It’s Halloween!

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What are some of your favourite spooky books? Let me know!

Here are some I have thought of…

Neil Gaiman ( could be a lot really !) but how about

The Graveyard Book

graveyard book

After his family are killed, Bod is brought up in a graveyard by ghosts – an array of century-spanning characters who care for him, impart wisdom and even teach body-fading skills. But Bod sometimes goes beyond the graveyard into the world of the living – and here his life is under threat from the sinister man Jack, who has pursued him since he was a baby.

 

Bestselling author Neil Gaiman offers up a wonderful story of life, death and coming-of-age in this book, which won the Booktrust Teenage Prize. The fabulously original story is full of humour and surprise and has a brilliantly engaging hero in Bod. Gaiman blends together the poetic, the resonant and the gruesome and Chris Riddell’s illustrations confirm the delicious sense of unsettling people and presences that run throughout.

Publisher: Bloomsbury (http://www.booktrust.org.uk/books/view/29125)

Coraline

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Something nasty lives in Coraline’s house.

It’s nothing to do with Miss Spink and Miss Forcible, the two faded old actresses who live in the ground floor flat with their Highland terriers and their memories of past successes. Nor is it anything to do with Mr Bobo up in the attic, the crazy old man with a big moustache who is training a mouse circus, but won’t let anyone see it

It’s to do with the door in Coraline’s flat, the door that opens onto a blank brick wall:

‘When this place was just one house,’ said Coraline’s mother, ‘that door went somewhere. When they turned the house into flats, they simply bricked it up. The other side is the empty flat on the other side of the house, the one that’s still for sale.’
She shut the door and put the string of keys back on top of the kitchen doorframe.
‘You didn’t lock it,’ said Coraline.
Her mother shrugged. ‘Why should I lock it?’ she asked. ‘It doesn’t go anywhere.’
Coraline didn’t say anything.

But she begins to wonder about it, later, in the middle of the night. Nasty little things begin skittering about, and when she gets up to investigate (bravely), there’s nothing there … except that door is now ever so slightly open. Just a crack.

Still, how could anything come through the door when there’s a brick wall behind it?

Depends what you’re up against, doesn’t it.

The other mother sat down on the big sofa. She picked up a brown handbag from beside the sofa, and took out a white, rustling, paper bag from inside it.
She extended the hand with the paper bag in it to Coraline. ‘Would you like one?’ she asked politely?
Expecting it to be a toffee or a butterscotch ball, Coraline looked down. The bag was half-filled with large shiny blackbeetles, crawling over each other in their efforts to get out of the bag.
‘No,’ said Coraline. ‘I don’t want one.’
‘Suit yourself,’ said her other mother. She carefully picked out a particularly large and black beetle, pulled off its legs (which she dropped, neatly, into a big glass ashtray on the small table beside the sofa), and popped the beetle into her mouth. She crunched it happily.
‘Yum,’ she said, and took another.
‘You’re sick,’ said Coraline. ‘Sick and evil and weird.’

It’s a brilliant book, moving inexorably from the deliciously creepy to crawling fear up the back of your spine. It was the buttons, though, that really did it for me! If you want to know, you’ll have to read it … not just for children.

Earnestly recommended! (http://www.readingmatters.co.uk/review/coraline)

Anthony Horowitz (again, lots to choose from!)

Horowitz Horror and More Horowitz Horror

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It was typical of my dad to want to stop and offer the man a lift and just as typical of my mum to want to drive on. In the back seat, I said, ‘Don’t stop, Dad.’ But it was already too late. Just fifteen seconds had passed since we saw the hitchhiker and already we were slowing down. I’d told him not to stop. But I’d no sooner said it than we did.
The rain was coming down harder now and it was very dark so I couldn’t see very much of the man. He seemed quite large, towering over the car. He had long hair, hanging down over his eyes.
My father pressed the button that lowered the window. ‘Where are you going?’ he asked.
‘Ipswich.’
Ipswich was about twenty miles away. My mother didn’t say anything. I could tell she was uncomfortable.
‘You were heading there on foot?’ my father asked.
‘My car’s broken down.’
‘Well – we’re heading that way. We can give you a lift.’
‘John…’ My mother spoke my father’s name quietly but already it was too late. The damage was done.
‘Thanks,’ the man said. He opened the back door.
I suppose I’d better explain.
The A12 is a long, dark, anonymous road that often goes through empty countryside with no buildings in sight. It was like that where we were now. There were no street lights. Pulled in on the hard shoulder, we must have been practically invisible to the other traffic rushing past. It was the one place in the world where you’d have to be crazy to pick up a stranger.
Because, you see, everyone knows about Fairfields. It’s a big, ugly building not far from Woodbridge, surrounded by a wall that’s fifteen metres high with spikes along the top and metal gates that open electrically. The name is quite new. It used to be called the East Suffolk Maximum Security Prison for the Criminally Insane. And right now we were only about ten miles away from it.
That’s the point I’m trying to make. When you’re ten miles away from a lunatic asylum, you don’t stop in the dark to pick up someone you’ve never met. You have to say to yourself that maybe, just maybe, there could have been a break-out that night. Maybe one of the loonies has cut the throat of the guard at the gate and slipped out into the night. And so it doesn’t matter if it’s raining. It doesn’t even matter if the local nuclear power station at Sizewell has just blown up and it’s coming down radioactive slush. You just don’t stop.
The back door slammed shut. The man eased himself into the back seat, rain water glistening on his jacket. The car drove forward again.
I looked at him, trying to make out his features in the half light. He had a long face with a square chin and small, narrow eyes. His skin was pale, as if he hadn’t been outdoors in a while. His hair was somewhere between brown and grey, hanging down in clumps. His clothes looked old and second-hand. A sports jacket and baggy corduroys. The sort of clothes a gardener might wear. His fingers were unusually long. One hand was resting on his thigh and his fingers reached all the way to his knee.
‘Have you been out for the day?’ he asked.
‘Yes.’ My father knew he had annoyed my mother and he was determined to be cheerful and chatty, to show that he wasn’t ashamed of what he’d done. ‘We’ve been in Southwold. It’s a beautiful place.’
‘Oh yes.’ He glanced at me and I saw that he had a scar running over his eye. It began on his forehead and ended on his cheek and it seemed to have pushed the eye a little to one side. It wasn’t quite level with the other one.
‘Do you know Southwold?’ my father asked.
‘No.’
‘So where have you come from today?’
The man thought for a moment. ‘I broke down near Lowestoft,’ he said and somehow I knew he was lying. For a start, Lowestoft was a long way away, right on the border with Norfolk. If he’d broken down there, how could he have managed to get all the way to Southwold? And why bother? It would have been easier to jump on a train and go straight to Ipswich. I opened my mouth to say something but the man looked at me again, more sharply this time. Maybe I was imagining it but he could have been warning me. Don’t say anything. Don’t ask any difficult questions.
‘What’s your name?’ my mother asked. I don’t know why she wanted to know.
‘Rellik,’ he said. ‘Ian Rellik.’ He smiled slowly. ‘This your son in the back?’
‘Yes. That’s Jacob. He’s fifteen today.’
‘His birthday?’ The man uncurled his hand and held it out to me. ‘Happy birthday, Jacob.’
‘Thank you.’ I took the hand. It was like holding a dead fish. At the same time I glanced down and saw that his sleeve had pulled back exposing his wrist. There was something glistening on his skin and it wasn’t rain water. It was dark red, trickling down all the way to the edge of his hand, rising over the fleshy part of his thumb.
Blood!
Whose blood? His own?
He pulled his hand away, hiding it behind him. He knew I had seen it. Maybe he wanted me to.
We drove on. A cloud must have burst because it was really lashing down. You could hear the rain thumping on the car roof and the windscreen wipers were having to work hard to sweep it aside. I couldn’t believe we’d been walking on the beach only a few hours before.
‘Lucky we got in,’ my mother said, reading my mind.
‘It’s bad,’ my father said.
‘It’s hell,’ the man muttered. Hell. It was a strange choice of word. He shifted in his seat. ‘What do you do?’ he asked.
‘I’m a dentist.’
‘Really? I haven’t seen a dentist…not for a long time.’ He ran his tongue over his teeth. The tongue was pink and wet. The teeth were yellow and uneven. I guessed he hadn’t cleaned them in a while.
‘You should go twice a year,’ my father said.
‘You’re right. I should.’
There was a rumble of thunder and at that exact moment the man turned to me and mouthed two words. He didn’t say them. He just mouthed them, making sure my parents couldn’t see.
‘You’re dead.’
I stared at him, completely shaken. At first I thought I must have misunderstood him. Maybe he had said something else and the words had got lost in the thunderclap. But then he nodded slowly, telling me that I wasn’t wrong. That’s what he’d said. And that’s what he meant.
I felt every bone in my body turn to jelly. That thing about the asylum. When we’d stopped and picked up the hitchhiker, I hadn’t really believed that he was a madman who’d just escaped. Often you get scared by things but you can still tell yourself that it’s just your imagination, that you’re being stupid. And after all, there are lots of stories about escaped lunatics and none of them are ever true. But now I wasn’t so sure. Had I imagined it? Had he said something else? You’re dead. I thought back, picturing the movement of his lips. He’d said it all right.
We were doing about forty miles per hour, punching through the rain. I turned away, trying to ignore the man on the seat beside me. Mr Rellik. There was something strange about that name and without really thinking I found myself writing it on the window, using the tip of my finger.
  RELLIK  The letters, formed out of the condensation inside the car, hung there for a moment. Then the two ‘l’s in the middle began to run. It reminded me of blood. The name sounded Hungarian or something. It made me think of someone in Dracula.
‘Where do you want us to drop you?’ my mother asked.
‘Anywhere,’ Mr Rellik said.
‘Where do you live in Ipswich?’
There was a pause. ‘Blade Street,’ he said.
‘Blade Street? I don’t think I know it.’
‘It’s near the centre.’
My mother knew every street in Ipswich. She lived there for ten years before she married my father. But she had never heard of Blade Street. And why had the hitchhiker paused before he answered her question? Had he been making it up?
The thunder rolled over us a second time.
‘I’m going to kill you,’ Mr Rellik said.
But he said it so quietly that only I heard and this time I knew for certain. He was mad. He had escaped from Fairfields. We had picked him up in the middle of nowhere and he was going to kill us all. I leant forward, trying to catch my parents’ eyes. And that was when I happened to look into the driver’s mirror. That was when I saw the word that I had written on the window just a few moments before.

  RELLIK

  But reflected in the mirror it said something else. KILLER

More Horrowitz Horror © Anthony Horowitz 2000. Published by Orchard Books.

(http://www.puffin.co.uk/nf/shared/SharedDisplayTable/1,,213976_1,00.html)

Jonathan Stroud – The Lockwood & Co Series – new episode #2

The Whispering Skull has just been published.

The Screaming Staircase – I reviewed this last September.

The Owl Service – Alan Garner

owlservice

I loved Alan Garner when I was a child and this one I found particularly spooky.

The Owl Service tells the story of Alison, Roger and Huw who discover a mysterious dinner service in the loft. This is only the first of the strange events and happenings that lead to the old Welsh legend of Blouedd (who was made of flowers and then turned into an owl after she killed her husband).

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I have to admit the plot was very gripping and slightly creepy (such as when Huw finds Alison in the forest making owls and then being chased by mysterious flames), but was let down by the way Garner linked the events together.

My favourite of these events was during the storm when the plaster on the walls of the house starts to crack and reveals the portrait of a beautiful woman surrounded by flowers made of birds claws; one of the most creepy parts of the book.

The publishers have named this book a “modern classic” and the snippets of reviews themselves claim the book “builds up tension and comes to wild release in the last few pages”. I disagree with this claim. The book was like a line of gunpowder: exciting and bright throughout but often sizzles out at the end. I do not think this book deserves to be ranked up there with the Phantom Tollbooth, Thomasina and Charmed Life (other books in the “modern classics” range).

I also have a problem with the illustration on page three which depicts one of the plates from the dinner service. It is supposed to make a picture of an owl if the pattern is drawn correctly, but however much I tried I could not make one (if you are going to illustrate a book like this do it right).

Not one of the best reads ever, but take a look anyway. Preferably get it from a library not a bookshop, as you probably won’t read it again.

(http://www.theguardian.com/childrens-books-site/2011/jul/05/owl-service-alan-garner-review)

Der Struwwelpeter

struwwelpeter

The original scary book for children, Struwwelpeter was one of the first books written explicitly for kids — and it didn’t exactly coddle them. The book consists of cautionary tales for children, who are warned that if they suck their thumbs, a “great tall tailor” will chop said thumbs off with giant scissors. Yikes (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/claire-fallon/9-kids-books-that-terrifi_b_4178249.html)

Murder and Mendelssohn (A Phryne Fisher Mystery #20) – Kerry Greenwood

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Murder and Mendlessohn

Murder and Mendelssohn (A Phryne Fisher Mystery #20) – Kerry Greenwood

Poisoned Pen Press

January 2014 ISBN 9781464202483

RRP $14.99

I am a self-confessed Phryne tragic  and have previously gobbled up each new read with relish, so I was very excited to receive the latest as a birthday gift. While I definitely appreciate the present, I have to say I was quite disappointed in this latest offering from Kerry Greenwood (whose work I admire immensely).

This latest novel with the irrepressible, stylish and intelligent Phryne and her assorted household and companions seems to be almost a hotch-potch of ideas and themes. I personally didn’t find it as well-written and ‘neat’ as previous episodes and also found the characters almost one-dimensional and uninteresting.

There are a couple of storylines going on here – first a choir with not one but two murdered conductors, then there is a friend from Phryne’s Great War days with his unpleasant companion (and his Sherlock Holmes –esque deductive superiority) and their homosexual affair, as well as a left-over attachment to this pair in the way of a former arms dealer turned Melbourne gang boss. It’s messy and unnecessarily complicated  and the resolution is flat and anti-climatic.

Several points were jarring. Firstly, there seems to be a definite edge of flirtation going on between Phryne and her pet policeman Jack. Now there has never been any suggestion of this in any of the books – and I can only assume, this has crept in influenced by the TV series, in which it is very much a focus. Next, was the complete and utter absence of the beautiful Lin Chung and his soothing presence which exudes harmony – throughout the household. Then there is the completely ridiculous supposition that despite John Wilson is a confirmed homosexual – [and was, during the Great War when he and Phryne first met, yet they had a quick fling in a moment of dire shock (which I could almost believe)] –  and appears in Melbourne totally absorbed and enraptured by the odious Rupert Sheffield ……yet he is falling into Phryne’s bed at the drop of pair of silk knickers and is there night after night until Phryne ‘fixes’ things between him and his potential lover.  From that point, John and Rupert are constantly entwined in private and in front of others. Added to this is the complete nonchalant acceptance of this whole farcical situation by Phryne’s household. Now, might I remind you of when Lin Chung was to marry, with the intention of Phryne remaining his concubine? The Butlers were fully determined to resign their position – so they must have really mellowed since then if they are more than happy to have a homosexual both in their mistress’ bed and then in the arms of his male lover. And Dot? The easily shockable (though she has become resigned to Phryne’s morals or lack of same) and good Catholic girl has apparently not a single issue with this pair of dreary young men. I am really not sure what Kerry’s agenda is here – aside from perhaps she is trying to make a statement of her personal views in light of our current national divide on gay marriage.

The portrayal of both Jane and Ruth, Phryne’s adopted daughters is also at odds with previous novels with the pair almost caricatured in their own personalities. Indeed, caricature seems to be a word that applies to many of the uninteresting personalities abounding in this novel.

Oh and just to top it off, we suddenly discover that Phryne is considered ‘the most dangerous woman in the world’ by her former head in the secret service. Her espionage career was beyond James Bond. I’m not entirely sure when she had time to indulge in this spy game as her war service for the past 19 years was definitely ambulance driver and following her discharge she landed in Paris where she was an artist’s model, refusing to return to the stately home and becoming embroiled with a nasty Frenchman – and then as far as I was aware, she emigrated to Australia??

The choir who go on obsessively trilling their Elijah despite the murders of two of their unpleasant conductors seems a little over the top. And while crazy people do abound its true, the resolution of the murder –which is not even solved by the estimable Miss Fisher – with a poor old drunken pianist apparently outraged to insanity by the massacre of his beloved Mendelssohn is just a little too weak for this reader.

All in all, while I thank my friend Lyndy very much for adding to my Phryne collection, I do hope that Ms Greenwood returns to the Phryne we love if there is to be another episode.

My latest talking books…

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Around the World in 80 Days – Michael Palin

AroundTheWorldIn80DaysDvdCover

In 1989 Michael Palin embarked on the first of his hugely successful travel series. In my family, we all watched avidly and then when the accompanying book was published I bought a copy for my father as he had enjoyed the show so much. After his death in 1999, the book came back to me and some years later I was lucky enough to meet Michael Palin in Brisbane as he promoted ‘New Europe’. This charming and funny man gladly signed not only all my books including 80 days but all my Monty Python ‘bits’ as well.

So it was with great pleasure that I revisited the account of the trip via talking book – spoken by Michael himself.  A very enjoyable commute interlude!

See Michael talk about the trip here.

To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee

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As my Year 10s are studying this text this term, I thought rather than re-read the book for at least the 20th time, I would listen to it instead. Delightfully spoken by Sissy Spacek, who of course has JUST the right accent, it was 11 ½ hours of pure listening pleasure.

You might remember the First Tuesday Book Club discussion at the time of the book’s anniversary – worth a revisit!

The Bookseller of Kabul – Asne Seierstad

Asne_Seierstad_The_Bookseller_of_Kabul

Published in 2002, this literary non-fiction explores the everyday lives of family and others connected with a bookseller called Shah Muhammed Rais, with whom Seierstad had become acquainted during her journalistic sojourn in Afghanistan.  Despite controversy surrounding the book after its publication, I found it both interesting and informative and gave me a much greater understanding of the life of the ordinary citizens in this beleaguered country.

The Rosie Project – Graeme Simsion

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The Rosie Project

Graeme Simsion

Simon & Schuster |  320 pages | ISBN 9781476729091 | June 2014 – See more

RRP $15.99

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There are two common responses when one announces that one is a librarian (or teacher-librarian).

  1. “How lovely to have a job where you can read all day!” (Ummm, not likely!)
  2. “So you get to read all the new/best sellers first?” (Flashback to 2004 and managing a popular public library in Sydney when Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code was repeatedly topping every best seller list in the world. We had at least a dozen copies and a reservation list so long we bought another twenty copies. I ended up reading it about two years later after borrowing it from a friend’s bookshelf!)

So typically I am possibly one of the last people in the known universe to read The Rosie Project after hearing so much high praise about it and the phenomenal reaction from all readers. I can only say it was worth the wait!

On Tuesday afternoon, I had my annual appointment with my accountant to do my tax return. My calculations, based on leaving the library at 3.20 pm, meant that I would arrive exactly three minutes before my designated time slot at 4.00 pm. Recalling my 2013 experience of having to wait fifteen minutes due to my very gregarious accountant continuing to talk to his previous client (I strongly suspect he has an ADHD type disorder but would need to conduct more conclusive research to verify this), I needed something to read in case I was once again forced to endure his extremely non-ergonomic waiting area couch. I picked up The Rosie Project from one of our display stands, it having just been returned that day. I arrived at Terry’s office at precisely 3.58 and to my great surprise he was ready for our appointment. We spent exactly 46 seconds discussing my tax return, and the other 44 minutes 14 seconds animatedly talking about books, depression, Mental Health Week, his (my previous) Rotary Club, his wife (also a teacher), his recent trip to Bathurst and whether anti-depressants could be counted as a tax deduction. After my arrival at my home at 5.00 pm and sundry household chores according to my regular schedule, dinner and watching my usual episode of crime fiction featuring my favourite book character, a singularly well-organised and precise Belgian, I went to bed intending to read until my scheduled 10 pm curfew. After 13 chapters of complete and utter engrossment, I forced myself to adhere to the scheduled sleeping requirement albeit reluctantly (mentally wondering if I could fake insomnia).

Last night, Wednesday, I completed my usual after school routine of driving across town to my mother’s nursing home, where I spent an hour in bemusement at other residents (high-care dementia unit) and helping Mum with her dinner, followed by the one hour drive home to arrive at 6.21 pm (a variation on the usual 6.25 pm, that allowed me an extra four minutes of poodle-cuddle time as the traffic had been noticeably without drama). At 8.31, the poodle and I retired, my sole intention to finish the book. At the appointed ‘lights out’ time of 10.00 pm I still had a few chapters to finish. I recalculated my sleeping time, and adjusted my alarm to wake a half an hour later, judging that I could cut minutes from shower/dressing/make up/breakfast time to compensate.

Finished the book, laughed, sighed and went to sleep with complete satisfaction.

For those who have read the book, you will possibly be able to contextualise the previous two paragraphs. For those who have not yet read the book, let me elucidate and introduce you to Don Tillman.

Don is a highly regarded, extremely intelligent, well paid, good looking and physically fit Associate Professor in genetic research. He can count his friends on one hand and has never had a relationship with a woman. In fact, any attempts have never gone beyond one date. Because Don is ‘different’.

Simsion’s artful description of Don filling in for his Lothario colleague, Gene, to deliver a lecture on Asperger’s Syndrome to parents and affected students at a local school, all the while completely oblivious that he is, in fact, the epitome of all the recognised adaptive behaviours is priceless.

Don wants to have a wife and recognising his shortfall in social success in interactions with the opposite sex, creates The Wife Project – a highly scientific process to filter out unsuitable candidates and provide the exact match. His friend, Gene, is meant to be assisting him in his search but is really using the applications to further his own quest to conquer the world in a geographically sexual sense. In a moment of  mischief, Gene, engineers a meeting between Don and Rosie, who is the complete antithesis of Don’s ‘ideal wife’.

The ensuing romantic romp is chaotic, charming and utterly engaging. Don Tillman is one of the most likeable, endearing characters I have ‘read’ in recent times – in fact, I think I may be a little in love with him myself!

Graeme Simsion wrote the manuscript with the intention of it becoming a movie after publication. I didn’t know that during my reading of it but thought  it is exactly the kind of humorous, insightful, complicated and ultimately satisfying love story that translates perfectly to the screen and the rom-com genre.

I’m with Rosie on this score. I am sure that when I finally get to see The Rosie Project realised as a film, I will no doubt need the box of tissues next to me.

One of my most enjoyable reads of this year –  don’t just put it on your list, put it on your shelf!

Q&A with Colin Thompson

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Since he started writing and illustrating children’s books in 1990, Colin Thompson has had more than 65 books published. He has received several awards, including an Aurealis Award for the novel How to Live Forever, CBCA Picture Book of the Year for The Short and Incredibly Happy Life of Riley and CBCA Honour Book and the Family Therapists’ Award for The Big Little Book Of Happy Sadness. He has been shortlisted for many other awards, including the Astrid Lindgren Award – the most prestigious children’s literature prize in the world. Colin lives in Bellingen, Australia. His books with Random House Australia include How to Live Forever, numerous picture books, The Floods series, The Dragons series, The Big Little Book Of Happy SadnessFree To A Good Home and Barry.

Author Lives In: Bellingen, NSW, Australia

thompson, colin

Courtesy: Random House Australia

Colin, welcome to Just So Stories!

Reading the biographical details on your website, your life has been a mix of various locations, jobs and interests and your writing career did not kick off until relatively recently. Can you tell us about any interest in books and writing when you were a child/teenager/young adult whether favourites or what you inspired you and then, perhaps you could share why you started to write professionally?

When I was a child there were only fourteen children’s book in print and they were jolly super-wizard japes and pretty boring apart from one or two such as the Wind in The Willows which is probably still my favourite children’s book. There no books with no nasty common working class people in – unless they were burglars and the only books with coloured pictures were annuals of the comics I read, like the Beano.

Nothing inspired me to be a writer. I had no desire to be one and the thought never once  entered my head until I was 49 and went to see some publishers in London to see if I could get some work illustrating children’s books. I couldn’t, but one publisher told me to go away and write a story. I said I didn’t know how to – I was rubbish at English at school – but she kept pestering me until I got so fed up with her that I sat down and wrote Ethel The Chicken. (You can read this in my collection of stories Wild Stories which is a collection of three books of short stories re-published here by Random House)

So I started writing because a publisher told me to.

Out of your many published works, I have many personal favourites (though a couple of picture books particularly hold my regard – The Short & Incredibly Happy Life of Riley and The Last Circus for example). I am in awe of your versatility in being able to both write and illustrate though sometimes you collaborate with another illustrator as in those two examples. What makes you decide whether you will illustrate your own work?  Also, do you confer with an illustrator if not yourself about your ‘vision’ of the illustrations?

Actually I did not collaborate with Amy Lissiat on Riley. I am actually an 85 year old French lady and the fact that Amy Lissiat is an anagram of ‘it’s my alias’ is pure coincidence. If someone else illustrates one of my book. I do NOT confer at all and any author who does with an illustrator should not be allowed to. If they (or me) think they know how the book should look, then they should do the pictures. Otherwise leave the illustrator alone. It’s none of your business. I’m not sure I will be doing any more collaborations. Might do, but at the moment I prefer to illustrate my own stuff.

‘Dust’ was a book that I found both important and poignant. In my libraries I have shared it with dozens of children and it always makes such a profound impact. What was it’s genesis?

I got the idea after seeing news on TV about the famine in Niger which their government said wasn’t happening. No doubt it wasn’t for the government. So I decided to try and raise some money. Initially I approached Medicine Sans Frontiers, but they were ridiculous and impossible to deal with so I went to Save the Children who welcomed DUST with open arms. I’m not sure how much we’ve raised, but I think it’s at least $500,000. Save the Children took my wife and I to Cambodia to see the work they were doing there and that gave me the idea for the follow up book The Bicycle. I though the least I could do after such a stark book as DUST was to produce an upbeat book!

Not only are you talented in the picture book genre, but your novels for older children such as The Floods and The Dragons are wildly popular with both boys and girls. Can you tell us how these two series came about?

My publisher at Random house took me out to lunch and suggested I might like to write a series. I hadn’t thought of it until then and decided that I was so TOTALLY bored with all the witch and wizard books, many of which are really bad, that the genre needed sending up. If you look at the Harry Potter books, I think you’ll find that there isn’t one joke in the entire series. I don’t know this for certain because I got really bored after the first two. I know they’re good, but I think they are all at least 50% longer than they should be. I just don’t have the patience – which is why I’ve never read Lord of the Rings either.

Writing picture books is a really good way of discarding the fluff which so much writing is full of. Some of my picture books do have longer stories than average, but it does teach you to only say what you need to, not show off with all the clever words you know. Stephen King says – ‘the adverb is not your friend’ If you plan to be a writer, go and get that advice burnt into your skin.

So having taken, to put it bluntly, the piss out of witches and wizards with, The Floods I then decided to do the same to King Arthur and dragons with my Dragonsseries.

See below for my new series.

And then of course, there are the poetry books (is there no end to this man’s talent?!) – what inspired the poetry books which are enormous fun especially as read-alouds?

I wish you would stop using the word ‘inspired’. Stuff just comes into my head and I write it down – or draw it. The inspiration word is a lot of people’s excuse for not doing stuff. ‘I need to be inspired’, they say which is crap. What they need is to do is to just get on with it and if they keep trying and can’t think of anything, then they shouldn’t be doing it anyway. They should just go and get a job – teaching writing or art is one job you can do if you can’t actually do it.

Writing poetry is strange. There are times when whatever word you think of, another one that rhymes comes into your head instantly. In my 3 poetry books there is only one poem that doesn’t rhyme. I think each book was written in about six long sessions over a few weeks and then things stopped rhyming. I have been toying with the idea of another book of poems.

Most of us know that you had some issues early in your life with depression. As we have just recognised Mental Health Week and thankfully are working towards breaking down the barriers and ignorance which surrounds this daunting problem, perhaps you could share some thoughts on the topic?

I think if the world in 2014 tells itself that everyone is more understanding and tolerant of mental illness, it’s lying to itself. Society has hardly become any more accepting that it was when I had depression fifty years ago. The general belief of most people is that sufferers could and should ‘snap out of it’. This of course is pathetic and implies that people with depression (I’m saying depression because that’s what sent me into three mental hospitals in my early 20’s) or other mental illnesses are putting it on deliberately and have some control over the situation, which of course is ridiculous. Anyone who has had bad depression will tell you, it’s not something you would ever choose to have. I think it was good of the ABC to host Mental Health Week and some of the programmes were really good. There was also some patronising rubbish too. I survived my depression and one genuine suicide attempt, but I can’t really say exactly how I got over it. Now, apparently, I have Aspergers instead which I must have got later because it wasn’t invented when I was born. When I was a child it was simply called being naughty.

The MOST IMPORTANT THING if you have a mental illness is to admit that you have a problem and then seek help. NEVER keep it to yourself.

Whilst not wishing to be impolite, you are nudging what some might describe as senior citizen status, yet I don’t detect any intention of slowing down or ‘retiring’- what is happening at present? What projects are you working on and what do you still feel needs to be written?

I want to say very rude words here. Stop trying to being polite. It is not impolite to tell someone they are old. It happens to everyone and it is not actually an insult.  I am not ‘nudging’ anything. Next week I will be 72. I am old, but I am as busy as I have ever been. Luckily I have not been cursed with maturity and Aspergers means you can do lots more in a day than other people.

Right now I am working on -

  • Illustrating a picture book called STANLEY, which I have just finished writing. It will be published next September. By the way, the third and final FEARLESSbook called Fearless Sons and Daughter will be published next year too (I think it’s March)
  • Editing and illustrating the first book of my new series which is called – Watch This Space. It will be published next May.
  • Writing the second book in the Watch This Space series – don’t know how many there will be
  • Drawing quite a few new pictures for more jigsaw puzzles for a company called Ravensburger. I’m currently drawing 2 that are 1000 piece puzzles and finishing one that is a LOT bigger. I’m hoping that when I’ve done a few more new pictures that we can put them all in a picture book too.
  • Working on a kind of novel/picture/chapter autobiographyish ( yes it is a proper word- Im an author so I know about this sort of thing) sort of book calledFITTING IN which is sort of about problems and other stuff like depression/Apergers/being different/shy/scared etc.etc. – not sure when this will be finished.
  • Writing an adult novel called The Mirrorball of The Gods.
  • Writing a book of adult short stories.
  • Writing another picture book.
  • Trying to find time to make samples of three ranges of models I’ve come up with. They will be for all ages between 5 and Pre-dementia.
  • Other stuff.

I have heard you speak to groups of students and inspiring them, but what advice would you give potential adult authors?

1 – Well then, get on with it.

2 – If you can marry someone rich, that’s a good idea. I am married for the third time and have never managed that.

Do you have particular authors and/or genres that you enjoy most? What are you reading right now?

I have two favourite books – neither are fiction.

1 – Botanica’s Trees and Shrubs – I read this all the time.

2 – At The Tomb of the Inflatable Pig – by John Gimlette. It’s about Paraquay and is like a cross between Monty Python and Saddam Hussein. I’ve read it about six times now. I also love two of his other booksThe Theatre of Fish and Wild Coast

My favourite author is Alan Bennett.

Finally, what would you like your epitaph to be?

Bloody hell, he must have been ancient. I thought he died years ago.

This, of course, will not be a viable epitaph for at least another 25 years. I’ve got a lot to do.

Please note the use of the word ‘died’ here. That’s what people do. They do not ‘pass over,’ they die.

Colin Thompson, I thank you so much for your valuable time and your generous sharing.

Bthank-you

Are You Seeing Me? – Darren Groth

Standard

Are You Seeing Me? – Darren Groth

9780857984739

Random House Australia

ISBN: 9780857984739

Published: 01/08/2014

Imprint: Woolshed Press

Extent: 288 pages

RRP $18.99

In the past few months I have been slightly disappointed in the Australian YA fiction which I have encountered, as compared to the international ditto.

This book knocked that opinion for six. Darren Groth has written a sensitive, funny and insightful novel that explores themes and issues common to many families in dilemmas of family relationships, confusion and identity.  Justine and Perry are twins. Justine is bright, capable, caring and logical. Perry is also bright, capable, caring and logical but with one major difference.

“Perry has a brain condition that can cause him to feel anxious or upset in different places and circumstances. He has trouble with people – mixing with them and communicating with them – and it sometimes results in inappropriate behaviours. I appreciate your understanding and patience.”

This is almost Justine’s mantra. When she and Perry were around four, their mother ‘took off’ and their father subsequently raised the twins with loving support and insightful belief. Sadly, shortly before their 18th birthdays, Dan (Dad) dies due to an unpleasant and lingering cancer condition. Since the time their mother left, Justine and Dan had cared for Perry – Justine, as his twin, with enormous empathy even at the age of four. However, unbeknownst to either Dan or Perry, Justine has begun some contact with her mother and following their father’s demise, she decides it is time for Perry to also be introduced to his mother (who now wants to be part of their lives). This is especially important as the pair has made a decision, based on their father’s thinking that Perry will move into sheltered independent (semi-independent) care and Justine can pursue her own life.  Before this event, Justine makes the decision for the two siblings to go to America and not only pursue Perry’s quirky interests (seismology, mythical beasts) but also to meet their mother.

This is a road trip with a difference.  There are numerous complications, scares and surprises along the way but eventually a resolution that is neither cloying nor predictable.

My opinion is that this is a marvellous novel for exploring what constitutes the ‘caring, competent, logical’ persona, family relationships, mother/father and siblings and ‘letting go’ of preconceived ideas, values and beliefs.

I would highly recommend this novel for students, both boys and girls, from around 14 up. There is nothing untoward that would justify a ‘senior’ label but does require some maturity of thought to grasp the concepts.

Find Teacher Notes here.