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Friday, November 28, 2014

Another Farewell To Book Club...

Yesterday, I said goodbye to another lot of Year 10 book clubbers. Natasha, Karyn and Jenny were the loyallest members, who turned up to pretty much every meeting between Year 7 and 10, and I gave each of them a gift voucher for Dymock's bookshop. But there were plenty more. Some had joined us only this year. One, Hayden, who had been a member briefly in Year 7, returned this year, bringing his friend Mark, a lad who endeared himself to me in Year 8 when he recognised a quote I made from Monty Python. Mark is a keen reader, though this year he was mostly absorbed in the Game Of Thrones series of fat books, so had little time for much else.  I never did get him started on Terry Pratchett, a pity, because he would have enjoyed Discworld.

Hayden is, in fact, the only one of them who appears in that picture with Marianne De Pierres, because the others in his class were stuck in a maths test. Safa and Meka joined us this year and read manuscripts for Allen and Unwin. 

 Nusaiba was another veteran, though not as much as some of the others. She did come to Reading Matters and several meetings this year.

Lula joined us last year and came with us to the Reading Matters conference. Emily, who had been with us since Year 7, more or less dropped out last year, but still wandered in and out. I missed Emily, but the club was for their benefit, not mine. 

Braydon was in and out, but had also been with us for a long time.

We all had a lot of fun together. They chose books, came on excursions, read manuscripts for Allen and Unwin, met writers who visited us. Last year, Emily read The First Third by Will Kostakis, loved it and made her boyfriend a bit jealous when the author visited. Well, Will is young and good looking. :-) I said, "Don't worry, he's going back to Sydney," and the boyfriend snarled," Thank God!" But it was the book she loved. In the novel, the boy's very Greek grandma dies, which devastated Emily, but the author's grandmother, who inspired the one in the novel, is alive and well; she rang while Will was chatting with book club and he handed the phone to Emily.

Natasha was very sad yesterday, almost in tears when I handed her one of the laminated certificates I made for all my Year 10 book clubbers. After the graduation ceremony she gave me a hug and had her mum take a picture of us together. I have promised to see what I can do about having her attend Alice Pung's talk next year.

I think I'm almost in tears myself.That's the thing about being a teacher. You have to say goodbye so soon!

Guest Post By G.K Holloway, Author of 1066:What Fates Impose

Today's guest post is by Glynn(G.K) Holloway, whose novel 1066: What Fates Impose I won some months ago on the English Historical Fiction Authors blog. 

Glynn has kindly agreed to tell us about how he researched his book and why the period fascinates him so much. It's an era that fascinates me too; the entire history of Europe could have been very different if only a few things had gone differently in 1066. If you think about it, the very English language would have been different, as the Normans, like other invaders before them, brought new words with them to England. 

But I'll let the author tell you all about it. Take it away, Glynn!

The inspiration for my novel, 1066: What Fates Impose, came from reading a biography of Harold Godwinson. I’ve always been an avid reader and a history fan and I like to mix up my reading with biographies and novels. I knew something about King Harold from my school days and stories my Dad had told me, so when I found a biography about him by Ian Walker, I was intrigued enough to buy it. I found the book really opened my eyes to the era. Once I’d finished it I wanted to know more, so I read books about William the Conqueror, the Godwin family and then more and more about Anglo Saxon England. I found the history fascinating, full of marauding Vikings, papal plots, blood feuds, court intrigues, assassinations, so much so, I couldn’t believe the story of the era hadn’t been covered more in films, TV and, of course, books. So, I decided to do something myself. I researched everything I could about the period, including court etiquette, sword manufacturing techniques - everything. I also visited many of the locations that appear in the book, usually on family holidays and once I’d done all that - and it took quite some time - I wove together facts and fiction to produce the novel.   

The more I researched the more amazed I became about how events played out. For Harold, everything that could go wrong did go wrong, and I’m not just thinking of the power struggles in the north of England. For instance, Edward couldn’t have died at a worse time. For William the opposite is true; even when he has what appears to be bad luck, things works out for him or he makes them work. One of the times I’m thinking about is when William first sets foot on English soil and falls flat on his face. He stands up with two hands full of soil and says, ‘By the splendour of the Almighty, I have seized my kingdom; the soil of England is in my own two hands.’ You have to admire his quick thinking. But it’s not just one or two things, there’s a long, long list of things both in England and on the European continent that fell into place for William. To top it all, a comet even puts in an appearance!

When writing the book I decided to stick as close as possible to the events and be as true to the characters as possible. For me, it’s important to get the research right, so the reader has confidence in the story, knowing what they’re reading is the real thing. This is why Lady Godiva doesn’t ride naked through the streets of Coventry. It never happened. Besides, there was enough going on at that time for me not to have to add any additional spice to the story. Most of the events depicted in my book really happened with perhaps, one or two exceptions or manipulations.

How to present the story was another matter. I wanted the story to be as accessible as possible,  so the idea of writing in some sort of pseudo Shakespeare didn’t appeal. It was no use writing in Old English because for one thing I don’t speak it and for another neither do many other people. Those who do are already familiar with the events. So, I thought I’d use modern plain English and keep out as many anachronisms as possible. No one says, ‘OK’ or ‘Hi there’.

I’m very fortunate in having a wife who is so supportive and in a position to help as our children were still quite young and they were going to a child minder in the holidays and after school. When I left my full time job I was able to look after them at home. My wife has her own business; she is a tax consultant. This enabled me to work part time in her business and part time on my book. The money we saved on child care and employing someone in the business balanced out favourably. When the novel was completed, it ran for 297,000 words. An editor suggested cuts – a lot. So, many months later, I had a finished novel that ran to a mere 160,000 – almost a short story. I’m now working on a sequel.

I’ve explained briefly, what made me write the book but why would anyone want to read it? Well, the era is, I think, very exciting and the Battle of Hastings was such a close run thing - so close that if it had rained that day, William would probably have lost the battle. Some people might think, ‘So what? A fight in a field a thousand years ago on the other side of the planet; what difference does that make now?’

Well the answer is, think how much the outcome changed England’s history. In the mid eleventh century England had been just one of the kingdoms in Cnut’s Empire, which included Denmark and Norway. England looked to the north and was part of the north. The language and culture were very similar. England did not look south for ideas or inspiration and did not get involved with southern European affairs. After Hastings all that changed and for centuries England and France were at each other’s throats.

Some say that if it hadn’t been for the Normans, England would never have risen to prominence. If that’s true, there may never have been a British Empire. If it isn’t true, there might have been some sort of Nordic Empire that spanned even more of the world than the British ever did. 'What if the Normans had lost?'  is a very big question and that’s why I’m writing a follow-up. A Norman victory changed England for ever and consequently had ramifications that echo on through the centuries. It has to be an interesting story.

G K Holloway was born in a small anonymous town in the north of England. On leaving school he worked in a variety of jobs until he arrived at his mid twenties and decided it was time for a change.
Having always liked history, he thought he'd enjoy studying the subject for a degree, so enrolling in evening classes at his local college to take O Level and A Level courses, seemed the obvious thing to do.
After graduating from Coventry,  he spent nearly a year in Canada before returning to England to train as a Careers Advisor. After qualifying, he worked in secondary education before moving onto further education, adult education and eventually higher education.

You can buy 1066: What Fates Impose at Amazon, in either paperback or ebook , here.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

January Magazine Seventeen Years Young

You know how LinkedIn sends you those emails asking you to congratulate someone on a work anniversary? It can be pretty silly, because it will include anything on your résumé. Even if you say you're a freelance writer, for example, it will ask people to congratulate you on the anniversary of the day you posted. It's not done by a human being and computer programs can't tell the difference.

But this week I was asked to congratulate Linda Richards on 17 years running January Magazine and I really must. It is a fabulous review web site, which also has articles and  news about books and writers. You can follow it by email.

Some years ago, I was writing my first online reviews for a publication called Festivale Online. It was a good publication while it was going, but suddenly, without warning, it disappeared and the editor was out of contact with her contributors,not replying to emails.

Well, I liked my free books and being published. I had been receiving stuff from publishers.  My sister was receiving January Magazine by email, so I contacted Linda, asking if I could review for her. She said yes, but that she couldn't supply the books. She lives in Canada and I live in Australia. I said that was fine; as long as I had somewhere to publish my reviews I had access to publishers.

So began a long, happy relationship that continues to the present. I don't send as many reviews these days as I used to, because most of them appear here, though I do share my reviews between our two web sites. And I still send her a "best of" post each year as she asks for one.

It has been a lot of fun and I've had some great experiences. Who can forget the morning I visited Allen and Unwin to collect the final Harry Potter book, then read all day to meet Linda's deadline? Because she is in the northern hemisphere I could email her early Sunday morning to say I'd be a couple more hours and she could reply that this was fine, she'd check her email again after dinner(it was still Saturday night there).  And then there was the time I reviewed a book about the Hildebrandt Tolkien calendars for JM. I had a lovely email from one of the artists thanking me for having given his nephew such a nice review. Not only that, but Caspar Reiff of the Tolkien Ensemble, which does wonderful albums setting Tolkien's songs and poems to music, offering me a review copy of the latest, which I had been wanting but unable to find in the shops here!

In a way, JM is the reason for this blog. Linda does it all herself from somewhere rural in Canada(she once told me there was a bushfire raging in her area). Sometimes my reviews hadn't been published after weeks and weeks. So I thought it best to publish things here when I hadn't heard; the publishers supplying me would want to know the review was up. Of course, The Great Raven has become a lot more than a review zine, as you know, though it is handy that I can be more flexible, since JM only publishes reviews of new books and I sometimes review classics or things that have been around for a bit longer than JM's one year limit.

But if it weren't for Linda Richards and January Magazine, The Great Raven might not exist. So here's to you, Linda! Long may January Magazine run!

Saturday, November 22, 2014

November 23 Meme

Okay, here are some things that make November 23 special(and if you're in the Northern hemisphere you will be reading this on November 22. Too bad! I'm lying in bed on Sunday morning posting this to the world)


534 BCE Thespis of Icaria becomes the word's first actor to portray a character other than himself. In other words, the world's first actor! He did some other things to get plays going. His very name is used as a term for an actor, "thespian". And it all began On This Day! If interested, check out this blog post about the origins of Showbiz! 

1644  The poet John Milton publishes Aeropagitica, a pamphlet against censorship, due to a recent "licensing" system produced by Parliament -  not that he had anything against book-burning of "bad" books, he was a terribly grumpy man, but he says at least publish the things first, then argue against them(and you can always burn them afterwards). Hmm, sounds familiar. Like certain Aussie politicians who recently argued about "freedom of speech" for horrible people because we can always argue with them... Still. He wrote lots of fabulous poetry, crotchety man or not.

A quote from this: "A good book is the precious lifeblood of a master spirit, embalmed and treasured up on purpose to a life beyond life" is up in the New York Public Library.
1963  The first episode of Dr Who, "An Unearthly Child" is broadcast. Unfortunately it had to compete with the news of President Kennedy's assassination, but after fifty years it's still going strong. And in the last season, we returned to Coal Hill School, where the latest companion was working as a teacher. Yes, Coal Hill was also in Remembrance Of The Daleks, but it was only one story and it was set just after the first Doctor and his companions had left.


1892 Erte, that amazing illustrator and designer who did all those wonderful Art Deco pictures. Kerry Greenwood's heroine Phryne Fisher wears his designer clothes. He also did stuff for Hollywood silent movies, including Ben-Hur.  

1909 Nigel Tranter, author of a whole lot of historical fiction, mostly about Scotland. I've read some of his books, which are good stuff. 

1923 Gloria Whelan, a prolific US author of children's and YA novels. I'm embarrassed to say I haven't read any of her 50-odd books as yet, but I thought anyone with that much of a track record deserves a mention here. 

Holidays and observances

* This is the feast day of Alexander Nevsky, the Russian hero who has been made a saint in the Russian Orthodox Church and inspired a lot of film and music stuff.

* It's Rudolph Maister Day in Slovenia. He was a military officer who also wrote poetry.

* On a truly frivolous note, it's the earliest day on which Black Friday can happen - strictly a  US thing, coming just after Thanksgiving and the opening of Christmas shopping. Amazing they leave it that long!

I got all these from Wikipedia, a very useful source for such stuff. All images are Creative Commons.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Hansel And Gretel by Neil Gaiman. Illustrated by Lorenzo Mattotti. Sydney, Bloomsbury. 2014

The lost children. The gingerbread cottage. The scary witch who, however, doesn't see very well and can easily be fooled. All elements of one of the darker Grimm fairytales. All here in this retelling, along with the explanation of where the children's names come from. (When you think about it, if this had been a British folktale, it would have been called "Johnny and Maggie" or Meg or even Peggy, none of which have quite the same ring to them)

If you're going to have a folktale retold, especially such a dark one, Neil Gaiman is a good one to do it. The average retelling is just that - a straight retelling which isn't by the Brothers Grimm or whoever. "Once upon a time..." And then the writer and publisher decide just how much of the original story can be told, depending on who is having the story read to them. For example, you really don't want to describe Cinderella's stepsisters cutting off toes to fit into the glass slippers, do you? Not at bedtime, anyway. 

One thing about folktales is that you never learn reasons, such as why parents would throw their children out of the house to die, even in a famine. Neil Gaiman suggests war and thieving soldiers passing through and taking away all the food sources and destroying the fields. This version even suggests that it may be a reason behind the witch's cannibalism, though not entirely; from the description of what Hansel and Gretel find hidden around the gingerbread house afterwards, she sounds more like a serial killer than a poor old pensioner who is as much a victim as anyone else. 

At the end of the book, the author talks about the possible origins of the story in the time of the Plague, when all sorts of terrible things would have happened and family relationships broke down.

The book is basically an extended retelling rather than a twist on the original tale. If you're expecting something along the lines of The Sleeper And The Spindle, you may be disappointed. But as a retelling, it has class, and the beautiful moody black and white art of Lorenzo Mattotti supports it well.

If you're going to buy a version of this folktale to read to your children, this one is the way to go.

I hear there's a movie of this book planned, or at least optioned. That should be most  interesting...

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Jenny Mounfield Interview Part 2: Yusuf And Reece

First it was a group of Year 7 Literature Circles students interviewing Jenny Mounfield, author of thriller The Ice-cream Man(Ford Street Publishing), now two Year 8 students have their own questions. Thank you, Jenny, for agreeing to the extended interview! She says the boys' questions were very thought-provoking, so, without further ado, here they are...

Why is the hero of the book in a wheelchair?

The only reason initially was that my son, Dan, who is in a wheelchair, inadvertently gave me the idea for the story. But then it occurred to me that through Marty I had the opportunity show the reading world just how able the so-called ‘disabled’ can be.

Did you write this book for fun - or does it have a message?

I had no goal other than spinning a good tale when I began writing The Ice-cream Man. However, as the story progressed I could see various themes evolving. At its heart ICM is a coming of age story. Three boys who would otherwise have nothing in common, are brought together by a common goal. In a round about way the ice-cream man did the boys a favour. Through their misadventure they are bonded in friendship. And that’s the main message, if there is one: No matter how different we may think others are to us, there is always something that will unite us. All we need to do is find it.

How'd you come up with the title of The Ice-cream Man? 

It was pretty obvious, I guess, given the conflict that starts the ball rolling. To be honest, I didn’t give it any real thought.

What inspired you to write this book? We know it is based on a real life incident, but why write it as a story?

All the ‘What if?’s caught my imagination and I knew it would make a good story. I couldn’t not write it.

Do you have a day job?

Not any more. I used to be a florist.

On Characters

Rick- what made you make the character like this? He seems to be tough but isn't.

Everyone knows a Rick – or will, a some point in their lives. Many people build armour around themselves to prevent being injured by the world. It’s important to remember that when dealing with them. Those who appear to be the toughest have often been injured the most.

Marty- why'd you make Marty disabled?

As mentioned above, I thought it would be a good opportunity to demonstrate how able someone who is classified as ‘disabled’ can be through Marty. When Dan first went into a wheelchair everyone, including his therapists, treated it as such a tragedy. Yes, it was tragic in its way since beforehand Dan had been able to walk with the aid of a walking frame, but the wheelchair gave him a freedom he’d never experienced. For one thing his mates were now running to catch up with him instead of the other way round. Soon, there was no activity Dan couldn’t be involved in. He went fishing, taught himself to bounce up steps, played basketball – and a dozen other things. Everything Marty does in The Ice-cream Man Dan has done at one time or another (except battle a psycho – I hope!). So, the next time you see someone in a wheelchair, don’t feel sorry for them. There’s a good chance they have a more fulfilling life than you. Disability is very much in the mind of the beholder.

Aaron- do you like Aaron as a character? (SB: The boys thought him a bit of a wimp)

No, I didn’t particularly like Aaron at first, but he grew on me. He’s an important character because he’s perceived as soft and weak, yet – like all of us – has hidden depths. Whether consciously or unconsciously we only ever show a small slice of who we are to the world. Aaron may appear wimpy, but that doesn’t mean he hasn’t the capacity for courage, given the right circumstances.

Robbo - why is he such a trouble maker? (SB: I have a feeling they may mean Steve, Aaron’s stepbrother, rather than Robbie, who only appears briefly. But Robbo is Steve’s mate, is he a follower or what?). 

Robbo, in writers’ speak, is a one-dimensional character. He’s a set-piece. A cliché. Though having said this I should add that there are many such clichés in the world: those, who for reasons of their own (probably fear) mimic others who seem to them to be stronger. I doubt the Robbos of the world think much about what they’re doing or why. As for Steve, I imagine he bullies Aaron because he can. It’s the animal side of human nature: To dominate and conquer. I believe that as intelligent, conscious beings, it’s up to us to rise above our animal natures and make intelligent choices, rather than simply act on impulses that arise from the most ancient part of our brains.

Thanks again for answering our questions, Jenny!

Readers, you can buy this from the Ford Street web site, order it through your friendly local bookshop or download the ebook version from iBooks and Amazon.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Saying Goodbye, Finally, To My Nerd Pack...

Tonight I'm off to the Year 12 formal  ("Senior Prom" to my American readers) , where I will be saying a final farewell to my former students, in particular my foundation book club members -  Dylan, Thando, Selena and Ryan. Without their enthusiasm, there would not have been a book club. I had tried to start one before, without success. 

I have seen them all occasionally, mostly on their way to school. Thando moved to the eastern suburbs for her mother's work, but continued to attend our school, though it meant leaving home at 6.30 am. She did tell me the last time we met, though, that she would be looking for a university on her side of town. Who can blame her?

Now they have finished their exams and are ready to party together one last time as schoolmates. And they will look gorgeous! I remember them all as littleYear 7 kids, barely out of primary school, and they have grown into young men and women

I wish I could post photos here, but that's illegal.  So I will just report and describe. 

I go every year. If I'm on time, I get the chance to see them all bustling around, having photos taken with their friends, exclaiming with pleasure at the sight of a teacher they haven't met in two years... (One year I had to sit with all the other staff at a college staff meeting while the Principal maundered on at us, till 5.00 pm, and the soup had already been served by the time I arrived. I don't have a car, the other staff did. The Principal certainly did.)

I got away late today too, so will have to hope I can make it before dinner starts!

Monday, November 17, 2014

The Sleeper And The Spindle By Neil Gaiman. Illustrated by Chris Riddell. Sydney:Bloomsbury, 2014

The sleeping princess, the castle covered with roses with deadly thorns... A familiar story, but with a twist.

In her kingdom a young queen who, we learn as we read, is another fairytale heroine, is preparing for her wedding, though feeling some doubts, when she is visited by three dwarves. They have heard of the enchanted castle - and that the spell of sleep is spreading. In fact, they've seen it with their own eyes. As magical beings, they were unaffected, but sooner or later all humans will fall asleep. Will she come and see what can be done?

Happily, she puts on her armour and kisses her handsome prince farewell to go on her quest, while issuing orders for the evacuation of all communities in or near the mountains, from which the sleep spell is spreading.

I can't tell you any more without spoilers, but it's a beautiful book, wonderfully illustrated by Chris Riddell, whom you may remember from Fortunately, The Milk... in which he drew the author as the hero. The twist at the end is fascinating and delightful, though I have to say, if you're looking for a fairytale retelling to read your children, this isn't it. It's for those who have read both The Sleeping Beauty and other folktales and appreciate the difference. 

It is, however, a positive viewing of one fairytale heroine at least, and the author has managed to world build and create fairly fleshed-out characters within the space of a short story.

If you're going to buy it as a Christmas gift, make sure you get another copy for yourself or you will never hand it over!

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Comet Landing - Rejoice!

I've always loved the sensawunda of space fiction. As the years have gone by, I've absorbed science fiction and seen it become science fact.

And now the Rosetta mission is complete and the probe Philae is aboard comet 67P! Mind you, the latest reports say that the battery won't last much past Saturday, due to the fact that it can't recharge(they were explaining this on the radio ths morning, something about the battery being solar, but it's not able to access the sun... So, little probe that has been travelling all these years, take pictures while you can! 

Speaking of science fiction(I was), I recall that Arthur C Clarke's novel 2061 began with a spaceship on its way to land on Halley's Comet, only it's not a probe, it has people aboard. There were, as I recall, monoliths involved somewhere in it. But that is what I remember. I borrowed a friend's copy, so haven't looked at it in years.

Amazing what Arthur C Clarke thought of. I like his short stories better than the novels. A while back, when I won a $25 Amazon gift voucher, I spent part of it on a couple of Clarke collections. I'm still making my way through them; Clarke is a writer whose work you savour.

Did you know 2001 started with a short story, "The Sentinel"? The film didn't have much in common with it, just the moon and the monolith. Space travellers on the moon find a monolith. They touch it and that sets it off. They figure it was set there by aliens to tell them when Earth finally made it to space. The question is - will they come and give us lots of goodies or will they come and wipe out the potential threat? As it was, it might have made a nice episode of Twilight Zone or Outer Limits.

But Hollywood did more - far more - with it.

Well, we still don't have the kind of casual spaceflight shown in Clarke, but events like the comet landing show we're getting there. I am so very excited!

Mosaic image taken by Rosetta's navcam in September. Creative Commons image from Wikimedia

Sunday, November 09, 2014

George Ivanoff Giveaway!

Dear readers,

I visited George Ivanoff's blog  and Roadshow Entertainment has donated four copies of Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries Season 1 and 2 as a giveaway.

If you live in Australia you can enter between now and November 21. I have already entered, but what the heck, why not let you all know? George, who actually gets PAID to blog for Boomerang Books, says if he gets enough interest Roadshow might send him some more giveaway goodies. 

I have read all the Phryne Fisher books and I have to say that, while the TV series is only loosely based on them, it's perfectly cast and they have taken a lot of trouble over the props, scenery and costumes, so that you can really feel you're being allowed a view of Melbourne in 1928. 

Saturday, November 01, 2014

The Halloween Post

Okay, it's a bit past Halloween and I live in a part of the world where we are looking forward to summer, not winter, but it's still a good excuse to talk about the traditions and the books...

The other day, Halloween, I did a research sheet with my history class, concerning Halloween and the Mexican Day of the Dead, November 1-2. We're studying the Aztecs and the Spanish conquest of the New World and the Aztecs had a whole festival dedicated to the ancestors and beloved dead who, they believed, should be celebrated, not mourned. As other Christians had done before them in pagan Europe, the Spanish tried to talk them out of it, then incorporated it into their own feasts, in this case All Saints Day and All Souls Day.  The students enjoyed this, I think - one of them, Brodie, told me all about the Celtic traditions, including dressing up your children as evil spirits to hide them from the real ones(that one I hadn't heard!) and young Joubert told me about the traditions in his homeland of Malaysia, where you know it's time to clean the graves when there are moths in the house(it tends to be August, though)  - and I ended the period by giving them all some chocolate and wishing them an enjoyable long weekend and such. 

As my own contribution to the festival, I'm thinking of books with themes related to this time of year and the mood it raises. First up is Ray Bradbury's wonderful Something Wicked This Way Comes, a novel set in a small town in which a sinister carnival has come to town. I read it in a single sitting and I loved that the town was saved by the boy's father, the local librarian. ;-)  Apparently, it was vaguely autobiographical, except that he took a nice incident that inspired the young Bradbury to start writing and turned it into a wonderful, atmospheric piece of horror fiction. It's my favourite piece of Bradbury writing.

Another suitable-for-this-post Ray Bradbury novel is Death Is A Lonely Business, which starts on Halloween, at midnight, in a cemetery, and isn't horror fiction! It's a mystery novel set in Hollywood in the 1940s, with a character based on Bradbury's good friend, the SFX wizard Ray Harryhausen. I thought it great fun, though t wasn't what I was expecting. I picked it up remaindered and it was a good bargain.

While I'm on Ray Bradbury, he wrote a series of lighthearted stories about the Elliott family,  who are sort of like the Addams Family(I think that was on purpose). Among them is Uncle Einar, who has green wings(his wife makes him fly carrying the laundry to get it dry), Cecy who travels with her mind, a mummy great grandmother and the "abnormal" thirteen year old boy who, like Marilyn in The Munsters, is frustrated because he's not like the rest of the family. There's a "fixup novel" From The Dust Returned, which connects the six Family stories. 

I found Dracula much easier to read than I had expected. A lot of 19th century classics are bogged down in waffle, much as I love them, but Dracula is written in letters, diary entries and such, so even teens who are reluctant readers shouldn't have too much trouble with it. If you don't get it right away, at least the "chapters" are short and not too formal. I remember thinking as I was reading, "No, you idiot, don't open the window! Leave the garlic flowers in place! Dracula is out there!" Very exciting! It was almost a single-sitting read. When our students have read about a million YA vampire romances, I suggest they try this one. If they can wade through four thick as a brick Stephenie Meyer novels, they shouldn't have too much trouble with this slim volume in which the vampire is definitely not the good guy. 

I must admit, I couldn't get past the first volume of the Twilight series. I thought it boring. So sue me! Stephenie Meyer is doing very nicely without my admiration. I bought the series anyway, for the library, two sets actually, because they kept going missing. The kids were passing them around among themselves, excited by a book, and as a good librarian I felt I had to make them available, though nothing would persuade me to read past the original book.

I personally think of Frankenstein as being science fiction as much as horror; the young author took the science known in her time - the guy who made a frog's leg jump with electricity - and extrapolated from there. "What if...?" That's the basis of good SF. 

I only recently read Rosemary's Baby by Ira Levin, though I've read some of his other books. It wasn't as scary as I had thought it might be, probably because after all these years and the movie, everyone KNOWS what it's about and how it is going to end. But, as the introduction to the ebook version says, it's the first time that a horror novel was set, not in far Transylvania or wherever, not even in a haunted house, but in the protagonist's own ordinary home in the big city. Now, THAT is scary!

Really, you can read anything by Ira Levin if you're in a mood to read scary stuff. The Boys From Brazil - someone is cloning Hitler. The Stepford Wives - someone is building robots to be perfect wives. 

Come to think of it, read Margo Lanagan's Sea-Hearts(The Brides Of Rollrock Island outside Australia). It's not horror fiction, it's lovely, lyrical fantasy with selkies, but it asks some of the same questions as The Stepford Wives.

Most books by Stephen King will put you in the mood. Personally, I prefer his short fiction and his non fiction to the novels, but I will get around to reading more of them some time.

Susan Cooper's children's book The Dark Is Rising is set at Christmas, but has the right mood for this time of year, with a lot of atmospheric scenes, including one with the Wild Hunt. And while you're reading children's books you might like to try Alan Garner's The Owl Service ( three children reliving the story of Llewelyn Llaw, Goronwy and Bloddeuedd) or Weirdstone of Brisingamen.

I can't finish without mentioning Dan Simmons. His novel Carrion Comfort featured mind vampires, who can manipulate people with their telepathic powers. It was scary! His book Children Of The Night was about Dracula -the historical Dracula aka Vlad Tepes -who actually IS a vampire but not undead, it's a genetic anomaly which allows the lucky person to live as long as he likes because he has an extra organ that regenerates his cells. But it needs blood to process - preferably someone else's blood. So Dracula is still alive, now a billionaire who has put all his energy that used to be for fighting into making money. He has read the Stoker novel, of course, and thinks it's crap. I won't say more lest you wish to read it, but it's very entertaining. 

I loved  Simmons' Hyperion, which was set in the 29th century and meant to be a sort of Canterbury Tales, but had the favour of dark fantasy anyway. 

And I must end with a plug for my own novel Wolfborn, which climaxes in a scene on Samhain eve, with a massive storm, an evil werewolf fighting a good werewolf and the Wild Hunt riding.  Get it in ebook from Amazon or iTunes and you could be reading it in five minutes. Go on, read it -you know you want to.  :-)

Anyone got some more "Halloween" books to recommend?