assorted books on shelf
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In Praise of Libraries

One of my earliest memories is weekly visits to the local public library with my mother and brothers. I would load up on the maximum number of books they allowed us to take out at once and it would just get me to the next Saturday. It was a sad day for me when I realized I had read everything in the children’s section but was still too young for the adult section! But it set my fate as a lifelong bibliophile.

Libraries have provided a critical service for society and culture for thousands of years. The world’s oldest known library was founded sometime in the 7th century B.C.E. for the use of the Assyrian ruler Ashurbanipal in Nineveh in modern day Iraq. The site included a treasure trove of some 30,000 cuneiform tablets organized according to subject. Cuneiform is a wedge-shaped writing made by using a reed stylus on a clay tablet and then letting it harden.

The oldest library continually operating library is at St Catherine’s Monastery, at the foot of the legendary Mount Sinai. It has the second largest collection of ancient manuscripts and codices, just after Vatican City including several unique and important texts, including the Syriac Sinaiticus and, until 1859, the Codex Sinaiticus, the oldest known complete Bible, dating back to around 345 CE.

Our modern libraries help to build literate, productive and engaged communities. They foster literacy of all kinds – a critical factor in economic and social participation that helps to remove barriers to education and employment. By providing safe community spaces, they create healthy communities, and their programming activities support culture and creativity.

Create your own libraries when you can, but don’t forget the vital services provided by your local library!

Why books matter

Building Empathy – One Novel at a Time

The other day someone asked me, “Why do you write for children? It’s a tough market to break into.”

“I’m so glad you asked,” I replied. “Aside from just a love of telling stories, there are some hard reasons why I think it’s so important to write for children. Here is just one.

It seems the qualities that reflect the best in our species have been under attack for some time now. Polarization is growing, as are divisiveness and demonizing those who differ from us in any way—ethnically, culturally, or politically.

Reading novels and stories builds empathy and helps to reduce divisiveness. When a child (or any of us) isreading a novel or story, they are immersing themselves in what it’s like to be in another person’s head. They’re experiencing the character’s experiences in deep and complex ways. Ways that current virtual reality can’t come close to replicating.

When a child is reading a novel or story, they are drawn into imagining the character’s motivations, their goals. This develops the same way of thinking that helps them to understand the people surrounding them in the real world:

  • It helps them to realize and understand that people from other cultures and ethnic groups have feelings, abilities, and desires, just like them.
  • They can come to understand that surface behaviours, particularly undesirable ones, may be driven by deeper underlying causes and shouldn’t necessarily be taken personally.
  • Discussing books and stories offers parents and children a way to discuss topics and feelings that might not be comfortable or come naturally otherwise.

Empathy and compassion are closely related, and both are increasingly precious in our turbulent and divisive world. Reading books and stories is one of the best ways to help our children develop both.”

Let’s help our children build their empathy muscles, one book at a time.

What I’ve Been Reading

Evil in Emerald, by A.M. Stuart

Craving a change of pace, Harriet Gordon, joins a local musical theatre production but when a fellow cast member is brutally killed, Harriet and Inspector Curran must turn the spotlight on murder in this all-new mystery from the author of Revenge in Rubies.

Harriet and Curran get better and better. I love the detailed and evocative setting in historical (1910) Singapore and the author includes a number of ‘real’ as well as fictional personages in the work.

The pacing is brisk, the characters continue to develop in interesting ways and complexity, and the climax was very satisfying.
I am impatiently awaiting the next title in the series!

What I've been reading, Writing

It’s My Book Birthday!

A Writer’s Journey

Magic! Adventure! Fabulous, mythical animals and wicked witches! These were the story elements that enthralled me as a child and inspired me to create the magical, mystical world of Sericea.

Lucy & Dee, The Silk Road is now available at your bookseller of choice!

It’s been a long journey. I knew I wanted to be a writer when I was eight years old and fashioning little booklets out of folded paper. I’d write and illustrate fantasy – heavily influenced at the time by The Borrowers series.

Then, as so often happens, I was overtaken by events, school, early stages of career and family… Oh, I wrote…some truly dreadful novels that mercifully I let languish in my computer hard drive. But over time, the writing bug strengthened. I wrote more. And as I wrote, my writing improved. Participation in various writing groups helped along the way along with writing buddies and writing coaches.

Finally, perseverance has paid off!

Never give up on a dream. It may take much longer than you expect to achieve it, but that’s okay.

Things I’m Grateful for Today

Spring has truly sprung here on the Island and I’m loving seeing new flowers every day. Some of my favourites are camellias, rhododendrons, and flowering plums. Every day, there’s something new to discover!

A crackling fire while I work on the second book in the Lucy & Dee series

An almost three-hour phone call with a beloved friend this morning. We’re separated by thousands of miles and a substantial time difference, but each call is as if we’re sitting having a cup of tea together.

A heron landed by the pool in my neighbour’s garden yesterday. There is a blue heron colony in a public garden, not too far from our house. In the Celtic traditions, herons represent autonomy, persistence, and longevity.

What I’m Reading Now

When I start a series, I tend to go right through it and there are twenty-four Hugh Corbett medieval mysteries to date. This is only book 11. Paul Doherty has based every novel in the series so far on an actual event happening in the reign of Edward 1 of England. A historian as well as an author, Doherty brings the early 14th century vividly to life.

Book reviews, What I've been reading

Inspiration, Regret and a Snarky Cat

An interviewer asked me the other day what inspired me to write Lucy & Dee, The Silk Road. The “author” answer comes from my childhood reading history. Of all the wonderful books I read as a child, my favourites were the classic fantasy adventure stories by authors like C. S. Lewis, Madeleine L’Engle, Mary Norton, P. L. Travers and E.Nesbitt. I wanted to write books as magical and transportive as they did. So, from the age of eight, I was making little books—literally folding pieces of paper into a book-like shape. From there, I wrote facsimiles of Borrower’s stories and other fantasy adventures.

My happy place in Brisbane, the Botanical Gardens. I have a favourite Morton Bay fig tree I sit beneath and think deep thoughts.

The more personal answers come from my family. Fast forward a couple of decades and I had children of my own. I told them my stories and my son always begged me to write them down. I’d start, and even finish, manuscripts and leave them languishing in my laptop. Someday, I thought. Someday I’ll have time to get these published so my children can hold them in their hands.

A few more decades passed, and it was my mother’s death in the spring of 2021 that finally pushed me to finish The Silk Road. My parents were huge readers and encouraged us to read and write. They would have been thrilled to hold a book I’d written in their hands. I was so angry with myself for always thinking ‘oh, I’ll have time later.’

If you’re inspired to write a book, make the time now!

What I’ve been Reading

I love it when I find a new series and each title draws me inexorably to the next!

A snarky, magical cat, Gobbelino, one half of a Private Investigator partnership, narrates the Gobbelino London series. Scruffy, loner Callum (he’s deeply attached to a disreputable trench coat) makes up the other half of the duo. Witty dialogue, hints at their past lives that make you want to know more, and the deep commitment and respect they have for each other fill the books. Their characters develop in satisfactory ways and each title reveals more about their fascinating backstories.

Each book centres on solving an unusual magical mystery from neutralizing a homicidal grimoire (A Scourge of Pleasantries), defeating an infestation of zombies (A Contagion of Zombies), rounding up a gang trafficking in powdered unicorn horn (Complications of Unicorns) and preventing the end of humanity (A Melee of Mages). As they careen from one scrape to another with the help of an eclectic and fascinating collection of secondary characters they manage to save the day. If you need to smile, to laugh, to get invested in some characters you are really going to care about, then please give this series and this author a read. You won’t regret it and the world will seem just a bit more optimistic afterwards too. I am impatiently awaiting the next book in the series.

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Beach views and Book Review

It’s wonderful to be back in Australia after a two-year hiatus (thank you, Covid). This is my time to relax, recharge and work on the sequel to The Silk Road. We’ve spent two weeks in Sydney and visited beaches (Coogee Beach, this was just after the volcano erupted in Tonga and the waves were massive as far south as this), museum, art galleries, and more delicious cafés and restaurants than I can mention. Which doesn’t sound like I’ve been working much, but one must sneak up on the muse. But now I’m back in Brisbane and it’s time to get to work.

Coogee Beach, NSW. This was just after the volcano erupted in Tonga and the waves were massive as far south as this.

While here I finished a book titled The Bookseller’s Secret, by Michelle Gable a dual-protagonist story featuring a fictionalized account of Nancy Mitford’s war-time experience in a London bookshop and a modern-day novelist with writer’s block (Katie).

I’m a big fan of Nancy Mitford and I’ve read at least four of her books, so the premise of the book intrigued me. Nancy was the oldest of the famed (and infamous) aristocratic and beautiful Mitford sisters and a successful novelist and biographer. But during her time in the bookshop, she had recently had three failed novels and now had a severe case of writer’s block. During the war, she decided to write a memoir and this (now missing and Katie’s new obsession) memoir is the crux of the ‘secret’. Nancy formed a salon during the war with several social and literary elites including her long-time friend, mentor and competitor, Evelyn Waugh. It is her friends who encourage and needle her into writing said memoir.

I found the writing average at best. The dialogue often felt forced and the character Katie self-absorbed and unreasonably pushy. However, the depiction of Nancy’s time during the war years, her penury, her desperate need to write, and the onset of her long-term love affair with ‘the Colonel’ was fascinating. More Nancy and less Katie would have made it a better book. The writer acknowledges this went from first draft to published in one year during Covid, so there’s that.

One of the best things about it was a tiny point: the owner of the modern-day bookshop curated libraries for individuals. A four-year-old girl was receiving a curated library for her birthday (albeit a shelf in her bedroom with room to grow). My four-year-old self would have loved to have such a library!

Other novels featuring the Mitford sisters I recommend reading, or listening to, are The Mitford Murders books by Jessica Fellowes.

Nancy Mitford’s most popular books are:

The Pursuit of Happiness (novel)

Love in a Cold Climate (novel)

Don’t Tell Alfred (novel)

Madame de Pompadour (biography)

The Sun King (biography)

Frederick the Great (biography)

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Giving Thanks

It’s Thanksgiving in Canada today and this year we’re giving thanks with a completely vegetarian meal, the first time I’ve tried this! Since no one was interested in pumpkin pie this year, I adapted a recipe for Vanilla Bean cake for our dessert. The recipe called for salted caramel sauce, which I love, but it felt to rich and heavy for the end of our meal. So I made a lemon glaze instead.

Lemon glaze brightens up a rich vanilla bean cake

Bookish News

Last week Lucy & Dee The Silk Road went up on NetGalley for advance readers to read and review. It’s a free service and for a limited time, you can download a complimentary copy of the book.

Just click on the widget and it will take you straight there.

It’s getting close to the holiday season and we’re all being advised to order our gift book early because…supply chain issues. If you’re looking for some good ideas, LitHub has this selection of the best reviewed books of the week.

I love epistolary novels, narratives composed solely or mainly of letters. Two particular favourites have been The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows, and Gone With the Windsors, by Laurie Graham. Sarah Rahman talks about how she fell in love with epistolary novels in this article and gives some wonderful examples and recommendations.

What I’m Reading Now

A delightful fall read for getting you into the Halloween spirit! This fast read is a magical fantasy about witches and wine and it doesn’t get much better than that! Romance, suspense and vengeance, oh my!

Bookshelves of Early printed books at the Long Room, TCD.
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History, Then and Now

The most important lesson of my life has been that books matter. My parents were both book lovers and by the age of four, I had learned how to read. I remember going to the public library every week, library card clutched in my hand, anxious to take out more books.

It was a crushing blow when I came to the end of the books the library had in their juvenile section!

However, that was also when I learned the value of what today I call my comfort books. Books I re-read when I need a certain lift or I’m in a particular mood. When I was young, the books I came back to time and time again were books that would take me to other worlds, other places, the Narnia books, the Borrower books, A Wrinkle in Time, and The Diamond in the Window. Other popular series were the Bobbsey Twins, Nancy Drew, and the Hardy Boys. I always loved a good mystery and adventure.

I still love adventure, fantasy, history, mystery, and reinvention stories. I love finding a new series and blowing right through it!

What were your favourite books as a child? Do you still read those types of books as an adult?

Bookish News

In every blog post I’ll include this little section on interesting snippets I’ve found around the web that are helpful to readers and writers. This week, we have a piece on how to write an author bio for a press kit, the 4 best apps for keeping track of the books you own and supply chain issues plaguing the publishing industry.

Impress the Press!

Your author bio is your best opportunity to show that you are the best person to have written the book. The media and reviewers all need to know the excellent credentials behind your non-fiction book or novel. Because of the specific audience, your author bio for a press kit differs from the one you use on your book jacket and sales page. You can read all about it here https://buildbookbuzz.com/how-to-write-an-author-bio/

Your Home Library App

Having a virtual library of the books you own or have read can be a lifesaver at the library or when you’re browsing in the bookstore. Here are four apps (Android and iOS) to help you keep track of what you own, would like to own, and would like to read. https://www.makeuseof.com/apps-to-keep-your-own-virtual-library/

Holiday gift-giving just became more complicated…

Books are a popular gift item, particularly the latest best-sellers. This year, it might be challenging to find the books you want because of the supply chain issues plaguing the publishing industry. The price of lumber has soared and with it the price of paper. Print book shortages are looming. See what the fuss is about here: https://www.modernretail.co/retailers/the-publishing-industry-is-bracing-for-volatile-end-of-the-year/

What I’m Reading Now

The Bombay Prince, by Sujata Massey is Book 3 in the Perveen Mistry series

This is a series that takes me away from the every day and teaches me something new. It’s set in 1920’s India and features Perveen Mistry, the first female solicitor in Bombay. If you like colourful history and compelling characters coupled with a fast-paced mystery, this book is for you.

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