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Monday, May 28, 2018

Some Special Birthdays... And A Sad Passing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, May 26, 2018

A Guest Post From Michelle Cooper

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

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

Take it away, Michelle! 

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

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

So that’s what I did.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For more information about Dr Huxley’s Bequest, including an excerpt from the book, teaching resources and a virtual tour of the real-life setting, visit

For information about where to buy Dr Huxley’s Bequest, visit Australia’s newest, tiniest publishing house at

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

Follow Michelle on Twitter @mini_memoranda or visit her blog, Memoranda, at

Thursday, May 24, 2018

New Ebooks Downloaded Recently - Tansy Rayner Roberts and Simon Haynes

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, May 20, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

I’m off to read some more. 

Saturday, May 19, 2018

A Guest Post From Jane Routley

Photo taken by Trudi Canavan

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

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

Jane's Guest Post!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Author's Website:

Where you can buy the book online:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Still, well worth a read. Recommended.

Friday, May 18, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, May 07, 2018

An Evening With Patrick Ness And Jesse Andrews

I made a booking for this Wheeler Centre session a couple of days ago. I’ve only read one book by Patrick Ness(The Rest Of Us Just Live Here, which was on the bookstall but not mentioned during the panel)  and nothing at all by Jesse Andrews, though I have heard of his work. However, if I think something sounds good, I’ll buy it, usually by download on iBooks, sometimes in print. That tends to be the way of things at Reading Matters and the Melbourne Writers Festival.

And you know what? I’m very glad I went! The gentlemen, who were being interviewed by fantasy novelist C.J Pacat(aka Cat), were funny and laid-back and had us all roaring with laughter. They started with general how-did-you-start-writing questions, and Patrick Ness, who has won a heap of awards, including two Carnegie medals for children’s writing, said modestly that he had started but not really thought anyone would want his books. Jesse Andrews said he had started from the other end, with “I am a genius and you guys should buy my books!” and then spent the next six years working on two novels which were awful.

Both of them have taken to screenplay writing. Patrick’s book A Monster Calls, is also about to open in London at the Old Vic as a play, but he didn’t write that. He said that he couldn’t wait to see it. He added that adapting a novel into another format didn’t cancel out the novel. The novel is still there.

He told a very funny story about how actors always want to expand on their roles.

Jesse, who is best known for his novel Me and Earl And The Dying Girl, has recently published a new novel(Allen and Unwin) called Munmun, which I’m fairly sure I have read about on some blog or other. It’s a satirical YA fantasy about a world sort of like ours, but not quite,  in which your height depends on how rich you are. The poorest people are about the size of rats, while multimillionaires are the height of skyscrapers. I ended up buying a copy after the session, because the impression I got was that the long queue was mainly for Patrick, with hardly anyone going to get anything signed by Jesse. When I went to buy a copy of his book, one of the Wheeler Centre folk told me I could go right away to get my book signed. I’ve started reading and it’s fun so far. I have a sneaking suspicion that it has elements of Jonathan Swift, who is quoted at the start of the book.

When they went to questions from the audience, there was a young man who said his English class was studying A Monster Calls and “We were wondering if the monster was real...”

Patrick said, shrewdly,”Is it a case of ‘We were wondering...’ or, ‘I have this essay for English’?” So he gave a couple of hints in the form of evidence, for the kid to think about, but said,reasonably, that he really couldn’t do the boy’s homework for him.

I chuckled, but felt sympathy for both of them. The kid was stuck with studying the damn novel and had hoped to get something from the horse’s mouth, the author was stuck with a question he no doubt gets often and was probably wishing schools would not make students read his books for work when they should be for pleasure. He was as polite as he could be under the circumstances, but he really couldn’t give the lad what he wanted.

I met my friend Kevin Lee, whom I have known for years through the Centre for Youth Literature, and briefly encountered Jeann from the Happy Indulgence book blog, who had come down from Brisbane for this session because she couldn’t get to the Sydney Writers Festival. Kevin had books to get signed for someone else. I stood with him in the signing queue, where we met another friend of his, a young lady who also has a book blog. We talked YA and waited for about an hour. The event had been on at the Athenaeum Theatre on Collins St and, I kid you not, the line went down the street, past the Town Hall, almost to Swanston St! After we’d been there some time, I became aware that the line for Jesse was much shorter than the one for Patrick and decided to buy his book and get it signed,  Heaven knows where I’m going to put it...
Ah, well a great night! 

Sunday, May 06, 2018

Jewish Writers' Week 2018

This was called the Melbourne Jewish Writers' Festival the last time I went. It was at Beth Weizmann, the Jewish community centre. This time, it was enlarged to the St Kilda Town Hall.

I ended up only going to two sessions, but I enjoyed them both. The first one was an interview with Dror Mishani, an Israeli crime writer, author of the Inspector Avraham books. I'd never heard of him, or of Israeli crime fiction, but I love crime fiction, so I went.  And he was fascinating and entertaining to listen to!

Dror is the balding guy.

There is a good reason why I hadn't heard of Israeli crime fiction. There isn't very much of it, he explained. He recalled attending what was supposed to be a session with the six top crime writers in the country. He was very excited, dressed up for the flashy event... and there was an audience of three! Ah, Dror, old mate, I know how you felt. Been there, done that. Not often, but I have. The worst was at one of the Continuum conventions, when the three of us got ONE audience member! As the panel was meant to be about YA fiction and the young man was a teenager, we made a huge fuss of him and simple sat at a table to chat with him. And then there was the pretty much as awful panel at SheKilda 2. I was doing a panel on children's crime books with Susan Green, Goldie Alexander and Catherine Jinks. Susan and Goldie are old veterans and Catherine Jinks is a lot more famous than any of us. But guess what? We were in a tiny room downstairs. Nearly everyone was upstairs attending a packed session on YA fiction! We had an audience of five. We looked after our wonderful tiny audience anyway. Catherine Jinks was not at all pleased, though, you could see it. I don't blame her, I guess. She was probably wondering what she was doing there instead of upstairs with her fellow big names.She did hold out for most of the session, then asked if we could finish early.

Dror told it as a funny story, and went on. There is very little crime fiction in Israel because it's considered tacky, not literary enough. The first Israeli crime fiction was written in about 1930, about a character called "the Sherlock Holmes of the Middle East". People complained that there were more important things to write about and that crime fiction was just not literature. These days, the more important stuff is politics and the Middle East situation. When Dror submitted the manuscript of his first novel, The Missing File, to an agent, the agent said he couldn't sell it overseas unless Dror stuck in a few Palestinians. He didn't. That wasn't what the novel was about. It was a story set in Tel Aviv suburb Holon, where the author grew up, about a kidnapping and the police inspector who was investigating.

As it happens, the book has been translated into about fifteen languages and received a literary award(so much for the "crime is not literary enough"!). There is a TV series about to come out in Israel, but also a French version, which changes the setting to Paris, already out. (He hated it, by the way, though he didn't say why - he admitted he had been sent the outline and had some idea what they had in mind). I bought a copy as soon as I arrived at the festival, the only book I bought, and downloaded the second book.

If there is almost no native crime fiction in Israel, there is even less SF and fantasy, apparently. From what he said, the reasons are similar, but you'd think there would be a fandom. I am pretty sure there is some translated spec fic. In fact, I remember passing a shop in Israel which had a science fiction magazine in Hebrew, and there was, in big bold letters, the Hebrew translation of Harlan Ellison's "Jeffty is Five". Someone must be reading it. And my friend Alex Isle told me, years ago, he had a young pen pal in Israel who was a Star Trek/Klingon fan. I knew before I was told that he must be young, because once you're in the army, you couldn't possibly take those fictional warriors seriously any more! And yes, he was sixteen, and a computer nerd.

Still - a disappointment.

In the afternoon, I went to hear Dror and two Australian writers interviewed by Carmel Shute of Sisters In Crime.  Here they are. You can just see Carmel's arm - sorry! The theme was "Jewish Noir" but most of it was very general.

Nathan Besser(Sydney) and Megan Goldin(Melbourne) spoke about their books. His was, Carmel assured me later, very noir. And it was at least set in Australia. Megan's book was set in the US, a Wall Street story which starts with a lift(US word, elevator) from which blood is seeping! It sounded good, though I got the impression that the entire novel takes place in that elevator! (Maybe flashbacks?) I hope not.  Why set it in the US, Carmel asked. Megan said she had been travelling a lot, to many different countries, with her parents in her youth and actually spent her teens in the US. It felt right for that particular story. She had actually visited and read many forums for financial people, saw what it was that stressed them, what ideas they shared for impressing the boss and looking fresh when they were exhausted. She was no expert of the financial field, but had been complimented on her book by financial folk, so it must have worked.

There was some discussion of ending a book without any real resolution. Megan said that she had had good responses from those who read it as literature and poor responses from those who read it as crime fiction. I should hope so! It was really a discussion about why people read this stuff. I read it because I like to try solving a puzzle and because - this is what most crime readers think of - unlike in real life, there is resolution by the end of the novel. The crime is solved, the baddie gets what's coming to him or her and you have the fun of seeing if you got it right. I will never read again any crime writer who keeps you guessing at the end! (One reason why I didn't care for Kerry Greenwood's Dead Man's Chest, though I love her other novels; if it had been her first book instead of one of the later ones, I might not have read any more - just as well it wasn't!)

Dror said that he did give you two options in one of his books. He also said he had had letters from people who had "worked out" who had committed a crime that was only the background for his third novel and gave detailed explanations for why. He said that was amazing, because he didn't know himself!

It was an enjoyable day on the whole. A pity they only do this every two years. I hope the Melbourne Writers' Festival later this year has some equally entertaining panels!

A to Z Challenge 2018 - Some reflections

Well, I have survived another A to Z Challenge!

My choice of topic for this year was Aussie children's writers. It's a subject I know something about, after my many years as a teacher-librarian. It was fun trying to work out whether I could get through all the letters of the alphabet, and remembering all those wonderful writers whose books I've enjoyed over the years. Some of their books were out of print, alas! Fortunately, you can still get most of them on AbeBooks. But I had to share my enjoyment.

I am pleased that so many were of interest to my visitors, some of whom had never heard of them, and decided to check the books out in their local libraries or buy them. Australia has produced some wonderful writers and artists and others, who come from elsewhere, have made us proud of them. Some are international bestsellers, others are published only in this country - but all are writers to brag about.

I've had some delightful visitors this year, and discovered their web sites in my turn. I'm following several more blogs now, and have at least three new followers, myself(there may be some who are following by email). There were some I started following last year - those were easy!

There haven't been as many visitors as last year, when my theme was "Spies and Spying". That's a bit disappointing, and it may be a less fascinating theme, but it was a bit harder to find anything to read this year. The decision was made to stick all the participants' posts together into a spreadsheet. You could still use the comments section to supply a link to your posts, and I did a few times, but most people didn't, unless I was missing something. I probably was, but I have no idea what. I did go to the spreadsheet and faithfully insert my posts every day. And I scrolled down to see which blogs were posting about stuff that interested me. It was a matter of guessing and choosing at random.

Some of those randoms were wonderful! Others turned out to be not what I had had in mind. I commented on those who had visited me, and some of their visitors' blogs. Most had the courtesy to visit in their turn, others didn't; I stopped commenting on those posts after two or three visits. There just wasn't time to keep visiting folk who didn't bother to return the visit.

A lot of people I visited seemed to have Wordpress sites this year. I hate Wordpress, which is complicated and often refuses to let me comment on someone else's site. Most of the sites let me through, this time, but one of them kept refusing me the chance to comment. It was days before I was able to comment on that blog!

It's good to be able to challenge myself to writing something every day. I have been working on stories that needed finishing, and I currently have a piece of slush to read for Andromeda Spaceways. I'm behind in those, so it's good to have that bit of self-discipline.

If you've been visiting me the last month, why not follow and see what else I write about? I'll follow you back, if I haven't already. Chances are that I have.

Time now to go back to my regular posts - and my fiction!

Saturday, May 05, 2018

Cat Rambo’s Ideas For The Asking: A Guest Post!

Cat Rambo is a very busy speculative fiction writer and editor, who has been nominated for Endeavor, World Fantasy and Nebula Awards, been published in many SF magazines and on-line and co-edited anthologies. She has also been President of the Science Fiction Writers of America and runs writing classes, along with award-winning writer Rachel Swirsky(we published one of Rachel's early stories in Andromeda Spaceways). After years of writing short stories, Cat has finally taken to novel writing with the first two novels(and a novelette) set in her world of Tabat. Today, Cat has kindly agreed to do a guest post for us. This one is about the question writers are asked so often: “Where do you get your ideas?”

Take it away, Cat! 

Ideas For the Asking

Where do you get your ideas, my youngest brother asked as we were driving to dinner. I shrugged and said, Everywhere. He eyed me sideways, as though to say, it has to be harder than that.

But the truth is that I’ve always tried to look at the world in different ways. As a child, a favorite activity was looking at the ceiling and imagining what it would be like to live from that angle -- not so different from our own life, but with much more inconvenient doors, for one. Or later, looking at public spaces to imagine what a superhero battle would be like staged there -- where was cover, where the blind spots or perches?

Everywhere I go, I wonder about the stories around me. What’s behind that door? What is that couple arguing about? Why is that white car parked illegally? And lacking answers I supply my own, making up stories: Narnia. The fact that she’s a werewolf. It’s parked while its occupants search for spies from another planet.

What if the world was different is the question so many speculative fiction writers ask. Sometimes we want to make a point, other times we just want to explore and extrapolate, as with Edward Abott’s Flatland, or just descend into whimsy, going behind the looking-glass into Wonderland.

The only thing I have learned is that the way to stop getting ideas is to stop paying attention to them. It’s when I’m writing every day, putting things down as they occur to me. Not waiting for things to bubble up through the slow filter of my daily thoughts but descending into the word mines to hack up pieces that are just crude word ore: lumps of phrases and sentences that may or may not yield coherency upon refinement.

If an idea comes in the small hours of the night, I wake long enough to scribble down a roadmap back to that visit: A woman decides she wants to become a grove of trees, fences create ghosts and Albert falls in love with one, jungle druids and Tabatian merchants. There is nothing more frustrating than to remember one had a good story idea, but not what it was. It’s torturous.

Rachel Swirsky teaches a class for my school called Ideas Are Everywhere ( It’s true. We swim in a world full of them, and sometimes the trick is knowing which to pick. Here I find that having written two dozen stories and now two novels in the world of Tabat is helpful. I just finished up another novelette, and there’s plenty more to come.

And here is the blurb about new novel Hearts Of Tabat

Hearts of Tabat:

In Tabat, Beasts -- magical creatures like dryads, minotaurs, and centaurs -- question a social order forcing them into its lowest level. Adelina Nettlepurse, scholar and secret owner of Spinner Press, watches the politics and intrigue with interest, only to be drawn into its heart by a dangerous text and a wholly unsuitable love affair with a man well below her station. When Adelina's best friend and former lover, glamorous and charming gladiator Bella Kanto, is convicted of sorcery and exiled, the city of Tabat undergoes increasing turmoil as even the weather changes to reflect the confusion and loss of one of its most beloved heroes.

If you’d like to buy, try one of these addresses: 

You can also pre-order on iBooks, where you’ll find Cat’s short fiction, if you can’t wait to read her stuff!