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Friday, April 23, 2010

Right book for the right person

I deal with this every now and then: finding a book for a student who doesn't like reading. Last year, it was Jacinta and a Girlfriend Fiction Book. As it happens, she read two books, willingly, that term. Perhaps she hasn't read any more since then, but you never know. One of the books was my crime book, Crime Time.

After parent-teacher night this time, a year 10 girl came to see me. She told me, lip quivering, that she was under orders to read more. She had come to - shudder! - borrow a book.

I asked her, first, what she had last read and enjoyed, which I usually do to help me.

"I've never read a book in my life!" she wailed. "No, Miss, it's true! Well, except for primary school..."

And then she muttered that, actually, she had read something that morning, during her teacher's absence from Literacy class, that she wouldn't mind borrowing, if she had to read a book.

Guess what it was?

Crime Time: Australians behaving badly. :-)

Well, it has done very well in libraries. School libraries especially. I am very flattered to know that a girl who avoids reading is willing to read my book.

Pity bookshops didn't know how to display and promote it.

Friday, April 16, 2010

A Book With My Name On The Cover

It's always exciting when you first see the possible covers for your book. Well, to be honest, I was horrified with some of the initial plans for my last one, Crime Time: Australians behaving badly, but the final product was terrific. Perhaps too terrific; it looks like an adult book till you open it up, so bookshops kept putting it into the adult true crime section, where it was a lot less likely to sell. And if they had thought it was for kids, they would have been horrified. Innocent little dears shouldn't be offered this sort of thing! But the students at my school grabbed it the minute they saw that gruesome picture on the front. And school librarians knew what their library users wanted; I think I will do quite well in Education Lending Right for this one. The cover of my Allen and Unwin books ranged from a library image of a roaring monster for the first one, through a woman with a test tube (cliche!) for the women scientists book to a delightful bewildered-looking cat and a spy with a maginifying glass for the spies book, Your Cat Could Be A Spy.

Now I've been sent three possible covers for my new werewolf novel, formerly Bisclavret, now Wolfborn. One, which I rather liked, was a blue cover clearly influenced by the cover for Melina Marchetta's Finnikin Of The Rock, had a silhouette of a wolf howling in front of a full moon with leaves and forest around. The second, which I believe the publishers favour, was red with a photographic wolf which, unfortunately, seems to be fading into the white background. I liked this least. A third had a photographed silhouette of a wolf against a bleak landscape and splashes of blood. Despite my own feelings on the matter, I've been showing these around and I've put them up in my library with the new books, asking students to vote on them. So far, the overwhelming vote has gone to the third one. The kids love it. They assure me that's the one they, personally would pick up, of the three. My bookseller said that was the one librarians would be most likely to take, but he is carrying copies of the covers on his rounds and asking for opinions. My friend Bart, a teacher-librarian at a large private school, has offered to show them there.

Whichever cover with my name on it ends up in the bookshops, I am very excited.

As always.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

This year's Hugo nominees

I found this list on the Aussiecon 4 web site. No harm in spreading the news. Some British writers, especially in the short dramatic presentation, with all those Dr Who episodes. The wonderful Charles Stross, whom I have just discovered in the last few months - and others. One Australian artist, Shaun Tan - and as a teacher-librarian I am thrilled to see his name there, because I know him best as an artist/book illustrator for children/young adults, who produced the wonderful book "The Arrival" which told a beautiful, moving story without a word of text.

I also notice that there are a couple of writers who have been in Andromeda Spaceways, though with different stories. Eugie Foster has been published in ASIM a number of times. Rachel Swirsky has been in ASIM also, as has Lawrence M. Schoen.

Of course, we're planning to bring some back issues to Aussiecon. :-)

The 2010 Hugo and John W. Campbell Award Nominees

864 Total Ballots Cast

BEST NOVEL (699 nominating ballots)

Boneshaker by Cherie Priest (Tor)
The City & The City by China Miéville (Del Rey; Macmillan UK)
Julian Comstock: A Story of 22nd-Century America by Robert Charles Wilson (Tor)
Palimpsest by Catherynne M. Valente (Bantam Spectra)
Wake by Robert J. Sawyer (Ace; Penguin; Gollancz; Analog)
The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi (Night Shade)

BEST NOVELLA (375 nominating ballots)

"Act One" by Nancy Kress (Asimov's 3/09)
The God Engines by John Scalzi (Subterranean)
"Palimpsest" by Charles Stross (Wireless; Ace; Orbit)
Shambling Towards Hiroshima by James Morrow (Tachyon)
"Vishnu at the Cat Circus" by Ian McDonald (Cyberabad Days; Pyr; Gollancz)
The Women of Nell Gwynne's by Kage Baker (Subterranean)

BEST NOVELETTE (402 nominating ballots)

"Eros, Philia, Agape" by Rachel Swirsky ( 3/09)
"The Island" by Peter Watts (The New Space Opera 2; Eos)
"It Takes Two" by Nicola Griffith (Eclipse Three; Night Shade Books)
"One of Our Bastards is Missing" by Paul Cornell (The Solaris Book of New Science Fiction: Volume Three; Solaris)
"Overtime" by Charles Stross ( 12/09)
"Sinner, Baker, Fabulist, Priest; Red Mask, Black Mask, Gentleman, Beast" by Eugie Foster (Interzone 2/09)

BEST SHORT STORY (432 nominating ballots)

"The Bride of Frankenstein" by Mike Resnick (Asimov's 12/09)
"Bridesicle" by Will McIntosh (Asimov’s 1/09)
"The Moment" by Lawrence M. Schoen (Footprints; Hadley Rille Books)
"Non-Zero Probabilities" by N.K. Jemisin (Clarkesworld 9/09)
"Spar" by Kij Johnson (Clarkesworld 10/09)

BEST RELATED WORK (259 nominating ballots)

Canary Fever: Reviews by John Clute (Beccon)
Hope-In-The-Mist: The Extraordinary Career and Mysterious Life of Hope Mirrlees by Michael Swanwick (Temporary Culture)
The Inter-Galactic Playground: A Critical Study of Children's and Teens' Science Fiction by Farah Mendlesohn (McFarland)
On Joanna Russ edited by Farah Mendlesohn (Wesleyan)
The Secret Feminist Cabal: A Cultural History of SF Feminisms by Helen Merrick (Aqueduct)
This is Me, Jack Vance! (Or, More Properly, This is "I") by Jack Vance (Subterranean)

BEST GRAPHIC STORY (221 nominating ballots)

Batman: Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader? Written by Neil Gaiman; Pencilled by Andy Kubert; Inked by Scott Williams (DC Comics)
Captain Britain And MI13. Volume 3: Vampire State Written by Paul Cornell; Pencilled by Leonard Kirk with Mike Collins, Adrian Alphona and Ardian Syaf (Marvel Comics)
Fables Vol 12: The Dark Ages Written by Bill Willingham; Pencilled by Mark Buckingham; Art by Peter Gross & Andrew Pepoy, Michael Allred, David Hahn; Colour by Lee Loughridge & Laura Allred; Letters by Todd Klein (Vertigo Comics)
Girl Genius, Volume 9: Agatha Heterodyne and the Heirs of the Storm Written by Kaja and Phil Foglio; Art by Phil Foglio; Colours by Cheyenne Wright (Airship Entertainment)
Schlock Mercenary: The Longshoreman of the Apocalypse Written and Illustrated by Howard Tayler


Avatar Screenplay and Directed by James Cameron (Twentieth Century Fox)
District 9 Screenplay by Neill Blomkamp & Terri Tatchell; Directed by Neill Blomkamp (TriStar Pictures)
Moon Screenplay by Nathan Parker; Story by Duncan Jones; Directed by Duncan Jones (Liberty Films)
Star Trek Screenplay by Robert Orci & Alex Kurtzman; Directed by J.J. Abrams (Paramount)
Up Screenplay by Bob Peterson & Pete Docter; Story by Bob Peterson, Pete Docter, & Thomas McCarthy; Directed by Bob Peterson & Pete Docter (Disney/Pixar)


Doctor Who: "The Next Doctor" Written by Russell T Davies; Directed by Andy Goddard (BBC Wales)
Doctor Who: "Planet of the Dead" Written by Russell T Davies & Gareth Roberts; Directed by James Strong (BBC Wales)
Doctor Who: "The Waters of Mars" Written by Russell T Davies & Phil Ford; Directed by Graeme Harper (BBC Wales)
Dollhouse: "Epitaph 1" Story by Joss Whedon; Written by Maurissa Tancharoen & Jed Whedon; Directed by David Solomon (Mutant Enemy)
FlashForward: "No More Good Days" Written by Brannon Braga & David S. Goyer; Directed by David S. Goyer; based on the novel by Robert J. Sawyer (ABC)

BEST EDITOR, LONG FORM (289 nominating ballots)

Lou Anders
Ginjer Buchanan
Liz Gorinsky
Patrick Nielsen Hayden
Juliet Ulman

BEST EDITOR, SHORT FORM (419 nominating ballots)

Ellen Datlow
Stanley Schmidt
Jonathan Strahan
Gordon Van Gelder
Sheila Williams

BEST PROFESSIONAL ARTIST (327 nominating ballots)

Bob Eggleton
Stephan Martiniere
John Picacio
Daniel Dos Santos
Shaun Tan

BEST SEMIPROZINE (377 nominating ballots)

Ansible edited by David Langford
Clarkesworld edited by Neil Clarke, Sean Wallace, & Cheryl Morgan
Interzone edited by Andy Cox
Locus edited by Charles N. Brown, Kirsten Gong-Wong, & Liza Groen Trombi
Weird Tales edited by Ann VanderMeer & Stephen H. Segal

BEST FAN WRITER (319 nominating ballots)

Claire Brialey
Christopher J Garcia
James Nicoll
Lloyd Penney
Frederik Pohl

BEST FANZINE (298 nominating ballots)

Argentus edited by Steven H Silver
Banana Wings edited by Claire Brialey and Mark Plummer
CHALLENGER edited by Guy H. Lillian III
Drink Tank edited by Christopher J Garcia, with guest editor James Bacon
File 770 edited by Mike Glyer
StarShipSofa edited by Tony C. Smith

BEST FAN ARTIST (199 nominating ballots)

Brad W. Foster
Dave Howell
Sue Mason
Steve Stiles
Taral Wayne


Saladin Ahmed
Gail Carriger
Felix Gilman *
Seanan McGuire
Lezli Robyn *
* Second year of eligibility

Saturday, April 10, 2010

IN LONNIE’S SHADOW By Chrissie Michaels. Melbourne: Ford Street Publishing, 2010

In the 1990s, there was an archaeological dig in some historic lanes in Melbourne’s Central Business District. Thousands of bits and pieces from the 19th century, when people lived there, turned up. It has only been in recent years that people have started moving back into the CBD and those are mostly the ones who can afford the horrendous prices of city property, but a century ago there was a large migrant and working-class population living there.

In the Melbourne of the 1890s recession live four young friends: Lonnie, Daisy, Carlo and Pearl. Lonnie is working as a stable hand and about to ride in an illegal midnight race through the streets – a race he has just discovered is fixed. Daisy is a Salvation Army lass and seamstress with no parents and a dark memory that only surfaces in her sleep. Carlo drives a fruit cart and has ambitions to open an ice cream factory. Pearl has been sold into prostitution and is trying to escape from a particularly nasty madam. There are three intertwining stories and each chapter is headed by a description of an item found in the archaeological dig. Each object is mentioned, if only in passing, in thr course of the chapter.

The use of the objects found in the dig is a nice touch. There’s also a mention of the Parliamentary mace that went missing around this time – and who is to say it didn’t happen this way?

It works very well as an historical novel, if you can find some teens who like straight historical fiction, as opposed to historical fantasy. There is a strong flavour of the period in which it happened – and if you happen to live in Melbourne, as I do, it’s fascinating to imagine what your city might have been like in those days – long after the gold rushes, about twenty years before the First World War. The chapters are short and easy to read.

But you really need to persuade kids to read historical fiction these days. There are always some, but the genre has been out of fashion for a long time, which is a shame.

Talk the teenager in your lfe into reading this. It's worth it.

GIRLFRIEND FICTION #17 and #18: DEAR SWOOSIE by Kate Constable and Penni Russon, THIRTEEN PEARLS By Melaina Faranda. Sydney, Allen and Unwin, 2010

Girlfriend Fiction seems to be going strong. Unlike earlier series written to appeal to a YA female audience, these are not always romances and are often humorous. Some of them are written by male authors – Barry Jonsberg, Scot Gardner and R. M. Corbet have been responsible for some of them (although Mr Corbet’s novel, Fifteen Love, a romantic comedy about music and tennis, was a re-packaged edition of a previously-published straight YA novel). Some of the novels are better than others, but the students at my school read them all and fight over who gets them next.

Dear Swoosie is a humorous novel which reminds its young readers that their parents were also teenagers once. India and Poppy, while serving a detention in the school “attic” discover a series of letters written twenty years ago by two girls who address each other as “Swoosie”, are competing for the love of a gorgeous boy and turn out to be their mothers. Said gorgeous boy is Poppy’s father. The two women have not been on speaking terms since. But Poppy’s parents have broken up and India’s father was a short-term relationship and after some argument, the girls decide to get Poppy’s father back together with India’s mother, the girl who lost the fight over him so long ago.

Meanwhile, there is a lot of misunderstanding, two irritated boyfriends, tarot cards, an annoying Principal and junior students who believe they’re both vampires.

It’s an entertaining book that girls should have a great giggle over.

The setting seems to be the Melbourne suburb of Northcote, at a school that is probably a state, rather than private, school.

As an adult who notices things kids might not, I’d like to point out that in the Victorian state school system, at least, even the Principal can’t force kids to do Saturday detentions, nor can she make them dress up as vampires, even to reassure the younger kids – especially not if she went to school with the students’ parents, who dislike her intensely. Of course, it might be a private school.

I’ll just suspend disbelief, for the sake of a highly entertaining novel – the young readers at whom it’s aimed probably won’t notice anyway and won’t care if they do; they’re better at suspending disbelief than adults are.

Thirteen Pearls takes place in the tropical far north of Queensland. Edie Sparks has been building a boat to go around the world like her teen heroes Jesse Martin and Jessica Watson. But boat-building is expensive and she needs $4000 to finish it. When her unpleasant uncle, who owns a pearl farm, asks her to come and babysit his four-year-old stepson, she agrees immediately. The job is, of course, a lot harder than she had expected and the child’s mother, a mail-order bride, is overseas for an indefinite time.

But there are two hunky boys working on the island. Will she end up with gorgeous Eurasian Kaito, heir to a pearling empire, or blonde surfer type Leon, who is saving to travel overseas to see a backpacker chick with whom he had a holiday romance?

That is, if her little cousin Aran doesn’t drive her crazy first?

This one is a standard, though well-written, teen romance. If you’ve read enough of them, you know quite soon which boy she’s going to end up with. Which is okay, because teenagers like things to be predictable in their romances.

But it has an interesting background, as does Melaina Faranda’s previous novel Big Sky – perhaps even more so, because it’s set in the part of Australia where the author lives. There is enough description to tempt the reader to drop everything and go there – and there is plenty of humour to keep you going.

Yes, the girls will like it. This one, along with Dear Swoosie, will go on the shelves at my library very soon and will probably be out on loan before one day is over.

Monday, April 05, 2010

WITH A SWORD IN MY HAND By Jean-Claude van Rijkeghem and Pat van Beirs. Translated by John Nieuwenhuizen. Sydney: Allen and Unwin, 2010

We don’t know a lot about Margeurite de Male, last heiress of the Counts of Flanders. We do know what she probably looked like; the book’s endpapers show her portrait and if this is the typical flattering mediaeval nobility portrait, she must have been truly plain. We know who she married and when and how long she lived.

Other than that - who can say? The heroine of this novel, Margeurite is presented as strong, stubborn and intelligent. She hates embroidery, rides her father’s retired war-stallion, secretly trains in the use of a rapier and swears a lot. She trips up her governess with dried peas so that she can run out to have adventures with the squires. She notices boys, and goes through the pangs of being dumped.

Who can say it wasn’t just this way? Whether or not it happened like this, we feel we’re right in the fourteenth century. We can almost smell the stinks, hear the noises in the streets of Bruges, where Marguerite and her friends from the castle sneak out to watch, enthusiastically, as petty thieves and other such criminals are executed. Marguerite sees nothing wrong in this; after all, these people have had the attentions of a priest, so they’re in heaven after their horrible deaths, aren’t they? We shudder at the detailed description of the plague as it returns and spreads.

This is a beautifully-written novel, beautifully translated by John Nieuwenhuizen who, as well as being an experienced translator, also has plenty of understanding of young people and reading, from his long time in schools.

Give this to teenage girls who have had enough of the vampires.

GUARDIAN OF THE DEAD By Karen Healey. Sydney: Allen and Unwin, 2010

Ellie Spencer’s parents have left her at a boarding school in Christchurch on New Zealand,’s South Island, and gone on a world trip to celebrate Ellie’s mother’s recovery - or at least remission - from cancer. Ellie doesn't know it, but she has magical abilities, triggered by her encounter with gorgeous Mark, who is more than he seems.

Meanwhile, she’s helping her friend Kevin, a university student, with his production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, as fight choreographer. Ellie may be big and not-too-attractive to boys, but she does have a black belt in tae kwon do.

But Elizabethan fairies have nothing on New Zealand ones. Especially when “Titania” is after Kevin. And she isn’t even the worst of them. Mythological beings from the distant past of New Zealand, before even the arrival of the Maoris, have plans. They have lost their immortality and they want it back. And they don’t care who else dies so they can get it. Ellie and Mark’s time to save the day is strictly limited - and Mark, let’s face it, is not what he seems to be...

A nice thriller/horror tale with a touch a of humour. Girls, especially, should enjoy this. What they will think of the slight twist at the end, I can’t be sure. The truly nasty curse on Mark really should have required the heroine to make a hard decision, but hey, she’s too busy saving the day to be limited to saving Mark - and she does save him. Sort of. Using a different mythology, as she has learned that you bring your own myths with you. Hopefully, young readers will check out the Greek myths and the European fairy lore thrown into the mix.

Check it out.