Thursday, November 27, 2014

Starry stars Girl Defective

I'm really happy to see that Girl Defective has a starred review from School Library Journal

And also from The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books:

Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: DEFECTIVE
By Simmone Howell
(Atheneum; ISBN 9781442497603; September 2014; Fall catalog)

Living above the family record store with her alcoholic, failed-rock-star dad and her autistic little brother, fifteen-year-old Skylark Martin is beginning to feel lost and alone. She becomes charmed by vivacious older girl Nancy but fails to see the darker realities behind Nancy’s life of reckless abandon. Soon Skylark’s brother’s obsession with detective work and Skylark’s own fascination with Nancy have her exploring the seedier parts of their fading Australian tourist town, alongside the cute, slightly mysterious Luke Casey. Together they track down vandals through an underground world of sex, drugs, and music, only to find that the petty crimes may connect to the tragic death of Luke’s sister. Part coming-of-age tale, part family story, and part mystery, this novel provides the reader with a well-crafted, layered narrative that still keeps the focus on Skylark’s personal journey. The writing style’s cadence and phrasing perfectly suit both the character and the story; Skylark’s often lyrical narration embodies her musical passions, her na├»ve viewpoint, and her inner confusion. The mystery elements are executed with a light touch, adding a sense of intrigue without becoming the central plot. Likely to suit fans of Marchetta’s Jellicoe Road (BCCB 11/08), this novel will also please readers who like their narrators as active as they are introspective.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Review: Glory O'Brien's History of the Future by A.S King

"We form. We shine. We burn. Kapow."

There were moments when I was reading A.S King's Glory O'Brien's History of the Future when I felt a reverberating zap of excitement - I haven't had this with a book for a while. It happened when Glory riffs on the idea that her graduating class are all like pictures waiting to be developed, and it happens in a future vision where Glory sees women living in trees. I read the book quickly, on my ipad, which is not my favourite format and of course now I want to buy an actual hard copy. Afterwards I went on to Goodreads to see the 'public' reaction - I always find it interesting to see what people love/hate. King's detractors were wary of the dystopian element and 'preachy'  feminist polemic. 'It sounds like the author talking, not the character' is something I hear  again and again... well, guess what - it IS the author talking. And she has LOTS to say. I didn't find Glory unlikeable. I found her tough and self-contained. She reminded me of a girl in the year above me in high school who dropped out because she thought it was all bullshit and went to live off the land (this in the 1980s). I see ideas about sixties fallout in A.S King's books - I think this is why I love them. Failed utopias and questions about freedom. These are things I write about too - So maybe the excitement I had in reading this was also about recognition? I found myself thinking about Notes from the Teenage Underground, Gem uncovering her parent's history, and also using art as way of interpreting the world - in Notes, Gem does this through filmmaking. Glory uses photography.

I'd be really intrigued to hear some young people's opinions of this book and plan to use it in my writing course next year. Did you read it? Did you love it?

Saturday, November 1, 2014

My Life in Dog Ears

I'm back from holidays having all sorts of thoughts. Going away always makes me want to redo my life. Travelling makes me want to write non-fiction. So I've been having a spring-clean, trying to cull. Books, of course, are impossible. For the archives: this article about reading, published about a month ago in The Age, is my favourite thing I've written this year. In other news I was very heartened to hear that Mountain Girl has a memoir coming out mid 2015.

My Life in Dog Ears
I was living back at my parents' after another failed share-house, when my father brought the World Wide Web home. My 'tech-est' moment up to that point had been reading William Gibson's Virtual Light – but I had mostly done this because it was set in San Francisco, where I was planning to live one day when the clouds rained money. 
At the time I was working in a bookshop's short-lived music lounge. We had few customers and little supervision so I spent my clock-able hours reading. Every now and then I catch myself wondering what I did with my 20s, but if I think about it, I know exactly what I was doing: I was reading books, watching movies and drinking beer. These things are not easily quantified. Back then I wore liquid eyeliner. I hung around the edges waiting to be noticed. I felt out of time. Not old, not young. Not quite X and nowhere near Y. I read deeply because I had more time and less choice. I was a late bloomer; or maybe there's no such thing as formative years. Maybe we never stop forming.
At 23 I wanted to write but I didn't know any other writers. I'd been to exactly one poetry reading where a scary woman stood before a microphone and rotated the words: Dick, Suck, Lick, F--- until I thought my brain would bleed. I had clapped politely along with the other patrons. Was she not brave, after all, to get up there even if what she'd read was meaningless? Whoever expected to find meaning at a North Melbourne pub anyway? 
I wasn't at university. I was attempting to school myself. I read beyond my brain, collecting words in my black and red index notebook. I would write the definition then attempt to use them in a sentence. Macadam. Transubstantiation. To this day I don't really know what inchoate means. Or nascent. The smart choice would have been university leading to a proper job, a down-payment, superannuation. I wasn't not smart; I was searching. And it's very hard to look for something when you don't know what that something is.

Read the whole thing:

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

US happenings for Girl Defective!

So this week - excitingly - Girl Defective was published in the US.  Just a month now before I run away head over to do bookish things. I'm on a couple of panels:

The first is for Teen Read Week at Central Library in (Shang-ri) LA. And the second is at The Texas Teen Book Festival in (yee-haw) Austin. See fliers for details - and I hope to meet some readers!

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Palimpsest - Changing Face of Victoria

Palimpsest - Rewriting the City is a creative project for young people (16-25) interested in flexing their wordy muscles and writing stories using city myth and history as source material. Lisa D'Onofrio and I are hoping participants will be inspired by the State Library's Collections and find mysteries in the Microfiche. Today we checked out The Changing Face of Victoria exhibition and imagined:

-  John Fawkner fanfic
 - a daily blog by Elizabeth Batman's doll
- an update of Thomas Ham's Squatting map using the modern definition of the term

On a wall mosaic of photos from The Argus I was reminded of the photo that inspired Toni Jordan to write Nine Days. Below are some more which look like they could be worthy story inhabitants. Palimpsest runs on Wednesdays in August from 5-7 at Signal. Places are limited. You can book online here.

Dust Storm

Women checking out gas masks during manufacture, 1941 -Argus photographer

Baths, Brunswick, group of young people near painted balustrade (detail) 1989 - Elizabeth Gillam

Three young men at the Elvis memorial, Melbourne General Cemetery (detail)  - 1990 - Polixeni Papapetrou

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Palimpsest - Call for Participants

Last year Lisa and I ran the fabulous Mapping Melbourne project. Well, we're still obsessed with the city and writing and this course is a great opportunity for young (16-25) write-y arty types to explore  how to use the city as a source for creativity. It includes a nocturnal visit to the State Library (guided tour), delving into Microfiche and using old texts for new stories ... We have room for a maximum of ten participants and our final collaborative work will be a zine/boradsheet AND an exhibition (collage, sketches, preliminary writing) at the City Library. Feel free to shoot me any questions at simmonehowell  (at) hotmail (dot) com - or for bookings contact Signal on Phone: +61 3 8696 5400

Palimpsest : Rewriting Melbourne

With Lisa D’Onofrio & Simmone Howell
A city is built from stories. Humans are always documenting, discovering and rewriting the layers of the city. Stories are found in newspapers, scribbled on lane-way walls or whispered into the air only to rise again as urban myths.
Over six workshops you will create stories from stories and experiment with creative journaling techniques. You will read the city and research Melbourne’s past and present using the State Library of Victoria's collections.
Your urban myths and stories will be exhibited on the walls and laneways of the city and published as a small zine.
Dates and times: Wednesdays from 6 August through to 10 September, 5pm to 7pm
Cost: Free
Bookings essential: Book online 

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Some Holiday Reading

Ahh school holidays where I don't get to write but do get to read. Here's what I've been reading:

The Tremor of Forgery - by Patricia Highsmith
Is it great? I can't tell. Is anything going to happen? I don't care. I was in a state of voyeuristic angst for the whole book and the ending was not at all what I expected  - but I still found this fascinating. It's not even that the language is beautiful or the details compelling; the character is this lukewarm sort of guy... who spends most of the book wondering if anyone likes him, if he's a bad person, if being placed out of context means that you have no legitimate self ... I loved it. Patricia Highsmith's more heady texts are like the uglybeautiful folkart thing you found at the op shop that you can't stop looking at ...

Kill the Music - Nansi Kunze
I had the pleasure of sharing a panel with Nansi at the Death in July festival where we worked out that the kind of books we write are for the kind of girls we were (or maybe wished we were). In Kill the Music, Lorna's an orphan and her older brother/guardian Flint is a member of Turmoil who are MASSIVE and under threat of ... extinction. At the same time Lorna's negotiating being the new girl in a school where everyone thinks they know your backstory. Kill the Music is a pacey, smart, mystery-adventure with exotic locations and a kick-arse heroine.

The Fever - Megan Abbott
Still Megan Abbott can do no wrong. I read this on the plane and was totally taken. In a misty suburban-y small-town high school girls have started fitting and frothing and no one can figure out why. Deenie, fifteen, thinks she might be the link. It's such tight, claustrophobic writing, full of skewed and scary teenage wanting. And made me think about children and parents and friendship and society and how the hell anyone makes it out of the teenage wilderness. Excellent.

Dear Diary - Leslie Arfin
Funny, disturbing real life diary of Leslie Arfin's journey not from 'crayons to perfume', more from 'perms to crystal meth'. Today Arfin writes for Vice and HBO's Girls - in this she responds to her original diary entries, sometimes seeking out POIs for further clarity. Reading it made me wish I hadn't burned my own teenage diaries - then again ... Arfin dedicates it to her parents with the request that they NOT read it. This makes sense. I read it on holiday with my mother and didn't want her going anywhere near it.

Clothes Clothes Clothes Music Music Music  Boys Boys Boys - Viv Albertine
In case you didn't know, Viv Albertine was in the Slits, and before that the Flowers of Romance with Sid Vicious (they never had a gig). I just loved this  - great to have a female perspective on UK punk scene, tracking it's evolution from something reactionary and violently original into people seeing dollar signs everywhere. I loved reading about how Viv was drawn to music, but didn't know how to get into it; how she writes about The Slits as being like a gang, and how she writes about her lost years where she didn't play music. I'm still waiting to hear about Patti Smith's parenting years. What happens to people when they go underground like that ....

Cherry Bomb - Jenny Valentish
Jenny Valentish's debut novel is a 'teenage psychodrama'set in the Australian music industry about the rise and fall of The Dolls, a precocious duo (think more shadowy Veronicas) whose famous aunt (think Courtney-Chrissie-Stevie) fast-tracks their career. Nina Dall's narrative (including lists, anecdotes, and hallucinations featuring Molly Meldrum) - is sharp and funny and unsentimental. Finding out what drives her, and how far she can go before she implodes kept me turning pages in the wee hours to the not-quite-cathartic-but-probably-realistic end.

As Stars Fall - Christie Nieman
As Stars Fall is set in Melbourne and regional Victoria. It starts with a bushfire, then delves into the connecting lives of three teenagers who are each experiencing their own inner chaos. The story unfolds quickly, and the writing is economical but I felt as though I knew these characters - even the parents (something of a rarity in YA). It's a deep and thinky read that explores nature nature and human nature. The Bush-Stone Curlew (call here:  is the unifying 'character' and a symbol and a warning.