I'll be at the Love YA Festival at Brisbane Square Library on September 6th!

Monday, September 1, 2014

This Saturday, September 6, I'll be at Brisbane Square Library as part of their Love YA festival!

At 2pm, I'll be speaking about blogging, becoming an author and other writerly things (and likely referencing The Very Hungry Caterpillar a lot - the greatest book of all time)!

At 3pm, I'll be appearing on a panel with bloggers Nyla Jade (Style Creeper), Kerry Heany (Eat Drink and Be Kerry), Jeann Wong (Happy Indulgence Books) and AJ (Pepper Passport), talking about blogging!

Brisbane Square Library is at 266 George Street Brisbane, and it's free to attend the Love YA festival (just call the library to let them know you're coming! Here's the event listing on the library website) - there are lots of awesome authors who'll be appearing from 12pm until 5pm.

I'd love to see you there, and if you do come along, say hi! I'm sure it'll be a lovely afternoon. If you get the train up from the Gold Coast we will probably run into each other. If you want, yell out 'STEPH BOWE? STEPH BOWE THE NOVELIST?' Only not in the quiet carriage. Just shout-whisper.

For more details about the Love YA festival and the other sessions, check out the Brisbane Writers Festival website. Here's the blurb:
'Love Young Adult Fiction? So do we! We’ve lined up some of the best YA authors for panels, signings and a chance to pitch your YA book to a publisher. A whole afternoon of book love for teens and YA fans! LAINI TAYLOR, Dreams of Gods and Monsters, AMIE KAUFMAN, These Broken Stars, A.J. BETTS, Zac & Mia , SEAN WILLIAMS, Jump , DIANA SWEENEY, The Minnow, KIRILEE BARKER, The Book of Days, ANANDA BRAXTON-SMITH, Secrets of Carrick. Plus book signings, cosplay and more!'

I'M EXCITED. ARE YOU EXCITED? To sum up: All those awesome folks. This Saturday, September 6. Brisbane Square Library. 12-5pm. Free. See me make a lot of silly jokes from 2pm! Free hugs and/or high-fives!

Head of the River by Pip Harry

Friday, August 29, 2014

Tall, gifted and the offspring of Olympians, superstar siblings Leni and Cristian Popescu are set to row Harley Grammar to victory in the Head of the River.

With six months until the big race, the twins can't lose. Or can they?

When Cristian is seduced by the easy route of performance-enhancing drugs, and Leni is suffocated with self-doubt, their bright futures start to fade. Juggling family, high expectations, study, break-ups, new relationships and wild parties, the pressure starts to build.

As the final moments tick down to the big race, who’ll make it to the start line? And who'll plummet from grace?

I would like to preface this review by saying that I ordinarily actively avoid books-about-sports because I don't really understand sports. The only sport I follow is AFL because my family would not tolerate it if I paid no attention whatsoever to who's going to make the eight. The extent of my involvement in actual sports involving me was playing Aussie Rules in primary school, and only making the team because my school needed to make up the numbers. I took a chest mark and kicked it out of bounds on the full and that was the extent of it (I still got a medal). I swam a bit as a kid but I didn't like swimming competitively. I'm not known for my coordination. I'm a thinking, brainy, sitting-at-home-and-pondering-the-universe person. I'm not a person who can judge distance or move at speed with grace while simultaneously not dropping the ball or participate effectively in a team without getting distracted by an interesting looking tree.

That said, Head of the River is a novel about rowing, so it's a sportsy novel, and despite my non-sportsy nature, I loved it. I really enjoyed Pip Harry's debut novel I'll Tell You Mine, but I felt her sophomore novel even more authentic, engaging and compelling. The technical detail added to the realism, a strong sense of what it's really like to row competitively and have such a ridiculous amount of expectation placed on you.

Doping in sports is very relevant, and the motivations of the characters well-drawn - despite both Leni and Cristian making some less-than-stellar choices, they remained characters with whom I could empathise and I wanted things to work out well for them. I can't relate to the performance-enhancing drugs bit because there aren't any performance-enhancing drugs you can take to make you a better writer (I think there's a movie about this? I wouldn't take them even if they did exist. I'm a bit funny about taking panadol), but I could relate to their ambition and, to some degree, the pressure they experienced.

I probably have an unconscious bias towards thinking Australian contemporary YA is awesome (it's probably not unconscious if I'm conscious of it), but I think this is really fabulous. I think this is a novel relevant enough to be taught in schools, covering a whole lot of themes very well - drugs in sports, self-esteem and body-image, leadership and team dynamics, expectations and pressure. A novel well worth reading even if you're not sportsy - it's well-characterised and honest and engrossing.

Head of the River on the publisher's website.

Interview with Rebecca Lim, author of The Astrologer's Daughter

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Rebecca Lim is the Melbourne-based author of sixteen novels(!), most well-known for her phenomenal paranormal series, Mercy. I met her a few years back at the Somerset Celebration of Literature (2011, I think), and she's both a lovely person and an amazing writer - so it's a pleasure to have the chance to interview her about writing her latest novel, The Astrologer's Daugher, her writing process and inspirations!


Rebecca: Hi Steph!

Thanks so much for inviting me onto your blog, I’m really honoured.

Steph: The Astrologer's Daughter is set in Melbourne, and so I'm wondering how you managed to evoke that setting so beautifully and what you drew on - personal experience, research? Did you have any specific process for developing that setting and using it to amp up the atmosphere?

I’ve been fortunate enough to live in Melbourne for most of my life and I’ve lived in suburbs all over the metropolitan map, so I had a lot of personal history to draw on. My extended family also has a long history with Chinatown and I’m lucky to have been able to see behind the fa├žade of a working restaurant from time to time, so all that helped.

I’m also a huge walker. I always make sure I look up and check out all the detail of the buildings and of the city, so all that factored into the atmosphere and “look” of The Astrologer’s Daughter.

I also just love Melbourne, daggy but true. Any chance I can get to set a story in my hometown, I’ll do it.

The astrology included in The Astrologer's Daughter seems incredibly detailed and realistic, and lends a great deal of authenticity to the characters of Avicenna and her mother - why inspired you to use astrology so centrally to the plot, and what sort of research was involved?

I was actually seated next to a stranger at a wedding a few years ago who made his living from astrology. Like a complete idiot I kept saying things like, “Oh, it must be great to be working with the latest telescopes” and he finally had to gently point out that I was talking about astronomy (the science of star-taking) versus astrology (the “occult science” of star-taking). He told me he had plenty of clients who wouldn’t make an important move in their lives without having a star-chart done first, and it got me thinking about fate versus free will and how dangerous it might be to place all your trust in the outcome of your life in a stranger’s hands. My personal belief (like Avicenna’s in the novel) is that these things can become self-fulfilling if you let them.

I read many background texts on astrology in which there were case study after case study of astrologer’s predicting their own deaths or astrologer’s correlating key points in their client’s lives with particular conjunctions of stars. I don’t profess to have a view whether what I read was true or not-true, but the character of Joanne believes in it and Avicenna comes to respect her mother’s viewpoint a great deal more by the end of the novel.

Readers of some of my other novels might remember that I usually have some kind of paranormal thing going on as well. If you’ve read Exile, Muse and Fury, you’ll see that one of the recurring characters from those books appears in The Astrologer’s Daughter. I’m not done with him yet. We’re going to see more of him, hopefully.

The Astrologer's Daughter seems a very tightly-plotted novel, so I'm wondering what your writing process is like - do you have a clear plan before you begin writing? Do plots come naturally to you or do you have to work it out once you're writing the story?

I try and set up a strong first chapter. I also like to have the ending worked out before I start — sometimes it’s nothing more than the final line, or the final “event”. All the main players have to be rock solid from the start, too. I always ask myself questions like: What happened to this person to make them the way they are? What is the defining incident in their life that kicks off the story? How do they deal with pressure?

But I like to go “off road” with the middle of a novel. I’m a great believer in the universe just throwing things in your path. Current news stories are always great fodder for building the atmosphere or events in a novel. The things people do to each other in real life are mental. You can’t make some of that stuff up.

And crime and mystery novels have their own internal rhythm, their own urgency. The genres themselves demand tightness, complexity, thrills and chills. I’ve read a lot of crime, thriller and mystery fiction in the past, as you can probably tell.

Genre-wise the novel is covering a lot of ground: there's mystery and there's suspense and it's contemporary with a paranormal edge. What were your inspirations for this novel? Did you set out to write a story like this?

I read as widely as I can across the genre spectrum and draw on a lot of real world events for inspiration, so I’m kind of conditioned to writing things you can’t neatly box up. It drives some readers mad that I do books “with the lot” and I don’t like the neat ending, but life isn’t tied up in lovely bows. It’s dark and complex and chaotic and, sadly for most of us, not replete with multiple love triangles of hot boys.

You've written both series (the Mercy series) and standalone novels. I imagine there are different challenges in writing each - does your process differ when writing a series as compared to a standalone? Do you prefer one over the other? (Is there any possibility of a sequel to The Astrologer's Daughter?)

There is definitely a possibility! But I’ve got at least 3 things lined up to go before any sequel might appear and maybe no one will be interested in it by then.

My process for a series is kind of like this: What is the meta-mystery/story arc? What is the central mystery/story arc for the individual novel in the series? Which makes the process not so different between writing a series and writing a stand-alone. But with a series there is obviously a bigger universe of characters and settings to play with. And not everyone will be happy with what you have in store for the characters or how you “end” things so, as a writer, you need to be prepared for that. I don’t think I was.

I tend to have a lot of storylines on the go, in my head, so stand-alone novels give me the illusion that I can get onto the next book sooner rather than later. But I’d be happy to write both series fiction and stand-alone fiction. In the brave new world of publishing, you’re just over-the-moon if someone wants to read your work and give you a gig, quite honestly.

(And because this is my favourite question to ask everybody...) Imagining you could travel back in time and give advice to your younger self without the space-time continuum collapsing in on itself, would you share any advice about writing and/or life? What would you say?

About writing: It’s a far stranger beast than you thought it would be, that’s for sure. About life: You know that time you did a piano recital in front of hundreds of people and completely stuffed up? That was nothing. You’ll survive.

Thanks for having me on the blog, Steph, and happy reading to all.


Here's my review of The Astrologer's Daughter, and of Mercy. For more info about Rebecca and her novels, here she is on Goodreads.

Bleakboy and Hunter Stand Out in the Rain by Steven Herrick

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Some things are too big for a boy to solve. 

Jesse is an eleven-year-old boy tackling many problems in life, especially fitting in to a new school. 

Luckily he meets Kate. She has curly black hair, braces and an infectious smile. She wants to ‘Save the Whales’ and needs Jesse’s help. 

But they haven’t counted on Hunter, the school bully, who appears to enjoy hurling insults at random. 

With Hunter’s catchphrase ‘Ha!’ echoing through the school, something or someone has to give. 

But will it be Jesse? Kate? Or is there more to Hunter than everyone thinks? 

An inspiring and funny story about the small gestures that can help to make the world a better place.

I think Steven Herrick writes with a great deal of insight and subtlety, so I was really looking forward to reading Bleakboy and Hunter Stand Out in the Rain. I strongly recommend both Cold Skin and The Simple Gift (the only other Herrick novels I've read so far) - extraordinary verse novels with tough subject matter delicately handled, very powerful. They demonstrate beautifully the meaningfulness that can be achieved even when words are used economically.

Bleakboy and Hunter Stand Out in the Rain is written in prose rather than verse, and for a younger audience than other Herrick novels I've read, and it's both funny and thoughtful. I think it will really appeal to kids in upper primary school. It's positive and uplifting - a lovely little story with lots of nice messages, about environmental conservation and charitable causes (it's very message-dense). The story is told from the perspectives of both Jesse, who is well-meaning and quiet and a bit eccentric (he talks to a poster of Jesus that he refers to as Trevor, as his parents are atheist - the family dynamics are rather amusing), and Hunter, who is the school bully but gradually revealed as an endearing character - his interactions with the elderly man he befriends were some of my favourite in the book. As someone who was a bit eccentric and very thoughtful as an eleven-year-old, I really identified with Jesse, but both characters are likeable and authentic.

It's definitely a feel-good sort of novel, and one I think 9-12-year-olds will love, and anyone older who likes heartwarming stories about saving whales and making friends and the various awkwardnesses of being eleven.

Bleakboy and Hunter Stand Out in the Rain on the publisher's website.

The Sky So Heavy by Claire Zorn

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

For Fin, it’s just like any other day – racing for the school bus, bluffing his way through class and trying to remain cool in front of the most sophisticated girl in his universe. Only it’s not like any other day because, on the other side of the world, nuclear missiles are being detonated.
When Fin wakes up the next morning, it’s dark, bitterly cold and snow is falling. There’s no internet, no phone, no TV, no power and no parents. Nothing Fin’s learnt in school could have prepared him for this.
With his parents missing and dwindling food and water supplies, Fin and his younger brother, Max, must find a way to survive in a nuclear winter … all on their own. 
When things are at their most desperate, where can you go for help?

I love apocalyptic stories set in familiar locations, and the fact that The Sky So Heavy is set in Australia really added to the realism for me, though it explored something entirely foreign (thankfully). Though I'm not familiar with the Blue Mountains, they make for an amazingly atmospheric setting, a great sense of isolation and fear. Though it's an apocalyptic novel it lacks melodrama, and it explores the motivations and emotions of the central characters beautifully. It's about ordinary kids facing an extraordinary situation, a terrifyingly believable one. (I find fictional stories about nuclear war a lot scarier than fictional stories about zombie apocalypses, largely because zombies don't exist in our reality. I mean, I hope.)

Though the novel opens with a flash-forward to a particularly thrilling point in the story, it's not a novel of non-stop thrills - I think the strengths of the novel lie in the way characters are developed as the story progresses, as they are shaped by their circumstances. After the flash-forward, the story returns back in time to prior to the (shall we say event?) event occurring, these opening scenes a little clumsy in that way every apocalyptic story is - Everything was perfect... until! Dialogue is flippant and the impending threat of nuclear war is quickly set up - once everything is established, it's an enthralling read. Some decisions by certain characters (very difficult to avoid major spoilery spoilers here) are difficult to believe, but that probably reflects the reality of extreme situations - people behave in irrational ways. Fin has an authentic and endearing voice, a kid just trying to look after his brother. I think this novel will appeal to teenagers of any gender.

The Sky So Heavy is accessible and thought-provoking and relevant, an enjoyable read. Well worth a look if you're after another frighteningly realistic apocalyptic novel to read after you've finished the Tomorrow When the War Began series.

The Sky So Heavy on the publisher's website

Replica by Jack Heath

Saturday, August 9, 2014

'Whose body is that on the table?' I ask. 
She stares at me, as though the answer is obvious. 'It's yours,' she says. Before I have time to scream, she types a command on the keyboard. My consciousness whirls away like storm water down a drain. 

Chloe wakes up to find all her memories have been wiped. And the only person who knows what happened is a teenage girl who looks and sounds exactly like her. 

Who is she? And what does she want? 

Chloe is running out of time to discover the truth. But she's in even more danger than she realizes, and nothing is as it seems . . .

An awesome possible-near-future sci-fi novel with a fantastic premise and lots of killer twists. It's very, very difficult to talk about Replica without accidentally revealing any of these twists (and I hate to be a plot spoiler, I do) but I will say things that are pretty clear from the outset: it's a novel about a replica of a teenage girl, created via 3D printer with silicone skin and a consciousness downloaded as open-source software - technological details that ground Replica in our reality. Replica raises lots of interesting questions about the nature of consciousness and what makes us human. I love thinking about the possibility that I am a robot, or in the Matrix, or that we're all aliens (I use the excuse that I'm imaginative and a writer but I'm actually just a bit odd) so I found this premise immensely engaging. It's set in Canberra but nothing feels overtly Australian about it. Without being horrifically spoiler-ish, I love that for once there's a non-hetero romance in a YA sci-fi/thriller novel - I want to see more of this!

The ending is of the open variety, clearly set up for a potential sequel with a lot of things left unresolved. I am not a fan of endings that spell it all out for the reader and tie up all loose ends - I like to both write and read endings where it's up to the reader what happens next. That said, as much as I love open-ended stories and concise novels, there are things I would've loved to have seen explored further and in more depth - it's a very plot-driven novel and while characters are authentic and believable (Narrator Chloe is realistic and likeable and complex), there's a necessary economical use of detail at times to maintain pace. Between the nefarious organisation and the conspiracies and the robotic clones it was difficult to get to know Chloe's family and friends as well as I'd like (as a reader of primarily character-driven novels) so I'm really looking forward to a sequel.

Replica has an amazing concept and a terrifically intriguing opening scene, and it's stacked with thrills/twists/action that means it's probably inadvisable to start reading it at ten p.m. if you'd like to be asleep at a reasonable time. If you like sci-fi, action, mystery, thrillers or some combination thereof, it's definitely worth a look. Robotic replicas, you guys. How could you not want to read this?

Replica on the publisher's website.

Interview with Jack Heath

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Jack's latest novel Replica is a thrilling and thought-provoking sci-fi novel (with a super creepy cover - check it out) about a robotic replica assuming a teenage girl's life. My review is forthcoming! In the meantime, I had a chat with Jack about writing Replica, potential sequels, writerly regrets and the benefits/pitfalls of having a replica (I'm currently manufacturing Clone Steph/Steph 2.0 to write my novels for me while I eat cheese toasties and read sci-fi novels*).

I'm interested in the process of writing Replica, which is science fiction in a way that's very much based in our reality. What were your sources of inspiration? Was there a lengthy research process before you started writing? Was it difficult to decide what real-life technology to include, and where to embellish? (It seems a novel weighted towards real-life technology, but then that's the magic of fiction: things that sound real versus things that exist are often entirely different.)
Jack: I usually start with something preposterous – time travel, thief who can walk through walls, et cetera – and then try to include as much real-life science as possible to make it convincing. In this instance, I didn't even have to set the book in the future. It is possible, today, for a teenager to build a mechanical duplicate of herself, thanks to 3D-printing, open source artificial intelligence software and other real-world developments. But fooling her friends and family with the duplicate is another story. I think in real life, Chloe 2's cover would be blown as soon as she opened her mouth. Still, in ten years, who knows?

Your first novel was published when you were a teenager, so you've been writing professionally for almost a decade. Has your writing process or style evolved with subsequent novels? Is there anything you wish you could go back and change about earlier novels?
Jack: I used to structure my books around action scenes – the plot was just a series of flimsy excuses to get Ashley Arthur from one explosion to the next. These days I usually focus on realisations; each chapter reveals a little more of the truth to the main character, and plants some more misleading clues for later revelations. (If that sounds dull, rest assured that I still cram in as falls-from-great-heights as I can.) I also focus much less on how things look, and much more on how they feel. But the only thing I'd change about my earlier books – leaving aside the fact that some were not profitable and arguably shouldn't have been written – is that Agent Six has a slightly preachy monologue at the end of The Lab which now makes me wince.

Replica features lesbian characters without that being the central focus of the plot, which I think is awesome - and realistic (as realistic as a novel about robotic replicas can be). Was that a conscious choice you made, and what inspired it?
Jack: The lesbian element actually started out as a plot consideration. If one of the characters had been a boy and the other a girl, readers would immediately suspect they had a romantic past. (In the immortal words of Avril Lavigne, "Can I make it any more obvious?") Making both characters female kept the suspense going a little longer. At first, that was my only goal, but later a copy editor mentioned how thrilled she was to see such a positive gay relationship in a sci-fi YA novel. It hadn't occurred to me that for most LGBT protagonists in YA books, the main conflict was a struggle with identity and acceptance, rather than a struggle with, for example, teams of ruthless soldiers with high-tech weaponry. (Of course, Replica is all about identity too, but Chloe's sexual orientation is the least of her worries.) After that, I tried to make her relationship even more prevalent and positive, so readers would get something which was otherwise missing from the genre.

You've written two series and a couple of stand-alone novels: Do you prefer one over the other? It is easier to write novels with characters and settings already established, a familiar world? Is there any possibility of a follow-up to Replica?Jack: I spend so much time on plot and sensation that world-building and character development are usually left by the wayside in the first draft. They're often still pretty bare in the published version. I love writing sequels, because I know the characters better, and I have a more solid sense of the world they inhabit. I don't have to spend so long wondering, "What would Chloe do in this situation?" because I've seen how she coped with similar ones. Having said all that, I'm not good at writing series – just sequels. I always take it one book at a time. I'm really keen to write Replica 2: The Replicationing – I have a new story for Chloe to find her way through, a new cast of characters for her to meet and a new setting for her to get lost in – but I can only do it if Replica 1 is a success. You could argue that a book has value even if no-one reads it (a tree falling in the woods type debate) but as I mentioned, I've spent too much of my life writing sequels to books which didn't sell.

Replica is set in Canberra, and I'm not familiar with particularly many YA novels set there: Is there any particular reason you chose Canberra? What do you think it offers as a setting that makes it unique to other Australian cities?
Jack: I've travelled extensively, but Canberra is the city I know best. I went to primary school, high school and university in this town. Setting a book here feels natural to me, but with Replica, I thought it would feel natural to other people, too. Canberra is a small town, so characters can bump into one another unexpectedly without the coincidence feeling forced. The political/espionage side of the plot, meanwhile, would feel forced if it took place anywhere else in Australia. Having said all that, the language has been sanitised for the UK market and then resanitised for the USA market. In the construction site scene, a UK copy editor circled "bobcat" and wrote in the margin, "Is that an Australian native animal?" So while Canberrans will find a few familiar landmarks, no-one from outside the ACT will feel like they've had a holiday here after reading the book.

Imagining if a replica of yourself was created. Would you be able to peacefully coexist with a robot walking around with your face? Would that be an awesome prospect or a terrifying one? (I imagine a replica of myself would be a great friend, but maybe that's the sort of thinking that would result in my replica killing me and assuming my identity.)
Jack: How easily I could coexist with a replica would depend entirely on his temperament. If it were much like mine, we wouldn't get on. I'd think he was a selfish, lazy nincompoop. But if he were happy to go out and do school visits, TV appearances, radio interviews, book signings and so on – while I stayed home and wrote – it would be a beautiful friendship. Jackbot could be my public face, while I became a recluse. (In fact, Replica came about partly because I was overwhelmed with my life, and I wished I had someone to take over for a while.)


You can read a preview of Replica and find out more about the novel at jackheath.com.au.

*The first Jack Heath novel I read was Third Transmission five years ago (here's the review, as written by baby fifteen-year-old Steph - I have been keeping this blog a long time, it seems) which was stellar but sadly seems to be no longer in print. THIS OFFENDS ME. In keeping with the themes of Third Transmission, I should perhaps travel back in time and prevent it from going out of print. Maybe I should just send the clone through time, instead, in case all my atoms are destroyed or something. Time travel: it's pretty dangerous.
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