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Saturday, June 30, 2012

Ripley Patton Speaks Of Unicorns

First cab off the rank for our series of guest posts by contributors to the Light Touch Paper Stand Clear anthology is Ripley Patton, who has written for Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine, so was well known to Simon Petrie and Edwina Harvey when they were inviting submissions. Here’s what the editors of LTP have to say about her story:
Ripley’s ‘Mary Had A Unicorn’ takes the concept of horn-headed horsies in what was, for me at least, a completely unexpected and rewarding direction. Mary is the warts-and-all teenager in a warts-and-all family, and Patience the unicorn is Mary’s shiny white bete noire. Ripley (who calls this kind of thing ‘mythpunk’) pulls off a rounded, moving story that manages to make unicorns cool.
 I loved the sarky know-it-all teenage girl Ripley has painted so well in this piece, and how she discovers she *doesn’t* know everything after all.  I think Ripley does “Rites of Passage” stories very well.
Because of her New Zealand connections,  I chose to read from Ripley’s story at the launch at UnCONventional, the NZ Natcon.  I started at the beginning of the story and stopped at a cliff-hanger about one and a half pages later. I have to admit there was something satisfying in hearing groans from the audience who wanted to hear more. They were clearly hooked by Ripley’s wonderful tale!     
And here’s Ripley:
Mary Had a Unicorn Excerpt:  
The last thing on earth Mary Maloney wanted was a unicorn. She wasn't an addict, no matter what they said at the clinic. Sure, she used sometimes just for fun, or when she was down. But who didn't? It wasn't any different than the booze her dad tanked. Or the pot he smoked. But you didn't see anyone assigning him a freakin' genetically engineered, one-horned parole officer.
They made her pick out the unicorn herself. They had them all in a little room, one of those big-windowed rooms pet shops have at the very front to display puppies. There were seven of them, all white and no taller than her knees, but they didn't play or romp, or do anything cute like that. They just stood in a huddle with their shimmery horns jutting in various directions. Except one stood away from the rest, and Mary chose that one. 
When I got the call for submissions from Simon Petrie for a new speculative fiction anthology he and Edwina Harvey were putting together, of course, I was thrilled. The title/theme "Light Touch Paper, Stand Clear," was even more intriguing. To me, it brought forth thoughts of catalysts and change. What is the impetus that moves us from a stuck place to a place of growth or progress? What is the spark that blows everything we've known apart and forces us to rebuild our world or world view? It also made me think about a story I had written that didn't have an ending. A story that was stuck in place and needed a spark. That story was titled "Mary Had a Unicorn". 
So, I went back and had a look at it. Originally, "Mary had a Unicorn" was inspired by the nursery rhyme Mary had a Little Lamb, coupled with the mythology that unicorn horns have detoxifying properties. Ground unicorn horn in a polluted lake would make it drinkable. When a captive unicorn dipped its horn in the King's cup, he need not fear being poisoned. And what is our modern poison of choice? Alcohol. Illicit drugs. Coffee. Chocolate. The question arose in my mind, what if unicorns existed today? How would we exploit those properties to address the current issues of our own broken society?
And this is what I came up with—miniature, genetically engineered unicorns, first used in airports to sniff out drugs and explosives, but later prescribed and sold by the welfare system as a cure for drug addicts. What can I say? My mind works in mysterious ways.
Thankfully, for some reason, Simon and Edwina's prompt was the spark I needed, and an ending for "Mary had a Unicorn" presented itself. I happily sent it off to them and they happily accepted it.
Ripley Patton's Bio:
Ripley Patton lives and writes from Portland, Oregon having recently finished a five year jaunt in New Zealand. She has had numerous speculative fiction short stories published, both on-line and in print, and won the Sir Julius Vogel Award for best short story of 2009. Ripley is also the founder and current president of SpecFicNZ, the national association for creators and writers of speculative fiction in and from New Zealand. She has just finished her first novel, a YA paranormal thriller titled Ghost Hand, and lives with one husband, one cat, and two teenage literary critics who also happen to be her children. You can find more about Ripley and her work on her website HERE.
Ripley also says:
Though "Mary had a Unicorn" features a young adult protagonist, an anti-heroine, I don't really consider it a story geared toward that audience. I do love to write Young Adult fiction, however, and have just finished my first novel, a YA paranormal thriller titled Ghost Hand. Here's a little blurb for Ghost Hand to whet your appetite;
Olivia Black has a rare birth defect known as Psyche Sans Soma or PSS. She was born with an ethereal, glowy, see-though right hand where her flesh-and-blood hand should have been. But that's old news. Everyone in her small Midwestern town is used to it. But when the new guy in Olivia's Calc class gawks and stares and makes her feel like a freak, her ghost hand has a strange reaction, one that will send her running from her school and her friends and everything she's ever known on a wild chase to find the key to controlling the strange new power of her hand.” 
Want to know more? You can read the first two chapters of Ghost Hand on my website HERE

Goodbye To Artemis Fowl?

Some years ago, the Artemis Fowl series was launched with a lot of noise and compared with Harry Potter. For that reason, I resisted reading it for quite a while. I can't stand ripoffs or publicity that tries to persuade you to buy it because it's "like" something else.

But a friend who had read it assured me it was wonderful and as I respected his taste, I picked up a copy of the first novel and read it. And loved it. The only things this has in common with the Harry Potter series are the age of its hero and the fact that it's likely to become a classic. Harry is a good boy who is bright but not brilliant. Artemis is a criminal genius who kidnaps a fairy and holds her for ransom. The stories are funny but touching.

The humour in the books is strong. The fairy police are known as LEPRecon(geddit?) and the fairy he kidnaps is more like a female James Bond than Tinkerbell. They have to live underground, but their technology is advanced way beyond ours and Holly the fairy police officer is supplied by a centaur called Foaly, who is like Q. There's a dwarf called Mulch whose ability is to unhinge his jaw and eat his way through the dirt, then fart his way along at tremendous speed. It's his means of travel and he actually has a trouser flap at the back for the purpose.

The thing is, despite his genius for crime, Artemis is, deep down, a good boy from the start. He commits crime in desperation because his mother is sick, physically and mentally, and his father, who was never cut out for the family business(crime) has been kidnapped. And as the series continues, he becomes more and more of a good boy and the fairy he kidnapped becomes a close friend.

And this is the problem - it's become impossible to keep him as a criminal and the author Eoin Colfer has decided to finish off the series. It is, I think, always going to be a problem when you make your heroes baddies. It's one British writer Mark Walden admits to, with his H.I.V.E series (see my interview with him here).His young heroes being trained to be super villains just aren't evil, only good at crime. There is only so far you can go.

I, for one, will miss Artemis and his friends and his over-the-top adventures, even if I can see why it has to end. But I will have to read the last book to provide myself with closure.

Writing A Book On Crime: Researching Crime Time

Having been reading and enjoying the History Girls blog for the last few weeks, I thought perhaps I might do a History Girls-type post here, about how I researched a book I wrote, and perhaps when you've read it you might like to check out the sample chapter I have on this blog. It's the story of the April Fool's Day bungled robbery, of which more later.

About four years ago, I decided to take a term off from school, on long service leave. I had no special plans, except a bit of travel and some writing of articles and short fiction. I was just about to start my nice long break when I received an email from Paul Collins of Ford Street Publishing. I had written some short fiction for Paul before, but he knew I had written a lot of non-fiction(in fact, I'd recently completed an article about forensic science for the NSW School Magazine, at their request.)

Paul explained that his partner Meredith Costain had done a book called Fifty Famous Australians and he had an idea for a book on fifty infamous Australians. Would I be interested in writing it?

Is the Pope a Catholic?

When you write non-fiction for children, you have to be prepared to write about anything, and I had been doing that. Sometimes I suggested the topic; more often I was commissioned. I love writing about something unfamiliar, because I learn something new.

I did know a little bit about crime, due to my forensics article, and all the Underbelly gangland stuff in the newspapers. I'd read about it over the years. Who hasn't heard of Ned Kelly? And then there was the gruesome story of the Batavia, mutiny and murder.

But there was a lot to do here, not merely the fifty, but a whole lot of snippets for "Did You Know?" boxes. I prepared a long list of possible entries and visited my publisher to be briefed and discuss. This was a book for children. As such, it had to be written carefully so that there wouldn't be anything too detailed in the descriptions of the crimes. I knew that, Paul didn't have to tell me. At the same time, this was a history of crime, children Iove gruesome and I was adamant that this was not going to be a book to help with homework. Potentially it could help with homework, but it was for entertainment. Anything called Fifty Infamous Australians would sound like homework material. In the end, I didn't come up with the title Crime Time: Australians behaving badly, but at least it didn't imply homework!

There had to be a mixture of men and women, grim and humorous, scary and quirky and a vague historical timeline. I would start with the Batavia incident, when a Dutch ship was wrecked off the coast of Western Australia in the seventeenth century and while the captain was gone for help, members of the crew mutinied and murdered passengers and anyone who wouldn't join them.

In the end, though, I wrote the entries in no special order, deciding to sort them later. I knew a book on Australian crime without Ned Kelly would be like a history of women in science without Marie Curie, but I also learned that there was a Kelly brother, James, who lived to a ripe old age as a pillar of the community. And with the other bushrangers there was a lady called Mary Ann Bugg, the wife of Captain Thunderbolt, who was brave and strong and who kept them alive in the bush. I devoured books about Australian crime, from the Batavia to the present day. I read the newspapers for contemporary crime stories, including those I could use for the "Did You Know?" boxes.

Australia is rich in crime stories, the only problem being how to choose among them. There were some who,like Ned Kelly, couldn't be left out. Paul requested some and I duly researched them.

Because I understand how history writing works, I made sure that each of my entries had at least two, preferably more, sources. I remember one Internet source about the Hoddle Street massacre was suspiciously sympathetic to the murderer, for example. Likewise, there were articles protesting the innocence of one of the Whiskey Au Go Go nightclub fire bombers and those declaring the innocence of Martin Bryant, the Port Arthur killer. I had to be careful to get it right. Even newspapers vary in their reporting of the same story, and one book I read, by two respected crime historians, declared that Carl Williams left school at the age of eleven! (It was Year 11 at high school) A typo, for sure, but if you don't check it, you can end up with egg on your face.

I'd written a stack of stories about serial killers and murderous baby farmers and my poor editor was groaning at the horror of it all, when I decided it was time to get into the humorous or at least quirky. I appealed to my friends for suggestions. My friend Chris Wheat, a workmate and fellow YA novelist, told me about the April Fools' Day robbery, when two would-be thieves, Donna Hayes and Benjamin Jorgensen, attempted to rob the Cuckoo restaurant in the Dandenongs, and escaped with a bag of stale bread rolls.

Thank heavens for the Internet! I went to the Google News archive and found a stack of articles about the robbery. In the course of the stuff up he accidentally shot her. The newspapers couldn't agree on where she had been injured, so I mentioned them all, saying the papers had found the incident amusing and some had said this, others that. There are times when you have to make a decision; this wasn't one of them. In any case, you can read all about it right here.

Around this time, I also asked Kerry Greenwood, author of lots of crime fiction, if she could suggest something that wasn't serial killer grim. What she suggested was a murder, but a quirky one. It was, she said, every crime writer's nightmare: the story of Snowy Rowles, who, in the 1920s, was working with novelist Arthur Upfield on the Rabbit-proof Fence(even in those days most writers had day jobs). He used an idea proposed for a perfect murder in one of Upfield's novels and very nearly got away with it! In the event, he was caught, bits of the novel were published alongside the newspaper stories and the author suddenly found himself a bestseller, but that's a story for another post.

I travelled to Central Australia during all this and, one night, met a lovely grey nomad couple in a pub. Over dinner, I told them about my book and about Caroline Grills, the arsenic-and-old-lace poisoner who killed relatives with afternoon tea treats in the 1950s, whom I was currently researching.

"Oh, Caroline Grills? I knew her," the wife said casually, adding, "She was such a sweet woman!" She had been a nurse at Long Bay Jail, where Grills spent her last years. What more could a history researcher ask for? Even if I doubted she could be described as sweet, it did tell me how she appeared to others, if she could make herself liked even by the prison staff, who knew what she had done.

My final chapter was about Tony Mokbel. Paul had asked me to do a chapter on him and I was wondering how I could do this when I went out for coffee and opened a newspaper to find a large spread on his escape from Australia, which was a wonderfully quirky and funny story in its own right, without needing any major background. I had my final chapter!

There were other humorous stories, too many to recount here, but I loved the stories of con artist Murray Beresford Roberts, of the Russian librarian who hijacked a helicopter to spring her boyfriend from jail and then was caught out because of some overdue video library loans and "Dumb and Dumber", the two Australians working in the US who robbed a bank wearing their work IDs and escaped using their staff passes on ski lifts and Mary Wade, the child convict who robbed another child of her underwear in the toilets and became the ancestress of Prime Minister Kevin Rudd. It's amazing how many of these stories were in the papers while I was researching, even the Mary Wade one.

The book was published in 2009, but I'm still fascinated by crime and read every crime article I can find in the papers, including things that happened to some of my villains after the book came out.

You never know when it will come in handy!

Friday, June 29, 2012

Looking Forward To...

Several things! I have my first post for the Light Touch Paper Stand Back series of guest posts, from Ripley Patton, author of "Mary Had A Little Unicorn". It will be up tomorrow, all going well.

The lovely History Girl and historical novelist Louise Berridge has emailed to tell me I have won a signed copy of her new novel Into The Valley of Death. It was totally unexpected and out of the blue, as you had to live in the UK to qualify, but she liked my comment so much she wanted me to have it, despite postage costs. Her publisher does have a distributor here but she wants it to be personal. I'm very much looking forward to that parcel.

Incidentally, if you haven't yet discovered this fabulous web site, I do heartily recommend it. There is a post daily. One of the latest is about what the author discovered while researching executions in the eighteenth century. Did you know that at one stage, if you were being burned at the stake your family had to pay for the wood? I knew people had to tip the headsman if they didn't want to have their execution deliberately botched, but not this! Anyway,check it out here.There's also a fascinating post about travelling with a baby in 1645, and how you'd feed them if you had no milk of your own. This web site is pure gold for anyone writing history-based fiction, including fantasy, as Jordyn Redwood's site is for anyone wanting to hurt their hero. At some stage I may do a post about useful web sites like these.

I have some more reading to look forward to, including the Carolyn Morwood mystery, Death And The Spanish Lady, I bought the other night at the Sisters In Crime event at the Atheneum. In fact, I have two weeks to enjoy reading without having to put it aside for the day to work... A charming Year Seven boy asked me the other day, as a librarian, how much was I reading. I told him, at work nothing, though quite a lot in my own time. He was impressed when I said a dozen books, though the figure was plucked out of the air. It's far more than that.

Stand by for plenty of action here in the next few days!

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Things To Come On The Great Raven In July

Friday is my last day of work for two weeks. This weekend I am beginning to prepare a number of treats for your enjoyment, good readers!

There will be an interview with, and guest post by,Duncan Long, a cover artist I met via LinkedIn. Duncan has done work for everyone from Pocket Books and HarperCollins to self-published authors and has some fascinating things to tell about the process and the problems involved.

Tehani Wessely, my former ASIM colleague, is a publisher, an editor, a teacher-librarian and a judge for such things as the Aurealis Awards and the CBCA Awards.I don't know how she manages it all, but I will be finding out as soon as I have prepared some questions she has kindly agreed to answer.

And, over the month of July, there will be some guest posts from the contributors and editors from Light Touch Paper Stand Back. It was so successful with Mythic Resonance, I thought I would do it again. I hope you'll all enjoy these posts, whether you have the book or not. So far, we have on board Joanne Anderton, Adam Browne, the wonderful cover artist Les Petersen,Ripley Patton, Brenda Cooper,Thoraiya Dyer, the editors Edwina Harvey and Simon Petrie and, dare I say it, a short post from company head honcho Liz Bright herself!

So stand by for a fabulous month!

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Jack Heath Post. - A Link

I only read my first Jack Heath book, Hit List, recently. I have reviewed it on this web site, January 11. It was a fast-paced thrill-a-minute book for boys which had a strong female protagonist and, unlike my one attempt to read Matthew Reilly, I actually cared about the characters. And the ending wasn't what you might expect.

On his website, Jack expresses his frustration with a certain big bookseller he calls ChaoSonic, and their undercutting the competition. You wouldn't think a best selling writer like him would have books out of print or a publisher unable to afford to release his books, would you? Personally, I don't think the GST helps either, but Jack is much younger than me and has grown up in the GST era, so hasn't seen the difference.

Maybe it's time to offer to overseas publishers or even self-publish as some other well-known writers have done.

Anyway, I'll let you see what he has to say here.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Pitching your book to bloggers - a link

Dear Writers,

Here's a link to Leeswammes Blog.

It says, far better and more politely than I can, what is the best way to attract the interest of s blogger, certainly of this blogger. I'd like to add that in my case, you have a better chance if you use my name and check the review policy!

Thanks for your attention.


Judging for George Ivanoff

Well, who would have thought I'd be a guest judge? The delightful George Ivanoff who, unlike me, is making a living from his writing, has invited me to be the judge in a competition for the giveaway of a couple of Blu-Ray versions of the Phryne Fisher TV series. Actually, if you want to enter yourself(Australia only, sorry!Postage is outrageous these days)why not wander over to George's web site here. In fact, why not wander over anyway for some of George's great blogging?

Thursday, June 21, 2012


After a long day at work, finishing reports to free me up today, I made my way to the  beautiful, hundred-year-old Atheneum theatre in Melbourne, where the Melbourne Writer’s festival was hosting an event in the Schools program.
I didn’t have time to stop for a meal, as I reached the city at 5.30 p.m. and the event was due to start at six, so I bought and gulped down a vegetable pasty from a stall at Flinders Street Station, promising myself a real meal afterwards, and caught a tram to Collins Street, where the theatre is located.
There was a crowd waiting in the foyer when I got there, many children and teens with their parents and some adult fans as well. I have to admit I have only been reading Eragon since I decided to buy a ticket. The books are very popular in my library, but oddly enough I couldn’t find students interested in going, not even Kristen, who is a major fan of the series and has read and re-read it; possibly she didn’t want to risk being disappointed. She needn’t have worried, as you will see presently, but she missed out. Luckily, the author was interviewed on Radio National this morning on Books and Arts Daily and the ABC prepares podcasts. And what he said on radio was very similar to what he said last night, even to the wording, so that’s okay. People tend to ask the same questions, and he does a lot of touring, so he has no doubt prepared a script to help him along. I would probably do the same.
It was fascinating standing there on my own, listening to conversations around me. Two boys were discussing Tom Sawyer. One declared it was “crap” while his brother said, “Actually, if you read it till the end, the last six chapters are not too bad. The bit where they go to the caves and get lost...”
Amusing to hear Mark Twain’s classic book about childhood discussed in that way. Is it even meant for children or is it for adults who have a sentimental view of their own childhoods? I suspect Mark Twain would have laughed if he’d heard the conversation.
A little after six we were allowed to enter the auditorium in groups. They asked us to sit near the front and fill that up before the back. That was fine with me, although a lady next to me said she’d rather sit near the back where it was warmer. With so many people all going in at once, though, they glanced at our printed-out tickets and didn’t bother to scan them.
It was ten past six by the time Mike Shuttleworth, who used to run the State Library’s Centre for Youth Literature and is now doing the MWF program, came out to introduce the guest speaker. He said that there would be a draw afterwards for a special framed poster for anyone who bought a book. I had no intention of staying for the signing; I have the first one on e-book and the rest in the school library if i want to read the sequels, so thought it might be better to make my way home and let the real fans have their fun. For that reason I also didn’t put up my hand to ask any questions, not wanting to take away the pleasure from any child fan who was waiting to ask.
Finally, he came out on stage, the young man who wrote a novel in his teens and ended up selling millions of copies, translated in to forty-nine languages.
I have to say I was impressed. Yes, the audience was full of fans who wanted to enjoy his talk, but I think he would have engaged even non-fans. Hell, he engaged this cynical old teacher-librarian! So many writers can tear your heart out with their writing, but can’t get up and speak to a room full of strangers. And then there are those who are so arrogant when they’re up there that you want to kick them in the behind. 
Not this lad. 
He told the audience about his life as a home-schooled boy who graduated high school at the age of fifteen and then was bored after two weeks of not having to do anything, to the extent that he dug a hole in the ground and built a mediaeval mead-hall in his back yard. Then he decided to write a book of the sort he would like to read, as we all do - why else would you write a book? He threw in all the elements he loved about fantasy - wizards and rescues of princesses and dragons and battles - and actually planned out his entire series before even getting started on the book. So all these books were planned by a fifteen year old boy. The first draft, as he says, was awful, so he edited it and cut stuff like a unicorn.
The hero’s name was originally Kevin, but you don’t sell many copies of an epic fantasy with a hero called Kevin, so he took the word “dragon” and changed a letter. I had suspected this from the first time I saw the book, so nodded to myself in satisfaction. 
The family self-published the book (I bet you could get a fortune on eBay for one of those first editions!) which was discovered by the YA writer Carl Hiaasen, who bought a copy for his twelve-year-old nephew and brought the book to the attention of Random House and the rest is history.
He told some amusing stories about that first tour he and his family took (and imagine having parents who were willing and able to take you on tour after publishing your book! How wonderful is that? My own parents would have been more than willing, but not able). He had never been inside a high school before, given that he’d been home schooled and you can imagine the reaction he got to his mediaeval costume! 
The herbalist Angela is based on his own sister Angela, who luckily has a sense of humour, and the werecats were her idea.
The cover art is by John Jule Palencar, an artist he admires so much he named a valley in the book after him, but the fact that he did the art was pure coincidence; the publishers didn’t know he was a fan.
The books in the series are full of references to various TV shows - Doctor Who especially, but also Babylon Five, Deep Space Nine and others - damn! Now I will HAVE  to read the rest! I wished I hadn’t decided not to ask any questions, because one influence/reference he didn’t mention was Star Wars, though he is a fan( and told a story of being beaten on an online Star Wars game by someone who went under the name of Eragon). So far, I have found the first novel to be something I would describe as Star Wars with dragons, but will keep my full thoughts on this for another post once I have finished.
He really knew how to engage his audience. A nice touch was to invite people to lend him their copies of each of the novels to read from. Of course, people waved their books at him and he had no trouble getting a copy of each.
He answered questions, asking people not to do spoilers, knowing that there might be people out there who hadn’t actually read the whole series. That was a really good touch, I thought; so many writers would have assumed, arrogantly, that everyone had, of course, read all their works, or why were they there?

Of course, there was a question about his future plans, now that the series was over, and he said he had planned out a lot of books in many different genres, and his next book would be science fiction. But yes, he had already planned out a fifth book in this universe.
There were plenty more things last night, but this is all I have time to describe for now. Stand by for another post when i have finished the novel.
I ended the evening with dinner at Young and Jackson’s pub, where they do a really nice warm salmon salad, so I didn’t have to cook once I got home.

THE UNDERSTUDY'S REVENGE By Sophie Masson. Sydney : Scholastic, 2011. ISBN: 9781741698138

Finally, for today, another Sisters In Crime review that missed the deadline! Enjoy!

This is set in the London of Charles Dickens, who was editing a magazine, All The Year Round, at this time and has a walk-on in one scene where the heroine visits the  magazine's offices. 

Millie Osborne is the daughter of a theatre manager. The theatre has been her life, but her real ambition is to become a writer and journalist. Now, with the arrival of mysterious Oliver Parry, an actor auditioning for a production of Hamlet, she sees a story in the making, but also finds that there is a mystery in the life of the company's leading actors and owners, James and Lily King, who married soon after the death of James's overbearing brother Robert. Lily had lost a son, but is he really dead? And if he isn't, is there a real-life Hamlet story happening under Millie's nose, with the danger of a similar ending? Millie and her friend Seth, a courier for Charles Dickens, are determined to find out before a new tragedy can happen.

The novel brings Victorian London to life, with all the dirt and noise and the Victorian passion for seances. Some of it is seen from Seth's viewpoint, when Millie has been knocked unconscious (but apparently has escaped concussion). Seth is a likeable character who can improvise when in trouble. Millie is also a strong, brave character. It is easy enough to believe she might make it as an investigative writer. There is a touch of fantasy here, but otherwise it's just good historical fiction with a mystery involved and clues that can be put together.

I have enjoyed Sophie Masson's historical fantasy before and I was not disappointed in this one.


MERCY By Rebecca Lim. Sydney:HarperCollins, 2010 ISBN 9780732291990

Written for Sisters In Crime web site, but sharing this here since the editor is overseas and I missed the deadline (I think!). Hopefully, she will publish it when she gets back... I assumed I had reviewed this, but couldn't find it, so here, at last, are my thoughts on Rebecca Lim's first paranormal novel.

Mercy is an angel who did something very stupid thousands of years ago and is now being forced to "leap" (my word) into mortal bodies and fix the problems of others before leaping out again. There's a hole in her memory that allows only flashbacks to what she did, though the implication is that she hung out with Lucifer and his rebel angels, but wasn't thrown into hell with them. She had friends among the good angels and they have kept an eye on her over the years, which is necessary, because in her dreams she is still being courted by someone called Luc who was her boyfriend in heaven but definitely doesn't have her best interests at heart.

In her current life, she is Carmen, a young chorister with a glorious voice who has come to a dreary town called Paradise to sing. There is a mystery here, with a missing girl whose brother Ryan doesn't believe she's dead. Can Mercy/Carmen and Ryan find her before another tragedy strikes? And what happens when an angel who has to move on becomes involved with a mortal? Read and find out.

I have read three books in this series and admit that this one is my favourite. It is, admittedly, Quantum Leap with angels, though the author swears she has never seen the show. But this is one of the things I liked best about it, that sets it apart from the standard YA paranormal romance. There's a template for paranormal romance, and this one doesn't fit into it. The angel is not a tormented Byronic male, but a female who did something dumb and is paying for it. The paranormal boyfriend is NOT the good guy.

And there's a perfectly good whodunnit in here, though most detectives who find the villain don't have the options Mercy has. No, I won't tell you what those are for fear of spoilers.

Read and enjoy it, but if you decide to read the series, be aware that it has a change of direction after this, becoming more about Mercy herself, who does something truly stupid in the next book, showing she hasn't changed much from when she was in heaven, but perhaps it's only mortals who can change and develop.

Highly recommended for those who have had enough of tormented (male) fallen angels.

THE TRUTH ABOUT VERITY SPARKS By Susan Green. Newtown: Walker Books Australia, 2011. ISBN: 9781921720277

This review was written for the Sisters In Crime website, but the editor is overseas right now, so I thought they wouldn't mind my sharing it with you here. If you like crime fiction, there's a very good review spot on the web site. Go check it out.

"London 1878. Verity Sparks has an extraordinary talent: she can find lost things just by thinking about them. 

When she joins a Confidential Inquiry Agency, she discovers there is a mystery lurking in her own past and that unknown forces are working against her. It soon becomes clear that Verity and her friends are in great danger.

Who doesn't want them to learn the truth about Verity Sparks?"

Who indeed? There are a nice lot of red herrings in this little mystery, even if the only mystery involved is Verity's identity. There are also plenty of delightfully quirky characters in the family of Saddington Plush aka SP, his sister Judith, his father the Professor, who spends his life doing experiments, his botanical artist aunt Mrs Morcom, who keeps a couple of pythons, Antony and Cleopatra, in the conservatory. They investigate their cases with many a stop for tea.

I liked the references to Victorian spiritualism - this era was a major time for seances. I also liked that when a character is hit on the head and knocked unconscious, he doesn't recover immediately, as characters do on TV or in much fiction, including a massive best selling novel I'm reading now. It won't do young readers any harm to learn this.

I'd recommend it for anyone who enjoys the novels of Sophie Masson. It has a style very reminiscent of Ms Masson's work.

This book is on the 2012 Children's Book Council of Australia shortlist.  

I was on a panel with this author at the Sisters In Crime convention earlier this year. She is a veteran children's writer.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Light Touch Paper First Reviews!

Here are links to the first two reviews of Light Touch Paper Stand Clear, the Peggy Bright Books anthology launched during Continuum. This one is by Tehani Wessely, who has published some of my work and promoted my books:

And this one is written by Sean Wright, the Blogonaut, member and regular commenter on the Great Raven, whose blog supports Aussie writing, especially small press like PBB.

Thanks, guys, for your positive reviews, though I have to say I'm glad I chose to do something frivolous, as both reviewers liked it. But then, most of my stories do have a light touch, or at least a bit of humour even in a serious piece.

Check out these reviews and then why not check out the book? If you're outside Australia and don't want to pay postage, I believe there's an ebook version on Wizard Tower Books.

I have to say, I'm so very excited to be in this great anthology!

On a completely unrelated note, tomorrow at this time I will be shivering in the co,d, waiting for a tram after listening to Christopher Paolini, whose book Eragon I am currently reading. Any fans out there? I will report on it, of course.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Happy Bloomsday!

I have to say I have only read a little of James Joyce's fiction and that was because I had to, in high school. A Portrait Of The Artist As A Young Man was on the Year 12 syllabus and reading the stream-of-consciousness narrative for the first time was not easy. I suspect that it would have meant more if we'd had some background in Irish history, but never mind. I have finally downloaded Ulysses from Project Gutenberg and will get stuck into it, now I know more, and maybe back to Portrait.

What I have done is been at Collected Works Bookshop in Melbourne, though not this year, to enjoy the celebration of all things Joyce and all things Irish, with costumed fans acting out bits of the novel and Kris Hemmensley and his wife Loretta, the shop's proprietors, serving Irish beer and Irish soda bread. I gave Loretta my recipe, which I got from the London Ritz Book of Breakfasts. It has been very successful when I have made it for family breakfasts. Loretta tried it and liked it. I probably shouldn't publish the recipe here, for copyright reasons, but if anyone reading this wants to try their hand at this soda bread recipe, email me. (I mentioned once to my Irish library technician, Barbara, that I made soda bread and she was surprised because she knows of it only as something you have with bacon, which I, of course, don't eat).

James Joyce statue in Dublin
Bloomsday is celebrated every year worldwide and has been since the fiftieth anniversary of the day on which the book is set, June 16th 1904. It is named for the main character, Leopold Bloom (anyone notice that the name was given to the nerdy accountant in The Producers?) and is the single day on which that mammoth novel is set, June 16th.

My oven is STILL on the blink, so no soda bread for me, but I will go off and play some Irish music (the Chieftains, perhaps?) and look at photos of Dublin. One of these days I mean to renew my passport, which expires next year, and get my travel agent nephew Mark to book me a ticket to Ireland. It's too beautiful a place for me not to visit.

Friday, June 15, 2012

BLOODTHIRSTY By Flynn Meaney. Sydney: HarperCollins, 2010

Some vampires are good. Some are evil. Some are faking it to get girls.
Finbar Frame, a sixteen year old boy whose (fraternal) twin brother got all the looks, charm and athletic ability, desperately wants a girlfriend. A move from smalltown Indiana to the huge New York metropolis seems to give him an opportunity to start again after his horrible boys’ school.
In the big city, he discovers something: teenage girls think vampires are seriously hot. With everyone reading a piece of woeful R-rated vampire romance called Bloodthirsty, he might finally have a chance to score. 
He does the research, reading every piece of YA vampire fiction he can get hold of, plus the dreadful Bloodthirsty. He rearranges his life to make himself as mysterious and cool as possible, concluding that he needs vampire attitude, that don’t-give-a-damn style.
And it works. Soon girls are spreading the kind of rumours he wants spread. He even finds that his new attitude is enabling him to become more confident around bullies of his own sex, including one who is bullying a younger student. But the girl he finds most attractive, who isn’t into vampires and might like him for himself, has her own secrets....
The book is very funny and you really feel for Finbar, even when he’s playing the vampire to the hilt. As a Catholic who thinks he may go to hell for lying, he never actually says he’s a vampire, only implies, but feels guilty anyway.  His family are over-the-top - his brother Luke, who got the nice simple name as well as everything else, is an ADHD sufferer who can’t take medication, so is always on the move and unable to focus for more than a few minutes. His mother has a cleanliness fetish and both parents embarrass him when he finally brings a girl home.
But, despite those reviews that describe the book as light and fluffy without too much depth, it does have something to say about being yourself and not worrying what others think. This is suggested both about Finbar and others; in one scene, he accompanies his friend Jenny to a fantasy convention where everyone is clearly having fun in costume, playing with their hobby and not bothered about anyone else's opinion of what they're doing. The author has fun with the whole vampire romance phenomenon, but manages to point out that vampires do have some positive features, specifically that, like the fantasy fans, they don’t care what others think. 
The one thing I found a little disappointing was that the only female character who wasn’t sent up was Kate, the girl who’s not into vampires. Jenny is a sympathetic character, but needs help. 
The style reminds me quite a lot of the novels of Lili Wilkinson, so if you’ve read and enjoyed those, you might like to have a look at this one.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Female Warriors and Aching Heads - from the RHA Blog

This post was first published on the Random House Australia web site soon after my novel was published. I thought it might be of interest here and I will paste a couple more of my posts in the next few days.

Years ago, I wrote a series of sword and sorcery tales about a female warrior called Xanthia (the name is coincidence – this was the 1980s, well before a certain TV series). The stories, eventually published in a small fantasy magazine called Eye of Newt,
were set in a world that later became the universe of Wolfborn. When I read them aloud at my writers’ group, Sean McMullen - later a bestselling SF writer - told me firmly that if I was going to write about swordplay, I’d better learn how to do it myself.

Sean was a member of the SCA (Society for Creative Anachronism, a mediaeval re-enactment club). That Sunday, he buckled me into his spare armour, plonked a heavy helmet on my head and handed me a wooden sword and shield.

Over the months, I learned – from much taller opponents – what you can’t do with a sword, at the cost of my poor head. During that time, I also saw a tiny girl charge across a tournament field and deck a huge man – so it was possible if you had the nerve.
All this made its way into Wolfborn, where Etienne, a short guy who’s no great fighter, learns to deal with much bigger opponents.
My head still aches, remembering. I know how it feels, Etienne, mate!

Monday, June 11, 2012

Back From The Con, Loaded With Books!

I have spent a delightful Queen's Birthday weekend at Continuum 8, Craftonomicon, a convention with a craft theme and an undersea image, so that the Maskobalo was "Enchantment Under The Sea", presumably a reference to the school dance in Back To The Future. I will add some photos when I've downloaded the pictures I took on my phone.

The craft theme appealed to me, though I missed the craft events on the fourth floor. They put out a basket of wool and needles with the label "Knit Me!", so I chose a bright orange ball of thick yarn and started to knit a scarf, the only thing I know how to do. I hoped to complete it by the end of the weekend, but hadn't the time. I may finish it in the next day or two; with only one ball of wool the final length will be whatever it is. It's already long enough to go around my neck, and very warm.

I met my friends Edwina Harvey and Simon Petrie, who had the latest Andromeda Spaceways magazines and their new anthology Light Touch Paper,Stand Back, in which I had a story. I spent some time on the table with them, but also got to some panels apart from the ones of which I was a member. Saturday night we launched both ASIM #56 and Light Touch Paper. It was a wonderful event and we got an impressively large number of people attending. A few people read from their own stories in LTP,

 but as it was also an ASIM event Ian Nichols and I read from the stories we had selected for the issue; in my case, the author lives in Greece, so couldn't be there. It was a wonderful story called "What The Carp Saw(And Could Not Tell While Alive)", a murder mystery set in ancient Egypt, with magic and, well, cats! The author loves cats and writes a lot about them. Edwina had ordered two cakes with gorgeous icing, one with the book cover on it.

Yesterday I moderated a panel about book blogging, this morning I did one about sparkly vampires and the last panel for the day was on YA fiction that ISN'T paranormal romance. There was me, the delightful Michael Pryor, Kelly Link andLiz Barr. Kelly Link, the con GoH, impressed me by having read Fiona Wood's Aussie novel Six Impossible Things, which she liked very much. In her turn, she was impressed with the cover of Wolfborn, so I gave her a copy for plane reading - she said she had nothing to read on the plane, so she has now. ;-)

I ended the day with some friends over hot chocolate on Lygon Street.

Some reading matter I picked up: a Ray Harryhausen autobiography with, of course, lots of pics- this will probably go to my nephew Max, who intends to be the next Adam Elliott, but he'll get it AFTER I have had a good browse. Gillian Polack's cookbook connected with five historical feasts she arranged for Conflux. Damnation and Dames, a Ticonderoga publication I'd intended to submit to and never got around to finishing my story. ASIM 54 and 56. My contributor's copy of Light Touch Paper. I also, of course, had my Wolfborn story in 54. So now my four stories have been published and time to write and submit some more.

Meanwhile, off to bed to be up early for work again tomorrow. Back to the kitchen, Cinders! The ball is over.

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Ray Bradbury Is No More!

I just heard from one of my Goodreads groups: Ray Bradbury is gone. He has been a part of my life since my early adulthood. I loved everything of his I read, scary or funny or exciting. I remember reading Something Wicked This Way Comes in an evening and, apart from the wonderful atmosphere of brooding, I loved that the town was saved by the librarian! And that is appropriate, since in recent years he was a great defender of libraries against the idiots who wanted to close them down.

A few years ago, I found a more recent book of his which was set in 1950s Hollywood, with a character who was obviously meant to be Ray Harryhausen, who is a close friend. It started at midnight, in a cemetery, on Halloween, but wasn't a horror story. It was a mystery.

He wrote so much over the years, novels as well as short fiction, but I liked the short fiction best. And among all those atmospheric stories there were the funny ones, such as The Family, which included such characters as Uncle Einar with the green wings, whose wife uses him to fly up and dry the washing.

I loved the way his landscape was a character, adding to the atmosphere and flavour.

Only recently I got a boxed set of Ray Harryhausen movies and among the extras was a bio that included interviews with the two friends, who met when they were in their late teens. They promised each other NEVER to grow up. I guess they kept their promise.

There will be plenty of tributes to him over the next few days and when I get my act together I will add a proper one. Meanwhile, rest well, Ray. We'll miss you.

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Snapshot 2012 - Including Me!

The last few days leading up to Continuum 8, the Aussie Natcon, have been the annual series of interviews known as Snapshot, in which makers of Aussie spec fic, writers and publishers alike, have been given the chance to talk about their work on various blogs. This year, I was one of those invited, by Tehani Wessely, who has published one of my short stories at her small press Fablecroft. Here's the link to the interview with me(I admit I was a bit wordy) and after you've had a look at that you might like to check out the rest. There are some amazing people on Tehani's blog alone, and there's a list of links to the others.

It has occurred to me that, due to her being an interviewer, Tehani has not actually had an interview herself. I may ask her. Tehani has a fascinating history as publisher, reviewer, editor and, wearing her teacher-librarian hat, as a judge in the CBCA Awards, not to mention the Aurealis...

Stand by while I ask her. :)