Includes book reviews and bits from writer's journal. For the professional stuff, see website link below.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

My Interview at Smashwords

(a request to my readers)

I had to devise a self-interview as part of my profile on Smashwords, where my latest poetry book is published (actually a collaboration with Jennie Fraine and Helen Patrice: THREE CYCLES OF THE MOON).

You can read the interview here. I request that you please do so, and please tell me in the comments at this blog post whether there are are other questions you would like me to answer.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Falling for Flavia – Book review

While detective fiction isn't my top favourite genre, I can stand a bit of it now and then – in a wide range, from Agatha Christie to Matthew Reilly. 

11-year-old detective Flavia de Luce, as written by Alan Bradley, is something else again. I have rapidly fallen in love with her.

She had me from the very first sentence I read, but I'll give you this excerpt from early in the first chapter of THE SWEETNESS AT THE BOTTOM OF THE PIE (the first book in the series) to show you why.

    The eyes, as blue as the birds in the Willow pattern, looked up into mine as if staring out from some dim and smoky past, as if there were some recognition in their depths.
    And then they died.
    I wish I could say my heart was stricken, but it wasn't. I wish I could say my instinct was to run away, but that would not be true. Instead, I watched in awe, savouring every detail: the fluttering fingers, the almost imperceptible bronze metallic cloudiness that appeared on the skin, as if, before my very eyes, it were being breathed upon by death. 
    And then the utter stillness.
    I wish I could say I was afraid, but I wasn't. Quite the contrary. This was by far the most interesting thing that had ever happened to me in my entire life.

How could one not adore a girl like that? She is the girl I should have wished to be, if I'd been a lot smarter and wiser than I was at 11. But I did have one thing in common with her: a singular passion from an early age. Whereas mine was (and is) poetry, Flavia's was chemistry. She was especially fascinated by poisons – and their antidotes. Flavia is tough-minded and sometimes vengeful (particularly towards the two older sisters who torment her) but far from evil. And she is good at solving murder mysteries.

Yes, these books are in the 'mystery' sub-genre, and it's fun to watch Flavia assemble the clues. She tends to be several steps ahead of the police by means it doesn't occur to them to use. On the other hand, her favourite policeman, Inspector Hewitt, usually arrives at the same place at the same time by more orthodox methods.

The stories are set in the nineteen-fifties, in an English village, and are full of cultural references I am old enough and literate enough to enjoy. Flavia is quite well and widely-read – with some unusual preferences – and was born in the same year as me.

I see from the Wikipedia entry about him that her author, Alan Bradley, was born a year earlier and was brought up with two older sisters, which no doubt gives him a lot of insight into Flavia's sibling situation. He certainly gets into the mind of an 11-year-old convincingly, and I never questioned Flavia's gender. I still don't – heck, Flavia is REAL. 

My friend, author Leah Kaminsky, once said to me about reading fiction, 'I don't care about story; what I love is language.' I love language too, and think of people like Markus Zusak, Carmel Bird and Leah herself as shining examples. Also I need the story to be sufficiently interesting. But I have realised that the aspect which fascinates me most in any novel is the characters. Flavia is a winner! 

I encountered her via two books mid-series which I picked up at the library. Books in this series are stand-alone enough to be read out of order, but I so loved Flavia that I had to go back and start over at the beginning, and I certainly plan to complete the rest – ten so far, but that doesn't daunt me as they are so readable. 

They are designated Young Adult, I see – correctly, I think – but in my local library are also shelved with adult fiction. I like reading Young Adult books anyway; also, as a former children's librarian, I firmly believe a good book for children of any age is one that can be enjoyed by adults too. (Incidentally, another thing that endears Flavia to me is her notion that heaven is a place where the library is open eight days a week.)

I am far from her only devoted admirer. There's a fan club, and talk of a TV series, and Flavia has won Bradley several literary awards. 

I'm glad to note she is still only 12 in the tenth book. It wouldn't do to have her ageing too fast!

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Three Poets, One Book

Jennie Fraine, Helen Patrice and I are old friends who like each other's poetry. In fact we all met through poetry.

Once upon a time (in the early eighties?) back home from a few years living in Africa, Jennie turned up to a poetry reading at a pub in Collingwood, Melbourne, organised by the Melbourne Branch of the Poets Union (as it was then). I was one of the organisers of the evening. We Union poets sat up and paid attention when this newcomer read. Hey, this is good stuff, this is really interesting! 

That was the beginning of our long and deep friendship. We even shared a house together for a while, when we both found ourselves surprisingly single after expecting to be partnered for life. We shared it with her young children too. (Mine were university students no longer living at home.) That was in 1992.

But before that, in the late eighties, Helen attended a poetry workshop Jennie was running. My first book, UNIVERSE CAT, was one of the teaching aids. Helen, a lover of cats as well as poetry, was impressed by my title poem and asked Jennie if she could have my address to write and tell me so. 

That was my very first fan letter for a poem. Of course I was thrilled. I wrote back to say thank you. Then I met Helen in person when I was a guest presenter at Jennie's workshop one night. Pretty soon we were great mates as well, and over the years have seen each other through all sorts of major life experiences.

(By a sweet coincidence, Jennie and Helen each have one son and one daughter, and I happen to be godmother to both their daughters.)

Jennie and Helen made their own connection, and after I moved away from Melbourne it was natural that, on my visits back there, I should sometimes meet with them both together.

Eventually facebook became a great way of staying in touch between times. And then a woman on facebook, Maggie Strongheart (what a wonderful name) got the idea of forming a group and inviting people to write about their relationship to the moon every day for a month and post the writings on the group page. This of course meant paying attention to the moon every night. She was interested to know if we would find reflections in our lives of what the moon was up to in the heavens.

Helen, Jennie and I, being poets, of course decided to do so in verse. We liked our own and each other's results so much that, at one of our Melbourne reunions, we decided to collaborate on a book. We all read each other's and our own moon poems and ticked those we thought good enough to be included – an easy way of arriving at consensus. 

The arrangement, the sequence, editorial suggestions to each other, the Foreword and 'About the Author' pages – all proved easy. Helen had a friend, John Davis, who had taken some wonderful moon photos and agreed to let us use one. We knew we needed a professional cover design, so we hired our friends at Content X Design whom Helen and I had worked with before. We were offered various options and all agreed on our preferences. We are very pleased with the resulting cover.

Then came questions of how and with whom to publish. The other two liked paper books. I persuaded them to try it as an ebook first. Smashwords seemed the best people to do it, because they're free, they offer some distribution, and they make the book available in a variety of formats to accommodate whatever device people are using

But formatting our manuscript according to Smashwords' preliminary requirements seemed like a major task when I looked at what it entailed. I had blithely told the others I would handle it, but after some procrastination I chickened out and we asked CXD to take care of that as well.

And so finally our book is in the Smashwords catalogue, available to buy for a mere $3.99 USD – which I think is a terrific price for something which is not a chapbook but a full-length collection by three different poets.

I read it through from start to finish today. It was months since I last did that, what with focusing on all the technical stuff, so it was almost like coming to it new. I tell you what – it's a really good book! We are all strong poets, with individual yet compatible voices. Although the poems originate with the moon, they encompass travels, love, memories, world events and personal adventures. They range over past and present, and sometimes foreshadow the future.

We say in our Foreword:

Helen and Rosemary are witches, so moon-consciousness was already part of their lives. Jennie, who describes herself as earth-bound and pragmatic, nevertheless lives her life open to possibility.

And yes, it did seem to me that my day-to-day life in some ways reflected what was going on with the moon. But perhaps that was natural, when I was so conscious of her every nuance.

For a sample viewing, or to give it to someone or buy it for yourself, click on this Smashwords link.