Monthly Archives: October 2013

Welcome Home – Christina Booth


Welcome Home – Christina Booth

Ford St Publishing October 2013

ISBN 9781925000092 PB 9781925000085 HC

32 pages

RRP $26.95 HC $16.95 PB

Christina Booth has created a very special book that is a charming and gentle learning experience for readers, young and older. It is a special talent to be able to take a sad and ugly history and transform it through the means of a picture book to become a point of inspiration for children.  The history of whaling is a bloody and violent one, particularly in Australian waters and this exploration of the plight of the Southern Right Whales, and the hopeful return of their numbers is handled beautifully through evocative watercolour illustrations and a calming lyrical text.

Taking her cue from a 2010 news story about a Southern Right whale giving birth in the Derwent River, Christina has put together an important message that avoids a ‘preachy’ tone.  The connection between a young boy and a whale brings a resolution between the whales and humans and paints a positive picture for the future of these majestic mammals.

Through cleverly overlaying the present day story with historical information about the whaling industry within the illustrations, readers are gently guided to a clearer understanding of the past. This is ably enhanced by the addition of two purely informational pages at the end of the book.

This picture book would be a valuable addition to curriculum studies and underlines important cross curricular priorities such as Sustainability (ACARA


Highly recommended for readers 7 and up


check out this gorgeous book trailer…

and below some useful sites to accompany the topic

God of War: The epic story of Alexander the Great – Christian Cameron


god of war

Hardcover, 773 pages
Published         2012         by Orion     
original title
God Of War
ISBN 1409132676                      (ISBN13: 9781409132677
I picked up this book at Sydney airport in January, having just been to see the Alexander exhibition at Sydney Museum and after reading about a hundred odd pages, set aside for a while as I started to have publishers’ review books piling up.  It was not in the least because I didn’t find it interesting. Last week I picked it up again and have avidly read it during my daily commute.  Historical fiction is always fascinating IMO particularly when it strives to present accuracy as far as possible.  Written from the perspective of Ptolemy 1 Soter, who was one of Alexander’s closest friends from childhood and later self-proclaimed Pharoah of Egypt (beginning the Ptolemaic dynasty), this saga sweeps across Alexander’s adult life and his years of campaigns across the known world to create one of the largest empires of the Ancient World.   Ptolemy, in his later years,  himself wrote memoirs of Alexander, some say to justify his seizure of the Egyptian throne following Alexander’s death. 
Widely acknowledged as one of history’s most successful military commanders, Alexander’s faults are not glossed over in Cameron’s novel. From brilliant strategist to infuriating braggart, from loyal friend to self-professed god, Ptolemy’s narrative provides rich detail about his friend and king, the ancient cultures of the time, the day to day life of Alexander’s military force and the intensity of the long years of campaigns.
The often graphic descriptions of battles are not for the faint-hearted, nor is the often coarse language and plentiful references to sex.
That being said, I don’t believe this precludes it from being in a school library albeit you might reserve it for your senior students. I think many older boys 16+ would enjoy this, if they have the necessary dedication to finish its 700 plus pages.
Image Bust of Ptolemy 1 Soter – The Louvre

Paul Collins – Author/Publisher: Blog Interview



Paul and Isobelle Carmody teaching fantasy writing at Kirwan State High School.

Welcome Paul to Just So Stories!

Paul Collins has written over 150 books and 140 short stories. He is best known for The Quentaris Chronicles (The Spell of Undoing is Book #1 in the new series), which he co-edits with Michael Pryor, The Jelindel Chronicles, The Earthborn Wars and The World of Grrym trilogy in collaboration with Danny Willis. Paul’s latest book is The Only Game in the Galaxy, book three in The Maximus Black Files. The Beckoning is Paul’s first adult novel

He is also the publisher at Ford Street Publishing.


Paul has been short-listed for many awards and won the Aurealis, William Atheling and the inaugural Peter McNamara awards. He recently received the A Bertram Chandler Award for lifetime achievement in Australian science fiction. He has had two Notable Books in the Children’s Book Council of Australia Awards.

He has black belts in both ju jitsu and taekwondo – this experience can be seen in The Jelindel Chronicles and The Maximus Black Files.

1.      Did you write as a child or did you discover your talent for it later in life?

Alas, I didn’t even read books as a kid. I did read Marvel Group comics, though, such as The Hulk, The Avengers, Ironman, etc. For some inexplicable reason I figured it was easy to write. So at age 16 or thereabouts I sat down and wrote a western novel. I was naïve enough at 19 to figure it was pretty good and self-published it. Big mistake, of course, but it did set me off in the publishing industry. I went on to publish a science fiction magazine, despite knowing only vaguely the name Asimov. I then moved into publishing adult novels – in fact in the early 80s I published Australia’s first heroic/epic fantasy novels. It wasn’t till the early nineties that Macmillan published Martin Middleton’s Circle of Light trilogy that major publishers decided there was money in them thar hills. But my fantasy books predated them by a decade. Unfortunately, I didn’t have major distribution so sales were never good. But I think the product was, in fact the authors concerned, David Lake, Russell Blackford and Keith Taylor are still around today and led successful writing careers.

2.      When did you first think you might make a career of writing?

This didn’t happen till the mid nineties when I sold my first junior novel to HarperCollins. I’d actually written The Wizard’s Torment and The Earthborn in the eighties but everyone knocked them back. If I’d had either book published earlier, I would have been writing books for younger readers way before the nineties. The Earthborn went on to sell to US giant, TOR. But gee, it took some twenty years to get published.

3.      What was your first professional piece of writing?

That would have to be a short story called ‘The Test’, a fantasy story published in Weirdbook (1977), a US magazine. The editor wrote back a rejection letter almost as long as the story. I was very disheartened! However, I sat down and followed his advice and he subsequently took the story.

4.      What has influenced you the most with your writing (e.g. childhood, love of a particular genre, life experiences, people)?

None of the aforementioned, really. Writing speculative fiction doesn’t lend itself to childhood memories (my humble opinion!). I write across all genres so there’s no particular genre. As I said, I’m not aware of any particular defining moment when I thought a career in writing/publishing would be possible. I do remember answering the ubiquitous question that fathers ask their children: “What do you want to be when you grow up” and I replied a writer. My father laughed, because it was his understanding that you had to be university-educated to be a writer. After I’d published some fifty books I asked him if he remembered telling me I’d never be a writer, and he said, “No, I don’t remember saying that. But if I did, it was because I knew you’d set out to prove me wrong”.

5.      What other jobs have you done?

From the age of 15 – 18 I had a stack of jobs. I was a dispatch manager for MGM at the age of 17. In that small time-frame I worked in several factories: electroplating, metal polishing, spot-welding, luggage factory (short-lived apprenticeship as a clicker, making luggage), Ford Motor Company; I worked on a farm, and in a couple of theatres as an apprentice projectionist. In my early 20s I worked at several hotels as a waiter (Breakfast Creek and National Hotel in Brisbane). I then opened a secondhand bookshop in St Kilda and for thirty years owned half a dozen shops in Brisbane and Melbourne. My last shop was a retro clothing store called Tragically Hip on Smith Street, Collingwood. Most of these shops were really lifestyle careers, not making much. I supplemented this income by working as a bouncer in hotels for around 12 years. I must’ve been the smallest bouncer around, but two black belts in martial arts and kick-boxing gave me that edge I needed.

6.      You are now both a writer and a publisher. How did that come about?

It’s really a matter of cross-subsidisation, and I’ve used this throughout my life. No single thing I’ve done really paid much, but if you link several things together you can make do reasonably well. For example, the bookshops weren’t labour-intensive, neither was the bouncing work. I could do both quite well, and they fed one another. Publishing and writing do the same thing. I wouldn’t make a minimal wage from either, but combined, they’re good. I also supplement them by running Creative Net, a speakers’ agency for children’s authors and illustrators.

7.      In your role of publisher, how have you learned from other authors?

Not to be pushy, I think. I can so easily see where people go wrong, and can wince thinking back to when I made those same mistakes. And of course you can’t even advise authors who do make these mistakes, because that could cause animosity. I do try to give authors assessments of their work when they send it in. And in the main I think most have appreciated the time and effort that go into those free appraisals. I’ve also learnt that no matter how hard you proofread your manuscript and self-edit, you need others to look at your work before submitting it to publishers.

8.      Which of your books has given you the most satisfaction as a professional writer?

The Maximus Black Files. They’ve had the best reviews and were possibly the hardest to write because of the complexity of the plot over the trilogy.

9.      Bad boys are more fun they say 🙂 – what or who was the inspiration for the character of Maximus Black?maximus

My ‘literary’ diet as a kid was filled with superheroes defeating the bad guys. I often longed to see the bad guy come out in front. This is possibly why I loved Dexter, although even Dexter was, deep down, a nice guy. I used to love reading Modesty Blaise and Artemis Fowl, and whereas these characters are actually criminals, they’re both ‘good’ deep down. So I created Artemis’s evil twin. There is no good in Max. Major publishers declined to publish the trilogy because, I feel, there’s a perception that readers need to identify with characters. However, this is patently not true. Although Max has no saving grace, readers have loved reading his exploits. In fact, he has more fans than his ‘good’ nemesis, Anneke Longshadow.

10.   Who is your own personal favourite author?  (Adult and children’s)

I loved the Tom Sharpe books and of course Peter O’Donnell. With children’s it’d be Philip Reeve and Eoin Colfer.

11.   What values and/or beliefs do you bring to your writing?

Anything goes.

12.   In a practical sense, how do you set about your writing? Describe your perfect writing environment

I prefer peace and quiet. It’s no coincidence that I live in a dead-end street off a dead-end street in a quiet suburb. I have to be in my study. I know a lot of authors can take their laptops with them wherever they go, or sit in cafes and write. But that’s not for me at all.

13.   Your new book The Beckoning is one that has been a long time coming to publication. Can you describe the journey of the book?

I used to write stories on manual typewriters on the counter in my various bookshops. Probably accounts for why I never made much money in my shops! So I started out writing for adults. I must have written about six novels, and didn’t sell any of them. The Beckoning was one of them. Luckily for me I never throw anything out. So over a period of thirty plus years I transposed the manuscript on to a computer, copied it on to various storage devices such as floppies, zip drives, CDs, USB sticks, etc. Earlier this year I saw that Damnation Books in the US was open to horror submissions. What the heck, I sent the first few chapters. Within two days they’d asked to see the rest. Within two weeks I had a contract. It’s now available as both a print and ebook. It recently reached #7 on Amazon’s psychics thriller page, just six spots behind Stephen King’s latest novel.


14.   What advice would you give to someone wanting to be a published author?

Persistence has always paid off for me. And not to rely on any one stream of income. If you think you’re going to make a living solely out of writing, chances are you’re going to be disappointed. Find something to bring the money in, and keep at your writing. One doesn’t have to be a great writer – there are many hugely successful books that prove this point – but you’ll find the authors all have something in common. They didn’t give up.

15.   What would you like your epitaph to be?

Tough question. Even persistence didn’t help in the end? Something silly, I suspect. I love Spike Milligan’s “I told you I was ill.” And Oscar Wilde’s “Either those curtains go or I do”.

LUCYCOVERS Paul’s new books for MacMillan Ed – Lucy Lee series


thank you                                                                                                                                                                                               Paul Collins!!

Kings in Grass Castles – Dame Mary Durack


I mentioned this audio book a couple of weeks ago as a loan from the local library and finished listening to it over the weekend. I first read the book following my father’s encouragement (both fans of colonial history) and that must have been well on forty years ago.

Revisiting it now was interesting for several reasons. Firstly, since that initial reading I relocated to Queensland and consider myself after 25 years (mostly) as almost a native (though I will never stop supporting MY footy teams) so that now hearing about the Duracks’ gradual expansion in regions and  being astonished by place names that now have far more personal meaning for me, brought this dogged pioneer spirit to life in a much more significant way.

Secondly, though it cannot be denied that Dame Mary’s account of her family’s history (written in 1959) contains terminology and language now frowned upon as racist, I am struck once again by how much more conciliatory and empathetic her forebears were in comparison with their contemporaries.  I have Indigenous children so please don’t get indignant on this point – but while I can see the argument for the graziers and pastoralists usurping land, at least old Patsy Durack (in particular) ensured his Aboriginal stockmen, their wives and families were well paid, well housed and respected.

Today I was at a teacher-librarian conference held annually in Brisbane and when I heard the name of the t-l currently at Durack State School, mentally went ‘ahhhhh yes, of course!’

Considered a classic of Australian literature, this book which is based on primary sources, interviews of both family and friends and contemporary accounts is definitely worth a visit.


Riley and the Jumpy Kangaroo – Tania McCartney


Riley and the Jumpy Kangaroo – Tania McCartney illustrated by Kieron Pratt

Ford St Publishing

August 2013-10-19

ISBN 9781925000023 HB

ISBN 978192500030 PB

32 pages

RRP $22.95 HB/ $16.95 PB


There were two excellent reasons I was keen to review this latest Riley book. Firstly, after two very happy years living and teaching in Canberra, I knew I would relish the chance to share one of my favourite places with my littlies. Secondly, I remember an absolutely fantastical fun day hosting Tania McCartney in my library at Red Hill School and watching the children fascinated with her presentation and her stories about Riley – and the grand finale of launching dozens of red paper planes across the library space.  An exciting follow up to this story was one little Prep boy writing and illustrating his own Riley story which we gleefully scanned and sent to Tania, who was thrilled.

Tania has created a loyal and enthusiastic fan base among younger readers who simply eat up Riley’s adventures (and I am convinced imagine themselves flying in a little red bi-plane to their own next destination).

This newest adventure coincides with Canberra’s centenary and gives readers a glimpse of many iconic images from our nation’s capital. I loved being able to show Miss Small the places I had seen so often during my Canberra sojourn, when she had been here in Brisbane wondering all the time about the strange place I described in letters and phone calls.  She now has a much clearer idea of a city she has never seen.  And she thoroughly enjoyed trying to figure out just what that jumpy kangaroo was looking for!

Tania’s books are such a marvellous blend of fiction and non-fiction – like a whimsical travelogue for young ones – and children love to identify with places they know or have seen on TV or in movies.  The Riley books are cleverly illustrated by combining photographic images of each city with Kieron Pratt’s quirky cartoon-style additions.  The resulting contrast is always sensational.

I am certainly hoping that Brisbane might be next on Tania’s list!

Highly recommended for young readers from 5 to 10.

The Bouncing Ball – Deborah Kelly illustrated by Georgia Perry


The Bouncing Ball – Deborah Kelly illustrated by Georgia Perry

ISBN: 9780857980045

Published: 01/10/2013

Imprint: Random House Australia Children’s

Extent: 32 pages


RRP $19.95

What an absolutely super first picture book offering from Deborah Kelly! Miss Small and I shared this a couple of weeks ago and both just loved it.  When a small boy finds a ball and bounces it on its way, the story is off and most definitely bouncing…..along, against, between, down and more, until…… the ball bounces away and another child finds it, and off we go again.  The lovely circular pattern is just right for young readers and we very much enjoyed the speculation of the next possible adventure at the end of the book.

Georgia Perry’s vibrant illustrations add to the immense sense of real fun about this book.

 Teachers will love the opportunity this book presents to explore prepositions – instead of playing Where is the Mouse? a great game of Where is the Ball? might well be on the cards!

This one is staying firmly on Gran’s shelves for repeated readings. Highly recommended for Prep to Year 2/3 children.

Listen to Deborah Kelly talking about the book here:

The Kitchen House – Kathleen Grissom


The Kitchen House – Kathleen Grissom

Doubleday (via Random House Australia)

March 2013

ISBN  9780857521545


A review book that came my way via another reviewer early in the year and has taken me some time to pick up, The Kitchen House is a fine first novel from author Kathleen Grissom.  Those readers who were moved by The Help (Kathryn Stockett) and are interested in the exploration of the social and historical fabric of the United States, slavery and the emancipation of African-Americans will welcome the introduction to this novel.

In the late 18th century, a plantation owner/merchant captain brings a seven year old Irish orphan Lavinia to his home, her parents having both died on the outward voyage. Lavinia, now indentured to the plantation, is taken in as family by the Negro slaves of the household but, of course, being white still sits outside in a sense.

Spanning the years, the reader observes Lavinia growing up, the brutal treatment of her ‘family’ in the slave quarters, the intricate and hypocritical machinations of the ruling class and the eventual demise of the plantation family.

This is a powerful novel and important in the same sense as ‘The Help’ in bringing to contemporary readers a sense of the utter helplessness of the slaves and indeed, the lower classes, of the time.

Having put this one aside as a ‘read later’, I found once I started that I wanted to keep reading to see ‘what happened next’ in this saga and my only slight criticism is that the conclusion had a feeling of being rushed – almost as if the author had been told to get it done within a certain number of pages. I personally would have preferred a more elegant ending to what was really a fine and emotionally engaging story.

This novel is for senior students and adults, but would fit beautifully with any studies of the Civil Rights movement.

The Kensington Reptilarium – N.J. Gemmell


The Kensington Reptilarium – N.J. Gremmell

Random House Australia Children’s

1 November 2013

RRP $16.95

ISBN 9780857980502

Nikki Gemmell has published five adult novels and two works of non-fiction with great success under her full name. Now she has turned her hand to a children’s novel which, according to a letter introducing the book, she wrote to hook her own sons into reading.

The madcap adventure which is The Kensington Reptilarium incorporates some elements of fact into a crazy scenario of feral bush kids transplanted to post WWII London and a very unwelcoming uncle, who prefers his reptiles to humans of any description, but particularly children.

The Caddy children – Kick, Scruff, Bert and Pin (officially Thomasina, Ralph, Albertina and Phineas) – have been fending for themselves on their outback property since their father took off on one of his regular expeditions. The trouble is that this time, he hasn’t returned. The arrival of police and a very elegant London lawyer, Horatio, spells the end of their wild existence and within hours they are whisked off to London and deposited in the creepy house of their uncle Basti (Sebastian).  Basti’s plan had been for the children to go to an orphanage and certainly not into the midst of his eccentric and solitary life surrounded by reptiles of all varieties, so from the very moment the colonial Caddy kids arrive, pandemonium erupts!

As kids and uncle slowly begin to create a familial relationship, other characters come into play to help the process.  A Christmas like no other is in store for this bunch – and after much strife all is resolved in a happy ending for a very unusual family.

The larger than life characters, the fast moving plot and the addition of special attractions such as Perdita the hooded cobra will engage readers, both boys and girls, from 10 years up.  




First published in 1949 and just as funny and insightful today, this novel looks at the English ‘county’ society of the era. The characters are so amusingly drawn and are completely authentically articulated – despite what is some very probable leaning to caricature. Told from the perspective of Fanny, the family quirks, scandals, gossip, speculation and dramas of her connections, both familial and friends/social acquaintances have the reader giggling throughout. Initially picked this up after a recommendation from my book club when our theme was pre-1950 (published) author and certainly lived up to the expectation.  

Apparently, many of Mitford’s earlier novels were loosely autobiographical so one assumes many of these characters were known in one sense or another to the author.  I have now put her biography on my to-read list (Nancy Mitford – a portrait of a contradictory woman, 2003, Laura Thompson) is just one available)

This issue is in Penguin Classic and though quite small print, a pretty quick read – 2 and a little bit train commutes! Try it out for yourself – if you like classy writing and gentle humour (particularly poking fun at people!)  you will enjoy it.

Nancy Mitford in 1956

Love in a Cold Climate – Nancy Mitford