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book launch

books and bears

7 June 2013

The Megumi and the Bear Canberra launch is just eight sleeps away and I’m starting to feel that inevitable mixture of nervous excitement. Planning a kids book launch is like planning a kids party—there’s an awful lot to do—but it’s wicked fun. Take last night when Meg from The Teddy Bear Shop dropped off this massive bag of teddy bears. Fifty of the softest little guys, each with their own birth certificate. My kids went goggle-eyed. Thanks to The Teddy Bear Shop’s generosity we get to hand these out at the launch with every book purchase. Now, how cool is that?

Hope to see some of you there with kids attached. It’s on Saturday 15 June, 2 pm at Paperchain Bookstore. They’ll also be goodie bags for all the kids attending, a lucky door prize, lots of yummy food, craft activities, and a book reading. RSVP to Paperchain on or 6295 6723. It’s gonna be fun!


7 March 2013

A quick heads up to let you know that next Wednesday I’ll be launching poet and rapper Omar Musa’s latest collection, Parang.

I first saw Omar perform some years ago at a poetry slam evening at the Front. I’d been hearing about how good he was for some time, and I’d read a few of his poems. That night he outshone everyone. Omar has the kind of x-factor reality show judges lust after. Combine that with the musicality and muscularity of his words and you’ve got something special. Coincidentally, the poem he performed that night, ‘Queanbeyan’ from his first collection The Clocks, was subsequently selected for inclusion in The Invisible Thread anthology that I recently edited.

Omar has won numerous awards for poetry, including the Australian Poetry Slam and the Indian Ocean Poetry Slam. He memorably performed ‘My Generation’ (included in Parang) on Q&A, and his debut novel, Here Come the Dogs, will be published by Penguin in 2014. He’s definitely one to watch.

All the details for the launch are here. In the meantime you might like to check out Omar’s book trailer, or watch an interview I did with him last year where he talks about the power of poetry slams for young people, how Sophie Cunningham unwittingly forced him to write his debut novel, and why he wants to change the perception that poetry is ‘irrelevant’.

The post-launch blues

9 December 2012

The Invisible Thread launch3It’s taken me a while to write about The Invisible Thread launch (others have already beaten me to it here and here). Why, you might ask? Well, launches are funny things. You build towards them — in this case for three years — with great anticipation. The event itself zips by, a blur of faces and book signings and congratulations. Usually you eat and drink nothing. You don’t spend more than five minutes with any one person and yet you don’t manage to talk to everyone. And then — suddenly — it’s all over. The End. Of course it’s just the beginning for the book, but the launch is like a line in the sand. It’s the end of a long and involved creative process, of bringing The Invisible Thread into being.

At the launch, artist Victoria Lees gave me a pep talk. ‘Now, you’re going to feel depressed,’ she said. ‘You’ve been working so hard. Just expect it, go with it.’ At least I think that’s what she said. In retrospect those two hours have taken on a dream-like quality. She was right, of course. I’d been madly planning and organising the launch while also doing publicity for the book and finalising the ACT Writers Showcase website. I’d been running on adrenalin for weeks; a crash was inevitable.

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CakeBut let’s take a few steps back, to when the adrenaline was still kicking.

On the morning of the launch I drove out through Queanbeyan, past fields of yellow flowers, the spike of the Telstra Tower in the distance. I collected the cake, a replica of the book, and placed it carefully in the boot of my car. It was already 30-something degrees and I worried about it melting before I reached home. Yet I drove slowly, also worried that a sudden slam of the brakes would splatter it everywhere. I made it back without incident. My nine-year-old thought it was the most amazing thing she’d ever laid eyes on and took a gazillion photos of it. (Later, at the launch, one person thought it was a cloth version of the book and actually tried to open it, a testament to its authenticity.)

After I’d dropped the older kids at school, Advisory Committee member Clare McHugh phoned and asked if I had heard that electrical storms were predicted for the afternoon. I hadn’t; cue mild panic. The stats revealed a 40 per cent chance that it would rain. That meant a 60 per cent chance that it wouldn’t. I had to bank on the 60. We had a wet weather contingency plan but it wouldn’t have been nearly so atmospheric as the courtyard with its grand 100-year-old oak tree, stripy deck chairs, orange umbrellas, wood panelled stage, and the thread artwork we commissioned Victoria Lees to create.

By afternoon rain still hadn’t struck and, as anticipated, the NewActon Courtyard proved to be the perfect place for our celebration. Around 150 people packed the space, creating a real buzz, as the Wicked Strings ensemble set the mood. Alex Sloan was a warm and gracious MC, and as guest speaker Underbelly writer Felicity Packard made personal and profound connections with the anthology. Four of the Thread writers read their work: Blanche d’Alpuget, who flew in for just a few hours to be there; Meredith McKinney, Judith Wright’s daughter; Advisory Committee member and poet Adrian Caesar; and Francesca Rendle-Short who flew in from Melbourne. I got to stand up and thank everyone who helped make the book and its associated projects a reality. It was a big moment for me. As I explained, it’s been a privilege to work with so many dedicated and talented individuals. I also launched the ACT Writers Showcase, a comprehensive website of ACT authors and the first site of its kind in Australia. Conceived by the Advisory Committee, I’ve been developing it with Greg Gould of Blemish Books. It’s been a massive undertaking and I’m so thrilled that we’ve been able to create such a terrific resource.

Irma Gold and Anne-Maree BrittonChair of the Advisory Committee, Anne-Maree Britton, presented me with flowers — a lovely and unexpected surprise (this was not in the launch rundown that I had so meticulously planned!). Alex Sloan wrapped up and suggested everyone buy the book as Christmas presents (now there’s a brilliant idea), and Wicked Strings played again while everyone ate, drank and were merry. Victoria’s Invisible Thread artwork captivated, and the Thread cake was demolished. It was all pretty damn wonderful. As one guest proclaimed, it was ‘the best atmosphere at a literary event ever’.

That night I came home, kicked off my heels, ate left over Thread cake (the tastiest book I’ve ever eaten), drank a cup of tea and thought, ‘Oh.’ The flat feeling took hold. The remedy, I told myself, was to spend the next few days reading books and drinking tea, strictly no work.

leftoversOf course this didn’t happen, but as I worked a stream of complimentary emails about the launch and the book began arriving. Words like ‘spectacular’, ‘inspiring’ and ‘very special’ helped a little in shifting the post-launch blues.

There’s still work to be done. Lots of it. But I’ve promised myself a break over Christmas. A real one, without email and Facebook and Twitter. I’m telling myself I can do it.

For fabulous launch pics by ‘pling click here.

The job of colouring in

17 October 2012

Sharing the books you read as a child with your own children is an incomparable literary pleasure. But an even rarer pleasure is to share a writer who spans the generations. I read Graeme Base as a child and after three decades he is still publishing new books that my own children are now reading. So you can imagine my delight when I heard that he’d be at Paperchain in conversation with Canberra dynamo Tania McCartney.

AnimaliaGraeme’s second book, Animalia, holds a special place in my childhood. In my memory it is somehow bound up with moving from England to Australia, a place that was brash and colourful and unfamiliar. The world of Animalia, pushed into my hands some time after I arrived, was also a book of discovery. Of strange words that thrilled the mouth. (Diabolical. Ingenious. Jovial.) Of intricate illustrations full of riotous colour, as potent as the new country I found myself in.

Animalia is the book that made Graeme’s career and has now sold almost three million copies around the world. At the time he thought it was ‘a stupid idea’ but he’s grateful that the publisher didn’t insist on editing any of the language, and wondered aloud if the same would be true in today’s climate. He thought not, and I suspect he’s right. So often children are underestimated. The truth is, kids are big thinkers and their vocabulary can only grow if they’re challenged. Books (and publishers) that fail to recognise this irritate me. But Graeme never does that.

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When my eldest was four, Santa brought her Animalia. She’s a big reader but she didn’t take to it quite as I had, and I must confess I was disappointed. But later my son did, poring over its pages for hours, searching for the boy hidden on every page, interrogating me about the meaning of phrases such as ‘versatile virtuoso of vociferous verbosity’.

The WaterholeNext I bought The Waterhole and together my son and I fell in love with it. A story of drought and the change wrought by seasons, it appealed to his keen interest in the world. We read it over and over until the hole became tattered around the edges. I think it actually overtook Animalia as my favourite Base book. The ladybugs’ speech amused me every time and we relished trumpeting the final animal chorus together ‘Ooola! Oooya! Wahoooo! (Yippee!)’, always smiling as we closed the book.

Now Graeme has another book out, Little Elephants. Elephants are my favourite animal and these ones have wings. What’s not to love? It’s also the first book where humans are a real feature (‘The hardest creatures to draw,’ Graeme said). I meant to take photos of the evening but managed to leave my phone at home so you’ll have to content yourself with Graeme’s gorgeous scribble on my book. And I’ll leave you with a quote from James, Graeme’s son. When asked what his dad did for a living he replied, ‘Stays home and colours in.’ Now that’s a pretty good job.

Graeme Base