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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. New On My Cyber Bookshelf!

I have just reread Pierre Boulle's Planet Of The Apes, which I downloaded after viewing some special features on my brother's DVD of the 1968 movie. I had read it before under the title Monkey Planet, but felt like reading it again. It didn't disappoint on a second reading. It's rather Swiftian, not a lot like the movie and if you're expecting the Statue Of Liberty at the end, forget it. I'd suggest that the book and the film are both classics in their own right, which have their own points to make. Apparently, Pierre Boulle HATED the Statue of Liberty scene(created by Rod Serling) but there's no doubt it worked.

I've finished Susan Price's Ghost World sequence - I think the original novels are out of print, but the author has made the trilogy available in ebook. It's a series set in a fairy tale version of Russia, or, rather, a Russian Czardom, over hundreds of years. She has taken bits of Pushkin(a story telling cat), of shamanism and Russian folklore and thrown them all together. It works well, though the novels don't feel like novels as we think of them, because we don't really see much of the thoughts and feelings of the protagonists, especially in the first story. There are different viewpoints, which let the reader know what's happening elsewhere, but can be frustrating for a reader who wants to stick with the  heroine. I did rather like the Baba Yaga hut with chicken legs being turned into a typical witch/shaman hut, with ALL the witches having homes that travel on different kinds of legs. The shaman looks for an apprentice, which can take all of her/his(mostly her) three hundred years of life. So the travelling hut is necessary.

I've added two more Josephine Tey novels, The Franchise Affair and The Singing Sands, to my shelves and begun reading Alan Baxter's Bound and Colin Falconer's East India, which were both going free as promos.

Courtesy of Project Gutenberg, I have a volume of Walter Scott's Minstrelsy Of The Scottish Border and one of Christina Rossetti's poems(I downloaded that to go with Tim Powers' Hide Me Among The Graves). I am rather fond of Walter Scott. I know his books have a reputation for being boring and waffling - well, the waffling is true, but there's something delightful about his footnotes, such as the one where he apologises for bringing back a character who was supposed to be dead, but hey, his editor hated it and the fans will kill him otherwise. There's another where he says that he's been told a bit of his heraldry was wrong but he's looked it up and he was right! I suspect this couldn't happen today unless the story was being serialised online. I also heard Scott was involved in preserving the walls of York which were going to be torn down - looks like developers have been around for centuries!

I think ebooks are the best thing since sliced bread.

What do you think?

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27. Writing Process Blog Hop # 5: Gillian Polack

I received Gillian Polack's Writing Process Blog Hop post this morning. Gillian, as well as bring a writer, is a mediaeval historian who also knows a lot about other eras. Despite that, she's written mostly fiction set in contemporary times, such as this one, which I have on my ebook shelf.

I also have this:

It's a fabulous description of how she and others researched, tested recipes and chose the foods for five historically-themed banquets run by the Conflux convention in Canberra(I was lucky enough to attend a repeat of the Regency one). It included the recipes, but as far as I'm concerned, the story of the work that went into those banquets is priceless. There are a few copies left, I believe, and no plans to reprint, so if you live in Australia, keep an eye on the Conflux stand at your next convention and grab a copy while you can.

I'm glad to hear Gillian is now using her skills in historical research in her writing! 

Without further ado, take it away, Gillian!


I’ve been tagged by two people for this post, and life keeps intervening. Thank you for your patience, Louise Turner (http://endlessrarities.livejournal.com) and Sue (and thanks, Sue for hosting my belated answer). Since being tagged, I’ve received word of my next novel – it will be published in October.

1. What are you working on?

       I’m researching the year 1682 for a novel about a group of women travelling together.

2. How does your work differ from others in your genre?

       It’s not quite historical fiction and it’s not quite historical fantasy, either. Historical magic realism? Historical fiction where I trust the world-views of the period and give them their own character arc? The setting is the place and time where religion and science and magic were as close to perfectly balanced as they’ve ever been in a thousand years of Western Europe.

3. Why do you write what you write?

       I’m finally admitting that it’s possible to be both a historian and a writer and for my research into narratives to feed more openly into my fiction. I will still write contemporary works (I have one in the planning stages, in fact) but it’s a lot of fun to encourage readers to see the wires and know a bit more about how it’s all done.

4. How does your writing process work?

      My writing process is different for different novels. Illuminations was written sequentially, but the ancient part first and the modern second. Cellophane was written in small patches – a bit here and a bit there and then edited and edited and edited until it worked the way I wanted it to. The only thing that all my novels have in common is a long period of thinking before any writing takes place. Sometimes, it doesn’t look as if I’ve done that, for instance, in my soon-to-be-released Langue[dot]doc 1305) but that’s because I was thinking about it for twenty years.

Because I’m very late on this, I’m reluctant to nominate anyone. I’m going to tag Sharyn Lilly anyhow, because she has just published a rather interesting book, and I think there are a few people who wouldn’t mind knowing what’s happening next. Sharyn is a speculative fiction writer and editor and she can be found at http://eneit.livejournal.com

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28. On Finishing A Piece Of Historical Fiction

I've finally completed, edited and submitted my story for the Cranky Ladies Of History anthology. I haven't a clue what I'll do with it if it's rejected, as there's not much of a market for short historical fiction. The History Girls blog has done one, but it's by their own authors, all of them well known historical novelists. I can't even submit it to a possible third volume of Trust Me, if Ford Street Publishing does one, as the characters are all adults and, at 4200 words,  it's about twice the length of a Trust Me story. 

Still, I had to have a go. How could I not? And looking at the names of the others who are sending stories, pretty much everyone is a speculative fiction writer, so I'm not the only one who hasn't much experience in this area - with two historical fiction stories under my belt, I may even have more experience than some others. 

My other two stories were set in the 1960s, though, an era I know fairly well and even remember vaguely from my childhood. And you can go to the State Library and look up newspapers of the time. 

But what did I know about the Victorian era? Not a lot. If I'd had time, if I'd been writing a book, I would have bought or borrowed whole books about the era and the culture, as I did with my mediaeval fantasy fiction.

There were newspapers in the Victorian era, of course, but not where I can get at them. And there just wasn't time.

So I settled for researching the story I'd chosen and checking the other stuff as I went. I waded through web sites. I bought an ebook called Wild Women, which had a chapter on the subject I had chosen, the life of Dr James Miranda Barry, a wonderful army doctor who did some amazing things to improve the conditions and sanitation of hospitals and performed the first Caesarean in which mother and baby both survived and would have been remembered for those if "he" hadn't turned out to be a she! It's not that nobody now is interested in her achievements but web sites and books tend to throw all their energies into arguing about whether or not she was a transgender man. Who cares? It was over 150 years ago and we'll never know, unless some letters or a long-buried memoir turn up. 

I decided to keep it simple. Like Agnodike of Athens, I decided, she was a girl who wanted to do something only boys were allowed to do and was prepared to pay for it with her female identity, which was not a lot of use to her.

I made myself write the first draft, at least, because if I'd stopped to look everything up, it would never have been finished. Even so, I kept stopping to ask, "Hang on! How would you get new clothes in those days if you weren't rich and couldn't afford to have stuff made and didn't have time anyway? What about travelling to Jamaica from London in 1865? What about travel conditions?" And so on.

I at least was able to ask some of these questions of a couple of historians, Louise Berridge, author of many historical novels, including some about the Crimean War, and Gillian Polack, who specialises in things mediaeval, but knows a lot about other eras as well. Both ladies came up trumps and if my story doesn't make it, it won't be their fault. I asked them about travel from London to Jamaica and Gillian said "Bristol" which had a lot of connection with Jamaica and Louise agreed and also suggested Southampton, from which a mail ship went every fortnight, and even told me which railway station would have been used to go to each port. Gillian added that my hero, Dantzen, Dr Barry's manservant, had better take his own food, which was not supplied at sea in those days. 

I decided on Southampton; both ports are about the same distance from London, but Southampton had regular traffic to Jamaica.

By the way, a bit of Internet research told me that second hand clothes would be the way to go if you didn't have time to make your own clothes or money to have them made for you. 

And I even found an online scanned Victorian era newspaper about the discovery that Dr Barry was a woman! It was from New Zealand, so the story really got around.

Historical research is never going to give you a definitive answer to anything. For example,  there were two explanations of how she died. One was that she died of cholera, the other that she'd caught a chill which ended up killing her. I opted for cholera. Then there was a duel she fought with one Josias Cloete. One version said he'd challenged her because she'd said something ungentlemanly about a lady. The other version said she had challenged him because he'd said she rode like a girl. For the purposes of my story and the character, I decided to go with the latter. She was a truly cranky lady and this wasn't the only time she fought a duel. And the fact that she and Cloete became close friends for life suggested to me that the duel - which wasn't too serious in the end -  was about something not too serious in the first place. 

But you see what I mean. There are so many versions of history, you just have to choose what makes sense to you. I once wrote an article about the Siamese Twins, Chang and Eng. the material said, on the one hand, that try never worked for Barnum and Bailey, and in the other that they did and were cheated. I decided to say they hadn't; they were a shrewd, entrepreneurial pair who would never have let themselves be ripped off, in my opinion - and so I told my editor from the NSW School Magazine when he asked was I sure, because he'd read...

I think Josias Cloete may have descendants to this day, so if one of them is reading this and has a family tradition about something great, many times great, grandad said about that Dr Barry, I DON'T WANT TO KNOW, okay? Not now. Too late!

One web site I found said that the reason she didn't get a knighthood on retirement - something fairly standard - was that she had embarrassed Florence Nightingale in public, haranguing the Lady With The Lamp from horseback for keeping her hospital filthy and so causing unnecessary deaths. That was a scene I simply had to include, though not in huge detail. It gave me the chance to slip in Mary Seacole, a Jamaican/ Scottish nurse who wrote a memoir. Mary had asked to be a member of Florence Nightingale's staff and was refused, though not by Florence herself, so she made her own way to the Crimean War, where she sold drinks and tended the wounded anyway. I wanted to have her at James Barry's funeral, because she was in London at the time, but had no way to slot her in convincingly. She's there, though, in the Crimean War scene.

Now the story is done as best I can. If it's accepted, I'll go back and make sure the historical details are right. If not, it will have to stay on my computer till another opportunity presents itself.

Fingers crossed!

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29. Bloomsbury New Harry Potter Cover Reveal

I got these two pics from Sonia at Bloomsbury this morning. They're the new covers for the first two Harry Potter books. 


And this.

The artist is Johnny Duddle, who, among other things, has done some illoes for Terry Pratchett books. If you look at the originals, the spirit is very similar, though taken from a different scene in the books. Here are the covers I saw when I was first buying them. They're by Thomas Taylor.


And this.

. I adore  the originals, they're what I picture when I think of the novels, because, unlike many adults,  it's never been a problem for me being seen reading a book with a children's cover...but these are also quite lovely and have a lot more going on. 

It probably won't matter now what the covers look like, the books are just going to go on and on selling, but it never does harm to refresh a franchise. I look forward to the day when someone does a Harry Potter cover art exhibition with covers from around the sod and different times.

So, what do you think of the new covers?

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30. Look What I've Got! Neil Gaiman's Graveyard Book In Pics!

Some time ago, I received Neil Gaiman's children's book The Graveyard Book for reviewing. It was inspired by Rudyard Kipling's Jungle Books, only this Mowgli was brought up in a graveyard instead of a jungle, by ghosts and other creatures of the night. Now it's out as a graphic novel - well, half of it is, anyway - and the lovely publicist Sonia Palmisano of Bloomsbury, who always seems to know what I'm likely to drool over, has sent me a copy. I will try to get it read and reviewed before I go back to work next week, so I can take it and get it processed right away, because I just know my students will love it. They've started asking for Neil Gaiman lately, anyway, and graphic novels are big in my library! Only thing is, they'll want to know when Volume 2 is coming out and I'll have to tell them I don't know.

Gorgeous, isn't it? What a lovely surprise to come home and find this waiting in the hallway next to the letterboxes!

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31. To Kill A Mockingbird Going To Ebook!

Rejoice! The wonderful, amazing classic To Kill A Mockingbird is FINALLY going to be an ebook, with the author's permission! I have just read it in Sunday's Age newspaper. I bought the fiftieth anniversary edition when it came out and treasure it, but it will be nice to be able to carry it around without having to add to the weight of my bag.

If you haven't read it, now might be a good time. It's not only serious, but funny at the same time. A couple of years ago, when I decided it would be my Banned Books Week Readout, I chose, not one of the dramatic courtroom scenes, but the scene where the heroine, Scout, is having her first day at school, with a new young teacher who really doesn't know anything about the community she is teaching in and, among other things, tells Scout that she shouldn't be reading yet! If you're interested, watch it here.

I simply adore this book and will be buying the ebook as soon as it's available so I can have it with me all the time.

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32. Ambelin Kwaymullina's GoH Speech Now Live!

Finally the wonderful Guest Of Honour speech made by Ambelin Kwaymullina at Continuum X is up on the ASIM website. Shortly after the convention, Ambelin emailed me to say she'd written it up as an article and did we want it for ASIM? We said yes, and it's set to appear in the next issue, #61, which is due out in October. But soon after that, she emailed again to say people had been pestering her to have it online. She wondered if we could put it online for her. As it's already slotted into ASIM 61, I suggested we do both.

People kept on pestering, so she asked for a date. The web site is being revamped, but Simon Petrie, who used to be the webmaster(and is publishing it in his issue) agreed to pop it up now, himself.

In case you missed the interview she did on this website, here's the link to that:


And here's the link to the post just up on ASIM:


Enjoy both!

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33. New Book Arrives!

And here it is! The book I won from the English History Authors blog!

Looking forward to reading it and letting you know what I think. I do love historical fiction, and this era is one I've been studying with my Year 8. 

I hope the sales are good on this one, Glynn. 

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34. July 4 Meme - Happy Birthday, Amelia!

Today is already July 4 here in Australia, so I'm going to do a July 4 meme, in honour of my niece Amelia, a gifted artist and handcrafter, whose birthday it is today. Because this is a book blog, I prefer to keep, as much as possible, to literary related events and birthdays, but hey, you can't leave out American Independence Day, can you? I can and will leave out the usual run of battles and other killings. 

So here are some dates for you!


1054: sighting of a supernova by Chinese, Arab and maybe Native Americans, which was so bright it was seen by day for months. Its remains are now the Crab Nebula. Okay, not book related but as a lover of SF I'll always celebrate a celestial event over a battle. Mind you, I can only hope this supernova wasn't like the one in Arthur C Clarke's short story, "The Star" in which a priest asks himself if it was really necessary to wipe out a whole lovely civilisation to produce the Star of Bethlehem. 

1776: Signing of the Declaration of Independence by US. This is a compulsory mention, but it too has inspired a lot of writing, including the lovely musical 1776, which I saw when I was at high school, several times. In those days, the cost of going to see a musical was low enough that a school kid like me could get a ticket in the gods at child price with her pocket money. 

1862 -Lewis Carroll tells Alice Liddell the story that would become Alice's Adventures In Wonderland. 

Alice MS page. Public domain

1865: Alice's Adventures In Wonderland was published. If that isn't a day in literary history, what is?


1799: King Oscar I of Sweden, whom I'm going to mention because his mother was Desiree Clary, the subject of that gorgeous novel by Annemarie Selinko which I'm currently rereading. 

Oscar I: public domain

1804: Nathaniel Hawthorne, author of some truly scary fiction.
Mr Hawthorne. Public domain.

 I read The Scarlet Letter when I was in my teens. I believe he added the "w" to his name because he really didn't want to be related to John Hathorne, the only Salem Witch Trials judge who never repented. I see he also lived, at one stage, in a house formerly occupied by the Alcotts, as in the family of Louisa May, author of Little Women.

1927: The amazing playwright Neil Simon, whose comedies, such as The Odd Couple, have delighted us for a long time. Amelia's Dad, my brother Maurice, will be delighted to hear that, as he's a great fan.

Happy birthday, dearest Amelia! All those fireworks are for you.

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35. I Got Some Free Books!

I've recently won a book from the English Historical Fiction Authors blog, a novel by Glynn Holloway, 1066:What Fates Impose, which is winging its way to me from England, more when it arrives - I would have been happy with an ebook since I can't put it in my library anyway, but this is paperback. I will at least give it a plug. I showed Glynn the very silly 1066 history trailer I did on my iPad's iMovie app and uploaded to YouTube because I couldn't think of any other way to show it to my Year 8 history class before I make them do their own. He said he enjoyed it, the nice man.

This morning I downloaded the special free promotional copy of Colin Falconer's novel East India he was offering on his blog to his followers only. I follow it because, among all the promos for his historical romances, are some very enjoyable and entertaining thoughts about history and the people in it. Now and then one of his promos is a free ebook. I have two of his books on my Kindle app. One was a freebie, Anastasia, which I admit I havn't finished yetThe other was his novel Isabella: Braveheart Of France, about Edward II's queen, more often known as the She-Wolf Of France(uness you believe the nonsense shown in that Mel Gibson film). It also had a twist at the end which I found interesting if unlikely, but hey, why not? I bought that with an Amazon gift voucher I won on another blog in a competition I'd forgotten entering, along with some Arthur C Clarke. I'm glad though that this time it's an iBooks voucher, as I really don't enjoy reading on my Kindle app. And as I don't like giving my card details online unless I absolutely must, I prefer iBooks, which you can buy with an iTunes card. Even if the merchant is very careful with your details, there are a lot of complete and utter losers out there who think they might get some friends if they show how clever they are at hacking. Not to mention money.

However, this isn't telling you about Colin Falconer, an Aussie expat whom I remember as Colin Bowles, author of some YA fiction many years ago. Nowadays he writes for adults, historical fiction - mostly, I think historical romance - set in various eras. I am looking forward to reading East India. It seems to be set in the same time and place as the Batavia incident. Hmm... 

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36. Currently Re-Reading...

I'm halfway through a reread of Anne-Marie Selinko's novel Desiree, a delightful historical romance about the woman who was Napoleon's fiancée before he decided that Josephine was better for his career. She married Jean-Baptiste Bernadotte instead, who became one of his Marshalls and they ended up as King and Queen of Sweden, by invitation of the Swedes, not put there by Napoleon.

From what I've read, the historical Desiree Clary was a very strange woman, not at all like the one in the novel and certainly not like Jean Simmons, who played the role so beautifully in the film. But as a novel, it's very readable and it takes you through the whole of Napoleon's career, from beginning to end, through the eyes of his first love(who gets over him fairly soon, by the way). If Desiree wasn't like the one in the book, she should have been.

I've just finished re-reading Terry Pratchett's Equal Rites, about the Discword's first female wizard. It was written early in his career and introduces Granny Weatherwax.  I'm glad to have reread this particular novel, because Eskarina Smith, the young girl who has wizarding abilities, is also the first witch Granny trains and is not unlike Tiffany Aching, the heroine of the Wee Free Men series. And I've been re-reading those - currently reading A Hatful Of Sky, the second one. In fact, Eskarina returns in the fourth of the Tiffany series, as an adult, bouncing around time and space.

I'm also on the first read of some review books - watch this space!

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37. June 28 Meme

Today is my sister Mary's birthday, so I went online to see what happened "on this day" and who was born(apart from Mary, of course). Mary is a writer, though these days mostly articles. She did get a third place in the Scarlet Stiletto Awards some years ago for a very Roald Dahl-style crime story called "Chivas Regal And Me". And because this is a book blog, I thought I'd see if there were many writing-themed events On This Day. Alas, no. I did find the usual battles and killings, the excuse for World War I(assassination of the Archduke Ferdinand), the coronation of Edward IV and the premiere of the ballet Giselle by the Paris Opera Ballet(I saw them when they were in Melbourne years ago - it was a birthday gift from my sister's friend). Well, there have been a lot of books written about all those topics, many of them fiction. Scott Westerfeld wrote a trilogy of Steampunk novels about an alternative WWI with the adventures of a son of Archduke Ferdinand and a girl who had disguised herself as a boy to get into the English flying corps(GM whales). Edward IV has been in fiction since the time of Shakespeare! Giselle has characters out of folklore, the Wilis.

Birthdays? Well, there was the playwright Pirandello, very famous, but I'm not familiar with his work, alas!

There was also Peter Paul Rubens, the artist who painted pictures of large women, such as this one, The Judgement Of Paris(Image from Creative Commons), thus coining the term "Rubeneque".

There was also, I'm afraid, Henry VIII(Creative Commons image)

Well, in his time, he was passionately into music and poetry, I suppose. Pity about the wives, the treatment of his daughters and the  politics.

There was Richard Rodgers in 1902, the wonderful composer of all those musicals, seen in this Creative Commons image with Irving Berlin, his partner Oscar Hammerstein II and choreographer Helen Tamiris.

There's also the wonderful Mel Brooks, creator of so much amazing comedy, but I couldn't find a Creative Commons image of him and don't want to be sued, so just check him up on Google Images.

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38. The Interview Of Ambelin Kwaymullina: On Dystopian YA And The Tribe

Today I'd like to welcome the amazing Ambelin Kwaymullina to my blog. I had read both her wonderful novels and heard her speak at Reading Matters before actually meeting her at Continuum X. I'm just a bit envious of her multiple skills - writing, art, craft... And managing to do all that while holding down a full time teaching job! She's also a terrific person. 

If you haven't read any of her fiction, here's my review of The Disappearance Of Ember Crow, but go and read both books NOW!

 I'll let Ambelin speak for herself.

You have said that you started The Interrogation Of Ashala Wolf with the title, given to you by your brother. How did you decide what it was to be about?

The story told itself. I heard the first sentence in my head – ‘he was taking me to the machine’ – and everything unwound from there. So I discovered the story in the same way that the reader does.

How long did the novel take to write, given that you have a full time day job to keep you busy?

Hmmm. It’s all a coffee-fuelled blur. 100 years? No, that can’t be right. 12 months. I think. 

Was it always intended as part of a series or did you ever consider it as a standalone?

Nah, I always knew there were four books in the story. I didn’t know quite what was in them – but I knew there were four. 

You feel you have an important story to tell in your Tribe series - why did you decide to use the YA format to tell it?

Because I am writing about someone who will save the world – and at this point in human history, evidence strongly suggests it’s not a grown up who will do it. The collective adults of this earth just don’t seem to be doing a very good job of leaving those who will come after us a better world than the one we inherited. I see the hope of the future in the young. 

How much scientific research did you need to do to build your particular world, in which all the continents are back to Pangaia status? And how did you do it?

I worked in environmental law for quite a few years – so while I did do some research, it was relatively easy because I was building on things I already knew. 

In my novels the world ends in an environmental cataclysm that the survivors refer to as ‘the Reckoning’. The Reckoning was inspired by the 1992 World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity (which was issued by 1700 of the world’s leading scientists, including most of the world's Nobel Laureates in the Sciences). It includes this passage:

“Our massive tampering with the world's interdependent web of life -- coupled with the environmental damage inflicted by deforestation, species loss, and climate change -- could trigger widespread adverse effects, including unpredictable collapses of critical biological systems whose interactions and dynamics we only imperfectly understand.”

You can read the rest of it online at: http://www.ucsusa.org/about/1992-world-scientists.html  

Did you build your world first or as you went along? 

The world revealed itself to me as I wrote. Of course, I’m seeing it through Ashala’s eyes, and her understandings (especially of political processes) is sometimes imperfect. Plus as it turns out there’s this whole secret history which is known only to a few. As Ashala herself thinks in The Disappearance of Ember Crow, there are layers and layers to the world.

How much revision did you do? Were there any major changes you made before submitting your manuscript?

I went through a lot of drafts – I can’t remember how many – and I made major changes at almost every stage. The overall shape of the story didn’t change, but ALL of the details did!

Do you have any favourite stories? Tell us about them!

Yeah, I’ve got lots and lots and lots…but actually my very favourite story at the moment is written by my brother Zeke. I think as a creator you always most admire the things you can’t do yourself, and (while I can string a rhyme together) I am not a poet. But my brother Zeke writes picture books that are poetry – he’s got one called Dreamers, which includes the following: 

“We are the dream and the dreamers
the rain jumpers and the cloud fliers
the sky sleepers and the earth swimmers
we are children wild and hope bright.”

I love those words. 

How much of the story of your series set in the future is inspired by the past?

So much of it is inspired by the past and, unfortunately, the present. I say unfortunately because I am writing of a world where children and teenagers are disempowered and disenfranchised. I drew a lot of the ‘feel’ of that from the experiences of my ancestors under Stolen Generations law and policy. But since the series has come out I’ve found that teenagers of all different backgrounds relate to a sense of powerlessness and injustice. Too many of them relate to it. I am glad that my books are speaking to my readers, but I want a better world for all of them than the one some of them are living in.  

You still have two more books in this series, but any ideas for what might be next after The Tribe?

I have a book in mind - in fact I've written a plan for it. It's YA speculative fiction but very different from the Tribe series. Although like the Tribe it tells a larger story through the individual struggles of the characters, this time about class and privilege. 

What do you enjoy doing when you're not writing?

I’m so rarely not writing! But I like to bead. In fact, I love my beads with their shiny surfaces and pretty colours and different shapes…I have literally thousands of them (in my defence some are very small, so its really not that many, they fit in quite a little container…okay, several little containers…okay, a cupboard full. But it’s not a big cupboard. Well, not that big.)

 What was your first sale and how did you celebrate it?

The first book I ever published was a picture book called Crow and the Waterhole, and I went out to lunch at a fancy restaurant. As it turned out it wasn’t the best idea I’d ever had because all the food had names I didn’t understand. Plus there was too much cutlery on the table and I didn’t know what fork to use (pretty sure I got it wrong). To this day I have no idea what I ordered, but I didn’t like it very much.

When my next book was published I went out for a burger.

Thanks for visiting The Great Raven, Ambelin!

 I really do recommend Ambelin's The Tribe series for anyone who loves some difference in their dystopian adventure.

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39. The Caller (Book 3 Shadowfell) By Juliet Marillier. Sydney, Pan Macmillan, 2014

Summer Gathering, when the rebels of Shadowfell are planning to challenge the evil King Keldec, is approaching rapidly. Caller Neryn, with whom we have made a long journey, still has two Guardians to go before her training is complete. But the White Lady, Guardian of air, is not in the best state. The Master of Shadows(fire) is a trickster who may or may not advise her on how to protect the rebels' Good Folk allies from cold iron, which makes them sick and can kill them. Worse, Keldec now has his own Caller, who is less scrupulous about what he does to the Good Folk he calls. Neryn's beloved Flint, the rebels' double agent, known to his comrades as Owen Swift-Sword, is fed up with his life at court and what he's forced to do as an Enforcer, but has no choice. Can he trust his closest friends in the Enforcers or not? 

The story which has built up over the last two books has come to a dramatic climax. Neryn has to make some decisions she doesn't necessarily like. At the same time, she meets people from the other side whom she can like and respect - even finds herself, at one point, pitying the king and wondering what he might have been like under other circumstances.  She does some unexpected things which provide an interesting twist to the story - I won't say what they are due to spoilers, and how she gets around some of the impossible problems at the end is especially interesting. I wasn't expecting it, though it's not out of character.  

You do tend to forget the heroine is only sixteen, especially in a world where that's an age where you might easily be married, but I think that any teens who have read the other two books will be happy with this one. 

Don't read this without having read the first two books, but if you haven't, I do recommend this series. If you're in Australia, ignore the cover of the first book, which is nice if you have sentimental feelings for old-style children's books(I confess I do), but really doesn't suit a YA novel. Just read it. You won't regret it.

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40. Writing Process Blog Hop #4: Mary Victoria

Mary and I first met when we were sitting near each other at the Aussiecon 4 signing tables. At the time, she had a novel out, mine was not out for another three months!(I had to sign bookmarks and sample chapters kindly supplied by my publishers). Mary has appeared on this blog before, interviewing the World Tree on which her novels are set.  As Mary's blog isn't doing much at the moment, I offered to host her Writing Process Blog Hop post, so without further ado, here it is!

What are you working on?

I just completed a draft of a manuscript which passed muster with my agents, and is now being sent out to publishers (I hope.) It’s a departure from my past books which were all young adult-centered, epic fantasy. In fact, this new story is about as far from epic as possible, though it contains a magical twist. It is set in the 1970’s on the island of Cyprus where I grew up.

How does your work differ from others in your genre?

I have carried over my usual obsession with myth and legend into what is ostensibly a contemporary-realist tale. If the reader is so inclined, she may pick apart the story and find the original Greek myths on which it is based. But that isn’t necessary for a proper reading of the book – just a fun aside.

Why do you write what you write?

A story takes me firmly by the lapels, sits me down at the computer and requires that I write. There really isn’t much choice in the matter.

How does your writing process work?

While I have a project on the go, I grapple with it in an obsessive manner for as long as those working with me will allow. I do write chapter breakdowns, but if I have the luxury of throwing them out and reworking plot and character arcs on the fly, I will. Generally a manuscript is dragged from my bloody fingers at a certain point in this process. It’s never quite ready, in my opinion.

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41. Teaching Year 8 To Write Stories ( from my other blog)

I'm a writer. I know how to write, but teaching Year 8 how to write stories? If it was that easy, everyone would be selling.

Yet it must be done. Next year they will have to do their NAPLAN test, designed by a former government to gain votes by making those lazy, good for nothing teachers accountable! And when they sit down to do their Year 9 NAPLAN test they will have to write either a persuasive essay or a "narrative"(that's a story to you and me) - not a choice but one or the other, you aren't told which. And the narrative may well be a prompt such as "The Box". And they will have 40-50 minutes to write it - heck, I'm still working on a story submission for "Cranky Ladies Of History" after months! And I'm a professional.

I did three things on Monday. One was to gather some copies of the school anthology, stories written by students and put together and edited by Chris Wheat, a wonderful teacher and YA novelist who works at my school as the English and literacy co-ordinator. Another was to print out my much simplified version of The Hero's Journey, which I did as a workshop at last year's Continuum convention, with Paul Collins. It makes a good adventure story outline. The third was to put together some links to appropriate movie trailers on YouTube

It was not a good start to the day. The interactive whiteboard room computer didn't work - someone had unplugged the important bits and I had no idea which they were or what to do. Luckily, the other Year 8 teacher had cancelled her booking for the computer room. So I took them there and gathered them around a computer. One of the students logged in and went to YouTube  for me. First, though, I told them the general story, about this ordinary guy who is visited one day by someone who tells him he's special and must go on a quest. Along the away, he makes friends and deals with a major enemy and comes back with a reward for all that trouble. I invited them to think of some stories that fitted that description. They did very well - Star Wars, Harry Potter, Lord Of The Rings, The Hobbit, Up, even a couple I hadn't thought of, such as Percy Jackson and Doctor Who!

We watched several trailers, both the ones I'd prepared and some the students had thought of. We discussed how they fitted the story outline I'd given them.

It was going very well, until I started trying to do a story together on the board. That has worked with other  classes and should have worked this time, but I suppose I was lucky that some of the worse behaved  students had lasted even that long.

I told them we were returning to our classroom, where they would do the rest by hand. My original plan was that after the story on the board they could get into groups to brainstorm, but it was not to be. They went ahead of me and I arrived to find that one of the more difficult students was being told off by a teacher whose classroom window he had broken by butting it with his head.

He was sent with a note and a reliable student to sub school while I tried to unlock my classroom. The door wouldn't open. Some students told me that this had happened when they were last there with another teacher, who had taken them to another room.

I had to find another room for them. We found one, where we read some stories from the anthology together, then individually, about all there was time to do by now. The vice principal brought back the boy who had broken the window and asked for information. Not being suicidal, the students kept silent, so he told them that they'd all do a week's lunchtime detention unless someone came to him and discussed the matter(that worked, by the way).

After all this disaster, you'd think the lesson would be a compete flop. It wasn't.

Even the difficult boys found at least one story that appealed, once I let them choose their own. One of them, mind you, was delighted to find a story with swearing in it - written, mind you, by a good student who was using it in context. One of the girls found a story that touched her and exclaimed, "Oh, how sad! Miss, do read this one."

And two other girls were so keen to write a story based on The Hero's Journey, they started immediately and took their English books home to get on with it. One is a student who, though she is lovely and works hard, has never been able to write a lot. She showed me, today, two pages of dense text about a Percy Jackson-style demigoddess who discovers she is the daughter of a fire god. On Thurday, while the others do the brainstorm, I'm going to let those two get on with their stories.

If I can get into the classroom.

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42. Writing Process Blog Hop #3: Satima Flavell

Satima Flavell, who is a WA writer with the novel The Dagger Of Dresnia under her belt, actually has a blog of her own, at satimaflavell.blogspot.com, but thought it might be good to post here, to reach a different audience, and has invited me to post on her blog. So here it is, the writing process of Satima Flavell!

What are you working on?

The Cloak of Challiver, book two of The Talismans Trilogy. It takes place a couple of decades after book one, The Dagger of Dresnia (Satalyte Publishing, Foster, Victoria, 2014) and the main characters are Ellyria's grandchildren.

How does your work differ from others in your genre?

My protag, Ellyria, is a woman in her forties, rather than a young person. I think a lot of older women read high fantasy and they might enjoy seeing their own struggles mirrored in the trilogy. There are younger people in the sub-plots to provide romantic interest - and of course there are battles and lots of magic and intrigue as well!

Why do you write what you write?

Simple - because it's my favourite reading matter. I have loved fantasy ever since reading Mary Stewart's The Crystal Cave when I was fourteen, and ever since, that imaginary medieval world and stories set there have shared a special place in my heart along with with historical fiction and non-fiction.

How does your writing process work?

First I get a character and a situation. These come pretty well fully developed - I know my character's name, occupation, social status, interests, family make-up and lots of other things - even their horoscopes! All I can do is start writing and hope the story will take shape as I work. When I first started to write fiction, I had heaven's own job trying to get a plot outline in advance. I just had to keep writing a mish-mash until I reached the end and then I had to bring some structure to bear. I'm getting better at this now!

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43. Writing Process Blog Hop #2: Sue Bursztynski

What are you working on?

Right now, a short story, straight historical fiction, about Dr "James Barry", a woman who lived as a man for most of her life in order to be able to have a career as a doctor, something not usually possible for women in the nineteenth century. I first heard of her when I was researching for my book Potions To Pulsars: Women doing science. She was passionate about her work, kept her hospitals clean, performed the first caesarean operation in which both mother and child survived and fought duels at the drop of a hat. A truly cranky lady of history! If I don't sell it first go, I may have to add fantastical elements to sell it to a spec fic market. Fingers crossed!

How does your work differ from others in your genre?

I've had some good reviews for my first novel and some awful ones, but none so far has said, "This is just like all the others." Not one. I did get some that said,"Well, that was different!"

I suspect I annoyed those who thought they were getting an urban fantasy in which the heroine would have two suitors, a smouldering Byronic vampire/Faerie Prince/Selkie Prince and a gorgeous werewolf, and readers could say they were "Team Fred" and "Team Joe"... and it turned out to be a mediaeval fantasy seen from the boy's viewpoint, in which he and the girl had to put off their romance till the danger to those they cared about was over.

Actually, some liked that. ;-)

Why do you write what you write?

Mostly, I write speculative fiction, with the occasional piece of historical fiction. I write it because I love telling stories and because what I have to say needs more scope than mainstream fiction affords. I write for children and teens because children's and YA fiction is one of the last refuges of story, as opposed to "beautiful writing" that isn't actually about anything in particular, and because you can't bullshit kids.

How does your writing process work?

It depends on what it is. If I'm writing to a deadline, I write late at night. I have to be up at six to get to my day job, so I don't sleep much at those times. I sometimes go to a local cafe, to get away from the distractions at home. I start with the germ of an idea and research the background, sometimes first, sometimes as I write the first draft. For my stories set in the 1960s I went to the State Library to read the newspapers of the time, not just the subject I was looking for - the Beatles in Melbourne, the day of the first moon landing - but letters to the editor, advertising, the TV guide, articles about what else was happening that week or that year. For my mediaeval stories, I have read whole books about the role of women, the church, life in the cities, life on the manor, knightly training. I also looked up stuff about real wolves as opposed to the were variety for my novel. I read books of folklore about faeries(I was pleased to see in Melissa Marr's bibliography that she'd used many of the same sources for Wicked Lovely). Anything that helps in my world building! I play mediaeval music to get me in the mood(though I often stop writing to get up and dance!)

So, that's me! Any writer out there who'd like to be hosted here for their writing process? Email me.

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44. Happy Birthday, Rachel Carson!

Rachel Carson in 1952.Public domain image.

Today, Google celebrated the 107th birthday of environmentalist Rachel Carson with one of their Doodles. Rachel Louise Carson was her full name, and I'm pleased to say my nephew's younger daughter is also a Rachel Louise, a bright young woman who will go far in the world one day.

Hopefully she won't have the same troubles her namesake did. Rachel Carson was one of the women scientists I researched for Potions To Pulsars many years ago. I couldn't have left her out. She wrote several books, but the most famous was Silent Spring, which eventually led to the banning of DDT, but during her lifetime brought her up against big business; it should be compulsory reading for any politician before he or she is allowed into Parlament, with a test to follow. I vaguely recall it was on the Year 12 syllabus at one stage. No doubt the current bunch of pollies would consider it pinko leftie rubbish that shouldn't be taught in schools or be allowed to affect their business constituents.

I won't go into great detail here, because my book is long out of print, but there are plenty of web sites today celebrating her life and achievements.  Here's an article in the Independent.

I 'll just leave you with some quotes that might have referred to her own issues, but are highly relevant to today's world:

'We stand now where two roads diverge. But unlike the roads in Robert Frost's familiar poem, they are not equally fair. The road we have long been traveling is deceptively easy, a smooth superhighway on which we progress with great speed, but at its end lies disaster. The other fork of the road—the one "less traveled by"offers our last, our only chance to reach a destination that assures the preservation of the earth.'

And how about this?

'Our attitude towards plants is a singularly narrow one. If we see any immediate utility in a plant we foster it. If for any reason we find its presence undesirable or merely a matter of indifference, we may condemn it to destruction forthwith.'

It also applies to plants that are too useful, like old-growth forests. Once they're gone, they're gone, and their wildlife with them.

There are some other quotes too, about the joy of nature. Just another couple here.

'The lasting pleasures of contact with the natural world are not reserved for scientists but are available to anyone who will place himself under the influence of earth, sea and sky and their amazing life.'

'Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts. There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature -- the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after winter.'

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45. Preparing For Continuum X!

In a couple of weeks, I'll be going to Continuum X, this year's Australian National Convention. It will be a particularly exciting one for me because we're releasing my very first edited issue of ASIM. Well, I have worked on one before, but it wasn't really mine, though I wrote the editorial. The thing was nearly done, it just needed one more story because the editor had handed one over to someone else, leaving a gap, so I got to choose one story for it. The rest was tying up the loose ends left by another member of the ASIM Co-op who had unexpectedly vanished for several months, to the extent that some of the writers had assumed ASIM was gone and sent their work elsewhere, meaning one of the stories was now a reprint. (She did come back, eventually)

However, that's another matter. This time it was all mine. All the choices of stories and artists were mine to make. And with that gorgeous cover, I just can't wait to hold my first copy in my hands. The reviews will be what they are. I chose stories I thought were good - stories that made me smile or touched me or made me breathless with their beauty. Let's hope this will be the same for those who buy it.

I'm doing some panels. The first one, in which I interview three YA writers, is at 9.00 am on Saturday - groan! If I had been at home it wouldn't be so bad - I could just catch a tram into town and then another to the hotel - the Rialto, would you believe! I didn't even know it was a hotel! It used to be the HQ of the Victorian Education Department. Goodness knows, I've demonstrated outside it often enough in past years. It has an observation deck on top, where, for a fee, you can look out over the whole of Melbourne. But a hotel?

But I stay with my mother on Friday nights. It's a bit further, plus I will have to disturb her when I leave at about 7.00 am.

The interview will be good, though. I'm speaking with George Ivanoff, Edwina Harvey and Ambelin Kwaymullina, the author of the wonderful Interrogation Of Ashala Wolf and Disappearance Of Ember Crow. Ambelin has informed me she intends to read something by everyone on the panel, including me, which is nice of her, but I'm basically the moderator, so my books don't come into it - George will be interviewing me and others on Monday. She can come to that as part of the audience if she likes - there are bound to be some of her young fans in that audience. The panels are aimed at teenagers, let's hope we can get some. I've been on panels where the audience was at best one more than the panel! Still, we've agreed that if this happens, we'll just sit around in a circle and answer questions.

I'm doing a panel called "YA All Grown Up" which is meant to be about why adults read the stuff, but we'll also talk about why we write it and read it. (Because it's better than adult books? Because it has story and characters and important themes, not just "beautiful writing"? I've seen adult books win awards for stuff that kids would throw against the wall because you can't fool them the way you can adults.)

I'm also on a panel called "Live Slushpile". The original blurb said we'd be reading from stories that had made it or not, and why, but nobody felt comfortable with that, so we'll be talking slush in general and what we look for when we pick up a story submission. I will say, among other things, that I read slush as a reader, not an editor. I ask myself if I, as a reader, would enjoy reading this story in a book or magazine I'd paid for. I am not a professional like Jack Dann, who will also be on the panel; he no doubt also has to consider if this story theme has been published about a million times before and other things that I don't have to worry about. But it should be interesting.

There's one panel that's happening because I arranged it. I'll be moderating a panel on small press in Australia. The theme is that small press here punches well above its weight, with big publishers being mainly limited to Fat Fantasy Trilogies, so anything else has to be published by small presses that can take chances big ones can't. I'll also mention that in this country, at least, small presses can persuade big name writers to sell them work for a much smaller fee than they're used to, and not just bottom-of-the-drawer stories either.  My panel is Edwina Harvey, representing Peggy Bright Books, Tehani Wessely for Fablecroft, Simon Petrie for ASIM and Canberra SF Guild and Paul Collins for Ford Street. That will be a very interesting panel and I hope we get an audience. Usually the audience for a small press panel is largely composed of writer hopefuls who want to see if there's advice on how to sell to it. So we should have those if not anyone else.

More when I get back from the con!

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46. Getting Fiction Right

I'm reading a lot this week and have already unearthed a glitch in one of the books I'm reading. I tend to do this, even in mainstream fiction by writers whose books have won awards and so are selling a lot better than mine. But a mistake is a mistake. And it seemed like a good subject for a post.

I won't name any of the books or authors, some of whom are personal friends or at least acquaintances, and I will mention that at least one of them took my advice and rewrote for the next edition. (If you think you know the books and authors concerned, please don't mention them in a comment!Not even if you ARE one of the authors!)

There are some genres where it seems obvious you need to get it right. Hard science fiction, for example. Get your physics wrong and there will be people to let you know about it. What they can get away with in a TV series won't be tolerated in a book or short story. Well, mostly it won't, anyway.

Even fantasy needs to be right. Yes, I've read a Twitter conversation between fantasy writers in which one of them declared it was her universe and she could do what she wanted within it. Not so, since fantasy is usually based on real world societies and if you're going to write about horses and swords and mediaeval ships and such, you need to understand what they can and can't do. I've posted about that here. But most people understand this and take the trouble to get it right. Heck, I've been careful in my own writing, creating a world with three moons and, not wanting to go against the laws of physics even in my own world, I checked it out.

If you get crime fiction wrong - say, a gun that does what a real gun of that type can't, or make mistakes in the medical treatment of a victim, there are going to be people jeering at you for it. So, mostly, crime writers make sure they get it right. I've read earnest, worried questions on the fabulous Jordyn Redwood's medical blog and a forensics blog I discovered on a search. "Can I do this or that to my victim?"

So why is there not the same degree of care with mainstream fiction, I wonder? Is it because it's the world you live in and you know how it runs, or think you do?

I remember a novel by a well-known Australian writer who is living off his writing, more than can be said for me, in which the children of the story are living with an aunt who has been cashing the Family Allowance cheques of their mother, who has disappeared, and she doesn't want to lose this income, so is keeping it secret. As it happened, I'd been working for what was then the Department of Social Security (a later Liberal Government changed the name to Centrelink). I knew about Family Allowance. In fact, the aunt was entitled to the payment as the children were in her care. I can remember times when a relative who had the kids overnight rang us, demanding the approximately $2.00 given for one night - and got it, despite the time it took us to process it and even their phone call cost about 50c. It wouldn't have taken much rewriting to get that right and might even have made the story more interesting. You might say, "Oh, well, you're a person who worked there, most people  wouldn't have noticed," but anyone who was in the situation of a broken relationship with children would have noticed, though clearly the author and his editor weren't in that situation, so didn't know and didn't check.

Then there are school stories. Anyone who lives in Victoria, anyway, and has had children at school, might know the rules. Kids certainly do. "You can't touch me! I'll sue!" Only recently a student I hadn't  touched was loudly claiming I'd slapped him, and I remember a nasty little Year 8 girl in my first year of teaching who rubbed her neck trying to produce a bruise so she could claim I'd hit her and, when that didn't work, told her father I'd threatened her with a chair.  Fortunately, he knew me and asked what was going on rather than accepting her lie, or I could have been suspended till the story was checked out and my reputation would have been gone while she might, at worst, have been given a couple of days' suspension and a grounding at home. They don't want to discourage genuine cases from coming forward. And this was many years ago, in the 1970s. Oh, yes, they know their rights and if they do, why don't the authors of so many YA novels?

I can tell you about a short story in which the victim and the class bully get detention and the teacher walks out of the room to attend a meeting, leaving a potential for tragedy. Sorry, I told the author, a friend of mine. It wouldn't happen today. Duty of care. Schools can have the pants sued off them for neglecting it. If you must have the teacher leave the room, make it an emergency. The school would still be sued - and I've heard of a primary school being sued for not having a teacher in a particular part of the yard when a branch fell from a tree and injured a child -  but at least it would be a situation over which the teacher had no control. "But it happened at my school!" he protested, meaning the teacher leaving the room for a meeting, not the tragedy. I pointed out that it was a very long time ago and that  expensive private schools like the one he attended  might have had different rules from the State system  back then. Not now, and he was trying to sell a new edition. He took it on board and rewrote.

Here are the rules, in Victoria at least(and the main offending novels I've read have been by Victorian writers) : you must have a teacher to supervise students, so no allowing students to run their own event outside school hours with no teachers there.  You can't have a detention after school on the same day it's earned; parents must be given notice. You certainly can't publicly humiliate students, even as a punishment. Not without facing the legal wrath of parents. What you can and can't do for punishment is strictly limited.

Yet I've come across CBCA shortlisted books by Melbourne writers that have done most of these things and some that weren't shortlisted but were by well-known local writers that did the last-mentioned. And somehow they made even otherwise-wonderful novels just that much less wonderful for me.

I've read a novel written in the era of the Internet that had two kids exchanging emails and one of them doing physical research for something that was easily available on Google, even then. (I know, I googled it).

It's not so hard to check before submitting your manuscript. The Internet is a wonderful resource, or you can call someone who knows.

Writers, you must do your research, even for mainstream fiction, even if you think you remember what things were like when you were in your teens.

And guess what? They probably weren't quite as you remember them.

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47. History Is...?

Today, June 4, is the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Tianenmen Square Massacre in China. In it, pro-democracy students were mowed down by the army. If you want full details of the event, just Google it. There are plenty of newspaper articles on it today anyway. We still don't know how many people died because the government suppressed all that and made sure that future generations wouldn't hear about it.

But this is a far more linked-up world than it was, and whatever did get out is known everywhere else. It gets to show the importance of studying history - rigorously. One government in this country wants it known what happened to the indigenous people over the last couple of hundred years, the next government declares this is a "black armband view" and decrees that children will be taught all about the heroic(white) pioneers and explorers instead. So, even in Australia, history can be what the government of the day decrees. At least till the kids get online, anyway. Or even books - they can't prevent books from being published, though the current conservative government has recently stacked the board of the Prime Minister's History Award with conservative old men who are likely to hand out the prize to the books that support their view of the world. (I should mention here that one of my children's books, Starwalkers:  Explorers Of The Unknown, a history of space travel, was shortlisted for a NSW Premier's History Award. I was highly chuffed!).

To get back to the topic, few years after the Tianenmen Square massacre, an Australian writer, Alan Baillie, wrote a YA novel, The China Coin, which featured the event in the course of a young girl's trip to China with her mother on family issues. It was only a few years after, and no doubt the author thought it contemporary fiction, but for me it already felt like history, even though the incident was fresh in my memory from the news,  and it changed my perception of historical fiction. Twenty-one years later, will it feel even more like historical fiction? I admit it has been a while since I read it.

It told me that historical fiction doesn't have to be set a hundred or five hundred years in the past. It can be about something that happened in your lifetime. So when I had my first commission to write a short story set in the past, from Ford Street Publishing, for the anthology Trust Me! I decided to set it on the day of the first moon landing. For me, it was a part of my life, but for the children who would be reading it, it would be history. Researching for it in old newspapers at the State Library, I was amazed at how much the world had changed since 1969. I was a lot younger then and it was just everyday life, so I had forgotten.

History is people. It's only a small amount about kings and queens and politicians. It's nit for nothing that there are oral history projects and that children are asked to go and interview their grandparents. I live with history even in my working life. The very school where I spent eight years, our current senior campus, was once a school set up in 1913 by the owner of Sunshine Harvester, after which the suburb was named, to get apprentices for his factory, and in the 1940s it was visited by Helen Keller - yes, THAT Helen Keller. I remember one day when an old gentleman walked into my library and told me all about the people in the 1920 staff photo. He had been dux of the school in 1927! That was history. Well, for me it was. For him it was just his life. 

So, what is history to you? Any suggestions? There will be a copy of my children's history of crime in Australia for the answer I like best. You have a week. Local or international. Don't forget to put in your contact details.

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48. The Beatles In Melbourne - Writing About It

Fifty years ago this weekend, the Beatles were in Melbourne. That is certainly something to celebrate. I've been to the exhibition at the Melbourne Arts Centre and it's great! I do recommend it to anyone in Melbourne over the next few weeks.

A couple of years ago, I was invited to submit a piece of historical fiction to Ford Street's new anthology, Trust Me Too. I'd already done a story set in 1969 on the day of the moon landing for the first anthology, so I decided that this, too, would be set in the 1960s. The question was - when? It needed to be centred around an important event, to give me a framework in which to tell the story. So much was happening that it was just a choice of which event. 1967, for example, was a big year in history. In Australia alone there was the referendum on Aboriginal rights. At the end of the year, PM Harold Holt disappeared, his body never found, leading to all sets of conspiracy theories. But the disappearance of a politician wasn't really of importance to anyone in their teens and the referendum was huge, too huge for me to do all the necessary research in the time - and, not being indigenous myself, how could I know how they felt?

In the end, my friend Edwina Harvey made the suggestion I used. "How about the Beatles visit?" That would work well.

I wanted a heroine affected in one way or the other by the visit. She was to be a huge fan, but not one of those who fainted and screamed and had to be carried off to the first aid station.  I couldn't, just couldn't, see things from the viewpoint of such a fan. Instead, I made her a young musician still at high school, a drummer who admired Ringo Starr.

I decided that the story would centre around the matter of Jimmie Nicol.  Jimmie Nicol was a drummer, a session musician hired by the band to cover Ringo, who was in hospital at the time. He did a lot of the tour, but by the time they got to Melbourne Ringo was better and joined his band mates and Jimmie was surplus to requirements. The saddest photo I've seen was one of him alone at Essendon Airport, where he had been taken and dumped hastily as soon as Ringo arrived. Oh, he was well paid - well enough to have a go at his own band( it didn't work out). But it's a sad ending to the excitement for him. And, you know, he could have cashed in on his time with the Beatles, with interviews and such, but, from what I read, refused to do so. 

Thing is, I had never heard of him before I started doing background research for my short story. And suddenly I had my story outline: my young heroine had been invited to play with a band at school, it's two weeks before the school dance, and she's been told that the drummer she was replacing is coming back. Not very subtle but what the heck! It worked.

I read and read. I looked at pictures, mostly from the Sun(now the Herald Sun), though there were also some impressive ones in the Age, of fainting girls being carried off by mounted policemen. The Sun had a lot more human interest stories in it and when you're writing fiction, you need that. There was a picture of a thrilled hairdresser clutching shorn Beatle locks, and another of two girls kissing a less than thrilled Beatle. I went on YouTube and watched bits of the concert, muffled in the sounds of young women screaming. I read, online some personal accounts of people who remembered the event and had gone to see it.  One young woman was sacked because her boss saw her, somehow, among the thousands on TV!

  I wrote about the crowds outside the Southern Cross Hotel, where they were staying, and I inserted my brother-in-law, as a young music teacher from my heroine's school. Gary was there, after all, though somewhat younger.

All this for a 2500 word story. Was it worth the trouble? Oh, yeah! 

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49. Continuum Day 1 And ASIM 60 Arrives!


I had to get up at the same time as I do to go to work today, because I was doing my first panel at 9.00 am, a " Meet The YA Author" event, where I was to interview my old friends Edwina Harvey and George Ivanoff and the delightful Ambelin Kwaymullina(watch this spot for an interview with her which I will put together in the next few days). Well, we had an audience. It was Jake, the son of Dirk Flinthart, ASIMite and writer and musician. Jake had the choice of going to a panel on YA with us or listening to his Dad speak for the millionth time. He chose us. As he was the only one, we made it informal, invited him to the panel table to share our sweets and water and just talked. Jake said he didn't care for YA books whose authors clearly didn't remember what it was like to be a teenager, so generally preferred adult books, although he just reads what is on his parents' shelves and anything that works for him, adult or YA, was fine. I was a bit surprised when he said he'd been forced at school to read Tomorrow When The War Began which, at one time, was a bestseller among boys and girls alike. I gess nothing is fun if you have to read it.I invited Edwina, George and Ambelin to talk about their books, and what was behind them and was very interested to hear how much science was behind Ambelin's universe in The Interrogation Of Ashala Wolf. She has a background in environmental science. Jake was quite interested in reading her book by the end and told his Dad he had enjoyed it. 

After the panel I was going to get a takeaway tea and help out on the ASIM table, but was lured away to a kaffeeklatsche with Ambelin, so I had my tea, but not takeaway. It was Iron Goddess, which I chose   because in the Phryne Fisher novels it's the favourite of Phryne's boyfriend Lin Chung. Interesting, but not hot enough for me to get the taste properly.

I went back to the ASIM table and, while helping Simon Petrie, got my copies of 59 and - Ta Da! - 60. In the picture above, you will see me flanked by two of my contributors, Paul Hughan(the bearded gentleman) and Kiwi Dan Rabarts. Wish I'd thought to grab a pic with the wonderful Lewis Morley,who did my internals. Tomorrow. Terry Morris, who's now a member of the ASIM Association, came along with her husband Hung and offered to do some time on the table in the afternoon. It was lovely to see her. 

Twelve o'clock I went off to the GoH speech by Jim Hines, which was short, but very enjoyable, and stopped to get my programme signed and tell him the ASIM table was around, because he wrote three stories for us, including his first Goblin story(he's since gone on to do a lot more in that universe). I sat at the ASIM table for a short time with Dirk, who was relieving Simon, and that's when the photo was taken, by Dirk.

At one I was scheduled to do a signing in the foyer. I was sitting and chatting with Gillian Polack and Ambelin, but Ambelin was the only one who had any requests for signed books. Pity I forgot to bring my bookmarks. I have a stack at work. 

I had to leave early because I had a theatre ticket(Ibsen's Ghosts) and had a belated lunch with Edwina first, at a rather nice hotel where they have a $12 lunch deal, and I had a yummy pasta dish, fettucini with smoked salmon and spring onion and a creamy/wine sauce, and we caught up. I never feel as if time has passed when I meet Edwina. 

I'm back from the theatre and letting my iPad charge while I write this. Tomorrow's panel on why adults read YA and why we write it isn't until ten, and I can just go out and catch a tram, so no 6 am rising. In the afternoon I have Live Slushpile and a small press panel which I'm moderating.

More tomorrow.

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50. Writing Process Blog Hop # 1: Ambelin Kwaymullina

The other day I received an email from Rhiannon Hart, a YA author currently living outside Australia. It was about a "Writing Process Blog Hop". You ask three writers you know to answer questions about the way they write, along the lines of last year's Next Big Thing. It's meant to be done on your own blog, but not everybody has one, so I offered to host Ambelin's post. Ambelin Kwaymullina is the author of two YA novels so far, plus the author/illustrator of several children's picture books, plus a handcrafted, plus working full time teaching law stuff at university...Some people have all the talents!

There will be a proper interview with Ambelin as soon as I get the questions worked out, but meanwhile, here are the answers to some you might have wondered. 

What are you working on?

The Foretelling of Georgie Spider, which is the third book in my Young Adult dystopian series. This series tells of a future world where people with special abilities are persecuted by the government and centres around the struggle of a group of teenagers and children to change their world for the better.

How does your work differ from others in your genre?

My work is strongly drawn from and influenced by my Aboriginal culture. This means that while my work is often seen as being very different to that of non-Indigenous writers, it contains a lot of similarities with speculative fiction written by other Indigenous authors, including (for example) non-linear elements to the story. I'm really proud to be one of a number of Indigenous people writing speculative fiction here in Australia and worldwide, I think we have a lot to contribute to the genre.

Why do you write what you write?

The story itself drives me, and the characters. I couldn't not write the stories; they demand to be told and that I do the best job I possibly can of telling them.

How does your writing process work?

Generally my 'process', such as it is, runs on coffee and desperation to meet a deadline!

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