Ditmar ballot joy!

The Ditmar preliminary ballot got released today and, holy freaking hell, I’m on it!

The Beast’s Heart has been nominated for Best Novel, A Hand of Knaves has been nominated for Best Collection, and I’ve been nominated for Best New Talent!

giphy goat

The Ditmars, in case you’re not familiar with them, are Australia’s fan-nominated awards, so I am more than thrilled to find myself on this list. Just to give you an indication of the kind of company I’m in, when I showed my partner the list of other names The Beast’s Heart is up against to take out the gong, he laughed. Any day I find myself on a list with the likes of Sam Hawke for City of Lies, Kaaron Warren for Tide of Stone, Alan Baxter for Devouring Dark, or Amanda Bridgeman for The Subjugate, is a good day.

And, not only has A Hand of Knaves been nommed for Best Collected Work, but the obscenely talented Shauna O’Meara has bagged a well-deserved nomination for her exquisite illustrations.

It’s immensely satisfying to see so many other good friends receive nominations. It’d probably be just as easy to re-post the entire list rather than list them all individually, but I’m particularly pleased to see the noms for Rivqa Rafael & Tansy Rayner Roberts’ anthology Mother of Invention (including a nom for Best Artwork for it’s stunning cover by Likhain) and for Elizabeth Fitzgerald for Best Fan Publication for her review blog on Earl Grey Editing, especially given she’s just announced she will be winding that up in the near future (sad face).

Happily, I have already booked my ticket to Continuum in June (where the awards ceremony will take place). I’m really looking forward to sharing a drink with the others on the ballot and toasting the winners. So thank you from the bottom of my heart for the nominations, and congrats to all my fellow nominees. See you at Continuum in June!

Reading, for the love of it

I was only going to do two posts on reading. Then Elizabeth Fitzgerald asked me what makes me really want to read a book, and I conceived a third. Then I read this Huffington Post article: 20 New Classics Every Child Should Own, and a fourth popped into my head. I decided to do this one first, just because reading to my kids was first  on my list of why I read books.

lemony snicket

The Huff Post article made me sad my kids are past the age of picture books. (I consoled myself with the thought of the new list of wonderful gifts I now have to chose from for my littlest friends.) But it also made me think about why I choose the books I do to read to my kids. This list of 20 new classics was compiled by Jordan B Nielsen, a children’s book buyer for an independent book store, and reviewer of children’s fiction. She was driven to create this list as a response to her dismay over her experiences with adults who, buying books for children, eschew purchasing more recently written books for the books that they loved as a child.

Nielsen is sympathetic; she acknowledges that the choices of these adults for ‘time-worn favourites’ come from a desire to share with a child a much-loved reading experience from their own childhood. But, as she rightly points out, there are so many really wonderful new books for kids out there.

This made me think about why I choose the books I do to read to my kids. Without doubt, there is a selection in there of books I have read and loved, and that have played no small role in shaping the literary landscape in which my imagination plays. A selection of these includes:

  • All But A Few, Joan Aiken
  • The Harry Potter books, J K Rowling (technically I read these as an adult, but I started before I had kids.)
  • The Snow Spider, Jenny Nimmo
  • The Ramona books, Beverly Clearly
  • The Faraway Tree & Wishing Chair books, Enid Blyton
  • Howl’s Moving Castle (which might be the best book ever written) and its sequels, by Diana Wynne Jones; actually, make that pretty much anything by Wynne Jones
  • Pippi Longstocking, Astrid Lindgren
  • The Ordinary Princess, M M Kaye
  • Playing Beattie Bow, Ruth Park
  • Pretty much anything by Roald Dahl.

But I am totally with Nielsen in agreeing that this is only a small selection on the vast and wonderous selection of enchanted worlds on offer for children thesedays. Some stories that were not around when I was 12, but which we have dived into gleefully (I invite you to imagine the howls of protest when I close the book and insist they go clean their teeth after I have read myself hoarse over the course of three chapters in an evening):

  • The Skullduggary Pleasant books by Derek Landy (A skeleton detective? Awesome. Not to mention his equally awesome teenage sidekick, who is the protagonist and a great female character.)
  • The Spiderwick Chronicles by Holly Black. Oh how I wish these had been around when I was a kid.
  • The Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket. I can’t tell you how much I love this man’s work. These books were written to be read to kids by adults.
  • The Beasts of Clawstone Castle, Eva Ibotson
  • The Thief Lord, Cornelia Funke
  • The Tashi stories by Anna Fienberg

Which brings me to the one guiding principle I have in selecting books to read my kids. I don’t so much want to share with them the experience of reading a specific book, as the experience of being completely transported by a wonderful story. The clues I look for? An intriguing title, a beguiling concept, fascinating characters, a world that makes me want to get dinner over and done with so we can pile onto my son’s bed and sink together into the pages.

Parenting win
Parenting win

My 12 year old daughter just finished reading the Infernal Devices series by Cassandra Clare – books I have not read (yet). She came out of her room yesterday, and curled up next to me on the couch with a sad little look on her face. She snuggled up against me and said forlornly “I’m going to miss them.”

She was talking about the characters in the story. And that makes me feel like I’ve done it. I’ve shared enough of my own reading experiences with her, and we’ve shared enough new ones together, that I’ve succeeded in instilling in her the love of reading and story that is so precious to me. Now she can go off and have her own experiences that will enable her to shape a unique landscape of imagination of her own. I have given her that gift.



Reading for Writing Part 1

I’ve had quite a literary week. On Monday I went to see the entertaining and debonair Joe Abercrombie talking about his new book, Half the World, at Harry Hartog’s (and what a beautiful Canberra bookshop that is.) I had the opportunity to chat to him before and after his talk; beforehand I quizzed him about the sex scenes he writes (!!!) and after the crowds had drifted off my CSFG buddies and I had a chance to chat to him about a bunch of things including the fantastic covers on his books.

Meeting Joe Abercrombie at Harry Hartog's
Meeting Joe Abercrombie at Harry Hartog’s (That’s me on the right, behind Shauna O’Meara. The rest of the CSFG crew, behind Joe, from left to right: Craig Cormick, Ross Hamilton, Tim Napper)

Then on Wednesday, we had our first general meeting of the CSFG for 2015, which my good friend Kimberly Gaal and I kicked off with a session on goal setting for writers.

How are these two things linked? Well, one question Joe was asked on Monday night was what is he reading now? His initial answer to this was interesting: he said “I don’t read anymore.”

I found this interesting because a quick Google search will throw back at you plenty of quotes from high profile writers telling aspiring authors that the one thing they must  do is read. But even so, this is not the first time I’ve heard a high-profile author say they just don’t read anymore.

Joe then went on to demonstrate that, actually, he does read (of course). But when he talked about reading, it was very clear that it’s not something he does for leisure these days. He reads a lot of non-fiction for research, and he indicated the fiction he reads now is mostly in genres other than what he writes (dark fantasy).

At our CSFG meeting on Monday, one of the things we talked about in relation to goal-setting, was doing a reading challenge as a useful way to expand our horizons, connect with readers, understand markets and feed the muse. (Here’s a great post from Elizabeth Fitzgerald over at Earl Grey Editing about reading challenges.)

This all got me thinking about what and why I read. I absolutely do not read anywhere near as much as I used to. I have no hesitation in saying it is one of life’s great pleasures. I was an inveterate bookworm as a child. I read Charlotte’s Web when I was six. I started reading the likes of Anne McCaffrey and Tanith Lee when I was about thirteen. I read and read and then I reread and reread again. In University, I wrangled my degree so that it was about 85% English Literature subjects. This meant I (was supposed to) read something in the order of thirty to forty books a year. I can’t say hand-on-heart that I did read that many, but I read most.

But now…

I find reading uses a similar part of my brain as writing. It also scratches a similar itch and fills in the same few spare hours. So for me, it’s often a choice. Read or write. Still, I definitely do read. I just have to be very selective. I’m also pretty brutal now about finishing books. If it’s not doing what I want it to do for me, I stop reading it. I do not have time to persevere with duds. I set aside one massively popular bestseller just recently because I could not stand either of the two main characters and I did not want to spend another minute in their company. If I decide I want to know how it ends (I’m not fussed right now, I don’t want either of them to prevail), I’ll go see the movie.

Having said all that, I do still read, and it is still one of my favourite ways to spend an hour. Or three. Or eight. Like most people who love books, I have a to-read pile that in its darker, more unstable moments could kill small children if it toppled over. So in my next blog post, I’ll talk about what and why I read, and how I prioritise that growing stack beside my bed. And the one on the bookcase. And the one beside the bookcase on the floor. And –

*sound of books falling*

*muffled screams for help*