Wednesday, 19 October 2016

Blogging for TEXT

No blog here for me, today (I promise, a blog about the launch is coming soon!) But I have blogged on my publisher's website, all about the experience of winning the TEXT Prize. Here: 

Wednesday, 5 October 2016

Demons: why are they so hard to define?


The Book of Whispers is about a young knight who has to defeat demons and save the world so I had to spend a lot of research time not only brushing up on my historical knowledge of the Crusades but also on researching what demons are.


Not an easy subject! so here's my first demon list:

Reasons it's hard to write about what demons are: 

Firstly, they are tricksters, always trying to lead a  too easily distracted writer astray.

Secondly, as it become clear to me, demons are different things to different people. We're all tempted by and scared by different things.


Personally, nothing has ever frightened me more than the Japanese film Ringu, inspiration for the American The Ring series  (featuring a demonic video tape). 




Thirdly, and this is the big issue I had to work out in drafting The Book of Whispers: are they real or are they metaphoric?

In other words, do demons physically exist, or do they represent something psychological and maybe even scarier?
Bahai  Gardens 

·       The metaphoric is hard to resist. Freud connects demons to the recently dead, to what I would call ghosts. The Baha’i faith, that I first learned about while travelling through Israel researching this book, sees demons in a metaphorical way. They represent evil characteristics a person can display when tempted. Plato says a daemon of a different type inspired Socrates. This is a different kind of demon to the fallen angels who were my first concept. 

So how did I decide what Luca’s demons in The Book of Whispers would be like? The answer to that in another post. . . 









Sunday, 2 October 2016

Review from Booktopia

It's nerve-racking, waiting to discover what readers will make of your story. So I was thrilled by this review: 


The Book of Whispers is a fascinating blend of history, romance and fantasy set against the backdrop of one of the most turbulent, brutal and religious periods in our history. Luca and Suzan are compelling characters who draw you into their epic adventure across the holy lands as they try to save the world from the human and demonic forces seeking to destroy the world. An engrossing read for ages 14+.

You can read more of it (and read more about other YA releases this month (I know I'm about to buy a couple!) at http://blog.booktopia.com.au/2016/09/30/7-must-read-young-adult-books-october/

Monday, 26 September 2016

4 reasons you can't resist a good vampire.

I've been writing about demons in The Book of Whispers, but this put me in mind of an earlier literary fascination of mine... Vampires. 

What monster does the word vampire conjure for you? A cloaked creature who hunts by night, with sharp fingernails and sharper teeth? Do you see eyes glittering with menace? Or do you imagine a sexy movie star with a perfect body, clear skin and a serious, soulful gaze?
While vampires might be condemned to walk eternally in the black of night, right now they are red hot. Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight series of books and movies have been viral hits. Young Adult book shelves groan under the weight of super-sized paperbacks from vampire series like Richelle Mead’s Vampire Academy  and L.J. Smith’s Vampire Diaries.  (Do teenagers read anything else?)
            Then there was the cult TV show True Blood, based on Charlaine Harris’s Sookie Stackhouse series. There’s even a rock band - Vampire Weekend. Vampires’ coffins have never been far from sight – but there are more of them than ever. What explains the popularity of our fanged friends?

1. vampires are naughty.
Let’s face it, vampires have never done what they’re told. They refuse to eat their veggies. They stay up much too late. They’re meticulous about not crossing thresholds until invited, but once in, they’re after a fix of blood. Our blood. Vampires frighten us.
            The Australian author Mudrooroo wrote a trilogy of vampire stories beginning with Underground, where a white woman vampire acts like an invader. Bram Stoker’s Dracula brought the vampire firmly into English novels. But long before them, the figure had its hold on our imagination. When Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre met the madwoman escaped from Mr Rochester’s attic, she described her as “savage... the roll of the red eyes... the lips were swelled and dark… the black eyebrows widely raised over the bloodshot eyes... it reminded me... of the foul German spectre--the Vampyre."
            But that was then. Nowadays…

2. vampires are charming.
Charlotte Bronte didn’t like Jane Austen’s fiction but the writing of both seems to have eternal life. Recently, Elizabeth Bennet came close to meeting her sad end in book and film versions of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, and now, one of Austen’s other heroines meets her match in Emma and the Vampires. But Emma’s Mr Knightly, of course, is modern and charming as well as being a blood-sucker.
These days, vampires are nurtured and desired. Women love them. A vampire partner might be asleep when you want to go shopping but at least he’ll never lose his hair - or get paunchy. Blood must be healthy – vampires seem able to control their food intake the way they control other impulses. Twilight’s Edward Cullen doesn’t just desire Bella sexually – he actually wants to eat her. But he doesn’t. Ah, for self control! That’s just another way that

3. vampires are strong.
Vampires don’t die. Anne Rice wrote Interview with the Vampire while depressed after her child’s death – and the child who cannot die, the vampire Claudia (played beautifully by Kirsten Dunst in the otherwise dreary film) is one of her most memorable creations.
            While we fear blood because of what it threatens – injury and death – vampires literally suck it up. Like bushfires and cyclones, like Hurricane Katrina which destroyed one of their favourite hunting grounds – New Orleans, Louisiana (Interview with a Vampire and the Sookie Stackhouse books) – they are a force of nature. But

4. vampires are romantic.
It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single vampire in possession of eternal life must want a woman to protect. This is as true for the undead in New Orleans as it is for vampires in high school.
            Yes – for all the adults who read it on trains on the way to work, Twilight was originally published for teenaged readers. It was one of the first assaults in the supernatural takeover of Young Adult shelves. A decade and a half ago, Buffy the Vampire Slayer proved that a girl can care about her formal dress and about saving the world. Then, The Vampire Diaries features a dark haired girl torn between two supernatural loves. It would seem like a Twilight rip-off were it not based on a trilogy published in 1991. Vampires spend a lot of time at school! It’s a good thing sunlight won’t destroy them, after all.
There has always been something sexual to vampire tales. Dracula was furious when Jonathan Harker killed one of his Brides – and seduced Harker’s fiancée to the dark side in revenge. Laurell K. Hamilton’s Anita Blake series creeps closer to erotica with each installment. The vampire still comes by night. Is enthralling and powerful. Entices his prey to something dark and illicit and at the same time absolves them of blame.
            All of which brings me to the question; what do vampires mean? Fear or desire? The answer seems to be that they’re big, dark, inkblot tests. They can mean – and can be – anything we want. Perhaps that’s why we love them so much.


 (An earlier version of this article appeared as "Bite me" in Good Reading Magazine, April 2011)

Monday, 5 September 2016

cover flat

I was so excited to open the email that contained the full cover flat for The Book of Whispers. It's hard to explain just how exciting for a writer it is to see a visual representation of a world that used to exist entirely in words. 

The Book of Whispers will be in book stores next month :)


Wednesday, 11 May 2016

On YA reading and writing - my speech at the 2016 Text Prize event

Good evening Melbourne. It’s nice to see you all here to celebrate this year’s winner. While I’m waiting for The Book of Whispers to be released in October, I thought I’d talk about what it’s been like to watch my story—about a crusading knight who is haunted my demons—being made into a book. It’s been a lot of work and I’m thankful to my editor for her suggestions and wisdom. My manuscript has been so much improved by the work we’ve done this year.

Last year at this time I spoke about the importance of Young Adult fiction. As a teacher as well as a writer, I spend a lot of time thinking about how to get teenagers reading. I’ve recently heard that today’s teenagers actually read more words than ever before. But many read these words in Facebook posts and SMS messages and skimmed Wikipedia articles. They read pieces of stories. 

So in preparation for tonight I asked some of my students in Year 8 at Viewbank College what they like about books they read, and what keeps them involved in stories. 

All said they like suspense. I asked, Do you mean, heart pounding adventure? and they rolled their eyes.

These kids are clever. They’ve been online since they were toddlers. They don’t want clichés. They’re clever and they’ve got good teachers and they want stories that are interesting and vivid and original. And they want suspense.
They also want romance. I love how honest they are. A couple of boys admitted they like reading about romance as long as it isn’t the entire cover. What if it’s a knight and a girl he rescues? I asked. My female students had something to say about that. They said, As long as she rescues him back.

They also said they want something scary in the first chapter. So I started talking to them about The Book of Whispers. I said, I’ve got a romance, but it’s a subplot. I said, my story starts with a young knight fighting a demon. I asked if that sounds interesting.

One boy said, Wow, I can’t wait to read that. Just when I was starting to feel confident another made me keep it real.  He said, I like Speckie McGee. Cause it’s about football.

This is actually an encouraging response. I’m so glad there are books for kids who want to read about football.  This award recognises a new winner whose book is likely to be as different from mine as mine is from previous winners. But we’re all here with the same goal, to get kids reading.

Where my story came from was my interest in travel and fascination with how historical events connect to modern life.  My idea to tell a story about young people caught up in historical events came to me while I  was travelling through Turkey. The year was 2011 and I watched the Arab Spring on the news while I travelled. It’s already difficult to remember how hopeful that Arab Spring looked, when we consider how wrong things have gone.   

Towards the end of the writing process, I travelled again. Late last year, when I realised I could only write about Jerusalem authentically if I went there as well, I went into my local travel agent and mentioned that I also wanted to go to Syria. I don’t know if travel agents have been asked to look out for potential terrorists, but I think I’ve been reported to the Department of Foreign Affairs.
I’ve studied medieval literature. My medieval characters travel through Turkey and Syria of a thousand years ago on the pilgrimage that we now call the First Crusade. My characters believe they have a valid reason for their invasion and although my story is historical fantasy, there are truths in it and one of these truths is there were horrifying consequences.

So my story has history, action, the suspense that my young readers were asking for. And it has demons. There are demons that are my real bad guys. There are demons that torment people and live on human suffering and pain. These demons might thrive as well in contemporary Syria as they did in the Syria of the Crusades. My point is that it is through books that we learn about other people, that we step into other skins. And I’m sure I’m not along among story-tellers in believing that this capacity for empathy that we try to build in our stories is essential. We write because we want to play around in the skin of other people for a while, to find out what it’s like to be someone else, and we want to get it published so we can share what we’ve learned.
I’m still waiting to watch The Book of Whispers take my readers into another place, into other lives. I’m hoping my story will be able to achieve what my favourite books do, that it will expand what my readers can imagine and therefore expand their worlds.

Fiction gives teenagers a sense of empowerment that storytellers hope they keep once the covers are closed. In fiction, there are demons and we can defeat them. The readers of fiction have a unique faith that people with lives different from ours are worth trying to understand. In fiction, when people are in trouble, we can help them, we can imagine their lives getting better, and imagining something is the first step to making it happen. I imagined the crusades that I hope will seem real to my readers. In fiction, we can see the eleventh century, we can defeat demons. In fiction we can still go to Syria.  

Congratulations to all the authors who’ve been shortlisted this year and good luck to this year’s winner.


Wednesday, 24 February 2016

Did the Crusaders lead to Islamic State?

I've been working on The Book of Whispers, a novel about the First Crusade, for so long now that it's starting to feel like I spend more time in the eleventh century than in the twenty first. It's a good thing I have a time machine! But also... I can't help but be interested in media stories that draw together the two epochs that I inhabit, like this one...

http://www.sbs.com.au/news/article/2016/02/23/comment-did-crusades-lead-islamic-state

In this piece, Carole Cusack writes that,
The most important reason we should resist the lure of the crusade tag to any fight against jihadists is that groups like Islamic State want the West to think like that. It justified the Paris bomb attacks of November 2015 as attacks against “the Crusader nation of France”. Osama bin Laden used the same reasoning after the September 11 attacks.
By adopting the role of Crusaders, Western nations play into Islamic State’s hands. It’s how these jihadists want the West to understand itself – as implacably opposed to Islam. But it’s not, and it never has been. [my italics]
Something worth thinking about! It's lies that make enemies of Crusaders and Saracens in The Book of Whispers... and it's lies that make enemies today. We should celebrate our different religions and not let terrorists frame the way we think.

Thursday, 26 November 2015

I'm off to Jerusalem with... my character Luca!

I’ve reached the stage in working on The Book of Whispers where I can’t write it any better without being in Jerusalem. So I’m going to Jerusalem. Next month. I can’t quite believe this myself.
Now, I’ve pretty much always travelled with other people. Travelling with Other People is like travelling in a bubble. My People keep at a distance the strangeness of a new place and the differentness of other people. They provide a barrier that means I don’t have to worry about newness and strangeness. Not very much. My People include someone else to help me interpret maps and menus, someone else to hide behind.

But this time, I’m fleshing out my nearly-fictional world. I need that newness and strangeness, without any barrier, without the ability to hide.  I’m travelling all by myself. Not going with friends, not joining a tour, not meeting people when I get there. A work colleague of mine today said I was brave. And the truth is, I feel brave. I’m doing something that makes me uncomfortable, and it’s scary.

How can I use this? I’m looking at The Book of Whispers manuscript, and thinking of my character, Luca. For him, joining the Crusade isn’t brave because he’s going alone (he’s in an army of hundreds of thousands) but… he’s leaving everything he knows, with no idea of when he’ll be back home. No return ticket, helpfully including details such as how long connections are at various airports, no assurance of being back in time for a loved one’s birthday. No idea at all, just a feeling that he has to go.

Jerusalem has called both of us. Luca, back in 1097 and me, now. He has an armoured horse. I wonder if a modern airplane is kind of an armour for travellers? Certainly not failsafe…

Anyway, each of us armoured the best that we can, and facing our fears, Jerusalem, here we come.  

Sunday, 14 June 2015