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INTERVIEW: Nick Earls, author of 'Word Hunters: The Curious Dictionary'

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

I really loved Nick's most recent book - his first for children - which is called 'Word Hunters: The Curious Dictionary', and is the first in an action-packed, timeslip adventure about twins who whirled back in tiem in order to save certain key words from extinction. My review of 'The Curious Dictionary' can be read here, while below Nick answers a few questions about the writing of this book:


Are you a daydreamer too?
Yes. It’s sometimes sounded like a romantic term to me, like someone gazing at clouds and thinking in elegant couplets, but my mind is often away somewhere, so that’s a yes. I can’t help picking up small ideas and following their drift, but I guess that’s one of the things that lets me do this job. It’s a wandering mind that finds things it otherwise wouldn’t. It can be irritating for the people around me who, if they didn’t know me better, might think I’m not paying attention to real life.
Have you always wanted to be a writer?
Yes. I’ve told stories since I was four and wanted to be a writer since I worked out that the person whose name was on the book got money for it.
How did you get the first flash of inspiration for this book?
I’d been interested in etymology for a long time, but didn’t think I’d have a way in to writing about it. Every ABC radio station has its etymology pro, and I wasn’t planning to turn pro. The idea of using stages in the evolution of a word as stepping stones for an adventure story occurred to me one day in a park with my son in late 2010. We were on our way back to the car. I went home, made some notes, got online and hunted down the histories of some words. That made the idea look even better, though I knew it’d surprise people if I said I was going to write something like that. For weeks I told no one, and then I accepted that the idea wasn’t going away. I talked to Terry Whidborne and, with him on board, I put the idea to my agent.
How extensively do you plan your novels?
Extensively. Each pile of ideas grows over a couple of years or more before I give it serious attention and put together my outline. The outline tends to be around 1/4 of the length of the novel, with fragments of conversations, a lot of detail and quite an understanding of the characters already in place before I’m ready to write. I realise some people do it very differently ...
Do you ever use dreams as a source of inspiration?
I’ll use anything that won’t cause anyone any harm. I’d be happy if more of my dreams turned out to be useful. Unfortunately they usually don’t.
Where do you write, and when?
I write in a purpose-built shed in my backyard, 10m from my house. It’s the ideal arrangement for keeping work and life separate but minimising the commute.
What is your favourite part of writing?
I love a new idea and I love playing with ideas and working out what I might get out of them. I also love finishing. It’s that big slab of toil in between the ideas and the finishing that seems to make up most of the job though. The other part I particularly like is when someone reads a book of mine and gets it. They’re written to be read, after all, so it’s great to hear when one of them’s worked.
What do you do when you get blocked?
Because of all that planning, that doesn’t seem to happen often (now I’ve said that I’m afraid I’ve jinxed it). I always have ideas waiting ahead of me in the outline, and any new ones that come along once I’ve started are a bonus. That doesn’t mean every day’s a breeze – far from it. I often used to hit a sludgy patch maybe 20,000 words in and think that particular book would be the one that would bring me down, but each time I got through and the final version of the book didn’t have a sludgy patch there after all. Maybe, as well as loading my outline with detail, I’m also better now at giving myself permission to make a first draft a first draft.
How do you keep your well of inspiration full?
In the early 90s I worked out how to drill it a bit deeper. I got better at noticing and not losing small ideas, and I worked out that sitting around waiting for novel-sized ideas didn’t have to be what novel writing was about. My problem tends to be that I have more ideas than I can manage to write.
Do you have any rituals that help you to write?
The main thing I do is try to block distractions – no music, a blank wall in front of me and I try to persuade myself to stop checking email, tweeting, etc. The last one of those has become the hardest.
Who are ten of your favourite writers?
Richard Ford, Wells Tower, Michael Redhill, Tara June Winch, Melissa Bank, Michael Chabon, Andrew Bovell, Aaron Sorkin, Alice Munro. I’m going to stop there. I know I’ve missed plenty of people I’d like to include, but this way I can convince myself each of them might have ended up with the last spot.

What do you consider to be good writing? 
Writing that does its job without ever looking like writing.
What is your advice for someone dreaming of being a writer too?
It’s not a rational career choice. I’ve made one of those before, when I did a medical degree, so I know what they look like – the odds of long-term employment are much better. Writing is a job for people who can’t stop themselves. Who have a compulsion to do it – to take the next idea and turn it into something.

If people can’t stop themselves, they should read and think and work on their craft. Work our what works and make more of it. Work out what doesn’t and find something that does. Find the voice the story needs and use it. Show restraint. Show, don’t tell. Try to write without leaving any fingerprints.

There’s nothing revolutionary there, but it took me years to learn it rather than just hearing it.
What are you working on now?
 Word Hunters 3. Nearly at the end of draft one.

What began your own personal fascination with words and their history?
I can’t say that one thing did it. I’ve always been into stories, and fascinated by history and the way things work. Etymology feels like the place where all of that overlaps. But I’ve kept quiet about it because other people have actually studied in the area and made themselves experts.
What was the most difficult challenge for you, writing a novel for this age group for the first time?
Getting out of my head the idea that it was a radically different thing and one that I wasn’t equipped to do, and getting back into my head some of the things I’ve learned over the previous 15 books. It is different writing for this age group, but sometimes I freaked myself out by over-emphasising the differences. It worked better when I told myself to create and connect with my characters and tell their story. That at least got me started. I also wanted to make sure I worked with editors who really knew this area and who I trusted (Kristina Schulz and Mark Mcleod). I’ve tried to learn a lot from them, and there’s been quite a lot to learn. This is just about the only time I’ve sold a book (in fact a series) based on a pitch, and that’s the reason – I wanted editorial input from the start, to get me on the right track and keep me on it.
I love time travel stories! Did you love them when you were a kid? If so, what are some of your favourites?
I did. I loved stories that took characters not a million miles from me into an alternative reality, whether it was through the back or a wardrobe or into a different time. I’d secretly harbour the hope that my turn would come. Alan Garner’s The Weirdstone of Brisingamen was definitely one of those books. Wikipedia tells me it was volume one of a trilogy and came out in 1960. Volume three is due out soon. I don’t think UQP will be prepared to wait 52 years, so Terry and l will be aiming to keep the Word Hunters momentum going until we cross the line.

Will you keep on writing for this age group?
If the right idea comes along I probably won’t be able to stop it.


BOOK REVIEW: 'Word Hunters: The Curious Dictionary' by Nick Earls

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Title: Word Hunters: The Curious Dictionary

Author: Nick Earls

Publisher: UQP

Genre: Children’s Fantasy


The Blurb:

Lexi and Al Hunter are twins with almost nothing in common – except their parents and their birthday! At school Lexi hangs with her friends, while Al hides in the library reading about history, battles and faraway places.

When the twins stumble upon an old dictionary, the world as they know it changes. They are blasted into history to hunt down words that threaten to vanish from our past and our present. Their lives and the future of the world are at stake. Can they find a way back home? Or will they be trapped in the past? For once, they’ll need to depend on each other if they want to survive


What I Liked About This Book:

I really loved this book. It’s fresh, funny, a little quirky, and is bound together by a true passion for words and their importance. Nick Earls is best known for writing humorous popular fiction for adults, many of them set in his home town of Brisbane. He has also written for young adults, winning a Children’s Book Council Award in 2000 for 48 Shades of Brown, which was made into a movie called 48 Shades.

This is, however, his first foray into children’s literature. Since 'The Curious Dictionary' is the first in the Word Hunters series, it’s obviously not going to be his last. I’m very glad, because the genre really suits Nick’s writing. 'The Curious Dictionary' is quick-paced, and the characters are sharply drawn and very likeable. And you all know how much I love a good time travel story! This book really reminded me of a few old, old favourites – Rudyard Kipling’s Pook of Puck Hill, E. Nesbit’s The House of Arden, and Nicholas Stuart Grey’s The Apple-Stone. In each of those books, ‘modern-day’ children are taken back in time to various different historical eras, where they experience a short vignette that illuminates a momentous event in history, without once veering into preachiness.

What I most loved about this book, though, is that it is full of big ideas. Fantasy needs big ideas if it’s going to work at its optimum best. So many people think they can toss off a quick fantasy adventure to tap into the genre’s massive fan base, but a good fantasy novel is one that is heartfelt and full of deep thinking. Nick Earls has managed this brilliantly. Here’s a quote to show what I mean:

“(Caractatus) explained that, while some words fade out of use naturally, living words might be lost from the language if not pinned down by word hunters … ‘That mightn’t seem like much’ he said, ‘but you haven’t lived through the 5th century. I’ve seen languages lost. I know it can happen, and I know what’s at stake when it does … Writing, reading – they can be crucial  ...think about your country … think about your time. If only a thousand people could read and you weren’t two of them … what would you know? … which of your fancy machines would help you? Which of them could you work out how to use? … Language is fragile … if too many words are lost, the Dark Ages will come back. And look at it … mud inside, mud outside, and I live with pigs.’


What I Didn’t Like About This Book:

I would have liked a little longer spent in each different historical period, too get to know it just a little better. For example, the twins Lexi and Al go back in time to the moment in which Thomas Edison decides to use the word ‘hello’ when answering the new invention of the telephone, rather than ‘ahoy’ as Alexander Bell wished. So fascinating to learn this - something I didn’t know! But Al and Lexi are whisked away to their next adventure before they got to meet Mr Edison. I’d have so liked to have seen him as a character in a children’s book, and to know just a little more about him and his invention!

Saying that, however, the book’s hectic pace is part of the book’s charm and is probably perfectly matched to its readership – and a novel should never be az history lesson.

INTERVIEW: Joanne Harris, author of 'Peaches for Monsieur le Cure'

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

My third and final blog post to celebate Joanne Harris being in Australia (as you all know by now, she's one of my all-time favourite writers. And I get to hang out with her in Brisbane! Life is good).

Reviewing her most recent book, 'Peaches for Monsieur le Cure', I said: 'The book is a pleasure to read, vivid, compelling and surprising, with lots of beautiful descriptions of food and cooking and eating, which was one of my favourite aspects of Chocolat.'

The rest of my review can be found here, but for now enjoy the interview:

How long did the book take you to write?
About 18 months. I started writing it in mid-2010, just before Ramadan.

What was the most difficult challenge you needed to overcome?
Persuading my publishers that a story featuring Muslim characters and abuse of women could be treated sensitively...

Do you ever struggle with self-doubt or fear about your writing?
Always. It comes with the territory.

Did you get to go to France for research? (if so, I'm jealous)
I go to France all the time, although all my research (if you can call it that) was done as I was growing up, on long holidays at my grandfather's house.

Did you ever have an imaginary friend yourself?
No, but my daughter did - an imaginary rabbit called Pantoufle, whom I adopted in CHOCOLAT.

Do you cook food as beautifully as you write about it?
No. I imagine things far better than I actually do them...

Do you believe in magic?
Yes, although not necessarily by its traditional definition.


BOOK REVIEW: 'Peaches for Monsieur le Curé' by Joanne Harris

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Title: Peaches for Monsieur le Curé
Author: Joanne Harris
Publisher: Doubleday
Age Group & Genre: contemporary magic realism for adults

The Blurb:
‘It isn’t often you receive a letter from the dead’

When Vianne Rocher receives a letter from beyond the grave, she has no choice but to follow the wind that blows her back to Lansquenet, the village in south-west France where, eight year ago, she opened a chocolate shop.

But Vianne is completely unprepared for what she finds there. Women veiled in black, the scent of spices and peppermint tea, and there, on the bank of the river Tannes, facing the square little tower of the church of Saint-Jérôme like a piece on a chessboard – slender, bone-white and crowned with a silver crescent moon – a minaret.

Nor is it only the incomers from North Africa who have brought big changes to the community. Father Reynaud, Vianne’s erstwhile adversary, is now disgraced and under threat. Could it be that Vianne is the only one who can save him?

What I Liked About This Book:
'Chocolat' is one of my favourite books and Joanne Harris is one of my favourite authors. Her novel 'Five Quarters of the Orange' will always be listed in my top 5 favourite adult books.

However, when I heard that she had written another sequel to Chocolat, I didn’t squeal with excitement and rush out to the bookshop straightaway, as I usually do when one of my favourite writers publishes a new book.

I did go to the bookshop and look at the book, wondering, weighing it in my hands. The gorgeous cover swayed me, the blurb on the back cover enticed me (a return to the little French village of Lansquenet, which had so charmed me in Chocolat … I did like the sound of that).

So I opened the book and read the first chapter. It reads, in its entirety:

‘Someone once told me that, in France alone, a quarter of a million letters are delivered every year to the dead.
What she didn’t tell me is that sometimes the dead write back.’

That’s it. The whole first chapter.

I love writers who have the courage to write such short and simple chapters.  Somehow they are always powerful.

With a growing sense of excitement and joy, I turned the page and read the next page and then the next. I was hooked. I wanted to read more. And so I bought 'Peaches for Monsieur le Curé' and took it home with me.

Before I go on and tell you what I feel about the rest of the book, perhaps I should explain why I hadn’t squealed with excitement at the news that Joanne Harris was writing another book about Vianne Rocher.
The fault lies with 'The Lollipop Shoes', which sits between 'Chocolat' and 'Peaches'. I had squealed in excitement and rushed out to but that one, but, for me, it just didn’t have the same charm and magic as 'Chocolat'. I think it may be because the story alternated between the points of view of Vianne and the antagonist of the story, Zozie de l’Alba, which not only made the story much longer but also took out the element of surprise since we were privy to her thoughts and feelings right from the very beginning and so were never left to wonder whether she was friend or foe. I was also disappointed to find Vianne not working her own particular brand of magic anymore.

I am very happy to say, though, that 'Peaches for Monsieur le Cure' has restored all my faith in Joanne Harris as a novelist. The book is a pleasure to read, vivid, compelling and surprising, with lots of beautiful descriptions of food and cooking and eating, which was one of my favourite aspects of Chocolat.

It’s a pleasure to be back in the small French village that we know and love, with its cast of eccentric characters. It’s a clever twist to have Vianne’s former antagonist now one of the primary points of view, and Reynard’s character – stiff-necked, prickly, stubborn yet wanting to do good – is one of the delights of the novel.

What I Didn’t Like About This Book:
There may have been just one or two too many references to the wind changing …



INTERVIEW: Joanne Harris, author of 'Chocolat' & 'Five Quarters of the Orange'

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

To celebrate my appearance with one of my favourite authors, Joanne Harris, at the Brisbane Writers Festival in September, I am having a whole week dedicated to her on my blog. To kick things off, this is an interview I did with Joanne in 2009 - she was one of the very first authors I approached which shows how close her books are to my heart.

Here are Joanne's answers:

Are you a daydreamer too?
 I think it comes with the territory...

Have you always wanted to be a writer?
Always. I can't think of a more wonderful way to earn a living.

Where do you write?
Mostly at home, in the library - or in the greenhouse, which has the most
extraordinary light (and no phone). But I can write on the road too; in
planes, trains, airports, hotel rooms. I don't need special conditions when
I'm in the zone...

What is your favourite part of writing?
The moment at which everything comes together, and suddenly - wham! You're
somewhere else...

What do you do when you get blocked?
I move to something else - another book, a short story, even a fanfic - and

How do you keep your well of inspiration full?
 I talk to people. I move around. I read. I observe.

Do you have any rituals that help you to write?

Who are ten of your favourite writers?
 Mervyn Peake, Ray Bradbury, Iain Banks, John Mortimer, P G Wodehouse, Edgar
Allan Poe, Stephen King, Vladimir Nabokov, Angela Carter, Cormac McCarthy.


What do you consider to be good writing?
Something that I don't want to edit or proof as I read along...

What is your advice for someone dreaming of being a writer too?
 Be persistent. Read omnivorously. Know how to take advice - and reject it
too, when necesssary. Love what you do.

Joanne Harris's website

INTERVIEW: Jesse Blackadder, author of 'The Raven's Heart'

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

I recently reviewed 'The Raven's Heart' by Jesse Blackadder and this is what I had to say:

'I was sure I was going to love this book as soon as I read the subtitle: ‘The Story of a Quest, a Castle and Mary Queen of Scot’. And I did love it! The Raven’s Heart is a fabulous, dark, surprising historical novel, with a hefty dose of mystery, intrigue, and passion.'


I was very happy to have a chance to learn more about Jesse Blackadder and the inspirations for her wonderful novel. Here are her answers to my questions:

Are you a daydreamer too?
Of course. What writer isn’t? I daydream about plots, places and people, about other times, about the future, about love and sex and six figure book advances – all the usual things.

Have you always wanted to be a writer?
No, from the age of five I wanted to be a vet. That desire continued right up to the day I was enrolling at university, when I decided to take a break from science and do arts for a kind of gap year without the gap. I never went back. I had written my first novel at age 11 when I had a passionate crush on the Bay City Rollers. What it lacked in believability it made up for in energy – my best friends and I married our favourite stars by about page 20. I consigned it to the incinerator a few years later, but I still think it was one of the most pleasurable writing experiences of my life. It must have had a lasting impact, as I wrote stories and poems through my teen years and enrolled in creative writing at uni.

How did you get the first flash of inspiration for this book?
I’d like to say it was when I was standing on the bank of the Blackadder River in Scotland looking up at the ruins of Blackadder Castle in the mist, having just heard the story of my ancestor, Alison Blackadder, being widowed there 500 years earlier and trying to protect herself and her daughters from marauding neighbours. That was a great moment, but in fact I didn’t think of writing a novel about it till I got back to Australia and found the memory just wouldn’t leave me alone. The story had found me – it just took me a while to realise it.

How extensively do you plan your novels?
I’m more a ‘seat of the pants’ writer – I always need to have something unknown in the novel so that I’m writing to find out what happens. With The Raven’s Heart I had to plan as I went along, because I wanted to be true to the life of Mary Queen of Scots (one of the major characters) and her life was very complex and well documented. I had a one-page sketch of the overall shape of the book and key plot points, but until I wrote the last few chapters I didn’t know what would happen to my main character, Alison Blackadder. However, that lack of planning did mean a long and sprawling first draft that had to be cut by a third. Ouch.

Do you ever use dreams as a source of inspiration?
Not really. I did start an earlier book as a result of a dream, but I never completed it. I wish my dreams were that vivid, but when I’m writing I don’t tend to have so many – perhaps my unconscious has enough entertainment going on.

Where do you write, and when?
I love to write first drafts early in the morning, longhand, in bed, wearing pyjamas, drinking tea. I think that’s why The Raven’s Heart took several years to write – it’s not the most practical method, but I do love it. However, once the first draft is down then I’m much more workmanlike. Thanks to a PhD scholarship I’ve been writing as a day job for the past three years and I treat it like any other work. I wrote a huge chunk of my next novel while on a ship sailing to Antarctica, perched on a laboratory stool next to a porthole and grabbing the laptop when the ship rolled. I have also trained myself to write on planes, trains and at airports. I’m getting less and less precious about where.

What is your favourite part of writing?
When my girlfriend reads it and cries.
Of course the writing is great too, but is it enjoyable? Sometimes it’s agonising.

What do you do when you get blocked?
I haven’t been blocked for a while, and the longer that I’m a writer, the more I believe it’s a state of mind. Bricklayers, doctors and waitresses don’t get blocked. Perhaps I think this way because I have been a freelance writer for 13 years. There’s no question of being blocked when you’ve got a job and a deadline. If I’m feeling uninspired, I go out in nature, which generally fixes it. Hopefully I won’t now be struck with severe writer’s block to teach me not to be arrogant.

How do you keep your well of inspiration full?
Deadlines. They are an incredible inspiration. After The Raven’s Heart, I was contracted for my next book Chasing the light before it was finished. That was inspiring. Not to mention terrifying. After deadlines, nature is the best well-filler. I live near Byron Bay on the easternmost tip of Australia and we’re blessed with a superb environment. Sometimes I have a physical sensation of literally being nourished – that happened when I went out to the desert in Western Australia a few weeks back.

Do you have any rituals that help you to write?
Picking up the pen. Turning on the computer. Trying to resist checking Facebook.

Who are ten of your favourite writers?
Jeanette Winterson always tops the list. Sarah Waters (historical lesbian fiction like Tipping the Velvet), Elizabeth Arthur (stunning novel Antarctic Navigation), James Herriot (All creatures great and small), Anne McCaffrey (dragon fantasy novels), Enid Blyton (haven’t read hers for years, but loved them growing up), Kim Stanley Robinson (his novel Antarctica set me on a journey that’s still going), Philippa Gregory (such an impressive historical fiction writer), and Natalie Goldberg for writing Wild Mind all those years ago – it still inspires me to write. Is that ten? Oh, and Kate Forsyth. Brilliant.

Jeannette Winterson

What do you consider to be good writing?
I have very eclectic taste, as you might have gathered from the above list. For me, good writing has to draw me in, take me on a journey and make me care about the characters. It doesn’t have to be extraordinary literature, but beautiful words and sentences are a bonus.

What is your advice for someone dreaming of being a writer too?
Two things you have to do: read a lot and write a lot. Everything else that seems important is probably wasting time.

What are you working on now?
I’ve just finished Chasing the light, a novel about the first woman to reach Antarctica. It’s being published in Australia by Fourth Estate in February 2013. I’ve also just finished Stay: the last dog in Antarctica, a novel for children 8-11. It’s the first in my ‘Amazing Animals’ series and is coming out July 2013. I’m about to start the second in that kid’s series, about wild brumbies who are captured to become endurance racehorses.

The Raven’s Heart is being released in the UK, USA and Canada in September 2012. For more information go to Jesse Blackadder's website

If you enjoyed this interview, you may also enjoy my interviews with Deborah Swift, author of 'The Lady's Slipper' and Susan Vreeland, author of 'Clara and Mr Tiffany'


BOOK REVIEW: Skulduggery Pleasant and the Kingdom of the Wicked

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Title: Skulduggery Pleasant - The Kingdom of the Wicked
Author: Derek Landy
Publisher: Harper Collins
Age Group & Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy

Review by Ben Forsyth (aged 14)

What I Liked About This Book:

Across the land, normal people are suddenly developing wild and unstable powers. Infected by a rare strain of magic, they are unwittingly endangering their own lives and the lives of the people around them. Terrified and confused, their only hope lies with the Sanctuary. Skulduggery Pleasant and Valkyrie Cain are needed now more than ever.

And then there's the small matter of Kitana. A normal teenage girl who, along with her normal teenage friends, becomes infected. Becomes powerful. Becomes corrupted. Wielding the magic of gods, they're set to tear the city apart unless someone stands up against them.

Looks like it's going to be another one of those days…

An amazing book, it has everything a young adult novel should have. Humour, drama, action, incredible suspense, and funny eccentric characters, everyone should love this book. There was intense action and fight scenes all through the book, leading up to the biggest, most extreme battle scenes in the entire skulduggery series. Featuring one moment when a character manages to heal it’s own decapitated head back onto it’s body.

What I Didn’t Like About This Book:


BOOK REVIEWS: 'The Wildkin's Curse' reviewed by Finlay Mackenzie

Monday, August 20, 2012

The Wildkin's Curse by Kate Forsyth

Book Review by Finlay Mackenzie

 A tale of adventure, danger and magic, The Wildkin's Curse follows the story of Zedrin, Merry, and Liliana. Each is a member of a different race, which have been enemies for generations, yet the characters must travel together through the mythical land of Ziva to rescue Rozalina, a wildkin princess held captive by her father, the starkin prince Zander. She has the Tongue of Flame, the power to make wishes – or curses – come true, and every word she utters has the power to change the world around her. The Wildkin's Curse is about the power of words, the importance of friendship and the magic of stories.

 The story begins with Liliana arriving at the house of the Elrune, a powerful wildkin enchantress, where Zedrin and Merry are staying. The two boys are drawn into a quest to rescue Princess Rozalina with the Cloak of Feathers, a magical, yet damaged cloak that enables the wearer to fly. To repair the cloak, they must find a feather from an albatross, a raven, a nightingale, a swan, a pelican, an eagle and an owl to repair the cloak. 

Yet discord is spreading through the starkin court, and the three heroes are running out of time to save the wildkin princess. The adventure gains urgency and desperation as the characters each become involved in their own personal tangle of events, which they each must work through in order to save Rozalina.

 The characters themselves symbolise certain traits and emotions that are present in almost every person, especially adolescents, making The Wildkin's Curse relevant for this age group. 

Born into a powerful starkin family and heir to the county of Estelliana, Zedrin represents skill, confidence and security, for he is physically powerful and knows his place in the world. He also represents fear and confusion, for he lives with a dark prophecy hanging over him. 

Merry represents sadness, yet happiness at the same time. His father was drowned by starkin soldiers and his mother is the leader of the hearthkin rebel forces, so Merry faces the challenges of adolescence and the quest to rescue Rozalina alone. He has the Tongue of the Heavens, the power to speak with birds – the symbols of freedom. 

Liliana represents courage, determination and strength, especially for girls, as she is the character who always wishes to push on with the quest, no matter the losses – to others or to herself. She also represents loneliness and insecurity, for as an orphan, she was brought up by an old servant of the wildkin royal family, yet she appears to crave company, stating that she often climbs the cliff near her home to see the eagles. At the beginning of the book, she sees emotions such as love as a weakness, although her opinion changes as the story continues....

 The Wildkin's Curse is a brilliant book for all ages, especially adolescents, due to the age and nature of the characters. It is gripping, powerfully written and intensely exciting, and will be thoroughly enjoyed by those who cherish fantasy books. 

Kate Forsyth transports the reader into Ziva and has them live the adventure with the characters through her vivid descriptions, daring plot and the magical beauty of the words she weaves so skilfully throughout the book. The Wildkin's Curse is a powerful story that will leave you wishing for more and feeling as if you were as much a part of the adventure as any of the main characters.

INTERVIEW: Deborah Swift, author of 'The Lady's Slipper'

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

I really loved the historical novel 'The Lady's Slipper' by Deborah Swift, set in England soon after the Restoration of King Charles II, one of my favourite periods of history. The Lady's Slipper is a rare orchid, and one young woman's decision to steal the beautiful and exotic flower so she can paint it sets in motion a chain of events that will change her life forever. You can read my full review of 'The Lady's Slipper' here, while below is an interview with the author of the book, Deborah Swift. 

Are you a daydreamer too?
Most of my daydreaming is channelled into my writing, but I can still be caught wandering by the estuary near to where I live with that far-away expression on my face, which means an idea is brewing.
Have you always wanted to be a writer?
I think I got a clue when all my english essays were three times as long as everyone else's! I've written poetry and stories all my life, and had a big collection gathering dust under the bed, right up until 2007 when I finally thought it was time to do something about it and study for an MA in Creative Writing.

 How did you get the first flash of inspiration for this book?
Out for a walk with a friend I came across a white tent with an official from Natural England guarding the lady's slipper orchid. He said it was so rare that it must be protected, and we could not view it without being accompanied. Of course we had to go and see. And it was so beautiful and so fragile I just had to write about it.

 How extensively do you plan your novels? 
I don't plan at all, except to have a firm idea of the characters and their conflicting desires. For The Lady's Slipper I started with an artist (Alice Ibbetson) so I could view the orchid through her eyes as I thought an artist might see more in the process of drawing it. Once I have the characters I set them loose with each other and follow them to see what happens. I usually have a sense of the ending, but I'm open to changing it if the journey is different from the one I expect. Of course this way of working means quite a few revisions and re-working once the first draft is done, but I enjoy the not-knowing. I write for my own enjoyment and this way gives me the most excitement!

 Do you ever use dreams as a source of inspiration?
No, but I see writing as a kind of waking dream. As in a dream I find myself sometimes caught in recurring symbolism, and as I'm living my characters I find the same kind of freedom as in a dream - to transform into someone or something else. 

 Where do you write, and when?
I have a room overlooking my overgrown garden, and I write most mornings from breakfast to lunchtime, usually with a cat asleep on my feet.

 What is your favourite part of writing?
I love the beginning when all options are open to me, but best of all I love it when I forget the time because I am so involved in living a scene.

 What do you do when you get blocked? 
I  like to be outdoors so I love to walk. I'm in a walking group, so we do a all sorts of walks - woodlands, crags and close to the sea. I'm lucky in that I live in beautiful varied countryside and so the walks can be challenging and dramatic, or just a stroll and chat.

 How do you keep your well of inspiration full?
I used to be a designer, so I enjoy looking at paintings and sculpture -everything from Michelangelo to Antony Gormley, who I'd say is my favourite sculptor. If I had to choose a painter it would be Waterhouse, I'm a big fan of the Pre-Raphaelites! But I recently got into Vermeer because I have been researching the 17th century. Although his paintings are really well known, the amount of useful detail in his work is astounding. To create Alice Ibbetson I found out about the few women artists of that time who painted flowers, and so now I'm also a great admirer of Maria Sybilla Merian's exquisite watercolours of plants and butterflies.

 Do you have any rituals that help you to write? 
The main one is to have a clear desk as it helps my mind to be open and receptive. But I do have an arrangement of stones, feathers, pine cones and other mementoes that I've collected on my walks.

 Who are ten of your favourite writers?
Ooh, that's hard. Only ten? Well, I'll go for Tracy Chevalier, Geraldine Brooks, Rohinton Mistry, Philippa Gregory, Rose Tremain, Barbara Ewing, Lindsay Clarke, Mary Renault, Mary Oliver, Jane Hirshfield ( but the latter two are poets). 

Geraldine Brooks, who is one of my favourite writers too

What do you consider to be good writing? 
Where the story completely absorbs the reader. Somehow the writer must allow the story to be itself, to shine without the author getting in the way of that.  

What is your advice for someone dreaming of being a writer too?
Take the dream by the hand, take a deep breath and tell your story. Then get plenty of feedback so you begin to know what your strengths are - then you can expand on them.

 What are you working on now? 
I have two more books in the pipeline - The Gilded Lily which will be out September 2012 and A Divided Inheritance which will be out October 2013. Both of those are finished and I'm working on characters for the next. I like to spend time getting to know the characters, so it's a very nice relaxing space in-between books.
Deborah Swift's website

I have to say that Mary Oliver is one of my absolute favourite poets too! Here's one of my favourite Mary Oliver poems:

Poem on image taken from Karen Ancas website

Here is a link to Mary Oliver reading three of her astonishing poems:

ESSAY: Year 8 student's essay on my novel 'The Starthorn Tree'

Monday, August 06, 2012

Here is another brilliant essay on The Starthorn Tree by Eli Cole, a Year 8 student at Marist Brothers Ashgrove, in Queensland. I think it's incredible that these three boys - Hayden Sullivan, Callum Williams and today's essay writer, Eli Cole - are only 13 years old. I am so glad that their teacher, Ms Rebecca Taylor, chose my novel for her students to read and examine, and that is has inspired them all to such brilliant academic heights.

Here is Eli's essay:

Lady Lisandre ziv Estaria from The Starthorn Tree, written by Kate Forsyth, is a snobby brat who cares for no one who doesn’t live in Castle Estelliana. She annoys Lord Zavion for fun, orders her servants to do things for her (that she could easily do herself) and cares naught for races other than her own. Lady Lisandre is quite independent (for her race) and she cares for her mother (Lady Ginerva) and her brother (Count Zygmunt) more than anyone else in the whole of Ziva, and anyone else (to her) is just there to be her slaves and to do her and her race’s bidding for them. Her strongest relationship with anyone of non-starkin blood (even though this relationship isn’t strong) is with the seamstress, Briony. Briony cares for Lady Lisandre more than any other servant, but they still aren’t considered “friends” (as yet). But, even though Briony is very important to Lisandre as this story commences, many other relationships change her as a person.

 As this story goes on, and as Lisandre makes more friends, she begins to change as a person. When all six of the main characters finally all know each other (Pedrin Goatherd, Durrik Bell-Crier, Sedgely, Maglen/Mags and of course Briony), an unbreakable bond is formed. With everyone, that is, but Lady Lisandre. She is very repulsed by the hearthkin and wildkin and does not like them even looking at her! It isn’t uncommon for anyone of starkin blood to be so repulsed by those inferior to themselves, and Lisandre is no exception. She refuses to let the other five forget that she is ‘better’ than the rest of them, constantly saying, “Do you not know I am one of the Ziv?” 

But there is one moment in this adventure, when Lady Lisandre feels disgusted by what the starkin have done and is disgusted to be called one of them. That moment is when she sees Durrik’s injured back, which was injured whilst making (or helping to make) the glass tower. She is so shocked to see how cruel her race is and this is the first time she has seen what the starkin have done first-hand. She doesn’t even think the starkin could’ve done it; she has to be told that it was “a gibgoblin in human form.” This moment contributes greatly to how Lisandre changes by the end of this adventure.

 Lady Lisandre changes probably the most out of anyone in this story. At the start of this story, she was snobby, stuck up, repulsed by other races other than her own, quite annoying to read about (because she was such a brat) and disliked by almost everyone who goes on this adventure. But at the end of the story, almost everything has changed. She is quite selfless, willing to do pretty much anything to make the others’ trip easier, all the differences in race within the group are all put aside and she doesn’t care anymore if they are different to herself. 

The others are willing to give their lives for her, and she is willing to give hers for not only the rest of the group, but for the greater good of Estelliana. Pedrin risks his life to save her when she falls in a lake and the rest are afraid of the thought of losing her when they see that she will cut herself on the starthorn tree. She is very independent (for anyone of any race) and by the end she doesn’t tell Briony what to do; in fact, she even tries to make the load on Briony easier. The night after she sees Durrik’s back, she helps Briony by carrying some things, and everyone is very surprised because she hardly lifted a finger before this. So by the end of this adventure, Lady Lisandre Ziv Estaria is a very hard-working, caring person who will make an excellent ruler of Estelliana and someone that will make everyone in the land happy.

Well done, Eli!

A fan site dedicated to the Kingdom of Ziva!

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