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Thursday, May 23, 2019

Just Received... Two Books By Jane Yolen!

Look what I got!



This evening I came home to find my order from Book Depository in the foyer, by the letterboxes. Two children’s books, published a while ago, but always worth reading. Girl In a Cage seems to be straight historical fiction, about Marjorie Bruce, daughter of Robert The Bruce. Jane Yolen’s co-author is Robert J. Harris, a Scottish novelist. The Devil’s Arithmetic is a time-slip story involving a girl time travelling to the Holocaust after opening the door for the prophet Elijah during a Passover Seder. I’ll be interested to read that, as I’ve been reading her collection How To Fracture A Fairytale, in which there is a short story, “Slipping Sideways Through Eternity”, on that theme.

I would have liked to buy these in ebook, but neither novel was available in Apple Books, so I decided to go for Book Depository, which has quite a few books I want but can’t get elsewhere - and doesn’t charge for postage!

And it’s so special and exciting to open a book parcel and reveal brand new books, don’t you think?

Whichever shall I begin with? 

Monday, May 20, 2019

Mindcull by K.H Canobi: An Interview With The Author

A new YA science fiction thriller has come out from Melbourne publisher Ford Street Publishing, by debut author K.H(Katherine) Canobi. It’s set in a future in which technology has advanced to the point where virtual reality is as common as today’s mobile phones and internet. In this world, heroine Eila, who has a hugely popular web site, is shortlisted for a job with a major company which has been developing a “skin suit” that enables a VR experience far more advanced than anything currently available; with several other short listed young people, she is invited to the company’s mansion to try them out. 

But things are not that simple. Everyone wants a piece of her, from an underground movement to an organisation that want her to do industrial espionage. And within the company itself, some nasty things are going on that might affect Eila...



I’m here to tell you, it’s a wonderful, exciting novel! 



Author Katherine Canobi has kindly agreed to answer a few questions about the book.

GR:  Let’s start with the obvious question: how did you get the idea for this novel?   


KC: Through my research in cognitive developmental psychology, I looked at how people change and how they learn from different kinds of experiences. And when I thought about how technological advances like the internet, smartphones and social media have affected our lives, it made me wonder what’s next. 

In terms of change, the teenage years are a key time for working out who you are and developing authentic relationships and I think those things are especially hard in the current context of persuasive design, fake news and Snapchat. With further technological advances, it might get even harder 

I wondered what it would be like to be a teenager in a future time when everyone dives into immersive virtual worlds. What would it be like if people relied on VR headsets the same way we rely on smart phones? What would it be like to spend more time interacting in the virtual world than the physical world?

My answers gave my main character, Eila a complicated relationship with technology. On the one hand, she uses it so successfully that she gets shortlisted to star in the global marketing campaign of a tech giant. On the other hand, she gets drawn into a battle against people who are using it in sinister and destructive ways and finds out that even her own mind is not safe. And not everyone is who they seem.

That’s why the tagline of Mindcull is “Who can you trust when nothing is as real as virtual reality?

GR: This novel is full of high technology. What research did you have to do to get it right

My background as a cognitive scientist gave me a head start in thinking about how scientists of the future might use computer modelling and biological and behavioural measures to try to work out what’s going on inside a person’s head. I also had a framework for imagining what might go wrong if virtual and augmented reality become so much a part of daily life that people’s virtual and real worlds get intertwined.  

In terms of the technology itself, I had to find out enough about how it works now to create a believable future world in Mindcull

GR: How soon, if at all, do you think we might reach the level of technology shown in this book? Even without skin suits?

I did not imagine the story of Mindcull as happening in a far distant time. I was thinking about twenty or thirty years into the future when some things are the same and some things have changed. Much of the technology depicted is already available in some form. 

GR: How do you see the world of Eila and her friends? I got the impression, early on, that it was a dystopia, with government poking into everyone’s interactions, but maybe not. There are other indications that it isn’t quite that bad.

I see it as a bit like our world now.  Would someone from the past call it dystopic? Some of the things that we do and some of what is happening to people and our environment now would probably horrify them. Other aspects of our lives might excite them. Our world can still be stunning.

The world of Mindcull is similar. Some things about Eila’s society and environment are chilling. And people use the virtual world to escape real-world problems. She is surrounded by secrets and lies and gets tangled up in a frightening conspiracy. But love and friendship still exist. Outside Eila’s window, birds still sing, and the sunrise takes her breath away. 

GR: How closely are the vid clips of your world connected with, say, lifestyle blogging in the present day? Or did you have something else in mind

Blogging, YouTube clips and social media posts can all be ways of presenting versions of ourselves to the world. We want people to know us and love us but we are scared of revealing too much. We use technology to engage and entertain while trying to keep the less attractive aspects of ourselves private.

In the same way in Mindcull, people post public virtual reality clips to communicate a whole range of things. And Eila’s clips are really popular. She plans them out carefully and they come across as light-hearted and spontaneous even though she is actually very socially anxious. So when people love her clips, it affirms her on one level but she also feels like they don’t really know her. 

GR: Do you have a favourite character? Who is it and why? 

Lots of people tell me they love Mei, Eila’s best friend. She can be a bit bossy, but she is also funny, warm, clever and passionate and she always seems to get things moving in Mindcull. I really enjoyed writing her because she is an amalgamation of women and girls who have been important at different points in my life. When Mei comes into a scene, she usually makes me smile. 

GR: Are you working on something now?

Yes. I am working on a middle-grade magical realism story about a twelve-year-old girl who is catapulted out of her ordinary life on a rural Australian island into a battle between otherworldly foes. I also have some ideas about revisiting the world of Mindcull.  


Thanks for visiting The Great Raven, Katherine! 


Mindcull comes out officially from Ford Street Publishing on June 1. 

Sunday, May 19, 2019

On Fans Claiming Ownership Of Others’ Work

This is based on recent fuss and bother about the last season of Game Of Thrones. Just so you know, 
I’ve read four of the books, but only seen a few episodes of the series. Who knew when I discovered a mediaeval fantasy novel by an author best known for being story editor of the TV series Beauty And The Beast that it would become so huge? I enjoyed it for the gritty feel of it, for the fact that the good guys didn’t necessarily survive - and I was fascinated by the weather patterns, the idea that “winter is coming” might be literal, and wondered if it was a planet with unusual seasons. George R.R Martin had, after all, written science fiction such as Tuf Voyaging, in which the hero travels around the galaxy in a seed ship, accompanied by cats. At the time when he visited Australia for a small convention I attended in Melbourne, he was working on Fevre Dream, a great vampire novel set in the pre-Civil War South,  in which vampires are not undead, they’re a separate race of humans. He talked about it at the con. In those days, nobody had heard of him except SF and fantasy fans - I doubt if any con committee in Australia could afford to invite him these days. 

And suddenly everyone had heard of him! It became a cultural phenomenon, which included people who don’t read speculative fiction, just as the Lord Of The Rings film series drew in people who had never read the books or fantasy in general. And that’s absolutely fine, even if they never do read anything else in that genre. 

For many years now, they have been having parties to celebrate the beginning of new seasons. People have invited family and friends over, some have learned how to cook mediaeval food. They have discussed it on line, argued about it, speculated on how it would end.

Well, they’re still doing all that, but ... a lot of fans are angry about what is happening in the last few episodes of the series, and saying so on line. Remember, I haven’t seen them. I don’t mind spoilers, because I’ve missed most of it. I can understand why people are upset and frustrated over the last few episodes of a series in which they have invested so much time and emotion. Absolutely their business;  nobody says you have to like it, or have no right to say you don’t. 

My problem is with the ones who have, I hear, started and signed a petition demanding that the last season be remade! That is weird! Do they seriously expect cast and crew and authors to come back and  re-shoot the lot to satisfy them? This has to be one of the sillier demands I’ve heard of! 

About as silly as Harry Potter fans who demanded that publishers should sack J.K Rowling and replace her with a fan writer! (Although if you’ve read one of my earlier posts, there is someone who has been told her fan fiction rewrite of a 19th century classic is better than the original! No, it’s not!)

These fans seem to think they own books and shows just because they love them, never mind all the author’s work in producing something they can love. 

When I was involved in media fandom many years ago, there were fans like that, and fannish quarrels, but no social media in those days, so even if you did think you owned the work, you could only argue about it in the fanzines with other fans and those rarely went beyond a couple of hundred copies. If you really, really hated what had been done to Spock, or the ending of British science fiction TV series Blake’s 7 - everyone was shot dead in the last episode of that except the anti hero Avon, who was almost certainly also shot during the credits - or the ending of Robin Of Sherwood, in which Maid Marion went into a convent, you just wrote fan fiction, either for yourself or for a small fanzine audience. And there were many, many stories in which Blake’s crew survived being shot dead or Marion returned to Sherwood - I wrote some myself! Fortunately Spock was revived in the very film after he died, so probably not much time to write fan fiction on that, but I have no doubt some did. It made you feel better, and others too. These days you can post fan fiction a lot more easily than in my time, so why don’t some of these angry fans write their own? 

Is it the availability of social media that’s encouraging this sort of childishness?  What do you think? 

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Now Rereading ... Ellis Peters!

Okay, I posted about this back in 2015, but I’m rereading my Brother Cadfael books again. I started with two I found on my mother’s shelves, Dead Man’s Ransom and The Virgin In The Ice. In the first-mentioned, the victim is the Sheriff of Shropshire, Gilbert Prestcote, and goodness, wasn’t the killer and motivation boring! It’s one of the few books in the series where the clues didn’t add up enough for me to pick the killer. I do mostly forget whodunnit in this series if I haven’t read them in a while. In the second-mentioned, you get someone from Brother Cadfael’s past, whom he didn’t know existed - his son - and he is so thrilled!



In case you have missed this wonderful series - 20 novels and a collection of short pieces - it’s by “Ellis Peters” aka Edith Pargeter, set in 12th century Shrewsbury, on the border of England and Wales, during the war between Empress Maud and King Stephen over the throne. Mostly, life just goes on in this mediaeval Midsomer, but people are affected. In the early book, One Corpse Too Many, the citizens of Shrewsbury have been besieged by Stephen’s forces and after the hangings of those who defied him, Brother Cadfael, preparing them for burial, notices there is one who wasn’t hanged.... This is the book in which he meets Hugh Beringar, a young man who will later become his “cop” buddy. Cadfael, after an adventurous life, including the First Crusade(remember? He has a son from that time) is now peacefully growing and harvesting herbs and making medicine. He’s also very good at forensics, and sharp-eyed, noticing things others don’t. And he doesn’t always follow the rules...

There is always a sweet young couple who marry in the end, or are about to marry. In One Corpse Too Many it was Hugh and his future wife Aline.

I’m currently  rereading Monk’s Hood, in which a man is poisoned by the herb, which is great for a muscle rub, but deadly to ingest. The sweet young couple this time are servants, one of whom has good reason to kill the victim.

I particularly liked that this one features Brother Cadfael’s old flame, who thinks he entered the church  because of her...

I like the everyday life portrayed here. Ordinary people are shown living their lives in a normal way. There are tradesmen and their families who appear or are mentioned in each book. Even when a member of the nobility appears, this is not Ivanhoe! Hugh Beringar, the cop, has a manor where he goes for harvest. The rest of the time he lives in a house in the town, with his wife and child and a servant who adores the baby. The castle is just his workplace. Even when he becomes Sheriff himself he stays in his ordinary if comfortable house.

I once visited Shrewsbury, years ago, and was able to find my way around the centre of town because of Ellis Peters’ detailed descriptions of the streets. The church connected with this series is still there.

And I don’t care if I do remember whodunnit, because it’s fun to read the clues and see them as I didn’t first go.

I love these books! Have you read them? What do you think? 

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Yet ANOTHER inappropriate request for promo!

So, I get this email from some web site for chicken breeders, asking me if I wanted to swap links. Really. Chicken breeders. Who have 15,000 followers, wow! Never mind that those followers would really not be interested in a book blog. Or my followers in chickens. Well, maybe they would, but I don’t need to hand them the link.

It was because of this post. Which is a review of a novel published by Chicken House. I have no idea why the publisher is called that, but there is no connection with actual chickens or breeding them. I could see that the email had been sent to every site that had the word in it somewhere and they hadn’t called me by name, although I have made it clear on my contact page that if you don’t call me by name, I won’t reply to your email, as I’m not into mass emails without good reason. Heck, even the big publishers who are sending mass emails call me by name! And they do have a good reason for the mass email. This one - and many of the other inquiries I receive - are just sloppy. They haven’t bothered to check their market. Or if they have, they say, “Well, yes, I know you don’t review this kind of book, but I was hoping you’d make an exception...” I would have replied, even to say no, if they had followed instructions. They didn’t.

This wasn’t even a request for a book review! I deleted it and next day I got a follow up. I deleted that too.

Unless it’s a novel with chickens in it, I’m not interested in chickens for the purposes of this blog. (And I have recently read a YA novel with mistreated chickens in it, which I may review some time soon).

Saturday, May 04, 2019

In Which I Do A School Visit...

This was a hectic week for me, as I was finishing off my A to Z - and attending a school writers’ festival in Melbourne’s western suburbs with Ford Street Publishing. It’s actually the nicer part of the western suburbs, near the beach, but not a private school by any means. In fact, one of the two campuses we visited was a bit old, not unlike my own school, though it did have a nice new hall. The other campus looked brand new. As I looked around, I hoped the rebuilt school on the site where I worked for so many years was going to look like that campus once it was up. They haven’t built much yet - I get photos in emails from my school’s alumni newsletter and the architect drawings did look nice. I think this school was sort of hoping the kids would get ideas to help with their NAPLAN tests in a couple of weeks. 

We were asked to give writers’ workshops to the kids. I had classes from Year7 to 9. I prepared something on the theme of plotting. With only 55 minutes to an hour, there was a limited amount you could do, though some of the more experienced folk, who have done school visits many times, were able to get quite a lot into that time. I didn’t quite know what to expect, so I kept it simple. Simple can work also. And you do have to impress the teachers too, as there will be at least one, possibly two in the room with you, as is required, even if the presenter is a qualified teacher, as I am, and has a Working With Children card AND a police check, as I have. Legalities, and fair enough, too. If you don’t know the kids, you really don’t want to run the risk of being held responsible for anything that might go wrong. 

I found the kids enthusiastic enough once they realised that it was quite okay to come up with silly ideas, in fact the sillier the better. Instead of starting with an exciting first sentence, I began with asking them to write down one thing they enjoyed during the term holidays or the weekend. “Can we lie?” someone asked in one class. “Absolutely!” I agreed, though I added that I didn’t care if their holidays were spent sleeping in and playing video games - the more boring the better, as we were going to come up with something more exciting to follow. For example, if you were sleeping, what happened when you woke up? A world turned orange, perhaps? Mind you, one girl told me about her ride in a shopping trolley, and I admitted that this was going to make an exciting start as it was.

 My only requirement was that nobody made jokes about a classmate or a teacher. One kid sort of did make an in joke about a classmate who liked the Beatles, but I worked that into what turned out to be quite an exciting story in which the classmate discovered that she had a liquid which would bring drawings to life, including a drawing of the Beatles. There was some discussion as to what might happen next, as two Beatles are still alive - who would be the real Paul or Ringo? How would they feel about their copies? So we decided it might be simplest to find a way they would go back to the picture, by being rained on. 

We discussed the things that every story needs to be interesting. One was for something to go wrong, another was to have a villain. We discussed their favourite villains, including Thanos from the Avengers movies, a villain who thought he was a good guy. That gave me the chance to quote that line about everyone being the hero of their own story and nobody waking up in the morning thinking they were evil and proud of it. 

To give the kids some idea of what a story might be like if nothing went wrong and there was no villain, I told them the story of Harry Potter, who found out he was a wizard, went to Hogwarts, made friends and got on the Quidditch team. After a fabulous year at school and a nice teacher called Snape, he goes home, the end. They picked up quickly what was wrong with this story - with nothing going wrong, it was a boring story nobody would read. 

Then we did a story outline on the board, choosing one of the holiday activities the kids had written, and that was when we made up a silly story together(in one case, there was a football team playing when a T Rex turned up and stomped on the umpire, in another the footy team were menaced by a unicorn and  rescued by the girl team member, who took it home for a pet.). I rather liked the one about the hero waking from his holiday snooze to find the house surrounded by ocean, and the suggestions ranged from using furniture to float to the nearest island to walking on the rainbow to the next island and finding gold...

I do hope they enjoyed themselves! The teachers seemed pleased, but that’s not the same, is it?  

The two days included two launches of the new Ford Street Book, Mindcull, by K. H Canobi. Katherine, the K.H of the book, was there for the morning launches and asked people if she could watch their workshops, including mine. She was grinning and scribbling notes. 

I should add that I’ve now got a copy of the book, which is still not in the shops, and am enjoying it. I’ve offered Katherine an interview on this blog when I’ve finished reading it. As Ford Street is a small press, one which had a bad experience with an overseas distributor, the print version probably won’t be available outside Australia, but the Baen website does sell a lot of our ebooks. 

There were some top people at the event: bestseller Sean McMullen, whom I’ve known since before he made his first sale, Emily Gale, Justin D’Ath, Michael Hyde and several others ... they all seemed to be having a good time. The staff were pleasant to us and the school supplied morning tea and lunch. 

This is my first paid gig of this kind. I’ve done others unpaid - a Book Week talk at my volunteer school, a talk AND workshop at a primary school near my own school(with 80 kids sitting in the floor of the library and a tiny whiteboard), a Writer in Residence... all volunteer. I did visit a school in Bendigo with Ford a Street once, but I just sat with a small, group of kids and talked about my writing. Not quite the same. 


I hope it’s only the first of many. 

Friday, May 03, 2019

Today Is... International Star Wars Day and...Vale Peter Mayhew!

Today is Star Wars Day. I’m not going to wish you, “May the Fourth Be With you!” because since my last May 4 post I have discovered where that line came from, and it was from the Murdoch press, congratulating Maggie Thatcher on her election win. Not something that charms me. But it is International Star Wars Day anyway, as good a day as any to celebrate the wonderful cultural phenomenon that is the Star Wars universe. I’ll come back to that.

Unfortunately we have now lost three of the actors whose performances gave us so much joy over the years. Carrie Fisher, our wondrous Princess Leia. Kenny Baker, R2D2 - who, in his lifetime, got a lot of work as an actor, small as he was. Only yesterday I read of the passing of Peter Mayhew, who played Chewbacca, Han Solo’s furry friend and co-pilot, whom I won’t describe as a sidekick because he wasn’t. He never let Han get away with anything silly. “That’s right, laugh it up, fuzzball!” snapped Han when embarrassed.

Peter Mayhew was actually playing Chewbacca right up to The Force Awakens, and then he was advising his successor in The Last Jedi.

According to his Wikipedia entry, he was chosen basically for his height - but then so was David Prowse, who played Darth Vader. Apparently, David Prowse was also considered for the role of Chewbacca, but ended up as Vader. Peter Mayhew wanted to be a hero. In some ways, he was better off, because David Prowse ended up as only the body of Darth Vader, whereas Peter Mayhew got to act his role. Poor Dave! He got the script and said the lines (in his Bristol accent) and then they replaced his voice with James Earl Earl Jones’s, without bothering to tell him - and then, when Vader removed his helmet it wasn’t even his face!

Yes, Peter did better in Star Wars, although Chewbacca was most of his acting career(I think he did a couple of minor films), while I’ve seen Dave Prowse in A Clockwork Orange, Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy and Shakespeare’s As You Like It. Still, Peter Mayhew was a hospital porter when he auditioned for Chewbacca and if he hadn’t done that, we might never have heard of him, so... I think he was happy to have that chance to be a part of such a huge cultural phenomenon.

Yesterday on Twitter I read a post by some idiot who has clearly refused to watch these movies, so missed the entire point of the cultural phenomenon and dismissed the late Mayhew as just some man in an animal suit years ago, big deal, why are we filling our news with this rubbish. And he got a response agreeing with him, comparing the news of his death with that of a racehorse, from someone I have been following, but have now unfollowed and muted. Quite apart from the significance, they owed a little respect and courtesy to the man’s family, and he was on Twitter and possibly they had seen that. Not nice.

Vale Peter Mayhew! We will miss you.

So, let me just finish with a few of my own memories of Star Wars. I saw what is now called A New Hope but then was just Star Wars, at a cinema on Bourke St in Melbourne that has long gone, though it was still around when The Phantom Menace came out. I was in my first year of teaching at the time, and we ended up taking the kids on an excursion to see it; one of my girls, who had been writing the name of the Fonze all over her books and pencil cases all year forgot him when she beheld Luke Skywalker. Another, who had played tough girl all year, fell in love with R2D2.

But my first viewing was on my own, in my own time. I hadn’t yet entered fandom(that was a year later) or I might have gone with a large bunch of friends from my Star Trek club, but I was happy to discover it on my own.

There were mile long queues outside the cinemas, but the 5.00 pm session was quiet, so I just turned up one day after work, bought a ticket and sat near the front. And then it began, swooping spaceships, rebels and Imperial Stormtroopers and John Williams’s magnificent score, and I was utterly lost, swept away. There was a young hero, a wise mentor, a couple of funny robots and a sassy, tough princess who needed to take over her own rescue when the rescuers turned out to be too klutzy for her taste.

Who knew then, though, how big it would become? It could have been just another blockbuster, popular for a season, then forgotten when the next one came along. But it wasn’t - and one of the cast, Harrison Ford, would go on to do other great things. And I should add that if it wasn’t for the success of this film and those that followed, we might never have got back Star Trek. Star Wars proved that science fiction could do brilliantly. It’s not that no one was even thinking of it - they must have been planning it, as the first Trek movie came out in 1979, not that long after Star Wars. But I’d be willing to bet that they would have retired it quietly if Star Wars had been a flop. Maybe it would have just been a telemovie. And for several years afterwards, there was a new SF or fantasy film released every year.
And there are classic lines quoted by people who probably don’t even know where they came from, or who at least aren’t fans. My favourite is, “These aren’t the droids you’re looking for...” which is replaced by whatever the person is joking about. Hands up if no one has ever used that line to you...?

Anyway, happy Star Wars Day and I hope you discover it if you’ve never seen it.