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Saturday, March 31, 2018

A To Z Challenge 2018! A is for Felice Arena

First in the theme: Aussie Children's and YA writers!

Felice Arena is a Melbourne-based writer for middle-grade children. Before starting his career as a bestselling children’s author, he was an actor, both on stage and on the TV series Neighbours. He was brought up in the Victorian country town of Kyabram.

With his childhood friend, footballer Garry Lyon, he is best-known for his series of football-themed novels whose hero, Specky Magee, is a young boy who is passionate about Australian Rules football, which is strange, because nobody else in his family is interested in watching, let alone playing the game. He believes that his late father was a famous football player  for his favourite team and spends much of the first novel trying to find out. The Specky Magee books are funny and gentle and even this non-fan of football enjoyed them!

The series is very popular with our students, especially the reluctant readers. Actually, it's very popular in general in this country where football is a religion! One of his books was launched at a football ground, and the place was packed. 

We used it as an option for Literature Circles when we were doing that at my school, for students who enjoyed football.  There is plenty of meat for discussion in this book. I bought all the novels in the series for my library. Felice Arena very kindly did an interview on this blog with some of my students, one of whom printed it out and carried it around for weeks! 

Felice has also done a number of other series, plus some stand-alones. I have just downloaded one of them, The Boy And The Spy, a middle grade novel set in wartime Sicily, and I see it has already been turned into a stage play and performed by Year 11 drama students in Geneva. It should be interesting to read, as his usual style is gentle humour. I’ll let you know when I’ve read it!

Here's where you can find out more and buy it!  And here is a link to the author's web site.

Passover And Books!

Today is Good Friday and I’ve been tin rattling for the Royal Children’s Hospital, as I have every year for a very long time. I filled two tins with money that will be used for research by the hospital, so that hopefully some children’s illnesses will become history.

It’s also about to be Passover. Passover and Easter don’t always coincide, but they more or less do this year. So, what can I offer in the way of books? Back in 2012, I posted about a number of books that had Easter or Passover themes.

So, this time, I’m going to talk about something else. Thomas Mann’s Joseph And His Brothers is a four volume novel published in 1943. I picked up a copy remaindered in one of Melbourne’s many bookshops that have closed since then. It was 25c a volume. I  see it’s available in a one volume edition on Amazon these days, for a lot more than I paid!  

Why the story of Joseph in connection with Passover? Well, that, according to the book of Genesis, is how the Jews got to Egypt in the first place.

And Joseph And His Brothers, despite its length and elaborate language, is a delightful book. I never realised how much I’d enjoy it till I decided to give it a go and zoomed through it in no time flat. Mann also wrote a novella about Moses and that was fun too. You’ll find my description of that in the post I mention above.

Thomas Mann’s Joseph is charming. He infuriates his brothers to the point where you can understand why they throw him into a pit and sell him into slavery. But he impresses everyone else, even the people taking him to Egypt. When he gets there, he works out how to impress Potiphar, his master. The bit about Potiphar’s wife uses some scenes from Muslim tradition. It also suggests why she tries to seduce him. For starters she is an honorary wife only, to one of the court’s top eunuch officials. The poor man’s parents had him cut as a child so he could get a good job and support them in their old age. In any case, Mrs Potiphar is not the vamp you imagine from, say, Joseph And The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat(her only line in that is, “Come and lie with me, love!” The role was played by Joan Collins in the Donny Osmond version).

Even thrown into prison this Joseph becomes a sort of assistant jailer. Oh, yes, a charming young man! If Mann’s Joseph was working in a modern office he’d be your supervisor before the first week was over!

There’s more to it than this, of course. Apparently the theme was “the harrowing of hell” as shown in various myths. But that doesn’t stop the author from making you smile as you read and often laugh out loud. I’d love to see it as a television mini series. There have been two Joseph mini series that I recall - one was Jacob And Joseph, with Keith Michell as Jacob and Julian Glover as Esau, I can’t recall who played Joseph, but there were quite a few Israeli cast members, including a guy who played Pharaoh with a strong Hebrew accent. Another one had Aussie dancer Paul Mercurio as Joseph. Not as good as the other series. But neither was based on Thomas Mann.

Has anyone out there read this? What did you think? 

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Tansy Rayner Roberts Kickstarter Project!

I have to admit I haven’t read the Creature Court books, but as the author, Aussie spec fic writer Tansy Rayner Roberts, has been promoting her Kickstarter project to get them reprinted, I decided it might be time to have a go. Tansy RR has been a star of local small press since, many years ago, having her first book published by a Big Press, after winning the George Turner Award.

Small press in Australia is a vital thriving thing, with most spec fic writers involved, even the well known ones with their books selling in the hundreds of thousands overseas. Big press these days mostly sticks to fat fantasy trilogies, in this country at least. If you want to write anything else, you often have to submit to small press. And some writers do it for fun. It doesn’t pay much, but it pays. And the publishers look after you, unlike Big Press(I’m looking at you, lovely Ford Street!)

Anyway, I decided to put A$35 into the project. If all goes well, that will get me the entire Creature Court series in ebook, plus a pack of post cards and a specially designed CC pin postage free. Good enough for me! I don’t want print copies any more, but you can get some if you chip in more.

At this stage, there are 14 days to go, with about $5000 to raise, and it’s all or nothing, it will only go ahead if the money is raised, so I really want to promote this! I want my books and pin! (I may give away the cards).

Why not check it out? If Tansy wrote them, they will be fun.

Here’s the link:

Monday, March 26, 2018

This Year’s A to Z Challenge - Children’s Writers!

I’ve been noticing that people on my blog dashboard are announcing their choice of theme for this year’s A to Z blogging challenge, and have been thinking of mine. I’ve already covered Australian crime and spies, the themes of two of my children’s non fiction books. Somebody else did women scientists last year, so... what else do I know about? Well, there were monsters and creatures of the night, the theme of my first book, but maybe next year. There are plenty of specialist folklore blogs around.
So, roll of drums! I will post next month on the theme of Australian children’s and YA writers and artists. There are so many great ones that I may have to write about two in some posts. And I will stick to those I know fairly well, though I might make an exception for the letter X, where I found only one listed author, whom I haven’t read.

So, time to go register! Next month is coming! 

The Eagle Of The Ninth - Novel and TV Show

I’ve just finished rereading Rosemary Sutcliff’s classic novel, which put me in the mood to watch the six part TV series with Anthony Higgins. I have seen the movie, which I liked more than I thought I would, due to the music and the landscape,  but which was really not faithful to the book.

I remembered the show from many years ago and wondered if it would hold up. It did. I’ve seen Anthony Higgins in other things. He has done a number of villain roles and he was an amazing Laurence Olivier in Darlings Of The Gods, a TV mini series about Olivier’s and his wife Vivien Leigh’s visit to Australia in the 1940s. But he was a beautiful Marcus Flavius Aquila in Eagle Of The Ninth. He was about thirty when he played the role, but looked younger.

And it wasn’t just him. The costumes looked lived-in, the buildings likewise, the landscape beautiful. The rest of the cast were convincing - and interesting to hear the Seal People with Scottish accents. Of course, in the TV show, they were the only people seen on the other side of the Wall, apart from Guern the Hunter, who was a Roman anyway, one who had settled down there with a British wife. In the novel, the author could mention that the characters were speaking local languages but you can’t do that in a film/TV show. In the film, they had the Seal People speaking Gaelic, which was nice, but it wouldn’t work well on a longer TV show. So everyone spoke English, with different accents. Keep it simple!

I loved that the script used pretty much only the dialogue from the book, including the scene where Marcus is joyfully driving an amazing team of ponies in a British chariot, talking to the horses. That scene, by the way, was filmed for The Eagle movie, but was cut. I saw it in the extras on the DVD. The film included one thing from the book that was not in the TV version, and that’s Marcus’s handmade  olivewood bird. But the film left out the girl Cottia and the wolf, Cub. I suppose it was decided to keep it simple, since it was only a couple of hours long, but really, Cottia would have been a nice romantic interest and didn’t have to take up much of the film. She is such a lovely character!

Still, both girl and wolf appear in the TV version, and it works!

I’m still watching. I saw four episodes today, while doing some clearing in the lounge.

As for the novel, I’ve just started The Silver Branch, which is the next novel in the series, only this time I will be following it up with Frontier Wolf, before The Lantern Bearers and Sword At Sunset. Time for a binge!

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Classic Goodies of SF Downloaded!

A while ago, I got the Bluefire Reader app so I could read a review book. I was being sent the print copy, but meanwhile, till it was available, they sent me the ebook.

The problem I didn’t notice till I was sent another book to read via Bluefire is that the publisher gets its review ebooks via a library and you don’t get to keep them. Sixty days after they appear, they are gone. A bit much when you’re doing cheap publicity for a book and not even to be able to keep it!

Anyway,  you get a free copy of Treasure Island with Bluefire and I wondered if I could start loading some more freebies via this reader. And you can - it’s connected to Feedbokks.

I was a bit suspicious of some fairly recent releases of the last ten years, even those that were just short stories. Had the authors given their permission? I avoided those. But there were plenty of classics - Verne, Wells, Edgar Rice Burroughs, some others I’d seen in Gutenberg. There were some I hadn’t, such as Conan Doyle’s Professor Challenger tales. I’d read “The Disintegration Machine”, a highly entertaining Challenger story about what can happen when a teleport goes wrong, but for some reason I didn’t find it in my iBooks collection and it wasn’t in Gutenberg any more, not that I could see. Professor Challenger, as you might or might not know, is the leader of the expedition to South America in The Lost World, the one with the dinosaurs. That novel was enormous fun, seen from the viewpoint of a young journalist who goes on the expedition to impress his girlfriend. There are also some short stories about the same characters. So I grabbed them from Feedbooks.

I saw two of Olaf Stapledon’s books and took one I’d heard of, The Last And First Men. I also picked up a short story by Edmond Hamilton and found an H.G Wells story I hadn’t heard of, “The Star.”

And while I was about it, I wandered back to Project Gutenberg, where I discovered a couple of Henry Kuttner stories I hadn’t seen, one originally written under a pen name.

I love to binge, every now and then, on classic SF. There is so much new stuff these days, but now and then it’s good to go back to where it began, don’t you think?

Friday, March 23, 2018

Book Blogger Hop: Book Clubs

About once a month, my sister-in-law goes to a local bookshop and selects a variety of books from which her book club can choose their book of the month to read and discuss. Then they buy several copies of the chosen tome, read and discuss it.

Good on them, but that’s not for me. I’m a librarian. I just don’t have time or interest to spare for discussing one book for a whole month. In the time leading up to the Children’s Book Council awards, there are a stack of books to read and share with students, plus books to review and books recommended by other book blogs and sometimes I read just because. I think I’m reading about a dozen books right now. 

Instead I will talk about book clubs at my school, but not that type of book club. 

Firstly, there’s Literature Circles. That’s something I did with my Year 8 students for several years, till the English faculty(not me!) decided there were more important things to do. When I was first discussing it with my class, one student asked, “Is it like book club?” Delighted, I replied,”Yes, that’s exactly what it is! It’s book club for the classroom.”

Here is how it worked at my school. We brought out small class sets of books for the students to check. For a couple of years, my class was joined with another, as we had English at the same time and it meant we could share resources instead of competing. The students were allowed to make three potential choices. Let’s face it, they knew what they could handle - mostly, anyway. Sometimes a student would choose a book that sounded interesting but was too hard, or would hope to be put in the same group as a friend who was a better reader. We did ask them to choose carefully and let them know that we, the teachers, would have the final say in what they read, though we would try to give them their first choice. After the first year, when I had a very good class, I was able to show the kids DVDs I had recorded of discussions by their older schoolmates, sometimes older siblings. We also did a practice short story with them to give them an idea of what was required. Once it was a story of mine, and the group got into an argument over the ending and called me over to settle it! As I said, a good class the first time, great fun to work with.

If I was working with another class, my colleague and I would decide which groups would work together on which books. They were based on choice, on how good their reading was and who would get along with whom. In one case, we had two older students, known for their kind hearts, together with two younger ones. We knew the older girls would help their younger group members. They all had the book of choice somewhere on their list, of course. And they did enjoy it. 

The groups were on average four or five students. Each member had a task, moved around from week to week, one to direct the discussion and make sure it stayed on task, one to do a drawing of whatever he or she was reading and discuss that with the group(and a group once argued over that - it was not how another student saw it), another to say what a scene in the book reminded them of, either another book or in real life. All of this led to stimulus for discussion. I have kept DVD copies of those discussions. 

Some of them were amazing, others had to be reminded to focus. One of my students, who was good at filming and had finished reading his book, was given the job of filming his classmates’ discussions. He was so very good at it that when the time came for students to do their creative responses I told him I would assess him on that. Lachlan didn’t just film. When discussions were lagging, he would ask the group questions, just like a teacher. Nobody was allowed to get away with not discussing their book in his presence. He is at university now, though not in a teaching course.

I remember a young man called Ali who was so far ahead of his group in reading the book - which they were allowed to do for about twenty minutes in class - that they asked me if he could go and read something else while they caught up. Ali didn’t mind at all; we were in the library and he was a passionate reader. I often had to ask him, reluctantly, in English class, to please put down his book while we did our lesson. Delightedly he went to the shelves for another book. He is also at university now, studying accountancy or some such thing. I do hope he changes to librarianship.

When everyone had finished and discussions were done, the students did a creative response to what they had read. Some very strong readers/writers were allowed to write fan fiction. Mostly they prepared book trailers, after we had shown them some examples of book trailers that both showed what the book was about and persuaded viewers to read it. 

After the first year, I was able to show my classes examples of trailers done by previous classes. The kids enjoyed it and at the same time showed that they had understood what the book was about. I explained to them about copyright and directed them to some web sites with Creative Commons materials, including music, in case they wanted to post their work on YouTube. Nobody did, but there were some very good book trailers and one student who was good at drawing did a graphic novel scene from the book, which the author published on her web site.

 Some kids got to interview the authors. I have posted those on this blog. Look it up under “Interview” if you’re interested, there are too many for me to provide links. One student was so thrilled that he carried around a printout of his interview for weeks. I did tell my students that they could forget about an interview with most overseas big-name authors, but I happen to know a few local authors personally. Others I didn’t know personally were just kind; Li Cunxin, author of Mao’s Last Dancer, who lives in Queensland, agreed to an interview despite a massive workload of preparing a ballet for tour and directing the company - and responded within twenty four hours! 

So, that was book club for the classroom. A vast improvement on the book reports we used to have to do when I was a child, where the teacher thought they were being cool if they let you do it as a book dust jacket. In all fairness, book trailers were not an option when I was at school many years ago, but a literature circles discussion certainly was.

What else have I done? Until the end of last year, when I retired, I was running a lunchtime book club for kids who loved reading. For my first few years nobody was interested. Then my “nerd pack” came along, including a girl called Thando(check out her interview with Juliet Marillier on this blog). Thando was such a passionate reader that I just gave up and let her borrow as many books as she wanted. Sometimes, during the holidays, that was twenty books. Which she always finished, returned and borrowed more. Another student, Selena, helped me read the CBCA shortlisted books. She, too, did an interview, with Cath Crowley, author of the wonderful Graffiti Moon(more recently Words In Deep Blue) and Charlie Higson, author of Young James Bond and a series of YA zombie novels. 

Suddenly I had a book club! Not the kind that got together to discuss a chosen book once a month. Not them! They all had favourite types of reading which they shared with each other. Together we went to writers’ festivals and author talks. They chose new books for the library. They joined Goodreads and the State Library’s Insideadog web site. They nominated and voted for the YABBA Awards. They helped me set up book launches and greeted visitors, including the delightful Will Kostakis, who dropped in on his way to see his publishers and kindly spoke to our Year 8 and 9 students. One year they recorded a set of virtual readouts for Banned Books Week. Last year we finally did the Premier’s Reading Challenge. Some of them were writers and I did alternating book club and writer club meetings for them.

And sometimes we just talked about books. Whatever we were reading or wanted to read. How I miss them! 

That’s my kind of book club. What’s yours? 

Friday, March 16, 2018

Book Blogger Hop: Children’s Writers(And St Patrick’s Day)

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This week’s Book Blogger Hop asks for your favourite children’s writer. It’s obviously aimed at people who don’t read much in this area. Hah! Children’s book blog, right? Teacher librarian? Children’s writer myself?  Children’s books are what I do. Impossible to answer this question with one. So... Let’s talk about several! 

As it’s St Patrick’s Day, I thought I might celebrate with a post about a few Irish writers I’ve read. Please forgive me if I’ve gone light on the women, but I’m sticking to writers I have read. I might add one or two books set in Ireland. 

One of these days I am going to visit Ireland, umbrella in hand, as I hear the reason why it’s so green is that it’s raining so often. An Irish couple I met once, who were tourists, told me that that particular year, it had not been raining about forty days(sort of Biblical in reverse!). It fascinates me, with its folklore and history. I believe it was never taken over by the Romans, among other things. Its patron saint, Patrick, whose day this is, wasn’t actually Irish. He appears in Marion Zimmer Bradley’s The Mists Of Avalon as a grumpy, unpleasant Bishop called Patricius, but definitely meant to be St Patrick.There are still arguments over the meaning of “he drove the snakes out of Ireland” - was it actual reptiles or did it mean pagans? 

On to the books and writers. I’ve read John Boyne’s The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas, which became a huge hit and a film, about a boy whose father is in charge of a concentration camp. Despite all that, I’m afraid my response is “meh.” I much prefer Morris Gleitzman’s Once series, which I would love to see made into movies. 

Eoin Colfer is the author of the delightful Artemis Fowl series. Artemis Fowl is an Irish boy, the son of a wealthy  crime family. His father really doesn’t want to get involved in crime and has disappeared at the beginning of the first book. Artemis needs the money to get his father back and, unlike him, is a criminal genius. He decides to kidnap a fairy, Holly, who is a member of the elite fairy organisation LepRecon. She is, in fact, a female, fairy James Bond. A very funny series and I loved the whole idea of the fairies being technologically advanced beyond humans. There was a centaur Q, Foaly, who designed the stuff and a dwarf who made tunnels via huge farts... 

If you haven’t read C.S Lewis, shame on you! I confess to having first read the Narnia books as an adult, but I read his SF trilogy first: Out Of The Silent Planet, Perelandra and That Hideous Strength. Those weren’t children’s books, but,  like Narnia, were about Christianity. I preferred Tolkien, who was also religious, but didn’t shove it down your throat. However, I suspect I wouldn’t have noticed the religious elements in the Narnia books if I’d read them as a child. Perhaps I might, even then, have been uncomfortable with the hints of racism. But no doubt a classic series. If you’ve seen the TV series, by the way, you might have noticed Tom Baker in The Silver Chair as Puddleglum the Marsh Wiggle, a member of a pessimistic race(he is regarded by his fellow Marsh Wiggles as rather too cheerful). Another cast member was the late Patsy Byrne, who went on to play Nursie in Blackadder.   

I faithfully promise to start reading Derek Landy, whose Skulduggery Pleasant series was, at one stage, so popular in my school library! But I haven’t yet, so on to the next. 

Another popular series my students love, by an Irish writer, is Michael Scott’s The Secrets of The Immortal Nicholas Flamel. I’ve only got around to reading the first book in the series, The Alchemyst. It was a long time ago, but as I recall, Nicholas Flamel(remember him? Mentioned in Harry Potter?), creator of the Philosopher’s Stone, is still around. So is John Dee, Elizabeth I’s astrologer. In this book he is the villain. It’s seen, of course, through the eyes of some kids who have to help Nicholas Flamel stop the baddie. Again, read it years ago. I really must go back and read the lot. 

Darren Shan(actual name O’Shaughnessy) is the author of a series of children’s vampire novels. I’ve only read the first, Cirque Du Freak, in which a boy agrees to go with a vampire running the title circus to save his friend. The friend actually wants to be a vampire, but the vampire concerned refuses to turn him, considering him disgusting. The kids at my school loved this series. I had trouble keeping them on the shelves. 

You might not think of the playwright Oscar Wilde as a children’s writer, but he did write a series of fairytales. They were pretty sad and very Victorian in flavour, but hey, they count! I bet you have heard of “The Happy Prince” or “The Selfish Giant” at least? No? Go and read them. There are some beautifully illustrated editions. His mother Jane was an Irish nationalist and wrote for newspapers under a pen name. And by the way, she was a folkorist. 

I love the poetry of William Butler Yeats - magical stuff! Did you know he also edited a collection of Irish fairytales? Here is a cover from it. Pretty, isn't it|? I have a copy, though with a different cover.

As I’ve run out of Irish children’s writers and I’ve read and promised you at least a couple of books set in Ireland - by women - here they are.

Most books by Juliet Marillier - the Sevenwaters series, Heart’s Blood and the Blackthorn and Grimm trilogy. Great stuff and you’ll find plenty of posts here about them all. 

Anna Ciddor’s Night Of The Fifth Moon, set in pagan Ireland, and Prisoner Of Quentaris, not actually set in Ireland, but featuring leprechauns, who absolutely never wish you “top of the morning!” or hide pots of gold but are shown as a sort of mediaeval heroic Irish society in miniature.  

And there you are, and happy St Patrick’s Day! If you’ve enjoyed this post, share it. 

Got any favourites yourself?

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Just Finished Reading...Kindred by Octavia E Butler

People had been talking about this author and this book, so I decided it was about time to give it a try. So I downloaded it from iBooks. Big mistake to start this before bedtime. I was up reading till 4.00 am!

Kindred tells the story of Dana, an African American writer working on her first novel, who finds herself becoming dizzy one afternoon and suddenly appearing in early 19th century Maryland, which is definitely not a safe place for anyone with a black skin - especially for an educated person with a black skin. She timeslips back and forth, saving the life of a white ancestor, Rufus, each time he is in mortal danger. It’s usually his own fault, but she has little choice. She is simply whisked from her own time to his every time the idiot is in danger - and getting home is a painful process. But she has to do it, at least until he fathers her great something grandmother, or run the risk of never being born.

A fascinating timeslip story. Usually in timeslip tales, the character will take over the body of an ancestor. In this case, she simply arrives, physically, in time to save her ancestor, more than once. In fact, she takes her husband along the second time, because he’s holding her.

It’s not SF, of course, it’s fantasy. We never do find out how all this is happening, only what the rules are for getting back. Or why it happens when it does. And because the book was written in the 1970s, the "present day" is the 1970s and there are things we can do now, such as go online to research, that Dana and her husband can't. I wonder what a film or TV mini-series would do with the setting? Would it be updated? It's fun to speculate!

However, the important thing in this story is the characters - Dana, her white husband Kevin, who has to pose as her master in the past, the boy/young man she has to save - what do you do when you have to help someone you don’t much like? When you don’t know when you’ll be dragged back into the past? What happens when you’ve spent months or even years in the past and you’re back in your own time? Can you adjust?

There are other issues, but spoilers! Just read it. And read this Wikipedia entry about the author. Fascinating life! A true working class heroine - and reading it made me think that Dana’s life is just a bit inspired by her own background. Like Dana, Octavia had a Mum who wanted her to do a secretarial course and did a lot of dull jobs that let her get on with the writing late at night. A wise choice! If she’d become a teacher, say, she just wouldn’t have had the time or energy for writing as much as she did.

Now, excuse me, I have to find some more Butler to read. Any recommendations from Butler fans out there?

Friday, March 09, 2018

Book Blogger Hop: Do You Enjoy Retellings Of, or Sequels To, Classic Novels

Well, this question is about books, reading and stories. And yes, I do. If I didn’t, my reading choices would be much more limited. Broadening it to “classic stories” lets me include Shakespeare. There are so very many books and films inspired by Shakespeare. Romeo And Juliet turns up everywhere, but an example is West Side Story, in which the feuding Montagues and Capulets become two street gangs, the Jets(Montagues) and the Sharks(Capulets) and who wouldn’t love the film version with the aerial shots of the dancers in the streets of New York?

Kurosawa did at least two films based on Shakespeare, Throne Of Blood(Macbeth) and Ran(King Lear). Shakespeare translates to Japan!

American rom-com She’s The Man takes Twelfth Night to a high school soccer team. That one is great fun, and I have used it with my Year 8 English classes.

 I have to confess, I have an unfinished YA novel inspired by Much Ado About Nothing. Benedick and the other soldiers are a high school boys’ footy team. Must finish!

And if the Japanese film industry borrowed from English language classics, the Americans returned the compliment with The Magnificent Seven borrowed from Japanese classic The Seven Samurai, not to mention The Hidden Fortress providing inspiration for Star Wars.

You probably know that Clueless was a Hollywood version of Jane Austen’s Emma, both the original and the film hugely entertaining. And I loved Bride And Prejudice, which took Austen’s original to modern India, the Bennets becoming the Bakshis and dancing around the streets, singing, Bollywood style. Amazing how well it translated.

But let’s go to books. Sophie Masson, Kate Forsyth and Juliet Marillier, all of whom live in Australia, by the way, are wonderful fairytale re-tellers. Juliet Marillier has done quite a few, for example the Sevenwaters series beginning with Daughter Of The Forest, which sets “The Six Swans” in mediaeval Ireland, Heart’s Blood which also sets “Beauty And The Beast” in mediaeval Ireland.

Kate Forsyth has done a wonderful version of Rapunzel, Bitter Greens, in which the witch is an Italian courtesan who once modelled for Titian. Her historical novel The Beast’s Garden, takes a Grimm fairytale, “The Singing, Springing Lark” to Nazi Germany. It’s a sort of “Beauty and The Beast” story. A fabulous book! I loved it. And in case you hadn’t noticed she likes fairytales, there is The Wild Girl, about the girl next door to the Grimms. She told them a large chunk of the folk tales they wrote down and married one of them. Another favourite.

Sophie Masson has done a lot in this area, but I’ll discuss two of her fairytale re-tellings. Moonlight And Ashes, which I have reviewed on this blog, is a very enjoyable version of  “Ashenputtel”, the Grimm version of “Cinderella”. It’s set in the 19th century, with steam trains and newspapers. Hunter’s Moon is set in the same universe as Moonlight And Ashes. It’s “Snow White” with the father being the owner of a chain of department stores. The mirror is The Mirror, a newspaper which annoys the stepmother by proclaiming Bianca/Snow White the Fairest, an annual thing. It certainly worked for me.

Sophie Masson has also edited a series of fairytale and mythology re-tellings published by Christmas Press. They’re gorgeously illustrated, written by some of Australia’s top children’s writers, plus at least one from outside Australia, Adele Geras, who re-told “Beauty And The Beast” and “Bluebeard”. I should add that when I got my Year 7 kids to do a fractured fairytale I read them “Bluebeard”, which gave one student an idea for, not a fractured fairytale, but a version of his own, told by Bluebeard, and dear me, it was a chilling piece! It was totally publishable, in my opinion. I hope it will turn up at least in the school anthology.

Look, there are heaps of amazing re-tellings and sequels, but that will do me for now.

Do you have any favourites?

Tuesday, March 06, 2018

Compulsory International Women's Day Post: Some Women Writers From My Bedside Table

It's nearly March 8 - gotta post about International Women's Day! Only once was I working at a girls' school at this time of year. I remember they got the kids to choose a woman from their national background(it was a multicultural school, like the one I have worked at for the last 20 years). One girl had a German background and didn't fancy Marlene Dietrich, as her teacher suggested, so when she came to do her research in the library, I suggested Hildegard of Bingen, "the sibyl of the Rhine", a 12th century abbess who composed gorgeous music we still hear, did science stuff, wrote at least one play that I know of and terrified the Princes of the Church. The girl liked that one and chose her. On the special day, we all went down to Richmond Town Hall, where the girls got up and talked about their chosen heroines. It was fun!

Sunshine does Harmony Day, but not IWD.

So, thinking of this post, I decided to just pull a few women writers from the pile by my bedside. Some I have read over and over.  Others I'm still checking out.

Left to right: The Eagle Of The Ninth Chronicles, by Rosemary Sutcliff. Actually, there are only the original trilogy in this book - The Eagle Of The Ninth, The Silver Branch and The Lantern Bearers. There is another one, Frontier Wolf, which is set between Silver Branch and Lantern Bearers. It must have been written later. These are classic children's books by one of the greatest children's historical novelists of the 20th century. The young hero of the first book, Marcus Flavius Aquila, goes on a quest to find out what happened to his father's legion - and their Eagle standard. He ends up settling in Britain and the rest of the series is about his descendants. You know who they are, even when they no longer have the Roman name, because there is this flawed emerald ring being passed down through the generations.

Semi-hidden behind that is Hidden Figures, by Margot Lee Shetterly, which made a helluva movie, about black women mathematicians behind the early space program. It's not a novel, it's non-fiction. A wonderful book!

Next, Angela Carter's short story collection, The Bloody Chamber. The title story is based on Bluebeard, set in Brittany, but not in the Middle Ages! She also wrote Company Of Wolves, her take on Little Red Riding Hood. That was also a film, which I vaguely remember had Angela Lansbury as the grandmother.

Next to it is Den Of Wolves, the third in the Blackthorn and Grim trilogy. In it, we finally find out who Grim really was before being thrown into that prison where he first met Blackthorn, the heroine, and we find out why the elven lord is looking after her. And I have to say, it was a beautiful trilogy from a lady who can make fairytales sing!

Lying next to Eagle is a book you will have to take my word for, as it hasn't got a dustjacket. It's Annemarie Selinko's Desiree. I have to admit I know very little about the author, apart from this Wikipedia entry. She did write other books and a couple were turned into films, yes, but nothing in English. This niovel became a film with Jean Simmons and Marlon Brando. It's a delight! The heroine was a real person, though from what I have read of the real Desiree Clary, who was a very strange woman, I think I prefer the one in the novel. The novel covers the time from her becoming engaged to Napoleon till she becomes Queen of Sweden, with her husband, Jean-Baptiste Bernadotte as king. It's in the form of a diary and is - utterly charming! Read it if it's still available!

Five Historical Feasts is written by historian, keen cook and SF author Gillian Polack, with some connected short stories at the end. It tells of all the work that went into researching, designing and testing the food for five historical banquets held at Canberra's annual science fiction convention, Conflux. It's a fun read, especially as I have been to one of those banquets, the Regency one, when it was repeated a few years ago. There are recipes interspersed with the story of the work done for the banquets. I think you might still be able to get a copy at Australian SF conventions, but be quick - Gillian tells me they are unlikely to reprint, due to copyright matters on the art.

My copy of Lois McMaster Bujold's Miles Vorkosigan novel Cetaganda is almost falling apart from reading and rereading, but I can't help it - every time I finish I just have to promise myself a reread to cheer myself up for having finished it! Miles gets to solve a mystery while on the planet Cetaganda for a royal funeral, and we finally see what it's like. The inhabitants specialise in genetic engineering and women are in charge of the planet's gene banks.

Well, there are a few books by women that have delighted me! What about you?

Friday, March 02, 2018

Book Blogger Hop: Do You Use A Mouse?

...And what’s on it?

Dear me, another strange question and not strictly book-related. I could answer in one word: no. But this is a blog post, so I’ll waffle a bit.

The first computer I used, at work, was a little Apple 2C. It didn’t use a mouse, so no mouse pad needed. It was almost as bad as PC computers in that you had to give commands, and remember what they were. There was no hard drive; you had to slot a floppy disk with the software into an external drive. I had an extra disk drive for my writing, because otherwise you’d have to slot in the disk for the program, take it out and put in your other disk... I vaguely recall reading an essay by Italian-Jewish writer Primo Levi comparing a computer to the Golem; you put something in its mouth, it comes to life. Remove it and it’s dead. A magical description of the kind of computers we had in those days!

By the time I got my first computer, a 2E, it had a hard drive and no commands - much easier to use, but you now needed a mouse. I had a fabulous-looking mouse mat that had a 3D Star Trek image on it. Only problem was, the coarse texture made it harder to use. I gave it away to a fellow Trek fan; I’m pretty sure I did warn them that it was more decorative than useful.

Companies used to give out promotional mouse mats and I did use those at work, where there were desktop computers. The kids had a lot of trouble with the library computers because there were no supplied mouse mats(they would have gone in no time if I’d left some out), so I often suggested they use their diaries or exercise books as mouse mats. Those worked as well as anything.

My current laptop just doesn’t need a mouse, though I could get one. Neither does my iPad. So, no mouse mats, but I do have one I found recently, with an Isaac Asimov robot on it.

There! A book reference! :-) And post complete, about a very odd topic.