Tag Archives: books

Narrelle's Xmas list for the Nice and the Naughty

It’s that time of year when even the atheists among us celebrate the end of another year by seeking out gifts for our loved ones. Whether your celebrations are secular, religious or pagan, you may be looking for some ideas for gifts. (If you don’t celebrate Xmas, this list may help you for other festivals and birthdays. Also for unbirthdays and those times when you think, damnit, *I* need a present.)

You could visit Twelfth Planet Press and buy one of their excellent volumes. Publisher Alisa Krasnostein recently won a World Fantasy Award for her outstanding work with this small press. You could even splash out on a subscription to the entire Twelve Planets series. Bad Power is the most recent of the series. (My volume, Showtime, will be released in early 2012. It contains a Gary/Lissa story!)

If you’re a Melbourne local, you should locate one of the Melburnalia pop-up shops, where you can find items hand-crafted by your fellow citizens! Goods on offer include jewellery by the lovely Ali Alexander, delightful books from Arcade Publications, knitware, cycling accessories, tea, quirky buttons and, you  know, neat stuff. The pop-up shops are at terrific Melbourne locations too, like Captains of Industry and the Parlour in the Nicholas Building. The shops are only open until Christmas Eve, so get there while you can! Find them on Twitter or Facebook for addresses and hours.

*Late addition* What was I thinking to have missed a link to Clan Destine Press? If you love Kerry Greenwood’s Phryne Fisher books, it might be time to branch out with her historical novels set in ancient Egypt and ancient Greece. Clan Destine also has crime books, including Lindy Cameron’s excellent actio thriller, Redback. Non-fiction, comic fantasy and the story of Dougal the kitten are also on the site.


You could also just go straight to Arcade Publications online to get a set of their wonderful little books about Melbourne. I can personally recommend Madame Brussells: This Moral Pandemonium, about Melbourne’s famous 19th century Madam, but there are books about E W Cole, Australia’s pin-up girls from the 60s and, recently, Australia’s first novelist, Henry Savery.

Other bookshops you should visit, online or in person, are:

  • Embiggen Books, whose names comes from the Simpsons! And they have books about cool science as well as fiction. They stock some Twelfth Planet Press titles too, so show them some love. (I interviewed Warren a while back too.)
  • Readers’ Feast, which is about to re-open at the old Georges building on Collins Street. We’ve missed them. Show them some love too.
  • Of Science and Swords has moved to 377 Little Collins Street and now has a flatmate in Critical Hit. This means you can get great fantasy and SF books along with geek T-shirts and Angry Birds slippers.
  • Oh, and Fablecroft are having a sale: impressive books, with award nominees among the stories.

Books I loved this year:

  • The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins – not new, but brilliant. You may recall that I gobbled the trilogy up in five days.  The film comes out next year, so get your friends and family into the book first! If they’ve already read The Hunger Games, I recommend The Girl WHo Was on Fire, a collection of excellent essays about the trilogy. Here’s my review of that book.
  • A Most Pecular Malaysian Murder by Shamini Flint is the first of her Inspector Singh series. Its great to read a crime novel set in another culture, written by a person from that culture. It’s a good choice for someone who likes their crime fic in foreign locales.
  • The Shattering by Karen Healey – Karen Healey is doing some terrific work, and her second book is a fantasy set in contemporary NZ, with a multicultural cast and a sense of humour, as well as heart-stopping moments. This book deals with teen suicide and grief in ways both illuminating and sensitive. It’s also got magic, idyllic yet sinister small towns, wonderful textured characters and smart, pacy plotting.
  • Melbourne by Sophie Cunningham is a love letter to Melbourne and a beautifully crafted object in its own right. Perfect for the Melburnite who has everything. Here’s my review.

Other books I loved this year (also set in Melbourne) were Graffiti Moon by Cath Crowley and Madigan Mine by Kirstyn McDermott. The Happiest Refugee by Anh Do was another favourite, the well deserved Book of the Year winner.

Finally, it’s not out yet (but aha! I read an early version and I think it’s AMAZING!),  Mary Borsellino’s new book, The Devil’s Mixtape, is due out on 15 December from Omnium Gatherum. In her trademark style, all sharp edges, crystal prose, horror, heart and compassion, The Devil’s Mixtape follows three threads: a girl writing letters to her sister from hell, a music journalist following a band on tour and a road trip in 1950s Australia. I can’t wait to get an official copy!

STOP PRESS 16122011:  The Devil’s Mixtape e-book, published by Omnium Gatherum, is now availabe from Amazon.com for only US$3.99!! (It’s brilliant: review coming soon!)

Anyway, I hope you find some ideas there. And hell, it’s the time for indulgence, so why not buy yourself a present while you’re at it?

Narrelle M Harris is a Melbourne-based writer. Find out more about her books, iPhone apps, public speaking and other activities at www.narrellemharris.com.

F2M: the boy within – The book that scared libraries

Hazel Edwards and Ryan Kennedy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

f2m The Boy Within

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fan art by Rooster Tails

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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