Congratulations to Romy Ash and Vikki Wakefield, both shortlisted in the 2013 Prime Minister’s Literary Awards!
See the full shortlist for the 2013 Prime Minister’s Literary Awards here.
Congratulations to Romy Ash and Vikki Wakefield, both shortlisted in the 2013 Prime Minister’s Literary Awards!
See the full shortlist for the 2013 Prime Minister’s Literary Awards here.
…Diana Sweeney, author of The Minnow (formerly Flood Damage), the story of a young girl struggling to find her way after a devastating flood claims the lives of her sisters and parents.
Publisher Michael Heyward said: ‘This is now the sixth time that we have awarded the Text Prize. Each year we have been thrilled with the quality of the winning book. Diana Sweeney’s The Minnow is a brilliant addition to the list of winners. We know we have unearthed a dazzlingly talented new writer. This novel is a true find. It tackles the hardest issues about being a teenager but it sings. It makes us understand sorrow and joy at the same time. We can’t wait to publish The Minnow.’
Diana Sweeney is a university lecturer and a model. Born in Auckland, she moved to Sydney when she was twelve. She now lives in northern New South Wales.
Diana has won a publishing contract with Text worth $10,000. The Minnow will be published in August 2014.
We’re delighted to announce that we will also be publishing another of this year’s shortlisted titles: Waer by Meg Caddy. Read more about Waer and the other shortlisted titles here.
We recently republished Patricia Wrightson’s I Own the Racecourse! in the Text Classics series. Kate Constable’s new introduction to this charming tale is reproduced below.
I Own The Racecourse! was first published in 1968, a time when dollars were ‘new-fangled’ and a gang of eleven- and twelve-year-old kids could roam the streets and laneways of inner Sydney all day without anyone worrying about them, as long as they were home in time for dinner.
Andy Hoddel is a member of one of these gangs. But he is not like the other children.
Back then, no one used the term ‘intellectual disability’; they used harsher, crueller words. Patricia Wrightson never puts a label on Andy. Instead, she describes the way he seems to live ‘behind a closed window’, as if a sheet of glass separates him from other people. Sometimes he laughs too long and too loudly, or flies into a wild rage when others might shrug and walk away. He doesn’t always understand when someone’s making a joke; he trusts what people tell him. He is friendly and eager and gentle, and lots of people like him. But he is different, and everyone knows it, even Andy himself.
The year after this book was first published, my sister was born. Just like Andy’s friends and family, we slowly realised that she was different from other children. As a child, my sister was small and quiet, shy and sweet, with a worried, uncertain smile. The same invisible pane of glass separated her from other people that comes between Andy and his neighbours in Appington Hill.
Like Andy, my sister was friendly and trusting, but she struggled at school and she was unhappy there. When she was twelve, she was a pretty lonely kid. We did our best, but we were always torn between the fierce desire to protect and shield her, and the need to prepare her to survive, to take care of herself. It’s a dilemma that Andy’s friends also have to face: how do you help a person like Andy understand that the world can sometimes be cruel without also hurting someone who is so vulnerable, so exposed?
When the old man collecting empty bottles at Beecham Park racecourse teases Andy by offering to sell him the place, the boy takes him seriously, and hurries off to raise the cash—three whole dollars! By the time Andy has scrounged up the money and handed it over, the old man has forgotten their conversation, though he’s happy to pocket the cash. And now Andy has a secret so huge he can hardly grasp it.
We read on with our hearts in our mouths, dreading the moment when Andy’s impossible dream will be shattered. Like his anxious friends, Joe and Mike and Matt and Terry, at first we are indignant on Andy’s behalf. Then, increasingly, we become fearful. Andy is so delighted, so proud to be the owner of this glorious place. Beecham Park might seem dusty and careworn by day, with its shabby stands and litter blowing about. But on race nights, it is transformed. Patricia Wrightson creates a magical place, rich with secret splendour, alive with glitter and lights and noise—the thundering horses, the buzz of the crowd, the tireless fun of the greyhounds. And all this belongs to Andy.
Except, of course, that his shining dream can’t really be true. We know, like his friends, that it’s all going to come crashing down. Or so we think. But what follows is unexpected and far more magical.
Appington Hill isn’t a real place, but there are suburbs very like it in the inner west of Sydney. In the time Patricia Wrightson was writing, it was a working-class area, run-down but tight-knit. People lived a shared life in the back lanes and at the front doors that opened directly from the living room onto the street. They looked out for each other, were generous if money was scarce, and watched over each other’s children. The Appington Hill boys roam the neighbourhood, wander down to the timber yards by the docks, clamber down cliffs, ride homemade skateboards along the hilly streets, fish debris out of the canal. That kind of shared street life doesn’t happen much any more. We live in more anxious times.
But Andy’s mother doesn’t worry about him, so long as he’s with his friends. Mrs Hoddel is alone—we don’t find out what’s happened to Andy’s father—trying to earn enough to keep the two of them, and looking after Andy ‘so people don’t talk’. Neighborhoods like these are full of kindness, but they can be full of hurtful gossip, too. The boys are just as anxious to protect Andy’s mother as they are to protect Andy himself.
A bittersweet and loving book, it’s no wonder I Own The Racecourse! was so popular in Australia. It was subsequently made into a movie, and published in the United States and Britain as A Racecourse For Andy.
Patricia Wrightson is one of Australia’s best-known and best-loved writers. She is famous not only for realist fiction, but for the magic realism in later books such as The Nargun and the Stars where she attempted to reconcile the mythologies of the first Australians with the modern world. Wrightson is brilliant at showing us the hidden magic in everyday places, whether it’s the lush landscape of the north coast of New South Wales, where she spent most of her life, or the crowded streets of Sydney, where she also lived for a time.
Wrightson was later criticised for using this Indigenous material, but her intention was always to help all Australians to appreciate the particular and ancient magic within the land—a project which some would argue is today more important than ever. In any case, her beautiful and sensitive writing deserves to be celebrated.
When Wrightson died, in 2010, she was one of the most honoured children’s authors in Australia. She was awarded an OBE in 1977 and the prestigious Hans Christian Andersen Medal in 1986, and was four times the winner of the Children’s Book Council Book of the Year.
Her friend and editor Mark Macleod commented after her death: ‘I thought she would live forever—with that sharp, searching intelligence, that gravelly voiced, old-fashioned correctness of delivery, that passion for justice, that kindness and modesty. Few Australian writers for young people have equalled and none have surpassed her achievements.’
The question at the heart of I Own The Racecourse! might be: what’s real and what’s not? When Andy’s glorious dream at last fades away, the love and friendship that have wrapped around him are still there, just as Beecham Park remains solid and quiet when the glamour and splendour of race night is over. Ultimately, it’s Andy’s version of what’s real that triumphs: because he believed it so hard, he really did own the racecourse. ‘He’s got to have things sometimes,’ his wise friend Joe says, ‘even if he does bust them.’
As for my sister, she’s grown up now and doing pretty well. She has a job, with supportive workmates, and a home of her own. But I wish that when she was twelve years old, she’d had friends like Andy’s in Patricia Wrightson’s thoughtful, tender novel.
I Own the Racecourse! by Patricia Wrightson is available in bookshops now ($12.95).
We recently republished Joan Phipson’s The Watcher in the Garden in the Text Classics series. Margo Lanagan’s new introduction to this complex and gripping novel for young adults is reproduced below.
The Watcher in the Garden surprised me. In the 1960s I wandered past Good Luck to the Rider, The Family Conspiracy and Threat to the Barkers on the shelves of my local library; I probably read their first pages but I don’t think I ever took them home to read. I knew Joan Phipson was well-respected, her work undeniably canonical in Australian children’s literature, but I had her filed away in the jolly-hockey-sticks, horse-stories category of my memory.
This book, first published in 1982, didn’t seem to fit the bill:
As she stood there, the tranquility that had lain over the garden since the sun set began subtly to change. It was as if an electric current, small at first, but gaining strength, were charging the evening calm with something less peaceful, less secure. And a small breeze, sent up from the gorge by the cooling air, began to play among the hanging leaves so that they hissed and whispered among themselves, and the surface of the pools darkened as it passed. The breeze went on its way, but the leaves continued to hiss and whisper and, if there had been anyone there to see, he would have noticed that the surface of the shadowed pool below where the girl was standing remained ruffled for some time. The current, vague though it was, silenced the ordinary little sounds of evening. It originated, or seemed to originate, inside the skull of this fifteen-year-old girl. Her head, at this knife-edge moment, was tumultuous with thoughts wild, violent and black.
There’s not a single horse or hockey stick here, and it’s not at all jolly. But it builds from this tantalising moment into what I’ve since learnt is a typical late-Phipson exploration, considered and deep, of two young people’s mental and emotional landscapes. And no reader can be in any doubt that Watcher is a fantasy story, from this first frisson of unnatural hiss, whisper and rufflement.
Phipson almost always set her stories in Australian landscapes, lovingly detailed. From the beginning she was interested in firmly establishing a story’s setting, and the longer she wrote, the more confident she grew in foregrounding a setting’s Australianness and its place in a historical continuum. ‘Little by little,’ she wrote, looking back in 1989, ‘I have been working towards the theme that now occupies me (I could really say “possesses me”)…It is, roughly speaking, man’s relationship with the earth he lives on and with the universe about him.’
The garden of The Watcher in the Garden is based on The Everglades, a National-Trust-managed property in Leura, in the Blue Mountains of New South Wales, established in the 1930s and still open daily to the public. The place ‘seemed full of dramatic possibilities,’ wrote Phipson, ‘with its surroundings of deep blue gorges and long, rather barbaric views.’ In the novel, the garden is still being wrested out of the natural landscape, and it is never content to serve merely as a backdrop to the characters’ exciting adventures. In the very first paragraph it asserts itself: ‘For all its quietness it pulsed with life, rang out even—a strong note in the fading diurnal harmony.’
And this life continues to pulse, and occasionally even to enter the fray, throughout the narrative. There are strictly speaking two watchers in the garden, as well as the owner, who is acutely, almost preternaturally, aware of what goes on there, but the garden itself also comes very close to sentience in this strange story. At first it only imparts a mood—hostile, then ‘healing and kind’—to the protagonist Kitty, but then its influence brings forth latent extrasensory powers in both her and Terry, the youth who sets himself up as Kitty’s and the garden’s enemy; and then it begins to meet Terry’s hostility with a series of ‘little accidents’.
Six years after the book’s publication, Joan Phipson wrote,
I do not now remember why I chose the two main characters, and I think the plot tended to develop as I wrote it. I do know that it turned out rather different from what I had originally intended. So often a developing character will change the course of a plot.
The novel’s core encounter is between a middle-class child—the bank manager’s daughter, unsociable, always-angry Kitty—and a less advantaged and educated antagonist, whose father is on a war pension and who is himself on the dole. The story is fuelled by its author’s curiosity about what their differences entail, although she doesn’t quite frame this in terms of generalisations about class. Throughout, her focus remains tightly on the individuals, their shifting relationship, their subtle power plays.
Both these young people carry a burden of emotional turmoil—a ‘violence’ they find difficult to express appropriately, and the sense that there’s something missing in them. ‘How could she explain,’ wonders Kitty, ‘the feeling that was always there, that inside her there was and had always been a gap waiting to be filled?’ And Terry’s mother tells him outright, ‘Sometimes I think something got left out of you when you was born.’
Their respective searches for their missing piece bring them to the garden, Kitty for solace and Terry with evil intent towards the owner Mr Lovett. There the two watchers creep and cross paths and conceal themselves from each other, but while Terry also keeps himself concealed from Lovett, Kitty is discovered by the old man early on, and they form a friendship that helps her begin to control her impulses and civilise herself.
As our knowledge of Kitty and Terry and Mr Lovett increases and becomes more loaded with anxiety, the garden develops as the perfect metaphor for the civilising process. Phipson mostly describes it in terms of its introduced trees, for they show best the seasonal changes throughout the story, but they also demonstrate the principles of order and control that Kitty is having such trouble learning, and the idea of promoting desirable qualities over instincts and impulses. Always the wilderness presses in at the edge, and we are regularly reminded that it takes the concerted efforts of a team of gardeners to keep it back. But the rewards of doing so are made clear in the person of their proprietor. Perhaps the closest Phipson comes to giving an explicit moral to the story is when she has Mr Lovett tell Kitty, ‘In my garden I am safe because I am protected.’
‘Words have always been a strong, bright thread in the weaving of my life,’ Joan Phipson wrote in 1989. But it didn’t occur to her to write for children until she was married and had children herself. ‘I am pleased that children like my books,’ she wrote,
but I do not write for them. I write for myself and, I think, for the child I was. I do not seem to want to write for the adult I have become. Childhood is so much more interesting, impressions are so much more vivid. Colours are brighter, smells are infinitely more intoxicating, objects, however small, are so much more mysteriously significant.
As soon as she began publishing, Joan Phipson was a star in a constellation of Australian children’s writers that today looks unbelievably small, if it also shines incredibly brightly. Her assembled works reflect the larger movement of our country’s literature for children, progressing from conventional stories that carefully muted their Australianness to deeper and wider explorations of young people’s inner and outer landscapes. But they also show Joan’s own feelings of Englishness giving way to an acceptance of Australia as her home.
Though these landscapes were most often full-heartedly Australian, Phipson’s work was never parochial. The achievement of personhood, the search for a home in the world and the imperatives of our position as custodians of the planet were her themes. The watchful, thoughtful, questioning and increasingly assured child and teenage characters through whom she explored them are as appealing today as they were when, in her book-lined bunker at ‘Wongalong’ in the New South Wales Central Highlands, she first brought them to life on her typescript pages.
The Watcher in the Garden by Joan Phipson is available in bookshops now ($12.95).
We recently republished Ivan Southall’s Hills End in the Text Classics series. James Moloney’s new introduction to this forgotten gem is reproduced below.
Hills End was first published in 1962 at a time when Australian children’s literature was entering a golden decade during which Ivan Southall’s novels would stand out along with those of Patricia Wrightson, Colin Thiele and a handful of other celebrated names. Our literary culture was ready for something new and so was Ivan after the post-wars years when he had ‘paid his dues’ as a writer in order to establish a career. Hills End marks his transition from fledging writer to assured master eager to challenge his intellect and his ambition with works of greater literary depth. Perhaps Southall sensed this emerging era when he writes, virtually on the first page:
How calm this morning was, and how beautiful. And how strangely moving, because this for Hills End was the most exciting day of the year.
Prophetic words these might be for the nation’s young who would soon have so many fine stories written for them, but they are cruelly ironic for the seven children who remain in the little town on the day of this particular story.
Like many of the writers of this period, Ivan Southall set his most important novels away from Australia’s growing cities, but he wasn’t interested in settler history or character built through stoic hard work and derring-do, not in the way his colleagues viewed them, anyway. He’d found a new landscape to explore—the interior world of his characters—and what makes him stand out is the integrity of the realism he offered the young reader in order to reveal it.
As a children’s author myself, I’ve often grappled with the perennial question—how do I get rid of the parents, so the kids can play the leading roles and make the crucial decisions? In the real world, after all, children are always in the care of some adult or other who bears the responsibility if something goes wrong. In Hills End, Southall deals with this quickly and ruthlessly by sending all but two of the town’s adults to the picnic races, then promptly kills off one of the remaining pair. This was radical in itself, for the character in question could easily have been incapacitated rather than terminated.
Instead the young reader is made to watch the indifferent hand of death enter the storm-damaged town where it remains to stalk the children when their parents cannot return to protect them. The swollen river is described as ‘some evil red monster writhing’ and a further menace roams unpredictably, ready to catch the unwary at any moment. Southall is being explicit, here, in a way that few before him had dared. He’s telling children that the real world is as indifferent as it is violent and what happened to Mr Tobias can happen to any of the children in this story. Further along, I was struck by a telling contrast with Colin Thiele’s treatment of children trapped in a tree by an angry bull. In The Shadow on the Hills, Thiele turned the scenario into one of the funniest in children’s literature while in Hills End, the same predicament generates heart-stopping fear.
In children’s stories to that time, it was deemed acceptable to portray adults as nasty villains to be outwitted and as comic incompetents like Blyton’s Mr Plod. Parents could be misguided in their judgments and unsympathetic teachers were dime-a-dozen, but it seems that children weren’t considered ready for the truly flawed or unreliable guardian. Southall didn’t cross this line with the admirable Miss Godwin, either, but in getting inside her mind he shows her frailties and in particular her vulnerability. What was new here was her self-doubt which contributes to some disastrous actions on her part.
Southall’s ground-breaking theme in this novel is also presented early and in the starkest possible manner: that adults believe children cannot survive on their own, that without the experience, good sense and courage of grown-ups they must inevitably fall into helplessness and chaos. This hard-edged judgment is articulated in the first chapter by Ben Fiddler, the town’s dominant figure, and in doing so, he seems to open a parenthesis which is not closed until he and the other parents return at the story’s end. Everything that occurs between those markers proves the assumption to be utterly wrong. It is one of the novel’s strengths that the tyrannical Fiddler refuses to accept how false his assessment is, despite the evidence before his own eyes. But the children know, especially his son, Adrian, who has undergone a more searching test of character than any of the other children.
The concluding chapter of Hills End is a private nod between the young protagonists and the children who read it. It’s not that Southall is urging children to distrust their adult guardians, but more a recognition of their failings, no matter how much they love those in their charge. Don’t wait for grown-ups to give you credit for your fortitude, he is saying, because ultimately you only have to prove it to yourself to be certain such qualities lie within you. In trusting his readers with such honesty, Southall paved the way for John Marsden’s novels twenty-five years later. Marsden’s Tomorrow, When the War Began series is in many ways a grand expansion of Southall’s scenario in Hills End.
I had not previously read Hills End, even though I am of an age to have read it fresh off the presses as an adolescent. I wasn’t much of a reader in those days. Later, when studying to become a school librarian, I thoroughly enjoyed Let the Balloon Go and the excellent Josh, but I found To the Wild Sky dwelt too much inside the minds of its protagonists for my liking. Reading Hills End now, I greatly admire the delicate balancing act the author pulls off between the physical threats and challenges that drive the narrative and the internalised fears and self-awareness of the children which manage to engage the reader with equal drama and tension. I am in awe of the way Southall switches point of view from character to character with no more than a line break to mark the transition, yet there is no confusion for the reader here as there surely would be in the hands of a less skilful writer. He sketches his seven characters so quickly and so clearly we know them instantly. Just as impressive is the way he uses these switches to tell the full breadth of the story, since his protagonists become separated, face different threats and through those challenges take very personal steps in their development as human beings.
Hills End was read and admired overseas as much as, some would say more than, it was in Australia. Undoubtedly this was due to the universality of its characters, themes and even the setting. Eyebrows might jump at that last suggestion, but there’s nothing particularly Australian about Southall’s hard-scrabble township clinging to forested hills. I’ve driven through similar dots on the map in Britain and the USA. In fact, Hills End seems little different from the Vermont town where Robert Newton Peck set his powerful novel A Day No Pigs Would Die which also features the puritan patriarchy manifest in Hills End.
Children everywhere will recognise themselves in the characters of Adrian and Paul, Frances and Gussie, and even the soft, overweight Christopher who doesn’t quite slough off his buffoonish ineptitude (which would have been a cop-out), yet we understand him and so we like him. Each is drawn with a mixture of humour, tender insight and at the same time an honest assessment of their weaknesses. Frances’ stubborn insistence that taking items from the abandoned store is stealing makes us want to strangle her, for example.
If there is one whom we take to heart more fully, it is Adrian. His lie has led to the children’s predicament. Only slowly do we discover the unforgiving household he has been raised in, which makes his own awareness of his folly unbearable. This is the story of his redemption, not in his father’s eyes, but his own. It is fitting then that the final scenes are viewed from his perspective and we are left with the deep impression that, before our eyes we have witnessed a boy become a man of significant potential.
It has been a pleasure for me, as both a reader and children’s writer, to offer comment on a masterwork like Hills End. I feel sure this new edition will find an appreciative audience among today’s young readers.
Hills End by Ivan Southall is available in bookshops now ($12.95).
From a record 350 entries, four fantastic novels have made it on to the shortlist for the 2013 Text Prize for Young Adult and Children’s Writing.
Competing for the AU$10,000 prize are the following shortlisted books—all by Australian women.
Waer by Meg Caddy
An intricate fantasy novel set in an imagined land of waerwolves, thieves and magic. Twenty-one-year-old Perth student and childcare worker Meg Caddy has been working on the novel since she was fourteen, and is following in the footsteps of her author father, David Caddy, who has published several books with Fremantle Press.
Lost Vegas by Jo Hegerty
A funny, heartwarming story for younger readers about a bullied boy and his second-hand, far-from-ideal dog, Vegas. Jo Hegerty is a Brisbane-based journalist, editor and blogger.
Elizabeth and Zenobia by Jessica Miller
Elizabeth and her imaginary friend Zenobia suddenly find themselves living in the haunted home of Elizabeth’s distant father, Witheringe House. Brisbane-based Jessica Miller has written a fantastically imagined story for 8- to 12-year-olds about all the different ways we can be haunted.
Flood Damage by Diana Sweeney
A timely novel for older readers, Flood Damage explores a young woman’s struggle to regain control of her life after a devastating flood claims the lives of her parents and sister. Diana Sweeney has published a number of papers in academic journals, but Flood Damage is her first novel.
Publisher Michael Heyward says: ‘With every year that goes by we have seen more entries for the Text Prize. The range and diversity of the entries continue to grow. This year’s shortlist is testament to that diversity. It will be difficult to choose a winner from among these writers, but we are confident that we will be able to choose a novel worthy of the extraordinarily high standard of Text Prize winners. In the space of just a few years the Text Prize has established itself as a key stepping stone for some highly talented authors.’
The overall winner of this year’s prize will be announced at an event on Wednesday 29 May.
We’ve extended the deadline to register your interest to be part of a short video to celebrate the release of book two in the Rephaim series, Haze.
Email email@example.com by 9 am on Monday 29 April and we’ll send you the three-step instructions for the clip.
Did you love Shadows, book one in Paula Weston’s gripping paranormal series, The Rephaim?
If so—we need your help to make a fun book trailer.
Text Publishing is making a short video to celebrate the release of book two in the series, Haze, and we need you, wherever you are, to play your part.
Email firstname.lastname@example.org by 9 am Monday 29 April and we’ll send you the three-step instructions for the clip. It’s dead easy, and it’ll only take a minute.
Text Publishing is doing a giveaway for a terrific new Australian series—The Rephaim by Paula Weston—in Melbourne on Tuesday 21 May.
Hot-blooded bad boy Rafa—a black-winged half-angel—will be giving out copies of book one in the series, Shadows, in the Melbourne CBD that afternoon.
To grab your free copy, keep an eye on Text’s Twitter and Facebook accounts to find out where exactly Rafa will be on 21 May. And don’t forget to bring your camera to get a pic of you with the gorgeous dark-eyed angel boy…
Suddenly, it seems like gay characters are everywhere in YA literature. Or, if not everywhere, certainly in far more places and in a greater variety than ever before. On the state of LGBT characters in young adult fiction. (David Levithan’s Two Boys Kissing will be published by Text in September.)
So Amazon has bought Goodreads. Steve Almond says: don’t panic.
Word aversion: why we hate the words moist, crevice, slacks, fudge, ointment, squab, panties, navel, crud…
Centre for Youth Literature website
Kathy's interactive website
YA blog full of reviews and interviews
Discover Kelly here
Steph Bowe’s blog
Leanne Hall’s blog
Tim Pegler’s blog
Richard Newsome’s website
The Text Prize for Young Adult and Children’s Writing is an annual prize awarded to an outstanding unpublished manuscript. It aims to discover more wonderful new books for young readers, by Australian and New Zealand writers.
For a complete list of teaching notes and resources, visit our teaching notes page.
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