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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. December 16 Meme

Today is the first evening of Chanukah, the Festival of Lights, of spinning dreidels, of kids getting cash gifts from the family, of eating oily things in memory of the miracle of the oil lamps in the Temple - hey, any excuse to eat doughnuts and potato latkes!


It's also, in history, the date of a lot of other things.

Here are some of them.

On This Day In History

1497:  Portuguese explorer Vasco Da Gama rounds the Cape of Good Hope.
1707:  Last recorded eruption of Mt Fuji in Japan.
1773:  The Boston Tea Party. Protest against tea tax. 
1927 – Donald Bradman scores a century in his first game of first-class cricket for NSW agains South Australia

Birthdays - an embarrassment of riches!

1485: Catherine of Aragon, subject of a lot of writing, from biography to fiction. Imagine how different the world would have been if she'd given Henry a living son...

1775: Jane Austen! Yay!

1866: Wassily Kandinsky, Russian-French artist(there's a Google doodle in his honour. If you miss it, they do have a stash of them online)

1899: Noel Coward, British playwright and composer

1901: Margaret Mead, the American anthropologist

1917: Arthur C Clarke, classic SF writer

1927: Peter Dickinson, who has written quite a lot of spec fic for children and teens. For adults, among other things, there was King And Joker, an alternative universe crime novel set in Buckingham Palace. 

1928: Phillip K Dick. If you haven't read any of his books, I'm betting you've seen at least one movie based on something he wrote, such as Bladerunner.

1933: Quentin Blake, who illoed all those Roald Dahl stories.

1967: Miranda Otto, Aussie actress whom you would likely have seen in LOTR.  I believe she went to school with one of the ASIM members, so we have an interview with her in one of our earlier issues.

It may also be the birthday of Ludwig Van Beethoven(1770), but I'm uncertain. He was baptised on the 17th.

There are more, but these will do. As I said, an embarrassment of riches among all the people who, in one way or another, have made the world a nicer place to live.

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2. December 14 Meme

And here's another interesting day in history!

Birthdays: 

1503: Nostradamus! Author of all those vague "prophecies" inspiring so many conspiracies

1546: Tycho Brahe, astronomer, back in the days when that job was new and exciting and possibly dangerous if you lived in the wrong country and got on the wrong side of the Church...( fortunately for him, he didn't). And he did it all without a telescope! PS He nearly became a lawyer!

1968: Rachel Cohn, YA novelist. I know her via her delightful co-authorship with David Levithan of some wonderful novels, such as Nick And Norah's Infinite Playlist. 

1640: birth or at least baptism, of  Aphra Behn, who wrote far more plays, some of them still being performed, than the more famous Oliver Goldsmith, who wrote about three plays. She was also a novelist and a spy. Poor woman, she had some exciting adventures, did a lot of good stuff for her country, was never paid and then they issued a warrant for her arrest as a debtor!  Probably a good thing for us, because being broke meant she started her writing career to earn a living. One of the first professional female writers. I wrote about her in my children's book on spies. Possibly I would have made it into the Cranky Ladies anthology if I'd chosen her instead of Margaret Bulkely aka Dr James Barry. 😒


Public Domain portrait of Aphra Behn, by Peter Leły

Events: 

1542: the baby Mary Stuart becomes Queen of Scots and inspires a whole lot of writing, from bios to historical romance to SF, if you count that story by Fritz Leiber in which Elizabeth I is replaced by an agent/actress who has to make the vital decision.

1900: Max Planck, physicist, presents a paper that leads to the birth of quantum physics. I'm sadly deficient in the knowledge of physics, but even I know this is exciting! 

1962: Mariner 2 flyby of Venus. Yay!

1972: The last men on the moon leave. (Sob! No women ever got the chance to go)

2012: Sad event, but I must mention, the Sandy Hook school massacre. 😥 And the NRA, far from admitting maybe there should be a change in the gun laws, suggests teachers should be armed. I did NOT sign up for murder of ANYONE when I qualified as a teacher. 

Today has some Christian connotations, such as John of the Cross(Spanish Saint). He also wrote poetry and stuff about the growth of the soul, so I guess he counts as a writer.

It's also Martyred Intellectuals Day in Bangladesh, to commemorate some intellectuals who were killed in 1971 when the enemies in the Liberation War apparently tried to stop the new nation from having an intellectual focus. There's a memorial built to them in Bangladesh.

And it's an international Monkey day, dedicated to apes in general. Let's hope they aren't all DipEd out in the quest for more palm oil and human "lebensraum". 

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3. December 13 Meme


On This Day: 

Not much in history about books or writing that I could find, so I thought I'd go for exciting explorer stuff because of the sensawunda it inspires in SF, my first love.

1577 : Sir Francis Drake sails off from Plymouth on his first round-the-world voyage.

1642: Abel Tasman, after whom our beautiful Tasmania is named, reached New Zealand. This is the closest I can get to something Aussie-related.

1972 : the Apollo 17 astronauts Eugene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt walked on the moon. This is the last time, to date, that humans have walked there. I remember reading an interview with Michael Collins where he was asked if he'd accept an invitation to go back to the moon. He said no, but he'd be all for going to Mars if he could. My favourite of the three Apollo 11 astronauts!

Author Birthdays: 

Slim pickings here, but I did find one I'd read and enjoyed.

Lucia Gonzales, children's writer and librarian

Ross MacDonald, author of a lot of hard boiled detective fiction about a sleuth called Lew Archer, was known as the heir to Dashiell Hammett.

AND - Ta da! The wonderful Tamora Pierce, author of the Lioness books and many others. Her heroine was a girl who wanted to be a knight and swapped places with her twin brother, who had other ambitions, disguised herself as a boy and went off to be a page. Go read them if you haven't and ... many happy returns, Tamora, one of my Goodreads friends! Tamora blogs regularly and is one of the few big name author members of Goodreads I know who actually reviews other people's books and lets people friend her instead of just becoming "fans" who can't communicate. I get the feeling with some of these folk that they're only there on the advice of agents and publicists to get a social media profile.

Celebrations

Today, by the way, is St Lucy's Day (aka Santa Lucia). Thought I'd mention it because my much-valued and respected library technician us a Lucy/Lucia.

I gather it's a festival centred around light because it used to be the (European) winter solstice before the calendar changed. Which reminds me, time to get the Chanukah candles, as our own feast of lights begins Tuesday night. Time to stock up on potatoes for the traditional latkes and find my way down to the doughnut stand at Footscray railway station, as doughnuts are also a tradition(anything oily to eat, you see, though I don't recall chips being a tradition...)  

Below is a Public Domain image of Saint Lucy. See the eyes in the dish? Part of the legend, in which her eyes were poked out or maybe she poked them out herself to put off a suitor. Ew! Yuk! But she's the patron saint of the blind.

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4. December 11 Meme

December 11: On This Day

What Happened: 

Nothing literary that I could find, so here are some that caught my eye: 

1620: landing of the Mayflower at Plymouth Rock(this one for my US readers)

1901: Marconi sends first transatlantic radio signal - wow! When you think of where that led - just wow!

1936: Edward VIII announces on the radio that he's abdicating to marry Wallis Simpson and history takes a turn for the better(he was known for sympathising with the Nazis)

1997: The Kyoto Protocol - in which 150 nations get together to do the right thing. And all these years later we're STILL facing climate change because short-sighted politicians would  rather look after the economy and jobs - their own jobs - than look after the planet their descendants will inherit. 



Happy Birthday To:

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn - Author of a lot of books that got him into trouble in the Soviet Union, including The Gulag Archipelago and - the one that got him exiled - One Day In The Life Of Ivan Denisovich. (I once saw a Year 7 boy reading this and assuring me he loved it. Pity this was in my pre-TL days. The boy had the unforgettable name of Vincent Price)

Laini Taylor, YA novelist, author of Daughter Of Smoke And Bone, which I still haven't read.

Aussie writer and illustrator Roland Harvey, whose cartoon style has become very familiar to school librarians and kids over the years. 

Today also seems to be Upper Volta's Independence Day.

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5. Aurealis Reading... Continuing

The entries for the Aurealis Awards closed last Sunday, but that doesn't necessarily mean there will be no more books to read - they can enter in advance, then send the works till the end of this month. As it is, there is a pie f George Ivanoff Chose Your Own Adventure titles I don't have yet, but that are on the list. I've been adding them to a "shelf" on Goodreads as I receive them. They automatically come up as "reading" even if you haven't started.


It has been a real eye-opener to see what is entered - from children's picture books to the latest volume of some fat fantasy series, to short stories to self-published ebooks, and small press and self- published paperbacks. Some perfectly good contemporary novels seem to have been entered because they mention fantastical creatures, though these never appear. 

The other night, I was about to go to bed when there was a ring at my doorbell. It was my neighbour, who had kindly accepted a box of books on my behalf. They weren't even on the list yet. There are some Catherine  Jinks books, the latest book in the Troubletwisters series, the latest Geoffrey McSkimming Phyllis Wong novel, an Allison Rushby book very different from her novel The Heiresses...

I have a long way to go! Even if they don't send any more, there are thirteen books on my "reading" shelf on Goodreads...

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6. This Year...And Next...Mostly Reposted From My Other Blog


Yesterday we had the campus awards afternoon. The students who had been nominated for a prize went up to receive it - several of my students and former students were among them. I said a fond farewell to those who had reached Year 10 and were ff to our senior campus where, incidentally, there is no longer a library, just a great big space empty of shelves, with tables and chairs. 

For the time being I still have a library to run and kids to use it. And I have heard what I'm doing next year, apart from running my library. 

Each year I have had to do something different. From Year 11 English to junior ESL (or EAL as it's now known), then on to Year 8 English and Pathways, the homeroom subject. And each time I got the hang of  a subject - and I did very well at Pathways - I was given another challenge. This year's challenge has been teaching history.

I love history - but loving something isn't necessarily the same as teaching it. Just because you enjoy reading about something doesn't always mean that you can pass it on.

Have I done well? I'd like to think so, but the truth is, I have had to do the same as everyone else and bullshit my way through, asking for help every now and then from more experienced staff. Sometimes you have to do that. Some things have worked, others haven't.

Making iMovies worked the first time. If I had to teach history again, I would use that, but find a way to make the kids comfortable with it and learn more about it myself. For example, in English, Literature Circles, this year students were allowed to use iMovie to prepare book trailers. They had learned from me in history how to do it.

 That sort of worked, but what none of us had realised was that you couldn't get back to the unfinished task on the school iPads unless you had left it there. So some students who had made a book trailer - unfinished - on iMovie and saved it to the school's Public Share couldn't finish it. What they had done was quite good, but looked a bit silly in the blank grey bits. We - my colleague and I -accepted it anyway, because they had done their best. If I was doing this next year, I would make sure that they spent the entire double period on it, first collecting photos, then slotting them into place.

We had two classes joined for Literature Circles because mine was too small to do it without merging classes - and since we were on at the same time, we would have been competing for resources and space. Two classes together worked last year, but not quite as well as last year, because we had a larger number of difficult students and several integration students and only one aide available to help - last year we had two.

Still, we worked out as best we could which students would go into which groups and which books they could handle.

Some things worked, others didn't - and there were a few students who were given books too difficult for them, which it took us too long to realise. We did make some late changes, giving those students easier books which they were to read by themselves and produce a PowerPoint as their response - the simplest thing to do.

There were a few who had handed in very little this year and were not about to begin now, but we did what we could. I hope they'll mature next year.

We finished with a reflection by the students about what they had gotten out of it. That will help for next year.

One difficult student admitted to me "My behaviour hasn't been stellar this year, has it?" I agreed that it hadn't, but at the time I was talking with him about a story I had asked him to rewrite so it can go into the school anthology and persuading him to put his name on it, since he now had something to be proud of.

That's now happening. His story will be in the next anthology and he will be able to show off a bit. Maybe next year he will have matured? He was the student whose group messed up their podcast.

My history students did their posters and Powerpoints and booklets on the Aztecs. I've put up the posters, which are very good. I've done their last test for the year and am pleased at how well they all did - apart from one student who had been away a lot, everyone got high marks, including my most difficult student who has been improving and got full marks.

My survey of my literacy students worked well. Despite there being some who had been noisy and rude, even they ticked "agree" or "strongly agree" for questions as to how supportive/helpful,etc. I had been (and I overheard one say, "Oh, yes, she is, she really is!" And he was one who had given me a headache many times.

If I had these classes next year I would have a better idea what to do.

But I have been told that next year will be different again, with yet another challenge. . Creative Writing! I have never had writing lessons myself, so how do I give lessons to others? I have been thinking about this carefully. All I can do is offer them the chance to write and submit and the benefit of my own experience as a writer. I'm taking a little survey of students who have signed up for it, to find out what they hope to get out of it. There hasn't been the chance to get together with the other two CW teachers, though I have sent emails and spoken to one. They're both English teachers and will have to make the best of their own experience.

I will have a Year 7 EAL class, but I believe it is straightforward, just a double period a week while the other students are doing Vietnamese or Italian. I think I can handle that, if I discuss it with the EAL teacher.

I'm looking after the Year 10 Psychology students once a week, but I used to do that anyway till this year and it didn't count as part of my allotment.

And of course, there will be Sunlit (literacy class). Hopefully, I will continue with the same reading level as this year. I'm quite comfortable with this subject and actually felt left out one day when everyone else had begun and mine hadn't been sorted out yet.

I'm very tired and there's still so much to do!





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7. Recent Goodies Downloaded!

You know how it is when you're reading something, perhaps a folklore article, and that makes you think of something else and then you want to read -or maybe reread - that?

Thanks to the WWW and our friend Mr Gutenberg, you can do that instantly these days. This week, I've grabbed a couple by Joseph Jacobs, who was around at the same time as Andrew Lang, of the multi-coloured Fairy Books and others - English Fairytales and More English Fairytales, because I wanted to check out a couple of stories that were supposed to be in Andrew Lang and didn't seem to be in my Gutenberg version. Dick Whittington was one. You know, poor boy makes good with the help of his cat. I sometimes wonder if there were already stories around in the time of the real Mr Whittington and how he felt about them. It's interesting that there are no fantastical elements in it, unless you count the idea that one cat could rid an entire kingdom of rats, or that the king wouldn't simply take the cat instead of paying a fortune for it...

While I was about it, I also picked up Popular Tales From The Norse, because of that story "How The Sea Became Salt". You know, the one where someone gets hold of a mill that grinds food and such for you, but he forgets, or isn't told, how to stop it, so it goes right on grinding salt, which salts the sea. I had some vague memory that it was pre-Christian, but no, not in this book.

On Project Gutenberg I also found some more out-of-copyright classic SF, this time by John W Campbell, the great Golden Age editor, after whom an award for new writers is named.

You know, I'd never read E.Nesbit's classic Five Children And It and this week I decided it was about time. And what a great romp it is! Our five middle-class children, whose parents can be missing because the maid can be left to babysit them, get into all sorts of trouble when they find a grumpy sand fairy, the Psammead, who can grant one wish a day, but not permanent - it all vanishes at sunset, which is mostly just as well. Somehow, they never seem to get it right and all sorts of disasters happen when you get what you wish for...

I got the first issue of an online magazine called Alt Hist, which the editor leaves up for free as a sample of what he's after for potential contributors. The magazine pays a token fee to contributors, but it pays and I am currently looking for another market for the adventures of my cranky lady of history. I don't know yet, but I'm reading. It takes both historical fiction and alternative history, which I think is interesting. So far read only a couple of stories. One of them I liked, a very silly story about a couple of characters in the early Midde Ages trying unsuccessfully to destroy a statue of the Virgin which had fallen on a noble lady, whose grieving husband had sentenced it to execution.

It's always worth checking the iBooks store to see if they have their free "first of a series" offer. You can get some great stuff there for a limited time and I have, in the past, such as Kerry Greenwood's Earthly Delights and a Kate Forsyth volume. I also got a first book in a series of which I was sent the sequel to review and couldn't because it made no sense by itself.

 This time it was only crime fction, mostly thrillers, but I found one called Spying In High Heels, part of a series in my local library.

My paid book download this week was The Whale Rider by Witi Ihimaera, on which the movie is based. Enjoyable so far.

Of course, I also have a couple of  ebook Aurealis entries, which I won't name yet, because I don't want to go trough the whole "this is only my opinion" thing. Later, when the judging is over, I might.

So, that's my haul for this week. Anyone else got something to share?




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8. December 4 Meme!



To dearest Rachel, my nephew's younger girl, who turns 11 today,

Here are some things connected with your birthday. I couldn't find too many writing-related things, but some - and the others are still interesting.

Without further ado, here they are!

Birthdays

1777: Juliette Recamier, who kept a salon where a whole lot of famous literary and political figures visited. A kind of sofa was named after her.


Jacqueline-Louis David painting, Madame Recamier. Public Domain

1795: Thomas Carlyle, Scottish historian and essayist. He wrote about the French Revolution.

1883:  Katharine Susannah Prichard, Aussie writer. Journalist, novelist(the first to receive international recognition), film writer, playwright, founding member of the Australian Communist Party. 

1910: Alex North, film composer. Most famous for the score of Spartacus. Less well known is that he wrote a score for the film 2001: A Space Odyssey, before it was decided to go with  the classical music we know so well, which was only meant to give some idea of what the score was meant to sound like. 

Things That Happened 

1674: Founding of a settlement on the shores of Lake Michigan that eventually became Chicago.

1791: First edition of The Observer, the world's oldest Sunday newspaper.

1872: Finding of the mysteriously deserted ship Mary Celeste, which has inspired a LOT of fiction!

1923: Premiere of Cecil B DeMille's silent Ten Commandments.

1986: Premiere of Neil Simon's play Broadway Bound.

Special Days

St Barbara's Day - a possibly fictional saint who is the patron of armourers, architects, firemen and, oddly, mathematicians.


St Barbara Public Domain

In the Eastern tradition, it's also her day as Eid il-Burbara, which is a celebration similar to Halloween, though it's possibly even older. Kids go around the houses in costume, people give them a sort of pudding with sweet things in it and the bakeries do very nicely with festive pastries. It's also a tradition to start sprouting plants that are later used with the Christmas decorations.

In the Roman Empire it was the holiday of the Bona Dea, the Good Goddess, which was strictly secret women's business. You could get into HUGE trouble if you were a man trying to get in to see what was going on!

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9. Another Farewell To Book Club...

Yesterday, I said goodbye to another lot of Year 10 book clubbers. Natasha, Karyn and Jenny were the loyallest members, who turned up to pretty much every meeting between Year 7 and 10, and I gave each of them a gift voucher for Dymock's bookshop. But there were plenty more. Some had joined us only this year. One, Hayden, who had been a member briefly in Year 7, returned this year, bringing his friend Mark, a lad who endeared himself to me in Year 8 when he recognised a quote I made from Monty Python. Mark is a keen reader, though this year he was mostly absorbed in the Game Of Thrones series of fat books, so had little time for much else.  I never did get him started on Terry Pratchett, a pity, because he would have enjoyed Discworld.

Hayden is, in fact, the only one of them who appears in that picture with Marianne De Pierres, because the others in his class were stuck in a maths test. Safa and Meka joined us this year and read manuscripts for Allen and Unwin. 

 Nusaiba was another veteran, though not as much as some of the others. She did come to Reading Matters and several meetings this year.

Lula joined us last year and came with us to the Reading Matters conference. Emily, who had been with us since Year 7, more or less dropped out last year, but still wandered in and out. I missed Emily, but the club was for their benefit, not mine. 

Braydon was in and out, but had also been with us for a long time.

We all had a lot of fun together. They chose books, came on excursions, read manuscripts for Allen and Unwin, met writers who visited us. Last year, Emily read The First Third by Will Kostakis, loved it and made her boyfriend a bit jealous when the author visited. Well, Will is young and good looking. :-) I said, "Don't worry, he's going back to Sydney," and the boyfriend snarled," Thank God!" But it was the book she loved. In the novel, the boy's very Greek grandma dies, which devastated Emily, but the author's grandmother, who inspired the one in the novel, is alive and well; she rang while Will was chatting with book club and he handed the phone to Emily.

Natasha was very sad yesterday, almost in tears when I handed her one of the laminated certificates I made for all my Year 10 book clubbers. After the graduation ceremony she gave me a hug and had her mum take a picture of us together. I have promised to see what I can do about having her attend Alice Pung's talk next year.

I think I'm almost in tears myself.That's the thing about being a teacher. You have to say goodbye so soon!

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10. Guest Post By G.K Holloway, Author of 1066:What Fates Impose


Today's guest post is by Glynn(G.K) Holloway, whose novel 1066: What Fates Impose I won some months ago on the English Historical Fiction Authors blog. 

                                                    
  
Glynn has kindly agreed to tell us about how he researched his book and why the period fascinates him so much. It's an era that fascinates me too; the entire history of Europe could have been very different if only a few things had gone differently in 1066. The very English language would have been different! 
But I'll let the author tell you all about it. Take it away, Glynn!

The inspiration for my novel, 1066: What Fates Impose, came from reading a biography of Harold Godwinson. I’ve always been an avid reader and a history fan and I like to mix up my reading with biographies and novels. I knew something about King Harold from my school days and stories my Dad had told me, so when I found a biography about him by Ian Walker, I was intrigued enough to buy it. I found the book really opened my eyes to the era. Once I’d finished it I wanted to know more, so I read books about William the Conqueror, the Godwin family and then more and more about Anglo Saxon England. I found the history fascinating, full of marauding Vikings, papal plots, blood feuds, court intrigues, assassinations, so much so, I couldn’t believe the story of the era hadn’t been covered more in films, TV and, of course, books. So, I decided to do something myself. I researched everything I could about the period, including court etiquette, sword manufacturing techniques - everything. I also visited many of the locations that appear in the book, usually on family holidays and once I’d done all that - and it took quite some time - I wove together facts and fiction to produce the novel.  
The more I researched the more amazed I became about how events played out. For Harold, everything that could go wrong did go wrong, and I’m not just thinking of the power struggles in the north of England. For instance, Edward couldn’t have died at a worse time. For William the opposite is true; even when he has what appears to be bad luck, things works out for him or he makes them work. One of the times I’m thinking about is when William first sets foot on English soil and falls flat on his face. He stands up with two hands full of soil and says, ‘By the splendour of the Almighty, I have seized my kingdom; the soil of England is in my own two hands.’ You have to admire his quick thinking. But it’s not just one or two things, there’s a long, long list of things both in England and on the European continent that fell into place for William. To top it all, a comet even puts in an appearance!
When writing the book I decided to stick as close as possible to the events and be as true to the characters as possible. For me, it’s important to get the research right, so the reader has confidence in the story, knowing what they’re reading is the real thing. This is why Lady Godiva doesn’t ride naked through the streets of Coventry. It never happened. Besides, there was enough going on at that time for me not to have to add any additional spice to the story. Most of the events depicted in my book really happened with perhaps, one or two exceptions or manipulations.
How to present the story was another matter. I wanted the story to be as accessible as possible,  so the idea of writing in some sort of pseudo Shakespeare didn’t appeal. It was no use writing in Old English because for one thing I don’t speak it and for another neither do many other people. Those who do are already familiar with the events. So, I thought I’d use modern plain English and keep out as many anachronisms as possible. No one says, ‘OK’ or ‘Hi there’.
I’m very fortunate in having a wife who is so supportive and in a position to help as our children were still quite young and they were going to a child minder in the holidays and after school. When I left my full time job I was able to look after them at home. My wife has her own business; she is a tax consultant. This enabled me to work part time in her business and part time on my book. The money we saved on child care and employing someone in the business balanced out favourably. When the novel was completed, it ran for 297,000 words. An editor suggested cuts – a lot. So, many months later, I had a finished novel that ran to a mere 160,000 – almost a short story. I’m now working on a sequel.
I’ve explained briefly, what made me write the book but why would anyone want to read it? Well, the era is, I think, very exciting and the Battle of Hastings was such a close run thing - so close that if it had rained that day, William would probably have lost the battle. Some people might think, ‘So what? A fight in a field a thousand years ago on the other side of the planet; what difference does that make now?’
Well the answer is, think how much the outcome changed England’s history. In the mid eleventh century England had been just one of the kingdoms in Cnut’s Empire, which included Denmark and Norway. England looked to the north and was part of the north. The language and culture were very similar. England did not look south for ideas or inspiration and did not get involved with southern European affairs. After Hastings all that changed and for centuries England and France were at each other’s throats.
Some say that if it hadn’t been for the Normans, England would never have risen to prominence. If that’s true, there may never have been a British Empire. If it isn’t true, there might have been some sort of Nordic Empire that spanned even more of the world than the British ever did. 'What if the Normans had lost?'  is a very big question and that’s why I’m writing a follow-up. A Norman victory changed England for ever and consequently had ramifications that echo on through the centuries. It has to be an interesting story.

Bio
G K Holloway was born in a small anonymous town in the north of England. On leaving school he worked in a variety of jobs until he arrived at his mid twenties and decided it was time for a change.
Having always liked history, he thought he'd enjoy studying the subject for a degree, so enrolling in evening classes at his local college to take O Level and A Level courses, seemed the obvious thing to do.
After graduating from Coventry,  he spent nearly a year in Canada before returning to England to train as a Careers Advisor. After qualifying, he worked in secondary education before moving onto further education, adult education and eventually higher education.
You can buy 1066: What Fates Impose at Amazon, in either paperback or ebook , here. http://www.amazon.com/1066-Impose-G-K-Holloway/dp/1783062207


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11. January Magazine Seventeen Years Young


You know how LinkedIn sends you those nets asking you to congratulate someone on a work anniversary? It can be pretty silly, because it will include anything on your résumé. Even if you say you're a freelance writer, for example, it will ask people to congratulate you on the anniversary of the day you posted. It's not done by a human being and computer programs can't tell the difference.

But this week I was asked to congratulate Linda Richards on 17 years running January Magazine and I really must. It is a fabulous review web site, which also has articles and  news about books and writers. You can follow it by email.


Some years ago, I was writing my first online reviews for a publication called Festivale Online. It was a good publication while it was going, but suddenly, without warning, it disappeared and the editor was out of contact with her contributors,not replying to emails.

Well, I liked my free books and being published. I had been receiving stuff from publishers.  My sister was receiving January Magazine by email, so I contacted Linda, asking if I could review for her. She sad yes, but that she couldn't supply the books. She lives in Canada andI live in Australia. I said that was fine; as long as I had somewhere to publish my reviews I had access to publishers.

So began a long, happy relationship that continues to the present. I don't send as many reviews these days as I used to, because most of them appear here, though I do share my reviews between our two web sites. And I still send her a "best of" post each year as she asks for one.

It has been a lot of fun and I've had some great experiences. Who can forget the morning I visited Allen and Unwin to collect the final Harry Potter book, then read all day to meet Linda's deadline? Because she is in the northern hemisphere I could email her early Sunday morning to say I'd be a couple more hours and she could reply that this was fine, she'd check her email again after dinner(it was still Saturday night there).  And then there was the time I reviewed a book about the Hildebrandt Tolkien calendars for JM. I had a lovely email from one of the artists thanking me for having given his nephew such a nice review. Not only that, but Caspar Reiff of the Tolkien Ensemble, which does wonderful albums setting Tolkien's songs and poems to music, offering me a review copy of the latest, which I had been wanting but unable to find in the shops here!

In a way, JM is the reason for this blog. Linda does it all herself from somewhere rural in Canada(she once told me there was a bushfire raging in her area). Sometimes my reviews hadn't been published after weeks and weeks. So I thought it best to publish things here when I hadn't heard; the publishers supplying me would want to know the review was up. Of course, The Great Raven has become a lot more than a review zine, as you know, though it is handy that I can be more flexible, since JM only publishes reviews of new books and I sometimes review classics or things that have been around for a bit longer than JM's one year limit.

But if it weren't for Linda Richards and January Magazine, The Great Raven might not exist. So here's to you, Linda! Long may January Magazine run!

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12. November 23 Meme


Okay, here are some things that make November 23 special(and if you're in the Northern hemisphere you will be reading this on November 22. Too bad! I'm lying in bed on Sunday morning posting this to the world)

Events


534 BCE Thespis of Icaria becomes the word's first actor to portray a character other than himself. In other words, the world's first actor! He did some other things to get plays going. His very name is used as a term for an actor, "thespian". And it all began On This Day! If interested, check out this blog post about the origins of Showbiz! 



1644  The poet John Milton publishes Aeropagitica, a pamphlet against censorship, due to a recent "licensing" system produced by Parliament -  not that he had anything against book-burning of "bad" books, he was a terribly grumpy man, but he says at least publish the things first, then argue against them(and you can always burn them afterwards). Hmm, sounds familiar. Like certain Aussie politicians who recently argued about "freedom of speech" for horrible people because we can always argue with them... Still. He wrote lots of fabulous poetry, crotchety man or not.

A quote from this: "A good book is the precious lifeblood of a master spirit, embalmed and treasured up on purpose to a life beyond life" is up in the New York Public Library.
1963  The first episode of Dr Who, "An Unearthly Child" is broadcast. Unfortunately it had to compete with the news of President Kennedy's assassination, but after fifty years it's still going strong. And in the last season, we returned to Coal Hill School, where the latest companion was working as a teacher. Yes, Coal Hill was also in Remembrance Of The Daleks, but it was only one story and it was set just after the first Doctor and his companions had left.

Birthdays

1892 Erte, that amazing illustrator and designer who did all those wonderful Art Deco pictures. Kerry Greenwood's heroine Phryne Fisher wears his designer clothes. He also did stuff for Hollywood silent movies, including Ben-Hur.  


1909 Nigel Tranter, author of a whole lot of historical fiction, mostly about Scotland. I've read some of his books, which are good stuff. 

1923 Gloria Whelan, a prolific US author of children's and YA novels. I'm embarrassed to say I haven't read any of her 50-odd books as yet, but I thought anyone with that much of a track record deserves a mention here. 

Holidays and observances

* This is the feast day of Alexander Nevsky, the Russian hero who has been made a saint in the Russian Orthodox Church and inspired a lot of film and music stuff.

* It's Rudolph Maister Day in Slovenia. He was a military officer who also wrote poetry.

* On a truly frivolous note, it's the earliest day on which Black Friday can happen - strictly a  US thing, coming just after Thanksgiving and the opening of Christmas shopping. Amazing they leave it that long!

I got all these from Wikipedia, a very useful source for such stuff. All images are Creative Commons.

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13. Hansel And Gretel by Neil Gaiman. Illustrated by Lorenzo Mattotti. Sydney, Bloomsbury. 2014


The lost children. The gingerbread cottage. The scary witch who, however, doesn't see very well and can easily be fooled. All elements of one of the darker Grimm fairytales. All here in this retelling, along with the explanation of where the children's names come from. (When you think about it, if this had been a British folktale, it would have been called "Johnny and Maggie" or Meg or even Peggy, none of which have quite the same ring to them)

If you're going to have a folktale retold, especially such a dark one, Neil Gaiman is a good one to do it. The average retelling is just that - a straight retelling which isn't by the Brothers Grimm or whoever. "Once upon a time..." And then the writer and publisher decide just how much of the original story can be told, depending on who is having the story read to them. For example, you really don't want to describe Cinderella's stepsisters cutting off toes to fit into the glass slippers, do you? Not at bedtime, anyway. 

One thing about folktales is that you never learn reasons, such as why parents would throw their children out of the house to die, even in a famine. Neil Gaiman suggests war and thieving soldiers passing through and taking away all the food sources and destroying the fields. This version even suggests that it may be a reason behind the witch's cannibalism, though not entirely; from the description of what Hansel and Gretel find hidden around the gingerbread house afterwards, she sounds more like a serial killer than a poor old pensioner who is as much a victim as anyone else. 

At the end of the book, the author talks about the possible origins of the story in the time of the Plague, when all sorts of terrible things would have happened and family relationships broke down.

The book is basically an extended retelling rather than a twist on the original tale. If you're expecting something along the lines of The Sleeper And The Spindle, you may be disappointed. But as a retelling, it has class, and the beautiful moody black and white art of Lorenzo Mattotti supports it well.

If you're going to buy a version of this folktale to read to your children, this one is the way to go.

I hear there's a movie of this book planned, or at least optioned. That should be most  interesting...

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14. Jenny Mounfield Interview Part 2: Yusuf And Reece

First it was a group of Year 7 Literature Circles students interviewing Jenny Mounfield, author of thriller The Ice-cream Man(Ford Street Publishing), now two Year 8 students have their own questions. Thank you, Jenny, for agreeing to the extended interview! She says the boys' questions were very thought-provoking, so, without further ado, here they are...


Why is the hero of the book in a wheelchair?

The only reason initially was that my son, Dan, who is in a wheelchair, inadvertently gave me the idea for the story. But then it occurred to me that through Marty I had the opportunity show the reading world just how able the so-called ‘disabled’ can be.

Did you write this book for fun - or does it have a message?

I had no goal other than spinning a good tale when I began writing The Ice-cream Man. However, as the story progressed I could see various themes evolving. At its heart ICM is a coming of age story. Three boys who would otherwise have nothing in common, are brought together by a common goal. In a round about way the ice-cream man did the boys a favour. Through their misadventure they are bonded in friendship. And that’s the main message, if there is one: No matter how different we may think others are to us, there is always something that will unite us. All we need to do is find it.

How'd you come up with the title of The Ice-cream Man? 

It was pretty obvious, I guess, given the conflict that starts the ball rolling. To be honest, I didn’t give it any real thought.

What inspired you to write this book? We know it is based on a real life incident, but why write it as a story?

All the ‘What if?’s caught my imagination and I knew it would make a good story. I couldn’t not write it.

Do you have a day job?

Not any more. I used to be a florist.

On Characters

Rick- what made you make the character like this? He seems to be tough but isn't.

Everyone knows a Rick – or will, a some point in their lives. Many people build armour around themselves to prevent being injured by the world. It’s important to remember that when dealing with them. Those who appear to be the toughest have often been injured the most.

Marty- why'd you make Marty disabled?

As mentioned above, I thought it would be a good opportunity to demonstrate how able someone who is classified as ‘disabled’ can be through Marty. When Dan first went into a wheelchair everyone, including his therapists, treated it as such a tragedy. Yes, it was tragic in its way since beforehand Dan had been able to walk with the aid of a walking frame, but the wheelchair gave him a freedom he’d never experienced. For one thing his mates were now running to catch up with him instead of the other way round. Soon, there was no activity Dan couldn’t be involved in. He went fishing, taught himself to bounce up steps, played basketball – and a dozen other things. Everything Marty does in The Ice-cream Man Dan has done at one time or another (except battle a psycho – I hope!). So, the next time you see someone in a wheelchair, don’t feel sorry for them. There’s a good chance they have a more fulfilling life than you. Disability is very much in the mind of the beholder.

Aaron- do you like Aaron as a character? (SB: The boys thought him a bit of a wimp)

No, I didn’t particularly like Aaron at first, but he grew on me. He’s an important character because he’s perceived as soft and weak, yet – like all of us – has hidden depths. Whether consciously or unconsciously we only ever show a small slice of who we are to the world. Aaron may appear wimpy, but that doesn’t mean he hasn’t the capacity for courage, given the right circumstances.

Robbo - why is he such a trouble maker? (SB: I have a feeling they may mean Steve, Aaron’s stepbrother, rather than Robbie, who only appears briefly. But Robbo is Steve’s mate, is he a follower or what?). 

Robbo, in writers’ speak, is a one-dimensional character. He’s a set-piece. A cliché. Though having said this I should add that there are many such clichés in the world: those, who for reasons of their own (probably fear) mimic others who seem to them to be stronger. I doubt the Robbos of the world think much about what they’re doing or why. As for Steve, I imagine he bullies Aaron because he can. It’s the animal side of human nature: To dominate and conquer. I believe that as intelligent, conscious beings, it’s up to us to rise above our animal natures and make intelligent choices, rather than simply act on impulses that arise from the most ancient part of our brains.

Thanks again for answering our questions, Jenny!

Readers, you can buy this from the Ford Street web site, order it through your friendly local bookshop or download the ebook version from iBooks and Amazon.

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15. Saying Goodbye, Finally, To My Nerd Pack...

Tonight I'm off to the Year 12 formal  ("Senior Prom" to my American readers) , where I will be saying a final farewell to my former students, in particular my foundation book club members -  Dylan, Thando, Selena and Ryan. Without their enthusiasm, there would not have been a book club. I had tried to start one before, without success. 

I have seen them all occasionally, mostly on their way to school. Thando moved to the eastern suburbs for her mother's work, but continued to attend our school, though it meant leaving home at 6.30 am. She did tell me the last time we met, though, that she would be looking for a university on her side of town. Who can blame her?

Now they have finished their exams and are ready to party together one last time as schoolmates. And they will look gorgeous! I remember them all as littleYear 7 kids, barely out of primary school, and they have grown into young men and women

I wish I could post photos here, but that's illegal.  So I will just report and describe. 

I go every year. If I'm on time, I get the chance to see them all bustling around, having photos taken with their friends, exclaiming with pleasure at the sight of a teacher they haven't met in two years... (One year I had to sit with all the other staff while the Principal 
Maunder end on at us, till 5.00 pm, and the soup had already been served by the time I arrived. I don't have a car, the other staff did).

I got away late today too, so will have to hope I can make it before dinner starts!


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16. The Sleeper And The Spindle By Neil Gaiman. Illustrated by Chris Riddell. Sydney:Bloomsbury, 2014


The sleeping princess, the castle covered with roses with deadly thorns... A familiar story, but with a twist.

In her kingdom a young queen who, we learn as we read, is another fairytale heroine, is preparing for her wedding, though feeling some doubts, when she is visited by three dwarves. They have heard of the enchanted castle - and that the spell of sleep is spreading. In fact, they've seen it with their own eyes. As magical beings, they were unaffected, but sooner or later all humans will fall asleep. Will she come and see what can be done?

Happily, she puts on her armour and kisses her handsome prince farewell to go on her quest, while issuing orders for the evacuation of all communities in or near the mountains, from which the sleep spell is spreading.

I can't tell you any more without spoilers, but it's a beautiful book, wonderfully illustrated by Chris Riddell, whom you may remember from Fortunately, The Milk... in which he drew the author as the hero. The twist at the end is fascinating and delightful, though I have to say, if you're looking for a fairytale retelling to read your children, this isn't it. It's for those who have read both The Sleeping Beauty and other folktales and appreciate the difference. 

It is, however, a positive viewing of one fairytale heroine at least, and the author has managed to world build and create fairly fleshed-out characters within the space of a short story.

If you're going to buy it as a Christmas gift, make sure you get another copy for yourself or you will never hand it over!


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17. Comet Landing - Rejoice!

I've always loved the sensawunda of space fiction. As the years have gone by, I've absorbed science fiction and seen it become science fact.

And now the Rosetta mission is complete and the probe Philae is aboard comet 67P! Mind you, the latest reports say that the battery won't last much past Saturday, due to the fact that it can't recharge(they were explaining this on the radio ths morning, something about the battery being solar, but it's not able to access the sun... So, little probe that has been travelling all these years, take pictures while you can! 

Speaking of science fiction(I was), I recall that Arthur C Clarke's novel 2061 began with a spaceship on its way to land on Halley's Comet, only it's not a probe, it has people aboard. There were, as I recall, monoliths involved somewhere in it. But that is what I remember. I borrowed a friend's copy, so haven't looked at it in years.

Amazing what Arthur C Clarke thought of. I like his short stories better than the novels. A while back, when I won a $25 Amazon gift voucher, I spent part of it on a couple of Clarke collections. I'm still making my way through them; Clarke is a writer whose work you savour.

Did you know 2001 started with a short story, "The Sentinel"? The film didn't have much in common with it, just the moon and the monolith. Space travellers on the moon find a monolith. They touch it and that sets it off. They figure it was set there by aliens to tell them when Earth finally made it to space. The question is - will they come and give us lots of goodies or will they come and wipe out the potential threat? As it was, it might have made a nice episode of Twilight Zone or Outer Limits.

But Hollywood did more - far more - with it.


Well, we still don't have the kind of casual spaceflight shown in Clarke, but events like the comet landing show we're getting there. I am so very excited!

 
Mosaic image taken by Rosetta's navcam in September. Creative Commons image from Wikimedia

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18. George Ivanoff Giveaway!

Dear readers,

I visited George Ivanoff's blog  and Roadshow Entertainment has donated four copies of Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries Season 1 and 2 as a giveaway.

If you live in Australia you can enter between now and November 21. I have already entered, but what the heck, why not let you all know? George, who actually gets PAID to blog for Boomerang Books, says if he gets enough interest Roadshow might send him some more giveaway goodies. 

I have read all the Phryne Fisher books and I have to say that, while the TV series is only loosely based on them, it's perfectly cast and they have taken a lot of trouble over the props, scenery and costumes, so that you can really feel you're being allowed a view of Melbourne in 1928. 

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19. Of Grammar And Communication

There was an article on grammar in yesterday's Melbourne newspaper, the Age - no point  putting in a link as you have to be a subscriber to read most Age items online. The comments section has now closed, so I thought I'd put in my penny's worth here instead. It's all about writing, after all

The author made the very good point that, however you feel about it, grammar is about communication. A lot of once-ironclad rules have been dropped over the years. Few people these days worry about ending a sentence on a preposition or starting a sentence with a conjunction. I know I don't. These days, who cares if you use "their" with "everyone" instead of the awkwardness of "his or her"? And there is, of course, the most famous split infinitive of all time - "to boldly go" ! It's poetic. In that particular case "to go boldly" would be jarring. They did fix the political incorrectness of "where no man has gone before", of course, with the almost as poetic "where no one has gone before" (strictly speaking, it's still politically incorrect, because of all the non-humans living on those planets the Enterprise visits, so clearly, someone has gone there before, but you can't keep a good line down, so stuff correctness!)

I hated the dullness of doing grammar from the textbook when I was at school, because I was good at it. I was naturally good at it. I couldn't explain why you said this instead of that. Heck, I couldn't even tell you the definition of a dangling participle till about five minutes ago. I still can't explain it, though examples are good. The Dictionary.com example is: "Plunging hundreds of feet into the gorge, we saw Yosemite Falls." You can see why it's not a good idea to write this unless you're writing about a bunch of tourists noticing things as they fall into a gorge, just before they go splat at the bottom. It's not something I would ever write, myself, because it doesn't make sense, does it? 

Most people, though, aren't naturally good at it. And many would not see anything weird in that sentence about the suicidal tourists. I'm betting most of my Year 8 students wouldn't. They would say, "But we know what that sentence means, Miss," and they probably would, damn them! 

That doesn't mean it's okay to get it wrong. In the end, it is about communication. Everyone has to be able to get it. Everyone includes grammar nazis and also people for whom English is another language. We need to have an agreed set of rules if we want to be able to teach the language to others. We should be able to break them sometimes, but only if we know what we're doing. You have to know what the rules are before you can break them confidently. If you break them just because you don't know them, that's when you're not communicating. 

It's kind of hard to teach grammar, though, especially if you're naturally good at it. You can't explain. You just know what makes sense and what doesn't.

And then there are the textbooks. There are textbooks now which look cute and child-friendly and aren't. The textbook formerly used at my school is one of them. I hardly used it when it was on the book list, because you had to explain the contents of each page before the kids could do it. I used it only when I felt guilty - they had paid for it, after all. 

The other day, I had to look after the Year 8 ESL students, whose teacher was absent. She had left them work, but some didn't have the worksheet, for some reason. An obliging colleague gave me a page from the Year 7 textbook. I also had to look after my integration student, who just couldn't do the writing the rest of the class was doing, so I offered him the textbook page the ESL students were doing. He looked at it and said,"It's too hard!"  And, looking at it again, I realised that, for him, it was. 

Nevertheless, you do have to get grammar right if you want everyone to understand you. That said, there are some differences between English-speaking countries. Americans, for example, say, "of a" when the rest of us just say, "a". I know that for them, it's correct(just as it's correct to pronounce "herbs" as "erbs") but it drives me nuts when I get it in my slushpile. 

And then there's spelling. A lot of kids spell texting style. When you text someone, the more characters you use, the more it costs, so you text "Wot r u doing?" and when you aren't texting, you will probably write the same way out of habit. However, there are also rules in text(or txt?) speak. You have terms such as LOL and ROTFL which everyone understands. I have heard of someone,unfamiliar with these rules, who texted LOL meaning "lots of love" not "laugh out loud". This was not a good idea, as the person was sending a condolence to a friend who had just lost a family member!    

See? Communication! 

I teach literacy four mornings a week and have to explain to my students that when they do their spelling test after we've finished a word list, they must listen carefully to the sentence in which I put each word, because there are words that sound the same, but are spelled differently and mean completely different things. Mind you, I sometimes have to explain also that the rules of spelling are often messy and nearly always have exceptions, probably because of all the different people who invaded Britain over the centuries and left their own marks on the language. I tell them that sometimes you just have to know it.

But don't forget that spelling has changed over the centuries and at one time people didn't worry too much about it at all. Just look at a poem in Middle English to see what I mean. Or at Shakespeare that hasn't been fiddled with by modern editors.

And then there's American spelling, which is yet another kettle of fish. I won't go into that here, because it would take a post of its own!

What do you think? Is grammar and spelling important for communication?

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20. Stalking Book Bloggers


Yesterday I tried to make a comment on a blog I enjoy, the cheerful YA Yeah Yeah, published by Jim Dean, a gentleman who likes YA mainstream fiction, though he does occasionally review genre fiction. (A blog I highly recommend, btw, check it out at www.yayeahyeah.com) I have always been able to comment on this blog, but I received a message saying that you could only comment if you were part of the "team". As Jim and I follow each other on Twitter I sent him a Direct Message, asking what was happening, and he explained that he had switched off comments because of a recent incident where an author upset over a bad review had actually stalked a reviewer! He seems to have even deleted his contact details on the blog.

Now, Jim doesn't do bad reviews; he only reviews books he likes, as "recommendations". But there are some scary people out there, who might take offence at the mildest criticism. I've had some strange folk submitting comments to this blog, though I don't publish them these days. My comments setting is on "moderation" so comments are published when I've had a look at them. So far, though, it's only been weird, not abusive, and I certainly haven't been stalked.  In some cases I even published the comments until they were just too much. There was one writer who complained and argued about some things I said in my review. It wasn't a bad review, because like Jim, I mostly stick to books I like - life is too short to finish books I hate and I'd have to do that to review them fairly. I just said what I thought about certain aspects of the book that made no sense to me. This wasn't good enough for that author, who argued with me. I published the comments, but I won't be reviewing anything by that author again. As she's a well known writer, she probably doesn't need my publicity, but it all helps, doesn't it? So not a good idea on her part.

At least she didn't  phone me up or turn up at my home, let alone write an article about it for the Guardian!

I'm a writer. I will admit to hating some of the reviews on Goodreads. My own books have been subject to extreme rudeness now and then from people who have read about eight pages. I've seen people giving five star ratings to books that haven't been published yet. Now, that is weird! So is giving a one star rating without reading a book. By all means, say you refuse to read something, but if you haven't read it, don't rate it.

I know at least one reviewer who said horrible things about a particular book, then read not one but both the sequels and was rude about those too - really, would you read a sequel to a book you hated? I wouldn't. I came to the conclusion that this particular reviewer enjoyed saying witty things about the books she hated and having around 1000 admiring comments from her followers.

But hey, you need a thick skin to survive in this occupation. As a slush reader, I have come across whinges and whines on author blogs and writer forums about those horrible people at ASIM who were rude about their babies when they rejected their works of genius. Get over it, guys! Grow a thicker skin and just submit somewhere else, or you might have an even harder time when you do have something published.

The thing is, when I was growing up, there was no Internet. Books were reviewed in newspapers and magazines by professionals. Now, anyone can be a reviewer, just as  anyone can be a published writer. It's a different world. We just have to live with it and hopefully we can do that while remaining civil to each other.

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21. Getting In Touch With Well Known Writers In The Days After Snail Mail


Many, many years ago, when the Internet was unknown, I found a wonderful book directory to children's writers. Many of the bios featured a mailing address. I sent a letter - not an email - to Susan Cooper, author of The Dark Is Rising series, who was a huge name in those days. She replied. The typewriter was manual and the print a bit pale. As a children's writer, she was used to being in contact with her fans. I have to say, things have changed even with her since then. She has a profile on Goodreads, but you can only become a fan, not a friend. You can't contact her any more. Perhaps she can't cope with all the fan mail any more or maybe she is simply fed up with emails from yet another PhD candidate doing a thesis on her work. 

I don't really blame her, if that's the case, though there are other children's writers who have found ways around the hugeness that is the Internet and stayed connected with their young fans. Tamora Pierce, for example. You can still friend her, and unlike many other writers who are only on Goodreads and Twitter because their publishers advised them to have a social media profile,  but don't actually write about the books they read or do any tweeting, she blogs and reviews books by other people. Plenty of Australian children's writers still communicate, too many to list here. Barbara Hambly has a Livejournal, as does George R.R.Martin(and I got a response to a comment even from him once). 

Some folk say, "I can write more books or I can communicate, not both." Some can theoretically be contacted via their agents, but only theoretically. Agents make their money on their clients' sales. If a client had to reply to the people who read their books, they would have less time to write more stuff or appear at writers' festivals and make money for themselves and, through them, their agents. I totally get that. 

I just don't think it's very polite to ignore reasonable inquiries or, at best, reply and tell the inquirer to piss off. One such agent replied to my inquiry a few years back. I found another writer for my wonderful student Selena to interview, one who was just as well known, but checked his own web site and was willing at least to hear what I had to say. 

It feels weird, in this day and age, to think that it's harder to contact some writers than it was back in the days when you could only make contact by snail mail. If nothing else, you could write to their publishers, who would pass it on. 

In the last couple of years, I have been able to arrange for interviews for several of my students with the authors of books they had read and loved in Literature Circles. Last year, the delightful Felice Arena answered questions from our kids, making one young man so happy that he carried around a printout of the blog post for weeks. Li Cunxin, author of Mao's Last Dancer, who had a ballet to direct and a tour to organise, nevertheless responded to questions by some other students. True gentlemen both! I wouldn't have blamed them if they'd said no, but they said yes.

This year, I have been able to arrange for an interview with Jenny Mounfield, author of The Ice-Cream Man, a children's thriller published by Ford Street(Stand by!).

But two of my other students, very good readers and intelligent kids, have asked to interview a well known US writer who has a Twitter account(nine tweets, all on the one day, then never again), who writes for a big name US newspaper, who is on the books of a speaker agency. He has a Goodreads profile, but no friends and no books, just an option to be his fan. I could understand a no, though I'd be disappointed, but no reply at all? That is just rude! 

I have emailed on their behalf to his publisher, his agency, his newspaper. I have even tweeted. So far, no response, not even a "piss off, he's too busy". 

I will have to tell the kids to do something else, though they have, just in case, prepared some good questions.

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22. Jenny Mounfield Is Interviewed By Alanah, Gea, Mady, Chloe, Hope, Zoe, Deetroyt and Eric

If you've followed this blog long enough, you will know that I am sometimes able to offer our English students the opportunity to interview some of the wonderful authors of books they read for Literature Circles. We've come a long way from the old style book report and the days when it was really exciting if you could make a book cover. This year's interview is with Jenny Mounfield, author of the very exciting thriller for teens, The Ice-Cream Man. In it, three very silly boys have a go at an ice cream man on a hot summer afternoon, when he doesn't stop for them, and spend the rest of the novel regretting it. But things aren't always what they seem...

Thank you very much, Jenny, for taking time to speak with our students. Because our school is in Sunshine, Victoria, Jenny has kindly added a couple of pictures from her childhood, when she lived there.


The Ice-Cream Man—Q&A



How did you come up with the idea of The Ice-Cream Man?

The idea came from my eldest son, Dan, who was around 13 at the time. We’d recently moved house and Dan had a friend over. The boys decided to go for a walk one lazy Saturday afternoon to check out the neighbourhood. When they came home they told me how they’d played a game of cat and mouse with the ice-cream man: following him from street to street, waving him down and then running off etc. The poor man was quite irate by the end of it, which Dan and Tom thought hilarious – as boys do! I, on the other hand, was horrified, imagining all sorts of dire consequences: What if the ice-cream man had seen where Dan lived and wanted revenge? The next morning I had the plot for The Ice-cream Man firmly fixed in my mind.

Note: The ice-cream man (thankfully) never sought revenge on Dan and Tom.

We heard of Marty in the wheelchair and how that character was based on your son. Can you tell us anything about that?

Since Dan inspired the story, I felt it only fitting one of the characters should be based on him. Like Marty, Dan used to get up to all sorts of mischief in his wheelchair. There was nothing he couldn’t do in that chair. It was only after I’d written the first draft of the story that it occurred to me how important it is to have characters like Marty in books. 

Dan, who is now 24, has cerebral palsy. He’s been in a wheelchair since the age of 10 when surgery on his Achilles tendons didn’t go to plan. Rather than make him more ‘disabled’, the wheelchair gave him a freedom he’d never had before. I hope that Marty changes a few people’s view of what disability is – and isn’t.

What was your favourite part of the book and why?

The climax, of course! I love it when a story comes together.


4. Was The Ice-cream Man based on a true story?

See above.

5.Are your characters based on real people?

Apart from the connection between Marty and Dan, Aaron is loosely based on a boy Dan went to school with (no names).

6. How many other books have you written and can you tell us a little bit about them?

I’ve had three other books for younger kids published: Storm Born, The Black Bandit and Haunted Beach. To varying degrees these three involve supernatural elements. Storm Born features a horse that is made from storm clouds; The Black Bandit is about a crow seeking revenge on a car, and Haunted Beach is about ghosts and spells.



7. What other genre do you like besides thriller?

I love SF - but not too techie – and some fantasy (I’m over swords and dragons). I’m rather partial to a good mystery, too, and anything that can be classified as ‘weird’.

8. What would you say to someone if they wanted to be an author?

Only do it if you love it. Don’t do it because you think it’ll make you rich because odds are it won’t. 

9. Do any other authors inspire you, or used to?

Stephen King and Paul Jennings – both for their incredible imaginations.

10. Are you currently working on any books?

I’m taking a break at the moment. Over the past couple of years I’ve become bogged down with all the technicalities of writing and publication that I lost touch with the magic of simply creating. I’m taking time out this year to paint, which I’m enjoying very much. When I’m ready to write again, I have about a dozen stories at various stages of completion – as well as many new ideas. New story ideas never stop flowing!

11. What inspired you to become an author?

I’ve always LOVED books, but never seriously considered trying to write one until my youngest son was starting school. I felt I needed something to fill my newly empty days and read an ad for a children’s story writing course. It took me awhile to sign up because I was afraid I’d suck at it. But I had a wonderful tutor who encouraged me to keep going until I found success. 

I should note that even if I had never had a story published signing up for that course would still be one of the best decisions I ever made. When we create, whether it’s stories or pictures or cakes, we can’t fail. The act of creation is what matters, not the result.

12. How old were you when you became an author?

I’m living proof that it’s never too late to try something new! I was 39 when I enrolled in the writing course and 44 when my first book, Storm Born was published.





AUTHOR BIO

Jenny Mounfield



Jenny Mounfield lives north of Brisbane with her husband, two of her three grown children and assorted pets. She spent most of her childhood travelling around Australia, living everywhere from Lord Howe Island to Darwin. 

Jenny has published four novels for young readers—Storm Born, The Black Bandit, The Ice-cream Man and Haunted Beach—and had a number of short stories included in Pearson and Ford St anthologies.


Jenny at primary school in Sunshine.


Jenny's old home in Sunshine.

If you want to buy The Ice-Cream Man, here's the Ford Street link.

 http://www.fordstreetpublishing.com/ford/index.php/ford-street-titles/books/140-the-ice-cream-man

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23. Newest Ford Street Event

If you live in Melbourne and want to hear a couple of great Aussie children's writers/artists, I just got this from my lovely publisher, Paul Collins. It's to be held in their new warehouse(Paul tells me it's not huge, but still...). I haven't seen it yet, myself. The event is on November 14 and all the details are below. Should be a fun evening. I might wander along once I check my calendar to make sure it doesn't clash with anything. This is the booking slip, if you want to fill one out, just go to the Ford Street Publishing web site; Creative Net is the Ford Street speakers agency(I'm on the list, but no one has asked for me yet, dammit!)



An Evening with...

Flyer-10-10-2014

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24. New Page On The Great Raven(and an update)

Okay, firstly, I've updated the page on the side where it tells you where you can get my books. Now that Crime Time is available in ebook, I fixed that up, adding another website, Boomerang Books, which now has Crime Time in paperback, as well as an interview with me, a very good one, by Julie Fison, a fellow Ford Street writer who writes for Boomerang, as does my friend George Ivanoff. Go check it out here, when you have time.

I have also added a page.

I have spoken to you of the story I wrote as a submission for Fablecroft's Cranky Ladies Of History anthology. It was a story I worked hard on and love. Trouble is, it's historical fiction. It's very difficult these days to sell historical fiction, especially in short form. I know the lovely History Girls did an anthology, but it was only written by their members, all top historical novelists. I was worried about what I'd do with it if it didn't sell. Well, it didn't sell.  Not because it wasn't good enough, but because my heroine might have been transgender, if that's what you call someone who feels like a man trapped in a female body. Personally, I don't think so, with all the research I did, just that she was a girl who wanted to be a doctor and took the only way she could, and I don't think it matters anyway after all these years, but when you have an anthology called Cranky Ladies Of History, I guess you don't want to take a chance that one of the ladies might have been a lad, if a lad who almost certainly had a baby. (Nor could I try for an LGBT anthology, if there was one, because I present her as, well, a her).

But that's publishing for you. No point in getting cranky with the publishers, who will, I have no doubt, produce a fabulous collection. Writers have to develop thick skins to survive.

If this was speculative fiction, I'd simply find another market for it. But it's historical fiction. Right now, there are no other markets for it. It would be a shame to leave a story I put so much work into in the metaphorical bottom drawer, so until there is another market, I'm giving it to you, my readers. I have copied and pasted it into that page for those who just want to read it, and made a basic ePub ebook on Creative Bookbuilder for those of you who'd like it in ebook - just follow the link to Dropbox. Sorry, mobi readers, my app doesn't do mobi. But you can read it online.

Do take a look.

After having been burned by one attempt at historical fiction, I'm about to see if I can produce something usable for Paul Collins, who has kindly invited me to submit historical fiction for his next anthology for children. He really prefers bushranger fiction to stuff set in the sixties or seventies, the era I know best, and he has been very supportive of my writing over the years, so it's off to the library to immerse myself in the Victorian era in Australia, and see what I can come up with. Fingers crossed that this one will happen for me! 

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25. The Halloween Post

Okay, it's a bit past Halloween and I live in a part of the world where we are looking forward to summer, not winter, but it's still a good excuse to talk about the traditions and the books...



The other day, Halloween, I did a research sheet with my history class, concerning Halloween and the Mexican Day of the Dead, November 1-2. We're studying the Aztecs and the Spanish conquest of the New World and the Aztecs had a whole festival dedicated to the ancestors and beloved dead who, they believed, should be celebrated, not mourned. As other Christians had done before them in pagan Europe, the Spanish tried to talk them out of it, then incorporated it into their own feasts, in this case All Saints Day and All Souls Day.  The students enjoyed this, I think - one of them, Brodie, told me all about the Celtic traditions, including dressing up your children as evil spirits to hide them from the real ones(that one I hadn't heard!) and young Joubert told me about the traditions in his homeland of Malaysia, where you know it's time to clean the graves when there are moths in the house(it tends to be August, though)  - and I ended the period by giving them all some chocolate and wishing them an enjoyable long weekend and such. 

As my own contribution to the festival, I'm thinking of books with themes related to this time of year and the mood it raises. First up is Ray Bradbury's wonderful Something Wicked This Way Comes, a novel set in a small town in which a sinister carnival has come to town. I read it in a single sitting and I loved that the town was saved by the boy's father, the local librarian. ;-)  Apparently, it was vaguely autobiographical, except that he took a nice incident that inspired the young Bradbury to start writing and turned it into a wonderful, atmospheric piece of horror fiction. It's my favourite piece of Bradbury writing.

Another suitable-for-this-post Ray Bradbury novel is Death Is A Lonely Business, which starts on Halloween, at midnight, in a cemetery, and isn't horror fiction! It's a mystery novel set in Hollywood in the 1940s, with a character based on Bradbury's good friend, the SFX wizard Ray Harryhausen. I thought it great fun, though t wasn't what I was expecting. I picked it up remaindered and it was a good bargain.

While I'm on Ray Bradbury, he wrote a series of lighthearted stories about the Elliott family,  who are sort of like the Addams Family(I think that was on purpose). Among them is Uncle Einar, who has green wings(his wife makes him fly carrying the laundry to get it dry), Cecy who travels with her mind, a mummy great grandmother and the "abnormal" thirteen year old boy who, like Marilyn in The Munsters, is frustrated because he's not like the rest of the family. There's a "fixup novel" From The Dust Returned, which connects the six Family stories. 

I found Dracula much easier to read than I had expected. A lot of 19th century classics are bogged down in waffle, much as I love them, but Dracula is written in letters, diary entries and such, so even teens who are reluctant readers shouldn't have too much trouble with it. If you don't get it right away, at least the "chapters" are short and not too formal. I remember thinking as I was reading, "No, you idiot, don't open the window! Leave the garlic flowers in place! Dracula is out there!" Very exciting! It was almost a single-sitting read. When our students have read about a million YA vampire romances, I suggest they try this one. If they can wade through four thick as a brick Stephenie Meyer novels, they shouldn't have too much trouble with this slim volume in which the vampire is definitely not the good guy. 

I must admit, I couldn't get past the first volume of the Twilight series. I thought it boring. So sue me! Stephenie Meyer is doing very nicely without my admiration. I bought the series anyway, for the library, two sets actually, because they kept going missing. The kids were passing them around among themselves, excited by a book, and as a good librarian I felt I had to make them available, though nothing would persuade me to read past the original book.

I personally think of Frankenstein as being science fiction as much as horror; the young author took the science known in her time - the guy who made a frog's leg jump with electricity - and extrapolated from there. "What if...?" That's the basis of good SF. 

I only recently read Rosemary's Baby by Ira Levin, though I've read some of his other books. It wasn't as scary as I had thought it might be, probably because after all these years and the movie, everyone KNOWS what it's about and how it is going to end. But, as the introduction to the ebook version says, it's the first time that a horror novel was set, not in far Transylvania or wherever, not even in a haunted house, but in the protagonist's own ordinary home in the big city. Now, THAT is scary!

Really, you can read anything by Ira Levin if you're in a mood to read scary stuff. The Boys From Brazil - someone is cloning Hitler. The Stepford Wives - someone is building robots to be perfect wives. 

Come to think of it, read Margo Lanagan's Sea-Hearts(The Brides Of Rollrock Island outside Australia). It's not horror fiction, it's lovely, lyrical fantasy with selkies, but it asks some of the same questions as The Stepford Wives.

Most books by Stephen King will put you in the mood. Personally, I prefer his short fiction and his non fiction to the novels, but I will get around to reading more of them some time.

Susan Cooper's children's book The Dark Is Rising is set at Christmas, but has the right mood for this time of year, with a lot of atmospheric scenes, including one with the Wild Hunt. And while you're reading children's books you might like to try Alan Garner's The Owl Service ( three children reliving the story of Llewelyn Llaw, Goronwy and Bloddeuedd) or Weirdstone of Brisingamen.

I can't finish without mentioning Dan Simmons. His novel Carrion Comfort featured mind vampires, who can manipulate people with their telepathic powers. It was scary! His book Children Of The Night was about Dracula -the historical Dracula aka Vlad Tepes -who actually IS a vampire but not undead, it's a genetic anomaly which allows the lucky person to live as long as he likes because he has an extra organ that regenerates his cells. But it needs blood to process - preferably someone else's blood. So Dracula is still alive, now a billionaire who has put all his energy that used to be for fighting into making money. He has read the Stoker novel, of course, and thinks it's crap. I won't say more lest you wish to read it, but it's very entertaining. 

I loved  Simmons' Hyperion, which was set in the 29th century and meant to be a sort of Canterbury Tales, but had the favour of dark fantasy anyway. 

And I must end with a plug for my own novel Wolfborn, which climaxes in a scene on Samhain eve, with a massive storm, an evil werewolf fighting a good werewolf and the Wild Hunt riding.  Get it in ebook from Amazon or iTunes and you could be reading it in five minutes. Go on, read it -you know you want to.  :-)

Anyone got some more "Halloween" books to recommend?



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