King of the Middle March

The final volume of Kevin Crossley-Holland's Arthur trilogy, King of the Middle March, is a rather grim conclusion to the story of Arthur, a medieval squire turned crusader, who watches the life of the mythical King Arthur unfold in parallel with is own, in a magical stone (The Seeing Stone of the first volume).

I saw this on Brotherhood Books, and fresh from reading and revelling in Gatty's Tale, I snapped it up. I have read this before but I snuck in a second reading before lending it to my friend Suzanne, who loves these books as much as I do.

But the Arthur of this book, and his experience of crusade, is less joyful than Gatty's prilgrimage. He witnesses treachery and bloodshed, the cruel and muddled realities of war, and participates in violence himself. He doesn't even reach Jerusalem, his lord is wounded and Arthur must turn back to escort him home to England. There are plenty of truths here, about politics, religion and betrayal, that are just as relevant today as they would have been eight hundred years ago. And at the same time, in Arthur's magical stone, the story of King Arthur is reaching its own tragic conclusion.

But there are still moments of wonder and delight. Crossley-Holland's rich, poetic writing is as beautiful as ever; but I'm pleased this wasn't quite the last word in the story of Arthur's world. I'm glad that belongs to Gatty.


Catching Up Book Stuff

It's been a busy few days on the book front, as I finished three books in rapid succession. First up was Rebecca Stead's Goodbye Stranger, which I read for the Convent book group, which has its first meeting for the year next week. I adored this book -- Rebecca Stead writes beautifully for the tricky 'middle grade' age group, and she structures her books like a detective story, even when (as in this book) there is no real overt mystery. But clues and threads weave cleverly together so that the reader sighs with satisfaction at the end (at least, this reader does!) Her characters are sweet but complex enough to be interesting -- again, a tricky balance, which she handles perfectly.

Next was Saffy's Angel, the first of the Casson Family series by Hilary Mackay. I bought this on the Kindle because, though I am a Casson Family Fan, I'd never read the first couple of books! Both Stead and Mackay have a lovely flavour to their writing for junior readers, which I am determined to emulate (it's homage, not stealing... right?) I've actually been reading Saffy's Angel for ages, slowly, to savour that flavour, but I finally got impatient and just wanted to finish it! Gorgeous, and a wonderful introduction to the warm, muddled world of the Cassons. I particularly love the sly way that Mackay undercuts the pretentions of capital-A Artist father Bill, who can only Create away from the chaos of his family, and the gentle, vague but really much more productive mother Eve, who can't be really an Artist, because she works in a shed in the back garden and teaches Young Offenders painting... hm! Lots to ponder there, and I hope the subtleties aren't completely lost on the intended readership...

And yesterday I polished off Conundrum, transsexual Jan Morris's account of her transition, first published in 1974. I'd been reading the story behind the new film, The Danish Girl, which is based on the story of Einar Wegener, who became Lili Elbe in the 1930s and died after unsuccessful surgery to implant a womb and ovaries. I have to confess that I sometimes find transsexualism a difficult concept to get my head around, so I thought a first hand account from within would be a useful guide. It was certainly a fascinating read, particularly the direct comparisons between life in James' body to the experience of living as Jan. Morris has interesting observations about the way physically possessing a penis (and testosterone) made her relate to the world in a different way, and how she became interested in different things after transition: more drawn to small, personal stories than grand events; but paradoxically, less inclined to chat to strangers.

But the clearest impression I got was that ultimately, Morris's privileged social class shielded her from a lot of difficulty. Everyone in her world seems to accept her transition with absolute courtesy and equanimity and absolute English reserve. She simply resigns from one London club and joins another; the passport office issues a new, genderless passport, no questions asked; her publisher merely inquires politely what name she would prefer to be published under now? It all seems to have gone incredibly smoothly. The only hiccup occurs when a judge insists that Morris and his wife (the almost unbelievably understanding and sympathetic Elizabeth) must be formally divorced before the final change can take place... which means that Morris postpones her surgery for another few years, and goes on living ambiguously. And yes, Jan and Elizabeth are still together, and Jan is still with us, at 89, having lived a long and extremely interesting life.

ALSO I have done a grand purge and I'm getting rid of about 150 books! I'm going to donate them to the Brotherhood of St Lawrence. Weirdly, I've found that I was mostly likely to keep the freshly acquired, and the very old -- the books that have travelled with me for longest, the shabby books of my youth. It's the in-between books, the novels I bought in my 20s and 30s, that are biting the dust! If anyone wants to come and pick through the piles, you probably have a few days to do it... Feel free!



We gave this to my mother-in-law for Christmas and she obligingly finished it quickly and lent it back to us! And I read it quickly too -- took it to the beach and raced through it in a couple of days.

Everyone has raved about Magda Szubanski's autobiography, Reckoning, and no wonder. Even though Magda is best known and loved as a funny lady, she is also clearly very smart, and vulnerable, and it's the latter two traits that come to the fore in this personal history, though there are humorous moments too. It's a family history, too, a struggle to comprehend her father in particular. Szubanski is a wonderful mixture of Scottish and Polish, with a droll, dry Scottish mother and a passionate, yet flint-hard Polish father, who was clearly not the easiest parent.

Szubanski's father was a resistance fighter in Warsaw during World War II -- an assassin, no less. He had to find a way to deal with the terrible burden of the acts he committed during those years, and his family also bore the weight of his past. It took Magda many years to fully understand exactly what her father had done, and the awful toll those deeds had exacted.

But the book also tells Magda's own story, growing up in the Melbourne suburbs, on the fringes of 'sharpie' gangs, escaping to university, working in a women's refuge, struggling with the secret of her sexuality, and her entry into the world of comic performance, which led to her becoming literally Australia's best-loved personality. It must be because, under the brilliant, hilarious characters, we could all sense the insecure, loveable human beneath.

Szubanski is a few years older than me, and her time at Melbourne Uni and living in inner suburban share-houses overlapped with mine. As with Jane Clifton's autobiographical book which I read recently, I was also reading about my own past. But there is much, much more in Reckoning. And if possible, I love Magda even more than I did before.

First Dog on the Moon

I am a huge fan of First Dog on the Moon. I love his political-marsupial cartoons, which manage to be simultaneously whimsical and searing; I love his weekly Guide to Modern Living on ABC Radio; I love his work as Official Cartoonist of the Western Bulldogs football club. (One of my proudest and most exciting moments was when FD borrowed MY idea for one week's cartoon! True!)

So I was highly chuffed when Santa brought me A Treasury of Cartoons -- a gorgeously fat compendium of First Dog's best work of the past few years (minus the footy cartoons. They are in a separate book. Which I also own.) This is a seriously big book. And it's a strangely useful guide to the political journey our poor, mixed-up country has taken lately -- often shameful, occasionally hilarious. Sometimes only a bandicoot doing interpretive dance can convey the full gamut of weirdness that Australia can produce.

But there are also cartoons in here that are just sweet and sad, mostly the ones involving real dogs (fun fact: First Dog is not an actual dog. He is a human. Think about it: real dogs don't actually care about football teams. Not this much, anyway.) I had to read this book slowly -- there was a fresh emotion on every page: fury, disbelief, delight, shame, laughter. I'm just pleased that the rest of the world seems to be cottoning on to the wonders of First Dog. It's about time.



Well, it didn't take me 'forever' to read this book; I raced through it in about a day (ho ho, see what I did there?) My First Tuesday book group are reading Judy Blume's Forever as our first book of the year (the theme is Voice), and I was hopeful of finding it second hand -- no such luck. Maybe everyone is too attached to their copies to discard them? I ended up buying the e-book on my Kindle (first purchase for 2016, that didn't take long...)

I missed the Judy Blume wave as a teen -- realistic books didn't hold much appeal for me, realistic American books even less (sorry, USians), realistic books about boyfriends... yeah, well, nothing there for me. So I was surprised that even though Forever was written over forty years ago, it felt very fresh. Some minor aspects had dated badly -- one allegedly attractive character has long hair and a moustache... actually, maybe that's not dated, though today he'd probably have a hipster beard! The ostensible plot is extremely slight -- girl meets boy, they fall in love, they have sex, they think they'll be in love forever, but they break up. But I was instantly immersed in Kath's life and I barely put the book down. Kath is not a very distinctive character, she is very much an Everygirl, and her emotions, actions and reactions are all fairly predictable. I'm sure this was a deliberate choice on Blume's part, and I'm sure that generations of teenage girls have gained much practical information about sex and relationships from this slim novel. 

One thing in particular made me cringe -- both Kath and Michael refer to Michael's penis as 'Ralph.' I can see why Blume made that decision, technically, because they end up talking about Ralph quite a bit. But I hate it when men refer to their penises as a separate entity, as if they aren't responsible for their actions; that's just a bugbear of mine. Also I find it just icky and twee. Wasn't charmed by it in Lady Chatterley's Lover and I didn't like it here either. But anyway...

But apart from that I thought Forever was great: informative, plausible, engaging, and I'd be happy for my daughters to read it. If only there was a subtle way of leaving an e-book lying around the house.


Moon Tiger

I am a big fan of Penelope Lively's children's books -- I read The Ghost of Thomas Kempe about twenty times, and later discovered The Wild Hunt of Hagworthy, Astercote, The House in Norham Gardens (which has a Papua New Guinea connection, by the way), and A Stitch in Time. All her kids' books share a preoccupation (very appealing to me) with time, history, and the ripples of events reverberating back and forth down the centuries.

I didn't discover until relatively recently that Lively was also an adult author, and Moon Tiger won the Booker Prize in 1987. I hunted it down on Brotherhood Books, which came up trumps as it usually does.

As soon as I started reading Moon Tiger, I was transported back to 1987. It felt familiar at once from that era of novels by and about women that were self-consciously trying to break free from traditional narrative structures and tell women's stories in a different way-- authors like Margaret Atwood and AS Byatt. In Moon Tiger, brilliant, prickly Claudia Hampton lies dying, and reflects on chapters of her life -- not chronologically -- the book dips back and forth between her time as a war reporter in Egypt, her childhood, her late-life gay protegee, her daughter, her brother. Some sections are moving and surprising, others are less interesting. (Moon Tiger refers to a brand of mosquito coil, a spiral that burns itself out -- a lovely, clever title.)

I was a little disappointed in Moon Tiger, to be honest. We are constantly told how glittering and wonderful Claudia is, but the disjointed structure denies us a chance to really get to know her intimately (perhaps that was the point?) The war sections are great; the sections about her unreliable lover Jasper are, frankly, a bit tedious. Perhaps the greatest indictment is that it's taken me nearly two weeks to read this fairly slim novel! I just never quite got hooked in. Not sorry I read it, but unlike her children's books, I don't think I'll read it again.



I have never lived in the famous Cairo flats described in this novel by Chris Womersley, but I have two friends who did, so I feel I know the setting pretty well. Tom, the protagonist, is eighteen in 1986, when the events of the book take place; in 1986, I was nineteen. Near the start of the book, Tom sees crowds of uni students flooding the streets around Carlton and Fitzroy, and muses that he should be among them (he neglects to enrol) -- I actually was among them. So this book is very much on my turf, and I have to admit that nostalgia was the main reason I wanted to read it.

Tom Button is a naive country boy who engineers an escape to the big city and falls in with a crew of bohemians clustered around his neighbours at Cairo, the alluring Max and Sally Cheever. Of course Tom falls in love with Sally, but he also gets mixed up with the theft (and forgery) of Picasso's Weeping Woman from the National Gallery, a real Melbourne crime that remains unsolved.

If not for the nostalgia value, I would have struggled with the first half of the book. It's very languidly paced, and at times the florid prose teeters on the verge of being over-written, as if Womersely is trying to channel F. Scott Fitzgerald or Lampedusa. While many landmarks and even characters were familiar, Tom's bohemian chums seem to have strolled in from a different decade, perhaps a different continent. But the story gathers pace in the second half, once the actual theft is committed, and from then on I was fully engaged. I ended up really enjoying the novel, once the prose settled down a bit. 

How much do I love Google, by the way? It's so easy to look up Cairo itself and remind myself of its unique atmosphere. What a gorgeous place. I bought a copy of this book for one of my friends who used to live there, so I've actually bought it twice. There's not many books I can say that about. A fitting book to end 2015 on.

Reading Roundup 2015

Is it disturbing that I bounded out of bed this morning, eager to commence this analysis of the past year's reading, when the past year is barely gone? I'm a Virgo, what can I say!

This year I read a total of 71 books, much lower than last year, which was lower than the year before. I had a long bare patch where there was family drama going on and I was too exhausted to read more than magazines, and I think I read more long adult fiction, which chews up more time. Anyway, let's see the breakdown:

Once again, the split was about 50/50, slightly favouring kids books, which are after all generally shorter and quicker to read (I read seven Rumer Godden books about dolls in about three days... cheating? I don't think so!)

Sorry chaps, no attempt at gender equality this year at all! Though on the plus side for the gentlemen, I will say that some of my favourite books this year were written by chaps -- but more of that later

Overwhelming preference for fiction this year, though the proportion of non-fic has increased. I tend to look at non-fic as work, and fic as pleasure, though perhaps I should re-evaluate this attitude in light of what I'm going to say below... One title was an anthology, a mix of fiction and memoir.

The proportion of secondhand purchases is up, the proportion of library borrowings is down. Maybe I just didn't have time to go to the library much this year. Nearly all those borrowings were for book group... The number of e-books I bought was exactly the same! The number of books bought new is waaay down, oh dear. And I only re-read one of the books I already owned. Makes you wonder why I hang onto so many of them, doesn't it! Actually I did a bit of a purge this year -- well I had to, there were so many 'new' secondhand books coming in, those 38 books have to live somewhere. My Brotherhood Books habit shows no sign of abatement, in fact I got a BB voucher for Christmas. It's a charity, you know...!

Multiple bloody Rumer Goddens bumped up my UK total. Quite a few New Zealand titles this year. But again, shamefully, not a very ethnically diverse list. Even my attempts to read some YA from other countries ended up being books written by Americans... Must try harder. Loads of Aussies though. Aussie Aussie Aussie, oi oi oi!

So it looks like about half my reading comprised new books, published since 2000, and more than a third are really new, in the last five years. Pretty happy with that. My love of books from the second half of the 20th century is evident, with again lots of Rumer Godden and Hesba Brinsmead titles pushing up the scores. Unapologetic. You should know my tastes by now!
* There was a hiccup this morning when all the graphs I spent so long creating disappeared. Hopefully they are back in position now. Thank you Evie for tech support...

My Favourite Books of 2015
That is, my faves of the books I read during last year, not published then. Nearly all non-fiction, as it turns out, which I did not expect. In no particular order:
H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald: moving, unsparing, cathartic
Sapiens: A Brief History of Humanity by Yuval Noah Harari: engrossing, stimulating, brilliant
How Buildings Learn: What Happens After They're Built by Stuart Brand: fascinating, detailed, nerdy
Wild Places by Robert Macfarlane: beautiful, inspiring, meditative
And of the fiction, I especially enjoyed Geraldine MacCaughren's The White Darkness, Ellie Marney's Every series and Karen Joy Fowler's We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves (apart from the Rumer Goddens, natch).

Happy New Year to you all. I'm hoping for a happier, less dramatic 2016. A steady-as-she-goes year would be nice, thanks!


Adventures With The Wife In Space

This was a Christmas present from my lovely husband who knows the kind of thing I like! Essentially, it's the story of a Doctor Who fan (Neil Perryman) who made his wife Sue (not a Doctor Who fan -- someone who liked the new series but had never watched 'classic Who') sit through every episode of Old Doctor Who, and made a blog out of her comments. 

Perryman is roughly my age, and Tom Baker was His Doctor, just like he was mine, and he stopped watching at about the same time I did, too. He calls himself a 7 on the fandom scale but by his standards I would be about a 3. Nonetheless I laughed a lot reading this. It's really just as much a story about his relationship with his wife as it is about fandom, and I really enjoyed it. Perfect summer, holiday reading.

Unfortunately I've now looked up the blog this book is all about (wifeinspace.com) and I've been sucked into a black hole (or perhaps a CVE) and started reading Sue's very entertaining commentary and I fear I may never escape...


The Fairy Doll and Other Tales From The Dolls' House

This ghastly cover masks a treasure: a collection of all Rumer Godden's doll stories. There are seven of them, some little more than short stories, some more substantial. This volume seems to be an attempt to bring Godden's beautiful, but old-fashioned, tales to a modern audience by wrapping them up in this non-threatening, girly package, no doubt designed to appeal to the Rainbow Fairies market (blech!) and with an admittedly sweet introduction from Jacqueline Wilson. Thrilled as I am to have seven Rumer Godden titles in one handy compendium, I'm not sure the gambit works. 

The stories are all pretty gorgeous and I'd only read a couple of them before. The Story of Holly and Ivy was satisfyingly Christmassy, and Impunity Jane, in which a tiny doll becomes a member of a gang of adventurous boys, was unexpected (if gender-normative). But my two favourite books are the longer ones: Miss Happiness and Miss Flower, in which displaced Nona settles herself into a new home by making a house for two Japanese dolls; and its sequel, Little Plum, in which Nona's naughty cousin Belinda begins a war with the spoilt little girl next door who refuses to care for her own Japanese doll properly. The ingenuity with which the children make appropriate props and possessions for their dolls is truly inspiring -- pine needles for chopsticks, tiny painted scrolls, chopped thread for rice and so on. My daughter's favourite activity for a long time was making miniature homes for her collection of Sylvanian animals, or just tiny uninhabited rooms out of balsa wood, exquisitely furnished and decorated, and I think there is a particular class of child who relishes this kind of creation and would adore these stories. I know I did.


The Address Book

Jane Clifton's The Address Book caught my eye as I was browsing Brotherhood Books (okay, they had a sale on and I needed to beef up my order). I'd been looking out for this book for a couple years at the library but never tracked it down, so this was an excellent find.

Born in Gibraltar, an army brat whose family shifted between the UK, Germany and Malaysia before emigrating to Australia when Jane was 13, Clifton has lived in 32 homes. In this project, she reminisces about the period of her life spent at each address before revisiting the place as it is now, to see if memory matches reality, how much has changed, and whether any new memories are unearthed by the experience. Clifton's parents both died pretty young, so it's also a journey of discovery about her mum and dad and their sometimes turbulent relationship. The book falls roughly into two halves, with the second part covering numerous Melbourne addresses, mostly around the inner suburbs, familiar territory to me. This is a chatty, engaging memoir, though the section devoted to Clifton's early career as a muso/performer in 70s Melbourne contained a touch more detail than I really needed. But she also discusses her stint in Prisoner (Cell Block H for overseas viewers) and her life as a pop star (check out her biggest hit 'Girl on the Wall' on YouTube, she's right, someone really needs to cover this song, which is still all too relevant today and stands up surprisingly well).

As someone who has lived at twenty two addresses myself, I could relate to Clifton's pilgrimage, and I would love to do a journey like this myself. Though she's about ten years older than me, there was a certain amount of overlap in our Fitzroy/Carlton experiences and share house -- sorry, 'collective house' life. I hadn't realised that Clifton was part of Helen Garner's Monkey Grip crowd, and appears in the book under the name of Angela. Amusingly, when the movie was being cast, she decided to audition for the part of Angela but was told she couldn't sing or act well enough to play -- herself! Her part was ultimately taken by Chrissy Amphlett.

I seem to have been reading a lot about place and home this year. This book was a fun, often moving slant on the topic.

EDIT: Just as I finished writing this post, I happened to hear Greig Pickhaver on the radio talking about his life, and he was also a member of that gang, part of the Australian Performing Group that Clifton belonged to; she mentioned that he used to build loft beds for everyone! Another of those weird connections that so often seem to accompany the reading of a book...


Merry Christmas

Well, it's that time of year again -- the time of Best Ofs, recaps, summaries and reflections on the year gone by.

To be frank, 2015 has been a weird and pretty horrible year for my family. In March, my dad suffered a massive stroke that saw him almost die, and a month-long stay in hospital was followed by a refusal of rehab and a swift eviction into permanent care. Fortunately, though he still requires a high degree of care, his condition has improved hugely since then -- he can now stand and walk with a cane (very unsteadily, and not far), and his concentration is much better. He still can't speak, or move his right hand or arm, but sensation and movement are returning to his right leg. But he is still with us, and still very much the familiar personality of before.

My mother has been staying with us, and lately work has begun on a granny flat where hopefully Dad will be able to stay with her -- maybe just for occasional sleepovers, maybe permanently, depending on his progress. 

It's been a sudden and disconcerting somersault in family dynamics. When I was younger, my parents cared for me, protected and supported me, were a safe haven to run to, a safety net in times of trouble; when I had kids of my own, I still looked to my mum and dad for help and support, but now we jogged along as peers, two sets of adults independently navigating many of the same problems and pitfalls. But with Dad's stroke, overnight, the relationship of dependence has turned on its head; the change is complete and absolute. Suddenly my parents are depending totally on my partner and me. It's a situation which I've vaguely dreaded for years as Mum and Dad grew older, and started having health scares. But now it's finally here, it's not such a terrible burden as I feared; it feels like this the pattern is playing itself out the way it is supposed to.

Meanwhile, my two girls are growing up fast -- almost are grown up! One transformed (also seemingly overnight) into a leggy, confident, texting and typing teen with a hectic social life and a sense of responsibility about homework. The other has also matured and blossomed academically, feeling her way already, perhaps, into her chosen field of passion.

I finished one manuscript and started another -- the first year for ages I've been able to say that! And also I have more ideas for books I want to write, instead of blank dismay, and that's a good feeling, too.

Soon I'll do my annual reading round-up -- I suspect there'll a lot of comfort reading in there, because I've need to escape more than ever this year!

I wish you all a festive and peaceful holiday season, and I hope you've enjoyed a less turbulent year than my family has endured. And I wish us all calm waters ahead for 2016. Merry Christmas. 



I sought out Coconut by Kopano Matlwa from a list of YA books from non-Anglo countries that was published in The Guardian a while ago, and was surprised to see it pop up at Brotherhood Books. It's a South African edition, too, the third reprint in two years, so it must have done pretty well. It won the European Union Literary award, which I must admit I had never heard of, and is, strangely, a prize for first-time South African novelists.

This was an intriguing glimpse into a world that I know little about. I hardly ever read African books, let alone African YA, and this was a voice I had never heard before, and a lively, energetic and perceptive voice at that. Matlwa is obviously a young writer, and this novel has some of the faults that most young writers fall into -- there are clear autobiographical elements (not necessarily a fault, but sometimes clumsy), and there is a focus on character to the absolute exclusion (in this case) of plot. 

The book is narrated in two voices, in two distinct, but overlapping halves: Ofilwe is the daughter of a nouveau-riche black family who live in a gated, mostly white community. Ofilwe longs to reconnect with the traditional culture the family has abandoned in a desperate attempt to fit in with white society. Fikile is a waitress at their regular coffee shop, outside their world but determined to claw her way in by any means possible. Fiks is a poignant figure, at first seeming confident and strong, but secretly very vulnerable. Each girl sits on either side of a racial divide that seems to make them both equally unhappy.

This novel is a window into a country which has undergone tremendous upheaval in recent years, and where racial lines are supposed to be blurring, but where the burden is history is too heavy to be easily thrown off. Not a book I would normally have picked up, but that was kind of the point of the exercise.


Queen Bees and Wannabes

Penni Russon and I both read Rosalind Wiseman's book back in about 2008 when we were preparing to write books for the Girlfriend Fiction series and were worried we'd forgotten what it was like to be a teenage girl. At that stage we had four daughters between us, aged from about 3 to 7.

Fast forward to today, and my daughters are 11 and 14, and the world of Queen Bees and Wannabes has taken on a new and vivid reality as my girls negotiate adolescence, friendships, burgeoning sexuality, school pressures, and all the rest of it. This books is crammed with illuminating information and food for thought for parents. The ultimate accolade must be that Ms 14 picked it up, skimmed through the 'Parties' chapter and said, 'Hm, there's some really good advice in here.' So I think I might leave it lying around for a while...

Wiseman has run workshops for teenagers for many years and she's seen and heard it all. She is refreshingly non-judgmental, but she is firm and wise, stressing the need to keep respectful communication alive, even when you feel like killing each other! Some of her advice must have stuck from all those years ago because I felt tentatively that I'm not doing such a bad job (so far...) One of her rules is to pick your battles; forget about fighting over hair and clothes, you'll never win, and she'll start sneaking around you. Once you've lost her trust and respect, it's all over. But a 'Loving Hard-Ass Parent' stands a chance of maintaining a connection when it really counts.

I'm very glad I bought this, though it was annoying that this edition (from the UK, though the text seems unchanged from the US version) is peppered with typos. Not just recommended reading for the mothers (and fathers) of teenage girls (and boys!) -- this is essential.



Yesterday I did something that I haven't done for quite some time (so long that I'm afraid to check exactly): I sent off a manuscript.

When I first started out in this business, sending off a manuscript meant printing out a thick wad of paper and popping an Express Post envelope into the mailbox. Now it means clicking 'attach' to an email, and hitting 'Send'. But in both cases, it means sending up a little prayer that my story might be looked upon favourably by those who read it.

I've been working on this novel for many months. I actually finished one version, and then completely rewrote it, taking out a couple of key characters and inserting a new and different one. It's a kind of sequel to the Chanters of Tremaris series, which were the first books I ever had published. I was hoping it would be a relaxing, fun experience — revisiting a world which has been very good to me, and immersing myself again in high fantasy, which I haven't written for several years. And to a certain extent, that was true. But I also got caught up in the problems of back-story — how much to reveal, how much to assume, how much to keep hidden, in case new readers wanted to go back to the beginning? (That was why I cut out those two awkward characters.)

Events in the real world also got in the way. I was sick, my dad had a stroke. I couldn't (can't) spend as much time writing as I used to. And some days all I wanted to do was to lie on my bed and read; writing was work and I didn't have the energy to wrestle with it.

I'm prepared (I am always prepared!) for the possibility that my publishers might decline. In that case, I'm hoping there are enough Tremaris devotees out there to make self-publishing a viable option. It will be something new to learn, anyway, and these days I am all in favour of Learning New Things (have I mentioned my piano lessons?)

But the good news is, I have three ideas to work on next! So back to the keyboard I go…because even after you've 'finished' one book, this job of writing is never done.