Thursday, 21 April 2011

Interview: Madeleine Roux

Madeleine Roux's debut novel, Allison Hewitt is Trapped, follows the plight of a bookseller during a zombie apocalypse. Needless to say, booksellers and genre fans all over the world are loving this book, which actually started life as a blog! 

Hi Madeleine and welcome to the Shearer's blog. Thanks for taking the time to answer some questions for us. Let's start with an easy one, what are you reading at the moment?
After a few death threats from friends I'm finally catching up on the Song of Ice and Fire series by George RR Martin.  I read the first one years ago and I'm only now getting back into it.  I tend to read a few books at a time, so I've also got A Sorcerer and a Gentleman by Elizabeth Willey and Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley on the night stand.

Allison Hewitt is Trapped seems to have struck a chord with booksellers all over the world, what has your experience been when meeting booksellers?
I think they're universally awesome people, because so far all of my experiences have been really positive, verging on magical.  I got a great message the other day from a young woman at a bookstore - all of the staff are passing around the book and making contingency plans for when the zombies come.  It's delightful, I love knowing that I'm not the only one who has a bit of fun at work.

The retail setting of the book is similar to the setting of the classic zombie film Dawn of the Dead. Was this an influence to you?
Yes and no.  I think urban settings are always appealing for apocolyptic scenarios.  The country has its own creepy flavor, but the city is cramped, there are choke points and the destruction - physically and visually - would be much more striking.  I'd say Shaun of the Dead was a greater influence, because I feel like the sarcastic underdog protagonist is extremely appealing. I could see Allison and Shaun getting on, having a beer, comparing cricket bat and axe techniques.

What are your zombie and non-zombie influences?
Shaun of the Dead, like I said, is utterly brilliant.  The Walking Dead is another big one, because it's brutal and incredibly well-written.  World War Z and 28 Days Later are also great.  I'm a fan of the genre in general, but I'm also sort of a wuss when it comes to gore.  I still can't get through American Psycho (the novel, not the film) without turning green.  I don't read in one genre, so my influences are all over the map.  As far as specific authors, Ian McEwan and Neil Gaiman stand out, also A.S. Byatt and Lois McMaster Bujold.

The wording of this next question may seem a little strange but what attracted you to zombies?
They don't complain if you make them look bad?  No, I'd say it's that they're kind of a blank slate.  Sure, everyone knows more or less what a zombie is, but you can use the entire phenomenon to express whatever you want.  To me, they've avoided taking on any one definition.  Vampires are sexy now, for some reason, and werewolves are headed that way, too, but zombies sort of transcend all that baggage.  You can use them to represent any number of themes.

Allison Hewitt started life as a blog, how do you think technology is changing storytelling? (further to this - have you read Joe Hill's short story 'Twittering From the Circus of the Dead'? It's a zombie tale told entirely in tweets...)
I haven't read Joe Hill's work, but it sounds daunting.  I can hardly think up a single tweet to sum up my day, so I can't imagine taking on a project that big.  With technology, I think it's opening up new avenues to convey an idea.  Whether it's Twitter or a blog, it's something new and it can change the reader's perspective.  It's also scary, because technology moves quickly and there's always the fear that you'll become obsolete. With Allison Hewitt, it actually began shaping the story itself because I wanted her to react realistically to the comments.  If someone gave her a suggestion, I always considered it.

Allison Hewitt is a very strong protagonist, did she exist clearly in your head before you began writing or did her character grow with the story?
I very deliberately started her off a bit shaky and incompetent, not stupid, but just unprepared for what hits.  To me, a story really starts to shine when you see the characters grow and change over the course of the plot.  I always intended for her to be strong, but the exact nature of that strength changed as I created the plot elements.  I didn't want her to turn into a mindless action hero that could do anything.  She needed to make mistakes and still feel relateable even when she started to wise up.

Did you have a 'eureka' moment when the concept of the book came to you? Can you tell me a little about how you came to this idea?
At the time, I was working on a much more serious, research-heavy project.  I wanted a fun way to escape.  It's ridiculous, escapism from your own work, but writing in a historical framework is nothing like having the freedom to use slang and modern references.  Initially, it was just an experiment, to write something fun and share it with friends.  Although I do remember thinking something like, "This is so obvious in a way, why hasn't it been done?"  Then the comments started rolling in and I discovered the real potential.

What was the journey from aspiring writer to published author like?

Surreal, for the most part, it still is.  This right here, answering questions about my book, is insane.  You go to college and graduate and there's sort of this professional black hole staring you down.  There's an expectation that you're not ready, that you need a graduate degree to be a real writer, and it's just not true.  Practice and determination is just as important, and I'm lucky that my hard work paid off when it did.  It's incredibly rewarding and humbling to have something to show for the hours and hours of plugging away at the keyboard.  It's not the kind of trajectory you can predict, much more of a hold on tight and see where it leads situation.

I understand that you wrote a historical novel in your last year of college. Firstly can you tell me what it was about, and secondly was it more or less of a challenge than writing Allison Hewitt?
It was about two young sisters in a medieval setting.  The men in their family don't come home from the Crusades and suddenly they find themselves beset by relatives wanting to fix up their lives and shove them into adulthood.  It was much more challenging if only from a research standpoint.  There's an idea of what "medieval" is and then you realize how much of that is from film and completely fabricated.  I had to break down what I thought the time period was about and reconstruct my perspective from the ground up.  Allison presented different obstacles, namely that it's out in the world now and that brings criticism, which is always tough.

You also studied acting, are you planning to follow that as a career at some point?
I'm not nearly competitive enough.  I have friends pursuing acting careers and bless them, because I can't imagine that kind of pressure.  You're just as likely to be rejected for your height or your face as for your talent.  I can deal with someone telling me my writing isn't good enough, but to be told off because you're too short or fat?  No, that would turn me into a crazy person.

What's next for you?
I'm looking forward to working on the edits for Sadie Walker Is Stranded, the sequel, and then some exciting new projects, all of which are in early stages.

Thanks again for taking the time and congratulations on Allison Hewitt is Trapped!

Thank you! It was a pleasure.

A Brief Chat with Bella Vendramini

What did you read on the plane coming to Sydney?
A Fortunate Life by A.B. Facey

Which book is your most treasured?
100 Years of Solitude - magic, innovation and stark beauty. An absolute favourite!

Who is your favourite fictional character?
Frodo Baggins (a sentimental childhood favourite)!

Bella Vendramini is the author of Naked in Public, autographed copies are available here.

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Interview: Sarah Winman

Sarah Winman grew up in Essex. She attended the Webber Douglas Academy of Dramatic Art and went on to act in theatre, film and television. Her debut novel, When God Was a Rabbit, is a coming-of-age story about the unbreakable bond between a brother and sister, and an unusual best friend. It was published on April 1st in Australia by Headline Publishing.

Hi Sarah, thanks for taking the time to answer some questions on the Shearer's blog. Let's start with an easy one - what are you reading at the moment?
I am reading Graham Greene, Elizabeth Bowen, T.S Eliot. Also just finished three fantastic debut novels – The Tenderloin by John Butler, Past the Shallows by Favel Parrett and The Dubious Salvation of Jack V – all different, all brilliant.

Can you tell me a little about the origin of When God was a Rabbit?
Although not autobiographical, I wanted this book to have the feel of a memoir, textured by real moments and real places of my childhood. It is narrated by Elly, who we meet in 1968 at the point of birth, and who we follow through the confusion, joy, and magic of childhood, where secrets are forged and rabbits speak. The first part of the book is set in Essex and Cornwall in the late 60’s and 70’s – the decades of my own childhood.

The book has attracted a lot of positive buzz, what has been the most rewarding comment/review that you've heard?
Simply when people say they laughed, cried, and embraced the journey. Can’t ask for more than that.

How was the process of writing the book?

After the First Draft, not bad!

Who or what do you think has influenced your writing?

I am hugely inspired by cinema, and it is my first love. Even today I get the same churn of excitement as I wait for a film to start. The joy of reading came quite late to me as an adult. Writers who inspire me are John Irving, Tim Winton, Toni Morrison, Jeanette Winterson, Sarah Waters, Graham Greene, Elizabeth Bowen... (I could go on)

What was the most challenging thing about writing the book and what made you happiest?

The most challenging thing was getting the child’s voice right and the humour. Coming to the end of that challenge – maybe having achieved a reasonable result - made me the happiest.

Do you feel that there's a continuity or link between acting and writing?

Yes, there’s no difference to me between the craft of acting and writing – the source is the same, the end result is the same – the authenticity of storytelling.

What's next for you?
I have been invited to a few literary festivals over the summer which is lovely. In between these I am progressing on another novel.

Thanks for chatting to us and congratulations on When God Was a Rabbit!

Interview: Bernie McGill

Bernie McGill has pursued a varied career in the arts, enjoying her positions as theatre manager and playwright equally. Her short stories have been shortlisted for numerous awards, and in 2008 her story 'Sleepwalkers' won the Zoetrope All-Story Short Fiction Contest. Her debut novel, The Butterfly Cabinet, is inspired by an extraordinary true story of the death of the daughter of an aristocratic Irish family in 1892, and of its powerful impact on the community of the time. The Butterfly Cabinet has been extremely well received and is due for release in Australia on April 27th from Headline Publishing.
Hi Bernie, thanks for taking the time to answer some questions on the Shearer's blog! Let's start with an easy one, what are you reading at the moment?
Edmund de Waal's The Hare With Amber Eyes. It was a Mothers' Day gift from my children. I don't usually read biography, I prefer fiction, but it's so beautifully written, it's carrying me along. I'm very taken with what he says about art objects, about the pulse they retain of their making, the trace of the hands still on them, the air that is displaced by their being in the world. I love and embrace that idea. I have a book of birds that belonged to my father that still has a coffee stain on the dust cover. I know that's not the same thing, he didn't make the book, but I'm very nostalgic about that - the things in your life that have been handled by loved ones, now gone.

The Butterfly Cabinet is your debut novel, how did you wind up writing it and getting published?

I wound up writing it because it wouldn't leave me alone! I came across the story in a parish magazine some years ago and couldn't get it out of my head. It was the story of a mother in a big Irish house close to where I now live who had been imprisoned for the killing of her child, an only daughter. The family had been very respected, well-connected, wealthy landowners and employers. It was a huge scandal at the time. I was intrigued by what had happened, who she had been, how she could have gotten to the point where she would tie her young child up in a room and leave her there for hours at a time. I started researching the story in local newspaper archives and the more I read, the more hooked I became. It took me five years to write it. When I had part of it written, and a good idea of how it was going to go, I sent the first three chapters and a synopsis out to a small number of agents. Some were interested, some not, but Clare Alexander of Aitken Alexander Associates in London rang me to say she'd like to read it when it was complete. That was the incentive I needed. I finished it, Clare loved it, she sent it to a handful of publishers. I flew to London to meet Clare and Mary-Anne Harrington, the editor at Headline Review came along to the meeting as well. We had a great chat and she bought the book. I did quite a bit of work on it with Mary-Anne's help in the months after that, and then it was published.

What was the most challenging thing about writing the book?
The redrafting and rewriting of it. Many times I printed the whole manuscript off, laid it out on the kitchen table and on the floor and took to it with the scissors. I couldn't cope with editing it onscreen. I had to get physical with it. There's something very satisfying for me, about going back to the computer with a sheaf of typed pages that have been altered, cut up and scrawled over. It feels like a practical job of work. I also had to read it aloud, many, many times. I think that's the nearest you can get to someone else's experience of reading it. There's something about your voice aloud that is much more objective, critical than the inner voice. You can hear where the narrative flags, loses its way, gets repetitive. It's sore on the throat, though!

How is it different to write for the theatre and for a novel? Is there something about one that you prefer?
My experience of writing for theatre and writing fiction have been very different. Theatre tends to be much more collaborative - from an early stage you're in the room with a director, possibly a co-writer, sometimes a dramaturg, even a group of workshopping actors. Because of that, it's also much more exposing - more often than not, the writing is undergoing scrutiny at a point when it would be best kept private! On the upside, there's lots of input, and fun. It feels like a group effort. On the downside, it is a lot more stressful. The tour will have been booked months in advance, while the play was still being written. You pick up a venue brochure and there it is, the title, with times and dates, and you're thinking, I don't even know what it's going to be yet! That's a fairly scary thing to get into. Writing fiction is, for the most part, very solitary, and there are many reasons why that suits my personality better. I don't know whether it would have been on offer or not, but I was very clear when talking to Clare that I didn't want a two-book deal. I don't need that kind of pressure from fiction as well.

Similarly, when you write a short story how is the approach different to writing a novel?
It doesn't take as long, for one thing! You get the satisfaction of completing something sooner. The novel was a bit of a marathon, for me. There was a lot more stamina required.  What I've found with short stories is that the more time you can spend away from them, the better. You go back after a few weeks or months, and you can immediately see what you couldn't see while you were working on it - all the things that don't gel. Readers have a different relationship with short stories than they do with novels, I think. Short stories are about a specific moment in time, something that changes the course of a day, or a life and everything that goes into them, has to lead to that. They need to deliver much more quickly. A novel reader will have a little more patience, they've entered the contract for more than one sitting, they can feel the thickness of the pages ahead of them (unless, of course, they're reading an ebook). Novel readers want to be engaged in the same way as short story readers but they know they're in it for the long haul, they're prepared to savour the experience for that little bit longer.

What lay behind the idea to write The Butterfly Cabinet with a dual narrative?

I tried to write Harriet's story in the third person, but that wasn't intimate enough for me so I switched to first. That gave me other problems of course. How was I to tell the whole story of what happened when Harriet didn't know the whole story? I looked around for another narrator, and for a while I played with the idea of a female journalist covering the trial, but her involvement would have begun when the case became public. I wanted someone who was privy to the everyday workings of the household, someone who wouldn't necessarily have been sympathetic to Harriet, who had their own agenda. There were a number of accounts in the newspapers of current and ex-servants who gave evidence at the trial. Maddie grew out of a conglomerate of these.

How does it feel as a first time novelist to receive some of the high praise that The Butterfly Cabinet has attracted?
Absolutely fantastic! I'm delighted with how well it's been received. When you write a book, you want it to be read, and everything that helps to get it into the hands of readers is very very welcome.

What's next for you?
Along with five other writers in Northern Ireland (three fiction writers, three poets) I have recently received a Career Enhancement Award from the Arts Council of Northern Ireland. All six of us are working in collaboration with the Seamus Heaney Centre at Queen's University, Belfast, concentrating on individual projects while affiliated with the Centre. I am working on a second novel, set on Rathlin Island off the north coast of Ireland, at the time of the Marconi radio experiments there in 1898. I'll be spending some time on the island over the next number of months, which is no chore for me. It's one of the most beautiful, still, places I've ever visited. I'm also working on a number of short stories. There are always one or two of those on the back burner. They're my guilty pleasure - a treat for when the novel gets too tough!

Thanks for taking the time to talk to us and congratulations on The Butterfly Cabinet.

Thursday, 14 April 2011

Michael Kirby: Paradoxes and Principles Book Launch

Malcolm Turnbull launched Michael Kirby: Paradoxes and Principles by A J Brown at NSW Parliament House last week. He described The Hon Michael Kirby AC CMG as a great public intellectual who was prepared to listen to the view of others.  He quipped that although he was often wrong he was never in doubt.

He further went on to describe the book as the best biography he had read since David Marr’s book on Sir Garfield Barwick, stating it was no hagiography. Malcolm reminisced on the time he met Michael Kirby in 1977 when he was a law reporter on The Bulletin.  He felt at that time the law was closed to public discussion and it was contemptible for anyone to make any criticism of a judge, as the law was a closed book. Michael became chairman of the Law Reform Commission and he popularized and publicised the law and was extraordinarily progressive, whilst paradoxically being extraordinarily conservative. This was exhibited when he took stance with Australians for a Constitutional Monarchy. This stance, a totally unexpected view to many people, came from his family roots in Ulster.

Malcolm paid tribute to Michael Kirby’s 93 year old father Donald, who has often described his son as having the heart of a lion. He concluded by saying that Michael Kirby was a great thinker and communicator who constantly raised the level of public debate in Australia and that many Australians were unaware of his place in the world as a leading world speaker on human rights.

Michael Kirby began by saying he counted himself as a very good launcher of books but was disappointed that Malcolm didn’t mention the error on page 148. Michael illustrated this as an important omission as it always showed the listener that the launchee had very carefully read the book.

He mentioned that he was delighted that the new NSW Premier, the Hon. Barry O’Farrell was able to be present at the launch. He noted that he had seen Barry use public transport to get to Macquarie Street the last time he saw him and that it set a great environmental example to the community.

He mentioned that leaders from both sides of politics had offered him judicial positions in the past. He felt we should zealously guard the right of politicians to appoint judges, as it always throws up mixed points of view.

Michael Kirby acknowledged the hard work that A.J. Brown had done in writing his biography but cheekily added that he felt that Brown was hard on him in some instances with some “cruel and serpent-like” words. He acknowledged that the biography had taken up 7 year’s of Brown’s life and he apologized to his family for this.

He assured the audience that it was a good read and certainly not boring and he reminisced that life can be dictated by chance. 

He hoped we would have an Australian Charter of Rights by 2015, the centenary of Anzac Day. It should contain chapters on respect for indigenous Australians, reference to issues of drug policy and also those on animal welfare.

Michael Kirby concluded that he was amazed at the large turn up to the launch and he was grateful it had been held in the NSW Parliament, the people’s house.


Wednesday, 13 April 2011

The Fifth Witness by Michael Connelly

I opened the new Michael Connelly novel with great enthusiasm and the writing and the plot didn’t let me down. The Fifth Witness is the fourth legal thriller featuring attorney Mickey Haller. Many more people are familiar with Mickey since the film The Lincoln Lawyer was released with Matthew McConaughey brilliantly portraying the irrepressible Mr Haller. The plot of Michael’s novel is timely as it centers around a massive problem in America at the moment, the foreclosure of housing loans.

Mickey’s business is suffering due to the recession and he takes on a case when Lisa Trammel, who is fighting hard to keep her home, receives a restraining order from her bank. Soon after taking on the case Lisa becomes the prime suspect when banker Mitchell Bondurant is murdered. Most of the novel takes place in a courtroom where Michael Connelly’s expertise as a writer of courtroom dramas comes to the fore. There are many twists and turns with evidence being submitted and quashed and the suspense builds at a steadfast and electrifying pace to a dual climax with the killer exposed and Mickey announcing a change of direction in his career.

How Michael Connelly manages to nail two high standard novels a year is mind blowing. One little quip on page 115: Clegg, a film producer, is thinking of including Mickey in a movie on the life of Lisa Trammel. He muses “I was thinking of Matthew McConaughey. He’d be excellent. But who do you think could play you?” To diffuse the situation Mickey replies “You’re looking at him Clegg”.

In the back of the novel there are two chapters from the next Connelly novel The Drop to be published in late October this year. This time Harry Bosch is back working with the Open-Unsolved Unit first mentioned in The Closers in 2005. I was hooked after the first two chapters ….. roll on October! Finally just a taste of trivia for people who love the TV series Castle. Michael Connelly, together with authors James Patterson and the late Stephen J Cannell, make occasional guest appearances in the series as Castle’s poker buddies.

Written by Barbara

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Selling Australian Authors: A Bookseller's Perspective

Hi everyone,

I've written a guest blog over at Aussie author Fleur McDonald's blog. It's for Aussie Author Month and it's all about our approach to selling Australian authors. You can check it out here:

Selling Australian Authors: A Bookseller's Perspective

Fleur McDonald is the author of Blue Skies and Red Dust. She blogs about books, writing, authors and her rural life at

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Adam Liaw Event

MasterChef 2010 winner Adam Liaw visited Shearer's last night to celebrate the release of his first cookbook, Two Asian Kitchens. Adam talked in depth about the process that went into creating the cookbook, gave us some insights into MasterChef, shared his passion for food and cooking, and spoke a little about his future. There were some yummy samples of recipes from Two Asian Kitchens for us to try while he signed books and chatted with his fans.  Here's a brief summary of what Adam said:

He started by saying that food for a cookbook couldn't just be what you eat at the end of the day when you get home. There needs to be a reason why it's there, it can't just be what's seasonal or what's local. For Adam the key ingredient to his book and his cooking is authenticity.

Of course, this raises questions. What is an authentic bolognaise? The first printed recipe? Or the one your Mum used to make? For Adam personally authenticity may come from many places, he was born in Malaysia to an English mother and a Chinese Father and lived in 30 different places in 4 countries before he turned 18.

The food he grew up eating was very varied. But food has its own authenticity. Some regions such as France, Italy or Szechuan have long histories. Combining them, and personal aspects like Australian produce, the places we've visited and the food we grow up with produces a personal history, a personal authenticity. In his book Adam is trying to show the way he thinks about food and the way he cooks. It's half traditional recipes, 'Grandma's recipes' and half modern dishes made for the book. There is an old Confucian proverb which Adam quoted, "To create new things you need to understand the old."

When making a cookbook after you've decided what you're writing, you need to work on making it a reality. Which meant dealing with a whole team of people, including photographers, editors, an assitant chef, an independant food tester, a stylist, plus all the people at Random House. They had to design what the book was to look like, and make sure it had the right balance of Asian and Australian for Adam's liking. He didn't want it to be a traditional Asian cookbook and made sure it had a strong Australian element, he also made sure it was something people would make more than one or two recipes from.

Adam also had to work hard on creating the recipes to suit the book. He couldn't just cook something up and then jot down what he'd done. The work had to be methodical and clinical. It had to be able to be repeated. It also had to look good. The recipes needed to have the right colours in them, the right ingredients. He had to question would this look or taste better with fish rather than red meat? Would you eat this with your fingers? In a bowl? A little bowl? A big bowl?

As well as being precise with the design and look of the dishes, Adam had to be precise with his wording. In a novel the author has the opportunity to use as many words as they need. In a cook book it's narrowed down significantly to a few hundred words per recipe. It's also a lot of hard work to produce a book like Two Asian Kitchens, especially given the short time frame he had to work with. There were 14 hour days involved and he sometimes had to cook over 12 dishes in a single day.

Adam spoke about his plans for a restaurant in Surry Hills, hopefully to open in August. He hopes it will have a casual atmosphere and become a place to have a good meal and get together with friends after work.

There was a brief Q&A session.

Where do you get your ingredients from?

80-85% of recipes can be made with ingredients from your local supermarket. Adam wanted to make sure the things necessary for the recipes weren't too hard to get. 95-99% can be made from a combination of an Asian supermarket and your local.

Do you still want to pursue a career in law?
Adam said he liked being a lawyer. But he doesn't have any time for doing that now. He's keeping up with it a little though and is giving a few lectures at UNSW in Media Law.

On MasterChef were you allowed to have a notebook with you or did you have to make everything from memory or instinct?
There were no recipe books on set for MasterChef. Adam and the other contestants would spend their free time memorising things such as the way to make a basic sponge cake.

Four dishes were prepared from Two Asian Kitchens. They were Fire Chicken, Ant's Nest Cake, Green Tea Meringue and Baby Vegetable Crudités with Red Miso Mayonnaise. Being far too eager to stuff our faces, not a single staff member took photos of the wonderful dishes - which is a great shame. The food was all delicious, the meringue was beautifully soft in the centre and the chicken had a lovely flavour with a little bit of a kick. The Ant's Nest Cake was by far the most popular dish and vanished in seconds. 

Adam was more than happy to mingle, chat and sign books and everyone commented on what an extremely nice guy he is. We look forward to seeing his restaurant open later this year, and we're also sure that he'll have plenty of customers.

Autographed copies of Two Asian Kitchens are available now from Shearer's Bookshop

2011 Man Booker International Prize - Shortlist Announcement

Although the Sydney Writers' Festival is still a month and a half away we've already been teased by an appetiser- the arrival of the judges for the 2011 Man Booker International Prize and their announcement of the shortlist.

The award recognises a writer's body of work in fiction and is conferred every two years with a prize of £60,000. The judges elected Sydney to be host to the shortlist and winner announcements earlier in the year, prompting speculation of an Australian author being in the running.

Judges announced the shortlist for the biennial award at the University of Sydney on Wednesday. The thirteen strong list reads like a spotter's guide to important contemporary literary figures, from John le Carré to Amin Maalouf and Marilynne Robinson. Halfway through confirmation of an Australian connection was received, David Malouf's name is on the list. Easily my favourite Australian writer this little bookshop employee was very pleased to see such a talented countryman being nominated on this prestigious list.

But a shortlist announcement wouldn't be the same without a little controversy. John le Carré has asked for his name to be removed from the competition. Although flattered le Carré has apparently given instructions for his work not to be entered for literary prizes, unfortunately for him the International Man Booker isn't entered, it's nominated. The shortlist is chosen by the judges for the writer's body of work, so once you're in, you're in.

On e of the criteria for the award is that the work be written in or available in English so it's great to see a number of non-English speakers on the list. Some, such as China's Wang Anyi, have a limited number of works in English (just a novella and one novel in Anyi's case). But others, China's Su Tong and Italy's Dacia Maraini, have a number available.

Those of you who delight in children's books instead of all this grown up business will be happy to hear Philip Pullman is also on the list- despite his 'genre fiction' label. I'm very pleased about this, mostly because I love genre fiction, specifically fantasy and science fiction, and it's about time some of the exceptional work being done in these fields is acknowledged by international award groups.

Two of the three judges Carmen Callil and Justin Cartwright also participated in a masterclass at the University of Sydney for a lucky few. Both Carmen and Justin were excellent and friendly speakers, dispensing advice and encouragement. Justin told the audience that writing was the most important job in society because writers are the ones who define our society for us, who will clarify for history the way in which we live.

The chair of judges, Rick Gekoski, will be participating in the Sydney Writers' Festival as well. Doing a total of five events, including a discussion with the winner of the 2010 Man Booker Prize for Fiction Howard Jacobson about his work The Finkler Question and a panel discussing the alarming thought: is reading over-rated?

For more information on the Man Booker prize go here.
For more information on the Sydney Writers' Festival go here.

Written by Elissa

Friday, 1 April 2011