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.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

First draft written!

First published on Livejournal

I've done my first draft of "Call Him Ringo", my attempt at short historical fiction for an anthology. I spent two days in the State Library researching the Beatles visit to Melbourne, prices of groceries, what was on at the movies and the theatre at the time, what was happening in the world at the time. I knew I wouldn't use more than a small amount of what I'd found, but the human interest stories in the Sun (now the Herald Sun) were far better for my needs than the rather dry articles in the Age, a paper I much prefer to read in the present day. If it hadn't been term holidays I would have had to go in after a long day at work and leave the writing for the weekend. back to work next week, so I'd better get on with the other stories I have in mind, while I can. "Call Him Ringo" is going to sit there for a while, percolating, till I can look at it again and decide how much of a rewrite it needs before I submit it. I really hope it does sell, because there's not much call for short historical fiction for teens these days. Perhaps I can extend it to a novel, later.

By the way - movies at cinemas in Melbourne in June 1964 were "Lawrence of Arabia" and "Cleopatra", among others. "Camelot" was happening at Her Majesty's in Melbourne and "Carousel" at the Princess. You could buy three tins of salmon for 1/6 at SSW (fifteen cents) and if you spent more than thirty shillings at Spotless Dry Cleaning (very hard, by the way! The cost of every service they offered was a lot cheaper than that) you got a free Beatles beaker, suitable for hot drinks.

Bob Dylan had a new album out - it was reviewed in the Sun - and was fairly new himself.

Women in Victoria weren't allowed to go on juries. Teachers had applied for equal pay for women and been knocked back.

The Vietnam War was looming on the horizon. There were a few Australian advisers there already and in November that year, Australia started to draft boys.

And on a page of the Sun that had the young woman who'd written an 812 page letter to the Beatles say she was starting another one, there was an article about an earthquake in Japan. Right next to her smiling photo. :-(

It made me feel more comfortable with the era, more able to write about it, but there was no need to show off as some historical writers do - "Hey, look how much research I did!"

And then there's oral history. It turns out my brother-in-law Gary was at the Southern Cross on the day the Beatles came out on the balcony - and because he couldn't get a ticket, he simply stood outside Festival Hall. He was a student teacher at the time. I wrote him into my story, as I've done before.

Fingers crossed it sells!

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Literature Circles and Analysis

First published on Livejournal

Who would ever have thought kids would be analysing my fiction? :-)

I have a year 8 class, a very good one for the most part - there are two or three lazy students who have recently started to realise that I have to write reports and guess what, I have nothing on which I can report, but most of them are very good students. Can't believe my luck this year and will enjoy it while I can. Next year i think it will be back to normal - some terrific kids, some average and a few horrible.

We have to do Literature Circles this year instead of the class novel and I'm the first one on our campus to try it. I have been struggling to figure out how it works, but yesterday Cristina, the school's expert on the subject came over and did my entire double period with them to get them started. I'd made a start on getting them to choose novels. They had to choose three in order of preference, something I hadn't understood when I first got the instructions, but now do - when you get one kid asking for a novel that has to be read by a group, it's just not possible. So they can have their second preference. Not all of them got their first choice, but it's interesting to note that they've more or less fallen into groups according to what they can handle, after I told them that they should choose not what their friends wanted but what they wanted. Some of them did end up in friendship groups, but they were the capable ones who could handle the harder novels.

One student was so keen to start, she went and got a copy from the local library! I told her that was up to her, but she'll end up having to read it again if she and the others are to discuss it a bit at a time. Fortunately, she hasn't read that far into it yet.

Before they could begin, they had to have a practice session using a short story they'd all read, with the lady who was being our guest speaker.

I chose my own story, "Mega-Wombats And Demon Ducks" from the Worlds Next Door anthology, not just because I am so familiar with it, obviously, but because it was at a reading level even the lowest-level readers could handle and it didn't come across as a simple story. I got them to read it in class a week ago, then brought the copies to the class.

Cristina took them through the various roles that Literature Circles have. Basically, it works as a discussion like a Book Club one, but with everyone having a job to do to contribute to it. She used bits from the story to get it started. My jaw dropped as I listened to my students getting into passionate discussions about various aspects of the story. And this was just the practice session! One girl turned to me and said, "Miss, can you please write another chapter of this so we can find out what happens ten years down the track?" She and another student were arguing about what might happen to the over-the-top computer program in the story, devised by a small computer genius. Nothing I could say would convince her that the little girl would be bored with it and have devised plenty more by then, as small children do - get bored, I mean. So I promised to write a sequel at some stage if they'd get on with discussing what Cristina had asked them to.

I am so, so glad that they didn't hate the story! :-)

Thing is, the kids are used to my being a writer. They know that Miss writes books and that they can borrow them from our library. One new teacher told me that she'd been startled to find my name on a book cover and the students had said casually, "Oh, yes, that's her, she writes books." So it's just a case of deciding if they like THIS one or not. And I think they did, and enjoyed the practice run.

Let's see if I can handle it without Cristina.