BOOK REVIEW: The Holiday Murders (Robert Gott, Scribe)

The Holiday Murders is a new crime novel from Robert Gott, author of the ‘William Power’ crime novels as well as many children’s books. I hope it will be the first of many. The story takes place during Christmas 1943. Inspector Titus Lambert is head of the newly formed homicide section of the Melbourne police force. Two brutal murders have occurred and Titus, along with his young, inexperienced offsider Joe Sable and up-and-coming constable Helen Lord, are on the hunt for the killer. Featuring brownouts, war rations and the black market, The Holiday Murders brings to life a world not often written about by Australian fiction writers. Drawing on the political and social milieu of the time and name-checking some of Melbourne’s landmark streets and hotels, Gott’s story rings true—as well as being a real page-turner. It’s also a little grisly in parts. Fans of Kerry Greenwood, Sulari Gentill and any readers who like a little history with their crime will love The Holiday Murders.

Pip Newling is a freelance writer and former bookseller. This review first appeared on the Books+Publishing website in October. View more pre-publication reviews here.

INTERVIEW: Katherine Dorrington, program manager of the Perth Writers Festival

With the Perth Writers Festival just around the corner (21-24 February), Bookseller+Publisher spoke to program manager Katherine Dorrington about the festival’s highlights, its focus on literary writing, politics and journalism, and her favourite sessions.

What do you anticipate will be the highlights of this year’s Perth Writers Festival?
There are almost too many to mention, but I’ll give it my best shot! Without a doubt my number one highlight would be Margaret Atwood. She is such an influential writer and brilliant storyteller. I’m also really looking forward to hearing China Miéville speak. I’m a huge fan of his writing and I’ve never had the opportunity to hear him live.

I think Kevin Powers will be a big hit with our audiences. His book The Yellow Birds (Hodder) was on numerous ‘best of’ lists for 2012, and I’m looking forward to hearing him speak about his remarkable novel. Lawrence Norfolk is also high on my ‘must see’ list; his brilliant depiction of 17th-century England, John Saturnall’s Feast (Bloomsbury), astonished me with the amount of historical research he undertook.

The other major highlight for me is a series of events called ‘Out of the Box’, which focuses on television drama as serious form of storytelling rivalling cinema and literature.

What sessions or which authors do you think will attract the big crowds?
Margaret Atwood, China Miéville, Anna Funder and Phillip Adams are the authors I think will attract the biggest crowds, but I also think some of our events such as the Poets VS Novelists Debate, The Stella Prize Trivia Night, and the Family Day will also be really popular.

What about your personal picks? Which authors are you most looking forward to hearing talk about their work?
From our international line-up I loved Peter Heller’s The Dog Stars (Headline), so I’m really looking forward to hearing him speak, and also Steven Poole whose new book, You Aren’t What You Eat (Scribe), should generate lots of debate, which is always great for a festival. I’m really excited about our opening address, On Art and Politics with Ahdaf Soueif—it’s a great way to start a writers’ festival and epitomises what the festival is about, the place where storytelling and art inform and examine real life. The other international author I’ll be making sure I’m in the front row to listen to is Edward St Aubyn as I find his prose very polished and witty.

Australian authors I’m keen to listen to include Andrew Croome, Graeme Simsion, Benjamin Law, Anna Funder and Michelle de Kretser among many others.

What is the theme or inspiration for this year’s festival?
This year some of the threads running throughout the festival include a return and focus on literary writing with authors such as Edward St Aubyn, James Meek, Michelle de Kretser, Kevin Powers and Anna Funder. There is also a strong focus on politics and journalism with writers such as David Marr, Laura Tingle, Maxine McKew, James Button, Phillip Adams, David Uren, Chris Uhlmann and Steve Lewis. I’m also interested in exploring the changing nature of the modern soldier with Chris Masters, Kevin Powers and Major General John Cantwell.

Australian literature is often dominated by the Eastern states. How do you plan to highlight talent from the West?
To be honest I don’t think of it in those terms. We have a wealth of talent here in the West that includes authors who are recognised internationally as well as nationally. I would imagine that most book lovers appreciate good writing no matter where it’s from. However, I’d like to highlight just one key partnership we have with writingWA and Wines of Western Australia. This year we are featuring a number of WA writers in an event called ‘A Glass of Wine and a Good Book’, involving two of life’s great pleasures, reading a book and drinking wine!

Will the festival be using digital programming to reach audiences online?
While we are very active online in the way we interact with our audience, we don’t have any specific digital programming planned for this year. However, the festival is planning on employing a digital producer for 2014 and I think there could be some exciting developments in this area for future festivals.

CBCA Book of the Year Award winners 2012

The winners of this year’s Children’s Book Council of Australia (CBCA) Book of the Year Awards were announced today, marking the official launch of Children’s Book Week.

The winning books in each of the categories are:

   
Older Readers
The Dead I Know (Scot Gardner, A&U)
Younger Readers
Crow Country
(Kate Constable, A&U)
   
Early Childhood
The Runaway Hug (Nick Bland, illus by Freya Blackwood, Scholastic)
Picture Book of the Year
A Bus Called Heaven (Bob Graham, Walker Books)
   
Eve Pownall Award for Information Books
One Small Island: The Story of Macquarie Island (Alison Lester & Coral Tulloch, Penguin)
Crichton Award for Illustration:
Ben & Duck (Sara Acton, Scholastic)

To see a list of all the winners and honour books, visit the Bookseller+Publisher website here.

Interview: Felicity Higgins on ‘The Mothers’ Group’ (A&U)

Fiona Higgins’ debut novel The Mothers’ Group (published in excellent time for Mother’s Day) follows the lives of six very different mums in Sydney’s Northern Beaches. It covers some ‘dark territory’ but is no ‘misery mumoir’, writes reviewer Felicity McLean. She spoke to the author.

The Mothers’ Group is your first novel (following your memoir, Love in the Age of Drought). How did you find the shift to fiction?
Liberating. With Love in the Age of Drought, I was constrained by the truth. It was my life I was writing about—and if I didn’t tell the truth, a bunch of witnesses (including my husband) would be holding me accountable! The Mothers Group freed me up to explore themes about parenting and relationships in a really creative way, taking my ideas and storyline in almost any direction. It was such a different and satisfying experience. That said, I think the characters in the novel are all very real. In fact, it was as if this group of real people just came and plonked themselves inside my head while I was writing! And their issues are real: they’re striving so hard to be the mothers they want to be, yet so often they fail (in their own eyes, mostly) to achieve that goal. This is the experience of many mothers I know, including me.

You cover some dark territory in The Mothers’ Group, exploring issues such as infidelity, substance abuse and birth deformities. Was any of this content based in your own experiences of motherhood?
I’ve chosen to explore some of the hardest issues about mothering that people rarely talk about, that’s true. The thing about taboos is, you’ve got to give them a decent airing before you can start tackling them. But the novel is equally about love, friendship and commitment—all of which I’ve experienced intensely since becoming a mother myself. None of the content in the novel is a direct replication of my own experience of motherhood, but certainly there’s an aspect of myself in all the characters. So, for example, there’s quite a tough, brittle character in the novel called Ginie, who is almost diametrically opposed in temperament to a gentle and generous Balinese character called Made (pronounced Mar-day). Well, on a bad day in my household, I’m Ginie. On a good day, I’m Made. And I think this is the experience of many mothers—they have good days, bad days, and everything in between. The question is—can society, and can women themselves, be generous enough to accept this reality: the imperfection of the flawed mother?

Who do you see are readers for The Mothers’ Group? Fathers not just mothers? Women beyond just those with children?
While I think the book will appeal most directly to women and men who are parenting younger children, there’s plenty in it for anyone interested in human relationships and family dynamics—dads, grandparents, aunts and uncles, or women who are childless by choice or circumstance.

What was the last book you read and loved?
The Life
by Malcolm Knox. I was hospitalised at the time, just before Christmas, so had this unexpected window to read it. I’d picked it up before but had been daunted by its style. But this time, once I was in, I was hooked. The main character—a washed-up former champion surfer, living with his mum in a retirement village—was so poignant and compelling. I found the style and language utterly engaging and, living on Sydney’s northern beaches, I felt like I’d met a few of the characters. Once I was discharged from hospital, I went out and bought copies for surfer mates of mine.  And funnily enough, it’s a book where maternal power is brought to bear with devastating force. Once again, it’s all about mum!

Andrew Wilkins: Literary awards – what are they good for?

As it’s been a while, regrettably, since Wilkins Farago published a book eligible for any of the state premiers’ awards, I don’t feel I have a vested interest in the future or otherwise of the Queensland Premier’s Literary Awards, which were summarily axed this week by incoming Queensland Premier, Campbell Newman.

However, one is bound to feel regret at the passing of any government support for the literary arts, given how meagre that support is in the first place.

But politics and state premier egos aside (Stuart Glover has written a helpful background to the Queensland awards), what are such awards good for?

We have a lot of literary awards in this country. One hundred and thirty three, according to the last edition of Thorpe-Bowker’s Australian Literary Awards and Fellowships (2007). Everything from municipal poetry prizes to short story competitions. Some offer a book voucher or medal; others offer cash, ranging from enough to buy you lunch to enough to buy you a decent new car.

Apart from the big international awards like the Man Booker, local awards that actually stimulate people to go into a bookshop and buy the prize-winning book are actually few and far between. The Miles Franklin Award (the ‘longlist‘ for which was announced last week) has an impact. So too do the Children’s Book Council of Australia‘s Children’s Book of the Year Awards (the shortlists for which were released this week). Most others are scarcely noticed by the general public, and do little to sell books.

Do actual sales of books matter if an award ends up putting some money in the pocket of a deserving (and generally impoverished) writer? I think they do.

While a cash grant or an award may buy valuable time for the writer, and give them vital encouragement and validation, ultimately what will give someone a long-term career as a writer is a readership for their work. That’s people buying, reading and discussing their books.

As Heather Dyer of Fairfield Books observed in the July 2011 issue of Bookseller+Publisher Magazine

An award will help a book stand out, and it might penetrate the consciousness of the customer, but that in itself isn’t enough. A book still needs all, or some of: prominent shelf space, marketing, a ‘saleable’ author and endorsement from friends or a trusted bookseller.

Often, in the rush to bestow prestige on the recipient (and benefactor), administrators of literary awards can forget that giving out an award is only half the job; it also needs to be promoted. If an award falls to a writer and no-one notices, was it actually given?

This isn’t an argument for cutting awards, but more for funding them properly. $244,000 for the Queensland Premier’s Literary Awards sounds like a lot (not really when its divided between 14 winners), but think what could have been achieved if, alongside the prize money, an equal amount or more had been spent, with the involvement of publishers, booksellers and libraries, promoting the work of the prizewinners to the people who ultimately finance the award: Queensland’s taxpayers.

Books would have been sold and read in numbers, readerships created, communities stirred. (One could argue also that more marketing would have increased the Awards’ profile in the community, making them harder to axe.)

Actually, matters have improved since the days when, as a book publicist, both myself and an author heard through the grapevine a week after the announcement that they had won a Western Australian literary award. Some money is being directed towards marketing and I note that the current review of the New South Wales Premier’s Literary Awards is considering how to ‘maintain and enhance the prestige and authority of the awards’. Let’s hope the newly authoritative and prestigious NSW awards will take into account the importance of building an audience for the writer. That’s what will ensure they get publishing deals at home and overseas into the future.

Here, in no particular order, are just some of things that Australia’s literary award givers could consider doing to promote their prize winners. There are no particularly original ideas here, and some are already being employed by some awards already, but the point is to do things that develop readers, have long-term benefits and are properly resourced. I’m sure you’ll have your own ideas.

  • Author tours across the state or country
  • Wheel out the award judges for public talks, blogs and podcasts
  • Employment of a publicist to generate media interest in the award winners
  • Payment for prominent displays in bookshops (e.g. window displays)
  • Special promotional editions of the winning books to be sold at a special low price
  • Provision of stickers, bookmarks and shelf-talkers
  • Posters for display in bookshops, cafés, public transport and libraries
  • Advertising in local papers
  • Social media advertising
  • Travel, translation and promotion grants to assist with the promotion of the work overseas (this would help the development of an international audience for the authors’ work and amplify the work already being done by the under-resourced Australia Council)
  • Conditional marketing grants to publishers to encourage them to give the book another marketing push
  • Free sample ebook chapters
  • Order copies of the winning book(s) for every library in the local area/state/country
  • Pre-order copies of the author’s next book for every library in the local area/state/country

Finally, a thought on the funding for awards. Some Newman-applauding Queenslanders have helpfully suggested that if the literary community values such awards, it should finance them themselves. It’s actually the model followed by the two successful awards I mentioned at the top of this post: the CBCA awards and the Miles Franklin. After years of chasing transitory patronage and sponsorship, in the end the CBCA decided the only way to ensure its awards were sustainable was to set up a million dollar trust fund, which it built up painstakingly over many years. Of course, we owe our major literary award to the generosity and vision of Stella Maria Sarah Miles Franklin herself. This point was obviously not lost on the founders of the new Stella Prize for women’s writing, who have been busy raising money for their award.

Andrew Wilkins is the director of independent publisher Wilkins Farago. This post first appeared on Wilkins Farago’s blog.

On tour: Meet the author Lauren Oliver

Lauren Oliver is the author of Pandemonium, the follow-up to Delirium, published by Hodder & Stoughton. She is touring Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane in March.

What would you put on a shelf-talker for your book?
‘A world without love; a society on the brink of revolution. Read it and weep. Literally!’

What is the silliest question you’ve ever been asked on a book tour?
Sometimes people ask me to sing The Little Mermaid, which is silly but also kind of fun!

And the most profound?
I’m consistently surprised and delighted by the level of profundity my books seem to elicit. I’ve been asked what my greatest values are, how I would spend my last day, whether I’ve had my heart broken …

What are you reading right now?
The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides (Fourth Estate).

What was the last book you read and loved?
The Game of Thrones (George R R Martin, HarperVoyager). I thought it was brilliant.

What was the defining book of your childhood?
Matilda by Roald Dahl (various imprints). I still read it every time I’m sick!

Which is your favourite bookstore?
I have quite a few. I love Anderson’s in Naperville, Illinois; when I was growing up, I spent loads of time in a local bookstore called Second Story, which is unfortunately now shuttered.

Facebook or Twitter?
Twitter, probably. Facebook has gotten, like, too complicated for me. Timeline? No, thank you. I feel like it’s pointing the way to my death.

If I were a literary character I’d be …
Elizabeth Bennett, so I could marry Mr Darcy, of course, or Lucy in The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe.

In 50 years’ time books will be …
Beautiful collectibles; stories will commonly be told via interactive mediums.

On tour: Meet the author Claudia Gray

Claudia Gray is the author of Balthazar, the final book in the ‘Evernight’ series (HarperCollins). Gray is touring Brisbane, Melbourne, Sydney and Perth in March and is a guest of the Somerset Celebration of Literature in Queensland. 

What would you put on a shelf-talker for your book?
It would be the tagline that appears on the Balthazar cover: ‘Finally, it’s his turn.’

What’s the silliest question you’ve ever been asked on a book tour?
Honestly, I haven’t been asked very many truly silly questions. The last tour I was on, though, people asked some very personal ones! I mean, stuff I would ask my best friends but not many other people. ‘Tell me about the first time you fell in love,’ that was one. I mean, before I start spilling stuff that intimate, you have to at least buy me coffee. At a minimum.

And the most profound?
Somebody asked what made a love scene truly good, which was thought-provoking, because I’d never pulled it out quite that abstractly before. It was interesting to consider. Ultimately I decided that it was about discovery, that great love scenes are about each person simultaneously discovering something about the other and about themselves. That they’re learning who they are together.

What are you reading right now?
My Place
by Sally Morgan (Fremantle Press). I’m about two thirds of the way through, so I think I’ll finish before I leave for Australia.

What’s the last book you read and loved?
The Invisible Gorilla
by Daniel Simons (HarperCollins). While I’m in the thick of writing, which I have been recently, I read much more nonfiction than fiction. The Invisible Gorilla is all about the limits of human perception and memory; we think we know and notice a great deal more than we do. It’s an entertaining, but sobering, read.

What was the defining book of your childhood?
There’s no one single defining book—I read so much, so avidly, that there are dozens that helped to shape my imagination. If there is one, it’s probably Mysteries of the Unexplained, a Readers’ Digest compilation of highly dubious ‘news’ about werewolves, hauntings, cryogenics, and anything else that could be considered weird. My grandparents had a copy, which I absorbed as though through my skin. That fascination with the bizarre is very much a part of me to this day. (And I now possess my own copy.)

What is your favourite bookstore?
What a cruel question to ask a book lover! During my childhood, the answer would definitely be Square Books of Oxford, Mississippi, near where I grew up. My dad would take me there to buy the occasional book as a treat; at the time, it was only on the second floor, and all the stairs were painted red with different genres lettered on each step. While I lived in New York City—specifically, during the heyday of Harry Potter madness—I developed a soft spot for Books of Wonder, which always had a big midnight bash for the books, to which they invited live owls. Yes, while waiting in line for your Harry Potter book, you got to see these beautiful owls, talk to their trainers, and donate to the conservation society. And, of course, because it was near midnight, the owls were wide awake! Spectacular.

Facebook or Twitter?
Both! And Instagram. And Tumblr.

If I were a literary character, I’d be …
… oh, dear, I think I’m Marianne Dashwood.

In 50 years’ time, books will be …
… around, for sure. I think we’ll see format changes that are hard to predict now, but we’ll never lose touch with the fundamentals of story.

Adaptations at the 84th Acadamy Awards 2012

Four book-to-film adaptations won Oscars at the 84th Academy Awards after a slew of nominations for 13 adaptations. Hugo was the big winner, which was nominated for 11 Oscars and won five.

Oscar winners

Hugo based on The Invention of Hugo Cabretby Brian Selznick (Scholastic) won Academy Awards in several categories. Awards included Best Cinematography, Best Sound Editing , Best Sound Mixing, Best Art Direction and Best Visual Effects.Nominations included Best Picture, Best Director (Martin Scorsese), Best Costume Design, Best Film Editing, Best Music Original Score and Best Adapted Screenplay.

The Descendants,based on the novel of the same name by Kaui Hart Hemmings (Vintage), won the award for Best Adapted Screenplay. The screenplay was written by Alexander Payne, Nat Faxon and Jim Rash.The film was also nominated for Best picture, Best Actor (George Clooney, who played Matt King), Best Director and Best Film Editing.

The Help based on the novel of the same name by Kathryn Stockett (Penguin)was awarded Best Supporting Actress to Octavia Spencer for her role as Minny Jackson.Nominations included Best Picture, Best Actress (Viola Davis as Aibileen Clark), Best Supporting Actress (Jessica Chastain as Celia Foote).

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, the US film adaptation of the novel of the same name by Stieg Larsson (Quercus), won the award for Best Film Editing.Nominations for the film included Best Actress (Rooney Mara as Lisbeth Salander), Best Cinematography, Best Sound Editing and Best Sound Mixing.

Other nominations
War Horse
, based both on the novel of the same name by Michael Morpurgo (HarperCollins) and the stage adaptation, was nominated for Best Picture (Steven Spielberg and Kathleen Kennedy), Best Cinematography, Best Art Direction, Best Original Score (John Williams), Best Sound Editing and Best Sound Mixing.

Moneyball, based on Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game by Michael Lewis (W W Norton) was nominated for Best Picture (Michael De Luca, Rachael Horovitz and Brad Pitt), Best Actor (Brad Pitt as Billy Beane), Best Supporting Actor (Jonah Hill as Peter Brand), Best Film Editing, Sound Mixing and  Best Adapted Screenplay.

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, based on the novel by Jonathan Safran Foer (Penguin), was nominated for Best Picture (Scott Rudin) and Best Supporting Actor (Max von Sydow as The Renter)

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, based on the novel by John le Carré (Hodder), was nominated for Best Actor (Gary Oldman as George Smiley), Best Original Score and Best Adapted Screenplay.

Albert Nobbs, based on the novel by George Moore (Penguin US), was nominated for Best Actress (Glenn Close as Albert Nobbs), Best Supporting Actress (Janet McTeer as Hubert Page) and Best Makeup.

My Week with Marilyn, based on The Prince, The Showgirl and Me and My Week with Marilyn by Colin Clark (Perseus), was nominated for Best Actress (Michelle Williams as Marilyn Monroe) and Best Supporting Actor (Kenneth Brangah as Laurence Olivier).

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows Part 2, based on the novel by J K Rowling (Bloomsbury), was nominated for Best Art Direction, Best Visual Effects and Best Makeup.

Jane Eyre based on the novel by Charlotte Brontë (various imprints), was nominated  for Best Costume Design. Drive based on the novel by James Sallis (No Exit Press), was nominated for Best Sound Editing.

Sanna Nyblad is an intern at Bookseller+Publisher.

On tour: Meet the author Jo Nesbø

Norwegian crime novelist Jo Nesbø is currently touring Australia and New Zealand. His latest book is Phantom (Harvill Secker) starring police detective Harry Hole. (Warning: this interview contains some colourful language.)

What is the silliest question you’ve ever been asked on a book tour?
Well, this one nearly qualifies.

And the most profound?
‘How do I get to f**k Harry Hole?’ Or ‘Is the name Harry Hole an in-joke, referring to hairy hole?’

What are you reading right now?
A history about Taiwan [Nesbo was recently a guest at the Taipei International Book Exhibition]. And a play based on Dostoyevsky’s The Idiot.

What was the last book you read and loved?
I re-read Ibsen’s plays. This may not be breaking news, but he is great.

What was the defining book of your childhood?
William Golding’s Lord of the Flies (I thought it was a children’s book because of the cover) and Mark Twain’s Tom Sawyer.

Which is your favourite bookstore?
Actually, I loved some of the book stores in Sydney when I was there 15 years ago. Don’t remember the names though. There is one mystery books store in Southern Manhattan. Name … ah, no.

Facebook or Twitter?
Nope. I hear somebody is borrowing my name on Facebook though, so hopefully he or she is doing the job for me.

If I were a literary character I’d be …
Harry Hole, I guess. All writers are in some way or the other writing about themselves.

In 50 years’ time books will be …
… read, I think. Or more precise, stories will be read. The book is—after all—just a medium.

On tour: Meet the author Alain De Botton

Alain de Botton is touring Sydney and Brisbane during February. His most recent book, Religion for Atheists, is published by Hamish Hamilton.

What would you put on a shelf-talker for your book?

The perfect book for those who are bored both by militant atheists and the fundamentalist religious—but who are still really curious about religion and want to find ways that it might help them in their own lives.

What is the silliest question you’ve ever been asked on a book tour?

Anyone who shows up to listen to me discuss my work is immediately a friend: so I tend never to mind the ‘odd question’ bit of the evening.

And the most profound?

‘Isn’t all your work basically trying to help people to live and to die?’ I had to agree.

What are you reading right now?

My friend Geoff Dyer’s new book, Zona (Text).

What was the last book you read and loved?

John Armstrong’s The Secret Power of Beauty (Allen Lane), a lovely book about our relationship to art.

What was the defining book of your childhood?

I loved the adventures of Babar when I was five.

Which is your favourite bookstore?

A beautiful independent chain in London called Daunt Books.

Daunt Books Marylebone

Facebook or Twitter?

Twitter, where I have 160,000 followers. At Facebook, just 18,000.

If I were a literary character I’d be …

The narrator of In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust (various imprints).

In 50 years’ time books will be …

Much as they are today, though the hardbacks will be yet more beautiful and a bit more expensive. Ebooks won’t ruin everything.