Yes, Margaret Atwood Has Written Children’s Books

Who’d have thought it?  Margaret Eleanor Atwood (1939- ) author of The Handmaid’s Tale, Alias Grace, The Blind Assassin and more than forty other books of fiction, poetry, critical essays and a graphic novel has written children’s books.

Margaret Atwood also wears various hats, from activist through literary critic, inventor, environmentalist and award-winner with honours and degrees, yet for me this news was surprising.  Not so surprising is the quirky nature of her children’s stories!


 

♦  With grateful thanks to online friend and blogger BookJotter Paula Bardell-Hedley for alerting me to these little gems within a comprehensive list of Margaret Atwood’s literary output—

Up in the Tree (1978)
Anna’s Pet (with Joyce Barkhouse) (1980)
For the Birds (1990)
Princess Prunella and the Purple Peanut (1995)
Rude Ramsay and the Roaring Radishes (2003)
Bashful Bob and Doleful Dorinda (2004)
Up in the Tree (facsimile reprint) (2006)
Wandering Wenda and Widow Wallop’s Wunderground Washery (2011)
A Trio of Tolerable Tales (illustrator Dušan Petričić) (2017)

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Being a kidlit fan, I immediately wanted to read several of those earlier Atwood books but found they (like this non-fiction For The Birds) were no longer in print, or libraries, but may be available through state archives or second-hand book merchants.  I will track down her first children’s book Up in the Tree (with her own illustrations and hand-lettering, quite possibly written for her young daughter) because the story intrigues me.

 

Along the way, Wandering Wenda and Widow Wallop’s Wunderground Washery was adapted into the children’s television series The Wide World of Wandering Wenda aimed at early readers with different adventures using words, sounds, and language.

Happily, in 2017, three of Atwood’s books were re-published, printed and bound in Canada into one compilation A Trio of Tolerable Tales.  I was able to buy a new copy with Serbian Dušan Petričić gorgeous drawings.  Atwood’s alliteration is absolutely awesome!

  Here are my reviews of these alliteration-filled, tongue-twisting tales…read on….

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  Rude Ramsay and the Roaring Radishes

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The reader follows the adventures of Ramsay and Ralph the red-nosed rat as they traverse various repulsive obstacles to find a round, Roman-vaulted rat hole leading to food nirvana – round red radishes ready to be devoured.  The radishes revolt and start to attack but thankfully owner Rillah comes on the scene.  She forgives their trespass and shows them around her romantic rectory, rotunda, rococo artworks and rumpus room.  There’s a bit of a ruckus with Rillah’s relatives Ron, Rollo and Ruby, so Ramsay & Co beat a hasty retreat back outside and romp rapturously under a radiant rainbow.  There is a very clever twist regarding the radishes and how they repel intruders!  A fun story which needs patience on the part of the reader, especially reading it out aloud for small children.  Laughs are guaranteed and you will marvel at how many ‘R’ words exist in the English language.  GBW.

 

 

  Bashful Bob and Doleful Dorinda

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Bashful Bob was abandoned in a basket outside a beauty parlour and nobody claimed him.  There is a neglected dog park across the street and the resident dogs are Bob’s best buddies.  There is a beagle, a boxer and a borzoi who believe “We must be benevolent” and they look after young Bob.  On the next block lives Doleful Dorinda.  She’d been dumped with despicable relatives who say “Dorinda is a dope” and make her sleep beside biohazard material.  Her food is awful and she is treated like a slave.  Finally Doleful Dorinda runs away and meets Bashful Bob on the vacant block.  You will have to read this story to find out how their names were turned into Brave Bob and Daring Dorinda but it makes a jolly rollicking tale especially if you like dogs!  The plot and resolution are more conventional, even with the proliferation of ‘B’ words.  A flowing, tangible fairytale and I found it easy to absorb.  GBW.

 

 

  Wandering Wenda and Widow Wallop’s Wunderground Washery

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Wenda is a willowy child with wispy hair and wistful eyes.  Her parents are whisked away by a weird whirlwind and thereafter Wenda wanders aimlessly.  She makes friends with Wesley woodchuck and they share food scraps and wodges of wieners until one day they are kidnapped by Widow Wallop.  She takes them to her Wunderground Washery to “wash whites whiter than white” every day.  Between the drudgery, they feel sorry for Widow Wallop’s white Welsh ponies and three other waifs, Wilkinson, Wu and Wanapitai.  Together they plot their daring escape, only to encounter wolves along the way.  How will they evade Widow Wallop’s clutches now?  There is an unexpected reveal at the end!  I think some of the scenes may disturb younger children, particularly those with separation anxiety.  Older readers will chortle at the profuse ‘W’ words and idiosyncratic wordplay.  GBW.

 

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

 


QUOTATION:  “Comfort with reading begins in childhood, when parents or other loving adults read to children.  It creates a ‘safe’ place where — nevertheless — dangers can be explored (and, in children’s books, hopefully, overcome)…. I think my children’s books function as protected spaces for me.  I look at darker things quite a lot, but the kind of children’s books I write are light, and have happy endings…. That’s a relief, when I can manage it.”
—Margaret Atwood, author.


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♦  The interior of this book is printed on paper that contains 100% post-consumer recycled fibres, is acid-free and is processed chlorine-free so there’s nothing to worry about, Wenda.

‘Wakestone Hall’ A Magical Finale

Stella Montgomery Bookcover 02

Stella Montgomery is in disgrace.
The awful aunts, Aunt Condolence, Aunt Temperance and Aunt Deliverance, have sent her to Wakestone Hall, a grim boarding school where the disobedient are tamed and the wilful are made meek.
But when a friend disappears, Stella is determined to find her – no matter what danger she encounters.
Soon Stella is thrown headlong into the mysteries surrounding Wakestone Hall.
Will Stella save her friend in time? And will she discover – at long last – where she truly belongs?

Stella Montgomery and Wakestone Hall – the intrigue draws to an exciting close!

Wakestone Hall is Book 3 in the Stella Montgomery Intrigues and this series has captured my imagination.  My inner child responded to the mysterious and creepy goings-on in the first two books, beautifully complemented by author Judith Rossell’s own illustrations of the Victorian era.  The third book is out now with a book launch due in a couple of days.  I can’t wait to read it!  GBW.

Stella Montgomery Three Book Series
On Sunday 28 October 2018 at 3pm The Little Bookroom, Melbourne, is proud to launch WAKESTONE HALL the third book in the Stella Montgomery trilogy by author and illustrator Judith Rossell.

InformationHarperCollins Publisher
Published:  22 October 2018
ISBN:  9780733338205
Imprint:  ABC Books – AU
Number Of Pages:  280
For Ages:  8+ years old
Children’s, Teenage & educational / Fantasy & magical realism (Children’s – Teenage)


SUGGESTION : READ THE FIRST TWO BOOKS BEFORE YOU SNEAK-A-PEEK AT THE CONCLUSION––read some Wakestone Hall pages here––
https://www.booktopia.com.au/wakestone-hall-judith-rossell/prod9780733338205.html

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

Stella Montgomery Book Banner

Top 10 Cool Quirky Authors with a Difference

When I discover an author with a quirky style, a neo-noir writing streak, I rejoice in their words.  It’s a delight to get away from mundane formats, tired classics and generic phrases so overworked in today’s writing scene.

I can remember when ‘dust motes’ were all the rage, not mere dust, it had to be motes floating in the sunlight.  Goodness knows why, padding perhaps.  I think it’s beneficial for both writer and reader to veer off in another direction occasionally.  Leave those tropes behind!

For bookish readers, I will list some of the absurdist fiction writers who have given me a literary lift and added a bit of sparkle to my jaded memory banks.  These 10 books impressed me with their originality and unique take on adult life, some with remarkable page layouts.

Numbered but NOT rated in order of preference:


Kelly Link Bookcover 04

1    Get In Trouble by Kelly Link

Quote “Richly imagined, intellectually teasing: these are not so much small fictions as windows on to entire worlds. A brilliant, giddying read” said Sarah Waters and I definitely agree.


Zane Lovitt The Midnight Promise

2    The Midnight Promise by Zane Lovitt

John Dorn is a private investigator solving human puzzles.  Complex and beautifully observed characters lead John towards his moment of truth as he strives to keep his promise.


An Uncertain Grace by Krissy Kneen

3    An Uncertain Grace by Krissy Kneen

Speculative erotica showing the best and worst of human nature through Liv as she ages alongside high technology innovation.  The transition to a state beyond age, to transcend the corporeal…


Jasper Fforde The Ayre Affair

4    The Eyre Affair Series by Jasper Fforde

Thursday Next, a fearless woman who traverses a parallel universe inside books.  Created with breathtaking ingenuity, her literary world is more believable than most peregrinations.


A Visit From The Goon Squad

5    A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan

Self-destruction with music in the background.  Intimate lives of several characters who reconnect again and again trying to escape the past, delay the future and defy their fate.


Don't Tell Mum I Work On Oil Rigs

6    Don’t Tell Mum I Work on the Rigs…She Thinks I’m a Piano Player in a Whorehouse by Paul Carter

Gritty, masculine and rather shocking true story of working on oil rigs in the ocean.  Horrible, humorous happenings written down in easily digestible form so that you can’t stop reading.


Atomic City by Sally Breen

7    Atomic City by Sally Breen

A stylised contemporary story set on the glittering Gold Coast, Queensland.  Chameleon Jade gets a new identity and with her grifting partner she dares to swindle the Casino swindlers. 


The Godson by Robert G Barrett

8    Les Norton Series by Robert G. Barrett

Les Norton, a red-headed country lad, works in the big city, fights men, wows women, loves the beach, is either an Aussie icon or a yobbo but each adventure guarantees a twist.


The Lucky Galah Bookcover

9    The Lucky Galah by Tracy Sorensen

Lucky, a galah in a remote coastal town, receives transmissions from a satellite dish beaming messages between Apollo 11 and Houston, Texas, which co-mingle with the community psyche.


Dead Writers in Rehab by Paul B Davies

10    Dead Writers in Rehab by Paul Bassett Davies

Foster James is supposedly in rehab but he’s probably dead.  A dystopian must-read, loaded with satire, dark humour, sexual tension and famous writers like Coleridge and Hemingway.


I think my Top 10 list will suffice . . . oops, I just have to add ‘A Dirty Job’ by Christopher Moore and ‘Insomniac City: New York, Oliver Sachs and Me’ by Bill Hayes and ‘Lincoln in the Bardo’ by George Saunders and ‘Human Croquet’ by Kate Atkinson.  I love any book by Terry Pratchett and DBC Pierre and there are further ingenious authors I could name (and so could you!) but I will stop here.

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

What the World needs now. . .writers who care

An illuminating review of Trent Dalton author of ‘Boy Swallows Universe’ and his discussion with Matthew Condon during the Brisbane Writers Festival 2018.  June Perkins does justice to the subject and pays tribute to Trent, her own parents and the value of education.  Read on… Gretchen Bernet-Ward

Pearlz Dreaming

So the absolute highlight of the Brisbane Writers Festival for me was the talk I attended by Trent Dalton.

I saw Trent a few weeks ago on Q and A, on the ABC, as well as Sofie Laguna, and was so impressed by the way they both conducted themselves on the panel I set out to look up their books.

When I heard Trent would be attending and presenting at the Brisbane writer’s festival he went right to the top of my must-attend sessions.

When Trent entered the room there were huge cheers.  He pumped the air with his fist, and yet there was no ego in that fist pump.  It was more like a boxer, who has triumphed over a huge battle in his life, and is now saying thank you to an appreciative crowd.  A Rocky moment, part of a montage.  He thanked us for choosing to attend…

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Reflections on WAM Writers’ Festival

An enlightening literary look at events on the Victorian/New South Wales border; interesting books and even more interesting authors, and a bookshop with the perfect name.

Life after Sixty-Five

Having written the first draft of my Memoir for my own need to make sense of the estrangement from one of my sons and subsequent personal upheaval, I was in the middle of a couple of years of therapy in 2016 when I attended the WAM Writers’ Festival. There was a focus on Memoir Writing and one of the published authors, Helena Pastor, had experienced this situation with her eldest son. I wanted to hear what she had to say about her book “Wild Boys: A Parent’s Story of Tough Love“, and how she found the words that were past the raw pain and confusion, which no-one would want to read. I came to realise at that time, I was still too immersed in my own recovery.

It was the previous year when Jessie Cole was featured in an interview by Jason Steger, formerly of the ABC’s long-running…

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Elly Griffiths Forensic Archaeology Series

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Sample of this 10-book series with book 11 The Stone Circle due 2019.

I love binge-reading!  When I discover a good author like Elly Griffiths who has ten books in her crime oeuvre, I am ready, willing and able to read all.  The archaeologist Dr Ruth Galloway mystery series fits the bill nicely.  To quote the Independent ‘The perfect ratio of anticipation, shock and surprise’.

Elly Griffiths is the pen name of Domenica de Rosa; she has written other novels under her real name.  I like the historical and archaeological authenticity of this series which could be due to the fact that she’s married to Andrew Maxted, curator of archaeology at Brighton Museum.

I enjoyed the earlier books and then the later ones shown above.  I loved ‘The Ghost Fields’ WWII story and found award-winning ‘The Chalk Pit’ quite fascinating.  I struggled with ‘The Outcast Dead’ subject matter although it is fitting.  I must mention the clever yet sneaky outcome of ‘The Dying Fall’ which has a touch of Hollywood about it.

The stories mainly revolve around Norfolk UK, tidal marshlands, excavations (with an occasional nod to ‘Time Team’) coastal regions and fictional University of North Norfolk where Ruth Galloway works.  She is also a police adviser.  The relationships of the key players are intriguingly tricky because of love triangles, children, 21st century parenting, murder and mystical goings-on.

Rather than a review, I thought I’d do a quick character overview:

  • Dr Ruth Galloway, who lives on the Saltmarsh, lectures in forensic archeology, makes ground-breaking discoveries and likes old bones and her cat Flint.
  • Fast-driving policeman DCI Harry Nelson moved with his family from Blackpool to Norfolk and doesn’t really like the place but he’s a born copper.
  • Two glamorous women, Michelle Nelson is wife of DCI Nelson, and Shona MacLean is Ruth’s BFF.
  • Michael Malone (aka Cathbad) brings enjoyable highlights to each plot with his spiritual insights, Druid instincts and flowing cloak.
  • Part of Nelson’s team are police officers DS David Clough ‘old school’ and DS Judy Johnson ‘graduate’ who don’t always share the same views.
  • Phil Trent, professor of archaeology at UNN, worries about funding but loves TV cameras, publicity and himself.

As I dug and sifted through the series, I noticed less archeology and gradual changes to the main characters but that’s the grit which makes these books human and relatable.  There’s drama in their lives; a rocky layer or two over a conspiracy waiting to be uncovered.

Elly Griffiths has a nice knack of getting you up-to-speed with each book while revealing a ‘fresh’ crime involving the living and the desiccated.  At one stage I quibbled over her use of Anglo male names like Max, Dan, Tim, Tom, Ted, Bob, well, you get my drift…but this has improved and the VIP reviews keep on coming:

"I refuse to apologise for being in love with Dr Ruth Galloway and DCI Harry Nelson, one of my favourite current crime series . . . a pleasure from start to finish"
Val McDermid.

"I adore the Elly Griffiths series and have eagerly read each book. I love seeing how the recurring characters are living and working out their relationships"
Joyce of joycesmysteryandfictionbookreviews

I’m waiting for book 11 ‘The Stone Circle’ but don’t you hang around, start reading!

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

Elly Griffiths UK Author
Elly Griffiths ‘The Chalk Pit’ and something evil is waiting in the dark tunnels under Norwich – forensic archaeologist Dr Ruth Galloway had better watch her step https://www.hachette.com.au/elly-griffiths/the-chalk-pit

‘The Incredible Book Eating Boy’ by Oliver Jeffers

My picture book review
My bonus picture book lesson
My link to Just Awesome Picture Books


THE REVIEW:

Book Sliced Up on Plate with KnifeHenry is a boy who likes eating books.  He absorbs knowledge as he happily munches his way to becoming the smartest boy on earth.  Everything goes well until there’s an internal rebellion.  Share Henry’s journey as he discovers something better than eating books.

Award-winning Oliver Jeffers’ concept is clever and I found his plot madly appealing.  The illustrations are unique and show creative grunge like an old diary or well-used notebook.  For me, although the story has the potential to be scary, it is handled in an adventurous way with Henry supported by believable characters which adds intertextuality to an otherwise imprudent tale.

I think The Incredible Book Eating Boy is best suited for small group readings or child-and-parent because there’s a lot happening and the visual literacy may need some explanation for younger children.

All in all, a praiseworthy picture book with a good message for 4 – 8 years range to which I give a 5-Star rating.  GBW.


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I discovered this book on Just Awesome Picture Books! Check the website https://justawesomepicturebooks.com/

THE LESSON:

In my opinion, less is more!  Wordy picture books tire the reader and the listener.  The illustrations should highlight the uncluttered wording.  The words push the narrative forward and the child uses their imagination from the visual cues.

It’s a common fallacy that picture books are easy to write.  This is far from the truth because the very minimalist nature of picture books means that every single word has to be perfectly rendered.  Learn more about writing for children from author Jen Storer of Girl & Duck.

As a general guide, here are some basics:

A children’s picture book is 32-pages but 8 pages are used for endpapers and book information.  The story is over 24 pages or 12 spreads of text and illustrations which span two opened pages at a time.  These pages can be half-page spreads, single-page spreads, double-page spreads or vignettes.  A number of vignettes are used in The Incredible Book Eating Boy.

There is symmetrical, complementary and contradictory illustration approaches and I think The Incredible Book Eating Boy is approached in a complementary manner.  Oliver Jeffers plays around with the location of text to good effect.

Board books, pop-ups and novelty may have no words, just illustrations.
Young picture books are aimed at 2 to 5-year-olds with 200 to 400 wordcount.
Trade (general readership) picture books are suitable for 3 to 8-year-old children with 500 to 600 wordcount.
Picture story books for older children 6 to 10-year-olds with 1000 to 3000 words are often non-fiction.
Chapter book fiction over 3500 words are suitable for competent readers, with a sliding age range due to small sketches and quirky touches often added between the pages to enhance the reading experience.
YA (young adult) are the more tailored books suitable for older teenagers.

Something different.  A theatre performance video of the book at The Joan, Penrith’s premier performing arts centre The Incredible Book Eating Boy production.  The cast use song, movement and puppetry to bring Oliver Jeffers’ much loved story to life on stage.

Enjoy eating, er, reading this picture book with that special little someone.

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

Jane Milburn Slow Clothing Advocate

Slow Clothing reflects author and refashion advocate Jane Milburn’s own unique style, independent of “fast fashion” trends.  Upcycled from denim jeans, the dress Jane wore during her talk at a local BCC library had the potential to look strange but was distinctive and quite beguiling.

Jane, sustainability consultant and founder of Textile Beat, touched on several key elements during her talk––environmentally unfriendly fabrics and dyes; sweat shop labour; landfill; passive fashion; synthetic vs natural fibre; signature style and minimal wardrobe.  Hot topics included recycle by exchange, shopping tips, Sew It Again mending and creating new from old.  Jane tends to hoard fabric offcuts and used buttons, and has a passion for real cotton thread.

Rethinking clothing culture doesn’t mean wearing your clothes until they fall apart at the seams, it means mindful immersion, repairing and refashioning your garments.

An attentive audience, Jane encouraged us to make thoughtful, ethical, informed choices to reduce our clothing footprint on the world.  Until recently, she regularly visited charity shops for secondhand garments but is currently resisting the temptation and working with what she’s got.  “We believe secondhand is the new organic and mending is good for the soul.  In return, we are liberated and satisfied.”

In her book Slow Clothing: finding meaning in what we wear Jane shares insights and upcycling advice.  She has created templates like Upcycled Collar and History Skirt, guiding home sewing conversion of a beloved garment to reflect the changes in our lives.

To provide meaning and story to her own favourite pieces, Jane Milburn restyles and sews her clothing by hand.  Currently testing t-shirt cotton drawstrings as an alternative to underwear elastic (elastic is made from synthetics) Jane stitches everything by hand.

Help! I can hear you say, nobody has hand-sewn an outfit since the mid-twentieth century––except maybe Vivienne Westwood––but don’t panic, Jane’s book provides testimonials, illustrations and clear instructions for eco-dyes and upside-down jumper skirts through to sewing on a button.  Eco-fashionistas unite!

Although Slow Clothing is a multifaceted, easy-to-read book with positive chapter headings (Purpose, Authenticity, Creativity, Action, Autonomy, Reflection) amid the ingenious apparel, I am missing a frivolous note, perhaps a ball gown?  On a serious mission, Jane has created a Slow Clothing Manifesto with ten tags to keep in mind when out shopping: think, natural, quality, local, few, care, make, revive, adapt, salvage.

IMG_20180723_091617Quotes from Jane embody the Slow Clothing philosophy “Slow Clothing brings wholeness through living simply, creatively and fairly” and “We buy thoughtfully, gain skills, and care for what we wear as an embodiment of ourselves.”  Personally I am hoping to see people clutching their Slow Clothing Manifesto cards at an op shop near me.

The current trail Jane Milburn is blazing makes fascinating reading.  Arts Queensland, meeting VIPs, War on Waste ABCTV, visiting 103-year-old Misao Jo in Osaka, hosting a Clothing Repair Café, conducting workshops and championing natural-fibre, Jane says “It has been personally satisfying to see the uptake of upcycling as a conscious practice with many young people interested in its potential for customising their clothes.”

Unfortunately I didn’t get to ask Jane Milburn how we go about combating the greed of designer labels.  But the clear message is––help reduce landfill by upcycling your clothes to reflect your own unique style.

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

24 Stories: of Hope for Survivors of the Grenfell Tower Fire

My emotions overcame me when I read this piece…read for yourself…

Book Jotter

by Kathy Burke (Editor)

24 STORIES COVERMy routine was much as usual on the morning of Wednesday 14th June 2017: I arose early for work, fed the chickens, settled myself at the kitchen table for my first cuppa of the day and switched the TV on to watch BBC News.

For several seconds I stared vacantly at the screen, unable to comprehend the shocking nature of the images I was seeing. There was a man sobbing incoherently to a reporter and then emergency services vehicles were shown illuminating huddles of grim-faced onlookers in their flickering lights. It began to make sense when the picture jumped to a high-rise block of flats of the sort you find in cities throughout the UK, except this one had taken on the appearance of an immense Chinese lantern burning uncontrollably over a sleeping city.

This was Grenfell Tower, a 24-storey Brutalist-style construct in North Kensington…

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North Wales Folk Tales for Children

For anyone, young or old, who know dragons do exist and not just in their dreams…

The Opinionated Reader

31297500Title: North Wales Folk Tales For Children

Writer: Fiona Collins

Publishing House: The History Press

Date of Publication: May 2nd 2016

Rating: 4 stars

”…under the stone, two dragons are curled up, fast asleep. All day, they sleep, but at night they wake, and then they fight. Their battle destroys your tower each night.”

Wales, lovely, mysterious, mythical Wales… A land of heroes and gods, a place where myth and history walk hand-in-hand only to be lost in times unrecorded, misty and shadowy. This beautiful little book is dedicated to the Northern part of Cymru, home to the legendary area of Snowdonia and Ynys Môn and to three World Heritage sites.

Σχετική εικόνα

(Porth Dafarch Cove, Anglesey)

Known once as the Kingdom of Gwynedd, North Wales has an endless wealth of traditions and folklore. We will meet a giant and a giantess who fight over a hammer. A clever boy named Gareth (…Wales…

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‘The Last Dragonslayer’ by Jasper Fforde

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The Last Dragonslayer novels by Jasper Fforde

While Thursday Next lives in a parallel universe, The Last Dragonslayer is set in a world of myths, illusions and modern magic.

Orphan Jennifer Strange, a practical teenager, runs Kazam Mystical Arts Management with eccentric magicians who create irregular spells.  But magic and dragons are losing power and Jennifer discovers evil King Snodd IV wants to grab the Dragonlands, 350 acres of prime real estate.  Jennifer dislikes the King’s greed and so does the last Dragonslayer, an old wizard named Brian who controls dragons with an ancient sword.

Helped by her cool friend Tiger Prawns, and a metal-munching Quarkbeast with frighteningly sharp teeth, Jennifer rallies to protect the Dragonlands.  Meanwhile, wizard Brian is hatching a secret plan.  Jennifer doesn’t realise she is part of that plan.

This is the first book in Last Dragonslayer/Kazam Chronicles by Jasper Fforde and I loved reading their vital quest.  Suitable for 12 years and up, the second and third books are The Song Of The Quarkbeast and The Eye Of Zoltar.  There will be a fourth book in the series but at this stage only working titles have been released; possibly Humans vs Trolls or The Strange And The Wizard or The Great Troll War.  Guess we’ll just have to wait for the next quirky edition!

Author Jasper Fforde

Publisher Hodder & Stoughton UK

Movie by Mallinson Television Productions on Vimeo screened by Sky1

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

 

The Last Dragonslayer Jennifer Strange

‘A Garden of Lilies’ Tales from Judith Rossell

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Page 39 “Peregrine was a disobedient child…”

With a knowing smile, this Victorian-style book of manners is reminiscent of the period of parenting when misbehaving children were given orders and told dire consequences would ensue if they did not obey.  Despite warnings, when a child in this book ignores an instruction, there is an aftermath of great magnitude.

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Page 28 “Jesephany and Keziah were unruly and wild…”

In “A Garden of Lilies: Improving Tales for Young Minds – by Prudence A Goodchild” children’s author and illustrator Judith Rossell has produced an atmospherically illustrated and tightly written volume.  She has also mastered the art of a left-right jab, hitting with swift endings which leave the reader breathless.

Each punchy short story closes with a judicious moral.  For example, Isadora daydreamed too much during her chores.  One day she daydreamed while idly brushing her hair.  Let’s just say she didn’t get to finish the task.  “Moral: For hair that’s glossy, clean and bright, Two hundred strokes, both morn and night”.

After Isadora’s tale, there is what appears to be a lovely page entitled “Care of the Hair” with a recipe for making Soft Soap which “…will improve both the texture and colour of the hair” until things get a bit nauseating.  Apart from kitchen scraps, the mixture must boil for hours until it forms a clear, thick jelly.

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“A Garden of Lilies: Improving Tales for Young Minds” by Prudence A Goodchild (author Judith Rossell) ABC Books Australia

Basically the stories are about kids being kids and the 21st century reader should see the endings for what they are – a sample of Victorian etiquette and psychology which we would not dream of using on children today.  Right?  Okay, explain that to your child and laugh.

This slim book is approximately sixty pages (with attractive binding and colour plates) and scattered throughout are “Interesting Facts” and helpful hints like An Economical Recipe for a Plain Cake, A Useful Compass, Parlour Games and my personal favourite, An Album of Sea-Weeds.  I will work on drying and pressing seaweed during my next holiday!  Hmm, would seaweed smell like that starfish I once brought home?

In closing, I will give a shout-out to Mr Lindon of Woolloongabba, Queensland (Page 45) who grew a giant marrow.  I think he must have read the book’s suggestion To Grow a Giant Marrow which signifies “A Garden of Lilies” is indeed a versatile volume!

I cannot give you a childproof safety rating but I think it is suitable for a sliding age scale and my own rating is 5-star.

Gretchen Bernet-Ward


Judith Rossell — Biography

Judith Rossell is the multi-award-winning author-illustrator of the bestselling Stella Montgomery series (Withering-by-Sea, Wormwood Mire, A Garden of Lilies and forthcoming Wakestone Hall).  Judith has written thirteen books and illustrated more than eighty, and her work has been published in UK, US, Germany and translated into more than twenty languages.  Before beginning her career in children’s books, Judith worked as a government scientist (not a mad scientist, a normal kind of scientist) and also for a cotton-spinning company (which made threads for T-shirts, denim jeans, mops and teabag strings).  Judith lives in Melbourne, Australia with a cat the size of a walrus.

ACCLAIM FOR WITHERING-BY-SEA AND WORMWOOD MIRE:
Indie Awards – Winner 2015, Shortlisted 2017
Australian Book Industry Awards – Winner 2015, Shortlisted 2017
CBCA Awards – Honour Book 2015, Notable Book 2017
Davitt Awards – Winner 2015, Shortlisted 2017
Prime Minister’s Literary Awards – Shortlisted 2015
ABA Booksellers’ Choice Awards – Shortlisted 2017
Australian Book Design Awards – Shortlisted 2017
Aurealis Awards – Shortlisted 2015

‘Behind the Sun’ Series by Deborah Challinor

In a dread-laden atmosphere of shocking sights and smells, the transportation of four convicts to the women’s gaol Parramatta Female Factory is as grim as their backstory.  Although hiding a terrible secret between them, these young women are resilient and struggle against the harsh conditions.

The Convict Girls four-book series written by Deborah Challinor follows four bonded female convicts Friday Woolfe, Rachel Winter, Sarah Morgan and Harriet Clarke who are shipped from London’s infamous Newgate Prison to the penal colony of Sydney Town, New South Wales, to work off their sentences.  The penalties for petty crime, like the strange new land, are unforgiving.

Set in 1832, the travails of Friday, Rachel, Sarah and Harrie jump off the page as each book tells the story from each woman’s perspective while moving the narrative forward.  Titles are Behind the Sun, Girl of Shadows, The Silk Thief, A Tattooed Heart.  As they work through their bond in different forms of servitude, the reader follows their friendship, the physical and mental strain, and their all-important futures.

Author Deborah Challinor skilfully expands and elaborates on their new lives (the homebody, the thief, the seamstress, the prostitute) while keeping the voice true.  She gets the more risqué messages across without unnecessary crudeness.  Her well researched, well written plots and strong supporting characters, like cruel Bella Jackson and handsome Dr James Downey, blend together to spin a gripping yarn, spiced with highs, lows, loves, laughs, drama and murder.

I love good historical fiction, this quartet is superb (look beyond the chick-lit cover art) and Deborah Challinor knows how to lure her readers.  The outstanding imagery, ripe for screen adaptation, kept me reading long after I should have turned off the light.  I strongly recommend this 5-star series and suggest reading the stories in sequence so they unfold in all their splendour.

Gretchen Bernet-Ward


AUTHOR BIODeborah Challinor Author PhotoDeborah Challinor is a writer and PhD historian from Waikato in New Zealand.  She lived in Australia while researching the stories for her Convict Girls series.  The books follow four young woman transported to New South Wales for petty crimes. The character of Friday Woolfe is loosely based on her great-great-great-great-great-grandmother Mary Ann Anstey who was caught stealing a silk handkerchief and sent out to Sydney Town on Lady Juliana, a convict ship dispatched in 1789 from England to Australia.  Deborah Challinor has written over 16 books, historical fiction and non-fiction titles. Website http://www.deborahchallinor.com/index.html

Adam Ant ‘Stand and Deliver’ Book Review

You will recognise the name Adam Ant if you were young in 1980s and into the romantic New Wave neo-punk era of glam pop music.  Adam and The Ants created a unique niche for themselves with significantly different music and lyrics, fantasy and plenty of make-up and dress-up.  The title of his autobiography is from their popular song “Stand and Deliver” wherein the video Adam famously dives through a glass window onto a medieval banquet table.  The Ants topped the charts and in 1981 had seven singles including “Stand and Deliver” in UK Top 40 simultaneously.

At this time, Adam was a hugely successful singer/songwriter/performer and his onstage fashions were widely copied.  He was a manic whirlwind of an entertainer, which the fans adored.  His antics usually eclipsed his Ant band, although they were immortalise in “Ant Music”, a single which spent five weeks at No.1 on the charts in Australia.  Mostly, it was all about Adam.  This subsequently took a terrible toll on him physically and mentally.  After detailing his early life, which drastically shaped his adult life (explaining why he didn’t drink or smoke hence the satirical song “Goody Two-Shoes”) his autobiography takes off.  It chronologically details his dysfunctional private life, diagnosis of bipolar disorder, knee reconstruction surgery and the highs and lows of his career.

THIS REVIEW MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS, MAYBE NOT…

Fans know that Adam is not his real name and I was surprised by the chapter on how and why he had the sudden idea to reinvent himself.  After a failed band, a suicide attempt, and recovering from a bout of depression, he walked away from it to start afresh.  He ditched his old name Stuart Leslie Goddard and adopted the persona of Adam.  He married young and his estranged yet loyal wife touchingly changed her name to Eve.  The Ant band came later, named after ants because they are industrious little creatures and I think he respected their work ethic.  Adam Ant was born.

Press quote: “Adam Ant’s tongue-in-cheek tunes are delivered with an excess of flair and good humour” 

My main impression of Adam during the peak of his fame is handsome, self-obsessed, cheekily image conscious when his mood was good; a control freak and not a particularly caring person when he was down.  His personal album photographs show women or band members draped around or nearby Adam but never him exhibiting any closeness to them.  Not so much a character trait, as an example of how his early family life shaped his view of the world.  No Commitment seems to be his subconscious catch cry.  Listen to the insightful words of his song “Friend or Foe”.  Even by fickle music industry standards, he never stayed in one place too long.  The only place he maintained for any length of time was his beloved London flat in Primrose Hill so when he burned out, he took time out.

Over all, I feel he keeps the reader at arm’s length, divulging certain things (often what was already public knowledge at the time – I know ‘cos I was an admirer) and keeping some juicier bits for another time.  Understandably so, particularly in the areas of his love life.  Adam gives the impression he expected fidelity from the woman who shared his life at the time but when it came to his basic urges, he had no misgivings.  Adam used women as one would use headache tablets.  If he was depressed, a woman became his natural high, a temporary escape from his troubles.  Troubles both real and imagined.  He slept with many female friends, fans and famous ladies who appeared to fall under the spell of his charismatic personality.  Many found out after a couple of weeks that he had a “glitch”.  Some struggled bravely to help him, he married twice, his mother stayed supportive, two creepy women stalked him, but most just walked away.

Adam has loaded his book with crazy incidents and name-dropping snippets like meeting Queen Elizabeth II, dating film stars or how a current friend would turn up in his rock video.  He had No.1 albums, knew influential creatives in the music business and certainly mingled with some high profile, artistic people.  A point which stands out for me is when Adam Ant became famous outside UK, he had no problems with money.  Sure, he had to criss-cross the Atlantic at various times during the year to avoid British taxes but he never seemed to want for anything. He’d buy a new house or jump onto a plane like the average person might catch a bus.  This did not help his mental stability and he suffered sleep deprivation, hallucinations and irrational fears which undermined his future.

Adam Ant tattoo: “Experience is the name everyone gives to their mistakes”

This autobiography has an epilogue but it finishes prior to his comeback.  Adam Ant has since added movies and further tours to his list.  He will again be in concert 2018 touring UK and USA.  He’s now older, stockier (due to medication side-effects) and much wiser with a grown-up daughter Lily Goddard.  Anyone who reads this book will applaud his struggles and triumphs in the volatile and demanding world of music.

Number 1 ‘Stand and Deliver’
From: ‘Prince Charming’ (1981)
Number 2 ‘Antmusic’
From: ‘Kings of the Wild Frontier’ (1980)
Number 3 ‘Dog Eat Dog’
From: ‘Kings of the Wild Frontier’ (1980)
Number 4 ‘Beat My Guest’
From: Single B-side (1980)
Number 5 ‘Car Trouble’
From: ‘Dirk Wears White Sox’ (1979)
Number 6 ‘Physical (You’re So)’
From: ‘Kings of the Wild Frontier’ (1980)
Number 7 ‘Vive Le Rock’
From: ‘Vive Le Rock’ (1985)
Number 8 ‘Prince Charming’
From: ‘Prince Charming’ (1981)
Number 9 ‘Killer in the Home’
From: ‘Kings of the Wild Frontier’ (1980)
Number 10 ‘Desperate But Not Serious’
From: ‘Friend or Foe’ (1982)

Ten Best Adam Ant Songs : courtesy of Dave Swanson on Diffuser FM.
http://diffuser.fm/best-adam-ant-songs/

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

WordPress 100 Posts Milestone

Assassin and the Actress ‘Reckoning: A Memoir’

A highly charged and deeply honest memoir, ‘Reckoning’ combines research into the life of assassin and Polish World War II survivor Zbigniew Szubanski , father of Australian actress Magda Szubanski, and Magda herself as she struggles to come to terms with her father’s legacy and forge her own career within the world of television and movies.  This absorbing, eloquently written book contains remarkable revelations of wartime espionage, emotional family ties and facing the truth, and I was enthralled to the very last page.

First published in 2016, ‘Reckoning’ is Magda’s debut novel, and courageously written.  I must admit my initial thoughts were ‘Wow, she’s brave putting that in writing’ but it made me love this book even more.  Definitely a five-star read!  Magda relates one of those true stories from childhood to adulthood which hits the right cord with just about everyone.  We’ve had similar feelings and domestic issues and career changes and sexuality debates and, yes, sadly, the father we got to understand a little too late.

‘Reckoning’ has gone on to bigger things but here’s the first results:
Winner Nielsen BookData Booksellers Choice Award, 2016
Winner Book of the Year, Australian Book Industry Awards, 2016
Winner Biography of the Year, Australian Book Industry Awards, 2016
Winner Douglas Stewart Prize for Non-Fiction, NSW Premier’s Literary Awards, 2016
Winner Indie Award for Non-Fiction, 2016
Winner Victorian Community History Award Judges’ Special Prize, 2016
Shortlisted Matt Richell Award for New Writer of the Year, Australian Book Industry Awards, 2016
Shortlisted Dobbie Literary Award, 2016
Shortlisted National Biography Award, 2016

Website https://www.textpublishing.com.au/books/reckoning
Twitter https://twitter.com/magdaszubanski

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Magda Szubanski is one of Australia’s best known comedy performers.  She lives in Melbourne and began her career in university revues before writing and appearing in a number of comedy shows.  Magda created the iconic character of Sharon Strzelecki in ABC-TV series ‘Kath and Kim’.  She performs in theatre productions and has acted in movies – notably ‘Babe’ and ‘Babe Pig in the City’ – and currently ‘Three Summers’ directed by Ben Elton and ‘The BBQ’ directed by Stephen Amis.

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

DBC Pierre Writes at Feverpitch

DBC Pierre Photo Montage 02
Photograph of novelist DBC Pierre by Murdo MacLeod for The Guardian.

“I wrote 300 pages in five weeks,” says novelist DBC Pierre, who made his debut with Vernon God Little, a Booker Prize winner, and delivers writing guidance in his contemporary work Release the Bats.

I enjoyed his gutsy and wildly perceptive advice which perhaps appeals to a ‘pantser’ style of writing rather than a ‘plotter’ but the quotable gems will stick with me.  Wisdom with a 21st century twist and language to match.

“A few pages into writing and find yourself drowning, as I did.”  DBC Pierre.

“When I started to write,” says self-confessed bad boy DBC Pierre in The Guardian interview, “I wasn’t particularly well-read, but I found two things critical. Together they can turn a pile of thoughts into a novel, in case you’re at a loose end next weekend, or are in prison. They’re also helpful if you’ve swum a few pages into writing and find yourself drowning, as I did.”

“The first might seem stupid but I actually found it the main hitch in getting words down and ‘letting rip’, ‘sticking with it’, and all that noble stuff we’re supposed to do. ‘The responsibility of awful writing’ was Hemingway’s twist on his own phrase ‘the awful responsibility of writing’. As the man who also said ‘first drafts are shit’, he pointed to a truth: if the key to finishing a novel is sticking with it, then the main challenge is to face writing crap.”

DBC Pierre Vernon God Little Bookcover

“All I liked after writing the first page of Vernon God Little was the voice. It had things to say about everything. I could feel it wanting to say them. But I went on to write 300 pages that didn’t make a book. I wrote them in five weeks, in a fever, without looking back. And at the end, I still liked the voice – but it hadn’t really said anything. Or rather, it had said plenty but nothing else had really happened. I soon found advantages to having done it that way.”

“Even writing 50 pages of crap gives a sense of achievement.”  DBC Pierre. 

“For one thing, I would usually find it hard to move on to page two if I didn’t like page one. I bet you could wallpaper the planet with books that never got to page two. And it’s a circular trap, in that some of the energy you need to forge ahead and push your page count up is generated by forging ahead and pushing your page count up. Even crap gives a sense of achievement when you get to 10, 20, 50 pages of it. When you don’t get past page one, you lose the spur. After that, the thing spirals into bad feeling and dies while you check email.”

“Half the problem is the expectation that we’ll see finished writing at once, more or less in its place. But I wouldn’t have written what I wrote if I’d thought about structure and form at the time. Obviously, if we’re writing about a boy going to the river, we make him go to the river. I don’t mean write without an idea – just that better ideas will come later. They attract each other and grow. We write crap in the meantime. It can work like a compost.”

“If you watch a dieter breaking their diet, you’ll see that they gobble things before they can stop themselves, before the internal arguments, before the shame. Guiltily and fast: that’s how to approach a first draft. A free writer is not something you are, but a place you can go. To start that climb: speed. Don’t look down. Keep a note of your page or word count, watch it grow like an investment. Amp yourself up. When we do things this way, a phenomenon comes to bear that justifies our approach: art. Some of what we write will crystallise for reasons we can’t explain, and the story comes into a life of its own.”

“If the job gets boring, loosen up…throw in a new character.”  DBC Pierre.

“Eventually, take that feverish pile, bravely or drunk, and read it back. Get over the cringing and find a glimmer, see what sentence or idea intrigues or excites you. Start from there and build out. If the job gets boring, loosen up, take a tangent, throw in a new character. In this process, the work begins to show itself. We show ourselves. When gems have grown into paragraphs, paragraphs into pages, look again. Find the part that works best and lift the rest up to it. This is how it climbs, by following what pleases us most.”

“We can’t compete with Shakespeare or Hemingway, nor should we try. Our particular feeling is all we can bring to this party, and our whole job should be to wrestle it into a story that works for us alone. After that we can dress it for others to read. A different job entirely. Save that for a strong coffee on a Monday.”

One of three different interviews by Chris Wiegand, Dave Simpson and Homa Khaleeli.  Wed 22 Feb 2017 06.00 AEDT “Culture” The Guardian newspaper.
https://www.theguardian.com/culture/2017/feb/21/frank-turner-dbc-pierre-creative-industry-advice
Heading : So You Want To Be An Artist? Then Let The Pros Show You How It’s Done.

You can also read my book review of Breakfast With The Borgias by DBC Pierre.

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

‘Work-Life Balance is a Myth’ Review

Integrate by John Drury
Whole-of-life plan

Traditional work-life balance means separate compartments in our lives, but lines can become blurred, pressure can build and conflicts emerge.  Instead of working against each other, integration means all parts can work together to achieve a positive outcome for our lifestyle expectations.  Then realisation that your work-life balance is “out of kilter” will no longer apply.  I wish I had read this book before my divorce!

John Drury is a presenter, trainer, facilitator, and author of new book “Integrate” which challenges busy people to rethink their approach to life and work.  “The demands of work have never been greater.  A balancing act is not the answer.  Work-life integration is the only way forward in a 24/7 world” says Drury, whose painful personal experience with burnout, and subsequent recovery while in a senior leadership role, motivated him to start helping other high achievers create and maintain a realistic lifestyle.

In his book, Drury outlines a way to align all the parts of your life so they work in unison.  He says “This takes effort, but it’s well worth it and the end result will give you a schedule far easier to work with than just a big juggling act which no-one ever seems to make work.”  He believes that you must look after yourself at your very core; respect your health, your wellness, your relationships and your work commitments.

In John Burfitt’s interview, Drury explains that self-care and implementing achievable self-management strategies are essential.  Drury goes on to say that once important areas are defined and outlined, it becomes a matter of making decisions and planning goals “And you must do that, as a goal without a plan is just a wish.”

Integrate by John Drury 02
Image is an edited extract from Chapter 3 of “Integrate: Why work-life balance is a myth and what you need to create a fulfilling lifestyle” by John Drury  John Drury.biz

Further reading: “Integrate” by John Drury

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

Why, Sue Grafton, Why?

Sue Grafton Bookstack

American author Sue Grafton passed away in Santa Barbara on 28 December 2017 after a two-year battle with cancer.  On hearing the sad news, millions of readers, writers and fans must have screamed “Noooo” and fallen to the ground, arms raised to the sky, wailing “Why, Sue Grafton, why?”  Well, at least I did, and that’s no lie.

Famous for her 25-book Alphabet crime series, Sue Grafton’s last Kinsey Millhone book Z will remain unwritten.  To quote her family “The alphabet stops at Y” and this has been echoed around the world.

Sue Grafton single-handedly brought me back into reading and showed me the joys of a good detective novel.  I was floundering in a bad ten years of my life where I’d lost my father and was struggling with the care of my ailing mother while battling my own ill-health when, quite out of the blue, I was given a second-hand paperback of Grafton’s book “K is for Killer”.

PI Kinsey Millhone walked into my life.  Grafton’s detective series – “H is for Homicide”, “N is for Noose”, “V is for Vengeance” and so on – transported me into a place I understood, 1980s an era I knew, yet detailed the life of a woman in a job which was so foreign, so far removed from my own experiences that I was immediately entranced.  Or as my father would have said “Caught, hook, line and sinker.”

This fortuitous state of affairs meant I had many books to read before I was up-to-date with the current publications.  Here I would like to thank my cousin Laurie who willingly sent me several paperbacks to feed my addiction.  So I read one and moved straight onto the next, graduating from that first battered paperback to hardcovers and finally e-book editions.

The major characters are unchanging; Kinsey is a private detective in California who joined the police force then left to acquire her detective licence; landlord Henry Pitts is now forever in his kitchen; gregarious Rosie; love interest Cheney Phillips and Robert Dietz.  It was fascinating watching Kinsey evolve, if that’s the right word, because in all she only advanced a couple of years and is destined to remain immortalised in her thirties.

It seems Sue Grafton did not even draft a copy of her final book.  The old adage “Leave them wanting more” is true but not the case.  Her family is adamant that although Grafton had a working title (prophetically) “Zero”, there will be no final book, no ghost writer, no movie and no happy ending – just a blank space on the bookshelf.

My condolences to her family.  The final chapter has ended for Sue Grafton and Kinsey Millhone RIP.

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

Sue Grafton Alphabet Crime Series Featuring Kinsey Millhone

  1. A is for Alibi (1982)
  2. B Is for Burglar (1985)
  3. C Is for Corpse (1985)
  4. D Is for Deadbeat (1987)
  5. E Is for Evidence (1988)
  6. F Is for Fugitive (1989)
  7. G Is for Gumshoe (1989)
  8. H Is for Homicide (1991)
  9. I Is for Innocent (1992)
  10. J Is for Judgement (1993)
  11. K Is for Killer (1994)
  12. L Is for Lawless (1995)
  13. M Is for Malice (1996)
  14. N Is for Noose (1998)
  15. O Is for Outlaw (1999)
  16. P Is for Peril (2001)
  17. Q Is for Quarry (2002)
  18. R Is for Ricochet (2004)
  19. S Is for Silence (2005)
  20. T Is for Trespass (2007)
  21. U Is for Undertow (2009)
  22. V Is for Vengeance (2011)
  23. W is for Wasted (2013)
  24. X (2015)
  25. Y is for Yesterday (2017)