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Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Australia’s Favourite Author 2018 - Heat 5!

And here is the link!

A lot of good ones here, including some of my favourites. Will Kostakis, Ambelin Kwaymullina, Robin Klein, Kate Forsyth, Leigh Hobbs... and more. I nearly missed Judith Roswell, who has been writing those delightful Victorian era stories, and illustrating them. Fortunately I went through the list again. Some classics writers such as May Gibbs. Thomas Keneally is there. So is fantasy writer Sara Douglass, who passed away some years ago, and Jennifer Fallon, who wrote, among other things, the Second Sons trilogy, a science fiction series posing as fantasy! Premise: there’s this planet with two suns. Every so often one sun is hidden for a while, which is called an Age of Shadows. The priests have been persuading people that this is because they are sinful, and even talked the king into sacrificing his child some years ago. And now they are after a young mathematical genius who has worked out when the next Age of Shadows is due. The fact that it can be predicted might just lead to questions being asked about them... it reads like fantasy, but isn’t. I loved it! Of course she got a tick from me!

I’m glad to see there are so many YA and children’s writers and authors of speculative fiction.

The votes for this round close at noon on Friday and then we will have the short lists, beginning with 75 and narrowing down until the winner is announced on January 24. Do visit the site and let me know what you think, even if you live outside Australia and can’t vote. If you do live here, there’s that $1000 book box! 

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Appreciate A Dragon Day 2018

Last year I was a bit late. This time I will do it on time, although I might have to insert the book covers later, from my laptop, as you can’t do it on an iPad.

I believe Appreciate A Dragon Day is really aimed at the primary school classroom, but what the heck! Even if I was a primary teacher there are no classes at this time of year in Australia. And I would be sorry to miss out.

Anyway, let’s think about dragons! There is a big difference beteeen the western and eastern varieties. The Asian dragon is a more or less benign being. The western one is connected with evil. Which hasn’t stopped people from creating their own amazing dragons, presented the way they want them.

One of my creative writing students wrote a piece about a vegetarian dragon who makes an arrangement with the knight who comes to the cave to slay him. It was inspired by a cartoon of a dragon holding a knight in its claws.

There are a lot of them in fiction - here are just a few I’m fond of., that I didn’t mention in last year’s post. In R.A McAvoy’s Tea With The Black Dragon, a middle-aged folk musician, Martha McNamara, is searching for her missing daughter with the help of Mayland Long, a Chinese gentleman who is... well, a dragon. One who has turned into a human. I liked the gentleness of this one, plus the fact that the protagonists were not young. (She’s middle-aged, he is quite a lot older, being a dragon)

Then there’s Smaug in The Hobbit. Smaug is a typical western dragon, representing greed. He sits on a hoard. Tolkien tells us that he doesn’t appreciate the beauty of the stuff he is sitting on, but has an excellent idea of its market value. Goodness, a capitalist dragon! Because of him, an entire dwarf colony has lost its home. Also, there is something called dragon sickness, which you can catch if you’re not careful, an obsession with the treasure - “Mine! You can’t have any of it!” It affects Thorin Oakenshield, leader of the group of dwarves with whom Bilbo Baggins is travelling. So sad!

 Barbara Hambly’s Dragonsbane was another favourite when I read it many years ago. In it, you can’t kill a dragon in the standard fairy tale manner. They are tough critters and, in fact, only one man has ever succeeded, and he did it with poisoned harpoons. He didn’t want to - it was a beautiful creature - but he had to. Now another dragon is menacing a kingdom to the south, and then you find out it’s sentient ...

How about Norbert - later discovered to be a female - in the Harry Potter series? We all know Hagrid the Hogwarts gamekeeper has always wanted a pet dragon. He manages to get hold of a dragon egg, which he hatches in his little hut, but those things grow! Before long it outgrows the hut and Harry and his friends have to arrange for Norbert to go to Albania to be looked after by Ron’s brother Charlie. We see dragons again in the fourth book, Goblet Of Fire, when Harry and the other champions have to get golden eggs away from them. During the final book, our heroes encounter the dragon under Gringott’s bank, a sad, badly treated animal that is there to get rid of potential thieves. And that’s the thing: dragons in this series are just animals. You really can’t keep them as pets, but they’re animals.

Beowulf, slayer of Grendel and his Mum, finally slays a dragon from which some idiot hsx pinched a cup, but dies himself. A classic poem!

There are plenty more dragons in literature, but let’s keep some for next time. I just want to mention some short fiction. Edwina Harvey’s children’s story “Rocket And Sparky”, in the Fablecroft anthology Worlds Next Door, featured a dragon, Sparky, found in the Australian desert as an egg, by a girl who wanted a pony but got a camel instead. Like Norbert, this dragon grows way too quickly. It gets through a lot of barbecued chickens. The girl makes money offering dragon rides, but never gives up on her dream of having a pony.

When I was writing fan fiction, many years ago, a friend and I created our own planet, New Wales, settled by the last of Arthur’s followers after the battle of Camlann. There are shaggy little Shetland pony unicorns which wandered through the teleport gate with the humans. And there are dragons. We were inspired by a throwaway line about “Berengaria dragons,” mentioned in Star Trek. our dragons were about human size, more like small tyrannosaurs than the typical dragon of fairy tale. They do breathe the occasional flame. And they’re not only sentient, they have jobs. The head of the New Wales space fleet, created by my friend, was a female dragon called Admiral Kirilli, who appears in several of the stories. My dragon was Rhisiart, a University lecturer who affects a pipe because he has probably read too many Earth books with pipe smoking professors in them.

I know, silly! But we enjoyed writing them and people enjoyed reading them. I was planning to try my hand at a New Wales novel without the Trek universe, but Patricia Keneally Morrison got in before me with a series of novels set on a New Wales type world, only she was terribly  serious; my stories were humorous.

Oh, well... So that’s a few of my dragons - do you have any favourites?

Monday, January 15, 2018

Australia’s Favourite Writer - Heat 4!

I’ve voted again - here!

Some good ones this time - again, I made it my rule only to tick the boxes of those authors I had read, even if it was only one book or a couple of short stories. I was pleased to see some writers for children and teens there.

Anh Do was there. I think of him as a writer for kids. Apart from his autobiography, The Happiest Refugee, which our kids did at Year 9 last year and generally enjoyed, he’s done a series of humorous stories for younger kids, which older kids whose reading is not so good also seem to least, mine did last year.

Jackie French was on the list and got my vote. She has written some wonderful historical fiction, set in many different eras, and seems to be the only historical novelist the students at my school will read, apart from Morris Gleitzman’s Once series. Oh,  by the way, he was on the list too - nuff  said!

Tim Winton got a gong from me for his Lockie Leonard books.

Colin Thiele - only read one of his books, but he is a classic children’s writer. I think I may have met him once, when he was doing a book signing, but where and when I don’t recall. I just recall being surprised he was still around...and then he wasn’t any more. :-(

John Birmingham is funny, so yes,he got a tick, despite not writing for kids.

Henry Lawson - well, he was one of our classic writers!

Damn, I missed Margo Lanagan! Just spotted her name now. She deserves a gong for her powerful fantasy writing. Her short stories AND her novels. Do vote for her!

Then the fannish ones, such as Justine Larbalestier and Amanda Pillar - and John Flanagan, whose Ranger’s Apprentice books I’m re-reading now!

I ticked Andrew Rule, though I only know him as a journalist, because I got good use out of Underbelly when I was writing Crime Time. That, whatever you may think, was a collection of previously-published articles he and a John Silvester wrote for the Age, not a novel and not even written as a true crime book. And it was very useful to me!

Sean Williams got my tick for his Twinmaker YA trilogy. Non stop action and he really wrecked the Star Trek replicator and transporter for me! ;-)

Other children’s and YA authors: Paul Jennings, Ruth Starke, my lovely publisher and children’s writer Paul Collins, Scott Gardner, the amazing Jaclyn Moriarty, for her Colours Of Madeleine trilogy... Emily Rodda, Pamela Freeman, the hilarious Oliver Phommavanh, who started life as a primary teacher and is now entertaining lots more kids!

Well, I’m biased toward writers for the young, but if you follow this blog you probably enjoy these books too.

Go to the web site between now and Wednesday January 17 to vote or just to check it out. This round closes as noon on Wednesday.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Discovered While Listening To Radio Over Breakfast

Listening to a program on Radio National, promoting a new  children’s non fiction book, Goodnight Stories For Rebel Girls,  which is stories about amazing women of history, I couldn’t help being startled at some of the things said. The lady explained they were beginning each chapter with “Once upon a time” because they didn’t want it to feel like homework stuff. Pardon me? Does she really believe that she’s the only one ever to write non fiction for entertainment? Or that you even need to pretend it’s a fairy tale to make it clear that this is not for homework? I think this lady needs to do some reading of children’s non fiction. I’ve written the stuff! Never once did I use,”Once upon a time...” and believe me, the kids got it that this was for enjoyment. The school had five copies of my book Crime Time and all of them were battered and worn by the time we packed up to move campuses. 

 There was a serious discussion about how girls are usually shown as weak and passive in children’s fiction. This may have been true once, though not entirely, but these days pretty much all the dystopian YA novels feature a girl saving the world. And not only the dystopians. Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials. Garth Nix’s Old Kingdom. Hermione in Harry Potter. He may be the Chosen One, but she is the one with the brain, whose research saves the day time after time. Even her common sense - at the start of The Deathly Hallows, who is it who packs camping equipment, supplies and even some books into a tiny TARDIS bigger-on-the-inside bag so that they’re ready to go when the Deatheaters turn up? Not Harry or Ron! How about Evanlyn in The Ranger’s Apprentice series? Caroline in Michael Pryor’s The Laws Of Magic? Not to mention the hero Aubrey Fitzwilliams’ mother and grandmother? 

These are just some of the ones I’ve read, off the top of my head, and I’ve just noticed that all but one of my examples were written by men.

Fairy tales? Full of stereotypes, says the author. Yes, there’s one kind of story in which the princess needs rescuing or is handed over along with half the kingdom, for a job well done.  But that’s only one kind, along with the ones where a pretty peasant girl wins a prince for being - well, pretty.

How about Kate Crackernuts? Which, incidentally, shows two stepsisters as loving each other. So the wicked queen’s daughter saves her stepsister and lands a prince for both of them, while rescuing one of the princes. 

How about East Of The Sun, West Of The Moon? That is only one of many stories of its type - Girl has to go on a quest to get back her man when an error on her part has lost him and he has forgotten her and is about to marry someone else, a long way off. Another of this kind is The Singing, Springing Lark, a variation on Beauty And The Beast, in which the girl has to do a lot more than cry over her dying Beast and say she loves him. 

How about “The Wild Swans” in which a sister goes through hell to save her brothers and nearly dies herself? 

Even the Grimm version of Cinderella has her doing more than waiting around for a fairy godmother to supply a dress for the ball. 

There are plenty of clever girl fairy tales out there. You just need to find them. 

I’m sure the book promoted this morning is great stuff. What it isn’t, judging by the interview,  is new or original and it’s unfair to writers who have done it before to imply it is. 

January 15 meme - Happy Birthday, Dad!

If my wonderful Dad was still around today, January 15, would be his 93rd birthday. Dad was a true silver surfer who loved Googling stuff and learning things. So it’s appropriate that we should all learn something today. 

On this day, January 15:

January 15 birthdays

1412 - Jeanne D’Arc, aka Joan of Arc. Now a saint, I believe. Personally, I have to wonder about someone who was hearing voices - one of my students who heard voices told me she was told she was the Chosen One - but she did achieve a lot in her short life. 

1893 - Ivor Novello - Composed “Keep The  Fires Burning”, a World War I song that many found inspiring

1913 - Lloyd Bridges - actor, best known for all those comedies, but I remember him in Sea Hunt. Father of two other actors. 

1927 - Phyllis Coates - Lois Lane in Season I of Superman back in the 1950s. She did a lot of forgettable films and serials, BUT - she was apparently the most consistently employed actress ever. In other words, she always had work. Take a look at her filmography- wow! The only reason she was replaced by Noel Neill is that after season 1 they had a hiatus and by the time they started filming the show again she had another job. Apparently, it’s become traditional for former Lois Lanes to play Lois’s mother in later versions, and she was no exception. She played the role in an episode of Lois And Clarke in the 1990s. She’s still around, by the way, th3 last surviving cast member. 

1929 - Martin Luther King - no need for introduction. I believe it’s Martin Luther King Day in the US, or will be once the Northern Hemisphere catches up. 


1559 - Elizabeth I crowned 

1759 - British Museum opens - Dad would like this one. Pity he never travelled overseas once he arrived here. I would love to take him for a walk around the BM. When I was little, he took me walking around the museum in Melbourne, which was also the art gallery at the time. He kept whisking me past paintings I wanted to stop and look at. 

2001 - Wikipedia goes on line - Dad would LOVE this one! I never asked, but I bet he used it a lot. 

Also, Teacher’s Day in Venezuela, when all teachers, including kindergarten teachers, are honoured - nice! Dad would like that. He was terribly proud of his teacher daughter. 

Happy birthday, Dad! 

The Ranger’s Apprentice Books 1 To 4 - a Re-read

The last few days I have been bingeing on The Ranger’s Apprentice series, my second time, and enjoying it all over again. True, the first novel, The Ruins Of Gorlan, is perhaps the slowest of the series, setting up the universe and introducing us to the hero, Will, his mentor, the Ranger Halt, and Horace, who was a childhood enemy and becomes his best friend. It takes you through some of the training done by Will and Horace(and Horace’s being bullied by three older students at Battleschool)and introduces Will’s trusty pony Tug, along with a description of things Rangers’ horses can do that others don’t. And finally, it gets around to the fighting stuff, with an attempted invasion by the banished Morgaroth, a sinister dark lord type who uses scary critters to help him. But that’s about two thirds of the way through, though Morgaroth appears briefly in the prologue. Interestingly, I think this book and its immediate sequel, The Burning Bridge, seem to be the only two  to include fantasy elements. The rest of those I’ve read are only fantasy in that they are in a world other than ours. I kind of like that. 

The Burning Bridge speeds up. Will and Horace go to the kingdom of Celtica with a Ranger called Gilan, to get help against Morgaroth and find it’s the Celt# who need help. They also meet a girl called Evanlyn, who becomes the third member of the teen trio, and who is more than she seems... 

The novel ends on a cliffhanger after a lot of fighting the villain, and goes immediately to The Icebound Land, in which there is some suffering and some rescuing, as Will and Evanlyn are enslaved in Skandia, the equivalent of our own Scandinavia. Halt has to get himself banished to be able to go after Will(he’s not allowed to leave otherwise)and takes along Horace, who finds himself getting a reputation in Gallica (France) as the fearsome Knight of the Oak Leaf(Halt’s idea, though he can’t remember if his French name for Horace means Oak Leaf or Oak Pancake), after having had to fight various knights right out of  Monty Python And The Holy Grail and acquiring an embarrassing number of horses and armour. Horace is delightfully innocent and this part of the novel is very funny. Halt also explains to him that the young ladies in skimpy clothes have short dresses because they’re couriers and short skirts make running easier. There are grimmer elements in the later parts of the book, as Halt and Horace encounter a truly nasty local warlord and Evanlyn has to try to get Will off a drug to which he has become addicted to stay warm. 

The one I have just finished, Oakleaf Bearers, gets even more exciting as Skandia is about to be invaded by the Temujai, this world’s answer to the Mongols, who will invade Araluen, our heroes’ home,  next if not stopped. Will, Halt, Horace and Evanlyn agree to help the Skandians, whose idea of warfare is to simply charge at the enemy, something on which the Temujai are counting. But Halt has actually lived with them, back when he was about to steal some of their horses to breed as Ranger ponies. He knows their fighting style; it’s a lot more elaborate than the Skandians’, but predictable if you know them.   The likeable Skandian Jarl, Erak will appear in future volumes, including the Brotherband spinoff series. 

I’m about to reread The Sorcerer In The North, the fifth in publication order, but set five years later - the seventh volume goes back to Will’s Apprentice years. A bit like Morris Gleitzman’s Once series, really, in that respect. 

So, what did I think in general? A wonderful series and I mean to read and reread the lot, including the prequels and Brotherband, although I think Hal Mikkelsen of Brotherband, is s male Mary Sue in some ways. 

There were a few - a very few - glitches I don’t think I noticed the first time. A kidnapped Evanlyn is tied up. Her hands are tied behind her and she is shoved against a tree for the night. When she later defends herself from a Temuj’ who is about to kill her, her hands are tied in front of her. A small error an editor could have picked up easily enough and should have. 

When Erak helps the two teens to escape, he gives them a pony and a few supplies and gives them directions to a hunters’ hut in the mountains, where they are to spend the winter; nobody uses the hut till spring. The hut has a lean-to stable and some more supplies, but not much. Evanlyn wonders briefly how she is going to feed the pony, but decides to worry about it later. Much later, it seems; we never learn how that horse is fed - and not only that, but when our heroes are unexpectedly forced to leave the hut, the pony stays behind. Much later, near the end of the fourth novel, Will goes back to give the horse some oats. It’s still there, though it has managed to break away and nibble on some spring grass near the hut. Nobody has thought of that animal in - weeks? It’s just fine. 

I do wonder, too, if you can actually shoot a longbow from horseback, as Halt does. That’s something I need to check up, just out of interest. I sort of  thought that was why the Mongols used short bows? Ah, well. A wonderful series of adventures and a handful of glitches in four books is pretty good going. 

If you haven’t read them, do! 

Friday, January 12, 2018

Australia’s Favourite Author - Heat 3!

An interesting list this time. I have come to the conclusion that I misunderstood the way it works, because this list is completely different from Wednesday’s. They seem to be going through all the nominees and only after that will they start shortlisting. So, important to keep voting.

You can do that here!

Again, some children’s and YA authors are there, including the children’s favourites, Andy Griffiths and his artist partner Terry Denton. Melina Marchetta is there, which is nice. I gave a tick also to Tara Moss, for her delicious YA fantasy novels which are a sort of cross between Buffy and The Addams Family. I gave another to Zana Fraillon, whose CBCA shortlist book The Bone Sparrow made me terribly sad. Michael Pryor was there - yay! There were also some classic writers, such as Ethel Turner(Seven Little Australians) and Joan Lindsay whose Picnic At Hanging Rock is definitely going for classics level. Meredith Costain is there and, of course, got my vote, as did several others... just go and look it up, and vote if you can. The shortlist will be out soon enough and if your favourites don’t get enough votes now you won’t have them on the shortlist to vote for later.

Do check out the list and let me know what you think, in the comments box below.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Australia’s Favourite author - Round 2!

And here’s the Booktopia link to take you to the page where you can browse the somewhat shorter list and, if local, can vote for your favourites.

I was a bit surprised to see some names I didn’t notice last time and sad to see some of my favourites dropped out. Not as many children’s or YA writers as last time, and certainly not as many as last year, but still, there were some I’m fond of. Isobelle Carmody is there as are Gabrielle Wang, Claire Zorn, Nadia Wheatley, Libby Hathorn, Shivaun Plozza and Ellie Marney, all fine authors, all of whom, I think, have been on the CBCA short list at some stage, and deservedly so. Again, I voted for everybody whose work I’d read, even if it was just a bit. As the lists tighten I’ll have to be more picky and decide who I’d really like to see win, but the nice thing about this competition is that you can vote for as many as you like on any one list.

Hopefully they will all make it to the next list, which is being posted on Friday. Stand by for the update and meanwhile, why not check out my link?

Monday, January 08, 2018

Favourite Australian Authors 2018 - First Heat!

At lunchtime today, the Booktopia blog announced its first list of candidates for Australia's favourite authors. I must say, I was pleased to see some of my nominations and disappointed that some others I had nominated weren't there. I would, for example, have been pleased to see Ambelin Kwaymullina, author of the wonderful Tribe trilogy. Michael Pryor would have been a nice one to add. Still, every year is different - some of those who were on the list last year, including the winner, weren't there this time. It depends on who nominates and how many. And many people may think that they should nominate someone new this time.

However, here's the link:

Do wander over and take a look, even if you're not in Australia and can't vote. It is an interesting mix of classic authors, such as Ruth Park, Oodgeroo Noonuccal(also known as Kath Walker, a wonderful indigenous poet), Mem Fox and such, and much newer ones such as Melissa Keil and Amie Kaufmann. There are also the likes of Hazel Edwards and Kerry Greenwood. I don't think Hazel has been on the list before, or at least not while I've been following it, and I'm pretty sure Kerry hasn't been, or I would have certainly noticed and given her a vote. Wendy Orr is there too, and Juliet Marillier, both fabulous writers. Well done, all of you!

It's nice to see how many children's and YA writers are on the list this year, as there were last year. My old friend George Ivanoff is on the list - well, he has won a YABBA or two, voted by kids. Perhaps some of his young fans were nominating their favourite authors for this too! Well done, George!

In any case, I made the decision, this time, to vote for everyone whose books I'd read. I will have to think more carefully and make a decision later on, when the list shortens, but for now, I thought they all deserved a gong from me.

If you live here in Oz, I suggest you wander over to the Booktopia web site right now and vote. This is only the first round, but the next is on Wednesday, so not much time. An incentive is that if you give them your details, you'll be in the running for a $1000 book pack. I'm in the running!

Even if you don't live here, if you love reading, check it out and let me know what you think in the comments box below.