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Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Just Been To See...The Rise Of Skywalker!

So, today I went to see the final Star Wars movie in this saga, The Rise Of Skywalker. I won’t be giving you any spoilers here. I held off till I could go with my friend Jasna and refused to read any reviews till after I’d been.  But I do want to share. Again, I’m not including photos for copyright reasons. 

We went to the Hoyt’s cinema at Melbourne Central, opposite the State Library of Victoria, and decided this was special enough to merit the Lux cinema, where you sit in a small cinema that holds about twenty people and have staff bring you ordered food and drink. They also gave us all a complimentary box of popcorn. 

Ordering food was a mistake; I should have stuck to popcorn and a cold drink and maybe ice cream if available. The menu looked great and I bought what turned out to be small rolls with tofu; I couldn’t finish them. I had to drown out the taste with my mineral water. My friend was also not crazy about the chicken she ordered. Next time we take our own food, though I might consider a cocktail, something you can’t buy in a regular session. 

But I wanted to enjoy this film in style. I went to the first one, you see, when it first came out. It was nothing like as fancy, I just slipped into another Hoyt’s cinema that no longer exists and rejoiced in the beauty of it, the glorious John Williams music, the giant screen full of spaceships - and the characters. None of the lead actors was famous at the time. Harrison Ford went on to an impressive career, including another huge adventure fantasy franchise, Indiana Jones. Mark Hamill did do other films, but not many that I’ve seen, and none as wonderful as Star Wars. Maybe he did more stage stuff - I do know he has performed in Amadeus on stage, years ago, and I can see him as a Mozart in that one. He is on Twitter these days and makes an entertaining tweep. Carrie Fisher didn’t do a lot of films - The Blues Brothers is one I remember - but she did something even better, as a writer and script doctor, who edited film scripts - an important skill indeed! 

So, what did I think of the final film? I enjoyed it. My heart belongs to the original trilogy, but I also loved this trilogy. I appreciated that more women got things to do in this series. They were pilots and technicians and even Storm Troopers. In fact, I was rather chuffed to realise that the villainous Stormtrooper Captain Phasma was played by Gwendoline Christie, aka Brienne of Tarth in the Game Of Thrones series. In The Rise Of Skywalker we got to meet another female (ex) Stormtrooper. There was a diversity in colours too, with black and Asian characters. I was disappointed that Rose, an Asian rebel fighter from the last film, didn’t get much to do in this one. I’m not angry, as so many people are on Twitter, but with the build up she got in The Last Jedi, she really should have had more to do. However, you do get to see her; she wasn’t “written out” as some people on Twitter were complaining. 

Because it was the last film, there were some references to the original trilogy and characters who came back. One of them, without too much spoiler, was Lando Calrissian, who returns, older but twinkle-eyed, and one other character I hadn’t expected. And they did a wonderful job of slipping in the previously unused footage of Leia. It was so very good that you really wouldn’t know it was not part of the original film. 

Kylo Ren, the young villain of the previous films, is back and doing at least one scene that was probably deliberately taken from the original Star Wars film. He still looks like a youthful Severus Snape, but at least he spends around half the film without his mask. 

I’ll leave it there or find myself in spoiler territory. I found the ending pretty satisfying. If you liked the first two in this trilogy you will probably enjoy this one. After the movie, we went browsing in JB Hifi, where I bought Good Omens and the first two films in this trilogy, all on special for 30% discount, even if they were already discounted. An enjoyable way to end the year! 

Monday, December 30, 2019

On Discovering I Have A Wiki Page!

I’m ending the year with something light. And here it is! 

A few days ago, my nephew Mark, who is very good at finding stuff on Google, decided to Google my late father, Ben Bursztynski. By pure chance, the name that came up first was mine. It was not a web site I’ve ever seen before when I Google myself(as you do). I’ve always thought it would be nice to have a page on Wikipedia, but nobody has ever done that for me, and I didn’t have the nerve to do it for myself. 

It wasn’t Wikipedia, but it was a wiki of sorts, which you can edit, though you’d have to register. Here’s the link if you’re curious.  Someone took a great deal of trouble to research me, and, unlike the average Wikipedia entry, it even had direct links to pages selling my books. Nice, so far! It did my bio, where I studied in Melbourne, etc., even quoted me. (Though I’m sure I never said “boned up on...”) However, despite all that, it said I was Canadian! I’ve never even been to Canada- and someone who had read all that stuff about where I had studied would, you’d think, have noticed that there isn’t a Monash University or RMIT in Canada... Ah, well. I’m terribly flattered anyway. 

However, this is not the end of it. There’s more! I posted the link on Twitter with a chuckle, and I got an unexpected response from a lady who said it was news to her I was Canadian, as she had been in my class in a Melbourne school when she was 14! 

She remembered me reading Shakespeare aloud - of all things to remember. I did do an intro to Shakespeare with my Year 9 classes, yes, and I remember being delighted when I overheard a student say, as I brought in the box of books, “Oh, good, Shakespeare!” 

Anyway, she said she had left school early, but now considered herself well educated and liked Shakespeare. I don’t know if she enjoys Shakespeare because of me, though I think it was implied, but at least I didn’t put her off him, as teachers have been known to do. That’s nice to know. 

See, being a Bard fan, I was passionate about his work and wanted to share it. And somehow I think I’ve managed, over the years, to do that. I don’t recall any class ever getting restless when I did a Shakespeare unit, and they did seem to enjoy it. So if a girl who left school early came back to him later and enjoyed his work, and then remembered that about me - well,  nice to know I didn’t spoil it for her. 

Have a great 2020!

Friday, December 27, 2019

Two Rereads And A New Book!

I’ve just finished my reread of the wonderful The Dark Is Rising by Susan Cooper, which I started as a Christmas Eve read. Strictly speaking I should have read it over the Christmas and New  Year period, from Midsummer Eve(Southern hemisphere!) to Twelfth Night, when the novel finishes, but I just can’t defer gratification! And I have to say, it delights me just as much on my umpteenth read as it did the first time, even if I have spotted a few glitches. If you want to know what they are, check out my post from this time of year in 2017, and see what you think. 

The other reread was of a novel I haven’t read since just after it first came out, Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman. The author had been in Melbourne for a convention I was attending, and read us bits from it. I’d just read American Gods. And I’ve  reread that one recently too, as well as watching several episodes of the TV series on my streaming service. (I haven’t seen the whole series, since a browse of the episode details told me that after sixteen episodes they still hadn’t finished the novel!). So I thought, what the heck, and downloaded Anansi Boys and thoroughly enjoyed it all over again. I’m thinking of downloading the radio play, in which Lenny Henry plays a role. 

Is it a sequel to American Gods? Sort of, I’m pretty sure it’s set in the same universe, but you can read it stand alone. 

American Gods featured battles between the old gods, who had been brought to America in the minds of their believers, and the new ones, such as Media and Technology. One of the characters was Mr Nancy, who was an African spider god and trickster figure. At the start of the second book, Mr Nancy has been living in Florida. He is a charming, basically kindhearted person who likes women, plural, but they also like him; he makes them feel good about themselves. He has died, falling off a stage while doing karaoke and grabbing a woman’s breasts as he falls. His son in England, known as Fat Charlie( he isn’t fat) has been living a dull life as a book keeper for an entertainment agency. He is  about to get married, but is likely to acquire the mother in law from hell.    

Travelling to the US for his father’s funeral he meets four elderly - magical - African American ladies who were his father’s friends, and finds out that he has a brother, who was sent away when he was very young. All he has to do to meet him is tell a spider, which he does - and regrets it. The brother, Spider, inherited all the magic, it seems, and, worse, all the cool. In the course of a few days he has taken over Charlie’s job and his fiancée ... 

I won’t tell you more; if you haven’t read it, time to grab yourself a copy, with or without the previous book. It’s funny and sweet - and oddly reminded me, in some parts, of Thorne Smith, a 1920s author who wrote the Topper stories(a bank employee haunted by the ghosts of a married couple)and Turnabout, in which a husband and wife swap bodies.  

Yesterday I got home to find a brand new book waiting, which I’ve started reading. Five Norwegian White Bear Tales is a set of variations on “East Of The Sun And West Of The Moon”. It was translated and edited by Simon Roy Hughes, a folklorist who lives and works in Norway. He used Kickstarter to fund it, and it has certainly been worth the wait. It’s a slim volume, but one of the stories in it has never been published before. There is an interesting introduction which explains where the stories in the book were first published and talks about the folktale “type” which is connected to such stories as “Beauty And The Beast” and Lucius Apuleius’s “Cupid And Psyche” which was a part of his novel The Golden Ass. At least one folklorist thinks they all come from “Cupid And Psyche”, but Mr Hughes doubts that all those folktales could come from a single work by a known author. He also suggests that there were earlier versions. 

Anyway, I’m glad I bought into this publication. If you want to read more of his translations he has a blog, here.

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Compulsory Christmas Eve Post 2019!

Last year at this time I was celebrating Jolabokaflod, the Icelandic Christmas Eve, where you exchange books as gifts and spend the evening reading something new. For family reasons, I haven’t had the time to go out book shopping, so I’ve decided to reread something special, and very suitable for Christmas reading: Susan Cooper’s wonderful The Dark Is Rising, the title volume of the five book series. I may even see if I can get it read in a single sitting. 

I’ve posted about this before, so I will keep it short. However, no harm in talking about my memories of my first reading. It was in the late 1970s, when I was just starting out as a young teacher. I’d already read the first book in the series, Over Sea, Under Stone. That one was definitely a children’s book, with the standard story about kids having an adventure while on holiday. The Dark Is Rising has more of the flavour of YA fiction, even though the hero, Will Stanton, is only eleven. See, he turns eleven early on and finds himself one of a group called the Old Ones, and has responsibilities no ordinary eleven year old has. Basically, he is helping to save the world from the Dark, and he can’t share that with his siblings or parents. That does age him. 

The last two books in the series come out while I was beginning my teaching career, and it felt like  everyone at that school, staff and students alike, was reading them. I remember seeing the fourth book, The Grey King, at my local bookshop while the publisher’s agent was showing it to the bookseller. I got so excited, the man from the publisher gave me the book! I still have it. 

 The Dark Is Rising is more or less standalone, in that you could simply read this one and not feel anything was missing. Possibly it’s because the previous novel is the first about the Drew children, this is the first about Will Stanton. 

Will Stanton, the last of the Old Ones, discovers this soon before Christmas. He is picking up several tokens in the course of the novel, circles with crosses in them, which will help him do the task he has been set. 

And the Dark want the tokens and they want to stop him. 

It’s full of folklore, and there is a wonderful climax, with the Wild Hunt led by Herne, pouring rain and melting snow, and a mysterious mask...

Amazing to think that the British author of such a very British story was living in the US when she wrote it. 

I’ve also downloaded an audiobook to listen to in bed, a dramatised version of Susan Cooper’s later novel, King Of Shadows, in which a young American boy, in a London with a troupe of boy actors to perform A Midsummer Night’s Dream, finds himself in Shakespeare’s London and performing the same play with Shakespeare’s company. There is a good reason for making the hero American. He is from North Carolina, where there are people whose accents are actually closer to the British accents of Shakespeare’s time than modern British accents. It was a beautiful novel - so nice to know Susan Cooper didn’t go downhill after her most popular series. 

So, I’m off to wash and curl up with Cooper’s Christmas classic and listen to a dramatised version of another of her great books.

Good night!

Monday, December 16, 2019

Yet Another Grumble From The Slushpile!

I’m back again with more complaints about my slushpile. I’ve done a few posts about this before, but not recently.

For those of you who haven’t followed this blog for long, I read slush for Andromeda Spaceways, formerly Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine. For personal reasons, slush reading is now my only connection, but I used to be a member of the committee, even edited some stories for the anniversary issues and a couple of issues in my own right. It was a good experience, and I’m proud to say that one of my authors, Michelle Goldsmith, had her story reprinted in Year’s Best Australian Fantasy And Horror, and another, C. Stuart Hardwick, is now a regular contributor to Analog, one of the world’s top SF magazines. She made her second sale to me for ASIM, his was a first sale. ASIM(now ASM) is a semi-prozine, so doesn’t pay much, but we’ve published the first or second stories of some very big names. 

Unfortunately, being a low-paying semi-prozine means you also get all the rubbish already rejected in the US. After all, who would send a story to an Australian semi-prozine when they can have a go first at Fantasy And SF or Asimov’s? So, those distinguished magazines throw the stories back at the authors and guess who gets to read them next? And is expected to comment on them? 

We actually got an email from the slush wrangler a while back asking us to try to put through at least one story in five to the next round, because ... no. Not going to happen with me. Sorry. If I don’t think a story is publishable I’ll say so, 

It may be that I’m finding so very little that looks publishable because at this stage I’m only reading one story a week. I just can’t bring myself to do more, because I have my own writing to consider, even though one more story a week and comments which I’m doing anyway would give me a subscription. (I saw an ad from another magazine, far better known than mine, which wanted slush readers to do 20 stories a DAY and offered nothing but the honour of slushing for them!) It just seems to me that I can remember reading some utterly wonderful stories in the past, some of which ended up getting awards. Not now. I was pleased, recently, to receive a story I thought publishable. But it was the first in at least a year. 

To be fair, it has been a while since I read a story that was full of typos, grammar mistakes and punctuation errors. These days I only have to think about the story. 

But the stories I read nearly all need a lot of work. They often don’t make sense, even after a second reading. I won’t go into too much  detail here, as we read them blind and for all I know the authors might be reading this post. I mostly let a story “rest” overnight before I write my comments or make my final decision as to whether it should go on to the next round. (Some of the stories have gone to the second round already, making me wonder why). 

I try not to be rude, but I guess that comments on a rejected story are always going to make you feel as if your baby has been called ugly. I will sometimes suggest the author read a story or novel which handled a similar theme better. 

There have been several space operas in my inbox lately. I love space opera, so I’m probably harder on those than other genres. I try not to be, but I’m reading these as a reader, after all, not as an editor. If I ask myself whether I’d want to pay money for a zine that had this or that story in it and the answer is no, it’s no. 

The frustrating thing is when  a story is almost publishable, but not quite. You get almost through what looks like a story you can pass on to the next round...and then the ending lets you down - badly. I’ve had several of those lately. And I can’t pass them on, I just can’t.

Today’s submission was - well, it was fan fiction, basically. Fan fiction of a classic novel, but fanfic. The author assumed the reader would know what was going on. I did know what it was referring to, but not everyone would. I wouldn’t have minded so much if the story hadn’t raised more questions than it was worth trying to answer, even if the author could do that. A beta reader might have picked that up.

The thing is, other authors have done it too, but much better. I guess the author was unlucky to get me in the second round. 

In fact, I think I’m the slush reader authors pray they won’t get! I wish I wasn’t. 

Saturday, November 23, 2019

Of Women In Science, And A Play About Rosalind Franklin

Back in the 1990s, I wrote my second book, Potions To Pulsars: Women Doing Science, a children’s book about the history of women who have made a difference to discovery and invention over the centuries. Many of them had to do it in secret or in surroundings that didn’t give them the equipment they needed. Some of them - like Rosalind Franklin, the heroine of the play I’ve just gone to see - were hidden from history while males got the credit. It’s not that there weren’t books that included them. In fact, when I was researching Rosalind Franklin for my own book, I read a bio of her, written by a cousin. But you had to know what you were looking for. If you were an ordinary reader, especially a child, you might be under the impression that Marie Curie was the only woman scientist in existence. I’ve recently come across a new children’s book on the history of science and it still only featured Madame Curie! It didn’t even mention that her daughter Irene was also a Nobel Prize winner, or her granddaughter Helene a nuclear physicist.

Fortunately, I’m a librarian. I did know how to look it all up.

 I wrote this book in the early days of the Internet, way before Google, so I used the State  Library for most of my research. The children’s section of my local library supplied me with general books about science, which I needed as a layman, because you can’t just write biographies without explaining what these women achieved. And yes, I used the Internet about once a week. You had to buy an hour of use at the Internet cafes which were springing up in those days. My book did pretty well, even getting a Notable in the CBCA awards, a shortlisting in the Clayton’s awards and even a short but positive review in New Scientist, plus I got an invitation to speak to a group of high-IQ kids at their Friday night meeting. It was only about a year ago that someone’s children’s book on women in science ended up on the New York Times bestseller list. I admit to grinding my teeth in envy. My book sold about 6-7000 copies in Australia, a respectable number, but hardly  NYT bestseller status. If it had been written in the last few years...who knows? It would certainly have been possible to give it more promotion.

Rosalind Franklin. Wikimedia Commons

Ada Byron Lovelace, the world’s first computer programmer, now has her own international day in October, and most have heard of Caroline Herschel, astronomer sister of William Herschel, George III’s Astronomer Royal, but even now, when we should know better, we are told all about James Watson and Francis Crick, the “discoverers of the structure of DNA” and not a word about Rosalind Franklin, whose work they used to finish their own and rush into publication ahead of her, gaining them the Nobel Prize, along with her colleague Maurice Wilkins, who showed them the notes they needed to correct the glitch they had made. According to the bio written by Dr Franklin’s cousin, the problem was that she was so careful in her work that she refused to publish till she was absolutely certain. So she died of cancer at the age of 37 and they got the prize, and the only one of the three who bothered to mention her at their Nobel presentation was Wilkins. They don’t give Nobel Prizes posthumously; we’ll never know if she would have been recognised if she had been alive. I’d like to think she would, but possibly not. 

So this afternoon I went to see Photograph 51, a play about Rosalind Franklin by Anna Ziegler, at the Fairfax Studio in Melbourne. I see from the play’s Wikipedia entry that the role was first played by Nicole Kidman - wow! This afternoon, however, it was played by local actor Nadine Garner, best known within Australia, and a fine actor. The characters were Rosalind Franklin, Watson, Crick, Wilkins, Ray Gosling, her PhD student, and Don Caspar, an American scientist and admirer who asked her for photographic help in his PhD and came over to work with her. He and Watson are both still alive, as of this writing. I hadn’t realised how very young Watson was at the time, but it explains why he is still around. He is shown as a brilliant but annoying boy child; you just want to stomp on him, especially when he spends a lecture of hers commenting on her appearance instead of listening to her(I think those comments were in his book). Of course, I was biased... 

Rosalind Franklin University Of Medicine And Science, US. Wikimedia  Commons

It was a wonderful afternoon at the theatre and my sister also enjoyed it, though she wasn’t familiar with the story. And I enjoyed it because I was familiar with it! 

My book Potions To Pulsars is out of print now, but I recently unearthed several copies. I’ll give away one precious copy to one commenter, using a name-out-of-a-hat method. If you are commenting below, let me know if you’re interested in winning a copy, by saying “Yes, please.” I’ll give it a week before announcing the winner, and as it’s a slim volume you can enter even if you are outside Australia. 

Good luck! 

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

A (Writing) Day At A Seaside School!

On Tuesday I went with Ford Street to a school writer’s festival in Mt Eliza, a rather beautiful suburb by the bay. It was a long trip, so I met my friend George Ivanoff  on the way, at a railway station along his route, and he kindly took me there and dropped me off on the way back. Poor George was suffering from a cold caught while presenting at schools in Sydney. He said most of those were air conditioned and that’s what got him. He was, according to him, carrying enough medications to open a pharmacy, just to help him cope with the day. 

We all had three sessions, except George, who was doing an extra presentation in the afternoon, but that was really a promotion for his new non fiction book The Australia Survival Guide, after all, even if the kids did enjoy it. 

The day was organised by the (teacher?) librarian and I have to say I’m impressed. Checking the web site, I noticed that she does quite a bit outside of the usual checking books in and out. Well, we all do, but she, like me, has to do it all as a challenge, getting the most out of minimum resources, though at least I had a library tech once a week or sometimes twice. She has no help except student volunteers, her library monitors, who do shelving, check out books and help her process them at lunchtime. I’m sure my “nerd pack”, Dylan, Selena, Ryan and Thando would have helped if I asked them but  I had Lucy, my tech, and when there were a lot of books to do for our literacy program I would sit in the library at lunchtime and do them. We managed. 

Anyway, she and I talked library shop for a while, which was nice. They have a pleasant library with soft comfy chairs, but it’s rather small, with not many books. There isn’t room for many more anyway. The librarian had had her library monitors do a poster for each of us, with our picture and pictures of our books and any of our books the library had propped up by them. I really should have taken a photo of it.  

They had Crime Time, but also an unexpected copy of Starwalkers: Explorers of the unknown, my history of the space program. It doesn’t look much, just a slim volume written for kids, but it was shortlisted for the NSW Premier’s History Award, and when I met my old editor from Allen and Unwin one day, she said she had read it and loved the passion I’d put into it. 

After an assembly at which Meredith Costain introduced us with quirky facts and Katherine Canobi’s Mindcull was launched (again!), we got to work. I had a Year 7 and two Year 8 classes. I’m quite comfortable with that level as it’s what I taught, but I had to remind myself that I wasn’t there as their teacher - their teachers were in the room - and it was not for me to discipline them. If a student was doodling instead of paying attention to me, as long as they weren’t disturbing anyone else, I let it go, but it was hard to hold back the teacher stuff after all these years! If they were disturbing others I did ask them to let classmates have their say, but asked it very mildly. They generally did. I did quite happily let the first group investigate the contents of their goody bag before we got started. I would certainly have wanted to do that if I was them.

My workshop this time was on the theme of villains, which Paul and Meredith asked me to do. I was a bit jealous of George, getting to do his on the subject of research, something I can do in my sleep, but I did understand they were trying to sell copies of my book, so I gave what I hope was an interesting session on the notion of fictional villains versus real ones, who were taken from my book. I experimented with different beginnings to the workshop, and may try something else altogether to get them intrigued if I’m asked to do some more next year. That was, of course, the last school visit for this year, as schools will have run out of money and be busy with exams and report writing and last week excursions. But with year? 

I did sell some copies of Wolfborn and Your Cat Could Be A Spy, which was nice, not sure how many copies of Crime Time. Paul offers to sell your books without asking for a cut, which is nice; booksellers at these events usually ask for 45%-50%, so I have to ask full RRP. 

We had all three sessions done by lunchtime. We were fed well in the library, with sandwiches and small hot things and fruit, though I avoided the cakes. After lunch, we returned to the hall for another assembly. Kids who had entered a quiz competition got a prize. More kids, keen writers, were taken on stage to do a verbal round robin story, much to their friends’ amusement. 

Andrew Plant and his creation, with permission of the artist

Finally, George went up to present about his new book, with a couple of YouTube book video trailers which he did himself(before he started writing full time, he was a web site designer, so he knows his tech). These included him getting menaced by Bruce, a drop bear with fangs, and snakes. While this was going on, artist Andrew Plant, who, among other things, has done a beautiful book called The Poppy, about the Great War, was busy drawing a Bruce the drop bear, climbing a wall with a scribble of pink meant to be the hair of a certain US President, because he had no orange markers. Then we had a group photo on stage and the day was over. I was asked to sign a bookmark for a book I hadn’t written and then the young man suddenly remembered he had a copy of Crime Time in his goody bag, so I signed that. 

A good day in all! 

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

On Authors Behaving Unprofessionally!

Recently there have been online discussions about a young woman in the US who got on a committee that was choosing books for study at her university specifically to prevent a YA novel from making it on to the curriculum. She said it was a good book, but they should be studying adult books instead, because you know, leaving childish stuff behind or something along those lines. Hmm... I’d have something to say about that, but I’d say it politely, unless she got abusive, however rude I felt like being. And it would be a debate, not a personal attack.

But the YA author who was no longer going to get royalties from that particular college had no hesitation in getting personal, and got some of her YA author friends to do the same. I won’t name them, but they were some big names who should have known better. As far as I’m concerned, they were behaving very unprofessionally, especially as the fans who were following them would be influenced by whatever they said.   I was very disappointed in them, because there were some whose work I had read and loved. One was a young author who had probably become way too successful way too soon in her career, and consequently thought more of herself than she was worth. 

However, the Guardian article about this was not so much about the unprofessional behaviour of these big name authors, but about how dare they attack her when she was right! Adult books were so much more worth reading and why would any adult be reading a book for teenagers in the first place? I saw red when the smug journalist declared that while she had loved To Kill A Mockingbird, for example, let’s face it, it was a children’s book! 

Someone once said that adult books were about important issues such as divorce, while children’s books were about unimportant stuff such as the battle between good and evil. So, maybe she was right and it is a children’s book? 

At the Melbourne Writers Festival recently, crime novelist Val McDermid, who has judged the Booker awards before said drily that there were an awful lot of dinner parties in a North London happening in the entrants she read. And this is one of the world’s major awards, with huge prizes and lots of sales for anyone who got even on the long list, while here in Australia the CBCA awards for children’s books were nearly closed down some years ago for lack of funds. Nice, eh? 

The actual discussion on Twitter that inspired this post was about whether or not you would keep reading work by authors whose behaviour had disappointed you. Some said no, others said that there were a lot of nasty pieces of work out there who had, however, produced wonderful books and where did you draw the line? 

I rather think I’m with them on that - there are some dreadful people producing works of genius, and have been throughout history. Beethoven? You wouldn’t want to be his nephew, but his soul was in that glorious music. 

And Thomas Malory, author of the Morte D’Arthure? He wrote that immortal piece of storytelling in jail. While it’s probably true that he picked the wrong side in the Wars of the Roses, that’s not why he was serving time. He was in trouble for robbery and maybe for rape. 

I have to wonder, would I be put off him if he was around now, with a Twitter or Facebook account, being called out by the #metoo movement for what he had done, and no doubt denying it? 

Probably, though with great sadness. 

I should add that I’m no fan of Wagner, though admittedly not only for his antisemitism, but because I consider his music loud and vulgar. But that’s me, and I’m in the minority here. Until recently, I thought that I at least could enjoy The Mastersingers Of Nuremberg, more tuneful than his most of other work, but saw it again during the Australian Opera’s recent season and decided it was just as flag waving and awful as others I’ve seen. And antisemitism is there even if it doesn’t specifically mention Jews. But even when I did think I liked it, I was always a bit uncomfortable with seeing anything by Wagner.

So - I guess my reply would be “It depends.” More recent work is easier to feel uncomfortable with.

What would you do? 

Saturday, November 16, 2019

Rejoice! John M Ford Soon To Be Back!

Well, not John M Ford himself, who died some years ago. But his wonderful books have mostly been out of print since he died, and now they are soon to be back in print.

The story I have heard is that his family allowed them all to go out of print, but apparently this is not so.  This guy I found on Twitter, Isaac Butler, did an 18 month investigation on it, after discovering The Dragon Waiting, Ford’s gorgeous novel of alternative history, set in England during the Wars of the Roses, but - an England in a world where paganism survived and Christianity is just some minor sect. Also, fantasy. Magic exists and vampirism is a disease, not a matter of being undead. I have a copy rescued from my school library when the school closed down.

If you are a Star Trek fan, you might be interested in his Klingon novel, The Final Reflection. I remember when it came out and all my fannish friends who were into things Klingon used it as their “Bible”. And I’m pretty sure a lot of other Klingon fans around the world did the same.

Anyway, Isaac Butler went around contacting Ford’s family members, who said no, they hadn’t deliberately suppressed the works and were only too happy to see them come back into print. He wrote an article about it for Read it here. Not only will his existing works be reprinted, but some which were unpublished at the time of his death.

An interesting comment was that if The Dragon Waiting had been a five book series, he might have been as successful as George R R Martin. I guess we will never know about that, but I can see why he thinks so. If you haven’t read it yet, you can look forward to reading it late next year. If you have, there will be plenty more of his books to enjoy.

I’m so delighted by this! 

Friday, November 15, 2019

On Romantic Comedy!

A chat on Twitter the other day gave me the idea for this post. A lady who writes romantic comedy was bemoaning the fact that she was sneered at for her genre. As a writer of children’s, YA and speculative fiction, I could relate to that. We, too, get sneered at, and people who have no idea what it involves ask you when you are going to write a real book, or think that they could do it too if only they had the time. 

I sympathised with the lady and we agreed that sometimes you just need to know that all will be well at the end of the book. I added that Pride And Prejudice was a rom com. 

While romance of the Mills and Boon variety is not my cup of tea, I do respect the authors and their skills that I know I will never possess - a pity, because a friend of mine who did write it years ago told me that, whatever her arguments with her publishers, she stuck it out,  because it paid! You could live very comfortably on two books a year! 

You do have to love what you write and take it seriously, or your readers won’t. Of course, that applies to all writing. Even when I write an education book, I just write a story, fiction or non, that I would enjoy reading, and learn something new each time. I’ve just done a phonics reader aimed at kids in their first year of school, but it had a story, and the editor described the storyline as “adorable”. I got all that into 250 words. In a 150 word reader I got the story of a family taking their pet goat to compete in the Goat Cup. It was short but over the top in humour.

The thing is, though, while people without any real interest in children’s books will tell you their idea and that their own children loved it, they expect you to write it for them, because “I don’t have time right now.” People who don’t enjoy romance fiction assume it must be easy, all they have to do is use some formula and bang! Bestseller! 

Well, I don’t think so. Readers of romance expect to be entertained from the very beginning, just like young readers. Not everyone can do that, and certainly not if the author doesn’t read the sort of thing they are writing. By the way, I believe vampire romance started in the regular adult romance area, along with the erotic and the adventure romance, and now it’s a regular part of YA fiction. 

While I’m not a fan of mainstream romance, I do enjoy romantic comedy. For those who think it’s all light, fluffy stuff that doesn’t deserve respect, I’d like to talk about some rom coms that people do respect, even those who think it’s nothing important. 

I’ll start briefly with the YA rom coms of Aussie author Lili Wilkinson, who, alas, has given up the genre in favour of Serious Stuff. I’m not saying there is anything wrong with what she is writing now, but I can tell you the girls I worked with as a teacher librarian loved the gentle, humorous romances she used to write and were disappointed when she stopped writing them. 

Lili’s romance books were so much borrowed in my library that they were rarely on the shelves. They were sweet and, above all, funny - over the top funny.

A Pocketful Of Eyes, for example, features a girl who is doing a part time job at a museum of natural history, helping with the taxidermy(hence the eyes of the title). When her supervisor is found murdered on the premises, she and the cute boy she is working with investigate. She also has a wacky mother who is into online gaming and D and D. It’s hilarious! 

The last one I read, which may have been her last rom com, was Green Valentine, reviewed on this site, involving a couple of teens, a nerdy girl with a passion for the environment and the school “bad boy” doing guerrilla gardening late at night, challenging the developers. Thing is, they first met when she was in a lobster costume, handing out leaflets, and he doesn’t know there is a connection.

Guess what? Shakespeare wrote rom com. A Comedy Of Errors featured twins separated as young children, when their ship was wrecked. One went home to Syracuse with his father, the other was brought up in Ephesus. The Syracuse twin turns up in Ephesus, where he is mistaken for his (married) brother and falls in love with the wife's sister... That was turned into a musical, The Boys From Syracuse

Twelfth Night?  Very much a rom com! Like A Comedy Of Errors, it has twins in it, a girl and a boy, also shipwrecked. The girl, Viola, disguises as a boy and gets a job with the local Duke, Orsino, with whom she falls in love. The Duke, however, is courting a lady called Olivia, who says she is not interested because she is in mourning. That doesn’t last long, of course, when Olivia falls for the Duke’s handsome young messenger - Viola. When Viola’s brother, Sebastian, turns up, Olivia grabs him and marries him on the spot... you can probably guess what happens with Viola and Orsino. Oh, and this one was updated as a YA movie, She’s The Man, set in a boarding school, where Viola has disguised as a boy to play soccer, after her own team is scrapped. I used that film as part of my Year 8 introduction to Shakespeare. 

My favourite, though, is Much Ado About Nothing. Two strong, intelligent people, Beatrice and Benedick, are always making wisecracks at each other, acting as if they hate each other, when anyone else can see they are crazy about each other, including their friends, who decide to get them together. 

So, if even the Immortal Bard could write romantic comedy, why should we disrespect the genre? 

Sunday, November 10, 2019

Remembrance Day And Great War Books

So, 101 years ago today, World War I finished. It was a horrendous war, with a lot of deaths, and afterwards there was the Spanish Flu epidemic, with plenty more deaths.

I thought, as this is a book blog, I’d mention some books on the theme of what was then known as the Great War, the war to end war. 

I’ll start off off with Aussie novelist Pamela Rushby’s YA novel Flora’s War, published in 2013 by Ford Street Publishing. I reviewed it on this web site when it first came out, and enjoyed it very much. 

The heroine, Australian girl Flora Wentworth, is an archaeologist’s daughter who has been coming to Egypt for the digging season for years. She knows her way around and is more comfortable with the Egyptians than are other Westerners. But the year is 1915 and Cairo is being flooded with wounded soldiers from the Gallipoli campaign. Not really the best time to be thinking about archaeological digs! Time, perhaps, for Flora to volunteer her help... 

Despite the cover art of a nurse, Flora has a different job,  learning to drive and ferrying the wounded soldiers to hospital. This novel doesn’t play around; war is hell. 

Aussie children’s and YA novelist Jackie French has also written a series of adult books in a series beginning with Miss Lily’s Lovely Ladies, also reviewed on this site. This, along with With Love From Miss Lily, a Christmas Story, is set before and during the Great War - the others continue the story afterwards. The heroine, Sophie, is a wealthy Australian girl whose father runs a profitable business. When she wants to get married at eighteen, her father feels - rightly - that she is too young and sends her off to England, to stay with the mysterious Miss Lily and a group of girls of her own age at an Earl’s estate. There, Sophie and her new friends learn a lot, before the war begins. Sophie uses her understanding of business and her father’s goods to help soldiers  living through its horrors. She eventually discovers something unexpected about who Miss Lily really is. 

This novel is set in the same universe as this author’s A Rose For The Anzac Boys, in which a group of girls set up a canteen in France, to feed passing wounded soldiers. These girls turn up in this book and the next, The Lily And The Rose

Finally, in this overview of a few Australian books set in this era is Kerry Greenwood’s Murder In Montparnasse

Murder In Montparnasse is in the Phryne Fisher series. You probably know about this 1920s Melbourne sleuth already. In this novel, we learn something about Phryne’s past, from the time when she had returned from the war to live in Paris as an artist’s model. Phryne ran away from home to France and became an ambulance driver on the battlefields. Now, ten years later, her friends Bert and Cec come to her to ask for her help, when the friends with whom they had a good time one day in Montparnasse, just after the war, have been getting killed off one after another, something to do with a murder they may have witnessed on that day... 

I enjoyed it very much, as I did all the Phryne Fisher novels, although I have to say there were some oddities about the chronology that made no sense - you really have to read it to know what I mean, but never mind, do read it anyway. I suspect that by the time this one was published the editors were not saying “Hang on, this doesn’t make sense...” any more. Fans like me would enjoy it whatever. There are long flashbacks to Phryne’s experiences post war in Paris, which are relevant to the solving of the mystery. 

They did film it for Season 1 of the TV series, but it was not very good. I do suggest reading the book, because if you’ve only seen the episode, you don’t know this story! 

So, what favourite Great War stories can you suggest?