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Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Just Finished Reading...The Hate U Give By Angie Thomas

Sixteen-year-old Starr lives in two worlds: the poor neighbourhood where she was born and raised and her posh high school in the suburbs. The uneasy balance between them is shattered when Starr is the only witness to the fatal shooting of her unarmed best friend, Khalil, by a police officer. Now what Starr says could destroy her community. It could also get her killed. 

I have to say, this is one time when the hype - and there has been a lot of it -  matches the quality of the book. I bought it at Dymock’s on an impulse, last week, along with a British YA novel I’m still reading, and read it over a couple of days. I will be passing it on to my niece Dezzy, who will be very likely to enjoy it.

After recently reading a novel with an unlikeable heroine, it was a pleasure to find one I could care about. Poor Starr is, I think, suffering post traumatic stress disorder even before the story begins, from seeing a childhood friend killed in a drive-by shooting, but she deals with both deaths and does what she thinks is inportant, while denying that she is brave.

This  novel is full-on! There was very little time in it when the tension let up. Even when Starr’s family are relaxing and enjoying themselves you know something serious is about to happen.

And Starr’s family are likeable. Her parents adore each other and their children. Her little brother is sweet and funny. It’s rather nice to read a YA novel where the parents play an important role in the story. Too often they only appear when necessary, to ground the kids or tell them the deep dark truth about their paranormal Dad.

I did wonder how a family making a living from a small grocery store(her father) and nursing(her mum) could manage fees for a horribly expensive private school for all three kids. Starr does mention something about a scholarship, but only once and presumably only for her.

The last chapters were even more full-on intense than the rest of the book, but no spoilers. You do see it coming.

I believe that there were elements of this story inspired by the author’s own life as well as the true stories of young black kids murdered by police and given no justice.  She was passionate about this and it shows. It should be interesting to see what comes next, but even if this is the “one book” Angie Thomas had in her, it will be worth it.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Blog Tour: The Harper Effect: An Interview With Taryn Bashford

Today's guest is debut YA author Taryn Bashford, author of The Harper Effect, set in the world of pro tennis. Here are some details from the Pan Macmillan website:

Harper Hunter doesn't know how it came to this.
Her tennis dreams are collapsing: her coach says she doesn't have what it takes to make it in the world of professional tennis.
Her new doubles partner is moody, mysterious and angry at the world. What is he hiding?
She is in love with Jacob, but he is her sister's boyfriend. Or, he was. Harper could never betray Aria with Jacob ... could she?
As Harper's heart and dreams pull her in different directions, she has to figure out exactly what she wants. And just how hard she's willing to fight to get it.

Taryn has had a lot of adventures around the world and done a lot of different jobs before settling in Sydney with her family. She knows a lot about how professional tennis works and uses it in her novel. This interview is a part of the blog tour organised by Clare Keighery of Pan Macmillan. Enjoy!

GR: What inspired this story? 

TB: I wrote this story when I was 14 years old. Obviously, it’s had a fair few re-writes since then! But the seed was sown. As an adult, I’m fascinated by teens who surpass the norm – in sport, music, academics – and so it was natural for me to pull this novel out of the trunk it had been stored in for decades, and re-visit it. I also have a deep belief in the benefit of sports for teens. I believe I learned many skills from my own days in athletics, skills that I use every day of my life, and skills that probably helped me get published; the dedication to one thing, the self-motivation, the extreme focus needed, the ability to get up again and keep going after a rejection, and the knowledge to know my future is down to me and the effort I put in, and nobody else. I also search for YA books with a sporting theme – and there are some great ones out there – but just not many. So, I wrote the book I wanted to read.

GR: I believe your brother was a pro tennis player, now coaching - did you ever feel as if you were basically Aria, the sister left at home? 

TB: That’s a great question, but I actually didn’t. I think this was because both my brother and I were chasing a dream. Mine was the Olympics. And I wanted to be a concert pianist and a novelist. I got one of my dreams! But as a teen, while he played tennis, I was training hard at the 400m track event and practicing the piano to be the best, and writing stories. I don’t think I had time to think about what he was up to on the other side of the world. All I knew was that I was incredibly proud of him, and that’s why I dedicated The Harper Effect to him. 

GR: Are any of your characters, including famous tennis players, inspired by real people? 

TB: No, not at all. Not even my brother is in there as ‘himself’. 

GR: Who, if anyone, is your favourite character? Why? (Mine is the coach, Milo!) 

TB: I have to say a few people have said the same thing about Milo. I liken him to Mr Miyagi in The Karate Kid. But I think my favourite character is Colt because he really gives me the feels – to have been through what he went through as a kid, and to refuse to give up on his dad and his dream, I did shed a few tears for him. Then when he must make the choice to give up his dream or lose his dad – well, that got me too. He’d retreated behind a wall to protect himself, he’s hurting so badly and is so alone, and when he begins to blossom and come out of himself, I was so thrilled for him. I just wanted to give him big hugs!

GR: Playing pro tennis seems, judging by your novel, to be very expensive, requiring coaching, travel and complete focus on the sport, which means being unable to make a regular living while you train and travel - is this right? How would a gifted young player who had no money manage to get started in his or her career? 

TB: You’re right. It’s not an easy sport to excel in because of that. My brother travelled the world in a florist’s van (with a mattress thrown in the back) so that he could play in as many tournaments as possible. It’s a vicious circle – the more tournaments you play, the more money you earn and the higher your ranking so the more money you make. But if you cannot afford to be at loads of tournaments, the less money you make and the lower your ranking is, so the less money you make. You can see where the determination comes in. I’m talking about the 80’s though, so things may have changed. It seems you still need to compete as much as possible, and play for your State, then Nationals and so on. This then leads to sponsorships to pay for the tournaments you must attend. There are more local level tournaments these days that do get you ranking points, so that’s the place to start. Tennis Queensland has a lot of information on their website. The Harper Effect also covers this: Colt cannot afford to go to a big tournament in Europe so he increases his participation in the local tournaments in Australia.

GR: This seems to be a novel about learning to move on. What does this mean for each of your main characters? 

TB: Yes, it is about moving on – well, leaving childhood behind I suppose. For Harper it’s about leaving behind the place she felt the safest, represented by the Purple Woods, and also leaving behind the people she feels the safest with. For Colt it’s about leaving behind the things he’s had to endure in the past, dumping his guilt, and reaching for the stars so that he reaches his full potential. 

GR: What is your writing process - plotter or pantser? And why?

TB: Pantser for sure. When I start a new novel, I ensure I have a clear two weeks ahead of me. Then I write voraciously - non-stop about 18 hours a day (I do stop to feed the children – sometimes). I do it this way because I find that I can fully immerse myself into the story world and the characters. Then about a quarter of the way in, the characters feel like they come alive and they tell me the story and tell me what they’re going to do next. I’m then left trying to type fast enough to keep up with them. Without that continuity of writing, that doesn’t happen for me. It sounds odd, doesn’t it? But I’ve chatted with other pantsers and they have a similar experience. I find the story is then more dynamic and the characters more authentic. 

GR: Tell us about Taryn Bashford. I see from your bio that you did quite a lot before arriving in Australia - has any of this had an effect on your writing? 

TB: Yes, I’ve somehow divided my life into decades starting from being an athlete, to being an advertising professional, to running my own recruitment business, and now writing. Everything I did in my past has helped develop and hone the skills I need for writing. I covered how sport helped already, but being in business helped me understand the commercial realities of publishing. It’s important to realize that publishing is a business. I also did a lot of travelling and this comes into my novels, both in The Harper Effect and the current manuscript I’m working on in which Jacob is in Vienna and London.

GR: How did you celebrate your first sale? 

TB: I jumped around the room a lot, whooping and cheering. Then I phoned my mum. And then I got back to writing. I have a very fixed work day, because without that, it would be too easy to go for coffee, go shopping, sit by the pool and read. But that night, I did share a bottle of champagne with some friends.

GR: Do you have anything else in the works? Tell us about it! 

TB: I’m writing a companion novel to The Harper Effect. It can be read out of order, so it’s not a follow up. My beta readers really wanted to know what happened to Jacob after The Harper Effect ended. So, this is his story. It’s set in the world of music, but still explores teens who go above and beyond the norm. Harper makes an appearance in one scene – unless she’s edited out before the publication date!

Thank you for visiting The Great Raven today, Taryn!

For anyone who would like to learn more, here are some links.

Author website:

Monday, January 22, 2018

Australia’s Favourite Author - Vote Now!

And here is the link to the finals! The short lists from the individual heats have all been put together into one big list. That will be shortened until some time next week.

An interesting list. There are several who have been on it before. More writers for adults than children's and YA writers, but there are several of those too, plus genre writers. Kate Forsyth is one. Juliet Marillier is another. Kerry Greenwood is on the list - yay! Isobelle Carmody. Melina Marchetta. And some of the top children’s writers - Mem Fox, Alison Lester, Jackie French, Paul Jennings and Andy Griffiths and Felice Arena.

There are many more, of course, but these are the ones whose work I’ve read, whose names came into my head first. Of course, I voted for them all.

So - go check it out and, if you live in this sunburnt country, vote! And let me know who you voted for, or would have voted for if you could. 

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Australia’s Favourite Author 2018 - Heat 5!

And here is the link!

A lot of good ones here, including some of my favourites. Will Kostakis, Ambelin Kwaymullina, Robin Klein, Kate Forsyth, Leigh Hobbs... and more. I nearly missed Judith Roswell, who has been writing those delightful Victorian era stories, and illustrating them. Fortunately I went through the list again. Some classics writers such as May Gibbs. Thomas Keneally is there. So is fantasy writer Sara Douglass, who passed away some years ago, and Jennifer Fallon, who wrote, among other things, the Second Sons trilogy, a science fiction series posing as fantasy! Premise: there’s this planet with two suns. Every so often one sun is hidden for a while, which is called an Age of Shadows. The priests have been persuading people that this is because they are sinful, and even talked the king into sacrificing his child some years ago. And now they are after a young mathematical genius who has worked out when the next Age of Shadows is due. The fact that it can be predicted might just lead to questions being asked about them... it reads like fantasy, but isn’t. I loved it! Of course she got a tick from me!

I’m glad to see there are so many YA and children’s writers and authors of speculative fiction.

The votes for this round close at noon on Friday and then we will have the short lists, beginning with 75 and narrowing down until the winner is announced on January 24. Do visit the site and let me know what you think, even if you live outside Australia and can’t vote. If you do live here, there’s that $1000 book box! 

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Appreciate A Dragon Day 2018

Last year I was a bit late. This time I will do it on time, although I might have to insert the book covers later, from my laptop, as you can’t do it on an iPad.

I believe Appreciate A Dragon Day is really aimed at the primary school classroom, but what the heck! Even if I was a primary teacher there are no classes at this time of year in Australia. And I would be sorry to miss out.

Anyway, let’s think about dragons! There is a big difference beteeen the western and eastern varieties. The Asian dragon is a more or less benign being. The western one is connected with evil. Which hasn’t stopped people from creating their own amazing dragons, presented the way they want them.

One of my creative writing students wrote a piece about a vegetarian dragon who makes an arrangement with the knight who comes to the cave to slay him. It was inspired by a cartoon of a dragon holding a knight in its claws.

There are a lot of them in fiction - here are just a few I’m fond of., that I didn’t mention in last year’s post. In R.A McAvoy’s Tea With The Black Dragon, a middle-aged folk musician, Martha McNamara, is searching for her missing daughter with the help of Mayland Long, a Chinese gentleman who is... well, a dragon. One who has turned into a human. I liked the gentleness of this one, plus the fact that the protagonists were not young. (She’s middle-aged, he is quite a lot older, being a dragon)

Then there’s Smaug in The Hobbit. Smaug is a typical western dragon, representing greed. He sits on a hoard. Tolkien tells us that he doesn’t appreciate the beauty of the stuff he is sitting on, but has an excellent idea of its market value. Goodness, a capitalist dragon! Because of him, an entire dwarf colony has lost its home. Also, there is something called dragon sickness, which you can catch if you’re not careful, an obsession with the treasure - “Mine! You can’t have any of it!” It affects Thorin Oakenshield, leader of the group of dwarves with whom Bilbo Baggins is travelling. So sad!

 Barbara Hambly’s Dragonsbane was another favourite when I read it many years ago. In it, you can’t kill a dragon in the standard fairy tale manner. They are tough critters and, in fact, only one man has ever succeeded, and he did it with poisoned harpoons. He didn’t want to - it was a beautiful creature - but he had to. Now another dragon is menacing a kingdom to the south, and then you find out it’s sentient ...

How about Norbert - later discovered to be a female - in the Harry Potter series? We all know Hagrid the Hogwarts gamekeeper has always wanted a pet dragon. He manages to get hold of a dragon egg, which he hatches in his little hut, but those things grow! Before long it outgrows the hut and Harry and his friends have to arrange for Norbert to go to Albania to be looked after by Ron’s brother Charlie. We see dragons again in the fourth book, Goblet Of Fire, when Harry and the other champions have to get golden eggs away from them. During the final book, our heroes encounter the dragon under Gringott’s bank, a sad, badly treated animal that is there to get rid of potential thieves. And that’s the thing: dragons in this series are just animals. You really can’t keep them as pets, but they’re animals.

Beowulf, slayer of Grendel and his Mum, finally slays a dragon from which some idiot hsx pinched a cup, but dies himself. A classic poem!

There are plenty more dragons in literature, but let’s keep some for next time. I just want to mention some short fiction. Edwina Harvey’s children’s story “Rocket And Sparky”, in the Fablecroft anthology Worlds Next Door, featured a dragon, Sparky, found in the Australian desert as an egg, by a girl who wanted a pony but got a camel instead. Like Norbert, this dragon grows way too quickly. It gets through a lot of barbecued chickens. The girl makes money offering dragon rides, but never gives up on her dream of having a pony.

When I was writing fan fiction, many years ago, a friend and I created our own planet, New Wales, settled by the last of Arthur’s followers after the battle of Camlann. There are shaggy little Shetland pony unicorns which wandered through the teleport gate with the humans. And there are dragons. We were inspired by a throwaway line about “Berengaria dragons,” mentioned in Star Trek. our dragons were about human size, more like small tyrannosaurs than the typical dragon of fairy tale. They do breathe the occasional flame. And they’re not only sentient, they have jobs. The head of the New Wales space fleet, created by my friend, was a female dragon called Admiral Kirilli, who appears in several of the stories. My dragon was Rhisiart, a University lecturer who affects a pipe because he has probably read too many Earth books with pipe smoking professors in them.

I know, silly! But we enjoyed writing them and people enjoyed reading them. I was planning to try my hand at a New Wales novel without the Trek universe, but Patricia Keneally Morrison got in before me with a series of novels set on a New Wales type world, only she was terribly  serious; my stories were humorous.

Oh, well... So that’s a few of my dragons - do you have any favourites?

Monday, January 15, 2018

Australia’s Favourite Writer - Heat 4!

I’ve voted again - here!

Some good ones this time - again, I made it my rule only to tick the boxes of those authors I had read, even if it was only one book or a couple of short stories. I was pleased to see some writers for children and teens there.

Anh Do was there. I think of him as a writer for kids. Apart from his autobiography, The Happiest Refugee, which our kids did at Year 9 last year and generally enjoyed, he’s done a series of humorous stories for younger kids, which older kids whose reading is not so good also seem to least, mine did last year.

Jackie French was on the list and got my vote. She has written some wonderful historical fiction, set in many different eras, and seems to be the only historical novelist the students at my school will read, apart from Morris Gleitzman’s Once series. Oh,  by the way, he was on the list too - nuff  said!

Tim Winton got a gong from me for his Lockie Leonard books.

Colin Thiele - only read one of his books, but he is a classic children’s writer. I think I may have met him once, when he was doing a book signing, but where and when I don’t recall. I just recall being surprised he was still around...and then he wasn’t any more. :-(

John Birmingham is funny, so yes,he got a tick, despite not writing for kids.

Henry Lawson - well, he was one of our classic writers!

Damn, I missed Margo Lanagan! Just spotted her name now. She deserves a gong for her powerful fantasy writing. Her short stories AND her novels. Do vote for her!

Then the fannish ones, such as Justine Larbalestier and Amanda Pillar - and John Flanagan, whose Ranger’s Apprentice books I’m re-reading now!

I ticked Andrew Rule, though I only know him as a journalist, because I got good use out of Underbelly when I was writing Crime Time. That, whatever you may think, was a collection of previously-published articles he and a John Silvester wrote for the Age, not a novel and not even written as a true crime book. And it was very useful to me!

Sean Williams got my tick for his Twinmaker YA trilogy. Non stop action and he really wrecked the Star Trek replicator and transporter for me! ;-)

Other children’s and YA authors: Paul Jennings, Ruth Starke, my lovely publisher and children’s writer Paul Collins, Scott Gardner, the amazing Jaclyn Moriarty, for her Colours Of Madeleine trilogy... Emily Rodda, Pamela Freeman, the hilarious Oliver Phommavanh, who started life as a primary teacher and is now entertaining lots more kids!

Well, I’m biased toward writers for the young, but if you follow this blog you probably enjoy these books too.

Go to the web site between now and Wednesday January 17 to vote or just to check it out. This round closes as noon on Wednesday.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Discovered While Listening To Radio Over Breakfast

Listening to a program on Radio National, promoting a new  children’s non fiction book, Goodnight Stories For Rebel Girls,  which is stories about amazing women of history, I couldn’t help being startled at some of the things said. The lady explained they were beginning each chapter with “Once upon a time” because they didn’t want it to feel like homework stuff. Pardon me? Does she really believe that she’s the only one ever to write non fiction for entertainment? Or that you even need to pretend it’s a fairy tale to make it clear that this is not for homework? I think this lady needs to do some reading of children’s non fiction. I’ve written the stuff! Never once did I use,”Once upon a time...” and believe me, the kids got it that this was for enjoyment. The school had five copies of my book Crime Time and all of them were battered and worn by the time we packed up to move campuses. 

 There was a serious discussion about how girls are usually shown as weak and passive in children’s fiction. This may have been true once, though not entirely, but these days pretty much all the dystopian YA novels feature a girl saving the world. And not only the dystopians. Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials. Garth Nix’s Old Kingdom. Hermione in Harry Potter. He may be the Chosen One, but she is the one with the brain, whose research saves the day time after time. Even her common sense - at the start of The Deathly Hallows, who is it who packs camping equipment, supplies and even some books into a tiny TARDIS bigger-on-the-inside bag so that they’re ready to go when the Deatheaters turn up? Not Harry or Ron! How about Evanlyn in The Ranger’s Apprentice series? Caroline in Michael Pryor’s The Laws Of Magic? Not to mention the hero Aubrey Fitzwilliams’ mother and grandmother? 

These are just some of the ones I’ve read, off the top of my head, and I’ve just noticed that all but one of my examples were written by men.

Fairy tales? Full of stereotypes, says the author. Yes, there’s one kind of story in which the princess needs rescuing or is handed over along with half the kingdom, for a job well done.  But that’s only one kind, along with the ones where a pretty peasant girl wins a prince for being - well, pretty.

How about Kate Crackernuts? Which, incidentally, shows two stepsisters as loving each other. So the wicked queen’s daughter saves her stepsister and lands a prince for both of them, while rescuing one of the princes. 

How about East Of The Sun, West Of The Moon? That is only one of many stories of its type - Girl has to go on a quest to get back her man when an error on her part has lost him and he has forgotten her and is about to marry someone else, a long way off. Another of this kind is The Singing, Springing Lark, a variation on Beauty And The Beast, in which the girl has to do a lot more than cry over her dying Beast and say she loves him. 

How about “The Wild Swans” in which a sister goes through hell to save her brothers and nearly dies herself? 

Even the Grimm version of Cinderella has her doing more than waiting around for a fairy godmother to supply a dress for the ball. 

There are plenty of clever girl fairy tales out there. You just need to find them. 

I’m sure the book promoted this morning is great stuff. What it isn’t, judging by the interview,  is new or original and it’s unfair to writers who have done it before to imply it is. 

January 15 meme - Happy Birthday, Dad!

If my wonderful Dad was still around today, January 15, would be his 93rd birthday. Dad was a true silver surfer who loved Googling stuff and learning things. So it’s appropriate that we should all learn something today. 

On this day, January 15:

January 15 birthdays

1412 - Jeanne D’Arc, aka Joan of Arc. Now a saint, I believe. Personally, I have to wonder about someone who was hearing voices - one of my students who heard voices told me she was told she was the Chosen One - but she did achieve a lot in her short life. 

1893 - Ivor Novello - Composed “Keep The  Fires Burning”, a World War I song that many found inspiring

1913 - Lloyd Bridges - actor, best known for all those comedies, but I remember him in Sea Hunt. Father of two other actors. 

1927 - Phyllis Coates - Lois Lane in Season I of Superman back in the 1950s. She did a lot of forgettable films and serials, BUT - she was apparently the most consistently employed actress ever. In other words, she always had work. Take a look at her filmography- wow! The only reason she was replaced by Noel Neill is that after season 1 they had a hiatus and by the time they started filming the show again she had another job. Apparently, it’s become traditional for former Lois Lanes to play Lois’s mother in later versions, and she was no exception. She played the role in an episode of Lois And Clarke in the 1990s. She’s still around, by the way, th3 last surviving cast member. 

1929 - Martin Luther King - no need for introduction. I believe it’s Martin Luther King Day in the US, or will be once the Northern Hemisphere catches up. 


1559 - Elizabeth I crowned 

1759 - British Museum opens - Dad would like this one. Pity he never travelled overseas once he arrived here. I would love to take him for a walk around the BM. When I was little, he took me walking around the museum in Melbourne, which was also the art gallery at the time. He kept whisking me past paintings I wanted to stop and look at. 

2001 - Wikipedia goes on line - Dad would LOVE this one! I never asked, but I bet he used it a lot. 

Also, Teacher’s Day in Venezuela, when all teachers, including kindergarten teachers, are honoured - nice! Dad would like that. He was terribly proud of his teacher daughter. 

Happy birthday, Dad! 

The Ranger’s Apprentice Books 1 To 4 - a Re-read

The last few days I have been bingeing on The Ranger’s Apprentice series, my second time, and enjoying it all over again. True, the first novel, The Ruins Of Gorlan, is perhaps the slowest of the series, setting up the universe and introducing us to the hero, Will, his mentor, the Ranger Halt, and Horace, who was a childhood enemy and becomes his best friend. It takes you through some of the training done by Will and Horace(and Horace’s being bullied by three older students at Battleschool)and introduces Will’s trusty pony Tug, along with a description of things Rangers’ horses can do that others don’t. And finally, it gets around to the fighting stuff, with an attempted invasion by the banished Morgaroth, a sinister dark lord type who uses scary critters to help him. But that’s about two thirds of the way through, though Morgaroth appears briefly in the prologue. Interestingly, I think this book and its immediate sequel, The Burning Bridge, seem to be the only two  to include fantasy elements. The rest of those I’ve read are only fantasy in that they are in a world other than ours. I kind of like that. 

The Burning Bridge speeds up. Will and Horace go to the kingdom of Celtica with a Ranger called Gilan, to get help against Morgaroth and find it’s the Celt# who need help. They also meet a girl called Evanlyn, who becomes the third member of the teen trio, and who is more than she seems... 

The novel ends on a cliffhanger after a lot of fighting the villain, and goes immediately to The Icebound Land, in which there is some suffering and some rescuing, as Will and Evanlyn are enslaved in Skandia, the equivalent of our own Scandinavia. Halt has to get himself banished to be able to go after Will(he’s not allowed to leave otherwise)and takes along Horace, who finds himself getting a reputation in Gallica (France) as the fearsome Knight of the Oak Leaf(Halt’s idea, though he can’t remember if his French name for Horace means Oak Leaf or Oak Pancake), after having had to fight various knights right out of  Monty Python And The Holy Grail and acquiring an embarrassing number of horses and armour. Horace is delightfully innocent and this part of the novel is very funny. Halt also explains to him that the young ladies in skimpy clothes have short dresses because they’re couriers and short skirts make running easier. There are grimmer elements in the later parts of the book, as Halt and Horace encounter a truly nasty local warlord and Evanlyn has to try to get Will off a drug to which he has become addicted to stay warm. 

The one I have just finished, Oakleaf Bearers, gets even more exciting as Skandia is about to be invaded by the Temujai, this world’s answer to the Mongols, who will invade Araluen, our heroes’ home,  next if not stopped. Will, Halt, Horace and Evanlyn agree to help the Skandians, whose idea of warfare is to simply charge at the enemy, something on which the Temujai are counting. But Halt has actually lived with them, back when he was about to steal some of their horses to breed as Ranger ponies. He knows their fighting style; it’s a lot more elaborate than the Skandians’, but predictable if you know them.   The likeable Skandian Jarl, Erak will appear in future volumes, including the Brotherband spinoff series. 

I’m about to reread The Sorcerer In The North, the fifth in publication order, but set five years later - the seventh volume goes back to Will’s Apprentice years. A bit like Morris Gleitzman’s Once series, really, in that respect. 

So, what did I think in general? A wonderful series and I mean to read and reread the lot, including the prequels and Brotherband, although I think Hal Mikkelsen of Brotherband, is s male Mary Sue in some ways. 

There were a few - a very few - glitches I don’t think I noticed the first time. A kidnapped Evanlyn is tied up. Her hands are tied behind her and she is shoved against a tree for the night. When she later defends herself from a Temuj’ who is about to kill her, her hands are tied in front of her. A small error an editor could have picked up easily enough and should have. 

When Erak helps the two teens to escape, he gives them a pony and a few supplies and gives them directions to a hunters’ hut in the mountains, where they are to spend the winter; nobody uses the hut till spring. The hut has a lean-to stable and some more supplies, but not much. Evanlyn wonders briefly how she is going to feed the pony, but decides to worry about it later. Much later, it seems; we never learn how that horse is fed - and not only that, but when our heroes are unexpectedly forced to leave the hut, the pony stays behind. Much later, near the end of the fourth novel, Will goes back to give the horse some oats. It’s still there, though it has managed to break away and nibble on some spring grass near the hut. Nobody has thought of that animal in - weeks? It’s just fine. 

I do wonder, too, if you can actually shoot a longbow from horseback, as Halt does. That’s something I need to check up, just out of interest. I sort of  thought that was why the Mongols used short bows? Ah, well. A wonderful series of adventures and a handful of glitches in four books is pretty good going. 

If you haven’t read them, do! 

Friday, January 12, 2018

Australia’s Favourite Author - Heat 3!

An interesting list this time. I have come to the conclusion that I misunderstood the way it works, because this list is completely different from Wednesday’s. They seem to be going through all the nominees and only after that will they start shortlisting. So, important to keep voting.

You can do that here!

Again, some children’s and YA authors are there, including the children’s favourites, Andy Griffiths and his artist partner Terry Denton. Melina Marchetta is there, which is nice. I gave a tick also to Tara Moss, for her delicious YA fantasy novels which are a sort of cross between Buffy and The Addams Family. I gave another to Zana Fraillon, whose CBCA shortlist book The Bone Sparrow made me terribly sad. Michael Pryor was there - yay! There were also some classic writers, such as Ethel Turner(Seven Little Australians) and Joan Lindsay whose Picnic At Hanging Rock is definitely going for classics level. Meredith Costain is there and, of course, got my vote, as did several others... just go and look it up, and vote if you can. The shortlist will be out soon enough and if your favourites don’t get enough votes now you won’t have them on the shortlist to vote for later.

Do check out the list and let me know what you think, in the comments box below.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Australia’s Favourite author - Round 2!

And here’s the Booktopia link to take you to the page where you can browse the somewhat shorter list and, if local, can vote for your favourites.

I was a bit surprised to see some names I didn’t notice last time and sad to see some of my favourites dropped out. Not as many children’s or YA writers as last time, and certainly not as many as last year, but still, there were some I’m fond of. Isobelle Carmody is there as are Gabrielle Wang, Claire Zorn, Nadia Wheatley, Libby Hathorn, Shivaun Plozza and Ellie Marney, all fine authors, all of whom, I think, have been on the CBCA short list at some stage, and deservedly so. Again, I voted for everybody whose work I’d read, even if it was just a bit. As the lists tighten I’ll have to be more picky and decide who I’d really like to see win, but the nice thing about this competition is that you can vote for as many as you like on any one list.

Hopefully they will all make it to the next list, which is being posted on Friday. Stand by for the update and meanwhile, why not check out my link?

Monday, January 08, 2018

Favourite Australian Authors 2018 - First Heat!

At lunchtime today, the Booktopia blog announced its first list of candidates for Australia's favourite authors. I must say, I was pleased to see some of my nominations and disappointed that some others I had nominated weren't there. I would, for example, have been pleased to see Ambelin Kwaymullina, author of the wonderful Tribe trilogy. Michael Pryor would have been a nice one to add. Still, every year is different - some of those who were on the list last year, including the winner, weren't there this time. It depends on who nominates and how many. And many people may think that they should nominate someone new this time.

However, here's the link:

Do wander over and take a look, even if you're not in Australia and can't vote. It is an interesting mix of classic authors, such as Ruth Park, Oodgeroo Noonuccal(also known as Kath Walker, a wonderful indigenous poet), Mem Fox and such, and much newer ones such as Melissa Keil and Amie Kaufmann. There are also the likes of Hazel Edwards and Kerry Greenwood. I don't think Hazel has been on the list before, or at least not while I've been following it, and I'm pretty sure Kerry hasn't been, or I would have certainly noticed and given her a vote. Wendy Orr is there too, and Juliet Marillier, both fabulous writers. Well done, all of you!

It's nice to see how many children's and YA writers are on the list this year, as there were last year. My old friend George Ivanoff is on the list - well, he has won a YABBA or two, voted by kids. Perhaps some of his young fans were nominating their favourite authors for this too! Well done, George!

In any case, I made the decision, this time, to vote for everyone whose books I'd read. I will have to think more carefully and make a decision later on, when the list shortens, but for now, I thought they all deserved a gong from me.

If you live here in Oz, I suggest you wander over to the Booktopia web site right now and vote. This is only the first round, but the next is on Wednesday, so not much time. An incentive is that if you give them your details, you'll be in the running for a $1000 book pack. I'm in the running!

Even if you don't live here, if you love reading, check it out and let me know what you think in the comments box below.

Saturday, January 06, 2018

How You Know You're A Princess(Faerie,Vampire,Mermaid, Demon,etc.)

Found among my files from my old iPad, while transferring to the new one. I had been reading a lot of the more popular girls’ YA paranormal romances at the time I wrote this. You might spot one or more in the list below.

You know you’re a paranormal princess when...

*There’s a Prophecy and you’re the Chosen One. You have this family heirloom, see, and someone mysterious has interpreted the runes on it.

* Your Dad is missing and your Mum has been keeping something from you, e.g that he is/was the king of some otherworldly realm.

* The cute new boy at your school tells you he has come to warn you that you're in terrible danger now you're about to turn sixteen when you get your full powers. (It’s always sixteen!) You don't believe him at first, but you do have these memories of weird stuff you did as a child...And he is really very cute. And definitely not human.

*Minions of the dark start following you, especially when you’re alone and the last bus has left. 

*You find yourself suddenly wearing a prom dress you don’t own and running across dark windswept landscapes, even if you live in the middle of the city. 

*You sprout wings/horns/a fish tail when you stress out. That is very helpful in scaring off unwanted boys.

* The cute new boy at school says you have to marry him or there will be a major war in the vampire/demon/undersea world. The only way to save all your subjects is to marry him(Did I mention you’re sixteen?)You say no, but...he is so very cute...

*If you're a mermaid princess, the cute boy tells you he's a selkie prince(turns into a seal)despite being Hawaiian(come on, guys, this is a creature from Scottish folklore!). And by the way, you have to marry him. Well, he is a terrific surfer ... and very cute. 

*If you're a vampire princess, the minions of the dark are after you. They are serving a big-busted vampire queen with red hair who wants you dead because you’re the Chosen One of the  Prophecy, destined to replace her. By the way, you run around windswept landscapes - er, see above. 

The pleasures of a re-read...The Ranger’s Apprentice

Today the temperature in Melbourne soared into the 40s. I was spending the day with Mum, who was sleeping most of it. Both of us were in the  kitchen, the only part of the house with a cooling option.

I spent some time on Twitter and more on reading. It wasn’t much of a day for working, even my research. And I’m still learning things about my new iPad - including downloading from iBooks. It kept asking me for my fingerprint. I gave it. It said, “Done!” with a tick. And then didn’t give me my book. It didn’t take the money, but it didn’t download either. I’ll ask my friend Bart when
I see him Tuesday. Meanwhile I went to my phone, which just asked me for my password, and downloaded two early Ranger’s Apprentice volumes, The Ruins Of Gorlan and The Burning Bridge. I had forgotten how enjoyable the first book was. I rem mbered it as the slowest book of the series, there to set up  the universe. I guess when you go back after having read the others, it’s different.

I love this universe. It was written to show you can be a hero even if you’re not big and muscled. The author said it was for his son’s benefit. Will, the hero, wants badly to go to Battleschool and become a knight, but is just too small. What he is good at is climbing and being unnoticed. That makes him a perfect candidate for the job of Ranger. The author says his Rangers have no connection with the ones in Tolkien. They are, in f#ct, inspired by the Texas Rangers!

Thing is, these novels are not just adventure - they’re funny! Often hilarious. That’s something a lot of fantasy just doesn’t do, unless it’s deliberately funny like Terry Pratchett. But this isn’t Terry Pratchett, although if I had to compare, it might be the YA Tiffany Aching stories, which are funny, but also show a young witch growing up and learning about life.

Will and his mentor Halt ride tough little ponies that are a lot like the ones ridden by the Mongol warriors. That’s because they are. We eventually learn that Halt stole some for breeding by the Rangers from this world’s equivalent of the Mongols.

It’s sort of medieval Earth, but some things are different. For example, the food. There’s turkey and coffee. Halt is a coffee addict. And women seem to have more rights and play a vital role in this society. Lady Pauline, for example, is the head of the diplomatic service. In fact, most diplomats in this place are women, because they’re more...diplomatic...than men, who tend to want to solve things with their fists. All the female characters in these books are strong - and interesting. They don’t have to physically kick ass to be strong. And I’m pleased to say that these books appeal both to boys and girls.

The equivalent of the Vikings come from Skandia. At the start they are invading other countries in their wolfships, but later, in the spinoff Brotherband series, they decide it’s actually more profitable to   defend these countries from pirates and such. Meanwhile, there is a novel in which Will and Halt go to help out the Skandians, whose idea of battle is to rush off yelling, “Charge!” That, as I recall, is the one in which we find out about where those Ranger ponies come from.

I love what he does with names. It may be a coincidence that the Vikings come from a country mentioned in Prince Valiant, but Araluen, the England equivalent, is the name of a town in New South Wales, with an indigenous name meaning “place of the water lilies”. I don’t think that’s a  coincidence.

I’m thinking it might be fun to reread the lot and post about it. What do you think?

Thursday, January 04, 2018

Australia’s Favourite Authors 2018 - The Journey Begins!

Okay, once more you have the chance to nominate your favourite Aussie wordsmiths. Sorry, Pamela and other fans outside this country, you can’t vote for this one, as there will be a random selection to win $1000 worth of Booktopia books, and that might be kind of expensive to deliver to, say, the US.

But you can follow along as the long list shortens and by the end of the month we find out who Aussie readers like best for this year. That’s fun in itself and I will be posting about it as usual. Remember, last year’s #147 on the list might be this year’s #1, so nominate and vote if eligible, or at least argue about who got the gong if not eligible.

Here is the link. This time I’m nominating, and today is the last day for nominations, so be quick! 

Wednesday, January 03, 2018

Frankenstein - The Bicentenary!

Sorry, I missed this in my New Year’s post, just found out, so here it is!

First edition. Public domain

Two hundred years ago, on New Year’s Day, a novel was published that would make a huge change to speculative fiction. The novel was written by a young woman called Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, whose mother, Mary Wollstonecraft, was one of the first feminists and had written a book about it. And I had a lot of fun including Frankenstein in a pile of books I showed my creative writing students. I invited them to have a guess at what all those books had in common. They were very different in genre and era when they were written, but they all had one thing in common: they were all written, I told my lovely class,  by teenagers. So they must not assume that they were too young to write something worth reading.

We probably all know about “that” boring, wet weekend in Switzerland where a bunch of British writers decided to see which of them could write the best scary story. Actually, only two of them were already writers, the poets Byron and Shelley. The other two were John Polidori, a doctor, and our girl Mary.

I’m not sure what the two wonderful poets came up with - perhaps a Google search will unearth that. Feel free to look it up and let me know in the  Comments box below.

But in the end, it was the two non-writers who came up with something special.

Polidori wrote a novella called The Vampyre. It’s not that nobody had ever written vampire fiction before. What Polidori did was to make vampires sexy! His villain, Lord Ruthven, is said to have been inspired by Lord Byron. Not sure how Byron felt about that, but let’s face it, he had a bad rep anyway. “Mad, bad and dangerous to know”! And, incidentally, an amazing poet and the father of the “mother of computer programming”, Ada Lovelace.

Anyway, Twilight fans can say thank you to John Polidori, though Ruthven is not exactly Edward Cullen. More like Dracula, perhaps, or at least allowed Dracula to be created. But before him, vamps were ugly critters you really wouldn't want to meet in a dark alley!

Frankenstein - well, what can I say? It has inspired so many books, films and plays. There are send-ups, of course, such as Young Frankenstein, a Mel Brooks film with Gene Wilder. The hero is the grandson of  Victor Frankenstein, who is embarrassed enough to pronounce his name Frankensteen. He goes to Transylvania, where he finds the notes to make another Creature, and meets an Igor who is the grandson of the previous Igor(there wasn’t an Igor in the book). When he offers, as a doctor, to fix Igor’s hunch, Igor asks, “What hunch?” A very funny film, though it probably has more in common with the film than the novel.

And any Terry Pratchett fan will remember an entire clan of Igors(and Igorinas - the women tend to be beautiful, with artistic stitching, while the men are patched creatures). The Igors work as doctors of one kind or another, because they have access to spare parts. The deal is, they help you out with spare parts when you need them and you agree to let them use yours when you die. In fact, they take self-improvement seriously. An Igor's funeral has the family members all going home with paper bags; when an Igor says, "I have my father's hands" he means it literally. They do tend to work for mad scientists if they can get a job with one, but never hang around till the peasants with flaming torches reach the castle, and one of the more modern Igors works as the police surgeon in Ankh-Morpork, where he experiments with such things as instant fish and chips, with swimming potatoes in a tank at the watch house...

Thing is, we tend to associate it with horror fiction. And I suppose it is, but it’s more. The Phillip Pullman play adaptation is on the curriculum at my school. One of the things the students have to do is write a letter from the Creature to his creator, letting him know how he feels about his treatment by Victor. They discuss it in terms of parent and child and also do some stuff about the Prometheus myth. There is definitely meat for class discussion here!

Personally, I think it’s also science fiction. The author asked, “What if...?”and went from there. That’s what you do with SF.

For two hundred years, Victor and his creation have affected us. We speak of “Frankenfoods.” When something that seemed a great idea at the time goes horribly wrong and it’s our fault, we say, “I’ve created a monster!” And everyone knows what we mean! All because a young girl and her friends got bored one wet weekend two centuries ago...

If you’d like to read either The Vampyre or Frankenstein, both of them are free on Project Gutenberg. Enjoy!

Of (Inter)National Science Fiction Day and some birthdays!

Ack! I have just discovered that yesterday was International Science Fiction Day(actually, National, but I don't see why Americans should have all the fun!). And I missed it.

Apparently, it was set up to celebrate the birthday of Isaac Asimov, which was January 2.

Let me tell you about me and Asimov. He was my sister's favourite SF writer(probably still is) when I was a teenager. She bought absolutely every piece of his fiction she could get her hands on, though she was not really interested in the non-fiction he said was his first love. So when I went to babysit my first nephew - who is now a grown man with two teenage daughters - there was a bookcase full of SF, mostly the works of Isaac Asimov.

It's not that I hadn't read any SF before, but the books I had read in my high school years were the classics, Verne and Wells, and an obscure writer called Donald Suddaby, whose two novels Prisoners Of Saturn and Lost Men In The Grass I had read when I was about twelve and just starting secondary school.

The rest of my fantastical reading was mythology - Greek for preference. I had also been reading historical fiction, including Arthur Koestler's The Gladiators and Darkness At Noon and the works of Howard Fast(who also wrote SF). So when I stayed up looking after little David and enjoying my sister's chocolate mousse, I opened her collection of Asimov books and read and read... That led to other SF. So in some ways, Isaac Asimov turned me into a science fiction fan. For that, I must thank him. I love other genres - historical, non-fiction, crime, both true and fiction - but for me, nothing says "sensawunda" like science fiction.

Thank you, Asimov!

And then there was today's birthday boy, J.R.R Tolkien. Happy birthday, Professor! It did take me a while to finish The Lord Of The Rings, but once I had, I found myself reading and rereading, and then finding any of his fiction and non-fiction I could get my hands on and reading that too.

In some ways, he is responsible for making me so very picky about fantasy. I love light and humorous fantasy like the works of Terrry Pratchett,  and I enjoy urban fantasy, like that of Charles De Lint. What I just can't read any more is the Fat Fantasy Trilogy. So many try to be like Tolkien and so far, in my opinion, anyway, none of them has succeeded. I'd mind less if there weren't so many book covers with "the best thing since Lord Of The Rings!" in big letters on them.

So - Asimov turned me into a science fiction fan and Tolkien turned me off most fantasy, even though I write the stuff (but not fat fantasy trilogies!).

Well done, both of you! And happy birthday!

My New Toy - iPad Pro

So, after a number of hours at the Apple store in Chadstone, I finally staggered home with my new iPad. There was an attempt to back up to the Cloud, but that was just going to take too long. The Apple store is full up from the beginning of the day and that means the wi fi is slow.

The lady doing set-up for me went to consult a tech who knew more about this than she did and he checked my old iPad. He said I could get started on my new device without having to do the backup, as a lot of the stuff was already on the Cloud. So we got going and set up.

And a lot of it did download absolutely fine. All I have to do with the books is download them as I need them(although my lovely special edition of The Hobbit wouldn't, because it's such a big file. So I will have to wait till I can get to the library tomorrow in hopes that the wi fi will work)

The trouble was, the most important stuff, my documents, didn't. I thought they had, mostly, but they hadn't. The set-up tech suggested I go to for the photos. I did, although when I got home I found that the 200-odd photos that were on the Cloud had already downloaded. Most hadn't, so I will just have to select the ones I want most and and email them to myself.

iCloud let me email some of the documents, but not all. And I'm not sure all of them are on the Cloud anyway. Fortunately, my novel manuscript got where I wanted it.

And for some reason it made me go through FileBrowser!

So it looks like I will have to hang on to the old iPad for now. I will go to the library whenever I can for the wifi and email the files, one by one... The stories, anyway. Those are most important. And my Eugowra article, which I've started.

Sorry, Gary! You'll have to wait.

Monday, January 01, 2018

2018 - First Post For The Year! And Tech in SF!

Today I'm heading for the Apple Store in Chadstone, lugging my laptop and my iPad, in hopes of buying a new iPad, since the old one is refusing to run my sim card. My nephew David, who knows his tech, agrees with me that it's just too old to do some things. I got a brand new sim card from Optus, my provider, which worked for a couple of days, then again, the "no service" message. So it's not the sim card, it's the place where the sim card is located that's the problem. It works fine with wifi, but I don't have wifi at home, and I need my device to work on the train and other places where there isn't any wifi. I write on my way to work or wherever I'm going.  I'm giving it to my brother-in-law, who only needs it to watch sport on Foxtel in bed, and has wifi at home, so doesn't need the sim card. So, one iPad not going to the rubbish dump!

I'm hoping to pick up one of the new 256 g models. My current one is 64 g. My first computer, an Apple 2E, had 4.5 megabytes. My next, one of those clamshell Apple computers, had 3 g. I was thrilled! It let me go on line. It did lots of stuff my poor little 2E just couldn't. The 2E still works, by the way, it just doesn't do what I need it to do now. And no USB sticks to move the files, it uses floppy disks. Fortunately, I moved the files important to me when I got the clamshell, which allowed me to attach a floppy disk drive. There was an entire novel I had written with a friend which really isn't publishable, but I would hate to lose it after all the work we did.

 It really brings home to me how technology has changed and improved since I was growing up, when computers filled rooms and nobody had one at home. I'm remembering Barbara Hambly's novel The Silent Tower, the first of her Antryg Windrose trilogy, in which a character has an impressive computer with 20 megabytes on it - wow! It's still available, of course, and she really can't change it now without a major rewrite. Not worth it - it's a wonderful novel that just has to stand as it is. (And if you haven't read it, but love Dr Who, get it! Antryg Windrose is basically Tom Baker's Doctor with cheap jewellery instead of a long scarf. Barbara Hambly loves that Doctor and hasn't denied that's who Antryg is.)

I'm rereading Ursula K. LeGuin's amazing The Lathe Of Heaven, in which a man has "true" dreams, one of which brings back the world after it was destroyed. It's set in the future, one with typewriters. Again - not worth it, for such a fabulous book. If she rewrote it to exchange typewriters for computers, the entire book would need reworking.

In fact, a lot of Golden Age SF would need rewriting. Mind you, some books predicted things we wouldn't have expected. For example, there's a short story, "A Logic Named Joe" by Murray Leinster, predicting the Internet; it was written in the 1940s. It was really just a humorous story centred around a glitch in a device - a "logic" - that enabled you to use it to look up stuff, such as how to commit a foolproof murder. Heck, it predicted Google, when you think about it! I'm sure Murray Leinster would have been surprised to think he was predicting anything. He just came up with a "what if...?" idea and ran with it.

By the way, go and check out Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy, written in the 1970s(?) and filmed for TV in the 1980s. The Book looks like an ebook. I wonder if Douglas Adams considered that there might be a device that would store more than one book? Still, if there were ebooks in that time I don't know about them. I was around, studying librarianship and quoting bits from the novel with fellow students over coffee at the Druids' Duck Inn. The best I can recall, when I was already working in the early 90s, was the CD ROM, which you had to put into your computer. How excited we were over that!

 I was working as a replacement librarian in a school library which had a CD ROM computer for encyclopaedias and such. It was stolen one night, after my colleague and I left. The library was literally in the centre of the school(in the days when Principals declared that "the library should be the centre of the school"), so no windows. It was black when you turned off the lights. The careers teacher had an office in the library and wanted to work on when we left, so we left the door open. By the time he left, locking the door behind him, someone had crept in, stolen the computer and let themselves out.

Nobody in the pub would pay for that computer now.

I imagine even my new toy will be well and truly out of date in a couple of years, but I'm loyal to my toys. I haven't even thrown out the 2E, which I can still use to play basic games if I want, and which has a Star Trek screen-saver on it.  Sooner or later it will have to go, but it will be a long time before I dispose of the iPad I plan to buy today.

But it's probably just as well that my fiction is mostly fantasy. I have done a small amount of light SF - a very small amount, in a children's chapter book called Grey Goo, based on an article in New Scientist suggesting that a food replicator, like the ones in Star Trek, was possible.

 I would be so embarrassed if a story I wrote predicted the future and was completely wrong when that future happened.

Anyone out there know of some fiction that has what is now out of date technology in it?