Mal Peet, author of author of Life: An Exploded Diagram, Keeper, The Penalty, Exposure and more, answers Ten Terrifying Questions

The Booktopia Book Guru asks

Mal Peet

author of Life: An Exploded Diagram, Keeper, The Penalty, Exposure and more…

Ten Terrifying Questions


1. To begin with why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself – where were you born? Raised? Schooled?

I was born in a place called North Walsham, in Norfolk, England. It was a one-horse town until the horse got bored and left. I lived there until I was nearly eighteen. Mine was a working-class family; we lived in a council house. (Maybe I should explain that, because I don’t know how to translate it into Australian: a simple house rented fairly cheaply from the local Continue reading

Death Comes to Pemberley: A Very Different P. D. James Detective Novel

P.D. James masterfully recreates the world of Pride and Prejudice, and combines it with the excitement and suspense of a brilliantly-crafted detective story.

The year is 1803, and Darcy and Elizabeth have been married for six years. There are now two handsome and healthy sons in the Pemberley nursery, Elizabeth’s beloved sister Jane and her husband, Bingley, live within seventeen miles, the ordered and secure life of Pemberley seems unassailable, and Elizabeth’s happiness in her marriage is complete. But their peace is threatened and old sins and misunderstandings are rekindled on the eve of the annual autumn ball. The Darcys and their guests are preparing to retire for the night when a chaise appears, rocking down the path from Pemberley’s wild woodland, and as it pulls up, Lydia Wickham, an uninvited guest, tumbles out, screaming that her husband has been murdered.

In a pitch-perfect recreation of the world of Pride and Prejudice, P.D. James elegantly fuses her lifelong passion for the work of Jane Austen with her talent for writing detective fiction. She weaves a compelling story, combining a sensitive insight into the happy but threatened marriage of the Darcys and the excitement and suspense of a brilliantly crafted detective story.

Death Comes to Pemberley enshrines the qualities her readers have come to expect: psychological and emotional richness of characterisation, vivid evocation of place, and a credible and superbly structured plot, in a powerful and distinguished work of fiction.

Stephen Page, CEO and Publisher at Faber said:

‘It is always a moment of great excitement when P. D. James delivers a new novel but the brilliance of both the idea and the execution on this occasion is simply breathtaking. It’s such an elegant, intelligent and moving book that is certain to delight an enormous readership.’

P. D. James said:

‘It has been a joy to revisit Pride and Prejudice and to discover, as one always does, new delights and fresh insights. I have to apologise to Jane Austen for involving her beloved Elizabeth in a murder investigation but this fusion of my two enthusiasms – for the novels of Jane Austen and for writing detective stories – has given me great pleasure which I hope will be shared by my readers.’

About the Author

P.D. James was born in Oxford in 1920 and educated at Cambridge High School for Girls. From 1949 to 1968 she worked in the National Health Service and subsequently in the Home Office, first in the Police Department and later in the Criminal Policy Department.

All that experience has been used in her novels. She is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and of the Royal Society of Arts and has served as a Governor of the BBC, a member of the Arts Council, where she was Chairman of the Literary Advisory Panel, on the Board of the British Council, and as a magistrate in Middlesex and London.

She has won awards for crime writing in Britain, America, Italy and Scandinavia, including the Mystery Writers of America Grandmaster Award and the National Arts Club Medal of Honor for Literature (US). She has received honorary degrees from seven British universities, was awarded an OBE in 1983, and was created a life peer in 1991. In 1997 she was elected President of the Society of Authors.

Great Trailer for A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness who was inspired by an idea from Siobhan Dowd

Review by Toni Whitmont:

You are only young once, but doesn’t it go on for a long time, more years than you can bear.

This is not the way my day was supposed to start, waking a couple of hours before dawn and then reading compulsively until I reached sobbing stage at the final few pages of Patrick Ness’ stunning new book. As it was, I had been up late having started, and then devoured, this visceral, original tale of love and loss, or rather the fear or loss.

A Monster Calls reminds us of what the very finest of young adult fiction can be. Its story is both imaginative and grounded, ranging from fantasy to reality. It proceeds with both inevitability and unpredictability. It is both dark and redemptive.

The experience of reading this book is augmented by its presentation. A finely produced hardback with beautiful end papers and dust jacket, the book is liberally peppered with stunning illustrations from pen and ink illustrations from Jim Kay. The illustrations are as integral to the story as the words. There is much to linger over, but I must confess that the tug of the words compelled me to keep turning those pages. Think Monster Blood Tattoo, The Invention of Hugo Cabret and the now sadly unavailable adaptation of Frankenstein by Margrete Lamond and Drähos Zak. To get an idea of what I mean, go here to see some internal page spreads.

That Patrick Ness should write another gripping tale should be no surprise. This much lauded author for Continue reading

Elliot Perlman chats to Toni Whitmont about his new book, The Street Sweeper

The Street Sweeper by Elliot Perlman

From the scars of the civil rights struggle in the United States to the crematoria of Auschwitz-Birkenau, there are even more stories than there are people passing each other every day on the crowded streets of any major city. Only some of these stories survive to become history.

Adam Zignelik, an almost 40-year-old untenured academic historian at New York’s Columbia University, is the son of a prominent American civil rights lawyer and an Australian mother. One of his late father’s closest friends had been the African American civil rights activist, William McCray. Since the death of Adam’s parents it is the McCray family – William, his son Charles (Chair of History at Columbia) and Charles’ wife – that has become Adam’s adopted family.

With Adam’s career and his relationship with his long-time girlfriend in crisis, he gets a suggestion for a promising research topic from William McCray, who is a World War II veteran, that just might save him professionally and even personally.

Entirely fortuitously, Charles McCray’s wife’s cousin, Lamont, recently released from prison and working as a hospital janitor, strikes up an unlikely friendship with a patient, an elderly Jewish Holocaust survivor and former member of the Sonderkommando (those prisoners forced to work in the gas chambers and crematoria of the Nazi extermination camps).

Two very different paths – Adam’s and Lamont’s – lead to one greater story as The Street Sweeper, in dealing with memory, racism, genocide and the human capacity for guilt, resilience, astonishing heroism and unexpected kindness, spans the 20th Century to the present and the globe from New York to Melbourne, Chicago, Warsaw, Berlin and Auschwitz.

Pre-order your copy of The Street Sweeper from Booktopia, Australia’s No.1 Online Bookshop – click here

Maile Meloy, author of The Apothecary, answers Ten Terrifying Questions

The Booktopia Book Guru asks

Maile Meloy

author of The Apothecary, Half in Love, Both Ways is the Only Way I Want It  and Liars and Saints

Ten Terrifying Questions


1. To begin with why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself – where were you born? Raised? Schooled?

I was born and raised in Helena, Montana, right on the edge of the Rocky Mountains in the U.S. I went to public high school there, graduating with a lot of the same kids from my kindergarten class. When I was thirteen I thought Montana was really boring, but now I think boredom can be useful, and that I was just being thirteen, and I’m incredibly glad I grew up there.

2. What did you want to be when you were twelve, eighteen and thirty? And why?

When I was twelve I wanted to be a newscaster, one of the smart ones who’s good at asking difficult questions and looking concerned and attentive. When I was eighteen I was in plays, but I was also an English major: I think I knew even then that I was going to have a life that was about books. When I was thirty I wanted to be like William Trevor, and still be writing stories at eighty.

3. What strongly held belief did you have at eighteen that you do not have now?

I was in a huge hurry, at eighteen. I had very little patience. At eighteen you should think you have all the time in the world, but I got it backward. I’m still impatient, but I think I have less of a sense that time is running out right now.

4. What were three works of art – book or painting or piece of music, etc – you can now say, had a great effect on you and influenced your own development as a writer?

I read Rainer Maria Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet when I was fifteen, and his advice about writing and about life had a profound effect on me. He talked about having patience, which was a thing I needed to learn, and about the possibility for discovery in the things that terrify you.

Also at fifteen, I was obsessed with Stephen Sondheim’s Sunday in the Park with George, and had a print of the Seurat painting on my wall. The idea of artistic absorption, of being completely involved with the creation of something new, and with its intricacies, was really compelling to me. But clearly the trick was to be engaged in the work and still connected to the people around you.

Does that count as two works, the musical and the painting? Many books have influenced each book I’ve written, but that would be a very long answer.

5. Considering the innumerable artistic avenues open to you, why did you choose to write a novel?

I can’t imagine any other choice. I did other things and there was pleasure in it, but I was a reader always, and writing was the thing that instantly felt like a vocation.

6. Please tell us about your latest novel… The Apothecary

It’s a Cold War spy novel with kids and magic, but it’s magic that’s akin to science, that has to be learned. It’s about a boy struggling with his destiny, and a girl finding a new life, and it’s about an apothecary who wants to free the world from the threat of nuclear disaster.

(BBGuru: The Publisher’s Synopsis:

A mysterious apothecary.
A magic book.
A missing scientist.
An impossible plan.

It’s 1952 and the Scott family has moved unexpectedly from Los Angeles to London. Janie feels uncomfortable in her strange new school, until the local apothecary promises her a remedy for homesickness. But the real cure is meeting the apothecary’s son Benjamin, a curiously defiant boy who dreams of becoming a spy.

Benjamin’s father is no ordinary apothecary, and when he’s kidnapped, Benjamin and Janie find themselves entrusted with his sacred book, the Pharmacopoeia. And it seems that Russian spies are intent on getting their hands on it.

What secrets does the book contain? Who is the Chinese chemist Jin Lo? And can they trust a skinny pickpocket called Pip to help them?

Discovering transformative elixirs they never imagined could exist, Janie and Benjamin embark on a dangerous quest to save the apothecary and prevent an impending nuclear disaster.

The Apothecary sparkles with life and possibility. This is a story that will delight kids and return not-so-young readers to the magic of childhood. )

7. What do you hope people take away with them after reading your work?

The experience of having been in a world that isn’t their own, inside the minds of other people—recognizing some things and finding others unexpected. That’s the great thing about reading for me: that imaginative exercise, the visceral experience of empathy. And the surprise of what happens next.

8. Whom do you most admire in the realm of writing and why?

One person? That’s too hard. Philip Roth, Susanna Clarke, David Mitchell, Laura Hillenbrand—writing is hard enough without being sick. I don’t know how she does it. George R. R. Martin at the moment, because I am lost in the world of A Song of Ice and Fire. Are dead people fair game? If so, then Iris Murdoch for starting a new novel the second she finished the last one. I can’t do that.

9. Many artists set themselves very ambitious goals. What are yours?

I want to keep myself interested, and write things that aren’t like what I’ve done before, and keep getting better. And I still want to be writing when I’m eighty.

10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?

Read all you can and write all you can. I know that’s not very original, but I think it works. It’s like practicing the cello. Even the stuff you have to throw away gets you to the next thing. It makes you a better writer.

Maile, thank you for playing.

You might like to follow Maile on Twitter

Misery Bear, author of Misery Bear’s Guide to Love & Heartbreak, answers Ten Terrifying Questions

The Booktopia Book Guru asks

Misery Bear

author of Misery Bear’s Guide to Love & Heartbreak

Ten Terrifying Questions


1. To begin with why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself – where were you born? Raised? Schooled?

I was born in a shop somewhere in London, England. I’m not sure which shop, and I’m not totally sure who my parents were. I was rescued from the shop by two men by the names of Chris and Nat, who I assumed were planning on assisting me in finding a better life. But no, they wanted to exploit me for financial gain. That said, I attended school, college and university in a short space of time (when you’re a teddy bear, you don’t go through the official channels) and got myself a job as soon as I could, so I could pay my own way. In spite of this, I’m still regularly exploited by my “handlers”.

2. What did you want to be when you were twelve, eighteen and thirty? And why?

Happy, happy and happy. Still not achieved it yet. Oh, and a helicopter pilot. I would love to fly helicopters, but no-one will give me a licence to do so.

3. What strongly held belief did you have at eighteen that you do not have now?

I believed that the world could dish out fairness and joy as equally as it could dish out sadness and tedium, but I was very, very, very, very wrong. It’s been weighted about 90/10 for me, with the 90 being sadness and tedium.

4. What were three big events – in the family circle or on the world stage or in your reading life, for example – you can now say, had a great effect on you and influenced you in your career path?

Event one: finding out at a very young age that humans think of me as inferior. That had a profound effect on me that lasts till this day.

Event two: when I made my first short film for the BBC and my “handlers” took all the money, leaving me with barely enough to buy a sandwich. That hurt.

Event three: getting a kiss from Kate Moss. Need I say more?

5. Considering the innumerable electronic media avenues open to you – blogs, online newspapers, TV, radio, etc – why have you chosen to write a book? Aren’t they obsolete?

I’m a very well-read bear (I count Dostoyevsky, Roth, Dickens and Blyton among my favourite authors) so for me, the printed page is a thing of wonder and beauty which is in the blood (or fluff) of everyone that walks this lonely planet. I like new technology, for sure (I never go anywhere without my iPad, even though the screen has trouble picking up the movement of my paws) but I’ll never turn my back on books, and neither should anyone else.

6. Please tell us about your latest book…

Misery Bear’s Guide to Love & Heartbreak is a collection of my poems, letters, advice, cartoons, scripts, photos, stories, ex-girlfriends, bad dates, you name it. It’s pretty much the story of my romantic life so far, and it’s not afraid to tell it like it is: that love is one big carcrash of an emotion that’ll grind you down until you’re just a smushy lump of writhing fur and tears on the pavement. Oh, and it’s full-colour.

(BBGuru: The publisher’s synopsis –

Misery Bear is the world’s loneliest, most depressed and pathetic teddy bear (with a million online hits), just looking for love.

Misery bear is a depressed and pathetic teddy bear (a bit borderline alcoholic with some anger issues). He has made people laugh and cry all over the world since he first appeared on the BBC Comedy website.

Here is MISERY BEAR’S GUIDE TO LOVE & HEARTBREAK (guaranteed to make you feel better about yourself) told in story and picture form from his own tear (and occasionally whisky) soaked paw.

Misery Bear’s life in love is the sorry tale of a loser. Friendless, except for Nat Saunders and Chris Hayward, who are helping him type properly on his iPad, Misery Bear’s collection of thoughts, stories, poems, photographs, cartoons, diary entries, top 10 lists, recipes, ruminations and illustrations from the plush paw of this loveable little critter, probably won’t help anyone succeed in love, but will make a lovely gift.

MISERY BEAR’S GUIDE TO LOVE & HEARTBREAK will be sad, funny, cute, caustic and constantly on the verge of a breakdown, much like its author.

About the Author: Misery Bear is the loneliest, saddest and drunkest bear in the world. He drinks too much, hates his job and can’t get a girlfriend. He lives in London and has just two friends, Nat Saunders and Chris Hayward.)

Order your copy of Misery Bear’s Guide to Love & Heartbreak from
Booktopia, Australia’s No.1 online book shop – click here

7. If your work could change one thing in this world – what would it be?

To remind humans that, despite their good points, they’re the things that are squeezing the life out of this planet. They should be more careful/polite/respectful.

8. Whom do you most admire and why?

Princess Di and David Attenborough. You know why.

9. Many people set themselves very ambitious goals. What are yours?

To find love, to settle down, to be treated like an equal with those I share this world with… Yeah, right. Like THAT’s gonna happen. Sigh.

10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?

Try not to be rubbish. I hate rubbish books.

Misery Bear, thank you for playing.

You can follow Misery Bear on Twitter – here, ‘like’ the sad little bugger on Facebook – here, and watch his funny little vids – here

1Q84 by Haruki Murakami (The welcome return of the big, fat literary novel)

Those who think there is no room in the current market for lengthy literary novels will feel pretty silly when Murakami’s new novel 1Q84 breaks all sales records. This book has already sold a million copies in Japan. A million copies, people.

Even so, I bet there are some pretty nervous publishing types awaiting the launch date of the English language edition. Murakami has been offering up trendy little literary novels for years now. He has a great following among hip nerds and nerdy hipsters. But this new book looks to be as big as all of the others put together.

We all know that publishers are doing it tough. The intellectual and emotional needs of society are being met by the tiny grabs of information offered by TV, film, the Internet, newspapers and radio. But then the vast majority of literate people have never been regular readers of books. Books just can’t say what they have to say quickly enough to satisfy the needs of the majority. In this climate, publishing a fat literary book, like 1Q84, looks like suicide.

It’s easy to forget that publishing has always been an industry perched on the edge of oblivion. Traditionally, no publisher has ever felt secure. They have only ever been one or Continue reading


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