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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. ASIM Needs Slushreaders!

Some months ago, I posted to ask for new members of the ASIM Association. We got some and have some wonderful new team members.

Now, we need some more slush readers. Actually, we always need more slush readers!

Really, considering how few slush readers there are, we get through an awful lot of submissions. Hundreds a month. Thousands a year. Some are very short, others up to 20,000 words! Some of us are reading unlimited weekly submissions and still Lucy the slush wrangler tells me she has twenty parked in her files that she can't send out. I only read three a week, six in an emergency, but I have books to read for the Aurealis Awards. I can't take on any more.

How about it, my readers? Ever thought you'd like to see behind the scenes of a publishing enterprise? Have you wondered how we sort through stories submitted, perhaps including yours?Here's your chance to find out, and to have your say in what goes up to the next round of reading.

Even if you want to go on submitting your work, that's fine; we read all stories blind. And you'd learn what we want and what we don't.

You don't have to live in Australia or be an expert. You just have to love  speculative fiction.

We can't pay you, only add your name to the list at the end of each issue. But it's a good thing to add to your résumé and if you do happen to be looking for a job in publishing, a good way to keep your hd in while you look.

If you're interested please email Lucy Zinkiewicz at asimsubmissions@gmail.com.

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2. Machine Wars By Michael Pryor. Sydney: Random House, 2014

Disclaimer: I received this book for judging of the Aurealis Awards children's section. Anything I say in this review is my own opinion and nothing to do with the awards, the Aurealis committee or the children's section of the AAs. It's just me, because I couldn't resist reviewing. It's what I do.

Teenager Bram Argent comes home from school one day to find his parents are gone. He knows what this means: his mother, a brilliant AI scientist, has done something that has gone out of control. She needs three weeks to put it right. The family has an agreed plan for what Bram should do if this happens.

With a schoolfriend, Stella, and a wisecracking AI toy duck called Bob, he is now on the run, at least till his parents have done what needs doing to stop the crazed virtual being Ahriman...

Who has seen the Dr Who episode Terror Of The Autons? In the 1970s, when it was made, there was a common product that was simply everywhere - plastic. Anything from a garden hose to a plastic daffodil could attack you and a comfy chair could get too comfortable and swallow you!

Have a guess what the "simply-everywhere" product is now? Right! The Internet. Wifi. Everything is linked up. Even a pool cleaner can be connected. Some time ago I read of a fridge that would let you know when it needed restocking.

Now imagine that pool cleaning hose or fridge being sent after you. A kettle. A coffee machine. A photocopier - anything with links to the WWW - spitting out boiling hot metal. Scary, isn't it?

It's what happens to Bram and Stella. They need to stay alive and running long enough for Mrs Argent to produce something to destroy Ahriman, her own creation. If caught, they will be hostages at best, slaughtered at worst, on the orders of a creature that has become self-aware and wants to take over the world. And its "junkbots" are becoming more and more smooth and properly built.

The book is great fun, with nonstop action and humour. It's not The Laws Of Magic, but it isn't meant to be. Despite the age of the main characters - fourteen - it's really a middle-grade book, quite accessible and readable to primary school children, who will enjoy it.

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3. Judging Has Begun: A Learning Experience

Just saying here that all this is my own opinion and has nothing to do with what the AA judging panel thinks or is deciding! And no, you will not hear from me here any juicy gossip about what we're discussing or who thinks what. This is just about what it's like to be a first-time judge, with bits about the CBCAs.

Judging the Aurealis Awards has been a fascinating experience so far. When I haven't been wrestling with the difficulties of making changes in the spreadsheet I've been reading the submissions for the children's section so far.

It's a mixture, so far, of middle-grade, junior and YA that has probably also been entered for the children's AND fantasy sections to give it a better chance. 

I've been finding this all a learning process - there are criteria, of course, including a "yes, but is it really suitable for children of this age?" field in the spreadsheet, but so far, we haven't gone into whether or not books we consider aren't really for younger readers  should be judged. And then there's one writer whose books read like YA but are also read by many, many primary school children. Middle grade? I think so.  Another whose characters are a bit older than the target audience, but whose book definitely IS middle grade.

Doing this, though, I've come to see the wisdom of dividing into sections. In the CBCA Awards, all the judges have to read ALL the books, totalling in the hundreds. It usually works because the judges are mostly high-profile teacher-librarians who can't stop for a minute and get bored if they have five minutes' break. I've interviewed two on this web site, Miffy Farquharson and Tehani Wessely, and both say they'd do it again without hesitation. 

To be honest, I don't think I could. I don't have the knowledge of everything from picture books to literary novels that espouse "beautiful writing" at the expense of story and character. I have a good idea of what my own students enjoy and why, but that's all. And I don't have the time. I really don't. Apart from class preparation and such, reading hundreds of books by other people wouldn't leave time for my own writing. It's also why I limit the number of slush stories I read for ASIM.

But yesterday, when the Little Bookroom sent out a survey from the CBCA on how people feel about the current structure of the awards, and one of the questions was about whether the judging should be split into sections I said that it works for the Aurealis Awards and would give judges the time to focus on the area they know most about instead of trying to judge absolutely everything. 

It was an interesting survey that gave me the chance to have my say on a lot of things I've been thinking for years. Politely, of course. 

It will be good to see whether anything comes out of it.

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4. Browsing My Old Trek Fanzines


Anyone reading this who knows me personally or has been following this blog for long enough will be aware that I was once a writer of media fan fiction - Star Trek (mostly the original series, though I did write a few crossovers when the first spinoff came out. Just a few.  And that was because original-series characters sometimes appeared in STNG). Blake's 7, a series fondly remembered by anyone old enough to have seen it and probably unknown to others, except the occasional child named Cally, Dayna or whoever, after a character in the show. One or two Dr Who stories. Quite a few based on the fantasy series Robin Of Sherwood, though I was put off the fan fic of that universe when so many writers got enthusiastically into The White Goddess for their inspiration. I mean, I love The White Goddess, but you can overdo it. And most of them really hadn't done their research. I at least did. And when I published my own Robin Of Sherwood fanzine, Under The Greenwood Tree, I asked a contributor to rewrite just a bit to fix a glaring historical inaccuracy. 

But mostly Star Trek. Today I found an issue of the Austrek club fanzine, SPOCK, which was published until Paramount started to close down fanzines based on the series, in countries where there wasn't the loophole that allowed other countries to continue publishing. While Gene Roddenberry was alive, he allowed it, unofficially. But he was dead.

This one, #57, was edited by Wendy Purcell, a fine artist in the club. In the centre is an art portfolio, by her and others, dedicated to the issue's theme, "the women of Star Trek". I had a story in it, in case you're wondering. It was inspired by the episode "The Enemy Within" in which Captain Kirk is split into two separate people, one totally good, but wimpy, one totally nasty but decisive. My version was set in the nasty Mirror Universe.

I thought it might be fun to go through the table of contents and see who has gone on to bigger and better things.

Helen Sargeant, now known as Helen Patrice, contributed a short piece called "Beginnings". Helen later wrote quite a bit for a women's magazine, Australian Women's Forum. Okay, it was a DIRTY women's magazine - Helen always said that she was good at this particular form of writing and they paid well. Why not? More recently, she has released two volumes of science fiction poetry. Helen was a regular contributor to SPOCK and we even co-edited an issue once.

Tracey Oliphant eventually sold a five book fantasy series under the name Kate Jacoby(there was already a Tracey Oliphant on the publisher's books). Her contribution to this issue was called simply "Chess".

Geoff Allshorn isn't a writer as such these days, but is working on a Master's degree in history.

Robert Jan, another regular contributor, whose work in this issue is in the art portfolio,  concentrates on costuming, at which he is very good. He also has a long-running radio show about SF on community radio and interviewed me when Wolfborn came out. I think he may have had some art in the revised, updated edition of the Star Trek Concordance. His partner, Gail Adams, is also a wonderful artist. She has some illustrations in this issue and did the cover. Gail is also a costumer, who  produces costumes good enough to wear in the street. Both of them are well known in the fan community.

The biggest success is George Ivanoff who, after doing around sixty books for the education publishing industry, is gradually making a mark in the trade industry. In other words, he's making a living out of his writing, something rare in Australia. 

Art was contributed by Marianne Plumridge, some of whose paintings I am lucky enough to own. She married a well-known American cover artist and moved to the States, where she makes money out of her own artwork. 

There are others, in other issues, but this is the one I happen to have on me.

I love fan fiction, though not so much what I've read in recent years. Many of my high school students are regular readers of fan fiction online and some write their own. It's nice to know the old, old tradition is continuing and wonderful how much more you can read now, in any universe you like, but it's just not the same. I'm sorry, it's not. I loved the entire process of putting together a fanzine or picking up one at SF events or even from overseas. It was a community thing in a way it isn't now. I'd receive my contributor's copy fanzine and curl up in bed with it to read the latest adventures of whoever the characters were. I think these days the equivalent - at least here in Australia - is the small press stalls you see at every con.

To be honest, the fact that you CAN get so much fan fiction now is as much of a disadvantage as a good thing. It means you have to wade through  a good deal of rubbish before you find a story you enjoy. At least the print fanzines acted as a filter, through their editors. You soon got to know which ones were wonderful and which you'd never read again. 

And with most fan writers going under pen names it will be a lot harder to work out who has gone on to bigger and better things in the current generation of fan writers, though I'm assured it has happened. One successful YA novelist, I hear, once wrote Harry Potter fan fiction. 

I won't know about others, though, unless someone tells me.

Any fan fic fans out there? Anyone who can tell me about former fan writers who are now in print? 

**Just thought of one you have probably thought of too, but won't mention her name. You can, though. Go ahead!**

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5. The Aurealis Awards 2014

Remember I said I had this pile of goodies from Random House Australia to review? Well, I've just had a list of the entries so far in the Aurealis Awards and all five of them are on it.

I can still review them, but I will need to put a disclaimer on each review, so the authors don't think either that they've got no chance or that they're going to win for sure. Anything reviewed here is only my own opinion; there is a panel, that's one thing, and I have to judge it according to a set of criteria I've been given, that's another. And those may have nothing to do with my personal opinion of the book.

Just saying, okay?

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6. Earthfall Has A New Cover

Two years go, I reviewed Earthfall, Mark Walden's new novel about alien invasion, here:

I even interviewed the author, whose wonderful  HIVE books I love, here: 


The lovely Sonia Palmisano at Bloomsbury has just sent me a copy of Earthfall with
 a new cover. Here's what it looks like. 



Very different from the War Of The Worlds-style original cover. This could be any 
after-the-holocaust novel, which might, perhaps, mean it  could appeal to a wider 
variety of readers. 

I wish Bloomsbury and the author many, many well-deserved sales on this, 
though what I REALLY want now is the sequel. :-)

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7. This Week's Goodies For Reviewing!

It's been a while since Random House Oz sent me anything, but today's parcel of goodies by wonderful Aussie children's writers more than makes up for it.


Billy Is A Dragon : First Bite, by Nick Falk and Tony Flowers, is for younger readers and looks like it I'll be fun.

There's Volume 1 and 2 of Brotherhood Of Thieves by Stuart Daly, author of the delightful Witchhunter Chronicles, of which I have read the first two volumes. Those were set in Renaissance era Europe, but this seems to be set in a fantasy world. I'll look forward to it, hoping it's as deliciously entertaining as his Witchhunter books, which were very funny as well as exciting. 

There is New City by Deborah Abela, a nice lady I sat next to at Supanova and watched her fans swarm her. This seems to be book 2 of a series, so I hope I can read it without having had to read the first.

And last but not least, volume. 4 of John Flanagan's Brotherband series, the spinoff from Ranger's Apprentice, set in the society of Skandia, that Scandinavia-equivalent, whose warriors are fabulous fighters but haven't a clue about strategy or tactics. The Heron Brotherband, the figurative - and literal -  bunch of kids whom nobody wanted to pick for their team, sailed off at the end of the first book after some bad guys who stole the community's most priceless artefact and... Well, read them. I admit I haven't got  around to Book 3, so I have downloaded that to read before this one.

Lots of good reading by local writers in the weeks to come! Yay! And then my students get to read them. Yay!

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8. More From The Wonderful World Of Teaching

Plays! They suddenly, unexpectedly want us to teach plays in English! I think someone must have said at a meeting I missed late last year, "Hey, why not do plays?" And it was diligently noted and added to the curriculum document without further discussion of how it would be done.

What plays, you might ask? Oh, any play available in the class set room. The English co-ordinator took the trouble to make a list of all the plays available in the school. We have four campuses(Campii?), but not many class sets of anything you can do with Year 8. And we have to share them, while we all do plays at the same time.

There was only one play I  remotely - note italics thought I could live with and it was taken away to another campus for the term while I was reading it over the holidays. So I was stuck with a few battered copies - not even enough for every student to have a copy - of plays written especially for schools, written in the 1980s, with 1950s sensibilities. Tim Winton's Lockie Leonard play might have been okay if it hadn't had a wet dream on about page 2 or 3. It's okay in the novel, but stands out in a short play. My boys - most of the class - are 13 years old. They will either be embarrassed or love it for all the wrong reasons. Discipline flies out the window along with the whole point of doing the play in the first place.

No way am I going to use those. I decided I'd have to write my own, but no time to come up with a new storyline.So I took a look at the short stories in the Fablecroft anthology, Worlds Next Door, in which I have a story, and wrote a very short playlet based on Edwina Harvey's "Rocket And Sparky", the tale of a girl and her camel and dragon. (And confessed all to the author, who was delighted and suggested we try to sell it, perhaps to the NSW School Magazine, which used to buy this sort of thing. Nice, but later, Edwina, later! I have 8A to keep amused - sorry, "engaged", the latest buzzword). Of course, we need the original story to accompany it, but it isn't one of the free downloads on the site, the antho is out of print and we only have about five copies. So I tried scanning because the school's "business manager"  as they now call the bursar, is keeping an eye on our photocopying. And who pays for the copies, which I intend to make available in the library afterwards so this work won't be wasted? I couldn't, just couldn't get the first page done. It came out as gibberish. So that did have to be copied. All done on a Friday afternoon, shared with the other Year 8 English teacher - a much more experienced teacher of English than me and even she is not sure how to handle this.

So, what do we do with this? Remember, it's a double period and we're making this up as we go, because we haven't had it before and have been trying to get through other tasks with our classes. There's always something new to tackle because someone who has never taught or taught fifteen years ago at Veryrich Grammar but has the power to tell real teachers what to do has been reading the latest studies by other people who don't teach. We have a short story and a playlet. We both have integration students who will have trouble with anything we give them and no aide support because the poor aides are stretched thin across the school. We have students who will oblige if asked, but really would rather not be heard by the class. We have students we have to discipline before we can make a start.

At this stage, I have a sort-of idea of doing it in groups and discussing what had to be done to turn one kind of text into another, ending eventually in a group adapting another story. Eventually. But I thought we could do "Rocket And Sparky" as a podcast, using the class set of iPads - there are enough for both classes to use at once and they have Garage Band... If the iPads are working. The trolley chargers were playing up the other day. And if they are working, persuading the students that one to a table is going to be enough. Because you can't read a play together with four separate iPads, can you?

And then I have to take them through the process of saving to Public Share or the work is wasted. 

The weird thing is, this woudn't even have been an option if I wasn't a writer. I've written stories for our literacy program because publishers simply don't get the concept of "high interest, low reading level." (And I remember at one SCBWI conference being stared at as if I'd just sprouted a pair of ears on my nose when I asked if the publisher who'd just presented cute stuff for Grade 3  was planning to do Grade 2 or 3 level books of interest to teens). Well, a few do, sort of, but not quite as low as I need. So I have written my own and shared them with colleagues. They're nothing publishable, just stuff we can use in class, but that's all that matters. I write my students' names into the stories and as the documents are in Word, my workmates can change the names to those of their own students.

And I still don't know if all this will work for the integration students. Time to write another play or story?

Oh, the joys of teaching English!

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9. The Game Of Seven


 I have heard of this before, but never got around to it, then I saw it on Susan Price's A Nennius Blog. It sounds like fun, so I thought I'd have a go myself.


The idea is, you go seven pages into your work in progress, count down seven lines and quote the next seven. So here they are from the first draft of my as-yet-incompete novel The Sword And The Wolf(only a working title! Though at a workshop I did at Aussiecon the publisher from Tor said he liked it. But
 he also invited workshop members to send him their MSS and when a now-well-known writer sent hers she never heard from him).

...But in my wolf shape they were natural and felt good - too good. When I got home that night and climbed into my clothes, I had a good think, as I poked up the fire and warmed a clay cup of mint I'd gathered and allowed to dry. I was having to grow up quickly now and I knew I didn’t want to be helpless in my animal shape. I needed to be in control or it might just turn out to be easier to stay a wolf, never return to humanity. I didn’t want to finish my days just eating and sleeping, or, for that matter, as some lord’s wolfskin cloak. (Whimsically, I wondered if I’d turn back into a human when I died and if the wolfskin cloak would suddenly become girlskin...).


As you might have guessed, it has a werewolf as the main character. It's set in the universe of Wolfborn at an earlier time. The heroine, Lysette, is a Bisclavret, a born werewolf, as they are in my universe. Unlike Lord Geraint in Wolfborn, she's a peasant, though her mother was a little more, as the local wise woman. Her father had been a passing Bisclavret mercenary who'd come and gone. At the start of the novel, her mother has recently died, leaving her alone with a hostile village, whose inhabitants had only put up with her because of her mother's skills. In the opening scene, a bunch of local louts have attempted to rape her - and been unpleasantly surprised when she suddenly turns into a wolf! She escapes, but the only thing the villagers do for her is leave some of her stuff out for her with the implication that they want her gone. At this stage, she has found an abandoned hermitage to live in and is coming to terms with her nature. In the next chapter she finds a Merlin-like mentor quite by accident and sets off on her adventures as his apprentice.


If you're curious, I read from the second chapter on YouTube here.


I thought it might be interesting to at least start with a born werewolf who isn't an aristocrat, though she's soon enough involved with a long-lost prince, a royal-born mentor and the Regent, who doesn't know what to do with his charge having disappeared several years ago. There is a quest to find the missing prince, who will later become the king you meet near the end of Wolfborn. Right now, he's young and attractive, but given who she is and who he is, he can never become the romantic interest with whom she will ride off into the sunset. I am starting to understand the necessity for a triangle in YA fiction! I have created an alternative romantic interest, but I'm struggling and having to stop and go back to insert him properly, the reason why it's taking so very long. If my publisher hadn't been tossed out of her job, I might have taken some time off work to get it done, because she asked me if I had something else to show them, but with no deadline I have simply been playing around with it, in between preparing classes for Year 8 in an area I don't know how to teach. 


So, who is Lysette's alternative romantic interest? I decided he'd be a Bisclavret from a family of them, quite comfortable with his identity. It's interesting to sort out a background for a born werewolf who lives in the city, is the son of an army scout and wants to be one himself, though once he gets there he realises that it isn't the respectable career it used to be, what with people turning themselves into werewolves in the service of the Dark One just because the pay and conditions for a werewolf scout are so good. What, I asked myself, would his mother and siblings be doing while Dad was off at war? I thought perhaps his mother might be running a cook shop and then I realised that this might not be the best occupation for a werewolf, especially when everybody knows she's one.


Still working on it. If anyone has a suggestion, feel free to note it here!

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10. Sherryl Clark In The West!

Yesterday we had our YABBA Ambassador visit. Sherryl Clark spoke to the Year 7 and 8 students and some older ones who came because they were in my book club and wanted to hear her. Some had been reading the books I bought in advance of the visit although nobody actually asked specific questions related to the books they had read and the girl who had asked me if she could ask questions then was too shy to speak them herself, so wrote them down for me to ask on her behalf. But they,too, were general questions. One of my book clubbers couldn't make it due to SRC commitments, but met us in the hallway and told Sherryl how much she had enjoyed the book she'd read.

It was a hectic day for me. I had some drama in my literacy class, felt bad about it and went to seek the child I had upset. Then I rushed to the canteen, which had prepared lunch for me and my guest. Then I hung around, panicking when she was a tiny bit late. What if she had got the dates confused? What if...? I think it was my nerves.

But she turned up a minute later and all went well. She talked about her books and dear me, hasn't she written a huge variety of genres, from short humorous books for younger readers to verse novels and fantasy mysteries for teens. Apparently, her bestseller is her first book, The Too Tight Tutu, which is based on her own experiences as an overweight child doing ballet lessons. With some of her books she has bought back the rights and self published because there was still demand for them but the publishers weren't interested in keeping them in print.

There were some quite good questions from Year 7 and I invited Sherryl to choose a couple of students to receive copies of her books as a reward for the best. I usually do that as an encouragement to get them started, but it wasn't necessary this time, which was nice. You know, nobody wants to be first? Not a problem this time. 

After lunch, we returned to the library, where the Year 8 students were even better, and I have to say I was pleased and relieved. We have a lot of difficult students in this year's Year 8 and apart from one or two, whose teachers took them away from the others, they were really very good and asked some great questions, including some of the most difficult students of the lot! In fact, two of the three prizes went to some of our harder-to-handle boys. One of them was so chuffed he showed off his book to the sub school leader who has given him many a detention.

After the session I had students asking to borrow some of Sherryl's books, which I had on a display. Some were out, but others were grabbed.

A successful event all round. Pity I couldn't even get a reply from the local press, but then, for them it's just another ho-hum author-visits-school event, big deal, it happens all the time. I did explain it was a special program run by YABBA, for only twenty-five schools, but no interest.

It's not a ho-hum thing for us. When I first arrived at the school, we had an annual writers' festival. The Principal gave us $2000 for inviting writers to speak. Not a lot, but enough for each campus to have someone, and we supplemented it with free visits from myself and Chris Wheat, my colleague who has written five YA novels. That was a principal who respected us and what we did. There was a college head of library.

Now my budget is half what it was back in the 90s and no college writers' festival. We just don't have the money to bring in guest speakers, so having a freebie like this means a lot to us and our students.

I hate that I can't do more, but never mind, it was a great day, if exhausting. Thank you, Sherryl, and especially thanks, YABBA, for paying for this! 

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11. Two Tales Of Twins From Ancient Greece And Rome By Ursula Dubosarsky. Armidale, Christmas Press, 2014


This is the third publication by Christmas Press, and just as beautiful as the others. Like the first two, Two Trickster Tales From Russia by Sophie Masson and Two Selkie Stories From Scotland by Kate Forsyth, it's written by a respected veteran writer of Australan children's books. 

Unlike the first two, it's taken from mythology rather than folk tales and mythology is different. It can get nasty. More kudos, then, to Ursula Dubsarsky for managing to adapt stories about characters who in the original myths were not particularly sympathetic, for children! The two stories are about the childhood of Apollo and Artemis and that of Romulus and Remus. It does have to admit that the story of the twins who founded Rome is not one with a very happy ending, but manages to avoid telling the young reader that Romulus murdered his brother. For the Romans, it was terribly important, the story of their founding, and the killing was just a part of it. Myth and legend can be nasty, simple as that.

The art by David Allan is gorgeous, well worth the price of the book, even if it weren't for the stories.

Read it to your young children or let the slightly older ones read it for themselves.

Recommended!

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12. July 27 Meme - Happy Birthday, Huguette!

Today is July 27 south of the equator, no matter what date you see above this post( Blogger is a northern hemisphere thing). And today is the birthday of my sister's best friend, Huguette, so it seemed a good day to do a meme. 


Lean pickings in the events, as far as a book blog is concerned. Lots of battles and disasters, of course, and unpleasant things such as Vincent Van Gogh committing suicide. And to stretch a point, the hero of the Scottish Play lost a battle on this day, to Siward of Northumbria. Well, if Shakespeare could write about him, I can mention him in a book meme.

Born on this day was Alexandre Dumas fils - not the author of The Three Musketeers, that was his Dad, but he wrote lots of plays and The Lady Of The Camellias, novel and play, which became a film(Camille), an opera(La Traviata by Verdi) and a musical film(Moulin Rouge - yes, that Moulin Rouge)

Also Hilaire Belloq, who wrote all those very funny Cautionary Tales for children. 

And I'm going to stretch another point and include Simon Jones, the original and best Arthur Dent(sorry,Martin  Freeman, though it did make it easier for me to accept you as Bilbo Baggins) in Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy.

There were a couple of writers I'd never heard of. One of them, Joseph Mitchell, I'm going to mention because he is also a character in a computer game! 

And in Finland, July 27 is National Sleepyhead Day, in which it's traditional to throw water over the last person out of bed, or throw them into a lake or the sea! Sometimes, if it's a man, he gets the left side of his chest shaved. (Obviously women don't have hairy chests) Every year in the Finnish city of Naantali they throw a celebrity into the sea. 

Believe it or not, this bit of silly fun is connected with the story of the Seven Sleepers of Ephesus, who snoozed away a couple of hundred years in a cave during the persecution of Christians, woke up during a Christian era and promptly dropped dead as soon as they'd found out it was okay to be Christians. Apparently, there's also a Muslim version. Obviously a story with an old heritage, might be interesting to see where it originally came from.

Well, better get up before the family arrive to throw me off St Kilda pier.

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13. Still More Ebooks This Week! The Wake By Paul Kingsnorth

Last night I downloaded Paul Kingsnorth's debut novel The Wake, which is on the long list for this year's Man Booker Prize. I'm not really into literary fiction, but this is also genre fiction, which I do love. It's set in 1066(and all that, okay, it STARTS in 1066) and is not about celebrating a dead person's life but about a rebellion in the fens country against the newly arrived Normans. It happened. The story of Hereward's rebellion is a part of history, though it's been fictionalised a lot. Actually, there was a wonderful, beautiful novel, Saxon Tapestry, by Sile Rice, which I read while playing mediaeval church music to get me in the mood.

But this is different. I've only started reading, but the novel is in Old English - sort of. Even the author admits he had to play around with it or it would be even harder to read than it is. He cals it a "shadw language" that gives you the feel of the real thing.

Now, I did a semester of OE at uni, though I ended up focusing on Middle English because you couldn't do both and I was interested in doing my Honours thesis on King Arthur and Malory wrote in ME, not OE. I was quite good at it in the limited amount I did, because I had a background in Yiddish, which is related to mediaeval German, which is related to OE. So I'll manage this book a lot more easily than the average Joe or Josephine and even I'm going to take a while  to finish it. 

That said, I've found through reading it aloud that the general text and the dialogue is basically in modern English without the slang. If it wasn't using OE names and spelling for things, it really wouldn't be too hard, so stick with it. You'll get the hang of it. I'd suggest the ebook version, as the publisher has, I believe, done it as a manuscript between stiff cardboard covers and when you just want to read a book on the way in to work, that could be a nuisance. But up to you. 

It is, anyway, a brave experiment by the author. He could have sold it to a regular publisher if he'd just written it in modern style but he refused to change it and ended up instead going with a small press, Unbound, that has the policy of asking the author to crowd fund his or her book. He managed to get 400 pre-orders and here he is, up for a huge prize! Clearly his faith in his book as it was worked out. 

 I don't blame him, anyway; it must have taken a HUGE amount of research to get this done, not to mention getting the style just right. No convenient spell or grammar check on the computer - actually, you'd have to turn it off or go crazy.

Good luck to him!

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14. Look What I've Got From Christmas Press!


Here it is, the latest beautiful picture storybook from Christmas Press, another Aussie small press, which does lovingly-crafted books only a couple of times a year, but worth waiting for.

This one is written by well-known children's and YA novelist Ursula Dubosarsky and illustrated by the amazing David Allan. YESSS!

I'll be reviewing it shortly, as it comes out in early August, but couldn't resist sharing this with you.

I know what the next book is - a collection of Christmas-themed children's stories - because I have a tale in it myself, a story set in Australia in a world where Armorique, the setting of Wolfborn, exists and can be looked up on Google. :-) I have recently realised, though, that I forgot the triple moons, so it isn't the same world as Wolfborn, exactly... Oh, well.
Anyway, look out for my review of Two Tales Of Twins, coming soon!

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15. I'm Interviewed By ... N! (From Gillian Polack's Livejournal)


Some time ago, I had an email from Gillian Polack, uni academic, spec fic writer and historian, whose work experience student, whom she referred to only as N had read and loved Wolfborn. Would I be willing to do an interview with the young lady? What do YOU think? :-)

It was duly published on Gillian's Livejournal and I'm reproducing it here, because Livejournal is a much more intimate form of blog which is really for the author and friends. 

So here are the three questions she asked.


NAre the traditions and festivals used in Wolfborn based on existing religions? For example, when Lord Geraint performed the rites.

SB: Yes, sort of. Notzrianism, the main religion, is my own version of Christianity, though not quite - you may have noticed I have a female bishop in one scene. But you can't do a mediaeval fantasy set in a European-style world without some form of Christianity.  So much of mediaeval daily life and culture was based on it. The way people thought and behaved, even their hierarchy, was based on their faith. 

In my world, though, there's also a strong pagan element still around, tolerated if not liked. The celebration of such rites would almost certainly have been tamed quite a lot in a country that was otherwise Christian(or Notzrian). I mostly invented the rituals described, but not the festivals. The Celtic calendar had four major celebrations in the year and I used that. I assumed that local celebrations would vary.  There would have been some interesting things happening at local celebrations, even in Christian times. 

I did a short course on Celtic religions once and the teacher, a middle-European lady, I can't recall from which country, remembered her childhood when the local villages worshipped, more or less, their own statues of "Our Lady" who was, as far as they were concerned, just another version of "THE Lady", the mother goddess. They were Catholics, yes, but also,deep-down, had never stopped worshipping the Goddess. And this was well into the twentieth century! 

N: Is the castle based off any historical land marks? For example the landscape around it and its strategic positioning.

Nope. It's just a place that says "mediaeval daily life". Strictly speaking, a lord like Geraint would probably be moving around his manors, but I left him in one place, with my own choice of geography. It made it easier to have things happen as I needed them to. This is also why I created my own world, with three moons and all,  instead of setting it in mediaeval Europe.

NDo the kingdoms in Wolfborn embody countries of the era?

Yes, a bit, eg the Djarnish Isles, mentioned by Lady Eglantine, are sort of Britain, although the women's community she describes, in which the members get to do learned stuff, was  based on the community of Hildegard of Bingen, an amazingly multi-talented eleventh century German abbess, now a saint, I believe. Armorique is sort of, but not quite, Brittany, because the story was taken from the Breton Lais by Marie De France, but I introduced gods from other parts of the Celtic world and gave it its own history(I'm working on a novel set earlier in that history). Nearly everyone, I admit, has a French name(but "Geraint" is Welsh - I just liked the name, which is part of Celtic literature. For consistency, I shouldn't have done it, but I did. So sue me). However, some countries mentioned in this novel were from a world I created for a series of swords and sorcery stories about the adventures of a woman warrior named Xanthia, published back in the 80s in a fantasy magazine called Eye Of Newt, well BEFORE a certain TV series with a similar name. As for the era, it's vaguely 12th century. 

Please note: I admit I cherry picked what I wanted in my world building, but whatever sins I committed, I did my research. I read whole books on daily life, the role of women, cities, folklore, you name it! 

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16. Space...The Final Frontier.. Apollo II This Week In History!

If you haven't seen this pic,
you've been living under a rock!


This isn't really a book-related post, but as I've said before, I came to love science fiction because of the "sensawunda" thing. I dreamed of going to the moon from early days, played "moon-landing" with my friends and loved Star Trek from the first episode I saw. (As it happens, I even know what Trek episode was on the week of the moon landing, because I read the TV guide in the microfilm newspapers  at the State Library when researching for my short story "Countdown To Apollo 11". The episode was "The Enterprise Incident". There was no Dr Who, as it was off for a while.

This week is the 45th anniversary of Apollo 11. It's rather sad that all that excitement and wonder should have ended with the US space shuttles having to be retired and nothing being done for the moment, at least nothing immediate. 

Of the three astronauts who went to the moon, my favourite is Michael Collins, the one who didn't actually step on to the moon and was fine with that. He said that thousands would have given a lot to be in his place and that, as far as he was concerned, it was about flying and he had the best job of any pilot, ever!

He produced a number of books that were not ghost written - he said so and I believe him. His autobiography Carrying The Fire, has that true sensawunda you get in the best SF and yet was for real. I used that and his history of the space program while researching my own book, Star Walkers: Explorers Of The Unknown. Star Walkers sold out years ago and wasn't reprinted, so if you want to read it, you'll have to get it on eBay or ABE Books, but I used a lot of the information by and about him to help me.

Buzz Aldrin has at least one novel with his name on it, in which the hero is involved in a private space program, something Aldrin has always promoted, and with all those recent space program cutbacks, maybe he's right.

I have memories of the moon landing, because they let us go home from school to watch it. If it was now, we'd all be gathered in the school library or a hall - funnily enough my own school didn't have a hall and neither does the one where I work now - and the info tech teacher would set up a link to the Internet so we could watch it as a school.

I wasn't a great reader of SF till after my school days were over and I was babysitting for my sister and raiding her shelves, but I did read some of the classics by Verne and Wells. It's interesting to compare what the two of them had to say about moon flight. Jules Verne had his moon trip beginning in Florida and thought carefully about how it might work, whereas Wells just had some made-up stuff to make his spacecraft float. I think that after Wells was rude about the Verne book,Verne actually said something along those lines, that at least he'd done his homework instead of just making up something out of his head. But Verne really was a science fiction writer,  while Wells was more interested in politics and social justice, even if he used SF to talk about them.

There isn't a lot of written, as opposed to film, fiction bout Apollo II, as far as I know, though it is a part of Stephen Baxter's wonderful novel Voyage, which speculates what might have happened if the US had gone for Mars instead of the space shuttle. The heroine becomes the first person to walk on Mars.

Well, what do you know, I HAVE written about books in this post!

So before I go, here's a photo taken in Sydney at Mascot Airport on July 21 1969, which I found under the Creative Commons licences, from the days when there used to be TVs in shop windows. Enjoy!


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17. Downloaded This Week... Lots Of Classic SF And A Children's Book About The Great War...

I get this craving for classic SF by famous writers from the Golden Age, you know?  I just do.


Oddly, it started with a search for Darrell Schweitzer, who is very much alive and kicking and has a gorgeous steampunk poem in my issue of ASIM, #60, illustrated by the wonderful Lewis Morley, who loved it. Turns out he's in some of  the Megapacks available on iBooks because they have a mixture of Golden Age and contemporary SF. There's even a story in #6 by Pamela Sargent about Hillary Rodham - yes, THAT Hillary Rodham, Mrs Clinton - as an astronaut, based on a story she told about having sent an inquiry to NASA in her teens and been told "girls need not apply"(something they deny, saying that while girls were not in the space program at the time, they wouldn't have said "don't bother", just told the young woman to work hard at school and keep an eye out because it would happen at some stage). It's asking "what if"?  Hillary the astronaut is on her way to Venus with an all-woman team, including Judy Resnik and Jerrie Cobb(Resnik was the first Jewish woman in space, Cobb was one of the Forgotten Thirteen, women who wanted to become astronauts in the 60s and were told to go away. Perhaps it would have been better for her if she'd been a teenager writing to NASA instead of a skilled pilot!)

Anyway, I downloaded Megapack 6, which had some good stuff in it, including one by Philip K Dick and Arthur C Clarke's classic "The Nine Billion Names Of God", a story not in the Clarke collection I bought from Amazon with my prize gift voucher. These Megapacks are great value, costing the massive sum of 99c! And there are quite a lot of genres. I'd been looking for Mack Reynolds, a prolific writer who died in the 70s. Mack Reynolds wrote the very first original Star Trek novel, Mission To Horatius, before James Blish's Spock Must Die! It doesn't get much publicity, probably because it was for children. I bet it would be worth $$$$ on eBay now. I had read several of his novels, starting with Time Gladiator, which I found on a remainders table for 20c. It had a dreadful cover and title, but as it was SF I picked it up, browsed through and decided that for 20c it wasn't much of a risk. It was so very good I went in search of more. One of them featured a man who was attached to a computer that sent him into the mind of Horatius, that hero of the Roman Republic who guarded the bridge into Rome against the enemy with two comrades while others were busy cutting it down. Another predicted the current situation with credit cards replacing cash. In this society there's no cash at all, just cards, so if you're on the run, as the hero of that novel is, you can easily be traced by your card use. This was in the 70s!

I did find some of his books available online, but got a sudden craving for Fredric Brown and decided Reynolds could wait just a little longer. If you're a Trek fan, you'll know one of Brown's stories, "Arena", was adapted for an episode of the name. I'd read plenty of his tales, including "Arena". They tend to be quirky and often funny. And there was a Fredric Brown Megapack! With no fewer than 33 of his classic stories, including "Arena"! For 99c! I also bought from SF Gateway his novel What Mad Universe in which a pulp magazine editor finds himself thrown into a universe in which pulp fiction tropes are true. I'd read and loved it years ago and had to have it in ebook. I've reread it and loved it again.

And finally, this week, I discovered that there was a new book by Morris Gleitzman, a popular writer in my library. This one is called Loyal Creatures and is about a boy and his horse going to the Great War. A wonderful writer. Knowing what I do about what happened to the horses that went to war from Australia I don't hold out great hopes for a happy ending, but I refuse to read the end till I get there.

A fine haul. What are you reading, my readers?

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18. As Stars Fall By Christie Nieman. Sydney: Pan Macmillan, 2014

A bush fire, and its aftermath, links a Bush-Stone curlew and three teenagers experiencing loss, love and change.

The fire was fast and hot ... only days after it went through, there were absolutely no birds left. I should have seen it as an omen, the birds all leaving like that.

Robin is a self-confessed bird-nerd from the country, living in the city. On the first day at her new school, she meets Delia. Delia is freaky and definitely not good for Robin's image.

Seth, Delia's brother, has given up school to prowl the city streets. He is angry at everything, especially the fire that killed his mother.

When a rare and endangered bird turns up in the city parklands, the lives of Robin, Seth and Delia become fatefully and dangerously intertwined ...

Their lives certainly are intertwined. Seth and Delia are the children of the biologist who was killed observing a rare Bush-Stone Curlew. Robin was living in the area at the time and saw the bushfire. Her parents separated soon after for reasons we find out later. 

And Robin has a strange connection with Seth, who can see things through her eyes as well as the bird's.

Fire plays an important role in this novel - the bushfire that killed Seth and Delia's mother and brought the bird to the city, the fire with which Seth deliberately burns his hand in horrified fascination while grieving, Robin's nickname, Flame. Even the book's title, As Stars Fall, refers to sparks falling during the fire, which Robin saw on the night and thought beautiful despite the significance of them. The environment is also a major element and some of it is notes by Selena, the biologist mother, who had strong opinions about the cycle of life in the bush.

It's a sad but positive story, an interesting mixture of  mainstream YA and fantasy. The story is about coming to terms with grief, but it wouldn't have been quite the same without those touches of fantasy.

I can see this one working well in classroom discussion, perhaps as a literature circles text; there's a lot of meat for discussion. It's aimed at older readers and really is best for good readers who like to think deeply about what they read.


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19. Bloomsbury New Harry Potter Cover Reveal

I got these two pics from Sonia at Bloomsbury this morning. They're the new covers for the first two Harry Potter books. 


This.


And this.


The artist is Johnny Duddle, who, among other things, has done some illoes for Terry Pratchett books. If you look at the originals, the spirit is very similar, though taken from a different scene in the books. Here are the covers I saw when I was first buying them. They're by Thomas Taylor.

   

And this.


. I adore  the originals, they're what I picture when I think of the novels, because, unlike many adults,  it's never been a problem for me being seen reading a book with a children's cover...but these are also quite lovely and have a lot more going on. 

It probably won't matter now what the covers look like, the books are just going to go on and on selling, but it never does harm to refresh a franchise. I look forward to the day when someone does a Harry Potter cover art exhibition with covers from around the sod and different times.

So, what do you think of the new covers?

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20. On Finishing A Piece Of Historical Fiction

I've finally completed, edited and submitted my story for the Cranky Ladies Of History anthology. I haven't a clue what I'll do with it if it's rejected, as there's not much of a market for short historical fiction. The History Girls blog has done one, but it's by their own authors, all of them well known historical novelists. I can't even submit it to a possible third volume of Trust Me, if Ford Street Publishing does one, as the characters are all adults and, at 4200 words,  it's about twice the length of a Trust Me story. 

Still, I had to have a go. How could I not? And looking at the names of the others who are sending stories, pretty much everyone is a speculative fiction writer, so I'm not the only one who hasn't much experience in this area - with two historical fiction stories under my belt, I may even have more experience than some others. 

My other two stories were set in the 1960s, though, an era I know fairly well and even remember vaguely from my childhood. And you can go to the State Library and look up newspapers of the time. 

But what did I know about the Victorian era? Not a lot. If I'd had time, if I'd been writing a book, I would have bought or borrowed whole books about the era and the culture, as I did with my mediaeval fantasy fiction.

There were newspapers in the Victorian era, of course, but not where I can get at them. And there just wasn't time.

So I settled for researching the story I'd chosen and checking the other stuff as I went. I waded through web sites. I bought an ebook called Wild Women, which had a chapter on the subject I had chosen, the life of Dr James Miranda Barry, a wonderful army doctor who did some amazing things to improve the conditions and sanitation of hospitals and performed the first Caesarean in which mother and baby both survived and would have been remembered for those if "he" hadn't turned out to be a she! It's not that nobody now is interested in her achievements but web sites and books tend to throw all their energies into arguing about whether or not she was a transgender man. Who cares? It was over 150 years ago and we'll never know, unless some letters or a long-buried memoir turn up. 

I decided to keep it simple. Like Agnodike of Athens, I decided, she was a girl who wanted to do something only boys were allowed to do and was prepared to pay for it with her female identity, which was not a lot of use to her.

I made myself write the first draft, at least, because if I'd stopped to look everything up, it would never have been finished. Even so, I kept stopping to ask, "Hang on! How would you get new clothes in those days if you weren't rich and couldn't afford to have stuff made and didn't have time anyway? What about travelling to Jamaica from London in 1865? What about travel conditions?" And so on.

I at least was able to ask some of these questions of a couple of historians, Louise Berridge, author of many historical novels, including some about the Crimean War, and Gillian Polack, who specialises in things mediaeval, but knows a lot about other eras as well. Both ladies came up trumps and if my story doesn't make it, it won't be their fault. I asked them about travel from London to Jamaica and Gillian said "Bristol" which had a lot of connection with Jamaica and Louise agreed and also suggested Southampton, from which a mail ship went every fortnight, and even told me which railway station would have been used to go to each port. Gillian added that my hero, Dantzen, Dr Barry's manservant, had better take his own food, which was not supplied at sea in those days. 

I decided on Southampton; both ports are about the same distance from London, but Southampton had regular traffic to Jamaica.

By the way, a bit of Internet research told me that second hand clothes would be the way to go if you didn't have time to make your own clothes or money to have them made for you. 

And I even found an online scanned Victorian era newspaper about the discovery that Dr Barry was a woman! It was from New Zealand, so the story really got around.

Historical research is never going to give you a definitive answer to anything. For example,  there were two explanations of how she died. One was that she died of cholera, the other that she'd caught a chill which ended up killing her. I opted for cholera. Then there was a duel she fought with one Josias Cloete. One version said he'd challenged her because she'd said something ungentlemanly about a lady. The other version said she had challenged him because he'd said she rode like a girl. For the purposes of my story and the character, I decided to go with the latter. She was a truly cranky lady and this wasn't the only time she fought a duel. And the fact that she and Cloete became close friends for life suggested to me that the duel - which wasn't too serious in the end -  was about something not too serious in the first place. 

But you see what I mean. There are so many versions of history, you just have to choose what makes sense to you. I once wrote an article about the Siamese Twins, Chang and Eng. the material said, on the one hand, that try never worked for Barnum and Bailey, and in the other that they did and were cheated. I decided to say they hadn't; they were a shrewd, entrepreneurial pair who would never have let themselves be ripped off, in my opinion - and so I told my editor from the NSW School Magazine when he asked was I sure, because he'd read...

I think Josias Cloete may have descendants to this day, so if one of them is reading this and has a family tradition about something great, many times great, grandad said about that Dr Barry, I DON'T WANT TO KNOW, okay? Not now. Too late!

One web site I found said that the reason she didn't get a knighthood on retirement - something fairly standard - was that she had embarrassed Florence Nightingale in public, haranguing the Lady With The Lamp from horseback for keeping her hospital filthy and so causing unnecessary deaths. That was a scene I simply had to include, though not in huge detail. It gave me the chance to slip in Mary Seacole, a Jamaican/ Scottish nurse who wrote a memoir. Mary had asked to be a member of Florence Nightingale's staff and was refused, though not by Florence herself, so she made her own way to the Crimean War, where she sold drinks and tended the wounded anyway. I wanted to have her at James Barry's funeral, because she was in London at the time, but had no way to slot her in convincingly. She's there, though, in the Crimean War scene.

Now the story is done as best I can. If it's accepted, I'll go back and make sure the historical details are right. If not, it will have to stay on my computer till another opportunity presents itself.

Fingers crossed!

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21. New On My Cyber Bookshelf!

I have just reread Pierre Boulle's Planet Of The Apes, which I downloaded after viewing some special features on my brother's DVD of the 1968 movie. I had read it before under the title Monkey Planet, but felt like reading it again. It didn't disappoint on a second reading. It's rather Swiftian, not a lot like the movie and if you're expecting the Statue Of Liberty at the end, forget it. I'd suggest that the book and the film are both classics in their own right, which have their own points to make. Apparently, Pierre Boulle HATED the Statue of Liberty scene(created by Rod Serling) but there's no doubt it worked.

I've finished Susan Price's Ghost World sequence - I think the original novels are out of print, but the author has made the trilogy available in ebook. It's a series set in a fairy tale version of Russia, or, rather, a Russian Czardom, over hundreds of years. She has taken bits of Pushkin(a story telling cat), of shamanism and Russian folklore and thrown them all together. It works well, though the novels don't feel like novels as we think of them, because we don't really see much of the thoughts and feelings of the protagonists, especially in the first story. There are different viewpoints, which let the reader know what's happening elsewhere, but can be frustrating for a reader who wants to stick with the  heroine. I did rather like the Baba Yaga hut with chicken legs being turned into a typical witch/shaman hut, with ALL the witches having homes that travel on different kinds of legs. The shaman looks for an apprentice, which can take all of her/his(mostly her) three hundred years of life. So the travelling hut is necessary.

I've added two more Josephine Tey novels, The Franchise Affair and The Singing Sands, to my shelves and begun reading Alan Baxter's Bound and Colin Falconer's East India, which were both going free as promos.

Courtesy of Project Gutenberg, I have a volume of Walter Scott's Minstrelsy Of The Scottish Border and one of Christina Rossetti's poems(I downloaded that to go with Tim Powers' Hide Me Among The Graves). I am rather fond of Walter Scott. I know his books have a reputation for being boring and waffling - well, the waffling is true, but there's something delightful about his footnotes, such as the one where he apologises for bringing back a character who was supposed to be dead, but hey, his editor hated it and the fans will kill him otherwise. There's another where he says that he's been told a bit of his heraldry was wrong but he's looked it up and he was right! I suspect this couldn't happen today unless the story was being serialised online. I also heard Scott was involved in preserving the walls of York which were going to be torn down - looks like developers have been around for centuries!

I think ebooks are the best thing since sliced bread.

What do you think?

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22. Writing Process Blog Hop # 5: Gillian Polack


I received Gillian Polack's Writing Process Blog Hop post this morning. Gillian, as well as bring a writer, is a mediaeval historian who also knows a lot about other eras. Despite that, she's written mostly fiction set in contemporary times, such as this one, which I have on my ebook shelf.


I also have this:


It's a fabulous description of how she and others researched, tested recipes and chose the foods for five historically-themed banquets run by the Conflux convention in Canberra(I was lucky enough to attend a repeat of the Regency one). It included the recipes, but as far as I'm concerned, the story of the work that went into those banquets is priceless. There are a few copies left, I believe, and no plans to reprint, so if you live in Australia, keep an eye on the Conflux stand at your next convention and grab a copy while you can.

I'm glad to hear Gillian is now using her skills in historical research in her writing! 

Without further ado, take it away, Gillian!

GP: 

I’ve been tagged by two people for this post, and life keeps intervening. Thank you for your patience, Louise Turner (http://endlessrarities.livejournal.com) and Sue (and thanks, Sue for hosting my belated answer). Since being tagged, I’ve received word of my next novel – it will be published in October.

1. What are you working on?

       I’m researching the year 1682 for a novel about a group of women travelling together.

2. How does your work differ from others in your genre?


       It’s not quite historical fiction and it’s not quite historical fantasy, either. Historical magic realism? Historical fiction where I trust the world-views of the period and give them their own character arc? The setting is the place and time where religion and science and magic were as close to perfectly balanced as they’ve ever been in a thousand years of Western Europe.

3. Why do you write what you write?

       I’m finally admitting that it’s possible to be both a historian and a writer and for my research into narratives to feed more openly into my fiction. I will still write contemporary works (I have one in the planning stages, in fact) but it’s a lot of fun to encourage readers to see the wires and know a bit more about how it’s all done.

4. How does your writing process work?

      My writing process is different for different novels. Illuminations was written sequentially, but the ancient part first and the modern second. Cellophane was written in small patches – a bit here and a bit there and then edited and edited and edited until it worked the way I wanted it to. The only thing that all my novels have in common is a long period of thinking before any writing takes place. Sometimes, it doesn’t look as if I’ve done that, for instance, in my soon-to-be-released Langue[dot]doc 1305) but that’s because I was thinking about it for twenty years.
      

Because I’m very late on this, I’m reluctant to nominate anyone. I’m going to tag Sharyn Lilly anyhow, because she has just published a rather interesting book, and I think there are a few people who wouldn’t mind knowing what’s happening next. Sharyn is a speculative fiction writer and editor and she can be found at http://eneit.livejournal.com

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23. The Graveyard Book: the graphic novel, Volume 1, by Neil Gaiman. Adaptation by P. Craig Russell. Art by various artists. Sydney, Bloomsbury, 2014

                               

I read this novel when it first came out.  It was the author's tribute to Rudyard Kipling's Jungle Books, only instead of Mowgli being brought up in the judge by animals, the Mowgli character, Nobody Owens, Bod for short, is bought up in a graveyard by ghosts, with Silas, a vampire who can leave the graveyard, bringing in food and taking charge of arranging his education. He's there because he toddled to the local cemetery when his entire family was murdered and the killer is still looking for him - a killer who is not quite human.

It was a wonderful book, but I'd forgotten it was written as linked short stories. In each one, Bod has a new adventure in a different part of the graveyard as he grows up, learning something new. In one, he is carried off by ghouls, but a language he has learned enables him to call for help. In another, he meets an unusual ghost, a young witch who never had a headstone. And lest you forget how much danger awaits him outside the graveyard, you're reminded. 

This format gives the opportunity to have the illustration done by individual artists - and it also means that, while you'd like to finish the book, it can be presented as Volume 1 without too much stress to the reader. And the next volume will be out in October, so be patient! The stories for this volume end with a chilling Interlude in which the killer stalking Bod makes an appearance.

I do love graphic novels; the art and text combine to tell the story and when it's a graphic version of a novel, as this one is, it tells the story in a simpler manner for children who might be reluctant readers. It's also able to show such awful things as the dead family, including a child, and little Bod, sucking on a mummy, toddling along towards the graveyard without knowing what has happened, rather than having to describe them.

It's a lovely book which will appeal both to fans of the original and new readers. Highly recommended!

Coming out in Australia on August 1, 2014.

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24. Vashti Farrer's New Book




Vashti Farrer, author of a whole lot of children's books and contributor to my favourite market, the NSW School Magazine, has recently done a true crime book for adults. I love true crime, having written some myself(check out the side of the page for a sample chapter from my book, Crime Time: Australians behaving badly but not till you've read this). This one, I see, is about Ellen Thomson, the only woman to have been executed in Queensland, back in the 19th century, for having murdered her husband. It may have been a miscarriage of justice, since she didn't get a fair trial.

There's something addictive about true crime. Crime fiction is good fun, but there's nothing quite like reading about dreadful doings that really happened. A piece of historical crime has a double attraction - and Vashti Farrer has done quite a bit of historical writing.

I hope this goes to ebook, as I simply have no space left on my physical shelves, but meanwhile, you can buy it at Booktopia if ordering on line and no doubt can order it from your local bookshop if they don't have it.

Ellen Thomson: Beyond A Reasonable Doubt, by Vashti Farrer. Sydney, Halstead Press, 2014.


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25. Year 8 Stories - the Sequel!

Well, the holidays are over and I've just finished reading the last of my student stories. They have ranged from a hundred-odd words to what has to be at least six thousand! Twelve pages of small print? Has to be.

Two of  them were plagiarised, word for word, beginning to end, from online sources and what I'm going to tell the students I have no idea. Clearly they couldn't handle the story starters I gave them last term and were desperate enough to pinch something. I'd love to just say, "Look, I don't CARE if your writing is bad! It's my job to help you fix it and I can't do that if I don't know how you write in the first place." If I thought it would do any good I'd say that. But I don't think it will. All I can do is offer them the chance to do it again, with a different writing prompt, by hand, in a single session.

There was a very short piece from a student who asked me for help for the first time this year. It sn't much, but it was what he could do. He did his best. I will give him some more short pieces to do. Perhaps start with a Cloze activity in which he chooses his own words to fill the gaps?

There was a story that used one of the prompts to have one gory murder after another, but the student really, really enjoyed the writing. He ended it abruptly with "and then he came back and killed my uncle and me. The End." but I think he just felt he had to finish. I went cross-eyed trying to edit all the punctuation-free sentences and the switching between tenses - finally I gave up and put in notes to ask him to make up his mind which tense he wanted and stick with it.

A lot were unfinished. I will get them to do a story outline before continuing.

I really must mention the two who used "The Hero's Journey." One was unfinished, but long, an account of a girl who is approached by a long-lost brother under mysterious circumstances, and broke off just as the siblings were about to escape from a murderous millionaire older sister... I have told her it's an exciting story and I'm keen to see how it ends. She used the basic elements - the call to adventure, the journey...

The six thousand word story was less obvious as Hero's Journey, but it also used the elements. The call to adventure was a young boy from a village deciding to go to the city in search of his mother, who was taken away for medical treatment by a doctor whose name he knew, but not much else, some time ago, also fulfilling a mission for a neighbour whose children have vanished into the city, and returning to his reward. It was written with a Vietnamese accent, as the young lady has only recently decided to join mainstream English classes, so it needs work yet, incuding some tightening, but she is proud of it, and so she should be.

I think the Hero's Journey is not a bad place to start students off and will consider using it again, but it's a work in progress, always needing adapting.

People keep telling me that because I'm a writer I should therefore be able to teach writing. I really don't think it's that simple.  There are a lot of people out there teaching creative writing without ever having sold anything. Then they sell a first novel and write in their bio notes that they teach it and I say, "Hang on, this is a first novel, not even a good one, and she's TEACHING this? How did she get the job?"

In my case, I know how I write, but that doesn't mean everyone does it the same way. For example,
I just start writing and worry about the quality later. But kids can't always do that, or they don't understand the concept of "first draft." I can't even show them my own work in drafts, because even my first draft is better than their finished products in most cases. I am never going to write a long, run-on sentence with no punctuation or change tenses and even person.

Guess I'll have to write something awful and let them crit it.

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