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Saturday, December 30, 2017

My Festive Season 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Have a great 2018, everyone!

Thursday, December 28, 2017

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

Dear readers,

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

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

Something to look forward to in January!

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

On Rereading The Dark Is Rising

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Doctor Who On Boxing Day!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fingers crossed for the new stories!

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

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

In Which I SeeThe Last Jedi

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, December 15, 2017

Spending My Dymock's Voucher!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Back to the book!

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Of Books And Christmas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Last time at West Campus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A week and a half left...

Friday, December 08, 2017

My Career In A School Library: Some Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, December 01, 2017

An Interview With Deborah Abela

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do you have a favourite kind of fiction to write?

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

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

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

What are you working on now?

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

Tell us about your writing process - plotter or pantser?

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

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

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

Thanks for visiting The Great Raven today, Deborah! 

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