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

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

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

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

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

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

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27. Happy Belated Birthday, Charles Dickens!

Charles Dickens in the US 1867 - public domain

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I'll have to think about this.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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30. Music To Write By

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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31. "Bothersome Words" And Fan Fiction

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

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

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

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32. Eugowra Story - First Draft Finished!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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33. Book Club Nerd Pack Makes Me Proud!

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

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

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

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

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34. Australia's Favourite Authors - Final List!

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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35. Belated Appreciate A Dragon Day

I discovered, too late, that January 16 was Appreciate A Dragon Day. Pity I missed it, but no reason not to celebrate the wonderful dragon! 

 It's meant to be used in class, but I don't have classes yet, so here's my celebration of dragons. Traditionally the western dragon has been a symbol of greed. It collects and sits on hoards of gold, silver and gems, just because. Think of all those legendary dragons. Think of fictional ones such as Smaug.  In Christian legend, it has negative religious connotations. At the same time, it turns up on heraldic devices, so it can't be all that bad, or at least it has positive elements.  

In modern fiction it has had a lot of good press. Anne McCaffrey's Pern books. My late friend Jan Finder was written into one of them, as a harper.


Temeraire. How about Rachel Hartman's Seraphina, a musically gifted young girl who is also a dragon? (Apparently, it started life as a graphic novel and the author wasn't good at drawing dragons, so came up with this idea). I bought that one for my book clubber, Kristen, who is a mad keen dracophile. Eragon


And what of Terry Pratchett's dragons? There are the small swamp dragons people keep as pets or as firelighters, and "Here Be Dragons" on the map of Ankh-Morpork gets you to Lady Sybil's Sunshine Sanctuary for dragons. There are also, early in the Discworld series, the dragons that only exist if you imagine them. If you lose concentration while in the air, you're in big trouble! 

We had a wonderful short story in Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine#39, "Dragon Bones" by Joanne Anderton. In this, members of the very Australian Royal Flying Doctor Service fly out on dragons. They're really winged and enlarged Australian lizards, but still, dragons. The heroine is very close with her beloved mount. If you can get hold if this issue, do. I think we might have a few copies left. The gorgeous cover art, based on this story,  was done by a U.S. artist who did her research beautifully.

Another Australian dragon story, which I am going to celebrate here, is Dragonkeeper by Carole Wilkinson, first of a series for children. In Han Dynasty China, a young girl, a slave without even her own name(later she becomes Ping) looks after the last of the imperial dragons in the royal menagerie. When she learns that there's a dragon hunter on his way, and with the female dead, she escapes with Danzi, the elderly male. The dragon is sentient and they communicate telepathically.  There is a stone which is very important to him and which he insists they carry with them on their journey. Probably you can work out what that stone is, but never mind. It's a beautiful story about friendship and a helluva terrific adventure. We've had this on our Literature Circles list since 2011, and most years at least one group has read it. 


I will probably think of plenty more dragons when I finish posting this, so what about you? Who has some favourite dragons?

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36. In Which I See Into The Woods: The Movie!

                                              Little Red Riding Hood, Walter Crane. 
                                              Public domain.
Yesterday I went to the city to meet a friend, enjoy the new upmarket food court where there used to be the Myer Lonsdale St branch and attend the Jean-Paul Gaultier exhibition at the gallery(and that deserves a post of its own, some tine. That man, a fashion designer who also designed the costumes for some well known movies, is very strange!)

And then, on my way home, I went to see a movie on an impulse. I don't get to do that very often. By the time a working day is over, I'm often too tired to do anything but go home, eat, wash up and go to bed with a book or a good DVD. If I do go out, I fall asleep; it wasn't till I started going to the opera at Saturday matinees that I realised Madama Butterfly has a suitor in the last scene while waiting for that louse Pinkerton to return. I'd always dozed off before that and woken shortly before she kills herself. 

So I went to a seven o'clock session of Into The Woods, which I had seen as a play some years ago. It's a Stephen Sondheim musical and if it's one of his, it will be tuneful, but it won't be Oklahoma! or Flower Drum Song. Nor will it be one of those rock operas that have dominated the musical play scene for the last twenty years or more. It's about fairy tales and how "happily ever after" doesn't always work out as you'd think it would. There is a whole act after the "happily ever after". Some characters die. Some are unfaithful. But they're very human.

The fairy tales used are Cinderella, Jack And The Beanstalk, Red Riding Hood and Rapunzel. These are all mixed together and linked by the story of a baker and his wife(unnamed). The baker is the brother of Rapunzel, but was too young to remember her birth. He and his wife want a child, but can't have one due to a curse by the witch who took Rapunzel and she, in her turn, is under a curse, which she needs their help to lift, in exchange for which she offers to lift their curse. That leads three "into the woods" where they sell Jack the beans and try to acquire things from the other characters.

Messy, mixed up and delightful, and the film took it all off the stage and set it in a forest which was not a nice park. Red Riding Hood is usually played by an adult on stage, because there are sexual overtones. That was changed for the film and the character was played by a younger girl, but Johnny Depp still made a fabulously sneaky, slimy Big Bad Wolf. To be honest, he was one of the few actors I'd heard of - as I've said, I don't get to see too many movies these days, before they come to DVD. Meryl Streep was the Witch. Apparently, she has a "no witch" rule but made an exception for a Stephen Sondheim show.

I love the music of this show and while songs were left out, as they always are in film versions, this still felt like the stage show, but widened out.

Go and see it, but only if you don't mind seeing your fairy tales not quite the way you remember them.

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37. January 15: Happy Birthday, Dad!

My Dad, Ben Bursztynski, in his younger years

Today would have been my father's 90th birthday if he had still been alive. I miss him terribly, even after five years. My brother and his family returned from their overseas trip yesterday and today we drank to Dad in whiskey, a drink he loved.

Dad was a true "silver surfer" who discovered and adored the Internet in his later years. He was trying to write his memoir, but kept saying, "Oh, I just need to check up this or that thing I can't quite remember." He never got far with the memoir, but he had a wonderful time with the World Wide Web. Every morning he got up early to read the world's newspapers online. Every time I visited, he would be telling me something exciting he had read online that day. 

He learned to Google very quickly. Any member of his family who might be mentioned online he'd look up. I had to be careful what I posted, because he'd find it.

Dad was the head of my fan club and set up a "shrine" of book covers, newspaper articles and illustrations from my works. Once, when lining up to do a colour copy, he asked the lady in front of him for help in copying my book cover; she was Mitch Vane, my illustrator! How cool is that, eh?

He came along to my book launches, of course. I remember his enjoying the free food and booze at the Ford Street launch of Trust Me! and his cornering Kerry Greenwood at the launch of Crime Time, to talk about me, me and me again. Lucky Kerry is such a nice lady.

Anyway, today is his birthday and I had to celebrate it here.

January 15, 1925, was a Thursday, as it is this year. "Thursday's child has far to go" and yes, Dad went a long way from his birthplace in Poland, first to Germany, where he met and married my Mum, then to Israel, where the family lived for six years, finally to Australia. 

On This Day: 

Nothing literary. A lot of horrible stuff, including battles.
However, this day in 2001 was the birth of that very useful research tool, Wikipedia! 
1559: Crowning of Elizabeth I
1759: Opening of the British Museum. If you're in Melbourne go check out the State Library; it's designed to look like the BM. I remember when I was in London many years ago, I thought that the building, even inside, looked familiar...


1622: Moliere, that wonderful comic French playwright. 

1929: Martin Luther King! No explanation needed of who he was.

1935: Robert Silverberg, science fiction writer. My sister is a big fan of his. I've read some of his books, including Up The Line, a time travel story seen from the viewpoint of a time travel tour guide - great fun! The one I like best of those I have read is Gilgamesh The King, which I thought fascinating. 

1944: Jenny Nimmo, children's writer. I read and enjoyed her Snow Spider novels, one of which was made into a TV miniseries.

Happy birthday, Dad!

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38. Booktopia And Australia's Favourite Author

This week, Booktopia's blog is running a vote for Australia's favourite author. There's a long list up on the web site.  It's an interesting mix of adult, YA and children's writers, including some classic writers such as Henry Lawson and Miles Franklin, some of the literary novelists and, among the children's and YA folk, the likes of Isobelle Carmody,  Garth Nix, John Flanagan, Shaun Tan, Graeme Base (okay, they're best known as artists, but both write their own picture story books), Juliet Marillier and Andy Griffiths. There are more, these are just the ones I've remembered off the top of my head.

You can vote for as many as you like and next week, at noon on Monday 19th, they will announce the top fifty and go on from there to the top one.

I voted only for those whose books I had read and enjoyed (mostly the YA and children's writers), which means I didn't put in too many votes for the literary novelists, even though I respect some of them. I'm just not into literary fiction.

Anyway, do visit the site, here, and put in your vote, even if you're outside of Australia, as long as you've read and loved some of the authors on the list.

Go on, vote now!

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39. In Which I Discover Wattpad

Well, not really. I knew about it. Some of my students write on it and wrote on a predecessor site whose title I have forgotten. It's got everything from fan fiction to epic fantasies. I even knew that occasionally real publishers wander in and offer contracts to the better writers.

But when I was ordered to teach Creative Writing as a Year 9/10 elective I thought it might be time to explore this form of online writer community. I joined, though I haven't yet posted anything myself. If it worked for me, I might recommend my students join. As far as I know, two of them are already writing there, though one of them won't give me her username and the other one did, but I can't find her there under the name she gave me, so perhaps I'm doing it wrong.

It's quite a site! People have their own followers; my nephew's daughter Dezzy certainly has a fan whose comments read along the lines of "OMG, this is so exciting! I can't wait to read the next chapter!"

You don't ever have to write anything if you don't want; people just read the online contributions, which have blurbs and exciting-looking book covers, and make comments if they like. One "book" I saw had had nearly 4,000,000 reads! Needless to say, it seemed to be erotica of some form, judging by the cover.

Not all the stories are good, but they have fans anyway, and a surf through the bios produced a lot of teenage girls.

Personally, I think it's wonderful that so many kids are having a go at writing, experimenting and posting. It's not very disciplined, with so many just writing a bit at a time without knowing how it will end, but it's great practice and sooner or later they will learn from it - including, I hope, how to develop a thick skin, something everyone who is published needs.

And I think I have suddenly realised why I get so many short slush stories divided into chapters. They have probably been originally published on Wattpad or something similar, or the author has become so used to it, they don't know how else to write. The default form of a story on this site is serial. Even if the entire story is only about 1000 words long, it comes in chapters.

Serials are certainly a tradition. All those nineteenth century classics started life as serials. There's the famous story about people in America gathering on the wharf when British ships arrived to ask, "Does Little Nell die?" And Marcus Clarke had to be harassed into finishing The Term Of His Natural Life (a novel with two endings - the serial version has a happy ending, the novel version doesn't).

In those days, though, you did have to wait till the publisher put out the next issue. Now, the author can just go online every night and write the next chapter.

How times have changed! :-)

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40. An Old Fanwriter Reminisces

Over the last few years, fan fiction has become huge on the Internet. Rainbow Rowell, author of the delightful YA novel Fangirl(reviewed on this site) says that people are already writing fan fiction based on Fangirl! I think she's rather chuffed. I might be too, if it was me, though I do recall when someone wrote and asked me, many years ago, for permission to write a story set in my universe. I said sure, provided she let me know what she had in mind. She never did, but some months later she sent me a copy of a novella she had written, using some of my characters and making them unrecognisable. I said so, politely, and got a rude response. I don 't know if she ever published it - I had said she might as well, since the characters with the names of mine were different enough to be her own. 

At least she asked. Nobody would bother in these days of the Internet. And that's the thing. The Internet is where most, if not all, fanfic is published these days, as far as I know. The days of the print fanzine are over and that's a shame, because they were works of art and you could curl up in bed with them. There's a wonderful web site called 1001 Trek Tales(look it up as I don't have the link on me). It is dedicated to rescuing old stories from th print fanzines in the editor's collection, with the authors' permission(in some cases the permission of their estates). They have a couple of my stories.

The first fanzine I ever edited, cover by Robert Jan, who won't mind.

These days, there are a lot of younger fans who think the Internet is the be-all and end-all and that hardly anyone published this stuff before. 

My club fanzine, in which I had a story, though I can't remember what it was. Cover by my friend Greg Franklin.

Someone on Twitter the other day put in a link to a blog on which the author, a young woman who is working on her first novel, gives tips about writing. This one was on fan fiction. It was written on the assumption that fan fiction was pretty much a Net thing - I assume it did, because anyone who was familiar with fanzines wouldn't have said some of the things she did - and advised readers to think carefully about writing it because it didn't make money and you were restricted in what you could write because of canon, giving some details about Harry Potter as an example. The tweeter wondered if the author of that article had read any fan fiction and after reading it, I wondered too. I went to the web site and wrote the following:

Sorry,XXX, but reading this post makes me wonder just how much fan fiction you have read – and from a look at your bio, I’m guessing you weren’t BORN before the Internet. You know the word “canon” but not, it seems, “alternative universe”. Even these days, that exists and I am quite sure there are plenty of stories in which Harry’s parents survived or he never went to Hogwarts or Petunia did. ;-) Fans can and do and have been changing absolutely everything in fanfic, since well before you were born. There were these printed things called fanzines – I wrote about 150 fan stories set in one universe or another, before people started paying me to write books, and have a huge pile of contributors’ copies to prove it, plus plenty more. And so do a lot of speculative fiction writers who are big names these days. It’s rather sad that since the Internet there are far fewer of these forms of self expression.
While it’s true you don’t get paid for writing fan fiction, it does indeed build up your audience(as she had said)and teaches you the craft. Because while fans can and do change everything in their chosen universe there are always others to argue with them that they got the characterisation wrong or made a mistake about the universe or even, in some cases, got their physics wrong or their history in the case of some historical fantasy universes. You couldn’t buy that kind of feedback. You certainly don’t get it from publishers who have rejected your magnum opus.
And I have heard of a rare, much sought-after fanzine that was sold in the US for $1500! So much for “you can’t make money out of it.” This is only an example, though. Not to mention some writers who have rewritten their fan fiction and sold it.
And recently, I edited my first prozine and found it a comfortable process because it was not much different from editing a fanzine. You choose your stories and your artist, you edit and you publish. The system is different, of course, we used to just photocopy, but not a problem.
But even if you never write anything else, if you’re having fun, who cares? 

I hope I didn't offend her too much, but as a fanzine veteran, I found the post just a bit patronising - from someone who hasn't even sold her first book! Ah, I'm such a grumpy old fan! 

My last edited fanzine, cover by ? A friend whose name I don't recall, to my shame.

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41. Compulsory New Year's Eve Post

Creative Commons image. 

2014 has been a crazy year for me. I had to teach Year 8 history. I only made one story sale(thank heavens for the wonderful Sophie Masson). We had an author visit by Sherryl Clark and were offered one for this coming year by the new Stella Schools Program. I did a lot of reading for the Aurealis Awards and read a lot of slush for ASIM and published an issue of ASM myself, #60. Go buy it! 

 I seriously think whether I should take a break from promoting other people's books and concentrate on my own writing. But I can't not read, can I? 

And I am inspired by the wonderful Ambelin Kwaymullina, author of The Interrogation Of Ashala Wolfwhom I meet at Continuum, who also has a full time day job as a teacher and still manages to write amazing fiction. And paint. And handcraft. (Ambelin, by the way, is the one I have to thank for the Stella freebie.) If she can do it, so can I.

Ambelin did  a great interview on this blog in June. Do check it out.

I'm hoping that this coming year will be a good one. Even though we're having to jump through ever more hoops at work, I will only have small classes and once I get them organised I may be able to focus more on the writing and look after my students in the library.

So, have a great NYE - I'm meeting my nephew David and his daughters Dezzy and Rachel at the Astor Theatre for the very last Rocky Horror Picture Show before they are closed down so the owner can make a fortune selling it as apartments. I don't do midnight any more, not since Dad died, it depresses me too much, but Rocky Horror will be good. And no champers either - a half glass of fizzy wine and my head fuzzes up and I say stupid things. Anyway, with daylight saving, who can tell when it's midnight? :-)

So here's a December 31 meme for you.

On This Day

The usual lot of battles and horrible stuff, so I found some quirky items for you in Wikipedia.

1759 : Arthur Guinness signs a 9,000 year lease at £45 per annum. And the world gets a new beer! Wonder if the lease price has gone up?

1853: A dinner party is held inside a life-size model of an iguanodon created by Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins and Sir Richard Owen in south London, England. Will have to check this out. What a way to spend New Year's Eve, eh? And typically Victorian era over-the-top.

1907: The first New Year's Eve celebration is held in Times Square (then known as Longacre Square). This has, as I needn't remind you, become a tradition. 

2009: Both a blue moon and a lunar eclipse occur. This was a sad year's end for me, as my Dad had just passed away. I went to bed early and as there was a storm that night, I missed the lunar events, I'm afraid. But an interesting thing anyway.


Only two writers/editors I'm familiar with, so I've added actors I respect.

1937 – Anthony Hopkins, Welsh-American actor, director, and composer. Didn't know about the American. Time to read his bio.

1943 – Ben Kingsley, English actor

1945 – Connie Willis, American spec fic author and one of my favourites. If you love spec fic, do read The Doomsday Book, To Say Nothing Of The Dog, all those time travel stories, and Passage, which was a great story about near-death-experiences taking the form of finding yourself on the Titanic.

1949 - Ellen Datlow, American anthologist and author. Does a lot of themed anthologies, including fairytales. Pity she only takes commissioned work... Sigh!  But her anthologies have given me a lot of reading pleasure over the years.

In today's news

 A lot of depressing stuff, but one item I liked, the discovery of the world's smallest species of goanna, at only about 23 cm in length, in the Kimberley. She's on display at the Museum of Western Australia and yes, she's alive, I checked. I hope they find her a better place to live and a mate to cheer her up.

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42. Nearly Finished Reading For The Aurealises: A Reflection So Far

Yesterday the final Aurealis entry arrived, a slim volume called Will You Be My Sweetheart? It's a graphic, so won't take long. Well, we'll see. I have another graphic that I haven't got far into yet, going crosse eyed over it. Some are harder than others.

I must admit, I'm glad there won't be any more, though it was exciting receiving all those parcels. I still have several to finish or even start. At this stage  I can't say which ones stand out, for me or anyone else. Some are very much better than others, but winners? I can't tell. There are some which simply don't qualify as spec fic but were entered anyway, because they had a MENTION of something that might count as spec fic if it had been real within the story. There were short stories, including one from an anthology in which I have a story. There were picture books and picture story books. There were even some choose your own adventure style stories. There are novels clearly meant for teens, not children, and, I'm sure, entered in both categories. What a variety! And I have to keep reminding myself that some books I didn't enjoy were not written for me, and ask myself, "Yes, but would children enjoy them?" There's one book I think dreadful - truly dreadful - which has a rave review on Goodreads by a child. It doesn't mean I'll revise my opinion - there are plenty of others that are much better written - but you do have to take another look in such circumstances, just in case.

I won't be keeping most of them. I simply don't have the space left on my shelves and anything I really want should be available in ebook. Most of them can go into my school library and some, which are too juvenile, I have offered to the primary school down the road from us. Anything I haven't given to them or the library I work in or to Eden and Jonah, my nephew's boys, will go into the Rotary bin at my local library, where they might find homes at a Rotary fundraising event.

But while the reading might be nearly over the discussion hasn't begun yet! That should be an eye opener. It has been an interesting experience so far. More to come.

Have a happy New Year, my readers!

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43. In Which I Waffle About The Hobbit 3 And Boxing Day

The Hill: Hobbiton-across-the-Water, 1937. (MS. Tolkien drawings 26) Copyright the Tolkien Estate, reproduced here under fair use.

Friday afternoon was delightful and sad for me. Delightful because I met some of my friends for a movie and sad because the movie, The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies is the last of the Tolkien-inspired epic films we will get to see on Boxing Day.  What wonderful films will we see from now on as we struggle our way through the sale crowds to the cinema? They will have to be very special to excite me anyway.

I'm illustrating this post with a Tolkien illustration which can be used under the copyright fair usage clause, because it's just too much of a headache to go with the movie poster which has so many ifs and buts attached it's not worth using lest someone orders me to take it down when I'm promoting their film. I don't think Tolkien would mind. And I'm sure you can all find those posters all over the Web anyway.

I didn't read The Hobbit till I was an adult. I remember going out with my then much younger nephew Max one summer day. His father was reading him The Hobbit at bedtime. I happened to have a copy with me for my umpteenth reread so there, on that hot afternoon in the gardens around the Shrine of Remembrance, I read to him from the chapter they were up to. I think it was "Riddles in the dark", Bilbo's meeting with Gollum. That chapter, by the way, was a favourite with my late friend jan howard finder(he liked to spell his name without capitals). Jan read it to the kids at our Aussiecon children's program. One of them asked for the lights to be turned off to provide ambience. Fortunately, he knew it off by heart. ;-) 

Since then Max, now a tall sixteen year old, has also read The Lord Of The Rings. His father, my brother Maurice, held out for years, then bought the beautiful three volume Alan Lee illustrated hardback edition which was on sale at the time, and was very glad he had finally read the book. Probably that was how Max got to read it.

Max is currently visiting family in Israel, but has asked me if we can see the film together when he returns, with his cousin Dezzy, who's in town. He feels himself too old to be going out with his auntie, but this film is special to him and we've seen the other two together. I asked Dezzy, who says she'd love to, as her father is taking her sister Rachel only, on a "quality time" outing. Dezzy has grown into a bright, articulate young woman who loves dancing but also talking about books - she helps in the school library and promotes the books of her auntie the writer. She wants to be a psychologist, though, not a librarian.

The third Hobbit movie has had quite a lot of rude reviews but as a Tolkien fan I enjoyed it very much. I know the whole thing was stretched out rather too much and I'm really not sure of what the Professor would think of the Elven shield maiden and her unlikely romance with one of the nephews of the King Under The Mountain, ie Kili, Thorin's sister-son. Well, actually, I do know what he'd think. It wouldn't be complimentary! 

 But you have to understand that there isn't a single female character in the original novel. Not one. For some time I thought Lobelia appeared in the auction scene, then I reread and no, it was just "the Sackville-Bagginses" though perhaps Lobelia was implied, only you didn't find that out till LOTR. At least LOTR has its share of brave and intelligent women, even if they do get less time than the men. But The Hobbit? Not one. And you can't produce an all-male film. Eight and a half hours with no women at all, apart from the extras? No. Well, yes, the movie had inserted Galadriel, but there was only so much they could do with her. I admit I thought the hints of her romantic feelings for Gandalf were just a little silly. Come on, woman, he's an angel! Not a fallen one. Definitely asexual. And you're a married woman, head of the Elven artist colony in Lothlorien, Elrond's mother-in-law. But I suppose it was meant to hint at the reasons for her sorrow when she hears of his death in Fellowship Of The Ring. The film gave her a good scene when you realised just what could have happened if she'd let Frodo give her the Ring. Fortunately, it happens to Sauron. And it makes sense. Galadriel's stuck in Middle-Earth in the first place because she was once a very naughty girl. No, I won't tell you. Go read The Silmarillion. Really. It will make you understand  that Galadriel is a lot more than the wise elf queen she appears.

Anyway, Tauriel! She was the one who reminded the viewers that there are women even in Middle-Earth. Brave, kickass women. And what's the point of having sexy young Dwarves like Fili and Kili if at least one of them doesn't score in the romance stakes? Even if the woman concerned is twice his height... Never stopped Miles Vorkosigan from sleeping every now and then with Sergeant Taura. ;-)

Despite all this, it's a largely action film. Billy Connolly appears, Scottish accent and all, as Dain, leading an army of Dwarves and threatening what he will do to Thranduil's "pretty head". Thranduil deserves it too. I liked the way this film, while showing Thorin's dragon sickness, also suggests that the Elvenking has some things not to be proud of. It's really more Silmarillion than Hobbit; though Tolkien does mention the stupidity of a quarrel over a necklace and payment he still describes the Elvenking as "wise". 

The  battles are breathtaking and yes, Beorn is in there, though you only see him very briefly, fighting in his bear form, as in the novel.

Bard's role has been extended, but in the novel Bard, who has been described as a proto-Aragorn, did get to do a lot more in the last part of the story than when he was introduced simply as a man with a grim voice.

In some ways, this one was, despite all the extra bits and characters, closer to the spirit of the novel than the second one and Richard Armitage acts his heart out as Thorin gone crazy. 

I really think that Martin Freeman was the perfect Bilbo as well. And it showed him telling his first lie about having the Ring. Not that Gandalf is fooled, but still... 

And that auction scene is in there and yes, Lobelia is in it, with those spoons! 

If you hated the earlier films, you won't be going to see this one anyway, but I hope you've enjoyed this unexpected journey as much as I have.

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44. December 11 Meme

December 11: On This Day

What Happened: 

Nothing literary that I could find, so here are some that caught my eye: 

1620: landing of the Mayflower at Plymouth Rock(this one for my US readers)

1901: Marconi sends first transatlantic radio signal - wow! When you think of where that led - just wow!

1936: Edward VIII announces on the radio that he's abdicating to marry Wallis Simpson and history takes a turn for the better(he was known for sympathising with the Nazis)

1997: The Kyoto Protocol - in which 150 nations get together to do the right thing. And all these years later we're STILL facing climate change because short-sighted politicians would  rather look after the economy and jobs - their own jobs - than look after the planet their descendants will inherit. 

Happy Birthday To:

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn - Author of a lot of books that got him into trouble in the Soviet Union, including The Gulag Archipelago and - the one that got him exiled - One Day In The Life Of Ivan Denisovich. (I once saw a Year 7 boy reading this and assuring me he loved it. Pity this was in my pre-TL days. The boy had the unforgettable name of Vincent Price)

Laini Taylor, YA novelist, author of Daughter Of Smoke And Bone, which I still haven't read.

Aussie writer and illustrator Roland Harvey, whose cartoon style has become very familiar to school librarians and kids over the years. 

Today also seems to be Upper Volta's Independence Day.

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45. December 13 Meme

On This Day: 

Not much in history about books or writing that I could find, so I thought I'd go for exciting explorer stuff because of the sensawunda it inspires in SF, my first love.

1577 : Sir Francis Drake sails off from Plymouth on his first round-the-world voyage.

1642: Abel Tasman, after whom our beautiful Tasmania is named, reached New Zealand. This is the closest I can get to something Aussie-related.

1972 : the Apollo 17 astronauts Eugene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt walked on the moon. This is the last time, to date, that humans have walked there. I remember reading an interview with Michael Collins where he was asked if he'd accept an invitation to go back to the moon. He said no, but he'd be all for going to Mars if he could. My favourite of the three Apollo 11 astronauts!

Author Birthdays: 

Slim pickings here, but I did find one I'd read and enjoyed.

Lucia Gonzales, children's writer and librarian

Ross MacDonald, author of a lot of hard boiled detective fiction about a sleuth called Lew Archer, was known as the heir to Dashiell Hammett.

AND - Ta da! The wonderful Tamora Pierce, author of the Lioness books and many others. Her heroine was a girl who wanted to be a knight and swapped places with her twin brother, who had other ambitions, disguised herself as a boy and went off to be a page. Go read them if you haven't and ... many happy returns, Tamora, one of my Goodreads friends! Tamora blogs regularly and is one of the few big name author members of Goodreads I know who actually reviews other people's books and lets people friend her instead of just becoming "fans" who can't communicate. I get the feeling with some of these folk that they're only there on the advice of agents and publicists to get a social media profile.


Today, by the way, is St Lucy's Day (aka Santa Lucia). Thought I'd mention it because my much-valued and respected library technician us a Lucy/Lucia.

I gather it's a festival centred around light because it used to be the (European) winter solstice before the calendar changed. Which reminds me, time to get the Chanukah candles, as our own feast of lights begins Tuesday night. Time to stock up on potatoes for the traditional latkes and find my way down to the doughnut stand at Footscray railway station, as doughnuts are also a tradition(anything oily to eat, you see, though I don't recall chips being a tradition...)  

Below is a Public Domain image of Saint Lucy. See the eyes in the dish? Part of the legend, in which her eyes were poked out or maybe she poked them out herself to put off a suitor. Ew! Yuk! But she's the patron saint of the blind.

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46. December 14 Meme

And here's another interesting day in history!


1503: Nostradamus! Author of all those vague "prophecies" inspiring so many conspiracies

1546: Tycho Brahe, astronomer, back in the days when that job was new and exciting and possibly dangerous if you lived in the wrong country and got on the wrong side of the Church...( fortunately for him, he didn't). And he did it all without a telescope! PS He nearly became a lawyer!

1968: Rachel Cohn, YA novelist. I know her via her delightful co-authorship with David Levithan of some wonderful novels, such as Nick And Norah's Infinite Playlist. 

1640: birth or at least baptism, of  Aphra Behn, who wrote far more plays, some of them still being performed, than the more famous Oliver Goldsmith, who wrote about three plays. She was also a novelist and a spy. Poor woman, she had some exciting adventures, did a lot of good stuff for her country, was never paid and then they issued a warrant for her arrest as a debtor!  Probably a good thing for us, because being broke meant she started her writing career to earn a living. One of the first professional female writers. I wrote about her in my children's book on spies. Possibly I would have made it into the Cranky Ladies anthology if I'd chosen her instead of Margaret Bulkely aka Dr James Barry. 😒

Public Domain portrait of Aphra Behn, by Peter Leły


1542: the baby Mary Stuart becomes Queen of Scots and inspires a whole lot of writing, from bios to historical romance to SF, if you count that story by Fritz Leiber in which Elizabeth I is replaced by an agent/actress who has to make the vital decision.

1900: Max Planck, physicist, presents a paper that leads to the birth of quantum physics. I'm sadly deficient in the knowledge of physics, but even I know this is exciting! 

1962: Mariner 2 flyby of Venus. Yay!

1972: The last men on the moon leave. (Sob! No women ever got the chance to go)

2012: Sad event, but I must mention, the Sandy Hook school massacre. 😥 And the NRA, far from admitting maybe there should be a change in the gun laws, suggests teachers should be armed. I did NOT sign up for murder of ANYONE when I qualified as a teacher. 

Today has some Christian connotations, such as John of the Cross(Spanish Saint). He also wrote poetry and stuff about the growth of the soul, so I guess he counts as a writer.

It's also Martyred Intellectuals Day in Bangladesh, to commemorate some intellectuals who were killed in 1971 when the enemies in the Liberation War apparently tried to stop the new nation from having an intellectual focus. There's a memorial built to them in Bangladesh.

And it's an international Monkey day, dedicated to apes in general. Let's hope they aren't all DipEd out in the quest for more palm oil and human "lebensraum". 

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47. December 16 Meme

Today is the first evening of Chanukah, the Festival of Lights, of spinning dreidels, of kids getting cash gifts from the family, of eating oily things in memory of the miracle of the oil lamps in the Temple - hey, any excuse to eat doughnuts and potato latkes!

It's also, in history, the date of a lot of other things.

Here are some of them.

On This Day In History

1497:  Portuguese explorer Vasco Da Gama rounds the Cape of Good Hope.
1707:  Last recorded eruption of Mt Fuji in Japan.
1773:  The Boston Tea Party. Protest against tea tax. 
1927 – Donald Bradman scores a century in his first game of first-class cricket for NSW agains South Australia

Birthdays - an embarrassment of riches!

1485: Catherine of Aragon, subject of a lot of writing, from biography to fiction. Imagine how different the world would have been if she'd given Henry a living son...

1775: Jane Austen! Yay!

1866: Wassily Kandinsky, Russian-French artist(there's a Google doodle in his honour. If you miss it, they do have a stash of them online)

1899: Noel Coward, British playwright and composer

1901: Margaret Mead, the American anthropologist

1917: Arthur C Clarke, classic SF writer

1927: Peter Dickinson, who has written quite a lot of spec fic for children and teens. For adults, among other things, there was King And Joker, an alternative universe crime novel set in Buckingham Palace. 

1928: Phillip K Dick. If you haven't read any of his books, I'm betting you've seen at least one movie based on something he wrote, such as Bladerunner.

1933: Quentin Blake, who illoed all those Roald Dahl stories.

1967: Miranda Otto, Aussie actress whom you would likely have seen in LOTR.  I believe she went to school with one of the ASIM members, so we have an interview with her in one of our earlier issues.

It may also be the birthday of Ludwig Van Beethoven(1770), but I'm uncertain. He was baptised on the 17th.

There are more, but these will do. As I said, an embarrassment of riches among all the people who, in one way or another, have made the world a nicer place to live.

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48. December 18: On This Day

Time for another meme on this third night of Chanukah...

On This Day In History:

1655: It's decided in England that there's no law preventing the Jews from returning; they were kicked out in 1290 when Edward I and his family had squeezed the last penny out of them, but Oliver Cromwell's government let them back in. Whatever you think of him, that's something he did right.

1719: "Mother Goose's Melodies For Children" first published.

1796: First US newspaper to appear on a Sunday, the Baltimore Monitor. Ah, there's something nice about being able to sit back on the weekend and have a newspaper with breakfast!

1839: First celestial photo taken in the US, of the moon.

1849: Ten years later, William Bond takes the first photo of the moon through a telescope.

1912: Piltdown Man hoax - the "finding" is announced. Now, that must have been a scandal in its time, with that so-called "missing link"!

1958: First voice from space is heard, a prerecorded Christmas message from President Eisenhower.

1966: Discovery of Epimetheus, moon of Saturn


1879: the artist Paul Klee, who did all those very pretty modern art paintings

Paul Klee: Tempelgarten. Public domain.

1907: Christopher Fry, British playwright. I once saw his play Ring Around The Moon. 

1913 Alfred Bester, SF writer most famous for The Demolished Man. As a tribute to him, the name was given to the head of the Psi Corps in Babylon 5(played by Walter Koenig, who was Chekov in Star Trek, of course)

1939: Michael Moorcock, British SF/F writer. Best known for the Elric stories, but I have only read his novel Behold The Man. Very strange story!

Holidays and Observances

There are a fair few holidays and observances at this time of year, especially in the Christian calendar, but my favourite is the celebration of the Celtic horse goddess Epona, which happened during the Roman Saturnalia. 

Some of the bits of Christmas we know well come from the Saturnalia, by the way. The exchange of gifts, for example, and I suspect the Mediaeval Twelfth Night Lord of Misrule must have started with the Saturnalia, when everything was topsy turvey and the slaves got to issue orders and be served dinner by their masters. I don't imagine they took too much advantage of this, since afterwards everything went back to normal...

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49. The Last Ôf The Spirits By Chris Priestley. Sydney: Bloomsbury, 2014

You remember that scene in Dickens' A Christmas Carol where Scrooge asks about two children, a boy and a girl, huddling under the robes of the Ghost of Christmas Present? The Ghost tells him that the children are Ignorance and Want.

In this novel they are real children, street kids who, in fact, sneaked into Scrooge's home while he was off with the spirits and took refuge in his dining room, which is at least a little warmer than the streets. The story is told from the viewpoint of the boy, Sam and his sister Lizzie. They once had a home and parents, but their father died in debt and their mother soon after.

Sam is angry with the world, especially one Ebenezer Scrooge, who had snubbed them when they pleaded for a little money. So that night, when they are trying to sleep in the graveyard and run into the ghost of Jacob Marley, on his way to save Scrooge's soul, they follow, with Sam thinking that a piece of lead piping applied to the old miser's head might improve him greatly and get them some of the money he refused them the first time.
Sam, too, it seems, needs and benefits from visits from the three spirits...

This is a nice take on the original novella, with Scrooge's story happening on the side, with the children watching and listening to bits and Sam being a little irritated with the Ghost of Christmas Present for using them as props in the show he is staging for Scrooge. It probably means more if you are familiar with the original story, but can be read by itself and, who knows, might encourage children to look for the original story once they're old enough to follow it.

A good time of year to release this piece of Christmas fiction!  

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50. Compulsory Christmas Post

Today I went for my usual Christmas picnic on the beach, after a large breakfast of fruit salad of summer fruits, a pot of tea and raisin toast. It was quite hot and hundreds packed the beach - I was one of the few not going into the water, but the forecast was only 25'C and that's not my usual swimming weather. Also, I had a call from my sister, who spends Wednesday nights with Mum, and they wanted to meet me. So I packed my cool bag with goodies friends gave me at work, including a fruit cake so covered with nuts and glace cherries that when I was given the packet I thought it was just nibbles. I never did eat that, and the pack of chocolate coated biscuits melted. Mum suggested I throw it out. It has gone in the fridge. We'll see.

As I walked through the park on my way down to the beach, I counted eleven picnics, including one informal game of cricket, so there are a lot of people out there who prefer to make things easy on themselves and enjoy a pleasant day out with family and friends, on the grass under a shady tree. I waved and wished them a happy Christmas.

Lots of children, most of them under five, romped on the sand. Delightful kids, though not, IMO, as cute as our Eden and Jonah. ;-)

I was sitting on the sand, munching on my picnic lunch when my mother and sister arrived. I'd packed smoked salmon and cream cheese sandwiches, a hard boiled egg, Kalamata olives, cherry tomatoes, baby cucumbers(washed and eaten with the skin on), a peach and a nectarine, and cold water to drink. I had a thermos of hot water and some tea- a choice of afternoon, Earl Grey and English Breakfast - but ended up not drinking any of it. I didn't take the iPad, because, apart from all the sand, it just isn't possible to read anything in the sun. My reading matter was the Christmat/New Year bumper edition of New Scientist and John Flanagan's latest Brotherband novel, Scorpion Mountain, which I'm reading for the Aurealis Awards.

Not much is open on Christmas Day, but I was surprised at how many restaurants were open on Acland Street. Even two of the cake shops were open. Amazing. I can only hope the staff were given penalty rates. Too much to hope they did that at Macca's, but then, when you apply for a job there, the online form asks you if you're willing to work on public holidays, including Christmas Day. I know this because I've helped several students get started on their applications. And many of those said yes.

Now for some meme stuff.

First, some famous birthdays:

1583: the baptism, anyway, of Orlando Gibbons, a lovely composer of the English Renaissance.

1642: Isaac Newton, the physicist - yes, THAT Isaac Newton! He was also very much into alchemy. I once wrote a little piece about him for Cengage's set of literacy cards. I had to write it as fiction.

1771: the poet Dorothy Wordsworth

And since there are few other writers I know of with this birthday, I'll add an actor:

 1899: Humphrey Bogart! Hey, he was in a lot of films based on books.

And 1870: Helena Rubinstein, who built up that huge cosmetics business.

Some events:

336: first documented sign of Christmas celebrations on December 25 in Rome

597: A massive baptism of 10,000 Anglo-Saxons by Augustine and his helpers in Kent.

800: Coronation of Charlemagne as Holy Roman Emperor. Goodness knows, he's been the subject of a lot of poetry in the Middle Ages. There's a whole Carolingian cycle.

1066: William the Conqueror is crowned King of England at Westminster. (Didn't wait long after his victory at Hastings, did he?)

1223: St Francis of Assisi assembles the first Nativity scene. Well, he is the patron saint of animals!

1492: Columbus's ship the Santa Maria runs aground on Hispaniola. Whoops!

1651: Massachusetts General Court orders a five shilling fine for celebrating Christmas. Bah humbug!

1914; The famous Christmas Truce in the trenches of World War I. Nice, but the next day they got back to the business of killing the people with whom they had exchanged gifts and played football. Oh, well. Pity the truce didn't turn into full peace.

Some Christmas-themed books:

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens (of course!)

The Grinch That Stole Christmas by Dr Seuss

Hogfather by Terry Pratchett (my favourite! My copy is all battered and well loved)

Once Upon A Christmas(published this year by Christmas Press. I have a story in it, so buy it!)

Hercule Poirot's Christmas and The Adventure Of The Christmas Pudding by Agatha Christie.

Agatha Raising And The Christmas Crumble is one of two Christmas stories by M.C. Beaton. It's really just a novelette, but you can get it as an ebook. I forget the title of the other one, but I've read both. This one is very funny, showing the village-based sleuth Agatha Raisin getting the bright idea of serving Christmas dinner to some of the village's older residents. She makes a real mess of the pudding - Agatha can't cook but is determined to do this one. Someone dies and she has to find out who did it because she has been accused.

Some other festivals that happened this time of year before Christmas became big:

The Roman Saturnalia. Gifts were exchanged, people partied, slaves got to have a rest and be served dinner instead of dishing it up. There was a topsy turvy flavour, where slaves got to issue orders(naturally, you'd have to be careful - your boss would be your boss again when the festival was over). I'm wondering if there's any connection here with the mediaeval Lord of Misrule associated with Twelfth Night. I wouldn't be surprised.

The birthday of the god of light, Mithras - it was actually December 25. This is not coincidental. The date was picked up by Christians during the fourth century. (See above)

I have read that for quite a while, Christmas wasn't considered as important as Easter and didn't get much celebration. And we do know that the Puritans banned it, claiming it was pagan.

Whatever. For those of you for whom this is a holy day, or even a day you celebrate with your family, I hope you've enjoyed it.

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