Some More Montmaravian Art

Some more Montmaravian artwork by Noah Hayes, who made a colour storyboard of A Brief History of Montmaray for his college design course. It begins with Sophie in a boat at sea:

'Montmaray storyboard 1' by Noah Hayes

'Montmaray storyboard 2' by Noah Hayes

She sees something very spooky in the depths of the water…

'Montmaray storyboard 3' by Noah Hayes

But fortunately, it’s only a dream. (Or is it?)

'Montmaray storyboard 4' by Noah Hayes

So she goes about her regular daily routine, saying hello to the chickens …

'Montmaray storyboard 5' by Noah Hayes

and visiting Veronica in the library.

'Montmaray storyboard 6' by Noah Hayes

'Montmaray storyboard 7' by Noah Hayes

Little does Sophie suspect what cruel and terrible fate awaits her innocent island kingdom!

(I think I’ve been reading too much Wilkie Collins lately.)

Anyway, lots of exciting stuff happens.

And SPOILER ALERT! it all ends in tragedy:

'Montmaray end' by Noah Hayes

(Don’t worry, there are two more books after that for Sophie to sort things out.)

Thanks again, Noah!

What I’ve Been Reading

I don’t usually read horror fiction (if I want horror, I can read the newspapers), but I recently borrowed a huge pile of books, plucked pretty much at random off the shelves of my library because it was about to close down for SIX WEEKS1, and two of these books turned out to be Tales of Terror.

'Slade House' by David MitchellThe first is probably more speculative fiction than straight horror. Slade House by David Mitchell was an engrossing, if fairly silly, novel about a mysterious house in London. Once every nine years, a carefully selected person is lured to this house and provided with all he or she has ever desired – until these ‘guests’ realise they can never leave. It is probably not giving away too much to reveal that the story involves vampires, although not the sort who wear black capes and drink blood. The first ‘guest’ we meet is a sweet, awkward teenager who arrives at the house in 1979 and his fate is heartbreaking. He’s followed nine years later by a policeman investigating the boy’s disappearance, then some university students who belong to a paranormal society, then a grief-stricken relative of one of the university students, and finally, a psychiatrist researching patients who claim to have had paranormal experiences. Each of the ‘guests’ is beautifully portrayed and their emotional experiences felt very real. It was heartening to see them begin to fight back and the conclusion to the story was very satisfying. However, if the author was trying to create a deepening sense of dread, he probably shouldn’t have had the villains explain their fiendish plot in great detail to their supposedly helpless victims. The plot becomes more and more ludicrous with each passing chapter until even one of the characters says, “This is all sounding a bit Da Vinci Code to me.” Apparently Slade House also contains a lot of references to previous David Mitchell novels, particularly The Bone Clocks. I didn’t pick up on any of this as I’d only read Black Swan Green, but this didn’t detract from my enjoyment of the story at all. Recommended for those who want a fast, engrossing read that’s mysterious but not too spooky.

'The Haunted Hotel' by Wilkie CollinsI also read a more traditional horror tale, The Haunted Hotel by Wilkie Collins. This 1889 novel is what Catherine Morland in Northanger Abbey would approvingly call “an amazing horrid book”. The summary on the back of the Penguin Classics paperback that I read says it all:

“A sinister Countess is driven mad by a dark secret. An innocent woman is made the instrument of retribution. A murdered man’s fury reaches beyond the grave.”

No wait, there’s even more! There’s a decaying Venetian palace with a hidden chamber, an evil foreigner obsessed with discovering the Philosopher’s Stone, a play written to reveal the Countess’s “dark secret”, a floating disembodied head … Go on, you know you want to read this. It’s great. Maybe not quite as horrid as The Mysteries of Udolpho, but it’s a very quick and entertaining read. I hadn’t read any Wilkie Collins before, and now I’m interested in trying The Woman in White.

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  1. Of course, I devoured half of my pile of library books in the first week. Fortunately, the library staff have set up a little pop-up library in my neighbouring suburb.

‘Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life’ by Anne Lamott

Although I’d seen many recommendations for Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird1, I put off reading it because it sounded a bit too mystical for my tastes. In fact, this book is fairly big on spirituality, with the author frequently referring to God or her church or her pastor’s advice, but it’s balanced with a healthy sense of humour. For example, she explains that she begins each day of writing with a prayer and recommends that all writers use some form of ritual:

“Try it. Any number of things may work for you – an altar, for instance, or votive candles, sage smudges, small animal sacrifices, especially now that the Supreme Court has legalized them. (I cut out the headline the day this news came out and taped it above the kitty’s water dish.)”

'Bird by Bird' by Anne LamottHowever, most of the book consists of sensible advice about various aspects of fiction-writing, including plotting, creating a setting, developing characters and writing plausible dialogue. She advises writers who feel overwhelmed by the thought of writing an entire novel to begin with “short assignments” and to visualise scenes through a “one-inch picture frame”, because as E. L. Doctorow noted, “writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can see only as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”

She also explains that “perfectionism will ruin your writing” and emphasises that all first drafts are terrible:

“I know some very great writers, writers you love who write beautifully and have made a great deal of money, and not one of them sits down routinely feeling wildly enthusiastic and confident. Not one of them writes elegant first drafts. All right, one of them does, but we do not like her very much. We do not think she has a rich inner life or that God likes her or can even stand her.”

I especially liked Lamott’s description of how to know when you’re finally “done” with writing your final draft, the process of which is like “putting an octopus to bed”:

“You get a bunch of the octopus’s arms neatly tucked under the covers – that is, you’ve come up with a plot, resolved the conflict between the two main characters, gotten the tone down pat – but two arms are still flailing around . Maybe the dialogue in the first half and the second half don’t match, or there is that one character who still seems one-dimensional. But you finally get those arms under the sheets, too, and are about to turn out the lights when another long sucking arm breaks free.

This will probably happen when you are sitting at your desk, kneading your face, feeling burned out and rubberized. Then, even though all the sucking disks on that one tentacle are puckering open and closed, and the slit-shaped pupils of the octopus are looking derisively at you, as if it might suck you to death just because it’s bored, and even though you know your manuscript is not perfect and you’d hoped for so much more, but you also know that there is simply no more steam in the pressure cooker and that it’s the very best you can do for now – well? I think this means that you are done.”

I didn’t agree with everything Lamott had to say about writing (for example, she is opposed to planning and dislikes “the rational mind”), but she discusses it all with such warmth and charm that I enjoyed reading and considering her thoughts. This book is highly recommended for both beginning writers looking for practical advice and encouragement, and more experienced writers seeking inspiration.

You might also be interested in reading:

‘On Writing’ by Stephen King

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  1. By the way, the book’s title comes from advice her writer father gave to her ten-year-old brother, who was overwhelmed by the task of writing a huge school report on birds that was due the next day: “Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.”

Copy (Not) Right

Last year, the Productivity Commission was asked by the Australian government to review intellectual property rights in Australia. The Commission’s draft report was recently released, and although I haven’t read all 587 pages of it, I have read the sections that concern the book publishing industry. The title, Copy (Not) Right, pretty much sums up the Commission’s attitude towards copyright. As the Australian Society of Authors reports:

“They believe copyright law is an impediment to the consumer and should be curtailed. They have gone about their task with dedication, cynicism and resentment towards the arts across the board, but none more so than towards books and authors.”

The Commission makes three main recommendations about books. Firstly, the length of time that copyright exists should be drastically reduced. Secondly, Australian territorial copyright should be abolished and parallel importation of books introduced. Thirdly, the current system of ‘fair dealing’ should be replaced with the US system of ‘fair use’.

I’ve previously written about how destructive the introduction of parallel importation would be for the Australian book industry. The implementation of a ‘fair use’ system would also cause significant problems for copyright holders. The current system of ‘fair dealing’ means that Australian copyright owners are paid if their work is used, with a number of sensible exceptions (for example, people are free to use copyrighted material for reviews, research, study, satire or parody, news reporting and legal advice). A ‘fair use’ system would mean that anyone could use any copyrighted material for free, without permission, provided the use was ‘fair’ – with the definition of ‘fair’ in each case decided by the courts. This would be great news for lawyers, but not so great for impoverished authors trying to stop unauthorised and unpaid use of their work.

However, it’s the Commission’s recommendation about term of copyright that’s really mind-boggling. Currently, copyright exists for seventy years after the death of the creator. (Personally, I think that’s too long, but I didn’t make that decision – it was made by US legislators, supposedly because Disney wanted to keep control of Mickey Mouse, and it was then agreed to by Australian legislators as part of a US-Australian trade agreement.) The Commission wants copyright to be fifteen to twenty-five years from creation. That’s right, fifteen years. That means that in a few years, I’ll have to give up all my rights to the novels I’ve written so far. I won’t be able to earn any money from them or control who publishes them. Not surprisingly, Australian authors are a bit upset about this. Jackie French has written:

“For 25 years I have worked as an author, supporting my family.
Innocently, I had assumed that the royalties from these books would continue to support my husband and myself in our old age.
Now, in my sixties, I have been told by the ill-named ‘Productivity Commission’ that ‘Writers rarely write for financial reasons,’ and I may only own my work for 15 years.
If I had spent my time renovating houses, or investing in shares, I’d own them. So would my heirs. If you built a bicycle or a house, would you give it to anyone who cares to grab it, in 15 years’ time?
Does Thomas Keneally have no moral right to ‘Bring Larks and Heroes’? Does Mem Fox no longer have a right to ‘Possum Magic’ nor I to ‘Diary of a Wombat’?
Will Malcolm Turnbull give away his investments when he has owned them for 15 years?”

As Richard Flanagan said in his keynote speech at the Australian Book Industry Awards last week:

“So Mem Fox has no rights in ‘Possum Magic’. Stephanie Alexander has no rights in ‘A Cook’s Companion’. Elizabeth Harrower has no rights in ‘The Watch Tower’. John Coetzee has no rights in his Booker winning ‘Life and Times of Michael K’. Nor Peter Carey to ‘The Kelly Gang’, nor Tim Winton to ‘Cloudstreet’. Anyone can make money from these books except the one who wrote it.”

How can the Commission possibly think that this will improve “productivity” in the book industry? Why would an author or publisher want to continue to produce books under these conditions? What about an author writing a long-running series? By the time she’d written the fifth book, the first could be out of copyright. And too bad for an author whose book is made into a film fifteen years after initial publication – the author won’t see a cent of the profits from the film sales, nor would she earn any royalties when the film tie-in book hits the bestseller lists.

I re-read this section of the report in an attempt to understand the Commission’s reasoning, but my most generous interpretation is that they simply don’t understand how the book industry works. For instance, they claim on page 114 that for books, “by 2 years [after initial publication], 90 per cent of originals are out of print”. Really? My first Australian novel was far from a bestseller, but it’s still in print nine years later, available in both paperback and as an e-book, and that’s hardly unusual.

The Commission also blithely suggests that any negative impact on the Australian publishing industry as a result of these changes “would be addressed by ensuring that direct subsidies aimed at encouraging Australian writing — literary prizes, support from the Australia Council, and funding from the Education and Public Lending Rights schemes — continue to target the cultural value of Australian books”. All those Australian literary organisations and writers reeling from Black Friday’s funding cuts may manage a hollow laugh at that.

There is still some hope for Australians who love books. Just remember, there’s a federal election in July.

Some Montmaravian Art

How amazing is this artwork? It was created by Noah Hayes, who’s studying art and design at college. Noah created some art based on The Montmaray Journals for his visual development class and I first became aware of it when I saw these great book cover designs:

'Montmaray book cover' by Noah Hayes

'FitzOsbornes in Exile book cover' by Noah Hayes

'FitzOsbornes at War book cover' by Noah Hayes

And then Noah did a whole lot of work developing character studies. Here’s Sophie:

'Sophie character study' by Noah Hayes

Plus, there’s a huge storyboard for the scenes following the funeral in A Brief History of Montmaray. Here’s Veronica and Sophie discussing events:

'Veronica and Sophie' by Noah Hayes

And Simon and Toby looking shifty-eyed after Sophie tracks them down:

'Simon and Toby' by Noah Hayes

You can see the whole thing here at Noah’s tumblr (click on the Tumblr image to enlarge it).

There’s also a wonderfully evocative depiction of Montmaray Castle:

Montmaray Castle by Noah Hayes

But I think this might be my favourite – some sketches of Henry and Toby. Look how happy Henry is!

'Toby and Henry' by Noah Hayes

Thanks to Noah for allowing me to share these images. You can find them all at Noah’s Tumblr.

What I’ve Been Reading

'At Home' by Bill BrysonAt Home: A Short History of Private Life is another of Bill Bryson’s entertaining books about history. This one came about when he was looking around his Victorian house in Norfolk and considering how the majority of real history isn’t about wars and treaties, but about “masses of people doing ordinary things”. Accordingly, this is a history of domestic life, with a chapter devoted to each room in his house, so that the kitchen chapter is a history of food and cooking, the bathroom a history of hygiene, the nursery about the changing notion of childhood, and so on. Although there are references to ancient history and even prehistory, most of it looks at the past two centuries of life in England and the United States in fascinating and often amusing detail. Bryson is a wide-ranging researcher and I often found myself saying, ‘I never knew that!’ and wanting to learn more. For example, did you know that income tax didn’t exist in the United States until 1914 and that an earlier attempt to introduce a 2% income tax was ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court? Or that the ancient proto-city of Çatalhöyük had no streets, laneways or footpaths, and houses had no doors or windows, with people accessing their houses through a hole in the roof? Or that rats work in teams and have been observed forming a multi-rat pyramid under a hanging slab of meat, allowing one rat to climb up and gnaw its way through the meat above the hook until the meat falls to the floor, whereupon the meat is devoured by all the rats?

Although Bryson takes his research seriously, this book is more about breadth of coverage than depth. Once or twice, I came across a topic that I happened to know a lot about and I could tell he hadn’t read the relevant primary sources. For example, in his discussion of scurvy, he gets James Lind’s theory only half-right, then has this to say about James Cook:

“On his circumnavigation of the globe in 1768-71, Captain Cook packed a range of antiscorbutics to experiment on, including thirty gallons of carrot marmalade and a hundred pounds of sauerkraut for every crew member. Not one person died of scurvy on his voyage – a miracle that made him as much a national hero as his discovery of Australia …”

As most Australians would know, Cook wasn’t a Captain on that voyage and more importantly, he didn’t discover Australia. People had been living there for at least fifty thousand years by the time he arrived. He wasn’t even the first European to land there. Also, Bryson omits an amusing anecdote about the sauerkraut, which I’m certain he would have included if he’d read about it in Cook’s journals. But this was only a minor issue and for the most part, I was thoroughly engrossed in this book. Fortunately, it includes an extensive bibliography for those readers who want to know more about, say, the construction of Monticello or the history of London’s sewers or how the repeal of the Corn Laws affected England’s vicars. Recommended for Bill Bryson fans and those who enjoy popular history.

'A Treasury of Cartoons' by First Dog on the MoonI also enjoyed A Treasury of Cartoons by First Dog on the Moon. This selection of his work from 2009 to 2015 reminded me of just how awful Australian politics was during that period (five prime ministerships in six years, including two whole years of Tony Abbott). It was almost beyond satire, but First Dog still manages to make me laugh. My favourites were Ian the Climate Change Denialist Potato (who writes erotic fanfiction about Greg Hunt) and the racist carrot (“Tell me this! If Islam is a religion of peace, how is it that all these white Australian men are being provoked to attack Muslim women in the street – those headscarves are making people crazy!”). I also liked his non-political cartoons, such as his illustrated pavlova recipe “that was stolen from its inventor Margaret Fulton by the All Blacks that time they dropped around for a cup of tea and 270 scones”. (Apparently, beating the egg whites involves whacking the electric mixer with a wooden spoon and shouting things like “Stand up!” and “Go faster!” This must be where I’m going wrong in my meringue-making.)

I have read other books lately, but I didn’t like any of them enough to recommend them here. As a public service announcement, I should also add that if you’ve enjoyed some of Muriel Spark’s most popular novels and are delving further into her work, you should probably avoid The Driver’s Seat.

Miscellaneous Memoranda

Rivers of London fans, here’s a good interview with Ben Aaronovitch at Radio National (although, beware, it contains big plot spoilers for the whole series). Also at Radio National, there’s an interview with Leanne Hall about Iris and the Tiger.

I liked this article about Mary Gernat’s lovely cover art for the 1960s editions of the Famous Five books – the artist used her four sons and the family dog, Patch, as models for her sketches and watercolours.

Here’s an interesting attempt to sort into Hogwarts Houses by asking two questions: Are you governed by morality or ethics, and do you derive satisfaction from internal or external validation? (As always, I get thrown straight into Ravenclaw.)

A recent BBC poll of non-British critics about the greatest British novels of all time came up with a list in which women writers dominated the top ten and made up half of the top fifty. As I’d only read fifty-five of the books, I’ve added a few titles to my To Read list, although I think I can live quite happily without Lucky Jim and the two listed D H Lawrence novels.

I feel I’ve read a few too many of these type of novels lately (“I’m going to write a story about a character who feels the way I feel! Middle class, educated, with seemingly every advantage, but who still feels aimless and dissatisfied … Someone with my lived experience will be able to shine a penetrating dramatic light on the problems that arise when you don’t really have other problems.”)

In happier news, the new(ish) Australian children’s laureate is Leigh Hobbs, and hooray, he has a new Mr Chicken book out – Mr Chicken Lands on London!

If you happen to be in London (with Mr Chicken) and are worried about air quality – fear not, the Pigeon Air Patrol is on the case. The pigeons, equipped with tiny backpacks, measure nitrogen dioxide, ozone and other volatile compounds and send the results to Plume Labs for analysis. Londoners can request a reading for their particular location (by sending a tweet, of course). The patrol team includes “Coco, the ‘maverick’, Julius, the ‘hipster’, and Norbert — the ‘intellectual’”.

Finally, in important cephalopod news, a previously unknown species of milky-white octopus has been spotted four kilometres below the surface of the Pacific Ocean. The octopus is currently nicknamed ‘Caspar the Friendly Ghost’. It joins another a new species, a tiny orange octopus discovered last year that scientists would like to name Opisthoteuthis adorabilis because it is just so adorable.

Castle Stalker

A Brief History of Montmaray

The bleak castle depicted on the hardcover edition of A Brief History of Montmaray may seem like the work of an illustrator, but I recently discovered it’s an actual castle.

Castle Stalker by Norrie Adamson

Castle Stalker. Photo by Norrie Adamson, licensed for reuse by Creative Commons Licence.

Okay, the book cover designer made a few adjustments to make it look as though the island were in the middle of the Bay of Biscay. But Castle Stalker is a real place that you can actually visit (if you happen to be in the general vicinity of Appin in Argyll, Scotland). And not only does Castle Stalker have a splendid name, it has its very own published Brief History, which is even more violent and dramatic than the history of Montmaray. It begins:

“In 1463 Sir John Stewart was keen to legitimise his son by getting married to his Mother, a MacLaren, at Dunstaffnage when he was murdered outside the church by Alan MacCoul, a renegade MacDougall, although he survived long enough to complete the marriage and legitimise his son, Dugald, who became the First Chief of Appin. The Stewarts had their revenge on MacCoul at the Battle of Stalc in 1468 opposite the Castle when the Stewarts and MacLaren together defeated the MacDougalls…’

There follows several centuries of Stewarts, MacLarens, MacDougalls and Campbells killing one another in various colourful ways. The Stewarts had a particular knack for getting murdered, even when they weren’t actually in Scotland – for instance, Duncan Stewart was appointed Governor of Sarawak in the 1940s and was assassinated a couple of weeks into the job. The Stewarts also weren’t very good at betting and lost the castle to the Campbells in a drunken wager. Unfortunately for the Stewarts, they’d fortified their castle walls so strongly that when they later tried to win it back from the Campbells by force, “their 2lb cannon-balls merely bounced off the walls”.

A couple of centuries later, the Campbells finally lost interest, abandoned the castle and allowed a Stewart to buy it back, and the process of restoration began. I would love to take one of the tours, but alas, I don’t think I’m likely to be visiting Scotland any time soon. I did do the virtual tour, which is pretty entertaining. And if you’re wondering where else you might have seen Castle Stalker, it makes an appearance in Monty Python and the Holy Grail as the Castle of Aarrgh.

‘Iris and the Tiger’ by Leanne Hall

Disclaimer because this is an Australian book: I don’t know the author and have no connection to the publisher.

'Iris and the Tiger' by Leanne HallI absolutely loved Leanne Hall’s Iris and the Tiger, a charming, funny story about Iris, a twelve-year-old Australian girl who is sent to stay with her eccentric Great-Aunt Ursula in Spain. Iris’s parents want Iris to ensure Ursula leaves her sprawling country estate to them, but Iris falls under the spell of Bosque de Nubes, a surrealist Wonderland with its own special type of magic and plenty of mysteries. Were her late great-uncle’s famous paintings of tennis-playing sunflowers, five-legged dogs and giant costumed insects based on his surroundings, or is life imitating art? Why is a pair of leather boots shaped like human feet following Iris around? How can her ancient aunt look so youthful? Who is trying to destroy Bosque de Nubes? And most importantly, what happened to the original Iris, painted by her husband in an enigmatic portrait that now seems to be missing a tiger?

Iris is a wonderful heroine – thoughtful, compassionate and braver than she believes. She’s helped in her quest by her new friend Jordi, the gardener’s son, who relishes the danger (“‘I think this could be a very dangerous mission.’ He looked extremely happy as he said it.”). I enjoyed watching Iris grow in confidence and understanding, and although the novel contains some familiar messages (‘Be True to Yourself’, ‘Part of Growing Up is Realising Your Parents are Flawed’, and so on), it’s all done with a light touch and plenty of humour. (Iris also happens to be Chinese-Australian, which is never treated as an Issue, although there was a spot-on ‘You look so exotic, where are your family from?’ conversation, which made me laugh and groan in recognition.) I also liked the imaginative setting and all the fantastical creatures (Señor Garcia and the Exquisite Corpse were particular favourites). Young readers will enjoy the magic and the adventures, although there are plenty of layers for more advanced readers to dig into (for example, involving surrealist art, the history of Spain, and women being valued as models and muses but not as artists in their own right). The Australian paperback has a gorgeous cover and some charming black-and-white illustrations (and I would love to see this republished as a glossy hardcover with colour illustrations of all the surrealist paintings). It’s been a while since I’ve read such an endearing children’s book. Highly recommended!

EDITED TO ADD: You can see some of the book’s illustrations at Sandra Eterovic’s blog.

What I’ve Been Reading: Some Really, Really Annoying Books, Plus One Enjoyable Book

'Black Swan Green' by David MitchellI’m not going to write about the really, really annoying books I’ve just read (even though I have many thoughts about them) because those authors don’t deserve any more publicity. However, I did enjoy Black Swan Green by David Mitchell. This novel, apparently semi-autobiographical, describes a year in the life of thirteen-year-old Jason, who lives in a small village in Worcestershire, England in 1982. As Margaret Thatcher revels in the carnage of the Falklands War, Jason concentrates on his own struggle for survival. At home, his father is angry and often absent, his mother is lonely and frustrated, and his sister Julia, an inconstant ally, is about to leave for university. At school, Jason is bullied for being clever, sensitive and worst of all, a stammerer. He spends a great deal of time and energy hiding his true self, engaging in stupid and self-destructive stunts in (mostly futile) attempts to show how “hard” he is. There are innumerable ridiculous rules about how boys in his community need to behave in order to avoid that dreaded label, “gay”. Pretty much anything Jason enjoys in life, including being friends with girls, is “gay” and is punished with social exclusion and outright violence. Even some of his teachers join in with the harassment. Fortunately, Jason is resourceful, gathers up some courage and a few supporters, and manages to engineer some sort of victory by the end.

The novel is supposedly written by clueless thirteen-year-old Jason, although the insights revealed often sound more like an adult narrator looking back on his childhood. At times, I was also irritated by the author’s decision to use a combination of teenage-speak and a very obtrusive form of contractions:

“School corridors’re sort of sinister during classtime. The noisiest spaces’re now the silentest.”

Even worse was when Jason lapsed into poetry:

“Autumn’s fungussy, berries’re manky, leaves’re rusting, V’s of long-distance birds’re crossing the sky, evenings’re smoky, nights’re cold, autumn’s nearly dead.”

But I enjoyed Jason’s thoughts about his development as a writer (“If you show someone something you’ve written, you give them a sharpened stake, lie down in your coffin, and say ‘When you’re ready.’”). And readers who can remember the 1980s will enjoy all the pop culture references and the jokes (for instance, listening to “that ace song, ‘Olive’s Salami’ by Elvis Costello” and getting a Betamax video recorder because “VHS’s going extinct”). While the plot’s predictable for anyone who’s ever read any Young Adult fiction, Black Swan Green is an entertaining and often moving story – Adrian Mole rewritten as Serious Literature.