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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. Just Downloaded...More Simon Schama!

The book is Rough Crossings which I was interested to read because it's on a theme I've come across in Laurie Halse Anderson's Chains and Forge, about the slaves who ran off to fight for the British during the American Revolution  because the British promised them freedom and the rebels didn't. Mind you, the characters in the Anderson books are fighting for the rebels, but she pulls no punches about the fact that they had no reason to support their masters who were wittering on about freedom and such without actually including their slaves in their ramblings.

And Simon Schama does the same. The British didn't do it for altruistic reasons, of course, but to destabilise their enemies, but at least some of the former slaves got something out of it, according to him. Those who managed to get to Nova Scotia after the war got a bit of land, though not especially good land, and some went off to Sierra Leone to form colonies, well before Liberia became an African American colony. And George Washington was not at all happy when the British didn't return the thousands of slaves who had run off.

Meanwhile, I'm reading a chapter about a man in Britain called Granville Sharp, flute-playing member of a large, delightful family of amateur musicians who did weekly concerts(there's a painting of them with one of the girls waving her lute). Sharp was the twelfth child and got the least education, so was working in a clerical job when he found a slave who'd been beaten up and left for dead in the street. He arranged medical care for the man and suddenly, this became a huge part of his life, first in looking up legal information to help the ex slave when his master found out he was alive and tried to take him back, then in other cases. I was particularly interested to learn that one of the people who helped in at least one of these cases was the mother of Joseph Banks the botanist, while her son was off discovering plants Down Under with Captain Cook.

Thing is, some of the legal precedents set here made a difference across the Atlantic - the American slaves were paying close attention.

A very enjoyable read so far! Plenty more to go.

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27. The Pearl-shell Diver: A story of adventure from the Torres Strait, byKay Crabbe.Sydney: Allen And Unwin, 2016

Sario lives with his family on a remote Torres Strait island, which he never wants to leave - but the winds of change are stirring. The year is 1898 and the pearl-shell trade is at its height. When his father is coerced to join a white trader on his pearling lugger, thirteen-year-old Sario must go to work as a swimming diver to support the family. He can earn more as a pump diver, and is excited by the idea of walking on the sea floor, but the competition is fierce, and the only captain who will take him on runs the worst outfit in the fleet. With the constant danger of shark attack and the storm of the century approaching, can Sario provide for his family and realise his dream? 

There are quite a few novels out there about the history, trials and tribulations of indigenous Australians, some by indigenous Australian, but not a lot about the Torres Strait Islanders. I found this intriguing; they have quite a history of their own. With a lot of Islanders as students at my school, I found it especially interesting.

In 1898, around Thursday Island, where Sario must go when his mother is sick with pleurisy and needs white man medicine, there are not only Islanders, but indigenous Australians, Filipinos, Chinese, Malays and Japanese, some of them on the pearl-shell lugger where he gets a job. Australia is about two years from Federation - and the White Australia Policy. Sario's boss is not too bad, but in the end, he is hiring his young crew of various ethnicities because they're cheap and white boys wouldn't want the dangerous diving jobs. And they are dangerous, even Sario's much-wished-for pump-diving, with risks of the bends, sharks, possible tangling of the air pumps. For the crew in general there are also sharks and storms and the risks of going deaf as Sario's sister Leilani has, and having various illnesses as his mother has.

But right now, it's the only way for Sario to make a living and help his mother.

The novel is short, only 184 pages, but the characters are as well drawn as they could have been in a much longer book. Sario's new friends are people the reader comes to know and care about in the short time they appear. 

As history, it works well, and teaches us about a place and people we might not have known about before.

The only gripe I have is that the story takes a while to build up, but even there, the character and his background are also building up and by the time he gets to Thursday Island, we feel we understand him.

Suitable for late primary/early secondary students, medium level readers.

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28. On This Day Down Under - April 28: Port Arthur Massacre

I remember that day - and the days following. I was working at a school in Melbourne's eastern suburbs. Another school in the area had a student who had died in the massacre. The other students put flowers next to her locker.

I was about to close the library for my break when two girls asked if they could come in. When I asked why now, one explained, "A friend of ours died in the massacre. We want to read the papers."

I handed them the newspaper to read wherever they wished.

It was horrifying. We don't have anything in our constitution that says we need a militia so we're entitled to bear arms. We don't have militias here and never did, as far as I know. Thank goodness.  This sort of thing happened rarely here, even then. But back then, there were certain semi automatic guns that were legal.

On April 28, twenty years ago, a nut case called Martin Bryant walked into the cafe of a popular tourist spot in Port Arthur, Tasmania, and simply shot everyone in sight. Then he repeated it in the gift shop and the car park. Then he took a car and a hostage and drove off to a house where he held off police and hostage negotiators all night before setting the house on fire and surrendering. The house's owners and the hostage were found dead.

I researched the story in more detail for my book, Crime Time: Australians behaving badly, in which it had a chapter. There are, as usual in this sort of thing, conspiracy theories and claims that because  he has a very low IQ, he couldn't have known what he was doing. However, the evidence was that he had visited the place several days beforehand to check it out, and had carefully measured the sports bag in which he carried his gun. It was decided that he was fit to stand trial, although since then, some suicide attempts in prison, he has been moved to a mental illness unit.

Afterwards, the PM, John Howard, did what, in my opinion, was the only honourable achievement of his career as PM. I'm no fan, believe me, but I was cheering when he worked at making the gun laws much stricter and held a massive gun buyback, supported by the Labor opposition.

Oh, there was a fuss from gun fans, including the husband of a friend of mine, who used to shoot at cats that entered their back yard! (She wrote about it in her church newsletter as a breach of his rights...)There were people who said it would ruin our Olympic shooting chances. There was the usual "but criminals will still get them and we won't be able to defend ourselves!" You can imagine it. I mean, who around here keeps a loaded gun to use on attacking criminals anyway? Even then? We've never had much of a gun culture here. Whatever our problems, we don't have incidents such as the woman with a loaded gun in her shopping trolley being shot by her own toddler! (And who did she imagine was going to attack her in the supermarket anyway?) Those who need them, such as farmers, can still use them - and they know how to use them. Gun clubs are still around. Unfortunately, so are hobby duck shooters. And it wasn't all guns that were banned, only certain types.

We have certainly had a few nasty incidents since then, but not many. There have been none of the regular tragedies to be found elsewhere.

 And let's face it, most of the criminals still using guns use them on each other. I know; I had a lot of reading to do for Crime Time

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29. A Few Shakespeare Productions I've Seen Over The Years

Shakespeare's Characters by unknown 19th c artist. Public Domain

At one time, the Melbourne Theatre Company was doing a Shakespeare at least once a year, and then the Bell Shakespeare company came along and the visiting companies from overseas. There are some plays I've never seen - they tend to stick to a few popular ones. I'm not, at this point, counting the BBC ones, though they were generally very good. I didn't see them all anyway, and wished I hadn't seen Titus Andronicus. I know that the BBC were committed to producing the lot, but what excuse was there for a movie of it a few years ago? Ugh! Murder, rape, cannibalism...okay, all the tragedies had murder of one kind or another and the rape was offstage but really! Then the poor girl has her hands and tongue cut off to keep her from blabbing. I think that one was meant to cash in on the rage for gruesome tragedies at the time and Shakespeare would have been young and not an artiste, just a working writer and actor making a living. 

The first Shakespeare play I remember seeing was on a school excursion to the visiting RSC, when we went to see The Winter's Tale. Hermione and Perdita were played as a dual role by Judi Dench, who was not yet a plump little middle aged lady; she would have been a bit old for Perdita, but just right for Hermione. I hadn't read the play then, so saw it as something new and fresh.

The next year I went to see King Lear with some schoolmates on a Friday afternoon; we were studying it for English Literature and had already seen it as a film with Paul Scofield. I vaguely recall that one as a thing set in some barbarian tribe with lots of snow. The MTC production, the first of a number of times I've seen it, had a set that looked like a spaceship with everyone in silver spacesuit-type costumes. I haven't a clue why. 

Lear is a play that needs an actor who has grown into the age and dignity for the role. There was a beautiful telemovie production with Laurence Olivier - I think John Hurt was the Fool... Okay, no films, or I'll be here forever... 

But I'm glad the wonderful Frank Gallacher, an Australian local actor, lived long enough to play it. His production was done in modern dress and seemed to be set on a farm. He comes back from the hunt in a ute, with his mates, being very loud and vulgar. It was wonderful performance!

The Barrie Kosky production, by the Bell company, was very strange, but anything he directs is. There were human "hunting dogs" and a red and white costume; a friend of mine who was there to review it explained to me that Lear was a Santa Claus figure, there to reward good daughters with gifts... I do hope not, but it wouldn't surprise me in the case of this director.  I didn't enjoy it, though there is very little you can do to wreck Shakespeare. The words and stories shine through. 

Fortunately, the last time I saw it, it was a very different matter. The amazing Ian Mckellen was Lear and Sylvester McCoy his Fool. It was the first time I ever really got what Cordelia was thinking. Mostly I think, "Oh, come on, Cordelia, give your adoring Daddy a hug and spare everyone a lot of headaches! Would it kill you to hug him?" But this Cordelia - I don't know, but it worked. She gave an awkward laugh and had a hard time expressing her thoughts... It worked. And Sylvester McCoy was captured by the Duke of Cornwall's men and hanged on stage, where he had to hang, utterly still, for nearly the whole intermission. It was based on the line "my poor fool is hanged." Some theories are that he means Cordelia and that the same actor might have played both. In fact, at my university there was a production that did that, with a lucky girl who got to play both roles. Frankly, I can't imagine Sylvester McCoy as Cordelia...

The MTC did a production called Queen Lear, in which the lead was played by a woman, Robyn Nevin. She is one of Australia's top actors and while the idea is weird, I do sometimes think it's just unfair that while Lear is there for mature male actors, there's nothing for older women but the occasional crone, such as Queen Margaret in Richard III, a role that's often left out. You can't even do Gertrude, who isn't all that old. So they let this great actress do the role and very well she did it. It wasn't the only time a company has slipped women into male roles - I've seen Cassius played by a woman in a modern dress Julius Caesar and that was weird, with the characters having to refer to Cassius as "she" and "her" instead if "he" and "him." It was not a bad production, though, with battlefield reports done on news TV. 

There's an annual summer Shakespeare in the park at the Royal Botanical Gardens in Melbourne, with A Midsummer Night's Dream as the regular production. I ended up having to attend that one twice because the first time it started to rain so the performance was cancelled halfway through and we were offered free tickets for another night. The second time was utterly magical. The evening began with the Gardens' resident bat colony flying overhead. There's a lake and the first half was among the trees, the second by the lake. Theseus and Hippolyta were doubled by Oberon and Titania. The actor playing Puck was an acrobat, who trained children for the Flying Fruit Fly Circus, a children's circus, so he knew exactly what he was doing; late in the piece he was lit up in the trees on an island in the lake. 

Another year they did Twelfth Night, but it just wasn't the same and didn't quite belong in the gardens the way The Dream did. 

I've seen the Peter Brook Dream on stage. That one was hugely famous at the time. Fairies swung from trapezes and "You Spotted Snakes" was sung accompanied by a sitar. The fairies swung glowing tubes which made a noise - I confess I bought one in the foyer at intermission! These days I only buy a programme and, if available, a CD of the score of big productions. Maybe a mug if I really, really love it. You can listen to the CD and drink from the mug, but what on earth are you going to do with a glowing tube? But I was a young uni student at the time and just couldn't resist.

Hamlet is another one I've seen many times, but the first time was performed by the Old Vic when it was in Melbourne. I went with a friend and we paid $16, in those days quite a lot, for front row seats and sat there feeling very decadent. Hamlet was played by a young Derek Jacobi. Ooh, I was lucky!  

I've only seen A Comedy Of Errors once, performed by the Bell company. It was done in modern dress and because Ephesus, the setting, is in modern Turkey, you saw a lot if exotic Turkish streets and people wearing fezes and such. A very funny and delightful production. Pity that one isn't performed more often. 

Romeo And Juliet is performed so often that I'm afraid I'm getting a little tired of it. I've seen everything from a Renaissance-costumed production to one in which Juliet makes her first appearance bopping away to an iPod. All very well, but if they're in twenty-first century dress, surely Juliet could have phoned Romeo to warn him? Or even Friar Lawrence?  

I've seen The Taming Of The Shrew set on Australua's Gold Coast; when Bianca's latest suitor turns up, the father whips out his iPad to take note of what he's offering. I've also seen it set in 1950s Australia. Hugo Weaving and Pamela Rabe, the stars, also did Much Ado About Nothing, in which Beatrice, opening herself a deck chair in the garden, gets trapped in it when she overhears Hero and the girls talking about Benedick's love for her. Pamela  Rabe, an expat Canadian, is a tall woman who fully matched Hugo Weaving, both as Kate and Beatrice. 

Another Much Ado I saw was performed in Regency costume, very Pride And Prejudice! When you think of it, the storyline is not that different, although all Bingley does is run off without having proposed, not shame Jane at the altar. And he's talked into it. 

The Bell production was set in a circus! 

Pericles, Prince Of Tyre was performed twice by the MTC. I particularly remember the first time, in which the not-very-wealthy company made jewellery by painting bottle tops gold. It's a play I'm fond of.

I've seen The Merchant Of Venice a number of times, but my favourite is the Cameri Theatre production in Tel Aviv. That was directed by a guest director from the RSC. It was translated into Hebrew by one of the country's top poets and it really did feel like Shakespeare, even in a different language. 

You know how it's listed as a comedy despite the serious bits? I think in Shakespeare that mostly just means a play that doesn't end with a pile of bodies. Anyway, this one really was very funny. Not that Shylock wasn't taken seriously - in one scene, he's shown walking past clutching his faithless daughter's hair ribbon while those arseholes Salerio and Solanio are laughing at his troubles.

But the points really were made humorously. In the first scene, set at an outdoor cafe, Antonio's friends eat his lunch and wander off leaving him to pay the bill which the waiter hands him. In some ways, he is "paying the bill" for everyone the whole play through - and is left alone on stage at the end when the happy couples go off to bed. He slowly drops the letter with the good news in it and lowers his head into his hands - and you know then that his love for Bassanio was more than just for a friend. It's not the only one I've seen that suggests this, but it was the best and subtlest; the Bell company performance opened in a male bath house. How unsubtle can you get? 

But oh, the casket scene! The Prince of Aragon was dressed as a matador; Portia rolled her eyes. And the Prince of Morocco was an Othello send-up - in fact, I saw that actor play Othello the next week. In Hebrew, of course. My Hebrew was never the best, but watching a familiar play in the language helped me. 

Oh, and for some reason Lancelot Gobbo spoke with an Italian accent - in Hebrew. 

I've seen Twelfth Night in Hebrew too. Feste had one-man-band equipment for his songs. Modern dress, of course. I was sitting at a cafe in Dizengoff Street refreshing my memory of the play when someone saw me and came over to chat about Shakespeare - the first time I've done it in Hebrew! 

The Tempest is one I've seen many times. My favourite was one with John Bell as Prospero. In that one,  Australia was the island and Ariel and Caliban were both enslaved indigenous Australians. Ariel, upon being freed, throws off her European clothes and joins a circle of indigenous women spirits. Caliban flings down his chains and spits at Prospero. 

Another one I liked very much had Frank Gallacher as Caliban. Prospero realises that Caliban has been, in some ways, a part of himself that he must embrace - and they hug each other. 

So, these are a few performances of Shakespeare I've seen and loved over the years - what memories do you have?

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30. Just Finished Reading... The Fool's Girl by Celia Rees

Ooh, what a fun idea! A sequel to Shakespeare's Twelfth Night! I've come across other Shakespeare themed books before - for example, there was one by Sophie Masson, Cold Iron, set in Elizabethan England, with fairy characters from A Midsummer Night's Dream wandering through it. The novel itself was based on a fairytale, Tattercoats, the English version of Cinderella.

But this one was a straight sequel. You know how the characters get married and presumably live happily ever after? And Malvolio stomps off snarling, "I'll be avenged upon the pack of you!" or some  such line?

Well, it's not quite that simple. For starters, Sebastian, Viola's twin, isn't happy about merely getting to marry a beautiful, wealthy countess while his sister gets to be a duchess. And it's implied that Olivia cares more about the former Cesario than she does about her husband anyway. Dreadful things happen in Illyria, climaxing in an invasion by Venice, assisted by Sebastian and the theft of the dukedom's most precious possession, a relic of the Magi's gifts, which involves Malvolio...

All that is told in flashbacks in 1601, when Violetta, Viola's teenage daughter, and the clown Feste turn up in London, where Shakespeare is popular, but still having headaches with bad performances and  the other problems that are part of the actor/playwright/manager's life. Violetta and Feste are chasing the relic, which they have tracked down to London, and tell their story to him, in hopes that he can help. Without the relic, Violetta doesn't feel she can return to claim the dukedom rightfully hers after her parents' deaths.

Personally, I'm not sure why Sebastian should become a villain, although you do have to wonder about a young man who is perfectly happy to marry a girl he's never seen or spoken to, who drags him off the street and to a priest. (And the girl, "Whoops! Not Cesario. Oh, well." No wonder, in this novel, she is so attached to Viola, the person she actually fell in love with). But then, you never really learn much about Sebastian anyway, so who knows?

I did think there was a bit of waste in the character Tod, one of the members of Shakespeare's company who plays female roles. I was expecting him to play a significant role, then he - didn't. Really, he could have been left out without any damage to the story.

Still, this was an entertaining read which gave me a lot of pleasure as I read it over a day in bed while suffering a nasty cold the other day. And Shakespeare was just Will, a guy with a living to make, a father with a girl about Violetta's age, who wants to help her because he'd want someone to help his daughter.  We do sometimes forget that the Immortal Bard was just a man with a living to make and a family back in Stratford.

And by the way, today's Google Doodle celebrates him. Happy 452nd birthday, Will!

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31. CBCA Long List 2016

Otherwise known as the Notables. Here they are! I'm bolding those I've read or own but am still reading. So embarrassing! This list is pinched from the Books And Publishing web site, the link sent to me by my own lovely publisher, Paul Collins, who is thrilled to bits because... Well, run an eye down the list...

Book of the Year: Older Readers
  • A Small Madness (Dianne Touchell, A&U)
  • Cloudwish (Fiona Wood, Pan Macmillan)
  • For the Forest of a Bird (Sue Saliba, Penguin)
  • Freedom Ride (Sue Lawson, Walker Books)
  • In the Skin of a Monster (Kathryn Barker, A&U)
  • Inbetween Days (Vikki Wakefield, Text)
  • Newt’s Emerald (Garth Nix, A&U)
  • One True Thing (Nicole Hayes, Woolshed Press)
  • Rich & Rare (ed by Paul Collins, Ford Street)
  • Talk under Water (Kathryn Lomer, UQP)
  • The Beauty is in the Walking (James Moloney, HarperCollins)
  • The Flywheel (Erin Gough, Hardie Grant Egmont)
  • The Guy, The Girl, The Artist and His Ex (Gabrielle Williams, A&U)
  • The Pause (John Larkin, Random House)
  • The River and the Book (Alison Croggon, Walker Books)
  • A Single Stone (Meg McKinlay, Walker Books)
Book of the Year: Younger Readers
  • 300 Minutes of Danger (Heath Jack, Scholastic)
  • Bella and the Wandering House (Meg McKinlay, Fremantle Press)
  • Bridget: A New Australian (James Moloney, Omnibus)
  • Helix and the Arrival (Damean Posner, Random House)
  • Molly and Pim and the Millions of Stars (Martine Murray, Text)
  • Run, Pip, Run (J C Jones, A&U)
  • Shadows of the Master (Emily Rodda, Omnibus)
  • Sister Heart (Sally Morgan, Fremantle Press)
  • Soon (Morris Gleitzman, Viking)
  • The 65-Storey Treehouse (Andy Griffiths, illus by Terry Denton, Pan)
  • The Cleo Stories: A Friend and a Pet (Libby Gleeson & Freya Blackwood, A&U)
  • The Cut Out (Jack Heath, A&U)
  • The Fourteenth Summer of Angus Jack (Jen Storer, ABC Books)
  • The Hush Treasure Book (ed by Karen Tayleur, A&U)
Book of the Year: Early Childhood
  • Alfie’s Lost Sharkie (Anna Walker, Scholastic)
  • As Big As You (Sara Acton, Scholastic)
  • Bogtrotter (Margaret Wild, illus by Judith Rossell, Walker Books)
  • Frog Finds a Place (Sally Morgan & Ezekiel Kwaymullina, illus by Dub Leffler, Omnibus)
  • Hop Up! Wriggle Over! (Elizabeth Honey, A&U)
  • I Need a Hug (Aaron Blabey, Scholastic)
  • I’m a Hungry Dinosaur (Janeen Brian, illus by Ann James, Viking)
  • Meep (Andy Geppert, Tiny Owl Workshop)
  • Mr Huff (Anna Walker, Viking)
  • My Dog Bigsy (Alison Lester, Viking)
  • Ollie and the Wind (Ghosh Ronojoy, Random House)
  • Perfect (Danny Parker, illus by Freya Blackwood, Little Hare)
  • Pig the Fibber (Aaron Blabey, Scholastic)
  • Piranhas Don’t Eat Bananas (Aaron Blabey, Scholastic)
  • Puddles are for Jumping (Kylie Dunstan, Windy Hollow)
  • Small and Big (Karen Collum, Windy Hollow)
  • The Cow Tripped over the Moon (Tony Wilson, illus by Laura Wood, Scholastic)
  • The Very Noisy Bear (Nick Bland, Scholastic)
  • This and That (Mem Fox, illus by Judy Horacek, Scholastic)
  • This is a Ball (Beck Stanton & Matt Stanton, ABC Books)
  • Thunderstorm Dancing (Katrina Germein, illus by Judy Watson, A&U)
  • Too Busy Sleeping (Zanni Louise, illus by Anna Pignataro, Little Hare)
  • What Do You Wish For? (Jane Godwin, illus by Anna Walker, Viking)
Picture Book of the Year
  • Adelaide’s Secret World (Elise Hurst, A&U)
  • And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda (Eric Bogle, illus by Bruce Whatley, A&U)
  • Bob the Railway Dog (Corrine Fenton, illus by Andrew McLean, Walker Books)
  • Eye to Eye (Graeme Base, Viking)
  • Flight (Nadia Wheatley, illus by Armin Greder, Windy Hollow)
  • How the Sun got to Coco’s House (Bob Graham, Walker Books)
  • In the Evening (Edwina Wyatt, illus by Gaye Chapman, Little Hare)
  • Lara of Newtown (Chris McKimmie, A&U)
  • Mr Huff (Anna Walker, Viking)
  • My Dead Bunny (Sigi Cohen, illus by James Foley, Walker Books)
  • My Gallipoli (Ruth Starke, illus by Robert Hannaford, Working Title)
  • Numerical Street (Hilary Bell, illus by Antonia Pesenti, NewSouth)
  • One Step at a Time (Jane Jolly, illus by Sally Heinrich, MidnightSun)
  • Perfect  (Danny Parker, illus by Freya Blackwood, Little Hare)
  • Platypus (Sue Whiting, illus by Mark Jackon, Walker Books)
  • Ride, Ricardo, Ride! (Phil Cummings, illus by Shane Devries, Omnibus)
  • Suri’s Wall (Lucy Estela, illus by Matt Ottley, Viking)
  • Teacup (Rebecca Young, illus by Matt Ottley, Scholastic)
  • The Eagle Inside (Jack Manning-Bancroft, illus by Bronwyn Bancroft, Little Hare)
  • What’s Up MuMu? (David Mackintosh, HarperCollins)
  • Where’s Jessie? (Brian Janeen, illus by Anne Spudvilas, NLA Publishing)
  • Why I Love Footy (Michael Wagner, illus by Tom Jellett, Viking)
Eva Pownall Award for Information Books
  • A is for Australia (Frané Lessac, Walker Books)
  • Alice’s Food A-Z (Alice Zaslavsky, illus by Kat Chadwick, Walker Books)
  • Ancestry: Stories of Multicultural Anzacs (Robyn Siers & Carlie Walker, Department of Veterans’ Affairs)
  • Anzac Sons: Five Brothers on the Western Front (Allison Marlow Patterson, Big Sky)
  • Atmospheric: The Burning Story of Climate Change(Carole Wilkinson, Black Dog)
  • Australian Kids through the Years (Tania McCartney, illus by Andrew Joyner, NLA Publishing)
  • Green Tree Frogs (Sandra Kendell, Windy Hollow)
  • Lennie the Legend: Solo to Sydney by Pony (Stephanie Owen Reeder, NLA Publishing)
  • My Gallipoli (Ruth Starke, illus by Robert Hannaford, Working Title)
  • Phasmid: Saving the Lord Howe Island Stick Insect (Rohan Cleave, illus by Coral Tulloch, CSIRO Publishing)
  • Prehistoric Marine Life in Australia’s Inland Sea  (Danielle Clode, Museum Victoria)
  • The Amazing True Story of How Babies Are Made (Fiona Katauskas, ABC Books)
  • The Girl from the Great Sandy Desert (Jukuna Mona Chuguna & Pat Lowe, illus by Mervyn Street, Magabala Books)
  • The White Mouse: The Story of Nancy Wake (Peter Gouldthorpe, Omnibus)
  • We are the Rebels: The Men and Women who Made Eureka (Clare Wright, Text).
The Notable Books acts as the longlist for the CBCA Book of the Year Awards. The shortlist will be announced at the CBCA National Conference in Sydney on 20 May and the winners at an event in Sydney on 19 August. 

Found out yet why Paul is so pleased? Here it is: 


Yes! It's that anthology published last year by Ford Street, in which I have a story, "The Boy To Beat Them All"! Something to be proud of, beginning with that gorgeous Shaun Tan cover and going on to fifty-odd stories by some of the country's top children's and YA writers. Making it to the long list is great. It would be even nicer to reach the short list, because that means sales - lots of sales - to school libraries and public library children's sections. Maybe class sets? With all those different genres to choose from - fantasy, crime fiction, contemporary, humour, romance, ghost stories - there's bound to be something to use in classes. Fingers crossed! But even a long listing means librarians who might have missed this on publication will notice it.

Well done, Ford Street and Paul Collins! 

Check it out at www.fordstreetpublishing.com

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32. Me And Charles De Lint

I've just downloaded two of Charles De Lint's novels and intend to download some more, his short stories especially. What he does - or did, at one stage, not sure if he still does - is write a short piece and produce a chapbook fir family and friends, as a Christmas gift. Then he produces a limited edition chapbook for the rest of us to enjoy. I have one of those - my sister, knowing I liked his writing, bought it for me at a second hand bookshop. And Lo, it was autographed!

In the end, though, it's the stories I love, signed or not.

Charles De Lint is a Canadian writer of mostly urban fantasy. In his stories, Celtic and Native American creatures mingle. Actually, as we learn in Moonheart, the European creatures booted out most of the indigenous spirits when they arrived, but you can still find them. Fair Folk have forests in the local park. In Jack The Giant Killer, one of the two novels I've bought, the Giants have their court in a skate rink in Ottawa, while the Faerie court is under Parliament House. You just have to be able to see them. Oh, and Jack is a girl.

There's folk music and tricksters, poets and artists and Native American beings, as well as Celtic Faeries  in his town Newford, where I have to tell you I'd move tomorrow if it existed! Who wouldn't love a place so full of creative artists, where you can go and hear folk music most nights of the week? Or meet a non human "forester" in the local park?

Moonheart was the second of his novels I read and one of my favourites. The heroine lives in a house on the line between our world and the Otherworld. She is a bookseller and a writer who works to the music of Silly Wizard(guess who went and bought one of their albums?) She meets Taliesin, the bard, who had been exiled from Europe and arrived in North America, where he made friends. Needless to say, he's rather hot!

Jack The Giant Killer was written as part of a series of fairy tale interpretations that included Pamela Dean's Tam Lin and Kara Dalkey's The Nightingałe, which was set in Japan instead of China and the nightingale was a girl who played the flute instead of a bird. It was a great series, but you can't get them all in ebook, so I grabbed this one, as well as the sequel, Drink Down The Moon, which I haven't read yet.

I was lucky enough to meet Mr De Lint and his wife Mary Ann at Swancon some years ago. Both of them are musicians and performed for us. In fact, they met when she inherited a mandolin and needed lessons. One of the attendees, Anne Poore, a brilliant harpist, simply did a jam session with them in the hotel foyer - an unofficial concert!

Lately, he's writing YA fantasy, which I must catch up with, as soon as the student currently reading it brings it back.

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33. Unofficial A-Z Challenge: W Is For Wade, X is For Ximenes

We're nearly at the end of the alphabet. I think I'll finish here rather than going on to hunt for a Y and Z. 

So far, all my listed crooks and convicts have turned up in my book, Crime Time: Australians Behaving Badly, but today, I'm going to slip in one of whom we know  very little, who wasn't in the book, but whose surname began with X. Couldn't resist! 

W Is For Mary Wade

The Lady Juliana by Robert Dodd. Public Domain

A couple of years ago, one of my students asked me if there was anything in the library about Mary Wade. With a smile, I handed her my book, which does have a paragraph or two. She was doing a PowerPoint presentation for Year 9 History, and used the story of Mary Wade as an example of how even someone who came here in chains could do well for herself.

Mary Wade was probably the youngest female convict to be sent here, only eleven. She was lucky at that; the country was celebrating King George III's coming out of his madness, so there were some amnesties given and the young girl was sent here instead of being executed.

Why was she on death row? She and another girl had mugged and robbed a younger child in a public convenience, taking her clothes from her. Mary is supposed to have said that she was only sorry they hadn't thrown the victim in the toilets!

She came here with the Second Fleet, in 1789, on the ship Lady Juliana. In New South Wales she eventually married a fellow convict and had twenty-one children; by the time she died, she had three hundred living descendants. By then, the family was well off. In England, she had been a street sweeper.

She now has several thousand descendants, including a former Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd.

X Is For Jose Estorias Ximenes

I'm including this convict because he had a surname beginning with X. About all that I could find on-line was his convict record. He arrived in Australia along with 265 other convicts on January 31, 1839, on the ship  Theresa.  He was sentenced in Trinidad to life imprisonment in Australia. What did you have to do in those days to get a life sentence? Not much, probably,  considering what Mary Wade did to be sentenced  to death! But then, that was in the 1780s.

That's all I could find. If you, or someone you know, is a descendant, please do get in touch!

Did you enjoy this? 

My children's book on crime in Australia, Crime Time: Australians Behaving Badly, is available on line. There are plenty more stories where these come from. I've only given you rewritten snippets of some of them here. And believe me, there are some doozîes! I wrote it for children - right now, I'm reading bits of it with my literacy class - but adults can enjoy it too - and have. 

The publisher's web site, www.fordstreetpublishing.com, has links to a number of web sites where you can get it, in print or ebook. If you've enjoyed this series, why not check it out?

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34. Unofficial A-Z Challenge: T Is For Squizzy Taylor, U Is ForUnderbelly(T-Shirts)

Squizzy Taylor

Public domain

Joseph Leslie "Squizzy" Taylor was a thief, blackmailer, drug dealer, standover man, seller of illegal booze and much else, but mostly managed to avoid prison.  Firstly, he picked easy crimes, such as blackmail. Secondly, by the time the law became involved, people had "forgotten" what they thought they'd seen.

Born in 1888, in Brighton, now a Melbourne suburb, he began as an apprentice jockey, but soon decided that crime paid better. He was imprisoned in 1908 for picking pockets as part of a gang. That was two years. In 1916, he literally got away with murder when three witnesses changed their minds; he served a year on a smaller charge. 

He was finally killed in 1927, when Snowy Cutmore, a former gang member, returned from Sydney and interfered in one of Squizzy's illegal businesses. Furious, Squizzy stormed into Snowy's Fitzroy house, where Snowy lay sick in bed, but armed. The two men shot each other. Squizzy staggered into his waiting taxi and went to hospital, where he died. He was buried in Brighton Cemetery, where his grave can still be seen.

U Is For Underbelly T-Shirts

TV series Underbelly, based on a book by two Melbourne journalists, was hugely popular in Australia in 2008.  It told the true story of Melbourne's gangland wars, with local crime families such as the Moran and Williams families as the protagonists. Everybody was watching and talking about the series, pretty much as they do about Game Of Thrones now. 

So it's probably no surprise that people cashed in. T-shirts showing the wearer to be a supporter of either the Moran or the Williams families were for sale on eBay! Undoubtedly, somewhere someone is wearing a faded t-shirt with Moran or Williams on it and wondering why they ever ordered it... 

If you enjoyed these stories, why not find the book and others on the web site of Ford Street Publishing  at this URL: http://www.fordstreetpublishing.com

A free sample chapter is here.

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35. Unofficial A-Z Challenge: P Is For Pearce, Q Is For Quirky Aussie Law

P Is For Alexander "Cannibal" Pearce

Alexander Pearce by Thomas Bock. Public Domain.

In 1822, eight convicts escaped from the same horrific Tasmanian penal colony as Matthew Brady(see B Is For Brady post). Only one survived, Alexander Pearce. Until then nobody had ever escaped - in fact, it was this escape that inspired Matthew Brady and his friends to have a go. 

So, these convicts escape. They spend nine miserable days in the bush and finally run out of food. They don't know how to hunt the local wildlife. Someone jokes that he is hungry enough to eat a man... They begin to kill and eat each other. Two run off, but die of exhaustion. When only two are left, Pearce kills his companion in his sleep and leaves with some bits of him.

Eventually he is caught and taken back to jail. When they ask him where are the others, he says he ate them. They don't believe him. He escapes again, with a young boy - and by this time he's hooked on human meat. He's caught again, this time with bits of his companion. This time they believe him and he hangs. But the convicts now know escape is possible...

Q Is For Quirky Aussie Law

While researching Crime Time: Australians Behaving Badly, I read somewhere that there had been a loophole in Australian taxation law that allowed crooks to claim their guns and bullets on tax, as tools of their trade. I'm assuming  this loophole was closed; I never did find out if anyone had actually tried claiming, though you do have to wonder who suddenly noticed it. Was some legal nerd reading the taxation laws one day and cried out, "Hey! This is weird!" or did some cheeky criminal try it?

If you have enjoyed these stories, why not check out my publisher's web site, for Crime Time: Australians Behaving Badly and other great books?


A free chapter sample is here.

Tomorrow: R Is For Snowy Rowles
                  S Is For Ikey Solomon

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36. Unofficial A-Z Challenge: M is for Montez, O is for Orton

M is For Lola Montez

Lola Montez. Public Domain

If she'd been around now, Lola Montez would probably have had her own reality TV show. As it was, she had some celebrity lovers, including composer Franz Liszt and King Ludwig of Bavaria.  And she did this thing called the Spider Dance...

In 1855, she decided to tour Australia. After a successful Sydney season she sacked her cast without paying them and boarded a ship for Melbourne. The sheriff boarded to try to bring her back and she sent him a message from her cabin that she'd taken off her clothes and he was welcome to come in if he liked. He didn't like. The actors went unpaid and Lola went to Melbourne. After a single performance(the Spider Dance?) the police wouldn't let her do another one, so it was off to the goldfields, where she got a bad review from a Ballarat newspaper. These days, a celebrity with bad reviews would take to Twitter or Facebook to complain but Lola found the editor, Henry Seekamp, in his local pub after work and beat him with a horsewhip till he had to run away to escape her.

After that, tickets sold like hot cakes and the miners threw gold nuggets on stage.

No publicity is bad publicity, it seems.

I don't have any criminals starting with N on my list, so will go straight to O.

O Is For Arthur Orton - the Tichborne Claimant

Imagine, say, Orlando Bloom disappearing. His mother puts an ad in the paper pleading for help in finding him. She gets a reply from John Goodman, who says he's her son - and she believes him! 

In 1853, slim, attractive Roger Tichborne had a quarrel with his family and sailed off to South America, never to be seen again. Years later, in 1866, his mother, now widowed, advertised for help in finding her precious boy, whom she believed must still be alive. She had a reply from Wagga Wagga in NSW, from a butcher called Arthur Orton, an Englishman who had lived there for thirteen years.  

Roger's mother met him in France. He was overweight, farted a lot and didn't look or act remotely like Roger, but the poor woman wanted to believe. She gave him a generous allowance, but after she died he decided that was not enough. He wanted it all - title, money and estate. 

Thus began a long court case against Roger's family, which he ended up losing and going to jail. 

It wouldn't have happened today, not in this connected world - and a DNA test would settle the issue immediately, if nothing else did. 

Still, it makes an entertaining story! 

If you have enjoyed these stories, why not check out my publisher's web site, for Crime Time: Australians Behaving Badly and other great books?


Tomorrow:  P Is For Alexander "Cannibal" Pearce
                  Q Is For Quirky Aussie Law

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37. Unofficial A-Z Challenge: K Is For Kelly, L is For Leonski

K is for Jim Kelly

                                                          Jim Kelly. Public Domain

Look, we all know about Ned Kelly. You have to be from Mars not to have heard of Ned Kelly! And I'm betting that our first alien tourist will, after being taken to our leader, ask to visit the famous Kelly armour. Let's not talk about Ned Kelly. He only got a chapter in my book because you can't write a book about Australian crime and leave him out. 

Let's talk of Ned's younger brother, Jim, who wasn't a member of his gang. He was a Kelly and anyone in that family would have found it impossible not to have at least one or two brushes with the law, which he did in his younger years. But James died in 1946, after a long, quiet life, although I see from a 1912 newspaper in the National Library's Trove collection that he was arrested for a bit of minor cattle rustling in his middle years. Well, it can't have been easy being the brother of a national legend and having people say, "What, you're his brother and you haven't done anything dramatic?"

L is for Eddie Leonski

Eddie Leonski wasn't an Australian at all. He was an American soldier stationed in Melbourne during World War II. At that time, the street lighting was lowered to make a lesser target for bombers. The trouble was that these brownouts, as they were called, made murder easier. Eddie Leonski had already been in trouble in the U.S. for attempted murder. He was a man who became violent when he was drunk.

He was drunk a lot. In May 1942 he strangled a number of women during the brownouts. He was caught when another soldier found out and reported him. Weird as he was, he was found sane and hanged. 

If you're enjoying this, you can find my book and other titles at the Ford Street Publishing web site: 


It has links to the places where you can find them, both in print and ebook.

Tomorrow: Lola Montez
                    Arthur Orton

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38. Unofficial A-Z Challenge: H Is For Jody Harris, J Is For Audrey Jacob

Today's badly behaved Aussies are both female. Both stories are short, but interesting. 

As I had no I crooks in my book, I'll just mention another G, Frank Gardiner, a bushranger who robbed a gold coach at the Eugowra Rocks in 1862. He was arrested and served time, but ended up being exiled from Australia - the only person ever to suffer this. It's thought he went to San Francisco and opened a saloon. One of the witnesses to the Eugowra robbery was a child, George Burgess. George lived to a ripe old age and many years later he wrote about his adventure. His story inspired my contribution to Ford Street's anthology Rich And Rare(see below for a link)

H is for Jody Harris

Known as Australia's Catch Me If You Can thief, a con artist who was caught in 2006 with 100 drivers' licences, disguises, fake passports, Medicare cards, all the tools of her trade. She was sentenced to four years in jail.

J Is For Audrey Jacob

He was her man and he done her wrong, as the song goes. The quirk of this story, which happened in 1925, is that the killer, Perth girl Audrey Jacob, was seen to shoot her faithless fiancé in public, with hundreds of witnesses, as he was dancing with another woman - and was acquitted after a two day trial.  

He shouldn't have lied to her, the bounder.

If you're enjoying this, check out the Ford Street Publishing site: 


Ford Street is one of Australia's best small presses, specialising in children's and YA books. 

Tomorrow: Jim Kelly
                  Eddie Leonski

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39. Unofficial A-Z Challenge: D is For Dumb And Dumber, F is For Finch, G is for Great Bookie Robbery

As I don't have any badly behaved Australians in my book whose name starts with E, I'm going to give you an extra D.

D Is For Dumb And Dumber

Their names were Anthony Prince and Luke Carroll and they were so embarrassing to anyone from Australia. Coming from the land of Ned Kelly, they couldn't even get a bank robbery in the U.S. right! So Australian newspapers nicknamed them Dumb and Dumber.

These two characters had a job in a ski resort in Colorado. When they decided to rob the local bank, in 2005, they forgot to take off their name tags. Under their balaclava masks they spoke with their Australian accents. They clowned for the cameras.

When it came time to escape, they didn't use a getaway car. Oh, no, not them! They used their staff passes to hitch a ride in a ski lift.

No doubt they wondered why they were caught. (Facepalm!)

F is For James Finch

Whiskey Au Go Go. Fair usage

James Finch was one of the Whiskey Au Go Go nightclub firebombers, who torched a Brisbane disco in 1973, killing fifteen people. He was hired by Brisbane criminal John Stuart, on behalf of a standover gang.

On the night of March 8 1973, two drums of  petrol were hauled into the foyer and lit.

It didn't take long for the police to catch up. To get the charges started quickly, they were charged with only one murder, that of a woman called Jennifer Davie. 

There was a huge campaign to free them, as they insisted their confessions had been forced, but Stuart died in jail. After serving his sentence, Finch was deported to England where, thinking himself safe, he publicly admitted his guilt. When it was pointed out that he had only been convicted of one murder and there were fourteen more, he retracted his confession. Whoops! 

G Is For Great Bookie Robbery

In 1975, Raymond Bennett, a career criminal who was serving a term in England, made use of his leave from jail to come home to Melbourne and plan a heist. He checked out the Victorian Club in Queen Street, where, for a century, bookies had gathered after races to "settle up." There were millions of dollars in cash involved, but most crooks assumed the place was impossible to rob.

After serving his British sentence, Bennett organised an almost military operation. The team he assembled was trained in the bush and made to promise to avoid drink and women for a month in advance. 

The robbery must have been embarrassingly easy. The team burst in and simply took the money off the terrified bookies.

Because Bennett was smart enough to spread the money out in investments and property, it was impossible for the police to prove who had committed the crime. Nobody actually ended up going to jail for it.

Only in Australia! 

If you enjoyed this story, there are plenty more in the book, Crime Time: Australians Behaving Badly, available in ebook and print. 

Check it out here:


Tomorrow: Jody Harris and Audrey Jacob

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40. No CBCA Shortlist Yet!

Usually, at this time of year, the CBCA announces its shortlist of books for the CBCA Book of the Year. This year, they've changed. Instead of releasing the shortlist now, when we could get stuck into the reading and arrange activities to go with it, they're releasing a long list - after the holidays! - and the shortlist is being delayed till May, at the CBCA Conference.

Look, I understand the judges have a lot of books to get through and if that was given as the reason, I'd sort of understand, though they seem to have managed for the last seventy years. Instead, the web site makes it sound like a wonderful new system, meant to spread things out and make it all more exciting.

Do they want to be more like other awards, I wonder?

But the long list of the CBCA Awards isn't about nine or ten books like other awards. It's called the Notables and is really long, unless they're planning to shorten it for the new system. That might be the case. I hope so.

And we have to wait till halfway through term for the shortlist.

Oh, well, there are the Inkys and the YABBAs to keep me busy in the meantime. 

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41. Unofficial A-Z Challenge - C Is For The Charlotte Medal

Charlotte Medal.Wikipedia, Creative Commons

C Is For The Charlotte Medal

The Charlotte was a ship which came to Australia with the First Fleet, carrying convicts. One of the convicts on board was a convicted forger called Thomas Barnett. The ship's surgeon commissioned a medal(see above) which was made from a silver kidney bowl. There's no question that this is a work of art - Australia's first. It was bought in 2008 by Sydney's Maritime Museum.

Thomas Barnett was, let's not forget, a forger. That's what  had got him transported. Along the way, he forged quarter-dollar pieces and used them to buy food and other supplies through the ship's porthole in Rio Di Janeiro. Why waste a talent, he must have thought.

Unfortunately for Thomas after all that travel,  he never got a chance to create Australia's second piece of art. A few weeks after his arrival Down Under, he was caught stealing food and was executed.

D is for Lucy Dudko

Lucy Dudko was a Russian librarian who made the mistake of falling in love with a crook, John Killick. Such a nice man, he brought her coffee in bed!

When John was sentenced to several years in Sydney's Silverwater prison for armed robbery, Lucy decided to rescue him. In 1999, Sydney was getting ready for the Olympic Games, which gave her an idea. As a librarian, she knew how to do her research; she borrowed three videos about daring escapes and hired a helicopter, supposedly to check out the Olympic facilities. Instead, she pointed the gun at the pilot, Tim Joyce, and demanded he take her to the yard of Silverwater Prison, where she helped her boyfriend escape. Bad enough to be hijacked, but Tim found himself being shot at by the guards!

The couple tied him up and left him, fleeing for about forty-five days. When they were caught, Lucy protested she was innocent and someone else had hijacked the helicopter, but there were those videos, which she had forgotten to return and which were still in her home. 

She was sentenced to ten years, though she was released after seven, for being a model prisoner.

As a librarian myself, I can only say, serve her right for being overdue!

Tomorrow: "Dumb And Dumber"
                    James Finch
                    The Great Bookie Robbery

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42. An Unofficial A-Z Challenge - Australian Crime!

I've only just discovered the A-Z Challenge, too late to sign up - and I can't really commit myself to 26 posts, anyway. I certainly can't commit myself to anything beginning with X!

However, I wrote a children's book on crime a few years ago, Crime Time: Australians Behaving Badly, so I know something about this subject without having to do any further research. So I thought, why not give you some snippets of the more entertaining stories I told in that book? A to Z! And that will be my theme for this - unofficial - A-Z Challenge.

From the Ford Street web site

I won't be writing anything too long, just a few lines. It will be fun to see if I can sum them up for you.

Why a book on Australian crime? Well, Australia did start off as a penal colony. So did the US, for that matter, or at least it was used as one until the British were kicked out, when they had to find somewhere else to dump their unwanted criminals. But there's a rich history of crime here, starting with the Batavia mutiny in 1629; at this writing, there's a film planned about it, with Russell Crowe as the hero and Geoffrey Rush as the villain, though both of them are way too old for the characters they're playing. Still, a good story which has been covered in a lot of fiction(and in my book). The first crime to happen in the new colony after the First Fleet arrived was only two weeks later - and on the way to Australia, a convicted forger used his skills to forge money to buy goods on the ship's stops.

We have the whole bushranger culture. Yes, every European-based country has its own history of robbers, some of them romantic, but ours are argued over and written about to this day. Ned Kelly - hero or baddie? We still argue. And Redmond Barry, the judge who sentenced him to death, is still vilified for it, forgetting the fact that he also started the State Library of Victoria and gave away a lot of his wages to the poor. Ah, well.

So, first:

A is for April Fool's Day Stuff-up.

This is one of the more over-the-top stories in Australian crime. I have the full chapter as a sample here. Basically, two idiots, a few years ago, decided to hold up the Cuckoo, a popular restaurant in Olinda, a place in the Dandenongs outside Melbourne. Someone had told them that there would be $30,000 in pickings. Instead, they got away with a bag of stale bread rolls and one of them with a wound in an embarrassing part of her anatomy.

B is for Matthew Brady, Gentleman Bushranger

Matthew Brady was a celebrity bushranger. When he was hanged in 1826, the crowd wept, especially the women. During his imprisonment he'd been sent lots of flowers, food and fan mail. There had even been a petition to save him, to no avail.

Matthew Brady came to Australia as a convict in 1820. We don't really know why - it might have been theft or forgery. Both have been suggested by historians.  He started off as an assigned convict. Assigned convicts were used as servants. Matthew hated being a virtual slave and was un-co-operative enough to be whipped 350 times in a short period, before being sent to Sarah Island in Macquarie Harbour, from which he escaped with a group of other convicts in 1824. They set up their hideout at a place later called Brady's Lookout and became known as Brady's Bunch. (Yes, I know! I didn't make this up)

Why was he so popular? Well, he didn't actually hurt anyone, except one man and that was  a fence who had betrayed him. Even then, it was a year later, when the betrayer was heard to sneer that he knew Brady didn't kill anyone.

His own men never betrayed him, though, even one who had been thrown out of the gang for rape; captured, he was hanged without giving away the gang's hideout.

He took over a house with family and guests, danced with the ladies and sang for them at the piano. A servant slipped away and got help, but he and his gang escaped - that time.

Eventually, with most of his men killed, he was captured by one John Batman - yes, that John Batman, the one who remarked that a certain spot by the river Yarra might make a nice place for a village. He was a bounty hunter at the time. Melbourne was founded by an early Bobba Fett!

On his way to the gallows, Matthew was cheered and pelted with flowers. He bowed to his fans - and died.

Hope you enjoyed this story!

Tomorrow: The Charlotte Medal and Lucy Dudko

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43. Inns, Pubs, Spaceport Bars In SF And Fantasy


They appear in so many fantastical adventures, often at the beginning of the quest. They tend to serve "stew". They're the site of brawls because that's what you do in these places, in fiction, anyway. The cliched innkeeper tends to be big and red-faced, as Terry Pratchett noticed when he had a character in Witches Abroad arrested by a story-loving ruler for not being big and red-faced.

They appear even in films and TV shows.

There's the cantina in the original Star Wars movie, of course. It's the typical spaceport bar where many different races mingle - and fight. A lot. It must be a lot, because when Obi-Wan kills an obnoxious being who is trying to start a fight, there's a brief glance in his direction, then the music starts again and everyone goes back to whatever they were doing. Likewise, no one makes a fuss when Han Solo shoots Greedo, not even the barkeep, who will have to clean up. A place like that must be the site of so much fighting that there's nothing special about it. Maybe he employs a cleaning firm to tidy up the bodies. 

The bar in the latest Star Wars movie is very different. It's run by a thousand year old non-human woman(probably older, because that's how long she has been in business) and is much more than a pub. Nobody misbehaves in her pub and from what we see of her, nobody would dare to start a fight. She's pleasant but firm, and seems to be a Jedi of sorts; you don't mess around with these folk. 

Another pub we see run by a woman is the Three Broomsticks in the Harry Potter series, whose owner is Madame Rosmerta. Nothing happens there, or at least not publicly(Katie Bell is grabbed and Imperiused in the sixth novel, in the bathroom of the Three Broomsticks). It's the respectable pub in Hogsmeade. The Hogwarts teachers and students go there. Madame Rosmerta has been running her business for a long time; she remembers the Marauders with fondness. 

The less respectable inn, which is more like the kind you'd imagine in general fantasy fiction, is the Hog's Head. It's where Hagrid won that dragon's egg in a card game. It's grimier. Strange beings prefer this pub to the nice, family-friendly Three Broomsticks. But it can't be all bad, as we discover that the innkeeper, who rescues Harry and his friends in Deathly Hallows, is Albus Dumbledore's estranged but decent brother Aberforth. It's also the place where rebel Hogwarts students hiding out from the Deatheaters come from the Room of Requirement when they need to get out of the school. In any case, I can't imagine Aberforth allowing fights to happen; he'd knock heads together and throw out misbehaved patrons.

And of course, there's the Leaky Cauldron, the entrance to Diagon Alley, which serves everyone in the wizarding community including folk with special needs. It's family-friendly, though I suspect the host, Tom, would be able to stop any fights before they got far.

Star Trek has its share of spaceport bars and fights. Captain Picard was nearly killed in a spaceport bar fight(which I think he started)as a young man, and had to get an artificial heart. 

But the first time we saw a spaceport bar fight in the series was in "The Trouble With Tribbles" by David Gerrold. Space Station K7 has a bar, though not an inn, and the barkeep is tall and thin, not fat and red faced. But it's a spaceport bar and there's a fight, when one of the Klingons insults the Enterprise. There's no doubt he's trying to start a fight. When insulting the captain doesn't work(Chekhov wants to fight over that, but Scotty doesn't let him)he insults the ship, infuriating Scotty, and the fight is on for young and old. It's a typical fantasy barroom fight, actually, although nobody uses weapons and actually, nobody seems to get hurt. 

Terry Pratchett has fun with the cliched fantasy pub brawl in his novel Going Postal. The hero, Moist Von Lipwig, has agreed to meet a woman he fancies, Adora Belle Dearheart(aka Spike)at the Mended  Drum pub before taking her somewhere much fancier. As he is entering, a group of barbarian warrior types are rehearsing their planned fight, because, let's face it, that's what you do in a fantasy fiction pub. 


The Mended Drum is not the only pub in Pratchett's city of Ankh-Morpork - there are others, such as the policemen's pub, which is quiet because, well, policemen drink there, and because after a day of chasing (unlicensed)thieves and pickpockets, they just want to relax and not talk. There's Biers, the pub where the undead go for a drink. The barkeep, Igor, keeps a club with various things that discourage undead from starting a fight. In one of the novels, The Truth, two genuinely nasty characters arrive and realise that this is not a place where they're likely to be able to stand over anyone. They leave hastily. 


But the Mended Drum is the fantasy fiction pub. It started life as the Broken Drum, in The Colour Of Magic. It, along with a large part of the city, burned down when tourist Twoflowers told them about what he does for a living, selling something called in-sewer-ants, then reopened as the Mended DrumIt's the pub where epic fantasy barbarian heroes gather, where throwing an axe at the entertainment is considered friendly. The fact that the owner has started offering cocktails with umbrellas in them doesn't make much difference. 

Of course, we all know of that wonderful inn, the Prancing Pony, in the town of Bree in Lord Of The Rings, and the Green Dragon, local pub at Michel Delving, where farming hobbits go to drink. The Green Dragon is where Bilbo met up with the Dwarves and Gandalf in The Hobbit and rode off into his life changing adventure. We do see inside it early in Lord Of The Rings, when the locals are gossiping about where Bilbo's money might have come from. 

But the Prancing Pony is where Frodo and his friends really begin. That's where they meet Aragorn and their adventure starts properly. 

It's a respectable inn. No barbarian warriors here, thank you! The food is good, solid English cuisine. The rooms are clean and the innkeeper makes sure there are rooms for hobbit comfort. The patrons are local farmers; any passing Nazghul would leave quickly. 

But I can't help feeling that this is the kind of inn that inspired a lot of other fantasy inns. 

What do you think?

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44. Blood Queen: The Third Book Of Lharmell by Rhiannon Hart

After losing Rodden at the last Turning, Zeraphina is alone. Or she would be, if her mother and Prince Folsum would leave her in peace. The prince, blind in one eye after an attack by Zeraphina’s brant, has taken up residence in her home and is insisting she marry him. When an accident happens, Zeraphina flees – straight into the arms of a waiting harming.

Now a captive, she discovers she’s being taken to Lharmell. But not to be executed. To be crowned queen. The identity of the one who has given the orders is shrouded in mystery, and Zeraphina can’t help but be suspicious. After everything she’s done the Lharmellins should want her dead. Just who is awaiting her in Lharmell?

If you haven't read the first two volumes of this trilogy, stop right here, go back and read them.  This volume doesn't stand alone. Really. And the last one ended on a cliffhanger. In case you have read them, this review is being written carefully to avoid spoilers. The first of the spoilers is about a third of the way in, and I must admit I did not see it coming. And there's another twist in the final chapter which I really didn't see coming, which left me sputtering, "But - but - if that's the case, then why...?" No. I can't tell you. You'll have to read and find out. But not until after you've read the first two, Blood Song and Blood Storm

Zeraphina, having lost her beloved Rodden, has spent the last few months in her room at her mother's castle, numbing the pain with doses of laudanum. Things don't seem to be getting better, and become even worse when her nasty suitor tries to force the marriage. 

Escaping, she finds herself heading north in the company of a harming(a sort of semi-vampire like Zeraphina herself)who calls himself Raufo, talks with a Scottish accent and works to rid her of the laudanum habit. He seems familiar, but Zeraphina is in no mood to think about it. 

And when they reach Lharmell, she is in for another shock, meeting someone she had thought was long dead ...

In some ways, this is the story of Zeraphina coming to terms with herself and who she is. But there's plenty of action as well, though not till the second half of the book. We meet Zeraphina's sister Lilith again, and Lilith's husband Amis, who turn out to be nicer people than they seemed in the last two volumes. There's a dramatic tsunami in the middle of the other troubles our heroes have to face. There's even the headache of having to fight invaders from the air instead of the usual medieval siege.

This is a good conclusion to the trilogy, worth following up if you've been frustrated by that cliffhanger at the end of the previous volume. We must thank the author for deciding to finish it herself when her publishers decided not to. Publishers do that sometimes; in one case, the publisher, a friend of mine, told me that he'd decided against a third volume of a trilogy because the author had moved overseas. That shouldn't matter in this day and age, but it meant she wasn't around to promote her book here when she was needed, and it sold only half of the numbers of the previous volume. With a small press, he just couldn't afford to risk a third volume. I can think of three more, off the top of my head, but won't go into detail here.

The fact is, there is a final volume! I would like to thank Rhiannon Hart for offering me this book for my school library. It will go on to the shelves as soon as I return from term break. I wish her well for sales on this and on the first two, which can still bring her royalties. 

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45. Happy Birthday, Eden! Celebrating March 28

Today, March 28, is the seventh birthday of one Eden Pearl, my nephew Mark's older boy. Today he will be celebrating with his parents and grandparents and tomorrow with his friends.

For his birthday gift I've said it with books. A passionate reader, he has begun reading and enjoying A Series Of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket(pseudonym for American author Daniel Handler), only the first novel so far, so I bought him the next two in the series. Because his brother Jonah is only four and doesn't understand yet that you get gifts on your own birthday I've bought him the classic Possum Magic by Mem Fox. 

Eden is also a passionate chess player and as there wasn't much positive to report about This Day In History and no authors of any interest to him or to me, I thought I'd just show him and you this. 

Taken from Wikimedia Commons

It shows an eight year old boy, Sammy Reshevsky, playing against a whole lot of adults at once, in 1920. He was from Poland, but his family moved to the U.S. to give him the chance to get ahead in the field. Apparently, while he did very well, became famous and won championships, he never did give up his day job. Still, it's an impressive picture and I thought my young chess champion might enjoy it. 

And since his current reading interest is A Series Of Unfortunate Events, I thought I'd add a bit about the author.

Daniel Handler, aka Lemony Snicket, has also written for adults, under his own name. Not that this matters when he can give so much pleasure to children, but still...

Of more interest is that he has played in a couple of bands on his piano accordion, and Eden's "Ipa" Gary also plays piano accordion(he was playing it, in our kitchen, the first time I saw him, when he started going out with my sister). The children call him Ipa because when his first grandchild Dezzy was born he wanted to be Grandpa and she couldn't pronounce that. So Ipa it remains. He will be pleased to hear he has something in common with an author Eden likes! 

A very happy birthday, Eden, from your adoring Auntie Sue!

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46. Of March 25 And Tolkien

Today is March 25th and Good Friday. In a little while, after breakfast I will be off to join some friends in collecting for the Royal Children's Hospital, which uses the money for research that, sooner or later, helps the little ones.

And it occurred to me that on this day, on Middle-Earth, Frodo and Sam arrived at the Cracks of Doom to throw in the Ring and Frodo nearly yielded to the temptation to keep it. Well, actually, he did yield to the temptation, but was saved from himself by Gollum's action in biting off the finger with the Ring.

Eruption of Hawaiian volcano 1954. Public Domain.

Tolkien, a devout Catholic, didn't choose his dates at random. He knew exactly what he was doing. His Fellowship leaves Rivendell on December 25. Frodo and Sam reach their destination on March 25, which was also significant in the Church year, as the Feast of the Annunciation. It was New Year in England for hundreds of years.

It was also the traditional date of the Crucifixion. In other words, Good Friday. Is there a better date for the destruction of Sauron's instrument of evil? If you've read some of Tolkien's other works, you'll know that Sauron wasn't just a standard Dark Lord of the Voldemort(whoops! You know Who) persuasion. He was originally the sidekick of Morgoth, who was Middle-Earth's Satan. In other words, fallen angels, both of them. What they're offering is temptation to truly horrible sin. Not just the "I swore at my brother" type of sin, not even the "I robbed the bank" type of sin. That's amateur! This is the real thing, the kind of sin that turned a bunch of kings into the Ring Wraiths.

A Catholic website I found while refreshing my memory on the significance of the date suggests that the "unmaking" of the Ring is like the unmaking of sin by the Crucifixion. 

Makes sense to me. I read LOTR originally as a straight epic fantasy novel, the greatest of them all(one of the reasons why I so rarely read epic fantasy these days - they just can't compare to this one). You can read it that way and enjoy it, even love it. Tolkien doesn't hit you over the head with his faith. If you pick it up, wonderful, if not - enjoy anyway! 

But once I discovered the Catholic significance I was amazed that I hadn't noticed it first time around. For example, Gollum choking on the lembas bread(the Host). Frodo and Sam finding themselves able to live on just that and the Elven drink which is the sacramental wine. Go back and read! I promise it won't spoil it for you. It didn't spoil it for me, and I'm not "of the Nazarene   Persuasion." ;-)  Of course, I am a lover of things mediaeval and so was Tolkien. 

By the way, you'll pick up some bits of Tolkien in the wonderful though lesser Harry Potter books. I remember nearly choking on my drink the first time I read that scene in Prisoner of Azkaban in which the very Gandalf-like Dumbledore tells Harry that he may one day be glad he saved Wormtail. It took me back to a very similar scene between Gandalf and Frodo, only it's Gollum. Well, I guess Joanne Rowling is entitled to a bit of homage. She also, IMO, paid tribute to C.S Lewis in that scene in which Harry goes to the Deatheater camp. But Harry is her Frodo, if not with a Ring to tempt him. 

It seems almost irrelevant to this post, but I'm going to add a few birthdays of people who have given me delight. One is Patrick Troughton, the second Doctor. Another is Jim Lovell, astronaut of the Apollo 13 and hero of that wonderful film of the sane name. Happy birthday, Jim! A third is the glorious singer Aretha Franklin. 

So, have a great day, sleep in, go to church if that's your thing and consume lots of chocolate eggs. I'm going to have brekkie and raise money for the Royal Children's Hospital.

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47. My First Purim Spiel - And The Phoenix Theatre

18th c Italian Purim woodcut.Public Domain

Last night I attended my first Purim spiel. This is a kind of play which is loosely - very loosely! - based on the story of Purim. Somewhere in it you have to have the characters - Esther, Haman, Mordecai, Ahashverosh - and at least a bit of the story, but otherwise, have fun and see what you can do with it. 

This one was called The Lambshank Redemption and set in a prison, Oicatraz. Ahashverosh is the warden. He's a right wing Trump supporter and is always on on-line dating sites. Vashti  is his head guard, rather too sweet and hipster to do her job properly. Esther, who comes in after intermission, is a much more efficient head guard who solves the mystery of the trade in smuggled Hamentashen. Mordecai is a wimp who still lives with his mother on the outside.

The Purim spiel is traditional and slipping in contemporary references is also a traditional part of it. It's an amateur thing too; this one had some cast members who have done quite a bit of amateur drama, including one who has been in CLOC, a very fine Melbourne  amateur group that is anything but amateurish. Others are just members of the community who enjoy doing Purim spiels once a year. The girl playing Vashti was a VCE student and very good she was too; I think a professional career may be ahead of her. If not, perhaps at least a membership of CLOC! I remember a CLOC performance of the late much-lamented Jon English's rock opera Paris in which the role of Helen of Troy was played by a Year 12 girl, who was also impressive. Hopefully she went on to study at VCA! 

It was a joyous production, everyone having fun, a cheeky script and well known tunes with new words. The cast could all sing, whether it was a solo or ensemble piece. There was a very funny adaptation of a number from the musical Chicago in which the female prisoners all tell the audience how they got to be in prison, and the narrator told the story in verse a la Dr Seuss. 

The band, dressed in prison uniforms, was at the back of the stage and I noticed that the young drummer was a girl. She played quite an important role, as she had to play solo marches whenever Ahashverosh was about to appear and the scenes were being moved by the cast. When I rang my mother at intermission my nephew Mark was there. He said he knew that girl, she was fourteen and related to his wife! Small world, small community.

And it really was a very community thing. I arrived at about 7.40, twenty minutes before the show was due to start and I felt like the only member of the audience who didn't know most of the other audience members! There was so much delighted greeting of friends and relatives that I had to weave my way through to get to my seat. In the theatre, there was much calling out until the show started. Probably most audience members were friends and relatives of the cast, as is understandable. It's a tiny theatre. I think it holds about 100 seats at most. 

Ah, yes, that theatre, the Phoenix. It's located at what was my own high school. I remember when I was attending Elwood High we had no school hall. Every year our parents were required to pay a hall levy. The year after I left one was built, a hall gymnasium. It burned down, much to the dismay of Mr Whitehead, an English teacher who directed all the school shows, which had to be performed at venues outside the school. There was a photo in the local papers of him standing looking tragic in the ruins. Well, it was genuine feeling, to be fair. I remember how he dreamed of having somewhere to do the school shows when I was there. 

I'm not sure where the money came from for rebuilding, perhaps from insurance? Anyway, they built a beautiful little theatre in place of the hall and Mr Whitehead was happy again and it was called the Phoenix for obvious reasons. The school also got another hall/gym. 

I believe the school makes good use of the theatre for drama and also rents it out for amateur productions. I hadn't been in years, though, since a production of The Crucible in which Elizabeth Proctor, victim of the Salem Witch Trials, washed the dishes in a green plastic basin. 

Uh huh. Sad that it's the only thing I can remember of that production - not a tribute to the director! 

Anyway, after last night I will definitely be keeping an eye out for productions in that theatre - and hopefully seeing next year's Purim spiel!

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48. Happy Birthday, Anna Sewell!

Anna Sewell. Public domain.

Today, March 30, is the 196th birthday of Anna Sewell, author of Black Beauty. 

Anna was born in Norfolk on this day in 1820, to Isaac and Mary Sewell. Her mother was a children's writer. The family was Quaker, though Anna and her mother later turned to the Church of England. Because they couldn't afford schooling for two children, Anna and her brother, Anna was home schooled till she was twelve.

I wonder what would have happened if she'd continued the home schooling? But she started going to school and one day she fell over on her way, breaking both ankles. She never really recovered and had trouble walking.

Was it this crippled state that made her depend more on horses, and make her interested in them?

Anyway, she wrote the book late in her life. Because of her pain, she couldn't always write herself and had her mother write it all out for her.

Black Beauty has become a classic of children's fiction. I think I was about eight when I read it for the first time - and loved it!  I was reading anything and everything with a horse on the cover at the time and this one was a surprise, but a pleasant one. There were no girls entering gymkhanas on ponies in it, or even wild horses running through the Snowy Mountains, but the first person narrative made up for that. I was indignant on behalf of the horse and his equine friends and who could avoid a lump in the throat after what happens to Beauty's friend Ginger?

If you've missed out on it, stop right now and get it. It's available on Gutenberg - free. Go on - I'll wait.

First edition. Public domain.

Got it? Good. Now, to continue. It was not actually written for children. It was written as a protest against the truly horrible treatment of horses in the Victorian era - and she told the story from the horse's viewpoint. If she had written a pamphlet, it might have been of interest for a few years and then been forgotten.

Black Beauty goes from the pleasant meadow with his mother to life with the kind Squire Gordon and his wife, then downhill from there, with the occasional improvement, such as his life as a cab horse with the decent cab driver Jerry. In the course of the story, we read of such horrors as the bearing rain, which forced horses to hold their heads up while trying to pull a carriage at the same time.  Rich people liked their horses to look as snooty as they were themselves, it seems. After this book came out, the RSPCA was able to use it to help get the bearing rein banned. A great achievement for a novel written by a middle-aged lady who was in constant pain!

The book was published in 1877, but she only lived a few months after it came out, so it was her only book. She died in April 1878, hopefully at least having lived long enough to see its success.

In fact, it has sold fifty million copies, which makes it one of the bestsellers of all time, and has been translated into fifty languages. That's success!

Happy birthday, Anna Sewell, and thank you for giving me such joy in my childhood!

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49. March 31 - Born On This Day!

Not much in the way of joyful events for this day - dear me, what's wrong with history? (Did you know they began building the Titanic On This Day?)

 However, a few exciting people were born on March 31 over the centuries, so here are the ones I know best. Enjoy! 

1621 - Andrew Marvell - English poet, author of such beauties as "To His Coy Mistress" which urges the lady to sleep with him now, because while "the grave's a fine and private place...none, I think, do there embrace."  He was a republican during Cromwell's time, managed to survive without too much hassle in the Restoration monarchy and even talked Charles II out of executing John Milton, author of Paradise Lost,  who was a close friend of Marvell's. Hundreds of years later they're both  still giving us pleasure. 

Andrew Marvell, public domain
Speaking of giving pleasure, it's the birthday of Johann Sebastian Bach and Josef Haydn, both wonderful composers who certainly make me want to sing along with the tunes! And Bach also gave the world a lot of extra Bach musicians and composers!

1809 - Russian writer Nikolai Gogol, author of, among other things, The Government Inspector, a send up of bureaucracy, which inspired that very funny Danny Kaye movie The Inspector General

Nikolai Gogol, public domain

1844 - Andrew Lang was the author/collector of all those coloured fairy books, which had samples of everything from Grimm fairy tales to Greek myths. You can get them all for free on Gutenberg. I have several on my cyber bookshelf. 

If you've missed out on any of these folk, you shouldn't have much trouble finding them online.

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50. Shakespeare And Me At University

FTwo years ago, I blogged about some of my experiences with Shakespeare. Here's the link. Do read it if you haven't! And feel free to comment. It's a good post if I do say so myself. It could do with some more reading.

But now it's a special Shakespeare month worldwide, as he died in this month four hundred years ago.  I'd rather celebrate his birth, but let's think of it as a tribute to his life.

Shakespeare. 1610-16. Public Domain.

So, today, I'm going to share some memories of performing Shakespeare.

I was a student at Monash university. We had a very enthusiastic lecturer, Dr Bartholomeusz, whose opinion was that as Shakespeare wrote  his plays to be performed, his students should be doing that. We were offered the chance to skip one essay in exchange for appearing in the English Department production of Coriolanus, one of the plays we were studying in second year.

Coriolanus. Richard Westall 1800. Creative Commons

Dr Bartholmeusz also had a theory, based on a drawing he'd seen, that in historical plays such as the one we were doing, the aristocratic characters performed in appropriate historical costume, while the rest wore contemporary dress. So, as Third Citizen,  Second Officer(actually Cleaning Lady), etc. I wore modern dress of a lower class variety. Keen to get my role of Third Citizen right, I looked up Harley Granville-Barker, a Shakespeare critic who had, apparently, set out to describe every single character in Shakespeare. And I do mean every character! I discovered that Third Citizen is "a man who likes the sound of his own voice." Sounded good to me!

I was chosen to play the standard bearer in the battle scene. That meant rushing on, waving it around and being shot down with an invisible arrow almost immediately. It also meant I got to wear a Roman soldier's uniform. Unfortunately, the breastplate was rather too big for me; when I fell to the stage during dress rehearsal, instead of dying immediately, I found myself choking on the breastplate that had pushed up under my chin as I fell.

"Susan, what are you doing?"  demanded Dr B, who was directing.

"Choking to death, I think," I replied, struggling to get up.

Then I had to rush off, change costume and appear again as Second Cleaning Lady, sweeping up the palm leaves from Coriolanus's triumphal entrance to Rome. Later I had to change again for my role of a couple of messengers.

Still, it was a lot of fun.

During my university years I also got to be Ariel in a performed reading of The Tempest. Dr B decided to play Prospero. He'd had his wife in mind for the role of Ariel, as she could sing, but on learning that I'd hoped for the role he compromised: I could act the role, she did the singing of Ariel's songs. It was nice of her to agree. 

I built my costume from a leotard, embroidered with sequins that suggested Ariel's functions. It was, on the whole, a pleasant evening, as English Department functions were.

Finally, we did The Winter's Tale in my fourth year. I'd hoped to be Perdita, but it was not to be. Instead I played a lady in waiting and the shepherdess Mopsa, the Young Shepherd's girlfriend. She got to sing, and we were very lucky to have the services of Helen Gifford, a composer who had written music for professional performances of Shakespeare. We - the lady playing shepherdess Dorcas and I - went to the composer's home to learn our song, along with the lecturer playing the con artist Autolycus. That was a delightful evening too. 

Autolycus, 1828 - Public Domain

When the play was over, we went to someone's home for the cast party and I first heard "She Moved  Through The Fair", sung by the lecturer who had played the Young Shepherd(when we were on stage, he'd whispered, "Nothing...nothing..." to me. I asked him what he was doing that for and he replied, "I'm whispering sweet nothings in your ear."). He had a wonderful - very Irish - voice - and the song sent chills down my spine. It intrigued me enough to learn more about the song and that kind of music.

While I was doing these plays I had also learned about Renaissance music from a member of the cast, who was the music arranger. I've loved it ever since. 

Well, those are some  of my experiences in Shakespeare. Who has some more to add?

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