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Sunday, December 16, 2018

An Arvo In The Theatre With The Bard!

On Saturday afternoon, I finished my year in theatre with a wonderful performance of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. I went with my sister to the Melbourne Theatre Company’s Sumner Theatre, which I have to say I don’t like much, as the seats are cramped with only a few inches between you and the person in front. However, I soon forgot when the play started. 

My sister admitted to being unfamiliar with this play, much to my surprise. It meant I couldn’t talk about the ending, for fear of spoilers. So we just sat down and enjoyed. 

I have seen this play several times, including a Botanical Gardens production, plus the 1996 film with Toby Stephens as Orsino, Nigel Hawthorne(Yes, Minister) as Malvolio and several other big names. 

So far, as a stage show, this is my favourite. The thing about Shakespeare’s comedies is that they always have several things going on, to confuse you, and then everything comes together in the last scene or two. A Midsummer Night’s Dream has two sets of young lovers, a royal wedding, a quarreling married couple(fairies), a bunch of tradies getting together to perform a very silly play for the royal wedding and finding themselves getting mixed up with the quarreling fairy couple... The Comedy Of Errors takes you all over Ephesus with two sets of twins being confused for each other, a missing mother, a father looking for his sons and being arrested... As You Like It has a lot of storylines and characters and a girl disguised as a boy, who would have been played by a boy who was playing as a girl disguised as a boy...

There is a set of twins in this play and a girl, one of the twins, disguised as a boy. I think the author forgets very quickly that Viola has decided to present herself at Orsino’s court as a eunuch! Anyway, there is a lot of running around for Viola, who has to woo Olivia for Orsino while being in love with him herself and finding herself having to escape Olivia, who has fallen in love with “Cesario”, her boy identity! 

This production started with the funeral of Olivia’s brother, using that song from Cymbeline, the one with “golden lads and girls all must/As chimney sweepers come to dust.” It goes immediately to the shipwrecked Viola, mourning for her brother, then the scene with Orsino’s, “If music be the food of love, play on” speech.

I have to say, these actors were multi-talented. They could sing, they could play musical instruments. The role of Feste, the jester, was played by Colin Hay of the rock band Men At Work. Feste has to do a lot of songs - the play is the closest Shakespeare gets to musical comedy. But all of them had to sing at some stage, and some of the lesser roles were filled by musicians, who popped up from under the stage every other scene with a piano, guitars, tambourine, penny whistle(the show ended with a mass performance of “Hey, Ho, The Wind And The Rain”, in which even Malvolio(Russell Dykstra)got to join in, playing the kazoo!)

I hadn’t realised how hilarious Olivia could be till I saw Christie Whelan Brown playing the role, but the other women, Esther Hannaford(Viola) and Tamsin Carroll(Maria) were also very funny. And Lachlan Woods also had a lot of fun with the pompous, pretentious Orsino. 

Even the originally minor character, Sir Andrew Aguecheek, was played by Frank Woodley, of the comedy team Lano and Woodley, and the director gave him plenty of hysterical business to perform. 

Malvolio and Sir Toby Belch are plum roles for veterans and I was very pleased to see that old hand Richard Piper playing Sir Toby.

 Sir Toby is basically the embarrassing old uncle who gets drunk at the family barbecue and gropes the female guests, and who is - let’s face it - a parasite, both on his niece and his friend Andrew, but he does have that wonderful line, “Dost thou think, because thou art virtuous, there shall be no more cakes and ale?” which is a great comeback to the wet blankets of this world. 

And Richard Piper played it very well indeed! 

Anyway, a wonderful afternoon in the theatre, and if you live in Melbourne it’s on till about January 9. If you  don’t, and haven’t read or seen the play, please do! 

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

YA Showcase 2018 At The State Library!

I haven’t been to this annual event in a few years and the last time I went there was no goody bag on offer, just someone’s non fiction book with a camel on the cover, help yourself.

This time, there were several publishers or publishers’ reps, each of whom had five minutes, speed date style, to tell us about some of the books coming out next year, including my lovely publisher Paul Collins of Ford Street, who had come with his partner Meredith Costain, who must have just returned from her trip to an Indian writers’festival, and one of their new authors, whose debut novel, a futuristic thriller, will be out next year. There were also two panels of authors talking about their books.

There certainly seemed to be some fascinating titles coming out and, on examining my goody bag, I found three books, two of them ARCs/proof copies of books mentioned. I’ve started reading the American one, Watch Us Rise, by Renee Watson and Ellen Hagan, which seems to be powerful stuff and has a rave from Laurie Halse Anderson on the cover.

Another book I got was an Australian one with the theme of animal treatment, Sky. The third was a sample of books from that particular publisher - not really interested; short stories would have been fine, but I don’t like samples.

We were invited to go on social media with the hashtag #YAShowcase. There were several people discussing it there, including two authors who couldn’t make it, but were watching the event live streamed on the Insideadog web site; they both followed me on Twitter when I said I was glad to see there were some rom coms in the offerings. To be honest, I have been missing Lili Wilkinson’s over the top rom coms, as have my students, as she has gone all serious rccently and is unlikely ever to go back. So it’s nice to hear there are some new rom com YA authors.

I only saw one person I knew, but he was sitting right behind me, so we chatted before and after the show.

People were taking notes around me and I did start, but finally gave up and took photos of the slides, which reminded me of the details. The only trouble was that someone on stage was taking photos of the audience, which included me taking a photo with my iPad, and ended up on Twitter!

Anyway, I had a good time and came home with more books to read, which is all that matters!

Monday, December 10, 2018

Year 4 And A Book Launch!

Today was the day we launched the book of stories and poems by the group of wonderful Year 4 students I’ve been working with over the last several weeks, as a Writer In Residence.

The original plan was for us to go to the local library to present a copy of the book, tomorrow. The librarian had even offered us a tour of the library, a story time and forms for joining the library. Unfortunately there was a clash in the school timetable. That happens in schools. I remember when we had to reorganise our State Library Persian Exhibition excursion because there was suddenly a sports day nobody had mentioned, and my colleague came on a day she normally didn’t work. 

But this was the second last week of the school term, no time to reorganise a library excursion, so 
I suggested we have a book launch at the school a day before and they could do the library excursion next term. That suited everyone. Jemma, the classroom teacher, organised a morning tea for the kids, on the suggestion of Angela, the Ardoch rep, who also arranged some money for the goodies. 

I launch the book! 

Angela brought the box of books. I hadn’t it yet, as a book, but it had turned out well. The children’s drawings were bright, vibrant, the whole thing joyous. I’d alternated stories with poems and ended the volume with the authors’ headshots. 

Kaye, the volunteer art teacher who had helped me, and I both made short speeches and handed the books to the excited children. And they were excited! It had finally hit them that the stories, poems and art they had been doing by hand were in print! Published! They were published authors! 

I asked the children to autograph their pieces and that gave them the idea of autographing each other’s copies. There was a happy babble around the room as they munched on the goodies, flipped through their books and signed each other’s copies. Some of them asked Kaye, Angela and me to sign. 

I think there will be some proud parents tonight.

Saturday, December 08, 2018

Compulsory Pre-Christmas Post - Happy Jolabokaflod!

In case you haven’t heard of it, this year’s compulsory pre-Christmas post is on the theme of Jolabokaflod, “Yule book flood” the Icelandic tradition of giving books for Christmas. It’s one tradition that almost makes me wish Christmas was my holiday, though I don’t really need an excuse to read. Neither, apparently, do the Icelanders. According to this this article, 93% of Icelanders read at least one book a year. Do follow that link, by the way - the author mentions doing it herself, though not how it went over.

The event started with World War II restrictions on imported stuff, but paper was cheap, so...who knows a terrific thing made of paper? Also, the publishing industry isn’t likely to be huge in a fairly small country, so they release the new books in a binge later in the year - and every home in the country gets a catalogue of new releases in time to do their Christmas shopping!

The idea is this: you exchange books on Christmas Eve and then settle down to read for the evening. That alone would get me on side - imagine being able to curl up with your new book right away without having anyone complain about your rudeness for not being sociable... sigh! Only one of my family members would get this,one with whom I have had afternoon tea enjoying our new purchases. We all love reading, but everyone else is too polite to crack their new book open and start reading immediately.

I can well imagine that it would be a terrific way to spend a cold winter night, in a place that looks like this.

Aurora Borealis in Iceland. Public Domain

But on Christmas Eve here we have daylight saving and potentially a long evening to sit in the sun reading. I just might do that, on my balcony with a cool drink, if I can’t get down to the beach.

Happy Yule Book Flood, everyone! 

Sunday, December 02, 2018

December 1 On This Day!

Alicia Markova, born December 1 1910
Public Domain

Okay, I’m a day late for my December 1 meme, but what the heck. This was my parents’ anniversary when Dad was alive and I’d like to commemorate it. 

A sad observance for December 1 is World AIDS Day, which has been going since 1988. I haven’t lost any friends to it, although I do have some gay friends, so thank goodness for that, but I pay tribute to those who have left us because of this terrible thing. 

Another observance for this date is Rosa Parks Day, although some US states celebrate her birthday on February 4, rather than December 1, which was the date of her arrest in 1955, leading to the Montgomery Bus Boycott. If you’ve been watching the current season of Dr Who, you will have had a chance to see the story dramatised, co-written by YA novelist and former British Children’s Laureate Malorie Blackman. 

More frivolously, it’s National Pie Day in the US! Also, Eat A Red Apple Day. Trivia: the study of apples is pomology. I guess it’s to do with Pomona, Roman goddess of fruit. (Also the name of Hogwarts Herbology teacher, Professor Sprout)

Now to some December 1 birthdays! I’ve mostly stuck to people I’ve heard of, preferably in the arts. 

Jo Walton, SFF Writer, was born On This Day in 1964. I haven’t read her books in years, but she writes regularly for She has scooped the pool in SF awards- Hugo, Nebula, James Tiptree Jr, John Campbell Award. Maybe time for me to go and read some more Walton! 

Rex Stout born in 1886, was the author of the Nero Wolfe crime novels. There was a short lived TV series based on them. I haven’t read the books, but I did enjoy the TV show.

There were other authors mentioned on line, but they tended to be lifestyle bloggers and such, or I just hadn’t heard of them, so... on to the actors! 

Deep Roy(1957) is a short guy, an Anglo Indian actor who seems to have had plenty of work as a character actor and stunt artist. The first time I saw him, he was the Klute in British science fiction TV series Blake’s 7. The Klute was employed on Freedom City to challenge visitors to Speed Chess. If you won, you received a huge prize, but nobody won, and if you lost, you died, instantly. One of our heroes, Vila, used the miniaturised super computer Orac to cheat. The Klute was not at all happy! Deep Roy was in three more episodes of this series, as various creatures - that episode was the only one where you saw him as a human. He was also in Dr Who and more recently played all of the Oompa Loompas in Charlie And The Chocolate Factory, including an Oompa Loompa psychiatrist near the end

Dean O’Gorman(1976), a Kiwi actor, was in The Hobbit as Fili, one of Dwarf King Thorin Oakenshield’s two sexy nephews. He’s done quite a bit - check out his filmography here, - but this was my first sight of him. Definite eye candy! 

Keith Michell(1926), was an Australian actor who was best known for his leading role in The Six Wives Of Henry VIII. He did a lot more than that, of course, including playing King David and the patriarch Jacob in telemovies, and he was an amazing Cervantes/Don Quixote in the London version of Man Of La Mancha, of which recording I own a copy. He could sing, you see! But if he had only done Six Wives, it would have been enough; he was the definitive Henry VIII. 

Jeremy Northam(1961), played Mr Knightley in the film of Emma, with Gwyneth Paltrow in the title role. It’s my second favourite Jane Austen novel and made a beautiful film. 

 Mary Martin(1913) was a musical comedy star who seems to have played in the original Broadway version of just about everything, including South Pacific. Trivia: her son, Larry Hayman, was also an actor. If you’re old enough you may remember him as astronaut Tony Nelson in I Dream Of Jeannie

Madame Tussaud(1761), was the famous waxwork maker you will have heard of unless you’ve been living under a rock. She learned the art of waxworks from her mother’s employer, a doctor. Before the French Revolution she was modelling celebrities, during it she was making death masks for victims of the guillotine(she was nearly executed herself!) Later she moved to England and stayed there. I have been in a London three times and still haven’t seen the famous Waxworks! 

And finally: 

Dame Alicia Markova (1910) was one of the top British ballet dancers of the 20th century. She started dancing as a child for her health and was discovered by Russian impresario Diaghilev, who took her on for the Ballets Russes. You can find videos of her easily on YouTube, if you’re curious.  

And there are a few bits and pieces about December 1 - hope you enjoyed it! 

Saturday, December 01, 2018

Book Blogger Hop: On First Editions

This week’s Book Blogger Hop asks you if you could time travel to pick up a first edition, what would it be?

Actually, I already have one, Mark Twain’s A Yankee At The Court Of King Arthur (first British edition, published the same year). If Twain was still around, judging by this book, and others, he’d be sending up the current admin on Twitter and keeping a blog. 

But if I could have a first edition of choice, here is what it would be. 

I do have several  copies, including an ebook with an intro by the author, but this one, for me, would be very special. Why? Because it was not easy to get into print. This was the US during the McCarthy era witch hunts. The author was a Communist- in fact, he wrote it from his prison cell. Of course, like many other writers and artists of the time he was blacklisted. So no US publisher would take it, or dared to, though when the film was made several years later, another blacklisted author, screenplay writer, Dalton Trumbo, got his name in the credits for the first time in years. By the way, the Party hated it too, because he had the nerve to write a sympathetic Roman character who was rich. Fast says in his autobiography The Naked God, that he had wanted to show this character, Gracchus, as “the great American politician” who had never lost touch with the people. 

It was published in the UK soon enough, but meanwhile, what did this artist do? He turned to his fans and got it crowdfunded. It’s not that this was new even then; people had been “subscribing” to produce new books for yonks. But think about how easy it is now compared to then. Now? You just go on Kickstarter or GoFundMe and when you’ve met your commitments, you still have books to sell, or a film to show, or whatever. And then ebooks. Not so easy in those days well before the Internet, but he did it. As you’ll know, unless you’ve been hiding under a rock, it has sold millions of copies and been translated into many languages and was made into a classic film. 

So, that would be my first edition. What’s yours? 

PS His granddaughter, Molly Jong Fast, is on Twitter having a go at the administration right as we speak! 

The Boy And The Spy by Felice Arena. Penguin Random House Australia 2017

Life has never been easy for Antonio, but since the war began there are German soldiers on every corner, fearsome gangsters and the fascist police everywhere, and no one ever has enough to eat. But when Antonio decides to trust a man who has literally fallen from the sky, he leaps into an adventure that will change his life and maybe even the future of Sicily…

The man who falls from the sky near Antonio’s tiny Sicilian village, late in the war, is an American spy who has been given the job because of his fluent Italian. He is injured and hiding in a sea cave. Antonio, an orphan whose adoptive mother is dying, is able to help him with medical supplies and smuggle him food, but there is more, much more, that has to be done, under the noses of Fascist and Nazi soldiers, with the help of a new friend and her family, who are also against the dictatorship.

I admit I haven’t read many of Felice Arena’s books before, though the Specky Magee football  novels, set in the present day, were very popular in my school library(the one that has been knocked down for the new school). I liked this one very much. It’s exciting and touching as well, and has some strong female characters. 

And given that it got on to the short list for the YABBA  Awards this year, a lot of his young fans also enjoyed it. That’s not easy with children’s historical fiction, the area he has now turned to. You have to be very good indeed to get kids into historical fiction. Jackie French is an example of a writer who can do that, Morris Gleitzman another. Now they have been joined by Felice Arena.  

I’m about to get stuck into Fearless Frederic, another historical novel, set in Paris early in the 20th century. I’m looking forward to curling up with that one in bed, very soon!  

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Ford Street Launch!

Sunday, I went to Ford Street Publishing in Abbotsford for the launch of this book.

I returned with three books. Here are the other two.

Dannika Patterson(author) and Megan Forward(artist) spoke about how they had prepared the book. As there were several children in the audience at the start, they did a modified version of the talk they give for schools. They had just got to the drawing activity when Dad’s phone rang and every last child in the room had to leave, so they finished it there. But it was a fascinating talk, well worth getting up early on a Sunday and taking two trains from Elwood to Abbotsford. 

And the book was a lovely work. Jacaranda trees seem to be a big thing in Sydney, where the creators come from, and this one celebrates them. Five children, bored with nothing to do, use their imagination to visualise what the tree could be. In my favourite picture, the tree is a ship and the seed pods are sting rays, the fallen blossoms jellyfish. 

As they were talking, there were knocks on the door, followed by doggy doorbells, as Paul Collins’ two pooches, which he had brought with him, barked and ran for the door. The Ford Street office door always seems to be locked. 

As usual, there was a little bookstall that sold not only the book being launched but other Ford Street titles. I couldn’t resist buying two of the YA novels. I’ve just finished reading Pretty Girls Don’t Eat and have started reading Justin D’Ath’s Three. I loved his novel Pool, which we offered as a Literature Circles title some years ago, but that is now available in ebook, so I didn’t buy it.

Afterwards I went for lunch in Johnston St with my friend Bruce. We stumbled into a cafe which sold nothing but pizza and ended up asking for doggy bags, because the only size they had was family size anywhere else. 

It was a pleasant afternoon in all, and nice to see Paul again(I had dinner with Bruce on Tuesday). His partner, author Meredith Costain, is in India at a writers’ festival, so was not at the launch. 

Now to read Three