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Mondayitis – Towel

I don’t know why I always end up with Queenie. There are other towels. She always leaves me on top of the locker. This makes it hard for the manager. This year the manager is Sister Bear. She was not happy being manager. Sister Bear worked hard all year. She handed out drinks. She handed out towels. She collected balls. Sister Bear even handed out uniforms and collected them after the showers.
It was hard work. Getting me down from on top of the locker was hard too. sister Bear found the teasing so hard.
One day she got mad. She kicked everything in the showers before going outside and kicking the bucket. She kicked it all the way to the coach. Coach Brown was so impressed with her kicking she put her on the team! Sister Bear was so good at kicking, she kicked lots of goals.
Too Small For The Team

The Berenstain Bears: Too Small For The Team by The Berenstains

Jonathan Strahan

If you’ve been paying attention you will have read my gushing review of The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year Vol 8 edited by Jonathan Strahan. I’m not certain gushing quite covers my feelings on this book. I was delighted when the editor agreed to answer a few questions for me. After reading his thoughts you should buy the book.

How did you get into editing anthologies?

I started editing back in the early 1990s. I had been co-editing and co-publishing a small press magazine, Eidolon, with some friends which involved keeping up with everything that was happening in Australian SF at the time. When a major publisher decided to start up a new SF imprint, Voyager, my friend and co-editor Jeremy Byrne and I pitched the idea of editing an Australian “best of the year” series for them, and they went for it.  We did it for a of couple years, before moving on to other things.  My real big break, though, came when I was having dinner one evening with Karen and Bob Silverberg. They were editing two best of the year series for Byron Preiss’s iBooks, but Bob was looking to focus his energies elsewhere. Somewhere over dinner they asked if I’d like to do co-edit the books, and everything snowballed from there.

Do you need to be an accomplished author in order to edit anthologies or will any type of writing experience (or inexperience) do?

While some of our greatest editors have been writers, many haven’t. Certainly there are different kinds of editing and different kinds of editors, and while I can see that writing experience can help, I don’t think it’s essential. A number of our major editors aren’t writers, like Ellen Datlow and Ann VanderMeer. The most important thing, to me, is being an analytical and informed reader. You need to be able to read a story and look at how it might be improved or enhanced in a way that supports what the author is trying to do with the story.

Jonathan Strahan editor extraordinaire

Where do you source the short stories from? Do people send them to you unasked or are they already published elsewhere?

The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year series reprints science fiction and fantasy stories that were published anywhere in the world in the preceding year in the English language.  I source the stories from websites, magazines, anthologies, short story collections, gift cards – just about anywhere that they might appear. A lot of time goes into searching for stories, as you can imagine, and I put out a call each year inviting anyone to send me stories they’ve published, written or read that they think I should consider for the book.

How many would you read in a year?

I don’t keep track of the exact number, but I would look at several thousand stories every year, slowly winnowing them down to the final group that end up in the book.

When do you find the time to read that many?

I try to be organized about it. I read every day, and try to fit it in around everything else I have to do. I also have found that over time I can pick up pretty early when a story is or isn’t going to work for me.  Sometimes it only takes a page or two, so while I start to read several thousand stories, I don’t necessarily finish all of them. That helps with managing the time involved.

Do you ever have the problem of being so stuck in a short story that you can’t read another one immediately? If so, how do you manage to move onto the next one?

I find I sometimes need to take a little break at the end of a story, just so I can approach the next one fresh, but mostly I don’t have a problem. The real issue is that every few months I just yearn to read something longer, so I stop to read a novel or watch some TV, just to freshen my mental palate, but I’m usually ready to get back to the next story pretty quickly.

Do you have a favourite author? If so, please spill the beans.

I always say no to this because I have different authors I go to for different reasons. For a chunk of my childhood Robert Heinlein was my favourite writer, mostly because I loved his characters and the sense of adventure in his stories. I find his books more problematic looking back at them from the perspective of adulthood, but at the time they were the thing.  In my late 20s and early 30s Howard Waldrop and Lucius Shepard were my favourites, and I devoured everything they wrote.  You haven’t lived till you’ve read Howard Who? or The Jaguar Hunter. I’m less sure of the answer these days, though.  I read so much more widely, and there’s so much to choose from.

Do you have a favourite story? If so, why?

The greatest reading experience I can remember is when I first read Lucius Shepard’s novella “R n R”, which appeared in an issue of Asimov’s in the mid-80s. Shepard was on a streak at the time, producing a string of brilliant stories that were setting the field on fire, and this hallucinogenic, immersive masterpiece just hypnotized me. I can remember reading the opening of the story and being left almost shaking at the end of it. I’ve not re-read the story in 20 years, and I still remember it like I read it yesterday.

Are you ever tempted to edit a short story before you anthologise it? Is this appropriate or should you just leave it as it was previously published complete with typos?

Every story I included in the Best of the Year is copyedited to make sure there aren’t any typographical or other errors. Sometimes that simply involves correcting a typo or two, or making sure something’s consistent, but occasionally it involves some minor editing. Sometimes there are changes between the original published work and the version I reprint, but usually those come from authors who want to take the opportunity to fix something that’s been bothering them or that they’ve noticed since the original publication of the story.

When is your next book being published? Either an anthology or your own work.

Next up is Fearsome Magics, an original fantasy anthology I’ve edited for Solaris. It’s a sequel of sorts to my World Fantasy Award nominated anthology Fearsome Journeys, and includes some great stories. I’m also working on volume nine of the Best of the Year series and a new “Infinity” anthology.

Can you do the Safety Dance while reading short stories or is that something you reserve for long fiction?

I can dance the safety dance while reading a short story or a novel, and if I can’t, I leave them behind, because if I couldn’t dance when reading a story or novel it’d be no friend of mine.


AWW 2014 – signing up

I’ve finally bitten the bullet and have joined AWW 2014. This is the Australian Women Writers Challenge and is aimed at getting people to read female writers in Australia. While I don’t have any particular focus here my aim is to read four books by Australian Women Writers by the end of the year. I’ll be starting as soon as I can with Elianne by Judy Nunn.

I’ve pinched the following from the Australian Women Writers Challenge so you can see what they’re about.

The 2014 Australian Women Writers Challenge was set up to help overcome gender bias in the reviewing of books by Australian women. The challenge encourages avid readers and book bloggers, male and female,

Australian and non-Australian, to read and review books by Australian women throughout the year. You don’t have to be a writer to sign up. You can choose to read and review, or read only. (Suggestions for what makes a good review can be found here.)

The challenge will run from Jan 1 – Dec 31, 2014. You can sign up at any time.

Please join me and sign up, I’ve only chosen a modest number as it’s so late in the year and my To Be Read Pile is almost as big as me so I don’t wish to add too much to that but if you have more time you can pick a much bigger challenge. In case you’re wondering what makes a good review they have some thoughts here. You don’t need a blog to join us, if you have a Good Reads account that’s good enough as you can put the reviews on Good Reads.

NBBF14 – The Books!

At the National Book Bloggers Forum we were regaled by the publishers of Penguin Random House about their favourite books they’re publishing this year. When I say ‘regaled’ I mean haranged as we were a captive (and willing) audience, they were very excited, not just to be publishing these books but to be sharing them with us. The excitement was lovely to see as it showed us the publishers were in the job for the love of books rather than just for the money. Part of the enjoyment of the day was how everyone in the room shared the same passion, not just the bloggers but the Penguin Random House People.

Here’s a list of the books presented to us:

A Fatal Tide by Steve Sailah (I’ve already read this one but as the publishing date is 1st August 2014 you won’t see a review of it just yet)

Eden by Candice Fox

The Writing Life by David Malouf

My Story by Julia Gillard

He Who Must Be Obeid by Kate McClymont & Linton Besser

Seven Letters from Paris by Samantha Verant

Who Knows Tomorrow by Lisa Lovatt-Smith

Air Wars by Doug Nancarrow

Hooked by Samantha X

Australia’s Hardest Prison by James Phelps

Chasing the Valley 3: Skyfire by Skye Melki-WegnerSkyfire

Intruder by Christine Bongers

Are You Seeing Me? By Darren Groth

Silver Shadows by Richelle Mead

Masquerade by Kylie Fornasier

Afterworlds by Scott Westerfeld

Cop Town by Karin Slaughter

Courting Trouble by Kathy Lette

Bones Never Lie by Kathy Reichs

Personal by Lee Child

Time and Time Again by Ben Elton

Sapiens by Yuval Harari

OttolenghiPlenty More by Ottolenghi

So Anyway by John Cleese

Messiah Complex by Russell Brand

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki by Haruki Murakami

Perfidia by James Ellroy

The Children Act by Ian McEwan

Magisterium by Cassandra Claire and Holly BlackMagisterium

If I Stay by Gayle Forman

As you can see, there’s something for everyone. Some of your favourite authors are in there and I’m sorry, but I don’t have the publishing dates. They didn’t just give us the titles but also read out a bit about the books, unfortunately I’m too slow to get all the details for you so you’ll just have to wait.

The publishers were:

  • Bev
  • Meredith
  • Fiona
  • Zoe Walton
  • Felicity
  • Karen
  • Peri

Friday Photos

The exciting Judy Nunn, our special surprise guest. Can't wait to read her book.

The exciting Judy Nunn, our special surprise guest. Can’t wait to read her book.

Look what greeted me when I got to Random House's offices! A lovely array of books all colour coded.

Look what greeted me when I got to Random House’s offices last Tuesday for the National Book Bloggers Forum! A lovely array of books all colour coded.

Found some of our own Trudi Canavan at the Tullamarine Airport book shop. She's in good company here.

Found some of our own Trudi Canavan at the Tullamarine Airport book shop. She’s in good company here.

National Book Bloggers Forum 2014 being published

We were given so much information about being published I can’t possibly write it all down but I’ll do some of it. We heard from Random House Australia Managing Editor Brandon VanOver who gave us so much information in such a short time there was no way I could write most of it down. He spoke quickly and in shorthand, I’d like to hear that all again but over two or three sessions to ensure he breaks it down and speaks more extensively about each section.

We heard from Sneh Roy. She writes on Cook Republic and has been writing her blog for ten years, that’s double my five years! Yes, I can do that kind of maths. She’s young, with young children and has discovered she needs to be very focussed while they’re sleeping or at school. Each of her articles takes between four and six hours to write but that does include cooking and photography, she’s a self-taught photographer. Her dishes not only look delicious but they are, she brought in a burnt butter slice for morning tea…just delicious. Roy won the 2013 Best Australian Blog Competition, her prize was a half hour with Brandon VanOver, who, after speaking with her for a few minutes took her straight to publishing, I could put on weight looking at her first book so I tried very hard not to do more than look at the front cover.

One of the things I’ve learned looking at her blog is to put in the personal. She has around 500 words per article as well as several photos and then the recipe. There’s a lot of personal information in there as well as her personality, it just shines through. Bit a of challenge for me as I don’t like to include too much personal details anywhere on the web, I like to give my family their privacy.

Bruce McCabe managed to overhear a conversation recorded by an insurance company in the UK…I’m going to make a few people very paranoid right now…where they have a lie detector hooked up to the phone and everytime it thought the caller was lying the phone operator would get a coloured light indicating this. He then thought ‘what if…’ and write his techno-thriller Skinjob. He was nice enough to wander through most of the day and talk to us during the break, even describing his book to me as a cross between Dan Brown and Michael Crichton, I hope he’s wrong about Dan Brown as he was one author I really struggled to get through.

McCabe’s story was fascinating. He decided not to go through normal publishing channels as he wanted to get the book out into the reader’s hands quickly so he first published in Kindle version with US spelling, then he published a print book and struggled to get it into shops. He spoke with the people in Berkelouw’s bookstore in Dee Why, NSW who said ‘we read every book we sell’ and they did actually read his book, they then put it on their shelves and helped him get it into other Berkelouw shops. As an aside, I love the idea of a bookshop that is so behind every book they sell, that seems so ethical to me. From there the book was read and passed onto other people who passed it on still further and eventually McCabe received an email from J.K. Rowling’s agent essentially saying ‘I want to sign up as your agent’. From there it was a very small step to being taken on by Random House.

One person I want to talk about is Judy Nunn. She was our surprise guest author, I’ve seen her on many TV programmes as she’s a great actor and it was very exciting to see her so close to me. She’s an accomplished author as well having written 12 books. The opening of her talk was us listening to a man’s voice talking about her book and I’m listening to this voice thinking how familiar it is, she told us it was her husband, Bruce Venables who has also appeared on my TV screens on many occasions.

Nunn was fascinating. She looks to many different places for inspiration including buildings and is the despair of her publishers as she rarely has a title before the end of her book. Publishers like to have a title so they can get the cover done and start some advance publicity, the more advanced publicity you can do the more books you can sell. Her book is set in the sugar cane industry in Bundaberg, QLD in the 1960s, a totally fascinating time and place so I’m very keen to read it. The sugar cane industry is one place that should have been written about long ago.

Bookshops seem to be more selective than they used to be so fewer copies of each book are being printed at any one time. I think they said they used to print 10,000 copies of a book but now start off with 2,000. That’s great for the trees and the environment but not so good for the author and publishing industry. On the other hand, ebook sales are up to 20% and this has only happened in the last few years. If they all sell they can easily print more copies but with the printing industry it’s the set up that’s the expensive part, once you’ve got the book set up it’s as easy to print 2,000 copies as 10,000 so the more copies you print at any one time the cheaper per copy it becomes. This makes it harder to bring down the price of the book.

Just before I finish for today. Monday I’ll share some of the secrets and tricks to improving SEO and promoting your blog we were given and Wednesday I’ll talk about the publishing staff and their favourite picks they shared with us. There is always more information on Twitter and if you check the hash tag #NBBF14 you’ll see a wealth of tweets from many of us as we listened.

National Book Bloggers Forum 2014

Today I’m on the way home to Melbourne after a very exciting day spent at Random House in Sydney. It was a wonderful day, I had a blast, made some new friends and thanks to Penguin Random House exceeded my baggage allowance for my flight. This is a photo of my loot.



They did what any self-respecting organiser of conferences does nowadays and had free wifi for everyone on site encouraging us to tweet as much as we liked. It was fascinating to follow the hash during the day. I’ve been to ProBlogger blogging conferences and I’ve been to Digital Parents Conferences as well as Nuffnang conferences but this was the first one where I felt able to follow along with the Twitter stream. It was incredible! I’ll give you an overview today and go into more detail using the Twitter stream to remind me.

Our opening address was by Brett Osmond, the director of Random House Australia’s Marketing and Publicity Department. He started by talking about the books he’s been reading.

He was followed by Eva Bui and Ellie Morrow who talked about improving SEO, Google Analytics and promoting your blog. This was packed full of information and I only hope I can reproduce enough of it. I was intrigued by our expectations, some of us thought the digital gurus should be male but these two people we’re drop dead gorgeous females…what stereotypes.

Sneh Roy won the 2013 Best Australian Blog Competition, she came in and talked about her journey. Her blog is about cooking and it came to no surprise to find morning tea included a beautiful burnt butter slice made in an oven in her back yard…very bad for the waistline.

Various Penguin Random House publishers were very enthusiastic about the books they’re most excited to publish this year. I’ll name drop in a future article.

Judy Lynn was our surprise guest author, we had no idea until she came through the door, she began her presentation with a video narrated by her husband, Bruce Venables. I was chuffed as I’ve seen both of them on TV and was almost as close to her as I could possibly be.

New author, Bruce McCabe, spoke about his journey to being published by Random House. I look forward to reading his book, either it’s incredibly good or he’s just incredibly lucky.

Random House Australia’s Managing Editor, Brandon VanOver, shared some inside secrets to getting published. I felt this was a letdown, I could easily have listened to him for another hour, he spoke so fast and in shorthand in order to get it all in.

I enjoyed each presenter but I felt the time passed far too quickly. The whole day felt like two hours but the clock assured me I’d been there from 9 am till 5 pm.

Mary Grant Bruce

Last week I did an interesting thing. I was supposed to pick up some Keffir Grains from a friend, unfortunately, she wasn’t there. I shrugged my shoulders, with an ‘oh well’ turned around and found all the op shops. I didn’t buy much, one op shop had some badges I added to my collection and another had a couple of books from the Billiabong series by Mary Grant Bruce. These are excellent books and I bought them straight away as I was fairly certain I had a buyer. These are the books:

A Little Bush Maid and Mates at Billabong by Mary Grant Bruce

A Little Bush Maid and Mates at Billabong by Mary Grant Bruce

I listed them on the group and tagged the potential buyer, she already had these ones but it sparked a lovely and amazing conversation about Mary Grant Bruce. Consensus was that she wasn’t a gifted writer but she somehow managed to capture the generation that was around at that time. Not the whole generation but those with money who pined for ‘the old country’ and expected to move back to England so they sent their young boys to be educated there.

To give you some context let me review some history here. Australia was claimed by the British in 1788 only 100 years before Mary Grant Bruce was born. We started off as a penal colony, Britain were emptying their jails and sending all their unwanteds here, this only stopped in the 1840s; one of my ancestors was on one of the last hulks at that time but must have been released as he died in England. We did have some free settlers during that period but when Bruce was born she was born into a land that had still been recently settled with some rather ‘unsavoury’ characters; probably all of them had finished their sentences and settled into life in Australia, many became farmers or worked for others. Bear in mind a lot of these convicts had been sent here for stealing a loaf of bread or something else trivial. If you want to get some idea of what life must have been like in that era I’d suggest reading Against The Wind; also a TV series from 1978 I felt it gave a good impression of what life must have been like…except they were too clean in the series.

Until 1901 Australia was a handful of colonies, we became a Commonwealth only nine years before Mary Grant Bruce published her first novel, A Little Bush Maid. That’s when we really got ‘organised’ as a nation while we were still very divided, the states were beginning to come together as a cohesive unit but the people were divided into immigrants and Aboriginals…who am I kidding, we’re still separated into immigrants and Aboriginals.

Mary Grant Bruce started writing before World War I when many people still expected or hoped to be going back to England to live. That seems to have changed following World War I.

The Billabong books are generally set on a farm in country Victoria. The Linton Family were welcoming of family and friends, they were all very capable and Norah was treated like a man in many respects but she was still expected to get married and have children, although living on a farm meant she’d have to help out with some of the men’s jobs.

There are some exchanges I’ve always felt to be rather Australian such as the following:

“You duffer!” growled harry, steadying his rocking bed. “Hurt you?” – this to Norah.

“No, thanks,” Norah laughed. “What’s the matter with you two?”

“Got an idea,” Wally gasped, fanning himself with a pine cone.

“Hurt you?”

“Rather. It’s always a shock for me to have an idea. Anyway, this isn’t mine – it’s Jim’s.”

The feeling that thinking could be painful is something that has been a thread running through my childhood, I always thought it came from my father’s side; they’ve been here since 1858 so have really grown up with Australian ideas.

As you can see from the exchange it’s not the best English but it is colloquial and does give a good idea of the rest of the series. The non-speaking parts are better put together more informative. The picture Bruce paints of the Australian landscape is rather lovely with delightful colours.

Anyway, I’m going to leave it there. They are a good read despite everything I’ve said. I have some other Australian books on my bookshelf and I’ll talk about them another time.

Herbert W. Franke

This is another article in the series Authors I’ve Never Heard Of, although I lie a little as his name does ring very slight bells but I can’t figure out why.

Thank you to for the image.

Born in 1927 in Vienna, Franke is an Austrian scientist and a foremost science fiction writer in his country. This just proves, yet again, that scientists make the best science fiction writers.

He doesn’t have a lot of writing to his credit but he has received the Deutscher Science Fiction Preis…twice…and the Kurd Lasswitz Prize…three times…among other prizes. A bit challenging for me to read his works as I struggled to find one in English but if German is one of you skills and you’ve read his books I’d love to hear what you thought.

If the internet is to be believed he was publishing as recently as 2007 at the grand old age of 80!

Writer’s Festivals

I’m sure there are festivals for writers throughout the world but I’m only focussing on four of them today.

The one I’ve been trying to get to every year since I first heard of it is the Melbourne Writer’s Festival. Running from 21st August to the 31st August you’ve still got time to block your time out in your diary as they won’t release the programme until 18th July.

If you’re in Sydney you have very little time as it’s happening this month. The Sydney Writer’s Festival is on between the 17th and 25th May. You’ll need to get your skates on and hope the events you want to attend aren’t booked out.

Both of them are brilliant events and I drool every year wishing I could make at least one event. Once you’re on the mailing list you’ll hear about things much earlier than this. They generally put out a call for staff and volunteers a few months prior, it would be an awesome opportunity to expand your horizons.

While we’re talking about Sydney and Melbourne, you can also find the Sydney Jewish Writer’s Festival running on the 23rd and 24th August.

Melburnians can attend the Melbourne Jewish Writer’s Festival from the 31st May to the 2nd June.

I can’t see myself attending any of these events as I’m flat out in May, I might see what I can do about booking something in August for the Melbourne Writer’s Festival but I’m behind on things now and I don’t see how things will be any better in August.

If you know of any other writer’s festivals happening throughout Australia please comment below. Or, if you’ve managed to attend one of them I’d love to hear from you, maybe you could write an article for me.

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