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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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By: Sue Bursztynski,
On June 30 1936 the massive writing/publishing/cultural phenomenon Gone With the Wind was first published. It sold 1,000,000 copies in six months! It won awards and not too long after that, they made the movie, which is a phenomenon in its own right. When you think about it, Margaret Mitchell's book was the cause of creativity in others. Music, costume, screenplay, acting...
Perhaps not the best time to admit I don't greatly care for the book, which I read in my teens and thought a 1000-page Mills and Boon. That's before we even get to the racism and the fact that you want to give the heroine a huge boot in the backside.
Nevertheless, I went to see the movie -also in my teens - and didn't much care for that either. And that was before my PC period began. A friend wanted to go see it and the trailer advertising it at our local cinema looked good, so I agreed to see it a second time and still didn't like it.
As an adult, I realise the film is a masterpiece of cinema - and I suspect that if I watched it on TV, say, I would get sucked in and watch the lot. And I'd have fun spotting the well-known actors in cameo roles, such as a very young George Reeves, before he put on the cape and suit and took to the skies as Superman, playing one of Scarlett's suitors. And knowing that Vivienne Leigh was British behind that southern drawl would be fun; I didn't know that as a teen. Actually, the actress who played one of Scarlett's sisters said that it was better she was British, because an American from the North would roll their r's in a way a Brit wouldn't.
But I'm never, I'm afraid, going to find it romantic or go gaga over it, or over the novel on which it was based. So, I'm a philistine. Sorry!
As a Pratchett fan, though, I will always have a giggle remembering the "click" Swept Away made in his novel Moving Pictures. Now that book would be worth filming!
By: Sue Bursztynski,
Yesterday I persuaded a student to try Douglas Adams. We have a volume of Hitchhiker's Guide 1-4 on the library shelves. Mark was in my homeroom last year and I know him to be a Monty Python fan, so suggested that if he liked Python, he might enjoy Adams and then, if he likes that, I will introduce him to Terry Pratchett(evil chuckle!). We have a fair number of Pratchett books from a few years ago when a young man called Jake was reading and loving them. Poor Mark, he was looking for a missing volume of Skulduggery Pleasant, which the catalogue said was on the shelves, but wasn't. Happily, he was willing to try something else while I hunt for the other one or add it to my shopping list.
Meanwhile, I have finished my reread of Wintersmith, the third Tiffany Aching novel, and felt like starting again from the very beginning, with Wee Free Men, so I downloaded it and have realised, I'd forgotten how very good it is. Terry Pratchett is magical, and not only because he writes fantasy. I think he expresses himself best in that genre, but what he says is not just for fantasy fans. He has something to say to everyone, whether he's sending up popular genres such as vampire fiction or having fun with Shakespeare or turning fairy tales inside out. His characters are real people, even if they're witches or wizards. And he's funny, even when he's saying something serious - laugh-out-loud funny!
I do hope I can get Mark hooked on Pratchett.
Excuse me whie I go read some more.
By: Sue Bursztynski,
There's something magical about ebooks. In my case, I get a credit from iTunes via those cards which you can always find discounted somewhere. I put it on my iTunes credit and I can confidently download, knowing the money is there. And I see a book that looks interesting and zap! It's on my little computer, all ready to read.
This week's goodies include Connie Willis's Bellwether, a classic which for some reason I had never got around to reading. I have finished it already, delighted with its humour. It's free of regular SF tropes, but it's SF all the same, with statistics used as the theme, as the heroine tries to work out where fads begin, along with a fellow researcher whose passion is chaos theory. Very funny and touching and there are sheep and Browning poetry involved. And because Browning is being quoted constantly, I dropped in at Project Gutenberg for some of his poems, though as it's only a selection, the key poem from Bellwether, "Pippa Passes", isn't there.
I was also in the mood for Tolkien-related stuff, but as I already had most of the bios in print form(did I ever mention my favourite bookshop, Collected Works?), I skipped them and bought a title on masculinity in Tolkien, The House Of The Wolfings - part of a series of his influences - and Inheritance by his grandson Simon , who has begun writing a series of police procedurals. I like crime fiction and it wasn't dear, so what the heck! Definitely wise of him not to attempt fantasy, as he would be constantly being compared to hs grandfather and found wanting.
I also downloaded a couple of volumes of SF by Howard Fast. I read them years ago, finding them a bit too philosophical for my tastes, but then, that's his style and it's nice to look at them again with years of spec fic reading and writing behind me. And he is capable of humour, as shown by a story about a hoop that sends things elsewhere and is used to dispose of garbage. That one would stand up very well today, as would the story about digging so far into the earth that what comes up us not oil but blood. Another, "The General Zapped An Angel" was updated and turned into a short telemovie. Although we know him best for his historical fiction, Howard Fast's first sale was spec fic, when he was about eighteen. And his son Jonathan became a spec fic writer.
Lots to read! See you all on the other side...
By: Sue Bursztynski,
Ack, I've been spammed again - and published a spam comment, since removed.
Mostly, they're easy to spot - they make a vague comment about how much they enjoy the blog without saying anything about the post itself, they slip in an ad for something at the end and when you check their profile it has been in existence for five minutes and "follows" a bunch of advertising blogs. Or the profile links to an advertising blog.
Occasionally, you aren't sure and you publish the comment. After all, some people who don't have their own blogs keep a profile so they can read other people's. Nothing wrong with that; I don't, after all, allow anonymous comments, so you have to have a Blogger profile to comment here. So I have taken chances- once I even responded! Then you get a swarm of other advertising "comments" and you know for sure that you've been had.
I don't allow advertising on this blog, not even the Blogger-arranged AdSense. I know some of my friends do, and that's fine. I tend to ignore ads on their blogs, but if it gets them a little free money, no problems. It's just not for me. The closest I get is to run guest posts by writers who can then put in a link to further info about their books and where to buy. This is a book blog, after all, and if readers are interested, they'll want to know where to buy.
So, to genuine commenters, I say, I will publish your comment if it's about the post. I won't publish anything that says vaguely,"Hey, great post" or,"I really like this blog" without saying why in a way that tells me you've read it. Especially if it leads back to a profile that tells me you're an advertiser. ;-)
By: Sue Bursztynski,
While I was at the conference last week, I was asked to fill in a survey form and had to borrow a pen because I had forgotten to bring one, even though I'd brought an exercise book. I hadn't been using the notebook, you see, I had been taking notes in Pages on my iPad. As speakers did their thing, in between taking notes, I was googling those of whom I hadn't heard and downloading their books where available, to be read later. Now and then, I would lift the iPad and take a surreptitious photo of the stage for my blog, though on Day 2 I brought a good old fashioned camera(well, old fashioned in that it was a camera - it was digital and later I downloaded the photos, correcting the red eye as I did so). The reason for that is that you can't get a close up on an iPad, or if you can I haven't yet worked it out, but I will. Next to me, a teacher librarian with grey hair was working her own iPad like there was no tomorrow.
Where am I going with this? The other day, I agreed to run an eye over an assignment on library digital services for a nice young librarianship student. There was something unintentionally patronising about the discussion of "digital illiteracy" but when it got to a sentence in the notes about libraries teaching people this stuff and "baby boomer statistics" I went, "Whoa! Who des she think invented this stuff? Taught her how to use computers in high school?" It's bad enough getting the constant refrain of "baby boomers are selfish" but at least you can see where that comes from and why. This was sheer patronising. Definitely not intentional, which may be worse.
My father discovered the Internet in his seventies and eighties. He was a true silver surfer. Every morning he would get out of his nice warm bed in the cold early light and go read the international newspapers online. Every visit I heard,"Hey, guess what I found on the Internet today?"s If he'd still been around, I would have bought him an iPad and a digital subscription to his favourite papers. He could have taken it off the charger and back to bed.
Some years ago, I met a teacher I'd known in my first job, when he was teaching science. Now he was head of infotech.
See, when I was growing up computers were the size of a room and only universities and government facilities had them. I had a typewrite on which my uni assignments were written and on which my Honours thesis was typed. If I wanted someone to look at my assignment, I had to show it to them personally, not email it. In fact, when I was with my first writer's group, we had to make carbon copies or find an institution with one of those wet photocopiers and mail our stories to each other. I published a number of fanzines. By then I did have easy access to photocopying, but I was still on a typewriter, though an electronic one I had bought with the prize money from my first win in the Mary Grant Bruce children's writing award. It wasn't until I wrote my first book that I had a computer, an Apple Mac Classic 2. When I was in my first library, I had catalogue cards - five for each book, and then, during stocktake, we had to pull all five out for any missing books. And there were lots of books missing every time - hundreds!
Can you see why I was so delighted when technology made my life easier? No more having to fix typos with whiteout or retype whole pages. No more pulling five cards out for every missing book. In fact, now I can just download a catalogue record for most books(I can still catalogue from scratch). We do still have a typewriter(electronic) for spine labels, because it's not a good idea to put a sheet of sticky spine labels in a printer or photocopy tray with rollers to catch them. In fact, where I work, with everyone sharing the photocopier as a printer, chances are that someone will go to print out a piece of written work and find it spread across a page of spine labels. Our students who visit my office are intrigued by the typewriter."What's that?"
I love my Internet passionately! I love that if it's not in a book I can help my library users find it online. I love that I can write this n the way to work on a little computer the size of an A4 page and publish it to the world before I get there and then use the same little computer to read a book or a newspaper or slush for my issue of ASIM.
"Baby boomer statistics"?!? Being patronised, however unintentionally, by a girl who thinks her generation invented technology - Urk!
I can only hope it never happens to her generation.
By: Sue Bursztynski,
I've been a member of the Andromeda Spaceways Collective(now Association, long story) since it was in single digits. Now, I'm finally going to edit an issue, #60.
I never intended to do this. I have done some subediting and participated in the multi-editor issues where each of us chose one or two stories to edit. That was fun; I got to pick something special and didn't have the responsibility of the full job. It will certainly mean I have to put aside most of my own writing. But I offered to subedit this issue for a member who has since vanished into the blue, nobody having heard from her in months, without having started and now it's up to me. This has sort of happened to me before, with #38, but that one was nearly ready to go when the editor vanished for several months, to the point where some authors assumed the magazine had died and sent their work elsewhere. She had even chosen the cover artist and paid from her own pocket. We rolled up our sleeves and got it out in time. I had help. I will have help this time too, but in the end, it's my job to make the decisions.
I will post about the process as it happens.
Right now, I'm reading. And reading. And reading. Lucy Zinkiewicz, our slush wrangler, has come up trumps, sending me slush that has passed all three rounds of reading as soon as she gets it. I need a balance of SF, fantasy and horror fiction. Fantasy is the easiest, as most of our submissions fall into that category. SF is harder, because we get less of that and what we do get is not always believable. Fortunately, we have scientists in the collective to check the physics for me. I have found one wonderful piece that is believable and has an emotional punch too. Not many can do that. Off the top of my head, Stephen Baxter can, among the current crop of hard SF writers. I don't really like horror fiction, so I have asked for opinions from someone who knows the genre better than I do. In the end, I still have to care about the characters and the writing has to be excellent to get me to consider it, whether it's a space opera or a brooding Gothic horror. When I have chosen stories in the past, they have mostly been ones that I couldn't stop thinking about two days after I had read them. I may not have that luxury for a whole issue, but I still want stuff that is better than just "quite good".
I'm reading this as a reader, not an editor, asking myself,"What would I want to read if I bought this?"
And it's not just a balance of genres - you can't have a bunch of stories that all all grim or even all funny, despite ASIM having been founded to create a market for funny stories. There's also poetry, reviews, possibly articles to choose.
Ah, the challenge! Stand by for the next exciting instalment...
By: Sue Bursztynski,
Just got back from three days at Reading Matters, the biennial conference run by the Centre for Youth Literature in Melbourne. More when I have the energy and have sorted the photos. I have to share anyway, with the staff at school, as the school paid for my ticket.
The con proper was two days, but Thursday was student day and I took book club. I bought far more books than I should have, including downloads of some on iBooks as the authors spoke - I didn't have an iPad last time. Danger both from the bookstall and the iBooks Store!
There was also the goody bag, that contained a manga comic which goes straight in the library, and Will Kostakis's new novel in ARC form. A lovely, lovely book, which I have finished in a day, but can't yet review due to a mid July embargo. Will has agreed to an interview, which also has to be July. I will have to write it all now, while it's in my mind, and save it for July. Something to look forward to!
By: Sue Bursztynski,
Yesterday, we started Literature Circles.
This year, I decided the best way to do it was with two classes and made my offer to a Year 7 English teacher who had a double period at the same time as me. We both had to do it anyway and it would save us competing for venue(library) and resources(books) as well as giving our students a wider range of choices.
Before beginning, I asked my own students which of them had done it before(some had done it in primary school) and invited them to tell me what they thought it was.
One of them asked, "Is it like a book club?" Not like MY book club, of course, but definitely like an adult one and I agreed: "Yes, that's exactly what it is! It's book club for the classroom."
Because we have had the same books for the last couple of years and there were going to be a large number of readers, I took a look at my shelves and among the class sets and chose some I thought they might like and that had meat for discussion.
Holes used to be the Year 8 class text, before we went to Lit Circles. It's a wonderful book, and students loved it and last year, several asked for it in the library. I made that available. We had more than enough copies. There's a group of four reading it.
I had taught Stephen Herrick's The Simple Gift to Year 11, who enjoyed it, even those who whined loudly about our other class texts, and it had also been on our Year 10 list. It's a verse novel, not difficult reading, but sophisticated concepts for good readers to discuss. We have a group doing it.
Looking For Alibrandi by Melina Marchetta was a Year 10 book at one time, also, but Year 10 teachers got sick of it, so it was out. I offered that too. There was some interest in it, but mostly by students who couldn't handle it. Reluctantly, I had to concede this one won't run this time.
We definitely needed some extra choices, because there's a Year 8(not mine) that did it last year.
So, apart from the above, here's what was chosen: Specky Magee, Cirque Du Freak by Darren Shan, Mao's Last Dancer junior edition, by Li Cunxin, The Ice Cream Man by Jenny Mounfield, A Ghost In My Suitcase by Gabrielle Wang, Space Demons by Gillian Rubinstein and a short book called The Big Dig by Meg McKinlay. It's kind of nice that all but two of these books are Australian published. It's not that we did the patriotic thing, it just worked out that way. I've read them all except Specky Magee(next project, thank goodness it's short!).
I was sad that some of the wonderful books from the last two years aren't on the list - Burn Bright and Dragonkeeper and Once. It's not that they had no interest, but that some of the interest was from students who couldn't handle them - well, they could handle Once, but we tried to give first choice where possible and work out the groups so that where there was a student who needed support to get through a book, there was at least one good reader with a kind heart who would help them.
Which brings me to the process of choosing groups. We had a mixture of reading levels. There are Year 7 students reading at Year 12 level and Year 8 students reading at Grade 2 and 3 level. The choice of books was wide enough to cater for them all, more or less, as long as we had aides to help the Integration students, but we had one Integration student who would have been highly offended at being placed with that group, so we gave him a mainstream book that was not too hard and the aide sat with the group. We had students who would fight if we put them together and others who would waste time and some who would put aside their own work to help others who would not be grateful, leaving their own work undone. I would have loved to have a group of high-skill readers who could make the most of it, as I have had in previous years, but they made different choices, so we settled for at least two good readers where we could get them.
All this and giving them their choices of book! We did ask them not to choose a book they had read before, as it would bore them and ruin any chance of a good discussion if someone said, "So, what do you think happens next?" and someone else already knew! Or if someone knew already WHY a character did this or that. We did have to allow one student who had seen the movie to read the book, or there wouldn't have been a group, and besides, he might come to appreciate the differences between a book and even a film that was fairly faithful to it.
Even as it was, I panicked a bit when a student told me he'd suddenly realised he had read this book after all. Turned out he hadn't - he was confusing it with something else.
So, yesterday, after a lot of running around and preparation, we got the library set up and the books ready to collect and then... All the year 7 students were gathered at the other end of the library to be yelled at over a lunchtime incident, for about twenty five minutes! That took a large chunk out of our teaching time and made a negative start. I sat with my year 8 students, keeping them occupied while we waited, having to speak softly in order not to disturb the drama on the other side of the library.
Still, we got going, beginning with getting them into their groups and practising with a short story before they began reading. We had already shown them some discussions from a previous year( how glad I am I had the idea of videoing them!) and most had agreed they did have a better idea of what was expected after seeing them.
They only had about half an hour to read after the interruption and delay, but got into it with a good will. There were already discussions going, arguing about word meanings, read alouds, agreement of how much they should read. One student asked to borrow his novel. I had to say no; last year I lent out novels which never came back and we're short as a result, but mainly, you have to trust people to remember to bring the book to class. And if he was anything like me he'd read the book in an evening and twiddle his thumbs while others caught up. You're supposed to discuss it as you go.
Next week I will be at Reading Matters and my colleague will have to explain about roles. Lucky man!
By: Sue Bursztynski,
|Receiving Presidential Medal Of Freedom|
This morning I read that Harper Lee, author of To Kill A Mockingbird, is in a legal battle with her agent's son-in-law. Apparently, he has been enjoying the rights and royalties of her one and only classic novel for the last few years, due to her having signed something while recovering from a stroke. She has the rights back, but is now trying to get back the royalties for the last few years. She is in her eighties, but seems to be quite a feisty lady still. Good on her!
If you're going to write only one book, it might as well be a classic. Who will remember anything I have written so many years from now? I did once get a pleasant surprise when a young blogger told me he had had my first book, on monsters, in his teens, and it had inspired him to write horror fiction. But it's out of print and who else remembers it? I doubt Mockingbird will ever go out of print.
Why only one book? I heard that its success was so overwhelming, she worried she couldn't come up with something as successful second time around. And that's understandable - when someone has written a massive bestseller the next one sells because it's by them, but people invariably say,"Oh, it's just not as good as XXX..."
I remember the novel from my own school days. And the movie is a classic in its own right. A couple of years ago, I chose it for my virtual readout in Banned Books Week. I didn't choose any of the more dramatic bits from the trial or even a Boo Radley bit, but the scene where Scout goes to school for the first time. She can read already, which sort of spoils things for the enthusiastic young teacher just out of her studies. The novel is as much about childhood as about the injustice of the treatment of African Americans in that time and place. If you're curious, my reading is on YouTube still, here
. Last year, when the students of my book club were reading, Ryan chose this book too. Oddly enough, it was challenged for racism!
It gets a mention in the novel The Help, which is set in the south in the 1960s, seen from the viewpoint of maids. One of them finds a copy of To Kill A Mockingbird on the bedside table of a young woman who is being snubbed by the middle class women of the town.
I love this book to bits! I even bought the fiftieth anniversary edition when it came out. I will probably be buying another copy for the library, because it has been requested and our only copy, which is still out, is a bit battered.
And it's interesting to know that even the writer of a classic has been ripped off, if not by pirates.
By: Sue Bursztynski,
Let's face it, Sean Wright does it better than I would in his post this morning, using Twitter posts, including one of mine, to describe Australian SF's answer to the Oscars, so I am going to link you to his web site, where he has done a very nice job of putting together some of the relevant tweets, with his own comments on them.
Amazing how quickly word gets around using Twitter. There was, a few years ago, that journalist who lost her job by saying the wrong thing on Twitter during another awards night, but the thing is, you don't have to be there or even wait for the newspaper or next day's blog posts to find out, if you're willing to wade through all those tweets which talk about what the tweep is wearing, who they're going to meet for drinks afterwards, complain that they can't get said drinks quickly enough and then report on how nice the stage looks and who has just got up to make a speech and what they're wearing. ;-) And you can see how nice the stage looks or who is there, because people snap photos.
As I am one of those who doesn't have the patience to wade through it all or wait, I went to bed and happily read through Sean's post, which you can find here
. No surprises in the list of winners, though it doesn't mention which Graeme Base book won the children's picture book section ... A google shows it was Little Elephants
, which I haven't read, having lost track of Graeme Base's books some time ago, must check it out. Ah, well, I can't say I'm surprised the veteran won this time, but I am disappointed that In The Beech Forest
, illustrated by up and coming young artist Den Scheer, didn't make it - the review on this site, one of my more popular posts, tells you what I think of it. I can only say to the young lady, stick with it - Graeme Base's early book, Animalia
, was on the CBCA shortlist, and that didn't win either, but you know what? It's still in print, while the book that won is long forgotten. Not that I think anything by Graeme Base will ever be forgotten, but the thing is, he has also been where young Den is, and done just fine. And so will she. I firmly believe she is going to be the next Shaun Tan.
Congrats to the winners, but also anyone who made it to the list. Just getting there is special! And remember, I am a writer and, I think, a very good one, and I have never made it to the AA or the CBCA shortlist myself, so I am not just trying to be comforting. Heck, I am jealous of you for making it that far!(But I did make it to the Chronos shortlist, yay!)
I don't envy the judges their job and I do urge everyone to read everything that was shortlisted, not just the winners. I am going to, not having had time to read them all as yet.
What do you think, anyone who has seen the list of winners? Would you have made the same decisions?
By: Sue Bursztynski,
|Pic by Eva Rinaldi|
Wednesday night I went with friends to my local cinema, the Classic, to see Star Trek:Into Darkness. The photo is not from the Classic. It's from the Australian premiere of the film, with, left to right, Karl Urban( who would have thought "Eomer" from LOTR would make such a fabulous Dr McCoy?), Zachary Quinto, director J.J Abrams and Chris Pine. We got the director AND Kirk, Spock and McCoy! I placed this photo, which I think appropriate, instead of a movie poster because the pic, by a lady called Eva Rinaldi, is on Wikimedia Commons, with permission granted to use as long as you attribute, while the film company would make all sorts of fuss. And it's a nice photo - my, they are tall boys! Or J.J Abrams is very short, though he makes up for height in talent.
I can't say much about the movie without spoilers and I won't assume everybody has seen it already, so I will say only that I thoroughly enjoyed it, both for the action and for the cheeky references to other things. The cheekiness started at the beginning, with a sequence on "Nibiru", the supposed Doomsday planet that was going to wipe out Earth last year. There was a scene which made reference to another Trek movie, in reverse, and a villain we have seen before, though in the interim he has developed a British accent, as has another character whom we saw as distinctly American last time. And a lot of action. The main actors have grown into their roles and settled in comfortably and if we can no longer have Shatner, Nimoy and Kelley, their younger versions are doing a very good job of convincing us. There were times when I could close my eyes and almost see the original Spock and McCoy and if Chris Pine's voice isn't quite Shatner's his mannerisms are.
Just go and see it.
So, why am I talking about a movie and a TV show not remotely connected with books, on my book blog?
When I was growing up, I was developing a love of science fiction, as was my older sister. It was her shelves I raided for my spec fic, although I had already come to it through Verne and Wells. I was looking for visual spec fic as well, because I love my SF/F any way I can get it. The only thing on at the time I was watching was Lost In Space. Since growing up, I have discovered that to be classic sixties pop culture and a hoot. And it featured some of the people I would later see/hear in Star Trek, such as Stanley Adams(Cyrano Jones in Trek) and composer Alexander Courage, not to mention a certain Johnny Williams( yes, THAT John Williams!). And irritating little "Will Robinson" would eventually appear as a lovely alien in the wonderful, intelligent series Babylon 5.
But at the time, I could only see the silliness of the story lines and longed for real SF. And one night, I got it. I saw a TV show with characters I could care about and stories that made sense to me(and when they didn't I could have fun arguing with friends about them). And best of all, it had real SF writers - classic ones such as Jerome Bixby, Theodore Sturgeon, Norman Spinrad, a story pinched from Fredric Brown, Harlan Ellison(whose script was, admittedly, rewritten completely and didn't he complain about it for years, but didn't refuse his Hugo award for it ;-D). Heck, Larry Niven wrote an animated episode! And there were new writers such as David Gerrold, who has since gone on to fame, fortune and Hugo short listings. With the spinoffs, they stopped hiring SF writers, for reasons David Gerrold told a couple of us in an interview some years ago, for a publication that never happened for reasons beyond our control. If I ever find my transcription of it I will ask him again and perhaps finally publish it here.
Anyway, I became a fan. I love lots of things about the spinoffs but it was the original that won my heart and still is.
It was Trek that helped me learn to write short stories - back then, my only writing was a bunch of woeful novels that I will never, ever try to sell. I wrote about 150 fan stories, some of it other universes, but mostly Trek. One of the sub universes I created for my fan fiction, with a friend, appears briefly in Wolfborn, my first novel. It was a planet called New Wales, populated with descendants of Arthur's people, plus some terrestrial animals now extinct on Earth, such as the Shetland unicorn, which tended to turn up and embarrass young men with its affectionate greetings. If you've read the novel, you will remember a scene in which the hero, Etienne, meets his friend Armand in the Otherworld, along with his hill pony Dapple, who is actually a unicorn, but her horn only shows up in this world. This is terribly embarrassing to Armand, who has been bragging about his skills with girls. Dapple the unicorn was a tribute to a unicorn called Maggie, who embarrassed Pavel Chekov in one of my fan stories.
One of these days I will do a novel set on New Wales - I had planned one years ago, when Patricia Kennealy Morrison beat me to it with her series set on a New Wales-like world with similar origins. But it has been years. And her novels weren't funny. Mine will be.
The thing is, Star Trek has helped me as a writer and a reader, so I don't apologise for mentioning it here. If you haven't seen the original series, it's easily available on DVD. Watch it!
By: Sue Bursztynski,
The year is 1926. Seventeen year old Thalia, Erato and Clio are summoned to London by a woman called Hestia, who tells them that she is their aunt and they're triplets. They were separated at birth, after their mother's death. Now, their unpleasant father has also died and the money he held in trust for his wife should be theirs, but there's a problem: a half-brother, Charles, has the money and isn't about to let go of it. And in 1926, the law allows this. Hestia is determined that her beloved sister's children shall have the money she wanted them to have. They will live with her meanwhile.
Each of the girls has a different background and personality. Thalia, who has been kept on her guardians' estate all her life, not allowed to learn much beyond French and the piano and repressed, is grabbing the excuse to rebel and do all the things her "uncle" thinks women shouldn't do. Erato aka Ro was brought up by a loveable but irresponsible university academic and his wife, who was the one who looked after the money and has died, leaving him to make disastrous financial decisions. Ro wants to study medicine and is generally the most sensible of the three - until she meets a young man. Clio has been brought up by a vicar and his wife, the only parents she has ever known, and had a more or less normal life, but her father has died and her mother is very ill, needing treatment. This could be her chance to get the money she needs.
The 1920s was a lively era. The world had just been through "the war to end wars" with millions dying, first from the war itself, then from the Spanish Flu that came almost immediately after. People reacted against this. The outrageous flavour of the times comes through. I enjoyed the story and the occasional touch of humour, such as when Thalia is caught with a boy in her room and has to put up with a tutorial on various types of birth control, and I found it a quick, easy read. It's a story that couldn't have happened in our own time. We weren't given an info dump, just hints, as the novel went, of what made the characters act the way they did. There were some interesting and sobering touches about the eugenics studies happening at the time, with a character suggesting the sterilisation of those who don't measure up, which made me, at least, shudder, knowing what happened in Germany only a few years later.
A number of things didn't quite make sense for me. For example, having summoned her nieces to London and vowed to get them their mother's money, Hestia then disappeared for large chunks of the novel, leaving them to do their own investigation into mysteries around around their birth and make their own arrangements about wresting the money from their half-brother; her only contribution, after a useless meeting, is to phone him up and yell at him now and then. And while I could understand Thalia's rebellion, I wondered just how she learned to drive and smoke a few days after arriving in London from a country estate in which her guardian wouldn't let her wear make-up let alone smoke or learn to drive! Yet one day she goes out and returns a little later in the day driving a car and smoking, with not a single cough or splutter.
This novel has been slotted into the "new adult" category rather than YA, but really, I will be happy to offer it to the better readers among our students in Year 9 and 10. There's very little in it that I haven't seen in YA before and the characters are in their late teens.
A light, entertaining read that would be just right for the beach or over a coffee.
By: Sue Bursztynski,
...And speaking of free -legal! - downloads, two ASIM stories have been shortlisted for the Sir Julius Vogel Awards, the New Zealand answer to the Ditmars, which will be presented at the New Zealand Natcon in July. They are "Paint By Numbers" by Dan Rabarts, from ASIM#55 and "Better Phones" by Grant Stone from ASIM#56.
With the authors' permission, ASIM is making them available free in ebook format until July 14, from the website here.
Why not wander over and grab it while available? And if you're going to the con, you might consider voting for them. Even if not, enjoy! I have to admit, I didn't choose either of them, but one of my choices in the multi-editor issue was in Greece and the other was here in Australia. They were wonderful stories - but so are these. You can get them in PDF, ePub or mobi.
I hear there's going to be another Peggy Bright Books sampler soon. I'll let you know when that happens.
By: Sue Bursztynski,
This time last week I was on my way home from Canberra on a Virgin Australia flight. I had to get a taxi to the airport because, unlike other places, Canberra doesn't seem to have a bus route that goes directly there - you can, if you're familiar with the area, take a bus NEAR the airport, but not actually there. And if you come from interstate, chances are you just want to get to the airport or from there to the hotel (no courtesy buses either, it seems, or not to the hotel I stayed in) without having to lug your bag around and ask people where to go. Still, because it is the way things are done there, at least the process ran smoothly, with the hotel getting me a taxi immediately. The last time I was interstate, at Swancon, the hotel connection bus I had booked failed to appear and the hotel gave me a cab voucher, because it was getting uncomfortably close to my departure time. It wasn't all that much dearer than a Skybus and got me from door to door.
Now, the con itself: I had a ball!
I rarely go interstate for a convention and the last two I have attended have been Natcons, where I was persuaded by friends who wanted to share a room. Swancon is always great - I've been to three - and this was my second Conflux and also excellent, as it was last time. It is, after all, a professional development for me as a YA writer and teacher-librarian, because the place was crawling with YA writers such as Kate Forsyth, Garth Nix, Margo Lanagan, the delightful Richard Harland, Felicity Pulman (from whom I bought the last two of the Janna Mysteries for my library - she had to self-publish them because her publisher scrapped the series after four, but I had a young man waiting to read the rest of the series) and even new children's writer Tom Dullemond, who is a member of the ASIM Co-op, whose book was launched at the convention. Sean Williams was there; he's better known for adult fiction, but has done some work for children and teens recently, and some of my book clubbers are currently reading his manuscript from Allen and Unwin. Not there, alas, was Michael Pryor, but perhaps he will be at my next convention, Continuum, which is on the Queen's Birthday Weekend and I know my publisher Paul Collins will be a GoH there. There's something great about
I set off on the Wednesday evening after work, catching a flight from Tullamarine airport. I was expecting to have some sort of meal, but there really wasn't time - the plane was no sooner up in the air than it was coming down again - a short trip and even shorter for a probably good tail wind - so they offered us crackers, cheese and fruit juice. No tea or coffee. I was hungry and yearning for a cuppa by the time I arrived.
My taxi driver was a nice young man who had been doing this for two weeks. He was a systems analyst between jobs, as taxi drivers tend to be when they're not uni students. The trouble was, he didn't yet know his way around and had to ask another driver where Rydges was - there are two in Canberra and I had specified Capital Hill. He tried to drop me off at Lakeside - just as well I saw the name on the door mat! So he apologised profusely and took me to the right place for no extra charge.
I checked in and met Edwina Harvey, one of two friends with whom I was sharing a room, but Edwina and Anne had been out for dinner already, so I went to the hotel dining room, where I took one look at the menu, went "Eek!" at the prices and ordered a bowl of beer-battered chips, about the only thing on the menu I could afford, apart from a salmon entree which I didn't want because you couldn't have it without batter and I hate battered fish - the last time I had some, the batter was nicely browned and the fish was almost raw.
Those beer batter chips were to be my lunch at least twice more, when I couldn't get out.v Fortunately, I had prepaid for the Steampunk Afternoon Tea and the Regency Banquet and a buffet breakfast was part of the hotel's deal.
Thursday afternoon I attended the Steampunk Afternoon Tea, wearing a long dark skirt and a long-sleeved blouse, with a bit of Victorian-style jewellery and a shawl. There were, of course, a lot of folk who could sew better than me and came in proper costumes.
Here's a picture of the winners. To the left is Lewis Morley, artist extraordinaire, and that samurai robot is Thoraiya Dyer, who seems to have an unfair amount of talent.
And here's a pic of Lewis Morley and his partner Marilyn Pride, who illoed my first two books for Allen and Unwin. I once wrote her into a children's chapter book, as an artist who was coming to visit her old school, where she had donated a painting, but nobody knew where it had disappeared. I think the illustrator of THAT book must have recognised the cheeky reference, because the picture of the artists in the book looked uncannily like Marilyn.
The afternoon tea was delightful, and we had eaten our cake stand of cakes and sandwiches when, to our surprise, they brought us another one.
That night I was on a late-night panel on the subject of fairy tales, moderated by Jenny Blackford. I think I may have been the only member of the panel who hadn't done folklore academically! Everyone else was either a PhD or Masters candidate. I really just wanted to talk about the use of fairy tales in fiction, especially YA fiction, which I know best, but we got diverted by other things. Oh, well. It was a good panel anyway, and afterwards I stuck around for one on the subject of self-publishing, although it's not something I would do myself, becuase it was on the subject of whether or not self-published work needed an editor. Patty Jansen, a member of the ASIM group who has self-published a lot, argued that it was a waste of money because you could always rely on beta readers. A freelance editor on the panel suggested that some of her potential clients might have been better off spending their money on learning to write! She would not accept first drafts.
Someone else commented that not everyone was as honest as this editor and not all writers had access to such excellent beta readers as Patty.
Patty said that if some people wrote and published dreadful stuff, it was no skin off her nose. At this point, I piped up with, "It is if you're a reviewer!" and everyone laughed.
This attitude of, "Oh, I can get my family and friends to read it!" is one reason why I rarely review self-published work, and then only if the author has a track record in the paid publishing industry, such as Felicity Pulman. There may be some wonderful self-published work out there, but how do you know till you have agreed to read it? And the ones who approach me mostly want to offer me an ebook, which I can't put on my library shelves and this is one of the main reasons why I review.
We all went to bed, with no time or energy for the ASIM room party we always promise ourselves.
Friday afternoon, after some panels and some I went with Edwina for a swim in the hotel pool before going to a memorial to Jan Howard Finder, aka the Wombat, whom I have mentioned elsewhere on this blog. It was a small group, but nice to remember him together. Everyone had a funny story to tell about him and it was especially pleasing to have an attendee who had only met him once but wanted to pay tribute. David MacDonald said he had met Jan when they were both on a Tolkien panel in the US. Jan had made him feel welcome and had been delightful.
David actually took this picture with my iPad. That's Marilyn Pride, Susan Batho, me behind Susan,, Graeme Batho and behind him Edwina, Jean Weber and Bill Wright, a Melbourne fan who asked for copies of my photos of Jan so he could use some for his fanzine.
The evening brought the Regency Banquet, which was very special. I had made an effort to prepare a costume, buying a Simplicity pattern which turned out to be very complicated for the likes of me, and got as far as cutting out the pieces. I simply wore a long dress and shawl with a ribbon under the bust.
And here I am with my friend Anne Devrell, who did make the costume from that pattern. She can sew. I can't - well, not with a machine.
I had read about this banquet, which had been done before. It was carefully researched by Dr Gillian Polack, Canberra fan and historian extraordinaire, along with a team of volunteers who had cooked and tried out a huge number of recipes before settling on a menu, which was handed to the hotel. They had the menu, so they were able to reuse it at this banquet, and towards the end, the chefs were invited in to be applauded by the diners.
We were also entertained by a historical dance group, who played historical instruments, performed complex Regency dances and invited us to come up and learn the simpler ones with their help. That was a lot of fun and I had a go at most of them.
I enjoyed the food - you could eat as much as you liked without every touching meat, Gillian had made sure of that, none of this giving veggies the side dishes everyone else was having or a salad. Even the rolls were Brentford rolls, and part of the menu. Gillian went around anxiously apologising that the flavours weren't quite right, but they tasted fine to me. Typical picky historian! I had no room for dessert, which was a pity, because they looked wonderful, but Gillian persuaded me to try the homemade apricot ice cream and I had a bit of the "burnt almonds" which were really just almonds stuck into the kind of glassy toffee even I can make. Delicious!
More panels on Saturday - I was doing one called "Appropriating the sacred" which I thought might be about the use of religion in spec fic and was all ready to talk about some of the books I had read with religions in them, but it was really more about the ethics of using existing religion in fiction, especially Indigenous religion. Still, it worked well and I waffled along.
The Ditmars were on at five pm, so again I ended up having a chips lunch. I attended two kaffeeklatsches, one with Garth Nix, one with Kate Forsyth. Kate's was especially interesting, I thought. though I think Garth Nix is a fine writer. He was startled to hear that at my school, it's the boys who are borrowing his Old Kingdom Trilogy, which is about three strong young women.
Here, in case you don't know, is the list of who took home the Ditmars:
- Sea Hearts, Margo Lanagan (Allen & Unwin)
Best Novella or Novelette
- “Sky”, Kaaron Warren (Through Splintered Walls)
Best Short Story
- “The Wisdom of Ants”, Thoraiya Dyer (Clarkesworld 12/12)
Best Collected Work
- Through Splintered Walls, Kaaron Warren (Twelfth Planet)
- Cover art, Kathleen Jennings, for Midnight and Moonshine (Ticonderoga)
Best Fan Writer
- Tansy Rayner Roberts, for body of work including reviews in Not If You Were The Last Short Story On Earth
Best Fan Artist
* Kathleen Jennings, for body of work including “The Dalek Game” and
“The Tamsyn Webb Sketchbook”
Best Fan Publication in Any Medium
- The Writer and the Critic, Kirstyn McDermott and Ian Mond
Best New Talent
William Atheling Jr. Award for Criticism or Review
- Tansy Rayner Roberts, for “Historically Authentic Sexism in Fantasy. Let’s Unpack That.” (Tor.com)
I pinched this from the Locus web site, which included the other entries. I have only read the Margo Lanagan book and the Tansy Rayner Roberts stuff and I have seen the cover of Midnight And Moonshine, which I bought, and I have to say I think those ones deserve their prizes.
A bunch of us went out for dinner afterwards, hoping to drown our sorrows - Simon Petrie of the ASIM bunch had been on the novella shortlist and Peggy Bright Books had had its wonderful collection Light Touch Paper on the list too - but we ended up just eating Mexican at a fast food place.
The next morning I had to leave directly after breakfast, but it was great to catch up with friends, meet those I hadn't seen before and I learned a lot from those panels.
A delightful con!
By: Sue Bursztynski,
Earlier this evening, I was googling myself, as you do, in hopes of a new review, perhaps, or some such, when I found a web site called Bookos.org, which was offering PDFs for free - including my children's book, Your Cat Could Be A Spy, which was published by Allen And Unwin in 2006. It was part of a wonderful non fiction series called It's True! The problem with being part of a series is that when the publishers decide it's time to end it, your book goes out of print along with all the others. They printed six thousand copies of my book and sold them all, though most went through Scholastic Book Club, which meant that I got very little in the way of royalties and not a lot went into libraries where I might at least have had lending rights paid on them. But hey, there were thousands of kids who ordered a copy of my book because they wanted it, through schools or school libraries, and there are many writers of adult books who don't sell that well, some literary writers far more famous than me who have never sold more than 2000 copies of anything in their lives. The book is still available from the publishers as POD and possibly under its North American title, This Book Is Bugged!
As a school librarian working at a school which has distributed iPads to the kids, I have been looking up sites which offer free downloads legally, even if it means classics from Gutenberg which only a few will be interested in or self-published books which might or might not be good. To download someone's hard work for which permission has neither been asked nor given would be unthinkable.
I have no idea who is behind this web site - there's no "About Us", no contact details, nothing. No doubt deliberate. And interestingly, it has a link to Amazon, in case you want to check it out further - why is this? Weird!
I downloaded the PDF to see what would open up - I know, not safe! But I had to know. It's the whole book, art and all, except the cover. Which means my wonderful illustrator, Mitch Vane, the lady who illoes her husband Danny Katz's articles in the Age, has also been ripped off. She was supposed to get a percentage of any royalties.
I am really not interested in hearing about "freedom of information" so often ranted about by my librarian colleagues. If you've put months or years of your life into a piece of writing or art, nobody has the right to help themselves to it. When someone chooses to offer their work for free, that's fine. I have done so with some of my fiction on this web site, all stuff that has been published already. But if someone grabbed a copy of my ASIM stories or the Chronos eligibles and used it for their own benefit without asking me, that would make me see red. Heaven knows, there are plenty enough of online giveaway offers from authors and publishers.
By: Sue Bursztynski,
Introducing Samantha-Ellen Bound, debut novelist, whose children's book What The Raven Saw has come out this year from the Woolshed Press, Random House Australia!
GR: Tell us a little about yourself - your background, your interests, what you do for fun when you're not writing.
SEB: I grew up in Tasmania and moved to Melbourne straight after I finished school. Reading, writing, and creating stories have been a huge part of my life ever since Kindy. My other big love is performing arts – you can often find me on stage pretending to be someone I’m not, or teaching dance. To chill out I love travelling, the beach and any kind of water sport.
GR: I see you've done a Diploma in Publishing and Editing - was there any writing involved? What, actually, DID it involve?
SEB: There was lots of writing involved, but none of it was fiction! The Diploma was all about the ‘other’ side of publishing – the editing, proofing, design, marketing, financial side etc. Basically everything that goes into the creation of a book. I did it because I had an interest in the process of book publishing, and also because I wanted to refine my writing skills with the editing component. The Diploma helped me to wise up about getting my own book published – I knew exactly what to do and where to go and what to expect, and I loved all the guest speakers that would come in every week to talk about all the aspects of book publishing.
GR: Do you feel that either this course or your work as a children's bookseller has helped in your writing? If so, in what way?
SEB: Absolutely; I didn’t want to be a writer who had written a book and then had no idea what to do next – studying publishing meant I had all the tools to make it easy for myself to get my book out there. And by studying editing I now have a far greater knowledge of how to put a book together, and how to improve my writing. My work as a children’s bookseller has been an inspiration and a great source of knowledge. It really ignited the spark that made me want to get my own book on the shelves.
GR: Where did your idea for What The Raven Saw come from?
SEB: It was actually rather random – I saw a raven sitting next to a weathervane at my local church and around him this story began to emerge. Some parts of What the Raven Saw were short stories before I tweaked them a bit and put them into the novel.
GR: At which age group is this novel aimed - and did you have any beta readers of that age reading it before publication?
SEB: My intent with What the Raven Saw is that readers of all ages can enjoy it – that it has themes, humour and ideas that are universal. All my favourite children’s books have a maturity to them that deepens your appreciation as you get older. But my target audience would be late primary school – the 9-12 age bracket. Yes, my publisher did get primary and teen readers to read it and some schools even did activities based around the story (designing a cover etc), all before Raven came out.
GR: The landscape is very English, with its churchyard and the fields and even a scarecrow (one with an unusual accent!). Where were you imagining when you wrote it?
SEB: I didn’t intend the story to be connected to a particular country or place – it could be anywhere, or any place. You may notice that the characters all have different accents and ways of speaking, and I like this crazy kind of mish-mash. That being said I have spent a lot of time in country Australia, around a lot of lovely old churches, and this probably inspired me a bit. I suppose the setting is rather English but I like that it’s never outright stated where the story is set.
GR: I notice that the chapter names are taken from hymns or other religious songs. What is the thinking behind this?
SEB: The title of each hymn (and if you listen to the songs, also the content) reflects what happens in that chapter, or the mindset of the raven in that chapter. At the start of the book the Raven can only really express emotion though the gospel songs and how they make him feel, so the chapter names reflect that. I love gospel songs myself, and so I really loved that I could incorporate them into the book.
GR: Actually, there are a lot of references to music in the course of the novel. Were you listening to anything in particular as you wrote?
SEB: I love music and have been singing since I was little (sometimes badly), and I think music is an important, fantastic and creative way to express emotion. I hope that comes across in What the Raven Saw. I would listen to the gospel songs or hymns as I wrote the novel (only very quietly though, otherwise I find it too distracting, because I start paying attention to the song rather than what I’m writing!).
GR: There seems to be a solid background to the relationship between the raven and the priest, as if there has been something written about them before, in your short stories, perhaps. Have you ever written about these characters before? If not, would you consider doing it?
SEB: The scenes between the raven and the scarecrow, and the scene with the man in the tree, were both short stories before they were in Raven. The raven and the pigeon also made an appearance in dialogue-writing classes at uni. Obviously I loved the raven character and kept using him! I had never written anything about the priest and the raven before – but I did want them to feel like they were old friends (actually the priest is the raven’s only friend for a very long time!).
GR: Do you have a favourite character? If so, who and why? A favourite scene?
SEB: I really love the raven. When I see a raven in the street now I always watch him to see if he might be my raven. I love that the raven is a mammoth grump but ultimately lovable. But all the characters in What the Raven Saw are very special to me, and they all have qualities that made writing about them a joy. My favourite scene is probably when the raven and the pigeon meet the scarecrow – I think the scarecrow is the character that has the most impact on the raven.
GR: How did you celebrate the sale of your first novel?
SEB: It’s quite funny; you work so long and hard on one novel, and every few weeks or so there is a new development and it becomes an ongoing process, this sale of your book. And when the publication date finally comes around it kind of feels like just another logical step – although I do keep an eye on my book at work – always face-out!! I think the celebration was more internal – getting a children’s book published has been one of my biggest dreams since Kindergarten, and I was very happy and proud when it was both accepted for publication and then released. It is a great confidence booster that hard work and belief in yourself pays off.
GR: What are you working on now?
SEB: My second standalone novel is written and being given an edit at the moment. I have just written a short play, How Can We Help, which will be performed at the Essendon Theatre Company in June. But my next project, which I am so excited about, is a children’s series called Silver Shoes – it is set in a dance school called Silver Shoes, and told through the eyes of four of the dancers there – Eleanor, Ashley, Riley and Paige. It is for a mid-primary audience, and all about dancing – not just ballet. I love it because I get to combine two of my biggest loves – writing and dancing.
Thanks for dropping by The Great Raven, Sam-Ellen!
If you would like to follow Samantha-Ellen's blog, she can be found at the Book Grotto
By: Sue Bursztynski,
I don't know why it has taken so long, but I have just added to my list of links to interesting sites the delightful Allen and Unwin children's section blog, Alien Onion
. It's not the standard dry information site designed merely to let you know what the company is doing, but a lovely bit of waffle and chatter that reflects the relaxed and laid-back style of the Allen and Unwin offices. The current post is by publisher Erica Wagner, who remembers how she almost started working for them earlier than she did, and speaks of sharing a trestle table with then-publisher Rosalind Price.
I have a soft spot for these guys; they published three of my books, including the very first, Monsters And Creatures Of The Night.
Well, the first two are out of print(although you might still be able to buy them through ABEBooks and one blogger told me he had lost his precious copy of Monsters
and bought a new one through an online bid!) and the third is POD, so you can buy it but have to order a copy. BUT - I still feel a part of the family. They treat me as a family member. And they are
a family, with staff who have been there for years.
I remember reading a post on someone's web site speaking of a visit to a huge publisher office in New York, getting lost in the vast HQ. You couldn't get lost in the A&U office in East Melbourne. It's a terrace house.
My main relationship with them these days is reviewing and the Silverfish Reading Group, where my book club students get to read manuscripts, but I feel very comfortable with them still and who knows? I might yet sell them another book!
Meanwhile, I do recommend the Alien Onion blog. Go check it out!
By: Sue Bursztynski,
Kate Forsyth is the author of a large number of wonderful novels, mostly for children and young adults and, more recently, for adults as well. Bitter Greens
, her Rapunzel novel has been shortlisted for both the Aurealis and the Ditmar Awards. The Wild Girl
(reviewed on this site
) is too new to be up for any awards as yet, but I will be very surprised if it isn't on someone's list next year, perhaps a Premier's Award?
Kate very kindly agreed to be interviewed and a fabulous interview it is. Welcome to The Great Raven, Kate!
SB: You're best known as a children's/YA writer, but your last two books have been for adults(although The Wild Girl might *just* wriggle under the YA/NA fence). First question: do you intend to keep writing for adults or, like Catherine Jinks, do some stuff for adults, but mostly continue with books for young readers?
KF: I love writing for both adults and for children, and so in an ideal world I’d like to alternate between them. I am working on a 5-book fantasy adventure series for children right now, which will be published next year, then I am contracted to write another historical novel for adults. I try as much as possible to build my writing schedule around my family’s needs, and so I’m always thinking ahead, deciding what year would be best to do which project. For example, my eldest son will be doing his final school exams in 2015 and so I will choose a smaller, easier project to focus on that year. I have so many ideas for novels its always simply a matter of deciding between them.
SB: As well as being for adults, your most recent books - Bitter Greens and The Wild Girl - have had fairy tale/fairy tale teller themes. What has particularly interested you in this area recently?
KF: I have always been fascinated by fairy tales and fairy tale retellings since reading them as a child. Many of my books draw upon the structures and symbols of the genre, and I first studied them academically in my first degree. I knew I wanted to retell the Rapunzel fairy tale from the age of 11 or 12, and thought about the idea off and on for years. Eventually all that thinking led me to the writing of ‘Bitter Greens’. The idea for writing ‘The Wild Girl’ sprang out of my research for that ... Ii often happens that way – researching & writing one novel throws up ideas for the next.
SB: How did you get the idea for The Wild Girl?
KF: When I was first thinking about Bitter Greens, I imagined a frame tale in which someone – perhaps an old woman – would tell the Rapunzel tale to someone else – perhaps one of the Grimm brothers. I wanted to tell Rapunzel as a historical novel, not a fantasy … I wanted it to feel as if it might really have happened, as if it was – perhaps – true. I thought Rapunzel had been told to the Grimm Brothers, you see – that it was an oral story recorded by them. However, once I began researching the sources of the tales, I discovered that the Grimm story had a literary source and had, in fact, been written by the 17th century noblewoman Charlotte-Rose de la Force. It was during that research that I stumbled upon the beautiful, heart-breaking love story of Wilhelm Grimm and Dortchen Wild, the young woman who had grown up next door to the Grimms and who told them many of their most famous fairy tales. I knew at once I had to tell their story. I had to put it aside, however, and focus on the novel I was then working on, which was Bitter Greens.
SB: Bitter Greens was a very complex read, with three streams - the stories of Charlotte-Rose, Margherita and Selena, intertwined. You could have stuck to either the story of Charlotte-Rose, as straight historical fiction, or the adaptation of the fairy-tale itself. Yet you did both. Why?
KF: I always felt the greatest challenge to rewriting such a well-known tale was creating suspense and surprise, the two ingredients I think are most vital to a compelling narrative. Everyone knows the basic storyline of Rapunzel and everyone knows how it ends (happily ever after). I needed to find some way to make the story fresh and new and surprising. Even shocking. I also wanted to have three narrative threads, three points of view, so that I could braid them together in such a way that the structure of the book would symbolically reflect the braid of hair, the key motif of the story. I knew from the very beginning that I wanted to tell the story from both the maiden and the witch’s point of view, but who could be the third important character? I played with writing a section from the POV of the prince – in fact, I wrote about 20,000 words from his POV – but then I felt instinctively that this was a women’s story, and I wanted to know who had told it. I began to research the sources of the tale, and that was when I first stumbled upon the extraordinary tale of Charlotte-Rose de la Force … and of course she became my heroine, my primary protagonist, simply because her true life story was so dramatic and so fascinating.
SB: What's your favourite way of doing historical research? On-line, for example? Books? Both? Do you use a lot of primary sources?
KF: I begin by reading everything I can find on the subject. I create a library, usually by buying masses of books, both new and second-hand, I need to own the books, as I’ll go back to them again and again and again. I will research on the internet too, basically to create a solid base of knowledge, and to identify what else I need to know. I take copious notes, keeping track of what I read where and when, so I can find it again. I also read as many novels as I can set in the same time and place as my own novel – I’ll read everything from classic novels to historical romance and historical murder mysteries to memoirs, biographies and scholarly non-fiction. I want to know everything! My research will throw up ideas for my story, and will also help me create the milieu – the setting and the inner life of the characters. I’ll also read as much primary material as I can – with ‘Bitter Greens’ I read many letters and memoirs of the Sun-King’s court to help me find my ‘voice’. I also paid to have many of Charlotte-Rose de la Force’s own writings translated into English for the first time. The internet is also great for visual stimulation – I look at photos and portraits and maps and I print them out and stick them in my notebook.
When my first draft is almost done, I’ll travel to the places I have featured in the book. I like to see the setting, and hear it, and taste it, and smell it. I like to imagine the emotional reaction of my characters, and test for myself how long it might take to walk from one place to another, and so on. For me, this is an important part of the process.
SB: Tell us about the research you did for The Wild Girl.
KF: I began by building a time line of the key years, and assembling my cast of characters, and finding out everything I could about them. The Grimm brothers are extremely well-documented but the life of Dortchen Wild, who became Frau Wilhelm Grimm, is nothing but a footnote in history. I found out what stories she told Wilhelm, and when, and I looked at what clues the stories gave to her inner life. I read everything I could find on the Grimm brothers and their lives – dozens of books – and then I studied society in Germany in the early 19th century, and life under Napoleon. That took ages! I hired a German translator and researcher to help me, as many of the key academic studies have not been translated into English. All the time I was building the story, planning my plot-line, assembling my key thematic symbols and structures. As I wrote, I’d need to do more research …and my plans would change and evolve. I travelled to Germany for a few weeks close to the end of the first draft, and visited all the key places in the book (the ones that hadn’t been bombed to smithereens in the Second World war). I also read a lot. Jane Austen was a contemporary of the Grimms, and so I read all her books again for the umpteenth time, trying to get a sense of the times. I read Goethe, and the works of the German romantic poet Novalis, and some of the letters of Beethoven, and of course I read the fairy tales, studying the earliest transcriptions and all the later variants, and I corresponded with many top Grimm scholars. I was lucky enough to read Wilhelm’s own diary, never before translated into English, and Dortchen’s memoir, dictated to her daughter on her deathbed. I could go on and on and on – this was a very research-intensive book – but I don’t want to bore you!
SB: You have written a lot of fiction set in your own universes - how much connection did they have with our own world? The universe of The Starthorn Tree series, for example?
KF: I think fantasy must always be strongly rooted in the real, and so when I am writing a fantasy novel, like The Starthorn Tree, I always have a strong sense of where it might stand in our own history. I think of the world of Estelliana, the world of The Starthorn Tree, as being very like central Europe in the early 15th Century. The world of the Witches of Eileanan is like an alternative 16th century Scotland. This means I know whether they have invented spinning wheels yet, or cannons, or lead-paned glass, or corked bottles of wine, and I know what they would wear, and what musical instrument they might play. I always try and create as vivid and real a world as I can, regardless of whether I am writing historical novels or fantasy, and knowing these things can really help.
SB: What do you do for pleasure when you're not writing?
KF: I don’t think you’ll be surprised to hear I’m an avid reader. I read a lot! I also love to cook and garden and dance and swim in the ocean, and spend time with my loved ones. And I love to travel and have adventures.
SB: So, what are you working on now?
KF: I’m working on a fast-paced fantasy adventure series filled with dragons and unicorns and all things fantastical, and I’m busy studying for my doctorate on Rapunzel. As soon as I’ve finished that, I’ll start researching a new historical novel for adults, which retells the Beauty and the Beast, and is set in Nazi Germany.
Wow! That sounds worth looking forward to! Thanks for visiting The Great Raven.
If you'd like to find out more about Kate and her books, her web site is at:
By: Sue Bursztynski,
Once, there was a bookshop called Space Age Books, which was the gathering place for Melbourne fans for many years. It was in the Melbourne CBD and as we all know, that's not a cheap place to have a shop of any kind. It closed, after many years, although eventually there was another SF bookshop there, Slow Glass, run by a gentleman who had worked at Space Age. That, in its turn, became the gathering place for fans, but the rent tripled and it closed, the owner moving to the suburbs, although he now does most of his sales online.
Another bookshop, Minotaur Books, moved from an arcade to a big shop in Bourke Street to an even bigger one in Elizabeth Street, where it remains to this day, as a "pop culture" shop. You can still buy SF and fantasy there, if you don't mind paying more. But it focuses on comics, SF related knick knacks, games, DVDs, manga. All rather expensive and I, at least, don't feel as if the folk there are fans themselves, except perhaps comic fans.
Likewise, a shop I loved, in the suburbs, Alternate Worlds, became a media, games and comics shop, with very little I want to buy.
But there was another shop, Of Science And Swords, whose owners and staff were fans. You could discuss spec fic with them and get recommendations and if they didn't have the book you wanted, they would order it in. They moved from their little arcade shop to larger premises. I had bought lots of stuff there, but not been in for a while, unable to get there on time after work.
I went to the snazzy new shop today, only to find that they, too, had been unable to pay the rent and have moved online - so far, only a Facebook page, and as I refuse to have anything to do with FB for now, that is that for me. No more Of Science And Swords, just another "pop culture" store on the site - only there aren't any books at all in it. Besides, it was the browsing and the discussion and the careful selection of a book I mightn't have heard of that I loved about the place. Buying online means knowing what you want - or think you want. Not for me!
I will have to go into the suburbs where, thank goodness, there is still a fan-run SF shop, Notions Unlimited. But how often? It's in the outer suburbs. I will have to make the decision to go there, not wander in after work to see what new goodies have arrived. And it has to b n the weekend, as it takes too long to get there after work.
Still, it's there - and it is set up very much like Slow Glass Books was... very promising!
By: Sue Bursztynski,
“It's a once-in-a-lifetime thing: a girl on a yacht with her super-rich banker father; a chance for the family to heal after a turbulent time; the peaceful sea, the warm sun . . . But a nightmare is about to explode as a group of Somali pirates seizes the boat and its human cargo - and the family becomes a commodity in a highly sophisticated transaction. Hostage 1 is Dad - the most valuable. Amy is Hostage 3. As she builds a strange bond with one of her captors, it becomes brutally clear that the price of a life and its value are very different things . . .”
Hostage Three definitely has a dramatic opening, with Amy standing on the ship, about to be shot, one of those openings that draw the reader in immediately, before going back three months, before all this started. Amy has just completed school, but has been automatically failed due to misbehaviour. Her mother had committed suicide during a bout of depression and Amy blames herself for having missed the clues. Her banker father is absent a lot of the time on work-related trips and now he has married again; her misbehaviour is an attempt to grab his attention. But there isn't an info dump or exposition here; you get a little information here, then more in the course of the novel, just as much as you need at any one time, so that it builds up a substantial portrait before the end - and the final pieces fall into place after the main drama is over. Nicely done!
Despite the dramatic opening, this is not a white-knuckle thriller. The family is always in danger, so the tension is there, but that’s not the main point of the story. The trip was intended to heal the trauma and, ironically, it does, but not in the way expected. There’s this attractive young pirate, you see, Farouz. Farouz, however, has his own tragedy, part of the constant wars in his country. As the young couple share their troubles and their memories, both begin to heal, but the ending won’t be quite as simple as in the average YA novel.
I found the organised nature of the piracy fascinating. The Somalis, Farouz explains to Amy, had been fishermen until their fishing grounds were wiped out. Piracy has become their new local industry. He himself is the son of teachers, but he needs the money from this to get his innocent brother out of prison, where he, too, is being held for ransom.
It's not what we think of when we hear the word "piracy". There are wealthy sponsors of the raids. The spoils are shared out so much per crew member, so much for the sponsor, so much for the families of any pirates - or, as they call themselves coast guards - who die. Any pirate who does the wrong thing during the course of the hostage situation is fined; the hostages are important to their captors and they won’t harm them unnecessarily.
I did wonder why the heroine had to be half-American. She and her family had been living in London for several years and it didn’t really add anything to the story, except it’s convenient for the purposes of a scene set in Mexico. It wasn’t vital, though.
It took me a while to begin this book, which I probably wouldn’t have chosen if I hadn’t received it for reviewing, but it’s a good, easy read and, once begun, it took me very little time to finish.
If you want a novel that reads like an adventure, but has a little more depth, this is a good one to try.
Recommended for teens from about fourteen up.
By: Sue Bursztynski,
If you have been following this blog since last year, or if you went with me to the YABBA Awards
(yes, you, Thando, Ryan, Selena, Kristen, though poor Dylan missed out that time) you will remember my mention of Graham Davey, the President of YABBA, the Young Australian Best Book Awards, the one the kids get to vote for. I first met him by phone, when I applied for my school to join YABBA. He had been doing this for twenty years, according to the YABBA homepage, as a volunteer. It would have been an enormous job even if he was getting paid for it, but he did it as a volunteer! His day job was as a storyteller, which I can easily imagine him doing with that rich, beautiful voice.
I posted about last year's YABBAs here
. It was a wonderful day and when I asked Graham if I could come both as a teacher and a writer, he said of course I could, and there was not only a table for me and a slot in the program, but a beautifully designed slide with my books on it in the presentation.
And a few weeks ago, when I spoke with him on the phone, he told me to check out the video from last year, where there was a snippet of my student Thando speaking. That was thoughtful of him.
I'm only sorry that my students missed out on the YABBAs for so long. This year, I had them nominate books for the short list. "Is Andy Griffiths Australian, Miss?" I said yes, he was,but they had to nominate a book that hadn't won before, and this might be difficult. "Is John Flanagan Australian, Miss?" Yes, I assured young Rakibur, he is. I think one of them nominated something of mine; he shooed me away when I walked past him at the computer. It was to be a surprise. ;-)
The YABBAs will continue and they will be wonderful; that is Graham's legacy. But we'll miss him at these events. We'll miss him a lot.
Damn! We are losing far too many wonderful people!
By: Sue Bursztynski,
Last year, I was sent a copy of Susan Green's The Truth About Verity Sparks to review for Sisters In Crime. It is not only a mystery, it has touches of fantasy and goes into the Victorian fascination with spiritualism and seances, and it was short listed for a CBCA Award. Also, I found myself on a panel with Susan at SheKilda, where I discovered she had also written books for Dolly Fiction many years ago. Here she is, to tell us more about herself and her writing. Enjoy!
GR: Tell us a bit about yourself - your background, what you enjoy doing when you aren't writing, where you live.
SG My mother was a teacher and later, school principal, and my father was an artist. I have two older brothers. We lived in Chelsea, a Melbourne suburb on the bay, and our back gate opened directly onto the beach. Then when I was 7 we moved for 3 years to Castlemaine in Central Victoria. I spent a lot of time in the bush – actually, in the local cemetery, which was near our house. I loved the Castlemaine area, hated leaving and always wanted to return. Lucky me, I have.
It was an idyllic childhood in many ways, but the teenage years…? All that angst! Books were the great escape. They still are. When I’m not writing, I work part-time in the local bookshop. Apart from that, I’m fairly domestic - I am pretty slapdash at them, but I love cooking, gardening and especially knitting.
GR: when did you realise you were a children's writer?
SG: I was late learning to read (in fact, had to repeat Preps) but as soon as I could – around the age of 7-8 - I was hooked and I wanted to write books too. The Secret Seven series by Enid Blyton were my first great inspiration.
GR: What was your first book? Tell us about it and how you came to sell it.
SG: My first book was a picture storybook called The Possum Charmers, published in 1987. It was a joint effort with the illustrator, Stuart Billington. It was due to sheer luck and short-sightedness that it came to be published. I was trying to find a seat on a crowded train home to Castlemaine but without my glasses, it was a struggle. A man patted the seat beside him and we got chatting. He and his wife were having a picture storybook published by Greenhouse Publications and they’d just been to see their editor. I told them about my story and they gave me an introduction to her.
GR:How did you celebrate your first sale?
SG: To tell you the truth, I don’t remember, but we were both very excited and happy.
GR: You once had a gig as a Dolly Fiction writer - how did this happen? (And which one was it? I bought some of the Dolly Fiction books for my school library and there were some big name writers doing it under pen names!)
SG: I wrote 5 in all. Is He For Real?, So Hard to Leave You, The Worst Best Year, The Summer People and Runaway Girl. My Dolly name was Suzanne Lennox – Lennox is my middle name. My editor for the picture storybooks asked if I’d like to make some money. The answer was yes! For Dolly Fiction titles, authors were paid a flat fee instead of royalties. I think it was around $4000, which seemed like a fortune. I enjoyed writing them; I learned a lot.
GR:Who, if anyone, influences your writing style?
SG: I’m not sure – the true answer is probably every writer I’ve ever read, even the ones I didn’t like much. For example, when I was 12, I started to re-write The Magic Faraway Tree because though I loved the story, I thought it wasn’t very well written! In my work for children, I try to write prose that makes you want to keep turning those pages…
GR: How did you get the idea for The Truth About Verity Sparks?
SG: I was walking in East Melbourne and looking at the Victorian architecture – you know, the columns and fancy mouldings and ironwork and stone. Those buildings told a story all about power and money and class. I began to think about what the city would have seemed like to a child, especially a working class one. How you’d have to be very strong not to feel overwhelmed and ground down. The character of Verity just insinuated herself in to my mind from that beginning. She almost told her own story. It was definitely one of the easiest books to write.
GR: What kind of research did you have to do for that novel?
SG: I read a lot - lots of books and websites about Victorian London. There were so many things to find out about – transport, manners, shops, servants, fashion…as a milliner’s apprentice, Verity is very fashion conscious. I found myself investigating topics like plumbing and hot water services for Verity’s first ever bath. I love research because I’m always getting ideas that move the plot along. For instance, a book called The Ghost Hunters Ghost by Deborah Blum, about the Victorian obsession with life after death, sparked the fictional Society for the Investigation of Psychic Phenomena. I love using visual aids too, and I pinned up illustrations by Gustave Dore showing the 1870s London slums. I also used paintings by James Tissot of wealthy Victorians to help me with the Plush family, and actually ended up making Tissot and his doomed mistress Kathleen characters in the story.
GR: How did you celebrate the novel's CBCA short listing?
SG: We flew over to Adelaide for the awards. I had lunch with my editor, Mary Verney and with Bob Graham, another prize-winning Walker author/illustrator. Then my husband and I had a weekend at a B&B in Angaston in the Barossa. When we ventured outside early on the first morning to admire the mist over the dam, I managed to lock us out of our B&B. We were just wearing our PJ’s and it was very, very cold. We laugh about it now.
GR: I see there's a sequel - can you tell us about it? And when it will be out?
SG: The sequel is called Verity Sparks Lost and Found and it will be released on May 1st. It’s about Verity’s adventures in Australia. She, along with Papa, SP, Mrs Morcom, Judith and Daniel, travel to Australia and settle in Melbourne. As the story starts, Papa still wants her to be a perfect young lady. But that’s not our Verity… Even though she feels she’s lost her gift, she manages to solve a tricky mystery when she’s briefly at a posh boarding school. Then she and her new governess tackle an investigation for the Inquiry Agency in Mount Macedon. I won’t spoil the mystery - but I will say that I just love an insanely complex plot.
GR: Are you working on anything right now?
SG: No. This is the first time in more than 8 years I haven’t had a book on the go. I’m taking a short holiday in Canada in May. There was a whisper at Walker Books about maybe another Verity, so perhaps when I get back from my trip I’ll start jotting down one of the plots that I’ve got floating around in my head.
Thanks for visiting The Great Raven, Susan!
The Truth About Verity Sparks is available in your favourite book shop now and keep your eye out for the sequel!
By: Sue Bursztynski,
By: Sue Bursztynski,
This morning I woke up feeling awful. I went to work yesterday with the start of a horrible cold and simply couldn't go in today; you really can't teach if you can't speak well.
I opened my email as usual, though, and while I couldn't do anything about the throat, the sniffles or the coughs, I felt much better. There was an email from Edwina Harvy, co-editor, with Simon Petrie, of the wonderful anthology Light Touch Paper Stand Clear, which is up for a best collection Ditmar. There were two shortlisted stories from the anthology up for a Chronos, Victoria's answer to the WA Tin Duck Awards - Adam Browne's Steampunk tale The D-d and my own story, Five Ways To Start A War.
I would like to thank anyone who nominated my story and helped get it on the shortlist. And thanks to anyone who nominated either of the oters, which aren't there, but nice of you anyway. Much appreciated! This is only the second time anything of mine has got as far as a shortlist, though I have had two CBCA Notables, and that was plenty exciting! The other shortlisting was for my book Crime Time:Australians Behaving Badly, which scored a Davitt shortlisting the other year, for crime writing. It was never going to win, among all those non fiction books for adults. But it was nice to be recognised.
If you'd like to read my story, it's part of a collection of Chronos eligibles I whipped together - check it out on the side of this page. That version is only in ePub, but I can send a PDF on request, for Kindle or just for your computer.
If you'd like a taste of Adam's story plus all the others in that collection, there's another link here o the Peggy Bright a books web site, where a free sampler is available in ePub, PDF or Mobi.
By: Sue Bursztynski,
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Recently, I won a free book on English Historical Fiction Authors blog. It was At Drake's Command, an historical novel by David Wesley Hill, and is an adventure about Drake's second circumnavigation of the globe, when he said he was going on a trade voyage to Egypt, but was off pirating against the Spanish. Well, privateering is what they call it when you do it with your government's approval and his government certainly made a profit out of this voyage!
The story is seen from the viewpoint of Peregrine James, a boy who has recently joined the crew as an assistant cook. Personally, I think it's YA, but the author says he couldn't sell it as such. I am thoroughly enjoying it so far, and you can do the same, and you can tell me whether you think it's YA or adult. If you have a Kindle or a Kindle app, you can get the ebook free right now. It's free for April 16-17( for me, it's the 17th, but if you live in the northern hemisphere, it may still be the 16th.
Here's the link: http://www.amazon.com/Drakes-Command-Adventures-Circumnavigation-ebook/dp/B00C5PD8WK/ref=dp_kinw_strp_1
And here are pics of actors who played in the TV series many years ago, John Thaw as Drake and Paul Darrow as Thomas Doughty.