Saturday, June 30, 2007

Harry Potter tag

Sheila of Wands and Worlds tagged me for this Harry Potter meme that's doing the rounds right now.

1. Butterbeer or pumpkin juice?
Since I don't drink alcohol and have a lactose intolerance, Pumpkin Juice...

2. What House would you most likely (or want to) be in in Hogwarts?
Without a doubt, Ravenclaw.

3. If you were an animagus, what animal would you turn into?
Like Sheila, I'd probably be a cat.

4. What character do you empathize with, or resemble best?
I most resemble Hermione (I was nicknamed Hermione by one friend whilst doing my degree; I most empathise with Harry though...

5. What position do you play at Quidditch?
None - can I be excused even watching it so I can spend more time in the library?

6. Which teacher is your favorite?
McGonagall and Lupin - I can't choose between them.

7. Any Harry Potter 7 predictions?
Sure - over on the Scholar's Blog Spoiler Zone.

I'm not sure who's been tagged for this and who hasn't, so if you want to pick it up, feel free.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Poetry Friday 56

Yesterday saw the anniversary of the death of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the catalyst for the start of the First World War, so today I bring you war-related poetry. Whilst the First World War is famous for producing many memorable poems, that was not the first time that poetry was written about war. The following comes from Shakespeare's Henry V:

This day is called the feast of Crispian:
He that outlives this day, and comes safe home,
Will stand a tip-toe when the day is named,
And rouse him at the name of Crispian.
He that shall live this day, and see old age,
Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours,
And say 'To-morrow is Saint Crispian:'
Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars.
And say 'These wounds I had on Crispin's day.'
Old men forget: yet all shall be forgot,
But he'll remember with advantages
What feats he did that day: then shall our names.
Familiar in his mouth as household words
Harry the king, Bedford and Exeter,
Warwick and Talbot, Salisbury and Gloucester,
Be in their flowing cups freshly remember'd.
This story shall the good man teach his son;
And Crispin Crispian shall ne'er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remember'd;
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne'er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition:
And gentlemen in England now a-bed
Shall think themselves accursed they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin's day.

(William Shakespeare, Henry V, Act 4, Scene 3, lines 40-70)

This next poem reflects the utter futility of the First World War in a handful of lines:


We'd gained our first objective hours before
While dawn broke like a face with blinking eyes,
Pallid, unshaved and thirsty, blind with smoke.
Things seemed all right at first. We held their line,
With bombers posted, Lewis guns well placed,
And clink of shovels deepening the shallow trench.
The place was rotten with dead; green clumsy legs
High-booted, sprawled and grovelled along the saps
And trunks, face downward, in the sucking mud,
Wallowed like trodden sand-bags loosely filled;
And naked sodden buttocks, mats of hair,
Bulged, clotted heads slept in the plastering slime.
And then the rain began, -- the jolly old rain !
A yawning soldier knelt against the bank,
Staring across the morning blear with fog;
He wondered when the Allemands would get busy;
And then, of course, they started with five-nines
Traversing, sure as fate, and never a dud.
Mute in the clamour of shells he watched them burst
Spouting dark earth and wire with gusts from hell,
While posturing giants dissolved in drifts of smoke.
He crouched and flinched, dizzy with galloping fear,
Sick for escape, -- loathing the strangled horror
And butchered, frantic gestures of the dead.
An officer came blundering down the trench:
'Stand-to and man the fire-step!' On he went . . .
Gasping and bawling, 'Fire-step . . . counter-attack !'
Then the haze lifted. Bombing on the right
Down the old sap: machine-guns on the left;
And stumbling figures looming out in front.
'O Christ, they're coming at us!' Bullets spat,
And he remembered his rifle . . . rapid fire . . .
And started blazing wildly . . . then a bang
Crumpled and spun him sideways, knocked him out
To grunt and wriggle: none heeded him; he choked
And fought the flapping veils of smothering gloom,
Lost in a blurred confusion of yells and groans . . .
Down, and down, and down, he sank and drowned,
Bleeding to death. The counter-attack had failed.

Siegfried Sassoon, 1917 (© George Sassoon)

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Scholar's Blog Book Discussion Group - Reminder

Just a quick reminder that on July 3rd, the Scholar's Blog Discussion Group will begin discussion Louis Sachar's The Boy Who Lost His Face - everyone who's read it is welcome to participate (and yes, this is the second non-fantasy novel in a row, but we'll make up for that properly in August and September by discussing the final Harry Potter book.)

Private Peaceful - Michael Morpurgo

I've been meaning to read Michael Morpurgo's Private Peaceful ever since it came out but just never got around to it until this week. This novel charts the childhood of young Thomas Peaceful in the early years of the 20th century, and his eventual underage enlistment into the British army alongside his older brother to help fight in the First World War. More than anything else, this is a poignant story of childhood and war, and about the many life-changing effects a war has on those involved in it. It also reflects some of the brutality of the commanding regimes and the relentless squalor of trench warfare. This books is definitely not for the squeamish as Morpurgo tells the truth of life in the war as it really was.

The book opens at "Five Past Ten" (all the chapter titles are times) as "Tommo" Peaceful is recalling his childhood whilst waiting out the night on one of the First World War battlefields. He remembers his big brother Charlie taking him to school for his first day (and how much he didn't want to go), the tragica, accidental death of his father, his mother working hard to keep a roof over their heads and food on the table in spite of the grudging support of her husband's employer and Tommo's aunt. He remembers his brother Big Joe, who is called simple by some but who is very special to Tommo. He also recalls the only girl in his life, Molly, and how his brother Charlie took her away from him. But as the world turned to war, he was forced, like so many young men, to grow up fast. Charlie and Tommo enlist together and are sent to France almost immediately, to what could is most accurately described as hell on Earth. Bullets, bombs, death, shells, noise, dirt, disease, rats and stench fill their lives, and Charlie and Tommo fight for their lives and fight to stay together - facing certain death in the face every time they try to advance the British lines.

I won't tell you the twist at the end of this story, but it made me sob unrestrainedly to read the last few pages.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

The Unresolved - T K Welsh

T K Welsh's The Unresolved is based on a true story. In 1904 a fire on board the steamboat General Slocum killed more than 1000 people, mostly woman and children, most of whom were German immigrants, on New York's East River. Many people suffered as a result of this tragic event and Welsh has written a hauntingly compelling novel that looks at who was to blame for this tragedy. The focus of the story is 15 year old Mallory Meer who shared her first kiss with the boy she loved, Dustin Brauer, the son of a Jewish beer brewer; he's accused of starting the fire, and he and his father are both persecuted by the Lutheran German community of Kleindeutschland. Mallory's spirit haunts the community, moving through time and space, influencing people, until justice is done and the person who really started the fire is discovered.

I don't want to say too much more about this book because that would spoil it, I feel. Just find a copy, if you can, and read it; it's well written and very moving.

I received my copy of The Unresolved from the author.

Doctor Who Quote of the Week

The Doctor: I could have killed that Dalek in its cell. But you stopped me.
Van Statten: It was the prize of my collection--
The Doctor: [loses it] YOUR COLLECTION?!? Well was it WORTH it?! Worth all those men's deaths, worth Rose?! Let me tell you something, Van Statten. Mankind goes into space to explore. To be part of something greater!
Van Statten: Exactly! I wanted to touch the stars!
The Doctor: You just want to drag the stars down and stick them underground, underneath tons of sand, and dirt, and label them! You're about as far from the stars as you can get!

("Dalek", Season 1 New Doctor Who)

Monday, June 25, 2007

Skulduggery Pleasant - Derek Landy

I saw Derek Landy's Skulduggery Pleasant in the bookshops and was intrigued by the jaunty skeleton on the cover. Then Kelly H of Big A, little a reviewed it very favourably and I knew I had to get a copy from the library.

For 12 year old Stephanie Edgley everything starts when her uncle Gordon Edgley dies. Gordon wasn't much of a family man and Stephanie was the only one who was close to him. Although saying that is a bit of a stretch; it would probably be more accurate to say that he tolerated her presence better, and more frequently, than he did the presence of the rest of his family. But that doesn't completely explain why he leaves his house, his fortune and his book royalties to Stephanie. Actually, there's a lot of unexplained things about Gordon, even more so now that he's gone. Like the strange man who turns up at the funeral wrapped tightly in a scarf, sunglasses, and an overcoat, so that you can't glimpse even an inch of his skin. That was the first time that Stephanie encountered Skulduggery Pleasant.

The next time they meet is at the reading of Gordon's will. The one where he left most of his things to his twelve-year-old niece, much to the dismay of Stephanie's aunt and other uncle, who get a boat (Uncle Fergus gets seasick), a car (they already have a car), and a brooch (which doesn't even have any jewels on it). Stephanie's parents, incidentally, get a villa in France. Skulduggery Pleasant however, receives the strangest bequest of all, some very cryptic advice. Ye he seems completely content.

This was not to be the last encounter between Stephanie and Skulduggery, however. After spending most of a day exploring part of Stephanie's new house, she and her mother get in the car to go home only to find that the car won't start. A mechanic comes to fix it and has to tow it back to the garage. Stephanie convinces her mother that she can stay at the house for an hour or so whilst the car is being fixed. However, the storm which started whilst they were waiting for the mechanic to arrive grows worse and the road to the house is flooded. Stephanie is stuck at her new house for the night. Stephanie couldn't be happier, though - she likes the idea of freedom and solitude - unfortunately it only lasts a few minutes before someone is trying to break into the house, and somehow Stephanie doesn't believe him when he says he won't hurt her if she just lets him in to get what he wants. Fortunately, Skulduggery Pleasant arrives to rescue Stephanie - and what a strange rescuer he turns out to be. In his struggle with the intruder, his hat and scarf fall off to reveal he's actually a skeleton! This promps dozens of questions, such as who and what is Skulduggery ? How did he get to know her uncle ? Why was he at the house ? How is it that he can throw fire and can he teach her to do it ? And how does he stay upright when there's no skin and muscle to hold him together ?

Skulduggery Pleasant is an exciting adventure with a fun plot, well drawn characters and a great sense of humour. I foresee this book being immensely popular with children and adults alike (like Harry Potter, but with more humour and far less angst...) I hope it's the start of a series. If you can get hold of it, do read it - it's such fun !

There's also a Skulduggery Pleasant Audiobook available - and of course, it's available from There's a Skulduggery Pleasant website which is quite good fun, and you might want to check out the Book Trailer - that's the first Book Trailer I've actually made a point of watching, and it was quite amusing.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Accio 2008 - Harry Potter Conference

I heard today that the folks behind the Accio 2005 Harry Potter Conference that was held in Reading 2 years ago are planning a new conference next year in Oxford, England - dear gods, I might actually be able to attend this one !

The conference, From Quidditch Flyers to Dreaming Spires: Exploring the Worldwide Influence of the Harry Potter Novels will be held at Magdalen College from 25 - 27 July 2008.

Here's what they say in the Call For Papers:

Accio 2008 will bring together academics and adult fans to discuss the Harry Potter series in the Hogwarts-like setting of the University of Oxford. The conference will be held at the beautiful Magdalen College, which still preserves its 15th century pronunciation of 'Maudele'n' and which boasts such alumni as C S Lewis and Oscar Wilde.

During the last ten years, the Harry Potter novels have made many changes to our world, including increasing reading (particularly among boys), creating a much larger interest in fan sites and fan fiction, adding words (such as 'Muggle') to the dictionary and increasing interest in science that looks like magic.

The Programming Committee is inviting proposals for paper presentations, roundtables, moderated panels, debates and workshops to evoke a lively, interesting and thoughtful discussion on the changes the Harry Potter novels have already made to our world, and on the potential for the novels to have a lasting influence.

Suggested Topics
Presentations on any topic relating to the Harry Potter phenomenon are welcome and topics may include, but are certainly not limited to:

Computer Science
the Fandom

Proposal Submissions - Deadline: 4 January 2008

You can find more information on the Accio 2008 website and there's a FAQ page as well. As usual, this conference is an unofficial event and is not endorsed or sanctioned by Warner Bros., the Harry Potter book publishers, or J K Rowling and her representatives. Note that attendees must be aged 18 or over.

Scholar's Blog Spoiler Zone Update

I've just posted my review of Doctor Who season 3 episode 11 "Utopia" over on the Scholar's Blog Spoiler Zone.

Warning - this review contains spoilers of major proportions - more so than any other review I've written for season 3... You have been warned !

Friday, June 22, 2007

Carnegie of Carnegies

It's been announced that Philip Pullman's Northern Lights has won the Carnegie of Carnegies (about which I posted in April). I confess, I voted for Alan Garner's The Owl Service, simply because it had such a huge impact on me as a child reader.

(I confess that I heard this news late yesterday but I was trying to work on both my current fiction tales (simultaneously more or less), so I didn't post it !)

Poetry Friday 55

The annual Glastonbury Music Festival and Wimbledon are both approaching, sure guarantees of rain arriving on these shores, and this morning I woke to a leak in my attic roof, so I'm feeling rather rain obsessed at the moment !


Rain, midnight rain, nothing but the wild rain
On this bleak hut, and solitude, and me
Remembering again that I shall die
And neither hear the rain nor give it thanks
For washing me cleaner than I have been
Since I was born into this solitude.
Blessed are the dead that the rain rains upon:
But here I pray that none whom once I loved
Is dying tonight or lying still awake
Solitary, listening to the rain,
Either in pain or thus in sympathy
Helpless among the living and the dead,
Like a cold water among broken reeds,
Myriads of broken reeds all still and stiff,
Like me who have no love which this wild rain
Has not dissolved except the love of death,
If love it be for what is perfect and
Cannot, the tempest tells me,

Edward Thomas' poem "Rain" was written on January 7, 1916 - for those familiar with poetry of the WW1 period, the images of rain and mud are probably the strongest ones.

The other thing I'm obsessed about, of course, is "Doctor Who" - the season finale is only 8 days away. Last week's episode (which I will review on my Spoiler Zone Blog at some point in the next two days) was called "Utopia", although there was no sign of Utopia in the episode, but it got me thinking about Utopia and Dystopia, and of course, then I went looking for some poetry, and found this:


Island where all becomes clear.

Solid ground beneath your feet.

The only roads are those that offer access.

Bushes bend beneath the weight of proofs.

The Tree of Valid Supposition grows here
with branches disentangled since time immemorial.

The Tree of Understanding, dazzlingly straight and simple,
sprouts by the spring called Now I Get It.

The thicker the woods, the vaster the vista:
the Valley of Obviously.

You can read the rest of Wislawa Szymborska's poem here. I confess to being completely unfamiliar with Szymborska's work until Elaine of Wild Rose Reader and Blue Rose Girls posted "The Joy of Writing" for an April Poetry Friday offering. You can find a biography of this Polish poet here; Szymborska won the "Nobel Prize in Literature" in 1996 and you can read her Nobel Prize lecture here.

This week's poetry round-up is hosted by cloudscome of A Wrung Sponge.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Live Chat with Michael Rosen

The "Write Away" team are hosting a live chat with the newly appointed Children's Laureate, Michael Rosen, on their forum next Monday. Here's the press release:

Michael Rosen's appointment as the Children's Laureate for 2007-2009 has been causing a stir! Michael has pledged to promote poetry, and in particular to showcase good educational practice as a means of challenging the restricted view that he believes underpins current curriculum documents that influence teaching. He is keen to promote a wider national awareness of writers, localities and literary heritage.

We are delighted that Michael will be giving a LIVE FORUM on the WRITE AWAY website on Monday 18th June 8.00 - 9.00 pm (BST). This is an opportunity to pose your questions and take part in the debate about the promotion and teaching of poetry, and more generally the role of the children's laureate. It promises to be a simulating evening. We hope that you will be able to join us.

To participate, register at the Write Away website and login. Visit the Forum/Reading Group using the left hand navigation bar. Here you will find a discussion strand called Live Forum and this is where the action takes place.

If you are unable to join us at that time, you can still leave a post in advance, which Michael can respond to.

A Big Thank You

I just wanted to say a quick, public thank you to all the kind people who generously donated to Kelly's "fighting fund" to keep me online. I very much appreciate your kindness and generosity. The broadband kit arrived on Friday and I have been flying along the Net ever since; it's made a huge difference to me with regard to working online. Thank you all.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Doctor Who Quote of the Week

Simmons: [to the Dalek] What are you gonna do, sucker me to death?
[The Dalek grabs his face with its sucker and kills him.]

("Dalek", Season 1 New Doctor Who)

Monday, June 18, 2007

Chris Van Allsburg's birthday

Today is the birthday of children's author and illustrator Chris Van Allsburg, (books by this author) born in Grand Rapids, Michigan (1949). He's the author of the children's books Jumanji (1981) and The Polar Express (1985).

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Scholar's Blog Spoiler Zone Update

I've just posted my review of Doctor Who season 3 episode 10 "Blink" over on the Scholar's Blog Spoiler Zone.

Warning - this episode really is best viewed without any kind of advance information, so be really, really sure you want spoilers before you read the review !

A Question for Fiction Writers

I've written another disconnected chunk of my non-Who story "Improbable Journeys" - and I find myself wondering if this is normal fiction practice ? Because so far, apart from a couple of Epilogues, I've pretty much written my Who stories straight through from Prologue/Chapter 1 through to Chapter 4/Epilogue without any wandering off. Whereas this story now has an opening paragraph, a short dialogue and piece of character description from later in chapter one, and now a random few paragraphs from another chapter, but I've no idea which one...

As with the other two sections I've written, this new bit seemed to just spring into my head, then flow onto the page from my pen, leaving me feeling rather like someone's amanuensis - which I understand is not an uncommon experience for some writers. But it is uncommon for me, so far at any rate, to write random chunks of prose that aren't directly connected to each other...

I'm not complaining, mind ! Just puzzled - as I frequently have been ever since I took up this fiction-writing business five months ago (and is it really only five months ? Somehow it feels far longer !)

At the Firefly Gate - Linda Newbery

I first heard about Linda Newbery's At the Firefly Gate from Kelly over at Big A, little a and it sounded just the sort of book I'd enjoy.

Young Henry and his parents have just moved from London to a small village in Suffolk, and Henry, who is just about to move up from primary school, is worried that he won't make any friends and that he will be bored after his life in the big city. The first night that he spends in his new room, Henry sees glowing fireflies around a gate at the end of the garden that leads out into an orchard, and a shadowy figure who stands there looking at him. Henry meets his neighbours, the sulky teenager Grace, her parents, and her spinster aunt Dottie who is ill. Dottie seems to recognise Henry and he finds himself dreaming and experiencing things that are the memories of an RAF navigator who was killed in World War II and who was Dottie's fiance.

This book is a lovely combination of WW2 history, Henry's dreams and the struggles of childhood. Henry is a down-to-earth boy who experiences amazing things. Grace is an equally well-drawn character who is usually sulky but has a soft side that she rarely shows, especially to Henry. Dottie is a wonderful character who made me want to enter her garden and spend some time playing Scrabble with her and listening to her stories.

At the Firefly Gate is also available from

Friday, June 15, 2007

British Fantasy Award - Best Novel Longlist

The British Fantasy Award, Best Novel (The August Derleth Fantasy Award) longlist has been announced and I'm very excited as I know one of the authors on the list. Here's the list in full (the ones I've read are in bold rather than italics):

The Blade Itself: Book One Of The First Law, Joe Abercrombie (Gollancz)
The Fledging Of Az Gabrielson: The Clouded World Series Book 1, Jay
Amory (Gollancz)
Broken, Kelley Armstrong (Orbit Books)
Polity Agent, Neal Asher (Tor Books)
Bridge Of Dreams, Chaz Brenchley (Ace Books)
Scar Night: Volume One Of The Deepgate Codex, Alan Campbell (Tor Books)
The Devil You Know: A Felix Castor Novel, Mike Carey (Orbit Books)
Jack Of Ravens: Kingdom Of The Serpent Book 1, Mark Chadbourn (Gollancz)
Death's Dominion, Simon Clark (Robert Hale)
London Under Midnight, Simon Clark (Severn House)
The Book of Lost Things, John Connolly (Hodder & Stoughton)
Widdershins, Charles De Lint (Tor Books)
The Bonehunters (A Tale Of Malazan Book Of The Fallen), Steven Erikson
(Bantam Press)
Ten-Second Staircase (Bryant & May 4), Christopher Fowler (Doubleday)
Development Hell, Mick Garris (Cemetery Dance)
Ilario: The Lion's Eye, Mary Gentle (Gollancz)
Nova Swing, John M Harrison (Gollancz)
The Secret Of Crickley Hall, James Herbert (Macmillan)
World Of Hurt, Brian Hodge (Earthling Publications)
Rainbow Bridge, Gwyneth Jones (Gollancz)
This Forsaken Earth (Sea Beggars), Paul Kearney (Bantam Press)
Cell, Stephen King (Hodder & Stoughton)
Lisey's Story, Stephen King (Hodder & Stoughton)
The Privilege of the Sword, Ellen Kushner (Small Beer Press/Bantam)
Dusk, Tim Lebbon (Spectra Books)
The Stormcaller, Tom Lloyd (Gollancz)
The Lies Of Locke Lamora, Scott Lynch (Gollancz)
Eastern Tide, Juliet E. McKenna (Orbit Books)
Quicksilver Twilight, Stan Nicholls (Voyager)
The Righteous Blade: Book 2 Of The Dreamtime, Stan Nicholls (Eos)
The Burning Girl, Holly Phillips (Prime Books)
Breeding Ground, Sarah Pinborough (Leisure Books)
The Toyminator, Robert Rankin (Gollancz)
Keeping It Real: Quantum Gravity 1, Justina Robson (Gollancz)
Mathematicians In Love, Rudy Rucker (Tor Books)
Winterbirth, Brian Ruckley (Orbit Books)
The Face of Twilight, Mark Samuels (PS Publishing)
Streaking, Brian Stableford (PS Publishing)
Pressure, Jeff Strand (Earthling Publications)
Shriek: An Afterword, Jeff Vandermeer (Macmillan & Tor Books)
The Demon And The City: A Detective Inspector Chen Novel, Liz Williams
(Nightshade Books)
The Unblemished, Conrad Williams (Earthling Publications)
Jaarfindor Remade, Sean Wright (Crowswing Books)

I'm really pleased to see Juliet E McKenna's Eastern Tide on the longlist -it's definitely her best book to date, and I know there are several highly regarded novels on that longlist, but I really hope Eastern Tide wins !

J K Rowling Tour of the US

This just in from Publishers Weekly:

The last time J.K. Rowling did a U.S. book tour, many of the people who are now her biggest fans either weren't born or hadn't learned to read yet. But to promote Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, the notoriously publicity-shy author will be coming to the U.S. in October for the J K Rowling Open Book Tour. The brief tour, her first in eight years, will include four events: two in New York, one in New Orleans and another in Los Angeles. Three of the events will be expressly for students while the final one, slated for Carnegie Hall in New York, will be open to 1,000 fans who win tickets through a sweepstakes sponsored by Scholastic.

Poetry Friday 54

My poetry offerings this week come from Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice and W B Yeats, whose birthday was this week.

The quality of mercy is not strain'd,
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath: it is twice bless'd;
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes:
'Tis mightiest in the mightiest; it becomes
The throned monarch better than his crown;
His sceptre shows the force of temporal power,
The attribute to awe and majesty,
Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings;
But mercy is above this sceptred sway,
It is enthroned in the hearts of kings,
It is an attribute to God himself,
And earthly power doth then show likest God's
When mercy seasons justice.

He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven

Had I the heavens' embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

I first heard Yeats' poem when it was used in the movie of Helene Hanff's 84 Charing Cross Road where it was recited by Anthony Hopklns. I fell in love with the poem and have been fond of Yeats' poetry ever since.

This week's Poetry Friday round-up is over at The Simple and the Ordinary.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Quick Reviews

After a stressful week and a half, I find myself with a handful of books that I've not yet reviewed, so I'm going to do some quick reviews of a paragraph or so, on the grounds that a short review is better than none at all !

Den of Thieves

Julia Golding's Den of Thieves is the third volume in her "Cat Royal" series. Young Cat finds herself homeless when her patron, Mr Sheridan, decides to pull down the Drury Lane Theatre in order to rebuild it. Having been found on its doorstep as an orphan, the theatre is the only home she's ever known. Too proud and stubborn to admit to anyone that she has made no other living arrangements, she watches her friend Pedro, the African boy who plays violin in the theatre orchestra, heading off to Europe. Her friend Sid the butcher is off on a boxing tour of England, and the family of Lord Francis, her wealthiest friends, is dispersing to France or the English countryside. Cat finds temporary accommodation and work with a fraudulent printer who passes her stories off as the work of his young male assistant. When Lord Francis and Mr Sheridan discover this, they are able to rescue Cat and Mr Sheridan offers Cat a job - a trip to Paris to find out more about the ongoing French Revolution. She naively accepts and heads off pretending to be a member of the Theatre's Ballet Company. Arriving in France under the protection of Lord Francis, she is nearly hung from a lamp-post as a traitor to the Revolution, then finds herself pursued by several suitors (much to her bafflement!) When the French Royal family flees Paris, Cat discovers the power of the people.

Pippi Longstocking

Astrid Lindgren's ever-popular character Pippi Longstocking is a nine year old girl who lives without any adult supervision in a house of her. She's very unconventional, assertive, rich and extraordinarily strong (she can lift her horse off the veranda that surrounds her house without difficulty). She frequently mocks and dupes the adults she encounters, although Pippi usually reserves her worst behaviour for the most pompous and condescending of the adults whom she meets. She makes friends with two children who live nearby and has a series of dramatic and adventurous escapades, usually with them in tow. This is a fun book and I can see why the character has remained so popular for so many years.

Mad Dogs and Englishmen

Paul Magrs' Mad Dogs and Englishmen was the 100th Classic "Doctor Who" novel to be published and it's an amusing and wild send up of English Literature's favourite fantasists. Reginald Tyler (a thinly disguised J. R. R. Tolkien) has devoted his life to the writing of his masterwork, "The True History of Planets". It is an almost endless story about elves, trolls, goblins, etc. At least, it used to be - and that's the book that the Doctor has always known. However, after arriving at a science-fiction convention in the early 21st century, the Doctor discovers that the book is no longer about such fantastical creatures, but is instead a book about the true events on Dogworld, a planet inhabited by poodles with hands who can talk. The Dogworld Queen has been overthrown and a new Emperor has taken over. To make matters worse, an acclaimed movie maker (a thinly disguised George Lucas) has made a movie of the book which will make the situation on Dogworld even worse. Thus, the Doctor, and his Companions, Anji and Fitz, have to figure out what's going on and how to stop it. They pick up some more temporary companions along the way and separate into the time stream in order to sort out what's happened. The Doctor and one poodle go to the 1940s and infiltrate the Smudgelings, Tyler's elite Cambridge writing group (the thinly disguised Inklings group of Oxford). Fitz and Flossie (another temporary companion) go to the 196's and fall in with the flamboyant torch-singer, Brenda Soobie, who is rather more than she seems. Finally, Anji and another poodle, go to the 1970s where work on the film of "The True History of the Planets" is just beginning. What follows is pretty bizarre but still amusing. There's even a comment on the decline of stop-motion animation and the rise of CGI in movies which is actually a major plot point of the story. And you may never look at Noel Coward in the same way again after reading this book as he's also a time-traveller - although he uses a rather different object to do his travelling to the Doctor's familiar TARDIS.


In Cat Weatherill's Barkbelly a farmer finds a wooden egg in a field and takes it home with him. One cold and wet winter night, when he and his wife are unable to get the fire to burn, he throws the egg onto the fire, and they're very surprised when a wooden baby pops out of it. He and his wife, who are childless, adopt the child and name him Barkbelly.

One day at school Barkbelly, who is immensely strong and almost indestructible, accidentally kills one of his school mates in a boisterous game of Bull Run. Convinced that the towns people will kill him, he flees and has a series of adventures, including working in a jam factory and joining a travelling circus. During his travels he discovers that there is an entire island full of other wooden people and he becomes determined to make his way there in order to find his family, from whom he believes he was stolen as an egg since Ashenpeakers (his people) are often sold into slavery as eggs. However, when Barkbelly discovers his mother, he also discovers that life is often more complicated than he had supposed.


David Thorpe's Hybrids was the winning entry to the Harper Collins/SAGA magazine nationwide competition to find a new author over the age of 50. A dark SF tale, its two protagonists are teenagers Johnny Online and Kestrella, who are hybrids - victims of a pandemic called Creep that is sweeping the UK and causes victims to merge with items of technology when over-exposed to their use. Kestrella, who has a mobile phone for a hand, persuades a reluctant Johnny, who merged with a computer and has a screen instead of a face, to help her find her missing mother, but the Gene Police have other plans for him. This compelling narrative is told alternately by Johnny and Kes, and questions the First World's dependence on technology, and our reactions in the face of a nationwide panic. Helen Dunmore, one of the judges for the HC/SAGA competition notes: "The writing is sharp, the dialogue good, and the action pacey and page-turning. But there's a real depth to this story, too. Like all good fiction it makes the reader see the world in a different light." A view I can endorse whole-heartedly.

Poetry Friday article

Susan of Chicken Spaghetti has a nice explanatory piece on Poetry Friday over at the Poetry Foundation website. It explains the origins of this "kidslitosphere" tradition, so do check it out.

* * * * * *

This working from home business is exhausting ! Thanks to the generosity of everyone who contributed to the "fighting fund" organised by Kelly H, I'm getting Broadband today so hopefully it'll get a little easier from tomorrow when working will be quicker, and I'll be able to get myself into a proper routine of working and writing. In the meantime, I have today off from working - so I can get the broadband installed and working - and I'm hoping to do a handful of "capsule" reviews of about a week's worth of books that I've yet to review. They'll be short (hence "capsule") but I figure a short review is better than no review at all !

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

More from "Improbable Journeys"

I was minding my own business, serving up my dinner earlier, and two of the other characters from Improbable Journeys started a conversation in my head, so I wrote down the conversation, then expanded on it a bit. I'm not sure whereabouts it fits into the tale (quite near the beginning, though). I'm slightly concerned the character descriptions are over the top so I'd be grateful for some feedback.

"Is this him?" asked Castella, tapping the screen in front of her.
"That's him," confirmed Ash.
"Right. Let's go and see him then. And let's hope he's not too argumentative."
"He's a teenager. They're programmed to be argumentative," answered Ash.
"Programmed?" asked Castella, stopping dead so that he almost ran into her back. "You didn't tell me he wasn't human."
Ash sighed. "He is human. 100%. I meant genetically programmed."
"Oh. Why didn't you say so then?" She strode off.
Ash rolled his eyes, unseen, as he followed her down the corridor to their ship. Sometimes he really wished she wasn't quite so literal-minded. He hurried to catch up with her, knowing she would be irritated if he kept her waiting. They made an interesting contrast. Castella was a tall, red-haired woman, willowy in build, but strong, as all TICK Agents had to be. Ash was short, and looked even shorter next to Castella. He was also bald and tubby. For him, staying fit was a constant battle; not that he over-ate, it was simply that Nature had intended him to be a short, tubby man with a jolly face. He looked like a caricature of everyone's favourite bachelor uncle. Castella, on the other hand, was probably a caricature of everyone's least favourite spinster aunt. She had hawk-bright eyes and a beaky nose. Ash had often wondered if she'd ever considered surgery, but he'd always concluded that she would consider it mere vanity, and the one fault she definitely didn't possess was vanity.

Doctor Who Quote of the Week

[To Adam.] Van Statten: You, English, look after the girl. Go and... canoodle or spoon, or whatever it is you British do. And you, Doctor-with-no-name... come and see my pet.

("Dalek", Season 1 New Doctor Who)

Sunday, June 10, 2007

And now for something completely different

As they always used to say on Monty Python.

I wrote the opening paragraph of my non-"Doctor Who" story last night (working title: Improbable Journeys) and this is it:

The one thing that Danny's history books never really made clear was the smell of the past. It was something he always noticed on his improbable journeys; that somehow the past smelled different. Right now his nose was full of the smell of mud, blood and death. It hadn't stopped raining for the last three days according to Hodges and the mud was so thick that men frequently pulled a foot out of it to find they'd left their boot behind. The duckboards were supposed to help but they just couldn't compete; half an hour after being laid down, they were sinking into the grey morass. Danny had only arrived three hours ago, but he felt as if he'd been struggling through the mud for three days too.

What do you think ?

* * * * * *

In other writing news, I've written my Doctor Who poem that Elaine challenged me to write, but I'm totally convinced it's too bad to post...

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Scholar's Blog Spoiler Zone Update

I've just posted my review of Doctor Who Season 3 episodes 8 and 9 "Human Nature" and "The Family of Blood" over on the Scholar's Blog Spoiler Zone. It's taken me the best part of a week as all my creativity was sucked out of me by the stresses over work.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Poetry Friday 53

I've got two rather contrasting poems to share with you this week. The first is Laurence Binyon's "For the Fallen", a WW1 poem that is often read at memorial services. A snippet was used in last Saturday's Doctor Who episode, the moving and wonderful "The Family of Blood", by the fab writer Paul Cornell (who also wrote one of my favourite episodes of Doctor Who's Season 1, "Father's Day"). (The photo above comes from the end of "The Family of Blood".)

For the Fallen

WITH proud thanksgiving, a mother for her children
England mourns for her dead across the sea.
Flesh of her flesh they were, spirit of her spirit,
Fallen in the cause of the free.

Solemn the drums thrill; Death august and royal
Sings sorrow up into immortal spheres,
There is music in the midst of desolation
And a glory that shines upon our tears.

They went with songs to the battle, they were young,
Straight of limb, true of eye, steady and aglow.
They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted;
They fell with their faces to the foe.

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

They mingle not with their laughing comrades again;
They sit no more at familiar tables of home;
They have no lot in our labour of the day-time;
They sleep beyond England’s foam.

But where our desires are and our hopes profound,
Felt as a well-spring that is hidden from sight,
To the innermost heart of their own land they are known
As the stars are known to the Night;

As the stars that shall be bright when we are dust,
Moving in marches upon the heavenly plain;
As the stars that are starry in the time of our darkness,
To the end, to the end, they remain.

The second poem is by Marianne Williamson and someone posted it on a forum to which I belong. Since this week has been a tough one, what with having my job "outsourced" and certain users of that forum spending the best part of the last week giving me a lot of grief, I found this poem particularly moving:

Our Greatest Fear

it is our light not our darkness that most frightens us
Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.

It is our light not our darkness that most frightens us.
We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous?
Actually, who are you not to be?
You are a child of the Universe.

Your playing small does not serve the world.
There's nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other
people won't feel insecure around you.

We were born to make manifest the glory of the Universe that is within us.
It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone.
And as we let our own light shine,
we unconsciously give other people
permission to do the same.

As we are liberated from our own fear,
Our presence automatically liberates others.

* * * * * *

This week's Poetry Friday round-up is hosted at HipWriterMama's Blog.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Meme: Personal/Professional Goals

Elaine of Wild Rose Reader has kindly (I think !) tagged me with a new meme - to share 10 - 15 professional and/or personal goals for the summer. Since I won't be having a summer break (see my previous post), I'm going to shift the parameters slightly to my goals for the rest of the year.

1 - Finish my series of "Doctor Who" novellas. I've reached the mid-way point (more or less) of story 6 out a projected series of 14.

2 - Write my first non-Who time travel tale (as mentioned here) for which I'm currently doing all kinds of background reading.

3 - Figure out a routine for working from home that means I earn enough to live on and still have plenty of time to write. My office hours were 7 am - 3 pm, which meant I had a good two hours (sometimes two and a half) after I got home from work in which to write solidly before dinner. I'd actually like to have more time each day in which to write - and certainly I'll gain about 45 minutes by not having to bus into town every day.

4 - Get work re-started on my study of fantasy heroines. I began this 4 years ago, but I've been waiting, in part, for J K Rowling to finish the "Harry Potter" series since Hermione is one of the fantasy heroines about whom I want to write.

5 - Watch all three seasons of the New Doctor Who series back to back - something else that *may* be more easily achieved if I'm working from home.

6 - Re-read the Harry Potter books. I had planned to re-read them all before the final book comes out, but I'm not convinced I can achieve that in the time that's left, given everything else I want to read - and all the writing I'm doing.

7 - Go to see Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End at the cinema - it's out, but as usual I'm broke !

8 - Read the various "Doctor Who" novels and short stories I've acquired in the last few months.

9 - Read some of the other books I've acquired in the last few months that people keep telling me are good !

10 - Finally write that "Ode to Doctor Who" that Elaine challenged me to write back in early May.

Now who can I tag ? I think I'll tag Nancy of Journay Woman and hope she forgives me !

As one door closes

- another one opens, or so the saying goes. I'm not entirely sure of the validity of this saying, having had a door firmly closed in my face this week with the announcement that I shall no longer be heading into the office to do my "day job". My job has been outsourced, so to speak, and I'm going to be working from home as of Monday. It's that or find another job altogether - and given I've received exactly three days notice, I've opted for a trial run of working from home. The problem is, the job means proofing online, and I have yet to upgrade my Internet connection to Broadband (as it's known in the UK, DSL elsewhere). Which means that any money I earn doing my job online will effectively go straight back out of my account to line the pockets of the phone company from whom I rent my line. Outraged on my behalf, Kelly H of Big A, little a has started a "fighting fund" to see if money can be raised to get me online via Broadband since I can't afford to sign up yet myself. If you wish to donate (and of course there's no obligation to do so), please head over to Kelly's blog for more details.

(I'm slightly embarrassed to even be mentioning this, but it was entirely Kelly's idea.)

Of course, this does have the potential to free up more writing time for me - but I doubt that will happen immediately as I shall have to work long hours just to earn enough to live on once I've paid the phone company.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Scholar's Blog Book Discussion Group

Just a quick reminder that the Scholar's Blog book discussion group has begun, and this month we're discussing Philip Pullman's The Ruby in the Smoke. If you've read it, please feel free to pop over and join in !

Doctor Who Quote of the Week

Rose: My mum's cooking.
The Doctor: Good. Put her on a slow heat and let her simmer.

("Aliens of London", Season 1 New Doctor Who)

Saturday, June 02, 2007

The Wereling Triligy - Stephen Cole

I picked up Stephen Cole's Wereling trilogy (which consists of Wereling: Wounded, Wereling: Prey and Wereling: Resurrection) from the library after reading and enjoying his Doctor Who novels (The Feast of the Drowned, The Monsters Inside and The Art of Destruction) as I was curious to see what he did with a non-Whoniverse story.

The trilogy starts with 16 year old Tom Anderson who is on a holiday with his parents and younger brother, Joe. He doesn't want to be with them, he wants to be on holiday with his mates and he has a blazing row with his parents before going off to the river. He's been warned that he shouldn't attempt to swim in the river because the currents are far too strong, but he decides to go for a dip anyway. Unfortunately he disturbs a bear and ends up trying to swim across the river to escape; since the current is too strong he gets washed down river. Fortunately he survives his near-drowning, but unfortunately he falls into the hands of Marcie and Hal Folan, who live on an island in the river with their two teenage children. And the Folans just happen to be werewolves. Tom doesn't know it, but rather than treating him for his near drowning, Marcie, who used to be a nurse, is working up some old magic to turn Tom into a werewolf, intending that Tom will mate with her daughter Kate, who is a lupine pureblood and won't develop her werewolf side until she's mated with a werewolf. However, Tom is a silverblood - his blood is naturally resistant to werewolf magic and when he's finally "turned" into a werewolf he becames a wereling - a werewolf whose wolfish nature is in balance with his humanity, which means that he's not just a cold-blooded killer like most 'wolves. When Tom discovers what's happened to him, via a conversation with Wesley, Kate's younger brother, he attempts to escape. But he finds himself forced to fight Wesley, and when Kate tries to intervene, wolf-Wesley turns on his sister and Tom, because his wolf nature is in balance with humanity, tries to stop him, but Wesley gets killed. Tom and Kate then escape from the Folan family home, but they don't have an easy time getting away because Marcie puts the word out amongst the extensive lupine community that Kate and Tom are on the run. They find themselves running into various 'wolves who'd be only too glad to capture them and hand them over to Marcie in the hopes of earning the favour of such a long-established 'wolf family.

In addition, there's Takapa, a scrawny albino 'wolf who has a sick vision for the future of 'wolves everywhere across America. He's working in New York, trying to build up a stock of newly turned 'wolves (homeless people and street kids) who serve as fight bait for other 'wolves whom he's trying to turn into superwolves. The superwolves are fed on dosed blood samples that make them crazy with bloodlust and enhances their strength. They team up with a small gang of street kids and one Stacy Stein, a doctor who specialises in creating the blood that Takapa is feeding to his superwolves - although she doesn't know that her work is being tampered with by another doctor. Tom is also searching for Jicaque, a Native American, who is descended from a long-line of shamans who have always worked to contain the 'wolf community. He can cure Tom, since he's a newly-turned 'wolf, but it will take a lunar month to do so - and in the meantime, Marcie is still hunting for Kate and Tom, and Takapa is causing havoc everywhere he goes. Tom and Kate, together with Jicaque, Stacy and a real estate agent named Adam Blood (whom Kate knows from certain internet chatrooms she used to frequent) soon find themselves facing Takapa who's attempting (successfully) to resurrect Peter Stubbe, an ancient 'wolf who is better known to scientists and historians as the Konig Man, and they find themselves involved in a major showdown in Chicago, in which everyone's life is at stake.

This trilogy was a gripping read and I enjoyed them enough to make a mental note to watch out for further books, whether Doctor Who ones or not, by Stephen Cole. The Wereling Trilogy: Wounded, The Wereling Trilogy: Prey and The Wereling Trilogy: Resurrection are also available from

Friday, June 01, 2007

Scholar's Blog Book Discussion Group - Reminder

Just a quick reminder that on June 5 the Scholar's Blog book discussion group will begin discussing Philip Pullman's The Ruby in the Smoke.

Poetry Friday 52

It was Walt Whitman's birthday yesterday, so I thought I'd share with you a couple of his poems of which I'm fond:

O Captain! My Captain!

O Captain! my Captain! our fearful trip is done, The ship has weather'd every rack,
the prize we sought is won, The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting,
While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring; But O heart! heart! heart!
O the bleeding drops of red, Where on the deck my Captain lies, Fallen cold and dead.
O Captain! my Captain! rise up and hear the bells; Rise up- for you the flag is flung- for you the bugle trills,

For you bouquets and ribbon'd wreaths- for you the shores a-crowding,
For you they call, the swaying mass, their eager faces turning;
Here Captain! dear father!
This arm beneath your head!
It is some dream that on the deck,
You've fallen cold and dead.

My Captain does not answer, his lips are pale and still,
My father does not feel my arm, he has no pulse nor will,
The ship is anchor'd safe and sound, its voyage closed and done,
From fearful trip the victor ship comes in with object won;
Exult O shores, and ring O bells!
But I with mournful tread,
Walk the deck my Captain lies,
Fallen cold and dead.

This poem was, of course, made more famous by its use in the Robin Williams film, Dead Poets Society, which film I confess I love, not least because of its emphasis on poetry and its use of Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream (which, at present, is the one Shakespeare play I most want to see live).

A noiseless patient spider

A noiseless patient spider,
I mark'd where on a little promontory it stood isolated,
Mark'd how to explore the vacant vast surrounding,
It launch'd forth filament, filament, filament, out of itself,
Ever unreeling them, ever tirelessly speeding them.

And you O my soul where you stand,
Surrounded, detached, in measureless oceans of space,
Ceaselessly musing, venturing, throwing, seeking the spheres to connect them,
Till the bridge you will need be form'd, till the ductile anchor hold,
Till the gossamer thread you fling catch somewhere, O my soul.

Don't we all do this - throw out bits of ourselves (not necessarily our souls - depending on your belief or not in souls), hoping to find someone or something to give us an anchor in life... ?

I love the last line of that first verse - just the way it rolls off my tongue as I say it...