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Census Night is coming - not yet!

Well, after all the discussion about doing the census on-line, I find I can't. We were assured the up-to-date browser was only for officials. Not true. I went to the web site because apparently it will let you through, and it seemed simpler than waiting till everyone else in the country was doing it, and tried to log in.

The message I got was that my browser - and my operating system - were out ofdate and could I please try another device? If I can't do that, give them a call to order a paper form. I got an automated message asking for the login number, then it thanked me and hung up. I assume this means they will send me the paper form now, but I didn't speak to a human being. My sister did, when she rang to order one for our mother, and was assured that the census was due in September, whatever she had been told, and didn't have to be handed in immediately. The form will arrive within 7 working days. (Apart from the fact that the new Aussiepost is now slow and more expensive. So maybe 9 working days?)

For those of you who don't live in Australia and may not have heard, there has been a lot of anger over the government's decision to keep our names  for four years instead of the 18 months they need to process the data. Four years - in other words, till the next census. And as it's being done on-line, there is the danger of having our details stolen. Not to mention the danger of the government using them for things we won't be happy about.

"Oh, but it's so easy for them to find you anyway!" we hear. "You're on social media. They know about you!" Yes. But not neatly arranged for whenever they want to look up, say, all the Jews in Australia, or all the Muslims, etc. And with the recent election there are a number of truly dangerous Senators, including one who thinks we should be teaching climate denial in the schools(he used to work in the coal industry); if he doesn't believe the Earth is flat, he comes close to it. And he is one of those who want the Racial Discrimination Act altered in the name of "freedom of speech", ie we should be able to be horrible to anyone we want, but we'll sue the pants off them if the shoe is ever on the other foot."  By the way, he got in with just 77 votes - the rest he got because he was second on the list for that party. They may have the balance of power.

A lot of people are going to be Jedi Knights this year, and the information will not be accurate. And the web site will crash tomorrow night.

Hopefully, they will get the idea soon enough.
This year, our English co-ordinator retired and the new one decided that instead of gathering in groups according to year levels, each campus would be put in charge of working on the curriculum for a year level. Mine got Year 9. I contribute what I can, but I don't teach Year 9. The last time I did it was Year 9 ESL, about 2006-7. And that was different from now. Very different! However, not a lot of change was made here, just some work done on what is already being taught.

Another campus was put in charge of Year 8.

Now, we had planned out this year's program. In Term 3, we would spend part of the term doing Literature Circles. This is a program where students get into groups to read a book, depending on their reading levels, and the reading is followed by some writing, in our case a creative response to the text studied. It has worked very well - kids get to discuss and contribute and be marked on their contributions. We were also going to do plays - the last time I did that I ended up having to write a play, comparing it with the short story from which it was taken, followed by students doing podcasts of the play. The school hasn't got much in the way of class sets of plays and other campuses had borrowed the few we had. But it worked.

Then there is essay-writing or story-writing or both.

Not any more. The staff from the campus doing Year 8 completely rewrote the curriculum for this term. I mean, completely! And we first got to see it a few days before the end of last term. It involves "what it is to be Australian" and "how good are you at listening?" and preparing a presentation using something called Powtoon, to which the school has to subscribe(as far as I know, that hasn't happened yet). It involves the students preparing an animated presentation with their voices over, stating what being Australian means to them.

The problem is, apart from a two-week trial, there was no way to learn how to use it until the school subscribes, so I asked if I might, instead, use iMovie, which is easily available on the school's iPads, and which I know how to use and can teach the kids. It's not really much harder than PowerPoint and looks a lot more impressive. I was given permission, after making an iMovie and showing them.

But the people concerned have prepared an entire unit of work, complete with lesson plans and support material. You just have to teach it, it seems.

So I made a start on Monday. I fiddled a bit with the lesson plan, as I do with my Literacy classes, because not everything will work with every class and the unit's writers had forgotten that not everyone has access to an interactive whiteboard in every classroom, as they do at that campus. I had to book our interactive whiteboard room, which just doesn't have space, short of moving the tables and chairs around, to form a line from "Not at all Australian" to "Aussie, oy,oy,oy!" and then explain why you chose as you did. The thing is, I have a very small class and and, to be honest, while they would co-operate, most would cringe. I know the teacher who probably designed this bit and she could certainly get the kids going with her enthusiasm for it, but I don't think I could.

The kids did co-operate, did help me out with it, but I'm not sure how many of them enjoyed it.

I also found that not all the details fitted into one period. It involved showing them a Youtube video, doing some moving around, discussing, brainstorming and finishing with a written activity.

I managed to get most of it done, but not the written activity. There just wasn't time.

I was supposed to mark them on their speaking, but didn't have time for that either, and some of the rubric points were a bit puzzling. I mean - what do we mean when we are deciding if a student has spoken "sensitively"?

I really need to sit down with the whole unit and rewrite it so it will work for my students. That's going to take a lot of work!

First posted on my book blog, The Great Raven, where it had over 500 hits but not, so far, a single comment. And by the way, I am told that, in fact, we're reading a backlog of stories, only halfway through that, and not reading new subs till September, when hopefully the backlog will be finished. If anyone is interested in slushing, send your inquiry to a gentleman called Wayne Harris, whose email you'll find on the web site. The job doesn't pay and you don't even get a free copy, but it's good to see how this part of publishing works, especially if you're a writer yourself and want to see it from the other side. My sister does one story a week and enjoys it. I am doing five, can't bring myself to do more, given the number of long stories they send me!

This morning I've been tweeting a number of posts I've written over the years on the subject of slushing. Good posts, all of them, but they got very few hits, for some reason, apart from the ones labelled "ASIM needs YOU to Slush!" or some such.

I am going to write another one, anyway, and maybe this time there will even be a comment or two?

Having dropped off the ASIM team for personal reasons, I've decided to continue with the slush reading, for which you don't need to be a member, but they paused for some months in reading submissions. Now it's back to business and over the last four weeks I have read twenty stories and passed on one to the next round. And I'm not sure that I should have passed that one on. The fact that I can't remember what it was about should tell you something about it.

You see, I'm being more picky these days. Or maybe I've just been sent worse stories. The guy doing slush these days, with the retirement of Lucy Z, assures me I'm doing the right thing. Another friend still on the committee tells me they're being more picky too - perhaps too picky if, as she thought, a story now has to get a score of 3 to get into the slushpool - I told her that I couldn't remember ever seeing a story get a score better than 4! Three readers all giving it the top score of 1 is highly unlikely. I rarely gave even a wonderful story better than 2. It had to be something I thought would be an award-winner to get a 1 from me.

I do wish we had more people subscribing than submitting, instead of the other way around. That way, the magazine would be selling better and people would have a better idea of what's publishable and what isn't. Even if they just buy one ebook as a sample!

But no. I sometimes suspect that many American stories we receive, from that country of many SF publications, are trying us because they were rejected - rightly! - by all of the magazines back home. They get rejected here too. It would be nice to think they take the hint and retire those stories and try writing something else.

This isn't always the case. We've published early stories by the likes of Jim C Hines and Ann Leckie and others who went on to win Hugos and Nebulas. Early fiction, mind you. Once they can get paid lots more back home, they sell there - and I don't blame them for that. But still - good writers do send us stuff that could possibly have been published in their own country if they wanted. And our local international bestseller, Sean Williams, sent us a very short story set in his Twinmaker universe and was happy to do so. He mentioned it somewhere on line. And I published some wonderful stories by U.S. submitters in ASIM 60. They just aren't established writers; perhaps they will do well in future. I hope so.

Again, I'm reading in hopes of feeling the way I did when I opened, say, "The Wine Endures" by Anthony Panegyres(I published that in ASIM 50)or "What The Carp Saw(And Could Not Tell While Alive)" by Christine Lukas(I published that in ASIM 56, along with a terrific story by Lyn Battersby which I chose because we needed an extra story)or that beautiful story "Return Of The Queen" by an author whose name I've forgotten, as it was so long ago and he has never made any further sales, alas!

I keep hoping!

So, just a little advice for future submitters whose stories may end up in my inbox, if you want to get to Round 2.

1. Get your grammar right. It's not the editor's job to fix it for you, unless you're paying someone to do it, and sending a story that is full of grammatical errors, as opposed to the odd typo, just shows the lack of professionalism of the author.

2. If sending from outside Australia, don't make local jokes and references and assume readers overseas will understand them. If I don't know what they are, I'll reject the story out of hand.

3. Kill your darlings. If a story is long, every bit of it needs to move the story on. If it doesn't, get rid of it. I should add that when I have been sent several stories to read, guess which one has to wait longest to hear from me? Right! The longest one. It's a practical way for me to get through all of them as quickly as possible. And you know what? I have rarely read a story nine or ten thousand words long that didn't need a lot of pruning. While ASIM will occasionally take a longer story, it has to be brilliant. There is a limit to the wordage for each issue and if you're a subscriber who hated the longest story, you'd feel cheated, right?

4. Don't submit a story that is number 6 in a so-far unpublished series which makes reference to things that happened in previous stories. And absolutely don't offer the whole series! Each issue is edited by a different person who can't be expected to commit a section of their issue to the latest episode of your magnum opus. Put the damned things together and try selling them as a novel somewhere. Don't try selling them to a magazine unless it does series and says so on its web site. If it turns up in my inbox, I am likely to reject it. If it's good, perhaps I'll reject it regretfully - but if it can't stand alone, I'll reject it.

5. Ask someone to look at your story before submitting it anywhere and see if it makes sense. I've read a lot of stories in the last few weeks which made no sense to me. I said so, and why, in my comments.

6. Finally, check your market, even if it means shelling out a bit of money to read a magazine. If you sell, you can claim these things on tax. If not, at least you'll have had an enjoyable read or decided that this magazine is not for you.

Well, now, off to read this week's slush - four short pieces, one long one. Fingers crossed I will be weeping at the beauty of at least one of them!

On Baking Again

I've done it twice - once the test run with a packet cake, the second time a pizza. This time it's brown bread with caraway seed topping. It's baking now.

My new oven is fairly small, so I'm limited, but I can use a loaf tin, as long as it's not too big, and as there are two racks in the oven I will be able to do biscuits on small trays. I have bought four of them, which will let me bake two trays, then swap them for another two. It will take longer, but can be done.

I bought a loaf tin for bread at the London and American Supply store. It has tiny holes to allow the air to circulate, perfect in a convection oven, where the fan stirs the air around what you're baking.it's not long, but it's broader than the old loaf tin I used to use for banana cake.

Fingers crossed it works out!

Next will be macaroons, which were my specialty when I had my full sized oven.

I won't be sharing this loaf, though, even if it's good, due to having a cold. But it will be nice to have a slice or two with the veggie soup my sister brought me a while back.

Hmm, smells good!

I has an oven!

It has been a few years now since I have been able to bake. My oven died on me, though I could still use the grill and stove top. I finally found a plumbing firm I could trust, but the plumber told me that he couldn't fix it because the problem wasn't with the gas, it was with the appliance. Contacting some appliance fitters I was told that they didn't do that model, too old, presumably. And, by the way, I can't even get a new oven unless I'm prepared to remove my cupboards above the stove because the regs now say you have to have a range hood and it has to be at least 60 cm above the stove; my cupboards are 55 cm above. That would require a carpenter and new cupboards too high for me to reach without a chair. And that's BEFORE I even start looking for the new oven, because they won't install it without the aforementioned 60 cm and range hood.

I love baking. Cakes, scones, bread, biscuits, muffins... Love it! I've found ways around this, but you just can't make those things in the microwave - I did try a mug cake, which was nice, but not cake, more like pudding, and you had to eat it out of the mug. I've learned to make pan bread, including a very nice pitta bread recipe. BUT - no new recipes to try from books or magazines that didn't start "preheat the oven to 180'..."

My new oven isn't anything exciting, it's a gift from a friend who bought it three years ago and never used it, so no warranty, but who cares? It's one of those round glass things that look like a toy. It cost her around $49 at the time. But it bakes cakes, bread, etc. It does roasts if you want them, but I can't put in my lovely baking dish. No room. And you're supposed to put the meat and veg straight on to the rack. So much for chicken and apricot nectar or tomato juice. But I don't roast much. I'm a baker for the most part and I can still do some things such as chicken and tomato on the stove top, if I want to.

I've bought some cake mix to experiment with; it's so long since I made my cakes from scratch, I just want to play first and be sure of what my new toy can and can't do.

I can bake again!

Max Gets The Vote!

Eighteen years ago, I got a call from my brother at about two forty-five am with the good news that I had a new nephew. Max had been born on a night when there was a dramatic storm after the hottest day in fifteen years. I cut out a newspaper article about it and got it laminated. It still sits in the wall of my brother's old room at Mum's place. The young man was called Max Joel Bursztynski and his Hebrew name Yoel Matar, Matar being a poetic Hebrew name for rain(the regular word is geshem, which I quite like because it sounds to me like gush, which is what rain does, but Matar makes a better name). I brought chocolate cake to work for morning tea and we celebrated.

Over the years, I've taken him to see a lot of movies, every school holidays, though alas, he no longer wants to hang out with his auntie and cousin - nothing personal, he just somehow always has other things to do; Dezzy and I still hang out, go to the gallery and fashion exhibitions and, occasionally, even a movie, while Max moved from movies to film, if you can see the distinction. He volunteers at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image, assists with school holiday animation workshops for children and is currently working on an animated feature of his own. When I asked him what he was doing about music he said casually, "Oh, I'll just compose some."

Now, in Year 12 at high school, he has enrolled to vote and will have had his say on who runs this country before finishing school. Nice! I didn't get my first vote till I was at uni. ;-)

And Max being Max, he has thought carefully about this and done his research and made his decision. It's wonderful to think that a new adult is thinking about his vote and not wasting it with an, "Oh, they're all the same, who cares?"

My little nephew is all grown up and I am so proud!

Harmony Day At My School

Yesterday was Harmony Day. Our celebrations were organised by our EAL teacher, Lily. We're a small campus of a four campus school, just a couple of hundred very multicultural students from Year 7 to 10. It used to be a full day celebration, but that just hasn't been possible in recent years, so we had an afternoon instead. We had a wonderful guest speaker, a lady who is half Iranian, half Mauritian, whose family had escaped to Australia just before the Shah was deposed, with a warning from a friend in the know. She spoke of music and culture and of her time in Brazil and the joyousness of Brazilian music culture. Then she got out her feathered Rio style costume and there were drums and she handed rattles to students and got them all up celebrating. The Year 8 students did African drumming, which they learn in music(a far cry from the days when for me, music meant an American teacher trying to get us to learn our own folk songs or, before her, a lady who told us entertaining stories about the composers).

In the past, we have had some amazing Islander students agreeing to perform dances, in costume - something they still do for the annual school concert - but this time they were all off playing volleyball for the school. So there was only one incredibly brave young man in Year 8 agreeing to do a haka, of which more in a minute.

Because we were so short of entertainment, not enough for the planned afternoon, I offered to do a telling of the story of Purim, which is next week. The nice thing about this is that it's interactive. The kids had full permission to cheer the good guys and boo the villain, and one of my colleagues, who suggested holding up boo and cheer cards, was roped in to assist me. Lily encouraged me to ham it up, asking for a PowerPoint to go with it. I found various pictures online to use, and discovered that the truly dreadful Joan Collins/Richard Egan sword and sandal epic wasn't the only retelling of the tale and that John Rhys Davies actually played Mordecai in one of the later versions.

I began by explaining some of the various traditions(I left out the one about getting drunk!) such as costuming, partying, sharing food, giving to charity and amateur drama - and telling the story with audience participation. I then offered them a choice of a tinsel wig or a Harpo wig, telling them it was the only costuming they were going to get out of me. They cheered for the Harpo wig, which I put on, telling my colleague he would have been asked to wear it if they'd chosen the tinsel one for me. ;-)

We actually have a student called Hadassah(Esther's real name) and I had considered getting her into the act, but reluctantly decided against it - that particular girl would have cringed. Pity.

I think it went over well and the boo/cheer cards added a nice touch. I let them know that there would be a traditional Purim chocolate frog for them all at home time.

Now for our brave lad, Kaleb. Really, a haka needs to be done by a group. If there had been some other boys to join him, I think he would have managed it. But after a short performance, he put his head in his hands and ran off, muttering, "Oh, I can't!"

It told me something about the young man I hadn't realised: he is terribly shy. He's in my English class and I used to teach him Literacy in Year 7, before he was promoted out of my class. He has some issues, but in class he is very good at class discussions and picks up some things about the film text the others haven't noticed. He talks loudly and laughs a lot.Nevertheless, he's shy - and I've just realised. Maybe the loud talk is to hide it. Despite that, he agreed to stand up in front of two hundred people, classmates and teachers alike, and perform. That took guts, facing his fear.

As the kids left, collecting their chocolate, I whispered to him that I was proud of him.
I've been published on the letters page of the newspaper a number of times. Some of my comments have been published in the on-line editions. Over the years I've taught myself, through observation, what is likely to be accepted and what rejected and why.

But not always. Despite the page of "why my comments were not published" on the web site of my main paper, I have seen them publish comments that go against their moderation rules - and been rejected for some of my comments that didn't go against the rules. The moderators are only human, I suppose. They might be in a bad mood that day. They might disagree with you enough to stop you from having your say, even if they feel guilty about it later.

Yesterday, I received a call from the letters editor of the day who was considering publishing my letter about how science stories can be made more engaging by employing children's writers to tell them. The paper had published an article on the theme of making science stories exciting. My argument was that children won't put up with pages of technical language or with the "beautiful language" that would satisfy adults without actually telling a story. If you can excite children, I argued, you can excite anyone.

The lady said that it sounded like a plug for myself, because - ta da! - they know I'm a children's writer! I said good, but hardly anyone else does, outside the school and library system. The newspaper folk only know because they Googled me. Nevertheless, she argued, I should declare my interest. Could they publish the words "children's writer" with my name? Just to declare my interest. I agreed, adding that it would be nice if they did that more often, as they have published quite a few letters by people who hadn't declared their interests. (One of them is a high ranking member of a racist organisation, the other one practically runs her organisation. Neither of them has been phoned to confirm that they have no interest other than their opinions). "Oh, you should have told us!" she said and I agreed to do it next time, though I was thinking, "And you should have Googled them on their controversial topics, as you did me about my fairly innocuous one!" but didn't say it.

They have published my letter, cutting my sentence about children's writing being the last refuge of storytelling and adding a typo in the interests of removing my contraction. "Doesn't" became "doe snot." Ouch! I'll take responsibility for my own typos, thanks, and goodness knows, I get plenty of those due to the prediction software on my iPad, but this is a national newspaper.

A bit like the late unlamented Bulletin that published a letter from someone who declared "Jews are dupes of Satan!" but rang me when I responded, to make sure I was okay and then told me they weren't going to print my letter "because we haven't the space."

Ah, well, the newspaper at least published my letter, even if I did have to jump through a few hoops!
Reading a blog post in which the blogger complained bitterly about Walt Whitman's Leaves Of Grass, one of those national classics kids have to read because, well, it's a national classic, made me think of the books I've had to read in my time.

Until about Year 10, there were no set texts that I can remember. We read what we wanted and wrote book reports. If the teacher was being especially creative, we were allowed to do these in the form of a book dust jacket - something I'm sorry to say has come back in my school at Year 7 level, where, until last year, there was a creative response that involved book trailers and fan fiction and such things that let the kids use their imaginations and show that they had understood the books. I wasn't teaching English last year and this year I have a tiny class which will make Literature Circles difficult.

Anyway. At Year 10, we had to read John Wyndham's The Chrysalids, which I took home and read in an evening. Next day I asked my teacher,"What do I do now?" His response was,"I don't know. I haven't prepared anything yet. You were supposed to take three weeks."

He was a nice man, but not a very good teacher. There should have been reading and discussion in class and some work given to us as we went. I'm not sure he had even read it himself yet.

I did enjoy The Chrysalids, which was about a future dystopia in which, after a nuclear war, there is a Puritanical society where anyone with a mutation was banished to the lands still affected by the radiation. The children from whose viewpoint the story was told had an invisible mutation: telepathy. That could have been great for class discussion, though, having reread it in ebook, I loved it again, but felt that the style was a bit dated. I wouldn't set it, though I would invite good readers to try it.

Our Shakespeare that year was Julius Caesar. Again, we didn't actually read or discuss it in class. We saw the movie with James Mason and Marlon Brando(a very sexy Mark Antony), but that was it. I had so looked forward to discussing this in class, having read my sister's copy before I was out of primary school. I am not even sure the teacher ever read the essay I wrote. I don't think any school does that one any more; our own kids are doing Romeo And Juliet this year, and that one has been the Year 10 Shakespeare for many years. Probably more appropriate for teenagers - I was a very strange teenager, one who would have enjoyed any Shakespeare.

The next year's texts were Catcher In The Rye and Brave New World, both of which I had already read and loved, our Shakespeare was Richard III. This was the year I discovered Richard and went on to read Daughter Of Time and join the Richard III Society; we had a wonderful English teacher that year. I've downloaded both novels to my iPad. Going by all the complaints on Goodreads, Catcher In The Rye is not all that popular these days, but it's known as the "first" YA novel and it used to be an act of rebellion to read it, one of those "under the covers with a torch" books. Probably because there have been so many YA novels since it was published, it no longer has the effect it once did and is a bit dated. The ultimate indignity is that it's now a set school text! Brave New World is, I think, still relevant, though I don't know if anyone still sets it.

I get confused remembering my Year 12 books, because I did both English and literature, so there were a lot of books to read and I can't quite recall which books I had to read for what.

Here are some of them: the poet was Lord Byron. We had to read the Prologue to The Canterbury Tales. I loved both, but I wasn't very good at writing about poetry, alas! Reading it, writing it, but not writing about it.

The Jane Austen was Pride And Prejudice. I confess it took me a couple of re-reads to appreciate that one, though if you have to study Jane Austen at high school level, that one is probably the best. That was before all the dramatisations made this novel such a big deal - and well before Colin Firth emerged from the lake in his wet shirt! We only had the book and, while the teacher was much better than the one I had in Year 10, she couldn't quite get me enthused about the books we studied. Not her fault.

The Dickens was Great Expectations, which I did enjoy. I have to agree with my sister that the hero,Pip, is "a little shit!" Peter Carey seems to think the same, judging by his novel Jack Maggs.

We did The Importance Of Being Earnest - that year the Drama Club performed it. I got to be Lady Bracknell. It was a good thing to do, because we had to discuss the characters and how they should say the lines and why. Actually, it was huge fun performing that play!

The Shakespeare was King Lear and if I'd always been a fan, that one turned me into a raving Bardoholic. I remember my copy falling open to the scene where Lear banishes Cordelia with that passionate speech... and I was hooked for life.

We read James Baldwin's Go Tell It On The Mountain which, alas, I can't remember at all, and Darkness At Noon by Arthur Koestler. That one is about a former Party leader who is imprisoned and expecting to be shot any day. He has flashbacks and thinks about all the horrible things he's done for the Party in his time, and whether or not the end justifies the means. And he talks to the prisoner in the next cell by Morse code, as they can't talk any other way. I have read all three in that "trilogy". It wasn't a trilogy in the normal sense, just three books on similar themes. I read The Gladiators, his novel about Spartacus, when I was about twelve or thirteen. The final was Arrival And Departure, which I read in my university years.

You can see that the types of books we had to read for English in those days were very different from today. A lot more complicated,a lot more assumption you could handle them.

And not one Australian book in the lot!

What do you remember from school days? Did it affect you? If you are still at school what do you think of your set books? Are there any authors you'd read again?
Today a friend emailed me a link to a post by last month's Inside A Dog Writer In Residence, David Burton. It was a love letter to the local library of his childhood. And very sweet it was, too.

That made me think of my own childhood library experiences.

When I was four or five we lived in West Melbourne. Nowadays the street we lived in has no houses in it at all, though I'm told the area in general has become gentrified. Well, it would, wouldn't it? It's on the very edge of the CBD. People with money like that sort of place.

But at the time, we lived in a rented worker's cottage which had a view of the railway lines at the end of the street and next door there was an orchard of nectarine trees, also long gone. It belonged to my Dad's boss.

At that time, the State Library had a lending section - you could actually borrow books from it, including children's books. I have a faint memory of holding Beatrix Potter books in my hands. Our local swimming pool was the City Baths(still there), near the library. I read somewhere that Redmond Barry, who started up the State Library, did it because he wanted people to be able to borrow books and that until it was up and running he let them come to his place to borrow. Nice man, unless you're Ned Kelly, anyway.

We moved to St Kilda when I was halfway through Year 1, but if there was a local library I never heard of it. I borrowed all my books from the school library. St Kilda Park Primary was a very old school, so it was built of cool stone and the library had a lovely arched ceiling, almost a dome. It was always pleasantly cool. I remember some of the books I borrowed, such as Good Luck To The Rider by Joan Phipson. That was a part of my enthusiasm for horse books, along with the mysteries of Enid Blyton. This one was Australian and featured a girl who was raising an ugly colt. Her brother had joked it was a real Rosinante. Not knowing where the name came from, she liked it and that became her horse's name. She got ribbed about it a lot, but the horse's abilities outdid his appearance.

So, that was the sort of book I was borrowing from my school library. I actually owned quite a few, because my mother, who was just learning English, wanted her children to have a chance to be good at the language, so bought us whichever books we fancied, knowing we'd read them. My sister was also a passionate reader(still is)and because she was older than me, was borrowing library books I would never have discovered myself and I was reading them too, eg The Greek Myths by Robert Graves. I have vague memories of reading Russian folk tales too, and becoming fascinated by Prince Ivan stories.

You can't own every book in the world and libraries were important to me.

At the end of primary school, I spent a year at Elwood Central, a school which went from Prep to Year 8. It's still there, though it's now only a primary school, since all the secondary kids moved to the secondary school down the road at the end of my first year there.

The library is still there. I remember it as being as cool and high-ceilinged as my primary school library. Best if all, there was a small, quiet area outside it, with benches in the shade of a big tree.

Two books I remember from that time were both by Donald Suddaby, Lost Men In The Grass and Prisoners Of Saturn. In the first, a bunch of men are shrunk to the size where they can ride ants and be in serious danger of being eaten by predatory insects. In the second, the heroes go to Saturn, which has a sentent race of brings who adapt the surface for their benefit, making an oxygen atmosphere and edible food, and lecture them about the way they're running their world...

I'm pretty sure they were written for children, but the (all male) characters were adults. For the record, one of the things the Saturnians advise is to let women take over on Earth.

When I went to Elwood high school, there was a library, but it was just a classroom with books in it. I did borrow some fiction from it - some H.G Wells, as I recall - but I ended up back at the State Library. You could no longer borrow, but there were a lot more books than at school, and they weren't all novels. When you had to do research, my school library just didn't cut it.

I loved sitting at those ancient desks in the Reading Room, under the dome, with lamps on each one.

That was many years ago, of course; the Reading Room is now as it was meant to be, with a flood of light coming from the skylights in the dome. It's absolutely beautiful, but...the ambience is no longer there.

Thank goodness I now have the modern, very good St Kilda Library to borrow from, though there isn't anywhere much to curl up with a book. There are desks to work at. There is free wifi. There are computers for those who don't have their own. If I was a child I would go to story time.

But nowhere to just sit and read comfortably.

Can't have everything.

So, who else has library memories to share?

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August 2016



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