Tuesday, August 30, 2011

A Plethora of Plenty!

One of the joys of having conned my way into book reviewing (unpaid but, alas, you can't have everything) is receiving a new batch of books in the post. The lastest consignment to arrive is from The Black Library in the UK, having found their way to the colonies, Down Under.

This box in today's post was simply full of goodies and has me wondering just where to start. The selection includes:

- the latest in the Horus Heresy saga, The Outcast Dead by Graham McNeil who is among my favourite Black Library authors

 - an audio book 'Red and Black' - just the thing to slip into the walkman when I head off to the bus stop tomorrow morning

- Nocturne, the third instalment in Nick Kyme's The Tome of Fire Trilogy; now where did I put my notes from the first two?

- joy, oh joy - another Gaunt's Ghosts by Dan Abnett! Salvation's Reach - and it is in hardcover which always leaves me feeling that I am reading a 'real' book

Thanquol's Doom - yet another Thanquol & Boneripper novel by C L Werner - oh boy!

The Red Duke - also by C L Werner and these vampires definitely won't be 'sparkly'

The last in the box was the paperback edition of the Sabbat Worlds anthology of short stories. I have to confess that the hardback edition of this is still in my reading pile waiting to be properly read rather than just occassionally  being dipped into as I have so far.

With the sheer volume of books that come through, let alone a whole box of Black Library goodies, there simply is not enough hours in the day to read everything. But there is no doubt that I shall be reviewing at least two of these.

All reviews will be posted to www.awritergoesonajourney.com as usual as well as posted in this blog. So stay tuned!

Like an over-indulged child at Christmas who is faced with a plethora of pressies - which one shall I open first?

REVIEW: Legends - the AFL Indigenous Team of the Century

I have made it a rule not to review books written by people I know or books they have been associated with producing. But I have decided to make an exception to that rule. Well, I made it, so I can break it.

A friend of mine works at Aboriginal Studies Press. I was intrigued to learn that Lisa was involved with production of this book about the Indigenous Team of the Century of the Australian Football League. I shamelessly picked her brains about it over coffee from time to time.

The book was released the other week. I was thrilled to have Lisa present me with a copy, complete with autographs in the front collected by Lisa's long-suffering partner, Ben (thanks mate!) from some of the luminaries present at the launch.

As I grew up, initially coming from a not-particularly-sporty family, I became a passionate follower of Australian Rules Football. That was when I began to realise that there were footballers playing at that elite level who came from an indigenous background. Barry Cable was one of my absolute ideals as a player. He seemed capable of anything. I still vividly remember the first time that the Krakouer brothers came over to Victoria with a team from Western Australia to play in the then-preseason competition of the old Victorian Football League. They simply cut the opposition to pieces.

Some of the truly great players of the game come from an indigenous background. We're talking names like 'Polly' Farmer, Cable, Jim & Phil Krakouer (at least when they were in the same team together), Maurice Rioli and more. It is great to see so many of them collected together in this book. I hadn't realised that umpire Glenn James had been included in this Indigenous Team of the Century. Often better known as 'Jesse' James, 'the quickest book in the West' for his propensity to not take any nonsense and report players, in some respects James took an even bigger step by becoming an umpire rather than a player.

It is only while reading this collection that you realise just how tough a road some of these men had to travel, football in at least some cases being a path to a better future.

Legends - recommended reading.

Monday, August 29, 2011

If you can't stand the heat...

I recently came across something that disturbed me somewhat, and it left me wondering just how silly and naive some writers are.

An internet market for speculative fiction that is run from the USA, increased its rates for fiction up to professional rates. This is a bold step as it increases your ongoing operating costs. At the same time, it potentially elevates your publication into the stratosphere of being one of the 'professional' markets. The other side of the coin however is that any publication increasing its remuneration to authors, immediately starts receiving many more submissions, increasing turnaround times and workload.

It should be noted that increasing author payment rates does not mean there are more slots for stories opening up, just more money for those authors whose works are selected for publication. If more submissions are being received for the same number of slots, then there will be a corresponding increase in the number of pieces not selected for publication. One would hardly think it took Einstein to work that out.

It was very disappointed to find that this market now began receiving some very hostile 'how dare you reject my work!' responses to their 'thank you but not for us at this time' rejections. Hey - if you want to be an author, then I have news for you. Get ready for and used to rejection! It is just part of the game.

The writing world is full of stories of top-level writers whose works were rejected. JK Rowling's Harry Potter was rejected by something like eight or twelve publishers (depending on whose account it is) before being accepted. Stephen King's Carrie was rejected so often that he famously threw it out. It took his wife retrieving it from the rubbish and insisting on he try again before King's first novel was finally accepted by a publisher. The list goes on and on. Rejection is simply part of the game. If you cannot handle rejection of your work, then I'm sorry, writing isn't for you.

I have to admit that I did not respond well to one rejection for a non-fiction piece, but in that case I had been lead to believe that they wanted the piece in question. That difficulty was smoothed over and I now have an excellent working relationship with that publication as an occassional freelance author for them. However if I had responded with 'how dare you reject me, you scum-sucking pigs that wouldn't know quality literature if it bit you on the arse', do you really think they would want to be bothered with me now?

During a brief flirtation working in the visual arts in 2010, I found some aspiring visual artists responding in much the same manner because their work was not accepted for a particular exhibition. 'But I submitted my work therefore you should have accepted it!' seemed to be the attitude. However, like filling a fixed number of slots in a publication, a gallery has only so many places in which to exhibit artworks.

A professional takes these things on the chin, learns from them. I learned that from some of the best. Having a hissy fit because a publisher does not think your work is right for them at that time is not how a professional operates. Was it truly as good a piece as you could do? I was disappointed to receive a rejection for a story one time - until I later had another look at it. Oh dear Lord - how could I have possibly let something go out with THAT many mistakes etc in it! The human reaction is all too often: if it looks crap then it probably is crap. Getting past those errors to the story itself, now looking at it with fresh eyes I realised it was not nearly as good as I originally thought it was. Have you had others review the piece and critique it before you sent it out, by which I don't mean having Mummy say 'oh that looks wonderful, darling!'

Becoming a published author ain't easy, at least in the majors. Having hissy fits that a particular publisher isn't falling over themselves and breaking out the brass band for your short story, ain't helping anyone. If you can't stand the heat, get outta the kitchen.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

A Heartfelt Thank You

Since  announcing that I now have to undergo the full brain surgery option to have my aneurysm fixed, I am really quite touched by some of the concern that is being shown to me, in particular on how I am going to cope post-surgery while I recover, with numerous offers of assistance, visits to hospital and so forth. One dear friend warned me to expect provision of home-cooked meals and the latest sci-fi movies to watch.

Yesterday yet another valued friend informed me yesterday that she had told her other half that if Ross needs somewhere to stay where he can be looked after when he gets out of hospital, 'he's moving to our place.' There was even an offer to drive me down to Victoria to stay with my family.

I hope all that won't be necessary, but all the same I am really touched and appreciative.  It is only when you really need them that you find out who your real friends are.

Because I am not very good at these things in person, a heartfelt thank you to all.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Book Review: Wrecking Crew by Caesar Campbell

This review first posted at www.boomerangbooks.com.au.

The sub-title of the book is ‘the brutal true story of the Bandios’ legendary sergeant-at-arms.’ ‘Brutal’ is no understatement. If anything, ‘brutal’ has been a simple fact of life for Caesar Campbell.

This was a compulsive read once I had started, unable to put it down. It held an almost horrid fascination like going past the scene of a terrible car accident and just having to have a look.

At times I found myself being oddly drawn to Campbell through his love of and loyalty to first his family then the biker club he was the founding member of in Australia. Then he would casually relate something such as the collection of fingers he used to keep in a jar of formaldehyde as souvenirs of people he had bashed. So I found I was bouncing between grudging respect and shocked exclamations that the man is a complete psychopath.

The book is an eye-opener about the world of the ‘outlaw’ biker. They really do see themselves as a world apart from what is the norm for the rest of us. It also shows how that world began changing in the wake of the Comancheros ambush of the Bandidos at Milperra in 1984, with many members of both clubs in prison for murder and manslaughter. It was no longer the tight little world it had once been.

Quoting Campbell...

“When I started out in bikes, you joined a club because you wanted mateship, and you wanted blokes to ride with. And for hardcore blokes like and my brothers, the outlaw bike club was the last place you could go to enjoy that territorial rivalry that went on between clubs. It was like being a Viking or Scotsman highlander. Not that we went around bashing people willy-nilly, but we loved that atmosphere of tension. The feeling that trouble may be just around the corner. ...whenever you were riding through another club’s territory, there was always the thrill that you might get stopped and end up in a punch-up. We fed off that.”

We also see how Campbell was betrayed by another Bandido, bringing an effective end to his time there. As far as he is concerned, Caesar is still on leave of absence from the club (part of their surprisingly rigid code) and therefore is still a Bandido, even though the man Campbell made the agreement with took the details with him to the grave without revealing it to members of the club.

This is not a pretty story. Far from it. Readers will find themselves by turn repulsed, respecting, upset and horrified by the story of Caesar Campbell.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

BOOK REVIEW: The Edinburgh Dead

This review first posted at www.awritergoesonajourney.com

The Edinburgh Dead
Brian Ruckley

The blurb
In the starkly-lit operating theaters of the city, grisly experiments are being carried out on corpses in the name of medical science. But elsewhere, there are those experimenting with more sinister forces.

Amongst the crowded, sprawling tenements of the labyrinthine Old Town, a body is found, its neck torn to pieces. Charged with investigating the murder is Adam Quire, Officer of the newly- formed Edinburgh Police. The trail will lead him into the deepest reaches of the city's criminal underclass, and to the highest echelons of the filthy rich.

Soon Quire will discover that a darkness is crawling through this city of enlightenment - and no one is safe from its corruption.

And wot I fink is...
When writing an historical novel, even one delving into a bit of Gothic horror as this does, the danger is always that of making sure you have your history spot-on. That has been a significant reason why I tend to steer away from it myself, because the moment you do get it wrong, nitpickers come flooding out of the woodwork to have a gripe. Like me.

From the interesting interview with the author located in the rear of the book, Ruckley describes his basic idea stemming from the thought that what if the infamous body snatchers who turned to murder to supplement their supply of corpses, Burke and Hare, were dealing with more than supplying medical schools? The novel only touches on Burke and Hare but does relate a particular ending to Hare which unfortunately overlooks the fact that there were supposedly confirmed sightings of him in England at a later date. That was my little historical nitpick.

From discussions with a friend of mine who knows Edinburgh very well, the descriptions of the New and Old Towns rang quite true, as did the policing of the time.

It is unfortunate that I have only not long finished reading and reviewing another historical novel also with a backdrop of body snatching, albeit in London. That protagonist and Ruckley’s protagonist have a number of similarities as does aspects of the plot. Please note that I am not suggesting plagiarism or anything of the sort, but merely that once you enter a historical setting like that with a protagonist who is a veteran of the Napoleonic wars, and there were plenty of those, the chances are that more than one writer is going to have similar ideas. But not all readers are going to have also so recently read a similar book.

The pace of the story drew me along pretty well until the closing stages which fell a little flat with me. There were also a few points within the story that puzzled me a little as to what they were intended to be doing. For example, an obviously darkly magical charm is placed in Quire’s room but we never really find out exactly who put it there or what it was intended to mean other than something dark and nasty was probably in Quire’s future.

If you like the mixture of history and Gothic, then this is worth a read although it will not be making it into my final list of favourite books of the year. But then I can be a picky bugger.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Book Review - Gallipoli by Peter Hart

Peter Hart
Profile Books

review first posted at www.boomerangbooks.com.au

Here in Australia we are more used to seeing books on Gallipoli presenting a much more Anzac-centric focus on the Dardenelles campaign of 1915. It comes as a surprise to some to learn that the Australian and New Zealand troops were just one part of the multi-national Mediterranean Task Force and greatly outnumbered by British troops. Also making up the force were French, Indian and even troops from New Foundland (although the latter do not get a mention from Hart).

It is also not as well appreciated as it should be in Australia that the landing on April 25th, 1915 at Gaba Tepe, which later became known as Anzac Cove, was just one of a number of landings on the Gallipoli peninsula, both real and diversionary. Anzac Cove was also far from the worst of the landings - that dubious honour is held by the British landing further down the peninsula at V Beach.

Something that really struck me in this account was just what a great job the Turks did, particularly in the confusion of that first day. The invaders were often held up by far fewer numbers of troops who admittedly held the high ground yet were not that well equipped. The fire discipline of some of those units lead some of the attackers to believe that they were facing machine guns when the few Turkish machine guns were not brought into the line later in the day, depending on where the need was believed greatest. At one point a British advance was held up by the sight of a line of Turkish troops, laying on the ground ahead of them. If only they had realised that the Turks were out of ammunition and only had the bayonets left to fight with.

Hart is far more condemnatory of British planning and conduct of the campaign than is often the case with British researchers and authors. He also condemns aspects of the Anzac landing, while still paying the compliment of how remarkable was the grimly determined Australian and New Zealand grasp on their toehold.

It was also interesting to read some accounts by British seaman that shed some light on a significant aspect that greatly increased the confusion of the Anzac landing.

While this book does not flow or read as well as say, Les Carlyon's Gallipoli, it is far from the dry read that you might expect from a professional historian. For anyone with an interest in the larger picture of the Gallipoli campaign, this title is definitely worth a look.