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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. I've Just Finished Reading...Frontier Wolf By Rosemary Sutcliff

This is the cover of the ebook edition I've just read.

It's a hot Saturday afternoon in Melbourne. I'm with my mother, whom I normally take out to lunch, but too hot for that. She is dozing in front of the TV.

So I've been reading and finishing this Sutcliff novel I've never read before. I've read the Eagle trilogy and Sword At Sunset, which was set in the world of Eagle Of The Ninth, three days after the ending of The Lantern Bearers, but written for adults(which didn't stop the kids from reading and loving it!) I've even read The Shining Company, set long afterwards - but not this one, set in between The Silver Breanch and The Lantern Bearers.

And I loved it, every bit as much as the others. It's the story of yet another descendant of Marcus Flavius Aquila,  complete with that flawed emerald dolphin ring which appears even in a novel set in the Middle Ages. At one point in the novel, the hero even mentions his ancestor, though not by name. But you know by the details it has to be Marcus. 

This Aquila is Alexios, with a half-Greek mother, presumably where that Greek praenomen comes from. He has made a huge mistake while serving in Germany, moving his men from an endangered fort when it was definitely not standard procedure, and lost them to an attack. This is important because later in the book he's faced with the same decision. Because his uncle is high up in the Roman forces in Britain, he's given another command, this time of a fort in the far north, whose men are scouts, the Frontier Wolves, who wear wolfskin cloaks(from a wolf each man kills, then never again) and are laid-back in their attitudes, as they need to be, but still disciplined. Here, he develops and grows and soon comes to respect his men as they  do him, which is a good thing, because some dreadful things are about to happen.

It's a fascinating era. The Roman Empire is officially Christian, but not everyone in the forces is Christian -Alexios himself is a follower of Mithras - so there are different customs among the Wolves, depending on the religion of the individual soldier. And we discover them as te novel proceeds. The local tribes also have their customs and rituals - there's a Chieftain's funeral early in the novel. 

There are two different languages represented by the way the characters speak. In this book, te British tribesmen speak in the familiar Sutcliff style, "It is in my mind that...." and "Na, na..." - if you've read her other books you will know it. The Latin speakers speak in simple modern English, but not so modern that you wince at anachronistic slang. And then, when Alexios speaks to the British in their own tongue, he speaks as they so, so it's the anguage, not the people.

I'm pleased to have discovered a book set in between those I've already read. This author is, in my opinion, the definitive one on Roman Britain, so finding another one  is like unearthing a hidden treasure and saying, "Hey, look what I've found!"

This isn't a children's book, I'd describe it as YA, though the characters are in their twenties.

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27. In Which I Lose Another Bookshop!

Farewell, Little Bookroom!

Oh, it's not closing or anything. I can even catch a tram from St Kilda and take the longish journey to Brunswick if I want to have a browse through this specialised children's bookshop for myself.

What I can't do any more is ring up and ask for a book display at my school, in which a bunch of great kids get to plunge their hands into a selected box of books and discover something they've been looking for, or something new, with a cry of delight. Yesterday I had an email from the lady who runs the shop, enthusiastically telling me that as of this year we can get it all on line! Yay! And the shop will have all these exciting events! Yay! But no more school visits, except for "special occasions". And no, I can't ring and say, "Can you bring a display, it's a special occasion." This means if you're, as it might be, running the YABBAs or having a writers' festival with guests, they get the gig of being the bookseller which sells books to the kids. Which means, of course, private schools or middle class state schools whose students have parents who could afford a private education, but haven't opted for one, the kind of school where laptops are on the book list, not a school like mine. My budget is down from peanuts to peanut shells and staffing down again, but one pleasure I have always been able to give the students is choice of new books. No more.Not this shop, anyway.

Well, it's a business. They've decided it isn't worth their while to visit schools when they can save time and money selling on line. But I mourn the shop that I've known and bought books from since they were in the Melbourne CBD, before rising rents forced them into the suburbs. I remember the original owner, Albert, who was as big a name in children's books as Agnes Nieuwenhausen. By the time they moved, he'd retired and sold his business to the staff. Then they moved on and the shop was sold again. And for a while, that was okay, though I do still miss the lovely reps who came around with boxes and boxes of books they'd chosen knowing my school's needs and my tastes(one ruthlessly brought a gorgeously illoed edition of The Hobbit she knew I'd have to buy  for myself). And over the years I bought thousands of dollars worth of books, even when my budget was halved. If I was going to buy books, that was where I'd buy them.

I explained that 1.I'm not allowed to order online. 2. I don't want to buy books I haven't seen. 3. This is for the kids; if I want to buy something specific, I will take a shopping list and visit Dymock's, with which I have a good relationship (They know me by name there and are very helpful. And a branch of Dymock's  got the gig to the last YABBAs and remembered to bring one of my books to sell, something booksellers at these events rarely do).

My explanation didn't help. The response, in politer language, was, tough! No "well, seeing you've been a good customer for years and years and had such a good relationship with us, we'll give you one or two visits a year."

I told her I was sorry we'd come to a parting of the ways after so long, but her new system is just not possible for me.

So, now to see if my education bookseller can help. Fingers crossed.

And farewell Little Bookroom! I'll miss you.

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28. A Visit From Juliet Marillier!

I'd like to welcome Juliet Marillier to The Great Raven for her second visit. The first time was when she was interviewed about her Irish-themed Sevenwaters series by my student Thando Bhebe, herself a keen writer and big fan of Juliet's. Check it out here.

First, the standard opening question: how did you get the idea for the Shadowfell novels?

My imagination was sparked by the events of the ‘Arab Spring’ in which there were popular uprisings against several repressive regimes in the Middle East. I asked myself what sacrifices an ordinary person would have to make in order to stand up, and keep on standing up, against extremely powerful enemies. A rebel has to give up almost everything: home, family, relationships, friendships, in the name of the cause. I wanted to write about what the fight for freedom might truly cost. The Shadowfell series follows a group of young protagonists through that struggle. 

I also asked this question: is it ever OK to do bad/violent acts for the greater good? This is a moral dilemma the rebel spy, Flint, has to deal with every day. Neryn also faces it when some of her early attempts to use her gift go wrong. I wondered what sort of burden that lays on a person, and if that burden ever lifts.  

Why the Scottish theme?

My ancestors are from that part of the world and I love the place and culture. Alban is very loosely based on Scotland, but the Shadowfell series is not real history. Even the geography is approximate! In order to allow the uncanny elements of this story full play, I didn’t try to squeeze it into a historical context. But I do love the Scottish flavour of the series and the use of dialect for the cast of Good Folk. Again, this is not historically accurate – the dialect, which my characters speak in light, middling and broad forms, belongs to a later period than the story suggests. The setting was never intended to be real history. (After all, it’s full of magic!)

Did you ever consider setting it in historic Scotland instead of your own version thereof?

No. The uncanny and magical elements are just too big to fit within the confines of known history.

If it had been set in our own world, around which historic period would it be?

If I had to pick a time period it would be loosely the time of the Picts. But as mentioned above, this does not fit with the use of Scots dialect, which belongs to the Scotland of the clans. I built the world of Shadowfell with a combination of research, informed guesswork and imagination.

Which, if any, of the Good Folk in your novels are inspired by beings from real folklore?

The brollachan, Hollow. The urisk, who lives behind waterfalls and weeps from loneliness. You have to be careful not to answer or you’ll have him trailing along after you forever. The selkie. In Raven Flight there’s a particularly appealing selkie character known as Himself, who is the partner of the powerful Hag of the Isles. There are various hags in Scottish folklore too, though this one was my own invention. The general name Good Folk is used collectively for Scotland’s uncanny beings. You have to call such beings nice names like Good Folk or Fair Folk. Otherwise they may play nasty tricks like turning your milk sour or pulling the washing off the line!

Your Good Folk are somewhat human like in their emotions and they can be killed quite easily - is this based on any real folklore or is it your own idea?

Cold iron is traditionally a bane to uncanny folk, so they can easily be killed or hurt by iron, yes, and they can be killed by powerful magic. The way this all works in the book is partly based on folkloric research and partly on imagination.

There are a number of discussions on Goodreads in which some fans are arguing that your heroine, Neryn, is rather too nice. Would you agree or disagree with this? Why?

Neryn has been through an incredibly traumatic time at the start of Shadowfell, and has only survived because of her inner strength. Her gift as a Caller (a person who can communicate with the Good Folk and get them to cooperate with humankind) is both powerful and perilous. The nature of that gift means that from the start she has a natural empathy for both uncanny and human people, even the deeply flawed ones. If that were not so, her attempts to use her ability could be disastrous and destructive. This is developed further in book three, The Caller.

I work hard on all  my characters (for me this is one of the most interesting parts of writing.) I do my best to create individuals whose actions, reactions and psychology feel real and authentic to me. 

How much research did you have to do for these novels?

I know Scotland and Scottish culture pretty well already, but I did some reading about the geography and the seasons, and I studied the folklore afresh before starting the series. I revised my knowledge of Scots dialect, though in fact that came pretty naturally, thanks to my upbringing in the very Scottish New Zealand city of Dunedin! I also consulted some Wiccan and druid friends about elemental lore, since on her path to becoming a fully-fledged Caller Neryn has to learn the magic of earth, air, fire and water. As a practising druid I have some knowledge of this, but talking to a few wise people broadened my understanding.

Do you have a favourite character in the first two books? (No spoilers for the third! Some of us haven't been able to read it yet)

Difficult to choose just one, as I love many of the characters, but I’d probably choose Sage, the little wise woman of the Good Folk who is Neryn’s mentor. And I love the conflicted anti-hero Flint, who gets a bigger role in the third book.

Are you working on something now? Tell us about it.

I have an exciting new project on the go – an adult fantasy series called Blackthorn & Grim, which is darker and grittier than my usual work, with a mystery element. I’ve just completed the first book, Dreamer’s Pool, which will be published in November 2014 by Pan Macmillan Australia and Penguin US. Those readers who found Neryn too nice might like the main female character of this series, the embittered wise woman Blackthorn, who could not possibly be described as nice, though she has her reasons for that! 

The Blackthorn & Grim series has some elements that will be familiar to my readers: fairy tale magic, a love story, an Irish setting. But it’s a departure in several ways. Each novel has a stand-alone mystery story, and the same two central characters appear in each book. My protagonists are older and more damaged than the leads in my earlier novels. Dreamer’s Pool has three narrators, two male, one female, who alternate chapters. I hope readers are going to love this series.

More about Juliet and her work at: www.julietmarillier.com

The Caller Publication Dates : 

Australian edition (Pan Macmillan)
E-book February 25 2014

Print edition June 2014

US edition (Penguin)
July 9 2014

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29. Happy Birthday, Lewis Carroll!

Today, January 27, is Lewis Carroll's birthday. If he were alive today, he'd be 182 years old. Mathematician(some of his jokes in Alice are maths-based), humorous writer, photographer (though that's him in the above pic, with a family he was friendly with, so someone else took it) - he was multitalented. 

I first read Alice In Wonderland and Through The Looking Glass when I was in Grade 1 and named my first doll Alice after the heroine. I know a lot of the jokes went over my head, having read the books again as an adult, and when I did, I thought, how very Victorian! But kids have loved it for a long time. It has been turned into plays, musicals, cartoons, movies, you name it.

While he wasn't exactly the Terry Pratchett of his day, I think these two masters of the absurd would have a lot to say to each other, perhaps over a pint.

When I was in England once, I went to Oxford to visit a friend. She'd been caught in a staff meeting, as I later learned(this was before mobile phones)so after waiting an hour, I decided that I'd just plunge into the streets of Oxford and see what I could find as a tourist. 

What I found was Christ Church College, where Lewis Carroll worked, and, across the road, the shop on which Tenniel, Carroll's illustrator, based the shop run by the sheep in Through The Looking Glass, now an Alice-themed souvenir shop called Alice's Old Sheep Shop.

My day was not wasted.

If you haven't read the Alice books, why not borrow one from the library? Download them from Project Gutenberg? I'm going to do a reread in honour of the day. 

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30. Happy Birthday, Li Cunxin!

All over the country today, January 26,  people are taking their oaths and becoming Australian citizens.

It's also the birthday of Australian of the Year shortlist member Li Cunxin, who told his story in the wonderful Mao's Last Dancer, which my students have loved, and took time off a busy schedule, planning a tour for the Queensland Ballet, to answer some questions from a group of his young fans here.

Even though you didn't win, Li Cunxin, you're always Aussie of the Year to us.

Happy birthday and wishing you many more happy years contributing to the arts in Australia, even if you never write another book. 

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31. Peggy Bright Books Australia Day Weekend Special!

This evening, I received the following email from Peggy Bright Books:

"For the Australia Day weekend Peggy Bright Books (www.peggybrightbooks.com) is running a special! Buy e-copies of Flight 404 by Simon Petrie, The Gordon Mamon Casebook by Simon Petrie, Rare Unsigned Copy by Simon Petrie and The Whale's Tale by Edwina Harvey for just $1.99 each. E-copies of our anthology, Light Touch Paper, Stand Clear only $2.99 Email me (editor@peggybrightbooks.com) for payment details, This special is NOT available through our website."

They explained that it was a last-minute decision, hence the lack of time to alter the details on the   website. I, personally, would be  happy to take a little bit of extra trouble to email the editor for the chance to buy all that stock for the total cost of a cup of coffee and a piece of cake. I know ebook downloads are impulsive things but look at it this way: you'd get all that great reading matter cheap and it would STILL be quicker than waiting for an ordered print copy to come through from Amazon or wherever.

The offer is open from Friday midnight to Monday midnight Australian Eastern Daylight Saving Time, so if you live outside Australia, you'll need to get going quickly! The good news is, since you're emailing a human being instead of downloading straight from the website, she will allow for the  quirks of time differences and probably not worry too much if you're a bit early or late. :)

I have all these books and they're great! 

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32. First Fiction Sale For 2014!

I have made my first sale for the year! Yay!

Later this year, my story which as yet has the rather silly title "The Sheepdog In The Stable"(I don't mind if it changes, I am hopeless at titles), will appear in a book of stories, poems, memoirs, art and such to be published by Christmas Press.

A few weeks ago, I had an invitation to submit from the delightful Sophie Masson. The book will be on a Christmas theme. She didn't mind if it was already-published. It just had to be about Christmas, aimed at children between five and twelve and no more than 1500 words in length.

I had never written anything Christmas-themed unless you count a piece of fan fiction I wrote years ago and that was definitely not aimed at children. So I had to come up with something new. And it had to be aimed at an age group younger than I've written for before. I have written often for 8-12, but it was always more suitable for the older age of that range. If Sophie didn't want it, I wasn't sure who would. Perhaps NSW School Magazine, but I've never sold them fiction before, only non fiction, and if they didn't want it either....

Still, I had to give it a go. How flattering is that, when someone you admire thinks your writing is likely to be suitable for her by-invitation anthology!

I started with a story which was going to be about a family getting together for Christmas and it would turn out that they were living in a small rural community of werewolves somewhere in Victoria. I couldn't get that going in a way that would suit young children. It was an adult concept. I may use it yet, but not now.

I didn't want to lose the werewolves, though. So I went for the school Nativity Play, something that isn't common these days with so many multicultural communities, I set it in a school not unlike my own, though primary, and I had a boy who was an unusual type of multicultural. In fact, I sort of set it in an alternative universe in which everyone takes unicorns and werewolves and such for granted, Joan Aiken-style, and the sudden appearance of a wolf cub in a Nativity Play only gets the reaction,"Hey, that is so cool!" The country of Armorique, originally a part of the triple-mooned world of Wolfborn, was sneaked into this one.

I wasn't sure it would work, but finally, after a lot of fiddling, decided that sooner or later, I would have to submit it or give up. I submitted it, fingers crossed.

Both Sophie and the editor, Beattie, thought it very funny(Beattie said she nearly snorted her coffee through her nostrils reading it). And this reminds me of something once said at a seminar I attended, by Rosalind Price of Allen and Unwin: "If you can make me laugh, I'll buy it." I like a touch of humour, if not more, in anything I write.

Beattie added that she loved that unicorns were still living in Armorique and she wanted to go there! Sophie suggested I consider writing a novel with Armorique in it. Well, I have, but I think she meant the present day, with the silliness of taken-for-granted fantastical creatures.

I'll think about it. :-)

Meanwhile, yay!

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33. Free Ebook From Peggy Bright Books!

If you'd like to try out some of the fiction of award-winning SF writer Simon Petrie, Peggy Bright Books has just uploaded five of his stories in all formats - ePub, mobi, PDF- as a free sampler, under the title Needs More Dinosaurs. Simon writes both humour and serious stuff, but whatever the flavour, it's accurate. I've had Simon, a fellow ASIMite, check  out the physics in one of the stories I edited for ASIM 60.

I've just downloaded the book to my iBooks shelf and am very much looking forward to reading it. The cover is a simple monochrome dinosaur from a 19th century public domain publication, done so deliberately, although he could have found something more elaborate on a Creative Commons site - it will work better on an ereader, for one thing.

Here's the link for you. If you like the stories in this book, there's more by Simon on the PBB website, each book about the price of a cup of coffee. And of course, there's the wonderful anthology,  Light Touch Paper Stand Back, which has had a lot of guest posts on this blog from contributors and which had a story of mine in it. ;-) Simon was a co-editor on this.

Go get your freebie and tell me what you think.

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34. The Disappearance Of Ember Crow by Ambelin Kwaymullina. Sydney: Walker Books, 2013

"However this ends, you're probably going to find out some things about me, and they re not nice things. But, Ash, even after you know, do you think you could remember the good? And whatever you end up discovering - try to think of me kindly. If you can." Ember Crow is missing. To find her friend, Ashala Wolf must control her increasingly erratic and dangerous Sleepwalking ability and leave the Firstwood. But Ashala doesn t realise that Ember is harbouring terrible secrets and is trying to shield the Tribe and all Illegals from a devastating new threat - her own past.

This is a sequel to The Interrogation Of Ashala Wolf, the first of The Tribe series. If you haven't read the first book, it might be a good idea to do that before reading this one. It's sort of stand-alone, but the first book sets up the universe and you really need to know who the characters are and why they're hiding out in the forest.

In case you haven't read it and want the details, here they are: in the first novel, we met Ashala Wolf, an Illegal, who lives in a future world where, due to environmental abuse, the planet has suffered major changes that have affected the tectonic plates and once again, we have a Pangaia. The good news is that people are finally taking care of the planet, have, in fact, turned it into a virtual religion based on the teachings of an Alexander Hoffman.  The bad news is that people with  unusual abilities are placed in detention centres. Ashala was one of a group of children and teens who had escaped into the forest and started their own tribe. The nearby Gull City camp is run by a villain called Neville Rose, who was dealt with at the end of that novel, but there are things that Ashala and her tribe didn't know, about him and others who supported him, and now, her friend Ember Crow, has vanished. Ashala isn't going to leave her friend, no matter what messages she receives from her, asking her not to follow...

It's wonderful to see that a sequel is as good as the original. It doesn't suffer from "middle book syndrome". The author, an indigenous Australian, includes more of her heritage here, develops it further, yet you are reminded this is not Australia, it's the only continent left on Earth, although in an afterword, the author admits the landscape is one familiar to her.

Ashala also develops as a character. She has to learn to stop holding back her beloved Connor, whose death she fears after he came back from it in the last book. Their relationship won't survive otherwise and sometimes looks as if it might be destroyed.

The serious storyline, with plenty of action, still manages to include some humour, such as Ashala nearly choking on her drink when a very special cat tells her telepathically that her person is her pet. I personally believe in the importance of at least touches of humour in even the most serious fiction. And this one has plenty!

If you liked the first book, you won't be disappointed in this one. If you haven 't read it, what are you waiting for?

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35. Memories of Wombat.... A Guest Post By Susan Batho

With Charlotte, a wombat he sponsored at Taronga Zoo

Last week, I went to the Blue Mountains with my friends Edwina Harvey, Susan Batho and Anne Devrell. Our purpose was to scatter some of the ashes of our mutual friend jan howard finder (small letters deliberate - it was how he spelled his name), also known as the Wombat, whose partner, Lin Daniel, had requested that the ashes be scattered in parts of the world he had loved. And he adored Australia. He actually read Aussie newspapers on line and once he emailed to tell me that there was going to be a Shane Moloney book launch that evening at the Trades Hall in Melbourne. He was a huge fan both of Shane Moloney and Kerry Greenwood, authors to whose work I'd introduced him. He made sure he emailed them both to say how much he loved their books. And he knew about something happening in my city that I didn't! Of course, I went, and bought a copy to be signed. When I asked Shane to sign it to the Wombat, his face brightened. "Oh, the Wombat! How is he?" Kerry Greenwood was a good friend too; when he came to Melbourne, she kindly showed us around to places she had used in her novels and then shouted us both to lunch.
Susan handed us each a CD of Wombat memories, saying she would love to have the article below published, and as I was the one with a full scale blog I said I would do it.
With me at Aussiecon 3

You have to understand that jan was a huge part of science fiction fandom, which was important to all of us. I made most of my friends in fandom - even a workmate friend who likes SF turned out to have been in Austrek at one time, knew several people I did and had read the first fanzine in which my stories were published.!

Jan was funny, warm, cuddly and knew absolutely EVERYONE. He even had a letter from J.R.R Tolkien and was planning a Tolkien convention when he died.

So I hope you'll read and enjoy Susan's article and perhaps look up more stuff about this delightful friend of ours. We all miss him terribly, but have had our closure with our little ceremony in the mountains.

On Making Contact... 
In 1972, I put out my first solo fanzine, GOF – Girls Own Fanzine.  I was a university student, engaged to a BNF
 , Ron L Clarke, exploring the world of the perzine
.  I was armed with addresses of Loccers
 to Ron’s fanzine, The Mentor, and received a LoC from Italy from an American who was working with US troops in that country.  I replied, and next thing you know, we had a correspondence going which lasted 43 years, outlasting fanzines, and conventions, although I know jan was working on yet another convention when he passed.

Meeting the Wombat
Aussiecon 1 was held in 1975.  Ron and I were living at 32 Spurwood Road, Warrimoo and had our first child, Evelyn.  We were building our home at Faulconbridge, and things were tight financially.  However, it was way too good a chance not to meet our friends from overseas, many of whom we still correspond with.
Early August, we met jan in person at Sydney airport.  He walked straight up to me, picked up my hand and kissed it gently, with finesse, and said “Bellisima”. Sigh.
We took jan to his motel on top of the Cross which had been booked by the convention travel agents.  Unfortunately, they did not realise that jan was not a girl, and booked him into a triple with two ladies.  Not sure how that worked out, but I am sure jan would have charmed them, and the hotel staff.  On the way there we passed a statuesque blonde that he could not resist wolf whistling.  She/He turned and smiled beautifully, and with a bass voice, said “Why thank you, buster.”  Such a hoot!
Unfortunately, I did not make the convention, as my best friend, Marea Ozanne stayed home also, as her son, Alex, had been hit by a suicidal driver.  We kept each other company, and joined in the fun when the con goers descended on the mountains after the convention.  Jan came to stay with us, and that was when we discovered that he was Jewish. It had never come up before.  One night we came to end of the food in the house, except for a can of spaghetti, which, if you know me, I can feed a crowd with if necessary, but jan decided that we could eat out.  And when he asked us what we wanted, we said in a chorus, roast pork.... oh dear....
Louis Grey, Susan Batho, Rusty Hevlin, Unknown, Sheryl Birkhead, Michael Glickson, Wilson Tucker, Wombat, Marea Ozanne & Eric Lindsay.  Taken  Faulconbridge, NSW.  September 1975.

The Hat....
Ever wondered when jan started wearing the slouch hat which became his signature hat?  When he arrived the first time in Australia, he was wearing a baseball cap....
My brother, Chris, was an army cadet, and thought jan needed something more stylish.   My father had also taken a shine to jan. He and Chris searched out a virgin hat from the disposal store, soaked it, and shaped it.  It was just a tad still damp when it was presented to jan, but he didn’t care.  We had to leave him at the railway station at Blaxland to get back to Sydney.  I didn’t legally drive in those days and Blaxland was as far as I was willing to risk without being caught.  Chris showed jan how to doff his hat to young ladies, and guaranteed him that the best pick up line he could use was, ”G’day, sheila.  D’you know the way to Sydney?”  We watched him with a mixture of dread, amazement and laughter as he made his way onto the platform, walked up to the nearest attractive lady, doffed his hat, and asked, very charmingly, “G’day, Sheila, d’you know the way to Sydney?”
According to him, later, he spent a lovely couple of days with the young lady whilst he waited for his plane home.
You could never underestimate the charm of a wombat.
Oh, on that first trip, he asked for the hand of my first born who was six months old at the time.... 

The Great Trip...
Anyone who got to know jan, knew that he planned to the minutest detail his great trip to Australia.  There was so much he wanted to do and see and each time he came, he did some more.  But it was one of his greatest frustrations in life that he was not allowed to spend a year exploring the way he wanted to.  He offered to post a bond, to negotiate a temporary permanent visa.  He even asked my daughters both to marry him just for the year....  (one was already married and the second was still in school at the time....)
He finally purchased a brand new car, made our home his headquarters, and headed off.... driving to  Albany Western Australia  where he presented a letter from the Mayor of his own home town of Albany, New York and was given a grand time there.  He sent us back reports, and stories galore.  I wish he could have done his original trip, which, when printed off, was at least four inches thick. But for six monthes he just added to his wide experiences of Australia, meeting and making friends wherever he went. 
Oh, and he rang every finder in the phone book and found one.... in Queensland.  Like Batho, it is a rare name.  And they met up and swapped family stories.
And he shared his recipes for green beans, almonds and bacon....

With Charlotte the wombat and Anne Devrell

Jan promoted Aussiecons and the failed Syncon in 91 bid.  He did so with complete enthusiasm and gusto and sincerity.  He wanted the bids to succeed and he wanted people to know Australia and Australian fans, the way he did.
 I think Anne Devrell and Sue Bursztynski would be better describing how jan worked conventions.  I know he was a lot of fun.  He would introduce himself, and slip you a business card with ‘Free backrubs on request.’ And I believe he was a polite room buddy.  And he kept wearing that ruddy hat, even past its use-by date...
pastedGraphic_2.pdf jan at Magicon in 1992

And then there was wombats...
 One of our greatest and best memories was the wombats.  We’d collect wombats and send them to jan – not that he needed reminding.  We still have one in the garden that was meant to go over when we went to visit him.  
He supported the preservation of the threatened Eastern Hairy Nosed Wombat, for at least the 43 years I knew him.  We would go with him to visit his sponsored wombats at Taronga Zoo in Sydney.  We even learnt all about wombat sex from watching wombat porn there.  All very educational of course.  And that’s where we met a baby wombat called Charlotte.  Some of the photos of jan and Charlotte are our best memories.
Jan even made the trip to a secret location to physically help out with the preservation of the species... and found himself digging holes for a wombat proof fence.  And even though he was exhausted, he loved and was proud of every moment.

Aboriginal carvings in Faulconbridge 1999

Other memories:
Bytelock – blockages in the information highway
Arthur Upfield – jan would throw himself into those things that would interest him.  The Boney book series fascinated him, and he became a self-made expert, lecturing on the series, the man, and everything about the books.  He got to travel a lot doing this to his great delight and pleasure.
Tolkein – he was planning another convention and I wanted to go... Tolkein was one of the great loves of his life.
Hugs – he gave the best, most sincere, hugs.  Greetings and goodbyes, and just because hugs -- At home, when travelling, at conventions.  When you needed one or when he needed one, there was a hug.
Talking – okay, he woke up early, often already making breakfast for us all.  And over that we would start talking.  We would explore, or laze, but talk all the way through the day.  Then at night, long into the night, long past when everyone else had gone to bed, we would talk some more... no subject was sacred.  Nothing cruel was said of anyone.  And there was always something to talk about, never once repeating anything we had to say to each other.
And our Christmas/New Year letters each year where he made notes for it all year, and it was the whole year spread out for us to go through...  It inspired me to do the same, sharing the adventures.  I am going to miss all our letters and emails back and forth.
Jan was a unique, intelligent, warm, sincere, fun gentleman, who was one of my longest friends.
Teggedizzi, mate.  I miss you.


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36. Hunter Of Sherwood: Knight Of Shadows, by Toby Venables. Oxford:Abaddon Books, 2013


"England, 1191. Richard Lionheart has left the realm bankrupt and leaderless in his quest for glory. Only Prince John seems willing to fight back the tide of chaos threatening England – embodied by the traitorous ‘Hood.’

But John has a secret weapon: Guy of Gisburne, outcast, mercenary, and now knight. His first mission: to intercept the jewel-encrusted skull of John the Baptist, sent by the Templars to Philip, King of France. Gisburne’s quest takes him, his world-weary squire Galfrid in tow, from the Tower of London to the hectic Crusader port of Marseilles – and into increasingly bloody encounters with ‘the White Devil’: the fanatical Templar de Mercheval."

This is the first novel in a series and I must confess I look forward to more. If you're a fan of the tales of Robin Hood, you'll probably be familiar with his nemesis, Guy of Gisburne. This isn't the first time I've read a novel which shows Prince/King John in a sympathetic light - Myself As Witness by James Goldman of Lion In Winter fame did that long ago. It's not even the first time I've read a book in which Robin Hood was not at all nice(Shield Of Three Lions by Pamela Kaufman does that), though the Robin in this novel is a nasty piece of work. And for the record, Richard really did say he'd sell London if he could find a buyer. Not a nice man. The best of the family was his father, Henry II.

 It's the first time, though, that I've read a book turning that super villain Gisburne into the good guy - not merely an anti-hero, but a decent man. This Guy of Gisburne has had to become a mercenary to pay the bills when his honourable and decent mentor, Gilbert De Gaillan, is deliberately sent on a suicide mission by that chevalier sans peur Richard the Lionheart, whom he had pissed off by standing up to him over an outrage Richard had committed. Nobody wanted to take Guy on as a squire after that and he has no lands left because Richard took them to raise money for his crusade. And one of his mercenary comrades and, for a time, closest friend, is a charismatic bowman called Robert of Locksley...

The author says he had in mind James Bond and Indiana Jones. As a mediaeval Bond, Guy even has his own Q, a character called Llewelyn who has a lab full of equipment and experiments, with Prince John as M. There's enough bloody action to keep even Matthew Reilly fans happy. There's also a good, strong female character and a likeable squire accompanying Gisburne.

As someone who has read the original Robin Hood ballads, I appreciate the reference to the ballad-Gisburne's horse skin coat and the fact that the original Gisburne was also a mercenary; this Gisburne is wearing the hide of his father's war horse, which was killed by Robin Hood. The black leather made me think of the costume worn by Richard Armitage in the BBC series, so I pictured him as the novel's Gisburne.

Probably a few too many flashbacks for my taste, but hopefully, having set up Guy's background in this book, the author won't have to do more flashbacks in the next. 

Good fun, well worth a read.

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37. Two Trickster Tales From Russia: The Audiobook

 This is the audiobook version of the gorgeous children's picture book published last year by Christmas Press, a new Australian small press launched by Sophie Masson, author of many children's and YA novels, artist David Allan and designer Fiona McDonald. Later in 2014, the press will publish more international folk tales by other Australian children's writers, which is something to look forward to.

Meanwhile, if you enjoy your books in audiobook format, this is a delightful version of the print book, narrated by Xavier Masson-Leach, with incidental music and sound effects by Xavier and Bevis Masson-Leach.

In the first story, Masha And The Bear, the grumpy bear is given a strong Russian accent, while the characters in The Rooster With The Golden Crest speak like American hillbillies, with appropriate - and charming - music for both. The whole thing goes for about 14 minutes, but since children tend to have short attention spans anyway, it may be just the thing to play before bedtime. It reminds me a little of a version of Peter And The Wolf I received for review some years ago.

The book and the CD are now available in many Australian bookshops or you can order them from .here, or as a download.  If you live outside Australia, email your inquiry to christmaspress@gmail.com. 

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38. In Which I Go To Sydney

I'm in Sydney this week. I arrived Monday, when all I did was settle into my YHA, a very comfortable place right near Sydney Central station, do my shopping and meet my friend Edwina Harvey. I haven't stayed at a hostel for some years now, but it's amazing how quickly I settled back into the routine. 

Yesterday I had the day to myself, so I made lunch and went down to Manly on the ferry, a favourite activity of mine. Here's a picture of the view from the ferry. While there I did a couple of things I hadn't done before - I visited the local art gallery/museum, a small place which held a portrait display by Bill Leak and a number of pictures centred around early encounters between English and indigenous folk. That didn't take long and I had time to visit the next building. It's called the Manly Sea Life Sanctuary. Really, it's just an aquarium, though a very nice one. I saw the feeding of the Little Penguins, which also swam around in a pool with other sea creatures, including a gummy shark. Looking at this harmless creature, I thought, all these kids watching will have eaten its relatives on fish and chips night. The penguins were unbelievably cute! I have seen them before, of course.  There's a colony at the St Kilda breakwater near my home and I even spotted one preening itself on one of the boats one morning. But this was the closest I've seen them.

Returning to my hostel I waited for the delightful Will Kostakis, who was joining me for afternoon tea. He's currently working at the Sydney Cricket Ground to pay the bills and was on his way home to start work on his next YA novel. It has taken a while, but he's on his way to a writing career. Good luck to him!

Today I'm meeting Edwina again and we're going to the Blue Mountains where I've been many a time, but this time not for the pleasure of seeing the Three Sisters and hiking around, but to scatter some ashes - those of Jan Howard Finder, that delightful American SF fan who so loved Australia that even when he wasn't here, he was reading our newspapers on line. He loved wombats, especially the Northern Hairy Nosed Wombat, which has become endangered. When he died, his partner arranged for his ashes to be taken to different parts of the world which he had loved. My friend Ann travelled to the US and attended a memorial event, Wombatcon, where she collected a bag of ashes. 

It will be a bit cool today, so I will take my poncho and an umbrella and I've been warned to wear walking shoes. I'm getting up as soon as this is posted, dressing and have a quick breakfast before Edwina arrives. More of this later. 

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39. Happy Birthday, Isaac Asimov!

I remember my first encounter with this amazingly prolific SF writer. Actually, he did a lot more than SF. He wrote just about everything and I vaguely recall him saying once that non fiction - popular science - was his first love.

But for me, he was science fiction personified. I first encountered him at my sister's home while babysitting my first nephew, David. I'd read some classic SF at school, of course - some Wells and Verne and others, including some guy called Donald Suddaby whose books are, I think, long out of print, but you can still find him on a Google search. And there was the TV science fiction - I had been a Star Trek fan since childhood and loved the Doctor. There were the Irwin Allen shows when I was growing up too - for a long time, I found Lost In Space irritatingly silly, though looking back I have come to appreciate and enjoy its 1960s campiness - and the music was by Alexander "Star Trek" Courage and a certain "Johnny Williams" - yes, THAT John Williams!

  But Asimov was my introduction to real, modern SF. My sister was a major fan(probably still is)and had all his works on her shelves. On a Saturday night, my best bet was to read the short fiction. And I did - all of it that was available at the time. I read more in the following years, but that was the time of the classics. Foundation, the robot books, the science fictional mysteries...

Even if you haven't heard of most modern SF writers, I bet you've heard of Asimov, even if it's only through the movies based on them, such as The Bicentennial Man and I, Robot.


And writers are still using Asimov's Laws Of Robotics, the ones about a robot not hurting a human or allowing one to come to harm,  without necessarily realising where they come from. I have only recently asked one of the writers in my issue of Andromeda Spaceways to do a small rewrite to remove a mention of the laws of robotics because they belong to Asimov. Asimov is only one of a number of writers who have so affected fiction that people don't know it comes from a book. For example, Merlin is often mentioned as living backwards - something that only happened in T.H. White's The Sword In The Stone, but now everyone uses it.

Asimov grew up in the Golden Age of SF, when the pulps were on all the news stands and the good writers got their start among a lot of schlock and went on to become famous. He managed to persuade his father, who thought SF was rubbish, that it was educational because it had "science" in its name.

 If you want his biography, it's on Wikipedia - this is just an appreciation of the man whose writing gave me the "sensawunda" that made me a fan of speculative fiction.

Here, if you're interested, is a link to an article that quotes what he predicted in 1964 about the year 2014 - enjoy!


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40. Historical Research And Year 8

I've been ordered to teach Year 8 history this coming year. It's not that I know nothing about history, I know plenty, especially about the Middle Ages and Renaissance, the eras being studied, but teaching it? How?

One thing we're apparently supposed to do is teach the difference between primary and secondary sources. Here I'm on firmer ground. But how many primary sources do we have for the Middle Ages that you can teach to thirteen year olds?

So I have decided to start the year with other primary sources, just to give them an idea.  I've got some newspaper articles from the 1960s about the Beatles visit to Melbourne. I've also discovered the joys of Trove, the National Library site that is in the process of digitising newspapers from 1803 on and the Women's Weekly between 1933 and 1982.

The Weekly is my primary source of choice. I picked a PDF of the issue for September 16 1939, which I can put on USB stick and show on an interactive whiteboard. There's a cover with a cute picture of a baby. So what, I might ask, was happening in September 1939? A student with an iPad can look it up: the beginning of World War II. Priorities? But this is a women's magazine. You aren't going to put a picture of a soldier on the cover or even the PM. And the first article is all about how women should be keeping busy and the author's mother had eight kids and never bought a cake or used an electric iron and did fine. There are photos of happy housewives cleaning.

Flipping further into the issue, you do find references to the war. There's a lot of human interest stuff - a letter from a girl in Poland assuring her mother she'll be fine(despite the Nazi invasion), pictures of cute kids being evacuated from London to the countryside, advice on stocking your medicine cabinet and how you, as a woman, can contribute to the war effort.

There is also plenty of fiction, knitting patterns, movie reviews(Wuthering Heights with Laurence Olivier gets a good one), fashion photos, an article about those cute kids Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland and ads for feminine-themed products. - soap, face powder, corsets, floor polish, baby formula.

And I love it. If I was writing a story set in Australia in the 1930s, this magazine would tell me how ordinary people lived, what they fantasised about, how much stuff cost in those days, what was on at the movies...

I will also look for some secondary sources:"Daily life in Australia in 1939" perhaps.

I may show them some of the research I did on the Beatles visit to Melbourne in 1964; you can now save newspaper articles to your USB stick at the State Library, and I did.

When I do have to get on to the Middle Ages, perhaps images will do some of the primary sources for me - peasants in the fields, a feast in the castle, war, there are illuminated manuscripts for them all.

For Vikings, there's that Arab traveller who describes the Vikings in Russia as the dirtiest people he'd ever seen, must find that on line somewhere... He also describes a funeral for a chieftain, very gruesome, including a human sacrifice of a slave girl who ends up being killed to keep the chieftain company in the Otherworld, AFTER some other horrible things, but I'm not sure I'd be allowed to show them that. They'd like the bit about dirty Vikings, though.
Can I persuade them that history is important? That research is worth doing?

Let's see how it goes.

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41. The Creature Department by Robert Paul Weston. New York : Razorbill,2013

Elliot von Doppler lives with his restaurant critic parents in the small town of Bickleburgh. They can't cook themselves but expect him to give a review to all his meals. Not much happens apart from his having to review burnt toast, until he receives an invitation from his loopy uncle Archie, who works as an inventor for one of the world's biggest technology companies, DENKi-3000, oddly located in nothing-ever-happens Bickleburgh. He is to bring new girl and fellow science nerd Leslie Fang, whose mother drags her from town to town, leaving as she becomes bored, but now living with grandfather Famous Freddy above Famous Freddy's Dim Sum Emporium, which does wonderful dumplings but has very few customers. It does, however, manage to survive because of regular orders from the mysterious R and D Department at DENKi-3000 - the department led by Uncle Archie. Leslie and Elliot are about to discover just who is enjoying all that wonderful takeaway Chinese food...and that the company faces takeover by the evil Quazicom if there isn't a fabulous new product to show at the next shareholders' meeting.

Think Charlie And The Chocolate Factory with a huge variety of creatures instead of Oompa Loompas, with a just a touch of Odo Hirsch, and without Willy Wonka - Uncle Archie is a genius, but not quite in the same way. The creatures aren't just minions, they participate in the design and creation of such things as TransMints(Get Your Freshness Direct From The Web). I also thought of Jim Henson's muppets.

There's a charming silliness about the whole novel(imagine getting away with being smuggled past security disguised as a giant pork dumpling! Not to mention the "expectavator", a lift staffed by a sort of worm who goes down by thinking about his divorce and up by making travellers feel hopeful) that children should enjoy.

There are some loose ends in the final scenes that make me wonder if a sequel is intended. We'll have to see. The art was delightful, though I'd like to know who the illustrator was, if it wasn't the cover artist. Just one thing: while I expect primary children to enjoy the story, there are some words rather too long or at least too hard for the average child and certainly too long for reluctant readers. Hopefully, this will change in any sequel that might be written. And I think there will be - there is too much character and world building to leave it at one novel.

Meanwhile, recommended for mid/late primary school readers and early secondary.


For more about this novel, including delightful pictures and descriptions of  the various creatures in this novel, go to www.thecreaturedepartment.com

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42. Boxing Day Blockbuster - The Hobbit Part 2

I won't go far with this, as there will be too many spoilers, but yesterday I took my nephew Max and his cousin Dezzy to see The Hobbit : The Desolation Of Smaug at the Classic Cinema in Elsternwick, near my mother's place. Max went with me last year. He loved the first part; this time, he said he preferred Jackson's early work(Max is fifteen and writes a film appreciation blog), adding that the Orcs looked a lot like creatures in one of Peter Jackon's earlier films.

There was a lot to like about this film, though I think the Orcs are overdone, with too much of an effort to link it with LOTR. I like the fact that some, at least, of the Dwarves have individual personalities, expanded still more in Part 2. The casting is generally very good - well, if Thorin is just a bit too hot, as are his nephews, for a Tolkien story,  I am a lady who likes male eye candy and Richard Armitage also has a beautiful speaking voice and I adore men with beautiful voices. One with both - yum!

But Martin Freeman is absolutely right for Bilbo.  As soon as I heard he'd been cast in the role, I thought of his role as Arthur Dent, another man who is dragged kicking and screaming out of his comfort zone, and knew he could do it.

And Stephen Fry was a deliciously nasty Master of Laketown, who certainly enjoyed himself in the role.

The first film was relatively close to the novel; this one has moved a fair distance from it. Again, I won't  go into much detail due to spoilers - I think anyone who has been following the series knows, anyway, about the invented Elf shield maiden Tauriel and that Legolas appears in his father's woodland kingdom. I'd like to add that he isn't the nice Elf  we meet in LOTR and it's hard to imagine him eventually having a Dwarf as his best friend, though he does get to see a portrait of  "Ma wee lad Gimli"  taken from Gloin when the Elves capture the Dwarves in Mirkwood.

But there are other scenes where I thought, "Oh, nooo! You can't DO that!" and I suspected that Tolkien would have done the same.

It was visually stunning. Certain characters had their roles expanded, but that was okay and mostly necessary. There was a lot of action, including in the Lonely Mountain. Thorin is definitely getting darker - I do hope he will be allowed that wonderful final scene where he says that the world would be a better place if more people liked good food and drink and such ordinary things. Because in the end, no matter how many aristocrats and epic heroes he sends running through his fiction, it's the ordinary people who are Tolkien's real heroes.

No point in seeing this film if you haven't seen the first or at least read the book and if you have done either or both, you'll probably go to see this one anyway. Then wander back and share your thoughts here.

Anyone else got any comments to make about this film? Especially if you've read the book?

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43. Just Watched...The Hobbit Director's Cut

This time last year I went with my nephew Max and a friend with her son to see part 1 of The Hobbit movie. Afterwards, Max leaned back with a sigh and said he wanted to sit there till the next movie started.

I know how he felt. A beautiful piece of film making and if they added stuff and sneaked in Radagast the Brown with a chariot pulled by rabbits...well, it was Sylvester McCoy, who was perfect for the role and I could pretend he'd been in LOTR. And Thorin Oakenshield was a lot younger and sexier than Tolkien's, but he was brilliantly portrayed by Richard Armitage. So what? Aragorn was also younger and sexier-looking than Tolkien's and we ended up accepting him.  And the Dwarves all had individual personalities, well thought out. And the film was made by people who loved Tolkien.

But there were things that don't quite make sense. The second time around, I could see that they were there for a reason that will become clearer in the rest of the movie, if you think of it as one very long film instead of three. Better still, the director's cut, which I watched tonight, slipped in some more stuff that made sense of the rest. I won't issue any spoilers here.

Not that I mind some spoilers for myself. See, I bought a large number of volumes of the History Of Middle Earth, which are tons of bits and pieces Tolkien wrote but that didn't make their way into the novels. For example, Gimli mentions that he was around during the quest of Erebor(The Hobbit to you and me) but was too young to be taken along, only sixty years old. There's a scene from the meeting of the White Council, where Gandalf is having a smoko during a break and Saruman says rude things about his smoking this hobbit substance which is affecting his brain cells and Gandalf tells him to lighten up(which maybe he does, since Merry and Pippin discover that stash of Longbottom Leaf in his tower). And Gandalf describes his first meeting with Thorin at the inn in Bree - a scene I've read will be in the next movie, which I'm going to see on Thursday. Nice!

I know it's not quite The Hobbit as we know it, but there's quite a lot that is still Tolkien.

I, for one, can't wait.

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44. New Books And Rereads On My Shelves And IPad

Well, I finished the delightful new Neil Gaiman book, which will get its review very soon, and by the way, the father who has all those adventures going out for a carton of milk is definitely drawn as the author! More anon.

My birthday brought me one book from my nephew David. It's a biography of Steve Jobs, written on request by the subject, while he was already dying. He didn't require to be shown the manuscript before publication or to have control over it. He just wanted it written.

I admit it wasn't a book I would have bought for myself, although I quite like biographies, depending on the subject - usually a historical bio of someone dead for a few hundred years, though I have read quite a few of Tolkien and C.S Lewis. But I began reading it yesterday and got through 100 pages. It's a fascinating story. Did you know he was born the same year as Bill Gates? Well, I didn't, and it's a nice way to be able to compare. I hadn't realised he was adopted either, or that he refused ever to meet his biological father, considering his adoptive parents as his real and only ones. Which is nice to know, because he gave them a lot of troubles in his childhood and teens. He wasn't a nice man, but a nice man couldn't have achieved what he did. The nice man he worked with wouldn't have gotten those wonderful computers past the hobbyists. I have left it at my mother's place,to be read in bed while I'm there, as it's a thick, heavy hardcover I can't carry in the train.

And early yesterday morning, when I couldn't sleep, I discovered, to my delight, that Poul Anderson and Gordy Dickson's Hoka stories were available on ebook. If you haven't read them, go get them NOW! The Hokas are a loveable race of ursinoids(think giant teddy bears). They simply adore Earth history and literature and enjoy playing with them. In fact, they live them. A Hoka delegation on Earth are charmed by Don Giovanni and take on all the roles, nearly causing disaster. Another bunch of Hokas become the Space Patrol of a popular children's series. On the planet itself, there are Hoka versions of everything from the French Foreign Legion to Victorian England, including a Hoka Sherlock Holmes. It's all seen from the viewpoint of Alex Jones, a young man given the job of Plenipotentiary, who keeps getting caught up in various Hoka adventures. The one I downloaded first was Earthman's Burden, but I mean to buy the others, Star Prince Charlie and Hoka! 

Star Prince Charlie has a Hoka in it, but isn't set on the Hoka homeworld. A young man, Charlie, and his Hoka tutor, who is playing the role of an Oxford don,  visit a world with a situation similar to Scotland in the time of Bonnie Prince Charlie and this inspires the Hoka to become a Scottish clansman, with his charge as Bonnie Prince Charlie. Delightful!

Time to arise, eat, clean and prepare classes. Sigh!

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45. Slushing For ASIM

  • For the few of you who have no idea what ASIM is, or think it's short for Asimov, it's Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine, which I have mentioned in previous posts. I'm a second-wave member of the ASIM team - not the original bunch, but one of the next lot to join. People have come and gone over the years, but we still have quite a few who have been with the team since nearly the beginning and a few who have been there since the start. And somehow, we've kept it going and it's now up to issue 58. Mine, issue 60, will be out early next year and I'm proud to say that I have five first sales, including one poet and one story writer who had previously self published(well, most poetry has to be self published these days, so it was lovely for the author to finally be paid!)

    All but one of my stories I found in slush - and that one I asked to look at because I was short of submissions in that genre, and it turned out to be only a second sale. The author is herself a slush reader, though for a different publication. And here's where I am going to get to my point: we're a popular market. There are some Hugo and Nebula nominees out there who sold us their first stories. We're so popular that our slush wrangler, Lucy Zinkiewicz, is currently short of slush readers. I have agreed to take on more stories per week, but that really isn't enough.

    This is a volunteer thing. There's no money in it. But if you're a writer who wants to see the slushpile from the other side or an editor who currently has no work and wants to keep their hand in or just a reader who would like to read new stories, this is a good place to come. It's fun. My sister does one story a week, because she has done the Holmesglen writing and editing course and wants to keep her hand in.

    You don't have to be a professional. You don't have to live in Australia, everything is done by email. You just need to love speculative fiction. You can volunteer for as little as one story a week or as many as suit you. It's a real eye opener and if you are a writer yourself, you will have a better idea of what happens on the other side of the slushpile and maybe grumble a bit less when your masterpiece comes back. Or maybe, after having seen some of the submissions we get, you will appreciate why a story might be rejected, apart from the readers being philistines. ;-) In fact, we have a wide variety of readers, from the ASIM members, who are all writers themselves, to those who are just keen readers and think what they would and wouldn't be willing to pay for in a magazine.

    If interested, contact Lucy at asimsubmissions@gmail.com.

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46. Path Of Night by Dirk Flinthart. Fablecroft Publishing, 2013

After being killed horribly by a creature out of a horror movie, medical student Mick Devlin  wakes to find himself in the morgue and, soon after, on the run. He had cut himself on an exploding vial of some mystery substance being studied by a now-dead scientist working at the hospital and, as well as coming back to life he now has super speed and strength and sharp night vision. Thing is, as he discovers, he's supposed to have turned into a cannibalistic monster like the one who killed him, but the only side effects appear to be a tendency to burn easily in the sun and eat a lot - ordinary food, not human flesh.

With a grumpy female police detective right out of a noir novel, he tries to find out what's going on - not easy when being hunted by two top secret societies which have the government's ear. 

There are many of the typical elements of an airport paranormal thriller - secret societies, a mysterious substance discovered on an archaeological dig, a cop who's been told to drop the case, nonstop action, explosions, characters being badly injured but somehow soldiering on after a bit of first aid, gruesome killings. Somehow, though, it all works. Unlike many of those thrillers, the main characters are likeable and there are humorous elements, such as waking in an evil society's lab strapped to a gurney to find, not a gloating villain, but three innocent doctors who haven't a clue they're henchmen or that he isn't a mental patient needing shock therapy, arguing over having to use code names. And unlike in The Da Vinci Code, most characters do stop to eat and sleep, not only the perpetually famished Mick. 

Definitely a change from Dirk Flinthart's usual swashbuckling fantasy, but still, action adventure. I read it over a weekend. 

Read it on the beach, but make sure you're not too close to the water or you might get caught by the tide.

Available as either ebook or print on line directly from Fablecroft Publishng, whose publisher and editor, Tehani Wessely, has been interviewed on this site, or, if you live in Australia, you can also buy it in the dealers' room at SF conventions..

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47. Raven Flight by Juliet Marillier. Volume 2 Shadowfell trilogy. SydneyPan Macmillan, 2013

In Shadowfell, we met Neryn, a Caller. This means she can call the Good Folk(various varieties of what we would call fairies) and they must come. Unfortunately, in Alban, the alternate version of Scotland in which she lives, this is not an advantage. Anyone suspected of being "canny" - which can include especially good sight or skill in an ordinary thing such as spinning or archery - is hauled in by the King's Enforcers and Enthralled to make them loyal to him. But the process doesn't always work, leaving the victim a mindless wreck, such as Neryn's grandmother. No wonder she was on the run, first with her father, who died in a fire, then by herself and with double-agent Enforcer, Flint, who took her to a rebel group at Shadowfell, where she was made welcome as a potential weapon in their fight against the evil King.

Now, she must visit the Guardians, major Good Folk who can teach her skills she will need to help her in the fight against the tyrant without doing too much damage to any Good Folk she may Call. It isn't easy to reach them and in one case, the Guardian needs to be helped out of his own grieving for a dead child and lost wife before he can help her. He's been asleep for three hundred years, so it will be tough...

This is yet more powerful writing by the doyenne of folk tale-themed fiction Juliet Marillier. Nothing is ever easy, characters you care about can die, sometimes offstage while the protagonist is busy doing vital work elsewhere, love is not a good idea for rebels who may find it used against them if their loved ones are taken prisoner and the Good People who, in other novels of this kind, are not given much depth, are all too human, if you can call it that, with human needs and sorrows. They are long-lived - even the servants of The Lord Of The North have been waiting for him for three centuries, cooking and darning socks and watching his bed -  but can be killed and there's no "Halls of Mandos" for them to wait till they're simply reborn. Death is death, as for humans.

I like the Scottish flavour; I've only read her Irish-themed books before these. It's interesting to note that the Good Folk all speak with Scottish accents, nobody else does.

Just a warning, it ends on a cliffhanger. I'm not sure when the final volume, The Caller, will be out; I asked for this one to read while waiting. Be patient. Don't try to read this until you've read the first - but read it! The first novel, Shadowfell, has been reviewed on this site.

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48. Boxing Day And Me

This was originally written as a submission for a Christmas-themed anthology before I realised the antho was aimed at children, so I'm working on something more appropriate for that(fingers crossed!) and this post is my contribution to the compulsory holidays blogging that everyone else seems to be doing. There's only one book mentioned, The London Ritz Book Of Breakfasts.

Boxing Day used to be a day out for the girls - Mum, my sister Mary and me. We went each year to the Treble Clef restaurant in Southbank for breakfast, then off to the Boxing Day sales, where I'd invariably buy a towel and some gifts for my gift box. Then there would be the Boxing Day blockbuster movie, after I'd seen Mum off on the tram.

After the Treble Clef closed, I invited Mum and Mary to my home for breakfast. I had a book, The London Ritz Book Of Breakfasts, I was keen to try. From it, I took recipes for Irish soda bread, fancy scrambled eggs and breakfast mocha made with melted chocolate and percolated coffee. I added fresh-squeezed orange juice, summer fruits and smoked salmon.

The next year, my father and my brother-law, Gary, asked to join us. The year after, my nephews arrived,  the elder one, David, with his two daughters in tow and the younger, Mark, with a baby bird fallen from the nest(we called someone to take it). That was before Mark married and became father of two delightful small boys.

I eventually got a larger table, one of those you can stretch, to make room for some of my extended family in the small living-room of my flat - and even that table was too small for everyone; we crammed in.

 It became a tradition. Each Christmas Eve I would shop for the ingredients of my family breakfast: smoked salmon, ground coffee for the percolator, a bag of oranges to squeeze for juice, the ingredients for my Irish soda bread, which I only baked once a year, but did well, fresh summer fruits such as watermelon, cantaloupe, peaches, apricots and various berries. (David's two little girls, Dezzy and Rachel, had never tasted raspberries and loved them). I made sure there were eggs for the scrambled eggs, and cheese for most of us, but not for my brother-in-law, who doesn't enjoy it. I gave up the mocha, as my mother thought it too sweet, so stuck with brewed coffee and tea. I'd do my shopping either at Prahran or Queen Vic market, good places to buy gourmet stuff and likely to be selling fruit cheaply at the end of the market day.

On Boxing Day I would get up early to bake bread, percolate coffee and set the table with goodies. The family would wander in at about 10 am, and enjoy the feast. My sister would comment that my bread was better each year. My brother-in-law was willing to delay his Boxing Day cricket to come along.

It ended when my father passed away. I had a simple, cut-down version of the breakfast for my friends Bart and Siu Ling a day before Dad died, and before I went to visit him in the hospital. Somehow, it just wasn't the same. Each year, we remember him at this time. I've gone back to Christmas Day beach picnics. I prefer not to party on New Year's Eve these days, remembering the storm on that first New Year's Eve after the funeral, though I might go to the Rocky Horror Picture Show if I'm in the mood.

But those years of the Boxing Day breakfast with my family, when I made a London Ritz gourmet meal for them, are a precious memory. I recall them with pleasure as well as sadness.

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49. Just Finished Reading...

...the latest Benjamin January novel by Barbara Hambly. This is the twelfth in the series of historical crime novels that began with A Free Man Of Color. I love crime fiction anyway - not for nothing am I a Sister In Crime! And historical crime fiction is good fun. There are so many in which the sleuth is  a real character out of the history books, whether Shakespeare or Jane Austen, even Elizabeth I. I recently read one in which the heroine is Josephine Tey, author of the Inpector Grant series, though the actual crime solver is a weary police detective.

But this series has a fictional hero, Benjamin January, an African-American ex-slave who was educated by his mother's protector when he bought her and her children and freed them. He's a trained surgeon who studied and worked in Paris, but makes his living as a musician, which actually pays better, especially in 1830s New Orleans, where even the coloured community aren't comfortable with a coal-black doctor. However, he has family and friends, including policeman Abishag Shaw, a white man who wouldn't be allowed into Ben's mum's home for being so vulgar, and Irish musician Hannibal Sefton, who is suffering from consumption and plays a Stradivarius, suggesting his family background is a bit wealthier than his current poverty would suggest. (Actually, he's an aristocrat back home, as we discover in another novel). And Ben January is a first-class sleuth, for whose services people are prepared to pay.

This novel takes Ben to Washington, still a Southern city where any free black unlucky enough to be out after dark runs the risk of being kidnapped and sold, and everyone who dies runs the risk of being dug up by "resurrectionists" for sale to surgeons who want anatomy practice. A mathematician friend of his sister's protector's wife has gone missing. One of the characters is Edgar Allan Poe, who still can't make a living out of his writing and is in town looking for a job. I got the sneaking suspicion that Ben is something of an inspiration for Poe's private eye hero(he wrote the first detective fiction, long before Sherlock Holmes.)

I don't know how she does it, but somehow Barbara Hambly manages to keep up the quality even after twelve books. I pounce on these with a cry of delight as they appear and haven't yet been disappointed.

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50. The Housewives Of Harry Potter

It's strange, really. There don't seem to be too many women in the universe of Harry Potter who are both professionals and married. Okay, Neville's parents were both aurors, but look what happened to them - both tortured into insanity. I think the author mentions somewhere that Ginny became a quidditch player, but it doesn't happen in the books themselves and frankly, I think it wouldn't be a good idea to go on playing that particular game during pregnancy and we know Ginny has been pregnant at least twice.

For now, let's talk about two housewives in this world. One is a witch, the other a very determined Muggle who's been throwing herself into Muggledom since she was turned down for Hogwarts.

I'm talking, of course, abut Molly Weasley and Petunia Dursley. Both are career housewives who make sure their homes are just right for their particular families, as they see it. Both love their husbands and children. Both are very good cooks.

But the differences are obvious from very early on and not just in the way they treat Harry.

You really wouldn't want to live in Petunia's house. It's sparkling clean, but only because she makes sure no one tracks mud on to her nice floor or lets anything go into the wrong place - a place for everything and everything in its place! It is the sort of home that would be showcased in Home Beautiful, but not because of its liveability. Dudley's second bedroom is a mess, full of his broken toys and unread books, but nobody sees this, so it doesn't spoil the look of her house. It's a house, not a home.

I think Dumbledore is right to say Dudley has been abused. Petunia adores him, but she lets him eat himself into obesity as well as become a bully. In the first novel, when he makes a fuss over the number of gifts he has, it's Petunia who offers to buy him two more, supporting his spoiled brat nature.

If Petunia ever did anything other than run a home, we aren't told. She relies on Vernon to make the decisions and protect the family and it's his career she supports.

Molly Weasley's home couldn't be more different. It's shabby, relaxed and comfortable. Part of this is because they don't have much money, but when the Weasleys won the Daily Prophet prize, the money was spent on a family trip, not on renovations. Family doing something special together had priority over making the house look nice.

Molly loves her family, but doesn't spoil the children. She is small, plump and kind, but heaven help the child - or husband! - who does the wrong thing. Nevertheless, however frustrated she can become with them, it's only because she loves them so much and wants their best. She knows the twins are smart and could have done better in school, but eventually accepts their dream of running a joke shop. She is proud of them all, whatever they end up choosing to do with their lives.

Her kitchen is the heart of the home; the family live there and there is where she cooks her wonderful meals, food being how she shows love. There's a rubber pot which seems able to stretch to feed however many guests they have, whether it's Harry and Hermione or all the members of the Order of the Phoenix, whom she feeds regularly in 12 Grimmauld Place.

She was a founding member herself and is still sharp with a wand, after many years of running a home.

But ultimately, Molly is a mother. Her Boggart nightmare is the death of a child.  She kills evil Deatheater Bellatrix Lestrange in defence of her children, not as a warrior, though she is.

"Not my daughter, you bitch!" says it all.

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