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Wednesday, April 1, 2020

'Who's Your Real Mum?' picture-book review, and interview with author Bernadette Green

Received from the Publisher 

Hello Darling Readers,

I am truly so delighted to have an interview on my blog (the first one in a LONG time!) and it’s with a dear friend of mine.

Bernadette Green and I worked for years at the same indie publishing house, and when I knew her she was always writing and creating. What looms most large in my memory was her fabulous stories of how she met her partner (from memory; there was a hay-bale fire involved, I’m not even kidding – nobody was hurt) and her two amazing children who were utter delights and a credit to their mothers. So I am absolutely thrilled to see that in 2020 – a year when there’s so much, and I mean SO MUCH to be down about – that I can take a moment in my little corner of the world to celebrate someone very dear to me, and congratulate them on a truly inspired and inspiring project.

Who’s Your Real Mum? is Bernadette’s debut picture-book, beautifully illustrated by Anna Zobel and out now with Scribble!

Here’s the blurb;

When Nicholas wants to know which of Elvi’s two mums is her real mum, she gives him lots of clues. Her real mum is a circus performer, and a pirate, and she even teaches spiders the art of web. But Nicholas still can’t work it out! Luckily, Elvi knows just how to explain it to her friend. . .

It is such a gorgeous story with an understanding and tender heart. There’s a lot of humour within, a nurturing of curiosity and absurdity but overall; it’s a story about family, and love – always love. This book is an essential for any library, school, and personal picture-book collection and will be wonderful reading for all types of families – those for whom the question or variation of Who’s Your Real Mum? will be well-trod territory, and for those families who’d be more inclined to ask such questions. This is a book for everyone; it does that very rare thing of being both a conversation-starter and answerer for kids young (and old!).

Anna Zobel’s illustrations also feel timeless, and lend this book the feeling that it’s bound to be a beloved classic.

I’m so, so, SO in love with this book – it has brightened my days, and will be one I gift to many new families in my life. So I’m also delighted to have had the opportunity to pose some questions to Bernadette and pick her brain a little bit …

Q: Tell me about how you got published (agent or slush pile)?

I was studying Professional Writing and Editing at RMIT when author, Kate O’Donnell, came in to speak about YA writing. In her introduction she mentioned she was the production editor at Scribble kids’ Books. It was always being drilled into us to network and put ourselves out there, something I struggled with, but here was an opportunity too good to let go. It helped that Kate was incredibly friendly, so during the break I asked if I could talk to her about my picture book manuscript. Kate heard my pitch and a couple of days later I got an email asking if I could send it in.

Q: How long did it take you to write ‘Who's Your Real Mum?’ - from first
idea to final manuscript?

I wrote and polished it over a couple of months in late 2015. Then I left it for six months, came back and re-worked it, showed it to a friend and re-worked it again. I sent it to Scribble a couple of years after first writing it. There it went through some initial light edits and when illustrator, Anna Zobel, came on board I was asked to make some more changes. These were around writing some new fantasy scenes and pitching the story to a younger age group. Overall, from first word on paper to the final copy edit, it was a bit over four years but during this time there were long periods where the manuscript rested.  

Q: Where do story ideas generally start for you? Do you first think of the
character, theme, ending? Or is it just a free-fall?

It depends on the story, for Who’s Your Real Mum? It began with both the theme and the characters.  At the same time, one of the parts of this book that has never changed is the ending. While I didn’t start with the ending, once it was written it felt right and so while the rest of the story was moved around and edited, the ending grounded the story and made it clear where it was going.  

I am currently writing a middle grade novel and the initial idea started with a character. About seven years ago I was staying with my family at a friend’s in Daylesford, my girls were quite young and we were discussing the lack of female superheros and before we left for home I had Nuwa, an introverted, anxious and reluctant superhero, that I have loved building a world around.  

Q: Did you always want to write picture-books?

I’ve written some short stories for adults, but all my longer works are for children and teenagers. After having children, picture book writing was a form I was particularly drawn to. Some of my favourite memories of when my kids were little was cuddling up with a good book. Even though my kids are now almost both teenagers, we still have all their favourite picture books. They not only hold the story within, but my children’s childhood now feels imprinted between the pages.

Q: How did you find your way to telling *this* story for *this* age-group?

I wrote this story because who’s your real mum? and variations on that question, were something my kids were asked at school. It’s a question with a lot of weight and I wanted to take some of the heaviness out of it. With the hope of taking pressure off kids from same-sex parented families, while at the same time creating something that respected the natural curiosity in children.

Initially I wrote it for early school age children but my editor, Kate O’Donnell, suggested aiming it at a younger audience. Nicholas is the character who insists there can only be one real mum, he asks for clues so he can work out which mum it is. By removing some of Nicholas’s dialogue asking for another and a better clue, it softened the tension between Elvi and Nicholas and shifted the story to a younger age group. 

Q: What was your favourite scene to see illustrator Anna Zobel bring to
life on the page?

I couldn’t be happier with Anna’s illustrations, so it’s very hard to choose just one but if I could have had a superpower as a kid it would have been to fly. So, for me it would have to be the pages with the dragon and the pelicans, who are quite happy to take the kids for a ride.

Q: What do your two girls thinking of you being a published author?
They’re happy and proud. They both like the story and when I first wrote it my youngest drew the images for a dummy book. And of course, it was inspired by them and their experience so they both feel close to it.

Q: Picture-books have become so sophisticated and incredibly diversified in
recent years. I wonder if you can list five classic picture-books you love, and five more-recent titles you've delighted in?

Five classics
·      Scarface Claw by Lynley Dodd. I love that cat.

·      The Gruffalo’s Child written by Julia Donaldson and illustrated by Alex Scheffler

·      When my kids were little, they loved Princess Smartypants by Babette Cole.

·      Another favourite was Goodnight, written by Claire Masurel and illustrated by Marie H. Henry

·      Frog and Toad series by Arnold Lobel.

And five slightly more recent titles
·      The Red Tree by Shaun Tan shows sadness beautifully and reminds us that it can come and go whenever it likes.

·      A Big Mooncake for Little Star by Grace Lin. Exquisite playful pictures using a mooncake to show the phases of the moon and the love between a child and their parent.

·      Lubna and Pebble, written by Wendy Meddour and illustrated by Daniel Egneus. A gentle telling of one girl’s story as she tries to find comfort in a refugee camp.

·      We’re Amazing 1,2,3! A Story about Friendship and Autism (Sesame Street) written by Leslie Kimmelan and illustrated by Mary Beth Nelson.

·      And Tango Makes Three, written by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell, illustrated by Henry Cole. It’s not a recent book but I included it because it’s based on a real story about penguins and yet it was still banned in many places. 

Q: What are you working on right now, and when can we expect it to hit

I’m working on a couple of picture books which I hope to submit to my publisher later in the year. And with my middle-grade novel that centres around Nuwa, the reluctant and anxious superhero, I hope it gets picked up this year or next.  

Q: Favourite author(s) and book(s) of all time?
I’ll do adults and kids.

I know this is old, but I’ve never forgotten the impact of Michael Ondaatje’s Coming Through Slaughter.

I loved J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books.

The Naming of Tishkin Silk by Glenda Millard is one of the saddest and most beautiful books I have ever read.

In picture books I love, A Sick Day for Amos McGee written by Philip C. Stead and illustrated by Erin E. Stead. This beautifully illustrated book focuses on kindness and friendship.

Q: What are you reading, loving and recommending right now?

I’m reading and loving Lenny’s Book of Everything by Karen Foxlee. The first paragraph is exquisite, and it keeps on giving.  
I’m also enjoying listening to The Testaments by Margaret Atwood.

Q: Do you have any advice for budding young picture-book writers?

I found studying picture book writing enormously helpful, it’s a very different form to novel writing. But most importantly, write something that has an emotional impact on you, whether it’s laughing, crying or just giving you a warm feeling all over.

Who's Your Real Mum? is out now in Australia and New Zealand - with Scribble!


Thursday, March 26, 2020

Australia Reads at Home

Hello Darling Readers! 

Please believe me when I say; I hope you are all well and doing okay, given these surreal times. I hope you are home, and self-isolating and spreading kindness all around (in lieu of hugs, handshakes and social-gathering) 

I just wanted to pop on here and tell you about an Australian initiative, started by the same people who run 'Australian Reading Hour' in September - encouraging people to read, for even 15-minutes a day! - but are now running a new campaign to counteract these scary and uncertain times, and the fact that more people really are at home, and can be reading to help them cope. 

I'm calling it 'Imagination in Isolation' - but the hashtag you can follow along with is #AustraliaReadsAtHome and the website;

I'd so love it if you could follow Australia Reads across all social-media channels too, and join in the conversation as we all try to remain sane and supportive. 


'Smoke Bitten' Mercy Thompson #12 by Patricia Briggs

From the BLURB:

Mercy Thompson returns in another thrilling instalment of the major urban fantasy series from No. 1 New York Times bestselling author Patricia Briggs

I am Mercedes Athena Thompson Hauptman. My only 'superpowers' are that I turn into a thirty-five-pound coyote and fix Volkswagens. But I have friends in odd places and a pack of werewolves at my back. It looks like I'm going to need them.

Centuries ago, the fae dwelt in Underhill. When they were cast out, they left behind their great castles, troves of magical artefacts . . . and their prisoners. Without the fae to mind them, those creatures roamed freely through Underhill wreaking havoc. Only the deadliest survived.

Now one of those prisoners has escaped. It can look like any creature it chooses and if it bites you, it controls you. It lives for chaos and destruction and can make you do anything - even kill the person you love the most. Now it is here, in the Tri-Cities. In my territory.

It won't, can't, remain. Not if I have anything to say about it.

‘Smoke Bitten’ is the 12th book in Patricia Brigg’s Mercy Thompson urban-fantasy series.

I was a little wary, going into this one (and, no – not just because I started reading it *right* when the world went to bedlam) but because I’m not a fan of the fae-world that has largely entered into the ‘Mercy Thompson’ universe. I seem to always have this issue with long-running paranormal series (‘Sookie Stackhouse’ by Charlaine Harris comes to mind) where an author decides to bring fae into the supernatural and have them be the scapegoat for all manner of plots and random character-arcs. I just don’t like the fae. Unless I’m deliberately reading a book/series for them (hi, Holly Black!) then I want my series to stick to werewolves, or vampires, or … no; they’re pretty much the best two.

‘Smoke Bitten’ flagged from the blurb that there’d be a fae-villain running around in this book, and I kind of inwardly sighed and resigned myself. BUT – there’s also a pretty cool power-play with werewolves going on in this instalment too, that actually worked to harmonise the fae-storyline for me.

There’s also plenty of Mercy and Adam in this book to satiate fans who love this couple, even as we’ve all felt them get a little stale since ‘Happily Ever After’ … I will say; ‘Smoke Bitten’ has the couple needing to communicate better, and bearing the consequences when one of them shuts down. There’s also peripheral stuff with Adam’s daughter Jesse, and her mother Cristy – that kind of feels underdeveloped here, but could just be that there’s set-up for future books (and right now the idea of future-books is a real balm, let me tell you!)

There’s also some storylines for secondary-characters; like mated pair Auriele and Darryl, that has me intrigued and wondering if we might see some crossover with ‘Alpha & Omega’ (of which, there is a new book coming in 2021 called ‘Wild Sign’!) if this secondary-storyline goes the way I think it might, then I’m keen to see how Anna and Charles deal with similar moral and relationship conundrums.

My one complaint about ‘Smoke Bitten’ – despite great action and character arcs – is the complaint I was bound to have, which was the less tangible parts of the story when dealing with fae, underhill, and Mercy’s chaotic magic. The climax scene takes place inside Mercy’s other-world … or something? It’s all very confusing and loses my interest pretty quickly; So it was a sucky place to end up for the finale (especially when compared to book 11, ‘Storm Cursed’ and the show-down with witch Elizaveta). It’s a small complaint, but a complain nonetheless.

Overall though; I love this series, and twelve books in – I continue to love it. It was really nice to read a series that feels a little bit like coming home and catching up with old friends during uncertain times.


Wednesday, January 15, 2020

'After I Do' by Taylor Jenkins Reid

From the BLURB:

When Lauren and Ryan’s marriage reaches the breaking point, they come up with an unconventional plan. They decide to take a year off in the hopes of finding a way to fall in love again. One year apart, and only one rule: they cannot contact each other. Aside from that, anything goes.

Lauren embarks on a journey of self-discovery, quickly finding that her friends and family have their own ideas about the meaning of marriage. These influences, as well as her own healing process and the challenges of living apart from Ryan, begin to change Lauren’s ideas about monogamy and marriage. She starts to question: When you can have romance without loyalty and commitment without marriage, when love and lust are no longer tied together, what do you value? What are you willing to fight for?

This is a love story about what happens when the love fades. It’s about staying in love, seizing love, forsaking love, and committing to love with everything you’ve got. And above all, After I Do is the story of a couple caught up in an old game—and searching for a new road to happily ever after.

After I Do’ was the 2014 women’s fiction novel by Taylor Jenkins Reid, the second novel she wrote.

So … after loving ‘The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo’ and ‘Daisy Jones and the Six’ I decided to peek at Taylor Jenkins Reid’s backlist and see if I couldn’t get more of her sweet, sweet stories into my veins. At a glance; while her backlist is still women’s fiction, ‘Evelyn’ and ‘Daisy’ were the first two books in which Reid changed things up from suburban and ordinary family-sagas, to the lives and troubles of famous people. But in both cases (and especially prominent in ‘After I Do’) is Jenkins Reid’s preoccupation with examining the veneer of happiness, and the breaking-point at which people decided to really start examining their lives and the truth of their relationships.

‘After I Do’ for instance, is about Lauren and Ryan who’ve known each other for eleven years and been married for six, but when we meet them they’re at breaking-point. Little annoyances, grievances and nit-picks have poisoned their marriage and one night they both confront the startling realisation that they don’t like each other very much right now. For Lauren, this translates as a deep sense of disgruntlement and disappointment when Ryan’s business work-trip is cancelled and she doesn’t end up getting the time alone she craved. For Ryan, he admits that he’s started looking at other women and wondering “what if?” It’s small; but that’s their breaking-point.

Now at this stage, I’ll fully admit that Lauren and Ryan pretty quickly brushed-aside the idea of counselling or doing any real work on their marriage. They both considered ‘open marriage’, date-nights and time apart as a solution … and kind of decide to meld that into one big idea of living apart for one year. Dating other people. Not corresponding with each other. Really going their separate ways and at the end of 12-months, coming together to see if they still want to continue their marriage.

Everyone else in their life – family, friends and co-workers – pretty quickly label this a ‘trial separation’ but neither Lauren nor Ryan are keen on the idea of putting such a label on it. They genuinely want to do this to see who they are independent of each other (fair enough, since they met at 19) and if they want to continue being together – but the underlying belief from both of them is that this “time off” will definitely result in a stronger marriage.

The book is told entirely from Lauren’s POV, which works well to heighten the drama – just as she doesn’t know if Ryan is seeing other people, or how he’s coping, nor do readers. We also get a brief run-down of the start to Lauren and Ryan’s relationship through her eyes; getting the dewy romance of their teen years, which heightens the drama because we know – much like Lauren – that there is something good between them, and worth fighting for.

During her marriage sabbatical(?) I was pleased to see Lauren exploring through her friends and family, different amalgamations of relationships and marriages and how other people’s married-lives work. I also really liked that her sister stands as a character who doesn’t want a relationship right now (maybe ever) and definitely doesn’t want kids, and that Lauren checks her heteronormativity when her knee-jerk reaction is to say; “you just need to meet the right guy!” Lauren really does learn to see the myriad of ways that people exist both in relationships, and being single.

I will say that maybe the one way this novel presents itself as Jenkins Reid’s early-work is in its somewhat simplicity. Part of me wonders that if she was writing this novel *today* - she’d take it from a slightly trickier perspective (maybe from a person that Lauren or Ryan dates, who falls for them but is doomed to heartache because it’s destined to only be casual and temporary). Or what if (and I’m showing my absolute adoration for Georgie and Sam in Melina Marchetta’s ‘ThePiper’s Son’ here) either Lauren got pregnant or Sam got a woman pregnant while on this ‘year off’.

That’s maybe the one way this novel isn’t a five-star for me. In its simplicity – especially because thanks to ‘Evelyn’ and ‘Daisy Jones’, I’m a little more used to Jenkins Reid writing trickier, more grey-areas in her depictions of people and relationships.

But ‘After I Do’ is still a solid, fantastic read and I’m really glad I’m diving into her backlist. If this novel and her latest works are any indication, I’m going to really enjoy the ride!