A wonderful, thought-provoking guest blog by Joelene Pynnonen

corelandsWhen Jonathan kindly (and perhaps a little too trustingly) invited me to do a guest blog, I was befittingly flattered. When he came up with the topic for me, I was delighted. He’d unwittingly done all of the hard work and I could claim it as my own. This, by the way, is my modus operandi. What made it even more perfect, however, was that the topic seemed tailored for me. As in, if Jonathan had shadowed me for a week like a detective – or a stalker – he could not have posed a better question. Granted, had he done that, his question might well have been ‘Why is your cat the only one who loves you?’. I hate being left with loose ends so, FYI, I feed her. It’s not love so much as common sense.

Okay, so that previous paragraph? Procrastination. Level: expert. Let’s stop that and jump right into the topic at hand. What would I like to see more of in YA and where do I see the market heading in the future?

Surprisingly enough, the answer to the former is also the answer to the latter. Both are very simple. ‘What are they?’ I hear you ask. “More hot boys? More hot girls? More bunny rabbits?’ No, no…and a few more bunnies wouldn’t go astray but it wasn’t what I was thinking of.

I want diversity.

So yeah, simple. One word and we’re done…

Oh, I’m meant to explain?

Okay. I want to see the kaleidoscope of our world depicted in YA. I want major characters to be people of colour, gay people or people with disabilities. I want to read about women who own their stories, set their own pace and don’t let anyone push them around. Or, you know what? Throw me a combination. I can handle it. But it needs to be realistic, respectful, thoughtful. It needs to be researched.

And, for the love of all things holy, no consolation traits. I don’t want to read an Asian character who I am assured is ‘exotic’ in the hopes of making her more palatable. I don’t want a gay character who is just so super-lovable that I’ll forgive their sexual proclivities, a female character who can do everything to make up for all of the ones who can do nothing, or a paraplegic who is an amazing genius because what else could she have to offer? Like all characters, their personalities are what they have to offer. Make us believe in them and we won’t need a consolation prize for their supposed defects.

White, male, able-bodied and beautiful has to stop being the default for books everywhere. It is destroying our understanding of everything that matters. We live in an incomprehensible world where we can watch a movie and deeply empathise with three metre tall blue people who communicate with their flipping hair, but we can’t accept the amazingly talented Amandla Stenberg being cast as Rue in the Hunger Games because she’s African American. The problem with having such a standard mould for major characters is that even when we’re expressly told that a character shatters that mould, we don’t get it. So authors everywhere need to be smashing those moulds until we do.

And they are. I’d love to be able to say that it’s a snowball effect going on but, quite frankly, the snow is not yet falling fast enough to cover the ground let alone warrant snowballs (and this sentence here? This is why Joelene is not allowed into the metaphor jar).

I can see this changing, though (not the metaphor jar. Joelene will never be allowed into the metaphor jar. We’re talking diversity again). Some very brave authors are pushing diversity in their novels, hoping to help shape a more open-minded world than ours is yet. Some very brave agents are supporting them. And what better market to do it with than YA? The age where people are still evaluating and re-evaluating the world around them; not yet set in their ways. The age where they question themselves, their parents and the world in general.

It isn’t perfect yet but if we, as readers, buy and read and recommend books by or about (or, better yet, by and about) culturally, mentally and physically diverse men and women, we will be the catalyst for change. And it’s well past time to hear voices unlike the dominant voices in our stories, speaking from an unfamiliar background. This world is a beautiful, messy, confounding and diverse place. It is time that YA fiction reflected the truth of it.

Joelene’s Bio

Joelene Pynnonen embraces the life of an avid book lover in every way. Her household is ruled cruelly by a wrathful cat; and should a fire ever start it is doubtful that she would make it past the elegant stacks of novels to her room door. At least once a year she coerces her mother into watching the BBC mini-series of Pride and Prejudice with her, and will often follow up by re-reading the book.

When not reading or bowing to the will of the tyrant cat, Joelene likes to draw, make futile attempts at learning Finnish and occasionally work in a bookstore.

A Wicked Kind of Dark – what is literary fantasy? Jonathan K Benton

Madur-woodI think the best explanation I’ve found for the genre in which my writing sits goes something like this: Books that are written to entertain with words as much as plot. Books like Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes, Christopher Priest’s The Glamour, and Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell.

Most YA books – and I read a lot of them – are not literary (in the genre sense only). This doesn’t mean they are not brilliant and clever. They are. I loved The Hunger Games, absolutely adored it. But my classically influenced style lends itself towards literary fantasy. I was invited to participate in the ‘Books that changed me’ column in The Sun Herald. The column shows how I arrived at this amazing genre.


Returning to the keyboard – Book 2 of my young adult fantasy series

dragonI’m on holiday, which means writing. I’ve given myself four weeks to finish the first draft of the next book in the Minaea Chronicles. I’m loving returning to Minaea. I’m also enjoying the change of scenery on Earth for Part 2 – Australia this time. The landscapes in my adopted country are magnificent. I have travelled widely here and I’m constantly inspired. I’ve camped at the top of Cape York, and woken up to find a crocodile track etched into the sand ten metres from my tent. I’ve sailed up the coast of NSW past sparkling white dunes that seem to stretch on forever. Australia – where there’s something for everyone. Including my characters.

I’m introducing some new characters in Part 2. I’m also developing the existing protagonists. Luthien – how does someone overcome waking from a seven-year coma? Will Robert’s memory return for good? Is Jakal really dead?

Part 2 is much more menacing than A Wicked Kind of Dark  . But I feel it’s important to mix darkness with humour, like The Empire Strikes Back. Definitely the darkest movie in the original Star Wars trilogy, Han Solo still managed to make audiences laugh. ‘Never tell me the odds,’ Han said in response to C3PO stating the statistical probability of surviving an asteroid field. I once used Han’s words when someone told me how difficult it was to get published.

Postscript: I watched Silver Linings Playbook last night. Nothing like a well-made rom-com to help you feel better after a rough day.

A Wicked Kind of Dark – Book signing – Angus and Robertson Post Office Square


Angus and Robertson are holding a book signing for A Wicked Kind of Dark at their Post Office Square store in Brisbane’s CBD on Thursday 19th September. I’ll be there between 12 and 2.30 pm to sign copies.

I live in Brisbane so this will be the unofficial second launch. I won’t be making a speech but I’m happy to chat. I’d love to see you there.

Live long and prosper, may the force be with you AND

I’ll be back


Jonathan K Benton

Writing a speech – tips for a book launch.

31 I was going to write a detailed account of the book launch until I realised most of what I wanted to say I’d already said in my speech … So I’ll simply copy and paste my speech into this blog. Who knows – you might find some useful tips. An author mustn’t talk about their book much (during their own speech). That role is for the person launching your novel, in my case the brilliant Irina Dunn. I needed to talk about how I got there, to that moment, standing holding a copy of A Wicked Kind of Dark in front of family, friends and book-industry guests.



The jazz band introduced me to Star Wars’s Imperial March:


Being introduced to Darth Vader music was always a dream of mine. The other dream was to get published. That’s two boxes ticked today.

(Thank yous)

33One of the first books I remember reading was a collection of illustrated nursery rhymes. I used to imagine I was part of the illustrated worlds written about in the book. Who Killed Cock Robin was the stand-out rhyme in this collection … ‘I said the sparrow with my bow and arrow, I killed cock robin’. That murderous little sparrow proudly declaring its guilt used to keep me up late at night. Even way back then, I marveled at the power of the written word … Even way back then I knew I wanted to write my own stories.

I was a better author when I was 14 than when I first started developing the craft. Whenever I wrote a story I either won a competition or got top marks.  But as I stumbled through my teens I lost my writer’s voice. The car accident – such a huge part of my life. It still is – hardly a day goes by that I don’t wonder what Julie King would be doing now if she was alive.

59All these experiences muted my expression. But it’s these same experiences that now fuel my creative engine room. They are what makes me want to, as Stephen King puts it in Lisey’s story: ‘Go out in my flimsy wooden boat and capture the big ones’. The big stories, the compelling tales from the pool of life.

I’ve lived in a quartet of countries, each one an essential part of my journey to publication.

In many ways Fiji saved me. I swear – if anyone is experiencing tough times I recommend they get on a plane to Nadi, find a reef, throw on some scuba and sink beneath the swells. The underwater world is easily as good as any of the great fantasy landscapes of literature. Being a PADI Divemaster, and looking after the people I used to take diving, centered me. It gave me a sense of responsibility that I don’t think I had until Fiji.

England. Rather than base myself in Earl’s Court with the other Kiwis and Aussies, I found a quiet little English village, and immersed myself in its culture for two years. How a small town could have 7 pubs I’ll never know – I was drinking back then though. Several pubs probably filed for bankruptcy once I left. New Zealand. Another beautiful country, and Australia, the place I now call home.

25I arrived here in Australia, and with the help of a trilogy of wonderful mentors – Jan, Sean and Irina – I was able to reconnect with my author’s voice and re-learn the craft. A Wicked Kind of Dark is all about reconnecting too. Reconnecting with your inner child, reconnecting with the richness of that part of your imagination. We seem to have so much imagination when we’re young. I don’t believe we ever really lose it!

Young adults … What a wonderful market to write for. What an amazing, energizing and inspiring group of people. I believe they deserve books that have layers, thought-provoking books. I certainly enjoyed those kinds of books when I was a strapping young lad! Books like The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time and Something Wicked this Way Comes. AND I’m hoping A Wicked Kind of Dark. But writing is a balancing act. One of my mentors – Jan – once told me his thoughts on Moby Dick: what is the significance of the white whale; what are the deep underlying messages; how these questions have been discussed and debated  in the ivory towers around the world. Jan then went on to say that Moby Dick wouldn’t be talked about at all without it first being a ripping good yarn. That is the kind of balance in their literature that I think young adults deserve.