Wednesday, September 18

Weekender Books July

Weekender Books July 

Contemporary/ SpecFic YA - from my writing community

That's me on the beach at Egmond aan Zee, North Holland,
all those years ago when I was eighteen years old
Photo: Matthias von Herrath

I'm so behind with my Weekender Book posts, it's not funny. It has been a very busy few weeks, starting with a new addition to the family, lots of writing competitions, attending a writing festival and finishing the first draft of my Middle Grade Fantasy fiction (nearly there). And - yeah, celebrating two publications this month: my feminist historical short fiction Katherina, The Sorcerer and Her Scientist Son in the Heroines Anthology, vol II (Neo Perennial Press, 2019) and my Dark Moments flash fiction, Metamorphosis, published online by Black Hare Press, Sep 2019. Still, I have been reading nonetheless (can't go without reading) a stack of books that are definitely worth mentioning.

So, here is a selection from my book stack I read in July. They are all debut OZYA (Australian Young Adult fiction) novels but very, very different, which I love about this genre: we get an earth shattering, apocalyptic scenario of survival of body and soul in Sky So Heavy; with How it Feels to Float we dive right into the physical pain of grief and the destabilising effect of mental illness; and tender, first love tugs the heart strings in Making Friends With Alice Dyson.

Despite differences in subject matter, themes, language and style, all three books have at least a couple of things in common for me. They all resonate strongly with experiences, struggles and fears I had as a seventeen/eighteen year old (picture) that are still with me - in more ways than just my through memory. The other thing they have in common is that they are all written by authors I have met in person or online. Reading books by my fellow writers of the writing community gives me that extra level of reading pleasure, I don't know why. I was lucky to attend a workshop run by Claire Zorn earlier this year, where she talked about this book and others. Helena Fox and I have been writing together and Poppy Nwosu is part of my online writing community. 

I'm so glad to add them to my authors-to-watch list.

 Making Friends with Alice Dyson by Poppy Nwosu

How It Feels to Float by Helena Fox

The Sky So Heavy Claire Zorn

Making Friends with Alice Dyson 

by Poppy Nwosu (Wakefield Press 2019)

Aaah, that last year at high school! We all remember it so well, don't we? So full of pressure to study hard, while so many unwanted distractions -- like school gossip and a very annoying yet fascinating boy -- shift the main focus all the time. For Alice Dyson, learning the one life lesson that year has nothing to do with grades and tests but with Teddy and the fact that you can't plan for everything in life, especially not friends and love.

Making Friends with Alice Dyson is a tender, romantic love story about the tugs of first love. But it is also tackling the theme of friendship. To me, this book was equally about the changing dynamics of friendship in all its guises (but especially the one you have with your best friend), can impact on everything we do: our hopes, dreams, and the way we see ourselves. Alice's story conveys a real, contemporary world full of inner and outer conflict thrown at the protagonist, while standing on the edge of adulthood. 

Recommendation: A lovely read on a sunny Sunday down at the beach. For readers who look for a love-not-at-first-sight contemporary YA story with a dash of sweet innocence!

How It Feels To Float 

by Helena Fox (PanMacmillan, 2019)

What can I say about this book? So much and yet no words (by me) can come close to what reading this book meant to me, so I'm not even sure why I want to try. Its beautifully evocative language enabled me, as the reader, to 'flow' through the story and 'touch' the pain of grief that comes with profound loss. 

Biz, a young girl in Year 11, has a lot to hold in: all the emotional turmoil that comes with juggling school, a father who still 'visits' after he suicided and she can't/won't talk about the things that matter until she finds her own way to deal with it all.

What's so beautifully captivating is that Biz tells her story through emotive words, composed in a way that feels like moving through clouds; they reflect the story's negotiating of the fluid stages around sexuality, gender, and mental illness. Here is a trailer of How It Feels To Float. The fact that the book is set in the Illawarra was the cherry on top (I'm totally biased, I live here)!


Recommendation: When you need a cathartic read (you get tow for the prize of one: tears and laughter). Keep a box of tissues or handkerchief nearby. You will need it

The Sky So Heavy 

by Claire Zorn (University of Queensland Press, 2013, 2017)

This book had me hanging on the edge of my lounge, where I was reading the book in almost one session (I nearly fell off once or twice, because I was so engrossed by this gripping story? Or was it because my heart stopped once or twice?   I simply forgot completely where I was, while reading). 

This apocalyptic story set in the dystopian future that is now. It is such a timely reminder of what it means to be human, of being only a can of beans away from being the worst version of one self. It's also a reminder how volatile and outright deadly political game-playing is, in the nuclear age. 

When Fin's ordinary life as a seventeen-year old ends after some nuclear testing's gone wrong, he's faced with the apocalypse and its aftermath: He soon finds out that there is a line drawn by the authorities, between those who are chosen to survive and those who are left to die a slow death in the freezing cold conditions amidst an ever growing shortage of resources. Fin, his brother and friends Noll and Lucy, the girl who makes him want to live, regardless, make their way from the 'wrong' side of the line (somewhere in the Blue Mountains) to the other side (somewhere in Sydney), only to find that the hopeless despair on this side has just a different face.

Recommendation: This gripping story will stay with you for a long while. Best to read it when you need a reminder that life can get a lot worse!

These books, I know, won't leave my library. I look forward to re-reading them one day and I hope you will, too. If you do, let me know what you think.

Thursday, August 15

Interview with Australian Author: Dianne Bates

If you are an Australian children's writer, I'm sure you know her; and if you are a reader of Australian children's literature, I'm sure you read her books. Dianne Bates is one of the most prolific writers I have met and one of the kindest. When you start out as a writer, it cannot be put into words what having an expert support and encourage you to grow as a writer. Dianne first did this for me when she sent me her manuscript feedback, many, many, many years ago. It gave me courage and the realisation that I too, could be a children’s author one day!

Dianne is not only a highly awarded author but a great writers' mentor and advocate of Australian children’s literature. She has founded several sub-branches of the Children's Book Council of Australia Children's Book Council of Australia (CBCA) of NSW and was awarded The Lady Cutler Prize for distinguished services to children's Literature in 2008.

Here is a woman, who knows the ins and outs concerning both sides of the fence of publishing; as an author and co-editor of a national children's magazine, Puffinalia (Penguin Books) and editor of another national magazine, Little Ears as well as a book publisher.

Dianne was born in Sydney and studied at the University of Wollongong. Her writing career kicked off with her first book, Terri published by Penguin Books in 1980. Since then, she has published over 130 books, mostly for young readers. Some of these books have won state and national awards; others have been translated into French, Danish and German. Her junior verse novel, Nobody's Boy and junior novel, The Shape, have won CBCA Notable Awards.

Dianne has toured for the National Book Council and has undertaken commissioned writing for a large number of organisations and has worked on the editorial team of the New South Wales Department of education School Magazine. 

Dianne is married to prize-winning YA author, Bill Condon, whose awards include the inaugural Prime Minister's Literary Award for Youth Writing and three CBCA Honour Books of the Year. She lives in Wollongong, NSW where she works as a freelance writer and manuscript assessor and writes a popular blog, Writing for Children. You can find out more about the Buzz Words Magazine here.


Q.1 Di, What sparked your interest in writing your first published book Terri, and I must ask, was it the first manuscript you’ve ever written? 
DB: Yes, Terri was my first manuscript. I wrote it basically as I was socially isolated, living in a hut on a mountain. I’d reached the age of 29 and felt that I’d never distinguished myself in any way other than as a mother and failed wife so decided to have a book written and published by the time I was 30. This is what happened! So, setting a firm goal is a biggie if you want to achieve.

Q.2. The length of your published books list is inspiring. Where do you get your ideas from and how do you develop them into a book-length structure? 
DB:  Ideas are never a problem for me as I’m curious and alert to possibilities, seeing ideas in everything, everyone and everywhere. I always finish whatever I start so I don’t start a book until and unless I’m convinced I can finish it (though, having said that, I’m struggling at the moment with a work-in-progress). Quite a few books I’ve written are non-fiction, so I decide on the number of chapters for the book and then write chapter headings and go from there.

Q.3 What are the highlights in your writing career that called you off guard?                                                      

DB:  Getting my first Literature Board grant was exciting: I’d applied of course but didn’t really expect to get one. I am always grateful for that grant as it showed, even before I’d had a book published, that someone believed in my talent. Winning two children’s choice book awards (WAYRBA and KOALA) were two other unexpected windfalls.

Q.4 Can you tell us what themes you explored in your stories and why? 
DB: Most of my books are written in the social-realism genre so I’ve explored subjects such as fostering, domestic violence and family disharmony: often I base these subjects on my life experience. On the other hand, much of my fiction has been humorous; as a classroom teacher I came across many reluctant readers, so I wrote for them.

Q.5 This is a very deep question: Are you a ‘plotter’ or a ‘pantser’?
DB:  I’m both, depending on the book I’m writing but mostly I’m a pantser. With my most recent book, I wrote in a way I’d never done before, writing chapters all over the place and then looking for how to slot them together. This presented a problem as the story time frame was only three days and nights, and I finished up having more action than I could fit into this time!

Q.6 If any of your books would be adapted for film, which book would it be? 
DB: I wrote a series of humorous books about fictional bushrangers: I’d love to see them animated (e.g. Desert Dan the Dunnyman). I’m sure they would be hugely popular with children.

Q.7 What was the best writing advice you have received that you would like to share? 
DB: Read as many recent children’s books as you can if you are writing for children.

Q.8 Many authors started their career as avid readers when they were young. Growing up, what was one of the ‘classics’ that imprinted itself on you? Did you have any favourite authors you’d read more than others? 
DB: There wasn’t the same choice in reading books when I was a child as there is today, but I was a huge Enid Blyton fan, especially enjoying The Famous Five and Secret Seven series. I also loved Heidi and The Swiss Family Robertson. The first book I read as a teenager was How Green was My Valley.

Q.9 As a writer, you give life to many, many characters. If you could swap places with someone of your own creation for one day, who would it be? 
DB: Grandma Cadbury from the four-book series I wrote is feisty, energetic, sociable and adventurous.

Q. 10 What’s your current project about?                                              
DB: I have started a book based on my childhood experience of being sent to a children’s home, but it’s stalled: I have interesting characters and a sea-side setting, but so far no story! It will happen, though I don’t know when!

Q. 11 You have been in the writing game for decades, your experience extends to both sides of the fence of publishing.  What, in your opinion, are helpful traits in an emerging writer?
DB: Persistence is paramount. Treating writing as a business. Write and read frequently and be prepared to wait forever and a day for publishers to respond to your submissions. Networking helps, too. Also, and this is a biggie – learn how to effectively self-edit. I highly recommend joining a writing critique group (face-to-face or online).

Q. 12 What Australian children's book(s) you read in the past twelve months stood out for you and why would you recommend them?
DB: Lenny’s Book of Everything by Karen Foxlee (Allen & Unwin) It is rare to find a book, especially one for children, which employs a writing style which is distinctively different from others. Its language is quirky and engaging. I absolutely loved it and it’s become my favourite ever children’s novel.

I would also highly recommend the fantastical Vincent and The Grandest Hotel on Earth by Lisa Nicol (Puffin Books) as it’s super imaginative and spell-binding.

The Secrets of a Schoolyard Millionaire by Nat Amoore (Puffin Books) was a wonderful read. Told in first person present tense, the story is fast-acting and has moments of high drama with splashes of humour.

Thank you, Di, and happy writing, everyone!

You can find Dianne Bates and Buzz Words Magazine on Twitter: @BuzzWordsZine 
and visit her blog Writing for Children and website