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Sunday, July 28, 2019

Book Blogger Hop - On Carrying A Book With You

This week’s Hop asks if you always carry a book with you.

Well... yes. Always. In fact, several hundred books now, that I have my trusty iPad with its Apple Books app and the Kindle app I added when we were beginning an iPad program at my school, as the kids’ iPads all had that, and I wanted to help them use it.

I travel by public transport. Before I had my ebook apps, I had to stick to books that were not too thick or heavy, and absolutely no hardcovers.

But even now, I usually take a print book, in case my battery runs low. The one currently in my tote bag is Lois McMaster Bujold’s Miles Vorkosigan novel The Warrior’s Apprentice, in which teenage Miles convinces a bunch of hardened space mercenaries that he is the leader of a nonexistent army, the Dendarii Mercenaries, and makes it real by taking over their army. I’ve read it enough times that I may need to buy the ebook to keep it from falling apart.

My newest book, Harry Turtledove’s Alpha And Omega, is hardcover, so has to be left at home. I did take that with me for a while, in my knitting bag...

Just so you know, there is no room in my home that doesn’t have books in it, including the smallest room! (Where I am currently rereading Harry Potter And The Goblet Of Fire). If I can’t be without a book at home, why would I go out without one? 

Saturday, July 27, 2019

Some Female Sleuths I Like!

With this year’s Davitt Awards for women’s crime fiction coming up, I thought it might be fun to talk about some fictional female sleuths I’ve enjoyed reading about over the years. I prefer cosies to thrillers, though I do enjoy the occasional police procedural. In fact, I will be including an unusual one in this post, of which more later. 

Firstly, the most famous of this lot is Jane Marple, Agatha Christie’s elderly heroine, who is best known for the village mystery, though she does travel, usually as a gift from her nephew Raymond, who is a successful novelist. Wherever she goes there is bound to be a murder! 

Miss Marple is sharp as a tack. She tends to be underestimated by the baddies, for whom she plays dumb, but the police generally respect her if they have worked with her before. Her ability to solve crimes is helped by her understanding of human behaviour. Quite often she will comment that a suspect reminds her of someone in her village - and she’s right. In her first story collection, The Thirteen Problems, she is part of her nephew’s Tuesday night friends group, who gather to discuss unsolved mysteries. Without any examination of the crime scene or footprints in the flower beds, she listens carefully and works out the answers to all the mysteries. 

She has a wide variety of friends and relatives upon whose expertise she can count for her research, whether it’s a boy who knows about maps or, in The 4.50 From Paddington, a freelance housekeeper friend whom she asks to get a job in a house near the site of a murder seen by a friend of hers on the train one evening. This is different from other detective characters who don’t seem to bother with outside expertise to help them. 

Two of Australian author Kerry Greenwood’s women sleuths are next on my list. Since the hugely popular TV series,  1920s detective Phryne Fisher is well known to all, so I’ll keep it short. I discovered these books after reading about them in a newspaper article. They sounded fun - and so they were. Phryne Fisher lives and works in Melbourne in 1928-29. She is a professional private detective who does charge for her services, although she will also investigate a case that she feels is important. She has the money to be able to do what she wants, without worrying about what others think. She has two minions, taxi drivers Bert and Cec, who are Communists, and two wards, Ruth and Jane, with whom she lives in a “bijou” house in St Kilda, not far from where I live now. Her maid Dot is also her assistant, able to identify any clue with 
domestic connections, whether it’s the kind of notepaper used in an anonymous note or how recently the floor has been waxed and polished at a crime scene. 

I loved the flavour of the 1920s in the city where I live, and enjoyed all the books, though the earlier ones were better, in my opinion.

Kerry Greenwood’s other heroine, Corinna Chapman, has not yet made it into a TV series, alas! There are seven books so far in the series. Corinna lives in the present-day Melbourne CBD, in a building called Insula,  designed as a Roman apartment block, over shops of some of the owners, including Corinna’s bakery, Earthly Delights. Her neighbours are a kooky and likeable bunch, who end every novel with a party down in the basement. Corinna looks a lot more like her creator than the sylph-like Phryne and, unlike Phryne, enjoys cooking. The recipes included in each book are Kerry’s, and easy to make, unlike those in many other cosies I’ve read. Corinna has a gorgeous boyfriend, Daniel Cohen, who is the actual private detective in this series, but of course, she helps him in puzzling the mysteries out. Oh - and they aren’t murder mysteries, though there are occasional baddies who threaten death. There are things, and sometimes people, missing. In one case there were sabotaged chocolates from a high quality chocolate shop. Each novel has a theme, whether it’s Christmas or TV soapies or cults. They’re great fun. To be honest, I like Corinna’s adventures better than Phryne’s. And I’ve made some of the recipes, successfully. 

Another female sleuth I quite like is Kathy Reichs’s Tempe Brennan. Her adventures have become a TV series, Bones, though I haven’t seen much of that. I have read a number of the books. Temperance Brennan, who works in Canada, is a forensic anthropologist like her creator. That means she examines the gruesome remains of murder victims(usually before unwisely investigating whatever crime has been committed to create those dead bodies). I have been fascinated by forensics since being commissioned to write an article about it for the NSW School Magazine many years ago. It’s connected to my love of archaeology. 

Tempe does seem to have at least one scene in each of the books I have read in which she is caught in a locked room with the killer who snarls some variation on, “You interfering bitch! I’ll kill you!” But the books are entertaining stuff anyway. I heard the author speak at a Melbourne bookshop once, and say she had been invited to do a cameo on Bones. She said no until she found out she was going to meet David Boreanaz(better known to me as Angel, the vampire with a soul, from Buffy). That changed her mind quickly.

Agatha Raisin is another sleuth who has turned up on TV. The books are by M.C Beaton, who also wrote Hamish Macbeth. Agatha is a delightfully flawed middle-aged woman who has taken early retirement to live in Carsely, a village in the Cotswolds. Agatha is vain, gets jealous easily, smokes like a chimney and is willing to cheat; she solves her first mystery, in The Quiche Of Death, because she has to - she cheated in a village baking contest and the judge dropped dead, apparently from eating the quiche she entered. While not a fan of gardening, she cheats again in The Potted Gardener, getting a whole pre-planted garden delivered overnight to look good in a gardening festival. But she is a likeable character in general, basically kind-hearted, and very good at the crime investigations, and she eventually sets up a detective agency. There are quite a few murders for such a small place, to the point where, whenever she has been in London or overseas, her friends in Carsely joke that things have been quiet while she was away, no murders, but now she is back...

There are a lot of quirky characters in the books. But that seems to be the way of the village mystery. 

Guerline Scarfe is the heroine of  Simon Petrie’s Matters Arising From The Identification Of The Body. This one is a sort of police procedural, but set on Titan. Guerline, a sole parent with family issues, is also a police detective investigating the death of a girl who went out into Titan’s freezing, poisonous atmosphere and took off her spacesuit helmet. Unquestionably suicide, but... why? I liked that the story was crime fiction but also hard SF and that the answer was science fictional. I’ve reviewed it on this blog, if you want to check it out. There is a planned sequel not yet out at this writing, but definitely read this one! 

So, those are some of my favourites - what about yours? 

Sunday, July 21, 2019

My Moon Day!

So, today I went to the Sun Theatre in Yarraville to see the Apollo 11 moon landing in real time, apart from a bit of footage of the craft taking off. It was interesting to see all those men - yes, they were all men, as far as I could see - at their desks, doing the work of getting the ship going. The CAPCOM was astronaut Bruce McCandless, who didn’t actually go to space for some time afterwards, but did some exciting things when he did. There’s a video of him flying around in a chair thing(MMU) in space, on YouTube. But we also saw the young Charlie Duke, who was in Melbourne earlier this year.

So, the ship got to the moon, the LM landed. We watched it all happening - well, the approach to the moon from the Eagle’s window and  their getting out of the LM, anyway. There were the historic moments - “The Eagle has landed,” , “One small step...” and “Magnificent desolation”, to applause from the audience, and then the astronauts got to work, collecting samples and setting up equipment for experiments. They talked about how they managed their walking, what the surface felt like and so on. They set up a camera to film themselves as they worked. 

As people were taking photos of the screen and nobody said we couldn’t, I did the same, and here is one blurry shot. You can’t see it from this, but the light and shading on the left side of the LM looked to me like a portrait of Lenin. Once seen, I couldn’t unsee it! 

So, most of it was work related, and I became aware, after a while, that those on Earth were taking great care that Buzz and Neil didn’t run out of air. There were regular comments on “portable life support systems” and the astronauts were called back up to the craft before they could run out. You probably also know that they landed with just enough fuel to get them back to the Columbia.

 Apparently Nixon had two speeches prepared, one for their success, one in case they got killed. Think about it: blasting off into space on top of a huge bomb! Scary! 

Unfortunately I have a tendency to doze off in the dark and I missed the planting of the flag. Well, it was history, after all. 

I believe this was also done at some other centres in Australia, at the same time. 

Some years ago, I wrote an Apollo 11 story for the Ford Street anthology Trust Me! The hero was a boy who missed the moon landing, due to a bully and the need to help his grandfather out. If you’re interested, the anthology is still available on line, in print or ebook. 

I did a lot of research for it, in 1969 newspapers, not only the articles about the actual moon landing, but also what was on TV, the theatre and the movies, how much groceries cost, letters to the newspapers... I didn’t use it all, but it made me feel comfortable in the era. There was even an article in which the journalist described his personal experience, so that I knew what the weather was like in  Melbourne on that day! (It was a fine, sunny winter day). 

So, how did you celebrate today’s Moon Day? 

Friday, July 19, 2019

Of Using Social Media When You’re A Writer Or Reader

So, why have a social media account when you’re a writer or reader? 

I mainly only belong to Twitter. My sister keeps trying to persuade me to join Instagram, where she keeps the family photos, but really, I’m doing enough in this area. I have more than one blog, though this is the only one I use regularly, and a Twitter account and one in Goodreads, which has allowed me an author page and shows these blog posts. 

I have never had a Facebook page, even though so many businesses are there, so it’s inconvenient. Mainly it’s because, as a teacher, I really didn’t want kids pursuing me there, although you never know where they will find you. I’ve had one student say, at lunchtime in the library, “Ooh, Miss, you’ve got a YouTube channel!” and another, an anonymous Year 7, say hi to me, quite politely, on a video I put there. Really, I was impressed that they managed to spell my name correctly enough to look me up, though in some cases it might be counted as stalking. Not really, in these two cases, they were just curious, and pleased to find that Miss had a life outside the school, apart from those books on the library shelves. But you can see how it might get nasty, and we’re not allowed to have kids follow us, or follow them, on social media. The more I read these days about what’s going on on Facebook, the happier I am not to be a member. 

Does Goodreads count as social media if you’re only using it to keep track of what you’re reading and making the occasional comment on someone else’s review? A lot of people do use it for more. The impression I get is that many authors are advised, by agents or publishers, to get a social media profile because it keeps them in the public eye and fans can follow and be thrilled to talk to their heroes. And that’s the last you hear of them. The only books on their Goodreads shelves are their own. Same with Twitter, though no shelves, of course. Many others join as readers, e.g YA authors Michael Pryor(who also has a blog, though not connected to GR) and Tamora Pierce, both of whom write reviews like the rest of us. Then there are others who answer questions of their fans, e.g SF author Lois McMaster Bujold, who patiently answers even the oddest questions, week after week. I tip my hat to her! 

It does get the occasional social media vibe when there is a drama. Last year I looked up a book I’d been sent for reviewing, out of curiosity, and found it was the centre of a particularly nasty discussion- not because the book itself was especially controversial, just another YA contemporary, but because the author had been extremely rude - and threatening - to a reviewer who had given it a polite but not enthusiastic review, for reasons that were explained. There are rules on Goodreads. You are absolutely not allowed to respond there to reviews, not even when the reviewer says, “I’m glad I didn’t have to pay for this book!” or “I only read eight pages, hated it!” And yes, I’ve had both of those in my own reviews! And gritted my teeth, but didn’t respond.  It’s not a professional site, after all, just one where readers share books they have read. They will say things pro reviewers never do, however rude those reviewers might be about a book. It is very influential, though. People make book choices according to GR reviews. 

So, I rarely use the star rating system and never rate a book I haven’t read. But others do. A popular author often gets five star ratings for books not yet published or even read by the reader concerned. And others, angry with an author for one reason or another, decide to stuff up the star ratings for him or her, by giving it one star without actually reading it. That happens sometimes - this wasn’t the first time. 

If you think you know which book and author I am talking about, I don’t want them named here. The drama has been over for a while. It’s not that I have any particular sympathy for the author, who behaved unprofessionally. I didn’t care much for the book, either, so I gave the author an interview, to let them explain it, as there may be plenty of others who will enjoy it. Then I gave it away. 

But I was shocked by the childish behaviour of all those readers who did the one-star thing as revenge. No. Not on. If you hate a book, fine, say so. If you think the author has misbehaved, absolutely say so. But don’t rate books you haven’t read. Not five stars for an unpublished, often unfinished, book by a favourite author, or one star for a book by someone who has made you angry. 

I did wonder for a while if I belonged there, but I’m still a member, posting the occasional review and updating my books and, of course, these posts appear on my author page . 

I joined Twitter, at first, because I was sick of missing author events in Melbourne, especially at the Wheeler Centre, where they have semi-regular talks and panels, and their Twitter account announces those.

Then I realised that despite some truly nasty political discussions and racist louts, there were also plenty of authors and artists, teachers and librarians, all chattering away about their work. There are celebrities who are happy to chat to their fans, as well as those who set up an account in order to get that social media profile and never actually tweet. There are big name writers who do post - Neil Gaiman, who krpt his fans up to date with the filming of Good Omens and answered what questions he could, and J.K Rowling. Harry Turtledove, author of alternative universe history(and, more recently, a fantasy thriller along the lines of Dan Brown, only he has a sense of humour, and his characters actually eat, sleep and, presumably, go to the bathroom, something that didn’t happen in The Da Vinci Code. I only knew about it because he mentioned it on Twitter). And many Aussie authors - a small community, so nice to be in touch and know when new books are being launched. 

And the occasional astronaut. Buzz Aldrin has an account and posts regularly. Amazing how fit and good he looks for his age! He chatters away cheerfully about stuff he is doing, and last year at this time, when someone invited us all to remember where we were on THAT day and Buzz said hilariously, “I was on the moon.” 

What social media do you do? And do you enjoy being able to speak directly to your favourite authors? 

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Book Blogger Hop: Self Published Work

This week’s  Book Blogger Hop asks what you like or dislike about self published books. 

Okay, to start with, I don’t review self published work here unless the author has a track record as a paid author in the regular publishing industry. The reason is that, while there is undoubtedly some wonderful work in that area, I really don’t want to wade through the rest to find it. It’s a bit like online fan fiction. Anyone can publish online now. The fanzines I used to read in the old days had a filtering process. Someone had to want to publish it. That doesn’t mean there were no awful fanzines - there were plenty, just as there is plenty of dreadful stuff being published by the big four. But there is less chance of finding badly written stories with poor grammar, punctuation and spelling. Someone had to edit it, and quite a few self published authors don’t want to pay an editor. I’ve received so many review requests from them and their marketing companies that give me a snippet which presumably is supposed to draw the reader in. All I can think of when I read them is, “If that’s the best bit, what’s the rest like?” My favourite of these was one who had written some horror fiction with a historical background, but clearly hadn’t done her research. A music box appeared in 17th century Salem! And the evil witch had that well known Puritan name of Natasha. Another had written a children’s book with eleven year old lawyers.

There are many reasons why people self publish. I’d like to mention that one of my authors in Andromeda Spaceways #60 had been self publishing, but submitted to us and made her first sale, and the last I heard from her, she had acquired an agent. She had discovered that publishers might be willing to pay her for her work, so decided to have a go at finding them. 

Some do it because they want to keep their rights and their money. Usually they are people who have been published before, but not always. It might be a niche subject that regular publishers aren’t interested in. If you know what you’re doing, fine. Not everyone does.

I have to tell you, I’ve been blocked from the blog of an author who had been going on for years about how horrible “trad” publishers were and was a militant self pubber, though she hadn’t actually done it yet. My crime was suggesting, quite politely, that I hadn’t had any particular problems with them. By the way, the lady has still not done her first book, despite her carry on about the matter. I can only assume she had had a few rejections to make her so angry.

I know a few people who have done both. These are known as hybrid authors. Felicity Pulman’s wonderful YA Janna Chronicles were dumped by her publisher after Volume 4, despite there being two more books to go. Some of my students were reading the series at the time. She self published the rest and eventually another publisher took on the lot. By the way, I bought her self published books for my library so the kids could finish the series. She did it for a reason and has now found another publisher.

Patty Jansen is a highly militant self publisher of SF, but has also sold enough fiction in the US to be allowed into the Science Fiction Writers of America. She knows what she is doing, so does well in her sales of her self published work. 

Another friend, Simon Haynes, started in self publishing, sold his series, then went back to self publishing. I haven’t asked him why, but I can guess one reason: publishing companies just can’t keep up with him. He is very prolific, and publishers who accept your book are unlikely to publish it for two or more years, as they have a list to get through. He knows how to put together ebooks and commission art and post them online, so why wait for a publisher to do it? 

Tansy Rayner Roberts is another hybrid author who, I suspect, self publishes because publishers couldn’t keep up with her.

Michelle Cooper, author of the terrific Montmaray series, wanted to do a book about inventions. Her book, Dr Huxley’s Bequest, was written as a novel. Her agent didn’t think publishers would like it, so she said, “I’ll do something else next time, promise!” and self published. The book has done very well, even won a major award or two. 

I should add that self published books have been short listed for the Aurealis Awards and the CBCA Awards. I am pleased for the authors. I suspect they were among those who knew what they were doing. 

And that’s the thing - you do have to know what to do. You need to invest in an editor rather than a marketing company, which will take your money and spend a short time finding blogs and emailing the lot at once. There are good freelance editors out there, many with experience in working for publishers. Beta readers are all very well,  but if they are friends they will try to be kind, and if they are in your writing group, you may decide to ignore the advice you don’t like. It’s not enough, by itself. 

You need to find a good artist for the cover, and let them get on with the task, without messing them around. Don’t try to design your own, unless you have art talent. I’ve read blog posts by authors who are asking commenters’ opinions on what to do about the cover they are designing without any skills. Yes, I know editors and artists cost money, but those who want to be seen as professionals need to make their work look professional. 

I don’t reply to anyone who sends me an inquiry but doesn’t address me by name and has clearly not bothered to read my guidelines. Please don’t tell a blogger you love their blog when you aren’t following it. I once asked nicely what in particular they loved and, as I suspected, the reply was vague. Just say that you have noticed their blog reviews the kind of book you have written and ask if they would be interested. Even a grump like me will answer that, and sometimes I even offer them a guest post, with the understanding that it’s not their press release.  It may be something my readers would like, even if I’m not interested. I just don’t review it. 

So, do I like self published work? Sometimes. Mostly, I just don’t read it. 

Saturday, July 13, 2019

Happy Bastille Day - Some French Reading!

Happy Bastille Day, everyone! (And belated happy birthday to Harrison Ford, Star of some of my favourite films).

In honour of the day, I’ll chat about a few French or French-themed books, in no special order. Just a few! 

We’ll start with the historical romance Desiree by Anne Marie Selinko. Desiree Clary was a real person, Napoleon’s fiancée before he dropped her to marry Josephine. She married one of his Marshalls, Jean-Baptiste Bernadotte, who eventually became King of Sweden. The historical Desiree was a very strange woman - maybe “weird” would describe her better - but novel-Desiree is delightful and likeable, beautifully played in the film by a well-cast Jean Simmons. The novel is written in the form of a diary, beginning when the heroine is fourteen and ending with her coronation as Queen of Sweden. Conveniently, it lasts her all those years, so must be quite a thick book, but that’s fiction for you. Desiree is a silk merchant’s daughter whose family are passionate about the Republic. As Napoleon shows his ambition more and more, Desiree is put off a man she once loved. The Napoleonic era is seen through her eyes. I don’t know if the print version is still available, but you can buy it in ebook. 

The real Desiree - Public Domain

Next, the Father of Science Fiction, Jules Verne. (The Mother of SF, of course, was Mary Shelley, but she was British). I confess I have only read a small amount of his fiction so far, though I have seen a lot of the film versions, but even when his novel is an adventure rather than SF, he is interested in the science of his time. Around The World In 80 Days, for example, isn’t speculative fiction, but it does start with an argument over how fast current technology will allow you to travel around the world. The hero, Phileas Fogg, a man who can only be described as obsessive compulsive in his habits, is willing to bet his entire savings on proving this. He travels with his valet, Passepartout(the novel’s French viewpoint character), who only took the job because he thought it would be nice and peaceful,dammit, and, later, Aouda, a widow rescued from her husband’s funeral pyre. It’s hilarious - and, in the end, proves that 80 days is, indeed, enough time. 

And then there are the actual SF books. He was using the science of his time to ask, “What if...?”, and he did his research. His voyage to the moon sets off from Florida, for example. He had some disagreements with H.G Wells, who sneered at his moon novel, Voyage To The Moon. Verne’s response was that at least he had done his research instead of inventing some fictional element(the equivalent of those South American poisons in so many whodunnits before Agatha Christie). Which is fair enough - Wells wrote SF, yes, but his real interest was in society, so that in The Time Machine the descendants of the rich are living in the sun, doing nothing for themselves, and being fed on by the descendants of the poor, living underground. If it took some handwavium to get his story going, that’s what he would do. 

Our very own Sophie Masson, French-Australian YA author, has written a lot of fairy tale themed stories for our delight. Two of them are Hunter’s Moon, Snow White set in the 19th century, in which the heroine’s father is the owner of a chain of department stores and the evil queen is her sophisticated fashionista stepmother, whom she admires until the lady tries to have her killed, and Moonlight And Ashes, Cinderella set in the same universe, also the 19th century, which goes as far as the ball, then takes a dramatic turn. I’ve reviewed both books on this blog - check them out. More recently she has done Black Wings, a straight historical novel about the French Revolution. Apparently, some of her ancestors lived in the region where the story is set. 

An alternative universe YA novel by her is the unusual Hand Of Glory, set in a Victorian era Australia in which the English and the French share the country. Apparently this was a possibility. It’s a fantasy novel as well, and well worth a read. Not sure if it’s still in print, but worth checking. 

In her role as a publisher, she has published Jules Verne’s adventure novel Mikhail Strogoff, translated for the first time in a century. She read it many times in the original French, but the only English translation was poor, so she commissioned a new one. It’s a beautifully-illustrated little hardcover, now available on line.

Among the classics is The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas. If you think “classics - boring stuff we had to read for school, dead white males!” think again. A book becomes a classic because people keep reading it, and loving it. It’s not for nothing that it has been filmed over and over and inspired other fiction, including Tansy Rayner Roberts’ Musketeer Space, a gender-flipped queer version set in space. And by the way, written by a dead POC, rather than a dead white male. This is one I discovered for myself, and read all 650-odd pages in a day. Great fun, and you can get it free on Project Gutenberg, though you may prefer a more recent translation. 

Joanne Harris’s Chocolat was a delightful book with just a touch of fantasy, in which the heroine, a chocolatier in a small French village, devises chocolates according to people’s personalities. There was also a film version, with the amazing Judi Dench as a villager. 

Any favourite French themed or French books in your pile? 

Monday, July 01, 2019

On Writing For Kids!

I’ve had some good news, I’m writing a phonics reader for kids in their first year at school. It’s a lot harder than it sounds! There are quite a lot of words you can’t use because they haven’t learned them yet, and several words you have to use because it’s part of the new stuff they’re learning. (Interestingly, one of the brighter kids in the prep class I’m volunteering with can write “yard”, a word on the “not yet learned” list!). One of the high frequency required words is “was”, but you can’t write the story in past tense because they don’t yet know words ending in “ed”. And you can’t even work it into dialogue, because they haven’t yet learned “ay”, so no “says”.  A fascinating challenge! It’s a(deliberately)silly story of 160 words about a family and their goat attending the Goat Cup. (You can use the word “contest” if you absolutely must, but don’t use it more than once, if you can avoid it, they prefer single syllable words) - the sound-of-the-week is “oa.” And with all that, you still have to do a story kids will enjoy - micro flash fiction! 

You won’t see this book on any awards lists. Nobody will review it on Goodreads. You won’t even find it in your local bookshop, only order it from booksellers or the publishers. But I’m learning from doing it. Who knows? I might even end up learning how to do a picture book! And it’s paid writing work. 

So, what does this lead into? 

I’m a children’s writer, with one YA novel under my belt, as well as a (retired) teacher librarian. I sort of fell into children’s writing, a while after winning the Mary Grant Bruce Award for a YA short story, but I wouldn’t write anything else now, apart from the occasional SF/F short story. It requires skills not needed in writing for adults. Both require you to be able to grab the reader’s attention. Both require imagination, though I do have to wonder about all those adult books winning awards for “beautiful writing” rather than telling a wonderful story with characters you can care about. But kids are stronger critics. If you can’t grab them right away, they won’t read your work, sorry! Not even if you are a “beautiful writer”!  And they do have to care about the characters. All those YA dystopian novels end with a brave girl(usually a girl) saving the world. Some adult books do that, but they are not required to - they tend to be more respected if they finish with “He loved Big Brother” and such. 

So, I was a bit bemused - and disappointed - to read a tweet from an author whose first book I recently read and enjoyed, complaining bitterly that just because she was a woman she was being labelled as a YA writer! How unfair was that! Men didn’t have to put up with this labelling! 

Huh? What evidence did she have for that, apart from someone maybe listing her books as  YA on a website? (They’re not, I agree. Not one of her skills, I’m afraid, and I can see her writing only for adults). Was it an assumption? And why the offence anyway? Does she really think that writing for the world’s most difficult audience makes you inferior, somehow? Yes, probably... Sigh! So many people just don’t get it. 

A friend of mine, many years ago, was offended when I told her that some short stories she had written were perfect for kids, which they were. She had characters in over the top situations who took them totally for granted. This is something you see in the short fiction of Joan Aiken. She did get it when I gave her some Aiken to read, and Joy Chant’s wonderful Red Moon, Black Mountain. She even entered the Mary Grant Bruce Award for children’s fiction, with a story she later developed into a YA novel, and sold some short children’s fiction. When she heard “children’s fiction” she thought “Enid Blyton” - though I do have to say, I’d love to have the success of that lady, whose work, racist, sexist and classist as it is, has nevertheless entertained generations of kids.

But Enid Blyton doesn’t represent the whole of children’s writing. 

Yes, most YA and children’s fiction is written by women. Not all. And not all men’s YA books are  boys’ thrillers either. Michael Pryor’s entertaining novels vary from steampunk to humorous ghost stories - and they feature strong, intelligent girls. Likewise Garth Nix, whose Old Kingdom stories are all about girls with amazing  abilities. One of his books was a hilarious Regency fantasy, Newt’s Emerald. My lovely publisher Paul Collins started as a straight SF writer and moved into writing for children and teens and publishing for them.  Same with Sean McMullen, who has written several YA books over the last few years, after a career in adult SF/F. Philip Pullman could have written SF/F for adults with a little tweaking, but instead wrote an amazing YA series, His Dark Materials. Even Jack Heath, who does write teen thrillers, wrote at least one novel in which the girl was the adventurer and the boy was her tech support. Sean Williams does both, and his brilliant YA trilogy about what might really happen if we had teleport had a girl as the main character. Plenty more where those names come from. Those are only the SF/F writers. Anh Do(who also paints and entertains) and Oliver Phommavanh(primary school teacher and comedian)and Felice Arena(formerly a soapie actor, of all things) all write wonderful stuff for younger readers. Andy Griffiths, anyone? 

They certainly aren’t complaining about being labelled for writing women’s stuff! As a matter of fact, there are, I believe, men writing Mills and Boon under female pseudonyms, and a guy I used to know for his fantasy novels was writing historical romance last time we spoke.

Of course, this lady would argue that these men had a choice, one she doesn’t have, because of being a woman. Yet there are plenty of female writers who are writing for adults without this labelling. It’s the first I’ve ever heard of it. 

I am not sure I will be reading any more of this author’s books, though I did enjoy the first one - here’s the thing, I enjoyed it, but probably won’t be rereading it, though I do reread YA and children’s books. 

I dropped out of the discussion after saying that, no, she wasn’t a YA novelist, because I will be hearing her speak at a con next year and don’t want to spoil it, especially if we end up on a panel together.

I can only hope she doesn’t do any panels on YA.