Across the Tasman 1: Maria Gill

One of the great pleasures of international travel, for me, is the discovery of another country’s books, writers and illustrators. My latest trip, to New Zealand, was no exception. Through visits to schools, bookshops, libraries and attending the IBBY (International Board of Books for Young People) Conference in Auckland, I was introduced to the work of the country’s fabulous authors and illustrators for children, and also met several of them in person. To my shame I also discovered how little I knew about New Zealand books–I had read and loved the work of world-famous creators of children’s books like Margaret Mahy, Lynley Dodd, Pamela Allen and Maurice Gee, but otherwise I knew very little. I’m not alone in that, in Australia: our cousins across the Tasman might be so close but we know more about British or American children’s literature than we know about that of New Zealand. Anyway, I decided I’d do my small bit to remedy that, not only by buying and reading lots of books but also by presenting interviews with some of those fabulous creators!

The first interview is with distinguished writer of non-fiction for children, Maria Gill. Her most recent book, Anzac Heroes, which is about the stories of great men and women from both New Zealand and Australia, from both World War One and World War Two, has recently won not only the top non-fiction award in the 2016 New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults but also the Margaret Mahy Book of the Year Award. The judges praised the book as ‘simply stunning’ with ‘carefully chosen material’, and it’s been flying off the shelves both in New Zealand and Australia. I caught up with Maria to talk to her about it.

How did you first get the idea for Anzac Heroes? How long did it take to go from concept to publication?

I had written two other books about the lives of famous people (New Zealand Hall of Fame, New Zealand Sports Hall of Fame) and when I saw the commemorations for WWI I decided to do another about Anzac Heroes. It was a year of solid writing (from 8am – 6pm, seven days a week), and I also spent two months applying for a grant, organising photographs, editing and getting experts to check the book.

Anzac Heroes is a major work of research but also selection. How did you go about that? What were your criteria in deciding who to include in the book? Did you have an initial list in mind, and did that change as you went along? What were the challenges and discoveries involved in the research?

First, I included army, navy and air force men who had won Victoria Cross medals that fought in a range of battles. However, as time went by my conscience was nagging me; I wanted to include indigenous soldiers and women. I looked closely at what being a hero means; it’s about being exceptionally brave, resilience in the face of extreme hardship, and putting your life at risk to save others. Even though Maori and Aboriginal soldiers were mostly given the jobs of digging trenches and tunnels they volunteered to fight or go out on scouting missions that were incredibly dangerous. Same with women; they weren’t allowed to fight in both wars, but they were near the front line, avoiding bomb and bullet fire to save other people’s lives. Indigenous soldiers and women didn’t receive the highest medals but they absolutely deserved to be included and the book is all the more richer for it.

I had difficulty finding information about some of the lesser known men and women in the book. It required detective work; but for me, the more difficult it is, the more determined I am to find their story. I investigated primary sources such as battalion log books, military records, diaries, and letters; as well as secondary sources such as historical books about certain battles. For Aboriginal soldier Albert Knight I rang people in his home town until I found a family member. They told me to ring other family members and between them we pieced together Albert’s story. They were really thrilled his story was finally being told.

The book is lavishly illustrated with pictures that are well-integrated with the text. Did you work with the illustrator, Marco Ivancic, on that, or were you both creating your part of the book separately?anzac-heroes

I was visiting a lot of museums to find information so every time I went I took my camera and shot lots of images for Marco to use as photo reference. I also spent a day with a military re-enactment group taking close-ups, mid-range and long-range shots of them at all different angles. I also sent him any photographs I had discovered online of the men and women.

The Anzac stories are still very inspiring and important to Australian and New Zealand readers. Why do you think that is?

I think it shows how human kind can survive in the harshest of conditions and be strong, brave, and kind despite what is going on around them. I’d like to think young people will read how difficult it was for the men and women during those two wars, and grow up thinking that war should not be an option to solve problems. The stories also tell of significant historical events that shaped our identity.

Your book has been very well-received, both in New Zealand and Australia, and has major awards.  What’s been the reaction from young readers?

Lots of boys have said how much they want to read the book or bring their own copy in for me to sign it. In a school in Brisbane a young girl came up to me and said she wanted to thank me for including indigenous soldiers because she was Aboriginal and it meant a lot to her that they were included.

Maria Gill talking about Anzac Heroes at The Children's Bookshop, Sydney

Maria Gill talking about Anzac Heroes at The Children’s Bookshop, Sydney

You specialise in non-fiction. Tell us about your other books. And what are you working on now?

I’ve written a picture book (The Last of Maui’s Dolphins), several creative non-fiction picture books (Operation Nest Egg Chick, Rangitoto, The Call of the Kokako) and over 40 educational books for children and teachers. At the moment I’m working on a follow-up to Anzac Heroes due to be published in 2018 with Marco Ivancic as the illustrator.

Maria Gill has written 60 books over the last 14 years. Seven of her books have been finalists in national children’s book awards including ‘Anzac Heroes’ in the 2016 New Zealand Children’s Book Awards. ‘Anzac Heroes’ won the non-fiction category and the Margaret Mahy Book of the Year Award. Maria trained as a Primary school teacher and journalist, but now writes children’s books and educational resources full-time in a small seaside village in New Zealand. www.mariagill.co.nz.

 

Cover reveal of Once Upon An ABC!

I am thrilled today to be able to reveal the spectacular front cover of Once Upon An ABC, the first of my two picture book titles to come out next year with Little Hare. It’s illustrated by the fantastic Chris Nielsen, whose gorgeous style, bursting with verve and vivid colour, is simply irresistible!

Here’s what the blurb will say: A romp through both the alphabet and the world of folklore..Sophie Masson’s lively verse gathers together a dazzling range of folklore, made vividly contemporary with Chris Nielsen’s striking artwork.

The book will be out in April 2017.

once-upon-an-abc-cover-final

An interview with Lisa Hayden, translator of Laurus

laurusThe greatest discovery of my reading life this year has been the extraordinary novel, Laurus, by Russian author Eugene Vodolazkin, beautifully translated by Lisa Hayden. Set in the Middle Ages, around the life of a Russian healer and mystic, it is bold, brilliant, spiritually profound and utterly absorbing. I’ve been raving about it to anyone who would listen ever since I read it–and thank you to my friend and fellow author, Natalie Jane Prior, for first drawing it to my attention!

And now I’m absolutely delighted to be bringing you an interview with Lisa Hayden, whose pitch-perfect English translation has so skilfully brought Laurus to readers all over the anglophone world( the book has of course collected many fantastic reviews). Fresh from a trip to Moscow where she won the prestigious Read Russia prize for translation, in the contemporary literature category, Lisa generously answered my questions with great insights and interesting observations. Enjoy!

Lisa(second from left) at ceremony for the Read Russia Prize, with winners of other categories. Photo by Anatoli Stepanenko, used with his kind permission.

Lisa(second from left) at ceremony for the Read Russia Prize, with winners of other categories, Joaquin Fernandez-Valdez, Claudia Scandura, and Selma Ancira. Photo by Anatoly Stepanenko, used with his kind permission.

 

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First of all, Lisa, congratulations on your wonderful translation of Laurus! It must have been an extraordinary undertaking. How did you prepare for it, before you even started the writing work? And how long did the whole process take?

Thank you! I’m glad you and so many other readers have been enjoying the translation. Laurus was tremendous fun to translate and it seems like that comes through for readers.

 I don’t generally do much before starting a translation other than reading the entire book before signing a contract. I don’t do a lot of advance research since I prefer to take each difficulty as it comes, though I often find that author interviews give helpful insights into an author’s intentions. All that said, when I was starting Laurus, I gathered lots of books about the Middle Ages. Though I can’t say I sat down and read any of them cover to cover, I enjoyed paging through lots of them, reading passages, and getting a feel for medieval prose, herbals, and life. An anthology of medieval literature that I read in college was helpful, too, for background information, ideas on vocabulary, and a look at translations of a text or two that Eugene borrowed for Laurus. As for timing, if I remember correctly, I had about eight months from start to finish to work on the translation, with editing taking more time later on.

Were you in touch with the author, Eugene Vodolazkin, during the translation process?

Eugene and I first met in Moscow, in September 2014, and have kept in touch ever since—he and his wife have become friends and I love spending time with them. Eugene answered questions for me and even read through my entire manuscript, which was extraordinarily helpful. He’s just wonderful to work with because his English is very good and he understands the role of the translator. We think of each other as the co-authors of Laurus.

Laurus is an absolutely superb, moving novel with a richly evocative style, truffled with piquant language and a complex narrative chronology. Yet though it’s so artistically accomplished, and the best evocation of the mystical experience I’ve ever come across, it is also very readable and accessible. I imagine that it must have been very difficult to recreate that balance between art and accessibility. How did you do it?

To be honest, I don’t really know! Of course I knew what awaited me because I’d read the book before I began translating. Really, though, for me translating any book is, most of all, a matter of sitting down each day, hearing the text in my head (this sometimes includes reading it out loud), and finding English words that can combine into phrases and sentences that feel like they capture the meaning, energy, style, and spirit of the Russian text. I’m pretty intuitive, so I follow my instincts. I usually go through about five or six full drafts before turning in a final draft. I read the entire book aloud to myself at least once, edit it on paper several times, and read it once on an electronic reader.

 Before Eugene saw my draft, I showed it to two Russian colleagues: Liza Prudovskaya checks a draft of all my translations and Olga Bukhina specifically looked at the old language in Laurus. They answered questions, corrected mistakes, and gave me further ideas. They’re both just wonderful to work with. So are my editors at Oneworld: publisher and editor Juliet Mabey is very no-nonsense, a quality I value highly in an editor and she has a fantastic feel for books that’s won Oneworld numerous awards. And copyeditor Will Atkins is just phenomenal. Beyond straightening out twisted syntax and correcting grammar and stylistic slips, he asks tough questions about usage and vocabulary that help me sharpen my texts. I enjoy working collaboratively, so all the feedback, queries, and ideas from Liza, Olga, Juliet, Will, and Eugene freed me up to take appropriate risks with the language in Laurus. In the end, I think what happened is that I had my intuitive feel for the text, translated the book, and then, thanks to all the drafts and comments, felt confident that my translation fit with the original in terms of meaning and style. Each book is different but that’s my general approach to all of them.

Lisa signing copies of Laurus with the author, Eugene Vodolazkin, at a book event in New York

Lisa signing copies of Laurus with the author, Eugene Vodolazkin, at a book event in New York

You are currently working on the translation of another book by the same author, The Aviator, which will be published in 2018. Can you tell us a bit about it?

I love The Aviator! The novel begins when a man wakes up in a hospital suffering from amnesia. He gradually begins remembering his past and his identity, and those memories are especially interesting because of how they fit with Russian history. I don’t want to say much more because what’s happened to him is so, hmm, unusual. It’s a book with a Petersburg setting that fits beautifully with Laurus and Solovyov and Larionov, which will also be published by Oneworld: all three books look at time, history, and identity, forming a beautiful triptych. I’m working on a first draft of The Aviator now and enjoying how it translates.

Russian-French writer Andrei Makine, in one of his novels, Le Testament français, has his narrator say, ‘The translator of poetry is the poet’s rival; the translator of prose is the novelist’s slave.’ What is your opinion? Do you have a philosophy of translation?

I can’t say that I have a philosophy of translation other than very basic things like “be flexible” and “get the work done,” something that applies to all levels of the process itself. Each book is different so I feel like I work under unique unwritten guidelines for each. Most of those guidelines are subconscious and sometimes I don’t realize what I’ve been doing until rather late in the process.

 The line you mentioned from Makine’s book comes from Vasily Zhukovsky, a nineteenth-century poet and translator. I’ve heard and read this before and I suppose it always irritates me a bit because I’m a prose translator and, despite knowing what he’s saying, I don’t feel like I’m any novelist’s slave on even a metaphorical level! Of course I’m very fortunate that my authors tend to see their translators as co-authors: they encourage me to approach their texts creatively and we often make changes together. Translating fiction is very creative work: even though I’m not restructuring a plot or rewiring character development, I’m a writer who’s supporting the author’s plot structure and character development by choosing words and putting them in an order that feels appropriate for capturing the language and literary devices in the Russian text by establishing a poetics for the translation. It’s very complex work and it’s a tremendously interesting and gratifying form of writing that requires a lot of thought about and feeling for the text.

What other literary works have you translated?

I haven’t been translating for a long time so this will be fairly quick to answer, particularly if I stick to recent and upcoming novels. I’ve translated another book for Oneworld, Vadim Levental’s Masha Regina, a novel about a young woman from a small city who goes to St. Petersburg and eventually becomes a filmmaker. Since I’m from a very small town, I particularly identify with Masha’s provincial roots. I translated Marina Stepnova’s The Woman of Lazarus, a rather edgy family saga, for World Editions and am finishing up her Italian Lessons now. I love Marina’s feel for history and pain, not to mention her humor. Then there are three other books for Oneworld that are in various stages: Eugene’s Solovyov and Larionov, about a historian and a general who live in different times; Eugene’s The Aviator, which feels so close to me right now; and Guzel Yakhina’s Zuleikha Opens Her Eyes, about a kulak Tatar woman who’s exiled in the 1930s. Guzel’s book is a historical novel that looks at Soviet-era difficulties but it’s also very lyrical in places, with imagery and descriptions of nature that are very moving. I like to translate books that have the power to make me cry. That’s why I like all these books: they’re very different but they all move me.

You are a Russian language specialist, and as well as translating literary works such as Laurus, you have taught the language. What drew you to Russian in the first place?

Literarily speaking, stories about Baba Yaga were the first thing to draw me in, when I was very small, then I read my first Chekhov story, “The Bet,” in the sixth grade. I went to college hoping to be a biochemist but nearly failed calculus: I signed up for first-year Russian after loving a Russian history course and went to Russia, which was then the Soviet Union, for the first time in 1983. After that came grad school in Russian literature, though I dropped out with just an MA because I couldn’t picture myself teaching and researching for the rest of my life. I love Russian and I love writing but don’t have it in me to construct plots and develop characters, so translation feels like ideal work for me.

 Thank you, Sophie, for inviting me to answer these questions for you. I appreciate your interest in Laurus, Eugene’s writing, and my work. Happy reading to everyone!

Harry Ashton-Wolfe, true-crime writer of ‘the Golden Age’

ashton-wolfe-3For a bit of fun today I’m republishing a piece of mine that was first published some years ago, about Harry Ashton-Wolfe, an absolutely wonderful–and unintentionally hilarious!–true-crime writer of the so-called ‘Golden Age’ of the detective craze, in the 1920’s and 30’s. He inspired one of my own characters in The Case of the Diamond Shadow-and to all crime writers out there, he’s really worth rediscovering!

So here’s the article, below. Enjoy!

Harry Ashton-Wolfe

Some of my favourite book finds have come into my hands not by word of mouth or reviews or prior knowledge but by sheer chance: the eccentric jewel suddenly spotted amongst the lucky-dip gimcrack of  junk shop and school fete, car boot sale and charity shop shelf. And these days, very often in that virtual combination of all those venues, the Internet.

It was thus I made the serendiptous discovery of the priceless but sadly forgotten works of celebrity criminologist and true-crime writer of the 1920’s and early ’30’s, Harry Ashton-Wolfe. Browsing on the Net one day, looking up Conan Doyle sites with the vague notion of Sherlock Holmes appearing in a detective novel for young readers I was planning, I stumbled across a casual reference to a H.Ashton-Wolfe, writer of true-crime adventure bestsellers, who claimed to know not only Holmes’ creator, as well as the leading lights of the French Surete and Scotland Yard, but also just about every famous criminal and outlaw of the day!

Several hurried orders from second-hand bookshops later, I had built up a mini-library of Ashton-Wolfe’s books, with their gorgeously pulpy titles, such as Crimes of Love and Hate, The Thrill of Evil, Outlaws of Modern Days, and The Forgotten Clue. And I plunged into the addictive joys not only of the melodramatic and exotic cases recounted in racy prose, but the vain and boastful character of Ashton-Wolfe himself, which infused the stories with unintentional hilarity. So immediately engaging was this combination that I immediately dropped Sherlock in favour of a certain Philip Woodley-Foxe, whose adventures are legendary, not least to himself. No prizes for guessing who he was based on!

A marvellous combination of Action Man, cheerleader for ‘modern’ scientific detection, adventurous ashton-wolfemaster of disguise and shameless name-dropper, Harry Ashton-Wolfe doesn’t just recount the cases, he inhabits them. He’s an important part of investigating teams in Paris tracking down fiendishly cunning criminals, such as the Eurasian Hanoi Shan; he gets locked up and threatened with death by vicious gangsters; he is at the elbow of the greatest forensic scientists of the day, such as Edmond Locard of the Surete, and earlier, the legendary Alphonse Bertillon; he is allowed to peruse the ”secret archives” of the Paris Prefecture; by chance, he recognises a famous anarchist bandit, Jules Bonnot, as having once been his chauffeur; he dons disguises such as that of a Parisian apache or a Corsican bandit to infiltrate criminal rings(delightfully, his books sometimes include photographs of him in disguise, complete with picturesque hats and moustaches!)

Airily, he recognises that ‘It is rather strange, when I look back, to think how often I have found myself involved in events that later passed into history,’ (The Underworld—a Series of Reminiscences and Adventures in Many Lands), but he doesn’t let that slight improbability deter him in the least. Time after time, he’s in at the kill—helping to nail a vicious poisoner or uncovering a sensational tranvestite murder or catching a crook who’s passing off fake diamonds. He describes the most sensational murder methods—such as kittens whose claws have been tipped with deadly tetanus baccili; centipedes used as murder weapons; and in an echo of Edgar Allan Poe, an ape trained to kill! Rather scathing about most detective fiction—aside from Conan Doyle’s, to whom he dedicated Outlaws of Modern Days—he nevertheless uses every trick of sensational fiction, including catchy titles, breathless first-person narration, cheesy dialogue and moralising asides. He offers titillating portraits of famous murderers, gangsters and outlaws, and lovingly sketched examples of criminal wickedness. But there’s always a moral: not only are these bad people bad, but they will inevitably be brought to book by the superior methods of modern scientific crime-fighting. His touching faith in these methods—which he describes in detail in The Forgotten Clue– is such that he is convinced they will shortly put ashton-wolfe-2an end to all crime.

Mostly, he writes about modern cases(at least, from the 1890’s onwards) but in Tales of Terror—True Stories of Immortal Crimes, he looks at older real-life mysteries fictionalised by writers such as Alexandre Dumas: the Man in the Iron Mask, the Count of Monte-Cristo, the Affair of the Diamond Necklace…You get the distinct impression that he thinks modern scientific methods would surely have made short work of elucidating them!

So who was H.Ashton-Wolfe, this tireless go-getter chronicler of crime? In The Underworld he offers something of an  autobiography, and colourful it is too (sample chapter titles: The Episode of the Clairvoyant Countess’, ‘La Glu—Apache and Gentleman’; ‘The Motor Bandits’; The Blue Anchor Mystery’). He was born in 1881, of a Scottish father who had emigrated to New Mexico and who as a US soldier had participated in the historic final stand of the Sioux under Sitting Bull. His mother was an American, of half-Scottish, half-Spanish blood(Ashton-Wolfe makes much of this ”gipsy strain” which made him a ”wanderer, restless and ever seeking after excitement and novelty.”) Young Harry was born in London whilst his parents were on a visit there but he spent his childhood on the ‘prairies of Arizona and Colorado’—in The Forgotten Clue he also writes about how he was taught to ride and shoot there by “the red-skinned Sioux warriors, who, strangely enough, enjoyed showing a white boy their tricks”–then sent to school in Denver till the age of 14. He was then packed off to a boarding-school in Cannes, and thence to university in Heidelberg—giving him, as he points out, an unrivalled facility in three languages, and the love of travel, not to speak of European glamour to add to American derring-do.

But it’s a youthful holiday in Monte-Carlo that introduces him to his future career when, on nightly visits to the Casino, he befriends a ”dapper little Frenchman” , Monsieur Blanchard, who enlists his help in watching another gambler—an American named Big Jim Cowley. Of course, M. Blanchard turns out to be from the Surete, Big Jim is soon unmasked as a crook of the first order, and the adventure not only whets Ashton-Wolfe’s appetite for more excitement, but sees him eventually accepted as assistant to Dr Alphonse Bertillon, in Paris, working with him on many extraordinary cases. In this capacity, he also collaborates on occasion with detectives from Scotland Yard and the US. Later, due to his familiarity with foreign languages, he acts as ”interpreter to the civil and criminal courts” in Britain–in which capacity he appears to have written many of his books.

Perhaps he might have been able to retire though, for his books were best-sellers in the genre, going through many editions worldwide, and garnering glowing reviews: ‘Out-thrilling the thrillers’–‘Exciting studies in international crime’–‘Unsurpassed as a narrator of authentic crime stories’. The public’s appetite for true as well as fictional crime in the Golden Age of the detective novel was huge, and as well as his books, Ashton-Wolfe wrote articles for magazines such as The Strand as well as the true-crime magazines which flourished in the Golden Age of the detective novel. And his stories influenced other contemporary writers. For instance, ‘Sapper’, the creator of the Bulldog Drummond adventure series, was inspired by two of Ashton-Wolfe’s cases: the diabolical Hanoi Shan, and the anarchist bandits Jules Bonnot and Octave Garnier, for his 1929 novel,  The Temple Tower(as well as basing a character, Victor Matthews, on Ashton-Wolfe himself). And in a nice touch, Conan Doyle himself used a story recounted in Crimes of Love and Hate, about an Italian swindler who claimed to have created a death ray, as the basis for one of his Professor Challenger stories, The Disintegration Machine.

Ashton-Wolfe’s work was also the basis for a popular pot-boiler film, Secrets of the French Police(1932), where he is credited as writer. Other films may have been planned; but questions as to the authenticity of his recitals began to surface, and no others were produced. As well, with his style beginning to seem old-fashioned, his books started to fall out of favour, and eventually were forgotten so completely that not a single one remains in print.

Just how much—or how little–of his biography, let alone his claimed exploits, is authentic, I have no idea. Much of it, I suspect, needs to be taken with a fairly large grain of salt. Trying to find information that isn’t part of the persona Ashton-Wolfe built for himself is like trying to write on water. But it doesn’t really matter. For the books are truly wonderful period pieces, some of which  deserve to be reprinted in their full glory, cheesy photographs and all.

Jessica Whitman writes about Wild One

Wild One Blog Tour posterToday, I’m delighted to be part of a blog tour by popular fiction author Jessica Whitman, featuring her new novel, Wild One. In this guest post, she shares an experience many writers can relate to!

My writing ritual is not as glamorous as my heroine

by Jessica Whitman

Before I had kids, I wrote a bit like Kat does in the book. I had a very specific ritual for my writing, and heaven forbid everything was not just exactly so. I had to have a clean house, the right pot of tea (and I always drank out of the same cup), a room solely devoted to my work, a view from my window, loose, comfortable clothes, and glorious, uninterrupted, hours of night time silence. But now, I write catch as I can. The one thing I still do is work at night – which used to be a choice, but now is a necessity. Because I do need uninterrupted hours to really go deep, and it’s just about the only time I can get it.

As for losing my mojo, ironically, having children and having other work, has shown me that writer’s block was really just an indulgence on my part. When your time is severely limited, when you have deadlines to meet, when you are fighting for the hours you need to get your work done, the idea of wasting time sitting in front of a blank screen in pretty much unfathomable. And so I am far more productive since I had kids and jobs to juggle than I was before, when I had all the idle time in the world. The pressure has actually made me a better a writer.

Wild One by Jessica Whitman is published by Allen & Unwin, RRP $29.99, available now.

Thanks to Allen and Unwin, two lucky readers (Australian residents only) could win a copy of the book! Enter by filling in the contact form on my blog, putting in your name and street address(no PO Boxes please). Wild One cover

Read more about Wild One:

 

In the irresistible tradition of Jilly Cooper, Wild One is the second addictively readable novel in the glamorous, scandalous, romance-filled Polo Season series.

When Katherine ‘Kat’ Parker wrote and directed a blockbuster movie she became Hollywood’s ‘It Girl’ overnight – until with one flop she wasn’t. Now Kat is back living in Florida trying to find the inspiration to write what she hopes will be her comeback screenplay.

Despite being an exceptionally talented polo player, Sebastian Del Campo has never shared his famous family’s intense passion for the sport. He has, however, excelled at other polo-related activities – like partying hard and having liaisons with beautiful women.

When Sebastian meets Kat he finds her down-to-earth attitude refreshing. Keen to get to know her better, he regales Kat with stories of his trailblazing grandmother, Victoria, who was a pioneering polo player.

Kat’s imagination is fired by Victoria’s story and she realises she’d make a great subject for a screenplay. Seb agrees and the pair head to Hollywood to seek out funding for a film that could make or break both their careers – and their growing feelings for each other . . .

Wild One is a fun, sexy and entertaining novel about taking a risk to follow your passions in life – and love.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jessica Whitman teamed up with the face of Ralph Lauren, world-famous polo player Ignacio ‘Nacho’ Figueras, to bring to life a romantic trilogy set in the glamorous world of international polo. ‘Nacho’ Figueras is the captain and co-owner of the award-winning Black Watch polo team. The ‘David Beckham of polo’, he has featured on Oprah, 60 Minutes and Gossip Girl, and was voted the second most handsome man in the world by Vanity Fair. Nacho lives in America and Argentina with his wife and their four children.

Where to buy the book:

 

 

 

Off to SCBWI Conference!

scbwiTomorrow, I’m off to the SCBWI Conference in Sydney, which I’m much looking forward to. In a bit of a turn up for the books, as it were, I’ve been invited to present not as an author, but as a publisher–representing Christmas Press, of course!

On Monday I’ll be viewing the Illustrator Showcase, looking at the work of new ad more established illustrators; conducting a manuscript critique; and appearing on a panel on building a brand while maintaining your passion, with some fabulous other panellists: author and former publisher Margaret Hamilton; managing editor of Australian Standing Orders, Belinda Bolliger; author and festival director Sandy Fussell; Harper Collins publicity manager, Holly Frendo, and brand creator, journalist and author Valerie Khoo. Should be a great session!

In other literary events this coming week, and still with my publishing hat on, I’m going to be supporting Christmas Press author John Heffernan at a talk he’s giving on Tuesday 6 about his book with us, Two Tales of Brothers from Ancient Mesopotamia, at Leichhardt Town Library; and also at a SCBWI event on Wednesday 7th, at the Children’s Bookshop in Beecroft when John will be part of a stellar list of authors presenting their books to readers.

And finally, on the Thursday, it’s back to popping my author hat on, as I’ll be having lunch with two lovely Scholastic publishers: Clare Hallifax and Ana Vivas!

 

Interview with Joel Naoum of Critical Mass

 Version 2Today, I’m very pleased to be bringing readers an interview with Joel Naoum. Joel is a Sydney-based book publisher, editor and consultant. He currently runs Critical Mass, a consultancy for authors and publishers, and previously ran Pan Macmillan Australia’s digital-first imprint Momentum. In 2011 he completed the Unwin Fellowship researching digital publishing experimentation in the United Kingdom.
I met Joel when he was at Momentum and published two adult novels of mine, the Trinity duology. It was a really fantastic experience to work with Joel and the rest of the Momentum team, and it was with great regret that I heard last year about the closure of Momentum as a stand-alone imprint, and the subsequent departure of Joel and his team. So it’s been excellent to catch up with him and chat about his very interesting new business, Critical Mass.
First of all, Joel, congratulations on launching Critical Mass! Can you tell readers about how you came up with the idea for the business, and what you see as its main objective?
Well, the name is a bit of a joke from my previous job at Momentum. We used to bend over backwards to avoid using the word “momentum” in conversation (which used to come up quite a bit in a fast-moving digital publishing imprint). One of the phrases we used to use was “building critical mass”. 
 
In a lot of ways Critical Mass is a logical follow-up to Momentum. When we conceived of Momentum six years ago we were trying to compete as a traditional publisher with the growing self-publishing trend. When digital sales began to plateau for traditional publishers, however, and I knew I was going to be leaving Momentum, I thought “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.” Self-publishing is still growing at a healthy rate, and authors have access to a massive range of services to help them. One thing I felt was missing, though, was the personal touch of a publisher or agent. Someone who can advise an author strategically, for their own benefit, about what steps to take next – whether you’re just starting out or you’re an established author. So I thought I could use the skills I’ve built up over the years to become a publisher-for-hire.
What have been the challenges and discoveries in setting up such a unique enterprise? 
It’s been difficult to find a way of framing the services I offer and pointing out the value in them. If an author has never been published before (or represented by a good agent) then they likely don’t know the advantages. For a lot of indie authors, publishers are the enemy – someone who has stopped them from publishing; not someone who helps them make better decisions or finds them better services to improve the quality of their publishing. It’s also been challenging to wear two hats – Critical Mass is a consultancy both for authors and for publishers, so finding a way to do both without compromising either service is a juggling act.
 How do you think your experience as founding director of Pan Macmillan’s digital imprint, Momentum, as well as the rest of your experience in the publishing has influenced and informed the direction and focus of Critical Mass?
I think Momentum in particular helped me make a transition from the slow-moving but high-quality world of traditional publishing to the lightning fast world of indie publishing. I understand what compromises need to take place to self-publish, but I also understand where not to cut corners in order to not compromise the book.
Critical Mass is aimed at three groups: authors, publishers, and content producers. With authors, you are offering a range of services to improve and streamline a self-publishing experience, which can be quite an undertaking for people attempting it alone. Can you explain the kinds of things you can do for authors going down the indie publishing route? In your opinion, when is self-publication a viable option for authors?
My first port of call is always to have a chat to authors who aren’t sure what they want to do to see if the type of project they’re working on suits self-publishing, or if they should attempt to pitch to a traditional publisher. If they’re better off attempting traditional publishing, I can help them polish their work and their pitch. If the project they’re working on suits self-publishing then I can help them decide on a publishing strategy, and then connect them to the various freelance editors, proofreaders, designers, marketers and other services to help them publish their book.
The biggest indicators for me that an author should self-publish is that they’re writing something that suits the market (books in series, genre fiction), they’re prolific (writing a book or two a year at least), they’re self-motivated and that they’re willing to experiment.
You are offering publishers a focus on technology solutions and possibilities for their business. Can you describe what’s involved? 
There are a lot of advantages to introducing digital technologies to all aspects of a publishing workflow that a lot of publishers, particularly the smaller ones, haven’t yet considered. End-to-end digital workflows save money and time, and automate work as much as possible so that the human beings inside an organisation can make intelligent decisions where needed instead of wasting their time on repetitive tasks that don’t sell more books or make them any better.
Moving to content producers, such as bloggers, you are looking at an earlier stage of writing than is implied in the services you offer to authors, with advice, for instance, on whether their content might be suitable to produce as a book. What kinds of things would you be looking at, in such content?
“Content producer” was a difficult category to come up with, and I’m still not 100% happy with the phrase. Basically I’m talking about businesses or individuals who have content, but they’re not sure if it’s a book and if so what they could do with it. This includes anyone from advertising agencies looking into book publishing for their brands, or an individual blogger who has built a platform but isn’t sure whether their content would suit book publishing. Given the breadth of what “content” is, it’s hard to make general observations, but the idea is that I’ve spent most of my career making commercial decisions about whether digital content is a book or not, and I figure other businesses and individuals might find that experience useful.
What are your views on the publishing industry, both nationally and globally? What do you see as the trends? 
 Publishing of all stripes is in a pretty good place right now. Traditional publishers are making money from both print books and digital, all the while authors have more access than ever before to top notch services and platforms to get their books out there – whether they go with a traditional publisher or do their own thing. 
 
I think things seem fairly stable right now, but the next five to ten years will likely see some more big shifts in the way audiences consume books, especially as the core audience for print books begins to age, and the people who grew up with iPads start to have kids of their own. I suspect the biggest areas for disruption are the health and wellness / lifestyle books and children’s books. I think this likely something to look for in the medium to long term, though, not in the next couple of years.
 
As always it’s also worth considering Amazon. They’re looking into launching more bricks and mortar bookstores in the US, and their in-house publishing imprints are becoming ever more powerful. If this end-to-end strategy pays big dividends you could see an even bigger juggernaut in the industry, which will likely cause more of the big traditional publishers to merge together in order to stay competitive.
Visit Critical Mass here.