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

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.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016


My Goodreads and Amazon review (I gave it 5 stars)

Excuse Me Goddess Can We Talk?: New Messages of Love from the Goddess - How to Create Personal and Global Abundance and have Fun with the ProcessExcuse Me Goddess Can We Talk?:
New Messages of Love from the Goddess -
How to Create Personal and Global Abundance and have Fun with the Process

by Sonja Kaleski

Important and Delightful

I'd love to have written this book! It says so much that I would like to tell the world. As I didn’t write it, I'm very glad that Sonja did, and that she did it now.

Being a writer myself, I particularly appreciate the way it is written. It's clear, accessible and entertaining. It's apparent that Sonja writes from her own rich experience, and from quite a deal of study, yet she presents her findings in a very readable manner, without in any way talking down to her readers.

She is unapologetic about the fact that she is describing her beliefs, without any attempt to justify them rationally. She even says at the outset that, for this reason, her book may not be for everyone. Yet I urge the doubters to suspend disbelief and just enjoy. I think they might find they can understand it on other levels, such as a useful set of psychological attitudes. One can personify the Goddess, or one may regard that concept as standing for values which the world greatly needs – at this time more than ever before.

As I got further into the book, I found that she backed up her ideas after all, without even trying. She has been, among other things, teacher, writer, artist, activist, and survivor of domestic abuse. She has also been a great reader, in both spiritual and scientific fields. She illustrates the points she makes with practical, real-life examples from her own experience and that of people she is closely acquainted with.

I too believe that Goddess energy, however we understand it, is vital to us all at this time and into the future. Sonja gives us some readily acceptable ways of understanding it, and shares some simple and even pleasant methods for integrating it into our lives – for instance, through laughter.

Although it is not the book's only focus, she talks a lot about ‘abundance' – a word which puts me off many New Age teachings. Yes, I get it that you don't have to live in poverty to be spiritual, and that financially successful people can do much good with their money – only there are some teachers who make it sound as if you have failed Spirituality 101 if you haven't yet manifested what the world perceives as wealth.

Sonja doesn't fall into this trap. Yes, she does see that prosperity need not contradict spirituality, and she gives some tips on manifesting it – tips full of common sense, rather than merely airy-fairy – but she also understands that there are many kinds of riches. Her interpretation of abundance is that we have whatever our soul most desires and needs. (Those are my words to sum up her views.) It's relative. For some people, abundance may mean huge financial wealth to use philanthropically. For others it may be a modest income and the free time for spiritual pursuits. There are many possibilities, and it's refreshing to read of abundance in broader terms.

This is a book which has the possibility of changing individuals one at a time, in ways that could, collectively, change the world and bring about the golden future we all dream of. It's a real possibility! But self-published books need a lot of word-of-mouth. Therefore, please read it, and please tell other people to read it too.

View all my Goodreads reviews