Sunday, December 25, 2011

Boxing Day memories

Until about two years ago, my family had a tradition of getting together on Boxing Day for breakfast. No special reason except Christmas was over and it was a fun way to start the day before checking out the sales. At one time, my mother, my sister and I used to go out to breakfast at the Treble Clef restaurant at the Arts Centre. Then the restaurant stopped doing breakfast (and then it was gone altogether), so we went to my place and I had fun looking up breakfasts in the London Ritz Book of Breakfasts and using some of the recipes. I would get up at 5.30 to bake soda bread, brew coffee and sometimes make extravagant hot chocolate with real melted chocolate in it, make a jug of orange juice and lay out plates of smoked salmon and fresh summer fruit. The breakfast ended up with a large chunk of the family attending - first Dad and my brother-in-law Gary, then my nephew David and sometimes my middle nephew Mark and then David brought his children Dezzy and Rachel, in Melbourne for the holidays. I would have liked to invite my brother and his family too, but with four of them and a table and chairs only for eight, I was full up.

And then my father died. The last time I did this it was just for my friends Bart and Siu, who were with me that time, two days before Dad passed away.

It just wasn't the same any more, and we'd always remember.

So here I am at 7.50 am on Boxing Day, at my messy table, writing this instead of greeting my family as they arrive. David and the kids, as well as my brother and his family, are off on holiday anyway.

So before I do a household clean-up, something I've been promising myself for weeks, I'm going to make myself a yummy breakfast. No soda bread, alas - the oven is still out of action - but some pikelets and fresh fruit and a big pot of tea. And I'll remember Dad, who loved this tradition.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

The Year's End - Reflections

And in the end, we couldn't get the school to write a cheque for our $531.60, too late,  so Jasna and I spent Tuesday afternoon in the last week of school going to the local shopping mall to find a way to do a money order and post it. I'd decided it was going to go registered mail, to avoid being lost in the Christmas rush. The kids put months of work into this and deserved to have every last penny reach its destination. The PO wouldn't take our huge number of coins (all but $94 was in coins!) and I suppose I can't blame them, so we went to the local NAB to see if they'd change our coins to notes. "Do you bank with us?" asked the teller. No, we didn't, so she told us they couldn't help us. 

There was a Commonwealth bank across the road and I do have an account there, so we tramped over there with our heavy bags of money. There, we met a helpful bank officer who took us to a money-counting machine where you could have the fun of throwing coins into a hole and watching the machine count it all up for you (it spat out a New Zealand ten-cent coin!). Then you take the printout to the counter, where they can put it into your account or give you notes. Of course, we took the notes back across the road and bought a money order. The lady at the counter had an arm injury which she discussed with Jasna while making up the money order for Greenpeace.

We posted it and, much relieved, went for a nice cuppa in the food court before returning to school.

It was a good project - a grand project. The kids believed in it and nobody was reluctant to have a go. Well, almost nobody. One student - like last year - did absolutely nothing. I suspect that, like last year's student, he regrets it. He was not a part of the final celebration, though he was there. I told him quietly that he had let his team down, which meant something to him, as he's a passionate sportsman. He protested, "But I wasn't there!" Exactly. And it wasn't illness.

Everyone else at the very least had a go. If their project didn't work, they were only too happy to try something else.

I don't think we'll do a lolly jar next year, it just hasn't worked, two years in a row. Truffles did, though. Everyone likes chocolate and they had a lot of demand for it - they did it twice. It has to be given to reliable students, though, perhaps as an alternative to making cookies, which cost money for ingredients - MUCH more than truffles - and then you have to spend the whole day baking and distributing them.

We'll see the calibre of the students we have next year before I recommend anything in particular.

Welcome Art Bebe!

Welcome, Art Bebe, otherwise known as Frank. This is my general blog, though, where you will read about what I'm doing at work, what my students are doing and such. If you want books and SF, most of that is going on over at The Great Raven, my other blog.

Hope you like this one anyway - I'm rather proud of my students and what they did this year. Literature Circles, book trailers, interviews with writers of books they were studying (those also over at The Raven) and fundraising for Greenpeace. In the end, it was a grand total of $531.60.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Round Midnight - student book trailers

First posted on The Great Raven

I've spent the evening at the opera (and couldn't believe that parents would bring children to see an opera about a dying courtesan in 19th century Paris, but serve them right if they have to explain it). Now, I'm sitting here on-line, after midnight, loading my students' book trailers on to iMovie, adding them to the Literature Circles movie, so I can burn more discs. Today I showed my class the last of A Midsummer Night's Dream (they loved it! I hadn't intended to show them the lot, but they wanted me to, so...) and then, with a few minutes left, I showed them the book trailers done by some of them. They were interested and when I asked them who wanted a copy of these and the Literature Circles movie (they've seen bits of that before I edited it on iMovie) nearly every hand went up. So, because next Friday will be our last class together (sob!) I thought I'd present each student with a DVD.

And there were some nice trailers there, though everyone chose music which cut out before the trailer finished (but the music was appropriate in all cases). Andy and Amadeu did theirs on Dragonkeeper, using almost the same images and the same music, but they were different. Andy asked me if he could fix his up because he spotted some errors. He can, of course, though if he doesn't get it to me by tomorrow, I won't have time to add the corrected version to the student DVD - I want to do some on the weekend. Andy is our computer genius, but it was Amadeu who knew how to convert raw Moviemaker files to WMV(and then I converted them again, using Handbrake!). Michael's trailer for Once was beautiful.  Minh had done his on the novel his group read, Cirque Du Freak (Darren Shan). I watched him research it, looking for pictures of freaks from freak shows. They aren't exactly the ones in the novel, but impressive all the same, with a good musical soundtrack. Taylor kept looking through Google Images for just the right pictures to use to represent Wolfgang and Audrey and families for her trailer of Justin D'Ath's Pool (and I will be sending Justin a copy at some stage, as promised). Emily did a very good trailer of Marianne De Pierres' Burn Bright, with music changing abruptly when she got to the bit about Ixion, the isle of Evernight, to a loud rock beat, appropriate for a place where teenagers party all night. "Hey, I did one on Burn Bright!" called Brittany and I suggested she gets it to me so I can add it to the DVD. It was supposed to be a part of the assessment. She was actually studying Pool, but loves Burn Bright. Elizabeth and Rana did A Ghost In My Suitcase, but it was too late to add music. I'm putting on the silent trailer anyway.

I will be adding Paige's lovely, if short, trailer for Fallen, because the rest of the class admire it.

Gotta go to bed, guys! I still have to be up at six, but Amadeu's trailer is taking ages to load.

Saturday, December 03, 2011

2011 Student Fundraising Activity Nearly Over - O Joy!

This is a wonderful unit of work and I believe in it utterly, but I am so glad it's nearly over. One more activity - in the library again, Monday and Tuesday lunchtime - and the last of the money will be raised and I can get in touch with Greenpeace to ask them how we go about putting in our donation and whether - perhaps - they might have a certificate or some such thing to thank the kids for what they have done.

And they have done very well, despite the ones at whom we rolled eyes because, despite what we asked them not to do, they did it - such as spending money on stuff without discussing it with us first, the boys' group who planned a dodgeball game in the gym and then charged $2 per team rather than per player! - and then GAVE the players icy poles because that was what their poster said, despite the fact that the poster also said it was $2 to play. There was also a team of girls who bought a rather large supply of lollies for the lolly jar guesses when I could have done it for them, much cheaper, and then didn't make enough to get back the money let alone a profit. But the thing is, they wanted to be of help and we made sure they could redeem their errors. The boys got to SELL icy poles bought by my colleague Jasna, who got back the money and still they made a profit in about ten minutes of work. One of them commented on this, with wonder, and rather sheepishly, as he took money from yet another customer. :-) The girls were even luckier. We had a donation, a fabulous donation of a $30 movie voucher from a teacher-librarian friend from another school, who had come to visit my school and been impressed with what the students were doing. She even supplied the raffle tickets! We didn't have the time to sell as many tickets as we would have liked, we just wanted the girls to have a chance to do something they could be proud of, and the raffle was drawn at a school assembly at which the Year 10s graduated - that Year 10 was the first Year 8 group to do this project, so it was nice. But there was still a profit, even discounting the fact that someone else had paid for the voucher.

There were kids who finished their activity and then insisted on doing another one, just so they could raise some more money. We had to gently tell the disco-ers and the truffle-sellers that they had done just fine and it was time to rest, but the disco-ers sold jelly and choc frogs, making a decent profit, and the truffle-sellers made another batch and ended with a profit of $65!

So, despite all the hassles we had this term - kids making mistakes, us having, unexpectedly, to compete with Year 9, one of whose teachers had decided suddenly and without warning to have THEM raise money for charity (and they knew how - they did it with us last year!) - we had to rearrange our timetable to cope with this - we will, by the time the last activity has happened - have raised near on $500 for Greenpeace. Last year's group raised $635, but they had an anniversary fete to use to sell their baked goods.

The kids learned so very much from it and they all have a sense of pride in themselves, of achievement.

So, yes, unless we're prevented by the school, this will hopefully happen again, but meanwhile - phew! I can soon have some of my lunchtimes and recesses back!

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Out of the Doghouse - what next?

Re-printed from The Great Raven

So, what do you do when your writing commitment is over?

I'm going to read and read and read tonight. I've just started a new iMovie project, putting together my students' book trailers. I really can't put them all up, even if I had their permission, because there is too much need to check out how much material is copyright, although it was all credited. Too much hassle! But I will be burning it all on to DVD for the staff's professional interest, so they can see what Year 8 English students can do when they try, and catalogue it for my library, and I will be showing it to my class before we all go off for holidays.

If any of the authors want to see what 8B has done, I'll be happy to pop a copy in the mail for them. They're not perfect, but they did what I needed - showed they understood the book and that they had got something out of it. Also, they hopefully persuaded the viewer it might be a good book to read.

Here are the books: Pool, by Justin D'Ath,  Dragonkeeper by Carole Wilkinson, Burn Bright by Marianne De Pierres and Once by Morris Gleitzman. A Ghost In My Suitcase was saved as a plain Powerpoint because I couldn't open the original file (pity - they could have changed it to .wmv - if  only I'd known! )However, two other students prepared interview questions for Gabrielle Wang, who has kindly agreed to answer them and offered to publish it on her own web site as well as this one.  Anyway, if any of you guys who wrote these books are reading and are interested in a copy, let me know.

I'm also about to prepare some interview questions for Miffy Farquarson, who has agreed to answer questions about being a CBCA judge.

So, while I won't be blogging every day now, I will be keeping busy.

Today I got such a nice email from Bill Condon, who had been a WIR on Insideadog too, and said how much he had enjoyed my posts. It does feel a little lonely when you blog away and nobody - or, in my case, almost nobody - commented. But it's nice to know.

Late dinner time - I'm off to eat and read.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Welcome Emma! And Free Rice!

Hi Emma! Welcome to my page. To tell you the truth, this was my first effort at a blog, not knowing what I was supposed to do. I do most of my posting over at The Great Raven, but because I suddenly found myself with followers here I have been posting more often, just the general stuff, a lot of it about school.

I know more people are reading this than have joined, because I check the statistics, though I don't yet keep the counter up on the page, so I'm going to introduce Emma McGregor to anyone who is reading. She is a young writer who was kind enough to choose my session at the Bendigo Catholic College Lit Fest the other day and she keeps a number of blogs. One of them is Be The Change, which I have joined because it is so very impressive and useful. It is about social justice and has some extremely useful links to Fair Trade web sites and charities and even Free Rice, which I've been using with my students for some time already.

I discovered it, of all things, in an ESL newspper. The idea is that you do vocab - it gives you a word and a multiple choice and you pick the meaning. If you're right, it donates ten grams of rice to the World Food Bank. If you're wrong, it drops you a level and you keep going till you get the word again and this time you know it. I'd like to say my students love it - and sometimes they do, when they realise that this is real and doing this helps real people. I usually give them one full period on it at the beginning, with chocolate prizes for highest score and highest level reached, then keep it for a few minutes at the end of a period in the computer room. No more than that or they get bored. I, personally, find it addictive, I just HAVE  to keep going and trying for the next level and the next and towards the top there are words even I don't know. If you aren't interested in vocab or don't teach English, there are other subjects, though the English bit is the best.

But do hop along to Emma's site and join. It's well worth it. I'm going to add it to my blog roll, both here and at The Great Raven, when I've finished a bit of housework (Sunday is the only day I can get it done at all.)

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Latest Reflective Journal - the kids score for Greenpeace!

Yesterday was an exhausting day for my colleague Jasna and me, not to mention our students. The delayed lunchtime disco happened, as did the baking of brownies by another group of students. Their classmates were planning frantically for their own events.

Both disco and brownies were a huge success, but they kept us flat out. After recess, Jasna and I had arranged to have the brownie-bakers go to the Foods room, where we would supervise them. We had to make absolutely sure that they cleaned up afterwards and put everything back where it belonged, or risk the wrath of the Foods teacher, who doesn't teach on Tuesdays. Not only that, but we had to help them find equipment they needed, including baking paper and microwave-safe bowls to melt butter. One of the students nearly placed a metal bowl in the microwave! "Stop!" I shrieked and went to see if our Lighthouse integration room had some (they did).

I went back in Period 4 to supervise all the other students of 8A and B while Jasna continued in the Foods room. The disco organisers had to set up the library and then I had to stay to help out and supervise. Fortunately, colleagues came in to give a hand, and Jasna, who had to do yard duty, was spelled by another colleague, Tina, who asked for the brownies recipe. After lunch my students got the library back to normal - there was surprisingly little rubbish, very easy to clean up. They had made $124! True, $70 of that was money they had overspent for decorations, but that still left a substantial profit. The other group ended up making the same profit on the brownies, though they ended up with a lot more ingredients than they could possibly use at home. I mean, the cocoa, sugar and eggs, yes, the flour, yes - but what were they going to do with all those packs of butter? Still - it was a lesson learned. We had told them to calculate their needs beforehand, as last year's students did. And they did make a good profit and the work itself went pretty smoothly, in between trying to find enough pans, baking paper, etc.

They hadn't thought to buy bags, so the brownies were neatly wrapped in paper towelling. They had to go back to class after Period 5, but Jasna brought her graphics class into the theory room and I helped a year 10 student, Rebecca, who had volunteered her time since her Hospitality class wasn't happening. We distributed most of the remaining brownies then and after school.

We do need to prepare a form for the students to take to teachers any time they need - note, NEED, not want - time off other classes. It will have to be signed by one of us and then by the teacher concerned and if the answer is no, it's no. We can't afford to get on our colleagues' wrong side; this is too important. That's what I have learned from this.

I went home, cooked dinner, had a shower and slumped into bed.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Greenpeace truffles!

This year, as for the last two, my students are doing a community activity for their homeroom subject, Pathways. It started two years ago when Amanda, the other Year 8 homeroom teacher, and I returned from term 3 break with the same idea: let's do some fundraising and packing and donation gathering for the victims of the Samoan tsunami. So we joined forces. It was so very successful that last year we did it again. Amanda was gone, but I'm now working with Jasna.The students had been given the task, first, of researching a charity and presenting it to the rest of Year 8, arguing why we should support that particular charity. Last year they voted to support UNICEF. This year's choice was Greenpeace.

The activity has been so very successful that one of our other campuses is taking it up - much more practical than working from books. The kids love doing it and learn an amazing amount, from civics to running a mini-business! And they can do it whether they're academic kids needing a challenge or non-academic kids who like the warm feeling of having done something that will help someone else. They can shine in this task as in very little else at school.

 Its success has also led to Year 9 teachers giving their students - our former students! - the task they performed so well last year. Which means that suddenly Year 8 is having to compete with Year 9 for whatever dollars the other students have available. Well, we're working around it, timetabling it as best we can, and making the students choose activities that will work, no matter how many others are selling cupcakes or running a dogdeball game or a lolly jar count.

Yesterday a group of girls from my 8B made chocolate truffles. I had the original idea and it turned out that one of them had made truffles before, from the same basic recipe as I found on-line. No point in making expensive ganache-based sweets when you want to buy cheap ingredients and sell to other students. I made some as a test run last weekend, it worked nicely and I gave the young truffle-making expert the leftovers. But they had to make more than one batch, so they went to the supermaket and bought, between them, $33.00 worth of ingredients! And they'd advertised them at $1.00 a bag of five.
Urk. "Girls," I said,"you're going to have to sell 33 bags of truffles even to get your money back. The profit will be very small." But they sold the lot in five minutes, as I'd known they would, with demand for more, and their profit was a little more than I had expected because they had sold some individual sweets. And they do have some leftover ingredients, which would make it cheaper next time.

I told them they didn't have to do it again and Pepa, the truffle expert, said, "You mean we can't do this again?" :-)

I assured her they could if they wished. So they're going to do some more a week from now and good on them!

I am actually learning as much as my students, and hopefully we can do it again next year and I will have one sure-fire money-spinner, but I'll find a way they don't have to spend $$ of their own money to do the task.

Next week's food delight is brownies, made by a boy who does them regularly at home and assures me they're quick and easy and won't take all morning as last year's cookies did. He and his group will be baking them in the foods room first thing in the morning.

Stand by for more news!

Saturday, November 05, 2011

Writing A Book On Crime

Here it is - my sixth post as Writer In Residence on Insideadog! Go on, visit the web site - you know you want to... And comment! 
The best cover I ever had!

When I was commissioned to write Crime Time: Australians behaving badly for Ford Street Publishing my brief was to do a volume of “Fifty Infamous Australians” to go with Meredith Costain’s Fifty Famous Australians. (“Infamous” means evil, not very famous.)

It was not, repeat, not, going to be a book for homework It was for entertainment. Mind you, when our Legal Studies students were looking for specific crimes, my book came in handy!

.As well as the fifty main stories, there had to be around the same number, or more, of “Did You Know?” boxes.  Plenty to choose from; we’ve had crime here for  centuries, since the ship Batavia was wrecked off the coast of WA in 1629, long before the First Fleet arrived from England in 1788. While the captain went for help in a boat, several of the crew mutinied and killed passengers. There were huge battles going on between mutineers and loyal crew when the captain returned. For the record, there’s plenty of fiction about it, from Gary Crew’s horror novel Strange Objects to Kirsty Eagar’s fabulous Saltwater Vampires, in which the mutineers did it to become vampires and are still around.

 I went for some silly crimes to break up the horrible serial killer ones – like the Russian librarian who rescued her boyfriend from Silverwater prison by helicopter and was identified because of an overdue library video.Then there was the couple who robbed a restaurant in the Dandenongs and escaped with a bag of stale bread rolls – on April Fools’ Day!

While researching Caroline Grills, a dear old granny who poisoned people with her cakes and pikelets and was sentenced to life in prison, I travelled to Northern Territory, where I met an elderly couple in a pub. I mentioned what I was working on and the wife said, “Oh, I met her when I was working in Long Bay jail as a nurse. Such a sweet woman!”

You couldn’t buy that kind of research help!

Looking for an angle to write about career criminal Tony Mokbel, who escaped the country while on bail and was caught in Greece, I went out for coffee one day and opened the newspaper to see a double page spread about that escape, along with all the silliness it involved. There was my angle. I called the chapter “The Adventures of Tony Mokbel” and it finished the book.

 I keep coming across terrific newspaper crime stories and thinking, “Oh, I wish I’d had that for Crime Time!” Still – there are plenty more stories out there for me to tell.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Shameless self-promotion - Writer In Residence in the Doghouse!

For the next month, I will be taking up residence on the CYL's web site, Insideadog, as this month's Writer In Residence. I'm thrilled to bits and looking forward to it. I've been attending Booktalkers for quite a few years now, so the Centre for Youth Literature has come to mean a lot to me. It has been the place where I've spent a lot of wonderful evenings, caught up with teacher-librarian friends and met/discovered writers - and the great thing is, it all counts as PD for work purposes! Yay!

Now, at last, I'm being recognised as a writer myself, many thanks to Adele Walsh, who, in her earlier incarnation as the blogger at Persnickety Snark, gave my book Crime Time such a fabulous review.

I might not have time to do as many posts here while I'm over at "the Doghouse", but please do follow me over there - join, even! Insideadog is a great web site for anyone interested in children's and YA books - students, teachers and just plain booklovers - and it has become a lot better over the last couple of years.

See you all there!

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Attending a Sunday Book Launch!

I got an email from Dot Tonkin at Random House, in my capacity as a librarian rather than as a Random House writer, letting me know they were doing a launch at the State Library for a new series by John Flanagan, of Ranger's Apprentice fame. The new series, Brotherband, is set in the same universe, but in the country of Skandia, more-or-less Scandinavia. This universe is more or less mediaeval Europe with extras added, such as the fact that there's coffee and turkey and showers in the castle (cold ones, but it's implied there may be warm ones). Well, I couldn't complain; I did the same thing in my own novel. Not with the coffee and other anachronisms, but with imported gods and a religion that was cobbled together. Like John Flanagan, I said, "It's my universe and I can have what I want in it, so there!"

Anyway, as our students enjoy the Ranger's Apprentice series, I let them know about the launch and I decided to go myself. I confess I hadn't read the series - there's so much to read, especially with review books, that I just hadn't got around to it. So I took home the first novel in the series, The Ruins of Gorlan, which I found very readable and finished between yesterday morning and today (it wouldn't have taken me that long, but I spent most of yesterday with family and at the theatre).

I arrived about 1.45 p.m., said hi to the State Library staff and bought a copy of the new novel from the Reading's booksellers in the foyer. There were a lot of children there and they thoroughly enjoyed his entertaining style, as he told them about his writing and how he sold his first book after a lot of rejections and gleefully imagined what had happened at those publishing companies that had rejected J.K. Rowling after she became a hit. He described his way of careful planning before beginning any book (and good luck to him, but if I waited till the whole thing was planned out I'd never write anything. I did do some basic planning for Wolfborn, but never more than a chapter ahead. Each to their own).

The children asked a lot of questions. I'd have liked to know how he does his research, but it seemed only courteous to let the kids ask all the questions. One little boy in my row put up his hand several times and didn't get the mike, so I can only hope he had the chance to ask in the autograph queue.

I joined the line afterwards, with my copy of Brotherband #1 and the school's copy of Ruins of Gorlan and had a chat with a Year 12 girl and her Mum. Dot introduced me to him as a Random House writer and let me have some bookmarks to take back to the library. I told her how much our students had enjoyed Marianne De Pierres' visit and that it was in the school magazine and she said she'd be in touch about some possible more visits next year.

Just before I left, I had a chat with Paula Kelly, the State Library head honcho, who reminded me that Booktalkers in on Tuesday night. I said I'd be there.

I'm sixty pages into the new book, very readable so far, and will be reviewing it soonish; Dot said she'd send me a review copy so that I can have a copy for the library. Young Ali, the current reader of this universe, will be pleased.

Stand by.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Sample Chapter From Wolfborn by Sue Bursztynski

(First published on The Great Raven, my other blog)

Here's a sample chapter from my novel Wolfborn. I meant to put it up some time ago, but haven't had the chance, although I've emailed out some PDF versions on request. Thanks to Random House for allowing me to put it up on my blog as a promotion. Please note, this was a simple copy and paste from a PDF file which can't be reproduced properly on a regular blog site like this one, so I've just removed all the page numbers and copyright statements except the final one. If you want something that looks more like  the book version, let me know and I'll email it to you. Meanwhile - enjoy, and if you want to read more, go out and buy one in the shops or order the ePub version on-line. If you're outside Australia and want hard copy, you can order it from Fishpond. The postage isn't cheap for one, but if you order, say, three Aussie books, the postage works out a lot cheaper.

• prologue •

They executed a werewolf in one of my father’s
inland villages the week I left. There was no question about his guilt; he’d been
taken, in wolf shape, among the flocks, and put in a cage till morning, together with the clothes he’d left hidden in a hollow tree. Nobody saw him change back, but he was found fully clothed in the cage next day, wild-eyed, howling in agony and shaking the bars.
I suppose he could have stayed in his wolf shape, but the villagers knew who he was. It was important to be sure before they did anything; they knew my father would insist on proof, and his dead body alone would not give that proof. Witnesses were needed as well.
It wasn’t illegal to be a werewolf in our region, though it was not much liked, but this one had been destroying the flocks the villagers lived on, and a little girl had been found with her throat torn out. As lord, Father was forced to condemn Pierre – a boy not much older than myself – but he didn’t like it. Neither of us could look into those haunted eyes.
‘I feel sorry for the wretch, Etienne,’ he told me as we rode away, leaving some soldiers to do the dirty work of the execution and the village priest to bless it. ‘He can’t help himself; he was born that way.’
‘Father?’ I asked hesitantly. ‘I heard there’s a race of shape-changers.’
My father gave a sharp bark of laughter. ‘Yes, I’ve heard that too. Perhaps, but I think it’s legend. There are tales of robber barons who signed pacts with the Dark One centuries ago, to make them invincible in their conquests, and their descendants would have the curse; perhaps that’s the origin of that tale. In this case, I suppose someone made a pact far more recently, probably Pierre’s father. He was a wander- ing mercenary who came and went. Many of them are werewolves; it’s useful in their profession. The lords who hire them value their strength and fero- city and they make excellent spies and scouts. They are paid almost double the fee of a normal soldier. Unfortunately, their offspring are often born with the hairy curse – and, as it doesn’t show up till they reach manhood or womanhood, it takes a while for them to be caught. If Pierre’s father had taken him along, he might be learning the soldier’s trade now and be honoured for his abilities. Instead . . .’ He sighed and shrugged. ‘It’s a harsh world, Etienne.’
I was to remember the incident later.

• chapter one •
I hadn’t wanted to go to Lucanne for my training. I didn’t see the point. I had already learned plenty from my father and it was his holding where I would be lord one day. I knew in my heart that I wasn’t going to be a famous warrior. Other things were more important to me.
‘It’s not about being a famous warrior,’ my father had said firmly. ‘It’s about doing your duty as lord to your people. You’re my only son. The kingdom has only you to do what must be done here. I hold these lands of Lord Geraint, and he is the best man to finish your education. And once a year, when you’re Lord of Jervaux, you’ll have to do your duty to the King. These are not the peaceful times when the Rom folk protected us. You’re military caste, lad. Live with it.’

And I was living with it. But I was living with something else, too. Something I hadn’t discussed with my father, something I feared would come out while I was far from my family’s protection. Even if it didn’t, and I returned to marry some neighbour’s daughter, what if it happened afterwards? Happened to my children, if not me?
When I was eight, I got into a fight with the stew- ard’s son and bit him. After we’d both been punished, my mother took me aside.
‘Etienne, you mustn’t ever do that again. The time might come when someone will remember and hold it against you.’
‘Gilbert will hold it against me,’ I’d said, rather proudly to be honest.
‘Yes, he will, but that’s not why.’ She had sent her women to work in the stillroom, and we were alone. Now she picked up her shuttle and continued with her weaving. ‘Listen, Etienne, I come from Lafranc. Your father and I were betrothed at an early age, as our families wished. But there were . . . things . . . my parents never told his parents about our ancestors. It might have led to a cancellation of the marriage contract. And you must never tell your father. He’ll worry and it’s likely that it will never matter. My great-grandfather’s brother was . . . hairy. Very hairy. He disappeared regularly and then . . . he never returned. I think I know why, though I can’t be sure. It happens in the best of families. But in Lafranc, what he was might have led to his death, even if he never did anything wrong. If it happens to you . . . well, we mustn’t give anyone any excuses, do you understand?’
I didn’t understand at the time, though I promised her what she wanted. Later, I heard from my tutor about the race of shape-changers.
Then I panicked.
Armand, the head page at Lucanne, took me tothe kitchen and introduced me to the staff. I would be getting to know them well enough in my duties. An older woman named Lise ran the kitchens effi- ciently, as she had to in a place with so many mouths to feed.
We ate leftover cold meat with bread and sipped cups of ale in a corner of the room, talking while work continued around us.
Armand told me about his home.
‘We only have one manor, near the mountains south of here,’ he said. ‘My sisters won’t have much in the way of dowries. Maybe when I earn my spurs and go home I can persuade my father to let me travel to Lafranc for some bigger mares and a stallion. All we have at home are ponies and you can’t ride those in armour. Well, I can’t!’ He gestured at himself and I nodded. Armand was a tall boy. ‘In Lafranc they have the descendants of Rom cavalry horses. Maybe if my family can breed some, we can earn the money for my sisters’ dowries and I can pay for some real armour . . . What about you?’
‘I’m from the coast,’ I said. ‘Our castle is one of a line protecting the country from invaders, but I don’t remember anything except Ibernian pirates; they turn up every summer and we throw them back. Still, you never know. My parents remember when we had real invaders, Saesneg like the ones who invaded the Djarnish Isles centuries ago. Jervaux is a fishing town. I’m here to finish my education, not start it . . . I suppose my sisters will have dowries enough from our other manors. We have four, one of them not far from here, which my father holds of Lord Geraint. I haven’t seen it in years, though.’
‘And what do you want to do when your education is over?’
‘I don’t know,’ I admitted. ‘It doesn’t matter what I want. I’ll return and protect the fishermen and do my military duties when called upon and marry – probably a girl from one of the near estates, but I don’t know who she will be yet. Perhaps I’ll write down some of the legends of the Jervaux coast.’
He stared. ‘You can write? And you aren’t going to be a priest?’
I laughed. ‘Everyone in my family writes and reads, my mother insisted on it. She even taught my father how. A priest? No, thank you! Anyway, it isn’t an option. I’m an only son. We’re in Notzrian territory and their priests don’t marry.’
I wondered if I could ask him about this place without it sounding like gossip. I was going to be here for the next few years; I wanted to know. Gilles, the Lucanne steward who had brought me here from home, had spoken nonstop, but hadn’t said much I was interested in hearing.
‘Tell me about this place,’ I asked, ‘please? We met Lord Geraint on the road here. He was on his way to fight and Gilles went after him as soon as he had left me here.’
Lord Geraint was quite old, I had noticed – at least thirty – but powerfully muscled under his old- fashioned armour, and he wore his long black hair braided for convenience. He was also incredibly hairy. I had noticed that first.

Armand smiled. ‘Oh, Lord Geraint is good to work for, a good master and teacher. And did you notice his horse? It’s a white mare from Beran, a real beauty. If I could get a few like her for our herds . . .’
‘Most knights only want to ride stallions. What was the fight about?’
He shuddered. ‘Nasty. There’s this baron called Dupré who treats his peasants like beasts. The King gave some of Dupré’s lands to Lord Geraint, but he won’t accept that. We got a message saying he and his mercenaries were burning out the villages on his former lands. That’s why this place is so quiet today.’
‘Mercenaries?’ I asked. ‘What about his levies?’
‘Didn’t you hear what I said about the way he treats his peasants? They’d be useless to him. And nobody holds lands of him if they can avoid it.’
‘Come, let’s go see our lady.’ ‘Thank you . . . It is quiet, isn’t it? Have all the men gone to the fight?’
He sighed. ‘They should have taken me along. I’m good enough, I know I am. Instead, here I am with the women and children!’
I had nothing to say to that. He was a big lad and would probably be starting as an armour-bearer soon
enough. It was understandable that he was eager to be with the men. I found a spot in the boys’ sleeping quarters for my clothes and bedding and fumbled my exhausted way from my dusty travelling clothes into something more presentable, washing the dust from my face and combing my tangled hair with my fingers. It had been a long day, but it wasn’t over yet.
We set out for Dame Eglantine’s solar. Here and there a tapestry hung on the wall, but more to keep out the cold than to decorate the place. This was a working castle; every part of it had a function. My own home was just as practical. With the Ibernians always raiding there was no choice. I felt a little less homesick.
Up some steps beyond the great hall, which was comfortably cluttered with the household war- riors’ living-spaces, lay Dame Eglantine’s solar. She had tried to make it fashionable. There was actually a glass window – a small one, of course – which must have cost a fortune to bring here. She sat prettily among her fosterlings, sewing something attractive but not especially useful; all the real work was being done by the girls and her two waiting-women. She was young – about nineteen, I guessed – recently married according to my father, golden-haired and pretty. Her hands were white, not roughened by work. She had a carefully cultivated air of help- lessness. I supposed it was expected of girls at the Lafrancan court, as she had been. Our lord Luiz was a warrior king and had to be, with the troubles at home and the constant danger of invasion, but those nobles with kin across the mountains in Lafranc sent their daughters to that court, where they could enjoy frivolities they couldn’t have at home. My own mother had gone for a short time, though she had never been affected by it.
My mother regularly got up before dawn to look after a household the size of six inns. If she wasn’t getting in the harvest, helping the steward with the accounts or making sure there was enough preserved food for the winter, she was weaving, working in her stillroom on medicines, or tending sick house- hold members or villagers. She was the second line of defence in war and had once, before my birth, successfully defended the castle against Saesneg raiders while Father was doing his annual military duties for the King.
If Eglantine was capable of any of that, she hid it well. Frankly, looking at her, I doubted it. My
homesickness began to return. What kind of place is this? I wondered.
There was a not-very-good musician playing as I entered, singing some sentimental love song; he sounded as if he’d rather be playing bloodthirsty sagas. Eglantine waved a white hand to bid him pause and looked over at me.
‘Who is this, Armand?’
‘Etienne de Jervaux, Madame. You asked to see him.’
‘Ah, yes. I forgot. It’s easy to forget here. One day is like another. Welcome, child. Come here.’
I went, irked by the ‘child’. I’d spent a long time at home, where I was needed, before coming here to finish my education. I was only a few years younger than her.
‘You’re rather old to be starting your fostering, aren’t you?’
‘My father needed me, Madame. I began my training with him.’
‘Ah. Let’s see, your father’s the Lord of Jervaux, on the coast . . . Your mother was at the Lafranc court with my mother some years ago.’ She sighed. ‘I was there too. One misses it. So much culture. The latest fashions . . . Does your mother keep up?’
‘I don’t think so, Madame,’ I said as politely as I could. I wondered how she could be worrying about fashions and culture while her husband was off fighting, maybe getting killed.
‘Well, we’ll look after you here,’ she assured me. Her girls giggled. She waved to the musician to go on.
‘Come on,’ Armand said kindly, ‘let’s rest for now. We’ll be busy later, when Sire Geraint comes back. He’ll bring the neighbours with him.’
We waited the rest of the day for the soldiers’ return, and most of the night. I was rousted out of my bed when they came in, as we had to help serve food and drink to the hungry, exhaus- ted fighters, while the wounded were attended. There was a kind of late supper, with the kitchen staff finding cold meats and bread from the day before.
I caught a glimpse of the enemy lord, who was brought in, chained, on his way to imprisonment in the cells below.
The Baron was a huge, hairy bear of a man, with a smell like a wild beast and muscles like rocks. His fur cloak was heavy enough – and smelly enough – to be armour in its own right. It would have been easy to mistake him for just another oaf if you hadn’t seen his eyes. I was unlucky enough to see his face as he turned it towards his captor; if the Netherworld was cold instead of hot, you would have seen it in those two chips of ice glaring at Geraint.
‘I am entitled to better treatment than this, de Lucanne! I demand my knightly entitlements.’
‘You forfeited your entitlements,’ Sire Geraint said flatly, ‘when you slaughtered helpless peasants. If you’d behaved like a knight, you wouldn’t have lost those villages in the first place. You can explain it all to His Grace next week.’ He gestured his men to take the Baron away. As far as he was concerned, that was the end of it.
I watched as the Baron went; Geraint had turned to his guests, but Dame Eglantine was staring at the prisoner like a bird at a snake. He glanced back at her, sensing her fear, and opened his mouth in a silent, mocking laugh.
Little bird, that look said, I’m going to eat you, bones and all. He turned away, leaving a chill like a snowy night behind, as if someone had opened the hall door; even his guards were clearly uncomfortable.
Eglantine cringed and huddled against her husband’s side; he took it for a display of affection and squeezed her hand, then spoke to two other warriors.
‘You’re welcome here, Sire Jean and Sire Balin. Without your help, we might not have taken this murderous scum.’
Eglantine gulped, but pulled herself together. I felt my first twinge of sympathy for her. ‘I welcome you here also, gentlemen. Anyone who helps my hus- band is always welcome in our hall. Please sit and eat . . .’
‘Well, he was devastating my lands too,’ Sire Jean said, sitting where indicated. He was a middle-aged man with a red beard and twinkling eyes. ‘A good thing my nephew was here, eh?’
Unlike the other men, Balin didn’t look like a warrior. He hadn’t had time to clean up, so he was soaked with sweat and his clothes were torn, but they had once been elegant. He was about twenty- two and smooth-skinned, with a cap of black hair and grey eyes in a clean-shaven face. He was certainly the kind who dressed fashionably.
‘For how long are you visiting?’ She waved me over to bring him the water-ewer and another boy the wine.
‘Permanently, Madame,’ Balin answered, ‘or at least until I can win some lands of my own. I’m a younger son, you see – very tiresome, but there it is. I didn’t fancy being a priest, so my uncle has offered me a post in his castle guard. I’m hoping to go to war in the Prince-Heir’s retinue next year; that should earn me some honours.’
They were looking at each other with interest. Sire Geraint smiled proudly at his wife, probably seeing Balin’s gaze as simple admiration of her beauty. I wonder if I’m only remembering this with hindsight? I suspect that on the night I was half-asleep, serving automatically, thinking of not much beyond return- ing to bed. I didn’t know these people; I couldn’t possibly have seen then what was going to happen.
During the meal, Dame Eglantine’s musician began to play his harp, already chanting something about the skirmish, improvised to an existing tune. Balin looked pained.
‘Forgive me, Madame . . . is this your household harper?’
‘Yes, he has been in this household for years,’ she sighed. ‘He only knows the old tunes.’
‘Would you permit me to play for the company? I know a few songs that are very popular at court just now.’
Her eyes shone. ‘Oh, please, do! Gaspard, lend Sire Balin your harp.’
But Balin waved it away. ‘I have something better.’ He snapped his fingers and a servant came forward with an instrument bag. ‘I never travel without it.’
He pulled out a pear-shaped box with a long neck and strings stretched lengthwise, and began tuning the instrument.
‘It’s from the east – called al oudh. It has a much more melodious sound than the harp. I got it in Beran, during the Holy Wars last year . . .’
‘You fought in the Holy Wars?’ she asked admir- ingly.
‘The lad went with his father,’ Sire Jean said with a chuckle. ‘I’ll wager there was more danger from flies than from Sarzins, eh, Balin?’
If looks could kill, Balin’s glare at his uncle would have stretched him flat.
‘It was hardly my fault that a peace treaty was signed two days after I arrived!’ Then he recovered himself and forced a laugh. ‘Well, perhaps I distin- guished myself enough today to be awarded some lands, hmm? And I must admit the Sarzins, when you aren’t fighting them, are fine musicians and poets. Here’s a song I learned there, my lady. I’ll try to translate it as best I can.’
He began to sing. If that song was an improvised translation, I’d eat my horse; he probably didn’t even know the original. His voice was pleasant enough, I suppose. From the expression on Eglantine’s face, she thought it a lot more than pleasant.
Of course it was a love song, something about the beloved, a shepherdess, being locked away in the king’s harem (he broke off to explain that the Sarzins had multiple wives) and the lover yearning for her outside. She went downstairs to look for him, even escaped into the city, but could not find him. It was not an appropriate piece for a single man to sing to a married woman, but it was probably every bit as popular at court as he’d said. My mother was always laughing about the stories she heard, about this new form of love that was all the rage, where the woman was always married and the beloved, a single knight (heaven help him if he dared to marry himself!), had to suffer all sorts of humiliations to fulfil her every whim.
‘It’s women’s revenge for being married off at twelve to fifty-year-old knights and becoming their property,’ she’d said more than once, smiling at Father, who was only a year or two older than her and had been betrothed to her when they were both infants.
Whatever it was, I thought it all very silly, but Eglantine lapped the song up. She gazed at Balin, chin propped on her knuckles, her blue eyes wide. Afterwards she said, ‘Oh, you must come, Sire Balin, and sing to us often! It’s such a pleasure to hear the new songs sung – and in such a voice! Don’t you think so, Geraint?’
She turned to her husband, who laughed and said, ‘Now, my dear, we mustn’t insult our poor Gaspard, who has been ignored this evening. Besides, you won’t be seeing much of any of us for a week or two. We’re going to take our prisoner to the King and tell him what has happened before he hears a differ- ent version by rumour. Gentlemen, will you stay for what’s left of the night?’
They agreed and bedding was brought to the hall for Sire Jean’s men – those who weren’t already in bed having their wounds treated. The two knights were offered a room above.
We went back to our beds and our interrupted sleep. Unable to settle immediately, I was staring through the gap in the hanging that separated us from the hall when, to my surprise, I saw Sire Geraint leaving, wrapped in a simple dark cloak. It was not totally black outside, so I recognised the outline of his head, with that distinctive braid hanging from it. For such a big man he was oddly silent, moving more like an animal than a human, not as if he was sneak- ing out but as if it was natural to him. One of the four favourite hounds that were allowed to sleep inside instead of in the kennels sniffed at him, tail wagging,
and made a tiny questioning noise: Can I come too? He put a gentle hand on her head, saying nothing, but she returned to her place and he continued on his way.
Exhausted after the long day, first travelling then being woken to serve the men when they returned, I thought no more of it and fell asleep.

Copyright © Sue Bursztynski, 2010. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior written permission of the publisher.

Sunday, October 09, 2011

Reflective Journal: Literature Circles

Literature Circles has been an interesting journey for me and for my class. I can't say it has always been positive, but definitely something worth doing. As I write this, I'm waiting for my Literature Circles movie to save on to the library computer, allowing me to burn copies - one for the library, one for Cristina, our literacy coach (and we will miss her if the government really does go ahead and scrap this position in schools), one for our head honcho of Sunlit, out school's literacy program - and fellow Year 8 teacher, Janis - and one for the library.

There was plenty of fun and games along the way. As I have a previous post on the start of Lit Circles, I'll just talk about what happened later.

I have a first-rate class, with only a very small number of students who are a bit lazy. Cristina was very impressed with most of the groups. The one group with which we were having trouble was split up temporarily - two of the students were willing to work, so we let them get on with it and gave the others some questions about the book to answer, which they could use in a discussion later. That worked, but itwas getting late in the piece.

We had one student whose reading level was below that of the rest of the class, but she had good friends who were willing to work with her on the book of her choice. Unfortunately, she then went overseas for the last few weeks, leaving the others to complete the task, which they did well, and they enjoyed the book, but it's an experience she has not really had.

Another student had been absent for most of the year, being home schooled, and came back after we were well and truly into the task. I chose a book for him and he took it home to read and then fitted quite well into his group, so that was okay.

The main problem was missing students during class time. It wasn't just a case of illness, but of students who had other duties, such as student rep council meetings and others who had to do rostered duties for sub school. One day the SRC students were busy for a double period and the other group member, who was doing her rostered duties, came back after one period. You can't DO Literature Circles alone, so she offered to get on with another task they were working on.

Then there are sports excursions and illness and so on.

There were students reading way ahead of the rest of their groups. There were things we had agreed they would do while waiting, but that didn't always help. One group asked to please, please get their group mate to read something else to give them the chance to catch up! Luckily, he's a keen reader (the reason he was ahead in the first place) and as librarian I was able to find something to interest him.

And because I really couldn't let them take the books home, for fear they would forget to bring them in or some would finish WAY  before the others, there were some near the end who still hadn't read the whole book.

Still, we had our eight weeks on the task and we finished by filming various groups at work. Even the lazy group had a discussion, thanks to our cameraman, one of the two boys in the group who had been working. Lachlan insisted they discuss a chapter they had all read and filmed it. He panned around the library, which made a nice opening for the film and gave me a chance to put in the opening credits and some music from Jamendo, a web site that has some lovely creative commons music. A tune called "Sunset" by Celestial Aeon Project, was perfect for our needs. As he visited different groups, he started them off with questions. Cristina helped too, but I have to say I was terribly impressed with Lachlan, whom I told later he should seriously consider either teaching or film directing. I made sure he got a credit to himself on the film. A fourteen year old boy and he made a fabulous film!

Afterwards, the class had a look at the raw footage and had a giggle over it. You saw them starting off nervous, then forgetting they were being filmed and doing their discussions beautifully.

I forgot to credit myself as the editor, but never mind. I learned how to use iMovie. It's not perfect - I had a hard time working out how to do the end credits and then I found myself with a double lot - the fixed-up version and the original, but it was midnight and the rest was fine, so I left it. I removed the one that were of no use - such as a student snapping, "Go away, we're not ready!" - and re-ordered them so that each group's snippets were put together. I made sure that the Burn Bright group went last, because it ended neatly with "Well, that's the end of the discussion" and "Thank you" after a humorous exchange between Joe and Cristina about a quote he'd made. The credits listed all the books being discussed and the students in each discussion group, with thanks to Cristina and our volunteer, Hilary, who had been working her way around the groups and encouraging discussion. She wasn't there that day, but will get a copy to enjoy.

It has been a fascinating and satisfying experience.

Monday, October 03, 2011

Wolfborn Book Trailer Up On Youtube!

I hadn't intended to go to Youtube for my student Kristen's book trailer. I put it up on Teachertube, just so she could send the link to the State Library for the Inkys Creative Reading competition, but the first effort I made had no sound and the second, changed to another format as advised, won't open - I keep getting an "access denied" message - on my own channel! I emailed the staff, but have had no reply so far.

 So -  I've given in and put it up on Youtube. There are a few typos there, but Kristen worked hard on it and I'm very proud of her. I hope she will do well in the competition - she deserves it!

How about wandering over to Youtube and taking a look? It's a great little trailer!

Thursday, September 29, 2011

My Video on Youtube

Boy, did I have fun and games loading my first video on Youtube! I decided to read from To Kill A Mockingbird - that wonderful scene where Scout has her first day at school with this pretty young thing just starting out in teaching. I soon found that the two minutes allowed for a Banned Book Week Virtual Readout didn't give me much time to read that scene, so I cut it down to a little snippet which I recorded on Photo Booth. I then followed the instructions and proudly uploaded it as instructed on the Youtube upload page. Er ... yes. It stopped after 40 seconds of the two minutes and when I went to check out the video the synch was appalling. My voice was reading normal speed but the image was rushing along at about a million miles an hour. At this stage I haven't a clue how to delete it, but will do so when I can. Anyway, I then discovered that the .mov format doesn't work well with Youtube. The page suggested that I re-do it as a Quicktime file through iMovie. I did so - and found that I could export directly to Youtube. I followed the link and there I was, large as life and twice as ugly, reading from a banned/challenged book I adore. So here's the link to the complete one and once it's up on the dedicated Banned Books Week channel, you can watch it with all the others. Have a look at it and a chuckle and then how about doing your own? Mary of Bookhounds tells me this could be an annual event. Wonderful!

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Nigerian Scam emails

Don't you love them? I actually collect them at one of my email addresses, with the intention of publishing them on a special blog, eventually, so everyone can have a laugh. You know - the ones that tell you that there's millions of dollars stashed away in a bank account because the owner was killed in a plane crash (although I've been enjoying a couple from daughters of former dictators/kings/whatever) and they are desperate to get it out of the country and can they have your details and they will let you in on it for anything from 30% to 50% of the takings? And the spelling of this supposed bank director is always atrocious, of course. I've never been able to work out how anyone could be taken in by this rubbish. I mean, they say you can't fool an honest person and certainly, anyone who thinks they're going to get lots of free cash for perpetrating a scam overseas is not very honest, but also, why would they think that this email has been sent to them personally by a total stranger instead of to millions of people? Phishing is worse. It's easy to be fooled into thinking your bank is asking you for information unless, a. you know that banks just don't do that by email or, b. you get an official-looking email from the ANZ bank when you don't actually HAVE an account with the ANZ. And then there are the supposed emails from, say Yahoo, threatening to cut off your account if you don't reply within 24 hours. I always say, "Go ahead, make my day", but I bet there are plenty who don't. If it's from Yahoo or Hotmail and my account is Yahoo or Hotmail, why is it in the spam folder anyway? But again, it's easy to be fooled here. No, I just love the Nigerian scam ones, they're my all-time favourite and I only just got my first one in Gmail, right under the fake Rolex ads, the penis enlargers and the ones about Russian women who are desperate to make your acquaintance. I need the laugh.

Banned Books Week!

I have on my computer desktop a folder labelled "Banned Books Week". Some time ago I thought I might try a class activity centred around it. I never got around to it but once more it is Banned Books Week, as I was reminded by taking a look at Mary's Bookhounds. My class is on term break, but I believe there are things you can do yourself. One of them is to read from a banned or frequently challenged book and upload it to a special Youtube channel. I'm going to have a go at this, perhaps tomorrow when I can haul out some of my favourite banned/frequently-challenged books - and heavens, it's amazing what's on the list! I'm spoiled for choice. So let's all do it! Fish out the web cam and the favourite banned book and start reading NOW! Or go to an Internet cafe and use their web cam? Let's show we support such books as Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, The Catcher In The Rye, To Kill A Mockingbird, Phillip Pullman's Northern Lights/The Golden Compass and hundreds of others! The Banned Books Week web site has links to the ALA web site which has lists of banned classics and frequently challenged books for the last ten years. The Banned Books Week web site has instructions for how to upload your virtual readout video. If anyone reading this does it, please get in touch and I'll put in a link both to your site and your virtual readout. Go on, don't be shy! I know a lot more people read this web site than comment, so how about coming out and making yourself known? I will announce when I've done my virtual readout and pop in a link. By the way, do go take a look at Bookhounds. It's an excellent blog and updates more often than I do.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

More SheKilda

First posted on The Great Raven: On October 8th I will be doing two panels at SheKilda, the second women's crime convention to be held in Melbourne. My co-panellists will be Goldie Alexander, who has written far more books than I have, for younger kids, and the wonderful Catherine Jinks, author of a wide variety of YA novels in a huge variety of genres - SF, fantasy, mystery, ghost stories, historical fiction (the fabulous Pagan series set during the Crusades) - you name it, if it's a YA genre she's probably written about it. The convention itself should be terrific, if it's anything like the last one. People would yell out, "SheKilda!" and others would respond "No she didn't!" There were some great guest speakers and there was even a panel on fan fiction, with Kerry Greenwood admitting she wrote the stuff just for herself, very steamy, while Jenny Pausacker was happy to admit that she, too, wrote fan fiction and published it on-line. Also steamy. ;-) I met a lot of people I knew, because SF and crime fandom overlap. The con committee are all SF fans as well as crime writers/readers. I remember the time we all went off to see the Star Trek movie in Gold Class and afterwards walked around Borders putting our books facing outwards. Well, the others did - and they had to do mine as well, I was too embarrassed! (Hides face while Cecilia Dart-Thornton finds a copy of Crime Time and faces it outwards...). Come along if you can. It will be a great weekend. Check it out on the web site - SheKilda Again - and there's a single day pass if that's all you want to attend. The program is up so you can decide what you want to see. Come and hear me? :-)

Saturday, September 10, 2011

9/11 - I remember

I posted this and saw that it's still September 10 on the side of the world where Blogger is located, but here in Australia it's September 11.

As it's the tenth anniversary of 9/11, I thought I'd just reminisce a little. I was working at the senior campus of my current school at the time. The students were asked not to have a go at their Muslim classmates, of whom we have plenty at Sunshine College. None of them did, although one young Muslim student was laughing his head off and celebrating - only one, but he was enough for me. He had a lot of respect and liking for me, knowing that whatever my background, I was not his enemy. I had told him that if I could leave the Middle East war at home, so could he. I let him know that his behaviour was unacceptable - and so did the Principal, when she heard.

We had a student whose brother was living in the US and working in the World Trade Center, but because there were so many phone calls being made, her family had to wait all night to find out what had happened to him. In the end, he was fine - he had apparently been late for work that day because he was sleeping off a hangover! That was one lucky hangover.

There were, as I recall, a lot of people writing letters to the newspaper saying, "Oh, well, I don't condone it, but we have to understand why it happens."

Sorry. As far as I'm concerned, to say that is to condone it. Besides, the young men who committed that massacre - let's call it what it was - were not poor refugees, they were from wealthy families. What's to understand?

Religion - all religion - has a lot to answer for. And I say this as someone who quite likes my own religion.

Welcome, Paul!

Hi Paul,

Welcome to my first blog! It's my general blog, though - I tend to put stuff here that's been on Livejournal (or vice versa!). The blog on which I put most of my literary stuff is The Great Raven, which has built up over the years into a fair review blog for YA and spec fic books.

But hang around here as well; I will shortly be posting my thoughts on how the Literature Circles worked out. On Friday we filmed some of the kids having discussions - well, one of my students did, anyway; he was more familiar with the camera than I am and asked questions of each group to get discussion started, very competently.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Census Night is coming

My census form has just been delivered and I've taken a browse through it. I was with my mother earlier in the day when her form was delivered and the gentleman assured me it was okay to do it before next Tuesday, which is the official census night, as long as you can be sure who will be with you in the house. That's good because it means my sister and I can do it for her tomorrow night.

It would be nice if they could explain why the form is the way it is. I assume some of the details are so they can know what to build where and which communities need help in what.

Thing is - what do they mean by "ancestry"? How far back are we talking here? A century? Last year? What would I write anyway? I'm not Polish, despite my name. My ancestors lived in Poland but came from elsewhere and weren't treated as Poles anyway. What help is it to the government to know that my great grandparents lived in Poland? Maybe I should put "Khazars" which is quite likely! :-). You know - Arthur Koestler's "thirteenth tribe" who were the ancestors of lot of Poland's Jews - but Dad's family came from Spain in the fifteenth century...

Then there's the religion angle. I know it's not compulsory, but that isn't my issue. Why do they need to advertise seven brands of Christianity anyway? These leave no room for anyone else except Islam and Buddhism. The rest of us Hindus, Jews, even some other brands of Christianity have to go under "Other" along with the Jedi Knights and sun worshippers! I find that offensive, I admit.

At least they acknowledge unpaid household work. Thank heavens for small mercies.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

HAUNTING VIOLET By Alyxandra Harvey. London:Bloomsbury, 2011

Alyxandra Harvey is best known for her popular Drake Chronicles series, about the likeable family of vampires, the Drakes, with all those truly hot sons and an ass-kicking martial arts mother. They’re among the few vampire books I enjoy, mainly because they have a sense of humour and aren’t really about vampires biting people but about fights between various vampire clans, ranging from those who think humans are cattle to those who, like the Drakes, are happy to get their blood without harming anyone.

In Haunting Violet, Ms Harvey moves from present-day rural America to Victorian England, when séances were a regular part of middle-class entertainment and there was an entire spiritualist movement.

Violet Willoughby's mother is a phoney medium, making her living from convincing grieving families that she can communicate with the late Horace or Amelia. Violet has been helping out in the business since childhood, unhappy but knowing there isn’t a lot she can do about it. It’s a living –and her domineering mother is scary! While at a house party where her mother is expecting a triumphant performance, Violet is horrified to find that there really are ghosts – and she can see them. Even worse, the most persistent ghost is the murdered twin sister of one of the other guests. If Violet doesn’t find the murderer, the killer may strike again.

It’s either solve the mystery or end up an old woman with the carpet still dripping with the water in which the body was dumped - that's if she isn't murdered herself!

Despite the gloomy cover, there is plenty of the over-the-top humour that makes the Drake Chronicles books such fun to read. The image of Violet turning up at a society ball in her soggy, muddy underwear after fleeing the murderer is unforgettable. The class structure of the time as seen through Violet’s eyes is bizarre but funny. It's wise to set this in Victorian times, when it might be possible to get away with a murder of this kind. If it had happened in the present day, the forensics team and detectives would be all over the crime scene before coming to the conclusion that it was an accident - especially with the victim having bruises at throat and wrists.

Definitely recommended!

Monday, July 18, 2011

My first follower on this page!

Welcome, Emily!

I was very surprised to find a follower on this, my general page, but I'm pleased to have you here.

I'm trying to update this page and put a little more on it than in the past, but I suspect you discovered it because of the book review. Actually, most of my reviews appear on - The Great Raven - which is the web site I keep for YA fiction and such. This one is more Livejournalish. :-) So if you would like to take a stroll over there, you'll be made equally welcome.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Changing Yesterday By Sean McMullen. Melbourne: Ford Street Publishing 2011.

In Before The Storm, Liore and Fox, two young cadets from a dystopian future travelled back in time to 1901 Melbourne, to prevent a terrorist group, the Lionhearts, from blowing up the first Australian Parliament. The disaster will start a century-long war which the British Empire loses, resulting in a militaristic society and six billion deaths.

The time travellers were helped by four local teenagers – siblings Daniel and Emily, artist Muriel and petty crook Barry. They succeeded in preventing the explosion, but as this book starts, the Lionhearts are trying again. It is clear that whatever happens, history is going to try mending itself.

The situation is not helped by some personal disasters. Muriel and Fox run off together to Paris, breaking Daniel’s heart, and Barry runs off with Liore’s advanced weapon, with plans to make money on it. When Daniel’s parents send him off to England and Barry must flee Australia one step ahead of both the murderous Lionhearts and an enraged Liore, the action starts all over again, this time moving out of Australia.

Changing Yesterday , like Before The Storm, is a deliciously entertaining romp with a steampunk flavour. Despite the seriousness of the situation – the world could come to an end, for heaven’s sake! - there’s plenty of humour here. Emily is replaced as a protagonist by a young woman from Ballarat, Madeline, who has a yearning to become a private detective and just might make it. Liore may be a spectacularly good warrior, but she has no idea how to relate to others. She badly needs a local ally and Madeline is perfect for the role. Characters need to learn some life lessons – Liore comes to regret having had affection cut out of her genetic make-up while Daniel needs to become stronger.

Sean McMullen is well known for his bestselling adult speculative fiction, but his last few YA novels suggest to me, at least, that this is a promising new direction for this author. Here’s hoping he will continue to write for teens!

I’m inserting here a guest post Sean did at From Hook to Book, Christine Maree Bell’s blog. It will give you a fascinating insight into the research he did for this novel.