Mini-reviews

As the end of the year approaches and I desperately attempt to catch up on telling you about what I’ve been reading, may I present another bunch of mini-reviews…

Grimsdon (2010) and New City (2014) by Deborah Abila
9780857983220   9781742758558
Is it possible for a book to be both a dystopian sci-fi and a charming kids’ story? These two tales certainly manage it. Plus they throw in some environmental messages. A captivating read about kids in a flooded city after an environmental disaster, and their subsequent move to a new city as refugees.
thriveThrive (2015) by Mary Borsellino

An intriguing YA dystopian novel. Interesting characters and world, but the story is a bit disjointed and oddly paced. I enjoyed it, but it didn’t quite gel for me. It’s one of those books that I really wanted to love more than I actually did.

9781760154035300 Minutes of Danger (2015) by Jack Heath

Ten linked short stories that are fast-paced and EXCITING! Suspense, danger and action are the driving forces here. I love the concept of linked story collections like this. You get the immediacy of short fiction with the bigger picture of longer fiction, all in one book.

9780575086937Patient Zero (2009) by Jonathan Maberry

This is the first book in the popular Joe Ledger series, about a cop who goes to work for a special ops government agency, The Department of Military Sciences. This is a hard-edged, fast-paced techno-thriller about terrorists using a bio-weapon that turns people into zombies. Ledger is a wonderfully engaging character and Maberry is a master of this genre. The rest of the series is lined up on my to-be-read pile.

51gqzolrwll-_sx354_bo1204203200_Just Plain Cat (1981) by Nancy K Robinson

A nice story about a young boy and his newly acquired pet cat. Below this surface story are family relationships and the experiences of starting at a new school. All handled with quite a lovely old fashioned touch.

9780994469335Zombie Inspiration (2016) by Adam Wallace, illustrated by James Hart

Mad, bonkers fun! During a zombie apocalypse, with much brain-eating, Adam, James and Stacey run, hide, dispatch zombies and learn a little about themselves. A unique and innovative idea, this book is linked to an online course about using zombies as inspiration to be all you can be. Check it out!

9781741663099The Laws of Magic: Moment of Truth (2010) by Michael Pryor

This is the second-last book in Pryor’s wonderful, magical, engaging and totally awesome series set in an alternative history Edwardian period, where magic and science co-exist. I love then so much, I’ve been reading one book a year in order to try and make them last. I’ll read the final one next year.

thumb_cover_not_just_a_piece_of_cake_jpgNot Just a Piece of Cake: Being an Author (2015) by Hazel Edwards

Hazel Edwards, author of the famed picture book, There’s A Hippopotamus on Our Roof Eating Cake, has dipped into her own life story for this engaging memoir. It has a lovely conversational tone that makes you feel like you’re privy to a private chat rather than reading a book. Edwards doesn’t shy away from difficult topics, presenting a warts and all story. Loved it!

9780994358356Hijabi Girl (2016) by Hazel Edwards and Ozge Alkan, illustrated by Serena Geddes

Fiction, especially children’s fiction, can do extraordinary things. It can often achieve outcomes that no amount of lecturing or shouting from rooftops can. It can be enlightening while also being entertaining. It can promote understanding while also telling a good story. And this is what Hijabi Girl does. It’s a good story about kids in a school. Like all kids they have their friendships and difficulties; they deal with teachers and teasing; they have their likes and dislikes. They are ordinary kids doing ordinary things. But one of them happens to be Vietnamese. And another is a Muslim girl who wears a hijab. The cultural differences among these kids are simply part of everyday life, along with all the other little differences between them. One character likes soccer, another likes drawing; one character is into princesses, another likes Aussie Rules footy; one character eats rice paper rolls, another eats only halal food; one character has a pet rat, the others don’t; one character wears a hijab, the others don’t. In the end, difference is not only accepted, but celebrated. As it should be in real life. More kids books like this please!

Catch ya later, George

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Launching Michael Pryor’s Machine Wars

Machine WarsIn May this year, I had the great pleasure of launching Michael Pryor’s middle grade science fiction novel Machine Wars. The launch took place at Merri Creek Primary School in front of a room full of upper primary kids and their teachers. Here’s what I said (without all the ums and ahs and unplanned pauses as I lost my spot in the notes)…

When Michael Pryor asked me to launch his new book, I was very excited, for a number of reasons…

  1. I’ve known Michael for a number of years, and I think he’s a nice bloke.
  2. He launched a book for me about 3 years ago, so this was my chance to return the favour.
  3. It provided me with the excuse to ask him to launch my new set of books in a couple of weeks (see previous post).

But most importantly…

  1. I got a free copy of Machine Wars… before it was released! Cool!

Actually no — there is another more important reason…

  1. I’m excited to launch this book because I’m a fan of Michael’s writing.

10 FuturesI loved following Aubrey Fitzwilliam’s adventures in The Laws of Magic books. I was amazed by Tara and Sam’s century-spanning friendship in 10 Futures. And now I had the chance to go along with Bram and friends as they faced a potential machine war.

Yes, I was very excited indeed!

Of course, now that I had agreed to launch the book, I was faced with a bit of problem. How do you launch a book like this? How can I convey its awesomeness?

After several weeks of head-scratching, I finally figured out what it was that I had to do.

I would get you, the audience, to use your imaginations. After all, imagination is an important part of both reading and writing.

So… you all ready? Okay?

Imagine the utter terror. Imagine the heart-pounding, adrenaline inducing fear. Imagine being attacked by a toaster! Or a laptop computer! Or maybe even a vacuum cleaner!

Got that? You imagining it? Are you feeling the fear? No?

Okay, that probably doesn’t sound all that frightening, does it? I mean really — what’s a laptop gonna do to you? Snap its lid closed on your fingers? Oh yes… that would inspire utter terror!

But…

What if that laptop got together with the toaster and the vacuum cleaner and a few other ordinary household appliances? And what if they merged? Amalgamated — to form something new. Something dangerous! Something deadly.

A robot was standing in the ruins of my home. It wasn’t some super-futuristic metal humanoid, though. This was a robot mashed up out of household appliances. It had two arms and two legs, but instead of a head, Mum’s old laptop was perched on a neck that was a bunch of springs. Its limbs were basically Dad’s golf clubs bound by electrical cords. What got me most was that its body was mostly out vacuum cleaner. That purple tornado-packed vacuum cleaner as a robot? What was it going to do? Clean me to death? I fumbled for my bike while keeping one eye on this robo-thing — this junkbot.

Michael PryorSo, let’s imagine some more, okay? What if your home was destroyed by junkbots? What if you were being chased by junkbots, and killbots and a super-smart artificial intelligence that controlled the whole Internet? And then imagine that the safety of the entire world depended on you not getting caught.

Well, you don’t actually have to imagine it. Michael’s already done that. All you’ve got to do it read it.

And you should read it. You should all read it. I’m talking to the grown-ups as well. Because it is a seriously awesome book, with frightening robots, thrilling chases, big explosions and some really cool ideas. And at its very core… is friendship. Because if you’re going to make a stand against a machine army, it helps to have friends by your side.

And so with that, it is my great pleasure to, to, to… declare Machine Wars launched, launched, launched, launched, launched, launched, launc…

Explanation

Okay, that last bit really doesn’t work so well in print. The launch finished up with a little bit of theatrics from Michael and I, as I pretended to be a malfunctioning robot which he had to switched off. Ah… you had to be there. Trust me… it was all good on the day. 🙂

Oh yes… and Michael brought along his own personal robot to help with the book signing (see photo).

Tune next time to read about the launch of LynC’s Nil By Mouth.

Catch ya later,  George

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Launching a book

YouChoose_cover01A book launch is a common way of celebrating the publication of a new book. As well as being an excuse for the author’s friends and relatives to get together for a bit of congratulating, it can also be a good way to kick start the book’s promotions. Sometimes they are organised by publishers, sometimes by the author and sometimes by third parties. Oh yeah… and they’re usually a heap of fun!

It’s traditional, at a launch, to have a guest do the launch speech — another author, a celebrity relevant to the book, maybe even a politician. There’s often food and drink. And there’s always book selling and signing.

I’ve been to lots of book launches over the years — as author, guest launcher and spectator — and they’ve always been fun. Over the course of this and two other posts, I’m going to focus on a few particular launches. At two of those launches I was the guest speaker, and in the subsequent posts I’ll write up my launch speeches for those books — Michael Pryor’s Machine Wars and LynC’s Nil by Mouth. But in this post it’s my own launches that I’m going to write about.

April 2014 saw the publication of the first two books in my You Choose series — The Treasure of Dead Man’s Cove and Mayhem at Magic School (there are more of them, now). Two launches were held to herald the arrival of these books. The first was organised by a bookstore. This is the one that my friends and family came along to. The second I organised myself to coincide with my author visit to Yarra Road Primary School. Since I was going to be at the school doing a series of writing workshops, the school offered to host a You Choose launch at their assembly. A launch in front of a massive audience — an entire school full of kids and teachers. Very cool!

At both events, fellow author Michael Pryor delivered the launch speech.

So, what actually happens at a launch? What does the guest speaker say? What does the author do? Well, I can show you. I have a vid of the launch at Yarra Road Primary School…

And, just in case you haven’t had enough, here are the launch vids for two of my three Gamers books. Carole Wilkinson launched Gamers’ Quest in 2009, but I neglected to video the event. 🙁 I made sure I was better prepared for the subsequent launches.

Michael Pryor (hmm… him again) launched Gamers’ Challenge in 2011…

And Meredith Costain launched Gamers’ Rebellion 2013…

Okay, so you’ve been overloaded with videos of my book launches. You can relax now… the next two launch-related blog posts will be about other people’s books. 🙂

Tune next time to read about the launch of Michael Pryor’s Machine Wars.

Catch ya later,  George

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Superheros and a magical genius

Wild CardMany books these days are part of a series. And a fair chunk of my recent reading has been made up of such books. My favourite type of book series is one in which each novel is a separate story, as opposed to one long saga broken down into instalments. I like these books to have continuity and story elements that span the series… but having a story with a beginning, middle and end, all in one book, is rather good.

So today, I’m going to tell you about two such books — book two in Steven Lochran’s Vanguard Prime series and book three in Michael Pryor’s The Laws of Magic. Two very different books but both excellent in their own way.

Vanguard Prime is about superheroes. The first book, Goldrush (see: “Vanguard Prime to the rescue“), introduced us to Sam Lee, an ordinary teenager who suddenly finds himself acquiring super powers and joining the ranks of a quasi-military group of superheroes. In the second book, Sam teams up with fellow Vanguard Prime hero, the Knight of Wands, to go on a personal mission against an organisation calling itself The Major Arcana.

Where book one was an introduction to the world of superheros through the eyes of Sam Lee, book two, Wild Card, is an exploration of the Knight of Wands’ past as well as his frame of mind. I found the more personal nature of this second mission very engaging. And I also found myself becoming more accustomed to the perspective-swapping present tense narrative that I found a little distracting with the first book. It was good to get some insight into the history and motivations of one of the other Vanguard Prime members, and the Knight of Wands is certainly the superhero with the darkest and most mysterious past.

Wild Card is a good read. Fast paced and entertaining, but with some depth to what could easily have been cardboard cut-out characters. And as a bit of a pop culture junkie, I loved all the references that Lochran has peppered this story with — from Comic-Con to Star Wars. This book is also an easy read… I think Vanguard Prime is a great series to hook in reluctant readers.

Book three in the Vanguard Prime series, War Zone, is due out in September this year. I’m looking forward to it.

The Laws of Magic, by Michael Pryor, is an older series. The final book came out in 2011… I’m just a little late to jump onto this bandwagon. And what a magnificent bandwagon it is. Pryor has created a superbly detailed alternative Edwardian world, where magic exists alongside science. Into that world he has placed memorable characters, complex plots and a fascinating set of magical laws. The series centres around a gifted young aristocratic magician, Aubrey Fitzwilliam, who, due to over-confidence and a dose of arrogance, has placed himself in a rather tricky situation. I loved the first two books (see “Michael’s Blaze of Glory” and “Pryor’s Gold”), and I can say without any doubt that I loved this third book just as much. I’m looking forward to reading the remaining three.

Word of Honour is as enthralling a read as its predecessors. Pryor’s prose is a joy to read and his created world is a joy to explore. The characters we’ve come to know and love are back, facing a dastardly new plot — but is it the work of Aubrey’s nemesis Dr Tremaine, or is someone else behind it? Well… I’m not going to tell you. Go read the book! You won’t regret it!

Catch ya later,  George

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Favourite SF books – Pryor & Haynes

I’m a science fiction fan. I have been since primary school. As a kid I used to almost exclusively read science fiction. These days I read of mix of things — but, no matter how far my literary interests may wander, I still find myself being drawn back to science fiction.

The book that started it all for me, in primary school, was The Wonderful Flight to the Mushroom Planet by Eleanor Cameron. (I wrote about it earlier this year for Michael Pryor’s blog — see post.) And in my teen years, it was John Christopher’s trilogy The Tripods that was my most re-read favourite (see “Tripods Rule!“). These days, I would still probably list that trilogy as my all-time favourite literary SF. In terms of visual SF it is, of course, Doctor Who.

For this post I thought it would be interesting to ask three other authors what their favourite science fiction books were.

I started off with Michael Pryor. Although he is probably best known for his steampunkish alternative history series The Laws of Magic, he also writes science fiction. In fact, his latest book is science fiction. 10 Futures is a book of linked short stories, exploring ten different possible futures in which the only constant is friendship. But what is Michael’s favourite science fiction book?

My favourite Science Fiction book is Dan Simmons’ Hyperion. It’s audacious (recast The Canterbury Tales in an SF mode? Why not?), scary (the Shrike monster haunted my dreams for months after I first read this book), philosophical (not just one, but half a dozen of the Big Questions are tackled in this book), pacey (the chase and battle scenes are first class), moving (heartbreak, romance, parent/child loss, this book can make you cry), and written with a supple, dancing prose that sings with every sentence. Great book.

Next up we have Simon Haynes. Simon is well-known to SF fans as the author of the Hal Spacejock series. More recently, he has ventured into science fiction for younger readers with his Hal Junior series. There are three books in this series so far: The Secret Signal, The Missing Case and The Gyris Mission. I am reliably informed that he is working on the fourth at the moment. Here are Simon’s thoughts on his favourite SF…

Choosing a favourite SF novel is all but impossible, so I’m going to cheat and nominate my fave SF novel from my childhood years.  William F. Temple was a British SF novelist who once shared an apartment with Arthur C. Clarke. He wrote a number of novels for adults, but it’s his series for teenagers, written in the mid-50’s, which really captured my imagination. The first in the series was Martin Magnus: Planet Rover, featuring a crusty troubleshooter aged in his 30’s, who hated authority and bureaucracy, yet was smart enough and skilled enough to get away with being abrasive to just about everyone. However, he also had a big heart and would go to the ends of the Solar System to help someone he genuinely liked. The technology in the books has dated, of course, but the stories are still inventive and great fun.

Finally, I asked Paul Collins, author of dozens of books, including the science fiction series, The Maximus Black Files. In his enthusiasm for the genre, however, Paul was unable to contain himself to one paragraph. So he gets his very own guest post. 🙂 Come back tomorrow to find out what his favourite science fiction book is.

Catch ya later,  George

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Five Very Bookish Questions with author Michael Pryor

Which genre of children’s books do you like most and why? I like Fantasy and Science Fiction most of all, and that’s because I call these ‘Literature of the Imagination’. The boundaries are limitless, the horizons are extended, and the stories are grander. Kate Forsyth and Garth Nix are great examples of the sorts of writers I’m talking about, as is DM Cornish. His Monster Blood Tattoo series is wondrous indeed. I ended writing things like my Laws of Magic series and the peeking into the hundred years ahead of us in 10 Futures because I love this sense of imagination unbounded.

Which books did you love to read as a young child? As a young reader, I was first caught by books like The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and The Hobbit. After I read these, I wanted more, and eventually found The Lord of the Rings and Robert A Heinlein’s YA Science Fiction books – Time for the Stars, Red Planet and many more. I also loved the whimsicality of The Wind in the Willows and The House at Pooh Corner’, while my all time favourite picture book is Where the Wild Things Are.

Which three attributes make for a great children’s book?

1. The book must engage the reader.

2. The book must linger with the reader once the reading is finished.

3. The book must introduce the reader to something new. An example? Terry Pratchett’s The Wee Free Men. It’s funny, exciting, a real eye opener with its magic, and it makes you think about who you are and your place in the world.

What is your number one tip for encouraging children to read? Read good books. That is, books that appeal to you, that are fun, or scary, or thoughtful, depending on the sort of thing you like. It’s easy reading good books, and enjoying good books lets you know that reading is fun.

Name three books you wish you’d written.

1. Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer

2. Coraline by Neil Gaiman

3. The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien

About Michael

Best-selling author of the Laws of Magic series, Michael Pryor was born in Swan Hill, Victoria, and currently lives in Melbourne. He has worked as a drainer’s labourer, a truck driver, a bathroom accessories salesperson, an Internet consultant, a software developer, a textbook publisher, in a scrap metal yard and as a secondary school teacher.

Michael has published more than thirty popular and critically acclaimed novels, more than fifty short stories, and has over one million words in print. His work has been longlisted for an Inky award, shortlisted for the WAYBR award and six times shortlisted for the Aurealis Award. Seven of his books have been awarded Children’s Book Council of Australia Notable Book status.

www.michaelpryor.com.au

 

 

 

Launching with fame

If you ever manage to get someone famous to say nice things about your book… for goodness sake, get a record of it. I wish I had thought to do that at the launch of Gamers’ Quest, back in 2009. Carole Wilkinson, author of the Dragonkeeper novels (Blood Brothers being the latest) gave a lovely launch speech… but at the time, flustered and nervous as I was about the launch, it never occurred to me to record it. I have learnt since then.

When the sequel, Gamers’ Challenge, was launched by Michael Pryor (author of The Laws of Magic series) in 2011, I made sure to ask his permission about videoing it and distributing it on YouTube. And, of course, I did the same last month when Alison Goodman (author of Eon and Eona) launched the new edition of my YA short story collection, Life, Death and Detention.

In preparation for this post, I hopped on to YouTube and did a bit of searching, and I was devastated to discover that I was not the first author with the foresight to record and upload a book launch. 😉 If you like book launches, go take a look. But here’s one I picked out for you. It’s Jack Heath, author of The Lab and many other books, launching KJ Taylor’s The Shadow’s Heir. The vid is handheld and a little shaky, but it’s a great speech.

KJ explains that one of the reasons she asked Jack to launch her book, was that he was a good “speechifier”. And she’s not wrong.

I did something a little different with my latest launch video. I divided it, separating my speech from Alison Goodman’s. I figured that people were more likely to watch shorter vids, and I was curious to see just how many more ‘watches’ Alison’s would get — after all she is waaaaaaaaay more famous than me. I’m now hoping some of that fame rubs off. 😉

Anyway… may I now present for your viewing pleasure, the wonderful Alsion Goodman launching Life, Death and Detention

Now, here’s my speech from that launch. It was a little more wordy than Alison’s, and my camera cut out in protest before I finished. Everyone’s a critic!

And for old time’s sake, here’s Michael Pryor launching Games’ Challenge last year…

Catch ya later,  George

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Pryor’s Gold

Last year I finally got around to reading and reviewing the first book in Michael Pryor’s The Laws of Magic — a rather splendid YA blend of steampunk and magic called Blaze of Glory. Earlier this year I read the second book, Heart of Gold, and now it’s time to tell you about it.

Heart of Gold continues the adventures of Aubrey Fitzwilliam, teenaged son of Albion’s Prime Minister. He is resourceful, magically talented, a touch on the arrogant side and with a knack for being in the wrong place at the right time. Together with his best friend George, he sets off on a holiday to the Gallian capital of Lutetia. Although the journey has been partly inspired by the prospect of visiting Caroline Hepworth (the object of his affections), who is studying in Lutetia, it soon turns into a series of errands for other people. But with the looming threat of war, political intrigues and espionage are not far away. It seems that a quiet holiday is the last thing that Aubrey and George are going to get.

In my review of Blaze of Glory I waxed lyrical about Pryor’s use of language, his wonderfully detailed and original setting and his intriguing characters. Heart of Gold takes these things and runs with them. It is exciting and thoughtful and a joy to read. I particularly like the fact that Aubrey has a serious lapse of judgment in his dealings with Caroline. His behaviour is extremely selfish and unlikeable. And yet he is still, overall, a likeable character. It is a nice touch in the humanisation of Aubrey.

What particularly struck me when reading this book, is the epic quality of the greater story. You see, like the Harry Potter books, these novels are each individual stories that come together to create a greater whole. Reading Heart of Gold I could see the seeds of future plots. The villain was revealed in the first book, as were his goals… and you can see his influence all through the events of this book, even though he is not physically there.

I’m only two books in to this six-book series, but I can feel the excitement mounting. I can’t wait to find out what happens next. But I can also sense the upcoming loss. After two books I have become emotionally invested in the characters… and I know that their journeys will conclude in just four books time.

Reading a great series of books can be such a bittersweet experience.

And I wouldn’t want it any other way.

Catch ya later,  George

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Michael’s Blaze of Glory

In my last post I told you about my worries in reviewing Michael Pryor’s Blaze of Glory (see “Aubrey Fitzwilliam and the reviewing dilemma”). And now here I am, throwing caution to the wind, putting pen to paper (or, more accurately, finger to keyboard) and reviewing this book. Here goes…

Blaze of Glory is the first volume of The Laws of Magic. It had me right from the opening…

“Aubrey Fitzwilliam hated being dead. It made things much harder than they needed to be.”

Aside from the opening and the exciting plot, there are three things, in my mind, that make this book exceptional.

One: The setting.

It’s alternative history, set in an Edwardian-esque time that never was. It’s a timeline where magic has developed alongside science. In fact, magic is approached in a scientific way, with laws governing its application in the same way as other rational laws, such as the law of gravity. It is codified and experimented with, just like any other scientific discovery.

As the world teeters on the brink of war, political machinations and personal bids for power form the backdrop for this novel.

It’s an intriguing world that Pryor has created. Full of wonderful detail and originality, it is quite unlike any other setting I’ve come across in a fantasy novel. The setup of “the laws of magic” is fascinating, and its great the way they are revealed within the context of the story rather than just being stated right at the beginning.

Two: The language.

I love the language Pryor has used. It’s old-fashioned yet accessible, often slightly tongue-in-cheek, and wonderfully appropriate for the historical setting.

“The entrance to the Fitzwilliam residence was grand. A sandstone portico that would have done justice to a minor pagan god sheltered the door from the elements. The door itself was painted a glossy, dark blue. A bell pull on the wall didn’t draw attention to itself, but was there for those who were brought up well enough to know what to look for.”

Three: The characters.

Aubrey Fitzwilliam is a seventeen years old schoolboy, gifted magician and son of former Prime Minister, Sir Darius. He also happens to be sort-of (but not quite) dead. He is ably assisted by his best friend — fellow schoolboy George Doyle. Their friendship has the ring of truth about it, and often comes across as rather ‘Holmes-and-Watson’. These two are the perfect heroes — loyal, likable, but flawed. It is very easy to let them carry you away on their adventure.

There are a host of other wonderful characters, from Aubrey’s family to his rivals at school, from his father’s political allies to the royal family of Albion, from the likeable to the villainous. Caroline Hepworth is particularly interesting — a suffragette, a pilot and an expert at hand-to-hand combat, she is the girl that Aubrey has eyes for.

Blaze of Glory has quite an epic feel to it. It sets up much that will, no doubt, be dealt with in the remaining five instalments. I can’t wait.

Catch ya later,  George

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Aubrey Fitzwilliam and the reviewing dilemma

I’ve just read a book that I absolutely adored and I really want to tell you about it. But I know the author. In fact, he launched my latest book just last month. So what do I do? This is a dilemma that I often face because I am both an author and a reviewer of books.

Many reviewers have a policy of not reviewing books by authors who they know personally. Fair enough! It allows them to maintain an image of impartiality.

But, being an author myself, I happen to know (or at least have met) many other Australian authors. I write for kids and teens — and the children’s writing scene in this country is reasonably small, and most people seem to know each other to some extent. So, if I were to exclude books by authors I know, a good half or more of my reading list would be un-reviewable. So I can’t do that.

I know other reviewers in a similar circumstance to myself. And I know that some choose not to review books by authors they know, unless they are able to give them an honestly favourable review. If I were to lay my cards on the table, I would have to admit to occasionally doing this. Sometimes, when I know that my opinion on a certain book may cause grief and difficult times, I will choose not to review it. But that doesn’t happen too often. Mostly, I will just review honestly, whether I know the person or not.

Not that I would ever completely trash a book. I know how much work goes into writing, and there is no way that I would completely negate the work of any author. And most books, even if I don’t particular like them, will contain within their pages something worth praising. But, I will also point out anything that I didn’t like, and why.

I often find myself worrying that readers may think that I’m saying nice things about a book simply because I know the author.

So we come to my current dilemma — Blaze of Glory, the first book in Michael Pryor’s series, The Laws of Magic, which follows the adventures of Aubrey Fitzwilliam. I can’t write about this book without being gushingly complementary. It’s that good! But I know Michael. Okay, so we’re not, like, best buddies. I don’t hang out at his place every weekend. But we are pleasant acquaintances. We chat when we meet at bookish events and I happen to think he’s a nice guy. The problem is that he launched Gamers’ Challenge for me last month, and he said lots of really nice things about it (you can watch the vid here, if you’re curious).

So… when people read my review of his book, will they be thinking that my review is a kind of literary payment for his launching of my book? Because it’s not! I ALWAYS review honestly!

Then again, maybe I just worry too much? Maybe no one cares? Maybe no one even noticed that I know a lot of the authors that I write about… until now that I’ve brought your attention to it, that is. Hmmmm!

Anyone have an opinion on this?

And don’t forget to tune in next time for my gushingly complementary review of Blaze of Glory. (Does that count as a spoiler?)

Catch ya later,  George

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Waiting for the end of the series

I’ve always had this philosophy regarding any series of books — I would never start to read the first book until the final one had been published. That way, I would not have to wait the twelve plus months between books — the twelve plus months during which I would forget vital plot points and character nuances. Instead, I could just read one book after another, from beginning to end, and achieve a sense of continuity and completion. But things have changed.

I’m a reasonably patient sort of person. I usually don’t mind waiting, even if it is several years between book one and the final instalment, before starting to read a series. This is the way that I have read many a trilogy. The first time that I broke my own rule was with the Harry Potter series. Seven books resulted in a very long wait between beginning and end. There was a lot of hype and a lot of discussion. I really wanted to read the books; I really wanted to participate in the discussions my friends were having; and I was finding it very difficult to avoid spoilers. So I started reading just after the fourth book was released. I read them back-to-back. Of course, then came the agonising wait for book five… I didn’t like that bit.

But Harry Potter was an exceptional series — so much hype and talk and media. Most books don’t get that kind of press. Spoilers are not usually an issue. So, Harry was going to be my one and only exception (except, of course, those occasional circumstances where I’ve read a book not realising that it was the first in a series… damn, that’s annoying!). But then I started reviewing books.

Becoming a reviewer changed everything. I was no longer browsing bookstores, reading the back cover blurbs, trying to choose what to read next. Now I was browsing lists of upcoming and newly released titles trying to decide which books I should request for review. And those lists are always chock-full of books that are part of a series. And thus I found myself in the position of reading the first book of the Rosie Black Chronicles a few weeks after its release in 2010, instead of waiting. Book two is soon to be released (keep an eye on this blog, I’ll soon be interviewing the author, Lara Morgan), and goodness knows when book three will be out.

Reviewing has also hampered my ability to ever read a series from beginning to end in one hit. I read the first book of Trudi Canavan’s Black Magician trilogy in October 2010. I didn’t get to book two until March 2011, and I’ve only just started book three. Why? I’ve got a stack of new review books I’ve agreed to read — so I space out the other books I want to read, between these.

A number of years ago I heard about a series of books called The Laws of Magic, written by Michael Pryor. I read the back cover blurb of the first book, thought it sounded interesting, and placed it on my read-when-the-series-is-finished pile. Well, the final book came out this year. I dug out the first book and read it. I’d love to now read the rest of the series, one after the other. But no… I’ve had to put then aside for the moment. Sigh! Life can be so tough sometimes. 😉

Catch ya later,  George

PS. Follow me on Twitter.

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Book Giveaway!

Want a free book? Well, here’s your chance. The lovely people at Boomerang Books have copies of my novels, Gamers’ Challenge and Gamers’ Quest, up for grabs. Follow the link and fill in the form for your chance to WIN WIN WIN!

This giveaway is in celebration of the recent release of Gamers’ Challenge. Remember Gamers’ Challenge? I blogged about it a couple of weeks ago (see “How to sell a sequel”). And now it is with much excitement that I present for your viewing pleasure, the book trailer…

This trailer was created by Henry Gibbens (see my previous post “Pushing Pixels with Henry Gibbens”), who also put together the trailers for my previous novel, Gamers’ Quest, as well as for Mole Hunt, a YA science fiction novel by Paul Collins. Although I loved the trailer he made for Gamers’ Quest, I’m even more enamoured with the new one. It’s more dynamic and has a greater sense of drama.

The music was again composed and performed by the talented Marc Valko (who happens to be my brother-in-law). It’s the same basic theme as last time, but more upbeat and techno. A great reworking of the original music.

Over the last couple of weeks I’ve shown the trailer to Year 5, 6, 7 and 8 students during a school talks. The reaction has been terrific! Lots of positive feedback. So I’m happy.

At the risk of over-dosing you all on info about MY NEW BOOK (can you tell I’m a little excited?), I have one last thing to tell you. Although Gamers’ Challenge has been available since the 1 September, it will have its official launch celebration this coming Saturday (17 September) at 12.30pm at the Richmond Library in Victoria. The book will be launched by Michael Pryor, author of The Laws of Magic series. If you’d like to come along, here are the details…

Book launches are a lot of fun to attend (although rather nerve-wracking to organise). There’s usually a couple of speeches, a reading, a bit of autographing and some drinks and nibblies. I was lucky to have had Richmond library host the launch of Gamers’ Quest a couple of years back, and now we’re back again for Gamers’ Challenge. In a library, surrounded by books… great atmosphere for a book launch.

Thanks for taking the time to read this post in which I’ve done very little other than blather on about MY NEW BOOK. Forgive me… I’M EXCITED! (I may have mentioned that already.)

And tune in next time, when I promise to blather on about someone else’s books. 🙂

Catch ya later,  George

PS. Follow me on Twitter… or I’ll renege on my promise and post some more about MY NEW BOOK. 😉

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The Aussiecon Author Videos, part 1

I’ve been promising these videos for quite a while, and I’ve finally managed to drag myself away from my word processing program long enough to open up the video editing program and prepare the videos. When you watch the videos, you’ll probably notice that there isn’t very much editing at all. So, what’s taken me so long? I’ve only ever used the program once before, and I couldn’t remember how to use it. So it took me a while (lots of trial and error resulting in much colourful language) to re-learn the program and then to get the videos ready. Okay, enough with the pathetic excuses. On with the show…

In September 2010 I attended Aussiecon 4, the 68th World Science Fiction Convention, held in Melbourne. (Check out my Aussiecon 4 Memories post.) There were an awful lot of authors wandering about, so I thought I’d corner a few of them and stick a video camera in their faces. I asked each of them to introduce themselves and then to tell me about the book (or books) which has had the greatest influence on them.

And so here are the first four authors…

Michael Pryor is the author of many YA novels, including the Laws of Magic series. He is also co-creator, along with Paul Collins, of The Quentaris Chronicles. Check out his website.

Foz Meadows is the author of The Rare trilogy — the first book, Solace and Grief, was published last year; the second book, The Key to Starveldt, will be published later this year. Check out her blog.

Jane Routley is the author of numerous fantasy novels, including Mage Heart and Fire Angels. She writes under her own name, as well as Rebecca Locksley. Check out her website.

Richard Harland is the author of numerous novels for kids, teens and adults. His most recent novel is Worldshaker. Its sequel, Liberator, will be published later this year. Check out his website.

And tune in next time for another four videos. I promise. Maybe.

Catch ya later,  George

PS. Follow me on Twitter… or I’ll post a video of myself. 😉

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2011 Sydney Writers’ Festival Program School Days

The Sydney Writers’ Festival has just announced the 2011 School Days Program.

For the second year in a row, the program features five primary school days held across Sydney, Parramatta and Penrith, with a day offered for free to NSW priority schools at Sydney Town Hall.

The line-up for the primary school days features Deborah Abela, Morris Gleitzman, Richard Newsome, Garth Nix and Sean Williams.

Secondary schools will have programs held at the Sydney Theatre and Riverside theatres, Parramatta, featuring Belinda Jeffrey, Michael Pryor, Bernard Becket and Cassandra Clare.

To see the full School Days program and for ticketing info, click here.

The first sentence

A writer needs to get the attention of his/her readers as soon as possible — to make them want to read further, to make them not put the book back onto the bookshop shelf in favour of another book. There are many ways to do this and it can take anywhere from a single word to an entire chapter. But what I want to write about today is that all-important first sentence.

A book’s first sentence can be long or short, descriptive or elusive, intriguing or demanding, full of purple prose or stated matter-of-factly — but its purpose is to begin the story and hook the reader. Some writers do this better than others.

Today, I simply want to share with you some of my favourite opening sentences — some with comments, other without. These are not necessarily my favourite books, these are just sentences that I found had grabbed my attention and made me remember them. I am presenting them in splendid isolation from the remainder of the text to which they belong. Have a read and see if you can guess from which books I have extracted them — I’ve listed the books at the end of the post.

1. I’m going to start with my all-time favourite — a truly memorable and intriguing sentence that sets up reader expectations. It’s a very recognisable sentence and also a rather long one — far longer than is fashionable to write in this day and age.

“No one would have believed in the last years of the nineteenth century that this world was being watched keenly and closely by intelligences greater than man’s and yet as mortal as his own; that as men busied themselves about their various concerns they were scrutinised and studied, perhaps almost as narrowly as a man with a microscope might scrutinise the transient creatures that swarm and multiply in a drop of water.”

2. Another absolute classic:

“The sky above the port was the colour of television, tuned to a dead channel.”

3. A little gruesome, but memorable.

“Physicist Leonardo Vetra smelled burning flesh, and he knew it was his own.”

4. “I heard a story once about a little kid who came home from school and found his mother dead on the kitchen floor.”

5. “I keep thinking that I have a tunnel in my chest.”

6. What I love about this sentence is the way ‘dæmon’ is written with such everyday matter-of-factsness.

“Lyra and her dæmon moved through the darkening Hall, taking care to keep to one side, out of sight of the kitchen.”

7. “I know a place where there is no smog and no parking problem and no population explosion . . . no Cold War and no H-bombs and no television commercials . . . no Summit Conferences, no Foreign Aid, no hidden taxes—no income tax.”

8. “When the doorbell rings at three in the morning, it’s never good news.”

9. Okay, okay — this is one sentence plus one extra word. But that one extra word makes all the difference.

“It wasn’t even five o’clock and Milo had already murdered Mrs Appleby. Twice.”

10. “Aubrey Fitzwilliam hated being dead.”

11. “Far out in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the Western Spiral arm of the Galaxy lies a small unregarded yellow sun.”

12. “All children, except one, grow up.”

13. “Later, while I was facing the Potter Moth, or fleeing for my life from the First Ones, or helping man a cannon aboard Jack Havock’s brig Sophronia, I would often think back to the way my life used to be, and to that last afternoon at Larklight, before all our misfortunes began.”

14. “Through the ruin of a city stalked the ruin of a man.”

15. “Something eerie came over European civilization in the early twentieth century and led to a madness which was called ‘the Great War’.”

So there you have it — some of my favourite opening sentences. They probably say more about me than the books they come from. There are probably other ones out there that I may like better… but either I haven’t read them yet, or I read them so long ago that I can’t remember them, or I was simply unable to get my hands onto a copy of the relevant book to check the quote.

But what about all you people out there in the blogosphere? What are your favs? Leave and comment and share an opening sentence.

And tune in next time for some random quotes.

Catch ya later,  George

PS. Here are the books:

1. The War of the Worlds by HG Wells, 1898.

2. Neuromancer, William Gibson, 1984.

3. Angels and Demons, Dan Brown, 2000.

4. The Inner Circle, Gary Crew, 1986.

5. After the First Death, Robert Cormier, 1979.

6. Northern Lights, Philip Pullman, 1995.

7. Glory Road, Robert Heinlein, 1963.

8. Stormbreaker, Anthony Horowitz, 2000.

9. The Slightly Skewed Life of Toby Chrysler, Paul Collins, 2009.

10. Blaze of Glory, Michael Pryor, 2006.

11. The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Dauglas Adams, 1979.

12. Peter Pan, JM Barrie, 1911.

13. Larklight, Philip Reeve, 2006.

14. Doctor Who and the Dalek Invasion of Earth, Terrance Dicks, 1977.

15. The First A.I.F.: A Study of its Recruitment 1914-1918, LL Robson, 1970.

More Steampunk… with Michael Pryor

The Laws of Magic is a series of YA steampunk novels by Michael Pryor. They follow the adventures of a young magical genius named Aubrey Fitzwilliam. They include Blaze of Glory, Heart of Gold, Word of Honour and Time of Trial. Today, Michael has stopped in at Literary Clutter to give up his views on steampunk. Take it away, Michael…

I love Steampunk because it brings together two of my great loves: imagination and history. I’ve always enjoyed imaginative literature—fantasy and science fiction—because of the expanded horizons they introduce me to. I get excited by the possibilities presented, the way that they’re not limited by the here and now. I’ve always seen fantasy and SF as the best possible expression of the powers of creativity and the imagination.

History has been an area of fascination to me because it’s everything that we, as a species, have done. History is the great and grand story that’s got everything—and it’s all true! I love big picture history (the famous people, the wars and battles, the mighty conflicts, the defining moments in the unfolding of nations) but I also love the nitty-gritty history (What did people eat in Elizabethan England? What colours were the togas in Ancient Rome? What sort of washing machines would you find in a Victorian laundry?)

So Steampunk is a marvellous combination, bringing together history and the imagination. I love reading it, and I love writing it for the same reason. The Victorian/Edwardian era, the setting for Steampunk, is particularly appealing because it’s an era of formality and manners, where politeness and decorum is important. Of course, many things go on under the surface of such restraint and, for a writer, that’s a rich and valuable starting point. Add to that the permission to introduce wild and imaginative flights of fancy, and Steampunk is just perfect for me!

That’s the difference between writing Steampunk and writing a historical novel, of course. The amount of research is the same – I want to get my facts right. But writing Steampunk means I don’t have to stick to exactly what happened in real life. I can add bizarre and impressive machinery. I can invent secret conspiracies and plots. I can tweak things to leave out—or sidestep—the boring bits that sometimes sneak into history …

The formality of the Victorian/Edwardian era, the old-fashionedness of it, also allows me to work with language in a way that I can’t when I write in a more contemporary mode. I can use words like ‘braggadocio’, ‘snood’ and ‘nugatory’ and they are perfectly at home. In fact, they’re more than at home, they actually help create the slightly archaic feel I’m aiming for and are important in the overall effect.

I can remember the first Steampunk book I encountered. It was The Anubis Gates by Tim Powers. It was a superb introduction. Through a time travel excursion gone wrong, the main character is stranded in nineteenth century London and falls foul of gypsy magicians, lunatic beggar kings, body-swapping murderers and sundry other challenges. The sense of place is wonderful—Tim Powers always does his homework—and it’s a rattling good yarn. After reading it, I couldn’t get enough. I read as much Tim Powers as I could find, then the books by Powers’ friends James Blaylock and J.T. Jeter, who were also writing Steampunk at the same time. Great fun!

My thanks to Michael for stopping by. For more info about Michael and his books, check out his website. We’ll finish up with the trailer for Heart of Gold.

Tune in next time when we’ll discover that steampunk goes beyond literature.

Catch ya later,  George

INSPIRATION MOVES IN MYSTERIOUS WAYS

Today, Australian author, Michael Pryor is here to talk about his latest book, Time of Trial. Michael is the author of 24 books and has another two ‘under construction’. I use this term because Time of Trial is Book 4 in Michael’s Steampunk* series, The Laws of Magic.

Michael Pryor’s Laws of Magic is a six book series with each book standing alone within the sequence.

Michael, can you explain how this works?

Time of Trial, like the others has its own story while moving the overall narrative arc forward.

In this one I wanted to continue to explore the relationship between the characters—especially Aubrey and his mother—while also developing the political and magical intrigue.

Can you tell us what Time of Trial is about?

The Laws of Magic series is about young magical genius, Aubrey Fitzwilliam, in a world rather like ours just before World War 1. Aubrey is involved in espionage, plots and counterplots as Dr Mordecai Tremaine (the disgraced ex-Sorcerer Royal) tries to tip the world into war, for his own purposes.

In Time of Trial Aubrey’s mother, a prominent scientist, is invited to Holmland to a great symposium—but Aubrey is suspicious that this is a plot because Holmland is the main nation hurrying toward war, so he goes with her. Once there, he uncovers a plot to assassinate the heir to the throne of Albion, an outbreak of ghosts and ghost catchers, and various schemes, conspiracies and nefarious plans.

As with the other titles in the series, Time of Trial is a Fantasy/Adventure/Comedy/Romance.

Michael, I know that inspiration can come from strange places, but is it true that a thread from this story was inspired by bird poo?

Yes. Inspiration often comes while I’m researching.

I was reading a book about the invention of modern explosives (dynamite etc) and a chapter was devoted to how the procurement of high quality guano (sea bird droppings) was vital as a trigger for World War 1. I couldn’t resist that and so a whole plot thread was born.

In your books, you like to explore how young people cope in challenging circumstances. What traits have you given your main character, Aubrey Fitzwilliam to help him cope?

He is a highly competent seventeen year old. He’s intelligent, witty, dedicated, imaginative, brave and loyal. He’s also impulsive and sometimes over-confident.

What do you like most about Aubrey?

I like him because he has many sides. He’s not perfect, but he always tries hard to do the right thing. He’s a hero, but not an unblemished one.

TEACHERS NOTES & CURRICULUM RELEVANCE

The House of Legends Kit is a Fantasy Teaching Guide with a special section on Blaze of Glory, the first in the Laws of Magic series:

global/attachments/document/HOL_TeachingSupportKit.pdf

Michael’s books meet Australian Curriculum standards by providing students with an ‘imaginative learning experience’.

Thanks for dropping in, Michael. It has been fascinating hearing about your series.

Michael is currently editing his twenty-fifth book, Moment of Truth while working on number twenty-six, Hour of Need.

Congratulations to Michael whose book, Time of Trial (published by Random House), was a Notable at this year’s 2010 CBCA Awards.

Dee

* Steampunk are books set before the technological age when the main source of power was steam.