Category Archives: Interview

Deborah Burrows: Q&A

 

Thank you, Deborah, for your time and for sharing a bit about yourself & your writing. I adored A Time of Secrets and have been keeping a careful eye for your next book so am very very happy with having one in my hands now 🙂

Thank you, Tien, for those kind words. I’m so happy that you liked Stella in Secrets – she’s one of my favourite people too. I do hope that you like Lily in Ambulance Girls, too. She’s a feisty Aussie girl in the thick of the Blitz mayhem.

Quick Qs

Dark Chocolate or Milk Chocolate?  It’s chocolate!! Whatever way it comes, I’m happy.

Coffee or Tea?  Coffee in the morning (crucial!) and tea in the afternoon (preferably with scones).

Dog-ear or whatever else as bookmark?  Ummm. I was known to dog-ear in my misspent youth, but now I’m a scrupulous bookmarker. I use anything, leaves, twigs, postcards, envelopes, pamphlets, anything available – even a real bookmark occasionally.

Plot or Character?   Definitely character, but this comes after I’ve decided on what themes I want to explore.

I usually begin a book with a couple of themes, for instance, anti-Semitism in WW2 Britain, the Australian Intelligence Service, the effect of war on those who fight, the impact of hordes of young American servicemen on a small city like Perth, what it is like to discover that your first love has died in battle in a country far away.

But I can’t begin writing until I know who my heroine will be, and I have a good idea of her back-story. I need to know where and when she was born, her family circumstances, where she grew up and what she is passionate about before I am able to imagine what she will undergo in the course of my book. Then other characters begin to appear in my mind and I need to know their back-stories in detail as well. Every character in my books (even quite a minor one) has a detailed back-story in my mind.

HEA or unexpected twist? Happily ever after! Always!!

What fascinates you so much about history that you have 3 history degrees?

I have always been fascinated by the past. Even as a child I would walk through the streets of Perth imagining how it had looked when my mother was a girl, or when her mother was young. My favourite books as a child were ones set or written in the past.

Also, history is about stories, and I adore stories.

And the study of history allows you to have some insight into why the world is the way it is today. It offers explanations, which I like.

Any other era in history that you like aside from WWII?

The 1920s. Like WW2 it was a time of enormous change for women. But it was a time of hope also, as people wanted to forget the horrors of WW1. And it has the added bonus of great clothes and music!

Any era in history you dislike? Why?

I don’t really dislike any historical period, but some don’t interest me as much as others. I doubt that I would write about the eighteenth century, for example, because I don’t know much about it.

When did you first start writing and what was the road to publication like for you?

I began to write in 2009, finished A Stranger in my Street in January 2011, and by April 2011 I had an agent and a publisher. So I can’t share any stories about having to paper my walls with rejections.

I will say in all humility, though, that I doubt a publisher would ever have considered my first book if I hadn’t paid to have the manuscript professionally edited before trying to find an agent. That really made all the difference. The editor suggested that I make a lot of changes to the pacing of the book. She also suggested that I write new scenes and remove others. Because of my editor I was able to see my ‘baby’ from an entirely new point of view and the flaws of the first time writer were horribly apparent. It’s not easy to accept that what you thought was wonderful needs a lot more work, but I’m so glad that I accepted her advice, because after re-writing I was able to offer a polished manuscript to literary agents, and I was accepted almost immediately.

What was the inspiration behind ‘Ambulance Girls’?

A 1941 newspaper article headed: “WA Girl is ARP Heroine”. It was about Stella O’Keefe, the first Australian A.R.P. [Air Raid Precautions] worker in Britain to be presented to the Queen for outstanding bravery in the London Blitz. Stella was born in a small town 160kms out of Kalgoorlie and (like me!) was a petite girl. (She was known to her colleagues in the London Auxiliary Ambulance Station where she worked as “The Mighty Atom,” which amused me.) In November 1940, at the height of the Blitz, she climbed up to the ninth floor of a bombed and dangerously unstable building in the blackout to rescue a trapped family.

In the article, Stella was quoted as saying, “Other girls at my station have done stickier jobs than this rescue. I am the only driver who so far has not crashed an ambulance into a bomb crater while going to hospital with wounded in the darkened streets. Many times bombs have been so close that I saw the explosion and disintegration of buildings, but the pressure of the job is so intense that there is no time for fear.”

After reading that article the character of Lily Brennan appeared in my mind, and the story soon followed.

Hmmm, I would love to know what’s happened to Stella O’Keefe after the Blitz!

What kind of research was involved in the writing of Ambulance Girls?

I was living in Oxford, UK at the time, and had access to Oxford University’s marvellous Bodleian Library. It is a deposit library, so every book ever published in the UK is in there. I just had to ask and books magically appeared in a few hours. This meant that I was able to read a lot of out of print novels written in WW2, and could peruse any books about the period that seemed interesting.

But I also like to visit the places I write about in my books. So I wandered around central London with a bomb map and worked out which buildings had been destroyed or damaged, so that I could get a sense of the city under siege. I also visited wonderful museums, such as the Imperial War Museum, the Cabinet War Rooms in Whitehall, and Bletchley Park (where they broke the German Enigma Codes).

And I went to the Westminster City Archives, where I was able to inspect the actual records of the Blitz. I touched the detailed incident reports filled out by the ARP Wardens each day. They listed what bombs were dropped on what streets, the time they hit, the damage they caused to property, and the casualties. That was an amazing experience, because even after 75 years there was still a faint scent of smoke in the yellowing paper.

Was there a particular historical incident you came across during research that really touched you? Could you please share it with us?

This story, from a book that set out people’s memories of the Blitz, really affected me. It still makes me want to cry, for so many reasons:

“She was a beautiful little girl, about eight years old, blonde, the sort of girl you’d see in the old Pears soap advertisements. She was lying on the ground and she was dead. We checked her over but there was no injury except that a piece of shrapnel had taken off the back of her skull. She had a beautiful smile on her face. We took her to the hospital and asked for a doctor to certify her as dead and a young doctor came out. He took one look at her and took off his white coat and said he was going off to join the air force, because he wanted to drop bombs on people who were dropping bombs on us.”

Could you share your top 5 favourite WWII novels, please?

(in alphabetical order)

Enigma by Robert Harris

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Anne Shaffer

A Town Like Alice by Neville Shute

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

Black-out/All Clear by Connie Willis

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

I’ve read 3, have got Blackout off the shelf to read, and added the other 2 to my tbr (ack!) ~Tien

What’s next for you?

Ambulance Girls is the first of a trilogy, which all deal with women ambulance drivers in the blitz. The books are loosely connected, so that Lily from Ambulance Girls will appear in the other two, but as a more minor character.

So, at present I’m writing the second in the trilogy, Ambulance Girls: Under Fire.

Eeeek!! I can’t wait 😀

You can check out my thoughts on Ambulance Girls, here

About the author

Deborah Burrows was born and grew up in Perth, Western Australia. She is the author of four novels, all set in the Second World War. Deborah’s inspiration is her late mother, who was widowed by the long shadow of that war and who loved to tell stories about life in wartime. Deborah’s latest novel is Ambulance Girls, which is the first of a trilogy set during the London Blitz.

Deborah’s ‘day job’ is in the law, but she has a passion for history. Perhaps that is why, although she adores the clear skies, beautiful beaches and easy-going atmosphere of her home town, she so loves spending time in dreamy Oxford, where she completed a post-graduate degree in medical history. She now divides her time between the two cities.

Find Deborah: website | facebook | twitter | goodreads

Nicola Moriarty: Q&A

Thank you, Nicola Moriarty, for your time in sharing your thoughts with me in this Q&A session.

  • There’s something unique about letters, isn’t there? Could you share with us your thoughts about letters seeing that they are feature strongly in your new book, The Fifth Letter? What is special about letters to you personally?

I completely agree there’s something unique about letters as opposed to email or text or even face-to—face conversation. I think the reason letter-writing appeals to me is because sending and receiving letters was something I loved to do when I was younger. I wrote to my cousin when she moved to England for a year when we were both about eleven. I wrote to my sister when she moved away to study at Yale university (and I filled those letters with teenage angst and confessions) and I wrote love letters to my first boyfriend when I was fourteen!

  • And continuing on the above question… I haven’t received or sent a letter by snail mail in a very, very long time – so long that I can’t even remember the last time (not counting any greeting cards). Have you sent or received a letter by snail mail recently? And if so why was the letter not in email form instead?

I haven’t sent a letter myself for a little while now, but I encourage my 8 year old daughter to write letters to her best friend who moved away to Mudgee last year, because I remember the joy of writing letters to friends when I was young. There’s just something special about sharing stories and secrets and sealing them up inside envelopes and sending them out into the world and then waiting for the all-important response!

  • Can you tell us about the inspiration behind The Fifth Letter?

I have a great group of friends that have been with me since high school (we’ve been in each other’s lives for more than 20 years now!) Obviously our friendships have had their ups and downs, but despite this, we’re all still very close and we have girls’ holidays away together every now and then. These holidays often result in lots of drinking and chatting way into the night and during these late night, wine-fueled conversations, all sorts of revelations from our past often come up. Sometimes we do argue or get frustrated with one another, but usually, we can move past any disagreements.

I found myself wondering what would happen if something really serious, something really dark or sinister come up in one of these chats with my friends? What if it turned out that they were hiding secrets? That I didn’t actually know them as well as I thought I did?

At the same time, I already had this completely random idea at the back of my mind of a group of friends swapping anonymous letters. I think originally I was actually envisioning a group of high school students doing it on a dare or as a bit of fun. The two ideas sort of merged together and from there, the story of a group of long-term female friends sharing secrets in anonymous letters was formed.

I liked the concept of the feeling of helplessness you might feel if you read something heartbreaking in a letter and knew that one of your friends was hurting but you couldn’t help them because you didn’t know which friend it was.

  • What kind of research was involved in the writing of The Fifth Letter?

The story didn’t require a great deal of research, but I did have to find out a bit about certain infertility issues, plus I learned a little about abseiling and I asked the advice of some friends who are nurses to help determine the possible outcomes of a certain injury.

  • Do you listen to music whilst writing? If so, was there a particular set of songs you listened to when writing your new book?

I love to listen to music when I write. With The Fifth Letter, I listened to a lot of 90s music because it gave me a great sense of nostalgia, taking me back to the time when I was in high school with my best friends. I listened to a mix of Greenday, Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Smash Mouth, Nirvana, Fatboy Slim, Spiderbait, Jebediah, The Offspring, Soundgarden and Powderfinger.

  • What kind of music do you think the main characters in The Fifth Letter would enjoy? And do they have any favourite songs?

Eden likes a bit of drum and bass and some jazz as well. I think her favourite artists would be Massive Attack, Regina Spektor, Chairlift, Portishead, Tricky, The Submarines, The Sneaker Pimps and Florence + The Machine.

Deb has eclectic taste. Sometimes she’s into hip hop, sometimes it’s old 60s or 80s music, sometimes it’s dance. She usually doesn’t know the name of the song that she’s listening to.

Trina’s into old-school grunge or punk. She likes Weezer, Reel Big Fish, Eskimo Joe and Blink 182.

Joni likes feel-good, fun, poppy kind of music like P!nk or Ke$ha or Katy Perry.

  • Can you tell us what’s next for you?

Yes, I’m working on my next novel, which is about parenting in general plus the divide between working mums, stay at home mums and women without children. It’s also about the judgement between parents and about the sometimes toxic influence of social media groups on women… and that’s all I can say at this stage without giving too much away!

2016 v. 2017:

  1. What was your favourite book/s of 2016?

A Tangle of Gold by Jaclyn Moriarty

Truly Madly Guilty by Liane Moriarty

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins (I know it originally came out in 2015, but I only just read it last year!)

Love at First Flight by Tess Woods

  1. What is your most anticipated book/s for 2017?

The Golden Child by Wendy James (I was lucky enough to read an early copy and I could not put it down!)

The Lucky One by Caroline Overington

Into the Water by Paula Hawkins

  1. What is the thing you are most proud of having tackled in 2016?

Depression – it decided to re-appear and settle in around about the beginning of autumn. It took most of the year to shake it off my back yet again, but I’m happy to say I’m finally starting to feel like myself now (the happier version of myself anyway!).

Thanks for sharing this with us, Nicola. Thank you for your stories and your courage & determination. I’m glad to hear that you’re feeling more like yourself and look forward to more of your insightful stories into the lives of normal women like us xox

If anyone out there feels like you need some help, please reach out. If you need it, Lifeline Australia can be reached on 13 11 14.

  1. What is something tough you are looking to tackle (or have started to tackle) in 2017?

My health and fitness, it got a little off track towards the end of 2016, so I’m super keen to get it back under control this year.

Thanks very much for taking the time to answer these questions Nicola, and all the very best with The Fifth Letter!

You can check out my thoughts on The Fifth Letter, here

About the author

moriarty-nicola-2-credit-steve-menasse

Nicola lives in Sydney’s north west with her husband and two small (but remarkably strong willed) daughters. In between various career changes, becoming a mum and studying at Macquarie University, she began to write. Now, she can’t seem to stop.

Her writing was once referred to as ‘inept’ by The Melbourne Age. Luckily on that same day the Brisbane Courier Mail called her work ‘accomplished, edgy and real.’ So she stopped crying into her Weetbix, picked up a pen and continued to write. She has been fueled by a desire to prove The Age wrong ever since.

These days, she writes everything from novels to football stadium announcements to VW radio ad scripts and Home Loan EDMs to the occasional Mamamia article and the odd Real Estate advert.

Her first two novels, Free-Falling and Paper Chains were published by Random House Australia in 2012 and 2013. Free-Falling was translated into Dutch and German and was awarded the title of ‘Best Australian Debut’ from Chicklit Club. Paper Chains was later picked up for publishing in the U.S. by HarperCollins and will be released there mid 2017.

She has four older sisters and one older brother and she lives in constant fear of being directly compared to her two wildly successful and extraordinarily talented author sisters, Liane Moriarty and Jaclyn Moriarty. Unless of course, the comparison is something kind, perhaps along the lines of, “Liane, Jaci and Nicola are all wonderful writers. I love all of their books equally.”

 

Find Nicola: website | facebook | twitter | goodreads

Candice Fox: Q&A

Thank you so much for your time, Candice! I absolutely adored Archer & Bennett and gobsmacked at the opportunity at a Q&A with you.

Warm-Up Quick Qs:
Tea or Coffee?   Coffee.
Green cordial or Red Cordial?  Red.
Red Wine or White Wine? Both.
Vegemite or Nutella? Vegemite.
Cats or Dogs?  Both.
When did you first start writing and what was the road to publication like for you?
I started putting serious words down at about age 12. I’d been writing before then, but on the family computer, which was vulnerable to invasion by my brothers. When my mother got me a computer for my room, I felt like I could write without it being read by anyone I didn’t want to have access to it.

I started submitting manuscripts at 18, and had four failed works rejected by over 200 hadespublishers before hitting on a winner with Hades. The manuscript was originaly accepted by an independent publisher in the UK before that venture collapsed, and I sent it around again in Australia, heavily edited. Gaby Naher decided she would represent me, and she did the hard yards finding someone to take a chance on me at Random House.

Are you a planner? Do you know the ending of your book when you started writing and how it will get there?
I am a very loose plotter for my own work, but working with James Patterson requires me to do extensive planning – 15,000 word outlines and alike. I generally don’t start writing my own work until I have the first quarter worked out in my mind, and then I’ll keep ahead of myself by three or four plot points just so I don’t hit a wall. I never like to know much about the ending. I like it to unravel organically, so that I don’t accidentally foreshadow it along the way or get bored before I get there.

How do you find inspiration for the crime / mystery? Is there a particular publications you read or do you trawl through police reports for past crimes etc?
Basically everything I consume is true crime related, when I have a choice in the matter. I’m married to a very gentle and sweet-natured man, so I have to balance out my gruesome night-time viewing sometimes with lighter content. But I keep up to date with all the latest true crime docos and the dodgy ones from the eighties and nineties, too, for their nostalgic value. I read true crime, I listen to true crime podcasts.
The Neddies list is a good starting point for anyone wanting good quality true crime, but of course, there are great publications from the US which aren’t necessarily well written but valuable nonetheless – sometimes the books are written by FBI agents or profilers etc so they’re not arty but they are packed with useful tidbits.

Which one of Australia’s true crimes fascinate you and why?
the-fallOh, there are so many. I was deeply interested in the Daniel Morcombe investigation – not so much for the processes but for the suspects involved. What a bunch of evil people. And the mystery surrounding the famous blue car still niggles at my mind now and then. There are great lesser-known crimes being reassessed through podcasts right now by The Age etc – the one about Phoebe Hansjuk is great, and the one about Rachael Antonio. I always plug my good friend Amy Dale’s book The Fall about Simon Gittany’s murder of Lisa Harnum. I read the book before we became friends, so I’m not biased. It’s very difficult to move me emotionally – I’m very desensitised to violence. This book disturbed me very much.

How do you find collaborating work? And not just with any author but with one of the biggest names in the publishing industry!
never-neverIt’s great. In some ways it’s very useful that he’s the most powerful author in the world, in that I can lean on his experience and wisdom whenever I need to – if anyone’s going to know what will work in a sticky spot in a manuscript, or foresee a problem long before I will, it’s him. Yes, of course, it also made the whole endeavour very intimidating in the beginning, because I didn’t want to fail at such a rare and wonderful opportunity. But I’m over that now. We’re onto our third work together at the moment. I think we fit together like Lego pieces.

Has writing changed you as a person? Is it therapeutic? Or is thinking about crime all the time make you a little more paranoid?
On the contrary, before I got to write for a living I was as voyeuristic and weird as I am now, I just didn’t have a ‘legitimate’ excuse for it. I’m that person who will interject into an otherwise everyday conversation with anecdotes about serial killers or facts about dead bodies. People used to think I was the ugly duckling in that way, but now that they realise I was a swan the whole time, I feel free to be me.

What can we expect from you next? Is Crimson Lake a stand-alone novel or is it meant to be a serial too? Any more Archer & Bennett books?
Crimson Lake was meant to be a standalone, originally, but it’s caused such a stir that my publishers across the world all agreed I needed to do another one. I’ve just finished editing Last Chance, the second full novel in the Detective Harriet Blue series with James, so now I’m onto the Crimson Lake II first draft. I don’t know if there will ever be any more Bennett/Archers. I don’t rule it out, but at the moment I have to chase what is best for my career, and it’s moving on with Ted and Amanda, and Harriet and her guys.

You can check out my thoughts on Crimson Lake, here

About the author

candice-foxHades, Candice Fox’s first novel, won the Ned Kelly Award for best debut in 2014 from the Australian Crime Writers Association. The sequel, Eden, won the Ned Kelly Award for best crime novel in 2015, making Candice only the second author to win these accolades back-to-back. Also, in the 2015 Davitt Awards, Hades was Highly Commended in the debut category. Her third novel, Fall, was recently published to critical acclaim.

In 2015 Candice began collaborating with James Patterson. Their first novel together, Never Never, set in the vast Australian outback, was released in August 2016. They have also co-written a prequel novella, Black & Blue, as part of the James Patterson BookShots series. They are currently at work on the sequel.

Candice is the middle child of a large, eccentric family from Sydney’s western suburbs composed of half-, adopted and pseudo siblings. The daughter of a parole officer and an enthusiastic foster-carer, Candice spent her childhood listening around corners to tales of violence, madness and evil as her father relayed his work stories to her mother and older brothers.

Bankstown born and bred, she failed to conform to military life in a brief stint as an officer in the Royal Australian Navy at age eighteen. At twenty, she turned her hand to academia, and taught high school through two undergraduate and two postgraduate degrees. She lives in Sydney.

Find Candice: website | facebook | twitter | goodreads

Juliet Marillier: Den of Wolves (Blackthorn & Grim #3)

juliet-marillier

Juliet Marillier was born July 27, 1948 in Dunedin, New Zealand and grew up surrounded by Celtic music and stories. Her own Celtic-Gaelic roots inspired her to write her first series, the Sevenwaters Trilogy. Juliet was educated at the University of Otago, where she majored in music and languages, graduating BA and a B Mus (Hons). Her lifelong interest in history, folklore and mythology has had a major influence on her writing.

Juliet is the author of twenty historical fantasy novels for adults and young adults, as well as a book of short fiction. Juliet’s novels and short stories have won many awards.
Juliet lives in a 110 year old cottage in a riverside suburb of Perth, Western Australia. When not writing, she is active in animal rescue and has her own small pack of needy dogs. She also has four adult children and seven grandchildren. Juliet is a member of the druid order OBOD (the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids.)

Find Juliet on: goodreads  |  website  |  facebook

Q&A with Juliet

Quick Qs

Dark Chocolate or Milk Chocolate? Dark, always.

Coffee or Tea? Tea while I work, a long black as the occasional treat.

Dog-ear or whatever else as bookmark? I never, ever dog-ear – I was taught to respect books! I have lots of bookmarks, proper ones.

Plot or Character? Character first, but you need a good plot too.

HEA or unexpected twist? Provided at least one character has made a journey and become wiser / learned something / developed as a person, either is OK. HEA is probably not realistic – happy for some is not happy for all – but I don’t like an unresolved ending.

Q: You have previously mentioned that Blackthorn & Grim are ‘more damaged than those in [your] previous books’. What was the inspiration behind these 2 characters? Why did you choose to write such broken characters and what motivate you to put these two in partnership?

A: I knew some readers were keen for me to write an older female protagonist – that was part of the inspiration for Blackthorn, who is oldish by early medieval standards, though we’d barely call her middle-aged now. They lived much shorter lives in those times.

I’d been reading a lot about post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), especially in the military, and wanted to write about characters scarred by terrible events in the past, trying to work their way through, alone or together. I thought it would be more interesting to write, and to read, characters who were less heroic, less physically attractive, and generally harder to like than some of my previous protagonists. I ended up loving both Blackthorn and Grim. I think their flaws make them more real. As for putting them in partnership, I have seen how much the support of peers can mean to people with PTSD. I thought of Blackthorn and Grim as somewhat like Modesty Blaise and Willy Garvin, who share a deep friendship and mutual support.

 

I know that whilst you had a longer series in mind, Blackthorn & Grim has only contracted a 3 book deal. I am rather disappointed in having to say goodbye though I hope we may meet again sooner than later!

Yes, I had thought the publishers might approve of my writing a couple more in the series even though the initial contract was for three books. After all, Blackthorn does agree to keep to Conmael’s rules for seven years – but the publisher asked me to wrap it up in Den of Wolves. To my surprise I managed to make it work well in the three books. I’m satisfied with the overall story arc. But I am sure Blackthorn and Grim went on solving mysteries and having weird adventures.

Q: You’ve mentioned that it’s been tricky to find a balance so that Den of Wolves has a rounded ending for a trilogy and yet leave also a possibility for more in the future. Is there a particular theme/topic you’d like to tackle with these two characters that you haven’t yet explored?

A: There are many possibilities, but sharing them would probably create spoilers for people who have not yet read Den of Wolves.

Q: In my review of Dreamer’s Pool, I compared it to Ariana Franklin’s Mistress of the Art of Deathmistress-of-the-art-of-death with a fairy tale spin. Are you familiar with this book/series? Is there a particular ‘mystery’ book that inspires you to incorporate mystery into your fantasy historical works? (If anyone is interested, my review for Mistress of the Art of Death can be found here.)

A: I haven’t read Mistress of the Art of Death, but I will do so on your recommendation. I love well-crafted historical mystery series – Kerry Greenwood’s Phryne Fisher books are a favourite, and I love the Brother Cadfael mysteries by Ellis Peters. As well as the stand-alone mystery plots, both of those series have beautifully researched, evocative period detail and casts of central characters with personal stories that slowly develop through the whole series. Blackthorn & Grim was my attempt to do something similar. I’m not sure if the next project will be a mystery or something completely different.

Q: I loved this quote at the end of Tower of Thorns,

” What happened felt too big to take in. It was a tale of cowardice and courage, intrigue and simple goodness, choices that were complicated mixtures of right and wrong.”

This summarises what I feel about this book. I think fairy tales are usually about making the right choices; do your characters make their own choices or do they need your guidance? How do you find the balance between having them making their decisions [in character] and where you want them to be?

A: I always try to keep them in character. That means they often take a long time to get around to making those right choices, and sometimes they never actually do so, because that’s how it is in real life. And even in a story that contains magical elements, the human characters are just that – human, flawed and fallible. They make mistakes, they stumble and lose their way, they hurt those they care about. But they can also be brave, unselfish, and honourable. As the writer, it’s up to me to make the characters believable. While I’m writing they feel entirely real to me.

Q: In the Acknowledgements of Den of Wolves, you’ve noted that the idea came from ‘a traditional tale from western Scotland, Big MacVurich and the Monster.’ For those of us who have not read the book nor have any knowledge of this particular tale, could you share a little on what this particular tale is about? Also what about this tale that inspire you to incorporate it in a Blackthorn & Grim’s story?

A: I can’t share much about the original tale without giving away a central plot element from Den of Wolves. As a druid I was inspired to write a story in which trees played a central part. The old tale is about a special house made using wood from every kind of tree in the forest. Each tree has a particular significance in druidic lore, and therefore each conveys a specific blessing on the person who builds the house, or has it built – prosperity, fertility, compassion, insight and so on. I called this construction a heartwood house. Den of Wolves doesn’t follow the MacVurich tale exactly, but just as the original story is quite dark, so is my variation on it. If there’s a lesson in the story, it’s this: Don’t dabble with magic unless you have pure and unselfish intentions, because magic always comes with a cost, and that cost may be more than you can afford to pay. Den of Wolves also has a theme of love, and how the power of love can draw people together or push them apart.

Q: When we first met Blackthorn, she was screaming for revenge and this was her focus for living. How would you describe her growth at the end of Den of Wolves? (This might be a bit tough without giving away too much of the story) Was this a tough journey for you as well as you write?

A: She was very much focussed on bringing her enemy to justice, yes, not only because of what he had done to her and her loved ones, but also for his many crimes against other innocents. This was really eating her up, sometimes causing her to lose her good judgement and making it impossible for her to get on with her life. Some of those scenes were hard to write; I think there’s quite a lot of me in Blackthorn. I felt the wrench with her each time she was halted in her efforts to make it happen, and I also felt the full impact of her unexpected moment of truth in Den of Wolves.

Q:

“Of all my books, I like this [David Copperfield] best. It will be easily believed that I am a fond parent to every child of my fancy, and that no one can ever love that family as dearly as I love them. But, like many fond parents, I have in my heart of hearts a favourite child. And his name is David Copperfield.” –Charles Dickens

Juliet, which is your favourite ‘child’? Why? Or is there a top-secret manuscript that you have been polishing for the umpteenth time? If so, would you share a little of it with us?

A: My favourite child is usually whatever book I am currently working on, or the last one completed. Blackthorn & Grim is definitely my favourite series. Of the earlier books, I am quite fond of Son of the Shadows, with its supporting cast of oddball tattooed warriors. No top secret manuscript, sorry – at least nothing that should ever see the light of day! I could share a snippet from my forthcoming novella, Beautiful, mentioned below.

The year I turned seven Rune came, and my whole life changed. He climbed up the glass mountain with no trouble at all, using his claws. Rune was a bear. If anything in the world was beautiful, he was. His eyes were the blue of a summer sky. His fur was long and soft, with every shade in it from shadow grey to dazzling white. His ears were the shape of flower petals, and his smile … Could a bear smile? It seemed to me that this one could, and although his smile was full of sharp teeth, it, too, was beautiful. There was a sadness in it that went deep down. I was at my high window when he came, and as I watched him climb steadily onward, I felt my heart turn over with wonder.

 

I love all your books, Juliet, but one in particular haunted me to this day, Daughter of the Forest. I couldn’t sleep whilst I was reading it as your words continued to echo in my mind and my heart ached so badly for Sorcha.

It’s interesting how that novel, the one I wrote as therapy rather than for publication, has remained one of the most popular with readers.

Q: What are you working on now? Or what can we look for from you next?

A: 2017 will be the first year I haven’t had a new novel out since Daughter of the Forest was published in 1999. I’m hoping 2018 will see the first in a new fairy tale fantasy trilogy, featuring an older and a younger woman, plus some unquiet spirits. I do have a novella coming out in a collection from Ticonderoga. My story is called Beautiful. It’s an unusual reworking of the fairy tale, East of the Sun and West of the Moon, about a girl who marries a white bear. I’m hoping that will be published in the first half of 2017.

Q: I have read also that you mentor quite a number of authors. Which upcoming authors/books should we look out for?

A: I only mentor occasionally and usually only one writer at a time. For people who haven’t already read Meg Caddy’s novel Waer, which came out earlier this year from Text Publishing, I highly recommend it for young adult readers. It’s a great combination of well-crafted writing, anwaer interesting story and a completely non-cliched portrayal of werewolves. I was Meg’s mentor when she was still a high school student, and I’m really proud of her success. I’m looking forward to her new novel – I’ve had a sneak peek.

Also, look out for Crossroads of Canopy by Thoraiya Dyer, to be published by Tor in early 2017. It’s a highly original fantasy for adult readers, set in a culture of tree-dwellers, and very rich in its world building. Thoraiya and I are colleagues and close friends despite living on opposite sides of Australia, and I was lucky enough to read an advance copy. Thoraiya is already well respected as a writer of short fiction, but Crossroads of Canopy is her first novel. If you love an intricately constructed world with stunning visual detail, you’ll really enjoy this book.

 

Juliet’s latest book

 

den-of-wolvesDen of Wolves (Blackthorn & Grim #3)

Feather bright and feather fine, None shall harm this child of mine…

Healer Blackthorn knows all too well the rules of her bond to the fey: seek no vengeance, help any who ask, do only good. But after the recent ordeal she and her companion, Grim, have suffered, she knows she cannot let go of her quest to bring justice to the man who ruined her life.

Despite her personal struggles, Blackthorn agrees to help the princess of Dalriada in taking care of a troubled young girl who has recently been brought to court, while Grim is sent to the girl’s home at Wolf Glen to aid her wealthy father with a strange task—repairing a broken-down house deep in the woods. It doesn’t take Grim long to realize that everything in Wolf Glen is not as it seems—the place is full of perilous secrets and deadly lies…

Back at Winterfalls, the evil touch of Blackthorn’s sworn enemy reopens old wounds and fuels her long-simmering passion for justice. With danger on two fronts, Blackthorn and Grim are faced with a heartbreaking choice—to stand once again by each other’s side or to fight their battles alone…

My Blurb

Please note this review is in relation to the third and final book in the Blackthorn & Grim trilogy; if you are interested you may find my review for book 1, Dreamer’s Pool, here and book 2, Tower of Thorns, here.

Juliet Marillier never disappoints –her prose as lyrical and captivating as ever. Her choice of fairy tale is obscure interestingly dark, if not intriguing, yet woven through them are patches of light/goodness. I very much appreciate Marillier’s tendency to end her novels with hope because a novel with a hopeless end is something I cannot stand! Thankfully, this finale has been concluded in a rather satisfying way.

Blackthorn & Grim are home but yet trouble is never far away. Cries for help find them and as they cannot stand puzzles, they begin to unravel them strand by strand. In this book, we have a mad old man called Bardan and a strange young girl on the verge of womanhood, Cara. Bardan does not quite seem to know himself except that he has lost a treasure. Cara, on the other hand, seems to have everything, being the only daughter and heir of Wolf Glen. Yet, deep inside them, they know something is not quite the way it should be.

Choices were made, with love, whether for good or bad, with consequences that echoed through time. Some part of this reminds me of The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman which was one of the most heartbreaking book I’ve ever read, especially for me as a young mother. I found the main mystery to be rather predictable or rather, I worked out who’s who in relation to the fairytale and had a rough idea of how but Marillier sort it out in a rather neat way.

I was rather frustrated with the end book 2, Tower of Thorns; of Blackthorn’s thick-headedness (didn’t you?!?!). And yet, with all the angst in this book, I felt totally weird and awkward about it… which is I supposed how they felt about it! A masterly touch for romance… There’s hope for all us awkwards 😉

Den of Wolves is like a bird’s nest… What seemed to be a mess of sticks bunched together from afar but up close, you can see those sticks intertwined in meticulous care and formed a safe & loving home. That is just how Juliet Marillier has concluded this trilogy of Blackthorn & Grim! I still do have hope for more 😉

Thanks to Pan Macmillan Australia for copy of book in exchange of honest review and for organising the interview. Juliet, my deepest thanks for your time and above all, for sharing your words and wisdom.

Blog Tour: When Michael Met Mina by Randa Abdel-Fattah

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Randa Abdel-Fattah was born in Sydney in 1979. She is a Muslim of Palestinian and Egyptian heritage. She grew up in Melbourne and attended a Catholic primary school and Islamic secondary college. Randa has worked as a lawyer, human rights advocate and community volunteer with different human rights and migrant and refugee resource organisations. Randa has used her opinion editorials in newspapers and TV and radio media appearances as a medium for expressing her views about racism, multiculturalism, human rights, the occupation of Palestine and asylum seekers. She is a regular guest at schools around Australia addressing students about her books and the social justice issues they raise. Randa has also been a guest at international writer’s festivals. She recently completed her PhD in the Department of Sociology at Macquarie University, researching Islamophobia, racism and everyday multiculturalism in Australia. Randa lives in Sydney with her husband and three children. She has just released her latest novel, When Michael Met Mina, which was inspired by her PhD fieldwork examining issues of race in Australia.

Find Randa on: goodreads  |  website  |  facebook  |  twitter

Q&A with Randa

Boat Refugees!  What a contentious issue! What kind of research was involved in writing When Michael Met Mina?

I based my book on my own fieldwork (I wrote it while researching Islamophobia, racism and everyday multiculturalism in Australia as part of a PhD in Sociology) my own work with refugees, stories from friends, and information from refugee advocates.

If you conduct any interviews of boat refugees, could you please share one particular story that touched you?

I spoke to a refugee advocate who told me about a young man who turned 18 while he was still studying (he was in community detention). The Department of Immigration told him he had to leave school. They also moved him from youth accommodation to a boarding house where the other residents were older men with alcohol and drug-related problems. The school principal encouraged the boy to remain in school even though Immigration was no longer funding his education. The principal did not realise how short of money he was and that he was not paying his train fares to come to school (in community detention people get a very small allowance). He was caught on the train without a ticket and sent back to Villawood.

Then there was this story: a Palestinian – Iraqi family who came by boat. The advocate helped prevent the Immigration Department from forcing the oldest daughter to leave school (policy once they turn 18 regardless of where they are in their studies).

What particular policies (proposed or otherwise) in Australian politics which are of ‘Aussie Values’ that you think are misconceptions?  What are these misconceptions and what are the facts?

There are misconceptions and there is the racism that structures and inspires a certain way of thinking and emotional posture in relation to multiculturalism, refugees and non-Anglo Australia. First and foremost, the idea of policing ‘our borders’ and deciding who we will allow to come in etc is based on a fundamental erasure of indigenous sovereignty. It is denied. It is taken for granted that all of us–the White dominant majority and ‘everybody  else’– have the right to police Australia’s borders because of a racist presumption of White sovereignty over indigenous sovereignty. Everything else stems from that. As for misconceptions, I don’t even know if that is the right word. There are straightforward facts available to anybody willing to do a Google search regarding all the economic claims around refugees (i.e. they take our jobs/they get more welfare etc). So I’d call it wilful ignorance. Then there are the claims that there is a global ‘queue’, that people get on boats and risk their lives to take advantage of ‘our way of life’, that refugees have values that ‘threaten our values’, that they would set themselves on fire in order to emotionally blackmail us and so on. I don’t see these as misconceptions. There is something nasty and racist and dark at work here which has taken shape over years of strong political and media work to demonise refugees.

Could you provide some practical advices to a teen / young adult on how to influence above change in policies?

Oh yes definitely! Politicians aren’t stupid. If our border policies were unpopular and didn’t win votes, they’d be the first in line to shut down detention centres.  So politicians need to know that their policies are not supported. That means lobbying your local MP, being part of campaigns that counter the dangerous narratives that get widely disseminated. Use as many platforms as possible: social media, vlogs, the arts, op eds, music, story-telling.

Randa’s latest book

when michael met mina

When Michael Met Mina

Before Mina, my life was like a completed jigsaw puzzle but Mina has pushed the puzzle onto the floor. I have to start all over again, figuring out where the pieces go.

When Michael meets Mina, they are at a rally for refugees – standing on opposite sides.

Mina fled Afghanistan with her mother via a refugee camp, a leaky boat and a detention centre.

Michael’s parents have founded a new political party called Aussie Values.

They want to stop the boats. 
Mina wants to stop the hate.

When Mina wins a scholarship to Michael’s private school, their lives crash together blindingly.

A novel for anyone who wants to fight for love, and against injustice.

My Blurb

Do you ever stop being a refugee? Even if at some point in your life the place of refuge becomes home?

Wow! was my first thought when I saw the description for this book. Refugees, especially boat refugees, caused such furore in Australian politics and everybody has an opinion. It’s good that everyone has thoughts about this but sometimes, they need to look a little bit harder, deeper, and further! I’m actually looking at this book with a little trepidation because being a stereotypical Asian, I don’t like confrontation (avoid it like that plague!) even when it’s in books.

Presenting views from different people (pros and cons and everything in between), When Michael Met Mina demands the readers to think also for themselves. What is the right thing to do? And one thing that struck me from Q&A above is Randa’s comment on wilful ignorance ; this phrase has been stuck in my head for a month now because I thought it’s something that’s wrong but is remedial if only you’d take the steps and of course, also because I’m guilty (in some aspects).  Do not live with your head in the sand and parrot others (even those you look up to), do your own research and speak your own unique thoughts.

I find myself infuriated on one page, teary on another, and smiling on the next one. Written in the perspectives of teenagers from both ‘sides of the fence’, When Michael Met Mina seeks to inform and to encourage the young to form their own views based on genuine hard facts. An absolute gem of a read with real life issues & implications, this book speaks not only to your heart but also to your mind.

Thanks to Pan Macmillan Australia for copy of book in exchange of honest review

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Blog Tour: A Tangle of Gold by Jaclyn Moriarty

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Moriarty Jaclyn med

Jaclyn Moriarty grew up in Sydney’s north-west and studied Law and English on three continents – at Sydney University in Australia, Yale in the US and Cambridge in England. She spent four years working as a media and entertainment lawyer and now writes full-time so that she can sleep in each day. She lives in Sydney.

On books/writing

I can’t believe that it’s ending!  How do you feel about your latest visit to the Kingdom of Cello?

It was a wild trip.  I felt very sad when it was done, and I’d definitely like to visit again one day.  For now I will make a slide show out of my Cellian holiday pictures and invite friends around to watch.

Which are your favourite characters in this trilogy and why?

Well, I feel very fond of the central characters, Elliot and Madeleine. I always had fun writing Samuel of Olde Quainte because I never knew what he was going to say; I loved Sergio because I like people who turn out to be unexpected heroes and I liked his passion and dance moves; and I like Princess Ko because she was doing her best even if she was doing it badly.   Also Elliot’s cousin, little Corrie-Lynn, I thought she was very cool.  I’d like to see her grow up. 

A Couple of years ago, at Concord Library, (if I remember correctly) I believe you mentioned there are certain music / songs you listen you as per characters you were writing.  Could you please share some songs you were listening to whilst writing in Madeleine’s perspective?  And Elliot’s?

You have a sharp memory. Well done.  That’s a funny question because I was doing an interview for ABC Radio National the other day and I was talking about how I always choose a favourite song for each character.  The interviewer seemed very interested and I felt proud of myself for saying something interesting.  Then she asked me which song I had chosen for Madeleine for the last book and I could not remember.  I do not have a sharp memory like you.  I mean, I could hear the song inside my head but I couldn’t recall the title or even the band name.

Anyway, I went home and looked up the song names. The songs changed between books as the characters developed.  Madeleine’s songs included Sprawl II (Mountains beyond Mountains) by Arcade Fire, Let’s go down to the tennis court by Lorde, and All this and Heaven too by Florence and the Machine.  Elliot’s songs included Bloodbuzz Ohio by the National, Kamera by Wilco, and Little Lion Man by Mumford & Sons.

If possible, please share the pictures you’ve drawn of the Kingdom of Cello or any of the characters?

I would love to but I’m such a terrible artist!  I think you would only be disappointed.  I have a very, very messy, scribbled map of Bonfire, the Farms, where Elliot lives, which is hanging on the wall beside my desk.  I consulted it often when I was writing.  I just looked at it and decided you don’t want to see it.  My friend, the artist Elizabeth Pulie, turned another very messy, scribbled map of the Kingdom of Cello itself into the map that is in the opening pages of the Australian edition of the book.  She did a beautiful job.

Do you ever read parts of this trilogy to your son, Charlie?  If so, what was his reaction/s & which part was it?

A friend of mine is reading the books to her 8-year-old daughter, which has made my 9-year-old, Charlie, feel suddenly competitive.  He has decided he is going to read A Corner of White.  He told me sternly that he hopes it has a ‘sizzling start’.  He’s a tough critic. I feel uneasy.

Do you think some of his (boy’s!) humour influenced you in this very quirky trilogy?

In some ways Charlie’s humour is a lot like the humour you expect from small boys, and I am getting very weary of that sort of humour.  So maybe it influenced me in that I was hiding from it.  In other ways Charlie’s humour is unique and offbeat, and he likes wordplay and ambiguity, so maybe that was a sort of influence too?  It’s a great question.

What’s the next bookish project for you?

I’m working on a few books at once.  An adult book about a woman who enrols in a seminar series that promises to teach her the secret to human flight; a time travel book; a young adult book that returns to Ashbury and Brookfield; a book about my great-grandmother; and a book about a girl whose parents have run away to have adventures with pirates and left her instructions to deliver a chest full of treasures to ten different aunts.

On a serious note

On your profile you said that your “PhD was on the law relating to young people and the media – especially the privacy rights of young people—…“; what advice would you give young people these days noting the usage of social media these days?  Or to the parents?!  (My son is only 6 and I’m already not looking forward to the time he’ll be getting on to these platforms).

That’s a big question. I went to a seminar on cyber safety not long ago.  It was run by expert Susan McLean, and was terrifying.  Maybe a good start would be to read Susan McLean’s book, Sexts, Texts and Selfies.  I read it, and was once again terrified.

On a lighter note

The book you most enjoyed reading in 2015

I’m terrible at these questions because I’m too indecisive and I have read and loved many, many books this year.  So I’ll choose Truly Madly Guilty by Liane Moriarty (which is coming out this year, but I’ve read the manuscript and it’s mesmerising), A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson, The Double Shadow by Sally Gardner, The Knife of Never Letting Go by Laurie Halse Anderson, and Clariel by Garth Nix.  I honestly meant to choose just one but I kept going.

The book you’re most looking forward to in 2016 (aside from A Tangle of Gold)

I’m looking forward to reading Justine Larbalestier’s My Sister Rosa and Kirsty Eagar’s Summer Skin, because I keep hearing great things about them.  I’m also excited about reading my sister Nicola’s new novel, The Fifth Letter,which I’m sure will be brilliant.

An author you’d most like to meet (who’s still alive) and what would you ask him/her?

Elizabeth McCracken, and I would ask her how she got such a super cool name.  I really love that name. (I also love her writing, which crackles).

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A Tangle of Gold (The Colours of Madeleine #3) by Jaclyn Moriarty

The dazzling conclusion to the award-winning The Colours of Madeleine trilogy, from one of the most original writers in YA fiction.

The Kingdom of Cello is in crisis. Princess Ko’s deception has been revealed and the Elite have taken control, placing the Princess, Samuel and Sergio under arrest and ordering their execution. Elliot is being held captive by the Hostiles and Colour storms are raging through the land. The Cello Wind has been silent for months.

Plans are in place to bring the remaining Royals home from the World but then all communication between Cello and the World will cease. That means Madeleine will lose Elliot, forever.

Madeleine and Elliot must solve the mystery of Cello before it is too late.

My Blurb (5 stars)

What an utterly satisfying conclusion!  The prettiest cover, the thickest book of the trilogy, and it will absolutely charm the pants off you.  The language was just as quirky (amazingly consistent throughout the trilogy) gave the story a very whimsical atmosphere.  Despite all the lightness, however, there was betrayal, harmful intent, and a very dark void.

Madeleine is a different girl in this final book.  She’s grown so much and gone through so many trials but she’s finally found herself.  I really liked Madeleine the first time I met her though you know, of course, there is something behind her brightness (just as Belle knew!).  Parts of it were revealed in books 1 & 2 but it all comes crashing on you in this latest instalment.  I kid you not, full-blown screaming involved and not just on my part 😉

She’s not the only one who has grown though as Elliott comes to the understanding that the Kingdom needs help, Keira coming onto her own, etc.  I feel quite a few of characters have matured though of course, some never do change!  I’m a little sad that Corrie-Lyn was only featured in a couple of snippets and I’m going to miss these characters so much!  On the other hand, I’m looking forward to Jaclyn Moriarty’s next works (especially the time travel one – I just Adore time travel!)

Thanks to MacMillan Australia for copy of Uncorrected Proof in exchange of honest review and the opportunity to participate in this blog tour.

Do visit all the other stops!  And if you’re in Sydney, Jaclyn will be at Dymocks George St. for Dymocks YA Bookmeet at 2:30pm (Sat, 5th March)

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The Peony Lantern: Q&A

I mentioned yesterday in my review of The Peony Lantern that we were able to ask questions to Frances Watts as we read along.  Here are the Q&As (excluding spoilers).  I’ve also removed names except for mine or Frances.

the peony lantern

Q: Frances, love the cover for The Peony Lantern! Did you choose it?
A: So glad you like it! It’s all the work of the wonderful designer at HarperCollins – with some special criteria I supplied to make sure the girl was true to Kasumi in the book.

Q: The haiku are beautiful! Did you write them, Frances?
A: I did write the haiku, Tien – thank you so much for noticing them!

Q: Did you write the haiku after the book? Is there a particular reason there are haiku? Is it just to replace headings? Or just to set the atmosphere for the chapter?
A: I did write the haiku last – I liked the idea of including a form of literature unique to Japan and, as you suggest, Tien, felt they would add to the atmosphere. That marriage of simplicity and minimalism with depth makes haiku so beautiful.

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Left: Setting for chapter 1 ~ the village of Tsumago
Right: The torii at the foot of the shrine

Q: Are there actually 65 steps there? Did you count or was it a local knowledge? Is that a significant number?
A: Yes, there are 65 steps (I counted) but I don’t think the number was significant. I just liked that the shrine was high above the village, in the trees, and wanted to give a sense of the climb.

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Left: The Torii pass on the Nakasendo Highway (chapter 3)
Right: A summer kimono – note the cooling design

Q: Is the story about the samurai and the servant and the broken plate based on a real
folk tale?
A: The story about the samurai, the servant and the broken plate is an actual Japanese
ghost story.

Q: I was trying to look up an image of a peony lantern but all I get is the ghost story… is a peony lantern different from a normal lantern? How?
A: A peony lantern is basically a lantern with peonies painted on the rice paper. If you google images of “peony lantern” you can find illustrations of the story with the lantern pictured. (There are lots of variations.)

wpid-img-20150825-wa0003.jpgQ: Frances, how did you research flower arrangements?
A:This is how I researched flower arrangements!  I did an ikebana class in Tokyo.  SO difficult, I am not a natural!

Q: Frances, is it a low – born female thing back then? That they’re not being taught to read / write.
A: I’m afraid educating low-born girls wasn’t a priority – especially in the country areas.

Q: Do you have any pics of Edo?
A: And here’s an amazing fact: Edo is what Tokyo was called until 1868, when the shogunate ended.

Q: Frances, the beauty prints that Isamu shows to Kasumi in the book sounds interesting. Are they like posters?
A: They were a little like posters – about A4 in size.wpid-img-20150831-wa0002.jpg

Q: is there any significance to this painting other than the feeling that it triggered in Kasumi?  I thought, at first, it’s somewhat equivalent to “Playboy” or something lol Please correct me, Frances hahaha… in my defence, Isamu is a teen & a boy ;p
A: Interesting question about the beauty print! The women were fully dressed, I can assure you! I think Isamu’s interest was artistic

Q: Oh I realise they’re fully dressed but the mention of the way the line was of the neck etc… made it sound a little more risqué ;p
A: The bare nape of the neck was considered rather risqué!

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Left: The inscription is the artist’s description of seeing the moon on a beautiful night in mid-autumn.
Right: A kaiawase

wpid-img-20150816-wa0001.jpgFrances Watts was born in Switzerland and grew up in Australia. She has published 20 books for children, including picture books and books for younger readers, including Goodnight Mice!, the winner of the 2012 Prime Minister’s Award for Children’s Fiction, and 2008 Children’s Book Council of Australia award-winnerParsley Rabbit’s Book about Books. Her latest book, The Raven’s Wing, is her first novel for young adults. Frances lives in Sydney and divides her time between writing and editing.

Pictured on left: Frances on her research tour in Tokyo; in front of a temple in Ueno Park

My thanks to Frances Watts and the ladies at Read3r’Z Re-Vu