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Viewing Blog: The Great Raven, Most Recent at Top
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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. What I'm Reading And Rereading

Over on the Tor website, they're having a reread of Dune. I thought I might join in. I have it in ebook now, because I really don't want to stuff up my battered - and signed - paperback. I got it autographed when the author was visiting Melbourne. He had been a guest of honour at Swancon, an annual Perth convention, and was travelling around. That was at Space Age bookshop(long gone, alas!) which often hosted Swancon guests after they'd done their official gigs. Frank Herbert had a beard at the tine and looked like Santa Claus(and was just as jolly). I haven't read the rest of the series, but if you've read and loved Tolkien, you'll enjoy this - and it's the ONLY book of which I will say that. There are no Elves or Dwarves or immortal Dark Lords, but the world building is every bit as complex, the characters as fascinating, the adventure breathtaking. It's a believable universe, with good reason. I asked whether he had done his research first or begun writing and done it along the way - it's the way I do things, because otherwise my story never gets written. Other writers say the same - Robert Silverberg said so at a Worldcon I attended. But Mr Herbert snapped, "I didn't write a word till I'd researched everything!"

It is deservedly a classic.

I've bought and started reading - in ebook - Ben Aaronovitch's Rivers Of London, which is a crime fantasy novel, first in a series. So far, it's a hoot! The hero is a police officer who wants to do all the thief taking stuff and has found himself stuck with the paperwork section of the force, so that real cops can do the thief taking. In the first scene he has encountered a ghost who witnessed a murder. How do you use that information, for goodness' sake? Ben Aaronovitch is a Dr Who writer, among other things. I did hear him talking about it on the radio, but have only just bought it.

I've just finished rereading Kerry Greenwood's Electra, an enjoyable book. It's fantasy, with gods and the Erinyes, scary vengeful beings sent to punish a matricide. Mind you, strictly speaking, Orestes isn't a matricide. Electra is his mother, having been raped by her mother's lover. Clytemnestra is his grandmother, who has been posing as his mother, and he knows that. But if he has always thought of her as his mother, maybe he sees it as matricide. Anyway, Kerry Greenwood has fun rejigging Greek mythology. As usual.

I downloaded The Golden Apples Of The Sun, a Ray Bradbury anthology, because it had the story "A Sound Of Thunder" - that famous story where a time traveller steps on a butterfly in prehistoric times and everything changes in his own time - because there was some discussion of making it an English text at my school. I can always read some more Bradbury. I'm so glad he finally agreed to having his books in ebook, before he died. He was not a fan of the Internet. 

And then there are all those books I need to finish. All those on my TBR pile...

See you back here soon! 

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2. When An Agatha Christie Novel Is Meh...

Last week I popped into Dymock's  to buy a gift voucher and simply couldn't resist picking up a couple  of Agatha Christies. I haven't read them all, and probably won't. It means that now and then I can indulge in a "new" murder mystery by the Queen of Crime.

One of the two was The Mirror Crack'd From Side To Side, a Miss Marple story, set in her later years. She's been a little old lady since we've known her - but she does get older. And the world around her changes. She is a bit sad about that, but understands that life is like that. And she's sharp as ever, as everyone in St Mary Mead knows well. In this one, she's annoyed at being unable to garden any more, with a gardener who doesn't work much and does it his way when he does, and stuck with a live-in carer who treats her patronisingly, like a child with dementia. She has to be polite because the woman's wages are being paid by her ever-generous nephew, the bestselling writer Raymond West. 

None of this gets in the way of her being able to solve the mystery of a local murder at Gossington Hall, site of The Body In The Library, now owned by a glamorous Hollywood star and her director husband. 

I enjoyed it. Miss Marple understands human nature, and that helps her solve her mysteries. Plus she knows people she can call on for their expertise - but she only needs them when she already has a theory. I suspect if she ever met Poirot, with his "little grey cells", she would be polite but not think much of his ways, while he would underestimate her. 

The other book I bought was a Poirot novel, Hickory Dickory Dock. I quite liked the beginning - Miss Lemon, that pearl of a secretary, who never makes typoes, has made three in a simple letter. She is worried about her sister - hey, Miss Lemon has a sister! The sister, Mrs Hubbard(known as Ma or Mum to her students) is running a student hostel for an over-the-top - almost caricature - Greek woman. Things have gone missing, things that don't belong together and it all makes no sense. Poirot decides to check it out and sure enough, there's a murder. Then another... I sometimes think I'd run a mile if I saw Poirot coming, although, to be fair, he usually isn't called in till the murder has already happened. Well, in Murder On The Orient Express it happened while he was travelling, but there was a build up.

But that was a classic. This one ... meh. Not her best. And while I was aware of her racism and classism, it really showed in this book. It's not a KKK type of racism, just the casual kind of her era and her class. The African student is played for comic relief. It's not spoilerish to say he isn't even taken seriously enough by the author to be a possible murderer; there's no way the reader would think so! And here was I thinking that the beauty of a Christie tale was that the killer could be anyone, from the gruff Colonel to the sweet young thing(who turns out to be not so sweet). He's just dumb. He does  provide an important clue, but it's not at all because of his "little grey cells". He hasn't got any, except in the physical sense. 

I suppose it says something about English attitudes of the time that people who aren't English speakers are referred to in these novels as "foreigners" even on their home soil, when the English character is the one who is the foreigner! 

Fortunately, Poirot thinks it's hilarious. 

Still, I'm not sure I'll be rereading this one. Not for some time, anyway. A disappointment, alas!

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3. Writing Modern Faeries: A Guest Post From Hazel West


Today's guest author is Hazel West. Hazel is the author of many, many novels of historical fantasy and fiction. Her latest books, however, are urban fantasy, with Faeries and fast cars. You might enjoy them if you like the Wicked Lovely novels of Melissa Marr.

Currently, Hazel is doing a blog tour for Book 2 of this series, but before her guest post, why not take a look at the blurbs for both books? 

In an Ireland that mixes high kings, faeries, and modern warriors who drive fast cars, Ciran, a descendant from the famous warrior Fionn Mac Cool, bands together with a company of young warriors to go on a quest to recover their missing family members who were captured on patrol by the Goblins during a shaky peace between the two kingdoms. Ciran and his companions must figure out not only how they are going to rescue the prisoners, but how they are going to complete their mission without killing each other. This first book in the new urban fantasy series by Hazel West is a story of brotherhood and friendship against all odds, that mixes the ancient Irish legends with a modern setting for an action-packed read.

Following up where Blood Ties left off, Ciran and company face not only a possible Faerie rebellion in the works, but getting their High King married off. The adventures of the modern day Fianna continues in this exciting sequel with hints of the legend of Tam Lin.  

Without further ado, here's Hazel to tell you all about An Earthly King!

Since the Modern Tales of Na Fianna series is set in a world that is slightly neo-medieval and has a mixture of modern things and ancient things, I had a lot of decisions to make when crafting the world. One of which was how to portray the Faeries and the Fae courts, which is what the plotline of Book Two An Earthly King is based upon.

I have read a lot of Faerie books and a lot of times I noticed that whether they’re fantasy, urban fantasy, or historical fantasy, they all seem to keep the Fae pretty traditional. I kind of wanted to take a different approach with that. Obviously the Fae are an ancient race, but why can’t they keep up with the times? 

When I introduced the Goblin race in Book One I kept them sort of off the grid, mainly because they are living at the very northern point of Ireland where in this world, they have few resources for electricity and whatnot but yet they still had their preferred transportation method, motorcycles and wear their leathers and biker boots. When I got to thinking about how to portray the Fae courts in Book Two I kind of went the same rout and made them sort of somewhere in between. Yes, when they are in their own realm, there is little to no need of modern conveniences, but that doesn’t mean they can’t drive a car or use a mobile phone. 

Probably my favorite part of writing this series is the fact I get to take what I want from traditional folklore and blend it into a modern setting. In this case, I kept quite a lot of traditional Faerie lore but at the same time, I changed a few things here and there to sort of fit better into a world more like ours. Why can’t Faerie princes wear Armani, after all? That also led to the BPAFF organization (Bureau of Protection Against Fair Folk) who are sort of the human/Fae liaisons. They deal with Faerie related crimes but also help to keep the peace between the humans and the Courts.

One of the main story lines in An Earthly King is that it’s based a little off of the Ballad of Tam Lin, which I even reference in the story, because, of course, Tam Lin would be a historical account to them. That meant a good part of the story focused on the Faerie ride on Samhain’s Eve and the Wild Hunt and how you win someone back from the Fae. It’s one of my favorite stories ever because it has so much traditional lore crammed into it, and it was really fun to sit down and actually deconstruct the story, looking for clues throughout it and figuring out why Janet did what she did. Like meeting the Faeries at a crossroad, or waiting until the strike of midnight and wearing a green cloak. 

Then of course, I also did research into how to ward against Faeries and there is a plethora of knowledge on that from the traditional iron and rowan, to pure silver and running water. I even researched traditional ‘Seeing’ potions and found an actual recipe from the 1600s. 

As a long time fan of Faerie lore I have been having a blast on researching this series, and I can’t wait for you guys to see what happens in the next one!

Thanks for sharing, Hazel! If you think Modern Tales Of Na Fianna might be just right for you, here are the links below. 

(And since she mentions Tam Lin, here's a link to a wonderful Tam Lin web site I discovered some time ago. It has the words to the ballad, the story outline and plenty more  information about it.)

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4. Mikhail Strogoff - The Launch!

                Sophie launches!

If you wish to buy this book, you will still find some copies  on the imprint website, but hurry! It's a limited edition of which they have sold about three quarters. 

Last night I went to a much-belated launch for the Jules Verne novel Mikhail Strogoff, newly translated by Stephanie Smee, illustrated by David Allan and published by Christmas Press. It's unusual to have a Christmas Press event in Melbourne, as Sophie Masson lives in northern NSW, but she was in town for a small press publisher conference and thought she might as well do it here.

And what a lovely place she chose, too! The Alliance Francaise de Melbourne is in a beautiful 19th century building in St Kilda, right across the road from where I lived as a small child. 

See the grey flats? I lived there!

I admired the light and airiness inside, the cream-coloured high-ceilinged rooms. Apparently, it was restored by a modern architect, who was there last night.

There were a lot of people chattering in French before the launch began. Not all of them were native French speakers, some just felt like speaking it. I was asked a number of times if I spoke it and had to explain that while I had studied it till second year of uni, I had forgotten a lot. I can read it without trouble, but you have to speak slowly if you want me to understand. A lady I was speaking to told me, "Well, I'm a professional translator and even I sometimes have to say, 'Can you repeat that?' "

Alas, the translator was stuck in Sydney with a bung back and the illustrator also couldn't be there, but Sophie held up the side for everyone. She was introduced by the head of the AF, a gentleman called Gilbert Ducass, who bought two copies of the book later and got Sophie to sign the introduction, which she had written. 

For those of you who don't know, Mikhail Strogoff is hugely popular in France, where it has never been out of print, and regarded as Verne's masterwork. It has been translated into English twice before, but poorly, and in the Victorian era. Sophie Masson, who read it five times in a row as a child, in the original French, was determined to give it a good translation. 

One thing she said was that Christmas Press is currently in negotiations with Puffin in the UK for the rights. If it works, a whole lot of children will be able to read this translation. Fingers crossed! 

Afterwards, I went to dinner with Sophie and a Russian reader called Anna Popova(pronounced Papova) who lives in Melbourne but comes from Perm, the setting of part of the book. She said that Verne was huge in Russia. He got the geographical details absolutely right, despite never having been in Russia. 

We went to Topolino's, a very popular pizza/pasta restaurant. I just had a small basic Margherita pizza, as it was getting late; my stomach wouldn't have held more. Sophie had a Bolognese, which she said was very good, a compliment from her - Sophie Masson is an amazing cook, judging by her food blog. It was a pleasant meal and chat. Anna and I saw Sophie on to her tram to the city and went to catch our own tram, as she lives on the same tram line as me. I got home quite late, but I don't regret the lengthy day. It was worth it! 

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5. Just Finished Reading... The Hypnotist by Laurence Anholt

The time: 1963. The place: Dead River Farm in the American South. 

The people: Pip, an African American orphan, whose only possession is his beloved copy of Great Expecations, given to him by his schoolteacher  mother, who named him for the hero of that book. Pip has been brought there by a Mr Zachery, who needs someone to read to his bedridden wife. The Zacherys are decent enough people, but their son Erwin is a prominent member of the local Ku Klux Klan - and he's crazy. 

Hannah, a beautiful young Native American girl, is the cook. She has been mute for some time, with good reason, as we discover. 

Jack Morrow, the hypnotist of the title, is an Irishman currently teaching at the local university, where he has been experimenting with helping servicemen to overcome their PTSD. He has strange eyes that scare people, but which help him in his work. He has been using his hypnotism for good, though he has a theatrical flair due to his parents, who did it as stage acts in their youth.  However, while teaching Pip and Hannah, he realises that there are some nasty things going on in the area, that there are colleagues who are in the Klan.

 This is the era of the Civil Rights movement. Things are happening that the Klan don't like at all. Martin Luther King is appearing on television, making his historic "I have a dream," speech. No, the Klan don't like it at all. They have plans...

The characters are people the reader can care about. The story is strong. I admit, I almost felt sorry for the crazy Erwin Zachery, who is used, first by the U.S. Army when in Vietnam, then by the Ku Klux Klan. But then, he has been strange since childhood and his actions in Vietnam got him thrown out of the army. 

I did wonder if it is really possible to use hypnotism in quite the way Jack does, since at times he sounds like Obi-Wan Kenobi murmuring, "These aren't the droids you're looking for... We can go about our business." But given that he has those strange eyes that are a part of his system, which he calls the Gift, I suspect this is a fantastical element, not intended to be taken as a real-life thing. I can't back this up, because spoilers, but I do think it's just a tiny element of fantasy. 

The book has been marketed as YA, but it might fit better in the category of "New Adult" or even adult. 

Whatever you call it, it's well worth a read.

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6. Downloaded This Week... Some New Goodies!

Last night I impulsively downloaded Dr Zhivago. I'd been curious to read it for a long time and the film was on TV, so... There were a number of translations on offer. I suppose I should have looked online to see if there were any recommended ones, but what's the point of impulse if you then think about it? I bought the one which, to be honest, took up the least space on my iPad, then did a bit of reading about the author, Boris Pasternak, and learned that his childhood home was filled with famous composers, such as Rachmaninoff and Scriabin and authors such as Tolstoy, who was a personal friend of the family. His Dad was a painter, his Mum a concert pianist. So there was this very Bohemian flavour about the place, although they were a rich family.  

He was a poet and translator - that saved his life when Stalin was doing purges later in his life - he'd translated some poems by a favourite of Stalin's and that lovely dictator had his name crossed off the list. 

But he wasn't appreciated too much in the USSR till long after his death. When he won the Nobel Prize for Dr Zhivago, he was pressured into turning it down. I believe his son collected it many years later, well  after his death. 

Another thing : the novel is semi-autobiographical. I've only read the first couple of pages, but that will make it all the more fascinating for me. 

I've also bought 1066 Turned Upside Down, an anthology of stories about what if things had gone differently when William the Conqueror came to England. I read a bit about it on the English Historical Writers blog and it sounded interesting - as you probably know from my ramblings, I simply adore alternative history. And it was very reasonably priced. I've only read the first story so far. Still, it should be good.

The Hypnotist, a YA novel by Laurence Anholt, was in a box of books that was delivered to my school by the lovely Sun Bookshop for display. It's set in the 60s in the South and has issues of racism. I didn't want to take it home when it didn't belong to me, so I bought the ebook. I think this will be a very readable book. 

Another book in the box was The Bone Sparrow by Zana Fraillonan Australian book set in a refugee detention centre. I try to read as much local stuff as I can, anyway, and this one may well end up on the CBCA Notables or even short list. It's a good idea to read them before the short list hovers on the horizon and not have to catch up in the last minute on a pile of books you haven't read. 

So, that's my recent reading pile. What's yours?

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7. The Journal Of Infinite Possibilities: A Book Launch

Lindy Cameron and Kerry Greenwood

I just love Australia's small presses. They publish stuff the bigger presses won't take a chance on and lift wonderful books from their out-of-print status back into print, usually with nicer covers than the originals. Ford Street has done that with some of Isobelle Carmody's books that had been languishing out of print for some time. Ticonderoga did that for Lucy Sussex's The Scarlet Rider, which never sold as well as it deserved when it was published by Tor - and gave it a much, much better cover, using a photo, borrowed from a local library, to which they got the usage rights in exchange for some copies of the book, I think, or something equally simple. Trust me, it's better than the Tor cover, I have both editions.

Yesterday it was the turn of Clan Destine Press, a small publisher run by Lindy Cameron, who is a crime writer and major member of Sisters In Crime. Clan Destine Press was originally set up for crime fiction, but has expanded quite a bit. The launch yesterday, held at the Rising Sun Hotel in South Melbourne, was for the purposes of launching the abovementioned JIP. I ended up buying one, although it was really a sort of diary/journal with lovely illoes, because it was also for playing around with ideas for writing and I think I may be able to use it in class. Too pretty to actually write in(one reason why I hesitated), but I can always photocopy the bits I want to use. There was an adult colouring book which I didn't buy. Sorry, but I think the notion of adults colouring in stuff a bit silly. Okay, it's a soothing activity, but when they're for kids they cost about $2.50 and you buy them at the newsagent. When they're for adults, you pay the price of a novel for something that was designed especially to suck you in, but is, in the end, not really much different from the kids' version, in that you get some coloured pencils and colour. 

They also had, of course, a table selling past publications such as the reprints of Kerry Greenwood's Delphic Women trilogy, Cassandra, Electra and Medea. They're all feminist versions of the Greek myths and when Kerry decides she's going to change the ending of a myth you sort of cheer, because it's the way you would have liked it to end. And when Kerry says, "Jason was an idiot!" you can't help agreeing. 

I'd held off getting these because I did have, somewhere, the original big-press editions - signed, even! I didn't know Kerry personally back then, but when I met her on the stairs at the Melbourne Writers' Festival, she kindly signed my copy of Medea

But there they lay, so much prettier than the big-press editions, I hadn't a clue where those were and there was Kerry at the desk, wearing her witch hat, and I couldn't resist. I bought the lot and started reading Cassandra last night, enjoying it all over again. I didn't buy Out Of The Black Land, her Akhenaten novel, written for Clan Destine, which I already have. (That's another one where she ends it the way she wants it, using the fact that we don't really know what happened to Nefertiti)

Kerry signed the three books for me. She was looking a bit thinner than usual. Kerry is usually a large lady, but she has been very sick over the last year, which has been quieter than usual - no novel under her name has come out, neither Phryne Fisher nor Corinna Chapman. She told me she'd had a stroke. Ouch! Plus there was her mother's death. Than I knew about by accident, from an online search to see if she was writing anything. Jeannie was very close to her family, and she was one of Kerry's researchers. I emailed Kerry a photo I'd taken of her mother at a launch, to show my own Mum, who can't be persuaded to come with me to them. "See? This lady is about your age and she's going!" 

I met some friends there - Chuck McKenzie, that very funny man, who has a book coming out from Clan Destine, told me he is currently working for another shop, and that the year he had to close his own bookshop, two others in the same strip also closed, one of them a Dymock's! 

Alison Goodman was there too. She has had a crime novel published by Clan Destine. Such a nice lady! We caught up. She's now a full time writer, something unusuał in Australia. But she now has publishers outside Australia and that makes a difference. Alison's first school visit was to my school when she had only one book under her belt and was teaching Creative Writing at RMIT. She wanted to get practice, but was too nervous, so I invited her to talk to my book club, which at the time consisted of four Year 12 kids. I got in the local press for that visit. I remember she brought along her planning sheets and showed them to the kids as I squeaked at how elaborate it was. I am a pantser myself, but she is such a plotter, she'd give J.K Rowling a run for her money. (Last year I showed my students a JKR plotting sheet which I found online. I assured them they didn't have to do anything that detailed)

Alison told me she had done a writers' workshop at a school in Sydney and was absolutely in awe of teachers, who have to do this sort of thing every day. That got her on my good side. I am so sick of reading on author blogs smug descriptions of a school visit they did and how wonderful their writers' workshop or whatever it was must be for those poor kids who don't get that from their teachers. You know the kind. I sometimes put in a polite comment pointing out to them that it's all very well for them, who come in for an hour or two, run their workshop under controlled conditions and depart, collecting their fee, but how would they like to have to look after those kids every day and be responsible  for making sure they improved their writing and reading skills and be blamed if the kids failed to improve? Not so easy! (And then there was the one who complained of the stupidity of kids who couldn't respond to his writing prompt of what would you do with a huge sum of money they couldn't even imagine.) 

She also mentioned that she had done one free visit to a disadvantaged school on the request of her publisher, which was nice of them, while she was in Sydney, and spoke of her admiration for the TL there. 

I left after my chat with Alison, promising to buy her latest novel, the Regency one. She's also hoping to do another novel in the universe of Eon/Eona. I told her I'd keep an eye out for that too. 

A highly enjoyable afternoon! 

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8. Halloween Coming...A Reading From Me

There is actually a Samhain scene in my novel Wolfborn, but that isn't the scene I read on YouTube. It was a scene in Xhapter 4 where my hero, Etienne, is lost in a storm while riding home through the forest. He meets a few supernatural folk along the way...

I thought as long as the day is on its way, I'd offer you a link to my reading of a shivery scene in my book.

And maybe I'll have a go at reading the Samhain scene on to YouTube sometime this weekend, in honour of the festival.

Meanwhile, here's that link. Follow and enjoy!

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9. Back From The YABBAs 2016

Yet again the YABBAs(Young Australian Best Book Awards) were held somewhere I couldn't get to by public transport, but this time, I had a lift, from my friend George Ivanoff, who had a shortlisted book. I would have loved to take my students, but the one time I was able to take them, I could only take my Year 10 book club members because they were the only ones who could meet me at the station. You have to be early and that would have meant going to work, picking up the younger students and going out again. We barely made it to the city on time fir the Melbourne Writers' Fesrival this year, let alone travelling out to somewhere far off. That year, it was at Trinity Grammar, which we could reach by tram, although it was still a long way off. But really, it's not meant for Year 10 students and they looked like Gullivers in Lilliput. Still, they had a good time and one of them even made it into a video on the web site. I told them that time, "I'm signing. Meet me back here in an hour," and they went around to get autographs from their favourite writers. Then we all went back to the city and had lunch together.

This time the event was held at St Thomas More Primary School in Hadfield. The kids were utterly adorable cherubs, as primary kids tend to be - well, not all, but for an event like this you only choose kids who will enjoy it.

There was a nicely set up library, with pictures of the authors on top of the shelves. The library was run by a library technician, who had been involved in setting up the event for the day and wore a YABBA t-shirt. When the session was over, I donated a copy of Crime Time to the school library. I'd brought some copies in hopes of asking the booksellers to put them on their stall, but there wasn't time. The booksellers didn't arrive till after morning tea, because the first session filled the hall with chairs. The school put together a delightful performance with little ones reading poems about the books, singing a song and others in a costume parade, dressed as characters from various books. Very sweet! The illustrators did the usual "Mr Squiggle" act, inviting kids to come up and do a doodle, to be turned into a cartoon. The awards were presented - as usual, Andy Griffiths and Terry Denton won the junior section, for The 65 Storey Treehouse. The two of them did an act to amuse the kids, including Andy pretend-kicking Terry, who had promised to do the speech and burbled, before saying, "Thank you."

Two prizes were won by Aaron Blaby, who couldn't be there. Also not there was Morris Gleitzman, who was overseas, but his wonderful book Soon won the YABBA for older readers. 

I had wanted to buy a copy of the new Treehouse book for a book club member, Priyanka, who was having a birthday, but the new one was sold out, as was the Treehouse diary, so I figured she would settle for an earlier one, if signed (She did. When I gave it to her at her party today, she hugged it in delight).

It was going to be hard to get it signed, though. The queue was so long that I gave up and went to lunch - and at that, I was signing for quite a while after the others went, because kids who had had their Treehouse books signed came over to me before I could get up and leave myself! I mostly signed the official autograph cards, but also gave away mini-posters and bookmarks. And those kids who had helped out with the day came up to get their t-shirts signed! One young man tried to persuade me to sign his school cap. I didn't think his teachers would be happy and I wasn't sucked in by, "Oh, my teacher says it's okay." But he did settle for a signed mini-poster.

When I finally was ready to go to lunch, poor Andy and Terry were still signing, with a mile-long queue. I left anyway and thought they might come soon, but as George told me he needed to go, to drop off his daughter at gymnastics, I returned to the hall, where they were still busy. Someone explained tothe kids at the front of the line that I had to go and they courteously waved me ahead of them, so I could get Priyanka's book signed, "Happy birthday, Priyanka!" from Andy and a drawing from Terry.

On the whole, a pleasant day and the school was lovely. They fed us three times - the start of the day, morning tea and lunch - and treated us as welcome guests. The kids had a great time and so did I, especially as, when I was leaving the hall with my signed book, a small girl ran up and hugged me. Nice!

Thanks, YABBA committee, for inviting me, and thanks, school, for hosting us all!

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10. 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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11. 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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12. 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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13. 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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14. 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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15. 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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16. 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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17. 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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18. 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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19. 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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20. 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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21. 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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22. 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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23. 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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24. 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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25. 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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