Sunday, 28 July 2013

Call for Recommended Reading

Got a magazine, fanzine, book, or other piece of literature you're dying to talk about? Tell us what you'd recommend and why, and we'll post your recommendation at the end of the month. 

Monday, 15 July 2013

Author Interview: Anna Lee Huber

We recently had the opportunity to ask a few questions of Anna Lee Huber, award-winning novelist of The Anatomist's Wife, the first in a series of mysteries featuring Lady Darby. The series takes place in the 1830's; the first is set in Scotland, and as we're half Scottish, we immediately took an interest. 

How long did it take for you to write The Anatomist's Wife?

It took me about nine months to write and polish The Anatomist’s Wife before I submitted it to literary agents.

What gave you the idea for Lady Darby?

I wanted to write a historical mystery series where the heroine was the main protagonist, but I wanted to be certain she had skills to bring to the table other than just keen powers of observation. In 1830, most men would not have allowed a woman to take part in something so gruesome as a murder investigation, unless there were extenuating circumstances. So, I decided to make her a portrait artist, talented at reading people. And then I decided I also wanted her to have a useful knowledge of anatomy. Crafting her back story in order to give her this knowledge gave me the idea for the plot of The Anatomist’s Wife, and everything continued to build from there.

What sort of research went into the writing of The Anatomist's Wife?

I did a lot of research about the time period, especially in regards to medicine, trying to discover what knowledge the surgeons of that time possessed and what they didn’t. I read extensively and also traveled to Scotland to have a firsthand feel for the setting and other details. Such a beautiful country! The most useful destination I visited was the Surgeons’ Hall Museum at the Royal College of Surgeons at Edinburgh. They had fascinating exhibits, including ones on the infamous body-snatchers, Burke and Hare.

Do you have any other novels planned that aren't part of this series?

I do. I’m currently working on a Gothic suspense novel that I hope will be the first in a trilogy of related novels.

Who is your favourite author and why?

I absolutely adore Mary Stewart. Her novels are absolutely riveting and stand the test of time. And I don’t think anyone has such an amazing gift for writing setting.

What is the writing process like for you?

I don’t really have a set routine, and it’s constantly evolving. The beginning of my novels are usually a bit more free-form. I let my imagination take me where it will, and when I think I have a good idea to work with, I then pause and loosely plot out the rest of the novel. I try to allow myself some give and take, but I also need the structure to be sure I slip the clues and red herrings in where they are needed. I try to stick to a word count goal for each week, which gives me flexibility with my days while still keeping me on track. I usually go through three or four drafts before sending the manuscript to my editor.

Is writing a lonely occupation for you? If so, how do you combat it?

It can be. And when I feel the walls closing in on me I try to get out and do something, even if it’s just taking a walk. If I absolutely must work, I’ll go to a coffee shop so that I feel less isolated.

How long did it take you to break into writing? Do you have any manuscripts that haven't got published?

It took me seven years from the day I started to research my first novel to the day I signed with my literary agent, and soon after my publisher. I have four complete manuscripts that are saved on my hard drive that have not been published. (The Anatomist’s Wife was my fifth.) Someday I might try to revise them, but for now I’m more interested in writing new stories.

Can you give us some tips on establishing a writing routine? 

My routine is pretty fluid, because that’s what works best for me. But I will say that to be a writer, you absolutely must make time to write, if not every day, then at least a few days a week. It’s so easy to let your time get away from you, or your fears steal your words. I have a post-it stuck to my bulletin board over my desk that says, “You cannot call yourself a writer if you don’t write.” It’s as simple as that. If you write, whether or not you publish, you’re a writer. If you don’t, you’re a dreamer or a washed-up has-been.

Do you have any advice for authors looking to write a series?

Be sure to leave enough mystery to carry over into the other books in the series. It doesn’t matter whether you write mystery or romance or fantasy, whatever the genre, you need to leave a bit of mystery to your characters and plot. Each book needs a satisfying ending, but you also need threads that run continuously through each book that will drive the reader to pick up the next novel to find out what happens. I try to be as ambiguous as I can get away with, that way I have a greater variety of options later. If you make things too concrete, then you might write yourself into a corner.

Thursday, 11 July 2013

Review: 'Nature Detectives' Handbook' by Barbara Taylor

Nature Detectives' Handbook by Barbara Taylor, 2005, Miles Kelly Publishing, $8.88, softbound, 128 pages. Category/Genre: reference. Cover: brilliant. Where we got it: prezzie. Where you can get it: Amazon. 

Although it was written for those in the UK, nature lovers around the world will be interested in this book. You can also get more information and resources by visiting Here you can record your nature experiences to help scientists learn more about what's going on in the natural world. 

This fun and clever handbook will help you learn to identify 50 common British insects, flowers, trees, birds, fungi, and amphibians. With each entry (organised alphabetically) you will find a beautiful colour illustration and helpful labels. You will also learn the common and Latin names for each species. 

In addition to this, you will find a Fact Box, in which you may read a number of facts about the species. For example, in many north-west European languages, the word 'beech' is related to old words meaning 'book.' There's also a description of each species, a note about the species' habitat, and a marker that tells you the time of year each species may be seen. 

A records box is included for each species. Here you may make notes about the wildlife you have seen and heard, as well as adding your own photos. There is a species chart at the back in which you may make more small notes. 

The book comes with stickers that you may use to help you record your sightings. There's also a multiple choice quiz (the answers are included) to help you test your skills as a nature detective. 

The last page is a handy glossary. 

Sure, this book is for kids. But adults will like it, too. 

If you like this one, try: Secret Lives of Garden Wildlife, by Dominic Couzens. 

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Review: '4000 Alphabet & Letter Motifs' by Graham Leslie McCallum

4000 Alphabet & Letter Motifs: A Sourcebook, by Graham Leslie McCallum, 2009, Anova Books, $17.95, softbound, includes CD, 399 pages. Category/Genre: reference. Cover:interesting. Where we got it: publisher. Where You can get it: Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Books-A-Million. 

McCallum begins by showing the reader how the Roman alphabet developed, then goes into cursive Roman scripts. The way the Roman alphabet developed is quite interesting, and the reader may choose to spend a bit of time poring over these pages. 

Pre-Romanesque alphabets are shown, and we see a nice variety of styles emerging. Unical alphabets are next; there is a fascinating style that includes some disconnection in the letter strokes, adding, McCallum says, a 'simplicity and rusticity.' Another Unical style involves changing the angle of one's pen within the writing of a single letter. 

There are also Versal, or Decorative, alphabets. These can be quite unusual, and originate in various regions: Ireland (800 AD), North Africa (5th Century), and more. 

There are Pre-Romanesque and Romanesque alphabets (both upper and lower cases), Carolingian alphabets, Gothic alphabets (including cursive), and Renaissance alphabets, as well as Italic alphabets, English Round Hand alphabets, and modern alphabets (the author included a collection of his own modern alphabets for the reader's personal use). 

The book comes with a CD that contains several hundred extra motifs. 

If you like this one, try: Suggestions? 

Thursday, 4 July 2013

Review: 'Birds' by James Kavanagh

Birds, by James Kavanagh, Illustrated by Raymond Leung, 2002, Waterford Press, $6.95, softbound, 64 pages. Category/Genre: games. Cover: a bit busy and garish. Where we got it: publisher. Where you can get it: Amazon. 

This activity book is intended to introduce youngsters to nature. There are instructions on creating an origami parrot, swan, and sandpiper (though the reader is not given the dimensions of the paper he is to use), which looks like fun. 

For the budding artist, there are pictures to colour (you are to use the back cover for colour reference; unfortunately, these pictures are rather small), and square-by-square drawing assignments. 

There are word searches for common backyard birds and other birds, which include lifelike drawings of each of the birds. You can also test your skills by trying to identify common birds by silhouette, as well as matching the name to the picture. There are name scrambles, picture scrambles, and a 'Spot the Differences' game in which the young naturalist may circle the differences between two drawings. 

There are mazes, a game called 'Oddball Out' (in which the reader is to circle the bird who is different from his fellows), connect-the-dots games, and 'Fold-Ins' (in which the reader folds the page to reveal a picture). 

Answers are given at the bottom of each page. 

If you like this one, try: Suggestions?       

Monday, 1 July 2013

On the Bookshelf: Books to Be Read July 2013

Now that we've finished The Anatomist's Wife, we're going for another cosy. This one's a crochet mystery.