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Tuesday, March 31, 2020

A to Z Challenge 2020: A Is For Arthur

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So, what was your first image of (King) Arthur? Was it the old man sitting on a throne handing out quests and knighthoods? Was it the boy pulling the sword out of a stone? The heroic Romano British warrior? Something in between? All of them are legitimate, all of them have their modern authors writing about them, as well as the mediaeval ones. 

Here is a post I wrote earlier, about visual Arthurs, to save writing about those again. There are quite a few films and telemovies and even a TV series, Arthur Of The Britons

I think my first Arthur may have been T.H White’s, via the film Camelot and the Disney Sword In The Stone, both of which I saw as a child. And T.H White’s Once And Future King was based on Malory’s 15th century Morte D’Arthure. This is probably the Arthur most of us think of first when we think of him. Sword in the stone or from the lake, Merlin, Camelot, Lancelot and Guinevere, the Grail Quest. 

But there are others. Even Thomas Malory’s Arthur, the king who hands out knighthoods in Camelot gets his moment of warrior glory when he goes to war against Rome and wins. By the way, Malory seems to have written his magnificent work while in prison. He chose the wrong side in the Wars of the Roses(Lancaster while York was in charge), but he may have been locked up for reasons that were not political. Whatever the reasons, he gave us the Arthur everyone imagines even today, though he was using existing French works. 
There is a warrior Arthur, who turns up in quite a few modern books, including Rosemary Sutcliff’s Sword At Sunset. His first companions did not include Lancelot, who arrived later, from France, but Bedwyr(Bedivere) and Gwalchmai(Gawain). Drust(Tristan) was an early one too, and may even have been a real person. 

So, why did Arthur change from warrior to the King of Camelot? I wrote my Honours thesis about that very question. The early, possibly historical, Arthur gets very few mentions in the surviving texts, but if he was around he would have been too busy trying to keep out the post-Roman invaders to sit around handing out quests. And he is not a Christian creation. My conclusion was that by the time you get to Malory he has become a Christian King, and while Christian kings did fight - look what happened to poor Richard III! - the expectation was that they didn’t risk themselves and the kingdom, the land which was one with them, by going into battle. At the start of the Morte Arthur, having won his kingdom in battle against eleven kings who didn’t want to serve “a beardless boy”, decides to  have adventures like his knights and goes off alone to have one. He meets up with a mysterious knight who turns out to be King Pellinore, fights and is defeated, having to be rescued by Merlin, who explains to Pellinore who he is. What’s more, he has broken - broken! - that sword which made him king when he pulled it out of the stone. That’s when Merlin arranges for him to get another one, from the Lady of the Lake and you see the arm in white samite. (I wrote a story about that, “The Sword From The Lake”, published in Andromeda Spaceways #5. In my story it was Nimue, who was disobeying orders, desperately trying to get the sword to Arthur). 

After that, Arthur never does the adventure thing again. Battle, yes, in the Roman War and, of course, when he has to fight Mordred. And he kills a giant at St Michael’s Mount to save the local community. But none of the silly, “Bet I can beat you!” (to paraphrase Mark Twain) the knights are doing. If he, the anointed king, had died that first time, what would have happened to the kingdom?

I’d compare it to Captains Kirk and Picard. Kirk just runs off every time, taking his second in command, sometimes even his chief engineer and medical officer, and nearly gets killed. Who would run the ship in that emergency  without him? Early Picard has to be reminded by his second that it’s not appropriate. Not that he listens for long. 

But warrior Arthur is in quite a few early tales including some I will mention in the course of this A to Z. Watch out for them! 

And here are two posts I wrote about Arthurian books! 


An Interview With Poppy Nwosu

Today I would like to welcome author Poppy Nwosu, who has kindly agreed to be interviewed for the Great Raven. Poppy’s second novel, Taking Down Evelyn Tait, has just arrived in the world, but the planned launch is not going ahead, so I am giving it a virtual launch here. 

In her first book, Making Friends With Alice Dyson, the nerdy Alice has become the subject of gossip among her schoolmates, starting with an online video of her doing a silly dance in the street with Teddy Taualai, who had himself been avoided and gossiped about since his arrival from another school, where he was supposed to have...well, read it. 

GR: Starting with an obvious and basic question - where did you get the ideas for both your books?

PN: I was really inspired by the fun and positive vibes of a favourite teenage book of mine, the gorgeous Finding Cassie Crazy by Jaclyn Moriarty. I had this idea that I really wanted to write a book with a similar feeling, light and romantic and easy to read, but with some emotional depth too.

Making Friends with Alice Dyson was then directly inspired by a viral video I saw of two south Korean teenagers caught on camera doing a very goofy dance-off on the street on their way home from school. It was really the seed that then extended out into a whole story!

When I later began writing Taking Down Evelyn Tait, I knew I wanted it to have a similar feeling to my debut, but also in a lot of ways I think the new book was written as a bit of a reaction to my first. I wanted the main character to be really different, so I made her very outgoing and confident, and I also wanted a stronger focus on family, as in my first book the protagonist’s parents are mostly absent from the story. So it was fun to do something a little different.

GR: I see that Evelyn Tait, heroine of your new book, gets a mention - just one! - in Making Friends With Alice Dyson. Was this deliberate? I mean, were you already planning your second book? Or did you decide to use this character because she was only mentioned once?

PN: Haha, I love this question and I am so glad you noticed!
Firstly, although the title of my second book is a bit misleading, Evelyn Tait is actually the villain (not the heroine!) but yes, she definitely gets a mention in my first book. I really love the idea of writing stand-alone stories, but also wanted to connect them through the place and setting of my novels. But I have to admit, I didn’t plan it out that way!

Yet luckily for me, when I was writing the first draft of Taking Down Evelyn Tait, my first novel was still in the final production stages before publication, so I was able to go back and change a name or two within the book to place some little Easter eggs in there for eagle-eyed readers!

GR:  Tell us about Alice Dyson. Is she a true nerd or is it more about what her parents expect of her?

PN: Oh, this is a very good question! I actually had to stop and think.

No, actually, I don’t think that Alice really is a dedicated lover of schoolwork. I think there are elements of it that she likes, because they make sense to her in a complex world, but I don’t think she feels passionate about academics. She does strive very hard to be good at school, though, and that is because she has big dreams, and she feels she’ll never achieve them if she doesn’t get top marks.

I think also that her parent’s high expectations play an enormous part in the person that Alice has crafted herself to be, and I think that by following her parents’ wants and needs more than her own, Alice is not especially being true to herself.

GR: Tell us about Evelyn Tait. In her only mention, Alice considers her a rival in maths. What else can you tell us about her without spoilers? How different is she from Alice?

PN: Well, this is the fun part! Evelyn Tait is not a heroine at all, but in fact, the villain of my second book! The heroine is called Lottie, and she is a wild troublemaker and music-lover, and the person she hates most in the world is good-girl Evelyn Tait. My second book is very much about the journey that Lottie takes as she attempts to destroy her enemy by beating Evelyn Tait at her own game … being good.

My new heroine, Lottie, couldn’t be more different from Alice, and I think for me as a writer, that is her appeal. It was really fun to write about a very different type of person, someone who wears her passions and emotions on her sleeve and throws herself into any situation without ever thinking of the consequences!

GR: Tell us about Teddy Taualai. Clearly, he is not the school bad boy, as we might assume at the start of the book.

Yes, that was something I really wanted to play with in Making Friends with Alice Dyson, the idea of stereotypes. I really wanted to set Teddy up at the start of the novel as your typical ‘bad boy’ love interest, but slowly through the story reveal that he was not that way at all. But I didn’t want him to just be a misunderstood ‘bad boy’ with a heart of gold, I wanted the reader to realise that, in fact, Teddy isn’t a bad boy at all. He is a really nice, sweet, thoughtful boy, but the people around him have built up a persona and false impression of who he is that he can’t get away from, no matter what he does.

GR: Is the part of Adelaide where these books are set a place where you have lived, or just somewhere you like? In fact - is there a school with that wonderful view of the sea?

PN: Yes, I was very inspired by the neighbourhood I live in when writing both of my books. I moved here about eight years ago and really love it, there is such a beautiful mix of industrial desolation and seaside tranquillity that I really find fascinating.

And yes, I didn’t attend it, but there is a school (where I go to vote!) that has grounds leading right down to the dunes near the sea! I definitely fictionalised the setting, so I didn’t have to adhere to particular buildings or distances, but it was heavily inspired by that school and my surrounding areas.

GR: Are any of the characters in Alice Dyson inspired by people you know? Even the art teacher, who is Alice’s favourite teacher?

PN: No, I definitely add in tiny fragments of real life into my stories, but none of my characters are fully inspired by anyone I know. But I do have a lot of fun making them up though!

GR: What are you working on now?

PN: I have just finished working on a special new manuscript, which I am very excited about. I can’t say too much about it yet, as it is still early days, but it is a bit of a road trip novel, and I had a lot of fun writing it!

GR: Finally, tell us about Poppy Nwosu! (Including how you reacted to your first sale.) What do you enjoy when you are not writing? Does your day job help you with ideas for writing or is it very different?

PN: Haha, this is a fun question too!

Alright, about me! I grew up in a tiny village in central North Queensland, in a cane farming community. I studied music and was very passionate about it for most of my teen years, but when I left home, I realised I didn’t love music as much as I thought I did, because I didn’t work very hard to keep it going after I finished university.

I discovered writing a few years after that. And with writing, I was definitely willing to work hard!

I’d always loved reading and stories, but I’d never imagined being a writer. But as the years went by, I became more and more passionate about it, until I was utterly obsessed (and I still am utterly obsessed!).

I had been writing for many years very seriously before I finally sold a manuscript to be published. It was the most wonderful feeling. I was so excited and happy I could barely communicate properly.

These days I am very lucky with my day job. I only work part-time and I actually began work recently for my publishers, in a marketing and publicity role. I really love working within publishing, it is so interesting to learn more about how the industry works and, I think, really helpful as an author to also understand the behind-the-scenes stuff in terms of book production.

Thanks, Poppy, for your enjoyable answers to my questions! 

Wishing you lots and lots of sales, I declare this book launched! 

Wikimedia Commons

If you live in Australia, you should be able to order both books from all good bookshops, including Dymock’s, which delivers, or through the publisher website.

Online there is Booktopia(Australia) or the Book Depository, which delivers free to most countries. Amazon is not currently adding stock, due to the coronavirus situation, so may be a while. 

Wakefield is a small press, so is still arranging ebooks for Evelyn Tait, but Poppy assures me those will be available soon. 

Meanwhile, you can get Alice Dyson in ebook, if you haven’t read it yet. 

A Belated Theme Reveal For A - Z Blogging Challenge 2020

I hadn’t planned to do the Challenge this year, after a lot of confusion last year over how to find anything on their spreadsheet, but I decided to have a go anyway, as it makes me write something every day, and last year I did find some enjoyable new blogs and excellent bloggers to follow. This year I will visit some blogs and comment at least once. Likewise, I will visit the blog of anyone who comments here.

 Wikimedia Commons

So, this year’s theme is the Arthurian legend. I am a huge fan of things Arthurian. I’ve read a lot of books, from mediaeval poems to modern novels, over the years. Arthur was the subject of my English Honours thesis, way back when, the title “Arthur: From Epic Hero To Master Of Ceremonies In Middle English Literature.” I’ve written some Arthurian tales myself, some of them published and two still awaiting a market. One of those is a novella I wrote last year, on the theme of “Sir Gawain And The Green Knight”. The trouble is, hardly anyone these days is buying novella length fiction, and the market for which I wrote it was only taking urban fantasy. My own fault for not noticing that bit of the blurb, but there is a story now, which I would never have written if I had paid attention! Anyway, there will be a post about “Gawain And The Green Knight.”

I will also be mentioning some of my favourite modern authors of this kind of fiction, so watch this space! 

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Poppy Nwosu - A Guest Post!

Twitter is a community I joined a few years ago, for reasons such as getting information about events of interest to me happening in Melbourne, such as the Wheeler Centre at the State Library. When I was there, I found a lot more - fellow teachers, librarians and authors, chatting away about their work, and their forthcoming events. In recent days, many of them have been sadly speaking of cancelled book launches, including today’s guest, Poppy Nwosu, whose second novel is about to come out. I had heard of her first book, Making Friends with Alice Dyson, but been unable to get hold of it in ebook till recently. 

I can’t offer a physical book launch, and I’m still reading the book, but I’ve offered this guest post and there will be an interview as soon as I’ve finished the novel, the closest I can get to a launch. 

Meanwhile, here is Poppy, and some links below to where you can find her books.

Go, Poppy! 

I really wanted to write an interesting guest post about inspiration when writing fiction, about where ideas come from and how they are formed. I sat down to write it. I really tried to write it.

But I couldn’t.

Truly it feels as if the whole world is changing at the moment. We are facing a challenge like nothing any of us have seen in our lifetimes and, despite the fact that I know I have things so much easier than a lot of other people out there, it is still very hard to focus on anything else at all. 

There is simply only one thing running through everyone’s minds, on everyone’s lips, seeping through every interaction. Across every thread of social media. It is an absolute overload of information, mis-information, fear and panic.


Yet, on the upside, I have also seen a real banding together of community too, something I have witnessed quite a few times now within the Australian book community.

So in the end, I think I want this guest post to steer away from the obvious. Less talk of viruses and fear. More focus on community. The Australian book community, specifically. 
So I thought I might share my story and my own interactions with that community.

I am an Australian YA fiction author, and one of the things that has constantly amazed me throughout my journey to become published and my career since publication, is how welcoming established authors are to newbies within the #LoveOzYA community. 

I hadn’t really expected it.

I think a lot of people might imagine that a small industry like ours could be competitive, and yet I discovered a warmth and kindness that extended all the way to award-winning YA authors offering advice, feedback and their connections to an aspiring writer with no achievements under their belt. That was me, back in 2017. Desperate to be published. No idea how to do it.

Really, it was local authors who steered me in the right direction. And then, when it was my turn to finally debut my first published novel in March 2019, a light romantic contemporary called Making Friends with Alice Dyson, a slew of successful authors turned up to my book launch to cheer me on. They championed me on social media, even when we lived in different states and had never met in real life. They recommended my book and put me in touch with podcasters and interviewers and opportunities for promotion.

And this kindness isn’t only contained to other authors. The #LoveOzYA community is built from readers and writers, podcasters and bloggers, reviewers, booksellers, librarians and teachers - and people who just love to read YA.

In a lot of ways, my debut year was like a dream. 
My novel was shortlisted for the 2019 Readings Young Adult Book Prize and sold to Walker Books US in America. I was even lucky enough to travel to Varuna Writers' House through the support offered by Writers SA. 

None of that could have happened to me without the support of this community. 

And at the beginning of 2020 that same community took it a step further. 

During the Australian fire crisis, incredible authors came together and organised #AuthorsforFireys to raise money via auction. I was one of many who joined in, and during a time that was difficult for everybody, it was a sliver of hope that authors like Emily Gale and Nova Weetman worked so hard to help our country and our people. Theirs really was such an incredible achievement. 

Now the Australian book community is facing a new challenge. One of the scariest yet. 

Like so many other authors, I have a book coming out on 01 April 2020 and have seen my upcoming author talks and book launch cancelled. 

I am disappointed, of course, about what this will mean in terms of the success of my second novel, YA contemporary Taking Down Evelyn Tait, a story that I am excited to share and feel very proud of.

But in truth I feel sadder for the authors who are debuting this year, than for myself. I’ve seen friends have their very first book launches and talks cancelled, while at least I have had a year already to experience these things.

I don’t know what is going to happen in the future, but I fear that coronavirus has already deeply impacted our industry. It’s a scary time for authors, booksellers and publishers. 

But again, as always, a shining light in tough times, is our book community, that network of people pulling together to support each other through difficult times, offering interviews and virtual launches and lifting new releases up.

This guest post is a result of exactly the sort of kindness I have come to expect from our community, so a huge thank you must be extended to Sue for having me on her fantastic blog.

It makes me happy to be part of such a generous community, and know that no matter what comes next, we will all work through it the best we can. 


Here is where you can buy Poppy’s first book online. The Book Depository is also offering Taking Down Evelyn Tait, available soon.  


Book Depository 

Thursday, March 12, 2020

Just Finished Reading...The Plot Against America by Philip Roth

Imagine an America in which the 1940 elections were won, not by Franklin D Roosevelt, but aviator Charles A. Lindbergh. Lindbergh was young and handsome, had a family tragedy in the kidnapping and murder of his baby son(inspiring the theme of Agatha Christie’s Murder On The Orient Express) and he was considered a hero for his famous solo flight from New York to Paris. The problem was, he was also an anti-Semite, a member of America First. He admired Hitler and was against supporting the UK in the war.  

But in this novel, Americans are willing to vote for someone who has promised to keep them out of the war. So, how will it affect the war when the US refuses to allow needed arms to Britain? And, most importantly to one working class Jewish family, the Roths, how will it affect the Jews? 

Philip Roth has written a novel featuring a fictionalised version of his own family, which includes a couple of imaginary relatives, cousin Alvin, who heads for Canada to fight for the Allies, and Aunt Evelyn, a young woman who becomes a passionate supporter of Lindbergh. The story is told from the viewpoint of nine year old Philip, whose family live in Newark, New Jersey, in a completely Jewish neighbourhood, as did the real Roth family. 

I enjoy alternative universe, especially the fiction of Harry Turtledove, but Turtledove’s AU historical novels are generally seen from the viewpoints of famous historical figures such as Shakespeare, Mark Twain and Robert E. Lee, while this one is about the trials and tribulations of an ordinary family affected by the change in history. 

There are real speeches and newspaper articles worked into the novel, and the notes at the end include both an impressive list of his research material and a timeline of the real history of this time, as compared to the fictional one.  

This was written back in 2004, well before the current administration came to power, but it is believable enough to be scary, especially when you do realise how easily a populist can come to power and find support even from those who are not likely to benefit from it. 

I’ll be interested to see the TV series when it’s available on DVD, but meanwhile I’m pleased to have read the book. Recommended. 

I bought this ebook in Apple Books, but it is easily available on all the usual web sites and definitely at your local bookshop. 

Monday, March 02, 2020

An Evening With Neil Gaiman

Capitol Theatre Public domain 

Last Tuesday, I went to the Capitol Theatre in the Melbourne CBD to hear Neil Gaiman, author of so many wonderful books - American Gods, Anansi Boys, Stardust, The Graveyard Book, Coraline and, of course, Good Omens, which he co-authored with Terry Pratchett and more recently, wrote the script and acted as show runner for the TV miniseries. The session, “Neil Gaiman In Conversation”, was organised by the Melbourne Writers Festival. They do these things  during the year, and I get their newsletter, so when it arrived in my inbox, I booked immediately! 

The Capitol Theatre was designed by the famous architects Walter Burley Griffin and Marion Mahoney Griffin. It’s gorgeous! It opened as a cinema in 1924, and it was still a cinema when I first went there. For some years it was mostly a lecture theatre for RMIT(where I studied Librarianship years ago). Now, it does events like this as well. 

His talk was as interesting as I’d hoped it would be. It went for 90 minutes, in which he talked about his writing memories. I started to take notes towards the end. 

Alas, my photo with Neil was too blurry! 

He spoke quite a bit about the Good Omens miniseries, how he had written it because Terry Pratchett had asked him to,  and how he had taken on the role of show runner to make sure he got it the way Terry would have liked it. He said when you don’t have any control over the work, it ends up captive to the art department budget. As an example, he mentioned two episodes of Doctor Who which he had written. “The Doctor’s Wife” was produced the way he had written it. He said there was one line in it that paved the way for a female Doctor, by mentioning that the Time Lords don’t have to stick to one gender. I admit I don’t remember that bit, as I’ve only seen it once, but now I’ll have to hunt up that episode. He had wondered if that line would be cut, but it stayed, and as a result it paved the way. “The Doctor’s Wife” won masses of awards. The other episode, “Nightmare In Silver”, which had had a major rewrite to suit the art department budget, was considered a “dog”. 

He really didn’t want that to happen to Good Omens. Being show runner was exhausting and took away time from his writing, but the finished product was something Terry would have liked. 

During the session, he read a number of pieces, including poems. It ended with a reading of his next picture storybook, which he said was being illustrated by the brilliant Chris Riddell, even as he spoke. Having seen some of the other work Chris Riddell has done for Neil Gaiman’s books, such as Fortunately, The Milk, I’m really looking forward to it. 

I have to say, Neil Gaiman is a wonderful reader, and his reading of the book, Pirate Stew, was hilarious. Not all writers can read their own work for others; he is so very good, he reads quite a few of his own audiobooks. I actually remember when he read a chapter of the manuscript of Anansi Boys at a Melbourne SF convention months before it was published, and made us want it right away. (That particular audiobook is read by Lenny Henry, but still...)

That was a delightful evening. Expensive, but worth every cent!