Feb 27

Books Writers Read with Kate Gordon

Author interview
Author: Kate Gordon (Website, Blog, Twitter, Goodreads)

SONY DSCI am very pleased to welcome Kate Gordon to Reading Upside Down. I started chatting with Kate on Facebook and Twitter after reading her amazing YA novel, Writing Clementine.

What book(s) are you currently reading?
I’ve just tonight finished the astonishing A Small Madness, by Dianne Touchell. It’s a book that will stay with me for a long time. Bleak, confronting, and a truly accomplished work of literature. If it doesn’t win all of the awards, I’d be very disappointed. I’m about to start the first in the Pandora Jones series, by Barry Jonsberg. I’ve been meaning to read these for ages – I’m a huge fan of Jonsberg – and am glad I’m finally getting around to it. Exciting!

Do you have a favourite genre? What do you enjoy most about it?
Nope! Not at all. I’ll read anything. I guess I’m predisposed to children’s and YA literature, but I read quite a lot of general fiction, too (though I steer clear of the super-literary end of the spectrum – not clever enough for that stuff), and I’m a bit addicted to memoirs and autobiography.

Do you have a book you like to re-read? If yes, which book?
I read Tess of the d’Urbervilles at least once a year. It’s my favourite ever (the fact that my daughter is called Tessa attests to that). Despite generally being attracted to more upbeat fiction, there’s something about Tess’ spiral into blackness that grips me every time. I have to restrain myself from shouting, “Don’t do it!!!” at the page every time I read it. I also often reread The Catcher in the Rye. It was my first ever proper YA. It squeezes my heart every time I read it. And, if I’m after some proper comforting, I’ll reread Queen Kat, Carmel and St Jude Get a Life – my favourite when I was a teen. It is one of the greatest accomplishments of my life to have a testimonial on the cover of the latest reprint. It’s a beautiful book.

Where do you read most often? Why?
I read most often in a dark room, listening to my daughter breathe. I steal little gobbled treats of words while she naps. There’s something delicious about sneaky reading in the darkness. Reminds me of being a kid, reading under the covers by torchlight!

Do you have a favourite book from your childhood?
As a very small child, I loved books by Babette Cole and Graeme Base – I pored over The Eleventh Hour so many times I think I could reproduce it from memory – if I could draw! Robin Klein was my big obsession as I got a bit older, and a tremendous series by Jill Murphy called The Worst Witch. I so identified with the hapless Mildred Hubble. And I loved Seven Little Australians. It’s another book I reread often. I also had a secret obsession with The Babysitter’s Club. Ssh. Don’t tell anyone! Oh, and then there began my passion for Tamora Pierce. And the Nick Earls phase began … Sorry, too hard to answer that one. I think it’s why I’m stuck in writing and reading books for young people. There’s just too much good stuff there.

How do you choose which book to read next – Cover? Blurb? Recommendation from a friend? Reviews?
Oh, golly. All of the above. If I’m in a physical bookshop, a cover might grab my attention, and a blurb will lead me to buy. Quite often, nowadays, though, I get my recommendations from social media. The books people are raving about on Facebook, or the ones publishers are talking up on Twitter are the ones I’ll often scout for. Also, I am “friends” with so many authors on Facebook, it’s often a job just keeping up with their publications! This year, I’m trying to read a bunch of YA from all over Australia, so that will keep me busy for a while!

You can put one book you have written and one book by another author into a time capsule that will be opened in 100 years. Which books would you choose and why?
Writing Clementine is the book I am most proud of, and the one I’d most love to share with people in the future. As for a book by another author? Probably something by Shaun Tan – The Lost Thing or The Rules of Summer are books I think should definitely be read for hundreds or thousands of years.

Can you share little bit about your current or latest writing project?
I’m fiddling with a few things at the moment, as usual. I’m editing a YA project called Tiger, about a young girl dealing with a tragedy in her life, set on the backdrop of my hometown, the supermarket where I used to work, and the rural football community. I love it and I can’t wait for it to be read. I’m also working on a couple of middle grade projects as it’s an area I really want to explore. I’m still practising, but I’m getting better!

Writing clementine

Kate Gordon is an Australian author of young adult fiction. Her novels include Three Things about Daisy Blue, Thyla and its sequel Vulpi, and Writing Clementine. You can find out more about Kate at her website, which includes a wonderful blog where she shares her thoughts. You can also connect with Kate on Twitter (@misscackle).

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Feb 23

Finding Focus

I wrote several years ago about my suburban mum camouflage wardrobe in its many shades of brown, tan, beige, khaki and black. I’ve recently noticed that I’ve started drifting back to old habits, not only with my clothing, but in my life in general – bland, lacking in direction and simply drifting along without any real sense of purpose.

Not that I haven’t been busy and active. I’m still involved as Managing Editor of Kids’ Book Review, a volunteer role that I love and am very proud of, and I’ve managed to reactivate this blog with semi-regular posts including the Books Writers Read interviews, which I’m really enjoying. My first picture book, Don’t Think About Purple Elephants, will be published in April this year with the launch at the Newcastle Writers’ Festival in March and I have a few other story ideas in various stages of completion. I’m involved with the CBCA and SCBWI, meet regularly with other local authors and illustrators, and talk about books and reading with anyone who makes the mistake of showing even the vaguest interest in the topic.

On the surface, it would seem that I’m actually quite focused and motivated, but I know that I’m still trying to do All The Things, which sounds great, but in reality leads to chronic procrastination, indecisiveness and a feeling of being overwhelmed and ineffectual.

I was trying to write a blog post about all the gentle (and no so gentle) messages about finding focus I’ve had over the past couple of weeks when the following image popped up on Facebook, that ultimate haven for procrastinators. Thank you, The Writer’s Circle, for this visual prompt.

She Wrote What She Wanted


It’s time to write what I want to write; to stop over-thinking everything and simply get the words down on the page. It’s time to prioritise writing the stories that I have scribbled notes for. It’s time to write blog posts about issues that matter to me. It’s time to stop trying to work out what point there is in researching the topics of diversity in children’s literature and STEM themes in books for children and simply research them. The destination will work itself out if I simply start along that path.

This week will be a planning week. It’s time to get some details down on paper – goals, timelines, routines. Working from home is wonderful, but it’s also fraught with the danger of losing all sense of structure and motivation. It’s so easy to get distracted and lose focus.

It seems appropriate to conclude by thanking the people who directly and indirectly have inspired this post:

Thank you to my lovely friends Anj (from Your Literary Coach) and Kerri for your encouraging words during the past week which have helped me to come to this point.

Thank you Kate Gordon for writing with such clarity and passion and inspiring me to do the same.

Thank you Carol Duncan for being generally awesome and for your passion for building community and valuing individuals. You are a champion of the people and a true inspiration.

Thank you Reena from The Mummy Project for listening to my rambling about diversity and helping me to connect to the reality of how important this topic is.

Thank you Steven Herrick for taking the time out to tell me what I already knew was true and for being steadfast in your message that the work of writers and other creatives should be valued.

Thank you to the commissioning editor who read my rambling junior fiction series concept and very kindly pointed out the lack of focus and direction. You are right and I’m hoping my attempts to refocus in other areas will help me find the sense of purpose for the character of Isabelle as well.

Thank you to the wonderful staff at the Australian Council of the Arts who offered advice and answered my questions about the new grants process. I’m very grateful for your time and will hopefully put together a much more cohesive grant application in time for the next application deadline.

Thank you to the Facebook algorithms and serendipitous timing of Twitter that put so many links to articles about diversity in children’s literature in my newsfeed over the past week.

And thank you to my lovely friend Tania McCartney for sharing your own journey towards finding focus. I can’t wait to see what 2015 has in store for us both.

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Feb 20

Books Writers Read with Belinda Landsberry

Author Interview
Author: Belinda Landsberry (Website, Blog, Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads)

Belinda LandsberryI am very pleased to welcome Belinda Landsberry to Reading Upside Down. I first met Belinda through her success with the Kids’ Book Review Unpublished Picture Book Manuscript Award and am delighted to now be interviewing her as a published author.

What book(s) are you currently reading?
I can never read just one book at a time so at the moment I’m reading The Water Diviner by Andrew Anastasios and Meaghan Wilson-Anastasios and The Pixar Touch by David A. Price

Do you have a favourite genre? What do you enjoy most about it?
I have a couple of favourite genres – children’s fiction (including picture books), YA, fantasy, biographies and historical fiction probably take up most of my bookshelf space.

Do you have a book you like to re-read? If yes, which book?
I have a few! I love re-reading The Paper Bag Princess by Robert Munsch and Noisy Nora by Rosemary Wells. I also re-read Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, The Shape of Three by Lilith Norman, A Lamp is Heavy by Sheila Mackay-Russell, To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, Lord of the Flies by William Golding and The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien.

Where do you read most often? Why?
I actually read most often in the car while I’m waiting at traffic lights or for my daughter to finish art class after school. I know I probably shouldn’t read at traffic lights but reading not only makes the jolly things turn green that much faster – but it also makes the trip considerably more pleasant.

Do you have a favourite book from your childhood?
Cherry Ames Student Nurse. As a child, I wanted to be a nurse more than anything else in the world so I devoured every “nurse romance/adventure” book I could find. I can still recite the opening paragraph which I learned by heart by age 7.

How do you choose which book to read next – Cover? Blurb? Recommendation from a friend? Reviews?
All of the above. I actually DO judge a book by its cover – literally –but probably my biggest influence is by recommendation. I think “word of mouth” is invaluable.

You can put one book you have written and one book by another author into a time capsule that will be opened in 100 years. Which books would you choose and why?
Without a doubt I would put my first published book Anzac Ted in there. Not just for sentimental reasons but because in 100 years it will be the bicentenary of the landing at Gallipoli – and that’s pretty special. I would also put Lord of the Flies by William Golding in there, quite simply because it’s timeless.

Can you share little bit about your current or latest writing project?
I have a few right now. I’m just polishing the sequel to Anzac Ted as well as just starting another war-themed chapter book for older readers. I have a YA I’m still plotting and planning and I’m currently illustrating a number of picture book manuscripts which I have piled on my desk.

No rest for the wicked!


anzac ted


Belinda Landsberry is an Australian author and illustrator of books for children and teens. Her first picture book, Anzac Ted, is wonderful way to share the story of our First World War veterans with young children. Visit the Anzac Ted website for more information. You can visit Belinda’s website and Facebook page for more information about her writing and illustrations and you can also chat with Belinda on Twitter (@bjlandsberry).

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Feb 13

Books Writers Read with Alyssa Brugman

Author Interview
Author: Alyssa Brugman (Website, Twitter, Goodreads)

Alyssa Brugman 2I am very pleased to welcome Alyssa Brugman to Reading Upside Down. I have read several of Alyssa’s YA novels, but was particularly impacted by her most recent novel, Alex as Well.

What book(s) are you currently reading?
The Fifth Elephant – Terry Pratchett
Drunk Tank Pink – Adam Alter
The Map that Changed the World – Simon Winchester

Do you have a favourite genre? What do you enjoy most about it?
I read a little bit of everything really. Non-fiction, general fiction, young adult, picture books, sci fi, fantasy. Cook books. Cereal boxes. Street signs. Everything.

Do you have a book you like to re-read? If yes, which book?
I have so many new books that are unread that I rarely reread, unless I’m going to write something about that book.

Where do you read most often? Why?
On the plane. I do quite a lot of traveling, and it’s a great opportunity to zone out and immerse completely in a book. I have a kindle app on my phone so really I can read anywhere. I can read while I am waiting to pick up my kids from school, or in a queue at the post office. I am a convert to ebooks, because of this versatility, but it does make reading disjointed. Being able to read an actual paper book for several hours is a luxury.

Do you have a favourite book from your childhood?
Many! Can I go on and on? I have been rediscovering some picture books that were favourites. The Lion in the Meadow, Canonball Simp (lots of John Burningham), My Naughty Little Sister and Bad Harry’s Rabbit (lots of Dorothy Edwards), Dogger, Ned and the Joyballoo. Rummage by Christobel Mattingly. I now enjoy reading these oldies as well as what’s new to my own children.

I loved The Bugalugs Bum Thief, The Mouse and the Motorcycle, and Runaway Ralph. The Nargun and the Stars, Storm Boy (of course), The Owl Service, The Weird Stone of Brisingham, and the others in that trilogy, anything by Alan Garner. I adored the Wolves Chronicles by Joan Aiken. All of the Famous Fives, but not Secret Seven. The Anne Chronicles. The Narnia Chronicles. Dawntreader was my favourite. Worzel Gummidge. Catweazel. All of Judy Blume’s books. All of the Dr Who books. Then all of the Paul Zindel books. Papio. Fortress. The Bumblebee Flies Anyway. I didn’t love The Chocolate War because it didn’t have any strong female characters, but I liked lots of other Robert Cormier books.

I read all of the Georgette Heyer books and all of the Agatha Christies. Even at twelve or so I had an interest in plotting. I used to write down who I thought the killer was on a strip of paper and slip it in to that page – trying to guess correctly earlier and earlier in the book. What is this character’s purpose? This character has no purpose, therefore he/she is the killer. Ursula le Guin’s Earthsea trilogy, then Magician by Feist. Not Tolkien. Too much walking. Walk, walk, walk. Should I stop now?

How do you choose which book to read next – Cover? Blurb? Recommendation from a friend? Reviews?
I probably listen to the radio more than I read books, and books are often discussed in my favourite podcasts. The beauty of all this technology is that if I hear about a book I am interested in I can buy it immediately, and then they are there on my phone for later. Which means I end up with a lot of books to read later!

You can put one book you have written and one book by another author into a time capsule that will be opened in 100 years. Which books would you choose and why?
Oh that’s so hard! If you asked me a week from now I would pick a different one.

If I wanted to speak to a future generation about who we are right now, I would probably pick Compassionate Bastard by Peter Mitchell about his experience running the Villawood detention centre. I am sure future Australians will be totally perplexed by how we are treating refugees right now, as are many of us who are living through it! This book helps to explain the politics of this time.

I wouldn’t put in any of mine!

Can you share little bit about your current or latest writing project?
I’ve just written a manuscript about a man who has a broken heart. I finished it some time ago, but the ending is wrong. A couple of my beta readers have said they don’t care enough about him, and I think I have figured out why. Characters need to choose between two things of equal value, and at the moment he doesn’t do that. Events unfold irrespective of the decisions he makes. I will need to rewrite the last third so that he is the master of his own destiny, then readers will invest more in him.

alex as well - brugman

Alyssa Brugman is an Australian author of novels for children and teens. Her books include the Shelby series, The Equen Queen, Alex as Well, Finding Grace, Girl Next Door and Walking Naked. Alyssa’s books have been translated into nine languages and have been shortlisted for numerous awards. Visit Alyssa’s website for more information about her books and author events. You can also find her on Twitter.

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Feb 10

Diversity in Children’s Literature. What Does It Mean?

I was intrigued last year when children’s author Wai Chim drew my attention to the #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign. Wai wrote an interesting guest post for Kids’ Book Review on the topic and we traded a few emails about it as well.

When a friend suggested that I apply for the Thiel Grant for Online Writing, diversity in children’s literature seemed like an obvious topic for me to use as the theme for my submission. I quickly put together an overview of the 50-week series of posts the grant application requires.

My thoughts on how to explore the topic didn’t end with my 150-word application. I have been madly scribbling notes on the issue for the past few weeks. There is so much to consider and I find the topic almost endlessly fascinating. So much so, that I’m actually putting together some thoughts on a much larger project than I initially anticipated.

Part of my fascination stems from the fact that the topic itself is so complex. What exactly does ‘diversity’ mean in relation to books for children and teens?

Is diversity simply an issue of ethnicity and culture? Is it about seeing protagonists in Australian literature that have non-majority ethnic backgrounds? Do these characters necessarily need to be the protagonists for the book to be considered to reflect diversity? Is it enough for secondary or tertiary characters to have obvious non-white European heritage? This is particularly relevant to the way Aboriginal Australians and indigenous culture is represented in books for children and teens in this country.

jessicas box - carnavas

Is diversity about drawing attention to something that makes a character different or is it about working those differences seamlessly into the background of the story, normalising those things that we might be inclined to view as unusual or ‘other’? Peter Carnavas’ recent re-release of his picture book Jessica’s Box is a perfect example of this latter approach. The story is exactly the same as the original edition except that Jessica is portrayed in a wheelchair in the illustrations.

Jessica's Box - Wheelchair

Is diversity about representing different faiths and world views? There are certainly books that overtly focus on the practices and beliefs of specific religious groups, but is diversity more about characters within a book identifying with a particular faith or world view separate to the main focus of the story?

Is diversity dependent on the author and/or illustrator? Can a book be considered as promoting diversity if it has mainstream characters but the author identifies with a particular culture, ethnicity or faith? Can a mainstream author produce a book with diverse characters and fulfil the ‘diversity’ requirements?

Is diversity about finding a balance in the way different genders are portrayed, showing male and female characters in a variety of work and social situations that challenge gender stereotypes?

What about other issues that seem poorly represented in children’s literature – visible disabilities, blended and non-traditional families, lifestyle, geographical location, variations in sexual orientation, or even diversity in occupations that characters pursue, such as female characters undertaking STEM-based occupations. (STEM = Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics)

For me, diversity encompasses all this and more. As writers and illustrators, as teachers and librarians, and as parents, we are involved in shaping the way our children and teens view the world through the books they read and engage with. Do these books offer our children characters they can relate to, who reflect the diversity that is present in their community? Do our stories help our children feel that they belong, or do they further marginalise some children and reinforce the message that they are outsiders?

I would love to know what you think. Do you think Australian children’s literature is already sufficiently diverse, or do you think there are areas we can improve? Do you think it’s even an issue worth considering? What aspects of diversity do you think are under or over represented in children’s literature? If you’re an author or illustrator, how important is it for you to incorporate diversity into your work, and if you’re a reader, how much does it influence your choice of books for yourself and your children?

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Feb 06

Books Writers Read with Joanne Fedler

Author Interview
Author: Joanne Fedler (Website, Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads)

Joanne FedlerI am very pleased to welcome Joanne Fedler to Reading Upside Down. I have admired Joanne’s writing for several years and was very excited to be included in the advance reader group for her new book on parenting teens.


What book are you currently reading?
Just one? I read about 20 at once… but right now Small Victories: Spotting improbable moments of Grace by Anne Lamott has my full attention.

Do you have a favourite genre? What do you enjoy most about it?
I go through reading moods. In 2014 I read a heap of business and self-improvement books like The Soul of Money by Lynne Twist, and Start with Why by Simon Sinek. The year before, I gorged on books on parenting and the writing process. I think I have favourite authors rather than favourite genres and will read anything new by some of my favourite authors like Anne Lamott, Jonathan Franzen, Lionel Shriver, Alice Sebold, Toni Morrison or Helen Garner. I am still waiting for Steve Toltz to release a book after A Fraction of the Whole.

Do you have a book you like to re-read? If yes, which book?
I re-read all my Mary Oliver books of poetry.

Where do you read most often? Why?
In bed.Because it’s comfortable and the cat often joins me.

Do you have a favourite book from your childhood?
The Magic Faraway Tree series and Mr Galliano’s Circus by Enid Blyton.

How do you choose which book to read next – Cover? Blurb? Recommendation from a friend? Reviews?
I get a lot of ideas from Brain Pickings. New releases by favourite authors. A stunning review. I am indiscriminate. I don’t usually go on recommendations by friends unless they know what my reading preferences are. Books – like relationships – are intensely personal and what one person ‘loves’, I may hate. I fucking hated Gone Girl. I mean, it was a bestseller and all. And a page turner, no doubt, but I hated it.

You can put one book you have written and one book by another author into a time capsule that will be opened in 100 years. Which books would you choose and why?
I’d probably pick It Doesn’t Have to Be So Hard – the secrets to finding and keeping intimacy, because 1) that book was stillborn first time round and didn’t have a decent life 2) intimacy will never go out of date or fashion. Love will always be our core need, and we are getting worse and worse at real intimacy the greater we advance technologically. So of all my books, that one will probably best serve whatever is left of humanity in 100 years’ time. That’s if people even know what a real book is by then *shudder*

I’d also choose Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree – to remind us rabid, greedy humans not to keep taking from the natural world, lest we be left with a stump.

Can you share little bit about your current or latest writing project?
My latest book Love in the Time of Contempt: consolations for parents of teenagers (Hardie-Grant) has just been published. I’ve adopted a slightly unorthodox approach to its release by getting 200 ‘early adopters’ on board. I convinced my publisher to give away 200 free ebook copies to these readers, and in return, they agreed to read and review the book before its release. (There’s also a competition with prizes for the most active early adopter).

Many book sites work on activity – so if a book is being bought, read and reviewed, it gets ranked, which means that it is more easily found by casual browers (cyberspace is a labyrinth). Authors need the help of enthusiastic readers to get the word out about their books.

I’ve also launched the campaign, A Million Connected Parents – my aim is to get my book into the hands of a million parents of teenagers. I want to speak to parents, educators and organizations to help spread the message that parents need to stay connected to our teenagers. It’s crucial to their emotional survival. I believe the right book at the right time can change our lives – maybe even save a life. So I’m pretty consumed with managing all this for the next few months.

Beyond that, I have about four other books waiting to emerge – one is for aspiring authors; there’s a sequel to When Hungry, Eat, a work of literary fiction, and a little Anne Lamott-ish book about passion and how to suck the juice out of life. I have no idea which I’ll commit to next.

I’ll probably focus on getting an online writing course up and running so that people who can’t afford to come on a retreat with me can have access to all my materials.




Joanne Fedler is an internationally best-selling author of nine books, including fiction titles Secret Mothers’ Business and The Reunion (my review) and non-fiction When Hungry, Eat. Her latest book, Love in the Time of Contempt: Consolations for Parents of Teenagers (my review) is published by Hardie Grant and is supported by the A Million Connected Parents campaign. Joanne is also a writing mentor and facilitates writing retreats. You can find out more about Joanne and her writing by visiting her website or Facebook page or chat with her on Twitter.

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Feb 05

Review: Love in the Time of Contempt by Joanne Fedler

Review: Love in the Time of Contempt by Joanne FedlerLove in the Time of Contempt: Consolations for Parents of Teenagers
Author: Joanne Fedler (Website, Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads)
Published by Hardie Grant Books, 2015-02-01
ISBN: 9781742707303
Genres: non-fiction, parenting
Pages: 272
Source: ARC received from publisher
Buy from Fishpond
When it comes to teenagers, truth is way scarier than fiction. Joanne Fedler draws upon her own current experiences as the parent of two teenagers, as well as interviews with other parents of teenagers to explore some of the numerous issues that one confronts as a parent of a teenager. In Love in the Time of Contempt, she skilfully guides us through the myriad of issues that come before you - from their changing, developing bodies, drinking and drugs, sex, friendships, appearance, relationships within the family, attitudes and ethics, schooling and authority and more. In her exploration of these issues and how they may manifest in our children, Joanne highlights how so much of our dealings with our teenagers is really about dealing with ourselves and being honest about our reactions. In turn we too examine our own values and behaviours to understand our lives together. Love in the Time of Contempt provides comfort and support as the reader recognises the real behaviours portrayed in the book (You are not alone!), and whilst there are not often easy answers to troubling behaviours, understanding goes a long way and empowers the parent to provide the right level of support in the best interests of all. How much and how little are questions which plague every parent and this book's wise counsel helps us to determine that for themselves.

NB: I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

While our teenagers wear their ‘no-one gets me’ attitude like a badge, as parents we long for reassurance that we aren’t alone; that someone else understands the fears and frustrations as well as the pride and joy brought into our lives by our teenage children.

Joanne Fedler’s book Love in the Time of Contempt: Consolations for Parents of Teenagers is a companion for parents of teens offering them the comfort of shared experience. Written with warmth, understanding, humour, honesty and a sense of mindful reflection, this book is like a conversation with a friend who is willing to bear her battle scars and share her triumphant (and not so triumphant) moments to encourage you as you navigate your own experience of parenting an adolescent.

This isn’t a ‘how to’ book for the parents of teens. Instead, it is a book that encourages us in our journey as adults – reconnecting us with our own adolescent angst and confusion and affirming that we are all still growing and learning. Together with our teens, we’re navigating new relationship boundaries and a new way of relating to each other and defining ourselves.

As I read through the book, I found myself underlining sentences and highlighting whole paragraphs that really struck a chord with me, not because Joanne and I parent our children the same way, but because I could relate to the mental and emotional experiences she shares, even if some of the physical situations were different.

Love in the Time of Contempt covers everything from physical to mental and emotional aspects of raising a teenager, both in terms of what your teen is going through and your own experiences as a parent. Adolescence is a period of great change for everyone in the household and I really appreciated the way Joanne shared her experiences of reassessing her own personal boundaries and priorities as she adjusted her parenting to better suit the new dynamics of her relationship with her teenage children.

Reading this book has made me more mindful of the spoken and unspoken messages I am giving my own children about my priorities and values. I have laughed, sighed, and nodded in agreement at various times and I know I will return to this book to gain insight into not only my children, but also into my own evolving identity, which is shifting from the all-consuming role of mother of young children to the much more autonomous role of mother of adults.

Reading this book left me wishing that I could catch up with Joanne Fedler for a coffee. That I could laugh with her over the ridiculous moments that inevitably occur in our lives as parents, be reassured when I share some of my doubts and concerns, and ultimately just chat about books and politics and life beyond children because parenting is as much about being distinct from my children as it is about being connected, especially with teens.

I can enthusiastically recommend this book to anyone with tweens or teenagers, or with friends who are dealing with teens. The book offers so much thoughtful advice for understanding your own motivations and knowing who you are as a person (rather than a parent), I’m sure that even those without children or with younger children would find information that was relevant and useful.

In conjunction with this book, Joanne is promoting a campaign to help parents connect with their teens called A Million Connected Parents. You can find more details on the A Million Connected Parents Facebook page.

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Jan 30

Books Writers Read with Rachael Craw

Author Interview
Author: Rachel Craw

Rachael CrawI am very pleased to welcome Rachael Craw to Reading Upside Down. I had numerous conversations with Rachael on Twitter before finally reading her amazing novel Spark and now I hope that she’ll share some hints in our conversations about what will happen in the sequel, because I don’t think I can wait for it to be published to find out.


What book(s) are you currently reading?
I have just finished the The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater and I went a bit mental raving about it on Goodreads. It was my very first Stiefvater and she may have knocked Patrick Ness from the throne of my YA author’s bookish heart. It was so beautifully written and I didn’t want it to end. My book hangover was such that I couldn’t bring myself to start anything new for almost 4 days! Unheard of for me. So I have just begun Meg Wolitzer’s Belzhar – I’m hoping it will help me get moving through my TBR.

Do you have a favourite genre? What do you enjoy most about it?
Probably magical realism. Isabel Allende (House of Spirits), Alice Hoffman (Blackbird House), Kate Atkinson (Human Croquet), Joanne Harris (Chocolat), Erin Morganstern (The Night Circus) and I love new YA author, Leslye Walton (The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender). I love the blurred lines between fantasy and reality – a world where the fantastic seeps into the fabric of real life, where metaphor takes physical form and marches about on the stage. However, my favourite author is Margaret Atwood and she belongs to a different camp. Her writing leaves me breathless. She is the master.

Do you have a book you like to re-read? If yes, which book?
I wouldn’t consider myself an avid fantasy reader (I dabble here and there) but The Lord of the Rings would be the most re-read book on my shelf. I go back to it every couple of years. I always cry when Gandalf dies and when they go to the Grey Havens.

Where do you read most often? Why?
My bed. Even during the day, I like to sit on my bed and read and hide from the children.

Do you have a favourite book from your childhood?
My favourite little person’s book would be The Tiger Who Came to Tea by Judith Kerr. The first book I read by myself was The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe. I was obsessed with that book and checked my wardrobe many times hoping for a portal (not even joking). I even wrote a stage adaption of it to perform when I was a teenager. I got permission from the Lewis estate and all!

How do you choose which book to read next – Cover? Blurb? Recommendation from a friend? Reviews?
Definitely cover art, blurb and previous enjoyment of an author’s work. I always read the first page of a book and if it spins my wheels I snap it up.

You can put one book you have written and one book by another author into a time capsule that will be opened in 100 years. Which books would you choose and why?
Oh crumbs, I guess that would have to be Spark because it’s my only published work! And the other would have to be Lord of the Rings.

Can you share little bit about your current or latest writing project?
Stray (book 2 of the ‘Spark’ trilogy) is about to go to the copy editor any minute now. It will be released in September this year. So, currently, I am working on book 3 Shield. The series is a YA sci-fi cross over with a pinch of contemporary, thriller and romance in the mix.

Spark is almost a superhero origins story. Evie learns she has been genetically engineered to protect her best friend from a Stray, a genetically engineered killer. She must learn to navigate her new physical and telepathic abilities and come to terms with her calling.

Stray is more of a moral dilemma story. Evie is torn between her family and friends, her sense of justice and duty when she defies the secret organisation behind the genetic experiment to help save a Stray. This places her at odds with those she loves and the Affinity Project whose strict protocols cannot allow a Stray to live.

Shield is about Evie’s battle to confront the injustices of the Affinity Project.

All this summarising makes the series sound big-time sci-fi but in many ways those details are simply the backdrop to very human drama, family, friendship, love (splendid kissing), exploring identity and free-will.



Born and raised in Christchurch, New Zealand, Rachael Craw’s experience as a high-school English teacher has given her a natural inclination for young adult literature. Spark, published by Walker Books Australia, is her debut novel and the first book in a sci-fi triology. The second book, Stray, will be published in September 2015. Visit Rachael’s website and Facebook page for the latest updates on her writing and other news or chat with her on Twitter.

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Jan 29

Review: Spark by Rachael Craw

Review: Spark by Rachael CrawSpark
Author: Rachael Craw (Website, Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads)
Series: Spark #1
Published by Walker Books Australia Pty, Limited, 2014
ISBN: 9781922179623
Genres: fiction, science fiction, young adult fiction
Pages: 461
Source: ARC received from publisher
Buy from Fishpond
Evie doesn't have a choice. One day she's an ordinary seventeen year old, grieving for her mother. The next, she's a Shield, the result of a decades old experiment gone wrong, bound by DNA to defend her best friend from an unknown killer.

The threat could come at home, at school, anywhere. All Evie knows is that it will be a fight to the death.

And then there's Jamie. Irresistible. Off-limits.

NB: I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

It has taken several months for Spark to appear at the top of my TBR pile, but once I started reading, I found it hard to put down. It took me about two days to read, thanks to numerous interruptions from kids at home on school holidays. In the end, I sat up until 2am to finish the story, unable to go to sleep until I found out how it ended. The excitement built through the final pages until I was almost breathless by the end, simultaneously elated by the conclusion of the story and devastated that I will have to wait almost a year before the second book in the series is available.

As the hook into a new trilogy, Spark ticks all the boxes. There is romance, action, drama, some interesting medical/scientific themes via the genetic engineering aspect, an element of danger and suspense, and some likeable and realistically complex characters.

The plot is intriguingly complex and rich in details including a back story of friendships and family history, as well as information about the genetic engineering program that triggers the ‘Shield’ aspect of Evie’s DNA. These details are revealed as the story unfolds in such a way that I had no trouble keeping everything straight, despite the multiple interruptions while I was reading.

I genuinely cared what happened to Evie, her aunt Miriam, and her friends Kitty and Jamie. I even cared about some of the ‘bad guy’ characters, as their motivations and inner struggles were revealed. Unexpected plot twists and some complex character dynamics kept me turning pages and have ensured that the next book in the trilogy, Stray, will be placed on the very top of my TBR pile when it is published.

Spark is a truly entertaining story, with some relevant themes, and multi-dimensional characters that add a sense of reality despite the sci-fi/supernatural genre. It’s one of those books that you can’t help but enthusiastically recommend to others.

I can’t wait to see how this story develops in the next two books.

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Jan 24

2015 Australia Day Book Giveaway Blog Hop

2015 Aust Day giveaway blog hop

I’m very pleased to be joining in the 2015 Australia Day Book Giveaway Blog Hop, hosted and organised by the wonderful Shelleyrae at Book’d Out.

I have three different prizes on offer featuring novels by Australian authors. Entry details are at the end of the post.  THIS GIVEAWAY HAS NOW CLOSED.


The delightful Lisa Heidke recently visited Reading Upside Down to answer my Books Writers Read questions. I have two of Lisa’s books, including her latest title It Started with a Kiss, to offer as a book pack giveaway.

it started with a kiss

It Started with a Kiss by Lisa Heidke (Allen & Unwin, 2015) (My review)
Friday Jones is distraught when Liam, her husband of nearly twenty years and the father of their teenage daughters, tells her their marriage is over.

Still heartbroken many months later, Friday is deeply flattered when a funny, handsome man takes an interest in her. From their very first kiss, Friday finds it difficult to control her attraction for him despite numerous warning signals.

When Friday’s best friend, Rosie, discovers Friday is risking further emotional pain she convinces her to end the relationship and join a dating website.

But not long after Friday dives into the world of online romance she takes a couple of wrong turns. Could one of her flings have become a little too obsessed with her? And has the time come to step back and take a good look at where she’s going in life?

Funny, poignant and inspiring, It Started with a Kiss is a story about love, desire and how sometimes heartbreak can lead to a much happier life.

stella makes good

Stella Makes Good by Lisa Heidke (Allen & Unwin, 2013) (My review)
Stella Sparks is on good terms with her ex-husband, Terry, despite the fact he left her for another woman. Stella’s philosophical – the marriage had run its course, they remain friends and the wellbeing of their kids is central to both of them.

Stella’s two closest friends, Carly and Jesse, envy her togetherness and wish they could emulate it. Jesse’s husband, Steve, is a control freak who’s driving her crazy, but she has two small children and can’t see a way out. Carly, meanwhile, suspects her husband is having an affair and isn’t sure what to do about it.

Stella’s life takes a distinctly upward turn when she meets a handsome, apparently single – no ring, anyway – father at her son’s school speech night. For Carly and Jesse, however, the search for happiness and fulfilment proves more elusive…

With a healthy dose of humour and romance Stella Makes Good is about the games we play, the secrets we keep, the unpredictable nature of life and the importance of female friendship.



I’ve had these novels sitting on a ‘books I should do something productive with’ pile for some time. They are both unread, but are a few years old. I also have copies on my own bookshelves and really enjoyed both of these books, so I’m pleased to have this opportunity to find a new home for these ‘spare’ copies.

manhattan dreaming - heiss
Manhattan Dreaming by Anita Heiss (Bantam, 2010) (My review)
From Manuka to Manhattan, Lauren’s going all the way!

Lauren is a curator at the NAG – the National Aboriginal Gallery in Canberra. She’s good at her job, passionate about the Arts, and focused on her work – that is, when she’s not focusing on Adam, half-back for the Canberra Cockatoos.

But Adam is a player, on and off the field. Lauren knows he’s the one, but he doesn’t seem to feel the same way about her. If she just waits long enough, though, surely he’ll realise how much he needs her?

Then her boss offers her the chance of a lifetime – a fellowship at the Smithsonian in New York. Lauren has to make some big decisions: The Man or Manhattan?

last summer

Last Summer by Kylie Ladd (Allen & Unwin, 2011)
Rory Buchanan has it all: looks, talent, charisma-an all around good-guy, he’s the centre of every party and a loving father and husband. Then one summer’s afternoon, tragedy strikes. Those who are closest to him struggle to come to terms with their loss. Friendships are strained, marriages falter and loyalties are tested in a gripping and brilliantly crafted novel about loss, grief and desire.

Told from the points of view of nine of the people who are mourning Rory, this riveting novel presents a vivid snapshot of contemporary suburban Australia and how we live now. Marriage, friendship, family-all are dissected with great psychological insight as they start to unravel under the pressure of grief. The characters live on the page; their lives are unfolded and their dilemmas are as real as our own.

Last Summer is a stunning novel about loss-the terrible pain of losing a husband, brother or friend-but also all those smaller losses that everyone must face: the loss of youth, the shattering of dreams, the fading of convictions and the change in our notions of who we thought we were. It is also about what comes after the loss: how we pick up the pieces and the way we remake our lives.



Australia has some phenomenally talented YA authors and these books are two highlights from the 2014 releases.

the incredible adventures of cinnamon girl

The Incredible Adventures of Cinnamon Girl by Melissa Keil (Hardie Grant, 2014)
Alba loves her life just as it is. She loves living behind the bakery, and waking up in a cloud of sugar and cinnamon. She loves drawing comics and watching bad TV with her friends. The only problem is she’s overlooked a few teeny details: Like, the guy she thought long gone has unexpectedly reappeared. And the boy who has been her best friend since forever has suddenly gone off the rails. And even her latest comic-book creation is misbehaving. Also, the world might be ending – which is providing awkward. As Doomsday enthusiasts flock to idyllic Eden Valley, Alba’s life is thrown into chaos. Whatever happens next, it’s the end of the world as she knows it. But when it comes to figuring out her heart, Armageddon might turn out to be the least of her problems.

the book of days

The Book of Days by K A Barker (Pan Macmillan, 2014)
Most people believe the best way to forget someone is to throw them down a well. Or lock them in a room with eight keys, or bury them at a crossroad in the thirteenth hour. But they’re wrong. The best way to forget someone is for them never to have existed in the first place.

When sixteen-year-old Tuesday wakes from sleep for the first time, she opens her eyes to a world filled with wonder – and peril. Left only with a letter from the person she once was, Tuesday sets out to discover her past with the help of her charming and self-serving guide, Quintalion.

Along the way she runs into mercenaries, flying cities, airships, and a blind librarian. But what is her connection with the mysterious Book of Days – a book that holds untold power…



  • To enter the giveaway, simply comment below and let me know the name of your favourite Australian author and/or book. Let me know which giveaway you want to enter by adding ‘Heidke’, ‘Backlist’ or ‘YA’ to your comment. You can enter for just one of the prizes or all three in the same comment.
  • Winning entries will be chosen at random.
  • Entry is only open to Australian residents. Books will be sent via Australia Post standard mail.
  • The winners will be contacted by email and announced on my Facebook page by the 29th January 2015. If a winner fails to contact me with postal details within one week of the announcement, a new name will be drawn for the relevant prize.
  • It isn’t a condition of entry, but I’d love for you to follow me on Facebook and Twitter.
  • Visit Shelleyrae at Book’d Out for the master list of the Australia Day Book Giveaway Blog Hop participants. There are lots of wonderful books on offer and you’ll discover some amazing Australian authors as you visit the various blogs.
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