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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. 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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2. 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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3. 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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4. 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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5. 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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6. 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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7. 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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8. 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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9. 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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10. 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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11. 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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12. 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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13. 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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14. 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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15. 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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16. 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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17. 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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18. Look What I Got! My Contributor's Copy!

Look what I have just picked up from the PO!


Isn't it lovely? My first sale for the year(so far my only - still waiting to hear about the others...)

And here's the page with my name on it.


I don't care how many sales I make, it's always, always exciting to see a printed page with your story and your name  on it. 

And lastly, here is the illo, done by the amazing David Allan, a regular artist for Christmas Press and me of the three who run it.


A great book, with stuff by a mixture of new and established writers. Buy it! 

Thank you to Sophie Masson,who invited me to submit something, and to the editor, Beattie Alvarez,and the   rest of the Chrissie press bunch.

If you want to know more, look them up on www.christmaspress.com.au

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19. Marianne De Pierres - Spec Fic Masterclass In Melbourne And Geelong

I have only just heard about this from someone on the Andromeda Spaceways list. If you write speculative fiction or have ambitions in that direction and live in Melbourne, you might like to try Marianne De Pierres's Masterclass this weekend. It will be on in Geelong on Saturday and at Melbourne's Wheeler Centre, which is at the side/ back of the State Library in the city. It's $180 for an all-day workshop, well worth doing.

I first met Marianne at the Aussiecon 3 writers' workshop, where we all had to send in 4500 words of a work in progress, read it and discuss. I missed a lot of that workshop because I had to go off and arrange Terry Pratchett's talk to the children, but I do remember how nice she was. She has since visited my school for free and talked to my book club and popped up stuff about it on her web site.

And is a big name local writer who has created some amazing worlds from cyberpunk to space opera to YA dystopia. Onya, Marianne!

Do go if you can!

Here's the link for you - you can book online.

http://writersvictoria.org.au/what-s-on/event/spec-fic-masterclass/

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20. ASIM 60 Is Now Up!


Okay, Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine, the issue I edited, has actually been out since June, when we took it to Continuum 10, the Natcon. But you could only get it at conventions, because the ebook was not yet done and until the book version was available, it couldn't go up on the ASIM website, in the shop.  

I am so very pleased. I have already informed my contributors, some of whom wanted to update their websites, some who wanted to let their family and friends buy copies. 

Anyway, it's a gorgeous issue. The cover is inspired by a story in the issue, "Callista's Delight", and shows the planet Mars in the first steps of being terraformed. The artist, Eleanor Clarke, offered me three possible covers, but this was the most breathtakingly beautiful. 

The stories and internal art(by award winner and all round nice guy Lewis Morley) are also amazing. 





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21. To Kill A Mockingbird Now Digital!

And I have bought it from iBooks!

I was thinking abut wat I might read for Banned Books Week before it's quite over when I suddenly remembered tat this amazing book is now available in digital form. Wondering if it was out yet, I opened iBooks at a bus stop... And there it was!

This is a book of which I will never tire. The students at my school do ask for it now and then. The only copy we had was a battered old paperback with the same yellow colour as it had when I was in my teens.

I must add it to my shopping list.

I know that some of my favourite students who had to study it didn't like it, which is a pity, but one of them, Ryan, chose it for his Banned Books Week reading - and he read it well and chose a very good bit that said something of what the book is about.

It's about so many things - not only racism, but growing up - and it's not only sad, it's funny and gentle and it also makes a point about prejudice against people who are simply different.

In The Help, one of the maids, who ges to clean at the home of a woman who has been snubbed by the community. By the bedside, she finds a copy of Mockingbird, which was new at te time hen the vl is set.

It also has mentions in various other books, such as another wonderful banned book my students were loving, The Perks Of Bring A Wallflower, in which the hero is reading a bunch of classics as extensions English. Even if I didn't like the book, I'd be pleased at how many classics are discussed in this one.

And there's a cheeky reference to the film in Pleasantville - no, I won't ell you, get yourself a copy from the video library and watch.

Any other Mockingbird fans out there?

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22. On This Day: September 27: A Birthday Meme For Jonah!

Today is my great-nephew Jonah's third birthday. When he was born, I couldn't get the "Jonah-Man Jazz" out of my head and found it on YouTube. 

But today, my dearest Jonah, I will find some famous events and birthdays for you. Not all of them are going to be book-related, since there are so few, but all of them will be interesting - and as colourful as I can find.

On This Day: 

1066 - William of Normandy sets off to conquer England. (They'll teach you all this in Year 8)

1822 - Jean-Francois Champollion announces he's translated the Rosetta Stone. The Rosetta Stone was a stone found in Egypt that had three forms of writing on it - Greek, Egyptian "demotic" script and hieroglyphics. Now, in those days they could read Ancient Greek and demotic script, but not hieroglyphics. It was nothing very exciting, just something about the new king, but the thing is, it was the same decree in both the known scripts, so Champollion figured the hieroglyphs probably said the same thing. Tad da! Code cracked! Ever since then, when someone mentions that "this is the Rosetta Stone of..." whatever, it's about code cracking.

1905 - First publication of a blues song, this one called "Memphis Blues"

1998 - Google is launched! 

Birthdays On This Day

John Marsden, author of the Tomorrow When The War Began series and lots more. How cool is THAT! 

Irvine Welsh, author of Trainspotting, which was turned into a classic movie. 

And because I couldn't find any other writers I'd heard of, I'm slotting in an actor, Greg Morris, who played the technician Barney in the original Mission Impossible series - his son was in the remake, which was filmed here in Australia, as Barney's son, and his Dad made an guest appearance in the series as Barney.

Today is also World Tourism Day, which is kind of nice, since Jonah's Dad, my nephew Mark, is a travel agent when he isn't performing with his rock band or composing new songs. This year's theme is Tourism And Community Development. 

Happy birthday, Jonah!


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23. Vale Eugie Foster! (Reposted from the ASIM blog)

In yesterday's ASIM list, I read the sad news below. I posted it to the official ASIM blog, but thought it might also be worth posting it here. Eugie isn't the first ASIM writer to pass away in the last year. We also lost the delightful Gitte Christensen, who will, I hope, be the subject of another post.

Sad news this time. Sorry to hear that Eugie Foster (an author we published in ASIM) has lost her fight with cancer.

bests

Eds
__________________________________________________________________________________________
Eugie Foster, author, editor, wife, died on September 27th of respiratory failure at Emory University in Atlanta.
In her forty-two years, Eugie lived three lifetimes. She won the Nebula award, the highest award for science fiction literature, and had over one hundred of her stories published. She was an editor for the Georgia General Assembly. She was the director of the Daily Dragon at Dragon Con, and was a regular speaker at genre conventions. She was a model, dancer, and psychologist. She also made my life worth living.
Memorial service will be announced soon.
We do not need flowers. In lieu of flowers, please buy her books and read them. Buy them for others to read until everyone on the planet knows how amazing she was.
--Matthew M. Foster (husband)
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Issues of ASIM in which Eugie appeared:

Issue 14 Body And Soul Art
Issue 18 The Life And Times Of Penguin
Issue 37 The Better To...

The first on the list, from an issue edited by Zara Baxter, is still available on the web, including in ebook, so it must have been a story of which she was proud. The third story is one I got in slush. It's a futuristic version of Little Red Riding Hood, as I recall, though not played for laughs, with a male RRH character.

Condolences to the family - and to the spec fic community, who have lost far too many storytellers in recent years.

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24. On This Day: September 30 Meme

What happened:

Lots of battles! Too many, in my opinion. Never mind

1399: Henry IV, the subject of a lot of literature(Three plays by Shakespeare, if you count Richard II, plenty of novels) is proclaimed King of England.

1791: First performance of Mozart's gorgeous opera, The Magic Flute. There's also a Marion Zimmer Bradley novel inspired by it.  Being MZB, of course, she had to be terribly serious about it. Can't recall the title.

1955: Death of young actor James Dean, at the start of a promising career. Jack Dann's novel, The Rebel, is an alternative universe tale in which he survived.

Birthdays:

1913 Screenwriter Bill Walsh. Never heard of him? Well, if you saw Walt Disney movies in your childhood, you've probably seen at least one of his films. The Absent-Minded Professor and its sequel, Son Of Flubber. Mary Poppins. The Love Bug. Bedknobs And Broomsticks. And more.

1924 Truman Capote. I bet you've heard of him, even if you've never read his work. I have just learned that he was not only a childhood friend of Harper Lee, he was the inspiration for the character of Dill in To Kill A Mockingbird and some of his experiences were written into the novel.

There are some writers, including a number of spec fic writers but I haven't heard of them, so I'll add one death, in 1987, Alfred Bester, a big name spec fic writer, who was honoured in Babylon 5, by having a villain named after him, the Psi-Cop Alfred Bester. The telepath situation in the series is similar to that in his fiction.

And today, never mind what the Blogger date says, is International Blasphemy Day, when you are encouraged to go and say something rude about religion! :-)





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25. Bloggers Like Me And Marketing Companies

I have had three inquiries in the last two days from marketers paid by "indy" writers to organise blog tours for them. I've deleted all the inquiries without reply because they didn't bother to read my guidelines, such as checking their market. 

Well, they don't. Time - their time, not yours - is money. Like spammers, they figure if they send their inquiry to 1000 blogs, at least some will reply. And they're probably right about that. I'm just one of the many who won't.

I've seen these websites when, out of curiosity, I followed a link or looked them up after deleting their inquiry. They have scales of payment according to the services offered. Bug 100 blogs for you, $275. Pester 1000, $500. Organise fifty blog tours for you... And so on. If the inquiries I've had over the years are any indication, they don't do a very good job. 

Things have changed a lot since I started writing and being published. Promotions and marketing are HUGE now, since anybody and everybody can and does publish, even if they have to do it themselves. Services flow in to fill the space. It must be a bit like running a shop on the goldfields - why go and dig for gold that might never turn up when you can make definite money selling to the diggers?

Of course, goldfield shopkeepers had to supply the product or they ran the risk of being bashed up by crotchety diggers. Whereas many of these businesses don't. You can't get bashed up on the Internet, can you? Though you might just get a mention on such web sites as Writer Beware... And you have to be able to wade through them to find out which are value for money. Personally, if I was a self publisher I'd rather spend my money on a decent editor and a great cover artist and do my own marketing. Goodness knows, even as someone who doesn't self publish, I have to do quite a lot of marketing myself, because publishers don't bother with you any more once the book is out. The only publisher I have ever had which gave me ongoing support is Ford Street, a small press. And even Ford Street can't do everything. 

I don't always get responses myself, even though I do the right thing - I check out the potential blog "market", I email personally. Once, when I did send out a group email, I apologised to the bloggers, explaining it was a matter of urgency, but assuring them I had checked all of them out carefully before choosing them to approach. I think I heard from about three out of several. 

When I do reply, it's because the inquirer has done the right thing, addressing me by name, mentioning the name of my blog and showing me they have read my guidelines. Even if my answer is no, I am always polite and sometimes suggest another blog that might work better for them.

And I do get some interesting requests. Recently I heard from a young blogger, a girl of fourteen(about the age of my Year 8 students) who's blogging about classic novels and is a Tolkien freak. She asked me for a review of something by one of a list of classic writers, because she was doing a section on her blog about this and had noticed I do these things. I sent her a copy of a post I did on this site about one of Rosemary Sutcliff's books. When I hear from her that the post is live I will put the link up here. If I don't hear from her again because her mother is making her do her homework instead of blogging or school has started or whatever, well, it was an interesting experience and her blog is very pretty. 

Sometimes I offer a guest post to someone who has done the right things, but whose book I really don't have time to read, or who lives in the US or wherever, from which postage is just too much, since it's my policy not to review ebooks. I ask them to give me a post which is more than just a press release. When they send me a post that does it right - tells me about the author and why they wrote the book and what they had in mind and maybe the research they had to do - it makes a great post. When they ignore my request and send me a press release - usually via the marketing company they have hired -  I say no. My readers deserve better when they visit this site than advertising. I have unfollowed a few blogs that started off promising but whose posts  ended up as pure advertising. 

So it's rarely that I respond to professional marketing companies. Sometimes, yes, when they follow the guidelines, but rarely. I know they're just doing their job, but there's something heartless about this procedure.

What do you think? What would it take for you to employ a marketing company? 


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