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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. My First School Visit

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

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

Dear enthusiastic young teacher,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Just some suggestions for next time.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This morning, by accident, I found this book.

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

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

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

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

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

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3. More Nepotistic posting!

Received an email yesterday from my brother

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

Latest News from The Ice Haloes
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Greetings friends,

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

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

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

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

Kids under 15 free.

Peggy, Belinda, Adam & Maurice.


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4. Library Memories

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

That made me think of my own childhood library experiences. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

                                              Latrobe Reading Room.
                                             Image taken from Wikipedia 

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

But nowhere to just sit and read comfortably. 

Can't have everything.

So, who has library memories to share? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now on to Book 3! 

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6. Friday the 13th - boo!

There's actually a name for it: paraskevidekatriaphobia.

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

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

Public Domain

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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7. Heady Lamarr - A Belated Happy Birthday!

Public domain photo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hmmph! About time.

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

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

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

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

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

And he was clearly having fun!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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10. My Favourite Adventure Fiction: Tolkien

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What do you think? 

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11. Some More Goodies On My Cyber Bookshelf!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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12. Left On My Doormat!

Look what I got! 

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

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

I will read and report. 

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13. ASIM Needs YOU - To Read Slush

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Leiden University Library, 1610, public domain

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

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

Famous Birthdays

1451 - Christopher Columbus. 'Nuff said. 

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

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

John Keats, public domain 

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

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

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

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

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

And speaking of Lord Of The Rings...

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

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

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15. What I'm Reading Now...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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16. Rich And Rare - The Launch!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A nice evening in all, except the brief panic!

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17. Just Finished Reading... Jump By Sean Williams(Twinmaker 1)

I've known a bit about this book since some of my students read it in manuscript form before it was published by Allen and Unwin back in 2013. It had mixed reactions from the kids who'd read the MS - one loved it, one didn't care for it. But I'd never got around to reading it myself.

When Mr Williams talked about it at the Reading Matters conference in May this year, I downloaded it, but only read a few pages before being distracted by something else. 

Then the publisher sent me a copy of Volume 3 to review and I thought it was about time I finally got stuck into it.(They have since then kindly sent me a copy of Volume 2 as well). 

As a Star Trek fan I found it fascinating. I grew up with the Star Trek transporter and replicators. Of course, the transporter(called d-mat in Jump) is still in the realms of science fiction and looks to stay that way for some time to come, if they don't find a way to transport something more than a photon! But the replicator(in this novel called the fabber) is actually possible, according to an article I read in New Scientist while researching for Grey Goo, a chapter book I was writing for Cengage a few years ago. It could possibly be done by nanotechnology.(I had great fun using the notion in Grey Goo) Tanith Lee also made good use of it in her Drinking Sapphire Wine novels.

In this novel, however, the fabber is an outgrowth of the d-mat. One that makes sense, to me at least. 

Remember how Dr McCoy was always grumbling about entrusting his atoms to the damned thing? Because you'd have to be destroyed and put together again to be transported. And while that was happening, the machine would have to save your pattern. There was even an episode of the animated Star Trek in which an elderly couple, a former Enterprise captain and his wife, the ship's doctor, were restored to youth during a crisis because of this fact. 

In the world of Jump, the fabber and the d-mat between them have more or less saved the world, which was close to destruction after a set of natural disasters. There is no more hunger or lack of resources. You can live in Sweden and go to school in the U.S. You can party anywhere you like. Most people don't have to work at all, though there is an administration and there are the peacekeepers(police force). You can access the Air, a much-expanded Internet, via your special contact lenses.There are rules that are supposed to make sure it's all safe. Supposed to. But even in this pleasant world, people are going to be dissatisfied with something about themselves and someone or something is out to take advantage of that...

This is the world in which teenager Clair lives and has all the usual teenage friendship/romance angst issues before realising that her friend Libby has tried something going through the Air called Improvement, which is likely to get her killed within days - and in trying to find out what's going on, Clair is on the run in a breathtaking, non-stop adventure.  

I love that the author has thought, really thought, about what the implications of the transporter and the replicator might be, in a way that Trek didn't. (I think the original reason for the Star Trek transporter was to save on SFX so the ship didn't have to land in every episode). I won't say more because spoilers, but I thoroughly  enjoyed it. I can't wait to read the next book, which I will review formally.  

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18. Back To The Future 2! October 21, 2015!

Just a short post tonight. This has been discussed on the radio and elsewhere. To be honest, I've only seen the movie once or twice, though I do have the DVD as part of my boxed set. It's the weakest of the three, IMO. But still, it's set on Wednesday, October 21st 2015, and tribute should be paid. The first film is a classic and the third almost as good. And Michael J Fox was running around trying to do both that and the TV series he was in at the time.

We don't have hover boards, thank goodness! It's bad enough trying to scramble out of the way of regular skateboards, without having to worry about flying ones. We don't have flying cars and probably won't have any in the near future, if ever. We do have flat screen TVs, though I have an old style box, myself, bought only a few years ago. I like them better.

I think SF writers are more careful these days with their predictions. But when you see films such as 2001, you just don't care. It's amazing stuff anyway.

But I remember, a few years ago, finding an old non fiction book on my library shelves, predicting life in the year 2000, and getting it all very wrong. I gave it to one of the teachers who did an English unit on the theme of The Future, so she could show her class how people thought of the future in the past.

Come to think of it, there's a Jules Verne novel called Paris 2000, or some such - I bought a copy but have mislaid it. We can forgive M.Verne for any errors he might have made, because he took the science known at the time quite seriously. I recall that H.G Wells sneered at his story about going to the moon and Verne said that at least he'd done his research, unlike Wells, whose method of getting to the moon had been made up.

In the end, we have to suspend disbelief when the writing is good. 

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19. Guest Post - Aleah Taylor

Today I would like to welcome to The Great Raven debut Aussie children's author Aleah Taylor who, like me, took a while to find her ideal publisher. I hope this is only the first sale of many, Aleah! 

If you want to buy the book, either in paperback or in ebook, you should be able to get it from Amazon here, from the publisher's web site and I see that in Australia you can order it through Gleebooks. There will be more web sites selling it soon - it has only been out for a week. 

I'll let Aleah tell you all about it. 

I’ve considered myself a writer since I could hold a pen. Some of my earliest memories are of looking at bookshelves and wondering when my book would be up there too. However, I never really attempted to write a novel until I was eighteen. Instead I wrote short stories galore and poetry, songs and scripts. I didn’t really feel a strong urge to write a book, until one day I looked at my son and just knew he had to be character in a book. So my book ‘Mystery on Mount Dusk’, started to come to life. I based both of the main boy characters on different sides of my son’s personality and the book flowed. I would sit for hours on end typing furiously, writing books for children is just so fun

My book is about a ten year old boy named George Mutton who moves to a mysterious little town on top of a mountain, Mount Dusk. There he discovers his new best friend Charlie Redwin and soon the boys uncover that Charlie’s evil guardian Uncle Hubert, is up to even more wicked things than they thought. Hubert Redwin is conjuring spirits back from the grave and entrapping innocent people’s souls in trees. The boys, with George’s little sister Maggie and Charlie’s twin sister Yvonne, vow to set the trapped souls free and rid the town of the evil man who has cursed it. But it’s all more complicated than they think and now they are the ones in danger from ghostly apparitions and ancient magic, darker than they could ever have imagined…


Every time I finished writing a chapter my heart would beat a little faster, I was one step closer to the vision of me holding a completed manuscript, ready to send it off to eager publishers. When that day finally came I typed the last sentence and squealed with joy, merrily telling all of my friends and family that I’d done it! I’d finally finished my book after a year of writing! But, of course, that’s when the real work starts. The fun part is over and now it’s time to convince people you don’t know that they should read your book and eventually publish it. The rejections hurt, I thought I was prepared for it but I wasn’t. My heart would ache with each line of the rejection letter, or I’d get no response and slowly day by day hope would wither away to dust.

After eight long years of looking for a publisher I’d had enough. I promised myself that I would contact one last publisher and if they didn’t like it, I was done. A year went past with no response and so I resigned myself to the idea that I might be left with self-publishing and that was okay. Dreams of traditional publishers are often dashed and I was just one of the many unlucky ones.

Then I got an email.

I was still in my pajamas, munching on breakfast and checking my inbox when I saw it, from NeverlandPublishing. I quickly threw my spoon down and tried to calm my pulse before clicking on the email. Finally I was reading it and tears instantly sprang to my eyes… I was going to be offered a publishing contract! I didn’t know what to do with myself, I laughed, I cried, I tried to call everyone I knew with shaky fingers eagerly tapping the phone screen. After running to my mother’s house and telling her it finally seemed real. I was a published author and people were finally going to read my book.

Now my book has just been released and slowly but surely the news of my book is spreading. Nine years of hoping, wishing, pleading my case and fiercely championing my work has paid off. I’ve heard a few comments from my first readers and each comment has sent a warmth through my heart. I just love hearing that something I worked so hard at is making people happy, making them love the written word that I too love so much. I feel like ‘Mystery on Mount Dusk’ is a child of mine, all grown up and out in the world doing fabulous things. I hope that every young set of eyes to devour my book lights up with glee at the words I put on the page. I also hope that new authors who might be reading this take heart that there is hope, even when you think you’re done with hope.

Aleah Taylor

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20. New Book I'm Reading...

I read a post on The History Girls blog, by my friend Gillian Polack, in which she mentioned a fascinating book she had read recently, A Drizzle Of Honey: The Lives And Recipes Of Spain's Secret Jews by David M Gitlitz and Linda Kay Davidson.

Of course, I had to have it and it was available on iBooks, so...

It's proving an enjoyable read. There are quite a few history-themed cook books out there, yes. I have a few myself. The Heston Blumenthal one about medieval cooking is great! But it's more of a history book than a cookbook. Which is fine for research and even a bit for cooking.

But this one has a bit of everything and it's not just "how to cook the way they did in medieval Spain" or even "how Jews cooked in medieval Spain" but about what could happen to you in Spain if you were caught cooking in a certain way or at certain times that might suggest you were secretly Jewish, especially after the Inquisition turned up. And a lot of these recipes are based on trial records, when people's neighbours and servants noticed that someone was doing things the Jewish way, maybe too fond of eggplant and chick peas, cooking your Saturday meal on Friday, having a salad with the girls on Saturday arvo... The evidence against one man who was burned at the stake included a type of casserole he had cooked! This has to be the first cookbook I've read where cooking could get you killed.

The authors have found recipes in a number of medieval Spanish and Moorish cookbooks that sounded like the ones mentioned in the trial records. They have made sure the ingredients were available in your average supermarket. And since so many have a lot of saffron in them(as they say, if you used the amount given in some of the recipes you'd have to take out a second mortgage!), they only include saffron where you really can't manage without it. If you just want the colouring, they say, turmeric will do.

Anyway, it looks good so far. I'm hoping to find something I can try, for which I have the ingredients in my pantry, fridge or fruit bowl!

Meanwhile, back to the book.

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21. Special Nepotistic Promo Post!

I've just had an email from my brother, who is a member of a terrific a capella group called the Ice Haloes. You can find them easily enough on YouTube, where there are bits from their performances. Then, if you live in Melbourne, you can go to one of their concerts. Or you can buy their new CD, which is just out. And this week, they're on radio, as mentioned below.

Here is the email. 

Hey everyone - a quick heads up about the fact that we are going to be LIVE on the radio this Sunday October 11.

The Ice Haloes will be the featured guests on Melbourne's 88.3 Southern FM during the weekly program "Sunday Sessions". From 4 PM (or soon after), we'll be performing songs live from our new CD Cover Stories and chatting with the host, Mark Missen.

Even if you don't live in Melbourne, you can listen in to the show live on the interwebs (do the arithmetic if you live in a different time zone) from the website:

 Bringing Acapella to the airwaves! 

See you at our next gig! Don't forget we have our CD Launch on November 21.Tickets can be bought via www.icehaloes.com

Peggy, Belinda, Adam & Maurice.

This is the cover of their album(that's my brother, Maurice, on the right. He's the group's bass)

At one point, Maurice was part of an a capella group which sang mostly(but not entirely) "beautiful Georgian folk songs about cutting trees in the forest". We're not Georgian. But the group was, and needed a bass.

That's how he got into a capella singing. I've seen the Ice Haloes perform and, trust me, they're good! Check them out on YouTube.

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22. Just Finished Reading... The Rest Of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness

I bought this from iBooks only Wednesday and had it finished yesterday. I'd read a review on Tsana's Reads blog and it sounded like fun, and so it was. 

Imagine if you lived in Sunnydale, or its equivalent, but weren't a part of Buffy the Vampire Slayer's Scooby Gang. All that stuff would still be happening but not to you, although you might still notice things going on, especially if you went to the same school.

In this novel, we see the goings-on from the viewpoints of a bunch of (mostly) ordinary kids, who have enough problems without worrying about whether evil beings from another dimension are trying to take over the world. The Chosen Ones are known as indie kids. Their adventures are happening off the main page, though we do get a paragraph or two about it at the start of each chapter. 

Actually, I have always loved Buffy because, in the middle of all those vampire and demon invasions, characters would be shrieking,"You stole my boyfriend!" 

In this case, in an unnamed small town, which does have semi-regular paranormal events(soul-sucking ghosts, vampire romances, a plague of gods and goddesses), we see what's happening elsewhere in the town, although the paranormal events do impact on the lives of those who are just trying to finish their exams, get a date to the prom and overcome truly serious anorexia and OCD problems. Mikey, the hero, is the one with OCD, his sister is a recovering anorexic, their father an alcoholic and their mother a politician who does care about them, but is mostly worried about her current campaign. These problems do have to be overcome, even as they pray for their school not to be burned down by the struggle between indie kids and  paranormal creatures...again. (It's only been eight years since the last time!) This is definitely a gentle poke at Buffy.

Despite all that, there is a should-be indie kid among them, Mikey's best friend Jared, a demigod, whose grandmother was the goddess of cats - part of the plague of gods, who had settled down with a mortal before returning to the divine realms. Jared is such a nice boy! And cats adore him, including mountain lions. But he is trying to live a normal life, apart from healing cats and the occasional human.

It isn't as funny as it sounds; there is gentle humour as the author pokes fun at the current passion for YA paranormal books, but there are enough serious problems to make you think.

Anyway, I enjoyed it. It's my first Patrick Ness book, though I do have  another on my iPad, to be read later.

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23. Books I Had To Read

Reading a blog post in which the blogger complained bitterly about Walt Whitman's Leaves Of Grass, one of those national classics kids have to read because, well, it's a national classic, made me think of the books I've had to read in my time. 

Until about Year 10, there were no set texts that I can remember. We read what we wanted and wrote book reports. If the teacher was being especially creative, we were allowed to do these in the form of a book dust jacket - something I'm sorry to say has come back in my school at Year 7 level, where, until this year, there was a creative response that involved book trailers and fan fiction and such things that let the kids use their imaginations and show that they had understood the books. 

Anyway. At Year 10, we had to read John Wyndham's The Chrysalids, which I took home and read in an evening. Next day I asked my teacher,"What do I do now?" His response was,"I don't know. I haven't prepared anything yet. You were supposed to take three weeks." 

He was a nice man, but not a very good teacher. There should have been reading and discussion in class and some work given to us as we went. I'm not sure he had even read it himself yet. 

I did enjoy The Chrysalids, which was about a future dystopia in which, after a nuclear war, there is a Puritanical society where anyone with a mutation was banished to the lands still affected by the radiation. The children from whose viewpoint the story was told had an invisible mutation: telepathy. That could have been great for class discussion, though, having reread it, I loved it again, but felt that the style was a bit dated. I wouldn't set it, though I would invite good readers to try it. 

Our  Shakespeare that year was Julius Caesar. Again, we didn't actually read or discuss it in class. We saw the movie with James Mason and Marlon Brando(a very sexy Mark Antony), but that was it. I had so looked forward to discussing this in class, having read my sister's copy before I was out of primary school. I am not even sure the teacher ever read the essay I wrote. I don't think any school does that one any more; our own kids are doing Romeo And Juliet this year, and that one has been the Year 10 Shakespeare for many years. Probably more appropriate for teenagers - I was a very strange teenager, one who would have enjoyed any Shakespeare.  

The next year's texts were Catcher In The Rye and Brave New World, both of which I had already read and loved, our Shakespeare was Richard III. I've already mentioned in previous posts that this was the year I discovered Richard and went on to read Daughter Of Time and join the Richard III Society; we had a wonderful English teacher that year. I've downloaded both novels to my iPad recently. Going by all the complaints on Goodreads, Catcher In The Rye is not all that popular these days, but it's known as the "first" YA novel and it used to be an act of rebellion to read it, one of those "under the covers with a torch" books. Probably because there have been so many YA novels since it was published it no longer has the effect it once did and is a bit dated. The ultimate indignity is that it's now a set school text! Brave New World is, I think, still relevant, though I don't know if anyone still sets it. 

I get a bit of a mishmash in remembering my Year 12 books, because I did both English and literature, so there were a lot of books to read and I can't quite recall which books I had to read for what.

Here are some of them: the poet was Lord Byron. We had to read the Prologue to The Canterbury Tales. I loved both, but I wasn't very good at writing about poetry, alas! Reading it, writing it, but not writing about it.

The Jane Austen was Pride And Prejudice. I confess it took me a couple of re-reads to appreciate that one, though if you have to study Jane Austen at high school level, that one is probably the best. That was before all the dramatisations made this novel such a big deal - and well before Colin Firth emerged from the lake in his wet shirt! We only had the book and, while the teacher was much better than the one I had in Year 10, she couldn't quite get me enthused about the books we studied. Not her fault. 

The Dickens was Great Expectations, which I did enjoy. I have to agree with my sister that the hero,Pip, is "a little shit!" Peter Carey seems to think the same, judging by his novel Jack Maggs

We did The Importance Of Being Earnest - that year the Drama Club performed it. I got to be Lady Bracknell. It was a good thing to do, because we had to discuss the characters and how they should say the lines and why. 

The Shakespeare was King Lear and if I'd always been a fan, that one turned me into a raving Bardoholic. I remember my copy falling open to the scene where Lear banishes Cordelia with that passionate speech... and I was hooked for life.

We read James Baldwin's Go Tell It On The Mountain which, alas, I can't remember at all, and Darkness At Noon by Arthur Koestler. That one is about a former Party leader who is imprisoned and expecting to be shot any day. He has flashbacks and thinks about all the horrible things he's done for the Party in his time, and whether or not the end justifies the means. And he talks to the prisoner in the next cell by Morse code, as they can't talk any other way. I have read all three in that "trilogy".  It wasn't a trilogy in the normal sense, just three books on similar themes. I read The Gladiators, his novel about Spartacus, when I was about twelve or thirteen. The final was Arrival And Departure, which I read in my university years. 

You can see that the types of books we had to read for English in those days were very different from today. A lot more complicated,a lot more assumption you could handle them. 

And not one Australian book in the lot! 

What do you remember from school days? Did it affect you? If you are still at school what do you think of your set books? Are there any authors you'd read again? 

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24. Finally Reading... Blood Queen by Rhiannon Hart and Jump by Sean Williams

My friend Rhiannon Hart, whose first two books in the Lharmell series were published by Random House Australia, kindly offered me a copy of the final volume, Blood Queen, which she has self published. It has taken me a while to finally get stuck into it and there will be a review when it's done. So far, oh, dear, spoilers, and how do I do the review without releasing them? One thing, though, you do have to have read the first two to be able to follow this one, so why not read them while you wait for my review?

The second book I have FINALLY got around to, is Jump, the first of the Twinmaker trilogy by Sean Williams, published by Allen and Unwin. I really had to, because guess what the publishers have sent me for reviewing? Right! The third volume! I may see if I can get Volume 2 from the lovely Clare Keighery, if I promise to review that too. And I must admit, Jump is proving to be an entertaining read, though I haven't so far had any interest from my library users. But you never know - recently a student borrowed and loved Ambelin Kwaymullina's Tribe trilogy and that's one that has been gathering dust. Maybe when I have read Jump myself, I can entice at least one student.

It's a YA novel on the theme of what the world might be like when you have two things that Star Trek takes for granted: the transporter and the replicator. And in this world, they are connected - quite logically, really, because if you can take things apart and put them back together, as you do with a transporter, you've got the pattern, right? So you should be able to make it. I wonder if I can get an interview with the author? We'll see.

Anyway, that's my "finally got around to reading..." What's yours?

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25. Finishing My Reread... The Secret Adversary By Agatha Christie

This is the first Tommy and Tuppence novel. Tommy and Tuppence are a couple who have adventures and solve mysteries together. In this first one, they have just met again after the Great War. Both of them are out of work and Tuppence is considering going home to her large family, though not keen on the idea. They get the idea of starting up a business called the Young Adventurers, advertise and suddenly find themselves in the middle of an adventure involving secret papers that must NOT be allowed to get into the hands of the enemy, an American millionaire looking for his missing cousin, a survivor of the Lusitania, a femme fatale and the elusive Mr Brown...

I think Agatha Christie let her hair down with this one and had fun. It's not a whodunnit, just a thriller/adventure, with a lot of humour. I enjoy it every time. I have to keep reminding myself that the book was published in 1922 and the "roaring twenties" were just beginning. There's a photo of my grandmother as a young woman, that must have been taken maybe a few years before and she definitely doesn't look like the liberated woman Tuppence is. She has a long coat and a big-brimmed hat and I think her dress, under the coat, must have been just above her ankles at best. What a difference a few years made!

One thing I wonder is - why didn't Alfred Hitchcock turn The Secret Adversary into a movie? It would have made a great Hitchcock!

What do you think?

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