degoldi-10pm questionTwelve-year-old Frankie is the youngest child in his family. He’s also the one who holds all of the pieces of it together. His anxiety makes him worry about the flat batteries in the fire-alarm, the lack of change for bus money, and the dwindling food supplies in the house. When the stress becomes too much – which is often – he consults his mother about the things that keep him up at night.

Every evening at 10pm, she is ready for the questions about his rash (is it cancer?), about the cat (might he give the family worms?) and about the health of the kids at school (could Frankie catch something off them?). Ma is the only comfort Frankie knows when life becomes too frightening.

But he is growing up and with Sydney, the new girl at school, asking all sorts of uncomfortable questions about Frankie’s family – and about his mother in particular – it might just be time for Frankie to face up to the reality of his family life. No matter how terrifying it might be.

The 10pm Question is a sweet novel that is aimed at middle grade students, but is relevant to a much wider age-group. Exploring themes of friendship, family and the uncertainty of growing up, this novel delves into difficult issues with warmth and care.

With anxiety being a huge problem for children – and for their parents – it’s good to see a novel acknowledge the matter in an engaging way that takes into account the complexities of the issue. This isn’t a social problem novel by any means. All of the characters in 10pm Question are multifaceted with their own thoughts and goals and ways of dealing with things. Frankie suffers from sometimes debilitating anxiety, but is no less human for that. He’s not a vehicle for a story about anxiety. He’s an intelligent child with a range of interests that include birds, drawing, language and sport. He has friends and can socialise with ease. He is also prone to blocking out things that he doesn’t want to see.

Frankie’s friends and family are just as well-rounded as he is. They have their own ways of dealing with the abnormalities in their families and lives – not all of them healthy. It’s in seeing how these flawed and complex characters interact with each other that 10pm Question really shines. By exploring the relationships Frankie has with the other characters, De Goldi emphasises that a person suffering anxiety is no more or less flawed than anyone else.

10pm Question is one of those books that is a good read for a myriad of reasons. It’s funny, has some amazing characters, and it follows the kinds of characters that chose their own path. Aside from that though, it’s the kind of book that will be a delight for readers who empathise with Frankie’s worries. It doesn’t promise miracle cures – but explores some valid issues in an understanding and positive way.

 

10pm Question – Kate De Goldi

Longacre Child (2008)

ISBN: 9781877460203



grandin-ThinkingInPicturesNewIn 1947, there was no name for autism.

In her early years Temple Grandin had doctors completely stumped, and kids who were mentally ‘challenged’ in that era would ordinarily be institutionalised. Her mother was adamant; this wouldn’t be the fate of her daughter. She spent many years going through psychological testing, therapy and analysis. Speech therapy helped her to be able to communicate, but it’s still a constant challenge for Dr Grandin to assimilate with the world in her public life.

Spending a holiday on a farm with family members when she was a young girl was a pivotal moment for this extraordinary woman. Temple discovered she could empathise with the livestock far better than she could with her fellow man.

So, her name may be somewhat familiar to you. She’s known as one of the first autistic people to write an autobiography, and is a world renowned animal behaviourist.

In the US, she helped to revolutionize the abattoir industry. Creating a far more humane situation for beasts meant a better product, and by achieving this brought great respect from those in positions of power.

There’s a great BBC documentary, The woman who thinks like a cow, and a HBO film on Dr. Grandin if you want to see more, and numerous books of both autism and animal behaviours if you want to read more.

The Autistic Brain: Thinking Across the Spectrum

Hardcover, 206 pages

Published April 30th 2013 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (first published January 1st 2013)

ISBN0547636458 (ISBN13: 9780547636450)

 

 



Mandy Wrangles_2_tnSo, a couple of weeks ago, the most fabulous Marianne de Pierres made a request for Cook Club. MdP doesn’t make too many requests. In fact, I pretty much get to do whatever I want for this column. So, of course, I agreed.

Cheesecake. Cheesecake! Of course, why hadn’t I thought of doing one before now? Well, that would probably be because…shock, horror…I’ve never made one. Okay, there was that fairly disastrous attempt for Christmas dessert about 18 years ago, but otherwise – nope. Cheesecake virgin. For a first real attempt, I’m happy with the result, though I’ll make some changes next time (see note at end of this post). It was demolished by my family, who are honest – if at times, harsh! – critics of anything new that comes out of my kitchen.

 cheesecake 2 2

What You Need:

I used a 22cm spring-form cake tin for this recipe.

Butter to prepare the tin.

 

Crust

350g Arnott’s Nice biscuits, which is about a pack and a half.

175g butter, melted.

 

Filling

3 x 250g packs of Philadelphia Cream Cheese, softened to room temperature.

¾ cup of caster sugar.

1 teaspoon of lemon zest.

2 tablespoons of lemon juice.

Zest of 1 lime.

Juice of 1 lime.

1 teaspoon of vanilla extract.

1 tablespoon of plain flour.

3 large eggs.

 

Topping

2 packets of passionfruit flavoured jelly crystals.

Cream for whipping (or err, if you’re slack and in a hurry and can’t find your piping bag… use the fizzy tinned stuff. Not that I’d know about that. Nope.)

cheesecake

How it’s Done:

Prepare your spring-form pan by greasing it with butter. You can line it with baking paper as well, but I didn’t bother. Then, break up your Nice biscuits and add them to your blender. Give them a quick blend until they resemble breadcrumbs. Slowly add the melted butter. Using your fingers and the back of a spoon, push the biscuit/butter mix over the base and up the sides of the pan, trying to keep as much of a uniform thickness as possible. I had a little mix left over. Refrigerate.

Pre-heat your oven to 175 C, or if you have a fan-forced oven like me, drop the temperature to 160 C. Using an electric mixer (I have a KitchenAid stand mixer. Best. Kitchen Toy. Ever.) on low speed, beat cream cheese and caster sugar until blended. Add the lemon and lime zests and juices, along with vanilla. Mix well. Then add the flour and blend again. Add the eggs one at a time, being careful not to overbeat. Remove prepared crust from the fridge and pour the cheese mixture into it.

Before you put your cheesecake into the oven (middle shelf), add a small bowl of warm tap-water to the bottom shelf. This is to help the crust from drying out too much. Bake for aprox. 35 minutes, or until the centre is *almost* set. Remove from oven and cool completely before carefully removing the rim. Refrigerate for 3 to 4 hours.

While your baked cheesecake is chilling, mix jelly as per packet instructions. Once set, chop roughly with a butter knife and spoon onto the top of your cheesecake. Add passionfruit pulp and decorate with whipped cream around the edges – it hides a multitude of sins! If you do (ahem) use the canned whipped cream, remember it does tend to dissolve quickly.

Confessions: Next time, I’m going to bake cheesecake for 25 to 30 mins rather than the full 35, as it was a teeny bit dry. My oven also has ‘hot spots’, and I had to be careful it didn’t bake faster on one side than the other. I also found I had nowhere near enough mixture compared to how high up the tin I’d made my crust, which is why I added the layer of jelly, rather than just candied citrus like I’d originally planned. I will however, be making it again soon after such a great reaction from my family.

Looking forward to seeing how your versions turn out, Cook Clubbers!

 



Krista McKeeth reviews Altered by Gennifer Albin

 



bec2012_TNBec Stafford interviews Sean McMullen about his new fantasy series written in collaboration with Paul Collins.

 

collins_Books 1-6 - Warlock'sChild - all coversSean, you’ve recently collaborated with Paul Collins on a new 6-part fantasy series, The Warlock’s Child. The first two books (The Burning Sea and Dragonfall Mountain) have now been released and are enjoying a very positive reception. (Book 1 has, in fact, already gone into its second reprint). What was it like co-writing with Paul and what can you tell us about this tale of dragons, magic, and deception?

Paul and I have worked together before, so we have our collaborative roles, strengths and weaknesses pretty well sorted out. I helped Paul with the tech for a young adult story called Deathlight a while back, and after this was published, he started to expand it into a series. Because his publishing company is going really well, he ran out of writing time about a third of the way through. That’s why I was brought in. The language had to be easily accessible to an older child/young adult readership, but I have written for this age group before.

I decided that we needed to plan out a stronger series arc. Dragons are always popular, and Paul had Marc McBride lined up to do the covers. Marc does wonderful dragons, and I had some dragon themes that I’ve wanted to work on, so dragons became the driving force behind the plot.

Dantar, the fourteen year old cabin boy at the centre of things, presented a problem. He was just a cabin boy, and we needed the view from the top as well as the riff-raff’s PoV. I expanded the role of Dantar’s older sister, Velza, rather massively. Velza is an officer on his ship, and she gets to mingle with the leaders, so we see the big picture through her. I rather like Velza, because while she is brave and accomplished, she is also very insecure and highly approval-conscious. Heroes with weaknesses are way better heroes.

The story’s basis is that humans can only ever use one type of the four magics – earth, air, fire or water. Dragons can use all four, and they don’t want humans to become as powerful as themselves. While the dragons are immortal, they have become sterile, which is a big concern for any dragon. Now a human warlock has discovered the cure for dragon infertility, and he wants to trade this secret for power over all four magics. He is even willing to kill his son Dantar (the warlock’s child of the title), to get this power.  Dantar is less than enthusiastic about being the raw materials for dad’s experiments, so he goes on the run in Book 2.

Sean McMullenTwo editions of your ebook collections, Ghosts of Engines Past (featuring steampunk stories), and Colours of the Soul (your recent science fiction and fantasy work) have been released through ReAnimus Press and Amazon.com. What do you enjoy about short fiction, and which is your favourite genre to write in: steampunk, science fiction, or straight fantasy?

Short stories are the motorcycles of literature, they allow me to dash in quickly and do some really exciting things, while the reader hangs on and hopes I don’t crash. They have intensity rather than complexity, but they are a definite challenge when fitting in character development characters and creating a plausible background. Novels are more like container ships, not as exciting but able to carry way more. I am currently about two months off finishing a steampunk novel, which may turn out to be a container ship that handles like a motorcycle.

Steampunk is my favourite genre, although I consider it to be a mixture fantasy and science fiction. The Victorian era backdrop that steampunk uses is easily as romantic as medieval fantasy, but you can also use electricity, steam engines, computers and telegraphs. Even better, a lot of people tried to establish a scientific basis for the occult and magic during the Nineteenth Century, so steampunk can have magic as well.

When writing steampunk, I enjoy the challenge of keeping the technology feasible for the period. In Ninety Thousand Horses I had a rocket powered train that can travel faster than sound, so the setting had to be 1899 – when liquid oxygen was commercially available. That said, Ninety Thousand Horses also needed a strong romantic theme. I based that part on Verdi’s La Traviata story of love, tragedy, revenge and assorted highly charged emotions. It won the Analog readers’ poll, so I seem to have got the balance right.

collins_Book 1 - BURNING SEA - front coverOn your website, your fans can listen to a series of audio tales which you personally read. Hearing our favourite authors read their own stories is always a real treat. Do you enjoy reading your work? Which of your own favourite writers would you like to hear reading their works and why?

I love reading my work, it’s like being able to write more detail into the text without adding more words. I have a professional background in acting and singing, and have had training as an actor. That’s very important when doing audio recordings because readings are as hard to get right as songs – if not harder.  It’s not uncommon to hear an author admit to buying a nice piece of audio kit to do readings of their own work, being horrified when they hear themselves reading, then putting the recording unit straight onto eBay. It’s a skill that needs a lot of work and practise, there is no doubt about that.

Neil Gaiman is easily the best reader among the authors I know. He has it all – breath control, characterisation, intonation and great material to read. I am particularly fond of Owls, his take on the Seventeenth Century antiquarian John Aubry. At his best, Douglas Adams was just as good. His reading at Melbourne University was magical, nobody did Marvin the Paranoid Android as well as Adams himself. Unfortunately, his commercial readings don’t come across as well; they sound as if they were recorded one sentence at a time.

In general, actors do a far better job with readings than authors; so, I prefer readings by actors. Tony Robinson, Peter O’Toole, Boris Karloff, Nigel Planer and Sean Connery and among my favourites. You may have noticed that there are no women among all those actors and authors named, and that they are all British. That is because I am probably (subconsciously) looking for examples of readings that I can learn from to improve my own reading technique. After all, I have a deep voice and I do a reasonably convincing British accent. I used to think I sounded Australian, but people kept asking me how long I’ve been out here, and whether I went to Oxford or Cambridge.

collins_Book 2 - Dragonfall Mountain - front coverWhich of your fictional characters Burns Brightest in your mind and why?

“Burns Brightest” could have various meanings, so I’ll make two attempts. The bad-boy wastrel John Glasken is certainly a favourite with many readers, and he does loom exceedingly large in the Greatwinter novels. He is a mixture of all sorts of people I knew from my university/rock band/folk music/party-all-night-and-try-to-sleep-at-work years. My attitude to him is similar to the way Rowan Atkinson feels about Mr Bean: a wonderful piece of character creation, but if he arrived to take your daughter on a date you would slam the door in his face.

My personal favourite is Zarvora, the dragon black chief librarian who invents the human powered computer, the Calculor, in Souls in the Great Machine. She is a bit like Terry Pratchett’s Lord Vetinari, a strong, ruthless leader who gets results and does not suffer fools gladly – yet she does get it wrong occasionally.

I have a great fondness for characters who are flawed but brilliant. If asked which character I wish I had created, it would definitely be the Sherlock Holmes from the Sherlock TV series. I shall be doing some more work on the fourth Greatwinter book later this year. It is set two hundred years after Eyes of the Calculor, so Zarvora is no more, but there is another chief librarian continuing the tradition of being brilliant, dedicated, flawed, focused, and just a little short of temper.

 


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