Not only has Mel and Shell made its way into the world, thanks to the superlative Fremantle Press, with the grooviest, ABBA-est cover ever!, but ABBA released two singles the day after its publication! AND they have announced concert dates in London in 2022 (I do not care if it is their avatars, naysayers – it will be an EXPERIENCE).
There are not enough exclamation marks or capital letters in the world to express my utter delight at this wonderful synchronicity. Nobbly (my Frida) and I have been messaging each other from opposite sides of the world, crying and laughing at the hope this package of events have engendered in us. And to those of us of a Certain Age.
Award-winning author Julia Lawrinson has penned a tale of serious middle-grade issues in a light-hearted approach that ensures and engaging and enjoyable reading experience for the audience … with historical themes relevant to the Australian Curriculum. Humorous interactions between the often-melodramatic Shell and her more mature best friend Mel ensure that Mell and Shell will be a fabulous book to read aloud.
There have also been interviews: a fun Meet the Author at Alphabet Soup, and an audio from my favourite radio station, RTRFM, in which I am giddy from just having heard the first new ABBA single. I recently met with the delightful Chenée Marrapodi to talk about writing processes, ABBA, leaving school, horses and more: the link is here.
All this on the back of having a very busy Book Month: the pic below was taken on the last day at Karratha Senior High School, where I had the privilege of spending a couple of days with keen readers and writers.
Happy reading, all, and happy first spring if you’re on Noongar Boodjar.
Any writer knows the most important review is the first one. You’ve spent all these years working on your manuscript, and, beyond managing to interest a publisher, you don’t know how it will be received.
So I was surprised and delighted to receive this from Jan Nicholls for the Children’s Book Council of WA here and below:
Mel and Shell is a new book by Julia Lawrinson to be released by Fremantle Press on 1 September. Aimed at middle readers, and a must for ABBA fans, it encourages us to examine the past with fresh eyes.When you’re ten in WA in 1979 it can be tricky navigating friendships, coping with changing family dynamics and learning to roller skate but Shell finds unexpected comfort in her school history project. Charged with writing to a pen pal from 1829 to commemorate 150 years since settlers came from England, Shell embarks on a one-sided correspondence with Mary Ann Swift who sailed from Plymouth on the HMS Sulphur. Interspersed with letters describing the trials and tribulations of her daily life, her best friend Mel and their mutual love of ABBA and her long-held desire to ride a horse, Shell also enlightens Mary on some of the technological advances since her own childhood in a ‘Things that would surprise you’ section. Items such as telephones, washing machines, toys and electronic games are described in vivid detail that, as well as a hearty dose of nostalgia, also provides a fascinating history lesson for the reader. The interactions between the somewhat melodramatic Shell, her articulate and more mature best friend Mel and their nemesis Scary Sharon provide humour and pathos in equal proportions in this adventurous stroll down memory lane. Perfect to share as a read aloud this book deftly explores themes of loyalty and honesty and would make the ideal catalyst for family discussions about what it was like in ‘the olden days’ and what has changed since mum and dad were young. Fremantle PressJulia Lawrinson#CBCAWA
It’s hard to come across a better endorsement than that.
I am fantabulously excited to let you know that the ABBA novel, as was its working title, now has not only a launch date (September) but an actual cover (see below). The blurb and a sample chapter is now available here. Thank you Fremantle Press for such an inviting cover to the story of Mel, Shell and Scary Sharon; horses, rollerskating, and puppies; and how we think about the past in the present.
[Aboriginal readers please note: the text below contains references to people who have died].
If you were a primary school kid in Western Australia in 1979, it was hard to miss the whipped up enthusiasm around the celebrations of 150 years of white settlement.
Less commonly mentioned in schools was that at 1979’s New Years Eve concert, Noongar leader Ken Colbung, hired to play the didgeridoo, handed the Governor an eviction notice, wittily reproduced on the same form as those presented to Aboriginal people being evicted from Homeswest properties.
I remember wondering (possibly due to reading the Little House on the Prairie series) what had happened to the Aboriginal people who had been around in 1829, and dug in the banks of the Canning river to see if I could find their artifacts (I didn’t realise their descendants were all around, despite the government’s best efforts). I tried to imagine what Perth would have looked like without all the roads and buildings, and felt sad, imagining how those people would have felt, watching the boats come in.
I am so proud of this book, and grateful for the continuing connection I have with old primary school buddies who helpfully supplied memories, anecdotes, cartoon names, and jingle earworms. Thanks to the fun nostalgia of the Perth Reflects Facebook Group (and Warren Duffy). Thanks to the patient staff at the State Library of WA for providing a haven and microfiche self service 🙂
And most especially, thanks to Dr Nobbly James, to whom the book is dedicated, and whose continuing friendship, wisdom, wit, and ABBA paraphernalia is appreciated beyond words.
For those of us in Western Australia, we’ve had a temporary reprieve, of sorts, that the rest of the world has not been so lucky to have (and has led to some golden Mark McGowan-inspired comedy, the best of which has been by Jones of ARK.)
Western Australia hasn’t been immune in other ways: we’ve been restricted from seeing our loved ones, mental health presentations have been off the charts, and our frontline health workers are exhausted. But we know we’ve got off (to date) relatively lightly. Splendid isolation comes into its own.
I am grateful to be surrounded by creatives who have made something in the face of all this, or been recognised for what they have done, like my old comedy buddies Nikki Jones (see above and below) and Judith Bridge, who were awarded lifetime membership of the Laugh Resort recently.
Further afield, my oldest friend Nobbly has been creating a series of educational historical videos in the UK, and we managed to dress up in our respective parts of the world and appear together through Magic (see here at 1.30), throwing in an ABBA joke to conclude.
The Literature Centre, the Board of which I now have the honour of chairing, has managed to come through a tough year with support from our funding bodies. The Centre will be returning to renovated premises in the new year, and back into schools to deliver its outstanding range of programs with an outstanding range of writers and illustrators and storytellers. There are also now online programs available that open up the possibilities for more students to explore the pleasures and challenges of writing, without leaving home (or at least their classrooms!) COVID win!
Personally, I was incredibly grateful to that Maddie in the Middle was commended in both the older and younger readers section of the Australian Association of Family Therapy Award for Children’s Literature, as well as its earlier Notabling in the Children’s Book Council Awards. It is particularly cheering having news of this while I’m working the final edits of Mel and Shell (or whatever its final title ends up being!) over the summer, as well as writing what may be unpublishable reflections on the comedy of errors that comprises my life.
Let’s hope 2021 delivers us health (really), contentment, and dogs.
Dear Reader, what a time it has been. I hope you are all right, whether you are in COVID hotspots or blessed, as we currently are, to be in Western Australia in sorta-kinda normality.
The difficulty of the year has been compounded for me by navigating the rocky and twisty paths that comprise coming to terms with my mother’s death, including the fun experience that is reliving childhood trauma. To this extent COVID-disruption has felt continuous with my personal sense of dislocation, loss and more or less utter weirdness. I have been lucky, however, to have been profoundly supported by my loved ones, my colleagues, and logical (chosen) family. For this I am grateful. If you’re not in the middle of pain and grief of your own, I say to you: do not underestimate the difference you can make to others with the smallest of kindnesses.
There are signs of improvement. For one thing, I am delighted to announce that Squiggly and Shell (aka the ABBA/rollerskating/horseriding/WAY 79 novel) will be published by the awesome Fremantle Press in September 2021. I can’t wait to share this with you: it has been so much joy to write.
Also, I have used iso-learning opportunities to complete the Australian Institute of Company Directors course, start learning Indonesian, and begin Zoom lessons on this beautiful instrument, which I have always wanted to play.
In any case, I wish you well, where ever you are. I am writing a memoir with which I hope to entertain you in the future, tentatively entitled ‘How to Avoid a Happy Life: a Comedy in Parts’. Stay tuned!
I am so grateful to Fremantle Press and the CBCA for giving Maddie her chance to shine.
I am also utterly delighted to be on the Notable list with fellow Freo Press creators Holden Sheppard and Kelly Canby (whose name in my opinion invites an echo – Kelly Canby, Kelly Canby, Kelly Canby – no? Just me?), as well as our fellow Western Australians Megsy Caddy, Meg McKinlay (twice, as usual), Sally Morgan, Karen Blair, Michael Speechley and Briony Stewart.
Julia and AJ
Fremantle Press Notables, modelled by Chloe
Fremantle Press speed dating, thanks to the Copyright Agency
This news followed the most fabulous Literature and Ideas weekend (formerly Perth Writers Festival) during which I communed with my writing tribe, met new members of the same, and fangirled Christos Tsiolkas and Rick Morton. A J Betts (whose Rogue should also have been on the Notable list, just by-the-by) and I had a great talk on controversy (Prince earworm) and then I was interviewed alongside Ingrid Laguna by our Curated by Kids hosts.
However (see above), when I got the news of Maddie’s Notable listing, the first person I wanted to call was my Mum. Which I could not do, as she died after a sudden and horrible illness on Boxing Day (having very thoughtfully delayed her exit so as not to coincide with my daughter’s birthday mere days before). A friend said to me that losing a parent is like having a nuclear bomb go off in your brain, and this is apropos.
My childhood best friend said: ‘Right now you are carrying a sack of boulders. One day it will be a small pouch full of precious jewels. But the rocks have to pound each other and you first, and let them. Grief knows what it is doing.’
Mum told me to remember the good times, and I suppose at some point I will be able to with some equanimity. In between times, love, friendship, kindness and yoga are getting me through. And this new addition to our family also:
It has been a marvellously eventful month, and I returned from birthday celebrations to much Maddie promotion. As I’ve said before, it’s always nerve-wracking, waiting to see whether readers connect with your book baby, and I am immensely relieved that folk love Maddie as much as I do. The team at Fremantle Press are doing the most amazing job, and I am very grateful.
This book is thought provoking and will be the cause of many discussions, I’m sure. The writing style is tight and characterisation strong. Lawrinson positions the reader well to view the narrative from various characters’ viewpoints. The story is a believable one and many readers this age, regardless of gender, will be able to identify with Maddie trying to impress and make friends with someone she is infatuated with. …
This book would make a most suitable read aloud in the primary classroom and will prompt much discussion. It will also do well in public libraries and private collections. Highly recommended.
Hannah at Alphabet Soup wrote this fabulous review, including:
I found that it was so easy to get captivated in the plot, with each chapter ending in a cliff hanger and I was wanting more and more with every word. I just could not put this book down; in fact I ended up reading the whole novel in one night! I found myself feeling the inner emotions of every character and also relating to them, rocking with anticipation as I longed for the conflict to be resolved.
This book moves at quite a fast pace, adding to the suspension and overall feels of the storyline. I think that the author has executed the characters absolutely beautifully. They are relatable and loveable while still being able to construct the main conflicts.
I would recommend this book to ages 12+ as some of the themes are quite emotionally demanding. This would be a great book to read with your children to help them understand some of the main aspects (e.g. divorce, poverty, conflict in friendships).
This would make for a fantastic movie. I would even go as far as to say it is the best psychological thriller I have read this year. I can’t wait to read her next book.
And my lovely local paper The Voice featured Maddie and me here.
If you’re interested in books and writing, or in a fun night out, Maddie and ten of her friends (grown up and kids) are going to be launched on 23 October here. As well, the Hungerford award will be announced, so it will be a great night for everyone concerned.
It is a BIG month for me on many fronts – not least of which because Maddie in the Middle has just been released! You may have noticed in my last entry that this was somewhat of a surprise – initially Maddie was due for release next year. I am very glad she’s out and about earlier. Thank you Fremantle Press!
If you want to know why I wrote the book, Reading Time has this feature, plus a link to their warm review.
Journalist and novelist Emma Young wrote a feature for the Sydney Morning Herald on Beaufort Street Books: spot the sneaky appearance of yours truly among my fellow writers here.
I had limited time for Book Week gigs this year, but was delighted to be able to speak to the lively kids at Kyilla Primary in North Perth and Piara Waters in – guess where – Piara Waters. I had the best time applauding Piara Waters’ astonishing Book Week parade, which included a costume made of pages of books (hopefully the Piara Waters folk will have a photo of it somewhere!)
Greetings from Bali, dear Reader, where I am writing (or drafting, I should say: it is very drafty!) a new middle grade novel, as well as enjoying the beachy goodness, massages and delicious food on offer. (And yoga. I have done yoga too, a fact that may surprise you as much as it surprised both me and my hamstrings) The new novel has the working title ‘ABBA novel’, although so far it does not have very much ABBA in it, to speak of.
Aside from feeling as if I should update this blog from time to time for form’s sake, I also would like to update you on the latest writing news. Which is this piece of wondrousness from Fremantle Press’ clever designer:
Publication is in far off February, but I am delighted to be able to share the cover with you. [Late breaking news! Pub date is now 1 September!]
And if you can’t wait for a sneak peek, here’s a sample.
And if you want the jacket in total (go on, I know you do), here it is: