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This is a book review and science fiction blog, for the most part, with the odd convention report and travel notes. And maybe the occasional Celtic goddess, such as the Great Raven...
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26. The Stella Awards Long List 2015

I'm announcing this here because Laurinda, by the lovely Alice Pung, who was so good to my students last week, is on it. The only other writer on the list whose work I have read is Sonya Hartnett, best known for her YA novels, but I believe this one is for adults.

Here is the list for you:

  • Foreign Soil by Maxine Beneba Clarke (Hachette)
  • The Strays by Emily Bitto (Affirm Press)
  • Only the Animals by Ceridwen Dovey (Penguin)
  • This House of Grief by Helen Garner (Text Publishing)
  • Golden Boys by Sonya Hartnett (Penguin)
  • The Invisible History of the Human Race by Christine Kenneally (Black Inc)
  • The Eye of the Sheep by Sofie Laguna (Allen & Unwin)
  • The Golden Age by Joan London (Random House)
  • Laurinda by Alice Pung (Black Inc)
  • Nest by Inga Simpson (Hachette)
  • Heat and Light by Ellen van Neerven (UQP)
  • In My Mother’s Hands by Biff Ward (Allen & Unwin)
If you want the details of what these books are about, check out the Stellas web site here.

The short list will be out this week. I do hope Laurinda is on it!

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27. Australia's Favourite Authors - Some More Info!

In January I posted the list of Australia's favourite authors, as taken by Booktopia, which invited readers to vote. My only comment, from my friend Lan Chan, said she had never heard of half of them. As I have no idea which half, I thought I would re-post the list with the names of some books written by each, because a lot of the time, people slap their foreheads and say, "Oh! Him! Of course!"

So here we go.

10. John Marsden - best known for the Tomorrow When The War Began series for teens. He has done his first adult book recently, but this series is what made him famous and gets him about $750 an hour for school visits(or did - it may be more by now)

9. Mem Fox - best known for Possum Magic, that delightful picture book in which an invisible possum travels Australia trying to become visible again and sees a lot of Australian icons. The wonderful artist is Julie Vivas. It was rejected by nine publishers who must now be kicking themselves, because it's sold in the millions.

8. Markus Zusak - mostly YA writer, though these days everyone is reading The Book Thief and watching the film. I heard him speak at a conference when he'd done only one book; he looked about sixteen.

7. Andy Griffiths - huge favourite of children, for the Just! Series, the (multi) Storey Treehouse series and the Bum series that began with The Day My Bum Went Psycho. Famous for his very silly, over-the-top style, which kids love(and so do I)

6. Monica McInerney - heard of her, but have no idea what her writing is like. I had to Google this one. She's Australian, but doesn't live here - she is Dublin-based. Top of the list on her web site is a novel called Hello From The Gillespies. There's also a quote from the Sun Herald describing her as a modern Jane Austen. What - gentle comedy-of-manners romances? Well, I'll take their word for it. She is Australia's sixth favourite writer.

5. Kerry Greenwood - Best known for her Phryne Fisher series, now on TV, and Corinna Chapman mysteries, not yet filmed and she says they won't be unless an appropriately fat actress can be found to play the lead - Magda Zubanski, who would have been a lovely Corinna, has taken off weight! She has written a number of children's and YA books but they're lesser known than the mysteries.

4. Matthew Reilly - writes thrillers in which, he told a Melbourne Writers Festival audience, characters are chased by monsters across the landscape. Something or someone is blown up every other page. I managed to read about 250 pages of Temple before throwing it aside in disgust and deciding it was perfect for fourteen year old boys, but even as a teacher librarian I couldn't bring myself to finish it. So it went in my library, where teenage boys could read it. But I'm in a minority, judging by his sales and by the fact that he ranks above John Marsden on this list.

3. Tim Winton - as a teacher-librarian I have only read his Lockie Leonard books, lovely, gentle things set on the coast of Western Australia, but most adults would probably know him better for such books as Cloudstreet.

2. Liane Moriarty - I see, on a Google, that she's the sister of YA novelist Jaclyn Moriarty, of whom I have heard. Apparently she wrote three children's books, early in her career. Her book Big Little Lies is a NY Times bestseller, but I haven't read it and can't comment, alas. Her sister, on the other hand, has a book on this year's Aurealis Awards shortlist.

1. John Flanagan - Ranger's Apprentice and Brotherband. Fabulous adventure stories for children set in an alternative universe not unlike mediaeval earth, but cleaner and everyone drinks coffee, not just Arabs. And funny! Even my US readers will have heard of these, as I know there are US editions.

As I'm writing this, I'm listening to a radio interview with that wonderful writer Tom Keneally, in his eighties and still going strong. I'm a bit surprised he didn't get into the list, but then, it is a vote on one web site. And Booktopia sells a lot of books to a lot of readers. He has, however, just won a Lifetime Achievement award, which tells you that his real achievement is in a lot of books; it might be easier if there was just one or, maybe two, books for which he was best known.

Hope this is of help to those who, like Lan, hadn't heard of some of the people on this list!

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28. Two Tales Of Twins From Ancient Greece And Rome. The Audiobook

Two Tales Of Twins From Ancient Greece And Rome. Audiobook. Written and Narrated by Ursula Dubosarsky. Ill. By David Allan. Incidental music by Bevis Masson-Leach. Published Christmas Press 2015

This is the second Christmas Press audiobook.

I reviewed this title when it first came out. You can read the original review here

They are the stories of Apollo and Artemis(Greece) and Romulus and Remus(Rome). I've always thought that audiobooks are a separate thing from reading books. It's not for nothing that they are so often read by well-known actors. Stephen Fry, for example, reading Harry Potter, and Tony Robinson reading Terry Pratchett books. They are someone else's interpretation of the story and an entertainment in their own right. I rarely listen to an audiobook I haven't read, for that reason(the only exception is Georgette Heyer's novel Sylvester, beautifully read by Richard Armitage, but then that man could read the telephone directory and I'd love it!).

And sometimes the author reads their own book; Neil Gaiman is such a wonderful reader that if he wasn't a writer he could be an actor. Graeme Base is another of that kind. Douglas Adams was the perfect reader of the Hitchhiker's Guide novels.

In this case, author Ursula Dubosarsky has just the right comfortable "Mum" voice to read her children's picture storybook, and the music by Bevis Masson-Leach complements it beautifully.  

It's seventeen minutes long, just right for an evening reading before the little ones go to bed(once they're in bed, needless to say, parents should do their own reading!)

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29. On This Day - March 7

A meme for March 7, which it us here Downunder.


321 – Sunday becomes the day of rest in the Roman Empire. The weekend is created! Yay!

1876 – Alexander Graham Bell patents his invention, the telephone. The rest is history.

1994 – Copyrighta Law in the US: it is decided that parodies of an original work are covered by "fair use". Probably just as well or we wouldn't have quite a lot of comedies and we would have a lot more court cases.

2009 – Launch of  The Kepler space observatory, which is there to find Earth-like planets orbiting other stars. 


1792: John Herschel, son of the Astronomer Royal, William Herschel, nephew of the amazing Caroline Herschel, and guess what? He was a big name astronomer himself and named some of the moons of Uranus, with names they still have. He was also a big name in photography and, with his wife Margaret, worked on some botany while they were in South Africa doing astronomy. Go look him up on Wikipedia. I did.

1875: Maurice Ravel. If you've never heard his Bolero, you must have had your head in the sand.

1944: Stanley Schmidt, American SF writer. I can't remember if I 've read anything of his, but I've certainly read Analog, the U.S. hard SF magazine, of which he was editor between 1978 and 2012.  For me, hard SF is the source of my sensawunda.

1946: The wonderful Elizabeth Moon, whose space operas I discovered while waiting for more Lois McMaster Bujold. LMB is a fine fantasy writer, but I prefer SF - and I haven't read any Moon fantasy either, for the same reason. But plenty of space opera to read in the Serrano, Esmay Suiza and Vatta's War series. More, please! 

Today is Teacher's Day in Albania. Nice to know teachers are appreciated in some parts of the world. Here in Australia the perception seems to be that teachers are useless lazy good for nothings who have these cushy jobs with short hours and long holidays. Interestingly, no one who says this in newspaper letters pages ever says, "I think I'll go and train as a teacher to show them how it's done and get all those holidays." Or seems to know that uni entrance scores are about demand, not about how good you are. And teacher entrance scores are low because, despite all those holidays, not many people want to teach. I wonder why?

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30. Some Great SF Movies of the 1980s!

There's a rather delightful post over at tor.com:

on the subject of fantasy movies of the 1980s, ranking eighteen of them. I must admit, there were some of the list of which I had not heard, probably with good reason, others which I remember with great fondness. This was the era of speculative fiction movies - there was at least one on every school holidays.

My favourites on that list were The Princess Bride, Excalibur, The Neverending Story, Labyrinth and Highlander, though I could understand adding Willow(one of Warwick Davis's first films - he was only 18 at the time, and was the head Ewok in Return Of The Jedi) and Clash Of The Titans, which was not a very good film, but was lucky enough to have the SFX of Ray Harryhausen and deserves to be seen if only for those. It was his last film. I found Conan The Barbarian a disappointment on a re-view. Dull, dull, dull!  Legend : another dull film that had fabulous effects. The unicorn was gorgeous and Tom Curry's make-up as the demon was wonderful, though he didn't have much to do. But go to the web site and check it out for yourself. 

It's a pity the list didn't include SF movies, because one of my favourites would have been The Last Starfighter, which I think may have been Robert Preston's last film; I still watch it occasionally. It's delightfully - intentionally - silly, with Robert Preston as an alien who has set up a computer game called Starfighter on Earth in hopes of recruiting real starfighters, gunners who can fight from spaceships against a real menace somewhere far off in the galaxy. The young hero, who is not quite good enough to get into his university of choice, is a fabulous computer game player and finds himself whisked off to fight the bad guys using those skills. Yes, I know, silly, but probably not much sillier than the premise of Orson Scott Card's Ender's Game, and that worked out fine, didn't it? And became a classic?

I was delighted to get Tron on DVD. Both this and The Last Starfighter  did some "firsts" in computer animation. But the stories were a delight. Pity someone made a sequel to Tron; it just wasn't as good. In the far superior original, Jeff Bridges was the computer game designer who is pulled into his own computer game, where he encounters Tron, the hero of his game, who helps other computer characters. The title role was played by Bruce Boxleitner, who went on to play the role of Captain John Sheridan, station commander, in Seasons 2-4 of Babylon 5, and in one scene Bridges encounters and has to fight a character played by Peter Jurasik, who, as  Centauri Ambassador Londo Mollari, got some of the best lines in Babylon 5.

And there was Star Trek 4: The Voyage Home, still my favourite of all the Trek movies. That's the one with the whales, and that joyous music as the whales romp in the ocean of 23rd century Earth. The one where Kirk doesn't get the girl and Spock experiments with swearing and Chekhov, lying on a hospital trolley and not quite awake, implies he's after Kirk's job. Walter Koenig, by the way, was another Babylon 5 cast member, and made a great villain. And Scotty, in a glass factory, tries to speak to the computer using a mouse, then uses the keyboard with great proficiency.

I watch that to cheer me up when I'm feeling low.

Another one I watch to cheer myself is the 1980 movie of Flash Gordon. It's great fun, played with tongue firmly in cheek. Chaim Topol, best known as Tevye in Fiddler On The Roof, was scientist Dr Zharkov, the delectable Tomothy Dalton, a future James Bond, was Prince Barin, Brian Blessed was Prince Vultan of the Hawk Men- you may have seen him in Blackadder 1 as King Richard IV, or in   I,Claudius as the Emperor Augustus or even in Dr Who as a barbarian chieftain... No, probably not unless you're my age...   and Max Von Sydow, star of many a Swedish movie and Jesus in The Greatest Story Ever Told, was Ming The Merciless. And that score by Queen is absolutely perfect! You can see the actors are having a ball. I once won a prize at a SF convention masquerade as a lady of the court of Ming The Merciless, back in the days when I was embroidering a lot with sequins and I had the figure to carry it off. 

And who could forget the classic Back To The Future? Michael J Fox as Marty McFly and Christopher Lloyd as the delightful Dr Emmett Brown? Lea Thompson and Crispin Glover, who played as his parents, were actually not much older than the teenagers they played in the 1950s scenes and had to be made up to look middle aged. Lea Thompson said she wore her make up home once to shock her own parents! You couldn't do a remake now, not with the 1950s settings because the 1950s are too far away. 

What about you? Any favourites?

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31. Alice Pung Comes To Visit!

Alice Pung is a writer best known for her memoir, Unpolished Gem and, more recently, the follow-up, Her Father's Daughter. In the first, she wrote about growing up in Braybrook, with her parents opening a store in Footscray. both in Melbourne's multicultural, working class Western suburbs. The second book, Her Father's Daughter, was mostly centred around her father's family - her mother's was in the first book - and their sufferings in Cambodia's killing fields. And powerful stuff it is, too! We have a student reading it right now.

Last year, thanks to Ambellin Kwaymullina, whom I met at a con, I learned that the Stella Prize for women's writing now has a schools program - and that they might have a little money put aside for disadvantaged schools like mone. She contacted them on my behalf and I emailed them and they said that yes, they did, and would pay for a visit. I had a choice of three writers, one of whom had won a CBCA Award and one who had been writing and visiting schools for many years - and Alice Pung.

We're a Western suburbs school. The English staff asked, please, could we have Alice Pung? So I agreed and arrangements began. It has taken since last year, but was worth the wait.

Yesterday, Alice came to visit. Her talk was designed to appeal to boys as well as girls. Because most of her output is her memoirs, by the time she got to Laurinda, her YA novel, the session was nearly over and the lunchtime bell was about to ring. She had some fascinating stories to tell, including a visit to a school in a boys' prison and the experiences of the comedian Anh Do, whose book our Year 9 students are reading.  We did go a little beyond the bell, with questions, and the book giveaway was to a girl from one of our other campuses, as they had had to walk half an hour to reach us.

Afterwards, some students came to get posters autographed and then we went to lunch in the staff room.

Here's where Ms Pung showed her sheer generosity. Three girls from our Senior campus, who had been invited, arrived too late for the talk, due to a confusion of times. Alice gave them at least half an hour, perhaps more, and had her photo taken with them. And she is heavily pregnant and had another gig that evening and must have been tired.

We were lucky; ours may be one of her last school visits!

Anyway, thank you, Alice, Stella For Schools, Booked Out Speakers Agency and Ambelin!

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32. Vale Leonard Nimoy!

The word was out this morning. Leonard Nimoy is no more. That makes me very sad.

I grew up with Star Trek. I loved science fiction but apart from the anthology shows the only thing I could find on TV was Lost In Space

Now, don't get me wrong. Since my childhood I have seen Lost In Space again and realised that it's delightfully silly, camp 1960s stuff, and that if you watch carefully you'll find people who are better known than you might expect. Michael Rennie was in an episode, "The Keeper". The composer of much of the music was a certain "Johnny Williams" who went on to compose the music for Star Wars and other such films. Another composer was Alexander Courage, composer of the Star Trek music. A lot of guest actors also appeared in Star Trek. The dashing Guy Williams, head of the Space Family Robinson, was Zorro. And little Billy Mumy went on to be one of the most popular characters in Babylon 5.  So, yes, there was much to admire in that series. 

But when I saw my first episode of Star Trek, "Mudd's Women", I sighed, "Thank God! SF for adults!" Even if I wasn't yet an adult myself. And I knew I would never get back to Lost In Space

And much of what I loved about Star Trek was the characters, especially Spock. He was the man who didn't quite belong anywhere, though he had friends who loved him. And which teenager doesn't have that feeling?

Spock inspired fan fiction from me. It's not that I wasn't writing - I was writing dreadful historical novels in my teens - but my very first published work was stories about Spock. I learned a lot about writing through fan fiction. Mr Nimoy cared about the character. It wasn't just a job to him. 

So, in some ways, I owe some of my writing skills to him. 

Rest in peace, Leonard Nimoy, and thanks for giving me a lot of enjoyment over the years.

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33. Aurealis Shòrt Lists 2014

And here it is, as posted on the AA web site. Congratulations to all short listed folk. I have to admit, I've only read those on the children's list, though I bought one of the other short listed books at Continuum last year and have another in my school library and one more on my TBR review pile and another I've started, in ebook. Time to get reading! 

Meanwhile, here they are and well done to everybody on the list. 

2014 Aurealis Awards – Finalists


Fireborn, Keri Arthur (Hachette Australia)

This Shattered World, Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner (Allen & Unwin)

The Lascar’s Dagger, Glenda Larke (Hachette Australia)

Dreamer’s Pool, Juliet Marillier (Pan Macmillan Australia)

Afterworlds, Scott Westerfeld (Penguin Books Australia)

Daughters of the Storm, Kim Wilkins (Harlequin Enterprises Australia)


“The Oud”, Thoraiya Dyer (Long Hidden, Crossed Genres Publications)

“Teratogen”, Deborah Kalin (Cemetery Dance, #71, May 2014)

“The Ghost of Hephaestus”, Charlotte Nash (Phantazein, FableCroft Publications)

“St Dymphna’s School for Poison Girls”, Angela Slatter (The Review of Australian Fiction, Volume 9, Issue 3)

“The Badger Bride”, Angela Slatter (Strange Tales IV, Tartarus Press)


Aurora: Meridian, Amanda Bridgeman (Momentum)

Nil By Mouth, LynC (Satalyte)

The White List, Nina D’Aleo (Momentum)

Peacemaker, Marianne de Pierres (Angry Robot)

This Shattered World, Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner (Allen & Unwin)

Foresight, Graham Storrs (Momentum)


“The Executioner Goes Home”, Deborah Biancotti (Review of Australian Fiction, Vol 11 Issue 6)

“Wine, Women and Stars”, Thoraiya Dyer (Analog Vol CXXXIV nos 1&2 Jan/Feb)

“The Glorious Aerybeth”, Jason Fischer (OnSpec, 11 Sep 2014)

“Dellinger”, Charlotte Nash (Use Only As Directed, Peggy Bright Books)

“Happy Go Lucky”, Garth Nix (Kaleidoscope, Twelfth Planet Press)


Book of the Dead, Greig Beck (Momentum)

Razorhurst, Justine Larbalestier (Allen & Unwin)

Obsidian, Alan Baxter (HarperVoyager)


“The Executioner Goes Home”, Deborah Biancotti (Review of Australian Fiction, Vol 11 Issue 6)

“Skinsuit”, James Bradley (Island Magazine 137)

“By the Moon’s Good Grace”, Kirstyn McDermott (Review of Australian Fiction, Vol 12, Issue 3)

“Shay Corsham Worsted”, Garth Nix (Fearful Symmetries, Chizine)

“Home and Hearth”, Angela Slatter (Spectral Press)


The Astrologer’s Daughter, Rebecca Lim (Text Publishing)

Afterworld, Lynnette Lounsbury (Allen & Unwin)

The Cracks in the Kingdom, Jaclyn Moriarty (Pan Macmillan Australia)

Clariel, Garth Nix (Allen & Unwin)

The Haunting of Lily Frost, Nova Weetman (UQP)

Afterworlds, Scott Westerfeld (Penguin Books Australia)


“In Hades”, Goldie Alexander (Celapene Press)

“Falling Leaves”, Liz Argall (Apex Magazine)

“The Fuller and the Bogle”, David Cornish (Tales from the Half-Continent, Omnibus Books)

“Vanilla”, Dirk Flinthart (Kaleidoscope, Twelfth Planet Press)

“Signature”, Faith Mudge (Kaleidoscope, Twelfth Planet Press)


Slaves of Socorro: Brotherband #4, John Flanagan (Random House Australia)

Ophelia and the Marvellous Boy, Karen Foxlee (Hot Key Books)

The Last Viking Returns, Norman Jorgensen and James Foley (ILL.) (Fremantle Press)

Withering-by-Sea, Judith Rossell (ABC Books)

Sunker’s Deep: The Hidden #2, Lian Tanner (Allen & Unwin)

Shadow Sister: Dragon Keeper #5, Carole Wilkinson (Black Dog Books)


The Female Factory, Lisa L Hannett and Angela Slatter (Twelfth Planet Press)

Secret Lives, Rosaleen Love (Twelfth Planet Press)

Angel Dust, Ian McHugh (Ticonderoga Publications)

Difficult Second Album: more stories of Xenobiology, Space Elevators, and Bats Out Of Hell, Simon Petrie (Peggy Bright Books)

The Bitterwood Bible and Other Recountings, Angela Slatter (Tartarus Press)

Black-Winged Angels, Angela Slatter (Ticonderoga Publications)


Kisses by Clockwork, Liz Grzyb (Ed) (Ticonderoga Publications)
Kaleidoscope: Diverse YA Science Fiction and Fantasy Stories, Alisa Krasnostein and Julia Rios (Eds), (Twelfth Planet Press)

Amok: An Anthology of Asia-Pacific Speculative Fiction, Dominica Malcolm (Ed) (Solarwyrm Press)

Reach for Infinity, Jonathan Strahan (Ed) (Solaris Books)

Fearsome Magics, Jonathan Strahan (Ed) (Solaris Books)

Phantazein, Tehani Wessely (Ed) (FableCroft Publishing)


Left Hand Path #1, Jason Franks & Paul Abstruse (Winter City Productions)

Awkwood, Jase Harper (Milk Shadow Books)

“A Small Wild Magic”, Kathleen Jennings (Monstrous Affections, Candlewick Press)

Mr Unpronounceable and the Sect of the Bleeding Eye, Tim Molloy (Milk Shadow Books)

The Game, Shane W Smith (Deeper Meanings Publishing)

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34. A Guest Post On Someone ELSE's Blog!

The lovely Kim Forrester, an Aussie expat who blogs, invited me to do a guest post on her blog. It's a thing called "Triple Choice Tuesday" in which a writer is invited to name a favourite book, a book that made changes in their life and one they feel deserves a wider audience. Sort of a Desert Island Discs about books, I guess. It's a site for readers of adult books, really, but Kim pointed out that her readers do tend to buy books for the younger members of their families.

Anyway, here's the link!


Why not go there and find out what books I chose? It's always nice to be invited. 

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35. AA reading Finished, Time For the TBR pile!

I have finished my competition reading and the short list is out tomorrow. I'm looking forward to seeing what is on the other lists and I will post it all here. Most of the books I read have been donated to the local primary school or to my own library. A few remain in my living room, ready to be carried to work on my poor shoulder, when possible.

Today I'm FINALLY getting to read the second half of Neil Gaiman's Graveyard Book graphic novel. The review will be up as soon as I can get it going. I have several more sent to me by Bloomsbury, so stand by for some more reviews! 

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36. O Joy! First Sale Of The Year!

Remember that bushranger story I was working on, for which I used Irish music to write by? 

Paul Collins was very pleased with it and so it will be going into his next anthology in the Trust Me! series(he may give it another title and a different style of cover, because people get the second anthology confused with the first.) I already have my contract to sign.

It's a relief as well as a cheer-up after the disappointment of Cranky Ladies Of History. See, I put a lot of research into that one. The Victorian era is not one with which I'm really familiar. When I was working on it, I asked a couple of historians about things I needed to know. And I knew that if it missed out, I had nowhere else to send it, but I had a go anyway. And then it was rejected for reasons unconnected with the quality or the historical accuracy. It's a very good story I'm proud of, but historical fiction is hard to sell. Almost impossible, in fact, unless someone decides to publish a historical anthology. Well. It will sit around for a while. You never know. I have had three stories that sold after lying in the proverbial bottom drawer, rejected, for some years. And a novel! ;-) It's a matter of waiting for the right market. 

I'm explaining this because it made me anxious about this one. It's historical fiction for children. Again, I had an era and place that I was not really familiar with - the 1860s in the New South Wales gold rush. I had written some non-fiction about it in Crime Time: Australians Behaving Badly, so I knew the true story, but it's not quite the same as telling a story from the viewpoint of someone who lived there. But Paul has been good to me over the years. I knew that if it wasn't quite what he wanted he would give me a chance to fix it. I decided to take a chance. 

After I'd written three drafts, I decided it was time to submit the thing once and for all and get it over with. If it was accepted, then I'd get the story checked for historical glitches. I already knew who to ask. Monissa Whitely, a former member if the ASIM collective, is very much into this era and collects books about it. Furthermore, she has been shopping around her own bushranger novel, set in the same era, the 1860s. If it wasn't accepted... Well, I hoped that wouldn't happen. When Paul's email arrived with a contract attached and opened with "Well done you!" I heaved a huge sigh of relief!  

So yay! 

Monissa read it for me and asked about a few very minor points. In one case, she asked me if I was sure the boy in the story - a real historical figure - would spend a whole pound given him by the bushrangers - the equivalent of about $200 - on lollies. I assured her I hadn't made it up - I got that from the account he wrote as an old man, right from the horse's mouth. But there were two terms that she thought anachronistic and I fixed them.

Other than that, it looks like I got the history right. So only the editing to do, when Paul contacts me about it. 

I think writing historical fiction is a bit addictive. Pity it's not more saleable!

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37. February 18 Meme: Happy birthday, Mark!

Today is my delightful nephew Mark's birthday. It's also the birthdays of quite a few impressive folk. Here are a few, starting with the subject of today's Google Doodle -

1745-1827 Alessandro Volta, after whom the volt is named. He invented the battery and was one of a bunch of scientists interested in what electricity could do. His rival, Luigi Galvani, was the one whose experiments gave a teenage girl called Mary Shelley the idea for her most famous novel, Frankenstein. But she would have heard of Volta. 


1859-1916 Sholom Aleichem, famous Jewish writer. His short stories were funny and sad and brilliant. When he visited the US, he met Mark Twain, who said, "I wanted to meet you, because I'm told that I am the American Sholom Aleichem." If you don't know anything else about Sholom Aleichem, you will certainly have heard of the musical based on some of his stories, Fiddler On The Roof. Oh, and he had a granddaughter, Bel Kaufman, who wrote the classic Up The Down Staircase, a novel set in a working-class school, about a young English teacher's first year in her new profession. Writing talent seems to have run in the family - her Mum was also a writer. 

1883 - 1957 Nikos Kazantzakis, author of Zorba The Greek and, among other things, Christ Recrucified. That one, I've read. It's set in a small Greek village during the Turkish occupation. The villagers are about to stage a Passion Play and the actors start to play out their roles. I read this one when I was in my teens and I'm afraid I figured that out soon enough, but it was a very good novel anyway. 

1936 - Jean M Auel, author of the Earth's Children series, starting with Clan Of The Cave Bear. I've read the first two in the series and enjoyed both, though I admit that I lost interest only a few chapters into the third book.  But if you are interested in life in Neanderthal times as it just might have been, I do recommend Clan Of The Cave Bear. I rather liked her idea that the Neanderthal brain might have been like a computer - it stores race memory, so people know how to do things their ancestors did, whereas the modern humans can't do that, so they have to be able to invent. Is it right? I don't know, but it worked for that book. 

1931 - 2007 Johnny Hart, cartoonist, Wizard of Id. I loved that strip! 

There are other writers, but these are the ones I've read. All with February 18 birthdays!

Published on February 18

1678: The Pilgrim's Progress by John Bunyan. I haven't read it, but there there are references to it in Little Women, in which the girls have copies of it and each goes through her own Pilgrim's Progress experience. 

1885The Adventures Of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain. A true classic! I may read from it next Banned Books Week. 

Happy birthday, Mark and anyone else with a birthday today! 

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38. On Rereading Whodunnits

Having finished my reading for the Aurealis Awards, I'm now starting to make my way through the neglected pile of TBR review books. Most of them are from Bloomsbury, some from Ford Street.

But at bedtime I need something old which doesn't require much focus, not a brand new title which will keep me awake thinking about it. So I have recently hauled off the shelves some old Ellis Peters and Agatha Christie novels.

Ellis Peters, aka Edith Pargeter, historical novelist, put together her skills as a crime writer and a historical novelist to write twenty books(21 if you count A Rare Benedictine, a collection of short stories)about about Brother Cadfael, a mediaeval monk and amateur sleuth, on the border of England and Wales, in a town called Shrewsbury, a sort of mediaeval Midsomer. ;-) The difference is, of course, that it's a real place.  I've been there and found my way quite easily from the church of St Peter and St. Paul(setting of the book) into town, because the author described it so well. I love these books. Despite the necessary murder in each book and a war raging across the country, there is something peaceful about it and quite frankly I don't care if I remember whodunnit. It's the atmosphere and the calm wisdom of Brother Cadfael I care about, and his friendship with his young "cop" buddy Hugh Beringar, who becomes Sheriff of Shropshire, a highly responsible job, but is still a cop. So these books make good bedtime rereads. To be honest, I couldn't remember whodunnit this time, but it didn't matter. They soothed anyway. And she doesn't cheat you. She gives you enough clues to work it out, and if you don't, you say, "Oh, yes, I forgot that clue!"

Agatha Christie also throws in clues(or Clues), and the murderer could be anyone, from the gruff major to the sweet young thing who called in Poirot in the first place. I love that, but I wouldn't  exactly say she never cheats you, just a little bit. It's true that she follows the main rules. The killer is a member of the cast already introduced, never an outsider, no matter his many threatening notes the victim may have received or claimed to have received. But there are often pieces of vital information you don't receive till near the end of the book when Poirot triumphantly reveals the contents of a telegram he sent a little earlier, to the gathered cast of suspects. And if there are no mysterious poisons from South America(she worked in a dispensary during the war, she refuses to do that!) there are disguised characters, women disguised as men, evil ex husbands disguised as - er, mild mannered new husbands...

Alas, I ALWAYS remember whodunnit in an Agatha Christie book. But as I said, I don't mind, really. Not at night time. I like the ambience of the eras in which they're set - 1917 onwards for the Poirot stories and in the 1940s/50s for Miss Marple.

 I like Poirot with his "little grey cells" and his observation and his refusal to consider cigar ash and footprints in the flowerbeds, even though he does notice pottery ground into the carpet and a disarranged mantelpiece. And I like how Miss Marple notices how the potential killer reminds her of someone she knows from the village, and goes from there. She plays the scatterbrained little old lady to the hilt, almost like an elderly female Columbo, but everywhere there are police inspectors who know exactly how sharp she really is(sometimes from having worked with her, other times because they're related to friends of hers). She has a terrific network of family and friends on whose special knowledge she can call whenever she needs it. Very different from Poirot, but like him, she always works it out - in the early short stories she doesn't even need to be there, she just hears the story and works it out.

So, why reread a whodunnit? Because there is so much more to them than that!

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39. This Year's Challenges: Creative Writing And EAL

Reposted from my other blog. This is what I do when I'm not writing or reading for the Aurealis Awards or catching up on my TBR pile. I just get the hang of one thing when they throw me out of it and tell me to do something else. I think I should get a medal for having to work out how to do something different each year. Could be worse; it could be sheet metal! 

I've had two classes each - a double period - in Creative Writing and Year 7 EAL. So far so good, but I'm still learning.

The Year 7 EAL I'm doing in co-operation with the regular EAL teacher. Last year a couple of colleagues had the job of teaching the students while the rest of the class was doing Italian or Vietnamese - no point making the poor kids do those when they haven't even mastered English yet! It did happen one year when the timetable had problems, but not now.

So what do you do? Strictly speaking , it's called "Cultural Studies" and there is a colleague on another campus who has prepared a whole year's classes on it as such. But I asked the EAL teacher what she would prefer me to do. She said she would prefer that I complete activities she is doing and vice versa. She gave me her lesson plans for the term. That has helped so far, but we have a hard time getting together when she has six period days before I take the class. And her lesson plans are really intended for herself, as aids to memory; she has been doing it for so long, she knows exactly what she means. I don't necessarily know what she means, so I have to use them as starters and ask her to clarify if I can get her for five minutes.

The first week I took the students' photos and printed them out for a poster "about me" that was to be put up in the classroom. She had prepared a template for them to use. Yesterday they had to do work on nouns. She had supplied a work sheet, but there were other things to do, such as find a text they could use to highlight the nouns and work out what kind they were. And she hadn't brought that to work. So I went on line and found a fairly simple folk tale, which was still not quite simple enough; I had to adapt it. And because this was a double period, I knew the work sheet alone was not going to be enough to keep them going. I prepared "noun cards" for them to sort as to type, in groups.

In the end, with the help of the volunteer from the Ardoch Foundation, I was able to keep it going for two periods and we each took a table of students. The noun cards didn't get used until the next period, when the regular teacher used them as a warm up before proceeding to verbs. I did wonder if they would remember the noun types, though they seemed to have got it in my class. My colleague told me that they had; she said when they came into class, "So, you're now experts on nouns. Tell me about them!" and asked questions which they were able to answer. Success!

Creative Writing has the potential to be a huge success or a complete disaster. So far so good. The first lesson was introductory. My colleague on another campus is doing a very structured class, starting from the beginning. She has a larger class than mine and doesn't know them, having been moved from her other campus, so that's understandable; I have shared some of my material with her, though, the story starters, and she is happy with them.

. If I asked my students to do basic writing exercises I suspect they would rebel. They know what they are doing, or believe they do; they just need my support.

So the first week I did an introductory class, beginning with showing them books by teenagers and telling them that just because you're young doesn't mean you can't succeed in this area. I talked about writers who plan way ahead and writers who write by the seat of their pants. I'm a pantser, but it would work better for them to be planners.

I prepared a set of story starters. On one side of the sheet were story starters taken from the Melbourne Writers' Festival student competition, Write Across Victoria, including one that had won a prize for a student from our school. On the other side, as a form of "differentiation" for the students who might need something simpler, I placed some much simpler story starters of my own.

Amazing how much I learned from this. It wasn't only the less capable writers who chose them, it was some of the good ones as well - it inspired them as the others didn't. Lesson number 1, Sue: don't make assumptions.

We went through the complex story starters first and I invited them to think about what kind of stories they might be, eg one was clearly Steampunk. Amazing the range of ideas that came from a single story starter that began with "I remember the day they came for me" and went on to describe fighting and clash of steel on steel. Everything from totalitarian state to ninjas! And one of the students, who is a huge Steampunk fan, nevertheless started with this one, writing a gruesome tale of slave takers killing parents to take the daughter.

Anyway, I got them started and Tuesday this week, they were continuing on. I learned another lesson I should have understood last week, preparing a story template with a basic "who is your hero, where does it happen, who are her friends/enemies, what is the problem, how is it solved" format. I thought it might help one girl who is having trouble getting started (and I came into class to find that she had decided her first page and a half just wasn't working, so yes, it did help her). Two others also used it, including one who had stuck fast on "I blacked out" with no idea where to go from there. We discussed her story, which was about an evil queen who didn't want to be evil but was under a curse. Then I offered her the template to enable her to break it down and she said that yes, it did help, very much, looking at it that way. Lesson 2, repeat of Lesson 1: don't make assumptions!

Another student I had thought might not do much last week had brought in a plan every bit as complex as the J. K Rowling one I had shown them the first week. She was typing away happily. Apparently her sister also writes and had shown her how to do this.

So that's working and when at the end of the period I asked them whether they were enjoying so far, they all agreed with huge smiles.

Only thing is, how do i gently persuade most of them we need some sessions when they read out their stories to each other? One of them agreed before class that she would read out hers and I wrote a Steampunk story using the story starter, so the two of us read our stories out and the others were gently critical of mine and I praised them. But they look like deer in headlights when I suggest they might do the same.

I have to think about it.

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40. Compulsory Valentine's Day Post 2015

Happy Valentine's Day, lovers all! 

I see I did one of these two years ago, but it was mainly about me and book club and the National Year of Reading the previous year, with just a token reference to two classics, so here I am again.

According to Wikipedia, which has quite a lengthy article on this, there were several Christian martyr Valentines. The one we hear the most about is the one who lived during the reign of Emperor Claudius II, the Valentine who is supposed to have been locked up for performing secret marriages for soldiers, who were not allowed to marry(not true, according to Wikipedia). This made him the patron saint of lovers. He is supposed to have healed his jailer's daughter and sent her a farewell letter signed "your Valentine" before they killed him. True or not, it's a story I always enjoy. 

Chaucer mentions Valentine's Day in Parlement Of Foules (that's "birds" to those of you who think it's just a sports term!) as the day when birds gather to choose their mates. 

I vaguely recall a festival of Juno in Rome around that time of year when you were allotted a lover for the year. I think that's sweet. "Oh, no, I'm stuck with Publius again!  He has bad breath and big ears and keeps talking nerdy stuff about books!" 

Anyway, as I'm not getting any chocolates or hearts this year(and by the way, Wikipedia says that started with the good Saint who cut hearts out of parchment. Who would have thought it?) I will think about some of my favourite fictional lovers.

*Ah! The radio is  playing the Birdcatcher's Song from Mozart's Magic Flute, giving me another lover to write about ... Poor Papageno, he just wants a girlfriend and has to go through all that Freemasons stuff to get one. Now, that was an interesting presentation of love. Prince Tamino falls in love with Pamina just from a picture and she doesn't even need a picture! She falls in love just from hearing about Tamino. Still, a fun opera. I once saw the gorgeous Anthony Warlow as Papageno. A beautiful Papageno he was, too.*

Back to the fictional lovers. Last time I mentioned Mr Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet, a pair of strong people who just need to learn a bit about life. They are equals. I like that. Well, he is rich and she isn't, true, but in intelligence they are and we know she eon't take any nonsense from him. 

In Shakespeare my favourite lovers are Beatrice and Benedick in Much Ado About Nothing. Beatrice's cousin Hero is a much more conventional lover, who faints dead away when Claudio humiliates her publicly. Anyone remember that scene in The Winter's Tale when Hermione faints away when her husband humiliates her? Both women sort of get their revenge by making their men squirm and think them dead before forgiving them, of course. As I hear it, strictly speaking the Hero/Claudio romance is supposed to be the main one in the play with Beatrice and Benedick as the kooky, loveable supporting characters. 

Come on, does anyone seriously believe that?  But it's true, in a way. Beatrice is an orphan living with her relatives; she can't be standard and she can be independent in a way Hero can't. And oh, what a character! "Kill Claudio!" she says when Benedick, who has been fighting a war of words with her and now admits he loves her, asks how he can help. She does add, "Oh, that I were a man!" In other words, "I need you to challenge him to a duel because I can't." And he agrees and does realise that his mate Claudio has done the wrong thing. 

Interestingly, I once saw a production of Much Ado About Nothing that was performed in Regency costume, a la Pride And Prejudice; it worked very well. Another, later production was done in 1950s costume, with Pamela Rabe and Hugo Weaving(yes, that Hugo Weaving, as in Agent Smith and Elrond)who also played Kate and Petruchio in The Taming Of The Shrew

Has anyone noticed the tendency in YA fiction for having a triangle? In it, the girl is courted by two gorgeous boys. Sometimes it's obvious from the beginning who will win her. Often it's not, giving fans the chance to argue happily over the matter as the series goes on. 

If you think about it, the triangle has been around for a while. Think about the novels of Jane Austen, for example. Though I can't seriously imagine anyone claiming to be "Team Wickham", if Pride And Prejudice was a series ... Who knows? (Actually, I take that back. I can totally imagine a "Team Wickham" if Pride And Prejudice was a modern YA novel.)

I am still trying to slot such a triangle into my WIP, because it's necessary; the heroine feels a strong attraction towards the long lost prince and she can't have him. Sorry! He's going to be king some day and at best she will be court wizard. And it would be a downer to have her end up with nobody. So I am working on someone she can have. But it's not easy, when you realise a story isn't working sixty thousand words in. So I kind of understand the romantic triangle in YA. 

I admit I prefer romantic comedy to tragedies. Life is too short anyway without having it cut off over love. Sorry, Romeo and Juliet! Your story is too sad for me. My favourite character in that is Mercutio and what does Shakespeare do? Kills him off! I did once read a short story whose author I can't remember in which Mercutio is rescued by Rosaline, the girl Romeo was pursuing at the start of the play. She thinks Romeo is a puppy and much prefers Mercutio, who comes to woo her on his behalf. They save Romeo and Juliet just in time, marry and keep the bronzed head of Tybalt. Pure wish fulfilment on the author's part and Shakespeare would no doubt have some rude, witty things to say about it, but still....

By the way, I'm sure we all remember the comical Valentine's Day chapter in Harry Potter And The Chamber Of Secrets, where all the girls send Valentines to that fraud Lockhart and Harry is held down by force by a tough dwarf to listen to a Valentine from Ginny. (Well, he does end up marrying her many years later)

So, that's my Valentine's Day post, the best Î can do in bed early on a Saturday morning. Anyone else got some romantic favourites? 

All images in this post are public domain.

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41. The Awesome Book Of Awesomeness by Adam Frost. Ill. Dan Bramall. London:Bloomsbury 2014


So, have you ever wondered what would happen if everyone bitten turned into a vampire who then bit more people? I know I have, whenever I see those vampire movies or read a book on the subject. How long before the undead starved to death? What's the world's most preyed-upon animal? (The rabbit. And this book gives you a depressingly long list of the rabbit's enemies, apart from us.) what are the five most common dreams? One of them, being late for an exam, is mine - well, actually, it's more often having to sit an exam for which I haven't studied, but still...

This book is a smaller, cheekier version of the Guinness Book Of Records, the kind a child can take home and enjoy by themselves instead of heaving it off the shelves in the library at lunchtime. And there's more than just "world's largest gemstone" (a 536 kilo emerald displayed in Hong Kong in 2009) or "the world's loudest burp" (expelled by Paul Hunn in the UK, AUGUST 2009, a staggering 109.9 decibels, a lawn mower being only 105). There's "how hot is a chilli pepper on the Scoville scale?" And "Who pulled a 1500 kg car with his eyelids?" And more. 

Children will love this little book of trivia and Dan Bramall's delightful illustrations complement the bits of trivia perfectly.

Absolutely recommended for children of all ages, if they can pry it out of your fingers.

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42. Nearly There! In Which The Aurealis Children's Team Discuss The Short List

The time is near. We've all read all the entries. We've come up with our personal short lists. Actually, mine started as a long list of ten and I reluctantly cut it down to seven(it should have been six). I think I've read about fifty entries in the short time we had. Admittedly, some of those were short stories and picture books and one was a novella. There is no separate short fiction category in this year's children's section, which is a pity. But I think I've done quite well. Mind you, any CBCA judges reading this must be laughing teir heads off - they have to read around 475 books, because the CBCA Awards aren't separated into categories such as ours is. Older readers, younger readers, picture books - everyone reads everything. We only had to read what in the CBCAs would be Younger Readers and Picture Books. There was a survey taken by the CBCA last year in which I had the chance to mention the AAs and suggest that life might be easier for the judges if they only had to read some of the books, plus you could get people who were expert in those areas. I don't think it will change, but I suggested.

Anyway, it was interesting to see how many lists were similar. There were at least three books that were on everyone's short lists, though that doesn't necessarily mean they will all make it. For one thing, we all have different books on top. We 're still discussing and everyone is being very co-operative. "I really love this book, but that one is also great and I don't have any problem if it wins."

There were some great entries, though some were pretty dreadful. We read them all. More wonderful than awful, IMO, but I read the awful ones too. If I'm going to say "no thanks" it will be because I've read it. There was only one I simply couldn't force myself to finish but even that got a few chapters. 

Last week I took the "younger reader" books which were just too young for even Year 7 to the nearest primary school, for their library, but that one which I couldn't finish will be going to Rotary for their book sales. There has to be someone out there who will enjoy it, but I wouldn't insult the primary school library by offering them that.

When the short list is offical,y announced, I'll post it here. Meanwhile, it is an interesting and enjoyable experience.

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43. Happy Belated Birthday, Charles Dickens!

Charles Dickens in the US 1867 - public domain

I can't believe I made a fuss yesterday about Laura Ingalls Wilder, who had her own Google Doodle and whose work I haven't read, and somehow missed Charles Dickens, whose books I have read and who seems to have missed out on a Google Doodle. 

Well, Charles, you can have a belated birthday post from me! And anyone living in the northern hemisphere will look at the date above this post and say, "Huh? But it IS February 7th!" And since Mr Dickens was born in the northern hemisphere maybe I'm not too late.

Dickens was born in 1812 and died in 1870, but in that time wrote quite a lot of books, plays, newspaper articles, ran a magazine... 

He lived some of the experiences he wrote about in his books. He had to work as a child while his Dad was in debtors' prison and this and the fascinating characters he met made their way into his books. If you read his books and think, "This character is unbelievably over the top!" you will probably find he actually met them in real life. 

Charles Dickens as a child worker in a blacking factory - public domain 

Dickens has had so much influence on our culture. There's even a word, Dickensian, to describe dreadful working conditions, among other things. He is a part of modern fiction whether it 's a reworked version of A Christmas Carol(plenty of those, in books and films) or his appearance as a character in a book or TV show. Connie Willis(I think! Years since I read it)wrote a novel about a modern Scrooge-type boss, whose employees are helped by the kindly ghost of Ebenezer Scrooge himself, who also helps the boss reform, since he's been there, done that himself. Dickens appears in Sophie Masson's children's book The Understudy's Revenge, in his role as a magazine publisher. He is the subject of the Dr Who episode The Unquiet Dead, in which he is doing a one man show of A Christmas Carol, and helps the Doctor and Rose solve the problem of dead bodies  occupied by an alien race, running around the Welsh town Cardiff, where he's performing. (Incidentally, an old school friend of mine, Phil Zachariah, does that one man show, dressed as Dickens. If you ever get the chance to see it, go.)

He even appears in an episode of Bonanza, played by Jonathan Harris of Lost In Space fame, at the time when he was in the US trying to sort out copyright issues due to pirated editions of his work. He meets the Cartwrights, who ask him why it's such a big deal, and he asks them how they would feel if someone tried to take bits of their beloved ranch, where they have worked so hard.

Interesting to think that book piracy was an issue that far back - I know how you felt, Charles! I keep finding pirated downloads of MY books online and anyone who tells me to my face that it's good for promotion will get a fat lip. That has to be the author's decision, not the pirate's. There was actually a forum somewhere in which someone was having the cheek to ask how they could get a free download of Wolfborn. Someone else pointed out that as the book was in copyright this was illegal, but was ignored. Pity you had to be subscribing to comment or I would have had my say.

On the other hand, as Dickens wrote his books in serials, the legal versions took months to reach the US  and there was the story of how people met a ship from England with the question, "Does Little Nell die?" You can understand their frustration, just as fans of a certain popular TV show on this side of the world who have to wait for US producers must be frustrated. I must admit, I once had a copy of a DVD not available here that my brother burned for me, though as soon as it was available I bought it and disposed of the illegal copy. 

I'm not sure I can forgive him for Fagin, but even he was based on Ikey Solomon, who has a fascinating story of his own and is a part of Australian history(shameless self promo here, Solomon gets a mention in my book Crime Time: Australians Behaving Badly). 

I had to read Great Expectations for English at high school. It 's a wonderful novel, though I do agree with my sister Mary that "Pip is a little shit." And Aussie writer Peter Carey's novel Jack Maggs, which is Great Expectations told from the viewpoint of Magwitch, basically says the same. 
Jack arrives back in England, leaving behind his Aussie born children for a time, to meet Pip the gentleman. He moves in next door and gets a job as a servant, and Pip moves out as soon as he realises who is living next door. Jack tells his story to a sympathetic maid, who doesn't understand why he wants to have anything to do with the little shit. I won't tell you the ending, which is not Dickens's, but read it! A terrific book.

Hmm, if he hated piracy I wonder how how he would have felt about fan fiction like this? Sorry, Charles, public domain! 

From what I gather, you wouldn't want to be married to the man, but there are a lot of geniuses in history who were not nice people. Maybe the niceness was shoved aside by the genius. And there's no question in my mind that he was a star. 

I remember reading, by the way, that he once hosted another genius, Hans Christian Andersen, and was absolutely delighted to see the back of his guest when he left!

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44. Australia's Favourite Authors - Final List!

Today the final list of Australia's Favourite Writers, as voted by readers, appeared on Booktopia. Here's the link.


Go check it out, because each one on the list has a detailed blurb and a link to their website. All I'm giving you here is the list, in the order they gave it.

10. John Marsden
9. Mem Fox
8. Markus Zusak
7. Andy Griffiths
6. Monica McInerney
5. Kerry Greenwood
4. Matthew Reilly
3. Tim Winton
2. Liane Moriarty
John Flanagan

Of this list four are children's or YA novelists - the Johns, Flanagan and Marsden(though Mr Marsden has just published his first adult book), Mem Fox and Andy Griffiths - and of the rest, four have at least written something for children or teens at some stage - Kerry Greenwood, Markus Zusak, Matthew Reilly and Tim Winton. (Actually, should we add Markus Zusak to the mostly-YA list? What do you think, readers?)  Only two on the list are not, as far as I know, associated at all with books for younger readers. I can live with that.

A lot of our students will be pleased to see that Andy Griffiths is in the list. He wins year after year on the YABBA Awards, for which children vote. Such a nice man, too! I met him last time I was at the Awards and he gave me, as a gift, the new edition of his Schooling Around series, which had just come out, for my library. And signed them. The kids were thrilled.

I was very pleased to see that the top of the list was the wonderful John Flanagan, author of the delightful Ranger's Apprentice and Brotherband series. He has fans of every age, but the books are mostly  middle grade. They are funny and touching, exciting and have lovely characters. They're technically fantasy, but only technically. There's no magic in them that I can recall, except the magic of the writing. But the worldbuilding is great. I remember hearing him speak about his first book, The Ruins Of Gorlan, just before it came out, at one of the State Library's Booktalkers events. Who would have thought back then that the series would end up so successful, with the author top of the list of Australia's favourite writers?

I love genre fiction for adults, but in the end, I rarely read anything but books for young readers. They depend on good storytelling and characterisation, not on "beautiful writing". I know which I'd rather read.

Congratulations to everyone who was on the list - you deserve it! 

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45. Book Club Nerd Pack Makes Me Proud!

My Nerd Pack book clubbers' results have come through and I am not surprised, but very proud all the same. Selena, who helped me read CBCA shortlist books and interviewed author Charlie Higson for this site got into Science at Melbourne University. Thando, who interviewed Juliet Marillier for me and was never without a huge pile of reading matter, is now a student at Latrobe University, where she hopefully will not have to leave home at 6.30 am. Both these girls have Western Chances scholarships, by the way. And deservedly.

Ryan got into an Engineering course at RMIT, Dylan will be studying Science at Deakin.

 My dragon lover, Kristen, who made me a beautiful book trailer for Wolfborn, got what I know she has long dreamed of doing, an advanced baking course at William Angliss, Melbourne's top tertiary institution for hospitality studies. I know Kristen has always wanted to become a baker and she told me on the night of the Year 12 formal that William Angliss was her first choice. Now, THIS is a girl who will have to get up early for her chosen career! I'm sure she is fine with that, even if it means having to get a car and not being able to read on the way to work.

Please, guys, keep reading for pleasure! I am so proud of you all.  

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46. "Bothersome Words" And Fan Fiction

While Googling today, I came across an article about lessons you can learn from writing fan fiction. I have written about the subject before, but this lady - I have met her at a con or two, but can't recall her actual name, though I follow her on Twitter - has written such a very good post on the subject of what professional writers can learn from fan writers that I think I will let you check in out through this link. She does say that quite a lot of professional writers are doing this anyway, but in general, it's a good thing todo, and, at its best, fan fiction does it.

At its worst, of course, that's another matter. And there is quite a lot of "worst". As a lover of history, I remember cringing at some of the Robin Of Sherwood fan fiction I read. And sometimes the authors found a historical nugget and forced it into their otherwise not-very-good story. And the number of writers who did the White Goddess thing made me roll my eyes.

But still, there are a lot of positive things about how people work on fanfic, so wander across and read this article. I put in a couple of comments at the time, several months ago. :-)

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47. Eugowra Story - First Draft Finished!

After having missed out on Cranky Ladies Of History because my heroine might not have qualified as a lady(I think she did, but never mind. I'm thinking of ways to turn the story into fantasy and try selling it elsewhere) I allowed myself to be sucked into historical fiction again, because Ford Street has published two pieces of historical fiction by me and if Paul Collins wants a bushranger story, I am willing to have a go at writing one. I think I've posted about this before, but today I finished my first draft of a children's story about the robbery of the gold coach near Eugowra Rocks in NSW in 1862.

The thing is, I wrote about the Eugowra gold robbery in Crime Time: Australians Behaving Badly. I did a bit of research for that. It was one of fifty main stories and around the same number of "Did You Knows?" and each story was researched as well as I could, at least two sources, if not more.

And I still got a bit of it wrong. I can only plead that I did read more than one source and that there were around a hundred stories to look up!  If you read the book, you will see me mention a farmer and his son whose dray was used to block the road during the robbery. Well, the son was there, a young boy called George Burgess, who was given some money by the bushrangers after the robbery and spent the lot on sweets, which lasted him two weeks. But he wasn't there with his father - his father sent him along with a driver called Richard, or Dick, Bloomfield. When George was an old man, long after the event, he wrote about it. It was a short, very matter-of-fact, account, but it was definitely straight from the horse's mouth, even describing what Frank Gardiner the bushranger was wearing.

I used that, of course. This story is surprisingly well documented. There's not only George's account, but newspaper reports of the trials of the men who did the holdup, from almost right after the event onwards. So I will be going back to read the newspaper articles again, in case I missed something, before I hand in my story.

What fascinated me is that bushrangers weren't necessarily out in the bush all the time. I have no doubt that there were members of the community who wandered off to commit a crime now and then, and I bet everyone knew it. There were also those who didn't actually go out and rob, but who were well paid to pass on information to the robbers.

How to make the story interesting to a child reader? I don't know. I hope I have, but that's why I want a few days before I submit. I tried to put in a touch of humour - after all, no one actually died during this robbery, though some of the bushrangers were executed, but that was later. And the bushrangers gave each of the seven men/boys they had stopped before the robbery a pound and something to drink. Okay, the money and the grog were ill-gotten gains, but they didn't have to. And I don't know about you, but if I had just been held up and forced to wait through a crime, I'd be needing a drink too! Apparently, one of the men was a swagman, presumably one who had asked someone for a lift and was regretting it. Whether or not this was the case, he was in the wrong place at the wrong time - maybe if he was on foot, he would have been behind the coach.

The odd thing is, there were two mounted troopers who might have defended the coach, but they were a few miles ahead and didn't find out about the robbery till they reached Orange. That's what George Burgess says, anyway.

So, the story goes away for a day or two, even though I'll be back at work, so I can look at it with fresh eyes, and fingers crossed that Paul takes it, because I really don't see how I can make this one into fantasy or SF in hopes of selling it elsewhere! 

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48. Music To Write By

I don't think I'm the only one to use music to get me in the mood for writing. In fact, some novelists add to the back page a playlist of the tunes they have used while creating their works of genius.

The thing is, quite a lot of my writing has been done outside the house. This, for example, is being written on the Watergardens train, on the way to my first day at work for 2015. So it's done to the music of train whistles, powered doors closing and wheels on the rails. I wrote most of Crime Time: Australians Behaving Badly at the Presse Cafe in Elwood, because at the time I was on dialup and I had used most of my twenty hours per month of download time; the Presse has free wifi - and no background music, thank heaven!

But I do have days - and late nights - when I set up my laptop in the living room, put on the kettle and get stuck into my latest WIP. At those times, I like to get in the mood with the appropriate music or even, occasionally, movie.

If I'm writing a mediaeval fantasy, for example, I might play some early music. That can sometimes be a problem because I used to learn Renaissance dance and a sprightly galliard tune will get me out of my seat and doing galliard variations, or a pavane to the Boar's Head Carol. Actually, you really need a partner to do the pavane properly, but never mind. I do it, and it takes me away from the writing. Not for long, though, and when I return I'm energised and keen to write more.

For a battle scene I like epic film music, Miklos Rosza or Elmer Bernstein for preference, but Howard Shore's Lord Of The Rings music will do nicely.

When I was working on the edits for Wolfborn, my mediaeval werewolf novel, I put on my DVD of  Ladyhawke, that lovely film in which two lovers are cursed never to be together because he's a wolf by night and she's a hawk by day, and I'd be lying if I said it didn't influence me. The music isn't mediaeval style, but it sets the right mood.

Monday I absolutely had to finish my first draft of the bushranger story I'm submitting to Ford Street. I'd been stuck halfway, even though I knew how it was ending. I thought the appropriate score would be some Australian folk songs, but I don't have any. Well, I do have one or two CDs somewhere on my shelves that are along those lines, but not quite. Next best was Irish folk music, and maybe some Scottish. And I had CDs of The Chieftains, the Bothy Band and Silly Wizard. There are also Clannad and Loreena McKennett, but they don't have quite the same flavour, too much singing, not enough of the traditional instruments. I needed music that might have been heard by Frank Gardiner and his merry men, penny whistle, fiddle, accordion, bodhran...

It was amazing how easily I managed to finish the draft while that music was playing. It worked so well, I managed a second draft.

I wonder, now, if playing music will help me choose a title...


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49. On The Downwards Trail...Reading The Last Of The Aurealis Entries

I'm reading Carole Wilkinson's Shadow Sister, fifth in the Dragonkeeper Chronicles. Halfway through, I'm thinking, after this the only thing I have left to read will be the last few pages of a novel I've left as a treat to myself in case there were some books I didn't much care for - and there were, though I won't say what they were, of course.

In a way, it's kind of sad, though I do have other stuff that needs reading - several review books from Bloomsbury, including a Mark Walden book and the second half of Neil Gaiman's Graveyard Book graphic novel, some books by Alice Pung to help me when the lady visits my school in a few weeks to speak to the Year 9 and 10 students, slush for ASIM...

The task won't be over by any means; in a few days we will be communicating to work out a short list, then a winner of the children's section of the 2015 Aurealis Awards. And there will be some disagreement. We're all very different except in our love of books for young readers. I am a writer and teacher-librarian in a secondary school. That might suggest I'd be better in the YA section, but I've been writing for primary school kids for years and we have a lot of students who aren't quite ready for YA anyway. The Year 7 kids are not much past primary school anyway, and some a bit older  are still reading books for younger readers. And there are entries that are on the edge of YA and have probably been entered for that section anyway. Jordi is at the Centre for Youth Literature, so does both kinds. Sarah Fletcher is in publishing and, in fact, worked with me on Wolfborn. The other Sarah, Mayor Cox, is a big name in children's books and education.

And we don't agree about many of the books. Some, yes. I think there are some we all agree are truly dreadful, making it easy to leave them off the short list. A very few we all like. Others we will no doubt argue about. We all have our favourites. Yes, it will be interesting to see what happens in the next few days. We have a number of criteria - worldbuilding, characterisation, plot, spec fic elements, etc. - but I think once we have a short list I, at least, will be asking myself, which of these would my students love?  Because in the end, that should surely be what it's about. Year after year I've seen CBCA shortlists in which there are books that kids wouldn't read in a fit. And schools buy them in class sets to be studied. In all fairness, there are also books that kids have nominated on their own lists. But they don't tend to be the winners. Strange, really, because I know that the judges are passionate lovers of youth literature and some are teacher librarians themselves; I've interviewed two on this blog, Miffy Farquharson and Tehani Wesseley.

Anyway, we'll see how it goes and when there is an offical short list I will be adding it to this blog as soon as it's been announced on the AA website. Keep reading!

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50. Writerly Events Of The Last Few Days - Colleen, Laura And Harper!

Today, February 7, is the birthday of Laura Ingalls Wilder, author of the Little House On The Prairie series - happy birthday, Laura! I confess I haven't got around to reading these, but they are considered classics, so I probably should at some stage.

However, this isn't a meme post. There have been two writer-related things in the last few days, one death, one thing to celebrate.

Amazingly popular Aussie author Colleeen McCullough passed away at only 77 years of age. That isn't all that old these days and Harper Lee, whom I am going to mention next, is a lot older.

I've only read one of her novels, The First Man In Rome, set in the days of the Roman Republic and goodness, wasn't Sulla,  historical figure and one of her protagonists, nasty! She starts you off with some sympathy, with him on his thirtieth birthday, upset because he doesn't qualify for the Senate due to things beyond his control, but by the time he poisons his mistress with mushrooms, on a picnic, he's lost your sympathy, though keeping your fascination. I enjoyed it very much and respected her knowledge of the subject, though she did tend to make you wade through all her research, but not enough to keep reading the series. I did buy a talking book of Caesar's Women, which was on special and was read by Michael York, but that's it. However, I'm in a minority in not enjoying her books enough to keep reading them, and anyone who can entertain and delight so many readers that she would never have to so much as supplement her income with school visits or workshops has my respect - I dips me lid, Colleen! A giant has fallen.

The thing to celebrate is the forthcoming release of a "new" Harper Lee novel. To Set A Watchman was actually her first book, but when the editor suggested that a novel about the childhood of Scout, the adult heroine of the book, might be a good idea, the new author thought she'd better do as she was told and history was made. To Kill A Mockingbird has sold millions of copies, been turned into a film that was a classic in its own right and been the despair of schoolchildren everywhere, forced to read it for English. I have the anniversary edition and the day the ebook was released I bought that immediately, so I can carry it with me everywhere. I'm betting that editor who innocently made that suggestion was airpunching -  "Yes!" - when the book they'd suggested won awards and sold and sold and I only hope Ms Lee acknowledged this. It's a nicer story than all those we hear about publishers who rejected books which went on to sell in the millions.

Anyway, that original manuscript was lost. Nobody knew where it was, including the author, till it turned up last year attached to an original typescript of To Kill A Mockingbird. Cripes, and I think my home is a mess!

Up till a few years ago, I suspect Harper Lee would have said, "Oh, no, don't publish that piece of crap, it's embarrassing!"  But you get that old and you think, "what-the-heck, if I don't say yes now, they'll just publish it after I'm gone." So its coming out in July.

And having said all this, I don't thin I'll buy it until after it has had some decent reviews. I'm not even sure I will read it then. Mockingbird is one of my all-time favourite novels and while I don't think anything this author wrote could be bad, it just won't be the same, and I'm afraid that if I don't love it immediately it may taint my love of the other book.

I'll have to think about this.

What do you think, readers? Who's going to buy it as soon as it comes out? Or not buy it at all?

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