I’m so pleased to welcome the lovely Sarah to The Unfinished Bookshelf. I’ve loved (very casually) participating in her monthly Instagram photo challenges. Sarah is one of the loveliest bookstagrammers out there, and I love the discussions her beautiful posts create. Today we’re discussing blogging and bookstagram, as well as the exciting bookish business Sarah is building with her mum and sister Emma. Read More
Today I am ridiculously excited to welcome Leslie Mosier to the blog along with my favourite internet pooch Doug the Pug. The pair recently toured the UK as part of the launch of their debut book, Doug the Pug: King of the Internet. This gorgeous little book is an instant mood-booster and would make the perfect Christmas present for anyone who loves dogs.
Welcome, Leslie! Where did you get the idea for Doug the Pug?
I had always wanted a pug named Doug, so when I was in college and met Doug, I began posting photos of him on my personal account. The internet definitely took charge and decided they wanted to make him famous!
You quit your full time PR job to manage Doug. Did you ever doubt that decision?
It was a scary decision, but ultimately it was the best decision I ever made for the brand and for my personal goals.
What’s a typical day like for you and Doug?
There is no typical day, with so many things going on we might be traveling one day, or all cozy in our home office prepping the next. Doug gets lots of rest though, and sleeps over 10 hours everyday, not including the full 8+ hours at night!
How do you get the perfect photo? How much preparation goes on behind the scenes?
Our inspiration comes from the internet or what we see in our daily lives. Some videos take a lot of preparation, and same goes with a few more intricate photos. Sometimes we’ll have an idea that hits us and we can make it happen in less than 2 minutes.
Is Doug ever a bit of a diva now he’s one of the most famous dogs on the internet?
Never! Doug is one of the most chill and patient dogs ever. He loves people, ask anyone that has met him!
What’s been the highlight of this journey for you so far?
The highlight would definitely be the impact we’re able to make on millions of people by a simple photo or a video. It’s amazing to hear from fans just how important Doug has been in their daily lives.
What’s next for you and Doug?
2017 is bound to be one of the busiest, and best years so far! We’re so excited for a few different opportunities in the works already, and welcome more things as we transition into the new year!
Do you have any tips for people looking to build or improve their brand on social media?
Stay consistent and always try to be innovative!
And now, the little man himself. Welcome Doug! You’ve met a heap of celebrities Doug, who was your favourite? Anyone you’d particularly love to meet?
I can’t pick a favourite, because they all have been so good to me! But I would love to meet the President, Barack Obama.
When you’re not modelling, what are you doing in your spare time?
Sleeping, begging for treats or hanging out with my best friend Penelope Pearl.
It’s a given that your my favourite puppy on social media, but I’d love to know who’s your favourite?
Penelope Pearl! She’s my best friend, and there are lots of internet rumours that we’re dating now 😉
Does fame ever get hard? What do you do to stay grounded?
Being cute isn’t easy, so when I get to come back to my Nashville home and relax and meditate in my backyard, it’s like a reality check!
Thanks to Pan MacMillan Australia for providing a copy of the book for review.
I am delighted to welcome Gracie to my blog today. I’m a little starstruck as I adore Gracie’s blog and feel like her Twitter is just one constant stream of awesome. If you aren’t already familiar with her stellar blog, make sure you check it out with the links at the end of the post!
When did you start blogging and what made you want to join the bookish blogging community?
I started blogging when I was 16 and bored between lessons at college – bored/frustrated because I had no way to get my feelings out and I needed just that, an outlet.
I discovered the bookish blogging community I think when I’d started uni, and a lot of my Creative Writing course mates were writing reviews of books, films, theatre, TV shows, food, beauty, EVERYTHING. I never thought of doing it myself, as I was too anxious about being rubbish. I just felt my word, my reviews, wouldn’t and shouldn’t be taken seriously.
So when I properly started book blogging, it wasn’t an official review thing. It was what each book I mentioned meant to me and why I read them.
I bloody LOVE the bookish blogging community. It’s become a gorgeous home for me online.
What do you do when you’re not blogging? How do you juggle life with blogging?
I have said before how I will go days, weeks, without any inspiration for blog posts. Then suddenly, one or two nights a month, I go nuts and start 5 drafts. I also make notes on my phone constantly when I am without my laptop (which is hardly ever) to remind me what I want to write about.
When I’m not blogging, I am working as a bookseller or working on my own novel. Or drinking coffee. Or whisky.
You’ve recently started work as a bookseller (congratulations, by the way). What are your favourite parts of the job so far?
(Thank you, yay omg yay!) I find every day has a highlight, every day that one customer comes in and inspires me or just makes my heart melt. The little kids who are determined to get reading over the summer holidays and catch up on all the YA series; the older ladies who desperately need their fix of romance tales; the blokes who excitedly bring graphic novels to the till.
I love writing teeny reviews of my favourite books and slotting them in beneath where I stand them in pride of place on the shelves. I love running up and down the stairs searching for that one title that one customer can’t recall. I love ordering books in for customers and giving them the parcels when they arrive. I love geeking out over authors and stories with my colleagues.
Have you always been an avid reader or was there a time in your life when you discovered the joy of it? What was the first book you fell in love with?
100% always. My parents love telling people this. They loved it at the time, too, when I was a funny little kid who sat in the corner at parties with her head in a book or would read when we all went on a family day out.
You’re also a writer, what projects are you currently working on?
I am currently working on my first novel, and my lesson plans for the couple of seminars I’ll be teaching at Winchester University soon!
What books have left their mark on you as a reader and a writer?
Lisa Heathfield is my latest author obsession. Both her books left me rattled, in a good way.
I also recently read Emma Gannon’s ‘Ctrl Alt Delete: How I Grew Up Online’, and that was the most perfect non-fic; I could relate to it so much but it also blew my mind!
I read ‘One Day’ 3 years ago and it reminded me how badly I want to write my own novels.
How has blogging changed your reading life?
It’s opened so many doors! I now receive proof copies from various publishers, and the recommendations are endless from my fellow bloggers. I am never without a potential new read!
Quick fire book quiz:Favourite book so far this year:
‘Milk & Honey’, by Rupi Kaur. Or ‘Songs About A Girl’, by Chris Russell.
Most anticipated release for the second half of 2016:
OH GOSH SO MANY. Possibly the new one from Rachel Cohr & David Levithan (’12 Days of Dash & Lily’). Or (cheating here) my lovely friend Katherine Webber’s ‘Wing Jones’, coming out early next year!
Caitlin Moran. Jandy Nelson. Louise O’Neill. Holly Bourne. Lauren James. Alice Oseman. Lisa Heathfield. Audrey Niffenegger. (I keep cheating but I CANNOT PICK ONE!)
Your top five must-read books:
Ughh ugh ughh this question is too tough! These are not all my absolute favourites, just the ones I feel everyone should read.
IN NO PARTICULAR ORDER…
1. Harry Potter (the whole series!), by JK Rowling.
2. The Time Traveller’s Wife, by Audrey Niffenegger.
3. Reasons to Stay Alive, by Matt Haig.
4. The Sky Is Everywhere, by Jandy Nelson.
5. Every Day, by David Levithan.
Today I’m pleased to welcome Australian author Randa Abdel-Fattah to The Unfinished Bookshelf. I really enjoyed both Does My Head Look Big in This and her latest release When Michael Met Mina. Randa’s books explore contemporary political and religious issues with such thought and depth. I highly recommend checking out her work.
As a journalist, I am always pleased to see political issues I’m passionate about explored in the books I read. Why do you think it’s important for young adult fiction to explore issues like those covered in When Michael Met Mina?
Because racism isn’t something that we should confine to academic or media discussions. It is a lived experience, a fundamental part of many people’s everyday lives, something they negotiate and struggle against and I think it’s so important that young people have their stories validated and that those who are born into the privilege of whiteness understand that privilege and what it means for their life chances and experiences compared to racialised minorities.
Do you think political and social issues should be explored more in young adult fiction?
Yes definitely. Political and social issues are the stuff of life including young adults’ lives. We shouldn’t underestimate young people or seek to ‘protect’ them from the realities of the world.
Michael grows a lot throughout the book and feels a lot of conflict about challenging the views of his parents. How important do you think it is for young adult books to explore growth and to show teens it’s possible to form your own views?
I think everyone is capable of change and growth. But not everybody is capable or willing to change. I think it’s important to understand that change is hard, that there are structural forces bigger than ‘willpower’ that block people from having the courage to ask questions about who they are and what they believe. But racism can’t be dismantled unless people are confronted and provoked to think.
How much research went into When Michael Met Mina and how long did it take you to write?
I based my book on my own fieldwork, my own work with refugees, stories from friends, and information from refugee advocates. It took about two years to write.
Has your writing or writing process changed at all with each book you’ve written?
No doubt. I grow and learn with each book. My process hasn’t changed much but I think that my handling of issues like race is more nuanced, critical and complex now, reflecting changes in my own politics.
What do you hope readers take away from When Michael Met Mina?
Never stop questioning and reflecting on what you have, who you are, and what you know and don’t know.
What books left their mark on you as a reader and a writer?
Too many to do justice to! Some books which had a profound impact on me as I wrote WMMM are White Nation (Ghassan Hage), Against Paranoid Nationalism (Ghassan Hage), The Politics of Emotion (Sara Ahmed), Black Skin White Masks (Fanon).
What projects are you currently working on?
Rest. Haha. I just finished my Phd. And I wrote WMMM during my Phd. And I’m about to have a baby. So my project is ‘how not to work’, or ‘how to take time out’….(Although I am working on the film screenplay of Does My Head Look Big In This? which is due at the end of the year so maybe rest is not the right word after all…)
This Q&A is part of the When Michael Met Mina blog tour.
Read my review of the book here and follow the other stops using #Michael4Mina.
I am thrilled to welcome Jaclyn Moriarty to The Unfinished Bookshelf today as part of the Tangle of Gold blog tour. I love Jaclyn’s delightful novels and have really enjoyed discovering the Kingdom of Cello through the Colours of Madeleine trilogy.
What inspired the Kingdom of Cello and the Colours of Madeleine series?
I was living in Montreal, Canada and it was winter. I went to a cafe, opened my new notebook, and discovered a row of coloured pencils, each in its own separate pocket, sewn into the inside cover. Through the window I could see snow and ice; inside my notebook were unexpected colours. So I decided to draw pictures of a Kingdom, and that became the Kingdom of Cello.
I love the epistolary nature of your books. What appeals to you about this kind of storytelling?
I like the fact that letters can be honest, intense, unreliable, and light-as-a-feather all at the same time. I like making stories out of fragments and I especially like the power in the spaces between letters.
If you could write to any person, living or dead, who would it be?
I’d love to have a correspondence with Jane Austen.
How extensively did you plan the series? Was the ending always mapped out, or did it evolve over the course of writing the books?
I spent about a year planning the trilogy before I started writing it. The plan was about 200 pages long and I knew the major plot points and how it was going to end. But a lot of things changed between books. A friend made a suggestion about Elliot after he’d read the second book, and I said, ‘That’s ridiculous,’ but then I went home and decided it was brilliant and made some major changes to my plan for the third book.
Has the writing process for the series differed to your other novels?
I did a lot more research for these books than I have for the other books (but I’d already been stepping up the research with every book so maybe that was going to happen anyway). Also, all the crazy planning. I never did that much for the other books.
What do you hope readers take away from A Tangle of Gold and the Colours of Madeleine trilogy as a whole?
I hope they will believe that the Kingdom of Cello exists, and I hope they will become mildly obsessed with colours.
Does music play any part in your writing process?
It plays a big part for me. I choose a song for each character in each of my books – sometimes a couple of songs – and then I close my eyes and listen to that track before I write a scene involving the character. It seems to make me feel closer to the character. And it’s a good form of procrastination.
For some reviews, I try and pair books with a song. What does the Colours of Madeleine trilogy sound like to you?
I remember listening to one song over and over when I was just starting the trilogy. I was dancing around the living room imagining the people of Bonfire building a pyramid of pumpkins, and getting ready for a deftball championship while Elliot runs across a field and a butterfly child falls through the air. That’s when I could see the Kingdom of Cello clearly for the first time, and I started to feel intensely excited about it. The song was Vampire Weekend’s, ‘Ottoman’, and that’s what the trilogy sounds like to me.
Which books have left their mark on you as both a reader and a writer?A Room of One’s Own and The Waves by Virginia Woolf; The Republic of Love by Carol Shields; Letters from the Inside by John Marsden; Castles in the Air by Diana Wynne Jones; the Narnia books; The Magic Finger by Roald Dahl; The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin; The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins; Self-Help by Lorrie Moore; By Grand Central Station I sat down and wept by Elizabeth Smart; Under Milkweed by Dylan Thomas; What Katy Did by Susan Coolidge; Mary Poppins Comes Back by P.L. Travers … I could go on for a long time here but I’d better stop.
Check out more stops of the Tangle of Gold blog tour using #ATangleOfGold
Last week, I rambled about my love for Kirsty Eagar’s latest novel, Summer Skin. I’m delighted to welcome her onto the blog today to talk feminism, sex and all things Summer Skin. It’s a long Q&A, so settle back with a cuppa and your favourite snack and enjoy!
What was the inspiration for Summer Skin?
Probably the biggest thing was I wanted to write something for older teens with characters who were sexually active, because it’s relevant to a fair slice of that readership, and, in view of the ubiquity of porn, it’s also something we need to take an honest look at—explore the differences between ‘real’ and ‘screen’ sex.
Summer Skin seemed to have a very different vibe to Night Beach or Saltwater Vampires. Was this something you deliberately set out to achieve? How do you feel Summer Skin differs to your previous books?
Yes, it was deliberate. I wanted something that was snappy, dialogue-driven and fun. I like to mix my writing up, try something different each time, and I think part of the difference also came from the fact that the natural world isn’t really a factor in Summer Skin. With the other three books that was a big thing because of the surfing element (I always wanted the ocean in there as a character in its own right). But, for me, uni was much more about interior life than the natural world (playing pool at pubs, club life in the Valley, festering in your room with friends, enjoying all those long, meandering conversations that are about nothing and everything). And, on a personal note, I really needed to find the fun in writing again. It had to make me laugh, if nothing else.
(Now is probably a good time to say that the rest of my responses to Michelle’s excellent questions are LOOOONG. So at this point you might want to go get yourself a cup of coffee. With sincere apologies, Kirsty ☺)
How long did it take to write Summer Skin? Was the process different in any way from your previous novels?
It took two, maybe two and a half years (if you include the edits, and I do because they were hard!), but the time period between Summer Skin and Night Beach was longer than that because I took a year out in the middle to work on another novel I’d received a grant for (more on that below).
The process was quite different for me. Because I wanted the writing to be fun, not pressured, I made the decision not to worry about a daily word count, and instead I kept track of the hours I sat with the thing. I actually think it helped the novel a lot, because it meant that often I’d get past the obvious resolution for a scene and find something that worked better.
I love how you discuss sex and relationships so openly in Summer Skin. In particular, I love that you explore how women find pleasure from sex without shame. Why do you feel it’s so important to discuss these issues in Young Adult/New Adult fiction?
Thank you, Michelle ☺. And we shouldn’t feel ashamed. I sometimes wonder if that shame stems from the fact there’s a kind of social conditioning happening via so many stories where desire is presented as being ‘the male condition’ and girls and women are presented as being either submissive conquests, or struggling to stay virtuous. I mean, it’s utter bullshit.
I have a mother who talks very openly and honestly about sex and desire, and that not only helped me, it also helped some of my friends. And college was a game changer for me, because there were so many strong girls there, who just owned their sexuality and didn’t take shit about it—but what was great was that most of the guys in our circle had no issues with it either. But not everyone is lucky enough to have role models like that, so I very much wanted that energy in the story. The double standards that still exist annoy the crap out of me. Trying to shame women for nude pics, for example, when guys post a million dick pics every other day … I know some of my mates would have just pissed themselves laughing if someone had tried to shame them for taking a nude pic, and that’s powerful. I think if you find yourself in that situation, look to your crew for support, and shrug, and say, ‘So what?’
You know the other (related) thing I think is really important? Female pleasure. Because, thanks to porn, girls are now being requested to do a whole range of things that aren’t going to be everybody’s cup of tea. I want expectations to shift back the other way. Instead of guys approaching things like, ‘What can I get her to do?’ We need more, ‘What’s going to make her feel good?’ And I want more open, honest discussions around these issues so that girls and women feel confident and safe enough to answer that question without fear of being shamed.
Summer Skin is undoubtedly a feminist novel. I hate the notion that feminism is ‘having a moment’ because it certainly doesn’t feel that way for me and my friends, but do you think feminism has become more palatable to the media and society in general?
Yes, I know exactly what you mean. What gets me down is that, as far as the mainstream media is concerned, feminism is still regarded as being somewhat contentious. Which is ludicrous. To paraphrase the title of that excellent book—women are half the sky. I think the other frustrating thing is that having the conversation doesn’t necessarily signify that real change is taking place.
You know what I think? I think stories are incredibly powerful in being agents of change. What I love about the publishing world is that it makes women’s stories available—and I sincerely hope that the diversity of those stories continues to widen; we need diverse stories and diverse voices. But if you look to our screens (television, film) the stories are still very much dominated by men, and made by men. That’s where we need to see the big change because it’s such a big reinforcer. The trickle-down effect of stories on our social perceptions is huge.
Clementine Ford described Summer Skin as a “feminist love story”. Why do you feel it’s important to explore the relationship between sex and feminism, particularly in a YA context?
In writing Summer Skin I had a strong sense that as well as it being a love story between Mitch and Jess, it also had to work as a love story between Jess and herself. Mitch puts her through the wringer. She’s attracted to him, which is something that can’t be controlled, and that messes with her head because there are so many aspects to his attitude that suck. He’s the antithesis of most of what Jess believes in. But she eventually redefines her sense of self; works out what she will and won’t stand for, finds her self-respect again.
That, to me, is so much more interesting than a female main character who gives up everything and signs herself over. It’s not even that I react to that stuff that strongly—most of the time, I can recognise it as being some kind of fantasy fulfilment—it’s more that I actually just find it incredibly boring. It’s unrealistic, it’s been done to death, and a lot of the time it’s bad writing—taking the easy way out.
The other thing that was crucial was, even though Jess hides her involvement with Mitch from her friends, she couldn’t just conveniently put all her other relationships on hold. When Mitch comes along, she’s got a group of friends that to her are the most interesting people in the room, so to speak. She digs her friends. I think that’s another aspect of life that’s really important: how amazing your relationships with friends can be, and how rewarding it is to try to be a good friend in return. In my case, I’m talking about newer friends, who feel like a gift from the universe, but also my long term friendships—people from as far back as primary school.
But, anyway, that’s why little subplots like the one between Jess and Allie, for example, are important. Jess is very all or nothing in her approach to people. But even though she doesn’t always understand Allie’s motivations, she does eventually recognise the need to live and let live, because, Allie, ultimately, is a good mate. (You don’t have to put up with toxic friends, though. Do yourselves both a favour and cut them off. I’m still learning that one ☺)
Each chapter title creates a playlist for Summer Skin, but if you had to pick one song to pair the book with, what would it be?
A-ha! I love this question. After giving it much careful thought and consideration, it’d have to be Thelma Plum’s ‘Young in Love’ because I adore her voice, and that song gives me goose bumps every time I hear it. It conjures up YEARNING, and doesn’t yearning just punch the sweetest hole in your heart??? (It also somehow captures the mood of Jess and Mitch going night swimming).
Jess is from Rockhampton, which is also my hometown. I love that the Beef Capital got a mention in Summer Skin and that there were so many familiar places for me in the novel. Why did you chose to set Summer Skin at The University of Queensland and around Brisbane?
In short, it’s because I went to Brisbane for uni, but all of my friends were from regional areas like me. Basically, I don’t think I could have convincingly set it anywhere else, but I also didn’t want to. I still go back there to visit family and friends, and when I was growing up my dad lived in Brisbane, so I have history with the place ☺.
Which books left their mark on you as a reader and a writer?
I’ve got a special shelf in my office for the books I’d grab in case of fire. Some of them are really important as touchstones, because they are the original copies I had as a child and teen, and I’ve taken them with me on every move I’ve ever made (and I’ve lived in seventeen different places, including London, and out of a four-wheel drive for a couple of years). They are: The Big Sleep (Raymond Chandler—it got me thinking about style when I first started writing seriously); The Neverending Story (Michael Ende—Atreyu was my first literary crush), Moominpappa at Sea (Tove Jansson—my favourite book of all time); The Outsiders (S.E. Hinton), The Blue Castle (L. M. Montgomery—this one really resonated with me); To Kill A Mockingbird (Harper Lee); I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings (Maya Angelou); The Golden Day (Ursula Dubosarsky); Heartwood (James Lee Burke), and … wait for it … How to Succeed in Business Without a Penis (I must confess, I’ve never actually read it, but my grandmother gave it to me, and the title alone, combined with her energy, have always been enough to make it very special).
In terms of writing, the book that got me to attempt my first novel was Stephen King’s On Writing. And, probably even more sustaining for me, has been Betsey Lerner’s Forest for the Trees. Lately I’ve been blown away by Jennifer Egan. I’m really interested in work that tells a story with a strong narrative voice. If you think about it, all the show don’t tell stuff doesn’t necessarily apply if the voice has authority and tells the story like a BOSS. J.K. Rowling has it, as does Megan Abbott, Gillian Flynn, Maya Angelou, Jane Austen …
What do you hope readers take away from Summer Skin?
If they are in their teens and twenties, I hope they get a sense of my absolute respect for them. Because I am awed by how beautifully they’re navigating what have been really rapid changes caused by online life. More generally, though (because it’s my fervent hope that my writing reaches lots of different age groups—and I found out yesterday that my local indie bookshop had sold a copy to an eighty-year-old—yeeeww!) I always hope that a reader finishes the story feeling positive, and a little bit braver about being themselves.
What projects are you currently working on?
I’m writing a novel called Molasses. It’s a story about four teenagers and five escapes. It’s located in a fictional place that is AMAZINGLY SIMILAR to where I grew up in Capricornia, not far from Rocky. Rocky is very much a character in this story. And while I’m on that—I just want to say how good it’s been to get to know you, Michelle. There’s something really special about meeting someone else who is from the same place as you ☺.
Thanks for having me!
Today, I’m very excited to welcome the lovely Danielle Binks from Alpha Reader. Danielle is one of my favourite Aussie bloggers. I’ve discovered so many new books through her blog, and always respect her opinion when it comes to reviews. Danielle has also been one of the most prominent bloggers behind the #LoveOzYA movement and has just been announced as the editor of a HarperCollins anthology of Australian YA short stories to be published early 2017.
How did you first start blogging?
I had just finished a communication degree I hated, and was looking at starting up another two more Honours years when I took a chance and applied to RMIT’s Writing and Editing program (thinking I’d never get in!) … so I decided to start blogging at the same time, sure that I’d need a passion project away from the drudgery of Communications study when, lo! I did get into RMIT. Suddenly this blog that I’d started because I’d been a long-time lurker of places like Persnickety SnarkandSmart Bitches, Trashy Books – suddenly it became a perfect complement to this course I was doing all about publishing and the Australian literary scene. And I’ve always come at it as my ‘Solo Book Club’, so I read what I want and I aim to please nobody but myself.
What are you doing when you’re not reading and blogging? How do you juggle life with blogging?
Well I think that always staying true to my ‘Solo Book Club’ catch-cry has helped with my blogging, and avoiding burnout. I always aim to be honest in my reviews, and if I don’t like something I’ll explain why (or, increasingly, just not read it!) – for that reason I’ve never felt beholden to anyone when it comes to blogging, so it’s always been a very freeing and fun exercise for me just to talk about books, books, books!
But it has been made even more fun because the more I’ve blogged and read books – particularly young adult literature with a focus on Aussie YA – the more I’ve pushed myself to think critically and laterally about this readership, and in doing so I’ve found freelancing opportunities. I’ve written about youth literature for Kill Your Darlings, and now I’m writing about where YA intersects with feminism for the Stella Prize Schools blog.
I also write – I’ve been working on a contemporary YA manuscript that I haven’t shown anyone yet but I’m quietly in love with. And I write short stories that I occasionally enter into writing competitions.
Both those writing opportunities – freelance critical/commentary work and my own creative writing – both those very different endeavours also help me juggle the blog life, because it lets me engage with the readership, not just consume it. I think that’s really important – they’ve let me feel like more of a participant, not just a bystander. It’s grown my appreciation for both the readership and its many behind-the-scenes creators (not just the authors, though they’re great – but the fellow enthusiastic bloggers/vloggers, places like the Centre for Youth Literature, phenomenal librarians and children’s book specialists).
And then I do things like walk the dog and binge-watch Jessica Jones and that really helps balance things out too.
You’re also working on writing your own YA book. Has blogging influenced your writing process?
Yes, in so far as it’s taught me not to take any notice of what’s going on out there … I think being a blogger I could fall into the trap of cataloguing “What’s Hot in YA Right Now!” and “The Next YA Bandwagon Trend Bestseller Blockbuster Hit List!” and I could go off and try to write what I see my fellow bloggers/reviewers getting excited about right now. But I know how easily we see through those ‘If you liked Author X and Y, then you’ll love Author Z’s book!’ and what readers ultimately have respect for is good story. Not good trend or good tagline. Good story. Characters that hook us. And there’s no recipe for that, there’s no path to follow … you’ve just got to wade in and see what happens. So if anything; blogging has taught me to pull the blinds down when it comes to my own work, not to focus on what others are doing but to write for myself (the same way I blog for myself!).
You’ve been a champion for #LoveOzYA this year. Why is the movement so important to you?
I wouldn’t be the reader I am today (or – heck! – the person I am today), had it not been for the books I read growing up … the books that genuinely made me think that an author had come along, unscrewed the top of my head for a peek, and then put down what they saw in the pages of a book. Sure, that was a few international YA authors – but overwhelmingly it was the Australian ones.
I felt that spark of connection with Josie Alibrandi; who had a grandma with an accent and stories of where she’d come from and how she settled in Australia, just like my own Omi did. And the first time I went to The Rocks in Sydney after reading Ruth Park’s Playing Beatie Bow and thought “I’m standing right here, right where it all happened for Abigail …” and I knew it was fiction, but it felt like so much more.
The movement is important to me for that spark of connection and recognition – all kids deserve that (all humans do, actually!) it’s the whole reason for stories to exist in the first place, to connect people to a sense of themselves and maybe even of their place in this world. #LoveOzYA did that for me growing up, and I hope it still happens for Aussie teen readers today – and to do that we need to make sure we keep the Australian youth literature scene thriving. We’ve got to look for vibrant new voices in Aussie children’s and YA, not just relying on international buy-ins but cultivating new and emerging local voices, while also paying tribute to the authors who helped shape our readership.
How would you like to see #LoveOzYA grow and expand in 2016 and what can other bloggers (and readers) do to help?
I think bloggers are already such fantastic supporters of #LoveOzYA – international and local bloggers, both! If they can keep doing what they’re doing, being enthusiastic and supportive, reading and reviewing the books – that’s huge. That’s sending a message to the publishing community that we value these Australian voices, and we want to help them succeed and grow.
Maybe something that bloggers and readers could start having conversations about is how they buy books, and where they buy them? “Parallel Importation” is going to be a phrase we in the publishing/literary community will be hearing a lot of in 2016 … because it will affect all of us who love books, who buy books and want to support Australian authors/publishers. I know readers may not want to know about this because it’s tricky and monolith and how can they even make a difference? – but the truth is they can, if they want to.
More than ever before I think bloggers/vloggers/readers should aim to make themselves aware of how they fit into the ecology of Australian publishing – because they are the most important component! They should know that if they buy books from overseas retailers, it has an impact on the Australian market. If they choose to buy the international edition of a book, instead of buying through an Australian retailer (preferably an independent bookstore!) who stocks the Australian-rights version, then that’s money that doesn’t go back into the pocket of an Australian publisher to grow their business by paying staff and investing in new authors and making fantastic book marketing campaigns that lets those authors tour around schools, and regional Australia etc. It all impacts.
And I know it’s hard – because overseas online retailers can have cheaper prices, and for young readers especially without disposable incomes, that’s a huge factor to take into account when you’re making book purchases. But the reality is that talking about this, and being honest about how buying local is actively helping the Australian publishing world – that’s a good place to start.
You’re working on a #LoveOzYA short story anthology, due to be published 2017. What will you be looking for from authors you’re hoping to include?
Part of what #LoveOzYA is – or should be about – is reflecting their own world to Australian teens. They should see themselves in the pages of their national youth literature, and for that reason this anthology needs to represent diverse voices in both authors and the subjects they choose to write about.
Will it include all new work from Aussie authors, or will there be extracts from already published books as well?
Yes, all new work! … I’ve been doing some research into YA anthologies from overseas (just because we don’t do many of them in the smaller Australian YA market, so I’ve had to look outwards) and feedback from readers seems to be that they prefer a certain “exclusivity” to an anthology, not just sneak-peaks of what they could buy in six months’ time (and places like NetGalley offer those sorts of “buzzworthy” titles samplers already, which I’m very conscious of – that they’ve been made to feel more “marketing tool” than a book to get excited about).
What makes a #LoveOzYA story a perfect read for you? What elements need to be there to make it work?
Australian YA is so expansive and wonderful – I don’t know if there’s any one thing to put my finger on, which is maybe what makes it #LoveOzYA and a perfect read for me? I see our youth literature increasingly taking chances – not following trends, but following good story and maybe that’s what makes it uniquely Australian, in a way? I don’t know that I can list elements that would make a #LoveOzYA a perfect read for me – just maybe a total rejection of a need to “tick boxes” in giving the reader what they think they want, and instead catching them off guard and giving them what they didn’t know they were looking for?
Yeah – that! ☺
What are you top five tips for bloggers?
Read for yourself, nobody else
Expect nothing for free
It’s okay to take a break; the books will still be there when/if you choose to come back!
Go to real-life events! Book launches, Writers Festivals, author panels – the books community especially is one that doesn’t have to purely exist in the virtual, that community wants you to interact with them everywhere!
Every once in a while (and you don’t have to document it on your blog) read outside your preferred genre/readership. Reading should sometimes be about keeping you on your toes and pushing out of your comfort zone. It will make you a better reader, in many ways (if only to make sure you’re never dismissive of a books community that’s not your own – the same way YA readers despise YA-bashing articles written by those who don’t read the books they’re criticising!)
How has blogging changed your reading life?
I still can’t quite believe that having enough love and respect for something could land me in this position – about to embark on a passion project that lets me work with Australian YA authors I’ve so long admired, contributing to our national youth literature that’s always been my reading-lodestone.
I can honestly, hand-on-heart say that I wouldn’t be in the position I am today had I not started my blog back in 2009 … who knew that choosing to read and write about the books I’d always loved would land me here?
Do what you love, and take your passion for it seriously enough and things may fall into place.
What’s your favourite aspect of blogging?
When I stepped out of blogging and into the “real world” of the books community – I was amazed at how welcoming and exciting it was. When I started attending book launches and Festivals, author appearances, conventions – all of it! I was welcomed with open arms by this incredibly generous world of fellow book-lovers and that still kind of floors me. I met my best friend through a mutual admiration of each other’s blogs – and we both say we’re the embodiment of “books really do bring people together!”
It’s twee, but true.
Quick fire book quizFavourite book so far this year: The Flywheel by Erin Gough
Most anticipated book for 2016: Words in Deep Blue by Cath Crowley (oh, and ALLLLLLLLL these #LoveOzYA books!)
Favourite author: Ruth Park
Your top five must-read books:
Gah! This is too hard! I have a ‘Favourite Books’ page on my blog and my Favourite Reads of 2015, maybe check that out? – don’t make me chooooooooose!!!
Today, author and illustrator Carmen Gray has stopped by to discuss the creative process behind her debut children’s series Zombiefied.
Hi Carmen, welcome to The Unfinished Bookshelf!
What was the inspiration for Zombiefied?
A while ago I noticed that my two sons (who are now 11 and 13) were really into zombies. Even though the undead are generally depicted as evil, my boys seemed to love them which made me wonder if I could write a book in which a zombie was the hero.
You also illustrate the series. What’s that process like?
Sometimes I quite enjoy having a break from the writing but other times, I find it annoying to switch between the two. Over the last couple of years, I’ve made the transition from drawing in hard copy to working on a tablet. Now, I don’t have a physical copy of the illustrations until I see them in the books.
Does the writing fuel the illustrations, or will you write something with a particular image in mind?
I usually don’t think much about the illustrations until I’ve finished the text. I don’t want to twist the story in a particular direction because I’m determined to include an illustration. I see the pictures as serving the story and not the other way around (maybe that’s why I haven’t done a picture book). Very occasionally, if an illustration pops into my head as I’m writing a scene, I might make some notes in the margin to remind myself about it later. But most of the time, I decide on what to draw once I’ve finished the text. And an awful lot of illustrations are actually determined by layout (an unromantic yet practical aspect of creating books).
What was your journey to publication like? How did you go about finding your publisher?
A friend of mine – the writer Mark Svendsen – sent my work to ABC Harper at the same time that I was looking for an agent. I was very happy when both my agent, Sheila Drummond, and the publishers at ABC expressed interest in my work. So I went from working anonymously in the far reaches of Central Queensland to having an agent and a publisher almost simultaneously! But it all came after many years of writing.
How does it feel to have your first book published?
It’s a strange feeling because by the time a book is published, the author’s job has been finished for months. This was certainly the case for me with the first book in the Zombiefied series which hit the shelves as I was completing the second book. It’s still a fantastic moment but there is this sense of distance which means it is probably the perfect time for proof-reading but of course, it’s far too late for that!
What books have left their mark on you as a reader and a writer?
I grew up in a house where there was no TV or radio. We lived in a very small, wet town (Hokitika, the setting of the 2015 Booker Prize winning novel The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton) where there wasn’t an awful lot to do except read. So a lot of my earliest memories are of burying my head in a book while the rain drummed on the roof outside. I read everything: fiction by Roald Dahl, Enid Blyton and C. S. Lewis along with comics like Tintin, Asterix, and Footrot Flats. Later, I moved on to Terry Pratchett and T. H. White. They were all great and no doubt they have all influenced my style.
As a writer, I think every story you create leaves its mark. Even if the words don’t come together in the way you hoped, and the manuscript gets shoved in the bottom drawer, the act of creating a story still shifts something in you so that next time you write, it’s different and hopefully better.
What projects are you currently working on?
At the moment, I’m writing the third book in the Zombiefied series. There will be one more after this and then I will have a little break before moving on to something else. I have a few ideas for other projects but they are in the very early stages and I am trying not to get too interested in them until I have the time to write them!
A little over a week ago, I reviewed David Burton’s debut YA memoir, How to Be Happy. It really struck a chord with me and explores some pretty confronting topics. The most interesting thing for me was remembering that this wasn’t just fiction, but grounded in David’s own adolescence. So, I’m really excited to welcome David to The Unfinished Bookshelf today to discuss the book and his writing.
What inspired you to tell your own story through How to Be Happy?
I was invited a number of times to speak to groups of young people about my growing up experience. I put everything on the table: academic pressure, weird family stuff, sexuality, depression and anxiety. The response I got was astounding. I started talking to a number of young people who were navigating massive stuff, and felt isolated and unable to talk about it. Combined with the fairly ugly statistics about suicide and young people in this country (it’s the most likely way for a young person to die, way above road accidents), I felt an honest narrative from a young man who actually survived some pretty dark times may be useful to some readers.
Why did you want to tell that story to a young adult audience in particular?
Apart from feeling that the story would be most useful to young people, I enjoy writing for that age group. Young adult audiences don’t put up with bullshit. You’ve got to be honest and say what you mean. If you do that, and find a way to make them smile or hit them right in the feels, they’ll reward you with ardent praise and loyalty. It’s a wonderful feeling, and it makes you a better writer.
Did you censor yourself in any way while writing? Were there elements you were worried about sharing, particularly when it came to roles played by other people in your life?
There were certainly stories I didn’t put in the memoir, but that was less of a fear of vulnerability, and more out of a question of relevance to a young audience. My aim the entire time was to write a book that a fifteen year old boy (who doesn’t typically read books) could pick up and enjoy and find helpful. So if a story worked for that audience, it went it, uncensored. That means I ended up writing about all sorts of pretty personal things like masturbation, sadness and self-esteem, but the sting of vulnerability is softened by knowing that the story may bring comfort to the reader.
How important do you believe it is to start frank and open discussions with young people (not necessarily just teenagers) about sexuality and mental health issues?
Very. We don’t do it enough. And the evidence is in the abhorrent statistics for young people. Sexuality in particular is lacking. When you’re fifteen, you have enough hormones to resurrect a dead horse, but we often fear teenagers sexuality. We educate as if sex is a weapon – it will give you an STI or an unwanted pregnancy. This is true, and important. But sexuality is also a profound tool to empower yourself, to form an intimate connection with someone, and also teaches you valuable lessons about respect and pleasure. Our culture is not very comfortable with letting teenagers express open sexual ideas, or even talk about their mental health. As a young man, I struggled to admit I needed help because I thought it would damage my ability to be a strong, independent young man. It’s a difficult set of conversations to have with young people, but it’s vital.
How long did it take to write How to Be Happy and why did you decide to enter the manuscript in the Text Prize?
I wrote it, on and off, for about five years. It was a side project I kept returning to play with. When I felt it was ready to go out in the world, I submitted it everywhere, certain it would remain unpublished and I would forget about it. One of the many places I submitted it to was the Text Prize. I was shocked and grateful to win, and working with them has been an absolute pleasure.
How did you balance telling your story with creating a really engaging piece of writing?
It was very much on my mind, and part of the editorial process. I certainly didn’t want to write something indulgent or disconnected, because I knew my desired audience wouldn’t respect that. So I used my years of training and study to really examine the craft of the novel and make sure it was accessible and engaging. Humour was a big part of that, but so was fairly rudimentary tools like cliff-hangers, dialogue and narrative momentum. Working with my editor really helped me with this process.
Did writing a novel differ at all from your work as a playwright? If so, how?
Writing a novel is wonderfully lonely. Theatre is a collaborative experience. I write a draft or two of a play by myself before I walk into a room with actors and a director, all willing to help shape the story and give me feedback on how the thing moves. It’s a fantastic experience and really stretches your muscles. Writing a book, however, is all up to you (with editorial assistance). It means it’s a slower burn, but it’s also more direct. You’re kind of whispering to one reader as opposed to addressing an entire audience. The mechanics of story-telling don’t change, but how I think about developing the work is massively different.
What do you hope readers take away from How to Be Happy?
The worst thing for depression or anxiety is the feeling you’re alone. When I was a teenager, I was convinced I was the only one experiencing intense confusion. It meant I thought I was a freak, and destined for loneliness. As I grew up, that feeling intensified and it landed me in a place where I considered wiping myself out. If I can make even one reader feel like they’re not as alone as they think they are, the book will be worth it.
What books left their mark on you as a reader and a writer?
Oof! So many. Particularly as a young person I was just the right age to grow up with Harry Potter – the books were released as I was going through adolescence. So they were hugely influential. John Marsden also introduced my young mind to moral themes (and sexuality for that matter), and that was HUGE. I tend to fall in love with writers easily now, and will go through phases where I’m obsessed with them. At the moment I’m studying Stephen King, but I’ve just finished a Stephen Fry phase. Over the years I’ve fallen for Steinbeck, Kerouac, Shakespeare, Atwood and….look, I could go on for ages.
What projects are you currently working on?
I’ve got a few theatre projects next year and I’m trying to finish a new book. But really, it’s just exciting to have How to Be Happy out in the world and to start seeing responses from it. Yay!
Thanks so much for stopping by!
Today, I’m pleased to share a Q&A with the lovely Jasmine, who blogs at Jassyfizzle. Jasmine is also an apprentice at independent English bookstore Wenlock Books. I love reading her thoughtful reviews, which often also include interviews and input from the author. You’re also going to see a bit more of Jasmine on The Unfinished Bookshelf as we’re working on a few joint reviews over the coming months. Check out her work in the links below!
You’ve been blogging for a while, but the bookish part of your site is relatively new. Why did you start blogging initially and what made you want to join the bookish community?
I’ve worked in a bookshop since September 2010 and have always thought of myself as a person who loves books but who doesn’t like reading, which is ridiculous because I have always enjoyed reading. In January I set myself the new years resolution of reading and reviewing 1 book a month so that I would be able to provide customers with an honest opinion. After the first couple of months, I remembered how much I enjoy reading and how luxurious it can be to go to bed early with a good book and completely immerse myself in someone else’s world. It’s also much easier to write a blog post when there’s something to talk about- my life isn’t exciting enough to blog about but books certainly are! Once I’d started following authors on Twitter, Lucy (Queen of Contemporary) was a recommended follow and finding her blog and YouTube channel opened the door to everything else.
What do you do when you’re not reading and blogging? How do you juggle life with blogging?
I’m usually working! When you work in a small indie bookshop there is always things to be done (social media, newsletters, website, stock) and because I love what I do, spending 3 hours reading reviews or The Bookseller feels like a privilege not a job! There is a huge crossover between what I do for work and what I do for fun- I’m very, very lucky!
I love your unique reviewing style. How important is it for you to include comments and insights from authors in your reviews?
I started asking authors questions after I read and reviewed The A to Z of You and Me by James Hannah. James is a friend of mine who I know through the shop and so once I’d finished the book we spent ages chatting over Twitter about the plot, characters, the significance of certain aspects, his inspiration etc and I had this moment where I was like, ‘I have to do this with EVERY book!!!’ because I believe it’s right that the reader understands the author’s intentions – after all it is their book! I also think that it makes my book reviews stand out a little bit which is important because there are millions of reviews available and there needs to be something different about each one.
You work in a bookshop, which is something I’ve always imagined to be one of my dream jobs. But what’s it really like? Any downsides, or is it all fabulous?
It is wonderful! There are many customers who visit each week and so there’s a lovely sense of familiarity. It feels so good to know customers names and have them know mine in return which I think is the absolute beauty of indie bookshops. There is time for everyone and we pride ourselves on the personal aspect of the shop. Of course, we do face difficulties- Amazon being the main. It’s impossible to compete price wise with Amazon (who buy in bulk and doesn’t pay taxes or fair wages) so instead we have to provide exceptional service and a one-to-one that even chain stores like Waterstones can’t beat. The fact that indie bookshops are a rare bread pushes us to be the best and I think that we do a pretty good job!
Your bookshop, Wenlock Books, is an independent store. How important do you think indie bookstores are for the community?
Very important! Bookshops bring people closer together because there is a book out there for everyone. Each year we host the Wenlock Poetry Festival which brings fantastic poets such as Carol Ann Duffy, Imtiaz Dharker and Michael Rosen to Much Wenlock for everyone to enjoy. Other businesses benefit from the extra footfall in the town and people of all ages are able to see and meet exceptional talent. Without indie bookshops, people wouldn’t be able to share their excitement about books with real people. Amazon reviews are fine but there’s nothing quite as good as a face-to-face discussion about what you’ve read, and there’s so much to be learnt from other readers.
How has blogging changed your reading life?
I ask a lot more questions whilst I’m reading which I jot down. Lots of these are answered further through the book and I ask the authors the questions that don’t. I also take a lot of photos of the pages in case I use quotes for my review – my phone is full of page pictures!
Quick fire book quiz
Favourite book so far this year: Solitaire by Alice Oseman. Absolutely the best book ever.
Most anticipated book for the second half of 2015: Asking For It by Louise O’Neill. Louise is so fabulous and Only Ever Yours was utterly amazing. Love her, love her books.
Favourite author: J.K.Rowling for more reasons than one. Her books are sensational (Harry Potter was essentially about the love of family and yet she wove that into an amazing 7 books about wizards!!), she’s a gigantic feminist which I’m always down for, and I think she’s an exceptional woman.
Your top five must-read books: (Harry Potter is a given!) Solitaire by Alice Oseman (especially English sixth formers should read this), How To Be A Woman by Caitlin Moran (ALL 16 year old girls should read this), Twilight by Stephanie Myers (I LOVED Twilight – I thought it was funny, I thought it was clever and I thought Bella was really likeable. I’d give the others a miss but definitely read Twilight), Only Ever Yours by Louise O’Neill (again, a book for teenage girls. 13 year olds need to read it because they will realise just how similar to life it is and that’s the wake-up call that all teenagers need), The Art of Being Normal by Lisa Williamson (another book that teenagers need to read- eye opening)
Thanks for stopping by, Jasmine!