Dad’s eulogy

My father, Barry John Ridge, died in the early hours of 9 August 2017. He was 89 years old, and had been living with Lewy Body dementia for around seven years. This is the eulogy I gave at his funeral.

Dad BM

Growing up, the four of us kids were what’s known in the trade—the church trade, that is—as PKs. PKs, parsonage kids, we’re a tribe tens of thousands strong, across the country and across generations who share a common language and experience that is quite unlike that of most kids growing up. There are lots of assumptions made about PKs; we must be incredibly rebellious or else unbelievably sanctimonious and dull, and our parents, especially our fathers, must be strict, uncompromising, and our lives therefore confined and restricted from the freedoms and pleasures other kids enjoy. I’m sure there’s not a PK alive who hasn’t heard some variation on the question, “What’s it like to have a minister for a father (or, of course, mother)?”, the only answer to which is, well, I dunno. What’s it like to have a mechanic for a father? Our father was the only one we had, and our life the only one we knew. And how fortunate indeed were we to have Barry, our father—and Edith, our mother—and the life that they gave us.

Dad, as I am sure all of you who knew him will immediately recognise, was none of those things that our schoolmates assumed. He was neither strict nor boring, and while he had very clear ideas and a firm and unwavering sense of his faith and the values by which he lived, he was neither uncompromising or punishing in his dealings with people in general, and his children in particular. In his role as a Minister of the church, Dad viewed service to others his highest calling, and the absolute expression of his faith. For us, his family, his responsibilities to his parishioners, the broader community and the church meant that there was no such thing as 9 to 5, no reliable “quitting time”, and even his one day off a week was rarely left to him and Mum to share and enjoy without interruption. Perhaps we kids felt it the most on family occasions—only PKs know the peculiar agony of having to wait to open Christmas presents until after Dad’s second or maybe even third service of the day. But while Dad’s working hours may have been unconventional, when he was home—and that may well have been at 3 o’clock when we got home from school, only for him to disappear again after dinner for meetings or Bible study or marriage counselling sessions or youth group—he was absolutely with us in a way many, many fathers of Dad’s generation were not.

In the same way, Dad was a most modern husband in the way he took on his fair share of the housework. He changed our nappies as babies, he cooked and cleaned, he ironed, and he especially loved to work in the garden.

Dad was a practical and pragmatic man. He could turn his hand to pretty much anything; a true child of the depression, nothing was ever wasted, and he took great pleasure in doing up toys, bikes and so on for us kids and the grandkids; they never felt second-hand, but rather, remade with love. His grandson James remembers with great affection the hours they spent pottering in the garage, and the time they made a possum box for a family of ringtails in the backyard at James’s family home house. No piece of wood, no useful piece of rope, no nails and screws, no matter how rusty, were discarded unless absolutely beyond the pale (and not even then, often!). Council clean-ups were a challenge; while Dad loved finding treasures in other people’s unwanted items, convincing him to get rid of dried-up old mops and other things that “just might come in handy one day” was not so easy. He wasn’t miserly, but he was conservative about money, and he hated waste in any form.

Dad genuinely and clearly loved being a father. Fatherhood was so much more than mere duty; it was a pleasure, as well as a responsibility. He enjoyed playing games with us, be it tether tennis or Scrabble, Cluedo or cards (although only simple card games like Snap and Happy Families because, you know, Methodist…). Our strongest memories as a family are associated with music; Dad had a fine singing voice and he was a good pianist. Playing Mum and Dad’s record collection and singalongs around the piano are favourite memories for all of us kids. That piano, his childhood piano, has been lovingly restored by his eldest grandson Peter, in whose home it now resides, and I know Dad would be thrilled to think that Peter and Emelia’s children, Bennett, Isaac and Zarahlinda, will grow up listening to music played on their great-grandad’s piano, and perhaps playing it themselves. (That’s playing it, Ben, not sitting on it!)

I remember stories of he and Mum told of times long before I was born, when they allowed that new-fangled rock and roll music to be played at church hall socials, and the dust the young people raised dancing. Dancing in the Methodist church hall! I can imagine the raised eyebrows this decision caused. When I was 8, Mum and Dad took us to see the first Australian production of Jesus Christ Superstar. I think even then I had an idea of what this said about our parents; that they were interested in new ideas and ways of thinking about the world, and that their faith, character and intellect were strong and certain enough to be open to challenges, and not just musical ones (that rock and roll music again!).

Which is not to say they always liked the music we listened to, but they put up with great grace Linda’s period of mild acoustic guitar folk music led teenage rebellion, our collective Barry Manilow fandom, and endless Sunday nights watching Countdown and my seemingly endless obsession with ABBA. In my teenage years, they allowed me to take an overnight bus to Sydney from our then home in Canberra to attend an Elton John concert. They trusted us, they respected our choices, they never once attempted to censor or very rarely expressed disapproval, which is not to say they didn’t offer guidance when required.

Mum and Dad took us to movies and stage musicals from as early as I can remember, and there are many I cannot watch or listen to without associating them with Dad. I think we all remember the night they took us to see Sweet Charity at the Gosford Drive-In without realising what it was about, but to their credit, they didn’t leave, and again, I turn to the words trust and respect—which of course meant we in turn trusted and respected them.

The night after Dad died, I played the movie of Fiddler on the Roof as I wrote a notice about Dad’s death to share with friends on Facebook. David has since reminded me that Mum and Dad made a special trip with us to see Fiddler at the cinema in Sydney, as it wasn’t going to be showing in the cinema in Katoomba, where we were living at the time. They didn’t want us to miss out on a thing we didn’t have to, just because a.) we were living on a Minister’s stipend and b.) we were living what was then a very long way away from the city. Watching Fiddler again I was reminded again how the character of Tevye always makes me think of Dad; it’s without doubt both the unswerving faith in a loving and wise God, and a deep devotion to their children that makes me associate one with the other. Fiddler also has great songs, and Dad, as we know, loved to sing.

One of Linda’s early memories from the Toronto years is Dad along with one of the women from the Couple’s Club, dressed as tramps, singing a duet of Underneath the Arches and Side by Side. I wonder if in another life Dad might not have enjoyed amateur theatricals. He could be a bit of a ham; we remember fondly his appearances in musical reviews on stage at the Victory Hall in Auburn, including his turn in A Murky Melodrama and a pun-filled musical soap opera; I can still hear Dad singing “I’m a Lux Change Daily Girl” with Mum and Dad’s good friend Lynne Drabsch, who is here today.

And of course, none of us will ever forget his lovely voice leading the singing in church. Mum tells us Dad never joined a choir because he wasn’t quite a tenor nor quite a baritone, and he didn’t think he could sing parts. He could sing hymns, though, full-throated and heartfelt. In his later years, when the Lew Body dementia affected his throat muscles and he could no longer sing, it was for us all a significant turning point in his decline, and we missed, and miss, his voice terribly.

Dad always liked being around young people, and he truly enjoyed our company, at home, on Sunday drives, or bushwalks in his beloved Blue Mountains, and especially at the beach, Macmasters (Macs, as we called it), which was in many respects our family home. A small fibro shack when he and Mum bought it in the early 60s, our house at Macs redefined the word “modest”, but lovely as many of the church homes we lived in were, Macs was the only one that was truly ours. And while even on holidays Dad was always busy; building extensions to the house, clearing gutters, calling the snake man to come and relocate an unwelcome visitor, he always, always had time for us. I think we all have in our heads a clear image of Dad emerging from the surf, hair pasted to his head like Mo from The Three Stooges, laughing with the sheer pleasure of being in the surf, and more often than we’d have liked, at the sight of one of us kids emptying our togs of sand after being dumped. The photos where you saw Dad at his most relaxed in the slideshow were nearly all taken at Macs. He loved Macs perhaps more than any of us; his final ritual of every holiday was one last swim, just by himself, no kids allowed, before we loaded ourselves in the car for the trip home.

Dad was also genuinely interested in us as people; interested in our thoughts and interests and lives. Not in an intrusive way—Dad respected our privacy as much as he valued his own—but in an admiring and deeply respectful way. He never mocked us for our ideas or passions as children; as adults, he was always completely supportive of everything we set out to do, utterly and unconditionally proud of us and our achievements, and practical and kind when things didn’t go to plan.

As I was writing those very words, a video of Bennett, my great nephew, Dad’s first great grandchild, landed in my email inbox. The video shows Ben riding a pushbike on his own for the very first time, and in the proud, loving and encouraging words of his parents, Peter and Emelia, I can hear echoes of Dad, and the way he raised us to always give things a go, and of the unselfish, admiring pride Dad and Mum both have always taken in us, and subsequently their beloved grandchildren. Some of Dad’s last words were about his great-grandchildren, and I don’t think that’s any kind of accident. Family was everything to Dad, and in the last difficult years of his life, as the Lewy Body dementia began to take away his ability to engage with the world, his memories of his parents, grandparents, his adored Uncle Jim, his cousin Mavis and other family members were what brought him the greatest comfort and pleasure.

Alison remembers with great fondness her and Dad’s shared love of baseball and softball, and the hours Dad spent with her practising pitching and hitting. Dad played baseball as a kid, and this was a unique bond Alison and Dad had—that is, until she had a son of her own who also became a baseball player. Dad loved going to watch James play, and I think was quietly chuffed about the continuity across the generations.

Some of my own fondest memories are of having serious conversations with Dad about politics and social justice, feminism and other issues dear to my heart. It wasn’t until very recently that I discovered that Dad held his own intellect in fairly low esteem, but I think he was wrong about that. To me, the mark of intelligence isn’t just about formal scholarly achievement, but about having an agile, open and curious mind. Dad proved over and over again in his lifetime that he had both the capacity and the willingness to change his mind and to accommodate new ideas, while remaining true to his most deeply held principles.

I think in many ways this is the aspect of Dad’s character that I admire and hope to emulate the most.

Dad was also funny, sometimes surprisingly and wickedly so. He was patient, organised to the point of intractable, slow to anger, but righteous in his anger if the cause arose. He was, it has to be said, stubborn, and could therefore be, as Mum has said from time to time, a most infuriating man. But I think it’s the kindness, the compassion, the patience and the good humour that we will all remember most.

We have many stories about Dad we’ve been sharing this week; here are just a couple.

Linda says that, being the eldest, Dad had to learn on the job how to be the father of a teenage girl. She remembers the discreet flicking of the outdoor lights, and the “ahem” of milk bottles being gently rattled—Dad’s way of saying “time to come inside now” when he felt she’d spent enough time saying goodnight to the boyfriend of the day.

Dad’s compassion when we faced heartbreak and disappointment was constant and consistent. Alison remembers, after a personal heartbreak when she was a young woman, that Dad came and sat with her, just sat quietly as she grieved, not speaking, just stroking her forehead and being there loving her. Alison says she thought of this often when, at the end of his life, she reciprocated his loving care, sitting with him in the nursing home, no words spoken, stroking Dad’s forehead and just being there with and for him, loving him.

In the days since Dad’s death, the family have received many messages of love and respect about Dad. The words that keep coming up about him are these:

Generous
Decent.
Kind—and as Dad’s friend Pamela once said to me, kindness is not to be undervalued as a virtue.
Wonderful.
Special.
Wise.
Gentle.

Many have spoken of Dad’s guidance and mentorship; my friend from my teenage years, Sally, wrote “I had some of my most important and life-defining conversations with him and loved his mix of kindness, humour and genuine care.” Others have spoken of how Dad supported them in their ministry; others still simply spoke of what a good man Dad was. There have been many more similar messages, and it has helped us all so much to know how much our beautiful dad was so important to, and so loved by so many. He was indeed a good man; he was without doubt the best man I have ever known, and ever expect to know.

I would just like to finish up by reading a passage from a book that informed a great deal of Dad’s ministry and faith, and also reflects exactly who Dad was. It’s one of my most treasured possessions—Dad’s copy of Your God Is Too Small by J.B. Phillips. Early in the book there’s a section called “MEEK-AND-MILD”, several passages of which Dad has marked; they clearly contained ideas that resonated with him. The section is essentially a critique of the child’s prayer Gentle Jesus Meek and Mild, or rather, what it suggests about the character of Christ. Phillips objects to “the impression of a soft and sentimental Jesus (supported, alas, all too often by sugary hymns and pretty religious pictures)” that the words conjure, reminding us that Jesus was a man who did not hesitate to challenge and expose the hypocrisies of the religious people of his day, and who was considered a danger by the authorities. A rebel, and a radical, in fact; not the first things we associate with someone described as “meek and mild”.

Now, Dad wasn’t a boat-rocker in the obvious sense, but nor was he one to stand down from what he believed to be right and true. I think there’s a danger in mistaking gentleness—and Dad was indeed a gentle man—with indecision, weakness or passivity. Dad was none of those. He tempered determination with caution, justice with compassion, and passion with pragmatism.

Phillips concludes:

There is a further offshoot of the worship of this false god which must be mentioned. It is the sentimental Christian ideal of “saintliness.” We hear, or read, of someone who was “a real saint: he never saw any harm in anyone and never spoke a word against anyone all his life.” If this really is a Christian saintliness, then Jesus Christ was no saint. It is true that He taught men not to sit in judgment upon one another, but He never suggested that they should turn a blind eye to evil or pretend that other people were faultless. He Himself indulged no roseate visions of human nature: He “knew what was in man,” as St. John tersely puts it. Nor can we imagine Him either using or advocating the invariable use of “loving” words. To speak the truth was obviously to Him more important than to make His hearers comfortable: though, equally obviously, His genuine love for men gave Him tact, wisdom, and sympathy. He was Love in action, but He was not meek and mild.

And that is our Dad in a nutshell.

We love you, Dad, we are grateful to have had you for as long as we did, and we will always miss you, but we are glad for your sake that your troubles are behind you. Rest well, dearest Dad, and thank you for everything you did and everything you were.


CBCA Shortlists 2017

I presented my choices for the Book of the Year: Older Readers at today’s Children’s Book Council of Australia (NSW) shortlist announcement event. 5 of us “industry experts” were asked to give our picks prior to the announcement of the official shortlists at 12 noon. Here’s a potted version of what I said:

I had started reading and already chosen 3 books I wanted to include in my list when the Notables list was announced earlier in the year. When I compared the Notables to the pile of 2016 books I had prioritised for my reading, I was surprised to see a big disjunct: a lot of the books I really was interested in, or had actually already read and loved, weren’t Notables. The regularly list less than 20 Older Readers Notables, which I find a bit frustrating, so I made a conscious decision to focus my reading on non-Notables.

My shortlist ended up looking like this:

Randa Abdel-Fattah‘s When Michael Met Mina
Cath Crowley‘s Words in Deep Blue*
Kirsty Eagar‘s Summer Skin
Justine Larbalestier‘s My Sister Rosa
Glenda Millard‘s The Stars at Oktober Bend*
James Roy and Noël Zihabamwe’s One Thousand Hills

The two books marked with asterix were the only Notables on my list and I was absolutely confident both would be shortlisted, but only Cath Crowley’s exquisite Words in Deep Blue was. (And it’s my pick for Book of the Year.)

None of this is to say that I think there’s any problem with any of the books chosen for the Notables list—on the contrary, it’s a good, solid list, just too short, in my view. I wanted to draw people’s attention to other worthy books, though, and I am very happy with my list. I also noted how the state literary prizes often pick very different books from the CBCA, which is good, really—shares the love, and the prize money, around.

I also added 4 other titles I wanted the audience to know about, and I feel terrible, becauseI left one of them on the kitchen table and so forgot to mention it. My “Notables” were:

Helen Chebatte‘s Bro
Steven Herrick‘s One Night in Mullet Town
Mark Smith‘s The Road to Winter
Lili Wilkinson‘s The Boundless Sublime

I also quoted from a recent article on lithub.com about how YA fiction will change the world, and talked about how some of the best YA fiction manages the delicate balance of addressing current ‘issues’ (how I hate that loaded term) of interest to young people while telling good stories with great characters and beautiful language, and how great YA can help young adult readers consider and make sense of the world they are growing up into. I don’t think we need to shy away from the fact that children and teens learn all kinds of things about the world from literature, that it has a clear socialisation function, and that those things are most effective when the writing is glorious and the storytelling strong.

And if you haven’t seen them, the actual shortlists are here. Can we just take a moment to note what a massive turn-around there’s been from the many, many years when male authors dominated this category; all this year’s shortlisted YA authors are women.

Congratulations to all those listed, commiserations to those feeling miserable that they’re not, and let’s keep reading and sharing great books.

CBCA OR 2017


The Book I Made: The Book That Made Me

BTTM FrontI am thrilled and excited to announce that my first book, The Book That Made Me, will be published on September 1, just a couple of weeks away, by Walker Books Australia.

The Book that Made Me was inspired by my fascination with the reading lives of writers. As a teacher, editor and a devoted fiction reader, I have read a lot of ‘how to’ writing manuals and writers’ memoirs, and I am always intrigued by the way books—especially the books read during childhood and adolescence—contribute to the way we think, feel and view the world around us. And while I’d read a lot about the influences on adult writers, I really wanted to know more about the reading lives of my favourite writers for young people.

The Book That Made Me is the product of that curiosity.

The book has been a long time coming. I initially pitched it to then-Walker Book publisher Sarah Foster around four or five years ago. A book like this will always take time; you’re commissioning several dozen individual pieces of writing, across several countries and involving visual artists as well as writers. People agree to be part of the project, and then other commitments take priority and they have to drop out. Changes happen within publishing houses, and within one’s own life, that affect the editorial and publishing process.

But we got there, and the actual publication date is not incidental: September 1 is Indigenous Literacy Day, and the royalties from The Book That Made Me are going to the Indigenous Literacy Foundation to support the work they do with young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander readers. And excitingly, Candlewick Press, Walker’s US parent company, will be publishing the book in the northern spring (2017).

Commissioning and editing a collection of personal essays is both a pleasure and a great responsibility. I am honoured that my friends and colleagues who have contributed to this book have entrusted me with their stories, and I am proud of the book that we have made together. I am excited to be able to share it with the young readers we created it for, with the intention that their reading eyes would be opened up to a whole new world of books and writers and ideas.

Review copy requests and media enquiries for The Book That Made Me: Stephanie.Whitelock@walkerbooks.com.au

Contributor Will Kostakis is excited!

Contributor Will Kostakis is excited!

A little bit more about me:

I am internationally recognised as a specialist in children’s and young adult literature. Originally an English teacher, I fell in love (again!) with children’s literature when undertaking post-graduate studies at Macquarie University. I have a Masters in Children’s Literature (on feminist retellings of fairy tales for teenagers) and I am currently writing my PhD on representations of Australia in children’s and YA fantasy fiction (with a special interest in Aboriginal story and representation).

I have worked as an editor (at the NSW School Magazine, ABC Books and as a freelancer), a teacher of writing children’s and young adult fiction (two years in the MA program at the University of Sydney and more than ten years at the Australian Writers’ Centre) and in arts program development. I was creative director of WestWords (the Western Sydney Young People’s Literature Project) for seven years; I’ve programmed two schools’ programs for Sydney Writers’ Festival, and am currently the Coordinator of Outreach Programs for Liverpool City Library in south western Sydney. I was a member of the Board of the Australian Society of Authors from 2012 until 2016.

I’m widely known as a critic, commentator and advocate of children’s literature and reading. I’m a regular speaker at festivals, conferences and in the media, including internationally. In 2001 I received a Churchill Fellowship to study literature programs for children and teens in the US, Ireland and UK. In 2009, my paper at the conference dedicated to the work of British children’s fantasy author Diana Wynne Jones was voted favourite paper by the Guardian Books Blog.

Some links:

The Book That Made Me on goodreads.

Me on ABC Overnights

Guardian Books Blog

My 2010 Sydney Writers’ Festival session with Melina Marchetta and David Levithan.

Teachers’ Notes for The Book That Made Me.


Circle

circleI attended the launch of Jeannie Baker‘s new picture book, Circle, tonight, at the Maritime Museum in Sydney. I don’t remember how many launches of Jeannie’s books I’ve been to, but I know I’ve been attending them for well over twenty years, and I was privileged to work with her on the education kit that accompanied the tour of the artworks of her last book, Mirror.

 
As with Bob Graham‘s books, I always think Jeannie’s latest book is my favourite, and her most beautiful, but this time I think I am not only right about that, but that it might also well be her most important book.
Circle tells the story of the migratory flights of Bar-tailed Godwits (Limosa lapponica baueri) from Alaska to New Zealand/Australia and back again. These small birds undertake the longest migratory journey of any animal ever recorded; a female bird with a satellite tracker fitted was recorded flying from Alaska to New Zealand in one unbroken flight lasting 8 days—and she returned to the exact same waterfront she had last been settled on in New Zealand.
When Doctor Richard Fuller from the University of Queensland, who launched the book, told that story tonight, you could feel the awe and wonder that fell over the listening audience. Then, when he went on to describe the terrible destruction of their landing places—mudflats in Korea and China in the Yellow Sea, and the impact it is having on the survival of these extraordinary birds—well, I can’t speak for anyone else, but I felt a terrible despair. Some days I feel utterly frightened and despondent about climate change, the loss of habitats, the high rates of extinction and basically, about the future of the planet, and there seems so little will to do anything from those who actually have the power to act. Outright denial of climate science, the rise of the anti-vaccination movement, the whole ‘eat well and cure yourself of cancer’ nonsense. Honestly, some days I wouldn’t give you tuppence for the human race, and I felt a searing sorrow as Doctor Fuller spoke.

And yet.

Looking around me, I was surrounded by the most marvellous examples of human beings’ artistry, imagination, ingenuity and inventiveness—artworks by Aboriginal Australians showing their migratory patterns around the oceans and waterways of Australia; beautiful and efficacious nautical instruments; planes and ships and navigation flags and so on—and I caught myself stopping myself from thinking, there is no living creature more destructive and barbaric than humans, not because I don’t think it’s true, but because it’s only part of the story. We are capable of such enormous, willful damage—like the 35 kilometre seawall in Korea that has destroyed the Godwits way-station, where they once landed to eat and replenish their strength on the long journey north. (I don’t know why they don’t stop on the way south—guess it’s all downhill 😉 )
But humans are also capable of great love and courage and creativity and beauty and art, and it’s maybe those things that might save us.
I can’t help but hope that the art and beauty of Jeannie’s book will help save the Godwits. More than that, I hope and trust it will help bring up a generation of children who will make the difference—who will not forget the feeling of awe they must feel when they read her book, and learn of the extraordinary journey these birds undertake and the ancient power* of that journey, and yet the very fragility of their survival against human greed and selfishness.

Because despite how this might all sound, Circle is not a sad or despairing book. It’s a book full of life and light and hope. Like all the best children’s books, the darkness and danger is acknowledged, but it is a book replete with beauty and infused with love and hope.

This is what books, stories, can do, and especially what children’s books can do. They give us that moment of awestruck wonder that as adults, we’re probably likely to forget as we go on with our business. But imagine if every child in this country heard the story of the Godwits, and kept that moment of powerful understanding in their heart, imagine what that could do for environmental policies going into the future, when those kids grow up and start to take charge of things. If it’s not too late, already—not just for the Godwits (who are now listed as endangered), but for all of us.

Jeannie has been teaching us in the most beautiful way to love our Earth for so many decades now, but there’s never been a more timely book than Circle. If you can, go to see the exhibition—it’s travelling around the country for the next two years—and buy the book, or borrow it from your library, and make sure you share it with a child, or maybe a childish Environment Minister, should you have the chance. It might not save the planet, but it will soothe your heart.

________________________

*(Think about it—how did the ancient ancestors of these birds even know there was a continent all the way on the other side of the world to fly to? and I’d love a sciencey friend to explain to me the evolutionary impulse behind it.)


Behind every great artist…

There’s often an arts worker.

Much has been written lately about the high-handed and, frankly, insupportable decision by the Federal Arts Minister, Senator George Brandis, to remove a massive slice of funding from the Australia Council for the Arts in order to establish a National Program for Excellence in the Arts. If you already know and care about this issue, then you’ll have a good handle on debate—not that you could really call it a debate, when it was undertaken with absolutely zero consultation with anyone in the arts sector, and is clearly another example of a Captain’s call from this most arrogant of governments. Many of us in the arts believe that this is a big old chunk of payback for those artists who protested Transfield’s sponsorship of last year’s Biennale. Whatever the motivation, though, there’s no question this is a devastating blow to the OzCo and to the notion of arms-length, independent and peer-assessed funding in this country.

Briefly, some of the key issues include:

No-one has any idea what the parameters of eligibility for this funding will be, beyond what we already know about Brandis’s tastes in The Yarts.

Major arts companies who have had their funding assured have been gagged from criticising the decision.

The Australia Council has suspended the current round of applications for 6 year funding for key arts organisations (and disclaimer: I am on the board of one of those affected) and the June funding round has been cancelled altogether.

The ArtsStart and Creative Communities Partnerships Initiative will no longer be offered.

Many people have written with great passion and eloquence about what this will mean for small independent artists—this one from Kill Your Darlings is especially on point. As is this one, by the redoubtable Alison Croggan. And of course, Kill Your Darlings is one of the small journals in very real danger of becoming unviable without Australia Council support. The Sydney Review of Books is another, as founder Ivor Indyk reports.

But this blog post isn’t merely to rehash the discussion, or simply to post links, as useful, perhaps, as I hope that will be.

It’s to remind everyone that it’s not just artists who will be affected by these cuts.

It’s also arts workers.

Because let us not forget in all of this that when we are talking about small-to-medium arts organisations losing funding, we’re not just talking about lost opportunities for artists—new, emerging and independent artists who, as you’ll know if you’ve read some of the articles linked above, so often end up being the beating heart of mainstream and major arts companies. We’re also talking about lost opportunities, lost jobs and maybe even lost careers for arts workers.

So, what’s an arts worker? And who cares? Aren’t they just slightly glorified paper-pushers, useful maybe for writing grant applications and reports to boards, necessary to keep databases and mailing lists and newsletters up to date, but more or less interchangeable with any other arts grad out there?

Well, maybe, in some instances, but I’d argue that even the lowliest arts intern isn’t worth much if they’re not passionately and powerfully invested in the art form they have specialised in, and deeply committed to the company they work for—often for barely, if at all, minimum wage. And those young turks need to have a career path ahead of them—and that’s potentially, if not actually, been taken away from them by these funding cuts.

But beyond the freshly minted grad who is willing and able to get their opshop-shoe-shod foot in the door for whatever coin is tossed their way, there are also the career arts workers. Those of us—and yes, this is where it gets personal, even though I am no longer actually employed in this capacity—who have, early-, mid- or late- career, sacrificed job security and a decent salary and regular working hours and even, in some cases, the limelight, to create and run and support and develop artists and arts companies and programs and small organisations…

So that, on a practical level, flights can be booked and venues and accommodation organised and events promoted and audiences secured and media contacted and materials purchased and lunches ordered and photo permission forms signed and  money taken and invoices corrected and processed so that they can be paid in timely fashion…

So that artists can be employed. So that communities can be represented. So that work can be developed and nurtured and shared across place and time and geography and cultures and ages. So that (here come the buzz words) capacity can be built so that non-specialists can take up ideas and programs and run with them, so that (for example) poetry slams can happen in places with no poets, so that aspiring actors in reviled western suburbs can see themselves on stages, so that writers from unrecognised classes and cultures can have their voices heard.

Because arts workers are not just administrators or form-fillers or even wannabes. Arts workers—artistic directors, program managers, education officers, admin officers, interns and volunteers—are the lifeblood of the arts in this small nation of ours. And they are often genuinely creative people themselves, even if they are not technically practising artists. (Although Lord knows there’s an art to writing a successful grant application—am I wrong?!)

Arts workers create artistic programs that give time and space and income to artists. Arts workers identify, nurture and sometimes even create opportunities and audiences.

And arts workers have mortgages and families and bills and pets and aspirations and careers and when arts funding is cut, people lose their jobs. And that ain’t nothing.

I’ve spent most of my career, one way or another, as a public servant and an arts worker. And when cuts are made to (so-called) bureaucracies and the arts—soft targets all—it’s easy to overlook the fact that those cuts mean less jobs for actual people with actual careers and commitments and creative lives and practical needs along the lines of, you know, earning an income.

(It’s not like we were rolling it in in the first place—I recently realised if I’d stuck with my teaching career, I’d have been earning around 30k a year more than I was as an arts worker. And I’m in my 50s. I don’t have a lot of superannuation accumulating years to waste.)

So while we rightly worry about the impact of Brandis’s newly devised personal artistic playpen on artists and artistic practise and development, please let’s remember that the demise of funding programs for small-to-medium arts organisations means unemployment and heartache for many more folk behind the scenes.

And that ain’t nothing.

Ryan Gosling arts admin1


Misrule Manuscript Assessment Services

I have just created a page for my manuscript assessment services, which can be found here. Due to the vagaries of wordpress pages versus posts, I am adding this post so I can attach an image for promotional purposes. Link is in menu bar above.

With more than twenty years experience in children’s and young adult books, as an editor, writer and critic, and more than ten years teaching programs in writing for children and  teens, I am uniquely placed to provide honest and constructive feedback on your manuscript.

Misrule Manuscript Assessment Services is ideal for writers of children’s and young adult fiction; chapter books, novels, non-fiction and other forms on application. Note that I do not as a general rule provide assessments for picture book texts, but queries are welcome, particularly for longer picture books for older readers.

Additionally, I also offer assessments of commercial women’s fiction; contemporary realism and historical fiction are particular areas of expertise.

Fees:

My fees for a full assessment of a manuscript:

30,000 to 60,000 words: $550

60-100,000 words: $750

Under 30,000 and over 100,000 words by negotiation.

This will include comments and feedback on:

  • structural/logic issues
  • plot and character
  • language (where relevant)
  • age appropriateness
  • Identification of potential solutions to problems of logic, consistency in story, character
This does not include a copy edit, but I will comment on any recurring problems (eg common spelling errors, punctuation of dialogue).

Satisfied clients:

Judith was once my editor and I’m now very lucky to have her as one of my beta readers for my books.  I can’t count the times she has pointed out a new way of thinking about a story, or stopped me from making a disastrous mistake!  There is probably the-soldier-s-wifeno one in the country with a more extensive knowledge, and a more thorough understanding, of young people’s publishing.  I’m delighted that she has decided to freelance as a manuscript assessor, because it will give me the perfect person to refer aspiring writers to!

Pamela Freeman, author of more than 30 children’s books, including Victor’s Quest andThe Black Dress, winner of the NSW Premier’s History Prize and, as Pamela Hart, The Soldier’s Wife. Pamela is Director of Creative Writing at the Australian Writers’ Centre.

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Your comments regarding the emotional weight of my story will encourage me to produce a much stronger set of characters and relationships. This valuable overall ‘weighing up’ ofanna goannaa story and the accompanying perspective that comes from stepping beyond the role of line editor is particularly valuable. Your insights will provide a useful framework for informing my writing across a range of genres.

Jill McDougall, author of Anna the Goanna and over 200 other children’s books and poetry collections.

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caro_was_hereI completed Judith Ridge’s five-week Writing for Children course, and loved it! I thought I was just taking a break from ‘proper’ novel writing, but found the course so engaging, and Judith’s tutoring (even online) so clear, intelligent and confident, that this little book completely took over my creative energies, and became my first fiction published. Now I’m writing the second one. Without Judith, it wouldn’t have happened!

Elizabeth Farrelly, author of Caro Was Here and Sydney Morning Herald columnist.

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Thank you again for the help with the assessment, it was so amazing to have such clear and concise feedback and made it so much easier for me to take it to the next level.Nat Amoore

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Thanks so much for all your help. I especially appreciated your take on my protagonist’s emotions and her relationships. I feel like I might be a bit close to the story so it was good to get your thoughts. I’m on a huge learning curve with the writing process and I really appreciate all the help that I can get.Linsey Painter

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Contact Misrule Manuscript Assessment Services:
email judith dot ridge @ gmail dot com
The Woolcot Family books by Ethel Turner

The Woolcot Family books by Ethel Turner


Dr Maurice Saxby AM: In Memoriam

Maurice Saxby, 26 December 1924—2 December 2014

I met Maurice Saxby the first time I attended a meeting of the NSW Branch of the Children’s Book Council. I was in my mid-20s, and I had not long since decided that I wanted to make children’s books my life’s work. I had met Ros Bastian, who was at the time the coordinator of the annual Children’s Book Fair, during my postgrad studies in Children’s Literature at Macquarie University, and she encouraged me to join the CBCA. And so I came along to the AGM, circa 1990, joined the committee and began my work in children’s literature.

And of course Maurie was there. He was the CBC’s first President in 1958, and remained an active member his whole life. I didn’t know anyone or anything much back then—I didn’t know who Maurie was, but I quickly learned. He was of course, as we all so affectionately called him, the Godfather of Australian Children’s Literature. In addition to his work with the CBC, he established studies in children’s literature at university level, and thousands upon thousands of primary education and teacher-librarian students trained under  his guidance. There is no doubting his influence in establishing Australian children’s literature as a core part of the curriculum in Australian schools, and in promoting its value and quality to the international children’s literature community.

And of course, he was its great chronicler. Soon after that first CBC AGM I found copies of Maurie’s History of Australian Children’s Literature in the library of the school where I worked at the time—from memory, they were being discarded (!) and I snaffled them. Of course, Maurice went on to revise that history, and its three volumes—Offered to Children: A History of Australian Children’s Literature 1841-1941, Images of Australia: a History of Australian Children’s Literature 1941-1970, and The Proof of the Puddin’: Australian Children’s Literature 1970–1990—published and expanded in the 1990s, remain core texts in my professional library. I refer to them all the time. They are my Bible, my most comprehensive and reliable (if also opinionated!) source, and will be in the pile of treasures to be saved come flood or zombie apocalypse. I believe Maurie was working on Volume 4—I hope it was finished before we lost him, this week, just shy of his much-anticipated 90th birthday.

Going back to that kid’s lit newbie back a quarter of a century ago—Maurie welcomed me into the fold as if I’d always been there. His generosity of spirit and his passionate commitment to his field rendered him, where it really mattered, ego-free. (He wasn’t ego-free about everything, including his own writing, but that’s not remotely a bad thing.) He wanted advocates, he wanted people to be as in love with children’s books as he was, and anyone who wanted to roll up (and roll their sleeves up) and be part of the community was in, as far as he was concerned. That’s certainly how he made me feel. He always treated me with the greatest professional courtesy, and the warmest personal affection. (Maurie was a kissy man. I think we’ve all received a smacking greeting from him.)

Maurie also had a slightly acerbic side; he knew too much and was too smart to suffer fools privately, but publicly I never knew him to be anything else but charming, warm, generous and completely enthusiastic. And he was a great friend to so many—widowed twice and with no children of his own, his friendships sustained him over many decades. I don’t claim that degree of friendship myself. I am just honoured to have known him, and to have been the inheritor of his great work and legacy in bringing children and books together—and for welcoming me so whole-heartedly into the world that has in turn sustained me and brought me enormous professional satisfaction and some of the most important friendships of my life.

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My dear friends Simon French and Donna Rawlins with Maurice Saxby at the Maurice Saxby Lecture, May, 2012

I guess it was a bit more than 10 years ago, I was browsing in a second-hand bookshop, and I came across a small stash of children’s books from the early-to-mid 20th century. Flipping through them, I was astonished and thrilled to see the neatly inscribed name of Maurice Saxby on the fly page of a book called Willie the Orphan, or, The Happy Land. At first, I thought, I must return this to Maurie! How did this end up here? But then I realised it must have been one of the books he sold when he moved from his home to a retirement apartment—and I was so pleased to have it. A book from Maurie’s library! How wonderful to have this on my own shelves.

Tonight, thinking about our beloved Maurie, I went to my shelves and took down the book, and rediscovered what I had forgotten about this treasured find—that it was a book given as a Sunday School prize to the five and a half year old Maurice Saxby.

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Imagine that. Five year old Maurice.

It feels so fitting, to have a book that Maurie held and read and, maybe—I don’t know!—loved as such a young child. Perhaps one of the first books he could read alone. Because, thanks to Maurice Saxby, and all the people he influenced and befriended and converted, I was able to make a life in children’s books. In putting books into children’s hands.

I owe him so much.

And, as I said to Maurice’s great friend, Margaret Hamilton:

We will honour him with our work.


Read the damn books

A bit over ten years ago, I was writing a Master’s thesis on feminist retellings of fairy tales in novels for teenagers. My interest in fairy tale retellings was to analyse the books through the prism of both narrative theory—to investigate the robust shape of these stories over the centuries—and that of the strong feminist criticism of fairy tales that emerged during second wave feminism.

I’d never had cause to question the idea that fairy tales are bad for women, that they entrench sexist attitudes, reinforce the trope of the helpless woman, that they inscribe beauty as its own reward and marriage as a woman’s only marker of success. But to my surprise, my research led me to question the very foundation of that critical position.

There’s a seminal paper, Marcia R. Lieberman’s “Some Day My Prince Will Come: Female Acculturation through the Fairy Tale” (1972)  that is, in a sense, the über-text of feminist criticism of fairy tales. But what I discovered during the course of my research, and numerous close readings of the paper itself, was that Lieberman mostly wasn’t talking about the tales themselves—the written versions of oral tales, or the original literary tales by writers such as Marie-Catherine d’Aulnoy, Charlotte-Rose de La Force, Charles Perrault or Hans Christian Andersen.

She was talking about the Disney animated feature film versions.

Lieberman’s argument, which was to become so influential on feminist literary theory and criticism, was not based on centuries of versions and re-versions of the stories—many of which were told or written by women from all cultural traditions—but on films that emerged from and reflected a particular 20th century, western, patriarchal and capitalist view of the world. It was a bit like reading the English essay where the student had skipped reading the book and had obviously only seen the movie. I have to assume, of course, that Lieberman was familiar with the written texts, but that’s not what her argument was based on, and the discovery seriously challenged my unexamined feminist prejudice against stories I otherwise secretly really loved.

And it reminded me again of a lesson I would have hoped all critics would have learned by now—don’t criticise something you haven’t read.*

I came late to this week’s brouhaha over Helen Razer’s anti-YA diatribe in Crikey’s Daily Review because when it hit the interwebs, I was actually spending the day with children’s author Stephen Measday and twelve 9-13 year olds at a writers’ camp we delivered this week at the day job. That’s what I do. I work with kids and teens who love to read, and who love to write. I’ve been doing it for nearly 30 years, one way or another, and in the course of that time, I have read thousands of children’s and young adult books, and I’ve written about them quite a lot, too. Books by writers from all around the world, everything from wordless picture books through the simplest series fiction for reluctant readers to challenging literary fiction for older children and teenagers. It’s a huge field, and a broad church, which includes books for young people of all ages, from pre-literate pre-schoolers through to sophisticated older teenagers. And it’s one that attracts some of the most rigorous literary study from academics all around the world.

But there’s one thing it has—or ought to have—in common with any other art form, literary, visual, performing, whatever. And that is, you don’t get to, with any credibility, write about it unless you’ve read it.

So I’m not going to critique Ms Razer’s article on that very basis—I haven’t read it. Because, seriously, why would I. (Plenty of other people have, though, and I will link to their responses at the end of this post.) Because I’ve read maybe dozens of similar uninformed and insulting arguments about children’s and youth literature, and the people who read it—including its primary audience, kids and teens. So I feel like I’m in a position to offer would-be commentators on the topic a few words of advice. So here they are:

Top Ten Tips for Writing about Books for Children and Teenagers.

1. Read the books. No, not just The Fault in our Stars or Hunger Games or whatever happens to be on the bestseller lists at the time. Read widely, read historically. The first books published specifically for children emerged in the 18th century, so you’ve got some catching up to do. Start now, and maybe in a  few years time you’ll have the basis for some informed commentary on The Latest Big Thing.

2. Children’s and YA are not interchangeable terms. Children’s Literature and Young Adult Literature have well-examined and defining tropes, themes and forms. Yes, there are grey areas, but you won’t be able to write authoritatively about them until you know the parameters. Start with some of the excellent introductory academic texts on the subject: Perry Nodelman and Mavis Reimer’s The Pleasures of Children’s Literature or Michael Cart’s From Romance to Realism: 50 Years of Growth and Change in Young Adult Literature

3. Do not patronise the readership. Young readers can be remarkably acute, astute and critical in their reading. And if you don’t actually like children and teenagers, then you won’t be sympathetic to their literature, so find something else to write about.

4. Don’t assume they read the same way adults do—they don’t. And don’t generalise about what all young people do or do not like.

5. Try and find some points of reference beyond Catcher in the Rye and Lord of the Flies. Same goes for writing as if JK Rowling invented the “witches at boarding school” genre. You are simply demonstrating the limits of your research and reading. In other words, see Point 1. 

6. Be aware of the implicit sexism in your dismissive attitudes towards children’s and young adult literature. Despite the public profile of a handful of male writers, the field has long been dominated by women at every level; writers, publishers, teachers, librarians. This is not always reflected in awards or magazine feature profiles, but it’s the truth, and like all female-dominated professions, it attracts a lack of respect at best and out-and-out contempt at worst. 

7. If you know your stuff, you may well be in a position to make some actually important and well-founded criticism of literature for young people, such as: the lack of cultural diversity in books for young readers, the heavy gendering of books, fat-shaming in kids’ and YA books, the lack of representation of characters with disability, and shamefully, in this country, the lack of LGBTQ characters and stories. Deduct points, however, if you ever entertain using the phrase ‘political correctness’ in your review/opinion piece/brain fart. 

8. Remember that reading is a democratic pastime and stop being a fascist about what people can or should read. The truth of the matter is, there are more books now for readers of all ages, abilities and interests, and that is something to be celebrated, not condemned. 

9. None of this is to say that children’s or YA books should be above thoughtful, critical analysis and discussion. On the contrary, those of us who have made children’s and YA literature our life’s work wish above all else that the books were treated with the same critical respect and rigour of any other form of literature. Honestly. Why else do we bang on about the lack of review space for them? We’re not masochists. We’d rather be reading.

Which brings me to:

10. Read the damn books. Thanks. 

fascists

Look. I get it. We’ve all been guilty of bluffing at some point in our careers, but the truth is, you never get away with it, and when you’re taking someone’s good money to do so and trashing the status of a whole artistic and professional field you know nothing of and care less about? Shame on you.

Here are other people’s takes on Razer’s piece. They obviously have stronger constitutions than me.

Danielle Binks in Kill Your Darlings.

Ellie Marney at her blog hick chick click

Updated 3/10/2014 to add this direct link to Alison Croggon‘s excellent comment in response to Razer’s original article.

*Again, I am quite sure Leiberman read the damn stories. However, her interest was more socio-cultural than literary and the distinction between the numerous written texts and the Disney films was clearly of less interest to her than her overall thesis about fairy tales from a feminist perspective.  If you want to know what conclusions I came to in my MA thesis, ask me, but I’ll have to go excavating for the file!


Kylie Fornasier’s Masquerade

Back on August 2, I spoke at the launch of Kylie Fornasier‘s debut young adult novel Mafornasiersquerade. I initially met Kylie through my work at WestWords, and since then, we have become friends and colleagues. Masquerade is Kylie’s first YA novel (she has published a chapter book and has a picture book scheduled for 2015), and there was huge buzz about it prior to the publication date. It’s getting rave reviews on Goodreads and blogs, and the clamour for a sequel is not going away. Kylie’s a top woman, and she has written a terrific book. Here is the speech I gave, with photos.

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It’s both an hour and a pleasure to be here today to speak at the launch of Kylie’s wonderful YA novel, Masquerade. I first met Kylie a couple of years ago, in her role as teacher-librarian at Old Guildford Public School, when I accompanied the author-illustrator Leigh Hobbs to the school. Kylie had come in on her day off to host the visit, and if that wasn’t enough to convince me of her dedication to those kids and books, my good impression of her was confirmed by one of her students—a boy named Aaron, I think he was in Year 5 or 6—who had been working for some time on an epic spec fiction novel. Aaron stayed back after the session with Leigh was finished, keen to pick the visiting author’s brains as clean as possible, and it became evident that Kylie was a huge support to this young writer. She treated him seriously, as a fellow writer, and obviously spent a lot of time and patience with him, guiding him and sharing her own development as a writer as he worked on his novel.

Back then, Kylie was as yet unpublished, although her chapter book, The Ugg-Boot War, was contracted, and she spoke then of her YA novel-in-progress, and picture books she was working on. And it was quite obvious to me that this was no ‘wanna-be’, but that Kylie was serious not just about getting published, but serious about her craft. She was willing to do the work, and to give to her writing career the same attention and patience she gave to Aaron and I am sure, all her students, writers or not.

Since then, I have come to know Kylie as both a colleague and a friend. She’s shared with me her journey to publication, and I have offered her what support and advice I have been able to give. And she’s offered me some very welcome support in return, I can assure you. And when I say colleague, I mean that literally—As you know, I run the WestWords project for young readers and writers in greater western Sydney, and for the past year, Kylie has been the leader of our young writers group that meets every week at Blacktown Arts Centre. This dedicated group of young writers, aged about 12-15 years of age, get together every Thursday afternoon to develop their skills and share their writing. They even spent 12 hours of a day in their school holidays earlier this year writing a book for the Write a Book In a Day competition, run by the Katherine Susannah Pritchard Writers’ Centre, in support of children’s hospitals across Australia. And Kylie spent those 12 hours with them—and we weren’t paying her to do it, either. This one was their own initiative, led by Kylie, and another example of her enormous dedication to those young writers and to the craft of writing itself.

BYW Masquerade launch

Kylie with members of the WestWords Young Writers’ Group at the Masquerade launch.

And I know Kylie is also an enormously valued, loved and respected member of a writers group that meets here in Penrith, and that she extends that support and dedication to her fellow writers, who this time happen to also be grown-ups. Some of those writers are acknowledged in Masquerade, and are of course, here today.   

So that’s Kylie the teacher and mentor and friend—but what of Kylie the writer, and what of the book we are here to celebrate today? Well, the first thing I can say about it, is I loved it, and the scone thing I can tell you is that it is quite unlike any other YA fiction currently gracing the shelves of libraries and bookshops. I read a lot of young adult and children’s books, and I also read a lot of unpublished work—students work, from a course I teach, and manuscripts from various sources. And while often in there there is exciting and interesting work, there’s also a lot of derivative, middle of the road, and not very well-written stuff designed for what the author thinks is the current YA market. So, lots of moody teenage girls, generally very beautiful but not realising it until the object of their affection—who for some time now, has been either an angel, a demon or yes, a vampire—shows them their true beauty. Or at the other end of the spectrum, very dark, not very witty, explorations of the dirty end of realism. Or environmental catastrophes—those are usually not very funny either, as you might expect. And to a point, there’s nothing wring with those stories, except that we’ve seen so many of them, and the author’s point seems more to be about getting published than being a writer.

Kylie Fornasier, however, is a writer. I know this, not from what I know of her personally, but from having read her book. There is love and dedication to every aspect of storytelling on every page of this book. And there’s a joy and a genuine originality to her work that makes Masquerade such an absolute pleasure to read. In case you do not know the premise of the novel, it is set in 18th century Venice, the republic known as Serenissima, meaning “the most serene”. The season is Carnevale, and even without having read the book, if you know anything about Carnevale, you will know that there is very little that’s serene about it. Instead, it is a time of endless parties and secret assignations, of forbidden romance, of panoply and playfulness—mostly enjoyed by the wealthy merchant classes and aristocracy of course, but in Kylie’s Venice, at least, the servants also have their moments of mystery and adventure behind the masks and alongside the palazzi and canals of that most remarkable and romantic of all the European cities. 

Kylie has organised her story a little like one of Shakespeare’s more complicated comedies—and it’s not accident, of course, that each section, or Act of the book, begins with a very appositely chosen epigraph, or quoit, from one of Shakespeare’s plays—mostly comedies, which of course in Shakespearean terms means romance—and mostly set in Italy. Or an Italy of Shakespeare’s imaginings, because as far as we know, he never went there, and of course we know Kylie has. More of that later. And like a great Shakespearean comedy, there is a marvellous cast of characters, laid out conveniently for the reader at the beginning of the novel like the cast of players at the start of a play—very handy to refer back to if, like me, you have trouble remembering names.  And as in Shakespearean comedy, we have in Masquerade forbidden romance (and not a little sex!), mistaken and hidden identities, boys dressed as girls—and oh boy, do I want to know more about that Marco—, and girls dressed as boys. There are wittily bickering lovers, secret assignations, family mysteries, balcony scenes, sword fights, heroes of both sexes, villains and fools. (I fully expected one of the characters to be revealed to be wearing yellow cross-gartered stockings! That’s one for the Shakespeare nerds among us.)

I said earlier that there is love on every page of the novel, and it’s evident that Kylie really loves these characters, even, perhaps especially, the wicked ones. Each is precisely drawn by character and voice, and in some instances, by costume—there’s that theatre analogy again. Indeed, so lovingly described are the costumes that I am just waiting for the first, not fan fiction but fan illustration tumblr, where some dedicated young reader will bring to life each of the gowns, masks, cloaks, swords and other deliciously described props and costumes that adore both the characters and the book itself.

Unlike most YA fiction, there are as many storylines in Masquerade as there are characters, and bucking a trend that goes back decades, the novel is written in an assured 3rd person narrative voice. No clichéd first person YA voice here. There’s a confidence in Kylie’s narrative voice in Masquerade that belies the fact that this is only her first published novel. We get the sense of almost a chess-master behind the scenes, directing each of the characters in their complicated moves, across dance floors, across the city and across hearts. There’s a very pleasing lightness of touch, but there’s also a dark thread through the story. Not every promise is kept, either to the characters or, bravely, to the reader. It’s no wonder everyone on goodreads and Twitter is calling out for a sequel. While Kylie gives us much in Masquerade—and I hope I am not straying to close to spoilers here—there is much more left unsaid, alliances left incomplete, hearts left unhealed, and perhaps even identities yet to be fully revealed in this version of the City of Masks.

And let us not forget what lies at the heart of Masquerade—the city of Venice, in all its glory. Although in the real history of the world, Masquerade takes place in the final decades of the Republic of Venice, in Kylie’s Venice, the city is shown as perhaps the most desirable place in the world to be—for the rich and hedonistic, of course, although it has to be said that the servants also get their fair share of both the pleasures and tyrannies of this city state. But the lasting impression of Kylie’s Venice is that of a real city, and a real time and place. We don’t see a lot of historical fiction for teenagers in this country, and I think that’s a shame. Australian writers have always been excellent tellers of history, and not just of our own. And while, as I said, Kylie’s Venice is not exactly the real Venice, nevertheless, her research is both deep and transparent—you never get the feeling, as is often the case with historical fiction, that her research is showing. She’s obviously fully absorbed the ambience and the geography of the city, both from her extensive book-based research, and from her time spent there during the writing of the final drafts of the novel. 

masqueradeSo, on every level, I commend to you Masquerade. It’s a book that shines with its respect for its young readership, but that can also, will also, is also being appreciated by readers of all ages. There are characters and stories—and frocks—to please every reader. I hope that you will all join me in congratulating Kylie and in wishing her, and Masquerade, every success in the world. Or, as the Italians would say, Buona fortuna! To which, I am told reliably by Signor Google, the response is Crepi!

Buona Fortuna, Kylie—here’s to more of Orelia, Angelique and the rest of the players, and to many, many more books of all kinds in the years to come.  

Kylie signing books

Kylie signing books at the launch

Maquerade cake

Cake!