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Thursday, December 31, 2015

My New Year's Eve Tradition: Rocky Horror Picture Show

This time last year I was wondering if it would be the last time. The Astor Cinema was being sold and the owner kicked out. But then, a miracle - instead of being turned into fancy apartments it was bought by the Palace Cinemas group, which bought all the films the Astor shows and really, they have kept it pretty much as it was. There's even a new cat to follow on from Marzipan, the tortoiseshell cinema cat who lived to be twenty years old. Her successor, Duke, is black and white. He is a rescue cat from the animal shelter. We came across him in the street after the movie and the girls cooed over him and stroked him, much to his enjoyment.

I have been going to the annual Rocky Horror Picture Show on New Years Eve for the last five years or so, and since last year I've gone with my nephew David, his girlfriend and his two daughters, Dezzy and Rachel, plus my niece Amelia. It's a fun event and you don't have to stay up till midnight, which is something I no longer bother about. People dress up and compete for a prize in the costume parade. I know that these days it's called cosplay but that's what we call it at the cons I attend and anyway, that's what it was called tonight by the MC, who dresses as Frank'N'Furter.

There is a lot of clowning around beforehand, including , tonight, two Rocky Horror "virgins" who hadn't seen it before, who were called up on stage to make orgasm sounds. The young woman was chosen to win the prize, then the movie began. The cinema hires a bunch of actors to stay on stage and act out the film along with the cast on screen.

And there's the interactive stuff, including throwing rice and spraying water and even, later in the film, toast. I'd hate to be having to clean up afterwards! And people sing along and call out at certain points. And you dance the Time Warp - I always get up for that.

Of course, there's always someone, at least one, who overdoes the "interactive" and yells constantly so no one else can enjoy the movie. Tonight's idiot wasn't even the usual young man, he was grey-haired and balding. You'd think he would have outgrown this sort of stuff, but they do tend to think they're funny. I guess he must have been a fan for many years, maybe since the cult thing began. I know I first discovered it many years ago, myself,  on my first overseas trip. My cousin and his wife took me to a local cinema to see it. I wondered why so many people had brought candles and rice - I soon found out.  It was a very new fandom  back then.

I do love it - seen it many times on stage and screen alike, but it's kind of nice to see the film and know that the actor playing RiffRaff is the show's composer, Richard O'Brien(who, incidentally, had a piece in an issue of ASIM). The woman playing Magenta was in I, Claudius as Claudius's dreadful sister.  And there's Tim Curry, who was the very first sexy Pirate King in The Pirates of Penzance.

It's such a joyous tribute to those old science fiction B movies, you can't help singing and dancing along. If you've never seen it, do give it a go!

Anyway, that's my New Year's Eve. I hope yours was just as enjoyable.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Compulsory New Year's Eve Post: My Year In YA Books

I started the year with a binge of Aurealis Awards books, but it's hard to remember how many I read in 2015 and how many I actually read last year. I did keep a "shelf" on Goodreads, but as my Goodreads Year In Books only shows eleven(I've read lots more than that!) I have to assume I read most of the fifty-odd entries in the children's section last year. Anyway, there were some good ones. I'm going to stick to those I remember enjoying most.

I read two of John Fanagan's Brotherband novels, Scorpion Mountain and Slaves Of Socorro, both very entertaining. These are set in the universe of Ranger's Apprentice, of course, in which Skandia, the Viking equivalent, has changed from raiding to the much more profitable and much less messy guarding of various countries they used to raid. The heroes are a bunch of kids who were picked last for teams in the annual Brotherband boot camp and are led by Hal Mikkelsen, that technological genius.

The winner of this year's AA children's section was Carole Wilkinson's wonderful Shadow Sister, the latest in her Dragonkeeper fantasy series set in early China. To read that properly I had to go back and read the others in the series, as I'd only read the first(we have them in my school library). A series well worth reading!

There were Laurinda by Alice Pung and Cloudwish by Fiona Wood, which I mention together because they had similar themes: Asian girl from working class family in Melbourne gets a scholarship to an exclusive private school and encounters a group of snobby girls. But they diverged from each other in other aspects. Laurinda is mostly about the heroine's experiences at the school and how she feels about the nasty girls. Cloudwish is about the heroine's romance with a fellow student and her concern for her mother, who suffers PTSD from her truly horrible voyage to Australia as a refugee. It's also a love letter to Melbourne. And it has plenty of gentle humour among the serious stuff. Both books are great, read them!

I read and thoroughly enjoyed Sean Williams' Twinmaker trilogy. It's breathtaking non-stop action and it's true science fiction. And it handles the implications of certain technologies which many SF novels and films just use casually as background. The books are Jump, Crash and Fall. 

Rebecca Lim's The Astrologer's Daughter was a delightful mixture of suspense, mystery and fantasy, just a bit, as the heroine tries to find out what has happened to her mother and solve a cold-case murder using her knowledge of astrology. (This is despite the irritating title, which is one of a huge number of books entitled The (fill in occupation)'s Daughter.)

Moving outside of Australia for the moment, I read a number of books by American author Laurie Halse Anderson, whom I had heard speak at Reading Matters conference. 

Two were historical fiction, Chains and Forge, set during the American Revolution and seen from the viewpoint of slaves, who had no special reason to care who won the war. It wasn't only the South that had slaves in those days. If you google "American Presidents who had slaves" as I did, you'll find only four out of the first eleven who didn't. The author also spoke of her disappointment at discovering that Benjamin Franklin, whom she "would totally have dated!" was a slave owner.

She also writes wonderful contemporary fiction. Speak is about a girl who was raped last summer and has to deal with the fact that she is the one whom her schoolmates are snubbing this year. In flashbacks, we gradually learn what happened. 

Wintergirls is about anorexia and bulimia, with a touch of fantasy. Oh, dear! And it's so very believable.

The Impossible Knife Of Memory is set in the small town where the heroine's war-damaged soldier father grew up, and how she works at helping him to recover, with the help of the local cute boy who has his own troubles. 

Laurie Halse Anderson is a prolific writer, so if you decide you like her work, there's plenty more where that came from.

The Rest Of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness is more or less about what it might be like to be the "Muggle", the non Scooby Gang member, in general the non Chosen One in a town not unlike Buffy The Vampire Slayer's Sunnydale, and even has a cheeky reference to the high school burning down AGAIN as a result of supernatural goings-on(see Buffy if you haven't).

Back to Australia, we have Green Valentine by Lili Wilkinson, a deliciously funny romantic comedy about a girl, a boy, a lobster costume and guerrilla gardening. Read it! End - or begin - your year with this funny, funny book.

There's more but these ones came to mind. I've finished them all, but am reading plenty of others, which I will share with you in the New Year.

Today the forecast is 39'C, so I may spend the day sorting books and cleaning with my fan going, and thus evening it's off to the Astor Theate for The Rocky Horror Picture Show, which I will see with some family members. Rocky Horror has become my tradition since Dad died soon before New Year's Eve six years ago and I decided that I just didn't care about midnight and champagne any more. 

See you in 2016! 

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Published Around This Time in 2013

Here's a link to my last post for 2013. It was mostly about having to teach Year 8 history in 2014, but also about researching in primary sources, such as the Australian Women's Weekly 1933 editions. You can find those on the National Library of Australia's web site, in the Trove section, along with newspapers going back to 1803; I used some historĂ­cal newspapers from Trove to research my short story for Rich And Rare.

Read, enjoy, in case you missed it!

And here's a link to 51 Australian YA novels published  that year, including some that were on the CBCA shortlist.

I am ashamed to admit I only read a few of them. Some are on my cyber bookshelves. One of the, Sean Williams' Jump, I have only finished recently. But check the list out - there's some great stuff there.

Back later - I'm off to the beach. 

Monday, December 28, 2015

A Message From Google

Here's a link to Satima Flavell's blog, in which she passes on the latest message about Google's decision to retire something that people have found useful but which Google doesn't. This time it's about whether you can use Google Friend Connect using things other than a Google account.

From now on, you can't. Mind you, I think I set it up a while ago so that you needed a Google account. Mainly it was because of all the spam I'd been receiving - but it didn't help as much as making comments appear after approval, because some spammers just set up a Google account and keep spamming. And really, that's all that will happen now. I'm never sure why Google does these things, but as Satima says on her post, it's quite painless, although you do have to give them your mobile number before you can join. That's for security reasons, so fear not, no one is going to ring you.

I hope you'll consider this blog worth opening a Google account to follow. I blog regularly about all sorts of good stuff, and you can even comment!

Saturday, December 26, 2015

On This Day - December 27

Searching for things that happened on December 27, I found quite a bit, most of it violent, and not a lot about books or writing, so what is here is what most appeals to me as a creator of writing and a lover of "sensawunda" inspired by adventure and discovery.   

537 - Completion of Hagia Sophia. The building of this church in Istanbul was part of The Sarantine Mosaic, an AU series by fantasy writer Guy Gavriel Kay(who, incidentally, worked with Christopher Tolkien on editing and completing Tolkien's Silmarillion)

Hagia Sophia internal, done in 1852. Public domain.

1831 - Charles Darwin sets sail in the Beagle, on which voyage he starts to think of the theory of evolution.

Public domain image 

1968 - Splashdown of Apollo 8. The astronauts, Frank Borman, James Lovell and William Anders, while on board, read from the Book of Genesis as a Christmas thing.

Not many writers I have heard of were born on this day, and none I had read, though I have come across the fairy tale collection of Lady Wilde. So here are some birthdays I like.


1570 - Johannes Kepler - famous astronomer. He hung out with another famous astronomer, Tycho Brahe(who had a brass nose and kept a pet moose)

1821 -
Public domain image

Jane Wilde - poet. As well as being Oscar Wilde's Mum, she was big on politics(the newspaper for which she wrote under a pen name, Esperanza, was closed down for publishing her demand for a revolution in Ireland), women's rights and collected Irish fairy tales. The fairy tales are what she's best known for. 

1822 - Louis Pasteur - the bacteria man, known as "the father of microbiology". If not for him, a lot of us would be very sick and die a lot more easily.

Public domain image

1911 - Anna Russell - amazing stand-up comedian who specialised in talking about - and sending up - famous music. When she realised that her decent soprano voice wasn't going to get her a place in opera, she used it instead to help her in her routines. If you haven't come across her, you'll find her on YouTube, mostly her recordings, but her hilarious retelling of the entire Ring Cycle of Wagner in twenty minutes, with piano and bits of the songs, is a concert she did in her later years. That's definitely worth a look, because her facial expressions are as entertaining as what she says and sings. 

Today is the Feast Day of John The Evangelist - he is said to have written one of the Gospels, and I've mentioned him here because he is, among other things, the patron saint of writers and publishers. Go, John! 

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Fall(Twinmaker 3) by Sean Williams. Sydney: Allen and Unwin, 2015

This is the final volume in the Twinmaker trilogy. If you've been reading along, you will know that so far, teenager Clair Hill, an ordinary girl in a world where the fabber (Star Trek's replicator) and d-mat(Star Trek's transporter) are a part of everyday life for everyone, finds herself involved in a lot of scary goings-on arranged by high-up figures who have been using both for their own ends. At the end of Volume 2(Crash) the world more or less came to an end, most of the population and anything created by fabber wiped out and Clair(one version of her, anyway) went to the virtual world of the Yard, where she found her friends(or versions of them) - and enemies.

Now, in Fall, the versions of the characters in the Yard and the versions surviving the catastrophe outside are trying to do one thing: get the people trapped in the Yard out. And there are others trying to block up the Yard forever...

That is a short description of a novel that has non stop action from beginning till nearly the end. I seriously think these books might make films now that The Hunger Games and Divergent are over. Of course, it might get confusing when there are so many different versions of the heroine and her friends and enemies. When you read the book it's confusing enough, with Clair 1, 2 and 3(Clair 3 is actually Clair 7 - no, I won't explain, you have to read it!). Characters who were killed in the first two volumes are back again, in the Yard, where their patterns were stored. And there is more than one version of the AI Q, Clair's friend, who wants, above all, to protect her.

But there is so much action,  and, unlike the average airport thriller, characters do stop to eat, drink, sleep and recover from injuries. Twinmaker would make a very exciting film series.

 Boys might enjoy the trilogy as much as girls, though it's for good readers only - the language is not for reluctant readers and despite the speed of the narrative, characters do stop to discuss the science of what is happening.

Much recommended for good readers from about fourteen upwards.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Today's Guest is ... Hazel Edwards!

A few years ago, I was at a bookshop signing with Ford Street Publishing. My table mate was Hazel Edwards, a much more famous writer than myself, who actually makes a living from this! Hazel's new book, F2M: The Boy Within, written with young transgender man Ryan Kennedy, had just been published by Ford Street, and a wonderful book it is, too, funny and charming, not one of those "Oh, woe is me, nobody understands me!" novels, and just as much about punk rock as being transgender.

But nearly everyone who approached our table was a huge fan of There's A Hippopotamus On Our Roof, Eating Cake and that, not the new YA novel, was what they wanted signed! Poor Hazel! (Ryan wasn't there that day)

She has done a lot of travelling which in its turn led to books inspired by the travel, using absolutely everything in her life as meat for the writing.

Now Hazel has written her memoir, using something she calls "anecdultery" as its style.

I'll let her tell you about it in the interview questions below. Welcome to The Great Raven, Hazel!

 Hazel Edwards’ ‘Not Just a Piece of Cake; Being An Author” (Brolga)

Why did you write this memoir?

It was a new intellectual challenge AND taking a risk hoping the result would be satisfying for the reader too.
Health reasons meant I couldn’t fly for months, so via a memoir, I answered the questions readers often ask of me as an author and mentor. I have been frequently asked about the workstyle process of longterm creativity, especially when you have a family as well.
I had been published since my mid twenties and turned 70 this year, so it seemed timely.

How did you choose the title?

Often writing for children is considered easier, ‘ a piece of cake’ It isn’t. There is a misconception that briefer is less important or less skilled to craft.
A ‘memoir’ is meant to be only a slice of life which fits the cake theme.
To what extent is it a family history?
Slightly. It deals with my father’s legacy of ideas and intriguing ancestors like my paternal Scottish grandmother Agnes.There are  some childhood influences of living in a country general store.

What do you reveal about juggling family life with writing?

·      Candid reality. Ironic humour.  Survival skills like not ironing and birthday gifts of gourmet cooking lessons for males.
·      Risk-taking; physical adventure like Antarctic expeditions or Spirited Women’s Trekking in Nepal but also mental challenges.
·      A few sociological example of attitudes towards working women during the periods of political and educational change in 1970s and post Whitlam era. Being a mature aged student, with a baby and no sleep.

Is it suitable for children to read?
Yes, but it is mainly aimed at nostalgic adults and those interested in writing or leading a creative workstyle.192 of my books are not hippo-centric. Social issues such as others coping successfully with being different, physically, politically or culturally have always interested me. ‘Diversity’ is the current label.

To what extend would it be helpful for new writers?
It is realistic about the risks, plus the time and energy required to develop skills in order to survive longterm as a creator and even as an authorpreneur.
How does your family feel about it?

  My husband Garnet has always been supportive of my writing and that’s vital, especially in the beginning. My daughter Kim is my marketing manager who has dragged me into the digital decade (it’s her day job elsewhere too) and my grandsons are ‘yawn-testers’. I’ve co-written two ‘adventurous memoirs’ with my son who wore out two pairs of boots doing the real walking or cycling and my son-in-law helps when I ask him research questions.

What were the greatest challenges?

There was experimenting with a new kind of writing: anecdultery, and formatting in a new style of storytelling. Brolga Publishers’ project manager Wanissa was endlessly patient.
I’m hopeless at manipulating the resolution and size of photos. I left out some because they were in the wrong format.
Getting the tone right in the captions.
Deciding what to include and what to leave out.

You lived through a period of great sociological change in attitudes towards females. How is this shown in your book?
 It discusses the impact of PM Whitlam’s funding for mature aged students and the importance of a partner who believed in sharing roles.

What is a Questory?

Quest+ story The process of finding out as you write. The writer’s journey. ‘Quest’ is my son’s middle name.
What is anecdultery?

Telling stories as anecdotes.

What is your next project?

Hijabi Girl is a junior chapter book about a feisty girl who wears a hijab in an Australian mainstream school. It was co-written with a Muslim librarian, Ozge Alkan, who has a hijab and a sense of humour, and illustrated by Serena Geddes. It had 41 rejections from mainstream publishers so I decided to self publish.

Hazel's memoir is a
vailable from Booktopiahere.

It is also available at all good bookshops!

Hazel’s Relevant Books:  All details, publishers links, ISBNs etc are listed at
 and some available as e-books or print from

‘Not Just a Piece of Cake: Being an Author’, ISBN: 1922175803 978-1922175809 Brolga. 2015  

‘Writing a Non Boring Family History’, Hale& Iremonger/GHR Press, 2011
 ISBN: 9780868067162

‘ Authorpreneurship: The Business of Creativity’ Keesing Press ISBN: 978-0-9752083-8-0, 2013.

Antarctic Writer on Ice: Diary of an Enduring Adventure’ ISBN:  978-0-9871575-4-6

Trail Magic: Going Walkabout for 2184 Miles on the Appalachian Trail’.
Brolga, 2013, Co-authored with Trevelyan Quest Edwards, 2014, ISBN: 9781922175359

Cycling Solo;Ireland to Istanbul’, Brolga ISBN: 1-920785-92-2, 2016 Co-authored with Trevelyan Quest Edwards

The Business of Writing for Young People’, ISBN: 978-0-9871575-5-3
   co-authored with Goldie Alexander. 1998,2014 (pdf)
‘Non Boring Travel Writing’: ISBN 978-0-9871575-8-4 2001, 2014, Publisher; Garnet (

Friday, December 18, 2015

In The Middle Of Reading...

Well, quite a lot, really, but the two I have in my bag this blazing hot summer day are Angie Sage's Pathfinder, the first of a spinoff series set in the Septimus Heap universe, and Rhiannon Hart's Blood Queen.

I've never actually read the Septimus Heap novels and while it's possible to read this spinoff without having read them, I get the feeling that the back history counts for a lot. The characters from that series, including Septimus, do turn up, and in one scene the heroine, Todhunter Moon(Tod for short) is treated to a family history over dinner. I have had this one on my TBR pile for months, snatching time to read a chapter here and a chapter there, but now I really must finish it, because they've sent me the sequel. Hopefully that will be done in the next couple of days, followed by a review.

Another book that has been on my pile for too long is the Hart one and that was entrusted to me by the author, so that, too will be done soon. So far, it has been trundling along nicely, better once the heroine left her home rather hurriedly and found herself on the road with a man with what sounds to me like a Scottish accent.  No spoilers here.

Anyway, you should see these two reviewed shortly.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

In Which I Go To The Movies(Star Wars!)

So, last night I went to see Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens. (No photos in the post because, copyright restrictions.)

I had the choice of going to the swimming pool and had my togs and towel all ready. It was a HOT day(more today and tomorrow). But.

But the cinema was air conditioned and it was my big chance to see this movie as I did the first: on impulse, after school.

I remember that day. There were normally queues going around the corner, but for the 5 p.m session I just bought a ticket and went in. I sat near the front, and was glad I had, because that first huge spaceship(beautifully sent up in Spaceballs) swooped over me in a way it wouldn't if I'd been sensible and sat near the back. I remember being swept away by it, and why not, since it was The Hero's Journey of Joseph Campbell, the perfect description of Adventure with a capital A. The years went by. There were two more films in the trilogy, ending with a joyous party and young Luke Skywalker, the hero, gazing into the night and seeing the shades of his two mentors and his redeemed father standing smiling at him. 

More years went by and there was another trilogy, about his father and how he went from a sweet little boy to the Dark Lord Of the Sith. Not as good as the original trilogy, but I went to all three anyway. 

And now, finally, there has been a sequel to the original trilogy, with three young folk to follow in the footsteps of the original three young folk, and it's good! Very good! Not only that but some of the original characters play an important role in it, they don't just do walk ons. Interestingly, the Luke Skywalker character is the girl, not either of the boys, and she is the main character. Nice! Princess Leia was strong, very strong - once rescued she told the others to get out of her way and just got on with it, and even in that slave girl outfit, she strangled Jabba the Hutt with her chain -  but she was not the protagonist. Young Rey is. And I believe it passes the Bechdel test, where two named female characters are talking about something other than a man. 

I am determined to keep this spoiler free as much as I can, but I will advise you to watch the original trilogy first, if you haven't, because something happens in this film that might just spoil the originals for you if you go backwards. So find one of the last remaining video libraries or download from an online service, but watch them first.

This time, as the first, I sat near the front - three rows from the front, in fact, perfect, because it was just far enough, in a raked auditorium, to be able to enjoy spaceships swooping overhead without craning. 

Anyway, loved it! Anyone else been yet? What did you think?

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Happy Birthday, Beethoven!

Portrait by Joseph Karl Stieler. 
Public Domain.

This morning there was an article in the Age newspaper about the Peanuts movies; apparently there is a new one and the author said you can access the 1965 one on YouTube.

That made me think about my relationship with the Peanuts strip and the characters, including Schroeder - remember him? Schroeder was the musician of the group, playing elaborate works on his toy piano. And he was a passionate fan of Ludwig Van Beethoven. And one of the things he did was celebrate  Beethoven's Birthday.

That reminded me that it actually IS Beethoven's birthday today. And like Schroeder, I'm a fan. A big fan. When I was taking piano lessons I had this craving to learn the Moonlight Sonata - well, I did get as far as the first few bars, anyway, the bit that goes Dah Dah Dah, Dah Dah Dah, Dah Da DAH, anyway... I did learn Fur Elise, which isn't as hard as it sounds if you're a piano pupil.

But the symphonies ... Ah, the symphonies! Not only the Fate Knocks At The Door bit at the beginning of the Fifth(if it was a scene from Shakespeare that would be the balcony scene from Romeo and Juliet, in that it's the bit everybody knows, or thinks they do), but the Third(Eroica), the Sixth (Pastoral) and oh, the glorious Ninth!

Beethoven makes an appearance in Annnemarie Selinko's novel Desiree, and of course, the Eroica was meant to be dedicated to Napoleon, till Napoleon stuffed up in Beethoven's eyes. It's the only time I've read about him in a novel, though I did see the movie Immortal Beloved, a gorgeous film about Beethoven.

I've heard the Sixth performed and remember the sudden admiration for the way all the instruments worked together, yet you could hear each one individually.

And then there was the one and only opera, Fidelio, a delightful piece which the Australian Opera hasn't done in years, though it will keep repeating some others, mutter mutter Butterfly...

I loved the music, but also the storyline in which only the bad guy loses and the wife rescues her husband and the final chorus is about how great it is when a woman rescues her husband.

But mostly the music.

Happy birthday, Beethoven! And to all my readers, Happy Beethoven's Birthday!

This Week's iBooks Freebie - Claudia Gray!

I do love browsing iBooks! There are, of course, the $4.99 and below bestsellers, but sometimes also free first of a series. And in this case, the first of a series book of the week is A Thousand Pieces Of You by Claudia Gray, who wrote the Evernight series. It looks good, too, with alternative universes and a heroine racing through them to catch up with her father's killer.

I've read and enjoyed a couple of the Evernight novels, which I found entertaining; we have them all in my library. Those are vampire stories with a twist or two. Evernight is a boarding school for vampires who died as teens(one of them has been around since the Dark Ages and never really got the hang of any era after his own) and have to come back to school to update their knowledge of modern culture. Their holiday homework usually involves doing something to practise their new knowledge. There are a few unknowing human students who are strictly off limits - you want a blood meal, you go fang a squirrel or something!

I took a group of girls from my school to see Claudia Gray when she was in Melbourne, doing a free talk at Dymock's Bookshop in the city. It was a Sunday, so I had to send a note to their parents, promising faithfully to look after them. They enjoyed the outing and the talk and I took photos of them with her when she was signing. The first thing she did when she came on stage was ask everyone to look scared so she could post a photo on her Tumblr page. When I checked it out later, there were only two if us in the audience actually doing the scared thing(I was one of them).

Anyway, new book! Free! Presumably this week only, so if you're a fan, now is the time to get it.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

New Goodies On My Cyber Bookshelves!

I don't know about you, but I sometimes browse through the "bestsellers for $4.99 and under, temporarily" list in iBooks. You never know what you'll find. This time it was To Catch A Thief by David Dodge, on which the movie was based - you know the one, a Hitchcock adventure made in Monte Carlo, with Grace Kelly - her last movie, because she met Prince Rainier and married him, to become Princess Grace. The story was entertaining and the visuals stunning. So far, so entertaining - I didn't know it was based on a novel. It was very cheap too - I told my sister, who adores that movie, and she got it too.

I bought a couple of anthologies published by local small presses, one by David McDonald(Cold Comfort), one by Dirk Flinthart, Striking Fire. I am waiting for the planned book of Red Priest stories which will collect all those Robert E Howard-style stories we published in ASIM some years ago, and wonderful stories they were, too. Dirk does terrific adventure, though "The Best Dog In The World", the story he had in Worlds Next Door, a collection of children's fiction, made me sniffle a lot if not cry. It was not really a children's story, but to have left it out would have been a crime.

Anyway, no Red Priest stories just yet, so for the time being I will enjoy Striking Fire.

I picked up a Gutenberg copy of Jane Eyre because I felt like a reread after finishing Cloudwish, in which the heroine is constantly quoting from it. It was one of the books that went missing when my old iPad broke. Most came back on a backup, some didn't. Fortunately, this one was easy to get back.

 I yielded and bought Tournament at Gorlan, the new Ranger's Apprentice prequel. I am not allowing myself to read it till I have finished the last couple of books from the original series. The good news is that the title Ranger's Apprentice: The Early Years suggests - to me, at least - that it may be Te start of a new series. If so, I'm looking forward to reading how Halt stole those ponies from this universe's Mongols to breed for the Ranger Corps.

Plenty to read over the holidays, then. What are you reading?

Friday, December 04, 2015

Just Finished Reading... Cloudwish by Fiona Wood


I confess I had begun reading Wildlife on my iPad and never got around to finishing it, though it was on last year's CBCA shortlist(and won!) I have, over the years, tried to read the shortlist, at least the Older Readers category, but never quite manage it these days. Must go back to finish it.

Meanwhile, I had bought a copy of Cloudwish for my library and as my library technician, Lucy, was processing it, she said,"Ooh, this one is interesting! It's set in Melbourne and mentions places I know!"

In the end, it was agreed that she should take it home to read and I'd buy the ebook. With luck, it will be on next year's shortlist and then I will have made a start...

So I bought it on Wednesday and finished it last night.

Interesting indeed. I have just come across a SMH interview which tells me that the author volunteers  at a Friday night homework club and tutored a Vietnamese girl from Year 6 onwards - presumably  where she got the idea for the novel, and I'm guessing that she slipped herself in as the tutor called Debi, who was tutoring the heroine, Van Uoc, from primary school and got her enthused about Jane Eyre. Well, why not? I've never done that myself, but mainly because my own fiction is set in fantasy worlds, not present day Melbourne.

The reason why I feel guilty about not finishing Wildlife is that I suddenly realised, as I read, that it's set in the same universe as Six Impossible Things and Wildlife. And, surfing back to the interview I ran with the author on this blog shortly before Wildlife appeared, I found she had, in fact, mentioned a trilogy.

I say, "set in the same universe" because while it refers to things that happened  in the previous book, you can enjoy it standalone. What the author has done is taken minor characters from one book and expanded them to protagonists in the next. 

In this case, the heroine is Van Uoc(translated as Cloudwish), a Vietnamese Australian girl, daughter of refugees, who won a scholarship to Crowthorne Grammar and has to make sure her study habits and behaviour are perfect to keep that scholarship. Her parents, who work at low paid jobs, dream of her becoming a doctor and living in a mansion in expensive Melbourne suburb Kew. Van Uoc is hiding the fact that she wants to study art, at least until she finishes school.

The novel starts with her in a creative writing class where her "story starter" is a small glass vial with a piece of paper with the word "wish" written on it. She fervently wishes for the love of the class hunk, Billy Gardiner, a jock who is on the first eight rowing team - and suddenly, this boy who has never noticed her is in love! At first she thinks he is playing a nasty prank and setting her up for humiliation. When she realises that isn't the case, she can't stop herself from wondering if that wish she made is the cause. If so, does she just accept and enjoy? Does she try to fix things because it's not the real thing? 

What would Jane do? That is, Jane Eyre, around whose philosophy she has built her entire attitude to life. 

If this had been all - and it does take up a large chunk of the book - it could have been just a gentle rom-com, and there would have been no special need to set it in an exclusive private school. But that isn't all.  There is her mother, suffering from PTSD after something that happened on the refugee boat many years ago. There is the class divide. Even when she visits Billy's house to do homework she notices that the entrance hall is bigger than the entire living and kitchen area in her family's Housing Commission flat. She never goes on holiday, while her classmates are always talking about their overseas trips. Her clothes are limited to jeans and basic op shop tops hole they wear designer products. She can't bring anyone home to the shabby flat, so doesn't generally visit other homes. 

These elements rather reminded me of Alice Pung's Laurinda, in which there was also a gifted Asian girl of working class background studying at an exclusive private school, on a scholarship. Like Van Uoc, Alice Pung's heroine didn't feel she could take anyone home, had a mother who sewed clothes from home and met a group of Mean Girls she had to deal with. There was no teen romance, though, as the school was a girls' school. The Mean Girls were intelligent - just mean. And they invited her to join them. In this novel, the Mean Girls are shallow, so easier to eventually send off tails between legs. And Van Uoc does have a few sort-of friends at the school, including Lou, a minor character in Six Impossible Things and a main character in Wildlife, along with Sibylla, another main character in that book. I don't recall the heroine of Laurinda having much to do with the girls at her new school. 

I was a bit vague about the suburbs in which Cloudwish was set. East Melbourne I know only as a rather expensive suburb with a lot of pretty terrace houses, in one of which my publisher Allen and Unwin is located. I didn't realise there were any working class areas there, but then St Kilda is a mixture of expensive homes and people on welfare benefits of various kinds, so why not? 

Anyway, interesting. Now I'll have something to talk about in my last Book Club meeting for the school year. I'm planning the usual party and encouraging the kids to borrow something for the holidays. 

Wednesday, December 02, 2015

When You Can't Get Back To Sleep... lie in bed, as I'm doing now, and write something. Too early to get up, too late to sleep again. The first trams have rattled past below and soon my clock radio will play what I hope will be soothing classical music...

My bedside table is piled high with books I have already read, because I can't get to sleep if I want to know  what's happening next. So I reread, for comfort.  Tonight's reread is Terry Pratchett's Wintersmith, the third Tiffany Aching novel. I find myself very comfortable with the Tiffany books. They are terrific Discworld novels in their own right, but have characters I love from other Discworld novels, Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg, and in this book they play a major role. And Granny gets a cat, a small white kitten she calls You. She doesn't, the author tells us, do fancy. You is small, sweet and white, but scares Greebo, Nanny's cat, who scares wolves just by grinning at them.

In this novel, Tiffany makes the mistake of dancing with the spirit of winter when she's supposed to be just watching, and disasters happen. Fortunately she has the Feegles to help, those tiny Scottish-accented warriors.

I haven't been able to bring myself, yet, to read the final Pratchett novel. Because, you see, it is the last. Apparently he died with lots of ideas and outlines, and his daughter had permission to continue the series, but won't, perhaps wisely.

Think about all those books coming out these days that are finished versions of manuscripts left unfinished or sequels to hugely popular books. I haven't read many, can't bring myself to. Of those I have... Well, there was Stephen Baxter's Timeships, the official sequel to H.G Wells' The Time Machine. I found it very entertaining, but you know what? I've gone back and reread The Time Machine, but never Timeships, though I do admire Stephen Baxter. David Lake's The Man Who Loved Morlocks is a classic in its own right(pity it's long out of print! I wonder if there's an ebook), a wonderful book, and his "The Truth About Weena", in the first Dreaming Down Under Anthology, is delightful. But neither of them is H.G Wells.

The sixth Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy book, written after Douglas Adams' death, had everything going for it. It was based on his notes. His widow approved the choice of author, Eoin Colfer, author of the wonderful Artemis Fowl series. And yet, for me, it just didn't work. Colfer perhaps tried too hard to imitate Adams' style and couldn't quite get it right. In all fairness, I don't think Douglas Adams himself quite got it right after The Restaurant At The End Of  The Universe. There are some Hitcher's purists who hate everything after  the first novel, but I don't. In fact, I think the second was really just part of the first, only he missed the deadline for the umpteenth time and they just snatched the MS off him and published the damn thing.

I shudder at the thought of someone , even Terry Pratchett's daughter, trying to imitate his style and write more Discworld, even using his notes.

So the Discworld novels we do have will have to do me as comfort reading, late at night when I can't sleep. Fortunately there are plenty of them and I have most of them.