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Sunday, July 31, 2011

Hobbit movie excitement

Anyone excited about the Hobbit movie? I am! They are gradually releasing pictures of the cast in costume and make-up and I have to say that Thorin Oakenshield is going to get more drooling female fans than Bard the bowman, that proto-Aragorn! I would have imagined Richard Armitage as Bard rather than Thorin, but I guess we have to trust Peter Jackson. Some of the cast of LOTR are going to be there - well, Gandalf, obviously, so yes, Ian McKellan, and Elrond. I would have thought they could give Orlando Bloom the role of Thranduil, Legolas's dad, but it seems they're slipping in Legolas himself. Of course, Andy Serkis doing Gollum again. I think Martin Freeman will be a good Bilbo. Having seen him as Arthur Dent in Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy, it suddenly occurred to me that there were some similarities between Bilbo and Arthur - both are dragged kicking and screaming from their comfort zone - but Bilbo matures and develops leadership qualities, where Arthur doesn't - although the movie Arthur did, to some extent. So yes, I can see him in the role (and have seen photos of him as Bilbo).

I discovered The Hobbit as an adult. It charmed and delighted me even after reading Lord of The Rings. It was funny and sad, exciting and over-the-top. Anyone who doesn't sniffle just a bit at that last scene between Thorin and Bilbo has no heart, IMO.

And if anyone can make a movie in the spirit of the novel, it's Peter Jackson.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Happy Birthday, J.K.Rowlng!

And Harry too, of course. It's weird, you know, I'd forgotten and yet last night I was googling various facts about religion in the Harry Potter novels. And what a variety of articles there was, too! Some argued for the Christian elements, others that Christianity had nothing to do with the various decisions Harry and his friends made and then there were the anti-HP ones, but I didn't bother with those, because I was after symbols in the books.

I discovered this series when I picked up a copy of Harry Potter And The Philosopher's Stone on the book stall at the Children's Book Week Fair, back in the days when they HAD a book stall as a regular part of the fair. I'd heard about it from Alison Goodman, author of Singing The Dogstar Blues (her only book at the time)as we sat in the back of a car going to a meeting of the Aussiecon 3 committee. It sounded interesting and I bought the book when I saw it. I enjoyed it enough to buy the next, Chamber of Secrets, thinking at the time that it reminded me of Roald Dahl, but even more of Diana Wynne Jones' Lives Of Christopher Chant (and so, it seems to me, did DWJ's publishers, who happily brought out a new edition of all the Christopher Chant books) which I'd loved.

By Prisoner of Azkaban, I was hooked. The universe was becoming more complex, as were the characters. I was getting review copies now - that one was for Festivale On-Line, the ones after for January Magazine.

I'm remembering the day I picked up Deathly Hallows and went down to the food court at the Australia Hotel to read over coffee and cake. I looked around and at every other table was someone doing the same! There were brass bands and at Dymock's a choir was singing songs from the books. All this to celebrate a book... As a librarian, I was thrilled. I know kids have never stopped reading, but in this day and age, with people spending so much time on-line and playing computer games, it was nice to have it confirmed. I remember spotting a small girl with a huge Harry Potter book tucked under her little arm.

I had to finish the book and hand in my review within the next twenty-four hours, but I don't think I missed anything in my reading. I just promised myself that I'd read it again at my own pace when I could.

I'm now reading Philosopher's Stone to my Literacy class, which is willing to listen because the last movie has just come out.

If you want a really good summation of the phenomenon, google the article by Stephen King, who is a big fan of the series and has done a very good job of discussing it. I won't get the URL here, it's too fiddly, but trust me, it's worth reading. Google J.K.Rowling's Ministry Of Magic Stephen King.

Friday, July 29, 2011

More egoboo!

After several months out in the world, my novel is still getting some reviews and some of them are nice! The following is by Virginia Lowe, in her "Create A Kids' Book" e-newsletter. She does have a web site, and a good one, but is not currently posting her newsletters there, so has given me permission to post this. For those of you who don't know about Virginia, she is a big name in the Australian children's/YA book community and does a very useful newsletter, good for writers, teachers and librarians.

Here it is, my latest egoboo:

Wolfborn by Sue Bursztynski (Woolshed Press)

I have only, to now, read Sue’s non-fiction titles (her Crime Time: Australians behaving badly I reviewed some years ago) but this is the first fiction I have read. I must admit my heart dropped a bit at yet another werewolf title, but instead it is a wonder.

She has based it on medieval legends, while bringing the characters very much to life. It is another world, not just ours hundreds of years ago – the three moons are a giveaway – but everything else seems just like a feudal Europe, which is still heavily forested and still has packs of wild wolves.

Etienne has come as a page to Sire Geraint’s castle, to finish his education. Geraint is a kindly, gentle lord, much loved by the peasants, other pages, and his household. But he also has a secret – even from his beautiful young wife. Etienne is suspicious, and looking for him one day, comes upon Jeanne and her mother Sylvia, who live together in the forest. Of course he falls in love – but it is not an easy relationship.

There is feuding between the local barons, and some passing between worlds, with a faerie hunt prominent – as in many Celtic tales.

His dog and one of his horses are also not entirely of this world – but are brilliant characters, as are the ones in human form, whether gods, faeries, bisclavret (born a werewolf) or loup-garou (made a werewolf through a pact with the Dark One) or just as human as they appear.

A tangled tale told brilliantly, with a strong feeling of the ancient legend coming through as well

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Writing With A Day Job

I wrote this, originally, for the SCBWI newsletter, after reading articles about how you can make the best of your working day as a writer and others about how the education industry was still pretty good (not for me, or for some others I know, not for some time now). I never got around to sending it, so decided to pop it up here instead.

* * *

In Australia most writers have day jobs. The population is too small to buy a lot of books. The few who don’t have other jobs are usually married to someone who can support them as they work from home, at least until they earn enough to help pay the bills.

There are, of course, a few bestsellers, some more who have grants and the lucky few who are still selling education books; the market for that has slowed down here in recent years. One artist who had depended on the education industry for his bread and butter told me he was getting less and less work. I have had no luck in this area myself lately, despite having written several books for an education publisher, books that have done well. I did finally manage to score some literacy cards, after a lot of nagging, and that paid very well, but I don't think I have the energy to go back and nag again.

I work full-time as a teacher-librarian. That has some advantages, but mostly means I can forget about school visits, because I can’t get time off for visiting other schools! When my publisher invited all his authors to attend a writers’ festival at a rich private school last year, I was teaching English while everyone else got to promote and sign their books.

So how do you write let alone promote when you leave for work at 6.30 a.m. and get home at 6.30 p.m., to eat quickly and prepare classes?

If you have a car, leave it at home. Write on the train. I write late at night and listen to radio talk shows. Then I write some more on Sundays. If I’m having trouble focusing, I go out to a cafe and write there - but only on weekends and holidays. As a writer of mostly non-fiction, I can break up the work - research each individual chapter, draft, edit, then do the next one. It does, of course, take a lot longer to write a novel than if you don’t have to prepare classes and mark work. Try thinking of what’s happening with your hero when you have to mark Year 8 assignments, attend meetings and jump through hoops for the Education Department’s latest bright idea!

But I do have advantages when it comes to promotion. As a librarian and writer of genre fiction, I can get on panels at science fiction conventions, where sessions on children’s and YA fiction are the most popular. Everyone has an opinion on children’s books and would like to hear others talk about it. At last year’s World Science Fiction Convention in Melbourne, where I live, I didn’t have my new novel, Wolfborn, which only came out in December, so I asked my publishers for some goodies and they came through with bookmarks, posters and sample chapters. I asked to do a reading and a signing and when everyone was in a long queue at the next signer’s table, I smiled sweetly and said to those at the end, “As long as you’re waiting, would you like a sample chapter? A signed bookmark?” Quite a few people happily came over for the freebies.

At school, I can arrange a launch for the students and call in the local press. I don’t have to get the librarian on-side - I am the librarian! The Principal loves it because the school is promoted when I do this. Before the launch, I run a themed trivia quiz - spies or crime or, in the case of my novel, werewolves and folklore. The winner gets a signed copy of the book. Some others get signed posters or bookmarks.

Because Wolfborn is a medieval paranormal novel, I had the chance to get the history teachers involved. Year 8 studies the Middle Ages. I invited the kids to check bits of the manuscript for historical accuracy (I’d done my own research, but it was a fun activity for them). Those who responded got extra credit, a certificate, a signed copy and a mention on the thank you page.

I do feel jealous when I read chirpy little articles about overcoming writers’ block and arranging your writing day; it must be so nice to be able to concentrate on the writing!

But I work with my readers. And they’re proud of me. They borrow my books - I rarely have to shelve them before the year is over - and sometimes buy them. One girl said, “I’m going to borrow it from the public library during the holidays, Miss, and I’m going to say, ‘My teacher wrote this and I am so proud!’ ”

How many people who write all day and go jogging between chapters to overcome the writers’ block can boast of that?

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Currently Reading...

There's a pile of review books in my living-room and some others I have to read for school, with the authors coming to visit or because they're CBCA short-listed books. I've finished Sonya Hartnett's Midnight Zoo. I'll wait to see what my student Selena has to say about it. She is busy preparing an interview with the delightful Cath Crowley. I'm still reading About A Girl, which Selena liked in the end though she was uneasy with the lesbian angle when she started. I'd like to have her comments about these two and Six Impossible Things and will post them when she does. After About A Girl I just have to read Melina Marchetta's The Piper's Son and I'm done with this year's Older Readers shortlist.

I'm halfway through Michael Pryor's Hour Of Need, last of The Laws of Magic steampunk series, nearly finished Behemoth by Scott Westerfeld, a little way into A Clash of Kings, reading Adrian Stirling's The Comet Box (he's coming to visit my school week after next) and about to start All I ever Wanted (Vikki Wakefield - also visiting) and Tim Pegler's Five Parts Dead. Starting the latest HIVE novel, Zero Hour, which I should have read and reviewed some time ago. I have a copy of George Ivanoff's Gamers' Challenge and a couple more Ford Street titles, just received, plus a couple of adult (as opposed to YA) novels sent me for reviewing, will read and review them as soon as I get through the YA, which is what my blog specialises in. I also got some more titles from Allen and Unwin to review. I have the latest Kate Forsyth book, yum! And there are all those small-press titles I bought at Swancon and Continuum. I'll get through them all eventually! :-)

But this is why I'm being rather slow with my reviews, plus wanting to get on with my own writing.

HAUNTING VIOLET By Alyxandra Harvey. London:Bloomsbury, 2011

Alyxandra Harvey is best known for her popular Drake Chronicles series, about the likeable family of vampires, the Drakes, with all those truly hot sons and an ass-kicking martial arts mother. They’re among the few vampire books I enjoy, mainly because they have a sense of humour and aren’t really about vampires biting people but about fights between various vampire clans, ranging from those who think humans are cattle to those who, like the Drakes, are happy to get their blood without harming anyone.

In Haunting Violet, Ms Harvey moves from present-day rural America to Victorian England, when séances were a regular part of middle-class entertainment and there was an entire spiritualist movement.

Violet Willoughby's mother is a phoney medium, making her living from convincing grieving families that she can communicate with the late Horace or Amelia. Violet has been helping out in the business since childhood, unhappy but knowing there isn’t a lot she can do about it. It’s a living –and her domineering mother is scary! While at a house party where her mother is expecting a triumphant performance, Violet is horrified to find that there really are ghosts – and she can see them. Even worse, the most persistent ghost is the murdered twin sister of one of the other guests. If Violet doesn’t find the murderer, the killer may strike again.

It’s either solve the mystery or end up an old woman with the carpet still dripping with the water in which the body was dumped - that's if she isn't murdered herself!

Despite the gloomy cover, there is plenty of the over-the-top humour that makes the Drake Chronicles books such fun to read. The image of Violet turning up at a society ball in her soggy, muddy underwear after fleeing the murderer is unforgettable. The class structure of the time as seen through Violet’s eyes is bizarre but funny. It's wise to set this in Victorian times, when it might be possible to get away with a murder of this kind. If it had happened in the present day, the forensics team and detectives would be all over the crime scene before coming to the conclusion that it was an accident - especially with the victim having bruises at throat and wrists.

Definitely recommended!

Saturday, July 16, 2011

New link added - Rhiannon Hart

If you look over to the list of links on the right, you will see the latest - the blog of fellow Melbourne writer, Rhiannon Hart, whose first YA novel is being published by Random House Australia in September. I discovered Rhiannon's blog while net-surfing and found some enjoyable posts. There are book reviews and travel reports and trivia and all sorts of good stuff.

Welcome to The Great Raven, Rhiannon! Nice to have encountered you!

Friday, July 15, 2011

Changing Yesterday By Sean McMullen. Melbourne: Ford Street Publishing 2011.

In Before The Storm, Liore and Fox, two young cadets from a dystopian future travelled back in time to 1901 Melbourne, to prevent a terrorist group, the Lionhearts, from blowing up the first Australian Parliament. The disaster will start a century-long war which the British Empire loses, resulting in a militaristic society and six billion deaths.

The time travellers were helped by four local teenagers – siblings Daniel and Emily, artist Muriel and petty crook Barry. They succeeded in preventing the explosion, but as this book starts, the Lionhearts are trying again. It is clear that whatever happens, history is going to try mending itself.

The situation is not helped by some personal disasters. Muriel and Fox run off together to Paris, breaking Daniel’s heart, and Barry runs off with Liore’s advanced weapon, with plans to make money on it. When Daniel’s parents send him off to England and Barry must flee Australia one step ahead of both the murderous Lionhearts and an enraged Liore, the action starts all over again, this time moving out of Australia.

Changing Yesterday , like Before The Storm, is a deliciously entertaining romp with a steampunk flavour. Despite the seriousness of the situation – the world could come to an end, for heaven’s sake! - there’s plenty of humour here. Emily is replaced as a protagonist by a young woman from Ballarat, Madeline, who has a yearning to become a private detective and just might make it. Liore may be a spectacularly good warrior, but she has no idea how to relate to others. She badly needs a local ally and Madeline is perfect for the role. Characters need to learn some life lessons – Liore comes to regret having had affection cut out of her genetic make-up while Daniel needs to become stronger.

Sean McMullen is well known for his bestselling adult speculative fiction, but his last few YA novels suggest to me, at least, that this is a promising new direction for this author. Here’s hoping he will continue to write for teens!

I’m inserting here a guest post Sean did at From Hook to Book, Christine Maree Bell’s blog. It will give you a fascinating insight into the research he did for this novel.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

MOLE HUNT (The Maximus Black Files #1) by Paul Collins. Melbourne, Ford Street Publishing, 2011.

The “mole” of the title, Maximus Black, isn’t the blind, digging creature but the spy kind. Only in his teens, Maximus Black is a brilliant cadet in RIM, a galactic spy agency. - that is, until he commits a murder or two and plays with some advanced technology as part of his plan to dominate the galaxy. But Maximus is not without opposition. Anneke Longshadow, another star recruit whose guardian he’s wiped out, knows he has to be stopped before he finds some frightening information left over from the old Empire, information that will allow him access to battleships of a kind no one is able to do any more.

Mind you, the technology in the universe of this space opera is pretty advanced in its own right. Even death doesn’t have to be permanent if you know how to make the right arrangements.

There's some fascinating world-building here. This universe has an elaborate system of law and order - or should that be disorder? While the heroes/anti-heroes are running around breaking into bases, exploding things, nearly killing each other, whatever world they're on gets on with its own daily life, generally a pretty grubby one. Big corporations run things and send out assassins against each other. Even the CEO of one of them isn't safe from the others. If the board don't like what you're doing, you can expect a lot worse than a large dismissal payout. If you're an ordinary person on the street, you're probably safe enough unless Maximus Black gets to you.

The action, which alternates between the two main characters, is non-stop. Another review of this book I have come across says the pace would give Matthew Reilly a nosebleed and I can see why. Nobody seems to eats or sleep, except Anneke, and every time she stops for a rest, something disastrous happens. I’d describe it as Matthew Reilly on steroids. I can see this as a graphic novel, complete with explosions and crashes every other page. It reminds me, in some ways, of those Mad Magazine cartoons, Spy vs Spy.

One thing this author does that Matthew Reilly didn’t, in the one novel I managed to read, is create at least one sympathetic character, Anneke. Anneke isn’t wishy washy. She’s just as good at sneaking into bases and stealing as he is – and surviving afterwards. It’s just that she has a conscience – he doesn’t.

Oddly enough, dreadful as Maximus is – and at this stage, at least, he has no redeeming qualities whatsoever – you still want to see him escape whatever fix he has gotten himself into. Anneke does manage to outwit him a number of times, but she isn’t actively trying to kill him.

For kids who like action, action, action.

Here's a link to the YouTube book trailer, if anyone's interested:

Mole Hunt Book Trailer

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Some more favourite reviews - egoboo rules!

About time I gave some publicity to the lovely folk who enjoyed my novel and said so. There are more, for another day, but here are a few.

One of my earliest reviews was right after the book came out in December. It was on the Burnbright web site run by Marianne De Pierres, written by a lady called Belinda Hamilton. The same web site did an interview with me as well, which you'll see in the Big 4 Interviews on the left of the page.

I did an interview on 3RRR with Rob Jan, whom I've known forever and who said he'd been relieved to find the book was better than some of the other stuff he had to read as a radio reviewer. Rob actually created a world with me for our fan fiction and the rather silly shaggy unicorn in the novel comes from that universe. His media spec fic program, Zero-G, has been on for years.

The review on Buzzwords was written by Oliver Phomavanh, who is a very funny man and a delightful children's writer in his own right - several of our Year 7 boys are loving his books.

George Ivanoff, who is a children's writer and the only person I know who actually manages to make a living out of his writing, reviewed my book on the blog Literary Clutter, as well as interviewing me on the same site.

Katherine Peterson reviewed the book on Specusphere, the same wonderful web site fellow blogger Satima writes for.

These are some of my egoboo reviews. There are some that are quite good, but hate this or that sentence. There are others that hate the book for one reason or another, including one that said it was badly-written but he couldn't put it down!

As long as he contributes to my royalties. ;-)

New stat counter

Today I decided it was about time to let you all see how many hits I'm getting. There are other web sites getting more, but I'd say I have a respectable number. Thing is, I don't have 695 public followers like some other bloggers and those I do have don't comment very often, so I thought I'd like to reassure anyone I review on this web site that yes, people WILL be reading about your book here, whether they comment or not. There are writers out there who are aware of this site and like it very much - and others who don't put links up from their own sites even when I've given them a very good review.

I had a chat about this issue with Paul Collins, who suggested it might be because I seem to have so few followers, so I thought it might be a good time to show the hits. These don't count my own checks of my site after I've published; you can select this as an option on Blogger.

Speaking of putting links up, here's one to Anthony Panegyres' site - he's on my blog roll, but has recently given Wolfborn a nice review, go take a look. And thank you, Anthony!:

A Brief Look At Wolfborn

There have been plenty more, by others, I just haven't got around to putting in links, but really must put in some of my favourites in the next day or two instead of complaining others don't do links to my reviews!

Saturday, July 09, 2011

SheKilda preparation

Now I'm on term holidays I have started to rustle up the stuff for the SheKilda web site. It's very exciting to be doing this. The pics, to start with. I've downloaded some of the bio blurbs. I'd assumed I only had one thing to offer to the field of crime writing, Crime Time: Australians behaving badly, but after I had a look at the web site of my co-panellist, Goldie Alexander, I realised that her children's crime book looked like a chapter book and I suddenly remembered I did a chapter book mystery called "The Sea's Secret" for Pearson. And a short story in Paul and Meredith's Thrillogy series, "The Egyptian Figurines Mystery". And an article on forensic science for the NSW School Magazine. An article that required at least as much research as for any of my education titles, because before they commissioned me to do it, I hadn't known anything about forensics. I had some help from Dr Shelley Robertson, who will also be at the con. She checked my article for accuracy and answered some questions. I can meet her, finally, and maybe see if we can add another person to the panel, to make it a proper panel. It's kind of hard to do anything with two people, though I have done it in emergencies at cons when someone got sick or forgot to turn up. I do hope there will be one more person!

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Welcome Kevin Lee!

If you read my post about the Reading Matters conference - and I know from my stats that a lot of you did read it, you just didn't comment - you'll have seen the picture of Kevin Lee. I've known Kevin for some years; we meet regularly at Booktalkers, where he comes for one reason and one only: he loves children's and YA books. Now he's been rewarded for his love of this fiction with a job as one of this year's Inkys judges - and he's set up a blog, Someone To Write With, which I've popped up on the links at the side. I hope he'll use it fore reviewing, though not the Inkys books, because judges can't do that. We can always use another YA review site.

Go check out Kevin's site!

Monday, July 04, 2011

Things I Learned In Research

I'm doing research on the year 1964, specifically the visit of the Beatles to Melbourne in June of that year, for a potential story. I have been invited to submit something and was asked for historical fiction. I've already had a look on-line and downloaded some personal reminiscences and had a quick look at the Beatles interview and clips from the concert.

There isn't more than the slight beginnings of a tale as yet and who knows, maybe it won't work out, but I decided to immerse myself in 1964 anyway, and hoped to find a human interest story or two that might help. So I took advantage of term break to visit the State Library today, using the wonderful microfilm collection.

Here are some things I learned from the Sun, June 1964:

Women weren't allowed to serve on juries in Victoria. They also didn't get equal pay in teaching. Probably my nice old teacher that year, Mrs Jamieson, didn't care particularly; she was already in her 70s at the time. Most of my other teachers in those days were male anyway.

The movies playing in Melbourne cinemas included Lawrence of Arabia, 40 Pounds of Trouble and Cleopatra.

Big stage musicals starting that month: Carousel at the Princess, Camelot at Her Majesty's. Star of that one was Paul Daneman, who'd played the lead in London - and if you're a Blake's Seven fan you may remember him in an episode of that show.

There was a new opera singer called Robert Allman - I remember him in his later years, singing for Opera Australia, as Rigoletto and other baritone roles. A wonderful singer, and here he was in his youth, just starting out.

If you put in more than 30 shillings worth of orders at Spotless Dry Cleaners you got a free Beatles beaker (suitable for hot drinks!)

The Vietnam War was hovering. Oh, we weren't involved yet, except for a few military advisers over there, but it was coming. There were several chilling articles about it - chilling if, like me, you knew what was going to happen! I printed out some of those articles.

Human interest stories; a teenage schoolgirl called Susette Belle, President of the local fan club who desperately wanted to meet the Beatles and was granted her wish. A slightly older girl, Carol, who wanted to come to their concert, but lived in Tasmania and couldn't afford the trip over. After writing a 70,000 word letter to the Beatles - 814 pages! - she too got her wish, courtesy of the Sun. Cripes, 70,000 words! The length of a novel!

There was a lot of detail about the crowds outside the hotel. I have had a chat with my brother-in-law Gary, who was there. He didn't get to the concert - the tickets were sold out. He did remember standing in that crowd of 10,000 outside the Southern Cross and outside Festival Hall.

Another thing I learned was that you can save these pages on to a USB stick, so tomorrow I'm going back and take one with me!