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We are more than half way through November and I have not written a blog post. Life goes on as usual: Mondays and Tuesdays I teach dance. W...

About Me

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I am a writer, editor, reviewer and dance teacher based in Perth, Western Australia. You might enjoy my books - The Dagger of Dresnia, the first book of the Talismans Trilogy, is available at all good online book shops. Book two, The Cloak of Challiver, will be available again shortly. Book three, The Seer of Syland, is in preparation. I trained in piano and singing at the NSW Conservatorium of Music. I also trained in dance (Scully-Borovansky, WAAPA) and drama (NIDA). Since 1987 I have been writing reviews of performances in all genres for a variety of publications, including Music Maker, ArtsWest, Dance Australia, The Australian and others. Now semi-retired, I still write occasionally for the ArtsHub website, and I still teach dance at Trinity School for Seniors, an outreach program of the Uniting Church in Perth.

My books

The first novel of my trilogy, The Talismans, is available as an e-book from Smashwords, Amazon and other online sellers. I do have paperbacks of The Dagger of Dresnia at the low price of $AU25 including postage within Australia. I also have a short story, 'La Belle Dame', in print - see Mythic Resonance below. Book two of the trilogy, The Cloak of Challiver, will be available again shortly. The best way to contact me is via Facebook!

Buy The Talismans

The first two books of The Talismans trilogy were published by Satalyte Publications, which, sadly, has gone out of business. Book one, The Dagger of Dresnia, is up on the usual bookselling web sites as an e-book, and I have a few hard copies to sell to those who prefer Real Paper. Book Two, The Cloak of Challiver, will be available soon. The easiest way to contact me is via Facebook.

The Dagger of Dresnia

The Dagger of Dresnia
Want a copy? Contact me at satimafn(at)gmail.com

The Cloak of Challiver

The Cloak of Challiver
Available again as an ebook soon!

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.

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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!

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Saturday, 31 January 2009

Interview meme: my turn to bowl

Friends, I'd like you to meet Lee Battersby, one of Australia's most highly regarded writers of short stories in the field of speculative fiction. But there's much more to Lee than that. Read on to find out for yourselves.

Q1. Lee, When I first met you, back in about 2002, you had just received recognition in the Writers of the Future contest. Since then, you've had many more short stories published, including your collection "Through Soft Air"; you've been a tutor at Clarion South and you've written one or two novels as well. Of all your achievements since WOTF, which one stands out for you?

A1. Probably being invited to tutor at Clarion South. Most of the things I've done as a writer have been at the small press level, but Clarion was the first (and to date, only) time I was really ranked amongst the big boys by someone, which I think was a massive show of faith by the organisers. I'd like to think I didn't let them down, but, to me, if you look at the names of tutors over the years I do stand out like a sore thumb as the "Who?" guy amongst them. My entire career seems to have been a case of stepping above my station on one occasion and then working my arse off not to have that step be a one-off. To date, that Clarion appearance is my biggest step, and my biggest one-off.

Q2. Which of your own stories do you love the best?

A2. I don't have a favourite. Once the stories are written and published, they're yesterday's news. I don't have a huge amount of reprints because I rarely look backwards. It's more important to be working on the next thing, the new project, than to think about what I've already done. (As Michael Keaton said about playing Batman: I don't want to find myself at a car show in twenty years, still in the suit, with a kid on my knee, saying "Is that your Mom? Tell her to meet me after the show.")

I have several stories that stand out, because of awards, or because they're good to use at readings so I use them more than once, but there's no real star of the litter. I'd much rather hear that a reader has a particular favourite than have one myself.

Q3. Your wife Lyn is also a writer of no mean repute. Which one of Lyn's stories do you love the best?

A3. Ah, see, now this is easier :) Lyn's best story is called 'A Whisper In The House of Angels'- to date, it's unpublished, because it's a very hard sell: it's subtle, disturbing, and gives the reader very little in the way of sure footing. It just needs the right editor, and when it finds publication, it's going to win everything. Of her published stuff, I have a real soft spot for 'Of Woman Born', in Daikaju II. It's very short, only 600 words or so, but it's everything Lyn is capable of: feminine, mature, imaginative, unique, all the elements that make up a Lyn Battersby story, plus it manages to be more than a little twisted and giggle-inducingly funny into the bargain. I think it's been sadly ignored, and vastly underrated.

Q4. You've made it clear on many occasions that traditional fantasy is not your favourite genre. What do you think of some of the current crop of writers, such as Margo Lanagan, who are putting new, darker spins on some of the old tropes?

A4 Actually, I'm not a fan of Lanagan's writing. I find it contrived and soulless. I'm also aware that I'm in a tiny minority on this issue. I am going to raise issue with your statement, though: the thing is, I am a fan of traditional fantasy. What drives me to such public distraction is the sheer amount of bad trad-fantasy we see served up to us. It's precisely because I love the good stuff that I rail against the Eddings' and Brooks' of the genre. Despite all his flaws, Tolkein's work was incredible, as was Dunsany's, and Stephen Donaldson's original Thomas Covenant trilogy was amazing. It's just that trad-fantasy seems to be the logical extension of Sturgeon's Law, and nobody seems to say "Stop! The good stuff is over here!"

I also don't see the usurpation of standard fantasy tropes as a new thing, although I'm a fan of writers such as Mieville and KJ Bishop who are spinning it out in new directions. You don't have to go too far back to see Tim Powers doing wonderful things within 'standard' settings (witness 'Anubis Gate' and 'Drawing Of The Dark') and you can go back even further to writers like Wolfe, Vance, Moorcock, Le Guin and Poul Anderson to see some astonishingly wonderful 'non-traditional' fantasy stories.

It's writers like these who point out how well you can do epic fantasy (Trad-fantasy, high fantasy, call it what you like), which makes it all the more annoying to me to see readers settling for the latest instalment in whichever pale 'Witches Guild of the Wheel of Shannara' Tolkein-shadow you care to name.

Q5. And finally, what are your ambitions for the next five years, both personally and writing-wise?

A5. I'm 38 years old. I want to be supporting my family through my writing by the time I turn 45. I want to make a concerted effort to move away from the short story/small press/horror story niche I seem to have been tarred with, and move into a wider publishing base-- novels, more in the line of guys like Chuck Palahniuk and Jonathon Lethem, who are writing genre, to all intents and purposes, but who seem to have avoided being hemmed in by the label. If I get a chance to write another screenplay, or work outside my current boundaries, I'll be eager to do so. I didn't start out wanting to be an SF writer: I wanted to be a writer, non-specific, one thereof. I've become distracted, rather, since I started selling-- small press SF is a bit of a honey trap, psychologically. I really want to go back to my original, pure desire-- to write, and publish, whatever I choose, without thought of genre, or form, or purpose. I love writing poetry, and comedy sketches, and plays, and screenplays, and short stories, and cartoons. And I've published all of them over the years. That's what I want.

Of course, what I'd like to do is really push towards achieving a significant artistic and commercial impact over an extended period of time. People like Spike Milligan, David Bowie, Stephen Fry, Alice Cooper, and David Hockney are my template: multi- form artists who can move from medium to medium as the need arises. It's a very British way of thinking, to me- defining the artist by themself, rather than what they produce. Nobody over there tells Stephen Fry he can't write a novel because he's an actor, but over here we tend to look down on people who try to cross boundaries, as if they should be glad to work in one form. I'd like to break past that.

Either that, or I'd like to dress up as a bat and fight criminals. I'm still undecided.

Thanks to Lee Battersby for that thoughtful interview.
Monday, 26 January 2009

Interview meme

Friends, you will be wondering what has gone wrong with me, posting every day for four days running! Anyhow, this one is here because I took the bait over at Jason Fischer's blog, and now I'm doing the interview meme.

In the interests of fair play, here are the rules. If you want to be interviewed by moi, please leave a comment below and I'll interview you as gently as any sucking dove.

1. Leave me a comment saying, "Interview me!"
2. I will respond by asking you five questions. I get to pick the questions.
3. You will post the answers to the questions (and the questions themselves) on your blog or journal.
4. You will include this explanation and an offer to interview someone else in the same post.
5. When others comment asking to be interviewed, you will ask them five questions. And thus the endless cycle of the meme goes on and on and on and on...

I am not the must succinct person to interview, and these are great questions that Jason dreamed up, worthy of close attention. So this is quite a long post, I'm afraid. However, without further ado:

Jason Fischer interviews Satima Flavell

Q1) You are a sub-editor for the Specusphere. How did you initially get involved with this brilliant resource, and what is your role?

A1) From 1987-1995 I wrote on the arts, primarily dance, starting off with reviews for Music Maker (which later morphed into ArtsWest) and pretty quickly I was given my own column. I've must've done OK because I soon got head hunted by Dance Australia and The Australian as a dance reviewer. That was great - I got free tickets to see fantastic shows, I got to meet some fine artists, and had opportunities to interview interesting people who loved what they were doing. And I got paid for it! There was the odd nice party, too:-) However, In 1995 I went overseas and was away for over three years. I came back to find ArtsWest defunct - at least in part, or so the editor assured me, because they couldn't replace me! However, the other publications had certainly replaced me, so I would have had to start over, looking for new markets. While I was away, I'd started writing Fantasy. Because I wanted to focus on that, I couldn't be bothered starting again in my old field. But I missed writing non-fiction, and so that I could get to know other writers and fans I wrote occasional articles for the old Visions zine. That morphed into The Specusphere in 2005 and the Editor-in-Chief, Stephen Thompson, needed a Reviews Editor. I stuck my hand up, and I'm still here!

Q2) How do you see the future of reviewing novel-length fiction in Australia? What are the principle difficulties in attracting and retaining quality reviewers?

A2) My first thought here was "Hang on Jason, that's two questions!" But in fact the first segues nicely into the second.

Few print publications are publishing reviews at all and those that do, publish very few. A new genre author has little chance of getting a review in, forex, The Australian, or even the state newspapers these days. Publishers are relying more and more on the webzines for publicity, and that includes reviews. It's easy to see that the whole industry will be largely electronic within ten years or so, and even big publishers - Tor and Harper Collins, forex - are playing with e-publication. Now, the big drawback, as I see it, is that there is not yet a good, inexpensive reader on the market, so reviewers, who are, after all, writing FTL, are obliged to read ARCs on their computer screens.

This brings me to the second part. Few people read on-screen from choice. Most readers - and that includes reviewers - much prefer hard copy. So one difficulty in attracting and keeping reviewers in future is going to be the lack of a good, cheap, hand-held reader. I'm getting murmurings about it already when I ask for volunteers to review e-ARCs. They don't mind doing anthologies, because they can share the workload by doing one or two stories each, but they baulk, and I don't blame them, at Fat Fantasies. Or, indeed, anything over about 30,000ww.

However, that's not yet the main reason it's hard to attract and keep reviewers. The main one is time - people start out willingly enough, but a good review takes time to write, and that after spending anything up to 20 hours reading the book. People who have livings to earn and who also want to write their own works often find reviewing more onerous than they'd expected, and give it away after a few months. However, we've built up a good team at The Specusphere over the last year or so. The reviewers are all keen readers and some of them have had or are having academic training - in fact, some supervisors suggest their candidates write reviews in order to hone their critical faculties - and all of our reviewers absolutely love speculative fiction.

Q3) Who are the most exciting writers you've recently read?

A3) I don't know who to talk about first, Jason! You only have to look at the recent Jack Dann-edited antho Dreaming Down Under, in which you had an excellent story, to see that even in just the short story area there are some fantastically talented and inventive people. Lee Battersby, to name just one, goes from strength to strength and guys like you and Felicity Dowker are hard on his heels. The short story is in no danger of becoming moribund in this country!

Novel-wise, I am particularly taken by the recent crop of writing in the "tight third" point-of-view. People like Jo Abercrombie, Margo Lanagan and K.E. Mills have lifted this style to new heights by making dialogue and narrative seamless, so the reader is deeply immersed in the writer's world. Writers are realising, I think, that reading has to compete with visual forms of entertainment, and reading's big advantage is that it can take the reader into someone else's body and mind, experiencing the characters' thoughts, emotions and physical sensations in a way that is simply not possible in film or TV.

Q4) How do you weigh in on the authors right-of-reply for interviews they disagree with? Have you had any experiences of angry authors attacking reviews done by Specusphere (you don't have to name names of course)

A4) I've never had anyone complain about an interview because I always run my work past the interviewee before upload. It's all too easy to misunderstand something when interviewing and I want to be sure I have got my facts straight and am presenting the inteviewee's thoughts and ideas correctly.

Reviews are a different matter. It would be highly unethical to show an author a review before publication. I'm reviewing the book, not the author. It is also highly amateurish for an author to try to enter into dialogue with a reviewer by complaining. I do hear from authors, of course, but it's usually to ask for clarification of a point of criticism, such as "Can you expand on your comment that my main character fails to convince the reader of his sincerity?" - and the writer is asking because s/he genuinely wants to know why I thought they failed on that particular point, taking it on board if they feel it will help them improve their work.

The only times I've had authors complain about reviews were when I was silly enough to accept a few very amateurish e-published books for review and they got the reviews they deserved. This is another reason why we don't like reviewing e-books!

Q5) Finally, what approach would you recommend for people who'd like to get into reviewing? What makes a good review?

A5) Good reviewers are well-educated and well-read. They have to be able to recognise, forex, classical references or references to other art forms and disciplines such as philosophy and psychology. A reviewer of hard SF benefits from a sound technological base (several of our hard SF reviewers come from a scientific back ground) and Fantasy reviewers (and writers too, but don't get me started on that!) really need, I believe, good general knowledge of history, mythology, religion and linguistics. And of course good grammar, spelling and syntax are important because I don't want to have to rewrite the bloody things.

But the big plus lies in the reviewer's empathy. A good review serves several purposes. One is to help the publisher to publicise the work, and this must be done as sympathetically as possible, even if the reviewer doesn't like that particular book very much. Emphasising the positives, mentioning them up front, and softening the negatives make for good reviewing. Never forget that it's only your opinion - granted, a well-informed and considered opinion, but in the end it's still just an opinion; no more, no less.

The next thing that makes a good review is that it will help the writer to see the work through someone else's eyes and perhaps learn from that. And the last thing is that a good review helps readers to decide whether or not this might be a book worth looking at, in light of their own tastes and preferences. So the reviewer's job, really, is to give service to the publisher, the author and the reader.

Thanks, Jason Fischer, for giving me a soap box.
Sunday, 25 January 2009

Yet another reading list revisited

The book list from the Guardian has, of course, been turned into a meme:-) I will not plague you with it, but if you do want to copy it, go to Stephen Dedman's LJ and snaffle it from there. It's much easier to read (although less interesting and educational!) as a straight list than as a catalogue of synopses and I found a few favourites that I'd thought were missing. So I stand corrected in regard to my reply to Juliet's comment: Ursula K. Le Guin's Left Hand of Darkness and Octavia Butler's Kindred are, in fact, on the list. My faith in the Guardian is restored!

Last night was, of course, the annual presentation of the Aurealis Awards. There were some surprises, but I'd especially like to congratulate Adrian Bedford for his win in the Science Fiction section with his novel Time Machines Repaired by Request. Adrian's books aren't nearly as popular as they should be because he is published in Canada, which means his books can only be found here in his homeland in small, specialist stores. But if you like hard SF you will want to hunt them down.

If you'd like to read the full list of winners, go to The Specusphere. You'll find it under "News" in the top right hand corner. Thanks to Lee Battersby for getting the list up before anyone else so that I could pinch it!
Saturday, 24 January 2009

A lesson with laughs for the would-be writer

Another one from Bibliobibuli.

You don't normally see any ads on my blog, right? So what's this?
It's a screamer of a book, complete with examples, that teaches you how to write a really, really, bad novel. You might also enjoy the website the authors have set up - be sure to watch the bookfomercial, do the quiz to see how much you would benefit from reading the book and check out the apocrypha.
If you're like me, you'll have a good laugh.
Friday, 23 January 2009

Yet another reading list

It must be the season for book lists. I smurched another one, this time from Lisa Gold, Research Maven

Over at the Guardian newspaper there is a list of 1000 novels some people at the Guardian think we should all read. The interesting part is that the list is subdivided in genres: (science fiction & fantasy, state of the nation, family & self, comedy, crime, love, war & travel). Skimming through the first 800-odd titles and synopses (the last section, war and travel, should be up by the time you read this) is an education in itself. I'd read at least a handful of books from each genre, yet in the section on speculative fiction, in which I fancy myself to be quite well-read, I found I'd only consumed about a quarter of the list. That's possibly because it contains a preponderance of hard SF, and while I'd certainly read all the classics such as Asimov's Foundation series, Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land and so on, there are books there that I've never heard of! And I'm disappointed that so little fantasy is included. I'll be interested to read what other specfic buffs think of the list. Whatever list contains your favourites, you will probably find, like me, that you've read a smattering of all the other sections as well. But as with the list from earlier in the week, you will almost certainly find yourself asking "Who says we should read these particular books, and why? Why not others?"

Nevertheless, if you're into lists of reading material this might be a good one to check out. If you do, please come back and tell me what you thought of it!
Tuesday, 20 January 2009

Never pass up a good test!

Smurched from:
mikandra

Advanced Global Personality Test Results
Extraversion |||||||||||||| 54%
Stability |||||||||||| 42%
Orderliness |||||||||||||| 54%
Accommodation |||||||||||| 42%
Interdependence |||||||||||| 50%
Intellectual |||||||||||||||| 70%
Mystical |||||||||||| 50%
Artistic |||||||||||||||||| 76%
Religious |||||||||||| 43%
Hedonism || 10%
Materialism |||||||||||||| 56%
Narcissism |||||||||||| 50%
Adventurousness || 10%
Work ethic |||||||||||||||| 70%
Humanitarian |||||||||||||||| 63%
Conflict seeking |||| 16%
Need to dominate |||||||||| 36%
Romantic |||| 16%
Avoidant |||||||||||||||| 63%
Anti-authority |||||||||||||| 56%
Wealth |||||| 30%
Dependency |||||| 30%
Change averse |||||||||||| 43%
Cautiousness |||||||||||||||| 70%
Individuality |||||||||||||| 56%
Sexuality |||||||||||||| 56%
Peter pan complex |||||| 23%
Family drive |||||||||||||||| 70%
Physical Fitness |||||||||||||||| %
Histrionic |||||| 23%
Paranoia |||||| 23%
Vanity |||||||||||| 43%
Honor |||||||||||||| 56%
Thriftiness |||||||||||| 50%
Take Free Advanced Global Personality Test
personality test by similarminds.com


Oh, dear, it looks as if I'm either very well balanced (although somewhat neurotic!) or I'm so middle of the road as to be wishy-washy and dead boring!

Unfortunately the scores in the r.h. column don't seem to be displaying properly. There's enough showing, however, for you to see that they are all pretty middling:-)
Friday, 16 January 2009

100 Books everyone should read

Smurched from Bibliobibuli

100 Novels Everyone Should Read ... But Sez Who??

The Telegraph has a list of 100 novels 'everyone should read'. It seems to be in reversed order of importance - but according to whose opinion, I wonder?

But anyway, when we see a list of books we have to play the game, right? The ones I've read are bolded.

100 The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkein

99 To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

98 The Home and the World by Rabindranath Tagore

97 The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

96 One Thousand and One Nights Anon

95 The Sorrows of Young Werther by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

94 Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie

93 Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy by John le Carré

92 Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons (Saw the movie - does that count?)

91 The Tale of Genji by Lady Murasaki

90 Under the Net by Iris Murdoch

89 The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing

88 Eugene Onegin by Alexander Pushkin

87 On the Road by Jack Kerouac

86 Old Goriot by Honoré de Balzac

85 The Red and the Black by Stendhal

84 The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas

83 Germinal by Emile Zola

82 The Stranger by Albert Camus (Well, I read excerpts in French...)

81The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco

80 Oscar and Lucinda by Peter Carey

79 Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys

78 Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll

77 Catch-22 by Joseph Heller

76 The Trial by Franz Kafka

75 Cider with Rosie by Laurie Lee

74 Waiting for the Mahatma by RK Narayan

73 All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Remarque

72 Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant by Anne Tyler

71 The Dream of the Red Chamber by Cao Xueqin

70 The Leopard by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa

69 If On a Winter’s Night a Traveller by Italo Calvino

68 Crash by JG Ballard

67 A Bend in the River by VS Naipaul

66 Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

65 Dr Zhivago by Boris Pasternak

64 The Cairo Trilogy by Naguib Mahfouz

63 The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson

62 Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift

61 My Name Is Red by Orhan Pamuk

60 One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez

59 London Fields by Martin Amis

58 The Savage Detectives by Roberto Bolaño

57 The Glass Bead Game by Herman Hesse

56 The Tin Drum by Günter Grass

55 Austerlitz by WG Sebald

54 Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

53 The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

52 The Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger

51 Underworld by Don DeLillo

50 Beloved by Toni Morrison

49 The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

48 Go Tell It On the Mountain by James Baldwin

47 The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera

46 The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark

45 The Voyeur by Alain Robbe-Grillet

44 Nausea by Jean-Paul Sartre

43 The Rabbit books by John Updike

42 The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

41 The Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle

40 The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton

39 Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe

38 The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald

37 The Warden by Anthony Trollope

36 Les Misérables by Victor Hugo

35 Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amis

34 The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler

33 Clarissa by Samuel Richardson

32 A Dance to the Music of Time by Anthony Powell

31 Suite Francaise by Irène Némirovsky

30 Atonement by Ian McEwan (Saw the film!)

29 Life: a User’s Manual by Georges Perec

28 Tom Jones by Henry Fielding

27 Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

26 Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell

25 The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins

24 Ulysses by James Joyce

23 Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert

22 A Passage to India by EM Forster

21 1984 by George Orwell (Saw the film...)

20 Tristram Shandy by Laurence Sterne

19 The War of the Worlds by HG Wells

18 Scoop by Evelyn Waugh

17 Tess of the D’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy

16 Brighton Rock by Graham Greene

15 The Code of the Woosters by PG Wodehouse

14 Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë

13 David Copperfield by Charles Dickens

12 Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe

11 Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

10 Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes

9 Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf

8 Disgrace by JM Coetzee

7 Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë

6 In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust

5 Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad

4 The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James

3 Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

2 Moby-Dick by Herman Melville

1 Middlemarch by George Eliot

Hmm - barely 30% - and to be honest I only read most of those because they were set texts for something-or-another! There are several others there that I tried to read and couldn't get farther than halfway, at best. And I have no desire to re-read any of the ones I finished, except maybe Pride and Prejudice and Bertie Wooster. And, of course, Hitchhiker's Guide!

I fear my taste in books is as plebeian as my taste in music:-)
Monday, 12 January 2009

Favoured Music

I'm late posting again because although I've known for a week what I intended the post to be about, I found when I sat down to write that I couldn't organise my material.

This "material" was a list of favourite pieces of music ranging from pops to classics. I started writing down all my best loved titles, but when I got to over thirty I realised I had an unmanageable mess. How could I classify a list that contains such diverse items as El Condor Pasa, Atom Heart Mother, Brahms's Violin Concerto in D and Fields of Gold? I stayed up until 2.00am on Monday morning, listening to extracts from my favourites in various arrangements, trying to sort them out into a top ten or even a top twenty and couldn't. In the end I gave up went to bed, disgruntled.

But the project has haunted my mind ever since, and although I'm no closer to sorting out that messy catalogue of musical favourites, I do know that my four top faves never change. The rest of the never-ending list varies according to my mood, but the top four remain the top four and have for years. Decades, even.

And what are these four super-faves? Why, they are Pachelbel's Canon in D; The Grand Pas de Deux from Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker, the British folksong Greensleeves (in just about any version) and - wait for it - Unchained Melody.

I've always wondered why this song bore such a strange name, and the very comprehensive Wikipedia article cleared up the mystery. "Unchained" was the name of the film in which the melody first appeared in 1955. The music was by Alex North and the lyrics by Hy Zaret. It's been recorded hundreds of times, but never better, I think, than the original version by baritone Todd Duncan, which I fell in love with when I was twelve years old - because it's a damned good tune.

Tunes, dear friends, are what grab me. I love a good vocal melody that you can hum, whistle, extemporise on and generally muck about with and still have a perfectly good tune when you've finished. Short of being tone deaf and gravel-throated, you can't spoil a good tune. (Well, some jazz musos can, but they generally don't play music for the tune; in fact, some of them just can't wait to get rid of it.)

A good tune is a simple thing, made more beautiful, for sure, by harmony, rhythm or words - but it doesn't rely on these things to carry it along. Music that relies on anything but a good melody as its mainstay either bores or irritates me. Gimme the tune, man, just gimme the tune.

So you will not be surprised when I tell you that the Long List contains a lot of folk music, or pieces based on folk music such as Ralph Vaughan-Williams's Fantasia on Greensleeves and Variations on Dives and Lazarus. Medieval and early Baroque loom large, too: little gems such as Manfredina, which dates from the C14, or snatches of plainsong such as the evocative Hodie that Benjamin Britten grabbed for his Ceremony of Carols have truly lovely melodies, for all their simplicity. Religious music that grew out of this early tradition, such as the magnificent masses of Palestrina, are well up the list, too. Popular music that draws on the folk tradition fits in well here: things like Sting's fabulous Fields of Gold. (Sting plays a mean lute as well, as his recent album of John Dowland pieces demonstrates. Again, simple, sing-able tunes.)

Another place to look for good tunes is the theatre. Opera and ballet abound in them: so do musicals. When we think of Cats, do we think of the costumes and lighting and the acrobatics of the performers - or do we remember the grungy little grey cat standing in the lamplight singing "Memory"? "One Fine Day" pretty much sums up Madam Butterfly and "In the Depths of the Temple" does the same for The Pearl Fishers. Bizet, Verdi, Puccini - fine tunesmiths, all of them, as were the best ballet composers including Tchaikovsky himself, the melody king.

A lot of this music is, of course, hackneyed. It has been transposed, transcribed and transfigured until musical purists shudder to hear it - but Manfredina played on a mouth organ or mixed by midi still remains Manfredina. You just can't keep a good tune down.
Friday, 9 January 2009

Reading Quiz

Ok, here we go again! I found this on Gillian Polock's LJ and of course I had to try it! (Gillian, being a Gentleperson and a Scholar, came out as an Obsessive-Compulsive Bookworm!)

What Kind of Reader Are You?
Your Result: Literate Good Citizen
You read to inform or entertain yourself, but you're not nerdy about it. You've read most major classics (in school) and you have a favorite genre or two.
Dedicated Reader
Book Snob
Obsessive-Compulsive Bookworm
Fad Reader
Non-Reader
What Kind of Reader Are You?
Quiz Created on GoToQuiz
Sunday, 4 January 2009

Specusphere time again!

The new Specusphere is up and running, thanks to our doughty webmistress Amanda Greenslade. You'll find lots of interesting articles and a record number of reviews! I'm so proud of my reviewers that I've put up a piece that introduces them to readers - and their collective CVs are certainly impressive. Four of them contributed to the"Best Books of 2008", coming up with a Top Twelve that you may or may not agree with. Check it out and see!

Here's the Table of Contents:
Editorial
Four editorials in one, by Astrid Cooper, Satima Flavell, Amanda Greenslade and Stephen Thompson

Features
Medical Bag: Best of 2008 by Brendan David Carson
Spirits and Shamen at Woodford by Stephen Thompson
Essential Email Inbox Instructions by Amanda Greenslade
Terra Incognita Speculative Fiction Podcast

Writing and Publishing
Wordwatch by Helen Bowers

Up and Coming
Daring to be Different — an interview with Kim Falconer and a preview of The Spell of Rosette by Astrid Cooper
HarperCollins Publishers Releases for January–February, 2009
Gollancz Releases for January–February, 2009

People
Meet the Reviewers for The Specusphere

Book Reviews
Best of the Books, 2008 by The Specusphere reviewers
Best of the Superheroes, 2008 by Brendan Carson

Graceling by Kristin Cashmore reviewed by Satima Flavell
Hammer of God by Karen Miller reviewed by Carol Neist
H.P. Lovecraft: Against the World, Against Life by Michel Houellebecq reviewed by Ross Murray
Water Witch by Deborah LeBlanc reviewed by Bobbi Sinha-Morey
Victory of Eagles by Naomi Novik reviewed by Hypatia
The Third Circle by Amanda Quick reviewed by Bobbi Sinha-Morey
The Steel Remains by Richard Morgan reviewed by Maurie Breust
The Angel Maker by Stefan Brijs reviewed by Felicity Dowker
Hunter’s Prayer by Lilith Saintcrow reviewed by Ross Murray
Ripple Creek Werewolf Couplet by Keri Arthur reviewed by Ross Murray
Fourtold by Michael Stone reviewed by Ross Murray and Simon Petrie
Star Wars: Force Unleashed by Sean Williams reviewed by Simon Petrie
Fish Out of Water by Mary Janice Davidson reviewed by Ross Murray
Dark Curse by Christine Feehan reviewed by Hypatia
Catopolis, edited by Martin H. Greenberg & Janet Deaver-Pack reviewed by Hypatia
Angel Rising by Dirk Flinthart reviewed by Felicity Dowker
Bound by Light by Anna Windsor reviewed by Bobbi Sinha-Morey

Fiction
Temple of the Sun by Ashley Hibbert
Wreck, Slash, Burn by Kristine Ong Muslim
Identity Crisis by Gillian Lloyd
Gaitrel the Black by David Schembri

No excuses now - off you go to The Specusphere and get your bi-monthly fix!
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