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Saturday, December 29, 2018

The Joy Of Talking Books

My first experience with books that talked was when I was the teacher librarian at a disadvantaged western suburbs school in Melbourne many years ago. Not the one where I’ve spent the last twenty years, but my first. We had a Talking Books program, run by a feisty lady called Alva who has passed away in recent years, may she rest in peace. They were offered to students who would sit with headphones on and read books while listening to them being read. It was not intended as a slack off - teachers who sent their students to the library to do this were expected to supply Alva with work for the kids to do while they listened, which gave meaning to the task, plus ensuring that they didn’t just slip in a music tape and pretend to read! Alva knew all the students and their habits. They got away with nothing on her watch!

Thing is, we didn’t have professional recordings. Those cost money we didn’t have, but also, Alva believed - correctly - that the kids would get more out of hearing familiar voices, the voices of their teachers - which also meant that a teacher who had a specific book she wanted recorded and offered to her students could do it herself.

I recorded several and had a lot of fun doing it. After our school was closed down, the entire collection went to another local school, which would have thrown them out long ago. You’ll notice I said “tapes”!

There were some very good recordings, though, amateur or not. No Stephen Fry or Richard Armitage, but the Vice Principal, a good friend of Alva’s, was amazing. His strong Australian accent suited some of the classic humorous stories of Australian literature - and Ron was very funny!

On to the present day, and audiobooks, as they are now called, are a big thing. Famous actors do them. People listen to them in their cars and while they are jogging and while they do housework. Some people listen to them instead of reading the book. That’s absolutely fine except that when they review them on blogs, the review is often only for the book and not for the performance.

What’s the point of having a Stephen Fry or a Kate Beckinsale reading to you if you’re only appreciating the story and not the art of the narrator? If they don’t read it as they should, you will miss a lot about the story.

I once read an interview with Jim Dale, who read the American audiobooks for the Harry Potter series. In the one he had just done, he had created 143 different voices for the dialogue! And some jogger listening to this amazing work of art will just talk about J.K Rowling. Sad!

So I almost never buy an audiobook I haven’t read before. I enjoy it as a performance of a book I have read and loved. I delight in Stephen Fry’s interpretations of the various Harry Potter books. I feel that Stephanie Daniels does a very good Phryne Fisher, but can’t manage broad Australian accents. I enjoy Clive Mantle reading Geoffrey Trease’s Cue For Treason admittedly because hey, he was Little John in Robin Of Sherwood, but also because of his wit and the twinkle I can imagine in his eyes as he reads. Geoffrey McSkimming reads his own books in the Cairo Jim and Jocelyn Osgood series, and does them hilariously. Not all authors can do their own. Neil Gaiman is another author who can. I salute them both.

I am hoping, at some stage, to download Lord Of The Rings read by Rob Inglis. I have his audiobook of The Hobbit, on cassette, and it’s brilliant. He has done The Hobbit as a one man show.

So, if you prefer to listen to an audiobook rather than read it physically, don’t forget to appreciate the actor who brings it to life for you.

Do you enjoy audiobooks? Any favourites? 

Friday, December 28, 2018

Book Blogger Hop: Did You Get Any Books For Christmas?

This week’s theme asks what books you got for Christmas. Last Christmas the answer was Hidden  Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly, about the African American women “computers”of NASA in the 1940s/50s. A wonderful book, but I had it in ebook already. Still, I took it to the beach on Christmas Day. This year I got something even better: a $70 gift voucher for Dymock’s Bookstore. It’s a big  bookshop that feels like a small one, because I know the staff at the “special orders” counter and the children’s section and they know me and greet me by name.

So, a bit before Christmas, I went to spend some of my voucher in hopes that I might find Black Tudors, a book I have wanted for some time but which the shop didn’t have last time I looked. This time it was right there on the history shelves and that was my chosen book for Christmas Eve reading, in honour of Yule Book Flood. I told my mother what I was planning and she shrugged. “What’s so special? You read every day!” True - but I read over meals and on public transport and at bed time. This time I allocated a whole evening to my new book, with music - Maddy Prior and the Carnival Band’s album “Carols And Capers” which has a Christmas theme, ranging from the Boar’s Head Carol to 19th century American songs. Lovely and soothing to hear as I read about Africans in Tudor England, starting with one of Henry VIII’s trumpeters, John Blanke, who was part of a very well paid group of musicians who had to do everything from fanfares for the King to tournament fanfares. Those could last all day, so the musicians were paid about ten times their usual fees(and to think our curr net government whines about double time for weekend retail work here!) I’m currently reading the second chapter, about divers employed to retrieve stuff from sunken ships such as the Mary Rose. Africans were used for this because most English couldn’t swim and Africans could. Not sure which countries they came from, but nice to know some people were teaching their kids to swim!

I’m also reading another book I bought that day. This one.

The subject matter is sad, but the book is very entertaining, written in a relaxed, chatty style. I’ve never heard of Stacy Schiff, but will certainly look around for more of her work. She doesn’t just tell you what happened or even, like the average historian, speculate as to whether this must have happened because someone said or did that. She does say that the records are confusing, mainly because the courtroom - actually the village’s meeting house/church - was so crowded and noisy it might have been hard to see or hear what was going on.

What I liked was how she goes right back before all this happened, what was the politics, who was orphaned by Indian raids, what were Puritan customs as opposed to others(one bit tells us about kids captured by the Indians who didn’t want to go home - apparently they let their  children have a bit of time off! How dreadful!). Elderly Rebecca Nurse, who appears in Arthur Miller’s The Crucible, was very rare in not having lost any of her children, and that would have made her suspect.

The author even cheekily quotes from Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows! Who would have thought that this tragic bit of American history could be told in such a witty and amusing way?

Finally, here is a book I bought on Boxing Day but haven’t begun yet. Hey, Oliver Phommavanh, how could it not be good? And hilarious!

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Books I Enjoyed This Year

Everyone seems to be doing a “best of 2018” so I thought I’d do a few - not all of them published this year, but books I’ve read this year and enjoyed.

In no special order, here are a few:

The Boy And The Spy by Felice Arena. A wartime adventure about a Sicilian boy who helps an American spy who falls from the sky near his little fishing village. Check out my review here.

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas, which has been turned into a film we haven’t yet seen in Australia. Here is my review. I thought it well worth all the hype it got. It features a strong heroine who stands up for justice when her friend is murdered by a police officer.

Perhaps not quite as dramatic but similar in flavour is Watch Us Rise by Renee Watson and Ellen Hagan, about a couple of girls, close friends, one white and one black - and fat - who work to make a difference at their school, which is supposed to be progressive in its philosophy but shuts up girls who don’t appreciate being treated as stereotypes. I won’t go into detail here, because it’s not out in Australia yet - I got an ARC at the YA Showcase recently - but it will be out in February.

Inheritance by Carole Wilkinson, which I’ve reviewed here. This is a time slip novel reminiscent of Kate Constable’s Crow Country, which has a very similar theme and which I’ve also reviewed.

Idylls Of The Queen by Phyllis Ann Karr. A reread, really, but I enjoyed it again, as I said in my retro review. It’s set in Thomas Malory’s Camelot, based on a very short story in Malory, expanded into a full length murder mystery, in which Sir Kay, the king’s foster brother and seneschal, plays the detective. I thought it would be out of print, but I believe you can still get it on Amazon.

Swallow’s Dance  by Wendy Orr. A wonderful children’s book set in the Minoan era. Wendy’s previous Minoan novel was Dragonfly Song, about a young bull dancer. This one is centred around the Thera explosion. It has a strong heroine who does all she can to help her refugee family when they have escaped with not much more than the clothes they are standing up in. I think this might be my favourite book of the year. 

Well, that’s six books I have enjoyed this year, what are some of yours?  

Monday, December 24, 2018

Apollo 8 And Christmas Day

Fifty years ago today, three astronauts - Jim Lovell, Bill Anders and Frank Borman -  were orbiting the moon and reading the first few lines of Genesis to their worldwide audience. Here is a link to the NASA account, which also has a link to the message itself.

And here is a photo taken by Bill Anders, Earthrise, which has been all over the Internet and won awards. I got it from the NASA site.

Gorgeous, isn’t it? Bill Anders was taking the photos, among other things, because his original job, Lunar Module pilot, for which he had trained, was not happening. I don’t think the astronauts minded too much, because they were not originally going to the moon, even to orbit it. But they did, and they took film, both black and white and coloured. Most of them were in black and white, but Bill decided that this picture was too special to take in black and white and asked for a roll of coloured film.

The year was 1968 and dreadful things were happening, such as the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy. The Vietnam War was happening. Not a nice year. But Frank Borman said that the most memorable of the many telegrams they got thanked them for saving 1968 - I guess people desperately needed a good news story among all the bad news.

You might be interested to know that Frank Borman was offered the place on Apollo 11 that went to Neil Armstrong, but turned it down as he had decided to retire. Jim Lovell, of course, was on Apollo 13. Bill Anders was a rookie on that flight, but decided not to take any more voyages.

In case you want to read more about this flight, there is a wonderful book by Jeffrey Kluger, who also  wrote Lost Moon, on which the film Apollo 13 was based. This link will take you to the Booktopia page, where you can buy it in Australia, but you should also be able to find it on the usual book web sites.

I read it as research for an article I was hoping to sell to a children’s market that had been an excellent source of publication for a long time, but they had changed suddenly - without telling me, though I had been writing for them for years - and I discovered that they were now doing themed issues and the email address was mostly automated, unless they wanted to ask you for a hold.

As it happens, they still have two of my articles on hold, as I write this, this one and an article about the Eugowra robbery, a topic in which the previous editor had expressed interest. I’d hoped that the anniversary would be a good chance of selling, but... We will have to wait. The theme for the issue is “Voyages” and that should suit, but with a pile of slush competing, who knows? Fingers crossed!

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Look What I Bought!

Today I went to Dymock’s Bookshop in the city to spend some of my $70 gift voucher given to me by my friends Gaye and Robin. These days I prefer to buy non fiction for my print collection, usually history, which I can use for research, and keep my fiction in ebook. 

I kind of miss my shopping trips there as a teacher librarian, and even more so as I encountered one of the staff who knows me from those days as I browsed the children’s shelves for another day(I still have $25.00 left and I just might get one novel...). But I’ve kept up my tradition of rewarding myself for my book buying with afternoon tea at Ganache afterwards, so I’m here, enjoying a pot of tea and three delicious chocolates(walnut, Cointreau and Irish Cream), and drooling over my purchases before writing my final Yuletide cards for the year. They will come late, but my friends will know they aren’t forgotten. 

Now my problem is...which of these do I read on Christmas Eve, in honour of Jolabokaflod? I’ve been after Black Tudors for some time, but I’m also fascinated by the Salem Witch Trials, and have been since I was a teenager performing The Crucible at school. In later years, I was disappointed to find out some truths about the characters in the play, but this book has a cover quote from Hilary Mantel, saying, “Was it like The Crucible? No, it was worse...” 

So, which do I read on Monday night? Any suggestions? 

Puddle Hunters by Kirsty Murray and Karen Blair. Melbourne: Allen and Unwin, 2018

When the rain stops, it's time to go puddle hunting. Ruby and Banjo go up the street, through the park, over the bridge and down to the river flats where the puddles lie waiting... Splosh it, Ruby! Splosh it, Banjo!

Author Kirsty Murray, best known for her YA novels, shows in this charming picture book that she can also write for younger children. Picture books are harder in some ways than writing for older children. The theme needs to be kept simple, but engaging and you can only use a few words to tell your story.

The theme of this gentle story is simple. Children love splashing around in puddles. Two siblings, Ruby and her younger brother Banjo, put on their boots and go out with their mother and their dog, searching for puddles to splash in. It takes a while to find any, because the sun has come out and dried quite a lot of the puddles, but eventually the little family find some and the children splash happily - in fact, in the last puddle their mother joins them. It's a simple joy, followed by the joy of having a bath to clean off the mud.

The art is lovely watercolour by illustrator Karen Blair, with sharply drawn figures of humans and dog, with the background softly painted in large single strokes to suggest sky, grass  and trees.

A good book to snuggle up on the couch with, to read to your toddler, or for an early childhood teacher to read to a class.

Available in all good bookshops.

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

My New Audiobooks!

I’ve been listening to the free audiobooks I downloaded from iBooks ( thank you, Apple!). In the end, I chose four out of the six on offer - The Secret Garden, The Wizard Of Oz, Pride And Prejudice and The Time Machine. I’ve only listened to the official sample of Pride And Prejudice and am keeping it for last.

However, I’ve been tasting the delights of the others and having fun. The Secret Garden is being read by Karen Gillan, aka Amy Pond(Dr Who companion), complete with Scottish accent, though she does manage the upper crust English accent for little Mary, the heroine. She is doing a very good job of the voices so far. I read the book years ago and am enjoying just having it read to me.

The Wizard Of Oz is such a very American classic that it sounds completely appropriate to have it read by American actor Tituss Burgess, who does all the voices beautifully, with some variations on different US accents. I’m up to just after the companions have been joined by the Cowardly Lion.

The voice of Kelsey Grammar is so recognisable in The Time Machine! He tries for Transatlantic, but in the end, Wells’s Time Traveller is, well, an American. I can’t help thinking of him as Frasier, alas! (Maybe they got Dr Frasier Crane into the studio to read an audiobook...).  Still, I’m enjoying it.

I love audiobooks, but my general rule is only to buy ones I have read before, so I can enjoy an actor’s interpretation. One exception so far: Georgette Heyer’s Sylvester, read by Richard Armitage because, well, Richard Armitage. I would listen to his shopping list!

Do you enjoy audiobooks? Already-read or new?

An Awards Afternoon At My School

Yesterday I went to the awards afternoon at my old school. I was invited as part of the tradition by which retired staff get a speech made over them by the principal at the student awards day following their retirement. It has really been a year, but I was officially on long service leave till July of this year, so they left it till this year end, and I’m glad they did, because it gave me the excuse to go and find out how my former students were doing.

And oh, how proud they made me! One of my former students, Thuy, was dux of the school, with an ATAR of 96.85! She was one of my most enthusiastic library users(she read my novel Wolfborn in Year 7) and in my Year 8. She was an EAL student, but the quirks of the timetable also put her into my English class. When I did my first Hero’s Journey writing exercise, this young lady wrote nine thousand words! With a Vietnamese accent... She had to move to one of our other campuses the next year, but settled in okay. She is a quiet, shy little thing, but they made her do a speech, poor kid. She politely thanked her teachers and her family and then got off stage with relief!

Only about half a point behind her in ATAR(Australian Tertiary Admissions Rank) was Simon, another of my students. He was in my Year 8 history class. When he was doing his assignment on the Vikings, he wrote his heading, “Viking Daily Life”, in runes! I also got the kids doing iMovies for their Middle Ages assignment and he and his friend did a very impressive one. I think I still have the file somewhere. Simon was good at everything, but maths and science were his best, and he got high scores in both physics and maths in his external exams.

The third student who made me extremely proud yesterday was his friend Loc. Loc got a top score in Further Maths. He was also in my Year 8 history class. I met him on the way to the hall. We had a chat, when he thanked me for his Western Chances scholarship - I got one for him and Simon - which he said had been very helpful. I told him he was most welcome, but that he had deserved it. He said he wanted to do audiology at Latrobe University; with his score of 92.15 I rather think he will get there. His dream, in Year 8, was forensics. He might yet use his audiology for that, since forensic scientists specialise in an area.

Simon already got a scholarship to Melbourne University, the careers teacher told me. Maybe he will do Engineering as he dreamed of doing in Year 8. My Western Chances scholarship boy can do anything he wants now! And  I am so proud I could burst!

I saw and chatted with colleagues, but what made me happiest was the number of students who came up to me or waved me over to chat and tell me they missed me. One of the young men who was in my literacy class last year gave me a hug.

So glad I went! 

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Free Audiobooks Found on Flipboard!

I subscribe to Flipboard, which sends you a daily collection of links to news items based on your interests. Mine happen to include books, so I get a lot of book-themed links, and this is the most recent.

What is it? Apple Books is offering six free audiobooks of classics, read by well known actors. It’s connected with iOS 12, which I have just downloaded to my iPad, I believe... Anyway, I have just downloaded H.G Wells’s The Time Machine, read by Kelsey Grammar of Frasier fame. I intend to get some of the others when I’m in the library, where I can use the free wifi.

Here they are:

Jane Austen’s Pride And Prejudice, read by Kate Beckinsale.(Her film debut was as Hero in Kenneth Branagh’s Much Ado About Nothing, with Emma Thompson as Beatrice)

L.Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard Of Oz, read by Titus Burgess.(Broadway musical and TV comedy star)

Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden, read by Karen Gillan(yes, that Karen Gillan, the Doctor’s companion!)

Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, read by Aaron Mahnke(podcaster)

And a bit of Winnie The Pooh read by the Disney Book Group.

So, in case you have an iPad and love audiobooks of classics, here is your chance!

Sunday, December 16, 2018

An Arvo In The Theatre With The Bard!

On Saturday afternoon, I finished my year in theatre with a wonderful performance of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. I went with my sister to the Melbourne Theatre Company’s Sumner Theatre, which I have to say I don’t like much, as the seats are cramped with only a few inches between you and the person in front. However, I soon forgot when the play started. 

My sister admitted to being unfamiliar with this play, much to my surprise. It meant I couldn’t talk about the ending, for fear of spoilers. So we just sat down and enjoyed. 

I have seen this play several times, including a Botanical Gardens production, plus the 1996 film with Toby Stephens as Orsino, Nigel Hawthorne(Yes, Minister) as Malvolio and several other big names. 

So far, as a stage show, this is my favourite. The thing about Shakespeare’s comedies is that they always have several things going on, to confuse you, and then everything comes together in the last scene or two. A Midsummer Night’s Dream has two sets of young lovers, a royal wedding, a quarreling married couple(fairies), a bunch of tradies getting together to perform a very silly play for the royal wedding and finding themselves getting mixed up with the quarreling fairy couple... The Comedy Of Errors takes you all over Ephesus with two sets of twins being confused for each other, a missing mother, a father looking for his sons and being arrested... As You Like It has a lot of storylines and characters and a girl disguised as a boy, who would have been played by a boy who was playing as a girl disguised as a boy...

There is a set of twins in this play and a girl, one of the twins, disguised as a boy. I think the author forgets very quickly that Viola has decided to present herself at Orsino’s court as a eunuch! Anyway, there is a lot of running around for Viola, who has to woo Olivia for Orsino while being in love with him herself and finding herself having to escape Olivia, who has fallen in love with “Cesario”, her boy identity! 

This production started with the funeral of Olivia’s brother, using that song from Cymbeline, the one with “golden lads and girls all must/As chimney sweepers come to dust.” It goes immediately to the shipwrecked Viola, mourning for her brother, then the scene with Orsino’s, “If music be the food of love, play on” speech.

I have to say, these actors were multi-talented. They could sing, they could play musical instruments. The role of Feste, the jester, was played by Colin Hay of the rock band Men At Work. Feste has to do a lot of songs - the play is the closest Shakespeare gets to musical comedy. But all of them had to sing at some stage, and some of the lesser roles were filled by musicians, who popped up from under the stage every other scene with a piano, guitars, tambourine, penny whistle(the show ended with a mass performance of “Hey, Ho, The Wind And The Rain”, in which even Malvolio(Russell Dykstra)got to join in, playing the kazoo!)

I hadn’t realised how hilarious Olivia could be till I saw Christie Whelan Brown playing the role, but the other women, Esther Hannaford(Viola) and Tamsin Carroll(Maria) were also very funny. And Lachlan Woods also had a lot of fun with the pompous, pretentious Orsino. 

Even the originally minor character, Sir Andrew Aguecheek, was played by Frank Woodley, of the comedy team Lano and Woodley, and the director gave him plenty of hysterical business to perform. 

Malvolio and Sir Toby Belch are plum roles for veterans and I was very pleased to see that old hand Richard Piper playing Sir Toby.

 Sir Toby is basically the embarrassing old uncle who gets drunk at the family barbecue and gropes the female guests, and who is - let’s face it - a parasite, both on his niece and his friend Andrew, but he does have that wonderful line, “Dost thou think, because thou art virtuous, there shall be no more cakes and ale?” which is a great comeback to the wet blankets of this world. 

And Richard Piper played it very well indeed! 

Anyway, a wonderful afternoon in the theatre, and if you live in Melbourne it’s on till about January 9. If you  don’t, and haven’t read or seen the play, please do! 

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

YA Showcase 2018 At The State Library!

I haven’t been to this annual event in a few years and the last time I went there was no goody bag on offer, just someone’s non fiction book with a camel on the cover, help yourself.

This time, there were several publishers or publishers’ reps, each of whom had five minutes, speed date style, to tell us about some of the books coming out next year, including my lovely publisher Paul Collins of Ford Street, who had come with his partner Meredith Costain, who must have just returned from her trip to an Indian writers’festival, and one of their new authors, whose debut novel, a futuristic thriller, will be out next year. There were also two panels of authors talking about their books.

There certainly seemed to be some fascinating titles coming out and, on examining my goody bag, I found three books, two of them ARCs/proof copies of books mentioned. I’ve started reading the American one, Watch Us Rise, by Renee Watson and Ellen Hagan, which seems to be powerful stuff and has a rave from Laurie Halse Anderson on the cover.

Another book I got was an Australian one with the theme of animal treatment, Sky. The third was a sample of books from that particular publisher - not really interested; short stories would have been fine, but I don’t like samples.

We were invited to go on social media with the hashtag #YAShowcase. There were several people discussing it there, including two authors who couldn’t make it, but were watching the event live streamed on the Insideadog web site; they both followed me on Twitter when I said I was glad to see there were some rom coms in the offerings. To be honest, I have been missing Lili Wilkinson’s over the top rom coms, as have my students, as she has gone all serious rccently and is unlikely ever to go back. So it’s nice to hear there are some new rom com YA authors.

I only saw one person I knew, but he was sitting right behind me, so we chatted before and after the show.

People were taking notes around me and I did start, but finally gave up and took photos of the slides, which reminded me of the details. The only trouble was that someone on stage was taking photos of the audience, which included me taking a photo with my iPad, and ended up on Twitter!

Anyway, I had a good time and came home with more books to read, which is all that matters!

Monday, December 10, 2018

Year 4 And A Book Launch!

Today was the day we launched the book of stories and poems by the group of wonderful Year 4 students I’ve been working with over the last several weeks, as a Writer In Residence.

The original plan was for us to go to the local library to present a copy of the book, tomorrow. The librarian had even offered us a tour of the library, a story time and forms for joining the library. Unfortunately there was a clash in the school timetable. That happens in schools. I remember when we had to reorganise our State Library Persian Exhibition excursion because there was suddenly a sports day nobody had mentioned, and my colleague came on a day she normally didn’t work. 

But this was the second last week of the school term, no time to reorganise a library excursion, so 
I suggested we have a book launch at the school a day before and they could do the library excursion next term. That suited everyone. Jemma, the classroom teacher, organised a morning tea for the kids, on the suggestion of Angela, the Ardoch rep, who also arranged some money for the goodies. 

I launch the book! 

Angela brought the box of books. I hadn’t it yet, as a book, but it had turned out well. The children’s drawings were bright, vibrant, the whole thing joyous. I’d alternated stories with poems and ended the volume with the authors’ headshots. 

Kaye, the volunteer art teacher who had helped me, and I both made short speeches and handed the books to the excited children. And they were excited! It had finally hit them that the stories, poems and art they had been doing by hand were in print! Published! They were published authors! 

I asked the children to autograph their pieces and that gave them the idea of autographing each other’s copies. There was a happy babble around the room as they munched on the goodies, flipped through their books and signed each other’s copies. Some of them asked Kaye, Angela and me to sign. 

I think there will be some proud parents tonight.

Saturday, December 08, 2018

Compulsory Pre-Christmas Post - Happy Jolabokaflod!

In case you haven’t heard of it, this year’s compulsory pre-Christmas post is on the theme of Jolabokaflod, “Yule book flood” the Icelandic tradition of giving books for Christmas. It’s one tradition that almost makes me wish Christmas was my holiday, though I don’t really need an excuse to read. Neither, apparently, do the Icelanders. According to this this article, 93% of Icelanders read at least one book a year. Do follow that link, by the way - the author mentions doing it herself, though not how it went over.

The event started with World War II restrictions on imported stuff, but paper was cheap, so...who knows a terrific thing made of paper? Also, the publishing industry isn’t likely to be huge in a fairly small country, so they release the new books in a binge later in the year - and every home in the country gets a catalogue of new releases in time to do their Christmas shopping!

The idea is this: you exchange books on Christmas Eve and then settle down to read for the evening. That alone would get me on side - imagine being able to curl up with your new book right away without having anyone complain about your rudeness for not being sociable... sigh! Only one of my family members would get this,one with whom I have had afternoon tea enjoying our new purchases. We all love reading, but everyone else is too polite to crack their new book open and start reading immediately.

I can well imagine that it would be a terrific way to spend a cold winter night, in a place that looks like this.

Aurora Borealis in Iceland. Public Domain

But on Christmas Eve here we have daylight saving and potentially a long evening to sit in the sun reading. I just might do that, on my balcony with a cool drink, if I can’t get down to the beach.

Happy Yule Book Flood, everyone! 

Sunday, December 02, 2018

December 1 On This Day!

Alicia Markova, born December 1 1910
Public Domain

Okay, I’m a day late for my December 1 meme, but what the heck. This was my parents’ anniversary when Dad was alive and I’d like to commemorate it. 

A sad observance for December 1 is World AIDS Day, which has been going since 1988. I haven’t lost any friends to it, although I do have some gay friends, so thank goodness for that, but I pay tribute to those who have left us because of this terrible thing. 

Another observance for this date is Rosa Parks Day, although some US states celebrate her birthday on February 4, rather than December 1, which was the date of her arrest in 1955, leading to the Montgomery Bus Boycott. If you’ve been watching the current season of Dr Who, you will have had a chance to see the story dramatised, co-written by YA novelist and former British Children’s Laureate Malorie Blackman. 

More frivolously, it’s National Pie Day in the US! Also, Eat A Red Apple Day. Trivia: the study of apples is pomology. I guess it’s to do with Pomona, Roman goddess of fruit. (Also the name of Hogwarts Herbology teacher, Professor Sprout)

Now to some December 1 birthdays! I’ve mostly stuck to people I’ve heard of, preferably in the arts. 

Jo Walton, SFF Writer, was born On This Day in 1964. I haven’t read her books in years, but she writes regularly for She has scooped the pool in SF awards- Hugo, Nebula, James Tiptree Jr, John Campbell Award. Maybe time for me to go and read some more Walton! 

Rex Stout born in 1886, was the author of the Nero Wolfe crime novels. There was a short lived TV series based on them. I haven’t read the books, but I did enjoy the TV show.

There were other authors mentioned on line, but they tended to be lifestyle bloggers and such, or I just hadn’t heard of them, so... on to the actors! 

Deep Roy(1957) is a short guy, an Anglo Indian actor who seems to have had plenty of work as a character actor and stunt artist. The first time I saw him, he was the Klute in British science fiction TV series Blake’s 7. The Klute was employed on Freedom City to challenge visitors to Speed Chess. If you won, you received a huge prize, but nobody won, and if you lost, you died, instantly. One of our heroes, Vila, used the miniaturised super computer Orac to cheat. The Klute was not at all happy! Deep Roy was in three more episodes of this series, as various creatures - that episode was the only one where you saw him as a human. He was also in Dr Who and more recently played all of the Oompa Loompas in Charlie And The Chocolate Factory, including an Oompa Loompa psychiatrist near the end

Dean O’Gorman(1976), a Kiwi actor, was in The Hobbit as Fili, one of Dwarf King Thorin Oakenshield’s two sexy nephews. He’s done quite a bit - check out his filmography here, - but this was my first sight of him. Definite eye candy! 

Keith Michell(1926), was an Australian actor who was best known for his leading role in The Six Wives Of Henry VIII. He did a lot more than that, of course, including playing King David and the patriarch Jacob in telemovies, and he was an amazing Cervantes/Don Quixote in the London version of Man Of La Mancha, of which recording I own a copy. He could sing, you see! But if he had only done Six Wives, it would have been enough; he was the definitive Henry VIII. 

Jeremy Northam(1961), played Mr Knightley in the film of Emma, with Gwyneth Paltrow in the title role. It’s my second favourite Jane Austen novel and made a beautiful film. 

 Mary Martin(1913) was a musical comedy star who seems to have played in the original Broadway version of just about everything, including South Pacific. Trivia: her son, Larry Hayman, was also an actor. If you’re old enough you may remember him as astronaut Tony Nelson in I Dream Of Jeannie

Madame Tussaud(1761), was the famous waxwork maker you will have heard of unless you’ve been living under a rock. She learned the art of waxworks from her mother’s employer, a doctor. Before the French Revolution she was modelling celebrities, during it she was making death masks for victims of the guillotine(she was nearly executed herself!) Later she moved to England and stayed there. I have been in a London three times and still haven’t seen the famous Waxworks! 

And finally: 

Dame Alicia Markova (1910) was one of the top British ballet dancers of the 20th century. She started dancing as a child for her health and was discovered by Russian impresario Diaghilev, who took her on for the Ballets Russes. You can find videos of her easily on YouTube, if you’re curious.  

And there are a few bits and pieces about December 1 - hope you enjoyed it! 

Saturday, December 01, 2018

Book Blogger Hop: On First Editions

This week’s Book Blogger Hop asks you if you could time travel to pick up a first edition, what would it be?

Actually, I already have one, Mark Twain’s A Yankee At The Court Of King Arthur (first British edition, published the same year). If Twain was still around, judging by this book, and others, he’d be sending up the current admin on Twitter and keeping a blog. 

But if I could have a first edition of choice, here is what it would be. 

I do have several  copies, including an ebook with an intro by the author, but this one, for me, would be very special. Why? Because it was not easy to get into print. This was the US during the McCarthy era witch hunts. The author was a Communist- in fact, he wrote it from his prison cell. Of course, like many other writers and artists of the time he was blacklisted. So no US publisher would take it, or dared to, though when the film was made several years later, another blacklisted author, screenplay writer, Dalton Trumbo, got his name in the credits for the first time in years. By the way, the Party hated it too, because he had the nerve to write a sympathetic Roman character who was rich. Fast says in his autobiography The Naked God, that he had wanted to show this character, Gracchus, as “the great American politician” who had never lost touch with the people. 

It was published in the UK soon enough, but meanwhile, what did this artist do? He turned to his fans and got it crowdfunded. It’s not that this was new even then; people had been “subscribing” to produce new books for yonks. But think about how easy it is now compared to then. Now? You just go on Kickstarter or GoFundMe and when you’ve met your commitments, you still have books to sell, or a film to show, or whatever. And then ebooks. Not so easy in those days well before the Internet, but he did it. As you’ll know, unless you’ve been hiding under a rock, it has sold millions of copies and been translated into many languages and was made into a classic film. 

So, that would be my first edition. What’s yours? 

PS His granddaughter, Molly Jong Fast, is on Twitter having a go at the administration right as we speak! 

The Boy And The Spy by Felice Arena. Penguin Random House Australia 2017

Life has never been easy for Antonio, but since the war began there are German soldiers on every corner, fearsome gangsters and the fascist police everywhere, and no one ever has enough to eat. But when Antonio decides to trust a man who has literally fallen from the sky, he leaps into an adventure that will change his life and maybe even the future of Sicily…

The man who falls from the sky near Antonio’s tiny Sicilian village, late in the war, is an American spy who has been given the job because of his fluent Italian. He is injured and hiding in a sea cave. Antonio, an orphan whose adoptive mother is dying, is able to help him with medical supplies and smuggle him food, but there is more, much more, that has to be done, under the noses of Fascist and Nazi soldiers, with the help of a new friend and her family, who are also against the dictatorship.

I admit I haven’t read many of Felice Arena’s books before, though the Specky Magee football  novels, set in the present day, were very popular in my school library(the one that has been knocked down for the new school). I liked this one very much. It’s exciting and touching as well, and has some strong female characters. 

And given that it got on to the short list for the YABBA  Awards this year, a lot of his young fans also enjoyed it. That’s not easy with children’s historical fiction, the area he has now turned to. You have to be very good indeed to get kids into historical fiction. Jackie French is an example of a writer who can do that, Morris Gleitzman another. Now they have been joined by Felice Arena.  

I’m about to get stuck into Fearless Frederic, another historical novel, set in Paris early in the 20th century. I’m looking forward to curling up with that one in bed, very soon!