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Saturday, April 28, 2012

In Bed With Books

Last night I came home with a sore throat - just what I need when we're taking Year 8 to the State Library tomorrow! We've been planning this for months and it's arranged with the library and I'll be going unless I have a broken leg. So here I am in bed with the radio on(Radio National discussing Rupert Murdoch)and books on the bed. No breakfast yet. I have bought a ticket to hear Christopher Paolini speak at the Atheneum on June 21st, so thought I'd better read at least one of his books before I go. Eragon was going for $8.99 on iBooks, so I downloaded it yesterday and have got stuck into it. You can tell it's written by a very young man who has been reading Tolkien, possibly Anne McCaffrey and watching Star Wars, and somehow it works - must have, with all the sales it's had! And a movie too. What can I say? I thought lots of our students would want to go, but so far I can't even interest Kristen, who has been reading and rereading his books. Maybe she's wise enough to understand that just because you love someone's books doesn't mean you'll find the author interesting when you see them. I'll see soon enough and write about it here. I'm rereading, for the umpteenth time, Harry Turtledove's Ruled Britannia, the alternative universe novel in which the Spanish Armada conquered England and, nine years later, Eliabeth is in the Tower, Christopher Marlowe is still alive and Shakespeare has been commissioned to write two plays - one propaganda play for the Spanish, one propaganda play for the British, an underground movement led by Lord Burghley. The novel is told from two viewpoints - Shakespeare's and that of Lope De Vega, a Spanish playwright and soldier who came over with the Armada. Lope is such a strong character, I looked him up, knowing he was basically Spain's Shakespeare. I found he was even more. He wrote 1500 plays, as well as novels, novellas, poetry. There was even a portrait of him in the Wikipedia article,so when I read the novel now I can imagine him as well as Shakespeare. Apparently, he did go over on the Armada and was lucky enough to be on a surviving ship that got home. And yes, he did like women as much as the Lope in the novel. Mr Turtledove did a great job with him. I'm going to read Kathy Reichs' Virals,(having already read the sequel,see my review), which is parked in my bag. When I first heard of these books at SheKilda, it was with a grumpy, " how dare she!" as in "she can't go giving Tempe Brennan a niece, she should stick to adult crime fiction". Thing is, Tory Brennan and her friends are the Goonies, a fantastical Famous Five. They're delightful, the adventure is non-stop and I thoroughly enjoyed that book and expect to enjoy this one too. I do agree it probably wasn't necessary to make her Tempe Brennan's niece, especially since this is fantasy, but never mind. I'm also pleased to announce that I have finally managed to get beyond the writer's block on my second novel set in the Wolfborn universe and I did it yesterday on my beloved iPad, between reading ebooks. Will you guys ever be able to read it? That depends on you. Buy a copy of Wolfborn, whether on ebook or hard copy, and you might persuade my publishers to buy my next manuscript when I offer it. ;-)

Sunday, April 22, 2012

FATED: Book 1 of The Soul Seekers By Alyson Noel. Sydney: Pan Macmillan, 2012

Daire Santos has been living a life of travel, without a home, accompanying her make-up artist mother to film sets around the world.  In Marrakech, she starts seeing – things. She finds herself stopping time. After she attacks an actor without remembering what she has done, her mother takes her to live with her grandmother, Paloma, in Enchantment, New Mexico.

Paloma knows why Daire has been seeing glowing people and stopping time. She is a soul seeker, descendant of a long line of shamans. Her father should have taken over from his mother, Paloma, but died in his teens, while his girlfriend, Daire’s mother, was pregnant. Paloma must teach Daire what she needs to know before time runs out. And time could run out as soon as November 2nd, the Day of the Dead.

For the Santos family aren’t the only shamans around. The Richter family, who run the town, are also powerful in magic – or magick as it’s called in this novel. And they have their own plans…

I liked the use made of Native American themes in this book. There are spirit quests, guardian animals and medicine magic. The cover is nicely designed to reflect the novel’s themes, with a girl with dream-catcher earrings and ravens in the sky behind, or possibly crows, both of which play a role in the story.

The heroine is terrified, but goes ahead with what she must do anyway, so is genuinely brave, and won’t take nonsense from anyone, not even the school hunk, who is a real bad boy. He has a twin who is so good he’s almost over-the-top, but there is a reason for it.

The novel doesn’t end on a cliffhanger, though there are more books to come in the series, so the few loose ends will hopefully be tied next time. For example, we never find out exactly who or what those glowing people were.

My one beef with this book is the regular use of half-sentences. You know. The kind that start this way. No doubt intended to increase the drama. But that could often be just the second half of the previous sentence. With the use of a simple comma. I don’t mind one every so often  - grammar can be a pain in the neck, sometimes. But having them every page – and there’s at least one, usually more – becomes grating.

Other than that, this is one of the better YA paranormals I’ve read, and I heaved a sigh of relief when there was not a single vampire or fallen angel to be seen!

Friday, April 20, 2012

On My Tottering Pile Of Books

Actually, some of it is finished. I finished my review copy of Winter's Light, sequel to Winter's Shadow, a couple of days ago; that will be going in to work with me Monday so that when the girls ask me for the sequel The author has been invited to write a guest post instead of the usual review, and this may take a while as he's busy with various blog interviews, so stand by. Meanwhile,I've just finished reading a great piece of historical fiction by Jackie French, Nanberry, which is on this year's CBCA list, so I thought I'd better start reading! It's amazing how many periods this writer covers. I have just downloaded Surgeon John White's account of his time in the colony of New South Wales,coming here with the First Fleet, which I didn't know about till I read this novel. it's all there online and you can get it free in iBooks. It's also available on Project Gutenberg Australia and a couple of other sites, but only in HTML. Anyway, it will make fascinating reading. He was a scientist and a dedicated doctor, who was way ahead of his time, trying to get convicts to eat fresh fruit and veggies, which most people thought were bad for you in those days. He also sketched and described local animals and plants. The novel is set over a generation, beginning soon after the arrival of the First Fleet as seen by the indigenous folk and ending in 1823, when Sydney had become a city. I'll be interested to see how our students like it; it's so hard to get teens to read historical fiction anyway, and this story is seen from a lot of viewpoints. But I liked it! I have nearly finished Fated, a new novel by Alyson Noel that turned up in my letterbox this week. I'm quite liking it, better than the average run of YA paranormal. I've never read any of her books before, but this is the first of a new series, thank goodness, so it doesn't matter. The review will be up as soon as I can establish whether the publishers are fussed about the embargo date; it won't be out for a month. The cover is nice, appropriate themes, not the usual prom gowned girl. This is an uncorrected proof copy and believe me, it needs a LOT of proofing, but it should be fine when it goes in the library and the students will get to read it a month before it appears in the shops, typoes notwithstanding.;-)I have finished The Curse Of Capistrano, which, in case you don't know, is the original Zorro tale, serialised in All-Story Weekly. I'm doing some re-reads - a couple of Phryne Fisher novels and Harry Turtledove's Ruled Britannia. And still there's the huge, tottering pile, plus my slush reading...

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The Latest In Aussie Small Press!

Here's what's coming out from Peggy Bright Books in June - and I have a story in it! Peggy Bright Books is a small press company based in New South Wales, part of the thriving, vibrant small press culture in Australia. Light Touch Paper, Stand Back is its third publication. Quite frankly, I didn't realise it would be out so soon - I thought it would take about a year to get it going. But there will be copies for sale at the New Zealand and Australian national SF Conventions, only a few months after the invitations went out to submit. And if you can't make it to either convention or don't want to pay postage for a hard copy, the publishers are working on an e-book version which will be available in ePub, Mobi and PDF. 

Even if you aren't too interested in my writing, here's the full list, as sent to me by editor Simon Petrie.:

Joanne Anderton,  'The Bone Chime Song'

Adam Browne,  'The D____d'

Sue Bursztynski,  'Five Ways to Start a War'

Brenda Cooper,  'Between Lines'

Katherine Cummings,  'The Travelling Salesman and the Farmer's Daughter'

Thoraiya Dyer,  'Faet's Fire'

Kathleen Jennings,  'Kindling'

Dave Luckett,  'History: Theory and Practice'

Ian McHugh,  'The Godbreaker and Unggubudh the Mountain'

Sean McMullen,  'Hard Cases'

Ripley Patton,  'Mary Had a Unicorn'

Rob Porteous,  'The Subjunctive Case'

Anna Tambour,  'Murder at the Tip'

He goes on to say,:
"We're immoderately pleased with this set of stories, which are as varied in style and setting as they are consistent in excellence."

The cover art is by Les Peterson, who used to illo Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine and, these days, does book covers for much bigger publishers than PBB. The cover is going to look something like this:

Gorgeous, isn't it? I am very excited to be between the covers of this anthology.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Best Australian Blogs Competition 2012 People's Choice

Okay, guys, here's where you let the Sydney Writers'Centre know you think The Great Raven is a great blog. The button below will let you vote for me and for  any others you like via a Sruveymonkey survey. I will also pop it up on the side, but since the closing date is not that far away I thought I'd post about it here and now.

If you enjoy the regular posts on this blog, just click on the button below and vote for me in the People's Choice section of the award.

People's Choice Award

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Supanova Saturday

Friday afternoon at the Sebel was a nice start to the weekend. We all gathered in one of the conference rooms, where we got some tips about promoting. Some I was already doing, some you can't do while you work full time, but I took note of anything that was possible and happily chatted with the other writers there. Deb Abela gave my ego a boost by saying how much she had enjoyed Crime Time. Samantha-Ellen, who once gave Wolfborn a nice review and a four star rating was there as she has her first book coming out soon. Ben Chandler said," I've met you!" Probably at a con, I have to take his word for it. Yesterday we all turned up for Supanova's first day. Ben, Nansi and Deb turned up first and would go tweeting about it while I was on my way. I will put up the photos when I have had a chance to download them on my laptop. My camera battery died on me yet AGAIN. Nansi Kunze, who was sitting next to me, said it's normal for that model.Drat. I had to take a couple more with my phone, but am glad I had that option. We signed a fair bit. I had some bookmarks left and signed more of those than books, but I did sign some of those. A young lady in Ranger's Apprentice costume said she had read Wolfborn and wished she had brought her copy. We chatted about Ranger's Apprentice, which we agreed was a terrific series. Deb, who writes for younger children, had plenty of young fans coming to talk to her and get their books signed. The RHA bunch worked very hard all day, sending folk our way; we, at least, had the chance to take a break. The other writers were lovely to chat with, and we talked up each other's books. Back today and more photos. If you are in Melbourne today, do come along. It's not expensive and plenty to see and hear. And the costumes! I really miss the costuming we used to do at regular SF cons, but here it still happens.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

The Supanova Weekend Begins Today

This afternoon I'm heading for the Sebel Hotel in Melbourne, where I will be meeting the Random House staff and other RHA writers, Ben Chandler, Rhiannon Hart, Nansi Kunze, Deborah Abela and Michael Pryor. Michael lives in Melbourne, so I have met him many times at SF cons and YA events. I've met Rhiannon twice, at the CYL, plus following her blog. I know of the others only through their writing, including following Ben and Nansi through Twitter, but feel as if I know them already. I'm very much looking forward to meeting them in person, though. I'll try to get at least one group photo I can put up in the library at some stage, and, with permission, on this blog. We're going to get some tips on marketing our books, which I will be happy to learn - anything that helps sell more copies! So far, I've kept a blog, which I keep up to date, I've joined Twitter, I comment on other blogs, leaving links, I make up bookmarks, I do panels at conventions and readings from my work, I've TRIED to get gigs at conferences and festivals- unsuccessfully so far, but I'll get there. Jack Dann once said to me,"You've always gotta hustle!" and he's right. And I've seen his ears prick up and his hand reaching for a business card when I introduced him to my publisher.;-) and he's one you'd think would no longer need to hustle! The thing is, you can overdo the hustle; I have already unfollowed someone on Twitter whose tweets were entirely about great reviews of their novel and where you could get it and am considering unfollowing another,"Lookamee!" writer. Yes, we get excited and want to share, but people can be put off when it's ALL you do. So I'm very excited to be learning what else I can do. Tomorrow and Sunday we're going to Supanova here in Melbourne. It's likely to be a very interesting con, but we'll be entirely in the dealers' room, promoting and, hopefully, signing. I will post about it tomorrow night. If you're in Melbourne this weekend, why mot come to Supanova?

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

An Arvo At The Movies

Having played with the story of Snow White myself, I couldn't resist the latest movie of the fairy tale. There will be another one later this year, Snow White And The Huntsman, but meanwhile I hopped aboard the tram to the Jam Factory and went to see Mirror, Mirror. Very silly indeed, but deliberately so. The wicked Queen was played by Julia Roberts, with the very funny Nathan Lane as her long- suffering sidekick Brighton. The prince is constantly being attacked by seven tiny bandits and stripped of his clothes. Snow White is a lot less passive than in the original tale; one scene, where she is duelling the prince, is ripped off directly from a scene in The Mask Of Zorro, where Antonio Banderas duels Catherine Zeta Jones - and in case you've missed the reference, there's a Spanish theme playing in the background. There's a surprise cameo appearance by Sean Bean as Snow White's father. I have no doubt this will get plenty of bad reviews, but I thought it fun.

Monday, April 09, 2012

Easter and Passover - Related Books

Here are a few book connections before the holy days are quite over. It's not Easter any more, but it's still Passover. 

We'll start with the Haggadah. It's the book you use at the Passover Seder, the family meal you have at the very beginning of Passover. It's full of prayers and stories about the exodus from Egypt and of discussions by Rabbis many Passovers ago. And songs! As you might expect of a book that has been around so long, there are some wonderfully decorated editions. There is, for example, the Sarajevo Haggadah:

Gorgeous, isn't it?I think this may be the picture mentioned in Geraldine Brooks' novel People Of The Book.  From what I hear, this book was saved from the Nazis by a brave Muslim librarian. 

People Of The Book is a wonderful novel to read if you're interested in history. books, preservation of books and forensics. It reminds me just a little of James A.Michener's The Source, which was written in the same layered style, with objects and the stories behind them, all centred around a single place. In his case, it was an archaeological dig at a place called Makor. This one is about an Australian book conservator called to Sarajevo to work on the Haggadah. She is a forensic scientist in her own right, working out from such things as wine stains who has handled the book in the past. And as she works on it, we learn the background of each bit found in the book, going back to when it was originally decorated for a family.  Beautiful book!

Howard Fast wrote a book about the young manhood of Moses. His novel is set in the Egypt of Rameses II, who had literally dozens of children by all his wives and concubines. His sister Queen, Enekhas-Amun, has no children and was only too pleased to find a baby floating on the river. She is secretly a worshipper of Aten and she and a priest friend are hoping to bring back the cult of Aten, thrown out after Akhenaten died. Moses has been brought up to be more than just a standard prince. The book shows him growing up, learning a lot about himself and others, seeing his mother's hopes dashed and people he cares about killed and finally leaving Egypt with his faithful servant Nun  by his side. There was supposed to be a sequel, but the closest the author came was a novelette set on the last day of his life, many years later, and was really about Joshua, whose father Nun left Egypt with Moses at the end of the novel.

There's a novelette by Thomas Mann which I unearthed as part of a collection called The Ten Commandments. Most of the stories in the book were about how the Nazis broke every one of the Commandments, but this one was about Moses himself. It was very funny and touching, as Thomas Mann's Biblical fiction tended to be. In this one, Moses actually is the son of Pharaoh's daughter, who grabs an attractive Hebrew slave she sees in the garden one afternoon (the poor boy is killed soon after). So when, many years ago, he returns to Egypt to save his father's people, Pharaoh doesn't have him summarily executed because he knows Moses is his grandson and that his daughter will kick up a huge fuss if he does. He even sits patiently, trying to keep a straight face while Aaron does his magic trick with the snake (a technique involving making the snake stiffen for a while). I have no idea if it has ever been reprinted, but it's worth reading.

There's a book I read while I was at high school. Frank Yerby's Judas, My Brother was one of a lot of historical romances he wrote over the years. I loved Frank Yerby, still do. Okay, despite all the historical research he did, the books didn't always get it right. I re-read The Saracen Blade as an adult, long after my teens, and when I had actually studied mediaeval history, and found a LOT of details he got wrong, no matter how many historical notes he gave. 

This novel has an entire thick chunk of footnotes at the end. Did he get it right? I don't know - but it was a very entertaining book. His hero, Nathan, is like many other Yerby heroes - rich, intelligent, a serial lover who falls in love with one woman after another. Yerby's way was to have about three women. One dies, one lets him down, then dies,  one he marries and lives happily ever after. 

But Nathan is just that bit different. When he's thirteen, he meets a boy his own age, one Yeshu'a ben Yosef, and the two find out that they look a lot like each other. The years go by.  Nathan gets into a lot of trouble, comes home to settle down and meets Yeshu'a again. He ends up marrying Yeshu'a's sister, Yohannah, so the connection is even closer. Yeshu'a firmly believes he's the Messiah. Nathan, who adores his brother-in-law, doesn't. He is there at all the miracles, which aren't really all that miraculous. They aren't faked, they just aren't miraculous. In this novel, Mary Magdalene is a respectable landowner with mental illness which Yeshu'a heals; the prostitute is someone else.

I liked it, but then I'm not "of the Nazarene persuasion" so if others find it offensive, I apologise.

WINTER’S SHADOW By M.J.Hearle. Sydney: Pan Macmillan, 2011

I was intrigued by the notion of a man writing paranormal romance - it’s such a very female genre! - so I asked for a review copy of this. The sequel will be out soon.
Winter Adams lives in a small town not far from Pilgrim’s Lament, a falling-down church built many years ago. While taking photos for her school newspaper, she spots a hot young man at one of the graves, before he rescues her from a collapsing roof. He is Blake Duchamp and he’s not quite human, as she discovers. Winter has always been able to open any lock, but now she starts to see scary things, such as three beings, the Skivers, who are a cross between the Dementors of Harry Potter and the Gentlemen in the Buffy Episode “Hush”. They’re terrifying and they're after her...

SPOILER ALERT! Sorry, but I couldn't avoid this one.
This book avoids standard paranormal romance critters. There are no angels or werewolves or Faerie princes. Blake is a vampire of a sort, but not the usual bloodsucker. His kind have powers that drain them of energy when used, so they sometimes need to feed on life force, a need which can be resisted, but only with great difficulty. I thought it a nice touch that it’s dangerous even for him to kiss her! 

Spoiler ends. You can open your eyes now.
Most paranormal romances are based on the classic Gothic romance, but this one pays deliberate tribute to those, starting with the fact that Winter is studying Jane Eyre at school and having trouble writing the Gothic fiction creative response required by the teacher. There’s another tribute to Jane Eyre, but I can’t tell you what it is, without risking another spoiler. Actually several Jane Eyre elements, now I think of it. Read the book and you’ll figure it out. 
I liked the fact that the author has a bit of fun with all those weird names heroines of paranormal romance have. I can’t recall a single one in which the heroine is called Jenny or Lisa or even an ordinary non-Anglo name. Winter’s unusual name is due to her mother being a fan of singer Johnny Winter. And she has had to grit her teeth and put up with teasing from her classmates! It also gives the author an excuse to use a punning title.

There are, I admit, some times when you just have to suspend disbelief, such as when her worried sister, who has been looking after her and yelling at her for coming home late, doesn't ask any questions when she comes back after a night of running from  Skivers and crazy humans who are trying to kill Blake and have no problem with using her as bait. But I have yet to read a paranormal where you didn't have to suspend disbelief, and far more frequently than in this book, so kudos to Mr Hearle for managing to keep it down to one or two occasions.
The setting is - deliberately - vague, but clearly American. Students routinely drive to school. They are in “eighth grade”, an American term. There’s a cafeteria, something rare in Aussie secondary schools (my school has one, but it’s really just a common room where you can buy fast food from the tuckshop window). There are showers in the gym and a football team that has a “coach” and they do gym class instead of PE. The characters speak of “college” instead of university. I found all this a little puzzling given that the author lives in Sydney, but concluded that it’s probably to help his US sales when the time comes, and who can blame him?  I wish this author a lot of sales from his book, both in Australia and overseas. 

Sunday, April 08, 2012

Discovering Nansi Kunze

I'm lying in bed listening to ABC Classical FM, The Sorcerer's Apprentice being played on the piano. I'm afraid I will always think of Mickey Mouse when I hear this, but why not? Fantasia was a very special movie. And I bet it introduced many children to classical music.

But on to the main theme of this post. I have been getting stuck into the books of those writers with whom I will be sharing a spot at this weekend's events. The only one whose books I couldn't find, for some reason, was Nansi Kunze. According to the catalogue, we do have at least one of her books, I just can't find it. Perhaps it was stolen, more likely a staff member helped herself for a literacy box without checking it out.

Anyway, it's not there, so I went to iBooks and found two ebooks to download. ( I love iBooks - you can pay via a voucher without having to risk card details!). The books were Dangerously Placed and Mishaps. I am wondering why I haven't discovered this delightful writer before. The first-mentioned is about a murder in VR space. Geeky girl Alex gets a much-coveted work experience at Virk, an office in virtual space. The staff are all over the world but meet in VR space. You'd think it wouldn't be possible to commit murder in this situation, wouldn't you? But it happens to the unpopular boss. Read and find out how. It reminded me a bit of that Ben Elton novel in which a murder happens in a Big Brother house.

The one I'm reading now, Mishaps, features a girl who is not merely a klutz, she just has bad luck time after time. The best word to describe this, I suggest,is the Yiddish word schlimazl. And being a schlimazl just might be genetic according to a science genius at her school... I'll be reviewing both properly later, but meanwhile, this is a writer I can highly recommend for those who want a break from paranormal romance. I'd give it to girls who have been enjoying Lili Wilkinson's YA fiction and don't mind a touch of spec fic in their reading.

Latest Wolfborn Review

Who would have thought I'd still be getting reviews well over a year after my novel was published? Always a pleasure, though, if it's positive, and this one is. The site is Cup Of Tea Reviews the author Sabrina, who won a signed copy some months ago at Lan Chan's site The Write Obsession. Lan arranged a guest post and giveaway and Sabrina was one of the winners. This is an example of the kindness and support writers in this country give each other. Thanks, Lan and Sabrina!

Saturday, April 07, 2012

Catchup(or Captcha up?)

So, you know how you have to prove you're a human being when posting comments by re typing gibberish? It drives me nuts because sometimes I can't read the letters and other times it says you've got it wrong even when you didn't. The other day, while waiting to be told I wasn't human, I followed a link to a page that explained how you were helping to digitise old books one word at a time. See, there are all these pre-digital age books they're scanning. And the thing about scanners and OCR(optical character recognition) is that sometimes OCR doesn't recognise words and replaces the word with gibberish. That has certainly happened to me, many times. So someone out there got the idea of using this system to not only make sure you don't get overwhelmed with spam, but to work out what these words are. I'm not sure how that works, because you have to type the gibberish, right? But it would explain why so many of those nonsense words look almost like real ones. And it's nice to know that while I'm bring driven crazy, at least I'm helping to make more books available on-line!

Foz Meadows and the world of The Rare

Around this time two years ago, I received my latest review copy in the mail. It was a new Ford Street title, Solace and Grief by one Foz Meadows. It was the first in a series called The Rare and had an elegant black cover like many another YA vampire novel, but once I opened it, I discovered the difference.

It wasn’t actually a vampire novel. The heroine, Solace Morgan was a vampire, yes, born that way, and there was a vampire community with an interest in her, but there were no sparkly vampires, no brooding Byronic male vampire to make girlish hearts flutter. What there was, instead, was a group of young X-Men types, of which she was just one member. There was one, for example, who could summon stuff from elsewhere, very handy for grocery shopping when you didn't have money. My favourite was the one who could turn into a giant house cat.  And it all happened in and under the streets of Sydney!

Since then, a sequel, The Key To Starveldt, has appeared. The urban fantasy of the  first is replaced by something else. I’ll let Foz tell you about it herself. And thank you, Foz, for kindly agreeing to write this post for The Great Raven!

Sometimes, writing stories is like trying to pick up a river: no matter how much water you grab, there's always more rushing by.

Solace and Grief is a book that happened by accident. Having finally divested itself of the Great Unpublished Epic whose constant destruction and recreation dominated my adolescence, my brain was gaping wide enough that a passing story tripped on the edge and fell in. Which, honestly, is about as good an answer to the question "Where do you get your ideas?" as I'm ever likely to formulate. Ideas are like cats: you can call for hours and they'll never come, but sit down to work on something else and all of a sudden they're shoving themselves on the keyboard and yelling for sustenance.

But The Key to Starveldt was different. Not only was it a sequel, but a story set in large part on a different plane of reality. Having survived their encounter with Sanguisidera at the end of Solace And Grief, my characters ended up in a place called the Rookery: a pan-dimensional market world where nothing is as it seems. Everything there is strange and fantastic, but despite being hugely fun to create, it was like the unreality of the setting had found a way to bleed back into my writing of it. The plot refused to stay still, constantly churning and thrashing about like a river over rapids. Every time it felt like I'd pinned down where things were headed, an alternative telling would leap up, salmon-like, and catch my attention. I backtracked constantly, introducing in new characters in one version only to erase them from the next. Partly it was excitement: I was writing a sequel! But mostly, I suspect, it was the sheer hedonistic thrill of describing an environment where almost no rules applied.

Here's a paradox: freedom is sometimes restrictive. With so much I could potentially have my characters do, it was obscenely difficult to narrow their options down. Over and over, I tried to explore the setting with them, only to find that, once again, I'd written myself into a dead end. And then, after several abortive drafts, I finally realised what the problem was: I was trying to set them on a new adventure when they were already in the middle of one. All at once, the story came clear. Though still a gorgeous world, the point of the Rookery wasn't external exploration, but internal. After everything they'd been through, my characters were at an emotional breaking point, unable to continue without first mending themselves. All I had to do was poke them where it hurt, and watch what happened.

(Never let it be said that authors are benevolent gods. We're not. We're anything but.)

The resulting book is one I'm immensely proud of. The Key to Starveldt is a story, not just about visiting strange new worlds, but about exploring the even stranger realms we build inside ourselves. It's a story about secrets and mistakes, and what happens when one becomes the other. It's about loving people, and losing them. It's an often silly adventure through a dreamscape - and I really hope you enjoy it as much as I do. 

If you want to know more about this author, check out her blog, Shattersnipe: Malcontent & Rainbows. For information about her two books in the Rare series, go to the Ford Street Publishing site.

Foz Meadows used to live in Melbourne, but is currently based in Scotland. We can only hope she’ll come back some time!

Thursday, April 05, 2012

Of Spring Goddesses And Bunnies

An Easter card from 1907
As I lie in bed with my trusty iPad, I must, of course, pay tribute to the day and the festival. Soon I'll be getting up to go out for some tin-rattling on behalf of the Royal Children's Hospital. This is an annual tradition on Good Friday and one that my friends and I have done for many years. Good Friday is not my holy day, but I do have one beginning tonight, Passover, which, this year, coincides with Easter.

I could talk about related books, such as the Haggadah and, going on from there, the gorgeous Sarajevo Haggadah and Geraldine Brooks and Howard Fast, and maybe Terry Pratchett's Soul Cake Duck which lays chocolate eggs, but these will wait for another post. I want to do that justice. Today I'm talking about goddesses and eggs and bunnies -er, hares.

And one book at least. Jacob Grimm wrote a book about Germanic mythology, along with the fairy tales. In it, he mentioned a certain goddess from whose name Easter was taken and argued it was the real thing, because even in those days there were scholars arguing the whole thing had been made up by the Venerable Bede.

 Let's start with eggs. We may think they're just an add-on, but they could be the oldest part of the whole feast. In the northern hemisphere, where Easter began, it's spring, the time when new life begins, grass grows, buds swell. The egg is a symbol of new life. It's certainly a part of the Orthodox Easter; I remember my Greek friend Denise bringing along an extra red-painted egg for me so we could smash the shells together and eat the hard- boiled eggs inside.

And there's a symbolic egg on the Passover table, too. It's hard- boiled and the shell partly burned. It symbolises new life, just as the Easter egg does, but also reminds us of the sacrifices in the Temple.

Eostre and hare
 The Easter bunny began life as a hare. Some stories link it with the Goddess, capital G, and there's a beautiful song by Maddy Pryor of Steeleye Span fame about this. So of course, it's also got witchy familiar connections, and there's the goddess Eostre who may have been a goddess of the dawn, with hares carrying lights as she arrives. This is what it says in Wikipedia, anyway. But the Easter hare is something I read about long ago. Freya, after whom Friday is named, got around in a chariot pulled by cats, but also was associated with hares. A lot of the trappings of our current religions do go back to earlier ones. The Puritans sure believed that and cancelled Christmas for that reason. Bah humbug!

I'm going to go out and get some money for research at the Royal Children's Hospital and then I'm going to eat some of the eggs of the Soul Cake Duck, brought by the Easter Hare, companion of the Goddess. Have a good holiday, everyone!

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Ace Doubles

Last night I treated myself to dinner with friends from the Nova Mob and a meeting. I can't get to Melbourne SF Club meetings, alas, because they're on Friday nights, when I celebrate Sabbath with my family. So once a month I go to dinner and, if not too tired, go to the Nova Mob meeting after. Sometimes there's a guest speaker(one time last year they had Shaun Tan and I couldn't go!). Other times members offer to talk about something of interest to the group.

 Last night it was Murray, who has been collecting Ace Doubles for years, from second hand shops and wherever he could find theme. He did a PowerPoint, but his collection was there for us to admire afterwards. The books were old and shabby but fascinating.

What were Ace Doubles? Between the 1950s and the 70s Ace Publishing did a series of books which had two novels under one cover. You'd read one, turn it over and read the other. Well, I say novels, but really, they were only about 20,000 words each. Otherwise you couldn't have had two together. But it's amazing to see who was on that list, whose names appeared. Poul Anderson.Andre Norton. Brian Aldiss. Philip K. Dick's very first book. Ursula LeGuin. The original version of Gordon R.Dickson's Dorsai!, then known as The Genetic General.

There were not only SF books. There were Westerns and romances and crime fiction. Also, some of the cover artists were, or became, famous. Kelly Freas, for example, who later did all that SF cover art. He also did some lovely Star Trek paintings and had the theory that, given what can happen if you try to use a projectile weapon in a pressurised space, swords and such might come back for fighting in space - and painted accordingly.

Don't you just love what Kelly Freas  does with Trek art?
That notion stuck in my head and I even played with it in one space opera I wrote.
A Kelly Freas cover
  The books were barely past the pulp fiction era and the paper and glue almost as bad as that used for pulp books and magazines, but it was an exciting time. Murray's talk was well-researched and seeing all those covers on screen reminded me why I love science fiction more than any other genre.

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Reading's: A Night Of Chilling Tales!

Well, an afternoon, anyway. This is the Random House event just before Supanova that I mentioned a couple of posts ago. It is at Reading's in Hawthorn, 701 Glenferrie Road, Hawthorn, at 4 pm. If you're in Melbourne on April 13, why not come along? You get to see all these fabulous YA writers, including me;-), and hear us speak, free! They're calling it"A night of chilling tales". I do have one dramatic scene with a storm and the Wild Hunt and dead people riding in it, so I guess that counts. Here's the link: Why not come along and get your books signed? Buy a book and get it signed? Or just sit and ask questions. It will be like a minzicon. Go on, come to this, you know you want to...

Monday, April 02, 2012

The CBCA Shortlist 2012

Okay, here it is, from the web site, but here's the link if you want it for more general browsing:

Which of them have I read? Not a lot this year. I meant to read the Dubosarsky one, but was sidetracked. I did read the first Ishmael book and very funny it was too, hope this one is as good! The McGahan book was one of the manuscripts Allen and Unwin sent my school last year for the book club students to read, but all I had time to do was hand them out, so - not that one either. I've read Crow Country and Brotherband, both of which I enjoyed very much. The Kate Constable book is doing very well in my library by word of mouth - the Year 7 and 8 girls are recommending it to each other, along with Cicada Summer. The boys are reading her Chanters of Tremaris books, but not these ones. Oddly, I haven't been able to "sell" Brotherband, although the Ranger's Apprentice series is very popular, or has been in the past.

We do have Fromelles but nobody seems to have read it yet, including me (embarrassed squeak!). Time to go hunting at my local Reading's and see what I can pick up for myself, no time to go shopping for the library till I get back. And I don't know if I can get a student reader to help me this year, we'll have to see. The Older Reader titles don't look like their cup of tea. Better go see if they're mine. ;-)

Older Readers Short List 2012

Bauer, Michael Gerard
Ishmael and the Hoops of Steel
Omnibus Books, Scholastic Australia

Condon, Bill
A Straight Line to my Heart
Allen & Unwin

Ursula Dubosarsky
The Golden Day
Allen & Unwin

Gardner, Scot
The Dead I Know
Allen & Unwin

McGahan, Andrew
Ship Kings: The Coming of the Whirlpool
Allen & Unwin

Newton, Robert
When We Were Two
Penguin Books, Penguin Group (Australia)

These books are for mature readers

Younger Readers Short List 2012

Constable, Kate
Crow Country
Allen & Unwin

Flanagan, John
Brotherband: The Outcasts
Random House Australia

French, Jackie
Nanberry: Black Brother White
Angus & Robertson Harper Collins Publishers

Green, Susan
The Truth About Verity Sparks
Walker Books Australia

Rodda, Emily
The Golden Door
Omnibus Books, Scholastic Australia

Rodda, Emily
Omnibus Books, Scholastic Australia

Intended for independent younger readers.

Early Childhood Short List 2012
Bland, Nick
Ill. Freya Blackwood
The Runaway HugScholastic Press, Scholastic Australia
Hartnett, Sonya
Ill. Lucia Masciullo
Come Down, Cat!Puffin Books, Penguin Group (Australia)
Honey, ElizabethThat’s Not a Daffodil!Allen & Unwin
Jorgensen, Norman
Ill. James Foley
The Last VikingFremantle Press
McKinlay, Meg
Ill. Leila Rudge
No BearsWalker Books Australia
Quay, EmmaRudie NudieABC Books, HarperCollins
Intended for children in the pre-reading to early reading stages.
Picture Book Short List 2012
Blackwood, Freya
Text. Libby Gleeson
Look, a Book!Little Hare Books, Hardie Grant Egmont
Brooks, Ron
Text. Margaret Wild
The Dream of the ThylacineAllen & Unwin
Cool, Rebecca
Text. Glenda Millard
For All CreaturesWalker Books Australia
Graham, BobA Bus Called HeavenWalker Books
Rudge, Leila
Text. Meg McKinlay
No BearsWalker Books Australia
Whatley, Bruce
Text. Jackie French
FloodScholastic Press, Scholastic Australia
Intended for an audience ranging from birth to 18 years range (Some books may be for mature readers).

Eve Pownall Award for Information Books Short list 2012
Do, Anh & Do, Suzanne
Ill. Bruce Whatley
The Little RefugeeAllen & Unwin
Lester, Alison & Tulloch, CoralOne Small Island: The Story of Macquarie IslandPenguin Group (Australia)
Queensland Art GallerySurrealism for KidsQueensland Art Gallery/Gallery of Modern Art
Wignell, Edel
Ill. Mark Jackson
Bilby SecretsWalker Books Australia
Wilkinson, CaroleFromelles: Australia's Bloodiest Day at WarBlack Dog Books
Wheatley, Nadia (Ed)
Ill. Ken Searle
PlaygroundAllen & Unwin
Intended for an audience ranging from birth to 18 years. (Some books may be for mature readers).