30 January 2009

29 January 2009

Don't Judge an Ankle...

This extraordinary news just in from the Mothership (thanks LB).

When Teri Brown saw the proposed cover of her first YA novel Read My Lips, she was unexpectedly delighted.

"I loved it, but I was really surprised they put the whole face. There's a cover trend of the heads being cut off in the picture..." (gossip girl anyone?)

And it seems Teri's regard for the book design grew stronger over time.

"I ended up loving the font and the colors so much I had the title tattooed onto my ankle!"

Hello - authors? - this is how you show commitment to cover typography.
Anything less than a tattoo* and we will be convinced that the pleasure you have expressed about your book cover design is not entirely genuine.**

And designers, clearly the challenge for you is to inspire our authors to get them to a body art emporium.

Let the inking begin!

* Ankle, lower back, shoulder, hip... we are not prescriptive about body part.
** We will accept temporary tattoos, but we will need photographic evidence.

Wilted Onions

Apparently everything breaks when the temperature is over 40 degrees Celsius (that's 104 degrees Fahrenheit) for two days in a row: trains, trams, electricity... brains.

So while we lie on the floor panting, here are some pretty/interesting/funny/educational things. (OK, none of these are educational.)

Vampires. We like them. We really like them when they are being staked, or when they are all dark and broody and have a soul, or bleached hair, an English accent and (eventually) a soul .

That's why we like this so much.
'But you know what they say: stakes don't kill vampires; girls with stakes kill vampires. Mr Sparkly, meet Mr Pointy.'

And this. It speaks for itself, really.

As has been stated before, most of the Onions are firmly Team Jacob (though we wavered temporarily after seeing the film), but the thought of snuggling up to an ice-cold vamp is actually mighty appealing in the midst of this heatwave. Although, come to think of it, I suppose Edward doesn't actually have an internal refrigeration device, does he? I mean, he's cold because he frequents cold climates. In this heat he'd just be room-temperature. ICK. Scratch that thought, still Team Jacob over here.

27 January 2009

Let off all the fireworks, ring all the bells, blow all the trumpets...

There is manifold Celebration in the House of Onion.

Tales from Outer Suburbia by Shaun Tan has won the 2008 Aurealis Award for Best Illustrated/Graphic Novel.

The Judges said:
'Tales from Outer Suburbia was a standout that was chosen unanimously by the judges as this year's winner. The writing and artwork are tremendously accomplished and come together magically. A truly marvellous example of how text, image and layout can come together to make up a great deal more than the sum of their parts.'

We say: Well done, Shaun!

Tender Morsels
by Margo Lanagan is a 2009 Printz Honour Book.

The judges said:
'In utterly original language, Lanagan re-imagines “Snow White and Rose Red” and explores the brutality and beauty of life.'

We say: Hooray for Margo! *

The Graveyard Book
by Neil Gaiman has won the 2009 Newbery Medal .

The judges said: 'A delicious mix of murder, fantasy, humor and human longing, the tale of Nobody Owens is told in magical, haunting prose.'

We say: Three cheers for Neil!

And well done Melina Marchetta for winning the Printz. Go Aussie!

23 January 2009

Immersion therapy (updated)

One of the wonderful things about working with kids books is having the opportunity to slip quietly into so many different worlds.

With a lovely long weekend of reading beckoning, here's our list of books to get lost in.

1: Wolf Brother by Michelle Paver

Set thousands of years ago in the cold far north when the land is one dark forest. 12-year old Torak and his wolf cub companion must find a way to destroy the evil bear demon that killed his father. Someone who shall remain nameless (Lili Wilkinson) called this 'Clan of the Cave Bear for kids'. Rawther less sex than Clan, however, and much more cool magic.

2: Uglies by Scott Westerfeld

Set in a future world where everyone has cosmetic surgery when they turn sixteen, making them into a Pretty - and supermodel beautiful. 15 year old Tally Youngblood learns to be careful what you wish for, and finds rebellion more appealing than her Pretty-head could ever have imagined. And oh hello - hoverboards!

3: Playing Beatie Bow by Ruth Park
14 year old Abigail is transported back 100 years to Sydney 1873. There she discovers a whole new world - and how difficult life was for the families struggling on the poverty line in The Rocks area of Sydney. If you studied it at school and didn't like it, try try again.

4: Sabriel by Garth Nix

Garth Nix is a genius at creating completely believable, utterly compelling worlds. But I don't think you'd want to holiday in the Old Kingdom because the dead just won't stay dead. Awesome heroine, completely terrifying bad guys, and, best of all, Mogget - the small white cat with a shady past, dubious alliances and an uncertain future.

5. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle.

Your father is regularly consulted by the president, your mother is a stunningly beautiful Nobel Prize-winning scientist, and you live in a beautiful old farmhouse somewhere in New England (where your mother cooks meals on her Bunsen burner). Your life is probably pretty perfect, right? Not if you're Meg Murray, you're mousey and defensive, you get into fights protecting your weird little brother and your father has disappeared. But if you thought you had problems to begin with, Meg, just wait until you discover that THERE IS SUCH A THING AS A TESSERACT. (And thank you, Calvin O'Keefe, for proving once and for all that orange hair can be hot.)

6: The Singer of All Songs by Kate Constable

In the world of Tremaris, magic is fading away. Calwyn must discover her powers of chantment if she is to survive outside the Ice Wall of Antaris. We should have put this one on the YA Love List. Calwyn/Darrow URST = HOTT.

7. Anything by Philip Pullman, Ursula Le Guin, Diana Wynne Jones.

Enough said.

[UPDATE: Interestingly, as far as we can see, you won't find any of these books or writers (not even Philip Pullman? No. Not even Ursula Le Guin? No.) on the Guardian's Science Fiction and Fantasy list.

They've included Harry Potter - but only rather grudgingly.
'Every now and then, a book comes along that is so influential you have to read it to be part of the modern world. Rowling's Harry Potter series may have its faults - it's a magpie's nest of bits and bobs borrowed from more innovative writers - but it occupies that space.']

21 January 2009

A rearguard advance

Look at the exciting thing that arrived this morning, missing yesterday's photo op by a whisker.

Clearly this book does not have a punctuality fairy, perhaps it has an always-arrives-just-late-enough-to-make-a-grand-entrance fairy.

20 January 2009

Some cool things on a hot day*

swimmer by Virginia

and... advances received at the House of Onion since Christmas!

* For those not in Melbourne today, it is currently 39.1 degrees Celsius. That's 102.38 Farenheit or 312.25 Kelvin.


19 January 2009

Lizzie and Darcy snubbed

The Guardian is offering up a list of the 1000 novels everyone must read.
'Over seven days our writers recommend the best books to read about crime, war, fantasy, travel, science fiction, family and love.'

So far they've done love and crime.

On the Love List, the only book I was able to readily identify as what we might call YA is Dodi Smith's I Capture the Castle, but it does mention lots of others that I read as a teenager and loved (The Great Gatsby, Love in the Time of Cholera, Lolita, The English Patient)*,
or hated (Wuthering Heights**, Lady Chatterley's Lover***),
or thought I liked but wasn't 100% sure because I didn't really, and still don't quite, understand it (The Unbearable Lightness of Being),
or read recently and am sure I would have loved as a teen (The Virgin Suicides)
or read recently and am sure I would have hated as a teen (Death in Venice)

If you could make a Love List of YA books what would you have?

The Onions would start with:
The Changeover by Margaret Mahy
How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff
Looking for Alibrandi by Melina Marchetta
When you wake and find me gone by Maureen McCarthy
Guitar Highway Rose by Brigid Lowry
And love it or hate it - Twilight is all about the luuurve.

* Pride and Prej didn't make the Love list, but we're betting it'll show up on the Family list. If not, we might have to write AN EMAIL to the Guardian.
** Other Onions would like to point out they loved this one . They are strange and wrong.
***We are willing to go on the record as saying no one should ever HAVE to read DH Lawrence.

15 January 2009

Vote early, vote often

Oh words, how we HEART you.
And it's always exciting when new ones are welcomed into the world.

So we are happy happy joy joy that (our favourite dictionary) The Macquarie is open for business on voting for Word of the Year 2008 .

Word of the Year is a relatively new innovation at Macquarie.

The inaugural winner in 2006 was:
muffin top
noun Colloquial the fold of fat around the midriff which, on an overweight woman, spills out over the top of tight-fitting pants or skirts.
(oh dear)
Word of the Year 2007 was:
pod slurping
noun the downloading of large quantities of data to an MP3 player or memory stick from a computer.
And the 2007 The People's Choice Award was:
password fatigue
no definition required. sigh.
This year our favourites include:
noun Colloquial a backpacker who travels in relative luxury.
Wii shoulder
noun painful inflammation of the shoulder caused by excessive playing of virtual computer games involving movement.
(though we wonder if this one is a little behind the times as Onion encounters with Wii shoulder were way back in 2007)
noun Colloquial a non-sexual but intense friendship between two males.
You only have until midnight 31 January so go forth and vote.

PS: We Onions are very pro all the guerrilla gardening activities we have seen around town.

14 January 2009

A grim time for tales?

It seems that in some quarters of the world fairytales are getting the cold shoulder.

This is bad news indeed for poor cinders and red riding hood et al. We have mentioned before the Gift of Reading Project and its hard-hitting campaign to keep our favourite characters alive.

I confess that Hansel and Gretel used to freak this Onion out, with the Stepmother's multiple abandonment attempts, the chicken bone-finger substitute and the oven big enough to bake children*. But it was Sleeping Beauty who caused the nightmares. My grandmother was an accomplished wool-spinner and she was keen for us to keep the craft alive so we had spinning wheels in the house, and I had a recurring nightmare about pricking my finger and falling into a death sleep - with no prince in sight to save me...

As an older reader, the only book that scared me enough to need to leave the light on (at age 16) was Stephen King's The Shining. But did it turn me away from reading? Oh, no it did not. As soon as I finished I quickstixed to the library to borrow the next Stephen King. I chose Salem's Lot - hello vampires!

But back to fairytales. Stepmothers get plenty of poor press in traditional fairytales, and with so many blended families in the world maybe it's understandable that we are shying away from stories that promote the idea of stepmothers being wicked.

Actually, the press isn't much chop for any women in fairytales - which is perhaps why authors are inspired to revisit fairytales and tinker with the original versions. I remember being much enamoured of Angela Carter's wonderfully racy feminist re-tellings in The Bloody Chamber.

More recently, of course, we were swept away by Margo Lanagan's achingly brilliant Tender Morsels which draws on Snow White and Rose Red for it's inspiration.

And Ms Rowling has reminded us that fairytales still have the power to enchant. For those who aren't up to speed, The Tales of Beedle the Bard is the wizarding world equivalent of the tales of those Brothers Grimm.

Indeed we suspect that rumours of the death of the fairytale are greatly exaggerated. So, helpfully, with his poem Instructions in M is for Magic, the marvellous Neil Gaiman has been kind enough to offer this sage advice should ever we find ourselves landed in the mysterious world of fairytale. Enjoy.

* And I was reading the tame version, not The Goosle, Margo's re-telling that caused a bit of kiff and koff which she affectionately refers to as Gooslegate.

The Happiness of Kati

'Every morning Kati is woken by the clatter of Grandma's spatula and pan and every night she goes to bed wishing for her mother.'

The Happiness of Kati by Jane Vejjajiva (translated by Prudence Borthwick) is a beautiful gentle sad-but-happy book. It was a HUGE bestseller in Thailand and now it's a movie. How exciting!

Here are some cover images from around the world (I don't know about you, but we always find the differences from country to country fascinating!)

Our edition

Original Thai



13 January 2009

Summer holidays are almost over

I mean, the Onions have been back at work for a while, but there are others signs: the trains and trams go back to normal timetable, The Age stops being the Summer Age, the regular radio presenters get back from holidays, Back To School Savings ads for stationery and black shoes appear and prices for stone fruit creep up. Luckily, we can always read about other people's glorious summers.

Here are some of our favourite books set in the summer holidays:

Swallows and Amazons
by Arthur Ransome. Camping on an island without parents, sailing, eating Pemmican, meeting and warring with Amazon pirates. What more could anyone want?

The Indigo Girls
by Penni Russon. Self-reinvention, surfing, excellent daggy family camping ground action and the pain and glory of real friendships.

My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell. Not strictly summer holidays, but certainly with that flavour. Gerry: curious, patient, observant, obsessive and free to endlessly explore. The Durrell family: stark raving bonkers hilarious, but the sort of bonkers that seems to make complete sense. A hymn to the Corfu that used to be.

Ash Road by Ivan Southall. Three teenage boys, a camping trip, a searing north wind, a bushfire, a township under threat - a classic Australian disaster-survival story.

Storm Boy by Colin Thiele. Not strictly in the summer holidays, but qualifies because of its windswept beach setting. How can anyone forget the story of Storm Boy and his beloved pelican Mr Percival, a simple heart-breaking tale of love, loyalty, trust and friendship - guaranteed to get you weepy.

My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George. Again not set entirely in summer, but it has the right feel when Sam Gribley runs away at the start of summer to the Catskill Mountains to live in the wilderness and fend for himself - another survival story with a bird best friend, this time a peregrine falcon called Frightful.

Stride's Summer
by Jenni Overend
Boys and birds - clearly a sub-genre. When his father dies, Stride adopts his pet cockatoo, Ferd. They develop a strong bond in the summer that sees Stride struggle to survive a bushfire and learn about grief and acceptance.

What have we missed?

12 January 2009

Barry Jonsberg - author guest post #2

Remember we said we were looking forward to advance copies of the books we toiled over late last year? Well, the good news is they are landing at the House - hurrah!

And the one that landed today is A Croc Called Capone

by the always entertaining Barry Jonsberg.

Barry made a big splash in the YA world with his very first book (known in the House simply as Kiffo). Since then he's been busy, writing three more terrific YA novels, a great Girlfriend Fiction and the fast and funny The Dog that Dumped on My Doona for younger readers. So in celebration of The Croc, we have a guest post from Barry. Take it away Barry:

A keen sense of audience is important for a writer.

So I would like to say at the outset that book editors are, in my opinion, the most talented, charming, brilliant, gifted, diplomatic and wonderful people I have ever known.

This self-evident truth was brought to my attention immediately after my first book, The Whole Business With Kiffo and the Pitbull, was accepted for publication by Allen & Unwin. Given that I live and work in Darwin [“somewhere up there”], personal meetings were impossible, so the whole editing process was conducted primarily by email. I was thrilled to be informed, in the first email contact, that my manuscript was ‘brilliant’, ‘hilarious’, ‘immaculately written’ and ‘the greatest work of fiction in the English language’ [okay, I’ve lost that email, but it was words to that effect]. My ego inflated to the size of Uluru, I read on to the second paragraph which hinted there were just one or two, very minor, hardly-worth-bothering-about, teensy-weeny, minuscule areas where the manuscript could be marginally improved. As it turned out, these areas were:

  1. the beginning
  2. the middle
  3. the end

and involved eighteen months of re-writing.

Some writers have a reputation for being unreceptive to criticism [“Take out the word ‘the’?. I chose that word after months of agonising over alternatives. Remove it and you might as well rip my heart out.”], so this diplomacy is both practical and generous.

I just think it’s fantastic.

If I’m feeling bad about myself, I only read the first paragraph. If I want to get something done, I go straight to the second.

Words and editors, editors and words. I love ’em both.

Barry and his books. We love 'em all.

09 January 2009

Onions, look away now!

Those Penguins make some pretty things.

PS: Normal programming shall resume shortly.

Editors, look away now!

Turnabout is fair play...

08 January 2009

Authors, look away now!


Of course, we Onions are ALWAYS respectful of our authors and gracious in disagreement. We would NEVER give way to such feelings as this bad, bad lolcat expresses so... deliciously.

To quote or not to quote, that is the question...

Music is a powerful medium and using it to evoke mood and character can be a very effective tool in fiction, especially if you want to capture a particular time period or sense of place: I'm thinking of you Charles Hardin Holley (mid 1950s), and you Madonna Louise Ciccone (early 1980s) and you Seattle (circa 1990).

So, we've been talking about song lyrics in books. Or not, as the case may be.

Here in the land of Oz, unless a song lyric is in the public domain (oh - hello Messrs Gilbert & Sullivan), Australian copyright law means that any lyric quoted in a printed publication must be approved by the copyright holder. Identifying copyright holders, applying for and securing permissions can be tricky and time-consuming and once the copyright holder is identified, often the permissions fee can be prohibitive.

One particularly frustrating permissions-seeking campaign to reproduce two lines of a song lyric resulted in us being informed by one stake-holder who accounted for 33.33% ownership of the copyright that with the payment of an exorbitant fee we could secure their permission, however they were unable to advise us which person or record label emporium owned the other 66.66% of the copyright (for serious).

We are by no means saying that copyright is a bad thing. It's definitely a good thing. But if you are inspired by someone else's creative genius and you want to use their copyrighted material in your own (to-be) published work, be warned that the permissions path can sometimes be a rocky and impassable road.

Of course, if you are of the creative spirit, and you have a hankering to evoke the late 1960s, perhaps you could turn your hand to a different kind of project (who doesn't need a little of The Doors in their life every now and then...).

Clever. We applaud.

05 January 2009

Ranty McRantpants

Can anyone tell me why the Telmarines in the Disney Prince Caspian film are Spanish (or maybe Portugese, some kind of swarthy Meditarranean types, anyway)?

I'm sure Caspian is described in the books as being blond. On the front cover of the book I had he's wearing a helmet, so that's not much help. But he's a full-on goldilocks on the front cover of Voyage of the Dawn Treader.

Here he is in all his Narnian finery:

Although it does seem as though the illustrator of this Puffin edition was having a bet each way:

I mean, I guess there's nothing exactly wrong with making them Spaniards. But what dramatic purpose does it serve, other than enabling all the bad guys to have dark pointy beards? (And now what are the Calormenes going to look like, I ask you? Oh wait, never mind, that seems to be the least of their worries.)

In fact, why did they change.... um, you know... just about everything?

I know you have to change things when you adapt a book to the screen (drama, pacing, visual storytelling blah blah) so I'm not whingeing about that per se. (I mean, I love Tom Bombadil, but I can totally see why Peter Jackson didn't want him clogging up the plot with all that striding and singing. And beefing up Arwen's role: awesome! And all those extra Wind in the Willows happenings in the TV show that aren't in the book: love them! ) But why adapt a book at all if the only thing you're keeping are the characters' names and the setting and a few broad plot points?

Or am I being unfair?

Happy New Year!

The things Onions did on the holidays include:
  • Were [almost] converted to Team Edward (Movie Edward - he actually has a sense of humour!)
  • Started reading some new books, but cheated on them with old favourites
  • Played frisbee in the park
  • Ate, ate, ate, ate, ate
  • Didn't receive a SINGLE book for Christmas
  • Saw a sunrise
  • Watched gentlemens in white, wielding willow (thwack!)
  • Dog-walked in the late afternoon sun

Things Onions are excited about in the shiny new year:
  • 29 degrees and sunny
  • New diaries
  • New production database program thingy (no really, this IS exciting!)
  • New Harry Potter movie (at some point)
  • Advance copies of all those books we toiled over late last year