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Monday, December 31, 2012

Birthday Meme

Okay, found this one in Satima Flavell's blog and it looked like fun, so here goes: my birthday is September 3. The idea is, you pick four events, three births, two deaths and one holiday connected with that day.

I looked in Wikipedia and was spoiled for choice with events, but most were battles and I didn't want to count the coronation of Richard 1 of England, because it led to the massacre of Jews at York. All they wanted was to give the new king a gift and... Never mind.

Event 1: Foundation of San Marino,  one of the world's smallest nations and the oldest Republic still in existence, in the year 301. Okay, it's a micro state located in Italy, but why not? Apparently it once made Abraham Lincoln an honorary citizen!

Event 2: 1802, Wordsworth composes the poem Composed Upon Westminster Bridge, September 3, 1802, the one that begins with "Earth hath not anything to show more fair"? Well, I've heard it, anyway.

Event 3: In 1838, Frederick Douglass escaped from slavery on this day. He went on to become a famous abolitionist and writer.

Event 4: my favourite, 1976, Viking 2 lands on Mars!


1. 1899: Frank McFarlane Burnett, an Aussie biologist who won a Nobel Prize.

2. 1910: Kitty Carlisle, who sang with Alan Jones in that delicious Marx Brothers movie, A Night At The Opera. Who can forget that scene where the Marx Brothers stuff up the production of Il Trovatore? And she had a glorious voice, not surprising, as she actually was an opera singer.

3. 1926: Irene Papas, a Greek actress who shouldn't need too much introduction. I remember her as Helen of Troy in that movie of The Trojan Women, in which Katharine Hepburn was Hecuba. Brilliant!


1. Robert Greene, in 1592. You may or may not have heard of him, but he was a colourful character who may have inspired Shakespeare's Falstaff  and did write the novel that inspired Shakespeare's play The Winter's Tale. He would have hated the idea of inspiring Shakespeare, about whom he said some rude things early in the Bard's career. Oh, and another thing: he may have been one of the first people in England to make a living out of writing - how cool is that?

2. 1991 Frank Capra, who directed Arsenic And Old Lace and It's A Wonderful Life.

Holiday: okay, this is cheating a bit, but it's the feast day of St Marinus, who founded San Marino.

How about you, readers? Got anything to say about your birthday?

And it's just before midnight on New Year's Eve, so it's my last post for the year. Good night!

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Vale Rita Levi-Montalcini!

Taken from
Rita Levi-Montalcini has finally passed away at the grand old age of 103. In case you haven't heard of her, she was a scientist who won a Nobel Prize at one stage. During the Second World War, she was unable to work in a lab because she was Jewish and living in Mussolini's Italy, so she worked at home, using what she could get - eggs! Chicken embryos told her a lot about nerves. After the war, se went to the US at the invitation of a Viktor Hamburger. She ended up staying 30 years, winning a Nobel Prize with her colleague Stanley Cohen. Apparently, she was the only Nobel Laureate so far to live over a hundred years.

She discovered nerve growth factor, which could still have a big effect on things like Alzheimer's.

I wrote about her in my second book, Potions To Pulsars: Women Doing Science, which was about women scientists. In those days, most of my research was done at the State Library; the Internet was something I used once a week in one of the early Internet cafes. I had to look up a lot of science so I could understand what it was my heroines had achieved. I remember with this one, I was up late, working on my editing, when I heard a news item about a Sydney woman scientist who had found that we all had unformed brain cells which could be developed and I immediately thought,"Nerve growth factor!" I got a fax number for this scientist - yes, these were the days before I had my first email! -and wrote to ask her and she said yes,she had used NGF and I had another bit for my book.

Where a scientist was still around, I made contact to get them to check out the chapter about themselves - Rosalyn Sussman Yalow( brilliant work with insulin), Jocelyn Bell Burnell(radio astronomy, discovered pulsars) and Rita Levi-Montalcini. I can't even remember how I found all these addresses, but it wasn't online - I have never regretted studying librarianship, especially the reference section! You really learn how to look things up. But I faxed to Rome and gave them a fax number which turned out to be useless, because one evening I got a call from one of the great scientist's staff, who said every time she  tried to fax, someone on the other end picked up the phone and said,"Hello? Hello?" It was my friend Bart's fax/phone and not much use, it seemed. So I gave her my school's fax instead and her boss checked out my MS about herself. My publishers got in touch to ask for a photo and the chapter went into the book.

I suppose I admire her not only because of what she discovered, but because she made the most of what little she had and laid the foundations for her later work. I know about making the most of a little, but thinking of her really puts it into perspective. And she was going strong, right till the end. Sleep well, Rita - you have earned your rest!

The Hobbit movie

So, was it worth all the fuss?

In my opinion, yes! Please note, this isn't a proper movie review, just a sharing of my experience when I went with my friend, Jasna, her son Kris and my nephew Max last Wednesday. Kris was the only one of us who hadn't read either The Hobbit or Lord Of The Rings. The rest of us had read both.

And we all enjoyed it very much. Max and Jasna declared that they were going to stay in the cinema till the next movie came out.

I found I didn't mind all the prequel stuff at the beginning - you can have Thorin Oakenshield telling his story in a book, but in a movie you have to show it. You even got to see how he got the name Oakenshield, something Tolkien told outside the novel. And I couldn't help chuckling when, among the Dwarves fleeing from Erebor and the dragon they showed some recognisable women - without beards! Tolkien, bless him, was so into his boys' club that he kept forgetting that the fathers of the fathers of the Dwarves had to have women in their lives. When it eventually did occur to him that people would want to know why you never saw female Dwarves he explained that they were a minority, they rarely went out and that they sometimes chose not to marry, leaving a vast majority of males. Oh, and by the way, they had beards! Terry Pratchett has had a lot of fun with this in his Discworld novels, creating a Dwarf society in which it's considered uncouth for a female Dwarf to reveal her gender and Dwarf courtship involves carefully working out whether the other person is male or female.

Until a reread recently I assumed that the only woman to appear in The Hobbit novel was Lobelia Sackville-Baggins, but I was wrong. She isn't mentioned. It's "The Sackville-Bagginses" who are trying to buy Bag End while Bilbo is away. So in fact, there are no women in the book at all, except a mention of Bilbo's mother Belladonna Took and one of Thorin's sister, the mother of Fili and Kili. So while Galadriel doesn't do a lot in this movie, I don't mind her being there. She and Saruman were brought in, I suspect,as an introduction for their more important appearance at that White Council meeting in the next(?) movie.

The Unexpected Party happened in the evening instead of tea time, but those two Tolkien songs were both there, with the Dwarves merrily throwing dishes around and singing the song that goes,"That's what Bilbo Baggins hates!" while poor Bilbo protests and the dishes, of course, are washed, dried and stacked neatly.

I didn't mind Radagast the Brown appearing in this one, since he didn't appear in the FOTR movie, even though he only was mentioned in The Hobbit. And wasn't he a character, nursing hedgehogs whom he names individually and wearing birds under his hat and having bird droppings in his beard and long hair. Sylvester McCoy was a delight in the role. I couldn't help remembering I saw him and Ian McKellen together in King Lear in Melbourne(McCoy was the Fool).

There was a lot of fighting in it - the Dwarves are shown as a brawling, riotous bunch, as you would expect.

Barry Humphries was the Goblin King,and while you only heard his voice, he seemed to be having a lot of fun. Can't wait to see Stephen Fry as the Master of Laketown!

Middle-Earth was as beautiful as last time and Howard Shore was back with his glorious musical score - some leitmotifs left over from last time, of course, and some new ones. I will be spending some of my JB Hifi gift voucher on the score.

Bring on the next movie!

Saturday, December 29, 2012

What I've Downloaded

Ah, the joys of having immediate access to iBooks! I read or hear about a book and if it's on iBooks I can go straight there and download it! Just this morning, I finally downloaded Anita Heiss's memoir, Am I Black Enough For You? Just started reading it, but it's a delight so far. I might check out her chick lit novels later. For some time I knew her only as a bigwig in the Australian Society of Authors, of which I'm a member, but we've been following each other on Twitter and I feel I know her, even if we've never met.

The other day I bought David Levithan's Every Day, a fantasy novel in which the hero, A, finds (him)self in a different body and different life every day, sometimes male, sometimes female, and read it in a couple of hours. A very strange theme, if not unusual. The entity A falls in love with a girl who has a horrible boyfriend and what then? I don't think it's his best book, but interesting. A does tell the girl, Rhiannon, what it has been like from babyhood onwards, but surely he/she/it was born in their  own body? Who is occupying it now? We do find out that there are other entities out there with the same situation, but only meet one. The book ends with questions unanswered. It could lead to a sequel, but this author tends to write stand-alone books.

I have bought Angela Carter's American Ghosts And Old World Wonders, as I already have a print copy of The Bloody Chamber. I've read so far her thoughts on Cinderella and boy, does she make some good points on the nasty ideas in this story! And this is without even mentioning the gruesome Italian version in which the heroine murders her first stepmother, only to find herself with an even worse one.

From Project Gutenberg I've downloaded an early translation of Beowulf which has a handy blurb about the characters and a very nice glossary before the poem begins. One of these days I'm going to have a go at the Old English version. I did bits from it in second year uni, when we had units on both Old and Middle English, but the fourth year OE unit was mostly religious poetry. It did feature Beowulf, but I was doing my thesis on Middle English Arthurian romances and Malory was on the menu for fourth year ME, so I reluctantly gave up my OE, as I couldn't do both. I have also found something called Early English Meals And Manners, which is a compilation of early books on cooking and etiquette, something I can use in my research - I do write mediaeval fantasy, after all. I was looking for Randall Garrett's Lord Darcy stories, but it wasn't available, so I picked up one of his SF pieces instead, Time Fuze.

I have picked up Harry Harrison's The Ethical Engineer, his second Deathworld book, Rebecca Stead's Liar And Spy, which I heard about at the CYL's last Booktalkers and downloaded while they were talking about it. I wanted to read Marianne De Pierres'  Shine Light, the third in her Night Creatures trilogy and ended up buying the whole trilogy as I had donated my first two to the school library. I have a feeling RH tried to deliver my review copy by courier and I couldn't get in touch with the courier company while at work, so will have to ask again. I know the kids will want to read it and someone has borrowed the second book for the holidays.

I got Scarlet by A.C. Gaughen because there was a discussion about it on a blog I was following, but found myself a little disappointed with it due to some jarring anachronisms. I don't mind the odd anachronism as long as the author admits to it and explains why, but I just don't think this author had done her research well enough. There were some interesting ideas in it and goodness knows, there are a LOT of Robin Hood novels out there, all different,so I guess this one just isn't my favourite. That would have to be Parke Godwin's Sherwood, in case you're wondering, but there are other terrific ones.

I picked up Volume 6 of the Paston Letters from PG, because I am reading two books, Helen Castor's She-Wolves, about strong English queens from Matilda to Margaret of Anjou, and Sarah Gristwood's   book about the women behind the Wars Of The Roses, Blood Sisters, alternating chapters. I'm into the
Margaret chapter in She Wolves so have caught up. Helen Castor has also done a book about the Pastons, Blood And Roses, which I have somewhere on my reference shelves.

Lots of good stuff to read over the holidays if I can resist downloading still more!

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Other Writers' Next Big Thing

And here is a link to the post written by George Ivanoff, who invited me to do this:

Richard Harland wrote this:

You really should check these out. George has done a guest post here already, but he talks about the novel he is working on for Ford Street, and Richard is a writer whose work I personally love for its delicious silliness.

If you like a different kind of writing, check out the post by Sandy Fussell, author of  the Samurai Kids series, who has been interviewed on this blog before:

My offer is still open to anyone who has somehow missed this and would like to do those questions - let me know and I'll send them on to you. If you don't have a blog, or feel silly interviewing yourself, I will be happy to host your post here.

The Next Big Thing Post

I have been tapped to do The Next Big Thing by George Ivanoff, quite late in the piece, which means that nearly everyone I have tapped myself has already done it or is busy. It's meant to be a chain, so if any writer reading this would like to do it, get in touch. You do have to have a web site, because effectively it's like doing an interview on your own site. However, if you'd rather do it on my site I would be happy to host you.

Below are the questions George sent me.

1) What is the [working] title of your next book?

The working title is The Sword And The Wolf, but I'm not good at titles. That said, when I did a writers' workshop with it, the publisher from Tor thought the title was fine!

2) Where did the idea come from for the book?

It's a prequel to Wolfborn. I felt that the story of Etienne and his friends, Armand, Sylvie, Jeanne and the werewolf knight, Geraint, was told, but there were some lesser characters in the novel whose stories I believed needed expanding. I fell in love with King Luiz, who mostly appears as a sort of deus ex machina near the end of Wolfborn, but turned out to be a likeable person and I wondered about his teenage years. And there was a lesser baddie who also took my interest, so he is worked in too. The universe is the same, but it's set during an interregnum when the king had been killed in battle and his heir had gone missing. Yes, there's an Arthurian flavour to it.

3) What genre does your book fall under?

YA fantasy. It has werewolves in it, but it's a mediaeval fantasy, not the standard urban fantasy.

4) What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

I'm still thinking about it. Maisie Williams, who plays Arya Stark in Game Of Thrones, would be about the right age now for the role of my heroine, Lysette, and has the right style. Her mentor Amrys, the former court wizard who got locked in a tree by his last apprentice and missed the young prince's growing up, needs to be someone fortyish, as he was frozen in time. He's not an ancient man with a long beard, he's more like Mary Stewart's Merlin. Maybe Hugo Weaving.:-)

5) What's the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

Teen werewolf girl lets a wizard out of a tree and finds herself caught up in the search for a lost prince - a very cute lost prince! :-)

6) Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

I don't do self-published. Agents? Over the years I have had to represent myself, because any agent I approached either had full books or didn't bother to reply, even to an inquiry letter( I never sent them a manuscript unsolicited). Publishers know me now, so usually at least read the MS, even if they say no. That said, any agent reading this is welcome to contact me! ;-). Otherwise I will first offer it to publishers I have dealt with before. Then, if no luck, I will try others.

7) How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

My first draft is not finished. And it's taken ages! Still, I'm around 60,000 words in.

8) What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

I don't think it's exactly like anything I've read. The closest, though, would be a cross between Tamora Pierce's Wolf-Speaker and Mary Stewart's The Hollow Hills.

9) Who or what inspired you to write this book?

My previous novel was full of aristocrats, even if they did have to live wild. I thought I'd see what life might be like for a peasant werewolf who managed to avoid being lynched.

10) What else might pique the reader's interest?

Oh, lots of adventure, a little romance, prehistoric animals, humour. There's not enough humour in YA fantasy novels in my opinion. If you're curious, check this out: She Bursztynski Reads Her Fiction - it's me reading from the manuscript. And if you're curious about my published novel, there's a sample chapter on this site, just look at the side, or wander over to YouTube, where I'm reading from the book here:

And I have also done a Current Big Thing post about Wolfborn here.

Thanks, George, for inviting me!

Things To Come - The Next Big Thing And Others

I have been invited by George Ivanoff to take part in the Next Big Thing in which writers talk about what they're doing. I though it was next Wednesday, but George tells me it was supposed to be yesterday, so some time soon, tomorrow if I can, I will answer the questions and post it here.

Meanwhile, I am looking forward to an interview with Marianne De Pierres by Yasmyn and Kaitlyn, which should come soon, and one with Stephanie Campisi, whom I invited to do a Next Big Thing, but who will instead do it as an interview here, as her blog is really dedicated to book reviews and essays about books. I will be sending along the questions, but Stephanie is away for a few days. It's that time of year! :-)

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Today's Joys - The Hobbit!

I am lying in bed, rereading The Hobbit, because today I am going to see the movie; unlike the rest of the world, we only get to see it from today. I have been pretty good about trying not to read too much in the way of reviews, though I do know now it ends well before the point I'm up to.

I always get something out of a reading of Tolkien. There's a strength and beauty even in this short novel intended for younger readers. The hero develops over the course of the novel, from a man glued to his home into one who can do far more than he would ever have thought, yet remains himself - and in the end, it's his love of the ordinary things of life that is most important, as ever Thorin finally realises, when he says that this would be a "merrier" world if more people valued food and drink and song.

I love the way Tolkien shows that ordinary people can be heroes.

Tolkien doesn't do much with women, because he lived in a man's world - or, rather, a boys' club! In this novel women don't take part at all, except for a brief mention of Lobelia Sackville-Baggins trying to buy Bag End. But when he does include women, they're women you can respect, even Lobelia, who ends up a heroine to her people when she stands up to the invaders in the "Scouring Of The Shire".

Anyway, I will read some more Hobbit before breakfast and head off to meet family and friends for the movie. I do hope it's as wonderful as it looks!

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Some More Useful Stuff For Writers

While checking out my bookmarks, I came back to a great web site called Writers' Resources. This particular one is for the benefit of historical novelists, but if you, like me, write fantasy set in historical-type/mediaeval societies, it's also a treasure trove, with its links to some great sites that can help you look up everything from old terms for diseases to names.

And names are important. You really can't afford to stuff them up. Not long ago, I got a request for a review of a book which starts in Salem during the witch trials and has a character with that well-known Pilgrim name Natasha. I am a kind person, plus I can't bring myself to read a book which puts me off in the blurb, so I said no. There was plenty more in that blurb that suggested the author hadn't done much, if any, historical research.

Check out this entertaining article on the subject of naming, Name That Character! Or try this one: 8 Tips For Naming Your Characters.

If you're thinking of writing crime fiction there are plenty of forensics web sites, but never underestimate the power of general encyclopaedias such as Here's an article about crime scene insects. I suspect if I ever write crime fiction it's going to be a cosy, but you may be planning a thriller.

One of my favourite research web sites, which I share with my students, is How Stuff Works. It sounds like a technical web site, but there's a lot more. It's a sort of encyclopaedia of everything. Right now, there's an item on"how mistletoe works" with the historical background and one on Santa's elves.

Good luck with your research!

Sunday Morning Stuff

It's my first Sunday of my summer holidays. I will soon have to rise from the breakfast table to get some house cleaning done and hopefully I will be able to go to the beach later in the day - the forecast for today is 39'! I can get stuck into my writing and my HUGE pile of TBR books. I have finished reading Riggs Crossing, the latest publication from Ford Street, and will be popping the review up soonish.

 Meanwhile, there's a new Mark Walden book that isn't about Otto Malpense and his friends at H.I.V.E, that Hogwarts for super villains. Personally, I think the author has painted himself into a corner in the H.I.V.E series, but at the Allen and Unwin Yuletide bash I met Sonia Palmisano, the publicist, who says there are three more books in that series  to come!

I am still waiting to hear from the delightful Marianne De Pierres, who is a bit busy at the moment, but has received the interview questions by my students Yasmyn and Kaitlyn and has kindly agreed to answer them. Stand by!

I have had an email from Peggy Bright Books, the small press that published the anthology Light Touch Paper Stand Clear, which has a story of mine in it and whose authors wrote a series of guest posts on this blog in July. The anthology has had some fabulous reviews (preen, preen!) and is now available, along with all the other PBB books on Amazon, for those of you who have Kindles; the rest of you can still get them from the publishers in hard copy or on ebook from Wizard's Tower Books.

PBB is a great little publisher. It has only done a few books so far, but they're good stuff. I am thinking of doing a set of interviews with Australian small press publishers some time soon - what do you think? We have a thriving small press in this country - not vanity press, but the real thing, where you get paid for writing, if not a lot. Some big name writers are being published by small press here. It might make for an interesting set of posts.

Friday, December 21, 2012

In My Mailbox This Week!

Look what I got this week! Gorgeous cover and fabulous content! I do help to produce this magazine, but only a bit. There's something special about opening an envelope and finding a new bunch of speculative fiction just waiting to be read. I love science fiction and fantasy. I have read a lot of the classics, but it's so exciting to read newly-published stories. It must have been like this in the old days, when writers who are now famous were writing their first stories for the pulps. The audience would have been young boys, mostly, but not now.

I did commission some of the internal art in this issue, but receiving the finished product, the result of team work, reminds me why I do this. And there are the authors - at least one first sale, some writers I haven't heard of, but also many I have. Tom Holt is in there. A poem by Richard O'Brien - yes,THAT Richard O'Brien, author of the Rocky Horror Show. However did the editor get these people interested? We've had a story by Tom Holt before, years ago, but that was a different editor. Some writers who have been with us before and come back for more.

It's such a very ASIM cover, I love the truck and the car crashing into the earth and Australia flying off into space...

Sorry if this whole post looks like an ad, but I couldn't resist showing off. If you're interested, just follow the link to the Andromeda Spaceways web site.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Testing, testing

This post is a test of the new mobile version of Blogger I have downloaded. Unlike Blogger Pack, which I downloaded especially so I can curl up in bed on a Saturday morning and post, with photos, it lets you add a photo(Blogger Pack has a bug which switches off when you try to add a pic). But also unlike Blogger Pack, you can't edit, or at least I haven't worked out how yet. Once you've done the post, you can't go back and change things, you have to use the web version. There s an edit button, but when I click it, it tells me I haven't selected! Blogger Pack does let you edit.

Anyway, it does let me add a photo from my camera roll, so I am going to stick in a photo I just took of some lovely gifts I have received. The big one with the yellow bow was from my student Sweet, who gave it to me for International Teacher Day. She also made me a card which I will treasure forever, along with other student gifts I have had over the years(including a fish-shaped lamp with a wick and a plastic swan). Sweet is actually pretty good with her hands, so it will end up next to the pop up card I got on the publication of Wolfborn. The book on Greek cooking was from my library tech Lucy, and will be used, as will the sweets recipe calendar, which I will try out over the summer break. She also gave me the homemade jam, made from oranges from her tree, and the kourabiedes she baked -those will be eaten one at a time with a glass of milk. Same with the truffles from my other tech, Ying, and the hand cream and wash are my favourite scent, lavender.

Okay, this is not a book-related post, but I hope you'll forgive. The ability to upload photos will make a big difference!

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The Dangers Of Yuletide Shopping

Okay, I have pretty much finished my shop-till-you-drop for this year. I will be sending my interstate and overseas friends virtual gifts from Oxfam or TEAR. I don't have to buy for family, since this sn't our holy day, but I do have plenty of friends. Tonight I go home to wrap and write cards, many of which should have been posted weeks ago, but I couldn't.

Tonight, though, I had the last stuff to buy for workmates. I went to the Body Shop for some politically correct goodies for a workmate who will appreciate it. While I was there, I found an Amnesty bracelet for another friend who has spent this semester doing Amnesty themed stuff with her Year 9, who were my class last year, my dearest 8B. Then I went downstairs with my fragrant parcel and body buttered hands to get her a book voucher, as she's a passionate reader. I really should have left when I had paid, but I just had to wander over to the talking books section, didn't I? Where I picked out for myself a Phryne Fisher favourite read by Stephanie Daniel and as if that wasn't enough, I turned away only to find a biography of Neil Armstrong, a bargain at $17! For another friend I bought a collection of Terry Pratchett's short stories and I know I will only be able to part with it by promising myself a copy later.

Danger, danger, Will Robinson! It makes a ringing sound( beware the cash register!).

Anyone else find themselves tempted to buy for themselves while getting gifts?

Monday, December 17, 2012

Aleesah Darlison Guest Post

Last week I interviewed children's writer Aleesah Darlison, to give you some idea of her background and her writing. Today I will let Aleesah tell you about her books themselves. Take it away, Aleesah!

Hello everyone, my name is Aleesah Darlison and I’m a children’s author.
I’ve been a published author for two and half years now and in that time I’ve had fifteen books released. I’ve been very lucky as I’ve had two series picked up: Unicorn Riders (Walker Books) and Totally Twins (New Frontier). These have been fantastic series to work on, I’m so proud of both of them, but it has also been hard work. You certainly learn the meaning of the words ‘deadline’ and ‘multi-tasking’ when writing a series. But I wouldn’t have it any other way.
My latest release is Book 4 in the Totally Twins series. It’s called Birthday Bonanza. The twins in the series, Persephone and Portia Pinchgut, are planning their eleventh birthday. Little do they know, they are going to be in for some HUGE surprises!
Also, I’ve just submitted Books 7 & 8 to my editor at Walker Books for the Unicorn Riders series. I’m very much looking forward to seeing the draft illustrations come through soon. I’m probably not looking forward to tackling the structural edits though! Still, it’s all part of the writing process so I won’t complain. 
Unicorn Riders is a fantasy adventure series for girls aged 8+. The stories feature four strong, empowered female lead characters: Willow, Quinn, Ellabeth and Krystal. These girls protect their kingdom from evil forces and go on important missions for their queen. The stories are fast-paced and action-packed with lots of twists and turns. I’m passionate about this series because it’s all about empowering girls and helping them find their inner strength.
I’m also passionate about my picture books. For me, having a picture book published is one of the joys of being an author. My picture books so far are:
Puggle’s Problem, which is on the NSW Premier’s Reading Challenge, and Warambi, which was shortlisted for the 2012 CBCA Eve Pownell Award for Non-Fiction and the 2012 Wilderness Society Award for Children’s Literature.

I also have two more picture books on the way in 2013.
Bearly There is illustrated by Jill Carter-Hansen. It’s a story about two very different teddy bears. Bearly There is a well-loved and loyal teddy. Unfortunately, he’s rather raggedy and old. A well-meaning relative tries to replace Bearly by introducing a brand new teddy called Winston. Winston is naughty and cheeky and causes loads of problems for Bearly. Bearly There is due out in March 2013, so please keep an eye out for it.
My other picture book due out in 2013 is Little Meerkat. I just adore meerkats and I’m absolutely delighted that Wombat Books is publishing this story. I’m also delighted that WA illustrator, Shannon Melville, is illustrating the book. Little Meerkat is about an over-zealous, over-courageous, but terribly cute and mischievous meerkat. It’s due out in October 2013.
Well, that’s it for now. Thanks for taking the time to read this post. Please feel free to post any comments or questions here and I will respond.
If you’d like to find out more info about me you can visit my website at or go into Facebook and ‘LIKE’ my author page:

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Interview With Aleesah Darlison

Today I am interviewing Aussie children's writer Aleesah Darlison. Aleesah has, in recent years, been short listed for the Eve Pownall Award, which is the non-fiction section of the CBCA awards. I have made it as far as the Notables and the Claytons, for my book Potions To Pulsars: Women Doing Science but never the Pownall short list!

I will also be publishing her guest post in which she tells us a bit more about the books.

So, enjoy the Q and A below and maybe think of a book or two for your younger children. Aleesah's current publisher is Walker Books.

1.    Tell us a bit about yourself, e.g. what do you do when you aren't writing?  Where do you live?

I grew up in the country, living in a tiny house on a small farm with my parents, my brother and my two younger sisters. I left home at seventeen to attend uni in Sydney where I studied marketing. I’ve always had a passion for books and writing and although I worked for a number of years in corporate marketing, I spent every spare minute writing. For many years, I treated it as a hobby, never dreaming that I could actually become a published author.

It wasn’t until I left paid work to become a full-time mum that I decided to give writing as a career a proper shot. After three years of attending workshops, running writers’ groups and receiving copious amounts of rejection letters, I finally had my first picture book accepted for publication. That was two and a half years ago. Since then, I’ve published fifteen books.

I still live in Sydney, on the Northern Beaches with my husband, three young children (aged 9, 8 and 5) and two small but yappy dogs.

2.    What made you realise you were a children's writer?
When I finally had a picture book accepted for publication. Flowing on from that, and snowballing from all the years of writing manuscript after manuscript, I had other stories for primary school aged children published. I had tried writing short stories and novels for adults, but I just don’t think my inner voice (or inner child) has grown up enough for me to be successful at that. Writing for children is fun and rewarding, so I’m very happy to be where I am right now. Plus, I have loads of ideas that are yet to be turned into fully-fledged books so I could be in this space for quite some time to come.

3.    You've sold a lot of books for such a short career - how do you manage to do it all?

I’ve had some luck on my side having two series picked up, which means a lot of books need to be written in a short time to keep readers interested. I’ve worked hard and learned to make the most of each day. I have three young children – one still in preschool – so my writing time is quite limited. I don’t necessarily write every day as often I’m visiting schools to run writing workshops and author talks. I just try to make the most of every day and manage my time efficiently. I don’t watch much TV and I’m usually tapping away on my keyboard until late into the night. I’m certainly not the only author who does this!

 4.  How did you make your first sale? And how did you celebrate it?

I submitted my picture book text, Bearly There, to several publishers, through the slushpile. The story was eventually accepted by Windy Hollow Books. Even though that was my first acceptance, the book won’t be released until March 2013. It’s been a long time coming and I’ve had fifteen other books released in between times. I was so excited when Bearly There was accepted that I couldn’t speak at first. Then I ran around the house squealing. I phoned my husband pretty quickly after that and we celebrated with the kids (and a glass of champagne) later that night. I’ve since managed to secure a literary agent, Jacinta di Mase, but the joy in having a manuscript accepted for publication hasn’t dimmed at all, nor has the enjoyment of a glass of champagne to celebrate that acceptance.

    5.  Which of your fictional characters is your favourite and why?

It’s incredibly hard to choose between them. I love Persephone Pinchgut from my Totally Twins series because she’s clever, quirky, shy and witty all at the same time. I adore my four gutsy heroines in the Unicorn Riders series: Quinn, Willow, Ellabeth and Krystal, who are so courageous and work well as a team. Ben Hopper from I Dare You is funny, vulnerable, sensitive and brave. And he’s got a crush on this cute girl, Astrid. My animal characters, like Pipp Puggle, Warambi and Little Good Wolf, teach us lessons through their experiences ... see I really struggle with it. I guess my characters are like my children – I can’t choose between them!

6.    Which is your favourite book of those already published and why?

Again, this is hard for me to answer. If I HAD to choose one I could (perhaps!) narrow it down to my Unicorn Riders series, which has been very special for me. I’ve always loved unicorns and collected figurines since I was a child. The girls in the stories are strong, empowered female lead characters. The series has been a joy to write, the publisher, Walker Books, is very supportive of me. The stories are filled with magical adventures, life-lessons and twists and turns. And I’ve received high praise from readers, parents and teachers for the series.

Monday, December 10, 2012

What If You Don't Celebrate Yuletide?

There has just been a chat on Radio National on the subject of what you do on Christmas Day when you don't celebrate it. Of course, there are plenty of people who just don't do it. My friend Anne Devrell and her husband escaped to Melbourne one year - they spent some time  at the Sorrento YHA and on the day itself they invited me to join them by the river for a picnic. It was such a pleasant, peaceful day, and we waved at people rowing past.

Waleed Aly, the drive time host, is Muslim, of course, and I, too, am not "of the Nazarene persuasion." ;-) He complained that there's nothing to do and you can't even meet your friends because they all have commitments.

Well, I love being alone on that day. I pack a picnic lunch. It's something yummy - fresh summer fruit, exotic cheeses and home made bread. And a thermos of hot water and herbal tea. And I take along a book. This year I will be able to take stacks of books, thanks to my e-reader. Last year, there was a sudden cloudburst and we all took shelter under the roof of the changing shed. I chatted to a British gentleman, who was cheerfully eating an ice cream and pleased to have a summer Christmas. One year, when it was pouring all day, I had my picnic lunch at the living room table and binged on episodes of Angel

If it was my holy day, it might be different, but that wasn't the point of the discussion. There's plenty to do without making someone open a cinema for you or whatever. You can take a walk, sit in the park(plenty of parties are going on in my local park on that day). You can write. You can read, read, read! And I'm going to.

Friday, December 07, 2012

Things To Come Soon On The Great Raven

Hullo, lovely readers!

In the next couple of weeks there will be some great posts on this book blog. Aleesah Darlison, an Aussie writer for younger children, talks about herself and the fifteen books she has sold in a career spanning a mere two and a half years, including a short list in the Eve Pownalls, the non-fiction section of the Children's Book Council Awards. I have to say that's better than I have done - I managed a Notable in the Pownalls for my non-fiction book Potions To Pulsars: Women doing Science, but never the short list.

Two of my younger book clubbers, Yasmyn and Kaitlyn, interview the fabulous Marianne De Pierres, whose wonderful YA novel Burn Bright they read and loved recently. We're just waiting for Marianne's answers to their questions, which should arrive in the next few days.

I have to say that Burn Bright has turned out to be a great book for good readers to discuss in Literature Circles, which is the classroom equivalent of  an adult book club, the kind where everyone reads the same book and talks about it. There's so much meat for discussion and so much potential for a creative response. One of my students wrote some fan fiction based on it. Another prepared a book trailer and posted it on YouTube. The author also posted it on her web site.

As for the current readers, one has commented that she wants to GO to Ixion, the menacing island of ever-night, because at her age she would have plenty of time before having to worry about what happens when you're too old. ;-) And meanwhile, there's the all-night party scene...

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

What's Happened in Publishing Before - from Write On!

First published November 11 on my writing blog, Write On! 

This morning I read the latest post on the History Girls web site, which is about the village of Bermondsey, where two former Queens of England died at the abbey. The author mentions an Internet cafe on the high street and wonders what the monks would have thought. In its turn, that makes me think of a novel I read years ago, The Load Of Unicorn by Cynthia Harnett. The Unicorn of the title is a type of paper and the story is about the reaction of the scribes who made their money from hand writing to the new technology of printing, which is going to put them out of work. The young hero is tracking down the manuscript of Malory's Morte D'Arthure which Caxton wants to print.

And that brought me to the present day, when there is so much argument over modern technology and the Internet, the current publishing industry and ebooks. Nothing really changes, does it? The entire culture of publication in Caxton's time would have had to change from terribly expensive manuscripts which only the very rich could afford to printed books. Once the genie was out of the bottle it couldn't be put back.

The culture now has had to change too. Publishers not only have to work out how to deal with sales - there's the whole Digital Rights Management thing, where you can't transfer your book from one gadget to another and the question of do you own your books anyway and can you leave them to your family - but the matter of who can publish.

Oh, there have always been self-published books. There have been the vanity presses which would take over all the usual jobs of a real publisher as long as you paid them, and were happy to publish any garbage, and there have been people who wanted to self-publish for a niche market that was worth their while and a few who self-published for their own reasons and ended up being taken on by publishing companies and becoming a huge success, such as Matthew Reilly and Christopher Paolini.

But now there's an entire culture of self-publishing, known as "indie", with entire web sites devoted to it. Some of these self-publishers would have paid a vanity press in the old days only a few years ago. Others simpy want complete control over their work. And you can do it! Anyone can do an ebook and it doesn't even have to be a full book - you can publish a short story and sell it for 99c or offer it free for people to download. One of my students who bought a Kindle early this year is terribly excited by this, as he rarely has his nose out of a book ( and when he was in my English class last year, it was so hard for me, as his teacher-librarian, to say firmly,"Ali, please put that book down.")

When I was writing and publishing fan fiction you had to print or photocopy your fanzine to distribute it. Now there are whole web sites dedicated to fan fiction based on every book, movie and TV series you can think of. Anyone can write it. I didn't usually publish my own work, except reprints, but at least I could,as editor, filter out the truly awful stuff and edit the rest. Now anyone who wants to read fan fiction has to take a chance. There's some fan fiction that's so very good that the authors have gone on to make professional sales and some that's horrible, but there's no longer anyone to filter it out.

You can,anyway, develop a fandom whether or not you're picked up by a publisher like Bloomsbury, as The Glass Throne was, after several years on-line, building up a fandom who, of course, bought the novel when it came out not long ago.

So, like the scribes of Cynthia Harnett's fifteenth century England, we have seen a lot of changes in publishing.

Wonder what the monks would have thought?

Saturday, December 01, 2012

ECHO By Alyson Noel. Volume 2 The Soul Seekers. Sydney: Pan Macmillan, 2012

Daire Santos, heroine of the first volume in this series, is a Soul Seeker, another name for a shaman - by birth, not by training. She has recently had some training from her grandmother, Paloma, whose son, Daire’s father, died at sixteen, leaving his girlfriend pregnant with Daire, after refusing to take up his heritage. Daire is learning quickly.

In the first volume, Fated,  Daire came to Enchantment, a small town in New Mexico, which is anything but enchanting, due to being under the control of the local rich family, the Richters, who had been using their magic - or magick, as it’s called in the book - powers for their own benefit. She met twin brothers Dace and Cade, whose father Leandro is a Richter, and fell in love with the former during her training. She’d seen him in her dreams and can’t help loving him. 

Dace and Cade shouldn’t have been twins; due to an attempt by Leandro to create a son who would be totally evil and suit his needs, he split one soul in two, so that Dace is totally good while his twin is evil.

Now Dace must decide whether he should take on some of his twin’s nastier traits in order to save Daire from the prophecy which decrees that there will be a death. And Daire must cope with the corruption of the Otherworld where the lovers meet, where she can’t even trust her totem animal, the raven.

I must admit, I didn’t see the ending coming. I had some thoughts about how it might finish and I was sort of right, but not quite. You will probably find your jaw dropping in the last few pages, sputtering, “But - but - hang on! How ....?” 

And it’s only halfway through the series. I don’t recommend you read this until you have read the first book. It won’t make sense on its own and it will definitely create spoilers.

I preferred the cover of the first book, with its Native American themes that run through the book. This one, while it does include the snow theme that is mentioned a lot in the second novel, is a lot closer to the pretty "prom gown" style of YA paranormal romance. Trust me on this, Daire doesn’t wear a gown like the one on the cover, not even once! Not even to the Christmas party held at the Rabbit Hole, the local cafe/club/teen hangout. And this isn't your standard paranormal romance anyway.

However, that isn’t the author’s fault. 

My only nitpick is that the language continues with the irritating half-sentences that irked me in the first book. The kind that. Go like this. But all the time. Every page with at least two. Sometimes more. I found myself skipping over those and trying to ignore them, because it’s otherwise a good book. But if I had been this author’s editor I would have reminded her that there are these things called commas. 

This is going into my library next week. Let’s see what the girls have to say about it. I think they'll like it and probably the irritating half-sentences that bother this crabby old teacher-librarian won't even be noticed.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Cairo Jim Memories

This morning I woke up thinking of Cairo Jim.

Cairo Jim is the hero of a series of children's books by Geoffrey McSkimming. I know Geoffrey because we were in touch for a while by email after I went to a library conference where he was the speaker and I learned from him that there was a market for short non-fiction at the NSW School Magazine, where he worked at the time. Thanks to this information I established a long, happy relationship with the magazine and its delightful  editor, Jonathan Shaw.

But this is about Cairo Jim. Cairo Jim is Geoffrey McSkimming's creation, a sort of Indiana Jones for younger readers, although the author does throw in a lot of in-jokes which adults are more likely to pick up than children, like the Asterix comics. Mind you, he told me I was the only reader he'd met ever to spot his reference to Marge and Gower Champion, those famous Hollywood dancers of the 1940s in  On The Trail To Chacha Muchos. That book is chronologically the first, though the second written. In it, Cairo Jim visits South America where he first meets his Shakespeare-quoting macaw companion Doris, while searching for a local tribe, the Chacha Muchos, who danced off into the jungle under the leadership of their chief Arturo Murrayo. At one point, Jim is rescued by that fabulous flight attendant Jocelyn Osgood, who arrives in a balloon accompanied by a dance band who think she's Dorothy Lamour.

Jocelyn Osgood has her own series, in between the Cairo Jim books, starting with After The Puce Empress. She solves mysteries. She is a strong, capable woman and there are hints that she has a thing for Jim, but he never notices. Actually, he doesn't notice when another woman, a member of the Turkish branch of the Antiquities Squad, throws him strong hints about her attraction to him via her mobile phone ring tones and in a later book she finally tells him that she was causing trouble for him because he didn't take her hints.

And this brings me to the time in which the novels are set - I have no idea when that is! There's that mobile phone, of course. In an early book, Mrs Amun-Ra, who runs the tea shop in Jim's village of Gurna finds a photo of Buzz Aldrin on the moon(1969).

 On the other hand, Gerald Perry Esquire, who's a sort of Marcus Brody character, says he remembers an incident that happened in 1912! He's not a young man, but he couldn't be that old. And the novels have that 1930s/40s flavour, with the dance band and mentions of  Dorothy Lamour, who was around in the fifties, with Bob Hope and Bing Crosby in the Road movies and a character being excited to find a radio in his hotel room. 

I've given up trying to date them and just enjoy them for what they are. I think the author simply picks up the best bits of every era and throws them into the mix.

The series is delightfully clever and often laugh-out-loud funny.  The characters are over the top, such as Captain Neptune Flannelbottom Bone, the villainous ex archaeologist who is now into looting and has his own animal companion, a fleabitten raven called Desdemona. Jim's two companions are Doris the macaw and Brenda the wonder camel, who reads westerns and makes telepathic suggestions, although Jim doesn't realise this.

Children won't pick up that Gurna was the name of a village whose inhabitants made a living out of tomb robbing, but I did - and laughed. Probably they won't have heard of Dorothy Lamour, let alone the Champions, but that won't stop them from enjoying.

Funny as the books are, there's a serious message under all the jokes: that we shouldn't  be looting the heritage of other people's countries. Funny as Neptune Bone is, he is only a representative of the real world looters who have helped themselves to ancient treasures over the years and refused to return them. Both Jim and Jocelyn believe firmly that these things should be returned and so does the author.

But you're not hit over the head with it. There's a delicious silliness about the whole series that lets you enjoy while you get the message.

Think I'll go and reread the lot!

Saturday, November 17, 2012

The Skeleton Key by Tara Moss. Sydney:Pan Macmillan, 2012

Meet Pandora English. She has come from small town Gretchenville to live in New York City with her great-aunt Celia, a witch, in a haunted mansion on Addams St in the unmapped suburb of Spektor, which is perpetually hidden behind a tunnel of fog. Celia was a fashion designer to the stars in 1940s Hollywood and still has such treasures as Lauren Bacall's coat and Ingrid Bergman's favourite dress to lend Pandora. She also has some tenants who live there as long as they behave, but Pandora has learned to carry a bag of uncooked rice to distract any misbehaved vampires- sorry, Sanguine. The V word is considered un-PC.

Apart from being "the Seventh", a member of her family who can communicate with dead people, Pandora has normal girl troubles. There are two gorgeous guys in her life, but one is dead( the ghost of a Civil War soldier) and the other has had his memory of her erased in a previous novel. She has a job at Pandora fashion magazine, but her boss has been coming in after dark and was last seen counting rice grains, something new vampires do, obsessively.

What about the mad scientist who built the mansion and was apparently burned up by spontaneous combustion? Are his dabblings in necromancy about to bear zombie fruit in modern New York? Read and find out!

I haven't read any of Tara Moss's books before and this is the third of a YA series, but I didn't have trouble following it. If anything, there is perhaps a little too much explanation of what happened before. There are also a number of things that may, perhaps, be important in a future novel, but I couldn't see why they were necessary in this one. For example, the gorgeous Jay Rockwell, whom Pandora had dated in a previous book but who has forgotten her, reappears but doesn't do a lot. In fact, both young men - and they are men, not boys - are strangely passive. Jay does show his attraction to her and ask her out, but that's it. He seems to be there only to express Pandora's need for normality, which can be difficult when you're living in a spooky mansion right out of The Addams Family, are the subject of a prophecy and hang out with ghosts and vampires.

Still, I found it a relaxing read, very easy to slip into after a long, exhausting day sorting out teen troubles. I had a giggle out of such elements as Great Aunt Celia's silent undead chauffeur Vlad, wondering if he was that Vlad - in Aunt Celia's home, nothing would be too surprising. I enjoyed the notion of obsessive compulsive vampires - that particular piece of folklore is genuine, by the way, with suspected vampires having been buried with seeds to keep them too busy counting to get out of their graves. Just think, you could manage without the stakes and holy water if you wanted to escape, simply take a bag of rice. The suggestion that it's only new vampires affected that way may be only Tara Moss, and is understandable - how can you write about scary vamps if humans can escape them merely by throwing rice?

There was a gentle humour in this one that I liked very much and it's not difficult reading for reluctant readers.

This book goes into my library next week, to see how the girls like it.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Saying Goodbye To Book Club -A Sad Day

Today I will have to say goodbye to my foundation book club members, the same ones I took to the YABBAs last week. Before Thando, Paige, Dylan, Ryan, Kristen and Selena, I was never able to get any interest. Over the last four years we have laughed, discovered exciting new writer ad book web sites, gone on excursions together to see writers, plunged our hands into new boxes of books, written reports on new, unpublished books.

I do have some interest now, some new young readers- thanks to them, since I'd given up even trying before they turned up. But these were special. They turned up regularly, not just  when the weather was bad, and tried new things. They worked on novels and asked my opinion. Kristen did a book trailer for my novel when it came out and posted it in YouTube. They hung out at my library desk for a chat when they didn't need to. They are close with each other and with me. When some of them went on school camp in Queensland last year, they came back with a handwritten card that said,"Did you miss us? We missed you!" They brought me little souvenirs which sit on my shelf at home. when Wolfborn first came out, three of them got together to make a special popup card with a wolf and a full moon on it. that, too, sits on my shelf over the TV at home.

And now they are moving on to Senior Campus. I'm proud of them all, but will miss them.

Forgive me for finishing here, but a few tears are falling.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

THRONE OF GLASS By Sarah J. Maas. London, Bloomsbury 2012

Celaena Sardothien was the world’s greatest, most famous assassin, until she was caught - probably betrayed - and sent to the salt mines of Endovier a year ago, at the age of seventeen. Now she has been removed from the mines and taken to the royal palace, which is a quite spectacular construction of glass, and offered her one and only chance of freedom. All she has to do is win a competition for the job of King’s Champion, against a large number of other convicted criminals. The winner gets an impressive contract and well-paid job killing for the king, everyone else is sent back where they came from.

But someone is killing off the competitors one by one, ripping out their brains and organs. Despite the king’s having destroyed magic in his empire, there’s something ancient and horrible loose in the castle. Will Celaena make it to the final duel or will she be the next victim? 

I must admit, this book was better than I had expected from some reviews I had read and quite readable, although it left me with a number of questions. It has certainly had a lot of promotion after the author grew her own fan base on-line over a number of years. I have no doubt it will have more fans as the sequels arrive. When I mentioned the book to some of my students, one said, “Oh, yes, I’ve heard of that one.”

I think it might be simplest if I divide my comments into what worked for me and what didn’t, quite.

What worked for me:

The author didn’t have her heroine recover immediately from her ordeal. Celaena, when she arrives at court, is thin and weak and has nightmares about her trauma for most of the book.

She has a healthy appetite and a love of clothes. She may not be crazy about her current assignment, but she is going to enjoy the perks while she can; this is one of the few touches of humour to be found in the book - and every book needs humour!

There is some witty conversation and the occasional really nice line, such as when Celaena is getting ready for a ball she has been ordered not to attend: “This would be her first ball where she wasn’t there to kill someone.” The mind boggles at the image of what might have happened at those balls where she was working!

The romance played a major role, but wasn’t the most important part of the novel, although there was the standard threesome. There was quite a lot of mystery - and this might have made a nice murder mystery in its own right.

What puzzled me:

Why would the king be staging this competition in the first place? Surely the role of King’s Champion would be an honour given to a great knight? We’re talking Sir Lancelot here! Instead, we get a bunch of thieves and murderers who have to be guarded and threatened with death if they try to escape. How could the king rely on the winner, especially some of the truly awful men in this contest, who would be more likely to kill him than kill for him? He does think of a way, yes, in the end, but only because the winner is essentially a decent person. It might have worked better if the competition had been between the king’s top knights, who resent the intrusion of this assassin. We may find this out in a future volume, but not yet.

In real life, top assassins tend to be plain people nobody notices, let alone has heard of. A successful assassin should be able to move through a crowd, stab someone with a poisoned umbrella and move on without anyone noticing them. A spectacularly beautiful woman like Celaena would be unlikely to do this, unless she was a master of disguise and this is never suggested anywhere in the novel. Nobody, it seems, is brave - or foolish - enough to create a plain heroine these days. Perhaps, though, the master of disguise thing would have worked?

Some of the things Celaena does in the course of the competition seemed, to me at least, to be physically impossible, such as her rescue of another competitor in the course of a climbing challenge. 

How likely is it that there would be a secret passage leading from a room, hidden behind a tapestry, with no one having noticed before, even the servants who clean the room? It might have worked if something magical had happened to reveal the long-hidden doorway. Unless I missed something, the door was discovered because of a breeze coming from behind the tapestry.

Still, this book wasn’t written for the likes of me, but for teenage and twenty-something girls. And they will enjoy it.

Thursday, November 08, 2012

Happy Birthday, Bram Stoker!

Today's Google image was centred around vampires and Bram Stoker. Today is his 165th birthday! When I declared this at school today, one of my students said,"Miss, he's dead." Some people just don't get it.

In this day of romantic Gothic-style vampires, it's hard to imagine them as anything else. It's not that Stoker wrote the first vampire tale or even the first glam vampire tale; that honour goes to John Polidori, who was on that weekend writers' retreat with two poets and the girlfriend of one of them  - the one where the two amateurs actually wrote something worth reading and the two poets didn't come up with anything much? :-)

But Dracula is the novel on which our whole view of what vampires can and can't do is based. And he did something unusual, with Vlad Tepes, Romanian national hero, linked with the scary undead villain of his novel. I actually only read it a few years ago, and found, to my surprise, that it was easy reading. It was done in the form of letters and diary entries, which even fairly reluctant readers can handle. And scary? Oh, yes! I was biting my knuckles, muttering,"No, you idiot! Don't take off the garlic flowers! Stop opening that window, Dracula's out there!"

So, hands up those of you who haven't read it? Go on, we won't tell. But how about putting down that paranormal romance for a day or two and trying this?

I have sometimes recommended it when students have had enough of the Gothic romances that the big publishers are pouring out for teens at such a huge rate. "How about a book where the vampire is the bad guy?"

And the adapted version for children is doing well too.

Anyway, raise your glass in a toast to the grand master of the spooky vampire tale - and yes, I do

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Back From The YABBAs

Andy Griffiths accepts his award

A slightly adapted version of a post first published on Write On!

I've spent a wonderful morning with five of my terrific students and a whole lot more at the YABBA Award ceremony.

We met at Flinders Street Station this morning - poor Dylan was sick, so there was Ryan,Thando, Paige, Kristen and Selena, three of whom were readers on the Banned Books Week DVD. From the station, we got to Collins St to catch the 109 tram to Kew, where the event was happening at Trinity Grammar. We started to walk down Charles St to the school, when someone pointed to a sign on a corner building that said"YABBA Awards" and sure enough, the building was a Trinity Grammar hall. We were the first school there, which was nice - I'd worried we would be running late. We parked our bags at the side, where there were chairs. It seemed they expected the students to sit on the floor, but as there were only five of them and the rest seemed to be primary children, I got permission for them to sit on the chairs.

The MC was Graham Davey who, apart from running YABBA, is a professional story teller and knows how to work the audience, who were delighted with him. There was a sort of Mr Squiggle thing in which children were invited up to do a scribble which three of the guest artists( well, two - one was Felice Arena, who's a writer, author of the Specky McGee novels, but did a great bit of art)had to turn into a drawing.

Some very cute children brought a special cake to Corinne Fenton, author of the book about Queenie, the Melbourne Zoo elephant, as it was Queenie's birthday. The audience sang happy birthday to Queenie.

Corinne Fenton and elephant cake

Andy Griffiths won two prizes, one for Just Doomed(older readers), the other inducted into the Hall Of Fame as it had been nominated five times. The picture book prize went to Fearless In Love by Colin Thompson and illoed by Sarah Davis. The prize for younger readers went to Alice Miranda At School by Jacqueline Harvey, who couldn't make it but sent a video message. The Year 7 to 9 prize went to Chris Morhew's Phoenix Files. Chris, a teacher in NSW, couldn't make it, so his publisher accepted the prize on his behalf. It was a reminder that most writers here have day jobs. If I hadn't lived in Melbourne I couldn't have made it either, but as it was, I wanted to grab the chance for my foundation book clubbers to have one more excursion together and we went.

I had three books to be signed for students who weren't there. I had thought Vikki Wakefield would be coming, but she wasn't there, so I'm afraid Jenny will have to have her copy of Friday Brown unsigned. :-( I got Dylan a copy of 26 StoreyTreehouse.  Natasha had requested one of Oliver Phommavanh's books - and guess what? The two gentlemen were sitting together in the author section and I sat next to them and asked for their autographs, which they gave readily, and very nice ones too, not just their names or "best wishes" but cute drawings. I introduced Kristen to Carole Wilkinson and she finally got a Dragonkeeper book signed. Selena had a chat with Gabrielle Wang, who signed for her in Chinese (Selena is a Chinese immigrant).

While my students wandered around mingling with the guests, I sat down for a signing and was pleasantly surprised at how many children asked for my autograph, two little girls even asking for a photo with me! The book stall, alas, didn't have any of my books and I hadn't brought any because it would have been too much to lug books home and then out again by train and tram, but I had brought a pile of Crime Time bookmarks and they all went. Hopefully some children will request copies at their libraries, at least, if not buy. ;-)

I sat next to Sophie Laguna, who gave me a pen because mine had gone missing and I hadn't time to look for another with those delightful children making my day by asking for my autograph. Sophie had to leave soon because of a babysitter at home, so I chatted with Gabrielle Wang and Nicky Johnston. Here's a photo of us, after Gabrielle kindly signed a couple of bookmarks for my students.
L-R Nicky Johnston, Gabrielle Wang, me

We met my friend George Ivanoff,who has visited my school to launch Wolfborn, and two of the students bought copies of Gamer's Challenge. (George is more cluey than I am and brought his own copies). I got a photo of him with Book Club, but it didn't turn out too well.

Thando was interviewed for the YABBA web site, but I have to get the permission form before they can use it. I hope they do use it; the snippets I could hear sounded good and Thando looked splendid in the school's new uniform, all blue and gold, with her Student Beacon Ambassador badge on.

We left at a little after noon, with a lovely goody bag of some of the short listed books and others and, over lunch in town, sorted which ones the library already has and which it doesn't. Those we already have I let them take home, while we have several new books to gloat over tomorrow at school. Thando had made sure the author's who were there had signed. She also did an interview for the web site and from what I could hear, it was a good one.

 Now to see if I can be invited again next year... And maybe take some of the younger students next time. It just wasn't possible today - the event started in Kew at 9.30 and getting there from Sunshine,we would have had to leave well before school. I took the older ones who could meet me in town and be left at the station on the way home.

They must have felt like Gulliver in Lilliput, with the rest being primary kids, but had a great time anyway!