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Tuesday, February 28, 2017

The CBCA Notables 2017

In the last year or so, the Children's Book Council of Australia has taken to publishing a long list before it announces the short list in April. The books on it are called the Notables. They have had Notables for years - two of mine were there, Potions To Pulsars: Women doing science(which was also on the Clayton's short list, a sort of Golden Globes of children's books) and Wolfborn. But now the Notables have become the official long list. Back in my time, having a Notable was nice, but it meant you hadn't won or even made the short list. Now you might end up on the short list, because this is the long list.

Here's the link - I really can't reproduce the lot here.

I have read, or am reading, the following of the books on this year's list.

Words In Deep Blue by Cath Crowley.
The Bone Sparrow by Zana Fraillon
The Sidekicks by Will Kostakis
Forgetting Foster by Diane Touchell
Theophilus Gray And The Traitor's Mask by Catherine Jinks
The Family With Two Front Doors by Anna Ciddor
Dragonfly Song by Wendy Orr
The Pearl-Shell Diver by Kay Crabbe
Captain Jimmy Cook Discovers Third Grade by Kate Temple and Jol Temple

Congratulations to all of you! And I can see Book Club and I are going to be busy. I was a bit disappointed to see no sign of Songs That Sound Like Blood by Jared Thomas - but his publishers, Magabala Books, might not have entered it. Publishers sometimes don't. If you're running a small press, like Ford Street, you don't always have the money for the entry fees. 

I think the first three on that list will make it to the short list. Not sure about the others, as yet, though there are some deserving titles.

I'm a bit uncomfortable to see Forgetting Foster there. Not that it's a bad book - but, as I said in my review, it just doesn't fit anywhere. The hero is seven years old, but it's marketed to older readers. In my experience, teenagers like to read about kids their own age or older. If Foster had been ten or eleven, it could have been marketed to older primary school kids and that would have worked. But sometimes judges are so absorbed in choosing books about Important Issues - in this case the boy's father coming down with early onset Alzheimer's - that they don't think about what the kids might actually read. Perhaps it has been given a Notable, old-style, just as a tribute to the quality of the writing.

Captain Jimmy Cook is good fun, but award material...? Hmm...

I'll have to get stuck into some of the others on the list now.


Saturday, February 25, 2017

Latest Random Read: Songs That Sound Like Blood by Jared Thomas

This YA novel was sitting on our display shelf and nobody has borrowed it so far. I plucked it off the shelf and took it home and am enjoying it so far.

The author also wrote Calypso Summer, which I still have sitting on my ebook shelves, but must now go back and finish! A bit like Fiona Wood's Cloudwish, which I finished and loved, and then realised I hadn't yet got around to finishing Wildlife, the previous book in the trilogy.

Also, since this is a 2016 release, it just might end up on the CBCA shortlist. I need to get started now.

So far, so beautiful. The heroine is a singer, a Nunga from Port Augusta, a real small town in South Australia. She has been singing in pubs and clubs with her father and now is going to university in Adelaide to study in the Aboriginal Music program and hopefully become a professional musician.

I think it's going to be a lovely story, and the music is something that makes it special. I'd love to see a playlist to go with it some time!

I'm just up to the bit where she and her friend Justin are heading for the big city. I'll let you know how it goes.

Friday, February 24, 2017

What Is History?

History is in the eye of the beholder, in my opinion.

Actually, I'm just talking chronology here, not propaganda. My friend Terry Morris commented in an email, in regard to Gillian Polack's The Wizardry Of Jewish Women, that it felt strange to think of a story set in the 2000s as historical fiction. 

And it is, in some ways, but not in others.

For example, there's my Year 7 class. They were mostly born in 2005, after the events of Wizardry. For them, it certainly would be considered history. Even young readers of the novel in their twenties might consider it historical, as they were too young during the Canberra bushfires to think about it or care(unless they lived in Canberra). 

There is a children's TV series, My Place, which is about a house in Sydney. It starts in the present day(when it was made) and goes back in time. The owner of the house is shown as a child in an earlier period. His time would be history for the later residents. Even the present day episode shows a historic event, Kevin Rudd's apology to the Stolen Generation. Only a few years ago, but today we only need to say, "the apology" for someone - in Australia, anyway - to know what we mean. It's already history, something my history teacher Principal recognised when he said that the day would surely be a public holiday someday, and gathered the whole school to watch it. 

I am old enough to remember Armstrong and Aldrin on the moon. My school allowed us to go hone to watch it. For anyone born later, which is currently most of the world, that date, that event, is history.

And you know what? I was there, but it's history for me too. So, when I offered to write a piece about the day of the moon landing for the historical section of the  anthology Trust Me! my publisher Paul Collins was surprised, but I argued that it was history. 

When I was researching for my story, "Countdown To Apollo 11" I was fascinated by the old newspapers I read. I read ads for groceries that still exist and others that don't. There were ads for shops that have closed. There were films on at the cinema that have become classics. You could get a child ticket to a musical for 50c. Yes, I hear you cry, but wages were different then! Agreed, but my pocket money would buy me a seat in the gods to see Fiddler On The Roof with my schoolfriend Denise. Show me a child today who gets $120 in weekly pocket money. 

And there were letters to the editor about Vietnam and there was the old man who had been arrested at a protest about the war outside the U.S. consulate. And, in another reference to "what is history?" a colleague I told about it said, "Oh, I remember that protest! I was there." I worked the old man, who was unnamed, into my story as the young hero's grandfather. 

It was a time when I thought what fun it would be to be able to buy films like records. And by the way, records have never gone away! I don't use them, but vinyl snobs do, and you can still buy them at JB Hifi, a huge franchise. 

When I researched my story "Call Him Ringo" which was set about five years before "Apollo 11", I found a letter to the editor suggesting that the Beatles were just a fad and would be forgotten in a couple of years. 

Now, that's history! 

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Book Club And The Premier's Reading Challenge

At Book Club yesterday I focused on the Premier's Reading Challenge. There was a little bit of interest, not as much as I would have liked, but enough for me to consider registering my school. Then anyone else who wants to try it can.

 I've never done it before, but I'm not sure it's of much use to my school, which has a lot of students who are reading below their official year level. The Reading Challenge is aimed at kids who are reading at the appropriate level. The rules say that a student may read a book a year below their level if the teacher says it's okay, but they still have to read the same number of books from the official list for their level. That's not a lot of use to kids who are in Year 7 or 8 and reading at Grade 4 level, is it?

This is how it goes. You register the school. The kids choose at least ten books from a long, long list of recommended books (I have two books on the list as of last year, Wolfborn and Your Cat Could Be A Spy). They can choose the other five from off the list if they like, but there are so many books, really, no reason why they shouldn't take all the books from the list. They keep track of all their reading on line. I think the ones who have read the most books get placed in a Hall of Fame or some such. There's not really much more than that. At the end of the year, anyone who has finished their commitment gets a certificate. No prizes. I suppose the idea is that they should read because it's Good For Them, not because there's a reward involved. Maybe. But a small reward would be nice.

I told the group that while the only gift they would get from the Challenge for reading fifteen books this year would be a certificate, we could make a ceremony of it and perhaps I might add a book voucher, seeing it's just them. But I might see if anyone else is interested, perhaps as an English activity, or some such, and we can still do the ceremony.

I don't think I'll get much interest, but I can only try!

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Just Started Reading...Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly

Well, the full title is Hidden Figures: The Untold Story Of The African American Women Who Helped Win The Space Race. And these women were mathematicians, the lot of them, university educated and ready to do the figuring needed to help get the Mercury 7 and later astronauts safely into space and back. They were in a building labelłed West Computing Group at Virginia's Langley Base and their job title was "computer." Human computers. 

Just imagine spending your whole day doing mathematics - and seeing the resułt of your calculations zoom up into orbit. Me, I admit to having failed maths at high school and never doing it again after Year 10. I have managed fine without it, apart from what I needed to do my shopping and spend my work budget carefully. But this makes me think there is a beauty I will never be able to appreciate in the mathematical formula, just as inspiring as the beauty of music or art or literature. 

I actually went to see the film last Thursday night, when it opened in Melbourne, with a space-loving friend, Geoff, and have already decided I'm buying it on DVD as soon as it becomes available. There's nothing more exciting than an inspiring film about the early days of space travel. The world was such a different place at that time. Computers - the machine kind - filled rooms and had less power than the average modern smartphone or calculator. You wrote by hand or typewriter - likely a manual typewriter. If you needed a phone you had to go to the room or hallway where it was located, or find coins for a public phone.  

It was a world for humans. 

And the humans in this story, of which I'd never heard till recently, were amazing people. 

The film was about brilliant women, brilliant African American women, making a difference in the early space age - what's not to like? If you haven't seen it yet, I recommend it highly. 

The honourable, decent boss was played by Kevin Costner, whom I last saw, much younger, as Robin Hood. And an unpleasant engineer who resented Our Heroine, whose maths was probably better than his, was played by the guy whom I last saw as Sheldon the physics nerd in The Big Bang Theory

Lately I've been bingeing on books about the space program, so I bought this one in ebook only yesterday, and I think I'm going to thoroughly enjoy it! 

Anyone out there read it? 

Friday, February 17, 2017

Cli-Fi" as a subgenre of SF gains traction Down Under : A guest post by Dan Bloom

Born and raised in Massachusetts, Dan Bloom is a 1971 graduate of Tufts University in Boston where he majored in post-modern European literature. He also attended Oregon State University where he worked on a masters degree in the Speech and Communications Department and was a graduate teaching assistant. Dan worked as a journalist in Alaska for 12 years in the 1970s and 1980s, and later worked as a newspaper editor and reporter at English-language newspapers in Japan and Taiwan in the 1990s.

This arrived in my email inbox a couple of weeks ago. Dan Bloom has set up a web site called The Cli-Fi Report from which I pinched the bio above and the photo of the author. He asked if I would publish this piece on cli-fi in Australia. Cli-fi is a sub genre of SF in which we are invited to speculate on what might happen if the current climate change situation continues. As this is a science fiction blog as well as one on children's and YA fiction, I felt the offered guest post was appropriate - especially now, when the conservative governments of the world, including our own, are insisting that climate change is rubbish, or, if it isn't, that it has nothing to do with human activity. I think you'll enjoy it as much as I did, and if you follow the link to his web site, you'll find a lot more links. 

To the Aussie authors mentioned below, I'd like to add the fiction of Alex Isle(originally Sue Isle) and the wonderful YA trilogy The Tribe, by indigenous author Ambelin Kwaymullina. These are set in a distant future in which people have vowed never to allow the world to go through that abuse again, take lots of precautions to ensure it doesn't - and the social situation still stinks! I've interviewed the author elsewhere on this blog, if you're interested. 

Meanwhile - take it away, Dan! 

While it's true that Australia, unlike the U.S. and Europe, has not had a long history in the genre of science fiction,  Australia in 2017 has a thriving SF/Fantasy genre with names recognised around the world. In 2013 a trilogy by Ben Peek fantasy novel and two sequels were acquired by a major SF publisher in Britain, Tor UK.  His first novel in the series, titled Immolation, was published in spring 2014. The trilogy was called "Children" and books two and three were titled Innocence and Incarnation. By the 1950s, just as the SF genre was taking off in dozens of countries in Europe and North America, it took off across Australia in 1952 with the first of many Australian SF conventions.

Today there's James Bradley and Cat Sparks writing SF, with other writers, including Ian Irvine, Alice Robinson. Joanthan Strahan, Peter Carey and dozens of otthers following in George Turner's footsteps.

There is now a new subgenre of SF that's becoming popular in Australia, and it's been dubbed Cli-Fi (for ''climate fiction''. It's not so much as a literary subgenre to compete with other literary genres,  but rather a PR tool,  a media term,  a way for newspapers and websites to signal to readers and book reviewers that climate themes in modern novels deserve a special mention.  The cli-fi expression ws created as a way for literary critics and journalists to talk about novels of the Anthropocene. 

Cli-fi was not created for novelists.  They don't need categories or labels for their works.  Even SF novelists don't need the SF label.  Genre expressions are just marketing terms, good for selling books. Cli-fi was created for literary critics,  book reviewers,  book editors,  publicity departments,  advertising directors.  It is a "key word,"  a media attention-getter,  to attract eyeballs (and readers).

SF novelists tell stories.  They've been doing this for over 100 years and will continue telling stories for another 500 years.

So Cli-Fi novelists in Australia and overseas have now joined the literary circus. Their stories focus  on the possible repercussions of unchecked runaway global warming. It's a good subgenre of SF and will be for the next 500 years, too. 

The short term modelled on the rhyming sounds of sci-fi, has now caught on worldwide, first in English-speaking nations, beginning in  2013 when American radio network NPR aired a five-minute radio segment about ''cli-fi''  novels, interviewing Nathaniel Rich who wrote "Odds Against Tomorrow" and Barbara Kingsolver who wrote "Flight Behavior" .

That radio broadcast was the beginning of this new subgenre term's global outreach and popularity among academics, literary critics, journalists and headline writers in over a dozen nations, including non-English-speaking nations France, Germany, Sweden, Norway, Spain and Brazil as well.

To learn more about how ​SF writers were looking at the popularity of the cli-fi term in literary circles, a few years ago I asked David Brin and Kim Stanley Robinson how they felt about the term. They both told me that they liked the expression but felt that it was best to treat it as a subgenre of ​SF and not as a separate genre.

By promoting the cli-fi term as a subgengre of ​SF, I was able to locate ​SF writers who were already using climate themes in their short stories and novels. From them I learned that cli-fi in SF novels actually had a long history, going back to Jules Verne, Arthur Herzog, J.G. Ballard and George Turner in Australia.

Kim Stanley Robinson's new novel "New York 2140" (set to be published in March) is a good example of the cli-fi subgenre catching on among writers peering into the future of a global warming world.

What's the purpose of cli-fi?

We are a world now divided bitterly over climate change issues.

Novels and movies can serve to wake people up in ways that politics and ideology cannot.

And I believe that if the world does not wake up soon about the pressing climate change issues we face now, future generations of humans will be 'doomed, doomed' — within 500 years. I can ​''​see​''​ that far ahead. Will 'cli-fi' save the planet? No. But at least it might help prepare us for what's coming in future centuries, just as SF novels have done and will continue to do.

The idea for a subgenre for speculative climate fiction ​as a subgenre of SF ​found some traction ​in 2011 when it was endorsed ​in a tweet ​on Twitter by ​Margaret Atwood, the ​Canadian ​novelist whose ​SF trilogy, ​ending w​ith ​''MaddAddam'' dealt with a corrupt anti-environmentalist.

​There ​are examples ​of cli-fi ​in France as far back as Jules Verne, who imagined​ ​—​ ​in the 1860s​ ​—​ ​a future Paris struggling with a ​big drop in temperature​s​. That was a plot point in Verne's "lost" novel ''Paris in the Twentieth Century,'' which actually went unpublished until 1994.

Given the speed with which the phrase "climate change" (which actually dates back at least 50 years) has overtaken the global ​environmental discussion in recent years, it's perhaps not surprising that there's been a surge in books in the SF subgenre of cli-fi. Among them are Marcel Theroux's ''Far North,'' which the Washington Post called "the first great cautionary fable of climate change" and Ian McEwan's  ''Solar,''which won a UK literary award for comic fiction.

These are all examples of quality fiction that happen to take climate change as a shared theme.

​A good cli-fi ​story​ ​will have the potential to attract not only climate activists, but also some of the ​climate ​deniers: The whole point is to reach people with emotions, not just preach to the choir.

​The new novel from the Hugo Award-winning ​SF l​egend Robinson submerges Manhattan under the water of globally-rising ​sea ​l​evels​. ​Robinson's PR team puts it this way:​“Every street became a canal​. ​Every skyscraper an island​. ​How will the city's residents -- the lower and upper classes, quite literally -- cope?​''​

So just as SF has helped several generations in the past 100 years cope with technological change and space exploration (and climate change), so too can cli-fi help future generations cope with what's coming down the road as well.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

A Guest Post By ... Anthony Panegyres! - "Where Are They Now?" #4

I discovered Anthony's second story, 'The Wine Endures' in my ASIM slush pile and knew it was the perfect story for me to edit for #50, the special issue of ASIM, to which we all contributed. In a small Greek village in the present day lives the god Pan, who is mostly a loopy old Greek Dad, with a beautiful daughter.  He's perfectly okay, unless you let him get hold of wine...

It was such a sweet, gentle, funny story that I had to have it. 

Anthony has gone from strength to strength since then, selling so many short stories that I've lost track of them all. As for his day job, it's one that doesn't give you a lot of time for doing something creative, so I really must dip me lid to him. 

I'll let him tell you about it in his own words. Take it away, Anthony!

The story ‘The Wine Endures’ was published in the 50th Edition of ASIM in 2011. The story was my second publication, the first was just a couple of months earlier. If it’s any consolation, the two stories were written simultaneously. And they were also the first I’d written after my late teen years at uni – a very long hiatus.

At the time I felt drawn to both folk tale and legends, and I wanted to gently blur the two. I had heard of a village in Thessaly, where a friend of mine came from, where they officially had the Orthodox Church, yet my friend and his family claimed that they still prayed to Gods of the Classical world, not only the Olympians, but also other ancient deities like Pan. The story semi-wrote itself from there.

As for genre, not all of my stories fall into the speculative fiction category. My passion for reading has never been limited by genre boundaries – I read as much realism as spec-fic. A lot of my work though, for reasons I can’t completely fathom, gently drifts towards the fantastic or speculative.

 I’ve a job that requires a lot of time, which I’m passionate about. So I’ve learnt to become disciplined in my holiday time, whereby I put aside most mornings for writing or editing.

I’ve been fortunate in my brief writing career. It’s been better than I ever envisioned or imagined. My third story, also published in 2011, was published in Overland Literary Journal 204 and was short listed for the Aurealis Award. It went on to be published in The Year’s Best Australian Fantasy & Horror, 2011. Since then I’ve had stories published in the literary journals: Overland again (214) and Meanjin; as well as numerous anthologies, including The Best Australian Stories, and also the latest volume of The Year’s Best Fantasy & Horror (2015). I’ve also had the pleasure of being in five Ticonderoga Publication anthologies. My most recent story found a home in the trans-Tasman anthology At the Edge ed Lee Murray & Dan Rabarts.

The two Overland stories ‘Reading Coffee’ and ‘Submerging’ are also being studied at both senior high school and tertiary level, which has been a pleasant surprise.

A Guest Post From .... Michelle Goldsmith! - "Where Are They Now?" #3

Today we hear from Michelle Goldsmith. When I was collecting stories for my issue, I was having trouble finding horror fiction to balance the SF and fantasy. I knew Michelle was reading for a horror magazine and it was her area of interest, so I asked if she had anything I could look at. At the time, she had only made one sale. 

I was absolutely thrilled when her story, "Of Gold And Dust", made it into Best Australian Fantasy And Horror. 

Well, it was certainly Australian! Very much so, with the Ballarat gold fields and the bush. The creature in the story was never identified - that would have been appropriation. But it felt Australian. Was the story horror? Perhaps darkish fantasy, but too gentle to be called horror in the usual sense. And that was fine with me. It was too good to miss out on.

Since then, Michelle's short story writing career has been impressive. I am delighted to have been one of her first publishers.

I'll let her tell you all about it!

For this story I wanted to write something distinctly Australian and that covered an aspect of our history I thought was underexplored. I was also hoping to write something that captured a real sense of the time and place in which it was set, and which had resonance with readers.

In "Of Gold and Dust" I also attempted to create a unique speculative element that felt like it legitimately belonged within the Australian landscape, but without appropriating particular Indigenous spirits or monsters or importing a common speculative trope (like a werewolf or vampire) into the setting. (Not because I don’t think an Australian werewolf or vampire story can work, but because it just wasn’t what I wanted to do).

The first time I tried to draft this story I was aiming for something quite a bit shorter and it didn’t work out so I put it aside to percolate for a while. About six months later I came back to it for another attempt and it came together a lot more smoothly.

I live in Melbourne, Australia, where I work as an editor and journalist (specialising in technical topics) for my day job. Before that I was a bookseller for over five years.

I have a BSc (majoring in Zoology/Evolutionary Biology) and a Masters degree in Publishing and Communications. This year I’m starting my PhD, which will look at cross-genre literary/speculative works and also involves a creative component.

I’ve had short fiction published in various places both within Australia and overseas, and been short-listed for both the Aurealis Award and the Ditmar Award.

I think I prefer to write speculative fiction because it isn’t as confined by the limits of realism, and therefore has the potential for a lot of interesting experimentation. My preference is usually for something just a little removed from our reality.

To be honest, I usually don’t think about what genre I’m writing in until I have to submit a story, but my stories almost always end up speculative to some degree.

I haven’t been the most prolific author over the last few years, mostly due to a range of chronic health problems making it difficult to balance work, study and time to write. (Hopefully that will change now that study and fiction have been combined!) However, the stories I have had published seem to have been well received.

My ASIM story was republished in The Year’s Best Australian Fantasy and Horror 2014, which was exciting!

"The Jellyfish Collector", a story which was originally published in Review of Australian Fiction, was shortlisted for an Aurealis Award for Best Fantasy Short Story. It was also republished at PodCastle in 2016.

My first pro-paying sale of original fiction was "Love Story, an Exorcism", which was published at Gamut in January this year.  That one is probably my most confronting story so far, but people seem to have really responded well to it.

I always seem to have a lot on the go! First and foremost I’m working on developing the shape of my PhD short story collection and starting the first stories for that. It should end up as a linked short story collection consisting mainly of what you might call ‘weird fiction’ and working in a kind of liminal space between ‘genre’ and ‘literary’ categories. It will likely focus a fair bit on ecological themes.

I also have some unrelated short stories that are calling to me and a science fiction novel (plotted and about a quarter written) that I plan to finish when I get the time.

Thanks, Michelle! 

If you want to see what Michelle is up to, you can find her at and she is on Twitter with the handle @Vilutheril.


Wednesday, February 15, 2017

A Guest Post From ... Paul Hughan! "Where Are They Now?" #2

When I was finding stories for ASIM #60, I wanted to have a good balance of SF, fantasy and dark fiction(to be honest, I never really found anything scary enough to be called horror fiction) and Paul's story intrigued me because it was a bit of both - fantasy and SF. 

In it, the dragon is the good gal and the would-be dragonslaying team are idiots. And the weapons are technologically advanced. Fortunately our heroine has brains and an ability to morph into human shape...

I'll let Paul, whose day job is in music, tell you all about it in his guest post. 

My story 'Soar' in issue 60 of ASIM was my first sale. I set it in the same universe as my first (as yet unpublished) novel, and took as a starting point something that came up in my novel--what would happen if dragons were faced with hi-tech weapons (specifically heat-seeking ground-to-air missiles)? I took the dragon as the protagonist and the hero. How would a dragon outwit a heavily-armed party of humans?

I teach guitar for a living. Music is always either a work in progress or a work of the moment. Writing, in contrast, is a constructed thing, something you can go back over again and again and perfect (more or less). Speculative fiction allows you to create the ground you are working on, and set up the conditions for the subject you want to tackle.

I'm currently in the final stages of editing my second novel, which again is set in the same universe, or at least follows the same rules. As a story, it's many things, but it is principally concerned with whether someone who has been conditioned as a kind of tool or weapon can transform themselves. I also have two other books going--one on the backburner, one that is progressing well.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

An Interview With Traci Harding!

Today's interview is with Traci Harding, bestselling author of twenty novels. I received this one just after its publication and finished it very quickly. As you'll see from the interview, it is the author's twentieth book, but was the story that started the entire series of books. 

How fascinating to learn that the chairs of this novel are kind of inspired by Enid Blyton's Wishing Chair! Well, why not? The shaggy Shetland unicorn that appears in my own novel, Wolfborn, started off in an episode of Lost In Space

Immortal Bind is a reincarnation story with chairs in it. Two young people, an English artist called Jon and an Australian fashion designer, Sara, each receive an antique chair with a gem in it from the same shop in London, one of those fantasy fiction shops that have disappeared when you try to find them again. Falling asleep in these chairs takes each of them back to previous lives in which they were lovers, but made mistakes that meant they had to come back for another go. There is a villain who is there every time; as a result time is running out even in the present day, and they must fix things before disaster. Only problem is, in this lifetime they haven't met and live on opposite sides of the world...

Let's start with the simplest question - how did you get the idea for The Immortal Bind? 

As I wrote this book as a script twenty-five years ago, it’s a little hard to recall what actually sparked the idea, but it was most likely my friends discussing how much they loved reading The Magic Wishing Chair as children, and how they wished there was an adult version.  I hadn’t read the book.  But the concept of a wishing chair or two, mixed with my passion for history and all things esoteric, merged to create this enchanting tale.  I always felt it an honour to have been mused with this story, and it was a delight to revisit and explore in more depth after so many years.  

For somebody like me, who has never read any of your books before, is this anything like previous books you have written? 

The Immortal Bind was the precursor to all my published works - it became the template upon which all my future tales would be moulded.  It was the first story in which my unique fusion of history, fantasy, mythology and all things metaphysical, came together to create an epic scenario spanning time and space.  

Just after I wrote this tale, I read a book called The Education of Oversoul Seven by Jane Roberts.  Through that story I came to understand the concept of ‘simultaneous time’, and once time-travel was introduced into my style repertoire, my first published novel The Ancient Future was born.  This book spawned four trilogies and a soon-to-be prequel.  I have also written another stand alone series, but my readers can always expect to be whisked away to join a great bunch of characters on an adventure beyond imagining.  So, in short, yes.  If you love this tale, there are nineteen other novels filled with adventures that span from the most ancient of cultures, into the future, other universes, dimensions and altered states of consciousness.

I see it started off as a film script - can you give us a few details of what sounds like a fascinating story about the writing of it?

I was working for a film studio in North Sydney when I first penned this tale - I was actually  working for the studio manager, but I got that job as he’d optioned a previous script I’d written.  I formed a production company with a group of friends all working in the industry at that time and we had huge expectations of making this movie.  At that time the script had a couple of different time periods to those featured in the story now.  Working with another producer many years later, the tale was redrafted, some of the time periods changed and the story deepened, yet I still felt the ending of the script was never quite right.  

What changes in the story did you have to make to turn this from a film script into a novel? 

The thing with writing a script is that many of the details of the story are explained with visuals and performances.  But when it came to writing this tale as a book I realised, one of the main aspects of the story - The Chairs - had never been fully explored.  They had been but a visual tool for the film, but to the book they are integral characters, with a history and karma of their own.  Where had they come from? What was the source of their amazing power?  Once I began to explore these questions, many more layers of plot - in all the different time periods - unravelled and I was finally able to uncover and achieve the conclusion that these characters so richly deserve.  

You seem to have a passion for India and things Indian - is this right? If so, how did you become interested in it?

My passion is time-travel and all ancient cultures.  India was my mother’s passion and her final resting place.  This particular story had always been my mother’s favourite and I feel it was her spiritual influence that guided this tale towards India, where I did finally discover the answers to the questions now driving this story.   

India does have a truly illustrious spiritual history., that is what drew Helena Blavatsky (one of my spiritual heroines) to set up a branch of the Theosophical Society there.  As the motherland of Hinduism and Buddhism, India is the birthplace of some of the most enlightened philosophies of our age.  

In the original script the Indian past-life sequence had been set in 1940’s Chicago, which, although it was a fun romp for the characters, wasn’t really advancing the story.  In the end I realised, how could I possibly write a book about reincarnation and karma and not have it lead back to the origins of that belief? 

This is a novel about reincarnation. I liked Sara and Jon very much, but I couldn't help feeling that their historic selves were a bit different in personality. What did you have in mind here? 

The whole point of karma and reincarnation, is to aid a soul through the life and death cycles of Samara, to develop and walk the path of dharma towards enlightenment.  The advantage Jon and Sara have over their past life incarnations, is the ability to learn from past life mistakes and avoid the pitfalls of self delusion and destruction.

You covered a few historical eras in this novel. How much research did you have to do for these - and can you share some of your favourite resources with us? 

Massive, massive amounts!  LOL

I actually took a picture of some the books I used to research this one - please insert here :-)

The Middle Ages Unlocked, which is a more recent release by Gillian Polack and Katrin Kania, I found particularly helpful for researching customs and laws in eleventh century England.**

The witch hunts in Scotland, I got to research while I was there and if you ever get the chance to do the midnight ‘Witchery Tour’ in Edinburgh, I highly recommend it. 

A paper I referenced from ACADEMIA - "Story of First “Jyotirlinga” of India - Shrine of Shiva at Somnath and Mahmud Ghazni’s failure to loot the treasure of Somnath" and "Stratagem of Gujarat’s Jainminister of Bhim Deva-Vimal Shah", by Bipin Shah, was very helpful when it came to the ancient history of the Temple of Somnath at exactly time period I was looking at.

Other research for this novel covered lilac diamonds, the ancient Devi-dasa dancers, pirates and the slave trade, Hindu mythology, Vikings and their customs, history and dress of four different time periods - my list of references is endless! 

If someone did decide to film this after all, no expenses spared, who would be your ideal cast? 

I had this story all cast in my head many years ago and I’ll always see those actors as the characters.  Still, it was our intension to have at least the four main characters - Sara, Jon, Simon and Liz as a young Australian ensemble cast, and I’d still like to see that happen.  To my mind it was the Old Woman who’d be the big international star like Maggie Smith or Shirley MacLaine.  

It seems rather ironic to me that this tale that formed my writing foundation, should finally find its way into print as my twentieth novel.  The Mayans believed in twenty year cycles and this certainly feels like a huge full circle moment for me.  Perhaps now, in these days of big budget, super effects films, the time is ripe for this epic tale to finally make it to the big screen.

Thank you for visiting The Great Raven! 

My pleasure entirely.  Thank you for the invite :-)

** The Middle Ages Unlocked is available on iBooks and on Amazon, in both print and ebook, here. 

You can find The Immortal Bind in ebook or in print, at the HarperCollins web site or in all good bookstores. 

Monday, February 13, 2017

An Interview With...Stephanie Herman! "Where Are They Now?" #1

This first interview is with Stephanie Herman, author of "First Strike". I bought that story because it intrigued me. In it, the aliens arrive and they're nice and are made welcome and feted, but... some music can kill. It does. And when you want to stop their families and friends from coming after Earth, you send an orchestra... Sounds humorous, but it isn't. It's chilling. Get ASIM 60 and read it!

Steph's self published fantasy novel King's Mark is available here.

And now for the interview! Take it away, Steph! 

You made your first sale to ASIM. Your story "First Strike" was published in issue 60. What did you have in mind when you wrote it? 

I wrote the first draft of this story while I was still in high school, at a time when I was spending nearly every waking hour either at school or in some musical endeavor. While I love playing (I’m an oboist), I didn’t intend to pursue music as my career. Still, I let my involvement grow beyond what was reasonable—I think I played in six or seven ensembles that year, plus private lessons and weekend events. My schedule was so overloaded that at one point I played two back-to-back concerts. So the idea of playing compulsively, of hurting yourself with too much of something beloved, was definitely on my mind. 

This was in 2002–2003ish, and at that time it felt like war was everywhere: news reports, debates, protests... My classmates and I were making decisions about our futures, and many were specifically considering or rejecting military service. While I didn’t recognize it at the time, and it certainly isn’t by any means a direct parallel, I can look back and say that climate contributed to elements of this little story: conscription, retribution, and the tragedy of so many lives and resources diverted toward violence. To me, First Strike is really a question about the costs of conflict; and it’s one that was subconsciously very present in my graduating class.

Can you tell us a bit about yourself—day job, where you live, and why you love/write SF/F?

I live in California, and work for the state’s oiled wildlife response program as a care specialist. When there is an oil spill that affects wildlife in the state, I’m on the response team helping to minimize wildlife impacts and rescue the affected animals. When there isn’t an active spill response, I work to make sure we’re ready for the next one; training people, managing supplies, and researching methods to improve the services we offer.

I’ve been writing since I learned to hold a crayon (although I hope I’ve improved since then), but it’s taken on a more important role in my life since I got out of school and started working with hurt and orphaned animals full time. While I get to do a lot of good in my job (and make a bunch of people jealous because of my contact with adorable and amazing animals), it can be quite challenging because it does mean I am reminded of and exposed to the suffering of animals quite frequently. I don’t know if I’d write as much if that weren’t the case. 

Writing SF/F means I get to take a break and view the world through a different lens for a while. I don’t view it as escapism—I like to deal with difficult choices, painful emotions, and broken societies in my work, so I’m not escaping. But I am exploring. Externalizing the challenges I care about and making a fictional character or society deal with them lets me step back and reframe things so I can see them more clearly.

Plus, SF/F is fun and in my genes! My dad is a huge SF fan and did a good job inoculating me when I was young. You know you done good when the only doll your daughter loves is a knock-off Star Trek Barbie with a transporter.

Have you had anything else published since then? Or is something of yours about to be published? 

I had another story, "The Long, Slow War", published right around the same time as "First Strike", in the September 2014 issue of Bastion Science Fiction Magazine. It’s a story about a human colony caught between two much more powerful alien societies. Although the humans live in uneasy peace, they struggle to hold onto control and self-determination despite their precarious position and dependence on their alien benefactors. 

I hope to have more stories out in the near future! But I am more of a novelist than a short story writer, so I’ve done a lot more in that arena. In 2014 and 2015, I was revising and querying a fantasy novel featuring an inventor who falls in with criminals in her attempt to keep her family fed. When the law catches up with her, they give her a choice: double-cross her friends or face exile in the jungle of carnivorous plants surrounding the city. Of course there’s more going on than anyone realizes! Magic! Intrigue! Danger!

That book won me a chance to participate in Pitch Wars, a contest where published and agented writers mentor newer writers and help them pitch their work to agents. Although I didn’t secure representation through the contest, it was very helpful and I did end up signing with Leon Husock of the L. Perkins Agency after about a year of querying. The book Leon signed me for is currently out on submission, so keep your fingers crossed that we find the right editor! 

What are you working on right now? 

I’m working on a few things at the moment, but I’m most excited about my new book, which is about a girl who follows her exiled brother through a portal to an unknown world in order to bring him back home. Things get complicated because not only is there a whole new world on the other side, the portal also scrambles the memories of anyone who goes through it.
I’m also really thrilled to have joined the ASIM first reader team. It’s a lot of fun to see the work of so many writers, and to give back to the magazine that gave me my own first sale.

"Where Are They Now?" Coming Soon To The Great Raven!

In the next few days I will be posting some interviews I did with four ASIM writers whose work I edited. They are special to me because I bought their work for ASIM - and because that was their first or second sale. Stephanie Herman, a U.S. writer, had self published a novel - I will include a link from her post - but ASIM 60 was the first time anyone had paid her for writing. She made another sale soon after and now - well, I'll let her tell you.

Paul Hughan, a Melbourne musician, also made his first sale to us. I read his submission on the recommendation of Simon Petrie, a writer, editor and scientist whose opinion I respect. 

Michelle Goldsmith and Anthony Panegyres have both zoomed ahead in their writing careers since selling me their second stories. 

I admit I got the idea for this series when discovering, quite by accident, that another first sale person had recently had a story in Analog! We're talking about the world's top hard SF magazine. It is good to hear about because the ASIM story needed just a touch of correction in the physics, but that was a first sale, after all. Unfortunately I didn't hear from him when I invited him to do a post here, but no matter. I'm proud anyway, and feel just a bit smug - I can choose them! 

I will be starting tomorrow with Stephanie Herman, author of "First Strike".

Friday, February 10, 2017

I Remember... Saturday Arvo At The Pictures...

This is where I spent my Saturday afternoons during my childhood in St Kilda, a Melbourne beachside suburb.The photo was found on a Yahoo discussion group on trams, hope they don't mind. It's just that all the other photos I could find were of the current building, which is now the National Theatre. So, imagine this by daylight. In those days it was a Hoyt's cinema called the Victory. The actual building, though not the Hoyt's, goes back to about the 1930s and is gorgeous. The place had a dress circle and stalls. Now they have built over the stalls, which have become workshops and schools for the  National Theatre and the former dress circle is the auditorium, where you can see anything from ballet to amateur musicals. I've seen live theatre there - Camelot, Showboat, The Lion In Winter, even a performance of Jon English's Trojan War rock opera Paris, with the composer in the foyer beaming from ear to ear; it had been written only for recording and who would have thought a small theatre company would turn it into a live show? 

So, wonderful, yes, but ... not the same. 

I used to meet my friend Denise and her sisters Irene and Angela on time for the two p.m matinee. There were only two sessions a day, for good reason. You could see a double feature, a newsreel and a cartoon back then, and those took a while to show. I remember that when I was a bit late for a film, I'd say, "Oh, well, I'll just miss the news." These days, of course, I say, "Oh, well, I'll just miss the ads and maybe a trailer." You can, of course, still see a double feature at special cinemas like the Astor Theatre in Windsor. But that's something else.

The other cinema in the area was The Palais. Well, the Palais is still there - I remember going to see Mary Poppins with my parents there - but only does live shows now, mostly concerts. It was doing live theatre then too. Musicals, operettas, the Australian Opera, ballet. But it no longer does movies. 

The Palais auditorium in the old days

Still, most of our Saturdays were spent at the Victory. The Victory had a candy bar, where we mostly bought ice cream and popcorn. I loved the popcorn, which had, if you were lucky, a plastic figure of a cowboy or Indian on horseback. I didn't care about the riders, just the horses. I wish I knew where I put my collection. Across the road was a milk bar, where we sometimes went at intermission to buy more goodies, including a White Knight nougat bar. There is still a food shop there, more takeaway, though, than milk bar. 

I saw some classic films there. Planet Of The Apes. A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum. An odd little film called The Magic Sword, which I've since acquired on DVD. It has some big name actors for a film most people haven't heard of. We're talking here about Basil Rathbone, as the villain. The young knight George was Gary Lockwood, whom you may have seen as Frank Poole in 2001: A Space Odyssey, and Gary Mitchell in the Star Trek episode "Where No Man Has Gone Before".  His guardian, an elderly sorceress, was played by comedienne Estelle Winwood, who had a tendency to play duenna roles in old movies, but you may have seen her chasing Zero Mostel around his office in The Producers, as a character known only as "Hold me, touch me." I think I went to see that by myself one Saturday when Denise and her sisters couldn't make it. For a child, it was scary, though it had a happy ending. 

I remember in my teens going there to see Gone With The Wind. I'd read the book which I considered  a thousand page Mills and Boon, but Denise wanted to go. I even ended up seeing it twice. I did appreciate the casting, which showed the characters the way I had imagined them. And a young George Reeves appeared briefly as one of the Tarleton twins, Scarlett's suitors. I had seen him as Superman. Spectacle or not, classic or not, I haven't been able to watch it since. Sorry!

Eventually the cinema was closed down but fortunately replaced by a theatre which is still there. No more stalls, but the foyer still has the same 1930s glamour I remember, and the upstairs foyer even more beautiful. 

Somehow today's cineplexes are just not the same. And when they're finally replaced by streaming and downloads they won't be likely to survive as something equally delightful. 

I'm glad I have those memories!

Wednesday, February 08, 2017

Coming Soon To The Great Raven - Traci Harding Interview!

I finished reading The Immortal Bind yesterday and decided an interview with the author might work better than yet another book review. My questions have gone to Kimberley Allsopp, the HC publicist, and hopefully Traci Harding will be able to spare some time for us fairly soon.

As I mentioned in my last post, this is the first Traci Harding novel I have ever read, so my questions are those of a new reader, not a veteran fan. If you have any questions to ask the author, place them in the comments and I'll see if I can add them.

See you back here for another fascinating author interview! 

Friday, February 03, 2017

Just Picked Up From The PO: The New Traci Harding Novel!

And here it is. I had to leave my Mum, with whom I spend Friday night and Saturdays, to get it from the post office, because they close well before I can get there after work. So I took the tram, picked up my parcel from Voyager(the spec fic arm of HarperCollins) and took it to the cafe next door to open over a pot of tea. Unusual, because it has been years since HC sent me anything. I think the last one was the HHGG novel written by Eoin Colfer. 

Still, I'm not going to say no to a brand new spec fic book by an Aussie writer. I admit I have never read any of her work, mainly because I'm just not a fan of fat fantasy trilogies, which comprises a large chunk of her work. But this one seems to be a standalone. According to her foreword, it's her twentieth novel but was her first work, as a film script which was never produced. There must be an interesting story there. Perhaps I can get an interview and ask. 

The author is a lot more popular than I am, a huge bestseller whose work has been translated into several languages. 

Mine has been translated into Chinese and Korean, but that's it unless you count an article in a language I have forgotten, but which I have a copy of somewhere on my computer. I vaguely recall the translator writing to ask my permission. "Sure!" I said. "Can I have a copy?" I can't read it, but nice to know. 

Oh, and American. Before you say, "But that doesn't count!" I would like to point out that there are quite a few differences in language usage and I actually met my "translator" at an Allen and Unwin party. She thought our metric measurements were "quaint!" 

Anyway, I've made a start and I don't think this one will take me too long to get through. Very easy reading!