Well, folks, The Grandest Bookshop in the World continues to go strong this week on Readings’ bestseller charts. I’m up there with Jessica Townsend and Garth Nix – both huge names in Australian children’s fantasy – which is pretty damn good for a no-name debut author during a pandemic!
Today is my favourite weather for writing: heavy, summery rain all day long. No one can whippersnip or mow their lawns, so I can open all my doors and windows to hear the running water, the currawongs’ rain songs and the frogs in next door’s dam. So, as I’m a bit behind on my word count goals, I’m going to spend all weekend working on the new book.
But fret not! I’ve updated my last post, and last night my video for Camp Quality was released. Camp Quality is a charity that gives kids facing cancer the chance to be kids again. Their services and programs are made to help children dealing with their own diagnosis, or the diagnosis of someone they love, by providing opportunities to create positive memories and change the cancer story.
I hope my book can be part of those positive memories for a family dealing with cancer out there! The Coles deal with grief and memory throughout The Grandest Bookshop in the World, so with any luck it might help someone through a tough time.
The Grandest Bookshop in the World is… well, in the world now! I’ve been getting messages from total strangers, gorgeous reviews and great news from my publisher,Affirm Press. Here’s some of the media coverage it’s been getting lately.
ABC Radio Melbourne: Afternoons with Jacinta Parsons Discover the strangeness of Mr Cole’s books, the inspiration for the Departments in the book, and why Vally has such an ‘unusual name.’ Start at minute 45 to catch my interview. (This one was a rush! Jacinta also really made sure people caught my name and the title, which was fantastic.)
Middle Grade Mavens: Episode 66 An outstanding review on this Aussie literature podcast by two Melbourne mums – parents of keen little readers should subscribe immediately! Plus, an interview in which I discuss research, family and the theme of loss.
Readers, as promised, I’m posting links today for some of my upcoming online events! Obviously, I would love to be there in person, but it’s still important to stay safe. Victoria’s lockdown has been tough but effective, saving lives and sparing thousands from potentially lifelong brain and lung damage. Six weeks ago, we had more than 740 new cases in a single day. Today, that’s down to just 21 new cases in the state of Victoria. While it’s a little disappointing that I can’t tour around, mingle and sign books, I count myself lucky to be part of a strategy that I think, in time, will become the envy of the world.
Anyway, there are other advantages to having virtual events. One is the reduced environmental impact of travel and catering. And the other is that my international friends can come! Whether you live in regional Victoria, metropolitan Victoria, elsewhere in Australia or overseas, you can join in and keep up with me and the Coles without even having to put on shoes. Or pants. I won’t judge.
Here are some of the events I’ll be doing and platforms where I’ll be featured in the coming weeks.
??th of September: Talking Aussie Books with Claudine Tinellis The podcast will be recorded this Friday. I’ll update this page when it is released, but in the meantime, go ahead and check out the archives! Free.
Tuesday the 29th of September: Release day! Order your copy if you haven’t already, or if you’re in Australia but outside metro Melbourne, seek it out at your local bookshop! AUD$19.99 RPP.
Saturday the 3rd of October: Love Your Bookshop Day A little article I’m doing for #LoveYourBookshop. The link will be up on the 3rd!
Tuesday the 6th of October, 6.30pm AEST: LAUNCH PARTY! This is the big one! I’ll be joined by fellow Alpine resident and MG author Carly Nugent (author of The Peacock Detectives) to officially launch The Grandest Bookshop in the World. Free; register to get your link to the event.
Friday the 9th of October, 11am AEST: Children’s writing workshop via Harry Hartog Books Create and get to know your characters! Recommended for children 8+, within Australia. Places limited. AUD$30.75; price includes a copy of The Grandest Bookshop in the World plus postage.
I’ll be updating this list when podcast episodes become available, new events are confirmed and articles are published! I’ll leave you today with a review from my publisher’s eight-year-old neighbour, who flagged him down in the street to say:
‘[Your daughter] gave me the book. It was brilliant! I stayed up last night reading it. Don’t tell my mum!’
– 22nd of September: Interview with Richard Broinowski, author of the new EW Cole biography Under the Rainbow – 29th of September: The book is released! Like a wild beast! – 30th of September: Tune into Radio National 774 ABC Melbourne at 1pm AEST for Afternoons with Jacinta Parsons – 6th of October: LAUNCH PARTY! I’ll be joined by fellow Alpine resident and MG author Carly Nugent (of The Peacock Detectives) over Zoom via Melbourne’s The Little Book Room – 9th of October: Children’s writing workshop via Harry Hartog Books
So make sure you pop back next week to get access to all of those – and if you’re in Sydney, keep an eye out on George Street in late October!
Now, as promised, this blog is going to get mighty Cole-focused over the next couple of weeks, if not until Christmas. So today, I thought I’d answer a question that many people ask, and that I wish more would. It’s easy enough to find out about Mr EW Cole – author, bookseller, autodidact, activist, self-made man and all-round genius. It’s easy enough to find out about his mad – and successful! – effort to find a wife through a newspaper advertisement, on the logic that business partners were found through the same channels.
But what about Mrs Cole?
Today I’m going to share with you ten things about Mrs Cole that I’ve discovered during my research, all of which informed her character as the mother of Pearl and Vally in The Grandest Bookshop in the World.
Well, readers, the next couple of weeks are gearing up to be some of the strangest of my life. I’m going to be featured in a magazine. I’m going to have an interview on the radio. I’m going to appear in a video for a major bookshop chain’s Book of the Month.
So, with The Grandest Bookshop in the World about to get quite a lot of attention, the next couple of posts around here are going to be dedicated to the big debut.
Closer to the end of September, I’ll put out a full list of what I’ll be doing and where the book will be featured. Today, I reckon it’s time I showed you an inspirational object I’ve been keeping to myself for a couple of months. You might remember, way back in 2017 when this mad journey started, that I said I didn’t have a Cole’s Book Arcade token, but hoped to get one soon.
Well, I did not get one soon. It took me two and a half years! Plus a couple of extra months because the guy who sold it to me on eBay straight-up forgot to send it!
Lately I’ve been revisiting Mr Cole’s predictions for the future to create some promo materials for The Grandest Bookshop in the World (available for preorder now!). While I often wonder about what our future will look like, I have absolutely no confidence in my ability to make a definite call about the progress of society or technology. I can only describe a range of options, include what I hope will happen, what I fear might happen, and what is most likely to happen.
But one thing I reckon I can predict is the future of the English language. English is my thing: I’m a writer, an English teacher, and a full-blown word nerd. Language is constantly changing, as it always has been, and I think I can see some of those changes coming down the line.
I want to say that while I try to enforce the current established rules of standard English on my students, and uphold them in my writing, I’m not a linguistic prescriptivist – that is, someone who believes the rules of language are incontrovertible and that language is ‘decaying.’ It’s not decay – it’s just change. Some of my students have pretty weak vocabularies, but that’s not necessarily something to lament – English has a massive lexicon and most languages get along just fine with less than our Brobdingnagian 200,000 words. (I try to teach them more words, because it’s my job, but the extinction of words is a natural process, as is the birth of new words.) I’m more of a descriptivist – someone who describes how language is used. Obviously you have to write and speak in the right register for the right purpose (that’s my job too), but descriptivism states that whatever people say or write is ‘correct’ if a community agrees on its meaning. The prescriptivists have never won a battle when it comes to ‘proper’ use of language. The rules of language come from the speakers, not from old referees grumbling over dictionaries. And I’m one of those dictionary-grumblers: today I read you will never again step foot in my house in yet another trad-published novel and had to take a deep breath. The expression is, or was, “SET foot.” But prescriptivists never win, so I should probably accept that “step foot” is legit now. No doubt somebody somewhere is pulling their hair out over “legit.”
A lot of these predictions are based on things I learned in undergrad, when I did a lot of linguistics topics as well as literature, history and writing. Some are based on the word-nerd facts I’ve hoarded in my brain for fun. I’ve also based some of my predictions on dialects spoken by people who are not traditionally the ‘rulemakers’ when it comes to standard English: dialects like Manglish, Kriol, Tok Pisin, and AAVE (African-American Vernacular English). I am not saying that English of the future, or these dialects, are in any way inferior or superior to standard contemporary Australian English. There are and will be advantages and disadvantages to both. Generally, I believe future English will be more streamlined and consistent (and therefore user-friendly), but will lack some of the variety of modern English and some lexical relationships (like the way that you can tell words with ‘ph’ originate from Ancient Greek – not that most of us notice when struggling to spell catastrophe).
Anyway, with all those disclaimers out of the way, here are my predictions for the future of English. Mr Cole made his predictions for 110 years in the future. I’m casting mine for about 500-700 years in the future, based on how different Modern English is to Middle English.
And all these changes assume that there won’t be some massive general overhaul of English, like brain implants that impose spellcheck on us, or alien colonisers who force us to speak their language. Now, if I can borrow Mr Cole’s phrasing, by the year 2600, I prophesy:
Capital letters will disappear. This one seems likely to happen sooner rather than later. My students cannot use capitals correctly. I try to correct them, try to model proper capitalisation, mark them down on the part of the rubric that concerns language conventions – it makes little difference. The English speakers of the future are in the habit of writing the way they usually write: messaging their friends. A capital letter requires an extra keystroke. It’s eventually bound to get axed. Names will be in lowercase. Abbreviations will be in lowercase: O.K. became OK/okay, and is often written as ok now. ALL CAPS YELLING might be the last stronghold of capital letters.
2. ‘You’ will be backformed into ‘u’. Eventually, English writers will assume that the word ‘you,’ because it sounds like ‘u,’ will follow similar rules to ‘I.’ This is called backformation, when a new word or spelling is coined on the assumption of another known rule. For instance, editor existed before the word edit – but people assumed it followed the same pattern of inspect – inspector, and edit was born. Probably doctor will lead to docting – meaning ‘healing or giving aid’ – at some point in the future. i luv u will one day be a perfectly good sentence.
3. Standard English will include a specific plural you again. I don’t like the word y’all. I think it makes quite an ugly sound, and I’m not a fan of the way Australian English is being gradually consumed by American English. But I have to admit that y’all does fulfill a role, and that’s plural you. Yous – which I much prefer – does the same, as do you guys or all of you. Many languages, including Spanish, German and Malay, have plural you. In fact, you and ye used to be plural in English, with thou as the singular. Y’all, from you all, has settled into internet-speak and seems to be here to stay. Although it’s likely to evolve into yol because…
4. Commas and apostrophes will have vanished – colons, semicolons and dashes haven’t got a hope. I can try my best as an English teacher, but in the long run, most punctuation just doesn’t have what it takes to survive. The many rules governing them are difficult to learn, and like the capitals, they take an extra keystroke. I suspect that eventually they will fall out of use. We already leave the full stop out when we write abbreviations or titles – ASIO, Mrs, etc – and words that used to contain hyphens and apostrophes – Hallowe’en, to-day – look archaic to our eyes. I’d put my money on apostrophes as the first to die, and probably in the next 100 years. Even my handy classroom rule of only ownership or omission isn’t foolproof, thanks to those pesky pronouns its, hers, his, theirs and yours. Hell, I even heard another teacher call an apostrophe a comma the other day, and we’re supposed to be the experts.
5. Verbs will be conjugated consistentlyand nouns will be pluralised consistently. English is made up of so many different languages that our plurals and verbs are madly difficult to learn. We have goose-geese, foot-feet, child-children, person-people, deer-deer, fish-fish (with fishes describing multiple species), octopus-octopodes/octopi/octopuses, and so on messing up our nice tidy s plural system: birds, eggs, stones, schools, pens, ideas. The verb be is an absolute mess: be, is, are, am, was, were, been, have been, has been, had been. In a lot of dialect forms of English, be replaces is: he be working – or else it’s just left out: he working. I predict it will smooth out into be, with the past tense beed, pronounced ‘bead.’ Otherwise, it could disappear – in some languages be or is are just understood to be there: it is raining translates as raining, or my name is Amelia; I am 27 years old becomes My name Amelia, I 27 years old. In fact some languages don’t have a specific word my – they use words that mean of me instead: Name of me, Amelia. But I doubt English will do this, as we rely on pronouns a lot. Rather, the ones we have will be simplified, and the subject forms will take over the object forms: plenty of I, we, they, he and she but no me, us, them, him or her. His, her and hers will become hes and shes – using the possessive ‘-s’ but no possessive apostrophe, as in its and ours now (spelled ‘heez’ and ‘sheez’ for reasons I’ll soon explain). We’ll hear swimmed, cutted, drinked, eated and goed instead of swam, cut, drank/drunk, ate and went. Except we’ll probably spelled it swimd, kuted, drinkd and eeted because…
6. The most difficult graphemes will die. I get the logic in spelling. It’s a crazy system, but I feel that at this point, I understand it. I like how history is embedded in every word, and how you can make sense of certain words by their components: founder, foundation, fundamental; android, androgynous, misanthropy, anthropomorphic. But it’s simply not practical. English is a Frankenstein’s creature of a language – bits of Latin and Greek and French and Old Norse stitched together on a skeleton of Anglo-Saxon. Standardised spelling hasn’t been around for long – Samuel Johnson basically codified our spelling in the 1700s. Before then, English was spelled pretty much however you liked. I reckon we’ll go back to spelling phonetically, but our mass communication will make the shifts and changes standardised. So, on that point: – D, F, L, M, N, P, R, T and V will probably stay relatively stable. – B, H, K and W will make basically the same sounds they do now, except when silent. Silent B will die – people will klym mountains until their hands are num. Silent H will disappear – translations of Moby Dick will describe a wyt wael. Silent K will vanish: our descendants will tell each other ‘nok nok’ jokes. And silent W is likely to vanish – who will be rendered as hu. – C will make the sound ‘ch,’ and in all other circumstances – or serkemstansez – K or S will replace it. G will continue to be hard, as in ‘girl,’ and J will replace the soft G, so that ‘George’ will be spelled ‘Jorj.’ Silent G, as in reign, will go. Q will die out, to be replaced by K (as in ‘quay’) or KW (as in ‘quarry’) – so that a kween will ask for her kwilt. S will make the hard sound ‘ss,’ and Z will take over for soft S. X will die, to be replaced by KS and Z. Alex picked up the box will become aleks pikd up boks, and xylophone will be zylefoen. – Consonant digraphs are going to shift as well. TR, BR, BL, DR and so on will probably be fine, but PH and GH, as in ‘enough phones,’ are bound to be replaced by F: enuf foenz. TH is headed for the chopping block. Very few languages have TH – either voiced as in ‘feather’ or unvoiced as in ‘think.’ It’s difficult for most people in the world to make that sound. In a lot of pidgins and creoles, TH becomes D when voiced and T when unvoiced. Future English speakers will probably say feder or feda, and tink. Double consonants will probably go as well. – Ds, Ts and Gs will drop out of certain digraphs, especially at the ends of words. This is already how they are pronounced in some dialects and accents. You hear chile (child) in African-American Vernacular English. (Under my predicted C = CH rule, it could be spelled cyl in the future.) A diamond will be a dymen. The suffix -ing will become -in. Twenty will be pronounced ‘twenny’ and spelled tweni. With the death of ‘a,’ ‘an’ and ‘the,’ the D will drop off ‘and’ to become an. – All ‘ə’ vowels will be replaced by E. Schwa, or ə, is the symbol for a vowel that makes a neutral sort of ‘uh’ sound. A, E, I, O and U can all make the schwa sound. I already see this with words like ‘definitely’ – because we don’t pronounce the ‘i,’ my students are apt to spell it ‘defenitely’ or ‘definately’ (or on a bad day ‘defiantly’). Schwa isn’t known well to non-linguistics nerds, so over time, E seems to me the most likely contender to replace it. – Vowels in general are going to become a lot simpler as well, although a few of them (like A and U) will still make a few different sounds. IR and UR, as in bird and absurd will become ER across the board: berd, ebserd. An A will make the sound it makes in ‘cat’, ‘hand’ and possibly ‘father,’ and not ‘ə,’ or ‘o’. ‘All’ will be ‘ol,’ ‘want’ will become wont and woman will be wumen. (Women will probably be wumenz, as men will be manz, because non-standard plurals aren’t likely to last.) Silent E, or bossy E as primary-school teachers sometimes call it, might cease to be a split digraph: cake, bike, note and cute will become kaek, byk, noet and kyuet.Station will be staeshen. (Words like quiet, in which I and E are separate graphs, might become kwyet.) AI and EI and OI will be rendered as ae/y, ee/ae/e, and oy, so that raen will fall on the foren soyl. A horrible bottle will become a horebel botel. ‘I before E except after C’ won’t be a problem: beleev, reseev, deseev, greef, theef. Y will make the sound it makes in sky and young, replacing I_E split digraphs, and where it makes an unstressed ‘ee’ sound it will be replaced with I: definitely will become defenetli.
7. Articles will vanish. Articles are a, an and the. German and French have lots of them (depending on the ‘gender’ of a word), English has three, and most Asian languages have none. They have their uses: I found a dog implies that you didn’t know the dog and were doing something else, whereas I found the dog implies that you were looking for a specific dog and then you found it. But many languages work just fine with I found dog, or without tense at all, instead using specific time words: yesterday, I find dog. Based on how children, non-native English speakers and many dialect speakers apply a instead of an and put a glottal stop between the words (as in a egg), I don’t think an will last – mine and thine used to be used in front of words beginning with with vowels. Now we just say my own house instead of mine own house. Eventually we’ll lose the articles, since they don’t carry as much meaning as other parts of speech.
8. Words themselves will shift in meaning. This has happened a lot in the past. Words like damn, hella, super and even some stronger swear words might become generic intensifiers like really and very. Keep in mind, it was only 200-odd years ago that really meant for real; in reality; in a real sense. It was used in a way closer to the way we use truly.Soft used to be an insult, suggesting a softness of the body, but its slang meaning now is more like gentle, kind or sweet, conveying softness of the heart as a positive thing – as in soft boy, which means a gentle, sensitive guy, or soft scene, which means a scene in which characters do something cute together, like baking or craft. Euphemisms have short lives as well. Toilet used to mean grooming or dressing. Your toilet was your process of getting dressed and ready. It was euphemistically applied to the water closet and now, toilet is almost vulgar in some contexts. Where’s your toilet sounds almost childish – guests are more likely to ask where’s the bathroom, even if there’s no bath in the room in question. Bathroom might eventually be applied to the toilet itself.
9. Changing taboos will make our literature very jarring for people of the future.
The taboos of the past were bodies and bodily functions – our present swear words. But they’re not actually the worst words you can say in polite society nowadays. Our harshest words are those of discrimination based on race, disability, sexuality and gender/gender expression. I won’t repeat them here – I’m sure you know a few. There are some contexts in which idiot and crazy are frowned upon for degrading people with intellectual disabilities and mental illness respectively. Now, I consider that a bridge too far – I love the word idiot – but yesterday’s bridge too far is tomorrow’s standard. People complained about firefighter instead of fireman in the latter 20th century. Actress is outdated now. On the flipside, the disappearance of our taboos could usher in some bizarre changes. Sexy might shift to mean beautiful, and eventually lovely or nice. A lovely person now would be interpreted as kind, whereas lovely in the 1800s meant attractive.
10. Asian languages will bring in intensifying reduplication. Reduplication is when you repeat a word or part of a word. In English, we do this mostly as onomatopoeia, as in tick-tock, splish-splash and wishy-washy, but sometimes in other contexts as well. For instance, a Year Seven might say she like-likes a classmate she has a crush on, and her baby sister might say bye-bye to her in the morning. Her dad might dismiss her for saying it’s boring to tidy up by saying boring-shmoring. But in a lot of languages, reduplication is a lot more common. In Indonesian and Vietnamese, it creates both plurals and intensification: literally, elephant-elephant to say elephants, strong-strong to say very strong. In Maori, there’s a word that means die-die – to die in large numbers. It’s only a matter of time before English absorbs this komen-komen (i.e., very common) feature.
So what might all this look like? Here’s a guess:
Contemporary English Once upon a time, there was a beautiful and gentle girl called Cinderella. Her mother died when Cinderella was a tiny baby. Her father married again. The new wife absolutely hated Cinderella. She had two children Cinderella’s age, with pretty faces and evil hearts (note this is a shift from ‘fair of face and black of heart’ from the 1800s, for reasons you can probably guess). The stepmother made Cinderella do all the chores around the house: feeding the chickens, chopping the wood, cleaning the fireplace and scrubbing the toilet. When Cinderella was very tired, the stepmother said, ‘Lazy, stupid girl! Get up and get back to work!’ Believe me when I tell you that Cinderella was very miserable.
Future English (inlish)vocabulary Once upon time, there be’d sexy and soft girl called Cinderella. Shes mother died when Cinderella little-ittle baby. Shes father married again. This new wife hated-ated Cinderella. She haved two childs Cinderella’s age, with photogenic faces but evil hearts. Stepmother maked Cinderella do all chores around house: feedin’ chickens, choppin’ woods, cleanin’ fireplace and scrubbin’ bathroom. When Cinderella tired-ired, stepmother said, ‘Lazy, intellectually unskilled girl! You get up and back to work!’ Believe I when I tell y’all, Cinderella hella depressed.
inlish spelin wuns epon tym dair beed seksi an sof gerl kold sinderela. sheez mada dyd wen sinderela litelitel baebi. sheez fada marid egen. dis nu wyf haetedaeted sinderela. shee havd tu cylz sinderelas aej wit fotojenik fasez but eevel harts. stepmada maekd sinderela du ol corz arown hows. feedin cikenz copin wudz kleenin fyrplaes an skrubin batrum. wen sinderela tyrdyrd stepmada saed ‘laezi inteleksheli unskild gerl u get up an bak tu werk!’ beliv i wen i tel yol sinderela hela depresd.
… Or maybe I’m talking rubbish-rubbish. Still, it’s useful to think about these kinds of things when we write speculative fiction. I’ll be back in two weeks time with… something. With my book so close to publishing, it really is impossible to predict what I’ll be able to post next!
The Year Nines are studying Shakespeare with me, so I’ve got sonnets on the brain. Stage 3 Lockdown was announced across my state today, Stage 4 in the capital. I am relieved, but also a little disappointed that people weren’t responsible enough to make the earlier stages work. In my new house, however, I have all the tools I need to clip happily along through it, including space, light, quiet and solitude. I also have a seriously amazing view.
Iambic pentameter + seriously amazing view + exciting promo stuff for The Grandest Bookshop in the World = a sonnet for the mountain outside my window. I’ve taken a million photos of this mountain, but the camera doesn’t do it justice at all. Rather than post an unrelated stock mountain photo, I’ve left today’s poem without an image.
The clouds have blown away; your jagged peak Presides above this valley’s misty slopes. Now all the world is doubtful, mad and bleak – You shine on the horizon like my hopes. You’re shadow-blue at dawn, and white at noon; At sundown, pink; cold grey when overcast. You change, yet are as constant, as the moon, The sky around you glorious and vast. Some day soon, I will touch that gleaming snow, Make new clouds with my breath – all in good time, For though you are within my reach, I know That first, I’ve my own summit yet to climb. Until then, ever-changing mountain ancient, Restore me with your beauty, and your patience.
I say ‘apologies for the late post’ here so often that it might as well be my catchphrase. Forgive my tardiness. I have spent my weekend moving house. Also, my Year Nines were so horrible today, with the exception of a handful of smart and shy girls, that I have spent all evening in a frenzy of chores so that at least things can be quiet and organised and ready for me at home.
Lifehack and DIY channels are weird and full of lies. This is what I imagine it’s like to work for them.
On my first day at the company, I was greeted at the door
by a perky young Ukrainian I thought I’d seen before.
Her earrings were dried orange peels, she had old socks in her hair
and behind her, someone sat upon stuffed jeans that formed a chair.
‘I’m Redhead! Please come quick inside! Our excellence will shock you!’
And she led me down the corridor, trailing little strings of hot glue.
As we toured through the offices, blaring through every room
was familiar upbeat music, but I couldn’t place the tune. Continue reading →
Cole’s Book Arcade will open on the 29th of September.
It is the finest sight in Melbourne and the grandest bookshop in the world.
This is the book trailer that was filmed six weeks ago to promote The Grandest Bookshop in the World. I had to drive out to Castlemaine to film in the gorgeous Mount of Alex secondhand bookshop. It was a really cold, wet day so it was nice to be indoors around so many glorious books!
You might recognise the Cole books appearing in the video from this post. They look right at home on the set where we were, but they’re actually part of my little Cole collection. Photos from the original Book Arcade appear in the video too!
This has all been a huge effort by the wonderful team at Affirm Press and I’m thrilled to finally be able to shout it from the rooftops. And don’t miss the beautiful cover by Elissa Webb and Sylvia Morris at the end of the video!