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Viewing Blog: The Great Raven, Most Recent at Top
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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. Phyllis Wong And The Waking Of The Wizard by Geoffrey McSkimming.Sydney: Allen and Unwin, 2015

Phyllis Wong is a magician, like her great-grandfather, Wallace Wong, a successful stage magician who disappeared in 1936. She lives with her father Harvey Wong and her fox terrier Daisy, in a building named for her ancestor, training herself as a conjuror. A basement full of Wallace's props and costumes helps, though she has a favourite shop. Her neighbours are a colourful assortment of characters, from a belly dancer to a police inspector.

In the last novel, Phyllis Wong And The Return Of The Conjuror, she discovered that Wallace Wong was still alive and well and travelling through time(or, rather, Time), in a process he calls Transiting - and that she, too, had the ability to do this. There's no TARDIS. If you have the ability you can do it, with the help of some stairs and an object from the Time you want to visit, and you can take a guest with you - in Phyllis's case, this is her friend Clement, a boy who loves over-the-top disguises and playing zombie fighter games online. If you don't have the ability, you can run up and down the stairs all you like and you'll just get tired.  That novel was about a lost play by Shakespeare and some suspiciously new but absolutely authentic First Folios being auctioned off in the present day. There was some time travel involved.

This novel involves more time travel, a Paris theatre in 1931, an evil ventriloquist and Myrddyn Emrys, aka Merlin. Wallace Wong does make an appearance but leaves the story early, hoping that his great grand-daughter will find Merlin, not only the greatest magician of all time, but the inventor of the TimePocket used by Wallace and Phyllis. As the story continues, it becomes vital that she does find Merlin or the world might just come to an end, not with a bang but with the Great Whimpering...

In some ways this series is very different from Geoffrey McSkimming's Cairo Jim Chronicles, in which an Indiana Jones-like archaeologist had adventures in various parts of the world, with his companions, a Shakespeare-quoting macaw and a telepathic camel who enjoyed reading western novels. There was even a kind of Marcus Brody in those novels. The heroes of this series are a young girl and her friend and the time is clearly now, with the Internet and mobile phones, while you never could tell when any individual story was set in Cairo Jim; a couple of them had mobile phones while in another of them a character remembers something that happened in 1910. 

But there is the same over-the-top whimsy, the same humour. Wallace Wong keeps making bizarre comparisons and, when Phyllis doesn't get them, exclaiming, "Oh, I know what I am meaning!"  And there is also a message; in Cairo Jim, the gentle message tended to be about countries that appropriated the cultural heritage of other countries, through their museums. In this one, interestingly, a message of sorts comes from the lips of the villain! He's right, but also wrong. Read it and find out what it is.

It's probably better if you have read at least one of the two earlier books, but it isn't necessary. I haven't read the first one. 

Recommended for good readers from about ten upwards. 

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27. The Silly Book Of Weird And Wacky Words by Andy Seed, Ill. Scott Garrett.London:Bloomsbury, 2015

Really, English is a crazy language that has only become crazier over the centuries. Why not share the craziness with children? 

But with the interesting words and expressions you never knew have a long history(and well-known expressions we use daily that come from Shakespeare), this book has puns, riddles, jokes and tongue-twisters, enough to keep the little one in the back seat entertained till you "get there" or absorbed at lunchtime in the school library. 

And you get sucked in. Did you know what the word "griggling" means? I didn't! (It's an early word that means "collecting small apples" and not, as you might think, a way of saying "giggling" with your mouth full). I look forward to hearing some child say,"I think I'll get my Mum some daffadowndillies for her birthday." 

I love a book which teaches kids things without their noticing they're learning!


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28. On Reviewing Books By Friends...Or Not

This morning I read a blog post at Writer Beware, about a woman who had been upset - very upset - when Amazon took down one of her reviews because the Amazon computer perceived her as having  a connection with the author whose book she was reviewing. She said that this wasn't the case, she was just a fan.

I hadn't been aware that this was an Amazon policy. That doesn't matter to me. I don't post reviews on Amazon. I have a few Kindle books in the app on my iPad; some were bought with a gift voucher I won in one of  many blog-based giveaways. The rest were downloaded during various authors' free promotional offers. I've never actually paid for an Amazon book. So I don't have much connection with them. I prefer iBooks, both for the layout and for the fact that they can be bought without having to give anyone my card details. Most of my reviews are on my own blog or on January Magazine, from books I received as review copies.

But it made me think. I can understand why this policy might be considered fair. But where I live, the writing community, like the general population, is small - very small. The children's writing community is even smaller. When I go to a publisher party or a conference, I know most of the people there. They may not all be personal friends, I don't get invited to their homes, but I will know them at least through social media, email, science fiction fandom or having known them before either of us had sold anything. George Ivanoff and Sean McMullen, for example, are folk I knew through fandom well before we sold our first stories(there are others!). I knew Paul Collins as my local second hand bookshop proprietor years before he became my publisher(though he was already publishing then). If, as someone suggested - very practically - on Writer Beware, there was a disclaimer with each review, it might be easier for me to put one on reviews of books by people I don't know than those I do!

I don't do the standard "I got this book in exchange for an honest review" statement. All my reviews are honest, including those of books I borrowed from the library or bought. If I hate a book, or even have too many concerns about it, I don't finish or review it. Life is too short.

Really, I'd rather not review books by friends, as is the policy of some people I know. Because...what if I don't like the book? I do say, "This worked for me, that didn't." Politely. Sometimes, a friend doesn't think that's quite good enough. One such friend badgered me to make my review more enthusiastic(she didn't say exactly that, but implied it). It did have a lot of good things about it, but also some things that I thought didn't work. She wanted a  five-star enthusiasm I couldn't give it. You can see the problem.

But when you know nearly everyone... What do you do?

So - do you think I should put disclaimers on my reviews? Any writers out there, what are your thoughts on this issue?

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29. The Next Ford Street Event!

In case you missed this week's terrific event at Ford Street, there's another one coming up in two weeks. I can't go due to family commitments, but if you're in Melbourne and can go, do!

The guests this time will be Deborah Abela, Nicky Johnston and the delightful Archimede Fusillo, who alone is worth the price of admission, even if you haven't yet read any of his books(I have read several). I've heard him speak to kids - wow!

Oh, and here is what Paul had to say about the last session!

Apologies that our next An Evening With . . . is so close to our last event, but Deborah Abela said she'd be in town and available so I snapped her up. Teamed up with Archie Fusillo and Nicky Johnston we're set for another blockbuster.

We had a great night on the 6th. Gary Crew spoke to us about castaways and how his research led to writing Voicing the Dead while Judith Rossell also talked about her research and how it helped to create her award-winning novel, Withering-by-Sea.

Apart from our most excellent librarians/teachers and friends, we had a stellar cast of authors and illustrators present. They included Michael Pryor, Marc McBride, Adam Wallace, Jane Tanner, Claire Saxby, Vikki Petraitis, Mackenzie Oliphant, Mark Wilson, Robert Favretto, Leigh Hobbs, Meredith Costain, George Ivanoff, Andrew Plant, Michelle Hamer, Sue Bursztynski, Sunshine Herbert, Sean McMullen and Lucy Sussex.
Book early, guys, there really isn't much space! Go to their web site to check the details. It will be under the newsletters, I think. Paul sent me a copy of the flier, but yet again it came as a file I just can't reproduce properly here. One of these days I will get him to send a Word document...

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30. Posts To Come - About The Stellas!

Bec Kavanagh, from the Stella For Schools program has written a great guest post which I will be posting as soon as she has also answered some interview questions I've just sent her.

This year, as you may know if you've been following this blog*, my lucky school had a visit from the amazing Alice Pung, compliments of the Stella For Schools program(which I heard about thanks to Ambelin Kwaymullina). By way of thanks, and because I thought you might enjoy it, I invited them to do a guest post or an interview, and just two days ago I finally received the guest post. And then ?i thought, what-the-heck, why not have both? Bec kindly agreed.

I'm reading my way through the books sent me by A&U and Bloomsbury - I need the humour of the Geoffrey McSkimming book to help me get through a chilling horror novel in the pile. I'm hoping to have at least one review up before I have to return to work, and long work days next week.

Watch this space!

*And if you're not following thus blog, why not scroll to the "join" button right now? Never miss a post again!

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31. The Impossible Knife Of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson. Melbourne:Text, 2014. A sort-of Review

For the past five years Hayley Kincain and her father, Andy, have been on the road, never staying long in one place as he struggles to escape the demons that have tortured him since his return from Iraq.
Now they are back in town where he grew up so Hayley can go to a proper school. Perhaps, for the first time, Hayley can have a normal life, put aside her own painful memories, even have a relationship with Finn, the hot guy who obviously likes her but is hiding secrets of his own.
Will being back home help Andy’s PTSD, or will his terrible memories drag him to the edge of hell, and drugs push him over?

I have just finished reading this book, which I bought at Reading Matters Conference. It took me only a few hours ; I started it yesterday and finished just now, in between taking out my teenage niece and phoning a friend who needed cheering up. Fortunately, my niece is a fellow reader; after I'd bought her a copy of the latest James Dashner adventure, we went for afternoon tea and sat with our noses in our books until it was time to catch our bus. Just as well, because while I enjoyed our outing and her company, I had a hard time putting this book down. 
I really must take my hat off to Ms Anderson, who can do both contemporary fiction for young adults and historical YA fiction, such as Chains and Forge. I don't read adult contemporary fiction, but YA is so much more readable! 
And this one was. The girl's relationship with her father really brought home how it might feel to be the child of someone suffering post traumatic stress disorder. I have read that the author had a father who was suffering it after having seen the concentration camps at the end of World War II. (My own parents were camp survivors and while they didn't do any of the things described in this novel, it definitely affected their lives.) Hayley's father, a professional soldier, has been unable to hold down a job for long and has had nightmares after tours of duty in both Iran and Afghanistan; the author inserts a number of short scenes from the father's viewpoint to make this point. He and Hayley love each other, but the PTSD has made their lives difficult. 
A word about Finn. Honestly, I wish there had been a Finn in my life when I was at school! He is not merely good looking, he's warm and funny and matches Hayley's intelligence, he respects her and, above all, is kindhearted. He's not perfect - and he has his own troubles. But he is there for her when she needs him and in return she tries to be there for him. 
Despite the tragedies, there is plenty of humour. Finn and Hayley tell each other ridiculously exaggerated stories. Hayley's best friend Gracie describes Romeo and Juliet in a way that would havr made coffee explode from my nostrils if I'd been drinking any; I'll be sharing it with the English staff at my school, who will also enjoy it. 
This book is going into my library for the students to enjoy. 

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32. An Evening At Ford Street Publishing

It's been a long time since Booktalkers ended at the Centre for Youth Literature. I've missed it. You would come to the State Library(before that there were three other venues - I went to all of them)and meet friends and make new friends, mostly teachers and librarians, as well as would-be librarians like Kevin Lee, a bank worker who loves children's books(he's now studying librarianship in line). You'd have nibbles and chat. Then you'd go into the ANZ Theatrette and listen to guest speakers, usually writers and sometimes publishers, and buy their books from the Little Bookroom stall. It happened four times a year, with a wonderful end of year event where publishers talked about what was coming out next year and you got a goodie bag of free books. 

That ended when someone decided that it was just too expensive, especially the food. So no more Booktalkers. They do still have the end of year event, though no free books and some of the "new books" promoted are old books that have been around for several years - perhaps a reprint? Anyway, it's still enjoyable and I go, but it's not the same. 

For the last few months, Ford Street Publishing has been running something very like Booktalkers at its Abbotsford office, only much smaller because the room is about the size of the average classroom. I haven't been able to go before, because I just don't want to go after dark to a place in the suburbs and wait for public transport afterwards, but my lovely publisher Paul Collins told me that this time a friend of mine who lives in my direction would be there, so I emailed him and he kindly agreed to drive me home.

And so I went and it was delightful. The speakers this month were Gary Crew, author of a lot of grim and scary books, and Judith Rossell, author of the delightful novel Withering-By-Sea, which was shortlisted in the Aurealises(yes! It was one of the books I read and loved) and is now shortlisted for the CBCA Awards(not that it will win, CBCA Awards, alas, tend to go to deadly serious books, not sure how this one got on the list!). 

Gary has written two picture books for Ford Street that I have read and reviewed here. He has a new Ford Street novel coming out, Voicing The Dead, based on the story of a boy who was adopted by a Torres Strait Islander tribe of headhunters in the 19th century and wrote a book about it when he finally got back to England. So his talk was about the theme of castaways in fiction over the centuries, only mentioning his book towards the end, in connection with what he had been saying. And very enjoyable it was too; so many other writers would have begun with their novel and just mentioned where they got the ideas. 

After intermission, filled with people drinking and nibbling, we heard Judith Rossell speak. I had spent some of the intermission buying a copy of her book and having her sign it for young Nicholas, a book club member and student at my school who simply adored it and asked when she was writing another book. Well, he asked if there was anything else of hers he could read(there isn't - it's her first novel, though she has wide experience as an illustrator), but will be delighted to hear there will be another book in the series, hopefully next year. She was surprised to hear that a boy had enjoyed it, but was pleased. Nicholas will also be pleased when I give it to him next week! 

She did talk about her book, but in a fascinating way. For those of us who think of the Victorian era as stuffy and behind the times, she pointed out the huge number of things that had been invented or first happened in the 1880s, when the novel is set(eg the typewriter, the lightbulb, the telephone, Coca Cola, words such as "dude") She also showed us a picture of a Victorian era hotel in the US which she used as the basis for her hotel in Withering-By-Sea. It burned down many years ago, but there are still photos of it, even a postcard showing it burning down!

On the way home, I shared a back seat with another friend of George's, Vicki Petraitis, whom I know vaguely through Sisters In Crime and who writes true crime, a wonderful chance to chat about that genre. 

On the whole, a very enjoyable evening and I do recommend these sessions for any YA/children's booklover in Melbourne. You can find out when they are by subscribing to the Ford Street newsletter.

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33. Review Goodies From Bloomsbury And Allen And Unwin!

And here they are! I admit I've had the Angie Sage and Neil Gaiman books the longest, but be patient and you'll hear about them all. Most of them have come in the last few days. About a week ago, I heard from Geoffrey McSkimming, author of the Cairo Jim books and, most recently, the Phyllis Wong series, one of which I have read and enjoyed. He told me that the third book was out, in case I didn't know. I offered a review, of course, and did mention that he hadn't sent me the answers to the interview questions I had asked him a while back. Those were mostly about Cairo Jim, so it was a bit late now, but he promised that this time he would answer some questions about the current series, with a bit of Cairo Jim thrown in. I don't know if I have ever mentioned it here, but it was thanks to Geoffrey that I discovered the wonderful market of the NSW School Magazine, when he was speaking at a library conference I attended.

There are two humorous books from Bloomsbury which shouldn't take me too long to read, The Silly Book Of Weird And Wacky Words and Uncle Gobb And The Dread Shed. There's a brand new book by Louis Sachar, Fuzzy Mud. I've only read two others, Holes and one on the theme of bridge(and who would have thought that bridge would be as complex a game as chess?). Both are contemporary with a touch of fantasy, a style I like, so I'm looking forward to reading this one. 

When I emailed the lady doing publicity for Allen And Unwin to ask for the Phyllis Wong book, The Waking Of The Wizard, she told me that while she was about it, she would also send me The Skin Of A Monster, a debut novel by a Sydney writer, Kathryn Barker and, when available, the latest novels by Catherine Jinks and Garth Nix. I don't know the titles of those yet, but look forward to reading them. 

Finally, Rhiannon Hart, author of the Lharmell trilogy, sent me a copy of the final Lharmell novel, Blood Queen. It took a while getting here, but finally arrived today with the two from Allen And Unwin. I don't know if you've read the first two, but I thought them very good and have reviewed them on this site in case you want to take a look. Rhiannon has left Australia and is now living in London, which is a loss for Australian YA fiction, but hopefully there will be more for us to read in future. 

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34. On Rereading Mark Twain's The Prince And The Pauper


Yesterday morning I awoke to ABC Classical FM, which had a film composer theme. The particular piece they were playing was an Erich Korngold violin concerto. Now, Korngold, like other composers best known for their film music, did other stuff - and the other stuff sneaks in themes from their movies. In this case, the tune sounded very familiar to me, because I'm a huge fan of this particular composer, and of film music in general. (When my younger brother was growing up, he and I  played a lot of film scores together and discussed them, and he saved his pennies - literally! -  to buy the music of a new movie called Star Wars. He still has the vinyl double album, which is labelled The Star Wars, though these days he prefers to play the CD) 

I spent most of yesterday trying to remember where I had heard that tune before and in the end, the "once upon a time, did it happen or didn't it?" flavour told me. It was from the 1937 version of The Prince And The Pauper, in which the title roles were played by twins and Errol Flynn played the role of Miles Hendon, the returned soldier who helps the young prince, even though he doesn't believe him. There have been other versions of the movie since then, including one with Oliver Reed as a very attractive Miles, Charlton Heston as the King and a rather-too-old teenage Mark Lester as the boys, and the Disney version with the dashing Guy Williams as Miles and Aussie actor Sean Scully as the boys. There has even been, though I haven't seen it yet(the joys of YouTube will fix that), a TV serial, with some accurate early music, judging by the bits I heard on YouTube. But that score for the 1937 version has to be the best. 

For one thing, it inspired me to go and download the book from Project Gutenberg, since I couldn't find my paperback copy. And I'm rereading it and loving it all over again. While the idea is unlikely, all the author asks us to believe, in the first chapter, is that it could have happened. And he takes the trouble to make it possible for Tom Canty, the pauper, to be accepted as the prince, if one gone insane. He can read and write and knows some Latin, because there's a priest living in his building, one of those thrown out during the dissolution of the monasteries. Father Andrew has taught him. He's not even dirty because he has discovered he quite likes washing.  And he has been playing prince in his mind and with his friends for a long time, so has had some practice. 

I suspect if Mark Twain was alive today he would be considered something of a lefty. Reading novels like this one, Connecticut Yankee and Huckleberry Finn makes me think that he had a thing about the class system and hated slavery. He doesn't just work it into the storyline, he stops and argues about it during each novel. Two of these three novels are written in first person, but even this one, which isn't, tells you what the author thinks. 

I love the gentle humour in all of them, though this one is the gentlest of the three - dreadful things happen in the other two, REALLY dreadful things which I won't go into here. Read them. 

And read this one. It has inspired quite a lot of other stories, check out the cultural references in Wikipedia to start with. I personally think there's a touch of this theme in The Prisoner Of Zenda, though the hero is not a pauper, and that has its own inspirations, such as the movie Dave, in which the Rudolf Rassendyl character has to pose as the US President, who has collapsed suddenly. 

But read the Mark Twain book. Read it. I have seen someone on Goodreads give it a one star rating because they don't like that "Shakespeare language". But that's only the dialogue,the rest is not ye olde English, and even so, it's easy enough reading. I would say any child who reads well and enjoys historical adventure could handle it. I know I did. 

So read it and play some Korngold music while you read!

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35. Just Borrowed From The Library...

These days I'm only borrowing occasionally, when I can actually get to the local library, but my local library is very good. It has an entire bay of speculative fiction. 

I remember when the new head honcho at the library merged everything together, all the SF, romance, mystery just being shoved in with the non-genre stuff, despite all the genre fans using the library. My mother loves crime fiction and when there was a crime section she used to browse her way through and choose her borrowings that way. When they shoved the mysteries in with the literary fiction, she stopped choosing her own books and made me do all the borrowing for her, which I'm doing till this day. Fortunately, the books do still have labels on them to let you know if they're mysteries, romance, etc., or I'd have to look it all up in the catalogue. I'm a librarian myself, but I have no patience to do that unless there's something specific I want. The place is too big to look it all up in the catalogue under "mystery", then write it down and hunt for individual books by author all over the place. 

I asked the staff, who said they had tried to explain to the new head librarian that their library users liked having separate sections, but she wouldn't listen. So they carefully sneaked genre books on to the "new books" display shelves, even if they weren't new. They didn't say that, but it was obvious. They suggested I send a letter to the head honcho, which I did - and regretted it... She phoned me at work and earbashed me for forty-five minutes or more about why she was right and I was wrong! I finally escaped from her; that was forty-five minutes of wasted work time I never got back. 

Anyway, these days, while you still don't get separate crime or romance sections, there is a bay just for spec fic again! I guess the spec fic fans must have made the most noise. Really, I do like to find new writers, not just the old favourites. I spotted some anthologies of Nebula winners, which I noted down for my next visit. There was a cute Connie Willis story about political correctness gone haywire in the school library, which I must get back to. 

But tonight, I have found a new - to me, anyway - book in Tanya Huff's series featuring Henry Fitzroy! Yay! I've only read a couple of the early books, but I know what they're about. In modern Canada, a woman detective who had to leave the police force because of her night blindness has found a partner who can do night things very well, but needs someone to do things for him in the daytime, being a vampire who's been around for a few hundred years. He is Henry VIII's son, who died in his teens(and yes, he was a real person, in case you haven't heard of him, who may have died of TB)and became a vampire from choice, after meeting a sweet young thing who had been around since the 1300s and only turned him very reluctantly, on his insistence. These days he is making a living as a novelist writing historical romance. He doesn't harm anyone - when he needs blood, he romances a woman or two and sips just a little blood from them in the middle of fabulous lovemaking! They never notice. 

I know the books are not everyone's cup of tea, but I thoroughly enjoy them. I also like her Confederation series of space operas/military SF. There just aren't enough these days, with Lois McMaster Bujold mostly turning to fantasy(but not entirely!), ditto Elizabeth Moon. So when I find well-written space opera I grab it. Unfortunately, none of the Confederation series are in the library, so I may have to buy the ebooks. 

So, that's my library borrowing for this week! What's yours?

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36. The Scarlet Rider by Lucy Sussex. Ticonderoga Pulications, 2015

Mel, an unemployed young woman not long out of university, is offered a job by a small press dedicated to women writers, especially women crime writers. They need her to do some research for them. They have a wonderful Victorian mystery novel set on the goldfields and first published as a serial in a small local newspaper. The problem is that the book was published anonymously. The publishers believe the author was a woman, but can't be sure and if the novel wasn't written by a woman, they can't publish it. It's up to Mel to find out, using the public library, old police files and her aunt's expertise in history and genealogy. While following the trail of the mysterious novelist, Mel must handle a lot of personal and family problems, not to mention some strange dreams and the uncomfortable feeling that she's being haunted, perhaps even possessed...

I read this book when it was first published by Tor, back in the 1990s. The original edition didn't do all that well, I believe, for reasons unconnected with its quality. Not in the US, anyway, though it received a Ditmar Award here. Apparently, it was hard to place on bookshop shelves, due to being cross-genre - fantasy, history and mystery.

There's a definite feel of reality about the research, not surprising with the author's academic background. It's slightly dated, of course, because while there is still plenty of research done by reading primary - physical - documents, there is also a lot you can do online, not available at the time when the novel was written. Also, Mel would have been spared a number of troubles if mobile phones had been as common in the 1990s as they are now.

 But this is not a story that can be updated much; it would lose a lot of the suspense and drama if Mel could simply Google something or pull out her mobile phone to make an emergency call instead of having to find a phone booth and the right change. It makes me think of Josephine Tey's Daughter Of Time, published back in the 50s, when the hero solves a mystery from his hospital bed, with some help from a researcher - in the 21st century, Inspector Grant would probably be carrying on with his paperwork with a borrowed laptop or iPad, but could also Google information about Richard III -  if he even bothered to do something not work related. 

It's great to see this wonderful novel back in print, and well done to Ticonderoga for not only publishing it, but giving it a much better cover than the Tor original. I can only hope that there will be an ebook edition at some stage, making it available around the world, but meanwhile, you can buy it from the publisher, Ticonderoga Publications, here or, if you're in Australia, ask your local bookshop to order it.

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37. Continuum 11 - The GoH Speech

In case you were not at Continuum or just missed it, here's R.J Anderson's GoH speech, which I, alas, missed! But I've now read the transcript on RJ's site and it was as wonderful as people have told me. Don't hang around here, go read it NOW and then buy one of her books - I'm currently reading Ultraviolet - which she mentions in the speech - in ebook and finding the premise fascinating. Synaesthesia as a spec fic element - Imagine that! (I did once have an idea for a short story with synaesthetia as an element, but never wrote it and it wasn't like this one)


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38. What I'm Rereading Right Now!


Yesterday I got a craving for some alternative universe Richard III fiction. I'd just finished reading my first Philippa Gregory novel, which I bought on iBooks when it was going cheap. I admit I enjoyed it and the author had the sense to end it before her heroine, Jacquetta of Luxembourg, mother of the Woodville tribe, started losing her husband and children. I've only ever read Rosemary Hawley Jarman tales with Jacquetta shown as a hag and a witch, an elderly woman instead of the middle-aged matron who had only recently had her last child, so it was an interesting change. Mind you, Gregory's heroine does have the Sight and has to keep refusing to do magic for people, having seen what happened to the herbalist who taught her the trade. And in the last scene, as Edward and her daughter are approaching the house, she is cheerfully grabbing a bottle of love potion out of storage... I'm not sure I'll read any more of her books, but I liked this one.

So. The craving. In past years I was reading one Richard III novel after another - Jarman, Sharon Penman and others - and the trouble with reading historical fiction about real people is that you know how it's going to end. It's particularly hard with Penman's novel because you keep saying, "No, Richard, you idiot! Don't pardon the bastard! He'll come back and bite you!" and of course, he does pardon the baddie... So it was a joy to read John M Ford's alternative universe novel, The Dragon Waiting, in which the world is just that bit different - nearly everyone is a pagan, due to something that happened hundreds of years ago, the Byzantine Empire is still around and running part of France and magic is real, so things might conceivably turn out differently, for England and for Richard.... And no, I'm not going to tell you how it ends. Read it.

I hauled out an old, battered copy I rescued from my dying library when a new government closed down my old school, and started rereading and found that I had forgotten enough to be able to enjoy it all over again. I might do a proper review when I've finished.

Meanwhile, I'm having a ball!

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39. The Warlock's Child Part 2: An Interview With Sean McMullen

The Warlock's Child Part 2: An Interview With Sean McMullen

And here is Part 2 of the interview with the authors of The Warlock's Child! This time, I'd like to welcome Sean McMullen to The Great Raven. I have known Sean since before we both made our first sales - and here he is, writing bestselling books! We were both members of a writers' group, then Sean persuaded me to join the SCA and learn how to fight properly so that I'd write better fight scenes. Pay attention to his answers below, because Sean does his research - thoroughly! 

GR: What gave you the idea for The Warlock's Child? 

SM: This is Paul’s question, mostly. Paul wrote the original story, Deathlight, for a YA anthology years ago. Deathlight more or less covered the same ground as Books I and 2 of The Warlock’s Child. When he started expanding the story into a novel he called me in as a collaborator. My main ideas were adding the dragons, and making Dantar’s sister Velza a major character.

GR: How did you work on it as a team? For example, did you plot it all out in advance and decide who did what, or did you work like the authors of Logan's Run, who had one person write while the other paced up and down waiting for his turn?

SM: Paul wrote an outline draft, then I expanded on some areas and added new bits of detail and story. I suppose that means we followed the Logan’s Run model, because we took it in turns to work on whatever was currently in the works.

GR: When I read a book with two names on the cover I wonder who wrote what. Can you tell us - unless it's a secret?

SM: It’s very complicated and tangled. This is largely because Paul had written about 35,000 words centred on Dantar when I invited me in, but when I expanded the series I enlarged the role of his sister, Velza, as well as adding the dragons as a vital part of the story arc. This meant that a lot of my extra text got interspersed into Paul’s text, while some of his text had to be changed because there were now dragons and an older sister on the scene for the plot to take into account. Don’t try to disentangle our contributions to the text, it’s padded cell territory.

GR: The characters are in their teens, but it seems to be aimed at younger readers - why is this? 

SM: Younger readers like to see what they are in for when they get a bit older, so they look for older characters to identify with and emulate. Usually they will look for characters about four or five years older than themselves, but I have had twelve-year-olds turn up at my signings with an armload of Greatwinter or Moonworlds novels – which are definitely adult books. I honestly can’t remember ever meeting a child who preferred younger characters in fiction.

GR: Though it's set in your own world, given the particular technology on the ships, for example, which historical era did you imagine when you wrote it? And who did the research?

SM: Roughly speaking, early Middle Ages. Ships with catapults and rams were in use for about fifteen hundred years by then, and flame throwers had been around for a few of centuries too. The research  … well, I did my PhD in this area, I have spent time as a sailor on other people’s yachts, and because I’m descended from a Bounty mutineer I have read a lot about life on sailing ships. All this was a good reason to set a lot of the series aboard ships – I did not need to do much research.

GR: It can't be much fun to be the child of the villain. It's also an unusual situation, unless your name is Luke or Leia Skywalker. What made you think this might work?

SM: This is one of the many lessons for kids that we built into the series. You can’t choose your parents, but you don’t have to be like them. How many kids are out there whose parents are doing time, or have done time? Quite a few, I should imagine. How many kids just think their parents act reproachfully over some things? Quite a few more, probably. Kids need to be reassured that they are allowed to go their own way, and that they are not destined to grow up to be just like mum or dad. That said, Darth Vader does wear a great outfit, you have to admit it.

GR: This series reads like a novel broken up into parts - is this the case? If so, will you consider, at some stage, publishing it as one book?

SM: That structure was deliberate. The series was consciously written to be accessible to reluctant readers, yet exciting enough to hold the attention of accomplished readers. Following on from that, a 100,000 word book is going to look a bit daunting to an eleven year old reluctant reader, so Paul thought that six novelettes of around 17,000 words would be a better way to present the story. Individually the books look really manageable, and when you reach the end – Oh no, something exciting happens in the next book, so you’d better get it and keep reading. On the other hand, if some huge publisher comes along with a proposal to bundle it into one novel, I think that would also work really well for the more confident readers.

GR: Have you had much response to this series from children so far?

SM: The first book came out less than three months ago, but already the responses we have heard from kids in signings and seen in reviews have been splendid. Generally they think it’s a fast, exciting read and they love the characters. Nobody has said that it’s difficult to read, which is exactly what we were aiming at. I don’t know if you rate sales as a response from children, but the books have been selling well above expectation, and even gone into multiple print runs. Ford Street Publishing is also running a writing and illustrating competition based on The Warlock’s Child, and readers have been very excited about that. The deadline is 1st August. If anyone who is fifteen or younger wants to enter, details are available from the Ford Street website.

GR: A general question for both of you. You have both been known for writing for adults and have turned very successfully to writing for children and teens. How did you decide to make this change - and how has it worked out for you?

SM: Terry Pratchett gets the blame for me. I read Only You Can Save Mankind in 1993, and I found it incredibly engaging for a book that was clearly written for older children and teenagers. I empathised with the characters and really liked the philosophy behind the book, so I did what every author does when faced with something seriously impressive: I started experimenting with my own YA fiction. The young readers certainly like what I write, and I thoroughly enjoy writing for children and teenagers. They are at a very exciting time of life, so there is infinite scope to tell exciting stories.

GR: If The Warlock's Child ever becomes a movie, no limits (you can have a time machine to collect young actors from the past if you wish), whom would each of you cast in the lead roles?  

SM: I think Edward Furlong as he played John Connor in Terminator 2 (1991) would be pretty close to Dantar. Dantar has to be resourceful, brave and funny, while also being convincing as an older child who has a lot to learn. I think Furlong did a great job with all that as John Connor. An actor for Velza is a lot harder. She has to be seventeen, dynamic, brave and assertive, yet a little vulnerable and uncertain of herself too. Caitlin Clarke as Valerian in Dragonslayer (1981) played a girl of about that age pretending to be a boy, and she ticked all the right boxes to play Velza. Maisie Williams and Dakota Fanning could certainly handle the role too. I know you did not ask for adults, but I’d also nominate Mark Strong as Captain Parvian, Charles Dance as Calbaras and Benedict Cumberbach as King Lavarran. 

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40. The Warlock's Child: An Interview with Paul Collins

A few days ago, I sent the following interview questions to Paul Collins and Sean McMullen, authors of the Warlock's Child series. I haven't heard from Sean yet, so his answers to the questions will be published separately, as Part 2. Interesting to hear from Paul that the dragons were Sean's idea! And - goodness, that there was a school where the books outpolled the amazing Andy Griffiths in the YABBAs! Read, enjoy, and if you have any questions of your own, write them underneath and I will pass them to the authors to answer on this web site.

And don't forget to get your entries done for the Ford Street competition! 

GR:  What gave you the idea for The Warlock's Child? 

Paul: Many years ago Pearson published a couple of anthologies called Picture This. They sent me two photos and asked me to write a story around the pictures. One was of footprints going across wet sand. And so I pictured a fantasy world set on an island. The island gets invaded, and on it went. The story was complete, but I knew it had many avenues to explore. And so I wrote a novel from it.

GR: How did you work on it as a team? For example, did you plot it all out in advance and decide who did what, or did you work like the authors of Logan's Run, who had one person write while the other paced up and down waiting for his turn?

Paul: Basically, I wrote the first draft. I then thought itd be great to publish as a series rather than a single novel. Problem was that I didnt have time. So I approached Sean McMullen and he came up with sub-plots  in fact, the dragons werent in my first draft. Sean created that entire thread, which became the dominant part of the series.

GR: When I read a book with two names on the cover I wonder who wrote what. Can you tell us - unless it's a secret?

Paul: Hard to tell, Sue. I think Sean wound up writing more words than me, because the dragon scenes became dominant. You could say I wrote the initial plot and what I think was a passable book, but Sean took it to a new level.

GR: The characters are in their teens, but it seems to be aimed at younger readers - why is this?

Paul: Kids always read up, not down. So if its pitched at 11-year-olds, then the characters have to be 12+. As an aside, the original novel was called Broken Magic. But before we could get the series out another author took that title!

GR:Though it's set in your own own world, given the particular technology on the ships, for example, which historical era did you imagine when you wrote it? And who did the research?

Paul: I didnt actually pitch it in any era  most fantasy from what I can see is medieval. Sometimes authors make certain distinctions. For example, in The Quentaris Chronicles Michael Pryor and I decided we werent going to have gunpowder, so no cannon, muskets, etc. The Warlocks Child was not so strict.

 GR: It can't be much fun to be the child of the villain. It's also an unusual situation, unless your name is Luke or Leia Skywalker. What made you think this might work?

Paul: A kid isnt the only evil one involved. But on this subject, I think the scariest movies are where kids are the evil ones. Adults we expect to be evil. Kids we dont.

 GR: This series reads like a novel broken up into parts - is this the case? If so, will you consider, at some stage, publishing it as one book?

Paul: As Ive mentioned, it was originally a novel. Sean dismantled it into six parts. And yes, we have a version that could sell as a single book. Wed like to see if we could get this published in the US.

 GR:  Have you had much response to this series from children so far?

Paul: Weve had a huge response so far. Sales-wise through the shops has been good  in fact The Burning Sea has gone into two reprints, the sequel, Dragonfall Mountain, one reprint. Not too bad considering they only came out a couple of months ago. I believe The Burning Sea out-polled Andy Griffiths latest book in the Yabbas at Tucker Road Bentleigh Primary School. Several book clubs have already bought the first two books.

GR: A general question for both of you. You have both been known for writing for adults and have turned very successfully to writing for children and teens. How did you decide to make this change - and how has it worked out for you?

Paul: I spent many years writing adult (mostly SF&F) short stories, but knew that I could never make a living from it. In the early 80s I had two YA books contracted by an educational publisher called Parteach. Unfortunately they disappeared leaving me with two contracts but nothing else. At that time it was the closest Id come to getting an actual novel published. So I figured I should persist writing for kids. The Wizards Torment was one of those manuscripts, and HarperCollins published it in 1995. It took another few years to find a publisher for the other book Parteach had contracted, and that was The Earthborn, that TOR published in 2003. The latter became a trilogy. In between those two books I had quite a few others published. So by then my reputation was that of a writer for children. Ive dabbled in the adult sphere a few times, notably with two collections and the horror novel The Beckoning (Damnation Books).

GR: The Warlock's Child ever becomes a movie, no limits (you can have a time machine to collect young actors from the past if you wish), whom would each of you cast in the lead roles? 

Paul: Age appropriate, I see them as . . .
Calbaras: Christopher Lee
DantarElijah Wood
Velza: Angelina Jolie
Marko: Michael Caine
Arrissa: Wynona Ryder 
Avantar: Sean Bean 
Merikus (voice): Mel Brooks.

The mind boggles at the image of these actors in the roles. Thank you, Paul. Looking forward to hearing from Sean.

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41. Ford Street Competition For Kids!

I received the below information from my lovely publisher, Paul Collins of Ford Street Publishing. It's a fan fiction/art competition for the under 15s and should be well worth entering. Unfortunately, I received this as a Word document, so couldn't reproduce the pictures of the prizes. Paul says he will send me the JPEG versions, and meanwhile here are the details. You'll have to trust me, the prizes look gorgeous! Pity I'm too old to enter.

The Warlock's Child

To celebrate the first three books of The Warlock’s Child being released, Ford Street Publishing is running a competition for readers fifteen years and younger.

ARTWORK: The best colour illustration of a dragon from any of the first three books in the series (The Burning Sea, Dragonfall Mountain and The Iron Claw).

STORY: The best story of 500 words or less featuring any two characters from the first three books in the series.

Judges will include Marc McBride (cover illustrator for The Warlock’s Child and Deltora Quest) for ARTWORK, and authors Paul Collins and Sean McMullen for STORY.

PRIZES (in both categories):
First Prize: a leather-bound dragon notebook (just the thing to carry on quests), an autographed set of all six books of The Warlock’s Child, and publication of the winning artwork and story in ‘OzKidsinPrint’.
This entry will include the art and story in the magazine’s own story and art competitions.
See www.ozkidsinprint.com.au. (*)
Second Prize: A Celtic dragon backpack
Third Prize: a dragon T-shirt

DEADLINE: Entries must be submitted (that is postmarked or emailed) by the 28th of July, 2015.
Submissions may be electronic or postal, but submissions arriving after 1st August 2015 cannot be considered.
Email: ue485@hotkey.net.au
Postal: Ford Street Publishing
162 Hoddle Street
Victoria 3067
Link: http://fordstreetpublishing.com/ford/index.php/about-ford-street/latest-news/295-warlock-s-child-competition
RESULTS: Winners will be announced on the Ford Street Publishing website at
www.fordstreetpublishing.com on the 10th of August, 2015.

RULES.    .  .

Only one entry per person in either category
You must be fifteen years old or younger on the date of submission.
The judges’ decision is final and no correspondence will be entered into.
Remember to include your age, email address and postal address with your submission!
(*) The publisher reserves the right to publish or not publish the winning entries, regardless of the decision of the judges

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42. An Interview With George Ivanoff: The Gamers Trilogy

A confession here. I've known fellow Ford Street writer George Ivanoff for many years. We met in Star Trek fandom. George has gone on to be able to make a living from his writing, unlike most Australian writers. Now that he has made it to the YABBA shortlist, I thought it more than time to celebrate some of his work, and let you, dear readers, know what great stuff us coming out from Ford Street Publishing. The books mentioned are all available online, including ebooks from the Baen web site.

Announcement of the launch of the final Gamers book

Your Gamers trilogy began as a short story in Ford Street's Trust Me! anthology. It was on the theme  "where do computer game characters go for their holidays?" How did you come up with this idea? And did it ever occur to you at the time that it might make the basis for a novel?

It all started with a documentary on the ABC. I was channel surfing and came across a doco about computer gamers gathering together in a massive warehouse to play games. What struck me about the interviews was that so many of the gamers talked about playing exciting games full of death, destruction and adventures, but then spoke about how dull and boring their lives were. It made me think about what sort of games would be played by computer game characters whose lives were filled with death, destruction and adventures.

At the time it was just a short story. I never considered expanding the idea into a novel until fellow-author Meredith Costain suggested it. 

2. When you did begin work on the trilogy, how did you plan it out? Did you know right at the beginning how it would end? 

When I started on Gamers Quest, I assumed it would be a stand-alone novel. So I just planned the one story. Of course, I knew what the consequences of that story would be. So when I was asked to write a sequel, it was just a matter of structuring a story around those consequences.

Writing Gamers Challenge was a bit different in that I was hoping I’d get to write a third book. It just seemed logical in my mind that the story would now be a trilogy. In the first book the two main characters, Tark and Zyra, don’t realise that they’re characters inside a computer game. So it’s a journey of discovery for them. In the second book, they know they’re in a game and they want out. It seemed only natural to me, that there should be a third book in which they did get out.

So while writing Gamers’ Challenge, I was planning for a third book and seeding things.

When I eventually got the go ahead for Gamers’ Rebellion, I was all ready to go.

3. Tell us a bit about your main characters, Tark and Zyra. How did you create them? Were they perhaps inspired by any other characters - or anyone you might know in real life? 

They weren’t inspired by anyone in particular. In the short story, they were intended to be clichés. What I did work at in the novels was progressing them from being stereotypical programmed games characters, to real teenagers. In the end, I wanted then to be typical teenagers in an atypical situation.

4. Tark and Zyra speak in a rather strange manner (we eventually find out why). What did you have in mind when you were devising their speech pattern? 

Initially in the short story, their speech patterns were meant to simply designate them as lower-class game characters. I was trying to play with clichés. In the novels I went on to develop this further… and the way they spoke became an important part of them overcoming their programming and becoming real.

5. Did you play any computer games on which, perhaps, The Game in your trilogy is based? (Or did you play some as research?)

As a teenager, my game of choice was Space Invaders (yes… I’m old). I played a few text based adventure games as well. But the game in the novels came about because I was amazed at the complexity of some modern games — too complex, I might add, for me to get my head around. I tried to take things a step further — a multi-world, virtual reality game. But right from the start, I knew it would be more than just a game, that there would be an ulterior motive behind it all. I finally got to reveal all that in the third book. 

6. When I was reading the trilogy I noticed some rather cheeky references/tributes to such things as Dr Who. What were some other tributes you paid? 

I’m kind of obsessed with pop culture and inserting pop culture references into my books. Each of the Gamers books has references to Doctor Who, because that is my biggest pop culture obsession. The other two major references in the Gamers books are Star Trek and William Gibson’s amazing cyberpunk novel Neuromancer.

7. You wrote another Gamers story for Ford Street’s second anthology, Trust Me Too!. How does this story relate to the novels?  

“Gamers’ Inferno” is a stand-alone story set inside the game. It has a completely new set of characters and is set in a game-world that doesn’t feature in the novels. I love the Gamers world that I created for the books, and this story was a chance to play in another part of it.

8. How have kids responded to these books so far? 

Response from kids has been great. They particular seem to love the villain in the first book, the Fat Man. He is an over-the-top cliché. And he was a huge amount of fun to write. While I aimed these books at myself as a 14 year old, they have been more popular with a younger audience of about 10-13, which I think is interesting.

9. I know you've done four Choose Your Own Adventure style books recently, of which one is on this year's YABBA shortlist (congratulations!) How difficult is it to write this sort of book? (Our Year 8 students had to write their own for English and it looked pretty hard to me!)

Actually, I’ve done eight You Choose books so far. Four came out last year, two earlier this year and another two are due for release in August.

These books are a lot more difficult to plan out. Rather than simply writing an outline, as I did for the Gamers novels, I plotted these out on a whiteboard. But because the planning was done in so much more detail, the actually writing was a lot simpler.

I am over the moon about the YABBA shortlisting. Unlike other judged awards, this one is voted on by kids. It is so exciting because the book has been nominated by my target audience.

10. What are you working on right now? 

I’m working on a new four-book adventure series that will be published by Random House Australia in 2016. I’m afraid I can’t tell you anything more about them, as they haven’t been announced yet. But I’m having a lot of fun researching and writing them.

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43. New On My Cyber Bookshelf

I have just finished Reading Laurie Halse Anderson's first novel Speak, which I downloaded at the Reading Matters conference the other week. I thought it very good and might consider reading it online during Banned Books Week this year, as it has been banned and challenged, for what good that did(a million sales, I believe!).

This week I downloaded Salinger's The Catcher In The Rye, after someone mentioned it on their blog. I had forgotten how good it was.

I'm reading my first Phillippa Gregory book, The Lady Of The Rivers, about Jacquetta, the mother of Elizabeth Woodville. It was going very cheap on iBooks this week, so I thought, why not? And it's interesting to read a version of her story that is told sympathetically - mostly, she only appears as the manipulative and nasty old lady. Right now, in the novel, she is fifteen and reluctantly about to witness the death of Joan of Arc, whom she had considered a friend when Joan was imprisoned at her great-aunt's castle.

Other new downloads are Robinson Crusoe(from Project Gutenberg) and Gillian Polack's new novel The Art of Effective Dreaming and Laurie Halse Anderson's Untraviolet, which looks to be an interesting read.

Back to the reading!

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44. The Glorious 25th Of May! Terry Pratchett's Night Watch

Truth! Justice! Freedom! And a hard boiled egg! (And no, I'm not going to say, "Make that two hard boiled eggs" - different universe)

Just now, I finished rereading Terry Pratchett's Night Watch. It's one of the later City Watch novels. It's one if my favourites. And it occurred to me that this is "the glorious 25th of May" as mentioned in the book,so what better day to post about it? 

In this one, Sam Vimes, Commander of the Cory Watch, is without the backup of his loyal crew, Carrot, Angua, Cheery Littlebottom, Detritus and so on, because he has been thrown into his own past. He does, mind you, have Fred Colon. Nobby Nobbs is there, but he's a child, who's carved himself a police badge from soap. Still, he's useful. The future zombie Reg Shoe is alive. There's a rebellion growing in the city against the current Patrician(Vetinari, the future Patrician, is still a student at the Assassin's Guild, though he plays a very important role in the story, as does his aunt, presumably the one mentioned in Guards!Guards!). The History Monks are around - and I had just been rereading  Thief Of Time, in which you first met Lu Tze, the old monk who exhorts you to remember Rule 1(beware of skinny old men) and follows the Way of Mrs Cosmopolite. Vimes is thrown into the past while chasing a genuinely evil murderer, and realises that if he doesn't mentor his young self and take part in things happening in thus history, he may never make it back at all to his wife, his about-to-be-born child and his friends - and the murderer is right at home in the scary old times of Ankh-Morpork.

As I said, one of my favourites and there's a delightful adaptation of Rembrandt's painting on the cover.

But I love pretty much anything of Terry Pratchett's and I love this universe because, unlike many other fantasy writers, he doesn't waste time on long lost princes and elves going on a quest. Well, there  is a long-lost king, but he's a cop first and foremost and uninterested in taking the throne, even if he admitted he knew what he was, which he doesn't. And there are elves, in the Witches novels, but they aren't Galadriel or Legolas, they're lunatics who would rather kill you than look at you. And as someone who reads her folklore I can tell you he has it a lot more right than those authors who fill their books with twinkling glamorous fairies. And yes, there are wizards, but they like their huge meals and long snoozes and have no interest in going on quests. 

What I love is that his heroes are ordinary people. They're Mums and Dads running an all night Klatchian takeaway shop or farming in the Ramtops or having a fight with the neighbours. And in Ankh-Morpork, they enjoy their unofficial street theatre, and Ankh-Morpork has long ago stopped fighting other city-states and started selling them stuff. Any barbarian invader who tries to take over finds himself leaving with cheap wine and a purple straw donkey and a lot less money than when he arrived.

I love it all! So, raise your glass of whatever and drink with me to Freedom, Truth, Justice and a Hardboiled Egg!

And to the wonderful, much-mourned Terry Pratchett.


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45. My Take On An Open Letter From GRRM

A friend sent me a certain link, thinking it might amuse me. It did, sort of.

Here it is, so you can read it too. 

It seems people have been noticing how many characters you like get killed in Game Of Thrones. Some must have been complaining about it, because his response is rather grumpy. But I did chuckle when he pointed out that, among other things, Ned Stark is an idiot who warned his enemy - and then that they had cast Sean Bean in the role, what did people expect? Because, of course, he does  tend to play roles in which he is killed off. I can think of two off the top of my head - Boromir in LOTR and a man who got on the wrong side of Henry VIII in the miniseries with Ray Winstone(I forget the character's name, but he was real, and Mr Bean got to use his Yorkshire accent). Though he also played Odysseus in Troy and Odysseus survived, didn't he, and came home to a faithful wife and a loyal son, unlike the other Greek heroes. 

Then he went on to call William Shakespeare a psycho and argue that there are piles of bodies on the stage in Shakespeare tragedies. Well, yes. Though one play he describes with gruesome relish is Titus Andronicus, which was probably Shakespeare's first play, certainly early in his career. I must admit, that's one I can't watch. I had to read it at university and haven't read it since then and I didn't go to see the movie(what were they thinking, choosing that one?). It's too awful. There's even a scene where this man is standing making a beautiful, lyrical speech about his niece when she has just been raped and mutilated! But the thing is, it wasn't the only one of its kind. It was part of a very popular genre, the revenge tragedy. I guess he and his company must have decided to cash in on the craze,

And Shakespeare, like a certain American spec fic writer complaining about him, was a writer of popular stuff that everyone went to see. He was a commercial writer. If he was alive today he would probably be writing sensationalist stuff for TV. He wouldn't be getting invited to writers' festivals to talk about the deep and meaningful symbolism in his work. The fact that he wrote stuff that makes you laugh and cry and says for you things that you can't express yourself and has something to say about everything  is beside the point. He would probably be shocked to find people running courses in his work. I had a very faint taste of that once, when I found an online review of a short story I had forgotten I'd written, reading into it all sorts of things that had never occurred to me when I wrote it. 

Shakespeare was the sort of guy you could have a beer with at the pub. And he wrote plays that are still performed, not because they're great literature(though they are)but because they still have things to say to us. 

Then Mr Martin goes on about that dreadful, violent book, the Bible. Well, I can't deny that. I have always liked the Bible for that very reason, all the sex and violence ...;-) 

I read The Game Of Thrones when it first came out. I liked it for the believable mediaeval stink and discomfort and for the fascinating weather conditions on whichever planet it is, oh, and for all the eating that goes on. Some fans wrote a wonderful cookbook, which I have at home. I have since read more, though I'm not sure I'll finish the series, not because of the violence and killing off your favourite characters, but because, IMO, it has turned into a soap opera. I'm not a fan of the soaps.  I'm also not a fan, in general, of fat fantasy series, however good they might be. Terry Pratchett was another matter. His books weren't thick and it mostly didn't matter if you hadn't read the earlier ones, though you'd probably rush off to find them anyway.

To be honest, there are other books of his that I prefer. Tuf Voyaging, the space-based story of a man and his cats and their adventures in a seed ship. Fevre Dream, the story of vampires in the Old South and a vampire who is sick of killing people and wants to find another way of getting his nutrition, is my favourite. That was about to come out when he was in Melbourne for a very small convention at a tiny hotel in St Kilda, a suburb of Melbourne - the population is small here, so even US minicons would be huge compared to our conventions. I remember him saying that he chose that setting because it was a time and place where slaves could disappear and nobody would ask questions. He was working on the TV series Beauty And The Beast at the time. And I enjoyed his work. Fortunately, the early ones are still in print, no doubt because of the success of his later ones. Read them if you can. 

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46. Reading Matters 2015

Reading Matters 2015 - Student Day and Day 1

I love the Reading Matters Conference. It has been going for a long time and I've gone to all of them. I remember the first one, organised by Agnes Nieuwenhausen. Afterwards, we all went to dinner at a Greek restaurant somewhere in Lonsdale St. I forget which one, though it's probably still there. I was sitting next to Jack Dann, whose wife was one of the speakers. It was nice hearing this American SF writer telling the American next to him how wonderful it was to live in Australia and how safe he felt. They were living in South Yarra at the time, but have since moved to Foster, a beautiful coastal town where Jack can look at the sea as he writes.

There have been ten more since then and on Thursday I was able to take some students to the Student Day. They are all great kids, who didn't disappear and stayed together. One of them not only bought several books and got them signed, but discovered a place at Melbourne Central station where people drop unwanted books and pick up anything they want. It's called the Little Library and I think the two books she picked up were ex library books. They were also books she had been wanting, in a series she is reading. I heard the murmur of envy and admiration from the other students as she showed them off.

One of my students is an autistic lad who is mostly fine, but can explode if he gets upset. This time, he socialised nicely(normally he prefers to sit by himself in class), got his book autographed by Will Kostakis(I took a photo which I can't share with you due to the legalities, but it was a nice one)and generally had a ball. Now and then he asked me a question, but he whispered it and I replied. The integration aides had assured me he would be fine as long as I gave him some attention, so I sat next to him. When Jaclyn Moriarty was talking about how she created her universe for her series "The Colours Of Madeleine" she mentioned a childhood incident in the life of Isaac Newton and I whispered to my young friend that Newton had been autistic(he was, Asperger's, I believe, and that childhood incident confirmed that for me).

I think the highlights of the day were Jaclyn Moriarty, and Sally Gardner's talk about how she was dyslexic and how Dickens wouldn't have made it as a journalist today because he had very little education and the big newspapers refuse anyone without a degree from the major universities. She has written a timeslip story in which the hero time travels to pre-Victorian London. (I have since bought that and am thoroughly enjoying it). Another highlight was the panel with Will Kostakis and Amie Kaufman, which was after lunch. As one of my students said, "They left the best till last." Well, yes and no. Sally Gardner was before lunch. But I do have to say, they need to do something about those microphones in the State Library. The voices were blurred and you had to listen really hard to be able to make out anything the speakers were saying. The panel with the two American GoHs was very hard to make out. There was a motivational speech about following your dreams by Abe Nouk, a local poet and former refugee who has lived here for about eleven years. He is self published(though, to be honest, most poets these days are. Even Steven Herrick, who was selling verse novels to big publishers, has started writing prose these days)

Yesterday, which was at the ANZ Pavilion in the Arts Centre, the microphones were fine.

Anyway, we had a good day and the kids went to get a bit of lunch to take away and bs k we went to Sunshine. Some had notes to say they could be dismissed from the station. Some I dismissed from the shops near school since they live nearby. The rest came back and went home from school. And my autistic lad said, "Thank you for giving up a day of your time in the library to take us."

Is that sweet or what?

I tweeted instead of taking notes yesterday. I bought books! They will, of course, all go into the school library when I've finished reading them. I might review some.

The GoHs were better yesterday, when I could hear them properly. I downloaded two of Laurie Halse Anderson's books and bought in print editions a couple that weren't available on iBooks. Laurie H A gave a very good GoH speech - on the Student Day she was only on a panel. It makes a lot of difference, believe me. As well as contemporary fiction with a gay slant, she writes historical fiction. She spoke of her disillusionment with Benjamin Franklin, who had been her hero until she discovered he was a slave owner all his life. (Well, so were George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, and Washington was horrible to his slaves, while Jefferson's lived better than the free peasants, but that's not the point, is it?). Anyway, I bought both her historical novels. I didn't bother with autographs, since I won't be keeping them, and some were ebooks anyway.

I met a few people I knew - Sharon, who used to work with me in the library, who now works at a Catholic girls' school down the road, and Vikki Wakefield, who said it was nice to be there just as a member of the audience instead of a speaker(nice to know, though I'd be thrilled if someone asked ME to speak at a Festival!) I ran into Ellie Marney, who writes that junior modern day Sherlock Holmes fiction, who saw my name tag and asked,"Aren't you on Twitter?" I said I was and that we were doing a panel together at Continuum next week. I'm also doing one with Amie Kaufman, but I think we've done one before. I also met Kirsty Murray, who said she wasn't going to be there today.  I told her one of my students is a big fan of hers and had acquired her latest book on Thursday - pity I couldn't get it signed for her. Oh, well.

I had a bit of egoboo in the morning when the first person I met said, "Hey, you're a writer!"

More today! I will add my photos tonight when I can download them to my computer.

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47. Reading Matters 2015 - Some Books I Bought

Three days! It was a wonderful conference but, unlike SF conventions, you don't really have the option of hanging about outside chatting with friends old and new. Well, you can, but then you miss what you're there for, and I spent $$$ on the membership. And I was cold in that room. I'm told it was just me - even Virginia Lowe, who is much older than me, was surprised when I told her. My mother and sister both suggest it means that I'm not well. So right now, I'm achey all over and have a sore throat.  Oh, well.

I ended up buying some books in print because they weren't on iBooks. In ebook, I got Laurie Halse Anderson's Chains, a piece of historical fiction about African Americans who were slaves in the North during the American Revolution. The sequel wasn't available in ebook, so that was one I bought in print. I also bought her first novel, Speak, in ebook.

I bought Erin Gough's gay YA romance, Flywheel. It sounded like fun.

Clare Wright's Stella-winning non fiction about the women at Eureka, The Forgotten Rebels Of Eureka, sounded fascinating, so I got the book of that. She is apparently working on the YA version, which is mostly abridged. If I like it, I may get that for my library, because I've found the junior version of Mao's Last Dancer has gone over well with our students. Kids do like non fiction if it's about a subject that interests them.

I must admit, her talk went rather too long for my tastes, but it may be because I was starting to feel unwell and just wanted to get out and have a hot drink.

My final ebook was Sean Williams' Jump, which is a what-if that suggests how different the world might be if we had matter transmitters like the ones in Star Trek. We do have a copy in my library, but I don't feel like lugging it home - and if I've been enjoying it, I might be able to recommend it.

One of my print books is Sally Gardner's The Door That Led To Where, a timeslip story about a boy in the here and now who travels back to London in 1830 through a door that only his mysterious key can open - but someone has left the door unlocked and people on both sides have been misusing it for their own ends. It's very entertaining and I've already finished it. I'm starting to read the latest Rbecca Lim novel, The Astrologer's Daughter, which I'm enjoying very much so far, only has anyone noticed how many books these days have titles that go "The ______'s Daughter"?  Still. I have never read one of her books I didn't like and so far, this one is no exception.

Lots of great stuff to read ahead of me!

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48. Tanith Lee Is No More!

Rats! I just read about it this morning - lucky I get the Tor newsletter or I might have gone a long time without hearing about it. 

Tanith Lee, the Queen of fantasy, has been gone since May 24 and the world is just a bit emptier for it. Two fantasy giants, however different, gone in a few months - no, it 's too much for me. Just too much.

I will post more when I can get my head around it a bit more. But I will be very disappointed if there isn't some form of tribute to her at Continuum this weekend, though with my luck it will be tonight or tomorrow night, when I won't be there.

Stand by.

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49. Tanith Lee And Me

I first discovered Tanith Lee when I was still living at home, working at my first job. The local bookshop, Sunflower, was run by a delightful couple, Brian and Noreen Ormsby. Brian was a fellow spec fic fan. One day, he pushed a book into my hands. "It's a new writer. Read this, it's great!" 

It was Tanith Lee's The Birthgrave. It turned out to be about a woman who has been lying asleep under a volcano for a long time. She doesn't know who she is, not even her own name, but she has powers, as she discovers. She is fleeing from a being known as Karrakaz, until she finds out... Well, I'll leave you to find out for yourself. I loved the way this regular heroic fantasy turned suddenly into science fiction! Would I love it today? I don't know, it has been a long time and I've rather gone off fantasy, or rather, I am very picky about what fantasy I read, much more picky than I was then, but I'm glad I gave that one a go, because I wouldn't have, today. In a day when you don't get this kind of fantasy much under 600-700 pages, it's strange to realise it was only about 300. There were sequels, but it was not at all today's Fat Fantasy Trilogy.

And so began a long and happy love affair with the works of Tanith Lee. I must have read about twenty of her adult books and some of her children's books - I didn't care for the later adult books, and discovered other writers, but some glow like gems in my memory. There were her short stories. I particularly remember the story in which a demon lord can't understand why humans don't love snakes as he does...so he creates cats, which are just snakes that have fur and can be cuddled. Can you think of a better way to describe cats? And there was the story set in India, about a couple who have gone through an arranged marriage. Neither of them is an oil painting. But when their train is stopped in the middle of nowhere, something happens that lets each of them see the other's beautiful soul - and this effect is permanent. They live happily ever after.     

And her delightful anthology of twisted fairytales, Red As Blood. Snow White as a vampire - her stepmother is trying to save her soul. Little Red Riding Hood as a werewolf... Well, read it. 

There was Sabella, which was set on an old-style Mars, the kind writers used to create in the Golden Age of SF. The heroine is a vampire who survives as a prostitute. But she's more than a vampire, as she discovers. She isn't undead, she's born that way, but again - more than she seems...

Does anyone remember Blake's 7? It was a British SF series of the 1970s/early 80s. It still has its fans, young ones as well as old, and a search on YouTube will find some fan made episodes. Tanith Lee wrote two episodes, Sarcophagus and Sand. She became something of a fangirl of Paul Darrow, the handsome actor who played antihero Avon. This led to a delicious novel called Kill The Dead, which became the one Blake's 7 female fans hunted down to read. I have a copy somewhere. The hero, an Avon-like ghost hunter, is called Parl Dro. Yeah. :-) (It's dedicated to "Valentine" - Mr Darrow's middle name)He travels with a thief and musician called Myal Lemyal, who is based on Vila, another character from Blake's 7. It's not her best book, but is great fun. 

The Silver Metal Lover is set in a world in which robots are metallic, but otherwise human in every way. They even seem to follow Asimov's Three Laws, though those are not mentioned - everyone these days uses the Three Laws and forgets, or doesn't know, where they come from. And these robots are better than humans. Humans don't like the competition. So they are recalled, including the beautiful silver man with whom the teenage heroine has fallen deeply in love... That one had me almost in tears and if it doesn't make you at least sniffle, there's something wrong with you. 

But my all time favourite of her writing is the pair of books that have been published under one cover as Drinking Sapphire Wine. This one is set in a distant future in which you can literally change your body to any shape you want. You can be a big hulking man one day and have yourself reshaped as a tiny, beautiful woman the next. If you get killed, you can be brought back, no problems. Your parents might be two men the next time you visit them. You can live a life all for fun if that's what you want. In fact, you're encouraged to do that by the machines who are running the world. The one thing you can't do until you reach a certain age is anything meaningful, like a job. Our heroine - who does occasionally become a man - has become frustrated and wants to do something meaningful with her life - but when she insists on being given a job before her time, she discovers that even those are dull and meaningless, eg pushing buttons that would push themselves if you failed to do it. She does something that finally gets her exiled - and then the story really begins.. 

This is a writer we're all going to miss very much. See, it wasn't just the storylines, which were great. It is the fact that all her books have human beings - or sort-of human beings - with human problems. She didn't write fantasy about an elf, a long lost prince, a couple of dwarves and a sorceress on a Quest. And if she had, it would have been about the people, not the Quest.

If you haven't read any of her work, go and get it(but check the publication date - the most recent are not as good).

 You won't be sorry.

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50. Continuum 11 - Home From The Con

Queen's Birthday Weekend means, for me, Continuum. I've been to every one, even been on the committee of one, though I haven't done that in some time. It's a LOT of work. I'd rather just be on a few panels, usually about YA fiction, in which I can use my knowledge of what kids are reading and why. It's over for another year, but I've joined next year's already.
Rebecca Anderson

As it happens, this year's international GoH was R.J Anderson(Rebecca), who is a YA novelist, though most of the panels she was on, she used her knowledge of this stuff as a parent rather than a writer, to talk about other people's books. I think that's nice. I missed her GoH speech, which I'm told was excellent, because I was spending a bit of time with my mother before going into town. I hope someone has recorded it.

These conventions are always good, the only problem being which panel to attend because there are four streams, all worth attending. 

Gillian Polack on the Fantastic Foods panel 

But there are also people you don't see except once a year, and you try to catch up with them if you can - well, I certainly do, usually via lunch or dinner. I couldn't do dinner this time because Saturday I had a play to attend, then dinner at a restaurant with my family afterwards(the play was North By Northwest, which I wasn't missing for anyone!). Sunday I always go to visit my mother, along with my sister. But I managed a couple of lunches and enjoyed the company. The first lunch was with my friend Anne Poore, a wonderful harpist who brings her instrument to every convention. Unfortunately, her concert was on Sunday evening, when I was with my family, but I have heard her play. At Swancon, some years ago, she did a jam session with the GoH, Charles De Lint, and his wife, Mary Ann, both of whom are musicians(they met when he was giving her mandolin lessons). It turned into an impromptu concert in the hotel foyer.

I also met some of the folk who were at last week's Reading Matters conference. One of them was Ellie Marney, the author of some YA novels about a teenage Holmes and Watson in modern Melbourne. (Watson is a girl). Of course, Ellie was on the Sherlock Holmes panel and she also did one with me. Before she left, on the Sunday, I got her to sign a copy of the third book for my book club student Kaitlyn, who read her first two in manuscript form and is a huge fan. Kaitlyn will hopefully be pleasantly surprised when I give it to her this morning. 

I saw Margo Lanagan, author of some wonderful fantasy, on the way out last night, with my friend Gillian Polack, who is a historian and a writer herself. Margo greeted me by name. I know we've met, but only briefly, a long time ago. I must be memorable; other people I've only met once, briefly, seem to know me. Some give me a hug! She did stop to chat with Gillian, who knows her better than I do, then Gillian and I went off to catch a tram. She lives in Canberra, but her family live here and on the same tramline as mine. It was great to catch up.

To my mild surprise, I won a raffle prize - I entered because it raises money for the next convention. The basket of goodies I received after the other two had chosen the ones with the real goodies, had some ginger tea which I will enjoy drinking, a con bag from Craftonomicon, a pair of very strange plastic chopsticks with tiny figures inside them, a novel, a couple of manga books and two DVDs of anime movies. I'm not really into manga, but the kids at my school are and fortunately they were both volume 1 of their respective series. So that goes in the library. One of the movies had some names I knew, so I will watch it before deciding if I'm giving it away. The tote bag will always come in handy.

I arranged some interviews and guest posts for this site before I left. We'll see how it goes.  

All in all, I had a very good time and met up with some good friends I don't see often.

Next year's GoHs have been announced, both local, but I know them, both YA folk. The two Chans, Queenie and Kylie. Queenie Chan should be good value for money. She is a manga artist whose books are hugely popular in my library.

I've only read one book by Kylie Chan, White Tiger, which I reviewed here when it came out. It was a good idea and well written, but, I felt, needed chopping by about a third. I thought at the time - and still think- that the publishers made her stick in a whole lot of stuff to make it fit into a trilogy. I suspect nobody these days tells her what to do, since she has become a big name. 

Anyway, that's for next year! 

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