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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. Finally Finished Reading...The Wizardry Of Jewish Women by Gillian Polack

I bought this at the launch, back in September, and had only read a small amount of it, due to various distractions. It's not the sort of book you can read without focussing. But my mother read fifteen pages and said she wanted to read it and reminded me last week, so I decided it was time to finish it once and for all. I will be taking it to her place when I visit later today. It was amazing how quickly I got through it on one rainy afternoon and curled up in bed this morning and now I must get back to my ASIM slush reading. There are six stories to read this week including one 10,000 word piece. 

So, what's the novel about? Two sisters, Judith and Belinda, come from a background similar to the author's own Anglo-Jewish Australian one, with a family who arrived here in the Victorian era. Mum is gone, Dad is still in Melbourne and the daughters have moved, respectively, to Sydney and Canberra. The years are 2002 and early 2003 - important, because the novel features the Canberra bushfires. 

Belinda is a teacher who loves her garden and cooking and hasn't a man in her life. Judith has an amicable divorce and an ex-partner whom she fled due to domestic violence, and two children she adores. 

And then a parcel arrives from Dad, with the belongings of their great grandmother Ada, who practised magic - Jewish magic, which requires responsibility and is not to be used to hurt people. The sisters research to find out more about their ancestress, who had had a falling-out with her daughter, their grandmother, a woman who had become a doctor, so a scientist. And this magic is very much a mother-to-daughter variety. Judith has a daughter and a curiosity to experiment...

Then there's Rhonda, a cousin on the non-Jewish side of the family, descended from the sister who married out. Rhonda is an historian and an oracle who has been hiding on-line under a lot of different identities, because she can't stop herself predicting in public, doesn't even know what she's going to write until it's spilled into a chat room. 

It was a fascinating read, which reminded me oddly of Lucy Sussex's wonderful The Scarlet Rider, both written by academic women, both about historical research and magic.

I admit I kept forgetting that the novel was set back in the early 2000s, when there were chat rooms all over the Internet, plenty of Internet cafes and people used floppy disks to carry their files around instead of flash drives and external hard drives. It's strange to think it has only been a bit over a decade since then. And unlike the Sussex book, it won't look dated a few years from now, because it's already effectively historical fiction. 

It's also about the casual bigotry we can experience even in this country, even today, though it's set several years ago. The Jewish characters find they have to cope with Antisemitism both from left and right. At one point in the story, Judith is shocked when a long-time(left-wing) friend simply dismisses Molotov cocktails being lobbed at a local Jewish community centre and children being endangered with a "serves them right!" 

The magic in the book is gentle and enjoyable, though once, just once, Judith sets an insomnia spell  on her violent ex-partner. 

And then there's the unicorn in the garden. Not a Jewish beast as far as I know, but still... At the risk of spoilers, a Shetland unicorn, very like the ones I wrote into my New Wales stories years ago. I still have a figurine made for me by Robert Jan, my partner in New Wales fiction. 

The book is published by Satalyte and is easily available on line. I think it's also available in bookshops here. 

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2. Dad and Son Write!

 And here's what I was emailed last night. A father-and-son novel, written across continents. I said I'd give it a plug, as one of them, the son, lives right here Down Under, and they have an online launch tonight, 6.00 p.m Adelaide time. If you have time, why not wander over and find out what they have to say?

 Here's where it's happening, and you can sign in just before 6.00 p.m Adelaide time.

 Aliens, Vampires and Werewolves…Oh, my!

Blood of Invidia” isn’t full of those cute, candy eating “ET” aliens, or your sparkly “Tween Vampires”. It’s time for you to run (and your little dog too)!
This Science Fiction novel begins 10,000 years ago, a majestic race waged war across our galaxy. They were the Invidians and they conquered worlds, driven to build their empire and fulfill their destiny. But they were mortal, so they sought the secret to eternal life. They found it.
And then the Invidians disappeared.
In our near future, powerful and deadly aliens battle in the streets of New York, captured on social media. The question of “Are we alone?” is answered.
Shortly after, three friends find themselves entangled with a mysterious stranger, discovering that humanity isn’t so high on the food chain, and might just be a breadcrumb on the path paved with the “Blood of Invidia”.

Tom Tinney is an award winning “Biker-Nerd” Science Fiction author. He’s published one novel and has contributed to numerous short story and flash fiction anthologies. His short story “Pest Removal” was nominated for a nationally recognized award. He has a number of projects in the works, some available on his website. He resides in WI with his wife and dogs. Ride safe, ride often.

Morgen Batten is a first time author with a penchant for writing descriptive and intense scenes. He is an avid reader, and gamer, with a love for all that is Fantasy and Science Fiction. He resides in Adelaide Australia.
“Blood of Invidia” will be released the third week in October and is available for pre-order on Amazon worldwide: https://www.amazon.com/Blood-Invidia-Maestru-Book-1-ebook/dp/B01L9DRW2U
More information about the project is available at: http://www.tomtinney.com/blood-of-invidia/
A short Book Video can be seen on YouTube: https://youtu.be/3eciBjbG-3c

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3. And Here Are The YA Shortlisted Books For This Year's PM LiteraryAwards!

Hey, if you want the full list, it's available on line, which is where I found these:

* Becoming Kirrali Lewis - Jane Harrison
* Illuminae: The Illuminae Files_01 - Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff
* A Single Stone - Meg McKinlay
* In Between Days - Vikki Wakefield
* Green Valentine - Lili Wilkinson

I've read three of the five - A Single Stone, In Between Days and Green Valentine. All three have been reviewed on this site. I have Illuminae at home, but it has been hard to get started. The book is thick and the story broken up into confusing-looking bits. Better read it now! It has had a lot of good write ups. 
To be honest, of those I've read, I'm hoping the winner is Green Valentine. The other two have been on the CBCA shortlist, so have had their turn, but a book like Green Valentine is never chosen by the CBCA judges, alas! Not literary enough, I suspect. I mean, the closest thing in style I can remember making it to the CBCA shortlist was Cath Crowley's Graffiti Moon, and that didn't win. Pity. 
Guess what?  I've been on the NSW Premier's Literary Awards shortlist myself, many years ago, for History. It was for my book on astronauts, Starwalkers: Explorers Of The Unknown, which was nice, because it wasn't on the CBCA shortlist or even a Notable, though my former editor from Allen and Unwin, whose opinion I respected, told me she had read and loved it. I remember one of the CBCA judges telling me it was entertaining, well written, the kids would love it, but none of those were among their criteria. I never heard about it again after the letter, which I wish I could find, but still, it was a thrill at the time and I'm betting these authors are feeling the same way. So congratulations to all of you, ladies! 

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4. I've Just Reread... Pagan's Crusade by Catherine Jinks!

Yesterday, while I was with my mother, I ran out of reading brought with me, so went to my old shelves in what was my room and found my old copy of Pagan's Crusade, the first of five novels in the series. Pagan's Vows, the third book, is the last one with Pagan as the hero. By the fourth book, Pagan's Scribe, he's a middle-aged archdeacon and the story is seen from the viewpoint of his young scribe. By the fifth book, Pagan's Daughter, he's dead and it's seen from the viewpoint of a teenage girl who should never have been born, due to celibacy vows, but her parents were both stressed out at the time and, well, just that once... It's the book that begins with the line, "Oh, no! I've killed the chicken!"

Anyway, it has been many years since I've read Pagan's Crusade and I had forgotten how good it was. I reread it in a single sitting. It's written in very modern English, but that seems to work for Pagan, the streetwise young man who finds himself as squire to Lord Roland, a Templar knight and decent man who at the same time needs looking after and teaches Pagan a thing or two. He's also surprisingly clean for a Templar, as the Templar policy was never to wash, and even in this novel it's mentioned with reference to another character. Maybe it's hard for modern readers to sympathise with a grubby character who's happy to be dirty...

Catherine Jinks is a prolific writer who has done a wide variety of books, from science fiction to ghost stories to eighteenth century adventure that reads like Leon Garfield. This, I think, may have been her first - and a fine start to a writing career it was too!

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5. Vale Dario Fo! And Congrats Bob Dylan!

Dario Fo, Wikimedia Commons

Dario Fo, who died yesterday, was a very funny Italian playwright who sent up just about everything. I've seen some of his plays, both by professional and amateur groups(my friend Bart was in Trumpets And Raspberries, for which he had to learn to skateboard). He got a Nobel Prize for Literature back in the 1990s. Vale, Dario! You gave me many a chuckle! 

 Bob Dylan has written some of the most amazing and passionate lyrics of the last century. He has just been named this year's Nobel Laureate for Literature. Oh, yes, there are people out there griping about it, just as, no doubt, they whinged when Dario Fo, a man who was funny, for Chrissakes, got one. But Bob Dylan was the voice of the sixties, who said important things through his songs. If he'd just been a musician or a singer, maybe it wouldn't be appropriate. But he's a poet. If he'd been some dry as dust poet nobody had ever heard of, there wouldn't be a peep out of anyone. 

But oh, no, you can't give this award to a poet everyone has actually heard of, whose verses we all sing, someone who is popular, because... Well, it's just vulgar and it's just a sentimental thing that shouldn't be done, how ridiculous!  

There are a lot of amazing writers, some of whose work has become classic, who never won a Nobel Prize, and some whose work has long been out f print and forgotten who did. 

It's nice to know the Nobel committee gets it tight occasionally. 

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6. This Week's Random Read...My Sister Rosa by Justine Larbalestier

I picked it up from the display counter before leaving work on Tuesday. I'm halfway through. Goodness, it's nasty! Compelling, like all Justine Larbalestier's work that I've read, but nasty! Like Liar, you don't know whether you should be sympathising with the hero or not. I don't think I really do, though you can understand his predicament. 

Did you ever see the film The Bad Seed? In it, there was a charming little girl who was a psychopath and did some truly dreadful things. She had inherited her evil from a grandmother, I think - a long time since I saw it. It's like that. 

Anyway, Rosa, the little sister of the protagonist Che, is truly evil. He knows that. He tries to stop her, but Che has his own problems. And he can't bring himself to warn anyone except his parents, who aren't helpful. Neither are the various doctors, who are fooled by Rosa's charm. She has no empathy and very little emotion, but she does learn how to pretend to care. So dreadful things are likely to happen to people who haven't been warned... but would they believe Che if he did?

Halfway through and trying to decide whether I can bring myself to finish it. It's not that I insist on a happy ending, but when you can see the horrible ending looming and no way to stop it, you do wonder if there's any point. 

I may put it aside for a while and read something a bit more cheerful before I get back to this. 

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7. Dragonfly Song: An Interview With Wendy Orr

Many years ago, when I was about twelve, I read a novel by Mary Renault, The King Must Die, about the legendary hero Theseus. It was a favourite, which I've read and reread. So, it seems, has Wendy Orr, who has recently had a novel published which was also about ancient Greece and bull-dancing, but not about Theseus. Instead, it's about a young woman called Aissa, who, after a lot of personal trauma, suddenly finds herself in Crete, as part of a team of bull-dancers, facing the dangerous beasts, as much a part of a sacred ritual as acrobatics.

Today, Wendy has kindly agreed to visit The Great Raven to answer some questions about her terrific new book. Thank you, Wendy!

 Dragonfly Song was very different from Nim. What made you think of going from present-day adventure to ancient Greece?

When I first started writing, I wrote a novel set in the Minoan period of Thera (Santorini) – it was very nearly published and I’m relieved that it wasn’t, because it really had some major problems. However, interest in that era has continued in the background of my mind, and this story started to take firm shape about five years ago. 

We don't know a lot about bull-dancing in Crete, though there are paintings on the walls at Knossos. What kind of research did you have to do to come up with a plausible system for the bull-dancing in your novel? I felt that there were some elements of modern bull-fighting in your descriptions

I studied images of the wall paintings, sculptures and seal rings, as well as archaeologists’ interpretations. And yes, I also forced myself to watch videos of bull fights, as well as the running of the bulls, and the French bull leaping – which is done on much smaller bulls. But much of the research into bulls’ behaviour is simply that my husband and I farmed for 20 years, mostly on dairy farms, so I’ve had that personal experience of (and healthy respect for) bulls. My husband also grew up on a beef farm, so he had a lot of experience with larger numbers of bulls, and he went through all the bull scenes with me.  

There are other novels about this subject, such as Mary Renault's The King Must Die and Poul Anderson's The Dancer From Atlantis(which also had a thirteen year old bull-dancing girl, on the sensible assumption that you'd have to be young and flexible to be able to do that, much like the teen Olympic gymnasts). Did any of these help to inspire you? Or perhaps the modern gymnastics teams? 

I don’t know The Dancer from Atlantis, so I shall have to look for that! Thanks. Mary Renault definitely inspired me: I read The King Must Die at 12 or 13 and am sure that was the start of my fascination in the era. But definitely modern gymnasts and young circus performers also influenced my interpretation, particularly when I watched a friend’s son training in a circus school – it was just extraordinary to see what those young kids were accomplishing. I heard one lecturer say that the gymnastic feats of the bull leapers were clearly impossible – I don’t think she could have ever watched the Cirque du Soleil!  

Mary Renault's bull-dancers train in teams and each team has its own bull, chosen by the team. In Dragonfly Song, they train, but not really in teams and aren't told which bull they will face until the day before. And the bull is sacrificed at the end of the dance. What made you decide to do it this way? 

I didn’t reread The King Must Die until I was polishing this manuscript, which I think was wise. In the end, since there are no written records and a limited number of images of the bull leaping, everyone has to make up their own story. It simply seemed more likely to me that the dancers faced unknown bulls as part of a life and death drama rather than a simple acrobatic display (though on the other hand, personal experience has taught me that a ‘tame’ bull can be even more dangerous than a wild one). There are also images of bull sacrifices in Minoan art, and I find it difficult to imagine that the bull would not have been sacrificed to the gods at the end of the performance. The bull dances were probably a mix of entertainment and religion, and I’m confident that the religion part of it would have demanded sacrifice – and that the appropriate sacrifice would have to be the bull.  

What research did you do about Minoan era religion, which plays an important role in this novel?

Again, it’s a difficult subject to research because there is simply no written evidence whatsoever, and a lot of theories. So I simply read all I could about different early religions as well as taking courses on Minoan and Mycenaean history. The huge change from when I started researching this, nearly 30 years ago, by accessing interlibrary loans from the local community library, is of course the internet. Being able to access scholarly papers and PhD theses from sites such as academia.edu, as well as join in academic forums, was an incredible bonus. The sheer quantity of these papers allowed me to take a middle ground and choose the theories that I felt were most likely. However, I really didn’t want the book to be about religion, so I simplified it somewhat. I believe that there were many gods and especially goddesses – probably one for every spring or river and mountain as well as the more major ones, but it seems likely that the primary Minoan deity was an earth or mother goddess, so I focused on that. It also seems that she was at least partially supplanted by the Mycenaean male god – most likely Poseidon at that time, though possibly Zeus. (I chose Poseidon). At the time that Dragonfly Song takes place, the Mycenaeans from mainland Greece were probably in control of Crete, but rather than destroying the Minoan culture, they appear to have absorbed many of its elements.  

There is also debate as to whether and how much the Minoans practised human sacrifice. I believe that there’s a bias towards saying that they were sophisticated, peace loving people and therefore that the evidence of human sacrifice and cannibalism is an anomaly. I chose not to explore this in the book, but I did want to suggest that there was a hard edge to the religion, despite the ecstatic dancing! 

 Tell us a bit about Minoan technology. You do slip in some interesting snippets about the plumbing, for example. 

I think everyone is fascinated by the fact that there were flushing toilets and well-functioning sewers three and a half thousand years ago! It was an extremely technologically advanced culture. The architecture is not just grand, it’s sophisticated in the use of folding doors for light and airflow – and possibly for observing sunrise or stars at different times of the year. And the jewellery and figurines, whether of bronze, gold, or precious stone, are exquisite. The carving on the tiny seal stones – similar in size and use to a signet ring – is so intricate that it’s nearly impossible to see with the naked eye. I often wonder if they did in fact have some sort of magnifying lens to carve them. The pottery, whether wheel cast or modelled, is also particularly fine, and wouldn’t look out of place in a gallery or home today. 

Your heroine has an issue with speaking because her adoptive mother told her to stay quiet while hiding from the raiders when she was very young. Is this an issue you've come across in real life?

As a paediatric occupational therapist, I once worked with a young boy who was electively mute for a couple of years. I discussed Aissa’s scenario with a paediatric speech pathologist specialising in child and adolescent mental health, as well as with a child psychologist, and they both felt that her mutism was logical in that extreme trauma. Psychological truth in fiction is very important to me, even if some plot points, like singing the snakes, merge into fantasy. 

Quite a lot of this novel is in verse. Why is that? 

It’s a mystery! I often hear my books in verse before I write them into prose, but this one was quite obstinate about staying in verse. It’s part of the reason that it took me several years to start writing it – I thought the background was too complex for a verse novel. Then I woke up one morning and thought I could write in a combination of verse and prose. I told my editor, expecting her to say that was crazy, but she loved the idea, and so I started. In the first drafts, much more was written in verse, and I then rewrote appropriate sections into prose. The other slightly unusual thing for me was that I had to write all the verse sections by hand, with a Sigur Ros album as soundtrack – normally I write straight onto the computer, and prefer complete silence. I believe that each book dictates its own needs. 

Are you working on anything now?

A novel set 200 years earlier than Dragonfly Song, about a family on Thera at the time of the catastrophic eruption, about 1625 BCE. They become refugees in Crete.

Sounds like it will be wonderful! 

If you have any questions, ask them in the comments section and I'll pass them on to Wendy.
This book is published in Australia by Allen and Unwin and is available online, in ebook and at all good bookshops.

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8. Another Random Read... The Future Of Us!

Yesterday I was shelving at the end of the school day and saw a returned book that looked like fun. I remember buying it for the library, but never got around to reading it. So into my bag it went, and I've read the first few chapters.

The book is The Future Of Us by Jay Asher and Carolyn Mackler. As it's written in alternating viewpoints, of Emma and Josh, I'll assume that the authors are writing the individual viewpoints. I think Rachel Cohn and David Levithan do that.

Anyway, it's an entertaining premise. The year is 1996. The Internet is just beginning. You set it up with a CD ROM and tie up the phone line when you use it. Josh has given Emma his AOL starter CD ROM because his parents don't want the Internet. Setting up her email account, Emma suddenly sees a login to a web page she hasn't heard of. Something called Facebook. Logging in, she discovers it's this weird web site where idiots post about everything from getting petrol for their car and what they had for breakfast to their love lives. Who'd want to do that? she wonders.

Except her future self is doing just that. A future self who's unhappy for various reasons. While her friend Josh is married to the richest, hottest girl in the school...

Good fun so far, and easy reading with short chapters. Hopefully I'll get it finished on time to show my book club on Thursday.

But other things are happening. I'm awaiting a copy of the newest novel by PC Cast, who is doing a blog tour in November. One of my students has agreed to put aside her other reading to do a review or interview. It has been a long time since I've published a student interview on this site, so it will be nice. Taylor is reliable and is familiar with the work of  this author. The logical person to do it!

Stand by!

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9. Juliet Marillier On Blackthorn And Grim!

Juliet with her dog Harry

Today I'd like to welcome Juliet Marillier for her third visit to The Great Raven. This time, Juliet will be answering questions about her latest series, Blackthorn And Grim, of which the third volume, Den Of Wolves, has just come out.  I've binged on this series over the course of a week, and have to say, I had a hard time putting them down. Personally, I wish there was a Grim in my life! Read the books and find out why.

 The two heroes are Blackthorn, an embittered wise woman, and Grim, a kind, generous giant of a man who makes friends wherever he goes. Both of them have been through horrific traumas before escaping from the prison of a particularly horrible chieftain.Both have a burning desire for justice, whether for themselves or others. And both are suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.

Just before she is due to be killed by the chieftain's bullies, Blackthorn is visited by a nobleman of the fey. The deal is, he will spring her from jail. In return, she must go up north, to a particular area which is short of a wise woman, and live there for seven years, doing the job. She must help anyone who asks for it, and she must - this is vital - agree not to take revenge on her tormentor until the time is up.

Grim is also freed when the prison falls apart, and follows her.

Can the two of them help each other recover from their traumas?

Let's see what Juliet has to say!

SB: Your latest trilogy, Blackthorn And Grim, is, like many of your other books, inspired by fairy tales. Dreamer's Pool has elements of The Goose Girl and Den Of Wolves, as you have mentioned, was inspired by a Scottish folktale. Tower Of Thorns does have a lot of familiar fairy tale tropes - the curse, the thorn hedge, the characters whose ending might not necessarily be happy, the "true love's tears." Even the damsel arriving at court to ask for help sounds like something out of the Arthurian romances! Does it have a more specific inspiration?

JM: Tower of Thorns is not based on any earlier story, but contains many fairy tale elements (those tend to appear even when I’m writing contemporary fiction.) I did think of a distressed damsel at King Arthur’s court when I wrote that scene of Geileis throwing herself at Oran’s feet!  

SB: Your heroine, Blackthorn, is a very knowledgeable herbalist. And you know a lot about the role of the wise woman, which sounds very like the role of Terry Pratchett's witches. How much research did that need on your part? 

JM: I’ve done a lot of research into witches, wise women, healers and herb lore over the years, for other books as well as this one. Also, herb lore is part of my druidic training. I still do specific research for each book as well – there’s always more to learn. And I still make errors. I’m careful not to give detailed descriptions of herbal remedies and magical brews in case a reader attempts to make something and comes to grief. Sometimes I invent plants rather than naming real ones, especially if someone is concocting a poison or a risky cure. Where I do give details it’s something I know is safe, like one of Blackthorn’s herbal teas. In the past I had quite an extensive herb garden and I used to try things out. That’s harder in my present house, where most of the garden is deeply shaded in winter and blazing hot in summer.

 SB: Is "true love's tears" based on a real herb or did you make it up for Tower Of Thorns, where, apart from magical properties, it can be used in a headache cure?

JM: I invented ‘true love’s tears’ specifically for the story. I wish it was real!

SB: The character list at the beginning of the first novel included a historical figure from ninth century Ireland, suggesting that's when the story is set. Yet there is a cheeky, throwaway reference to the story of Daughter Of The Forest, which I recall happened somewhat later. How much is this story about ninth century Ireland? Or doesn't it matter? :-)

JM: Good question, but tricky to answer. The history in the Sevenwaters series is deeply flawed. Back then I didn’t understand the importance of writing accurate history in a novel that was full of uncanny goings-on, so Daughter of the Forest, in particular, has one foot in the 9th century and one in a later time. That couldn’t be corrected in the subsequent books of the series, as the setup was already in place. DOTF ended up being labelled 10th century and that sort of stuck. I see the  Blackthorn and Grim series as occurring a couple of generations after the Sevenwaters saga, in roughly the same area, just a bit further north. The link-up with Sevenwaters in Den of Wolves will be plain to fans of Son of the Shadows, I think! The historical element in the Blackthorn and Grim series is pretty light on, and readers are welcome to think of it as set in early medieval Ireland (my intention) or, if they prefer, an invented world. 

SB: You describe quite a lot of Irish law of the time, which sounds very fair. How much of it was really like this in early Ireland? Did you need to take a few liberties? 

JM: In Ireland prior to the Anglo-Norman arrival there was a remarkably fair and comprehensive legal system in place, known as Brehon law. The legal hearings and decisions included in the Blackthorn and Grim series are based on that system. For instance, the range of penalties for various crimes included working out your time in debt bondage to the offended party, different degrees of exile, paying a fine, or ‘sick-maintenance’ which meant taking on care and responsibility for someone you’d injured and their dependants. I’ve kept things historically accurate in that area, though I have taken some liberties with the degree of formality, or lack thereof, in the proceedings. That’s covered, I hope, by Prince Oran’s being considered a little eccentric because of his wish to give everyone an equal say. As for what occurs near the end of Den of Wolves, I did perhaps stretch things a little. But odd things can happen when leaders get together behind closed doors.

SB:  Your main characters - Blackthorn, Grim, Prince Oran - were a fascinating mix. They developed and grew in the course of the trilogy. Did you have this planned out from the beginning? 

JM: I intended all along that each of these characters would go on a personal journey spanning the whole series, yes. Blackthorn and Grim are both very damaged at the start of Dreamer’s Pool, bearing burdens that make it hard for them to function. It’s a long road for them to claw their way out of their personal dark places. Oran gains in wisdom and maturity as the story unfolds. While I didn’t have every single plot element of all three books planned in advance, I did know where the personal stories of those characters would take them. On the "planner to pantser" spectrum I am definitely at the planner/plotter end.

 The food and drink mentioned in the novels isn't generally detailed - bread and cheese, porridge, the occasional bowl of soup, mead and ale - but everyone sits down for a "brew", ie a cup of (herbal) tea, every few pages. Is all that tea drinking related to your own habits? 

JM: Absolutely! Drinking tea is an important aid to my creativity! I’m from a family of tea drinkers, so I understand the comfort and friendship that go with a tea ritual, just as Blackthorn and Grim do. I have a get-together with some of my US readers next month at a tea shop in Salem, Massachusetts, and the proprietor is going to create a special blend for us.

SB:  There was a lot of sleuthing in the series - would you consider trying your hand at a straight mystery novel? 

JM: I included the mystery element in the Blackthorn and Grim series partly because I love reading historical mysteries, and partly as a challenge to myself – I find it hard to withhold information from the reader effectively. It would be an even bigger challenge to tackle a straight mystery . I do like the idea of trying something completely different, so who knows?.

SB: Are you working on anything at the moment? 

JM: I’m still working on a proposal for a new project – it’s been rewritten a few times. I’m juggling commercial considerations with artistic ones, never an easy thing to balance. I won’t elaborate on the project until I have some good news for my readers. I’m also preparing for my trip to the US, where I am appearing at several book-related events including the World Fantasy Convention and the Writer Unboxed ‘UnConference.’ As soon as I get home in mid-November I hope to be setting to work on the new project.

Thanks for your fascinating answers, Juliet! Blackthorn And Grim, the full series, is now available at all good bookstores and ebook sellers.

Available from Pan Macmillan Australia.

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10. A Strange Dream...

I have had a strange dream to share with you all. I went to see a performance of Harry Potter And The Cursed Child, paying $160 a ticket, and made the mistake of taking my mother, who even in real life would never enjoy it - and in real life I'd never drag her along. But that's dreams for you.

So, we get to the theatre and find that it's spread across two theatres, only one of which is actually getting to see anything. There is a narrow entrance between theatres, and you can sort of see something, but only if you pull aside a curtain and sit on the floor, as the seats are facing sideways to it.

My mother complains and, after a while, gets up and says she's going off for a chat outside with a gentleman who is also not enjoying the experience. They go off together as I call after her to come back when it's finished.

I sit on the floor at the back of the performance theatre and contemplate the large amount of money I've spent for a show I can hardly see at all. The little bits I can see do look interesting, but the enjoyment is just not there. Then I wake up.

While real shows don't actually go that far in making their patrons unhappy, I do recall my brother's in-laws saying they had paid $106 each to see an arena production of Aida and been unable to see anything except on the screen set up over the arena. Those were the cheapest seats. It has certainly put me off going to any arena productions! 

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11. A Guest Post By Lexa(L.X) Cain

Today I'd like to welcome Lexa Cain to The Great Raven. Lexa is a fellow blogger, but also a prolific author of dark fantasy/horror fiction. Lexa lives in Egypt with her husband, so some of her fiction is set there - I have a copy of the novel Soul Cutter on my iPad, and a nice shivery read it is too!

Her new novel, Bloodwalker, has a cover that rather suggests Ray Bradbury, doesn't it? It's a great cover that was voted in by the readers of Lexa's blog, at www.lexacain.blogspot.com.

What do you think?

Here's the blurb on Goodreads:

Lightning flashes. Another child disappears…

When Zorka Circus performs, its big top roars with laughter and cheers, but when it moves on, there are fewer children in the European towns it leaves behind.

Circus Security Chief Rurik suspects a killer hides among the international performers, but they close ranks—they’ve always viewed lightning-scarred Rurik as the monster. Nevertheless, he's determined to find the culprit and stop them before anyone else dies and the only place he can call home is ripped apart by the murders.

Into Zorka Circus comes the Skomori clan, despised as gravediggers and ghoulish bloodwalkers. A one-day truce allows bloodwalker Sylvie to marry. Instead, she finds a body. Alerting others will defy her clan’s strict rules, break the truce, and leave her an outcast.

When more bodies turn up, the killer's trail becomes impossible to ignore. Rurik and Sylvie must follow the clues—even if they lead to something unimaginable.

And here, without further ado, is Lexa's post, in which she shares with us some quirky superstitions and traditions that gave her ideas for Bloodwalker.

Weird Rituals

Part of my novel, Bloodwalker, centers on a fictitious society called the Skomori that trace their Slavic ancestry to the Middle Ages and live in many Eastern European countries. I took some inspiration from the Amish and Roma (gypsy) cultures and made the Skomori a very sheltered community with odd superstitions and ways of behaving that would seem strange to the average person.

The Skomori do indeed have some weird beliefs, like hanging rat skeletons over a bed to insure marital harmony and that a Skomori husband’s business will prosper if bees’ wings and powdered ash bark are sprinkled in the bread dough.

How did I come up with those strange ideas? 

By researching real odd-but-true rituals and beliefs from all around the world, like these:

Save Your Broken Plates. In Denmark, people save broken crockery and dishes instead of throwing them out. On New Year’s, the broken crockery is thrown at friends’ houses and if a large pile accumulates in front of a house, it denotes good luck for the house’s residents in the coming year. [1]

No Whistling Indoors. In Lithuania, whistling indoors is forbidden since it’s believed that whistling will summon little devils that will plague the family. [1]

Beards on Women? In Rwanda, women are told never to eat goat meat or they’ll grow a beard. [1]

The Road to Manhood is an Ant-filled Glove. There’s a region of the Amazon inhabited by the Satere-Mawe tribe that’s known to have ants with the most painful sting in the world. The sting is supposed to be as harsh as getting hit by a bullet, thus their name “Bullet Ants.” Adolescent males of the tribe must complete a ritual where they wear a glove filled with the ants before they can be considered men. [2]

Baby Tossing. If couples are married at the Sri Santeswar temple in the state of Karnataka, India and then have a child, they can participate in a special ritual that is supposed to bring them and their baby good luck, health, and prosperity. All they have to do is let their baby be tossed from the 50-foot roof of the temple and be caught by a blanket stretched between crowd members. [2]

Whale Tooth Proposal. In Fiji, a man isn’t allowed to marry unless he first presents his intended bride’s father with a whale’s tooth. If suitably impressed, the father will give permission for the marriage. [3]

Marry a Tree, End a Curse. In certain places in India, it’s believed that if a woman is born during a specific astrological time, she is cursed, and that when she marries, the curse will lead to her husband’s death. Villagers lift the curse by having the woman marry a tree and then cutting it down, thereby ending the curse and making it safe for the woman to marry a man. [3]

After reading a slew of articles about strange rituals, I had no trouble letting my imagination run wild and coming up with the weird beliefs of the Skomori in my book.

Thanks for your fascinating information, Lexa, and for those links! I can't wait to look them up myself.

BLOODWALKER is available here:

Or if you want it for your iPad or phone, it's available on iBooks.

Contact L.X. Cain here:

Reference Footnotes:

[1] Distractify: 25 of the Most Bizarre Superstitions From Around the World http://distractify.com/old-school/2014/10/21/very-superstitious-1197796927

[2] Wonderlist: 10 Bizarre Traditions http://www.wonderslist.com/10-bizarre-traditions/
[3] LifeBuzz: 31 Really Weird Marriage Customs From Around the World http://www.lifebuzz.com/marriage-customs/

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12. Coming Soon On The Great Raven: A Guest Post And An Interview!

On Tuesday I will be posting a guest post by Lexa Cain, horror novelist, who will be telling us some customs and traditions that inspired her newest novel, Bloodwalker.

Soon after this, in the next few days, the amazing Juliet Marillier will be answering some questions about her trilogy, Blackthorn And Grim, whose last volume, Den Of Wolves, has just come out. If you haven't read these books, I do recommend them. Juliet Marillier doesn't just do Fat Fantasy Trilogies. Her characters are human and believable and they spend the three volumes developing as people. You care about them. There may be Otherworldly beings, but even they can be believable as people.

And personally, I would love to have a Grim in my life. Despite all his traumas, he looks after others - especially Blackthorn, but others as well. He is such a teddy bear! Kind and wise and loyal and just huggable. Read the books and you'll see what I mean. And then come back and read Juliet's answers to my questions! 

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13. Just Downloaded... I Am Providence!

After reading a description of this novel as "Bimbos Of The Death Sun meets Lovecraft" I just had to have it. Mind you, I did see, first, if it was in my local library, but I think it has just been released, so no. And not at Dymock's bookshop either. I try to be careful not to fill up my iPad too much. But I ended up buying it.

I read Bimbos, by Sharyn McCrumb, some years ago, and still have a battered copy on my shelves. It's a murder mystery set at a science fiction convention, in which the obnoxious guest of honour is murdered, seen from the viewpoint of a character who isn't really a science fiction fan but wrote a novel with an engineering theme which somehow ended up as a popular SF novel with the bizarre title Bimbos Of The Death Sun(not the author's choice) and now he's at this convention with a bunch of crazies.

Being one of the crazies who attends science fiction conventions, I found it initially irritating, but I suspected the author does know some things about fandom, and she wrote another novel in which a group of fans gather to dig up a time capsule of stories they wrote twenty years ago, because the valley where they buried it is about to be flooded for a dam. Only one of them has made it as a writer and he is suffering from dementia - and has witnessed a murder. But there's another character who is still publishing his silly little fanzine, which nobody reads, on a school duplicating machine, and it made me wince, because there are people like that.

I have just read a few pages of I Am Providence, because I have to finish my Juliet Marillier trilogy so I can prepare her interview questions, but yes, there is a definite flavour of Bimbos so far and even a throwaway line with the name McCrumb in it, possibly in case you don't notice...

Can't wait! 

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14. Just Started Reading... Blackthorn And Grim #2!

With Juliet Marillier's visit coming so soon(start cleaning and dusting the blog residence!) I'm trying to catch up with this wonderful trilogy! I finished Dreamer's Pool last night and have just begun Tower Of Thorns. It's a little shorter, but still plenty to read.

Juliet Marillier makes good use of fairy tales in her fiction. People enjoy figuring out which ones as they read. There were elements of The Goose Girl in Dreamer's Pool, but I haven't read enough of the current book to figure out which, if any, tale is involved here. We'll see. It does have a beginning that reminds me of the Arthurian tales which begin with a damsel arriving at court to ask for help, only instead of a king, there's his son, as the king has gone off South for a meeting at the High King's court, and instead of a brave knight the damsel wants a grumpy wise woman's assistance... The grumpy wise woman being Blackthorn, who is trying to avoid being asked for help because, under the terms  of her agreement with fey nobleman Conmael, she has to give it or risk finding herself back in the dreadful lockup from which he rescued her a year ago.

The covers are beautiful, with dreamy, Pre-Raphaelite style maidens on them. I'm not sure what the connections are to the stories, but authors would kill for such gorgeous covers! People pick those up.

Time to get up, eat and start organising my tax documents... Groan...

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15. Just Started Rereading... Kerry Greenwood's Urn Burial!

This is the old cover of the book, which I bought when it first came out. The gent with the lamp is the delightful David Greagg, a children's writer, retired secondary teacher and leading member of the Society for Creative Anachronism. He's Kerry's "registered wizard" and partner. The newer cover is pretty, but no David. 

I just felt like a reread. This is Kerry's Agatha Christie tribute, with a cast of standard Christie characters listed at the front, a country mansion with the river swelling and threatening to cut them off and a murder! Unlike in Christie, the victim is a servant, not one of the privileged members of the house party. Which says something for the author, a lawyer with Legal Aid, one who looks after people who can't afford to pay and became a lawyer for that reason. Oh, and there are the characters from the past, disguised and revealed in the last few scenes, so familiar from Christie's detective yarns. And there's a nice old lady, always knitting or crocheting, as she chats - and listens - cheekily called Mary Mead, a salute to Miss Marple. 

  Interestingly, there was a short story, "Overheard On A Balcony",  in the Phryne Fisher collection A Question Of Death, which was the seed of this story, only it was set in the Queenscliff Hotel(a gorgeous place in a seaside town in Victoria - I've been there and had lunch on the verandah, gazing out to sea...)and the murder victim developed into the villain of this novel. 

Despite the grim-sounding title, the book was great fun, especially if you have read Agatha Christie. I just had to rummage it out from among all the Greenwood books on my shelves and start my reread! I'm unwell and it's perfect for reading on the sofa whole trying to recover from a cold.

But I will have to put it aside, as I've just received the first two books in the Blackthorn and Grim trilogy so as to be able to interview the delightful author, Juliet Marillier. I have to do that soon, as she's heading overseas, so off to Reader Land! See you on the other side.

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16. September 19: On This Day!

I was listening to the radio this morning, my mother's favourite station, as I was spending the night with her. They announced some actor birthdays that interested me - Adam West, who played Batman in that over-the-top version, before films started turning him into something deadly serious, turned 88 today. 

David McCallum turned 83. For me, he will always be Ilya Kuryakin, the lovely Russian colleague of Napoleon Solo. I used to have a photo of him above my bed when I was in my teens. I read in his Wikipedia entry that at the height of his fame he was getting more fan mail than anyone in MGM history, including Clark Gable and Elvis Presley! Wow! Apparently, when he got a role in the forensics TV series NCIS, he went off and studied up on forensics to the point where he was invited to speak at conferences and was asked to be a technical adviser on the show. 

I did once get to see him on stage,  in a tour of Run For Your Wife. And in Babylon 5 as a scientist. 


However, more importantly for this book blog, I checked out the authors - and one illustrator - born On This Day, and there were quite a few I'd actually read. Here are some of them:

1867: the delicious illustrator Arthur Rackham. If you haven't seen any of his art, shame on you! Go look it up on Google Images RIGHT NOW!

Okay, here are a couple

Public domain

   Public domain

1908Mika Waltari, author of The Egyptian, which was made into a film with Edmund Purdom, Peter Ustinov, Jean Simmons and quite a few others. It was the first Finnish novel to be filmed by Hollywood. 

1911: William Golding, author of Lord Of The Flies. He did a lot more, of course, but that's the most famous. I first read it when I was in my teens, on the recommendation of a school friend. It's such a grim story, and probably realistic...

1922: Damon Knight, author of a lot of SF books, but most famous for his short story, "To Serve Man". I probably shouldn't talk about it, because of the punch line spoiler, but read it! It's probably free online somewhere by now. 

1947: The extraordinary Tanith Lee, author of some wonderful fantasy novels and short stories, who could not only write a great yarn, but write it beautifully, as in "beautiful writing." My favourite is Drinking Sapphire Wine, but I love them all. 

What is it with this date that has produced so many fabulous creative people? I don't know, but we're lucky to have them.

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17. An Interview With Alex Isle

Every two years some members of the Australian SF community run something called the SF Snapshot, asking authors about their writing. Each one is different, with only two questions in common across the interviews. 

I've had two of these, but this year nobody invited me, or my guest, Alex Isle, formerly Sue Isle, so after Alex mentioned it on Livejournal, I suggested we do our own unofficial Snapshot. Mine will appear in Apocalypse Wih Rats and I'll give you a link when it appears.

Really, I should have interviewed this wonderful author a long time ago. We've known each other since the start of our careers. We both used to write Star Trek and other media fan fiction in the good old days before the Internet made it possible to write celebrity fan fiction, fiction about real people(Shudder!) 

Alex Isle's short stories are very, very Australian, though his only novel(see below) is set in a vaguely European Renaissance world, and he had a delicious story about Mary Bennet of Pride And Prejudice, a TARDIS and a certain famous fictional villain in shared universe anthology New Ceres Nights...

 You are best known to your fans and friends as Sue Isle and even  have your very own Wikipedia entry under that name. Would you share your reasons for the change of name?

In 2014 I changed my name from Susan to Alex to reflect a gender change identity and adopted the pronouns he/his.  Publications before 2014 are under the name Sue Isle.  And thanks for the heads up about Wikipedia.  I had forgotten the page was there and have now altered it as much as I’m able.  It’s an ongoing process because I’m not that computer savvy.

As a writer, what is your favourite genre? Despite being known mostly as the author of dark fantasy, you do seem to vary, from mediaeval fantasy to science fiction. So, what do you enjoy writing most?

It changes from time to time, but I lack the knowledge of hard science necessary to be really good in that field and my historical knowledge is only amateur, so I feel most comfortable in urban fantasy and horror of the present day or near future speculations.

You've written quite a lot of short fiction over the years. Do you feel most comfortable in this type of writing? 

Well, it’s easiest to finish and maintain a taut pace!  Also the opportunities for selling short fiction are much greater, since the anthology is a popular form in the sf and fantasy genres.  But I would love to break properly into novel writing.

Do you have a favourite story of those you've written? What is it and why?

Again, this answer keeps changing.  I like to think I’ve become better over the years and sometimes wince when I look at some of my early efforts.  I have a rather dark sense of humour, so the story I wrote for Orb, "The Woman of Endor" [2001], is still a favourite because it features the Jesus-as-a-zombie trope, which always seemed a logical interpretation to me.  And no, I’m not a believer.  I know my idea of the historical period is probably dodgy, but the story still won me an award so I’m happy.

"A Sky Full of Ravens" in She’s Fantastical, a1995 anthology edited by Lucy Sussex and Judith Buckrich, is another favourite because it sparked the interest of Hodder Headline, who published my first actual book, the aforementioned Scale of Dragon, Tooth of Wolf.  This is the first appearance of my teenaged witch alter ego, Amber, and her troubles with authority and the story ended up as a reworked chapter in the book.

My current favourite, "The Kind Neighbours of Hell",  is one of my few recent stories.  I have been rather blocked in writing fiction over the past few years and this one,published in the 2014 Peggy Bright Books anthology edited by Simon Petrie and Edwina Harvey, again appealed to my weird sense of humour.  It’s also the only one under my changed name so it feels right to me when I look at it.  Use Only as Directed is the name of the anthology, which had the theme of human invention, learning from others’ mistakes and what happens when Murphy’s Law goes pear-shaped.

I had fun with alternate worlds and calling up demons in this, a world where demons are very much a thing and where my main characters (a couple of teenaged boys) become everyone’s warning about why you never, ever, do this at home.

You've written for children, Wolf Children, a couple of articles in the wonderful School Magazine(now celebrating its 100th birthday)and your YA novel Scale Of Dragon, Tooth Of Wolf - would you consider writing for children or teens again if you got the opportunity? (In fact, are you considering finishing the sequel to Scale Of Dragon, which ended on a cliffhanger?)

I love writing for teens, it’s one of my favourite areas of literature.  I think a lot of the books and stories have fresher and more interesting ideas and interpretations of those ideas than quite a few adult books.  They aren’t bogged down with their own length and they have so much hope and anticipation for the future.

School Magazine is the most amazing publication and bunch of people I have ever met as an author!  I wish I could write more for younger children just so I could send stuff to them.  They recently asked to reprint an article I wrote about how wolves became dogs – 18 years after the original was published.  And they sent me an invitation to their 100th.  I would so like to read some of the early publications.

I’m sorry about the cliffhanger in Tooth; it wasn’t supposed to be like that, though having the heroine ride into the sunset isn’t that horrific an ending.  I did write another, but it was not accepted due to poor sales for the novel, and this sequel died with one of my previous computers.  What I would write now would, in any case, be very different and I may yet get to that, perhaps as a self-published e-book.

There is something very Australian about a lot of your writing and your landscapes. Could you tell us a bit about that? 

Well, I guess that’s natural since I was born here and lived most of my life here.  So even though I write fantasy and sf, the grounding of those stories really is what I know; the city of Perth, a bit about Melbourne, which is the eastern city I know best, and various towns and country areas I have visited, particularly when I was young.  Nearly all the fantasy I read as a kid originated in England, which never bothered me at the time, but later on I wanted to write about my place.

Can you describe your writing process? For example, what happens after you get an idea? If you like, describe the process of writing a single story among your many. 

My recent writing process has not been a smooth one.  I feel a bit guilty to claim writer’s block, which feels like an excuse, but the truth is I have not felt the sense of opportunity and openness which I remember in the past.  I have only completed a few stories in the last two years, which have been absorbed with my gender transition, something I felt I had to do in order to be able to write properly again.

That isn’t really what you asked, I know.  When I start with a story, it’s often with a person, an image of a person, sometimes a name, and a sense of where they are and what they are thinking about.  The problem, the focus of the story, comes after that.  So I guess I will use my latest story, the only one unpublished, as an example, since the earlier the story, the less I tend to remember about how it came to be.

It’s called "All We Have Is Us", written earlier in 2016, unpublished.  I wanted to write a zombie story, the one ‘monster’ I’ve never featured from the classics of vampire, werewolf, shambler, and to set it in a post apocalypse Perth.

Sian, a teenaged scavenger, discovers a secret dungeon in what was once a wealthy mansion, containing a woman who has been there before the outbreak.  

I started with that idea; a destroyed civilisation and a person so secluded that they don’t know civilisation has been destroyed, in a sense, a time traveller from the days before.   The story is from Sian’s POV, so again I started with the person, put her in her place, in the middle of something she’s doing.  To her, this is the normal world.  The survivors all have the morals of their age; your survival counts first, then your group, and the people beyond, not at all.  The prisoner has the soft morality of the First World, so the question is which ethics are going to win.  Is it possible that the prisoner has something to teach the survivors of a zombie plague?

I have these ideas in my mind while I write, and while I’m introducing characters and dialogue and the characters are trying to decide what to do.  It’s also about men and women, because I wanted to have female characters leading without making a really blunt point about it.  It’s not a thing to have a female leader; she’s just the leader, the strongest person in all the things that matter in this new world.  Male physical strength doesn’t mean a whole lot when you’re facing creatures who can kill you with a bite and who are vastly stronger than any living person because they hold nothing back when they use their strength.  Being a survivor is a headspace.  So if the characters find the person who imprisoned the woman years ago, will they punish him by the old morality or the new?

I hope that makes a little bit of sense.

Finishing with the two official Snapshot questions, which I hope the Snapshot folk won't mind:

What Australian work have you read recently and loved?

I have to admit to being an epic fail here.  I checked my book blog back until early this year and haven’t read any book by an Australian author in that time.  I think the last one was Gillian Polack’s  Langue[dot] doc 1305, the book whose title I can’t type out without checking it.  That would have been shortly after it was published in 2014.  I remember enjoying that a lot and feeling it was the first accurate time travelling novel I’d ever read.

Origin is not the first thing I look for, I admit; I follow genres or ideas I’m interested in and the nationality comes second.  But I will accept a reading list if folk want to provide one! 

What author, living or dead(let's assume they're snatched from their own time and not actually zombies!)would you like next to you on a long plane flight?

I would never have opted for a zombie; they can’t talk and would steal your food.  There’s probably quite a few I would like to choose from, but writers I have enjoyed for a very long time come top of the list, such as Rudyard Kipling or Rosemary Sutcliff.  Hopefully they also didn’t mind chatting to fans.

Thanks for visiting The Great Raven, Alex!

For anyone who'd like to read Alex's short story collection, Nightsiders, or New Ceres Nights, they are both available at the Twelfth Planet web site, here. http://www.twelfthplanetpress.com/store-items/nightsiders

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18. Happy 100th Birthday, School Magazine!

Last night, there was a celebration I had to miss because it was in Sydney and I had family commitments that wouldn't allow me to travel interstate. I was thinking of it, though, and hope to get a photo or two to share with you in a future post. 

The NSW School Magazine has now been delighting Australian children for a century. I was one of them, though it didn't look this good in my childhood! It's made up of four reading levels - Countdown, Blastoff, Orbit and Touchdown. Each is for a different age. There are stories, plays, articles, cartoons, letters to the editor. It's simply wonderful! 

And a great market. I first heard of it as a market at a library conference, where the guest of honour was Geoffrey McSkimming, author of the Cairo Jim adventures and, more recently, the Phyllis Wong novels. Geoffrey was working for the School Magazine at the time. He told me they had four different magazines and they came out four times a year, so they needed plenty of material.

I have written quite a few articles for them over the years, on everything from space travel to forensics, from archaeology to the story of the original Siamese twins. (Apparently, one teacher said she couldn't get her class to focus on their next lesson after they read that!). I haven't submitted anything for a while, must get back into it. It's a wonderful market, especially good for non fiction writers now that the book market has dried up. (And it has. Look at the Eve Pownall non fiction part of the CBCA shortlist and most of the books are published by specialist organisations such as museums, not by regular publishers. The education market is only good nowadays if you're a part of their stable of writers.)  

And most of Australia's favourite children's writers have written for it at one time or another; it's a bit like the writer equivalent of Playschool, which has employed some of the country's biggest actors, only they all did that at the start of their careers, whereas School Magazine's writers are only too delighted to continue submitting. 

I wish I'd been able to go to the party yesterday, but still, I want to wish School Magazine all the very best for their next hundred years!

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19. Look What I Got From Christmas Press!

These books were waiting for me on my doormat when I arrived home this evening. 

One is the latest of their beautiful series of "Two Tales" books, the other is a reprint of Libby Gleeson's very first book, newly illustrated by Beattie Alvarez, who has done a lot of illoing for Christmas Press, as well as editing the lovely anthology Once Upon A Christmas, in which I was lucky enough to have a story. I'm drooling over both books - such a pity I've had to part with most of my Two Tales books, but I just don't have the space on my shelves any more - and it's nice to know that young children in my family and among my friends' children and grandchildren can enjoy them.

I think it's wonderful to see small presses such as this one, Clan Destine and Ford Street reprinting classics that should never have gone out of print. It's something that small press can afford to do, as they are willing and able to try something different - a good reason why we should be supporting them.

Anyway, reviews to come! 

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20. Happy Birthday, Andy Griffiths!

And to me also, but that's another story.

By the way, it's also the birthday of the guy who invented the safety match - a great thing, but he made very little money out of it, because the damned things were too expensive for the average person at the time. I guess you can't expect a scientist to also be good in business. 

For those of you who aren't Australian, Andy Grifffiths, Aussie children's writer, has no connection with an American actor who had his own TV comedy show in the 1960s - about the only thing they have in common is being funny, and believe me, Andy Griffith was funny in a very different way! 

Take a look at this. 

It started as a short story in which a boy's backside ran away and had to be persuaded to come back after a wild chase through the streets of Melbourne. I think the US edition of the book was called The Day My Butt went Psycho, because in the U.S. a "bum" is a tramp. 

This writer and his wonderful artist collaborator, Terry Denton, absolutely get that children like their humour over the top. (Paul Jennings does too, but it isn't his birthday...) There's a cartoon flavour about their fiction, where outrageous things happen which the young readers know couldn't possibly happen, but what fun to imagine it! 

In the "Just" and "Treehouse " books the characters are named for the authors. In one story that I read with my students around once a year, "Gorillagram", Andy decides to annoy his sister, who is celebrating her birthday in a Lygon Street restaurant by turning up in a gorilła suit. He ends up being hauled off to the zoo, when he can't get out of it. 

There's even Just Macbeth, a play in which the characters are preparing for a school production of Macbeth and end up falling into the roles they're playing. I think it was commissioned to get kids interested in Shakespeare, and I can't think of a better way. 

Here's the latest "Treehouse" book, which I'll be ordering for my library, where a sixteen year old student is reading the series. My nephew's seven year old son Eden is also reading the series at the moment. He's looking forward to this one. See? Universal appeal! (Of course, Eden is a very good reader, a couple of years ahead).

We have the Schooling Around series in my library, about the adventures of a class with a delightfully over the top teacher, a bit like the one in Oliver Phommavanh's Thai series, but that teacher is based on himself, and Oliver Phommavanh is every bit as crazy-delightful as his character; this one is even more over-the-top. 

And Andy Griffiths is such a nice man! I met him at the YABBA Awards one year(see the post, somewhere under YABBAs) and he was just lovely, and even gave us a set of Schooling Around, which had just come out with a new cover. They are much-borrowed, believe me. 

And you know what? I would much rather share a birthday with Andy Griffiths than any World Leader or famous general. He has done far more for the human race than any king or politician or conqueror. 

Let's face it, we all need to laugh.  

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21. Eleanor, Elizabeth by Libby Gleeson. Ill. by Beattie Alvarez. Armidale, NSW, Christmas Press 2016

This was Libby Gleeson's very first book, published in 1984, and won some awards. Awards or not, everything goes out of print sooner or later - well, nearly everything. I've read that the only Australian book to stay in print for 100 years or more is Ethel Turner's Seven Little Australians. And this one was out of print and now it's back! 

You'll find an interview with the author on the Christmas Press website here:

There are also details of how to buy Christmas Press books. If you live outside of Australia and want a copy, you will need to email the publisher, to work out postage; otherwise, it's available in all good bookstores. Remember, this is a small press. This particular imprint is Second Look, which I assume is meant to reprint out-of-print books that are special and deserve a second look. 

So, what's it about? It's not actually a time travel book, not even to the same extent as Jackie French's Daughter Of The Regiment, in which a boy in the more-or-less here and now sees through a hole in time, located in his family's chook shed, to the life of a young orphaned girl in the 1840s, who turns out to be an ancestor. 

But it does have two girls, the Victorian-era Elizabeth, writing in a diary, and her granddaughter Eleanor, who has just moved to her mother's childhood home in the bush. Eleanor is unhappy. She misses her friends and she has been bullied at her new school. She takes refuge in the diary of her maternal grandmother, whom she doesn't remember(she died when Eleanor was a toddler), which she finds in the old schoolhouse in the yard. Elizabeth was rebellious and hated her girly clothes and restrictions. She had found a secret spot in the bush, a cave, which becomes important late in the book, when Eleanor really needs to find it. For Eleanor, the diary is the secret - and there are some parallels in their lives. 

It's set in 1960, for the same reasons why you couldn't remake Back To The Future, ie the girl would have to be a much earlier ancestor than grandmother. The 1960s are just as much another world as the Victorian era. Everyone is talking about getting an aerial set up for TV. There's the "wireless" and the Argonauts Club. Girls asking each other, "Have you got George yet?" I hadn't a clue what that was till "the curse" was mentioned as an alternative name and I bet teenage girls don't know that term either.

It's a short book, surely no more than 20,000 words, but works as a novel. There's something sweet about it, and it is very Australian, considering the author was in Europe when she was working on it. 

Well worth a reprint and it should still appeal to girls in late primary/early secondary school who like their book heroines strong. 

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22. A Book Launch At Reading's: Gillian Polack's Latest

I had heard about it on line and received an invitation to attend via email.

The invitation looked like this.

Reading's is a smallish chain of bookshops. We have one in St Kilda, the suburb next to mine, although that Reading's simply took over another bookshop, Cosmos, a real independent, and didn't even make too many changes.

But the one in Hawthorn has been there for years. It's in a shopping centre, though it takes a fair while to get there from where I was approaching. I work in Melbourne's west, a fair distance from Hawthorn, but I left work on time to catch a city train and a connection which would get me some of the way there. You can catch the tram from town, but it's actually quicker to take a third transport, get off the train in Balaclava, a suburb along the tram line, and catch the tram another 40-odd stops. 

I arrived with a few minutes to spare for the 6.30 am book launch, greeted Gillian, who had come from Canberra to Melbourne, where her family lives, and Michael Pryor, who was launching the book.

Which looks like this. 

I have taken the image off the publisher's web site - I don't think they'll mind, as this is promotional. 

I bought the book. I prefer ebooks these days, but there aren't any at this stage. There probably will be. But I was attending a launch and it seemed silly to have come all that way at the end of a long work day and not buy something! Besides, it would give me something to curl up in bed with. 

I have to admit, I was impressed with the look of the book. You can mostly tell a small-press book. They may look beautiful, but they're usually thin and the paper is thick. I guess it must be the way of less-expensive overseas printers. This one looks completely professional. In fact, after selling 29 copies, Gillian told me, the bookshop took several more on consignment. I think they'll sell. 

I settled down to the launch - first, the publisher, who has bought four books from Gillian and has known her a few years. Then Michael Pryor, a wonderful writer himself, though so far all his books are for children and teens. As a former teacher, he knows his audience very well. This novel, on the other hand, is about older women. Jewish women. Anglo-Jewish women. Gillian Polack's father's family has been here for many generations, one of twelve Jewish families to arrive in the 19th century. She acknowledges they're a minority among all the rest of us who have come from Europe. And they have a different culture. Despite that, if you saw Gillian, listened to her voice, saw her gestures, you might mistake her for a European Jew. Maybe there are some things that don't change. 

She read some passages from the book, answered some questions and settled down to sign. Again, I rarely bother to get a book signed, because I might not like it and wish to pass it on and then what to do with a book that has a personalised autograph? But I got it signed. And personalised. Gillian was a bit nervous, because I would be able to pick up the Jewish elements. Still, no harm in it. After all, how does she think I felt when she wanted a copy of my mediaeval fantasy novel? She is the expert in that area, after all.

Serve her right! But I've read the first few pages and think I'll enjoy it. I like a book with humorous touches and I think this will be gently humorous, the way I like it. 

Afterwards, I went off to supper with two friends from the Nova Mob. Well, I had a hot chocolate as the Greek place we went didn't have tea, and a Greek rice pudding. I had eaten on the train on my way, not thinking I'd have time to eat afterwards. One if my friends had come a longer way than me and hadn't eaten at all. 

We were soon joined by Gillian, her family and another fannish friend. I had a lift home and managed to be there by 9.00 pm, ready to have a shower and read in bed. 

A good evening all round! 

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23. Happy Fiftieth Birthday, Star Trek!

Live long and prosper!

Okay, I took a "selfie" here because it's just too much trying to find a photo that's not copyright to Paramount or whoever. And they can't claim copyright on the gesture, which is part of the Jewish tradition, though our people do it with both hands. Still, I don't have copyright either.

Fifty years ago, On This Day, the first aired episode, "The Mantrap", was aired, about a creature known as the Salt Vampire, the last of its kind, which could take on the appearance of anyone it wished, to help it get close to an intended victim. (I used to use this as an excuse to attend Austrek parties out of costume, claiming that I was the Salt Vampire, who had eaten Sue Bursztynski at the door)

Star Trek means a lot to me. I grew up with the original series. I was a science fiction fan looking for real SF. I found it in Star Trek. In later years, according to an interview a friend and I did with David Gerrold, author of "The Trouble With Tribbles", Gene Roddenberry was upset that he wasn't getting respect from the SF community, so decided that he was having no more SF writers on his show. You might notice there was a stable of scriptwriters on the spinoff shows, and none of them had any SF credentials, as far as I know. Not that the spinoffs weren't wonderful in themselves, but there weren't any of the big name SF/F writers of the original series.

I'm talking about the likes of Jerome Bixby, Theodore Sturgeon, Robert Bloch, Norman Spinrad - should I note Harlan  Ellison? Well, he did write the original "City On The Edge Of Forever", except they rewrote it completely and he complained about it quite a lot in the years that followed. Still, he won awards both for the original script and the episode and I hadn't heard that he turned down his Hugo. I do understand how he felt, though. As a writer, I wince! But he went on to work on the new Twilight Zone and Babylon 5, which I assume didn't do that to him. 

And a classic episode of a classic TV show has his name on it, however he may feel.

Larry Niven's story "The Soft Weapon" became "The Slaver Weapon" on the animated Trek. Mind you, he later had his story removed from Trek canon, but then, I don't think Roddenberry considered it canon either, though it had some lovely episodes, especially Dorothy Fontana's "Yesteryear". I think Dorothy Fontana wrote some of the best episodes of the series and she did some lovely stuff for Babylon 5, too.

There was an episode based on Fredric Brown's short story "Arena". Having read the story and seen the episode, I can say the episode is different, but it's still Fredric Brown.

Isaac Asimov never wrote for the show, but he said in an interview that where Star Trek erred in the science, it did so intelligently. 

And what about the Trek novelisations?  Also done by well-known spec fic writers! The live action episodes were written by James Blish and the animateds by Allan Dean Foster. I actually preferred those, because they were developed into novella-length stories, but Blish did pretty well considering he had to squash so much into short sttories!

I have a vague memory of seeing a script for one of the spinoff shows, and where a character was supposed to explain the science, there was the word "technobabble" in brackets, to be filled in later.

Last Saturday night, my own birthday, I went to the Classic Cinema in Elsternwick to see Adam Nimoy's crowd-funded documentary about his father, For The Love of Spock. It was nearly two hours long and well worth sitting through every minute. There were not many people in the small cinema, but those who were there were all fans. Who else would sit through a full-length documentary about Star Trek lateish on a Saturday night? Glancing around, I saw happy faces with smiles on them. I must have looked the same.

I already know quite a lot, but there were things I hadn't known about Mr Nimoy and his family's lives. Like the fact that he never turned down any work because he wanted to make sure that what had happened to other actors on popular shows when their TV series were cancelled never happened to him. So, he'd finish filming on a Friday, catch the red-eye flight somewhere else and do another job over the weekend. His work hours were long - that I knew - and when they were over, he'd go home, have dinner and read lines with his wife. All that meant the kids didn't get to see much of him, but they still had to sit for family portraits in the magazines - and help with the fan mail!

There were interviews with everyone Adam Nimoy could get hold of - all the surviving members of the original cast, members of the new cast, some directors... There were snippets of archival footage, but also some bits of interview with him, because this film started before he died.

I'm keeping my fingers crossed that it will be available on DVD at some stage, because it gave me a lot of pleasure and I'd love to re-view it at some stage.

So, I wonder what the new series will be like?

But the joy of our wonderful Internet era is that fans are making their own films, some of them including the original cast. I think it may be their version of fan fiction, which we oldies had to write for publication in fanzines. Myself, I've written around 150 fan stories in my time, and at least 100 of those would have been Star Trek. It was a part of my early life in fandom, and I don't regret any of it! It taught me to write short fiction and develop characters within the limit. It also taught me to write book reviews, without which this blog might never have existed.

By the way, if you'd like to read some of the old fan stories, there's a wonderful web site, 1001 Trek Tales, which has republished a lot of the old classic stories - all of them with permission of the authors or their estates. (There are two of mine up there, not my greatest, but still, I'm chuffed... They happened to be what the site owner had in her collection).

So, to all fans out there, live long and prosper!

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24. Escape To The Moon Islands. Book 1 Quest Of The Sunfish by MardiMcConnochie. Crow's Nest: Allen And Unwin, 2016.

Annalie and Will live with their father, Spinner, in Lowtown, one of the shabbier parts of a city in Dux, in a world struggling up from a worldwide flood connected with attempts at fixing climate change disasters. Spinner is a mysterious figure. They live "off the grid." 

When Spinner suddenly has to flee from pursuers he has expected for a long time, the twins also must escape, Annalie bringing her friend Essie from their boarding school, where she had a suspicious visitor, Beckett, soon after her father's disappearance. Beckett had asked some questions that made her conclude he was up to no good. The children, who had spent a lot of time sailing with their father, know how to sail very well. They have to steal back the boat, which has been impounded by the Admiralty, the world's rulers, and set sail to find their father, using a few clues they have picked up. One more member is added to the crew, Pod, a former slave rescued from a rock where he was marooned. Then the adventure proper begins. 

And it is quite an adventure, or a series of adventures, from talking apes(left over from an experiment in making animals talk)to a cannibalistic religious cult. They're travelling through an archipelago of islands that range from dead to tropical, so they might find anything along the way. 

There is a definite lesson on what climate change might lead to, not to mention who might rise to the top - in this case, the Admiralty, which began as a way of getting the world through the crisis and ended up staying in power. 

The characters are good, each of them contributing their knowledge to the quest. Annalie is the intellectual, who remembers things - and the only possible navigator. Will steers the boat and does most of the repairs when needed. Essie, the rich girl with no special sailing skills, offers to cook - and, at one stage, becomes ship's medic because she saw all this stuff on a TV series. Pod can't swim, but has plenty of support skills to offer, and knowledge of pirates. 

I did wonder how the villain, Beckett, was able to track the fugitives so easily, something not explained by the end of the book. He simply turns up right under their noses whenever they're feeling safe. Not on a following ship, though there are those, but right there, ready to capture whichever of them is in a street, getting supplies along the way. The children wonder briefly about it themselves at one point, then don't discuss it again. Perhaps it will turn up in the next book, though I suspect not.

Still, suspension of disbelief should help the reader get on with enjoying the book, which is basically a road story with islands instead of towns on the way. 

There's also a distinct flavour of Jules Verne, especially Captain Grant's Children aka In Search Of The Castaways, a Disney film of the 1960s. Well, why not? Perhaps children who read this might try Verne next. 

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25. Just Finished Reading... The Underground Railroad By Colson Whitehead

I heard about this novel on Radio National last weekend, in an interview with the author, and downloaded it from iBooks immediately.

A fascinating premise! We've all heard of the Underground Railroad, of course, that network of ordinary people who helped smuggle escaped slaves out of the South, at the risk of their own lives. But it wasn't a real railroad, underground or otherwise, right?

Well, the author of this novel asks, what if it was? What if there really were tunnels under the homes and barns of abolitionists, leading to railway tracks, with trains coming every now and then to smuggle slaves out of their bondage?

This is the only fantastical element in the story; a lot of the other elements really happened in our world. And nasty they were, too. Very nasty! The heroine, Cora, is on the run from her plantation in Georgia, and a truly horrible master who is quite willing to suppress rebellion by torturing slaves to death as an example to the others. A number of times she thinks she has found a good place to live, only to find herself pursued by Ridgeway, a professional slave catcher/bounty hunter who is obsessed with catching her, because her mother was a failure on his part.

And along the route, she sees many new "worlds" in the United States, and their different ways.

The last scene of the novel left me scratching my head. I thought, "Er... Is that it?" A very sudden ending!

But interesting. I wonder if that one element will qualify it as a piece of speculative fiction? It's certainly alternative universe, and the whole notion of "stations" and "stationmasters" is woven into the fabric of the book.

What do you think? Is it spec fic? 

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