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Edited by Rhonda Whitton,
Published by BOOKMAN.DIRECTORIES, 1997.
I got my copy in January by mail order from the Tasmanian Branch of the Society of Women Writers, (Aus). It seems the society was able to buy several copies at a bulk discount.

I am a member of the society. In my case this means that, for about $25.00 per year, I get a regular newsletter, competition and market news and receive and contribute to *Cooee*, a sort of home-made magazine. The contributor/subscribers to Cooee and its sisters post novel extracts, short stories, anecdotes, verse and articles and undertake to write a comment and/or critique of everyone else’s work. I enjoy it, because it gives me an excuse to write stuff I couldn’t otherwise justify producing, not to speak of valuable insight into what other readers and writers are really looking for.

The book itself is a fat yellow paperback of 435 pages. It’s stuffed full of advice and markets for Australian writers. Magazines, newspapers and journals are covered, plus book publishers, usually with notes about editorial preferences, requirements, lengths, formats and even (in some cases) an informed view of your chances of actually selling something. For example, some magazines are almost entirely written “in house”, while others which do publish short stories, may receive thousands of mss each month and publish six stories a year. As my US colleagues say *go figure*. There’s also a general index, lists of agents, societies and literary courses. It’s a very practical, well-conceived product, and my copy is bristling with paperclips already.

HOWL’S MOVING CASTLE By Diana Wynne Jones,
Published by GREENWILLOW BOOKS, 1987.
I have a copy of this splendid fantasy myself, but have temporarily (I hope) mislaid it. I borrowed this current copy from the local library.

One of my ten all-time favourites, HOWL’S MOVING CASTLE is a funny, touching and literate fantasy. I think it’s one of DWJ’s best, ideal for cheering me up. I’ve read it several times, and will no doubt read it several more.

Basically, it’s the story of Sophie Hatter, the eldest of three daughters in the land of Ingary. Sophie knows her folk-lore, and realises she, as the eldest, will never have adventures.

Therefore, when her father dies, she tries to be content with her apprenticeship at her stepmother’s hat shop. What Sophie doesn’t realise is that she has a magic all of her own. When a chance meeting with the Witch of the Waste transforms Sophie into a 90 year old woman, she sets out on the road that leads to Wizard Howl and his moving castle, the fire demon Calcifer, spells and illusions, self-knowledge and, finally, romance. What I love about this story is that the author knows her traditions and calmly proceeds to overturn them all. A spell is really an Earthly poem, the heroine is a teenager in disguise, the hero is full of cowardice, bad temper and other vices which somehow turn out to be hidden virtues. Identities are hidden, motives mixed, the stepmother isn’t wicked, the king is young and the threatened princess a self-opinionated toddler. There’s horror and romance, gentle warnings and enough strands to keep me interested all over again, while not being so convoluted that I feel dim-witted.

There is a sequel called CASTLE IN THE AIR, which is a spin on the Arabian Nights stories. Howl and Sophie and some of the other characters from MOVING CASTLE reappear, but I don’t like it nearly as much.

By Rosalind Miles, a Futura paperback,
published by Macdonald and Co, 1984/85.
I first encountered this little book about four years ago when I bought a copy from a swap shop. It wasn’t in wonderful shape and promptly fell to pieces, but I enjoyed it very much.

It seems a perfect choice for St Valentine’s Day reading, but that isn’t why I re-read it this month. I chanced to see another copy on a stall at the local market. I bought it for $2.00, re-read it with pleasure, and watched with some resignation as this copy fell apart also.

The book is printed on pink paper, which is actually very easy on the eye. Rosalind Miles is a humorous, fluent writer and she has gathered dozens of proposals from life, literature and film. Loosely grouped under headings such as ‘The Immortal Moment”, “The Forces Against” and “What a Nerve”, the first part of the book is a wonderful smorgasbord of quotations, linked by Rosalind’s commentary.

The second part of the book, “Immodest Proposals”, consists of propositions, and the third is “The Real Thing”.

The style of the commentary reminds me a little of Jilly Cooper’s journalistic style; warm, funny and sometimes a little acid. Rosalind Miles has written at least one other book, MEN AT WORK, but I’ve never found a copy.

by Peter McFarlane, PENGUIN, 1996, this edition 1998.
I have to admit I haven’t actually read this book, but I bought it this month at the Devonport Bookshop for my teenaged son. I had four motives for buying it; James wanted a good book, I like to support the industry that supports my family, the author’s daughter is one of my editors and the author spoke at my daughter’s school last year.

The story is about wargames that turn real, about temptation, morality and revenge.

I gave it to my 17 year old son who read it in three sittings.

‘What’s it like?’ I asked.

‘Good,’ said James economically. ‘Except that the bad guy dies.’ Nasty grin. ‘I liked the bad guy.’ A pause for thought. ‘It was all right though, he killed himself.’ ‘Out in a blaze of glory?’ I said flippantly.

‘Yeah,’ said James.

My 13 year old daughter picked up the book.

‘Oh, he came to my school!’ she said. ‘Can I read this?’

I assented.

Again it was gulped down with great speed. Magazines, homework, CDs, TV, telephone calls were all put on hold while Tegan devoured the book.

‘It’s the *best book*!’ she said enthusiastically.

‘James, does he die? James -’

‘Read it and find out,’ said James.

‘I’m reading as fast as I can,’ said Tegan. ‘James, does he die...?’

Peter McFarlane admits that this is a controversial book, but he says it actually points up quite a few moral issues. It certainly hit the spot with my two teens and we do want teenagers to read something other than electronics and fashion magazines, don’t we?

COMPLETE DOG TRAINING MANUAL, by Dr Bruce Fogle, RD Press, 1994. First published by DORLING KINDERSLEY, UK.
This is a hardbacked book illustrated with coloured photographs. I borrowed it from my mother, whose spaniel X Kelpie, Penny, is two years old. The reason for reading this book at this time is Tess, my daughter’s Jack Russell puppy.

I can’t speak for its effectiveness, but the book is certainly easy to read and follow. It is broken into chapters with such titles as “Your Dog’s Mind”, “Early Training”, and “Overcoming Bad Habits”. Each chapter is broken again into shorter headings such as “Breed Differences”, “Rewards and Discipline”. The key to the book is understanding canine nature and working with it rather than against it. Wild dogs accept hierarchy in their packs, so the dog owner must become the pack leader. There are other things which, once understood, make doggy behaviour much easier to understand and, possibly, modify.

Whereas humans see eye-contact as a sign of interest or trustworthiness, dogs see it as a challenge or threat.

All kinds of dogs are covered, and the general tone is reader-friendly. An interesting insight into dog behaviour, even if you don’t have a puppy to train.

OUT OF THE SHADOWS (Mystery Animals of Australia)
by Tony Healy and Paul Cropper.
This is a large format paperback, and I bought it at Angus and Robertson Bookshop, in Devonport last year.

The book is fascinating, freaky, Fortean and reader-friendly.

It has lots of photos (though, the nature of the best being what it is, most of them show rather defiant-looking folk pointing at the place where the mysterious creature appeared and then disappeared). There are sections on recent sightings of the Tasmanian Tiger, mainland Thylacines, alien big cats, the Queensland marsupial tiger, the yowie, and the bunyip.

Eyewitness accounts, newspaper reports, and some inspired possibilities lead to a most satisfying read that probably opens more questions than it answers. The authors take a non-sensational approach, airing a variety of theories.

Basically, they provide the available evidence and leave it to the readers to make an informed decision.

Great fun, and my young daughter enjoyed it as well.

Vol. Two., by N.E. Genge. Macmillan UK, 1996.
I bought my copy from Devonport Bookshop in 1996, specifically for my son.

I guess X-Files reading had to follow on from last month’s Dr Who splurge. I’m not an X-Phile, but my son and daughter are, and I’ve seen enough of the episodes to have a working knowledge of who’s who. I enjoy the show, and I’d watch it more often if I was much for television.

In this large-format paperback, several cases are examined.

The plots aren’t really illuminated, but the backgrounds and story-roots are. There are extra bits of inside information and in-jokes, comments on the various writers’ quirks, overviews of the success of each story and the occasional blooper. Then there’s an on-going quiz, aimed at X-Maniacs armed with VCRs and a lot of spare time. There are pictures and profiles and the whole thing is strung together with humour and polished prose.

By Kate Mahon, TRANSWORLD, Aus, 1997.
I bought this slim paperback in the local K-Mart in January, not because I had any hope of looking good in a swimsuit, but because my daughter was becoming trim and terrific on a gentle regime of exercise and mild dieting.

In 92 pages, (including lots of diagrams), Kate Mahon has included a lot of information. Here is a regime very much like my daughter’s (funny, we developed that one by ourselves!) with day-by-day exercise plans, tips for eating, and encouraging hints and comments scattered throughout. The good thing about this plan is that it’s finite. Anyone can face up to 30 days of slightly altered life-style, and if they feel good at the end, will probably keep it up. There’s also an invaluable section on choosing a swimsuit style and colour for your figure type. Choose from 28 different shapes and combinations!

That’s it for this month; next month I’ll try to read some good fiction!

Last month, I reviewed DANGER IN THE WINGS, a recent novel by Geoffrey Trease. Sadly, Mr Trease has now died. So has another British writer of roughly the same vintage, Monica Edwards. During the 1940s, ‘50s and ‘60s, Mrs Edwards wrote literate, satisfying children’s books set mostly in Sussex and Surrey, featuring believable characters and based quite heavily on her own experiences and those of her children. Unlike Geoffrey Trease, Monica Edwards stopped publishing fiction in the late 1960s, but some of her adult non-fiction is available in recent reprints from ISIS Publications.

I’m happy that, having enjoyed works by these writers for such a large slice of my life, I actually wrote to both of them to tell them so. I sent a letter to Monica Edwards in my teens, and received a lovely letter back, and did the same with Geoffrey Trease about five years ago. So - if your favourite writers are getting elderly, take the time *now* to tell them how much you have enjoyed their work - and don’t necessarily expect a reply.

All I can say is - vale, Geoffrey Trease and Monica Edwards, and thanks for the memories.

If any of you do wish to write to a writer, or if your kids do, here are a few pieces of often-overlooked etiquette.

*If you’re asking for a reply (i.e. for a school project, or specific info), send a stamped, self-addressed envelope.
*Be patient. If you send a letter via the author’s publisher, it may not reach the author for six weeks or so.
*Don’t ask for information easily available on book flaps!
*Don’t ask “How can I get my book published?” *Don’t let your kids announce that they’ve never read a book by the author but want information anyway.
*Do mention a specific book you’ve enjoyed and say why.
*Do try to mention a fairly recent book. Remember John Farnham and *Sadie the Cleaning Lady*?
If you don’t need a reply, but would really like one, use your own judgement about the s.a.e. Maybe you could send a stamp, just in case.
*Remember; if the author is a Best Seller or media personality, you probably won’t get a personal reply, but if s/he is fairly new, or popular with discriminating readers only, you probably will.

Good luck - and if you have any luck with replies, e-mail me and I’ll report it in this column!

Sally Odgers

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