Thursday, May 7, 2015

Precious picture books

Recently I've read two picture books that I thought were worthy of a mention on the blog. Both were great picture books as far as the illustrations and text goes, but they also had something extra that made them worthwhile reads.

Big Mo by Megan Padalecki 

An allegorical tale set in the present, Big Mo follows the sensational journey of a pet iguana as he grows too large for his home and threatens his natural environment. 

Young readers will be introduced to the concepts of size and scale as Mo demands more and MORE, while older readers will draw connections between consumption and consequence.  Children and adults alike will delight in the vibrant illustrations that chronicle the expanding impact of Mo's momentum run amok! 

Big Mo pays tribute to the cautionary tone of Dr. Seuss's classic, The Lorax, and The Trouble with Dragons by Debi Gliori.  Mo's story provides reassurance that it is never too late to scale back. 

Big Mo is a delightful read with  an educational value that is not preaching at all, but rather hidden in the humurous tale of Mo's greed. The story made me smile, but it also made me appreciate the message to the children how to be moderate and not selfish.

On the author's website you can also find a teaching companion on ecology for 7+ children.

All in all, a worthwhile read for children, as well as grown-ups.           Twitter         Website

Luna's Red Hat by Emmi Smid

It is a beautiful spring day, and Luna is having a picnic in the park with her family, wearing her Mum's red hat. Luna's Mum died one year ago and she still finds it difficult to understand why. She feels that it may have been her fault and worries that her Dad might leave her in the same way. Her Dad talks to her to explain what happened and together they think about all the happy memories they have of Mum. 

This beautifully-illustrated storybook is designed as a tool to be read with children aged 6+ who have experienced the loss of a loved one by suicide. Suicide always causes shock, not just for the family members but for everyone around them, and children also have to deal with these feelings. The book approaches the subject sensitively and includes a guide for parents and professionals by bereavement expert, Dr Riet Fiddelaers-Jaspers. It will be of interest to anyone working with, or caring for, children bereaved by suicide, including bereavement counsellors, social workers and school staff, as well as parents, carers and other family members.

The story tells of a girl who feels that she can’t be happy because she lost her mother a year ago. Despite the short format, the girl’s conflicting feelings and the father’s attempts to explain to her what happened and that it is okay to miss her mother and feel sad were wonderfully honest. With this, the story emphasizes how honesty is essential in such cases.

Explaining such tragic loss to a child, particularly when a person takes their own life, is difficult, but the story and the guide for parents at the end both suggest that the approach should be gentle but frank. Children have difficulty understanding the concept of death and its permanence, but the role of the grown-ups is to reassure them, to give them the feeling of safety and maintain their trust by being honest.

The wonderful illustrations balance out the dark topic and give the book a special charm.

Luna’s Red Hat is a storybook for children, as well as for their parents. It’s a guide that helps children understand what’s happening, and parents to find a gentle way to explain a difficult situation to their children.           Website          Blog

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Interview with Amber Benson

As promised, I'll be reposting some of the old interviews I did with writers and poets, because the magazine that initially published them had lost their archives due to a server breakdown or some such thing.

I think these authors are so inpiring and down right cool that it would be a shame not to re-publish the interviews.

Although this interview was conducted back in 2009 when Amber Benson published her first Calliope Reaper-Jones book, I think it's still just as relevant as then. So here are her thoughts on the writing process, acting, directing and more. Enjoy.

Interview with Amber Benson
Amber Benson seems to be successful at every project she undertakes. A native of Alabama, Benson is an accomplished actress, screen writer, director, and a novelist. She is perhaps best known for her role of Tara in the cult series, Buffy the Vampire Slayer. She also wrote several stage plays and scripts for independent movies. Her first novel, Death’s Daughter, was published in February 2009.
As a youngster you studied singing and acting. Has writing been only a more recent development or have you always known you would write too?
I have always written. Even when I was a little kid I would write little plays and short stories. It was only as an adult that I was confident enough to try my hand at long form prose.

In 2002, you wrote, directed and stared in your independent movie Chance. Which of the aspects was the hardest (writing, directing or acting)? If you only had to choose one career direction, which of the three would you choose and why?
I think doing all three at once was what was so difficult about doing CHANCE. In the future, I am definitely gonna stick to two out of three - trying to be everything and wear every hat is overwhelming. I guess if I had to choose between the three, I would probably pick directing. It's so intoxicating to run a set.

Writing and acting are quite different. Do you think either of the disciplines can help you with the other? For example, does your acting experience help you write more well-rounded characters or help you with the pace of the plot? Or is it more the writing that helps you with the acting?

I think the acting has definitely helped the writing. I find that my ability to write characters and dialogue have been enhanced by all the years of reading and acting out other people's words. It showed me what works and what doesn't work - I would recommend that any writer and/or director take an acting class. It will open up a whole new world for them.

You also wrote comic books as part of the Buffy the Vampire Slayer comic book series. Was that very different from writing a novel? Which different skills did you have to use, if any?

Writing for comic books is much more like writing a screenplay and then story-boarding it. You're directing the action of the comic book by deciding panel size and placement and you and the illustrator are working hand in hand to create the imagery of the world together - which again is much more like working in the film/tv world. Writing prose is a very solitary endeavor and I guess that's the biggest difference - creating a comic book is not. It's a collaborative medium.

Death's Daughter is an urban fantasy. Is this your genre or would you consider writing novels with a different subject matter?

I like writing genre based stories, but I am definitely open to writing straight literature. For me, it's all about what the story demands.

If I'm not mistaken, you have a contract for three novels. Will they be sequels to Death's Daughter or are they separate stories? What are your other plans for the future?

Death's Daughter is actually part of a trilogy. All of the books will deal with the same protagonist, Calliope Reaper-Jones. I am also working on a children's book called, The New Newbridge Academy - which is in the vein of The Lemony Snicket Books.

You're multitalented and you seem to constantly be working on one project or another. What do you do in your free time, to relax?

I like to read. I am a book whore. I also like to eat and to cook. I get a lot of enjoyment out of good food.

Which writers or books influenced you as a writer? What are you reading at the moment?

Definitely Neil Gaiman and Charlaine Harris were big influences for Death's Daughter. I also love Russian literature - specifically, Dostoevsky is a favorite. At the moment, I am reading a Lee Child book called, The Enemy.

Amber has published a number of novels since and you can check them out on her Amazon page. 

Friday, April 17, 2015

Travel bug

Have you heard of the wanderlust gene? This gene supposedly explains someone's 'curiosity and restlessness' and it manifests itself in the form of a 'passion for travel'. It is more common with people who have migrated further from where we first originated in Africa. Judging from my family's surname, we belonged to a segment of the Balkan peoples that migrated north due to the Turkish incursions in the 14th century and on.

Despite that, I'm not sure I believe in the existence of such a gene. But it sure does explain nicely my own curiosity and restlessness and the passion for travel. Whether it is a particular gene or a combination of genetics and upbringing or something else entirely, it's been driving me crazy for the past four years when I didn't travel anywhere further than a few hours drive by car.

I'm not in the process of organizing this year's vacation and hopefully, if everything goes according to plan, we'll actually fly to a European capital. The past week, while I was surfing the internet for hotels and plane tickets, I caught myself thinking: "I just need to see this city and then I'll die happy. I won't need to go anywhere else, ever again. I'll be content staying at home and going on vacation to nearby places. Just this one last trip. I swear."

I'm reluctant to believe this sensation because, guess what? I'd had it in 2009 when I visited Australia, too. I thought I'd seen everything I wanted to see. My travel days are over now that I saw Australia, I thought. That lasted for about a year. Then I started getting restless to the point of slowly slipping into a very morose, hopeless state that I've been in for the past few months. And now, just the thought of planning a trip has gotten me into a better mood.

Three months ago I had to fly to the UK for a short business trip - there and back in three days. So I didn't get to enjoy much of UK, but just the smell of the airport air (admittedly, artificial and dry) caused my blood to pump more vigorously through my veins. It was like a sugar rush that lasted for the three days I spent away. Now you'll think that the return home was disappointing and sad, but no. I loved coming home and I 'saw' home with far friendlier eyes afterwards.

I've lived in the countryside for most of my life. But in my heart, I'm a city girl. One would think this an odd combination, but it's not. I live in a gorgeous spot, with the most amazing nature and landscapes. From my hometown, you can reach the Alps, the flatlands of the eastern part of the country or the seaside with a two-hour drive maximum. It's the best place to live. Almost all my food is homegrown, organic, eco, what have you. That is why my rational side knows to appreciate the place where I live. I'm not sure I'd want to move somewhere else. But there's a part of my heart that needs a regular fix of the city life. The anonymity of it, the smell of airports, the abundance of cafes and having everything at the tip of one's fingers.

Returning home after a trip like that is nice. Not melancholic at all, because I want to return home. But I also want to travel because I want to see and feel places, and incidentally that also makes me appreciate home that much more.


Wednesday, March 25, 2015

March is coming to a close

Quite by chance, I brought Alice in Wonderland from the library last week to read to my son. But  it wasn't until today that I saw Alice is celebrating its 150th anniversary. How marvelous that a book is still popular, entertaining and topical 150 years after its publication!

You can see just how popular it is in this wonderful project where artists and illustrators from around the world have each created a different illustration of the iconic character. The different interpretations are inspiring.

Australian photographer Tom Blachford undertook a different project when he decided to photograph Palm Springs. The series of photos is called Midnight Modern and they have a decidedly retro feel; they could easily have been taken decades ago. The photos were taken in the dark, using a long exposure.

Mikko Lagerstedt, however, has been revealing the beauty of Finnland and its nature through his photographs for a long time. Huffington Post featured some of his work, and you can follow him on Instagram.

March has been a busy month, with plenty of birthdays, appointments, a lot of work, a manuscript revision and some notes from my supervisor on another manuscript. I feel tired, but the slow emergence of spring has given me fresh energy to invest into my projects and even plan some new ones.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Simple by Marie-Aude Murail

I decided to give the 7 Continents Reading Challenge another try. I didn't finish it two years ago because study literature took up too much of my reading time. I hope this time around I'll manage.

If you're interested, you can read the details about the challenge here.

For my first country/book, I chose France as one of the countries with the most immigrants. Simple (Marie-Aude Murail) is a young adult book about a seventeen-year-old who takes care of his mentally challenged older brother.

There's unrequited love, lust (lots of it), bad romantic poetry, too many essays, and plenty of crisps. But the seventeen-year-old boy in this story has something extra to contend with. His older brother has learning difficulties and is languishing in a care home. Listening to his heart rather than his head, the boy knows he must get his brother, nicknamed Simple, out. But as their father is entirely preoccupied with his new wife, it's up to the boy to liberate Simple, and that means finding somewhere for them to live in the city. Funny, thought-provoking and clever, this French bestseller won the Prix SNCF du Livre de Jeunesse and was dramatised for French television; in Germany it won the prestigious Deutscher Jugendliteraturpreis.

I wouldn't say Simple has the potential to cross over into the adult sphere and attract older readers, but I think it has the potential to teach us a lot about 'foreigness' or being 'alien'. I think in this respect, it was the perfect book to read under the immigrant topic. Because in the end, as the story unfolded, it became quite obvious that the weirdest things or people are not necessarily the least 'normal'. Simple, as simple as he was, taught each and everyone of the roommates a lesson or two. And the tale was a lovely mixture of bitter and sweet moments that gave a great insight into Simple's brother, his caretaker, and the conflicts raging in his teenage mind. This was a very fulfilling read.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Dream dinner destination

Choosing a dream destination is very difficult. There are so many wonderful places I’ve visited and so many more that I haven’t seen yet. But ultimately, I chose Australia.

Australia has always been my dream destination. So obviously I was thrilled when my dreams came true and I spent a month Down Under a few years back. But there’s so much to see in Australia that a month is much too short a time to visit everything worth seeing. Besides, I don't have a favourite city in Australia, the whole continent is my favourite.

Sydney from a ferry

I didn’t want to over-schedule so that I’d have to run from one place to another without having the time to enjoy myself and relax. I’m a total foodie and my favourite way to enjoy vacation time is eating and having a drink with friends. So obviously, my time in Australia was spent at many a dinner and party, including sharing a meal with some Aussie friends.


 I’ve been working as a translator from English for about a decade now. My English is pretty decent, if I say so myself (my mother tongue is Slovenian). Travelling to Australia, I didn’t think I’d encounter many language barriers or have trouble understanding Australians. I realized their English has some peculiarities that I was not familiar with because I mostly translate from American English, but I didn’t expect any major problems.

Melbourne by night

While visiting with friends in Melbourne, we put together a dinner of fish and a bottle (or two) of amazing Australian white wine. I realized during that visit that languages have a way of surprising you. I was suddenly invited to help prepare the tucker, and was told that in the arvo, I’d have to take a smoko without a cuppa because the coffee machine was cactus and is going into the garbo ... Say, what?!? I guess you can crash against a language barrier even when you speak the language. Regional dialects can be confusing but they’re also what makes languages so beautiful and unique.

Australia has great seafood ...

... and terrific wines. (Yering winery)

 So rather than being scared off by Aussie slang, I grabbed the chance to learn a few new phrases. Mostly, I asked the locals to explain the meanings of some words. Language is a living thing, so it’s always best to have an expression explained by a native speaker, and slang expressions are far more reliably explained by people than by translation apps.

It’s different when travelling to countries where the official language is not English. Planning a trip is much easier when the websites are translated into English. Sometimes it happens that a website is not translated in its entirety or at all. In such cases, software to translate websites can be very useful and it makes planning more enjoyable and quicker.

I'm more of a city girl ...

...but Australian landscape is breathtaking.
Translation tools are especially important when you're dealing with a language that is very different from the language you speak. Learning a few polite phrases is always a plus when travelling, but having a reliable app that gets you through the rest of the trip is a must.

Friday, November 7, 2014

November Rain

Well, hello there November. Where did you come from?

Here's an overdue update with the (short) list of my latest publications.

Becoming in Touch: The Journal of Healing
Autumn Garden in Bukker Tillibul
Don't Mocha Me in Litro Magazine

I hope you'll find something enjoyable amongst the pieces.

I've been working on longer works lately, hence the lack of shorts and poems. I'm also procrastinating watching YouTube and Pinterest. Oh, the hardships of being a writer. ;-)