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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. In Which I Go To The Movies(Star Wars!)

So, last night I went to see Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens. (No photos in the post because, copyright restrictions.)

I had the choice of going to the swimming pool and had my togs and towel all ready. It was a HOT day(more today and tomorrow). But.

But th cinema was air conditioned and it was my big chance to see this movie as I did the first: on impulse, after school.

I remember that day. There were normally queues going around the corner, but for the 5 p.m session I just bought a ticket and went in. I sat near the front, and was glad I had, because that first huge spaceship(beautifully sent up in Spaceballs) swooped over me in a way it wouldn't if I'd been sensible and sat near the back. I remember being swept away by it, and why not, since it was The Hero's Journey of Joseph Campbell, the perfect description of Adventure with a capital A. The years went by. There were two more films in the trilogy, ending with a joyous party and young Luke Skywalker, the hero, gazing into the night and seeing the shades of his two mentors and his redeemed father standing smiling at him. 

Mire years went by and there was another trilogy, about his father and how he went from a sweet little boy to the Dark Lord Of the Sith. Not as good as the original trilogy, but I went to all three anyway. 

And now, finally, there has been a sequel to the original trilogy, with three young folk to follow in the footsteps of the original three young folk, and it's good! Very good! Not only that but some of the original characters play an important role in it, they don't just do walk ons. Interestingly, the Luke Skywalker character is the girl, not either of the boys, and she is the main character. Nice! Princess Leia was strong, very strong - once rescued she told the others to get out of her way and just got on with it, and even in that slave girl outfit, she strangled Jabba the Hutt with her chain -  but she was not the protagonist. Young Rey is. And I believe it passes the Bechdel test, where two named female characters are talking about something other than a man. 

I am determined to keep this spoiler free as much as I can, but I will advise you to watch the original trilogy first, if you haven't, because something happens in this film that might just spoil the originals for you if you go backwards. So find one of the last remaining video libraries or download from an online service, but watch them first.

This time, as the first, I sat near the front - three rows from the front, in fact, perfect, because it was just far enough, in a raked auditorium, to be able to enjoy spaceships swooping overhead without craning. 

Anyway, loved it! Anyone else been yet? What did you think?

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27. Happy Birthday, Beethoven!

Portrait by Joseph Karl Stieler. 
Public Domain.

This morning there was an article in the Age newspaper about the Peanuts movies; apparently there is a new one and the author said you can access the 1965 one on YouTube.

That made me think about my relationship with the Peanuts strip and the characters, including Schroeder - remember him? Schroeder was the musician of the group, playing elaborate works on his toy piano. And he was a passionate fan of Ludwig Van Beethoven. And one of the things he did was celebrate  Beethoven's Birthday.

That reminded me that it actually IS Beethoven's birthday today. And like Schroeder, I'm a fan. A big fan. When I was taking piano lessons I had this craving to learn the Moonlight Sonata - well, I did get as far as the first few bars, anyway, the bit that goes Dah Dah Dah, Dah Dah Dah, Dah Da DAH, anyway... I did learn Fur Elise, which isn't as hard as it sounds if you're a piano pupil.

But the symphonies ... Ah, the symphonies! Not only the Fate Knocks At The Door bit at the beginning of the Fifth(if it was a scene from Shakespeare that would be the balcony scene from Romeo and Juliet, in that it's the bit everybody knows, or thinks they do), but the Third(Eroica), the Sixth (Pastoral) and oh, the glorious Ninth!

Beethoven makes an appearance in Annnemarie Selinko's novel Desiree, and of course, the Eroica was meant to be dedicated to Napoleon, till Napoleon stuffed up in Beethoven's eyes. It's the only time I've read about him in a novel, though I did see the movie Immortal Beloved, a gorgeous film about Beethoven.

I've heard the Sixth performed and remember the sudden admiration for the way all the instruments worked together, yet you could hear each one individually.

And then there was the one and only opera, Fidelio, a delightful piece which the Australian Opera hasn't done in years, though it will keep repeating some others, mutter mutter Butterfly...

I loved the music, but also the storyline in which only the bad guy loses and the wife rescues her husband and the final chorus is about how great it is when a woman rescues her husband.

But mostly the music.

Happy birthday, Beethoven! And to all my readers, Happy Beethoven's Birthday!

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28. This Week's iBooks Freebie - Claudia Gray!

I do love browsing iBooks! There are, of course, the $4.99 and below bestsellers, but sometimes also free first of a series. And in this case, the first of a series book of the week is A Thousand Pieces Of You by Claudia Gray, who wrote the Evernight series. It looks good, too, with alternative universes and a heroine racing through them to catch up with her father's killer.

I've read and enjoyed a couple of the Evernight novels, which I found entertaining; we have them all in my library. Those are vampire stories with a twist or two. Evernight is a boarding school for vampires who died as teens(one of them has been around since the Dark Ages and never really got the hang of any era after his own) and have to come back to school to update their knowledge of modern culture. Their holiday homework usually involves doing something to practise their new knowledge. There are a few unknowing human students who are strictly off limits - you want a blood meal, you go fang a squirrel or something!

I took a group of girls from my school to see Claudia Gray when she was in Melbourne, doing a free talk at Dymock's Bookshop in the city. It was a Sunday, so I had to send a note to their parents, promising faithfully to look after them. They enjoyed the outing and the talk and I took photos of them with her when she was signing. The first thing she did when she came on stage was ask everyone to look scared so she could post a photo on her Tumblr page. When I checked it out later, there were only two if us in the audience actually doing the scared thing(I was one of them).

Anyway, new book! Free! Presumably this week only, so if you're a fan, now is the time to get it.

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29. New Goodies On My Cyber Bookshelves!

I don't know about you, but I sometimes browse through the "bestsellers for $4.99 and under, temporarily" list in iBooks. You never know what you'll find. This time it was To Catch A Thief by David Dodge, on which the movie was based - you know the one, a Hitchcock adventure made in Monte Carlo, with Grace Kelly - her last movie, because she met Prince Rainier and married him, to become Princess Grace. The story was entertaining and the visuals stunning. So far, so entertaining - I didn't know it was based on a novel. It was very cheap too - I told my sister, who adores that movie, and she got it too.

I bought a couple of anthologies published by local small presses, one by David McDonald(Cold Comfort), one by Dirk Flinthart, Striking Fire. I am waiting for the planned book of Red Priest stories which will collect all those Robert E Howard-style stories we published in ASIM some years ago, and wonderful stories they were, too. Dirk does terrific adventure, though "The Best Dog In The World", the story he had in Worlds Next Door, a collection of children's fiction, made me sniffle a lot if not cry. It was not really a children's story, but to have left it out would have been a crime.

Anyway, no Red Priest stories just yet, so for the time being I will enjoy Striking Fire.

I picked up a Gutenberg copy of Jane Eyre because I felt like a reread after finishing Cloudwish, in which the heroine is constantly quoting from it. It was one of the books that went missing when my old iPad broke. Most came back on a backup, some didn't. Fortunately, this one was easy to get back.

 I yielded and bought Tournament at Gorlan, the new Ranger's Apprentice prequel. I am not allowing myself to read it till I have finished the last couple of books from the original series. The good news is that the title Ranger's Apprentice: The Early Years suggests - to me, at least - that it may be Te start of a new series. If so, I'm looking forward to reading how Halt stole those ponies from this universe's Mongols to breed for the Ranger Corps.

Plenty to read over the holidays, then. What are you reading?

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30. Just Finished Reading... Cloudwish by Fiona Wood

I confess I had begun reading Wildlife on my iPad and never got around to finishing it, though it was on last year's CBCA shortlist(and won!) I have, over the years, tried to read the shortlist, at least the Older Readers category, but never quite manage it these days. Must go back to finish it.

Meanwhile, I had bought a copy of Cloudwish for my library and as my library technician, Lucy, was processing it, she said,"Ooh, this one is interesting! It's set in Melbourne and mentions places I know!"

In the end, it was agreed that she should take it home to read and I'd buy the ebook. With luck, it will be on next year's shortlist and then I will have made a start...

So I bought it on Wednesday and finished it last night.

Interesting indeed. I have just come across a SMH interview which tells me that the author volunteers  at a Friday night homework club and tutored a Vietnamese girl from Year 6 onwards - presumably  where she got the idea for the novel, and I'm guessing that she slipped herself in as the tutor called Debi, who was tutoring the heroine, Van Uoc, from primary school and got her enthused about Jane Eyre. Well, why not? I've never done that myself, but mainly because my own fiction is set in fantasy worlds, not present day Melbourne.

The reason why I feel guilty about not finishing Wildlife is that I suddenly realised, as I read, that it's set in the same universe as Six Impossible Things and Wildlife. And, surfing back to the interview I ran with the author on this blog shortly before Wildlife appeared, I found she had, in fact, mentioned a trilogy.

I say, "set in the same universe" because while it refers to things that happened  in the previous book, you can enjoy it standalone. What the author has done is taken minor characters from one book and expanded them to protagonists in the next. 

In this case, the heroine is Van Uoc(translated as Cloudwish), a Vietnamese Australian girl, daughter of refugees, who won a scholarship to Crowthorne Grammar and has to make sure her study habits and behaviour are perfect to keep that scholarship. Her parents, who work at low paid jobs, dream of her becoming a doctor and living in a mansion in expensive Melbourne suburb Kew. Van Uoc is hiding the fact that she wants to study art, at least until she finishes school.

The novel starts with her in a creative writing class where her "story starter" is a small glass vial with a piece of paper with the word "wish" written on it. She fervently wishes for the love of the class hunk, Billy Gardiner, a jock who is on the first eight rising team - and suddenly, this boy who has never noticed her is in love! At first she thinks he is playing a nasty prank and setting her up for humiliation. When she realises that isn't the case, she can't stop herself from wondering if that wish she made is the cause. If so, does she just accept and enjoy? Does she try to fix things because it's not the real thing? 

What would Jane do? That is, Jane Eyre, around whose philosophy she has built her entire attitude to life. 

If this had been all - and it does take up a large chunk of the book - it could have been just a gentle rom-com, and there would have been no special need to set it in an exclusive private school. But that isn't all.  There is her mother, suffering from PTSD after something that happened on the refugee boat many years ago. There is the class divide. Even when she visits Billy's house to do homework she notices that the entrance hall is bigger than the entire living and kitchen area in her family's Housing Commission flat. She never goes on holiday, while her classmates are always talking about their overseas trips. Her clothes are limited to jeans and basic op shop tops hole they wear designer products. She can't bring anyone home to the shabby flat, so doesn't generally visit other homes. 

These elements rather reminded me of Alice Pung's Laurinda, in which there was also a gifted Asian girl of working class background studying at an exclusive private school, on a scholarship. Like Van Uoc, Alice Pung's heroine didn't feel she could take anyone home, had a mother who sewed clothes from home and met a group of Mean Girls she had to deal with. There was no teen romance, though, as the school was a girls' school. The Mean Girls were intelligent - just mean. And they invited her to join them. In this novel, the Mean Girls are shallow, so easier to eventually send off tails between legs. And Van Uoc does have a few sort-of friends at the school, including Lou, a minor character in Six Impossible Things and a main character in Wildlife, along with Sibylla, another main character in that book. I don't recall the heroine of Laurinda having much to do with the girls at her new school. 

I was a bit vague about the suburbs in which Cloudwish was set. East Melbourne I know only as a rather expensive suburb with a lot of pretty terrace houses, in one of which my publisher Allen and Unwin is located. I didn't realise there were any working class areas there, but then St Kilda is a mixture of expensive homes and people on welfare benefits of various kinds, so why not? 

Anyway, interesting. Now I'll have something to talk about in my last Book Club meeting for the school year. I'm planning the usual party and encouraging the kids to borrow something for the holidays. 

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31. When You Can't Get Back To Sleep...

...you lie in bed, as I'm doing now, and write something. Too early to get up, too late to sleep again. The first trams have rattled past below and soon my clock radio will play what I hope will be soothing classical music...

My bedside table is piled high with books I have already read, because I can't get to sleep if I want to know  what's happening next. So I reread, for comfort.  Tonight's reread is Terry Pratchett's Wintersmith, the third Tiffany Aching novel. I find myself very comfortable with the Tiffany books. They are terrific Discworld novels in their own right, but have characters I love from other Discworld novels, Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg, and in this book they play a major role. And Granny gets a cat, a small white kitten she calls You. She doesn't, the author tells us, do fancy. You is small, sweet and white, but scares Greebo, Nanny's cat, who scares wolves just by grinning at them.

In this novel, Tiffany makes the mistake of dancing with the spirit of winter when she's supposed to be just watching, and disasters happen. Fortunately she has the Feegles to help, those tiny Scottish-accented warriors.

I haven't been able to bring myself, yet, to read the final Pratchett novel. Because, you see, it is the last. Apparently he died with lots of ideas and outlines, and his daughter had permission to continue the series, but won't, perhaps wisely.

Think about all those books coming out these days that are finished versions of manuscripts left unfinished or sequels to hugely popular books. I haven't read many, can't bring myself to. Of those I have... Well, there was Stephen Baxter's Timeships, the official sequel to H.G Wells' The Time Machine. I found it very entertaining, but you know what? I've gone back and reread The Time Machine, but never Timeships, though I do admire Stephen Baxter. David Lake's The Man Who Loved Morlocks is a classic in its own right(pity it's long out of print! I wonder if there's an ebook), a wonderful book, and his "The Truth About Weena", in the first Dreaming Down Under Anthology, is delightful. But neither of them is H.G Wells.

The sixth Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy book, written after Douglas Adams' death, had everything going for it. It was based on his notes. His widow approved the choice of author, Eoin Colfer, author of the wonderful Artemis Fowl series. And yet, for me, it just didn't work. Colfer perhaps tried too hard to imitate Adams' style and couldn't quite get it right. In all fairness, I don't think Douglas Adams himself quite got it right after The Restaurant At The End Of  The Universe. There are some Hitcher's purists who hate everything after  the first novel, but I don't. In fact, I think the second was really just part of the first, only he missed the deadline for the umpteenth time and they just snatched the MS off him and published the damn thing.

I shudder at the thought of someone , even Terry Pratchett's daughter, trying to imitate his style and write more Discworld, even using his notes.

So the Discworld novels we do have will have to do me as comfort reading, late at night when I can't sleep. Fortunately there are plenty of them and I have most of them.

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32. Got Back Into... The Ranger's Apprentice Series

Well, I've had some RA novels on my iPad for a while now, and what with having just downloaded the prequel, I thought it might be time to finish the last of the original books. I'm now reading The Emperor of Nihon-Ja, then I will read The Lost Tales. After finishing some Brotherband books(spinoff series) and reading a reference to something that  happened in Lost Tales, I thought it was definitely time!

I love these books. They aren't just exciting adventures, they're funny. The author has a lot of fun poking his tongue out at some of the tropes of fantasy. And strictly speaking, there isn't any fantasy in these books, apart from the fact that they're set in a universe other than ours. There's no magic! Forget it. If a bunch of guys and girls who have adventures and use their brains isn't good enough for you, perhaps better to go and find a real fantasy series. The rest of us will continue to read and laugh and cheer for our favourite characters.

More anon, when I've read the prequel.

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33. Currently Reading... The Queen's Agent by John Cooper

I've had this since Wednesday and am about 100 pages in already. I picked it up when in Dymock's in the city, shopping for a gift voucher for the only one of my Book Club students to have attended meetings regularly since Year 7, now graduating from our campus as a big Year 10 girl. 

Book shops are a danger zone for me. I almost always leave with a carry bag with a new reading treat in it. And wonder where I'm going to put the thing. I do donate all my review books to the school library and have recently offered some of my adult does fix books to Continuum for raffles and trivia nights, but it's not enough. 

Still. I ended up buying this book and having a cold drink and a croissant at Ganache, a chocolate shop/cafe opposite the bookshop, reading eagerly. The lady at the counter at Dymock's said, "Ooh, you're going to have a nice surprise! It's only $8.95!" That was a nice surprise - the sticker said nearly three times more!

Enjoying so far. I have read quite a lot of stuff about this era, usually from the viewpoint of Gloriana herself(including a couple of YA novels/docudramas by Jane Caro), but not usually from the viewpoint of those who served her. This is a bio of Francis Walsingham, best known as her spymaster. He was that indeed, and very good at his job, but he had a lot of other responsibilities, which kept him up from first thing in the morning(in bed, yet!) till late at night. He got sick from it all.

There's no doubt that Elizabeth was a great monarch and had an amazing life and things must have been very hard for her as a woman ruler - a king could have married an overseas princess or even, sometimes, a subject, as her father had, but that wasn't an option for her. Marry a foreigner and your people automatically assume he's going to take over(and may well be right about that) and most of the foreign princes were Catholics anyway. Marry a subject and the mutterings will be that he isn't good enough for you. And chances are that he will also try to take over. The only man she would have thought she could trust was Robert Dudley and after what happened to his wife, they just couldn't marry. There would always have been mutterings that he'd killed her to marry Elizabeth. (IMO, if he had done that, he would have been a fool and from what we know of him, Dudley was no fool.)

So, yes, she had a hard time of it and handled it well.

But it must had been really hard to be workíng for her! As a lady in waiting you would likely be screamed at and cuffed when Her Majesty was angry about something that had nothing to do with you. And if you were one of the loyal men in her service - and she did manage to choose some very loyal servants - you'd work and work till you dropped on something she had required of you and she might change her mind. And Elizabeth did, quite a lot, and she wasn't always right.

So, I'm reading the bit where she was considering marrying the Duke of Alencon, and the headaches this gave WLsingham..Fascinsting reading!

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34. My Fantasy Homes in Tolkien

In yesterday's newspaper, in the real estate section of all things, I found an article about a company offering a pre-fab Hobbit hole. Basically, you put together the home and then add your own grass and such to get that Hobbit hole feel to it. While someone has certainly come up with a great way to make money out of the current craze for all things Tolkien, I couldn't resist fantasising about it. There's no doubt in my mind that Peter Jackson's interpretation of Bag End was the best interior in the movies - and I think I've wanted to live in Bag End since I first read The Hobbit. Well, if you could put it somewhere near the sea, anyway, though that would probably jar a bit; Hobbits are not great fans of the sea and they're really meant to be seen against the background of English countryside.

But then again, the pre-fabricated Hobbit hole would jar in the suburbs of Melbourne and would look downright silly in the Dandenongs, surrounded by gum trees, and that won't stop fans from building them. And I can imagine that seaside Hobbit residence as being a bit like the cottage in The Ghost And Mrs Muir, minus the grumpy ghost, of course, with sand outside, a cosy garden and a view of the waves...

Rivendell is my next favourite Tolkien location. I could live there as long as I was allowed to run the library, and it would be a great place to write that book without distractions(well, Bilbo certainly thought so). I assume everyone would have kitchen duty and housework to attend to(see my post on this blog, "Who Washes The Dishes In Rivendell?"), but you wouldn't have to do that all the time. The rest of the time you could write or go for long walks or read or talk to your housemates...

We never actually get to see Dol Amroth, the home of Prince Imrahil and Faramir and Boromir's Mum, Finduilas, but it's by the sea and you don't have Elves constantly turning up to sail West, so yes, I could build a house there. Maybe that beachside Hobbit hole? 

Anyone got a favourite fantasy home, in or outside of Tolkien?

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35. My First School Visit

Well, not really my first. I've done some back in the days when my four campus school had a small budget for a writer's festival each year. There were the paid guests and it was supplemented by the two teacher writers who worked in the school, myself and Chris Wheat. But it was just at a different campus of the same school. I have also done a couple of visits with Ford Street and on one of those occasions I was even paid, though not a full scale payment. Once I did a workshop, the other time I just signed. But it was the first where I acted as a regular guest speaker.

Below is a letter to the enthusiastic young teacher who organised it.

Dear enthusiastic young teacher,

As a teacher, you rock! You care about your students as much as I do about mine. You give them your time for a lot of amazing stuff, such as writing groups and dance clubs and, as part of your teaching of multi media, you arrange an annual film festival. Wow! Top marks for all that.

And - every year, you somehow manage to find kind hearted writers, mostly "emerging" writers who  don't yet have the nerve to ask to be paid but want the practice, and do a writers' festival, just like the rich schools, even if you will never be able to afford John Marsden or whoever. I'm not an emerging writer, having ten books, some articles and short stories under my belt, but I work down the road from you and I want to encourage communication between us and one of our feeder schools. So, fine. I'm happy to do a freebie. Delighted to talk to your kids, all of them. 

But that isn't all you want, is it? You also want a writers' workshop, something you forgot to tell me when you invited me to your event. "Well... Okay," I said, thinking it was going to be a few kids around a table, and planning some round robin stories.

But no. Turns out you wanted us to do a workshop for eighty kids! "But the teachers will be there!" you protested. "They will help you! Honestly, this worked fine last year." Yes, no doubt. And you got it all for free. And I wonder if you told your guests right at the start then? Well, there are ways of doing round robin stories for eighty, as long as you have tables for them to sit at in groups...

Er, no. They were going to sit on the floor...

At that point, about a week before the event, I knew that I could forget stories of any kind. It was going to be poetry. Acrostic poetry. Done in pairs or groups. 

I asked for A3 paper for the kids and a whiteboard and markers for me. The idea was that I'd scribble some brainstorms and write a poem on the board before asking them to do their own, then stick some of their work up on it. Well, the board was there all right. A bit smaller than I'd had in mind - a lot smaller - but I made use of it anyway. I had to rub stuff off, but I got it done. 

The kids were delightful and enthusiastic, the teachers helpful, and when they had written their acrostics, I invited them out to read. There were still several groups wanting to share their masterpieces, but just no time, so I stopped that part of the session and invited questions, with copies of one of my books as prizes for the best. The book was Crime Time: Australians Behaving Badly, so I told them some of the more amusing stories from the book, such as the Valentine's Day robbery in the Dandenongs which ended with the two klutzy robbers fleeing, with one of them wounded in her backside and nothing to show for it but a bag of stale bread rolls. They LOVED that! It ended well. Very well!

The kids had a great time and two members of  Enthusiastic Young Teacher's writing group were delegated to thank me politely for my time. Afterwards, EYT, you took me to the gate, thanking me effusively and saying that if you could ever return the favour...

Now, I don't want to have a go at you for the freebie thing; I've benefited from a few freebies myself over the years. A couple of times we've had a writer who was paid, just not by us. Other times, someone kind has contacted me and offered their time and how could I resist?

However, if you really want to return the favour, pay attention as I make a few suggestions for next year. It's what I do. It works. I'm not having a go at you, just making some suggestions based on what has worked for me. Like you, I don't have a budget for author visits. And I tell my guests honestly, beforehand, that very few of my students will have the money to buy copies of their books, though they're welcome to bring some.

If you're going to ask someone to donate their time to your school, at least ask them what they want to do, okay? How many kids they are happy to talk to? I always do. They're usually happy to talk to entire year levels, but I ask, not tell.
If you must have it your way, if they must do workshops on top of the talk, at the very least let them know immediately, at the time of request, what you want of them. Don't tell them,"Oh, didn't I say? But it was okay last year!" You managed to get two new speakers in the last minute this time, so I'm sure that if someone only has time for one or the other, you'll be able to ensure students don't miss out. 
"Thank you," is nice, but not enough. How about feeding your guest speakers? Lunch would be the least you can do for people who have missed a morning's work for you. All we got this time was a cup of tea from the staff room urn. I always arrange lunch for my guests, whether they're paid or not. As it happens, I would have said no, thanks, as I had plans to meet a friend for lunch, but I would have liked to be asked. It doesn't have to be fancy. I order some fresh rolls from the school canteen and get a few cakes from the bakery down the road. I admit I pay from my own pocket, as it's simpler for me, but surely the school that's getting a free author visit can spare a few dollars for a canteen lunch? 
And I always call  the local papers to tell them about the event. True, they don't always come, but you can try. That is good promo both for your school and the author.
I gave the kids some books from my own stash as prizes this time, which was okay, my decision, but when I have a guest, I buy some from them, as they usually have some copies they bought at author price. True, that probably does have to come from your own pocket, but is it too much to ask? In your case, you probably won't need to do it often; this year, I was the only guest who had any books that would suit the school - one was a journalist, one had written a baby book and one was a student who hadn't had anything published except perhaps at university. But still.
Lastly, how about a small gift handed over by those students who are thanking the guest? A box of supermarket chocolates. A bunch of flowers. Heck, a key ring or water bottle with the school logo! I'm betting you have some of those stashed away in the office.

You might consider offering book launches. That's a good way to get a freebie, and call the press in for that. Sometimes publishers will give you bookmarks, posters, even copies of the book to give the kids or put in the library.

Just some suggestions for next time.


PS How about next time inviting the library technician who runs your library to be involved? You had this one on the day she doesn't work. As a paraprofessional she does know about children and books and reading, even if she isn't a teacher. I'm sure she would be delighted to help. 

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36. On Looking At My Own Books Years Later...

UYesterday I was doing a school visit. It was a freebie to the primary school down the road from mine, a favour as we are always bring urged to communicate with our feeder schools. I could say a few things about the enthusiastic young teacher who organised it as part of her annual "writers festival" in which she invites "emerging writers"(I'm not, but I do work nearby...) to speak for free and then gets them to run writers workshops for entire year Levels - mine was 3 and 4 - without so much as offering them lunch or a small thank you gift, even a bunch of flowers or a box of chocolates, but that's for another day and not really the subject of this post. 

Anyway... I rummaged among my books, thinking to take a few with me in case the chance came to show them off, and what should I find but two copies of my chapter book The Sea's Secret, originally published here by Pearson. The second copy was the U.S. edition, published by Sundance, with the same cover and internal art, but there the similarities stopped. 

**Looking for an image of the cover online, I found this!

I never knew! I must have received royalties for it among all those"copies sold overseas" on my statements, but this is the first I've seen of it. It must be legitimate as it was being sold through Amazon.**

So, they never sent me a copy of the Korean edition, but they did send me the U.S. one and oh, my, the differences! In Australia they changed my siblings from Hanna, Ariel and Nehama to Hannah, Adam and Nehama(the most unusual name was the one left) and One or two minor characters had name changes, eg My teacher Mr Pearl became Mr Goldman because, well, there was a pearl in an oyster at the start of each chapter. But that was about all. Barring a sentence here and there, it was the story I wrote.

The U.S. edition was another matter. Here, to start with, the siblings became Hanna, Adam and Nicole(Nehama too difficult? Or maybe not right for the African American children my three vaguely Jewish  siblings had been turned into? I have no idea). A character called Soula, the sister of my young, vaguely Greek artist, became Nina. Mr Goldman was Mr Patmore(why?). There was an entirely new character, a Principal called Mr Taylor, to replace(female)Principal Cartwright. Not just a change of name, but an addition. The dialogue and even the ending had been extensively rewritten till I recognised the basic storyline but not much more.

Education publishers can do this without bothering to tell you, though at least there are usually good royalties after a while, because the U.S. market is huge. (My royalties for this title were small, as chapter books have a much smaller run and shorter  shelf life than non fiction).

From what I hear, education publishers here no longer give royalties at all. Hopefully the flat fee is good, anyway, but I can imagine what they do to the books now under their full control.

This morning, by accident, I found this book.

Yes! It's the Chinese edition of this book.

It was published some years ago by Allen and Unwin and I'd forgotten about the Chinese edition. There was a North American edition, retitled This Book Is Bugged, the cover almost as good, though, as my editor said, "I'll miss that cat!"

That one is now only available as Print On Demand, but you can still get it. And kids love it. I never got any royalties on it, though, because 4000 of the run of 6000 copies sold through Scholastic's Book Club and that pays less than an education title, which gives you a percentage of the net. 

Sigh! Is it any wonder I still have a full time day job? 

If you want to make me happy, how about ordering a copy of Cat or Bugged for the youngster in your life? :-)

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37. More Nepotistic posting!

Received an email yesterday from my brother

If you're in Melbourne tonight, I promise this will be worth attending! A great way to spend Saturday night and these guys can sing. That's my brother with the beard(he's had one for years, if he shaved it he'd look about sixteen)

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Greetings friends,

Just a quickly dashed off dispatch to remind all that our CD Launch is tomorrow night. We're going all out with lights, decorations, edible goodies, and of course some sweet tunes.

This will be the last performance for Peggy, so it's going to be bitter sweet.

It's 8PM in the Arbour Room, at Box Hill Community Arts centre.

There will be tickets at the door. $20 adults, $15 concession, and the CD will be for sale.

Kids under 15 free.

Peggy, Belinda, Adam & Maurice.


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38. Library Memories

Today a friend emailed me a link to a post by last month's Inside A Dog Writer In Residence, David Burton. It was a love letter to the local library of his childhood. And very sweet it was, too.

That made me think of my own childhood library experiences. 

When I was four or five we lived in West Melbourne. Nowadays the street we lived in has no houses in it at all, though I'm told the area in general has become gentrified. Well, it would, wouldn't it? It's on the very edge of the CBD. People with money like that sort of place.

But at the time, we lived in a rented worker's cottage which had a view of the railway lines at the end of the street and next door there was an orchard of nectarine trees, also long gone. It belonged to my Dad's boss.

At that time, the State Library had a lending section - you could actually borrow books from it, including children's books. I have a faint memory of holding Beatrix Potter books in my hands. Our local swimming pool was the City Baths(still there), near the library. I read somewhere that Redmond Barry, who started up the State Library, did it because he wanted people to be able to borrow books and that until it was up and running he let them come to his place to borrow. Nice man, unless you're Ned Kelly, anyway.

We moved to St Kilda when I was halfway through Year 1, but if there was a local library I never heard of it. I borrowed all my books from the school library. St Kilda Park Primary was a very old school, so it was built of cool stone and the library had a lovely arched ceiling, almost a dome. It was always pleasantly cool. I remember some of the books I borrowed, such as Good Luck To The Rider by Joan Phipson. That was a part of my enthusiasm for horse books, along with the mysteries of Enid Blyton. This one was Australian and featured a girl who was raising an ugly colt. Her brother had joked it was a real Rosinante. Not knowing where the name came from, she liked it and that became her horse's name. She got ribbed about it a lot, but the horse's abilities outdid his appearance. 

So, that was the sort of book I was borrowing from my school library. I actually owned quite a few, because my mother, who was just learning English, wanted her children to have a chance to be good at the language, so bought us whichever books we fancied, knowing we'd read them. My sister was also a passionate reader(still is)and because she was older than me, was borrowing library books I would never have discovered myself and I was reading them too.

But you can't own every book in the world and libraries were important to me.

At the end of primary school, I spent a year at Elwood Central, a school which went from Prep to Year 8. It's still there, though it's now only a primary school, since all the secondary kids moved to the secondary school down the road at the end of my first year there.

The library is still there. I remember it as being as cool and high-ceilinged as my primary school library. Best if all, there was a small, quiet area outside it, with benches in the shade of a big tree.

Two books I remember from that time were both by Donald Suddaby, Lost Men In The Grass and Prisoners Of Saturn. In the first, a bunch of men are shrunk to the size where they can ride ants and be in serious danger of being eaten by predatory insects. In the second, the heroes go to Saturn, which has a sentent race of brings who adapt the surface for their benefit, making an oxygen atmosphere and edible food, and lecture them about the way they're running their world...

I'm pretty sure they were written for children, but the (all male) characters were adults. For the record, one of the things the Saturnians advise is to let women take over on Earth. 

When I went to Elwood high school, there was a library, but it was just a classroom with books in it. I did borrow some fiction from it - some H.G Wells, as I recall - but I ended up back at the State Library. You could no longer borrow, but there were a lot more books than at school, and they weren't all novels. When you had to do research, my school library just didn't cut it.

I loved sitting at those ancient desks in the Reading Room, under the dome, with lamps on each one. 

That was many years ago, of course; the Reading Room is now as it was meant to be, with a flood of light coming from the skylights in the dome. It's absolutely beautiful, but...the ambience is no longer there. Ah, well.

                                              Latrobe Reading Room.
                                             Image taken from Wikipedia 

Thank goodness I now have the modern, very good St Kilda Library to borrow from, though there isn't anywhere much to curl up with a book. There are desks to work at. There is free wifi. There are computers for those who don't have their own. If I was a child I would go to story time. 

But nowhere to just sit and read comfortably. 

Can't have everything.

So, who has library memories to share? 

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39. Just Finished Reading... Crash by Sean Williams. Published by Allen and Unwin.

I'm now two thirds of the way through Sean Williams' non-stop action-packed SF trilogy Twinmaker - I finished the second book, Crash, this morning. 

The first Twinmaker book, Jump, introduced us to a world where anyone can hop around the world any time they like through a teleport device called d-mat and the d-mat in its turn makes it possible to create anything from food to building materials using the fabber(presumably short for fabricator). This has freed up most people from work and hunger, though of course there are still some people working, such as teachers and "peacekeepers" (sort of a cross between the army and the police force), but you can live in Sweden and go to school in California if you like. There are also some spoilsports such as the Abstainers who don't trust anything that can take you apart and keep a pattern of you - and who know that accidents do happen, whatever others say. It has happened to them or those they love. 

In Jump, ordinary teenager Clair somehow got caught up in something known as Improvement, which she suspected had done terrible things to her best friend. Quiet, shy Clair somehow ended up running for her life and desperately trying to save her family and friends and, by the way, the world. At the end of the last book, Clair blew up a space station she thought was the problem, and escaped only because of the help of her friend the AI known as Q. But Q leaves her...

Crash brings more of the same, as things get worse and worse after the turn-off of the d-mat system, which was necessary since it was producing more and more "dupes", something that can be done once your pattern is stored in the d-mat system. These dupes aren't actually the people whose bodies they ride, just the bodies with someone else inside. They don't last long anyway, but can be produced again. 

But there are dupes appearing anyway. Some of them look like people you love. They just aren't. Who can you trust? 

Again, Clair makes mistakes while trying to save the world. 

It's amazing how much character development the author manages to fit in while his characters are running around a scary world, trying to survive, and there's no individual villain at this stage. 

As in the first book, this one ends with a Twinmaker short story seen from the viewpoint of Clair's friend Tash, who was stuck in the middle of a climb in South America when d-mat went down. It's interesting, actually, to see who Clair's "besties" are. In most YA fiction the heroine's friends are not especially interesting in their own right, because otherwise how can you focus on the protagonist? But Clair's friends are very interesting. Tash is brave and intelligent and Ronnie is the computer geek who is able to help Clair with a truly thorny problem early in the book, via the Air(the developed form of the Internet that everyone accesses through special contact lenses). You don't find out much about them early in the series because Clair is on the run only a few chapters in, but as the novels go on, they too develop. Strange to think the whole series so far takes place only over a week...

If you're keen on this universe, there's a short Twinmaker story in Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine #61. It doesn't feature any of the characters from the books, but it does explain some things. 

Now on to Book 3! 

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40. Friday the 13th - boo!

There's actually a name for it: paraskevidekatriaphobia.

It means, in Greek, "Fear of Friday the 13th."

I had heard that it was because Judas was the 13th disciple(or that there were thirteen men crowded into that room for the Last Supper) and this is true as far as it goes, and there was certainly a fear of the number itself,  but according to the Wikipedia entry on this subject, this whole Friday the 13th thing didn't really take off till the nineteenth century.

Public Domain

Not that there aren't unlucky days connected with the number 13 - in Spain and Greece it's Tuesday the 13th that's bad luck..

But it just isn't as ancient and traditional as we all believed. So, if you have paraskevidekatriaphobia, it isn't an ancient condition. I do love the name, though. Try saying it twice, fast...

For my own people, 13 is a good number. It's the age when a boy becomes an adult, responsible member of the community.

I see that in 1907, there was a novel published, Friday The 13th, by Thomas W Lawson, in which a character arranges a Wall Street Crash on that day.

Dan Brown also mentions the date in The Da Vinci Code, a novel I didn't much care for. It was the date when the Knights Templar were wiped out. A nice connection, really, because they ran banks in their time. (When the Jews did it, it was called usury, when the Knights Templar did it, it was called banking!)

But there is no real connection between this and the superstition.

Anyway, have a great Friday the 13th, however you spend it!

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41. Heady Lamarr - A Belated Happy Birthday!

Public domain photo

Yesterday's Google Doodle was in honour of the 101st birthday of Hollywood star Hedwig Kiesler, aka Hedy Lamarr.

I made good use of her story. She appears in two of my children's books, once in Potions To Pulsars : Women Doing Science(long out of print, alas! I wish I could update it and get it republished but Ford Street, my hoped-for market, never got its money back on the only non fiction book it ever published, my own  Crime Time, not because it was no good but because of stuff-ups in distribution) and once in It's True! Your Cat Could Be A Spy. (Still available in POD if you want to read this whole story)

As a young woman, she was married off to an arms dealer who wanted her as a trophy wife and took her to his meetings with Nazi clients. He had underestimated her intelligence and so she was able to listen in carefully and take the information with her when she left him and fled to the U.S.

There, she became a star. One night at a party she was chatting with a composer, George Antheil, about those player pianos and the rolls they put in them.

And suddenly, the two of them came up with a wonderful invention called frequency hopping, based on the player pianos. It could be used to pass information safely between American submarines.

She offered the invention to the government, which didn't bother using it till after the patent ran out some years later and told her that if she really wanted to help, she could raise money selling kisses. This she did, at $20,000 a kiss. There's a delightful cartoon of this in Your Cat Could Be A Spy, drawn by my fabulous illustrator Mitch Vane.

If you're still not sure where this is leading, take a good look at your smartphone. You owe it to a beautiful Hollywood star and a composer. Yes, really! Look it up.

In the 1990s she was given a special award for services to science. "Hmmph!" she snorted. "About tine." Her son went to collect it on her behalf, as she was getting on in years by then. I believe that in 2014 she was inducted into the Inventors' Hall Of Fame.

Hmmph! About time.

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42. Just Started Reading... Around The World In Eighty Days

With a new edition of Michael Strogoff, a lesser-known Verne novel, about to land in my letterbox, I thought it might be fun to reread one of the better-known ones. So far, enjoying the reread - I had forgotten the humour.

 Phileas Fogg is so, so very OCD in his lifestyle! He has just sacked his previous valet for making the shaving water two degrees less than it should be. He has a very precise way of life - so many steps to his club, where he spends every day, a precise time to leave home, a precise time to return and go to bed. The new servant, Passepartout, is absolutely thrilled at the thought that his new job will have absolutely no adventure in it, no running around(he sacked his previous master for too much running around and getting drunk)when his new employer comes home and tells him to pack, because they're off on a world tour - the same day he started work! Poor Passepartout!

And there's the detective, Fix, chasing them for a bank robbery...

The novel is a hoot! It's not science fiction, but it does consider the new technology that's making it possible to travel around the world in record time. Really, while not being SF, it does tell you that the author is a science fiction writer. He's interested in everything new and different.

And he was clearly having fun!

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43. Just Finished Reading... The Garden Of Empress Cassia by Gabrielle Wang

The other night, I was at the Nova Mob meeting, where Ford Street Publishing was invited to speak to the members - I go anyway, but it was nice to see people I've met through Ford Street and SCBWI and other such groups, and I was on the Q and A panel. 

Gabrielle Wang, a Melbourne writer whom I know through SCBWI, was there. She has been kind enough to do an interview on this site with some of my lovely students, so I know her through that as well. 
Actually, she did it twice. That time, a student did a graphic novel page inspired by a scene from the book and Gabrielle posted it on her web page. If you want to keep these two interviews, you'll find a link on the side of this page to my ebook The Great Raven Author Interviews. Not very professionally done, but free! Go get it now! 

Like the other guests Gabrielle had brought some of her books to sell. At the end of the evening, having signed some copies of Rich And Rare, she sighed,"Oh, well, I guess I'll have to take my books home."

But there were three of her books on the table I hadn't read and thought it about time I did, so I bought those. There was this one, The Wishbird(she was working on that at the time of her second interview) and The Hidden Monastery. I'm looking forward to the other two.

I believe Empress Cassia was her first book. It's short, simple and very sweet. The heroine, twelve year old Mimi Lu, is an Australian Chinese girl who is good at art and lives with her herbalist father and gentle Buddhist mother in a home above their traditional medicine shop. Like a lot of migrant children, she is embarrassed about taking a migrant-style lunch to school every day. (In my case it was European style; I remember my classmate who was horrified to be offered some of my mother's wonderful poppyseed cake, because, you know, there are drugs made with poppy seeds!) 

One day her art teacher gives her a box of magical pastels with the warning that she is never to let anyone else use them. In the wrong hands they can be a curse.

For Mimi they are a blessing. She draws a wonderful garden, the garden of Empress Cassia, a Chinese Ruler who saved her people thousands of years ago without anyone being hurt, even the invaders. She  created this garden as a refuge and sanctuary and Mimi's footpath picture draws in those people who are hurt and need healing. When they return, they don't remember the trip, but are healed mentally. 

Of course, as you'd expect, someone else does get hold of the pastels, though not through Mimi's fault...

The book is very short, no more than about 20,000 words, if that, and illustrated with Gabrielle's lovely art. The language is not too difficult for younger readers.

It has the gentle style of her other books. I do love the gentleness of this author's writing style. The first book of hers I read was The Pearl Of Tiger Bay, which was set in a small coastal town inspired by Victorian coastal town Lorne. The Pearl of the title was an old mansion formerly a grand hotel, host to movie stars and royalty, which is about to be torn down by developers. As in this one, there was a touch of fantasy, but not so much as to overwhelm the book. And I suddenly realised, when I went on to read A Ghost In My Suitcase, that it was a prequel to Pearl, with a ghost busting Chinese grandmother who appears in both books, once in China and once in Australia. 

Anyway, if you feel the need for a soothing, gentle read, this lovely children's book is for you. 

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44. Rich And Rare - The Launch!

Friday is not a night I usually go anywhere, it's family night, but my family understood that this was a special event that I shouldn't miss, so after work I trundled along to Ford Street Publishing's HQ in Abbotsford for the launch of Rich And Rare, its latest anthology, in which I have my bushranger story. 

I'd hoped to find time to have a proper meal in the city before going to Abbotsford, but I ended up leaving work late due to various things that needed finishing, so had a hasty takeaway at a small food shop  in Sunshine - at least it wasn't a franchise fast food joint and the chips were hand cut and the roll was fresh. 

Once in town I quickly caught the South Morang train to Collingwood station, which is not far from the old-style building Ford Street is now using for these events. At the station, I met a friend from the Nova Mob, the SF group I attend once a month, and we walked together.

In fact, I think about half the Nova Mob was there that night! This is the nice thing about being in SF fandom - it gives you a network. And I think, whatever Paul Collins says, he is a part of fandom, and he knows plenty of fans. 

The attendees filled the small place very quickly and chatted, sipped wine and juice, nibbled the finger foods and waited for the launch to begin. For a while I thought there might be more book signers than audience to get their books signed, but really, there were plenty of people and good sales. It hit me, suddenly, that there was only one actual child - the intended audience - in the room - and, alas, she got Hazel Edwards, who was next to me, to sign, but not me. Oh, well. I did sign for plenty of people's children and persuaded one mother to buy a copy of Crime Time for her two sons. ;-)

Well, Paul did hold a schools competition as he did last time, but got no entries this time. He then asked the State Library, but was told he had to book months ahead. Pity, because I can't think of much happening  at the CYL for the rest of this year, and a lot of librarians would have come with great pleasure. 

The book was launched by the delightful Isobelle Carmody, who drew attention to me by asking how to pronounce my name while making comments about every story in the book. That was nice, though I was approached later by a Ukrainian lady who thought I might actually be able to speak Polish. Sorry! The only Polish thing about me is my name. 

It was quite a gathering. If you'd thrown a bomb into it, you would have wiped out half the children's writers in the state and some from outside it. 

My friend George Ivanoff had kindly agreed to take me home, as long as I didn't mind waiting a while after the launch - he likes to socialise and there's a pool table he enjoys using - but when I sat down to wait and turned on my iPad, I found I had been tweeted with a message from my nephew David, who said his parents had been out looking for me! Apparently they had forgotten my plans for the evening. I looked at my phone, which I'd left in the other room with my bag and found five messages and eleven missed calls. I tried to phone but the venue has poor reception. I had to get going ASAP and call on my way. Fortunately, another friend from the Nova Mob had offered me a lift and I grabbed the opportunity. I rang my sister, who was apologetic and said she had only remembered when they were in the car. So that was okay. I got home only a short time after my sister and brother-in-law left and spent the night with Mum as I usually do. 

A nice evening in all, except the brief panic!

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45. What I'm Reading Now...

Plenty, actually, but these few will do for now.

Crash, the second Twinmaker novel by Sean Williams. I've been sent that for reviewing, along with the third one, Fall. Goodness, it's non-stop action! Though, unlike some other thriller-type books, characters do occasionally stop to eat and sleep and wash up. And when they haven't had a chance to do that, it shows. 

Right now, the heroine, Clair, is running from a bunch of murderous "dupes" who all look like her love interest's decent father, who was killed early on in the first book. Somehow she seems to have recovered from a blackout without the nausea and pain that usually implies. I sometimes think that knocking characters out is many authors' way of moving from one scene to the next without having to go into detail about what happened. Still. A very exciting adventure. 

I downloaded two Ray Bradbury books the other day. One is Nine Rareties, a collection of some of his early short stories. The other is Zen In The Art Of Writing, a book about his writing, which I've just started. For some reason, that's currently free, so if you are interested now is the time to get it from the iBooks store. 

There are also a couple of Project Gutenberg books which I found after reading a blog post that mentioned them. One is a slang dictionary from the 19th century which should come in handy if I ever write something set in that era. The other is a slang dictionary original edited back in 1528 by Martin Luther! It was translated in the Victorian era, so there it is, in Gutenberg! 

There's more, but my train station is coming up, so I will finish this and post it to the world.

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46. October 31, Not A Halloween Post - Happy Birthday, Dezzy!

I'm not going to go into Halloween here, as I did a post on it this time last year. In the Northern hemisphere it's the start of winter. There are many names for it, all over the British Isles, but the celebrations and customs are similar.

But today - here in the Southern Hemisphere - it's mid spring and it's the birthday of my nephew's daughter and informal personal publicist Dezzy, who constantly promotes my writing at her Sydney school, helps in the library and is turning into a writer herself. Right now, it's online fan fiction, but who knows where this will go? At her age, I was writing plays no one would ever perform and dreadful historical fiction. 

So, in Dezzy's honour here is my birthday meme. Happy birthday, Dezzy!


475 - Romulus Augustulus is proclaimed Western Roman Emperor. Included here because he was the last Western Roman Emperor(they were around for hundreds of years more over in Byzantium, where they were Eastern Roman Emperors). I also include him because he was a kid. His Dad put him there. There's a short story I read somewhere with him in it, but I can't remember who wrote it or what it was called. I read a lot!

1517 - Martin Luther posts his 95 Theses on the door of that church in Wittenberg and the Protestant Reformation begins. Not in itself about books or writing, but it was too important to leave out. European politics was never the same again and besides, think of all the historians and novelists who have benefited from the explosion!

1587  - Leiden University Library opens its doors. Hey, it's a library! And I believe it's still around, at least there are still libraries there.

Leiden University Library, 1610, public domain

2011 - The world's population reaches seven billion. Oh, dear... It's now known as Seven Billion Day.

There's more, but let's go on to the birthdays.

Famous Birthdays

1451 - Christopher Columbus. 'Nuff said. 

1620 - John Evelyn, he of the famous Diaries, from which we learn stuff about his era, though not as famous as his contemporary, Samuel Pepys. But he wrote plenty of books, was really good at gardening(especially trees)and he could draw too. I haven't checked him out on Gutenberg, but will. He had a daughter who also wrote at least one book, under a pen name. 

1795 - John Keats, that amazing poet who died way too early. But one of his poems was about autumn. It begins "Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness ..."

John Keats, public domain 

1876 - Natalie Clifford Barney, a rather scandalous American poet who lived most of her life in Paris, where she had an amazing salon, with famous guests from all over. She gets a mention in Kerry Greenwood's Murder In Montparnasse, as the young Phryne Fisher spends some post-Great War time in Paris, making a living as an artist's model. She has to pose in Grecian costume while Natalie Barney recites, in hopes of getting a meal afterwards and some payment.

1912 - Ollie Johnstone, one of Disney's top animators, who animated some of Disney's most famous characters. He wrote a book about it, I believe.

1930 - Michael Collins, my favourite astronaut of the Apollo 11 crew, and maybe my favourite astronaut of all time. See, he not only had a lot of amazing adventures in space and kept the mothership waiting and safe while the other two jumped around on the moon, he also wrote about it - and he did write about it, he said it wasn't ghost written - in some of the most delightful books about the history of the space program I've ever read. I used them as research material for my own children's history of the space program. He said recently, when asked, that, no, he wouldn't go back to the moon, been there done that, but he'd sign up for a Mars voyage like a shot. Happy birthday, Michael!  

1932 - Katherine Paterson, author of A Bridge To Terabithia, which I confess I haven't read, but should get around to, as a children's librarian! 

1959 - Neal Stephenson, award-winning author of a lot of thick-as-a-brick speculative fiction novels, often compared to those of William Gibson. I must admit, I find his work a bit difficult for me to follow, but that's just personal taste. I will try again some time. You never know, it took me three tries to get into Lord Of The Rings and now I adore it. Anyway, happy birthday, Neal! 

And speaking of Lord Of The Rings...

1961 - Peter Jackson, who has given us all such joy with his big screen interpretations of Tolkien's works. Happy birthday, Peter! 

I'd just like to add, as my token tribute to Halloween, that I'm reading and enjoying Lexa Cain's horror-themed YA novel The Soul Cutter, which I won in ebook at her web site. 

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47. ASIM Needs YOU - To Read Slush

I posted about ASIM's need for slush readers in August last year. I believe we got some, but the need goes ever on. Especially since the Hugo shortlisting.

See, whenever we are noticed, for whatever reason, we get more submissions. What we really need are more subscriptions. Even if you do intend to submit, actually reading your market seems like a good idea, right? Well, it does to me.

But when we were shortlisted, even though we were being sneered at by the likes of George R.R Martin(who said on his blog, "Andromeda Spaceways are loudly declaring they didn't know..." I put him right on that, politely, in my comment, FWIW),   it got us more submissions, not more subscriptions. And we really need more readers to handle them, maybe even those who are thinking of submitting. Once you've read some of what is coming in, you may see your own stories in a completely new light. You'll be asking yourself, "What would I want to read if I was paying out my hard earned cash for a magazine? Is what I've been submitting what I would simply love if I was paying to read it?" Or maybe, "Hey, I can do better than this!"

I receive around five or six at a time and try to get through  them all, but we're happy if you just want to take one story a week. My sister does. If you're really keen you can ask for an unlimited number.

We can't pay. The only people who get paid in this business are the contributors - writers and artists - but you'll learn a lot and have something to put on your resume while you wait for a paying gig. And you'll earn the eternal gratitude of our lovely slush wrangler Lucy Zinkiewicz, a university academic who puts around ten hours a week into this task.

I should add that you'll have a break soonish. We have two more issues to get out this year,  then we're having a short break from slushing as we do most years at Christmas/New Year.

Meanwhile, there's a lot of stories to get through. You don't have to be a professional slush reader. You don't have to be a writer, even, just a reader who loves speculative fiction.

How about it, O my readers? Do you have what it takes? If you think you do, email Lucy at asimsubmissions@gmail.com.

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48. Left On My Doormat!

Look what I got! 

It was left for me on my doormat by a wonderful postie who knew I wouldn't want to wait a week and go to the PO on Saturday morning (I live upstairs opposite a nice neighbour, so quite safe). Well, if he/she didn't know, it was still considerate. 

Christmas Press have done some great stuff since they started; this time last year it was the anthology Once Upon A Christmas, in which I had a story. This year it's a lavish hardcover book with cute dragons in it. Gorgeous, isn't it? 

I will read and report. 

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49. Some More Goodies On My Cyber Bookshelf!

I've just acquired two Tansy Rayner Roberts titles which are currently free. One is her first book, Splashdance Silver, published yonks ago by HarperCollins, as part of the prize in the George Turner Award and long out if print, but now self published in ebook. It's the first of a trilogy, the most recent only published recently. Another is crime novel A Trifle Dead, published under the name Livia Day.

And for $1.99 I bought Tansy's Pratchett's Women: Unauthorised Essays On The Female Characters Of Discworld. I read it all this morning and afternoon, finishing about an hour ago. I found it very chatty and readable, though I didn't agree with all her thoughts on Terry Pratchett's female characters - but we all have our own feelings about those novels and the characters in them. Oddly, though she does mention the Tiffany Aching novels, they don't get any coverage of their own. A pity, because Tiffany is a character who develops and grows as a character as much as growing up in age and you can never complain, as Tansy R does about Susan Sto Helit, that she isn't the protagonist of her own novels!

The date of publication isn't mentioned, but it was written before Terry Pratchett's death, mentioning her hopes that some characters will return.

I have read some of this author's fiction, and it's good, but I actually prefer her non fiction, such as the posts on her blog, the ones that get on all those award short lists for good reason. So this book was like reading a set of her blog posts. It worked for me!

That was today. Yesterday and the day before I was in the mood for Ray Bradbury and Jules Verne. So I downloaded Something Wicked This Way Comes and Dandelion Wine, both of which have some autobiographical elements and remind you in case you've forgotten, what a poet he was.

And then I got the ebooks of Verne's Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Sea and Around The World In Eighty Days. I'm waiting for Sophie Masson to send me the copy of Michael Strogoff  which I ordered in her crowd funding thingie earlier this year - interestingly, it gets a mention in the intro to Twenty Thousand Leagues...

And today, I broke my own rule and bought a print book, while waiting for the tram on my way home. The stop is outside the Avenue Bookshop. I couldn't resist - it was a book of letters of Ian Fleming, The Man With The Golden Typewriter: Ian Fleming's James Bond Letters. It's edited by Fergus Fleming, who, as a very short note at the end tells you, is Ian's nephew. He's a non fiction writer and a publisher at the same press run by his uncle(but this book is published by Bloomsbury). I love learning new things, especially about writers; it's why I have way too many bios of Tolkien and C.S Lewis. Apparently, Fleming celebrated the sale of his first book with a gold-plated typewriter!

The introduction to the chapter about Casino Royale tells you that he started writing it because he had nothing else to do, having finished all the stuff he had to do for his day job and hating to be idle. and it says he wrote two thousand words a day and very sensibly refused to fuss around with rewrites or editing until the damn thing was finished. I keep telling my students to do that(not go back and rewrite till done, not the two thousand words thing). Maybe they'll listen if I let them know who else did it that way.

I can understand, anyway. Back then you had only a typewriter to use, not a computer. You just didn't have the option of deleting whole pages or cutting and pasting. Not unless you were willing to re-do entire chapters. I can actually remember typewriters and using one to put together my fanzines. Shudder! So he wouldn't  have finished anything if he'd done it that way.
A nice haul of books!

Back to work tomorrow. Dinner next, then early to bed. I just don't have the energy for a late night. Good night!

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50. My Favourite Adventure Fiction: Tolkien

When I was at uni, everyone said, "What! You haven't read Lord Of The Rings?" That included some of my lecturers. One of the students was doing her Honours Thesis on it.

It was an interesting situation, too, because would you believe she had been told that it wasn't academic enough for a thesis! Uh huh. A novel with a whole lot of reference to language and classic literature, inspired by mediaeval works, a whole "mythology for England", written by a university professor and it wasn't academic enough. Fortunately the English professor, who was a Tolkien nut, agreed to supervise her thesis. Professor Brown had a Tolkien manuscript which had been written as a Christmas gift for someone and bound. It was a Piers Plowman pastiche about the exams at Oxford. He would hand it around reverently in tutorials. (Those were the days when a tutorial group was about five or six students) I emailed Tom Shippey, Tolkien expert, about it some years ago, and he said Tolkien was always doing that sort of thing and he himself had found a Chaucer one in a filing cabinet.

Well, I thought I really should check it out - I hadn't even read The Hobbit at the time - and bought a three-volume Allen and Unwin boxed set at the uni bookshop.

It ended up taking me quite a while to get into. I never finished it when I was at uni. I did read The Hobbit. But one year, when I was going to Sorrento for a few days during the end of year holidays I took the first volume with me. I was exhausted after a long, long year at school - trust me on this, teachers who have to spend the year dealing with the dramas and emotions of other people's children need their break! I just wanted to lie on the beach and read. I didn't even want to try out any of the Sorrento tourist things that the hostel owner was trying to tell me about for the benefit of a tourist guide journalist who was listening.

So I took my copy of Fellowship Of The Ring to the beach to read... and was swept away, if not literally(though I might have been if I had kept reading while the tide was coming in).

So, there's this hobbit, right, who discovers that the ring his uncle Bilbo has left him before heading off to an Elven artist colony is the one belonging to the ultimate Dark Lord. He has been searching for it for centuries and somehow his minions now know who has it. The hobbit has to run.

And thus began an adventure that made me excited, afraid for my lovely hobbit and his friends, laugh, cry, love... This time, I ended up reading all three volumes, including the Appendices which told you more about what was happening, what had happened before, how it all ended for various characters, explained the languages in the novel. LOTR became my comfort reading. I start a new chapter and think, "Oh, good, this is where they meet Aragorn!" I've bought some of the History Of Middle-Earth volumes and read those cover to cover too.

I loved the characters, I loved that even ordinary people who love peace and quiet and home and their gardens can be heroes.

There weren't many female characters in it, but they were formidable, whether a Saxon-like shield maiden or the unpleasant old lady hobbit who stands up to the invader's bullies, is imprisoned and suddenly finds herself a village heroine after a lifetime of nobody liking her.

 I thought the world-building was amazing. If you were dropped into this universe, you could quite comfortably settle in to any of the places described except maybe Mordor, and that would be fine if you were happy to be an Orc. I mean that you could find your way around and if you mixed with Elves, Tolkien has even made it possible for you to speak the language. Few writers can do that kind of immersive world building. I know I can't. 

The Hobbit is a delight I can read and reread even now. My nephew Max is a big hulking(nerdy!) teenager now, but when he was much younger, his father was reading it to him at bed time. Not that he couldn't have read and enjoyed it himself, but there's something comforting about being read to. And one day we were out together and sitting in the park by the Shrine. He mentioned it was his bed time reading and I had a copy in my bag and there I was, on a bright Melbourne summer day reading him the chapter he was on, "Riddles In The Dark". (He doesn't hang out with me these days, alas, but even he asked if we could go to the final Hobbit movie together)

I now have an enhanced copy in ebook, which has a lot of extras, including Tolkien singing some of the songs. That's one thing print books can't do.

I know there are books out there with cover blurb comparing them to Tolkien, but sorry! There's nothing like Tolkien and anything that tries is bound to fail. It's why I prefer my adventures to be set in space these days, or in real historical settings. 

What do you think? 

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