The FitzOsbornes in Exile Book Giveaway

The FitzOsbornes in Exile - North American hardcoverMontmaray Book Three has been handed over to my publishers, so to celebrate, I’m giving away five signed copies of Montmaray Book Two. Yes, that’s the lovely North American hardcover edition of The FitzOsbornes in Exile, with the glamorous girl on the cover. This particular giveaway is just for Australians and New Zealanders, because they are special. (Actually, if you’re from elsewhere in the world, but have an Australian or New Zealand postal address, you can enter, too.) All you need to do is leave a comment below, telling us the title of a book you’ve recently enjoyed.

Here are the conditions of entry:

1. You can mention any kind of book you’ve enjoyed – young adult, children’s, fiction, non-fiction. You don’t have to say why you enjoyed it, but you can if you’d like. There are no wrong answers!
2. Make sure the e-mail address you enter on the comment form is a valid one, so I can contact you if you win (no one will be able to see your e-mail except me). Please don’t include your real residential or postal address anywhere in the comment.
3. The five winners will be chosen at random, unless there are five or fewer comments – in which case, it won’t be random and ALL will have prizes.
4. Entries close on the 31st of July, 2011. The winners will be e-mailed then, and I will send off the winners’ books as soon as possible after that.
5. Remember, Kangaroos and Kiwis only for this giveaway.

The End of Montmaray

In the small hours of this morning, I e-mailed the manuscript of the third Montmaray book to my publisher.

'Frau am Schreibtisch' by Lesser Ury (1898)
The author wonders how many exclamation marks to add after writing, 'The End'
The final book in the trilogy. The end of The Montmaray Journals. Farewell to the FitzOsbornes, who’ve been hanging out in my head for the past seven years. If I weren’t so sleep-deprived, I might actually feel a bit sad about this.

There’s quite a lot of work to do before the book appears on bookshelves – some of it to be done by me, much of it by the talented, hard-working people at Random House. Structural editing, copy-editing, fact-checking, type-setting, proof-reading, designing an appealing cover, making sure the real people in the book who are still alive aren’t going to sue me for defamation of character . . . But at some point next year, the book will be released in Australia, all things going well. Here’s what I can tell you about it:

  • It follows the fortunes of the FitzOsbornes throughout the Second World War and beyond.
  • It contains dashing young men in uniform, brave young women in uniform, spies, diplomats, secret agents, scary bombing raids, fiery plane crashes, funerals, weddings, heartbreak, despair, courage, determination and a hopeful ending. And also, kissing.
  • If the first book was Sophie’s coming-of-age and the second was Veronica’s, then this one is Toby’s.
  • The novel is ridiculously long, although I’m hoping my brilliant editors will provide some suggestions for trimming it, because otherwise, the hardcover edition is going to weigh a tonne and a half.
  • The novel may or may not be called The FitzOsbornes at War.
  • Any of this might change between now and the (still unknown) publication date, of course.

    To celebrate finishing this manuscript (and also because I’ve had three boxes of books cluttering up my flat for weeks, but have been too busy to find somewhere to put them), I’m giving away some copies of The FitzOsbornes in Exile. See here for details.

    Oh, Goodreads . . .

    If I were a Sensible YA Author, I’d stay well away from Goodreads reviews of my books. After all, reviews aren’t for authors; they’re for readers. Of course, I’m not a Sensible YA Author (if I was, I’d be writing about zombie mermaids, not 1930s politics), so I do occasionally visit Goodreads, where I get to read one-star reviews like this [warnings for plot spoilers and homophobia]:

    “The story was interesting and engaging until the end when the author suggests the boys are lovers. WHY? For a young adult book–or any for that matter? Too bad Ms Cooper ruined the book.”

    That was the entire review – and that’s a very polite, positive and coherent review, compared to some of them.

    But then, there are also Goodreads reviews that are critical, yet thoughtful and entertaining, such as this one of A Brief History of Montmaray, which begins:

    “Michelle Cooper is the Quentin Tarantino of young adult novels.”

    Um . . . what? It turns out the reviewer isn’t referring to the gory murders in the book, but to Tarantino’s habit of wearing his influences on his sleeve. The review consists largely of complaints about the characters and the plot, but it’s smart and passionate and, most importantly, uses LOLcats to illustrate its points. I loved it.

    Then the same reviewer tackles The FitzOsbornes in Exile:

    “Dear sir or friend,
    I am a princess in exile. My family cannot access our funds unless you, a kind American, will launder money through your bank account and send letterhead, bank statements and personal documents. Thank you for helping.

    Sincerely,
    the FitzOsbournes

    I don’t know why they didn’t just send out a letter like this, if they needed money so bad . . .”

    The review goes on to compare the plot of The FitzOsbornes in Exile to that of the recent X-Men film, and regards Simon as the Clark Gable of Montmaray. It’s absolutely hilarious. Thank you, Mariel, you made my day. Well, my morning, at least. Or part of my morning.

    Now, to slightly more serious matters. Here is my blog’s Spam of the Month:

    “Dude, you should be a writer. Your article is really interesting. You should do it for a living.”

    Okay then, I will! Unfortunately, I’m finding ‘writing for a living’ a bit busy at the moment, so my poor blog has been neglected this month. However, in a few weeks, I will (hopefully) have handed over the manuscript of Montmaray Three (currently known as The NeverEnding Story) to my long-suffering and infinitely patient editor. Then I’ll return to my irregular – but slightly more frequent – blog posting.

    In the meantime, just talk quietly amongst yourselves.

    A Public Service Announcement: Smoking Is Bad For You

    As I’ve previously mentioned, I love the North American cover of The FitzOsbornes in Exile, which features a girl in a glamorous 1930s ballgown. One of the shadowy figures in the background is a young man who seems to be smoking a cigarette, and I did wonder how long it would be before someone objected to this. Not very long at all, it turns out. A few weeks after the book was released, this US librarian commented about it on her blog:

    “It’s probably a good idea when you market a book for teens that the cover image not feature things that teens can’t do – so, having someone drinking on the cover isn’t usually a good idea. Neither is smoking.”

    'The FitzOsbornes in Exile' North American hardcover
    Yes, he's smoking – but that doesn't mean YOU should smoke
    The librarian was far more observant than I was, because she noticed that the cigarette in the young man’s hand had been Photoshopped out of existence – and that was before she compared the cover to the look-alike cover of Consequences of the Heart, in which the cigarette is clearly visible. I’d just assumed ‘my’ young man was holding a cigarette and that the camera angle meant the cigarette was hidden behind his fingers. It’s obvious that a white cloud is hovering next to his hand, and I imagined most people would assume he was smoking. Characters in the book smoke, so why shouldn’t characters on the cover do the same thing?

    I can see why responsible adults might be concerned about this. Smoking is bad; therefore, we should make sure that all images of smoking are unappealing, especially if they’re going to be seen by impressionable teenagers. The question is whether art and literature should be censored to achieve a social aim, and whether such censorship is actually effective in achieving those aims.

    I should say here that I’ve never smoked. I loathe the smell of cigarettes and I wish everyone in the world, but especially people in my apartment building, would stop smoking. I also worked as a speech pathologist for fifteen years and not many speech pathologists smoke, because we have a very clear understanding of the awful health problems caused by smoking (and those dissected tar-soaked lungs they insisted on showing us during our university anatomy lessons were fairly off-putting, too).

    However, I also write historical novels, which I try to make as realistic as possible, and the fact is, attitudes to smoking were quite different in the past. I’ve seen 1930s advertisements in which ‘doctors’ solemnly claimed that a certain brand of cigarette was a healthy way to relieve stress. No one knew about lung cancer or laryngeal cancer or heart disease then. (Actually, some of the first research into the health dangers of smoking was carried out by a Nazi doctor on the orders of Hitler, a non-smoker). In 1930s England, most men smoked some form of tobacco, and ladies who wished to be thought of as ‘sophisticated’ carried around little silver cases of cigarettes. And is there a photograph in existence of Winston Churchill without his cigar?

    It would be ridiculous if none of the dozens of characters in The FitzOsbornes in Exile smoked, but I did think carefully about who would smoke. Of the young characters, Sophie and Veronica are too well brought up (and impoverished) to have developed a cigarette habit. Julia, despite her sophistication, is never seen smoking. Rupert’s health problems preclude him taking up smoking. Daniel either doesn’t have the money to buy cigarettes, or doesn’t want to support capitalist tobacco companies. The only main characters identified as smokers are Toby, who mentions cadging cigarettes at the beginning of the first Montmaray book, and Simon, who’s occasionally seen lighting the cigarette of a woman he’s trying to seduce. I don’t think either of these characters could be regarded as good role models for teenagers. Toby has a perpetual hangover and gets expelled from a series of educational institutions, while Simon’s morals are ambiguous, to put it generously. I don’t think any non-smoking teenager is going to read The FitzOsbornes in Exile and think, “Gosh, I want to be just like Toby and Simon! I’m going to start smoking!”

    Come to think of it, even the ‘good’ FitzOsbornes behave in ways that are not terribly healthy. They speed around the countryside in a sports car while not wearing seatbelts, eat pastries laden with refined sugar and full-fat cream, and taunt Nazis from the windows of slow-moving trains. But I really don’t think my readers are going to emulate any of those behaviours. (Apart from eating cakes – and I’m sure my readers would consume them in moderation and then incorporate an appropriate amount of exercise into their daily routines.)

    However, is it possible that teenagers might see the cover of The FitzOsbornes in Exile in a school library or a bookshop, and, not having read the book, start to think, “Smoking is cool”? Yes, it’s possible. They could also get the same idea from watching Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall in The Big Sleep, or from viewing any number of modern films. It’s far more likely they’d be influenced by the attitudes of their friends and family.

    So, I have to say to teenagers: if you’re reading this and you’re tempted in any way, for whatever reason, to start smoking, DON’T DO IT! SMOKING IS BAD FOR YOU!

    You’re allowed to read my books, though, if you really want.

    The Kitchen Front, Part Two: Spam, Spam, Spam, Spam . . .

    I’d been intending to do another Kitchen Front post for a while, but sadly, my attempts at authentic 1940s meals have not been a success. The vegetable part has been easy – I like vegetables – although I must admit, quite a lot of British recipes of the time seem to involve boiling the poor things to death, then smothering them in a margarine-based white sauce.

    No, the problem has been meat. Meat was rationed during the war, of course, but what made it tricky for me was that it was rationed by price, not weight. Each adult was allowed one shilling and ten pence worth of meat each week, although this had fallen to one shilling’s worth by 1941 (while food prices had soared). I think this would have bought a couple of chops or about twelve ounces (340 g) of mince or stewing beef. That doesn’t seem so bad to me (it’s as much meat as I’d usually eat in a week), but I had to remember that in pre-war Britain, families who could afford it ate meat at breakfast, lunch and dinner. It must have been a real hardship for them, trying to adapt to rations. I should add that bacon and ham were rationed separately, with the total amount ranging from eight ounces (225 g) to four ounces per week. Poultry, fish and rabbit weren’t rationed, but were difficult to obtain, unless you were lucky enough to live on a farm in the country.

    SPAMGiven these restrictions, it’s no wonder the British welcomed the first shipments of SPAM® after the signing of the Lend Lease agreement with the United States in 1941. I thought I’d try it out myself, and purchased a tin from my local supermarket. I’d read that it could be used straight from the tin to make tasty sandwiches, so I put a few slices of it on wholemeal bread with margarine, mustard and lettuce. Readers – do not try this at home. It was like eating a very salty piece of pink sponge – and I’d bought the salt-reduced version. But perhaps I’d put too much SPAM® on my sandwich. My next experiment involved dicing it and adding it to a hash of potato, cauliflower, spinach and whatever other vegetables I could find in my fridge. This was better, although I don’t think the SPAM® contributed much to the dish. I still had a third of a tin of SPAM® left, so in desperation, I added small cubes of it to a stir-fry of bok choy and rice noodles. This was quite nice, the little pieces of SPAM® providing some salty, fatty goodness to an otherwise healthy meal. However, it wasn’t exactly an authentic 1940s British dinner. Bok choy would have been unknown to most British diners, and rice was in extremely short supply, due to the British not being able to import it from Asia, especially after the Japanese entered the war. In fact, I read about one Chinese restaurant in London that chopped up spaghetti to make ‘rice’.

    Still, if I’d been living in England during the war, I probably would have eaten SPAM® and liked it – although I think I might have been tempted to become a vegetarian and exchange my meat ration for cheese.

    And speaking of spam, why does my blog attract such weird examples of it? I don’t mean the usual offers to increase the size of my (nonexistent) penis or make me a millionaire in thirty days. I’m talking about the spam comments that seem to have been translated through several languages by someone with very little understanding of any language, let alone English. For example:

    “Out! Gone. And I maid the, misconstrue the bus, the close halfwit!
    Clara Hyummel kicked in spleen nor innocent stool. My sinfulness, Alya, overlooked! Underestimated.”

    and

    “All the in in the terra won’t mutate the at one’s fingertips’s awareness of him as a scant Napoleon with a eminent mouth.”

    I know it’s usually generated by a computer, but it’s hilarious how even the relatively coherent ones manage to be completely unrelated to the blog post on which they are ‘commenting’. For example, this appeared on my blog post about fan mail:

    “my partner and i love this specific, where can I receive much more home elevators this particular topic?”

    (And it wasn’t even advertising ‘home elevators’ – the link in the address looked like a site that sold Windows-related software.)

    And this was a response to my post about my favourite fictional girls:

    “I have to say that I thought this piece was very profound . . . It has shown me a new insight in to my research about current government policy.”

    Of course, most spam is far more creative when it comes to English grammar:

    “I firm next to way of this blog ask for up and it is really incredible.I patently genuinely enjoy your website.Perfectly, the chunk of posting is in pledge the very finest on this genuinely worth even though subject.”

    However, my award for Spam of the Month has to go to this spammer (advertising a real estate agent), who posted the following comment to my blog:

    “Im completely fed up with this, in the event you spam my internet site or even blog site 1 more point in time I am going to expose you!”

    Even the manufacturers of SPAM® are fed up with spam. Thank goodness for Akismet spam filtering service.

    Writers Read and Top Ten Castles

    I love discovering what other writers are reading, so I was pleased when my attention was drawn to Writers Read, a blog that asks authors to discuss what they’ve been reading recently. After only a few minutes of looking through this blog, I’d added three titles to my ‘List of Books That I Must Track Down Because They Sound Really Interesting’. As if I don’t already have enough books awaiting my reading attention. (Disclaimer: I may possibly be one of the authors featured on the blog this month.)

    Also, as I can never get enough of castles, I was happy to find this list of the Ten Best Castles in Literature, and in particular, to see Udolpho mentioned. The Mysteries of Udolpho remains the only book that has ever made me miss my train station due to paying too much attention to the story and not enough to the scene outside the train window. This list also reminds me that I’ve been meaning to read Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast series for years. Perhaps I’ll get around to it once I’ve finished this book I’m trying to write (which, by a remarkable coincidence, also contains a castle . . . or at least, a fortified house).

    Anne Tyler And Her Novels

    Thanks to John le Carré, I’m now aware that there is a Man Booker International Prize, awarded every two years to a writer for a body of work, rather than for a single novel. The finalists for the 2011 award were announced last month in Sydney, and I’m very pleased that Anne Tyler is among them. She is one of my favourite novelists ever and I hope she wins.

    For those who aren’t familiar with her work, she’s written eighteen novels:

    If Morning Ever Comes (1964)
    The Tin Can Tree (1965)
    A Slipping-Down Life (1970)
    The Clock Winder (1972)
    Celestial Navigation (1974)
    Searching for Caleb (1975)
    Earthly Possessions (1977)
    Morgan’s Passing (1980)
    Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant (1982)
    The Accidental Tourist (1985)
    Breathing Lessons (1988)
    Saint Maybe (1991)
    Ladder of Years (1995)
    A Patchwork Planet (1998)
    Back When We Were Grownups (2001)
    The Amateur Marriage (2004)
    Digging to America (2006)
    Noah’s Compass (2009)

    With such a large body of work, it can be difficult to know where to begin. Luckily for you, I’ve produced this handy guide, which you can print out and take to your nearest library or bookshop:

    For those who enjoy Southern Gothic:

    'If Morning Ever Comes' by Anne TylerAnne Tyler is reported to “hate” her first two novels, but I think they’re both interesting books, even if they don’t quite work. If Morning Ever Comes is about a boy who abandons his studies in New York to rush home to North Carolina after his runaway sister shows up. There’s some very fine descriptive writing and the characters are fascinating, if a little too self-consciously quirky. Nothing very much happens, but it’s an enjoyable read.

    The Tin Can Tree contains even more Southern eccentricity, but with slightly more narrative. It’s about an extended family that falls apart after their youngest child is killed. What I really like about this novel is the vividness of the setting – one “long, crowded” house inhabited by three families, surrounded by tobacco farms and dust. It’s hard to like these characters, but then, they are people weighed down with grief.

    Earthly Possessions could possibly fall into this category, too, although it’s more of a Southern road trip novel than anything else. It’s about an unhappy housewife, who’s taken hostage by a young bank robber. They then head for Florida in a stolen car. Apparently, this was made into a film starring Susan Sarandon, but I haven’t seen it.

    For those who like Young Adult novels:

    A Slipping-Down Life is probably the closest to a YA novel that Anne Tyler has written. A lonely high school girl, obsessed with a local rock singer, decides to carve his name into her forehead, and the attention she receives alters her life in ways she couldn’t have imagined. This is a coming-of-age tale with a satisfying conclusion, set in a Southern town so insular and isolated that you can understand why all the teenagers are desperate to escape.

    Saint Maybe is absolutely wonderful, but doesn’t fit quite as easily into the YA category. It’s about Ian, a teenage boy who becomes convinced he’s responsible for his brother’s suicide and goes searching for a way to atone, ending up a member of the very odd ‘Church of the Second Chance’. Much of the story is told from Ian’s perspective, but there are also contributions from Agatha, Thomas and Daphne, his brother’s children, as they grow up. It’s a funny, thoughtful novel about guilt, forgiveness and the consolations of religion. I highly recommend it.

    For those who like reading about really annoying men:

    'Celestial Navigation' by Anne TylerCelestial Navigation is about Jeremy, “a thirty-eight-year-old bachelor who never did leave home”. Although the words ‘Asperger’s’, ‘autism’ and ‘agoraphobia’ are never used, they could all apply to him, so I was fascinated to read in a New York Times article that he’s “the closest Anne Tyler has come to writing about herself”. When Jeremy’s devoted mother dies, it’s difficult to see how he’ll manage, but he takes in lodgers and works on his art, and eventually falls for Mary, who’s just walked out on her husband. I loathed both these characters for their extreme self-centredness, but it’s a beautifully written novel, and the minor characters are very endearing.

    Morgan in Morgan’s Passing is “a man who had gone to pieces, or maybe he’d always been in pieces; maybe he’d arrived unassembled”. He spends most of his time collecting costumes, practising accents and acting out roles – a street priest, a refugee without any English skills, and then, disastrously, a doctor. This leads to him delivering Emily’s first baby in the back of his car. He then wheedles his way into the calm, organised lives of Emily and her husband Leon. Morgan hopes they’ll help him untangle his own life, but all he does is spread the chaos around. I detested Morgan, but liked Emily and was fascinated by her Quaker upbringing. Apparently, Anne Tyler’s “early childhood was spent in a succession of Quaker communities in the mountains of North Carolina.

    For those interested in an analysis of a marriage from the perspectives of both wife and husband:

    'Breathing Lessons' by Anne TylerBreathing Lessons, which won the Pulitzer Prize, follows a day in the life of a seemingly incompatible middle-aged couple, Maggie and Ira. As the summary in my copy of the book explains, “Maggie has an inexhaustible passion for sorting out other people’s problems: where happiness does not exist she must create it”. Her capacity for self-deception is extremely irritating, but Ira isn’t quite as perfect as he thinks, either. What I really loved about this book was how the author used a single day of their life to illuminate everything that both tears them apart and holds them together.

    The Amateur Marriage is about another mismatched couple, Michael and Pauline, but this story begins at their fateful meeting during World War Two. They spend the following decades in vicious conflict, their children reduced to unhappy bystanders. I’m not fond of this novel because I dislike both Michael and Pauline, and the structure of this book didn’t quite work for me (or for this reviewer). However, some readers love this book.

    For those interested in reading about an unhappy wife:

    'Ladder of Years' by Anne TylerIn Ladder of Years, Cordelia is on a summer holiday with her unappreciative family when she decides to walk off down the beach and not come back. I was fascinated by the notion of a woman leaving her husband, without any preparation or even conscious thought on the matter, and then setting up a completely new life in a new town. Could she truly abandon everything from her past? Would she simply end up repeating the old patterns of her life? I must admit, I was disappointed with the conclusion to this novel, but I enjoyed the journey.

    Back When We Were Grownups is my least favourite Anne Tyler novel – in fact, I gave away my copy of this book, because it irritated me so much that I didn’t want it sitting next to my proper Anne Tyler novels. However, I include it here for the sake of completeness. There’s a good review here, if you’d like to know more.

    For those interested in reading about complex, dysfunctional families:

    Searching for Caleb is a rich, rewarding family saga stretching from the 1870s to the 1970s. Justine Peck elopes with her rebellious cousin Duncan, hoping to escape the dull, dry “Peckness” of her family. However, it isn’t as easy as she or Duncan predict, because they’re soon joined by their grandfather Justin, who’s been searching for his runaway brother Caleb for decades. This novel is utterly engrossing and has a wonderful ending. I loved it.

    'Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant' by Anne TylerDinner at the Homesick Restaurant is one of those rare, absolutely perfect novels. Anne Tyler thinks it’s her best, too (she also said it was “her hardest novel to write” ). Pearl is abandoned by her husband, left to bring up three children in her own angry, bitter fashion. Then the children grow up to wreak havoc upon their own spouses and children. I realise this does not sound like a very enjoyable read, but it’s so funny, moving and wise. I can’t recommend it too highly.

    The Clock Winder probably fits into this category, too, but I don’t think it’s one of her best books. Here’s a thoughtful review if you’d like to know more.

    For those interested in unsentimental portraits of old age:

    'A Patchwork Planet' by Anne TylerA Patchwork Planet could probably fit into the ‘dysfunctional families’ category, but one of the many delights of this novel is thirty-year-old Barnaby’s job at Rent-A-Back (or Roll-A-Bat, as his socialite mother scornfully calls it). Barnaby and his friend Martine do chores for the elderly, ranging from decorating their Christmas trees to taking out their trash cans and disposing of their late husbands’ law books. I admit that Barnaby’s voice isn’t always plausible for a young man, but his cluelessness is hilarious. This is another deceptively light-hearted story with a powerful ending.

    Noah’s Compass is Tyler’s most recent novel. It’s about Liam, a solitary, introspective man who’s been retrenched from his teaching job. He settles down in a resigned fashion to contemplate the last years of his life. However, on the first day of this new life, he’s attacked by a burglar and he wakes up a few days later with no memory of this event. His attempts to discover those lost moments throw him into a relationship with a younger woman, who seems as though she might revitalise him . . . or perhaps not. This is certainly not an optimistic book, but this reviewer admired it, and so did this one.

    For those interested in a multicultural view of the United States, post 9-11:

    'Digging to America' by Anne TylerI love Digging to America, which tells the story of two very different Baltimore families, who each adopt a baby girl from Korea. The description of the rigidly politically-correct Dickinson-Donaldson family verges a little too close to caricature, but I adored the Yazdans, originally from Iran. Maryam, the grandmother of the adopted baby, is a wonderfully astringent observer of American customs, and her independence and intelligence make her one of my favourite Anne Tyler characters. This reviewer agreed.

    Finally:

    'The Accidental Tourist' by Anne TylerI can’t quite categorise The Accidental Tourist, but I couldn’t possibly leave it out. Only Anne Tyler could turn the story of a man destroyed by the murder of his child and the subsequent breakdown of his marriage into a story so incredibly moving, hilarious and hopeful. I love this book, and I also enjoyed the film version, which starred William Hurt, Geena Davis, Kathleen Turner and some very clever corgis.

    Anne Tyler is famously reclusive, but she has given one interview about her writing process (unfortunately, you now need an account with The New York Times to read this), one about The Amateur Marriage, and one about Digging to America. The Observer has also done an interesting profile of her.

    Extra note: The book cover images I’ve used are all from the Readings website, which is selling a collection of Anne Tyler novels with snazzy new jackets, published by Vintage. Inexplicably, Saint Maybe is not included. This is very sad, especially as Readings doesn’t even have an old edition of the book in stock.

    Spot the Difference

    Look at this beautiful cover for the new UK paperback edition of Consequences of the Heart by Peter Cunningham. There’s something strangely familiar about it . . .

    'Consequences of the Heart' by Peter Cunningham
    'Consequences of the Heart' by Peter Cunningham, UK paperback, released in May, 2011

    But it’s just one of those odd coincidences of publishing, that two book designers on opposite sides of the world would decide to use the same obscure 1930s photograph. It seems to happen fairly often. The Peter Cunningham book comes out next month, and sounds really interesting.

    I must admit, though, that I prefer The FitzOsbornes in Exile cover, because it cuts out the dorky guy with the moustache, crouching on the floor. Also, that poor girl looks most uncomfortable, perched on the end of that sofa. In ‘my’ cover, she simply looked enigmatic.

    Thank you to Daisy, whose comment at The Story Siren initially prompted me to investigate this. And by ‘investigate’, I mean, ‘spend sixty seconds on Google’. Or possibly slightly more than sixty seconds. How distracting is that adorable Earth Day Google Doodle, with the ticklish pandas and the koala climbing the tree and the bear eating the salmon? Very, very distracting!

    In other news, The FitzOsbornes in Exile has received a starred review from Kirkus. Vicky Smith from Kirkus then asked me some thoughtful questions about the book and I did my best to answer them. The Australian edition has also been shortlisted for the 2011 Ethel Turner Prize for Young People’s Literature and was named a Notable Book for Older Readers in the 2011 Children’s Book Council of Australia awards. Congratulations to all the Australian authors whose books were shortlisted or named as notable books in these awards! You’re all awesome!

    I promise my next blog post will not mention the words ‘FitzOsbornes’ or ‘Exile’.

    The FitzOsbornes in Exile

    The FitzOsbornes in ExileHooray! The FitzOsbornes in Exile, the second book in The Montmaray Journals trilogy, has just been released in North America! Hundreds of copies of hardcovers, e-books and audiobooks are sneaking their way into bookshops and libraries as you read this . . .

    There has been some discussion over whether The FitzOsbornes in Exile is a stand-alone “companion” (as it’s described on the inside jacket) to A Brief History of Montmaray, or a sequel (implied on the front cover, which says “The Montmaray Journals, Book II”). Of course, readers can read The FitzOsbornes in Exile by itself, but I think it makes more sense if you’ve read the first book in the series. There are quite a lot of characters, and it helps to know something about their histories and relationships. However, at least one reviewer enjoyed the second book without having read the first. On the other hand, she read the Australian edition, which includes a two-page summary of the first book (the American edition has only a one-sentence summary of the first book). I’m hardly a good person to ask about this. Are there any readers with any advice on this?

    Contest Winners!

    Thank you to everyone who entered the Montmaray contest, and provided such thoughtful, creative and entertaining suggestions for casting the (imaginary) film version of the book. Congratulations to Gwenyth, Chelsea and Divya, who’ve won copies of A Brief History of Montmaray. To everyone who entered and didn’t win this time, don’t despair! I’ll give away some more books this year. If you’re quick, you may also be able to enter the latest Adventures in Children’s Publishing give-away, which includes copies of both A Brief History of Montmaray and The FitzOsbornes in Exile.