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Saturday, August 31, 2013

Melbourne Writers' Festival 2013

This is the first year in a very long time I've not gone at all. I don't even know what was on this year, though I'm on their mailing list. I haven't been well, I have had other commitments, or I would have made an effort to attend something.

But I had been attending fewer events anyway in the last few years. I used to take a chance when you could get ten events cheaper, and my membership card for the Australian Society of Authors made it even cheaper. Both options disappeared, though you could still get a bit of a discount as a member of the Victorian Writers Centre(I joined for a couple of years). So I booked events that I was pretty sure I would enjoy. I am a genre fan - history, crime both fiction and true, spec fic. And children's and YA. I'm not into literary fiction or philosophy or the kind of authors everyone has heard of but very few have actually read, the ones who can't actually tell you what their novel is about, just that it's "beautiful writing". Not for me, sorry! For me, beautiful writing has to include a story, and characters I care about, the kind of book I can read for comfort late at night when I can't sleep.

But over the years, they stopped doing the kind of things I might enjoy in the evening. And while there was the occasional children's or YA writer on the weekend, there were not enough to satisfy me, and nearly anything I really wanted to hear was on during the day, during the week, when I was at work. Don't get me wrong - Kim Stanley Robinson spoke a couple of years ago, when Aussiecon was in Melbourne, and as I had whooping cough during the con, I was very glad I had been able to hear him speak at the MWF. Another time I heard Michael Robotham and other crime writers on a weekend panel. (I happened to be sitting next to his wife, who told me she missed his time as a ghostwriter, when she could hear about the celebrities whose "autobiographies" he used to write).

There just wasn't enough of it, and I really loved to go in the evening after work.

Ah, I remember the Harry Potter readings and trivia quizzes and the interview with Graeme Base! I remember going to hear Ben Bova and Robert Jordan slugging it out on stage, and stopping Kerry Greenwood to get my book signed.

Last year I went to one event, I think, and it was free, a book launch by Twelfth Planet Press.

I actually got a phone call from someone in the box office this year, who thought I'd been complaining about the prices on Twitter(I hadn't, though as she was there I did complain about the programming). She assured me you could still get discounts for five events(I think it was about fifty cents an event, or maybe fifty cents altogether.)

And one last complaint, though it's not connected with why I've been missing the Festival: you guys have invited a teenage blogger this year,for heavens' sake, but NEVER me with my ten books, including two Notables. Sigh!

I Have Been Reading...

This evening I finished reading Josephine Tey's first novel, The Man In The Queue, published in 1929. It's the first Inspector Grant novel. I had been rereading, yet again, The Daughter Of Time, which put me in the mood for Richard III fiction(and I'm still rereading We Speak No Treason). That, in its turn, made me think of Josephine Tey's other books. I wanted to see what Inspector Grant did when he was not confined to a hospital bed researching Richard III. I discovered the title of his first appearance and bought it in iBooks. And while looking up the titles of Tey's other novels, I found one by Nicola Upson, a murder mystery in which Josephine Tey is the sleuth! It was only $2.99, so what-the-heck. I have just started that one. I also, on an impulse, bought and downloaded Percy Jackson And The Lightning Thief, which I have just finished. It was basically a road story with Greek mythology slotted in, quite entertaining, though the author surely must know that Athena is a maiden goddess, unlikely to have children, but chose to ignore it for the purposes of the story. I can see, though, why the series is popular among our kids - not hard reading and the characters meet a fresh challenge in each chapter.

Speaking of road stories, I've finally begun to get stuck into Libba Bray's novel, Going Bovine, which I bought at the Reading Matters conference. It's the story of a boy who has been diagnosed with mad cow disease and is taking a road trip, with a Little Person friend from school, to find a cure which he has been promised by a punk angel. They have several bizarre encounters and I get the feeling it's meant to be a version of Don Quixote... Not sure if it's really YA fiction, though the hero is a teenager. It just has too many references which will go over the heads of many teens. I'll make up my mind when I've finished it; I'm halfway through, having read quite a bit when I woke up at 4.30 this morning and couldn't get back to sleep.

There are some review copies awaiting their turn, so I'd better get going on those!

Any interesting reading going on out there, readers?

Monday, August 26, 2013

All Our Yesterdays By Cristin Terrill. Sydney: Bloomsbury, 2013

Em is in a cell next to Finn, a boy she cares about, but hasn't seen since they were locked up. The Doctor has been torturing them to get a vital piece of information. And in a hidden place in her cell, there's a piece of paper from a future self(or is that past?): "You have to kill him." The "him" is the boy she once loved, when she was Marina, rich and spoiled, living next door to an even wealthier family with two sons, the brilliant young politician-in-waiting and his shy, geeky but gorgeous younger brother. He invented a time machine and the only way to prevent dreadful things happening is to travel into the past with it and stop it being invented by killing him. Of course, this means that she and Finn, too, will cease to exist...

Time travel novels are great fun, even when they're meant to be serious. You always wonder how the next author will deal with all the paradoxes time travel would cause. And this one has thought carefully about it and worked on the consequences; in the context of this novel, at least, she convinces me. She has also played with all the cliched tropes - eg you mustn't meet your past or future self or the universe will explode or some such, and poked her tongue out at them, in the middle of a dramatic scene. Even J.K. Rowling had Harry and Hermione warned that they must not be seen. It worked in that book, mind.  

One cliche she does hang on to is the one where the heroine has a choice of two gorgeous boys, but in this case, the reader knows from the beginning which one she will end up with, just not how.

What I particularly liked, as a fan of old-style SF, is that the mad scientist of this genre is given a background, a reason for turning mad and a time when he was a teenage boy and had family and friends who loved him. It's a nice touch.

If you've read all those enthusiastic blurbs saying that this is for fans of The Hunger Games, forget it; it's not remotely like that book, and I have yet to find a book that is. Those blurbs just cash in on the fame of the other book and don't do justice to either. It's a bit like comparing every fat fantasy saga to Tolkien's LOTR when there's nothing quite like it.

But this is an enjoyable book and well worth reading.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Recently Downloaded Books

I get these cravings. With stacks of unread books, I feel like rereading. I've recently reread Josephine Tey's Daughter Of Time, which put me in the mood for Richard III fiction. At one stage, I was reading a whole pile of Richard novels. Of course, I stopped after a while, because when it's history, you know how it's going to end and the ending of that story is just too sad. I wish I could get hold of the fabulous The Dragon Waiting (John M Ford) on ebook, because in his universe it ends differently, but all I can find in iBooks are some of his Star Trek novels, and I prefer iBooks, as I can simply buy an iTunes card without giving my personal card details online.

So, after a reread of the Tey novel, I couldn't resist buying the ebook versions of Rosemary Hawley Jarman's classics, The King's Grey Mare and We Speak No Treason. Personally, I think her first novel, We Speak No Treason, is her masterpiece, but I quite like her other Richard novel. I remember my first discovery of Treason, with its simple red and purple covers(it was in two volumes and oddly, the ebook is also two-volume). I was blown away by it. The feel of fifteenth century England was all there - the music, the banners, the clothes, the food, Maydays,  the smell of the streets... I've just read the section devoted to a character called only the Maiden, Richard's first girl, the mother of his daughter Katherine - the daughter was real, we just don't know who her mother was, and the author creates a possible one. On a reread, I was thinking, "Aargh! You idiot! Don't spill your guts to the smiling lady in waiting!"

The King's Grey Mare starts as a sort of historical romance and goes on into history. Elizabeth Woodville can't live happily ever after with her John Grey, and after she does what it takes to become Queen of England, knowing what she knows about something really stupid Edward did to get into another woman's pants, Elizabeth can no longer be the heroine of a romance and the book has to be seen from other people's viewpoint. Which may be a flaw, and why it isn't quite as good as the first novel. But it's very readable anyway and I bought that ebook first.

While rereading that one, I went to Project Gutenberg for Sabine Baring-Gould's Curious Myths Of The Middle Ages. I do have that somewhere on my overloaded shelves, but couldn't find it and I wanted to read his version of the story of Melusine, rumoured ancestor of Elizabeth's family. I know it's in there, but can't find it in the ebook! Rats! PG is wonderful, but doesn't always have complete texts.

Still, I also downloaded some of his other books, including what seems to be a collection of short stories about ghosts. There's one amusing one about a ghostly waiter who turns up to collect tips.

I now have Tara Moss's Blood Countess, which I hadn't read, but thought I might enjoy, as I did the sequel. It's sort of Buffy meets The Addams Family. I also have a keynote speech from a Harry Potter conference, The Great Gatsby, Prickle Moon, Longbourn(Pride And Prejudice seen from the viewpoint of the servants) and Shakespeare's Cymbeline.

Review copies to finish and review - stand by.

Meanwhile, I have a lot of reading to do.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

This Year's CBCA Awards Go To...

And here they are. I only buy the Older and Younger Readers books for my library, and I confess I haven't read them all. Of the Older Readers winners this year, I have read two. The first is Sea Hearts, a beautiful book which has already won a swag of awards, including both Best Fantasy and Best YA in the Aurealis Awards for speculative fiction. Whether it's YA I don't know. I don't think it is, really, though good on Margo Lanagan for getting a fantasy novel winning in the CBCAs! I have had a copy in my library for some time. It has been borrowed once, and I don't think Paige, a very good, intelligent reader, liked it much. And I do promote it. The author herself grumbles a little about still being called a YA writer after all these years. Personally, I don't know why any writer would want to write for adults when they're good enough to write for kids, but there you are.

The second is The Ink Bridge, which is terribly sad, with a horrible scene in which one of the two young heroes gets his tongue torn out by the Taliban. One of my Year 8 students is reading it now, because she's bingeing on refugee fiction and she's already read the Morris Gleitzmans and the Deborah Ellis and such and the literacy co-ordinator thinks she's ready for something more advanced. Not sure what I'll find for her after this. I'll be interested to hear her opinion on it.

I have not finished Friday Brown, but have it in my bag as I travel to work.

There's something terribly depressing about most of the books in this year's shortlist, actually. And I don't like depressing. There's enough tragedy in the real world as it is without adding it to fiction. Granted, kids sometimes like depressing books - I can remember being asked for one by a student once: "Can you suggest a depressing book, Miss?" I looked at him and when I saw he meant it, I found him a copy of Margaret Clarke's Care Factor Zero. A suicide on the last page, you can't get much more depressing than that!

My students were disappointed that Morris Gleitzman's After didn't make even an Honour Book in the Younger Readers winners. Many of them come from primary school having read Once, Then and sometimes Now and grab this one eagerly to finish off the series; Gleitzman's books are sad, but not depressing. I have read and quite enjoyed Pennies For Hitler, but not, yet, The Children Of The King. One of our students borrowed it, so it's out. I have heard a bit about it, but not got around to reading it. I am sorry to say I'm not a fan of Sonya Hartnett, who is too depressing for my taste. The only book of hers I enjoyed was The Silver Donkey, and that was spoiled for me during a radio interview, when she said that the pilot who told those lovely stories to the children was probably shot for desertion when he got back to England. And she said this is what she tells children on her school visits! In other words, it has to be depressing, even if you don't have that bit in the book itself. And in case you read this, Sonya, and put in a comment, as writers with Google Alert do, there's nothing personal here. I just don't enjoy depressing books and I'm really not into literary fiction. You can't please everybody, eh? ;-)

I know that she has won about a million awards and good luck to her, wish I had even one! I just don't see why some folk can't understand that you can make a serious point using humour, for example Terry Pratchett. Surely we have some local equivalents?

I have known some of the CBCA judges and have nothing but respect for the job they do. I doubt if I could read hundreds of books in the time they get, write reports for them all and make a shortlist. And I can't deny their good taste in giving two of my books Notables. ;-) (Of course, I would have preferred a shortlisting...)But I don't often understand what they have in mind when they choose. Sometimes they get it beautifully right, others...I disagree with them. And the beautiful In The Beech Forest didn't make it for the Crichtons or even get a Notable. Why? There is a report, but you have to buy it and that's something I haven't had time to do; if it was available in a bookshop I would, but I was never even able to get it at the Children's Book Week Fair when it was going.

I haven't had time even to do my annual Book Week trivia quiz, as I have to finish applications for a student scholarship that has to be in this week, so I will have a small Book Club party at lunchtime today.

What do you think of this year's list?

Author Title Publisher
WINNER Lanagan, Margo Sea Hearts Allen & Unwin
HONOUR Grant, Neil The Ink Bridge Allen & Unwin
HONOUR Wakefield, Vikki Friday Brown Text Publishing
Younger Readers Book of the Year 2013

NOTE: These books are intended for independent younger readers
Author Title Publisher
WINNER Hartnett, Sonya The Children of the King Viking Books, Penguin Group (Australia)
HONOUR French, Jackie Pennies for Hitler Angus & Robertson Harper Collins Publishers
HONOUR Millard, Glenda
Ill. Stephen Michael King The Tender Moments of Saffron Silk ABC Books, HarperCollins
Early Childhood Book of the Year 2013

NOTE: Intended for children in the pre-reading to early reading stages
Author Title Publisher
WINNER Allen, Emma
Ill. Freya Blackwood The Terrible Suitcase Omnibus Books, Scholastic Press, Scholastic Australia
HONOUR Cox, Tania
Ill. Karen Blair With Nan Windy Hollow Books
HONOUR Dubosarsky, Ursula
Ill. Andrew Joyner Too Many Elephants in This House Viking Books, Penguin Group (Australia)
Picture Book of the Year 2013

NOTE: Intended for an audience ranging from birth to 18 years. Some books may be for mature readers
Author Title Publisher
WINNER Brooks, Ron
Julie Hunt The Coat Allen & Unwin
HONOUR Gordon, Gus Herman and Rosie Viking Books, Penguin Group (Australia)
HONOUR Lester, Alison Sophie Scott Goes South Viking Books, Penguin Group (Australia)
Eve Pownall Book of the Year 2013

NOTE: Intended for an audience ranging from birth to 18 years. Some books may be for mature readers
Author Title Publisher
WINNER Weidenbach, Kristin
Ill. Ide, Timothy Tom the Outback Mailman Lothian Children’s Books, Hachette Australia
HONOUR Kerin, Jackie
Ill. Gouldthorpe, Peter Lyrebird! A True Story Museum Victoria
HONOUR Murray, Kirsty Topsy-turvy World: How Australian Animals Puzzled Early Explorers National Library of Australia

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Will Kostakis Rocks!

I went out to the station with one of my colleagues, Janis, to pick up our guest with his box of books for sale. He had decided to come early, to make sure of not being late, I suppose.

When we returned to school, we had a bit of time to talk and wander around, but then I had a literacy class, to which I took him, leaving the staff member supervising the students whose teachers were away to organise the library setup, since the library was full of reading students. We were having Years 8 and 9, as Year 10 was doing two excursions this week and couldn't afford to take more time out of class, and I didn't want to make the poor guy speak to almost the whole school. The students would have to sit on the floor, as we don't have enough seats for everyone, so it was only going to take a few minutes to set up.

In Literacy, Will chatted with my tiny class and helped one of the girls with her word list. Of course, the girls were charmed with him.

This charm continued on into recess. I'd been about to take him for a cuppa before his speaking session, but the door opened and Book Club and their boyfriends walked in. Emily had read and loved The First Third, a semi-autobiographical novel which featured Will's grandmother as a character. Imagine her thrill when his phone rang and it was Will's Yiayia! He turned it on speakerphone and she said hullo to them.

Recess ended, the speech began and he managed to charm a whole two year levels with his funny stories about how he sold his first book, what it was about, and his new one, which has several scenes inspired by real-life happenings. The first one, Loathing Lola, was a sharp commentary on reality TV shows and this, he told them, was ironic in light of the fact that he later worked for Big Brother.

I bribed the listeners to ask questions by offering to buy two books for those Will thought best - it can be hard to get questions started, but once one or two people have asked, others follow and it happened this time too. I bribe kids the same way when I do talks.

Then Will went to sign books and some mini-posters I had made up for those who couldn't afford to buy the books; there were some left over afterwards, which I gave him for his next school. We took lots of photos of kids getting stuff signed and asking questions. Emily was delighted with her inscription as "the President of the Yiayia fan club".

The truth is, it was the Will Kostakis fan club. The boys enjoyed, but the girls were the ones who hovered around him like flies to honey. There were definitely a few jealous boyfriends! ;-)

I had ordered lunch from the canteen, as we have a canteen that produces a very good salad roll with fresh tiger bread and the lady had done up a lovely platter of fruit. Will chatted happily with staff, then we saw him off at the station; he was going to see his publishers that afternoon with hopes of a new novel to come.

I will look forward to reading it and so will my students. Thanks again for coming, Will!

Monday, August 12, 2013

Will Kostakis In The Western Suburbs!

Today my school will be honoured by a visit from young writer Will Kostakis, who is in town launching his new book and offered to visit us. Two of my book clubbers, Priyanka and Emily, are reading his novels. I've bought three copies of The First Third, the new one, in preparation for the demand I'll have after his talk, and Literacy may buy some for their program.

Both girls are, so far, enjoying his books. Emily said, "Goodness, there are a lot of Greek words in it!" Of course there are, since the book is, in many ways, about being Greek, as well as about family. I'm not Greek, but I recognised the family relationships, though I admit I don't have a gay brother and have never known my grandmother. But the family closeness is very recognisable.

Priyanka is liking Loathing Lola, the book written when the author was a teenager. I liked it too, and said so at the time it came out(see my post, some time in October 2007). It was funny and serious at once and showed a wisdom you wouldn't have expected from a boy of that age, whom you would expect to be wanting to be on a reality show himself rather than sending them up.

Anyway, let's see how he goes with our students. I've ordered lunch from the canteen and bought a small edible gift for our guest, which will be presented by two students, along with a card. The press will be attending. Well, there will be a photographer from one local paper, anyway, and another said I could supply them with a photo and a press release. The camera is in my bag, as I can't get a good shot with my iPad or my phone, alas, and the school camera keeps dying on you after a few shots, even with a new battery.

I have let the students know he's coming and will be bringing books for sale. Some of them should be able to afford it and for the rest I've made up mini-posters to be signed; if you put them on school books and diaries, that makes great publicity for the author.

Hopefully, a great day!

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Flora's War By Pamela Rushby, Melbourne: Ford Street Publishing, 2013

"It's 1915 and sixteen-year-old Australian, Flora Wentworth, is visiting Cairo with her archaeologist father. She watches with growing alarm as first a trickle and then a flood of wounded soldiers are shipped into the city from Gallipoli.

Flora's comfortable life is turned upside down when a hospital visit thrusts her into the realities of World War 1. She is soon transporting injured soldiers and helping out exhausted nurses – managing to fall in love along the way.

As Flora battles to save lives and find her own, a tragic misunderstanding changes everything"

I have a confession to make: I tend to get Pamela Rushby confused with her fellow historical novelist Jackie French, who has written novels set around the same period - for example, A Rose For The Anzac Boys is also set during the Great War, but in France, with some girls setting up a canteen for passing , often wounded, soldiers. It's good to see historical fiction by these veteran writers, even though it's difficult to persuade teens to read straight historical fiction as opposed to historical fantasy. (Right now, one of our students is reading Rushby's enjoyable Vietnam War novel, When The Hipchicks Went To War,  because "I LOVE the 60s and 70s!" It isn't often, though.)

Flora is a decent young woman, perhaps a bit modern in her outlook on such issues as racism, but then, as an archaeologist's daughter who has been coming to Egypt for years, she has come to know and respect the Egyptians who work for her father and make arrangements for him. 

A fascinating look at a period of history many modern teens probably don't know much about. The injuries are horrific; there's no attempt to fudge this. Also, it isn't often that we hear about war from the female viewpoint, except for those at home. The heroine isn't a nurse, despite the image on the gorgeous Grant Gittus cover, so it's different again.

Well worth a read as an extra while teaching Australian History, or just to get kids interested in historical fiction. You can confidently offer it to young Jackie French fans who want to read more.

Suitable for girls from early to middle secondary school.

Ford Street Publishing has an impressive array of published work, some by new writers, quite a lot by veterans like Ms Rushby, Dianne Bates, even a reprint of Isobelle Carmody's Greylands. Small press or no, it has become a respected publisher in this country and deserving of support. Here's the website:

Thursday, August 08, 2013

Of Writing And Rejection Slips

Even big name writers still get rejection slips sometimes. I have just learned this about a writer I admire. Of course, they will almost certainly sell it elsewhere. And at least one writer friend of mine was working on a series when the last couple of volumes were turned down. Another had her whole series published, but they were not a huge success and she never sold another thing, as far as I know.

I wonder if it makes me feel better or worse about having a full time day job and having to fit my writing in where I can, to know that no matter how far you've come you can still be pushed back.

Deep down, I suspect we all say to ourselves, It won't happen to me! or at least, Let's sell this book first and worry later. We have to, and develop a thick skin, or how would we ever write again?

After selling four short stories last year, I had three rejections in a row. One of them deserved it, as I had written it in a rush to meet a deadline. The other two were for a good story which I will try elsewhere. And I know I will sell it eventually, which keeps me going. My novel was rejected by every major publisher in the country before the sudden sale to a publisher who'd originally had to reject it. My story in Mythic Resonance had been rejected years ago, before finding its perfect home.

Even selling your book, however, doesn't always mean massive sales. Crime Time, which should have sold massively, hasn't earned back its advance because of the difficulty of selling children's non fiction in the shops, unless your name is Terry Deary. Australian Standing Orders didn't want it, as they rarely take non fiction. I haven't heard of any Ford Street books sold by Scholastic Book Club. That would have sold it all right! On the other hand, Your Cat Could Be A Spy sold out, but most were Book Club sales and those don't pay much. So I never got any royalties for it. Ah, well, it's still available on POD so it might sell yet.

And yet, my education books are still selling, though overseas. My archaeology book is still bringing in royalties after about ten years. I recently found a child's review of it online! Who would have thought an education book could get a rave review?  :)

So writing is one of those things like music and acting and other arts that might work out and might not, no matter who you are. You just have to develop the thick skin necessary to a writer, no matter how well known you are.

 There are some writers following this blog. Want to comment on your own experiences with rejection slips? 

Saturday, August 03, 2013

A Job Crossover(From My Other Blog)

First posted on my other blog, Sue Bursztynski's Page.

I'm a teacher-librarian, part of a dying species since some idiot in the government some years ago decided that state school principals should have the power to decide what to do with the school budget and all it gave them was the power to decide where to make cuts. Don't get me started on the unforgivable nature of turning a public service into a business!

But sometimes, even now, I get a thrill.

My book clubbers have the chance to provide reader responses to manuscripts for Allen and Unwin. This is something I do wearing my library hat. One manuscript was returned unread by a student for whom it had seemed a good idea at the time, something her friends were doing(they all read theirs). It was the first time this has happened on my watch and I felt bad about it. I won't name the author here, for confidentiality reasons, but it's someone well-known and wonderful, who wrote the only class novel my Year 11 class never complained about having to read.

However, my class is doing Literature Circles(a sort of Book Club for the classroom) with another class at the moment and one group had finished reading a book by this author. They had LOVED it, though not the ending(Later I may see if I can arrange an interview with this author and they can ask him themselves about the ending).

What to do with them while the rest of the class finishes? I had an idea. As a test run, I printed off copies of the first three chapters of the neglected manuscript for them - I will do more if they want it -  and asked if they'd be interested in reading a book by this author that isn't yet published. Would they? Is the Pope a Catholic?

This week, they not only read some more, they broke out the Literature Circles roles and began to discuss it!

How cool is that, eh? My role as a teacher librarian crossing over with my role as a classroom teacher and a bunch of kids doing something they found exciting.

I nearly cried for joy.