Book Review: Stand By Me, by John Kirwan, with Elliot Bell, Kirsty Louden-Bell and Margie Thomson

Available in bookstores nationwide.

John Kirwan is a former All-Black and coach of the Italian and Japanese national rugby cv_stand_by_meteams and is now the Head Coach of the Auckland-based Super Rugby franchise the Blues. John Kirwan at the age of 22 years of age suffered from depression, and as a result of his journey, is an advocate for depression awareness in New Zealand, fronting a high profile television campaign. He is also author of the bestselling book, All Blacks Don’t Cry, in 2010. Dr Elliot Bell and Kirsty Louden-Bell are both registered clinical psychologists. They live in Wellington and have 3 children. Margie Thomson also co-wrote All Blacks Don’t Cry

John Kirwan is a dad and scared. Scared of the world his teenagers are in, and scared of the situations they will probably find themselves in. He has written this book in conjunction with others, to help parents and caregivers to understand and to recognise symptoms of depression in their teenage children.

pp_john_kirwanThe world we live in today is certainly a different than the one my children grew up in. I don’t envy parents of today’s generation. Social media and easy access to alcohol and drugs has changed the way we should be preparing and teaching our teenagers the skills to survive.

Social media allows bullies to target innocent victims 24/7. New Zealand has one of the highest rates of mental illness and youth suicide in the world. As well as cultural upbringing, alcohol and drugs can play an important part in being diagnosed with a mental illness. A New Zealand study has found that by the age of 21 nearly 80% of young people had used cannabis on at least one occasion and 10% had become heavy users. Alcohol and cannabis affect the chemistry of the brain, increasing the risk of depression.

Stand by Me is a book that I wished I’d had when I was a mother of teenagers. It talks openly about depression, how to seek help and how to cope as parents. The first port of call should always be your family general practitioner. This book is not designed to take over and diagnose whether or not your teenager is suffering from depression. There may be another reason all together why they may be suffering from depression – a physical illness.

This book is laid out in sections; from understanding the adolescent world; getting help; the unsafe world, and wellness every day. At the end of the chapters is a summary of the main points made, which I thought was a very useful tool for parents/caregivers.

Not all teenagers in families are going to suffer from depression, but knowing what the symptoms are, and getting help early can help. Communication and connecting with your teens within a family is also an important starting point.

Teenagers and parents of children with depression have contributed to this book, making it a very “real” source of information. The contributions of the psychologists Dr Elliot Bell and Kirsty Louden-Bell are also essential. One very good piece of advice from Kirsty is, “Label the illness, not the person”.

At the back of the book is a list of organisations that parents/caregivers/teens can contact for help with depression. Depression within a family can feel as though you are the only one going through it, but the reality is, you’re not.

Reviewed by Christine Frayling

Stand by Me: Helping your teen through tough times 
by John Kirwan, with Elliot Bell, Kirsty Louden-Bell, and Margie Thomson
Published by Penguin Books NZ
ISBN 9780143570639

Submitting your manuscript – the ask and the answer, by Julia Marshall

GeckoLogoIn mid-2013, Gecko Press stopped accepting general manuscript submissions. Instead we said we would only consider work by previously published writers; writers who know someone we know; or writers whose work has been assessed by a manuscript assessor.

The reason for this was that we were getting overwhelmed by the sheer number of manuscripts arriving in our box (some 500 a year). The reason for adding in the ‘writers who know someone we know’ sentence was because we wanted to keep our doors open to people who are tenacious and committed and who haven’t been published before – somehow to me this sentence leaves just a little room for those writers and illustrators to find us.

pp_julia_marshall_orangeSometimes we say no to a manuscript, but that doesn’t mean we are saying no to all manuscripts from that writer. Just that one. It is not personal. It is just hard to get published, and I believe it should be. It is very hard to say no to manuscripts by writers you think are going to be great. Sometimes they go elsewhere.

I understand publishers always take far too long to process manuscripts from a writer’s perspective and I know that is true with us. Sometimes the longer a manuscript is with us, the better that is.

cv_mrs_mos_monsterGecko Press has published a book that was unsolicited by someone who didn’t meet any of our guidelines. That was Mrs Mo’s Monster by Paul Beavis. (I hope he would have been tenacious enough to send it anyway, but he says he might not have been).

I am reading Ann Patchett’s The story of a happy marriage at the moment – a great book for writers. She advises studying the website of the publisher or agent you are submitting to, deciding whether what you have fits in with what they are publishing and then following their instructions TO THE LETTER (Our instructions are here).

Common misconceptions are that writers of picture books think they need to send in an illustrated text – they don’t, unless they are an illustrator. They don’t need to present their work in person: the story needs to stand on its own. We cannot be bribed by chocolate or ribbons, or even money. Our decision is based on the work, and nothing else.

Although people understand that learning to play the cello is hard and takes practice and craft and commitment, somehow, Ann Patchett says people think writing is easy. cv_this_is_the_story_of_a_happy_marraigeIt is perhaps too tempting to submit a piece of writing too soon. She suggests – in my today-memory at least – comparing it to standing on the stage at Carnegie with a work that is unrehearsed, and a cello that is out of tune. But if you truly feel the work is ready, if you have put your heart and soul into it, then it is time to take a deep breath – and send it in. For every story of famous writers once rejected, are the less publicised stories of publishers who regret saying no. Saying no is their job. It is the saying yes that is hardest.

If your work is rejected, you have to keep writing. And reading, of course.

by Julia Marshall

Submission requirements from Gecko Press
Gecko Press publishes around 15 children’s books every year. Of these, only three will typically be original to Gecko Press rather than translated. Our selection process is therefore very tight.

We judge by our (subjective of course) criteria of: “Is this curiously good? Do we want to read it hundreds of times? Are we emotionally attached to the characters? Must we publish this book?”

Before submitting, take a look at our books to get a feel for what kinds of books we publish.

What we’re looking for
We always like to read picture book texts with energy and originality and a strong story/narrative (not “ideas” stories). Please note we do not publish educational books or didactic books.

We are also looking for Junior Fiction – novels for 6 to 10 year olds. We are looking for original, warm, character-driven work, with a strong plot and voice.

Book Review: The Bookshop Book, by Jen Campbell

When I first received this book in the mail, I expected to read it in bits and pieces, splitting cv_the_bookshop_bookmy reading times between it and a novel.

Instead, I had the whole thing cover-to-cover, devoured within three days. As a dedicated bibliophile, a lover of libraries and second-hand and novelty bookstores, something in this one touched me to the core of my being. Sure, some of the descriptions of these exotic and intriguing bookstores were a little brief, but others filled me with a sense of both inspiration and hope.

This book takes you on a journey around the world − across the United Kingdom, Europe, the Americas, Africa and Asia, with lamentably few from Australia (and even fewer from New Zealand). Each shop is described in brief, some with a fuller history, intermingled with passages from book bloggers and authors, all speaking of their love of literature and (in some cases) describing their own, perfect bookstore. Audrey Niffeneger, Cornelia Funke (who is as poetic in her speech as her writing), Bill Bryson, Joanne Harris and more, big-name authors aplenty, all giving us a little insight into their literary world. We are also treated to bookish quotes and a scree of random facts − one of my favourites concerning the existence of the word “abibliophobia”, the fear of running out of things to read.

There is a bookshop on a barge in the UK (soon to move to France), a donkey-back library in Colombia; in tree-houses, re-purposed factories and even underground. All of them run not by corporate businessmen, seeking to make money, but by the dedicated souls who truly love their literature and the shared experience of enjoying a book. In an age when the digital era is fast overtaking the physical, where CDs and DVDs have become largely redundant, and books being replaced by e-readers, when the once-dedicated book giants, like Borders, have been forced to diversify or fade into obscurity, it is genuinely heart-warming to see that there are dedicated individuals keeping the spirit of reading alive.

This is a beautiful little book, a keepsake and memento for those of us who love to wander the shelves, stroking the spines and imagining the journeys on which a book can take you. Or, indeed, the journeys on which it has already been, the people who have read it, cherished it, and passed it on.

Reviewed by Angela Oliver 

The Bookshop Book
by Jen Campbell
Published by Constable
ISBN 9781472116666


Book Review: Reach, by Laurence Fearnley

Available now in bookstores nationwide. 

I was delighted to receive this book for review, as I had notcv_reach_fearnley read anything by Laurence Fearnley except other reviews of previous books! And while I had intended catching up, I had not yet managed that.

That has changed, or more precisely reading Reach has made me head off to the shelves to get hold of her earlier books.

The title, no pun intended, has far-reaching implications. Chambers Dictionary gives some of the definitions of the verb reach as: to stretch forth; hold out; to succeed in touching or getting; to communicate with; to arrive at; and some of the definitions of the noun form include: the act of reaching; a stretch or portion between defined limits.

All of these can be found encapsulated in this very clever and readable novel. The three central characters Quinn, Marcus and Callum are linked at first tenuously but finally inextricably,as their lives are connected by various events.

Quinn at first seems the most complex character, but all three have flaws and strengths peculiar to themselves.

Fearnley explores the various ways in which we reach, or can be reached by, others; how we interact, how personal space is important to everyone, how very singular individuals can be brought together – and indeed pushed apart. She does this by using the form of a countdown – Quinn, an artist, is preparing for a new exhibition, and the challenges which she faces in her work, her relationship with Marcus, and her friendship with Callum are all explored in depth, with great insight into the complexity of human relationships, the challenges faced and the decisions which must be made.

When I finished reading, I thought about the book a lot. At first I thought that there was very little dialogue, and that much of the text was around the unspoken thoughts of the characters. But then I realised that was not the case – there’s plenty of dialogue, and it’s powerful. However the real insights seem to come through in the way Laurence Fearnley writes about the mind.

I think this is a really good book. It’s well-written, intelligent, complex and creative. I’ll even read it again, which is unusual for me. And now I’m off to start The Hut Builder. I can’t wait to see what it’s like.

Reviewed by Sue Esterman

by Laurence Fearnley
Published by Penguin, 2014
ISBN 9780143571728

Book Review: The Taxidermist’s Daughter, by Kate Mosse


Available now in bookstores nationwide.

I haven’t read any of Kate Mosse’s books before and was told that I was in for a treat. She is most famous for her novel Labyrinth. Her latest book, The Taxidermist’s Daughter is a gothic fiction set just before World War One in a village in England. The book is rather fascinating − I’d love to spend some time with a book club discussing the themes in the book.

Connie Gifford lives with her father, the taxidermist, in a large house alongside the Fishbourne marshes, somewhat apart from the rest of the village. The house is also the workplace for the father’s now dwindling taxidermy business. While she is the taxidermist’s daughter, she is the only one in the household doing any taxidermy, as her father is a rather physically absent character spending his days drinking.

The profession of taxidermy holds them as separate from the community, and as it is no longer as desirable for families to have stuffed animals in the home, the business is seen as somewhat strange. Connie herself has lost all her childhood memories after a terrible fall as a child and suffers the occasional seizure as a result. Connie is portrayed as very self-contained individual, but never described as lonely. Her only thoughts are of her father, her work and trying to recover her memory. It is only when she finds something in common with a new acquaintance, midway through the story, that you get much sense of how lonely she is.

Why read this book? The setting is richly described and hangs heavily over the story. The setting is dark, omnipresent and a threat in itself. It is beautifully described. As I read I could vividly picture watching this on TV with a cast of well known British actors playing the key roles. Actually, when I think about it, the book feels like a TV adaptation of a book. I am left with a great sense of dark imagery, superficial understanding of the intentions or characters of those involved and a rather suspiciously neat ending.

The setting in this book is so richly described, often at the expense of character development. I excitedly read the last third of the book, as it was clear that the culmination of a natural disaster and the answer to ‘whodunnit’ would merge. I was rather let down. The answer to many of the questions of the book were simultaneously complex, straightforward and all were underdeveloped in the plot. The villians of the piece were barely known to me. This was a let down, but I think that I had started to feel as though the book was a standard crime story − and was disappointed when it didn’t really fit this kind of narrative. The book is rather more of a historical fiction with a very small snapshot into a few dramatic days in a village.

Taxidermy, naturally plays a part and contributes to the dark setting. It is clear that Connie sees her approach to taxidermy as an art. Her thoughts while preparing a bird:

“Connie turned the jackdaw over in her jackdaw_4hands, examining it thoroughly, and decided to continue. The flesh hadn’t become sticky and it was a beautiful creature; she didn’t want to let it go to waste. This was the moment when it would begin to transform from something dead into an object of beauty that would live for ever. The essence of the bird, caught by her craft and her skill, at one distinct moment.”

Her relationship with another character is cemented by their love of art − of finding beauty and truth in their work whether it is a stuffed bird, or painted portrait. I found it fascinating that both these characters have scenes where they are unsatisfied with their work.

A minor theme is that of justice. It is clear from the beginning of the book that a great injustice has occurred − but how differently those victimised by the event perceive a suitable punishment is fascinating to me. The central victim chooses a grotesque punishment for the offenders, but ultimately the punishments are attributed to something else, and the offender’s reputations are seemingly left intact. Those left behind just move on (and, given the epilogue is set in April 1913) you realise in the end that there is no happily-ever-after truly available.

For some fun, look at Twitter – #taxidermyselfie. It links with Kate Mosse’s website.

Reviewed by Emma Wong-Ming

The Taxidermist’s Daughter
by Kate Mosse
Published by Orion Publishing
ISBN 9781409153764

Book Review: The Frood: The Authorised and very official history of Douglas Adams, by Jem Roberts

Available now in bookstores nationwide.cv_the_frood

A chunky and comprehensive biography of the life and afterlife of Douglas Noel Adams, a man with remarkable imagination and considerable wit, to match his tall and somewhat awkward frame. His story begins with his birth in 1952, but does not conclude with his untimely death in 2001.

It covers his struggles to make his mark in the British comedy scene, rubbing shoulders with the likes of Clive Anderson, Rhys Jones, Stephen Fry and attempting to follow in the footsteps of John Cleese and the Monty Python crew. It covers his script-writing skills – for low-budget, almost forgotten science fiction skits, as well as Monty Python and alludes to the episodes he wrote for Doctor Who. We learn about the conception of his most noteable work: The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy and the trials and tribulations of writing for radio.

The writer, Jem Roberts’, passion for his subject shines clearly through the text. Adams is portrayed as a somewhat determined, and dedicated young man with a certain level of hopeful optimism and general naiveté, as well as a hearty dose of comic wit and timing. It is interspersed with extracts from scripted works, short gags from the Adams’s archives and the occasional anecdote.

With his sudden, unexpected death at the age of a mere 49, the story of Douglas Adams may have finished, but his legacy continues with his daughter taking the helm and asking the ultimate question: What would Douglas have wanted? This period covers the movie, the Dirk Gently television series, the release of the incomplete Salmon of Doubt, Eoin Colfer’s rather forgotten And another thing, along with a reboot of the radio show.

This is a hefty tome, a tribute to a fine fellow that lived too short a time and wrote far less than he could have. The writing is somewhat dry at times, and is best enjoyed in short chunks rather than as an epic read. There is just a part of me that wishes Adams had lived to write his autobiography, because there are so many unanswered questions lurking between the lines.

Reviewed by Angela Oliver 

The Frood: The Authorised and Very Official History of Douglas Adams & the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy 
by Jem Roberts
Published by Preface Publishing
ISBN 9781848094383

Book Review: The Moon Dragons, by Dyan Sheldon, illustrated by Gary Blythe


Available in bookstores nationwide.

Dyan Sheldon is a UK author. She has written a number of stories for younger readers and adults. American by birth, she lives in North London. Gary Blythe is an award-winning illustrator. His illustrations of Dyan’s book The Whale’s Song won the Kate Greenaway medal in 1990. Gary lives in Wirral, near Liverpool.

A traveller once told a king a tale. ‘Long ago moon dragons flew. They flew through the night sky with their scales shining silver as stars and filling the dark with songs as old as time.’ ‘What use are they to me’, said the king, ‘they’ve all been killed’. ‘Not all of them’, said a traveller, pointing to a distant mountaintop, ‘a few survived.’

The king summons the royal huntsmen to find a moon dragon and to bring one back. What the huntsmen bring back is not a moon dragon, but a goat. The king gets very angry and offers a reward to the one that brings him a moon dragon.

This is a story with a moral – to tell the truth or to actually protect something that is precious: its worth beyond money. The dilemma being: follow the money, or do what is right?

The illustrations have a magical quality to them reflecting the magic of a story of a time long ago in a land of the imagination. The idea that moon dragons existed, and they lived in a far-away land is a story that will fire up a child’s imagination. This book reminds me of the Hans Christian Anderson Fairy Tales – a book I poured and enthused over as a 7 and 8 year old.The illustrations remind me of the beautiful plates from books from my childhood.

My 7-year-old granddaughter loved this book, reading it to herself with a bit of help with some unfamiliar words.

Reviewed by Christine Frayling

The Moon Dragons
by Dyan Sheldon, illustrated by Gary Blythe
Published by Andersen Press (Random House)
ISBN 9781783440559