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Monday, September 17, 2018

Preparing For My Writer In Residence!

Next term I will be spending Wednesday mornings as writer in residence at a primary school in Melbourne's south east. It's my first ever go at this. It was arranged by Ardoch, which does the volunteer program in which I've been participating this term. They work with disadvantaged schools to give them freebies they otherwise couldn't afford. A while back, Nick, the guy who is in charge of the western suburbs volunteer program, asked me if I'd consider doing this for the Frankston area, because they were the only ones who hadn't had a chance to do this. I said yes. I haven't done it before and if I can learn how to do it now, I may be able to get some paid gigs next year.

Today I went to the school to have a chat with Jemma, the teacher who is arranging it all. She gave me a printout she had received from Ardoch. I've read it, but it wasn't really what the program is about now. It's aimed at having the kids write little books and drawing covers. The program now involves actually publishing a book professionally, complete with ISBN. What was described in the printout just doesn't allow you to do that. Angela, who does the same job as Nick, but in the south east, dropped in, so I was able to ask her for details. She said that yes, they do have the budget to publish it properly and that in the past they had taken the kids on an excursion to the State Library to present their book. I suggested that perhaps they might consider taking it to the local library. Jemma said that would work well, because the school has free public transport locally and the library is a stop further up the line. And then, Angela suggested, they might be able to get a tour of the library. I'm sure she can arrange that for us when the time comes.

After observing another WIR do a session I got some ideas. She does the actual writing, but the kids work out the storyline with her and get the chance to edit it. She uses things and animals that are around the school as part of the story, plus the theme of the term. She was lucky - their theme was space - whereas the theme for the kids in term 4 at this school is advertising! But there are ways.

The original plan was a special school, which would require quite a lot more thinking to get it going. However, the special school found they couldn't fit this in, so instead they moved on to this school, where not only are there ordinary kids, but the teacher concerned is choosing kids who like writing and may not be keen to let me do it all.  Maybe they can edit.

This is something to think about and perhaps discuss with the other teacher who is keen to join me. She is a proper primary teacher, who might have some better ideas to share.

After our meeting, I walked around the school grounds with Angela, who knows her way around, and took photos of the various parts of the yard. They have a kitchen garden, but it's currently out of action, so I can't work that into the story. They do have a comfort dog, Merlin, who is brought in by his human about three days a week - when I suggested he might be able to be a character in the story, both of them thought it was a good idea. For the Advertising theme, I suggested the possibility of a story in which the characters are preparing an ad for their end of year Christmas concert.

It will have to be kept simple. If the book is going to be properly printed, I can get some illustrators among the kids - perhaps those who are less keen to write(Jemma was pleased with that possibility, as it means she can give a few more kids a chance to take part).

If I'm going to have illustrations, I need a scanner, and mine died on me some years ago, so I stopped at Officeworks, where I'd seen a scanner like the one I used to have, only updated. Most scanners these days are stuck in with printers and faxes - the last thing I need! I was disappointed to find that not only had both scanners of the model I want been sold, but the company is not making them any more! However, the nice man at the counter checked it up for me and found that another of their stores had one left. It was a bit of a distance, three tram rides away, but I went and I picked up that last one and got it home.

And there, I had fun and games getting it installed! For starters, the installation disc was for Windows only, though the box specifically said that you could use it on the Mac - in fact, the minimum requirement was the OS I have. That's why I didn't buy this weeks ago, I had to check if my OS was okay.

However, I went to the web site and found a driver download. I still had struggles with getting it going, but after looking up the problem, I finally got it going, thank heaven! I told my mother that as well as using it for the school thing, I can scan the old family photos so they don't disappear. I have, so far, been taking photos of photos, but I'd rather have a scan. A pity this one doesn't do Word, like the other one, but we can't have everything!

So, that was my writerly day. Off to the shower now, and get ready for tomorrow's morning at the primary school in Sunshine!


Saturday, September 08, 2018

Belated Happy Star Trek Day

On Twitter this morning I noticed a post by SF author Diane Duane, reminding everyone it was Star Trek’s 52nd anniversary. Well, it still is in the US, but here it’s September 9. Ms Duane wrote Star Trek novels, as well as children’s books. The children’s books, for me, had a flavour of C.S Lewis and Madeleine L’Engle, i.e hints of religious belief. But her Star Trek novels were the only ones I read that got the physics right.

Anyway, happy belated Star Trek Day! I posted this on the 50th anniversary, so I will make this post a little different. For me, Star Trek is more than just a TV series I grew up with and loved, a show that started with three seasons and is now a major thing, with several spinoffs and two film series. It’s about writing.

It’s not just the classic SF writers who wrote for the original series(afterwards, they dispensed with most of the real SF writers). It’s those of us who wrote fan fiction, who went on to become professionals. I’ve posted about this before. Here is one. There are more, which you’ll find if you type Fan Fiction into the search box.

I did write stuff before fan fiction, mostly horrible attempts at historical fiction. No, I have no intention of trying to sell it OR self publish! Don’t ask!

But my Star Trek fan fiction was actually published. It taught me to write short fiction. I learned to do characterisation. I learned to research properly(that came in handy in my career as a librarian!). If you got it wrong, the next issue of that fanzine would contain at least one letter to the editor correcting you and complaining. Oh, and because I did fanzine reviews, I learned to write book reviews, including illustrations, so - children’s picture books. Any review you’ve read on this blog I owe to my time as a Trek fanwtiter.

And it taught me that I can write, giving me the confidence to have a go at submitting to paying markets. And I wasn’t the only one. Plenty of big name writers started in fan fiction. Some, such as Kerry Greenwood, admit to still doing it, though in her case it’s only in her head. Her fanfic was Dr Who. 

I did write in other universes - mostly Robin of Sherwood and Blake’s 7 - but Star Trek TOS got me started. I loved the characters and the universe. I wrote my first Trek fan story in my teens, when our English teacher asked us to write a story “suitable for a half hour TV series.” Most of us took that as permission to write fan fiction and nobody paid attention to the half hour thing. I vaguely recall that mine was about Captain Kirk doing one of his “overturning the matriarchy” things and discovering he had stuffed up. I was about fifteen when I wrote that. Wonder what the teacher thought?

Any Trek fans or fan writers reading this? Tell us about it!

And happy birthday Star Trek

Friday, September 07, 2018

Book Blogger Hop: on Visiting The Location Of A Book

This week’s Book Blogger Hop asks if you have ever gone to the location of a book. Well, yes. In fact, I posted about it way back in 2012, in a post called “Going There Because Of Books.” No point in going into great detail here, but I’ve been to book places both here and in England simply because I read about them in a book, or, in one case, heard about it in a song.

That was the song “Nottingham Goose Fair”. I heard it on a recording a friend sent me which was bought at the Sherwood Forest Visitor Centre. It’s a bouncy little song about the delights of the Nottingham Goose Fair, which is held every year in October. My mother and I were in England at just the right time and I’d been to a Blake’s 7  con the week before. To be honest, I mostly went for Robin Hood, but I made sure we went to the Goose Fair which, I believe, has been going for hundreds of years, if not in its present form. There was not really a lot to do for adults, though I was tempted to check out one of the many fortune teller tents, for fun. It was mostly rides, and the rides were tiny, aimed strictly at children. But we did discover the delights of chip butties, which were, at that place, buttered rolls with hot chips in them. Mum still puts her chips in a roll.

I went to Shrewsbury for the Brother Cadfael novels, which were hugely popular at the time and bringing in a nice amount of tourist money for the town. A gorgeous town, and you could pick out the streets Ellis Peters had written about, she did it so accurately.

I went to York for Richard III, who has appeared in my large collection of historical novels, and met two pen pals who travelled there to meet me.

You can find more details of my overseas book adventures in my old post and do feel welcome to comment, I’ll get them in my inbox.

In Australia I’ve gone to a couple of places mentioned in Kerry Greenwood’s Phryne Fisher novels, which are set in the 1920s. The Queenscliff Hotel was in the second novel, Flying Too High, and Phryne treats everyone to breakfast and dinner there. It’s a stunningly beautiful hotel, with stained glass windows and Art Deco design all over the place. I haven’t been in a while, since the Sorrento Youth Hostel closed down. I used to stay every year during term holidays, taking a ferry to Queenscliff and having my lunch on the hotel verandah, where there was a lovely view out to sea.

I also enjoy having afternoon tea at the Windsor Hotel in Melbourne, famous for its high teas. Phryne stayed there in the first novel, Cocaine Blues, just because she could, now being rich. A friend of mine from Brisbane was staying there once and I suggested we try the High Tea for fun, because of the Phryne Fisher novel. I’ve gone several times since then.

It’s nice to be still able to visit places mentioned in historical fiction, don’t you think? Where have you been that you read about? 

Thursday, September 06, 2018

Retro Review: Alyzon Whitestarr by Isobelle Carmody. Clifton Hill: Ford Street Publishing, 2016


Teenager Alyzon Whitestarr lives with her large, loving family. Her mother is a vague, dreamy painter, her father a brilliant musician and composer who is in a small band. After an accident in which she gets a bad hit on the head, she awakes after a month in a coma to find her senses have been extended, though her sense of smell is strongest. Everyone around her has a signature smell, one which tells her whether or not to trust them, whether they are worried or stressed or simply an evil person. She makes new friends through this sense of smell and discovers that there is something truly horrible about the school heart throb, a boy on whom she used to have a crush.

And then there’s her family. One of her sisters, Serenity, who now wants to be called Sybl and wears black, has a secret that greatly worries Alyzon. Her father, a truly gifted musician and a kind, loving person, has been approached by an entrepreneur who is known for hanging out with artists who... change. With her new friends, Alyzon must find out what’s going on before horrible things happen to her loved ones - and others.

I missed this book when it first came out from a big publisher in 2005, but was allowed to go out of print. This is a revised edition, put out by Melbourne’s Ford Street Publishing in 2016. I bought my copy at a Ford Street event last week. I have found myself reading it even at night time, in bed, when I usually prefer to read familiar comfort reading, to help me sleep. It’s a very exciting read! Admittedly, there are long passages where the characters stop to discuss what they might be fighting and how it works, because there is something more to Alyzon’s extended senses than being able to work out who to trust and who not. Something nasty is using people’s vulnerability to infect them with anger, hatred and despair, and get them to spread the sickness.

It’s interesting- and unusual - how many older, even adult characters play a role here. A young technical genius called Raoul is still older than the others in Alyzon’s group. He drives and has quite a lot of money from his work. That’s helpful to the mystery they are all solving. Alyzon’s father is a major character in the story, though not involved with what his daughter and her friends are doing. There is a very dramatic climax near the end, which happens during a concert in which he is performing.

The characters are well worth caring about. Alyzon’s family are close knit and she is able to find pity even for some of the villains, once a touch has brought a flashback that explains  some things about them.

A book I’m sorry I didn’t read earlier!

If you’d like a print copy, the Ford Street Publishing website should have it. You can find an audiobook version on iBooks or Amazon, read by the author.

Tuesday, September 04, 2018

On Rereading Some Middle English Romances

Recently, I needed to refresh my memory of the mediaeval poem Sir Gawain And The Green Knight for a WIP. I first read it in the original at university, for third-year Middle English, with a nice young English Masters student, Bruce, as my tutor. (We also did Malory’s Arthurian tales with him).

This time, I wanted to read a translation for convenience and speed, though I could probably find my old Penguin edition of the original somewhere on my shelves in the study. I had a story to write! I decided that if I was going to read a translation it might as well be by someone who could write a fabulous mediaeval-type tale himself. I bought and downloaded the J.R.R Tolkien translation. That volume also has Pearl, the elegiac poem written for his little girl by a grieving Dad whom we only know as the Pearl poet, and Sir Orfeo, a mediaeval version of the story of Orpheus and Eurydice, one which has a happy ending!



I had forgotten how wonderful these poems are. I haven’t got around to Pearl yet, but after reading Gawain(written by “the Gawain poet”) I read Sir Orfeo and enjoyed it again. This Orpheus is a powerful mediaeval-style king, with knights, lords and all, ruling the English city of Winchester(then called Tracience, as the poet explains. Thrace, I assume, the country of the original Orpheus, now an English city!), descended from gods. He is, of course, a brilliant harper as the original myth tells us. His beloved Queen, Heurodis, is stolen from him by the King of Faerie, after sleeping under a grafted tree(an ymp  tree in the original Middle English).

Here is where it gets interesting. Faerie is not quite the Underworld, but in some ways it is. When Orfeo gets there, he sees a bunch of people at the gates still horrifically as they died - beheaded, burned, whatever - including his wife asleep under that tree. There were certainly connections back then between the creatures of folklore, the Otherworld and the afterlife. There was no mucking around with this connection in Breton folklore. Their supernatural beings were truly scary and connected with death.  But Sir Orfeo has it both ways. The King of the Underworld is also the King of Faerie.

So, poor Heurodis is gone and King Orfeo decides he can’t live in his kingdom without her. He goes into voluntary exile, leaving the governing to his steward, with instructions to have his lords choose a new king if he hears Orfeo is dead. He goes, taking with him nothing but his harp and what he’s wearing. For ten years he wanders, playing for himself and the wild animals, getting grubby and long-haired, bearded and shabby.  Then, one day, he sees a bunch of Faerie hunters gallop past, his wife among them. He follows them to their mound and slips in behind them. To his amazement, it’s merely the portal to a gorgeous place with plenty of sun and countryside and the castle of the King and Queen. He asks to be admitted and the porter lets him in to see his employers. Orfeo plays for them, impressing the King no end, and is offered whatever he wants as a reward. He asks for his Queen back. The Faerie ruler grumbles a bit, but agrees. No conditions, no “don’t look back or you lose her” in this version. So the couple are reunited and make their way back to Winchester, where he leaves his beloved with a beggar temporarily, while he goes to check out whether his steward was loyal. The man rides past and sees this filthy beggar asking if he can play the harp in the court. Filthy or not, he says, “You know what? My king was an amazing harper and for his sake, by all means come along, and have some hospitality from me while we're about it.” So he goes, and he plays, and moves everyone.

“Tell me, where did you get that harp?” asks the steward. “It looks familiar.” Orfeo tells him he found it with the corpse of a man  killed by lions. The poor steward bursts into tears. "Oh, no! No!" At that point, Orfeo is able to reveal himself, the steward and the knights rejoice and help him clean up. The Queen is brought home in procession. The faithful steward is named heir to the throne(presumably the royal couple are not all that young and won't be producing their own heir). Happily ever after.

Fascinating to see how Greek myth could be transformed into British folklore.

I'm currently reading a book by John Matthews, one of my favourite folkorists, Sir Gawain: Knight of The Goddess. I've had it for ages, and have finally gotten around to reading it properly. Fascinating stuff that will, I think, explain the reasons for the difference between the Gawain of Malory, who is loud and vulgar and bad-tempered, tending to fail all his quests and kill without thinking, and the Gawain of Sir Gawain And The Green Knight, who is courteous and loved by all, and carries a shield with a pentangle device to remind him of the Virgin Mary, the knight who manages to gently turn down Lady Bertilak, the wife of his host, without upsetting her, and keep her talking till she leaves him with no more than a kiss or two - which he then has to pass on to his hearty, jolly host as his "gain" for the day! I recommend this book if you love folklore.

As I recall, in the old folk tales, the hero was the King's nephew, his sister's son. He would have been heir to the throne in those days, too. Check out the stories of the Mabinogion, especially Culhwch and Olwen. And Gawain is, in fact, Arthur's nephew, his older sister's son.

This poem is set in the court of a young Arthur, one who zooms around the hall, being a good host, refusing to eat till something interesting has happened. (There is, by the way, a Robin Hood poem, the Geste of Robin Hood, in which that happens, though in his case the "something interesting" is a poverty-stricken knight who has been badly treated by the local Abbot and will lose everything that very day)

So, imagine Camelot on New Year's Eve. There's a huge party going on. Everyone is having a great time. Arthur is waiting for his amazing event before he can eat. When this huge green knight - literally! Even his skin is green and so is his horse - rides into the hall, dressed festively and unarmed except for a giant green axe, and carrying a bunch of holly, Arthur happily invites him to pull up a chair and eat with them.

No, thanks, says the knight, I have other business here. I want one of you to use this axe on me, to cut off my head and accept a blow from me in exchange a year and a day from now.

Deadly silence for a moment. He has to be kidding! But this is a magical world. If a man with green skin and hair and a green horse can ride in and issue that kind of a challenge, chances are he isn't planning to commit suicide here on New Year's Eve!

As you might guess, the volunteer is Gawain, the king's nephew, his sister's son, presumably the heir for now. Grabbing the axe, he swipes off the Green Knight's head. And then... the arm of a man who should be dead gropes for his head and swings it around, scaring the hell out of everyone.

Come and meet me in a year and a day at the Green Chapel, he tells Gawain. And he rides out. At this point, everyone comes back out of their frozen senses and the party continues, with Gawain and his uncle laughing and joking about the scary thing that just happened. Yeah. Right. Well, there is a whole year...

And then the poet tells us how the year passes, with all its seasons and their warmth and cold. A nice touch. Time is passing, as the poet reminds us. Not so much time left. Gawain still doesn't know where the Green Chapel is and decides he really has to go early enough to find it. He will go after All Hallows(Halloween, you know? The start of winter and the Celtic New Year, when the doors between the worlds were open). At that point, on the day he goes, we are treated to a description of his dressing and arming and even how he dresses his horse, whose name we are told: Gringolet. Gringolet, I believe, was a dapple grey horse, traditionally Gawain's mount. The Gawain and Gringolet who leave Camelot are looking amazing. At that point, I couldn't help thinking it was a sort of finger to the universe - "Stuff you, Green Knight! If I have to do this, I'm going to look good!"

And we might ask, why does he have to do this? It's stupid! What's the Green Knight going to do about it? Well... maybe he'll tell everybody how dishonourable you are. And there's the thing about the whole story: honour. Doing what you promised. Because in the end, what will bring Gawain back to Camelot feeling he has failed is a very small and silly thing for which nobody blames him except himself - not even the Knight. (Well, not too much, anyway)

So he sets off and has some fairly typical knightly adventures which the poet doesn't bother to describe, as it doesn't connect with the main story. Finally, only a few days before he is due at the Green Chapel,  the location of which he still doesn't know, he finds himself at a castle where everyone is celebrating the holidays. The jolly lord who lives there with his beautiful wife and a heap of retainers makes him welcome. He invites him to stay a while. Gawain explains that he can't stay long because he has an appointment at the Green Chapel on New Year's Day. Oh, that? says his host. Hey, it's only two miles away, I'll have someone guide you and you can even sleep in on the day. Gawain accepts happily. You're guessing where this is going, aren't you?

So, the next three days the lord goes off hunting and leaves Gawain to enjoy chatting with his lovely wife. For fun, he suggests, let's exchange at the end of each day whatever we gained during the day. Gawain agrees.

The young wife spends the next three days trying to seduce him, entering his room and plonking herself on his bed, refusing to let him up. He manages to avoid anything more than a kiss the first day, two on the second. On the third morning, she practically tries to rape him, but he manages to avoid it, politely as usual, and she gives him three kisses. But that isn't where it ends. She offers him a ring, which he refuses, then something he just can't refuse: a green girdle that will, she says, keep him from harm. The first two days, he had passed on the kisses, amusing his host, in exchange for a deer and a boar. This time, he passes on the three kisses, but doesn't tell Bertilak about the other thing.

Who can blame him?

Again, we're told he dresses carefully in his best clothes and armour, and is guided to the Green Chapel by a servant who tries to talk him out of it, even offering to keep the secret. "Bugger off and I won't tell anyone! Honestly!"

But Gawain refuses the offer. He agreed to this a year ago and his honour won't let him weasel out of it.

And this is where the poem describes the bleak landscape and reflects what must be Gawain's mood. He approaches the Green Chapel and hears someone grinding and sharpening what he can only assume is the axe that's going to cut off his head. Gulping, he goes forward to his doom.

What excited me this time, as I'd forgotten it from last time I read the poem, in my university days, is the fact that the Green Chapel isn't remotely related to Christianity. It's not even a pagan temple. It's a barrow. You know - an ancient grave mound? The kind that frightened us all so much in the early chapters of Lord Of The Rings? There are plenty of those in Ireland, and I just read about one this morning on The History Girls. But in this poem, it might as well be a portal to the Otherworld.

The Green Knight emerges with his freshly-sharpened axe. Gawain kneels for his execution. The axe comes whistling down - and stops. Whoops! says the Knight. Sorry about that. Let's try again. And again he stops. Gawain tells him angrily to stop messing around and just get on with it. It's becoming harder to be brave. The third time, he does get a cut - but not enough to kill him or even harm him seriously.

At this point, he leaps up, sword in hand, and says, Right! You've had your blow. I'm not letting you try again.

But the Knight doesn't try. He's amused, the bastard! At this point, we find out, if we hadn't already worked it out, that the Green Knight is not an Otherworld creature at all, he is Gawain's jolly host Bertilak, changed by the magic of Arthur's annoying sorceress sister Morgana, who wanted him to scare the hell out of Guinevere. We never really know what was in it for him. But he did do his own test of Gawain, a test the young man has mostly passed. Mostly. That third stroke, when he actually touched Gawain, was for hiding the green girdle on the third day, instead of handing it over.

Poor Gawain! A whole year of stress and he kept his word about coming to the Green Chapel to be beheaded and he has, as he sees it, lost his honour because of a silly little thing, a joke agreement. But it was an agreement, see. And he didn't keep his word. We don't blame him. The Green Knight only blames him a little bit. But he blames himself, the idiot!

He goes home shamed, vowing to wear the green girdle as a sign of his shame. Everyone at home is so pleased to see him, they all get their own green girdles or baldrics to wear as a sign of support. They won't let him wallow.

It doesn't tell you how he reacted, but I imagine he cringed.

The translation: I wonder if it helps when the translator not only knows about the writing of the time but is an artist himself? After all,  Tolkien based his universe on what he knew from his studies. And he did it superbly. I think he did it far better than Professor Nerk of the ANU, someone who was a fine scholar, but not himself/herself an artist, might have done it. When I went to see Shakespeare in Hebrew at the Cameri Theatre in Tel Aviv, it still felt like Shakespeare and no wonder, the translator being one of Israel's top poets.

In any case, I felt through the translator the power of the Gawain poet. It made you feel for the hero, really feel for him,  showed time passing far too fast, reflected his feelings in the bleak landscape and - that nice touch! - the sound of an axe being sharpened when he gets to the grave mound that is called a chapel...

I'm not surprised that writing like this has lasted so long, hundreds of years. I have to wonder if anything written in recent years, the sort of stuff that wins major awards, will even last half a century, let alone more.

I think Lord Of The Rings is a good candidate, don't you? Anything you can think of that might still be in print in the 25th century, if we haven't been wiped out by climate change or World War III?






Thursday, August 30, 2018

An Evening With... At Ford Street Publishing

Ford Street Publishing does these occasionally. They aren't too expensive and you get wine, soft drink and nibbles as well as listening to children's and YA writers. It's very much like the Booktalkers sessions which used to be held at the State Library of Victoria's Centre for Youth Literature. Those were great, but they were cancelled a few years ago, as being too expensive. A pity, but if you live in Melbourne, these sessions are worth attending, especially if you miss Booktalkers.

Last night's guest speakers were George Ivanoff, an old friend of mine through SF fandom, who is one of the few people I know making a living out of writing in this country, and Cath Crowley, Simmone Howell and Fiona Wood,  the three wonderful authors of Take Three Girls, which has just won this year's CBCA Award for Older Readers. Here is my interview with Simmone Howell about this book. I've met all three of them at one conference or book launch or another.

George speaks!

George spoke first, saying he had decided to do things differently this time, as it was for adults, not the kids he usually speaks to. He went through an entire history of his writing career(one which I know fairly well, having been friends with him). George is a jobbing writer who will have a go at whatever type of writing he is offered, so can make a living from it. Many of his 100-odd books are for the education industry, but he has been doing trade books as well in recent years. I'd like to add that it's George I have to thank for helping me get my current gig with Pearson!

George talked about his very popular "You Choose" books(basically, Choose Your Own Adventure, which he loved as a child) and read a snippet from one, inviting audience members to choose the direction they went. Of course, it ended abruptly, something I've noticed in the four "You Choose "books I've read! He showed how he plots them out on a whiteboard. I have to say, this kind of book is not easy to write. One of our teachers had a go at creating Choose Your Own Adventure books with her Year 7 class and admitted the experiment was a failure. George deserves the popularity!

Cath, Fiona and Simmone spoke about how they wrote their award-winning book. Not much I didn't know, because of having interviewed Simmone, but some things I hadn't known, such as how long it took, because of their other writing commitments. They pitched their idea to the publisher they all shared, then spent six years working on it! I'm thinking of the lovely Anna Ciddor, who spent about that much time on her short children's novel The Family With Two Front Doors, which was about her grandmother's family in 1920s Poland. The difference was that she didn't have a go-ahead from any publisher, she just did it because it was important to her, and then had several rejections till Allen and Unwin took it. 

Simmone(left), Cath and Fiona speak!

At one point, they asked if there were any secondary teachers in the audience and I was the only one to put up my hand(surprising, because a number of people bought multiple copies afterwards - perhaps they were only librarians, not teacher librarians). I didn't think any of them would see me, because where I was sitting, I couldn't see them(I had to stand up to take the above photo), but Fiona said, "Oh! It's Sue!"

After the talk, people were buying books from the small Ford Street stand, which also had some books by the guests published by others. I had already bought two of the Ford Street titles, and am looking forward to reading them. One was the Ford Street reprint of Isobelle Carmody's Alyzon Whitestar, the other was Time Catcher, a book by Cherie Peters, who was there. I had already read books by all four guests, long ago, so didn't stick around for the signing, but went out into the other room, where I nibbled and drank and chatted with people I knew, and some I didn't know. I spotted a man with an Irish accent talking to some people and realised he was the amazing artist Marc McBride, who has done quite a few Ford Street book covers, as well as some covers for anthologies I've been in.

Poet Jackie Hosking, who runs the Pass It On author newsletter, was there and said hi.  I chatted with a guy who had come all the way from Sydney for a writing mentorship and this session was part of the deal. There was a lady who told me she writes historical fiction for Pegasus publishers, and we got chatting about research.

I saw Emily Gale, an author I follow on Twitter, who apparently lives nearby and had been wondering what went on at Ford Street. I discovered she's British! Never knew this, but the accent was unmistakable.

Cath,  Fiona and Simmone had to leave fairly soon after they had finished their signing, but Fiona and Simmone stopped for a chat with me on their way out(Cath had to get to Avoca by a certain time). We talked shop. Simmone told me, to my surprise, that she had never received royalties. It must be something to do with the advance, which I suspect is larger than mine, but I haven't had much in the way of royalties since the GST came in and book prices went up, not even when every last copy of a 6000 copy run sold out(most of the books were sold through Scholastic Book Club, for which authors are paid peanuts). 

A little while later, George told me he was ready to go, so we went out to his car and he dropped me at home, as it was on his way. 

A very enjoyable evening!





Friday, August 24, 2018

My First Book Week Author Talk

This morning I went to my volunteer school, a primary school in Sunshine, to do my author talk for Book Week. It’s not the first time I’ve done an author talk, but the first time I’ve  done one for Book Week. I did it for free, because this school is a lot like mine, with many kids who come from families with no money, and I’ve had some freebies myself from generous friends, so... giving back. With luck I might get some paid gigs next year, at schools which hire me through a speaker agency. And I know now I can do it.

The school has no real school library, only a small annexe next to the Grade 6 classroom, and only the younger kids are able to use it, at lunchtime. The “classroom libraries” are not in the classrooms, but between them. Instead of a librarian, they have a woman who would be a librarian if there was any justice, the literacy co-ordinator, who does the usual literacy stuff, but also organises book purchases, Book Week activities, Scholastic Book Club and Premier’s Reading Challenge. She also has a writing extensions group for kids who love writing.

  If that’s not a librarian, I don’t know what is.

And she managed to get the whole school involved, something I have never been able to do. When I arrived this morning, the whole staff, including the office lady, were in costume. This year’s theme was Charlie And The Chocolate Factory, so most staff were dressed as Oompa Loompas. There were a couple of Willy Wonkas, some Golden Tickets, at least one teacher dressed as a Wonka Bar and some dressed as Charlie’s grandparents.

There was a competition for best classroom entrance. The winning entry was Grade 5, with a river of chocolate, but the Grade 4 entrance, which I photographed, was also pretty good, with a sign that this was an Oompa Loompa workshop, and some golden tickets and a cardboard cash register.

The kids and teachers gathered outside, under a large shelter, on a beautiful late winter morning, more like spring, for the Book Parade. There were tiny Spidermen, Storm Troopers, an adorable Wonderwoman, a few Willy Wonkas, a Cat in the Hat, a dragon and the general run of princesses in tutus, one of whom turned out to be the daughter of one of our former EAL students,  who startled me by calling out, “Hi, Miss! Remember me?” 

After it was over, I went to talk to the kids from Grades 3-6, in the multi-purpose room. The deal was, half an hour. That’s really enough and plenty for kids, just for a talk; they get fidgety after that. I asked the Grade 4 teacher, whom I know, to give me a wind-up signal when the time came, to save me looking at my phone. 

My original plan was to speak for about 15 minutes, then invite questions, but the adorable little Grade 3 kids, who were sitting at the front, started asking questions before I even started! I decided that with all those questions, I might be better off, and engage the kids more, by taking questions right away, then doing a bit of talking, then take some more. I also told them that if they had questions related to what I was talking about, they could put their hands up while I was talking. Which they did! And thankfully, I didn’t get asked about my favourite footy team or TV show, but mostly relevant and reasonable questions. There were a few “How old are you?” questions, which I avoided like a politician. 

One solemn young lady, a probable nerd, asked me what was my favourite genre! I answered that one! 
I remarked that I’d been told about their writing group and, in answer to another question, said that if you write, you’re an author, so we have several authors in the school. 

I got a question about whether I was famous and do you become famous if you write a book. No, I said, not really famous, and no, you don’t get famous just by writing a book. 

I handed out some of my mini-posters of the Crime Time cover for questions asked. I’d brought them as bribes in case the kids hesitated to ask questions, as they often do, but there was no problem. Hands were shooting up from the very beginning! 

Afterwards, kids who had missed out on asking their questions were coming over to ask them, and I handed out the last of the posters. 

And I had another pleasant surprise. One of the kids came over to tell me that she was the younger sister of one of my favourite library users. I remember her sister well. She was an EAL student(the younger girl has an Australian accent, but it was a long time ago). She read the entire Twilight series in four weeks, while still in EAL, telling me that she had figured out meaning from context(not using those words, of course!). She left us in Year 10, when she got a scholarship to an expensive private school she certainly couldn’t have afforded otherwise. I still, somewhere, have a bookmark signed for her by Gabrielle Wang, but she left before I could give it to her. We do communicate by email occasionally. 

Afterwards, I went to the staff room to write up my Ardoch stuff and mentioned it to a couple of staff who were there, both the young mother and the sisters. One of them smiled at me and said, “You never really leave Sunshine, do you?”


No, you don’t. That includes me!