Lists: on book awards

Well, that was a rather dramatic day.

There is one day of the year when Australian writers and illustrators of children’s and young adult books wake up tense and keep one eye – or possibly two – on social media and mobiles all morning.

It’s the day that the Children’s Book Council of Australia announces first its lists of Notable Books for the year, and later its shortlists for Book of the Year. (The NZ Post Book Awards finalists were released today too!)

Even if you don’t have a book out in that year, you still watch on behalf of friends, publishers, books you loved, and cheer or mope accordingly.

There’s no moping in this house.

The Sultan’s Eyes, like Act of Faith before it, was on the CBCA Notables list for Older Readers.


Image of book cover

I was about to give a lecture when the news finally came through and felt totally distracted for the rest of the morning.

Until, totally out of the blue, the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards shortlists were also announced halfway through the afternoon.  Turns out The Sultan’s Eyes is on the shortlist for the Ethel Turner Prize as well.

What a day.

And I have to say that both lists (and the CBCA shortlists) are crammed full of wonderful books – and there are many more that could have just as easily been included. I don’t envy those judges.

So congratulations to all the authors and illustrators, and our publishers, for getting through the roller coaster day and for creating books worth celebrating.


Summer reads: Act of Faith

Having a book on the Gold Inkys shortlist is a gift that just keeps on giving. You can find an extract from Act of Faith in The Age and other Fairfax papers this week as part of the Summer Reading series – and you can read extracts from the other sensational shortlisted titles too.

Meanwhile, I’m on holidays by the beach in New Zealand, trying not to work on the other books in the series. But I can’t help it.

Happy new year

Thanks to all of you who’ve followed the blog, been in touch on Facebook or Twitter, posted reviews on Goodreads or elsewhere, and (or) read Act of Faith.

For my next trick, I’ll be doing edits on the sequel over the next few weeks, but we’ll have to wait a while to see it in print. Should be out around August.

In the meantime, have a great summer holiday (or winter reading spell, if you’re in the northern hemisphere) and I look forward to another busy year ahead.

2013. Already? Didn’t see that coming.



Big week, big news

First: Act of Faith is on the shortlist for the Gold Inky in Australia’s teen reader choice awards. That’s a lovely surprise, because the shortlist is chosen by an independent panel largely composed of young readers, along with (this year) book blogger Danielle Binks and last year’s Gold Inky winner, James Maloney. It’s also a great honour to be shortlisted along with:

  • Shift by Em Bailey
  • Night Beach by Kirsty Eagar
  • Queen of the Night by Leanne Hall
  • The Reluctant Hallelujah by Gabrielle Williams.

More information – and voting form – on insideadog. I should tell you to vote for me but really, with that list, vote for whoever you like.

I can also announce that the Swashbuckler books are now available as ebooks from all the major retailers, which is great news because copies can be hard to find in print nowadays. More information on sources from HarperCollins.

Almost a Logie

Was very chuffed to hear that Act of Faith made it onto the Gold Inky longlist this year. It’s a great honour. A sensational list, too.

Congratulations to everyone on the Gold and Silver longlists. And long live Inky!


I must say I’m quite partial to an awards sticker nowadays. Last week I signed a whole lot of copies of Act of Faith with their new silver CBCA Notables stickers on the covers. Very posh. Although I do rather fancy the idea of a silk sash. With gold fringes. Not for me, you understand. But Signora Contarini would love it.

And then what happened was…

The day started with a workout, then after a much-needed and extremely strong recovery coffee I turned on my laptop to find messages of congratulations on email and Twitter, because the Barbara Jefferis Award shortlist was announced today and Act of Faith was highly commended.

It’s such an honour and surprise because, apart from anything else, this is an Australian Society of Authors award for  ‘the best novel written by an Australian author that depicts women and girls in a positive way or otherwise empowers the status of women and girls in society’. That means a great deal to me. It is named in honour of the late Barbara Jefferis: novelist, founding member of the Australian Society of Authors and its first woman President.

And there are so many significant and terrific books this year that are eligible, I’m really quite delighted.

I mean, really – look at this shortlist:

  • Georgia Blain: Too Close to Home (Vintage)
  • Claire Corbett: When We Have Wings (Allen & Unwin)
  • Anna Funder: All That I Am (Penguin)
  • Gail Jones: Five Bells (Vintage)
  • Gillian Mears: Foal’s Bread (Allen & Unwin)
  • Frank Moorhouse: Cold Light (Vintage).

Also highly commended were:

  • SJ Finn: This Too Shall Pass (Sleepers)
  • Meg Mundell: Black Glass (Scribe).

Chuffed. Me. Hell, yeah. And I don’t care who knows it.

Hearty congratulations to all those commended and shortlisted. And happy IWD 2012.

You can read more about  the award on the ASA site.

Reviewing reviews

Hark! What’s that?
It’s the sound of someone blowing her own trumpet.

Since everyone else ON EARTH is reflecting on highlights of 2011, I’m gonna jump right on that bandwagon.

It seems like a very short year. Feels like I lost track of a few months somehow, starting a new day job, building up to and then focusing on the release of Act of Faith, and then spending October in France obsessively hunting down historical details for the Tragedie project.

If 2011 has flown past in a blur, luckily I have several artifacts to remind me: blog posts and social media updates, manuscripts and photos, a very handsome book out in the world and apparently going gangbusters, plus a whole range of people’s reactions to it.

Here are a few recent reviews, important to me because they are from industry journals; from librarians or teachers or YA/children’s book specialists who are passionate about writing for young people:

‘In the world of contemporary young adult fiction, Act of Faith runs against stereotype… A fine book for the classroom, especially at a time when religious tolerance, and tolerance of religion, is at a depressing low… a work of scholarship as well as a work of fiction. A novel that begs for a sequel.’

‘This is a very exciting and thought-provoking book which may very well open up knowledge for today’s adolescent readers about what the world was like when such religious intolerance pursued everyone…’
Reading Time (Children’s Book Council of Australia)

‘A good read for lovers of books and historical adventure stories.’
Magpies journal

And I was deeply chuffed to be listed by Holly Harper amongst Readings’ best YA books for the year, in some dazzling company.

Thanks to Readings, and to booksellers everywhere – large and small.

And of course to everyone who has had faith enough to read my book.

May yours be a happy new year.

On romance and friendship and Mr bloody Darcy

One of the questions asked most often about Act of Faith concerns the likelihood of romance between the characters Willem and Isabella (the heroine of the piece).

I’m not going to tell you exactly what happens in the book, nor what happens in the next one. Instead, I’m thinking about expectations of romance in historical fiction for young women. It’s something I’ve pondered a great deal and have chosen to treat quite specifically.

But first a story.
When HarperCollins first accepted Act of Faith, we went out for The Lunch to have a chat about it. I should say right now that I was never asked to write it as a romance. Instead, I got this very sensible advice:
“It doesn’t matter what you do, people will read romance into it, so you may as well make Willem worthy of Isabella, just in case.”

I get that.
I have, personally, never quite recovered from Teddy marrying Amy March and Jo ending up with the boring old Professor, and it’s only been about forty years since I first read Little Women. I may get over it one day. Because – and I know exactly how this feels – you can read ANYTHING and imagine romance into it. Or whatever you want into it. That’s a good thing.
I hope that in my writing I leave room for readers to use their own imaginations, to wonder what they would do, how that would feel, how things might look or taste or be, without being told.

But back to the story. At that point, before the final redraft, I must admit that Willem was a pretty gormless young chap, and my sensible publishers didn’t want the lovely Isabella to be projected into any kind of romance with a drip like him. So Willem got rewritten to be a bit more likeable and – I hope – actually a bit more convincing as the zealous young Protestant stuck in a changing world he doesn’t really understand.

All good. Everyone liked Willem more, including me, and off we went.

Then it came to writing the blurb: “Isabella finds work with an elderly printer, Master de Aquila, and his enigmatic young assistant, Willem.”

Well. Yes, Willem is a little puzzling. He does have a secret. He is mysterious. But is he enigmatic? We wavered about that. We went back and forth, wondering if we should change it. But to be honest, there really aren’t too many other words for enigmatic. So enigmatic it is.

And the cover is gorgeous, glamorous, historical and there is pink on it.

Pan out a little to the broader market. People expect romance in historical fiction – perhaps in all fiction. Let’s unpack that a little.

  • Is romance a critical component of every book? Must it be? Should it be?
  • Do you always want to read about romance (or if not romance, some kind of simmering tension)?
  • Is historical fiction is the same as  historical romance?

There is some very fine historical romance, and although historical and romance are not the same genre, it’s easy to see how they become conflated with each other (thanks for that, Phillipa Gregory). The two also get confused in our minds with novels that we read as historical now, although at the time they were written as contemporary fiction. If there are long swishy frocks, it must be a kissing book. Right?

That expectation has changed, somehow, in my reading lifetime and with the advent of historical fiction and YA as genres – and indeed as publishing phenomena. Maybe I’m slow to catch up. One of my writing heroines is Rosemary Sutcliff (it shows, I know) whose books were always historical – sometimes there was romance and sometimes not, depending on the demands of the plot and characters. Some stories lend themselves to romance, some don’t. Some require it. But not all.

So then I was sick in bed and watching Pride and Prejudice on DVD (as I usually do when I’m sick) and realised that of course there is another word for enigmatic: Mr Darcy.

Doh! Enigmatic is code for ‘mysterious, handsome and romantic stranger’. For Willoughby. For Heathcliff. For Mr Rochester. For a young Colin Firth in anything but a hand-knitted Christmas pullover.

That’s not what Willem is. Bless his little clogs.

He is, no matter what might happen between them in the future, Isabella’s friend.  Her first ever real friend of her own age. What a miracle that is for her. She has been surrounded her whole life by older men who admired her intellect, or younger men who thought she was a freak.

Act of Faith is about friendship. It’s about freedom, too, and books and ideas. But most of all, just like every other book I’ve written, it’s about friendship and the courage you find when you and your friends are in danger.

That doesn’t mean there will never be any romance in Isabella’s life or in the sequel. God knows the poor thing could do with a cuddle.

Please don’t get me wrong. I could read about Mr Darcy and Mr Rochester over and over – and I do. I read as much Georgette Heyer as Rosemary Sutcliff when I was 12 or so.

But in Act of Faith I wanted to do something else. After all, there are millions of books in which a young woman meets an enigmatic young man. In many – but by no means all – of them, straight romance is the thing that ends up defining both characters and the book, and as a result, other plot and character developments are subsumed into the overarching romance narrative. It often also means that the male characters can end up being less defined than we might wish.

Young women protagonists deserve lovely romances of diverse and wondrous kinds, but it doesn’t have to be what makes them who they are.

Nor have I ever been convinced about the old Hermione/Ron model, in which the brilliant young woman adores the less spectacular but worthy hidden qualities of the sturdy young man.

Rubbish. She’d be bored to death within months.


Or perhaps I should have had Isabella run off into the sunset with Signora Contarini? Now that would put the cat amongst the San Marco pigeons.

Image from TripAdvisor