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Saturday, November 16, 2019

Rejoice! John M Ford Soon To Be Back!

Well, not John M Ford himself, who died some years ago. But his wonderful books have mostly been out of print since he died, and now they are soon to be back in print.

The story I have heard is that his family allowed them all to go out of print, but apparently this is not so.  This guy I found on Twitter, Isaac Butler, did an 18 month investigation on it, after discovering The Dragon Waiting, Ford’s gorgeous novel of alternative history, set in England during the Wars of the Roses, but - an England in a world where paganism survived and Christianity is just some minor sect. Also, fantasy. Magic exists and vampirism is a disease, not a matter of being undead. I have a copy rescued from my school library when the school closed down.



If you are a Star Trek fan, you might be interested in his Klingon novel, The Final Reflection. I remember when it came out and all my fannish friends who were into things Klingon used it as their “Bible”. And I’m pretty sure a lot of other Klingon fans around the world did the same.



Anyway, Isaac Butler went around contacting Ford’s family members, who said no, they hadn’t deliberately suppressed the works and were only too happy to see them come back into print. He wrote an article about it for Slate.com. Read it here. Not only will his existing works be reprinted, but some which were unpublished at the time of his death.

An interesting comment was that if The Dragon Waiting had been a five book series, he might have been as successful as George R R Martin. I guess we will never know about that, but I can see why he thinks so. If you haven’t read it yet, you can look forward to reading it late next year. If you have, there will be plenty more of his books to enjoy.

I’m so delighted by this! 

Friday, November 15, 2019

On Romantic Comedy!

A chat on Twitter the other day gave me the idea for this post. A lady who writes romantic comedy was bemoaning the fact that she was sneered at for her genre. As a writer of children’s, YA and speculative fiction, I could relate to that. We, too, get sneered at, and people who have no idea what it involves ask you when you are going to write a real book, or think that they could do it too if only they had the time. 

I sympathised with the lady and we agreed that sometimes you just need to know that all will be well at the end of the book. I added that Pride And Prejudice was a rom com. 

While romance of the Mills and Boon variety is not my cup of tea, I do respect the authors and their skills that I know I will never possess - a pity, because a friend of mine who did write it years ago told me that, whatever her arguments with her publishers, she stuck it out,  because it paid! You could live very comfortably on two books a year! 

You do have to love what you write and take it seriously, or your readers won’t. Of course, that applies to all writing. Even when I write an education book, I just write a story, fiction or non, that I would enjoy reading, and learn something new each time. I’ve just done a phonics reader aimed at kids in their first year of school, but it had a story, and the editor described the storyline as “adorable”. I got all that into 250 words. In a 150 word reader I got the story of a family taking their pet goat to compete in the Goat Cup. It was short but over the top in humour.

The thing is, though, while people without any real interest in children’s books will tell you their idea and that their own children loved it, they expect you to write it for them, because “I don’t have time right now.” People who don’t enjoy romance fiction assume it must be easy, all they have to do is use some formula and bang! Bestseller! 

Well, I don’t think so. Readers of romance expect to be entertained from the very beginning, just like young readers. Not everyone can do that, and certainly not if the author doesn’t read the sort of thing they are writing. By the way, I believe vampire romance started in the regular adult romance area, along with the erotic and the adventure romance, and now it’s a regular part of YA fiction. 

While I’m not a fan of mainstream romance, I do enjoy romantic comedy. For those who think it’s all light, fluffy stuff that doesn’t deserve respect, I’d like to talk about some rom coms that people do respect, even those who think it’s nothing important. 

I’ll start briefly with the YA rom coms of Aussie author Lili Wilkinson, who, alas, has given up the genre in favour of Serious Stuff. I’m not saying there is anything wrong with what she is writing now, but I can tell you the girls I worked with as a teacher librarian loved the gentle, humorous romances she used to write and were disappointed when she stopped writing them. 

Lili’s romance books were so much borrowed in my library that they were rarely on the shelves. They were sweet and, above all, funny - over the top funny.



A Pocketful Of Eyes, for example, features a girl who is doing a part time job at a museum of natural history, helping with the taxidermy(hence the eyes of the title). When her supervisor is found murdered on the premises, she and the cute boy she is working with investigate. She also has a wacky mother who is into online gaming and D and D. It’s hilarious! 



The last one I read, which may have been her last rom com, was Green Valentine, reviewed on this site, involving a couple of teens, a nerdy girl with a passion for the environment and the school “bad boy” doing guerrilla gardening late at night, challenging the developers. Thing is, they first met when she was in a lobster costume, handing out leaflets, and he doesn’t know there is a connection.

Guess what? Shakespeare wrote rom com. A Comedy Of Errors featured twins separated as young children, when their ship was wrecked. One went home to Syracuse with his father, the other was brought up in Ephesus. The Syracuse twin turns up in Ephesus, where he is mistaken for his (married) brother and falls in love with the wife's sister... That was turned into a musical, The Boys From Syracuse

Twelfth Night?  Very much a rom com! Like A Comedy Of Errors, it has twins in it, a girl and a boy, also shipwrecked. The girl, Viola, disguises as a boy and gets a job with the local Duke, Orsino, with whom she falls in love. The Duke, however, is courting a lady called Olivia, who says she is not interested because she is in mourning. That doesn’t last long, of course, when Olivia falls for the Duke’s handsome young messenger - Viola. When Viola’s brother, Sebastian, turns up, Olivia grabs him and marries him on the spot... you can probably guess what happens with Viola and Orsino. Oh, and this one was updated as a YA movie, She’s The Man, set in a boarding school, where Viola has disguised as a boy to play soccer, after her own team is scrapped. I used that film as part of my Year 8 introduction to Shakespeare. 

My favourite, though, is Much Ado About Nothing. Two strong, intelligent people, Beatrice and Benedick, are always making wisecracks at each other, acting as if they hate each other, when anyone else can see they are crazy about each other, including their friends, who decide to get them together. 

So, if even the Immortal Bard could write romantic comedy, why should we disrespect the genre? 



Sunday, November 10, 2019

Remembrance Day And Great War Books

So, 101 years ago today, World War I finished. It was a horrendous war, with a lot of deaths, and afterwards there was the Spanish Flu epidemic, with plenty more deaths.

I thought, as this is a book blog, I’d mention some books on the theme of what was then known as the Great War, the war to end war. 

I’ll start off off with Aussie novelist Pamela Rushby’s YA novel Flora’s War, published in 2013 by Ford Street Publishing. I reviewed it on this web site when it first came out, and enjoyed it very much. 



The heroine, Australian girl Flora Wentworth, is an archaeologist’s daughter who has been coming to Egypt for the digging season for years. She knows her way around and is more comfortable with the Egyptians than are other Westerners. But the year is 1915 and Cairo is being flooded with wounded soldiers from the Gallipoli campaign. Not really the best time to be thinking about archaeological digs! Time, perhaps, for Flora to volunteer her help... 

Despite the cover art of a nurse, Flora has a different job,  learning to drive and ferrying the wounded soldiers to hospital. This novel doesn’t play around; war is hell. 




Aussie children’s and YA novelist Jackie French has also written a series of adult books in a series beginning with Miss Lily’s Lovely Ladies, also reviewed on this site. This, along with With Love From Miss Lily, a Christmas Story, is set before and during the Great War - the others continue the story afterwards. The heroine, Sophie, is a wealthy Australian girl whose father runs a profitable business. When she wants to get married at eighteen, her father feels - rightly - that she is too young and sends her off to England, to stay with the mysterious Miss Lily and a group of girls of her own age at an Earl’s estate. There, Sophie and her new friends learn a lot, before the war begins. Sophie uses her understanding of business and her father’s goods to help soldiers  living through its horrors. She eventually discovers something unexpected about who Miss Lily really is. 

This novel is set in the same universe as this author’s A Rose For The Anzac Boys, in which a group of girls set up a canteen in France, to feed passing wounded soldiers. These girls turn up in this book and the next, The Lily And The Rose

Finally, in this overview of a few Australian books set in this era is Kerry Greenwood’s Murder In Montparnasse




Murder In Montparnasse is in the Phryne Fisher series. You probably know about this 1920s Melbourne sleuth already. In this novel, we learn something about Phryne’s past, from the time when she had returned from the war to live in Paris as an artist’s model. Phryne ran away from home to France and became an ambulance driver on the battlefields. Now, ten years later, her friends Bert and Cec come to her to ask for her help, when the friends with whom they had a good time one day in Montparnasse, just after the war, have been getting killed off one after another, something to do with a murder they may have witnessed on that day... 

I enjoyed it very much, as I did all the Phryne Fisher novels, although I have to say there were some oddities about the chronology that made no sense - you really have to read it to know what I mean, but never mind, do read it anyway. I suspect that by the time this one was published the editors were not saying “Hang on, this doesn’t make sense...” any more. Fans like me would enjoy it whatever. There are long flashbacks to Phryne’s experiences post war in Paris, which are relevant to the solving of the mystery. 

They did film it for Season 1 of the TV series, but it was not very good. I do suggest reading the book, because if you’ve only seen the episode, you don’t know this story! 


So, what favourite Great War stories can you suggest? 

Friday, November 01, 2019

A Week In My Writing Life!

This was a busy week for me, writing-wise. Well, not so much writing, but about being a writer. 

Sadly, there was one rejection slip, for a Pirates anthology, but it was a personalised one, saying they had actually liked the story and found it one of the more original ones they had received, but they had had so many submissions... I guess that however much they liked it, there were others they liked better. However, they did say they really loved my universe and how about doing one set entirely in that one - it was a portal fantasy - and submitting it for a planned alternative universe anthology they had in mind for next time. And I just might do it, if only to have another story to submit somewhere. I will have to send a thank you email and ask to be put on their mailing list for future anthologies. It’s not often you get publishers these days sending personalised rejections and such kind ones at that. 

I wrote the story, originally, for a Monsters of the Mediterranean anthology, but missed the deadline. Time to look again at the market guides...

On Tuesday I went to the YABBA Awards ceremony, which was hosted this year by Camberwell Girls’ Grammar. Fortunately that school was in easy reach of public transport, two trams from where I live, but easy. However, not wanting to take a chance, I got up at 5.30 a.m to catch the tram along Chapel St near where I live and then a connecting tram, and I was still early, so sat in the sun, working on my notes for the second event of the week. 

The YABBAs are child-nominated and voted awards, like the State Library’s Inkys. There are a number of levels, for picture books, younger readers, older readers and Year 7-9. Other states have their own equivalent awards - these are Victorian, though the authors don’t have to be living here, and some do come from interstate.

 I’ve never been on this shortlist, alas, though I know my own students nominated my books several times. However, they do invite authors to come along for the ceremony and the signing, and you can bring books to sell. So I go when I can. I have only taken students once, when we could get to the school by train and tram, but they were Year 10s, because I could meet them at the station instead of going all the way to school and collecting my younger kids, then making our way to some distant school. And the year I took the Year 10 students, all the rest were from primary schools and were sitting on the floor! A bit undignified for teenagers - there were only five anyway, so I begged chairs for them, and afterwards I told them to go and get their autographs and chat with their favourites while I signed, then meet me in an hour. Afterwards, we had lunch in the city and I gave them some books from a goody bag I had been given, but which I didn’t think were of use to our library. A great day! 

So, this year the awards were handed out - check the winners here at the YABBA site - one by Aaron Blabey(my great nephew Jonah is a big fan!), one by Andy Lee, Morris Gleitzman’s wonderful Once series book, Maybe, and, as usual, the latest Andy Griffiths/Terry Denton Treehouse book. Andy Griffiths was overseas and Morris Gleitzman was also unavailable, so both sent videos and Terry Denton accepted on behalf of both him and Andy. This year’s Graham Davey Award, judged rather than voted by kids, went to the wonderful Melbourne writer/illustrator Gabrielle Wang. I have read pretty much all her books, except the picture book. They are sweet, gentle children’s fantasy novels and one of them, A Ghost In My Suitcase, has been adapted for the stage. I went to see that when it was being performed in Melbourne and loved it - it really caught the spirit of the novel. The Graham Davey Award is recent - last year’s went to Meredith Costain, the partner of my lovely publisher Paul Collins. Meredith doesn’t make a huge fuss about her writing and doesn’t appear in glossy magazines, but she gets a lot of work and recognition within the industry - and kids read her books and love them. Graham Davey was the guy running YABBA for some years and was a storyteller by trade. When he passed away they started thinking about an annual award for authors who were special in one way or another. Both Meredith and Gabrielle deserved it. 

After all that was over, the signings began. I only signed one book, though plenty of autograph sheets, and my bookmarks and mini posters for Crime Time were certainly appreciated! However, one young man said, “My brother has Crime Time.” I asked where his brother was, and the boy next to him grinned and put up his hand. “I loved it!” he said. Happy tears from me... I gave him a bookmark, which he didn’t have. 




Yesterday the temperature soared when I did a Ford Street Publishing gig at Emmaus College, a Catholic school in Vermont South, another suburb on the tram route. It was further than Camberwell, but I got up at 5.00 a.m this time and caught a tram to Richmond, where I got the connecting tram to Vermont South. Even that early in the morning it was too warm to wear long sleeves. Fortunately there was air conditioning at the school. If there hadn’t been, it might have been hard to get the kids to focus. Even as it was, my last session was less attentive than the first two, but there were kids participating. 

The introductory sessions were, first Year 7, then Year 8. The Principal(I think) made a speech to the kids and then Meredith Costain introduced us one by one and we had to introduce ourselves, along with what we were going to do in our sessions. Last time I had a gig I did story outlines, which worked very well. In 50 minutes or less, you really can’t ask kids to write much, or at all, the simplest thing is to do something together. 

This time, though, I was asked by Paul and Meredith to do something about villains, which would give me the excuse to talk about some of the stories from my book. Talking, discussing and making lists on the board with the kids’ help was about all I was able to do, but I chose some of the weirder, wackier stories from Crime Time to share. The first two sessions the kids laughed heartily, and one boy said, twice “Oh, that is hilarious!” I told the same stories in the third session, and got silence, so went on with other stuff. It was the only group that I had to ask a couple of times to not talk while I was, though it was only a small group of kids within the class. The teacher had to ask them too. I’m a teacher, which helps me do these events comfortably, but they aren’t my students.  

I think they sold a couple of copies of Crime Time, I even saw a child carrying one, though nobody asked me to sign it, and I brought my own books to sell. One copy of Your Cat Could Be A Spy was bought by a friend of mine who turned up for the event for some reason and then kindly drove me home afterwards. And someone actually bought a copy of Wolfborn! I brought three copies, but suddenly realised that two were the stained copies I had withdrawn last time. I think I may see if I can do a “special” on those next time, just so someone can enjoy them, even if I lose money on them. 

Someone right now is curling up with my novel and someone else with my book on crime, and my friend with my book on spies. I do hope they enjoy them! 




There was an after-session, then kids were given the chance to buy another book at the stall before the day was over. We were asked to stay where we were to sign. I only signed kids’ autograph booklets, and some from one of my groups had already asked me to sign theirs. But my books were bought anyway. 

I have another gig on November 19, at a school in Mt Eliza. I have a lift for that, because public transport is impossible for that school, but I still have to get up super early and meet my lift at a station near his home, as the school is in the other direction. Hopefully I can find a way, in the time till then to make my villains session more like a writing workshop than a discussion! 



Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Just Finished Rereading,,, Four Rabbi Small Mysteries by Harry Kemelman



I’ve just completed a reread of the first four mysteries in this series, which I haven’t read since my teens! The entire series is now available in ebook, which is probably a good thing, since I suspect the print books are now only available on eBay or ABEBooks. Having them under one cover was convenient for me. They are named for days of the week, and after that there are still a few more titles. 

David Small is the young rabbi of a Conservative Jewish congregation in Barnard’s Crossing, a small New England town. He is the son and grandson of rabbis and wants to be just like his father and grandfather. He is endearingly scruffy. In every single one of these books, he has a quarrel with the board of directors of his synagogue - different people in each one, as they are appointed yearly, but all of them working hard to make his life difficult. He has firm beliefs and he won’t compromise on them, or do anything he regards as hypocritical. That doesn’t make him popular with them, but interestingly the youngsters like him, not because he plays the guitar or tries to be cool - he doesn’t - but because he doesn’t talk down to them and is always honest with them. 

Rabbi Small is the amateur sleuth of this series of cosies. These heroes tend to have a cop buddy; David Small’s cop buddy is the local police chief, Hugh Lanigan. Having a non Jewish friend gives him the excuse to explain the Jewish attitude to various things. 

His wife, Miriam, sometimes wishes he would compromise on some things, but loves and  supports him anyway. What she doesn’t do is participate in the solving of the mysteries, except, in one book, supplying some vital information that helps the men solve it. 

And that’s the thing: they are nice, gentle stories, and after all these years I still like David Small, who uses the logic he has acquired from years of studying and arguing Jewish laws to solve murders, as well as his own powers of observation. But they are somewhat dated. Written in the 1960s and early 1970s, it shows men ruling the roost and their wives doing the domestic work. The temple board is made up entirely of men and women can’t even vote for it, though they do various ladies’ auxiliary type activities. It is mentioned that at other synagogues that is not the case. 

In the fourth book, Monday The Rabbi Took Off, in which David and Miriam go to Israel for three months, Miriam’s efficient aunt Gittel is a social worker, who knows everyone and organises everything, but she is a widow with a grown son. There is no man in her life to look after.  At one point, Gittel tells off a male friend who has let the house get messy while his wife is in hospital, but tidies it herself instead of making him do it.  Miriam takes a (volunteer) job at the hospital and the Smalls’ young son goes to kindergarten, and Miriam still does all the cooking and cleaning while our crime-solving hero spends his days wandering around Jerusalem and stopping for coffee at little cafes. Just as well there is a murder for him to solve! 

I suppose you can always think of them as historical fiction. 

They are worth reading for the small town, small community politics, and while the mysteries are usually solved very late in the book, the rabbi’s logic does make sense. 

If you like cosies and don’t mind when they were written, this series is worth a read. 


Is there a book or series you have reread after many years? How did you feel about it? 

Friday, October 04, 2019

Just Finished Reading...The Blue Rose by Kate Forsyth. Melbourne, Penguin, 2019



Viviane de Faitaud has grown up alone at the Chateau de Belisama-sur-le-Lac in Brittany, for her father, the Marquis de Ravoisier, lives at the court of Louis XVI in Versailles. After a hailstorm destroys the chateau's orchards, gardens and fields an ambitious young Welshman, David Stronach, accepts the commission to plan the chateau's new gardens in the hope of making his name as a landscape designer...


And, as we might expect, they fall in love, but her father has other ideas... I’ve copied some of the cover blurb here, but it is heavy on spoilers, never a good idea. However, this is about my only issue with the book. 

Th novel features not only the French Revolution but a voyage to China, in which David, looking for samples for the Kew Botanical Garden on behalf of Sir Joseph Banks, also searches for a very special red rose to take back for Viviane’s gardens. 

Back in France, Viviane, in Paris, has to fight to survive the Reign of Terror, abandoned by her truly dreadful father.

I hadn’t known about the British voyage to China at this time - or that David Stronach was a real person who went on that voyage on behalf of Joseph Banks, although I can only assume we don’t know much about him, making it possible for the author to connect him romantically with the fictional Viviane. 

Kate Forsyth has shown she can do a fine job of both historical fantasy and straight historical fiction. I’d consider this as the latter - it doesn’t even have the fairytale theme of her previous novel The Beast’s Garden, although there are two very small fantastical elements, one near the beginning, one near the end. And Viviane insists firmly that she is descended from the Lady of the Lake. Brittany is certainly the scene of many Arthurian tales. 

A very readable novel, well worth checking out, even if you prefer fantasy to historical fiction. 


It is available from the usual outlets. If you want it in ebook, that is also easily available from all the usual outlets. Enjoy! 

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Just Finished Reading...Amelia Westlake by Erin Gough




A couple of years ago, this author’s first novel, The Flywheel, was shortlisted for the CBCA Award.  It was a sweet and funny novel about a lesbian girl trying to keep her father’s restaurant running while he was overseas, while falling in love with a flamenco dancer performing across the road every night. Here’s my review of it. 

This one is also funny, in a more over-the-top style, but with a coming-of-age theme and a romance between two girls at a posh private school. The two girls are very different - Harriet, a teacher’s pet student and sports star who has, however, been hiding something unpleasant that happened to her, and Will, gifted artist and the daughter of a divorced couple, now living with her mother in one of Sydney’s less wealthy suburbs, whose mother is still somehow managing to pay her fees. She is passionate about social justice and angry about the way the school is being run. There is a teacher who gives higher marks to her pets, a school hall with excellent facilities that isn’t being used, a fundraising for a second pool - and a teacher who is getting away with sexual harassment. 

The two heroines meet in detention at the start of the novel - Will’s detention, not Harriet’s - and, from hating each other, get together to create a fictional student called Amelia Westlake, first to get some satirical cartoons published in the school newspapers and then to carry out a number of witty pranks to get some justice within the school. 

This does eventually lead to an “I am Spartacus” scene in a Year 12 assembly! 

I know there are reviews out there which consider the characters of the obnoxious staff members hard to swallow, but I didn’t find them so; even working at a disadvantaged school rather than a wealthy privileged one, I met Principals and upper level staff every bit as awful as the ones in this book, though I have to admit I never met one who gave better marks to favoured students. What would happen at report time, when you have to tick off what each student has achieved? And I can tell you that teachers soon know their students’ styles - and when they are plagiarising. 

Which is why I found the “blind” reading hard to swallow; it might happen at the end of year exams but doing it during the year assumes that teachers can’t pick out their students’ styles, and that the kids aren’t cheating. How can you help individual students to improve if you’re supposedly marking them blind? However, without it, there would have been one less prank for “Amelia Westlake” to pull! 

The ending was fairly predictable, but it didn’t seem to matter. 

Readable stuff for older girls. It’s available online and from your good local book stores. I bought mine from Apple Books.