About Me

My Photo
I am a writer, editor and reviewer based in Perth, Western Australia.

The Dagger of Dresnia

My books

My first novel, The Dagger of Dresnia (Book 1 of The Talismans) is published by Satalyte - it's available from their website as well as from Amazon.com and other online outlets. Book 2, The Cloak of Challiver, is in preparation. I also have a short story, La Belle Dame, in print - see Mythic Resonance below.

Buy The Dagger of Dresnia

The Dagger of Dresnia, Book 1 of The Talismans Trilogy, is available in paperback and e-book from the publisher, Satalyte Publications - click on the cover to visit their online shop. You can also purchase it from Amazon.com and other online retailers. The paperback can also be found in selected bookstores in Australia.

Mythic Resonance

Buy Mythic Resonance

Mythic Resonance is an excellent anthology that includes my short story 'La Belle Dame', together with great stories from Alan Baxter, Donna Maree Hanson, Sue Burstynski, Nike Sulway and nine more fantastic authors! Just $US3.99 from Amazon. Got a Kindle? Check out Mythic Resonance.

Prefer hard copy?

There are still a few paperback copies of Mythic Resonance available, too. Contact me (there's a contact form on my website) if you'd like a copy - $20 including postage within Australia.

Your books and theses!

As both writer and editor, I specialise in historical and high or epic fantasy. If you have a fantasy manuscript in preparation, don't waste money on editing too early. Instead, let me help with a mini-assessment of your work, based on careful reading of your synopsis and first 20 pages. Then, when you've worked on the manuscript in line with our discussions, I will be happy to do a full edit before you send it off into the big wide world. I am also an experienced academic editor, and am available to edit theses, journal submissions and other academic papers. For more about my editing work, CLICK HERE

Follow me on Twitter

Share a link on Twitter

Follow by Email

My Blog List

Blog Archive

Places I've lived: Manchester, UK

Places I've lived: Manchester, UK

Places I've lived: Gippsland, Australia

Places I've lived: Gippsland, Australia

Places I've lived: Geelong, Australia

Places I've lived: Geelong,  Australia

Places I've lived: Tamworth, NSW

Places I've lived: Tamworth, NSW

Places I've Lived - Sydney

Places I've Lived - Sydney
Sydney Conservatorium - my old school

Places I've lived: Auckland, NZ

Places I've lived: Auckland, NZ

Places I've Lived: Mount Gambier

Places I've Lived: Mount Gambier
Blue Lake

Places I've lived: Adelaide, SA

Places I've lived: Adelaide, SA

Places I've Lived: Perth by Day

Places I've Lived: Perth by Day
From Kings Park

Places I've lived: High View, WV

Places I've lived: High View, WV

Places I've lived: Lynton, Devon, UK

Places I've lived: Lynton, Devon, UK

Places I've lived: Braemar, Scotland

Places I've lived: Braemar, Scotland

Places I've lived: Barre, MA, USA

Places I've lived: Barre, MA, USA

Places I've Lived: Perth by Night

Places I've Lived: Perth by Night
From Kings Park

Inner Peace Blog

Inner Peace Blog
Awarded by Joanna Fay. Click on the image to visit her lovely website!

Versatile Blogger Award

Versatile Blogger Award
Awarded by Kim Falconer. Click on the pic to check out her Quantum Astrology blog!

Fabulous Blog Award

Fabulous Blog Award
Awarded by Kathryn Warner. Click on the pic to check out her Edward II blog!

Search This Blog

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Interview: Steven Gilshenen

Steven Gilshenen is a fellow Satalyte author, one with an unusual mission or two! For years, he sought Wuxia (Kung Fu Fiction) in the English language but could find little to satisfy his thirst, so he began creating his own story of a Shaolin Warrior Monk and a Wudang Taoist Warrior. The result isThe Tigers of Wulin series, the culmination of old legends, talks with Shifu (teachers) and research into the Martial Arts in hopes of not only sharing Wuxia with the English speaking world but also of conveying the lessons within these legends. Book one, Mark of the Shaolin, is available from Satalyte and other online booksellers.
By the request of the current Head of He Family Taijiquan in China, Steve has also written Cloud Hands, the first English language book on this style of Tai Chi. It will also be released by Satalyte Publishing later this month.
Here are the questions I asked Steve, along with his replies.

1.You've been living in Japan for a decade now. What made you decide to move there?

I have a 13 year old half-Japanese son. Since culture is something I value greatly I didn't want him to grow up not knowing that side of who he is and I couldn't teach it properly to him. Japan became home (I came here in 1999 and have been back in Oz for about 3-4 years total over the years since), but Australia will always be my true home. When the big earthquake happened a lot of friends fled, and I don't question their decision, but I made the choice and stayed. I'd been here when times were great, I felt I should stay even when times got rough. Over three years have passed since that terrible time and a return to Oz for good is in the near future.

2.You had a Damascene moment when you realized that Taijiquan (Tai Chi) was something more than 'punch-kick-block'. Can you describe what triggered this change in your attitude?

It was not so much one moment as a progression of seeing I was not good at the punch-kick-block stuff no matter how hard I trained. It just wasn't the right fit for me. I met a doctor of Traditional Chinese Medicine going by the English name of John Chen in Sydney through my job and he instantly recognized I had breathing problems (due to my dad's experience with Agent Orange) and offered to teach me Qigong breathing exercises to help. The results, utterly amazing, happened pretty quickly and he began teaching me what he called the Dragon Game, something I later found out was Qinna, a method of locking an opponent's joints and manipulating their balance/posture. Unfortunately, the doctor returned to China but the seeds had been well and truly planted by this time that there was a lot more to Martial Arts than I knew. Since each body/personality type has the right fit for them as far as Martial Arts go, I knew I was lucky to find mine and began private lessons in He-Style Taijiquan. That was twenty years ago last April and I haven't sought out any other Martial Art since. When you find that perfect fit, grab a hold and enjoy the ride.

3. Many people are unaware of the different purposes of Taijiquan. Can you say something about it as a meditative training system and as a martial art? Are they both studied at once or do pupils choose to do one or the other?

What we see as Taichi around us today is a relatively modern evolution, compared to the ancient method. Originally there was no distinction between health, spiritual method or fighting system. Whatever your purpose for learning Taijiquan, it is a moving meditation and the health benefits will come. They're are undeniably amazing! But, if someone was to learn Taijiquan as a Martial Art from a knowledgeable teacher those benefits are increased considerably. I was fortunate in that my first exposure to Taijiquan came when I was around five and never saw it as anything other than its complete form of health and Martial Art. I can't speak on any one else's training program, but within my school we learn it as a Martial Art, a complete system, that happens to also give miraculous health and spiritual benefits. I personally see this as following the way it was always meant to be, but that does not mean another way is not correct nor beneficial. A little of something great is better than a lot of nothing.

4. Most people would not even think to look for fiction based on a martial arts discipline, yet you have long been interested in it. What sparked this interest in the first place?

Monkey Magic! I grew up on that show. Then I started learning Martial Arts at six but fell in and out like most Aussie kids until my late teens. I'd always loved reading, especially fantasy, but never really understood how the characters fighting didn't really differ in their methods. To use fantasy as an example, elves are slender of body and long lived (and therefore their methods would most likely be highly developed with a deeply structured instruction system) while dwarfs/dwarves are short and stocky. The philosophy and art of both would influence their combat methods as well yet it wasn't really covered anywhere I read to the degree I was looking for. Over the years I had found novels with some Martial Arts in them but I felt it didn't carry the essence of the various systems when detailing fighting or even the learning process the characters would go through sufficiently. So at 16 I started writing my own about a young Shaolin Warrior Monk in training and his Wudang Wandering Taoist buddy that is now the Tigers of Wulin series.

Writing Martial Arts themed stories is not so different from other genres. Rather than have a fight within a story, the fight is the centerpiece. But at the end of the day, the story is the most important factor. I did have a 20,000 word fight in one book that had to be cut WAY down (obviously). It can't be just one long fight from start to finish!

5. One of your stated aims in writing Tigers of Wulin was convey to a Western readership something of the philosophy and teaching of Taijiquan. How well do you think you have succeeded in this aim? Has it aroused interest among readers?

For me writing is a component of teaching. Sharing these morals, these values, is part of what I hope to do within my classes as well. I benefited greatly from them and have the duty to pass that on. Being over in Japan, and my books read in English speaking countries (other than a few in Japan and China), I haven't had many opportunities to talk with readers so I can't say confidently it has had that desired effect yet. Those I have spoken to have appreciated that component of the story, though. The next book, Cloud Hands, has a lot more of the healing and spirituality side of Kung Fu in it so we'll have to wait and see how that goes. I have studied Traditional Chinese Medicine in the past and consulted with Adam O'Mara, an acupuncturist friend, so it will be interesting to see how that is aspect is received. There are some simple acupressure methods detailed in the story which may be of interest to readers too.

6. Your new book, which is more of a text on the History, Theory, Form and Applications of He-Style Taijiquan, is now available for pre-order. Do you see it as filling a gap in the literature about martial arts in English, and if so, in what way does it differ from other handbooks on the subject?

Actually, the next book is Cloud Hands - the Origins of Taijiquan. But in a sense it is a companion to the manual you mentioned, as both are on He-Style Taijiquan. It is because of that manual that the Tigers of Wulin series and Cloud Hands even exist. See, this style of Kung Fu is not widely practised. It is difficult to find information relating to its history and theory, was almost impossible twenty years ago. To help my students access this info I wrote a little guide for them but also had it checked by He Youlu, the Head Representative of He Family. He asked me to turn this guide into the first ever English language manual on the style. Lineage and respect are of paramount importance to me so when the Head of your system, a man that is a true Martial Arts Master in every sense and one who has given you so much, asks you to do something, you get it done! While there is ample in there for people interested in the history and theory of any style of Taijiquan/Kung Fu, it is mainly for the purpose of sharing this little known style with the English speaking world, especially the students of it that haven't had access to this information before. As far as differing from other manuals, I'd have to say I have never seen a book covering the physical movements of an entire system (Form, Push Hands, applications) in such detail before on any style. I have to add, this content was only made available due to the kindness and sincere devotion to sharing from the He Family themselves.

7. Since Mark of the Shaolin is book one of Tigers of Wulin, no doubt there will be at least one further volume. How many books do you think there might be in the series?

The Tigers of Wulin series is nine books long, with room for a few off-shoots if readers want to know some of the side stories. Currently, books 2 to 5 are sitting in the Satalyte Publishing office, Book 6 is pretty much complete on my IPad. The plan is to release Book 2 - Swords of Wudang - on 25 April 2015, to coincide with World Taichi Day, as the Wudang Mountains are the legendary birthplace of Taijiquan. Originally it was due out now with Book 3 - Scroll of the Drunken Fist - coming in December but I just had to get this story (Cloud Hands) and the manual out to people. After a lot of begging I managed to persuade Stephen at Satalyte to let me get these two out this year. That said, Swords of Wudang is probably my favourite story that I have written, or a close second to Cloud Hands. It sounds like a big task writing nine connected stories but really it isn't considering I've been creating this story for over 20 years now, drawing in history and myth. In Martial Arts, there are always connections between styles if you dig deep enough, and hopefully I have provided a clear path to seeing that with these books while keeping it entertaining enough to not read like a textbook.

8. Do you plan to write stories on topics other than Taijiquan?

I can guarantee everything I write will be a Kung Fu story in some way! Whether they are based in old days China or not, my stories will always have the themes of Wuxia in them. The reason I write is a little different to most: I see it as an extension of my teaching as I said above, something I have dedicated my life to. Martial Artists spend years honing their skills, training when their family are sleeping or their friends are out having fun. But I do not believe the benefits they acquire, whether health, spiritual or self defence, should be exclusive to any one group of people. If I can share the benefits I have received to even one person who may not want to learn a Martial Art, then I have become succeeded in my goal as a writer. Already I have seen the little difference I can make and it powers me on. David Greenland of Emerald Dragon Martial Arts in Australia put me onto a great cause, that of building an orphanage at the Shaolin Temple, and I am donating a portion of sales towards this project. I have been blessed with guidance and support from so many throughout the Martial Arts and I hope I can give back and share this with others.

Thank you, Steve! I hope that your books convince many more people of the benefits of your art. And I hope you raise lots of money for the orphanage, too.

Steve has also interviewed me - you can read the result on his blog at 

Another nice interview

Helen Stubbs has also interviewed me for the current community project: SF Snapshot 2014. You can read the interview on her blog.

Helen was on two panels with me at the Natcon in Melbourne, and we also shared a reading slot. Here were are, discussing our glorious prose before an appreciative and surprisingly large audience! Most of them, I noticed, sat near the back, no doubt ready for a hasty getaway, but in fact only one left early, and that with an apology!
Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Belly Dance memories

My Facebook friend Kevin has another set of questions, this time about belly dancing! Answering them has been an interesting exercise, as it’s been many years since I was a performer.

1.       What was it like when you performed for the first time?
In a word, scary! As a ballet and modern dance performer, I was used to dancing on a stage, not in a restaurant setting. Being able to look into the eyes of individuals in the audience and to hear the murmur of voices under the music was weird! What really got me was having to compete with food and drink. Usually, you can’t, and any club or restaurant performer has to get used to that. There is the odd occasion when some people will become engaged by the performance and actually stop eating, but that’s unusual.

2.       What have been some of your most favourite moments throughout your career as a dancer?
The odd time when people paid more attention to the performance than the food! And those rare occasions when some kind of magic happens and you know the audience is with you, fully engaged in the music and the movement. Those times make a dancer remember why she dances.

3.       What have been some of your least favourite moments?
Oh, dear – there have been lots of those! Again, they happen to everyone now and then and create embarrassment even when I think about them fifty years down the track! Getting my veil tangled up with an earring was mortifying. I struggled to remove the earring while continuing to dance, eventually discarding both veil and earring.  Another worrying thing was hostile musicians who deliberately played too fast or too slow, or kept playing long after I’d given them the signal to finish. I don’t know what it’s like now, but in the sixties musos were often resentful of dancers, who got paid a relatively high fee for a short act. What the musicians didn’t consider was the hours dancers have to spend making and repairing costumes, or the time and money they spent on hairdressing and make-up.

4.       Where would you like to be (as far as your career goes) in 5-10 years (or more) from now?
As I am now in my seventies, I may not even be around, and if I am and can still dance, I hope I shall still be attending classes and workshops.

5.       What was it that attracted you to the culture and/or world of belly dance the most?
When I was about fourteen, I saw the film Zarak, in which Anita Ekberg performed a sensual dance for her lover. I watched for opportunities to learn more about that kind of dancing – I guess I was about nineteen when I started to learn, though. The glamorous costumes, of course, held a lot of appeal!

6.       Would you have chosen to become a belly dancer had you known then what you know now?
Probably. It’s a job that has a limited lifespan, since there are always younger dancers waiting to step up and take your place. As long as you accept that, and are happy to change careers when you get older, there's lots of fun, good money, and many happy memories to be created along the way.

7.       Who would you say has the biggest source of inspiration for you throughout your career?
I am continually inspired by other dancers. My current teacher, Ayesha, is typical in her generous sharing of information and technical skill. Belyssa Radzivanas and Keti Sharif, who have done so much for belly dance in Australia, Egypt and many other countries, are also people I thoroughly admire. So is the wonderful Farida Fahmy, a dancer-actress of my own generation who became a dance ethnologist as well as a fine teacher.

It’s interesting to see how belly dance has changed over the years since I started out. My routines as performer were always based on one or two choruses of slow music – ‘Miserlou’ was a favourite – culminating in a floorwork section that was quite acrobatic, involving the splits and backbends. (After one gig, I wound up at an outpatients department with a splinter in my bottom!) Then the music would change to a fast number – my favourite was ‘Ya Mustafa’. This would get the audience clapping in time and usually led into a nice round of applause. The whole act would take less than five minutes, although sometimes a dancer would do two spots in the same floorshow. Today's routines don't follow that pattern, and as a result modern routines might have more artistic integrity as they set a mood and stick to it. There is also more respect for ethnicity, compared to the cabaret style I learnt and performed.

Ah, memories!

(Picture courtesy http://dance.lovetoknow.com/Belly_Dance_Clip_Art)
Sunday, 27 July 2014

An anonymous interview!

Well, not really quite anonymous, but Kevin, a Facebook friend, might prefer that I don't use his last name. He sent me some questions out of personal interest, and never one for hiding my light under a bushel, I thought I'd put the Qs and As here on the blog for all the world to see!

So, without further ado -

Q. What was the inspiration behind the various series of books you've made?
       A. I only have one series so far – The Talismans trilogy. It was inspired by three things: a/ My love of medieval history b/My long-time interest in genealogy and c/Inspiration from a writing exercise set by Lee Battersby at a convention – see link in next question for the full story!

Q. What was the driving force behind becoming an author?
A. After years of writing non-fiction (reviews, interviews, feature articles) and poetry, finally a story came to live with me and demanded to be written! That was my first novel, which, like most first novels, isn't very good. You can read how I came to write the present series here.

Q. Do you have any plans to expand the fictional universes that you've created beyond just the books you've made?
A. I’m still writing the trilogy so can’t be sure yet! Besides, I am an old lady now so it depends on how long I stay a/ Alive b/In reasonable health and c/Compos mentis.

Q. What have been some of your favorite books to read?
A. I’ve always loved fantasy, ever since I was a child. I also love history, myths and legends. I like biographies and travel books, too.

Q. What was the first book that you can remember reading and enjoying?
A. There was a series of books about a bear called Rupert that my mother and older sisters used to read to me when I was three. I taught myself to read on the Rupert books. My eldest sister had a boyfriend who was half-French, half-German, and he translated one of the books into both French and German so I could read the story in three languages!

Q. Who has been your favorite author and why?
A. William Shakespeare. He knew and understood human nature better than any other writer I’ve read, and could turn his characters into poetry.

Sunday, 20 July 2014

Effective reviewing

In response to my last post, fellow author Sue Bursztynski said, in part: 'I'm afraid that as your reviews build up, you will get some bad ones, some one and two star reviews on Goodreads and Amazon. Everyone has a different taste .... But I have a thick skin and so do you, I'm sure. A professional has to have one or never write again.'

I started to write a response to Sue's well-informed comment, but it was getting so long that I decided it was worth a post of its own.

A writer who has been brave enough to share his or her work with a critiquing group does develop a thick skin, and I think this is a highly underpublicized benefit of such activities. I joined critiquing groups quite early in my writing apprenticeship. Because I was already an experienced theatre reviewer, I always tried to make my critiques gentle, finding something good to say before suggesting possible improvements. I'm sure most of my crit-buddies did, too.

But when you have six or seven short stories or novel chapters to crit, the reviews tend to become more cursory and a lot less tactful, and I soon realised that I was as susceptible to unmasked criticism as anyone else. I found myself hurt, angry and otherwise distressed whenever someone responded negatively to my writing. A few years later, when I started to submit to publishers, I was again disappointed and hurt at every rejection letter. How could anyone not love my stories, my characters, my wonderful world-building?

Well, get real, Satima! It's a buyer's market out there. Less than one per cent of submitted material gets published, and it's not always because it's not good enough. Publishers, at any given time, tend to be looking for something in particular. If they know, for instance, that another publisher has just taken on a fantasy novel set in Siberia, the opposition will very likely be looking for a similar book, perhaps also set in a cold, inhospitable place. So you can submit the best vampires-in-space novel ever, and it will get the standard rejection slip before the reader has finished page two. Furthermore, even at this early stage, reader taste comes into play. If the slush readers (there is often more than one) don't like the book, you're fried to a cinder.

If it's any consolation, at some point you will start getting the odd personalised letter that says, in effect, 'Gee, I really liked this, but we are looking for inter-galactic murder mysteries right now'. This means you're getting better at your craft, and all you have to do it get your book on the desk of an editor who's been instructed to look for vampires-in-space or whatever it is you've spent so much time writing. A tall order, but it happens.

Give yourself a time limit - a long one. For example, 'If my vampires-in-space novel hasn't been accepted two years from now, I'll self-publish'. Of course, you can just cut straight to the chase without submitting to any publishing houses, but self-publishing, done well, costs money. You'll need to allow several thousand dollars for artwork and editing, and you will have to spend an enormous amount of time on publicity.

But I digress ...

Essentially, we fiction writers are producing a marketable commodity - books. Books are entertainment, first and foremost, and as with any form of entertainment some customers will prefer a particular genre, character type or writing style over all others. I've been lucky so far - the worst criticism has been that The Dagger of Dresnia lacks a map! Yes, when I get my first one or two star review, I'll be disappointed. However, I won't turn into a nervous wreck, because I'll know that the reader was actually hoping for another kind of book; one I hadn't written.

It sounds strange, but it's said that books receiving lots of reviews, even bad ones, sell better than books that get few or no reviews. So if you want to do your published friends a favour, review their books! If you're not sure how to write a review, check out my page called 'Write a review worth reading'. It gives you the quick Cook's Tour.

Saturday, 19 July 2014

Reviews of The Dagger of Dresnia

The blog seems to be all about reviews lately - reviews I've written, reviews I've read, reviews others have written ...

And there have been some lovely reviews of my novel, The Dagger of Dresnia. There are six so far on Amazon, and you can read them at http://www.amazon.com/The-Dagger-Dresnia-Satima-Flavell/product-reviews/0992460166/ref=cm_cr_dp_see_all_btm?ie=UTF8&showViewpoints=1&sortBy=bySubmissionDateDescending

And there are three on Goodreads as well: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/21898335-the-dagger-of-dresnia

I'm happy to report that they all carry four or five stars!

I've also had a couple in the local press, both of which were very commendatory. And of course, there are the lovely back cover blurbs by two of my favourite authors:

I guess it's only a matter of time before I get a bad review - it happens to everyone sooner or later - but there have been so many good ones that the odd bad one won't matter. Besides, any publicity is good publicity! Apparently even bad reviews are better than no reviews at all.
Thursday, 17 July 2014

Book review: Bitter Greens by Kate Forsyth

Bitter GreensBitter Greens by Kate Forsyth

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

An utterly lovely story, beautifully told. In fact, it is two stories in one: a re-imagined story of the convent days of French author Charlotte-Rose de la Force, and the fictional story of a nun who told her the tale of Rapunzel. How de la Force, a French noblewoman, learnt the Italian tale has long been subject to speculation, and this as convincing an explanation as we are ever likely to have.

In Bitter Greens, Forsyth has woven a tapestry as rich as any owned by the Sun King himself. It is, without a doubt, one of the best retellings of a fairy tale in a long time.

View all my Goodreads reviews
Monday, 14 July 2014

Book Review: The Lascar's Dagger by Glenda Larke

The Lascar's Dagger (The Forsaken Lands, #1)The Lascar's Dagger by Glenda Larke
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Lascar's Dagger is excellent start to a new trilogy! Two very likeable characters - Saker the Witan (priest) and Sorrel, handmaiden to a spoilt princess - each on a quest, cross paths again and again. We quickly realise that they would make a great partnership, but their commitments lie along separate tracks, each fraught with different dangers. Each time they meet, however, one manages to help the other in some way.

This is a wonderfully varied book, both in the contrast between the two main characters and the diverse places they visit. The secondary characters are also varied and well-drawn. Themes of friendship, loyalty and sacrifice underlie what is undoubtedly an exciting and orginal tale.

Glenda Larke has a fabulous imagination, and as in all her books, she has devised a credible but highly original system of magic. The Forbidden Lands just might be Larke's best trilogy yet. I can't wait for book two!

View all my Goodreads reviews
Wednesday, 9 July 2014

STOP PRESS - Write a review and win a book!

Review a Satalyte book and Win! 

Go to http://satalyte.com.au/2014/07/review-win/ for details!

Would you like a free ebook – just for reading a reviewing a book? Yes? Who wouldn’t!  Here’s your chance.

Review any Satalyte book on the Amazon, Goodreads and our website, tell us about it via Facebook with a link to your review and win yourself a free copy of any other Satalyte eBook. You can buy your books from the Satalyte bookstore, Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk, Amazon.com.au, Smashwords, iBooks and many other locations. If you already have a Satalyte book, and I know there are a LOT of you out there, then you don’t even need to buy a book.

If you have been interested in a couple of our titles, then here’s what you do.  Buy the first one, read and review it, then come back and claim the second one.

Monday, 7 July 2014

Another little snippet from The Dagger of Dresnia - the start of the big battle scene!

Here's another little snippet from The Dagger of Dresnia. It's the start of the big battle scene just before the end.

Beverak leaned into the charge, sword drawn, wind rushing in his ears. The earth reverberated with thousands of hooves, the air thickened with yells and screams. Arrows rained down around him. One caught him in the shoulder, knocking him back in the saddle, but it failed to penetrate. He brushed it off his mail and it fell harmlessly to the ground.

Closer, ever closer they rode, toward the bristling line of archers. The archers broke and ran, firing a final volley over their shoulders. Their departure revealed a wall of shields, sheltering behind a line of pikes stuck into the earth like a row of old men’s rotten teeth. A horse bolted past Beverak, making for a gap between the pikes. It missed and impaled itself, went down screaming. The rider flew into the wall of shields. It opened briefly, swallowed him whole. Another horse stumbled into a pitfall, and rolled on its rider. Both were trampled by the oncoming charge.

Around him, horses reared, baulking at the bristling pikes. He whispered into his own mount’s ear, and it hurtled forward, unfazed by the wall of shields and pikes. The wall broke. Men scattered and ran. Shields reformed in clusters around banners. Riders on the charge’s flanks fanned outward to attack from the sides.

Beverak pressed forward with the centre, slowing to meet sword with sword among the huddles of fighting men. He hacked and slashed at man after man, some mounted, some on foot. A sword chopped at his horse’s neck. Beverak’s sword took off the hand that held it. He wheeled to meet a mounted opponent, but the man’s horse bucked and pitched the rider beneath the hooves of Beverak’s rearing mount. Mud and grass and blood sprayed up, and Beverak pressed on.

The day reduced to cut, thrust, kill, turn, over and over again. Ullavir’s voice of years before rang in his ears. Grip with your knees and try not to die.

Then Ullavir was beside him in truth, the standard bearer at his side. ‘Back off, sire,’ he hissed. ‘We want a live king, not a dead hero.’
Monday, 30 June 2014

Book Review: Wildwood Dancing by Juliet Marillier

Wildwood Dancing (Wildwood, #1) 

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This review first appeared on the now-defunct website, The Specusphere, in 2007. Seven years on and it is still one of my top favourite books!

Since the release of her first book, the award-winning Daughter of the Forest in 2000, Juliet Marillier has established herself among the best historical fantasists of today. She has a world-wide fan base of readers aged from as young as eleven: Daughter of the Forest was especially loved by younger readers.

It is not surprising, therefore, that with Wildwood Dancing Marillier has crafted a work eminently suited for the Young Adult reader. Indeed it is marketed as such, being published under the Pan label rather than Tor, Pan Macmillan's adult speculative fiction brand, which has sponsored all seven of Marillier's earlier works. Nevertheless, Wildwood Dancing is more than acceptable as a book for adult fantasy lovers, too. Set in Romania, it gives us a new twist on vampires or 'Night People' as Marillier calls them, together with affectionate bows in the direction of several well-loved fairy tales.

Marillier's knowledge of folklore is second to none and her research for this book, as always, is meticulous. Her Transylvanian world is built up, layer upon layer, by references to its history, social customs, food and drink. Some might not see such attention to authentic detail as important, but others might argue that in a work targeting young adults it can be an added bonus if the reader is being educated as well as entertained.

And entertained she will be. I say 'she' because this is essentially a feminine book. Its protagonist is Jena, second of five daughters of a wealthy merchant who has done well enough with his importing business to buy his family a real castle to live in. There Jena and her sisters discover a portal leading to the Otherworld.

Wildwood Dancing is, at heart, a romance. Yet it goes deeper than the happily-ever-after fairy tale, for it touches on questions of sibling rivalry, friendship, trust, betrayal and loyalty. Marillier's approach to these issues is solidly grounded in the plot of what is, essentially, a ripping good read.

Only in one scene does this cohesiveness falter slightly: Jena deserts her best-loved friend, who has, admittedly, undergone an astonishing transformation. Up until this point, Jena has come across as an upright, loyal girl and despite the terrifying situation, it is hard to accept her sudden abandonment of one who, only minutes earlier, she had being calling her 'truest friend in all the world'. However, any failure in the reader's suspension of disbelief is quickly forgotten, as remorse and love enable Jena to discover within herself the necessary bravery and truthfulness to put things to rights, with the best of all possible outcomes.

Wildwood Dancing's cover art is by Kinuko Y. Craft, whose work has graced jackets of books by Brian Aldiss, Isaac Asimov, Guy Gavriel Kay, Stephen King, Ursula LeGuin, Patricia McKillip and Andre Norton. It is utterly stunning. Any young lady between the ages of nine and ninety-five would love this book for the cover alone. What's more, it's obvious that Craft has actually read the manuscript, as it really does reflect the book's contents. (This and other examples of Craft's work can be viewed at www.kycraft.com)

More on the work of this justifiably popular author can be found at www.julietmarillier.com 

View all my Goodreads reviews
Sunday, 15 June 2014

Interview swap: Sue Bursztynski

Sue Bursztynski, who has produced what in my opinion is one of the best YA novels in years with Wolfborn, has kindly agreed to swap blog interviews. We asked each other four questions:  

What are you working on?
How does your work differ from others in your genre?
Why do you write what you write?
How does your writing process work?  

What are you working on?
Right now, a short story, straight historical fiction, about Dr 'James Barry', a woman who lived as a man for most of her life in order to be able to have a career as a doctor, something not usually possible for women in the nineteenth century. I first heard of her when I was researching for my book Potions To Pulsars: Women doing science. She was passionate about her work, kept her hospitals clean, performed the first caesarean operation in which both mother and child survived and fought duels at the drop of a hat. A truly cranky lady of history! If I don't sell it first go, I may have to add fantastical elements to sell it to a spec-fic market. Fingers crossed!

How does your work differ from others in your genre?
I've had some good reviews for my first novel and some awful ones, but none so far has said, 'This is just like all the others.' Not one. I did get some that said,'Well, that was different!'

I suspect I annoyed those who thought they were getting an urban fantasy in which the heroine would have two suitors, a smouldering Byronic vampire/Faerie Prince/Selkie Prince and a gorgeous werewolf, and readers could say they were 'Team Fred' and 'Team Joe' ... and it turned out to be a mediaeval fantasy seen from the boy's viewpoint, in which he and the girl had to put off their romance till the danger to those they cared about was over.

Actually, some liked that. ;-)

Why do you write what you write?
Mostly, I write speculative fiction, with the occasional piece of historical fiction. I write it because I love telling stories and because what I have to say needs more scope than mainstream fiction affords. I write for children and teens because children's and YA fiction is one of the last refuges of story, as opposed to ‘beautiful writing’ that isn't actually about anything in particular, and because you can't bullshit kids.

How does your writing process work?
It depends on what it is. If I'm writing to a deadline, I write late at night. I have to be up at six to get to my day job, so I don't sleep much at those times. I sometimes go to a local cafe, to get away from the distractions at home. I start with the germ of an idea and research the background, sometimes first, sometimes as I write the first draft. For my stories set in the 1960s I went to the State Library to read the newspapers of the time, not just the subject I was looking for - the Beatles in Melbourne, the day of the first moon landing - but letters to the editor, advertising, the TV guide, articles about what else was happening that week or that year. For my mediaeval stories, I have read whole books about the role of women, the church, life in the cities, life on the manor, knightly training. I also looked up stuff about real wolves as opposed to the 'were' variety for my novel. I read books of folklore about faeries (I was pleased to see in Melissa Marr's bibliography that she'd used many of the same sources for Wicked Lovely). Anything that helps in my world building! I play mediaeval music to get me in the mood (though I often stop writing to get up and dance!)

Carry on dancing, Sue Bursztynski!
If you'd like to read Sue's interview with me, go to 

Friday, 13 June 2014

A scene from The Dagger of Dresnia, in which Tammi shows her metal - and gets a fright!

Not quite right - Tammi would almost certainly have plaited her hair!
Tammi cleaned off her knife and held it up to the light. Sunlight glittered on along its edge.
     ‘For an eating knife, it must be very sharp,’ commented Zavardi.
     ‘It is very sharp,’ replied Tammi. ‘My mother gave it to me when I left home, and she had leather pockets sewn into all my boots and shoes so I could always carry it.’
     ‘Ladies carry no weapons in my country,’ said Edeanna. Her voice sounded disapproving. ‘We carry our eating knives only, hanging from our belts.’
     Tammi stowed the knife safely back in her boot and smiled nicely at Edeanna. ‘My father is a great believer in women being able to defend themselves. I trained at arms with my brothers, and I can still beat the younger ones.’
     ‘Is that so, Tammi?’ Beverak was looking at her as if she’d suddenly sprouted another pair of limbs.
     ‘It is so, my lord.’ Tammi grinned at her husband.
     Beverak scrambled to his feet and made for the horses. ‘Wait a minute,’ he called back over his shoulder. ‘I’m going to put you to the test.’
     He was soon back, bearing a small bow and a quiver of arrows. ‘Borrowed it from one of the older pages,’ he explained. ‘It should be just right for your size and weight. Do you reckon you can hit that sapling on the other side of the stream?’
     Tammi stood up and took the proffered weapon. ‘Of course I can. In fact, my lord, I’ll lay you a wager. My little knife against the silver pin on your cloak that I can hit not that sapling, but the bigger one atop the far bank.’
     ‘But that one must be thirty yards away,’ said Melrad. ‘Surely a girl can’t shoot that far.’
     His voice carried an undertone of ‘a girl can’t shoot at all,’ and Tammi was determined to prove him wrong. ‘I can shoot much farther than that, and hit the target. This is only a little bow, brother, or I would show you.’ She found an arm brace tucked into the quiver and deftly strapped it onto her left arm single-handed. She chose an arrow, examined it, discarded it as being unbalanced, and selected another. She nocked it, took her stance, raised the bow...
     The arrow flew in a glorious arc like a bird flying to its roost, but with a satisfying thwunk that no bird would have made. Tammi lowered the bow and held out her hand to Beverak.
     Shaking his head in disbelief, Beverak reached for his cloak and removed the pin.
     ‘Well shot, sister,’ said Volran. ‘If we ever have cause to go to war, we’ll add you to our archers!’
     Tammi smiled her thanks and stuck the pin into the fabric of her gown. Beverak kissed her on the cheek and whispered,  ‘I’ll put you to a different test tonight,’ and Tammi had to stifle a giggle.
     Melrad picked up the bow Tammi had discarded and examined it closely. ‘How on earth did you manage that with this paltry toy?’
     Volran and Beverak peered over his shoulder as he tried to replicate Tammi’s feat, and soon they were in competition and Beverak had gone to find more arrows while his brothers stood arguing about trajectories and angles.
     Edeanna looked quite put out by Tammi’s success, but she simply changed the subject. ‘I wonder if the stream is very cold?’
     ‘Let’s find out!’ Zavardi took off her shoes and hose and dabbled her toes in the water. ‘Ooh, yes, it’s cold!’ she shrieked.
     Edeanna dipped her hand and frowned. ‘No, not cold! In my country, the streams are frozen already! But swim I would not.’
     Tamirayne laughed. Like Zavardi, she had removed her footwear. ‘You are both cowards. Look at me!’ And she was in the water and away, hitching her skirts ever higher as she waded upstream, carrying her boots and hose in the other hand.
     ‘Defeated by Aristand I will not be!’ Edeanna exclaimed. Tammi turned to see that she had also got rid of her shoes and hose and had taken to the water.
     Zavardi must have felt she had to uphold the honour of Kyrisia, for she was following Tammi and Edeanna in the time it took to blink. Only a few yards upstream, however, she stopped to admire a berry-laden shrub and called to Edeanna, who waded back to join her.
     Tammi went on alone. The water was certainly cold, but she wasn’t going to let Edeanna see that it troubled her. Once she was out of sight of the party, she scrambled back onto the bank and sat down, rubbing her feet to warm them before replacing her hose and boots. She stood up, shaking her skirts. Despite her care, the hems were sodden. Perhaps it hadn’t been such a good idea to go paddling after all.
     As she was wringing the hems, a swishing noise overhead caught her attention. A shadow made her think it was a huge bird, but no bird of that size would be flying within the forest. As she turned on the spot, a hand shading her eyes in an effort to see the strange creature, the swishing sound came again, and this time she caught a glimpse of its source.
     A huge bat ... but was it? No bat was ever that big. And its legs — they looked human! Tammi stifled a scream, cramming both fists to her mouth.
     The creature vanished over the trees, and Tammi took a deep breath. She must have been mistaken about the legs. She must ask Beverak about the bats here. Maybe they were bigger than the ones at home.
     But the creature returned, and its next pass, lower than the last, cured her of any idea that this was any kind of bat. It had a human — or almost human — face. Its whiteless eyes glistened unrelieved green. Matching slime dripped from vicious incisors. It was close enough for her to catch a whiff of its stench, reminiscent of pond slime laced with manure.
     Tammi screamed. And ran.
Picture courtesy of http://www.123rf.com/
Monday, 12 May 2014

Book Review: Black Ships (Numinous World, #1) by Jo Graham

Black Ships (Numinous World, #1)Black Ships by Jo Graham

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This review was originally published in August 2008 on the now defunct webzine, The Specusphere,

Jo Graham’s debut novel arose out of a long-time interest in Ancient History. She also loves the old stories, including The Aeneid. Her knowledge of history made her realise that Aeneas could not possibly have founded Carthage because that city did not exist at the time of the Trojan Wars, when The Aeneid is set. So she re-wrote the classic tale, focussing on characters fleshed out from mere mentions in the original and giving the story an Egyptian twist. Black Ships is the result.

Graham has given us, as first person point-of-view character, a girl named Gull, born in slavery in Pylos where her mother had been sold as a prize of war. She grows up to become Pythia, seer and priestess of Persephone, and when Prince Aeneas arrives with his nine warships and three fishing boats to rescue the captives, the course of her life is irrevocably altered. She must decide between her sacred calling and a perilous adventure – fleeing from slavery to be guide to her people and especially to Aeneas.

The Aeneid has a story worth telling again and again, and if you do not mind reading a version that departs from the original tale and tells it with a new voice, you will love this book. Graham takes us right inside the culture and society that spawned Gull and her fellow captives, giving us along the way credible glimpses of life in the palace of the Pharaohs. She also shows us what it was like to sail the Mediterranean in ships that were barely seaworthy and to be shipwrecked on land that was barely habitable. And always, the ground bass of The Aeneid plays in the background with Graham’s tale playing a melodious counterpoint.

The Aeneid is, of course, an epic tale, and enjoyable and well written as Graham’s spin-off is, the reader sometimes feels rushed. Whole decades are glossed over as the author fights to squeeze the story into less than 400 pages and one cannot help but feel that a more leisurely pace, perhaps spreading Gull’s story over two books, might have been preferable. Even so, this is a fine debut novel, suitable for all age groups. It will be treasured by anyone who, like the author, loves history and mythology.

View all my Goodreads reviews
Monday, 5 May 2014

Book review: Winterbirth by Brian Ruckley

Winterbirth (The Godless World, #1)Winterbirth by Brian Ruckley

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This review originally appeared on the now defunct webzine, The Specusphere, in January 2008. I wrote it in conjunction with my friend Joan Malpass.

Ruckley's debut novel tells of war and violence set in a land torn apart by the breaking of a truce. If Ruckley is to be believed, the greatest tales are written in blood. In this first book of a trilogy, he sets out to demonstrate that through lavishly described hard and heavy action set in a godless world of ice and blood. The adventure begins when the Gods have made the world and created the five races. Now the gods are absent as the third age arrives, bringing chaos. The struggle lies between those who each believe their way is right: the way in which all wars begin.

The weapons are age old, the skills even older. Swift and violent battles rage and always the blood runs. Those few who seek peace are lost in the chaos as they strive for a different future. Action drives the tale as the battles of the Thanes of the True Bloods are played out. Their cruelty, passion and blood lust are paralleled by the quest of one man seeking to ‘activate in full the terrible power he senses in himself’. And all will tremble if he should succeed.

Winterbirth might appeal to a wider audience if one or more of the female characters had been developed. Such inclusion as there is of the softer side of life is little more than token. There are three potentially interesting female characters - Anyara, Yvane and Ess'yr. (As an aside, why on earth do so many fantasy writers think apostrophes essential to exotic names?) If one of them had been used to provide more of a foil for the blood and thunder, it might have been easier to cope with the continual marching-fighting-marching-fighting. As it stands, Winterbirth comes across as a rather confusing story about a great many macho men dumped in a wild setting and left to fight it out. This is a book with huge cast of characters, but sadly, none is sufficiently clearly drawn to make us interested in his or her personal journey. Fantasy's greatest strength, perhaps, lies in its capacity to depict an outer journey as a cipher for the inner one, and Winterbirth didn't do that, at least, not for these reviewers.

But there's no denying that Winterbirth has the capacity to haunt in shades of red. For those who like their heroic battles well steeped in blood and action this could well be the start of a satisfying journey.

Bloodheir, The Godless World Part Two and Fall of Thanes, The Godless World Part Three are also available on Amazon. For more about Brian Ruckley and his work, check out http://www.brianruckley.com 

View all my Goodreads reviews
Monday, 28 April 2014

Book Review: HBO's Game of Thrones

Inside HBO's Game of ThronesInside HBO's Game of Thrones by Bryan Cogman

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Gollancz September 2012: ISBN 978 0 575 09314 0
Author Bryan Cogman’s offering to fans of George RR Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire series of books (seven so far, and counting…) and the spin off TV series Game of Thrones is beautifully luxurious without going over the top. At $45 RRP it’s not cheap, but it hit the market nicely timed for the Christmas rush. If you have a nearest and dearest who is a fan of the series in either of its manifestations, look no further – any enthusiast would be delighted to receive this gorgeous tome.

Caressing the soft vinyl cover, reminiscent of the soft leather bindings of a century or more ago, we are immediately carried back in time. Not as far back, perhaps, as the pseudo-medieval world of the series, but far enough back to feel that here is something special, a message from the past. Skimming the enticing Table of Contents, we find that there are entire sections devoted to each of the families engaged in the eponymous struggle – the Game of Thrones. Histories of the houses and of individual characters invite us to dip into their world and get to know them better. Anyone coming into the HBO series without having read the books is likely to need this guide, for this is a complex tale with literally thousands of characters. Fear not – there are family trees and maps included to help you find your way around. The book also features Will Simpson's concept art and work from Gemma Jackson's design team. It also boasts previously-unpublished set photos, production and costume designs, storyboards and props.

Each section is enhanced not only by a multitude of black and white, sepia and colour pictures, but also by interviews with and comments from the actors, production staff and the Grand Old Man himself. As well as popping up regularly within the pages, GRRM also wrote the preface, explaining how the series came to be made. The production’s story is a fascinating one, involving multiple international venues and a huge cast of principals and extras, to say nothing of the vast army of production personnel and support staff.

The book, of course, only covers series one and two, and it’s likely that there will be many more, with a projected ten episodes required to cover each book in the series. Series one and two – twenty eps – are already available. If this book does well perhaps the author will be moved to cover more ‘makings-of’ in further volumes. With a steady turnover of principals (the story has a huge body count) there will be plenty of call for more fan fodder in the coming years.

American author Bryan Cogman is known for writing two episodes of the series: What Is Dead May Never Die, the third episode of the show's second season, and Cripples, Bastards, and Broken Things, the fourth episode of the first season. He has written at least one episode for series #3 as well. He has also edited ten episodes. Cogman is familiar with the cast, crew and writing team of Game of Thrones, and his insider knowledge is what makes this book shine.

As a fan of the books and the HBO series, I give this one five stars!

View all my Goodreads reviews
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...