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Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Mythic Resonance Is Here

I'm pleased to announce that the Specusphere anthology, Mythic Resonance, in which I have a story,"Brothers"(Snow White and the seven Tolkienesque Dwarves), is now available from the Specusphere web site. Follow the above link and you'll find the purchase page, but if you want to check it out first, there's not only a book trailer but free samples from each of the stories. If you're coming to Continuum on the Queen's Birthday weekend, you can probably get quite a few of the contributors to sign your copy, including me(I will be doing some panels, I hope, but you will find me on the ASIM table about half the time.) Do check it out if you enjoy your myths and legends and fairy tales! I'm very excited, can't wait to get my tribber's copy!

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

On My Review Policy

Recently I've had three or four inquiries from folk anxious to get a review of their ebooks, so I thought I'd post here rather than answering individually. Guys, I'm a teacher-librarian. That's a dying species in Australia. Schools save money any way they can. One of the ways they save money is by taking it away from library budgets like mine. In the year 2012, I have a budget that would be someone else's petty cash. So I review YA books and put them in my library, as my way of giving our students something new, maybe even something not yet in the shops. I can't put an ebook in the library. I love my ereader, as you might have noticed if you're following this blog, but every book in my library is available, somewhere, in paperback. Or if it's out of print, at least I can still read it. But that's for me only. My policy states that I don't review anything that's only available as ebook. Please respect that. If it changes I'll announce it here, I promise.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Rejoicing - Daughter Of Time

I got the ebook! Josephine Tey's wonderful Daughter of Time is now mine to read on my iPad. I first discovered this when I was in Year 11,courtesy of a very good English teacher, who told us about it while we were studying Shakespeare's Richard III. The novel was published in 1951 and its hero, Inspector Grant, who was also the hero of a number of more standard crime novels, is stuck in hospital. He's bored ... until he's given a mystery to solve: was Richard really the monster he was portrayed? Could the man in that portrait have killed the Princes in the Tower? And if he didn't,who did? Did anyone? With the help of a lot of books and a keen young researcher, Inspector Grant investigates a truly cold case and comes up with an answer. This is the book that inspired me to join the Richard III Society, and I bet it inspired plenty of others too. At Aussiecon III, we had what was meant to be a wake for Richard(it wasn't, as the hotel wouldn't let us bring drinks and charged too much to supply them). People came in costume and white roses were hard to come by in Melbourne that day. I ended up buying a plastic one with branches on it, allowing me to share. I still have a photo of me in costume with my white rose. Later, when I went to England, I wore my Richard badge at a Blake's 7 convention in England on October 2nd and was delighted when someone saw it and said,"oh, yes, it's his birthday,isn't it?" SF fans do also love their history. And it was all because of a slim whodunnit, in my case...

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Miss Fisher - Book To Small Screen

I had considered going to the beach today, but when I got home I was just too hot and tired, so I decided to catch up with the first episode of Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries, which was an adaptation of Cocaine Blues.

First, I'd like to say it was visually stunning and Essie Davis was perfect for the role of Phryne Fisher. I did recognise a couple of parts of Melbourne. The Windsor Hotel, of course, where Phryne stays, and I think the Andrews mansion was Ripponlea, which is right near the ABC studios and has been used for a LOT of fancy venues, from the Aussie Embassy in Embassy,  a series about an embassy in an Asian country to a millionaire's home in Mission Impossible. In the scene where Phryne disembarks in Melbourne, she is wearing a dress very much as described in the book.
Phryne and Dr Macmillan - see what I mean about the costume?
I did understand why a lot had to be cut to fit it all into one hour. I'm not sure why it was necessary to add characters and a back story with a murdered sister to bring Phryne back to Melbourne. The TV Lydia Andrews is an old friend of Phryne's, Dr Macmillan is a lot younger than the book Macmillan and Australian instead of Scottish. She does, however, wear the kind of mannish clothes the doctor in the book was wearing. Policeman Hugh Collins has been brought in early, which is okay, as long as his romance with Dot starts at the right time. Phryne's maid Dot starts off as Lydia Andrews's maid, instead of meeting Phryne in the Block Arcade while trying to avenge herself against the horrible son of her former employer. She does hate telephones,as in the books. Sasha the Russian dancer is a lot older than the one in the novel, but I guess Phryne would have looked like a cradle-snatcher if he'd been as young as he was in the book. It works in the novel, but on screen it might not have.

 I won't go into any more detail here, lest you have missed this and are a fan of the books. Just go to iView and watch. Then let me know what you think. Looks like they must be skipping Flying Too High, because next week's episode is Murder On The Ballarat Train. I think the series is going to be fun.

 Meanwhile, if you haven't read the books, for heaven's sake, buy them! They're a good investment because you'll want to re-read them, long after you know whodunnit.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Popular Posts And Other Stuff

It's weird, you know. Browsing through the posts on my blog, I wonder at the ones that are the most popular. Take the H.I.V.E reviews, for example. A couple of them are near the top of the list and I can totally understand that. The books have a well-deserved fandom. But other H.I.V.E reviews have had very few hits and I ask - why? It's the same series, right? You'd think something with "Tolkien" in the tags would get stacks of hits, but no - my birthday toast post has very few. You know what's top of the hits list? A very short post in which I direct readers to my final post on Insideadog, without even remembering to put in a link. I just said I was tired, after a day supervising student fundraising activities, and was going to bed. That post has had more hits than anything else on my blog, including the also-popular post called " Who Washes The Dishes in Rivendell?", a bit of whimsy about the lack of domestication among Tolkien's Elves, who somehow manage to create fabulous feasts. It has had more hits than the great interview my student Thando did with Juliet Marillier back in December 2010. And THAT was read by hundreds! So was the review of the Andy Griffiths book, but poor Andy couldn't compete with the Dog's final post. Maybe I'd better go back and put in a link, though there have been some great Writers In Residence since then. It was a great experience, by the way, and I have been told that the site gets thousands of hits a day. Despite that, writers blogging there wonder if anyone is reading, because the comments section is too hard to reach, you have to know how, and then you have to wait till a moderator reads your comment and - maybe! - publishes it. And it only shows once you click the heading. No wonder I only got three comments that month, two from friends and one from a determined young reader who never did get her gift of bookmarks because I didn't find the comment till my stint was over. I did try, got Michael Pryor, the December WIR, to advertise. I'm told that's on their to-do list, by Heath, a friendly CYL staff member(who is in my good books after his lovely review of Wolfborn.)maybe I should do the same as Stephanie of RIASS, who tweets "vintage" posts well worth a read.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Mark Walden Interview Real Soon now

Today I got the reply to my questions sent to Mark Walden and they were worth the wait. As soon as they have been prettied up a bit(format, not editing) the interview will be up. Sonia Palmisano of Bloomsbury tells me the reason it took a liile while to come through is that the author of H.I.V.E is starting a brand new series, something to look forward to. No, I don't know what it is, but as soon as the first is available, I will read and review it for you. Be patient!

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

CYL anniversary celebration

Tonight I attended the first event of the Booktalkers year, the 21st anniversary of the Centre for Youth Literature. Of course, the founder of the Centre, Agnes Nieuwenhuizen, was there.

Here she is, speaking to us, holding up a book she picked up at Reading's.

Sorry I have so many heads in front, but those are distinguished heads. That gentleman is Mike Shuttleworth, who ran the CYL for several years and is now a TL at Princes Hill SC and doing the Melbourne Writers' Festival. Next to him is Maureen McCarthy, whose wonderful YA novels were first recommended to me by students when I was doing a stint at the very library when Mike is now lucky enough to work. The lady in red next to her is Libby Gleeson, author of a lot of very popular YA books. They had all been involved with the Centre at one time or another - Maureen spoke of how she had encountered Agnes while teaching children's writing at RMIT and unsure of how to go about it.

Other panellists included Jenny Lovell, who arranges all those great little acts that go with the Teenage Booktalker sessions. She first met Agnes when the CYL was located at St Martin's, which had a youth theatre at the time (Agnes once told me that she gave them a copy of my book Potions To Pulsars to use for research for a show they were doing on women scientists). These guys were reminiscing about their experiences with Agnes, who sat on the side, moderating.

Boori Monty Pryor, who is one of the new Children's Laureates, was there because Agnes had a connection with his very first book (and I remember how he spoke of his father handing out copies, which made me think of my own father).

Erica Wagner was on the panel too. I have known her for years, since I first tried to sell her Wolfborn while she was about to leave Penguin. She said no, but read it again when she got to A&U. She said no again, but at least she gave it a go.

Agnes herself ,instead of a talk about the history of the CYL, did a quiz, offering chocolates to those who answered her questions.

The big guest speakers for the evening were David Levithan, some of whose books I've read and enjoyed, and Melina Marchetta. I enjoyed hearing both of them and bought two of his books - I'd read just about everything else on the bookseller table.

The place was overflowing with big names in writing - I encountered a number of my Twitter buddies and several writers and publishers I've known over the years.

I wore my Wolfborn t-shirt by way of promo. It would have been nice to have someone ask about it, but no such luck. Maybe my sister is right to say that these things aren't as useful as you might think. :-(

However, I don't regret wearing it, because it meant I was recognised and pounced on by, would you believe, Melina Marchetta, who was delighted with my review of Froi of the Exiles and had, while she was about it, read my post about Dad. She said she could relate, because of her own relationship with her Dad.

I met Cassandra Golds, who is best-known as a novelist these days, but I remember from the NSW School Magazine, where she used to work, and we ad a chat about Geoffrey McSkimming, author of those deliciously funny Cairo Jim novels, who also used to work for the NSWSM (maybe still does?) She once rejected an article of mine, but eventually bought it on a re-write.

I had a chat with Miffy, whom I interviewed about a month ago, and Paul Collins, whom I gave some Crime Time bookmarks.

We all had some cake which Agnes cut, and I left for home about 9.15 pm.

However, it's getting on for midnight now, as I missed my tram, so I'm off to bed.

Good night, all!

Friday, February 17, 2012

Welcome, Abby, Melpomene and Terry!

Welcome to my newest followers!

Terry Morris is a Melbourne SF fan, librarian and baby photographer whom I've known for years through fandom. I'm following her son Raph's blog. Actually, Terry has been following this blog under another name for some time, but I'll keep that private. ;-) She does have a blog, but it's under her pseudonym, so when she gives me permission I will add a link.

Melpomene is a Melbourne poet, who in her day job is a teacher studying teacher-librarianship. We met on Twitter and, as we both love YA books and work in disadvantaged state schools, have plenty in common, including running literary clubs in the library at lunchtime.

Abby, AKA The Director, is a young blogger in the US who runs a wonderful blog called Castles, Quills and Cameras. We met on her web site when I commented on her post about the movie of Eagle of the Ninth. I think it's great when teenagers are running their own blogs, especially when they are as mature and articulate as Abby - so much so that I didn't know how young she was till she mentioned it in an email.

Link added to medical facts blog!

Okay, I've added the promised link to Jordyn Redwood's fabulous medical facts blog. Scroll down the right hand side of this page. Go check out the site and see what she will do to help you with your writing. or, even if you're not a writer, have fun with the posts. The most recent is how she found a jarring scene in a book by a well-known writer who should have known better or at least checked up before writing about a character being on a valium drip!

Another Fabulous - And Useful - blog

Many years ago, when I was writing fan fiction, a fannish doctor, Mary G.T.Webber, read one too many stories in which characters suffered such agonising - and improbable - injuries as a broken spleen. It wasn't limited to fan fiction either. In the BBC SF series Blake's 7, anti-hero Avon was knocked over the head so many times with no apparent ill-effects that she speculated it might be a cause of his craziness in the final season. She wrote an article called "How to hurt your hero" and oh, my, how we all hunted for a copy! This, you understand, was pre-Internet, when you just had to look it up in books. Not everyone had that patience and people continued to give their heroes broken spleens.

 Well, my fellow writers, I have discovered an entire BLOG dedicated to "how to hurt your hero"!

 The blogger is an American writer whose day job is paediatric emergency nursing, so she knows what she is talking about. Jordyn Redwood is running this blog for the benefit of those of us who want to get it right in our fiction and she deserves a round of applause for it. She is planning, as a part of the blog, a timeline of medical discoveries so that you don't, for example,have your hero treated with penicillin in 1915. I've offered my assistance as a librarian, as Jordyn is, after all, a writer who wants to get on with that as well as blog. I'm now following and will put up a link on the side of this page as son asI get back to my laptop (too fiddly on iPad) Meanwhile, why not check it out?

 Here's the link.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

National Year of Reading Launch

Tuesday was not only Valentine's Day, it was the launch of the National Year of Reading. All over the country, libraries and other such institutions celebrated reading.

There was one at Sunshine Library, where the GoH was John Marsden, author of the Tomorrow When The War Began series. I went there with four students from 8B, my homeroom. Three of them, Vincent, Natasha and Braydon, are members of my book club. The fourth, Corey, is Dylan's brother. He isn't a keen reader himself, but asked if he might come and of course, I was delighted to have him with me.

We set off right after school. Natasha and I walked together, while the boys charged ahead, but fortunately, by the time we got as far as our senior campus we found them again - oddly, behind us!

It was a warm day, quite a hot walk. By the time we got to the library, we were all very thirsty. I'd brought a bottle of water, but it wasn't very cool, so we were all pleased to get inside the library, where cold cordial was on offer. I took photos of the students with books in hand, outside the library; it will be submitted for the college newsletter and hopefully for the magazine, but without parental permission, I can't show them here, so instead, here's a photo of the cake, which was cut after the launch.

Pretty, isn't it?

After a speech by one of the library staff, we heard John Marsden. He only spoke for a few minutes, about how he loves libraries, and shared memories of his childhood experiences in the school library, which was divided by grade level, only he finished all the Grade 3 books before the end of the year, so had run out of books.

After John's talk, he very generously handed out copies of a couple of his books to the children and teens. Corey thoughtfully took a copy of a novel for Robert, a great Marsden fan who couldn't make it that day. He and Vincent left for the Sunshine Plaza, with parents' permission, but Braydon and Natasha were waiting for their parents to pick them up, so got their books signed (more photos for the school magazine!) A photographer wandering around asked permission to take their photos for the library's web site, but permission had to wait till Braydon's mother arrived (Natasha declined the offer).

The photographer photographed him lounging on the library's "Reading Chair"; we will be looking out for him on the web site as soon as the disc is delivered to the library. He certainly enjoyed having his picture taken!

We all had cake and received a library bag with a few goodies in it (balloon, USB bracelet, a heart-shaped chocolate). I waited with Natasha for her father to pick her up and we had a chat about the Sunshine Harvester on display outside the library.

She said she'd had a good time and thanked me for taking her.

I headed for the station, exhausted after the long day, and met Carmel Shute, head of Sisters In Crime, who works in Sunshine and lives out my way, so  I had someone to discuss books with most of the way home.

An enjoyable, if tiring, afternoon.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Spam Comments

This morning I deleted a spam "comment" that had appeared in my comment box overnight. I haven't seen one in a while, so I read carefully before deciding it was spam, even though the so-called comment was followed by an advertising link. The spammer had actually given a name. Probably a fake one, though I guess even spammers have to have names. Out of curiosity I checked the spammer's profile and sure enough it was very recent, followed by a long list of advertising sites. They're quite good, these spammers. I was actually sucked in once and published the comment,before taking a good look at it. They write something like, "I really love your site, I'm using this for research,keep up the good work!" The thing is, they never explain how your actual post helps them in their research or say what they're researching, apart, perhaps, from how many suckers - whoops,customers- they can get through spamming. They never comment on the post itself. This one was attached to one of my interviews and totally irrelevant to it. I did once get a comment from someone who had been trying to contact me and couldn't find an email address, but since then I've put in a contact link. So, to future spammers, don't bother visiting this site. I'll catch you out every time.

Thursday, February 09, 2012

You Thought YA Cover Art Is Bad?

So, considering all the discussion we've had on those YA covers with girls in long formal gowns lurking in gloomy Gothic backgrounds, you'd thin k it couldn't get any sillier, wouldn't you?

Recently, I've come across this fabulous blog on Livejournal and started following.

I'm putting through links to two very funny posts on the theme of gender roles on, respectively, spec fic and romance novel covers. This blogger doesn't just talk about the absurdity of some cover art, she actually has herself photographed in the silly poses from the covers. You have to wonder how anyone would manage to twist herself into those poses, but the romance covers are even sillier and for these she got the co-operation of her husband, to stand in for famous romance novel model Fabio. Then she swapped the male and female stances, so that she was posing in the male role. It was hilarious.

The first one was entitled Men's Versus Women's Poses. That's the speculative fiction one.

The second one was called Gender and Book Covers: the romance novel edition.

Do check these out and try not to be eating or drinking while you do it, unless you want to choke with laughter.

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

GLOW By Amy Kathleen Ryan/. Volume 1 Skychasers. Sydney: Pan Macmillan, 2011

 I received this in a bag of goodies at last year’s “Publisher’s Showcase” event at the State Library of Victoria. I read the other two, Divergent and Shatter Me,  very quickly and, to be honest, forgot about this one until recently. Once I started reading, I was sorry it had taken so long.

In the distant future, two generation ships, Empyrian and New Horizon, have left a dying Earth to start a colony on a distant planet, New Earth. Empyrian has a second generation, after both ships experienced fertility problems for reasons not explained in this volume – perhaps the next will tell us. New Horizon not only didn’t overcome its problems but the crew have been convinced that the women’s ovaries have been ruined by incorrect advice from Empyrian. This is important, because it forms the basis of most of the plot, as New Horizon, a light year ahead, slows down till Empyrian can catch up and then attacks in a raid which nets all the girls while leaving dead and dying adults on Empyrian and a group of boys from sixteen down to baby to cope as best they can.

Young lovers Kieran and Waverly are torn apart. Both of them have to become leaders, Waverly to try to escape and Kieran to keep the damaged Empyrian going.

The novel is a good, fast-paced action adventure which rarely slows down and then only so that Waverly or Kieran can work out what’s going on. It’s well-written in the old show-don’t-tell style – for example, we learn about the layout and food-producing gardens of Empyrian as Kieran rushes off to make it in time for an appointment with the captain; as he runs, we find out what he passes on the way. The author never stops the action to describe a character; they do get described, but not as a frozen picture or even the irritating, “She ran her hand through her long, golden hair”.

The characters are strong and intelligent. At one point, Waverly uses her knowledge of the physics she studied at school to work out that she and the other girls have been lied to.  There’s a nice twist at the end which girls reading it may not like, but I did. In any case, it’s a cliff-hanger, so twists are bound to occur.

There were just a few jarring notes. Given how carefully the author researched her physics, I wondered why there was no delay in conversations between ships – even when they were a light year apart. There’s a scene in which Waverly is shown a video of a discussion between the two ships’ leaders, with no delay whatever between them. Now, I know this happens all the time in Star Trek and Babylon 5, but that’s TV. At the very least, it might have been a good idea for the author to say something in an afterword.

It might also have been better to say that something dramatic happened to the frozen embryos being carried than to assume they weren’t carrying any. These are ships going to found a new world – even if something happened to the crew’s fertility along the way, one would think that no chances would be taken that the crew would die out along the way or get there and have no children to colonise. There would most likely be frozen embryos both of humans and animals. Maybe there were and these will be mentioned in the next book.

Still, it’s a good, exciting story that’s well worth a read and I’m looking forward to the next volume. I think this is the best of the three books I got in my goody bag late last year.

Monday, February 06, 2012


So, with all those new books around, coming out every day, week, month, why would you want to read one again?

Let’s face it, if you only wanted to read all your books once, you might as well just go to the library. And the library is absolutely fine – hey, I run one myself. But it’s not enough to keep the industry going, is it?

So, what do I re-read –and why?

When something is wonderful, why would you only read it once, rather than find that joy again?

I’ve had my iPad for a month now. Not all of my e-book collection is made up of books I’ve read before; with all those lovely freebies in Project Gutenberg and others, I’ve picked up classics I’ve always been curious about. Arthur Conan Doyle’s The White Company, which I’ve heard was one of the books that inspired Gordon R. Dickson’s Childe Cycle. Both of Kipling’s Jungle Books, which I confess I’ve never got around to reading, but will now.

But quite a few are books I loved when I first read them and wanted to enjoy again. Among these is Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee In King Arthur’s Court, which I recently re-read, after many years. There’s the delightful Arthur Conan Doyle book The Lost World, which I thought great fun the first time around and didn’t see why I couldn’t enjoy it again (and I am, oh, I am!). While about it, I discovered another Professor Challenger story, The Disintegration Machine, just a short story, but set in the same universe as Lost World and featuring something that Dr “Bones” McCoy would recognise as what he hated about the transporter.

I’ve also picked up the first two “Katy” books by Susan Coolidge, which were among my childhood pleasures. I’m ioving them all over again. I’ve got the two Alice novels by Lewis Carroll. I remember the last time I re-read Alice, thinking how very Victorian all the jokes were and wondering how I ever understood it as a child, but I must have got it because my very first doll was called Alice, after the heroine of the book I was reading at the time. I’ve got A Princess of Mars, which I haven’t read in years and look forward to re-reading, likewise Robert E. Howard’s Hour Of The Dragon, which I have somewhere on my shelves as Conan The Conqueror. That’s the one where the middle-aged Conan, now king of Aquilonia, has an adventure and finally chooses himself a woman to settle down with and make his Queen.

But these are only the e-books I’ve picked up for my iPad. By my bed are those books which I read again and again, books which are shabby from re-reading. Just a few: Harry Turtledove’s Ruled Britannia, his alternative universe book in which the Spanish Armada conquered England. It’s seen from the viewpoints of William Shakespeare and his Spanish counterpart, Lope Da Vega, who, in this world, has come to England with te conquerors and, in between doing his officer duties, is writing plays. I have lost track of the number of times I’ve read this. Each time I read it I pick up something I missed last time. In this world, Christopher Marlowe has not been murdered in that pub, and has written many more plays. However, the characters who murdered him in our world are around in this one, playing their own parts. Queen Elizabeth is in the Tower and Shakespeare has been commissioned both by the Spanish and the British underground to write a propaganda play. As I love Shakespeare anyway, it’s wonderful to be able to read and re-read a book seen from his viewpoint.

I re-read Lord Of The Rings as comfort reading. The beauty and power of it makes it terrific bedtime re-reading for me. I’ll read a chapter and say to myself, “Oh, good, it’s the scene where they first meet Aragorn!/Tom Bombadil/arrive in Rivendell…”

There are all those books by Terry Pratchett (the current one at my bedside is Hogfather) which make me laugh as much the tenth time as they did the first.

I re-read the Phryne Fisher books by Kerry Greenwood, even though I know whodunit, because I love to soak myself in the ambience of 1928 Melbourne. It makes me look at the city around me with different eyes. Walking the Esplanade in St Kilda, I wonder what view Phryne Fisher would have had from her “bijou” home at 221B.

The Corinna Chapman stories by the same author are set in the present, but they’re part of a more familiar Melbourne, as I know it now, and I do love the building in which Corinna lives – I’d move in tomorrow if it existed! I relish the re-read of these books.

I re-read Harry Potter. The first lot of re-reads I did were because I wanted to refresh my memory before reading the next, but now I just want to go back to the days when Harry was young and innocent and just discovering the wizarding world and then, of course, I have to finish the saga. And then I start again, for the same reason - back to Harry's childhood...

Howard Fast’s books I re-read for the beauty of the stories and language. And I find things that I hadn’t noticed before. Re-reading Spartacus one time, I suddenly realised that a story told solemnly by the politician Gracchus to young Marcus Tullius Cicero is actually a well-known joke about Jewish mothers. Cheeky! Cicero doesn’t like it and he certainly doesn’t get the punchline. Neither did I till I read the actual joke somewhere. And if I’d read the book only once, that’s only one thing I would never have picked up at all.

So, o lurkers out there, what’s your favourite re-read and why?

Friday, February 03, 2012

SEA HEARTS By Margo Lanagan, Sydney: Allen and Unwin, 2012

If, like me, you’ve grown up on Celtic folk-tales, you’ll be familiar with the story of the human male who gets himself an otherworldly bride. With a few exceptions, it’s really only in modern YA paranormals, that it’s the other way around.

Basically, there are two kinds: there’s the one where she’s the daughter of a king of the otherworld, whether it’s the sea or Faerie, and the one where she’s a selkie (seal-maiden) whose skin is stolen while she’s dancing around in human form. There is always a condition – the groom has to promise not to ask her certain questions, not to hit her without cause (Welsh - The Physicians of Myddfai), not to see what she gets up to on Saturdays (Melusine, who is, in theory, the ancestress of the British royal family) or he has to keep her sealskin hidden because once she finds it, she’ll grab it and go home, even leaving her children by her land husband. Invariably, the husband breaks the contract, mostly by accident, and loses his wife and any wealth she brought with her.

This novel asks, yes, but what happens generations later when there are descendants of those seal maidens in a small community where presumably the gene pool is pretty small?

In the nineteenth century, Miskaella Prout is a girl none of the limited supply of men on the island of Rollrock wants to marry. After being treated as a minor goddess by the old folk and like dirt by everyone else, she discovers that she can actually draw girls out of the seals, without having to wait for them to drop their skins and dance in the moonlight. And those girls are absolutely gorgeous and better still, they’ll pretty much do as they’re told and go with the man who’s there when they emerge. This is a way not only to make a living but also to get revenge on all those other girls who managed to catch husbands.

It succeeds beyond her wildest dreams and Miskaella is rich, while the men all owe her money for their Stepford wives.

But the island’s culture changes, once the only girls left in town are seals – and unlike the Ira Levin robots, these women have emotions and can be unhappy…

The book is a series of connected novellas, told from the viewpoints of a number of characters including Miskaella herself. Despite this, there is still a twist at the end, when you realise that Miskaella didn’t tell you quite everything.

The writing is beautiful, your heart aches for those selkie girls and you can even understand why Miskaella is so bitter. It’s a fascinating take on the old folk tales, a wonderful, “What if...?”

Margo Lanagan is one of the best writers of literary spec fic around. Her writing is always beautiful and she creates characters you can care for, even if, like Miskaella, they’re ruining everyone else’s lives.

Damn, I wish I’d written this one.

Thursday, February 02, 2012

February Festivals!

Yesterday was much more than my first day back at work. It was the start of February, which is just packed with festivals. February 1st or 2nd is Candlemas or St Brigid's Day. She was not only one of the patron saints of Ireland, but may have been a Christianised version of a Celtic goddess. It's also Imbolc, one of the four great Celtic festivals of the year. According to Wikipedia, the word comes from one which means "in the belly" and refers to pregnancy of ewes. So it seems to have been a rural festival, celebrating the start of spring and all the good stuff that happens on the farm at that time. Here, of course, it's the middle of summer and HOT!

They used to celebrate it in the Middle Ages. Being a spring festival, they'd look for when the first badgers came out and it's suggested in Wikipedia it may have been a forerunner to the American Groundhog Day. How cool is that!

Then there are the Christian festivals such as Shrove Tuesday, or Pancake Day. This year it's the 21st of February. I'm not a Christian, but I do enjoy celebrating Pancake Day, just for the heck of it and not for the real reason, which was to finish off all the stuff you couldn't have during Lent. Shrove Tuesday, Mardi Gras (literally fat Tuesday, because you'd be using up all the fat you couldn't eat), Carnival (Farewell to Meat - and I first came across that in a poem by Byron, believe it or not)

Another Shrove Tuesday tradition is a game of footy; if you've read Terry Pratchett's Unseen Academicals you'd have come across the kind of street football they used to play. There are also - still - pancake races in England.

I love reading all this stuff. Research for a specific piece of writing is all very well, but I get my ideas from just reading and reading anything and everything that looks like fun.

This year I'm not going to have time do do a pancake supper, because I'm likely to be off at the Centre for Youth Literature, celebrating their 21st anniversary.Books first, then pancakes. I just have to hope I can resist buying anything at the stall!

However, if anyone wants to do their own pancake supper or breakfast, they can try this recipe for buttermilk pancakes:

300 ml buttermilk
1 cup of self-raising flour
1 egg
a couple of tablespoons of caster sugar

Mix them all up and pour some into a frying pan with some oil or melted butter/margarine (I use olive oil, but up to you). This made me two largeish pancakes which I then rolled around fresh summer fruit and yoghurt, while sitting with my nose in a book.

AND, if you want to spoil yourself, you can throw in some blueberries. I got this recipe on the side of a carton of buttermilk. I usually make mine with milk, but buttermilk ones are fluffier.

So, if you have some time off, luxuriate in your pancakes and your pot of tea and read something while you eat.