The Astrologer's Daughter by Rebecca Lim

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Avicenna Crowe’s mother, Joanne, is an astrologer with uncanny predictive powers and a history of being stalked. Now she is missing.

The police are called, but they’re not asking the right questions. Like why Joanne lied about her past, and what she saw in her stars that made her so afraid.

But Avicenna has inherited her mother’s gift. Finding an unlikely ally in the brooding Simon Thorn, she begins to piece together the mystery. And when she uncovers a link between Joanne’s disappearance and a cold-case murder, Avicenna is led deep into the city’s dark and seedy underbelly, unaware how far she is placing her own life in danger.

I've spent five minutes looking at synonyms for 'surreal' but none of them quite fit this novel - 'whimsical' is too flippant and 'absurd' doesn't sound complimentary and 'dreamlike' belies the sinister aspects. The Astrologer's Daughter leans towards the incredible and the extraordinary without ever stepping right over into paranormal. There are parts of it that feel not-quite-realistic. The astrology is detailed and authentic (or at least authentic-sounding - I wouldn't be able to tell). Joanna, for a character that never actually appears, is utterly fascinating. There is a surreal aspect to this novel but it is still very much cemented in our reality: the city of Melbourne is a beautifully evoked setting, drawn with much affection.

It is not quite like any other YA novel I have read, a fabulous mash-up of genres. The plot is beautifully constructed but not at the expense of character development. There is resolution but there also isn't resolution. I thought it was leading towards something but then it ended in another way entirely - it ends in very thrilling fashion, all the same. I think if you are looking for a novel that is refreshingly different - complex and curious and a bit not-of-this-world - this is maybe the novel for you. I really enjoyed it.

The Astrologer's Daughter on the publisher's website.

Writing Clementine by Kate Gordon

Thursday, July 17, 2014

You said we could write anything we wanted. The first thing that came into our minds. Blue fish, red fish, green fish...

Clementine Darcy is floundering. She wants to be the kind of fish who swims to the swish of her own fins - upstream, not simply carried along by the current.

But she is finding the swirling waters of school and home difficult to navigate: her friendship group is splintering, her brother Fergus won't leave his room, her sister's life is not as perfect as Clem thought...and then there's the New Boy, who is dapper and intriguing, but hiding secrets of his own. Clem is desperate for everyone - including herself - to be happy, but she discovers that her idea of helping doesn't always work as well as she imagined.

Can Clem be the girl she wants to be? Will she learn to accept that there are things she can fix and things she cannot? Will she find a way to know the difference?

Writing Clementine is such a beautifully endearing story. I loved the use of Tasmania as a setting, as I have in Kate Gordon's other novels. Clementine has many of the aspects I love about contemporary Australian YA, including a very genuine voice and the multi-faceted issues of growing up being handled deftly, including Clementine dealing with her brother's mental illness, relationships with her long-time friends shifting, and romantic interests as well as super unpleasant advances. Clementine's friends Cleo and Chelsea-Grace I found to be unpleasantly realistic (I dug my fingernails into my palms a little bit, thinking I know these girls) but they, too, were shown to have depth - growing up and figuring it out, same as Clementine (it is so much easier to resort to 'the protagonist is righteous! these girls are just mean, two-dimensional bimbos!' None of that cliche business here).

I tend towards being an impatient reader these days, wishing for every author to be more concise (so many books to read! So little time!), and Clementine was short but still powerful. I loved that Clementine was a bigger girl without it being a thing - she is happy within herself. I loved that the truly creepy and gross Sam from Grade 10 wasn't allowed to get away with his awful behaviour. I loved the steampunk society, and that the love interest was so not traditional YA - he's odd and old-fashioned and adorable. Clementine is fourteen and tends towards naivete, and things are wrapped up very neatly and positively - if you like your endings happy with your protagonist's wishes being fulfilled, this is the book for you (is that a spoiler? I think you can tell it's an ultimately happy book from that pretty cover). It is realistic but mostly steers away from darkness (her brother's mental illness, for instance, is not dealt with in depth - it's an outsider's view). An easy read, in the form of a letter, with a very charming narrative voice.

Heart-warming and humorous, with a very sweet romance at the centre, Writing Clementine is a lovely read and one that I think preteens and younger teenage girls will love.

Writing Clementine on the publisher's website
Kate Gordon's website

Interview with Kate Gordon: Writing Clementine Blog Tour

Monday, July 14, 2014

So thrilled to be interviewing Kate Gordon for the blog tour for her newly released novel Writing Clementine! It's a beautifully endearing and very charming contemporary YA novel about Clementine, trying to figure out who she is and negotiate life at school and with her family (My review is coming shortly; I'm still trying to decide which synonyms of splendid to use).

Here's Kate's bio, because it is fabulous:
Kate Gordon lives in Hobart, in a mint-green cottage, with her husband, her very strange cat, Mephy Danger Gordon, and a wonderful little girl who goes by the name of Tiger. Kate dreams that one day she and her little family will live in another cottage, by the beach, with goats and chickens. In the meantime, she fills her house with books, perfects her gluten-free baking technique, has marvellous adventures with Tiger, and she writes. 

And onto the interview!

You've written both paranormal fiction (Thyla and Vulpi) and contemporary YA fiction (Three Things About Daisy Blue and now Writing Clementine) - are there any significant differences in your process when writing in these two different genres? Do you prefer one or the other?
Kate: I think I feel more comfortable writing contemporary YA – not that it’s not as hard, and not that I don’t love writing spec fic, it just feels as if it comes more naturally. And I guess that informs my process, too. I tend to write much more stream-of-consciously (is that even a word?), when I’m writing realistic YA. It’s much more structured when I write spec fic, and I actually do some planning (NOT like me).

Clementine gets involved in a Steampunk Society in Writing Clementine, which is just terribly cool - have you considered writing a steampunk novel?
Kate: Ah, egad, no. And not because I don’t adore steampunk. It’s one of my favourite genres – that’s why I sneakily worked it into Clementine. I just feel woefully inadequate as a writer when I even consider writing it. It’s the same with high fantasy. I love it, but then I read Tansy Rayner Roberts and I think, nope, I could never do that. I read Michael Pryor or Gail Carriger or Ben Chandler and I just feel like I’ll never have a millionth of their talent. I’ll leave it to the masters. Doesn’t stop me spending hours Googling pretty steampunky things, though!

You live in Tasmania and often write novels set there: What do you enjoy about writing Tasmanian settings? Do you think they offer something different to stories set in mainland Australia?
Kate: I do. I’m ferociously proud of my island, and I think it makes the best setting for stories, purely because of its uniqueness. There’s nowhere on Earth quite like Tassie, and it’s largely unknown in much of the world. I’ll never forget being on a bus between Launceston and Burnie when I was a teenager and hearing an American say that they were surprised there were people in Tasmania – they thought it was uninhabited. I write about Tasmania so people can learn about it and love it like I do, and because I want teenagers here to see their own world reflected in art. There was almost no literature set here when I was young. I want young people of Tasmania to know that the place they’re growing up in is awesome.

In Writing Clementine, Chelsea-Grace and Cleo are the most hilariously horrific friends (and Sam from Grade 10 is the worst), but Clementine tolerates them - do you find it easy to channel the feelings and motivations of being fourteen? Do you use real-life experiences?
Kate: I do. And it’s funny that you say that Chelsea-Grace and Cleo are horrific. They’re two of my favourite ever characters. Chelsea-Grace is, I think, my favourite character from all my books. I don’t think they’re horrific friends. I think they’re just working out how to be, same as the rest of us. Sam, on the other hand, is a total wally. I loved writing him because I hated him so much, and also because it allowed me to take revenge on so many boys from high school who were exactly like him! Some of his lines are verbatim from things boys said to me and my friends in school. I know I won’t get in trouble, though. I doubt those boys read (*cue evil laugh*).

What inspired you to become a novelist? Any particular books, teachers, experiences?
Kate: Two words: Steven Herrick. I’d always loved writing and creating stories – I made up stories long before I had the ability to write them down. But when Steven Herrick visited my school, it was the first time I’d ever met a real-life author. And he seemed so normal. He was very encouraging to me and made me believe I could do this thing. Also, I had a phenomenal English teacher, Mr Wilson, in high school. He challenged me and never allowed me to accept second-best for myself. He instilled a work ethic in me that I’ve never lost. Also, I worked for a few years in a high school. I’d never considered writing for teenagers before that, but it made me want to write books that they would want to read!

You're a really prolific novelist - practically a book a year - and I'm wondering: Are you super disciplined? Do you have a writing routine? Do you advice for other writers who would like to be similarly productive (i.e. me)?
Kate: I have a two-year-old who only sometimes naps during the day, and often not for very long. I have to be disciplined, otherwise nothing happens. I also had a full-time job before becoming a mum. I forced myself to get up at 5am each day to write. Now, I write 1500 words a day, no matter what, no excuses. If Tiger doesn’t nap, I write when she goes to bed. If she goes to bed late, I write first thing in the morning. It happens, one way or another. And they might not be good words – they probably aren’t. but they’re words and once they’re there I can make them better later. A story doesn’t exist if it’s just inside my head. At least once it’s there, on the page, it exists.

Imagining you could travel back in time to visit your younger self without tearing the fabric of space-time and imploding the universe, what advice would you give your sixteen-year-old self about writing and life?
Kate: I’d tell her that she’s doing just fine. I’d tell her that her best is good enough, and not to strive to be perfect all the time. I’d tell her that life is for living, to laugh often, and to never stop believing in fairies.


Here's Writing Clementine on the publisher's website.

Kate's lovely website and blog.

Some great guest posts by Kate here on my blog: on inner ages, being raised by books and her editing secrets!

Young Writers Boot Camp!

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

young writers boot camp
Last week teaching the Young Writers Boot Camp at the Queensland Writers Centre was absolutely awesome: I talked about developing character, sourcing ideas, constructing plots and settings and structuring stories, editing and publishing, but then I also went off on a lot of random tangents about alternate universes and zombie cyborgs and fan fiction and lots of other silly things. Generally was a bit loud in the State Library, because I'm a rebel, yeah (only not at all).

The week was made awesome by the amazingly talented and very funny kids who came along (and by 'kids' I mean 'intimidatingly grown-up-looking teenagers'). So many amazingly brilliant ideas from terrific novelists in the making (spending half their school holidays learning about novel-writing! Gosh). This whole being-an-author business is pretty marvellous.

Really lovely at the end of the week to receive some nice thank you notes and little gifts, including this super adorable gnome from Grace (she promised me no theft was involved in the acquisition of said gnome), as yet unnamed:
Big thanks to all the lovely folk at Queensland Writers Centre, and big apologies to whoever was trying to study on Level Two (the talking floor) of the State Library of Queensland last week - there was a lot of laughing, I admit.

On new technology, writing for teenagers and the death of the novel (obviously)

Saturday, June 28, 2014

I think young people are perfectly placed to write about the experience of being a young person – even if their characters have lives far removed from their own, they can relate to that search for identity and sense of purpose, to negotiating independence from your family and relationships with friends. I think the core aspect of all novels, the part that makes the reader care enough to cry about made-up people, is the creation of characters with whom you can empathise. If the writer can’t empathise with the character, the reader won’t be able to either. Even though older people may ramble ad nauseam about how young people need Life Experience in order to write (what Life Experience actually entails, I continue to have no idea – are you not Experiencing Life prior to age eighteen?), I think the ability to write well comes down far more to your ability to observe, empathise, and read and write a whole lot. Being young and writing for young people puts you at an advantage because you are experiencing what your characters are experiencing right at this very moment. 

From my guest post for the Queensland Writers Centre blog! So thrilled to be teaching the Young Writers Boot Camp this week at QWC, so I wrote a piece for their blog about writing for Young Adults and being a young writer.

'Realistic' YA vs the reality of young adulthood

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Remember: when they say that a book is 'realistic' young adult fiction they mean 'an absurd interpretation of our reality wherein people actually have fulfilling relationships/life experiences and don't spend their entire teenage years profoundly bored and wondering if life ever gets any better'.

If I wrote a YA novel that reflected my actual experience of young adulthood, it would be three hundred pages of naps and tomato-and-cheese toasties and waiting for life to begin, which it never, ever does, it turns out.

Fiction is lies. Never forget that. Your life will never contain a satisfying narrative, events are random, other people behave in the most bizarre of ways for no reason whatsoever. The centres of six billion different universes, all of them mad.

If you remember that stories are stories and stop expecting anything of your own life, you won't feel quite as cheated when you discover that the mediocrity never ends, and a new world is never unlocked. There is no coming-of-age, levelling-up procedure.

The amorphous blob that is real life will never shape itself into something more pleasing to the eye, and the power of stories/music/every creative product to perfectly crystallise emotions inside three minutes/two hours/an afternoon will never really be matched. Everything is formless till you're looking at it in retrospect, and you then ascribe to the events their meaning.

What's age got to do with writing?

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Being a good writer has nothing to do with your age, explains author Steph Bowe. She highlights the benefits (and pitfalls) of being a young writer and explains what ingredients make up a great piece of young adult writing.

Here's an interview with me on ABC Splash! Hopefully it inspires you to write! If you're not already writing! Which you should be! I think this is my favourite line: To get dialogue right for her characters, Steph does a lot of eavesdropping on public transport and on busy streets, which she admits, with a laugh, "is mildly creepy".

Also, remember this: "Just because you're a younger person writing, it doesn't mean that your work is automatically rubbish. Anyone's first novel is obviously not going to be as good as their second novel or third novel. People grow as they write and change, and I don't think you can ever really reach a point, reach an age, reach a level of writing, where you can publish your first book and have it be this flawless masterpiece."
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