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INTERVIEW: Belinda Murrell author of The Sequin Star

Friday, July 25, 2014

Please welcome the brilliant and beautiful Belinda Murrell (my sister, who I am so proud of) to the blog, to talk about her new book THE SEQUIN STAR!

What is your latest novel all about?

My new book is The Sequin Star, which is the latest book in my time slip series for children aged about 10 to 14. This book was so fascinating to research and write as it is set in a circus during the Great Depression. My daughter Emily and I went to visit lots of circuses as part of my research, and we went behind the scenes to meet and interview some of the circus equestrian performers. 

The Sequin Star is the story of a modern day girl called Claire, who is very close to her grandmother. After her grandmother is rushed to hospital, Claire finds a chipped and battered sequin star brooch amongst her grandparents’ treasures. Why does Claire’s wealthy grandmother own such a cheap piece of jewellery? The mystery deepens when the brooch hurtles Claire back in time to 1932. 

Claire finds herself stranded in the camp of the Sterling Brothers Circus. Rescued by Princess Rosina, a gypsy princess and bareback rider extraordinaire, Claire is allowed to stay – if she promises to work hard. The Great Depression has made life difficult for everyone, but Claire makes friends with Rosina and Jem, and a boy called Kit who comes to the circus night after night to watch Rosina perform.

When Kit is kidnapped, it’s up to Claire, Rosina and Jem to save him. But Claire is starting to wonder just who Kit and Rosina really are. One is escaping poverty and the other is escaping wealth – can the two find happiness together?

How did you get the first idea for it?
I have always been fascinated by circuses. One of my earliest memories is visiting The Great Moscow Circus with Dad and being entranced by the performing bears (As a vet, Dad was called out to treat one of the Russian bears when the circus first came to Australia). I remember as a teenager trying to teach myself bareback circus tricks on my pony and getting thrown off multiple times. Over the years I managed to break several bones attempting fancy tricks on horseback. So I have wanted to write a story about an old fashioned circus for a long time. The 1930s seemed like an ideal time to set it because it was a very harsh period in Australian history.  

What was the most interesting thing you discovered during your research?

Lots of my books have been inspired by family stories and experiences, and at first I thought that this was one book of mine that wasn’t. However halfway through writing and researching the book, I made an amazing discovery. There actually was a member of my family who ran away and joined the circus. Nearly a hundred years ago, my husband’s great uncle Max Murrell, ran away when he was a teenager and joined a circus. He eloped with a gorgeous young girl called Gertrude and together they travelled all over the world to Asia, India, Africa and America. They developed an aerial equilibrist act which included doing handstands on the back of a chair, balanced on a tightrope high above the ground. I had great joy in poring over his fascinating old photo albums. 

What do you love most about writing?
Immersing myself in a different place and time. Discovering the stories of my characters. Experiencing the almost magical evolution from the first spark of an idea, to the outline of a story, to a complete book. 
I also love the feedback from my readers. One of my greatest joys is getting hundreds of emails and letters from kids, telling me how much they love my books.

What are the best 5 books you've read recently?

Burial Rites by Hannah Kent

Sheila by Robert Wainright

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

Call The Midwife by Jennifer Worth

I am currently reading The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd which I am really enjoying. 

What lies ahead of you in the next year?

This year I am writing four new books in my Lulu Bell series – written for younger kids (6 to 9) years old. 

I just adore my character Lulu Bell. She is an eight year old girl, growing up in a vet hospital just like we did as children. She is the eldest child, so she is creative but practical, sometimes a little sassy, but usually warm and caring and great at solving problems. 

I have just finished editing Lulu Bell and the Christmas Elf, to come out in November and writing books 10 to 13 to come out next year. The series, which is illustrated by the very talented Serena Geddes, is about family, friends and animal adventures. 

I have just been away on tour for a few weeks for the launch of Lulu Bell and the Pyjama Party visiting a wide array of schools, bookshops, libraries and literary festivals in Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland. The series is currently being translated into Portuguese and Afrikaans, and the first six books are being released in a book-shaped treasure tin. So it is very exciting to see the series doing so well.  

BOOK LIST: Best Books about Circuses for Children

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

To celebrate the success of The Sequin Star, the new YA timeslip adventure written by my sister Belinda, I asked her to prepare a list of the best books about circuses for kids. I remember reading all of these!

Here they are:

Mr Galliano’s Circus by Enid Blyton was one of my favourite books when I was young. I loved reading about the adventures of Jimmy Brown, who leaves his everyday, suburban life behind when his Dad gets a job as the circus carpenter. Jimmy makes friends with the naughty, mischievous circus girl called Lotta. The circus is filled with colourful characters like the ringmaster, Mr Galliano and lots of wonderful animal performers. I particularly loved Jemima the monkey, and remember begging for a pet monkey of my own. Lotta is a delightful character – a bareback trick rider who teaches Jimmy how to perform in the circus ring. Enid Blyton wrote several other books set in circuses, including Hurrah for the Circus and The Circus of Adventure

Circus Ring was written by Mary Grant Bruce in 1936 but is set in a horse drawn circus in the 1890s. The two primary characters are Hugh Russell and Nina Peterson, child performers in Peterson’s Circus. The book follows the ups and downs of the circus performers as they travel through the Australian countryside. It is a story of hardship and adventure set in an old-time travelling circus. 

The Nancy Drew series by Carolyn Keene was a big favourite in our house, so I particularly enjoyed The Ringmaster’s Secret, when Nancy is sleuthing a mystery involving a long lost gold charm bracelet, an orphaned trapeze artist and various circus villains. To solve the mystery, Nancy goes undercover as a bareback circus rider, and of course she performs like a seasoned professional. During her adventures she is attacked, kidnapped from the circus and finally imprisoned in the lion’s cage before the ringmaster’s secret is solved. 

Five Go Off in a Caravan, was one of my favourite Famous Five adventures. Once again Enid Blyton writes a rollicking adventure story amongst the colourful characters of a circus. George, Julian, Dick, Anne and Timmy the dog, set off on a holiday in two horse drawn gypsy caravans, blissfully free of any interfering parents. They stumble across a circus camp and make friends with Nobby, the circus boy, his performing dogs and Pongo the chimpanzee. Of course, as well as loveable circus performers, there are villains and mysteries aplenty.  

Know any other great books about circuses for kids? I'd love to hear about them!

BOOK REVIEW: The Sequin Star by Belinda Murrell

Monday, July 21, 2014


Author: Belinda Murrell

Publisher: Random House Australia

Age Group & Genre: YA timeslip adventure

Reviewer: Kate Forsyth

Source of Book: A gift from the author (who is also my sister!)

The Blurb:
In an  exciting timeslip tale, Claire finds an old trunk filled with her grandmother's treasures, including an old star-shaped brooch covered in sequins

Why does Claire's wealthy grandmother own such a cheap piece of jewelry? The mystery deepens when the brooch hurtles Claire back in time to 1932. Australia is in the grip of the Great Depression and people seek distraction from their problems through entertainment. There's the famous horse Phar Lap, cricket hero Don Bradman, and then there are circuses. Claire finds herself stranding in the camp of the Sterling Brothers Circus. Rescued by Princess Rosina, a beautiful trick rider, Claire is given a job in the camp kitchen. Life is hard, but she makes friends with Rosina and Jem, and a boy named Kit who comes to the circus night after night to watch Rosina perform. When Kit is kidnapped by a fanatical political group, it's up to Claire, Rosina, and Jem to save him. But Claire is starting to wonder just who Kit and Rosina really are. One is escaping poverty and the other is escaping wealth—can the two find happiness together?(

What I Thought: 

Many of you may know that Belinda Murrell is my elder sister, and so I have to admit to a strong partiality to any book I read of hers!

The Sequin Star is the latest in her very popular timeslip series for teenage girls. The action follows a modern-day Australian girl named Claire who finds herself thrown back in time to a Great Depression-era circus in 1932. She is rescued by a warm-hearted girl named Rosina who is riding on the back of an elephant. 

Claire has no way of getting back to her own time, and so begins to work in the circus. As well as Rosina and her pet monkey, Claire makes friends with two boys from very different backgrounds. Jem’s family is dirt-poor and living in a shanty town, while Kit has a chauffeur and lives in a mansion. Kit comes to the circus night after night to watch Rosina ride her beautiful dancing horses, not realising he is putting himself in danger. 

When Kit is kidnapped, Claire and her friends have to try and work out the mystery in order to save him. The Sequin Star is exactly the sort of book I would have loved to have read in my early teens (in fact, any time!), and is gives a really vivid look at life in Sydney in the early 1930s. Loved it!

Writer’s website:

THE IMPOSSIBLE QUEST: Book 1 coming soon!

Saturday, July 19, 2014

I am very excited to announce that Book 1 of THE IMPOSSIBLE QUEST is being launched soon!

Here is the synopsis for the whole series:

Four unlikely heroes 
Four mysterious gifts 
Four impossible tasks 
Five thrilling books

‘Tell your lord to beware,’ the wild man said, gripping Tom’s arm with a dirty hand. ‘The wolves smell danger in the wind.’

The Impossible Quest is set in the faraway land of Wolfhaven. It tells the story of four friends who are forced into undertaking an impossible quest to try and awaken the legendary sleeping warriors of the past.

Tom is the son of the castle cook, trained to scrub pots, not fight. Lady Elanor is the daughter of the Lord of Wolfhaven. She has been protected all her life and is not equipped for a dangerous journey through the wilderness. Sebastian is a squire who dreams of being a knight, but has a tendency to fall over his own feet. Quinn, an orphan, is apprenticed to the Grand Teller, and likes to think she knows everything.

Wolfhaven Castle has been attacked by deadly enemies, and the lord and his people have been forced into slavery. An ancient prophecy says that four sleeping warriors are hidden deep beneath the castle and that, with the help of a spell, they can be awoken to fight for Wolfhaven. The only problem is, the spell calls for seemingly impossible ingredients:

When the wolf lies down with the wolfhound 
And the stones of the castle sing, 
The sleeping heroes shall wake for the crown 
And the bells of victory ring. 
Griffin feather and unicorn’s horn, 
Sea-serpent scale and dragon’s tooth. 
Bring them together at first light of dawn, 
And you shall see this spell’s truth.

Hunted by sinister bog-men, led by a knight with a helmet of boar tusks, Tom, Elanor, Sebastian and Quinn have only the last gifts of the Grand Teller to help them – an old flute that makes no sound, a wooden pendant of a dragon curled around amber, a moonstone ring, and a wooden talisman of an old man’s face with a beard of oak leaves.

Together they must learn about courage, compassion, and trust, if they are to survive and succeed in their impossible quest.

Watch the cool THE IMPOSSIBLE QUEST trailer or go THE IMPOSSIBLE QUEST website to read a sample chapter! 


SPOTLIGHT: The Little Mermaid

Friday, July 18, 2014

The Little Mermaid

History of the Tale
Many cultures around the world have tales of mermaids and other magical human-like creatures of the sea in their folkloric traditions. 

The first known mermaid tale appeared in ancient Assyria, more than 3,000 years ago. The goddess Atargatis was in love with a handsome shepherd, but accidentally killed him. In her guilt and shame, she leapt into a lake and took the form of a fish but the waters would not conceal her divine beauty. So she was caught as a human above the waist and a fish below. 

In Greek mythology, mermaids are linked with sirens, beautiful yet dangerous creatures that lure sailors to the death with their enchanting and irresistible singing. 

There is a similar tale in German folklore, telling the story of a beautiful young maiden named Lorelei who threw herself headlong into the river in despair over a faithless lover. Upon her death she was transformed into a siren and could from that time on be heard singing on a rock along the Rhine River. 
One Thousand and One Nights includes several tales featuring ‘sea people’, though they do not have fish-tails, but only the ability to breathe and live underwater. 

China has tales of a mermaid who ‘wept tears which became pearls’, while in Thai storytelling traditions there is a character called Suvannamaccha (lit. golden mermaid).  Mermaids and mermen also appear in Philippine folklore, where they are known as sirena and siyokoy.

From Scotland and Ireland come tales of selkies, said to live in the sea as seals but able to shed their sealskins and walk on the land in human form. (I have just had a children’s picture book published called Two Selkie Tales from Scotland). 

Melusine is another mermaid-like creature found in French fairy tales. She is sometimes depicted with two fish tails, or with the lower body of a serpent, and usually lives in forest pools and rivers. The story of Melusine inspired the very popular 19th century book Undine by Friedrich de la Motte Fouqué, in which Undine, a water spirit, marries a knight named Huldebrand in order to gain a soul. 

It is said to have inspired the most famous mermaid tale, Hans Christian Andersen's fairy tale "The Little Mermaid" which was first published in 1837. Anyone who only knows the story because of the Disney remake will be shocked to read the original, which is far darker and crueller.  

In the original version, The Little Mermaid is the youngest daughter of a sea king who lives at the bottom of the sea. She saves the life of a prince on a ship and falls in love with him, and so goes to the sea-witch to ask her for a spell to give up her tail. The sea-witch cuts out her tongue, and tells her every step she takes will be like stepping on knives:

"I know what you want," said the sea witch. "It is very foolish of you, for it will bring you to grief, my proud princess. You want to get rid of your fish tail and have two stumps instead, so that you can walk about like a human creature, and have the young Prince fall in love with you, and win him and an immortal soul besides … But every step you take will feel as if you were treading upon knife blades so sharp that blood must flow. … Well, have you lost your courage? Stick out your little tongue and I shall cut it off. I'll have my price, and you shall have the spell."

However, the prince marries another and the little mermaid has sacrificed all for nothing. Her sisters come to her with a dagger and tell her she can only become a mermaid again if she stabs him in the heart, but the Little Mermaid cannot bear to do so. She flings herself in the ocean instead and drowns.The spirits of the air save her and tell her that mermaids who do good deeds become daughters of the air, and after 300 years of good service they can earn a human soul.

It is thought The Little Mermaid was written as a kind of love letter to Hans Christian Andersen’s dear friend Edvard Collin. Andersen, upon hearing of Collin’s engagement to a young woman, wrote to him: 
‘I long for you as though you were a beautiful Calabrian girl … my sentiments for you are those of a woman. The femininity of my nature and our friendship must remain a mystery.’

Edvard Collin turned Andersen down, disgusted. Andersen then wrote The Little Mermaid to symbolize his inability to have Collin just as a mermaid cannot be with a human. He sent it to Collin in 1836 and it goes down in history as one of the most profound love letters ever written. When he died, Andersen’s will left most of his money to Collin. 

The Little Mermaid, as it was originally written, had an even more tragic ending with the Little Mermaid dying. 

Motifs & Meaning Of Tales
Unsurprisingly, most feminist scholars see Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid as both violent and misogynist. 

The Little Mermaid sacrifices her voice, her mermaid tail, and ultimately her life, for the Prince, thus reinforcing a cultural stereotype which subordinates women. 

The scholar Robert W. Meyers describes the cutting out of the little mermaid’s tongue as “the relinquishment of her right to be heard, the loss of her creativity and the wound of castration”. 

According to Meyers, Andersen had a strong feminine identification which he repressed. He then instilled his own subconscious desires into his characters. The cutting out of the little mermaid’s tongue is essentially Andersen’s way of repressing his own feminine identity and sexual desires. He metaphorically removes sexuality from his character.

However, some feminists see the tale as a warning to women to choose not to be like the Little Mermaid – i.e to not accept any kind of abuse in the name of love.

Others focus on the spiritual transformation of the heroine, from a creature of the sea, to a creature of the land, to a creature of the air – showing her spirit’s progress up towards God. This is reflected in the themes of wounding, self-sacrifice and the idea of love defeating death. 

Modern Retellings
In 1961, Shirley Temple Theatre broadcast a television version of "The Little Mermaid", starring Shirley Temple as the Mermaid.

In 1989, Walt Disney made a very popular animated musical fantasy based on the story (though in it the mermaid gets her prince). ‘The Little Mermaid’ was the first Disney fairy tale retelling since Sleeping Beauty in 1959. The film rights of 'The Little Mermaid' had been a Disney property since 1941, with Walt planning to include the much darker Hans Christian Andersen version of the tale in a planned anthology film of his works. The idea was shelved in 1943. 

My novel Dancing on Knives draws upon the Andersen tale in allusion and structure. 

Favourite Books of Mine which feature mermaids or selkies:

Ingo by Helen Dunmore

Mermaid by Carolyn Turgeon

Sirena by Donna Jo Napoli

Sea-Hearts by Margo Lanagan (selkies)

Secrets of the Sea House (selkies)

You can listen to me talking about mermaids with Natasha Mitchell on ABC National 'Life Matters' or read my blog on the History & Meaning of Sleeping Beauty



FILM REVIEWS: Five Best Fairy Tale Films chosen by Susanne Rath

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Suzanne Rath is a writer, producer and co-founder of Idle Wrath Films who are currently in pre-production on a wonderful short film, 'Fairy Fort.' 

Their crowd-funding campaign, running for the month of July, offers lots of fun rewards for lovers of fairy tales, fantasy & magical realism - you can support Idle Wrath here

To celebrate their crowd-funding push, Suzanne has kindly chosen her 5 favourite films based on the Grimm Brother's fairy tales.

Over to Suzanne!

The Brothers Grimm need no introduction for those of us who are still inspired by the fairytales we grew up with. The stories they collected, including well- known tales such as Cinderella, Hansel & Gretel and Little Red Riding Hood have been adapted into successful films by filmmakers such as Walt Disney and Lotte Reiniger. However, not all of the cinematic re- tellings are aimed at younger audiences. In the list below, I've named my five favourite films based on Grimms' fairytales- some may surprise you!

5) Ever After
A film for all the family, Ever After was inspired by the original Cinderella story, from which the Brothers Grimm version was derived. There's no magical carriage, or pumpkin, yet the core elements of the story remain. The film opens with the Brothers Grimm arriving at the home of a Grande Dame who offers to tell them the true story of the 'cinder girl'. The story then flashes back to the story of Danielle (Barrymore), a 16th century French girl whose stepmother begins to mistreat her after her father's death. In an unlikely twist on the original fairytale, the heroine Danielle is eventually rescued from imprisonment by Leonardo Da Vinci, so that she may attend the ball and meet the dashing Prince Henry.
Director Andy Tennant treats the subject as historical fiction, creating a visually appealing film with historic French chateaux and period costumes. Anjelica Huston is an excellent evil stepmother, while Danielle (Drew Barrymore) manages to strike up a surprisingly deep and intellectual bond with her prince (Dougray Scott). Ever After was a deserving box office success, taking in over $100million worldwide.

4) Tangled

Featuring Rapunzel as you've never seen her before, Tangled is a 2010 Disney animation/comedy directed by Nathan Greno and Byron Howard.
Despite several changes, including featuring Rapunzel as a princess (the original version of the fairy-tale by both Charlotte Rose De la Force and that documented by the Grimm brothers depicts her as the daughter of poor parents who fall foul of a witch), Tangled is quite true to the original fairytale. In fact, its name was only changed from Rapunzel to make it more gender neutral.
Like other films on this list, Tangled was a cinematic film, with visuals modelled on Renaissance oil paintings. Complete with an original score influenced by medieval music and 1960s folk rock, this is a fairy-tale adaptation worth viewing.

3) Mirror Mirror

Based on Snow White & The Seven Dwarves, the 2012 film Mirror Mirror stars Julia Roberts as an evil queen who steals control of a kingdom, prompting her exiled step-daughter to recruit seven bandit dwarves to fight her. The title is based on the famous phrase from the fairytale; in the film, the queen's reflection, 'The Mirror Queen' lives within the mirror.
Like many films by director Tarsem Singh, Mirror Mirror is beautiful. The cast put in solid performances and the costumes,e inspired by nineteenth century folk tale illustrations, saw the film's designer nominated for an Academy Award. Despite deviating little from the original fairytale, Mirror Mirror is a  fantastical alternative to the classic Disney animated version of Snow White.

2) The Company of Wolves

Based on a novel by Angela Carter, The Company of Wolves is a stylish film which references the Little Red Riding Hood fairytale heavily. Opening in the modern era, the story takes place within the dreams of Rosaleen. Rosaleen dreams that she lives in an enchanted forest with her parents and sister, who one day is killed by wolves. Rosaleen's grieving parents send her to stay with her grandmother, who gives her a bright red shawl to wear and warns her not to talk to men whose eyebrows meet. However when an attractive huntsman of this description challenges Rosaleen to a race to her grandmother's cottage, he turns out to be a wolf disguised as a man, who eats her grandmother. Rosaleen must deal with avenging her grandmother's death and fighting her desire for the huntsman as the local villagers come in search of the werewolf. The moral of the film, as with many traditional fairytales, is that girls should be wary of strangers!
Directed by Neil Jordan, this creepy gothic horror isn't a story for kids. However, The Company of Wolves was nominated for several BAFTAs and was well received critically. Its biggest success was in its visuals- the enchanted forest of Rosaleen's dreams still appears claustrophic today, while the creatures she encounters there are certainly the stuff of nightmares.

1) Shrek

No list of fairytale- inspired films could be complete without mentioning Shrek, although it can't be described as a re-telling of one particular story. Throughout the films, Shrek referenced an array of Disney films, featured popular fairytale characters such as Cinderella and Snow White and appealed to both children and adults equally through its clever dialogue and use of double entendres.
Shrek tells the story of an ogre of the same name whose solitary life is interrupted when the evil Lord Farquaad exiles fairytale creatures to his swamp. Shrek joins forces with a talking donkey to ask Farquaad to take them back, but when he reaches the lord's palace, he finds himself embroiled in a tournament whose winner is tasked with rescuing a princess for Lord Farquaad to marry. Shrek easily wins the tournament and sets to rescue Princess Fiona, who lives in a castle guarded by a dragon. On the journey back to Lord Farquaad with the newly freed Fiona, Shrek finds he has more in common than he thought with her, after learning she was born an ogre too. From then he must risk the wrath of Lord Farquaad to win the love of his princess.
Shrek was voiced by an all star cast, including Cameron Diaz, Mike Myers and Eddie Murphy. It won the first Academy Award for Best Animated feature and was nominated for six BAFTAs. Film critics embraced it as a modern fairytale retelling which upended the cliches of traditional children's fairytales. While the franchise eventually descended into sequels of lesser quality than the first, Shrek remains relevant and entertaining today. 

You can follow Suzanne on Twitter @SuzoWriting and @Idle Wrath


FILM REVIEW: Maleficent, a retelling of Sleeping Beauty

Monday, July 14, 2014

''Let us tell an old story anew and see how well you know it.''

This is the opening line of Disney’s new remake of ‘Sleeping Beauty’, named after its villainness Maleficent. I love fairy tale retellings, particularly ones which reimagine an old tale in new ways, and so I was really looking forward to ‘Maleficent’. Predictably, perhaps, I loved it (though I did have one or two reservations from a fairy tale perspective, but more on that later).

The film is inspired by the famous 1959 Disney animated version of ‘Sleeping Beauty’ and stars Angelina Jolie in what may well be her best-ever role. There has always been something wild and dangerous about Angelina’s beauty, and the Disney animators’ brilliant work bring this feyness to riveting life. 

The film’s narrative is concerned with the story of why Maleficent cast her cure on Princess Aurora. The back story shows her as a bright-eyed, strong-winged fairy who falls in love with a human. When he betrays her horribly for power and greed (in a scene which is truly awful to watch), she determines to take her revenge on him. 

So she curses the baby, but finds herself drawn to look over the growing child (played beautifully as a toddler by Angelina’s own daughter, Vivienne Jolie-Pitt, and as a rather wide-eyed and impossibly sweet Elle Fanning as a teenager). 

Maleficent’s emotional journey is utterly authentic and at times heart-wrenching, and the film itself is visually gorgeous. I particularly loved the many strange and magical creatures of the fairy world.

I have a few problems with the fairy tale aspects of the film. The film’s director Robert Stromberg, has used the 1959 Disney remake of ‘Sleeping Beauty’ as his primary source material which means several of the cartoon’s most irritating aspects have been preserved, in particular  the three comical and clumsy fairies that look after the child, and the cloying sweetness and stupidity of Aurora. 

I was also troubled that Aurora does not sleep for a hundred years in the movie, but really only has a cat-nap (does that mean she should be called Napping Beauty instead?) 

These minor quibbles aside, however, I loved ‘Maleficent’ and think it shows the emotional resonance and symbolic power that films drawing upon classic fairy tale can conjure. And I love the raven turned into a man!

You may be interested in my blog on the history & meaning of the 'Sleeping Beauty' fairy tale which includes my favourite retellings of the tale in novel form. 


SPOTLIGHT: Help Room to Read to Save the World!

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Room to Read are one of the incredible literacy programs that I support wholeheartedly - they do the most amazing work in bringing books to disadvantaged children around the world.  

CHILDREN'S BOOK WEEK is coming up soon (Saturday 16 – Friday 22 August). This is one of the busiest times in the year for Australian children's authors. Yet some wonderful and big-hearted authors are taking the time out of their packed schedules to help support Room to Read ... and I'd like to help and support them in their generous work. 

TRISTAN BANCKS is raising funds for Room to Read’s Destination Literacy campaign via his World Change Challenge, an initiative designed to inspire schoolkids to raise funds for local language children’s books for kids in developing countries in Africa and Asia. $1 funds 1 new book. Tristan aims to fund 20,000! Please help him reach his goal. 

SUSANNE GERVAY is launching her new ‘Jack’ book, Being Jack, following a special benefit performance of monkey baa’s award-winning production of ‘I Am Jack’, 5pm on Saturday 23rd August. Bookings here! Special guests will include ‘the real Jack’, Susanne’s son, and Professor Ron Rapee, Director of the Centre for Emotional Health.
Other authors who also work tirelessly on behalf of Room to Read are Deb Abela, Belinda Murrell, Sarah Davis, Gus Gordon, Jesse Blackadder, Jacqueline Harvey, John Larkin, Sophie Mason and Oliver Phommavanh so a big shout-out to them all.    

Room to Read believes that reading can connect children to other worlds and imaginary places— but it also connects our children, globally, to other children. Australian children can help create world change by putting a book in another child's hands— this is a powerful and beautiful thing! 

Here's the link to Room to Read's website - go and see what youc an do to help change the world through books!

INTERVIEW: Juliet Marillier, author of The Shadowfell trilogy

Friday, July 11, 2014

Today I'm very proud to welcome one of my favourite writers to the blog: JULIET MARILLIER!

What is your latest novel all about?

The Caller is the third and final instalment of the Shadowfell series. The land of Alban (a magical version of ancient Scotland) is ruled by the tyrannical Keldec, who controls his subjects through fear, with the help of an elite hit squad, the Enforcers. But a group of young rebels plans to challenge the power of the king, using a secret weapon: the reclusive Good Folk, the uncanny residents of Alban, who usually won’t cooperate with humankind. The key to success is Neryn, sixteen years old in this book and still learning to use her gift as a Caller, a person who can persuade the Good Folk out of their various boltholes and into action. Neryn visits the enigmatic White Lady to learn the magic of air, and is horrified by the dwindling of this powerful elemental being. Then disaster strikes and the rebel plans are thrown into confusion. Meanwhile Neryn’s beloved Flint, a rebel spy at court, is close to breaking point as the burden of maintaining his cover weighs ever more heavily on his conscience. The story builds toward a final confrontation at the king’s midsummer Gathering.

How did you get the first idea for it?
I had two main sources of inspiration for the Shadowfell series. I began writing the first book during the so-called Arab Spring, when we saw popular rebellions against repressive governments in several countries. When the Shadowfell rebels make the choice to fight for the cause of freedom, they stand to lose family, work, home, community, relationships. They know they may well be tortured or killed. The frightening thing is that while this is a fictional story, in many parts of the world that kind of risk is an everyday reality. I wanted to put my characters through that test and find out whether they were strong enough to endure it. And I wanted to know what happened afterwards!

The second inspiration was my love of Scotland. I grew up in Dunedin, a very Scottish part of New Zealand, and my ancestry is mostly Scots. I had a lot of fun creating Alban, which is sort-of-Scotland – the story does not fit into real history and I’ve taken liberties with the geography. I did include some uncanny beings from Scots folklore, such as an urisk and a trow. And I invented new ones, like the stanie mon, a gigantic rock creature who can only be summoned by reciting a particular kind of rhyming couplet. As soon as I began writing the series, the cast of Good Folk began talking in Scots, some broadly, some less broadly. Not historically accurate, but sometimes these things seem to write themselves.

What do you love most about writing?
Making a connection with my readers. That link can be so powerful it feels like magic. I’m sure I am not the only writer who has a sense of ancestral memory working through her, almost as if the stories are true, or were once true, and I am just writing down what those old, old storytellers whisper in my ears. 

I love hearing from readers that my books have got them interested in reading again; or that reading my books has inspired their own creative work, whether that is writing or painting or something else. And I love the messages telling me that one or other of my novels has helped a reader through a difficult time in her life. As a druid, I believe in the power of storytelling for teaching and healing, and those letters reinforce that belief for me.

What are the best 5 books you've read recently?
I really enjoyed The Blue Mile by Kim Kelly, a historical novel set in Sydney during the construction of the Harbour Bridge. I also liked Anne Gracie’s The Winter Bride, the second in her Chance Sisters Regency romance series – Anne’s novels evoke the period wonderfully, and the romance conventions never stop her from creating characters who are real individuals. 

I loved Following Atticus by Tom Ryan – a beautifully written memoir about a man, his dog and the remarkable connection with wild nature they made together. Then there was Donna Tartt’s 700-odd page novel The Goldfinch, which I raced through. Tartt has the winning combination of literary cleverness and fine storytelling. Last but not least, The One Plus One by a favourite author, JoJo Moyes, who writes both historical and contemporary fiction. This is a contemporary novel and I think it’s one of her best ¬– a love story, a family story, a road trip, all sorts of things. 

As you can see, I haven’t been reading much fantasy!

What lies ahead of you in the next year? 
Dreamer’s Pool, first book in the Blackthorn & Grim series, comes out in October here in Australia, and November in the US. The Blackthorn & Grim series combines history, fairytale and mystery, and features a pair of protagonists who are a bit older and more damaged than my usual – they were great to write. I’m currently working on the second novel in the series. Travel-wise, I’ll be in London for the Historical Novelists Society conference in September, and will have a week in Italy on the way home. I’m a guest at Supanova in Brisbane and Adelaide in November. 2015 will see me tackling the third Blackthorn & Grim novel and a children’s book for Christmas Press, which I’m very excited about. 


SPOTLIGHT: Juliet Marillier's top tips for writers

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Today on the blog I welcome Juliet Marillier, one of my all-time favourite writers. Her books are things to be treasured - so warm and beautiful and wise - and so I'm very eager to hear her tips on how to be a better writer. Please welcoem her with lots of virtual applause and comments, please!

Aspiring writers often hear the same snippets of advice: Show, don’t tell. Kill your darlings. Write what you know. But what do they actually mean, and are they essential?

Show, don’t tell: Excellent general advice for all of us – not only for fledgling writers. To improve the pace and flow of your story and to deepen characterisation, let your characters’ actions and reactions and their speech show the reader what they are thinking and feeling. Avoid loading down your prose with descriptive passages, and remember that your reader likes to give his or her imagination a workout, so leave it to him or her to fill in the gaps. Go easy on the adjectives and adverbs; think of other ways to paint a picture. Sometimes, of course, you will need to do a bit of telling, especially if you are writing a book of epic scale. But keep it to a minimum if you want your reader to stay engaged.

Kill your darlings: It can be tempting to hold on to something in your manuscript that you are especially fond of  – a lovely descriptive passage full of clever figures of speech, a funny dialogue between your two favourite characters, or scenes featuring a character whom you love above all others. But when it comes to the crunch, you may find these beloved sections are slowing the pace of your book and adding nothing much to the story. When you’re editing your own work, ask yourself whether a scene or passage is essential to move the plot forward, or necessary for the understanding of a character. If not, it should go. I love writing descriptive passages, usually about nature – the forest, the river, the mountains – and if I didn’t rein myself in, my language would get out of control. I am improving. My recent novels are much shorter than the doorstop-sized tomes I started out with. Mind you, some readers would like my books to be longer. But publishers like them streamlined!

Write what you know: this can be interpreted in different ways. It certainly need not mean a writer must only write about what is in his or her own personal experience, or must stick to writing about times, places and cultures in which he or she has actually lived. That would be to say goodbye to historical fiction and to all kinds of speculative fiction, not to speak of crime fiction and thrillers. However, writing about the familiar is a good exercise for beginning writers. A keen eye and ear, and an interest in the world about us, are essential for writers of fiction of all kinds. Learn to see the wonder in everyday things and to capture it on the page.

My love of traditional stories – myths, legends, folklore and fairy tales – certainly contributes to the content and style of my writing, as does my interest in history. But the core of a great story lies in real life. No writer creates believable characters without getting out into the world and learning what makes people tick. Great scenes and great plots develop from our observations of what happens from day to day, not only in our personal world, but in the world at large. I write historical fantasy mostly set in medieval Europe, which may seem far away from my everyday life in 21st century Australia. Yet the difficulties my characters face and the ways in which they solve them are often not much different from situations in today’s world. Here are some examples.

The Shadowfell series is about young rebels mounting a challenge to a tyrannical regime. The idea came from the popular uprisings in the Middle East that were taking place when I was planning the series. 

In the third book, The Caller, a fighter suffers a terrible head injury. He’s tended to by his comrades while the authorities decide whether he’s to be kept alive with perhaps little hope of returning to his old self. Here in Perth, Western Australia, we’ve seen a lot of young men suffer paralysis or brain damage as a result of ‘one punch’ assaults, often by strangers. I had been thinking about the fallout from such a situation, not only for the victim, but for everyone who cares about him. So this confronting situation made its way into a story set in ancient Scotland (or a place rather like it.) 

I’ve also been reading a lot about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, especially as experienced by soldiers on return from deployment to war zones. The military connection that exists in my family  increased my wish to find out more about PTSD, and I ended up including it in my story. I was fairly sure that even if the Shadowfell rebels were successful in their quest to topple the tyrant, those who had served the rebel cause long-term would suffer lasting psychological damage as a result of the actions they’d had to take along the way. 

In a sense, then, I am writing about what I know. I’m basing my stories on issues and themes that are important to me, and choosing to build them into a type of story I am confident I can write effectively. For the aspiring writer, my interpretation of ‘Write what you know’ is this: keep your characters psychologically true, and make your situations real to the reader. How? Go out and mingle with all kinds of people; experience and learn about the real world, because that world is bursting with great story ideas.  

I've reviewed the Shadowfell trilogy here and here is a link to an interview I did with Juliet a couple of years ago.


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