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Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Vale Jan Finder The Wombat!

Yet again fandom has lost a wonderful member, this time Jan Howard Finder, known in fannish circles as the Wombat, because he loved them - he was raising money for, and encouraging awareness of the plight of, the  endangered Northern Hairy-Nosed Wombat. He loved Australia, actually, and what he really enjoyed was to tell Aussies things they didn't know about their own country. He read Australian newspapers on line and kept up with our local fiction. In fact, once when Shane Moloney's new crime novel was being launched here in Melbourne at Trades Hall, I only found out about it because Jan emailed me!

I first met Jan via email, a little before Aussiecon 3, back in 1999. He wanted to talk to someone who knew about Australian children's SF, because he was running a course in it in the US. I made up a list for him and that was the start of a great friendship, even though it was mostly on line and by phone. When he was coming to Aussiecon, he offered me a bed in his hotel room, as his room mate had ducked out on him. I don't normally stay at a hotel when the convention is in my own city, because even if you stay late, it's still cheaper to take a taxi home than to stay at the hotel; it was a habit I developed back when I was still paying a mortgage and every cent counted.

But I was running the children's program and I really had to be there early to set up for the kids, who arrived by nine a.m. And he was offering a very good deal. So I said yes. The two beds in the room were luxuriously wide, a very nice room. I remember I had to get up earlier than he did, so I would slip into the bathroom to dress and gulp down a quick breakfast. These days I eat in the hotel dining room or go down the street to the nearest cafe if the hotel prices are outrageous as they were at my last interstate convention. But I was still not quite at the end of my mortgage back then. I went cheap on myself and trust me, it's no fun to sit on a bathroom floor and hastily eat a bowl of cereal! Later, Jan told me that he'd been awake and thought it very funny.

He came along to the children's program to read "Riddles In The Dark" from The Hobbit to the kids. It was his specialty.

Actually, Tolkien in general was his passion. He had a treasured letter from Tolkien, which he told me about with great pride, and collected such Tolkien mementoes as an article called "The Pleasures Of The Hobbit Table", published long before the Internet made it possible to collect the recipes of dishes mentioned in The Hobbit. He was organising his third Tolkien conference when he died - and had fully intended to be there! He took a trip to New Zealand, a special LOTR pilgrimage with a bunch of  other fans that he helped organise.  After that, he dropped in on Melbourne again and asked Kerry Greenwood, whose work he admired, to show us around the Melbourne CBD, which features in her Corinna Chapman novels. It was a very pleasant afternoon and afterwards we went to Florentino's for lunch, a restaurant which appears under another name in the Chapman novels. It was the last time he came here, but we stayed in touch. He had always hoped she might come to a convention in the US, but it was not to be.

One of his other passions was the writing of Arthur Upfield, Austalian author of the Boney mystery novels, which I believe are available outside Australa, but not here. He actually managed to find and re-print an Upfield novel - not Boney - and sent me a copy.

It's amazing how much he got done in the last years of his life. He knew the cancer would get him some time, but he was blowed if it was going to get him before he had done a lot more!

Even though I knew he was dying, it was still a shock, this morning, to get the email from his friend Lin, who'd been with him right to the end.

But I'm going to call some folk who knew him and have an impromptu wake. Or maybe an afternoon tea, hobbit-style, in his honour. He'd like that.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Beautiful Creatures:The Movie

Only two years ago, around this time, I was reviewing the novel, here, and now, Hollywood has come to the party. Lucky authors! It has been described as "the new Twilight", though both novel and film are seen from the boy's viewpoint, the heroine, Lena, being seen through his eyes.

Tonight I went to see the movie. This isn't a standard movie review, just the thoughts of someone who enjoyed the novel, if not enough to keep it and re-read. And I enjoyed the movie, though it was really brought home to me how much you have to cut when moving from book to film. Two important characters, Amma and Marion, were merged into one, but I didn't mind that too much - it gave Amma more to do, being both the town librarian and the housekeeper. The father didn't appear at all, though at the beginning, the young hero Ethan calls out to him. And that was okay, if a little strange, but if the father had appeared they would have had to go into the whole business of why he was in his study, supposedly writing a book, but really... Well, no spoilers for those who may still want to read it. And he had to get a mention, at least, or you'd be wondering why the boy seemed to be on his own. A bit strange, but okay.

But there were some things that had to be rushed through, such as the scene in the cemetery, where Amma is calling on the ancestors and then... what? Ridley, the Siren, was a disappointment. Not that the actress was no good, but that the character didn't have quite the oomph she had in the book, where she gets out of a car and all the boys are  under her spell - and what happened to the lollipops she sucked so sensuously in the novel? She did eat something unrecognisable, but simply put it in her mouth and swallowed.

The ending is somewhat different, though I won't go into detail here.

But the film was visually impressive and it was worth the price of the ticket just to see those old British veterans, Jeremy Irons and Emma Thompson, as Lena's uncle Macon and her evil mother Serafine. They acted rings around the younger cast members, IMO, though teenagers going to see it would probably not agree with me. ;-) Afterwards, at the tram stop, I chatted with a young Kiwi man who'd actually read the book, which, despite its male viewpoint, is really a girls' book. He had enjoyed the book enough to see the movie, which he also liked. Goes to show even an old teacher librarian like me can be mistaken!

Saturday, February 23, 2013

February 23 In The World Of Books

So, what happened in the literary world on this day in history? I looked it up in Wikipedia, which is really handy for this sort of information and I found out that on February 23:

The Gutenberg Bible was published, in 1455. It was the first major Western book published in movable type. It certainly made a huge difference in publishing and I love the fact that the major project for keeping books available is called Project Gutenberg. Since getting my lovely iPad, I have made good use of Project Gutenberg, my most recent download being Kipling's Puck Of Pook's Hill, which I downloaded only yesterday, complete with illustrations.

1898, Emile Zola, the famous French writer, was jailed for writing J'Accuse, the letter denouncing the French government for anti-Semitism and what had been done to the innocent Captain Dreyfus, who had been sent to Devil's Island for treason. Not a nice anniversary, but a major literary event.

Birthday, 1633, of Samuel Pepys, best known now for his diaries, which bring his era to vivid life.

Birthday, 1899, of Erich Kastner, a German writer of children's novels. Lottie And Lisa was the basis of a number of movies, including Disney's The Parent Trap. Even more significant was his novel Emil And The Detectives. This was published in 1929, and started the trend of child detective novels. Enid Blyton did it, yes, but he did it first. There's a novel called The 35th Of May which, according to Wikipedia, may have inspired C.S. Lewis's Narnia books.

Deaths: in 1821, John Keats, the British poet, author of such lovely stuff as "Ode To Autumn", the one that begins,"Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness.." and "Ode On A Grecian Urn" and if you've ever heard the saying,"A thing of beauty is a joy forever" that, too, comes from one of his poems. The poor man didn't live long. He died of TB at the age of about 26. I believe he wasn't a big hit in his own time and isn't that typical? Van Gogh was a flop in his own time and if he could visit our time, as he did in that Dr Who episode, he'd probably be furious at the unfairness of it all.

In 1995, James Herriot, author of those wonderful stories about being a vet in Yorkshire, beginning with All Creatures Great And Small. They were charming and gentle and funny and sometimes sad. I remember discovering this series through Scholastic Book Club, from which I used to order books for my first lot of students. Of course, I had to get more.

These are the events I found in one site, but there are probably more.

Anybody know of any?

Friday, February 22, 2013

Currently Re-Reading: Terry Pratchett!

With all the new books in the world to read, why do I re-read some over and over?

There are a number of writers whose books I will always buy rather than borrow from the library, because I know I'll read them again. Two of them are Terry Pratchett and Kerry Greenwood. Kerry Greenwood might sound an unlikely candidate for a regular re-read, because her novels are mysteries and once you've found out whodunit, why look at it again, right? And that might be the case if they were just mysteries, even with great characters. But the thing is, one of Kerry's characters is the setting. The Melbourne CBD is a major character in her Corinna Chapman books, while Melbourne is also a character in the Phryne Fisher series - Melbourne in the 1920s - and occasionally other places of that time. And I never tire of that.

But right now I'm re-reading some of the Discworld novels. And I do it via the sub-series. The three witches stories, for example, beginning with Wyrd Sisters and finishing with Carpe Jugulum, and slipping into the Tiffany Aching novels, in which Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg appear regularly. Right now, I'm bingeing on the City Watch series, halfway through Night Watch, in which City Watch Commander Sam Vimes is flung into his own past and has to mentor his younger self because the man who did it in his own world was killed on his first day in Ankh-Morpork, by a vicious serial killer who travelled back in time with him. And he has about four days to put things right... I still have a couple more in this series to read. I'm looking forward to Thud, with Sam Vimes and Where's My Cow? and the most recent one, Snuff, in which Sam is dragged kicking and screaming on a three week holiday out of town.

The thing about Terry Pratchett is that when you read his books this way, you can see the characters develop and things changing in ways you might have missed first time around. And despite the huge numbers of Discworld books he has written, I've yet to find an inconsistency. He knows his universe down to the last detail. And re-reading an individual series lets you spend more time with the characters you love. Characters come back, too, if not as the protagonists. The Truth, for example, is a standalone novel about the Discworld's first newspaper, but the characters play roles in other novels, whenever a newspaper is needed to embarrass Sam Vimes or make things convenient for Moist Von Lipwig or report on the war.

I re-read for comfort. My bedside reading is old friends, not new ones, because I know I won't sleep if I'm wondering what comes next. I keep the new books, including review copies, for the tram and the train and over dinner.

So, what's your favourite re-read, dear readers? 

Sunday, February 17, 2013

New Birthday Meme - Twain and Aleichem!

Birthday meme

Today is February 18. It's my nephew Mark's birthday. Mark is a musician, composer and travel agent, which means he can arrange his own interstate tours when he's performing.

But as this is a book blog, I thought I'd check out "this day in history" with a literary theme. Mind you, plenty happened in other areas. Battles, assassinations and such. That dreadful man, George of Clarence, brother of Richard III and Edward IV, finally got his comeuppance in the Tower( glass of wine, anyone?). Mary Tudor, Bloody Mary, was born and Mary Queen of Scots was executed. I guess I can justify their inclusion on the basis that so much fiction has been written about all of them - Clarence was in Shakespeare, for starters.

But I thought that positive events would be better, so here's a couple: on this day in 1885, Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn was published. Amazing to think how often this classic has been banned, for all the wrong reasons. I mean, racist? Really? Have those who banned it  for that reason actually read the thing? Or just missed the point?

In 1859, the world gained another writer, Shalom Aleichem, author of all those wonderful Yiddish short stories, including the series about Tevye the milkman, some of them turned into a Broadway musical, Fiddler On The Roof. I've read a lot of them(in English). They're delightful, funny and sad and thought-provoking.

In fact, when Shalom Aleichem visited the US, Mark Twain said to him,"I wanted to meet you, because I've been told I am the American Shalom Aleichem." And I can see that, too, and t's nice to know those two writers had similar audiences, who'd read them both, or how would they have known?

So, there's February 18 for you. Anyone else have a favourite event on this day?

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Writing At Sunshine College

This morning, my friend Chris Wheat, a fellow YA writer who works with me at my school, emailed me the manuscript of this year's student anthology, so I could use my ebook app to turn it into an ebook. I haven't done that yet, because after having fiddled it into twenty-five separate files, which was necessary if it wasn't going to be a one-chapter lump, I thought, what-the-heck, there's another way to publish it first, even if you can't use the cover art: Ebook Glue (thanks again for the idea, Sean the Blogonaut!) And because I intend to do an ebook of my own students' work this year, so they can download it on to their iPads, when the school finally gives them back, I just went straight to Blogger and created another blog.

This one, called by the exciting name of Creativity Rocks!, is to be found at:

Do check it out. I have put in a page with an Ebook Glue link, to make it possible to read it in Mobi or ePub. This is really worth looking at. It isn't just a case of, "Hey, aren't these kids cute?" Some of them are going to uni and there are a few whose names you may be seeing on books covers some day, or in published articles and stories. And there are some who have simply surprised us pleasantly with their creativity.

Not sure when I'll have time to go to Technorati to "claim" it officially, thus making it viewable via Google, so for the time being you, my readers, may be the only ones outside the school who get to see this.

If you do, why not comment here and let me know what you think?

Friday, February 15, 2013

Libraries Are WHAT?

This morning, when I curled up in bed with my trusty iPad, I found this link to the Guardian, paced on Twitter by Neil Gaiman. In it, there's a report about the author of a series of children's books, some of which I bought for my school library on request by kids last year. Apparently, he thinks that "libraries have had their day" because he, a writer who not only is able to live off his earnings, but live off them in a way the rest of us can only dream about, is not getting enough money from PLR, or Public Lending Right. He seems to think that if there were no libraries everyone would BUY his books instead of borrowing them. Really? A bit like saying,"If there were no second hand cars or cars for rent, everyone would buy new ones." And if that's a weird comparison, check out the article, because he uses it in his argument. What next, make it illegal to lend books to your friends? (Well, there are problems about lending ebooks, I admit. But libraries have ebooks now and they often have to pay again after a number of loans)

If he was talking about piracy I'd be right with him, likewise if it was a matter of those of my librarian colleagues who think that "information should be free" no matter how much work a writer has put into their books or articles - after all, writers have to pay bills too, and unless you're self published, so do the businesses that publish books.

In many cases, a library is where you go to sample and find writers you might never have discovered otherwise - you might buy the next book, if you have the money; if you don't, you aren't going to buy them anyway, but you might ask the library to get in the next book in that series.

And librarians promote reading and writers and they invite writers to speak, gaining them more income and promotion.  PLR was never - in my country at least - designed for the lucky few who can live off their writing, though it's no doubt nice to get the extra money. It works well for those whose books have perhaps gone out of print, and compensation for the fact that they might have sold more otherwise. I actually get more from lending rights than I do from royalties, especially in a year when I haven't sold much. It gives me the time to write more and sell more.

I won't be buying any more of this gentleman's books for my library, seeing he thinks we should all close down, unless kids demand more. But so far this year, I haven't had any more demand or even borrowing of the ones we have.

Too bad his attitude doesn't match the quality of his writing.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Compulsory Valentine's Day Post

This time last year I was taking my new students, Corey, Braydon, Natasha and Vincent to the Sunshine  Library to celebrate the start of the National Year Of Reading, which the school supported by giving me a budget of $3700 ($625 of which was taken off me later that year to pay for a site licence that the school had always paid before, leaving me broke for the last term). However, it was a wonderful afternoon and the kids had a great time. Vincent has since left us for a private school, where they made him cut off the little quiff of hair that distinguished him so delightfully. Corey has his first job in the supermarket next to home. I remember being touched that when John Marsden gave out copies of his books, Corey took one for a Marsden-loving friend who couldn't make it to the launch and had it signed. Well, I have a book for Corey that he requested, the sequel to George Ivanoff's Gamer's Quest. Natasha and Braydon are still turning up to Book Club and yesterday I showed Natasha how to find Project Gutenberg and free books - she wants to read Peter Pan and has an iPod.

Today is very different. I've had to abandon my darling students for a day and attend a stop work rally instead, because the man born to wealth and privilege doesn't think they're important.

Sigh! Because it IS Valentine's Day, here's the compulsory bit. I'm rereading Wuthering Heights and Pride And Prejudice. I know which of the two heroes I'D rather marry: the one who's up himself but learns. I'd rather have someone I could be happy with than someone who made me and everyone else miserable and then mourned my death.

Anyone else think that Cathy and Heathcliff are arseholes who deserve each other?

Monday, February 11, 2013

Naming Pluto's Moons

This morning, checking my email from my sick bed, I found this in my cyber-letterbox of the Andromeda Spaceways list.  The person requesting is Simon Petrie, author of the recent dual-novella book Flight 404/The Hunt For Red Leicester. I have already voted. It seems to me that after all those years we knew there were nine planets in the solar system, and now, without any consultation, suddenly there are only eight, at the very least it would be nice if we could have a hand in naming Pluto's moons. The web site is linked to SETI. 

"I have a slightly unusual request ...

Please help me name Pluto's fourth moon. I'd like it to be called 'Erebus'. It's important that 'Erebus' is the name chosen for it, so as not to spoil a story I had published last year.

They're also looking for a name for the fifth moon. I don't care what that gets called, it can be called any old thing for all I care, I didn't write about it. But I'd like the fourth moon to wind up with the name Erebus, if it's at all possible. The dignity of my first pro sale depends on it.

For those who want the long story ... 

In June 2011 a team at the SETI institute, led by Mark Showalter, discovered Pluto's fourth moon (and, a year or so later, its fifth moon). The two objects are still waiting for names. In September 2011 I found out about a competition to write a story using a scientific discovery made within the last 12 months, and I chose Pluto's fourth moon as the kernel around which to wrap my entry. I needed an underworld-themed name for Moon 4, and 'Erebus' struck me as a likely contender. ('Cerberus' is another likely choice, but there's already an asteroid of that name.) Three days before I finished the story, the contest folded ... so I decided to try out the story elsewhere. The thing you need to realise here is that astronomical objects are normally named fairly promptly, within just a few months of discovery, so I figured any place that took the story would not get around to publishing it before the moon's real name had been finalised. I was wrong. Redstone SF, the second or third place I sent the story, took it, and it appeared in their August 2012 issue, just before they went into hiatus. The name had still not been finalised by the astronomical community, so my original placeholder/best guess of 'Erebus' stayed in the story.

Now Mark Showalter, the leader of the team that discovered the fourth and fifth moons, is holding an Internet competition to see what the most popular names are, from a list of about a dozen underworld-themed names, and 'Erebus' is one of those names ... you can vote between now and Monday Feb 25th, once per day if you feel like it, to make your voice heard. The link's at the top of the email, but in case that doesn't work, the url is: If you choose to vote for 'Erebus' and for one other name on the list, you'd make a struggling SF writer very happy.

(Oh, and if you're willing / able to signal-boost this entirely self-serving request, I'd be eternally grateful.)

Cheers, Simon"

Friday, February 08, 2013

Latest Review - Woot!

Here's the latest review of Wolfborn, this one from the US, from Cassie of Knows Prose . I have been seeking out overseas reviews myself recently because the publishers didn't get many since Wolfborn appeared in the US - actually, none - but are willing to supply US review copies if I can find some interested bloggers myself. I managed to get a number of them in a few days, though this is the first one from the US since I sent my initial lot of inquiries.

I must say, this one impresses me by its professionalism. It's not only that she liked it - although I'm thrilled about that, why wouldn't I be? :-) Many reviewers will put in a link to where you can get the book(something I really should be doing, but confess I haven't done it so far) but this one also links you to other recent(and positive, thank heavens!) reviews and even links you to the Wikipedia entry for Bisclavret, the Marie De France tale which inspired the book. And the post before in, on January 16, actually links you to the sample chapter on this web site. Now, that is promotion! And while she didn't care for all the dialogue at the start, she urges readers to keep going because it gets you right in after that. Nice!

Cassie will be planting her review on Amazon and Goodreads as well.

All I can say is, well done, Cassie and I will be thinking more about how I structure my own future reviews, inspired by your style.

Monday, February 04, 2013

Richard III Is Found!

It's official, as of this evening, Downunder time: those sad bones they found under a Leicester car park last year are in all probability those of Richard III, last of the Plantagenet kings, last English king to die in battle, victim of history's biggest smear campaign and a character, even if only a background character, in a lot of fiction, some of it children's or YA. That's where I have read most of my Richard stuff, though also quite a lot of non-fiction.

The newspapers will be full of it tomorrow and in any case, I've posted about it only a few months ago, here. So for the time being I will go to bed, rejoicing that the poor man will finally be buried properly and hopefully where he wanted to be buried. And as a lover of archaeology and forensics I'm going to look it up in the appropriate online journals.

Good night all!

Saturday, February 02, 2013

New On My iBookshelf

I really should cut down on reading all those history-and-literature-based blogs. :-) I keep coming across interesting comments and stopping to go to Project Gutenberg or the iBook store to download yet more stuff.

In the last few days I have downloaded some classics. I do have Pride And Prejudice and Wuthering Heights somewhere on my print shelves, but where? So I downloaded both from PG, because I felt like a reread. I probably have a copy of Culpeper's Herbal somewhere in my overcrowded study too, but it's handy to have it available at my elbow when I'm working on my latest piece of fiction. So that was downloaded as well, though not from Project Gutenberg, because for some reason that one wasn't there. It was in iBooks for about $4, though, so I bought it. There's an introduction by Dr Johnson and the author himself has a letter to hs wife, which must have been written shortly before his death in 1654.

I discovered Escape Publishing, an ebook small press which seems to be entirely a romance themed list - fantasy, SF, YA, thrillers - any genre as long as it has romance in it. I bought Rayessa And The Space Pirates by my friend Donna Hanson, which cost me the massive sum of 99c and a thriller, which cost more, but looks like fun, though I am already noticing that the youthful university academic is called "Professor" though it's set here in Australia and in this country that term is only used for the head of department. She might conceivably have gained her PhD by her mid-twenties, if she'd had accelerated education, but Professor? Highly unlikely - and the murder victim is also a Professor in the same department! Never mind. It's a list worth checking out. I'm looking into it as a potential market.

I believe they have a pile of books for 99c right now, but if nothing else, get Rayessa.

And I've been having a ball with my ebook apps! One is good for even novel-length books, though there are limits - I can't work out a way to do italics, for example. Even if you have them in the original MS they disappear when you paste them. And while you can insert video, audio, pictures, you can't do it on the same page. This limits its use for school, where we ave kids with reading difficulties, including one bright, articulate dyslexic who deserves better than a picture book aimed at younger kids. There's another app which does allow picture and  text on the same page, even voice, which makes it good for an all-in-one talking book, but the amount of text on the page is very limited.

Still, I've used both. With the first-mentioned I have turned my WIP into an ebook I can just read, while keeping the MS in my Pages folder for later. With the second I have been showing other teachers some possible options for our kids with reading difficulties. And the art teacher can prepare her booklets as ebooks for the younger students, who will hopefully have ther iPads soonish. Saves photocopying and can be changed easily.

I have all these things sitting on my virtual shelf - nice!