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Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Two Evenings With Harry Potter And His Friends!

Princess Theatre 1920. From Wikipedia. Fair use.

For the last two nights I have been in a magical world. Firstly, the magic of the Princess Theatre. This is the place where long running shows are performed in Melbourne. I’ve seen plenty there, including Phantom Of The Opera. I used to go there for the opera before that was moved to the Arts Centre. I remember visiting the Paperback Bookshop, which is still there, and which was open late at night, so I could go after the opera! 

Above is a photo of the theatre in 1920. 

The theatre as we know it has been there since the 1880s, but there were other performing spaces on the site as far back as 1854. It even has its own ghost! Like the style? It’s called Second Empire. That dome is part of a roof which is supposed to be able to open, though I don’t think it has happened in my lifetime. Any time you enter that space, you are experiencing magic. And they have revamped inside for the magic of Hogwarts!  Even the carpets have elaborate H patterns, and the walls more patterns. 

Here is me in the foyer, proving I should never take selfies. Ah, well.

I arrived early both nights, as they are working hard to make sure nobody tries to film the show, beginning with inspecting bags. I usually carry a tote bag, but unearthed the one handbag I haven’t wrecked, and placed in it my phone(needed for my ticket, as I went for “mobile tickets”), my keys, my wallet, a print book to read on the tram and opera glasses. So they just glanced at my bag and waved me on. I was there about an hour and a half early and ended up in the souvenir shop, where I bought far more merchandise than I intended. Of course, I had to get a programme for such a major event. It was not cheap, but it described the process of creating the production, including the magic, and there were no ads. 

If I had stuck to the programme, it would have been fair enough, but oh, no, I just had to get the t shirt as well! It’s black and gold and flashy and bound to get fellow passengers on the bus, tram and train talking to me... I also bought a Hogwarts pin - dark blue, with R for Ravenclaw, my Pottermore House. That was the cheapest item, at $10, and has one of those pins that come off if you aren’t careful. One more thing was the music. I bought the CD on the first night, before hearing it. I always buy the music of any show that makes it available. It’s by Imogen Heap.

I settled into my seat, near the back of the stalls, not very comfortable, and to the side, but I didn’t have much trouble with the view, except the balcony hanging above, cutting off some of the arch. Next time I sit in the gods - cheaper and you can always use your opera glasses or binoculars if you want a closer look. Still, I did see what was happening on stage.

I can’t go into detail here because of spoilers and there has been a tradition from the start, even seen outside the theatre: “Keep the secrets.” They even give you a badge with that in it afterwards.  But I am sure there is enough already out there that I can write about without spoilers, so here I go.

From the moment the show began, with the last scene of Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows, it swept me back into the world I left so regretfully several years ago. And here is a warning: if you haven’t read the books or at least seen the films, there will be a lot that goes over your head. The audience with whom I shared the theatre were fans. They laughed at the in jokes. They gasped or said, “Oh...” at the sad bits. These were characters they knew and loved, a world they had missed, as I had. In some ways, it felt like being at a science fiction convention.

 There were quite a few children along with their parents. I was a bit doubtful about that, as it really isn’t for kids, but these kids were wearing Harry Potter costumes or jewellery, and one young lady, whose Dad had bought her a House pendant, was wearing a Harry Potter-patterned dress her mother had bought at Big W. So, plenty of young fans! 

They employed someone to teach the cast magic tricks - as it said in the programme, regular magicians take years to learn, these people had only a few weeks. Obviously there were a lot of special effects and I have to tell you, I have no idea how they were done! Characters taking polyjuice potion and almost immediately reappearing as the characters they were disguised as - and then back to what they were. A water trick in the middle of the stage. Characters zapping each other and being thrown backwards. Flying Dementors - were there people under those robes or was it another effect?

I don’t know. But what it was really about was family, about the woes of being a teenager, especially one who has to put up with being the child of a famous - or infamous - father, and having only one friend, who is also an outcast. 

William McKenna was Scorpius Malfoy. Make note of the name; this young man, barely out of Year 12, is in his first role, but it won’t be his last. He performed the role brilliantly. When he was being funny, we laughed. When he was grieving, we grieved with him. 

Gareth Reeves played Harry Potter at 40 years old, a frustrated father who has no idea how to bond with his son, Albus(Sean Rees-Wemyss). Draco Malfoy(Tom Wren), the bane of Harry’s childhood, is also a father who is having problems relating to a son. 

It was funny, it was sad, it was exciting and magical in every way. I don’t know if it will be shown outside Melbourne during its Australian run, but if you can get a ticket, go and see it! It’s worth every cent.

Monday, January 28, 2019

Good Omens: The Radio Play!

I have no idea when I will get to see the brand new Good Omens TV show, with all those amazing actors in it, but I found that the radio play, which I had wanted to hear for ages, was available on Apple Books, so I downloaded it to my iPad with great rejoicing!

Good Omens, in case you don’t know it, was written by two of the most wonderful fantasy writers of the century, Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman. The original idea was by Neil Gaiman, who wanted to write something called William The Antichrist, as a sendup of the Just William books, but it changed - a lot. In the end, the authors forgot, mostly, who had written what. The Antichrist, Adam Young, is an eleven year old boy, but was delivered to the wrong family, so grew up human. The end of the world is coming. There are two characters, Crowley the demon(he was the serpent in Eden, who was tempting Eve under orders to “get up there and cause trouble”)and Aziraphale, an angel and part time secondhand bookshop owner(he gave Adam and Eve his flaming sword to keep them warm when they were banished from Eden), who are trying to stop it. They have been on Earth for 6000 years and have no desire to go back to where they came from.

Crowley was played, in this, by Peter Serafinowicz, who was in Shaun of the Dead, Guardians Of The Galaxy and did the voice of Darth Maul. I’m looking forward to seeing David Tennant in the role, but he was very good. Aziraphale was popular British comedy actor Mark Heap, who was very funny indeed.

I was especially interested in Josie Lawrence, who played Agnes Nutter, the 17th century witch whose book of prophecies was completely accurate and as a result was the first book ever to be remaindered, as she will be playing the role again in the TV series.

There are two young things in the story. One is Anathema Device(Charlotte Ritchie), a descendant of Agnes Nutter, who owns the last copy of Agnes’s book and is trying to find the Antichrist before the world ends.

The other is Newton Pulsifer, descendant of the Witchfinder who burned her ancestress. I was especially impressed to find he was played by Colin Morgan, star of the Arthurian TV show Merlin! Wow! He did a very good Newt, who was described by saying that if he went into a phone booth to change he might come out as Clark Kent. The trouble is, I’m now going to see him as Colin Morgan, who is very good looking!

Shadwell the Witchfinder Sergeant was played by Clive Russell, who has done a whole lot of fantasy, including Game Of  Thrones. He was hilarious, just the way I imagined Shadwell.

Oh - and the authors played cameos as the policemen who were following Crowley when he was speeding early in the story. In case you didn’t notice, the policemen were called Terry and Neil.
  Look, just follow this link for the rest of the details. 

Booktopia: Australia’s Favourite Author 2019 - The Finalists!

A bit of a disappointment this year. Last year there was a delightful month worth of voting and cutting down the list from fifty to the final ten to the winner. This time you had nearly a month to nominate, but no whittling down; instead there was a fairly short list, most of them writers for adults. Today is the first day of voting and Thursday is the last day, so if you want to vote, here is the link to the appropriate part of the Booktopia web site.

Do vote if you can! It will make the winner very happy and you get put in the draw for $1000 worth of books. I assume the book prize is Australia only, but I can’t see why booklovers from other countries can’t vote at least.

Saturday, January 26, 2019

Just Arrived From Booktopia! We Spoke Out: Comic Books And The Holocaust

Yesterday was a blazing hot day - 44’ Celsius(that’s 111’ Fahrenheit). I knew I had a book coming from Booktopia and looked forward to turning on the fan and reading. However, I wanted an early dip in the sea, before the weather got too dreadfully hot, so I left home at 7.20 am, had breakfast in Acland St, St Kilda, on my way back from the beach and got home about 10.30 am.

Who would have thought the postie would deliver so early? Or leave a card instead of the book? I really wasn’t up to going out into that heat to pick it up from the post office(don’t think I wasn’t tempted!). I figured the shops would all be closed anyway because the power went out due to the heat. Oh, yeah... I sat in the lounge without cooling...

But by about 2.30 the temperature had dropped to 28’ and I went out to get my book, dammit!

And here it is!

It’s fascinating stuff so far. Apparently, after the war, kids in American schools were not being taught about the Holocaust. Too awkward once West Germany became an ally. So it was up to the comic book artists and illustrators to do it through entertainment. Some of the superheroes were even a part of this. 

Interesting to see some big names, including the founder of Mad Magazine, illustrators for the SF pulp magazines and - much to my surprise - one of the stories was probably illustrated by Harry Harrison, who is best known as a science fiction writer, author of The Technicolor Time Machine and the Stainless Steel Rat series. He was here many years ago and did say he had done comic book art at one time, but I had forgotten. 

Each chapter is followed by the actual story it discusses. I’ve read four chapters so far, and am looking forward to reading the rest. 

Well worth enduring a bit of heat for! 

Friday, January 25, 2019

Of Fan Fiction Based On Books - A Whinge!

There’s a lot of fan fiction around these days. Some of it is published professionally- not only official Star Trek novels and such, but books based on original classic novels and approved sequels. Stephen Baxter’s Time Ships is, for example, an approved sequel to H.G Wells’ The Time Machine(personally, I prefer David Lake’s The Man Who Loved Morlocks and short story “The Truth About Weena”) 

And then there are web sites crammed with fan fiction based on everything from Star Wars to computer games! Take your pick, universe of your choice. Rainbow Rowell’s wonderful novel Fangirl takes us into the world of on line fan fiction. More of this anon.

I enjoy fan fiction; I used write it myself and have book cases crammed with media fanzines. We started writing this stuff, way back when, because our favourite TV show - Star Trek, in my case - had been cancelled and this was the only way to get more. As we were dealing with scripts rather than novels, there was always something that we felt could be developed. There were plot holes we wanted to fill. Sometimes we created our own characters to have adventures aboard the Enterprise. Some people pretty much created their own universes within the universe of Star Trek - they developed entire cultures for Klingons or Vulcans, not to mention languages. That, of course, was before spinoff TV shows and films came along, bringing details that had not been there before. Then it became Alternative Universe. 

I have no doubt that there were those who thought their versions were better than the originals, like the heroine of Fangirl. In case you have missed it, Cath is a fanwriter of a book series rather like Harry Potter. The last volume is about to come out and Cath is hurrying to finish her own version before it becomes non canon. She actually has her own fandom with thousands of followers loving her on line fan novels. Because of this she comes to think her work is better than the original author’s.

Which brings me to the next point: the fans who think they own the material. “I love it, so it should be the way I think it is. If the author does it any other way, they have betrayed me!” Like the ones who are carrying on about the Doctor being female. Or the woman who told me on line that “JKR is a hypocrite and we are entitled to our black Hermione.” She never said why JKR was a hypocrite and this was the response to my having said that JKR was fine with the black Hermione in Cursed Child. Hmm, according to this entitled fan, this wasn’t good enough, it seems. Hermione belongs to the fans, not to her creator. Yeah, sure. I pointed out that JKR had given us Hermione, but was fine with this, and left it at that. She never replied - for all I know she may have muted or blocked me. 

Ah, that old fannish entitlement! There are plenty of real-life Caths. My main reason for this post is a Twitter discussion among authors I generally respect, one of whom has recently published a novel based on a classic written about 150 years ago. I’m reading her novel now and yeah, it’s amusing, but mostly, for me, the entertainment lies in working out which character corresponds to which original character and which event corresponds to one in the original book. This author can write, yes. But I’d rather read the original. In fact, I’m rereading it now and having a good giggle.

 Personally I don’t know why this author did it when she writes such very good original fiction, but there you go. However, I was irritated to read posts by other authors(one of whom has done her own fan fiction) telling this one that her novel was better than the original. 

Huh? No way! I read the original in about two days, all 650 pages, and loved it. I am still ploughing through the fan novel. The original has been read and loved for a century and a half, been dramatised over and over, has inspired other work - other work that didn’t simply take an entire novel and play with it - and it’s not as good as someone’s revamp? I could suggest that if this revamp is still getting read and loved even a few years from now let alone 150, it will be doing well. 

However, I didn’t respond, as it would have just upset all the people discussing it, with no positive result. What would be the point? Which is why I’m not naming the book or the people here. 

What do you think, readers? Have you ever come across a derivative story you thought better than the original? 

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Book Blogger Hop: What Drives You Bonkers About Authors?

This week's Book Blogger Hop asks you to talk about what drives you nuts when authors do it and makes you want to tell them a thing or two.

Okay, here's mine: I find that I drop completely out of a story when an author has not done their research. Occasionally, this includes non fiction, when the book tells you, for example, that criminal Carl Williams dropped out of school at the age of 11! It was YEAR 11, thank you, they would not have allowed a primary school child to drop out, but I blame the editor for not picking it up and the authors of that book - one of them very well known - didn't pick it up on a proofread. I confess I did it myself, once, when I got the year of Madame Curie's death wrong in my second book, due to a typo I didn't pick up until a student at my school asked politely, because she had read a different book with a different date. And I had a very good editor, but she trusted me to get something like that right. I am quite sure she would have picked up a typo that said a big name criminal left school at the age of 11!

So, what irritates me? I'm not one of those who make a huge fuss if a word that didn't exist in a certain time is used, as long as it's used outside the characters' mouths, sometimes even if it's used by the characters themselves, if it's supposed to be translating from a different language. Of course, you'd draw the line at plain anachronisms!

And that includes fantasy novels set in a secondary universe. I recall a conversation on Twitter, in which an author of hard SF said that if she wrote a fantasy novel, it was her damn universe and she could do what she wanted with it. This is an author who wouldn't dream of writing science fiction without doing her research. If you're writing a secondary universe, chances are that it will be inspired by a society in our own world. You can change things, but only if you have a logical way of making it different, and a reason for it. But you really, really can't convincingly write a scene in which a horse is basically a furry machine, which doesn't stop quite a few authors from doing it. There are other problems with writing fantasy. Here's a link to an essay by Poul Anderson, On Thud And Blunder, written many years ago, but still relevant, on the SFWA website.

Sorry, but I can't stand Americanisms in a novel set in historical England, used by British characters. There is a certain book I will never finish. It was seen, in first person, from the viewpoint of Agatha Christie's daughter's nanny, who used quite a few American terms. In the 1920s. And, by the way, made reference to things she remembered that happened the 1990s, when the historical person died in about 1975.

I don't mind a bit of poetic/dramatic licence, as long as the author says, "I know this is not quite how it happened, but I did it because...", in other words acknowledges they knew what they were doing. And some do - but others don't.

It isn't just historical issues. If you are writing a story set in the present day, you need to make sure you have that right too. If you're writing a police procedural, for example, you need to make sure that you get the procedures right, the details of any weapons they use, etc.

If you're writing a children's or YA novel, set in a particular time and place, that needs to be checked. Some authors doing much better than I am have got things wrong. In Victorian schools, for example, you aren't allowed to leave students on their own. If you do, and something happens to them while you are absent, guess who gets sued? This hasn't stopped quite a few of my favourite authors from writing scenes where kids in detention are left alone by their teachers. One of them was a good friend of mine and rewrote that scene on my advice, but there are some classics out there which have jarring scenes in them. Well, jarring to me, anyway. Probably nobody who doesn't work in a Victorian school would notice. (Not, mind you, that it doesn't happen at all, but in those cases the teacher has done the wrong thing and knows it)

Another otherwise-excellent YA novel had a character who was looking after her sister's children when her sister disappeared...and collected the child support cheques and lied to the Department about it. Guess what? At the time I read this novel, admittedly a long time ago, I was working for what is now Centrelink and I can assure you, the aunt was entitled to that money. She didn't have to lie. I say this as someone who has had phone calls from people who demanded the tiny amount of money they were entitled to if the kids were in their care even for one night. They knew their rights - oh, yes! And we had to pay them, even though it cost more for them to call us and us to arrange the transfer, than it was worth.

Another matter for irritation is when things change in the course of a series, especially a hugely popular series, so that you can only assume that by the later books, the author is so popular that the editor either doesn't dare to ask them to fix it, or the publisher doesn't care because the books will sell anyway.

You probably know many of these, especially if, like me, you have a tendency to read and reread your favourite books. I won't name mine, but perhaps you can think of some and comment in the box below?

Here are a couple of books I recommend. I found them on Apple Books, but possibly you can also get them in print form.

How Not To Write A Novel by Howard Mittelmark and Sandra Newman. An amusing, entertaining and chatty book which goes through some of the truly awful errors that can be made by authors who don't check their facts.

What Kings Ate And Wizards Drank by Krista D Ball. Currently reading and enjoying. Focuses on food and drink and what you need to remember when you send your heroes/heroines out on that Quest. This author knows what she is talking about when she speaks of what is, and what isn't, physically possible, due to doing a lot of this stuff herself. She suggests what you might like to try instead of the unlikely things.

Personally, I'd rather just write the thing and then correct it than spend months on research before writing a single word, but I usually have some idea of what I'm writing about, or I wouldn't have any ideas in the first place. But you do have to look it up sooner or later, and if it's wrong, rewrite, preferable before publishing!

What do you think?

Monday, January 14, 2019

Katrina Nannestad: An Interview

Recently, I received a copy of this book, which is available here.

It's an anthology of short, humorous stories for children, the fourth in a series. There are contemporary tales, such as Felice Arena's story about a Dad who embarrasses his son by dancing at the school dance, over-the top humour like Andy Griffiths' short piece taken from one of his early books, fantastical stuff about families confronted with aliens and much more. The story "The Feral Fairies Of Foggarty's Field" is different again from the others, featuring, as it does, three very unusual fairies - I'll let the author tell you about it below.

Katrina Nannestad is the author of several books for younger readers. She grew up in NSW and now lives with her family and a dog called Olive in Central Victoria.

 The book below is the first in a trilogy and the third will be out later this year.

SB: Let’s start with a simple and obvious question - where did your idea for “The Feral Fairies of Foggarty’s Field” begin? 

KN: This is always a tricky question because one story may spring from many sources. I’m sure that childhood memories, current experiences, musings, random words and strange imaginings all bubble and bloop around in my mind until, suddenly, a few bits collide, stick together and begin to grow into a story. But I’ll do my best to answer in a normal, sequential manner.

When I was little, my mother gave me a book that she had owned as a child - Flower Fairies of the Spring. The fairies were pretty, polite, clean and graceful. I was loud, clumsy, scabby kneed and little bit cheeky. The fairies lived in a land filled with European flowers with strange names like lady’s smock, wood-sorrel and stitchwort. I lived in country NSW in a world stuffed with gum trees, melting tar roads and a menagerie of strange but beloved pets. In short, I thought my world and my life were far more exciting than those of the prim flower fairies. The flower fairies did not make for exciting or relatable reading. 

Years later, searching for a fun story idea, I started writing about the kind of fairies I would have enjoyed reading about as a child - rough, rude, fairies who would laugh too loudly, eat too much cake and fly into closed windows and parked cars. I began to write a chapter book called The Feral Fairies of Foggarty’s Field, but it was a little too raucous. Kids might have liked it, but parents and publishers would not. Even though I was having great fun in Feral Fairyland, I put the book aside. 
Last year, I was asked to write a short story for a fun anthology. So I dusted off the feral fairies novel and turned it into something short and sweet … or, rather, short and naughty. But not too naughty. 

SB: Your feral fairy heroes, Bob, Kev and Darren seem to be very Australian, but the other fairies aren’t. Was this deliberate? 

KN: Absolutely! There are enough books filled with pretty, graceful fairies who look and speak like they have just stepped out of a posh British boarding school or a Swiss finishing school. We need some fairies of our own - Australian fairies like Bob, Kev and Darren.

But any good story needs a problem at its core. Setting my rough Australian fairies in a world filled with traditional European fairies provided a good starting point for conflict and, of course, humour.

SB: Tell me about Bob, Kev and Darren. They seem to be kind-hearted, even if they do mess up their supervisors’ rounds. What did you have in mind? 

KN: I wanted the feral fairies to be funny and likeable. Having poor judgment or being rough around the edges doesn’t mean one has a wicked heart. Just look at Kev and that dreadful mishap with the tooth. Shoving the tooth back into the child’s mouth was really stupid, but it was meant as an act of kindness.

I love to write about characters who are high-spirited (naughty in the eyes of adults) but likeable - like Wes and Fez in my Red Dirt Diary series, Inge Maria in The Girl Who Brought Mischief, and the students at Mrs Groves Boarding School for Naughty Boys, Talking Animals and Circus Performers in my Olive of Groves series. I was a bit like this as a child - well-meaning but inclined to misjudge situations. I hope children will identify with my impulsive characters - or at least get a giggle out of them.

SB: Did you read stories about flower fairies and pony fairies, etc. in your childhood? If so, did you take them seriously or did you find them annoying even then? 

KN: After that initial experience with Flower Fairies of the Spring, I was not interested in reading about fairies. Had there been a chimpanzee fairy, a chocolate cake fairy or a mud-wrestling fairy, my interest might have been piqued. But, alas, there was not. The fairies I met were all boring little do-gooders. I cannot recall thinking kindly of the fairy fraternity ever again.

I preferred to read comics - especially ones about Donald Duck and his friends. The characters were very naughty and got themselves into ridiculous scrapes. Comics were far more exciting and humorous than that fairy book, or any other book I was shown. 

SB: What are you working on at the moment? And when will it be available? 

KN: I am currently working on a novel called The Girl, the Dog and the Writer in Lucerne. It is the third and final book in a mystery-crime series.  I’ve had an enormous amount of fun writing these books and travelling through Europe in my imagination. I’ve gossiped with pigeons in Rome, I’ve wandered through fields of lavender in Provence and now I am scaling mountains and nibbling chocolate in Lucerne. And, all the while, I’ve been developing - and solving - mysteries. I get to be creator and sleuth!

I’ll really miss my characters when I am done with this series - especially Finnegan, the overgrown Irish wolfhound. Finnegan licks, raids rubbing bins, chases his tail and gobbles with gusto - pizza, croissants, sausages, schnitzels, socks, bed linen, books….  He also has a heart as big as his appetite. Dear, faithful hound! 

The Girl, the Dog and the Writer in Lucerne will be available in October. 

Here is where you can get Katrina's novels on Booktopia

They are also available on Amazon and Book Depository.

Wednesday, January 09, 2019

In Which I See Lots of Escher’s Work And Get Ideas...

Yesterday I went with my friend Jasna to see the exhibition of work by Dutch artist M.C Escher, Escher x nendo: Between Two Worlds at the National Gallery of Victoria. All I can say about it is - wow!

 You will have seen his work at one time or another, even if you don’t think you have, because people use it - a lot. There is that picture of a hand coming out of a sheet of paper and drawing another hand. I’ve seen that on the cover of a graphics textbook. There is the picture of the staircase which twists through an extra dimension and is upside down. I have seen that one in the film Labyrinth with David Bowie, and read it in Terry Pratchett’s Hogfather. And there is that one where a praying mantis is perched on the breast of a marble bishop in his tomb, with a dark crypt behind. I saw that in one of the art books we used at school.

Fair use. I don’t own the rights.
Basically, he was an artist of the fantastical. He did it all in prints and - this is great - simply LOVED experimenting with different kinds of printmaking. According to the blurbs at the gallery, he is about the only artist to master all three kinds.

 There were pics from his early years, when his work was naturalistic right up till his last work, with tangled snakes. He spent a lot of his early years in Italy, drawing the landscapes and seascapes, but even those have fantastical touches to them. They are like seascapes or villages on another planet or an alternative world. Magical!

The layout was amazing too. A bit dark, to preserve the works, but the snakes print was shown in a snake-y area. Even the benches were a part of the show. There were all the birds turning into fishes and vice verse and characters rushing out of pictures and becoming three dimensional and rushing back into the pictures... and at the end of those, there was this.

You could walk through it after seeing it from above, and there seemed to be steps, but weren’t. We assumed this was the end of the exhibition but no...

There was something very Alice In Wonderland about the perspective corridor, which shrank until anyone there looked as if they were about three metres tall!

I rarely buy a catalogue these days, but I decided to do it this time, because I was already coming up with ideas for stories just looking at the art. So, I’m going to do a bit more than drool over the book this time! Watch out for some new stories! 

Sunday, January 06, 2019

Just Finished Reading... Natural Born Loser by Oliver Phommavanh

Raymond is a Year Six student at a primary school which has a poor reputation. There are bullies. The place is shabby. The last few Principals have been in and out with incredible speed, and are not missed. Now they have a new Principal, Mr Humble, who has some good ideas and is prepared to back up students who have ideas of their own. The first thing he does is audition for prefects - and Raymond, who has never considered himself a leader, goes along with his soccer-playing friend Zain and is startled to find himself chosen. In his first speech, he blurts out that the new prefects will do something about air conditioning their terribly hot classrooms.

With Zain and two girls, Ally and Randa(the Hermione Granger of this team), he works at fundraising. They need $20,000 for just two classrooms, and decide that the youngest students should not roast. Suddenly there are activities everywhere. There is parent support and donations from the local shops. There are bullies trying to sabotage the fundraising...

This is a sweet and gentle story with characters you can care about. Raymond is learning to be a leader - and that you don’t have to be a superstar to be respected, when someone points out to him that as an ordinary person he is the one other kids are most comfortable with. He also discovers that there are plenty of former students who have affectionate memories of the place and are willing to help out, including his mother.

I liked that this was a multicultural school like the ones where I have worked for many years. Raymond is Philipino. Zain is from Ghana. Ally is probably white, though we aren’t told. Randa wears a hijab, including a waterproof one for fundraising water balloon fights. The school bully is just a bully, not a racist. The only issues are the school’s reputation and how to raise a lot of money. Oh, and it was nice to read about a primary school that still has a library and someone to run it!

I did wonder why it might cost that much money for two classrooms. I guess it depends on the kind of air con, and my school had a qualified electrician(the campus teacher librarian, in fact!) to install them for free when our kids did a chocolate drive.

But the author is a former primary teacher, who even wrote himself into his first novel, Thai-Riffic! as the teacher, so he would have some idea of these things.

I will be donating this book to the multicultural primary school where I volunteer, after the holidays. I am sure there will be plenty of takers! 

Saturday, January 05, 2019

Australia’s Favourite Author 2019 - Nominating Now!

Each year, the Booktopia website runs a competition to see who is the most popular writer in Australia. I have posted about this before, during January, as the list goes down from hundreds to fifty to the final “there can only be” one! It’s an Australian web site, which only sells books here, but nothing stopping overseas fans of Australian books from nominating and voting, although you won’t be able to enter for the $1000.00 book prize. Mind you, I see that this year you have to order an Australian book from them and cite the order number before you enter for the prize, so not everyone here can enter either. I do order on line occasionally, when I can’t get the book I want in my local shops, or, better, in ebook, but still... I guess you can’t blame them for wanting to make a buck from this when they work so hard organising it.

So, right now, all you have to do is nominate an author, not a book, and you can nominate as many as you like. I’m going to nominate several children’s and YA authors, myself, and have already nominated Carole Wilkinson, author of the amazing Dragonkeeper books and the more recent Inheritance, which I’ve reviewed.

Check it out here and have fun, wherever you are! 

Thursday, January 03, 2019

Happy Birthday, Tolkien!

On this day in 1892, a very talented boy was born to an English family in South Africa. Most of his childhood, though, was spent back in England, in a village called Sarehole.

Public domain. The baby is Tolkien!

Well - you probably know a bit about him already. In case you don’t, here is a link to the Wikipedia entry. Thinking about it, his life greatly affected how and what he wrote. He was a devout Catholic and that comes through in Lord Of The Rings, but he doesn’t hit his readers over the head with his religion. It took me a while to notice it!

His wartime experience in France is certainly the background for the Land of Mordor. He did lose two out of his three closest friends from school.

When I was at university I was about the only student who hadn’t read the book. And even so, it took me years to get around to it. Once I did, I was hooked. There was a girl in my Honours English class who wanted to write her thesis on it and most of the English staff wouldn’t supervise it because “It’s not literary enough.”

Clearly, they hadn’t read it! In the end, she got her supervisor - Professor Brown was a huge Tolkien fan, who had a manuscript hand written and bound as a Christmas gift for one of Tolkien’s friends, which he used to hand around reverently in his tutorials, back in the days when a tutorial group was five or six people.

I love the power of the writing, the characters and the story. It’s not written for children, but has some of the things I love best about children’s fiction. Story and characters you can care about are more important than mere “beautiful writing”, although the writing is beautiful too.

And then there is The Hobbit, which was written for children, and has a hero who develops from a man who has to be dragged kicking and screaming from his comfort zone into one who is brave and quick thinking and is willing to trust his life to adventure. The elderly Bilbo, in the sequel, rejoices at being “back on the road with Dwarves!” 

I have several copies of The Hobbit, including one illustrated by Michael Hague, one by Alan Lee, a couple illustrated by Tolkien himself and one annotated edition which, as wrk, as the annotations, features art work from around the world. I have my eye on a newer edition, which I bought for my great nephew, Eden. Oh, and there’s the special ebook I have, which has a number of goodies, including the option to hear Tolkien sing. As I hear the story, he got hold of one of those newfangled tape recorders and had a bit of fun recording some of his songs and poems. So these were worked into the enhanced ebook. (I also have some CDs of the Tolkien Ensemble performing the songs to their own music, one of which has Christopher Lee singing Treebeard.)

Something I learned a while back is that the meeting of the Ents, that race of walking trees, is cheekily meant to represent a faculty meeting, and Treebeard is meant to be Tolkien’s best friend, C.S Lewis, who did have a deep, booming voice like Treebeard’s.

Anyway, happy birthday, Professor! I am off to bed to reread some of your greatest book!

Wednesday, January 02, 2019

Harry Potter And The Cursed Child - Tickets Bought!

I did it, only yesterday- I bought my tickets for Part 1 and 2 of Harry Potter And The Cursed Child! It’s something I’ve been promising myself I’d do since we had word that the show was coming to Melbourne. Finally, I started my new year yesterday by sitting down at my computer and whipping out my Visa card. Not only that but, considering how expensive the tickets were, I took out insurance - only an extra $3.00.

I was very surprised to find that there were tickets available for this very month as is! It probably helps that I’m only wanting one ticket, but... very nice!

As a Potterhead, I think this will be very special!

An interesting cast. Harry is being portrayed by Gareth Reeves, a Kiwi actor who has an acting bio as long as your arm. Paula Arundell is Hermione. She, too, has a respectable list of films, TV and stage shows. I have heard of her, though I haven’t seen her in much. The two young men playing as Albus Potter and Scorpius Malfoy are a bit older than the characters from the novel. The younger of them, William McKenna, playing Scorpius, is still at high school and this is his debut. What a production to start your career!

The show will be on at the Princess Theatre, one of Melbourne’s landmarks, located across the road from Parliament House. It’s been around since 1854! I used to go there to see the Australian Opera before it moved to the Arts Centre. I haven’t been in a while. The theatre has its very own ghost, though I’ve never seen him. He must be stressing out at all the shows he’s had to sit through since he died!

Just a suggestion to anyone considering going: it’s really for the fans. If you haven’t read the books or at least seen the films, it will not mean much. These are characters we fans have come to know and love - or hate. They have developed. There are twists to events and characters from the original stories. We even find out more about one minor character from the books, but it won’t mean anything if you haven’t met her.

I know what the play is about, having bought a copy in ebook the day it came out. It was a rehearsal script, so may have changed, but probably not all that much. So, should I reread it before I go? Or should I let myself be at least partly surprised? What do you think?