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Saturday, April 30, 2016

Just Downloaded...More Simon Schama!

The book is Rough Crossings which I was interested to read because it's on a theme I've come across in Laurie Halse Anderson's Chains and Forge, about the slaves who ran off to fight for the British during the American Revolution  because the British promised them freedom and the rebels didn't. Mind you, the characters in the Anderson books are fighting for the rebels, but she pulls no punches about the fact that they had no reason to support their masters who were wittering on about freedom and such without actually including their slaves in their ramblings.

And Simon Schama does the same. The British didn't do it for altruistic reasons, of course, but to destabilise their enemies, but at least some of the former slaves got something out of it, according to him. Those who managed to get to Nova Scotia after the war got a bit of land, though not especially good land, and some went off to Sierra Leone to form colonies, well before Liberia became an African American colony. And George Washington was not at all happy when the British didn't return the thousands of slaves who had run off.

Meanwhile, I'm reading a chapter about a man in Britain called Granville Sharp, flute-playing member of a large, delightful family of amateur musicians who did weekly concerts(there's a painting of them with one of the girls waving her lute). Sharp was the twelfth child and got the least education, so was working in a clerical job when he found a slave who'd been beaten up and left for dead in the street. He arranged medical care for the man and suddenly, this became a huge part of his life, first in looking up legal information to help the ex slave when his master found out he was alive and tried to take him back, then in other cases. I was particularly interested to learn that one of the people who helped in at least one of these cases was the mother of Joseph Banks the botanist, while her son was off discovering plants Down Under with Captain Cook.

Thing is, some of the legal precedents set here made a difference across the Atlantic - the American slaves were paying close attention.

A very enjoyable read so far! Plenty more to go.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

The Pearl-shell Diver: A story of adventure from the Torres Strait, byKay Crabbe.Sydney: Allen And Unwin, 2016

Sario lives with his family on a remote Torres Strait island, which he never wants to leave - but the winds of change are stirring. The year is 1898 and the pearl-shell trade is at its height. When his father is coerced to join a white trader on his pearling lugger, thirteen-year-old Sario must go to work as a swimming diver to support the family. He can earn more as a pump diver, and is excited by the idea of walking on the sea floor, but the competition is fierce, and the only captain who will take him on runs the worst outfit in the fleet. With the constant danger of shark attack and the storm of the century approaching, can Sario provide for his family and realise his dream? 

There are quite a few novels out there about the history, trials and tribulations of indigenous Australians, some by indigenous Australian, but not a lot about the Torres Strait Islanders. I found this intriguing; they have quite a history of their own. With a lot of Islanders as students at my school, I found it especially interesting.

In 1898, around Thursday Island, where Sario must go when his mother is sick with pleurisy and needs white man medicine, there are not only Islanders, but indigenous Australians, Filipinos, Chinese, Malays and Japanese, some of them on the pearl-shell lugger where he gets a job. Australia is about two years from Federation - and the White Australia Policy. Sario's boss is not too bad, but in the end, he is hiring his young crew of various ethnicities because they're cheap and white boys wouldn't want the dangerous diving jobs. And they are dangerous, even Sario's much-wished-for pump-diving, with risks of the bends, sharks, possible tangling of the air pumps. For the crew in general there are also sharks and storms and the risks of going deaf as Sario's sister Leilani has, and having various illnesses as his mother has.

But right now, it's the only way for Sario to make a living and help his mother.

The novel is short, only 184 pages, but the characters are as well drawn as they could have been in a much longer book. Sario's new friends are people the reader comes to know and care about in the short time they appear. 

As history, it works well, and teaches us about a place and people we might not have known about before.

The only gripe I have is that the story takes a while to build up, but even there, the character and his background are also building up and by the time he gets to Thursday Island, we feel we understand him.

Suitable for late primary/early secondary students, medium level readers.

On This Day Down Under - April 28: Port Arthur Massacre

I remember that day - and the days following. I was working at a school in Melbourne's eastern suburbs. Another school in the area had a student who had died in the massacre. The other students put flowers next to her locker.

I was about to close the library for my break when two girls asked if they could come in. When I asked why now, one explained, "A friend of ours died in the massacre. We want to read the papers."

I handed them the newspaper to read wherever they wished.

It was horrifying. We don't have anything in our constitution that says we need a militia so we're entitled to bear arms. We don't have militias here and never did, as far as I know. Thank goodness.  This sort of thing happened rarely here, even then. But back then, there were certain semi automatic guns that were legal.

On April 28, twenty years ago, a nut case called Martin Bryant walked into the cafe of a popular tourist spot in Port Arthur, Tasmania, and simply shot everyone in sight. Then he repeated it in the gift shop and the car park. Then he took a car and a hostage and drove off to a house where he held off police and hostage negotiators all night before setting the house on fire and surrendering. The house's owners and the hostage were found dead.

I researched the story in more detail for my book, Crime Time: Australians behaving badly, in which it had a chapter. There are, as usual in this sort of thing, conspiracy theories and claims that because  he has a very low IQ, he couldn't have known what he was doing. However, the evidence was that he had visited the place several days beforehand to check it out, and had carefully measured the sports bag in which he carried his gun. It was decided that he was fit to stand trial, although since then, some suicide attempts in prison, he has been moved to a mental illness unit.

Afterwards, the PM, John Howard, did what, in my opinion, was the only honourable achievement of his career as PM. I'm no fan, believe me, but I was cheering when he worked at making the gun laws much stricter and held a massive gun buyback, supported by the Labor opposition.

Oh, there was a fuss from gun fans, including the husband of a friend of mine, who used to shoot at cats that entered their back yard! (She wrote about it in her church newsletter as a breach of his rights...)There were people who said it would ruin our Olympic shooting chances. There was the usual "but criminals will still get them and we won't be able to defend ourselves!" You can imagine it. I mean, who around here keeps a loaded gun to use on attacking criminals anyway? Even then? We've never had much of a gun culture here. Whatever our problems, we don't have incidents such as the woman with a loaded gun in her shopping trolley being shot by her own toddler! (And who did she imagine was going to attack her in the supermarket anyway?) Those who need them, such as farmers, can still use them - and they know how to use them. Gun clubs are still around. Unfortunately, so are hobby duck shooters. And it wasn't all guns that were banned, only certain types.

We have certainly had a few nasty incidents since then, but not many. There have been none of the regular tragedies to be found elsewhere.

 And let's face it, most of the criminals still using guns use them on each other. I know; I had a lot of reading to do for Crime Time

Saturday, April 23, 2016

A Few Shakespeare Productions I've Seen Over The Years

Shakespeare's Characters by unknown 19th c artist. Public Domain

At one time, the Melbourne Theatre Company was doing a Shakespeare at least once a year, and then the Bell Shakespeare company came along and the visiting companies from overseas. There are some plays I've never seen - they tend to stick to a few popular ones. I'm not, at this point, counting the BBC ones, though they were generally very good. I didn't see them all anyway, and wished I hadn't seen Titus Andronicus. I know that the BBC were committed to producing the lot, but what excuse was there for a movie of it a few years ago? Ugh! Murder, rape, cannibalism...okay, all the tragedies had murder of one kind or another and the rape was offstage but really! Then the poor girl has her hands and tongue cut off to keep her from blabbing. I think that one was meant to cash in on the rage for gruesome tragedies at the time and Shakespeare would have been young and not an artiste, just a working writer and actor making a living. 

The first Shakespeare play I remember seeing was on a school excursion to the visiting RSC, when we went to see The Winter's Tale. Hermione and Perdita were played as a dual role by Judi Dench, who was not yet a plump little middle aged lady; she would have been a bit old for Perdita, but just right for Hermione. I hadn't read the play then, so saw it as something new and fresh.

The next year I went to see King Lear with some schoolmates on a Friday afternoon; we were studying it for English Literature and had already seen it as a film with Paul Scofield. I vaguely recall that one as a thing set in some barbarian tribe with lots of snow. The MTC production, the first of a number of times I've seen it, had a set that looked like a spaceship with everyone in silver spacesuit-type costumes. I haven't a clue why. 

Lear is a play that needs an actor who has grown into the age and dignity for the role. There was a beautiful telemovie production with Laurence Olivier - I think John Hurt was the Fool... Okay, no films, or I'll be here forever... 

But I'm glad the wonderful Frank Gallacher, an Australian local actor, lived long enough to play it. His production was done in modern dress and seemed to be set on a farm. He comes back from the hunt in a ute, with his mates, being very loud and vulgar. It was wonderful performance!

The Barrie Kosky production, by the Bell company, was very strange, but anything he directs is. There were human "hunting dogs" and a red and white costume; a friend of mine who was there to review it explained to me that Lear was a Santa Claus figure, there to reward good daughters with gifts... I do hope not, but it wouldn't surprise me in the case of this director.  I didn't enjoy it, though there is very little you can do to wreck Shakespeare. The words and stories shine through. 

Fortunately, the last time I saw it, it was a very different matter. The amazing Ian Mckellen was Lear and Sylvester McCoy his Fool. It was the first time I ever really got what Cordelia was thinking. Mostly I think, "Oh, come on, Cordelia, give your adoring Daddy a hug and spare everyone a lot of headaches! Would it kill you to hug him?" But this Cordelia - I don't know, but it worked. She gave an awkward laugh and had a hard time expressing her thoughts... It worked. And Sylvester McCoy was captured by the Duke of Cornwall's men and hanged on stage, where he had to hang, utterly still, for nearly the whole intermission. It was based on the line "my poor fool is hanged." Some theories are that he means Cordelia and that the same actor might have played both. In fact, at my university there was a production that did that, with a lucky girl who got to play both roles. Frankly, I can't imagine Sylvester McCoy as Cordelia...

The MTC did a production called Queen Lear, in which the lead was played by a woman, Robyn Nevin. She is one of Australia's top actors and while the idea is weird, I do sometimes think it's just unfair that while Lear is there for mature male actors, there's nothing for older women but the occasional crone, such as Queen Margaret in Richard III, a role that's often left out. You can't even do Gertrude, who isn't all that old. So they let this great actress do the role and very well she did it. It wasn't the only time a company has slipped women into male roles - I've seen Cassius played by a woman in a modern dress Julius Caesar and that was weird, with the characters having to refer to Cassius as "she" and "her" instead if "he" and "him." It was not a bad production, though, with battlefield reports done on news TV. 

There's an annual summer Shakespeare in the park at the Royal Botanical Gardens in Melbourne, with A Midsummer Night's Dream as the regular production. I ended up having to attend that one twice because the first time it started to rain so the performance was cancelled halfway through and we were offered free tickets for another night. The second time was utterly magical. The evening began with the Gardens' resident bat colony flying overhead. There's a lake and the first half was among the trees, the second by the lake. Theseus and Hippolyta were doubled by Oberon and Titania. The actor playing Puck was an acrobat, who trained children for the Flying Fruit Fly Circus, a children's circus, so he knew exactly what he was doing; late in the piece he was lit up in the trees on an island in the lake. 

Another year they did Twelfth Night, but it just wasn't the same and didn't quite belong in the gardens the way The Dream did. 

I've seen the Peter Brook Dream on stage. That one was hugely famous at the time. Fairies swung from trapezes and "You Spotted Snakes" was sung accompanied by a sitar. The fairies swung glowing tubes which made a noise - I confess I bought one in the foyer at intermission! These days I only buy a programme and, if available, a CD of the score of big productions. Maybe a mug if I really, really love it. You can listen to the CD and drink from the mug, but what on earth are you going to do with a glowing tube? But I was a young uni student at the time and just couldn't resist.

Hamlet is another one I've seen many times, but the first time was performed by the Old Vic when it was in Melbourne. I went with a friend and we paid $16, in those days quite a lot, for front row seats and sat there feeling very decadent. Hamlet was played by a young Derek Jacobi. Ooh, I was lucky!  

I've only seen A Comedy Of Errors once, performed by the Bell company. It was done in modern dress and because Ephesus, the setting, is in modern Turkey, you saw a lot if exotic Turkish streets and people wearing fezes and such. A very funny and delightful production. Pity that one isn't performed more often. 

Romeo And Juliet is performed so often that I'm afraid I'm getting a little tired of it. I've seen everything from a Renaissance-costumed production to one in which Juliet makes her first appearance bopping away to an iPod. All very well, but if they're in twenty-first century dress, surely Juliet could have phoned Romeo to warn him? Or even Friar Lawrence?  

I've seen The Taming Of The Shrew set on Australua's Gold Coast; when Bianca's latest suitor turns up, the father whips out his iPad to take note of what he's offering. I've also seen it set in 1950s Australia. Hugo Weaving and Pamela Rabe, the stars, also did Much Ado About Nothing, in which Beatrice, opening herself a deck chair in the garden, gets trapped in it when she overhears Hero and the girls talking about Benedick's love for her. Pamela  Rabe, an expat Canadian, is a tall woman who fully matched Hugo Weaving, both as Kate and Beatrice. 

Another Much Ado I saw was performed in Regency costume, very Pride And Prejudice! When you think of it, the storyline is not that different, although all Bingley does is run off without having proposed, not shame Jane at the altar. And he's talked into it. 

The Bell production was set in a circus! 

Pericles, Prince Of Tyre was performed twice by the MTC. I particularly remember the first time, in which the not-very-wealthy company made jewellery by painting bottle tops gold. It's a play I'm fond of.

I've seen The Merchant Of Venice a number of times, but my favourite is the Cameri Theatre production in Tel Aviv. That was directed by a guest director from the RSC. It was translated into Hebrew by one of the country's top poets and it really did feel like Shakespeare, even in a different language. 

You know how it's listed as a comedy despite the serious bits? I think in Shakespeare that mostly just means a play that doesn't end with a pile of bodies. Anyway, this one really was very funny. Not that Shylock wasn't taken seriously - in one scene, he's shown walking past clutching his faithless daughter's hair ribbon while those arseholes Salerio and Solanio are laughing at his troubles.

But the points really were made humorously. In the first scene, set at an outdoor cafe, Antonio's friends eat his lunch and wander off leaving him to pay the bill which the waiter hands him. In some ways, he is "paying the bill" for everyone the whole play through - and is left alone on stage at the end when the happy couples go off to bed. He slowly drops the letter with the good news in it and lowers his head into his hands - and you know then that his love for Bassanio was more than just for a friend. It's not the only one I've seen that suggests this, but it was the best and subtlest; the Bell company performance opened in a male bath house. How unsubtle can you get? 

But oh, the casket scene! The Prince of Aragon was dressed as a matador; Portia rolled her eyes. And the Prince of Morocco was an Othello send-up - in fact, I saw that actor play Othello the next week. In Hebrew, of course. My Hebrew was never the best, but watching a familiar play in the language helped me. 

Oh, and for some reason Lancelot Gobbo spoke with an Italian accent - in Hebrew. 

I've seen Twelfth Night in Hebrew too. Feste had one-man-band equipment for his songs. Modern dress, of course. I was sitting at a cafe in Dizengoff Street refreshing my memory of the play when someone saw me and came over to chat about Shakespeare - the first time I've done it in Hebrew! 

The Tempest is one I've seen many times. My favourite was one with John Bell as Prospero. In that one,  Australia was the island and Ariel and Caliban were both enslaved indigenous Australians. Ariel, upon being freed, throws off her European clothes and joins a circle of indigenous women spirits. Caliban flings down his chains and spits at Prospero. 

Another one I liked very much had Frank Gallacher as Caliban. Prospero realises that Caliban has been, in some ways, a part of himself that he must embrace - and they hug each other. 

So, these are a few performances of Shakespeare I've seen and loved over the years - what memories do you have?

Friday, April 22, 2016

Just Finished Reading... The Fool's Girl by Celia Rees

Ooh, what a fun idea! A sequel to Shakespeare's Twelfth Night! I've come across other Shakespeare themed books before - for example, there was one by Sophie Masson, Cold Iron, set in Elizabethan England, with fairy characters from A Midsummer Night's Dream wandering through it. The novel itself was based on a fairytale, Tattercoats, the English version of Cinderella.

But this one was a straight sequel. You know how the characters get married and presumably live happily ever after? And Malvolio stomps off snarling, "I'll be avenged upon the pack of you!" or some  such line?

Well, it's not quite that simple. For starters, Sebastian, Viola's twin, isn't happy about merely getting to marry a beautiful, wealthy countess while his sister gets to be a duchess. And it's implied that Olivia cares more about the former Cesario than she does about her husband anyway. Dreadful things happen in Illyria, climaxing in an invasion by Venice, assisted by Sebastian and the theft of the dukedom's most precious possession, a relic of the Magi's gifts, which involves Malvolio...

All that is told in flashbacks in 1601, when Violetta, Viola's teenage daughter, and the clown Feste turn up in London, where Shakespeare is popular, but still having headaches with bad performances and  the other problems that are part of the actor/playwright/manager's life. Violetta and Feste are chasing the relic, which they have tracked down to London, and tell their story to him, in hopes that he can help. Without the relic, Violetta doesn't feel she can return to claim the dukedom rightfully hers after her parents' deaths.

Personally, I'm not sure why Sebastian should become a villain, although you do have to wonder about a young man who is perfectly happy to marry a girl he's never seen or spoken to, who drags him off the street and to a priest. (And the girl, "Whoops! Not Cesario. Oh, well." No wonder, in this novel, she is so attached to Viola, the person she actually fell in love with). But then, you never really learn much about Sebastian anyway, so who knows?

I did think there was a bit of waste in the character Tod, one of the members of Shakespeare's company who plays female roles. I was expecting him to play a significant role, then he - didn't. Really, he could have been left out without any damage to the story.

Still, this was an entertaining read which gave me a lot of pleasure as I read it over a day in bed while suffering a nasty cold the other day. And Shakespeare was just Will, a guy with a living to make, a father with a girl about Violetta's age, who wants to help her because he'd want someone to help his daughter.  We do sometimes forget that the Immortal Bard was just a man with a living to make and a family back in Stratford.

And by the way, today's Google Doodle celebrates him. Happy 452nd birthday, Will!

Monday, April 18, 2016

CBCA Long List 2016

Otherwise known as the Notables. Here they are! I'm bolding those I've read or own but am still reading. So embarrassing! This list is pinched from the Books And Publishing web site, the link sent to me by my own lovely publisher, Paul Collins, who is thrilled to bits because... Well, run an eye down the list...

Book of the Year: Older Readers
  • A Small Madness (Dianne Touchell, A&U)
  • Cloudwish (Fiona Wood, Pan Macmillan)
  • For the Forest of a Bird (Sue Saliba, Penguin)
  • Freedom Ride (Sue Lawson, Walker Books)
  • In the Skin of a Monster (Kathryn Barker, A&U)
  • Inbetween Days (Vikki Wakefield, Text)
  • Newt’s Emerald (Garth Nix, A&U)
  • One True Thing (Nicole Hayes, Woolshed Press)
  • Rich & Rare (ed by Paul Collins, Ford Street)
  • Talk under Water (Kathryn Lomer, UQP)
  • The Beauty is in the Walking (James Moloney, HarperCollins)
  • The Flywheel (Erin Gough, Hardie Grant Egmont)
  • The Guy, The Girl, The Artist and His Ex (Gabrielle Williams, A&U)
  • The Pause (John Larkin, Random House)
  • The River and the Book (Alison Croggon, Walker Books)
  • A Single Stone (Meg McKinlay, Walker Books)
Book of the Year: Younger Readers
  • 300 Minutes of Danger (Heath Jack, Scholastic)
  • Bella and the Wandering House (Meg McKinlay, Fremantle Press)
  • Bridget: A New Australian (James Moloney, Omnibus)
  • Helix and the Arrival (Damean Posner, Random House)
  • Molly and Pim and the Millions of Stars (Martine Murray, Text)
  • Run, Pip, Run (J C Jones, A&U)
  • Shadows of the Master (Emily Rodda, Omnibus)
  • Sister Heart (Sally Morgan, Fremantle Press)
  • Soon (Morris Gleitzman, Viking)
  • The 65-Storey Treehouse (Andy Griffiths, illus by Terry Denton, Pan)
  • The Cleo Stories: A Friend and a Pet (Libby Gleeson & Freya Blackwood, A&U)
  • The Cut Out (Jack Heath, A&U)
  • The Fourteenth Summer of Angus Jack (Jen Storer, ABC Books)
  • The Hush Treasure Book (ed by Karen Tayleur, A&U)
Book of the Year: Early Childhood
  • Alfie’s Lost Sharkie (Anna Walker, Scholastic)
  • As Big As You (Sara Acton, Scholastic)
  • Bogtrotter (Margaret Wild, illus by Judith Rossell, Walker Books)
  • Frog Finds a Place (Sally Morgan & Ezekiel Kwaymullina, illus by Dub Leffler, Omnibus)
  • Hop Up! Wriggle Over! (Elizabeth Honey, A&U)
  • I Need a Hug (Aaron Blabey, Scholastic)
  • I’m a Hungry Dinosaur (Janeen Brian, illus by Ann James, Viking)
  • Meep (Andy Geppert, Tiny Owl Workshop)
  • Mr Huff (Anna Walker, Viking)
  • My Dog Bigsy (Alison Lester, Viking)
  • Ollie and the Wind (Ghosh Ronojoy, Random House)
  • Perfect (Danny Parker, illus by Freya Blackwood, Little Hare)
  • Pig the Fibber (Aaron Blabey, Scholastic)
  • Piranhas Don’t Eat Bananas (Aaron Blabey, Scholastic)
  • Puddles are for Jumping (Kylie Dunstan, Windy Hollow)
  • Small and Big (Karen Collum, Windy Hollow)
  • The Cow Tripped over the Moon (Tony Wilson, illus by Laura Wood, Scholastic)
  • The Very Noisy Bear (Nick Bland, Scholastic)
  • This and That (Mem Fox, illus by Judy Horacek, Scholastic)
  • This is a Ball (Beck Stanton & Matt Stanton, ABC Books)
  • Thunderstorm Dancing (Katrina Germein, illus by Judy Watson, A&U)
  • Too Busy Sleeping (Zanni Louise, illus by Anna Pignataro, Little Hare)
  • What Do You Wish For? (Jane Godwin, illus by Anna Walker, Viking)
Picture Book of the Year
  • Adelaide’s Secret World (Elise Hurst, A&U)
  • And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda (Eric Bogle, illus by Bruce Whatley, A&U)
  • Bob the Railway Dog (Corrine Fenton, illus by Andrew McLean, Walker Books)
  • Eye to Eye (Graeme Base, Viking)
  • Flight (Nadia Wheatley, illus by Armin Greder, Windy Hollow)
  • How the Sun got to Coco’s House (Bob Graham, Walker Books)
  • In the Evening (Edwina Wyatt, illus by Gaye Chapman, Little Hare)
  • Lara of Newtown (Chris McKimmie, A&U)
  • Mr Huff (Anna Walker, Viking)
  • My Dead Bunny (Sigi Cohen, illus by James Foley, Walker Books)
  • My Gallipoli (Ruth Starke, illus by Robert Hannaford, Working Title)
  • Numerical Street (Hilary Bell, illus by Antonia Pesenti, NewSouth)
  • One Step at a Time (Jane Jolly, illus by Sally Heinrich, MidnightSun)
  • Perfect  (Danny Parker, illus by Freya Blackwood, Little Hare)
  • Platypus (Sue Whiting, illus by Mark Jackon, Walker Books)
  • Ride, Ricardo, Ride! (Phil Cummings, illus by Shane Devries, Omnibus)
  • Suri’s Wall (Lucy Estela, illus by Matt Ottley, Viking)
  • Teacup (Rebecca Young, illus by Matt Ottley, Scholastic)
  • The Eagle Inside (Jack Manning-Bancroft, illus by Bronwyn Bancroft, Little Hare)
  • What’s Up MuMu? (David Mackintosh, HarperCollins)
  • Where’s Jessie? (Brian Janeen, illus by Anne Spudvilas, NLA Publishing)
  • Why I Love Footy (Michael Wagner, illus by Tom Jellett, Viking)
Eva Pownall Award for Information Books
  • A is for Australia (Frané Lessac, Walker Books)
  • Alice’s Food A-Z (Alice Zaslavsky, illus by Kat Chadwick, Walker Books)
  • Ancestry: Stories of Multicultural Anzacs (Robyn Siers & Carlie Walker, Department of Veterans’ Affairs)
  • Anzac Sons: Five Brothers on the Western Front (Allison Marlow Patterson, Big Sky)
  • Atmospheric: The Burning Story of Climate Change(Carole Wilkinson, Black Dog)
  • Australian Kids through the Years (Tania McCartney, illus by Andrew Joyner, NLA Publishing)
  • Green Tree Frogs (Sandra Kendell, Windy Hollow)
  • Lennie the Legend: Solo to Sydney by Pony (Stephanie Owen Reeder, NLA Publishing)
  • My Gallipoli (Ruth Starke, illus by Robert Hannaford, Working Title)
  • Phasmid: Saving the Lord Howe Island Stick Insect (Rohan Cleave, illus by Coral Tulloch, CSIRO Publishing)
  • Prehistoric Marine Life in Australia’s Inland Sea  (Danielle Clode, Museum Victoria)
  • The Amazing True Story of How Babies Are Made (Fiona Katauskas, ABC Books)
  • The Girl from the Great Sandy Desert (Jukuna Mona Chuguna & Pat Lowe, illus by Mervyn Street, Magabala Books)
  • The White Mouse: The Story of Nancy Wake (Peter Gouldthorpe, Omnibus)
  • We are the Rebels: The Men and Women who Made Eureka (Clare Wright, Text).
The Notable Books acts as the longlist for the CBCA Book of the Year Awards. The shortlist will be announced at the CBCA National Conference in Sydney on 20 May and the winners at an event in Sydney on 19 August. 

Found out yet why Paul is so pleased? Here it is: 


Yes! It's that anthology published last year by Ford Street, in which I have a story, "The Boy To Beat Them All"! Something to be proud of, beginning with that gorgeous Shaun Tan cover and going on to fifty-odd stories by some of the country's top children's and YA writers. Making it to the long list is great. It would be even nicer to reach the short list, because that means sales - lots of sales - to school libraries and public library children's sections. Maybe class sets? With all those different genres to choose from - fantasy, crime fiction, contemporary, humour, romance, ghost stories - there's bound to be something to use in classes. Fingers crossed! But even a long listing means librarians who might have missed this on publication will notice it.

Well done, Ford Street and Paul Collins! 

Check it out at

Friday, April 15, 2016

Me And Charles De Lint

I've just downloaded two of Charles De Lint's novels and intend to download some more, his short stories especially. What he does - or did, at one stage, not sure if he still does - is write a short piece and produce a chapbook fir family and friends, as a Christmas gift. Then he produces a limited edition chapbook for the rest of us to enjoy. I have one of those - my sister, knowing I liked his writing, bought it for me at a second hand bookshop. And Lo, it was autographed!

In the end, though, it's the stories I love, signed or not.

Charles De Lint is a Canadian writer of mostly urban fantasy. In his stories, Celtic and Native American creatures mingle. Actually, as we learn in Moonheart, the European creatures booted out most of the indigenous spirits when they arrived, but you can still find them. Fair Folk have forests in the local park. In Jack The Giant Killer, one of the two novels I've bought, the Giants have their court in a skate rink in Ottawa, while the Faerie court is under Parliament House. You just have to be able to see them. Oh, and Jack is a girl.

There's folk music and tricksters, poets and artists and Native American beings, as well as Celtic Faeries  in his town Newford, where I have to tell you I'd move tomorrow if it existed! Who wouldn't love a place so full of creative artists, where you can go and hear folk music most nights of the week? Or meet a non human "forester" in the local park?

Moonheart was the second of his novels I read and one of my favourites. The heroine lives in a house on the line between our world and the Otherworld. She is a bookseller and a writer who works to the music of Silly Wizard(guess who went and bought one of their albums?) She meets Taliesin, the bard, who had been exiled from Europe and arrived in North America, where he made friends. Needless to say, he's rather hot!

Jack The Giant Killer was written as part of a series of fairy tale interpretations that included Pamela Dean's Tam Lin and Kara Dalkey's The Nightingałe, which was set in Japan instead of China and the nightingale was a girl who played the flute instead of a bird. It was a great series, but you can't get them all in ebook, so I grabbed this one, as well as the sequel, Drink Down The Moon, which I haven't read yet.

I was lucky enough to meet Mr De Lint and his wife Mary Ann at Swancon some years ago. Both of them are musicians and performed for us. In fact, they met when she inherited a mandolin and needed lessons. One of the attendees, Anne Poore, a brilliant harpist, simply did a jam session with them in the hotel foyer - an unofficial concert!

Lately, he's writing YA fantasy, which I must catch up with, as soon as the student currently reading it brings it back.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Unofficial A-Z Challenge: W Is For Wade, X is For Ximenes

We're nearly at the end of the alphabet. I think I'll finish here rather than going on to hunt for a Y and Z. 

So far, all my listed crooks and convicts have turned up in my book, Crime Time: Australians Behaving Badly, but today, I'm going to slip in one of whom we know  very little, who wasn't in the book, but whose surname began with X. Couldn't resist! 

W Is For Mary Wade

The Lady Juliana by Robert Dodd. Public Domain

A couple of years ago, one of my students asked me if there was anything in the library about Mary Wade. With a smile, I handed her my book, which does have a paragraph or two. She was doing a PowerPoint presentation for Year 9 History, and used the story of Mary Wade as an example of how even someone who came here in chains could do well for herself.

Mary Wade was probably the youngest female convict to be sent here, only eleven. She was lucky at that; the country was celebrating King George III's coming out of his madness, so there were some amnesties given and the young girl was sent here instead of being executed.

Why was she on death row? She and another girl had mugged and robbed a younger child in a public convenience, taking her clothes from her. Mary is supposed to have said that she was only sorry they hadn't thrown the victim in the toilets!

She came here with the Second Fleet, in 1789, on the ship Lady Juliana. In New South Wales she eventually married a fellow convict and had twenty-one children; by the time she died, she had three hundred living descendants. By then, the family was well off. In England, she had been a street sweeper.

She now has several thousand descendants, including a former Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd.

X Is For Jose Estorias Ximenes

I'm including this convict because he had a surname beginning with X. About all that I could find on-line was his convict record. He arrived in Australia along with 265 other convicts on January 31, 1839, on the ship  Theresa.  He was sentenced in Trinidad to life imprisonment in Australia. What did you have to do in those days to get a life sentence? Not much, probably,  considering what Mary Wade did to be sentenced  to death! But then, that was in the 1780s.

That's all I could find. If you, or someone you know, is a descendant, please do get in touch!

Did you enjoy this? 

My children's book on crime in Australia, Crime Time: Australians Behaving Badly, is available on line. There are plenty more stories where these come from. I've only given you rewritten snippets of some of them here. And believe me, there are some doozîes! I wrote it for children - right now, I'm reading bits of it with my literacy class - but adults can enjoy it too - and have. 

The publisher's web site,, has links to a number of web sites where you can get it, in print or ebook. If you've enjoyed this series, why not check it out?

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Unofficial A-Z Challenge: T Is For Squizzy Taylor, U Is ForUnderbelly(T-Shirts)

Squizzy Taylor

Public domain

Joseph Leslie "Squizzy" Taylor was a thief, blackmailer, drug dealer, standover man, seller of illegal booze and much else, but mostly managed to avoid prison.  Firstly, he picked easy crimes, such as blackmail. Secondly, by the time the law became involved, people had "forgotten" what they thought they'd seen.

Born in 1888, in Brighton, now a Melbourne suburb, he began as an apprentice jockey, but soon decided that crime paid better. He was imprisoned in 1908 for picking pockets as part of a gang. That was two years. In 1916, he literally got away with murder when three witnesses changed their minds; he served a year on a smaller charge. 

He was finally killed in 1927, when Snowy Cutmore, a former gang member, returned from Sydney and interfered in one of Squizzy's illegal businesses. Furious, Squizzy stormed into Snowy's Fitzroy house, where Snowy lay sick in bed, but armed. The two men shot each other. Squizzy staggered into his waiting taxi and went to hospital, where he died. He was buried in Brighton Cemetery, where his grave can still be seen.

U Is For Underbelly T-Shirts

TV series Underbelly, based on a book by two Melbourne journalists, was hugely popular in Australia in 2008.  It told the true story of Melbourne's gangland wars, with local crime families such as the Moran and Williams families as the protagonists. Everybody was watching and talking about the series, pretty much as they do about Game Of Thrones now. 

So it's probably no surprise that people cashed in. T-shirts showing the wearer to be a supporter of either the Moran or the Williams families were for sale on eBay! Undoubtedly, somewhere someone is wearing a faded t-shirt with Moran or Williams on it and wondering why they ever ordered it... 

If you enjoyed these stories, why not find the book and others on the web site of Ford Street Publishing  at this URL:

A free sample chapter is here.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Unofficial A-Z Challenge: P Is For Pearce, Q Is For Quirky Aussie Law

P Is For Alexander "Cannibal" Pearce

Alexander Pearce by Thomas Bock. Public Domain.

In 1822, eight convicts escaped from the same horrific Tasmanian penal colony as Matthew Brady(see B Is For Brady post). Only one survived, Alexander Pearce. Until then nobody had ever escaped - in fact, it was this escape that inspired Matthew Brady and his friends to have a go. 

So, these convicts escape. They spend nine miserable days in the bush and finally run out of food. They don't know how to hunt the local wildlife. Someone jokes that he is hungry enough to eat a man... They begin to kill and eat each other. Two run off, but die of exhaustion. When only two are left, Pearce kills his companion in his sleep and leaves with some bits of him.

Eventually he is caught and taken back to jail. When they ask him where are the others, he says he ate them. They don't believe him. He escapes again, with a young boy - and by this time he's hooked on human meat. He's caught again, this time with bits of his companion. This time they believe him and he hangs. But the convicts now know escape is possible...

Q Is For Quirky Aussie Law

While researching Crime Time: Australians Behaving Badly, I read somewhere that there had been a loophole in Australian taxation law that allowed crooks to claim their guns and bullets on tax, as tools of their trade. I'm assuming  this loophole was closed; I never did find out if anyone had actually tried claiming, though you do have to wonder who suddenly noticed it. Was some legal nerd reading the taxation laws one day and cried out, "Hey! This is weird!" or did some cheeky criminal try it?

If you have enjoyed these stories, why not check out my publisher's web site, for Crime Time: Australians Behaving Badly and other great books?

A free chapter sample is here.

Tomorrow: R Is For Snowy Rowles
                  S Is For Ikey Solomon

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Unofficial A-Z Challenge: M is for Montez, O is for Orton

M is For Lola Montez

Public Domain

If she'd been around now, Lola Montez would probably have had her own reality TV show. As it was, she had some celebrity lovers, including composer Franz Liszt and King Ludwig of Bavaria.  And she did this thing called the Spider Dance...

In 1855, she decided to tour Australia. After a successful Sydney season she sacked her cast without paying them and boarded a ship for Melbourne. The sheriff boarded to try to bring her back and she sent him a message from her cabin that she'd taken off her clothes and he was welcome to come in if he liked. He didn't like. The actors went unpaid and Lola went to Melbourne. After a single performance(the Spider Dance?) the police wouldn't let her do another one, so it was off to the goldfields, where she got a bad review from a Ballarat newspaper. These days, a celebrity with bad reviews would take to Twitter or Facebook to complain but Lola found the editor, Henry Seekamp, in his local pub after work and beat him with a horsewhip till he had to run away to escape her.

After that, tickets sold like hot cakes and the miners threw gold nuggets on stage.

No publicity is bad publicity, it seems.

I don't have any criminals starting with N on my list, so will go straight to O.

O Is For Arthur Orton - the Tichborne Claimant

Imagine, say, Orlando Bloom disappearing. His mother puts an ad in the paper pleading for help in finding him. She gets a reply from John Goodman, who says he's her son - and she believes him! 

In 1853, slim, attractive Roger Tichborne had a quarrel with his family and sailed off to South America, never to be seen again. Years later, in 1866, his mother, now widowed, advertised for help in finding her precious boy, whom she believed must still be alive. She had a reply from Wagga Wagga in NSW, from a butcher called Arthur Orton, an Englishman who had lived there for thirteen years.  

Roger's mother met him in France. He was overweight, farted a lot and didn't look or act remotely like Roger, but the poor woman wanted to believe. She gave him a generous allowance, but after she died he decided that was not enough. He wanted it all - title, money and estate. 

Thus began a long court case against Roger's family, which he ended up losing and going to jail. 

It wouldn't have happened today, not in this connected world - and a DNA test would settle the issue immediately, if nothing else did. 

Still, it makes an entertaining story! 

If you have enjoyed these stories, why not check out my publisher's web site, for Crime Time: Australians Behaving Badly and other great books?

A free sample chapter is here.

Tomorrow:  P Is For Alexander "Cannibal" Pearce
                  Q Is For Quirky Aussie Law

Saturday, April 09, 2016

Unofficial A-Z Challenge: R is For Rowles, S Is For Solomon

R Is For Snowy Rowles

Snowy Rowles. Public Domain

It must be every crime writer's nightmare: you write about the "perfect" crime and someone does it.

On the other hand, it also sells books.

In 1929, Arthur Upfield, author of the Bony 
series, was working on a novel. He had a day job at the time, as a boundary rider on Western Australia's Rabbitproof Fence. In the evenings, he and his comrades sat around and chatted. He spoke about his book and a crime that would really be difficult for his fictional detective to solve - not impossible, of course, but very hard. The body had to be totally destroyed. He asked for ideas, offering a pound reward for something he could use.

A man called George Richie suggested that the body be burned. The bits of bones could be sifted from the ashes, the ashes scattered and the bones pounded down, then dissolved in acid. 

Richie mentioned this to a stockman called Snowy Rowles. Rowles was listening carefully.

By the end of the year he was seen driving a car belonging to two men who had disappeared. In May 1930, another man disappeared; he had last been seen with Rowles. 

But Rowles made one mistake. He left behind a distinctive wedding ring that the man's wife recognised.

The story was soon in all the papers, along with scenes from Arthur Upfield's new book. 

Well, somebody had to do well out of it.

S Is For Ikey Solomon

If you've ever read Charles Dickens' Oliver Twist I bet you never thought that the real life "Fagin" had an Australian connection, did you? Dickens was a journalist at the time and attended his trial.

Ikey Solomon, the man who inspired Fagin, was sentenced and was on his way back to prison when he escaped, with the help of the coachman, who was his father-in-law! He managed to get as far as the U.S., where he might have stayed for the rest of his life, but when his wife, Ann, was transported to Tasmania for receiving stolen goods, he followed her there.

Now things get truly weird. Everyone in the colony knew who he was, but without the paperwork he couldn't be arrested. And that took months to come from England. When it finally arrived, he was sent back to England for trial, the one Dickens attended ...and sentenced to be sent to Tasmania!

Solomon died in 1850 and was buried in the Jewish cemetery in Hobart. 

Did you enjoy these stories? There are plenty more in my book.

Check out the Ford Street Publishing web site here:

A free sample chapter is here.

Tomorrow: T Is For Squizzy Taylor, U Is For Underbelly(T-Sirts)