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Saturday, December 30, 2017

My Festive Season 2017

Christmas Day, for me, is a day on the beach with whatever I'm reading at the time and a picnic lunch. This year, I was accompanied by my mother. We had a very nice lunch of fresh-baked bread, made by me that morning, as per my tradition - in a very good bread loaf tin I bought at London Stores, in my little fan-forced oven - hard boiled eggs, fresh summer fruit, smoked cheese and fruit cake and mince pie, cut into small pieces because Mum can't cope with even looking at a large piece of food, even if assured she doesn't have to eat it all. I prepared us each a small thermos of icy cold water, and had a large thermos of boiled water with a choice of tea or coffee. Mum had coffee, I had tea.

The beach was overflowing with people and we found a bench, because there was no space on the grass to spread a blanket and Mum had her walker, so no chance to go on the sand. After lunch, Mum took a nap in a limited space behind her favourite sea-gazing bench and I read my Christmas gift copy of Hidden Figures, a history of the African-American women who worked as mathematicians, known as "computers", during the early days of the space program.  I do have a copy in ebook, but it was nice to have a print copy, especially since I don't really like reading e-books at the beach, risking getting sand into my device. It is a wonderful story, which I recommend, whether or not you've seen the terrific movie(which I've just bought on DVD).

 I was relieved to know we had missed the riots that happened on my local beach after Mum and I left. There were apparently 5000 people on the beach, about ten times what I had thought.

We ended up having our dinner at Macca's, as nothing else was open near Mum's place and really, neither of us was up to cooking anything after the filling lunch we'd had. Mum enjoys eating there anyway.

Boxing Day: I went to see the Dr Who Christmas Special at the Village Cinemas in the Jam Factory. I still haven't re-viewed it on iView, but must do that before it goes. I enjoyed it very much. Afterwards, I went into town, to the Boxing day sales. My main aim was to buy a new pari of sandals, as I'm hard on my shoes and rarely wear closed shoes, even in winter. I bought two. They aren't cheap, but there is only one place I can find shoes to fit me - everywhere else is no longer selling narrow fittings, but this shop sells European shoes and they do have narrow fittings. I have found a couple of brands that are made to be comfortable. They aren't cheap, but to my delight, the shop was also doing Boxing Day specials. After buying them, I went across the road to spend some of my JB Hifi vouchers and got Hidden Figures(the movie) and some early Dr Who episodes. I just love Time Warrior, a Jon Pertwee story in which Sarah Jane Smith makes her first appearance, and so do the Sontarans. And I got three DVDs for $26!

Wednesday was hot and I went for my first swim for this summer, at St Kilda Beach.

Thursday I took my nephew's younger girl, Rachel, to lunch and the movies. I'd planned to go to the city, but it was just too hot. Fortunately, there was one session of Wonder, a film based on a book we had both read, about a little boy who has a facial deformity and finally starts school in Year 5, after being home schooled. It was a pleasant way to spend the day and nice to catch up with Rachel, who is heading back to Sydney this week.

We also went to Mum's place, where the family gathered to drink a toast to Dad, who passed away on December 28 eight years ago. My brother brought a six-pack of beer, my nephew a bottle of whiskey, which Dad loved. I had a glass of beer, but also a tiny sherry glass of whiskey.

Friday I tried to get stuck into some housework, but failed to do my fridge. Today, I swear!

Tuesday I hope to go shopping for a new iPad. My old one, alas, is refusing to let me use my sim card, and I really need to be able to do that. I'm giving the old one to my brother-in-law, who has easy access to wifi and will just use it to watch sport on Foxtel, in bed.

Before finally deciding to go ahead withe the replacement, I had a chat with my nephew, David, who knows more about tech than I do. He agreed with me that even though it was a newish device - I bought it from the Apple shop when I had to replace my broken original - it just wasn't going to do what I wanted any more. So I'm planning to get the newest model, with 256 g of space, and David, who can't afford one, asked to have a look at it when I get it.

Only problem is the backup. I don't have wifi  yet and I can't back up to the Cloud on my laptop. You need wifi. I have some ideas...

Tonight, New Year's Eve, I will spend with my sister and Mum. To be honest, I haven't done New Year's Eve since my father passed away.  It was only a couple of days before New Year. I remember that New Year's night there was a storm - wonder how that affected the fireworks? My friends were having a party, which I didn't attend, and I sent them a text early, wishing them well, so that they wouldn't text me at midnight, as was the custom when someone couldn't make it. I have been going to see Rocky Horror, then to bed before midnight,  but Mary and I go to Mum's place on Sundays, so that's where we will be tonight.

It will be a very different year for me, since I'm not going back to work. I feel strange, but I'm sure I'll get used to it and enjoy. And more writing time!

Have a great 2018, everyone!

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Coming Soon On The Great Raven! An Interview And A Guest Post

Dear readers,

In January this blog will host an interview with debut writer Taryn Bashford, whose tennis-themed YA novel The Harper Effect has just been published by Pan Macmillan. If you love tennis, there is plenty to read. If you're not a tennis fan - and I'm not - you will learn plenty about how the game works, while following heroine Harper Hunter's romance with two very attractive boys, one a musician, one a brooding tennis player with family issues. I've put together the post but, this being a blog tour, it has a set date, January 24.

There will also be a guest post from Cat Rambo, current President of the SFWA, whose second novel in the Tabat quartet, Hearts of Tabat, is about to come out. Cat is the author of a lot of short stories and has edited as well. I am hoping, eventually, to do a proper interview, but first the guest post.

Something to look forward to in January!

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

On Rereading The Dark Is Rising

There is a discussion happening on Twitter right now, using the hashtags #TheDarkIsRising and #The DarkIsReading. There are actually some people in the discussion who are discovering this wonderful Susan Cooper novel for the first time, but there are others, like myself, who have read it many times and are reading it yet again. Many of the readers are living in the northern hemisphere, where the weather is freezing right now and it just seems a good thing to read, due to its ambience. The story is set over several days from Midwinter Eve to Twelfth Night.

In some ways, it's a bit like Alan Garner's work, but the odd thing is, I re-read The Weirdstone Of Brisingamen a while back and I didn't enjoy it as much as I remembered, though I think I may go back and read it again, and the sequel, The Moon Of Gomrath, to prepare myself for the adult sequel written in recent years by Alan Garner. Like Susan Cooper, though, he manages to get the atmosphere of the place he is writing about. The place - Alderly Edge - works better for me than the characters, Colin and Susan.

Actually, it's more like the first novel, Over Sea, Under Stone than any of the others in this series. Kids go to stay in a gorgeous rural place and pick up an item the Dark wants. The bad guys go after them, while they solve the mystery of the item. They also meet people who aren't human, who help them, while they are helping the magical beings against the bad guys. But in Weirdstone, the parents aren't with them. In Over Sea, Under Stone, the motehr of the children, Simon, Barney and Jane, is with them, except not interfering. She is there to paint, thank you very much! The interesting thing is that their adult mentor, Merriman Lyon(whom they eventually work out is probably Merlin), knew their mother as a child, which is why they call him Uncle Merry. I wonder if she had some adventures with him, but perhaps was made to forget? It might make an interesting prequel.

That novel was set in Cornwall. The Dark Is Rising, which can be read more or less stand-alone, as can the first novel, is set in Buckinghamshire, not far from Windsor Castle. The young hero, Will Stanton, turns eleven on Midwinter Eve and finds out he is the last of the Old Ones, a bunch of people who have been fighting the Dark on behalf of the Light for centuries. Merriman Lyon - who, yes, is Merlin, though it's not confirmed until a later book - is his mentor. Merriman, it seems, is capable of making mistakes and he made a bad one about a hundred years ago, leading to a betrayal and making Will's life harder. But if that hadn't happened, there would be a lot less novel!

Will is the seventh son of a seventh son, which is an important thing in folklore. Terry Pratchett used it in his Discworld novels, except it was the eight son of an eighth son. The eighth son becomes a wizard and the reason why they are not encouraged to marry is that they might have eight sons of their own and that youngest will be a powerful Sourcerer, which is not a good thing. That happened in Sourcery.

The thing I found a bit odd about The Dark Is Rising is that we're told Will is the first Old One to be born in about five hundred years. So - weren't there any other seventh sons of seventh sons born in that time?  And does being a seventh son make you an Old One? What about the women - there are female Old Ones. Do you have to be the seventh whatever to be an Old One? And what about the Old Ones in this novel? We know Merriman has been around for centuries, but does this mean that all the other Old Ones have also been around for centuries? One of them is a local farmer. Another is a farmhand, who has a wife, and his son is a smith - one who can travel through time and be there in the fourteenth century when Will arrives, but are they all hundreds of years old? And given that they're more or less immortal, why do they age? And they do. Maybe they just age more slowly than we do, and maybe they're not actually immortal, just long-lived.

Or maybe it's simply a glitch? Even the best of writers can make them.

Anyway, it's still powerful stuff, the kind of "beautiful writing" that readers of adult fiction are always going on about, the kind you read and feel deeply moved by. The characters are ones you can care about. And when the Wild Hunt arrives on a night of rain and storm, it's wonderful!

I think I must visit Buckinghamshire next time I go to the U.K.

And here's something I have only realised on this reading. I think some of the scenes in my novel Wolfborn were inspired by this. Not plagiarised, but inspired. Go read it - or reread it - and you'll see what I mean. I have a scene in a forge, though the encounter is between my hero, Etienne, and the more-or-less likeable Queen of Faerie, Nemetona, instead of Cooper's evil Dark Rider. Nemetona returns later in the novel and helps Etienne.

And there's the scene where a storm arrives just when Etienne needs to save his lord from being stuck in wolf shape for the rest of his life. It's a dramatic scene with lots of rain and thunder and lightning and the Wild Hunt, though in my novel the Huntsman is the god Cernunnos. Some of his followers are Faerie, others are the dead, including a character who was murdered earlier in the novel. The prey is - well, let's say he deserves it. Read it without too many spoilers!

But I hadn't realised that I'd used elements of The Dark Is Rising! Forgive me, Susan Cooper! Look, you can't do drama with Wild Hunts on a fine night with the stars twinkling. It just wouldn't work.

I think this one is the best of the series, but I actually found I liked the third one, Greenwitch, better than on my first reading. That was a pleasant surprise.

The premise is that before the final battle between the Dark and the Light,  six items need to be found. The first and third novels feature the Drew children. In the fourth, The Grey King, and the fifth, Silver On The Tree,  they meet Will and work with him and a boy who turns out to be - no, read it, if you haven't. Spoilers, sweetie! The first three are more or less children's books. By The Grey King, they're turning into YA. Sound familiar?

They were written a long time ago. I remember the final book came out while I was in my first job, and I lent the teacher-librarian my copy, because she hadn't seen it yet(I was a full-time classroom teacher then). It was a very popular series in my school.

If you accept that no one is going to be using a mobile phone or going on-line in any of them - heck, Will's family don't even bother to have a TV, though they could - you have a good chance of enjoying this book and the rest of the series.

They are available in ebook, so why not buy them? Or find them in your local library.

If you have read these books, what do you think?

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Doctor Who On Boxing Day!

I did very little in the Boxing Day sales today. I did go into the city to buy new sandals, as I'm very hard on my shoes and I really needed new ones. While there, I popped into JB Hifi with the gift vouchers burning a hole in my pocket, and used some of the money on them to pick up some DVDs: the movie of Hidden Figures,  the book of which I'm currently reading, a season of Father Brown, with Mark Williams(you may remember him as Rory's Dad in Dr Who, Mr Weasley in Harry Potter or even, if you have been around long enough, Dave Lister's Swedish friend Olaf Petersen in Red Dwarf!) and a Jon Pertwee Dr Who story, "The Time Warrior",  which is the very first Sarah Jane Smith story. That one also features a very young Jeremy Bulloch, who went on to play a role in the BBC Richard II and Edward of Wickham in Robin Of Sherwood.  (Such a nice man, by the way! I met him at a Star Wars convention in Melbourne, where he had been invited because he also did the role of that bounty hunter who brings in Han Solo. He said the  suit of armour a fan lent him to make an entrance for his speech was better than the one he had in the film. He wandered around chatting to everyone and I chatted with him in the foyer for about half an hour.)

So, I'm looking forward to seeing my new DVDs and wearing my sandals. But that isn't the most important thing I did today.

On an impulse, yesterday, I bought a ticket to see the DW Christmas special on the big screen at the Jam Factory cinema. I'm glad that I did, because I forgot to watch it at 7.30 p.m. this evening, when it was on the ABC, and due to the current version of iView, the app that lets you watch a show you've missed, refusing to be used by anything but the most up to date operating system, I could only have watched it on my tiny iPhone. And the episode won't be out till February.

The story was bookended by making-of documentaries that kept reminding us that this was the last story, both for Peter Capaldi and Steven Moffat. Yes, yes, we know! We KNOW! But still, it was interesting to watch, and to listen to the cast and the director and Steven Moffat talking about the Who experience. Even David Bradley, who played the first Doctor, was excited by it - he has been watching since the Hartnell era!

David Bradley did an amazing first Doctor; despite his claim to be only doing a "riff" on William Hartnell, you could half-close your eyes and pretend he was William Hartnell. The voice and manner was there. If you've seen the telemovie bio of Hartnell,  An Adventure In Space And Time, you'll remember that he played the role of William Hartnell playing the Doctor. Apparently Peter Capaldi made a joke at ComicCon that it might be fun to have him as the first Doctor and Steven Moffat thought, what a good idea! If you haven't seen him in AST, I am pretty sure you will have seen him as Argus Filch, the school's obnoxious caretaker, in Harry Potter!

A bit of a disappointment that, although he wasn't keen on the changes in the TARDIS, the first Doctor did NOT say, "You've been doing the TARDIS up a bit! I don't like it." It was an in-joke from The Three  Doctors, and was repeated by David Tennant to Matt Smith, as I recall.

They made sure there were some blasts from the past in this story, including Bill and Nardole, and even - no, spoilers, sweetie! In case you haven't seen it yet, there was one more former companion, and I liked what Steven Moffat said about his reasons for including this one.

It was funny and sad and I did sniffle a bit at saying goodbye to Peter Capaldi. In some ways, if I had to compare him to any previous Doctor, he's the closest to Tom Baker. Not entirely - Tom Baker's Doctor wouldn't be making some of the speeches he does, like the one about why he is doing what he does, because it's kind, and kindness is vital.  But he had a similar zaniness to him, and witty comments.

The only annoying thing is the cliffhanger ending - dammit, we had to wait through a cliffhanger for this one, and now we'll probably have to wait till - April? - to find out what happens next. The regeneration was there. Interesting that the theme here was "moving On". Both Doctors had refused to regenerate(and they did a very good fade-in from black and white to colour, as the first Doctor declares to Ben and Polly that he isn't going to do it.). Both of them eventually realise that dreadful things will happen in the world if they just allow themselves to die. Well, for one thing, if the first Doctor dies, there will be no second to twelfth Doctors, will there?

Anyway, I was very pleased with it, even if it did finish off the lovely Peter C, and now I want to see what the female incarnation will do. I think, from the one line she got, that we may have another over-the-top, crazy Doctor.

Fingers crossed for the new stories!

So, if you saw it, what did you think?

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

In Which I SeeThe Last Jedi

Yesterday, I finally got to see Star Wars VIII: The Last Jedi. I can remember when I felt the need to see a movie on opening night. Nowadays I go when it works out for me. This time I went with a friend from work and we decided to do it fancy, in Gold Class. That's the one where you sit on a comfy chair that can be tilted back and you can order food and drink which a waiter brings you as you sit watching the movie. The cinema is small, about 24 seats, and the screen large. We did have to book, of course, and we were lucky, managing to grab the last two seats, which were in the front row. I don't mind front row seats and there was enough space between us and the screen that no neck craning was necessary, even if we didn't have flexible seats.

So, what did I think of the film? Well, this isn't a review as sch, just some thoughts. And a review is difficult without spoilers. Almost impossible, in fact. I've read a few reviews and thought, yes, yes, but what's it about? There was one spoiler filled review on YouTube, but I watched that after seeing the film, as you were meant to.

Let's just say that I agree it's something of an Empire Strikes Back, only darker. Much darker. But I don't think it's too much of a spoiler to say there are At-Ats in one scene, on an ice planet. There are also elements from the other movies in the original trilogy. There is a character trying to redeem another character. There's a Lando Calrissian character, only not as likable. And there is the reappearance of a character I would never have expected to return, without explanation.

Another thing for which there is no explanation is why Luke, now a bitter and grief-stricken old man who wants to be left alone, left a trail of clues and a map to find him. I hoped it would be explained in this film, but it wasn't.

However, that's how fiction works. In Harry Potter And The Philosopher's Stone, for example, the stone is hidden under the school to keep Voldie from it. Each teacher does an enchantment to further protect it - and then leaves clues! Which are solved by three eleven year olds, not to mention the teacher who's hosting the Dark Lord. Of course, the teachers might have shared the clues, but still.

There was the sadness of seeing our Princess Leia for the last time, knowing her portrayer is gone, but other sadness too. And there were some lovely new characters - I do hope Rose is back in the next movie!

I loved the movie and so did my friend, Jasna. I am hoping to see it again with my great-niece Rachel, but it will be her second time too, as her Dad is planning to take her. Time to binge on the original trilogy!

Friday, December 15, 2017

Spending My Dymock's Voucher!

Thursday, after the hot weather was over(temporarily, anyway, I finally went to spend one of the gift vouchers burning a hole in my pocket - this one since my birthday in September. I try not to buy print books these days, but since I did have a voucher for Dymock's Bookshop, I thought I'd spend it. 

On the rare occasion when I do go to Dymock's for myself I wander over to the history section. It comes in handy for research and ideas, and if I want a novel I can download it or borrow from thr library.

I was tempted by a book called Black Tudors, of which I'd heard, about Africans living in Tudor England, but in the end, I bought this instead. 

It's about Lady Jane Grey, who was Queen of England for just a few days before she was arrested and sent to the Tower by her cousin, Mary, daughter of Henry VIII. She was only about seventeen. Jane was the granddaughter of Henry's sister Mary Tudor and his best friend Charles Brandon. She was named heir by the dying Edward VI, who probably shouldn't have done it, but politics was messy in England in those days and everyone wanted to be the ruler - except maybe Jane, an intellectual who just wanted to be left alone with her books and maybe someone to argue religion with. But she had royal blood, which rather reduced her choices, and the men in her life were ambitious. Ack!

Queen Mary - the one later referred to as Bloody Mary - tried to be merciful, but again: ambitious men. Rebellion. Jane had to go. 

Anyway, I'm not far into it, but so far a nice piece of easy, relaxed reading I might pass on to my mother when I'm done. She enjoys history as much as I do.

Back to the book!

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Of Books And Christmas

Everyone is doing Christmas blog posts and this is a book blog, after all. So, a few books with Christmas in them won't go amiss.

To tell the truth, it started in my head on Twitter, with a proposal to discuss Susan Cooper's The Dark Is Rising, from December 21, when the story starts, with the hashtag #TheDarkIsRising. Some folk read it every year at this time, because of the mood it evokes in a northern hemisphere country where this time of year is cold and dark. In my case, of course, it's bright, sunny and hot, which doesn't mean I can't get into the mood. I can read it lying on the beach and be swept into rural Buckinghamshire in winter, with the snow falling and Herne riding with the Wild Hunt...

But more of this presently. Let's think of other books first. A Christmas Carol, of course, Charles Dickens's novella about a grumpy old man whose soul is saved by the visits of three spirits and the ghost of his former business partner, Marley who is dragging along a chain he forged himself through his lifetime and wants to save his old friend from that. When you think about it, there must have been something Scrooge was doing right that someone cared about him enough to come back from the afterlife to help him. I have read that in some ways Dickens created our vision of the Victorian era Christmas and you can see it, really.

I recently re-viewed the Dr Who episode about Charles Dickens - the third of New Who, with Christopher Eccleston in the role. It's Christmas in Victorian era Cardiff and Dickens is doing his one-man show reciting A Christmas Carol. The dead are rising, running around Cardiff, their bodies occupied by beings from another universe.

Seeing the Dickens performance bit reminded me that an old school friend of mine is doing just that - I saw him perform in the Spiegeltent in Melbourne one year at Christmas - the poor man was wearing heavy Victorian costume in the heat of Aussie summer. But he did a very good Charles Dickend.

A Christmas Carol has spawned an entire industry in films and themed stories, but I'm just going to mention one novel, Christopher Priestley's The Last Of The Spirits, in which the story of Scrooge is seen from the viewpoint of two homeless children who encounter the ghost of Marley on his way to save Scrooge, while they are trying to sleep in a cemetery. They later turn up as propaganda when the Ghost of Christmas Present tells Scrooge that they are Ignorance and Want. The kids are not impressed at being used in this way, but it all works out. There is a suggestion that the boy's anger with the world may send him in the same direction as Scrooge if he doesn't watch out. Interesting, though really, Scrooge has no excuse that Dickens tells us about. He did spend a bit of his childhood with a father issue, but that ended okay, and he had a loving sister, a terrific master during his apprenticeship and a beautiful girlfriend who only dumped him because he was  already turning unpleasant.

If you haven't read Little Women, you have missed one of the great Christmas scenes in 19th century literature. Four sisters living in America during the Civil War celebrate as best they can in their genteel poverty. They spend what little money they have on their mother and give up their breakfast to a family suffering real poverty. The older girls do have to work for a living, but in those days genteel poverty meant you were a middle class family which could only afford one servant - in this case, Hannah the housekeeper, who is not a slave as this is a family living in the North.

Who can forget the Christmas night play, performed in a small room by the girls? It's written by Jo, the would-be writer, who plays the villain in this melodrama. In some ways, I think Little Women does for 19th century American Christmas what A Christmas Carol does for British. it even begins with the complaint that Christmas won't be Christmas without presents.

I wrote about Harry Potter in last year's Christmas book post, so I won't go into any detail here. Go look it up under "Compulsory pre-Christmas Post." Let's just say that something dramatic happens every Christmas in the Potter books. In The Deathly Hallows, Harry and Hermione are in Godric's Hollow when they realise it's Christmas and we get our first mention of a church, with the Christmas service which they don't attend. I do often wonder about wizards and religion. They do celebrate holidays, but only in the secular sense. Funerals and weddings seem to be performed by a celebrant, at least when we see them in the books. Perhaps there's something on Pottermore. 

So, back to The Dark Is Rising. In case you've missed it, this is a children's book by a British writer now living in the US and writing beautiful books like Shadow Hawk, set in early colonial America, seen from the viewpoints of both a Native American lad and an English boy who sympathises with the Native Americans. 

Susan Cooper writes beautiful stuff, and The Dark Is Rising is a classic. It's no wonder so many people want to do an on-line reread. Long before Harry Potter, a boy discovers on his eleventh birthday that he is - well, not a wizard, exactly. Will Stanton is the seventh son of a seventh son and he is the last of the Old Ones, a group of magical people who fight for the Light against the Dark. They are led by Merlin, who is still around and even has a job in this time - he is a university professor and archaeologist and calls himself Merriman Lyon. I guess the university must give him a very flexible timetable because he always seems to be around in this series of books. 

Yes, it's a series of five, but this book, the title of the series, is, in my opinion, the best, and the one people want to reread, over and over. It has not only story, but atmosphere. There's snow and darkness and a flood when the snow melts. There is a sinister Rider, menacing Will and his family, and an old tramp who was once something else, till he was tempted to the Dark(or is that the Dark Side?). Christmas here is celebrated in the home of an Old One, the sort of lady of the manor - well, she lives in the big house, anyway, and shelters the whole village when it looks like being flooded out. 

There are references to traditions such as the hunting of the wren, woven into the storyline. Christmas is woven through it, a European Christmas not unlike the mediaeval kind when the whole idea was to keep warm and kindie light so that the sun would come back. 

If you haven't read Terry Pratchett's Hogfather, by the way, you need to, and especially the scene where Death and his servant Albert are discussing the true meaning of Hogswatch, the Discworld Christmas. Albert doesn't think it's about a fat man giving gifts or family celebrating. It's about bringing back the sun and a lot of nasty things happen to make that go. Mind you, Death's granddaughter Susan thinks it's about "jolly...and other things ending in olly."

And here I will leave you to enjoy your holiday, whatever the true meaning is. May the new year bring you lots of books! 

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Last time at West Campus

As I write this, I have had to return to my old campus, which is about to be pulled down. I really didn't want to come back and see the remains of my poor library. Yes, there will be a lovely new library at the new school and it won't have asbestos in it, but it won't be my library.

But someone had to come and direct the removalists which stuff had to be taken to our other campus and when I arrived, their truck had broken down and who knows how long it will be before it arrives? And I'm supposed to be supervising students in a movie showing this afternoon. At best, I might just make it on time to set up at lunchtime. Apparently the room concerned has a projector and a screen, but no computer, and I have no laptop. Well, I do, but I have not brought it in to work in years. It's just too heavy to lug and my iPad did fine for rolls and marking and even class prep. Someone will lend me a laptop to use, if necessary. And you had to supply the movie. I brought in three - Star Wars ANH, Back To The Future and Raiders Of The Lost Ark. My friend Jasna has also offered me Snow White And The Huntsman. Whether I make it on time is another matter.

I did do one good thing - a silly student who hadn't been paying attention had turned up at the old campus. He didn't have a myki card and I think I left my silly-student spares at home, so I took him into the school and organised something for him.  \ Jasna was there, packing stuff into her van and agreed to take him.

But some good things have happened in the last few days. Look at this.

A student whom I only knew a little, but who came with us to the Melbourne Writers' Festival made me this paper crane and gave me that little card/note which read as follows:

"Thank you for being such a wonderful librarian, although I haven't been taught by you I can tell your a wonderful teacher. Thank you for allowing me to come along to meet Moris Glasmsn as well as staying with the book club at times. Wishing you great happiness and joy with this crane by your side."

I've left in the spelling errors, because it was her message, but I'm sure you can work it out.

In the end, whatever hassles I've had, I'm glad to have had a job working with people. I've worked in an office, though it was an office that dealt with people's needs(Social Security, now Centrelink) and I don't regret it, because that was where I met a dear friend I still see, and it gave me the chance to compare. And I remember how when people rang to tell us to stop their late parents' pensions, I always expressed sympathy, and one man wrote to say thank you. And then there was the time when I managed to get the bank to cough up a pensioner's money. I was so happy to be able to ring her back and tell her to go get her money.

 But I am glad I didn't continue in that job - this one has been much more rewarding.

A week and a half left...

Friday, December 08, 2017

My Career In A School Library: Some Thoughts

I'm about to say goodbye to my days as a teacher-librarian. A student actually asked me, "But WHY?" 

Why indeed? Sooner or later you have to be firm with yourself and go. I love our students, both those I teach and those I only know through their visits to the library, and will miss them. I've taught many siblings and welcomed others to my lunchtime book club. One of my Year 7 students this year was the niece of a girl I taught in Year 8 only a few years ago(a very young auntie, she has just finished Year 12). 

It has been sad to tell them that next year, at their new campus, there will be a library, but probably not a book club, unless a lovely teacher who helped me with the Premier's Reading Challenge this year can get yard duty in the library. It may happen - with extra teachers, as well as students, surely they can manipulate yard duty to make sure someone can open the library at lunchtime? But no certainty. All I can assure them is that Miss will be running the Reading Challenge. The library tech knows her rights: she is not being paid to supervise students(heck, she's not being paid as a technician, even!) and could be in big trouble if anything happens in the library while she is there without a teacher. So no lunchtime opening unless a teacher gets a library yard duty. 

But this is no longer my problem. I have done it for many years and now it's my time. I have plans. Writing during the day, for a start, with a chance to submit to a lot of those markets I have posted to me once a fortnight with the Buzzwords newsletter. I've sold a couple of articles this year and am working on a third, which I can't finish till early next year, now. I've written some stories for anthologies, but missed deadlines, because I had to prepare classes and mark work. Well, at least I now have something to submit somewhere. I will do some volunteer work. I can afford this, due to a lifetime pension in a very good, well-paid superannuation scheme. I may even go back to study, and the year after next I might be able to go to Dublin for the 2019 Worldcon! 

During the last couple of weeks I have seen my library dismantled, packed the last of the books for storage or the other campus, which will, in its own time, be likewise dismantled. There is going to be a library at the new school, though I have no idea who will run it! I've seen the architect pictures and it looks pretty. Good luck to the new librarian, whoever it is! 

I really do wish them the best. I'm kind of proud of how I've met my challenges. I've been sole TL at my school and had to teach as well. I've had kids come to me in the classroom because there was no one in the library and their teacher wanted a class set and the class set room was locked. I've sighed and handed the keys to a reliable kid in my own class. 

My budget has never been the best and a few years ago it was slashed. I set up this blog in the first place so I could get free books for my students because $3500 a year, for everything, was not going to be anywhere near enough. Don't worry, I'm not closing down this blog, though I might consider accepting some - just a few - ebooks now. Depends if I think my younger family members might enjoy them.  

But there were brand new books for the students of my disadvantaged school to read, and as I'd read them I could share information. When I did go book shopping I'd find books I knew individual kids would like, and my general response to a request for advice was, "Have I got a book for you!" 

With that tiny budget I certainly couldn't afford writer visits, but there were other options. There were not-too-expensive events in the city, such as the Melbourne Writers' Festival and the Reading Matters conference student days. This year we went to hear Morris Gleitzman, the author of a wonderful series of novels about a Jewish boy, Felix, and his adventures on the run from Nazis during the war, his life with the partisans and after the war, finally ending up in Australia. There was a novel about his delightful granddaughter, who adores him. One boy who came with us hadn't read his books, but afterwards threw himself into the series. 

Not all the kids could afford even the few dollars for the tickets or the train fares. I paid from my own pocket in advance, so I had the option of letting a few kids come for free, and supplying their travel cards. That wouldn't have been an option if it had cone from my budget. I was blowed if anyone was going to miss out for lack of money! 

And a couple of days ago, while throwing out stuff, I discovered a bag of permission slips and money from this year's festival! Oh, dear. I must be rich if I don't notice $120! 

During the National Year of Reading, I was able to take some kids to the local library for a free session with John Marsden, who gave away his older books and signed. Usually you have to pay
$$$ to hear him speak! 

It has helped, being a writer and known to other writers and big name librarians. One year we had a phone call from the State Library, offering to bring the Teen Booktalkers to us. They hadn't had enough bookings and didn't want to cancel. In the end, we got a free session from three fine  writers, one of them Vikki Wakefield, who had only done one book and has gone in to bigger things. The head honcho of the Centre for Youth Literature found someone else to pay, possibly the local council. We also got a box of leftover books. 

We've had a visit from Sheryl Clark, courtesy of YABBA and Alice Pung, courtesy of the Stella schools program. We've also had visits from authors who were friends, courtesy of themselves, while they were in Melbourne. Thanks, guys! I accepted because they offered, though, I never asked. I made sure that at least they got lunch and a thank you gift and, where possible, promotion in the local papers. 

Alison Goodman visited my school before any other; she'd sold one novel at the time and wanted to get a bit of experience in school visits; she spoke to my four Year 12 book clubbers and showed them her huge planning chart. 

I made Will Kostakis help me with my literacy class when he arrived an hour early. Bless him, he was wonderful! He even missed out on morning tea while his fans barged into the library at recess before we could go to the staffroom. One young man glared at him because he thought his girlfriend was flirting(she wasn't, she just loved the book!). That was before Will came out. 

We've had a couple of book launches. Both times I asked writer friends to come and launch. I have even managed to get my publishers in to give away bookmarks, posters and other such goodies. My book club members decorated the library and made speeches to our guests while presenting them with thank you gifts, and read the books ahead of time so they could ask questions and appreciate the visitors. 

I never had much time, on my own, to do anything big for Book Week, but hey, anyone can run a trivia quiz! 

One year I had a very successful Banned Books Week virtual readout by the kids - it only worked once, but it worked. It didn't cost money, just a bit of time. 

One thing I regret is not doing the Premier's Reading Challenge till this year. It was a lot easier than I'd expected. Still, I've appointed a successor and she will do a fine job. Hopefully more kids will complete it next year. 

So, readers, I think I've made the best of my time as a teacher-librarian with staffing and money challenges. I want to thank those who have helped me. Without them, about half of the abovementioned activities couldn't have happened. 

Now it's my time. Hopefully I will make the best of that too. 

Friday, December 01, 2017

An Interview With Deborah Abela

Today's guest is Deborah Abela, a hugely popular and prolific children's writer. She has written novels, short stories and picture books and the one time we met, at a signing table, she must have gotten cramps from all the books she was signing for her young fans. 

Deborah started her writing career writing for children's TV. She has won about a million awards, including some for which children voted. She lives in Sydney, but has travelled the world and had some adventures that would not be out of place in a novel! If you want to read about them, check out her web site or her Facebook page(links supplied below)

Deborah has kindly agreed to answer some questions, beginning with her contribution to Laugh Your Head Off Again And Again, the collection of funny children's stories recently published by Macmillan.

In "A perfectly Normal Thursday", we have such quirky elements as a young orphan girl turning up at the home of a bereaved couple with a box and staying, elaborate cakes, the Queen of England turning up in the local woods with one of her corgis and then wandering in with her book club for afternoon tea. Would you please tell us about it - how did you get the idea?

A lot of my stories start with the idea of, ‘I wonder what would happen if….’ I was between novel writing and I wanted to play with an idea of a parcel arriving one day on the doorstep of two people who had shut themselves away from the world and are faced with the dilemma of opening the door or keeping it firmly shut. They decide to open it and what they find, changes their lives.

There is something oddly Roald Dahl about the style of the story - is he one of your influences?

What’s not to love about Roald Dahl!? Dahl is quoted as having said: ‘I find that the only way to make my characters really interesting to children is to exaggerate all their good or bad qualities, and so if a person is nasty or bad or cruel, you make them very nasty, very bad, very cruel.’ I think my story is softer and gentler and not as over-the-top as Dahl, but it is a lovely comparison. Thank you!

The heroine, Skylar, is very fond of the novel Charlotte's Web - and that turns out to be the book being read by the royal book club - what is it about this book that made it turn up twice in your story? Is it, perhaps, a childhood favourite?

I LOVE Charlotte’s Web and remember being entranced by the book and film when I was a kid….I love how it moved me to laughter but also tears. This is a classic story and I love to give nods to the classics in my work. In my novel Grimsdon, the kids are reading The Wizard of Oz to each other and the excerpts included reflect what is happening in my story. In New City it is Oliver Twist. In my picture book Wolfie An Unlikely Hero there are lots of tributes to fairytales.

Do you have a favourite kind of fiction to write?

Mmmm…that’s tricky in that the books I like to write are character driven….but I don’t mind a bit of adventure and comedy ..oh and feisty female heroes. I also have written my first historical fiction about post war migration to Australia after the devastation of Malta during WW2 in Teresa A New Australian, but that has its share of feisty girls and action.

 You have done many series books, most notably the Max Remy Superspy ones - do you find series easier or harder to write than stand-alone books? Why?

This depends on the story. Some books are stand alones, after which the story is finished, but sometimes I get inundated with emails from kids asking me to write the sequel….this has happened with Grimsdon and the sequel New City and The Stupendously Spectacular Spelling Bee and the sequel The Most Marvellous Spelling Bee Mystery.

What are you working on now?

I am about to dive into the third draft of The Most Marvellous Spelling Bee Mystery.

Tell us about your writing process - plotter or pantser?

Plotter. I tried once to be a pantser and I ended up going down the wrong path so many times I threw out about 20 000 words. I find plotting keeps me on track and ensures I have key crucial moments in the story to work towards and look forward to.

When is your next book coming out - and what is it?

The Most Marvellous Spelling Bee Mystery will be released in April 2018.

Thanks for visiting The Great Raven today, Deborah! 

Deborah's books are available at all good bookshops and on line.  

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

An Interview With Meredith Costain

Today on the Great Raven, my guest is Meredith Costain, contributor to the humorous children's anthology Laugh Your Head Off Again And Again(Sydney, Macmillan 2017), and author of many, many books for children.

Meredith lives in Melbourne with her partner and two beautiful dogs. (See below) If you want to learn more about Meredith and her books, you can find her at

We have known each other for many years, but I have learned some fascinating things in this interview I didn't know. Read and enjoy!

 Your story in this anthology, "Nutbush", was about dogs. I know you have some of your own - is this what inspired your story or was it something else?

I’m definitely a dog lover (we have two young kelpie/heeler rescue dogs at the moment) and will sneak a dog or two into a story or chapter book whenever I can, whether it be as a main ‘character’ or just somewhere in the background. For this anthology the brief was simply to provide a ‘funny story’ for a primary-school aged audience – so dogs it was! We’ve been training our youngest dog recently (she can be a bit of a terror in the dog park, herding joggers and skateboarders), and also teaching our other dog to bark on cue at the end of the lines of ‘How Much is that Doggie in the Window?’, so dog-training became the inspiration for the story.

What are the benefits and challenges of writing humour for a young audience?

There is plenty of evidence around to show that kids love funny stories. Humorous books dominate the best-seller lists and lots of parents swear that the break-through books that turned their reluctant readers on to reading are the ‘funny ones’. It’s also what (most of) the kids say when I ask them what they like to read when I’m doing school visits.

Much of this humour (particularly for the 6-10 age-group) tends to rely on bodily functions: poo, pee and fart jokes rule. I prefer to use more situational humour, word play or exaggeration in the series I’m currently writing. However I did throw in a brief reference to wee in my story for Laugh Your Head Off Again and Again: hopefully it hit the spot! (so to speak …)

Your story is set in a small country town. Why did you choose this for a setting?

Placing characters in a country setting means there is more scope for action and adventure, away from house-bound ‘screens’. Kids can build billy carts and tree-houses or find treasures in the local rubbish dump and tadpoles in the creek. There is also more of a sense of community in a small town, given that everybody knows everybody else (and often their business as well!), so it’s easier to introduce characters of different ages.

You have written a wide variety of books, from education titles to picture books to chapter books - do you enjoy the challenge? 

I just like writing! So yes, I have fun trying out different formats and writing for different age-groups. I enjoy doing the research for non-fiction as well (although it can be hard to know when to stop looking things up and get on with the actual task at hand!)

Versatility is also a good way to ensure a reasonable living as a writer. Writing in different styles and formats for several different publishers over the years has meant that I could keep a steady stream of projects on the go. These days though I mainly concentrate on series fiction for junior to middle primary-aged readers.

 Do you have a favourite type of book/story to write? If so, what is it?

I enjoy writing tween (and slightly younger) fiction for girls. All that angsty stuff and big questions (to them) like: ‘Do people like me? And if not, what do I have to do to get them to?’ and ‘Am I different from everyone else?’ and ‘Will I make any friends if I go somewhere new?’ that I went through myself. I guess by writing about it now (and with the benefit of hindsight) I can give myself a happier ending (on the page at least) by showing a bit more resilience. And I also get the chance to say the things to the ‘mean girls’ I would have liked to have done before.

I also enjoy writing picture books where I get to play with words. I often write these in rhyme (considered a ‘no no’ by many!) so when everything comes together in terms of both scanning and perfect rhyme, it feels pretty good! Actually, I enjoy any kind of writing where I get to play with words.

What do you like best about writing for children?

The licence to be playful – with both words and ideas.

There’s also lots more opportunity to meet up with your readers, through organised visits to schools and libraries to do writing workshops. Kids can be a great source of inspiration!
But they are also a very honest audience – if they don’t like something or they find it boring, they’ll let you know pretty quickly. So there’s extra incentive to make your writing not just good but exceptional (and non-boring!).

Do you have a favourite book of those you have written? If so, why? 

There are a few, including Freeing Billy, an Aussie Nibble about two kids who help to find a new home for a neglected Rottweiler puppy living in their street (based almost entirely on true events), and Doodledum Dancing, a collection of rhyming verse for the very young, illustrated by Pamela Allen. I read a lot of rhyming poetry when I was young by poets such as A A Milne, Hilaire Belloc and C J Dennis, so was delighted when Penguin took on my own attempts at verse, particularly as poetry has traditionally been difficult to sell.

But I’d probably nominate Musical Harriet, my first picture book, illustrated by Craig Smith. Also inspired by true events, it’s about a girl who is desperate to play the trombone in her school band. Sadly, her arms are too short to push the slide down far enough to produce all the notes, so she needs to find a quirky way to overcome the problem. (And yes, there are dogs involved.) The book was adapted for television by the ABC, and there was talk of the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra writing a script for a touring performance as well, but sadly they missed out on funding for the project, so it didn’t go ahead.

You do a lot of commissioned work - have you thought of something you'd like to write outside of this?

Much of my education work has been commissioned, and also a few ‘special projects’ for trade publishers, such as a Ladybird guide to the Sydney Olympics (which actually reached the New York Times bestseller list) or novelisations of TV shows such as Dance Academy and Heartbreak High.

But pretty much all (apart from my latest series) of my trade published books (from picture books and chapter books to series fiction) have been my own ideas that I’ve submitted to the editors of publishing houses in the standard way.

What are you working on now?

I’m currently working on the edit for Book #13 of the Ella Diaries, which is about soccer, and writing the fourth book for its spin-off series, Olivia’s Secret Scribbles, for a slightly younger readership (5-7 year olds).

Olivia is Ella’s (feisty) little sister, and the new series will give Olivia her own voice and adventures.

It can be a bit confusing to be working on two ‘related’ series at the same time, particularly in terms of voice, language and style. But it’s been getting easier as I’ve ‘discovered’ more about my second character. Ella is very ‘arty’ in that she loves ballet, and acting, and fashion design, and writing poems and songs in times of great angst. So I decided to make Olivia more ‘STEMmy’ – an inventor who enjoys designing and carrying out experiments (sometimes with disastrous results!).

 When is your next book coming out - and what is it?

There are two. Total TV Drama, which is Book #11 in the Ella Diaries series, will be out in January. Ella and some of her classmates (including her arch-nemesis Peach) will be appearing on a TV Quiz show.

And My New Best Friend, the first book in Olivia’s Secret Scribbles, will be released in February. This one will have a mystery element, as well as a few ‘off-the’wall’ inventions!

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Babylon 5 - Some Book References

Today's post is about that impressive SF TV series, Babylon 5. While I reserve the right to write about anything I like, this is, after all, a book blog, so I'm going to go through some of the literary references in the show. The author, J.Michael Straszynski, is very well read, so it's not surprising he threw literature into the mix. He also describes it as a sort of novel, with each episode as a chapter. 

If you're interested, there's a good Wikipedia article here. It mentions a lot of influences I hadn't known, including Babylonian creation myths, but I will only talk about books I've read. 

And here they are: Tolkien - Lord Of The Rings and The Silmarillion, Alfred Bester's The Demolished Man, the Arthurian legends, via Thomas Malory, Walter Miller's A Canticle For Leibowitz.

For those of you who have missed the show, here is the outline. The time is "the Third Age Of Man" - sounding familiar to Lord Of The Rings fans? For everyone else, it's about the same time as  the Enterprise "no bloody A, B, C or D" is on its five year mission. But unlike the peaceful Federation with its missions of discovering strange new worlds, there are dark things happening on Earth, politically, which will eventually lead to war. 

The space station Babylon 5 is the latest of five Babylon stations, two of which were destroyed and one of which went missing. This one, however, is ticking like clockwork, full of embassies and also ordinary people who have moved there for jobs. Each race has its own area, with an atmosphere and gravity suited to that race. If you go to an area where you can't breathe, you take a mask. 

There are colourful characters of each major race, usually ambassadors. A few years ago, there was a war between Earth and Minbar, due totally to a cultural misunderstanding.(Whoops! You mean those open gun ports were a sign of respect?) But after Jeffrey Sinclair, the current commander of B5, was captured, the Minbari released him and surrendered without explanation, even though they were about to win. We do find out why a couple of seasons on. And no, I won't share. Watch.
There is one overarching story arc during the entire series, and when it ends we realise it was planned all along. Even though characters change, the thread is there. 

I loved the characters, who grew and developed. Some of them died. In the original Trek TV series, as opposed to the films, nobody died. And that was fine with me. Star Trek TOS is one I love even better than B5, for different reasons, but B5 was much darker. The author of the hilarious "Trouble With Tribbles", David Gerrold, wrote a terribly dark story called "Believers". He wouldn't have tried it for Trek, which was much more optimistic. There were other Trek writers, including the amazing Dorothy Fontana. There was Neil Gaiman. But most of the episodes were by JMS so were consistent. Well, it was his universe, after all.

So, for the influences. We'll start with The Demolished Man by Alfred Bester. In that one there was the inspiration for the Psi Corps of B5. In case you hadn't noticed, JMS named the Psi Corps head Alfred Bester, and he was played villainously by "Ensign Chekhov" that cheerful young Russian, Walter Koenig. The difference was that in The Demolished Man, the Esper's Guild were the good guys. Nobody was forced to join, though if you were a telepath you'd be stupid not to. In fact, there was high demand for training. In one scene the low-grade telepath receptionist is calling in her mind for the applicants to go through the door - and only one of them hears. There are problems, but nothing like the ones in B5, where the mother of main character Susan Ivanova was forced on to suppressant drugs when she refused to join the Psi Corps and committed suicide. Well, there is one embittered telepath who got kicked out and that does cause trouble...

A Canticle For Leibowitz is a novel set among monks at a time when the last people are going to the stars. There was  a war centuries ago and someone found papers by some guy called Leibowitz and turned them into the basis for a religion. There are beautiful illuminated manuscript versions of the papers. A spaceship is being built for the last humans to leave.

The B5 episode "Deconstruction Of Falling Stars" features those monks, well after the Third Age Of Man, looking back, and goes forward into the future. It was the last episode of Season 4, and was written while they were still waiting to hear if there was going to be a Season 5. The actual last episode was made, just in case. But this might have been a suitable ending to the series. 

The Arthurian legends feature in a number of episodes. An early episode features a Grail seeker - played, oddly, by that usual villain David Warner. Before the end of the episode he has adopted an apprentice, who takes his role at the end. 

Then there is third season episode "A Late Delivery From Avalon" in which Michael York plays a man in chain mail and carrying a sword who arrives on the station claiming to be King Arthur, and starts doing good deeds, such as rescuing a poor woman who has been robbed by villainous street gangs(small as it is, B5 does have poor and rich sections and  crime happens, hence the need for a security chief). In this he is helped by Narn Ambassador G'Kar, whom he knights. 

Sorry, he isn't King Arthur, but something dreadful happened that he has wiped from his mind: he fired the first shot in the Battle Of The Line, which started the Earth Minbari war. It was intended to be like that scene in Malory where a knight draws a sword during peace talks to kill a snake and unintentionally starts the battle. Because it is so like that scene the man starts connecting everything in his life with the Arthurian legends. Our heroes work out that for him, every one of them plays a role in the legend. The only way for him to heal is to hand his sword to the Lady Of The Lake - but who is she? She is Minbari Ambassador Delenn - who, incidentally, fired the NEXT shot, after a mentor was killed. So, very appropriate! 

If you haven't read Tolkien, or at least seen the three movies, or heard the story discussed even, hang your head in shame. I'm not going into detail. Look it up. Better still, read the book, one of the twentieth century's great classics. 

But here are some bits of Tolkien loaded into B5. For starters, "Mordor where the shadows lie" is called Zahadum, as in "Khazad-Dum", a name for the Mines of Moria, where Gandalf falls to his doom. Well, his sort-of doom, anyway, because he comes back. And remembering that the land of Mordor is where the shadows lie, it's the base of operations of the Shadows, mysterious beings who are trying to take over. It even has its own Eye of Sauron.

The Shadow ships are definitely inspired by Tolkien's Nazghul, the Black Riders, and every bit as scary. They appear in clusters, spider-like in the night of space. Later, we learn that they have captured humans merged with them, unable to fight and useless even if you do capture their ship. It happens even to a woman loved by the bad guy, Bester, and you feel sorry for him in that episode. In Tolkien, the Riders were Ring Wraiths, former kings who had chosen this life by accepting the power of the Nine Rings.

Like Gandalf, John Sheridan, second Commander of the station, is warned not to go to Zahadum, but he goes anyway and, like Gandalf, falls - leaps, actually - to his doom in the abyss while destroying the Shadow base. He dies, but is restored to life by a terribly powerful being called - Lorien! Yes, like that Lorien, first the gardens of peace run for the benefit of Maiar and Valar, then Lothlorien, where the Lady Galadriel lives in her Elvish artist colony. Lorien tells him that the best he can offer him is twenty years of life. John goes home and gets on with it. 

There are two groups of powerful beings who resemble Tolkien's Valar(gods)and Maiar(angels, including fallen ones. Gandalf is a Maia, but so is Sauron, who started as the sidekick of a more powerful being, Morgoth). The Shadows are one, the other is the Vorlons, who actually have an embassy on the station. You never get to see them outside their armour except when there is a huge emergency and then they appear to any religious or cultural group as their equivalent of angels. 
Turns out these two groups were supposed to be looking after us, but had their own ideas of how to go about it and neither group did a very good job of it and did stuff up things among mortals. There's no homely Gandalf to be wise, but also the kind of guy you'd be happy to go to the pub with. Anyway, both groups are eventually told off like schoolchildren and ordered to piss off. And they do, beyond the galaxy rim, very much like the departure of the Elves to the Undying Lands. 

Speaking of Elves, the Minbari are perfect candidates for the role. They even have a Grey Council(White Council anyone?). There's no question they're mortal, but they have Elvish wisdom and technical/craft abilities.  And Ambassador Delenn, who eventually marries John Sheridan, is definitely an Elf maiden! Someone has compared the couple to Beren and Luthien, and I have to admit, Delenn is more like the tough Luthien, who goes to the realm of Morgoth to rescue her mortal lover, than Arwen, who sits embroidering through the whole War of the Ring, and still lives at home after 2000 years, unable to marry Aragorn till he has done certain feats because Dad says so - yeesh, who'd be an immortal on Middle-Earth? Oh, she's brave, no question about it, but not proactive like her ancestress, Luthien. Don't get her confused with film-Arwen, whose role was hugely expanded. 

The Minbari also run the Rangers, a group very like Tolkien's Rangers of the North, but you don't have to be Minbari - or Numenorean - to join. A human Ranger, Marcus Cole, lives and works on B5 and serves Delenn, who is his leader.
John Sheridan, in the last episode, foreknows his death and goes back to Babylon 5, which is about to be decommissioned, then on to face his fate.

And guess what? He encounters Lorien and, like Frodo, he finds himself offered a place in the Undying Lands, or B5's version thereof. Poor Delenn is left behind to mourn him for the rest of her life, and I think here there is a fleeting hint of Arwen, although her people are still around and she's not wandering through now-empty Elven woods. 

There are other influences, such as Frank Herbert's Dune, which I have read, but you can only do so much comparison. Go read the Wikipedia article! 

So, what do you think? 

Sunday, November 05, 2017

A Much-Belated Link To R.J Anderson's Continuum GoH Speech!

I can't believe I forgot.

A couple of years ago, I attended Continuum 11, where the GoH was R.J(Rebecca)Anderson. Such a nice lady, and I got to do a panel with her, so when I wrote a con report and mentioned I'd missed the GoH speech, due to family commitments, she wrote a comment with a link to her web site, where she had done a transcript of the speech. It was a wonderful speech too, on the theme of why she loves children's and YA books. I so agree with her that kids won't take nonsense from their books and aren't impressed by how many awards they have won. All that matters is story. As far as I'm concerned, if it doesn't have an amazing story and characters you can care about, I don't care if it has "beautiful writing."

It's a lovely speech/article and I won't go into detail, because you should absolutely go and read it, right here! I unearthed my post with her comment this morning while browsing through, as you go, and checked it was still there. So go, read, enjoy, and let me know what you think!

To Rewrite or Not To Rewrite... That is The Question

This morning I read an article in the newspaper asking whether we had the right to rewrite Shakespeare. The journalist was understandably unhappy about a current production of The Merchant Of Venice in which lines are added to the last scene. Not the production itself, which she says was very good(and I will be going to see it in Melbourne if it hasn't come and gone already)but sticking in new lines.

Look, people have been doing this for centuries. There was that guy who rewrote King Lear to give it a happy ending. I mean, really! If a play was labelled "tragedy" in Shakespeare's time, you knew to expect a pile of bodies at the end, including that of the hero. Don't like it? Don't go. But he didn't like it and he rewrote it. If it had happened in the days of copyright, the author, if alive, would have been quite entitled to sue. But poor Will was dead even then.

These days, though, we usually interpret instead of rewriting. I've seen Merchant in so many interpretations. Laurence Olivier's was the most powerful. He was a dignified Victorian businessman, who arranged that loan from his office. As the play went on and he was tormented beyond bearing, his business suit became disarranged, his jacket went... When he did his famous speech "hath not a Jew eyes?" you truly felt for him and because this was for TV they could do close-ups and you saw the idea suddenly form on his face - hey, I can actually do this! - and he snarled, "Let him look to his bond!" and stormed off. And his daughter, who had given away her mother's ring for a monkey, found herself ignored by Portia, played by Olivier's wife, Joan Plowright. An entire interpretation, all done without adding a single line, all done with costume, background and, most of all, acting. You can find it on YouTube, I think, or buy it on DVD, though only as part of a boxed set. Watch it, anyway. Jeremy Brett is in it too. I'd never heard of him when I saw this on TV.

The Bell Company has done it a number of times. I remember the very first, which started in a bathhouse. Unfortunately, I can't recall much else about it, but it was a long time ago.

I have seen only one version which actually treated this as a comedy - and yes, it's listed among the comedies, probably because it doesn't end with a pile of bodies and doesn't have a fantastical tale about a lost princess or some such. But I would never have thought I'd ever see it as a very funny play - well, okay, it wasn't funny for Shylock, but it also ended sadly for Antonio in this one. But the rest of it was hilarious.

This was the Cameri Theatre production I saw in Tel Aviv. In Hebrew. That's right, Hebrew. I was living there at the time, working to improve my Hebrew and I figured I could do that by going to see a play I knew well in English. And this one was very good, translated by Israel's top poet. It still  sounded like Shakespeare. I think I've mentioned this in another post, but what the heck. It's a different context.

I guess technically it was a Royal Shakespeare Company thing, because the director was brought over from the RSC, but still.

It was done in modern dress, a common thing, but it let them play with the scenes. In the opening scene, we see Salerio and Solanio with Antonio. It's an outdoor cafe and he was having his lunch until they come along and eat it - then get up and leave him to be presented with the bill. Funny, yes, but it also said something: somehow, Antonio ends up paying the bill for everyone including his best friend, Bassanio. Especially his best friend - you know, "hey, there's this rich, gorgeous chick I want to woo, but I haven't got enough money to make a splash, can I have something till I marry her and I can repay you with HER money?" Not till payday, of course. People like Bassanio don't work, ever, or think they should, unlike the play's two antagonists, both hardworking men.

The cafe comes up again,when Antonio and Shylock are discussing the loan; when the two Christians are gone, the waiter comes out and snatches up the menu and closes the cafe! No words, just interpretation.

The casket scene was hysterically funny. The Prince of Aragon was dressed as a matador and did some Spanish yodelling and dancing while Portia rolled her eyes. The Prince of Morocco was played as Othello(in fact, I saw the same actor in the role the next week!). And yes, I guess a bit of extra stuff was added, I'd forgotten, but when Morocco realises he has missed out and acts the tragic hero about it, you see his four wives peeking out from the edge of the set and he rushes off cursing at them in Arabic. Additional lines, okay, but funny enough to forgive.

Gobbo had an Italian accent, and you haven't lived till you've heard a man speak Hebrew with an Italian accent!

Jessica is shown as a sort of schoolgirl who throws away her hair ribbon and becomes a hippy in tie-dyed clothes. In that awful scene where S&S are laughing over, "Oh, my ducats, oh my daughter" you see Shylock walking past in the background holding it. Which leads to the second addition. When Jessica and Lorenzo are told of their good fortune, they say together, "Wow!"

And then there was the last scene. All the lovers depart and Antonio, the man who paid the bill for it  all, is left alone on stage. He gazes at the letter which gives him all that money, then... lets it fall. And puts his head in his hands to weep. Again - sheer interpretation. No extra dialogue needed.

Is it okay to interpret - better than to add dialogue? Well, I think it is fair enough. We can't go back and ask, and as a professional actor, he would have been interpreting other people's plays and as a playwright he might have just said, "Look, do you mind? I've got a play to perform and a deadline for the next one." Of course, there is that waspish line in Hamlet about clowns who "say more than is set down for them." Which tells you that people were ad libbing his work even when he was around and heaven knows there were all those pirated copies based on what actors thought they remembered... But he really wouldn't have time to worry about how others saw his stories.

And Merchant is not being misinterpreted if you can sympathise with Shylock without rewriting the lines. If you haven't read it, do. I remember my Fourth Year Shakespeare tutor commenting on the significance of Jessica giving up her mother's ring for a monkey. To us, it just tells us that the girl is frivolous, but in the author's time, it meant changing your chastity(the mother's ring) for lechery, of which a monkey was a symbol.

I think Shakespeare just wasn't capable of writing a totally two dimensional baddie, not even Richard III. If you don't believe me, compare this play with Marlowe's Jew Of Malta.  Now, there was a two-d baddie! This is one reason his plays still have something to say to us. Shylock may not be the best of Dads, but he was almost certainly a terrific husband to a woman he adored. And who knows but that Olivier was right and he finally decided to insist on his bond when he thought Antonio had been involved in the truly awful treatment he received from the man's friends - before he had actually done anything to Antonio?

It's just not necessary to add anything but stage business to Shakespeare. Okay, there have been a lot of different manuscripts, which needed editing, but that's not the same as deliberately adding lines. Olivier showed you can do it. Many others have.

So - leave my lovely Bard alone!

Thursday, November 02, 2017

Coming Soon... An Interview With Meredith Costain!

With the arrival of new anthology of funny stories for children Laugh Your Head Off Again And Again, I have been asked to interview two of the authors. I'm still preparing questions for Deborah Abela, but I've sent off my first set of questions to Meredith Costain. If you'd been running a school library for as long as I have, you will have heard of Meredith, who is a hugely prolific author of children's books from picture books and education titles to chapter books. One of her non fiction books, Hauntings Happen And Ghosts Get Grumpy, was launched at my school at the same time as my own Your Cat Could Be A Spy. Our students ate out of her hand and when she said she felt a cold spot in what turned out to be the gardening books, one student refused to go into that section of the shelves, even though I told them that no, we hadn't had any deaths in the library or the school, not that I knew of.

Anyway, as well as her short story, "Nutbush" (the name of a cute dog) I've asked her other questions about her career and writing life. I'll be posting it as soon as I receive the answers.

I can't wait to hear from her! 

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Of Sirius Black And That Firebolt

I'm rereading Harry Potter And The Prisoner Of Azkaban. It is my favourite of the entire series, but I do have to wonder about some things.

Right now, I'm wondering about Harry's mysterious Christmas gift; that's what I'm up to. Hermione has just said something that will end in a quarrel between her and the boys. She believes - correctly, as it turns out - that it was sent by Sirius Black. Of course, we all know by now that Sirius had no evil intentions when he sent it. 

The question nobody in the novel asks is - how? And not just the Firebolt, but the Christmas gifts in general. The students left at school wake up to a pile of gifts. Probably they arrive by owl mail - there don't seem to be any wizard  posties - and maybe the house elves deliver them to the rooms. We haven't yet been told about house elves, though, yet neither of the Muggle-bred members of the trio asks about it. I assume Ron takes it for granted. 

And then there are the pitiful "gifts" from the Dursleys - how do they get to Hogwarts? Does Hedwig turn up and hoot loudly until she's given something? I can just see Uncle Vernon chasing off "that bloody bird!" But if it was Hedwig, assuming she wore Vernon down, she would have delivered the mail personally. 

But let's continue on to Sirius and the Firebolt. Of course he can't go to London, walk through the Leaky Cauldron and Diagon Alley in his filthy - and recognisable - robes, so he sends Crookshanks to the Owl Office with his order. I assume he has stolen a copy of the Daily Prophet from somewhere to look at the ads and maybe stole some money for postage at the same time. But think about it. He sends an order for the broom, right? Presumably with his name on it because, while I suspect the goblins wouldn't care much whether the vault owner was on the run from Azkaban - Gringott's, I bet, is a bit like a Swiss bank - they would care if someone just turned up and said, "Hi, I'm from Quality Quidditch Supplies, can you let me into vault 711, the owner didn't give us his name." He would have to have given his name and signed it.

So, why didn't QQS report that they had received an order from somewhere near Hogsmeade, apparently from that crazy escaped convict Sirius Black?

Another thing. If McGonagall thought that the broom had arrived from Sirius, there would be more to worry about than whether it was hexed. Like - how did Sirius get into the castle and put it in Harry's dorm when last time he couldn't get past the portrait hole? And if he did, she should be asking, why is Harry still alive? But all she does is get the broom checked out for spells.  To do a spell on the broom, he would have had to get the broom directed to him, not to Hogwarts. If I'd been Minerva, I would at least have questioned whoever delivers Christmas gifts to students, whether it's the house elves or - shudder! - Argus Filch. Where did the broom come from - was it from QQS? In which case there might not be as much reason to worry that Black had got into the castle, though she should be contacting the shop for details. Did a couple of owls just drop a parcel with Harry's name on it to be delivered? Fine, time to check for spells.

As I've said, it's my favourite of the whole series. It's dark, but it's the last book in the series in which nobody dies. It's the most atmospheric of them all.

But I do have some nit picks with it! Which isn't going to stop me from rereading it.

Do you have some favourite glitches in this series?

Friday, October 20, 2017

Technology In The World Of Harry Potter

Okay, I mentioned this in a post before, here. But I think it's time to revisit and expand.

In Harry Potter And The Chamber Of Secrets, Mr Weasley comments how impressed he is with all the ways Muggles have of getting around not having magic. In some ways I'd say it's impressive how wizards get around a lack of major technology. In the same book he begins to ask Harry about "escapators". Well, Dumbledore has one leading to his office while everyone else has to use the stairs at Hogwarts - stairs that are unreliable. Mind you, there are lifts in the Ministry of Magic, where paper planes are used as inter-office memos. But those, and cars, are Muggle technology which wizards can and do use, unlike many other forms of Muggle tech, which I will get to shortly.

They do have their own technology. For example, brooms built for Quidditch are experimented with and designed for the best aerodynamic results, which suggests scientific understanding. You can't just wave your wand and bing! Flying broom! Well, you probably can, but it wouldn't be a lot of use in the air. I don't think they get their cauldrons built in Muggle factories. Wand technology is amazing too, and wand makers really know their stuff, but it's a handcraft thing done by a small number of craftsmen. Mind you, there are only a few thousand wizards in England and probably not too many elsewhere. 

They study astronomy at school, but not, I'm betting, physics. However, they would need telescopes - do they buy Muggle ones or build their own? 

But in many ways, wizards who don't mix with Muggles miss out.

 There is no Wizarding Internet. Imagine how much easier Hermione's research would have been with a Wizarding version of Google. Mind you, the earlier books were written in the 1990s, when the WWW was in its childhood.  But world building is world building and it has been established: no computers in Harry's world, let alone worldwide communication. That must make Madam Pince's life harder than it need be too. I remember card catalogues in libraries and the relief with which I replaced them with automated catalogues. If she was in the Muggle world, Madam Pince would at least have heard of them. They did exist in the 1990s, though they have improved vastly since then.

Wizarding transport sucks, in my opinion. If you need transport for a lot of people, yes, you can use that Muggle form of transport the train, but if there is one apart from the Hogwarts train - a steam train! - it isn't mentioned in the books. I have often wondered what happens to that train in between school trips a few times a year - is it kept in a shed somewhere? And what about the driver - what does he/she do for a living in between? I won't go into the plump witch with the sweets trolley - we find out more about her in Harry Potter And The Cursed Child - but the driver?

There's the Knight Bus if you don't mind being whirled around like a roller coaster ride, and I admit that it would be nice to be able to stick out your arm(and wand)and have a bus appear. I can't get a normal bus to stop for me if the driver is running late! But that is really for long distance trips; you wouldn't catch the Knight Bus to work every day.

Other than that, you can use a broom, assuming you don't have a problem with heights, but it seems a chilly way to travel, though I suppose you could magic up some warm air. Judging from Harry's Quidditch matches, wizards tend not to do that, for whatever reason - maybe you'd have to focus? - or why do they just accept being wet, while the spectators have umbrellas, but nothing more. And you couldn't take babies with you, except perhaps in a backpack, leaving behind your pram. It would be uncomfortable to travel that way while pregnant, I imagine. For some reason, magic carpets are currently banned in England, though a character mentions a grandfather who had an Axminster carpet big enough for ten people. Interesting implication that you can just magic a carpet. Maybe the law about magicking Muggle artefacts comes into it. 

You can do Apparition, but for good reason you have to be seventeen to get a licence. It's dangerous. Taking children with you is acceptable, but even more dangerous when you think about it. "Splinching" sounds funny, but really isn't. You can be split in half. What if you make a mistake and do it to your child? Ugh! Worse than the Star Trek transporter! 

Portkeys are an unpleasant way to travel and they are limited. You'd have to make sure that no Muggle wanders past the pile of junk on that hill, mutters about pollution and does the responsible thing, wouldn't you? And they are timetabled. You have to take them from a set place at a set time. Too much bother to use for anything except big events like the World Cup ... Or luring your enemy into a trap...

Floo powder is used a lot and families can use it, but again, it's limited. You MUST have a fireplace to use it - look what happens when the Weasleys try to get into the Dursleys' living room through the fake fireplace! And it has to be part of the Floo network. In Deathly Hallows, Harry, Ron and Hermione don't dare to use it, because it would reveal them to the Deatheaters. 

No, thanks, give me good old Muggle transport any time. 

And speaking of Floo powder, imagine being a wizarding world teen and how do you chat with your friends elsewhere? You stick your head in the fireplace and use Floo powder! I mean, really? I suppose you could just step in and visit and talk all you want and you wouldn't even have to get into arguments about who is going to drive you there and pick you up. But if you can't leave home, you kneel down on the stone edge of the fireplace and stick your head into the green flames. What sort of communication is that? 

No TV. One radio station, which seems to be overwhelmed with music by Celestina Warbeck, the famous lounge singer, though that may just be Molly Weasley. Maybe you can fiddle with the content to get the Wyrd Sisters band? We weren't told in the books. That you can start your own underground radio station is shown in Deathly Hallows, when the rebels broadcast. 

If there are any wizard film makers we never hear about them. The wizard Quentin Tarantino or Martin Scorsese may exist, but from the books I have concluded that there is no wizard cinema. 

And the subjects at Hogwarts don't include anything technical, not even elementary wand making/broom making(woodwork) for future wizard technicians. So where do they come from? Family firms, perhaps, but surely you'd need training? Apprenticeships? 

Fascinating as the wizarding world is, I'm glad I don't live in it.