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A Lad Called Byron Makes My Day...

No, not the poet. Yesterday I was wandering around Twitter, as you do, and found this comment on my "notifications". "In 98 you visited my school and made my dream of writing real thanks I still have the signed book." It was signed by a man called Byron(no idea what is his surname)

I was a bit startled, but then remembered that back in the days when we had a Principal who was supportive of the libraries in our four campus school, we used to have an annual writers festival, like the rich schools. Well, not really like the rich schools. There's one which has some huge names visit it and invites the peasants to bring two students to their event, showing its true philanthropy.

But we had a budget of $2000, enabling us to choose one writer per campus. And because there were two Real Honest To Goodness writers actually working at the school, myself and Chris Wheat - a YA novelist with five books to his name - we extended the budget by paying a free visit to another campus.

That was the year when my book Starwalkers: Explorers Of The Unknown came out. I had a real honest to goodness book launch at one of our campuses(the teacher librarian's name was Vicki and she made me see how simple it is to arrange one in a school). But on inquiry I discovered that "Byron" went to the other campus. Because I was coming from outside, the kids assumed I was making my living at this and hadn't a clue I was doing a day job just up the road from them, at another campus of their own school. And that was fine. It made them feel good to have a Real Author speak to them, as it might not have if they found out she was just another teacher writing at two in the morning to finish a deadline instead of working in her pyjamas as some full time writers boast.

Anyway, Byron put in a link to his post about me on his blog and I will share it with you. When you've read it you'll realise why I had a happy sniffle afterwards. You just never know who's listening and what a difference you might make. (Well, admittedly me and Bram Stoker in this case). Thanks, Byron, for making my day!

And here's the link. https://byrontosaurus.wordpress.com/2017/02/12/the-union-an-excerpt-introduction-to-charles-terri/
My Dad, Ben Bursztynski, in his younger years

Today would have been my father's 91st birthday if he had still been alive. I miss him terribly, even after seven years. Today I will take a bottle of whiskey to Mum's place and we'll drink a toast to him in a drink he loved.

Dad was a true "silver surfer" who discovered and adored the Internet in his later years. He was trying to write his memoir, but kept saying, "Oh, I just need to check up this or that thing I can't quite remember." He never got far with the memoir, but he had a wonderful time with the World Wide Web. Every morning he got up early to read the world's newspapers online. Every time I visited, he would be telling me something exciting he had read online that day.

He learned to Google very quickly. Any member of his family who might be mentioned online he'd look up. I had to be careful what I posted, because he'd find it.

Dad was the head of my fan club and set up a "shrine" of book covers, newspaper articles and illustrations from my works. Once, when lining up to do a colour copy, he asked the lady in front of him for help in copying my book cover; she was Mitch Vane, my illustrator! How cool is that, eh?

He came along to my book launches, of course. I remember his enjoying the free food and booze at the Ford Street launch of Trust Me! and his cornering Kerry Greenwood at the launch of Crime Time, to talk about me, me and me again. Lucky Kerry is such a nice lady.

Anyway, today is his birthday and I had to celebrate it here.

January 15, 1925, was a Thursday. "Thursday's child has far to go" and yes, Dad went a long way from his birthplace in Poland, first to Germany, where he met and married my Mum, then to Israel, where the family lived for six years, finally to Australia.

On This Day:

Nothing literary. A lot of horrible stuff, including battles.
However, this day in 2001 was the birth of that very useful research tool, Wikipedia!
1559: Crowning of Elizabeth I
1759: Opening of the British Museum. If you're in Melbourne go check out the State Library; it's designed to look like the BM. I remember when I was in London many years ago, I thought that the building, even inside, looked familiar...

In 1925, Dad's year of birth, John Logie Baird got the first TV pics out.


1622: Moliere, that wonderful comic French playwright.

1929: Martin Luther King! No explanation needed of who he was.

1935: Robert Silverberg, science fiction writer. My sister is a big fan of his. I've read some of his books, including Up The Line, a time travel story seen from the viewpoint of a time travel tour guide - great fun! The one I like best of those I have read is Gilgamesh The King, which I thought fascinating.

1944: Jenny Nimmo, children's writer. I read and enjoyed her Snow Spider novels, one of which was made into a TV miniseries.

Happy birthday, Dad!

Changes, Changes!

Until recently, there was a very pleasant cafe on my local shopping strip. I wrote a book there. It has been replaced by a wine bar. No food at all.

I used to live in this area as a teenager, before buying my flat around the corner from the home of my teens. There was a shopping strip even then. A small family supermarket was on the corner. Next to it was a milk bar, where you could buy groceries you might have forgotten. I bought my first Howard Fast novel for 40c from its book rack. I still have it. Further down there were other shops, including a pharmacy and a newsagent.

There is a wine shop where the family supermarket used to be. For a while, it didn't stock kosher wine, which was silly, given that this is a Jewish area and people do run out of wine and the nearest specialised kosher wine shop is a long walk away(Under new management, it does now sell what its customers need). The milk bar stayed in business, under different managements, till a couple of years ago, when it was replaced by a bicycle supply shop - which has recently closed. Why am I not surprised? It reminds me of the bridal shop on another shopping strip in the middle of a busy highway. A shop of this kind does better in a major strip or a mall. Perhaps it's too much to dream that it might be replaced by a bookshop...

No more newsagent and there's no need for a small pharmacy because there's a big one servicing the medical clinic down the road. And that has replaced a video library - there are very few of those left now, with everybody streaming, but I miss it, because I don't do streaming and sometimes I just want to borrow a DVD like a library book. Instead, I go there to get my soaps and toothpaste and prescriptions.

There is a dog grooming parlour where the pharmacy used to be, but that has been there for a long time, though I've never seen anyone go in or out. Where the newsagent used to be is now a computer repair shop, but again, I've never seen anyone go in or out. In fact, I've never seen any computers there! They must be in an inner room.

Ditto the real estate agent and the chiropractor shop. There are sometimes customers in the hairdresser shop.

The rest of the strip is now restaurants/cafes - I kid you not. One sells pizza. One is Turkish, which extended when the laundrette closed. That's a nice place to eat, but if you don't have a device to keep you amused, the lighting is too gloomy to read over dinner. And for me, reading over a solo dinner is a pleasure. Perhaps the chef would be offended I'm reading instead of properly appreciating his/her delicious meal, but it's a bit of both.

There's a coffee and cake place, very pleasant, and they do fresh squeezed juice. But their hours are limited.

There's a wonderful Indian restaurant where I go when I crave a curry. The owner knows me by name and I know hers. They have recently opened for breakfast and I may try it just once.

It's a comfort, because my favourite eating place closed suddenly, no explanation, though a possible family crisis. I miss Adam and Rachel! All the more because the replacement doesn't serve food. Just booze and coffee. Not even the typical pub bowl of chips or nuts.

When the place was being set up, the lady assured me they would have pub-style meals, just not breakfast "because you can get that at the other place." Well, yes, but there are also lunch and dinner at the rest of the eateries(except the coffee/cake place, which has lunch, but closes early). However, dinner would do. I sometimes come home too late to bother cooking and I don't always feel like a curry, or even Turkish. So I used to go into my favourite place and tell them I had decided to let them make me dinner. I'd have fish or pasta and a glass of white wine and read a book, sometimes even dessert, then go home and no dishes to wash.

Then the new place opened and it was strictly a wine bar, with a beer garden out back. Sometimes live music. But no food. I asked the proprietor, though I didn't point out that she seemed to have changed her mind in three weeks.

"I want to carve my own niche!"she said. What niche, I wondered. There's a pub across the road for those who just want a drink. And if they change their minds, there are also meals. And two licenced restaurants. And a wine seller. I didn't argue, though. I walked off and had my dinner at the Turkish place. Which will sell you a drink and a platter of dips if you don't want a meal.

I suspect it will last about as long as the bicycle supply shop.

Meanwhile, where do I write my next book?

More Adventures In Baking!

It is such a delight being able to bake again, thanks to my little bench top oven, that I've been doing lots!

Before Christmas I was busy with gingerbread, in hopes of being able to make gifts, but my gingerbread biscuits were not quite right. Oh, they tasted nice, but... The texture wasn't quite right. Too hard. So I tried again. This time better but dull. A writer friend proudly posted a gingerbread house made by an eight year old grandchild doing a course. It looked the right colour and it was... Well, all I could say, comparing mine, was "Ouch!"

I tried decorating the next batch with piped icing, but I never did get the hang of piping.

So, I found a cake decorating shop that had been recommended to me, to look for little silver cachou decorations. There were tiny ones and larger ones. I bought both. And there was a special deal on gingerbread man cookie cutters. Perfect!

I made both ordinary round gingerbread biscuits, using a large cachou to decorate each, and tiny gingerbread "boys"(the packet featured a family), decorated with a sprinkle of small cachous. The boys were fiddly. I'm told that plastic works better for cookie cutters than metal, and it's true, I had to roll up several and start again.

But the large cachous melted into the biscuits - perfectly edible, but not something to give as a gift. I gave the rest of the large cachou jar to a colleague who enjoys cake decorating. That's what they're for. The small cachous were fine for baking and the gingerbread boys were okay for gifts, though I only gave away one jar of them, to my library tech, herself a fine baker, who said she would offer them to her small grandson. Everyone else got honeycomb of the kind aka hokey pokey. That usually works well and you can make it in a frying pan.

On New Year's Eve I was with my mother, as I usually am on Saturdays, and we were watching Rick Stein in Berlin, making a German apple cake. It looked simple enough almost not to need a formal recipe - my successful brown bread recipe was like that. Still, I looked it up and then, because I believe in doing a recipe as written the first time, I had to go out and buy some ingredients. But you can't get "golden" caster sugar here, so I had to use white. Research told me that was fine.I looked for Demerara sugar, but it wasn't to be had either, not at that supermarket. Raw sugar would have been okay, but I bought coffee crystals, which I believe are not far off. So, after all that, I still had to substitute!

Still, nothing I had to substitute was going to affect the cake beyond flavour and I suspect it was a subtle difference. And the cake is delicious.

As usual, I'm making notes. I need to remove the lower rack next time, that top rack is too close to the fan and everything burns a bit. Perhaps a bit more sprinkled sugar on top. It adds to the crunch. Really, I think the cake could do with grated apple mixed into the batter. The cake is nice, but under the layer of apples it's a bit dull.

So, I learn something every time! I am so pleased with my new toy.

An Eye-Opening Experience

I'm on Twitter. Mostly I use it as a tool for communicating with fellow writers, teachers and librarians, and for finding out about events I might otherwise miss(fat lot of good that did me when I missed this year's YA Showcase at the State Library!)It can be touching; recently, a primary school teacher librarian was saying sadly that she had just done her last library class with Year 6. I agreed it's hard to say goodbye to kids you've looked after for several years - I am sad every year. I promised her they would go on to delight another TL and be looked after.

But occasionally I get into a discussion of something that involves real life and politics. I've debated US gun enthusiasts and one time, when I thought I was arguíng with Trump fans it turned out they were the opposite; the Trump portrait and "tweets" were for Halloween. We smiled at each other across the Twittersphere and wished each other a good day.

This week, I had a fascinating insight into the rabid right wing mind and it was not pretty! It began with a tabloid journalist whom I won't name because despite their arguing for "free speech" they really mean, "As long as it's me having a go at someone whose race or religion I hate." If someone has a go at them, they sue. And this one has the support of a big newspaper. They usually do.

In about five minutes she was showing her fan club about this leftist loonie who was being horrible to her and away they went. Despite their arguments about "logic" and "debate"(and I refuse to debate a Holocaust denier)they were descending to personal comments with her permission. My appearance, my dubious skills as a teacher and librarian. ("You should be against censorship!" And I do a virtual readout every year for Banned Books Week, and stock books in my library by writers who make me angry, because the kids enjoy them, and I've been attacked for my post about Banned Books Week too. I didn't respond; You can't say that to someone like that)and whether or not I was a lady, unlike his heroine.(I always thought a lady doesn't make personal comments, but I could be wrong). I was called a socialist nazi(small n). The fan club comprised Trumpistas from the U.S., a Brexiteer anti-immigration man from the UK and some very strange people from Australia. Oh, and there was one accusation of "Social Justice Warrior" from one possible Sad/Rabid Puppy. At least, they're the ones who use the term a lot. Guilty as charged! Anyone who has a go at my students will have to go through me.

I felt as if I needed a bath after reading the bios of these folk on their Twitter pages, and reading some other things they were talking about/retweeting.

I responded once to each, then blocked the lot of them. When I got to the tabloid journalist, I found she had already blocked me. Not until she'd had her say about all the things that were wrong with me and pitied my "poor students." (I told her she would hate my students, who were the sort of people she wanted to use "free speech" at.)

In one way, I like it when they get personal. It proves my point and means they know they can't win.
A while back, someone on Twitter wrote a post about What Is Wrong With Teaching, about how students shouldn't be stuffed with information. Well, der! We don't do this any more. Sometimes the attempt not to do it, mind you, can go over the top. One PD woman turned up in a costume to show us how to attract attention!(I can just see myself turning up at class in a yachting get-up like hers... The way the kids would react doesn't bear thinking about!) We keep being told we have to "engage" them, one of the latest buzz terms. And that word "pedagogy"! I have a vague memory that the pedagogue was the slave who walked children to school, not the actual teacher, though I could be wrong. :-)

Anyway, it brought back memories of teachers who "engaged" me. Odd how many of them were when I was in Year 11. There was my history teacher, Miss Russell, who, on the one hand, made us stand by our desks till she was satisfied no one was going to talk and then spent more of the period telling us we mustn't waste time! However, once the lesson got going, she had much to offer. She remembered pre-World War II Italy and told us about her desperate urge to draw moustache and glasses on huge portraits of Mussolini. She told us of the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand as a "how it nearly didn't work" story and very entertaining it was. And what was best of all, she was the first teacher who encouraged us to question what was in the history books, on the lines of, " what's in it for him? Was he a friend of the dictator whose biography he wrote?" and so on. An improvement on the history teacher who left us to become a folk singer, though I wished him well.

The same year I had an art teacher, Mr Saunders, who encouraged me in my work, making small suggestions and somehow improving my standard till I was told it was good enough for me to do art in Year 12. My Year 11 English teacher, Miss Wellsford, got me interested in Richard III and brought her guitar in and sang us the little ditty about the bridge disaster and Henry Bolte, that went to the tune of "Michael row the boat ashore".

Of course, there were others. I rather fancied our Year 7 history teacher, Mr Watkins. :-) It helped he was young and good looking(He looked a lot like Dewey Martin, who was the hero of the film Land Of The Pharaohs) But one thing he taught us, about the handmaiden in the huge Mesopotamian burial, the one with the silver ribbon in her pocket, stuck in my mind and eventually made its way into my book Time Travellers: Adventures In Archaeology. It turned out to have been in Leonard Woolley's account of his excavation at Ur. There was our Year 10 French teacher, who showed us a nonsense word that proved the weirdness of the English language.You write "ghoti" which, using several strange English pronunciations, should read"fish". I still use this in my literacy classes to show ESL kids that, no, they're not going crazy. I want to thank all those teachers - and others - for enriching my life.
Dear "Head Of Library",

I read your article in a librarian journal. It was about improving schools' perceptions of teacher-librarians.

Which is absolutely fine, I'm all in favour of getting some respect from the administration. It's when you spent your entire article giving advice to "library teams" to remind everyone that they are teachers as well as librarians that I started to wonder what kind of schools you've been working in lately. I looked you up and found you'd been "head of library" at a couple of private schools and were now working part time at another private school and enjoying the break from being in charge. You did say you'd worked at some state schools, though not which ones, and I suspect they were nice middle-class ones in areas where the parents can afford private education but have chosen to send their kids to a state school. They're the kind of schools where you can put a laptop computer on the book list and know parents will buy it.

Well, I'm head of library too, as I'm the only teacher-librarian on my campus. My team consists of me and a two-day-a-week library technician and I'm lucky to have her. If she retired or left, I would be alone. It saves money. They don't cover her any more when she has to take time off. They used to.

And I don't have to remind anyone that I'm a teacher, because, despite being the sole TL, I also have to teach classes. For that matter, so does a friend of mine who is now working at a private girls' school, who is only a little better off than me in staffing, though I bet her budget is better.

What I really want is to have my job as a librarian recognised, stuff the teaching side of it! I'd like to have a support team like yours, Head Of Library, to be able to get together and do great things that cost money, then pat ourselves on the back for being terrific librarians and also teachers(don't forget!)

But you do what you can. I haven't had time to do things like Readers' Cup, though I probably should invite kids to do the Premier's Reading Challenge. It's better if you have support from the English staff, but it can be done informally.

I have been able to do book launches and get in the newspapers for those events. I'm running a student book club, which helps choose books for the library and goes on excursions when I can arrange something cheap for them. I write a book blog and occasionally invite students to interview authors, said interviews going on to my blog.

I've been lucky, as a writer, to have some fellow writers offer us a freebie(they get fed and gifted and newspapers are called, the best I can do, since I can't pay them). We're members of YABBA, which offers the occasional freebie too.

I've done virtual readouts with the kids for Banned Books Week. Hey, it's free and they love it!

My colleagues and the kids know what I do. I wish the admin did.

But please, Head Of Library, stop giving advice to people who have had greater challenges than you.

Thank you.

Voting in the cold and wet...

Ah, Melbourne! Whoever arranges the seasons seems to have forgotten that winter is over in Melbourne and left the cold water tap on. The sun is out, but it's still wet.

And I still had to go and vote. I left my umbrella at home, so stopped at a discount shop to buy one. It cost me $10 and wouldn't stay up. I had to hold it pushed open. Before voting I went to pick up a parcel from the post office and found it was my tax return form to be signed, not a book for reviewing(At least I'm getting a refund this year, though I had to pay more than that recently for my last year's writing income). I had to place it into a plastic bag to keep it dry, then spent time over a pot of tea deciding who got my Council vote this time. My main bag was soaked underneath and while I ordered I left it on the chair, which became wet...and I sat on it. :(

I bought a new umbrella after the vote. I had to.

Not a good day, so far, and still pouring outside.

Still, I'm inside! curled up with Gillian Polack's intriguing novel The Wizardry Of Jewish Women, which I want to finish before handing it to my mother, who has been demanding it.

At least I'm dry again.

Preparing for Council Elections

Next weekend there are the local council elections around Melbourne. Some, such as my mother's ward, were sent postal vote slips. Mine still has polling booths, which at least gives me a week to make up my mind. At least this time I know where to go; last time I went to a booth right near home, at the Town Hall, which was wrong for my ward. A lot of others did too. Afterwards, I got a letter telling me I hadn't voted. I told them I had, and didn't hear again.

It seems odd to have to think about who I want to arrange my rubbish collection and save the local landscape, but really, with so many candidates from political parties, and others claiming to have no party affiliations but having past connections with parties, I feel obliged to research them as I did before the Federal elections. Fortunately, there are a couple of parties that I looked up for the Senate elections, so remember. The names sound innocuous but the parties have policies I consider over-the-top at best. Unfortunately, I have to give all of them a place on the ladder and there are several I want to put on the bottom.

And there's the candidate who has been on another council, where he was best known for enjoying council banquets. Harmless? Maybe, but I want something better.

So, time to Google some names again. There may be things I've missed.

A Day At The Show

On Tuesday, my friend and colleague Jasna and I went to the Royal Melbourne Show. It's a silliness I've been able to indulge since I became an adult and could make that decision. I did go with my mother as a child, but when you're little you go where your family wants to go. I don't recall my first visit, but I was about three and somewhere my mother has a newspaper cutting in which I'm part of a group of children leaning over the pig enclosure.

And the showbags! Kids love them. They're so full of promise, though they're often just big bags of sweets and cheap toys. I've seen a scrunched-up showbag on the ground after the owner has eaten everything in it. They used to be free samples of the wares of various businesses, but that was well before my time, and they are very expensive now. I remember looking wistfully at other kids' heaps of bags, while I was allowed one, the Coles showbag, which was the cheapest, for good reason. It usually included some cheap plastic toys and an old issue of a comic book which was multi-volume, so in the middle of whatever story it was.

When I grew up and thought to get a showbag or two, just because I could, I ended up deciding against it. These days they have to list what's in each bag and none of it seemed worth buying, even to give to my younger family members.

Tuesday was the nicest day of this week so far. The sun was out as it should be on a day when you want to wander among animal enclosures and such. I packed a picnic lunch of sorts, including a thermos, because the food and drink at the Show are not the cheapest, but that didn't mean I wasn't going to spend anything. I always buy some honey from the apiarists' stand and usually olive oil from the growers. And, if I can, lavender products from Serendipity Farms, and order daffodil bulbs for my balcony garden. The lavender, oil and bulbs didn't happen this year as I couldn't find any of those stalls, but I bought a jar of Mountain Honey for a honey cake I hope to make for Rosh Hashanah, and I ended up buying three jars of jam! The first was marmalade from the Country Women's Association and the others from a fruit farm stall - apricot and yellow nectarine with raspberry. I also bought a pretty cup and saucer from a seller in the Chinese pavilion(the crockery was made in Japan!) Jasna bought four cups and saucers, but had to go and find somewhere to break her note as he didn't have a float for change. She bought some Chinese tea from Yunnan Province.

We took a look at a stall selling pots and pans, but gave it a miss. You could only buy their wares at the Show or by letting one of their sellers into your home. After my experience with a salesman from Reenaware, no way! I told them the story. "It will only take twenty minutes and you get a free gift for listening, " he promised. It took two hours and he only went when I finally made it clear that I wasn't buying. It was good stuff, and if he'd been willing to sell me a single pot or pan I would have bought, but he kept trying to sell me $3000 sets and I didn't HAVE that kind of money to spare! He wouldn't believe me. I did make him give my sister and me the "free gift", a small but sharp knife.

We watched the cattle show in the Livestock Pavilion. It was about the teenagers competing and their ability to control the steers they were leading, not about the cattle. There were quite a few girls among them, including one who was leading a very restive white steer, and controlling him very well. I think she won her round. There was a knowledgeable gentleman behind us, who kindly explained it all to us. We were really only there for a rest, but it was interesting.

I wanted to see some horses - and as we left the Livestock Pavilion, we saw that the arena was showing beautifully turned out horses and their riders trotting, cantering and walking around, like something out of a Pullein-Thompson novel. I'd have preferred the show jumping or, even better, a demonstration of working horses, but hey, they were horses!

We finished our wander at the Arts and Crafts pavilion. Jasna, an art teacher, has entered her students' work in the past. She hadn't been able to do it this year and sneered at some of the entries that her kids could have done better, but there was a lot of good stuff and the cake decorating was very impressive. I've considered entering some of my original needlepoints, but never got around to it.

We finished the day at the Country Women's Association cafeteria, having scones with cream and jam, and a cup of tea; by that time it was not as busy and we could sit down.

By yesterday the weather was wintry again. I'm glad I went on Tuesday!

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