Book reviews for Aussie teachers and their students.

Posts tagged ‘Grymm’

Author Masterclass Interview: Keith Austin

Born in London’s East End, Australian author Keith Austin has worked as a journalist for more than 36 years.  His career has taken him across the globe seeing him assume various roles that included chief sub, production editor, travel editor, feature writer, regular columnist, news reporter, restaurant and book reviewer.  He has also edited two cookbooks, “Blokes and Seafood”, and four editions of the “NSW Good Pub Food Guide”.  cropped-keith-austin3

Austin’s first novel, “Grymm“, a YA Paranormal Horror was published in 2012 by Random House in the UK and Australia.  This was followed in 2014 by the publication of “Snow White“, also with Random House.  Later in 2014 Austin took the giant leap into the unknown world of self-publishing with his YA novel “Jago“.  His books have broad appeal with middle grade and young adult readers with his stories resonating strongly with boys.

The Kitten Tapper, Demelza Cotton, Jago Quinn and Cleaver Flay are some of the amazing characters brought to life in your books. Where does the inspiration for your characters come from and do you have a favourite?
I wish I knew because I’d bottle it! Some of it just springs to life in my head but I also get a lot of inspiration from real life. The Kitten Tapper was a real person, for instance. Adamina Wollondilly [from Jago] was the name of someone’s doll when she was young. The rest of Adamina came from the writing. I particularly like Cleaver Flay [the mad butcher from Grymm] as he was one of the first and I love his name. He came to me while I was sitting in a café and a man with a bald, pointy head passed by. Bang! There he was.

The theme of ‘Good versus Evil’ is one which emerges clearly in each of your novels. Is this battle something which occupies your thoughts in daily life?                                                                                               I wouldn’t say it’s something that occupies my every waking thought but it’s certainly a universal theme for me, particularly in Grymm, where the idea of the decision to CHOOSE to do evil is pretty strong.

I understand that you have had a long career as a journalist. What was the catalyst that inspired the leap to YA fiction?
I have always written manuscripts. Journalism and books are the only thing I’ve wanted to do since I was about 11 or 12. The leap to YA was simply because my son was in the target market at the time and I thought it would be good to write something for him. Luckily he was already a pretty sophisticated reader or Grymm and the rest would have been much lighter instead of grotesque and dark. Much more fun to write!

Which authors inspire you and which books have influenced your writing the most?
Roald Dahl for sure; I like how dark he can get. Neil Gaiman, of course, especially American Gods. Also, Stephen King and Peter Straub. Straub’s Shadowland is probably one of my favourite books in the horror genre. Salem’s Lot and The Shining are among my King favourites.

What was your favourite book as a child and why?
I liked Norman Hunter’s Professor Branestawm series. Wild and wacky and bonkers, with lots of weird inventions and mayhem.

In terms of writing successes what is your next goal to achieve on your ‘writer’s bucket list’?
Oh, just to keep writing and turning out books that people like to read. I’ve had some interest in making the current three into movies so that would be on my bucket list of things to happen.

What has been your greatest challenge as a writer and what do you enjoy most about writing?
Trying to find my own style, which I hope I’ve done. In the early days many writers end up writing in the style of their ‘heroes’ so my early attempts were very Stephen King-ish. When a reviewer said that Grymm was like nothing he’d ever read before I knew I’d managed it.

Oh I love all of it. As I explained above, it’s about writing so that what you’re writing is easily translatable. I like it when I feel that that ‘magic’ has worked. I love it when people say they could ‘see’ the book clearly when they were reading it.

What ‘excites’ and ‘delights’ you most about YA fiction right now?
That there’s so much of it and so much of it is GOOD. It’s also nice that people are starting to realise that YA isn’t JUST for young adults. A good YA book is for any aged 11 to 111.

How do you approach the writing process? When do you write? How do you write?
I tend to have a vague plot outline and then just make it up as I go along and hope that my brain will supply the answers. I can write pretty much anywhere. I like to write longhand in an A4 notebook, in pubs or cafes and the like. I like the noise and bustle. And you never know when a great character is going to walk past your table. I also like to parcel months off to write. I find it hard to write in dribs and drabs.

What are you working on right now, and how long are readers likely to wait?
I’m halfway through a book called Surreal, about a girl who gets trapped in her grandparents’ upstairs toilet. It’s more exciting than you think! Trouble is, I’ve been halfway through it for about 18 months. I‘m hoping it’ll be finished some time next year. As for publication it depends on whether I get a traditional publisher or go the self-published route again, as with Jago. I like the immediacy of self-publication and also the thrill I get from designing my own cover.

What mistakes have you made as a writer and how did you learn from them?
Oh, the usual things – using too many adjectives, too many adverbs, trying to be too clever rather than let the story tell itself. I have also been known to put characters in to books that are only there because I liked them even though they didn’t really fit into the narrative. That’s where it’s good to have a good editor and/or good readers go over your work before you offer it to the public.

You are frequently compared to the extremely talented Neil Gaiman? Why do you think this is the case and how do you respond to such comparisons?
I think it’s because we’re writing in similar genres, and our styles are similar. We obviously both like the weird and the wonderful and are not afraid of that edgy darkness that makes the best stories so attractive. There’s also a touch of the modern fairy tale about them. How do I respond? I’m over the moon! Neil Gaiman is the man!

What advice do you have for teachers who hope to incite their students to read?
Be enthusiastic. Do some reading off curriculum. Remember that reading isn’t confined to novels; graphic novels can be a good bridge. Find out what each kid’s interested in. It’s no good trying to thrust a Jane Austen on a boy who’d gobble up World War Z or a Walking Dead comic.
What advice would you give to young aspiring writers?
Read, read, read and read some more. Read anything you can get your hands on. And then write, write, write. Doesn’t matter what. I started with poetry – really short poetry of just a few lines. Here’s one:

They said I was mad,snow white
So I’m strapped to this bed.
But I’d rather be here,
Than inside my head.

Eventually you’ll move on to longer forms. And let people read your stuff but don’t be precious about it. Suck up all the advice you can get.

Why should someone pick up your books and read them?
Because you’ll be surprised. Here’s a review I got for Grymm: ““This is unlike pretty much any other book I have read … if you like your stories to be darker than a city banker’s soul then GRYMM is for you. This book is one of those that really does need to be read to be believed, and I only wish I could come up with a more coherent way of describing it. Dark, macabre, bizarre, hilarious, chilling – none of those words are really enough …”

What you won’t get is a wrinkle on something you’ve read before. All three of my books are hugely different from one another and all, I hope, are original, with twists you won’t see coming.

For more information about Keith Austin head on over to his website here, or, to read my reviews of “Jago“, “Grymm” and “Snow White” please follow the hyperlinks. 

Tanya Grech Welden


Book Review: “Snow White” by Keith Austin, 2014, Random House.

snow whiteKeith Austin has made a strong impression upon me as a writer of quality fiction for older children and young adults.  In fact, I’d go as far to suggest that he is an upcoming writer to watch out for; Australia’s very own Neil Gaiman.  I make this statement, still somewhat perplexed, that local publishers are not clamouring to sign him up.  Did they even read his manuscript submission?  Fortunately, a UK publisher did, thus bringing Austin’s amazing stories to the world.

Snow White tells the story of John Creed, a rather awkward 13 year old, whose stutter and facial disfigurement see him withdraw from his peers.  In the words of another Jon, “winter is coming”, and with it the snow has begun to fall, covering London with a white blanket that threatens to draw the city and its inhabitants into a deep slumber, only disturbed by a multiplying sparrow and crow population.   When John forms a friendship with the mysterious albino girl, Fyre King, the pair embark on an adventure to uncover the past and take on a pack of bloodthirsty wolves.

There are so many things to love about this book.  From the very outset Austin reaches out to his audience, reeling them into his gloriously woven tale with spell-binding language and darkly shrouded humour.  However, yet again, it is his talent for creating memorable characters which makes this book shine brightest.  I will forever be haunted by ‘the Kitten Tapper’, and will revel in the cast of minor characters, richly crafted, especially the split personality of Mr Christmas, Mordecai and the tea-swilling Duchess.  My only criticism is that I wanted to find out more about the White Wolf, making me think that there is definitely a sequel in this book.  I’d red hot keen to discover more about Fyre and John and their interdimensional adventures.

Snow White is a title that will hold broad appeal for students in the middle years.  The supernatural themes of the story are not overpowering, balanced out with a good dose of reality, so as to not alienate readers who might be intimidated by books of the gothic-fantasy genre.  While this is probably not a text I would use as a class novel, it is certainly something I would share with students as a space-filling treat at the end of a lesson.  Read aloud, students will love it, and as an added bonus I imagine that many of them will beat a path to the nearest library so as to read Austin’s other titles Grymm and Jago.

Tanya Grech Welden

“Grymm” by Keith Austin, Random House Children’s Publishers UK (2012)

grymmcoverI’m a little ashamed to admit that I am naturally drawn to the dark side in my reading.  I’m not a particularly dark person but I love the literary richness of the Gothic genre.  It possibly goes back to my university days when I became acquainted with Mary Shelley.  More recently, in the classroom I have had a great deal of fun introducing students to the likes of Neil Gaiman through his film adaptation of his awesome book Coraline (2009).   I remember reading somewhere that Neil Gaiman has ‘nearly’ created his own genre in the world of literature.  I’m not sure about that, but he does offer something unique.  For me it is his distinct perceptibility that enables him to reach into our darkest fears and insecurities that I appreciate most.  In many ways Keith Austin’s book Grymm reminded me of this.

Grymm is set in the desert town of the same name.  Once a thriving hub for the mining industry, the gold deposits have since dried up, leaving Grymm as a fading ghost town.  Jacob and Mina, step-siblings with a distinct lack of appreciation for one another, land in Grymm with their parents and half-baby brother Bryan.  From the moment they arrive they have an inkling that things in Grymm are not quite as they first seem.  It doesn’t take long before their hunch is confirmed by the sudden disappearance of their baby brother.

The outback desert town Austin has created is darkly mysterious, and every bit as sinister as a Transylvanian-esque village in the European mountains might be. On many levels the town is quite stereotypical; although I did appreciate his hints to the Aboriginal Dreaming and the proliferation of flies that suggested something more Australian.  Grymm includes a host of vividly drawn characters, all equally grotesque in their own way.  Of particular note was the cross-dressing Maggot (who likes to add maggots to milkshakes), the larger than life baker Fleur, (who may or may not want to add the children to his latest creation), and Real Estate agent Thespa, (a voluminously hideous woman that conceals a heart of gold or possibly a taste for infants?). Also of note was the local butcher Cleaver Flay who was reminiscent of another insane butcher from film history, Clapet from Jeunet and Caro’s French cinematic masterpiece Delicatessen (1991).   As with any great Horror/Gothic tale what is needed is the evil antagonist who must act as the Master Puppeteer.  This role is taken by the insidious Anhanga, who despite living up to my expectations, was introduced to the story a little too late for my liking.

This is quite a chunky book which for practical purposes will possibly make it a little tricky to use in the classroom as a shared text.  However, it is definitely something that I would happily use excerpts of, alongside film as part of a Gothic/Horror unit at grade 9 level.  I have already mentioned parallels with this text and many of Gaiman’s titles (especially Coraline (2002) and The Graveyard Book (2008)), however it would pair equally well with, and provide extension for students who enjoyed Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events (1999-2006) series.  It might also be worthwhile having a look at the short novel The Grimstones: Music School (2013) by Asphyxia. Despite being written in language that is widely accessible, some children at the lower end of the Middle Years, may find some of the content a little distressing so I would pitch it to students closer to 14 to be safe.

A vividly drawn Gothic-Horror title with a dash of Steampunk thrown in for good measure.   I highly recommend Keith Austin’s Grymm for a delectable read on a dark night.  Word of warning.   This title is best consumed without food.

Reviewed by Tanya Grech Welden

**The author provided me a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.  I have otherwise not been paid for reviewing this book and my opinions reflect my own unbiased opinion.**

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