Tag: children’s authors

David Almond’s ‘Skellig’ … a review

There’s a book that keeps disappearing from its spot on the A-J shelves of our local high school library.

A small novel that somehow has been smuggled through the security bars at the library exit. It’s had to be replaced at least three times.

So why this particular book? Is it the beautifully designed cover in tones of blue, white, black and fawn shafts of light and movement? Or maybe the Celtic lure of its title, or the intriguing blurb on the back cover? Or is it the magic of the story itself?

Skellig (1998) was British author, David Almond’s first story for children. It’s written in first person viewpoint of a young boy, Michael who is unhappy when his family moves to a ramshackle house in a new neighbourhood.

Michael’s parents are distracted because his new baby sister is gravely ill and this adds to his feelings of isolation and loneliness. But then he meets the unusual Mina, home-schooled and a loner, a girl who quotes William Blake and knows everything there is to know about birds.

Their lives change forever when Michael wanders into the derelict shed in his back yard and discovers under the rubbish, a crumpled, shrivelled creature that could be human or beast or both:

‘I thought he was dead. He was sitting with his legs stretched out, and his head tipped back against the wall. He was covered in dust and webs like everything else and his face was thin and pale. Dead bluebottles were scattered on his hair and shoulders. I shone the torch on his white face and his black suit.’

Michael confides in Mina and they move the strange creature into a safe place. As the barely alive part-human/bird/angel responds to Michael’s gentle care both he and Mina are drawn into the wonder that is Skellig.

This brilliant novel has won many awards, both UK and international. It’s also been made into a play and this year a movie was made from the story.

David Almond said once that he wanted ‘to write for a readership whose minds are still fluid and flexible, readers who are able to easily mix reality and imagination’. But you don’t need to be a child to be captivated by the story of Skellig. His skill as a writer is evident in this thought-provoking, haunting tale of friendship, love, life and death – a book to own and treasure. Just like all of Almond’s books.

Not that long ago I checked the shelf again in The Gap High School library … and yes, the copy of Skellig had disappeared. No, I’m not the culprit!

Other books by David Almond include Kit’s Wilderness, Heaven Eyes, Secret Heart, The Fire Eaters, Counting Stars, and Kate, the Cat and the Moon, Clay.


The latest on Parallel Imports of Books…

Yesterday, June 30,  the Productivity Commission took their findings to the Australian Parliament on whether Australian authors and illustrators will lost Territorial Copyright. Over the past decade this protection has ensured a phenomenal increase of quality Australian-authored books and the emergence of a battalion of award-winning authors. More significantly is the fact it has given the world an insight into our country through the eyes and words of Australian authors.

But we, the general public will have to wait until 14th July to find out what is about to befall the book publishing industry in Australia.

Do I have a sense of the Productivity Commission‘s findings? No. I just hope the PC’s commissioners have listened to the voices of thousands of authors and their supporters.

Bob Carr, one of the mouths who lobby to open up the Australian publishing industry  to the ‘free-market’ has been on the air-waves constantly, bleating about how he came from a poor family with no books and now he wants poor Australian families to have access to cheaper books.

He says nothing of the fact that the Productivity Commission itself says there is no guarantee books will be cheaper; no does he mention that poorer families have access to free public libraries and free school libraries when their children want to read; nor does he tell anyone about the threat to the Australian publishing industry and the flow-on effect to thousands of people who work in this field, from authors to printers to distributors, and to independent booksellers.

Bob, we know what you try to hide with your shadow dancing and your dominating, loud voice – the desire of higher profits for the large, retail booksellers like Dymocks, Woolworths and Coles.

We can only hope that all sides of politics in the Federal Government will listen to us.

Just imagine a world where our Australian authored books have returned to colonial status; where Australian children’s books feature American spelling and values, and with less Australian content; where Australian authors struggle to be accepted by publishers in the US and the UK.  A world where, as Tim Winton says, ‘to be Australian is to be second rate’.

Queensland children’s authors to protest

Many of Queensland’s children’s authors will take part in a peaceful protest in front of Brisbane city’s Dymocks Bookstore on Thursday 16th April.

We disagree with the Coalition for Cheaper Books’ claims that removing the restrictions on the Parallel Importation of Books (PIRs) will allow them to sell cheaper books. This is not guaranteed at all.

The Coalition for Cheaper Books represents booksellers in Australia with a combined market share of approximately forty per cent of book sales. Members are the large franchisee business Dymocks and the major retail chains of Woolworths, Coles, K Mart, Big W and Target. (Productivity Commission’s discussion draft March 2009)

Scrapping the protection of PIRs will cause much damage to the thriving Australian publishing industry; threaten the livelihood of authors by opening the gates to a flood of remaindered books from overseas; and risks losing books that Australian children will identify with.

We do not feel antagonistic towards the staff of Dymocks – it is a difficult situation for all concerned because many of these caring staff  love children’s books and support the authors.

But our continued existence in this industry is threatened by the push to lift the PI restrictions.

Please note: A & R and Borders are two chains owned by RedGroupRetail. They are members of the Australian Booksellers Association and they do not support the abolition of territorial copyright. These two chains have actively supported the submission to the Productivity Commission by the ABA which argued for the retention of territorial copyright.

When: Thursday 16th April 10.30am

Where:  Cnr Queen and Edward Streets, Brisbane

If you are able to support us, please do. Just a reminder – we should ensure Dymocks’ customers have clear access into Dymocks and also pedestrian access along the street.

S.O.S. – Australian authors in peril

I’ve written before about the Australian government body, the Productivity Commission’s inquiry in the lifting of restrictions on the Parallel Importation of Books to Australia. (PIRs)

Now they’ve geared up for the next stage of submissions, round-table conferences etc before passing it all over to the Federal Government for a decision.

Let me be blunt here – there was as much need to change the current ruling as a fish needs to smoke.

Arguments put forward by the put-together group, the Coalition for Cheaper Books say that lifting the restrictions will ensure cheaper books in Australia. The Coalition members are the large franchisee business Dymocks and major discount retail chains of Woolworths, Coles, K Mart, Big W and Target.

But there is no guarantee that books will be cheaper – in fact, the Productivity Commission even admitted this fact themselves on page 4.11 in their recent Discussion Draft.

The Coalition for Cheaper Books want to scrap the restrictions altogether. If the PIRs are lifted, it basically means that authors receive less royalties because if a book is published overseas authors don’t get the full 10% royalty, they get a % of the royalty depending on where the book is sold and for how much. And if the book is remaindered, authors usually get nothing – because the price of the book falls below the production cost.

But my biggest concern is that our Australian children’s picture books and novels will be geared to the US market first. We all know what happens if the American publishing market gets an Aussie title – they change the spelling and the content to fit the taste, understandings and sensibilities of American readers. So yes, for a start MUM will become MOM.

The Productivity Commission’s discussion draft recommends three things, the first being: That Australia’s Parallel Import Restrictions (PIRs) for books should be modified as follows:

  • PIRs should apply for 12 months from the date of first publication of a book in Australia. Thereafter, parallel importation should be freely permitted.

Established authors will be disadvantaged by this ruling as in many cases the second year sees more book sales – this means that a successful author like Kate Grenville, whose books generally do better the second year they’re out, and her publisher, Text Publishing Company will be much worse off financially.

The same applies to any author in Australian. In the second year after publication cheap imports of books will be allowed into the country; publishers will cut back on taking ‘risks’ with non-established authors. Developing authors like myself, and all those committed writers out there who work to become published authors will have as much chance as … yes, that fish having a ciggie.

You, as an Australian book buyer have a choice. Would you rather ….

  1. (Possibly) pay a few dollars less for a book of inferior quality? Remembering cheapness is not a guaranteed fact.   ….OR….
  2. Pay for a carefully chosen book by an Australian author and/or illustrator, thereby ensuring the continued publishing of books by Australian authors; and the guarantee that what your children will read will be stories written by Australians, with Australian content, spelling, landscape et al!


Inform as many people as you can about this important issue PARENTS … GRANDPARENTS … TEACHERS … LIBRARIANS … BOOKLOVERS.

Write to politicians – they will make the final decision in the Federal Parliament.

PS I know a great way to drop the price on books – get rid of their GST. We don’t pay GST on essential food items, why pay it on that other essential item for the mind, books?