of advice that I would give writers who are about to begin the writing journey. Firstly, read, read and read more. It is so important that you read, because in books you can find inspiration and new styles that can add to your own writing. Secondly, be aware of how much time it takes to write a book. Once you have found a good idea, stick with it, and write all of your ideas and thoughts down then – because over time our ideas and thoughts change and you might find yourself questioning the story that you are writing. So, remember to use your time efficiently and stick with a good idea once you have found it. Lastly, make sure every word counts. Words make up sentences, sentences make up paragraphs, paragraphs make up pages, pages make up chapters and chapters make up books. Therefore it is so important that every single world is meaningful for you, the characters and most importantly the reader.


Thank you, Kyrra! I am very much looking forward to seeing what Kyrra writes next! You can find out more about The Seven here.

Burn by Paula Weston

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Suddenly, Gaby remembers everything.

For a year she believe she was a backpacker chilling out in Pandanus Beach. Working at the library. Getting over the accident that killed her twin brother.

Then Rafa came to find her and Gaby discovered her true identity as Gabe: one of the Rephaim. Over a hundred years old. Half angel, half human, all demon-smiting badass and hopelessly attracted to the infuriating Rafa.

Now she knows who faked her memories, and how—and why it’s all hurtling towards a massive showdown between the forces of heaven and hell.

More importantly, she remembers why she’s spent the last ten years wanting to seriously damage Rafa.

Enjoyable, epic and vividly realised, Burn is a satisfying conclusion to the Rephaim series; a series which, I believe, has become stronger with every instalment. It takes well-worn concepts in paranormal fiction (there are a lot of fallen angels in YA) but still manages to offer a fresh perspective and solid mythology. I think the setting in particular is wonderful in this novel; it incorporates international locations while still having a distinctly Australian edge.

I have a little trouble reviewing paranormal fiction, largely due to the fact that I read a great deal more on the contemporary end of the spectrum and tend to prefer stories set in the real(er) world; I worry that I am not, perhaps, the ideal audience, due to my low tolerance level for melodramatic supernatural creatures and over-long series. I need not have worried this would be the case with Burn; this novel is fast-paced and melodrama is kept to a minimum. Nothing is excruciatingly drawn-out as I think can be a temptation for writers with series that feature extensive casts of characters with complex histories. The ending is hopeful, and though a bit sentimental for my tastes, it's a fitting conclusion.

If you enjoy paranormal YA/novels about fallen angels, and are looking for your new favourite series, this one is well worth checking out. (Now that the final novel has been published, there's no painful wait for the next instalment - nothing to stop you from binge-reading the entire series in one go, if you like.) If you read the first book in the Rephaim series and aren't sure whether to pick up the next, do. Burn is my favourite novel in the series; I especially loved the cinematic battle scenes toward the end. This is exactly the sort of paranormal YA I love, and I look forward to seeing what Paula Weston writes next.

Burn on the publisher's website.

In the Skin of a Monster by Kathryn Barker

Monday, November 2, 2015

Three years ago, Alice's identical twin sister took a gun to school and killed seven innocent kids; now Alice wears the same face as a monster. She's struggling with her identity, and with life in the small Australian town where everyone was touched by the tragedy. Just as Alice thinks things can't get much worse, she encounters her sister on a deserted highway. But all is not what it seems, and Alice soon discovers that she has stepped into a different reality, a dream world, where she's trapped with the nightmares of everyone in the community. Here Alice is forced to confront the true impact of everything that happened the day her twin sister took a gun to school ... and to reveal her own secret to the boy who hates her most.

This is the weirdest book I have read all year and I have read some weird books this year (weird books are my favourite books). The majority of this novel occurs in a dreamscape. Literally. Not a metaphor. This dreamscape that Alice finds herself in fills, every night, with the nightmares of the people of her town. These appear in bubbles which, if popped, release nightmarish creatures and dream-versions of real people into the dream realm. I really love the concept (dream realms are my favourite realms) and the setting is vividly expressed. It's creepy and atmospheric and surreal.

I think what's really extraordinary about this novel is the way it so smoothly incorporates the bizarre and the realistic. It's both fantasy and contemporary; everything that happens in the dreamscape is inextricably linked to Alice's real life tragedy. I think writing about youth and crime requires a bit of gumption; it's so easy to mishandle or accidentally glorify terrible things in fiction, seeing as so much of the experience of a novel is dependent on the reader. I don't believe that people who write for teenagers have some sort of duty to protect or educate children, and I think any story that is agenda-driven is bound to fail, but glorifying violence is never a good look. In the Skin of a Monster features a protagonist whose twin committed a mass murder, and is predominantly about how Alice (and other people affected) comes to terms with this; considering the profoundly difficult subject matter, I think the themes of grief and loss and trauma are all explored frankly but still tactfully. I had a few little niggles with plot points that didn't quite ring true to me, but ultimately I was impressed; an awesome concept, really well-executed. It definitely offers something different, and that's a very welcome addition to YA fiction, in my opinion.

It's surprising and engaging and original. It's a dark novel, but there's still a hint of hopefulness at the end (I wasn't too depressed after I finished reading). One for older YA readers. Definitely worth a look if you enjoy both fantasy and contemporary YA.

In the Skin of a Monster on the publisher's website.

The Cut Out by Jack Heath

Monday, October 26, 2015

Fero isn't a spy.

But he looks exactly like someone who is: Troy Maschenov - a ruthless enemy agent.

But what starts as a case of mistaken identity quickly turns into a complicated and dangerous plan. Fero is recruited to fight for his country. He will have to impersonate Troy, enter enemy territory, hunt down a missing agent and bring her home in time to prevent a devastating terror attack.

Fero is in way over his head. Hastily trained, loaded up with gadgets and smuggled across the border, he discovers the truth about espionage.

Getting in is easy. Getting out alive is hard.

The Cut Out is set in Besmar and Kamau, two small countries wedged between Ukraine and Russia. I was not 100% sure that these were fictional countries, so I may have scrolled around on Google Maps for a bit, thinking perhaps there's some basis in reality. Which I think speaks highly of the attention to detail and authenticity when it came to the setting. Either that, or my total inability to distinguish between fiction and reality. It requires some suspension of disbelief to buy that a fourteen-year-old who has been picked up off the street would be sent off on a secretive mission within a matter of hours, even in a foreign (and fictional) country; it becomes clear why this occurs at a later point, but in the meantime I was very concerned for Fero's welfare. Maybe I'm getting old.

While it's fast-paced and action-packed and all those adjectives an adventure novel for young people should be, I think it also explores themes that are relevant in the real world with quite a lot of nuance and subtlety - like how conflicts change depending on your perspective, and how information is manipulated by the media (I was reminded of 1984, and how the country they were at war with, and had always been at war with, changed on a regular basis). Having read Jack Heath's novels since 2008, I think it's clear how much he has developed as a writer - even though he continues to write in the same genre, there's nothing stagnant about his work. I think it can be a risk in any genre for certain writers, once finding success, to keep producing the same novel every year; that's not the case here.

I think a lot of kids go through a phase of wanting to be a spy - as a ten-year-old I loved the Max Remy: Superspy series (I met Deb Abela, the author, when I was fifteen, and I almost fainted), and was obsessed with spies and codes and eavesdropping. The Cut Out would especially appeal to these readers. It has some very intense scenes, so I'd recommend it for upper primary readers and up; I think my twelve-year-old self would probably enjoy it most, but it depends on the reader. It certainly appeals to me as a twenty-one-year-old reader, too.

I'm very much looking forward to the sequel to The Cut Out, and seeing where Fero's story goes next. Mainly I hope there's more twists. The twists are the best part.

The Cut Out on the publisher's website.

Another Day by David Levithan

Friday, October 16, 2015

Every day is the same for Rhiannon. She has accepted her life, convinced herself that she deserves her distant, temperamental boyfriend, Justin. She’s even established guidelines by which to live: Don’t be too needy. Avoid upsetting him. Never get your hopes up.

But one morning everything changes. Justin wants to be with her for the first time, and they share a perfect day—a perfect day Justin doesn’t remember the next morning.

Confused, depressed and desperate for another great day, Rhiannon starts questioning everything. Until a stranger tells her that the Justin she spent that day with—the one who made her feel like a real person—wasn’t Justin at all.

Another Day is a companion novel to Every Day, which I loved, and features the same events told from the perspective of love interest Rhiannon. You can read Another Day even if you haven't read Every Day, in fact, I think you should read Another Day first.

Basically it's about a person, A, who wakes up every day in a different body, who falls in love with a normal human being, Rhiannon. Which is problematic. It's a compelling concept but A's perspective is naturally the more interesting one, seeing as Rhiannon is consistently the same person. And a person who is frustrating in her inability to stand up for herself, even if she does seem like an accurate reflection of a real sixteen-year-old. She's likeable, but she never really seems to be in charge of her own story, instead having her life controlled either by her boyfriend Justin, or by mysterious (ghosty?) A; I would've preferred a story where she realised she was perfectly okay on her own, without a boy, or a genderless spirit, having to love and validate her. But that's just the sort of story I would like, and what the story actually is is still engaging. It evokes obsessive teenage romance very well. It's certainly very readable, conversational in tone while still being well-written.

Rhiannon is a well-developed character in her own right; this isn't a shameless money-grab Fifty Shades of Grey as-told-by what's-his-name or gender-flipped Twilight, but an engaging story in it's own right, offering a different perspective of the events. It explores gender and sexual orientation in a really interesting way; things that couldn't, to the same degree, be explored from A's perspective. It's definitely worth reading, and it functions wonderfully as contemporary YA with a paranormal twist, but it pales a little next to Every Day, which I thought was a real stand-out. The story I really wanted to read was what happens after the end of Every Day, rather than the same events from Rhiannon's perspective... fortunately that sequel is going to be published.

That said, this is an enjoyable novel with an authentic teenage voice, and it's pretty tricky to stop reading it. I'd recommend it to fans of both contemporary YA and paranormal YA; it combines the two wonderfully. The concept is brilliant. If you liked Every Day, you'll like this, and vice versa. And I really, really want to know what happens next.

Another Day on the publisher's website.

Steal My Sunshine by Emily Gale

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

During a Melbourne heatwave, Hannah's family life begins to distort beyond her deepest fears. It's going to take more than a cool change to fix it, but how can a girl who lives in the shadows take on the task alone? 

Feeling powerless and invisible, Hannah seeks refuge in the two anarchists of her life: her wild best friend, Chloe, and her eccentric grandmother, Essie, who look like they know how life really works. 

But Hannah's loyalty to both is tested, first by her attraction to Chloe's older brother, and then by Essie's devastating secret that sheds new light on how the family has lost its way. 

Even if Hannah doesn't know what to believe in, she'd better start believing in herself.

I can't stop this amazing one-hit wonder from playing in my head while I'm working on this review (1999... what a year for music). Trouble is, that song isn't right for the tone of this novel. And now I'm trying to work out what song is right I've discovered that's an impossible task and I can't possibly find the perfect song.

You can't tell but I've just spent half an hour trying to find the perfect song to match this novel and it's just not happening. The best I can do is suggest a combo of One Crowded Hour by Augie March and Songbird by Bernard Fanning and hope that conveys it. Musically, rather than lyrically. It's got all this aching sadness, fairly heartbreaking in parts, but then that hope at the end. I guess I should write the review now.

Hannah is lovely: shy, uncertain and yearning, a character whom I think a lot of young readers will be able to relate to. Difficult family dynamics are explored with realism and subtlety, as Hannah's family crumbles around her. The characterisation is excellent - every character is unique and flawed, from Hannah's sweet and tortured dad, to her (understandably) rage-filled mum, to her out-there best friend Chloe. (I was furiously angry with her mother and brother, and their totally uncalled for meanness towards Hannah. Why would you be so awful? Hannah's a sweetheart, gosh.)

The unraveling of the mystery in Hannah's family, allowing Hannah to understand why things are so difficult between Essie and her daughter (Hannah's mum), kept me reading into the early hours of the morning. Essie is a wonderful character, and I could so clearly picture her and her house. Her story is the most compelling part of the novel, and reads as very authentic. It's incredibly tricky but important subject matter - single mothers being forced to give up their babies, something that occurred for decades in Australia's not-so-distant history - and is dealt with so well. Essie's narrative is at times harrowing, often heartbreaking, with a distinct and engrossing voice. It never feels like it's being educational, but I think it would be a great novel to study in school, and not just because of the historical content.

While there is romance (Hannah has a crush on her best friend's older brother, Evan), the romance isn't even really about the romance - it's about Hannah working out who she is and what she wants, instead of being a passive observer in her own life. I think it's a much more true-to-life depiction of teenage romance than a lot of YA. Similarly, her friendship with Chloe - and the subsequent breakdown of it - reflects the difficulties of real-life teenage friendships; where, sometimes, friends simply outgrow each other.

If you expect things to be perfectly resolved, you'll be disappointed; Steal My Sunshine is realistic in that it depicts the true messiness of life. Steal My Sunshine blends the historical and the contemporary perfectly. It's a novel with huge sadness and a lot of heartbreak, but it's ultimately hopeful. Immensely readable.

Steal My Sunshine on the publisher's website
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