27 February 2009

Friday Imperatives

(Or, stuff to do when you should be doing other stuff.)

your spelling prowess.

Test your vocabulary (and donate rice!).

o forth and see Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist at Moonlight Cinema in Melbourne this Sunday night. Where you could Win a soundtrack and a copy of the book.

Drool over the awesome Nick & Norah Tshirts that came down to us from the Mothership. (Thanks LB and JY, we love them!)

Celebrate the fact that Tom Wills: His Spectacular Rise and Tragic Fall by Greg de Moore has been shortlisted for the 2009 National Biography Award. Hooray!

Further proof that the cake-maker extraordinaire is also a book-maker extraordinaire.

25 February 2009

What Book is That?

Spoiler alert!

In the spirit of literary trivia if you want to test your familiarity with closing sentences look away now! Or more precisely look here now to check out the last lines to some of our favourite books, then see below for the books and authors these famous last words belong to.

  1. Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak
  2. The Red Tree by Shaun Tan
  3. The Island by Armin Greder
  4. Fox by Margaret Wild & Ron Brooks
  5. Charlotte’s Web by E. B. White
  6. Storm Boy by Colin Thiele
  7. How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff
  8. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon
  9. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
  10. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott FItzgerald
  11. 1984 by George Orwell
  12. Tirra Lirra by the River by Jessica Anderson
  13. The Children’s Bach by Helen Garner
  14. The Life of Pi by Yann Martel
  15. Schindler’s List by Thomas Keneally (Schindler's Ark, if you are like totally old school)
  16. The Princess Bride by William Goldman
  17. Sense & Sensibility by Jane Austen
  18. The House at Pooh Corner by A. A. Milne
  19. The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood
  20. Happy Days with the Naked Chef by Jamie Oliver*
* Okay - so this one was a little bit left of field, but who doesn't love Jamie?

24 February 2009

Parallel Importation

We wrote and erased many paragraphs trying to come up with a short clear summary of this complex issue: what it is, what it isn't, and what it means to the Australian publishing industry.
And then we realised that the MOST ARTICULATE PEOPLE IN THE COUNTRY had already done it for us.

The Productivity Commission asked for submissions relating to 'a range of issues in regard to the parallel importation of books'. And boy did they receive them - 269 at last count.

Many A&U authors and illustrators have made clear, cogent, interesting and passionate submissions: Garth Nix, Penni Russon, Christobel Mattingley, Shaun Tan, Garry Disher, Wendy Orr, Libby Gleeson, Steven Herrick, Terry Denton, Barry Jonsberg, Elise Hurst, Nadia Wheatley, Ron Brooks and Anna Ciddor. Not to mention our own PAG.

Allen & Unwin's position is this:
'The certainty provided by the Copyright Act, coupled with the incentive to operate efficiently embedded in the 1991 parallel importation provisions, have led to a situation where benefits are derived for consumers, authors, booksellers, printers and publishers. As well as this Australia derives a cultural benefit from the publication of close to 14 000 Australian authored books every year - books that help Australians understand themselves and their country better.'
You can read our full submission here.

There are also submissions from lots of other publishers and authors, as well as booksellers, printers, librarians, designers, illustrators, typesetters and agents - around 95 per cent of which are against scrapping the copyright protection to allow parallel importation.
Tim Winton's submission is a fascinating history of publishing in Australia. Frank Moorhouse almost had us cheering by the last paragraph. Tom Keneally, Kate Grenville, Nick Earls, Tim Flannery, Sonya Hartnett, Peter Carey - pick your favourite author and see what they have to say on the subject.

A draft report will be released in March, and the Commission is to present its findings to the Australian Government in May 2009. Until then, an entire industry holds its breath.

23 February 2009

Famous last words

We often hear talk of the best opening lines in books, but we've been thinking lately about closing lines. The last sentence of a book can truly affect the way a book resonates with the reader.

And it seems some of our favourite closing sentences are in some of our favourite books. We haven’t had a list for a while so why not a list of favourite last lines? Why not, Indeed! And to make it more interesting – we won’t post the titles till tomorrow, but we bet you can get most of them. And that’s what we’re talking about – resonance. Resonance, resonance, resonance...

1. and it was still hot.
2. just as you imagined it would be.
3. And they built a great wall all around the island, with watchtowers from which they could search the sea for signs of rafts, and shoot down passing seagulls and cormorants so that no one would ever find their island again.
4. Slowly, jiggety-hop, she begins the long journey home.
5. It’s not often that someone comes along who is a true friend and a good writer. Charlotte was both.
6. For birds like Mr Percival do not really die.
7. And that’s how I live now.
8. And I know I can do this because I went to London on my own, and because I solved the mystery of Who Killed Wellington? And I found my mother and I was brave and I wrote a book and that means I can do anything.
9. He would be there all night, and he would be there when Jem waked up in the morning.
10. So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.
11. He loved Big Brother.
12. I think it consoled me a little, I think ceremony always has, a little.
13. And Athena will play Bach on the piano, in the empty house, and her left hand will keep up the steady rocking beat, and her right hand will run the arpeggios, will send them flying, will toss handfuls of notes high into the sparkling air!
14. Very few castaways can claim to have survived so long at sea as Mr Patel, and none in the company of an adult Bengal tiger.
15. He was mourned in every continent.
16. But I also have to say, for the umpty-umpteenth time that life isn’t fair. It’s just fairer than death, that’s all.
17. and among the merits of Elinor and Marianne, let it not be ranked as the least considerable, that though sisters, and living almost within sight of each other, they could live without disagreement between themselves, or producing coolness between their husbands.
18. And so they went off together but wherever they go, and whatever happens to them on the way, in that enchanted place at the top of the Forest a little boy and his Bear will always be playing.
19. Are there any questions?
20. Pour into a tall glass and top with champagne and a dash of grenadine. Cheers!

19 February 2009

What is YA?

In the House of Onion, we often engage in the sport of addressing the question:
What is young adult literature?

It can be quite a slippery subject that circles around reader age, protagonist age, content, voice, tone, publishing category... the list goes on.

We tend to consider the YA readership to be 14 or 15+ (often extending into early 20s).

But more important than age range, YA fiction tends to address the emotional intensity that is a teenager's journey through the often bewildering waters of adolescence. This life-stage is all about change - and the experience is often isolating and confusing.

So YA fiction is often about a world in flux. It's about exploring this new world, or surviving it, or simply trying to navigate it without a compass.

Simmone Howell, author of Notes from a Teenage Underground and Everything Beautiful says that her novels 'grew naturally from her interest in that time in her own life when she was "conflicted, highly emotional", at one moment believing herself to be destined for greatness and at another vulnerable and easily dashed.'

And it's the YA books that capture the authenticity of this see-saw between strength and vulnerability that resonate most with readers.

So YA characters are often consumed by these questions:
'Who am I? What am I going to become? Where am I going and how can I possibly get there from here?' Their emotions and desires are intense and can have a huge impact on how they make decisions and which pathways they choose.

Books for adults often have young protagonists, but this doesn't mean they are YA books. I'm thinking of The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold and A Prayer For Owen Meany by John Irving and even How the Light Gets In by MJ Hyland.

A young protagonist in an adult novel is usually knowing and has an adult sensibility in their telling of the story. They don't have the limited insight and the blinkered, can't-see-past-the-next-moment view of the true YA character; they can see beyond their own personal space, beyond their own point of view; and they are more aware of how their behaviour impacts on the wider world, and the implications of their actions.

The questions posed by young characters in adult books tend to be infused with a greater understanding of the world. So they are more likely to be:
'That's who I was, but what have I become, and how did I get here?'

And, of course, YA is a category that holds within it a whole host of genres. There is just so much to love about YA books. They are so many things: vibrant, intense, funny, heart-breaking, fantastical, moving, hopeful, challenging, thought-provoking and wonderful.

But ultimately, the best thing is that there are no strict reading rules: we don't have to choose what we read based solely on these hard-to-define categories. Adults can read YA. Teens can read adult books. In the end it's all about reading; reading books we love, taking characters into our heart and spending time with them because they feel real.

In our finery

The shortlist for the 2009 APA Book Design Awards is out and we Onions are quietly pleased, and particularly proud of our Bruno. Here's what we have on the list:

Best Designed Children's Picture Book
Special Kev by Chris Mckimmie
(design by Chris McKimmie)
Peka Boo: The Smallest Bird in All the World by Eliza Feely
(design by author Eliza Feely & Bruno Herfst)
Best Designed Young Adult Book
Screw Loose by Chris Wheat
(design by Bruno Herfst)

And from the Mothership:

Best Designed General Fiction Book

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer
(design by Tabitha King)
Best Designed General Illustrated Book
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights by Michael Streich
(design by author Michel Streich)
Best Designed Literary Fiction Book
One Foot Wrong by Sophie Laguna
(design by Gayna Murphy)

18 February 2009

Edith ever after

E. Nesbit is a favourite in the House of Onion. Some of us love best the Railway Children, some the Bastables and some the last of the Arden line.

My favourites are a collection of fairy stories first read to me by my mother. They are joy joy joy, beginning to end.* We howled with laughter. But, like all good fairy stories, they also make you think.**

Naomi Lewis, in her introduction to my edition of the fairy stories***, asks why Nesbit's work remains so intensely alive to modern readers, even after a hundred years or more. And she answers her own question thus:
'As with all great writers for the young, she did not write 'down' to children, nor at, nor for them exactly. She really wrote for and about the child that had been herself.'

Lewis then quotes Nesbit herself:
'There is only one way of understanding children; they cannot be understood by imagination, or observation, nor even by love. They can only be understood by memory... The reason why those children are like real children is that I was a child once myself, and by some fortunate chance I remember exactly how I used to feel and think about things.'
We think this is a great asset for editors of writing for 'the young', as well as writers. Heck, it's probably important for parents, and certainly for teachers, and definitely for politicians, and assuredly for journalists writing articles about the 'yoof of today'.

This is a good excuse to do lots of things you did as a child, to remind yourself what it felt like. I, for instance, might just go make myself a 'drink' that's 90% drinking chocolate, 10% milk.

PS It made me unfeasibly happy to discover via Wikipedia that late in life Edith Nesbit married a ship's engineer named Thomas "the Skipper" Tucker.

*If you haven't had the pleasure of 'Melisande or Long and Short Division' get thee to a bookstore and rectify that immediately.
** And not in a please-stop-beating-me-about-the-head-with-your-moral,-Mr-Andersen kind of way.
*** E. Nesbit Fairy Stories, edited by Naomi Lewis, Knight Books, 1977

16 February 2009

What-ho, a laureate!

Some good news at last.

Justine Ferrari in The Australian says:

A CHILDREN'S laureate to champion reading among kids will be appointed from next year under a program established by an alliance of authors, teachers, librarians, publishers, booksellers and arts administrators.

"Australia has a rich tradition in producing the very best children's writing, from literary greats such as Colin Thiele and Patricia Wrightson through to the irreverent humour of Andy Griffiths...

"And if we don't have reading children, we won't have reading adults."

We say: Hurrah!

13 February 2009

Dragon's Breath

Outside the sunlight is orange and there is the smell of smoke on the wind. But inside there are dragons. Here are some of Allen Hicks's beautiful (and a little bit frightening) illustrations from Dragon's Breath by Michael Dugan. (Thanks, Mum.)

Here is Adina

And here is Adina befriending the dragon

And here is the dragon saving the village

We wish dragons to everyone still under threat from fire.

Dragon's Breath, Michael Dugan & Allen Hicks, Gryphon Books, Victoria, 1978

12 February 2009

Another One for the List^ ; or 'You keep using that word, I do not think it means what you think it means.'


'Can I have the origin of the word, please?'
'From the Latin ēnervātus'

'Can I have the word in a sentence, please?'
'The editor was so enervated by the number of manuscripts that needed immediate attention that she lay on the floor for half an hour.'

'Can I have the meaning of the word, please?'
*Editor points to herself then collapses into a chair with her arms dangling to the floor and a vacant expression on her face*

^This list (second half)

11 February 2009

The colours of our world

The destruction caused by the bushfires in Victoria is devastating and almost incomprehensible.

We are so grateful that, as far as we have been able to ascertain, no members of the extended Onion family have lost their lives or family members. Some have lost friends, some have lost homes and land, and some have had frighteningly close shaves. We know it's not over yet, but so far, we are grateful.

We are grateful and we are remembering.
We edit books for kids, and some of us were kids and teenagers in communities affected by the terrible fires in 1977 and the Ash Wednesday bushfires of 1983.

This week we have been remembering what it's like to be a child whose world has burned: the smells, the sounds, the colours, the aftermath.

One thing we remember is how disconnected to the new world all the old books seemed. Favourite picture books were comforting, but also off-key somehow.

The real world was black and grey and white for so long.
The picture book world was greens and blues and yellows and purples.

One picture book that I did love in the new world was Dragon's Breath by Michael Dugan, illustrated by Allen Hicks. A girl befriends a dragon who then saves the village from a bushfire - from memory by back-burning with it's own fiery breath.

The illustrations were intricate black and white line work (etchings maybe?). They were solemn and, in my memory, somehow larger than the page. I remember it as a very beautiful book, but also quite frightening. I liked that it was frightening. I did want reassurance (in bucketloads), but sometimes I also wanted to be scared. I wanted to be scared and then be able to stop being scared: to shut the book and put it under another book and go and do something else.

Dragon's Breath
is out of print and I can't find a cover pic on the internet. But I've got a desperate yen to read it again, so I'm going round to my mum's tonight to dig it out of a box in her attic. I'm also going round just coz she's my mum and I love her, and I know I'm not the only one feeling how important that is at the moment

Did you have books you clung to as a child? Books that reflected your world or rescued you from it?

You can donate money for bushfire relief to the Red Cross, or the Salvos, or you can volunteer here.

09 February 2009


There are so many reports of the deafening noise of the firestorm as it approaches.
We are feeling quiet and sad, and our thoughts are with the families and communities who have been devastated by fire.

04 February 2009

Take courage, Dear Hearts

All may not be lost for those dying to see Reepicheep in his coracle, or the beyond-scary island where dreams come true, or boys with greedy dragonish thoughts in their hearts.

According to Variety, Fox has rescued the 'Narnia franchise' (somehow I hate that term) and is on board to produce The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.

Dawn Treader
has one of my favourite opening lines ever:

'There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it.'

(I don't have the book in front of me, so if I'm marginally off, forgive.)

Any other opening lines that people are in love with?

03 February 2009

It was a very good year...

We had a birthday recently in the House of Onion.

JW turned Four Oh.

There was a lemon tea cake and
a failed chocolate cake disguised as delicious brownies

Other good things that turn 40 this year include:
  • Sesame Street
  • The Boeing 747
  • Abbey Road
  • Monty Python
  • Butch Cassidy and the Sundance kid
  • The Godfather by Mario Puzo
  • Dave Grohl
  • Cate Blanchett
  • David Boreanaz
  • The Booker Prize (now the Man Booker Prize for Fiction)

Other cool things that happened 40 years ago include:
  • The moon landing
  • Woodstock
  • A horse called Rain Lover winning the Melbourne Cup (poor old Rain Lover would be sadly bereft if he were still alive today...)

02 February 2009

Hooray for publication day #3*

In the wonderful world of Oz, we've been lucky enough to have Shaun Tan's Tales from Outer Suburbia on our shelves since June last year, and only last week it won an Aurealis Award - WOOT!

And the Canadians got their Suburbia fix in October (published by the fine house of McClelland & Stewart).

UK readers will have to wait till March when the Templar edition is published, but the USians get their opportunity today to be swept away on the Tan wave of wonder, thanks to the good folk at Arthur A Levine books. The US edition looks a little different on the outside - but the inside is filled the same Shaun Tan goodness, much to the delight of a whole host of reviewers including these two:

"Deep sea divers. Little leaf men. Suburban water buffalo and lost dugongs. Giant mechanical penguins and getaway cars filled with turtles ... simply not to be missed."

"...one of the reasons I like Tales so much in comparison is that it really allows Mr. Tan a chance to bust a move when he feels like it."

HA! How can you not love a review that busts a move?

And speaking of reviews, there's a nice round-up on the Shaun Tan watch over at Matilda.

And if you haven't already heard Shaun talk about his work (and even if you have), we highly recommend you scoot over to his website and read what he has to say about the Making of Suburbia.

Getaway cars filled with turtles... sigh.

*We are hopelessly enamoured of Shaun's work, so please forgive us for being a little prideful.