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Thursday, June 21, 2018

On Midwinter’s Day : Some rereads and a download!

I have just finished rereading The Devil’s Novice by Ellis Peters. Like all her other Brother Cadfael novels, it features a sweet young couple, of course, and Brother Cadfael as wise mentor as well as sleuth. Usually, he examines a dead body in forensic detail, but for reasons you’ll find once you start reading, that isn’t possible in this one. A cleric disappears on his way to an important meeting, after spending the night at a local manor house. Soon after, a young man is brought by his father to the abbey at Shrewsbury as a novice. He seems keen to join the monastic life, but starts screaming in his sleep, terrifying all the other novices... it has been so long since I read this that I’d forgotten whodunnit, so it’s nice to read it like a new book, yet with the comfort of the familiar characters and setting. I love this series - despite Shrewsbury being a sort of mediaeval Midsomer, it’s gentle, and has characters you care about.

I’ve started rereading Peter’s Room by Antonia Forest. Despite being the fifth in a series, it stands alone quite happily - I’ve never read any of the others and remember enjoying it the first time. I’m just reading how the Peter of the title, a fourteen year old boy, has discovered a cluttered old room in a building on the farm the family has inherited from a relative, and is setting it up to be his den. There have been family members there for centuries so he has found some fascinating historical documents among the junk. It’s really about the Bronte sisters’ personal stories about Gondal, a world created well before they wrote their classic novels. The kids’ discussions about this are very interesting stuff. Anyway, I’m enjoying the reread and have just discovered that it’s one of a whole lot of old children’s books being reprinted by a British small press, Girls Gone By, and that author Michelle Cooper, who recently did a guest post on this blog, is also reading it!

I’ve just Started rereading Lord Of The Rings in ebook. I’ve just started the chapter in which the hobbits arrive at Bree, where they will have dinner at the Prancing Pony inn and first meet Aragorn! Yay! Amazing how many adventures they have already had, so short a way into the book. When you’ve read this book several times, you start to pick up things you didn’t notice the first time. And I do like the Bree chapter, not only for Strider. Tolkien liked his English cooking, which most of us assume is stodgy, but the supper the hobbits enjoy really isn’t stodgy at all. In fact, I find the descriptions mouthwatering.

Now for the download. I’ve recently read a post that mentions Geoffrey Trease, a children’s historical  novelist who was writing about the same time as C.S Lewis. I remember loving his books when I was reading them years ago. He wrote about every era from Ancient Greece to the early 20th century and his heroines were always strong and interesting. His first novel, interestingly, was a leftist interpretation of the story of Robin Hood, in which Robin rallies the peasants against the rich. I once heard someone point out a hammer and sickle in the crowd in one of the illoes!

But the one I downloaded is Cue For Treason, set in Elizabeth I’s England. it involves a boy running from a local lord who is after him for helping knock down a wall(the notorious enclosures of that era), a girl running from an unwanted marriage and disguised as a boy and Shakespeare’s company. Oh, and a plot against the Queen... I bought it in audiobook and the reader is Clive Mantle. Clive Mantle played Little John in Robin Of Sherwood. In fact, he  seems to have made a career of playing lower-class characters, so out of curiosity I checked his bio. Son of a well-off family who went to boarding school, it seems. (And Patrick Stewart, who talks like someone who has been to boarding school, one of the elites, was the son of a very UN-elite Yorkshire family who left school at fifteen...)

Anyway,  Clive Mantle reads well, though his reading voice is lighter than the deep rumble he used in Robin Of Sherwood. And by the way, he is a graduate of RADA, the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts. You have to be pretty good to get into that

I will be lying bs k in bed tonight and enjoying listening to it in the dark! 


Monday, June 11, 2018

Vale Lucy Zinkiewicz!

A couple of days ago I learned on Twitter that an old friend of mine from SF fandom, Lucy Zinkiewicz, had died of cancer. She was several years younger than me, so it feels weird. She was not a famous writer or musician or actress, but within SF fandom in Australia she was known and respected for other things. In her day job as a university academic, she was a well known psychologist with a PhD, articles and books in her name. 

I first met Lucy at the home of a mutual friend. She was in her teens then. I was already a teacher. We all used to hang out, eat stuff and watch Blake’s 7, a British science fiction TV series of the 1970s and 80s. Lucy particularly hung out with her friend Adina, who was about her age and equally bright. I’m not sure what happened to Adina, but I wouldn’t be surprised to hear they kept up communication.

The years went by. She moved around, eventually getting a PhD and a job as a member of the faculty of Psychology at Deakin University in Geelong. I live in Melbourne, so I rarely saw her, except at the occasional science fiction convention or an event run by the Melbourne Science Fiction Club, of which she was a member. 

Then - we found ourselves hanging out again, on line. We both joined the Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine co-op. I was art director and answered inquiries while Lucy took on the much more challenging job of slush wrangler. 

If you want some idea of how challenging the job is, it involved receiving thousands of submissions a year - I do mean thousands! - and sending them out to slush readers, including myself. Then she received our responses and it was her melancholy job to give people the bad news when they had been rejected, copying and pasting our comments into the email. No “printed slips” for ASIM! I did get some of the angry replies through the inquiries email, but I have no doubt she got far more than I did - and handled them with courtesy and grace. I can only imagine what she had to put up with from disgruntled authors., judging by some of the emails I had.  I could probably do a whole post about those, but at this stage I’ll just mention those that I received complaining that they had been waiting a whole  24 hours for a reply or a tracking number, was there something wrong with the “Slush O Matic”? I had to reply on those occasions that there was no mechanical device, only a university academic called Lucy, who, like the rest of us, had a day job and was not being paid for this, and asked them to be patient. 

Sometimes, she had the happy job of letting authors know their stories had gone on to the second round or the slushpool, which is where the stories good enough to be published went for editors to choose stories for their issues. However, both of those had extra work. Stories going to the second round, where two readers would decide whether they were good enough for the slushpool, had to be sent out to the readers again, then another response to the authors, whether good news or bad. If it was good news involving the slushpool, she had to insert the story and post to the co-op to let them know there were new stories up and what was being dropped after two months. (More work, including emailing the authors again!)

She was doing all this while lecturing, preparing classes, supervising student theses, writing books and publishing articles. 

But she had yet another task, which I discovered when I finally edited an issue of ASIM. That was to send me stories that might suit my needs. I was still slushing, but the stories I received now were all “refined”, ie second round. She responded promptly to my requests for the different genres needed for my issue. “Can you find me a horror story, please?” That meant she at least had to check out the beginning of the story or people’s comments. By the time I had chosen my stories, either from Lucy’s emails or the slushpool, I felt that she could almost be considered a joint editor. 

She was kind, patient and helpful. And she never, ever complained on list about the exhausting job, though she would have had sympathy, which probably made her the only one of us who didn’t grumble. 

If there is an afterlife, I hope she is curled up on a comfy chair catching up with all the best science fiction she missed out on while looking after new writers - and us. 

Here is a Twitter comment from one of her former students, who I hope won’t mind my quoting him.  Her class was the most engaging and she was fantastic. I looked forward to Wednesday nights every week. A loss to future students, a privilege to past.”

Vale, Lucy, the much-missed! 


Tuesday, June 05, 2018

The Fandom by Anna Day. From an idea by Angela McCann. Frome: Chicken House, 2018



This novel was the result of two competitions run by Chicken House. One of them was the Children's Fiction Competition, the other the Big Idea Competition. So the winner of the former wrote a book based on an idea by the latter. A strange thing, really - if I had a fabulous idea, I sure wouldn't want to give it to someone else to write! Still, it seems to have worked for these two.

The idea is a fascinating one - not totally original, but still fascinating: what if you suddenly found yourself in the universe of a book of which you're a huge fan? Not in a nice world, either - in this case, it's the universe of a bestselling YA dystopian that was turned into a major film. And what if you then unintentionally helped kill off the main character at the start of the story, five minutes after you arrived?

This is what happens to four teens who arrive in the universe of YA dystopian novel Gallows Dance, written by Sally King, an author who committed suicide before she could write the expected sequel. Violet and her friends Katie and Alice and Violet's younger brother Nate are attending the London Comic Con, in costumes based on the film. The only one of them who isn't actually a fan is Katie, who hasn't read the book or seen the film, giving the other characters the excuse to explain things to her.  Alice is stunningly beautiful, tall and elegant and a candidate for Britain's Next Top Model. She is also a very good  - and well known -fan writer, who has been creating her own Gallows Dance stories on line. This is important in the later part of the novel, but no spoilers here. Nate is also knowledgeable about the book, and the smartest of the four.

While getting selfies taken with the actors from the Gallows Dance film, the four collapse and wake up to find themselves in the Coliseum, an area in which the upper-crust, genetically engineered Gems come weekly to watch Imps, members of the unmodified lower classes, hanged. The story of the novel had the heroine throwing a thistle bomb to distract the audience while rebels rescued the latest victims, but Katie, who didn't know this, sees what she thinks is the actress about to throw the grenade and shouts a warning to her, resulting in her death - at the beginning of the story! The rebels do arrive, taking the teens along with them, but now what?

Violet finds out, early on, that the only way for her and her brother and friends to get home is for her to take over the role of Imp Rose, the book's heroine, and complete the canon. It will give her the excuse to kiss the gorgeous Willow Harper, Gem hero of the novel. There are only two problems: one is that she soon discovers she prefers the lesser male character(you know - those YA novels in which the heroine has to choose between two hot boys?) and two - and most important - Rose was supposed to die at the end of the novel! Then Willow is supposed to urge his fellow Gems to tear down the gallows and  reunite the human race. If it doesn't happen, they are stuck in this world.

Violet has a week to win the trust of the rebels, win the love of Willow Harper - and hang. Oh, dear...

It wasn't funny, as I'd thought it would be when I heard about it - this universe is nasty and dangerous and Violet and her friends are in as much danger from the Imp rebels as they are from the Gems.  But I did enjoy the pop culture references scattered throughout the novel. The Hunger Games and Divergent were referenced, as was Twilight -  at one point, Violet wonders how Robert Pattinson felt when Taylor Lautner arrived on the set, and feels a little embarrassed to realise she is falling for the Jacob character instead of Edward.

Interesting to read a novel in which fan fiction is so important. Alice's fan stories were all Mary Sues in which various versions of herself got to romance Willow Harper, but she and her fan fiction are vital to what will happen to this world. And the thing is, that's what fan fiction is about.  Not for nothing is the title The Fandom.

As I said, not truly original. It was being done in classic SF and fantasy many years ago. Fredric Brown's What Mad Universe has a science fiction magazine editor finding himself in a universe which is based on pulp fiction, in which the hero is a version of a loony writer whose work he had rejected. Fletcher Pratt and L Sprague De Camp wrote a series of stories in which the characters use mathematics to get them into the various universes of literature. In Marvin Kaye's The Incredible Umbrella, the hero buys an umbrella that takes him to the world of Gilbert and Sullivan operettas - and others... And so on. There are even plenty of fan stories in which female characters travel to their favourite universes and romance their favourite characters.

But I admit it's the first time I have encountered it in YA.

I'm not sure I liked the ending of this one, but no matter. It's a readable book with non-stop action.

For good readers from about fourteen upwards.

If you want to get this in ebook, you might have to settle for Kindle - I found it on iBooks in four languages, none of them English! There was an audiobook, though. You can get it in print on all the usual web sites or in your local bookshop.


Monday, June 04, 2018

Who Wants To Be A Librarian? And Why?

So, there was this discussion on Twitter about why you would go into librarianship. Someone started it with this well known trope that “if you want to go into librarianship because you ‘love reading’ I suggest another line of work’.” It was tweeted by a non librarian, of course, one of those who think they know all about it. As it was a University academic, I suppose that special librarians don’t take books home to enjoy. But that wasn’t what the tweet said. It was that you shouldn’t go into librarianship if it’s because you love reading. Honestly, why else would you do it?

All the librarians chipped in. Some agreed that sitting around reading all day was not what being a librarian was about. Others, the school librarians, felt that the original tweet had missed the entire point. If you are wanting kids to love reading, you have to love it yourself and that means reading the stuff. Not in the library, obviously, with the million things you have to do, but reading.

Here’s the thing. One of the tweeters said that you shouldn’t put it into your application if you wanted to get the job. And that’s right. BUT...

When I was about to do my interview at RMIT for the librarianship course, which was much sought-after and very hard to get into, I was warned against saying I wanted to do the course because I loved books. I should say it was because I wanted to help people. The time came, I went into the office of the man in the librarianship department who got to decide, finally, whether I would be a librarianship student that year. I’d done all the other stuff. It was a long process that ended in the interview if you were close. The question arrived. Why did I want to do this course? I opened my mouth to say what he presumably wanted to hear... and I said, “Are you seriously suggesting that you didn’t do it because you loved books?”

And he grinned and agreed. He said, “Most people say they want to be handmaids to some sort of research.” That, in other words, and probably “because I want to help people” was what he was fed up with hearing, not “because I love books.”.

Reader, I got in. There were five hundred applications and thirty accepted and I got in because I was honest. So much for that trope.

Of course you want to help people! And I love the research - it has been a huge help in my writing. It has been great to be able to help kids learn how to do it. And of course you don’t sit around reading in the library. You grab a book off the shelves and take it home to read.

I think I probably had the best version of the library job, the school library, closely followed by the public library, but even if I was working in a public library I’d want to be the one who organised and ran storytimes. I love the children’s and YA books. I love opening a box of display books and inviting kids in to help choose new stock. I love taking them to writers’ festivals and chatting about them on the way back to school on the train, and getting kids voting for favourites on the YABBA and Inky Awards. I love watching eyes light up when I hand them the next book in a series they’re reading. I love finding that one book that will get a reluctant reader reading. Most of all, I love saying, “Have I got a book for you!” and sharing it.

See? It is about loving books and reading! And sharing that love. 

Monday, May 28, 2018

Some Special Birthdays... And A Sad Passing

This week is jam packed with birthdays of people who have brought great pleasure to my life... and seen the passing of another. In this post, I’ll chat about Gardner Dozois, Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Vincent Price and the delightful Harlan Ellison.

Firstly, vale Gardner Dozois! Gardner was a giant in the field of science fiction. He was an award-winning writer, but is best known as the editor of many anthologies, many of which of which I have read, with great delight. My own preferences were for the themed anthologies, but a lot of fans say that they were introduced to science fiction through the Year’s Best anthologies, which he founded. He also edited Isaac Asimov’s Magazine for many years. Think of all the short fiction published by him! There just isn’t the time to read it all! Damn! Gone way too soon. Look, I’ll just give you a link to his Wikipedia post, where you can see some of the stuff he has written and edited. Some,  not all - and even that is too much for me to list here. Sleep well, Gardner!

May 26 is a special day. It was the day I came home from school and found out I was an auntie, for the first time. My nephew David is now the father of two beautiful girls, one of whom works in a bookshop and  has just given me a copy of the latest Jay Kristoff novel. But it was a special day. And he shares it with Peter Cushing.

I probably don’t need to tell you much about Peter Cushing. You’ll know about his many Hammer Horror films, several of them with his friend Christopher Lee and some with Vincent Price - both of them May 27 babies! There must have been joint celebrations on set when they were filming on that day. You will certainly have seen him as Grand Moff Tarkin, one of the villains of the Star Wars movie now known as A New Hope(Just Star Wars back then). Did you know he played the tiny role of Osric in the Olivier Hamlet? Osric is the courtier who waves a sword to start the duel between Hamlet and Laertes in the last scene. It is a tiny role, but he brought some comedy to it. he also played Sherlock Holmes, one of many actors to play the role.

And unless you’re almost as old as I am, or a great Dr Who fan, I bet you didn’t know he played as the Doctor, did you? Twice! Dr Who And The Daleks and Daleks: Invasion Earth 2150 AD.

Christopher Lee was the youngest of these May 26/27 guys, having been born in 1922. He played Dracula to Cushing’s Van Helsing. He did a lot of villain roles in his career, including one in the Star Wars prequel trilogy and in The Wicker Man, a film I have seen only once and can’t bring myself to see again. He was an amazing singer as well as character actor. In fact, he nearly became an opera singer, but luckily for us he ended up as an actor. I love opera, but only patrons of the opera would have had the chance to see him, in whichever theatre he was performing in. He was Saruman in Lord Of The Rings and The Hobbit. He would have liked to do Gandalf, because he was a huge Tolkien fan, who had read and reread LOTR since it first came out, but he was too old to cope with the physical stuff - and the Fellowship members actually did have to do a lot of running, climbing, fighting, etc. It wasn’t all stunt artists. So he played the villain again(although in The Hobbit Saruman wasn’t yet a villain) Did you know that on a recording by the Tolkien Ensemble he played the role of that amiable Ent Treebeard? The Ensemble got together to record all of Tolkien’s songs and poems, set to music. On the album Dawn In Rivendell, he sang Treebeard’s songs, with a lot of “Harumph!”s. Oh, and late one night I stumbled across an otherwise-dreadful American series about Robin Hood, which pinched bits from Robin Of Sherwood and wasn’t I surprised to see a twinkle-eyed wizard played by Christopher Lee! Needless to say, he acted rings around the others.

Vincent Price was another character actor, and the oldest of these three, having been born in 1911. He was also the only American, descended from a child born on the Mayflower. Is it even necessary to go through all the horror movies he did? Mind you, in The Fly, a scary movie about a scientist who invents a teleport which leaves him with a fly head and arm, he played the man’s non-villainous brother-in-law. In The Ten Commandments he played Baka, the very nasty Egyptian killed by Moses before his exile. Well, he had to be killed. He was about to whip John Derek and rape Debra Paget, wasn’t he? Oddly, the film I remember most was The Tower Of London, in which he played Richard III. I saw the film with the Richard III Society, sitting with my friends Anne and Helene. While the rest of the group was bristling at the treatment of Richard as a villain, the three of us were rolling around laughing. And at least this Richard did love his wife. George of Clarence, the one who ends up drowned in a barrel of wine, was a nasty piece of work historically, but in The Tower Of London he was shown as an over-the-top character who minced around carrying a lap dog. 

Finally, in this post, there is Harlan Ellison, who has just celebrated his 84th birthday on May 27. I have read some of his short fiction and have his historic anthology Dangerous Visions, and I got to hear him speak at a Sydney SF convention in the 1980s. I remember him telling us in his Guest of Honour speech that we ought to be supporting our own writers, which, of course, we should be. That was before the days of the Internet and well before most of our local small presses took off, to publish science fiction rather than Fat Fantasy Trilogies. He was wanting to do something Australian-themed at the time, but it never happened. In the 1960s, he wrote an episode of the original Star Trek,  “City On The Edge Of Forever”. It was a beautiful episode which won a Hugo Award... and only one line of it was not rewritten... Oh, dear. As a writer, I feel for him! I did read his original script - which also won an award - but have to say I prefer the TV version. For one thing, I can’t imagine Kirk saying to Spock, “I should have left you for the mob!” It was a lovely script, but it wasn’t Star Trek, IMO. 


In later years, he was story editor for the very good Twilight Zone remake and Babylon 5. I remember a couple of the episodes were based on stories by him. On Babylon 5, he not only did the story editing, he played some cameo roles. My favourite was when he played as a computer with a New York Jewish accent - the computer had a personality which drove security chief Garibaldi crazy! So, if he hadn’t become a writer, perhaps he could have had a career in acting? Maybe, but if that had happened, there is a lot of amazing science fiction we would never have had. No - that is one alternative universe I can do without. 

Saturday, May 26, 2018

A Guest Post From Michelle Cooper




Today’s guest post is by Michelle Cooper, author of the brilliant YA Montmaray historical fiction trilogy and a sort-of-historical novel set in the 1980s, The Rage Of Sheep. I’ve read all her books so far, and loved them all. The Montmaray books are set before and during World War II, about the adventures of the royals from a tiny kingdom in the Channel Islands, about the size of The Mouse That Roared’s Grand Fenwick, with a royal family that milk the goats and clean the castle. Because they are royalty, though, they are able to observe the events in upper class England in the 1930s, when they have to flee there. I’ve reviewed the first two novels here





With her new book, Dr Huxley’s Bequest, Michelle has written a book of a type known as “creative non fiction.” I’ve started reading it and am enjoying it very much so far. 

Take it away, Michelle! 







I love writing historical novels for teenagers, but after finishing my Montmaray trilogy, I needed a bit of a change. Maybe I could write some non-fiction for teenagers, I thought. I enjoy reading non-fiction, especially popular science books. I’ve spent most of my life working in health sciences and I’m passionate about health education. What about some creative non-fiction along the lines of Sophie’s World by Jostein Gaarder, I thought, except instead of a history of philosophy, I’d have my teenage characters solving a mystery about the history of medicine. I’d include illustrations and plenty of jokes alongside the fascinating facts, but it would also be a thoughtful exploration of the beauty and power of scientific reasoning. Surely my publishers would LOVE a book that aimed to make science interesting and entertaining for teenage girls!

Nope. My publishers HATED it. They acknowledged it was well written, but they just didn’t believe it would sell in sufficient quantities. They advised me to take out all the history and science – which, given that it was a book about the history of medical science, would have turned it into an extremely short book. They said teenagers, especially teenage girls, weren’t interested in history or science. I was told creative non-fiction for teenagers would be impossible to market because booksellers “wouldn’t know which shelf to put it on”. My agent dutifully sent the manuscript to other publishers, but times are tough in Australian publishing and no one wants quirky, thoughtful books that are unlikely to become bestsellers. Eventually I realised the only way this book was going to exist was if I published it myself. 

So that’s what I did.

I’ve been fortunate that the self-publishing industry has developed so rapidly in the past few years. There’s still some stigma attached to publishing your own work (and to be fair, there are still a lot of really terrible self-published books around), but a number of established Australian authors, including John Birmingham and Ellie Marney, have turned to self-publishing. It’s now possible, in a way it wasn’t ten years ago, for an author to turn their own manuscript into a professional-looking book available for sale worldwide in print and ebook formats. Hooray for the internet!

Self-publishing (or independent publishing, as some prefer to call it) does take quite a lot of time, money and effort, though. I did a tonne of research into how self-publishing works, then hired an editor, a cover designer and a book designer to prepare my manuscript for print and ebook publication. I set up my own (tiny) publishing house, located a printer and distributor, and sent out press releases and review copies to appropriate journals, magazines and blogs. It definitely helped that I’d had some experience in the book industry through my traditionally-published books. This meant I had background knowledge of the book world, but also that the reviewers I approached were often willing to look at my book, because they recognised my name. 

I didn’t publish my own book because I thought it would make me rich and famous. I’m still not certain if I’ll earn back the money I spent publishing this book. However, it’s been an immensely rewarding experience in other ways. I’ve been able to observe the book industry from a fresh perspective. I’ve relished being in charge of every single aspect of my book, from proofreading and illustrations and cover design to pricing and publicity. I have access to far more information about how this book is selling, compared to my previous books. I receive detailed statements each month telling me how many books I’ve sold, in which formats and where I’ve sold them, and I get royalty payments deposited in my bank account every month (and I earned more in royalties for this book in the first month than I did for the past six months of worldwide sales for my four traditionally-published books). 

Traditional publishing houses still offer many advantages to authors. They have vast teams of experienced, well-resourced professionals who work hard on the books they believe in. I’ve promised my agent that I’ll send him my next manuscript so he can send it out to publishers – but if they don’t want it, I’ll be happy to self-publish it. It’s an exciting new world of publishing out there now.



Dr Huxley’s Bequest: A History of Medicine in Thirteen Objects

A mysterious bequest sends Rosy and Jaz on a race against time to identify thirteen strange and wonderful objects – which turn out to tell the story of medicine, from the superstitions of ancient Egypt to the modern-day ethical dilemmas of genetic testing.

Can unicorns cure leprosy?
What secrets of the brain did Michelangelo conceal in his Sistine Chapel paintings?
Did a zombie discover the cure for scurvy?
Does homeopathy actually work?
Why did an Australian scientist decide to drink dangerous bacteria?
Is grapefruit evil?
Did the bumps on Ned Kelly’s head predict his fate?
And how exactly did parachuting cats save a village from the plague?

An exploration of the beauty and power of scientific reasoning, for thoughtful readers aged twelve years and up.


For more information about Dr Huxley’s Bequest, including an excerpt from the book, teaching resources and a virtual tour of the real-life setting, visit www.michellecooper-writer.com/huxley.html

For information about where to buy Dr Huxley’s Bequest, visit Australia’s newest, tiniest publishing house at www.fitzosbornepress.com/books.html

Sue: Or you can buy it right away on iBooks(I did!) if you can't wait, and I see Booktopia has all her books, including this one, here, if you prefer paperback. 


Follow Michelle on Twitter @mini_memoranda or visit her blog, Memoranda, at www.michellecooper-writer.com/blog

Thursday, May 24, 2018

New Ebooks Downloaded Recently - Tansy Rayner Roberts and Simon Haynes

My goodness, there are a lot of freebies out there! Free or cheap. I downloaded the Instafreebie app because Tansy Rayner Roberts was giving away stuff to everyone on her mailing list and one was via IF. So was Simon Haynes. IF send you an email daily, with a new set of freebies. Some are samples from new books by the contributing authors. Some are short stories or novellas or prequels to existing series. I haven’t heard of most people on the list, and found, with a couple, that I had been added to the author’s mailng list. Must be careful there!  Still, a freebie is a freebie, and a chance to check out their work, before deciding to buy other of their books from iBooks or Amazon. And fair enough - they do want to promote, after all.

Tansy Rayner Roberts is giving away stuff regularly. The most recent was her entire Mocklore series; she has gotten back the rights to a lot of her out of print stuff and not long ago did a huge Kickstarter to republish her Creature Court series, both in print and ebook, as well as some new stuff. There are also pretty pins and limited edition soft toys(have to be, as they’re being made by hand by the author and friends!) I went for the ebooks and audiobooks and a pin. I will have to wait till the end of the year for the ebooks, which have to be put together, after all, but plenty to read meanwhile and she is giving away stacks of earlier books.

Simon Haynes: I used to work with him on Andromeda Spaceways. He has been published by one of the Big Four, after starting out self-published, then decided to return to self-publishing. He hasn’t said why, but I’m guessing it’s because he knows what he’s doing and self publishing gives him control - it means he can put out one book after another, if that’s what he wants, and that does seem to be what he wants! Big publishers have to take time. I was very lucky with my only novel, which only took a year to come out. It was already slotted in because it was replacing another book that was on their list  that was not bring published. Otherwise, it could take two or more years. But Simon can publish as quickly as he can finish and put together his ebooks. And he has an audience who know his work and enjoy it, and a mailing list.

Both writers do funny. I’m just discovering Tansy, but Simon’s books are funny space opera, mostly about the adventures of a klutzy space delivery man - basically a truck driver - called Hal Spacejock, and his robot sidekick Klunk.

Most recently, I’ve started reading the first of his new Harriet Walsh trilogy. You look at the cover with a kick-ass woman holding a blaster, but so far, it feels a bit Douglas Adams or Robert Sheckley in style. I’ll finish and hopefully report back to you.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Just Started Reading... the Dr Syn Series by Russell Thorndike

I’m not sure why I had a sudden a craving to read this. I saw the Disney TV series as a child(if you think you can get this on DVD, forget it! There was a limited edition which occasionally turns up on eBay and such), under the title of The Scarecrow Of Romney Marsh. The lead role, of a Batman-like hero who is a small-town vicar by day, was played by the gorgeous Patrick McGoohan(the novel, which I’ve just started, says he is an elderly gentleman who is very popular locally and sings crude sea chanties at the pub). One of his two sidekicks was young Aussie actor Sean Scully, who had also played the dual lead in The Prince And The Pauper. (I wonder what has happened to him? I recall him visiting my school once, as a young man, a long time ago, when I was a teenager still dreaming of a career on stage.)

Anyway, after playing and singing along to the theme song on YouTube: “Scarecrow! Scarecro-ow! The soldiers of the King/Feared his na-ame!” last night, I took a look in iBooks and found all the novels under one cover for 99c. And I’m thoroughly enjoying it so far. It’s not only adventure, it’s funny. The style is a bit like Baroness Orczy’s in The Scarlet Pimpernel, which came out a few years earlier. Dr Syn was first published in 1915.

The author, as I’ve discovered on Google, was not only a writer but an actor, on stage and in some silent movies. You’ll also see him in tiny roles in Laurence Olivier’s Hamlet and Richard III. His first love was writing, though. His sister was Dame Sybil Thorndike, who was a lot more famous than he was for acting, so probably just as well!

I’ve read an interesting post about the making of the Disney series here.  Apparently they filmed the series more or less where the novels were set. They chose a 12th century church for Dr Syn’s, and delighted the locals, by carrying out the renovations they need desperately, but couldn’t afford, in order to film there. I’ll leave you to wander over and take a look. A fascinating look at the series and what was behind it.

I’m off to read some more. 

Saturday, May 19, 2018

A Guest Post From Jane Routley

Photo taken by Trudi Canavan


Jane Routley is a terrific Australian fantasy writer. She has won awards and been published by one of the Big Four. Recently, she has, like many Aussie genre writers, moved to small press, though in her case self publication, for reasons she explains below.

It's nice to know someone is writing something a bit less grim than Game Of Thrones. Actually, pretty much everything is less grim than Game Of Thrones, Jane, honey! And that includes such dystopian fiction as The Hunger Games, where most of the characters, though not all, are still alive at the end and the bad guys on both sides of the rebellion got what was coming to them, and where when someone dies there's a reason other than to annoy the fans. 



Jane's Guest Post!


Hi. I’m Jane Routley. Sue’s very kindly asked me to do a guest post on her blog to celebrate the publishing of my new book The Melded Child.

The Melded Child is set on the Islands of Yarmar. The Tari - powerful mages who are a kind of cross between elves and nature spirits act seek to maintain a balance between the peoples of the Islands so all can flourish. The peace they’ve brokered between the indigenous peoples of Yarmar and the incoming Mirayans has held for 10 years. But most Tari aren’t interested in the outside world – they prefer to stay in their own realm, growing flowers and fashioning statues out of lava (I‘ve got a thing for volcanoes as you’ll quickly see when you read the book.)

So when a death mage starts to pick off those Tari who do care about the outside world - kidnapping one and tricking another into the hands of the megalomaniac mage, Malov, and his insane sister Daria - the peace falls apart. Suddenly Alyx Mori, heiress to the throne of the Mori forest folk finds herself on the run, wounded and hiding from death angels and blood beasts. Her only help is Serge – the youngest son of the man who murdered her father. 

The Melded Child is heroic fantasy, but it’s not as grim or dark as Game of Thrones. Sure, I like writing about adventures and politics but I’m not a grim or dark person. Apart from anything else, who wants to read about Winter Coming when it’s freezing cold outside? There’s clearly a reason why the GOT TV series comes out in the northern summer. I try to keep the cold scenes to a minimum in the The Melded Child. 

All through the book I’m seeking to tap into the sense of wonder I felt when I read books like the Chronicles of Prydain(SB By Loyd Alexander), the Narnia books and collections of folk and fairy tales. The world, even the real world, is full of magic. You can see it in the unfurling petals of a rose or the tiny black and gold New Holland Honeyeaters hopping through the bushes in your garden. I’ve tried to capture that feeling in The Melded Child with magical singing in the forest, hiding from blood beasts in tree houses and calling birds to the tops of towers. I’ve paid tribute to the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party. Even the bad guys get moments of wonder as they break open landscapes and make lava leak out. 

Back in the early naughties I published four books with Harper Collins and won two Aurealis awards for best Fantasy novel with my books Fire Angels and Aramaya. . But then life and publishing changes intervened and though I’ve been writing all the time I’ve not managed to finish much. In that time publishing has completely changed and the world has become much grimmer. So I decided to bring out The Melded Child myself with the help of the wonderful Lindy Cameron from Clan Destine Press. It’s been great fun. And great to discover blogs like The Great Raven faithfully covering fantasy and SF writing. Thank you, Sue. 

Author's Website:


Where you can buy the book online: 

https://www.amazon.com/Jane-Routley/e/B000AQ76EC

All her books, republished by ClanDestine, which has done this with other wonderful writers, are now on iBooks, including the new one. They cost $4.99 in ebook.


Jane's author page on ClanDestine Press. You should absolutely check out the website in general. ClanDestine is one of Australia's amazing small presses, which publishes crime fiction, fantasy and SF, horror... go take a look!

Just Finished Reading... The Ninth Daughter by Barbara Hamilton




I borrowed this book from the library, in desperate need of a historical whodunnit. I’ve been reading new books and rereading old ones in the Benjamin January series by the wonderful Barbara Hambly, who does historical fiction, historical crime fiction, fantasy and horror fiction. It’s all good stuff, as far as I’m concerned, but lately I’ve been concentrating on the two series she has been continuing - Benjamin January and the James Asher Chronicles, which started with Immortal Blood(Those Who Hunt The Night in the US) and has gone for several volumes, about James and Lydia Asher, who have scary adventures in the Edwardian era with a sixteenth century Spanish vampire, Don Simon Ysidro, who is a kind of friend, though they feel guilty about hanging out with him because he is, after all, a killer many times over(and helps them because he is in love with Lydia). I admire this author for managing to keep up the quality of her books in both series. I have yet to be disappointed

The thing is, I’ve read the lot and for some reason, the early Benjamin January books are missing from my library. They were there before! So I browsed through the HAMs and found this book right next to HAM for Hambly. Oh, well, I thought, a historical whodunnit, might as well give it a try. 

So I borrowed it and took it home. And looking it up, I discovered, to my delight, that Barbara Hamilton is a pen name for Barbara Hambly. I knew I was going to enjoy it - and I did. 

There are a lot of historical whodunnits with real people as the protagonists. I’ve read two in which  Elizabeth I was the sleuth. One of them was even about the Amy Robsart matter, in which the wife of the Queen’s favourite, Robert Dudley, fell - or was pushed - down stairs. We still don’t know what actually  happened, but this was a murder mystery novel, after all, so in it she was murdered. There was a series about Shakespeare and a fictional partner who solved mysteries. There is even a series in which the heroine is crime novelist Josephine Tey. 

This one is about Abigail Adams, wife of future President John Adams, who has to find a friend, Rebecca, who has disappeared after a murder in her home because the suspicion has fallen on her husband, John, and John Adams has posted a bond not to leave town till the matter is sorted. It’s set in the two weeks or so leading up to the Boston Tea Party. 

The quality is as good as the January books and certainly better than other books of the kind I’ve read. Famous historical figures are brought to life. I’d only ever come across the Adamses in the musical 1776, in which John was grumpy and had no patience with idiocy and Abigail was his strong partner. In this book, the first thing we learn about John Adams - then a lawyer - is that he is likely to be furious at the shuffling around of potential evidence at a crime scene. That, of course, is what his cousin Sam and some other Sons of Liberty do rather than take a chance on having the British ask questions. There is also a missing book with codes and names in it, because the missing Rebecca was involved with their movement. 

This Abigail Adams is intelligent, compassionate and quick-witted. She is also a housewife with a huge number of daily chores to do, chores we no longer have to think about. She does have a single servant(not slave - John Adams was one of only a few early US Presidents not to have slaves), Pattie, to help but it’s still a lot of work.

The British soldiers are by no means the villains of this piece; Abigail suspects, early on, that the murderer is almost certainly a member of the Sons of Liberty, led by her husband’s cousin. Redcoat Lieutenant Coldstone has seen far too many dreadful killings in London when victims not regarded as important never had justice - and he believes firmly that such a killer will keep doing it. He and his likeable Irish sidekick, Sergeant Muldoon, help her investigate the crime. Everyone knows who is involved with the Sons of Liberty, but that alone isn’t enough to get anyone arrested, even when Sam Adams arranges mobs or the locals encourage children to pelt soldiers with dung. 

The era comes to life as well as the characters. Apart from Abigail’s housework there is the entire political and religious background. Abigail, who would much rather be drinking tea, is drinking coffee because everyone is boycotting the taxed beverage. At one point, someone points out to her that even with the tax, the colonists are still paying less than the folk back home in England. Not the point, of course, but still... 

There are some nice touches of humour, such as the “Indians”about to throw that tea off the ships, who have agreed not to speak English, and say nothing but “Ugh!” even though they’re perfectly recognisable. 

The characters were more well rounded than in other historical whodunnits with real protagonists that I have read. 

A pity there are only three in this series and my library only has this one! And not in ebook, either, dammit! 


Still, well worth a read. Recommended.

Friday, May 18, 2018

Book Blogger Hop: What was Your Worst Film Based On a Book?

This week’s Book Blogger Hop asks the question : what was the worst film you have seen based on a book?

Easy! One of my favourite books is Susan Cooper’s The Dark Is Rising. I’ve posted about this before, but in case you have missed it, the story is about Will Stanton, who lives in rural Buckinghamshire with his mother, daughter of a farming family, his father, a jeweller, and his many, many siblings. On his eleventh birthday he discovers he is the last of the Old Ones, a group of people with magical abilities who are fighting for the Light against the Dark. The leader of the Old ones is Merriman Lyon, a University academic who is, in fact, Merlin. He has been around for centuries, of course. Will must acquire six signs before the Dark get hold of them, and read something called the Book of Gramarye, which has waited for him for a very long time. If the Dark get that, disaster looms for everyone, so Merriman has found a way to make sure they don’t - one which will cost the Light dearly. Big mistake! 

Okay. This is a very English story. There is a lot of folklore from the area in which the story is set. Merriman has made one big mistake, but he is, on the whole, a first-rate mentor to Will - who has to grow up quickly, because he can’t even share his secret with his favourite brother. 

Th novel is beautiful and utterly magical, set over the Christmas season, with a storm and the riding of the Wild Hunt at the climax. 

But now, we saw what happens when an English story is taken over by American film makers. It shows what might have happened to Harry Potter if J.K Rowling had allowed Stephen Spielberg to film it. He wanted to Americanise it. I believe he wanted to cast an American Harry and possibly even to move Hogwarts there. Look, there is nothing wrong with American stories. And the new series, Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them, starts off in the US, and amazing it was. We got to find out what American wizards were doing while the drama was going on in 1920s Hogwarts. We learned about American wizarding schools and the folklore from that part of the world. But it was created that way. 

For some weird reason, American TV and film producers underestimate the intelligence of their audiences and seem to think they won’t understand anything not done with an American accent. (Don’t even get me started on the dubbing of Mad Max!) Not true, of course, as any fan knows. I have read plenty of angry posts about this film from US fans. 

So, the film? Will Stanton(or Stenton, as he pronounces it with that accent)is American. He’s fourteen so that the villainous Dark lady Maggie Barnes, a farm hand in the original novel, can attempt seduction, before they even leave the US. Maggie Barnes, in the novel, only does the seduction thing on the Walker, a rather sad character who was turned to the Dark by her. The family inherit a place in England and go there, where Will discovers he’s an Old One. Not just an Old One but the leader of the Old Ones. He has to be, because these Old Ones are total idiots, including Merriman, who is not a university academic and Will’s mentor but a not too bright butler. In the novel, he is only playing the role of butler to Miss Greythorne, owner of the local manor, briefly so that he can take Will into the nineteenth century to receive the Book of Gramarye without any of the local carol singers noticing.  

In the novel, Will realises he is the seventh son of a seventh son when he finds a carved initial among the family Christmas decorations for a brother who died before he was born. In the film, there was a twin brother stolen by the Dark. I mean, why? Honestly, why? What earthly difference would it make? This Will and his family were in America. Why hang on to the child all that time? Who raised him? 

The only thing that made the film even remotely worth watching was Christopher Eccleston, best known as the ninth Doctor Who, as the evil Rider, the novel’s main villain. He was good, but I bet he was left embarrassed by that film and hopes nobody remembers it. I certainly would be! 

Watching it was a huge waste of a morning, as far as I’m concerned.


So, that’s my horrible film based on a favourite book. What’s yours? 

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Just Started Reading...Lifel1k3(Lifelike) by Jay Kristoff

It’s nice having a family member who works in a bookshop! In this case, it’s my great-niece Dezzy, who has recently moved to Melbourne and is studying at Deakin University. Dezzy is a passionate reader herself and did her work experience in a school library, as well as being a library monitor at her own school. Both of those helped her get the job, which she thoroughly enjoys, doing a shift once a week.

So, Sunday might, we all went out for Mother’s Day, with my mother, my sister Mary and my sister-in-law as the three mothers whose day it was. And Dezzy grinned and offered me a bag with something square and solid in it. No special reason, she just wanted to get me a book. She knew I wouldn’t have it, because it has just come out, though I have to say, it already has a lot of reviews on Goodreads. And she also got me a very pretty metal bookmark, of the kind that has jewelled beads handing from it and could also be used as a letter opener. Am I a lucky great-auntie or what?

The book is Jay Kristoff’s latest novel, Lifel1k3, (Lifelike), which has on its cover: “It’s Romeo And Juliet meets Mad Max meets X-Men , with a little bit of Bladerunner cheering from the sidelines.”

Well, yes, so far. I’m on page 46 and still waiting for Romeo And Juliet, but it started solidly with Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome, moving on to Mad Max 2, some X-Men and I think I can see Bladerunner coming. And all this in the first 46 pages - well done, Jay! The book also seems to have been set up to move on to the US market. The spelling is American, some expressions are American and it’s set in the smoking ruins of California. I’ll let you know how it goes, but please remember, US readers, Jay Kristoff is ours, okay? So is Amie Kaufman, who wrote several books with him.

This is my first book by this author and so far I’m enjoying it tremendously.

I’d better go back and read some others, hadn’t I? Any fans out there among my readers? Tell me in the comments  box below.