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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. Happy birthday, Shakespeare!

Or possibly baptism day, as we're not sure. We don't have his actual DOB, so we use April 23, his date of baptism. And today is the 450th anniversary.

I have a confession to make: I'm a total Bardoholic. I've been addicted to this guy's writing since I was about eleven. My sister had done Julius Caesar in Year 10 and her copy was still lying around. I was into ancient history at the time, so I opened it, thinking it might be a history book. Imagine my surprise to find out it was a play! And it started with these two guys trying to persuade the mob that they really, really, shouldn't be celebrating Caesar's victory over Pompey, who'd been so nice to them.

This was great stuff! Drama, poetry, characters killing each other, all while speaking in verse! Of course, I just had to read it all and find out how it ended, and then declaim speeches from the most dramatic scenes, aloud in the house. I couldn't wait to study it in Year 10.

My Year 10 English class was a disappointment. The teacher was a terribly nice man, but dull, dull, dull! Most periods we did grammar from the textbook, something I hated because I already knew it. And Julius Caesar? We watched the 1950s movie with Marlon Brando as Marc Antony, John Gielgud as Cassius and James Mason as Brutus, then listened to a recording of the same cast.  That was it. Fortunately, the next year we had a more rewarding experience with Richard III.

 In Year 12, I studied King Lear in Literature. Our Literature teacher was not the best - among other things, he told us not to bother studying Childe Harold for the end of year exam because Vision Of Judgement was much more typical of Byron, just as well I ignored him! - but the play itself took my breath with its beauty and power. We were going to see it performed by the Melbourne Theatre Company before doing it in class and I thought I'd better at least take a look first. My book fell open at the scene  where Lear is cursing Cordelia. I gasped at the utter magic of the speech. 

This, I knew, was going to be my kind of play.

At university, we did a lot of Shakespeare, even performing two plays, Coriolanus and The Winter's Tale. We were excused one essay if we took part in the faculty production. Somewhere at Monash University, if thy haven't thrown it out, there's a recording, hopefully on DVD by now, of me at the age of twenty- one, playing Mopsa the shepherdess and Second lady in waiting to Queen Hermione. In Coriolanus, I was Third Citizen, Second Messenger and Second Officer(Second Officer was done as Second Cleaning Lady, sweeping up the palm leaves after Coriolanus's triumphal procession).  I also got to carry the banner and due in battle.

I love not only his writing but his humanity. His characters are believable. Even his villains are three dimensional. You are allowed to understand why they are that way. I can even forgive the popular plays written because that's what people were watching, such as Titus Andronicus, a play I studied at uni, but can't watch! 

If you think there's no connection between Shakespeare and speculative fiction, think again. The Tempest, as someone once said, is the origin of every SF story about a scientist, mad or otherwise, and his beautiful daughter. It is certainly the inspiration for that classic, Forbidden Planet. When Robert Bloch wrote a Halloween episode for Star Trek, he slipped in the three witches from The Scottish Play, and any Terry Pratchett fan knows what he did with them in the Discworld series. Poul Anderson's A Midsummer Tempest is set in a world in which everything Shakespeare wrote was true; he's called The Great Historian.

And all those words and phrases that were first heard in Shakespeare!  I do a Shakespeare introduction with my Year 8 class each year and they gasp at some of the words they use every day which came from the Bard.

I could go on and on, but you get the point. I would like to add, I don't subscribe to the conspiracy theories put out by folk who have nothing better to do. As far as I'm concerned, those plays and poems are not by Francis Bacon,  the Earl of Oxford, Christopher Marlowe or anyone else but the boy from Stratford!

Happy birthday, Will!

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2. Happy Birthday, Charlotte Bronte!

Photo of Charlotte 1854.
(Wikimedia Commons)
Charlotte Bronte was born on this day in 1816, 198 years ago. She was one of a largeish family of children, but by the time her two older sisters, Maria and Elizabeth, died of illness probably caused by time in an unpleasant boarding school, there were only four left - Charlotte, Emily, Anne and their brother Branwell. Charlotte didn't waste the experience: her alma mater turned up as Lowood School in Jane Eyre.

The Bronte kids, whose father was a parson, did a lot of writing together, poetry and fiction, all set in their own universes, Gondal and Angria. Unfortunately, they all ended up dying young, but their childhood writings are still in print, as are the published novels.

There was a novel by Antonia Forest, Peter's Room, in which a group of children think it might be a good idea to play around with the Bronte children's universe of Gondal. It was particularly interesting, I thought, in that there's a negative view of the girls' feelings about school, which meant they were interrupted in their world-building activities.

I haven't read a lot of their work, but there's no question that Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights are special. I had to read Wuthering Heights for English Literature at high school. I remember one of the boys bemoaning the fact that all the girls were Heathcliff fans - and I can see his point. Both novels are Gothic-themed, but Heathcliff and Cathy are not at all sympathetic characters. I think I've said before on this blog that in my opinion they are unpleasant lovers who totally deserve each other. All the same, it's an amazing, powerful novel about what can happen when two selfish people are obsessed with each other. I loved it - but I don't love Heathcliff.

Jane Eyre is another matter. Jane is not a wimp, or the kind of Gothic heroine who faints at the drop of a hat or screams a lot. She isn't physically attractive either. She is a former abused child who decides to make the best of things and create a life for herself. The Reeds don't succeed in cowering her; if anything, she scares them!  She loves Rochester, but won't be his mistress or his bigamous wife. It's rather a shame that it has to end with her going back only when he's helpless, but the author does allow him to get back his sight.

Rochester is a much nicer man than Heathcliff. He was duped, let's face it, by a family wanting to marry off their daughter quickly before he noticed there was something not quite right about her. Despite all that, he looks after Bertha. He says he could have sent her to an institution, but didn't want her to be mistreated, as tended to happen in mental hospitals in those days. Even when she's set the house on fire and he could just let her jump, he tries to save her - that's how he goes blind in the first place.

Adele, the little girl, is almost certainly not his child, just the daughter of a former mistress. All the same, he took on the responsibility of caring for the child when her mother dumped her.

So, when he finally falls in love with a woman worth loving, he does the wrong thing in hopes of having a little happiness. Not good, but you can understand it. You can also understand Jane's departure when she finds out.

In any case, these are characters I could care about. And I do.

Happy birthday, Charlotte!

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3. I'm Re-reading... The Potter's Field by Ellis Peters

I haven't read this book in some time, though the Brother Cadfael books are among my favourites and I had read and re-read them. Last night I stayed with my mother and on an impulse picked it up from the pile by her bed. (She's reading library books and has read this one anyway).

It's really this week's random read. And I'm pleased to say I have forgotten whodunnit.                   

It has proven to be easy to get back into this world. For those unfamiliar with this series, ie too young or have been hiding under a rock, it's set in earlyish/mid-twelfth century, in the town of Shrewsbury, on the border of England and Wales. Brother Cadfael is a monk in the Abbey of St Peter and St Paul, a herbalist who has strong forensic skills due to his powers of observation. His closest friend is Hugh Beringar the deputy sheriff - later Sheriff - of Shropshire, whose duties include crime investigation in his area. In other words, the amateur sleuth and his buddy the cop. ;-). Cadfael is not some naive man who's been in the abbey from his youth; he had been a soldier and Crusader who had thrown it all away to retire into a quiet life. This means he can work out motivations that help solve mysteries. And the author can bring in people from his past - a former girlfriend he had dumped to go on Crusade,for  example(she thinks he went into a monastery because of her and he doesn't enlighten her), even his son by a woman he met in the east.

I had read some of this author's historical novels, written under her real name, Edith Pargeter,before discovering Brother Cadfael, but she had also written contemporary crime fiction as Ellis Peters before. She combined her crime and historical fiction skills and behold! Mediaeval crime fiction! 

I love the series, which is gentle, though I'd wince at calling the novels cosies. They're not. They're historical fiction set in a violent era when King Stephen and Empress Maud were battling it out for the crown of England, and though the folk of Shrewsbury seem to mostly live in peace, they are still affected by the war going on around them - in fact, the first novel, One Corpse Too Many,  is set immediately after Stephen has besieged Shrewsbury and executed a large number of men he considers traitors. The crime is woven into the history. It goes over a number of years - this one is set in 1143, when Geoffrey De Mandeville was looting and burning in the Fen country.

The BBC TV series with Derek Jacobi was pretty faithful to the books, as far as a telemovie could be faithful to a novel and Derek Jacobi perfect for the   role. The author herself said she would always imagine him as Cadfael from then on.

There were 20 books in the series before Edith Pargeter's death. Reading the final one I knew that it was intended to be the last. She could have written more, nobody died, but it felt like the last. Loose ends were tied up and the story was a personal one, about Cadfael and his son. It was sad to now there would be no more, but as the author died not long after, it was probably just as well. No frustrating unfinished novels or cliffhangers. 

I may just go back and re-read the lot! 

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4. Two Selkie Stories From Scotland by Kate Forsyth, Ill. by FionaMcDonald, Armidale, NSW, Christmas Press, 2014

This is the second book to be published by Christmas Press, an Australian small press run by a group of writers and artists. The purpose of it is to publish the kind of  illustrated children's books they would have loved to read as children - and now! 

The first book, Two Trickster Tales From Russia, by Sophie Masson, featured Russian folktales with appropriately Russian-style illustrations(though they also reminded me of the art of British fairytale artist Walter Crane). The language was not too difficult for young children to understand, both those who could read independently and those to whom parents might read.

This new book is the same in that respect. I would have loved to read this when I was in Grade 2 or 3. (Admittedly, by the next year I was reading Robert Graves, but that was nerdy me.;-D) 

The two stories are "The Selkie Bride" - a story I have read before - and "In The Kingdom Of The Seals", which I haven't, although the theme of shooting at seals and hitting a Selkie is not unfamiliar. I've come across a much scarier version elsewhere. This one has a positive ending.

If you've been following Australian spec fic in the last year or two, you may have heard of Margo Lanagan's wonderful Selkie-themed Sea Hearts,  known as The Brides Of Rollrock Island outside Australia. It won about a million prizes and got on to the Stella list for women's fiction. 

Selkies are a part of Celtic folklore. The Selkie is a seal that can drop its skin and appear as a human for a while. If you steal the skin and hide it, the poor thing can't get home to the sea. The standard folktale is this: a fisherman or farmer sees a bunch of beautiful young women dancing on the shore. He startles them and they   run off back to the water, grabbing their skins and turning into seals. One poor girl isn't quite fast enough; the young man snatches her sealskin and demands she marries him.  She hasn't much choice. He hides the skin from her. She becomes a good wife and mother, but is always sad. One day, the  husband is out and one of her children finds the skin, either by accident or to make her happy. The woman grabs the skin, kisses the children goodbye - or sometimes doesn't bother - and returns to the sea. There's never a happy ending to these stories; even if the Selkie does go home, she loses her children and they lose her. 

In this book, the man who steals a bride from the sea is a laird, who tries to make his reluctant bride happy with nice clothes and food. Of course, he doesn't, and the story is pretty much the usual one.In the  second tale, "In The Kingdom Of The Seals", a man who makes his living killing seals and selling their pelts finds himself under the sea, facing the results of his actions, with a badly wounded Selkie that can't be healed except by him. But he's not a villain, just a man who has a wife and children to support, and the seals are a lot more forgiving than you'd expect. 

It's very appropriate to have these stories retold by a writer well known for her YA and adult fiction with folktale themes. She doesn't disappoint in this one.

The art is gorgeous and lavish, perfect for the kind of stories it's illustrating.

Another triumph for a wonderful new Australian small press.

The book will be available at all good bookshops in Australia from May 1. If you live outside Australia and would like a copy, you should be able to buy online. Just check out the web site: http://christmaspresspicturebooks.com/buying-our-books/. 

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5. Dead Dog In The Still Of The Night by Archimede Fusillo. Melbourne:Ford Street Publishing, 2014

Life is tough for Primo, and about to get even tougher. Crashing his father's prized red Bambino Fiat 500 is just the first in a series of ill-fated events - events which are inexplicably intertwined with a dead dog in the still of the night... 

Year 12 boy Primo is in trouble. He needs money to pay for the repair of the damaged car he shouldn't have been driving, and getting hold of it means doing something truly stupid that he wouldn't normally dream of doing. In its turn, that leads to further problems. Those he cares about could be hurt. 

Then there's his father, who once had a workshop, now gathering dust as he spends his time in a home, wandering in the past and mostly not recognising the family members who visit him. He had let down his family with his womanising and now Primo must overcome his anger and resentment at the old man before there can be any healing.

This is a novel about growing up. Primo's journey to self understanding begins with understanding the people in his life, even being able to feel empathy for the old man who left his home in Italy with a dream that never quite worked out, to understand his mother's actions better - and then to take responsibility for his own actions.

Luckily for him, he has a kind and decent friend, Tone, willing to help even when Primo stuffs up, and a girlfriend, Maddie, who may not feel they're an item any more, but is willing to listen - and to discuss. 

There are some touches of humour scattered through the book; I particularly liked the assumption many people in the novel have that Tone's Dad, a pizzeria owner, is some sort of Mafioso thug, a perception the father is happy to encourage because it's convenient(he served time in jail, but for a white collar crime).

You'll have to decide if the ending is happy or not. It's certainly positive in the hero's growth.

Melbourne flavours this novel, especially Fitzroy, gentrified on one end and poor and crumbling on the other. The author's Italian background comes through clearly, as does his voice, the latter almost literally - having heard Archie Fusillo speak, I could almost hear his voice reading the novel aloud! This might make an interesting audiobook if Ford Street ever has the resources to arrange it, but only if the author reads it himself.

There aren't enough good books for boys being published and it is always a pleasure to find one. 

I'd recommend this for boys from about fourteen up.

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6. Vale Sue Townsend!

I've just heard that Sue Townsend, the author of The Secret Diary Of Adrian Mole Aged 13 3/4, has died at the age of only 68 years. It makes you realise that you need to follow your dreams now, because you can't assume you're going to live to some fabulous old age, then die while skydiving!

I remember when that book was a huge international bestseller, with a TV series and a play to keep it so. It must still be selling, because there have been several sequels, but alas, the class set we have on our shelves has been sitting there gathering dust for a long time.

When the book was published, I was an adult and read it as an adult, so I got the in-jokes, but I remember someone commenting that for boys about the age of the hero, it would be embarrassing. Boys, in fact, about the age of those in my Year 8 class.

And it might. Poor Adrian, that naive boy who is going through all the things boys of his age go through plus worrying about, and being embarrassed by, his parents, being dragged along for the ride by his sort-of-girlfriend Pandora, the daughter of middle class lefties(starting with the protest about sock colours at school)... He is a complete dork, but you can't help feeling for him.

At the same time, it's about life in Britain in the Thatcher years; in fact, the author also wrote a diary of "Margaret Hilda Roberts" showing she didn't have much sympathy for that lady.

I never got around to reading the rest of the series and I probably won't now; I suspect it's more of the same, only with an older hero.

But there's no question it's a classic and I'm sad that the author is gone.

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7. The Star by Felicity Marshall. Melbourne: Ford Street Publishing, 2010

Marion is a wooden Columbine doll. She and her friends Harley the Harlequin doll and the dog Polka live together by the sea. They're happy, but Marion wants more. She dreams of adventure. One day, a "smiling man" offers her stardom. She learns to sing and dance. She has a makeover, new clothes and a nose job. She has fan mail by the thousands, and someone to answer it.

And one day, she's on the scrap heap - literally. Fortunately, she still has friends...

A nice discussion of the emptiness of fame and fortune. And kids are those most likely to go for the latest, the youngest, the prettiest star. Definitely something to discuss in class as a writing prompt.

The art is beautiful and makes its point in case the reader didn't get it.

This has been lying on my TBR pile for some time, but is still worth buying. I believe it received a well-deserved Notable in the 2011 CBCA awards.

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8. Recent Downloads - from Wodehouse to Russon!

I really need to stop doing this. But I read a blog post that mentions a book that sounds interesting and I just have to look and see if it's available in iBooks.

I have downloaded some PG Wodehouse short story collections. They're public domain and I love  Wodehouse, so funny!

Tank Boys by Stephen Dando-Collins is somewhere in my review pile, but couldn't unearth it, after tidying my books away, so I bought the ebook. It's a WWI tale of a famous tank battle, seen from both Ausse and German viewpoints.

Penni Russon's Undine - although set by the sea, in Tasmania, it's not really about the sea. The title is the heroine's name and her father is Prospero Marine, and there are quotes from The Tempest, but her powers don't seem to be connected with water.

Keith Stevenson's first issue of Dimension 6 - stories by Richard Harland, Charlotte Nash and Jason Nahrung. No wonder I didn't get a story in. The authors were paid, but  it's free for download on the Coeur De Lion Press website, so go grab it while you can.

David Malouf's Johnno(hey, it was his birthday! And it's pretty much historical fiction, so what the heck!)

Consider The Fork by Bee Wilson, a history of cooking implements and how we eat. Good fun!

A book about Eleanor Butler, Edward IV's secret wife before he committed bigamy with Elizabeth Woodville. It's Eleanor: The Secret Queen by John Ashdowne Hill.

A Tom Swift book.

Oh, lots more! I do love my ereader!

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9. Riley And The Jumpy Kangaroo: A Journey Around Canberra, By Tania McCartney, ill. by Kieron Pratt.. Melbourne, Ford Street, 2013

This is the latest in Tania McCartney’s series of travelogues centred around various cities, some in Australia, some in Asia. This one is set in the author’s home town. Riley is a young boy with a biplane, which he uses to chase various characters around the city, accompanied by his animal friends. In this case, it starts in Parliament, where Riley hears a Booming sound that turns out to be a kangaroo,  then goes through Black Mountain Tower, the Botanical Gardens and other Canberra landmarks. 

The book is a clever mixture of cartoons and photographs, a nice, entertaining way to introduce children to various places in the country. Not quite Possum Magic, but should appeal to children who enjoyed that classic.

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10. THE POPPY By Andrew Plant. Melbourne, Ford Street Publishing, 2014

With Anzac Day just around the corner, what better time to publish a book with a World War I theme?

But this is not about Gallipoli or even World War I in general. It takes an incident that happened during that war, which may not be well known to Australian children, but that forged a permanent bond between Victoria and the French town of Villers-Bretonneux. Villers-Bretonneux was destroyed by German attacks and just before Anzac Day, Australian troops won an unlikely victory there, while losing a third of their members.

After the war, Victorian schoolchildren donated their pennies towards rebuilding the Villers-Bretonneux school, which is still there, called the Victoria School in honour of the children who helped it be rebuilt. There are carvings of Australian animals, streets with names such as Victoria Street and a motto: Never Forget Australia. And a memorial that reminds viewers that not only soldiers died in the war.

The poppy has become an icon of that war and it appears throughout the book. The art is lush and beautiful, the information simple but effective for young children to read and learn. It’s a nice idea, too, to cover a story of which children were a part.

Recommended for any school library or for a gift for your child that explains Anzac Day in terms they can understand.

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11. CHASING SHADOWS By Corinne Fenton, ill. Hannah Sommerville. Melbourne, Ford Street Publishing, 2014

Beth suffers from depression, something that even children can experience. Hoping to chase away the shadows, Beth’s father brings home Patches, a lively, mischievous puppy.

But depression isn’t that simple. You can’t cure it with a “cheer up!” It takes a near disaster to bring her out of her shadow land...

A lovely, simple, gentle story that will help children to understand this condition.

And once again, Ford Street has discovered a wonderful new artist, Hannah Sommerville, a Victorian artist whose first book this is.  There is something very Julie Vivas about the style of Ms Sommerville’s art. 

Hopefully, she will be just as successful when her time comes.

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12. THE CUCKOO Gary Crew, Ill. Naomi Turvey. Melbourne: Ford Street Publishing, 2014

Firstly, I’d like to say something about Ford Street Publishing, a small press that punches well above its weight and encourages new writers and artists. In 2012, it published the exquisitely beautiful In The Beech Forest, written by veteran Gary Crew and illustrated by teenage artist Den Scheer, whom I believe will be the next Shaun Tan. I give away my review copies because of the lack of space on my shelves, but that was one with which I couldn’t bear to part. (I was hoping it might get a Crichton award for new artists, but it didn’t even score a Notable in that year’s CBCA  Awards, which tells me that judges can get it wrong sometimes, as they did when  the classic Animalia failed to win the CBCA Awards many years ago.)

Now there’s this new picture book with Gary Crew again and another new artist, Naomi Turvey, who was completing her Diploma of Illustration in 2012, the year when In The Beech Forest came out. And it’s also a gorgeous piece of work, from the fairytale-style cover to the tinted watercolour sketches inside.

Despite being set in New South Wales’s Blue Mountains, the story isn’t especially Australian. It could be anywhere. In fact, it’s basically a fairytale with the grim(pardon the pun) flavour of the typical folk tale, well suited to the author of so much scary fiction.

Martin is the runt of the family. His father is a forester and he has two older brothers who mock and jeer at him. His father makes it clear he is not valued. So Martin spends his days in the forest, making friends with the local wildlife and thinking of the cuckoo that is dumped in another bird’s nest, abandoned by its mother as he was.

It never, of course, mentions that the young cuckoo throws out its foster siblings to get all the attention of the parents - but that is very relevant here.

When his brothers are carried off by an eagle to be fed to its young and his father makes it clear that he wishes it had been Martin instead of them, Martin wanders off and, finding the feathers of a baby eaglet, sticks them on and replaces it in the eyrie, opening his mouth for food that includes his former forest friends, thinking they are his real brothers because they have sacrificed their lives for his (not willingly!). 

See? Grim fairytale!

But there is a positive ending I won’t spoil for you. 

This is not a book for young children. It’s more for older kids and for the kind of adults who collect picture books. But there’s plenty to discuss in class, about bullying and family troubles, and whether you could consider Martin as a good guy. Even the art themes merit discussion - there is a lot to notice in these pictures, which are much more than just an illustration of the story they accompany.

 And if the story isn’t really Australian, the art is, with long eucalyptus leaves, rocky landscape and gum tree trunks. This is an artist to watch out for and congratulations to Ford Street for discovering her and for another beautiful book.

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13. The - Ta Da! - CBCA Shortlist 2014

And here they are, folks, this year's Children's Book Council of Australia shortlisted books. I haven't done more than glance at the Notables, although they have the irritating habit - for me, anyway - of listing the shortlisted books among the Notables, which makes the list way too long and you have to disentangle them from the books which nearly made it to the shortlist, but not quite. (I scored two of those, one for Potions To Pulsars, one for Wolfborn, and Potions was also on the Clayton's shortlist).

My library only has three of the shortlisted books, so those are the ones I've read, though the Fiona Wood novel has been waiting patiently on my iBooks shelf for some time, I guess I'd better read it now. Lucky lady, she has written two novels and both have been on the shortlist! We have Life In Outer Space, The First Third and in the Younger Readers category, My Life As An Alphabet. All delightful books, though in the Older Readers category, I'm going to hope it goes to The First Third, a lovely, lovely book, gentle, touching, funny and sad all at once.

If you haven't heard of the Clayton's shortlist, here's a link to this year's predictions:


If you're an old enough Aussie or Kiwi, you'll remember the ad for a drink called "Clayton's - the drink you have when you're not having a drink!" It was an imitation alcohol. I don't think you can buy it these days. But it added an expression to the language. You speak of a Clayton's this or that when you mean something that's a bit like whatever, but not quite. The Clayton's Shortlist is a prediction of what is going to be on the CBCA shortlist.

Interestingly, it got about three books right(The First Third was an Honourable Mention in the Clayton's and made it to the CBCA Shortlist). Check it out, see what you think.

I will have to buy at least the Older and Younger Readers for my library. Fortunately, I now have a new bookseller, the Sun bookshop in Yarraville. Only problem is, the minute something gets on the shortlist, you can't get it. One bookseller told me that some publishers actually withdraw their books so they can add the shortlist "sticker" to the cover. Often, you can't get the books at all until AFTER the winners are announced? Yeesh! Must contact the Sun now, before I get back to work.

Meanwhile, if you've read any of the books on this list, do give your opinion. I'll scurry around and put my own comments up as I read them.

Older Readers

The Incredible Here and Now (Felicity Castagna, Giramondo)
Life in Outer Space (Melissa Keil, HGE)
The First Third (Will Kostakis, Penguin)
Fairytales for Wilde Girls (Allyse Near, Random House)
Wildlife (Fiona Wood, Pan)
The Sky so Heavy (Claire Zorn, UQP)

Younger Readers

Violet Mackerel’s Possible Friend (Anna Branford, illus by Sarah Davis, Walker Books)
Song for a Scarlet Runner (Julie Hunt, A&U)
A Very Unusual Pursuit (Catherine Jinks, A&U)
My Life as an Alphabet (Barry Jonsberg, A&U)
Light Horse Boy (Dianne Wolfer, illus by Brian Simmonds, Fremantle Press)

Early Childhood

I’m a Dirty Dinosaur (Janeen Brian, illus by Ann James, Viking)
Baby Bedtime (Mem Fox, illus by Emma Quay, Viking)
Banjo and Ruby Red (Libby Gleeson, illus by Freya Blackwood, Little Hare)
Kissed by the Moon (Alison Lester, Viking)
The Swap (Jan Ormerod, illus by Andrew Joyner, Little Hare)
Granny Grommet and Me (Dianne Wolfer, illus by Karen Blair, Walker Books)

Picture Books

The Treasure Box (Margaret Wild, illus by Freya Blackwood, Viking)
King Pig (Nick Bland, Scholastic Press)
Silver Buttons (Bob Graham, Walker Books)
Parachute (Danny Parker, illus by Matt Ottley, Little Hare)
The Windy Farm (Doug MacLeod, illus by Craig Smith, Working Title Press)
Rules of Summer (Shaun Tan, Lothian)

Eve Pownall Award for Information Books

Jeremy (Christopher Faille, illus by Danny Snell, Working Title Press)
Ice, Wind, Rock (Peter Gouldthorpe, Lothian)
Jandamarra (Mark Greenwood, illus by Terry Denton, A&U)
Yoko’s Diary: The Life of a Young Girl in Hiroshima (ed by Paul Ham, ABC Books)
Meet… Captain Cook (Rae Murdie, illus by Chris Nixon, Random House)
Welcome to My Country (Laklak Burarrwanga and family, A&U)

Crichton Award for New Illustrators:

Big Red Kangaroo (Graham Byrne, text by Claire Saxby, Walker Books)
The Bloodhound Boys Book 1: The Great Blood Bank Robbery (Andrew Cranna, Walker Books)
I’ve An Uncle Ivan (Ben Sanders, Thames & Hudson)
The Nerdy Birdy (David Snowdon, text by Danielle Wheeldon, self-published).

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14. And The Aurealis Award Goes To...

I have a confession to make - I haven't read any of the winners, though I do have some of the books and have read some of the other shortlisted books. Interesting to see a couple of the winners are self published(are you reading this, Lan?).

I have met Amie K, briefly, at Flinders Street Station, where she admired my Aussiecon t shirt as we got off the train and told me she had sold a novel.

Congratulations to all those lucky enough to have reached the short list - not that you didn't deserve it, but you were competing with a LOT  of other fabulous books that also deserved shortlisting. ;-)

So, pinched from the Tor web site(which is well worth joining), this year's Aurealis Awards go to...

Peter McNamara Convenors’ Award for Excellence:
Winner: Jonathan Strahan


Winner: Burger Force by  Jackie  Ryan  (self published)
Winner: The Deep Vol. 2:  The Vanishing  Island by  Tom  Taylor  and  James  Brouwer (Gestalt  Publishing)
Savage  Bitch by  Steve  Carter  and  Antoinette  Rydyr  (Scar  Studios)
Mr  Unpronounceable  Adventures by  Tim  Molloy  (Milk  Shadow  Books)
Peaceful Tomorrows  Volume Two by Shane W Smith  (Zetabella  Publishing)


Winner: The four seasons of Lucy McKenzie by  Kirsty  Murray  (Allen  Unwin)
Kingdom of  the Lost,  book  2:  Cloud Road by Isobelle Carmody  (Penguin Group  Australia)
Refuge by Jackie French (Harper  Collins)
Song for a scarlet runnerby  Julie  Hunt  (Allen &Unwin)
Rules of Summer by  Shaun Tan (Hachette  Australia)
Ice  Breaker: The  Hidden 1 by Lian  Tanner  (Allen  & Unwin)


Winner: “By  Bone light” by Juliet  Marillier  (Prickle  Moon,  Ticonderoga  Publications)
“Mah  Song” by Joanne  Anderton  (The Bone  Chime  Song  and  Other  Stories, FableCroft  Publishing)
“Morning  Star” by D.K.  Mok  (One  Small  Step,  an  anthology  of  discoveries,  FableCroft Publishing)
“The  Year  of  Ancient  Ghosts”  by  Kim  Wilkins
The  Year  of  Ancient  Ghosts,  Ticonderoga Publications)


Tie Winner: These Broken  Stars by  Amie  Kaufman  and  Meagan  Spooner  (Allen  &  Unwin)
Tie Winner: Fairytales  for  Wilde  Girls by  Allyse  Near  (Random House Australia)
The Big Dry by Tony Davies  (Harper  Collins)
Hunting by Andrea Host  (self published)
The Sky So Heavy by Claire  Zorn (University  of  Queensland  Press)


Winner: “The  Year  of  Ancient  Ghosts”  by  Kim  Wilkins  (The  Year  of  Ancient  Ghosts,  Ticonderoga Publications)
“Fencelines” by Joanne Anderton  (The Bone Chime Song  and  Other  Stories,  FableCroft  Publishing)
“The  Sleepover” by  Terry  Dowling  (Exotic  Gothic  5,  PS  Publishing)
“The  Home  for  Broken Dolls”  by  Kirstyn  McDermott  (Caution:  Contains  Small  Parts, Twelfth Planet Press)
“The  Human  Moth” by Kaaron Warren (The  Grimscribe’s  Puppets,  Miskatonic  Press)


Fairytales for Wilde Girls by Allyse Near (Random  House  Australia)
The Marching Dead by Lee Battersby (Angry  Robot  Books)
The First  Bird by Greig  Beck  (Momentum)
Path of Night by Dirk Flinthart  (FableCroft  Publishing)


Winner: “The  Last  Stormdancer” by Jay Kristoff  (Thomas Dunne Books)
“The  Touch  of  the Taniwha” by Tracie  McBride  (Fish, Dagan Books)
“Cold, Cold  War” by Ian McHugh (Beneath Ceaseless  Skies, Scott H. Andrews)
“Short Circuit” by Kirstie Olley (Oomph: a  ittle  super goes a long way,  Crossed  Genres)
“The  Year of Ancient Ghosts” by  Kim Wilkins (The  Year of Ancient Ghosts, Ticonderoga Publications)


Winner: A  Crucible  of  Soulsby  Mitchell  Hogan  (self published)
Lexicon by  Max  Barry  (Hachette  Australia)
These  Broken  Stars by  Amie  Kaufman  and  Meagan  Spooner  (Allen  &  Unwin)
Newt's  Emerald by  Garth  Nix  (Jill  Grinberg  Literary  Management)
Ink  Black  Magic by  Tansy  Rayner  Roberts  (FableCroft  Publishing)


Winner: “Air, Water and the Grove”  by Kaaron Warren  (The Lowest Heaven, Pandemonium  Press)
“The  Last  Tiger”  by  Joanne  Anderton  (Daily  Science  Fiction)
“Mah Song” by  Joanne  Anderton (The  Bone  Chime Song  and  Other  Stories, FableCroft Publishing)
“Seven  Days  in  Paris” by Thoraiya  Dyer (Asymmetry,  Twelfth  Planet  Press)
“Version” by Lucy  Stone (Andromeda  Spaceways  Inflight  Magazine  #57)


Winner: Lexicon by Max Barry  (Hachette)
Trucksong by  Andrew  Macrae  (Twelfth  Planet  Press)
A  Wrong Turn At The Office Of Unmade Lists by  Jane  Rawson  (Transit  Lounge)
True Path by Graham Storrs (Momentum)
Rupetta by Nike Sulway  (Tartarus  Press)


Winner: The Year’s Best Australian Fantasy and Horror 2012 by  Liz  Grzyb  and  Talie  Helene  (Eds),  (Ticonderoga  Publications)
Winner: One  Small  Step,  An  Anthology  Of  Discoveries by  Tehani  Wessely  (Ed)  (FableCroft  Publishing)
Dreaming  Of  Djinn by  Liz  Grzyb  (Ed)  (Ticonderoga  Publications)
The  Best  Science  Fiction  And  Fantasy  Of  The  Year:  Volume  Seven by  Jonathan  Strahan  (Ed) (Night  Shade  Books)
Focus  2012:  Highlights  Of  Australian  Short  Fiction by  Tehani  Wessely  (Ed)  (FableCroft Publishing)


Winner: The Bone Chime  Song and Other Stories by Joanne  Anderton (FableCroft  Publishing)
Asymmetry by  Thoraiya  Dyer  (Twelfth  Planet  Press)
Caution: Contains Small Parts by Kirstyn McDermott (Twelfth Planet  Press)
The  Bride Price by Cat Sparks  (Ticonderoga  Publications)
The  Year of Ancient  Ghosts by  Kim  Wilkins  (Ticonderoga  Publications)

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15. ASIM Needs YOU!


This morning I received the email below from Edwina Harvey, my colleague on the Andromeda Spaceways Publishing Association. I've known Edwina for years, long before she persuaded me to join.

I wasn't in the first wave, but the second - at this stage, there are only a few of the original members left. Most found that Real Life got in the way or started their own small presses, like Tehani Wessely, who has been interviewed on this site and who says she served her apprenticeship as a publisher with us. Most of them are still slushing for us, even if they're not actively involved.

But as people come and go, we find we need fresh blood, new enthusiasm. Right now, we have a newer member happily editing an issue of ASIM and doing very well.

You do have to pay to be a member - that's how we pay our contributors, not to mention the printing and posting costs - but membership includes a subscription. A print subscription! Which reminds me, we're the last print spec fic magazine in Australia, though we also offer PDF, mobi and ePub versions.

"Gee, I'd like to join," you may be thinking,"but I live in the US/UK/Treasure Island."

Fear not! Since we went from co-op to association, you don't even have to live in Australia any more. Also, we do everything, including meetings, online.

So read the email below and if you decide that you'd like to have a go at publishing instead of complaining that publishers just don't understand your brilliant work, make contact. (And for those out there who are thinking of self publishing, what better way to learn the ropes?)

The ASIM crew - this could be YOU!

Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine is regularly published by the Andromeda Spaceways Publishing Association.
Members of the Association contribute an annual fee of $100 (part of which converts to a 12 month paper subscription to the magazine) , and their time and skills to produce the magazine.

For close to 12 years, ASIM has provided a paying semi-pro market to established and budding authors from around the world. We're rather proud of the number of first sales we've given new authors over that time, but we need more enthusiastic people to get involved to keep the magazine going.

If you're interested in  learning what goes on behind-the-scenes in producing a paper and e-format magazine; if you want to get experience as a proof reader, sub-editor or editor;  if you've  got web or marketing skills, if you're willing to go to conventions and popculture events to promote and sell the magazine, AND ESPECIALLY  if you have or are looking to get experience in IN DESIGN for magazine layout, WE NEED YOU!

As the ASIM Association works on line, membership is open to anyone anywhere.  Contact me offline (celestialcobbler@hotmail.com) if you want to discuss joining ASIM.

POSITION VACANT: If you are a LAY OUT ARTIST with experience in IN DESIGN who would be willing to be one of our layout artists on a voluntary (no financial remuneration, but you wouldn't be expected to pay an annual fee either) basis, please contact us (email address as above). ASIM is produced quarterly, and like the rotating editorship, it's hoped that the position of layout artist could be shared.

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16. On Googling Lewis Carroll


So, I'm rereading a Kerry Greenwood novel and one of the chapters opens with a quote from Isaac Watts's How Doth The Little Busy Bee. And I remembered that it was one of the poems Lewis Carroll sent up in Alice In Wonderland. Alice, a very proper middle class Victorian child who has a nurse and a governess, has been taught a bunch of poems she gets completely wrong in the crazy world of Wonderland. This particular one came out as How Doth The Little Crocodile. Trying to remember the words, I Googled it and stumbled  across this article. Written in 1903, it is still very useful if you want to get the jokes Carroll was making. At the time the novel was written, every member of his child audience would have read the original poems he was sending up and rolled around laughing (and believe me, those poems fully deserved to be sent up!) - and the originals are quoted along with the Carroll parodies. 

When I reread the two Alice books some time ago, I thought, how very Victorian! Kids today would miss most of the in-jokes, though there was plenty of fun there even if you didn't get the references -well, I read them when I was six or seven(Alice is seven, she mentions this to Humpty Dumpty, I think, or was it the Caterpillar?). I enjoyed them enough to name my first doll Alice. And that was without getting any of the in-jokes at all. 

But it's worth it, if you're curious, to check out that web page. I think I already knew some of the references, but not all. 

I still love the absurd world of Carroll. Who would have thought a mathematician could be so good at this sort of thing?

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17. This Week's Random Read...An Abundance Of Katherines by John Green

I picked this one up from my new book display at work. I think - might be wrong - that it's the author's first novel, or at least an early one. He was working on The Fault In Our Stars when it was published.  I got it because one of our students had asked for more John Green. Actually, she wanted Will Grayson, Will Grayson, but our copy was out till May and I wasn't going to buy another copy when we had one which was coming back in the next few weeks. She said she had read this one and I said in that case, she's pretty much read all of the works of John Green to date, except Will Grayson, but I'd lend her my personal copy if she couldn't wait. She ended up buying her own copy. And no one yet to read this book, so I thought I might as well.

I'm up to page 69, not bad as I took it only yesterday and it's a book that needs the reader to focus. But the chapters are short, so you can put it down.

The novel is a road story, with the nerdy Colin Singleton and his best friend Hassan(actually, his only friend) travelling around after Colin's graduation(Hassan is a year older)with no special aim except for Colin to get over being dumped by his girlfriend Katherine, the nineteenth girl of that name to dump him. He only dates girls called Katherine. Colin is also unhappy because he is no longer a child prodigy and can't yet call himself a genius because he hasn't done anything world-shaking.

At this point in the book, they've arrived at Gutshot in Tennessee, seen the grave of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand and accepted a job with a local woman whose daughter is the tour guide.

Very strange book, sort of a cross between The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Nighttime and Libba Bray's Going Bovine. But I feel the need to continue reading, like scratching an itch.

I may even get around to reading The Fault In Our Stars

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18. Me, Enid Blyton and Lashings of Ginger Ale


 As a child, I read lots of Enid Blyton. Nowhere near all of her books, of course - I think she wrote about 600! I didn't even read all her series - I never read any Secret Seven, for example. Some of the Five Findouters and Dog books, of which I have fond memories, as they were funnier than the better-known Famous Five and I liked Fatty, the young Sherlock Holmes who led the group, unlike Julian, who irritated me even then. I even liked the dog better. Timmy, George's dog, didn't do much beyond woof enthusiastically, while Fatty's dog, Buster, a small terrier, was always nipping at the heels of Mr Goon, the local policeman. And that's another thing - for a woman writing such classist, sexist, racist stuff, she seemed to have little respect for the police; Mr Goon(notice the name?) is a buffoon and even in the Noddy stories, Mr Policeman had better get out of the way when Noddy is driving! 

All the same, as a child I loved them, even while I was wishing Anne would thump Julian one day. They were my introduction to crime fiction, which I read to this day, as a Sister In Crime.

And there was the food. Slabs of chocolate. Delicious sandwiches. Hard boiled eggs. An apple. Lashings of ginger ale! 

So when I am spending a day in the outdoors, as today, when my school is having its annual athletics carnival, I simply have to have at least some of Enid Blyton's picnic items in my lunch. No ginger ale, I forgot to buy any. But there is always, always, a hard boiled egg and an apple and a "slab" of chocolate though today's is just an Aero Bar. There's a bit of Mum's birthday cake. My sandwich is a fresh roll with smoked trout and olive flavoured hummus, something none of Blyton's heroes would even have heard of. But hey, you have to have something adult to celebrate the day!

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19. This Week's Random Read...Life In Outer Space by Melissa Keil

I picked it up from my display table at work on the way out the door. I know it has done well since it came out last year, but this is the first time I've gotten around to taking a look. I am not far into it yet, but I think there are some of my students who will enjoy it. The language is a bit hard for reluctant readers, but my book clubbers and fairly good readers should get something out of it.

It's an Australian book and seems to be set in Melbourne, though I haven't been in a school without uniforms, as this one, for a very long time; we had no uniforms at Flemington Secondary College because uniforms are expensive, most of our kids couldn't afford them and there were a lot who passed through rather than stay. The school in this novel appears to be a middle class state school. Well, I'm enjoying so far, so will do a review when I've finished.

I've just downloaded the works of Ovid, though I have read the Metamorphoses and the Heroides(got that one on a remainders table and great fun it was, the "letters from the heroines" of Greek mythology). We rarely realise how much influence Ovid's stories have had on our literature, and I did it on an impulse as I've been reading books that mention his works. I'm about to get hold of James I's Daemonologie, to go with Leanda De Lisle's After Elizabeth(also downloaded this week). I'm reading that right now and oh, my, weren't these Tudor era politicians nasty! Mind you, so are today's, but at least we can get rid of them eventually, unless we're living in a safe electorate(mutter, mutter, boundary changes and I'm now in a safe Liberal electorate, Aaargh!), and they don't execute each other. I mean, back stabbings aren't literal!  If you had a political enemy, you gave him enough rope to hang himself and then got the Queen to hang him(or cut his head off or whatever). When Elizabeth was in her last years and hadn't named an heir, there were those who were sucking up to James of Scotland and hoping she don't find out... It's the first book I've read which suggests James might have had ADHD! Very interesting!

So, any of you reading something fascinating? Do tell!

PS I do have some review books which I will describe anon.

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20. Just Finished Reading...1632 by Eric Flint

The Baen website has a free ebooks section, which changes from time to time. I'm not sure exactly how it works - some are classics by golden age authors, others are by modern writers but published several years ago. The authors concerned seem to be fine with it; perhaps it promotes them so readers will buy their newer books. Most books I have downloaded were by the golden age writers - Andre Norton, Murray Leinster and the like - but I was curious about this one, which I believe is the first of a series that has a fandom.

In it, an entire town and its surroundings are transplanted from modern West Virginia to Germany during the Thirty Years War, the setting for Brecht's play Mother Courage. Not at all a nice place to live. But these folk are good American coal miners and their families. Members of the union! And, importantly, gun lovers who know how to shoot. They know their current technological advantage over seventeenth century tech won't last forever, but it's a good start and there's time to gear down to technology that will still be better than anyone who might attack them. They make friends and allies, including a band of  Scottish mercenaries working for the Swedish king and skilled tradesmen who can help them adapt to the era's tech while learning how to make improved versions thereof. Suddenly there's a new Republic in the middle of Thuringia and the world's politicians have to pay attention...

I liked the premise very much, though there was a small hint of flag waving till Mike, the American leader, sees that going the wrong way will make them no better than the Nazis. It was an entertaining book that kept me reading till the last page.

The only problem I had was that there were a number of times when entire chapters failed to move the story along. There was a character whom I thought might become the novel's villain, but who ended up doing very little and could almost have been left out.

Still, well worth a read. If you visit the Baen web site, it's still free and then you can decide if you want to buy the rest of the series.

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21. I've Just Finished Reading...Frontier Wolf By Rosemary Sutcliff

This is the cover of the ebook edition I've just read.

It's a hot Saturday afternoon in Melbourne. I'm with my mother, whom I normally take out to lunch, but too hot for that. She is dozing in front of the TV.

So I've been reading and finishing this Sutcliff novel I've never read before. I've read the Eagle trilogy and Sword At Sunset, which was set in the world of Eagle Of The Ninth, three days after the ending of The Lantern Bearers, but written for adults(which didn't stop the kids from reading and loving it!) I've even read The Shining Company, set long afterwards - but not this one, set in between The Silver Breanch and The Lantern Bearers.

And I loved it, every bit as much as the others. It's the story of yet another descendant of Marcus Flavius Aquila,  complete with that flawed emerald dolphin ring which appears even in a novel set in the Middle Ages. At one point in the novel, the hero even mentions his ancestor, though not by name. But you know by the details it has to be Marcus. 

This Aquila is Alexios, with a half-Greek mother, presumably where that Greek praenomen comes from. He has made a huge mistake while serving in Germany, moving his men from an endangered fort when it was definitely not standard procedure, and lost them to an attack. This is important because later in the book he's faced with the same decision. Because his uncle is high up in the Roman forces in Britain, he's given another command, this time of a fort in the far north, whose men are scouts, the Frontier Wolves, who wear wolfskin cloaks(from a wolf each man kills, then never again) and are laid-back in their attitudes, as they need to be, but still disciplined. Here, he develops and grows and soon comes to respect his men as they  do him, which is a good thing, because some dreadful things are about to happen.

It's a fascinating era. The Roman Empire is officially Christian, but not everyone in the forces is Christian -Alexios himself is a follower of Mithras - so there are different customs among the Wolves, depending on the religion of the individual soldier. And we discover them as te novel proceeds. The local tribes also have their customs and rituals - there's a Chieftain's funeral early in the novel. 

There are two different languages represented by the way the characters speak. In this book, te British tribesmen speak in the familiar Sutcliff style, "It is in my mind that...." and "Na, na..." - if you've read her other books you will know it. The Latin speakers speak in simple modern English, but not so modern that you wince at anachronistic slang. And then, when Alexios speaks to the British in their own tongue, he speaks as they so, so it's the anguage, not the people.

I'm pleased to have discovered a book set in between those I've already read. This author is, in my opinion, the definitive one on Roman Britain, so finding another one  is like unearthing a hidden treasure and saying, "Hey, look what I've found!"

This isn't a children's book, I'd describe it as YA, though the characters are in their twenties.

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22. Cranky Ladies Of History Anthology


Dear readers,

Yesterday I received the following email from Tehani Wessely, the publisher of Fablecroft Publishing, former colleague at Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine, teacher-librarian, judge of several book awards, etc, etc, etc.... If you want to know more about er, she has been interviewed on The Great Raven here

But meanwhile, here's her latest project and I do urge you all to support it.

Hi everyone

It's been a very busy few weeks on the Cranky Ladies front! We are VERY excited to have been approved for the Arts Tasmania Crowbar grant, that means if our Pozible campaign is successful, we will receive an extra $2,000 for the project! 

We fire up the campaign on Saturday, and as part of that, I'm emailing to invite you to be part of the Cranky Ladies of History blog tour. 

Participating is easy! Simply blog about your favourite cranky lady of history and let me know the link -- we will add it to the Blog Tour page at FableCroft, and retweet and Facebook all posts we receive. If you are willing to link directly to the Pozible campaign and/or discuss the anthology, that would be really appreciated, but please don't feel obligated to do so -- the links are below, if you would like to. You are also welcome to use our wonderful Cranky Ladies of History logo, designed by the marvellous Amanda Rainey. 

If you would prefer, we're also delighted to host guest posts on the FableCroft site, or submit a guest post of our own to you -- just let us know and we happy to oblige :)

Our blog tour is running from March 1 to 31 March (or a little later, to allow for the rest of the world to catch up!), so please make your post/s during the month -- if you've got multiple favourite ladies, multiple posts are encouraged! 

If you'd like to check out this campaign, the details are below.


As the author of a book about women in science, my main problem is who to choose from a large list! 

I'm currently working on my submission for this anthology, though I hear the competition is fierce, so I may not make it, fingers crossed for me! If I don't make it, I have no idea where else to sell a historical short story; I may have to add fantasy elements so I can submit it to a spec fic market. ;-)

The woman I chose for my story is Dr "James Barry", real name Margaret Bulkley, a woman who only got a paragraph or two in my "Did You Knows?" I had considered Rosalind Franklin, the real discoverer of the double helix, who was beaten to publication by Watson, Crick and Wilkins(only Wilkins mentioned her when thy went to pick up their Nobel Prize) who, at one stage, were working on the idea of a triple helix! She certainly qualified as cranky. 

In the end, I dropped it, as the whole story makes me too angry to write well, and began my research on a woman who was much more colourful and definitely cranky! One man, Josias Cloete, who told the disguised woman that "he" rode "like a girl" was challenged to a duel(nobody was hurt seriously and the two became lifelong friends). He wasn't the only man to face a duel with the cranky, diminutive doctor.

Margaret Bulkley, Dr Barry, has been claimed by the gay community and the transgender community, and who knows? One of them might be right; we're unlikely ever to find out. 

I haven't used either idea; when her body was laid out for burial, the maid, Sophia, said that not only was the deceased a woman, but one who had given birth, sneering at the notion that she might have been a hermaphrodite. So there would have been at least one man in her life, who knew what she was. And given that she had a (Jamaican-born) valet, Dantzen, for over forty years, I would be very surprised if he didn't know. I don't think he was the father of her child(and what happened to it?) but I have had an idea about him, strictly fictional, and the story is told from his viewpoint.

We don't know exactly how old Margaret Bulkley was when she started studying medicine at Edinburgh university. She was probably older than the fourteen year old boy she was posing as, but had to pretend, because she had no face hair, after all. In fact, for some time she had trouble being taken seriously precisely because everyone thought James Barry was so young. 

It is likely that her family supported her; her mother travelled with Margaret, saying "he" was her nephew; the daughter was declared dead.

I'm not going into a huge amount of detail here, but the fact is, she got away with her disguise till the end of her life. And she was only found out then because her request to be buried in the clothes she had died in was ignored. She was buried under her male name and the whole story hushed up by the army for a century, as too embarrassing.  With no Internet in those days, I would imagine that not many people had access to the newspapers in which the story was revealed anyway.

She was short, cranky and brilliant. As an army surgeon, she travelled around a lot and, among other things, performed the first caesarean in South Africa - possibly the first ever - in which mother and baby both survived; the child was named James Barry after the doctor who delivered him. Her hospitals were clean; one reason why "Dr Barry" didn't get a knighthood on retirement may have been "his" public embarrassment of that saint, Florence Nightingale, for keeping a filthy hospital. 

When reading about her, I couldn't help thinking of Agnodike, an Athenian girl who disguised as a man to study medicine. Agnodike was so successful with female patients, in a society enclosed for women(many were dying rather than let a male doctor see them), that jealous husbands claimed "he" was seducing their wives and she had to confess who she was to avoid conviction on that score. Due to the support of her female patients, she was allowed to live and continue her practice, though only women. James Barry flirted a lot with women and faced similar anger, though at one stage, she and the Capetown Governor, Lord Charles Somerset, were accused of having a homosexual affair, which would have meant a death sentence if they were convicted. Fortunately, she didn't have to give away her gender to survive that charge! 

Anyway, I mean to finish the story and re-check my research before submitting. The trouble with writing historical fiction is that you have to get right not only the historical facts, but the social ones and my area of knowledge is the Middle Ages, not the nineteenth century. 

Fingers crossed for me, everyone, and do support the campaign; small press in Australia is doing a wonderful job of producing materials large presses won't risk. Science fiction, for example - any SF published here is likely to be small press because the big ones stick to fat fantasy trilogies. Short historical fiction? Not much.

Wishing Fablecroft all the best!

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23. Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell. London: Macmillan, 2014

Cath Avery has just started university, living on campus. Her twin sister, Wren, has decided that after a lifetime of doing everything together, they will not be sharing a room; she's keen to meet new people and have new experiences.

One thing they have always done together is write fan fiction(or fanfiction, as it's called in this novel). Not just fanfiction, but slash fiction, the kind that has gay relationships between the two leading male characters. Cath is working on her magnum opus, Carry On Simon, a novel set in the World of Mages, a world not entirely unlike that of a certain boy wizard in our own universe(and actually, Harry Potter exists in the Fangirl universe too). It has to be finished before the final novel comes out in a few months, or it will be forever AU(alternative universe to all you mundanes out there). Cath has signed up for a unit in Fiction Writing, though, and has a ten thousand word major project to write as well, and the ideas just aren't coming. And meanwhile, there's all this stuff going on in Real Life. Nick the gorgeous guy in her writing class who writes everything in second person present tense and won't let go of his notebook, even when they're writing together. Reagan, her roommate, who smokes and goes out a lot, but who drags Cath out of her hiding place to take part in campus life. Levi, her boyfriend(or is he?) who has a sunny nature and suffers reading issues. Cath and Wren's father, a loopy advertising man who eats frozen meals when he's eating at all and needs to be checked up on. Stuff, you know?

First, a confession: I asked for this review copy because I know about fan fiction. I even know about slash fiction, though I don't read it. But I did write fan fiction for many years, at least 150 stories, set in the universes of Star Trek, Blake's 7, Robin Of Sherwood, Dr Who(one or two).  I stopped writing it when I ran out of ideas and then people started paying me to write. I won the Mary Grant Bruce Award for children's fiction, using a story based on an idea I'd originally had for a fan story, though I ended up writing the non-fan version first. 

But like Cath, I found that when you're writing in someone else's universe, it's very hard to think of anything else, or to get ideas for anything else. I don't regret it - it taught me a lot of writing skills, including characterisation, development, short story writing, even how to write book reviews. There wasn't an entire Internet fandom in thse days, but there was plenty of feedback of a kind you don't get in other kinds of writing. You could start a writers' group, but that can be ineffective. But eventually, I had to focus on other writing, that might actually pay. I still read fan fic, though, and am amazed at how big it has become since the Internet came along.

So I can relate to Cath and her fannish life. And it's nice that the author doesn't say, "Ha ha, this nerd needs to get a life and leave fandom!" Cath eventually finds that she can do both, and have a life with friends and a boyfriend and all. The author even mentions in the FAQ at the end that people are already writing Fangirl fan fiction and she is absolutely delighted about it - and that she started writing this when she was reading stacks of Harry Potter fiction online. I liked the regular quotes both from the Simon Snow novels and Cath's fan fiction, between the chapters.  The whole book was gentle,charming, funny and sad, all at the same time.

I did think that there would be a campus fan club for such a popular book series - actually, Cath's university seems strangely lacking in clubs and societies, but it's a real place, so maybe it doesn't have them. 

I enjoyed it and I think I can persuade some of my fan writing students to read it too. 

... I seem to have published this post before embargo day. Fangirl will be out in Australia on April 1. Make a note in your diary!

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24. Now Reading... Lots!

I have a pile of TBR a mile high, including two of Paul Collins' Maximus Black tales(and two TB reviewed picture books from Ford Street, which I'll do as soon as I find them in my messy lounge room.)

Right now, I'm reading several - among others, including several downloads, a review copy of Tank Boys by Stephen Dando Collins, a boys' novel of World War I, The Cracks In The Kingdom by Jaclyn Moriarty - quite readable, though it's Volume 2 of a series and I haven't read Volume 1 and when I put it in the library, the kids will ask for 1, another one which is the second in a series which is quite impossible to read without the first - I did ask for the first and promise to review it, but no response so far - and this week's more-or-less random read, Sonya Hartnett's Children Of The King.

 I never got around to reading it when it was on the CBCA shortlist. See, I'm not a great Hartnett fan, I hate the way her books end depressingly and even when they don't, like The Silver Donkey, the only one I liked, she imagines them ending depressingly! (The book is donkey stories told to some children in France during WW1 by a downed British pilot and she told children who asked about him in her school visits that the pilot would be shot for desertion! Thanks, Sonya, for spoiling for me the only book of yours I liked, not to mention spoiling it for your young fans. Kids generally enjoy depressing, but this was a book for younger readers and the pilot would be a character they cared about). So no, I don't care greatly for this author's work, no matter how many awards she gets for her depressing fiction. And I am a Richard III fan, as you might have noticed if you've been following this blog, even if he never wrote any children's books. And this one has a link to the story of the Princes in the Tower. But my friend and fellow Ricardian Anne Devrell recommended it, so I picked it off the shelves and took it home. So far, so good.

I'll get back to you with my report!

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25. Just Downloaded - Mary Stewart's Arthuriad!

I found on iBooks a four volume set of all of her Arthurian - okay, Merlin - books. Well, three of them were about Merlin, the fourth about Medraut, but it's the same universe. Anyway, the four volumes are under one cover, The Crystal Cave, The Hollow Hills, The Last Enchantment and The Wicked Day. Very good value for $7.99, eh? And a light two megabyte download.

I have always loved the first two best, but the last two are quite readable and I like what she does with the story. She has used Geoffrey of Monmouth as a source, while T.H White used Malory. So it's not quite Rosemary Sutcliff, but it does have a sort-of-fifth-century/sort-of-mediaeval flavour. You just have to read it, I can't quite explain. There's just a touch of fantasy in it, otherwise it could almost be historical fiction. I like that - a minimum of fantasy. Parke Godwin is another writer who did that, which is why I enjoyed his books.

The last book presents a rather sympathetic Medraut, who doesn't want to harm his father, but things just don't work out the way either of them wants. The author's note written at the time said that the source she had used spoke of a battle in which Arthur and Medraut died, but could have meant that they fought side by side. She was kicking herself, but had already established that there would be a tragic ending to what young Arthur had done in all innocence, so had to proceed that way.

I've sold a bit of short Arthurian fiction myself, including a story you'll find in my ebook of ASIM stories(please feel free to download it from this website!) and I have to confess that Mary Stewart was my inspiration - not plagiarism, I just liked her theories. My story Choices is seen from the viewpoint of my own version of Nimue.

Anyway, I'm looking forward to getting stuck into it!

Any other Stewart fans reading this?

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