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Sunday, September 29, 2013

Banned Books Week Readout: Northern Lights

So, here it is! As usual, my lips don't synch. I think YouTube doesn't much like .mov format. I do have it in Quicktime but it's hundreds of megabytes and I don't know how it will work out anyway, so maybe later.

Here's the link:

Alas, I couldn't get much interest in this year's Banned Books Week from the kids. Little Priyanka expressed interest, and I may be able to get Minh to have a go,  possibly a couple of others,but generally, things have gone downhill since my original Book Clubbers went off to Senior campus. It's just not the same any more. I may have to wait and see who turns up next year.

Still - let's see how it goes when I show this to them. And later, I may just read from Lord Of The Rings, even if the week is over. That's another favourite that seems to end up on the Banned Books list. Would you believe that there are objections to the religion? I mean, that it's against religion? We're talking J.R.R Tolkien here, a devout Catholic who wound his faith into his novel. I can understand them saying that about Phillip Pullman's books (though there's a rather interesting online discussion between him and the Archbishop of Canterbury, who likes the series), but Tolkien? The poor man would be shocked! Oh, and there are objections to the fact that young readers are exposed to characters smoking. Well, yes, but really, I can't see kids getting stuck into pipe smoking just because Bilbo does it! And there's a scene where the supremely sexy Legolas tells the rest of the Fellowship that he really doesn't get this smoking thing and how they could possibly waste their time on it.

What I love about it is the fact that in Tolkien, ordinary people can be heroes and save the world. And interestingly, Father Bob Maguire said the same thing on Twitter the other day. Nice to know that I'm not the only one who thinks that.

Do check out my reading, try to ignore the dubbing glitch and see what you think. Let me know!

And just so you know, I will not be publishing any rude comments by people who are against Banned Books Week, like that man last year. Some people seriously need to get a life.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

What I'm reading For Banned Books Week

I read recently that this was at one stage the second on the top ten banned and challenged books. Who can resist? I am a bit late this year, but what the heck? My video will stay up. And the students will see it. I often wonder why they keep Googling me, but am kind of flattered when a student finds me reading aloud on YouTube and calls,"Miss! Hey, Miss!". They found me interesting enough to look up. 

I read the entire series a few years ago and loved the beauty of the imagery and realised that, like the Narnia books, it had more than kids would notice while reading it. I borrowed it from the library on Friday for a reread and am having trouble deciding which passage to read. I think it may be the scene where, having gone through her long, dangerous and exhausting quest, Lyra turns up on Lord Asriel's doorstep only to find herself unwelcome and bursts into an angry speech.

A great and powerful trilogy, though, like China Mieville, the author seems to think he's better than Tolkien. No way, mate! It's good stuff, but not that good!

Some time today, perhaps after lunch, I will sit down at my laptop and record, then have fun and games trying to remember how to convert it to a format usable on YouTube. Otherwise, you get a thing that looks like an attempt to dub a foreign film, with lips moving faster or slower than the sound. And no matter what I do, I get a mirror image of the book cover.

Still, it's the reading that matters. I will post a link when done.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Two Trickster Tales From Russia, Retold By Sophie Masson , Art by David Allan. Christmas Press, 2013

Some time ago, as I mentioned on this blog, I was invited to join a crowd funding venture. Sophie Masson, author of some gorgeous YA novels based on folk tales, had started a new venture with her friends, Christmas Press, which would publish traditional folk tales, starting with two from Russia. Would we donate towards this and for a set amount of money, we would receive a "perk" - in my case, a signed copy of the book.

My sister went to collect it for me from the post office. As soon as I had opened the parcel and begun to drool, she asked me if she could have it for Eden, my nephew Mark's older boy. I had waited for this and looked forward to it and it was every bit as gorgeous as I had expected.

But I thought of my crowded shelves and remembered that it was, after all, a children's book and Eden was about the right age to be discovering folk tales. I sighed, read it and handed it over. Really, there are too many adults collecting picture books as works of art instead of reading them with the children in their lives. And the publishers know about this and make sure there are plenty of artistic picture books aimed more at adults than children.

This isn't one of them, though it is a work of art. The style of the pictures is inspired by old Russian children's books and I can see this, but it also reminds me of English fairy tale artist Walter Crane, whose work illustrated such familiar tales as "Red Riding Hood"(see above). Gorgeous!

The two stories are "Masha And The Bear" and "The Rooster With The Golden Crest". The first reminds me of the folk tale where the girl marries the Devil and tricks him into taking her home in a sack. The second, about a truly stupid chook, is also familiar. Both have the repitition kids love, and should be fun to read with the little ones.

Read, enjoy, but make sure the child in your life does too.

The good news is that four year-old Eden has declared his passion for tales of brave knights, princesses and dragons.  Ah, little boy, come to Auntie Sue! 

The Walter Crane picture is taken from Creative Commons.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

More On My iBooks Shelf

I finished rereading Star Prince Charlie yesterday, just as delightful as the first time. It's all too easy to have fond memories of a book and then find out it's not as good as you thought.

When Ann Crispin died the other day I downloaded her YA novel Starbridge, the first of a series. It has the flavour of an Andre Norton, well, sort of. I liked it very much, anyway, a story of First Contact, where the little ship is chugging home to Earth, minding its own business and suddenly -  aliens! Who turn out to be looking for their own First Contact for their own reasons... And the baby-blanket-shaped sentient fungus who farts oxygen...:)

I downloaded Percy's Reliques, but couldn't read much of it, so I went back to Gutenberg and found a volume of selected Percy ballads edited by Andrew Lang, bless him! Much easier to follow and missing the waffle.

Today I bought John Safran's new book, Murder In Mississippi, which was about what happened when he went to the US, firstly to record an episode of Race Relations which was never aired because the white supremacist who was the subject of it was a lawyer who had sued an entire county, among other things, and could easily do the same to the ABC. A year later the horrible man was murdered by a black man and certain questions about him led John Safran to go back to the US to write a book about it all. I'm a couple of hundred pages in already and finding it very readable, like a detective story in its own right. If he's going to be a true crime writer, he's made a good start.

Now, I'm putting this on the charger till bedtime and asking my ebooks to bed with me.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Of Another City's Writers' Festival

I'm finishing breakfast and listening to Books And Arts Daily on Radio National. Some of the interviews have been with participants in this year's Berlin Reads program, connected with the International Literature Festival. Check out this link, go on. In case you don't, there's a page about an event known as Berlin Reads in which anyone and everyone's invited to apply to read aloud from a favourite book in a favourite spot. One woman read from Henry Fielding. Another reader, a librarian at Humboldt University, chose to read poems by one of the Humboldt brothers near a statue of the pair, in Bookburning Square, where the Nazis burned books in the 1930s. How wonderful! ( The choice of spot, not the bookburning!)

And what a fabulous idea! Everyone can take part in the Writers' Festival and share their love of books. You do have to apply, so the organisers know what's happening, can clear it with the council and presumably make sure it doesn't get nasty. But it works. It worked so well last year in Berlin that they're doing it again.

So, what do you think, oh, my readers? Wouldn't it be a terrific thing to do in our hometowns at the next writers' festival? Melbourne Writers' Festival, I invite you to consider it. A Fed Square/State Library event or people could negotiate other venues if they thought anyone would stop to listen.


Saturday, September 21, 2013

Paul Collins And His New Book

Last night, I received the following email from my lovely publisher Paul Collins, who has also been writing for many years and supporting Australian speculative fiction since Year Dot:

"Hi Sue

I've just had a horror novel published by Damnation Books in the US --Amazon:
It's now time to try and get some reviews/promo happening, but I'm long out of the adult fiction scene. I don't suppose you have any ideas -- horror magazine editor contacts, etc?
I've attached a copy in case you'd like to blog about it or review it for your site."

I am not a horror fan and I don't read much adult fiction, but if Paul Collins wrote it, it will be worth reading and from the acknowledgements page I see that he has done his research on certain aspects of the story - cults, police, things spiritual and other such stuff, asking people who knew more about it than he did.

I have asked some bloggers who have wider tastes than I do, but thought it might be good to let my readers know about it.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Fortunately, The Milk... By Neil Gaiman, illustrated Chris Riddell,Sydney: Bloomsbury, 2013

"This is quite possibly the most exciting adventure ever to be written about milk since Tolstoy's epic novel War and Milk. Also it has aliens, pirates, dinosaurs and wumpires in it (but not the handsome, misunderstood kind), also a never-adequately-explained-bowl-of-piranhas, not to mention a Volcano God." - Neil Gaiman's web site

What else can I say? Mum goes to work. Dad has to go out for a carton of milk because otherwise there will be none to put in his tea or on the children's breakfast cereal. He comes back quite some time later, clutching the carton of milk and with a bizarre story to explain his long absence - being abducted by aliens who want to conquer - and redecorate - the planet, rescued by a time travelling dinosaur professor and going on a scary adventure involving all of the above and somehow retaining the milk. Is he telling the truth or, as the children suspect, is it a load of rubbish? Decide for yourself.

It's a funny, cheeky, over-the-top story for younger readers and, I suspect, for the adults who are reading it with them. Indeed, if you're familiar with Neil Gaiman and what he looks like, you may notice that the Dad in Chris Riddell's delightful cartoons looks a lot like the author. 

I received this review copy on a day when I was home in bed with a nasty cold, feeling miserable, and it cheered me right up. Thank you, Neil and Chris!

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Slushing For ASIM

  • For the few of you who have no idea what ASIM is, or think it's short for Asimov, it's Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine, which I have mentioned in previous posts. I'm a second-wave member of the ASIM team - not the original bunch, but one of the next lot to join. People have come and gone over the years, but we still have quite a few who have been with the team since nearly the beginning and a few who have been there since the start. And somehow, we've kept it going and it's now up to issue 58. Mine, issue 60, will be out early next year and I'm proud to say that I have five first sales, including one poet and one story writer who had previously self published(well, most poetry has to be self published these days, so it was lovely for the author to finally be paid!)

    All but one of my stories I found in slush - and that one I asked to look at because I was short of submissions in that genre, and it turned out to be only a second sale. The author is herself a slush reader, though for a different publication. And here's where I am going to get to my point: we're a popular market. There are some Hugo and Nebula nominees out there who sold us their first stories. We're so popular that our slush wrangler, Lucy Zinkiewicz, is currently short of slush readers. I have agreed to take on more stories per week, but that really isn't enough.

    This is a volunteer thing. There's no money in it. But if you're a writer who wants to see the slushpile from the other side or an editor who currently has no work and wants to keep their hand in or just a reader who would like to read new stories, this is a good place to come. It's fun. My sister does one story a week, because she has done the Holmesglen writing and editing course and wants to keep her hand in.

    You don't have to be a professional. You don't have to live in Australia, everything is done by email. You just need to love speculative fiction. You can volunteer for as little as one story a week or as many as suit you. It's a real eye opener and if you are a writer yourself, you will have a better idea of what happens on the other side of the slushpile and maybe grumble a bit less when your masterpiece comes back. Or maybe, after having seen some of the submissions we get, you will appreciate why a story might be rejected, apart from the readers being philistines. ;-) In fact, we have a wide variety of readers, from the ASIM members, who are all writers themselves, to those who are just keen readers and think what they would and wouldn't be willing to pay for in a magazine.

    If interested, contact Lucy at

New Books And Rereads On My Shelves And IPad

Well, I finished the delightful new Neil Gaiman book, which will get its review very soon, and by the way, the father who has all those adventures going out for a carton of milk is definitely drawn as the author! More anon.

My birthday brought me one book from my nephew David. It's a biography of Steve Jobs, written on request by the subject, while he was already dying. He didn't require to be shown the manuscript before publication or to have control over it. He just wanted it written.

I admit it wasn't a book I would have bought for myself, although I quite like biographies, depending on the subject - usually a historical bio of someone dead for a few hundred years, though I have read quite a few of Tolkien and C.S Lewis. But I began reading it yesterday and got through 100 pages. It's a fascinating story. Did you know he was born the same year as Bill Gates? Well, I didn't, and it's a way to be able to compare. I hadn't realised he was adopted either, or that he refused ever to meet his biological father, considering his adoptive parents as his real and only ones. Which is good to know, because he gave them a lot of troubles in his childhood and teens. He wasn't a nice man, but a nice man couldn't have achieved what he did. The nice man he worked with wouldn't have gotten those wonderful computers past the hobbyists. I have left it at my mother's place,to be read in bed while I'm there, as it's a thick, heavy hardcover I can't carry in the train.

And early yesterday morning, when I couldn't sleep, I discovered, to my delight, that Poul Anderson and Gordy Dickson's Hoka stories were available on ebook. If you haven't read them, go get them NOW! The Hokas are a loveable race of ursinoids(think giant teddy bears). They simply adore Earth history and literature and enjoy playing with them. In fact, they live them. A Hoka delegation on Earth are charmed by Don Giovanni and take on all the roles, nearly causing disaster. Another bunch of Hokas become the Space Patrol of a popular children's series. On the planet itself, there are Hoka versions of everything from the French Foreign Legion to Victorian England, including a Hoka Sherlock Holmes. It's all seen from the viewpoint of Alex Jones, a young man given the job of Plenipotentiary, who keeps getting caught up in various Hoka adventures. The one I downloaded first was Earthman's Burden, but I mean to buy the others, Star Prince Charlie and Hoka! 

Star Prince Charlie has a Hoka in it, but isn't set on the Hoka homeworld. A young man, Charlie, and his Hoka tutor, who is playing the role of an Oxford don,  visit a world with a situation similar to Scotland in the time of Bonnie Prince Charlie and this inspires the Hoka to become a Scottish clansman, with his charge as Bonnie Prince Charlie. Delightful!

Time to arise, eat, clean and prepare classes. Sigh!

Sunday, September 08, 2013

Er - Comfort Reading?

And while I was going on about being unable to read anything new while sick, look what was waiting for me when I got home! The lovely Sonia Palmisano, publicity guru at Bloomsbury, seems to get it right, time after time, with my review copies.

Pity that one of the other publishers with which I have had a good relationship - no names! - has started offering Netgalley ARCs only, instead of books you can handle and stroke and then put on the library shelves for the kids to enjoy. I have made it clear in the past that I don't review ebooks. I have my reasons, mainly that I do this to supplement my pitiful library budget - and it seems to me that publishers who want you to publicise their product owe you at least a physical option. I know a lot of reviewers don't mind, but they should at least ask, "Will you take it as ebook or would you prefer print?" and keep a few print copies for stubborn folk like me.

Ah, well, at least when I'm recovered, I can enjoy my lovely Neil Gaiman book for younger readers, review it and then offer it to our students. :-)

Of Comfort Reading And Illness

As I write this I'm on the way home. See, I was idiotic enough to drag myself in to work this morning, before I was ready. But I had emailed someone on the weekend to say I probably wouldn't be in and they had already covered me, so I handed over today's work for the class and my friend the welfare teacher took me to the station. And when I get home, I will be warming up the living room and maybe putting on the radio, though more likely a CD if this morning's talk is about the disaster that happened in Australia on the weekend(I will allow myself to be in denial for a little longer) and I will curl up on the sofa under a blanket with some comfort reading.

My comfort reading varies. Sometimes it's Kerry Greenwood's mysteries which I almost know by heart by now. Sometimes it's Tolkien, because his "beautiful writing" really is beautiful, with its emphasis on characters you care about and journeys that matter and sometimes just the plain joy of a good meal and a pint at the pub or a luxurious bath after a long and dangerous trek.

Right now, it's Terry Pratchett, physical book chosen at random - Carpe Jugulum, the vampire sendup that was having a go at the Ann Rice style of vampire, but which ought to be compulsory reading for anyone who thinks Edward Cullen is a hunk.

Also, I have all four Tiffany Aching books on my iPad and I have just started to reread them from the beginning, with Wee Free Men. There's something wonderful about following Tiffany from the nine year old girl who loves words like susurrus to the young woman who has found her place as witch of the chalk country and, incidentally, got an intelligent boyfriend by the end of the final book.

And having read Nicola Upson's crime novel with Josephine Tey as heroine, I'm back, rereading Daughter Of Time for the umpteenth time.

You can't read new stuff when you're sick and get the best out of it. Well, I can't.

So, off to bed and on with the comfort reading.

Anyone out there got their own favourites in comfort reading?

Wednesday, September 04, 2013

About Ann Crispin

If, like me, you used to read media-themed fiction(books as opposed to fan fiction) you may be familiar with the name of Ann Crispin, who has written some fine books in the Star Trek and Star Wars universes.

Over the last few years, she has done writers' workshops and more and, with some friends, has set up a wonderful blog called Writer Beware, in which they have exposed some shonky publishers and publishing deals and goodness knows, with so many books being self-published these days, there is a need for this sort of information, though it's not only the self-pub companies or even the small presses that rip off writers. I have been following it out of general interest.

Now, Ann has written this post to announce that her life is coming to an end, with no certainty of how much longer she has. If you have read her work or even have an interest in this subject matter, do wander over and take a look. I've left a comment and so can you, if you like.

We're losing too many wonderful creative people. Fred Pohl, a writer from the Golden Age of spec fic, has just passed away. Mind you, he lived to be 94 and was getting Hugo nominations for his fan writing in recent years! So he was at least using his time well, even if it was just fan writing.

See you beyond the stars, Fred!

September 4th

September 4 is almost certainly my real birthday, as I discovered some years ago when researching for a book at the State Library newspaper archives.  I thought it might be fun to get a front page of a newspaper for my day of birth and looked up September 3. Which was a Thursday the year I was born. I was born on Friday. 

Really, if you want to do a birthday meme, this is the wrong time of year. Battles, killings, all sorts of dreadful stuff and boring people who share a birthday with you. September 3, my official birthday, has it all.

But for September 4 I did manage to find two favourite writers - Mary Renault and Joan Aiken. I was delighted.

Mary Renault was the Rosemary Sutcliff of Ancient Greece. She made it feel real, as if you were there, and that included her novels about mythological characters such as Theseus. Evangeline Walton wrote a Theseus novel at around the same time, but it wasn't as good - she was best at Welsh myth. I cried over The King Must Die(which I first read when I was eleven) and The Bull From The Sea. She convinced me that Theseus might have been a real person, and the fantastical elements were limited to his ability to know when an earthquake was about to happen. Even his visit to the underworld was explained as a stroke, after which he can't move properly any more.

Joan Aiken was the kind of writer I have always had a hankering to be - witty, quirky, creating a universe in which of course there are unicorns and the kindergarten class is taught by a fairy and in fact, there are fundraisings for the local retired fairy home. And then there's the Dido Twite series, set in an alternative universe in which the Stuarts still rule England in the nineteenth century and the Hanoverians are always plotting to get in. I have read The Wolves Of Willoughby Chase and The Stolen Lake. In the latter, someone steals the lake into which King Arthur threw Excalibur... No, you have to read it, I won't go into detail. But it's the sort of quirky silliness you'd expect from this author. 

So if my birthday is indeed September 4, I am sharing it with at least two wonderful writers.