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Wednesday, March 30, 2016

March 31 - Born On This Day!

Not much in the way of joyful events for this day - dear me, what's wrong with history? (Did you know they began building the Titanic On This Day?)

 However, a few exciting people were born on March 31 over the centuries, so here are the ones I know best. Enjoy! 

1621 - Andrew Marvell - English poet, author of such beauties as "To His Coy Mistress" which urges the lady to sleep with him now, because while "the grave's a fine and private place...none, I think, do there embrace."  He was a republican during Cromwell's time, managed to survive without too much hassle in the Restoration monarchy and even talked Charles II out of executing John Milton, author of Paradise Lost,  who was a close friend of Marvell's. Hundreds of years later they're both  still giving us pleasure. 

Andrew Marvell, public domain
Speaking of giving pleasure, it's the birthday of Johann Sebastian Bach and Josef Haydn, both wonderful composers who certainly make me want to sing along with the tunes! And Bach also gave the world a lot of extra Bach musicians and composers!

1809 - Russian writer Nikolai Gogol, author of, among other things, The Government Inspector, a send up of bureaucracy, which inspired that very funny Danny Kaye movie The Inspector General

Nikolai Gogol, public domain

1844 - Andrew Lang was the author/collector of all those coloured fairy books, which had samples of everything from Grimm fairy tales to Greek myths. You can get them all for free on Gutenberg. I have several on my cyber bookshelf. 

If you've missed out on any of these folk, you shouldn't have much trouble finding them online.

Happy Birthday, Anna Sewell!

Anna Sewell. Public domain.

Today, March 30, is the 196th birthday of Anna Sewell, author of Black Beauty. 

Anna was born in Norfolk on this day in 1820, to Isaac and Mary Sewell. Her mother was a children's writer. The family was Quaker, though Anna and her mother later turned to the Church of England. Because they couldn't afford schooling for two children, Anna and her brother, Anna was home schooled till she was twelve.

I wonder what would have happened if she'd continued the home schooling? But she started going to school and one day she fell over on her way, breaking both ankles. She never really recovered and had trouble walking.

Was it this crippled state that made her depend more on horses, and make her interested in them?

Anyway, she wrote the book late in her life. Because of her pain, she couldn't always write herself and had her mother write it all out for her.

Black Beauty has become a classic of children's fiction. I think I was about eight when I read it for the first time - and loved it!  I was reading anything and everything with a horse on the cover at the time and this one was a surprise, but a pleasant one. There were no girls entering gymkhanas on ponies in it, or even wild horses running through the Snowy Mountains, but the first person narrative made up for that. I was indignant on behalf of the horse and his equine friends and who could avoid a lump in the throat after what happens to Beauty's friend Ginger?

If you've missed out on it, stop right now and get it. It's available on Gutenberg - free. Go on - I'll wait.

First edition. Public domain.

Got it? Good. Now, to continue. It was not actually written for children. It was written as a protest against the truly horrible treatment of horses in the Victorian era - and she told the story from the horse's viewpoint. If she had written a pamphlet, it might have been of interest for a few years and then been forgotten.

Black Beauty goes from the pleasant meadow with his mother to life with the kind Squire Gordon and his wife, then downhill from there, with the occasional improvement, such as his life as a cab horse with the decent cab driver Jerry. In the course of the story, we read of such horrors as the bearing rain, which forced horses to hold their heads up while trying to pull a carriage at the same time.  Rich people liked their horses to look as snooty as they were themselves, it seems. After this book came out, the RSPCA was able to use it to help get the bearing rein banned. A great achievement for a novel written by a middle-aged lady who was in constant pain!

The book was published in 1877, but she only lived a few months after it came out, so it was her only book. She died in April 1878, hopefully at least having lived long enough to see its success.

In fact, it has sold fifty million copies, which makes it one of the bestsellers of all time, and has been translated into fifty languages. That's success!

Happy birthday, Anna Sewell, and thank you for giving me such joy in my childhood!

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

My First Purim Spiel - And The Phoenix Theatre

18th c Italian Purim woodcut.Public Domain

Last night I attended my first Purim spiel. This is a kind of play which is loosely - very loosely! - based on the story of Purim. Somewhere in it you have to have the characters - Esther, Haman, Mordecai, Ahashverosh - and at least a bit of the story, but otherwise, have fun and see what you can do with it. 

This one was called The Lambshank Redemption and set in a prison, Oicatraz. Ahashverosh is the warden. He's a right wing Trump supporter and is always on on-line dating sites. Vashti  is his head guard, rather too sweet and hipster to do her job properly. Esther, who comes in after intermission, is a much more efficient head guard who solves the mystery of the trade in smuggled Hamentashen. Mordecai is a wimp who still lives with his mother on the outside.

The Purim spiel is traditional and slipping in contemporary references is also a traditional part of it. It's an amateur thing too; this one had some cast members who have done quite a bit of amateur drama, including one who has been in CLOC, a very fine Melbourne  amateur group that is anything but amateurish. Others are just members of the community who enjoy doing Purim spiels once a year. The girl playing Vashti was a VCE student and very good she was too; I think a professional career may be ahead of her. If not, perhaps at least a membership of CLOC! I remember a CLOC performance of the late much-lamented Jon English's rock opera Paris in which the role of Helen of Troy was played by a Year 12 girl, who was also impressive. Hopefully she went on to study at VCA! 

It was a joyous production, everyone having fun, a cheeky script and well known tunes with new words. The cast could all sing, whether it was a solo or ensemble piece. There was a very funny adaptation of a number from the musical Chicago in which the female prisoners all tell the audience how they got to be in prison, and the narrator told the story in verse a la Dr Seuss. 

The band, dressed in prison uniforms, was at the back of the stage and I noticed that the young drummer was a girl. She played quite an important role, as she had to play solo marches whenever Ahashverosh was about to appear and the scenes were being moved by the cast. When I rang my mother at intermission my nephew Mark was there. He said he knew that girl, she was fourteen and related to his wife! Small world, small community.

And it really was a very community thing. I arrived at about 7.40, twenty minutes before the show was due to start and I felt like the only member of the audience who didn't know most of the other audience members! There was so much delighted greeting of friends and relatives that I had to weave my way through to get to my seat. In the theatre, there was much calling out until the show started. Probably most audience members were friends and relatives of the cast, as is understandable. It's a tiny theatre. I think it holds about 100 seats at most. 

Ah, yes, that theatre, the Phoenix. It's located at what was my own high school. I remember when I was attending Elwood High we had no school hall. Every year our parents were required to pay a hall levy. The year after I left one was built, a hall gymnasium. It burned down, much to the dismay of Mr Whitehead, an English teacher who directed all the school shows, which had to be performed at venues outside the school. There was a photo in the local papers of him standing looking tragic in the ruins. Well, it was genuine feeling, to be fair. I remember how he dreamed of having somewhere to do the school shows when I was there. 

I'm not sure where the money came from for rebuilding, perhaps from insurance? Anyway, they built a beautiful little theatre in place of the hall and Mr Whitehead was happy again and it was called the Phoenix for obvious reasons. The school also got another hall/gym. 

I believe the school makes good use of the theatre for drama and also rents it out for amateur productions. I hadn't been in years, though, since a production of The Crucible in which Elizabeth Proctor, victim of the Salem Witch Trials, washed the dishes in a green plastic basin. 

Uh huh. Sad that it's the only thing I can remember of that production - not a tribute to the director! 

Anyway, after last night I will definitely be keeping an eye out for productions in that theatre - and hopefully seeing next year's Purim spiel!

Monday, March 28, 2016

Blood Queen: The Third Book Of Lharmell by Rhiannon Hart

After losing Rodden at the last Turning, Zeraphina is alone. Or she would be, if her mother and Prince Folsum would leave her in peace. The prince, blind in one eye after an attack by Zeraphina’s brant, has taken up residence in her home and is insisting she marry him. When an accident happens, Zeraphina flees – straight into the arms of a waiting harming.

Now a captive, she discovers she’s being taken to Lharmell. But not to be executed. To be crowned queen. The identity of the one who has given the orders is shrouded in mystery, and Zeraphina can’t help but be suspicious. After everything she’s done the Lharmellins should want her dead. Just who is awaiting her in Lharmell?

If you haven't read the first two volumes of this trilogy, stop right here, go back and read them.  This volume doesn't stand alone. Really. And the last one ended on a cliffhanger. In case you have read them, this review is being written carefully to avoid spoilers. The first of the spoilers is about a third of the way in, and I must admit I did not see it coming. And there's another twist in the final chapter which I really didn't see coming, which left me sputtering, "But - but - if that's the case, then why...?" No. I can't tell you. You'll have to read and find out. But not until after you've read the first two, Blood Song and Blood Storm

Zeraphina, having lost her beloved Rodden, has spent the last few months in her room at her mother's castle, numbing the pain with doses of laudanum. Things don't seem to be getting better, and become even worse when her nasty suitor tries to force the marriage. 

Escaping, she finds herself heading north in the company of a harming(a sort of semi-vampire like Zeraphina herself)who calls himself Raufo, talks with a Scottish accent and works to rid her of the laudanum habit. He seems familiar, but Zeraphina is in no mood to think about it. 

And when they reach Lharmell, she is in for another shock, meeting someone she had thought was long dead ...

In some ways, this is the story of Zeraphina coming to terms with herself and who she is. But there's plenty of action as well, though not till the second half of the book. We meet Zeraphina's sister Lilith again, and Lilith's husband Amis, who turn out to be nicer people than they seemed in the last two volumes. There's a dramatic tsunami in the middle of the other troubles our heroes have to face. There's even the headache of having to fight invaders from the air instead of the usual medieval siege.

This is a good conclusion to the trilogy, worth following up if you've been frustrated by that cliffhanger at the end of the previous volume. We must thank the author for deciding to finish it herself when her publishers decided not to. Publishers do that sometimes; in one case, the publisher, a friend of mine, told me that he'd decided against a third volume of a trilogy because the author had moved overseas. That shouldn't matter in this day and age, but it meant she wasn't around to promote her book here when she was needed, and it sold only half of the numbers of the previous volume. With a small press, he just couldn't afford to risk a third volume. I can think of three more, off the top of my head, but won't go into detail here.

The fact is, there is a final volume! I would like to thank Rhiannon Hart for offering me this book for my school library. It will go on to the shelves as soon as I return from term break. I wish her well for sales on this and on the first two, which can still bring her royalties. 

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Happy Birthday, Eden! Celebrating March 28

Today, March 28, is the seventh birthday of one Eden Pearl, my nephew Mark's older boy. Today he will be celebrating with his parents and grandparents and tomorrow with his friends.

For his birthday gift I've said it with books. A passionate reader, he has begun reading and enjoying A Series Of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket(pseudonym for American author Daniel Handler), only the first novel so far, so I bought him the next two in the series. Because his brother Jonah is only four and doesn't understand yet that you get gifts on your own birthday I've bought him the classic Possum Magic by Mem Fox. 

Eden is also a passionate chess player and as there wasn't much positive to report about This Day In History and no authors of any interest to him or to me, I thought I'd just show him and you this. 

Taken from Wikimedia Commons

It shows an eight year old boy, Sammy Reshevsky, playing against a whole lot of adults at once, in 1920. He was from Poland, but his family moved to the U.S. to give him the chance to get ahead in the field. Apparently, while he did very well, became famous and won championships, he never did give up his day job. Still, it's an impressive picture and I thought my young chess champion might enjoy it. 

And since his current reading interest is A Series Of Unfortunate Events, I thought I'd add a bit about the author.

Daniel Handler, aka Lemony Snicket, has also written for adults, under his own name. Not that this matters when he can give so much pleasure to children, but still...

Of more interest is that he has played in a couple of bands on his piano accordion, and Eden's "Ipa" Gary also plays piano accordion(he was playing it, in our kitchen, the first time I saw him, when he started going out with my sister). The children call him Ipa because when his first grandchild Dezzy was born he wanted to be Grandpa and she couldn't pronounce that. So Ipa it remains. He will be pleased to hear he has something in common with an author Eden likes! 

A very happy birthday, Eden, from your adoring Auntie Sue!

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Of March 25 And Tolkien

Today is March 25th and Good Friday. In a little while, after breakfast I will be off to join some friends in collecting for the Royal Children's Hospital, which uses the money for research that, sooner or later, helps the little ones.

And it occurred to me that on this day, on Middle-Earth, Frodo and Sam arrived at the Cracks of Doom to throw in the Ring and Frodo nearly yielded to the temptation to keep it. Well, actually, he did yield to the temptation, but was saved from himself by Gollum's action in biting off the finger with the Ring.

Eruption of Hawaiian volcano 1954. Public Domain.

Tolkien, a devout Catholic, didn't choose his dates at random. He knew exactly what he was doing. His Fellowship leaves Rivendell on December 25. Frodo and Sam reach their destination on March 25, which was also significant in the Church year, as the Feast of the Annunciation. It was New Year in England for hundreds of years.

It was also the traditional date of the Crucifixion. In other words, Good Friday. Is there a better date for the destruction of Sauron's instrument of evil? If you've read some of Tolkien's other works, you'll know that Sauron wasn't just a standard Dark Lord of the Voldemort(whoops! You know Who) persuasion. He was originally the sidekick of Morgoth, who was Middle-Earth's Satan. In other words, fallen angels, both of them. What they're offering is temptation to truly horrible sin. Not just the "I swore at my brother" type of sin, not even the "I robbed the bank" type of sin. That's amateur! This is the real thing, the kind of sin that turned a bunch of kings into the Ring Wraiths.

A Catholic website I found while refreshing my memory on the significance of the date suggests that the "unmaking" of the Ring is like the unmaking of sin by the Crucifixion. 

Makes sense to me. I read LOTR originally as a straight epic fantasy novel, the greatest of them all(one of the reasons why I so rarely read epic fantasy these days - they just can't compare to this one). You can read it that way and enjoy it, even love it. Tolkien doesn't hit you over the head with his faith. If you pick it up, wonderful, if not - enjoy anyway! 

But once I discovered the Catholic significance I was amazed that I hadn't noticed it first time around. For example, Gollum choking on the lembas bread(the Host). Frodo and Sam finding themselves able to live on just that and the Elven drink which is the sacramental wine. Go back and read! I promise it won't spoil it for you. It didn't spoil it for me, and I'm not "of the Nazarene   Persuasion." ;-)  Of course, I am a lover of things mediaeval and so was Tolkien. 

By the way, you'll pick up some bits of Tolkien in the wonderful though lesser Harry Potter books. I remember nearly choking on my drink the first time I read that scene in Prisoner of Azkaban in which the very Gandalf-like Dumbledore tells Harry that he may one day be glad he saved Wormtail. It took me back to a very similar scene between Gandalf and Frodo, only it's Gollum. Well, I guess Joanne Rowling is entitled to a bit of homage. She also, IMO, paid tribute to C.S Lewis in that scene in which Harry goes to the Deatheater camp. But Harry is her Frodo, if not with a Ring to tempt him. 

It seems almost irrelevant to this post, but I'm going to add a few birthdays of people who have given me delight. One is Patrick Troughton, the second Doctor. Another is Jim Lovell, astronaut of the Apollo 13 and hero of that wonderful film of the sane name. Happy birthday, Jim! A third is the glorious singer Aretha Franklin. 

So, have a great day, sleep in, go to church if that's your thing and consume lots of chocolate eggs. I'm going to have brekkie and raise money for the Royal Children's Hospital.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

My Belgian Friend!

Fellow book blogger Isabelle Frisch, a Belgian lady whose blog Lecture Toute Une Aventure(Reading Is An Adventure?) I follow and enjoy has posted to assure all her reading friends that all is well with her family and that her brother has returned safely from Bruxelles(I always wondered ... Now I know the correct spelling and pronunciation!)and has also been kind enough to  email and reassure friends personally.

It can be scary not knowing. One of our students, some years ago, spent all night waiting to be able to contact her brother, who worked at the World Trade Center. He was okay; apparently, he had attended a party the night before and was suffering a hangover, so was late for work. If he hadn't overdone the drinking the night before he might have been killed on 9/11!

It's becoming a scary world! A sad one. My thoughts go out to the families of those who were murdered last night.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Just Finished Reading... The Family With Two Front Doors by Anna Ciddor

I confess I bought this in ebook on Thursday because I forgot the date of the launch at the Jewish Museum(thought it was later in the month) and missed out. It didn't take long to read, so here are some thoughts. It's not a formal review, but a formal review would really have said the same things in less chatty language.

The place is Lublin in Poland, the time the 1920s. The large, joyous Rabinovitch family, based on the family of the author's grandmother, have to spread out across two ground floor apartments because there are nine children and Papa is a rabbi, who needs an office where he can advise members of the community who come to him for help.

The entire novel is centred around preparations for the wedding of fifteen year old Adina, the eldest daughter(but not oldest child - the oldest son, Aaron is seventeen and already married!).

To be honest, not a lot happens. The family prepares for the September wedding and meanwhile, the girls cook and clean and look after younger siblings, prepare amazingly delicious meals for the Sabbath and go on the odd picnic.

But when you think of it, not a lot happens in Little Women either; Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy work, play, go to school(Amy), write, produce little plays for their own amusement, go on picnics, take the advice of their wise Marmee and generally live their daily life as the daughters of a minister off at the American Civil War. Somehow, it managed to become a classic and be filmed several times anyway. And Anna Ciddor's web site suggests that she had in mind Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House series.

On another blog, I read Susan Price's description of the very elaborate mediaeval year and what people had to do to cope with the fact that there was a "hungry" period when you literally almost ran out of food. But the folk of the Middle Ages were organised - very organised. They managed.

And so are the women of the Rabinovitch family. Imagine having to prepare the equivalent of a dinner party every single week, not only for the family but for any random strangers Dad might bring home from the synagogue service on Friday night. These people might have come from out of town and couldn't travel on Sabbath, so a family would offer them dinner,  next day's lunch and a place to sleep meanwhile. So, a weekly dinner party(don't forget the dishes!) and, on the holy days, a feast for the extended family! And more dishes. And a house to clean and you absolutely have to make sure that there isn't anything un-kosher allowed into the house. Two lots of dishes to wash in two separate sinks...

Organisation is the keyword here; even today, a religious household needs it and I remember a member of my librarianship class, when I was studying at RMIT, a religious Jewish woman who ran her Orthodox household, cooked, cleaned, did all the observances and still managed to come top of the year in what has to be the toughest course of study I have ever done! She didn't see what the fuss was about; it was just what she did. It may go some way, though, to explaining why she was able to get all her studies done and end up with first place.

I think my mother would enjoy this book, if I can get hold of a print copy at some stage. Some of her memories are very close to the stories in this book, though her family was not quite as religious as the one in The Family With Two Front Doors. She told me long ago about the bakery where she was sent to collect her mother's challah and chulent(a yummy slow-cooked casserole of beans, vegetables and meat, cooked overnight so that religious families can have a hot lunch without breaking the rules about lighting a fire on the Sabbath), as the heroine, Nomi, does in this novel. The bakery had a better oven for the purposes of baking bread and slow-cooking chulent. And random visitors every week and the bath in the kitchen... She told me about her family's summers on the farm(in Mum's case, in the company of their huge, cuddly German Shepherd dogs); in Family, there isn't time to do this because of the wedding frenzy, so the children go to the farm for a picnic instead.

Somehow, every one of the nine children has a personality, though the story is told from the viewpoints of only two, Nomi and her younger brother Yakov. There is a charming drawing of the family at the front of the book, along with some internal illustrations in each chapter, drawn by the author who, it seems, is a bit like Gabrielle Wang in this respect!

Did I mention the food? I really don't care for Eastern European food in general, which is too fatty and heavy for our climate, but it's impossible to read this without a watering mouth - and in my case, a reason for a watering mouth, since I've tasted quite a lot of that food. I must admit, we don't actually stuff the fish in my family or extended family; I always wondered why the name gefilte(stuffed) fish was applied to white rissoles of minced fish with carrots on top. And my mother's kugel, a noodle dish with raisins in it, doesn't have any chicken fat and never had any, even before she discovered what fat can do to you and started preparing healthier food; vegetarians, if not vegans, can eat it safely. But the dishes are familiar.  Ooh, that calf's-foot jelly! With a bit of salt and lemon, a feast for a king!  I haven't tasted that in years. I can imagine some restaurant doing a Babette's Feast or Big Night event based on this novel.

The only sad thing about reading it was thinking of the fact that it's set only about fifteen years before the Holocaust would sweep away the world of this delightful family forever - and most of the family itself - as it did for my parents' families. Sure enough, there was an author's note at the end, in which we learned that only three of the children survived, her grandmother and two of her sisters.

Still - with Purim coming up next week, all we can say is "They tried to kill us, we survived, let's eat!" (I've booked a ticket for a Purim Spiel happening not far from where I live, my very first, though I know about them)

Let's raise a hat to Anna Ciddor's wonderful family from Lublin.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Harmony Day At My School (reposted from Livejournal)

Yesterday was Harmony Day. Our celebrations were organised by our EAL teacher, Lily. We're a small campus of a four campus school, just a couple of hundred very multicultural students from Year 7 to 10. It used to be a full day celebration, but that just hasn't been possible in recent years, so we had an afternoon instead. We had a wonderful guest speaker, a lady who is half Iranian, half Mauritian, whose family had escaped to Australia just before the Shah was deposed, with a warning from a friend in the know. She spoke of music and culture and of her time in Brazil and the joyousness of Brazilian music culture. Then she got out her feathered Rio style costume and there were drums and she handed rattles to students and got them all up celebrating. The Year 8 students did African drumming, which they learn in music(a far cry from the days when for me, music meant an American teacher trying to get us to learn our own folk songs or, before her, a lady who told us entertaining stories about the composers).

In the past, we have had some amazing Islander students agreeing to perform dances, in costume - something they still do for the annual school concert - but this time they were all off playing volleyball for the school. So there was only one incredibly brave young man in Year 8 agreeing to do a haka, of which more in a minute.

Because we were so short of entertainment, not enough for the planned afternoon, I offered to do a telling of the story of Purim, which is next week. The nice thing about this is that it's interactive. The kids had full permission to cheer the good guys and boo the villain, and one of my colleagues, who suggested holding up boo and cheer cards, was roped in to assist me. Lily encouraged me to ham it up, asking for a PowerPoint to go with it. I found various pictures online to use, and discovered that the truly dreadful Joan Collins/Richard Egan sword and sandal epic wasn't the only retelling of the tale and that John Rhys Davies actually played Mordecai in one of the later versions.

I began by explaining some of the various traditions(I left out the one about getting drunk!) such as costuming, partying, sharing food, giving to charity and amateur drama - and telling the story with audience participation. I then offered them a choice of a tinsel wig or a Harpo wig, telling them it was the only costuming they were going to get out of me. They cheered for the Harpo wig, which I put on, telling my colleague he would have been asked to wear it if they'd chosen the tinsel one for me. ;-)

We actually have a student called Hadassah(Esther's real name) and I had considered getting her into the act, but reluctantly decided against it - that particular girl would have cringed. Pity.

I think it went over well and the boo/cheer cards added a nice touch. I let them know that there would be a traditional Purim chocolate frog for them all at home time.

Now for our brave Year 8 lad. Really, a haka needs to be done by a group. If there had been some other boys to join him, I think he would have managed it. But after a short performance, he put his head in his hands and ran off, muttering, "Oh, I can't!"

It told me something about the young man I hadn't realised: he is terribly shy. He's in my English class and I used to teach him Literacy in Year 7, before he was promoted out of my class. He has some issues, but in class he is very good at class discussions and picks up some things about the film text the others haven't noticed. He talks loudly and laughs a lot.Nevertheless, he's shy - and I've just realised. Maybe the loud talk is to hide it. Despite that, he agreed to stand up in front of two hundred people, classmates and teachers alike, and perform. That took guts, facing his fear.

As the kids left, collecting their chocolate, I whispered to him that I was proud of him.

And I've learned a bit more about how I can help him in class. 

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Happy Birthday, Caroline Herschel!

Caroline Herschel, astronomer, was born on this day, March 16, 1750 and lived to be 97. Here's a  Creative Commons licensed Victorian era lithograph of her and her brother William, who, like her, was a musician who became an astronomer. In his case, a massively famous astronomer whose name is better known even today than hers. For one thing, among his many achievemements he discovered the planet Uranus - the first time anyone had discovered a planet in centuries.  But over the course of her career, his sister was to discover a lot of comets. There's even a crater on the moon bashed for her.

You notice she's not doing any astronomy in this picture, she's handing him a nice cup of tea(or coffee or maybe chocolate) while he does astronomy? Well, she did follow him from Hanover to England to be his housekeeper and sing in his concerts(she was a fabulously gifted soprano), but still, how very Victorian! 
I wrote about her in my children's book, Potions To Pulsars: Women Doing Science(out of print but probably still available on ABEbooks or eBay). 

Because it was for children, I started off her chapter with her collecting horse dung for her work on a giant telescope. Kids love gross. 

Caroline seems to have been fairly fortunate in the men in her life - her father and brother. In the Wikipedia article I read to refresh my memory it says that her Mum didn't want her educated but her Dad, a musician, sneaked in some lessons while his wife was out. What it doesn't say in Wikipedia is that when she got interested in astronomy, her brother William gave her the maths lessons she needed to make a go of it. 

She was the first woman ever to be paid for her work in science and was eventually made an honorary member of the Royal Astronomical Society, along with Mary Somerville, best known as a mathematician and teacher of the world's first computer programmer Ada Byron Lovelace. 

For many years she worked with her brother. Eventually he got married and didn't need her housekeeping any more, which made her rather sad. But it also led, eventually, to her having an independent career as an astronomer. And she had a good relationship with her nephew John, who also became an astronomer and married a botanist! 

I'll let you look up all the awards and medals she won before passing away at the age of 97. If you get quickly to the Google page, the Google Doodle should still be up, otherwise just look up her name. It's there - and I have to say, it's a lot easier to find information about women scientists now than it was back in the 1990s, when I was researching my book. That's wonderful! 

It's also kind of nice to know that way back in Caroline Herschel's time a woman scientist could be recognised, as she was - especially considering how many in much more recent times have not been. We still, for example, hear all about Watson and Crick in the history of DNA, but not as often about Rosalind Franklin. 

Happy birthday, Caroline! I'm off to drink a toast.

Creative Commons image from Winecast

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

An Interview With Jaclyn Moriarty: A Tangle Of Gold Blog Tour

Today's guest on The Great Raven is YA novelist Jaclyn Moriarty, whose final volume in the Colours Of Madeleine trilogy, A Tangle Of Gold, has just come out. In honour of the occasion, Macmillan is running a blog tour, on which this is a stop. If you haven't read the trilogy yet, I do recommend it. It's funny and sad, over the top and just plain entertaining. When it's clear the author is having fun, why shouldn't the readers? But begin with the first volume, A Corner Of White, in which the heroine, Madeleine, first discovers a corner of white paper sticking out of a parking meter in a street in Cambridge and finds herself corresponding with a cute boy in another universe, one in which seasons can change overnight and colours - or, rather Colours - can be dangerous....

To remind you, here is my review of the first two volumes, 

Thank you, Jaclyn, for kindly answering some of my questions about the trilogy. Without further ado, here she is! 

Why "The Colours Of Madeleine”?

Madeleine likes to wear bright colours because she is searching for colour and magic in her life.  She’s also trying to figure out her identity, and what she’s made of: her mistakes, her memories, her thoughts, her friendships, what?  So it’s like she wants to know if she is made of bright colours, complex colours, dull colours, selfish colours, blinding colours or dangerous colours. 


Why the Cambridge setting for the World? (Have you been to Cambridge?)

I lived in Cambridge, England for three years while I was doing a PhD.  I had an attic bedroom with sloping ceilings and a window that looked over a garden overgrown with wild grasses and flowers.  An owl used to hoot in a tree outside the window by my bed.  The place is magical to me, so it seemed like the right location for a crack through to the Kingdom of Cello. 


I've read the entire trilogy now and am still wondering just how important are the wandering seasons of Cello, given that you left them in even after you were  told that farming would be impossible in such a situation? 

Ha!   Wandering seasons are an integral part of Cello: I couldn’t write about Cello without mentioning them!  That would be like describing Paris and leaving out the Eiffel Tower.  And don’t worry, my farming friend was only joking when he said that farming would be impossible with wandering seasons.  There are plenty of places in the world where weather changes are frequent and dramatic so that farming is very difficult.  But people figure out solutions.  When the English first came to Australia they thought it was a barren land where nothing would ever grow.  And don’t forget that living things - including plants -  always find a way to survive.  Plants grow in the most unlikely places and most extreme conditions - in concrete, in sand, in clay, in darkness, in zero oxygen.  The crops that grow in Cello have evolved to resist the extremes of wandering seasons. 

Your characters eat a lot of delicious baked goods, both in Cello and in the World! There are cafes and tea rooms and characters baking at home - is this something you enjoy? 

Yes, this is something I enjoy a lot.  Even your question makes me happy and hungry.  Also, when I first came up with the idea of the Kingdom of Cello I was eating a chocolate croissant. 

Cello has a wide variety of cultures within the one kingdom, from the old style living of Olde Quainte to the high tech of Jagged Edge. What did you have in mind when you were working on this? 

I think the idea might have come to me from places like Europe - where many contrasting countries co-exist in a relatively small geographical space - and the United States, where there are such vast differences between some of the states, and the attitudes and lifestyles of their inhabitants, that it’s almost as if the states are different countries.  I wanted to play with this concept.   

What research did you have to do for this trilogy?

I read many books on Isaac Newton, Byron, Charles Babbage, Leonardo da Vinci and other famous historical figures, as well as books on science, physics and colour.  Also I had conversations with physicists, farmers, pilots, motocross enthusiasts, and other experts.  And I got my aura read and I learned to play the cello. 

In A Tangle Of Gold, we learn more about the Cellian connections of Isaac Newton, Leonardo da Vinci, even Byron and Vivaldi! Was it fun working them into your world? And, if you can tell us without spoilers - why these particular historical figures? 

I loved reading about these people: they are all brilliant, fascinating and flawed, and there is an element of mystery in all of their lives.

This is probably a question for the cover designer, but you might know - why was there a flying umbrella on all three covers? 

I think it’s because when Jack first sees Madeleine she’s walking down the road with a brightly-coloured umbrella?  And because it rains a lot in Cambridge?  Maybe it’s also a reference to the wandering seasons in Cello?  (See, that’s another reason I couldn’t take them out: they’re on the cover.) 

 Now that the three volume epic is over, what's next in your writing schedule? 

I’m writing a book about a girl whose parents have run away to have adventures with pirates leaving her to deliver treasure to ten aunts; a book about a woman who has enrolled in a course that will teach her to fly; a time travel book; a book about my great-grandmother; and a new Ashbury-Brookfield book.  

Find Jaclyn Moriarty on Twitter @jaclynmoriarty.

A Tangle Of Gold is now available! 


Monday, March 14, 2016

On Having Your Letter To The Paper Published

I've been published on the letters page of the newspaper a number of times. Some of my comments have been published in the on-line editions. Over the years I've taught myself, through observation, what is likely to be accepted and what rejected and why.

But not always. Despite the page of "why my comments were not published" on the web site of my main paper, I have seen them publish comments that go against their moderation rules - and been rejected for some of my comments that didn't go against the rules. The moderators are only human, I suppose. They might be in a bad mood that day. They might disagree with you enough to stop you from having your say, even if they feel guilty about it later.

Yesterday, I received a call from the letters editor of the day who was considering publishing my letter about how science stories can be made more engaging by employing children's writers to tell them. The paper had published an article on the theme of making science stories exciting. My argument was that children won't put up with pages of technical language or with the "beautiful language" that would satisfy adults without actually telling a story. If you can excite children, I argued, you can excite anyone.

The lady said that it sounded like a plug for myself, because - ta da! - they know I'm a children's writer! I said good, but hardly anyone else does, outside the school and library system. The newspaper folk only know because they Googled me. Nevertheless, she argued, I should declare my interest. Could they publish the words "children's writer" with my name? Just to declare my interest. I agreed, adding that it would be nice if they did that more often, as they have published quite a few letters by people who hadn't declared their interests. (One of them is a high ranking member of a racist organisation, the other one practically runs her organisation. Neither of them has been phoned to confirm that they have no interest other than their opinions). "Oh, you should have told us!" she said and I agreed to do it next time, though I was thinking, "And you should have Googled them on their controversial topics, as you did me about my fairly innocuous one!" but didn't say it.

They have published my letter, cutting my sentence about children's writing being the last refuge of storytelling and adding a typo in the interests of removing my contraction. "Doesn't" became "doe snot." Ouch! I'll take responsibility for my own typos, thanks, and goodness knows, I get plenty of those due to the prediction software on my iPad, but this is a national newspaper.

A bit like the late unlamented Bulletin that published a letter from someone who declared "Jews are dupes of Satan!" but rang me when I responded, to make sure I was okay and then told me they weren't going to print my letter "because we haven't the space."

Ah, well, the newspaper at least published my letter, even if I did have to jump through a few hoops!

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Class And Race In The Wizarding World

I've been rereading the Harry Potter books recently, mostly as bedtime comfort reading, and thinking, not for the first time, of the distinct flavour of class difference and racism among the people of wizarding society. 

When I say "racism" I don't mean white wizards and black wizards hating each other. They don't, as far as we know. It's rather similar, in this respect, to Terry Pratchett's Discworld in which black and white and brown humans will happily unite against green non-humans. The race thing in Harry Potter is literal - humans uniting against giants and cheerfully enslaving house-elves. They are more wary of the goblins, who, after all, control their money and make it quite clear they have contempt for humans, though they are willing to work with them, as long as it's profitable. I suspect they own Gringott's Bank and employ humans, not the other way around. And they have fought wars against humans in the past. 

House-elves, on the other hand, grovel to humans despite having powerful magic of their own; even Dobby, the closest thing to a radical the house-elves have, insists on receiving only a token wage and time off, as a matter of principle; I suspect if he'd been working for the Weasleys, for example, or even(initially) for Hogwarts, he wouldn't have wished for freedom. It's a house-elf culture thing, but wizards are happy to take advantage of it. 

And everybody is terrified of giants. Well, nearly everybody; Hagrid's parents were a human and a giant, so his Dad was more broadminded than other wizards. Not to mention the fact that whatever the differences, there is enough that's the same for them to be able to interbreed! 

What I have noticed most, though, is the class structure reflecting the one in the Muggle world. Not entirely; in this universe, working class wizards get a chance to have the boarding school experience they would never have outside wizard society. Colin and Dennis Creevey, children of a Muggle milkman, mingle with the likes of Justin Finch-Fletchley, who was planning to attend the highly upper-crust Eton before getting his Hogwarts letter. Mundungus Fletcher and Stan Shunpike, as lower-class as you can get, would both have attended Hogwarts in their time, as did Tom Riddle, who came straight from an orphanage(though he was descended from the wealthy local squire and Salazar Slytherin, making him technically upper-crust on both sides, even if the Gaunts were the wizarding world's answer to Harper Lee's Ewells!). This is probably for the practical reason that children with magical abilities can't be allowed to run wild in the world at large, Muggle or wizarding, whether they can afford the fees or not. They need the training. I do sometimes wonder what happens when Muggle families whose children are offered a place at Hogwarts say, "No, thank you." It's not compulsory, of course, but it must worry Dumbledore when it happens - especially after what happened in his own family.

Within the wizarding world, however, it's fairly clear that there are a lot of people who attend Hogwarts and then go back to being farmers or shopkeepers, bus conductors or even petty thieves. Not everyone works for the Ministry of Magic. 

There are, of course, the issues between "purebloods" and Muggleborn or "halfbreeds". But even among the purebloods there are class differences. The Weasley family are poor by pureblood standards. They have hand-me-down wands and secondhand robes and have to scrape to find the money for textbooks and equipment. At the same time, Mr Weasley has a Civil Service job that enables him to make laws, including adding loopholes that let him fiddle with that car. That's not a job for a Clerk Class One! He may be poor, but his family is not lower class in the same way as Mundungus Fletcher or Stan Shunpike. 

Rich families like the Malfoys gang up - usually - on poor ones, even those who are also pureblood, as well as on Muggleborn and halfbreeds. Ironically, Lord Voldemort is a halfbreed, but that doesn't matter to him or his followers; none of the Deatheaters would dare to say, "Hang on, aren't you...?"

Well, he is a descendant of Slytherin, after all! 

And then there's Severus Snape. I think, from the evidence, that his father Tobias was a Muggleborn wizard rather than a Muggle. Little Severus takes the wizarding world for granted in a way he might not in the household of a straight Muggle, even if his mother was a witch; he is there to introduce young Lily Evans to her heritage. But judging by his Spinner's End home and the fact that even the very Muggle Petunia refers to him as "that awful boy" in a sneering tone, for being from the wrong side of the tracks, I believe Snape is as lower class as Fletcher and Shunpike, though we never find out, in the books at least, where his mother came from. All we know is that she was running the Gobstones Club at Hogwarts. He presumably made better use of his time at Hogwarts than the petty crook and the bus conductor, and has risen to become one of the inner circle of staff there. It does help him with the Deatheaters that they think he is still one of them and that he seems to favour the Slytherins.

I occasionally wonder about the author's attitude too. Of the heroes, Ron is poor but of the gentry. Hermione's parents are professionals - not upper-crust but well off(which doesn't stop her from being sneered at as a "mudblood"). Even Harry, that male Cinderella, is the son of a wealthy pureblood wizarding family and a Muggle family that is at least well off enough to snub the likes of young Severus. And he's the Chosen One, the long lost prince. Characters like Colin Creevey, the milkman's son, are presented in a comical light, though it's a pity what happens to him in the end; it wasn't necessary, IMO. Hagrid is a wonderful person, loved by our heroes, brave and honourable, but also shown mostly as comic relief. 

Sirius Black rejected his family's Deatheater sentiments, but in the end, he's an aristocrat too. His favourite aunt, Andromeda, married a Muggleborn, Ted Tonks, and was considered dead to her family, but there isn't the same grime about their cottage and their lives as there is in Snape's family home. I suspect Ted is a poor gentleman like Mr Weasley, rather than working class. 

Whatever Lupin's family is or was, he suffers from prejudice against werewolves, due to something that was done to him as a child. He's poor because nobody will take a chance on giving him a job before Dumbledore(though he must have had a teaching job somewhere some time as his battered trunk has "Professor Lupin" in peeling gold letters on it - or maybe it was just a glitch on the author's part). At Hogwarts, the Slytherins, who don't yet know what he is, sneer at him for being poor, before finding a better reason to sneer. 

And then there are the Squibs. There is one in the Weasley family, as Ron mentions in Harry Potter And The Philosopher's Stone that they have a relative who's an accountant, but says they don't speak of him. Neither do we ever meet him. He's presumably settled nicely into the Muggle world. There's Argus Filch, who insists on living in the wizarding world and as a result is desperately unhappy and takes his revenge on the students as best he can. He is disliked by the students for being unpleasant, not because he's a Squib, which they don't know, except Harry and his friends. He's another comical character - and I doubt he started life in an upper-crust family, who would surely never have allowed him to embarrass them as he must do in his caretaker job at Hogwarts. No. Filch is working-class - and sent up by the author. Would a Weasley-type caretaker be shown in this light? Probably not. He would be poor-but-honest, kind to the students, making the best of his life, despite his Squib nature. But bear in mind, the only Weasley Squib is an accountant, ie a well-paid professional! 

Mrs Figg is sent up before we actually meet her, as the crazy cat lady, but when she finally appears in Order Of The Phoenix, we learn that she was playing a role, to prevent the Dursleys from suspecting she was there to keep an eye on Harry for Dumbledore.  She gets a brief mention at the end of Goblet Of Fire as one of a team who must be contacted, so she lives in the Muggle world but is in touch with the world of her roots. Again, I doubt she was nobly born; she would not be living in the kind of home she does if she were. But she must have at least enough standing that the Dursleys have bothered to speak to her, even as babysitter for their despised Cinderella figure; they are such snobs!

I believe that class counts in the universe of Harry Potter, and not only from the viewpoint of the villains. 

Please note, this post is based only on the evidence from the books; if JKR has said anything to the contrary on Pottermore, please excuse me! I just don't have time to keep up.

What do you think? 

Wednesday, March 09, 2016

Coming Soon! Interview With Jaclyn Moriarty!

This is just to remind you that next Wednesday, my interview with Jaclyn Moriarty will go live, as part of the Tangle Of Gold Blog Tour arranged by her publishers, Pan Macmillan. It has been parked, in draft form, among my posts since February 19. I was asked to give her a month to reply to my questions, but the replies were shot back to me after only a couple of days!

If you're interested, today's stop is at Inkcrush blog, by a Queensland blogger who simply refers to herself as Nomes, why not wander over and check it out? She includes a review and guest questions by blogging friends, so it will be very different from my interview, which just says some nice things about the series and asks a few questions. There's always something new to learn!

To refresh your memories, here is what I had to say about the other two books.

Monday, March 07, 2016

Happy International Women's Day! Celebrating Women Writers!

Despite the Northern Hemisphere  date above this post, it's March 8 here Down Under. Trust me on this.

As I haven't had the time or energy or even help to decorate my school library, I thought I might make today's post a tribute to women writers. Feel free to post your own favourites in the comments section. 

Even in writing, a career you'd think would be equal, not requiring physical strength(except, perhaps staying up late to meet deadlines), there has been inequality. Remember Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell? Otherwise known as Charlotte, Emily and Anne Bronte. Between you and me, I can't see how anyone could possibly have mistaken Wuthering Heights or Jane Eyre for anything written by a man, but then, I wasn't around at the time.

Public Domain

There's that scene in Blackadder 3 in which Edmund Blackadder, the Prince Regent's butler, is talking to his sidekick Baldrick about his epic novel, Edmund: A Butler's Tale, which he sent to Samuel Johnson under the pseudonym of Gertrude Perkins, because everybody is doing it; Jane Austen is a great big Yorkshireman with a beard like a rhododendron bush, according to Edmund. He tells Baldrick that the only real female writer around is Boswell "and that's only because she wants to get into Johnson's britches." 

You can see the joke here, a tribute to this matter of women having to write under male pen names. You'd think it was over by now, but no, not completely. Even in my own area of children's/YA fiction - in fact, especially - there are some women having to hide their female identities to get boys reading their books - at least, that's what their publishers tell them. I don't recall hearing about boys giving up the Harry Potter books after it turned out that J.K Rowling was Joanne. But that was why her name was written the way it is. And you know what? The only takers for Tamora Pierce's books at my school have been boys. And yes, Garth Nix's Old Kingdom books were written by a man, and it has been only boys, so far, whom I could persuade to read the adventures of his strong heroines. Not a single female borrowed of Sabriel, Lirael and Abhorsen.

But I'm wondering how many kids these days know that S.E Hinton was a Susan? The books aren't as popular now as when they were written, at least not in my school, but I make sure I tell the few kids who do borrow them that they were written by a teenage girl.

Lately, I suspect anyone who writes with initials of being female, though it isn't always the case. 

Even in a female dominated industry like children's writing, there are plenty of men. And yes, there are some wonderful male writers who can write from a female viewpoint. Off the top of my head, I'd suggest Will Kostakis's Loathing Lola, Garth Nix's Old Kingdom heroines and Sean Williams' Jump, Crash and Fall . But if anyone makes them write under female names in this genre, I haven't heard of it. (Romance is different, of course; I believe there are some male romance novelists writing under female names)

It's a bit like teaching: there are both male and female, but in a female-dominated career, guess who mostly gets to be in charge? Not that there aren't some amazing male primary teachers; my brother-in-law is the best I've ever known. And guess what? He was a Principal for a while too, but dropped it and went back to the classroom, telling me he only got to see the children when they had been naughty. The kids are what he's there for; he wasn't going to spend his career doing paperwork and discipline. He's back in the classroom and happy.

So, who are a few female children's writers I enjoy? Please forgive me if you are a writer and left out, I just want to name a few who come to mind. I'll probably remember more when I've finished posting.

In no special order...

Kate Constable, who wrote the Chanters of Tremaris series and has since done some gorgeous timeslip stories set in contemporary Australia. Interestingly, the Chanters of Tremaris series appealed to our boys and the girls have been passing around the timeslip tales by word of mouth.

Gabrielle Wang, who writes gentle fantasies for middle-grade readers. We do have a set of A Ghost In My Suitcase in our Literature Circles sets, and the kids have done very well with this one. There is an interview one group of students did with Gabrielle on this website, and it's in the free ebook as well.

Marianne De Pierres, whom I first met at the Aussiecon writer's workshop years ago, who has done a wonderful YA SF series starting with Burn Bright. That one is for good readers only, but well worth reading.It's about an island where anyone over 18 disappears, but meanwhile parties hard. I knew two girls who said they were fine with that, as long as they got in all that partying. There's an interview on this site with Marianne too.

Jackie French, a fabulous writer of historical fiction in a range from ancient Egypt to the World Wars. Kids are not very keen on historical fiction these days, but they'll read Jackie French.

Rebecca Lim, author of the series about Mercy, a fallen angel who is being hidden by the non fallen angels and does a Quantum Leap thing into various mortal bodies, one in each novel. The girls at my school simply love this series! And I tell them Rebecca lives right here in Melbourne. Nice!

These are all Aussie writers, but my favourite from overseas is Susan Cooper, who is still writing beautiful historical fantasy, long after the end of her classic Dark Is Rising series.

Let's celebrate women writers! Raise your glass in a toast with me!

Saturday, March 05, 2016

Three Dragons For Christmas: Sydney, Christmas Press, 2015 - A MuchBelated Review!

I received this last year, in time for Christmas...along with a lot of other books. Sorry this has taken so long, but do consider buying and putting it away for next Yuletide! Your kids will love you for it, and you'll have less worrying to do in the last minute.

Here is yet another gorgeous Christmas Press publication for children. This time, it's mostly written and illustrated by the staff of Christmas Press - Fiona McDonald, Sophie Masson and Beattie Alvarez pen two stories and a poem, regular artist David Allan is ably supported by Lisa Stewart, who illustrates Sophie Masson's story, "The Christmas Dragon," in which a young dragon, Fiery, dreams of pulling Santa's  sleigh. Signing herself "Frosty the Fabulous Flyer" she manages to get a job interview at the North Pole, only to be told that on Christmas Eve Santa has all the sleigh pullers he needs. Can Fiery help in another way? Read and find out!

Meanwhile, here is a sample page of Ms Stewart's art for the story.

Even if you didn't have the inimitable Sophie Masson writing the story the book would be worth buying just for the art.

David Allan contributes the delightful cover and some gorgeous internal art interspersed between the stories.

Artist Fiona McDonald shows she can write too, writing and illustrating "Dragon Market" in which a mother and daughter toymaking team who had nearly been driven out of business by the competition find that an act of kindness to an old woman, as in the best fairytales, and a handcrafted dragon, help them get back into business. Even though it's for children I couldn't help thinking of the real world in which small businesses can lose out to big ones. 

Finally, we have "The Dragon's Pet", Beattie Alvarez's tribute to Clement Clarke Moore's "A Visit From St Nicholas" aka "The night before Christmas". This time the family is a family of dragons whose pet bunny has messed up their Christmas dinner. Needless to say, St Nick helps out and even washes the batter-covered rabbit! Ms Alvarez, who edited 2014's Christmas annual, in which I had a story, shows she can draw too, illustrating her own work.

Friday, March 04, 2016

Look What I Got - A NEW Jules Verne Novel!

Well, new to me, anyway. This Verne adventure novel has been forgotten in English for some time(not in French!)till Sophie Masson, who read it in French as a child, arranged for a new translation - the first in a century - and new art. Then she did a crowd funding campaign through her imprint, Christmas Press(Eagle Books label). You'll find her guest post about it here.

I pre-ordered, of course, and am very pleased with the product. It's a gorgeous little book with the traditional built-in book mark and internal art of the old style, the kind you see in nineteenth century editions, done by the wonderful David Allan, who, I hope, might one day illustrate something of mine.... Well, I can dream. He seems to be able to adapt his style to whatever the book requires. 

The endpapers are maps of Russia and the pages are gilt-edged. A thing of beauty and that's before I've even read it, as I only picked it up from the Brighton Road post office agency this morning. I am looking forward to snuggling up with it before bed tonight. 

As for you, get your own! It should be available at the Eagle Books website.

Just Finished Reading... The Sidekicks by Will Kostakis. Melbourne:Penguin, 2016

Sydney schoolboy Isaac Roberts is dead. His three best friends have been called into the deputy principal's office to be informed. The thing is, they're not each other's best friends. They don't even particularly like each other. So they can't mourn together.

Isaac meant something different to each of them. To him, they were just his "team" - the Swimmer, the Rebel and the Nerd. Each of them gets to tell his own version of the same story, of events leading up to, and after Isaac's death. 

The Swimmer is Ryan. Ryan is the school's swimming champion, the "Olympic hopeful." Swimming keeps him going. He isn't particularly friends with anyone, but Isaac was supportive to him about his personal problem, that of coming out of the closet. Ryan's boyfriend Todd is not happy about his hanging back. 

The Rebel is Harley. Harley is the kind of person who can arrange to get you stuff through a third person. He was doing that for Isaac, whom he calls Zac. And he was there for part of the evening when Zac fell off a boat. He is wondering whether the death was his fault, whether Zac fell because he was high at the time. And he's grieving himself, for his relationship with a mother who left him and his Dad and scooted off back to the U.S. 

The Nerd, Miles, gets some of the best lines. My favourite is "I do not trust anyone who leaves home without a book."  Miles has allowed Isaac to talk him into running an illicit essay-writing business for some of his schoolmates, with Isaac as his front man. It has paid very well. But he was doing this to bond with Isaac; after Isaac's death, he is obsessively playing Isaac's footage from a film he had made for the school's film festival. In fact, his entire section is written using film script description. "Int. Classroom. Morning." 

I have been reading Will Kostakis's books since his first one, Loathing Lola, was published. Here is my review. Each of the three novels I've read was different. The first was about the absurdities of our fifteen minutes of fame, through a teenage girl's sudden popularity after she lands her own TV reality show. The irony was, the young author would go on to work for Big Brother. The second, The First Third, was about family and friendship and looking after each other, not to mention being Greek, in a funny, touching story that included a few autobiographical elements. (In fact, one of our students fell in love with the hero's grandmother and worried the real one might be dead, but she rang while Will was talking to my book club, much to the girl's delight).

And now we have one with three very different boys who must learn to be true to what they are, a lesson they learn during the grieving process. 

Will Kostakis's books are gentle and wise - and each one is different. For what it's worth, I think he is, in some ways, Australia's answer to David Levithan, another YA writer whose books are gentle and wise, and each one different from the last. (I should add that when some girls who had loved Dash And Lily's Book Of Dares asked me for more Levithan, I had to explain that if they wanted another Dash And Lily, they were out of luck!). Well, David Levithan has never written about being Greek and has a tendency to collaborate on books, but my point stands. 

I think this novel may well end up on some award short lists. It might be a bit late for this year's CBCA awards, but we'll see. 

Tuesday, March 01, 2016

Louise Rennison Is No More!

just heard the news. ANOTHER terrific writer bites the dust - in the course of about three days!

I have no idea of the details. There are plenty of articles that say she's gone and talk about her life, but none of those I've read so far says how. I mean, Umberto Eco and Harper Lee were both in their eighties. Sad, but not unusual. It happens.

But this lady was only in her early sixties. Not an age for "natural causes", surely? If anyone reading this knows the details, please do let me know in the comments.

Louise Rennison was a British YA novelist who wrote funny books for girls. The best known is Angus, Things And Full Frontal Snogging, which I believe was made into a film(haven't seen it), but she wrote plenty, and I have several on my library shelves - the kids love them! There was a whole series about heroine Georgia Nicolson.


I'm currently reading Withering Tights, about Georgia's cousin Tallulah Casey, who has travelled north to Yorkshire to do a summer school on the arts. I'm only about a hundred pages in and Tallulah is already surrounded by a bunch of over-the-top characters, from her kind but zany host family to the  loopy woman who runs the school.


We'll have to have a chat about this at my lunchtime book club on Thursday.