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Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Sherryl Clark In The West!

Yesterday we had our YABBA Ambassador visit. Sherryl Clark spoke to the Year 7 and 8 students and some older ones who came because they were in my book club and wanted to hear her. Some had been reading the books I bought in advance of the visit although nobody actually asked specific questions related to the books they had read and the girl who had asked me if she could ask questions then was too shy to speak them herself, so wrote them down for me to ask on her behalf. But they,too, were general questions. One of my book clubbers couldn't make it due to SRC commitments, but met us in the hallway and told Sherryl how much she had enjoyed the book she'd read.

It was a hectic day for me. I had some drama in my literacy class, felt bad about it and went to seek the child I had upset. Then I rushed to the canteen, which had prepared lunch for me and my guest. Then I hung around, panicking when she was a tiny bit late. What if she had got the dates confused? What if...? I think it was my nerves.

But she turned up a minute later and all went well. She talked about her books and dear me, hasn't she written a huge variety of genres, from short humorous books for younger readers to verse novels and fantasy mysteries for teens. Apparently, her bestseller is her first book, The Too Tight Tutu, which is based on her own experiences as an overweight child doing ballet lessons. With some of her books she has bought back the rights and self published because there was still demand for them but the publishers weren't interested in keeping them in print.

There were some quite good questions from Year 7 and I invited Sherryl to choose a couple of students to receive copies of her books as a reward for the best. I usually do that as an encouragement to get them started, but it wasn't necessary this time, which was nice. You know, nobody wants to be first? Not a problem this time. 

After lunch, we returned to the library, where the Year 8 students were even better, and I have to say I was pleased and relieved. We have a lot of difficult students in this year's Year 8 and apart from one or two, whose teachers took them away from the others, they were really very good and asked some great questions, including some of the most difficult students of the lot! In fact, two of the three prizes went to some of our harder-to-handle boys. One of them was so chuffed he showed off his book to the sub school leader who has given him many a detention.

After the session I had students asking to borrow some of Sherryl's books, which I had on a display. Some were out, but others were grabbed.

A successful event all round. Pity I couldn't even get a reply from the local press, but then, for them it's just another ho-hum author-visits-school event, big deal, it happens all the time. I did explain it was a special program run by YABBA, for only twenty-five schools, but no interest.

It's not a ho-hum thing for us. When I first arrived at the school, we had an annual writers' festival. The Principal gave us $2000 for inviting writers to speak. Not a lot, but enough for each campus to have someone, and we supplemented it with free visits from myself and Chris Wheat, my colleague who has written five YA novels. That was a principal who respected us and what we did. There was a college head of library.

Now my budget is half what it was back in the 90s and no college writers' festival. We just don't have the money to bring in guest speakers, so having a freebie like this means a lot to us and our students.

I hate that I can't do more, but never mind, it was a great day, if exhausting. Thank you, Sherryl, and especially thanks, YABBA, for paying for this! 

Monday, July 28, 2014

Two Tales Of Twins From Ancient Greece And Rome By Ursula Dubosarsky. Armidale, Christmas Press, 2014

This is the third publication by Christmas Press, and just as beautiful as the others. Like the first two, Two Trickster Tales From Russia by Sophie Masson and Two Selkie Stories From Scotland by Kate Forsyth, it's written by a respected veteran writer of Australan children's books. 

Unlike the first two, it's taken from mythology rather than folk tales and mythology is different. It can get nasty. More kudos, then, to Ursula Dubsarsky for managing to adapt stories about characters who in the original myths were not particularly sympathetic, for children! The two stories are about the childhood of Apollo and Artemis and that of Romulus and Remus. It does have to admit that the story of the twins who founded Rome is not one with a very happy ending, but manages to avoid telling the young reader that Romulus murdered his brother. For the Romans, it was terribly important, the story of their founding, and the killing was just a part of it. Myth and legend can be nasty, simple as that.

The art by David Allan is gorgeous, well worth the price of the book, even if it weren't for the stories.

Read it to your young children or let the slightly older ones read it for themselves.


Saturday, July 26, 2014

July 27 Meme - Happy Birthday, Huguette!

Today is July 27 south of the equator, no matter what date you see above this post( Blogger is a northern hemisphere thing). And today is the birthday of my sister's best friend, Huguette, so it seemed a good day to do a meme. 

Lean pickings in the events, as far as a book blog is concerned. Lots of battles and disasters, of course, and unpleasant things such as Vincent Van Gogh committing suicide. And to stretch a point, the hero of the Scottish Play lost a battle on this day, to Siward of Northumbria. Well, if Shakespeare could write about him, I can mention him in a book meme.

Born on this day was Alexandre Dumas fils - not the author of The Three Musketeers, that was his Dad, but he wrote lots of plays and The Lady Of The Camellias, novel and play, which became a film(Camille), an opera(La Traviata by Verdi) and a musical film(Moulin Rouge - yes, that Moulin Rouge)

Also Hilaire Belloq, who wrote all those very funny Cautionary Tales for children. 

And I'm going to stretch another point and include Simon Jones, the original and best Arthur Dent(sorry,Martin  Freeman, though it did make it easier for me to accept you as Bilbo Baggins) in Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy.

There were a couple of writers I'd never heard of. One of them, Joseph Mitchell, I'm going to mention because he is also a character in a computer game! 

And in Finland, July 27 is National Sleepyhead Day, in which it's traditional to throw water over the last person out of bed, or throw them into a lake or the sea! Sometimes, if it's a man, he gets the left side of his chest shaved. (Obviously women don't have hairy chests) Every year in the Finnish city of Naantali they throw a celebrity into the sea. 

Believe it or not, this bit of silly fun is connected with the story of the Seven Sleepers of Ephesus, who snoozed away a couple of hundred years in a cave during the persecution of Christians, woke up during a Christian era and promptly dropped dead as soon as they'd found out it was okay to be Christians. Apparently, there's also a Muslim version. Obviously a story with an old heritage, might be interesting to see where it originally came from.

Well, better get up before the family arrive to throw me off St Kilda pier.

Still More Ebooks This Week! The Wake By Paul Kingsnorth

Last night I downloaded Paul Kingsnorth's debut novel The Wake, which is on the long list for this year's Man Booker Prize. I'm not really into literary fiction, but this is also genre fiction, which I do love. It's set in 1066(and all that, okay, it STARTS in 1066) and is not about celebrating a dead person's life but about a rebellion in the fens country against the newly arrived Normans. It happened. The story of Hereward's rebellion is a part of history, though it's been fictionalised a lot. Actually, there was a wonderful, beautiful novel, Saxon Tapestry, by Sile Rice, which I read while playing mediaeval church music to get me in the mood.

But this is different. I've only started reading, but the novel is in Old English - sort of. Even the author admits he had to play around with it or it would be even harder to read than it is. He cals it a "shadw language" that gives you the feel of the real thing.

Now, I did a semester of OE at uni, though I ended up focusing on Middle English because you couldn't do both and I was interested in doing my Honours thesis on King Arthur and Malory wrote in ME, not OE. I was quite good at it in the limited amount I did, because I had a background in Yiddish, which is related to mediaeval German, which is related to OE. So I'll manage this book a lot more easily than the average Joe or Josephine and even I'm going to take a while  to finish it. 

That said, I've found through reading it aloud that the general text and the dialogue is basically in modern English without the slang. If it wasn't using OE names and spelling for things, it really wouldn't be too hard, so stick with it. You'll get the hang of it. I'd suggest the ebook version, as the publisher has, I believe, done it as a manuscript between stiff cardboard covers and when you just want to read a book on the way in to work, that could be a nuisance. But up to you. 

It is, anyway, a brave experiment by the author. He could have sold it to a regular publisher if he'd just written it in modern style but he refused to change it and ended up instead going with a small press, Unbound, that has the policy of asking the author to crowd fund his or her book. He managed to get 400 pre-orders and here he is, up for a huge prize! Clearly his faith in his book as it was worked out. 

 I don't blame him, anyway; it must have taken a HUGE amount of research to get this done, not to mention getting the style just right. No convenient spell or grammar check on the computer - actually, you'd have to turn it off or go crazy.

Good luck to him!

Friday, July 25, 2014

Look What I've Got From Christmas Press!

Here it is, the latest beautiful picture storybook from Christmas Press, another Aussie small press, which does lovingly-crafted books only a couple of times a year, but worth waiting for.

This one is written by well-known children's and YA novelist Ursula Dubosarsky and illustrated by the amazing David Allan. YESSS!

I'll be reviewing it shortly, as it comes out in early August, but couldn't resist sharing this with you.

I know what the next book is - a collection of Christmas-themed children's stories - because I have a tale in it myself, a story set in Australia in a world where Armorique, the setting of Wolfborn, exists and can be looked up on Google. :-) I have recently realised, though, that I forgot the triple moons, so it isn't the same world as Wolfborn, exactly... Oh, well.
Anyway, look out for my review of Two Tales Of Twins, coming soon!

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

I'm Interviewed By ... N! (From Gillian Polack's Livejournal)

Some time ago, I had an email from Gillian Polack, uni academic, spec fic writer and historian, whose work experience student, whom she referred to only as N had read and loved Wolfborn. Would I be willing to do an interview with the young lady? What do YOU think? :-)

It was duly published on Gillian's Livejournal and I'm reproducing it here, because Livejournal is a much more intimate form of blog which is really for the author and friends. 

So here are the three questions she asked.

NAre the traditions and festivals used in Wolfborn based on existing religions? For example, when Lord Geraint performed the rites.

SB: Yes, sort of. Notzrianism, the main religion, is my own version of Christianity, though not quite - you may have noticed I have a female bishop in one scene. But you can't do a mediaeval fantasy set in a European-style world without some form of Christianity.  So much of mediaeval daily life and culture was based on it. The way people thought and behaved, even their hierarchy, was based on their faith. 

In my world, though, there's also a strong pagan element still around, tolerated if not liked. The celebration of such rites would almost certainly have been tamed quite a lot in a country that was otherwise Christian(or Notzrian). I mostly invented the rituals described, but not the festivals. The Celtic calendar had four major celebrations in the year and I used that. I assumed that local celebrations would vary.  There would have been some interesting things happening at local celebrations, even in Christian times. 

I did a short course on Celtic religions once and the teacher, a middle-European lady, I can't recall from which country, remembered her childhood when the local villages worshipped, more or less, their own statues of "Our Lady" who was, as far as they were concerned, just another version of "THE Lady", the mother goddess. They were Catholics, yes, but also,deep-down, had never stopped worshipping the Goddess. And this was well into the twentieth century! 

N: Is the castle based off any historical land marks? For example the landscape around it and its strategic positioning.

Nope. It's just a place that says "mediaeval daily life". Strictly speaking, a lord like Geraint would probably be moving around his manors, but I left him in one place, with my own choice of geography. It made it easier to have things happen as I needed them to. This is also why I created my own world, with three moons and all,  instead of setting it in mediaeval Europe.

NDo the kingdoms in Wolfborn embody countries of the era?

Yes, a bit, eg the Djarnish Isles, mentioned by Lady Eglantine, are sort of Britain, although the women's community she describes, in which the members get to do learned stuff, was  based on the community of Hildegard of Bingen, an amazingly multi-talented eleventh century German abbess, now a saint, I believe. Armorique is sort of, but not quite, Brittany, because the story was taken from the Breton Lais by Marie De France, but I introduced gods from other parts of the Celtic world and gave it its own history(I'm working on a novel set earlier in that history). Nearly everyone, I admit, has a French name(but "Geraint" is Welsh - I just liked the name, which is part of Celtic literature. For consistency, I shouldn't have done it, but I did. So sue me). However, some countries mentioned in this novel were from a world I created for a series of swords and sorcery stories about the adventures of a woman warrior named Xanthia, published back in the 80s in a fantasy magazine called Eye Of Newt, well BEFORE a certain TV series with a similar name. As for the era, it's vaguely 12th century. 

Please note: I admit I cherry picked what I wanted in my world building, but whatever sins I committed, I did my research. I read whole books on daily life, the role of women, cities, folklore, you name it! 

Monday, July 21, 2014

Space...The Final Frontier.. Apollo II This Week In History!

If you haven't seen this pic,
you've been living under a rock!

This isn't really a book-related post, but as I've said before, I came to love science fiction because of the "sensawunda" thing. I dreamed of going to the moon from early days, played "moon-landing" with my friends and loved Star Trek from the first episode I saw. (As it happens, I even know what Trek episode was on the week of the moon landing, because I read the TV guide in the microfilm newspapers  at the State Library when researching for my short story "Countdown To Apollo 11". The episode was "The Enterprise Incident". There was no Dr Who, as it was off for a while.

This week is the 45th anniversary of Apollo 11. It's rather sad that all that excitement and wonder should have ended with the US space shuttles having to be retired and nothing being done for the moment, at least nothing immediate. 

Of the three astronauts who went to the moon, my favourite is Michael Collins, the one who didn't actually step on to the moon and was fine with that. He said that thousands would have given a lot to be in his place and that, as far as he was concerned, it was about flying and he had the best job of any pilot, ever!

He produced a number of books that were not ghost written - he said so and I believe him. His autobiography Carrying The Fire, has that true sensawunda you get in the best SF and yet was for real. I used that and his history of the space program while researching my own book, Star Walkers: Explorers Of The Unknown. Star Walkers sold out years ago and wasn't reprinted, so if you want to read it, you'll have to get it on eBay or ABE Books, but I used a lot of the information by and about him to help me.

Buzz Aldrin has at least one novel with his name on it, in which the hero is involved in a private space program, something Aldrin has always promoted, and with all those recent space program cutbacks, maybe he's right.

I have memories of the moon landing, because they let us go home from school to watch it. If it was now, we'd all be gathered in the school library or a hall - funnily enough my own school didn't have a hall and neither does the one where I work now - and the info tech teacher would set up a link to the Internet so we could watch it as a school.

I wasn't a great reader of SF till after my school days were over and I was babysitting for my sister and raiding her shelves, but I did read some of the classics by Verne and Wells. It's interesting to compare what the two of them had to say about moon flight. Jules Verne had his moon trip beginning in Florida and thought carefully about how it might work, whereas Wells just had some made-up stuff to make his spacecraft float. I think that after Wells was rude about the Verne book,Verne actually said something along those lines, that at least he'd done his homework instead of just making up something out of his head. But Verne really was a science fiction writer,  while Wells was more interested in politics and social justice, even if he used SF to talk about them.

There isn't a lot of written, as opposed to film, fiction bout Apollo II, as far as I know, though it is a part of Stephen Baxter's wonderful novel Voyage, which speculates what might have happened if the US had gone for Mars instead of the space shuttle. The heroine becomes the first person to walk on Mars.

Well, what do you know, I HAVE written about books in this post!

So before I go, here's a photo taken in Sydney at Mascot Airport on July 21 1969, which I found under the Creative Commons licences, from the days when there used to be TVs in shop windows. Enjoy!

Friday, July 18, 2014

Downloaded This Week... Lots Of Classic SF And A Children's Book About The Great War...

I get this craving for classic SF by famous writers from the Golden Age, you know?  I just do.

Oddly, it started with a search for Darrell Schweitzer, who is very much alive and kicking and has a gorgeous steampunk poem in my issue of ASIM, #60, illustrated by the wonderful Lewis Morley, who loved it. Turns out he's in some of  the Megapacks available on iBooks because they have a mixture of Golden Age and contemporary SF. There's even a story in #6 by Pamela Sargent about Hillary Rodham - yes, THAT Hillary Rodham, Mrs Clinton - as an astronaut, based on a story she told about having sent an inquiry to NASA in her teens and been told "girls need not apply"(something they deny, saying that while girls were not in the space program at the time, they wouldn't have said "don't bother", just told the young woman to work hard at school and keep an eye out because it would happen at some stage). It's asking "what if"?  Hillary the astronaut is on her way to Venus with an all-woman team, including Judy Resnik and Jerrie Cobb(Resnik was the first Jewish woman in space, Cobb was one of the Forgotten Thirteen, women who wanted to become astronauts in the 60s and were told to go away. Perhaps it would have been better for her if she'd been a teenager writing to NASA instead of a skilled pilot!)

Anyway, I downloaded Megapack 6, which had some good stuff in it, including one by Philip K Dick and Arthur C Clarke's classic "The Nine Billion Names Of God", a story not in the Clarke collection I bought from Amazon with my prize gift voucher. These Megapacks are great value, costing the massive sum of 99c! And there are quite a lot of genres. I'd been looking for Mack Reynolds, a prolific writer who died in the 70s. Mack Reynolds wrote the very first original Star Trek novel, Mission To Horatius, before James Blish's Spock Must Die! It doesn't get much publicity, probably because it was for children. I bet it would be worth $$$$ on eBay now. I had read several of his novels, starting with Time Gladiator, which I found on a remainders table for 20c. It had a dreadful cover and title, but as it was SF I picked it up, browsed through and decided that for 20c it wasn't much of a risk. It was so very good I went in search of more. One of them featured a man who was attached to a computer that sent him into the mind of Horatius, that hero of the Roman Republic who guarded the bridge into Rome against the enemy with two comrades while others were busy cutting it down. Another predicted the current situation with credit cards replacing cash. In this society there's no cash at all, just cards, so if you're on the run, as the hero of that novel is, you can easily be traced by your card use. This was in the 70s!

I did find some of his books available online, but got a sudden craving for Fredric Brown and decided Reynolds could wait just a little longer. If you're a Trek fan, you'll know one of Brown's stories, "Arena", was adapted for an episode of the name. I'd read plenty of his tales, including "Arena". They tend to be quirky and often funny. And there was a Fredric Brown Megapack! With no fewer than 33 of his classic stories, including "Arena"! For 99c! I also bought from SF Gateway his novel What Mad Universe in which a pulp magazine editor finds himself thrown into a universe in which pulp fiction tropes are true. I'd read and loved it years ago and had to have it in ebook. I've reread it and loved it again.

And finally, this week, I discovered that there was a new book by Morris Gleitzman, a popular writer in my library. This one is called Loyal Creatures and is about a boy and his horse going to the Great War. A wonderful writer. Knowing what I do about what happened to the horses that went to war from Australia I don't hold out great hopes for a happy ending, but I refuse to read the end till I get there.

A fine haul. What are you reading, my readers?

As Stars Fall By Christie Nieman. Sydney: Pan Macmillan, 2014

A bush fire, and its aftermath, links a Bush-Stone curlew and three teenagers experiencing loss, love and change.

The fire was fast and hot ... only days after it went through, there were absolutely no birds left. I should have seen it as an omen, the birds all leaving like that.

Robin is a self-confessed bird-nerd from the country, living in the city. On the first day at her new school, she meets Delia. Delia is freaky and definitely not good for Robin's image.

Seth, Delia's brother, has given up school to prowl the city streets. He is angry at everything, especially the fire that killed his mother.

When a rare and endangered bird turns up in the city parklands, the lives of Robin, Seth and Delia become fatefully and dangerously intertwined ...

Their lives certainly are intertwined. Seth and Delia are the children of the biologist who was killed observing a rare Bush-Stone Curlew. Robin was living in the area at the time and saw the bushfire. Her parents separated soon after for reasons we find out later. 

And Robin has a strange connection with Seth, who can see things through her eyes as well as the bird's.

Fire plays an important role in this novel - the bushfire that killed Seth and Delia's mother and brought the bird to the city, the fire with which Seth deliberately burns his hand in horrified fascination while grieving, Robin's nickname, Flame. Even the book's title, As Stars Fall, refers to sparks falling during the fire, which Robin saw on the night and thought beautiful despite the significance of them. The environment is also a major element and some of it is notes by Selena, the biologist mother, who had strong opinions about the cycle of life in the bush.

It's a sad but positive story, an interesting mixture of  mainstream YA and fantasy. The story is about coming to terms with grief, but it wouldn't have been quite the same without those touches of fantasy.

I can see this one working well in classroom discussion, perhaps as a literature circles text; there's a lot of meat for discussion. It's aimed at older readers and really is best for good readers who like to think deeply about what they read.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Year 8 Stories - the Sequel!

Well, the holidays are over and I've just finished reading the last of my student stories. They have ranged from a hundred-odd words to what has to be at least six thousand! Twelve pages of small print? Has to be.

Two of  them were plagiarised, word for word, beginning to end, from online sources and what I'm going to tell the students I have no idea. Clearly they couldn't handle the story starters I gave them last term and were desperate enough to pinch something. I'd love to just say, "Look, I don't CARE if your writing is bad! It's my job to help you fix it and I can't do that if I don't know how you write in the first place." If I thought it would do any good I'd say that. But I don't think it will. All I can do is offer them the chance to do it again, with a different writing prompt, by hand, in a single session.

There was a very short piece from a student who asked me for help for the first time this year. It sn't much, but it was what he could do. He did his best. I will give him some more short pieces to do. Perhaps start with a Cloze activity in which he chooses his own words to fill the gaps?

There was a story that used one of the prompts to have one gory murder after another, but the student really, really enjoyed the writing. He ended it abruptly with "and then he came back and killed my uncle and me. The End." but I think he just felt he had to finish. I went cross-eyed trying to edit all the punctuation-free sentences and the switching between tenses - finally I gave up and put in notes to ask him to make up his mind which tense he wanted and stick with it.

A lot were unfinished. I will get them to do a story outline before continuing.

I really must mention the two who used "The Hero's Journey." One was unfinished, but long, an account of a girl who is approached by a long-lost brother under mysterious circumstances, and broke off just as the siblings were about to escape from a murderous millionaire older sister... I have told her it's an exciting story and I'm keen to see how it ends. She used the basic elements - the call to adventure, the journey...

The six thousand word story was less obvious as Hero's Journey, but it also used the elements. The call to adventure was a young boy from a village deciding to go to the city in search of his mother, who was taken away for medical treatment by a doctor whose name he knew, but not much else, some time ago, also fulfilling a mission for a neighbour whose children have vanished into the city, and returning to his reward. It was written with a Vietnamese accent, as the young lady has only recently decided to join mainstream English classes, so it needs work yet, incuding some tightening, but she is proud of it, and so she should be.

I think the Hero's Journey is not a bad place to start students off and will consider using it again, but it's a work in progress, always needing adapting.

People keep telling me that because I'm a writer I should therefore be able to teach writing. I really don't think it's that simple.  There are a lot of people out there teaching creative writing without ever having sold anything. Then they sell a first novel and write in their bio notes that they teach it and I say, "Hang on, this is a first novel, not even a good one, and she's TEACHING this? How did she get the job?"

In my case, I know how I write, but that doesn't mean everyone does it the same way. For example,
I just start writing and worry about the quality later. But kids can't always do that, or they don't understand the concept of "first draft." I can't even show them my own work in drafts, because even my first draft is better than their finished products in most cases. I am never going to write a long, run-on sentence with no punctuation or change tenses and even person.

Guess I'll have to write something awful and let them crit it.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Vashti Farrer's New Book

Vashti Farrer, author of a whole lot of children's books and contributor to my favourite market, the NSW School Magazine, has recently done a true crime book for adults. I love true crime, having written some myself(check out the side of the page for a sample chapter from my book, Crime Time: Australians behaving badly but not till you've read this). This one, I see, is about Ellen Thomson, the only woman to have been executed in Queensland, back in the 19th century, for having murdered her husband. It may have been a miscarriage of justice, since she didn't get a fair trial.

There's something addictive about true crime. Crime fiction is good fun, but there's nothing quite like reading about dreadful doings that really happened. A piece of historical crime has a double attraction - and Vashti Farrer has done quite a bit of historical writing.

I hope this goes to ebook, as I simply have no space left on my physical shelves, but meanwhile, you can buy it at Booktopia if ordering on line and no doubt can order it from your local bookshop if they don't have it.

Ellen Thomson: Beyond A Reasonable Doubt, by Vashti Farrer. Sydney, Halstead Press, 2014.

Friday, July 11, 2014

The Graveyard Book: the graphic novel, Volume 1, by Neil Gaiman.Adaptation by P. Craig Russell. Art by various artists. Sydney,Bloomsbury, 2014


I read this novel when it first came out.  It was the author's tribute to Rudyard Kipling's Jungle Books, only instead of Mowgli being brought up in the judge by animals, the Mowgli character, Nobody Owens, Bod for short, is bought up in a graveyard by ghosts, with Silas, a vampire who can leave the graveyard, bringing in food and taking charge of arranging his education. He's there because he toddled to the local cemetery when his entire family was murdered and the killer is still looking for him - a killer who is not quite human.

It was a wonderful book, but I'd forgotten it was written as linked short stories. In each one, Bod has a new adventure in a different part of the graveyard as he grows up, learning something new. In one, he is carried off by ghouls, but a language he has learned enables him to call for help. In another, he meets an unusual ghost, a young witch who never had a headstone. And lest you forget how much danger awaits him outside the graveyard, you're reminded. 

This format gives the opportunity to have the illustration done by individual artists - and it also means that, while you'd like to finish the book, it can be presented as Volume 1 without too much stress to the reader. And the next volume will be out in October, so be patient! The stories for this volume end with a chilling Interlude in which the killer stalking Bod makes an appearance.

I do love graphic novels; the art and text combine to tell the story and when it's a graphic version of a novel, as this one is, it tells the story in a simpler manner for children who might be reluctant readers. It's also able to show such awful things as the dead family, including a child, and little Bod, sucking on a dummy, toddling along towards the graveyard without knowing what has happened, rather than having to describe them.

It's a lovely book which will appeal both to fans of the original and new readers. Highly recommended!

Coming out in Australia on August 1, 2014.

New On My Cyber Bookshelf!

I have just reread Pierre Boulle's Planet Of The Apes, which I downloaded after viewing some special features on my brother's DVD of the 1968 movie. I had read it before under the title Monkey Planet, but felt like reading it again. It didn't disappoint on a second reading. It's rather Swiftian, not a lot like the movie and if you're expecting the Statue Of Liberty at the end, forget it. I'd suggest that the book and the film are both classics in their own right, which have their own points to make. Apparently, Pierre Boulle HATED the Statue of Liberty scene(created by Rod Serling) but there's no doubt it worked.

I've finished Susan Price's Ghost World sequence - I think the original novels are out of print, but the author has made the trilogy available in ebook. It's a series set in a fairy tale version of Russia, or, rather, a Russian Czardom, over hundreds of years. She has taken bits of Pushkin(a story telling cat), of shamanism and Russian folklore and thrown them all together. It works well, though the novels don't feel like novels as we think of them, because we don't really see much of the thoughts and feelings of the protagonists, especially in the first story. There are different viewpoints, which let the reader know what's happening elsewhere, but can be frustrating for a reader who wants to stick with the  heroine. I did rather like the Baba Yaga hut with chicken legs being turned into a typical witch/shaman hut, with ALL the witches having homes that travel on different kinds of legs. The shaman looks for an apprentice, which can take all of her/his(mostly her) three hundred years of life. So the travelling hut is necessary.

I've added two more Josephine Tey novels, The Franchise Affair and The Singing Sands, to my shelves and begun reading Alan Baxter's Bound and Colin Falconer's East India, which were both going free as promos.

Courtesy of Project Gutenberg, I have a volume of Walter Scott's Minstrelsy Of The Scottish Border and one of Christina Rossetti's poems(I downloaded that to go with Tim Powers' Hide Me Among The Graves). I am rather fond of Walter Scott. I know his books have a reputation for being boring and waffling - well, the waffling is true, but there's something delightful about his footnotes, such as the one where he apologises for bringing back a character who was supposed to be dead, but hey, his editor hated it and the fans will kill him otherwise. There's another where he says that he's been told a bit of his heraldry was wrong but he's looked it up and he was right! I suspect this couldn't happen today unless the story was being serialised online. I also heard Scott was involved in preserving the walls of York which were going to be torn down - looks like developers have been around for centuries!

I think ebooks are the best thing since sliced bread.

What do you think?

Writing Process Blog Hop # 5: Gillian Polack

I received Gillian Polack's Writing Process Blog Hop post this morning. Gillian, as well as being a writer, is a mediaeval historian who also knows a lot about other eras. Despite that, she's written mostly fiction set in contemporary times, such as this one, which I have on my ebook shelf.

I also have this:

It's a fabulous description of how she and others researched, tested recipes and chose the foods for five historically-themed banquets run by the Conflux convention in Canberra(I was lucky enough to attend a repeat of the Regency one). It included the recipes, but as far as I'm concerned, the story of the work that went into those banquets is priceless. There are a few copies left, I believe, and no plans to reprint, so if you live in Australia, keep an eye on the Conflux stand at your next convention and grab a copy while you can.

I'm glad to hear Gillian is now using her skills in historical research in her writing! 

Without further ado, take it away, Gillian!


I’ve been tagged by two people for this post, and life keeps intervening. Thank you for your patience, Louise Turner ( and Sue (and thanks, Sue for hosting my belated answer). Since being tagged, I’ve received word of my next novel – it will be published in October.

1. What are you working on?

       I’m researching the year 1682 for a novel about a group of women travelling together.

2. How does your work differ from others in your genre?

       It’s not quite historical fiction and it’s not quite historical fantasy, either. Historical magic realism? Historical fiction where I trust the world-views of the period and give them their own character arc? The setting is the place and time where religion and science and magic were as close to perfectly balanced as they’ve ever been in a thousand years of Western Europe.

3. Why do you write what you write?

       I’m finally admitting that it’s possible to be both a historian and a writer and for my research into narratives to feed more openly into my fiction. I will still write contemporary works (I have one in the planning stages, in fact) but it’s a lot of fun to encourage readers to see the wires and know a bit more about how it’s all done.

4. How does your writing process work?

      My writing process is different for different novels. Illuminations was written sequentially, but the ancient part first and the modern second. Cellophane was written in small patches – a bit here and a bit there and then edited and edited and edited until it worked the way I wanted it to. The only thing that all my novels have in common is a long period of thinking before any writing takes place. Sometimes, it doesn’t look as if I’ve done that, for instance, in my soon-to-be-released Langue[dot]doc 1305) but that’s because I was thinking about it for twenty years.

Because I’m very late on this, I’m reluctant to nominate anyone. I’m going to tag Sharyn Lilly anyhow, because she has just published a rather interesting book, and I think there are a few people who wouldn’t mind knowing what’s happening next. Sharyn is a speculative fiction writer and editor and she can be found at

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

On Finishing A Piece Of Historical Fiction

I've finally completed, edited and submitted my story for the Cranky Ladies Of History anthology. I haven't a clue what I'll do with it if it's rejected, as there's not much of a market for short historical fiction. The History Girls blog has done one, but it's by their own authors, all of them well known historical novelists. I can't even submit it to a possible third volume of Trust Me, if Ford Street Publishing does one, as the characters are all adults and, at 4200 words,  it's about twice the length of a Trust Me story. 

Still, I had to have a go. How could I not? And looking at the names of the others who are sending stories, pretty much everyone is a speculative fiction writer, so I'm not the only one who hasn't much experience in this area - with two historical fiction stories under my belt, I may even have more experience than some others. 

My other two stories were set in the 1960s, though, an era I know fairly well and even remember vaguely from my childhood. And you can go to the State Library and look up newspapers of the time. 

But what did I know about the Victorian era? Not a lot. If I'd had time, if I'd been writing a book, I would have bought or borrowed whole books about the era and the culture, as I did with my mediaeval fantasy fiction.

There were newspapers in the Victorian era, of course, but not where I can get at them. And there just wasn't time.

So I settled for researching the story I'd chosen and checking the other stuff as I went. I waded through web sites. I bought an ebook called Wild Women, which had a chapter on the subject I had chosen, the life of Dr James Miranda Barry, a wonderful army doctor who did some amazing things to improve the conditions and sanitation of hospitals and performed the first Caesarean in which mother and baby both survived and would have been remembered for those if "he" hadn't turned out to be a she! It's not that nobody now is interested in her achievements but web sites and books tend to throw all their energies into arguing about whether or not she was a transgender man. Who cares? It was over 150 years ago and we'll never know, unless some letters or a long-buried memoir turn up. 

I decided to keep it simple. Like Agnodike of Athens, I decided, she was a girl who wanted to do something only boys were allowed to do and was prepared to pay for it with her female identity, which was not a lot of use to her.

I made myself write the first draft, at least, because if I'd stopped to look everything up, it would never have been finished. Even so, I kept stopping to ask, "Hang on! How would you get new clothes in those days if you weren't rich and couldn't afford to have stuff made and didn't have time anyway? What about travelling to Jamaica from London in 1865? What about travel conditions?" And so on.

I at least was able to ask some of these questions of a couple of historians, Louise Berridge, author of many historical novels, including some about the Crimean War, and Gillian Polack, who specialises in things mediaeval, but knows a lot about other eras as well. Both ladies came up trumps and if my story doesn't make it, it won't be their fault. I asked them about travel from London to Jamaica and Gillian said "Bristol" which had a lot of connection with Jamaica and Louise agreed and also suggested Southampton, from which a mail ship went every fortnight, and even told me which railway station would have been used to go to each port. Gillian added that my hero, Dantzen, Dr Barry's manservant, had better take his own food, which was not supplied at sea in those days. 

I decided on Southampton; both ports are about the same distance from London, but Southampton had regular traffic to Jamaica.

By the way, a bit of Internet research told me that second hand clothes would be the way to go if you didn't have time to make your own clothes or money to have them made for you. 

And I even found an online scanned Victorian era newspaper about the discovery that Dr Barry was a woman! It was from New Zealand, so the story really got around.

Historical research is never going to give you a definitive answer to anything. For example,  there were two explanations of how she died. One was that she died of cholera, the other that she'd caught a chill which ended up killing her. I opted for cholera. Then there was a duel she fought with one Josias Cloete. One version said he'd challenged her because she'd said something ungentlemanly about a lady. The other version said she had challenged him because he'd said she rode like a girl. For the purposes of my story and the character, I decided to go with the latter. She was a truly cranky lady and this wasn't the only time she fought a duel. And the fact that she and Cloete became close friends for life suggested to me that the duel - which wasn't too serious in the end -  was about something not too serious in the first place. 

But you see what I mean. There are so many versions of history, you just have to choose what makes sense to you. I once wrote an article about the Siamese Twins, Chang and Eng. The material said, on the one hand, that they never worked for Barnum and Bailey, and in the other that they did and were cheated. I decided to say they hadn't; they were a shrewd, entrepreneurial pair who would never have let themselves be ripped off, in my opinion - and so I told my editor from the NSW School Magazine when he asked was I sure, because he'd read...

I think Josias Cloete may have descendants to this day, so if one of them is reading this and has a family tradition about something great, many times great, grandad said about that Dr Barry, I DON'T WANT TO KNOW, okay? Not now. Too late!

One web site I found said that the reason she didn't get a knighthood on retirement - something fairly standard - was that she had embarrassed Florence Nightingale in public, haranguing the Lady With The Lamp from horseback for keeping her hospital filthy and so causing unnecessary deaths. That was a scene I simply had to include, though not in huge detail. It gave me the chance to slip in Mary Seacole, a Jamaican/ Scottish nurse who wrote a memoir. Mary had asked to be a member of Florence Nightingale's staff and was refused, though not by Florence herself, so she made her own way to the Crimean War, where she sold drinks and tended the wounded anyway. I wanted to have her at James Barry's funeral, because she was in London at the time, but had no way to slot her in convincingly. She's there, though, in the Crimean War scene.

Now the story is done as best I can. If it's accepted, I'll go back and make sure the historical details are right. If not, it will have to stay on my computer till another opportunity presents itself.

Fingers crossed!

Monday, July 07, 2014

Bloomsbury New Harry Potter Cover Reveal

I got these two pics from Sonia at Bloomsbury this morning. They're the new covers for the first two Harry Potter books. 


And this.

The artist is Johnny Duddle, who, among other things, has done some illoes for Terry Pratchett books. If you look at the originals, the spirit is very similar, though taken from a different scene in the books. Here are the covers I saw when I was first buying them. They're by Thomas Taylor.


And this.

. I adore  the originals, they're what I picture when I think of the novels, because, unlike many adults,  it's never been a problem for me being seen reading a book with a children's cover...but these are also quite lovely and have a lot more going on. 

It probably won't matter now what the covers look like, the books are just going to go on and on selling, but it never does harm to refresh a franchise. I look forward to the day when someone does a Harry Potter cover art exhibition with covers from around the world and different times.

So, what do you think of the new covers?

Look What I've Got! Neil Gaiman's Graveyard Book In Pics!

Some time ago, I received Neil Gaiman's children's book The Graveyard Book for reviewing. It was inspired by Rudyard Kipling's Jungle Books, only this Mowgli was brought up in a graveyard instead of a jungle, by ghosts and other creatures of the night. Now it's out as a graphic novel - well, half of it is, anyway - and the lovely publicist Sonia Palmisano of Bloomsbury, who always seems to know what I'm likely to drool over, has sent me a copy. I will try to get it read and reviewed before I go back to work next week, so I can take it and get it processed right away, because I just know my students will love it. They've started asking for Neil Gaiman lately, anyway, and graphic novels are big in my library! Only thing is, they'll want to know when Volume 2 is coming out and I'll have to tell them I don't know.

Gorgeous, isn't it? What a lovely surprise to come home and find this waiting in the hallway next to the letterboxes!

Sunday, July 06, 2014

To Kill A Mockingbird Going To Ebook!

Rejoice! The wonderful, amazing classic To Kill A Mockingbird is FINALLY going to be an ebook, with the author's permission! I have just read it in Sunday's Age newspaper. I bought the fiftieth anniversary edition when it came out and treasure it, but it will be nice to be able to carry it around without having to add to the weight of my bag.

If you haven't read it, now might be a good time. It's not only serious, but funny at the same time. A couple of years ago, when I decided it would be my Banned Books Week Readout, I chose, not one of the dramatic courtroom scenes, but the scene where the heroine, Scout, is having her first day at school, with a new young teacher who really doesn't know anything about the community she is teaching in and, among other things, tells Scout that she shouldn't be reading yet! If you're interested, watch it here.

I simply adore this book and will be buying the ebook as soon as it's available so I can have it with me all the time.

Saturday, July 05, 2014

Ambelin Kwaymullina's GoH Speech Now Live!

Finally the wonderful Guest Of Honour speech made by Ambelin Kwaymullina at Continuum X is up on the ASIM website. Shortly after the convention, Ambelin emailed me to say she'd written it up as an article and did we want it for ASIM? We said yes, and it's set to appear in the next issue, #61, which is due out in October. But soon after that, she emailed again to say people had been pestering her to have it online. She wondered if we could put it online for her. As it's already slotted into ASIM 61, I suggested we do both.

People kept on pestering, so she asked for a date. The web site is being revamped, but Simon Petrie, who used to be the webmaster(and is publishing it in his issue) agreed to pop it up now, himself.

In case you missed the interview she did on this website, here's the link to that: 

And here's the link to the post just up on ASIM:

Enjoy both!

Thursday, July 03, 2014

New Book Arrives!

And here it is! The book I won from the English History Authors blog!

Looking forward to reading it and letting you know what I think. I do love historical fiction, and this era is one I've been studying with my Year 8. 

I hope the sales are good on this one, Glynn. 

July 4 Meme - Happy Birthday, Amelia!

Today is already July 4 here in Australia, so I'm going to do a July 4 meme, in honour of my niece Amelia, a gifted artist and handcrafter, whose birthday it is today. Because this is a book blog, I prefer to keep, as much as possible, to literary related events and birthdays, but hey, you can't leave out American Independence Day, can you? I can and will leave out the usual run of battles and other killings. 

So here are some dates for you!


1054: sighting of a supernova by Chinese, Arab and maybe Native Americans, which was so bright it was seen by day for months. Its remains are now the Crab Nebula. Okay, not book related but as a lover of SF I'll always celebrate a celestial event over a battle. Mind you, I can only hope this supernova wasn't like the one in Arthur C Clarke's short story, "The Star" in which a priest asks himself if it was really necessary to wipe out a whole lovely civilisation to produce the Star of Bethlehem. 

1776: Signing of the Declaration of Independence by US. This is a compulsory mention, but it too has inspired a lot of writing, including the lovely musical 1776, which I saw when I was at high school, several times. In those days, the cost of going to see a musical was low enough that a school kid like me could get a ticket in the gods at child price with her pocket money. 

1862 -Lewis Carroll tells Alice Liddell the story that would become Alice's Adventures In Wonderland. 

Alice MS page. Public domain

1865: Alice's Adventures In Wonderland was published. If that isn't a day in literary history, what is?


1799: King Oscar I of Sweden, whom I'm going to mention because his mother was Desiree Clary, the subject of that gorgeous novel by Annemarie Selinko which I'm currently rereading. 

Oscar I: public domain

1804: Nathaniel Hawthorne, author of some truly scary fiction.
Mr Hawthorne. Public domain.

 I read The Scarlet Letter when I was in my teens. I believe he added the "w" to his name because he really didn't want to be related to John Hathorne, the only Salem Witch Trials judge who never repented. I see he also lived, at one stage, in a house formerly occupied by the Alcotts, as in the family of Louisa May, author of Little Women.

1927: The amazing playwright Neil Simon, whose comedies, such as The Odd Couple, have delighted us for a long time. Amelia's Dad, my brother Maurice, will be delighted to hear that, as he's a great fan.

Happy birthday, dearest Amelia! All those fireworks are for you.