Crystal Kiters

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be hosting fellow-winners of the Crystal Kite Awards. I thought it might be interesting to meet some creators from around the world. Initially, I’ll just be posting a jpeg of their winning books and a brief bio with links to websites/blogs etc.

I’m looking forward to meeting some new people and learning more about others.

Flowers and Lace

I had lunch with my cousin yesterday, at her house. Delightful as that was, it was not the whole reason for being there. She’s sorting out things and one of those ‘things’ was a suitcase full of lace. Lace that mostly came from our grandmother. There were bits from her mother, my aunt, and her paternal grandmother, but mostly it was from Nana.

Nana made lingerie, amongst other things. When she came to Australia as a warbride after WW1, there wasn’t much money around. Then came the depression. Nana may have brought some of the lace with her, but other bits she bought here, or salvaged from other garments. There is ‘used’ or ‘recycled’ lace and some new lace. There are bits of lace that would have been inserted into linen or cotton fabric as tray cloths, or table cloths.

We went through bag after bag, exclaiming and trying to explain to my cousin’s daughter (my first cousin once removed?) just why this was such a special collection. There was bobbin lace, Brussels lace, crochet lace and more.

Here are a few samples …

But wait – there’s more

There was a pair of half-sewn brown leather gloves, some soft, soft rich-butter chamois, and these two patterns, should a pair of day gloves or men’s gloves be required.

The ranunculi are in my lounge room. They are bright and messy and gorgeous.

Froth and Bubble Literature Festival

Today, Jackie Kerin and I travelled to Torquay to present at the Froth and Bubble Literature Festival (which continues tomorrow without us!).

Jackie and I do a combo presentation based around ‘There Was an Old Sailor’. We construct a new sailor story and then have the attendees perform it. It’s great fun, and is one way to model the creation of a new story, by using the skeleton of an existing one. We had a smallish but very enthusiastic group of participants. We require a strong sense of the ridiculous and here we must acknowledge the assistance of an earlier presenter, Andy Griffiths. The kids were primed! Here’s their wonderful story-rhyme, collaboratively written and then performed in just under an hour.

There Was an Old Sailor who Swallowed a Snail

There was an old sailor who swallowed a snail
I don’t know why he swallowed a snail
He looks a bit pale

There was an old sailor who swallowed a star
that puckered and suckered and juckered too far
He swallowed the star to catch the snail
I don’t know why he swallowed a snail
He looks a bit pale

There was an old sailor who swallowed a crab
He grabbed that crab, it tasted fab.
He swallowed the crab to catch the star
that puckered and suckered and juckered too far
He swallowed the star to catch the snail
I don’t know why he swallowed that snail
He looks a bit pale

There was an old sailor who swallowed a snake
Yes, rattle and shake, he swallowed the snake
He swallowed the snake to catch the crab
He swallowed the crab to catch the star
that puckered and suckered and juckered too far
He swallowed the star to catch the snail
I don’t know why he swallowed that snail
He looks a bit pale

There was an old sailor who swallowed a clam
The jam-covered clam tasted like lamb
He swallowed the clam to catch the snake
He swallowed the snake to catch the crab
He swallowed the crab to catch the star
that puckered and suckered and juckered too far
He swallowed the star to catch the snail
I don’t know why he swallowed that snail
He looks a bit pale

There was an old sailor who swallowed a cow
Wow …no…POW! He ploughed that cow
He swallowed the cow to catch the clam
He swallowed the clam to catch the snake
He swallowed the snake to catch the crab
He swallowed the crab to catch the star
that puckered and suckered and juckered too far
He swallowed the star to catch the snail
I don’t know why he swallowed that snail
He looks a bit pale

There was an old sailor who swallowed a lion
oh – so full, he’s cryin’!

Rose helped us pack up. Thanks Rose!

Afterwards Jackie presented a talk on the art of storytelling, generating discussion that was only halted when the man with the vacuum cleaner threatened our feet (okay, only almost).

Great fun.


The moon was full … and dare I say luminous?

Last night we drove to Seymour for a fundraiser dinner for the Bushrangers Cricket Team who are off to Sri Lanka shortly. At a family house (admittedly a larger-than-average house for a larger-than-average family) we (and about 68 others) were served a five course banquet cooked in a domestic kitchen. Lovely food, even more enjoyable given the effort to get the food to us hot.

They’d set up marquees in the yard, carpeted the grass, and set us all at long tables. It was a freezing cold night, but with a combo of hot food and the odd bit of cuddling, we all stayed warm. A lovely night, catching up with old friends and remembered new ones. And the boys can go to Sri Lanka.

Welcome to Paul Collins!

Paul is here today to talk about his new book, ‘Mole Hunt’, the first in his series featuring anti-hero, Maximus Black.

Mole Hunt is chock-a-block full of the most amazing gadgets. There are some seriously sneaky weapons, but there are also devices to enhance human senses, expedite healing and provide information. Can you talk a little bit about some of these ‘evolutions’?

Rejuvenation, worm holes, augments, and others in Mole Hunt are basically tropes of science fiction. Generally speaking, technology is restricted only to the imagination. Who would have imagined submarines and planes, for example, could actually work back the 1400/1500s? Yet that’s when Leonardo de Vinci drew diagrams for both. There are stacks of similar examples of the imagination coming to reality. Remember Maxwell Smart using his shoe phone? Pure, unadulterated fiction in the 60s (how could a phone work without wires?! we thought), and yet here we are with mobile phones. So really, I’ve just let my imagination run wild with Mole Hunt. I suspect there’s nothing impossible in the technology I use.

Mole Hunt is set quite some time in the future when many other planets have been colonised. Anneke Longshadow, the nemesis of your main character, Maximus Black, has greater speed and strength than many others, having grown up on a planet with stronger gravity. Why did you give this feature to your antagonist rather than the protagonist?

You’ll have noted that poor Anneke is set upon by multiple opponents, aliens and superior fire power. Logically speaking, I doubt a “normal” person would survive such opposition. You see, every character must suspend disbelief. Even Superman has flaws: Kryptonite, can’t see through lead, magic, and something less tangible, his matchless morals are used against him — shall he save a population of 20 million, or shall he save Lois Lane. Which one?! is the proposal put to him by the villain. Of course, he manages to save both at the same time …

Although other worlds feature strongly in Mole Hunt, there are very few visible ‘aliens’ (with notable exceptions). Why?

I guess I could have come out with all guns blazing in the first book, but remember, The Maximus Black Files is a trilogy. And this series is more about two characters, Maximus Black and Anneke Longshadow. When you look at Mole Hunt, you’ll see there are enough aliens to balance out the “humans”: the Sentinels and of course the Envoy. I don’t believe in having tokenistic aliens — such as the bar scene in Star Wars that seemed to be there just to add colour.

RIM as an organisation seems to allow a certain latitude to their bright young members, a flexibility in their duties. Do all RIM members have this same freedom? Can you elaborate on the structure of this organisation?

There has to be some suspension of disbelief. One might well ask how come Artemis Fowl can travel anywhere he likes when surely most countries wouldn’t allow him visas because of his criminal history (come to that, we never see main characters applying for visas — they just pop up all over the world). It’s implied that Maximus gets himself relocated; at other times, he could either be on leave or is using jump-gates to circumnavigate time. Other characters within RIM also have a certain flexibility, too.

The journey from planet to planet can be a long one. How do the travellers entertain themselves?

In Mole Hunt they use jump-gates. Anneke actually uses her craft’s cryogenic facility to put her to sleep. This can often explain why people’s looks change (or not!) over periods of time. “She programmed the course computer then warmed up her suspension tube. Might as well sleep through the next fourteen days. It would be less painful, and the ship’s medkit could do a few repairs. Fact is, she realised, looking at herself in a mirror, I need a renovator. What a mess”.

I’m sure you’ll reveal what you need to, when you need to, of the childhoods of Maximus and Anneke, but what would a typical childhood for children be like in your world?

Dog-eat-dog, I’d say. We glimpse Max and Deema’s lives as slaves. Human commodity has been a flourishing business throughout time. As recent as colonial United States and penal transportation from England to Australia in the 1700/1800s, we’ll see humans used as work fodder. Imagine colonising mineral-rich worlds. Developers will stop at nothing to get their labour, and I can easily see slavery being part of their strategy, much as press-ganging innocent people from the streets of London to man ships bound for the horizon.

If there were one gadget from the future you could have now, what would it be?

I somehow doubt a wish-machine will ever be invented. But that would be it. Why have one gadget wish when a particular gadget will get you countless more gadget?!

Are you a gadget-man here on earth?

Not at all. I’m a bit of a Luddite, really. A typical digital immigrant. I suspect if I had time on my hands, I’d get more into stuff like games — I like the look of virtual reality games, for example. Maybe when I “retire”, but I can’t see that happening till I can no longer operate a keyboard, in which case ….

Thanks for visiting Paul, and sharing a bit of the story behind the story. Mole Hunt is a wild ride of a novel, published by Ford St Publishing. To learn more about Paul visit his website. View Mole Hunt trailer here. My review will shortly be posted on Sally Murphy’s Aussie Reviews.

Welcome Ian Irvine!

Funny Fantasy Fiction: How it all comes together.

Today I welcome Ian Irvine, writer of fantasy series for adults, children and almost anyone in between. He’s here to talk about his ‘Grim and Grimmer’ series for 10- 14 yo children. The final instalment in this four part series is ‘The Calamitous Queen’.

Fantasy is not generally a genre that includes humour – indeed it is often quite the opposite. Why did you decide to add humour to the mix?

Precisely for that reason, Claire. I’ve written a lot of big fantasy novels – indeed, these are the books I’m best known for – and, though they do have humorous moments, in general they’re epic in tone. Similarly, my Runcible Jones books and my little, illustrated books for mid-primary readers, the Sorcerer’s Tower series, are serious rather than humorous.

But I don’t want to become typecast as a writer, and at the end of each series I like to challenge myself by writing something completely different. There are lots of humorous books written for children, and there’s lots of fantasy too, though often the humorous stories don’t have a really strong plot and the fantasy isn’t funny. Some writers have combined the two, notably in the Artemis Fowl and Bartimaeus books, though these are aimed at slightly older audiences. I love strong, driving plots, so I thought, why not have a go at combining the two, and Grim and Grimmer is the result. Readers can find blurbs, reviews, covers and first chapters here:

You’ve written a number of novels in series for adults, as well as for children. Do you ever see yourself writing single titles, or do you feel that fantasy plot lines always need more than one volume?

Thus far, all 27 of my books have been in series, and in the case of the 11 Three Worlds books for which I’m best known,, a series of series. I write the kind of books I like to read, but I also enjoy telling epic tales where one needs a big canvas. However as it happens, I’m considering writing some single titles once my current series is completed next year, just to do something different. And also because series represent an enormous commitment of time and creativity, years of work in most cases. This can close off smaller opportunities because a big series, once underway, has so many deadlines.

And then, if one writes a one-off book and it does really well, the publisher is bound to ask if there’s a sequel …

When you conceive a new series, is it world, character or plot that first grabs you?

I rarely start with a character. Sometimes it’s a plot idea, sometimes an interesting story world. For instance I once had an idea for a series about a war against the Gods, though I never ended up writing it. With the Runcible Jones books, it was the setting – Earth is twinned with Iltior, a world where science has been suppressed and magic holds sway. For thousands of years the two opposite worlds have been in balance, each subtly influencing the other, but now Earth’s rapid advancement has upset that balance.

Once I have the story world and plot sketched out, I then develop several characters and begin plotting in detail. It’s almost impossible to do detailed plotting without character development because the plot is created by the choices that characters make in each difficult situation they face. Different characters with different backgrounds will necessarily make different choices.

Do you have to consciously construct the humour? Not everyone shares the same sense of humour, do you test it on trusted readers? If so, what age are they?

In the first book of Grim and Grimmer, ‘The Headless Highwayman’, I did consciously construct a lot of the humour because It wasn’t something I had much experience of doing. In the subsequent books I’ve constructed some humour, the rest I simply let flow as I was writing the draft. By creating eccentric, highly incompatible characters and putting them into absurd situations together, sometimes the humour comes naturally.

For instance with Ike, the hero of the books. Ike is brave and kind and well meaning, but he’s not very bright and tends to get himself into disastrous situations. Within a few minutes of arriving in Grimmery, he’s accidentally betrayed Princess Aurora to her enemy, the Fey Queen Emajicka. A few minutes later, Ike is caught and chained a violent, obsessive guard-imp called Nuckl whose sole ambition is to eat Ike’s liver.

I don’t test the books on readers, but when everyone in my publisher’s office loved the first book I figured I was on the right track.

How do you choose character names? Some seem to reflect their personalities e.g. Emajicka, Spleen and Nuckl, while others like Pook, Ike and Mellie give away little of their nature. Is this intentional?

Yes, it is. Names are always difficult; they have to sound right for the character. If I’m reading the manuscript and a name jars, I know I have to change it, and sometimes I’ll change a name many times before I get it right. The major characters in this series have relatively ordinary names. Ike’s real name is Isaac Newton, which is meant to be ironic because Isaac Newton was the greatest scientific genius of all time and Ike is a dunce. Mellie’s name is Melliflua di Sorrowgrove, an extravagant name for a little thief, but all her family are thieves and in Grimmery it’s a proud and (fairly) honourable profession.

The minor characters tend to have names which either indicate their nature, such as the demon Spleen, the cunning goblin, Aigo (an anagram of Iago from Othello) and the smirking dwarf conman, Con Glomryt (all the dwarves have names based on rock types), or are the antithesis of their nature, such as the violent and treacherous old lady, Fluffia Tralalee.

Do you have a readership in mind when you write? Is this different from when you write for adults?

Yes, always. The language level has to be right for the readership, and so does what I write about. For instance, in the Sorcerer’s Tower books, which were only 10,000 words each and aimed at readers 7-10 in age, I consciously simplified the sentence and plot structure and description, reduced the character list to a minimum, used only a single viewpoint and chose smaller words wherever possible. And of course, graphic language, sex and violence are quite inappropriate in books for children.

With epic fantasy novels of 200,000 words each, themselves part of a series four times that length, the author has an extraordinary freedom to create vast canvases with multiple viewpoints and complex plots that can take years or decades to resolve. Fantasy readers (unlike, say, romance readers) don’t have rigid expectations. An author can write what he likes as long as it’s a compelling story set in a well drawn fantasy world with believable characters.

What/who did you read as a child/teenager?

That was a long time ago, since I grew up in the Sixties. As a child, I read everything I could get my hands on, fiction and non-fiction, books for boys, books for girls, The Women’s Weekly, you name it. As a teenager I read a lot of science fiction, but also a lot of crime and mystery and adventure. Hardly any fantasy, though. There wasn’t a lot of it around then. And once, when I was about 15, I found a cardboard box box full of Mills and Boon romances left by a great-aunt, and read through about 60 of them in a couple of weeks. My mind still boggles at the thought. It must have been a rainy vacation.

Grim and Grimmer is drawing to a close. What’s next for you?

I’m working on a big epic fantasy trilogy called The Tainted Realm, about a land that was brutally colonised 2,000 years ago, but the realm of the invaders has been forever tainted by the way they stole the land. The oppressed native civilisation, driven almost to extinction, vanished 1,500 years ago. But now they’ve reappeared, bent on vengeance and determined to take their country back …

The first book, Vengeance, will be published worldwide from October. There’s more information, and the first chapters, here:

I’m also tossing around ideas for another children’s or YA book or series, but I won’t begin one until after The Tainted Realm is finished.

Thanks Ian for the visits and the insight into how you work. I have to say, I’m still reeling at the idea of reading that many Mills & Boons titles! I was given an armful when I was in hospital having had my appendix removed, and that was during a fuel strike in Melbourne that meant no visitors for my week or so stay. Three books was all I could manage!

Ian’s in the middle of a big school and blog tour. Here’s where he’s been and where’s he’s off to next.


May 27 Gabrielle Wang How Writers Work
May 30 Onyabus, Omnibus Books Interview
June 6 Ian Irvine Introducing ‘The Calamitous Queen’ Blog Tour
June 7 Nords Wharf Public School Questions from students
June 8 Susan Stephenson, The Book Chook Literacy and writing
June 9 Catriona Hoy Humour and Writing
June 10 Dee White, Kids Book Capers Review of book and interview
June 11 Sally Murphy The exciting (or otherwise) life of a writer
June 12 HERE!
June 13 Alison Reynolds Why Ian wrote this book
June 14 Dee White Tuesday Writing Tips Tips on how to finish a series
June 15 St Joseph’s Primary School Questions from students
June 16 Sheryl Gwyther The 10 Best things about writing Grim&Grimmer + Things That Drove You Nuts
June 17 Braemar College, Christine Wilson Questions from students
June 18 Writing Children’s Books with Robyn Opie The ‘How-To’ of writing a series
June 19 Angela Sunde Where Ian’s ideas came from and how he knew there would be four books in it.