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Sunday, December 29, 2013

Favourite Books of 2013

It’s that time of year again! – when people could just about spew if they see another 'Best Of' list. Meanwhile, I look back on the reading year that’s been and say, “Gosh. I read a lot! … No, I mean, did I actually see daylight at all this year because that is a lot of books to have got through…” But now it’s December and I don’t have a vitamin-D deficiency so that in itself is cause for celebration. 
Also cause for celebration is just how many books and fictional characters I fell in love with this year! 
Now, normally I write a little spiel about why I've picked each book as an end-of-year favourite …  
There’s the anthology ‘Just Between Us: Australian writers tell the truth about female friendship’ that suck with me for days and weeks after reading (I've actually re-read quite a few stories from that collection in recent months). I got into graphic novels in a big way in 2013 (after travelling to New York earlier in the year, where I explored some jaw-droppingly awesome comic book shops!) and I was even lucky enough to meet Lucy Knisley at the Melbourne Writers Festival (and have her draw a picture of my favourite food in my copy of ‘Relish’ – though in hindsight I should have chosen something more complex than Turkish delight). And, as usual, the majority of my favourites are young adult books (because … THERE ARE NO WORDS!)  
I just find it really hard to summarise why each book imprinted on me and lingered long enough to warrant a place on this list. So, instead of trying to explain the instinct, I’m going to include my favourite scenes or quotes. I think this will give a pretty good explanation of why I fell in love, and why I can’t recommend the following titles highly enough … 
Now, in no particular order: My Favourite Books of 2013.

Reality Boy by A.S. King

“I’m not famous. I’m infamous,” I say. “There’s a big difference.” 

Magic Rises by Ilona Andrews 

“So this is what it's about? This is your mature response to go off into the mountains rather than talking about it and have s'mores with a gnome and a mountain man." 
"What's your plan for tomorrow? Brunch with a unicorn?”

Siege and Storm by Leigh Bardugo 

Mal crossed his arms and considered the privateer. “I can’t decide if you’re crazy or stupid.”  
“I have so many good qualities,” Sturmhond said. “It can be hard to choose.”

Saga Volume 2. Brian K Vaughan and Fiona Staples


Every Breath by Ellie Marney

Mai grins at Mycroft. ‘You know that’s slightly ridiculous, don’t you?’  
He smiled. ‘Why?’  
‘Because. . . because you’re teenagers.’ Mai’s expression says it should be obvious. ‘Mycroft, this isn’t like figuring out who spray-painted some guy’s car. This is murder.’  
‘The principles are the same’ he insists.  
‘But you’re both minors. And you have no access to police information, no experience, no forensics lab, no authority. . . ’  
‘Mai, are you trying to bring me down or something?’  
Gus, who usually only gets emotive about things like soccer, suddenly leans forward. ‘I think you should do it.’ He glances at me and Mycroft in turn. ‘This homeless guy, it’s not like his death is going to be a major priority, is it? The police won’t bend over backwards to bring his killer to justice or anything. He was a derelict with no family. So you two are the only ones who even care.’

Vango: Between Sky And Earth Vango #1 by Timothée de Fombelle 

"I like the idea of a priest who climbs cathedrals to escape the police." 

The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey 

“I had it all wrong," he says. "Before I found you, I thought the only way to hold on was to find something to live for. It isn't. To hold on, you have to find something you're willing to die for.” 

Girl Defective by Simmone Howell 

‘Put something on. Whatever you like.’  
To some eyes this could look like a test. The first track a newbie played might set the tone for his employment. Luke was right to look uncertain. He wandered around the aisles for ages, coming back with Simon & Garfunkel. I snorted. Even Gully shook his head. 
‘What?’ Luke asked.  
‘That record doesn’t tell me anything about your inner emotional landscape,’ I told him.  
Luke stayed poker-faced. ‘Don’t have one of those.’  
‘Sky – don’t psychoanalyse the new guy.’ Dad turned to Luke. ‘Gully reads faces, Sky reads records. We, the Martins, have superpowers.’

The Sultan’s Eyes by Kelly Gardiner 

‘You know nothing about faith,’ I said. ‘You think it is about restricting people’s minds, people’s words.’  
‘Faith without rules is merely superstition.’   
‘Is that what you believe? You couldn’t be more wrong. Faith without wisdom is merely superstition. Rules are made by men, and rules can change.’ 

Written in Red by Anne Bishop 

People who entered the Courtyard without an invitation were just plain crazy! Wolves were big and scary and so fluffy, how could anyone resist hugging one just to feel all that fur? 
“Ignore the fluffy,” she muttered. “Remember the part about big and scary.” 

Wildlife by Fiona Wood 

Grief settles comfortably into any host; it is an ever-mutating, vigorous organism with an ever-renewing customer base. It generates a never-ending hunger, a never-ending ache, an unassuageable pain to new hearts, brains, guts every minute, every day, every year.It is the razor edge of a loose tooth shrieking to be pressed again and again into the soft pink sore gum.   
It’s a one-way tunnel with no proof of another exit.

The Infinite Moment of Us by Lauren Myracle 

“I didn’t say it was dumb,” Tessa said. “It’s what you feel, and guess what? Feelings are like three-year-olds. They’re not rational. They’re just there.” 

Where the Stars Still Shine by Trish Doller 

I pick up the owl. Some of the patches are worn so thin you can almost see through them to the stuffing inside.  
“You used to carry him everywhere,” he says. “You called him– ”  
“Toot.” It’s just a tiny flash of a memory, but I remember making sure he was with me every night before I went to sleep. “I thought that’s what owls said.”  
I can see the bitter blurred in the sweet of Greg’s smile. All these years I've had very few memories, while he– he’s had nothing but. 

The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty 

Cecilia thought she’d experienced anger before, plenty of times, but now she knew that she’d had no idea how real anger felt. The white-hot burning purity of it. It was a frantic, crazy, wonderful feeling. She felt like she could fly. She could fly across the room, like a demon, and claw bloody scratch marks down John-Paul’s face.

Just Between Us by Maya Linden, Christie Nieman, Maggie Scott, Natalie Kon-Yu and Miriam Sved 

It is curious that friendship is most often written about after it has gone, as if death legitimises the discussion of what was previously too private or fragile a territory. Are friendships between women particularly private and fragile?  

—‘In Broad Daylight’ by Julienne van Loon 

Frost Burned by Patricia Briggs 

‘Werewolf games,' Mercy said solemnly, 'play for keeps, or go home.' She was so cute sometimes it made Adam's heart hurt.

Penelope by Rebecca Harrington 

“Did you hear about Nikil?” asked Catherine, encasing Penelope’s arm in a viselike grip.  
“Um, no?” said Penelope.  
“He didn’t get on the Crimson Business Board. He got cut.”  
“Oh, that’s too bad,” said Penelope.  
“He’s really upset,” said Catherine with relish. “I feel awful for him.”  
“It’s too bad that even things that seem so un-fun are also so competitive,” said Penelope, “This was why I have always been against the Olympics, as a rule.”

Dark Horse by Honey Brown 

Rain had slowed. The wind had died down. With the light gone from his forehead and shining from a different angle, the shadows on his face changed and his age was more apparent. He was in his late twenties. He had a youthful gleam in his eyes, liveliness even though he was cold and battered. From all accounts, you’d think he was revelling in the intensity, exactly like a young man would, everything an adventure. The smile he gave her emerged white from within the mud mask. ‘I promise I’m not Ted Bundy.’  
‘The killer.’  
‘The murderer who pretended to have a broken leg to lure women.’  
Sarah frowned.  
‘Bad joke,’ he said.

Alex as Well by Alyssa Brugman 

We’re just one person. Did you get that already? You guess it from the blurb, right? I put in some clues. 
Alex and I are the one person, but I feel like two people, and this is the problem. It’s always been like that, but since I stopped taking my medication five days ago it’s so totally clear that I can’t be the other Alex anymore.  
And what’s why my dad left us. 

The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion 

‘I've sequenced the questions for maximum speed of elimination,’ I explained. ‘I believe I can eliminate most women in less than forty seconds. Then you can choose the topic of discussion for the remaining time.’  
‘But then it won’t matter,’ said Frances. ‘I’ll have been eliminated.’  
‘Only as a potential partner. We may still be able to have an interesting discussion.’  
‘But I’ll have been eliminated.’  
I nodded. ‘Do you smoke?’  
‘Occasionally,’ she said.  
I put the questionnaire away. ‘Excellent.’ I was pleased that my question sequencing was working so well. We could have wasted time talking about ice-cream flavours and make-up only to find that she smoked. Needless to say, smoking was not negotiable. ‘No more questions. What would you like to discuss?’ 

Haze by Paula Weston

‘Sparring with you. I don’t think he was ready for it.’   
I try to laugh but it comes out as a rasp. 
'I mean it. You haven’t trained together for a very long time. For the last decade, any time you two threw punches at each other, you were deadly serious.’ She tucks her feet underneath her. ‘The problem today was that you were too good.’  
‘How is that a problem?’ I finally look up. She gives me a sad smile. 
‘There were moments when you fought like the old Gabe. I think at the end there, he forgot which version of you he was fighting.’ 

“Say howdy to George Carter, and thank him for taking the pistol from you when you were shooting at me.” 
From ‘To My Old Master’ a letter from Jourdon Anderson to Patrick Henry Anderson, dated August 7th 1865.

Binny for Short by Hilary McKay 

Binny swiftly abandoned all her earlier peaceful plans.Battle, then. They would be enemies. They were enemies. No use to consider anything else. She had no problem with that. After all, she had not had a good, tough enemy for months. Not since the last one died.

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell 

She lifted her chin up and forced her forehead to relax. “I’m the Cool One,” she told herself. “Somebody give me some tequila because I’ll totally drink it. And there’s no way you’re going to find me later having a panic attack in your parent’s bathroom. Who wants to French-kiss?”

New Guinea Moon by Kate Constable 

‘They’ll kick us all out. This time next year, there won’t be any Europeans left, apart from the God-botherers.’  
‘It’s the end of an era . . . it’ll never be the same.’  
It’s odd, Julie thinks. There is anger in the way they speak, bitter resentment at their dismissal from the scene. But there is a wistfulness too, nostalgia for the lives they are still leading, as if they see themselves as ghosts already; they miss living here and they haven’t even left yet. Did the Romans sit around talking like this, before their empire fell?

The Disappearance of Ember Crow The Tribe #2 by Ambelin Kwaymullina 

Some truths cannot be told. They can only be discovered. 

Wild Awake by Hilary T. Smith 

People are like cities: We all have alleys and gardens and secret rooftops and places where daisies sprout between the sidewalk cracks, but most of the time all we let each other see is a postcard glimpse of a skyline or a polished square. Love lets you find those hidden places in another person, even the ones they didn't know were there, even the ones they wouldn't have thought to call beautiful themselves.

Steal My Sunshine by Emily Gale

Sister pushes the grey dress and blue apron into my arms again, and even while I’m putting them on I’m telling her, ‘You can’t touch me. I’m not from here. You can’t keep me. I’m not a prisoner.’ Not a single muscle in her face moves as I carry on. ‘Someone is coming for me,’ I cry.  
She’s like a statue, staring me down until I feel as powerful as the puddle of clothes at my feet. ‘You’ve fallen,’ she says. ‘And we are the only ones who will pick you up.’  
She’s right, I’ve fallen into the bottom of the world. ‘Someone has to come for me,’ I whisper.

She is Not Invisible by Marcus Sedgwick

I remember being tiny, about Benjamin’s age, standing in the sweet shop, and the woman behind the counter asking Mum, ‘What does she want? Does she like chocolates? Or something else? How do you manage with her? It must be very hard…’  
She kept on and on, as if I wasn’t there.  
As if I were invisible. But I’m not. The woman kept on and on, and Mum didn’t know what to say, and I just stood there, feeling more and more upset, and as she went on, I suddenly thought it was as if she was the one who was blind, and couldn’t see me, not the other way around.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

Grown-ups don't look like grown-ups on the inside either. Outside, they're big and thoughtless and they always know what they're doing. Inside, they look just like they always have. Like they did when they were your age. Truth is, there aren't any grown-ups. Not one, in the whole wide world.

Walking on Trampolines by Frances Whiting

Then Frank smiled his crinkly smile at me. 'When you're ready,' he'd said, 'you can call me Frank.' 
Whenever I came upon him in that house - and that was how it always felt with Frank, that you didn't so much see him as come upon him unexpectedly - he would always say something that made me feel really good inside; he would call me Tallulah de Lightful or Tallulah de Lovely, and Annabelle would say, 'More like Tallulah de Mented' and the three of us would laugh like hyenas. 

The Assembler of Parts: a novel by Raoul Wientzen 

The tally grew: two thumbs, twelve bones, one kidney, and two holes in the lace of the heart. 
The news she gave my mother, though, was excellent. The heart would likely heal itself, knit up those tiny leaks and silence those puny squeaks, and if not, at age seven the nimble surgeon would sew me up. Until then I would carry a noise like a shout in my heart, one I could not myself hear but which, in quiet moments as I fell to sleep, I could often feel athump and aswish. 

Thursday, December 26, 2013

'Crystal Cove' Friday Harbor #4 by Lisa Kleypas

From the BLURB:

In New York Times bestselling author Lisa Kleypas's Crystal Cove, Justine Hoffman has made a comfortable life for herself on the island of Friday Harbor. She is the proprietor of a successful boutique hotel, and she has the safe, predictable life she has always wanted. Growing up with her flighty, nomadic mother, Marigold, has instilled in her a deep longing for stability. But in spite of everything Justine has achieved, there is still something missing. Love. And after years of waiting and dreaming, she is willing to do whatever it takes to change her destiny.

What Justine soon discovers is that someone cast a spell on her when she was born, with the result that she will never find her soul mate. Determined to change her fate, Justine finds a way to break the enchantment, never dreaming of the dangerous complications that will follow.

And when Justine meets the mysterious Jason Black, she accidentally unleashes a storm of desire and danger that threaten everything she holds dear . . . because Jason has secrets of his own, and he wants more from her than fate will ever allow.

Justine Hoffman wants to fall in love, but can’t because she’s cursed. Every natural-born witch who falls in love is destined to lose her lover to an untimely death – it’s the price of balance that must be paid to harness magic. Justine’s own mother never recovered from her loss, and so tried to spare Justine the heartache with a spell.

But now a grown adult who has never been in love, Justine is desperate for change. 

What she doesn’t expect is Jason Black to be that change – a gaming guru who’s staying at Justine’s Friday Harbor B&B with a small team of minions while he closes a property deal. 

Jason has his own problems, and is likewise seeking to alter his fate with magic. But when Justine crosses his path, he becomes even more desperate to alter his circumstances and gain a little more time with her …

‘Crystal Cove’ is the fourth book in Lisa Kleypas’s ‘Friday Harbor’ series.

I don’t know what possessed me to pick this up. I hated first book ‘Christmas Eve at Friday Harbor’, despised ‘Rainshadow Road’ and was so indifferent to ‘Dream Lake’ that I didn’t even write a review. This series has been a big departure for Lisa Kleypas who rose to romance fame for her historical’s. And while I loved her contemporary ‘Travis Family’ series (and I’m thrilled to learn of a fourth book coming in 2014, for Joe!) I thought ‘Friday Harbor’, with its dashes of nonsensical magic, was just plain ridiculous. But I've had ‘Crystal Cove’ sitting on my bookshelf since February, and I think it was just being desperate enough for something new of Lisa Kleypas’s that moved me to read … and I've got to say; this is a turn-around book for the ‘Friday Harbor’ series!

Unlike ‘Christmas Eve at Friday Harbor’, which I couldn’t remember having any sort of magic in it (wait – does coincidence count?) and ‘Rainshadow Road’ which I vaguely remember had a scene in which the heroine turns a piece of glass into a butterfly (yeeeeaaaahhhh) ‘Crystal Cove’ makes it absolutely, positively clear that it’s a romance with supernatural bent. The first paragraph has Justine musing on her failed love spells, and a few pages later she’s confessing to being a witch. Yes! I loved this. Writing magic in contemporary romance is a bit like being pregnant – you can’t have just “a little bit of magic” the same way you can’t be “a little big pregnant.” Go big or go home, I say! And, thankfully, Kleypas has started to understand that in this, the fourth ‘Friday Harbor’ book.

Justine owns a grimoire and her mother belongs to the local coven. She can light candles without a match and when she meets Jason Black for the first time, she gets a feeling about him that’s all witchy-instinct. I was so happy that Kleypas finally decided to stop writing on eggshells around the supernatural element in this series – whereas in previous books it was always a weird curveball that seemed plopped into the middle of the plot, in ‘Crystal Cove’ magic is a driving force and the book is better for it. 

And it helps that instead of focusing on the boring Nolan brothers of past books (I’m sorry, but they were DULL) Kleypas introduces us to new and far more interesting characters in local B&B owner, Justine and gaming-guru from San Francisco, Jason Black. In these two Kleypas has written one of her steamiest pairings and, once again, it’s partly in thanks to her embracing the magic element that allows these characters to be a bit headier, and revel in their animal instincts.

The book also feels a little like Alice Hoffman’s ‘Practical Magic’ (to the point that I wondered if Justine’s surname was an ode to the author?). The same way that Owens women lose those they love, so too do all natural-born witches in Kleypas’s world. And where death-foreshadowing in ‘Practical Magic’ was a cricket chirping, in ‘Crystal Cove’ it’s clocks stopping;   

Cletus paused reflectively. “A week before it happened, Bo told me that wherever he went, clocks stopped ticking. His watch froze. Hell, even the kitchen egg-timer hourglass shattered when Bo got near it.” He pulled up the stay-tab on a new can of beer. “Strange thing was, Clive told me he had the same problem, right before his accident. Showed up on time to work every day of his life, but started punching in late, ’cause every clock in the house had stopped. A week later, Clive was gone.”  
Jason stared at him alertly. “They each died a week after the clocks stopped?” His gaze lowered to his stainless-steel watch. Relieved to find that it was still functioning, he let out a controlled sigh. 
Before he looked up, he heard Cletus say gently, “Boy, you’re in a mess o’ trouble, ain’t you?” 

I have been severely unimpressed and downright bored with Lisa Kleypas’s ‘Friday Harbor’ series … until ‘Crystal Cove’. Here is a book that marks a turning point in what has previously been a dragging series. Its strength lies in Kleypas (finally!) embracing the magic element, instead of throwing snippets in as an afterthought. In this book we have an intriguingly doomed romance between a loveless witch and her dark suitor – Kleypas writes one of the steamiest pairings and the entire world of ‘Friday Harbor’ suddenly has interesting prospects for future instalments.


Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Happy Holidays

... I hope you all have a very Murray Christmas!

Give books, stay safe, eat, drink and be generally fabulous this holiday season!

❤ Danielle

Friday, December 20, 2013

'She is Not Invisible' by Marcus Sedgwick

From the BLURB:

Laureth Peak's father is a writer. For years he's been trying, and failing, to write a novel about coincidence. His wife thinks he's obsessed, Laureth thinks he's on the verge of a breakdown. He's supposed to be doing research in Austria, so when his notebook shows up in New York, Laureth knows something is wrong.

On impulse she steals her mother's credit card and heads for the States, taking her strange little brother Benjamin with her. Reunited with the notebook, they begin to follow clues inside, trying to find their wayward father. Ahead lie challenges and threats, all of which are that much tougher for Laureth than they would be for any other 16-year old. Because Laureth Peak is blind.

One final time I told myself I wasn’t abducting my little brother.

Thus begins Marcus Sedgwick’s triumphant young adult novel ‘She Is Not Invisible’ about sixteen-year-old Laureth Peak who ‘abducts’ her seven-year-old brother, Benjamin, and goes on a thrilling adventure from Manchester, UK to New York in search of their missing father.

Jack Peak was a famous novelist – back when he wrote ‘funny’ books – but for the last few years (most of Benjamin’s life in fact) Jack Peak has been working on a new book all about coincidence. It’s taken up most of his time, maybe even his sanity and possibly his marriage– as he researches Edgar Allen Poe, Carl Jung, Albert Einstein the haunting of number-354 and The Hound of Heaven. Most recently he’s been on a research trip to Switzerland … but when Laureth hasn’t heard from her father in almost a week, she grows concerned. Even more so when she receives a mysterious email from someone in New York claiming to have found her father’s precious notebook. 

Her mother seems unconcerned with Jack’s whereabouts, but Laureth has a funny feeling. She’s determined to go to New York and find her father, but she needs Benjamin to do it. Because Laureth is blind.

Once we were at Auntie Sarah’s and Mum found me crying, and I think she knew what was going on, but she couldn’t bring herself to say it. 
So I said it for her. 
‘It’s okay. They’re just idiots. Can’t handle someone who’s a bit different.’ 
And Mum started crying then and told me how sorry she was but I told her not to be, because you can’t miss what you’ve never had, because I’m not unhappy with the way I am, because I don’t mind being blind. What I mind is people treating me as if I’m stupid. 

I’m in absolute awe of both Marcus Sedgwick and Laureth. Here is a heart-palpitating mystery thriller about two children following the trail of their father’s mad scribblings through the world’s busiest city – and the entire story is narrated by Laureth. It’s no mean feat to communicate the sounds and smells, the feel of New York minus the sense of sight, but Sedgwick does it marvellously. 

The story is told in real-time as Laureth and Ben go hunting for their missing father, and while piecing together his puzzle, Laureth reflects on the events leading up to her father’s disappearance and the long obsession he’s had with his book on coincidence. Interspersed throughout the book are pages from Jack Peak’s ‘black book’ – containing ideas about his next book, mad ramblings about the number 354 and a seeming paranoia about The Hound Of Heaven.

Without a doubt, it’s refreshing to read a young adult book with a blind protagonist, but especially Sedgwick’s book because Laureth’s lack of sight is never communicated as a ‘disability’. It’s just who she is and she wouldn’t change it even if she could, but she is frustrated at having to adapt to other people who treat her differently (from begrudging pity to empty sympathy). Laureth is in no way held back by her blindness. In fact, it gives her a far more open perspective of people.  

I remember being tiny, about Benjamin’s age, standing in the sweet shop, and the woman behind the counter asking Mum, ‘What does she want? Does she like chocolates? Or something else? How do you manage with her? It must be very hard…’ 
She kept on and on, as if I wasn’t there. 
As if I were invisible. But I’m not. The woman kept on and on, and Mum didn’t know what to say, and I just stood there, feeling more and more upset, and as she went on, I suddenly thought it was as if she was the one who was blind, and couldn’t see me, not the other way around.

‘She Is Not Invisible’ is also a writing triumph for Marcus Sedgwick. I don’t want to give the surprise away – but coincidences run deeper in this book than just the plot, and when it’s revealed just how much tricky thought Sedgwick put into the writing, your jaw will drop 

‘She Is Not Invisible’ is a wonderful novel, and definitely going on my favourite’s list. Laureth is one of the finest young sleuths and this mystery thriller is so finely crafted so as to send tingles down your spine well after the last page … 


Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Kill Your Darlings - Why children’s and YA literature deserves more media attention

With all my children's/YA columns this year, I've tried to highlight what a wonderfully diverse, provocative, important and downright spectacular readership children's & young adult is. So with this column I thought I'd appeal to some common sense and provide hard numbers that further prove why more people should be sitting up and taking notice of these books.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Interview with Ambelin Kwaymullina, author of ‘The Disappearance of Ember Crow’

Ambelin Kwaymullina has fast become one of my absolute favorite Aussie YA authors. ‘The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf’ was the first novel in her YA-dystopian series ‘The Tribe’ – and it’s a fantastic ecological, spiritual, thriller with a dash of romance and so many spectacular young protagonists to get behind. Then she blew me away a few months ago with second book ‘The Disappearance of Ember Crow’ which took everything I thought I knew about ‘The Tribe’ and turns this universe completely on its head. 
I’ve so enjoyed Ambelin’s books, but also truly admire her as an author. I’ve been very lucky to have interviewed Ambelin twice now – first discussing ‘Why we need more Indigenous writers and characters in Australian YA’ for Kill Your Darlings, and earlier this year at the Melbourne Writers Festival
She’s one of the most intriguing, eloquent and exciting Aussie YA authors writing today, and I’m thrilled to present … Ambelin Kwaymullina!
Q: How were you first published – agent or slush pile?
My first published book was a picture book called Crow and the Waterhole, which I sent it in as an unsolicited manuscript to Fremantle Press. They accepted it (joy!) – and then I decided I wanted to illustrate the story. So I went through another process of doing up pictures and a storyboard for approval. I’d always painted but I’d never illustrated, and if I’d realised how difficult illustrating is I wouldn’t have been quite so sure I could do it – lucky I didn’t know! There’s something to be said for being stupidly confident…and I’ve gone to illustrate four more books since, so it worked out okay in the end.

Q: Are you a ‘plotter’ or a ‘pantser’ - that is, do you meticulously plot your novel before writing, or do you ‘fly by the seat of your pants’ and let the story evolve naturally?
I plot a bit. I have a table in a word document, and one column says ‘chapter one’, and the other has four lines in it about what’s going to happen in chapter one. Then chapter two, and so on.

My natural instinct is to write a really meticulous plan, but I know myself – if I did it that way, I’d spend years writing a super elaborate plan…and never, ever have a book.

Q: How long did it take you to write ‘The Disappearance of Ember Crow’, from first idea to final manuscript?
100 years. It always feels like it takes me 100 years. But really…probably about a year from first starting to type to driving my publishers insane by making changes up until the very last minute. 

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?
First line. I’m never comfortable with a story until I know the first line, and the last line. Usually I don’t even understand what the line refers to – for instance, I knew the first line of The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf was ‘He was taking me to the machine’ long before I knew what the machine was. But once I know where it begins and where it ends, I’m confident I’ll find the middle somewhere!

Q: There are a lot of big revelations in ‘The Disappearance of Ember Crow’, and the universe of ‘The Tribe’ grows exponentially. You take readers to a lot more locations, and the history of this post-apocalyptic world gets cracked wide open. What are some of your real-life inspirations for the cities that appear in ‘The Tribe’? And were you drawing on real-life examples for the major historic events and leaders, like Alexander Hoffman and Neville Rose?
The natural landscape of Ashala’s world is based on Australian environments – the dense Deepwood that is slowly swallowing up Fern City is inspired by the Daintree Rainforest, and the landscape around Spinifex City is a mixture of the Pilbara and Kimberley regions of Western Australia. As for Alexander Hoffman…I worked at a university for seven years, and there’s something of various eccentric academic geniuses I’ve known in Hoffman. And Neville – the character himself isn’t based on anyone, but the name is partly drawn from a historical figure. In WA, the legislation that created the Stolen Generations was administered for much of its existence by a senior public servant named A O Neville. Two generations of my family were removed, and the looming figure of ‘Mr Neville’ remains strongly associated with the Stolen Generations for WA Aboriginal people. So I guess when I was thinking of a bureaucrat administering an inhumane system, that was the name that sprang to mind. 

Q: The universe of ‘The Tribe’ is not Australia, but while the word “aboriginal” holds no meaning for Ashala, she is connected to that bloodline. Your series beautifully draws on Dreamtime storytelling and has an otherworldly appeal. Are you finding that the young readers you talk to make these connections between the fantasy world of ‘The Tribe’ and real-life Indigenous parallels?
Yeah, they do. When Ashala Wolf was first published – because it does have such a twisting and layered plot – I had a few people ask me if I’d ever worried that teens wouldn’t follow the story. It had never occurred to me to even think about that. Some of students were teenagers, in my university teaching days, and I spend a lot of time in schools now – in my experience, teenagers are insightful and smart. At any given talk, an audience of teenagers will always startle me with the meaning they’ve found in the story and the ways in which they connect that meaning to their own lives and to things happening in the world.

Q: When ‘Ember Crow’ begins, Ashala and Connor are both battling personal demons and coming to terms with the consequences of events from ‘The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf’. They read like a much truer and tougher couple because they have a rockier path than most in young adult romances – was it important to you to avoid writing a ‘happily ever after’ for them?
Ah, but what’s happily ever after? I was conscious when I wrote Connor and Ashala’s story – and Ember and Jules’ for that matter – of wanting to write what I think as old fashioned romances, because what I think classic romance writers did so beautifully was tell the story of a relationship. And a real relationship, where two people grow and change together, will inevitably involve some conflict. So for me, happily ever after isn’t about an absence of difficulty but how that difficulty is resolved. Connor and Ashala were both profoundly affected by events in the first book; but they are able to find a way to support each other through it (despite some spectacularly bad decisions on Ash’s part). This to me is the essence of what these two are together. Connor says it best, in The Disappearance of Ember Crow, when he tells Ashala – “We are warriors. We are partners. Or we are nothing.”

Wouldn’t you want to be loved like that? Sounds like happily ever after to me…

Q: ‘The Tribe’ series seems destined for the big or small screen – can you tell us if there’s any chance of adaptation? And if so, if you have a dream cast in mind?
Well, Ashala Wolf is out in the USA in April next year, where the film people live, probably in golden palaces (or perhaps not). The only thing I know about the film industry is what I’ve seen in – well, films. As for dream cast – haven’t given it any thought beyond that I’d want Ashala to be played by an Australian Aboriginal actress. And Connor – is anyone out there really as good looking as I’ve described him in the book? Might be a bit tough to cast…

Q: What’s the appeal in writing for young adults?
Probably a part of it is that I feel sixteen years old on the inside. I was telling a group of girls at a school visit a few weeks ago that I never want to grow old. I don’t mind aging in body, but I don’t want to be old in my heart or my head. I never want to become set in my ways, to reject new ideas or fear new experiences simply because they are new, or to come to accept that is anything inevitable or unchangeable about the injustices of this world. To be young, to me, is to be immoderate, impetuous, defiant - and if I occasionally (or more than occasionally) make a complete idiot of myself in front of the grown ups, I’m willing to live with it. 

Q: The next two books in ‘The Tribe’ series are; ‘The Foretelling of Georgie Spider’ and ‘The Execution of Neville Rose’ – can you give us any hints about what’s to come in these books? And will ‘Neville Rose’ be the absolute last in ‘The Tribe’ series?
Huh. Well, it all gets bigger and more complicated. All the characters from the first two books are back, along with some new additions. And where it ends up was foreshadowed by Ash at the very beginning of the first book, when she said “There will come a day when a thousand Illegals descend on your detention centres…” What will Illegals going to war look like? You’ll find out, before the end – and that war has a cost.

As to whether Neville Rose is the final book …not quite. I have an idea for a further series set in the same world but with different characters; it is a trilogy that will take place about five years after the end of the events in the final book of The Tribe series. And the first book in the trilogy is told from the perspective of the girl who falls for Jaz, when he is all grown up.

Q: Favourite author(s) of all time?
Too many to list! But here’s some highlights: Daisy Utemorrah, Isobelle Carmody, Juliet Marillier, Lois Bujold, Michelle West, Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte … and I’ve just realised I’ve written a list that’s entirely made up of women. 

Yeah. Women writers rock.

Q: Favourite book(s)?
Anything written by any of the above writers. 

Q: Do you have any advice for budding young writers?
Write. Write all the time, whenever and wherever you can. Much of what you write will be bad – learn to figure out what, ditch it and start again. Be stubborn. Be committed. Be unswervingly faithful to your passion and your gift. Be warned that it very hard work, and sometimes lonely – but if this is what you want to do, hold on and never let it go.  


In the ancient Firstwood each member of the Tribe bonds with a forest animal - and it changes them... find out your animal here!

Check out the next leg of Ambelin's blog tour over at Diva Booknerd!
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