story, science, technology and creativity


The Filth Licker on Facebook! Share your akaname and yokai links…

Cover for Takeshita Demons: The Filth LickerHooray! Takeshita Demons: The Filth Licker is published today in the UK!!

Have you got your copy?



Any yokai or monster trivia you want to share?

Any cool filth-licker links to pass on?

Check out the Filth Licker on Facebook ( and add your questions and cool demon facts to our wall!


Interview with children’s book specialist Geraldine Brennan

I’m rejigging my website in the leadup to the release of Takeshita Demons. I’m deleting some bits and adding others, and one of the things I rediscovered was this interview conducted by children’s book specialist Geraldine Brennan shortly after I won the 2009 Frances Lincoln Diverse Voices Children’s Book Award with Takeshita Demons. That was nearly a year ago already! I’ve reproduced the interview below:

—> And keep your eyes and ears peeled for the announcement of the winner of the 2010 Frances Lincoln Diverse Voices Children’s Book Award. The award ceremony is being held June 8 at Seven Stories. I can’t wait to find out more!

Your father is a New Zealander, your mother is Australian and you experienced both cultures growing up. What was that like?
When I was a child we lived on a farm in the Bay of Plenty in New Zealand’s North Island. My father worked in real estate so it was a kind of hobby farm, but my mother grew kiwi fruit and we kept goats and cows. My sisters and I spent most of our time outside climbing trees, catching eels and having adventures. We had two Jersey calves as pets.

I was 13 when we moved to a suburb in Perth. Just living in a suburb was a shock to me, and my new school was much bigger and the kids much more badly behaved. I remember the feeling of being different in a school and trying not to be. The New Zealand and Australian accents are quite different and I remember not always understanding when people said my name, so I wouldn’t answer them, and that would be embarrassing.

In Takeshita Demons, Miku is struggling between being proud of her Japanese culture and not wanting to be singled out for it in Britain. By the end she feels at home in both places and that is certainly how l believe it can and should be. I like to feel part of wherever I am. I feel proud of all the different parts of myself: the Kiwi, the Aussie, my experiences in Japan, in Switzerland, and now in the UK…I often say I am from London but if the All Blacks are winning I’ll happily say I am from New Zealand.

How did your connection with Japan develop?
I had studied Japanese since I was 11 and had always wanted to go there. After university I spent two years in a suburb near Osaka, teaching English communication in a high school through the Japan Exchange and Teaching programme. I soon realised that you can never be Japanese, you are always a gaijan (foreigner), a novelty and a bit exotic. It could be isolating. My students were the exception, they accepted me completely as myself, which I think young people naturally do.

I returned to Japan some years later to work as an editor of translations for a biotechnology company at Tsukuba Science City near Tokyo. My Japanese was better by then but I still can’t handle all the levels of politeness: I can talk to friends or children, but not to a boss or someone’s grandmother. I used to long for people to speak to me in Japanese but I was also a great opportunity for people to practice English.

I made good Japanese friends, including a colleague who was Japanese but had lived in America, so he understood the sorts of things that would seem strange to me. At lunchtime we would chat and he’d tell me things about Japan. It was through him that I began to understand about Japanese people’s relationships with spirits, ghosts and demons. There was no contradiction for him between working for a science company and knowing that there was a ghost in the room.

Tell us more about the demons!
There are dozens of supernatural yokai that most Japanese people will be familiar with. They appear over and over again in all kinds of stories. Some are benign, some are nasty and some you’re just not quite sure. The demons that Miku has to deal with include the nukekubi, a kind of child-eating flying-head demon, and the noppera-bo, a faceless demon that can take on other personae.

Most Western children don’t know about these yokai in the way that they know about vampires and werewolves, but just as vampires fear garlic, the demons often have an Achilles heel or fatal flaw. The nukekubi, for example must leave its body somewhere while its hungry head flies around, and you can destroy the head by destroying the body. I chose the demons I thought would have the most potential for an adventure story, but there are plenty more for future stories. I like to write about children, especially strong girls, having great adventures.

Why do you write for children?
Children who read have a great time and are exposed to lots of different ways of living and being. As a child I loved mystery and adventure stories and often read six or seven books at once. I loved Roald Dahl because of his energy and humour and I loved the Nancy Drew books, although it was annoying that she was always being rescued by her boyfriend.

I have done a lot of work in outreach science education and love to connect with children through new ideas. I also know how short their attention spans can be. I really want to use writing to continue to connect with children and challenge them to think in new ways.

How do you fit writing into your life?
I usually write on evenings and weekends, but when I start I don’t stop. I take over the dining table and leave it to Doug to make sure I get fed. My first manuscript, a 30,000-word adventure for the same age group, won a Young and Emerging Writer’s fellowship (from Varuna House) and the Voices on the Coast writing competition. At the moment I’m editing a third novel for slightly older readers: I’ve decided a certain character needs to go. I love the power you have as a writer in that way.

What do you do when you’re not writing?
In my current day job, I promote the use of grid computing to help the world’s scientists solve global problems, such as air pollution and climate change. These scientists work together, across time zones, cultures and language barriers, in collaborations involving hundreds of countries. This is the world that the children I am writing for will have to work in. It’s all about finding ways to collaborate and that starts with understanding each other.

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How old is a piece of string?

Crunch time for Takeshita Demons is getting closer: just 36 days left! Apparently I have a final printed copy in the post…yee ha!

How old is a piece of string?
Like any procrastinating author, I like to Google the name of my book in the days leading up to its release. (Did you know there are now more than 12,000 mentions of Takeshita + Demons online?)(ah, but not all of them are mine; it just sounds good ;-))

Many of these Google hits lead to on-line bookstores, and — bizarrely — not all of these bookstores seem to be stocking the same book.

Well, they’re stocking Takeshita Demons, alright, but although most think it’s a book for kids aged 8-12, others suggest readers aged 6-12, or readers aged 5-9, or readers aged 9-11. At least none of them are recommending Takeshita Demons for adults 😉

But what’s going on with this age bracketing? How do they decide?

I think it depends on the child: Are they reluctant readers? Or do they read everything they can lay their hands on?

As a guide: I wrote Takeshita Demons with the 8-12 age bracket in mind, aiming to excite readers and non-readers alike, hoping to encourage children to chew through an adventure where — like the adventures I read as a child — nothing bad really happens and the goodies win in the end. YAY!

And the reviews say?
There are now 14 reviews on Amazon UK, and I’m still scared to read them. (I think I need to grow a thicker skin!) Still, the worst thing they’ve said so far is that Takeshita Demons is a fast, easy read that children will love. To date most of the reviewers (all?) have been adults, so I’m looking forward to hearing some reviews from the kids. Fingers crossed!

Hovering around the mail box…
I’ll let you know when that magical first copy arrives. Very. Surreal.


I have fabulous news!

I have fabulous news! And I’ve been buzzing all week because of it.

Fabulous news #1: FORESTS AND FILTH LICKERS is finished!!! Well, the first draft is with a Very Special Group of Reviewers (one is reading it as I type). So far the feedback has been good and there’s not too many fatal errors to fix. (Although I will probably AXE two entire chapters!!!!)

Fabulous news #2: I’m meeting with Sarah Foster from Walker Books at the Perth Writers Festival in late Feb. Walker Books will  be distributing TAKESHITA DEMONS in Australia. (I was too late to get involved in the festival as a presenter, but I’ll be attending every second of it that I can. Some amazing writers will be there! See you there!!!)

Fabulous news #3: I attended the book launch of a WA writing champion and friend Julia Lawrinson, met some terrific people, bought some great art from WA author/artist Matt Ottley,  grabbed a copy of Julia’s new book, and generally had a terrific time. It was great! I’m also attending the “2010 Night with the Stars” later next month (celebrating local authors published last year)(I’m down to be one of the “Stars” for the 2011 night next year)(woo hoo!).

Fabulous news #4: I’m not allowed to say!!! But it’s great!! Will let you know as soon as I’m allowed, I promise 🙂

What fabulous news! That’s really great and I’ve been buzzing all day
because of it. Thanks to you and the FL team for making it happen. If
I can help in any way (creating resources, sending images, doing
interviews) please let me know. I can work around the time difference
too (I once interviewed for a job at midnight ;-))

I’m meeting with Sarah from Walker Books at the Perth Writers Festival
in late Feb. I was too late to get involved in the festival as a
presenter, but I’ll be attending every second of it that I can. Some
amazing writers will be there! I’m also getting busy in the local
writing scene. Last week I presented (3 minutes!) to a meeting of
Youth Librarians about Takeshita Demons and my availability to do
workshops. And I’m attending the book launch of a WA writing veteren
and friend tomorrow night (without Fergus…how exciting!) and then a
“2010 Night with the Stars” later in the month (celebrating local
authors published last year)(I’m down to be one of the “Stars” for the
2011 night next year).

Can I blog about the Children’s Book Week thing or is it not yet public?

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We bought a house!

YAY! Finally, we have bought a house. Now we just have to sell the apartment.

And I’ve been writing, writing, writing.  Forests and Filth Lickers is going WELL WELL WELL!

I’m at the point now where I’m daring to actually show people what I’ve written. And by people I mean the Small Group of Trusted Readers: my editor, my parents, my husband.

I think all except my editor are people you’re not really supposed to get to read your stuff if you want decent, constructive feedback.  But I laugh in the face of “supposed to”. Aha ha!

And in exciting Fergus news: he’s crawling! Not traversing entire rooms, but certainly not where I last saw him. Turn your back for a minute and he’ll be somewhere else, chewing on computer cables. Not a good look. Another week and we’ll have to child-proof the entire house.

And, for those of you lucky enough to live in Fabulous Western Australia: Julia Lawrinson is launching her latest book, Chess Nuts, at the Fremantle Children’s Literature Centre. Be there or miss out on meeting a real-live Year 9 chess nut and getting your hands on a copy of what promises to be another terrific JL read.