30 June 2009

Is that a Walkman in your pocket...?

This BBC article by 13-year-old iPod-user Scott Campbell, in which he road-tests a Walkman, is a delight.* Scott is by turns curious, incredulous and even quietly respectful about the Jurassic technology. It also takes him three days to work out there is another side to the cassette tape - wub!

Working in YA fiction we have to be attuned to how technology can date a book. That which is so-hip-right-now might be totally over before the book is published - it might even have entered that dead-zone where something is not cool anymore and yet is not old enough to have nostalgia value.

But books set in the contemporary world have to reflect the digital lives we are living. Authors have to tread a fine line, and even be a little prescient about what might be enduring versus flash-in-the-pan. (MySpace is so 2007, but the iPod is forever?) As editors we often ask questions such as: 'Is this character using this software/social networking tool/portable music device because it reveals something about who they are - or because the author wants to evoke "yoof-of-today cool"? Is there an alternative way of evoking the "cool" that is less likely to date in the blink of an eye?'

There's also a danger in ignoring the whole issue and having characters never encounter technology (unless you're writing a Luddite fantasy set in a hell-dimension where there's no such thing as iPhones), because sometimes it's the LACK of technology that can date a book. In Margaret Mahy's glorious The Changeover, first published in 1984, Laura and her mother are hard to contact because they are not 'on the phone' . (NOT EVEN A LANDLINE!**) In most every other way, The Changeover feels eternally NOW, so this element is a bit jarring. And these days, not having a MOBILE phone in a crisis needs to be explained:
'Oh noes! We're broken down at night in the middle of nowhere and a mad-man has escaped from a nearby asylum!'
'Chillax, dude, just call the RACV.' ***
'But don't you remember, we both left our chargers at that seedy Bates Motel, and now our batteries are totally flat. Doh!'
Lucky for us, one of the glories of books is that if you wait long enough all this stops mattering again. The book transcends 'nerdily dated' and becomes 'reflective of the period'. Nobody thinks Jane Austen is out-of-touch because her characters write letters. (ebennet@netherfield.co.uk Be not alarmed, madam, on receiving this email, by the apprehension of its containing any repetition of those sentiments or renewal of those offers which were last night so disgusting to you.)

Nobody feels The Catcher in the Rye is less convincing because Holden Caulfield doesn't own a computer.**** (Although, IMHO, that Holden would make a brilliant blogger.)

Nobody thinks Anne of Green Gables should SMS Diana instead of using the candle-in-window-with-piece-of-cardboard method of communication. ('Marilla, can I go over to see Diana just for a minute? She has something very important to tell me.' 'How do you know she has?' 'Because she just pranked me. It was my idea, Marilla.' 'I'll warrant you it was,' said Marilla emphatically.)

So, to sum up, write enduring classics and everything will be fine. No wait, that's not quite what we meant. We'll let Scott Campbell have the last word:
'From a practical point of view, the Walkman is rather cumbersome, and it is certainly not pocket-sized, unless you have large pockets. It comes with a handy belt clip screwed on to the back, yet the weight of the unit is enough to haul down a low-slung pair of combats. When I wore it walking down the street or going into shops, I got strange looks, a mixture of surprise and curiosity, that made me a little embarrassed... My friends couldn't imagine their parents using this monstrous box, but there was interest in what the thing was and how it worked. '

* Thanks for the link, LB
** Today, plenty of peeps don't have landlines, but they are so 'on the phone'.
*** Speaking of 'chillax'. Slang can be as dating as a Walkman. Scott Westerfeld has an excellent solution to that little dilemma.
**** The New York Times has other ideas about why Holden might be unconvincing today, but their theory is resoundingly debunked by John Green. Thanks, Read Alert.

26 June 2009

Friday Stuff and Items

In which Jim Schembri compares Transformers II: Revenge of the Fallen to Anne of Green Gables.

In which the Canadians go in for a spot of live-action competitive editing.

In which David Fickling writes movingly of Siobhan Dowd. (Thanks ZW at RH for the heads up.)

In which there is a quiet moment of mourning for Mr Jackson and Ms Fawcett - the moonwalker and the angel...

25 June 2009

22 June 2009

All atwitter @onions

It has come to our attention that if we could conduct our entire professional correspondence in 140 characters or fewer we would be MUCH more efficient. So today, in lieu of open letters we have open tweets: MS to book in fewer than 1400 characters.

@author Your new ms is EPIC WIN. Warm, funny, full of heart. We chuckled, held breath and did some weeping. Hooray!

@editor MS arrived in great shape - phew - only needs light edit. Can we still make schedule?

Why are you still broken, @coffeemachine ? *Looks harried. Rubs temples. Rushes to local coffee shop.*

@typesetter MS and type design uploaded. Schedule extremely tight. Is it possible to have page proofs ready by yesterday?

@keyboard I spelt it correctly - it was you who messed up the order the letters were in. #typos

@proofreader Proof like the wind #typos

@designer Love cover rough. Maybe different typeface though? And author name bigger? Also, girl's hair not right colour.

@printer Proofs approved. Press print button. *crosses fingers*

@bookseller Best book ever. Please sell truckloads.

@author Friendly reminder: new MS due in 1 month. Don't watch too much West Wing/Friday Night Lights/Merlin/Buffy/Dollhouse/The Wire/30 Rock

19 June 2009

What Bruno Did Next

Our clever designer has escaped the Melbourne winter for the warmer climes of Thailand and his home town (in Holland). But before he left he was VERY busy. Look at all his fine works:

What Supergirl Did Next by Thalia Kalkipsakis

Little Bird by Penni Russon

A Letter From Luisa by Rowena Mohr

Fifteen Love by R M Corbet

The Silence by Bruce Mutard

Pink by Lili Wilkinson

The Devil You Know by Leonie Norrington

The Loblolly Boy by James Norcliffe

The Poison Throne by Celine Kiernan (And see here for Elise Hurst's notes about the illustration process and here for how all three books in the series look together and here for Celine's delight in the result.)

And Liar by Justine Larbalestier.

Phew! No wonder he needed a holiday.

17 June 2009

Cake fail

Now that our cake-maker extraordinaire has left the building, life is just a little less sweet. In our desolation we recently resorted to a recipe from the internets, cooked in the office microwave: 5-MINUTE CHOCOLATE CAKE, otherwise known as MICROWAVE MUG CAKE.

Dear readers, we have girded our loins to share the results with you.

It took the biggest mug in the office, the mighty Kwik Kopy 350mL, to accommodate all the ingredients. We watched through the microwave glass, feeling anxious about overflowage, despite the precautionary folded A4 sheet (recycled).

But it didn’t overflow, because we all held our breaths for three minutes (taking turns). It came out, looking promisingly shiny and risen and crusty on top, like a self-saucing pudding.

It had to be coaxed out, but eventually it confronted us in all its... *ahem*... glory.

We tried, o how we tried, to dress it up: with a feijoa, an out-of-focus coffee, and an arty leaning shot chanelling Donna Hay.

Perhaps we tried a little too hard.

Our taste-tester screwed up her face. It was no good.* We have been terminally spoiled and cannot settle for cake made in five minutes.

The Crumble Experiment fared somewhat better.

If you are bold-of-heart and think you’ll fare better than we did, you can find the 5 min choc cake recipe at a Google search engine near you.

*In fact, it tasted disconcertingly like salad. Although this was possibly due less to the recipe and more to the fact that we used olive oil decanted from a separated vinaigrette when there was none other handy.

15 June 2009

If on a winter's night...

The winter solstice is almost upon us. We are wearing beanies and scarves. We are eating soups and stews. We are drinking tea and red wine. And sometimes our feet are still cold, here in the big old House of Onion.

So, as a companion to our list of summer books, here are some of our favourites that encourage rugging up and hunkering down.

Winter Holiday by Arthur Ransome. The Lake is frozen, Nancy has mumps, and the race to the North Pole is on. (And Kate Constable loves it too.)

Speaking of Kate Constable: The Tenth Power. Tremaris is under a wintry spell and "...bears and other animals dozed...they could not know that this winter had lasted too long, and the time for spring's return had already past." Which sounds as though it might just be a longer-than-usual winter, but then there are women being sealed into the Wall of Ice and Darrow has the snow-sickness and Calwyn has to reach towards the dark magic and the dark magic-maker...

The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder. The old Indian warned, 'Heap big snow come.' He was not wrong. It looks seriously as though Laura and her family might starve to death for a while there, but they keep their spirits up as best they can in the little town on the lonely prairie. And then it's the intrepid Cap Garland and Almanzo Wilder to the rescue. (Actually, let's also slip in a mention of These Happy Golden Years, for those freezing cold sleigh rides of Laura and Almanzo's.*)

The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe by CS Lewis. The White Witch's chilly grasp means that in Narnia it's always winter but never Christmas (not such a foreign concept for an Australian child). The snug home of Mr and Mrs Beaver seems all the more warm and inviting with all that snow and ice outside.

Sabriel by Garth Nix. It might be clear and cool in Ancelstierre, but once Sabriel crosses the wall into the Old Kingdom it's all snow and ice, and we know from our experiences in Narnia that that bodes no good at all.

The Snowman
by Raymond Briggs. Quiet, wintry adventures are all very well, but what happens when the sun comes out...

Soul Eater
by Michelle Paver
. Torak's pack-brother, Wolf, has been captured and Torak must brave the frozen wilderness of the Far North, and many demons, in order to rescue him. Gripping icy goodness.

The Silver Brumby by Elyne Mitchell. The book's not set entirely in winter, but, born in the middle of a storm, Thowra is never more at home than when snow falls on the High Country. (We have only just discovered that there was a movie made in the early 90s - starring Russell Crowe. Anyone seen it? Should fans of the books see it immediately or avoid at all costs?)

Call of the Wild by Jack London. North to Alaska; they're goin' North; the rush is on. In this heart-breaking dog's-eye view of the world, Buck must endure the cruelty of humans - after being a pampered pet he is in for a tough time in the wilds of Alaska.

*It was while reading These Happy Golden Years that one Onion discovered the interesting fact that 40 below zero is where the Fahrenheit and Celsius scales intersect.

12 June 2009

Friday stuff and items

1) Spike Jonze's Where the Wild Things Are movie has a blog: We Love You So. And it's thoughtful and interesting, and you know - the coolness. 'This place has been established to help shed some light on many of the small influences that have converged to make this massive project a reality.'

2) Every second Monday, Yann Martel sends a book to Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper*, books that he hopes will 'expand' the PM's 'stillness'. Martel's blog, www.whatisstephenharperreading.ca, chronicles the books he has sent thus far and further explains his mission. And the Globe and Mail reports that Harper has finally written back.

By all accounts, the public service would be quite keen for our very own KRudd to expand his stillness a bit. Maybe we should steal Martel's idea, beginning, of course, by sending Special Kev.

3) According to the Global Language Monitor, the millionth word in the English language is 'Web 2.0'. Which, to be frank, is a little disappointing. It's hardly very ephonious, it's not very precise (the whole concept being a little nebulous and hard to pin down), and we question its durability. The Chambers Dictionary, for one, didn't include it in their current edition. The Onions vote to hold out for something better. And we are happy to take suggestions...

* We thinks, if you squint your ears, Stephen Harper sounds a lot like Richard Parker - is it possible that the Canadian Prime Minister is actually a Bengal tiger?

11 June 2009

Awards ahoy! **UPDATED**

Ditmar winners
Best Novel - Tender Morsels by Margo Lanagan
Best Artwork - Tales from Outer Suburbia by Shaun Tan
Speech Pathology Book of the Year Awards 2009 short-listers
Mahtab's Story by Libby Gleeson
Pip: The Story of Olive by Kim Kane
I'm Still Awake, Still! by Elizabeth Honey & Sue Johnson
Tiny by Jennifer Castles & Steve Otton
The Wilderness Society's Environment Award for Children's Literature short-listers
The Big Picture Book of Environments by John Long
Chelonia Green, Champion of Turtles by Christobel Mattingley
The Dog that Dumped on My Doona by Barry Jonsberg

Ooo look! More! More! Hooray!

Australian Book Industry Awards for 2009 short-listers
Book of the Year & Illustrated Book of the Year -
Tales from Outer Suburbia by Shaun Tan
Book of the Year, Older Children -
Pip: The Story of Olive by Kim Kane

Congratulations one and all!

10 June 2009

09 June 2009

A heartbreaking genius of staggering work

We didn't really need anything more to fuel our Dave Eggers crush, but he thoughtfully provided some dry kindling (and his email address!) anyway.

Worried that people aren't reading any more? That print is dead? Never fear, because a new superhero in the form of Dave Eggers is here, ready to persuade you otherwise.

Eggers ends with a rousing call for the future of print. "This is a time to roar back and assert and celebrate the beauty of the printed page," he says. "Give people something to fight for, and they will fight for it. Give something to pay for, and they'll pay for it."
Read the full Guardian article here.

04 June 2009

Mrs Malaprop is in the House

Words you don't want to get mixed up:
affluent - effluent
elicit - illicit
eminent - imminent
evade - invade
desert - dessert
deviate - deviant
gorilla - guerrilla
in appropriate - inappropriate

New verb in the House of Onion:
romanise (verb) - Colloquial rom
[usage: Please rom that itals entry to indicate it has progressed from pending to final.]

Suspicious verbs we have encountered recently:
birthday (verb)*
We will birthday that scheduling strategy next week.

Phrases that are almost common, but not quite:
Slow as a wet weak
Towing the line
To wet your appetite
For all intensive purposes
Nip it in the butt**
To dry reach
A hare's breath
One in the same
No if, sands, or buts
Anchors away
One fowl swoop [Unless it is a chicken leaping off its hutch!]***
One foul swoop [not much better]
Slight-of-hand [The sleight-of-hand magicians might also be slight of hand if they are small-boned.]

The moment we stepped foot in the murky waters of misused phrases, we knew there would be much to do about nothing, but we decided to play it by year...

*Thanks to Lili for bringing this one to our attention.
** This is so hilarious we can't look at it without laughing.
***Although, it has to be said, Macduff might be partially to blame for muddying these waters given that in the same breath he calls Macbeth a 'hell-kite' who has done away with all his 'pretty chickens'.