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Friday, December 31, 2010

Me and my new T-shirt!

Isn't it great what you can do nowadays? I decided it might be nice to promote my new book, so I went to the local camera shop and using a simple JPEG file, I got a T-shirt in an hour, promoting my book for about the same price as promoting someone else's product (and I never have understood why people pay to wear a shirt advertising a brand of shoes or jeans! You'd think the company would hand out the shirts for free). I also got a shirt with my last book, Crime Time, on it, but haven't yet worn it. As soon as I can, I'll get someone to take a photo of me in that one.

Meanwhile, I got my nephew Mark to take some photos of me in my lovely new shirt and am considering getting some mugs made up for friends who have already bought the book, so what do you give them?

I know this has been possible for years, but hey, this is my first time!

Here I am in it!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

UNEARTHLY By Cynthia Hand. Sydney: HarperCollins, 2011

Clara is part-angel. She has known this since she turned fourteen a couple of years ago. Like others of her kind, she expects to learn her “purpose” on earth, a task she must perform. According to visions she has been having, this seems to be saving a boy from a forest fire somewhere in the US state of Wyoming. Clara, her half-angel mother and her younger brother move to the small town where the boy, Christian, lives.

Clara knows she must get close enough to Christian to be on the spot whenever the disaster happens. She’s also learning to use her hidden wings, in case she needs to carry him.

But there are problems. Christian, a sweet boy liked by everyone, has a girlfriend whom he loves. Can Clara help him without interfering with his love life? Does she even want to? And what about her own love life, in the shape of the gorgeous Tucker, her friend’s brother? What happens when she’s carried out her angelic mission?

And how does she survive the Black Wimgs, a group of fallen angels who have plans of their own?

After some years of one vampire tale after another, it seems that angels are taking over the popular teen paranormal romance. In fact, when I told one of my students that I was reading this book for reviewing, she asked, "And is she red-haired?"

"Er, no, she has had to dye it red," I replied.

"Blonde, then."

She was right about that. So it seems that already there are conventions in this form of fiction. On the other hand, another character, who is also a part-angel, is dark.

This is the first angel romance I’ve read, myself, and it’s good readable stuff which the girls should enjoy, even if the main angel character is the girl rather than the boy. What would it be like to try to work out how to use wings? To have to hold back in athletics, dance and such because you’re so good at them that even if no one asks questions you feel you’re being unfair to the competition? And being good at everything doesn't necessarily mean you're good at getting every boy you might want.

I liked the author's description of Wyoming, which made me think it's a place I'd enjoy visiting; she lives not far from there herself, so knows about it. I'd never ski, but found it fascinating to read about in this book; there's a lot more to it than just Girl-Angel and the boys in her life. I suspect the author is a keen skier herself.

The girls will like it for certain; several were eyeing my copy of this book before the holidays began and I had to promise it would go into the library when reviewed before I could get it out of their clutches.

They will be even more pleased to find out that it;s the first of a series.

Friday, December 24, 2010

What I enjoy about Christmas Day

Christmas isn't my holiday. I don't have any need to spend it having lunch and exchanging gifts with family members. I think we had a barbecue once, but not to celebrate Christmas, just because it was nice.

But I do enjoy Christmas Day. My usual routine on Christmas Day is: a. get up earlyish and bake bread. b. pack a picnic lunch, using my homemade bread for the sandwiches, with something gourmet as the filling - perhaps a good-quality cheese or two. The rest of the meal is a hard-boiled egg (what's a picnic without a hard-boiled egg? I was, after all, brought up on Enid Blyton, though I admit I don't take lashings of ginger ale with me), a piece of chocolate of some variety (again - taken from Blyton), some of the Christmassy baked-goods given me by friends, fresh summer fruit and a thermos of coffee. c. head for the beach with the above-mentioned lunch and whatever book or six that I'm reading at the time. d. wave at people having picnics in the park on the way. e. arrive at the beach, have my picnic and read, occasionally waving at other beach-picnickers. On the way, I enjoy the peace of the streets, hearing only the odd rattle of crockery from the houses as someone prepares lunch.

One year, a kindly lady invited me into her garden where she and her friends were having lunch together, probably thinking I was a poor soul forced to spend the day alone. I appreciated the thought, but declined the offer politely, not telling her about the yummy lunch in my backpack or the pure pleasure I get from spending the day doing just what I want.

Another year, there was a storm on Christmas Day. I had my picnic in the living-room, bingeing on episodes of Angel.

Last year, unfortunately, my family and I were in the palliative care unit where my father was spending his last days. :-(

This year, because I'd spent the Friday night at my mother's home, I managed to drag her along to enjoy the picnic with me. I did offer to bake some bread, but she thought I'd be better off having a rest, so I bought a baguette for us to share and we had it with Gorgonzola and Brie cheeses, the thermos of coffee, fruit and the world's best vanilla slice, bought from a wonderful bakery near my home.

Mum dozed a while after lunch and I read my new book, a very readable history of gladiators - anything to help with the research. Not that I have any fiction planned set in ancient Rome, but you never know. According to this book,the movie Spartacus was more or less correct, with a few exceptions (such as the ending, of course, and the fact that they didn't have retiarii for sixty years after the time of Spartacus) but Gladiator got it completely wrong - fascinating!

A peaceful day, and Mum enjoyed it too.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Seer Of Sevenwaters By Juliet Marillier. Pan MacMillan, 2010.

Reviewed by guest blogger Thando Bhebe.

Seer of Sevenwaters is about Sibeal, a girl committed to becoming a druid. Before her final vows she travelled to the northen island of Inis Eala to spend some time with her sisters. An unusual storm sinks a ship and there are only three survivors, one of which she stumbled across. He is an amnesiac with no name that the other survivors knew. Sibeal names him Ardal and he's fighting for his life.

The island community discovers that there is something strange about the shipwreck survivors. Strange things happen and secrets unravel. Sibeal is drawn into a perilous quest and has to face a decision that may break her heart. Spiritual life or love?

It's the fifth book of a series. I have read the first three before this one, but for those who haven't, there is a family tree that may help you along.

First of all, the front cover and the blurb drew me in. I liked the prologue. It went straight to the action. The way the author wrote it was so that the first chapter is fairly interesting, but then after that it keeps getting better and bigger. I liked how it sort of got a little twisted and out of control. The lies of some of the characters, the secrets and each time I flipped to the next page, it was what kept it rolling.

The good thing was that the author showed the amnesiac's point of view as well, because the reader had a bit of an idea about his struggle to stay alive, the things that happened to him when to one else was there which was added clues. Some of the clues the author gave were a bit obvious but the major ones were much harder to decipher.

The author kept to the point and didn't wander off into anything else, which was one of the things I enjoyed. To me, the ending was perfect, though a little bit predictable considering what the main characters had gone

The book wasn't confusing at all, the language was proper and was very descriptive. I thoroughly enjoyed the book and sympathised with Ardal the amnesiac. It's a book worth re-reading.

If I were to rate it, I'd rate it four and a half stars.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Interview with Juliet Marillier

This interview was conducted by guest blogger Thando Bhebe. Thando is a passionate reader who is currently diving into 30 library books she took home for the holidays. She is also an emerging writer whose work is up on Internet writing community Inkpop.

Thando is a major fan of the wonderful fantasy novelist Juliet Marillier, who has kindly agreed to an interview. Welcome to The Great Raven, Thando and Juliet.

Interview questions by Thando Bhebe, a teenage reader of the Sevenwaters books and Heart’s Blood.

1.Why is the Sevenwater series set in Ireland?

Daughter of the Forest (first book in the series) is based on a traditional story called The Six Swans, a fairytale set somewhere in Europe. Irish folklore contains many stories about swans, and in particular people turning into swans. The Irish landscape suited the sort of tale I wanted to tell, with a mysterious forest and lake. So I chose Ireland as the setting for the first novel and then, of course, for the ongoing series.

2. Is it in the south or the North of Ireland?

It’s the north. Sevenwaters is based on an area called the Ring of Gullion in County Armagh. There used to be a very big forest there, though in the past it was cut down for grazing. They’re currently replanting the hillside with trees.

3. What types of books do you enjoy reading?

I like a wide variety of books and I always have. I think that’s essential for a writer! I enjoy books with strong female characters, ranging from classics such as Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women right through to recent novels such as The Distant Hours by Australian author Kate Morton. I read a lot of non-fiction, partly as research for my writing. I like books that are original and well-crafted. I have a small list of writers from whom I read every new book: Iain Banks, David Mitchell, Jodi Picoult.

4. The women of Sevenwaters seem to go through a lot – why is this?

Human journeys and relationship are at the heart of storytelling for me. My characters feel quite real as I travel with them on their adventures. I think real life is all about meeting challenges and finding out how brave you can be in times of adversity. Would you want to read a book in which the central character lived happily at home the whole time?

5. How did you think up Bran the Painted Man?

Bran’s tattoos are based on the Maori traditional tattoos of my homeland, New Zealand. Tattoos have a lot of meaning in tribal cultures and I liked the idea that Bran made a new identity for himself this way. I’d also been reading a lot about men who were traumatised by experiences in the past, for instance, servicemen returning from active duty who could not escape their memories of what they’d seen on the battlefield. All of this combined to create Bran. From the start I saw Son of the Shadows as a story about peeling away layers of memory one by one to get at the heart of his fear and alienation.

6. Are any of the characters of your books based on people you know?

No, though I use characteristics of people I’ve met. But I mix them up so no character is exactly like anyone in real life.

7. Are any of the characters based on yourself?

Oh, no! Of course a certain amount of my own experience and attitudes is going to make its way into the characters, more in some books than others. The character with whom I have the most empathy is Caitrin, the protagonist of Heart’s Blood, who is struggling to get back her sense of self after suffering a breakdown. There are also a few older women in the books who are a little like me. I’d like to be Draguţa, the witch of the wood from Wildwood Dancing, and ride around on a white fox!

8. Do you ever write a certain scene, then get emotional over it (if it’s a sad one for example)?

Scenes in which good characters have bad things happen to them are always hard to write, and can be very hard to re-read. When I’m editing my own work I often have to go over a scene many times. There is a death scene in Blade of Fortriu that I found extremely hard to revisit. The person in question was one of my all-time favourite characters. But the plot required him to die in particularly cruel circumstances.

9. Heart’s Blood is based on Beauty And The Beast – why set it in Ireland?

I was originally going to set Heart’s Blood in Eastern Europe, either in Romania or Bulgaria. My American editor thought would not be very appealing for US readers, and so the setting was revised to Ireland. There are many people in the USA with Irish ancestors and they tend to love my Irish stories. The new setting worked pretty well, and allowed me to include the historical context of the Anglo-Normans moving into Ireland and helping themselves to the territory of the Irish chieftains such as Anluan.

10. With the Sevenwaters series did you make it a big family because you wanted to make it a series or because you like big families? Do you have one yourself?

I have quite a small family, though it’s getting bigger as I acquire more grandchildren! The story of The Six Swans features a girl with six brothers, so the big family was there even before I began writing. The whole Sevenwaters saga simply grew from there. I had originally intended writing only one book. The story got longer because I thought I should investigate the effects of the swan transformation on future generations of the family. Happy endings are usually not happy for every single character, only some, and that is certainly true of Daughter of the Forest. I wanted to go down the paths of some of the characters whose lives were forever changed by what had happened. Once you get into the third and fourth generations of a family, as I’ve done with Sevenwaters, you have a big cast of characters to choose from.

11. I have noticed that in your books (Sevenwaters series and Heart’s Blood) there is always some romance. Is this because you enjoy romance or is there another reason?

I love reading a book with a good romance in it, and I think that’s my main reason for including a love story in every novel. As I mentioned earlier, I am fascinated by human journeys and human relationships, and love stories are a vital part of that.

12. Which is your favourite book, if any, and why? Your favourite character and why? For what age group do you recommend them?

My favourite book is usually the one I’m currently writing – at present that is the first instalment in a new series for young adults, called Shadowfell. If I was pushed to choose a favourite from the earlier books it would probably be Son of the Shadows because I really loved creating Bran and his motley band of warriors, and Liadan is the heroine I would most like to be. Favourite character: I have so many … Perhaps Faolan, the anti-hero from the Bridei Chronicles.

Age group for readers: Wildwood Dancing and Cybele’s Secret are written for young adults, age 13+. They are also a good read for adults. The Shadowfell series, first book due out in 2012, will suit age 14+.

All the other books are intended for adults, but they do have a keen readership among young adults, age 14+. They include ‘adult’ content, so it really depends very much on the individual reader. I’d suggest young adult readers start with Wildwood Dancing and Cybele’s Secret, and then try Daughter of the Forest or Heart’s Blood.

13. Would you like it if people wanted to turn one of your books into movies?
Only if it was really well done. A bad movie with cheap special effects would be ghastly. Now if Peter Jackson were interested …
14. If they asked you, which book would you most like to be made into a movie?

Wildwood Dancing, which is very loosely based on The Twelve Dancing Princesses, would make a great animated movie. I’d love to see my Viking novel, Wolfskin, as an action adventure film.

15. In the first Sevenwaters book the brothers turn into swans. Why swans?

The book is based on a traditional fairytale about a girl whose brothers are turned into swans by their jealous stepmother. The girl has to make shirts for each of them from a prickly plant and throw them over their necks, to win her brothers back their human form. While performing this task, which takes years, she is not allowed to utter a word.

16. In Sevenwaters, there seem to be an awful lot of twins. Is it in the Sevenwaters gene to have twins?

Yes, twins are definitely in the family’s genetic makeup. Both girl/boy twins like Sean and Liadan, and same sex twins like Conor and Cormack, and Deirdre and Clodagh. They’d be fraternal twins, not identical twins.

17. If you had a choice to pick one of your characters to come to life, which one would it be?

Gosh, difficult question! I’d have to consider who would cope well when transplanted into the extremely different setting of the twenty-first century. It might have to be one of the uncanny characters.

18. My favourite Sevenwaters women are Sorcha, Liadan and Sibeal.
Is there a reason why these women are more or less similar? Sorcha’s husband’s from Harrowfield, Liadan’s husband was once an out law and although I have not finished SEER OF SEVENWATERS , Sibeal meets Felix (Ardal ) who’s from another island. Is this because you like that type of romance, with people from different places coming and joining the Sevenwaters family?

Because the series is based around the Sevenwaters family, and because the central characters are women, their romantic partners will tend to be people from somewhere else. Sevenwaters itself is quite a big territory, so it’s not surrounded by close neighbours whose sons can provide a handy social circle for the Sevenwaters girls. In those days, young women from a chieftain’s family would usually have arranged marriages to men of similar social rank, perhaps the sons of other local chieftains. But of course, the Sevenwaters girls are unusually strong-minded young women and many of them end up on rather different paths in life, Liadan and Clodagh especially.

Sunday, December 12, 2010


I organised this months ago, with Alice, the lovely lady who arranged the mass-event for Ford Street. It could have gone better than just a few copies, given that it was Christmas and a teen paranormal book and I was in costume – but it was still a nice day.

I arrived very early and parked my stuff in the back room. Alice told me that, as I’d explained why I couldn’t get any books from the publisher (they’d run out – gloat!) her boss had kindly agreed to let me have the needed copies for my launch for 25% discount.

Last night, I sat up late, watching a guilty-pleasure DVD and sewing myself a new kaftan to use for today and my launch. I embroidered it just a little around the neck, as it was already getting late, but I thought it would be nice to wear a costume. Alice said that was fine – they’d had another writer come dressed as a dog! I experimented with wearing a cloak and a veil and ended up just putting a silver cord around my head. That worked okay. I wore my silver Cyndi Smith wolf’s-head brooch – a gorgeous piece of jewellery which I commissioned her at Aussiecon, as a birthday gift to myself.

In the end, I gave away a lot more bookmarks – including Crime Time bookmarks – than I sold books, but never mind. I talked with people, I was friendly and perhaps they will come back for a copy. I signed quite a few for the shop – they had bought an embarrassingly large number of copies – and asked if they might put some in the paranormal. YA is good, but paranormal teen is also good – even better. So you cover two places and have two chances to sell..

Best of all today, I got to meet Romy of Lost In Stories blog (here we are in a photo) and her delightful parents, who took the trouble to come and support me. Romy offered to take some bookmarks (signed, of course) to use for a give-away on her web site and I also gave her several Crime Time bookmarks. It will work well there. It has occurred to me that, apart from Tina and Dylan, I’m fairly sure that most of my regular readers are older than Romy’s – and Dylan is my student, Tina found me through Romy. So when I do my next bit – a “cast Wolfborn the movie” competition, I might ask Romy if she’d like to run it on her site as well.

That’s for later. Meanwhile, it was fun to meet her – thanks for coming, Romy!

Friday, December 10, 2010

Wolfborn - lots of happy-making stuff

It finally came out officially on December 1st, although the shops had it before then. I wandered into Dymock's in the city, where I had been told they would be getting it in, and offered to sign any copies they had. "Yes, please!" said Zoe, the lady at the special orders counter, and her manager brought twelve copies out. I then offered bookmarks to go with them, because the bookmarks counter has been cleared for Christmas wrapping. This offer was happily accepted and then I had another thought: since the counter usually used to put advertising bookmarks was being used for wrapping - why not give away a few signed bookmarks with the first few wrapped gifts? Zoe liked that idea too, so I signed a dozen bookmarks for those. Nice!

Tomorrow I will be going to another Dymock's, at Southland in Melbourne, to do a book-signing, and see how that goes.

Meanwhile, the reviews and interview offers continue - very nice! George Ivanoff reviewed it in Literary Clutter, the blog connected with Boomerang Books,AND did an interview, there was, of course, the very first one in AsIf, written by Tehani Wessely, teacher-librarian extraordinaire, editor, reviewer and former ASIMite. There is a fabulous one in ReadPlus and Tehani has done a very nice extra review for Fiction Focus.

But two especially exciting promos - a wonderful rave review on Marianne de Pierres' blog,Burn Bright, by reviewer Belinda Hamilton, not to mention the lovely interview.The other bit of excitement came the other day when one of my students looked up from her Dolly Magazine and said, "Miss, your book is in this!" You really know you've scored when you get a mention in Dolly - think of the thousands of girls who read it, not to mention quite a few boys. For any of them who might be reading this, Wolfborn has lots of adventure and a touch of romance. Well, it has to - it's based on a story that was one of a bunch of tales with romantic elements, not just the standard "mediaeval romance" which might not be what we think of by the term, although it often is.

The nicest thing of the lot is the reason why I couldn't get extra copies from the publisher to hand out at my school book launch on Monday and will have to buy a few at full price: the book was out of stock. I'm told it has already gone into reprint. After a week! Okay, it just means shops have bought up big for Christmas. There could be returns afterwards. I hope not. Fingers crossed!

Friday, December 03, 2010

Watch This Space for Juliet Marillier

Recently, the publicist at Macmillan sent out a press release offering the latest of Juliet Marillier's Sevenwaters novels and an interview. I have only just discovered this writer myself (see my review) but one of my students, Thando, has been reading and loving all of them. The publicist was fine with Thando doing the review and interview, so Thando and I sat down during a Book Club meeting to prepare her questions for the interview. When they're done, Thando will become my guest blogger and the questions will be posted right here on this web site!

I must say, I am enjoying this writer's work. She knows her mediaeval Ireland and uses fairytales to start off her books, and it works. There's something reminiscent of Caiseal Mor, another Irish fantasy writer living in Australia, only his books are mostly set in a much earlier Ireland, around the time Christianity wandered into town.(Well, there are later ones. I simply adored Carolan's Concerto!)

Stand by for a very interesting interview, followed by the review when Thando has finished the book.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

What I'm re-reading: Sword At Sunset

After all the stuff I have been saying about Rosemary Sutcliff, I felt in the mood. I went to my overflowing bookcases in my lovely but messy study and found my Tor Publishing copy of this book, with the American spelling. For quite some years you could only get the abridged version which left out the gay lovers and Artos and Guenhumara's wedding night, when he finally gets it that his half-sister Ygerna has really damaged him. It was meant for kids to read, but really, it made me scratch my head when I was near the end and Artos is stressed out because he's only once been more than half a man to her, he says when he finds her with Bedwyr. The author, when interviewed, said that she had met kids who had read and loved the full version.

It's set three days after the end of The Lantern Bearers, but it's Aquila's son, Flavian, who appears in most of this book. A beautiful, beautiful novel. You feel so strongly for Artos - and it was the first time I'd read an Arthurian novel told by Arthur, though since then there has been Parke Godwin's fabulous Firelord.

There have been others, wonderful others, but Sword At Sunset is my favourite.There are some books you just know you will have to read over and over again.

My student who has just finished The Lantern Bearers agreed it was wonderful, but he will now have to wait for next year for this one, unless he can find it in the Sunshine Library. After that I might wave the books of Mary Stewart and maybe Jack Whyte under his nose. Parke Godwin later.

Meanwhile, I will curl up with Artos the Bear and his friends at bedtime tonight. Lovely!

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Eagle of the Ninth movie - I wonder...?

They're turning Rosemary Sutcliff's Eagle of the Ninth into a movie. It made a wonderful TV series years ago, with Anthony Higgins in the lead. I don't think that's available on DVD - anyway, I can't find it, although maybe now ...?

Meanwhile, what will this one be like? I can only hope that it's a whole lot better than, say, the abomination that was made of Susan Cooper's The Dark Is Rising. Checking out the cast list, I see that the role of Marcus Aquila has gone to an American actor, Channing Tatum - the guy who played "Duke" Orsino in "She's The Man" and Esca will be played, would you believe by "Billy Elliott" Jamie Bell, who is about 24 now. Well, there's no doubt Tatum looks like a Marcus. Whether he can act it or not we'll have to see. This fan will be difficult to please!

It's fascinating to see all the on-line blog comments by folk who haven't read the book but hope it will be an sword-and-sandal epic of the kind that has been appearing lately. Apparently, it's a small budget, so that's not likely.

I'm re-reading The Lantern Bearers, the third book in the series. It's not easy to get the Sutcliff books these days. They've put three of them under one cover - perhaps because of the movie? - but for the most part, you have to hunt for them on the bookshop shelves or order them.

Let's hope the movie is good enough that people start asking for the books and they re-print the lot!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Shameless self-promotion

Okay, here it is, sent to me by Paul Collins, my Ford Street publisher. I'll be there, if any of you are in Melbourne and feel like coming, and so will some much bigger names than me. I'll be bringing bookmarks. The priority will be Crime Time, my non-fiction book for Ford Street, which is nice easy reading and great as a Yuletide gift for the child in your life, or even for yourself, but with luck the shops will also have my new novel.

"Authors Paul Collins, Meredith Costain, George Ivanoff , Felicity Marshall, Foz Meadows, Sean McMullen, Doug MacLeod, Hazel Edwards, Jo Thompson and Sue Bursztynski will be signing their books at Fairfield Bookshop, 117a Station Street, Fairfield (11am) and Collins Booksellers, Shop D1/2 Northland Shopping Centre, East Preston (1pm) on Dec 4. All welcome if you’re in Melbourne on that date."
Ford Street Publishing Pty Ltd
2 Ford Street
Clifton Hill, Vic 3068

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Book Clubbers

Okay, they're the same students. Book Club and Writers' Club - they overlap, although the Year 7 girls don't turn up to the latter. They did come on the Book Club excursion. Last week in Book Club, we had a lively argument, everyone talking at once, about which was better - Twilight or Harry Potter? Nobody wanted to wait for anyone else to finish and in the end I let them just do it as they pleased.

This week, Dylan read the latest instalment of his epic "Three Brothers" series to the gathered group. I asked Ryan for the file of his Japanese martial arts story, which he says he's finished, so I could print it out and we can discuss it next time, but we became a little distracted by various things. I will have to ask again.

We all stood at the computer, where Thando explained about, an on-line writers' community to which she belongs. We couldn't get a Word copy of the story - I think it's a web site security issue to protect the writers - so we printed it off and Thando read some of it to us. It's about a girl who lives on Venus and has been admiring an Earth boy from afar. Willis did discuss with her the scientific issues about Venus as a planet. I suggested she just get on with it, so the story is written, then go back and check out her research facts for the purposes of correction; I believe that one should write while ideas are flowing, THEN do the research and re-write - unless, of course, you're doing some reading and get the ideas from that. I think I vaguely recall Robert Silverberg saying at Aussiecon 3 that this is how he works, that he'd never get anything done if he stopped to do all the research first.

So no, I wasn't going to tell Thando that Venus might be a bit hostile to life. Not yet, anyway. I just suggested that she look it up later. The story so far is charming. I'd hate for that to stop.

I think it's well worth giving up one lunchbreak a week to be with these delightful students and give them space for their writing and reading.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

OUT FOR BLOOD: Volume 3 Drake Chronicles. By Alyxandra Harvey London: Bloomsbury, 2010

This is the third novel in the series about the peaceful vampire family, the Drakes, and the humans in their lives (or should that be their undeaths?) In this universe, you can be turned, but you can also be born to the vampire state, although you don’t change states until you’re sixteen. The Drake family has a born-vampire father, a mother who turned by choice and is now queen of the local vampire tribe, a single daughter, Solange, and seven gorgeous sons, two of whom are dating human girls, one a kick-ass vampire girl, while Solange’s boyfriend Kieran is not only human but a hereditary vampire-hunter. Fortunately, the Drakes have made a treaty with the vampire-hunting society, the Helios-Ra. Not everyone on either side agrees with this treaty, which is probably a good thing for the purposes of the storylines or there would be no more novels in the series.

The entire series, so far, has been set over a fairly short time, only a few weeks. Each one takes up shortly after the last. Each novel is seen from the viewpoints of different characters.

This one is seen alternately from the viewpoint of Quinn Drake, the fourth son, and Hunter Wild, a Helios-Ra girl who appeared briefly in the previous novel and is teasingly called Buffy by Quinn. For the first time, we see inside the school where the young hereditary vampire-slayers are trained.

Hunter has been at the school for four years and is just finishing up, but just when she’s falling in love with the annoyingly attractive Quinn, who has a huge number of groupies, she finds that something strange is going on at the Heios-Ra Academy. There are unexpected attacks by the truly horrible Hel-Blar vampires (they’re blue and insane). Students are coming down with mysterious illnesses. Someone is handing out “vitamin” tablets that may be more than vitamins.

Can Hunter and her friends stop it in time? Can she get Quinn’s attention away from all those other girls - and will it matter if she and the others don’t stop whatever is happening at the school?

What do you think?

This series is a lot of fun, unlike many other vampire romances. There’s certainly enough romance to keep girls reading, but the heroines of these stories are not the standard maiden-in-distress. They kick ass. Even Hunter’s girly room-mate, Chloe, is a computer hacker genius. The gorgeous Drake brothers are turned on by strong women, possibly because their mother is one.

The girls will enjoy this one as much as the others. I can’t wait to put it in my library, where the first two books are almost always out on loan.

Friday, November 05, 2010

At last!

Here it is - my book. I got my first advance copy on Thursday. I ordered some extra copies because my author copies won't be arriving for a couple of weeks. Yesterday I handed out a few copies to those students who had helped me early in the year. to their history teachers and to a friend on staff, then took some home for my mother and sister.

But there was no excitement quite like that I felt coming home on Thursday, finding the envelope and ripping it open. The students at my school have been sharing the excitement of the process. They got the first look at potential covers. I have to say, this is not the one most of them chose, but they have been pleased to share the process with me, asking now and then how it was going, when it would be out, could they read it when it did.

I'm hoping to do a school-based launch, if I can do it before all the end-of-year stuff catches up. Exams, assemblies, end-of-year activities... We'll see. If I can't do it now, I will have a belated one first thing next year, but I'm hoping not to lose the impetus.

It doesn't matter how many books you've done (this is my tenth if you don't count the manuscript I did for that small publisher who then informed all her writers that she couldn't publish because the Canadians didn't have the money to give her, but that's another story). It's always, always exciting to see the finished product for the first time. You never get used to it. Well, I don't.

Oh, joy!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

LOW RED MOON By Ivy Devlin. London, Bloomsbury, 2010.

Avery Hood’s parents were killed brutally in front of her, but she can’t remember a thing. The family lived near the forest next to the small historic town of Woodlake, where there has been a constant argument going between the pro and anti-development lobbies. Avery’s parents were environmentalists who recycled everything and fought to keep the woods. Is this what caused their murder? What about the strange stories about the town’s foundation and the wolves who were more than wolves?

Avery starts to wonder about that when she learns that gorgeous new boy at school Ben Dusic is a werewolf. But Ben has a bond with her; each knows what the other is feeling. They’re in love. He has even saved her life. Can he possibly be her parents’ murderer?

This is a paranormal romance with the emphasis on the romance. I liked the fact that when Avery asks Ben how long he has been seventeen, he says about six months and expects to be eighteen, nineteen and so on. One can have enough of the vampires who have been seventeen for a hundred or more years and are still romancing teenage girls. Ben is a boy - one who has had as much tragedy in his life as Avery has, losing his parents and sisters to werewolf hunters - but a boy. I suspect the author is having a cheeky poke at the vampire romances in that scene, before turning back to the drama.

There’s also a murder mystery here and the clues are scattered through the book, as they should be.

The only thing I found irksome was not the novel itself, but the tendency to print the word “moon” in red letters every time. It’s unclear why. At one point in the novel, Ben tells Avery that actually, the only effect the full moon has on him is to make it impossible to change back before dawn, so he tries not to change on those nights. So why all those red “moons” in the text?

Girls will enjoy this. Although it reads like a stand-alone story, there are ends left untied that suggest a sequel. They’ll like that too.

THREE THINGS ABOUT DAISY BLUE (Girlfriend Fiction #20) By Kate Gordon. Sydney: Allen and Unwin, 2010.

Two girls keeping diaries. One of them making lists of three. One trip to Bali with their mothers.

Daisy Blue and Paulina Gifford are the daughters of government speechwriters. When their mothers are going to Bali for a conference, they come along. Daisy (or Zee as she prefers to be called) calls her diary Angelina and complains non-stop about everything - the probable lack of Diet Coke in Bali, having to miss her favourite TV show and, by the way, that geek Paulina. Geeky Paulina is looking forward to learning lots of stuff for school while there and trying local cuisine and, by the way, is unimpressed by Daisy, that lemon lollipop (Daisy is very thin).

As the book goes on, we learn that Zee has an eating disorder for a number of reasons and Paulina has her own reasons for her nerdy attitude to everything. Each is able to help the other. There are also the two boys - Cody the young Aussie film-maker doing a documentary in Bali, who has a lot in common with Paulina and Wayan, the gorgeous Balinese student who works part time as a waiter and is dreaming of becoming a volunteer doctor in East Timor. Will something come from this or are they just holiday romances? Are they romances at all? Read and find out.

It’s funny and genlte and easy reading, broken up into diary entries. The message bewhind it is perhaps a little too obvious, but I suspect that this won’t be as obvious to this book’s natural readers.

This series has proven very popular in my library, both among the girls who need the high-interest-low-reading-level stuff and those who just want a break from Dickens a nd Bronte and such. I’m looking forward to adding this one.

DEMON STORM: The School of Night. By Justin Richards. London: Faber and Faber, 2010

Ben Foundlling lives with his sister Sam in a home - the modern equivalent of an orphanage, if not quite as awful. They have been moved from carer to carer because nobody can cope with the fact that Sam sees dead people - all the time. When Sam disappears shortly after looking into a strange box as part of a test by the mysterious Mr Knight, and everyone, even the police, just assumes it’s a matter of teenage running away, Ben is determined to find her - or at least what happened to her. This leads him, eventually, to the strange School of Night, where other kids who can see ghosts and evil spirits are trained to fight them. Sam isn’t there - and Mr Knight didn’t kidnap her. He’s one of the good guys. But if Ben is going to find out what is going on, he has to pretend to be one of the children with the Sight. And meanwhile, he’s wondering whether he really has seen his sister whenever he needed her, or if it’s all in his head...

Justin Richards is always good value. He has written many thoroughly entertaining fantasy adventures for young people, usually with tongue in cheek elements behind all the seemingly serious ones. Even with the villains planning to take over the world via human sacrifice to demons, he just can’t resist the puns. I mean - Dirk Knight? School of (K)night? I chuckled all the way through.

This is very readable adventure fantasy fiction, which shouldn’t be too hard even for teens whose reading levels aren’t high. It’s the first of a new series and young readers will be demanding when the next one is due out.

Recommended for children from twelve upwards.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

DEMON PRINCESS: REIGN CHECK By Michelle Rowan. Sydney: Allen and Unwin, 2010.

This is the second in a series. I haven’t read the first book, Reign Or Shine; this one closes with loose ends untied, so will probably continue for some time.

Nikki Donovan is an ordinary American teenager who has a tendency to sprout horns, wings and a tail when she’s highly stressed. A nuisance for clothes, of course, and really not a good idea to do it in front of others, especially if your best friend is in training to be a demon slayer. So far, it’s only been seen by a boy who went too far after a school dance and Nikki hopes he might be persuaded that he saw nothing.

Somewhere in the Shadowlands lives Nikki’s father, a demon King who once visited our world, just long enough to become her father. King Desmond can’t leave his castle – and if Nikki ever becomes Queen, she’ll have the same problem. Meanwhile, there’s the gorgeous Shadow, Michael, who is bound to her as a servant, though she’d rather have him as a boyfriend. There’s the rather cute teenage Faerie King Rhys, who has heard a negative prophecy about Nikki and come to investigate. Two hot boys! Decisions, decisions!

The writing style and the tongue-in-cheek punning title show that the author doesn’t take the whole idea too seriously; whether young readers will or not is another matter. They’ll certainly enjoy the usual paranormal romance theme, plus the idea of the heroine being a princess of whatever variety. Mind you, I’m not too sure anyone would really want to sprout horns and tail under stress, even if it did mean being a princess and falling in love with hot paranormal boys. Which is probably the point of the story.

Good fun for girls from about fourteen up.

DEAD MAN’S CHEST By Kerry Greenwood. Sydney: Allen and Unwin, 2010

When Kerry Greenwood created the rich, beautiful, intelligent Jazz Age sleuth, Phryne Fisher, she was expecting the series to last for about two books. Because she knew all about 1928, that was the year in which it was to be set, permanently.

Seventeen books later, the author has finally had to move to January 1929. Phryne Fisher has returned to coastal town Queenscliff, scene of her second adventure, Flying Too High. That time she was in Queenscliff as part of a kidnapping case, and stayed at the gorgeous Queenscliff Hotel (where, because of the novel, I used to have lunch once a year on the veranda, looking out to sea).

This time Phryne is back with her faithful maid and companion, Dot Williams, her two adopted daughters Ruth and Jane and her dog Molly, and they’re staying in a borrowed holiday home. There will, of course, be absolutely no investigations!

But where Phryne Fisher goes, mystery follows – or, in this case, precedes. When the family arrives, the live-in servants, Mr and Mrs Johnson, are missing. No property is missing except food, and valuables have been stashed away for safety. But the Johnsons’ furniture is gone and a removalist was seen arriving at the house.

This gives Ruth, the would-be cook, a chance to make meals for the family while Phryne investigates the disappearance. Queenscliff is never dull, with the missing couple, a group of surrealists next door, a nosy old lady across the road, who might have seen something, a historical film being made down on the beach and some nasty goings-on nearby.

Phryne investigates, but she takes a step back in this novel and lets other characters come to the fore. She also has a new sidekick to add to her entourage; it will be interesting to see where he goes.

As always, the story is a lot of fun, with adventure, baddies, plenty of lovingly-detailed descriptions of meals and Phryne’s clothes. This author knows her era, but doesn’t overwhelm you with it.

If you’ve been following the series, go and buy it. If you haven’t, go back and read the rest – then buy it!

Monday, October 04, 2010

What I've just re-read: The King Must Die

Unlike many of my other favourite books, I actually did read this when I was a child. Well, I didn't know it wasn't a children's book, did I? I was madly into Greek mythology at the time (still am, actually). And I had recently read Robert Graves' The Greek Myths (another book I hadn't realised wasn't for kids, so I made my older sister borrow it for me four times and puzzled everyone in my primary school class with my talk of sacred kings and triple goddesses...). So when I heard about this novel on the radio - probably the ABC - I just had to go and get my own copy. It is still on my shelves, falling apart, and a couple of weeks ago I plucked my biography of Mary Renault from the shelves, finally able to read it. It's by David Sweetman, if anyone is interested. He had interviewed the author for a TV documentary and finally decided to do a book. It's a fascinating read, mingling her life story with some of the possible reasons why she wrote as she did.

Interestingly, she studied at Oxford and one of her teachers there was J.R.R. Tolkien and another person from whom she learned there was related to Arthur Evans, who dug at Knossos.

After all this, I just had to go and dig out my copy of The King Must Die and re-read it, of course. I will have to get hold of a new copy if I want to read it again without it falling completely apart. Meanwhile, I found it just as wonderful as when I was eleven, only now I get all the bits that went over my head when I was a child.

It tells the story of Theseus from his childhood to his return from Crete. She does a very fine job of explaining how the various things might have happened. She sets it in a specific time; at one point, there's a conversation about this Pharoah who's good for craftsmen and only worships one god. Theseus kills "Kerkyon" at Eleusis as part of the yearly king-sacrifice in the matriarchal society and becomes "Kerkyon" himself, that being the king's title, not his name. He clears up the bandits on the Isthmus with his army and allies, not by himself - and he's a short, assertive man, not a hulking six-footer, because a big man couldn't have been a bull-dancer. The youths and maidens are taken to Crete to be bull-dancers, not to be eaten by the Minotaur (and Minotaur is the title of the heir to the throne, like "Dauphin" or "Prince of Wales") - the bull-headed man is a heraldic device, not an actual monster. Despite all this, Theseus believes firmly that he has a relationship with the god Poseidon, even though he knows King Aigeus is his actual father. And there's the odd fantastical touch - Theseus knows when an earthquake is coming. Mainly, it's about the clash between old religion and new. Women don't get very good press in this book, apart from the odd Amazon and the hero's mother, who respects and serves the Goddess, but is a part of the male-based sky-god worship. Theseus really loves Ariadne, but she lets him down. He understands why, but can't bring himself to take her home. The reasons for all this are probably more about Mary Renault than about the characters, but I can see it happening this way. Having read Robert Graves, I understand the background.

If you just want a great action-adventure which gives a fascinating interpretation of a Greek myth, you can still enjoy this. You're unlikely to find it in your local bookshop any more, but it's available. I'm going to order my second copy on-line; I think I'm going to need it.

Monday, September 20, 2010

What I'm re-reading: Rosemary Sutcliff

Well, actually I'm re-reading plenty of stuff, in between reviewing, but this is what I picked up yesterday. I'm not one of those who read her books as a child, though I had heard of her. I discovered her as an adult, as I did Tolkien and C.S.Lewis and others.

As a matter of fact, I had a strange experience not long ago. You see, I'm currently rustling up some Sutcliff books for one of my Year 8 students. They've mostly been sitting on the shelves gathering dust because our kids, while they will read fantasy no problem, are less interested in historical fiction these days and anyway, the covers are all pretty battered. But one of the boys stumbled across Mark Of The Horse Lord, which came out in a snazzy new cover some years ago, and loved it. We were supposed to have the Eagle of The Ninth series, but the catalogue and the shelves told different stories. I found him what I could, but most of our books are just the re-tellings. So when he asked me, once more, for "something like Mark Of The Horse Lord" I was lucky enough to find The Shining Company - the only other non-retelling book we had - and promised him i would get the others. I got to the staff room and excitedly told a colleague, an English teacher of about my age, that I had a customer for Rosemary Sutcliff's books. Imagine my surprise when she asked, "Who's Rosemary Sutcliff?"

"You know - The Eagle of The Ninth?" I prompted, assuming she'd hit her forehead and say, "Oh, yeah, her, of course..." But no. She actually had never heard of the greatest children's historical novelist of the twentieth century! And her an English teacher, old enough to remember... She asked if they were fantasy, because she doesn't like fantasy. No, I told her patiently, Sutcliff's books were not fantasy. They were historical fiction. She teaches history as well. Ancient history, to Year 7 students.


Anyway, I'm having a great time re-discovering Marcus Aquila and his descendants, and if they do produce that wonderful 70s TV series on DVD I'll buy it immediately! I know there's a movie planned, but after what was done to Susan Cooper's Dark is Rising, I'm going to wait and see before I decide whether to see the movie or not.

I've called Chris at the Collected Works Bookshop to ask him to find and pick up the novels for my library so that young Peter can have the same joy as I am having with this series.

Monday, August 30, 2010

BURNT SNOW (The Book of the Witch) By Van Badham

Sophie Morgan and her family have just moved from Sydney to the New South Wales coastal town of Yarrindi. Yarrindi has a lot of secrets among its teen population – but so do the Morgans. When Sophie begins to be attracted to local “bad boy” Brody Meine, a lot of people warn her to stay away, including her own mother, and not entirely because he’s a bad boy….
What is Goth girl Ashley Ventwood’s secret – and how does she seem to know Sophie’s mother? What about the giant crow hovering everywhere Sophie goes? And the horrific events that happen every time she gets close to Brody?

With all the teen paranormal novels out now, this one should do well. I can’t make too many comments on it without spoilers, but the kids will love it, especially the girls who have been reading all those novels featuring vampires, werewolves, faeries, daemons, angels and so on. While reading it, I couldn’t help thinking of what a friend said of Buffy The Vampire Slayer while it was on: “All those demons and vampires and the world coming to an end and it’s, ‘You stole my boyfriend!’ ” That happens a lot in this one. Teenagers will be teenagers, even in the middle of over-the-top events and Sophie, no matter what happens to her, is very worried about who hates her and whether she will look good for Brody at the party. Very believable!
Recommended for girls fourteen upwards.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Kim Stanley Robinson at the Melbourne Writers' Festival

Okay, I know. Kim Stanley Robinson is in town for Aussiecon 4. I will get to hear him speak next weekend. But it has been such a very long time since I have seen a spec fic writer at the Melbourne Writers' Festival and I was desperate to attend something. So I bought a ticket yesterday when I turned up in hopes of finding something to my liking. There was nothing much. I did go to hear a couple of guys talk about their books - one who writes novels based on true stories and one who has written a non-fiction book about his time in the undertaker industry. It wasn't my usual cup of tea, but as a writer of non-fiction who feels the need to tell a story for my young readers, I thought I might enjoy it - and I did, though not enough to buy these guys' books. The only crime fiction session yesterday was in the morning, before I got to town.

So you can imagine how delighted I was to see that an Aussiecon guest of honour would be at the writers' festival. I went to buy a ticket immediately. I hoped I might also see some folk I knew (in the end, I only saw Lucy Sussex, who was conducting the interview, and Tim Richards, who can't make it to the con because he's going overseas).

The panel took place in the BMW Edge theatre, which is a lovely light and airy space overlooking the river. It's also the biggest auditorium in the Fed Square complex. The auditorium was far from full, but I thought:never mind, he'll have plenty of folk to hear him next week!

I found Mr Robinson fascinating. He spoke about his books and why he wrote them as he had. His most recent, which I bought yesterday, is about Galileo being taken to the moons of Jupiter by time-travellers. The author was fascinated by Galileo, about whom no one, he said, had ever written a novel, and by history in general.

He told us about his Mars books, which were written because of his love of the Californian landscape. He also pointed out that the Martian landscape has a similarity to our outback.

I felt like applauding when he mentioned that he wasn't crazy about cyberpunk because it's so pessimistic (and for some political reasons). I remember when I read my first cyberpunk novel and thought, "If that's what the future is going to be like, I don't want to be there!"

It was great to see a spec fic writer at that festival. They haven't, as far as I can recall, had one in a very long time. I'm guessing they wouldn't have this time either, if he hadn't already been in town for the con. I can remember the year they had Ben Bova and Robert Jordan at the same time. Their political opinions were very different and we certainly heard all about it!

Another year, they had China Mieville, who certainly seemed to think a lot of himself. When he was rude about Tolkien's work, I thought: "Mate, if people are still reading YOUR books fifty years from now, you can be pleased with yourself!"

It would be so good if we can have some more next year, but unless there's a con going, I suspect not.

The thing I really miss about the days I used to go to ten sessions at the festival is the children's writers who used to have evening and weekend sessions. Last year, they did have John Marsden on the weekend, but that was it. Ursula Dubosarsky was doing a session today, but as a word-lover, not as a children's writer. Someone, in all these years, seems to have decided no one but kids wants to hear these writers speak, so has put all their sessions during the day, for schools.

It's pretty frustrating if you're a teacher-librarian-children's-writer and can't go during the day. I mean, yes, I took my class last year to hear Andy Griffiths, but it was one session and the way they speak to kids is very different from the way they'd speak at an evening session.

I'm taking my book club to the next Teenage Booktalkers next term. They'll enjoy that.

As for the Melbourne Writers' Festival, I have given up the ten-session bookings and just turn up and see what's going. It's more fun that way.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

LITTLE PARADISE By Gabrielle Wang. Camberwell, Penguin, 2010.

Mirabel (Lei An) is a Chinese girl in wartime Melbourne. Her family has been in Australia since the gold rushes, but they are still Chinese, in culture and lifestyle, and her father is a strong supporter of the Nationalist government back home.

When Chinese soldier Jin Jing (JJ) arrives from Shanghai, Mirabel knows she is in love. When JJ is posted back to China, Mirabel follows – and so does adventure...

It’s strange to think that this wartime adventure-romance is based on the true story of the author’s parents. It is very visual: Melbourne during the 1940s, filled with American soldiers, Shanghai in the middle of a civil war, the life of Melbourne’s Chinese community sixty years ago… If no one turns this into a television mini-series, I will be very disappointed.

It’s written in Gabrielle Wang’s usual gentle style and will be very readable stuff for girls from about fourteen upwards. Her heroine would be a good, strong role model, even if she wasn’t based on a real person. The language is not difficult and even medium readers can handle it.

Get it for your teenage girls who enjoy historical fiction.

THE CARDTURNER By Louis Sachar. London: Bloomsbury, 2010

This is the most recent young adult novel from Louis Sachar, author of a large number of books for children and teens, including the delightfully quirky Holes, which became a Disney movie. Like Holes, this one has fantasy elements – just a touch, but fantasy all the same. It’s also quirky, but those are about the only elements the books have in common.

Alton has a rich uncle, Lester Trapp. Grumpy as he is, Lester has to be sucked up to, because he is – well, rich, and Alton’s family is deep in debt.

When Lester goes blind, he needs someone to be his cardturner, to enable him to continue playing bridge, a game in which he is a genius. Alton doesn’t know anything about bridge, but as far as Lester is concerned, that is all the better – he won’t argue!

Taking on the job of cardturner, Alton learns, not only about bridge, a game as complex as chess, but the answers to some mysteries in his family history.

It’s a very readable and quirky tale, with humour and sadness mixed, although I have to say that I found the bridge references confusing, despite the author’s clever device to make it easier. Early in the novel, when he is just starting to get the hang of bridge, Alton says that when he was studying Moby Dick at school, he lost track of what was happening when there was detailed description of life aboard a ship. To make things easier on his readers, he says that every time there’s a complicated bridge description, he will put in a picture of a whale; if you want to, you can skip the detailed description and just read the summary at the end. That’s a good idea, but in the end, if you don’t understand the object of the game, the simplified bits are no easier to understand than the complicated ones.

I found myself skimming over much of the bridge description and just concentrating on the characters and story outline. Those were worth reading the book for. And it’s interesting, anyway, to learn just how complex this game is. Who would have thought it?

It’s touching to see the relationship develop between the boy and his great-uncle Trapp, the back-story in the novel and Alton’s own discovery of just what he can do.

Recommended for very good readers.

THE LIFE OF A TEENAGE BODY-SNATCHER By Doug MacLeod. Camberwell, Penguin Australia, 2010.

The year is 1828. Any doctor who wants to be able to dissect corpses has to rely on the body-snatchers – or resurrectionists, as they call themselves.

Thomas Timewell, the “teenage body-snatcher” of the title, is busy digging up his grandfather, who had wanted to donate his body to science, but been denied, when he encounters his first resurrectionist, known to him only as Plenitude (the body-snatchers give themselves names based on positive nouns). Before he knows it, he is escaping Plenitude’s enemies, being chased by a tattooed woman, blackmailed, bashed over the head and being followed by the Grim Reaper.

Meanwhile, he has to deal with his mother’s laudanum habit, his mother’s friend’s wish to paint him in the nude and go along with his mother and her friends to hear the latest work by an incredibly awful novelist.

If you enjoy Richard Harland’s steampunk tales, you’ll probably like this over-the-top black comedy, which is carefully written in the style of the time in which it is set. It has elements of melodrama, quite deliberate. If you’re giving it to a teenager, it’s intended for teens from about fifteen upwards. Slightly younger readers might also enjoy it, but they will have to be very good readers to pick up all the jokes.

The novel is great fun, so if you just want to read it for your own pleasure, why not? Let the kids get their own copies!

Monday, August 09, 2010

H.I.V.E: Rogue. By Mark Walden. London: Bloomsbury, 2010

At the end of H.I.V.E: Dreadnought, Otto Malpense was left in the hands of the enemies of G.L.O.V.E, international organization of super-villains. In this series, which began with H.I.V.E: Higher Institute of Villainous Education, there are villains and villains. There are the good guy villains and the bad guy villains. G.L.O.V.E represented the good guy villains who just wanted to go around in snazzy black clothes, stroking white cats and making lots of money – but because, in the end, they were villains, there was politicking and backstabbing going on even among them – the cause of some of the drama in later novels of the series.

Otto, who can interface physically with any computer, appears to have gone rogue. He’s now working for the bad guys, and has been involved in some assassinations. Even his school principal, Max Nero, that Dumbledore of the villain world, is ruefully considering ordering his death. Of course, his schoolmates aren’t willing to let that happen – and they have talents of their own…

The first novel in the series presented a sort of Hogwarts for villains. Young potential super-villains were taught how to manipulate the world for their own gain, using their various talents. There was even a sort of Neville Longbottom character, whose genius with plants ended up creating a giant mutant plant that nearly ate the school. It was very funny and there were references to spy movies as well, except that the cat we usually see sitting in the villain’s lap was one of the teachers, trapped in a cat’s body, her jewelled collar used to communicate.

All the novels so far have been entertaining, but they’ve become serious. Characters learn things about their backgrounds they would rather not have known. Characters die. This one has a lot of martial arts in it, as Otto’s friend Wing and Wing’s mentor, the ninja-style woman Raven, go in search of him and encounter enemies galore. It’s certainly exciting – but it’s much grimmer than the original novel and this should be taken into account. There is one more in the series; I can only hope that it doesn’t end in quite the bloodbath that I suspect will happen. There are too many likable characters I’d prefer to see survive!

Saturday, August 07, 2010

Page Proof Time!

I've just received the page proofs for Wolfborn! This is pretty much what my book will look like when it comes out. Well, the layout will, anyway. I don't have it bound with a cover, as reviewers sometimes get. It's finally feeling as if it's really, really happening! And after getting my copy of The Worlds Next Door, an anthology of children's spec fic stories published by Fablecroft Press, and finding I'd left one error, I'm going to be a LOT more careful. The editor, Sarah Hazelton, has warned me this is it - my last chance to fix anything before it goes to the printers. She says it's gone to a proofreader, which is good, but I'm taking no chances. And I have found some sentences that don't make sense - well, perhaps I missed them with all the "track changes" lines going here, there and everywhere.

It's all very exciting. The book will be 289 pages long, more than I had expected, if not exactly thick as a brick. That's just a nice length.

And Alice at Dymock's is organising a book signing for me on December 12th. My first as an individual! If I can't sell lots of copies to passers-by at Christmas, when can I?

Stand by for more!

Thursday, August 05, 2010

School Book Club and Me

I've tried this before. It never worked. But this year, apart from the usual suspects, we have a strongly-bookloving bunch of Year 7 girls. They consider it cool to hang out in the library and talk to the library teacher about books and reading. One of them even agreed with me that Twilight wasn't particularly scary as vampire books went and asked for Dracula. I couldn't give it to her right away, because it was already out. Her friend had it! :-)

So as they were coming anyway, I revived the Book Club idea. I have around ten enthusiastic young readers who turn up on Wednesday to do book things. Mostly, so far, it's been browsing through new books and choosing from book displays, but this week we actually sat around and talked about books they - and I - had read and I let them know that Edwina Harvey, author of The Whale's Tale, was coming to town and would be speaking to them. Young Willis, who has already written me a superb essay for English - a Year 8 kid! - had read it and spoke enthusiastically about the book. Selena, his classmate, borrowed it. Willis was borrrowing the four-novel volume of Hitch-hiker's Guide To The Galaxy and I told the others about that. I promised Willis I would buy Volumes 5 and 6 if he wanted me to, though I personally hate the fifth novel and the sixth is by the author of Artemis Fowl (they had heard of him!).Thando of 8B wanted to tell the others about a fabulous book she had read called Ten Things I Hate About Me (someone else borrowed that on her recommendation). Her friend Paige wanted to know about Jane Eyre, which she had picked up from the display area. I felt able to explain the concept of Gothic romance - the young woman who goes as a governess (live-in schoolteacher, I explained)to a country home and falls in love with the boss, who has a Deep Dark Secret. I told them I had bought it because I wanted somewhere for Twilight readers to go when they had finished the series. Paige borrowed it. When I saw her yesterday she was quite enthusiastic so far.

I considered it a huge achievement last year when I got Jacinta to read and enjoy two books after she had refused to read even one, and it was - but we do have to look after the good readers too. They're the ones who actually turn up in the library, willingly.

Current plans are to take them to Teen Booktalkers next term, if I can get permission.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

The Montmaray Journals Books 1 and 2, by Michelle Cooper. Sydney, Random House, 2010

The first of these two books, A Brief History of Montmaray, came out in 2008, and did very well, winning the NSW Premier's Literary Awards in 2009. This is now out in a new cover, with its sequel, The FitzOsbornes in Exile.

Sophie FitzOsborne, who narrates these stories in a journal, is a princess. She even lives in a castle. The only problem is, it's not much of a castle; her home is crumbling away and the tiny island kingdom her family rules has lost most of its subjects, both to emigration and to the Great War. She lives with her intellectual cousin Veronica, who is writing a history of the kingdom, her little sister Henry (short for Henrietta), Henry and Sophie's insane uncle, King John, who never leaves his room these days, and a housekeeper, Rebecca. Sophie's brother, Toby, heir to the throne, is off at school in England The royal family's lives are kept busy with housework and milking the goat and all their news from the outside world comes in a Basque ship now and then.

The year, in the first book, is 1936, and there is a hint that war might be coming. When a group of Nazis arrives, led by a scholar who really believes the Holy Grail might be somewhere in the crumbling cvastle of Montmaray, their lives change for the worse...

With a sequel called The FitzOsbornes In Exile, it's impossible to avoid spoilers. Sophie and her family have been forced to flee Montmaray for England, where they are now living with Aunt Charlotte, a Montmaray princess who married a wealthy commoner and left her home twenty years ago. Uncle Arthur is now dead, but his money lives on. As a result, ironically, the princesses are able to live like royalty for the first time in their lives. Of course, Aunt Charlotte is setting up their debuts, determined to get Sophie and Veronica husbands. It doesn't help that Veronica is intelligent and left-wing in her politics. She embarrasses her aunt at every dinner party by asking questions that the likes of Oswald Mosley don't want to hear. It helps even less that Veronica is more or less going out with a Jewish left-wing intellectual, her former tutor.This is the era of Neville Chamberlain and other politicians who think Hitler is the best thing that ever happened to Germany and are determined to make peace at any cost. Because the girls are royalty, they meet a large number of famous historical figures, while campaigning for help for Montmaray.

But this is the era of appeasement and the British government is not keen to help. The girls might have to find their own solution.

The two books are a delight. They show history from the viewpoint of characters you care about. There's no historical detail of the kind that might turn off young readers. If they're interested, they can pursue some of the history that Sophie mentions in the course of telling about her own life. The Author Notes at the back of both books give them enough information for them to do so. The class conscious society of Britain between the wars is well-presented.

Recommended for girls from about fourteen upwards.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Copyedit Done!

My novel, first called Bisclavret, now to come out in December as Wolfborn, is getting to the final stages. Cover design done, complete with something called a 'shoutline" and cover blurb, copyedit complete as of today. I was surprised to see some things "corrected" when they weren't wrong, but this was to fit in with the company style manual. I also found some bits that I had got wrong ages ago and somehow missed, in all the writing and re-writing I've done.

Strange, really. This is my tenth book - eleventh if you count the one I wrote last year for a very small publisher who will never get any work from me again ... but that's another matter. Anyway - I have been through the editing/copyediting/proofing stages many times and somehow this feels different, probably because all but two of those books were non-fiction. And the two fiction pieces were children's chapter books, only the length of a short story. You learn so much.

In the past, because it was non-fiction and each chapter told a different story, I could write my book and send it in chapter by chapter, working with an editor as i went along. This one started with a complete manuscript and comments were made on the book as a whole.

That makes for a very different experience.

Still - it's very exciting now that it's really, really happening. I think I might have a very emotional moment when I see my first advance copy. :-)

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

"Lost In Stories" and Romy

I have checked out my new follower, Romy's, web site at and can heartily recommend it to anyone who loves a good book blog with an emphasis on young adult books. It's beautifully presented and the reviews are great. Fairly soon I am going to put it on the sidebar as a regular link, but meanwhile, if you are reading this, please go take a look at this terrific blog. I've already popped myself in as a follower.

Monday, July 19, 2010


What a day I had on Saturday July 17!

It’s not that I haven’t done some book-signing before, but usually it’s been a case of trying to flog my children’s non-fiction at a science fiction event, the only opportunity I’ve been given. And if you were at a con and could buy the latest bit of speculative fiction and have it signed, or a children’s book about spies or crime, which would you choose, unless you knew the author personally and wanted to be supportive? (Or you were, say, Jeanette Allen who knew the author, wanted to be supportive AND loved true crime!)

Ironically, I ended up selling more books at Dymock’s last weekend than the YA novelists, because the people who wandered in to buy books brought their small children, not their teenagers. Even Hazel Edwards, who is the best self-promoter I have ever met, ended up signing a whole lot of copies of There’s A Hippopotamus On My Roof Eating Cake and not so many copies of F2M, her new novel, for this reason (not to mention her fans who had read Hippo as children!).

I left Mum’s place early on Saturday morning, picked up some of my Crime Time mini-posters from home (Paul, my publisher, has run out, but I haven’t) and went off to Cheltenham by train, arriving at Southland early enough to take a quick look at what the bookshop had arranged for us.

It was excellent! They had a timetable planned out, balloons outside, our books in the windows – really, more like a mini writers’ festival than a standard bookshop event. I met the organiser, Alice, and had a short chat with her before going off for a coffee and cake – there was plenty of time – until it was time. I rang a couple of people who were coming to assure them it looked like a great gig.

And so it was. Alice told me that when it was time, they would go round up some children for our audience. I was on first, at the back of the store in the children’s section. Before that, a store manager offered to put my stuff into the back room, which I accepted gratefully. He said, “When I was reading your blog this morning…”

Wow! Reading MY blog? Silly me. It was Chuck McKenzie, fan extraordinaire and LiveJournal friend! We’d never met, but it was nice to meet him for the first time.

That shop has a small press stand, which includes one of Chuck’s own books and other Aussie small press titles, including both the Peggy Bright books.

I told him about my novel and he said that when it comes out, they will put it face out on the paranormal fiction stand, which sells about five times more than the SF section. I left a copy of my cover/blurb with Alice, who will see if she can’t organise something for me in December, although at Christmas the place will be overflowing and not much space for signings and such.
When I saw my audience consisted of very young children, probably way too young for my book, I had to change my planned talk. I sat down on one of the tiny stools and asked if they’d rather hear scary stories or funny ones.

“Funny ones!” they chorused, so I told them about the silly people who robbed the Cuckoo restaurant and came home with only a bag of bread rolls, and the very naughty nana – “not like YOUR nana, I bet!” to which they agreed – who had poisoned members of her family. Fortunately, they had elder siblings listening, so I actually sold two copies that morning, signed to the older kids, of course, not the little ones. But the little ones did laugh at the right spots.

On to roaming the shop with copies and mini-posters, and smiling at customers and persuading them to buy my book and get it signed. One lady who thought I was staff glared at me till I assured her I didn’t work there, I was only a writer, then relaxed and bought a copy.

By the time I was signing in the window, I’d sold five copies of Crime Time, then another three. I even sold some books to adults, for themselves! One couple came along and bought two copies of Crime Time – one for the wife, the other for her mother – and a copy of Your Cat Could Be A Spy, which her husband wanted for himself. I sold another copy of Cat to a child, who was fascinated by my story of the cat which had been wired for sound and then killed on the road on its first day as a spy. She went to find her father to buy it. These copies of Cat were actually print-on-demand, which Allen and Unwin is doing now, so had had to be bought on firm sale. They looked fine – just like the originals. I offered to buy any unsold, but Alice assured me they would sell – she asked me just to sign anything unsold, which then had a sticker to say they were signed.

I finally got to meet Grant Gittus, the designer, whom I told that this was the best cover I’d ever had. Grant was wandering around taking photos, which added to the festive atmosphere. He mentioned he knew of a company who could do me some more bookmarks for a reasonable price. I’m going to follow it up. I know stickers are a good thing and I gave away a lot of mini-posters for kids to put on their schoolbooks, but bookmarks always work.

Chuck told me that the book had originally been in true crime because the head office had thought the cover looked adult. I’d thought that too, but as it turned out, later, there was more to it. There was a mistake on the distributors’ web site, which Paul has now fixed.

Anyway, Chuck told me that once he’d put it face out in the children’s section it had sold just fine. He was going to let head office know.

The next gig was at Angus and Robertson at Victoria Gardens in Richmond. That one was just a signing – I have to admit I was relieved; although the morning had been fun, I was tired. The signing tables were set up in the entrance, with a thoughtful bottle of water for each of us (I NEEDED a drink by then!) and a very nice pen for each.

The manager here told me that he’d ordered twenty copies of my book and sold a large number of them in the days before we arrived. He was going to order another ten and invited me to come back for another event. I only sold two that afternoon, but the staff didn’t seem bothered. Again, we signed and put stickers on unsold stock.

After finding my way back to Church Street, I took the tram homewards and went out to celebrate a great day with dinner at the Presse café, including a glass of white wine.


Sunday, July 18, 2010

SIX IMPOSSIBLE THINGS By Fiona Wood. Sydney: Pan Macmillan, 2010

Dan Cereill (anagram for “Cinderella”, deliberate) has a list of six things he’d like to see, starting with kissing beautiful Estelle, the girl next door (he’s never met her, but it doesn’t hurt to dream). He believes all six are impossible, with good reason.

He has had to absorb a lot of shocks at once. Dad has become bankrupt, come out as gay and left, leaving Dan and his mother to see everything they own other than the clothes on their backs and a few things they’ve smuggled out, taken away. They do have somewhere to live, because Dan’s mother’s Great-Aunt Adelaide has died, leaving them the use of her hone. It’s a huge Victorian house with priceless antiques in it, but they can’t sell anything, because they don’t own it. It all goes to the Historic Homes Trust whenever his mother dies. Money? Left to the National Gallery. Jewellery? Left to a local shopkeeper.

Then there’s his new school. They can’t afford private any longer, so it’s off to the local secondary school, where he has to start all over again. There are the bully-types, but there’s also sensible Lou (perfect for his friend Fred). And Estelle, who doesn’t seem to like him much, and spends all her time with her two friends.

Still, there’s the Year 9 Social to look forward to, if he can bring himself to go, and stop worrying about his mother, who has started listening to Radiohead while working at her not-so-successful wedding cake business (she keeps talking clients out of getting married).

I began by thinking this one reminded me a little of The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, but Dan is a lot stronger than Adrian. When things eventually take a turn for the better, it’s because he has been working at it. Things don’t just happen to him: he deals with them, as best he can.

It’s seen from the viewpoint of the boy, but I can imagine a companion volume about Estelle and her two best friends, because they are strong characters in their own right.

The title, while referring to Dan’s list, also takes us right back to Lewis Carroll’s White Queen who used to believe six impossible things before breakfast every morning. That, too, was a story of the absurd things that can happen to a child.

The one nitpick I have with it is that I really, really can’t see a school ordering three kids to do a responsible task like arranging the school dance as a punishment. It happens often enough in teen comedy, but is highly unlikely to happen in the real world. In the state school system in which I work, such events are generally arranged by the Student Representative Council with the help of the staff.

Also, teachers come along to supervise the event. In this novel, there are no teachers present on the night, which enables the school airheads to bring along booze and get everyone drunk. Sorry. It doesn’t happen in the schools of the state system. Perhaps it would be allowed in private schools, but I suspect not. A school can be sued if a branch falls on a student in the yard where no teacher is on yard duty; it’s just too much to believe that the school would allow a bunch of kids to take over the gym for the night with no teachers to supervise. There are adults present – the boy’s neighbour and his DJ girlfriend, who help avert disaster - but that’s by chance.

I can understand why the author did it. She needed a drunk scene for one of the characters and a fight which solves some of the problems. But this is just too much suspension of disbelief to ask, and I suspect teen readers might also find it a bit much to swallow.

Still, it’s a funny, gentle story which should work well on the teen market, probably better with girls than boys, but might also work well as a class text.

Maybe they can discuss the unlikely bits as part of the class discussion of the novel.