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Wednesday, November 29, 2023

What I’m Reading!

 I’ve been downloading and bingeing recently. In the old days I had to wait until I could get to a bookshop, but now that you can just pay and download, why wait? The only problem is, getting through them. 

So, here are some books I have bought recently on either Apple Books or Kindle, and am still reading.

Today’s download was Eating With The Tudors by Brigitte Webster. It’s a cookbook with history. You get the originals but also adapted recipes because in those days recipe books were aimed at professionals who knew what they meant and didn’t need details.

I’ve actually read Alfred Bester’s The Demolished Man. I assumed I had it in ebook, till I was telling a friend about it and realised I didn’t. I had to buy it , of course. I loved it! It’s basically a police procedural murder mystery set in a world where cops are telepaths, so murder shouldn’t be possible to get away with, but it happens anyway. Very clever, and provided the inspiration for a theme in Babylon 5, where they cheekily call the villainous head of the Psi Corps Alfred Bester. 

I got a free audiobook of Treasure Island, published by Apple Books. I’m listening to that now.

There are some mentioned on Twitter, usually by the author, and I couldn’t resist. 

The only print book in the lot is The Impudent Edda by Rowdy Geirsson. It arrived yesterday from Amazon. It is, as the title suggests, a reworked version of the Norse myths, written humorously by someone who really knows them well. I’ve just started. I couldn’t get it in ebook. The print book does seem to be available everywhere on line, though.

The same guy was reading a book called Seven Viking Romances, which he mentioned on social media and, of course, I had to buy it. I haven’t started it yet, but it looks good.

There has been a lot of discussion of the Princes in the Tower on Twitter recently, due to a documentary on the subject on the BBC. I haven’t seen it, as it has only been shown in the UK and the US so far, but there was so much discussion I just slipped out and bought The Survival Of The Princes In The Tower, the book by Matthew Lewis, whose work I first discovered in a discount bookshop, Book Grocer. He is big in the Richard III Society. Again - just starting it. 

I haven’t yet bought Philippa Langley’s book on the subject, though that was getting a lot of discussion on Twitter too. I thought she did a great job finding Richard III and I have her book about that and the film based on it, which has become one of my comfort viewing films, but I think I’ll wait till I have read some others first.

Just for the heck of it, I went to Project Gutenberg and downloaded some works by  Poul Anderson and Fritz Leiber, two of the classic spec fic writers whose stuff I love. I do have some of their later books in ebook and print, but their earlier short pieces are available on Gutenberg, so why not? 

There is a lot more, but I’ll finish here with one last book. I was in the mood to reread some Connie Willis books, so I  bought Passage, a novel about “near death experiences” in which the heroine, a scientist working on this, finds herself on the Titanic! I do have the print book somewhere…

Do you have a large TBR pile? Especially in ebook? 

Thursday, November 09, 2023

A Trip To Sydney!

First issue of the School Magazine.

So, I just got home from Sydney. I’ve been many times before, for SF cons, twice to children’s writers conferences and to visit friends. This time I went because I was invited to lunch by the NSW School Magazine, along with other contributors.The School Magazine has been around for over a century - 108 years next February - and I missed the centenary celebration when it was held several years ago, so I thought this time I’m going! And I did.

It has suddenly occurred to me that I’ve been writing for them for around thirty years! It all began when children’s writer Geoffrey McSkimming visited Melbourne for a library conference. Geoffrey used to write a hilarious series of children’s books about a character called Cairo Jim, who was a sort of Indiana Jones for children. Jim lived in Egypt in a village called Gurneh, after a real place where the villagers made a cosy living tomb robbing, and worked in the Valley of the Hairdressers. 

Anyway, while Geoffrey was at the conference, which I attended, he mentioned this magazine he worked for, and said it was a good market because they published four magazines for different age groups and each was four a year. And you don’t have to write for a specific one, they slot your work into whatever age group they think it fits. I started submitting and here I am, all these years later, still writing and submitting - my most recent article was published in September, edited by Geoffrey McSkimming. 

I’ve done a lot of articles about the space program - that one was about the Artemis project, which is going back to the moon, then on to Mars - but also about quirky bits of history and archaeology. A couple of times they invited me to submit items about specific subjects - once about Yuri Gargarin, another time about forensics. 

The thing is, at the time, the head honcho was a delightful guy called Jonathan Shaw, who eventually retired. Both in his time and for some time after, I could write to ask if they might be interested in a particular topic. If they said yes, I had a good chance of selling it. It’s a lot of research to do even a 1500 word piece and I’d hate to do all that only for them to say, sorry, we’ve just published something about that. 

Things changed over the years. For a while they were doing themed issues, which was a disaster for me. I’d written an article on a topic they had said interested them only to be told they needed to find an issue it would fit. Thankfully that system stopped soon and the article was published after all. 

These days you submit via the website, so I resubmitted it and they bought it. But at the time I thought there was no one I could email with an inquiry any more. And I found out on Monday, at the event, that you can, after all, still inquire and be answered. That made me very happy. I’m now researching a topic I think children will like, fingers crossed the good folk at the School Magazine will agree! 

It was an enjoyable afternoon. Lunch was really just sandwiches and sushi, with tea and coffee and cake on the side, but we had a fascinating talk about the history of the magazine. Afterwards, I picked up a copy of one of their best-of anthologies, along with a print of the very first edition. 

I met some folk I’d only known through correspondence, and the lady who pays us! There were the artists, who get a monthly “brief” and do the illustrations.

One of those was Queenie Chan, best known as a comic book/graphic novel artist, whom I met at a convention in Melbourne some years ago, and who told me she had illustrated some of my articles! Who knew when we first met that she would be illustrating my work one day? 

I was even more thrilled when I had a chat with Geoffrey, who said to me, “Keep them coming! I really like your work.”

A very nice ending to my visit to the offices of the School Magazine.

It was held in Paramatta, a bit of a way out of town, and I got lost on the way there! 

I saw my first jacaranda trees in bloom that day, something that has been compared to cherry blossom in Japan. 

Tuesday morning I met some fannish friends I have known forever and we took a trip to Manly by ferry, sailing past the Sydney Opera House. We caught up over lunch in the sunshine, fish and chips and lemonade, and watched people dressed for the Melbourne Cup walk past for some event of their own, then we walked on the beach with my friend Susan’s tiny rescue chihuahua, Pocket, whom she had brought along for a treat. Pocket was a breeder dog who was given away when she could no longer have puppies, so not a young girl, but a fine pet. 

In the evening I met my brother’s best friend, Michael, who enjoys talking about his family history and loves researching them. He really does a lot of research, and found relatives he hadn’t known he had, as well as finding, in the National Library’s newspaper archive, Trove, old articles about a relative who had been arrested and imprisoned for fraud! I also learned, after all this time, that he is a fellow Trek fan. We went for dinner at a favourite restaurant of his, with Israeli food. 

I woke up early yesterday morning to find the Internet was down, as was my phone. It wasn’t until I logged into the hotel’s wifi that I read the news that one of our major ISPs, Optus, had crashed all over Australia! If you live here, you’ll know about it. Really a disaster, with hospitals losing their connections, prop,e unable to call 000 for emergencies and trains in Melbourne getting backed up. My brother, who takes a train to work, got his wife to drop him off on the local tram line. I had to go home, so I used whatever wifi was available wherever I went; by the time I reached Melbourne airport, the crash was fixed. 

Still - much as I adore technology, it did show how much we rely on it. 

What do you think? Are we relying too much on our IT? Is it worth it? 

I think it is, but still…


Tuesday, October 24, 2023

New Ford Street Anthology!

 Just a quick post tonight, but I wanted to share with you the illustration for my story “Trail Of Gold” in the Ford Street anthology, Borderlands, which will be out around May next year. I’m very excited that it’s getting there, finally.

I might have mentioned this anthology in an early post. It’s the fourth produced by Ford Street Publishing, aimed at schools. I’ve been lucky enough to be in all of them so far. The first was called Trust Me! The series must have done well for there to be four anthologies. My school bought class sets of them for English and I used them myself, both for English and Creative Writing. With so many genres to choose from, it made things easy for teachers.

I was asked for historical fiction. The first two stories were set in the 1960s, one about the day of the first moon landing, the second set during the Beatles’ visit to Melbourne. Then, for the third anthology, Paul asked me to write about bushrangers, resulting in the story “The Boy To Beat Them All”, about the Eugowra gold robbery, in which bushrangers led by Frank Gardiner robbed a coach carrying gold from the gold mining town Forbes in New South Wales. I chose that event because it was witnessed by a thirteen year old boy, George Burgess, who wrote about it many years later. If you’re writing for kids, why not have a story seen from a child’s viewpoint? 

For Borderlands the authors were asked to do stories with two genres. Again, I was asked for historical fiction, so I made it a historical mystery. Those two go together well, I think. After writing and rewriting a story that just wasn’t working, about Mark Twain’s visit to Melbourne, which I didn’t bother to submit, I found myself writing a story that did work, and only took me four days to complete and edit. It’s a sort of sequel to “The Boy To Beat Them All”, only set about fifty years later, when a boy called Will, whose family owns a pub in Forbes, is thinking about some gold that might still be hidden in the area. He has been listening to George’s story over and over, because George is still being bought drinks for telling it to travellers. This time, there are two American brothers in the pub, who say they are there to do some prospecting. Frank Gardiner was banished from Australia after a few years in prison and went to California, where he opened a saloon. There was a story, which may or may not be true, that two Americans who looked like him came to Australia to dig. I decided that, true or not, it was a fun idea.

And here is the illustration done by artist Anne Ryan to go with my story! Isn’t it delightful? I have permission to share it with you. Enjoy! 

Illustration of “Trail Of Gold”, art by Anne Ryan. Posted with permission. 

Monday, October 02, 2023

Celebrating Richard III’s birthday!


Public Domain

Today is Richard III’s birthday, so I thought I’d talk about a few pieces of Ricardian fiction I have read or seen over the years.

Of course, I really must start with my all-time favourite, Josephine Tey’s Daughter Of Time, which is not historical fiction but an Inspector Alan Grant mystery, in which Tey’s police detective hero  solves a cold case mystery from his hospital bed - the very cold case of Richard III - does he belong on the bench or in the dock? This was written in 1951, so Grant has to reach his conclusions by reading books - no Internet, absolutely no Google. That book probably got the Richard III Society a lot of members - including me! I studied the Shakespeare play in Year 11 and our lovely English teacher told us about the book. I have read and reread that book, but most recently I’ve been listening to the audiobook, read by the wonderful Derek Jacobi. I do recommend that.

Speaking of the Richard III Society, one of its chairmen, Jeremy Potter, wrote a novel called A Trail Of Blood. It’s set during the reign of Henry VIII. Henry is busy dissolving the monasteries, so one of them sends out a monk, Brother Thomas, to see if he can find a Yorkist heir - in fact, Richard of York, the younger of the Princes in the Tower, who is rumoured to be alive. It’s a mystery story with an investigator. Well, he does find Richard of York, who is alive and well, no matter what Richard III’s enemies say, but he has very good reasons for saying he isn’t interested in taking the throne… The book is available in audiobook and print. 

If you want to watch something amusing with Richard III in it, try the first episode of Blackadder. The title character, Edmund Blackadder, is the son of King Richard IV, played by a hearty, backslapping Brian Blessed. In this episode Richard III(comedian Peter Cook)wins the battle of Bosworth, but gets his head cut off by Edmund, who has mistaken him for a horse thief. So his nephew, Richard of York, becomes king while Henry Tudor, in hiding, is blamed for Richard III’s death. 

More recently, of course, there has been the film The Lost King, about finding the King In The Carpark. It’s based on a non fiction book by Philippa Langley but I don’t think the real Philippa actually carried on conversations with the ghost of Richard III! It’s a nice gentle film, which I have bought and watched several times.

Rosemary Hawley Jarman’s We Speak No Treason is a beautiful book. The story is seen from the viewpoint of three people in Richard’s life, the Maiden, who becomes the mother of Richard’s illegitimate daughter Katherine Plantagenet, the court jester Patch, a friend of the Maiden, who survives the whole business to work for Elizabeth of York, and the Man Of Keen Sight, a loyal servant of Richard, an archer who goes under the name of Mark Eye as a joke. It’s easily available on line. 

She also wrote a novel, The King’s Grey Mare, about Richard’s sister in law, Elizabeth Woodville. Elizabeth was suspected to be a witch, and a descendant of French water fay Melusine; in this novel, she actually does bewitch - or drug, anyway - Edward IV, and pray to Melusine to help her. By the way, Elizabeth has descendants in the present day from her first marriage; Princess Diana was a descendant, so her children, William and Harry, are also descendants of Elizabeth Woodville and maybe Melusine…?

American writer Sharon Penman’s thick novel The Sunne In Splendour is worth a read if only for the facts behind it - she first wrote it as a young student and the manuscript was stolen from her  car, so she wrote the whole thing over again! I enjoyed it very much, though as I was reading I kept thinking, “Ah, no, Richard, you idiot, don’t trust him!”

Barbara Willard’s children’s novel The Sprig Of Broom is only available second hand in ABE Books, but there seem to be plenty of copies. It’s set early in the reign of Henry VIII and the hero, Medley Plashet, is a grandson of Richard III. He doesn’t know this  till late in the book, but his father Dick Plashet(Richard Plantagenet)is one of Richard’s illegitimate children. He was a real person, by the way, the only one of Richard’s four children to live to a ripe old age, when he was found working as a mason on a country estate by his employer, who was intrigued to see this older man reading Latin poetry during his lunch break. If he ever had any children himself we don’t know about it, but Barbara Willard gave him a son. When Dick’s mother’s relatives come after him to try to make him King, he disappears. Medley makes a life for himself at the manor of Mantlemass.

If you want to watch some Shakespeare Richard, there are some amazing versions. Laurence Olivier, of course. Ian McKellen’s version is set in the 1930s! I’ve found that on YouTube for free - about the only place I have been able to find it at all. Benedict Cumberbatch, an actual relative of Richard, plays the role brilliantly in the Hollow Crown TV series. 

I’d just like to conclude with a self published series of books by Janet Reedman (writing under the name J.P Reedman) under the series title I, Richard Plantagenet. I’m currently reading a novella of hers, The Mistletoe Bride of Minster Lovell, with Richard visiting his best friend Francis Lovell at Christmas. I bought it because I knew Janet when she was editing a Robin Of Sherwood fanzine many years ago, and published a couple of my fan stories. She does write very well and this part of history fascinates her, so she does her research, some of it appearing on her blog. You can find these books on Kindle if interested.

I was madly into Richard III fiction some years ago, but these are the ones that popped into my head. Do you have any favourites I haven’t mentioned?

Happy birthday, Richard!

Monday, September 18, 2023

Just Finished Viewing… Rogers The Musical!

Cast cr

Creative Commons image

Some time ago, I watched the six part Disney Plus series Hawkeye, about one of Marvel’s Avengers, Clint Barton. As superheroes go, he had no special powers, he was just very, very good with a bow, though he did have trick arrows. He had lost his wife and children during the “Blip” in which half of the life in the universe vanished, and, in his grief and anger, became a vigilante. Now, post the Blip, when everyone returned, he has taken his children to New York for a pre Christmas treat, including a Broadway show, Rogers: The Musical, about Captain America who is, of course, a real person in that universe. Apparently the song was inspired by real world musical Hamilton. It was composed by Marc Sharman and Scott Wittman.

Clint can’t cope with it, during a bouncy number,  “Save The City” remembering his dearest friend, Natasha Romanoff(Black Widow), who had died in front of him, sacrificing herself to save the world; he leaves the theatre before the song is over. At the end of the series there was a full version of “Save The City” in the mid-credits. 

It was such a delightful performance, I thought that if it had been a real show I’d be booking tickets already.

This year, there was, indeed, a short version of Rogers: The Musical, including “Save The City” and five new songs, performed at Disney California Adventure. I was a bit disappointed that, at 37 minutes, it was never going to be touring the world and arriving in Australia. 

However, I stumbled across the show on YouTube and happily watched it. It’s a very condensed version of Captain America: The First Avenger, with music. I have just watched it for the second time tonight and enjoyed it all over again. 

It will probably mean more if you have seen the original film, but the songs are a delight and maybe it will make you curious to see the film.

Here is a link for you.


Tuesday, September 12, 2023

Just Finished Reading… Of Blood Descended By Steven Veerapen. Edinburgh: Polygon, 2022


The year: 1522. The place: England. Henry VIII is welcoming his nephew, Emperor Charles V, to his court. As part of the welcome, a special masque is being prepared, organised by Cardinal Wolsey. It’s on an Arthurian theme because Henry is obsessed with his supposed descent from King Arthur. 

But there is a murder; the royal historian, Pietro Gonzaga, who has been working on proving Henry’s Arthurian descent, is found dead on the lawns of Hampton Court. And there will be more murders in the course of the novel.

The sleuth here is Anthony Blanke, a music teacher who was once one of Wolsey’s trumpeters. He is the son of late royal trumpeter John Blanke, an African musician who arrived in England with Catherine of Aragon. Anthony is at Wolsey’s palace of Hampton Court when the first murder happens, having been sent for to play a role in the masque.

After several murders and having been assaulted himself, Anthony finds the killer…

John Blanke was a real person, whose image is shown in a couple of paintings, sitting on a horse and blowing a fanfare, but there is little known of him after he retired from the job and married, so why not give him a son?

The guy with the turban was probably John Blanke. Public domain

It’s an intriguing story. There is a lot of detail about the work that needed to be done to prepare for a masque. Wolsey, in this novel, is at his height of power, several years before his downfall. Anne Boleyn is there, taking part in the masque, but not yet being courted by Henry.  

Steven Veerapen has written some historical non fiction, but there are two novels in this series so far, as well as the Ned Savage Elizabethan thrillers. I am definitely planning to read the sequel to this novel, Of Judgement Fallen!

Available in both ebook and print.