First things first: Writer, historian, educator and culinary adventuress Gillian Polack now has a Patreon — check it out!

Other stuff —

Read lately and recommend:
Dying for Strangers: Memoirs of a Special Ops Operator in Iraq by Brennan Morton
Trieste and the Meaning of Nowhere by Jan Morris
A Dark Stranger by Julien Gracq (enjoyed it for atmosphere and description, not so much the characters)
The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro (not a fun read, but it has stayed with me and probably affected me more than most books do)
The Madonna of the Sleeping Cars by Maurice Dekobra




Night’s Nieces

Night’s Nieces

The Legacy of Tanith Lee

by Storm Constantine

“In the footsteps of the High Priestess of Fantasy…
Tanith Lee – 1947-2015 – was a huge influence on fantasy literature, and a towering inspiration to a generation of writers, who were captivated by her iconic, poetic prose, her deft use of language, her surreal visions and her ground-breaking ideas. Many successful authors claim that discovering the work of Tanith Lee encouraged them to write in the first place. In particular, she was instrumental in giving women writers the confidence to break the staid moulds of the genre – to be evocative, sensual and daring in their work, to smash boundaries.
Its title inspired by Tanith’s Flat Earth sequence of books, (in particular Night’s Master), Night’s Nieces is a collection of stories by female writers, who not only counted Tanith Lee as a close friend, but also as a mentor, a teacher and an inspiration. Tanith, having no children herself, considered these younger women to be her ‘nieces’ and offered her support to their writing.
While the ‘nieces’ included in this book do not encompass all of Tanith’s close writer friends – for she had many – it amply provides a sample of her legacy. Each ‘niece’ has written a short story inspired by Tanith’s work, as well as an accompanying article describing how Tanith influenced her career and sharing fond memories of her friendship. The book also includes previously unpublished photographs from Tanith’s life, as well as artwork by the authors.
Contributors include Storm Constantine, Cecilia Dart-Thornton, Vera Nazarian, Sarah Singleton, Kari Sperring, Sam Stone, Freda Warrington and Liz Williams. With an introduction by John Kaiine.”

Night’s Nieces at Immanion Press and Amazon.


Passing English of the Victorian Era

Passing English of the Victorian era : a dictionary of heterodox English, slang and phrase by James Redding Ware (who also wrote as Andrew Forrester), 1909, at archive.org, found via The Public Domain Review. “Here,” begins the preface, “is a numerically weak collection of instances of ‘Passing English’. It may be hoped that there are errors on every page, and also that no entry is ‘quite too dull’.”

A few examples:

Blue o’clock in the morning: Pre-dawn, when black sky gives way to purple
Cartocracy: People distinguished enough to keep carts — especially dog-carts
Double-breasted water-butt smasher: A man of fine bust — an athlete
Introduce shoemaker to tailor: Evasive metaphor for fundamental kicking
Left the minority: No longer with the living
Little Go: First imprisonment, first invented by a fallen university man
O Gomorrah to you! : Play of a word upon “to-morrow”, and said either savagely or jocularly
Rank and smell: common person

Some entries are still familiar, like “lead poisoning” for gunshot wounds, and “squeejee” (yes, the rubber mop — I had no idea the word was so old.)


The imaginary worlds of the Brontës

Thanks to my mother, for a long time I’ve known that the Brontës — Charlotte, Emily, Anne and Branwell — collaborated on writing together as children. They wrote in tiny writing in tiny notebooks. What I didn’t know was that they wrote about an imaginary shared realm, the world of the Glass Town Federation. They initially invented the kingdom of Angria, after which the two younger siblings, Emily and Anne, discontent with being forced into lesser realms, created their own land of Gondal. (If you’re hearing echoes of Angmar and Gondor, you’re not the only one — but I haven’t been able to find the slightest hint of a connection).

The enterprise began with a set of toy soldiers that Branwell received. Charlotte chose the Duke of Wellington, Branwell chose Napoleon (which, as blogger Transient points out, was like “playing Superman and Lex Luthor”, and Emily and Anne chose the Arctic explorers Parry and Ross). Each character had his own kingdom, with the capital of each one called Glass Town.

From the British Library:

They became obsessive about their imaginary worlds, drawing maps and creating lives for their characters and featured themselves as the ‘gods’ (‘genii’) of their world. Their stories are in tiny micro-script, as if written by their miniature toy soldiers.

The Brontës wrote about their imaginary countries in the form of long sagas which were ‘published’ as hand-written books and magazines, reminiscent of the early fanzines created by science fiction fans from the 1930s, as well as the imaginary worlds made up by many writers such as JRR Tolkien and CS Lewis in their childhood and adolescence. Just like today’s writers of ‘fan-fiction’ who use characters and settings from their favourite television shows and books (from Star Trek to Harry Potter), the Brontës used both fictional and real-life characters, such as the Duke of Wellington.



Aurealis Award for Mad Ancestor

The Aurealis Awards have been announced, and I’m honoured and delighted that That Book Your Mad Ancestor Wrote received the award for best collection. Many thanks to the judges and organisers of the awards for all their work, and congratulations to all the winners and finalists! I owe a lot to the beta readers whose comments and critique helped me so much to work up the stories for the book: Nick Tramdack, Kirby Crow, Gillian Polack, Laurie Bland and Andrew van der Stock. Huge appreciation, guys! My thanks also to Kyla Ward for kindly accepting the award on my behalf.

2012 Aurealis Awards (winners in bold):

CHILDREN’S FICTION (told primarily through words)
Brotherband: The Hunters by John Flanagan (Random House Australia)

Princess Betony and the Unicorn by Pamela Freeman (Walker Books)
The Silver Door by Emily Rodda (Scholastic)
Irina the Wolf Queen by Leah Swann (Xoum Publishing)

CHILDREN’S FICTION (told primarily through pictures)
Little Elephants by Graeme Base (author and illustrator) (Viking Penguin)

The Boy Who Grew Into a Tree by Gary Crew (author) and Ross Watkins (illustrator) (Penguin Group Australia)
In the Beech Forest by Gary Crew (author) and Den Scheer (illustrator) (Ford Street Publishing)
Inside the World of Tom Roberts by Mark Wilson (author and illustrator) (Lothian Children’s Books)

Dead, Actually by Kaz Delaney (Allen & Unwin) – Joint winner

And All The Stars by Andrea K. Host (self-published)
The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf by Amberlin Kwaymullina (Walker Books)
Sea Hearts by Margo Lanagan (Allen & Unwin) – Joint winner
Into That Forest by Louis Nowra (Allen & Unwin)

“Stilled Lifes x11” by Justin D’Ath (Trust Me Too, Ford Street Publishing)
“The Wisdom of the Ants” by Thoraiya Dyer (Clarkesworld)
“Rats” by Jack Heath (Trust Me Too, Ford Street Publishing)
“The Statues of Melbourne” by Jack Nicholls (Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine 56)
“The Worry Man” by Adrienne Tam (self-published)

Blue by Pat Grant (author and illustrator) (Top Shelf Comix)

It Shines and Shakes and Laughs by Tim Molloy (author and illustrator) (Milk Shadow Books)
Changing Ways #2 by Justin Randall (author and illustrator) (Gestalt Publishing)

That Book Your Mad Ancestor Wrote by K.J. Bishop (self‐published)

Metro Winds by Isobelle Carmody (Allen & Unwin)
Midnight and Moonshine by Lisa L. Hannett & Angela Slatter (Ticonderoga Publications)
Living With the Dead by Martin Livings (Dark Prints Press)
Through Splintered Walls by Kaaron Warren (Twelfth Planet Press)

The Year’s Best Australian Fantasy and Horror 2011 edited by Liz Grzyb and Talie Helene (Ticonderoga Publications)
Bloodstones edited by Amanda Pillar (Ticonderoga Publications)
The Best Science Fiction & Fantasy of the Year Volume 6 edited by Jonathan Strahan (NightShade Books)
Under My Hat edited by Jonathan Strahan (Random House)
Edge of Infinity edited by Jonathan Strahan (Solaris Books)

“Sanaa’s Army” by Joanne Anderton (Bloodstones, Ticonderoga Publications)
“Elyora” by Jodi Cleghorn (Rabbit Hole Special Issue, Review of Australian Fiction)
“To Wish Upon a Clockwork Heart” by Felicity Dowker (Bread and Circuses, Ticonderoga Publications)
“Escenade un Asesinato” by Robert Hood (Exotic Gothic 4, PS Publishing)
“Sky” by Kaaron Warren (Through Splintered Walls, Twelfth Planet Press)

Bloody Waters by Jason Franks (Possible Press)
Perfections by Kirstyn McDermott (Xoum)
Blood and Dust by Jason Nahrung (Xoum)
Salvage by Jason Nahrung (Twelfth Planet Press)

“Sanaa’s Army” by Joanne Anderton (Bloodstones, Ticonderoga Publications)
“The Stone Witch” by Isobelle Carmody (Under My Hat, RandomHouse)
“First They Came” by Deborah Kalin (Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine 55)
“Bajazzle” by Margo Lanagan (Cracklescape, Twelfth Planet Press)
“The Isles of the Sun” by Margo Lanagan (Cracklescape, Twelfth Planet Press)

Bitter Greens by Kate Forsyth (Random House Australia)
Stormdancer by Jay Kristoff (Tor UK)
Sea Hearts by Margo Lanagan (Allen & Unwin)
Flame of Sevenwaters by Juliet Marillier (PanMacmillan Australia)
Winter Be My Shield by Jo Spurrier (HarperVoyager)

“Visitors” by James Bradley (Review of Australian Fiction)
“Significant Dust” by Margo Lanagan (Cracklescape, Twelfth Planet Press)
“Beyond Winter’s Shadow” by Greg Mellor (Wild Chrome, Ticonderoga Publications)
“The Trouble with Memes” by Greg Mellor (WildChrome, Ticonderoga Publications)
“The Lighthouse Keepers’ Club” by Kaaron Warren (Exotic Gothic 4, PS Publishing)

Suited by Jo Anderton (Angry Robot)
The Last City by Nina D’Aleo (Momentum)
And All The Stars by Andrea K Host (self-published)
The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf by Ambelin Kwaymullina (Walker Books)
Confusion of Princes by Garth Nix (Allen & Unwin)
The Rook by Daniel O’Malley (HarperCollins)

Kate Eltham

Laura Goodin


Christopher Barzak: Birds and Birthdays

I just bought Christopher Barzak’s Birds and Birthdays, a collection of three stories inspired by paintings by surrealist artists Leonora Carrington, Remedios Varo and Dorothea Tanning, and an essay on the three painters. Really looking forward to reading this!

There’s a review by Karen Burnham at Strange Horizons.

I’m still reading Outlaws of the Marsh. It’s entertaining, but also very long, and I’m a slow reader. I think I’ll have to take a pause for some of the other items in my to-read pile.


Hearts & Guns name change

I wasn’t that happy with Hearts & Guns as a title for the story collection. It’s snappy, but doesn’t give any sense of fantasy or strangeness. I’ve decided to use a line in one of the poems and call it That Book Your Mad Ancestor Wrote.

I’m getting there with the beta edits. Maybe one day they’ll name a snail after me.

Also, reading Mary Doria Russell’s Doc, a historical novel based on the life of Doc Holliday, mainly when he was in Dodge City, before Tombstone. A great pleasure to read, will be sorry to finish it.


Outlaws of the Marsh

“There are hairs in this dumpling that look a lot like pubic hairs.”

“Ximen was frolicking with Golden Lotus upstairs. At the sound of Wu Song’s voice he farted with terror and pissed in his pants.”

The Goriest, Raunchiest Chinese Classic of All Time

I’ve been reading Sidney Shapiro’s translation (1980) of the 14th century Chinese classic Outlaws of the Marsh, aka The Water Margin (authorship usually attributed to Shi Nai’an, Luo Guangzhong — author of Romance of the Three Kingdoms — or both). It’s highly readable. In fact, I’m finding it addictive.

It’s full of badass characters and it goes along at a clip. It’s also laugh-out-loud funny in places. It’s almost all action and plot, with very little introspection or showy writing (though there was a flowery metaphor concerning how the blood flowed out of someone’s head wound). The narration tells you when it’s leaving a character behind or skipping over something. If you’ve read Barry Hughart’s Bridge of Birds, it has some of that feeling of “an Ancient China that never was” but it feels more like a tall tale than a myth — more Robin Hood than King Arthur. Apart from a legend told at the beginning that frames the story, there hasn’t been any magic in it yet, though chapter titles hint that there might be some further on.

The translation uses modern-sounding terms like “grog shop”, with occasional slight archaisms like “clove him in twain” — perhaps with humorous purpose, or perhaps the original dips into slight archaisms of its own? With the vernacular language and the highly organised and bureaucratised medieval Chinese milieu, which can seem like a modern enough world on its own, it feels contemporary as well as ancient.

I remember reading, as a fan of “Monkey”, a translation of Journey to the West, and being frustrated by its slow pace. If I remember right, the translator had cut out a lot of incidents in order to do justice to the details and style of the text within a volume that could be picked up in one hand. I was a kid, and I was expecting the book to be like the TV show. Outlaws of the Marsh, so far, is not unlike a TV show — episodic and busy. The start has a bit of a patchwork feel, as it skips from character to character, though the framing legend helps to ward off the sense of a shaggy dog story. Then it settles down and concentrates on one guy (whose personality reminds me of Monkey) — or at least, it has been concentrating on him for a couple of chapters now. It looks like it’s going to move on to other characters, but hopefully without jumping around as much as it did at the beginning.

Anyway, I’m pretty hooked on the fun of it all. The Kindle edition that I bought is entirely no-frills. It doesn’t even have page numbers, and there are a few typos and ebook conversion errors, but not enough to be terribly intrusive. But it was only $3.49, and it’s 768 pages. Bargain, mate!