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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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1. Alice Pung Comes To Visit!



Alice Pung is a writer best known for her memoir, Unpolished Gem and, more recently, the follow-up, Her Father's Daughter. In the first, she wrote about growing up in Braybrook, with her parents opening a store in Footscray. both in Melbourne's multicultural, working class Western suburbs. The second book, Her Father's Daughter, was mostly centred around her father's family - her mother's was in the first book - and their sufferings in Cambodia's killing fields. And powerful stuff it is, too! We have a student reading it right now.



Last year, thanks to Ambellin Kwaymullina, whom I met at a con, I learned that the Stella Prize for women's writing now has a schools program - and that they might have a little money put aside for disadvantaged schools like mone. She contacted them on my behalf and I emailed them and they said that yes, they did, and would pay for a visit. I had a choice of three writers, one of whom had won a CBCA Award and one who had been writing and visiting schools for many years - and Alice Pung.

We're a Western suburbs school. The English staff asked, please, could we have Alice Pung? So I agreed and arrangements began. It has taken since last year, but was worth the wait.

Yesterday, Alice came to visit. Her talk was designed to appeal to boys as well as girls. Because most of her output is her memoirs, by the time she got to Laurinda, her YA novel, the session was nearly over and the lunchtime bell was about to ring. She had some fascinating stories to tell, including a visit to a school in a boys' prison and the experiences of the comedian Anh Do, whose book our Year 9 students are reading.  We did go a little beyond the bell, with questions, and the book giveaway was to a girl from one of our other campuses, as they had had to walk half an hour to reach us.


Afterwards, some students came to get posters autographed and then we went to lunch in the staff room.

Here's where Ms Pung showed her sheer generosity. Three girls from our Senior campus, who had been invited, arrived too late for the talk, due to a confusion of times. Alice gave them at least half an hour, perhaps more, and had her photo taken with them. And she is heavily pregnant and had another gig that evening and must have been tired.

We were lucky; ours may be one of her last school visits!

Anyway, thank you, Alice, Stella For Schools, Booked Out Speakers Agency and Ambelin!

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2. Vale Leonard Nimoy!


The word was out this morning. Leonard Nimoy is no more. That makes me very sad.

I grew up with Star Trek. I loved science fiction but apart from the anthology shows the only thing I could find on TV was Lost In Space

Now, don't get me wrong. Since my childhood I have seen Lost In Space again and realised that it's delightfully silly, camp 1960s stuff, and that if you watch carefully you'll find people who are better known than you might expect. Michael Rennie was in an episode, "The Keeper". The composer of much of the music was a certain "Johnny Williams" who went on to compose the music for Star Wars and other such films. Another composer was Alexander Courage, composer of the Star Trek music. A lot of guest actors also appeared in Star Trek. The dashing Guy Williams, head of the Space Family Robinson, was Zorro. And little Billy Mumy went on to be one of the most popular characters in Babylon 5.  So, yes, there was much to admire in that series. 

But when I saw my first episode of Star Trek, "Mudd's Women", I sighed, "Thank God! SF for adults!" Even if I wasn't yet an adult myself. And I knew I would never get back to Lost In Space

And much of what I loved about Star Trek was the characters, especially Spock. He was the man who didn't quite belong anywhere, though he had friends who loved him. And which teenager doesn't have that feeling?

Spock inspired fan fiction from me. It's not that I wasn't writing - I was writing dreadful historical novels in my teens - but my very first published work was stories about Spock. I learned a lot about writing through fan fiction. Mr Nimoy cared about the character. It wasn't just a job to him. 

So, in some ways, I owe some of my writing skills to him. 

Rest in peace, Leonard Nimoy, and thanks for giving me a lot of enjoyment over the years.

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3. Aurealis Shòrt Lists 2014

And here it is, as posted on the AA web site. Congratulations to all short listed folk. I have to admit, I've only read those on the children's list, though I bought one of the other short listed books at Continuum last year and have another in my school library and one more on my TBR review pile and another I've started, in ebook. Time to get reading! 


Meanwhile, here they are and well done to everybody on the list. 

2014 Aurealis Awards – Finalists


BEST FANTASY NOVEL

Fireborn, Keri Arthur (Hachette Australia)

This Shattered World, Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner (Allen & Unwin)

The Lascar’s Dagger, Glenda Larke (Hachette Australia)

Dreamer’s Pool, Juliet Marillier (Pan Macmillan Australia)

Afterworlds, Scott Westerfeld (Penguin Books Australia)

Daughters of the Storm, Kim Wilkins (Harlequin Enterprises Australia)

BEST FANTASY SHORT STORY

“The Oud”, Thoraiya Dyer (Long Hidden, Crossed Genres Publications)

“Teratogen”, Deborah Kalin (Cemetery Dance, #71, May 2014)

“The Ghost of Hephaestus”, Charlotte Nash (Phantazein, FableCroft Publications)

“St Dymphna’s School for Poison Girls”, Angela Slatter (The Review of Australian Fiction, Volume 9, Issue 3)

“The Badger Bride”, Angela Slatter (Strange Tales IV, Tartarus Press)

BEST SCIENCE FICTION NOVEL

Aurora: Meridian, Amanda Bridgeman (Momentum)

Nil By Mouth, LynC (Satalyte)

The White List, Nina D’Aleo (Momentum)

Peacemaker, Marianne de Pierres (Angry Robot)

This Shattered World, Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner (Allen & Unwin)

Foresight, Graham Storrs (Momentum)

BEST SCIENCE FICTION SHORT STORY

“The Executioner Goes Home”, Deborah Biancotti (Review of Australian Fiction, Vol 11 Issue 6)

“Wine, Women and Stars”, Thoraiya Dyer (Analog Vol CXXXIV nos 1&2 Jan/Feb)

“The Glorious Aerybeth”, Jason Fischer (OnSpec, 11 Sep 2014)

“Dellinger”, Charlotte Nash (Use Only As Directed, Peggy Bright Books)

“Happy Go Lucky”, Garth Nix (Kaleidoscope, Twelfth Planet Press)

BEST HORROR NOVEL

Book of the Dead, Greig Beck (Momentum)

Razorhurst, Justine Larbalestier (Allen & Unwin)

Obsidian, Alan Baxter (HarperVoyager)

BEST HORROR SHORT STORY

“The Executioner Goes Home”, Deborah Biancotti (Review of Australian Fiction, Vol 11 Issue 6)

“Skinsuit”, James Bradley (Island Magazine 137)

“By the Moon’s Good Grace”, Kirstyn McDermott (Review of Australian Fiction, Vol 12, Issue 3)

“Shay Corsham Worsted”, Garth Nix (Fearful Symmetries, Chizine)

“Home and Hearth”, Angela Slatter (Spectral Press)

BEST YOUNG ADULT NOVEL

The Astrologer’s Daughter, Rebecca Lim (Text Publishing)

Afterworld, Lynnette Lounsbury (Allen & Unwin)

The Cracks in the Kingdom, Jaclyn Moriarty (Pan Macmillan Australia)

Clariel, Garth Nix (Allen & Unwin)

The Haunting of Lily Frost, Nova Weetman (UQP)

Afterworlds, Scott Westerfeld (Penguin Books Australia)

BEST YOUNG ADULT SHORT STORY

“In Hades”, Goldie Alexander (Celapene Press)

“Falling Leaves”, Liz Argall (Apex Magazine)

“The Fuller and the Bogle”, David Cornish (Tales from the Half-Continent, Omnibus Books)

“Vanilla”, Dirk Flinthart (Kaleidoscope, Twelfth Planet Press)

“Signature”, Faith Mudge (Kaleidoscope, Twelfth Planet Press)

BEST CHILDREN’S FICTION

Slaves of Socorro: Brotherband #4, John Flanagan (Random House Australia)

Ophelia and the Marvellous Boy, Karen Foxlee (Hot Key Books)

The Last Viking Returns, Norman Jorgensen and James Foley (ILL.) (Fremantle Press)

Withering-by-Sea, Judith Rossell (ABC Books)

Sunker’s Deep: The Hidden #2, Lian Tanner (Allen & Unwin)

Shadow Sister: Dragon Keeper #5, Carole Wilkinson (Black Dog Books)

BEST COLLECTION

The Female Factory, Lisa L Hannett and Angela Slatter (Twelfth Planet Press)

Secret Lives, Rosaleen Love (Twelfth Planet Press)

Angel Dust, Ian McHugh (Ticonderoga Publications)

Difficult Second Album: more stories of Xenobiology, Space Elevators, and Bats Out Of Hell, Simon Petrie (Peggy Bright Books)

The Bitterwood Bible and Other Recountings, Angela Slatter (Tartarus Press)

Black-Winged Angels, Angela Slatter (Ticonderoga Publications)

BEST ANTHOLOGY

Kisses by Clockwork, Liz Grzyb (Ed) (Ticonderoga Publications)
Kaleidoscope: Diverse YA Science Fiction and Fantasy Stories, Alisa Krasnostein and Julia Rios (Eds), (Twelfth Planet Press)

Amok: An Anthology of Asia-Pacific Speculative Fiction, Dominica Malcolm (Ed) (Solarwyrm Press)

Reach for Infinity, Jonathan Strahan (Ed) (Solaris Books)

Fearsome Magics, Jonathan Strahan (Ed) (Solaris Books)

Phantazein, Tehani Wessely (Ed) (FableCroft Publishing)

BEST GRAPHIC NOVEL/ILLUSTRATED WORK

Left Hand Path #1, Jason Franks & Paul Abstruse (Winter City Productions)

Awkwood, Jase Harper (Milk Shadow Books)

“A Small Wild Magic”, Kathleen Jennings (Monstrous Affections, Candlewick Press)

Mr Unpronounceable and the Sect of the Bleeding Eye, Tim Molloy (Milk Shadow Books)

The Game, Shane W Smith (Deeper Meanings Publishing)

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4. A Guest Post On Someone ELSE's Blog!

The lovely Kim Forrester, an Aussie expat who blogs, invited me to do a guest post on her blog. It's a thing called "Triple Choice Tuesday" in which a writer is invited to name a favourite book, a book that made changes in their life and one they feel deserves a wider audience. Sort of a Desert Island Discs about books, I guess. It's a site for readers of adult books, really, but Kim pointed out that her readers do tend to buy books for the younger members of their families.

Anyway, here's the link!

http://readingmattersblog.com/2015/02/24/triple-choice-tuesday-sue-bursztynski/

Why not go there and find out what books I chose? It's always nice to be invited. 

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5. AA reading Finished, Time For the TBR pile!

I have finished my competition reading and the short list is out tomorrow. I'm looking forward to seeing what is on the other lists and I will post it all here. Most of the books I read have been donated to the local primary school or to my own library. A few remain in my living room, ready to be carried to work on my poor shoulder, when possible.

Today I'm FINALLY getting to read the second half of Neil Gaiman's Graveyard Book graphic novel. The review will be up as soon as I can get it going. I have several more sent to me by Bloomsbury, so stand by for some more reviews! 

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6. O Joy! First Sale Of The Year!


Remember that bushranger story I was working on, for which I used Irish music to write by? 

Paul Collins was very pleased with it and so it will be going into his next anthology in the Trust Me! series(he may give it another title and a different style of cover, because people get the second anthology confused with the first.) I already have my contract to sign.

It's a relief as well as a cheer-up after the disappointment of Cranky Ladies Of History. See, I put a lot of research into that one. The Victorian era is not one with which I'm really familiar. When I was working on it, I asked a couple of historians about things I needed to know. And I knew that if it missed out, I had nowhere else to send it, but I had a go anyway. And then it was rejected for reasons unconnected with the quality or the historical accuracy. It's a very good story I'm proud of, but historical fiction is hard to sell. Almost impossible, in fact, unless someone decides to publish a historical anthology. Well. It will sit around for a while. You never know. I have had three stories that sold after lying in the proverbial bottom drawer, rejected, for some years. And a novel! ;-) It's a matter of waiting for the right market. 

I'm explaining this because it made me anxious about this one. It's historical fiction for children. Again, I had an era and place that I was not really familiar with - the 1860s in the New South Wales gold rush. I had written some non-fiction about it in Crime Time: Australians Behaving Badly, so I knew the true story, but it's not quite the same as telling a story from the viewpoint of someone who lived there. But Paul has been good to me over the years. I knew that if it wasn't quite what he wanted he would give me a chance to fix it. I decided to take a chance. 

After I'd written three drafts, I decided it was time to submit the thing once and for all and get it over with. If it was accepted, then I'd get the story checked for historical glitches. I already knew who to ask. Monissa Whitely, a former member if the ASIM collective, is very much into this era and collects books about it. Furthermore, she has been shopping around her own bushranger novel, set in the same era, the 1860s. If it wasn't accepted... Well, I hoped that wouldn't happen. When Paul's email arrived with a contract attached and opened with "Well done you!" I heaved a huge sigh of relief!  

So yay! 

Monissa read it for me and asked about a few very minor points. In one case, she asked me if I was sure the boy in the story - a real historical figure - would spend a whole pound given him by the bushrangers - the equivalent of about $200 - on lollies. I assured her I hadn't made it up - I got that from the account he wrote as an old man, right from the horse's mouth. But there were two terms that she thought anachronistic and I fixed them.

Other than that, it looks like I got the history right. So only the editing to do, when Paul contacts me about it. 

I think writing historical fiction is a bit addictive. Pity it's not more saleable!

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7. February 18 Meme: Happy birthday, Mark!


Today is my delightful nephew Mark's birthday. It's also the birthdays of quite a few impressive folk. Here are a few, starting with the subject of today's Google Doodle -

1745-1827 Alessandro Volta, after whom the volt is named. He invented the battery and was one of a bunch of scientists interested in what electricity could do. His rival, Luigi Galvani, was the one whose experiments gave a teenage girl called Mary Shelley the idea for her most famous novel, Frankenstein. But she would have heard of Volta. 

Authors

1859-1916 Sholom Aleichem, famous Jewish writer. His short stories were funny and sad and brilliant. When he visited the US, he met Mark Twain, who said, "I wanted to meet you, because I'm told that I am the American Sholom Aleichem." If you don't know anything else about Sholom Aleichem, you will certainly have heard of the musical based on some of his stories, Fiddler On The Roof. Oh, and he had a granddaughter, Bel Kaufman, who wrote the classic Up The Down Staircase, a novel set in a working-class school, about a young English teacher's first year in her new profession. Writing talent seems to have run in the family - her Mum was also a writer. 

1883 - 1957 Nikos Kazantzakis, author of Zorba The Greek and, among other things, Christ Recrucified. That one, I've read. It's set in a small Greek village during the Turkish occupation. The villagers are about to stage a Passion Play and the actors start to play out their roles. I read this one when I was in my teens and I'm afraid I figured that out soon enough, but it was a very good novel anyway. 

1936 - Jean M Auel, author of the Earth's Children series, starting with Clan Of The Cave Bear. I've read the first two in the series and enjoyed both, though I admit that I lost interest only a few chapters into the third book.  But if you are interested in life in Neanderthal times as it just might have been, I do recommend Clan Of The Cave Bear. I rather liked her idea that the Neanderthal brain might have been like a computer - it stores race memory, so people know how to do things their ancestors did, whereas the modern humans can't do that, so they have to be able to invent. Is it right? I don't know, but it worked for that book. 

1931 - 2007 Johnny Hart, cartoonist, Wizard of Id. I loved that strip! 

There are other writers, but these are the ones I've read. All with February 18 birthdays!

Published on February 18

1678: The Pilgrim's Progress by John Bunyan. I haven't read it, but there there are references to it in Little Women, in which the girls have copies of it and each goes through her own Pilgrim's Progress experience. 

1885The Adventures Of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain. A true classic! I may read from it next Banned Books Week. 

Happy birthday, Mark and anyone else with a birthday today! 

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8. On Rereading Whodunnits


Having finished my reading for the Aurealis Awards, I'm now starting to make my way through the neglected pile of TBR review books. Most of them are from Bloomsbury, some from Ford Street.

But at bedtime I need something old which doesn't require much focus, not a brand new title which will keep me awake thinking about it. So I have recently hauled off the shelves some old Ellis Peters and Agatha Christie novels.

Ellis Peters, aka Edith Pargeter, historical novelist, put together her skills as a crime writer and a historical novelist to write twenty books(21 if you count A Rare Benedictine, a collection of short stories)about about Brother Cadfael, a mediaeval monk and amateur sleuth, on the border of England and Wales, in a town called Shrewsbury, a sort of mediaeval Midsomer. ;-) The difference is, of course, that it's a real place.  I've been there and found my way quite easily from the church of St Peter and St. Paul(setting of the book) into town, because the author described it so well. I love these books. Despite the necessary murder in each book and a war raging across the country, there is something peaceful about it and quite frankly I don't care if I remember whodunnit. It's the atmosphere and the calm wisdom of Brother Cadfael I care about, and his friendship with his young "cop" buddy Hugh Beringar, who becomes Sheriff of Shropshire, a highly responsible job, but is still a cop. So these books make good bedtime rereads. To be honest, I couldn't remember whodunnit this time, but it didn't matter. They soothed anyway. And she doesn't cheat you. She gives you enough clues to work it out, and if you don't, you say, "Oh, yes, I forgot that clue!"

Agatha Christie also throws in clues(or Clues), and the murderer could be anyone, from the gruff major to the sweet young thing who called in Poirot in the first place. I love that, but I wouldn't  exactly say she never cheats you, just a little bit. It's true that she follows the main rules. The killer is a member of the cast already introduced, never an outsider, no matter his many threatening notes the victim may have received or claimed to have received. But there are often pieces of vital information you don't receive till near the end of the book when Poirot triumphantly reveals the contents of a telegram he sent a little earlier, to the gathered cast of suspects. And if there are no mysterious poisons from South America(she worked in a dispensary during the war, she refuses to do that!) there are disguised characters, women disguised as men, evil ex husbands disguised as - er, mild mannered new husbands...

Alas, I ALWAYS remember whodunnit in an Agatha Christie book. But as I said, I don't mind, really. Not at night time. I like the ambience of the eras in which they're set - 1917 onwards for the Poirot stories and in the 1940s/50s for Miss Marple.

 I like Poirot with his "little grey cells" and his observation and his refusal to consider cigar ash and footprints in the flowerbeds, even though he does notice pottery ground into the carpet and a disarranged mantelpiece. And I like how Miss Marple notices how the potential killer reminds her of someone she knows from the village, and goes from there. She plays the scatterbrained little old lady to the hilt, almost like an elderly female Columbo, but everywhere there are police inspectors who know exactly how sharp she really is(sometimes from having worked with her, other times because they're related to friends of hers). She has a terrific network of family and friends on whose special knowledge she can call whenever she needs it. Very different from Poirot, but like him, she always works it out - in the early short stories she doesn't even need to be there, she just hears the story and works it out.

So, why reread a whodunnit? Because there is so much more to them than that!

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9. This Year's Challenges: Creative Writing And EAL


Reposted from my other blog. This is what I do when I'm not writing or reading for the Aurealis Awards or catching up on my TBR pile. I just get the hang of one thing when they throw me out of it and tell me to do something else. I think I should get a medal for having to work out how to do something different each year. Could be worse; it could be sheet metal! 

I've had two classes each - a double period - in Creative Writing and Year 7 EAL. So far so good, but I'm still learning.

The Year 7 EAL I'm doing in co-operation with the regular EAL teacher. Last year a couple of colleagues had the job of teaching the students while the rest of the class was doing Italian or Vietnamese - no point making the poor kids do those when they haven't even mastered English yet! It did happen one year when the timetable had problems, but not now.

So what do you do? Strictly speaking , it's called "Cultural Studies" and there is a colleague on another campus who has prepared a whole year's classes on it as such. But I asked the EAL teacher what she would prefer me to do. She said she would prefer that I complete activities she is doing and vice versa. She gave me her lesson plans for the term. That has helped so far, but we have a hard time getting together when she has six period days before I take the class. And her lesson plans are really intended for herself, as aids to memory; she has been doing it for so long, she knows exactly what she means. I don't necessarily know what she means, so I have to use them as starters and ask her to clarify if I can get her for five minutes.

The first week I took the students' photos and printed them out for a poster "about me" that was to be put up in the classroom. She had prepared a template for them to use. Yesterday they had to do work on nouns. She had supplied a work sheet, but there were other things to do, such as find a text they could use to highlight the nouns and work out what kind they were. And she hadn't brought that to work. So I went on line and found a fairly simple folk tale, which was still not quite simple enough; I had to adapt it. And because this was a double period, I knew the work sheet alone was not going to be enough to keep them going. I prepared "noun cards" for them to sort as to type, in groups.

In the end, with the help of the volunteer from the Ardoch Foundation, I was able to keep it going for two periods and we each took a table of students. The noun cards didn't get used until the next period, when the regular teacher used them as a warm up before proceeding to verbs. I did wonder if they would remember the noun types, though they seemed to have got it in my class. My colleague told me that they had; she said when they came into class, "So, you're now experts on nouns. Tell me about them!" and asked questions which they were able to answer. Success!

Creative Writing has the potential to be a huge success or a complete disaster. So far so good. The first lesson was introductory. My colleague on another campus is doing a very structured class, starting from the beginning. She has a larger class than mine and doesn't know them, having been moved from her other campus, so that's understandable; I have shared some of my material with her, though, the story starters, and she is happy with them.

. If I asked my students to do basic writing exercises I suspect they would rebel. They know what they are doing, or believe they do; they just need my support.

So the first week I did an introductory class, beginning with showing them books by teenagers and telling them that just because you're young doesn't mean you can't succeed in this area. I talked about writers who plan way ahead and writers who write by the seat of their pants. I'm a pantser, but it would work better for them to be planners.

I prepared a set of story starters. On one side of the sheet were story starters taken from the Melbourne Writers' Festival student competition, Write Across Victoria, including one that had won a prize for a student from our school. On the other side, as a form of "differentiation" for the students who might need something simpler, I placed some much simpler story starters of my own.

Amazing how much I learned from this. It wasn't only the less capable writers who chose them, it was some of the good ones as well - it inspired them as the others didn't. Lesson number 1, Sue: don't make assumptions.

We went through the complex story starters first and I invited them to think about what kind of stories they might be, eg one was clearly Steampunk. Amazing the range of ideas that came from a single story starter that began with "I remember the day they came for me" and went on to describe fighting and clash of steel on steel. Everything from totalitarian state to ninjas! And one of the students, who is a huge Steampunk fan, nevertheless started with this one, writing a gruesome tale of slave takers killing parents to take the daughter.

Anyway, I got them started and Tuesday this week, they were continuing on. I learned another lesson I should have understood last week, preparing a story template with a basic "who is your hero, where does it happen, who are her friends/enemies, what is the problem, how is it solved" format. I thought it might help one girl who is having trouble getting started (and I came into class to find that she had decided her first page and a half just wasn't working, so yes, it did help her). Two others also used it, including one who had stuck fast on "I blacked out" with no idea where to go from there. We discussed her story, which was about an evil queen who didn't want to be evil but was under a curse. Then I offered her the template to enable her to break it down and she said that yes, it did help, very much, looking at it that way. Lesson 2, repeat of Lesson 1: don't make assumptions!

Another student I had thought might not do much last week had brought in a plan every bit as complex as the J. K Rowling one I had shown them the first week. She was typing away happily. Apparently her sister also writes and had shown her how to do this.

So that's working and when at the end of the period I asked them whether they were enjoying so far, they all agreed with huge smiles.

Only thing is, how do i gently persuade most of them we need some sessions when they read out their stories to each other? One of them agreed before class that she would read out hers and I wrote a Steampunk story using the story starter, so the two of us read our stories out and the others were gently critical of mine and I praised them. But they look like deer in headlights when I suggest they might do the same.

I have to think about it.

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10. Compulsory Valentine's Day Post 2015

Happy Valentine's Day, lovers all! 



I see I did one of these two years ago, but it was mainly about me and book club and the National Year of Reading the previous year, with just a token reference to two classics, so here I am again.

According to Wikipedia, which has quite a lengthy article on this, there were several Christian martyr Valentines. The one we hear the most about is the one who lived during the reign of Emperor Claudius II, the Valentine who is supposed to have been locked up for performing secret marriages for soldiers, who were not allowed to marry(not true, according to Wikipedia). This made him the patron saint of lovers. He is supposed to have healed his jailer's daughter and sent her a farewell letter signed "your Valentine" before they killed him. True or not, it's a story I always enjoy. 



Chaucer mentions Valentine's Day in Parlement Of Foules (that's "birds" to those of you who think it's just a sports term!) as the day when birds gather to choose their mates. 


I vaguely recall a festival of Juno in Rome around that time of year when you were allotted a lover for the year. I think that's sweet. "Oh, no, I'm stuck with Publius again!  He has bad breath and big ears and keeps talking nerdy stuff about books!" 

Anyway, as I'm not getting any chocolates or hearts this year(and by the way, Wikipedia says that started with the good Saint who cut hearts out of parchment. Who would have thought it?) I will think about some of my favourite fictional lovers.

*Ah! The radio is  playing the Birdcatcher's Song from Mozart's Magic Flute, giving me another lover to write about ... Poor Papageno, he just wants a girlfriend and has to go through all that Freemasons stuff to get one. Now, that was an interesting presentation of love. Prince Tamino falls in love with Pamina just from a picture and she doesn't even need a picture! She falls in love just from hearing about Tamino. Still, a fun opera. I once saw the gorgeous Anthony Warlow as Papageno. A beautiful Papageno he was, too.*

Back to the fictional lovers. Last time I mentioned Mr Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet, a pair of strong people who just need to learn a bit about life. They are equals. I like that. Well, he is rich and she isn't, true, but in intelligence they are and we know she eon't take any nonsense from him. 

In Shakespeare my favourite lovers are Beatrice and Benedick in Much Ado About Nothing. Beatrice's cousin Hero is a much more conventional lover, who faints dead away when Claudio humiliates her publicly. Anyone remember that scene in The Winter's Tale when Hermione faints away when her husband humiliates her? Both women sort of get their revenge by making their men squirm and think them dead before forgiving them, of course. As I hear it, strictly speaking the Hero/Claudio romance is supposed to be the main one in the play with Beatrice and Benedick as the kooky, loveable supporting characters. 



Come on, does anyone seriously believe that?  But it's true, in a way. Beatrice is an orphan living with her relatives; she can't be standard and she can be independent in a way Hero can't. And oh, what a character! "Kill Claudio!" she says when Benedick, who has been fighting a war of words with her and now admits he loves her, asks how he can help. She does add, "Oh, that I were a man!" In other words, "I need you to challenge him to a duel because I can't." And he agrees and does realise that his mate Claudio has done the wrong thing. 

Interestingly, I once saw a production of Much Ado About Nothing that was performed in Regency costume, a la Pride And Prejudice; it worked very well. Another, later production was done in 1950s costume, with Pamela Rabe and Hugo Weaving(yes, that Hugo Weaving, as in Agent Smith and Elrond)who also played Kate and Petruchio in The Taming Of The Shrew

Has anyone noticed the tendency in YA fiction for having a triangle? In it, the girl is courted by two gorgeous boys. Sometimes it's obvious from the beginning who will win her. Often it's not, giving fans the chance to argue happily over the matter as the series goes on. 

If you think about it, the triangle has been around for a while. Think about the novels of Jane Austen, for example. Though I can't seriously imagine anyone claiming to be "Team Wickham", if Pride And Prejudice was a series ... Who knows? (Actually, I take that back. I can totally imagine a "Team Wickham" if Pride And Prejudice was a modern YA novel.)

I am still trying to slot such a triangle into my WIP, because it's necessary; the heroine feels a strong attraction towards the long lost prince and she can't have him. Sorry! He's going to be king some day and at best she will be court wizard. And it would be a downer to have her end up with nobody. So I am working on someone she can have. But it's not easy, when you realise a story isn't working sixty thousand words in. So I kind of understand the romantic triangle in YA. 

I admit I prefer romantic comedy to tragedies. Life is too short anyway without having it cut off over love. Sorry, Romeo and Juliet! Your story is too sad for me. My favourite character in that is Mercutio and what does Shakespeare do? Kills him off! I did once read a short story whose author I can't remember in which Mercutio is rescued by Rosaline, the girl Romeo was pursuing at the start of the play. She thinks Romeo is a puppy and much prefers Mercutio, who comes to woo her on his behalf. They save Romeo and Juliet just in time, marry and keep the bronzed head of Tybalt. Pure wish fulfilment on the author's part and Shakespeare would no doubt have some rude, witty things to say about it, but still....

By the way, I'm sure we all remember the comical Valentine's Day chapter in Harry Potter And The Chamber Of Secrets, where all the girls send Valentines to that fraud Lockhart and Harry is held down by force by a tough dwarf to listen to a Valentine from Ginny. (Well, he does end up marrying her many years later)

So, that's my Valentine's Day post, the best Î can do in bed early on a Saturday morning. Anyone else got some romantic favourites? 

All images in this post are public domain.



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11. The Awesome Book Of Awesomeness by Adam Frost. Ill. Dan Bramall. London:Bloomsbury 2014

                                                 

So, have you ever wondered what would happen if everyone bitten turned into a vampire who then bit more people? I know I have, whenever I see those vampire movies or read a book on the subject. How long before the undead starved to death? What's the world's most preyed-upon animal? (The rabbit. And this book gives you a depressingly long list of the rabbit's enemies, apart from us.) what are the five most common dreams? One of them, being late for an exam, is mine - well, actually, it's more often having to sit an exam for which I haven't studied, but still...

This book is a smaller, cheekier version of the Guinness Book Of Records, the kind a child can take home and enjoy by themselves instead of heaving it off the shelves in the library at lunchtime. And there's more than just "world's largest gemstone" (a 536 kilo emerald displayed in Hong Kong in 2009) or "the world's loudest burp" (expelled by Paul Hunn in the UK, AUGUST 2009, a staggering 109.9 decibels, a lawn mower being only 105). There's "how hot is a chilli pepper on the Scoville scale?" And "Who pulled a 1500 kg car with his eyelids?" And more. 

Children will love this little book of trivia and Dan Bramall's delightful illustrations complement the bits of trivia perfectly.

Absolutely recommended for children of all ages, if they can pry it out of your fingers.

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

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


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

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

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

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


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13. Happy Belated Birthday, Charles Dickens!



Charles Dickens in the US 1867 - public domain

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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




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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I'll have to think about this.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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16. Music To Write By

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



  

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17. "Bothersome Words" And Fan Fiction

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

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

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

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18. Eugowra Story - First Draft Finished!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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19. In Which I Discover Wattpad

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How times have changed! :-)

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20. Booktopia And Australia's Favourite Author

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

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

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

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

Go on, vote now!

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21. January 15: Happy Birthday, Dad!

My Dad, Ben Bursztynski, in his younger years

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On This Day: 

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

Birthdays: 

1622: Moliere, that wonderful comic French playwright. 

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

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

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

Happy birthday, Dad!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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23. Belated Appreciate A Dragon Day

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


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

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


                                                       

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

                                                           


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

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

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

                                                                             
                                                

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




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24. Australia's Favourite Authors - Final List!

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

  http://blog.booktopia.com.au/2015/01/23/australias-favourite-author-2015-the-top-10-nearly/

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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25. Book Club Nerd Pack Makes Me Proud!

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

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

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

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

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