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So, who else rereads whodunnits?

I'm starting to make my way through the pile of TBR review books, neglected while I was reading for the Aurealis Awards. Most of them are from Bloomsbury, some from Ford Street. I've done quite well, really, only a couple to go.

But at bedtime I need something old which doesn't require much focus, not a brand new title which will keep me awake thinking about it. So I have recently hauled off the shelves some old Ellis Peters and Agatha Christie novels.

Ellis Peters, aka Edith Pargeter, historical novelist, put together her skills as a crime writer and a historical novelist to write twenty books(21 if you count A Rare Benedictine, a collection of short stories)about about Brother Cadfael, a mediaeval monk and amateur sleuth, on the border of England and Wales, in a town called Shrewsbury, a sort of mediaeval Midsomer. ;-) The difference is, of course, that it's a real place. I've been there and found my way quite easily from the church of St Peter and St. Paul(setting of the book) into town, because the author described it so well. I love these books. Despite the necessary murder in each book and a war raging across the country, there is something peaceful about it and quite frankly I don't care if I remember whodunnit. It's the atmosphere and the calm wisdom of Brother Cadfael I care about, and his friendship with his young "cop" buddy Hugh Beringar, who becomes Sheriff of Shropshire, a highly responsible job, but is still a cop. So these books make good bedtime rereads. To be honest, I couldn't remember whodunnit this time, but it didn't matter. They soothed anyway. And she doesn't cheat you. She gives you enough clues to work it out, and if you don't, you say, "Oh, yes, I forgot that clue!"

Agatha Christie also throws in clues(or Clues), and the murderer could be anyone, from the gruff major to the sweet young thing who called in Poirot in the first place. I love that, but I wouldn't exactly say she never cheats you, just a little bit. It's true that she follows the main rules. The killer is a member of the cast already introduced, never an outsider, no matter how many threatening notes the victim may have received or claimed to have received. But there are often pieces of vital information you don't receive till near the end of the book when Poirot triumphantly reveals the contents of a telegram he sent a little earlier, to the gathered cast of suspects. And if there are no mysterious poisons from South America(she worked in a dispensary during the war, she refuses to do that!) there are disguised characters, women disguised as men, evil ex husbands disguised as - er, mild mannered new husbands...

Alas, I ALWAYS remember whodunnit in an Agatha Christie book. But as I said, I don't mind, really. Not at night time. I like the ambience of the eras in which they're set - 1917 onwards for the Poirot stories and in the 1940s/50s for Miss Marple.

I like Poirot with his "little grey cells" and his observation and his refusal to consider cigar ash and footprints in the flowerbeds, even though he does notice pottery ground into the carpet and a disarranged mantelpiece. And I like how Miss Marple notices how the potential killer reminds her of someone she knows from the village, and goes from there. She plays the scatterbrained little old lady to the hilt, almost like an elderly female Columbo, but everywhere there are police inspectors who know exactly how sharp she really is(sometimes from having worked with her, other times because they're related to friends of hers). She has a terrific network of family and friends on whose special knowledge she can call whenever she needs it. Very different from Poirot, but like him, she always works it out - in the early short stories she doesn't even need to be there, she just hears the story and works it out.

So, why reread a whodunnit? Because there is so much more to them than that!

The Opera And Me

I've just finished a reread of Terry Pratchett's Maskerade, the second-last Witches novel. In this one, Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg go to Ankh-Morpork, where potential third witch Agnes Nitt has gone to get away from them and taken a job in the chorus at the Opera House. They're actually there partly to collect royalties on Nanny Ogg's cookbook, which has become a huge bestseller due to all the aphrodisiac recipes in it, because the publishers haven't bothered to pay her for it.

The novel has a lot of fun with opera in general and specifically with Phantom Of The Opera, especially the Lloyd-Webber play, and Michael Crawford, who appears in his Frank Spencer incarnation, beret and all. Nanny Ogg explains to Granny Weatherwax that opera basically boils down to drinking beer or stabbing - and that grand opera is mostly made up of characters singing, "Oh, I'm dying..." Her son heard some operas while stealing lead from the Opera House roof and told her about them, so she is the expert.

Thing is, Pratchett does get it right. He really does. I am an opera-goer of long standing - in fact, since my teens - and while I love the tunes and the colour of it all, I have to admit that the stories are generally pretty silly. I mean really silly! Not always, but mostly. And when your local opera company does the same operas over and over... Well, you understand... Beer or stabbing. The SAME beer or stabbing.

Today I went to see Madama Butterfly, for the umpteenth time. And sat through the same dreary storyline. Innocent Japanese lass marries an asshole of a Yank, who doesn't take his vows seriously and is already plotting to marry a "proper" American wife before his wedding to little Butterfly has even happened. He sings quite a lot with her after the ceremony, then it's Act 2 and the bastard has been gone for three years and is coming back, but only to pick up the little boy he fathered. Well, actually, he doesn't know till he gets to Japan and you're not told why, except that he's brought his American bride and has asked his friend the Consul to do his dirty work re telling the ex she's been replaced. And all this takes two and a half hours. The music is beautiful and at least there's only one body on the stage at the end and she doesn't take half an hour to die and sort of gets revenge on the unfaithful man, who is calling her name outside. And in this performance, the lead role was sung by a genuine Japanese soprano, the first time I have seen one in the role.

But how many times can you see the same show? I mean, really! Opera Australia keeps staging the same shows over and over again, especially in Melbourne; all the new productions go first to Sydney. Eventually they might get to Melbourne. Might. And even then, you usually have to go to the night performances to see them. I do the Saturday matinees, partly because they're cheaper and mostly because, after a long day at work, I am just going to fall asleep anyway, a waste of a ticket. And then have to stand out in the cold and wet waiting for a tram home. This year's shows are all old ones, though one, L'Elisir D'Amore, hasn't been done for ages and must be a new production. I'm looking forward to it. The only one I REALLY wanted to see, Anything Goes, isn't part of the subscription deal. Even when they sent us an email offering a free extra ticket for subscribers, it was only for the productions going on in the Arts Centre, in hopes you might give the ticket to a friend or family member, who might then subscribe.

No, thank you.

Not until you retire Madama Butterfly and some of the others that appear regularly. Don't get me wrong - there are still a few I'm not yet tired of, though I will be soon enough. I still love The Magic Flute, but they only do that every few years, not biennially. They've played around with it, though there has been the same production the last three times I've seen it - a set which is a long hallway, with rooms on either side, with a chorus in 18th century costume. And the wonderful Anthony Warlow as Papageno. I love the New York 1930s version of Die Fledermaus, I could see that again - but then, I've only seen it twice. The Marriage Of Figaro is still good. I'm almost at the point of being tired of Don Giovanni - not quite, but another year of it should finish my love of that one. They have done Rigoletto and Tosca several times while I have been attending. I was very happy when they finally did Aida - silly story or not, it had spectacle, and the music was beautiful. Nabucco they have done three times, but the production was even sillier than the story. In one, the evil Abigaille was wearing a stuffed animal on her shoulder(why?). Another production had the Hebrew Slaves singing their chorus while pulling Biblical quotes from under the stage - and a Nazi cartoon floating across it while they sang. We laughed and laughed at that one, but the music was beautiful and the singers wonderful, so we applauded anyway, and the silly director thought we were applauding him and came on stage beaming. The last one they did finished with footage of Palestinians throwing stones - excuse me? Connection? I suspect someone wanted to make their political point and grabbed any excuse to do it. Still, it's hard to ruin that opera. We sang the Chorus of Hebrew Slaves in high school, when I was in Year 9(our choir teacher was the one who later got into trouble at Melbourne Uni and was the subject of a Helen Garner book.). I had a break the year they made an entire season of Wagner's Ring Cycle. New, yes, but I wasn't paying $1000 to see dreary, dull opera by that particular composer. "Wonderful moments and dull half hours" indeed!

Carmen has been good, though last time they got rid of the children's chorus, to my disappointment, and I do like their version of The Pearl Fishers, but I've only seen it twice.

I am seriously considering cancelling next year's subscription if they don't do something new, or at least that they haven't done in a long time. Mind you, I say this every year and then I get sucked in again. But cancelling the subscription means I can choose the ones I want and skip the ones of which I have become tired.

Just a thought.
Some weeks ago, my friend Gillian Polack, historian extraordinaire and novelist, kindly invited me to do a post for Women's History Month on her Livejournal blog (and, as I discovered, her offical web site). The brief was to write about something that happened to yourself or a woman you know, and I wrote a post about my sister, who went from a secretary with a manual typewriter to a writer of articles published all over, and a delight in the Internet. After reading some other posts I concluded that I must have got it wrong; they all seemed to be about the author of the post. So I wrote another post and offered that. As it happened, Gillian ended up publishing my original post, so I have a spare I thought I might publish here before Women's History Month is quite over!

I'd only sold one story, a short, humorous fantasy tale, to Family Circle, via its annual competition, when I sold my first book.

I was at Richmond Girls Secondary College when this began. My previous school, Flemington Secondary College, had been closed down by the new Tory government, so that they could sell it to the Victoria Racing Club, which had lusted after the site for a long time, to turn it into a jockey school. I'd been there for eight years and was working with two wonderful people in the library. We had a delightful relationship. And then a new government, led by a man not unlike the current Australian PM, was in power, and was selling anything not nailed down.

Suddenly, my library was stripped bare and I was without a workplace. You can imagine how I felt.

Towards the end of January I was relieved to receive an offer from Richmond Girls'. My new library turned out to be old and shabby and had been a sewing room in the old days. But it was mine. I did have an offsider, a Vietnamese gentleman who taught maths and was hardly ever in the library. There was a technician who, for some reason, didn't like being in the library and was off socialising most of the time.

So it was up to me to do something to make the library worth visiting and looking at. My colleagues on staff were pretty helpful, one of them bringing in her Year 8 class to move the shelves around to let in some light. Then I started the displays. I wrote things to put up on the wall to go with them. History, science, SF, whatever the occasion called for.

And then I had a phone call from my friend Natalie Prior, who had started to sell quite a lot and is, to this day, one of the few writers I know in this country who can make a living out of it(and, unlike many of the others I know, managed to get going without being married at the time and having a partner to pay the bills so she could write full time). Natalie had been writing for Allen and Unwin and had rung to tell me that they had a new series beginning, True Stories, which was non fiction for children.

"I've told them about you, here's the name and number," she finished. I asked myself if I could even do non fiction, then looked at the library walls and thought, yes, I've done this. I can.

I phoned and made an appointment to see Beth Dolan, who was doing the series. Deciding to give myself the best chance I could, I researched a few things that interested me to make sure they were possible and prepared a list of potential book themes. When I met Beth, I invited her to choose a topic for me to write up as a proposal. She chose monsters.

That was my first book sale. It was in the very early days of the Internet; any Internet research I did had to be done at one of the few Internet cafes that had begun to turn up in the suburbs. It was at the end of a long tram ride, and cost $12 an hour. I limited it to once a week. The rest of my research was done in the State Library, two nights a week.

I didn't eat well, of course, buying my dinner as takeaway and eating quickly before my research session. It told on my body after a while, so when I eventually did another book I was more careful.

It was the first of several books and quite a few articles I wrote and I had quite a lot of work in those days, before publishers decided that children's non fiction didn't sell and stopped publishing it. These days there's only education publishing to do non fiction books and some published by museums to go with exhibitions. I did manage to sell to the education industry before my publisher suddenly left and was replaced by a gentleman who indicated he simply wasn't interested, despite the fact that my books for his company are still selling in the thousands, after twelve years. He told me in his last email that he has a stable of writers and doesn't want any more.

So, in recent years, I've gone back to fiction, mostly short stories, but I'll never forget that it was non fiction that made me a professional writer and taught me a lot.

This and That

Well, the holidays have begun. Today, after breakfast, I'm going to clean the fridge. Pesach is coming and some people, such as my friend Gillian Polack, have already done all their cleanup, but I tend to leave things till the last minute. Tomorrow it will be the pantry, then the house itself. The pantry is vital, though. It doesn't seem to matter what I do, the moths return. Once I've washed it out and gotten rid of the moths, they might stay away for a while, anyway.

There's a lot of juggling to do. Mum was in hospital a few weeks back, due to a number of things, including fractured vertebrae, which the doctor assured us would heal, but had to heal on its own. My sister has been going to her place every day - she is not working, so can do it, but it has been exhausting, and now I'm on break, I really need to do some of the work.

On other matters, I have a story contract to sign and post, a myki replacement card application to post - you can't hand them in at a station or even ask them on the phone, you have to mail them! And then, if you're lucky, you'll get a response in seven working days. And I need to sort out the matter of my Visa Card, which has vanished somewhere in the house. I have a prepaid Visa card, but that has its own problems.

I'm so tired...

Next Friday I may have to skip my annual tin rattling on behalf of the Royal Children's Hospital Good Friday Appeal because we're not, after all, going to my nephews' in-laws for Pesach - his poor mother-in-law has broken a leg! So a few of us will be at my mother's place, celebrating quietly, and I need to go and help with cooking. My sister will have done most of it, but asked me to keep Mum company and do the vegies. I still can't bake anything at home because of my oven, but perhaps I'll have the chance to bake macaroons at her place.

Hopefully, in the next few days, before the month is quite over, there will be a post from me up on Gillian Polack's Livejournal, on her Women's History Month series. I ended up writing two posts, one about my sister and one about me, because after I'd seen several posts about the authors' selves, I started to think that perhaps I'd misunderstood the brief, but the last couple have been closer to what I first wrote, so whichever post Gillian chooses, I will pop the other one up here.

I've had a lot of stresses this year - trying to teach two new subjects about which I knew nothing, for starters. However, I've managed to bullshit my way through,so far, though it would be nice if my Creative Writing students would finish their stories!

More recently, there has been the loss - not death, but loss anyway - of an old, dear friend who, on no evidence whatsoever, concluded I had been plotting against her(this was the second time she had made such accusations) and sent me several horribly abusive emails about things of which I knew nothing, before taking herself out of my life. She has enough real troubles without inventing more. It's the sort of thing you expect to finish when you leave school, but it seems not.

I miss her anyway. It feels like the loss of a limb.

Still. 2015 has a long way to go yet. Things may improve. Things WILL improve.

My Book Clubbers Make Good!

My Nerd Pack book clubbers' tertiary admission results have come through and I am not surprised, but very proud all the same. Selena, who helped me read CBCA shortlist books and interviewed author Charlie Higson for The Great Raven got into Science at Melbourne University. Thando, who interviewed Juliet Marillier for me and was never without a huge pile of reading matter, is now a student at Latrobe University, where she hopefully will not have to leave home at 6.30 am. Both these girls have Western Chances scholarships, by the way. And deservedly.

Ryan got into an Engineering course at RMIT, Dylan will be studying Science at Deakin.

My dragon lover, Kristen, who made me a beautiful book trailer for Wolfborn, got what I know she has long dreamed of doing, an advanced baking course at William Angliss, Melbourne's top tertiary institution for hospitality studies. I know Kristen has always wanted to become a baker and she told me on the night of the Year 12 formal William Angliss was her first choice. Now, THIS is a girl who will have to get up early for her chosen career!

Please, guys, keep reading for pleasure! I am so proud of you all.

Reposted from my "reflective blog"

Each year I have had to do something different. From Year 11 English to junior ESL (or EAL as it's now known), then on to Year 8 English and Pathways, the homeroom subject. And every single time I managed to learn to handle a subject - and I did very well at Pathways - it was taken off me and I was given another challenge. This year's challenge has been teaching history.

I love history - but loving something isn't necessarily the same as teaching it. Just because you enjoy reading about something doesn't always mean that you can pass it on.

Have I done well? I'd like to think so, but the truth is, I have had to do the same as everyone else and bullshit my way through, asking for help every now and then from more experienced staff. Sometimes you have to do that. Some things have worked, others haven't.

Making iMovies worked the first time. If I had to teach history again, I would use that, but find a way to make the kids comfortable with it and learn more about it myself. For example, in English, Literature Circles, this year students were allowed to use iMovie to prepare book trailers. They had learned from me in history how to do it.

That sort of worked, but what none of us had realised was that you couldn't get back to the unfinished task on the school iPads unless you had left it there. So some students who had made a book trailer - unfinished - on iMovie and saved it to the school's Public Share couldn't finish it. What they had done was quite good, but looked a bit silly in the blank grey bits. We - my colleague and I -accepted it anyway, because they had done their best. If I was doing this next year, I would make sure that they spent the entire double period on it, first collecting photos, then slotting them into place.

We had two classes joined for Literature Circles because mine was too small to do it without merging classes - and since we were on at the same time, we would have been competing for resources and space. Two classes together worked last year, but not quite as well as last year, because we had a larger number of difficult students and several integration students and only one aide available to help - last year we had two.

Still, we worked out as best we could which students would go into which groups and which books they could handle.

Some things worked, others didn't - and there were a few students who were given books too difficult for them, which it took us too long to realise. We did make some late changes, giving those students easier books which they were to read by themselves and produce a PowerPoint as their response - the simplest thing to do.

There were a few who had handed in very little this year and were not about to begin now, but we did what we could. I hope they'll mature next year.

We finished with a reflection by the students about what they had gotten out of it. That will help for next year.

One difficult student admitted to me "My behaviour hasn't been stellar this year, has it?" I agreed that it hadn't, but at the time I was talking with him about a story I had asked him to rewrite so it can go into the school anthology and persuading him to put his name on it, since he now had something to be proud of.

That's now happening. His story will be in the next anthology and he will be able to show off a bit. Maybe next year he will have matured? He was the student whose group messed up their podcast.

My history students did their posters and Powerpoints and booklets on the Aztecs. I've put up the posters, which are very good. I've done their last test for the year and am pleased at how well they all did - apart from one student who had been away a lot, everyone got high marks, including my most difficult student who has been improving and got full marks.

My survey of my literacy students worked well. Despite there being some who had been noisy and rude, even they ticked "agree" or "strongly agree" for questions as to how supportive/helpful,etc. I had been (and I overheard one say, "Oh, yes, she is, she really is!" And he was one who had given me a headache many times.)

If I had these classes next year I would have a better idea what to do.

But I have been told that next year will be different again, with yet another challenge. . Creative Writing! I have never had writing lessons myself, so how do I give lessons to others? I have been thinking about this carefully. All I can do is offer them the chance to write and submit and the benefit of my own experience as a writer. I'm taking a little survey of students who have signed up for it, to find out what they hope to get out of it. There hasn't been the chance to get together with the other two CW teachers, though I have sent emails and spoken to one. They're both English teachers and will have to make the best of their own experience.

I will have a Year 7 EAL class, but I believe it is straightforward, just a double period a week while the other students are doing Vietnamese or Italian. I think I can handle that, if I discuss it with the EAL teacher.

I'm looking after the Year 10 Psychology students once a week, but I used to do that anyway till this year and it didn't count as part of my allotment.

And of course, there will be Sunlit (literacy class). Hopefully, I will continue with the same reading level as this year. I'm quite comfortable with this subject and actually felt left out one day when everyone else had begun and mine hadn't been sorted out yet.

I'm very tired and there's still so much to do!
On Friday, I said goodbye to another lot of Year 10 book clubbers. Natasha, Karyn and Jenny were the loyallest members, who turned up to pretty much every meeting between Year 7 and 10, and I gave each of them a gift voucher for Dymock's bookshop. But there were plenty more. Some had joined us only this year. One, Hayden, who had been a member briefly in Year 7, returned this year, bringing his friend Mark, a lad who endeared himself to me in Year 8 when he recognised a quote I made from Monty Python. Mark is a keen reader, though this year he was mostly absorbed in the Game Of Thrones series of fat books, so had little time for much else. I never did get him started on Terry Pratchett, a pity, because he would have enjoyed Discworld.

Hayden is, in fact, the only one of them who appears in that picture with Marianne De Pierres, because the others in his class were stuck in a maths test. Safa and Meka joined us this year and read manuscripts for Allen and Unwin.

Nusaiba was another veteran, though not as much as some of the others. She did come to Reading Matters and several meetings this year.

Lula joined us last year and came with us to the Reading Matters conference. Emily, who had been with us since Year 7, more or less dropped out last year, but still wandered in and out. I missed Emily, but the club was for their benefit, not mine.

Braydon was in and out, but had also been with us for a long time.

We all had a lot of fun together. They chose books, came on excursions, read manuscripts for Allen and Unwin, met writers who visited us. Last year, Emily read The First Third by Will Kostakis, loved it and made her boyfriend a bit jealous when the author visited. Well, Will is young and good looking. :-) I said, "Don't worry, he's going back to Sydney," and the boyfriend snarled," Thank God!" But it was the book she loved. In the novel, the boy's very Greek grandma dies, which devastated Emily, but the author's grandmother, who inspired the one in the novel, is alive and well; she rang while Will was chatting with book club and he handed the phone to Emily.

Natasha was very sad, almost in tears when I handed her one of the laminated certificates I made for all my Year 10 book clubbers. After the graduation ceremony she gave me a hug and had her mum take a picture of us together. I have promised to see what I can do about having her attend Alice Pung's talk next year.

I think I'm almost in tears myself.That's the thing about being a teacher. You have to say goodbye so soon!

On Politicians And Deception

We have a State election this weekend. Recently I learned that, due to boundary changes, my whole suburb had been transferred from a marginal Labor electorate to a safe Tory one. It's slightly less safe as a result of the change, but at 14.5%, down from 16%, I doubt the incumbent, a friend of the Premier who made so many lives miserable back in the 1990s, including mine, will lose any sleep over it. This electorate has been conservative since the 1850s.

Being in any kind of safe electorate, of course, means you won't get anything out of whoever is in power. And it means your representative doesn't have to take much trouble. But in this case, the rep has taken some trouble - to remind her constituents that they should vote for her. If she was just sticking material in letter boxes, as the other parties have done, this would be understandable, though I would not be happy about the waste of trees.

But no, this woman has done more. She has not only sent us material in envelopes, she has ensured we open it and that the taxpayers, and not the party, will have to pay for her "vote for me" cards. Twice. The first time it had on the front, "Important information about postal voting". Inside, there was an envelope in which to send your postal vote, true, but also her "vote for me" leaflet. And no information, important or otherwise, about postal voting. The second time, yesterday, the envelope said,"Important information about early voting." This time, she didn't even pretend to offer information. All the envelope contained was a "vote for me" slip.

It may be that the party paid for this, though I doubt it. But the dishonesty of enclosing promotional material in an envelope labelled "important information about early/postal voting" disgusts me. I am not someone who has much faith in politicians, but I always kind of hope that at least one will turn out to be honest. So I'm always disappointed when I am proven right.
Okay, it's a bit past Halloween and I live in a part of the world where we are looking forward to summer, not winter, but it's still a good excuse to talk about the traditions and the books...


The other day, Halloween, I did a research sheet with my history class, concerning Halloween and the Mexican Day of the Dead, November 1-2. We're studying the Aztecs and the Spanish conquest of the New World and the Aztecs had a whole festival dedicated to the ancestors and beloved dead who, they believed, should be celebrated, not mourned. As other Christians had done before them in pagan Europe, the Spanish tried to talk them out of it, then incorporated it into their own feasts, in this case All Saints Day and All Souls Day. The students enjoyed this, I think - one of them, Brodie, told me all about the Celtic traditions, including dressing up your children as evil spirits to hide them from the real ones(that one I hadn't heard!) and young Joubert told me about the traditions in his homeland of Malaysia, where you know it's time to clean the graves when there are moths in the house(it tends to be August, though) - and I ended the period by giving them all some chocolate and wishing them an enjoyable long weekend and such.

As my own contribution to the festival, I'm thinking of books with themes related to this time of year and the mood it raises. First up is Ray Bradbury's wonderful Something Wicked This Way Comes, a novel set in a small town in which a sinister carnival has come to town. I read it in a single sitting and I loved that the town was saved by the boy's father, the local librarian. ;-) Apparently, it was vaguely autobiographical, except that he took a nice incident that inspired the young Bradbury to start writing and turned it into a wonderful, atmospheric piece of horror fiction. It's my favourite piece of Bradbury writing.

Another suitable-for-this-post Ray Bradbury novel is Death Is A Lonely Business, which starts on Halloween, at midnight, in a cemetery, and isn't horror fiction! It's a mystery novel set in Hollywood in the 1940s, with a character based on Bradbury's good friend, the SFX wizard Ray Harryhausen. I thought it great fun, though it wasn't what I was expecting. I picked it up remaindered and it was a good bargain.

While I'm on Ray Bradbury, he wrote a series of lighthearted stories about the Elliott family, who are sort of like the Addams Family(I think that was on purpose). Among them is Uncle Einar, who has green wings(his wife makes him fly carrying the laundry to get it dry), Cecy who travels with her mind, a mummy great grandmother and the "abnormal" thirteen year old boy who, like Marilyn in The Munsters, is frustrated because he's not like the rest of the family. There's a "fixup novel" From The Dust Returned, which connects the six Family stories.

I found Dracula much easier to read than I had expected. A lot of 19th century classics are bogged down in waffle, much as I love them, but Dracula is written in letters, diary entries and such, so even teens who are reluctant readers shouldn't have too much trouble with it. If you don't get it right away, at least the "chapters" are short and not too formal. I remember thinking as I was reading, "No, you idiot, don't open the window! Leave the garlic flowers in place! Dracula is out there!" Very exciting! It was almost a single-sitting read. When our students have read about a million YA vampire romances, I suggest they try this one. If they can wade through four thick as a brick Stephenie Meyer novels, they shouldn't have too much trouble with this slim volume in which the vampire is definitely not the good guy.

I must admit, I couldn't get past the first volume of the Twilight series. I thought it boring. So sue me! Stephenie Meyer is doing very nicely without my admiration. I bought the series anyway, for the library, two sets actually, because they kept going missing. The kids were passing them around among themselves, excited by a book, and as a good librarian I felt I had to make them available, though nothing would persuade me to read past the original book.

I personally think of Frankenstein as being science fiction as much as horror; the young author took the science known in her time - the guy who made a frog's leg jump with electricity - and extrapolated from there. "What if...?" That's the basis of good SF.

I only recently read Rosemary's Baby by Ira Levin, though I've read some of his other books. It wasn't as scary as I had thought it might be, probably because after all these years and the movie, everyone KNOWS what it's about and how it is going to end. But, as the introduction to the ebook version says, it's the first time that a horror novel was set, not in far Transylvania or wherever, not even in a haunted house, but in the protagonist's own ordinary home in the big city. Now, THAT is scary!

Really, you can read anything by Ira Levin if you're in a mood to read scary stuff. The Boys From Brazil - someone is cloning Hitler. The Stepford Wives - someone is building robots to be perfect wives.

Come to think of it, read Margo Lanagan's Sea-Hearts(The Brides Of Rollrock Island outside Australia). It's not horror fiction, it's lovely, lyrical fantasy with selkies, but it asks some of the same questions as The Stepford Wives.

Most books by Stephen King will put you in the mood. Personally, I prefer his short fiction and his non fiction to the novels, but I will get around to reading more of them some time.

Susan Cooper's children's book The Dark Is Rising is set at Christmas, but has the right mood for this time of year, with a lot of atmospheric scenes, including one with the Wild Hunt. And while you're reading children's books you might like to try Alan Garner's The Owl Service (three children reliving the story of Llewelyn Llaw, Goronwy and Bloddeuedd) or Weirdstone of Brisingamen.

I can't finish without mentioning Dan Simmons. His novel Carrion Comfort featured mind vampires, who can manipulate people with their telepathic powers. It was scary! His book Children Of The Night was about Dracula -the historical Dracula aka Vlad Tepes -who actually IS a vampire but not undead, it's a genetic anomaly which allows the lucky person to live as long as he likes because he has an extra organ that regenerates his cells. But it needs blood to process - preferably someone else's blood. So Dracula is still alive, now a billionaire who has put all his energy that used to be for fighting into making money. He has read the Stoker novel, of course, and thinks it's crap. I won't say more lest you wish to read it, but it's very entertaining.

I loved Simmons' Hyperion, which was set in the 29th century and meant to be a sort of Canterbury Tales, but had the favour of dark fantasy anyway.

And I must end with a plug for my own novel Wolfborn, which climaxes in a scene on Samhain eve, with a massive storm, an evil werewolf fighting a good werewolf and the Wild Hunt riding. Get it in ebook from Amazon or iTunes and you could be reading it in five minutes. Go on, read it -you know you want to. :-)

Anyone got some more "Halloween" books to recommend?
Recently, I tried to make a comment on a blog I enjoy, the cheerful YA Yeah Yeah, published by Jim, a gentleman who likes YA mainstream fiction, though he does occasionally review genre fiction. (A blog I highly recommend, btw, check it out at www.yayeahyeah.com) I have always been able to comment on this blog, but I received a message saying that you could only comment if you were part of the "team". As Jim and I follow each other on Twitter I sent him a Direct Message, asking what was happening, and he explained that he had switched off comments because of a recent incident where an author upset over a bad review had actually stalked a reviewer! It's all over the Internet right now. You can still find the article at the Guardian online though there have been so many negative comments that when you follow the link to it, you get a warning.

Now, Jim doesn't do bad reviews; he only reviews books he likes, as "recommendations". But there are some scary people out there, who might take offence at the mildest criticism. I've had some strange folk submitting comments to my blog, though I don't publish them these days. My comments setting is on "moderation" so comments are published when I've had a look at them. I did this to avoid spam, though, not stalkers.

So far, though, it's only been weird, not abusive, and I certainly haven't been stalked. In some cases I even published the comments until they were just too much. There was one writer who complained and argued about some things I said in my review. It wasn't a bad review, because like Jim, I mostly stick to books I have enjoyed - life is too short to finish books I hate and I'd have to do that to review them fairly. I just said what I thought about certain aspects of the book that made no sense to me. This wasn't good enough for that author, who argued with me. I published the comments, but I won't be reviewing anything by that author again. As she's a well known writer, she probably doesn't need my publicity, but it all helps, doesn't it? So not a good idea on her part.

At least she didn't phone me up or turn up at my home, let alone write an article about it for the Guardian!

I'm a writer. I will admit to hating some of the reviews on Goodreads. My own books have been subject to extreme rudeness now and then from people who have read about eight pages. I've seen people giving five star ratings to books that haven't been published yet. Now, that is weird! So is giving a one star rating without reading a book. By all means, say you refuse to read something, but if you haven't read it, don't rate it.

I know at least one reviewer who said horrible things about a particular book, then read not one but both the sequels and was rude about those too - really, would you read a sequel to a book you hated? I know I wouldn't. I came to the conclusion that this particular reviewer enjoyed saying witty things about the books she hated and having around 1000 admiring comments from her followers.

But hey, you need a thick skin to survive in this occupation. As a slush reader, I have come across whinges and whines on author blogs and writer forums about those horrible people at ASIM who were rude about their babies when they rejected their works of genius. Get over it, guys! Grow a thicker skin and just submit somewhere else, or you might have an even harder time when you do have something published.

The thing is, when I was growing up, there was no Internet. Books were reviewed in newspapers and magazines by professionals. Now, anyone can be a reviewer, just as anyone can be a published writer. It's a different world. We just have to live with it and hopefully we can do that while remaining civil to each other.

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