Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Oz style - 2 be open to a lot of things?

"In Australia to make a living out of conducting, you need to be open to doing a really wide variety of concerts, whereas in Europe you could probably be a bit more focused on the traditional classical orchestral repertoire."
Benjamin Northey, conductor, who collaborated with the Hilltop Hoods and the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra on the album "The Hard Road: Restrung".

Christmas shopping season correlations

Greatest hit compilations from the music industry
Hardback picture books from the childrens publishing industry

What other special things we do - sell and buy (as special gifts) - for Xmas that we don't do so much at other times of the year?

Saturday, December 15, 2007

The Shark Book is coming in March

Dr Mark Norman is following on from cute penguins in the best-selling "The Penguin Book: Birds in Suits" to another hot topic for kids in "The Shark Book: Fish with Attitude". This is not your usual big-fish-with-scary-teeth book. Mark is passionate about the diversity in the world around us. There are 370 species of shark in the world and Australia is home to a massive 166 of them. Only three species regularly attack humans; the great white, the tiger and the family of whalers, which includes the nicely named bull shark.

People eat over 70 million sharks, or so I've been told, and in Australia there have been an average of 1.2 shark attack fatalities each year over the last 200 years. A swimmer is at a much greater risk of drowning than of being attacked by a shark and less than half of the attacks lead to a fatality.

Sharks are an extraordinary bunch. Some sharks are so small they can fit on your hand.My favourites are the cookie cutter sharks who attach themselves to passing beasts with lips like suction cups, and then spin around to cut out a cookie-shaped plug of flesh. One submersible came back from the depths with a nice cookie-shaped hole in its thick plastic window.

Watch out for it! It's an amazing book.

Mother's Day is upon us (just before Xmas)

Everything is so stretched out these days for those of us servicing the retail industry.(Fashion shops are now buying 18 months ahead and planning for product buying for Xmas starts in the preceding January.) We've just finished our sales kits for April-May — 4-5 months away, so Mother's Day is upon us. In the good old days (before my time), when the books were printed, they were then released, which I'm sure was much more civilized. Now we lock in months ahead and we have the printer deliver to the warehouse at least a month ahead of the publication date — to ensure smooth (we hope) and simultaneous (we hope) delivery to every bookseller. We set our the print quantities for our Xmas books back in May, which meant plucking a figure from the air and living hopefully there after. The proof of that Xmas pudding guess will be in January.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Dragon Moon short-listed in the Aurealis Awards

Congratulations to Carole Wilkinson. The Aurealis Awards short-list has been announced and Dragon Moon is in the running for the Best Children's Book.

Here's the complete list

the demands of reading

I came across this quote on the web on the weekend: "Many books require no thought from those that read them, and for the very simple reason; they made no such demands on those who wrote them." Charles Caleb Colton (1782-1832)

This echoed for me the pleasure that my friend Brian had in his 11 year old, Gabriel, finishing The Lord of the Flies and saying ,"I didn't enjoy it but I couldn't put it down". Brian felt that Gabriel was discovering that reading was more than just an immediate pleasure.

Flying Dragons from The Companion

One of the Dean's beautiful dragons from Carole Wilkinson's Dragon Companion has taken flight courtesy of studio Mancini:
and it is beautiful! Do have a look.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

The mind's antechamber

"The ideas that lie at any moment within my full consciousness seem to attract of the own accord the most appropriate out of a number of other ideas that are lying close at hand, but imperfectly with the range of my consciousness. There seems to be a presences-chamber in my mind where full consciousness holds court, and where two or three ideas are at the same time in audience and an antechamber full of more or less allied ideas, which is situated just beyond the full ken of consciousness. Out of this antechamber the ideas most nearly allied to those in the presence chamber appear to be summoned in a mechanically logical way and to have their turn of audience."

From the program notes to "A Large Attendance in the Antechamber' by Brian Lipson: an amazingly energetic one-man show performed at the Malthouse this year.

I'm reading Olver Sacks's Musicophilia and his many references to Galton reminded me of how quote Lipson had chosen had reverberated for me and in one of those serendipitous moments I happened across the program as I was cleaning my office.

Galton was a extraordinary and scary mind.

In quick summary: "a half-cousin of Charles Darwin, was an English Victorian polymath, anthropologist, eugenicist, tropical explorer, geographer, inventor, meteorologist, proto-geneticist, psychometrician, and statistician." And the discover of uniqueness of fingerprints. I'm not sure that I'd want to always be first thought of as the half-cousin of Charles Darwin.

Black Dog is publishing a history of number by David Demant, designed by Regio Abios, which is coming out next year and will be beautiful -  a union of content and design. I'm sure Galton will get guernsey.

Australian content seems to be doing better

Shamelessly lifting from David Dale:

The Top selling DVDs of the past three months: 1 Transformers; 2 Harry Potter and The Order of the Phoenix; 3 Summer Heights High; 4 Family Guy season 6; 5 Wild Hogs; 6 Spiderman 3; 7 Stargate SG-1 complete season 10; 8 Happy Feet; 9 Supernatural season 2; 10 300; 11 The OC complete season 4; 12 Heroes season 1; 13 Entourage season 3 part B; 14 Scrubs season 5; 15 Little Britain Abroad.

and this caught my attention:

Every one of our most watched, top ten series in 2007 was locally made: a mix of drama, comedy, documentary and talent quests. Three years ago US drama dominated and the only successful local shows were reality and lifestyle shows.

TVs in Australian households

Approximately 99% of all Australian households have at least one working television set according to Neilsen. I wonder how many of the other 1% have a not-working television. And how many Australian households don't have a book, other than a phone book.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Canadian publishing foreign dominated!

"A unique aspect of the Canadian book publishing market is that 19 foreign-controlled publishers, which represented less than 6% of all companies surveyed, accounted for 59% of domestic book sales in 2004 (the figure would be similar in 2005). One might say that the Canadian book publishing industry is foreign-dominated."

quote from an industry report

I came across this quote that tickled my fancy

"France has two the only two things toward which we drift as we grow older - intelligence and manners." F Scott Fitzgerald

Friday, November 30, 2007

Harry Potter and Star Wars

I found this lurking in my old emails, and it amused me yet again, so I thought I'd share it. I'm not sure where it came from originally.

Monday, November 26, 2007

independent publishing is a nutty business

Driving to work on this fine and sunny morning one of those uncalled for thoughts popped into my mind as I was gritting my jaw about the frustrations of the coming day: independent publishing in this country, in any country, is an insane and nutty business that pretty much defines any business logic and is only made possible by the immense amount of goodwill that exists all the way along the chain from author and idea to reader and that goodwill conversely makes it a particularly satisfying business to be in.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

reviewers whinge

A bad review hurts. Not a critical review but a bad review - the smug smart-arsed review that lets the reader know that reviewer is a very clever person, far cleverer than any published author, or any publisher, editor or anybody else involved in the publishing process.

Reviewers generally do a really excellent job and are an important, valued part of the publishing community and fair criticism that includes that good and the bad is good for us and for our authors. We get better no feedback from authors than by sending them a good review.

There are some reviewing habits that get right up my nose though, and they often appear as a cluster. The worst of these sorts of reviewers will writer reviews with all the following sorts of characteristics. (I'll call this hypothetical reviewer by the usefully androgynous name of "Sam" so I can avoid that "he or she" thing.)

1 Sam retells the plot of the book,
2 Sam applies an adult sensibility to the assessment of a children's book, without considering how the reader of an appropriate age would respond to the text.
3 Sam judges all books by the criteria of literary fiction.
4 Sam presumes to know what happened in the publishing process. Something like: "The publisher just printed the author's first draft and didn't bother with any editing."
5 Sam then blames the publisher for a lack of editing rather than honestly critiquing the book.
6 Sam criticizes the book for failing to meet the criteria of some old saw like "show don't tell". I often think that this is what Sam has been taught in a creative writing class and as a clever student Sam has been too quick to ingest it. (Don't write books according to such advice - do what the work itself needs, is my advice)
7 Sam criticizes the punctuation and grammar. This carping demonstrates Sam's superiority to the author and editor. (I'm thinking that Sam is the disciple of an ancient edition of some school textbook.)
8 After reading the review I'm left with the impression that Sam believes that anything done "over there" is far superior to anything done here - with the exception of Sam's own work.

Like Powerpoint Bingo, it would be worth seeing how many of each of these sins appears in each review you read. All eight is a major achievement by the reviewer.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Wittenoom - 1984

Due to an extreme to medium risk to tourists visiting the area from exposure to airborne asbestos, the WA government is closing Wittenoom. Townsite status and placename status have been removed which permits the Shire to close roads and the name to be removed from maps. Quite 1984.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Ezra Pound:

“To use the language of common speech, but to employ always the exact word, not the nearly exact, nor the merely decorative word.”

I think we have too much of the "merely decorative word" in the scripts that come to us. Some of the editorial work we do is paring out the merely decorative which seems almost to be a modern addiction. The thought seems to be If I put enough icing on this cake it will taste good. Nobody wants to expose the story on which the book has been built.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Wild French Mushrooms

It popped up in my email this morning. It was an exciting subject line for an emai. And the body listed such excellently named mushroom as Wood Hedgehogs, Black Trumpets and Fairy Fings

Thursday, October 11, 2007

post-colonial pun

I enjoyed this excruciatingly delicious pun found in Elizabeth Street Melbourne. It's in about the same location as the Southern Cross College, so I wonder if one has become the other.

Doris Lessing wins the Nobel

It wa sfascinating listening to her on the radio this morning. She was so matter-of-fact about the win. I guess that's what you feel like at 88. She said, well you can't give it to a dead person.

I do remember reading The Grass is Singing one hot summer's day in my late teens and finding it bizarre (I led a sheltered life) and intrigueing.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

rate of change …

It just keeps on increasing a pace in the book trade. Collins have announced they're taking over the franchises of Book City. Well, there you go.

Monday, October 08, 2007

teen genre missing here?

It was interesting (and a pleasure) talking to the charming David Levithan, publisher of the Push imprint, in New York. There is a whole teen genre in the US which doesn't exist here, which David said started when they pulled the teen books out of the children's section and put it next to the adults section.

Helen Mirren

I'm just back from a trip to the US. The whole family went. A blend of pleasure and business. On the first night in San Francisco I watched the Emmy awards. It was quite a different feeling watching them over there than here. I felt I was in the culture the awards were about. One comment struck me in particular. When Helen Mirren collected one more of the awards won by "Prime Suspect", the British TV show she said, "You Americans are wonderfully generous people." [Pause and then, not wanting to sound too much lips on bum, she added.] You're a lot of other things as well. Some good, some bad." The generosity and the surprisingly warm open enthusiasm was what I experienced on the business side of the trip. It was a shot in the arm. [Footnote: Time saw fit to quote Helen Mirren's comment in their quotes column.]

reading the Blue News

Interesting to come back and discover that so much happened in three short weeks;:

75% of Lonely Planet is sold to the BBC
PEP makes and offer for the Australian Borders stores
Allen & Unwin sells its share ADS to Hachette and heralds a move to UBD

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

RG Madden on design and Australian culture

I wanted to quote:

"[The Ford motor car is] Pound for pound, the best cars in the world - our culture threw that up. You don't have to put a kangraroo on it. It is what it is." And he cites that there are seven Australian designers working for Alessi.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Commodisation is a word I'm hearing a lot

It seems to be a business buzz word at the moment - something businesses should fear. So here is a definition.

A commodity is a product that is completely undifferentiated. If a product becomes less differentiated, so that buyers care less about who they buy from, this change is called commoditisation.
The key effect of commoditisation is that it reduces the pricing power of the producer: if products become more alike from a buyer's point of view they will tend to buy the cheapest.
Commoditisation is a key reason why many growth markets disappoint investors. Sales volumes grow as expected but, as the market matures, prices come under pressure and margins shrink. This is a key issue to consider when picking growth stocks.
In order to avoid commoditisation companies need to be able to differentiate their products with something unique, that is not easily copied by competitors, and which is valued by customers. This may take the form of a strong brand, a technology lead, good design, good retail locations, or anything else that will convince customers not buy the cheapest product. The alternative to avoiding commoditisation is, of course, to compete on price.

I'm not sure how that applies to the book trade.

My understanding of comoditization in the publishing context is the the quality of book stops mattering and the marketing, including the choice of author/subject/celebrity, becomes everything, and the success of the book is then thought to depend on the size of theadvance and the concomitant size of the marketing spend. It's what's happened to a good chunk of UK publishing. It appeals to publishers because it removes uncontrollable variables, like the quailty of the writing, from the equation.

The gorgeously sounding word "fungible" is an allied definition; A commodity is fungible if it is perfectly interchangeable with any other of the same type and class. So a fungible celebrity biography is one that is perfectly interchangeable with any other celebrity biography.

Heyward article in Saturday's Age

I read with interest Michael Heyward's article "Word wise, book poor" in Saturday's Age. It was a spacious and fascinatng review of the state publishing in this country. I found much I agreed with and quite a bit I disagreed with - a sharp and enjoyable stimulus to thought.

First it pips me off that independent children's publishing get so little recognition both in the broader community (including festivals), within government, and even within our own independent publishing community. Michael doesn't include children's publishing in the para "Independent publishing shows signs of life…" (I'd like to see a Books Alive for children's books - start kids reading, keep them reading in the teen years and you build a community of "cuirious habitual readers".)

I agree its a good time for independent publishing, that it was a tragedy that the stylish McPhee Gribble folded into Penguin (they did blaze an amazing path), and that branch-plant publishing slowed the development of publishing infrastructure (but has enable the independents to access excellent distribution).

The economy is chuffing along and the independent publishers seem to be doing quite nicely in its wake. Times are golden for books. $2.5billion at the till, bigger than film ($867 million at the till of which only $40 million was for Australian films) and recorded music combined. The comparison Michael makes between Nobel-prize winning Patrick White selling 30,000 copies in 1973 and Kate Grenville selling more than 100,000 copies of The Secret River is a sign of how far we have come. And we need more astute, quick-witted publishers like Michael, Henry Rosenbloom and Rod Hare both within and without the corporate walls.

I'm not convinced of the necessarily beneficial effects of government spending though. I think the failure of our film industry is in part a result of its dependence on government funding. The need for government spending sent it on a downward sprial,;the dependence on a beauracratic decision-making process has worked against the quick-witted and the astute and favored the earnest. Govenment money is a two edged sword. I think PLR and ELR have been a huge success because they reflect people's choices.

I like Michael's suggestion of a national non-fiction prize; and what about government support for the CBCA awards?

If you missed the article, it is well working fishing the paper out of the recycling bin and having a read.

Friday, September 07, 2007

e book

We have to read Anna Karenina for my book group, and I started by printing pages from a download from Project Gutenberg - worked but a little clumsy, so now I've downloaded the e-book software for my Palm Pilot, and I'm going to give it a shot, reading my first e-book.

I'll let you know how I go.

NSW's Premiers shortlist

A huge congratulations to black dog authors Lili Wilkinson (Joan of Arc) and Peter Mcinnis (The Kokoda Track) for their shortlisting in the NSW Premier's History Awards.

The Kokoda Track is the clearest and most readable description of the experience of the Militia and the AIF on the Kokoda Track. It's not just for kids. And congratulations to Karen, the editor, and Guy, the map-maker.

And I was particularly pleased to see a non-Australian topic be recognized by the judges with Lili's Joan. It's a terrific book - the fictionalized voices extraordinary - and then when you've finished Joan please start reading Lili's latest - Scatterheart

Friday, August 31, 2007

the two p's

I was reading that Hollywood likes Australian CGI houses like Animal logic for the particularly Australian combination of passion and pragmatism. And that struck a note with me, and with why I think our publishing indusry is so successful internationally.

Melbourne Writers' Festival supports independents?

"MELBOURNE is, without a doubt, Australia's literary capital," says former state premier Steve Bracks in the program for the 2007 Age Melbourne Writers' Festival.


Melbourne is "the home of independent small publishers in Australia", Cameron says, and to that end she has broadened the festival's focus on publishing. The attendance of American husband-and-wife writers Dave Eggers and Vendela Vida is a coup, not just for their writing but their publishing company, McSweeney, which produces quarterly and monthly journals. "If you're a young writer, you want to get published by McSweeney's," she says.


But not to be published by one of Melbourne's independent publishers? Who, presumably, don't need the support of the local writing community?

Interestingly none of our authors were on the program (not the schools not the kids part). And I wasn't seeing much of Scribe or Hardie Grant or Hardie Grant Egmont or Black Inc on the program. I thought it was these sort of publishers who might be making Melbourne a literary capital. The industry thought so in its awards.

A new sort of cultural cringe?

Saturday, August 25, 2007


I was in Queensland a week ago, attending the CBCA awards dinner, and I took the opportunity to get out and about, and I was really impressed by the strength of school booksellers in Queensland, and the enthusiasm for Australian books on Australian topics by Australian authors, which reflects the enthusiasm schools, kids and especially the strong network of teachers librarians have for Australian literature (fiction and non-fiction). In Victoria and New South Wales, the teacher-librarians are being stripped out of schools - and we're much the worse for it.

Friday, August 24, 2007


40% of British publishers turnover comes from export but only 5% of American publishers. An interesting fact to toy with. The British market is a harder market to sell in to than the American.

Dave Eggers opened the Melbourne Writers Festival

Fascinating. Amazing guy. And for a commercial, privately owned, limited-liability-company-publishing-house -challenging. Then to challenge authors - who else donates their royalties to subject/inspiration for their book.

The foot thing was interesting too.

Just in case a few quick links:

Wikipedia entry

McSweeney's Internet Tendency

changing times

There's a halal pizzeria around the corner (perhaps explained in part by the mosque a couple of streets back).

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Digger J Jones

I finished Digger J Jones (by Richard Frankland, Scholastic) on the weekend - and I reckon everybody should read this,, adult or child, and it should be in every school and public library. For the originality of the voice among other things. The book's set in 1967 and it's about the referendum. Here's the Wikpedia entry, which is worth quoting in full:

The referendum of 27 May 1967 approved two amendments to the Australian constitution relating to Indigenous Australians. Technically it was a vote on the Constitution Alteration (Aboriginals) 1967, which after being approved in the referendum became law on the 10th August of the same year.
The amendment was overwhelmingly endorsed, winning 90.77 per cent of voters and carrying all six states. It was put to the electorate on the same day as a referendum on the composition of parliament, which was rejected.
The referendum removed two sections from the Constitution.
The first was a phrase in Section 51 (xxvi) which stated that the Federal Government had the power to make laws with respect to "the people of any race, other than the Aboriginal race in any State, for whom it is deemed necessary to make special laws." (This is known as the "race power.") The referendum removed the phrase "other than the Aboriginal race in any State," giving the Commonwealth the power to make laws specifically to benefit Aboriginal people.
The second was Section 127, which said: "In reckoning the numbers of the people of the Commonwealth, or of a State or other part of the Commonwealth, Aboriginal natives shall not be counted." The referendum deleted this section from the Constitution. This section should be read in conjunction with Section 24 and Section 51(xi). The section related to calculating the population of the states and territories for the purpose of allocating seats in Parliament and per capita Commonwealth grants. The context of its introduction was prevent Queensland and Western Australia using their large Aboriginal populations to gain extra seats or extra funds. The 'statistics' power in Section 51(xi) allowed the Commonwealth to collect information on Aboriginal people.
It is frequently stated that the 1967 referendum gave Aboriginal people Australian citizenship and that it gave them the right to vote in federal elections. Neither of these statements is correct. Aboriginal people became Australian citizens in 1948, when a separate Australian citizenship was created for the first time (before that time all Australians were "British subjects"). Aboriginal people from Queensland and Western Australia gained the vote in Commonwealth territories in 1962. However, the Commonwealth voting right of Aborigines from other states was confirmed by a Commonwealth Act in 1949 (the constitution already gave them that right but it was often interpreted differently prior to 1949). They got the vote in WA state election in 1962 and Queensland state election in 1965.

And here's the link to Richard's website: http://www.goldenseahorse.com.au/ http://www.goldenseahorse.com.au/

Saturday, August 11, 2007


We just purchased a posh new microphone. So look forward to a lot more audio on our website: readings, audio from our pd nights, interviews with authors and others.

Bryson's Shakespeare

I've started reading Bill Bryson's Shakespeare. The sumptuous dump bin display in Readings Hawthorn caught my eye - and I thought, I must have that.

I was at Readings for the Danny Katz and Mitch Vane's "The Little Election". A black dog August release. (A sumptuous jacketed hardback with a NY flavor). Danny and Mitch put on a great show. They ran their own election, with booths and ballot boxes, courtesy of the Electoral Commission, (& boy do they fold up into a neat box.) Millie stood up from the audience for the "No School" party and Tom was all for the "Creativity Party" and brave Rachel stood up and started the "Free Lunch" party. Millie is now PM, by the way.

Little Lunch(es) have always been favorites - and The Little Election takes it to new highs (and lows - but not too much booger humor, thought the crowd loved the sprinkling of it).

If any bookshop wants a fabulous weekend bookshop event: this is it. The crowd was in stitches.

Anyhow, back to Bill. It cames as a bit of shock to be reading the light Bryson tone about such a meaty topic. I'm only a few pages in and I'll blog again to say whether I think the weight of writer, tone and topic worked for me.

Any other readers out there care to comment?

The villages of Melbourne

Melbourne is said to be a series of villages. (The same is said by pundits in most big cities I imagine.) And I'm trying to work out what those villages are. The question arose coming back from Oakliegh. Which is so definitely one village of Melbourne (centred on a Greek influence?). Then I'd nominate mud-brick Eltham; with its satellites - The Patch/Warrandyte/Kangaroo Ground etc. Then Springvale, maybe also Box Hill. Public-servant Northcote. The white-bread Hills - KT says some people grow up, work, marry and die and never come down to the lowlands. The eastern private school village. (Toorak is a village of its own - one which would like to a walled enclave.) Then northern Melbourne: McLeod etc. Is Lilydale a village?

It would make a fascinating map.

Any other suggestions? And I'm hopeful people will want to disagree with my divisions.

And I'm wondering what the villages of Sydney are?

paying your own heating bills

A line in a restaurant review struck a resonance:

"When a chef opens their first restaurant, it can go badly very quickly … Some chefs see it as an opportunity to strut the staff their bosses always kept in check."

Though it's not an exact parallel, it made me think of how few successful independent publishers have come out of the biggies, from corporate refugees running up the flag of independence. Most of the new publishers that spring up from people leaving the multinationals seem to disappear. Of course most new publishers fail, regardless of origin; but I think there is a contributing element of corporatized overconfidence.

It's cold and chilly out here, and it takes quite a different mindset to survive when you have to pay your own heating bills.

Sunday, August 05, 2007


I just came across this fabulous new word from Wikpedia
"Disambiguation in Wikipedia is the process of resolving the conflicts that occur when articles about two or more different topics have the same "natural" title. Most of the pages in this category are disambiguation pages containing no other content, only links to other Wikipedia pages."

bdb non-fiction

I realised in a small moment of epiphany on the week end is that what we don't want to do in our non-fiction for children is to condescend, And it is why I think our non-fiction reads well for adults as well as children.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

ownership of story ideas - excavating the past

Steely Dan are peeved with Owen Wilson for playing Dupree in in You, Me and Dupree saying the plot of the film was ripped off from the song. It's ancient history now but I came across it and thought it raised fascinating issues - can you base a movie on a song?

Steely Dan to me are drawing a long bow. The Dupree in the song and film is an archeytpe. The Dupree mention in the title? Homage/pop culture reference.

In the interest of fair dealing here's the plot from IMDb
For newlyweds Carl and Molly Peterson, life can't get any sweeter as they begin anew to settle down into married life. With a nice house and established careers in tow, nothing seems to get in their way. However, Carl is about find out just how much friendship means when Dupree, his best friend has been displaced from his home and fired from his job because of attending their wedding. Taking his friend in, what Carl and Molly are about to experience is that the fine line between a few days and whatever else is after, can be a lot more than they bargained for. Especially when their friend overstays his welcome in far too many ways than he should. Written by mystic80

Carl Peterson, an architect, has just get married with Molly, and it seems that they're about to begin their happy life together. Everything is going fine, until Dupree, the best man and Carl's best friend, shows up to invade the couple's intimacy. Carl's disposed to help his old friend, giving him a shelter in the couch, thinking that the whole thing will be for 2 or 3 days. Despite Dupree has promised Carl that he'll look for a job the very next day, the immature and lazy bloke spend the time playing with the children from the neighborhood, or dating with a mysterious librarian girl. Molly begins to get tired of Dupree, but Carl must deal with another problem, his malevolent and overprotecting father-in-law, who has warned him that he wants his daughter keeps her maiden name and that he doesn't even think about having children with her. Apparently, Dupree has came to stay with Molly and the stressed Carl, who doesn't know how to get rid of him, becoming paranoiac because the charismatic Dupree is starting to take his place in the household.

And here's the lyrics from http://www.steelydan.com/lyr2vn.html#track7


Well I've kicked around a lot since high school
I've worked a lot of nowhere gigs
From keyboard man in a rock'n ska band
To haulin' boss crude in the big rigs
Now I've come back home to plan my next move
From the comfort of my Aunt Faye's couch
When I see my little cousin Janine walk in
All I could say was ow-ow-ouch

Honey how you've grown
Like a rose
Well we used to play
When we were three
How about a kiss for your cousin Dupree

She turned my life into a living hell
In those little tops and tight capris
I pretended to be readin' the National Probe
As I was watchin' her wax her skis
On Saturday night she walked in with her date
And backs him up against the wall
I tumbled off the couch and heard myself sing
In a voice I never knew I had before


I'll teach you everything I know
If you teach me how to do that dance
Life is short and quid pro quo
And what's so strange about a down-home family romance?

One night we're playin' gin by a cracklin' fire
And I decided to make my play
I said babe with my boyish charm and good looks
How can you stand it for one more day
She said maybe its the skeevy look in your eyes
Or that your mind has turned to applesauce
The dreary architecture of your soul
I said - but what is it exactly turns you off?


[End of song]

Now you can judge for yourself (and let me know what you think). Nice lyrics though.

Thursday, July 05, 2007


FSC is a standard for environmental paper accreditation and FSC Australia was launched last night - conveniently just down Gertrude Street at Dante's - to a packed room. (There were two Peruvians among the official presenters - and I wasn't even aware that Peru had extensive forests - so it was quite interanational.) Harry Potter was printed on FSC paper in the UK but there wasn't enough certified paper here to print the Deathly Hallows on it. It was an exciting development that will help us to do something about the paper we use.

The language of certification is heavily beauracratic and laden with anacronyms - which I think we will all become very familiar with over the next few years. And I'm hoping Matthia's coming article in the B&P will help sort our way through the maze. An alternative certification scheme is PEFC and here is a link to a comparison of different schemes.

And we could end "sale or return" - that would help too. Waterstones is looking at doing so, when it's new distribution centre is up and running in the UK.

smoking banned at Frankfurt!

Wednesday, July 04, 2007


I'm reading the Bloom Report and I came across the comment that people didn't participate in the survey because the different publishing sectors have so little in common, which is something I disagree with - strongly. And its a view that has always irritated me. And it was a topic that Maree raised at the APA roadshow - that industry was bunkered down in its silos. (aside - I'm guessing that 'silos' might be the new business word of the next few months, replacing road/mud map). In children's publishing we're very close to the educational sector and any good children's publisher knows that half the sales of many of our titles comes from schools. I've bounced around between the two sectors in my career and found enlightenment and ignorance on both sides. And I don't see tertiary, academic or professional as fundamentally different to what I'm doing as a children's publisher.

The industry has in common that it iis about gathering and packaging and selling information both in the forms of fiction and non-fiction and for now and into the forseeable future it will be done mainly in the beautiful and efficient form of the book.

… now I can hop down off my electronic soapbox.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

promoting books and reading

Juliet Rogers and Maree McCaskill have been running a roadshow around Australia promoting the APA and its doings to stakeholders. It's a terrific undertaking and thanks to Julilet and everybody for being prepared to put so much time and effort into it. My comments that follow are in parts of the fruits of that progressive and democratic initiative.

Last Wednesday was the Melbourne meeting and, as the press was there, I'm sure its discussions are not confidential. In fact it was the press in the form of Andrew Wilkins who raised the point I want to blog about. Why in the list of objectives in the strategic plan is there nothing about promoting the book and reading? And that's a point that resonated with me in my children's publishing silo - I can here it echo.

Promoting books and reading is one of the core tasks for me of the APA and the Children's Committee of the APA, and a major reason I joined. It's what we're all about as publishers - more books, more readers, another generation. Its like the Age promoting newspapers to schools - it's guaranteeing a future, that we will be around for another generation. And I thought the promotion of the book and reading would resonate with the education publishing (especially primary education publishing) silo next to me.

Maybe it is something that comes first to the minds of children's publishers, since we're not relying on an existing generation of readers.

Books Alive is a great beginning to build on.

Promoting reading and books was always a hot topic for Agnes Niewenhuizen. Let me quote: "There isn't a reading culture. We don't have any kind of concerted national program. Our promotion of books is very poor. [Im interpreting book in a generic sense.] Reading is not valued in schools. We are losing librarians, And with very notable exceptions, I think things are slipping."

Friday, June 29, 2007

"Brought to Book"

Frank, our accountant, recommended Julian Gough's article to me "Bought to Book". He'd found it in the AFR, originally published in Prospect magazine and available online.

Gough asks provocatively why the modern literary novel is so worthy and dull and answers that its because tragedy has squeezed out comedy. Otherwise it is too rich to summarize here. Highly recommended. Gough coins the marvellous term "wangster".

Gough won the UK's National Short Story Prize, the richest in the world in April for "The Orphan and the Mob" - "15000 pounds worth of story".

shrinking mainstream

I love reading about the census figures. Such rich food for thought (especially a publisher in hopeful search of the zeitgeist.)

According to the Age based on the latest census figures the mainstream is shrinking. James Jupp is quoted as saying mainstream is British-Australian Christian, and we're down to two-thirds of the population - though I wouldn't claim to be a Christain and I prefer the term Anglo-Celt to British (there's enough rebellious Irish blood still flowing). And the average Australian is a 37 year old, mother of two, still paying off a mortgage.

&, if I read this right, Judaism disapproves of the census. Which surprised me, as it would have seemed to me a statistical rather than religious execise, but I am sure there is rich and logical Talmudic reasoning at work.

The data showed "a particular growth" in non-Christian religions. And the number of Muslims has been overtaken by the number of Buddhists.

There are nearly 400 languages spoken in Australian homes with Chinese (Mandarin and Cantonese) the most common language other than English, replacing Italian and Greeks. Cantonese, alone ties with Arabic (after Greek and Italian) as the most common language other than English spoken at home. But Mandarin and Hindi are the fastest growing languages.


The Penguin publicity machine are doing a superb job - I feel that everytime I open a newspaper in Melbourne in the last few months I'm been reading about Sonya Hartnett - and how unhappy she is. I suppose an unhappy author is easier to promote than an happy author - I'll pass that on to Susie, our publicist, so she can enourage our authors to suffer more in the cause of their publicity. Harnett is a superb writer but her unhappiness with writing and being a writer is in severe danger of over-exposure.

And found the following quote in this morning's Age article of particular interest: "The celebration of the mediocre we have in this country is dispiriting." Following the sentence "Her disillusionment with writing reflected frustration at seeing average books such as The Da Vinci Code or the Harry Potter series being outrageously overpromoted." Was either book any more promoted in this country than anywhere else? Have Dan and JK now taken up residency in this country? Maybe she could have a taken a pot shot at the overpromotion (Is that an oxymoron anyhow?) of, say, a diet or a cook book.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

quote from the Age - future of the book is hopeful

"When it comes to value and volume, Nielsen BookScan principal Michael Webster says, book sales in Australia are growing, with value up 3.8 per cent to $1.05 billion and volume up 2.2 per cent to 53.3 million units last year on 2005. He showed that even without the Harry Potter titles and Dan Brown, this still applied and the trend was continuing in the first half of this year. Contrary to some claims, independent booksellers are not being driven out of business, with the sector's share in value terms leaping 16.1 per cent last yea compared with 2005, giving it a 21.8 per cent chunk of the market."


"Webster showed that youngsters are actually buying books, with 31 per cent of 10-18-year-olds being described as avid and confident readers, according to figures he quoted from Kids: Young Australians Reading, 10-18-year-olds. However, there was agreement that at adolescence the number of readers dropped significantly. "It's the biggest marketing challenge for everyone in publishing."

16 June

Wednesday, June 20, 2007


Does anybody know anything about this online bookseller?

Tuesday, June 19, 2007


From iTunesI've just discovered that there's a band called Editors - "they can pull off the once old-fashioned blend of dark post-punk guitars and jittery vocals"


Do children's books up to and including YA lack enough good villains. We want to like our characters too much as authors, editors and publishers, and the effect of PC is to be nice to everybody, so the forceness of niceness are eliminating a powerful motor for stories - and make books less appealing for children to read. Sometimes the most successful books, especially those that children choose to read themselves, have an old-fashioned non-PC feel to them

Michael Panckridge's The Cursed seems marvellously old-fashioned in the quality of its villains: "The Light Crusaders and their leader Raymond Brampton are surely the most sinister villlains since Voldemort." - James Molony

Joke - warning, may cause offence

I loved the letter play in this joke. It may cause offence, but I think not.

The European Commission has just announced an agreement whereby English will be the official language of the European Union rather than German, which was the other possibility.
As part of the negotiations, the British Government conceded that English spelling had some room for improvement and has accepted a 5- year phase-in plan that would become known as "Euro-English".
In the first year, "s" will replace the soft "c". Sertainly, this will make the sivil servants jump with joy. The hard "c" will be dropped in favour of "k". This should klear up konfusion, and keyboards kan have one less letter. There will be growing publik enthusiasm in the sekond year when the troublesome "ph" will be replaced with "f". This will make words like fotograf 20% shorter.
In the 3rd year, publik akseptanse of the new spelling kan be expekted to reach the stage where! more komplikated changes are possible.
Governments will enkourage the removal of double letters which have always ben a deterent to akurate speling.
Also, al wil agre that the horibl mes of the silent "e" in the languag is disgrasful and it should go away.
By the 4th yer people wil be reseptiv to steps such as
replasing "th" with "z" and "w" with "v".
During ze fifz yer, ze unesesary "o" kan be dropd from vords kontaining "ou" and after ziz fifz yer, ve vil hav a reil sensi bl riten styl.
Zer vil be no mor trubl or difikultis and evrivun vil find it ezi tu understand ech oza. Ze drem of a united urop vil finali kum tru.
Und efter ze fifz yer, ve vil al be speking German like zey vunted in ze forst plas.
If zis mad you smil, pleas pas on to oza pepl

Sunday, June 17, 2007


I'd like to recommend the lovely Mockingbird bookshop's
myspace page

Now I'm tempted to do a black dog "my space page" - to see how different my space is to a website. Some people myspace instead of blogging.

and here's the website

And if you're in Mont Albert do visit Evelyn and shop at Mockingbird at:

Mont Albert Village
377 Month Albert Road
Mont Albert vic 3127
email: mockingbird@bigpond.com
tel: 03 9899 2955

Friday, June 15, 2007

Tufte quote

"Powerpoint is a low resolution screw-up like voice-mail menu systems"

Actually I quite like Powerpoint though it is overused to the point of tedium, but I really do hate voice-mail menus systems.

Diversity in the business of publishing

While I was waiting for a coffee I picked up a business magazine and started reading an article extolling the profit virtues of diversity in the marketplace, specifically a diversity in the work force as stimulus to new business and new ideas. It was one of those articles that you wished you could rip out and take away with you.

Diversity is something publishers in general seem to value, presenting something new, different and exciting, and it is something we value at black dog - maybe our size and relative newness gives us a particular opportunity to experiment in distinction to the multis.

(Maybe the alternative story, something fresh, sells better than one supporting the mainstream view. But I wouldn't want to push that argument very far.)

I know we like the story that present a different perspective. A story the presents at least two sides so that each side informs the other, such as Scarecrow Army, or Black Snake, where by the time Carole had finished writing the book she had changed her view of Ned Kelly.

Much as I enjoyed reading Fitzsimmons Kokoda, it reinforced an established Australian story of fighting on the track, and in the end I valued reading Paul Ham's Kokoda book more because it showed me something of the Japanese side, and the diversity and oddities of human behaviour.

Tri-nation Cup culture

In the Tri-nation Cup countries, the ex-Briitish colonies of South Africa, Australia and New Zealand, "high culture" is a new and fragile thing. It came a shock to me, a while ago while in NZ when I realised that many of the "state' theatre, ballet and opera companies of both countries, the torch bearers of the this sort of culture, are recent creations of the 1950s and later, and funding for the bodies seemed to have peaked in the 70s and 80s.

In that context I was interesed to read the comments of Jacques de Vos Malan, formerly director of the Cape Town Symphony Orchestra and recently appointed CEO of the Melbourne Recital Centre. The Cape Town Orchestra has closed, "the opera company has also gone, and many professional theatre and dance companies are closing down." Mr de Vos Malan moved here after "losing faith in the African renaissance".

He described his daughter now "as having that fantastic self-confidence that Aussie kids have from growing up in a safe and secure country".

What we define usually has "high culture" has a very European bias.

Chinua Achebe has of course just won the Booker Prize for Fiction. Nadine Gordimer, one of the judges said: “Chinua Achebe’s early work made him the father of modern African literature as an integral part of world literature."

Food critics/defamation

Reviews and defamation are topics of intrigueing interest to writers and publishers so the case of the restaurant Coco Roco v food critic Matthew Evans/Sydney Morning Herald was food for thought. Matthew had among other things described Coco Roco's oysters as "jangled like a car crash" - nice turn of phrase. The jury had found in favor of Matthew initially but that was overturned on appeal and High Court supported the appeal court 6-1 (no mean majority):
" Business capacity and reputation are different from personal reputation. Harm to the former can be as here, inflicted more directly and narrowly than harm to a person's reputation."
Perhaps as a business I should feel warmed by the court's view. In my experience the law tends to support business over the individual - which maybe why we can describe our economic system as capitalist.
John Lethlean said it would raise concerns from journos "whether they comment on restaurants or cinema or theatre or literature, whatever" The restaurant review is a singularly potent influence on the success or failure of a restaurant - maybe it's to do with the size of the market a restaurant draws upon - its local - in comparison to a film or book where many reviewers are (hopefully) at work.
The dissenting judge was Michael Kirby who admitted judges didn't know much about food: "jurors are much more likely to reflect community standards, many of whom like myself, have no special interest in culinary matters, expensive restaurants or cuisine generally. Astonishingly judges may occasionally lack sense of irony or humour." So Mr Kirby is coming out in defence of the jury system with a delicate self-deprecating flourish.

I'm trying to remeber the case when another Sydney food critic was hauled over a flaming lobster.

test your book title

This is entertaining and even a little thought provoking.
title scorer

Saturday, June 02, 2007

e-books and graphic books

There's been much trumpeting blowing about both in the book trade but in neither case has the delivery matched the press. At least withn the traditional book trade. Maybe it's all still coming … but slowly, slowly, slowly.

new ways of making publishing decisions

I received this invitation from Borders (US) in an email:

Borders survey

And I'd like to quote from the opening page:
"Welcome and thank you for participating in the Early Read Book Preview program. Over the next few minutes you'll have the opportunity to offer book publishers your opinion on new books.
Throughout the preview you'll get the chance to discover both unpublished book ideas and recently published new books, and to share your views on them. This is not a book review exercise or a reading test — we simply want your personal reactions to help book publishers better understand what you like to read most.
We hope you enjoy taking part in the Early Read Book Preview, and to show our thanks you'll be given a link to a coupon good for 20% off the list price of one item with a purchase of $20 or more at any Borders, Waldenbooks or Borders Express, at the end of the preview.
Your friends at Borders and Waldenbooks"

How does it work? What influence will the data have on publishers? How will Borders use it to influence publishers? I assume the publishers have submitted books at Borders' request.

Why would a bookshop wish to influence the publishing process in this way?

Lots of interesting questions. Intrigueing!

(Part of the survey form didn't make sense to me and it kept bouncing my answer back to me for further work and I gave up before completing it.)

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Saturday, May 26, 2007


Why is inspirational so overused as a describing word for Hollywood movies?

Here we go:


Inspired by one family's real story.

Set in 1978 New Jersey, Gracie is the story of sixteen-year-old Gracie Bowen, who, after a family tragedy changed her life, fought for and won the right for girls everywhere to play competitive soccer.

This inspirational summer family soccer movie stars Dermot Mulroney, Elisabeth Shue, and Carly Schroeder, and is directed by Davis Guggenheim (An Inconvenient Truth)

The novel Gracie by New York Times bestselling author Suzanne Weyn is published by Newmarket Press.

Notes struck by a reading

I recently watched (on a plane so only semi-voluntarily) the movie Perfume. A movie with interesting moments. I was intrigued by Dustin Hoffman's character describing the makeup of perfune. There is the head note which is what you first smell, then the heart note which makes up the core of the scent and then the base note which is what lingers with you.

I was left wondering whether something similar worked with a book. Does a great book leaves a base note - something indefinable, buried deep within the telling of the book, which only comes out over time, sometimes long after the book has been finished.

current overworked phrase

"not the sharpest knife (tool) in draw (toolbox)"

Monday, May 14, 2007


It's interesting being in a country that doesn't have dual flush toilets, and seems to only have dot ca, no dot com, or dot org, or dot anything else, just a simple declarative .ca. And they are so very very polite - almost shockingly so. So much more polite than there compatriots across the border. Bob Andersen, my Black Hills partner, explained that the Americans are brought up to believe in the individual and the Canadians are brought up to believe in the group and supporting the group.

If you're looking for an interesting hotel in Toronto let me recommend the Drake. It's on Queen Street, a long street that is like Gertrude St and Brunswick St combined into one long street. And just behind the Drake is the Portuguese district - I hadn't appreciated that the fourth language in Toronto is Portuguese.

It's not all a bed of roses of courses - the news is describing the outrage of a man who brutally cut off the ears of his dog with a kitchen knife or hacksaw - "in a brutal attempt to make him look meaner".

Saturday, May 05, 2007

online bookshops

There's a plethora of media reading group popping up: ABC (on Tuesdays) Age in this Saturday's Age and A&R, among others. Interesting. What will it do to book sales? Are books something particularly suited to online success a la Amazon? New media enhancing old?

Saturday, April 21, 2007

national graphic styles

One of the visiting international publishers at last year's Sydney Writer's Festival commented that Australian bookshops had British and American AND Australian graphical styles all fighting with each other in shop displays. Intriguing.

NZ color palate

I was in New Zealand recently (mainly tramping but also working) and someone showed me a New Zealand picture book that an Australian publisher had criticised for being too dark. At Borders the next day looking around the New Zealand picture book section I realized that New Zealanders like a lot of black in their illustrations. It's a much darker color palate than the Australian. We tend to go for bright, light and saturated colors. This is a broad and rash generalization but I think there is truth in it. New Zealanders are the All Blacks and they like to wear a lot of black, so maybe it is not surprising.

Coming from drought ridden Australia, I was amazed at how wet New Zealand was, and green.

in safe hands

One thing important thing that has come through to me from reading recent manuscrpts is how important it is for the reader to feel that they are in safe hands, that the writer is confidently taking them somewhere. I think that is part of the appeal of the journey as a narrative device. And it's the problem with too much back story at the start - the reader doesn't feel that there being taken anywhere. And too much back story at the start is one of the commonest flaws in the unsolicited manuscripts.

Sometimes I feel the writer can be indulging themselves at the expense of the reader by putting in a section, a piece of writing, or a chapter that's something they want to put in rather than something that the story needs. They may particularly like this piece of writing and want it to be read and admired but it floats on top rather than being part of the flow of the writing.

Annie Dillard said a writer often has to give up the best piece of writing or take the book down the wrong fork. A comment that has intrigued me since I read it.

Friday, March 23, 2007

new word - whingle

A whingle is a whinge with an angle i.e. it will cost you later. First identified in the building industry among contractors and sub-contractors.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Borders UK up for sale - & what else?

Borders UK may be up for sale after a recent review following a quaterly loss The review is said to have included Australian and New Zealand.

We've had only happy experiences with Borders and I'm left wondering what impact there'll be on the book trade here, and on us in particular.

Friday, March 02, 2007

gold from Sussex

Lucy Sussex sent me this quote from a history of Macmillan:

'The moral seems to be that to be a good publisher you must take children and artists seriously, and that is a hard moral, for how does it differ from saying that to be a good publisher you must be a good man?'

Now that's kind of challenging. As a caveat, quite Buddhist in its demands.

The source is: Charles Morgan, The House of Macmillan (1843-1943)
London: Macmillan 1934

Friday, February 23, 2007

Carole and the plotting of the Dragonkeeper books

We had a professional development session on Tuesday night at black dog. We run PDs for teachers but this was aimed more at the publishing professionals at our authors, illustrators, designers and ourselves. Carole spoke on plotting particular the plotting of the Dragonkeeper trilogy. It was an excellent evening. Carole spoke at length, and the questions and answers flew back and forth between audience and speaker.

What captured my imagination was the discipline with which Carole approaches her writing, how she harnesses her passion and ideas. She usually starts work at 7:30 in the morning and writes only in the morning (unless a deadline is very much looming) and the afternoon is reserved for research, going to the library and all the other things she needs to do in her life. She says she's not a writer who just sits down and writes and sees where it takes her. Once she knows the idea of the book she sits down and plans the plot. This will change as the book evolves but she begins with a plan. She is a fan of plot and thinks that it is especially important in children's books. Children's expectation of a storyline is that it goes up and up - Cinderella begins in the ashes, an invitation arrives, she goes to the ball, dances with the prince, wins the prince's heart, they get married and live happily ever after. And some writers, especially those gifted with youth, give children these storylines in their books but Carole says for a book to capture the imagination it needs more. It needs ups and downs, light and shade: Cinderella is in the ashes, the invitation arrives (good), she's forbidden to go (bad), the fairy god mother arrives, C. goes to the ball, but she has to leave by 12 (and her coach rather embarrassingly almost turns into a pumpkin), she leaves a slipper, the prince's butler (or whatever) comes with the shoe for it to be tried on, but C. is not allowed to, the butler insists. the prince and C get married (resolution). So up and down the story line goes, up the hill and down the dale, sustaining the readers interest. Carole also builds in two or three subplots. (A US reviewer criticised Carole for putting too many villains in Dragonkeeper.) Each of which has their own story arc.

One of the the things that fascinated me was the systematic way Carole sat down to solve problems. Carole has a white board for plotting and has a notebook for each book. When she's stuck or uncertain as to how to resolve a problem. she writes down as many different soluions to the plot problem as she can and then reviews. Often she said combining possible solutions made the best solution. (I hope I got this down correctly, Carole? Please correct if not.)

Carole said that what she was doing is creating worlds, so building on consistent foundations is important. The moon was important in Dragonkeeper, so she found a year in the lunar calendar that suited her purposes and stuck to that throughout the book.

I know other writers including Sue Lawson who use notebooks, especially for the back story. When Sue's characters live in a house she looks for a plan of a house that will suit the books needs in the real estate section of the newspaper. As an editor it is often the detail that brings the book alive for me.

I've just captured a small part of Carole's talk here.

Thanks, Carole, for an excellent presentation.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Harry Potter interim cover

Interesting to see the Bloomsbury solution to creating and interim cover:

illustrator's quote

I did want to quote this excellent line from one of our illustrators:

'a reader could either translate the illustration to mean "the hills hoist has actually turned into a spaceship", or "the children have just entered a fugue of hyper imagination".'

SA v Vic

Is the rivalry between SA and Victoria real? Greg Baum claimed it extends into the colonial past in the Weekend Australian, which reminded me of this entry in The Encyclopedia of South Australian Culture

Noel McLachlan and Waiting for the Revolution

I was sorry to discover last week that Noel McLachlan had died. Editing his Waiting for the Revolution was my first real adult trade freelance editorial job (courtesy of Barbie Burton). My experience of Noel was that he was charming, wilful, subversive and highly amusing. I learnt a lot. He'd exceeded his original brief from Penguin by some 30,000 words and he'd been ordered to cut. So he didn't cut anything substantive he eliminated unnecessary words such as thats and thes. When I started reading it I was shocked and appalled. Then I got into the rhythm of Noel's language, and after awhile I could hear his distinctive voice in my ear when I was reading the script. When it went back to Penguin (not to Barbie), the editor was shocked and appalled, sent me a letter telling me off, and some of the missing words were 'restored' but not enough to ruin the rhythm of the writing and Noel escaped any substantive cuts.

The book also left me with a perspective on Australian history that I still retain.

POV and genre

I've been taking a short cut by mixing up POV and person, though they are closely related, and here's some comments about POV from a romance writer's perspective which I found interesting in relation to person and genre (with thanks to Jane Sullivan):
Anne Gracie

Saturday, February 17, 2007

more on first person

It's been an interesting discussion in the comments on an earlier post on first person.

In my original post I now think I was edging towards some sort of age-based theory about person. Before I get into too much trouble, I want to say: There are no rules, and what is right depends on the author, the book, the characters.


In early chapter books I think the first person (often past tense) has a direct appeal. As there are more words and more of a story 3rd person either constrained to one character or more omniscient is attractive. At this age I remember loving the sense of security that someone (an adult) was telling me a good story - that I was in safe hands. I liked being able to adventure securely (often I think there was an adult mentor figure in the stories as well). Is this why fantasy is so strong in these years? Is first person less common in fantasy. Then things get a bit more edgy and different in the teen years. We start to see peers in different ways. Teenagers are working to define themselves, often against what is around them, and to test the authenticity of those boundaries. And these years are direct and sensory, with an immediacy suited to the first person.

I suppose there is a genre component: historical fiction tends to be 3rd person, as does fantasy and contemporary reality fiction is often first.

Now I can't wait to hear other theories…

Sunday, February 11, 2007

1st person

We're editing a first-person YA novel at the moment and I was reminded reading "How Novels Work" that Henry James was partly responsible for a dip in the use of the first person in novels: "The first person, in the long piece, is a form foredoomed to looseness" and "the terrible fluidity of self-revelation" and "it has no authority, no persuasive or convincing force - its grasp of reality & truth isn't strong and disinterested". A dip that has well and truly been righted with more than half the Booker prize winners of the last ten years or so being at least in part in the first person. I like first person but James' comments reminded me that as a child (not a teenager) I preferred the adult warmth of the 3rd person, the sense of sitting on the narrator's knee - and Ali, at black dog, said she too had preferred the first person. The first person seems peculiarly suited to the the intense egotism of the teen years.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

NZ Post Awards announced and congratulations to Leon for the shortlisting of Red Haze

And congratulations to all the shortlisted authors, illustrators and publishers. (with a special congratulatory thanks to Schoalstic New Zealand, our truly excellent New Zealand distributors).

2007 Non Fiction Finalists

Red Haze: Australians and
New Zealanders in Vietnam
Leon Davidson
Black Dog Books
$19.99 pb

Illustrated History of
the South Pacific
Marcia Stenson
Random House New Zealand
$29.99 pb

It's True! You Can
Make Your Own Jokes
Sharon Holt & Ross Kinnaird
Allen & Unwin
$13.99 pb

Soldier in the Yellow Socks: Charles Upham - our finest fighting soldier
Janice Marriott
HarperCollins Publishers

Winging It!
The Adventures of Tim Wallis
Neville Peat
Longacre Press
$24.99 pb

2007 Picture Book Finalists

Kiss! Kiss! Yuck! Yuck!
Kyle Mewburn, Ali Teo & John O'Reilly
Scholastic New Zealand
$16.99 pb

Robyn Kahukiwa
$16.95 pb

A Present from the Past
Jennifer Beck & Lindy Fisher
Scholastic New Zealand
$16.99 pb

Riding the Waves
Gavin Bishop
Random House New Zealand
$29.99 hb

Whakaeke i ngā ngaru
Gavin Bishop & Kāterina Mataira
Random House New Zealand
$24.99 pb

The Three Fishing Brothers Gruff
Ben Galbraith
Hodder Children's Books
$29.99 hb

2007 Junior Fiction Finalists:

And did those feet...
Ted Dawe
Longacre Press
$16.99 pb

Vince Ford
Scholastic New Zealand
$16.99 pb

Frog Whistle Mine
Des Hunt
HarperCollins Publishers
$16.99 pb

My Story: Castaway - The Diary of Samuel Abraham Clark, Disappointment Island, 1907
Bill O'Brien
Scholastic New Zealand
$16.99 pb

Thor's Tale: Endurance and Adventure in the Southern Ocean
Janice Marriott
HarperCollins Publishers
$18.99 pb

YA fiction shortlist:

Bernard Beckett
Longacre Press
$18.99 pb

A Respectable Girl
Fleur Beale
Random House New Zealand
$18.99 pb

Shooting the Moon
V. M. Jones
HarperCollins Publishers
$18.99 pb

Single Fin
Aaron Topp
Random House New Zealand
$18.99 pb

Ella West
Longacre Press
$18.99 pb

For more information


Tuesday, February 06, 2007

territorial combat

The Brits are argueing with the Yanks about what to do with Europe. Hachette has given distribution of US Hachette titles in Europe to the Brits much to the disappointment of the Europeans.

Karl Heinz Petzler, managing director of the Lisbon distributor Lisma Lda said. "I can only classify this decision of voluntarily renouncing turnover as an unheard of act of self-castration," Petzler wrote in a letter to Hachette. "It also shows a lack of respect for authors, agents and customers alike, who all will lose because of this move."

Brian DeFiore, head of the literary agency DeFiore and Company: U.S. publishers insist that Europe remain an open market, which makes it very difficult to get a U.K. deal, and American houses are likely to reject any deal made with a U.K. publisher that has already won European exclusivity.

An interesting echo of our territorial difficulties with the Poms.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

excellent article

on the British literary inferiority complex by Benjamin Markovits in this weekends AFR but reprinted with minimal acknowledgement from
Prospect magazine but search it under Google as clicking the link I've provided asks you to subscribe to read the article.

Oz character

Do we have a particular taste for leaving things to the last minute and flying by the seat of our pants. A reputation for cheap and innovative solutions? Compared to an American, European or say Japanese thoroughness and attention to detail. (In part due to a lack of resources?)

Friday, February 02, 2007

new word - optioneer

meaning someone who purveys a film option (with thanks to Melisssa Davies of Sight Effects). I liked it - very much - with its overtones of auctioneer (selling) and of the cheery clubby but media overtones of mouseketeer. I can't find it on the web except as a index trading option program. I think Melissa's use is far superior.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Natalie Babbit - new book

I very much enjoyed Tuck Everlasting so it was good to read that she's written her first novel for children in 25 years: Jack Planck Tells Tales.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Serpent's Tail for Profile

The independent publishing scene in the UK continues to effervesce: the largely non-fiction Profile (of Eats, Shoots and Leaves fame) has bought out the largely fiction Serpent's Tail.

Just to give some idea of scale in independent publishing: Serpent's Tail turns over 2 million pounds (about A$4.8m) and has been profitable for the last five years, has been going twenty and and has five staff. The five staff is lean for that turnover. (We have a full-time staff equivalent of roughly six and a half.) Serpent's Tail kicked started its profitable years with Catherine Millet's "The Sexual Life of Catherine M."

From their website: Serpent’s Tail’s logo is an ouroboros and represents the two fundamental attributes of time – imminent annihilation and rising hope, which follow each other over and over again in an infinite cycle: time represented as a serpent swallowing its tail. (Which comes across to be my Australian sensibility as a bit much.)

Footnote: Faber's Alliance of independent publisher is interesting to watch.

And I'd like to recommend "Thank you for smoking"


As we have a rubbishy TV set and my hearing is on the decline, I'm watching movies with the subtitles on. I was surprised (& amused) at how much they differ from the spoken words. I'm assuming the subtitles are the script and I'm seeing how much actors contribute with ad libbing. I'm recommending giving it a shot - it's quite entertaining.

Babel - Brilliant

We went to the movies last and saw Babel. It knocked my socks off. Challenging and gruelling and worth every second.

Maryann and I came out of the movies with quite different understandings of the movie. For Maryann it was a bitter film about American (& male) arrogance leading to a chain of disastrous events. For me it was random connections becoming multiple causes (& multiple stories crossing back and forth in time) linking across the globe - the flap of the butterflies wing effect. For me it was reminiscent of Crash, for Mab, Syriana.

The point I'm wanting to make is that like any good movie, there are many interpretations. Rich like a Xmas pud. Please go and see it.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

truly excellent quote:

"Characters migrate." Umberto Eco

with thanks to Lloyd Jones ("Master Pip" Text $29.95 available from all good booksellers)

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Secret River

Something I hadn't realised was that Secret River has sold almost double in the UK what it sold here laster year and that the shortlisted Secret River outsold the winner Loss of Innocence by more than double in the UK. I'm surprised that it struck such a chord.

recycling The (British) Bookseller

I liked this quote from Will Atkinson, Sales and Marketing Director: "That's the great thing about independent publishing: we are given the time to build these people. Corporates have not necessarily got that luxury. I'm not saying we're better, but we can play a longer game."

Of course everybody agrees that big books are getting bigger - at the expense of the middle ground. Anthony Cheetham offers insight. He says the big hit isn't just big these days but huge - a million copies. And everything above budget is pure profit. The publisher then becomes a blockbuster junkie. And one success outweighs at least two failures so the odds are on the publisher's side. And celebrity memoirs are usually quick - you can have em out for Christmas. A blockbuster doesn't need more staff unlike more lesser titles.

Interesting. As on one level big publishers are said to be risk averse but ready to take punts on big advances.

Kokoda: 101 Days

I'm still in back-from-holiday mode. Lots of treats on my return including the printed copies of "Kokoda: 101 Days". And it looks gorgeous. With Peter's willing participation, we all walked the Kokoda Trail with him in our imaginations, commenting on his many versions. Taxing for any author sometimes but it can be all very participatory at black dog. Anybody, of any age, will love the book. Don't wade through Ham or Fitzsimmons, get it in a crisp and elegant read from Peter Mcinnes.

Monday, January 22, 2007


The Australians have done well again in another set of international awards yet without actually taking out the big gongs: Surrender by Sonya Hartnett and The Book Thief by Markus Zuzak were both Prinz honor books. The winner was a graphic novel: American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang

Susan Patron has won the John Newbery Medal for her novel The Higher Power of Lucky, illustrated by Matt Phelan and David Wiesner won the Randolph Caldecott Medal for Flotsam.

Friday, January 19, 2007

independent publishers popping

I'm just back from a longer than usual Christmas break. Plenty of opportunity for beachside reading. I loved Ford's The Lay of the Land and Raymond Carver's What We Mean When We Talk About Love. Re-read the gorgeous Dragon Moon in page proofs the last of the Dragonkeeper books - due out in April. The perfect end to a superb trilogy. My daughter was very sad to say goodbye to Ping. I read Simone Howell's Notes from a Teenage Underground and I loved it but I thought it fell away in the middle-end, though I was satisfied with the final few pages. I think Karen Tayleur's Chasing Boys (which I'm also re-reading in page proof) is even better - perfect voice and strong finish. Watch out for it - coming soon from black dog.

And picked up theBookseller.com e-new on my return::

I think times are good for independent publishers. Here in Oz they're good but I have to admire the way the scene is popping in the UK - Faber, Snowbooks and Profile are vying for the in the inaugural Independent Publishers Guild Trade Publisher of the Year award. A mighty list of independent names.

Good economic times mean independents can flourish (well everybody flourishes). Independents do have advantages of appropriate scale, flexibility and definitely a creative edge over the majors. We can take more and better risks. The big boys are much more focussed on the celebrity end of the market and books they believe they can make big through marketing muscle.

There's a place for everybody in the ecology of publishing - at least in the good times.