Wednesday, July 29, 2009

I have just added eleven new reviews to Aussiereviews. Enjoy - especially the review of Just Macbeth, reviewed by another of the Murphlets.

YA Book Review: Little Bird, by Penni Russon Reviewed by Claire Saxby
A new Girlfriend Fiction title.
Children's Book Review: The Chimpanzee Book, by Dr Carla Litchfield Reviewed by Claire Saxby
Our closest animal relatives.
Picture Book Review: Her Mother's Face, by Roddy Doyle Reviewed by Claire Saxby
About remembering.
Children's Book Review: The Great Barrier Reef Book, by Dr Mark Norman Reviewed by Claire Saxby
Visible from space.
YA Book Review: Something More, by Mo Johnson Reviewed by Claire Saxby
Even sisters sometimes need a friend.
YA Book Review: Bloodflower, by Christine Hinwood Reviewed by Claire Saxby
An intriguing read.
Children's Book Review: The Gorilla Book, by Dr Carla Litchfield Reviewed by Claire Saxby
2009 is Year of the Gorilla.
Children's Book Review: The Crocodile Book, by Malcolm Douglas Reviewed by Claire Saxby
Not a good pet.
YA Book Review: Pop Princess, by Isabelle Merlin Reviewed by Claire Saxby
An adventure in Paris.
Children's Book Review: Firesong, by Libby Hathorn Reviewed by Claire Saxby
Set in 1950’s Blue Mountains.
Children's Book Review: Just Macbeth! by Andy Griffiths Reviewed by Calum Murphy
Double, Double, Toil and Trouble.

Monday, July 20, 2009

New Reviews

Have just finished adding seven new reviews to Aussiereviews. Am especially proud of the review of Reformed Vampires, which was contributed by my darling daughter.

Children's Book Review: Lighthouse Girl, by Dianne Wolfer Reviewed by Sally Murphy
An amazing blend of diary, narrative, picture book and scrapbook.
Nonfiction Book Review: Captain Bullen's War, edited by Paul Ham Reviewed by Sally Murphy
The Vietnam War Diary of Captain John Bullen.
Children's Book Review: The Blue Stealer, by Darrel & Sally Odgers Reviewed by Sally Murphy
The tenth title in the Dog Detective series.
Children's Book Review: The Wand and the Sword, by Mike Zarb & Robin Gold Reviewed by Sally Murphy
The second Belmont and the Dragon story.
YA Book Review: The Good Daughter, by Amra Pajalic Reviewed by Sally Murphy
Alternately hilarious and insightful.
Book Review: My Extraordinary Life & Death, by Doug MacLeod Reviewed by Sally Murphy
A surreal diary.
YA Book Review: The Reformed Vampire Support Group, by Catherine Jinks Reviewed by Emily Murphy
An absorbing plotline and a cast of quirky characters.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

A Layman’s Guide to the Cheaper Books Debate

There is a big debate raging here in Australia about the scrapping of Parallel Importation restrictions for books. Whilst the debate is fierce, if you are not closely involved in the industry, then the issue is hard to understand, particularly because it's become clouded by unsubstantiated promises of cheaper books for all. So, today, I present the following, in an attempt to demystify the issue for those not in the know.
A Layman’s Guide to the Cheaper Books Debate

I want cheaper books. Let’s face it – everyone does. I also want cheaper fuel, cheaper groceries and cheaper housing, among many other things. In recent months, newspaper headlines have proclaimed that scrapping the mysterious PIRs will result in cheaper books. At the same time, you have probably heard authors, publishers and other book-ish people opposing the changes. You could even be forgiven for thinking they are wrong – after all, if it’s going to mean cheaper books, that has to be a good thing. Right? Wrong. Scrapping PIRs is not a good thing – not for the book industry nor for you, the consumer. In order to show you why, I’m going to take some time to explain to people who perhaps haven’t followed the debate, what the issues are.

Firstly, What are PIRs?

PIR is an abbreviation for Parallel Importation Restrictions. Put simply, these are laws, currently in place, which prevent books being imported which are already being published in Australia. So, for example, when Harry Potter books are released, Allen& Unwin, an Australian publisher, has the rights to publish these books in Australia. So, a bookstore selling the latest Harry Potter must stock Allen & Unwin’s version rather than importing copies from overseas. If Allen & Unwin stops publishing the book, booksellers can then import it. Similarly, if a book is released overseas but no Australian publisher buys the rights to publish it here, booksellers can import the book and sell it in Australia.

The Productivity Commission has recommended the scrapping of PIRS. What this means is that, regardless of whether or not a book has been published in Australia, booksellers will be able to import the book from overseas rather than sourcing it from within Australia.

So, What’s Wrong With That?

There are several problems with abolishing PIRs. The most obvious is that, if Australian publishers can’t have exclusive rights to publish a book, they are unlikely to publish it. It would not be financially viable to put resources into producing an Australian edition of a book, only to find that booksellers instead source their stock from overseas. Why produce an Australian edition of Harry Potter when it will then have to compete, for example, against the US version?

Flowing on from this, Australian publishers will lose income. When an Australian edition of a book is purchased, the Australian publisher makes money. When that publisher makes money, they then have more money to spend on publishing Australian books. The money generated from big sales of the Harry Potter books, for example, can be put towards the cost of producing books by lesser known Australian authors, and on Australian topics. Without the income generated from selling these overseas books, publishers will be forced to cut back on their Australian publishing programmes.

If Australian publishers are forced to cut back on their Australian publishing lists, fewer Australian books will be published. Whilst some authors may manage to get their books published overseas, others won’t stand a chance. Books with an Australian focus are unlikely to be published by overseas publishers. Which American publisher wants to produce a book about Ned Kelly? A book about Aboriginal culture? A book about Australian birds?

A second, but related, problem is that, even if a book is written and produced in Australia, it may have to compete for shelf space with a foreign edition of the same book. At present, a book published first in Australia may be republished overseas with adaptations for that foreign market. The most obvious change is the alteration of Australian spelling to US spelling (Colour becomes color etc) – a prospect which should alarm teachers and parents. However, the changes run deeper than this. Cultural references, locations and even character names are adapted for foreign readerships. A vegemite sandwich might become peanut butter and jelly, a kangaroo might become a squirrel and so on. Australian identity is weeded out of the book to make it better fit the foreign market – and that is acceptable for that market. But to then import that watered down version of the book back into Australia because it may save a dollar or two is an idea with no appeal. Yet, with PIRs scrapped, it is a very real prospect that a bookseller may choose the foreign edition at the expense of the Australian edition.

These foreign editions have another disadvantage for the publishing industry. When an Australian book is republished overseas, both author and local publisher get less money per copy than if it were published here.

Looking briefly at an author’s share, it is important to spell out that most authors are NOT wealthy. Whilst some do earn a full time living from their writing, many many more rely on second and even third jobs to make ends meet. Whilst book prices might seem high, the income an author receives from the sale of each book is low. Author royalties are rarely more than 10% of cover price. More often, they receive less. So, when a book is sold for $25, the author receives a maximum of $2.50. At $2.50 a copy, the author needs to sell ten thousand copies of a book to make $25,000. Not a princely sum – and given that print runs are often much smaller than 10 000, you can see that writing books is not a wealth-generating strategy.

However, it gets worse. If a book first published in Australia is then also published overseas, the author’s cut diminishes greatly. Put simply, there are more links in the chain before the author gets her cut – and that $2.50 might become 50c. Now, if PIRs are scrapped, that author’s $25 000 income could become $5000. Hardly enough to feed a family, is it?

But Books are Too Expensive, Aren’t They?

Australian books are expensive, and that is sad. So too are Australian groceries and Australian petrol. There is no doubt that some books are available cheaper overseas, especially if you buy through sites like Amazon. However, there is little proof that it is the PIRs which are making books so expensive. The US (where Amazon is located) and the UK both have similar import restrictions. And, whilst Australia is considering lifting its restrictions, neither of these other countries are looking at lifting theirs. So, if the changes go ahead, they will have free access to Australian consumers, but Australian publishers will not have access to theirs.

One reason for the high cost of books in Australia is the margins which booksellers put on books. The bookseller’s margin is generally 50%. So, going back to that $25 book – whilst the author gets $2.50, the bookseller gets $12.50. But there’s more – some of the big name booksellers actually add a few dollars to the rrp – so the $25 book costs $27, the author still gets $2.50 and the bookseller gets $14.50. Discount stores such as Target and Kmart demand publishers give them higher discounts – up to 75% off the retail price. And guess whose income is cut when this happens? The author's.

But the Productivity Commission is Promising Cheaper Books!

No. The Productivity Commission is not promising cheaper books. In fact, their report states there is no guarantee that scrapping PIRs will reduce book prices for the consumer. The people who are promising cheaper books are the organisation which seems to have won the ear of the Productivity Commission – the Coalition for Cheaper Books.

Sound like a bunch of nice people, don’t they? Working hard together to bring cheaper books to the public. Unfortunately, anyone can give their group a touchy feely name. It doesn’t mean they have a touchy feely purpose. The ‘Coalition’ is in fact made up of some very familiar names: Dymocks, Woolworths, Coles, K Mart, Big W and Target. Only one of these has selling books as a core business. All of them have retail as a core business – and a responsibility to maximise their profits to keep shareholders happy. And yet we are asked to believe, because they call themselves ‘The Coalition for Cheaper Books’ that their primary aim is to reduce book prices.

Think, if you will, about recent press about grocery prices. Consumer groups have been hugely concerned that the virtual duopoly held by Coles and Woolworths in the grocery market has driven grocery prices up. This pair also holds a vast share of the petrol market – where prices again go up even as world oil prices drop. Coles and Woolworths (and their subsidiaries) make up a major proportion of the so-called Coalition for Cheaper Books. If they are not concerned with lowering grocery and fuel prices, why should we believe that they will decrease book prices? Even if they are able to source books more cheaply, there is no legislation to ensure that the savings are passed on to consumers. So, cheaper books for the retailers, possibly, but not for the consumer. Again, note that the Productivity Commission has not found nay evidence that book prices will drop.

In the only other country where PIRs have been scrapped, New Zealand, book prices have not decreased. What has decreased is the number of New Zealand books being produced, the income of New Zealand authors, and the number of New Zealand publisher. Why are we not learning from the New Zealand experience?

So, Who Should be Worried about the Removal of PIR’s?

In short – YOU.

But in more detail:

Authors/Publishers/Printers/Publicists: Thousands of people are employed in the Australian printing and publishing industry. The scrapping of PIRs directly threatens every one of these jobs, because it will diminish the number of books written, published and printed here in Australia.

Lovers of Books: Have you been to the discount bookstores cropping up all around Australia? These are full of cheap, remaindered books. Remaindered because they couldn’t sell. These shops have their place. But would you like every bookstore to be a remainders shop, full of imported books that couldn't sell overseas? If PIRS are scrapped, this a real possibility.

Teachers and Parents: Your children and students are already well immersed in American culture, thanks to television. If they no longer have access to books with Australian spelling, Australian history and Australian context, then we may as well kiss goodbye our unique Australian culture.

All Australians: Again, our culture is at risk. This is not an anti-US, or anti-any culture argument. It is good to be exposed to books from around the world, in the same way it is good to be exposed to music, food, experiences from around the world. But that global perspective MUST contain Australian experiences. In books, Australian stories are told and published in Australia, not overseas.

Okay, But What Can I do about it?
Get angry and get loud. The Productivity Commission has recommended that the government scrap PIRs. The Coalition for Cheaper Books has loudly (but falsely) announced that cheaper books will result. You need to let the government know that you don’t support the scrapping of PIRs. Write to your Federal MP, your Prime Minister, and his cabinet and tell them of your opposition.

Tell all your friends, neighbours, work colleagues about this issue, and tell them to get loud too. Write to your daily newspaper voicing your concerns.

Let people power stop these changes being implemented.

Please, get involved.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The Verse Novel Form: Guest Blogger Lorraine Marwood Tells How and Why

I am delighted to welcome chidlren's author and poet Lorraine Marwood to my blog today. Lorraine's second verse novel for children, Star Jumps has just been released (you can see my review of it here), so I asked Lorraine to drop in and talk about why she chooses to use the verse novel form This is what she had to say:

Why use this genre as a way of story telling?

Years ago when I finally gave into my life long desire to write, I could only snatch a few morning moments before the cowshed work, before getting the six kids ready for school, or after the evening meal; to write down lines. I trained myself to write quickly- poems- maybe three a day about details that happened, words spoken, emotion expressed through the rural landscape. Poems were attainable, satisfying and I began sending them out into the literary world of journals.

Many were published. But I still wanted to write for children. I began to write poems specifically for children and many of these poems found their way into the journals of School Magazine New South Wales.

After gathering a collection of poems together, Five Islands Press published one volume ( Redback Mansion) and then later a second ( that downhill yelling).

Now, I wanted to evolve a longer piece of writing. I wrote a short prose verse poem about a picnic in a paddock. I loved the intensity of feeling and atmosphere and setting that prose poetry could give. I wanted to write a novel. But how to take the plunge?

Of course I'd read Sharon Creech's novels and Karen Hesse's novels and always enjoyed Steven Herrick's work. How could I find my own voice in the verse novel?

I researched my topic: I researched human accounts of gold finding and the turmoil and untold stories that were humped across the gold fields. Then I found a voice, an entry, an immediate creation of suspense and atmosphere that I wanted. The striking of atmosphere in the first few words of 'Ratwhiskers and Me' was the steering of the story trail.

'Boy, they call me boy.'

Yes! I was on my way to the exploration of theme and plot and voice. I could use what is kinda instinctive in my writing: my poetics.

The verse novel became an atmospheric device in itself. It is very conducive to the playing out of sensory detail, and the propelling of the bare bones of the story. And while it is shorter in words than an ordinary novel, it strips back the verbiage and puts the reader right there emotionally

.Recently two students from Latrobe Uni were researching the editing process and came to ask me a few questions. They highlighted the way I make a narrative of the verse novel rather than individual poems, and for me that was a point to ponder. I make this distinction because I do naturally write so much poetry. I wanted to experiment with form. And my version of the verse novel is one long poem.

Because my writing is always evolving, the subject matter of the verse novel itself dictates the way a book is written.

Star Jumps, my recently released novel allowed a more poetic vista of details like the ghostling breath of the cows on a cold frosty night. I wanted to convey to non- farming children, as much as possible; a real life snapshot of a farm at its most busy period- the calving season. I wanted to show the drought in action and the decisions that are constantly being made in many rural communities.

My words made flesh and blood of Ruby as she took us through her farm life and showed us hope played out. Only the genre of the verse novel allowed me to recreate the emotion of farming without the didactic and sentimental picture so often stereotyped as farming.

Thanks so much for sharing, Lorraine. You can visit Lorraine Marwood online at

New reviews

Today I added fifteen new reviews to Aussiereviews, contributed by Claire Saxby and Dale Harcombe. You can read each review by clicking on the link:

Picture Book Review: Big Bad Bushranger, by Bob Brown Reviewed by Claire Saxby
Includes a song.
Children's Book Review: The Adventures of Nanny Piggins, by RA Spratt Reviewed by Claire Saxby
A nanny like no other.
Picture Book Review: The Great Rock Whale, by Christine Paice Reviewed by Claire Saxby
A new legend.
Picture Book Review: Me, Oliver Bright, by Megan De Kanztow Reviewed by Claire Saxby
Times have changed.
YA Book Review: Yellow Zone, by Janelle Dyer Reviewed by Dale Harcombe
A well-resented novel.
Picture Book Review: God Is, by Mark Macleod Reviewed by Dale Harcombe
A good book for bedtime reading.
Children's Book Review: My Sister Has a Big Black Beard, by Duncan Ball Reviewed by Dale Harcombe
Quirky verses.
Picture Book Review: Goldilocks and the Three Koalas, by Kel Richards Reviewed by Claire Saxby
An Aussie take on a traditional tale.
Picture Book Review: One Dragon's Dream, by Peter Pavey Reviewed by Claire Saxby
Reprint of a classic counting book.
Picture Book Review: Come On Everybody, Time to Play, by Nigel Grey Reviewed by Claire Saxby
A lift-the-flap board book.
Picture Book Review: The Know it All, by Peter Whitfield Reviewed by Claire Saxby
A new Zen Tails title.
Children's Book Review: The Greatest Sheep in History, by Frances Watt Reviewed by Claire Saxby
A third adventure featuring trainee superheroes Extraordinary Ernie and Marvellous Maud.
Picture Book Review: My Aussie Mum, by Yvonne Morrison Reviewed by Claire Saxby
Aussie, Aussie, Aussie Mum.
Picture Book Review: I Love My Mum, by Anna Walker Reviewed by Claire Saxby
A day with Ollie B. and Mum.
Children's Book Review: Great Aussie Inventions, by Amy Hunter Reviewed by Claire Saxby
Loos, utes, you beaut!
I also added six new reviews earleir int he month, but owing to some stress at the time, forgot to list them here. they were:

Children's Book Review: Sting, by Raymond Huber Reviewed by Sally Murphy
Ziggy is the oddbee out.
Book Review: Witches Incorporated, by K. E. Mills Reviewed by Sally Murphy
The second in the rogue Agent series.
YA Book Review: Letters to Leonardo, by Dee White Reviewed by Sally Murphy
A stunning debut novel.
Children's Book Review: The Big Dig, by Meg McKinlay Reviewed by Sally Murphy
Dig. Put some water in. Swim.
Children's Book Review: The Donkey Who Carried the Wounded, by Jackie French Reviewed by Sally Murphy
The story of Simpson and his donkey.
Children's Book Review: Polar Boy, by Sandy Fussell Reviewed by Sally Murphy
Wonderful historical fiction.