The Wonderling: A Sweet Steampunk Fairytale

2017 seems to be the year for gorgeous children’s fiction and Mira Bartok’s The Wonderling is no exception. The Wonderling is simply one of the sweetest children’s books I have come across. Set in a Victorian-esque world where the boundaries between species have become less distinguishable, a new group of people called groundlings – a group of people with the traits of humans and animals, or indeed various animals – are treated as second class citizens. In this world, young abandoned groundlings are sent to Miss Carbunkle’s Home for Wayward and Misbegotten Creatures, only to be treated as little more than poorhouse slaves.

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Arthur, the fox groundling with a heart full of song

It is here that we meet a young fox groundling, at first without a name, only a number – Number Thirteen. However, in amongst all the misery of his life at Miss Carbunkle’s, Number Thirteen finds a friend, Trinket, a small kiwi bird-like groundling who not only gives him a name – Arthur – but also a sense of hope and self-worth. The two escape Miss Carbunkle’s, but it is here that their story really begins. With magic, song and friendship, Arthur finds himself caught up in a much bigger plot to remove music from the world, and must try to stop it before it is too late.

The Wonderling has many beautiful lessons to teach children about the power of music and song, the value of self-worth and personal discovery, and how our lives are transformed by the friendships we make. One of the sweetest moments in this book is when Arthur and Trinket first become friends and Trinket declares almost instantly that not only does Arthur deserve a name, but one with great power and history behind it. Her insistence that Arthur is worth more than he ever thought himself to be is one of the most consistent themes of the book, forcing the reader to see the negative effect of bullies come up against the power of friendship and self worth. The defeat of the bullies by Arthur’s growing friendships and self-worth is an important message for children to see. Whilst the book is fantastic in nature, it’s messages of hope and friendship are beautiful and necessary for children to see in an increasingly tough world.

Arthur and Trinket
Arthur and his friend Trinket

Each time I recommend this book to someone, I describe it as “if Charles Dickens and Tim Burton came together to write a steampunk Wind in the Willows”. There is something utterly enchanting about the sweetness of this novel, and the loveliness of Arthur’s kindness in the face of bullies and ongoing adversity in a society that views him as less than a person. Again, there is a message here for children about difference, as ultimately the many differences of the groundlings who band together to help Arthur are the thing that saves music from those who wish to destroy it.

The beautiful illustrations drawn by the book’s author Mira Bartok that are sprinkled amongst the pages, add even more beauty to the book. I have popped some of these gorgeous sepia sketches throughout this review to just give you a snippet of how lovely this story is. It is the kind of children’s book that has all the makings of a classic children’s book and I sincerely hope that every child who reads this book falls in love with sweet Arthur, Trinket, Peevil and the rest of the groundlings and their friends as much as I have.

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Mira Bartok’s The Wonderling is available in all good bookstores now. As always, INWORDSANDINK encourages its readers to buy from and support their local independent bookstores.

Thank you once again to Walker Books Australia for sending me a copy of The Wonderling. Please note, whilst I was sent the book for reviewing purposes, I was not in any way paid or financially obligated to write this review.

 

 

 

© Hayley New 2017

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“NEVERMOOR”, The Word On Everyone’s Lips

I was an intern at Hachette Australia when I first heard the word Nevermoor. The manuscript was being passed around the office with excitement. The first time someone told me I should read it, I was in the print room, binding some documents, and the Head of Sales (my now boss) asked if I had read it yet. When I said no, he promptly told me I needed to read it as soon as possible – it was going to be something incredible.

The first time I actually got the chance to read Nevermoor, it was a few months later – I had just gotten my job as Sales and Product Coordinator at Hachette, and was handed a proof copy of Nevermoor by my friends in the Children’s Department after I had been helping them mail out gorgeous hardback proofs to media and booksellers and was asked again if I had read this book. I was promptly handed a proof copy to read after admitting I was probably the last person at Hachette not to have read it.

I devoured it in about 48 hours.

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Jessica Townsend, the 32-year-old wonder behind Nevermoor

Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow is the debut novel from Jessica Townsend, and it has become a phenomenon well before its release. “Nevermoor” is probably the most used word at Hachette after “book”. Booksellers have been talking about Nevermoor for months. Fox bought the film rights nearly a year ago, and book nerds the world around have been eagerly awaiting the release of the book that has caused so much excitement.

Nevermoor is the story of Morrigan Crow, a young girl born on an unlucky day, and subsequently blamed for all local misfortunes. The curse also means that Morrigan is doomed to die at midnight on Eventide. But, just before the worst is to happen, Morrigan is whisked away by a strange man called Jupiter North, who takes her to safety in a secret magical city called Nevermoor. In Nevermoor, Morrigan is put forward by Jupiter to contend for a place in the Wundrous Society – the city’s most prestigious organisation, but in order to join she must compete and succeed in four trials against other children, each bearing an extraordinary and magical talent. Morrigan, bewildered by it all, has no idea what her talent could possibly be. However, to stay in the safety of Nevermoor for good and avoid the death prescribed to her outside the city, Morrigan will need to find a way to pass the tests.

It is hard to find the right words to describe how utterly brilliant this book is. Jessica Townsend has weaved the most magical world since Harry Potter, and made me fall in love with characters in a way I haven’t for a long time. I won’t lie – I have a bit of a crush on Jupiter North, even if I am not supposed to, but even more than that I love Morrigan and all she stands for. Morrigan is the kind of hero that defines the magic of children’s fiction, and one that I wish I had when I was a child myself.

Comparisons to the brilliance of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter are thrown about in regards to a lot of books, but rarely are they as true as when they are said about Nevermoor. Jessica Townsend has herself said she owes a lot to J.K. Rowling :

“I get this weird feeling that as a children’s author, I’m supposed to be coy and evasive about admitting Harry Potter as an influence. That even now, 20 years after the publication of The Philosopher’s Stone, I somehow ought to be denying the hippogriff in the room that is this massive literary touchstone. Pretending I wrote Nevermoor in a cultural vacuum.

Well, I didn’t. Nevermoor was influenced by everything I’ve ever read, watched and loved, and that absolutely includes Harry Potter. I’m part of the lucky generation that queued in bookstores at midnight for Order of the Phoenix after an agonising three-year wait. As a series, Harry Potter lit my imagination on fire and made me see the scope of world-building that was possible in children’s literature. I refuse to be dispassionate about something I love so much.”

– Jessica Townsend, ’20 years of Harry Potter: five local authors assess the cult of the boy wizard’, Sydney Morning Herald, June 16 2017

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Jessica Townsend with a copy of the soon to be published Nevermoor

For me, it is impossible to read Nevermoor and not acknowledge Jessica’s paying tribute to Harry Potter, largely because reading Nevermoor for the first time felt incredibly like reading Harry Potter for the first time – full of magic and excitement and so much joy. Nevermoor makes you feel like a child again, in all the best ways. I keep comparing it to childhood favourites of mine – Alice in Wonderland, Harry Potter and Roald Dahl – because it feels like a classic right away. Children will grow up loving this book and its characters. Young girls will grow up looking to Morrigan as a role model the same way I grew up idolising Hermione Granger – and that makes me so incredibly happy.

I am incredibly lucky to have been a part of the community of people who have read Nevermoor before its release, and even luckier to be working with the team behind Nevermoor’s publication. Seeing how much love has gone into seeing this book flourish has been so wonderful, and it makes me even more excited to see Nevermoor go out into the wild and into the hands of children (and adults alike!). Books like this come around very rarely, and I am so glad that I have been able to see this book bring smiles, laughter and a spot of Wunder into the lives of everyone who has read it thus far. I can’t recommend this book enough, and when it is released in just over a week, I beg you to go and get your hands on a copy as soon as you can. You won’t regret it.

 

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Jessica Townsend’s Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow (Lothian Children’s Books, RRP $16.99)  is available from October 10th 2017 in all good bookstores. As always, INWORDSANDINK encourages its readers to buy from and support their local independent bookstores and support independent press.

Please note that whilst I work for Hachette Australia, I was not in any way asked or obligated to write this review. All opinions expressed in this piece are my own unless expressly stated otherwise.

 

 

 

© Hayley New 2017

A Journal of Small Pleasures | New/Old Music

 

There has been a surge of new music releases in the last few weeks. But none have captured me in the way that a small number of artists have.

***

2013 and 2014 were strange years for me, marking my final year of high school and my first year of university. It was a time of major transition, not only in terms of education, but also of changes in my personal relationships with people and how I viewed myself. I spent a lot of time travelling – long car trips with friends, bus rides to work, trains to and from university – and these vast spaces were filled with music. My tastes in music had changed and evolved over this time, and while a few old favourites stayed, a lot of new music poured into my life.

***

PARAMORE

Paramore was not new to me in 2013. I had always been surrounded by Paramore fans, but I had never found myself as hooked on their music as my friends.

But then the self-titled album came out. And Paramore became a staple for me. They featured on every mix CD I gave to my friends for long car rides. We all knew the words, and the right moments to clap in the middle of a song.

‘Still Into You’ made me envious of Hayley Williams and her crazy vocals. ‘Ain’t It Fun’ was the growing-up anthem I didn’t know I needed until I had it on loop. ‘Grow Up’ helped me get over bad friendships that were falling apart. To this day, that song always reminds me of the friends I had to leave behind in order to find myself.

Paramore’s self-titled album was the right album at the right time.

***

HAIM

I came across HAIM by accident. I had heard ‘The Wire’ on the radio more than once, and it often played at work, but I never knew who sang it. Spotify rectified that for me.

I soon played all of Days Are Gone on repeat for hours in my room and danced around to the stunning vocals and dramatic beats. I had never heard anything like these women. I wanted to be as effortlessly cool as they were. ‘If I Could Change Your Mind’ was the song I listened to whenever I was getting ready to go out, and I spent longer than I care to admit trying to learn the dance routine from the music video.

HAIM sang their way through my train journeys and there was a song for every moment, every feeling I had. And they were mine. None of my friends knew them, and I never shared them. HAIM was my little secret, and I wanted them to stay that way. Sometimes music feels like it should just be yours, if only for a short while, and I didn’t want to lose HAIM. They were too important.

***

BLEACHERS

Bleachers was a gift given to me by Lena Dunham’s Girls. After binge watching Girls I fell into a Google wormhole and came out the other side clutching Strange Desire.

I knew Jack Antonoff from his FUN days, but Bleachers was such a different sound. ‘Rollercoaster’ was instantly a summer song. It was bright and beautiful and fun. But it was probably ‘I Wanna Get Better’ that hooked me. I was going through a rough patch when I heard this song for the first time, and it got right at the heart of how I was feeling without making me feel like a cliched sad person.

Bleachers was unlike anything I had listened to before, and I was surprised to find myself listening to it as much as I did. I didn’t love the whole album equally, but I knew the songs I was going to keep with me in case of an emergency, and that was important in those days.

***

Recently, each of these groups have released new music for the first time since 2013/2014. Whilst I listened to their old music every now and then since, it was the recent release of new music from each of them that has pulled me in all over again.

It is strange hearing these voices for the first time again. They are new. But they are familiar as well. And somehow it makes it seem like 2013/2014 again.

I am in a new period of transition at the moment – finishing up my undergraduate course at university and working out what to do next. I have big plans, much in the same way I did back then. But the strange tug of the past has curled around my heart in these songs.

It is amazing how much emotional value music has for us. For me, music is always intertwined with memories – of specific events, of certain friends, of big moments in my life – and it was a weird coincidence that all three of these groups that had such an impact on an important moment of my life have released new music at the same time, a time that mirrors the changes of 2013 and 2014. All those memories of happy moments, moments where hard choices were made, and moments of in-between are flooding back with these voices, these songs.

I am a different person then I was, and these songs remind me of that. But some things haven’t changed at all, and it is the comfort of knowing that I will always be able to mark my memories with music, with this music, that brings a little more sun back.

It’s time for memories worth the soundtrack I have been given.

 

I have made a Spotify Playlist with some of my favourite songs from Paramore, HAIM and Bleachers, from their 2013/2014 albums and their latest releases. Check it out here.

 

© Hayley New 2017

 

 

Walking My City: A Review of Lauren Elkin’s “Flâneuse”

Flâneuse [flanne-euhze], noun, from the French. Feminine form of flâneur [flanne-euhr], an idler, a dawdling observer, usually found in cities.

That is an imaginary definition.

– Lauren Elkin

Lauren Elkin’s latest release, Flâneuse, is quite possibly the best reading experience I have had all year. Part memoir, part cultural history, part commentary, Flâneuse recounts the experiences of women and their relationships with the cities they lived and worked in.

Being a dual English Lit and Cultural Studies major at University, the idea of the flâneur is not new to me – most of the books I read for class are written by the great flâneurs of literature. But it was Elkin’s take on flânerie that really appealed to me when I found this book tucked in the back corner of my favourite bookshop. Putting women at the forefront of her work, Elkin gives space to some of the greatest and yet most underrated women artists in our history.

As a female writer, I was particularly struck by this book’s focus on the way in which female flânerie was linked so closely with the creative self, and how walking the city, becoming part of its social landscape is described as an artistic venture. Beginning with her own writing and her creative experiences in Paris and New York, Elkin describes some of the greatest cities on Earth and their inexplicable ties to human experience, art and creative cultural expression. In many ways, Flâneuse can be read as a love letter to Elkin’s most familiar city, Paris. Having lived there for a considerable time now, Elkin maps her own cultural and creative journey onto the city and its history, describing the city’s magnificent past and the women who used Paris as their own space for art and revolution.

But Flâneuse moves beyond Paris, stretching its arms out to New York, London, Venice and Tokyo, and even to your own cities. Elkin is sure never to get in the way of your own experiences, instead challenging you to pay attention to the way you interact with your city, and how you move through it. Whilst reading this book, I found myself paying particular attention to the ways in which I interact with my city, its culture and its creative landscape, the ways in which my femaleness is framed in the social spaces I inhabit. Flâneuse is as much a challenge to think about embodiment and inhabiting spaces as it is a record of cultural creativity and fluid cityscapes.  

Elkin’s prose is some of the best writing I have come across, particularly in Non-Fiction. Her way of layering cultural history, commentary and autobiography is unique and I was mesmerised by her talent for honest storytelling as I was reading. Through her writing, Elkin is an everywoman, but one with a special flair for sharing her thoughts in a respectful but confident way. There are moments in her writing that remind me of the same sort of tone as Caitlin Moran, but Elkin has a more polished voice, one that has been sanded around the edges by time, where Caitlin Moran boldly refuses to be shaped by anyone. Having never come across Elkin before this novel, I was astounded to find myself comparing her to my other female role models and favourite feminist writers, but looking back on my reading experience, I don’t doubt that gut instinct to put her up there on that list. Elkin is a genius, and I am incredibly grateful for her writing, and the personal and cultural history behind this book.

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Flâneuse is now available from Penguin Random House or in all good bookstores. As always, INWORDSANDINK encourages its readers to buy from and support their local independent bookstores.

© Hayley New 2016

Fantastically Great Women Who Changed The World: A Review

 

Fantastically Great Women Who Changed The World, the newest picture book from writer and illustrator Kate Pankhurst, is a glorious celebration of the lives of famous female historical figures. As a descendant of the famous Suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst, it is clear to see where Pankhurst gets her inspiration for a book such as this, and her skill and talent for telling these women’s stories – stories that in many cases have been kept out of the history books for a long time – is incredible.

The list of women included in this book is extensive: Jane Austen, Gertrude Ederle, Coco Chanel, Frida Kahlo, Marie Curie, Mary Anning, Mary Seacole, Amelia Earhart, Agent Fifi, Sacagawea, Emmeline Pankhurst, Rosa Parks, and Anne Frank are all given a place in this magnificent history of brilliant and courageous women doing magnificent things. These women all come from different racial, ethnic and cultural backgrounds, allowing women whose voices have traditionally not been given room to be heard in history books to be heard.

But what gets me most about this book is its intended audience – children. As a picture book, and a beautifully designed and illustrated one at that, this book is written for children. So rarely are stories like those of the women included in this book shared with children, and I am so endlessly grateful that Kate Pankhurst wrote this book for them. To introduce children to books and stories with these women, to show them how incredible women have been and continue to be, is so vitally important, and Pankhurst’s book is a brilliant part of that journey. When I first received this book for review, the first thing I said to my Mum was “I wish a book like this had been around when I was growing up.” Because, honestly, they weren’t – and it wasn’t really that long ago that I was a young kid looking for strong, intelligent and courageous women to look up to in books. I wish that in my many library visits, I could have found this book on the shelves and found myself in these women. I sincerely hope that libraries all over will take this book into their collection so that little girls the world over can find an array of female role models to look up to.

Even as an adult, reading this book was a fantastic educational experience. There are figures in this book that I never knew about, and even fun facts about famous women I have admired for a long time that I didn’t know. The illustrations were bright and beautifully drawn – with a quirky and charismatic style. There is no attempt to render women as traditionally beautiful in her illustrations, but rather a desire to make each woman unique and stylise her to best represent her story and the remarkable things she did in her lifetime.

On behalf of all the little girls (and boys) of the world, I am endlessly grateful for Kate Pankhurst and her work in creating this picture book. If even one little girl finds a feminist hero in her library because of this book, her work will have paid off.

 

great_wome_coverFantastically Great Women Who Changed The World (RRP $14.99) is available in all good book stores from October 2016, or directly from the publisher, Bloombury Publishing/Allen & Unwin, here

As always, INWORDSANDINK encourages its readers to buy from, and support their local independent book stores.

Thank you once again to Allen & Unwin for sending me a copy of Fantastically Great Women Who Changed The World. Whilst I was sent the book for reviewing purposes, I was not in any way paid or financially obligated to write this review.

 

© Hayley New 2016

 

Why I Love Musical Theatre

Anyone who knows me even a little bit will know I love theatre. From plays to monologues to Shakespeare (be still my beating heart, how I adore Shakespearean plays), to the greatest of all my theatrical loves, Musicals, I am an ardent admirer of the performing arts.

I think my parents are to blame for my great love of musicals. I grew up on the films of Judy Garland and Gene Kelly. Watching old movies as much as I did, it was hard to escape the music, the dancing and the show stopping performances. I remember the first time I saw Singin’ In The Rain – I instantly fell in love with Gene Kelly, splashing around in the pouring rain with more joy than I had ever seen. I stayed up late at night to watch Xanadu with my parents, and then to watch Grease, mesmorised by how these musicals made me feel.

So, it wasn’t long before I found myself wanting to see these things on stage.

We were never really in a position to buy tickets to the theatre when I was growing up, so my first experiences of stage musicals happened at home, watching recorded live performances of The Phantom of the Opera and Les Miserables. Both performances were filmed at the Royal Albert Hall in London, and so suddenly, the theatre took on a level of decadence and grandeur that I had never really associated with it before. I loved these musicals, but they started to feel beyond reach – and it wasn’t long before the whole idea of Theatre soon followed.

Until, that is, until I saw my first musical on stage – Wicked.

Wicked was the first musical that really took us all by storm. It was pure fluke that I got to go see it as part of a school excursion. I went in to see it knowing pretty much nothing about it and walked out laughing and crying and with my heart full to bursting with joy. I had never felt so full as I did then, and for months my friends and I sang Wicked lyrics back and forth.

Since then, I have seen ten musicals on stage, and many more on screen, with an ever growing wish list of musicals I want to see live. My sisters are constantly telling me to stop singing/rapping the lyrics to Hamilton and In The Heights, and are completely horrified when I switch to Rocky Horror or Hedwig and The Angry Inch. To be fair, I was definitely never made to be a singer, or for that matter, a booty shaking Broadway star. Secretly, I think my Mum is proud of me for loving something as much as I love theatre, even if she frowns at my horrific vocals.

I know that Theatre has a history of being notoriously inaccessible, both for audiences and performers alike. It is an industry, though very openly inclusive off-stage and as a community, often shuts out fantastic talent for very little reason at all than their physical appearance, and it is horribly expensive for audiences to access. I am lucky that I have been able to see as many shows as I have as a result of gifts at Christmas and the occasional birthday from my grandparents. But as shows like Hamilton have shown us, theatre doesn’t have to be exclusive – it can open itself up to us through diverse casting choices and rocking cast albums. Musical soundtracks have been the door for many into an amazing relationship with theatre, but they also do so much more – they allow us to escape into that theatrical world whenever we need to.

Theatre, particularly Musical Theatre, is as much about escapism as it is about the joy and magic that envelopes the audience. Sitting in the theatre for two or three hours and being entirely mesmerized by a story that is performed with so much love is a wonderful way to combat your skepticism. Even if you can see through all the stage tricks and performance, you cannot help but appreciate all the work and love that has been put into a single show. You cannot help but be thankful for all the effort that has gone into it, all the talent and imagination. And the more people who become immersed in this world, the more diverse work that will be borne from it.

As much as I know I will never be Sutton Foster or Lea Salonga, or even one of those dazzling Schuyler Sisters, I know I will always sing terribly off-key to Musical Soundtracks and Cast Albums as long as I live – because to me, Musical Theatre is the gift that keeps on giving.

 

© Hayley New 2016

FRAGMENTS

I

I am curled up in the storm shade of afternoon

about to clap its hands

into night.

My fingers run the cracks in the purple-grey,

not lilac, not lavender,

just some ghost of purple,

though I suppose these walls were lavender once.

I am a shadow

a printed copy of yesterday

and today,

carved out in hollow light

and freckled with empty sleep.

 

II

I feel like someone has taken a spoon to my insides

and scooped all the human bits out,

hollowed my abdomen,

reaching in,

sucking out my organs,

with a long paper straw,

my heart an uncorked bottle of pumping red

sitting on your shelf

next to my freshly plucked eyes

fogged up with stills from inside my head.

 

III

I am hyper aware of my mouth,

its bright red flare

shooting sparks across the space

between us and the heavens,

my rosebud lips in full bloom,

petals spilling from my mouth,

blowing in the wind

as I peel aphids from my skin.

I sing of sea and salt and air

pickling time,

flying feathers across champagne skies

into my hair,

catching leaves and branches

as I tumble through the thorny undergrowth

and out onto the sand.

My paper tongue flitters uncomfortably

as I scribble my name in the shoreline,

the thorny breath of sitting too long in silence

pricking my throat

as I sit alone and wait

for them to hear me.

 

                                                                                                 IV

                                                                                                     I found a cavern

                                                                                                     filled with fireflies,

                                                                                                     their yellow-green light

                                                                                                     all wrong.

                                                                                                     Why are there fireflies

                                                                                                     in my gut

                                                                                                     when my eyes are carved in darkness?

 

V

I am filled with the break of white light,

dipped in the honey of early morning sun,

and sinking my pen into her velvet skin sky,

striping out my fading dreamy head

in inky echo of her tongue

across my sea-salt bones –

I am morning.

 

© Hayley New 2016