For me, the perfect picture book combines an original idea with inventive storytelling and captivating illustration. Danny Blue's Really Excellent Dream ticks all of those boxes — in fact, it's so awesome that it's a book I wish I'd published myself!
Danny Blue lives in a rather blue world. He has blueberries for breakfast, eaten from a blue bowl with a blue spoon. Danny's full name is Daniel Periwinkle Blue, his favourite movie is The Blues Brothers, his favourite animal is the blue-tongued lizard. His father, Mr Blue, makes paint colours — they're all blue. You get the picture …
Then one night, Danny has a dream, about a blue whale, except that it's NOT BLUE! He tries to tell his dad about it but he actually has no words to describe it. But he can't forget about it, because it was such a Really Excellent Dream! So Danny sets about creating that extraordinary colour that was not blue.
Quirky humour leaps off every single page of this inspired book! My daughter and I both absolutely adore it. Max Landrak's word play is sensational (Danny riffs on his blues guitar, inspiration hits him like a bolt from the blue!) and his illustrations are packed with character. This is his first picture book — I hope there are many more to come.
Right now I feel as if I have as many books as this library! We've sold our house and will soon be moving — which means we have to sort through all our books and decide which ones to keep and which ones to sell or give away.
And we have THOUSANDS of books! They're piled in virtually every room of the house. There are bookshelves wherever you look. My husband even built our bed so that it incorporated bookshelves around the base!
But, we have decided that we are going to part with most of them. Increasingly, we're leaning towards a more minimalist lifestyle, with less 'stuff'. And while books are, of course, right at the top of my list of 'important stuff', they are still 'stuff'. It's simply not feasible for us to transport all of them to our new home.
So, I've developed two key questions as I sort through the shelves:
1. Do I love this book?
2. Will I read it again? (There are some I love that, for whatever reason, I know I won't read again.)
It it's not a 'yes' to both, then that book is moved to the 'set free to be enjoyed by others' room. It's a long and exhausting process, and I'll be very glad when I've finished.
I am a huge fan of Brené Brown's work. For anyone not familiar with her, she's a research professor at the University of Houston who has spent the past sixteen years studying courage, vulnerability, empathy and shame. She looks deep into the human spirit in her research and then responds by writing books that, for me, capture the essence of what it means to be truly human. I also highly recommend her TED talk on the power of vulnerability — it's been watched over 31 million times and is an internet phenomenon.
Her latest book is called Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone. The publisher's blurb describes it as: 'A timely and important new book that challenges everything we think we know about cultivating true belonging in our communities, organizations, and culture …'
I'd describe it as essential reading in this time of political, racial and gender turmoil. Everywhere I look at the moment, people seem to be hurling abuse at anyone who doesn't share their particular viewpoint. There's little room left for rational debate or even basic respect. Social media now means that hurtful, degrading, insulting and downright vile comments can be dashed off in seconds with the writer never having to come face to face with their victim. We urgently need to come together, to find a way to be true to our beliefs and ideals without fostering division and hatred along the way.
Braving the Wilderness offers us a blueprint for how to do just that. It's certainly not an easy path that Brené Brown outlines, but I think it's an important one, and one that I intend to embrace to the best of my ability. She bases the book around the acronym 'BRAVING':
B - Boundaries. You respect my boundaries and when you're not clear about what's OK and what's not OK, you ask. You are willing to say no.
R - Reliability. You do what you say you'll do. At work this means staying aware of your competencies and limitations so that you don't over-promise and are able to deliver on commitments and balance competing priorities.
A - Accountability. You own your mistakes, apologize, and make amends.
V - Vault. You don't share information or experiences that are not yours to share. I need to know that my confidences are kept and that you are not sharing with me information about other people that should be confidential.
I - Integrity. You choose courage over comfort. You choose what is right over what is fun, fast, or easy. And you choose to practise your values rather than simply professing them.
N - Non-judgment. I can ask for what I need, and you can ask for what you need. We can talk about how we feel without judgment.
G - Generosity. You extend the most generous interpretation possible to the intentions, words and actions of others.
In isolation, this might seem a bit idealistic, but Brené Brown's gift is the way she combines her research findings with real-life examples and case studies to make the theoretical completely practical. She also writes with warmth, humour and in a thoroughly down-to-earth style that is wonderfully 'real' and enjoyable.
As anyone who listens to the news or reads the papers will have seen, this is apparently the 'worst Australian flu season on record'. My family and I can vouch for that.
First, my husband went down … as if he'd been hit by a truck … which then reversed back over him. It's probably the sickest he's been since we've been married and for five days he was little more than an uncommunicative aching ball of misery.
Next, my daughter succumbed. It was the cough that brought her to her knees, with night after night of interrupted sleep leaving us all bleary-eyed and brain-dead.
And then the flu turned its sights on me. But, I have refused to go down without a fight. So far, I have resisted the raging temperature, rattling lungs and streaming snot that crippled my husband and daughter. Instead, I've endured a week of feeling pretty average that I'm hopeful will not develop further.
So, what has got us through the past fortnight? Books. Propped up in bed or curled up on couches, we've all turned to good books to perk us up. The husband has burned through Inheritors of the Earth: How nature is thriving in an age of extinction, which I will be reading next. The daughter has devoured books 3 and 4 in the Wings of Fire series. And I have been lucky enough to get my hands on an advance copy of Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow.
With a cover quote promising that 'readers will feel as though Harry Potter is meeting Alice in Wonderland', I had high expectations for this book and I haven't been disappointed. It's the debut novel for Australian author Jessica Townsend, and the book has already been sold in 28 territories, with film rights pre-empted by 20th Century Fox. While I'm still about 100 pages from the end, so far it's a wonderfully entertaining piece of world-building with endearing characters and an engrossing storyline. Look out for it online and in bookstores from October.
Today, I received an advance copy of each of the titles that Exisle Publishing and our children's picture book imprint EK Books will be publishing in November this year. Seeing an advance copy is both exciting and terrifying. In my role as Publisher for Exisle and EK, I'm responsible for each and every title — from receiving the initial manuscript to managing the editing and design process, right through to sending the final files off to the printers. It's a long and often involved process, with many opportunities for error. And even though everyone involved always does their absolute best at every stage, it's not until I've held an advance copy in my hand and made sure that I'm happy with it, that I can finally feel as if I've done my job properly!
I'm pleased to report that November's titles are both absolutely gorgeous and I can highly recommend them for your Christmas shopping list!
Feed Your Brain: The Cookbook is the ultimate resource for anyone wanting to eat in a way that maximises brain health. It's not just for people hoping to prevent dementia but for anyone looking to reduce stress or simply have more clarity of thought. Numerous studies have also shown that the right foods even have the ability to improve how our children learn. Best of all, the recipes in this book are DELICIOUS! Seriously delicious and easy too. Over the course of production, I've cooked many of them and they've all received the tick of approval from me, my husband and my daughter. The fact that they cater to those on gluten-free, dairy-free and vegan diets is just an added bonus.
Grace and Katie is a delightful picture book about twin sisters who disagree on just about everything. They both like art and drawing — but Grace likes to be neat and orderly, while Katie loves bold, bright colours. Not surprisingly, when they decide to draw a map of their home and street, it doesn't go entirely smoothly! Written by Susanne Merritt, the author of the much-loved and Speech Pathology Awards shortlisted Don't Think About Purple Elephants, and illustrated by multi-award-winning Liz Anelli, this is a fun-filled story of individuality, sisterhood, creativity and appreciating each other's strengths. Perfect for readers aged 5 and up.
So, that's the advances wrap-up for November 2017. Sadly, I won't receive an advance next month as we don't publish any titles in December, but I'll be back with a preview of January 2018 as soon as that long-anticipated parcel arrives!
This week I had to have my photograph taken, so that I could send through a media shot for my new book that's being released early next year.
Ideally, as the book is about happiness and features teapots, the publicity team wanted the pic to include me — looking 'happy and natural' – and a red teapot.
Well, my friend took several pics of me with a red teapot in shot, but they didn't come out nearly as well as this one. And while there might be no teapot, the gorgeous Dalmatian, owned by my friend, is appropriately enough named 'Happy'!
I have a new book coming out next year. It's due to be released in March 2018, and while I can't give away all the details yet, let's just say that it's about happiness and involves teapots — specifically, red ones.
Book production is a pretty long and involved process, so the design and layout of the book is already well advanced. And this week I got the call from publicity — 'We're soon going to be preparing our next catalogue; we need a pic of you, preferably with a red teapot.'
As someone who is much more comfortable behind a camera than in front of it, this is not a request I wanted to hear. I've managed to use the same 'media shot' of me for the last four years, and I guess I'd hoped to get a few more years out of it yet. But no, it seems the time for an update has come!
So, I have lined up a friend with a good camera, with whom I know I can relax and hopefully enjoy the process. Her brief is to capture me looking 'happy and natural'. She's got a tough job ahead of her as my 'natural' look in photographs tends more towards 'rabbit in headlights'. I will, of course, share what we come up with …
Just a short post for today, but it's on a subject that I've been pondering a lot lately. How can I get better at switching roles so that I can give my personal creativity and writing goals a chance to flourish?
You see, during my work day as a publisher and editor, I'm generally working with other people's text. When I'm assessing a manuscript, I'm immersing myself in the author's voice and style. When I'm editing or proofreading a manuscript, I'm intent on maintaining that same authorial voice and style, simply polishing it a little. The end result is that when I get to the end of the day and it's time for me to pursue some of my own book ideas, my head is full of other people's voices that tend to drown out my own!
So far, the only way I've been able to get my own writing done is in short intensive bursts over the Christmas/New Year period or when I'm on holiday. It's not ideal and it certainly doesn't make for consistent writing. I'm hoping that more regular blogging will help me to learn to flick the switch more easily, but if you've got any suggestions for me, I'd love to hear them!
It was such a wonderful thrill to receive an advance copy of my new book, Spirit, this week!
It's the third title in my series of books of animal quotes. First came Meow (for cat lovers), then came Woof (for dog lovers), and now there's Spirit, for all the horse lovers out there.
Collecting the quotes — by both famous and non-famous people — takes a while, but the real challenge is pairing each quote with a photograph to create the perfect match. That takes hours and days and weeks, but it's always such a great feeling to scroll through the final print-ready file and see how it's all come together.
Spirit will be available from bookshops, online stores, and the Exisle Publishing website from October — just in time for Christmas!
So, it came as quite a shock when I realised how long it is since I last blogged — all the way back to last October in fact! What can I say but time flies!
What have I been up to? Well, I went on a glorious holiday to New Zealand with my family. First to Wellington and then on to the South Island. Such a beautiful country with such wonderfully warm and welcoming people. Can't wait to go back.
At work, I've been busily sending books off to print for Exisle Publishing and our children's picture book imprint, EK Books. Last week, I sent the last two books to print for the 2017 publishing program — yes, the books you see in bookstores in November get sent to the printers in July!
I've attended some lovely book launches — most recently for Deb Kelly and Gwynne Jones' The Chalk Rainbow, and Lynn Jenkins and Kirrili Lonergan's Ollie's Treasure. Both of these books would make wonderful additions to any child's bookshelf. They're great stories that deal with important topics of diversity, acceptance, mindfulness and family.
It's not all been about work, though. I've also been devouring books for pleasure too! My most recent highlight was Ache by Eliza Henry-Jones. She is truly one of Australia's most gifted young authors and if you haven't read In the Quiet or Ache yet, I strongly recommend that you do.
My goal for the rest of this year is to be a more regular blogger; to pop in here more regularly to give you an update on what's been happening in my bookish world and beyond. I'm going to aim for once a week, so let's see how I go!
Until the next blog, here's a pic of spectacular Akaroa in New Zealand. I could look at that view all day …
I'm a publisher, editor, author and reviewer. Here's where I tell you about my latest news and events!