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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. 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.

Birthdays

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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27. 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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28. 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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29. 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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30. 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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31. 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

Birthdays:

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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32. 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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33. December 14 Meme

And here's another interesting day in history!

Birthdays: 

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

Events: 

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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34. 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.

Celebrations

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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35. 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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36. Aurealis Reading... Continuing

The entries for the Aurealis Awards closed last Sunday, but that doesn't necessarily mean there will be no more books to read - they can enter in advance, then send the works till the end of this month. As it is, there is a pie f George Ivanoff Chose Your Own Adventure titles I don't have yet, but that are on the list. I've been adding them to a "shelf" on Goodreads as I receive them. They automatically come up as "reading" even if you haven't started.


It has been a real eye-opener to see what is entered - from children's picture books to the latest volume of some fat fantasy series, to short stories to self-published ebooks, and small press and self- published paperbacks. Some perfectly good contemporary novels seem to have been entered because they mention fantastical creatures, though these never appear. 

The other night, I was about to go to bed when there was a ring at my doorbell. It was my neighbour, who had kindly accepted a box of books on my behalf. They weren't even on the list yet. There are some Catherine  Jinks books, the latest book in the Troubletwisters series, the latest Geoffrey McSkimming Phyllis Wong novel, an Allison Rushby book very different from her novel The Heiresses...

I have a long way to go! Even if they don't send any more, there are thirteen books on my "reading" shelf on Goodreads...

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37. This Year...And Next...Mostly Reposted From My Other Blog


Yesterday we had the campus awards afternoon. The students who had been nominated for a prize went up to receive it - several of my students and former students were among them. I said a fond farewell to those who had reached Year 10 and were ff to our senior campus where, incidentally, there is no longer a library, just a great big space empty of shelves, with tables and chairs. 

For the time being I still have a library to run and kids to use it. And I have heard what I'm doing next year, apart from running my library. 

Each year I have had to do something different. From Year 11 English to junior ESL (or EAL as it's now known), then on to Year 8 English and Pathways, the homeroom subject. And each time I got the hang of  a subject - and I did very well at Pathways - I was given another challenge. This year's challenge has been teaching history.

I love history - but loving something isn't necessarily the same as teaching it. Just because you enjoy reading about something doesn't always mean that you can pass it on.

Have I done well? I'd like to think so, but the truth is, I have had to do the same as everyone else and bullshit my way through, asking for help every now and then from more experienced staff. Sometimes you have to do that. Some things have worked, others haven't.

Making iMovies worked the first time. If I had to teach history again, I would use that, but find a way to make the kids comfortable with it and learn more about it myself. For example, in English, Literature Circles, this year students were allowed to use iMovie to prepare book trailers. They had learned from me in history how to do it.

 That sort of worked, but what none of us had realised was that you couldn't get back to the unfinished task on the school iPads unless you had left it there. So some students who had made a book trailer - unfinished - on iMovie and saved it to the school's Public Share couldn't finish it. What they had done was quite good, but looked a bit silly in the blank grey bits. We - my colleague and I -accepted it anyway, because they had done their best. If I was doing this next year, I would make sure that they spent the entire double period on it, first collecting photos, then slotting them into place.

We had two classes joined for Literature Circles because mine was too small to do it without merging classes - and since we were on at the same time, we would have been competing for resources and space. Two classes together worked last year, but not quite as well as last year, because we had a larger number of difficult students and several integration students and only one aide available to help - last year we had two.

Still, we worked out as best we could which students would go into which groups and which books they could handle.

Some things worked, others didn't - and there were a few students who were given books too difficult for them, which it took us too long to realise. We did make some late changes, giving those students easier books which they were to read by themselves and produce a PowerPoint as their response - the simplest thing to do.

There were a few who had handed in very little this year and were not about to begin now, but we did what we could. I hope they'll mature next year.

We finished with a reflection by the students about what they had gotten out of it. That will help for next year.

One difficult student admitted to me "My behaviour hasn't been stellar this year, has it?" I agreed that it hadn't, but at the time I was talking with him about a story I had asked him to rewrite so it can go into the school anthology and persuading him to put his name on it, since he now had something to be proud of.

That's now happening. His story will be in the next anthology and he will be able to show off a bit. Maybe next year he will have matured? He was the student whose group messed up their podcast.

My history students did their posters and Powerpoints and booklets on the Aztecs. I've put up the posters, which are very good. I've done their last test for the year and am pleased at how well they all did - apart from one student who had been away a lot, everyone got high marks, including my most difficult student who has been improving and got full marks.

My survey of my literacy students worked well. Despite there being some who had been noisy and rude, even they ticked "agree" or "strongly agree" for questions as to how supportive/helpful,etc. I had been (and I overheard one say, "Oh, yes, she is, she really is!" And he was one who had given me a headache many times.

If I had these classes next year I would have a better idea what to do.

But I have been told that next year will be different again, with yet another challenge. . Creative Writing! I have never had writing lessons myself, so how do I give lessons to others? I have been thinking about this carefully. All I can do is offer them the chance to write and submit and the benefit of my own experience as a writer. I'm taking a little survey of students who have signed up for it, to find out what they hope to get out of it. There hasn't been the chance to get together with the other two CW teachers, though I have sent emails and spoken to one. They're both English teachers and will have to make the best of their own experience.

I will have a Year 7 EAL class, but I believe it is straightforward, just a double period a week while the other students are doing Vietnamese or Italian. I think I can handle that, if I discuss it with the EAL teacher.

I'm looking after the Year 10 Psychology students once a week, but I used to do that anyway till this year and it didn't count as part of my allotment.

And of course, there will be Sunlit (literacy class). Hopefully, I will continue with the same reading level as this year. I'm quite comfortable with this subject and actually felt left out one day when everyone else had begun and mine hadn't been sorted out yet.

I'm very tired and there's still so much to do!





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38. Recent Goodies Downloaded!

You know how it is when you're reading something, perhaps a folklore article, and that makes you think of something else and then you want to read -or maybe reread - that?

Thanks to the WWW and our friend Mr Gutenberg, you can do that instantly these days. This week, I've grabbed a couple by Joseph Jacobs, who was around at the same time as Andrew Lang, of the multi-coloured Fairy Books and others - English Fairytales and More English Fairytales, because I wanted to check out a couple of stories that were supposed to be in Andrew Lang and didn't seem to be in my Gutenberg version. Dick Whittington was one. You know, poor boy makes good with the help of his cat. I sometimes wonder if there were already stories around in the time of the real Mr Whittington and how he felt about them. It's interesting that there are no fantastical elements in it, unless you count the idea that one cat could rid an entire kingdom of rats, or that the king wouldn't simply take the cat instead of paying a fortune for it...

While I was about it, I also picked up Popular Tales From The Norse, because of that story "How The Sea Became Salt". You know, the one where someone gets hold of a mill that grinds food and such for you, but he forgets, or isn't told, how to stop it, so it goes right on grinding salt, which salts the sea. I had some vague memory that it was pre-Christian, but no, not in this book.

On Project Gutenberg I also found some more out-of-copyright classic SF, this time by John W Campbell, the great Golden Age editor, after whom an award for new writers is named.

You know, I'd never read E.Nesbit's classic Five Children And It and this week I decided it was about time. And what a great romp it is! Our five middle-class children, whose parents can be missing because the maid can be left to babysit them, get into all sorts of trouble when they find a grumpy sand fairy, the Psammead, who can grant one wish a day, but not permanent - it all vanishes at sunset, which is mostly just as well. Somehow, they never seem to get it right and all sorts of disasters happen when you get what you wish for...

I got the first issue of an online magazine called Alt Hist, which the editor leaves up for free as a sample of what he's after for potential contributors. The magazine pays a token fee to contributors, but it pays and I am currently looking for another market for the adventures of my cranky lady of history. I don't know yet, but I'm reading. It takes both historical fiction and alternative history, which I think is interesting. So far read only a couple of stories. One of them I liked, a very silly story about a couple of characters in the early Midde Ages trying unsuccessfully to destroy a statue of the Virgin which had fallen on a noble lady, whose grieving husband had sentenced it to execution.

It's always worth checking the iBooks store to see if they have their free "first of a series" offer. You can get some great stuff there for a limited time and I have, in the past, such as Kerry Greenwood's Earthly Delights and a Kate Forsyth volume. I also got a first book in a series of which I was sent the sequel to review and couldn't because it made no sense by itself.

 This time it was only crime fction, mostly thrillers, but I found one called Spying In High Heels, part of a series in my local library.

My paid book download this week was The Whale Rider by Witi Ihimaera, on which the movie is based. Enjoyable so far.

Of course, I also have a couple of  ebook Aurealis entries, which I won't name yet, because I don't want to go trough the whole "this is only my opinion" thing. Later, when the judging is over, I might.

So, that's my haul for this week. Anyone else got something to share?




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39. December 4 Meme!



To dearest Rachel, my nephew's younger girl, who turns 11 today,

Here are some things connected with your birthday. I couldn't find too many writing-related things, but some - and the others are still interesting.

Without further ado, here they are!

Birthdays

1777: Juliette Recamier, who kept a salon where a whole lot of famous literary and political figures visited. A kind of sofa was named after her.


Jacqueline-Louis David painting, Madame Recamier. Public Domain

1795: Thomas Carlyle, Scottish historian and essayist. He wrote about the French Revolution.

1883:  Katharine Susannah Prichard, Aussie writer. Journalist, novelist(the first to receive international recognition), film writer, playwright, founding member of the Australian Communist Party. 

1910: Alex North, film composer. Most famous for the score of Spartacus. Less well known is that he wrote a score for the film 2001: A Space Odyssey, before it was decided to go with  the classical music we know so well, which was only meant to give some idea of what the score was meant to sound like. 

Things That Happened 

1674: Founding of a settlement on the shores of Lake Michigan that eventually became Chicago.

1791: First edition of The Observer, the world's oldest Sunday newspaper.

1872: Finding of the mysteriously deserted ship Mary Celeste, which has inspired a LOT of fiction!

1923: Premiere of Cecil B DeMille's silent Ten Commandments.

1986: Premiere of Neil Simon's play Broadway Bound.

Special Days

St Barbara's Day - a possibly fictional saint who is the patron of armourers, architects, firemen and, oddly, mathematicians.


St Barbara Public Domain

In the Eastern tradition, it's also her day as Eid il-Burbara, which is a celebration similar to Halloween, though it's possibly even older. Kids go around the houses in costume, people give them a sort of pudding with sweet things in it and the bakeries do very nicely with festive pastries. It's also a tradition to start sprouting plants that are later used with the Christmas decorations.

In the Roman Empire it was the holiday of the Bona Dea, the Good Goddess, which was strictly secret women's business. You could get into HUGE trouble if you were a man trying to get in to see what was going on!

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40. Another Farewell To Book Club...

Yesterday, I said goodbye to another lot of Year 10 book clubbers. Natasha, Karyn and Jenny were the loyallest members, who turned up to pretty much every meeting between Year 7 and 10, and I gave each of them a gift voucher for Dymock's bookshop. But there were plenty more. Some had joined us only this year. One, Hayden, who had been a member briefly in Year 7, returned this year, bringing his friend Mark, a lad who endeared himself to me in Year 8 when he recognised a quote I made from Monty Python. Mark is a keen reader, though this year he was mostly absorbed in the Game Of Thrones series of fat books, so had little time for much else.  I never did get him started on Terry Pratchett, a pity, because he would have enjoyed Discworld.

Hayden is, in fact, the only one of them who appears in that picture with Marianne De Pierres, because the others in his class were stuck in a maths test. Safa and Meka joined us this year and read manuscripts for Allen and Unwin. 

 Nusaiba was another veteran, though not as much as some of the others. She did come to Reading Matters and several meetings this year.

Lula joined us last year and came with us to the Reading Matters conference. Emily, who had been with us since Year 7, more or less dropped out last year, but still wandered in and out. I missed Emily, but the club was for their benefit, not mine. 

Braydon was in and out, but had also been with us for a long time.

We all had a lot of fun together. They chose books, came on excursions, read manuscripts for Allen and Unwin, met writers who visited us. Last year, Emily read The First Third by Will Kostakis, loved it and made her boyfriend a bit jealous when the author visited. Well, Will is young and good looking. :-) I said, "Don't worry, he's going back to Sydney," and the boyfriend snarled," Thank God!" But it was the book she loved. In the novel, the boy's very Greek grandma dies, which devastated Emily, but the author's grandmother, who inspired the one in the novel, is alive and well; she rang while Will was chatting with book club and he handed the phone to Emily.

Natasha was very sad yesterday, almost in tears when I handed her one of the laminated certificates I made for all my Year 10 book clubbers. After the graduation ceremony she gave me a hug and had her mum take a picture of us together. I have promised to see what I can do about having her attend Alice Pung's talk next year.

I think I'm almost in tears myself.That's the thing about being a teacher. You have to say goodbye so soon!

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41. Guest Post By G.K Holloway, Author of 1066:What Fates Impose


Today's guest post is by Glynn(G.K) Holloway, whose novel 1066: What Fates Impose I won some months ago on the English Historical Fiction Authors blog. 

                                                    
  
Glynn has kindly agreed to tell us about how he researched his book and why the period fascinates him so much. It's an era that fascinates me too; the entire history of Europe could have been very different if only a few things had gone differently in 1066. The very English language would have been different! 
But I'll let the author tell you all about it. Take it away, Glynn!

The inspiration for my novel, 1066: What Fates Impose, came from reading a biography of Harold Godwinson. I’ve always been an avid reader and a history fan and I like to mix up my reading with biographies and novels. I knew something about King Harold from my school days and stories my Dad had told me, so when I found a biography about him by Ian Walker, I was intrigued enough to buy it. I found the book really opened my eyes to the era. Once I’d finished it I wanted to know more, so I read books about William the Conqueror, the Godwin family and then more and more about Anglo Saxon England. I found the history fascinating, full of marauding Vikings, papal plots, blood feuds, court intrigues, assassinations, so much so, I couldn’t believe the story of the era hadn’t been covered more in films, TV and, of course, books. So, I decided to do something myself. I researched everything I could about the period, including court etiquette, sword manufacturing techniques - everything. I also visited many of the locations that appear in the book, usually on family holidays and once I’d done all that - and it took quite some time - I wove together facts and fiction to produce the novel.  
The more I researched the more amazed I became about how events played out. For Harold, everything that could go wrong did go wrong, and I’m not just thinking of the power struggles in the north of England. For instance, Edward couldn’t have died at a worse time. For William the opposite is true; even when he has what appears to be bad luck, things works out for him or he makes them work. One of the times I’m thinking about is when William first sets foot on English soil and falls flat on his face. He stands up with two hands full of soil and says, ‘By the splendour of the Almighty, I have seized my kingdom; the soil of England is in my own two hands.’ You have to admire his quick thinking. But it’s not just one or two things, there’s a long, long list of things both in England and on the European continent that fell into place for William. To top it all, a comet even puts in an appearance!
When writing the book I decided to stick as close as possible to the events and be as true to the characters as possible. For me, it’s important to get the research right, so the reader has confidence in the story, knowing what they’re reading is the real thing. This is why Lady Godiva doesn’t ride naked through the streets of Coventry. It never happened. Besides, there was enough going on at that time for me not to have to add any additional spice to the story. Most of the events depicted in my book really happened with perhaps, one or two exceptions or manipulations.
How to present the story was another matter. I wanted the story to be as accessible as possible,  so the idea of writing in some sort of pseudo Shakespeare didn’t appeal. It was no use writing in Old English because for one thing I don’t speak it and for another neither do many other people. Those who do are already familiar with the events. So, I thought I’d use modern plain English and keep out as many anachronisms as possible. No one says, ‘OK’ or ‘Hi there’.
I’m very fortunate in having a wife who is so supportive and in a position to help as our children were still quite young and they were going to a child minder in the holidays and after school. When I left my full time job I was able to look after them at home. My wife has her own business; she is a tax consultant. This enabled me to work part time in her business and part time on my book. The money we saved on child care and employing someone in the business balanced out favourably. When the novel was completed, it ran for 297,000 words. An editor suggested cuts – a lot. So, many months later, I had a finished novel that ran to a mere 160,000 – almost a short story. I’m now working on a sequel.
I’ve explained briefly, what made me write the book but why would anyone want to read it? Well, the era is, I think, very exciting and the Battle of Hastings was such a close run thing - so close that if it had rained that day, William would probably have lost the battle. Some people might think, ‘So what? A fight in a field a thousand years ago on the other side of the planet; what difference does that make now?’
Well the answer is, think how much the outcome changed England’s history. In the mid eleventh century England had been just one of the kingdoms in Cnut’s Empire, which included Denmark and Norway. England looked to the north and was part of the north. The language and culture were very similar. England did not look south for ideas or inspiration and did not get involved with southern European affairs. After Hastings all that changed and for centuries England and France were at each other’s throats.
Some say that if it hadn’t been for the Normans, England would never have risen to prominence. If that’s true, there may never have been a British Empire. If it isn’t true, there might have been some sort of Nordic Empire that spanned even more of the world than the British ever did. 'What if the Normans had lost?'  is a very big question and that’s why I’m writing a follow-up. A Norman victory changed England for ever and consequently had ramifications that echo on through the centuries. It has to be an interesting story.

Bio
G K Holloway was born in a small anonymous town in the north of England. On leaving school he worked in a variety of jobs until he arrived at his mid twenties and decided it was time for a change.
Having always liked history, he thought he'd enjoy studying the subject for a degree, so enrolling in evening classes at his local college to take O Level and A Level courses, seemed the obvious thing to do.
After graduating from Coventry,  he spent nearly a year in Canada before returning to England to train as a Careers Advisor. After qualifying, he worked in secondary education before moving onto further education, adult education and eventually higher education.
You can buy 1066: What Fates Impose at Amazon, in either paperback or ebook , here. http://www.amazon.com/1066-Impose-G-K-Holloway/dp/1783062207


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42. January Magazine Seventeen Years Young


You know how LinkedIn sends you those nets asking you to congratulate someone on a work anniversary? It can be pretty silly, because it will include anything on your résumé. Even if you say you're a freelance writer, for example, it will ask people to congratulate you on the anniversary of the day you posted. It's not done by a human being and computer programs can't tell the difference.

But this week I was asked to congratulate Linda Richards on 17 years running January Magazine and I really must. It is a fabulous review web site, which also has articles and  news about books and writers. You can follow it by email.


Some years ago, I was writing my first online reviews for a publication called Festivale Online. It was a good publication while it was going, but suddenly, without warning, it disappeared and the editor was out of contact with her contributors,not replying to emails.

Well, I liked my free books and being published. I had been receiving stuff from publishers.  My sister was receiving January Magazine by email, so I contacted Linda, asking if I could review for her. She sad yes, but that she couldn't supply the books. She lives in Canada andI live in Australia. I said that was fine; as long as I had somewhere to publish my reviews I had access to publishers.

So began a long, happy relationship that continues to the present. I don't send as many reviews these days as I used to, because most of them appear here, though I do share my reviews between our two web sites. And I still send her a "best of" post each year as she asks for one.

It has been a lot of fun and I've had some great experiences. Who can forget the morning I visited Allen and Unwin to collect the final Harry Potter book, then read all day to meet Linda's deadline? Because she is in the northern hemisphere I could email her early Sunday morning to say I'd be a couple more hours and she could reply that this was fine, she'd check her email again after dinner(it was still Saturday night there).  And then there was the time I reviewed a book about the Hildebrandt Tolkien calendars for JM. I had a lovely email from one of the artists thanking me for having given his nephew such a nice review. Not only that, but Caspar Reiff of the Tolkien Ensemble, which does wonderful albums setting Tolkien's songs and poems to music, offering me a review copy of the latest, which I had been wanting but unable to find in the shops here!

In a way, JM is the reason for this blog. Linda does it all herself from somewhere rural in Canada(she once told me there was a bushfire raging in her area). Sometimes my reviews hadn't been published after weeks and weeks. So I thought it best to publish things here when I hadn't heard; the publishers supplying me would want to know the review was up. Of course, The Great Raven has become a lot more than a review zine, as you know, though it is handy that I can be more flexible, since JM only publishes reviews of new books and I sometimes review classics or things that have been around for a bit longer than JM's one year limit.

But if it weren't for Linda Richards and January Magazine, The Great Raven might not exist. So here's to you, Linda! Long may January Magazine run!

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43. November 23 Meme


Okay, here are some things that make November 23 special(and if you're in the Northern hemisphere you will be reading this on November 22. Too bad! I'm lying in bed on Sunday morning posting this to the world)

Events


534 BCE Thespis of Icaria becomes the word's first actor to portray a character other than himself. In other words, the world's first actor! He did some other things to get plays going. His very name is used as a term for an actor, "thespian". And it all began On This Day! If interested, check out this blog post about the origins of Showbiz! 



1644  The poet John Milton publishes Aeropagitica, a pamphlet against censorship, due to a recent "licensing" system produced by Parliament -  not that he had anything against book-burning of "bad" books, he was a terribly grumpy man, but he says at least publish the things first, then argue against them(and you can always burn them afterwards). Hmm, sounds familiar. Like certain Aussie politicians who recently argued about "freedom of speech" for horrible people because we can always argue with them... Still. He wrote lots of fabulous poetry, crotchety man or not.

A quote from this: "A good book is the precious lifeblood of a master spirit, embalmed and treasured up on purpose to a life beyond life" is up in the New York Public Library.
1963  The first episode of Dr Who, "An Unearthly Child" is broadcast. Unfortunately it had to compete with the news of President Kennedy's assassination, but after fifty years it's still going strong. And in the last season, we returned to Coal Hill School, where the latest companion was working as a teacher. Yes, Coal Hill was also in Remembrance Of The Daleks, but it was only one story and it was set just after the first Doctor and his companions had left.

Birthdays

1892 Erte, that amazing illustrator and designer who did all those wonderful Art Deco pictures. Kerry Greenwood's heroine Phryne Fisher wears his designer clothes. He also did stuff for Hollywood silent movies, including Ben-Hur.  


1909 Nigel Tranter, author of a whole lot of historical fiction, mostly about Scotland. I've read some of his books, which are good stuff. 

1923 Gloria Whelan, a prolific US author of children's and YA novels. I'm embarrassed to say I haven't read any of her 50-odd books as yet, but I thought anyone with that much of a track record deserves a mention here. 

Holidays and observances

* This is the feast day of Alexander Nevsky, the Russian hero who has been made a saint in the Russian Orthodox Church and inspired a lot of film and music stuff.

* It's Rudolph Maister Day in Slovenia. He was a military officer who also wrote poetry.

* On a truly frivolous note, it's the earliest day on which Black Friday can happen - strictly a  US thing, coming just after Thanksgiving and the opening of Christmas shopping. Amazing they leave it that long!

I got all these from Wikipedia, a very useful source for such stuff. All images are Creative Commons.

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44. The Halloween Post

Okay, it's a bit past Halloween and I live in a part of the world where we are looking forward to summer, not winter, but it's still a good excuse to talk about the traditions and the books...



The other day, Halloween, I did a research sheet with my history class, concerning Halloween and the Mexican Day of the Dead, November 1-2. We're studying the Aztecs and the Spanish conquest of the New World and the Aztecs had a whole festival dedicated to the ancestors and beloved dead who, they believed, should be celebrated, not mourned. As other Christians had done before them in pagan Europe, the Spanish tried to talk them out of it, then incorporated it into their own feasts, in this case All Saints Day and All Souls Day.  The students enjoyed this, I think - one of them, Brodie, told me all about the Celtic traditions, including dressing up your children as evil spirits to hide them from the real ones(that one I hadn't heard!) and young Joubert told me about the traditions in his homeland of Malaysia, where you know it's time to clean the graves when there are moths in the house(it tends to be August, though)  - and I ended the period by giving them all some chocolate and wishing them an enjoyable long weekend and such. 

As my own contribution to the festival, I'm thinking of books with themes related to this time of year and the mood it raises. First up is Ray Bradbury's wonderful Something Wicked This Way Comes, a novel set in a small town in which a sinister carnival has come to town. I read it in a single sitting and I loved that the town was saved by the boy's father, the local librarian. ;-)  Apparently, it was vaguely autobiographical, except that he took a nice incident that inspired the young Bradbury to start writing and turned it into a wonderful, atmospheric piece of horror fiction. It's my favourite piece of Bradbury writing.

Another suitable-for-this-post Ray Bradbury novel is Death Is A Lonely Business, which starts on Halloween, at midnight, in a cemetery, and isn't horror fiction! It's a mystery novel set in Hollywood in the 1940s, with a character based on Bradbury's good friend, the SFX wizard Ray Harryhausen. I thought it great fun, though t wasn't what I was expecting. I picked it up remaindered and it was a good bargain.

While I'm on Ray Bradbury, he wrote a series of lighthearted stories about the Elliott family,  who are sort of like the Addams Family(I think that was on purpose). Among them is Uncle Einar, who has green wings(his wife makes him fly carrying the laundry to get it dry), Cecy who travels with her mind, a mummy great grandmother and the "abnormal" thirteen year old boy who, like Marilyn in The Munsters, is frustrated because he's not like the rest of the family. There's a "fixup novel" From The Dust Returned, which connects the six Family stories. 

I found Dracula much easier to read than I had expected. A lot of 19th century classics are bogged down in waffle, much as I love them, but Dracula is written in letters, diary entries and such, so even teens who are reluctant readers shouldn't have too much trouble with it. If you don't get it right away, at least the "chapters" are short and not too formal. I remember thinking as I was reading, "No, you idiot, don't open the window! Leave the garlic flowers in place! Dracula is out there!" Very exciting! It was almost a single-sitting read. When our students have read about a million YA vampire romances, I suggest they try this one. If they can wade through four thick as a brick Stephenie Meyer novels, they shouldn't have too much trouble with this slim volume in which the vampire is definitely not the good guy. 

I must admit, I couldn't get past the first volume of the Twilight series. I thought it boring. So sue me! Stephenie Meyer is doing very nicely without my admiration. I bought the series anyway, for the library, two sets actually, because they kept going missing. The kids were passing them around among themselves, excited by a book, and as a good librarian I felt I had to make them available, though nothing would persuade me to read past the original book.

I personally think of Frankenstein as being science fiction as much as horror; the young author took the science known in her time - the guy who made a frog's leg jump with electricity - and extrapolated from there. "What if...?" That's the basis of good SF. 

I only recently read Rosemary's Baby by Ira Levin, though I've read some of his other books. It wasn't as scary as I had thought it might be, probably because after all these years and the movie, everyone KNOWS what it's about and how it is going to end. But, as the introduction to the ebook version says, it's the first time that a horror novel was set, not in far Transylvania or wherever, not even in a haunted house, but in the protagonist's own ordinary home in the big city. Now, THAT is scary!

Really, you can read anything by Ira Levin if you're in a mood to read scary stuff. The Boys From Brazil - someone is cloning Hitler. The Stepford Wives - someone is building robots to be perfect wives. 

Come to think of it, read Margo Lanagan's Sea-Hearts(The Brides Of Rollrock Island outside Australia). It's not horror fiction, it's lovely, lyrical fantasy with selkies, but it asks some of the same questions as The Stepford Wives.

Most books by Stephen King will put you in the mood. Personally, I prefer his short fiction and his non fiction to the novels, but I will get around to reading more of them some time.

Susan Cooper's children's book The Dark Is Rising is set at Christmas, but has the right mood for this time of year, with a lot of atmospheric scenes, including one with the Wild Hunt. And while you're reading children's books you might like to try Alan Garner's The Owl Service ( three children reliving the story of Llewelyn Llaw, Goronwy and Bloddeuedd) or Weirdstone of Brisingamen.

I can't finish without mentioning Dan Simmons. His novel Carrion Comfort featured mind vampires, who can manipulate people with their telepathic powers. It was scary! His book Children Of The Night was about Dracula -the historical Dracula aka Vlad Tepes -who actually IS a vampire but not undead, it's a genetic anomaly which allows the lucky person to live as long as he likes because he has an extra organ that regenerates his cells. But it needs blood to process - preferably someone else's blood. So Dracula is still alive, now a billionaire who has put all his energy that used to be for fighting into making money. He has read the Stoker novel, of course, and thinks it's crap. I won't say more lest you wish to read it, but it's very entertaining. 

I loved  Simmons' Hyperion, which was set in the 29th century and meant to be a sort of Canterbury Tales, but had the favour of dark fantasy anyway. 

And I must end with a plug for my own novel Wolfborn, which climaxes in a scene on Samhain eve, with a massive storm, an evil werewolf fighting a good werewolf and the Wild Hunt riding.  Get it in ebook from Amazon or iTunes and you could be reading it in five minutes. Go on, read it -you know you want to.  :-)

Anyone got some more "Halloween" books to recommend?



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45. George Ivanoff Giveaway!

Dear readers,

I visited George Ivanoff's blog  and Roadshow Entertainment has donated four copies of Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries Season 1 and 2 as a giveaway.

If you live in Australia you can enter between now and November 21. I have already entered, but what the heck, why not let you all know? George, who actually gets PAID to blog for Boomerang Books, says if he gets enough interest Roadshow might send him some more giveaway goodies. 

I have read all the Phryne Fisher books and I have to say that, while the TV series is only loosely based on them, it's perfectly cast and they have taken a lot of trouble over the props, scenery and costumes, so that you can really feel you're being allowed a view of Melbourne in 1928. 

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46. Comet Landing - Rejoice!

I've always loved the sensawunda of space fiction. As the years have gone by, I've absorbed science fiction and seen it become science fact.

And now the Rosetta mission is complete and the probe Philae is aboard comet 67P! Mind you, the latest reports say that the battery won't last much past Saturday, due to the fact that it can't recharge(they were explaining this on the radio ths morning, something about the battery being solar, but it's not able to access the sun... So, little probe that has been travelling all these years, take pictures while you can! 

Speaking of science fiction(I was), I recall that Arthur C Clarke's novel 2061 began with a spaceship on its way to land on Halley's Comet, only it's not a probe, it has people aboard. There were, as I recall, monoliths involved somewhere in it. But that is what I remember. I borrowed a friend's copy, so haven't looked at it in years.

Amazing what Arthur C Clarke thought of. I like his short stories better than the novels. A while back, when I won a $25 Amazon gift voucher, I spent part of it on a couple of Clarke collections. I'm still making my way through them; Clarke is a writer whose work you savour.

Did you know 2001 started with a short story, "The Sentinel"? The film didn't have much in common with it, just the moon and the monolith. Space travellers on the moon find a monolith. They touch it and that sets it off. They figure it was set there by aliens to tell them when Earth finally made it to space. The question is - will they come and give us lots of goodies or will they come and wipe out the potential threat? As it was, it might have made a nice episode of Twilight Zone or Outer Limits.

But Hollywood did more - far more - with it.


Well, we still don't have the kind of casual spaceflight shown in Clarke, but events like the comet landing show we're getting there. I am so very excited!

 
Mosaic image taken by Rosetta's navcam in September. Creative Commons image from Wikimedia

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47. The Sleeper And The Spindle By Neil Gaiman. Illustrated by Chris Riddell. Sydney:Bloomsbury, 2014


The sleeping princess, the castle covered with roses with deadly thorns... A familiar story, but with a twist.

In her kingdom a young queen who, we learn as we read, is another fairytale heroine, is preparing for her wedding, though feeling some doubts, when she is visited by three dwarves. They have heard of the enchanted castle - and that the spell of sleep is spreading. In fact, they've seen it with their own eyes. As magical beings, they were unaffected, but sooner or later all humans will fall asleep. Will she come and see what can be done?

Happily, she puts on her armour and kisses her handsome prince farewell to go on her quest, while issuing orders for the evacuation of all communities in or near the mountains, from which the sleep spell is spreading.

I can't tell you any more without spoilers, but it's a beautiful book, wonderfully illustrated by Chris Riddell, whom you may remember from Fortunately, The Milk... in which he drew the author as the hero. The twist at the end is fascinating and delightful, though I have to say, if you're looking for a fairytale retelling to read your children, this isn't it. It's for those who have read both The Sleeping Beauty and other folktales and appreciate the difference. 

It is, however, a positive viewing of one fairytale heroine at least, and the author has managed to world build and create fairly fleshed-out characters within the space of a short story.

If you're going to buy it as a Christmas gift, make sure you get another copy for yourself or you will never hand it over!


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48. Saying Goodbye, Finally, To My Nerd Pack...

Tonight I'm off to the Year 12 formal  ("Senior Prom" to my American readers) , where I will be saying a final farewell to my former students, in particular my foundation book club members -  Dylan, Thando, Selena and Ryan. Without their enthusiasm, there would not have been a book club. I had tried to start one before, without success. 

I have seen them all occasionally, mostly on their way to school. Thando moved to the eastern suburbs for her mother's work, but continued to attend our school, though it meant leaving home at 6.30 am. She did tell me the last time we met, though, that she would be looking for a university on her side of town. Who can blame her?

Now they have finished their exams and are ready to party together one last time as schoolmates. And they will look gorgeous! I remember them all as littleYear 7 kids, barely out of primary school, and they have grown into young men and women

I wish I could post photos here, but that's illegal.  So I will just report and describe. 

I go every year. If I'm on time, I get the chance to see them all bustling around, having photos taken with their friends, exclaiming with pleasure at the sight of a teacher they haven't met in two years... (One year I had to sit with all the other staff while the Principal 
Maunder end on at us, till 5.00 pm, and the soup had already been served by the time I arrived. I don't have a car, the other staff did).

I got away late today too, so will have to hope I can make it before dinner starts!


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49. Jenny Mounfield Interview Part 2: Yusuf And Reece

First it was a group of Year 7 Literature Circles students interviewing Jenny Mounfield, author of thriller The Ice-cream Man(Ford Street Publishing), now two Year 8 students have their own questions. Thank you, Jenny, for agreeing to the extended interview! She says the boys' questions were very thought-provoking, so, without further ado, here they are...


Why is the hero of the book in a wheelchair?

The only reason initially was that my son, Dan, who is in a wheelchair, inadvertently gave me the idea for the story. But then it occurred to me that through Marty I had the opportunity show the reading world just how able the so-called ‘disabled’ can be.

Did you write this book for fun - or does it have a message?

I had no goal other than spinning a good tale when I began writing The Ice-cream Man. However, as the story progressed I could see various themes evolving. At its heart ICM is a coming of age story. Three boys who would otherwise have nothing in common, are brought together by a common goal. In a round about way the ice-cream man did the boys a favour. Through their misadventure they are bonded in friendship. And that’s the main message, if there is one: No matter how different we may think others are to us, there is always something that will unite us. All we need to do is find it.

How'd you come up with the title of The Ice-cream Man? 

It was pretty obvious, I guess, given the conflict that starts the ball rolling. To be honest, I didn’t give it any real thought.

What inspired you to write this book? We know it is based on a real life incident, but why write it as a story?

All the ‘What if?’s caught my imagination and I knew it would make a good story. I couldn’t not write it.

Do you have a day job?

Not any more. I used to be a florist.

On Characters

Rick- what made you make the character like this? He seems to be tough but isn't.

Everyone knows a Rick – or will, a some point in their lives. Many people build armour around themselves to prevent being injured by the world. It’s important to remember that when dealing with them. Those who appear to be the toughest have often been injured the most.

Marty- why'd you make Marty disabled?

As mentioned above, I thought it would be a good opportunity to demonstrate how able someone who is classified as ‘disabled’ can be through Marty. When Dan first went into a wheelchair everyone, including his therapists, treated it as such a tragedy. Yes, it was tragic in its way since beforehand Dan had been able to walk with the aid of a walking frame, but the wheelchair gave him a freedom he’d never experienced. For one thing his mates were now running to catch up with him instead of the other way round. Soon, there was no activity Dan couldn’t be involved in. He went fishing, taught himself to bounce up steps, played basketball – and a dozen other things. Everything Marty does in The Ice-cream Man Dan has done at one time or another (except battle a psycho – I hope!). So, the next time you see someone in a wheelchair, don’t feel sorry for them. There’s a good chance they have a more fulfilling life than you. Disability is very much in the mind of the beholder.

Aaron- do you like Aaron as a character? (SB: The boys thought him a bit of a wimp)

No, I didn’t particularly like Aaron at first, but he grew on me. He’s an important character because he’s perceived as soft and weak, yet – like all of us – has hidden depths. Whether consciously or unconsciously we only ever show a small slice of who we are to the world. Aaron may appear wimpy, but that doesn’t mean he hasn’t the capacity for courage, given the right circumstances.

Robbo - why is he such a trouble maker? (SB: I have a feeling they may mean Steve, Aaron’s stepbrother, rather than Robbie, who only appears briefly. But Robbo is Steve’s mate, is he a follower or what?). 

Robbo, in writers’ speak, is a one-dimensional character. He’s a set-piece. A cliché. Though having said this I should add that there are many such clichés in the world: those, who for reasons of their own (probably fear) mimic others who seem to them to be stronger. I doubt the Robbos of the world think much about what they’re doing or why. As for Steve, I imagine he bullies Aaron because he can. It’s the animal side of human nature: To dominate and conquer. I believe that as intelligent, conscious beings, it’s up to us to rise above our animal natures and make intelligent choices, rather than simply act on impulses that arise from the most ancient part of our brains.

Thanks again for answering our questions, Jenny!

Readers, you can buy this from the Ford Street web site, order it through your friendly local bookshop or download the ebook version from iBooks and Amazon.

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50. Hansel And Gretel by Neil Gaiman. Illustrated by Lorenzo Mattotti. Sydney, Bloomsbury. 2014


The lost children. The gingerbread cottage. The scary witch who, however, doesn't see very well and can easily be fooled. All elements of one of the darker Grimm fairytales. All here in this retelling, along with the explanation of where the children's names come from. (When you think about it, if this had been a British folktale, it would have been called "Johnny and Maggie" or Meg or even Peggy, none of which have quite the same ring to them)

If you're going to have a folktale retold, especially such a dark one, Neil Gaiman is a good one to do it. The average retelling is just that - a straight retelling which isn't by the Brothers Grimm or whoever. "Once upon a time..." And then the writer and publisher decide just how much of the original story can be told, depending on who is having the story read to them. For example, you really don't want to describe Cinderella's stepsisters cutting off toes to fit into the glass slippers, do you? Not at bedtime, anyway. 

One thing about folktales is that you never learn reasons, such as why parents would throw their children out of the house to die, even in a famine. Neil Gaiman suggests war and thieving soldiers passing through and taking away all the food sources and destroying the fields. This version even suggests that it may be a reason behind the witch's cannibalism, though not entirely; from the description of what Hansel and Gretel find hidden around the gingerbread house afterwards, she sounds more like a serial killer than a poor old pensioner who is as much a victim as anyone else. 

At the end of the book, the author talks about the possible origins of the story in the time of the Plague, when all sorts of terrible things would have happened and family relationships broke down.

The book is basically an extended retelling rather than a twist on the original tale. If you're expecting something along the lines of The Sleeper And The Spindle, you may be disappointed. But as a retelling, it has class, and the beautiful moody black and white art of Lorenzo Mattotti supports it well.

If you're going to buy a version of this folktale to read to your children, this one is the way to go.

I hear there's a movie of this book planned, or at least optioned. That should be most  interesting...

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