In residence: Falls Creek

I’m delighted to be here at Falls Creek, a stunning spot in the Victorian High Country, for the next month, as an artist in residence.

Falls Creek is best known as an alpine resort – skiing in winter, hiking and mountain biking and fishing in ‘the green season’. It also has an arts and culture program, which includes offering artists the chance to stay here for a month and make art.

So here I am.

Lucky me.

I’ve been here for a few days already, walking each day and writing a lot. My project while I’m here is a series of short stories called (at the moment),  The Adventures of the Bushranger Captain Lightning And That Other Girl.

I wrote the first story, ‘Boots and the Bushranger’, as a one-off for Clandestine Press’s And Then … adventure anthology (Volume 2 is out any day now, so you’ll be able to read it). But the two main characters, Boots and Jessie, made me laugh so much that I wrote another one. And then I planned a whole series.

They are set in the 1850s Gold Rush, and begin in Castlemaine and end in the Ovens  and Buckland Valleys, just below the mountains here. Or maybe on the mountain. Or maybe in Melbourne. I don’t know yet.

They’re historical adventure/crime stories for young adults, planned in a series, in tribute to the heroines of early detective stories, like Hilda Wade and Miss Cayley – Sherlock Holmes’s lesser known peers.

So the last few days I’ve been plotting and mapping and scribbling and typing. And walking.

I like to walk in the mornings anyway, but it’s a hell of a lot more scenic here than pounding the suburban streets at home. And I don’t have to rush off anywhere, so I can walk for an hour  or longer if I want.

I’m not just walking, of course. I walk and think and plot.

And I look. At the ground, at the birds, at the trees and shrubs.  I breathe. It’s wildflower time here, and the air smells of honey.

View over Alpine National Park

Alpine National Park as far as the eye can see.

I look at the ancient folds of the land, and the old cattlemen’s huts and the distant valleys.

Cattlemen's hut

Wallace Hut – built 1889

I wonder about the people who came up here, summer after summer, for countless generations, to meet, hold ceremonies, and feast on the Bogong moths. What a journey it must have been. And the people who came after, with cattle and horses, and eventually cars and skis.

View of distant peaks

View from my lunch spot on the Wallace Heritage Trail

I listen. You can hear snow melt streams trickling all through the hillsides. And currawongs. And magpies. And wind through tussock grass.

Snow melt stream

The snow is still melting on the high peaks

It’s all research. I never know what will end up in the stories.

I breathe it in and write it out.

James Dean was here

A million years ago, I worked in the housing sector, managing services for homeless young people and working on policy and advocacy. One thing I learned very quickly was that young people hated being called ‘kids’ or ‘teens’ – we are people, who happen to be young. Anything else was patronising. Nobody used the term ‘youths’ because it’s so ugly, and it’s like a police descriptor: “two youths were apprehended this morning…”  In policy, in talking to government, in working with young people, we always said ‘young people.’

Now, I know things have changed, the word ‘teen’ has become much more widespread with the globalisation of US language usage, and young people around 13 in particular don’t mind being called ‘teenagers’ because they’ve aspired to be just that for several years. Then they aspire to be young adults and then adults. ‘Teens,’ not so much. It feels like a marketing term, and this is especially true in publishing for children and young adults. The age range of teens is much more limited than the age range of young adults, too, and there’s a fair bit of slippage between the concepts.

So now we have all these debates in the industry and even in the mainstream media about teen and young adult (YA) fiction: what it is, who it’s for, what it’s doing (or not doing) to its readers. Is it too dark? Does it help young people come to terms with the world? Should adults be ashamed of reading it? Or should they embrace its possibilities? Are books for children or young adults less worthy as literature, or as recreational reading? Or a glorious new form invented by [insert current best-seller name here]?

I’d like to take two steps back.

First, let’s clarify that a lot of the debate is around realist fiction, usually set in cities – it’s called ‘contemporary’ in the trade, sometimes ‘urban contemporary.’ When pundits ask whether YA is too dark or morbid, that’s usually what they mean. They don’t really mean the rest of the world of YA, which is actually a lot of books – fantasy, romance, adventures of different sorts, and even historical fiction. They mean realist books with violence or drugs or sex or swearing – maybe death – or all of the above.

It’s not that you don’t get those things in genre fiction, because of course you do, just that in urban contemporary they are often problematised, either by the author (it’s a book about a teen being homeless or dealing with grief or racism or coming out or  self-esteem), or by the commentary on the book. It is written, in one sense, in acknowledgement of issues faced by young people, to tell their stories, which are our stories too, and some of these books are the most beautifully written, engaging, and moving stories you could ever read.

So that’s what many people think YA is, that’s what many people in libraries and the industry think YA is, and indeed that’s what many readers love to read.

(We go through phases when it’s all about a specific genre because some book or film is on the wider public radar, for example dystopian or paranormal fiction, but the issues that inflame debate are often dealt with in quite a realist manner, albeit set in a built world, as in Hunger Games.)

I think it’s also clear that, for a young person, getting your hands on the right book at the right time can change your life. If you believe you are the only queer person in the world, or the only person being beaten or abused, or hating school and everyone in it, or feeling like shit, then reading about similar experiences – feeling that in-depth, close connection you can feel with a character in long-form fiction – can sometimes even save your life. We know that. Readers tell us that.

And that’s the other step back I want to take.

That whole James Dean/Montgomery Clift troubled teen thing is partly true – we’ve all lived it – and partly a social and cultural construct of Western society in the twentieth century. YA fiction arose after the development of that trope.

Image of film poster

Those of us who write historical fiction have to deal with this tension all the time, or at least we should. When you’re writing about a time before there was such a thing as ‘teenagers’*, how do you capture the timeless clash of generations, the age-old process of finding your way in the world, without referencing the teenager concept? What do you do when writing out of a specific cultural context, perhaps where the relationship between generations is completely different? How do you enact it within the traditions of fantasy?

Can I suggest that the idea that all YA literature is teen lit, that all books are about that problematised cultural identity, underlies the commentary about the books themselves?

I worry that talking about readers of a certain age range as teens slots them into a category – a constructed social category as much as a market segment – that says to them you are like this, you need to read these books. Maybe that’s why we sometimes see a disconnect between the books that are bought for young people and the books they buy for themselves.

People who happen to be young, like everyone else, want books of all sorts, about all kinds of things, at different times. They ask for books that offer hope. They ask for books that provide context for the task of coming into adulthood, of understanding the way the world works, of explaining the inexplicable or creating the utterly fantastical. Sometimes they just want a good laugh or a bit of a day-dream.

And don’t we all?

But there’s something about the trope of the troubled teen and the language we use around it that, in turn, troubles me. I can’t quite put my finger on it yet, but it feels like the term teen categorises both people and books in ways that may not be entirely helpful. And that’s weird, because everyone I know in the field cares passionately about young people who read – or don’t read – and the stories that are written for them, and would never in a million years want to be part of a process that was unhelpful. If it exists, it has grown organically, culturally, perhaps without us seeing it.

This isn’t about the stories themselves, you understand, but about all the stuff around the stories – the discourse and the marketing and the language.

It’s not so much about all those newspaper articles. I don’t expect someone who hardly reads any YA and is writing a one-off feature to understand the complexity involved. I also know, as a journalist, that often you have to write a story on a topic on which you need to become an “expert” in a week and you only ever skim the surface. That’s all it is and it shouldn’t pretend to be anything else. And that YA is just one of those things on which everyone feels like an expert, because they were once young and read books. Whatever. So I have a new policy of not reading dumb-ass articles.

(It’s like race-walking. I know that sounds odd, but I grew up in a family of race-walkers, have spent more hours by the track than I’ve spent almost anywhere else, and every four years when the Olympic Games roll around, I have to listen to whole lot of people who haven’t seen a race since the last Games and only ever watch the highlights hotly debating whether or not some competitor should be disqualified.)

Mind you, I do get cranky when I read articles that are also based on nothing, because it tells me they have no idea of the technical requirements of writing for certain age groups and haven’t bothered to do any research or read many other authors in the field. (There’s a terrific summary here, with bonus bingo card.)

Famously, Caitlin Moran’s recent statement ** that there are no strong female characters in YA, led to the depressing situation of seeing a whole lot of people whose work I adore hopping into one another on Twitter.

So let’s just acknowledge that there’s a lot of thoughtfulness, as well as a bit of crap, written about YA at present.

What I wonder is if people who think about – worry about – and debate these issues need to reconsider a few concepts. This is a question, not an answer. Other wiser people may already have those answers.

Maybe we do mean teen fiction when we discuss contemporary YA – and maybe we need a better term. What if it limits perceptions of the books? Or does it need to be reclaimed?

What if calling our readers teens doesn’t empower them after all? Is it a term applied to them, or something they claim for themselves?

I don’t know. What do you think? What terms do you use, and how do you define them? Does it matter?

Does that troubled teen trope still influence the way we or others perceive YA fiction now?

Teenage_mafie

* From the Online Etymology Dictionary:
teen (n.) “teen-aged person,” 1818 (but rare before 20c.), from -teen. As an adjective meaning “of or for teen-agers,”  from 1947.
teens (n.) 1670s (plural), “teen-age years of a person,” formed from -teen taken as a separate word. As “decade of years comprising numbers ending in -teen,” from 1889.
teenager (n.) also teen ager, teen-ager; 1922, derived noun from teenage (q.v.). The earlier word for this was teener, attested in American English from 1894, and teen had been used as a noun to mean “teen-aged person” in 1818, though this was not common before 20c.
teenage (adj.) also teen age, teen-age; 1911, from teen + age (n.). Originally in reference to Sunday School classes. Teen-aged (adj.) is from 1922.

** Later: In retrospect, I think she meant working-class young women. While there are quite a few, we could always do with more.

Coming up

Winter in Melbourne. We should be huddled inside out of the cold, our hands cupped around mugs of hot chocolate.

But no. It’s festival time. (Although, let’s face it, it’s always festival time in Melbourne.) So instead we are shrugging on heavy coats, wrapping scarves theatrically around our necks, and heading out into the city.

Coming up in August is the Melbourne Writers Festival, our annual book fest.

The full program isn’t released for a while yet, but the teasers so far have been more than enough to entice me: New York storytelling troupe The Moth, London Review of Books, a local version of the Edinburgh World Writers Conference, and a whisper or two about a keynote by Marina Warner. I am so there.

But I’m also appearing in the Schools Program this year, and what a program it is. Deborah Ellis, Margo Lanagan, Cath Crowley, Shaun Tan, Scott Westerfeld – the list of local and international fabulousness just goes on and on. Teachers and school librarians – if you haven’t booked your school groups in yet, best get onto it soon.

It’ll all be terribly exciting, and in the middle of it I’ll be:

  • Talking about books that matter with Alison Croggan and Morris Gleitzman on 26 August (my plan is to let them say deep and wonderful things and just nod wisely)
  • Debating powerful female characters with the powerful Justine Larbelestier on 28 August
  • Getting geeky about research with Kate Forsyth on 29 August.

Again this year, the Festival is running Write Across Victoria, a terrific competition for young writers. Just choose one of our story starters, and make it your own. There are stacks of prizes to be won, and Cath Crowley and I will be at the Write Across Victoria awards event on 29 August, talking about how we got started as writers. Story competition entries close on 5 July, so get writing!

A few thoughts on gender in YA

Was it only last week I spent days live-tweeting the 2013 Reading Matters conference? I didn’t have time or head space to add any thoughts of my own at the time, so here are a few now.

A great line-up of authors debated a wide range of issues but there were a couple of thorny topics that just wouldn’t go away – as usual, chief among them was gender.

A few questions almost always come up in conferences, seminars and conversations, especially with school or children’s librarians and teachers, such as:

  • How do we get boys to read?
  • Why don’t boys read books with female protagonists?
  • Why do the book covers aim at readers of particular genders?

I can’t pretend to be able to answer those questions, but I do want to reflect on how and why the questions and answers are framed.

Many times I’ve listened to an author try to answer the question ‘How do we get boys to read?’ I get asked it myself, all the time. I sympathise, I really, do, because I understand that it can be very frustrating for professionals and parents. But…

1. You are asking the wrong person. Just about every author ever asked that question answers something along the lines of: I just write the stories I need to tell. Some are aimed at boys, some are aimed at girls, some are neutral.

2. Some of the gendering is about the package – the cover, the blurb, the author’s gender or name, the marketing, the industry, socialised reader expectations, the context of both reader and book. Sometimes that’s perfectly appropriate. Often it’s not. Take a look at some examples in Maureen Johnson’s Coverflip experiment if you doubt it.

From the Coverflip experiment

3. Boys do read. They read all sorts of stuff. Even those who read according to strict gender stereotypes immerse themselves in narrative through games and movies; they may love non-fiction; they read basketball magazines or music blogs or comics; they read facebook and use the web and their phones; and they do endless amounts of homework. They might not read my books or other books with girls on the cover – which is a different question – but that’s not the same as not reading at all. Not everyone has to read the same thing.

4. There are actually many authors who do consciously write for boys. Without even reaching for names I can think of Keith Gray, Jack Heath, Brian Falkner, Richard Newsome – not to mention the bulk of the Western canon.

So here is the most important thing: The entire world is constructed for boys. Can we stop pretending they are some oppressed minority, stop asking us to arrange the stories we write and publish to their (perceived) narrow interests?

Suck it up, guys. As Gayle Forman asked at Reading Matters: “Why is it acceptable for a girl to enter a male world but not the opposite?”

Why do we accept that world-view so carefully constructed for them by society?

Why is it too much to ask a boy or young man to see through other eyes? Does it mean you can’t ask them to see through anyone else’s eyes – to read about anything outside their own experience? And if so, what does that say about how we are framing the future?

Are you telling me that a fourteen year-old boy can relate readily to a hobbit or an assassin or a forty year-old man, but not a girl?

I don’t believe that.

At Reading Matters, Libba Bray said: “There are not boy books or girl books. There are just books.”

I think that’s true, to an extent, although there are some stories and some authors who do aim their books at one gender or the other, just as we aim our books at certain age groups, quite consciously, depending on the story. Keith Gray writes for boys, hoping, he said at the conference, not to alienate female readers.

As Miffy Farquharson tweeted during the conference: “Teacher-librarians are good at ‘guessing’ what young people would like to read. Often it’s just ‘a good book’.”

Readers are always asked to make imaginative leaps – into fantasy worlds, or along ziplines between buildings, or into the past. We might be asked to read the story of someone we despise or can’t trust. Female readers constantly take the imaginative leap into the minds of male characters.  Kids who are queer may spend their entire lives seeing the world through the eyes of straight characters.  Happily, there is now a greater diversity in stories and characters than ever before, so that young readers from different cultural backgrounds or life experiences can find some stories that reflect their world. But much of the time, they’ll be reading about someone completely Other, and they relate – they find some imaginative or emotional connection with those characters, they see something in those lives that makes sense for them, they read to witness another world, another way of seeing. Vikki Wakefield noted in one panel: “Age and gender do not define a reader.”

The world is filled with different perspectives and readers get to experience those perspectives, to see the world through different eyes – to see new worlds, feel unfamiliar sensations and emotions. If boys don’t get to do that, never make those leaps, they’re missing out dreadfully. They can do it – of course they can. They do it all the time – even the most stereotypical readers or gamers or movie-goers imagine themselves into pirate ships or D-Day or Westeros. “If we do our job properly,” said  Morris Gleitzman on one panel, “boys will read girl characters.”

Calling for narratives that support that limited world view only perpetuates the problem – for the boys, and for the rest of the world. It continues to limit them, reduces their world view and doesn’t even echo back to them the world in which they live. Nor does it recognise the diverse lives and experiences of young males in our world, as if they are never outsiders, as if they are never readers, as if they don’t share the same fears and hopes and emotions as everyone else. It defines them as people who will only read The Guinness Book of Records or short action-driven stories (not that there’s anything wrong with either). But as Gleitzman noted: ‘There’s not a boy on this planet that doesn’t understand love gone wrong”.

And…

Why do we always end up  here? What about discussing the girls who are struggling? The  boys who love to read? The girls who consume books? The girls who love to read adventures and war stories and fight scenes? The readers who read regardless of gendered covers or narratives or protagonists?

Why do we always end up here in spite of the fact that every available piece of research tells us that books featuring female protagonists and/or by women authors are less likely to be in the big prize shortlists; that they are less likely to be reviewed; that women are less likely to be writing the reviews; that in spite of the huge proportion of women authors, publishers, teachers and librarians, the people most often in the positions of decision-making power are men – totally out of proportion to the number of men in the industry (as is the case with most other industries where women are in the majority, such as teaching)?

Why, in spite of all that research, would someone perfectly sensible like Keith Gray suggest at Reading Matters that books for or about boys suffer discrimination due to the “female domination” of the book industry – and why would a whole lot of women in the audience agree? What is that about?

Final word to the brilliant Gayle Forman: “If Harry Potter had been about Hermione, it probably wouldn’t have been such a success.”

Case rests. For now.

 

 

Note: These are my views as a writer and reader, not in my capacity as a Library person.

Coming up in July

After two residencies and many weeks away, I’m back in Melbourne and settling in for winter. I’m working on the redraft of Tragédie and waking up at 6am remembering things I still need to fix in The Sultan’s Eyes.

A couple of appearances:

On Saturday July 7, I’m part of a panel called ‘What’s fit to print? Issues in youth literature’. It’s part of the Bayside Literary Festival: Art of Words, and it’s a revival of a panel discussion with Hazel Edwards, Adele Walsh and Maria Pallotta-Chiarolli at the Midsumma Festival. We had so much fun we’re doing it all over again, this time with the addition of George Ivanoff. Moderated by Crusader Hillis.

2 pm in Brighton: details here.

Then on Wednesday 18 July I’m at Boroondara Library. The session is designed especially for boys 10 and over – I reckon we might be talking a bit about pirates. (The lovely Rebecca Lim presented a session especially for girls this week. Lucky things.)

7pm, Hawthorn Library: details here.

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.’
Viewpoint 

‘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.

Australian Women Writers Challenge 2012

This is a challenge born of something approaching despair.

Last year, VIDA in the US released its survey of publishing data which showed exactly what anyone with half a brain already knew: dire levels of representation of women at all levels; the number of books by women that got reviewed, the number of female reviewers and book page editors, and women in senior positions in the industry.

Throughout 2011, more and more incidents came to prominence (as if inequality was a new thing!) including the lack of women writers on a number of key literary prize judging panels and shortlists.
My personal favourite moment was when Jennifer Egan  won the Pulitzer, and the LA Times reported instead that Jonathan Franzen had lost the Pulitzer, and ran his photo on the front page – not the winner’s. Laugh? I nearly…

Of course, this is not unique to writing and publishing. Like nursing, librarianship and education, it’s a field in which the majority (which happens to be female) are dominated by a minority, with males traditionally taking positions in management in publishing, libraries, writing courses, festivals and writers’ centres (although the normally rowdy community is often strangely silent on those last two categories, I notice).

That’s not to diminish the many amazing women in positions of power in the writing world. It’s just a thing.

But unlike those fields, something unique and profound is also afoot, because the issue is also about how literary worth is assessed: which issues, what settings, language, topics and characters make up the sort of books that win prizes. It’s about our culture.

I won’t bang on about it: others have already done so very eloquently, and anyway it seems like the kind of no-brainer thing most of us have been saying since 1975. Or since we could speak.

But what to do?

Short of coming over all Emma Goldman (and don’t tempt me), here’s one wee thing we can all do, no matter what our gender: make 2012 the year you read a few good books written by Australian women.

The challenge has been issued. It runs as follows:

Goal: Read and review books written by Australian women writers – hard copies, ebooks and audiobooks, new, borrowed or stumbled upon.

Genre challenges: 

  • Purist: one genre only
  • Dabbler: more than one genre
  • Devoted eclectic: as many genres as you can find

 
Challenge levels:

  • Stella (read 3 and review at least 2 books)
  • Miles (read 6 and review at least 3
  • Franklin-fantastic (read 10 and review at least 4 books)

You can read more about it here.

My response?

I’m going to undertake the devoted eclectic challenge (of course, because that’s how we roll here, at the best of times), and at least the Miles level.

I’m not sure of all the books I’ll read yet, because there are some beauties coming out, but the first few are:

  • Sensational Melbourne: Reading, Sensation Fiction and Lady Audley’s Secret in the Victorian Metropolis, by Susan Martin and Kylie Mirmohamadi

  • Playing with Water: A Story of a Garden, by Kate Llewellyn

  • Bite Your Tongue, by Francesca Rendle-Short

 

And no doubt I’ll read some YA titles, including the forthcoming:

  • Queen of the Night, by Leanne Hall 
  • The Howling Boy, by Cath Crowley 
  • Pulchritude (or whatever it ends up being called) by Fiona Wood.

Happily ever after

On a recent school visit, the teachers asked me to talk a bit about book reviews. Good timing, because I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the way the reviewing world has changed with so many peer-to-peer recommendation sites and a gazillion book blogs.
I love book blogs: this started out as one, in a way, many years ago. There are reviewers on blogs who are so perceptive about books, they astonish me; some who write beautifully; others who may do so one day, or who write perfectly good thoughtful pieces; others who write as fans – especially in genre – and unashamedly so.
Good on ’em all, I say.
Sites such as Good Reads, Library Thing and inside a dog* make it possible for all of us to share our thoughts on books we’ve read as, increasingly, do online library catalogues and book stores.
There are dangers, sure, and the occasional scandal, but the more the merrier.
Communities of book lovers, talking about books. What could possibly go wrong?
Well, nothing much, really.
But there is one thing I’ve noticed over and over again in discussions about books on Good Reads and facebook and various blogs: people really hate it when the book doesn’t turn out how they expect. It makes them furious.
They equate this with failure – the plot doesn’t unfold the way they imagined therefore the book sucks. And they will often take it out on the author, either through reviews, or more directly in a chat or forum, in a tone that can make your hair curl right up and slide off your head.
I’ve never been in that position myself but I hate to think what it does to an author.
Let’s take a famous example: the death of the beloved Dumbledore at the end of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.

The world was shocked. The death of “a major character” had been foreshadowed by JK Rowling prior to the book’s release and it was even in all the media, but Dumbledore’s death led to an outcry. Readers believed he wasn’t really dead, and would reappear like Gandalf (of course he does, but he’s still dead). As was usual in the Potterverse, complex theories were developed to explain it, dead or alive, and the discussion continues to this day.
But Rowling as the author was always quite clear, and why wouldn’t she be? Apart from the fact that it’s her book world and she can do whatever she likes, there were myriad plot twists wrapped around the death and, most critical, Harry’s character development and quest (and Hermione’s too)  required it.
That’s not how many fans saw it: they saw it as a betrayal, as a failure of the logic they had established for themselves, as a mistake.
They have invested so much in the story – what a wonderful thing! But what else is going on there? We all love to have a theory about what will happen next. Part of the fun of online discussion of books, film and TV is that very element.
I reckon part of it, too, is the expectation that there will be happy endings. That there will be romance, and everyone will live happily ever after.
Sometimes that does happen. In life, and in art. But other things happen too – people disconnect from one another accidentally, or never connect; they argue about stupid things; they annoy you; they get scared when they should be brave; they falter and bicker and fall out of love and die. 
I remember well the shriek that went around the cinema when I was a kid watching Doctor Zhivago at the Anglesea Luxury Cinema and Lara DIDN’T TURN AROUND AND OMAR SHARIF WAS RUNNING AND THEN HE CLUTCHED HIS CHEST AND OH MY GOD AND SHE NEVER KNEW!
I nearly spat my Marella Jube into the hair of the person in front.

So if you feel betrayed by an author or a film-maker when that happens in your favourite book or series, don’t take it out on them or the work they’ve created.
What it means is that they have created a world so engaging that we, as readers, are lost in it. We are annoyed because the author wants us to be annoyed, upset because that person we loved is gone and we just don’t know what will happen next.
And that’s a good thing. Right?



*Disclosure: I work with inside a dog as part of my day job, but these comments are my own.

Unfamiliar familiar worlds

Don’t you love that feeling of reading a book set in a world that is eerily familiar – but not quite? A world, perhaps, that seems like ours but where everything is unexpected, different – foreign?

In expert hands, it can be one of reading’s great pleasures.

Here are two cases in point, in recent YA literature.

This is Shyness, Leanne Hall
Set in Melbourne (kind of), along Smith Street (maybe). Or not.

This is Shyness is the story of one night in a suburb, Shyness, where night is all there is. The sun doesn’t rise, wild kids roam and ravage, creepy men in black suits cruise the streets, and Wildgirl meets a dark, handsome howling boy just at a moment when they both need to escape.

It’s a spooky place that feels like a world we know, gone badly wrong. It’s not even dystopian fiction, really – just a beautifully imagined parallel universe of inner city bars, government flats, gangs and music and darkness.

Looking forward to the sequel, Queen of the Night, due early next year.

The Leviathan trilogy, Scott Westerfeld
Goliath (just out last month) is the satisfying final instalment of Westerfeld’s re-imagining of World War I into a steampunk world of Clankers versus Darwinians, of enormous – living – flying machines and sea creatures pitted against mechanical clanking monsters spitting bullets, of a girl dressed as a boy and a prince dressed as a commoner, of a world caught up in war and espionage and intrigue.

For younger readers, it’s a non-stop action adventure of the very best kind: intelligent and fascinating.