Search This Blog

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. 


Friday, October 13, 2017

A Belated Friday 13 Post

I have written about Friday 13 before, so won't go into the background. Go check out my earlier post here. Yesterday I cheerfully mentioned it in class. One student said, "Would you stop talking about that!" Later I discovered it was her birthday. No wonder she was upset!

So let's just waffle about books with appropriate themes.

I've just started rereading Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman. My ebook edition has an intro about all those old, battered copies they were brought to sign, indicating they had been well loved, and, for some reason, a copy that the owner had put on black velvet in an elaborate box made especially for it. They didn't ask.

A wonderful book I've read over and over - a send-up, of course, of The Omen, in which the Anti-Christ baby goes to the wrong family. But it has fun with plenty of other deadly serious horror fiction.  And, o joy, I've just read that not only is it finally being made into a movie(or TV series), but the role of the cool demon Crowley has been perfectly cast with David Tennant! I've seen a picture of him and Azirophale and he is just right for the role! Wonder if he'll do it with his own Scottish accent? There was a touch of Scottish in his Benedick, but on the whole, he seems to have to go English for most roles.

Rosemary's Baby by Ira Levin(mortal woman bears the Devil'd child)is not as scary as I had thought it might be, but it does bring horror to the home front, instead of somewhere in Transylvania, as had always been the way of things before it. Maybe that, and not the Satan stuff, is what's scary. The author wrote some much scarier novels, as far as I'm concerned. The Boys From Brazil, in which someone is creating clones of Hitler - brr! And The Stepford Wives, in which women's husbands, in a small town, are killing them and replacing them with androids who stick to housework.

But speaking of Transylvania(I was), I found Dracula much easier reading than I'd thought it might be. It was written in letters and diary entries, so short, and the novel itself was not all that long. And it was scary! You'd mutter, "No, you idiot, leave the garlic in place! Don't open the window!" And she does, of course, and that's the end of her. 

Terry Pratchett has great fun sending up the vampire genre in Carpe Jugulum, in which a family of vampires takes over the tiny mountain kingdom of Lancre, due to an invitation to the royal infant's christening. That counts as inviting a vampire in. And these vampires believe in being all modern, like in those vampire novels where the camp wears his hair in a ponytail and suffers angst. They make the mistake of challenging top witch Granny Weatherwax and find themselves craving tea...

There are other vampires in the series, such as Black Ribboner Otto Chriek, who has given up blood drinking and who loves light. But he is an iconographer for the Ankh Morpork Times and falls to dust every time he takes a picture. Eventually, he gets into the habit of wearing a small bottle of blood when he works, which breaks and lets him come back without relying on anyone else's kindness. 

And there's Lady Margolotta from the Discworld Transylvania, Uberwald(means the same thing) who has replaced her addiction for blood with one for cigarettes. 

Dan Simmons' vampires, in Carrion Comfort, are vampires of the mind, who can control and manipulate others. They are truly evil, and one of them is a Nazi. It was very very good, and I went on to read some of his other books, but it put me off horror fiction, as characters I cared about were killed off. (Are you listening, Mr Martin? And by the way, I like Fevre Dream, your vampire novel, much better than the Game of Thrones series)

This author also wrote Children Of The Night, in which the historical Dracula is still around. He has gone off blood drinking and thrown himself into starting a business empire. He thinks the Stoker novel is dumb. And he's fed up with his family and planning to blow them all up, perhaps the only way to get rid of them. See, these vampires are not undead. They have an extra organ that processes blood and re-builds their cells. 

I confess to not giving read a lot of Stephen King, mostly his short fiction, and I do enjoy his non fiction, but his novel Misery was truly terrifying, especially for a writer. It has no fantastical elements as far as I recall, but it's as scary as any horror novel. In it, a historical novelist has been writing a series about a character called Misery. He has had enough and has written one last novel in which he has killed off his heroine. After an accident, he is rescued by a qualified nurse who is a huge fan of the series...and not at all pleased to find out the series is over...

Look, I could go on and on, but I won't. Instead, I'll invite anyone who reads this to suggest some other Friday 13 titles. Hope you had a great day! 

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

International Day Of The Girl

So, I woke up this morning to find out it was the International Day Of The Girl. I haven't heard of this before, but it's a nice excuse to write a post about girls' books, off the top of my head, before I get to work.

Has anyone noticed that most YA and children's books these days seem to be either for girls or about them? Or both? Girls save the world in YA novels, while making up their minds which of two gorgeous boys they will settle down with once the world is saved. Fortunately for their decision making, one of them either dies or lets them down - badly. 

I'll just mention a few books or series I've read as they come back to me, in hopes I can get the post done before I reach Sunshine Station in Melbourne. 

Let's start with a classic. I've missed a lot of them, but I have read Little Women, the story of four teenage sisters during the American Civil War, living with their mother and housekeeper while waiting for their father to get back from the war. They don't have a lot of money, so the two eldest, Meg and Jo, have to work, Meg as a governess and Jo as paid companion to their grumpy old aunt. Beth, who is not a healthy girl, stays home and does housework,  presumably with Hannah the housekeeper, and only Amy goes to school. Not a lot happens as a novel - it's all dreams and hopes and individual stories. I hear it was semi-autobiographical, though Jo, the would-be writer(and didn't we all want to be Jo!)is somewhat younger than Louisa May Alcott, whom she represents. Louisa was already old enough to be working as a nurse during the Civil War. But still, it's nice to know. You should totally read Geraldine Brooks's novel March, which mixes the real Alcott family with the fictional March family. The real "Mr March" was quite a character. Look him up.


Noel Streatfeild wrote children's books in the 1930s. In Ballet Shoes, she writes about three girls who aren't actually sisters, though they've been brought up as such. They've been given the surname Fossil because the man who adopted them is a crazy old Professor who collects fossiłs. When he disappears and his niece Sylvia is left with three children to look after and not much money, she takes in boarders and the girls go to work in the theatre, something children could do in those days, and discover what they can do. The oldest girl, Pauline, is very good at acting and eventually finds she can do it for a living. A few years ago, there was a TV mini-series in which the role was played by Emma Watson, of Harry Potter fame. The middle sister, Petrova, isn't all that good at it, and longs to be a motor mechanic. The youngest, Posy, is a gifted ballet dancer.  The book had some sequels, but I haven't got around to reading them. I rather liked the idea of a 1930s novel with a girl motor mechanic. 

Anyone remember the YA romance novels of the 1980s? What was that American series called? Oh, yes! Sweet Dreams. The girls loved them but they were junior Mills and Boon. In them, the girl was a sort of Cinderella figure, in love with the captain of the football team. How could she even compete for him with the bitchy head cheerleader? Of course, we know who always got the boy in the end, don't we? I guess girls can dream of being that shy little thing who defeated the Mean Girl. That's still happening to some extent,except now the young woman who defeats the Mean Girl is not doing it over a boy, but over the matter of bullying. 

There were Australian equivalents, Dolly Fiction, which I think we're better than the American ones, and no wonder. The authors, who wrote under pen names, were all either top Aussie YA novelists or would become that. I have written a post about it before. 

A few years ago, Allen and Unwin published something called Girlfriend Fiction, which was even better. Some of the books were written by male authors, and oddly, they weren't all romances. But I've sold those quite easily in my library. And the authors didn't use pen names this time - you knew who you were getting.

And then there are all those novels in which girls fall in love with fallen angels, who are brooding and tragic, not to mention the half/quarter angel thing(I always thought of angels as asexual, but there you go. All that business of "the sons of God and the daughters of man" comes from a mis-translation.). Well, there was Aussie writer Rebecca Lim's Mercy series, in which the fallen angel was female. She had done something truly stupid back during the war in heaven and managed to avoid being thrown down to Hell with the other fallen angels, but the un-fallen angels looked after her. She has been on Earth for centuries, doing a sort of Quantum Leap thing, temporarily taking over bodies and fixing their problems before moving on. But by Book 2, Exile, she has started thinking of herself rather than fixing problems for others. She fell in love with a mortal boy in the first book and is trying to keep up the relationship, whichever body she is in. The series is very entertaining.



Present-day novels have girls in all sorts of situations, including obesity and anorexia, but the fantasies go on. I probably don't have to tell you about The Hunger Games, which is very good in my opinion, better than some of the other girl-saves-the-world fiction that came out at the same time. Before the current crop of fiction on "teen girl saves the world" John Marsden created Ellie, the heroine of Tomorrow When The War Began and its sequels. Ellie and her friends go bush-walking and camping one weekend and when they return to their small country town, Australia has been invaded and their friends and relatives have all been herded into the local showgrounds, which have become a prison camp. The group does guerilla warfare, under Ellie's leadership. I've found that both boys and girls loved these books, though they haven't been read much in recent years - perhaps fresh covers
would help.

There is far more out there than I can cover in a single post.

Got any suggestions?

And happy International Day Of The Girl!

Saturday, October 07, 2017

Finally Got Around To Reading...Every Breath by Eliie Marney




You know how it is when you have a book lying around for ages and then you finally get around to reading it and it takes about a day?

I had this on my cyber-shelves almost since it came out. I knew about it, read a few pages and then ... read other stuff.

But yesterday I read the bit left on the cutting room floor, which was published as a short story in the LoveOzYa# anthology, which was about the first meeting of James Mycroft and Rachel Watts and suddenly I knew it was more than time to read the novel Every Breath. 

And now I've downloaded the second book, Every Word. 

On the remote chance you haven't heard of this trilogy, it's set in Melbourne, told from the viewpoint of Rachel Watts, a country girl whose family had to leave their farm near Ouyen and make a new life in the big city. They are living in Coburg, one of Melbourne's more multicultural suburbs and Mycroft and Watts attend North Coburg Secondary College, along with their friends Vietnamese girl Mai Ng and her Sudanese boyfriend Gus Deng. Mycroft lives with his aunt Angela, since he lost both parents in a horrific car crash back in England. Aunt Angela is so rarely at home that for a time Watts wonders if she even exists. Mycroft is an intellectual genius, who does a forensics elective at school, but admits to being a social moron - not entirely true, since he seems to know a lot of people around Melbourne, from the tram drivers along their route to the Greek cafe owner who gives them coffee and baklava on the house.

And then there is Homeless Dave, who camps in Royal Park, outside the zoo, and whom Mycroft and Watts take a meal every week until one night when he turns up very dead...

It's such an entertaining novel that hopefully I will be able to "sell" it at school before the year is over. I know just the young lady for it - in fact, she's the one who requested the LoveOzYa# anthology for the library. It's a bit like the writing of Lili Wilkinson, except that I admit to liking it better than A Pocketful Of Eyes. It's not as funny - these kids have both been through bad times and the murder victim was their friend, whom they don't believe will get justice, because he was just another street person.  A Pocketful Of Eyes was an over-the-top whodunnit with likeable characters, but this one is - well, not over-the-top. Anyway, I will recommend it for girls who like Lili Wilkinson.

It's not exactly Sherlock Holmes, though there are a lot of references to it. Watts(they call each other by their surnames)points out that his name is that of Sherlock's smarter brother, and he even has an online identity called Diogenes, as in Mycroft Holmes's Diogenes Club - he does that on purpose, though. And she is not a Watson or for that matter a Hastings, mainly there to have things explained to him/her. She picks up a few things Mycroft doesn't, asking the right questions at the right time. 

Their friends Mai and Gus aren't just sidekicks. They make good suggestions and at one point Mai uses her Legal Studies knowledge to argue Mycroft out of the slammer. 

There is a lot of adventure in this one and before it's quite over, Mycroft finds himself heading for the role of "consulting detective" online, due to his Diogenes articles and website. 

I've just started reading the sequel - I believe that one takes place in London, should be fun! 

It is available both in and outside of Australia, so if you've missed out on it, why not give it a go? 

Monday, October 02, 2017

Translation And Info: Who'd Have Thought?

Re-posted from my Dreamwidth blog...

I need a passport for ID. Getting a passport is harder than it used to be, much harder. You need a passport for proof of ID, right? But some of the items you need for your passport, you almost might as well use for your ID anyway, unless you want to go overseas. My birth certificate is in Hebrew. The last time I used it was when I went to do my compulsory jury duty. I showed it to the lady on the desk and she just laughed and let me through. Well, it wasn't me who had demanded to do jury duty, was it? I figured if they objected to being unable to read the certificate, that was their problem, not mine.
 
Anyway, you have to get your overseas birth certificate translated for passport ID, and it has to be done by one of their approved translators. So, I found a lady, one of two in Victoria, who fortunately lives within easy tram distance of my place and I am on term break. I contacted her and she said that I could scan and send, or I was welcome to come to her place today. I decided on that. I don't have a scanner any more and although I could take a photo, I wasn't sure it would turn out readable. It's a very old, crumpled document - well, as old as me, anyway. ;-) 
 
Off I trundled on the tram to a small street off Hawthorn Rd, South Caulfield, and found it easily. The lady was quite a character, as it turned out. She was very thorough, but also had a lot of fun Googling things to make sure they were right. For example, the hospital where I was born was called the Municipal Maternity Hospital at the time. It is currently known as the Rabin Centre - we agreed it might be best to simply use the term on the actual certificate, but she had a lot of fun satisfying her curiosity. Likewise with the Hebrew DOB. According to Google, the year I was born the Hebrew date was August 29! And here I was finding it amusing that the certificate says September 3, when it's September 4. "August 29!" she exclaimed. "Forget about that!" But we agreed there had been a stuff-up. 
 
And then there was the doctor who delivered me. It was a Dr Kattab? Katib? Qatab? Katab? (That was how it was spelled in Hebrew, which I don't think does double letters). Anyway, he/she was an Arab, a Muslim. Which makes sense, because it was a Friday night, when the Jewish staff were going home or to synagogue for the Sabbath, while Muslim staff had finished theirs and were able to do a shift. But it hadn't occurred to me. So, now I know, and it will be fun to tell any Muslim kids at school who might ask that I was delivered by a co-religionist of theirs. I think they'll be tickled. 
 
But Taly(translator) and I did a bit of Googling to check spelling and while there were many possibilities, we decided on Khattab, the name of an Aussie Muslim doctor we found on line. It was closest to the original. 
 
I told Taly that my sister, who was about five at the time, had to be left behind when Mum hitched a ride to hospital on a bakery van. She said, "Oh, that happened all the time back then. It happened to me. Nowadays they'd call it child abuse." She grinned. But there were neighbours and Dad came along soon enough and also had to hitchhike, because it was Friday night, no public transport. 
 
Anyway, I felt Taly was well and truly worth the small fee I was paying, and more if she had asked for it. She had a series of templates to use - " Here's one I prepared earlier..." But all the research and careful thought about her translations was quite a bit of work. And afterwards she printed out - we proofread and I found one inconsistent spelling - and then printed out again, two copies, plus a photocopy of my original, which she suggested I take to the PO and get certified. And she emailed me a PDF for my files which, however, had her stamp and signature on it. So it will be safe, even if I mislay the original. 
 
And then, all done, she enthusiastically showed me a website called,"On The House" which gives away free tickets to shows, as long as you don't mind what they are. She had grabbed a free double pass to two shows while my translation was printing out. 
 
Who would have thought such a humdrum, necessary activity would turn out to be so entertaining?
 

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Look What I've Got! Some SF Classics


It's Sunday. I decided to wander down to Acland St, my favourite street in all of Melbourne, for a falafel and a haircut, if I could get one. The haircut has to wait fr tomorrow, but I had my late lunch and an ice cream and entered the local Reading's Bookshop. 

They were selling SF Masterworks for three for the price of two. Some I already have, in print or ebook, but I haven't been able to get hold of Alfred Bester's The Demolished Man on iBooks, alas!  And I want to read it. It's where the author of Babylon 5 got his idea for the Psi Corps, which is led by a man called...Alfred Bester. The role was played by Walter Koenig, whom we know best as Ensign Chekov of Star Trek. He made a very impressive villain! 

I think I have a battered old copy of Ursula K LeGuin's The Lathe Of Heaven somewhere, not sure where. It will be fun to reread. It's about a man who dreams true, in the sense that when he has a true dream, he wakes up and finds that it has happened and nobody remembers it ever being any different. There was a telemovie of it which I saw at Cinecon, the convention where I was lucky enough to meet Robert Bloch.  

And I hadn't realised that Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep? was so short. I shouldn't have any problems getting through it. I hear that Bladerunner is very different, but it is a classic in its own right and I read a rave review of the sequel online this morning, only it didn't tell you anything about the film except the basic blurb, because literally anything else you might say is a spoiler and the journalists all had to sign something promising not to give it away. All this one would say was that it's even better than Bladerunner. We'll see about that. I'm hoping I can arrange to see it with my friend Bart; Bladerunner is his all-time favourite film. 

Meanwhile, I have a nice haul of books! 


The Hobbit: A New Edition


So, my great-nephew Eden is eight years old and currently reading Harry Potter And The Order Of The Phoenix. I figured if he can handle that, he can certainly handle The Hobbit. And about time he does read it! I told him so, and yesterday I popped into the Avenue bookshop in Elsternwick and asked for it.  I had hoped to find a copy of the classic edition illustrated by the author - you know, four or five colour plates, depending which edition it is(I think the U.S. edition is the one with only four plates)and drawings. But they didn't have it, only one without art and the one you see above, illoed by Jemima Catlin. 

I didn't want to wait - I knew I would be seeing him today - so I bought the illoed copy. And what a beautiful piece of work it is too! The cover, as you can see, looks like something from an illuminated manuscript, and better still, the internal art is very reminiscent of Pauline Baynes, who was a friend of Tolkien and C.S Lewis and who illustrated both Tolkien's other children's books and Lewis's Narnia novels. 

I am rather tempted to buy a copy for myself. You see, I have several copies, different editions. I have the Tolkien illustrated version, of course, my first. I have an annotated Hobbit, given to me as a farewell gift from Heathmont College, where I worked before going to my current school. That one is lovely, and fascinating. I have the Alan Lee edition, and gorgeous it is; you probably know that Alan Lee and John Howe worked on the LOTR movies. I have the very rare anniversary Michael Hague edition, which is exquisite. It was brought to my school by a ruthless bookseller who knew I would have to buy it! It cost me $75 and was worth every cent. And there is my ebook edition, which has a lot of extra materials - fold-out maps, Tolkien drawings that can be coloured, earlier drafts of some scenes and Tolkien's voice singing and reciting the poems. 

So the idea of having an edition with art that reminds me of Pauline Baynes is very hard to resist.

How did young Eden react to this book? He drooled over the art! He started to read it till his Dad told him to stop and wait till he got home.  He asked questions - I have mentioned it before. I told him that Gandalf was a bit like Dumbledore. He asked me if any of the good guys died at the end. "Sorry, spoilers!" I said. "Just read it." It will be nice to see him discover a classic. 

If he does enjoy it, the lady at the shop suggested The Sword In The Stone. I hadn't thought of that, but nice idea! What do you think? 

Monday, September 25, 2017

Food In The Vorkosiverse

It's odd, really, but  the food that gets the most detailed description in Lois McMaster Bujold's Vorkosiverse seems to be on Barrayar, the homeworld of her hero, Miles Vorkosigan, or in Barrayaran homes elsewhere.

 I've just been rereading Cetaganda, in which Miles and his cousin Ivan arrive on the capital of the Cetagandan Empire to attend the funeral of the Dowager Empress Lisbet Degtiar, the current Emperor's mother. Cetaganda is a world which specialises in genetic engineering and loves things artistic. The palace spends the days to the funeral running different events and catering for hundreds of attendees, and we're told, on the first day, that Miles and his fellow delegates are served morning tea and lunch and that it's many courses of small delicate finger-food-type things, but not what any of them are. Same thing with the early reception at the Marilacan Embassy. Yet when Miles invites over Mia Maz, a Vervani etiquette expert, to their Embassy,  she pounces delightedly on chocolate petit fours. That is, we start to get some details. There is something called zlati ale on Cetaganda, but that's a part of the plot. I won't tell you what it does, in case you want to read it - spoilers! 

Because so much is centred around the military, we do hear of ration - rat - bars. They're not very tasty, but if you're desperate, as Miles sometimes is, you're only too happy to have one. At one point, in The Vor Game, he is imprisoned in a cell on board Commander Cavilo's ship, and fed on very basic food. Cavilo was unaware of this, telling him he was being fed only what she and her men have, but orders him something better - so much better that he wonders what her soldiers have. They must be overweight and happy. In that case, there was some detail. 

But once you get back to Barrayar, the home cooked meals begin, such as those prepared by Ma Kosti, the mother of two of Miles's guards, whom he offers a job as his cook. Miles gives lunch to Ekaterin, a young widow he first met on Komarr, where her husband was working before he was killed stupidly and needlessly. Ekaterin is the woman he wants in his life, and lunch is a Ma Kosti special, with peach tarts for dessert. Actually, Ma Kosti can make a gourmet delight of a sandwich. She concocts fishy delights for the cat! Before the end of A Civil Campaign, she has cooked a banquet for Miles's guests(using bug butter from the butter bugs being raised in the basement)and created maple ambrosia for the Emperor's wedding. 

A typical local breakfast is a cereal called groats, which are also used as part of wedding ceremonies. Barrayar has been terraformed for the most part, so that Earth maple trees are there to produce sugar - they are big in Miles's district. But there are, oddly, some edible indigenous fruit, brillberries, which are eaten quite safely by the human colonists and cooked into tarts. Well, they must be native fruit, unless they've been developed from Earth berries over the centuries. 

Bujold seems to take great delight in describing her food, especially little cakes, but mostly Barrayaran treats. Otherwise, food is there because it's part of the plot. 

Maybe Barrayar is "home" to the author! 

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Take One Of Three Girls: An Interview With Simmone Howell!

A few weeks ago, I received an invitation from the publicist at Pan Macmillan to do an interview regarding the new novel, Take Three Girls, a collaboration by three of this country's top YA novelists. I have yet to read a novel by any of them that I didn't enjoy, so of course, the answer was a glad cry of, "Yes! Absolutely!"

As Cath and Fiona had both appeared on this blog, both in review and interview posts, we decided that Simmone Howell should be the third girl of this trio on The Great Raven. And very welcome she is, too! Simmone says she remembers us meeting at what I think must have been a Booktalkers event at the State Library, back when they were doing these wonderful sessions. 

Anyone remember a British TV series with the same name? It was about three young women living together in London. No connection except the title(though I keep hearing the folk rock group Pentangle singing the theme tune, Light Flight, in my head...)

The three young women in this novel, Clem, Kate and Ady,  attend a boarding school in one of Melbourne's posher suburbs. Clem is an athlete who is losing interest in sport. Kate is a musician from the bush, a hugely talented cellist who has come to the city for her music and is preparing both for a scholarship exam that will let her remain at the school and an audition for a scholarship that will let her go to Finland for her cello playing. Ady, a gifted dress designer, is not a boarder and, due to family issues, might have to leave the school at the end of term. The three form an unlikely friendship. They all have their own problems, including an on line forum, Psst, which is a nasty gossip column along the lines of such web sites mentioned recently in the news, connected with a private boys' school in Melbourne. But these girls refuse to be victims...



So, without further ado, I'd like to welcome Simmone Howell to my blog. 



A basic question to start with: who got the idea for this novel? And whose idea was it to make it a collaboration?

We actually cant recall who thought of it. But once it was suggested we all went YES! The idea went collaboration first, story next. As soon as we knew we were going to do it we spent some time thinking about what we all really wanted to write about - the main thing being friendship, and unlikely friendship within a school - with the school with its heirarchies and posturing and lies and bureaucracy being like a microcosm of the world.


How did the three of you work on this? For example, was it planned out together, then perhaps you each worked on your separate bits? 

Exactly that way. We each created a character and then had mutual plotting sessions around a big table with a whiteboard, then wed go off and write our chapters, then re-meet, read, discuss, repeat.

I'm guessing that each of you created and worked on a separate leading character - am I right? If so, who was yours? What did you have in mind when you created her? 

My character was Clem. I had a few people in mind. It was the early stages of(US TV series) Girls and I loved watching Lena Dunham run riot over our screens - and I loved the idea of a character who maybe didnt know what she wanted eventually but could be passionate in the moment. I was also drawing on aspects of my teenage life, in particular my thoughts around boys and self-esteem.

The novel is centred around life in a boarding school - is this part of your experience or the experience of Cath or Fiona? If not, how did you research it? 

None of us went to a boarding school. I always wanted to (too much Mallory Towers). I did however go to a Catholic girls' school for some of my high school years, where I was a late arrival and never felt quite right. We all do a lot of school visits and residencies, so it wasnt so much research as experience.


Clem and Iris are twins who had once been close. I don't think we ever found out why they had lost this closeness. Thoughts on this? 

Clems reasons might have ended up on the cutting room floor. But it was nearly completely clear cut. I think just sibling rivalry, each one feeling like the other was more loved by their parents - their parents seeming not  to have enough time for them, and then familiarity breeding contempt. I think for some people having siblings is an empowering experience, where for others it just serves to make them feel more lonely.

In fact, there were one or two other ends that were left untied - if you can answer this without too much spoiler, was this deliberate? 

None of us is a fan of the tied-up-with-a-nice-bow ending. We wanted the book to feel realistic, and for people to imagine the characters being friends off the page into the future.

Is this novel very like or very different from your other work? In what ways?

I think its a bit different as theres one main idea to Clem. In my other books I have a lot more time and space to develop with secondary characters and storylines. Its closest in tone to Everything Beautiful - Riley Rose is also a fat and feisty character - a girl who wants to eat the world. The main characters from my other books are more introspective and ideas-y.

I see that before you turned to YA you wrote a lot of short stories - what made you decide to have a go at YA fiction? 

I was told that my no one was ever going to publish my collection of short stories (because it was indeed a collection by then) unless I also had a novel … And now writing novels seems easier, even though they take me ages and ages.

Are you working on something at the moment? 

I am working on a YA book thats set in San Francisco … and a memoir filtered through my formative film, music, and literary influences. And Ive got two half-written things all shiny in the corner of my eye but Im doing my best to ignore them!

I'm looking forward to reading your  new YA novel when completed and, some time, those two shiny things! Thanks for visiting, Simmone.

If you'd like to check out the author, further, Simmone has a web site here.

To buy the book, it should be available in Australia at all good bookshops. You can also buy it on line. Here are a few suggestions:

It's available in both ebook and print copy at Booktopia, in Kindle edition at Amazon, or in ePub on iBooks. 


Saturday, September 09, 2017

Music And Memories

Tonight my mother and I went out to dinner in a local restaurant, something we do most weeks, though not always the same place.

This time, there was music in the background. I don't much care for restaurants with music; I like to eat in peace and have conversations with my eating companion. But this time the music was the Beachboys and suddenly I was taken back to my teens.

My friend Denise and I used to go to St Kilda beach every summer, and Denise would bring with her two things: a transistor radio(yes, that's how long ago it was!) and reading matter. Quite often the music coming from the transistor was that of the Beachboys. My strongest memory is of "Good Vibrations".

And along with that are the books and magazines she shared with me. Denise and her family owned a boarding house, where boarders came and went. Sometimes they left soft drink bottles, for which, in those days, you got a deposit, which we used to buy comics and ice cream. That was, of course, in our primary school years, and I loved it, because my mother wouldn't let me have comics at home.

But by my teens, we were reading other stuff. Sometimes the boarders left books and magazines - speculative fiction books, SF magazines. Denise would read aloud so I could share them. I discovered Robert Bloch in the magazines. I can't even remember the titles of those short stories, but I do remember the stories themselves, and mentioning this to Mr Bloch years later, when he was in Melbourne for a convention. There was a story, for example, in which an old movie extra, who had lost a girlfriend during the silent era, kept seeing her in films she had never been in, seeing her wave at him, and received a note from her from the other side, explaining what was happening. He was telling someone else about it, then died himself - and turned up in the movie Intolerance, with his girlfriend, waving at the narrator. We shared that story on the beach.

And I encountered my first Robert Heinlein book. One summer, Denise got a copy of Stranger In A Strange Land, left behind by a boarder, and read it to me by the sea... I did eventually borrow it and read it fully, but my first memory of it is in the heat of summer, sitting on a beach towel with my friend, in between swims...

Who would have thought that a couple of Beachboys songs would bring back book memories?

Monday, September 04, 2017

Final Day At The Writers Festival!

Well, I went, as planned. But I left later than intended, so missed those 11.30 sessions I was debating with myself about attending - the one with John Safran? The one with father and daughter team Thomas and Meg Keneally? I had opted, in the end, for the Keneally session, but it was too late - I reached the city about twenty minutes too late for either session. My own fault, I was a bit slack.

However, I was glad in the end - I at least downloaded the new Safran book and bought Volume 1 of the joint historical crime series by father and daughter Keneally, and was just in time to have it signed by both authors. Mr K, about to pack up for lunch with his daughter's publisher, promised to wait till I returned from the book stall. Very nice they both were, and they expressed genuine interest when I mentioned I had a book blog. I grabbed a pen and envelope and wrote down the URL, and will be reviewing the book when I've finished. I've started and am enjoying it so far. It seems to be a murder mystery set in the Port Macquarie penal settlement. Lovely!

So, why am I glad? Well, before I left home, my nephew David rang to wish me happy birthday and told me that his brother, Mark, would be going with his delightful family to the Harry Potter event. His elder son, Eden, is reading the series now. He is eight years old and is nearly finished Goblet Of Fire! I've told him he is getting a copy of The Hobbit from me when he has finished the series. If he can read a YA novel like Goblet, he can certainly handle The Hobbit.

So, both boys wore a bit of basic costume, although Jonah didn't want to participate in the costume parade. There were trivia questions from the stage - Eden did put his hand up, but was never chosen. Still, he had a great time and he did get a chance to be "sorted" by the lovely Sonia Palmisano from Bloomsbury, who gave me a hug. Eden is a Ravenclaw(he plays the piano).

After it was over, they left. I had lunch, then returned for my one and only session, which was about the LoveOzYa anthology. There were five authors, including the editor, Danielle Binks. There was Alice Pung, Amie Kaufman, Melissa Keil and Ellie Marney, whose short story was actually based on a chunk she had chopped out of her first novel about the youthful Holmes and Watson-type characters. I bought two copies, one for me and one for the library, because young Raiesah of Year 8 had asked for it. "All those great authors!" she enthused.

I've read the first story, "One Small Step" by Amie Kaufmann, who explained yesterday that she had got the idea from two sources: firstly, from overhearing some Year 12 students talking about what they wanted to apply for as opposed to what their parents wanted, and secondly from the story of the world's first IVF baby, who had had to put up with the whole world  wanting to know about milestones in her life. It's about the first baby born on Mars, now seventeen and having to share her life with the entire population of Earth. Oh, and she falls in love with another girl, her best friend.

I've just started the next story, which is by Will Kostakis. Will wasn't part of that panel, though. It was all female. In fact, eight of the ten stories in the anthology are by women - the other man is Michael Pryor. However, the purpose of the anthology, as Danielle Binks explained, was that in the ALIA survey of most-borrowed books in Aussie libraries, only two out of the top ten YA books were by Australians. So this one is for Aussie voices, though of course, they have every respect for overseas work. Last year, we were told glumly, not one of the top ten were local.



I'm hoping to read the whole book this week, so I can suggest it for next year's English text. The stories are unfortunately a bit long for "short story" work, but so far, quite readable and not too dreadfully hard for our weaker readers. And there seems to be a variety of genres, which is good.



Anyway, a nice day out! 

Saturday, September 02, 2017

September 3 - Happy Birthday To Me... And Andy G!

I woke up this morning to a personalised Google Doodle, with birthday candles, so thought I might as well post about it. This is my official birthday, the one on my birth certificate but I believe my real birthday is September 4, because I was definitely born on a Friday and the year I was born September 3 was a Thursday. September 4 has a lot more interesting and positive stuff about it than the 3rd, and I've posted about that too(and September 5, the birthday of the delightful Kate Constable, YA author, who, I think, shares a birthday with historical romance novelist Frank Yerby, or maybe Joan Aiken...?).

However, here I am, and I will be shouting myself at least one session at the MWF later today, to celebrate. If nothing else, I'll enjoy the Harry Potter day. Friday was the day when, according to The Deathly Hallows, Harry Potter saw his son Albus off to Hogwarts, so they're having fun with a Harry Potter theme today.

BUT there's Kiwi SF author Cherry Wilder and I also share a natal day with Andy Griffiths! Yes, THAT Andy Griffiths, author of so much fiction that has delighted young children and even teenagers in Australia and other countries. I think his novel The Day My Bum Went Psycho had to be retitled The Day My Butt Went Psycho in the U.S. because over there "bum" means "tramp", not "backside" as it does here.  Oh, well. Happy birthday, Andy! Lots of cake and other delicious stuff for you.



I hadn't heard of most of the "famous people" with whom I share a birthday, or if I had, I hadn't read any of their work. The guy who invented the safety match was born On This Day, but he never made any money out if it because it was too damned expensive for most people. Interesting, really. I have always thought it was women who invented most of the ordinary everyday things which we take for granted but wouldn't consider doing without. A man invents this and can't sell it!

Apart from Andy G, most of the writers were people I was unfamiliar with, and the "famous birthdays" web site included some bloggers, for goodness' sake! Anyone on the list 25 years old or less was a blogger. And not even a book or political blogger, generally a lifestyle blogger! That seems to be how you get famous these days. ;-)

Not a lot of positive stuff happened on September 3 - battles, massacres and such for the most part. But Viking 2 reached Mars On This Day.

It was also the birthday of the world's first daily newspaper - September 3, 1833. That was the New York Sun, which operated until 1950. There is an on line paper of that name now. 

Here in Australia it is National Flag Day, commemorating the first time our flag flew, back in 1901,when Australia became a federation. They ran a flag competition and the one we have now is the design that won.

I see that in the U.S. it is National Welsh Rarebit Day, so enjoy your cheese toasties, my American friends! 

It's the birthday of San Marino, the world's oldest republic. The founder was St Marinus. Happy birthday, San Marino! 


Thursday, August 31, 2017

My Students Meet Morris Gleitzman! At the MWF...

On Monday I took nineteen students to the Melbourne Writers' Festival, where they were going to hear Morris Gleitzman speak about his Once series. It would have been twenty, but young Kim, who is a huge fan of the series, suddenly had to go with her family to Vietnam. She had been so looking forward to it. There wasn't time to invite another student to go in her place. I ended up buying her a copy of the newest novel in the series - Maybe - and getting him to sign it for her.

We had been planning this since July. My original plan had been to take them to Reading Matters, but it sold out before we could get the numbers, so we went to the Festival instead.

The kids were wonderful. All of them who were going to be late rang me to let me know. One poor girl ended up having to walk all the way to the station because she didn't have a myki card. I gave her one of my spares, which I'd topped up, because there is always at least one student who either forgets to buy a card or to top up the one they have with money. That time there were three - and I had bought extra cards just in case.

And who should we meet on the train station platform but Natasha, one of my former book clubbers, now studying to be a teacher! Natasha ended up chatting to Taylor, a hugely book-loving student, so I left them to it, after a brief chat with Natasha.

Morris Gleitzman was a very good speaker, talking about his series in general and specifically about the new book, which I hadn't realised was out already. Kim will love this, I thought. one of my students, who hadn't read any of the books, admitted that "it was a bit boring" when I asked him how he had enjoyed the talk. But next day he told me that he had found Once in his literacy class's book box, started reading and was loving it. So in the end, he did get something out of it.

I had intended to text my friend George Ivanoff, who was going to be there, but there wasn't time. I stood near the book-signing queue and took photos for the school magazine. Morris was quite happy to have kids pose with him.

Not all the kids had money for a book and I ended up buying about three books for them, because I couldn't bear for them to miss out.  It was worth it to see those joyful looks as I handed them their copy. And then I thought, what the heck, I'll get a print copy for me, and I was the last to have a book signed that morning.

We went to lunch at the Melbourne Central food court and along the way to the court, I pointed out the Little Library. People donate books to it and you're supposed to take one and either return it or bring one. I will certainly be putting in some books soonish, but I doubt my students will. They pounced on the books with cries of joy - one of them even walked off happily with a Rick Riordan novel, one of the Magnus Chase ones rather than Percy Jackson.

They all returned to our meeting place on time and we returned to our station, where I dismissed them. 

It was a good day!