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Saturday, March 31, 2012

Thinking of Teachers Past

An unlikely post for a book blog, but someone on Twitter wrote a post about What Is Wrong With Teachng, about how students shouldn't be stuffed with information. Well, der! We don't do this any more. Sometimes the attempt not to do it, mind you, can go over the top. One PD woman turned up in a costume to attract attention! We keep being told we have to "engage" them, one of the latest buzz terms. And that word "pedagogy"! I have a vague memory that the pedagogue was the slave who walked children to school, though I could be wrong. :-)

 Anyway, it brought back memories of teachers who "engaged" me. Odd how many of them were when I was in Year 11. There was my history teacher, who, on the one hand, made us stand by our desks till she was satisfied no one was going to talk and then spent more of the period telling us we mustn't waste time! However, once the lesson got going, she had much to offer. She remembered pre- World War II Italy and told us about her desperate urge to draw moustache and glasses on huge portraits of Mussolini. She told us of the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand as a "how it nearly didn't work". And what was best of all, she was the first teacher who encouraged us to question what was in the history books, on the lines of, " what's in it for him? Was he a friend of the dictator whose biography he wrote?" and so on.

 The same year I had an art teacher who encouraged me in my work, making small suggestions and somehow improving my standard till I was told it was good enough for me to do art in Year 12. My Year 11 English teacher got me interested in Richard III and brought her guitar in and sang us the little ditty about the bridge disaster and Henry Bolte, that went to the tune of "Michael row the boat ashore".

 Of course, there were others. I rather fancied our Year 7 history teacher. :-) It helped he was young and good looking. But one thing he taught us, about the handmaiden in the huge Mesopotamian burial, the one with the silver ribbon in her pocket, stuck in my mind and eventually made its way into my book Time Travellers: Adventures In Archaeology. It turned out to have been in Leonard Woolley's account of his excavation at Ur. There was our Year 10 French teacher, who showed us a nonsense word that proved the weirdness of the English language.You write "ghoti" which, using several strange English pronunciations, should read"fish". I still use this in my literacy classes to show ESL kids that, no, they're not going crazy. I want to thank all those teachers - and others - for enriching my life.

Sydney Writers Centre Best Blog Award

As you'll notice from the badge on the side of this page, I have entered this blog in the Sydney Writers' Centre annual blog competition. It has five categories - I have entered the one for words and writing. There are some fabulous Aussie blogs out there, which I won't name in case I miss someone, but if I'm following you, you know I think your blog is great, bloggers. I have quite a bit of competition, but I happen to think this is a very good blog, filled with reviews, interviews, thoughts on books and news about forthcoming book events. If you think so too, there is a People's Choice and you can nominate your favourite blog for that. Just check out this link:

There are also categories for best new blog, best advocacy post, funniest post and best young blogger. I have in mind a couple of under-26 bloggers I'd love to nominate, if they are still posting, and hope they will get back on line soon. Alas, when you're a teenager, other things get in your way - school, exams, boyfriends, social life, social media. :-) But if any of you know a young Aussie blogger who is posting regularly and doing a great job of it, do wander over to the link above and put in their blogs for an award!

Blogging is a great thing to do. Newspapers have their own blogs now, with people paid to write for them, so you can make a living blogging.When I was growing up, I didn't even have a computer, just a typewriter, and lots of notepads. My writing was just for me and my friends and eventual submission for publication. You could do fanzines, of course - I did some of my own and was published in many, in Australia and overseas. Blogs are the fanzines of the 21st century, except you don't have to wait for someone to print them or type them up painfully on a stencil and find someone to print them out for you. You don't even have to photocopy them. Just type them up, decorate them, add links, save and voila! Like magic. And you can moan away to your on-line friends about the trouble you're having with your writing and ask for opinions, and they can reply immediately, no old-style LoC (Letter of Comment for those of you who haven't grown up in science fiction fandom). You can be a literary critic, share news with others interested in your subject matter, even put in links to YouTube videos or radio podcasts. Wonderful!

They provide a lot of enjoyment for many people, but they're a lot of work, so if you appreciate this blog or other Aussie blogs, do follow the link and nominate.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Supanova Coming!

Saturday and Sunday week the annual pop culture expo, Supanova, will be happening in Melbourne at the Melbourne Showgrounds in Ascot Vale.  There's always plenty to see and do at Supanova, lots of guest speakers, but if you want to explore the huge dealers' room, please wander over to the Random House stall, located next to the Dymock's book stall. There, at various times over the weekend, you can meet Michael Pryor, Rhiannon Hart, Deborah Abela, Ben Chandler, Nansi Kunze and yours truly! We'll be signing books and chatting to passers-by. In fact, last year at the RH stall I met the charming lady who is known to me only as "Sheep Rustler" who is now following this blog. I'm sorry I don't have a new novel to offer you, but do come along and talk about/buy the old one and I may be able to show you a bit of what I'm working on right now, a novel set in the same universe as Wolfborn. I've been writing it on my lovely new iPad, on the way into work or back.

There is another event at a bookshop the day before, but I don't have the details yet.

Hope I'll see many of you there! It will be nice to put a face to a name.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Supporting Each Other: Children's and YA Writers

There was an online discussion, recently, I forget where, about writers and their support for each other. We have a small community in Australia and tend to know each other,if not in person, then online. I admit I have met more writers wearing my reviewer's and teacher librarian hat than as a colleague. They see my name on a tag at a conference, a convention or at Booktalkers and give a squeal of delight because I gave their last book a good review. I meet them on panels, as a colleague, at SF cons, though not the other events because I still haven't been invited to speak at Reading Matters,the Melbourne Writers Festival or Booktalkers, alas. But we meet, we talk, we commiserate.

 Generally, writers for the young are very nice people. And they know how to party. I remember an Allen and Unwin party some years ago, held at their offices. I arrived and met some very pleasant folk whom I didn't know and who were not doing much. Then someone came downstairs and told me the children's bunch were upstairs. Going up, I found a REAL party happening.

 Those who have blogs promote each other's books and events. I remember the support I got from Marianne De Pierres and her site when Wolfborn was published. George Ivanoff too, although I admit I've known him through Star Trek fandom long before either of us sold anything. I remember emailing Doug McLeod to congratulate him on his CBCA short listing and being congratulated on my Notable(I hadn't known).

 Since joining Twitter in January I have seen even more of the positive interaction between writers, spec fic and children's alike. You have to realise, writing is by its nature a competitive occupation. If you sell a book or a short story or article it's because the publisher wants yours, not someone else's. If you write something you have to hope no one else is doing it; I well remember the time I nearly sold Wolfborn, only to miss out because someone else had just sold a book with the same story as a background. When awards time comes, being short listed means more copies of your book will sell.

 And yet, time after time I have seen people congratulating each other, sincerely, for short listings, even when they miss out, promoting each other's books, sharing market information. One of the reasons I never needed an agent was because of the generosity of fellow writers who shared information or even put a word in their publishers' ears, giving me a foot in the door, though it was then up to me to make sure I got inside.

 Another nice thing about most children's writers is that they allow their public to communicate. Since I've been arranging interviews for my students I have only had two refusals - one from a writer who had an overseas tour and just couldn't, another from a writer's agent, whose client usually wrote for adults. Mind you, Charlie Higson, who came to YA from adult fiction, was only too happy to oblige, and what a wonderful interview it was! I have told my students they can forget about interviewing J.K. Rowling or Stephenie Meyer, but really, most people are easy to approach. I am very pleased to be a member of such a nice profession!

Monday, March 26, 2012

And, finally ... Stephen Thompson, Editor

I hope you’ve been enjoying the various guest posts that have been up over the last several days. I know I have! Nearly all the contributors to the anthology responded, and two ladies who write along the same lines. Thanks to everyone who has written on the Great Raven about their fiction; if you’ve enjoyed, why not follow it up by buying the book, if you haven’t already, either paper copy or ebook? I am still hoping for a couple of interviews - stand by - but tonight I am going to round off the celebration of Mythic Resonance with a post that tells you how it all came together and why.  Take it away, Stephen!
The Specusphere was originally set up with the intent of becoming a print magazine. However the economics of it were beyond our capacity. So, we’ve always had it in mind to do some hard copy publishing somewhere along the line.
When we finally decided to do an anthology, we needed to find a theme that all the editors were happy to be involved in. Our interests in the genre are diverse; some of us preferred high fantasy, another tended to romance and another embraced more supernatural elements. How were we to accommodate these tastes?
After a few rounds of email contact, it emerged that we all enjoyed reading myths and legends. Myths, legends, folk tales, urban myths, etc, are the basic building blocks of speculative fiction. It seemed a good idea to follow that path.
However, myths and legends and folk tales are, by their very nature, deeply entwined into popular culture. They exist because they deal with ancient archetypes. To write a new myth is probably an impossible task, because the story needs time to be absorbed into our culture. 
We thought along terms of re-writing myths, giving the myth a new, speculative slant. That could work! We went live. 
As stories rolled in, it became apparent that there were other problems associated with writing myths, not least being the appropriation of Indigenous myths. I took legal advice on this and was advised to reject such stories unless it was accompanied by a message from the appropriate elder of the tribe who ‘owned’ the myth. It’s a long story that one, but essentially it boils down to an Aboriginal sense of ownership, thus, in a sense, we’d be involved in plagiarism if we published Indigenous myths. 
The next problem we faced was, sad to say, writer intransigence. 
Our strategy called for us to tentatively accept stories that we thought were encouraging, with the intent of editing them into something we thought was publishable. On three occasions, we accepted stories but were faced with an author who refused to have their story edited – if we’d accepted it, surely it was already good enough, was one response. These stories were then rejected.
By the time the submission period ended we had about 20 stories that we thought had potential. With the anthology limited to 50,000 words, some stories had to miss out. The editors all chose their favorite, and then we nominated our best of the rest. We ended up with 13 stories, all of which I think have merit. It’s a reflection of editors’ tastes that the collection is somewhat eclectic, but I think that adds to the appeal of the anthology.
Would we do it again? Yes. Let me reveal here – omg a scoop! – that we have considered a second anthology with the theme of muses and mentors, again referencing our  penchant for mythology and Joseph Campbell’s work on the hero’s journey. Perhaps later anthologies will follow this journey and use themes about archetypes or crossing thresholds or returning with the elixir. We’ll wait and see.
All the editors at The Specusphere learnt a great deal from the process. It was an interesting journey, personally and as a team, and I’d encourage budding editors to get involved with an anthology, either at The Specusphere or elsewhere. It is great experience.
Stephen is a freelance editor, and has been involved in writing in many different forms for most of his adult life, in free-form prose, short fiction, novels, scriptwriting, government reports, essays. His first poem was published in 1978. He read poems at the inaugural Festival of Sydney and wrote songs for a blues band in the late 70s. His publication credits include short fiction in anthologies in Australia, England, US, and NZ; a self-published novel called Gilgamesh (see esstee media site for reviews and excerpts); two radio dramas; and a short film for SBS.
He has a diploma in editing and publishing. He formed esstee media in 2003. The website is at

More Ditmar Stuff

Today I received the following message from Ford Street Publishing and decided to post it:
 DITMAR nominations have opened. Ford Street’s book Gamers' Challenge by George Ivanoff is eligible in the "Best Novella/Novellette" category, and Changing Yesterday by Sean McMullen, The Key to Starveldt by Foz Meadows and Mole Hunt by Paul Collins, in the "Best Novel" category. Online nomination form is here:
In case you think there's a conflict of interest here on my part, I'd like to say that while I have indeed been published by Ford Street - my book Crime Time: Australians behaving badly and some short fiction in the two anthologies, Trust Me! and Trust me Too! (the latter will be out later this year) - I haven't actually written any speculative fiction for Ford Street. Crime Time is non-fiction written for the entertainment of gruesome-loving children and both my short stories are historical fiction set in the 1960s. In other words, nothing of mine published by Ford Street is eligible for either the Ditmars or the Aurealis Awards or, for that matter, the Chronos Awards.

But I have read all the above-mentioned books and reviewed all but, so far, the Foz Meadows one. They're all terrific reads and the product of a small Australian press which supports Aussie writers and artists and treats them better than many a large publishing company.

Those of you who have been around long enough will know that Paul Collins was one of the pioneers of Australian speculative fiction publishing. This has been recognised at least twice in recent years - once with the Peter McNamara Award, last year with the A.Bertram Chandler Award for lifetime achievement in science fiction. His writers have been a mixture of big-name and new and he has been willing to take a chance on difficult subjects and on first-timers such as Foz Meadows.

If you'd like to know more about the books mentioned, you can check out the Ford Street web site and you can look up my reviews on this one, using the search window above. Do yourselves a favour and read them all, then consider nominating one of them.

Whatever you do nominate, though, get something nominated! Australian writers and artists are depending on you to help them promote their work so they can do some more for you to enjoy.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

So, what's a hero anyway? Steven Gepp on Glorious Destiny

So, what is a hero? Greek myths are full of them, usually the sons of gods and mortals. To be fair, the heroes who slay monsters in Greek myth usually do it for a reason. Heracles is bound to do his Twelve Labours. Theseus wants to get out of the Labyrinth and, let's face it, the Minotaur has been eating teenagers from Athens and it just has to end. Perseus cuts off Medusa's head as a challenge and to get his throne back. But you do have to feel sorry for the monsters. How would you feel if you were minding your own business lurking in some cave and some big lout decided to come and try cutting your head off for reasons nothing to do with you?Of course you'd turn him to stone or breathe fire on him or gore him to death! Steven's "hero" is not a nice young man at all - but are any of them?

My story in Mythic Resonance is called 'Glorious Destiny'. It's about a deliberately unnamed Greek youth of ancient times who wishes to emulate his heroes by slaying a monster, but the monster is maybe not as monstrous as thought and the act of heroism may not be heroic after all.

I wrote this story in a roundabout way. First, I came up with the idea for the monster. That image then lent itself to an ancient Greek setting. So I asked myself what would he be doing? How would he come into the world? I wrote a bio for the being, and then the story grew from there. The monster, though, had 
two fathers. I thought it would be one of those Greek god things - they did that sort of thing just to mess
 with mortals from time to time. I actually stole the concept from a Chinese creature which was born of two fathers, and whose name escapes me at the moment. It was created by 2 male deities to prove to the females they were not needed. Gotta love misogyny and stereotypes in ancient mythologies!

Fantasy - which this clearly is - is one of the genres I like to write in, though I have had more success in the horror field., and a little with science fiction. What I liked most about this anthology, though, was the fact it is Australian - so little of my work gets published in this country. And they have really done an impressive piece of work. I feel a little embarrassed that my story was included in this. But it also gives me hope, for there are clearly a number of talented writers of speculative fiction in this country, so maybe one day we can rise up and make ourselves better known.

As to writing, as well as the short stories appearing in a number of anthologies, I also maintain a writing blog, Confused Ramblings which is something new for me, insisted upon by a publisher, and for an online popular culture website,  Inside Pulse. Yes, that last is professional wrestling, and, yes, I do get into the ring at times. We all need a hobby, right? My ultimate goal is to have one of my many
novels published. And thanks, Sue, for letting me have a little talk about my work.
One of Steven's other anthologies

Alan Baxter : Away With The Fairies

Clap if you believe in fairies! Sorry. They’re not Disney-cute sparkly beings, as any YA paranormal reader these days can tell you. Nor are they dignified like Galadriel. They’re scary, as I found many years ago while researching for my first book, on monsters and creatures of the night. Sometimes they’ll help out with the housework if you leave them food, but more often they will kidnap humans, whether knightly lovers for the Faerie Queen or children. In Mythic Resonance, Alan Baxter’s contribution is all about one such kidnap. Let him tell you about it.

When Sue asked me to write a guest post for her on my interest in mythology and folklore I was a bit overwhelmed. Where the hell to start? I think it’s probably fair to say that all my writing is informed to some degree by mythology and folklore.

My novels, RealmShift and MageSign, are very much based in religious mythology and explore the nature of belief and magic. Most of my short fiction draws at least in part on mythological themes. To be honest, I think it’s impossible to write in the speculative realm without touching on our mythic history. Culturally, we are informed not so much by our actual history, but by the stories we share regarding our history. And many of those stories are questionable when it comes to factual content after many generations of sharing.

That’s the beauty of storytelling. We get licence to expand an event, real or imagined, into a parable of some kind. Ideally one in which the message is concealed by the beauty and transportive nature of the yarn itself. Through this kind of mythic storytelling we share our hopes and fears, our lessons and our warnings.

When I was writing for the Mythic Resonance anthology, I wanted to explore the fairy mythology. As with so many things, the heart of the mythology has been sanitised by the likes of Disney. Vampires, werewolves, fairies, even zombies, have been defanged or demonstered and seem to me to be ridiculous parodies of themselves.

Just like vampires should not be sparkling emo kids, but feral, nasty, animalistic creatures (as I explored in my story "Punishment Of The Sun" for the Dead Red Heart anthology), so fairies should be nasty, mean, capricious, mischievous sprites. The original stories of the fae folk were not yarns of pretty flying Tinkerbells with magic dust. They were stories of tricksters who stole children, committed murders with poison and hatred, played with human lives for sport.

When I decided to explore fairy mythology for this story, "The Everywhere And The Always", it was important to me that I explored that older, more malevolent aspect of fairy lore. The magic is dark and dangerous, just like the fairies themselves, and anyone who gets involved with them needs to watch out and will likely not come out of the experience unchanged. If they get out at all.

Hopefully my story is at least partly successful in investigating that territory. And remember, if you ever get an offer too good to refuse, ask yourself: Is this a real offer, or a fae one?

BIO: Alan Baxter is a British-Australian author living on the south coast of NSW, Australia. He writes dark fantasy, sci-fi and horror, rides a motorcycle and loves his dog. He also teaches Kung Fu. His contemporary dark fantasy novels, RealmShift and MageSign, are out through Gryphonwood Press, and his short fiction has appeared in a variety of journals and anthologies in Australia, the US, the UK and France, including the Year’s Best Australian Fantasy & Horror. Alan is also a freelance writer, penning reviews, feature articles and opinion. He’s a contributing editor and co-founder at Thirteen O’Clock, Australian Dark Fiction News & Reviews, and co-hosts Thrillercast, a thriller and genre fiction podcast. Read extracts from his novels, a novella and short stories at his website – – and feel free to tell him what you think. About anything.

What a week! One book after another!

This week has been full of interesting and enjoyable events for me. Last Saturday, I went to the opening of Chuck McKenzie's new bookshop(see report). I am now reading and enjoying a fascinating book I bought there, on Voodoo practice in New Orleans, written in the 1940s, when the author was still able to interview people who remembered it in the 19th century.

Sunday I met three delightful former students of mine, Taylor, Brittany and Paige, to hear American YA vampire novelist Claudia Gray, author of the Evernight series. I have read two of the books and actually enjoyed them, more than many other YA paranormals, because like Alyxandra Harvey, this writer has a sense of humour, and when you're an adult reading your way through a mountain of teen paranormal romances, that is soooo important! The girls turned up an hour early and I had to tell them to stay where they were on the platform and wait till I came back from Lonsdale Street to meet them. Thank heaven for mobile phones! :-) They weren't familiar with Metcards and I showed them how to validate.

We went to Collins Street for lunch at the Australia food court, then for a browse in Dymock's before the event. The girls pounced on books they liked with squeals of delight. Taylor wished she could live around the corner. :-) Paige and I drooled over recipe books. Then we sat in the shop's cafe for afternoon tea till time for the event. The staff set up seats near a small stage, very informal and pleasant. Claudia Gray was a delightful speaker and answered questions in her humorous way. One story she told was about how, on her last visit to Australia, she searched fruitlessly for a copy of the newly-released Mockingjay. Everywhere had sold out! She finally found it in Perth, on the very top of a high book case, and risked life and limb climbing up to get it. Personally, I would have smiled sweetly at a nice, tall young employee and asked them to get it for me, but each to their own.;-) and it did make a good story. Claudia is working on a new series, this time with a witchcraft theme. It sounded just a little like Van Badham's Burnt Snow; I will watch for it with interest.

Monday I went for the launch of the new Leanne Hall novel, Queen of The Night, sequel to This Is Shyness, which I have finally begun to read and am enjoying. Before going to Readings in Carlton, I met for tea and sweet stuff with Melpomene, my Twitter buddy, and Braiden, a young man who reminded me we had met at the kaffeeklatsche for Marianne De Pierres last year. He was gloating over his free ticket to The Hunger Games movie and planning to see it twice.

The launch was enjoyable - I met Michael Pryor, Cath Crowley, who was launching the book and had a chat with Fiona Wood - if you'd dropped a bomb on Readings that night you would have wiped out a large portion of Melbourne's YA writers! ( Heaven forbid, by the way!) I had brought both of the library's copies to be signed, but it was hot, I was exhausted after a long day and then having to stand for the launch (the shop might, perhaps consider putting out chairs for its next writer event. Please?)and after seeing the looong queue, I went home for a shower and bed.

Tuesday night I went to a teacher event at the State Library. We are taking the Year 8 students next term for a free viewing of the Persian exhibition and Comic Life workshop, so I thought I'd better go. They fed us and handed us a raffle ticket for a door prize and guess who won a gorgeous exhibition catalogue? It will get good use. I have already used it to convince a reluctant student that it might be a nice excursion after all. We got to see the exhibition without having to compete with hundreds of other viewers. Nice!

Now it's Saturday morning and later today I'm going to see if I can catch The Hunger Games. I read the entire trilogy in three days one summer and the trailer looks very faithful to the book.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Book-Related Music In The Early Morning

I like to wake and get up to gentle classical and Renaissance music. Among this morning's offerings on ABC Classic FM were two pieces connected with books. The first was the Italienne from the ballet Don Quixote by Minkus. Now, THAT brought back memories! I was about fourteen when I saw the ballet, by which time I was familiar with the book. (I suspect I'd get more out of it now, after an adulthood spent reading the kind of medieval romances it sends up). The ballet wasn't really about Don Quixote, but about events happening in a village he visits on his travels, two young lovers and a lot of running around, and very funny it was. And I got to see the Australian Ballet with a very special guest artist, Rudolf Nureyev. It cost me six weeks of pocket money and was worth every cent.

The second piece of book-related music,which was playing when I left - I was most reluctant to turn off the radio! - was Howard Shore's Lord Of The Rings music, which I've always thought would become a classic of orchestral music long after anyone remembers it was written as a film score. I recall that at some stage the suite was performed by an orchestra in concert, with Viggo Mortensen, the movie's Aragorn, chanting his little piece of Tolkien at the end.

I've always been a lover of film music, but looking back, it's amazing how many of my favourite scores were for films based on books. Spartacus by Alex North, based on a Howard Fast book.And by the way, he wrote a score for short- story-based 2001 before they decided to go with the temp score. Miklos Rosza's Romeo and Juliet(okay, it's a play, but I read it before I saw it). I admit to a love of John Williams' score for Star Wars, which wasn't based on a book, though there were elements of Joseph Campbell, but he also wrote the scores for three Harry Potter movies. Books make great movie music, eh?

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

In The Beech Forest, Gary Crew, illustrated by Den Scheer. Melbourne, Ford Street Publishing 2012

First, let me say this is not the kind of picture book you read to your five year old. It’s aimed at an older age group, around ten upwards. You can give it to your older child … if you can bring yourself to part with it.

The storyline is simple: a boy leaves behind his computer games for a walk in the beech forest. ‘A beech forest,’ his father told him. ‘Antarctic beech: ancient, primal. The oldest of trees.’

But as the artwork suggests, he doesn’t really leave the computer games behind. Among the gnarled roots of these ancient, primal trees a damsel confronts – and defeats - a monster that might be a part of the towering trees. By the end of his walk, the boy will have a more positive view of the forest and the earth of which we are all a part.

So, what happens when a well-known writer of dark YA tales combines with a young artist who completely understands his theme?

You get a book that is beautiful to look at and teaches you something at the same time.

Den Scheer’s exquisite sepia-to-colour pieces don’t simply illustrate the text, they interpret it. Computer game monsters that fight in the forest of the boy’s mind are nevertheless a part of the forest through which he is walking. The style suggests woodcuts. Each piece of text or art is framed in stone. Fossil leaves in the stone suggest the great age of the forest, a nice touch.

If this book doesn’t end up on next year’s CBCA shortlist or the Crichton Awards for new artists, there is no justice!

A Saga of a Short Story, by Satima Flavell

Today’s post brings us near the end. Tomorrow's post is by Alan Baxter, author of “The Everywhere and the Always” and then we will hear from Steohen Thompson, who will tell us about the process of creating an anthology.
Satima Flavell’s story, La Belle Dame, shows the story of the fairy temptress from her viewpoint. I think this is perfectly fair. We never do hear about it from the other side, do we? Circe, for example, might have commented that she didn’t need to do a lot of magic to turn shipwrecked sailors into pigs. 
It wasn’t until Satima pointed it out that I saw the resemblance to this tale in the song “Summer Wine”. Drat you, Satima, it has been playing in my head since I read the story!
I am lots of things – editor, reviewer, astrologer, dancer and lover of fantasy, to name a few of my multitudinous hats. My love of fantasy has led me into writing it and for the last few years I’ve been working on a fantasy trilogy. But one thing I’ve never pretended to be is a short story writer.
It seems to me that most writers know where they belong in the scheme of things, and it’s rare to find someone who can write both novels and short stories. (Our own Sue Burstynski is one such rara avis.) I’ve always considered myself as belonging to the novel camp, and have only tried to write short stories three or four times. None was particularly successful, but one of them, ‘La Belle Dame’, kept niggling me to go back to it. 
It is, of course, a spin-off from Keats’s poem ‘La Belle Dame Sans Merci’. I rarely read poetry, but one day back in 2004 I spent an afternoon re-reading old favourites. I’ve always loved ‘La Belle Dame sans Merci’, right from the time my year five speech and drama teacher read it aloud – or perhaps I should say performed it, since she moved, gestured and characterised the piece, hardly looking at the book. I was spellbound, and decided to read the poem for myself. And I did, over and over again.
Some years later, I first heard the Nancy Sinatra song, ‘Summer Wine’. It was written by Lee Hazlegrove, who also sang with Sinatra on the recording, if I remember rightly. It’s a much lighter piece than Keats’s poem, but I’m sure Hazlegrove was influenced by the same myth, that of the evil temptress. The piece sent shivers down my spine, and still does, every time I hear it.
On that day in 2004, after reading the poem for maybe the twentieth time in my life, I was struck by thought that no man ever tells these tales of enchantresses from the woman’s standpoint. The lorelei, the siren, the mermaid, the fairy, the witch – all are depicted as temptresses whose sole aim is to lure men to their doom. But the most evil acts among humankind so often spring from a misdirected search for happiness – and therein may lie one of the tragedies of the human condition. So why not of the inhuman one, too? I sat down and wrote the first draft of ‘La Belle Dame’ in about half an hour. And even at that early stage, ‘Summer Wine’ insisted on influencing the tale as well. Then I set the work aside.
I’d bring the story out and give it an edit now and then. I even sent it out a few times but although it made several shortlists it always came back with a polite rejection when the gongs were handed out. But in 2010 it occurred to me that even if publishers didn’t like it, maybe it might do OK in a competition somewhere. The Katharine Susannah Prichard Writers Centre in Greenmount, Perth, holds an annual speculative fiction contest. Perhaps my baby would hold its own in that show. So I got ‘La Belle Dame’ out again for the umpteenth time and revised it yet again. I had several friends critique it and then I showed it to a published author of my acquaintance. She made one small suggestion about the ending. I didn’t think I could do her notion justice, but when I told another friend, she loved the idea so much I was persuaded to try. To my surprise, the rewrite slotted in very easily, and suddenly, the story worked far better than before! 
Off it went to the KSP SF competition, and it was shortlisted! This is a reputable contest, with entries from all over the country, and in 2010 it attracted record numbers – well over a hundred. I felt ‘La Belle Dame’ had earned its keep and could be honourably retired.
But later in 2010, Stephen Thompson, our editor-in-chief at The Specusphere, suggested we should put an anthology together, using stories based on myths and legends. We put out a call for submissions, but they were slow in coming, so I diffidently offered Stephen ‘La Belle Dame’ to boost the numbers. It wasn’t Stephen’s favourite kind of story, but it went out to the slush readers to largely favourable receipt, one of the readers actually declaring that it was her favourite among all the submissions! And so it was that ‘La Belle Dame’ finally found a home inside a real book.
And what a fine little book it is! We at The Specusphere are delighted with Mythic Resonance, and I am delighted that my little story has found a place alongside the work of some of this country’s finest short story writers. Maybe I can write the odd short story, after all!
Satima Flavell (who also writes as Carol Flavell Neist)  is a Perth-based  freelance writer, editor and reviewer. Her first publicaton was a poem in The Manchester Guardian when she was seven, and subsequent scribblings have appeared in The Australian, The West Australian, Dance Australia, Arts West and other journals. She writes reviews and articles for and is Reviews Editor at Satima was a judge for the 2011 Aurealis Award, while her own fiction writing has met with some modest success in competitions and she is working on a fantasy trilogy. She has a web site here and you can also find her on Facebook and Twitter.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

In My Mailbox This Week

I have just received a gorgeous book from Ford Street Publishing. In The Beech Forest has text by well-known YA writer Gary Crew, but the art, which is far more than just illustration, is by Den Scheer, a young woman barely out of high school who has a wonderful career ahead of her. Lucky Ford Street, being her first publisher! I'll be doing a review shortly, both for this blog and January Magazine. Watch this space. Tonight's guest post is by Satima Flavell.

Jen White and Myths and Legends Old and New

Today’s post is by Jen White, whose story Wetlands is set firmly in Australia, in the far north. Her love for this land, which is so very old, and her knowledge of it, come across in her tale. We can only hope that if something happened as it does in this story, the humans would, as they do here, let it get on with happening.

I’d like to add that I am so very jealous of Jen for having had the kind of job that would allow you to go to work in a tinny, in that environment. Lucky Jen!

Thanks, Sue, for asking me to guest post on your blog, along with the rest of the Mythic Resonance writers.

I’ve always been intrigued by myth and legends. Oh, I don’t think I’m alone in this. After all, myths and legends are supposed to intrigue us, draw us in, tell us about ourselves in ways that we are barely conscious of.  They are deep oceans populated by terrifying and yet strangely familiar creatures. You can read a myth, a legend, again and again and never reach the bottom of it. They are never-failing sources of inspiration.

And yet, I have been moving away from reading myths from other cultures. Yes, of course, they are universal. They tell us about the human condition. But for some time now I have been more and more interested in exploring the emerging Australian stories and themes that may be morphing into myth, the visions, the narratives, the memories that haunt our continent, like lost kids, extinct animals, intelligent marsupials, old mining towns, the stories that resonate with us for reasons we don’t fully understand. And this is what I have tried to explore in Wetlands, my story in Mythic Resonance.

I lived and worked in the Territory for a dozen years and the environment made a strong impression on me. It is like nowhere else in Australia. Everywhere you look, there is life and movement: skinks, snakes, rough and dusty cockies in gangs, geckoes fighting each other overhead. I remember going to work one Kakadu morning in a small tinny, zooming down the river past the waterlilies and peace all around, but acutely conscious also of what lay beneath. Only weeks before I’d done a cruise on the same river and had been entertained by huge crocs leaping out of the water and crashing back down again.

I’ve moved down south since but the north still appears now and then in my writing. Wetlands is set in the surrounds of a uranium mine. How does such a mine affect the flora and fauna in such a vulnerable ecosystem? I asked. And what could the consequences be? It is a story I had been wanting to write for some time, and when Specusphere announced their intention to publish an anthology I thought the idea could be a good fit. As the story evolved it became a comment on cultural imperialism and cultural appropriation. Which makes sense considering our history, don’t you think?

Jen White is an Australian writer of speculative fiction.  Her work has been published in various magazines and anthologies nationally and internationally. Most recently her stories have appeared in the anthologies Dead Red Heart, Bewere the Night and Future Lovecraft. Her story Damn Kids can be found online here:

Monday, March 19, 2012

Shameless bragging - woot!

I have just had my fourth short fiction acceptance in the last few months. This one is for an anthology being published by Peggy Bright Books. The anthology will be called Light Touch Paper, Stand Clear and here's the invitation to submit I received, with the blurb:

"Nothing happens without some initial impetus or spark. But it's also  impossible to predict exactly what will happen once that spark is struck, that match lit. Will the rocket shoot skywards?  Will the dragon shoot flames from its mouth if provoked by one more jab from the rusty sword? Will the fireworks display appease, or at least distract, the ruthless, jaded emperor? Peggy Bright Books is assembling a collection of original specfic stories, to be called 'Light Touch Paper, Stand Clear' and slated for release in both paperback and ebook formats (pdf, epub, mobi), and we'd very much like for you to be a part of the collection. So we're inviting you to let your imagination run wild."

I interpreted this as how things started. My story, "Five Ways To Start A War", is about the causes of the Trojan War as seen through the eyes of five different people, who have five different ideas about what started it and may all be right. I went totally silly with this one and had a lot of fun. Can't wait to see it in print!

Meanwhile, my next piece of fiction to see publication will be "Midwinter Night", a short story set in the Wolfborn universe, which will appear in the next issue of Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine. In July, my tale about the Beatles' visit to Melbourne in 1964, "Call Him Ringo", will be in the Ford Street YA anthology, Trust Me, Too! which I am told is being launched at one of Melbourne's wealthier schools.

What you can look forward to!

At this point, I have one more post by Jen White, which I will put up tomorrow. Jen's story is set firmly in Australia and the background is taken from her own experience. Keep an eye out!

 I am looking forward to receiving posts from Alan Baxter and Satima Flavell, then a post to round off the Mythic Resonance contributions from editor Stephen Thompson, who will tell us about the book from the editor's viewpoint. All going well, Margo Lanagan, who wasn't in the anthology but has written along these lines, has agreed to appear on the Raven some time after she returns from China. 

Tom Williams On Man's Best Friend

Tom Williams’ story for Mythic Resonance is taken from a mediaeval story about Prince Llywelyn and his faithful dog. I know the original story and can hardly bear to read that again, it’s so very sad. Tom’s version is set in the distant future, on a colony world, but as he says, it’s a universal story; there are no sorceries, no aliens, no evil wizards, just a man and his dog. It’s one I can imagine set in the Australian bush, written by Henry Lawson. I’d like to think it’s not true, but it’s all too easy to believe. In any case, Tom’s story gave me as much of a lump in the throat as the original mediaeval tale did.

As a kid I devoured books about myths and legends. Ancient Greek tales were my favourite. None, however, had a greater impact than the story of Prince Llywelyn and his hound Gelert. I can’t have been the first person moved by the tragedy and the downright unfairness of that tale’s ending. There are variations on the story in many cultures, which suggests that it is, indeed, a legend rather than a true event, but it still produces the proverbial lump in the throat.

The story stuck with me through the years, and I decided to attempt my own riff on it. Since, in my not so humble opinion, the basic plot is so perfect there was never a question of changing it. The first thing that came to mind was a contemporary version, but I quickly discarded that as unlikely to offer much scope for distinction. Then the idea of a futuristic take fired my imagination, and a single evening’s work produced the first draft of what would become “Man’s Best Friend”.

My main aim in writing the story was to keep the emotion I felt when first reading the original legend. The use of present tense and first person seemed the best way of achieving this. Whether I have succeeded I will leave to the readers’ judgement.

"Man's Best Friend" is the only short-story I've written this decade, having been preoccupied with novel-writing for the last five years. As far as I can recall, "Mythic Resonance" is also the first paying gig I've had in an Aussie publication in over a decade. I first heard about the anthology a few months after I wrote the story, and it seemed a perfect match. After getting my copy of this well produced publication, with its excellent collection of stories and authors, I couldn't be more pleased with my return to the worlds of myths and legends. Kudos to Stephen Thompson and the rest of the Specusphere team.

Tom Williams has had short stories published in various obscure places, both on- and off-line, including the acclaimed "Nemonymous". One day he might get around to making a website to make it easy to find some of those stories. For the moment, those interested - the two of you - will have to try Google.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Vicky Daddo: Of Legends and Tall Poppies

Vicky Daddo’s story in Mythic Resonance didn’t, at first, look to me like a story connected with myths and legends. I took the anthology theme literally, hence my story based on Snow White. But Vicky took it further and wrote a story asking, “What is a legend, anyway?” And it’s true, too. We say, “You’re a legend!” when all we mean is, “Thanks, that’s nice of you” and “Oh, wow, look at that goal he kicked! He’s a legend!” The word has become watered down and it’s a pity. We do have national legends, of course, like the legend of Gallipoli and Simpson and his donkey, but people keep questioning them! Tall poppies, indeed, as Vicky says. I’ll let her say it in her own words. Take it away, Vicky!
It’s an honour to write a guest blog, especially considering I am somewhat of a novice myself, having only recently joined the blogging clan.  And it is always an honour to write about writing, if only because if other writers read this, they can nod knowingly and ‘get’ what I’m saying! 
The inspiration for my story ‘Meeting my Renaissance Man’ came from the thought that there aren’t too many true legends in our history.  Certainly sporty people will christen anyone with a half-decent right foot, or spin bowling action, a legend; and there are those who insist that teenage pop stars are legends too. But for me a real legend is someone who has left humanity a legacy that is impossible to ignore, someone who has changed the way we live or think, someone who has used their brainpower to improve the our world.  One person who sprang instantly to mind was Leonardo da Vinci, truly a man born before his time.
I wondered what it would have been like for this genius to live in the 21st century.   He would probably have been given a label – mad, eccentric, drug addict, autistic.  He would probably have acquired a manager, a website and a reality television show.  But how would he have coped with the limitations of the school system and the constrictions of our society that is so fickle?  Tall poppies never fare well. 
So, I picked Leonardo out of 15th century Italy and plonked him in modern day Melbourne, and I let the writing flow.  Who would his modern day Mona Lisa be?  How would he survive in the cultural capital of Australia?  How would he utilise social media to his advantage?  Could he have sustained a relationship with an Aussie girl?
I wanted the story to have humour and to make Leonardo more human than superhuman, as he is so often portrayed.  I hope my tongue-in-cheek take on why he painted the Mona Lisa the way he did won’t offend any art lovers out there.  It was a fun story to write and I hope it reads that way too.
The mythic resonance of Leonardo’s life will remain through the passage of time, of that I’m certain. It’s difficult to imagine a man so overwhelmingly and diversely gifted being universally accepted in any society – we are a suspicious lot.  But thank goodness the stories of his life and life’s works have been preserved for us to ponder, marvel over and be grateful for.
You can visit my other musings on writing at or follow me on twitter @vickydaddo.  You might like to prod me occasionally and tell me to get off the social media sites and start writing that second novel!

My stories have appeared in Woman’s Day, That’s Life Fast Fiction, Award Winning Australian Writing 2009, 100 Stories for Queensland and other anthologies.  I have recently won the Global Short Story Competition and the Kerry Greenwood Malice Domestic award at the Scarlet Stilettos and have been shortlisted in many other local and national competitions.  I write all sorts of short fiction, mainly for adults, and have an abandoned novel languishing in the bottom drawer. Let’s hope the muse gives me some better direction for the next one.

Update of Kelly Dillon

I want to apologise to Kelly Dillon for not including the photo she sent me - I suddenly realised I left it out when putting together the post, and it's such a GREAT picture! I don't regret it because it led to me finding all those links to her fiction, but still... I've added it to the post, just scroll to the bottom, under the bio, but in case you're too lazy to re-read a fabulous post, here it is! Is she a Valkyrie or what? And I don't mean an eternal barmaid either!

Opening of Notions Unlimited Bookshop

Yesterday I made it to the opening of Notions Unlimited, a brand new SF bookshop in Chelsea, Melbourne. Sorry, I had too good a time to remember to get a pic with my phone camera, so here's a photo someone else has taken on another day, already up on Google Images. Nice, huh? That TARDIS hides the back room.

Of course, it wasn't empty like this! The place was hopping, because Chuck McKenzie and his partner had let everyone know. I sat on the sofa in the picture, chatting with a couple of other fans. It's such a nice idea, reminds me of Slow Glass Books, which was a shop in the city, on the site of the old Space Age books, before the rent was tripled and it had to move to the suburbs. When you're trying to decide what to buy, it's nice to have a spot to sit and check out the potential purchase. Not to mention socialise. Justin, who owned Slow Glass, regularly found his shop the site of a mini-convention, and I actually overheard someone say, "This is like a mini-con," at this event. There were writers galore and, more importantly, readers.  Lots of readers.

As when Chuck was in Southland,  there was a section for Australian small press. There was Ticonderoga, Ford Street and many, many others, showing what a vibrant small press culture we have here, and it's a service both to small press publishers and readers to make these books available in the shops, instead of just at conventions and by order.

There is also a "New Age" section which includes all the religious and folklore stuff I like to use in my research and I am told this section will be expanded. I bought two books about voodoo, one about the gods of Haiti, one about voodoo in New Orleans. I have never intended to do any fiction on zombies, but if I do, I intend to get it right, with research. I know a little, enough to have done a chapter on zombies in my first book, Monsters And Creatures Of The Night (and got a delightful fan letter from a child who asked me if I could send him a picture of a real zombie. He had to settle for a letter and a bookmark or two). The books looked fascinating and I just couldn't leave them on the shelves. (I may take one to read later today when I head for the city to meet my students Taylor, Brittany and Paige and go see Claudia Gray at Dymock's.)

I also bought a Stephen King short story collection for my nephew Max, who is just getting into this writer. He may have to wait till I've read it myself, but I think this is one I read years ago, so it won't take long. There's a set with nice new covers, very simple. Stephen King doesn't need scary stuff on his front covers any more - people know who he is and can use their own imaginations, which are much stronger than any cover could be. I took a business card for the shop so I can contact Chuck later for my school. We have one old, battered copy of Christine on the shelves and people keep asking for the books and I haven't found them elsewhere so far.

From the small press shelves I picked up a copy of Alan Baxter's Realmshift, which looks like fun.

With four books in my bag, I had to be strong!Thank heaven the bookshop is in the suburbs, where I can only get now and then, because I'd have a hard time resisting. But - no! There's still Of Science And Swords Bookshop in town... And I do love small bookshops whose owners you can see at the counter!

Wolfborn in Translation ... I wish!

Some time ago, I emailed the foreign rights lady at Random House Australia to ask when, if at all, my lovely YA werewolf novel, Wolfborn, would be available outside this country in a format other than e-book. I should say that some folk in the US and elsewhere have taken the trouble to get it anyway, through Fishpond or wherever. But naturally, you’d like to be able to get it in your own country and, if possible, in your own language. The lady replied that they were hoping, at some stage, to distribute it in the US and UK, she just wasn’t sure exactly when and meanwhile, they were negotiating translation rights in a number of foreign languages. She would get back to me when she knew for sure when the book would be available in the US and UK. I still haven’t heard, although I know she will tell me when she does and will leave it a little longer.

Meanwhile, I thought I’d have a bit of fun with the translator facility on, translating the opening line of my novel. All the below but French were languages which Random House was, according to the rights lady, negotiating for translation of my book.  I put the French in because Anthony Panegyres said it would be lovely in French. Oh, and apparently, according to, loup-garou is not only a werewolf, but a more general term for a bogeyman or bugaboo of any kind. Personally, I’d rather have Lord Geraint hiding under my bed than a bogeyman, but there you are.

First here’s the original English version:

They executed a werewolf in one of my father’s
inland villages the week I left.


Ils ont exécuté un loupgarou dans un des villages de mon père, à l'interieur des terres, la semaine où je suis parti.


Ausgeführt werden Sie einen werwolf in einem der Dörfer der Woche meines vaters ging ich.


Zij voeren een weerwolf in één van mijn vader  dorpen landinwaarts de week IK links.


Są one wykonane z wilkołaka w jednym z mego ojca na wsi żeglugi śródlądowej w tygodniu I po lewej stronie.


Ők végre egy vérfarkast egy belföldi falvak a héten apám.


Mereka dieksekusi manusia serigala di salah satu desa pedalaman ayahku minggu aku pergi.

If you speak any of these languages and Translator has got it wrong, do let me know – the only one of these languages I speak, despite my surname, is French, and as far as I can see, that one is correct.

And if you live in any of those countries or the US/UK and want a chance to read a print copy of Wolfborn in a local edition, feel free to nag your local publishers! J

Meanwhile, I can daydream. I have actually seen some of my books in Chinese. It’s a thrill, although I can’t read the texts, but I have to say, I was pleasantly surprised, only a couple of years ago, to get a royalties cheque from Allen and Unwin for the Chinese edition of my second book, Potions To Pulsars: Women Doing Science, a book that has long been out of print in English!