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Sunday, March 31, 2019

#A-Z Challenge 2019: A Is For Australian SF Publishing

My theme this year is SF and fantasy, authors and worlds. But I’m starting with our SF publishing.

Australia has a fascinating history of SF and fantasy. According to Wikipedia, it was a ban on US pulp magazines during World War II(luxury) that gave local authors the chance to show their stuff. And show it they did! 

I remember some earlier Australian publications. There was always a strong fandom, and some anthologies, but the first professional Aussie SF publication, Void, was published by my lovely Ford Street publisher Paul Collins in the early 1970s. I stumbled on to his secondhand bookshop a few years later and bought some copies, in hopes of a sale. I never did sell to Void, or his book imprints Void Publications and Cory and Collins, though I sold to him later, when he had started writing and publishing children’s books. However, these publications did publish some of our top writers, such as David Lake, Keith Taylor and A. Bertram Chandler. David Lake is best known for his sequel to The Time Machine, The Man Who Loved Morlocks, though that was published by another small press. I have a copy somewhere on my shelves. Keith Taylor wrote fantasy for Cory and Collins, though the last time we met he was writing historical romance. The late Bert Chandler wrote a delicious space opera series with a hero called John Grimes, as well as Kelly Country, an alternative universe novel in which a science fiction novelist time travel visits Glenrowan on the night the Kelly gang confronted police there and changes Australian history. 

These days, much SF in Australia is published by small press, with what is sold in the bookshops focussing on fantasy, usually thick fantasy trilogies. Most large press Australian SF is published overseas and brought back here to sell. I think there are some Aussie authors whom their overseas fans don’t even know come from here.

But many of them are willing to write for small press here, however big their names are outside Australia. Sean Williams, for example, has had fiction published in semi-prozine Andromeda Spaceways, including a short piece set in the universe of his YA Twinmaker science fiction trilogy. This author is a NYT bestseller, and I have worked for ASIM(now ASM) and believe me, we have never paid much, which may be why we get so many overseas submissions by future big names who never return once they are being paid about ten times what we can afford! But local authors - that’s another matter. Sean McMullen, another bestselling local SF author, has also been in ASIM and has been published by Ford Street Publishing in recent years.  

As I’ve said, it’s difficult to publish SF here, except in small press publications. And small press is able to take chances the big companies can’t. 

We have lost a number of small press publishers over the years, including Satalyte Press, which closed very suddenly, leaving authors having to find new homes for their works, including one which had been launched only recently, and FableCroft publishing, run by Tehani Wessely, a teacher librarian who published many anthologies over the years, including Worlds Next Door, a  children’s SF and fantasy anthology in which I had a story. 

There are still plenty of them around, though. Coeur De Lion doesn’t take unsolicited work except for its annual anthology, Dimension 6, which is published on line. That has published the likes of Margo Lanagan, who is certainly well known outside of Australia, for such books as The Brides Of Rollrock Island and Tender Morsels and definitely for her devastating short story “Singing My Sister Down”, and writes both SF and fantasy. 

Aurealis has been around for many years and has given its name to the annual Aurealis Awards for versions forms of speculative fiction. It is now publishing only on line, about a story a month. 

Twelfth Planet Press does both anthologies and novellas. Mother Of Invention included work by Seanan McGuire(who is not Australian, but clearly willing to do small press). 

Ticonderoga Press, a small but formidable publisher, has published the fantasy collection Prickle Moon by Juliet Marillier and a reprint of Lucy Sussex’s The Scarlet Rider, a book originally published by Tor, but doing much better in its current incarnation and with a nicer cover than the Tor edition. 
Ford Street Publishing specialises in books for children and teens, some of which are mainstream, but there are plenty of speculative novels as well, including a fantasy series Paul Collins is writing with Sean McMullen. Sean McMullen has also written two YA time travel novels for Ford Street, centred around Australia’s Federation in 1900.

There is a new publisher, Shooting Star, which has published a book by the wonderful Gillian Polac, among others.

The nice thing about all those small presses that specialise in spec fic is that there is always at least one book launch at every convention. The bad news is that I so often end up buying yet another book and have to find space for it...

Saturday, March 30, 2019

Much Belated Theme Reveal: #AtoZChallenge 2019!

I have been wrestling with ideas for this year. A couple of years ago I did an unofficial A to Z on Australian crime, based on my children’s book Crime Time: Australians Behaving Badly, as I had the information to hand. My next, and first official one, was on spies and spying, also based on a book I had written. That one went over very well. I got a lot of comments and made some new friends on line. Last year, when I did the theme of Aussie children’s writers, was a bit of a flop, though I still got some lovely people commenting and made some new friends. Most of the problem was that the official web site made it a lot harder to find web sites of interest - you had to look them up on their spreadsheet. I may be in a minority here, but I went cross-eyed trying to find stuff I’d enjoy in that spreadsheet and I was probably not the only one. Or maybe it’s just that not many people are interested in Australian children’s writers.

This year I will be writing about another subject that I love and hope many others do: science fiction and fantasy authors and their worlds. I know others have done this, including at least one online friend of mine, but there are so many, plenty to share! I will, if possible, stick to authors whose books I have read and enjoyed. I’m including the worlds as a sneaky way to use letters I might not otherwise find, eg X - I don’t know any authors with surnames starting with X, but there is certainly a world with a name beginning with X, Xanth. I might slip in some favourite films and TV shows. Watch out!

Cover of ASIM 60, art by Eleanor Clarke

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Children’s Book Council of Australia Shortlist 2019!

Well, the CBCA shortlist is here, and I’m embarrassed to say I haven’t read any of the books on it, though I’ve heard of or read some of the authors. Claire Atkins has been on the shortlist before, as have Scot Gardner and Steven Herrick. To be honest, I love Steven Herrick’s verse novels more than his prose books, but I wish him all the best for this time. I read one of Karen Foxlee’s books for the Aurealis Awards and that was shortlisted in the children’s section. In the Younger Readers I am familiar with the work of Ursula Dubosarsky, who has certainly been shortlisted before, the wonderful Jaclyn Moriarty(check out my interview with her on this site!) and Emily Rodda, very popular with the kids, for her Deltora books, but this isn’t one of them. 

I see Alison Lester and Tohby Riddle are there in the picture book section - well done!  

Time to get reading! 

I found this on the Reading’s web site - check for the full details here

Older Readers (for ages 13-18 years)
Younger Readers (for ages 8-12 years)
Early Childhood (for ages 0-7 years)
Picture Book of the Year (for ages 0-18 years)
Eve Pownall Award for Information Books (for ages 0-18 years)
CBCA Award for New Illustrator (for ages 0-18 years)

Sunday, March 17, 2019

52 Mondays: Book Launch!

This morning I went to Reading’s in Hawthorn for the launch of 52 Mondays, by Anna Ciddor. I’ve already read and reviewed it, here. Anna was there with her family, daughter, daughter-in-law, grandchildren and her husband, Gary, with whom I once went to school. Gary was pleased to see me and we had a chat. We discussed the research Anna had to do for her last book, The Family With Teo Front Doors, which was set in a Jewish community in pre-war Poland. He said there had been some interesting problems with talking to ultra-Orthodox Jews, because there are so many different groups, all of whom do things differently. In the end, there were some things she just had to make up and hope she got them right.

 Her granddaughter Amalie was handing out party squeakers for everyone to blow when the book was officially launched. Because it’s a children’s book and has a birthday party in it, the bookshop was set up as a children’s party, with little party cups of sweets, Twisties, fairy bread, and Fanta to drink. There were balloons up too.

When the launch began, there was an intro by her publisher, Susannah Chambers, and a teacher librarian from MLC, the private girls’ school up the road(she read “telegrams” by students who had read and loved the book). Then Anna got up to do her part.

She invited everyone to think of where they had had breakfast this morning, what they had eaten and how breakfast was prepared... then spoke of a breakfast scene in the book and described, in great detail, what breakfast in the 1960s would have been like, equipment not as good as today’s, milk delivered by horse and cart and birds picking through the foil lids to get at the cream!

When she finished, inviting us all to have some of the party stuff they had taken such trouble to set up, everyone blew their squeakers. It was a cheery launch and there were more children than I usually  see at these events. When I lined up to get my book signed, a lady approached me to say she went to school with me. Amazing how many people from my school years remember my face! We talked a bit and she expressed interest in my book Crime Time for one of her younger family members. I did tell her she would have to order it in, as bookshops didn’t stock it these days. She asked carefully about just how gruesome it was. I said, “This is a children’s book!” Which it is. It’s just gruesome enough for kids to say happily, “Oh, yuk!” but not enough to give them bad dreams.

I got my book signed - the usual “Thanks for your support!” I get from every single writer who knows me, and whose work I have reviewed - and said my farewells before departing. It was a warm day today - despite the season chang, it still feels like summer!

Saturday, March 16, 2019

Four Dead Queens by Astrid Scholte. Melbourne: Allen and Unwin, 2019.

Four Queens. A divided nation. A ruthless pickpocket. A noble messenger. And the murders that unite them.

Seventeen-year-old Keralie Corrington is one of Quadara's most skilled thieves, but when she steals an unexpectedly valuable package from a messenger she is soon entangled in a conspiracy that leads to all four of Quadara's queens being murdered. 

With no other choices and on the run from her former employer, Keralie teams up with Varin Bollt, the Eonist messenger she stole from, and together they race to discover who has killed the queens. But when dark secrets threaten their reluctant partnership and put everything at stake, Keralie and Varin must use all their daring to stay alive and untangle the mysteries behind the nation's four dead queens. 

So, what do you do when something fishy is going on and the only person you can - possibly - trust to solve it with you is the very person whom you have robbed? 

Quadara is a former kingdom now split into quadrants and ruled by four Queens. The rules are very strict for these women. They have to make every effort to give birth to a daughter by the time they turn 45. This daughter is then taken away to her quadrant and raised by adoptive parents while being prepared to rule one day. Sons go to their fathers. If there is no female heir, the closest female relative is chosen. And once she becomes a Queen, she is not allowed to return home, in fact she isn’t allowed to even leave the palace. Forget love - there is no consort, there are “matching balls” where the rulers get to meet a potential mate. After he has done his job, he leaves. The idea is for nobody to favour their own quadrant over the others. It started hundreds of years ago with four young widows of the late king, who made a firm set of Queenly laws and stuck to them. 

Until now. Each Queen of the current crop has at least one Deep Dark Secret. And one by one, over a few days, they are bumped off.  

Each quadrant is different. Archia grows food but is low tech. Toria is the trading centre, which has some technology. The Ludists enjoy dressing well and partying. Eonia is the most technologically advanced of all, but you really wouldn’t want to live there, for reasons Varin explains to Keralie. You just wouldn’t! I’ll let you discover why for yourself, because spoilers.  

Keralie is the daughter of a sailing family, but hated sailing enough to do something that wasn’t intended to harm her father, but did. Now she is desperate to save him; she is hoping that there might be a reward for the information she has found, but it isn’t that simple... 

I read this over a couple of days. It was a highly entertaining read. I enjoy murder mysteries anyway, but having one in a fantastical universe made it even more interesting. I liked that it was one which couldn’t take place in our world. That’s all I will say of this, because again spoilers. 

There was an interesting twist towards the end. 

And that cover, with the four crowns on it, is delightful, especially the Eonist crown with its DNA double helix decorations! 

Some things didn’t quite work for me. 

The worldbuilding was not bad, but I have to say, I’m not sure I can swallow all of it. I needed to suspend disbelief at the notion that the Queendom would have lasted so long without someone rebelling or trying to take over. I would have thought there would be more in the way of trade arrangements between the quadrants than there is. There is a reason for some of it, for example the Queen of Archia refusing to allow electricity in her quadrant, because it might spoil the environment. There is certainly some restlessness among those people who know it exists but have to ride around in carriages and use lamps for light. But nobody has sneaked anything in, or started a revolt. 

And given that there doesn’t seem to be a unified army, just a bunch of palace guards, what would happen if someone from outside tried to invade?  

But it’s well worth a read, an exiting ride right to the end - I read it speedily. 

This novel would suit a senior secondary school library. 

Available in all good bookshops and online. The author lives in Melbourne, but it’s also available outside Australia. 

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Douglas And Terry - This Week In History!

Twitter is a useful place to hang out. Today I discovered that Douglas Adams was born on March 11 1952 and Terry Pratchett died on March 12 2015. So, two authorly things within two days.

Creative Commons Image 

I remember when I first discovered Douglas Adams and The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy. It was in 1981, when I was studying librarianship at RMIT. Librarianship was a huge study, let me tell you! The course was supposed to be two years, but there weren’t the facilities to do it over two years, so it was all crammed into one, a graduate diploma. We used to agree among ourselves that if we could have gone to the library to work at five a.m we would have.

It was the most exhausting year I have ever spent studying at uni. So I needed something to keep me cheerful. I can’t recall anyone recommending the book to me. I just remember laughing out loud, and reading and rereading and quoting. And then I discovered that other librarianship students were also reading it, and we quoted it over coffee during our few breaks. My brother and I recorded the radio show. I watched the TV series. I saw the film. In the end, I read all the books, including the sixth one, written by Eoin Colfer from notes by the late author. I read both Dirk Gently books. SHADA, his Dr Who episode, was finally finished and put together using animation for the missing bits, and of course, I bought it in DVD and it has pride of place on my shelves. I also have a CD of him reading the third book in the series, Life, The Universe And Everything. He really could read well!  

Sad that he went and died on us so early! Not even fifty years old. What could he have written if he had lived longer?

Wikimedia Commons 

And then there was the amazing Terry Pratchett, author of some of the funniest and most touching novels I’ve ever read. There were 41 Discworld novels, which were fantasy, but had great fun sending up the real world. I honestly can’t recall how I became a fan. A friend recommended the series, but I made the mistake of beginning from the start, with The Colour Of Magic, which was not his best work, so it took a while to come back via another novel, Mort, and fall in love.

But fall in love I did, to the extent that I have read and reread the Discworld series, and all my paperbacks are falling apart.They are comfort reading for me.

I am so happy that Good Omens, the novel he wrote with Neil Gaiman has finally made it to the screen.  The small screen, probably just as well, because it would have had to be cut savagely to do a film version. It will be a while before I get to see it, because it will be first on Amazon Prime, then on the BBC and, about a year from now, finally make it to the rest of the world. But for the time being,
I am enjoying the radio play, which features Terry and Neil in cameo roles!

Vale, Douglas and Terry - you are much missed, but never forgotten.  

Monday, March 11, 2019

A Great Escape: An interview with Felice Arena!

Felice Arena is the award winning author of many children’s books, including the Specky McGee books and several other series. A few years ago, he was interviewed on this blog by some of my students, who had studied Specky McGee in Literature Circles. 

 In recent years he has started writing historical fiction for children. The latest is the wonderful A Great Escape, set in Germany immediately after the Berlin Wall went up. The hero, Peter, is stranded on the East German side while his parents and little sister are on the West German side, split as were many other families in this era. I couldn't help thinking of North and South Korea, where split families finally got to meet again a while ago. 

Felice has kindly agreed to be interviewed about his new book, which I enjoyed very much and which will almost certainly make it into next year’s CBCA and YABBA lists! 

Take it away, Felice! 

GR: This is your third piece of historical fiction for children. The first one, The Boy and The Spy, was set in wartime Sicily, the second, Fearless Frederic, was set in Paris in 1910, during a flood, this one is set in Berlin at the very beginning of the Berlin Wall. Why did you choose these particular times and places in history to write about? (Each seems to be a time in history when something dramatic was happening!) 

FA: This might sound strange – perhaps a little out there – but I believe that characters and stories choose their writers. Well, they do for me. With The Boy and the Spy, a simple conversation with my parents about my mother’s uncle who had a friend who was an orphan boy during the Second World War led to that character calling out to me: “Write my story!”  

A visit to Paris a couple of years ago, during a flood in that city, led Frederic to me and his adventure in Fearless Frederic. And as for Peter in A Great Escape… he sought me out not via my past travels to Berlin but my chats with my German neighbour here in Melbourne.

GRIt must have been fascinating to do research for this book - there would have been a lot of families broken up by the wall, like your hero, Peter, and his friends. Can you tell us a bit about your research for this book? Did you get to speak to anyone who was affected by it? 

In the previous answer I mentioned my German neighbour. He’s 76 years old and grew up in Berlin. And, he was also a guard on the wall! What are the chances!? (I did not find this out until I was about to write the story). He naturally turned out to be a fantastic resource while writing this book. Plus, there is so much documentation about the Berlin Wall online, and as a result the research was a little easier than it had been for learning about Fearless Frederic’s world of 1910. It’s modern history. People affected by the Berlin Wall are still very much alive today. I also got to talk with my Berlin friends and get their perspective on it. 

GREach of your three historical novels has a strong, intelligent girl to interact with the hero. Elke is certainly smart and brave. What did you have in mind when you created her - and the other two girls in your novels? 

FA: Generally, the protagonists in my books tend to be boys, only because I see myself in these characters. As for strong, intelligent girls in my books, I’ve been blessed to have strong women in my life – and I always want to represent and reflect them in my female characters – like Elke, Simonetta, and Claire.

GRYou have certainly proved that it’s possible for an author to move between genres - sports fiction, humour, adventure, historical fiction, picture books. Is there something you particularly enjoy about trying a new type of fiction? 

FA: We all want to feel we’re evolving in whatever work we do. My love for travel and history and movement in my stories has always been there. I just haven’t really had the opportunity to write stories like these until now. Saying that, if you’d go back to my sports books, like Specky Magee, the dynamics and emotional layers of how kids relate to each other have always, I think, been the common denominators in my stories. Only the backdrops have changed. 

GRAre you thinking of doing some more historical fiction? If so, does any particular era appeal to you? 

FA: Yes. I’m thinking something closer to home. But I’m waiting for that character and his/her story to find me. There’s a boy calling me from St. Kilda at the moment. I might just have to find a quiet spot to reflect and daydream and see what he has to say. 

GR: What are you working on now?

I absolutely loved writing the Sporty Kids series for beginner readers. I’ve also gotten so much joy out of presenting to that age group in schools that it’s prompted me to write a new series for the little ones. 
The first two books in that series is due for publication early next year. More details can be found at my website:  or over at my Instagram account:

And congratulations on your CBCA long listing for Fearless Frederic

FA: Thank you. It’s a real thrill and an honour!

A Great Escape is now available at all good bookshops in Australia and on line, at Booktopia, or in ebook. His previous historical novels The Boy And The Spy and Fearless Frederic are both available on Book Depository. If you live outside Australia and want to read this new book, be patient! It will be released soon.