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Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Night Of The Notables!

Tuesday night I went to Night Of The Notables, at which this year’s Children’s Book Council of Australia long list, the Notables, was announced. It was an enjoyable evening, beginning with catching up with fellow writers and library staff over drinks and nibbles, then into the theatre to hear the long listed books for 2019 announced. I can see I have a lot of reading to do!


I was pleased to see some by people I know personally on the list. For example, Felice Arena’s Fearless Frederic, which I have read and enjoyed, was there, though Felice wasn’t. I had the pleasure of DMing him on Twitter afterwards - he hadn’t known and was thrilled. Last year that book made it to the YABBA shortlist, though Andy Griffiths won as usual. Kids adore Andy, but they also love other authors, so it’s nice he could make it to two lists. With luck, he may make it to the short list as well - fingers crossed!

Wendy Orr’s wonderful Swallow’s Dance made it and it will be a gross injustice if it doesn’t reach the short list(being announced on March 26).

I was sitting next to the amazing Carole Wilkinson, whose terrific Inheritance didn’t make it, but whose daughter Lily’s After The Lights Went Out did. I haven’t read that yet, but probably should. Lili has stopped writing romantic comedies, alas, but romantic comedies don’t get on CBCA lists, whereas serious stuff does. Andy Griffiths may have won the last sixteen YABBAs, but will never get on the CBCA lists. Paul Jennings only made the short list for a semi-autobiographical novel, never for his funny books.

I noticed with interest and pleasure that this year the CBCA judges are split into groups to judge different sections. A couple of years ago they had a survey of interested parties and one bit asked for suggestions and I suggested that they might find the judging easier if they did it like the Aurealis Awards which split into groups instead of trying to read everything as the CBCA judges had apparently been doing, according to one judge I heard speak, who said she had read several hundred books. Even the individual sections had to read about 150 books each this year!

We also heard from three guest speakers, Alex Rance(footballer who has written a picture book, Tiger’s Roar, with a new one about to come out, who admits he isn’t much of a reader), comedian Jo Stanley, whose wtiting was spurred by her childhood love of Anne Of Green Gables and the wonderful Fiona Wood, who, among other things, is the co-author of Take Three Girls and has done an Ardoch Writer In Residence like me.

I won’t try to give you the entire long list, which includes about 80 books, but here is a link to the CBCA’s Reading Time web site. Happy reading! See you again when the short list is announced.

Sunday, February 24, 2019

On Enjoying Some History: what I’m reading now!

My new book is this one, a biography of Henry VIII, right from the beginning; it’s a photo I took in the pub, over a glass of lemon, lime and bitters. The difference between this and many other Henry VIII bios is that they are usually about his relationships with his wives and other women in his life. That’s not surprising, given how many women there were in his life and howcthese relationships affected history. But this one is about the male figures in his life. I discovered it last week when I was in Dymock’s, meeting my friend Bart before we headed to Ganache for tea and chocolates. I still had some money on my gift voucher and was pleased to spend it. I like to browse the history shelves at Dymock’s; if I want fiction I can buy it in ebook. Non fiction ebooks tend to be large downloads, due to the photos.

Just before I picked this up, after a browse elsewhere, a shop assistant showed a copy to a man who must have asked for it. Well, I thought, maybe this is the one I should try. And so far, I’m enjoying it. I’ve just started chapter 3, where young Henry has just become King.

Henry looked an awful lot like his maternal grandfather, Edward IV, who was tall, strawberry blonde and powerfully built, and both enjoyed wine, women and song. He also had Edward’s tendency to put on weight - a lot of weight!

Like most people, I have mostly read about the women in his life, not his earlier years, which included a lot of guys who would play important roles in his life later. I knew Charles Brandon was a close friend in his circle of roisterers, and that he later became a brother in law. I didn’t know about his earlier life, getting one of the Queen’s ladies pregnant, dumping her to marry her rich aunt, then when he’d spent all the money paying his debts, then getting his marriage annulled so he could marry the niece(who had lost the baby in stress). Not a nice man, but Henry liked him and forgave him for secretly marrying Henry’s sister Mary, though it took a lot of money.

I didn’t know about Henry’s bad relationship with his Dad, either. After Prince Arthur’s death, the King brought his son to court and gave him a room he couldn’t get in and out of without going through his own room, and wouldn’t let him compete in tournaments. To be fair, it was about security and Henry VII had lost his original heir, plus his wife. If anything happened to his son, what then? But it wasn’t going to make him popular with a teenager, especially one who loved parties, sports and having everyone fuss over him.

Anyway, I’m looking forward to reading the lot! I’ll be reading it over dinner. 

On Magic Systems In Fantasy Fiction

This week I read an interesting article that suggested asking yourself several questions about the magic system you want when writing a fantasy. It included who could do magic? Who was allowed to do magic? How it was used? What were the limitations? 

I thought it interesting enough to post about the magic systems of some universes I’ve encountered.

In Lord Of The Rings, pretty much the only characters who do magic are the wizards and the villains. They are lesser gods, so magic is part of what they are - and even Gandalf doesn’t do a lot. He is basically a fire spirit anyway, so he does things like make a blue light to see by and create amazing fireworks. At one point he is pleased enough with an innkeeper to put a spell of excellence on his beer. The Elves don’t chant spells, but there is a magic about what they do. Their food tastes wonderful, however simple it is, and their way bread, lembas, and miruvor, their drink, can be lived on when there is nothing else. Because they’re basically the sacrament - Tolkien was a devout Catholic - they sustain Frodo and Sam, but taste like ashes to Gollum. When  the Fellowship are leaving Lothlorien they are given wonderful rope. Sam expresses interest in this, as he is descended from a line of rope makers. This is where it gets interesting - the Elves say that if they had known he was interested they would have shown him how to make it. We never hear of this again, but the rope is definitely magical. The implication is interesting, but we just don’t hear of it again. Later, he uses dust from Lothlorien to revive the Shire. Magic again. 

So, despite the rope, I think magic in this universe is not something anyone can create or use unless they are gods or Elvish(except maybe using the magical rope you were given by the Elves or dust from Lothlorien). 

In most universes I have read, magic is something you’re born with. In the Harry Potter series, you have to be born a wizard. Muggles like you and me could say, “Expelliarmus!” over and over and nothing would happen. The spells and the wands are basically to focus the magic. A wizard child needs to learn or the magic could destroy them and those around them. So it’s very much a matter of birth. 

Gillian Polack’s novel The Wizardry Of Jewish Women features mother to daughter magic, and one character has an ability to predict, but only in public, ie on the Internet - and has to! The mother and daughter do have to work out the spells, which are based on Jewish magic. Jewish magic requires scholarship. If you want to, say, create a golem, you have to do a lot of reading and research first. The woman who uses magic to make her nasty ex husband uncomfortable has a great grandmother who practised magic but her grandmother rejected magic for science, so she has to learn all over again. So, a mixture, but it is in the family. 

Her novel The Time Of The Ghosts is about three older women who are ghost busters. As it’s modern Canberra they stick to European spirits, never interfering with indigenous spirits. Most of the magic belongs to one of them who is, in fact, the mediaeval French water fae Melusine, still alive and having to make herself look older to be able to settle in one place for a while. There are flashbacks to her younger years when, among other things, she participated in the story of Bisclavret and converted to Judaism. She is magical, but born so. The others also have some magic, but are mortal. 

Justine Larbalestier’s trilogy, Magic Or Madness, is about exactly what it says on the box. Her heroine, Reason, is born with magic, but her mother has refused to use hers, called her daughter  
Reason and encouraged her to do rational things like maths. Unfortunately, magical folk have two choices, neither of them pleasant. They can practise magic and die young or they can refuse to do it and go insane, which is what has happened to Reason’s mother, now in a mental hospital, while Reason goes to live with her quite young grandmother in Sydney and have magical adventures between Sydney and New York. Magical people have their children young, because they know they won’t live long. Not my favourite type of magic, but interesting - the author sneered at a conference I attended that too many novels had people getting headaches as a payment for their magic: “I get worse than that with a hangover!”

Michael Pryor’s Laws Of Magic series is steampunk, set in the 1900s, only in a different universe, where England, for example is Albion. Magic has laws like the laws of physics, as in “Ye canna change the laws of...” You can study magic at school and it involves, among other things, learning various ancient languages which can be used in your spells. It is, in fact, a science. So no, you don’t have to be born to it. This is the most interesting magic I’ve come across. The hero, Aubrey Fitzwilliam, is a magical genius, which is precisely why he is technically dead at the start of the series - he had been confident enough in his skills to be experimenting with death magic, and stuffed up. Magic is a part of everyday life, and it has rules; if you ignore them, it can kill you. In one scene Aubrey is considering going to a sleight-of-hand show, but isn’t interested because he’s sure it’s just ordinary magic! 

In Terry Pratchett’s Discworld, you are definitely born to magic, either as a witch or a wizard. The boys go to Unseen University to study wizardry, where mostly they learn to eat huge meals and be avoided by the lecturers. They are usually eighth sons of eighth sons, though in Equal Rites they have to deal with a girl who has wizard ability and wants to study. Wizards are not encouraged to marry because if you have eight sons and your youngest also has eight sons, there will be a sourcerer, a very powerful wizard who could potentially destroy the world. But nobody will stop you if you drop out and get married.  

Girls learn witchcraft from a village witch. It’s really mostly wise-woman stuff and “headology”, though they can and do use magic in their work - and they fly on broomsticks made by the Dwarfs. In Maskerade we meet Agnes Nitt, who has run away to the big city to become an opera singer rather than join the witches, Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg. It is suggested that her singing is her way of expressing magic she isn’t using. In Witches Abroad, we find out what might happen when a witch uses her magic to give her power, and it isn’t good. (And the witch concerned is Granny Weatherwax’s sister!)

Witches don’t have to stay unmarried - in fact, Nanny Ogg has married and been widowed three times and has a huge tribe of descendants who do all her housework. She loves to make dirty jokes. 

This is the only series I’ve read where you don’t have to use your magic, as in nothing will seep out and cause destruction if you don’t. 

In Ben Aaronovitch’s Rivers Of London series, magic is something you can learn, like playing the guitar. However, it’s dangerous stuff and if you overdo it, it turns your brain to Swiss cheese. This is why wizards build staffs, which can act as batteries to store magic so you can avoid overdoing it - as good a reason for a wizard’s staff as any other I’ve heard, and better than some others. Magic also wrecks electronic devices, including digital watches, so everything has to be moved or switched off before doing it.  

The series also features river gods and goddesses, some of whom started off as ordinary mortals. Mama Thames is an African woman who arrived in England in the 1950s and was turned into a river goddess while attempting to drown herself. Father Thames - no relation - began as a Roman soldier. So, they presumably didn’t start off magical. Both of them have children who are not human, though they look it. They might be magical by birth.  

My mediaeval fantasy novel Wolfborn is mostly about werewolves, both born and those who choose it. However, there are different types of magic, earth magic and animal magic. You are born to it, though there are plenty of people with a bit of earth magic, which, if you are, say, a lady of the manor, helps with the household management. Most wise-women have much more earth magic than that and use it in their work. My young heroine is learning from her mother. Both are born werewolves and have both earth and animal magic. 

My villain, a man who chose to be a werewolf because you can get better jobs in the army as a scout, has animal magic - actually, very powerful magic that, among other things, enables him to move himself and others between this world and the Otherworld. A small spell enables him to hide his clothes by making them appear to be a rock. I got that one from Petronius’s Satyricon, in which a party guest tells about a soldier he knew who turned into a wolf after hiding his clothes in this manner. The spell involved urinating in a circle around them. I used this - I did offer to rewrite that, but my editor loved it! 

So, in my world, mostly born to magic, though needing training - I never said how the villain became a werewolf let alone acquired his magic, but I would imagine that he had animal magic in the first place that made his change easier. One of these days I will do a short story to answer that question. 

Meanwhile, do you have a favourite magic system? 

In Which I Encounter Some Book Clubbers!

I had pleasant bookends to the weekend. I met two favourite Book Club members in the Melbourne CBD. On Friday it was Selena, a brilliant young woman who, as well as doing amazingly at maths and science, drew delicate pictures I would have paid for when she arrived at our school as a twelve year old from China, wrote better essays in my Year 8 class than native English speakers and was one of my beloved Nerd Pack who graced my lunchtime book club from Year 7 to 10, when I lost her to Senior Campus.

I was putting money for a CD into the case of a very good busker in Bourke St when she called out to me. I was shopping for my last gifts for a birthday lunch on Sunday and she was free till 7.00 pm, so we went for a cuppa next door to Target and caught up.

Much of it was “Whatever happened to...?” and the rest about our current reading. I learned that another of my Nerd Pack is studying veterinary science and his younger brother(not a book clubber, but in my class, and whom I remember with affection) married his high school sweetheart and is now a father! She mentioned the older brother of one of my Western Chances scholars and I told her he was going to Melbourne Uni, where she is a final year Mechanical Engineering student, so she said she would get in touch and show him around. She has been doing robotics and running engineering camps, though she said this would be her last year.

And then we talked about books! What else?

Yesterday I was on my way home from that birthday lunch when there was another “Hi, Miss!” This time it was Milana, another book clubber, now in Year 10 and school captain. Milana, another of my Western Chances scholars, was on her way home from drama class. She is amazingly gifted - drama, figure skating, folk dancing, singing, writing, drawing, playing the keyboard and all her subjects at school. Well, maths is her weakest subject, but her teacher assured me she was fine, just not top of the class. She asked for maths tutoring as part of her scholarship anyway. This meeting was shorter, as we both had trains to catch, but a pleasure to see her anyway.

I miss my kids! And the library that helped me meet them...

Friday, February 22, 2019

Book Blogger Hop: Your Favourite Book Accessory

This week’s Book Blogger Hop asks what is your favourite book accessory that is NOT a book. 

As a librarian, I like bookmarks. They are decorative and protect your book from dog-earing.

I have a history with bookmarks, mostly the commercial ones made to advertise books. They are left on bookshop counters as a freebie. Dymock’s in Melbourne, where I have done a lot of shopping for my school library over the years, used to lay them out on a separate counter which acts as a barrier for their cafe area(Not so much now). I used to take a variety of colourful YA or children’s themed bookmarks, which I kept at the checkout desk for the kids. There were also the Insideadog bookmarks from the State Library(no longer, alas!) and, in more recent years, the ones you get from the Premier’s Reading Challenge. All put in a box and kept at the desk! 

I admit it was a sneaky way to persuade my library users not to dog-ear the books they borrowed, and guess what? It worked! “Would you like a bookmark?” I asked. Some said no thanks, because they already had a special bookmark. A friend, the art teacher, used to make bookmarks by hand  for the students in her literacy class, with their names on them.  Most of them gave me an enthusiastic yes. So I’d get out the box of bookmarks and watch them carefully choose the one they liked best. Sometimes they would ask if they could have two and I told them to help themselves. So... I prevented damage to the books and made it a favour!

One year I made bookmarks for Christmas gifts for my friends, on black cardboard with silver and gold pens, writing their names in Dwarvish runes. I was very proud of myself, until a friend glanced up from hers and told me I’d mis-spelled her name, which didn’t have an e in it! (I made it again)

Only two of my books got bookmarks made for them. One was Crime Time: Australians Behaving Badly. The other was my so-far only novel, Wolfborn. Crime Time was published by Ford Street, which has a policy of doing bookmarks for its books. The Wolfborn bookmark happened because the novel, which I’d hoped to launch at Aussiecon 4, the World Science Fiction Convention, was delayed till December. I was disappointed, but asked if they could at least come up with something I could give out and sign at the con, and the publishers came through, with posters, samples and bookmarks. I think the bookmark was designed by a work experience student - or was it an intern? - due to the regular person being off on leave. Anyway, whoever it was did a great job, even making a specific spot for autographs! 

Both bookmarks have come in handy for signings since then. Melbourne author Michael Pryor says that for children’s books mini-posters are even better than bookmarks, because kids stick them to their diaries or  textbooks and other kids see them. I do see his point, but the only mini-posters I ever had were for Crime Time. I’ve found those handy too! 

So, readers, do you have any stories about bookmarks? 

My bookmarks, photo by Romy of Lost In Stories

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

On Re-Viewing The Hate U Give

A while back, I read The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas, which was one of the few bestselling YA novels I’ve read which I thought worth the hype. Here is my review of the book. When I heard that a film was being made, I became very excited. So was the author, for that matter, chattering about it on Twitter, so I believed - correctly - that if the author was happy with the film, it was probably going to be good.

We didn’t get it here till  February this year, while the US got it in October last year. My great-niece Dezzy had also read the book and loved it, so we decided to see it together, but after all that time I forgot and went in my own soon after it opened. So, when we went to see it together at my local cinema, it was a second viewing for me, and well worth a second look.

In case you have missed the hype, the story is set in a small town where African-American teenager Starr Carter lives with her parents, her half brother Seven and her little brother. She studies at an expensive private school where she is “Starr 2” and is somebody else at home. One night, at a party, a fight breaks out and Starr gets a lift home from her childhood friend Khalil, who is shot dead by a policeman who pulls them over on the road. Khalil isn’t the first friend Starr has seen die and the rest of the story involves trying to get justice for Khalil, while suffering PTSD herself.

The role of Starr is played by Amandla Stenberg, whom I last saw as the child Rue, killed in The Hunger Games - another YA bestseller I thought worth the hype, by the way!  She was well cast, I thought, and played the role with great passion and heart.  Her father was played by zrussell Hornsby, also wonderful in his role of the wise father who has come up from drug dealing to a family man who thinks nothing is worth risking his wife and children for.

Unfortunately it doesn’t seem to have turned up on this year’s Oscars short list for anything.  What a shame!

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

The Dog Runner: A Launch!

On Sunday, I went to Benn’s Books in Bentleigh to attend the launch of Bren McDibble’s new novel The Dog Runner. Here is my copy.

The book was being launched by Wendy Orr, who is the author of some award-winning books herself, including Dragonfly Song, which I’ve posted about on this site, in an interview, and the wonderful Swallow Dance. Dog Runner is only the second novel under Bren’s own name; as Cally Black, she won the Ampersand Prize and a publishing deal. But last year, her first novel under her own name, How To Bee, won the CBCA Award for younger readers.
I confess I’m only just reading that one now.

How To Bee was set in an Australia in which all but a few bees in a lab somewhere  are extinct due to pesticides. So children known as bees pollinate plants and the farm grows fruit for the city.  The new one is set in a world where all grasses have died, and when you think about what counts as  grasses, that is SERIOUS! People have stuffed up well and truly.

Wendy talked about the beauty of the novel, the characters and story. Bren spoke about her research, for which she received a travel grant, and went to ask questions of people who knew more than she did. She told one amusing story in which she and her husband were hot and went to cool off in a certain lake that was now a salt flat - no water!

Bren was brought up on a farm, so understood how her farm characters would feel about various things, such as the animals in their lives. If they had to kill kangaroos to feed themselves and their dogs, so be it.
The day was warm and the shop was also warm and I wanted a late lunch and to go off to read my new book. I’d had my copy signed at the start, so after the book was declared duly launched, farewelled Wendy and Bren and went to have lunch in a cool cafe. An enjoyable Sunday!

Wendy(L), Bren (R)

Monday, February 18, 2019

Moving On From Card Catalogues

This morning I came across yet another on line discussion of the joys of library card catalogues, this one on Twitter. A lady said she missed them and was immediately and enthusiastically endorsed by people who were using a smart phone or a computer to do something we couldn’t do back in the days of card catalogues. 

I think I may have been the only one to say I didn’t miss them at all, and why, and the lady courteously agreed that she saw my point but did miss cards all the same.  

I thought this might make a blog post. If you’re young, you probably won’t even know what a card catalogue looks like. In fact, one of the folk in that thread was a librarian and said that a small part of their collection was filed in catalogue drawers and how excited people were when she brought them to the counter. I can see that: we had a typewriter for spine labels in our back room, because it was safer than trying to do it on our photocopier/printer where they might just jam. And it was an electronic typewriter, which was very exciting back in the days of manual typewriters. The kids would visit the library workroom and say, “Ooh, what’s that? Is it a typewriter? Wow!” 

Doesn’t mean you want to have no other option. 

So, here are my memories of card catalogues. That’s where I started as a librarian. Heck, it’s where I started in my schooldays! I even remember card catalogues at the State Library. What are they? 

They are filing cabinets with drawers that are filled with cards that tell you what books the library holds. To use them, you need to understand the concept of subject, title and author, which have separate drawers. Subject is the worst, because most books have been catalogued under more than one subject, and they might not be in the same drawer. For example, there might be a card under “Ancient Egypt”. The same book might be about food in Ancient Egypt. You might, of course, find one under Ancient Egypt - Food, but if you want to check out food in various cultures you might have to go to a different drawer, under Food. Which might lead you to the cookbooks. Or some librarian might have decided to put the whole thing under food. I have been known to recatalogue old books I thought were in the wrong area, and it took me a couple of minutes to do on the computer. It would take at least half an hour with cards. Trust me! 

Manchester Central Library. Creative Commons. Flickr ricardo266

Which leads me to what you do when a book goes missing or you have withdrawn it. Don’t even get me started on CARDS that go missing because someone pulled them out of the drawer to look up a book and never returned them! Grr! 

Remember what I said about five cards per book? At least! There is a set of cards you keep in the workroom, filed in Dewey order. They represent every book in the library. You use those for stocktake purposes, when you check to see which books have gone missing. In a small card catalogue library like the one I started in, that can take three weeks, and you have to close. (Only a few days with a computer catalogue, and you don’t have to close the library, plus you can do it any time) There is one card each for author and title, maybe more than one author card if the book was co-written. Subject? It’s very rarely you only give one subject for a book. I’d say at least two, probably more. Each with its own cute little card. So, once you’ve gone through the shelves and you’re sure the missing books are really missing, not overdue, let’s say about 100 books are missing. That might be a minimum of about 500 cards you have to pull. 

Starting to get why I was so very happy when I came to a library with computer records? And that’s not counting trying to teach library skills to kids who are sent to look up books and can’t find them because the cards are missing. 

Aren’t there any disadvantages to computer records? you cry. Well, yes, if the power goes off, you are helpless. But that doesn’t happen often and let’s face it, if the power fails you can’t see anything anyway and still have to wait for it to return. Look, I love my little portable Olivetti, which is lighter than my laptop and won’t crash and lose all my work, but I wouldn’t trade my computer for it. If I make a mistake I can fix it immediately. 

If you have a computer catalogue you can, if you wish, subscribe to a cataloguing service, download and get on with your other work, especially looking after patrons. Yes, I enjoy cataloguing, but it’s nice to have the option. And yes, you could subscribe to those services in the old days, but you had to send them your books and wait for cards to come back. And file them. 

It’s better for library patrons too. You don’t need special training to look up the book you want and chances are that you will find something else you didn’t know the library had, because typing in your word will get you everything available - and you’ll know immediately if the book is out, unlike with a card catalogue, and you can reserve it if it is. Some catalogues even have links to useful web sites connected with those books. If it’s a public library, it will for sure subscribe to e-magazines and encyclopaedias. That is why I encouraged our students to join the local library if they hadn’t already, which could offer them resources my budget didn’t cover. And you can renew your loan online. 

The National Library of Australia has Trove, which has digitised newspapers going back to 1803 and magazines from the 1930s onwards. It’s free for all to use. Tell me you can do that with a card catalogue! 

There’s one more thing that makes me glad to have had computer records. The other year, my school discovered that most of my library furniture, very old as it was, had asbestos in it. I have no idea where you could hide asbestos in wood, but there you go! They took away my checkout desk, my trollies and the shelves on which we kept the encyclopaedias. Okay... the checkout desk was replaced with a snazzy brand new one and I’d been trying to get money for that for ages. We found space elsewhere for the encyclopaedias. I only got one new trolley, but I managed. 

Now, imagine if I’d had a card catalogue, wooden like the rest, bought at the same time... where on earth would I keep all those cards as I waited for a new one? Nobody would buy a catalogue cabinet, no matter how elegant, with asbestos in it! 

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Insideadog - the Revamp!

Last Sunday I visited the State Library of Victoria’s Village Roadshow Theatrette to attend the launch of the revamped Insideadog web site, a site aimed at teenagers, on books and reading. This site has been around for years, but it was felt it was time to update it. The teens who made up the advisory committee were quite rude about the old one - and I have to admit, the updated version is much easier and more use friendly. Here it is! 

It allows the young users to have their own blog page and comment on each other’s reviews. That was not the case with the old site. Oh, and no adults allowed! Well, you can read it, but you can’t join. 

There were two sessions. In the first one, some of the kids who had helped re-design the site were on a panel with author Lili Wilkinson, who had designed the original site. She described how she had managed to get the grant to set it up, including the name of the web site(“Outside of a dog, a book is a man’s best friend. Inside a dog, it’s too dark to read.” Groucho Marx). She said that was the only time the grants people laughed. Anyway, they got the money. Lili said that in those days, there were no social media sites, none of the things that would have made the web site more attractive. The kids discussed what they felt they needed.  

The next session was with author Melissa Keil and the rest of the kids. It wasn’t about the web site, but about what they expected in a book. The kids were very bright and articulate - mostly Year 11 and 12.

An interesting session in all, though I would have liked to see something about the site itself other than being told “it needed a revamp, and we revamped it.”  There was a projector they could have used to do a wander around the site, but didn’t. However, I had my iPad with me and checked out the site on my own.

After it was over, I had a chat with Lili, whom I know. She is working on a new novel, no title yet, a thriller. Her mother, the wonderful Carole Wilkinson, had taken out little Banjo to enjoy the Lunar New Year celebrations in the city. (Carole tweeted about it later).

Paul Collins was there, but had to leave early for another commitment he had. Still, nice to see a familiar face. 

I chatted for a while with the mother of one of those kids who had been on stage. Her daughter wanted a bit more time with her friends, whom she was worried she might not see again. The lady told me that her daughter was stressed because a wonderful teacher librarian had left the school for a better job elsewhere and had been replaced with one who was nowhere near as good - and then the entire library had been cut back to almost nothing. When the girl and her schoolfriend came to join the mother they confirmed it, along with their frustration, as passionate readers. The thing is, this is an expensive private school, where you expect a huge staff and lots of good things happening as they do when you have a decent budget. They are paying their fees to have that sort of stuff! 

I suggested that this was something the fee-paying parents might wish to address.

But who would have thought it? An expensive private school cutting back its library! 

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Wizarding Business Skills: Why Fred And George Learned Them At School

I’m rereading Harry Potter And The Goblet Of Fire. This volume has the first mention of  Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes, the joke shop that twins Fred and George want to set up. Their mother wishes they would focus on their schoolwork and eventually join their father and older brother Percy at the Ministry. Admittedly, both parents are not crazy about the unethical testing methods they use for their products, but Molly is also furious about the low number of OWLs they got(I’m guessing that’s Year 10 in Muggle terms) - she knows they aren’t dumb, she just wished they would pass their subjects. Interestingly, neither parent threatens to stop their Quidditch playing. 

But although they never finish their last year at Hogwarts( neither do Harry and Ron), are they really an academic failure? I don’t think so. 

Think about the skills they need to start up and run their business - skills they learned mostly at school in the years they were supposedly stuffing around.  

Firstly, there are the general business skills everyone needs to run a small business: research and development, marketing. Those are skills Fred and George definitely possess. They would certainly have learned the R and D across subjects, probably especially in Potions, the wizarding world’s answer to chemistry. No doubt Snape would not have been impressed if they played around in class with the school’s ingredients, but they would have learned there, if anywhere, how to experiment and test. Their marketing skills are their own, I think, judging by the huge success of their business in Half Blood Prince

Then there are the skills they would need to create their products. Potions definitely comes top of the list there, along with Herbology. They really would have to be very good at both those subjects to be able to make pretty much any of the items in their shop, along with remedies in case anything goes wrong. Thank you, Professors Snape and Sprout! 

Charms would certainly be useful in such things as their joke wands that turn into rubber chickens, complete with squawk. Unless they were perfectly capable of acing this subject, there are many items they couldn’t make. Thanks, Professor Flitwick! 

Transfiguration? Oh, yes! How about their Canary Creams that turn you, temporarily, into a giant canary? I doubt Professor McGonagall would be impressed with this use of her subject, but that would be where they learned it. 

Astronomy? That might or might not come into it, but the wizarding world seems to use it more like astrology than what we think of as astronomy, and some spells have to be done, say, at the full moon - I bet they were good at that too. 

Also, Defence Against The Dark Arts would help with understanding what might be too dangerous to use. 

Their spectacular exit from Hogwarts does suggest that they absolutely knew about pretty much every subject they studied, and how to...misuse them? 

There is already a joke shop, Zonko’s, which they use during their school years, probably in the course of their R and D as well as for fun, but theirs is better. 

I’ve stuck to the basic subjects as we don’t know what electives they chose, but I think we can assume they were very good at school - they made the best use of it for what they wanted to do with their lives.

So, whatever Molly might think, Hogwarts did very well for her sons’ careers. 

Saturday, February 02, 2019

Just Discovered... Upstart Crow!

Last night, I decided to curl up in bed with my phone and watch something on iView, on which the ABC shows programs that you might have missed, for a few weeks after they have been on. Usually, I check out Father Brown, if it has been on, but this time I saw the blurb for a show I tend to miss on Friday nights, because of family commitments, and had never heard of.

“Upstart Crow?” I wondered. “Isn’t that what that awful man Robert Greene called Shakespeare early in his career?” (Robert Greene was a rival author and Shakespeare even used one of his stories for The Winter’s Tale. Yeah, fan fiction of a kind. That’s how it was done in those days.)

Public Domain

And sure enough, it was a sitcom about the Bard! Think Blackadder, if a little less over the top, and no wonder, as the author is Ben Elton, who was the co-author of that amazing series. David Mitchell, who plays Shakespeare, even sounds a little like Rowan Atkinson. There are a few episodes available on the site. I intend to buy the DVD, which is currently on pre-order.

It’s very funny and pokes fun at a number of issues, such as all the fighting over whether or not Shakespeare wrote his own plays. Each episode deals with a play he wrote - in that episode he wrote Love’s Labour’s Lost, which he writes on the suggestion of his teenage daughter Susanna. Another episode had him working on A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which isn’t funny until he adds the ass’s head. On the other hand, his friends and family all think Hamlet, on which he is working, is hilarious; when they tell him why, you can actually see their point.

Christopher Marlowe is hiding out from his creditors at Shakespeare’s London lodgings. He is presented as a sort of Lord Flashheart.

Marlowe, Public Domain

It is oddly educational, despite the anachronisms, which have to be deliberate, or how else can you do it as a sitcom? I haven’t seen the end of Season 3 yet, but some sad things are history and you can’t change them. On the positive side, with everyone having different ideas abou  what happened to Marlowe and why, you can fiddle with that a bit.

There is a delightful, bouncy theme tune, “Jamaica” from Playford’s “Dancing Master”, which was familiar to me because I have a recording of Maddy Prior singing a song to that tune, and animated drawings.

I am a huge fan of the Bard. I’ve loved him since I discovered a battered old copy of Julius Caesar in
the house at about 11 or 12, and declaimed Brutus and Antony’s speeches. I was lucky enough to have a wonderful English teacher in Year 11, whose teaching of Richard III eventually ended in my joining the Richard III Society, and studied King Lear in Year 12. I remember opening my book to the page where Lear is banishing Cordelia and... Oh, the magic! The magic of it all!

I’ve seen so many different productions of Shakespeare’s work, including three in Hebrew. I’ve worked with the kids filming  scenes from Macbeth and Hamlet with a lady from the Bell Shakespeare company. She had a grant to do this, and had got the idea from a documentary called Shakespeare On The Estates. We discovered a promising young Shakespearean actor at our disadvantaged school,  who got to go to a holiday workshop as his teacher and the school rummaged up the money for him.

I’ve read Harry Turtledove’s wonderful alternative universe novel Ruled Britannia, in which  the Spanish Armada succeeds in conquering England, the Queen is locked up and Shakespeare is hired by both the Spanish and the British underground led by Lord Burleigh to write a propaganda play for them. Christopher Marlowe is alive and still writing plays. My copy is so worn out, I had to buy it in ebook!

There has to be a good reason why people are still reading, viewing and loving his work all these hundreds of years later, right? And reworking it in modern versions, such as setting Twelfth Night in a high school soccer team(She’s The Man), a teenage version of The Taming Of The Shrew(Ten Things I Hate About You). They are even refilling West Side Story.

I can’t see why they shouldn’t have the brilliant Ben Elton write a sitcom, especially as it was commissioned to commemorate the anniversary of his death. Here’s a toast to you, Will!