31 August 2010

Interviewers, be a full storm!

What we mean to say is, Mutton befrills a reviewer.

Or rather: A timeserver be wilful. *snort*

No no wait: Be a fleeter violin, Mrs Wurst!

(OK, walk away from the anagram generator, lady, walk away...*)

To put it another, more correct, way

It's here! It's here!

Go to it.

Many authors - Onions and others - will be talking about many many interesting things. From Hamlet, to ancient magic, to Twilight: hot or not?, to graphic novels and beyond.

See you there!

And, in case you missed it, the Davitt awards were presented at the MWF Sisters in Crime dinner on Saturday night - and we are thrilled to report that not only did Justine Larbalestier's Liar win the YA category, the Onions scooped the pool. Yes! A clean sweep! My weren't we proud.

*If you're thinking, 'Wait, no - step back to the anagram generator, lady. Step back. I love wordplay', then you need to get hold of David Astle's book Puzzled, which is chock full of Secrets and Clues from a Life Lost in Words. (Also, you're a wordnerd - just so you know.)

27 August 2010

Introducing... Gordon Reece,

who has a lifelong obsession with comics, and one day hopes to write THE Batman movie script - really dark, not Tim Burton dark (which is pink) or Chris Nolan dark (which is blue), but Gordon Reece dark, which is black, black, black.*

In the meantime, here is one of his weird and wonderful characters, Red Skull, uttering a terrible curse.

However, it is neither his comics nor his movie script that we are here to lavish praise upon today. It is his thrilling, electrifying, nail-biting novel Mice. Mice is creating a ruckus all across the globe, with countries snapping it up for their very own editions of Souris, Mäuse, 老鼠, Ratones, Ratos, мыши and Muizen.**

Is it the suspense? The isolated setting? The ferocity of the mother's love? The moral quandary? Or...the blood? Readers have been trapped in their bed or on their tram [scroll down to the first review] against their will, finding themselves turning page after page because THEY ABSOLUTELY MUST FIND OUT WHAT HAPPENS.

Gordon wrote Mice a long time ago, then placed it carefully in his sock drawer and lived in Spain near the sea and became a writer and illustrator of many books for children.

A series of coincidences, including a move to north-eastern Victoria where cows outnumber humans one-hundred-to-one, led him to present the MS to Our Fearless Leader almost a decade later.

Then he panicked and tried to find a way to break into the House of Onion to retrieve it before she could read it and have him arrested. Happily, he failed***, and Our Fearless Leader got to read the MS, which by its compulsive page-turning nature caused her to miss the 2009 Australian Open final, and the rest is history: Mice will hit the shelves in approximately three days.

Oh, the bus stops that will slide by unnoticed, the rendezvous that will be missed...

* He is actually quite the cheery fellow in real life - though he won't allow garlic anywhere near him. Curiouser and curiouser...
** Is it just us, or do these foreign language titles sound uncannily like Santa's new team of reindeer?
*** WARNING: The House of Onion has EYES and EARS even on weekends, and that kitchen window has a nasty drop.

24 August 2010

Tense times

The wait is almost over. Not the wait for an election result, of course, that wait might be lengthy.

We don't mind admitting that many of us in the House of Onion are eagerly awaiting the publication of Mockingjay*, the third book in Suzanne Collins's compelling dystopian trilogy The Hunger Games. What will become of Katniss and her world - what role will she play, and who will survive to stand beside her?

While the actual idea of the Hunger Games is horrific (every year two children from each of 12 Districts are selected to be thrown into a hostile, televised arena, controlled by the game-makers, to fight to the death), Suzanne Collins has created a vivid and compelling series that readers are gobbling up, turning pages as quickly as they can to see what happens. A life-or-death reality show with children fighting each other as entertainment - used simultaneously as a weapon of oppression wielded by the governing forces - is almost inconceivable,** and yet it is extraordinarily convincing.

Collins's world-building is wonderful and the sense of drama, danger and threat is ever-immediate and relentless. This immediacy is generated in part by the fact that the novel is written in first person, present tense. We have noted before how the second person point of view can impact on a reader. And tense certainly has an impact too.

But it can't do it in a vacuum. A novel written in present tense has to have a great deal more than present participles for it to work its immediacy magic. It is only effective if the reader actually cares about the character. If we don't have real feelings for the protagonist, we couldn't give two hoots about what happens to them next... or now, as it were.

And we DO care about Katniss Everdeen. From the moment she volunteers to take her sister's place in The Reaping, we want her to survive the Hunger Games. So we are desperate to know what happens next. And it's not just because of her noble act of self-sacrifice - it's a combination of her authoritative and appealing narrative voice, the compelling nature of the plot (the extreme and terrible situation Katniss finds herself in) and the element of uncertainty that surrounds the Games themselves (she knows she's going to have to fight to the death, but she's not at all sure how the game might play out, what the game-makers have in store for the selected tributes, or even what the consequences of winning might be).

So voice, plot and suspense*** combine to make us want to turn the pages. In combination with these three key elements, the present tense does indeed work its magic - it enhances the urgency, compounds the terror and makes us feel we are truly in the moment with Katniss.

So bring on Mockingjay. Bring. It. On.

* Today! Today! It's published today!
** Unlike Vizzini, we know what inconceivable means - which is why we added the almost.
*** Oh and the URST, don't get us started on URST. We are Team Gale and Team Peeta.

23 August 2010

Hip hip hooray!

The CBCA Book of the Year Awards were announced on Friday and we Onions had much to cheer about.

Younger Readers
Picture Book of the Year

Older Readers
Eve Pownall Award for Information Book of the Year

Congratulations to all the the authors and illustrators whose books won or were honoured in their categories.

20 August 2010

Extract! Extract! Extract! Read all about it!

Sometimes, on the Friday before a federal election, all you need is an escape.

In that spirit, here is a mini Festival of Extract that will take you for a spin around the world and out of the world of spin.

First stop: Woolworths - just down the road... Good Oil by Laura Buzo
'Miss Amelia Hayes, Welcome to The Land of Dreams. I am the staff trainer. I will call you grasshopper and you will call me sensei. And I will give you the good oil, right?'
21-year-old Chris will give 16-year-old Amelia more than that - he'll give her a pain in the heart, mixed messages, and plenty to think about. One Onion's mother, after receiving the report on the most recent teen sleepover/movie outing/party would habitually say, 'Yes, that sounds fun, but did you talk about ideas?'

Good Oil is a book that talks a lot about ideas. It's an absolutely gorgeous, achingly funny, heartbreakingly real story about first love and growing-up. But it's also about feminism and literature and film and the wider world.
So go go go, go read the extract - fall in love with Amelia and Chris. We know you will.

Next stop: Madras High Court, April 1910. India Dark by Kirsty Murray
'I knew too much too soon. Once you know, you can't ever turn back to not knowing.'
13-year-old Poesy Swift and 15-year-old Tilly Sweetrick are members of Percival's Lilliputian Opera Company, a troupe of young Australian performers touring India, and they are caught up in a scandal that will change their lives forever. Amid the heat and dust of a lost Empire there is secrecy, conflict and a string of disasters. As everything unravels, can the girls find a way to protect themselves? Or is escape an option? Dive in here.

Third stop: medieval Europe.* The Rebel Prince by Celine Kiernan
'Christopher's clear grey eyes hardened, his chin lowered, and Wynter's heart squeezed in alarm as she realised that he was going to say something both of them would regret.'
The final instalment of The Moorehawke Trilogy is brimming with sacrifice, invention, loyalty, romance, revenge, insurrection and ultimately a Kingdom in jeopardy. Wynter - 15-year-old apprentice stone-mason, former King's Cat Keeper and strong female lead in a dangerous and war-torn world - will have her loyalty stretched to its limit. Who will be left standing when the swords are re-sheathed at the end of the final battle?
Extract! Extract! Read all about it!**

Final Stop in our whirlwind tour: your local polling booth
Voters - queue convivially, cast your ballot bravely and savour your well-earned sausage sizzle.

* Well, a fantasy version of medieval Europe and who doesn't love their medieval served up with a little of the magics.
**Although if you haven't read Book I in the series, The Poison Throne, you should probably dip into this extract instead.

13 August 2010

Friday stuff and items

1. Fresh from last weekends Graphic festival at the Sydney Opera House, for your viewing and listening pleasure herewith a 13-part interview with the ever-popular author and storyteller Neil Gaiman.

2. Regular readers will remember that recently we issued a warm and appreciative shout out to Margo Lanagan's 'Singing my Sister Down'. Well, for all you Sydneysiders (or even for folks visitng Sydney in the next week or so), LOOK! LOOK! 'Singing My Sister Down' has hit the stage! Margo advises you take a hankie - we concur. We completely concur.

3. Fiction Focus has alerted us to some very good news indeed. Two years of WA Premier's shortlists for the price of one, featuring Shaun Tan's Tales from Outer Suburbia and Justine Larbalestier's Liar. Hoorays and hurrahs!

4. The French edition of Celine Kiernan's The Poison Throne gets some mighty royal book-trailer treatment.

11 August 2010

His ineffable effable, effanineffable, deep and inscrutable singular Name.*

Over at Eglantine's Cake, Penni Russon and her readers have been talking about names. Do you define a name, or does a name define you?

It seems there's definitely more to names than meets the eye. But perhaps there's also more to names than meets the ear.

The Good Master by Kate Seredy is one of my favourite books. My mother first read it to me when I was eight. Then, when we were going to be apart for several months a few years later, she recorded herself reading our favourite chapters and sent me off, armed with the cassette tape and a Walkman.** I also read it for myself many times while I was growing up.***

The Good Master
is set on a Hungarian farm before the First World War, and the main character is an 11-year-old boy named Jansci Nagy.

Only it's not.
Not how I thought anyway.

When my mother read the Good Master to me she knew nothing of Hungarian pronunciation and so said the names as they came naturally to an English speaker. We read about Jansee Nahghee. Jansee - a brisk, bright name; the ringing of sleighbells across the vast Hungarian plain; the tinkle of water in the brook that cut through the Nagy's farm; Jansee; Jansee.

But when I went to university and did a bit of Hungarian history, I discovered that the main character in The Good Master is actually a boy called Yonshee Nodge. Yonshee - an altogether different name. An altogether different boy?

I was bereft. I felt as if Jansee, the boy I had known for so many years, had been spirited away and replaced with a strange substitute - rather like the ice-baby that the goblins leave behind in place of Ida's baby brother in Maurice Sendak's Outside Over There. Or worse, it was as if he had never existed at all.

Yonshee felt to me so profoundly different a name that it would be as if you read Anne of Green Gables but every time you saw the word Anne you had to remember to say Bruce, and expect her to be the same girl.**** Could I love Yonshee as much as I loved Jansee? Did I even know Yonshee?

I had other incidents with the names of characters over the years. I thought Laura from the Little House books was called Lara (like the town outside Geelong), because of my dad's American accent. I thought Arietty from the Borrowers was Ariety, to rhyme with variety. Discovering I was wrong caused me a little consternation for a time - but I got over it.

I don't think I've ever got over Jancsi Nagy.

Whenever I read the Good Master now, I cheat. I abandon Yonshee and steal back Jansee. (Or I try to because there's forever a faint whisper of Yonshee.)

But what if I am ever in the position of reading The Good Master to my own children, or someone elses? Will I read about Jansee or Yonshee? Do I have a moral obligation to pronounce the name as it ought to be pronounced? Am I obliged to put aside my preference to save the poor child from any future Jansee/Yonshee discombobulation of their own? Or am I allowed to give them Jansee, as he was given to me?

What would happen to my Jansee if I let Yonshee in? And what would happen to Yonshee if I gave him room to breathe?

I am very curious to know if anyone else has had a similar experience with mispronounced, misheard, misremembered or misunderstood names in books? If so - do you stick to the old familiar name? Or do you valiantly embrace the new? And in so doing, do you discover a new character, or does the old character change the name?

* Have you seen Faber's gorgeous illustrated edition of Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats. So much wanting!
** Yes, a cassette tape and a Walkman - remember those?
*** Given that I am still growing up, I am still reading them.
**** Anne-with-an-e herself knew about the power of names, the shape of them and the weight of them.

05 August 2010

What do Editors Do All Day, Part 3 - Wrangling the Cover

Behold! The third in our occasional series What Do Editors Do All Day. If you'd like a recap, please see Part 1 - Copy-editing and Part 2 - Structural Editing.

So we've talked about making the insides of a book - but what about the outsides? The cover. That bit we all judge it by.
We are very fortunate to work with many brilliantly talented designers who consistently make us look good. They decipher what it is we want, translate it into something better than we ever imagined, cheerfully put up with us making demands and changing our minds, and give our books the best chance to make their way in the world.

But getting to the right cover is not always simple. On any given day in the House of Onion you will find editors involved in the process of shepherding a cover from initial idea to finished design.

Here's how we do it:

PS Our thanks to Cheezburger, and to Pop Suede - for vampior.