An Open Letter from J.K. Rowling about Scottish Independence

This passionate open letter was recently published on J.K. Rowling’s website. As the vote for Scottish Independence approaches, we’ve decided to publish it in full to give Australians an idea of the magnitude of this decision, not unlike our 1999 Republic Referendum.

Do you agree with J.K? Leave your comments below.

J.K Rowling - In Conversation

I came to the question of independence with an open mind and an awareness of the seriousness of what we are being asked to decide. This is not a general election, after which we can curse the result, bide our time and hope to get a better result in four years. Whatever Scotland decides, we will probably find ourselves justifying our choice to our grandchildren. I wanted to write this because I always prefer to explain in my own words why I am supporting a cause and it will be made public shortly that I’ve made a substantial donation to the Better Together Campaign, which advocates keeping Scotland part of the United Kingdom.

As everyone living in Scotland will know, we are currently being bombarded with contradictory figures and forecasts/warnings of catastrophe/promises of Utopia as the referendum approaches and I expect we will shortly be enjoying (for want of a better word) wall-to-wall coverage.

In the interests of full disclosure, I should say that I am friendly with individuals involved with both the Better Together Campaign and the Yes Campaign, so I know that there are intelligent, thoughtful people on both sides of this question. Indeed, I believe that intelligent, thoughtful people predominate.

The SunHowever, I also know that there is a fringe of nationalists who like to demonise anyone who is not blindly and unquestionably pro-independence and I suspect, notwithstanding the fact that I’ve lived in Scotland for twenty-one years and plan to remain here for the rest of my life, that they might judge me ‘insufficiently Scottish’ to have a valid view. It is true that I was born in the West Country and grew up on the Welsh border and while I have Scottish blood on my mother’s side, I also have English, French and Flemish ancestry. However, when people try to make this debate about the purity of your lineage, things start getting a little Death Eaterish for my taste. By residence, marriage, and out of gratitude for what this country has given me, my allegiance is wholly to Scotland and it is in that spirit that I have been listening to the months of arguments and counter-arguments.

On the one hand, the Yes campaign promises a fairer, greener, richer and more equal society if Scotland leaves the UK, and that sounds highly appealing. I’m no fan of the current Westminster government and I couldn’t be happier that devolution has protected us from what is being done to health and education south of the border. I’m also frequently irritated by a London-centric media that can be careless and dismissive in its treatment of Scotland. On the other hand, I’m mindful of the fact that when RBS needed to be bailed out, membership of the union saved us from economic catastrophe and I worry about whether North Sea oil can, as we are told by the ‘Yes’ campaign, sustain and even improve Scotland’s standard of living.

Some of the most pro-independence people I know think that Scotland need not be afraid of going it alone, because it will excel no matter what. This romantic outlook strikes a chord with me, because I happen to think that this country is exceptional, too. Scotland has punched above its weight in just about every field of endeavour you care to mention, pouring out world-class scientists, statesmen, economists, philanthropists, sportsmen, writers, musicians and indeed Westminster Prime Ministers in quantities you would expect from a far larger country.

PeopleMy hesitance at embracing independence has nothing to do with lack of belief in Scotland’s remarkable people or its achievements. The simple truth is that Scotland is subject to the same twenty-first century pressures as the rest of the world. It must compete in the same global markets, defend itself from the same threats and navigate what still feels like a fragile economic recovery. The more I listen to the Yes campaign, the more I worry about its minimisation and even denial of risks. Whenever the big issues are raised – our heavy reliance on oil revenue if we become independent, what currency we’ll use, whether we’ll get back into the EU – reasonable questions are drowned out by accusations of ‘scaremongering.’ Meanwhile, dramatically differing figures and predictions are being slapped in front of us by both campaigns, so that it becomes difficult to know what to believe.

I doubt I’m alone in trying to find as much impartial and non-partisan information as I can, especially regarding the economy. Of course, some will say that worrying about our economic prospects is poor-spirited, because those people take the view ‘I’ll be skint if I want to and Westminster can’t tell me otherwise’. I’m afraid that’s a form of ‘patriotism’ that I will never understand. It places higher importance on ‘sticking it’ to David Cameron, who will be long gone before the full consequences of independence are felt, than to looking after your own. It prefers the grand ‘up yours’ gesture to considering what you might be doing to the prospects of future generations.

The more I have read from a variety of independent and unbiased sources, the more I have come to the conclusion that while independence might give us opportunities – any change brings opportunities – it also carries serious risks. The Institute for Fiscal Studies concludes that Alex Salmond has underestimated the long-term impact of our ageing population and the fact that oil and gas reserves are being depleted. This view is also taken by the independent study ‘Scotland’s Choices: The Referendum and What Happens Afterwards’ by Iain McLean, Jim Gallagher and Guy Lodge, which says that ‘it would be a foolish Scottish government that planned future public expenditure on the basis of current tax receipts from North Sea oil and gas’.

NoMy fears about the economy extend into an area in which I have a very personal interest: Scottish medical research. Having put a large amount of money into Multiple Sclerosis research here, I was worried to see an open letter from all five of Scotland’s medical schools expressing ‘grave concerns’ that independence could jeopardise what is currently Scotland’s world-class performance in this area. Fourteen professors put their names to this letter, which says that Alex Salmond’s plans for a common research funding area are ‘fraught with difficulty’ and ‘unlikely to come to fruition’. According to the professors who signed the letter, ‘it is highly unlikely that the remaining UK would tolerate a situation in which an independent “competitor” country won more money than it contributed.’ In this area, as in many others, I worry that Alex Salmond’s ambition is outstripping his reach.

I’ve heard it said that ‘we’ve got to leave, because they’ll punish us if we don’t’, but my guess is that if we vote to stay, we will be in the heady position of the spouse who looked like walking out, but decided to give things one last go. All the major political parties are currently wooing us with offers of extra powers, keen to keep Scotland happy so that it does not hold an independence referendum every ten years and cause uncertainty and turmoil all over again. I doubt whether we will ever have been more popular, or in a better position to dictate terms, than if we vote to stay.

JK-Rowling-2If we leave, though, there will be no going back. This separation will not be quick and clean: it will take microsurgery to disentangle three centuries of close interdependence, after which we will have to deal with three bitter neighbours. I doubt that an independent Scotland will be able to bank on its ex-partners’ fond memories of the old relationship once we’ve left. The rest of the UK will have had no say in the biggest change to the Union in centuries, but will suffer the economic consequences. When Alex Salmond tells us that we can keep whatever we’re particularly attached to – be it EU membership, the pound or the Queen, or insists that his preferred arrangements for monetary union or defence will be rubber-stamped by our ex-partners – he is talking about issues that Scotland will need, in every case, to negotiate. In the words of ‘Scotland’s Choices’ ‘Scotland will be very much the smaller partner seeking arrangements from the UK to meet its own needs, and may not be in a very powerful negotiating position.’

If the majority of people in Scotland want independence I truly hope that it is a resounding success. While a few of our fiercer nationalists might like to drive me forcibly over the border after reading this, I’d prefer to stay and contribute to a country that has given me more than I can easily express. It is because I love this country that I want it to thrive. Whatever the outcome of the referendum on 18th September, it will be a historic moment for Scotland. I just hope with all my heart that we never have cause to look back and feel that we made a historically bad mistake.

Exclusive video: Kate Forsyth chats to John Purcell about her new series The Impossible Quest

Kate Forsyth is one of Australia’s favourite authors and one of the most successful working today, thanks to a rather large royalty cheque from Russia. She chats with John Purcell about that cheque and book 1 of her new series for children The Impossible Quest: Escape from Wolfhaven Castle.

Grab a copy of Escape from Wolfhaven Castle here

escape-from-wolfhaven-castleEscape from Wolfhaven Castle

by Kate Fosyth

Tell your lord to beware, the wolves smell danger in the wind.

Wolfhaven Castle has been attacked, and only four escape capture … Tom, trained to scrub pots, not fight; Elanor, the Lords daughter; Sebastian, a knight in training and Quinn, the witchs apprentice.

Somehow, if they are to save their people, these unlikely heroes must find four magical beasts from legend. But first, they have to make it out of the castle alive…

Best-selling, award-winning storyteller, Kate Forsyth, weaves battles, beasts and bravery in this epic new five-book series.

Grab a copy of Escape from Wolfhaven Castle here

Graeme Simsion chats to us about The Rosie Effect and an update on The Rosie Project – The Movie!

Grab a copy of The Rosie Effect here

The Rosie Effect

by Graeme Simsion

Don Tillman and Rosie Jarman are back. If you were swept away by Graeme Simsion’s international smash hit The Rosie Project, you will love The Rosie Effect.

The Wife Project is complete, and Don and Rosie are happily married and living in New York. But they’re about to face a new challenge.

Rosie is pregnant.

Don sets about learning the protocols of becoming a father, but his unusual research style gets him into trouble with the law. Fortunately his best friend Gene is on hand to offer advice: he’s left Claudia and moved in with Don and Rosie.

As Don tries to schedule time for pregnancy research, getting Gene and Claudia back together, servicing the industrial refrigeration unit that occupies half his apartment, helping Dave the Baseball Fan save his business and staying on the right side of Lydia the social worker, he almost misses the biggest problem of all: he might lose Rosie when she needs him most.

Get ready to fall in love all over again.

Grab a copy of The Rosie Effect here

Alexandra Cameron, author of Rachael’s Gift, answers Ten Terrifying Questions

The Booktopia Book Guru asks

Alexandra Cameron

author of Rachael’s Gift

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 Sydney. We lived in Paddington until we moved to Mackay in North Queensland. When I was eight we moved to a small town in country NSW called Currabubula where I attended the local school. There were forty-eight children from kindergarten to sixth grade and all in one classroom. We then lived in Willoughby, Vaucluse and Randwick. I went to high school in Rose Bay.

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

When I was twelve I wanted to be an architect. My father is a builder and we were always living in a house that was being ‘done’ perhaps I wanted to design our house my way. When I was eighteen I wanted to be a film director and decided to study film at university. When I was thirty I was writing.

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

Author: Alexandra Cameron

When I was eighteen I firmly believed that if you were married and your partner cheated on you then you should leave them immediately. I did not understand the complexities of marriage. Things at eighteen were very black and white.

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?

There were so many books that I have loved over the years and that have stayed with me. So much so that it is only when I come across them again that I think, Oh yes, that book meant a lot to me at the time. Tim Winton’s, The Riders, has always stuck with me because it is fast paced and yet has so much depth and plus it is a tragic story – I could never understand how a mother could abandon her child. I also loved the writing – I hadn’t known colloquial language could be so poetic and beautiful; it was ground breaking to me as an Australian.

My parents’ collection of LPs was limited to say the least but they did have one Simon and Garfunkel record and this is where I first heard the song, America. It’s a catchy song about a guy who escapes on a bus with his girlfriend to look for ‘America’; it starts out light-hearted but then becomes sad when we realise the guy feels so disillusioned with his world he can’t even voice it to his girlfriend. Mostly, I love how one line can paint an entire story. “I’ve got some real estate here in my bag.”

Breakfast At Tiffany’s is probably a film on every girl’s rite of passage. It’s the pinnacle of Hollywood sixties glamour and the dresses, the parties, Holly Golightly’s French idioms, Audrey Hepburn at her most stylish and the sweet love story are captivating. The film barely resembles its novella roots and is much much darker, but I couldn’t help love the candy-coloured version…

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

I love the intimacy of a novel. It’s just you and the reader. Everyone takes something different away. As an author you have the space to create an entire world, whereas many other art forms require a team of people (like film etc…) I enjoy the solitary process.

6. Please tell us about your latest novel…

The novel begins when gifted artist, fourteen-year-old Rachael, accuses her teacher of sexual misconduct, but the principal has suspicions that she is lying. Her father, Wolfe, is worried about his daughter’s odd behaviour but her mother, Camille, will not hear a bad word against her. A fraught investigation ensues, culminating in a showdown on the other side of the world in Paris. The story is about ambition, art, talent, truth, how we pass unresolved issues from one generation to the next and a mother’s uncompromising love for her daughter.

Grab a copy of Alexandra Cameron’s novel Rachael’s Gift here

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

I hope they enjoy the story and perhaps reflect on their own lives in some way. What would they do if they were in a similar situation as the characters?

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

There are so many! Margaret Atwood is a good one. She is a longstanding brilliant writer with stories ranging from the historical to the bizarre – what an original and clever mind.

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

Gosh. I hope to always learn more about writing and life and to consistently produce work of a high standard – I guess that is quite ambitious. 

10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?

If you have the desire to write then sit down and do it. Everyday.

Alexandra, thank you for playing.

Grab a copy of Rachael’s Gift here

Rachael’s Gift

by Alexandra Cameron

Rachael is a child prodigy, a talented artist whose maturity and eloquence is far beyond her fourteen years. She’s also energetic, charming and beautiful, beguiling everyone around her. To her mother, Camille, she is perfect. But perfection requires work, as Camille knows all too well.

For Rachael has another extraordinary gift: a murky one that rears its head from time to time, threatening to unbalance all the family has been working towards. When Rachael accuses her art teacher of sexual misconduct, Wolfe and Camille are drawn into a complex web of secrets and lies that pit husband against wife, and have the power to destroy all their lives.

Set in contrasting worlds of Australia and Paris, told from the perspective of husband and wife, Rachael’s Gift is a detective story of the heart, about a mother’s uncompromising love for her daughter and a father’s quest for the truth.

 Grab a copy of Rachael’s Gift here

Sophie Hannah, author of The Monogram Murders, answers Ten Terrifying Questions.

The Booktopia Book Guru asks

Sophie Hannah

author of The Monogram Murders, The Telling Error and many 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 Manchester, England. Raised and schooled there too! I lived in Manchester until I was 25.  At that point, after publishing a book of poetry, The Hero and the Girl Next Door, I was offered my dream job – Fellow Commoner in Creative Arts at Trinity College, Cambridge.  (This basically meant Writer in Residence.)  Working at Trinity was like a dream come true – such a beautiful place, and I fell in love with Cambridge too.  I now live there, and have no intention of leaving!

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

Twelve: I think I wanted to be a writer. By eighteen, however, I was going through a phase that involved doing and saying nothing my parents could possibly approve of, and they approved a bit too much of my writing, so at eighteen I announced that I was going to give university a miss and train to be a hairdresser instead. By thirty, I was already a writer and wanted to carry on being one.

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

Author: Sophie Hannah

I used to think that in order to be a good person, you had to make an enemy of bad people and fight them and their influence throughout your life.  I later realised that fighting anyone or anything – even those who richly deserve it – cannot have a positive effect.  If you spend your time fighting and hating, you’re only emitting more negative energy and, ultimately, making things worse.  The best way to be happy and make the world a better place is to be kind and compassionate, to everyone, always.  (Of course, I’m not a saint and can’t always manage to put this lofty ideal into practice – and when I can’t, I just shut myself away in the house and swear and chainsmoke until I’m able to be civilised again!)

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?

Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie
See Jane Run by Joy Fielding
The Memory Game by Nicci French

I love music and paintings too, but books have always come first.

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

Novels are, and have always been, my favourite thing to read – and crime novels/mystery novels in particular.

6. Please tell us about your latest novel…

The Monogram Murders is a mystery featuring Agatha Christie’s superstar detective, Hercule Poirot.  It starts with Poirot encountering a distressed young woman in a  coffee house.  The woman, who is obviously terrified, says someone is trying to kill her, but insists that she doesn’t want Poirot to try to save her life, or for her killer to be caught.  Then three guests at an exclusive London hotel are murdered…and, because of something the woman in the coffee house said to him, Poirot suspects a connection and sets out to investigate.

Grab a copy of Sophie’s latest novel The Monogram Murders here

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

More than anything, I want readers to be gripped by the story and desperate to find out the solution to the mystery.  I want them to be unable to guess until all is revealed!

murder-on-the-orient-express8. Whom do you most admire in the realm of writing and why?

Agatha Christie.  Because she had all the best ideas, and kept having them, decade after decade. She is and will always be the Queen of Crime.

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

My ambition is that each of my books should be better and more satisfying than the one before it.  I want to become a better writer.

10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?

Keep at it. And be very choosy about whose advice you take.  Not everyone is as clever and helpful as everyone else.

Sophie, thank you for playing.

Grab a copy of The Monogram Murders here

The Monogram Murders

by Sophie Hannah

The bestselling novelist of all time.

The world’s most famous detective.

The literary event of the year.

Since the publication of her first novel in 1920, more than two billion copies of Agatha Christie’s novels have been sold around the world. Now, for the first time ever, the guardians of her legacy have approved a brand-new novel featuring Dame Agatha’s most beloved creation, Hercule Poirot.

In the hands of internationally bestselling author Sophie Hannah, Poirot plunges into a mystery set in 1920s London – a diabolically clever puzzle sure to baffle and delight both Christie’s fans as well as readers who have not yet read her work. Written with the full backing of Christie’s family, and featuring the most iconic detective of all time, this new novel is a major event for mystery lovers the world over.

 Grab a copy of The Monogram Murders here

Simon Rickard, author of Heirloom Vegetables, answers Ten Terrifying Questions

The Booktopia Book Guru asks

Simon Rickard

author of Heirloom Vegetables

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 Port Macquarie, NSW, but my family moved to Canberra when I was four, so I consider myself a Canberran.

Growing up in Canberra in the 1970s was utopian. In the afterglow of the Whitlam era there was a great deal of enthusiasm for the Arts and Sciences, and we had a public education system second to none in the world. I count myself very lucky that I grew up in Canberra at that time.

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

At twelve, I wanted to be a botanist; at eighteen, a musician; and at thirty, a gardener. I have always loved plants and nature, as well as early music. I have found it difficult to confine myself to one career, so I have taken two: music and gardening.

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

It has taken me most of my adult life to realise that the world does not exist in black and white; that between those extremes lies a vast area of grey. This is an ongoing journey for me, and I feel it’s going quite well!

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?

Moving to Canberra at the age of four was probably a defining event in my life. Although I missed out on growing up on the beach, I had access to the best public education imaginable. Without the free public education opportunities I received in Canberra in the 70s and 80s, I suspect my life would be considerably less rich than it is now.

Living in the Netherlands for three years was a transformative experience, which really broadened my horizons.

Being offered a job as a gardener the Diggers Club was an important turning point for me. At that time in my life I was about to embark on a PhD in music and a career in academe, which would have been wonderful, except for the fact that academics are continually forced to spend too much of their time, cap in hand, begging for money, rather being allowed to concentrate on doing what they are good at. At least mowing lawns and clipping hedges for a living I would not have to suffer that indignity.

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?

Books are anything but obsolete. They work well as a technology, and I can’t see any viable alternative for replacing them soon. Think about it: you can no longer access the information stored on a floppy disc or cassette tape from 15 years ago, but you can still read a book from the year 1500.

One particular quality I like in books is that they are scrutinised by many sets of eyes before they get into print. With the internet, by contrast, anybody with a computer can publish any half-baked idea or half-truth they like. Gardening websites are awash with absolute twaddle, which reproduces itself at a rate of knots and then comes to be accepted as ‘fact’. I wanted to publish a book in part to help counter this alarming trend.

6. Please tell us about your latest book…

My latest book, Heirloom Vegetables, is a celebration of the beauty and diversity of heirloom vegetables. It is predominantly a social history of vegetables, telling the stories about where humans and vegetables have been together, and where we might go in the future. It puts vegetables into their broader family contexts, as a way of showing just how much humans have manipulated and changed vegetables to suit our own ends over many millennia of domestication. The final section of the book gives readers advice on how to grow their own heirlooms, based on my experience as a gardener.

Grab a copy of Simon’s latest novel Heirloom Vegetables here

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

I would like to see greedy, rapacious and self-interested people excluded from holding positions of power.

8. Whom do you most admire and why?

Can I have three?

I admire the 2014 Australian of the Year, Adam Goodes, for the dignity and forbearance he has shown in the face of some very ugly provocation.

I admire Julian Burnside for speaking up for human rights, and calling out the mean-spirited, inhumane policies of successive governments.

Most of all I admired my late grandmother, who showed me how few possessions you need to be happy, and how to be thankful for what you have got. She lived her life very simply, but she radiated love and contentment.

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

To give away ambition and live like my grandmother.

10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?

Be yourself, and write what you know.

Simon, thank you for playing.

Grab a copy of Heirloom Vegetables here

Heirloom Vegetables

by Simon Rickard

‘Vegetables are masterpieces of human ingenuity – their pasts and futures are in our hands.’

How often do you hear someone complain that tomatoes don’t taste like they used to? It’s becoming a common concern, as food production is increasingly controlled by multinational corporations more interested in profit than flavour. People who care about their food are growing their own vegetables in droves – and especially heirlooms for their wonderfully diverse flavours, shapes and colours. Not to mention their rich history and weird and wonderful names – who could resist a lettuce called ‘Drunken Woman Frizzy Headed’, not be intrigued by the potato that ‘Makes the Daughter-in-Law Cry’, or fail to be moved by the ‘Cherokee Trail of Tears’ bean?

In this lively, passionate and at times political introduction to the world of heirloom vegetables, gardener Simon Rickard describes the history of many of his favourite varieties, encourages you to get growing yourself, and explains why he believes edible gardening is so important to our future – and the future of the planet.

 Grab a copy of Heirloom Vegetables here

Booktopia to donate 10% of today’s profits to the Indigenous Literacy Foundation

Today is Indigenous Literacy Day, and to celebrate Booktopia will be donating 10% of today’s profits to the Indigenous Literacy Foundation.

The Indigenous Literacy Foundation is all about making a positive difference in the lives of young Australian Indigenous children so that they are enabled to make the most of their educational opportunities in schools.

Watch our video with Andy and find out how you can help a great cause today!


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