30 May 2011

Q&A with Ian Irvine

The Calamitous Queen by Ian Irvine, out in June 2011!

How long did it take you to write the Grim and Grimmer series?
I began the plan of the series, and the first book, in August 2008, and finished the final edits of the fourth book in March 2011, but most of that time I was writing other things. The total time to write each book was about a month. The Headless Highwayman and The Grasping Goblin took a bit over a month each, The Desperate Dwarf and The Calamitous Queen a bit less. But a lot of that work is planning. For instance I spent six days planning The Calamitous Queen in great detail, then another six and a half days writing the first draft. Curiously, I find that the faster I write, the less editing I have to do. I still do a lot of drafts, though.

Do you procrastinate? Are you an early-morning or late-at-night writer?
I don’t procrastinate because I really enjoy writing and want to do more of it. I usually start about 7.30 am and write until after lunch, have a break or a brief nap, then write through until dinner time. Sometimes, If I’m working to a very tight deadline, as with The Calamitous Queen, I’ll start at 5 am and go right through to dinner time, and even do a bit of writing late at night.

Where do you get your inspiration for your books?
Everywhere. I’ve travelled a lot, and worked in a dozen countries, so I have plenty of experience to draw on. I also draw inspiration from my scientific background (I’ve been a marine scientist for 30 years) which perhaps is why I write differently to most other writers.

When did you write your first book and how old were you?
In 1987, when I was 37. It was A Shadow on the Glass, and forms the first book of my epic fantasy quartet The View from the Mirror. The quartet is over 800,000 words and it took more than 10 years to get the series published, but it’s never been out of print in Australia since, and has been published in many other countries.

What does your family think of your writing?
Well, they all enjoy reading so I imagine they’re fairly pleased, though to be honest I’ve never asked them.

What are you reading at the moment?
I’m re-reading my 20-book set of the Brother Cadfael medieval whodunits by Ellis Peters (AKA Edith Pargeter). And I’m about to start Jonathan Stroud’s The Ring of Solomon, the fourth in his Bartimaeus series about a sarcastic and cowardly djinni, which I’m very much looking forward to.

What are you writing next?
Now that I’ve done the Grim and Grimmer quartet, I’m working on a new epic fantasy series for older readers called The Tainted Realm. The first book, which I’ve just finished, is Vengeance. I’m also tossing around ideas for a new children’s series though I won’t start it until The Tainted Realm is finished next year.

Do you hear from your readers much? What kinds of things do they say?
I get email from a few hundred different people a year – readers can email me here. Now that I have a Facebook author page, I’m in touch with my readers daily and we have a great conversation going. The most common questions are: When is the next book coming out? Why did you kill off that character I really loved? Are your books available as eBooks? The answers to many FAQs can be found on my gigantic website.

As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
Deep space explorer. Fighter pilot. Adventurer. Pretty much anything that didn’t involve real work.

What do you like to do when you're not writing?
Lie on the lounge reading a book. Wander around the garden. Daydream.

When was the last time you went on a bus?
Umm, years ago, since I live in the country and there’s no public transport at all here. I’ve a vague memory of getting a bus in Sydney some years back.

23 May 2011

Congratulations, Luke Edwards!

2011 APA Book Design Awards

Best Designed Children’s Cover of the Year The Staring Owl (Luke Edwards, Omnibus) cover designer Luke Edwards

Yay! Written, illustrated and designed by the one and only Luke Edwards. Well done, Luke and Owl.

20 May 2011

Movie review: Ramona and Beezus

We watched this movie on dvd recently after it slipped under my radar when it came out in cinemas last year. Based, of course, on the wonderful books by Beverley Cleary, the film remains true to the books' spirit. The Ramona books do that beautiful thing in truly good children's literature -- give an insight into the adult world from a child's perspective. As adults we can be reminded how mystifying, alarming and confusing the world can be for children. But also, that children can be full participants in family life and all the good and bad times. The children are quirky, the adults are not perfect (but they are unusually good looking) and the parenting is not straight out of the box. This film gets it all just right. And it ends with a wedding -- what's not to like?!

17 May 2011

The Friendship Matchmaker

Today some wonderful reviews of The Friendship Matchmaker appearing here and thereabouts on the interwebs.

Over here at Readings.

Here at The Younger Sun.

Here on the website of the NSW Association for Gifted and Talented Children.

And there's a wonderful discussion on Randa's own website about the book. So many happy readers!

And an interview with Randa here, talking about writing The Friendship Matchmaker.

And don't forget to leave us a comment to enter the Sean Williams competition, the prize being a signed set of The Fixers!

11 May 2011

What is your opinion about e-books and even more importantly, DRM?

I read a blog that was quite challenging and which I thought was interesting so for the sake of discussion and just because I think its time you creative types spoke up, I offer this link.

Let's see if anyone really cares ...

I am ideologically opposed to DRM. I think the world is going to become a very flexible place in this new on-line society and DRM is the stranglehold that will turn readers off. This isn't to say that our company or indeed any other Australian publisher feels the same way, of course. What do you think?

Some terrific reviews of our publishing in this month's Magpies magazine -- well done, Allayne Webster whose YA novel Stresshead was a hit.  And well done too, Eleanor Nilsson -- her title in the very popular Mates series, Aussie Dog, also got a big tick as did Randa Abdel-Fattah's Mate, Buzz Off!  We love reviewers when they do a good job.

Read, every day, something no one else is reading. Think, every day, something no one else is thinking. Do, every day, something no one else would be silly enough to do. It is bad for the mind to continually be part of unanimity. -- Christopher Morley, writer (1890-1957)

A note from your Conductor xx

05 May 2011

A competition for illustrators

Illustration courtesy Michael Malleedy

Did anyone see the beautiful illustrated envelopes on the Guardian website recently?
This made me long for real mail that isn't my credit card statement or my electricity bill. In order to encourage any young/old/middle-aged illustrators out there I have decided to have a competition. The best illustrated envelope –- regular size please -- sent to me at 175 Young Street, Parkside, SA 5063, will win not only five hardback picture books but also a serious look at the artist's portfolio.

How's that for exciting?

Take a look at the Guardian link -- you will see how some illustrators managed this idea.  The idea is for you to show characters in situ -- something that suggests a story to us. So get your brushes, inks and paper and get started!

A note from your Conductor

May books from Omnibus

In my house Too Many Monkeys needs to be acted out. Obviously the 'knock knock' must be rapped out on a nearby hard surface, but of course the most giggles are reserved for 'Someone's bottom is sitting on my head!' Ah, Margaret Wild's genius knows no bounds and Sally Rippin's colour palette is just right for the moment. Too Many Monkeys, first paperback release.

If you haven't noticed Omnibus Book's fabulous Mates! series yet, then you're going to have a nice surprise when you click over here to see the feast of lovely covers. This series is a smorgasbord of Australian literary and artistic talent. And Buzz Off, by Randa Abel-Fattah and Dan McGuiness is no exception. Out this month.

Omnibus is very pleased to be re-releasing a classic of Australian children's literature this month, Robin Klein's Boss of the Pool, with a wonderfully fresh new cover. 

I've saved our most exciting new book for last. Stresshead by Allayne Webster is set to be a big hit. The second book from this fresh new voice in young adult fiction, this novel is a funny, wry and first-hand account of trying to cope with the almost overwhelming burden of being sixteen. And the cover totally rocks, doesn't it?!

03 May 2011

What I wish was on my pile

Publishing is a very strange profession.  We make judgements each day about what is worth publishing and what is not and frequently the ones we reject turn up somewhere else where they are loved and supported and made into books.  So why is something rejected? Well, in our case we reject work that just isn't original enough, or literary enough, or funny enough, or serious enough, or clever enough.  Or possibly all of the above. Just as all readers do, we read with the hope that something magical will happen –- we won't want to stop reading. Lunch or coffee or that walk you meant to take today will just be forgotten in the absolute pleasure of a wonderful, captivating story with characters that capture you and settings so real you can walk there instead.

Where are those stories, by the way?  Please would all the writers who have one like that in their bottom drawer get it out now and send it to us? Just this week we have taken on three stories from the unsolicited pile. It does happen. Three writers who took a chance and sent their manuscript to us, fingers crossed, along with a self-addressed envelope just in case.

More than anything I wish we could publish some more writers with different ethnic backgrounds -- there must be some great children's writers out there with a different point of view, surely? 

On  a different note, I spent Easter with my family on the Mornington Peninsula -- very nice.  Heronswood Garden was just beautiful and I spent way too much time in the garden shop, as usual. Rolled about loudly on the lush green lawn (hmm, avoid cliches ...) with my grandson looking variously for his ears, nose, knees and belly button. What fun to play like a child. I thought about picture books as I read to him that weekend. He likes anything mechanical: trucks, fire engines, ambulances, but discovered when I tried to take him to the fireworks night that he doesn't like 'fire cracks'.  Now there's some very original and evocative language I like ...

A note from your Conductor xx

02 May 2011

Q&A with Sean Williams and a Competition!

Next in our occasional author-interviews series is Sean Williams, a super star in our humble opinion. Sean has kindly given us an insight into his wonderful creative world. And to celebrate the release of his latest fantastic series for Omnibus Books, The Fixers, we have a competition! To win a signed set of The Fixers, simply leave us a comment telling us the last time you went on a bus and we'll randomly draw a winner at the end of May. So comment away, and win!

How long did it take you to write The Fixers?
Either three weeks or seven years, depending on how you look at it. In terms of actually writing the words, it didn’t take long at all. I’m a quick writer once I know what story I want to tell, and Ollie’s adventures were so much fun I didn’t want to pause at any point. My obsessive records tell me that I wrote the first sentence of Castle of the Zombies on 30 January 2009 and the last sentence of Invasion of the Freaks on 17 February 2010. There were rewrites in March and September the same year, plus some last-minute changes ahead of each book’s publication. So the question of when a book starts or finishes becomes a very complicated one. It shouldn’t be so difficult!

Do you procrastinate? Are you an early-morning or late-at-night writer?
I’m somewhere in between: a nine-to-five writer, like it’s a real job. Which it is, of course. I tend to write at the start of the day, which leaves the afternoon free for catching up with other stuff, like emails, talking to collaborators, proofing, etc. One thing that surprised me about being a full-time writer is how little of it is actually about writing. But that’s okay. I suppose people my age should be working some of the time, instead of playing all the time.

Where do you get your inspiration for your books?
From everywhere! The opening scenes of Castle of the Zombies happened almost beat-by-beat in my real life. Then there’s the idea of writing a story about castle, which came from one of my step-sons. Pixel the space-cat in Planet of the Cyborgs was inspired by Pixel the ordinary-cat, who belongs to a friend in Sydney. The most beautiful girl in the village of Curse of the Vampire is my wife, Amanda. And so on. All you have to do is keep your eyes and ears open, and ideas will just pour in. The trick is working out which are the good ones and how best to use them.

When did you write your first book and how old were you?
I finished my first novel in 1983. It has the awesomely bad title of Slug in the Sky. I was 15 and in high school and really should have been doing my homework, but instead I was banging out this thing on an old typewriter and it was the most fun I’d ever had in my entire life. I’d written some short pieces before then, but nothing I could get so involved in. The book was terrible, of course. It’s never been published, and I hope it never will be, but it was a step in the right direction. I wrote my second book (The Memö Böok Chronicles) in fountain pen the following year and my third (Circle of Kings) on an electric typewriter after leaving school. My fourth (When the Cow Came Down) came while I was at uni. My first computer was supposed to help me study, but all I really did on it was write. Not one of those novels has been published, but the next one was, and so were the next thirty-four. It’s literally a dream come true.

What does your family think of your writing?
They love it! Of course, they say they do, and I insist on believing them – even though everyone knows your mum is the worst critic ever. She’ll love everything, even if it’s terrible.

What are you reading at the moment?
I’ve been reading a bunch of thrillers by Lee Child, and before that I read The Adventures of Tom Sawyer for about the billionth time. I love that book it: as well as being both funny and frightening, it’s a wonderful glimpse into another world. The superstitions of Tom and his friends are far too bizarre for Mark Twain to have made them up. They could only be real.

(If you want to know more about my reading habits, you can find them on my blog or more recently at Goodreads.)

Do you hear from your readers much? What kinds of things do they say?
I do hear from readers. One popular question is: ‘Can you put me in a Star Wars novel?’ The answer, I’m sorry to say, is, ‘Probably not,’ although I have done it for most of my friends, whether they want to be in there or not.

Another is: ‘I want to do what you do. How do I make it happen?’ The answer is to just sit down and do it. And keep doing it. There’s an old Japanese saying, something along the lines of, ‘Even a thief takes seven years to learn her trade.’ That’s true for writing, too, but if you love doing it, it won’t feel like it took that long.

I’m asked a lot about coming to talk at schools, which is very flattering, and something I love doing, but it’s not something I can fit in very often. For one, I’m usually in the middle of writing something new and I don’t like taking days off, even for birthdays and Christmas. For two, I’m a very shy person and I get nervous in crowds. My natural instinct is to sit in my study and hide, so it takes a lot to get me out into the real world. You have to coax me out with chocolate. That usually works.

As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
For a while I wanted to be a cowboy, but then I started reading and my fate was sealed: the only thing better than being told a good story is writing one yourself. I’ve occasionally contemplated other careers – archaeology, mathematics, even accountancy – but none of them have stuck. It’s always been writing. Once I realised that resistance was futile, life became a whole lot simpler.

What do you like to do when you're not writing?
I don’t really have any hobbies, since I write and read every day. When I take time off at night, I like to hang out with my wife and family. One day I’m going to get back into writing music, my other true love, but as that would mean writing fewer words, it might not be any time soon.

When was the last time you went on a bus?
Hmm. *scratches head* I live very close to the city centre of Adelaide, so I tend to walk most places. Probably the last time would have been in Los Angeles in 2009, or maybe England in 2007. A long time ago, in other words. But I’ve caught plenty of trains and subways, and I’m a big believer in public transport.