Tag Archives: writers

Gifts for the Writer in Your Life

BlainMineChristmasCatChristmas is 12 days away, which ought to prompt me to some kind of ‘Twelve Days of Christmas’ doggerel, but honestly. I like you all too much to subject you to such dire yuletide whims. (I did once rewrite The Night Before Christmas, with our cat Petra in the leading role, and if my doggerel amnesty fails, I’ll subject you to that at a later date.)

The organised amongst you will have completed your Christmas shopping, while the rest of us are in the process of staring, aghast, at the calendar and wailing OH MY GOD, NO, I’M NOT READY, I’M NOT READY, I WILL NEVER BE READY!

I can’t do much to help you with that, I’m afraid, except offer a few suggestions of what you might get for the writer in your life. It breaks down into two categories: time and stuff.

Time

If the writer in your life is anything like me, the thing they need most of is time. Time to write. Time to plan. Time to just sit and think and think and think in an attempt to sort out that plot point that simply will not resolve itself in five minute snatches of contemplation over a cup of tea. If the writer in your life is a parent, and has a lot of household responsibilities as well, a little alone time for thinking is especially precious.

Some years ago, my dear friend Jehni and I arranged to take our mutual dear friend, Yvon, away for a weekend for her birthday. We went to a farm stay, a long way away from shops, cinemas or any other distractions. Meals were included, and we could look at the cows until they came home, if that was our desire. I think we puzzled the host family a little by essentially just bedding down in the guest section of the house and writing for three days. Yvon, who normally supported her husband’s business in the office as well as taking care of the home and feeding the family, had three clear days in which she didn’t even have to do the dishes. She wrote up a storm. Jehni and I weren’t too slack either.

Okay, so maybe this Christmas it’s not possible to give your writer honey three clear days without other responsibilities, but you can find other ways to gift them time. Perhaps you can offer a standing arrangement one night a week that you make dinner, do the chores and the running around, all those things, while they lock the door to their office and get five straight hours of writing done. Maybe you can take on breakfast duties and give them an extra half hour every morning. Perhaps you can come up with the cash and the time to send them off on a writer’s retreat after all.

Talk to them first, of course, to find out how best to arrange such time so that they can make the most of it. You’ll probably come up with some other useful ways to help your cherished writer find more time for their craft. It may seem intangible, but the results will be words on pages, and a happier honey.

Stuff

It’s possible, however, that the writer in your life is already managing their time well, or that it really isn’t possible to  gift them extra time in some way. Never fear – there is always fabulous writerly STUFF to be had!

The Sentence First shop sells T-shirts and cups based on wordplay, including the delicious “Inventing words is squingulously efflumberant”.

The Literary Gift Company has always been a favourite, too, with its quotable chocolate bars, word-related jewellery, and even author-themed gifts (here’s an amusing collection of items related to Agatha Christie,  Arthur Conan Doyle/Sherlock Holmes and Jane Austen. The Literary Ties are pretty neat too.

Of course, there are also the stationery standbys, like Smiggle, Kikki K and Typo. Those are good if you’re worried that an online purchase won’t reach you in time, as there are plenty of Real World™ stores to find.

So good luck with your shopping, and with your writing – and whatever the festive season brings (and however you celebrate it, or not) let your new year bring you inspiration, free WiFi and all the right words in the right order.

Merry Xmas!

Doctor Who, Robert Holmes and Writing Supporting Characters

Doctor Who: The Pyramids of Mars - Courtesy of BBC Worldwide
Doctor Who: The Pyramids of Mars – Courtesy of BBC Worldwide

As you are probably well aware, this year is the 50th Anniversary of Doctor Who. The City of Melbourne, bless it, is full of the Spirit of Geekness with this and has been running a great program of related events: one of which was a writing workshop I ran at the lovely Southbank Library called Doctor Who and Building Believable Fantasy Worlds.

We had an entertaining discussion in part about how a show that was previously notorious for its wobbly sets, sometimes bombastic performances and shonky SFX was considered engaging and even believable enough that it kept viewers coming back year after year; that it regularly attracted new viewers; that even for the period where it didn’t exist as a TV show, it had books and audio adventures that filled those gaps with great aplomb.

The responses partly cited the ideas behind Doctor Who, but mostly, the workshop attendees talked about the characters, both lead and support, that populated the regularly changing worlds.

That led me in turn to talk about one of the show’s great writers, from whom I learned so much about writing supporting characters.

I of course refer to Robert Holmes.

Holmes was a genius at writing supporting characters that were bright and engaging people in their own right. He understood that to engage people in a story, you need not only lead characters you care about, but for those characters to live in a world filled with other fully realised people. Even if the latter only got a fraction of the screentime.

His supporting characters were not only there as plot devices, to force certain things to occur or to advise the Doctor or one of his companions of key exposition. They made the worlds the Doctor visited more real by making their societies real, and by having lives that extended beyond the story we saw. So many of them demonstrably had lives before we saw them and, if they were lucky enough to survive the episodes, would clearly have lives beyond it, too.

Take Robert Holmes’s Carnival of Monsters, which is essentially a story about a customs dispute. It contains three blue-skinned government employees who could easily have been identical cyphers but instead had discussions and arguments about government policy, the possibility of a worker’s revolt and the different attitudes members of a society might have about those social and political conditions in which they lived. They added texture to a world we never really saw, showing that it was not a homogenous civilisation with only a single viewpoint on how to live – just like the world we live in.

Carnival also contains two travelling entertainers who seem quite affable and fun, but who have an illegal device that treats sentient beings as zoo animals, and treats both them and the actual animals with less respect and care than in most zoos. They are quite nice people doing quite a terrible thing, without much thought. That ambiguity (good people doing terrible things; terrible people doing good things) immediately provides an engaging story-telling concept, a dichotomy that is used so well in more recent shows like Dexter, Being Human and Breaking Bad.

Robert Holmes also wrote The Ribos Operation, the first story in the Key to Time arc with Tom Baker’s Doctor and the first Romana. It contains a scene that is wholly unnecessary to the plot but is also one of the most moving scenes in the series.

The young, fresh-faced conman Unstoffe is fleeing from a guard and is hidden by a homeless man in rags – Binro the Heretic. Binro was ridiculed and exiled for daring to believe the little lights in the sky were not ice crystals, but the lights from other suns, and that those suns might harbour other worlds and other beings. His hands are gnarled, he lived in squalor and he is treated badly by the guard and others he meets. From him, we learn about this planet’s history, but in a very personal way.

When he tells Unstoffe his theory, instead of being ridiculed, Binro is met with kindness. Unstoffe actually tells him that those worlds and people exist; that one day, people will turn to each other and say ‘Binro was right’. Binro, tears in his eyes, commits to helping Unstoffe escape. When later he puts himself between Unstoffe and harm, it’s especially moving because those two characters, in so few scenes, have a bond borne of kindness and hope. It’s absolutely unnecessary to the main story we are seeing, but it’s one of the things that makes the story matter, and work so well.

Similarly, the vile and cruel Graff Vynda-K shows his only spark of true humanity near the end, when his old friend and brother-in-arms, Sholakh, is crushed beneath falling rock. For the only time, Graff doesn’t care about the precious stone he’s spent all this time killing and scheming to get. He only cares that his friend is dying, and when Sholakh breathes his last, Graff bends to kiss the closed eyes of his only friend. For that moment, I have sympathy for an otherwise shallow and hateful man. Quite an achievement. Again, it doesn’t contribute to the plot, but it does contribute to that story being memorable and emotionally affecting.

Robert Holmes wrote some of my favourite Doctor Who stories from the Patrick Troughton to the Colin Baker eras, including the The Time Warrior, The Pyramids of Mars, The Sun Makers and The Caves of Androzani.

Doctor Who: Robots of Death - Courtesy of BBC Worldwide
Doctor Who: Robots of Death – Courtesy of BBC Worldwide

Classic Doctor Who of course had many terrific writers, including Chris Boucher (The Robots of Death) and Terry Nation (Genesis of the Daleks) but Holmes was always the standout for me.

As a writer, he clearly demonstrated the power of telling memorable stories through creating strong, fully realised supporting characters.Through lively rather than merely expositionary dialogue, these characters help to build pictures and demonstrate elements of the wider world they inhabit, creating texture and emotional connection. Although they often serve to advance plot and give the lead characters interesting opportunities for interaction, these characters are not there solely to act as plot devices, obstacles or drivers of events: they are people, real and whole, with concerns, personalities, relationships and opinions that go beyond their function in the story.

These are lessons I try to remember in my own work, to make the worlds I build more real by making sure that everyone we meet in the story is a whole person, through whom the reader learns about the society as well as the protagonists –  and perhaps the reader will care for their fates, too.

Other Doctor Who posts:

Interview: Tansy Rayner Roberts

Large Greyscale TRRTansy Rayner Roberts is a fantasy novelist who shares a pair of typing fingers with crime novelist Livia Day. Livia’s first murder mystery, A Trifle Dead, will be released from Twelfth Planet Press on 28 March 2013.

Tansy’s recent releases include Power and Majesty, The Shattered City and Reign of Beasts, the three books of the Creature Court trilogy.  Her first novel, Splashdance Silver, was recently re-issued as an e-book.

With so much going on for Tansy and her alter ego, I thought it was high time I asked her a few searching questions. She repaid me with very thorough answers!

The Shattered City is a terrific book, telling a whole story yet still functioning as the middle book of a trilogy. You said to me you’d set a challenge to yourself to overcome the ‘Middle novel problem’. How do you define that problem, and how did you go about meeting it?

I think there are two sides to the middle novel problem – one is that narrative: the middle act in a three act structure is the one that has to hold everything together, and in the case of epic fantasy, that’s a really long time to keep everyone entertained while you move all the pieces into place for the big finale.  What you don’t want is your reader to think of the middle book as being the interval they had to sit through in order to reach the second half.

The second and perhaps more dramatic problem is one of reader perception – fantasy readers are pretty worn down and cynical these days, and the middle novel of a fantasy trilogy has acquired a poor reputation, I think unfairly.  If the middle novel is soggy or boring or has characters running around in circles for no good reason, then that’s the fault of the author and to some extent the trilogy – it doesn’t mean that middle books everywhere are unnecessary!

I rather like the middle book of a trilogy because it tends to be the one with the most character development, and more room to breathe because the readers know who everyone is now, and aren’t yet all tensed and psyched up for everyone to start being killed off. Which means, of course, that as an author, I can happily screw with their expectations.

In my own case, the secret was in fact to originally plan a four book series, agree to let it be a trilogy instead, and write two books worth of plot into the middle book. This meant paring down a lot of stuff, building up new characters, and sadly resisting the urge to kill off a beloved character as a cliffhanger to a volume. In retrospect, it meant that the middle volume had to be the tightest, and work the hardest, which is actually what I should have been striving for anyway.

After all that, though, Sarah Rees Brennan’s definition of the trilogy is one I now wave at people who suggest middle books are a waste of time. “Book 1 – Set up. Book 2 – Make Out. Book 3 – Defeat Evil.

shattered cityIf you’ll pardon the pun, the concept of Velody being a dressmaker is interwoven through the whole of the Creature Court stories. It’s not just her job, it’s fundamental to who she is and her approach to life, and that sense of creating new things permeates the politics and relationships we see. It is also, though, a catalyst for some pretty destructive plot elements. I suppose I’m asking if you’re a dressmaker and, either way, how that concept got woven into plotting the series.

I’m so not a dressmaker!

I love fabrics and textile arts, and I’ve always been fascinated by them. I’m a quilter and I love to play with the pretties. But my secret downfall is measuring. I sew like I cook (and like I write!) – madly, and without measure. Which means trying to make an actual garment that fits an actual specific shape is totally beyond me.

I have however spent my life surrounded by artists and creative people, and I am well aware that whatever your artistic obsession is, that’s how you see the world. So it was important to me that Velody’s Point of View voice would be wrapped up in her sewing terminology. I did need a friend to read the books over for clanger mistakes, though – and among other things, to make sure Velody could do what she actually needed to be capable of doing, I did shift the industrial level of the world just a tad, to let her have an early Singer sewing machine.

I knew Velody was a dressmaker before I knew what her name was, so it is an integral part of the story, but the most important thing to me was that she was a professional craftswoman, someone who was a practical producer of things, because of the conflict between that life and the insanely frivolous, beautifully dressed Creature Court. Sure, they save the world on a regular basis, but that’s their only contribution to society – in other ways, they’re quite parasitic.

Velody had to have a real job, because one of the essential questions of the book was – how can you save the world and hold down a real job at the same time? I wanted a woman as protagonist who had responsibilities, and valued what she did in the daylight, and had to weigh that up with what she could achieve during the battles of the nox. Not all superheroes are Batman – some have to pay the rent! And the contrast between Velody and Ashiol, who drops every responsibility he’s ever been given, never hurts for money, and constantly lets the people he loves down, because of that single justification that he’s busy saving the world.

Heroing is so often unpaid work in fantasy worlds, to the point where heroes who want to be paid are seen as unworthy of the role, and I wanted to write a fantasy which addressed how problematic that is from a privilege/class/gender point of view. Not that I’m preachy about it, I hope!

Frankly, one of the questions I want to ask is: “How do you manage to be so very, very awesome as a plotter?” but that’s a rubbish question. I still want to ask it, though. Do you do huge, 10,000 word story treatments, like PG Wodehouse used to do with his own convoluted plots? What is the secret of your success?

Thank you for the compliment! I work really hard on my plots, it’s not a magical talent that comes naturally to me. I tend to work fairly free form, with only a general idea where I am going, but a quite clear idea where I want to end up. Mostly I allow my plots to grow out of characters rather than the other way around, because I find characters more interesting.

I also try and stop and check in from time to time, to make sure I’m going in the right direction, and to run the story so far past other eyes to make sure I’m not majorly stuffing up.

I did call upon a spreadsheet or two for this one, but that was mostly to keep track of character history rather than plot threads – there’s a complex back story and the hierarchy of the Creature Court meant I had to know the history of servitude and alliance that each character had been through – the fact that Mars was Livilla’s courtesi once and is now her equal and ally is important to how they behave towards each other, as is the uncomfortable, complex relationship between Ashiol, Garnet and Poet (which you’ll see more of in the third book!).  There are a couple of characters not alive for the entirety of the trilogy who are vital to how my sweeties interact with each other now.

But as for plotting forward… I’m actually a terrible leaper rather than a looker. I know the feel of what I’m going for, and I grope wildly towards it. More than once, I get it wrong, and have to recover fast.

I will admit that when I was writing the third book, I was still building the finale, and in many cases I only knew about particular events days or hours before writing them. Other parts had been planned out from the beginning. But I am a big believer in the idea that if you know the past of your characters in great detail, then their future will unfold with integrity.

Do you have any preferences for a fantasy casting of the novels? I like Johnny Depp for Poet, myself.

I want to say he’s too old, but Johnny Depp, of course, is never too old. You’d definitely need someone with his great capacity for being weird, scary and innocent all at the same time. I have a fondness for the actor who played young Octavian in HBO’s Rome series – I think he could pull off the part, in a few years, which is at least as long as it would take to get something like this off the ground as a production. If not, grab him from a few years ago via. time travel and he can do the flashback scenes.

After seeing all those beautiful stills of the Great Gatsby, I would accept Carey Mulligan as Delphine in a heartbeat. Joel Edgerton or Dan Spielman as Macready. Now I’m just totally rifling through old Secret Life of Us casting…

Nicholas Hoult is too pretty for nearly everything he is in, so I’m sure we could find room for him somewhere.

When it comes to my central protagonists, though, Ashiol and Velody, I can’t cast them at all. I know how they look in my head, but couldn’t match them to anyone real.

TrifleDead-Cover2Your new crime novel, A Trifle Dead, comes out through Twelfth Planet Press later this month, under the pen name Livia Day. It’s set in Hobart and features a pastry chef named Tabitha Darling. Is this a kind of theme of yours? Elevating domestic skills to literary greatness? What is it about the domestic arts you find so appealing?

Partly it’s a fantasy for me – I will never cook as well as Tabitha nor sew as well as Velody. But I do value the domestic arts highly. The combination of practicality with aesthetic pleasure is fascinating – there’s a narrative there, and it’s something I find excellent to make stories out of. Tabitha doesn’t just cook – she uses food to soothe people, and butter them up, and tease them. She even withholds food on some occasions, which proves she is a little bit evil.

I wanted to show what a good detective she would make through her other life – and her other life is about social skills and food. You learn a lot from Tabitha about her work and her attention to detail – that’s there in how she dresses, as well, and organises parties, and is the social centre of her friendships.

But I also think that the domestic arts are not valued as highly as they should be in our society, particularly in our history. There’s that whole bullshit gender idea that something women do is lesser somehow, that it’s compromised, despite the fact that female artists often have less to work with from a resources point of view. As a social historian, I think it’s brilliant that women have often used domestic arts as a foil or a cover for other freedoms.

For instance the whole thing about patchwork being invented out of frugality and the saving of every scrap of fabric, is an insanely beautiful con job that the women of colonial America played on their men – sure, fabric was scarce, but it’s ridiculous to believe that the beautiful quilts they made were the most efficient use of their time. They used the cover of frugality and housewifely virtue to gather in female social groups, to share information and gossip, to entertain each other, and to make beautiful art that also had a significant social value as well as practical use.

And maybe that’s not true at all. Maybe that’s my immense Western 21st century ignorant privilege speaking, that I even think that. But the narrative seems so clear to me – a combination of pretty things and practical function can’t help but tell a story.

Also, my heroines are always more stylish than me. That’s definitely a theme.

This book is set in Hobart: what about Hobart makes it an appealing locale for the story?

Pretty much that I know Hobart inside and out, plus that’s where Tabitha lives, which makes it convenient. It was never a conscious choice.

Having said that, if I had been going out of my way to pick a location for a murder mystery that was going to be on trend in 2013, Hobart would have been a genius choice. Our media is exploding right now with the artistic and tourist boom in Tasmania, and it’s a very creatively exciting place right now.

We’ve been a forgotten corner of the country for a long time, off on our little island, but over the last few years, Tasmania has become a Destination with a capital D. When I first started writing about Tabitha and her world, I remember an earlier version of the manuscript being rejected by an industry professional who couldn’t comprehend my Tasmania at all – she had visited the place once I guess, and was so wrapped up in the narrative of us as a ghostly colonial throwback, all old fashioned sweet shops and “an almost biting sense of cold” that she could not accept a book which showed Hobart as being vibrant and bright and, you know, occasionally had a bit of sunshine.

AS I WRITE THIS WE ARE IN A HEAT WAVE BY THE WAY.

So yes, it’s rather lovely that the Australian narrative about Tasmania has changed and continues to change, just in time for this book to be released. Because the idea that books can’t be set here without being full of sad people and grey skies makes me want to beat my head on a sandstone brick.

splashdanceYour first novel, Splashdance Silver, has just been reprinted. How do you feel you’ve developed as a writer since you won the George Turner Prize with that book? Do you have any advice for your younger self? Does your younger self have any advice for your current self?

Fifteen years, can you believe it? My first novel was published nearly fifteen years ago (the anniversary is in September this year).

I know that I’ve developed a lot as a writer since then because I have had the charming and alarming experience of proofing the books for e-release (Splashdance is available now at Wizards Tower, Weightless Books and via Kindle, the rest are to follow shortly). Aargh! I also learned that my publisher really had stopped caring about me by book 2 because oh my goodness, the errors that made it through to the printed version, they make my head hurt…

My advice to my younger self would simply be not to get ahead of yourself. Selling those books was a brilliant moment of my writing career, but it was not the gateway to a consistent or easy career and there were a few painful bumps and jolts along the way. Then again, if I’d told my younger self that it would be another decade before she had another year of Real Full Time Income from writing, then it probably wouldn’t have good consequences for either of us!

I would like to tell her to get more manuscripts under her belt before having children because OMG what did you do with your time before then?

I’m not sure if that younger self has much useful to offer me in return (though I would totally take any free babysitting she’s offering) but I’m glad her books are back in print. Every now and then I get an email, or meet someone who genuinely loved those books and it’s so nice to hear because I have a tendency to put down my early work, and I shouldn’t. You have to own your history, all of it, and those books were a really important stepping stone for me.

Coming back to them, I still love the characters and the world, even if I would write them differently now. It’s quite fun to think back to where I was when I wrote them, and what I was bouncing off. It’s not until the third book (written more recently) that it really felt like they were MINE, though, rather than that faraway twenty-year-old

What’s coming up next for Tansy and/or Livia?

Livia has to finish the second Cafe La Femme book and get it to the publishers by May, which is exciting. I do love me a deadline. Tansy, meanwhile, is writing a lot of shorter pieces right now, while gearing up for the Next Big Fantasy Series. I have stories due to appear in anthologies such as One Small Step (Fablecroft), Where Thy Dark Eye Glances: Queering Edgar Allan Poe (Lethe Press) and Glitter and Mayhem. I’m also working on a bunch of non fiction commissions and will be announcing a new online creative writing course later in the year.

Plus, WORLD FANTASY OMG! I’m going to Brighton in October, and ridiculously excited about it.

**

Check out Tansy’s blog at http://tansyrr.com/, and follow her on Twitter as @tansyrr. You can hear her talking about the publishing industry on the Galactic Suburbia podcast, and about Doctor Who on the Verity! podcast.

  • Get A Trifle Dead by Livia Day, available from 28 March, from Twelfth Planet Press
  • Get Splashdance Silver by Tansy Rayner Roberts for Kindle or  Weightless Books
  • Get Power and Majesty, The Shattered City and Reign of Beasts and other books by Tansy Rayner Roberts on Amazon.com

F2M: the boy within – The book that scared libraries

Hazel Edwards and Ryan Kennedy

In mid-2010, I reviewed a fabulous book by Hazel Edwards and Ryan Kennedy called F2M: the boy within. It’s a warm, moving coming of age story about transgendered Skye who is becoming his true self, Finn. Co-author Ryan himself transitioned from female to male in his 20s. He brought that experience and courage to the collaboration with his long-time friend and respected children’s author, Hazel Edwards. Together they have produced a work that is both an excellent story and an important insight into what life for transgendered people and their family and friends. F2M: the boy within is also about friendship, punk rock, secrets and truth.

Bloggers wrote about it, and psychologists and gender counsellors have picked it up. In talking about the reaction to the book, Edwards and Kennedy noted “We assumed that YA librarians would welcome the fictional opportunity to encourage ‘distanced’ discussion of gender, including gay issues although our Skye-Finn was not gay. Suicide occurs in trans communities, and maybe we could save a few lives by reducing ignorance and fear of the unknown. Suicides also occur in gay communities, due to family, religious and social pressures. Maybe our book could prevent ignorance contributing to further deaths.”

Unfortunately, regardless of how sensitively, intelligently and well written it is, it seems that libraries are frightened of F2M: the boy within. Ford Street Publishing was willing to bring this book to the world, but school and public libraries, spooked by the spectre of controversy, have shunned it.  The risk of backlash from conservative groups has kept the book from shelves that would otherwise normally carry Hazel Edwards’ books. Literary awards have likewise overlooked it, in spite of  Edwards’ long association and regular appearance on such lists.

Recently, I spoke to Hazel about the book and its reception.

Narrelle Harris: Hazel, you and Ryan have known each other for a long time. What made you decide to do this project together?

Hazel Edwards: I knew Ryan as a family friend from about age 9 and had kept in touch across his adolescence and early twenties. I enjoy his mind and sense of humour.  He is around the age of my adult children. I’d also done some gender research in connection with a medical project about children and was aware that transitioning  was a controversial subject about which little had been written in fiction. Even the appropriate  vocabulary ( or pronoun) was a challenge.

Since Ryan is NZ- based, I hadn’t seen him since his ftm transition, but he came to Melbourne for a computer conference in connection with his work. He looked so much happier. Simultaneously we decided to co-write, via Skype and e-mail , a YA novel utilising his experience, but it was not to be autobiographical.

f2m The Boy Within

Ryan had experienced what it would have taken me years to research. As a published author, I was able to place our book proposal with Ford Street Publishing and gain a contract before we started the intensive year-long writing and about 30 drafts. I knew Ryan was a hard worker. But he was also far more IT skilled than me. It has been an equal collaboration. We were aware that ours might be the first  ftm YA novel internationally co-written by an ftm, but we also wanted to write ‘a good read’  of a ‘coming of age’ story. Thus, I had to learn punk music, another area in which Ryan is far more skilled.

Fiction provides the opportunity to discuss issues, at a distance, removed from the individual. Family can be given a book like F2M: the boy within as a ‘gentle’ introduction  and an informed  way of  handling prejudices

Narrelle: F2M: the boy within has received excellent reviews, but it has also met with reluctance from libraries and schools. How do you feel about how the book has been received?

Hazel: We knew the subject would threaten, especially libraries and schools who fear even one parental complaint. Often it is the anticipatory anxiety about potential complaints that cripples possible exposure to a ‘mainstream’ story where the subject is controversial, but not our handling of it. We have no ‘bad’ language. But we do have the opportunity to learn a new vocabulary and diplomacy about how gender issues might be phrased. Not just whether you say ‘He’ or ‘She’.

I have been shocked by the ‘ignoring’ by groups whom I would previously have  expected to be open minded. Some of the reactions have been aggressively negative, and they haven’t even read the book.

I now realise how courageous Ryan has been in co-writing.

Fan art by Rooster Tails

Narrelle: Given the difficulties you’ve encountered getting the book to its readership, do you have any regrets?

Hazel: No.  If we’ve saved one life, it’s been worthwhile. And if we’ve enabled readers to view from our 18 year old character’s perspective for the length of the novel and beyond, it’s been worthwhile.

We knew that some readers would expect F2M: the boy within to be like my picture books for young children like the cake-eating hippo series. It isn’t. But I have also co-written a psyche text on Difficult Personalities , including sociopaths, and written of scientific material from an Antarctic expedition.  An author can write in multiple fields. What matters is how well they write.

I also have growing admiration for some of the volunteer gender counsellors I’ve met. My regret is that I haven’t known about some of these issues earlier.

Narrelle: What is the best response you’ve had to F2M: the boy within so far? The worst?

Hazel: Ryan has received poignant e-mails about how significant this book has been to individuals and how they wished it had been available earlier. I’ve had much favourable contact from parents of gay children (even though our character is not gay) who are grateful for the opportunity to open family discussion via the novel. Being listed for the 2011 White Ravens, top 250  children’s and YA books internationally. Word of mouth recommendations  are slow but genuine and significant. Being recommended via the Safe Schools Coalition was helpful.

My worst experience was at a literary festival  where a student from a Catholic school reported that his teacher had put ‘that disgusting’ book and the brochure  in the bin, in front of all the students. Being ignored or ‘left off’ lists where my works would normally be included, thus depriving readers of the opportunity to even know the book existed.

Narrelle: Since both public and school libraries have been reluctant to risk controversy by getting it in, what do you think the best way if for people to get hold of it? Would it help if people specifically asked their library for it?

Hazel: Yes to all of the above. And our websites have material and links which are useful for Book Discussion Groups. One soccer parents book discussion group read and recommended it.

I still think this is the most important of all my 200 books, and hope it gets a fair reading in the future. It is not just bibliotherapy about gender, it’s a novel novel. At times, Ryan has had to make difficult decisions about refusing some kinds of highly paid magazine interviews which wished to concentrate on his private life rather than the book. That takes courage too.  Working with such a courageous man as co-author has been the other bonus of this novel.

**

If you think anyone can benefit from F2M: the boy within, whether they are a transgendered person, their family or friends, or just people you think would enjoy a coming of age story with a difference, you can get F2M: the boy within via the following links.

Ask your library to order it in for you or recommend it to your book group.

You can download a study guide here or from Hazel Edwards’ website.

Read more: