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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!