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Thursday, May 31, 2012

In My Letterbox

Last night I came home from work to find a parcel of books, sent to me by Sisters In Crime for reviewing on their web site( I will, of course, put something up here as well.). Naturally I requested the YA books on the list. Here's what I got: The Golden Day by Ursula Dubosarsky,which is on this year's CBCA Short List, as is The Truth About Verity Sparks - I thought I might as well request those as I have to read them anyway - and a Sophie Masson title, The Understudy's Revenge, which I requested because I just like Sophie Masson's writing, and one book I had read but suddenly realised I hadn't actually reviewed, which is Rebecca Lim's Mercy. I've started the Dubosarsky novel and the Masson one.

I'm also reading The Dragon's Tooth by N.D.Wilson. It's a fantasy adventure with chosen ones, but starts with a blatant reference to the beginning of Treasure Island! Stand by. I've downloaded Michelle Cooper's The Fitzosbornes At War, the new book in the Montmaray series, which I have been loving, but haven't yet, alas, persuaded our students to read.

I have also downloaded some titles from Project Gutenberg, including Polidori's The Vampyre, which was started on the same night as Frankenstein. Interesting, I think, that when the two poets and two non-writers went for the challenge to write a scary story it was the non-writers who actually produced something - this one which was, I believe, the original glam vamp story, and of course, Frankenstein, which, as far as I'm concerned, can be described as science fiction as easily as horror. It used the science of the day and extrapolated. It asked, "What if ...?"

More of this anon!

Saturday, May 26, 2012

My Book Boyfriend - Faramir

Faramir is a boyfriend for a grown woman. In our world - and let's take him out of his medieval context for a while - he'd be unlikely to be going out with a girl who wanted to spend all her time in nightclubs, but he's a kind man. If he did find himself clubbing, he'd make her evening enjoyable,get her home safely and ease her out of the relationship without too much pain.

But he accepts Eowyn for who and what she is. She has decided to retire from fighting and become a healer, but if she wanted to continue as a fighter he would support her, though he himself sees fighting as what he does only because it's necessary.

He strikes me as the kind of guy who would remember your birthday; as someone whose passion is historical research it is likely he'd be good with dates. I think he would take you somewhere pleasant to celebrate, perhaps a nice little Gondorian restaurant where the waiters knew him and the food was great, and give you all his attention.

At the same time, I can see him as someone a writer or scholar could go out with on an ordinary evening. Both of you could take your books and laptops and eat whatever was brought out while you write and he researches, never thinking you're being rude or being annoyed because he has his nose in a book.

There is his Dad, of course; I suspect Denethor would never have approved of Eowyn as a daughter-in-law and would be just as unlikely to be happy with a "bluestocking" in his son's life. Probably just as well he's out of the way by the end of the book.

I have read that Faramir was Tolkien's alter ego, but Tolkien was not really a very good husband. He used to leave his wife till two in the morning while he was out talking shop with his scholarly friends. Yet I think Faramir might have a word or two to say to his creator about how to treat your woman!

So, though there are some YA heroes I'd consider - Peeta, perhaps, Michael Pryor's Aubrey Fitzwilliam or his friend George (who can cook!) this is my first choice for a date.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Hey, it's my world...Research for fantasy

The other day I wandered into a Twitter conversation about world building and just what is important in it. Should you worry about accuracy when you have made up your own world or should you just say," Hey, it's my world and I can do what I want with it!"? I can't do better than stick in a link to an article written many years ago by Poul Anderson, On Thud And Blunder" I read it in hard copy, can't recall where, but thanks to the wonders of the Internet, I can share it with you, and if you're wondering this about your own writing I do urge you to check it out.

 Poul Anderson is one of my favourite writers because there's an Anderson for whatever you're in the mood for. Hard SF? Sure. Space opera, high fantasy, historical fantasy, time travel, humour, he wrote it all. He was a member of the Society for Creative Anachronism, where he wore armour and competed in tournaments. He knew what horses could and couldn't do. So if anyone knew about world building it was him. And the point he makes in this article is that even if you're writing something set in your own world it will be based, to some extent, on this one, and that there are some things that are just practical common sense- like horses not being furry machines that can be ridden hard all night. And ships not getting you swiftly across the sea. And a city that doesn't have electricity being extremely dark at night, making it difficult for your barbarian hero to rush through the streets followed by the palace guards. For those who think their hero can slice a head or a leg off in one stroke, he suggests trying to do this with hanging meat.

 It's strange when people who wouldn't dream of writing science fiction without massive research think they can write fantasy without any, because, hey, there's magic. Even magic needs to have rules. Also, as long as you're creating a world with humans and terrestrial animals and plants, you really have to consider things that could and couldn't happen here.

And then there's culture. If you're going to write a story set in a version of medieval Europe, say, you need to realise how much of the lifestyle was based on the climate, the culture and religion. You can't for example, have an Arabic-style culture in a country with the climate of Norway. That might seem obvious when it's mentioned, but it's amazing how many novels are set in a land with a mishmash of cultures that don't mix. In one novel I read recently, the aristocrats in a hot country dressed and acted like those of eighteenth century France.

 You also can't leave out religion. The medieval world was overflowing with it. I remember reading one novel that was set in a country that suggested sixteenth century Europe, in great detail, to the extent that I was annoyed that I couldn't place it - but no one in it seemed to go to church or practise religion in any way. And that's just not going to work, because there would be things in the lifestyle that depend on religion. If you want to create your own religion, fine. Some top writers have done this. But make sure you create a culture that would go with it.

If you're going to take liberties, take liberties with a society you have researched. I read a LOT of books for Wolfborn. I didn't use anywhere near all of the information in the final draft, but it was enough that I could feel comfortable with the world I was creating and the world from which it came. I did take liberties, but I knew what I was taking liberties with. Sometimes my editor would say gently,"Sue, you can't do that. You KNOW that was not around in the twelfth century," and even though it wasn't the real twelfth century, I'd rewrite. Actually, I was flattered that she'd forgotten it wasn't this world. In fact, a number of reviewers forgot it wasn't this world, despite the three moons! By the way, I researched those too, to make sure I didn't get the science too wrong, even though it was a fantasy novel. True, I kept it vague. There wasn't a lot of information. (Actually, I read only recently that we might have had two moons at one time) Hell, I even joined the SCA many years ago and learned what you can and can't do in armour, just so my fantasy would work better!

 If you've read George R.R.Martin's Song of Ice And Fire, you'll notice that his world feels very real, because despite the strange climate cycle, he's used real history as his background. Even the armour - there's plate armour in the south and ring mail in the icy north and that makes sense; the folk living away from the centre of commerce would probably still be using grandad's old chain mail; armour would be expensive! He has created his own religions to go with this world, but in the context they work. So if you're going to write an epic, do make sure you've researched the society on which it's based, even if you have to join the SCA and get hit on your helmed head with a rattan sword. It will be worth the effort.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012


Here's a blog I have just discovered and begun to follow, known as The History Girls. It's a blog by a bunch of women writers of historical fiction. I have only heard of a few of them, who have written for teens, but all of them write wonderful posts about their writing and research. It's fascinating stuff. The web site is set up for reviews and interviews, though they're not up as yet.

 I was particularly hooked by a posta bout "Tommy Atkins" the common British soldier as immortalised by Kipling. The post discusses the difficulty of making anyone below officer rank your hero, because it's almost impossible to run off and have adventures with no horse and not being allowed out of camp - and how does your low-ranking hero save the day when any officer would simply consider him impertinent for making suggestions? The author of a book called Into The Valley Of Death, A.L. Berridge, considered this a challenge and met it. What's really good about this blog is that it comes out daily. If you love history and are interested in the process of writing it, why not wander over and take a look?

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Of Heroes And Secret Identities

Recently, I read The Curse Of Capistrano, the serialised novel on which every Zorro movie ever made was based. It was going free on one of the public domain web sites my sister has discovered since we worked out how to put books on her e-reader. It was published in All-Story Weekly in 1919. I remember thinking, when I saw the Zorro silent movie, that the scene in which he rode into his house through a trap door in the garden was a lot like Batman driving into the Bat Cave - and no wonder. The creator of Batman later said he was inspired by Zorro.

You can see the connection - wealthy playboy type has a secret identity as a hero who wears black and a mask and saves the oppressed. Batman has a connection with the police, who know they can contact him when he's needed, but Zorro is alone, till late in the book, when he acquires a group of followers, although even they don't know his identity. Actually, he doesn't reveal himself till the last scene, probably necessary in a serial; you do want readers to come bak for next week's chapter! Like Batman, he has a manservant, Bernardo, but Bernardo is a deaf-mute. He has a wonderful horse, not named in the book, so the name Tornado must have come later, perhaps in the movies. A few years ago, Isabel Allende was commissioned to do a novel about the very beginning of Zorro's career, from his childhood on(see the review on this web site) and a delightful book it was, too. She has also done some children's books about young Zorro. 
Guy Williams, my favourite Zorro!
 Is it a coincidence that there was a film about Batman's beginnings? Perhaps. But it's interesting to compare.

 And if Batman is inspired by Zorro, Zorro is, I believe, inspired by a novel that came out a few years before that one. "We seek him here, we seek him there, those Frenchies seek him everywhere..." If you haven't heard that quote, you must have been living under a rock! I am, of course,speaking of Baroness Orczy's Sir Percy Blakeney, aka the Scarlet Pimpernel. Sir Percy is charming, witty and foppish. Everyone likes him, but would probably roll around on the floor laughing at the very idea of his being the dashing Pimpernel.

Don Diego Vega is very like Sir Percy. He likes his clothes and his lazy lifestyle and complains no one gives him time to enjoy his poetry, but is secretly the dashing El Zorro, the Fox! Señorita Lolita is disgusted with Don Diego, in love with Zorro, but later quite likes Diego, though she does explain that, once in love, she stays in love and won't change men.

 Poor Percy has to keep his secret even from his wife; he has reasons for feeling he can't trust her. Later he learns he can. Like Zorro, he has a group of followers, the League of the Scarlet Pimpernel, but some of them know his secret; Zorro's young caballeros don't.

 The comics are full of superheroes with secret identities, but what the abovementioned three have in common is that none of them has superpowers. Zorro and Sir Percy both have skill with a blade, quick wits and wonderful acting skills - in Percy's case, also a skill in disguise. Batman aka Bruce Wayne has technology.
Christopher Reeve as a wonderful, bumbling Clark Kent and gorgeous Superman!
 Superman has acting ability, playing "mild mannered reporter" Clark Kent well enough that no one seems to notice that he's got a lot of muscles under that suit and that apart from his glasses he looks an awful lot like that Kryptonian hero. But he doesn't have to be great with a weapon or a well-trained horse; his body is his weapon and he can fly. He has his own Señorita Lolita in the form of Lois Lane, but at least Lolita has a mask as her excuse; Lois only has to see behind a pair of specs and doesn't.

 What's the purpose of heroes with secret identities? Within the context of the stories, it helps the hero to do his or her job and makes them less of a target, but outside of the story, I rather like to think it gives us hope. We can always pretend that maybe there is someone out there, maybe a neighbour or friend, who is more than they seem - much more!

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Period 2 In The Library

This morning, all my literacy students were over at our Senior Campus for a careers expo, so I assisted in the library, where students come when their teachers are absent. It was fascinating to look around at the range of books being read. Everything from Harry Potter to books about cars, Twilight to Skulduggery Pleasant.

What I found even more interesting was that among all the hard copy books were some e-readers; the Year 7 students have been issued iPads and some have already downloaded books to them. And one student who was having difficulty with his hard copy book, was using a dictionary on his iPad to look up stuff. This is the way of the immediate future (who knows what they'll be doing in even ten years' time? Maybe Internet/reading chips implanted? :-D). Next year, when these young men and women are in my Year 8 class, and one of them asks me a question I don't know the answer to, I'll say, "You know, I'm not sure. Why don't we look it up?" Or instead of printing out twenty-five copies of a short story I want them to read, I can tell them to get out their iPads.

It's an exciting time!

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Presenting M.J.Hearle!

Welcoming yet another great Aussie writer to this blog, I would like to introduce (roll of drums!) M.J. Hearle, author of the two Winter novels, who has kindly agreed to do a guest post for the Great Raven. Who would have thought all that green light in the scary lands of the Otherworld in those two novels had come from a fright the author had as a child? But I'll let Mike tell you himself...

Parents, be mindful of what your children watch. Shortly after I turned four, my mum and dad sat down to watch a movie with me. I remember the box art well. There was a pretty girl in a blue dress skipping down a yellow road with a dog, a scarecrow, some kind of robot and a puffy-faced, orange, werewolf-looking creature in tow. This imagery did not fill me with confidence, mainly because it didn’t look like a cartoon. Up until that point I was only interested in stories that were animated. A child of discerning tastes, I was not. 
The title did sound promising though – The Wizard of Oz. There was a wizard in my favourite show, He-Man, named Orco and he was a hoot. If this Oz wizard was anything like Orco the movie and I were going to get along just fine. I held onto this wary optimism until the opening credits began. They seemed to drag on forever. I think I may have actually nodded off waiting for the movie to start because my next memory is Dorothy arguing with her Aunt Em and Uncle Henry.  

I was less interested in the action on screen than the colour palette. Or lack thereof. I’d never seen anything so monochromatic in my life. At first I thought the TV might be broken. My dad told me there was nothing wrong with the screen, it was just a very old movie. I wasn’t impressed. Not only was this movie not a cartoon, it also wasn’t even in colour! Dorothy seemed annoying. Always whining about stuff. The dog, Toto, was pretty funny, though. I hoped the movie would follow him around and leave the boring farm stuff behind.

And then the twister happened. 

I don’t think all the computers in the world today could conjure an effect quite as powerful as that dirty smear of churning destruction. I still have no idea how the nineteen-thirties movie craftsmen achieved it? Oz’s twister is that rare Hollywood special effect that is truly special. It resonates not only on a visual level but an emotional one as well, conjuring up primal fears of the dark and the chaos it hides. Once the storm hit Kansas my attitude towards the movie changed. I was no longer bored. I was afraid.  

Up until that point I don’t think I’d ever watched anything truly ‘scary’. Sure Skeletor on He-Man was a little monstrous but he had such a silly voice I was never really bothered by him. When Dorothy is running for her life, the roaring vortex bearing down on her, my heart started racing and I felt vaguely sick. Our tiny television set seemed to swell, filling my vision until I couldn’t see our living room anymore. I was in the movie, running right alongside Dorothy, trying to get into the farmhouse before the twister sucked us both up into its thunderous black depths.

Keep in mind, I was terrified out of my pre-schooler mind BEFORE the Wicked Witch of the West shows up. When that green-skinned (has a colour ever looked so evil?) cackling hag appeared in a burst of flames I actually screamed. My parents asked me if I wanted them to turn the movie off. Of course, I should have said ‘yes’ – it was traumatising me. Of course, I told them ‘no’. Dorothy’s journey in Oz had just begun. If we switched the movie off I’d never know what other horrors this strange land held. More importantly, I’d never know if Dorothy made it back home to Kansas.

By the end of the movie I was a mess. My imagination seethed with images of gnarled trees reaching with clawed hands, winged monkeys diving from the stormy heavens to wreck havoc, growling blue-skinned henchmen swarming through a castle brandishing spears and Oz’s ultimate terror – the Witch herself. She took root in my nightmares and resides there still.  
I went to bed in a fever sweat. My stomach muscles were clenched with anxiety, my gaze roamed the dark corners of the room searching for green-skinned apparitions in pointy black hats. 
The next day I asked my parents if I could watch The Wizard of Oz again. 

And the day after that. And so on for the next year or so. I became addicted to the adrenaline rush of fear, and like any junkie my high grew less intense with every injection. Eventually, it wasn’t the frightening aspects of the movie that entranced me, but the journey Dorothy undertakes. I wanted to find my own yellow brick road and have my own adventures.   

A few decades later I wrote Winter’s Shadow. It is no coincidence that the narrative includes a scene where a teenage girl travels to a magical land and glimpses an Emerald City. The Wizard of Oz casts a long shadow. I’m not sure I’ll ever escape it. I’m not sure I want to. 

Parents be mindful of what your children watch. Nightmares should be the least of your concerns. You may just end up with a storyteller on your hands.   

And if you want to follow Mike to his blog, here's the link:

Check it out - there's a very fine book trailer in which he has not only made the piece of jewellery mentioned in his books and filmed a real person, but even created his own music to go with it! Think I may commission him to do my own next trailer...

Monday, May 14, 2012

Review Policy Update - Again!

This time I hope it's crystal clear and not open to interpretation; every time I think I have got it right,easy to understand, someone else comes long and says,"Oh, but I thought you meant..." This morning's review request wanted me to review the ebook version and then pay for the print version on Amazon if I wanted it for my library.( pounds head in hands). I may,some time, review a book in my collection, or support a fellow writer whose publisher won't send books overseas, but when that happens I will say so. And it will be my decision, not a favour to a publisher I don't know who wants me to pay for the privilege of publicising their books. Again I say: if I can't donate my review copy to my library after I've finished with it, please, please don't ask me. I do hate disappointing people. There are plenty of blogs out there only too happy to review ebooks, but I'm not one of them. Read my lips- I don't review ebooks - sorry!

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Mother's Day Reading

Have you noticed that when Mother's Day is coming up, there are piles of ads about buying your Mum the latest romance novel or chick lit? Or taking her to see the most recent romantic comedy or sentimental historical film? Why this assumption that when a scientist or an athlete or a teacher becomes a mother she will automatically want to read this sort of stuff? Hell, why assume your Mum the office manager or cleaner would not be a passionate fan of Tolkien or psychological thrillers? It's like the "don't show this to your maiden aunt!" spiel. For the record, I'm the maiden aunt of David,Mark,Max, Amelia, Dezzy, Rachel, Eden and Jonah and those of them old enough to talk and hang out with me would fall about laughing at the very idea. My own mother likes crime fiction - admittedly whodunnits and cosies for preference, but is also a fan of the police procedurals of Reginald Hill. My sister, the mother of David and Mark, hasn't read chicklit since her teens; she reads SF and crime fiction and watches UN-PC comedy and TV science fiction. Few of the mothers I know would fall into the category into which the advertising industry would like to slot them. So next Mother's Day shout your Mum to what SHE enjoys!:-)

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Maurice Sendak Is No More!

Alas, he's gone! I woke this morning to a world in which the magical author/ illustrator of Where The Wild Things Are, 

In The Night Kitchen,

 Outside Over There

 and many other classics no longer existed.:-( If you haven't heard of him, by some remote chance, I'm betting you've felt his influence. Just off the top of my head I can think of the film Labyrinth, which used his critters from Where The Wild Things Are - and lest you failed to notice, did a pan across the heroine's bookshelves, showing that one. Outside Over There may have influenced the same film, as it's about a girl who carelessly fails to watch her baby sister and then has to rescue her from the goblins. The Wild Things critters also appeared in a movie of The Nutcracker, as denizens of the Kingdom of Sweets. I think this was the Pacific Northwest Ballet production.

 My brother Maurice's son, whose name is Max, grew up with Wild Things and loved it, probably still does. I discovered the books as an adult and I sure love them, even now! I was lucky enough to see some of Sendak's original art in a display at the Jewish Museum in Melbourne some years ago. He is a huge loss to the world of art and children's books. If there's anyone like him now, I haven't discovered them.

A Night At The Opera And Not A Marx Brother In Sight

I had to exchange an opera ticket for Saturday matinee to fix a clash with the MTC, so tonight I went to see TheBarber Of Seville. It's an opera I always enjoy. It's funny and any silliness in the plot is deliberate. And, let's face it, most opera IS silly, no matter how beautiful the music. My favourite idiocy in an opera is the one where a man gets a blind date with a girl and commits suicide when she won't go out with him again. But it takes him ages to die, giving her time to sing a long aria and then say," Why, he is dying!" I think I may have been one of those who laughed loudest at the parody in Terry Pratchett's Maskerade. At the end of Turandot the other week, I couldn't help thinking that the prince and Turandot deserved each other. Yeesh! The man ignores all warnings, then, when he wins the prize, somehow, gives her a sporting chance to kill him anyway, costing the life of the brave girl who loves him, and even then, he TELLS the icy bitch his name. But The Barber is a delightful comedy by a man who had an amazing life of his own(go look up Pierre Beaumarchais in Wikipedia)and is as much satire as anything else. And this production, which has been around for some time, was done in 1920s costume, with a background set that was, as I recall, meant to be the Melbourne suburb of St Kilda! Dr Bartolommeo has a surgery in his house with patients coming and going and being left in the hands of Berthe, his housekeeper/nurse because he keeps being distracted by all the bizarre goings-on. A nice way to spend an evening, even if I do have to be up at six as usual. Good night!

Monday, May 07, 2012

Downloaded to my iBook shelves

My shelves look nicely full and it's such good fun to open up a book here, a book there, on my cyber-shelves and graze among them. Now My Man Jeeves. Now Eragon or Rostam, that Persian epic which I heard about when preparing for the excusrsion to the State Library. Today alone, I have downloaded A Wrinkle In Time and Mao's Last Dancer, the junior version. I have read the adult one, long ago, but three of my students have chosen it for Literature Circles. I'll have to work out a way of helping them with the Chinese background, the history and the words, though hopefully they can work those out from the context. The book does have a timeline at the back, but when a kid is reading it, she may well ask, "What's the Great Leap Forward?"

I'm also road-testng the ebook version of Light Touch Paper... the anthology in which I have my Trojan War story. Not bad to have a sneak peek at the other stories in it. ;-)

I simply couldn't resist Lois McMaster Bujold's novelette, "Winterfair Gifts". I do have it somewhere in an anthology of SF romances, but who can find that among all my books and meanwhile, this was only about $4.

I'm getting hooked on iTunes cards and buying them wherever there's a special. I have the card discount web site bookmarked, so that I will know every time one store or another is selling a $50 card for $40. With the Zinio app, also using iTunes cards,  I can buy e-versions of New Scientist and have them there to refer to when I need the information, instead of trying to find places for my latest dozen issues.

My reading life has definitely changed for the better since January this year.

Sunday, May 06, 2012

If You Want To be On This Blog...

Hi guys!

I've already put together a review policy, which you can read separately. This is aimed at people who sometimes email me with a request to do a guest post or asking me to give a plug to something they're doing.

I don't mind, really I don't. I have done some plugs for things such as books for Sudanese kids, because that was book-related and teen-related and I have worked with Sudanese kids. I have happily put up a post about a writing competition to get an agent, even though it was no use for anyone outside the US, because I do have US readers and you never know.

But if you want to make an appearance on this blog, please make sure you have something to say related to books, writing, reading, reviewing and such. Preferably YA or children's books, but spec fic in general is okay.

Let me know you've actually READ this blog. Some of the requests I get make me wonder if the person concerned actually has seen it. I'm guessing in some cases they have sent the same message to hundreds of blogs on the assumption that someone will respond and say yes - in that case, it comes down to spamming. Or, at the very least, it's like a writer sending their manuscript to every publisher they can find, whether that publisher is related to what they've written or not. That's sloppy. It shows you don't care. I get vague, general "comments" that go, "I really like this blog, I'm doing research on XYZ and this post really hits the spot" when the post is about, say, writing groups and the comment says they've been researching jet fuel in Albania. I follow the link to the writer's "profile" which tells you nothing about them, not so much as an email, and any blogs they're "following" aren't remotely connected with yours in style, usually are advertising web sites and the profile has been up for about an hour.

I find that so insulting. I get a lot of hits, an average 1000 a week, give or take, but not many comments. So when someone emails and says, "I loved that post on XYZ, can do I do a guest post about ABC?" and they didn't bother to so much as comment on that post they supposedly loved, why should I give them space here for their advertising? This isn't an advertising site. I turned down a woman who offered to write a post on anything I wanted as long as I let her put in links to ads - bleggh! She sent me links to articles she'd written for other web sites where the article was written with links to advertising sites as part of the post. I told her politely that I do my own posting and that I have a reason for not having ads on the site, but if I ever did, I'd make my own arrangements. I didn't blame her for trying - she was a freelance journalist who had found a novel way to pay the bills - but she really should have taken a good look at my blog and seen that this was not being run by a business, which might appreciate a sponsored article. I'm guessing she just got the URL and the email address and sent off her proposal.

If you're a follower and have put up comments on a regular or semi-regular basis,  you will have a better chance than if you simply cold call a thousand blogs.

But most of all, make sure your request is relevant. If it's about writing, reading, YA, children's books or spec fic, I will definitely consider it. And I have a soft spot for charities, though I'm likely to put a charity plug without book references on my general blog, Sue Bursztynski's Page. Ask, by all means. But if your request is unrelated to anything I write about on this blog, don't be surprised if I say no, or don't respond at all.

A Wonderful Evening with Kerry Greenwood By Bruce Gillespie

Bruce Gillespie is a well-known Australian SF fan who has been publishing fanzines since 1968. His fanzines Steam Engine Time and SF Commentary can be found on-line, along with other fanzines he has produced over the years. Last Tuesday I went along to the Northcote Library for my usual monthly meeting of the Nova Mob, but like everyone in the group, I went early so we could hear Kerry speak to the library public in general before the meeting, after which Kerry kindly agreed to come along to that as well. Bruce sent me this report as an email and I thought that rather than try making my own, I would get his permission to publish this one, which says pretty much everything I want to say, though he did invite me to add anything he had forgotten.

Welcome to The Great Raven, Bruce!

Kerry Greenwood is the author of the Phryne Fisher mystery novels. Last night there was a joint meeting of a group at the Darebin branch of the Northcote Public Library who bring in speakers from time to time; and the Nova Mob, Melbourne's SF discussion group, which meets at the library once a month.
Kerry Greenwood did an amazing job, as she had to give two talks -- one was for an hour to an assembled multitude of more than 200 people who had been gathered by the library, and then after a rest, she came and talked to the Nova Mob for what I'm sure she meant to be only half an hour, but went for at least another hour. She is filled with great stories, and I wish I were a better witness and rememberer. Basically, she loves the TV series for the attention paid to 1928 detail. The Production Designer and team will spare no effort to track down authentic items from the period, sometimes basing their researches on tiny details in the books that Kerry had forgotten about.
She was given absolute veto on the main actor -- and in fact saw the audition video from Essie Davis only after a long process of watching hundreds of them. She also has veto on scripts, but says she balked at only one incident in a script -- where it was proposed that Phryne should be rescued. 'Phryne is never rescued!' said Kerry. 'She does the rescuing.' She is particularly pleased by the actor who plays Dot, because not only is she exactly right, but she is the right age (18).
There will be a second series. Loud hurrahs.
But most of the new series will be based on Phryne Fisher short stories. Kerry says that when Phryne starts a story, she does exactly what she wants to do, and the result is often three-and four-strand stories. Much easier to do a TV episode out of a short story. Kerry says that she was afraid that the TV series would make it impossible to write further novels -- but had no trouble with the latest novel. As she says, if people don't like the TV series, just read the books.
Kerry types so fast and for so long that she was developing carpal tunnel syndrome. Her hands were freezing up. However, her cat has solved this, at least temporarily. Her cat always sits beside her while she's working. Every couple of hours the cat has developed the habit of reaching over and touching the CAPS LOCK key. Suddenly Kerry finds herself writing IN CAPS ... so she stops for a rest break. I wish we had cats as useful as that!
The whole series began as an attempt to resurrect 1928, because Kerry's father was a wharfie involved in the wharfies' strike of that year. Many great details come from childhood memories of her parents telling stories and singing songs. Her mother was most astonished to have Kerry (who sings very well) sing to her at the age of ten a very rude WWI song that her father had sung when she was four. Kerry began singing the song, so Bill Wright, in the Nova Mob audience, started singing along as well. This led to a regular little love-in, as both realised that Kerry and Bill come from the same background, if hardly the same generation.
The series does as well in Sydney as in Melbourne, has been sold to cable in America, but not yet to Britain. Brits simply do not believe the colonials can do anything with any style. The books are doing well in America (much better than expected), but the first three novels will not be released in Britain for the first time until late this year.
A good night, but I don't know how Kerry kept going all that time. Endless stories that I have not remembered yet.

Saturday, May 05, 2012

WHISPER By Alyson Noel. Riley Bloom Book 4. London, Macmillan, 2012.

This is the fourth volume of the Riley Bloom series of children’s books, which is in itself a spinoff of the Immortals series. I haven’t read any of those, but had no trouble following this story.
Riley Bloom is twelve years old and would very much like to be thirteen or maybe more. Only problem is, she’s dead, along with her parents and beloved dog Buttercup, and you don’t usually get any older when you’re a ghost. 
But Riley has other concerns right now. She is a Soul Catcher, whose job is to visit ghosts who can’t let go of their attachment to this world and persuade them to move on. Her current assignment is Theocoles, a Roman gladiator who haunts the Colosseum, where he died thousands of years ago. Theocoles and his girlfriend, Messalina, the niece of his owner, are stuck in a perpetual loop, reliving the twenty-four hours leading up to his death. Theocoles became addicted to the cheers of the crowd, like any rock star today, and simply won’t move on. And Messalina, who loves him, won’t move on without him.
Riley finds herself lured in, after other Soul Catchers have entered this scenario and not come back. Messalina gives her a makeover and and an admirer. She is now gorgeous and teenaged. Can she snap out of this before she, too, is caught up in the perpetual Groundhog Day suffered by Messalina and Theocoles?
This is a sweet story which I thoroughly enjoyed and think might appeal to mid-school girls from about twelve up. The characters are appealing and endearing and it’s probably not too much of a spoiler to reveal that Riley does carry out her assignment, helping both Theocoles and Messalina.
Worth a read.

Another book with my name in it

This week I received my contributor's copy of Trust Me Too, a Ford Street title which will be released in early June. It's always a thrill to see a book with something you wrote in it, no matter how often it happens. This one, though, has so many big-name Aussie YA writers in it, I think, "Hey, they wanted me in here! Wow!"

One story I think will certainly arouse a lot of excitement is the Obernewtyn novelette by Isobelle Carmody. Mwa ha ha! You have to buy this book if you want to read it! ;-) There are plenty of others, too - Gary Crew, Sean Williams and Sean McMullen, Kerry Greenwood, Lucy Sussex (I got both their autographs on my copy last Tuesday at Nova Mob), Justin D'Ath, George Ivanoff... oh, just go and look at the list on line.

There should be plenty of the authors and artists wandering around at Continuum 8 on the Queen's Birthday weekend in Melbourne, and the book will be available by then, so if you're coming to the con, you can get your copy signed. I'll sign for you. :-) My story is the one I have mentioned, about the Beatles visit to Melbourne in 1964.

I have already written a post about my research for this, but I should also mention that people in my life were in it. The heroine's music teacher, Mr Pearl, who goes to the Beatles rally at the Southern Cross hotel, is my brother-in-law Gary. I use him in any of my stories where a teacher is required. As it happens, he was a teenager at the time, but he was at that rally, and at the concert, though he says he couldn't hear a thing, due to all those girls screaming. Like the mother in the story, my mother was pregnant at the time, with my brother Maurice, though Maurice wasn't born till November of that year. he loudly laments not having been around at the time of the visit. Monash University was very well known at the time for protest marches although I didn't go there for some years after, by which time it was a lot quieter, much to my disappointment, but I couldn't resist mentioning it in the story as the place where the heroine's sister goes. I mentioned a book called New Writings In SF, which was published in that year, with some well-known Aussie writers in it, and the Vietnam war which was on the point of erupting. Conscription happened in Australia later that year.

More when the book is in the shops and you can all read it!

EVERY OTHER DAY By Jennifer Lynn Barnes. London: Quercus, 2012.

Kali D’Angelo, half-Indian, half-Italian and - something else - is a normal teenage girl. Well, every other day, anyhow. Actually, she’s not really that normal. She is all too aware of her weakness when she’s human and spends every day counting down the hours to when she will again be either human or - something else. And trying not to make friends because sooner or later she’d have to tell them and might put them in danger. And keeping her back to the wall for safety. And hating her scientist father and wondering about her missing mother.
One day at a new school, she spots a girl with a mark that dooms her to death within the next twenty-four hours. Only problem is, it’s the wrong twenty-four hours. She can still save the girl, but only if she can survive the night herself....
Here’s the opening line: “The decision to make hellhounds an endangered species was beyond asinine, but I expected nothing less from a government that had bankrolled not one, but two, endowed chairs in preternatural biology...” Immediately, I was drawn into the world of the novel, an alternative universe in which Darwin had discovered a creature known as the Galapagos hydra and suddenly all sorts of mythical creatures came out of the woodwork.
The novel showed the kind of humour so often lacking in paranormal romance. Kali is very much Buffy the Vampire Slayer - but only every other day. She is witty every day, though. Kali gradually gathers a Scooby gang of her own, including a Willow, a Cordelia and a sort of Xander. The Cordelia character, Bethany, Kali’s boss’s daughter - leader of the popular girls, a cheerleader, a member of the student council - has Cordelia’s sardonic wit. “I’m shallow, not a sociopath,” she says at one point. Actually, she isn’t shallow, but this is how cheerleaders are perceived.  She’s brave and supportive. So is Skylar, who refers to herself as “the school slut”, a title she earned without actually having to be a slut. 
Kali begins to realise that she has been used, that her very birth was for someone else’s benefit, not her own. And she’s being stalked and it isn’t by a gorgeous boy vampire, not even Angel, but by a major corporation. Not nice. Can she really go it alone or should she finally trust her newfound friends and stop acting on the hero/messiah complex of which she has been accused by those friends? 
There was a lot more depth and a lot less romance than in the average YA paranormal. The whole story goes over about forty-eight hours, something you forget due to all the action, which is pretty much nonstop. I liked the touches of science in this, not surprising from an author who is currently studying for her PhD in science. There’s a reason for all these paranormal beings, and it’s not what you might think.
If you do like romance, don’t despair, there’s always Zev, the gorgeous paranormal boy who might play a more substantial role in the next novel, if any. He’s there all the time, but not - I will say no more lest I risk spoilers. 
 I should say, though, that the younger male characters aren’t as strong as the females. There are some good older males, such as Skylar’s older brothers, Vaughn the vet and Reid the FBI man.  The strongest boys are those who are mostly offstage, such as Darryl the computer genius, who only appears briefly,saying little, but supplies a very important piece of hardware later in the book. It can only be hoped Darryl is a more important character in a future book. And there really should be more, because there were some loose ends that could do with tying up, but this can be read standalone.
Every Other Day is a breath of fresh air in this genre. If you’re a little sick of the books with the girl in a formal gown on the cover and the gorgeous male stalker and would like a novel with some kickass females who have some depth to them, this is a book you will enjoy.