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Friday, February 14, 2020

Compulsory Valentine’s Day Post 2020

Public domain

Time for my annual compulsory Valentine’s Day post. Whether or not you have a thing going that involves giving or receiving flowers and chocolates, who doesn’t like a bit of romance? I don’t read Mills and Boon, myself, but I do admire the skills of those who can write it. 

So I will just waffle on for a while about some romances I have read.

Did you know that all those YA vampire romances started with a minor variety of standard romance? Mills and Boon, Harlequin, etc., have types of romances varying from “they share a chaste kiss on the last page” to hot and heavy. At some stage, there was the paranormal romance variety, which became big, especially among teenage girls, who adore their demon lovers. 

My personal preference is for rom com. I like the charm of it, and knowing that all will end well. When I was the teacher librarian at a school in Melbourne’s disadvantaged western suburbs, rom com was the top preference of our girls. The rom com books of Lili Wilkinson were always out. (Lili’s fiction has gone all serious lately, so her very sweet and funny Green Valentine is likely to be her last rom com. Pity about that)

YA romance is big, and always has been. The US has had several series, such as the 1980s Sweet Dreams series. Sweet Dreams did have some sub genres, but basically what the stories boiled down to was, a sweet young thing is in love with the captain of the football team, or some other school leader, who couldn’t possibly be interested in her, and has to compete for his love with the popular but mean girl. We all know who ended up with him, unless he turned out to be awful and she decided to go for the best friend who had been kind to her all along. Basically Cinderella, right? There was one I read which was seen from the viewpoint of the “mean girl”, who got sent away for her meanness and had an adventure of her own. But that was in one of the sub genre books.  They were all enjoyed by the girls at my school.

Australia had, first Dolly Fiction, then Girlfriend Fiction, the latter published by Allen and Unwin. Personally, I prefer these to the American stories. There was more variety - and the authors of the Dolly books were mostly writers who either were well known or who went on to do very well as children’s or speculative fiction writers. The Girlfriend authors were all well known, some of the top YA or children’s writers in Australia. Not all of them were even women. Award winning author Barry Jonsberg, for example, wrote a Girlfriend novel, using his skills as a secondary teacher to take us inside the head of a teenage girl. 

And none of those I read featured a Cinderella girl in love with the captain of the football team, and I read quite a few, as I got them for reviewing. They tended to be quirky romantic comedies. The kids loved them just as much as earlier girls had loved the American books. 

The thing is, there are plenty of classics that fall into this category, so no need to sneer at them. Shakespeare wrote rom com. Think about it. He did. Much Ado About Nothing? Taming of The Shrew, whatever we may think of that one in this era.  The Comedy Of Errors? Twelfth Night? And more. Jane Austen, anyone? We all know Pride And Prejudice, but there are others. I believe the latest version of  Emma is out in the cinemas - Emma, the girl who matchmakes for everyone else, stuffs it up and nearly loses her own chance at love.

There are, of course, genre books which have a romance on the side. Cosy whodunnits usually have a heroine who runs a tea shop, a catering service, a cleaning business, whatever, who has a gorgeous boyfriend who works with her to solve crimes. Corinna Chapman, Kerry Greenwood’s baker heroine, has a boyfriend who is a private investigator, so she is the one who helps him. In between investigations, they go out to dinner and home to bed, or they make dinner at home, watch Buffy or Babylon 5, and go to bed. 
Without Daniel, of course, she would just be running her bakery. Some other cosy heroines have a boyfriend who is a police officer. Thing is, you wouldn’t enjoy them so much without the romance on the side.

I’ve recently read a couple of Agatha Raisin novels, by M.C Beaton. Those are pretty much cosies, though the heroine eventually sets up a detective agency. Agatha Raisin is unusual in being middle aged. She left her drunken, good-for-nothing husband and assumed he was dead, till he turned up at her wedding to someone else(and soon became that novel’s murder victim). She has retired early from her successful P.R career and gone to live in the picturesque Costwolds village Carsely. There, she solves a murder in each novel - in one book, she returns from a London to be told that nobody was murdered while she was away. 

She is also in love with love. Her main lover is her next door neighbour James Lacey, a military historian who eventually turns to travel writing. However, she also finds herself attracted to men who turn up for a single novel. They usually end up being the murder victims, or, in one case, the murderer. The murder victims invariably turn out to have been thoroughly nasty. Which doesn’t discourage Agatha, who keeps hoping that the next romance will end in a happy marriage.  

So, readers, what is your favourite type of romance? 

Friday, February 07, 2020

On Reading A Book About Writing Horses!

I think this book is going to be very useful to me in future writing. Judith Tarr is a fantasy writer who focuses on horses in her fiction. My favourite of her novels is A Wind In Cairo, set in mediaeval Egypt, in which a spoiled young man is turned into a stallion as a punishment after committing rape. His rider is a thirteen year old girl. He does learn his lesson. 

She keeps horses herself - Lippizans, no less - so knows all about them. I follow her on Twitter, on which she talks a lot about her beloved animals. These days she is publishing on the ebook writers co-op Bookview Cafe, which was run by Vonda MacIntyre till she passed away recently. I found this particular one when she mentioned on Twitter that her bills desperately needed paying and asked if we would buy some of her books. Quite a few people did, I gather. 

I wandered over to the Bookview Cafe website and browsed among her books. I’d read most of the fiction on offer, so when I found this one I knew immediately which I wanted. I do my research before writing, or at least make sure before submitting that I have it right. I guess it comes of writing so much non fiction myself. So, this has been added to my reference library. 

Not everyone writes about horses, but if you are sending your heroes on a quest in an era when cars are not a thing, you really need to get your horses right. From the way this book is written, beginning with reminding you that horses aren’t dogs and you can’t use your knowledge of dogs to write about horses, the author  must have read quite a bit of horse-inclusive fiction that made her roll her eyes. 

I am fully aware that horses are not furry machines that can’t run non-stop, and probably that you can’t just feed them oats, but I was amazed at how much water a day horses need, and how much grain you need to carry with you on those quests. 
I’m sure I have written something cringe-worthy about horses over the years, and, after reading this, I have decided to be vague about horses from now on. It’s embarrassing to make horse experts laugh. 

The chapter simply describing parts of the horse definitely looks like it’s based on all those novels that got it wrong. No, you can’t kick a horse in the flanks, which are at the end of the ribs, and are sensitive. You move them with a nudge on the barrel.

The book tells you about care of the horse, even naming conventions of various breeds and their problems. Even if you don’t need to worry about that because your story is set in a fantasy universe, as the author says, “On, Bill!” just doesn’t have the same ring as “On, Shadowfax!” 

At the same time, you are probably never going to call your Shetland pony Shadowfax anyway. (I once read a novel in which a girl wants to give her ugly horse a beautiful name and calls him Rosinante, not knowing where the name came from, and has to put up with people laughing)

Even if you don’t write horsey fiction, this book is fun to read, and you may never feel the same about heroic fantasy quest novels again. 

The book is written entertainingly, in a chatty style, warning you of what will happen if you do things like give a horse a lot of oats and walk away(it would die), or what would happen if you ever succeeded in kicking a horse in the flanks instead of the barrel (it would be painful indeed!)

Well worth a read, even if you don’t write.

You can buy it from the Bookview Cafe website, here, along with her other books. , or on Kindle.

Just Finished Re-Reading...Hail! Hail! by Harry Turtledove

The year is 1934 and the four Marx Brothers(including Zeppo)whose film Duck Soup has recently come out, are on a train through Texas. They arrive in the small town of Nacogdoches, where they had once performed while in vaudeville. When the train is temporarily held up in a storm, they leave it to have a look around at their old stomping ground. Lightning hits, zapping them all back to the year 1826, when there was an attempt in that town to get independence from Mexico for Texas, under the name Republic of Fredonia, which sounds like “Freedonia”, the fictional country of Duck Soup. No Margaret Dumont, of course, but they encounter the Yiddish-speaking (historical) Adolphus Sterne and his Yiddish-speaking slave, and find themselves caught up in the rebellion. As they know a lot about what is going to happen, they are in a position to change history, though not willingly... 

The story is seen from the viewpoint of the eldest Marx Brother, Julius, better known to his fans as as Groucho. The brothers are called by their real names, Julius, Leonard, Arthur and Herbert. Each of them has a personality unlike the character he plays in their films. Leonard aka Chico is a keen gambler. Arthur is definitely not Harpo. He became the one who doesn’t talk because he was hopeless at memorising dialogue. Herbert/ Zeppo is the youngest and best looking, but not much of an actor; Duck Soup was his last film. 

If you’re expecting a Marx Brothers film in written form, you will be disappointed. These are the real brothers, not their movie characters. But they are still sharp and witty, especially Julius, and the historical figures they encounter are almost as absurd as the fictional characters in their films. The story is still fun and it should tell you something that I’ve been happy to reread it a number of times.

As far as I know it’s only available on Amazon, as a Kindle book, but it’s easy enough to get a Kindle app on your iPad. I’m glad of mine, as it has some books I can’t get on Apple Books. 

Well worth a read! 

Thursday, February 06, 2020

Vale Kirk Douglas!

Kirk Douglas 1955. Public Domain.

Vale, Kirk Douglas, who has just passed away. 

He did live to the grand old age of 103, but it’s always sad when an admired person passes away. 

So, why talk about an actor on a book blog? Why not?

He had an amazing career, ninety movies. And there were several based on novels. Let’s look at a few. 

The film Lust For Life was based on Irving Stone’s novel about Vincent Van Gogh. 

In The Devil’s Disciple, based on Bernard Shaw’s play, he played the title role. The character, Richard Dudgeon, is the black sheep of his family during the American Revolution. However, he allows the British to take him away in mistake for minister Rev.Anthony Anderson, played by Burt Lancaster, who is out of the house at the time. Basically, the “Devil’s Disciple” behaves bravely, with honour, while the Reverend discovers that he himself is better as a warrior than a minister and joins the rebels.

Gunfight At The OK Corral(also with Burt Lancaster) was not based on a novel, but featured a screenplay by  Leon Uris, author of Exodus and Mila 18. Kirk Douglas played Doc Holliday. 

The Vikings, in which he played the nasty Viking Einar, with Tony Curtis, Ernest Borgnine and Janet Leigh, was based on a novel by Edison Marshall. I have a feeling I have a copy somewhere... 

In the Disney film of Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea, he played the role of Ned Land, a Canadian seaman who travelled under the sea, with Professor Arronax and his servant Conseil, in Captain Nemo’s submarine. He was even given a cheeky little song in an early scene of the movie. 

There are quite a few novel-based films in which he appeared, but the most famous was Spartacus, based on the wonderful novel by Howard Fast. He was the producer of this one(director was Stanley Kubrick) so got to make the decisions. When he decided that Howard Fast really couldn’t do the screenplay, that it wasn’t working, he changed Hollywood history and almost single-handedly began the ending of the McCarthy witch-hunts by hiring blacklisted screenplay writer Dalton Trumbo and insisting that his name be on the film credits. Not that Howard Fast hadn’t been blacklisted, by the way - in fact, he began writing the novel in prison - but as Douglas said in his autobiography, sometimes the author isn’t the right person to do the script. Dalton Trumbo, about whom a film was made a few years ago, was writing under pen names with others as his “fronts”. He won an Oscar for a low budget movie(his front collected it for him) and also wrote Roman Holiday under his pen name. He wrote the script for Spartacus under his own name. The blacklist began to crumble. 

All because of the amazing Kirk Douglas, Issur Danielovitch, born so poor he didn’t get around to having his bar mitzvah ceremony till he was in his 80s, so proud of his actor son that he bragged that he was now known as Michael Douglas’s father rather than the other way around. 

I have only just discovered he wrote a couple of children’s books, among the many things he did in his old age. I must look them up! 

RIP, Kirk!