Saturday, 31 March 2012

Being Abigail Book by Kathryn White

Being Abigail, my fantastic
little book.
Hi all!

Sales of my book Being Abigail have been a little bit down lately. For those of you who don't know, the book is about a young woman who attempts suicide and posts a note online. The attempt fails and she spends the next few months updating her blog, telling her followers how she rebuilds her life. The book has been reviewed well. (On Amazon, she was declared an Aussie Bridget Jones. I don't know if this is a good thing or not, lol.) You can read one of the reviews here:

I really don't want to go out of business like Angus & Robertson almost did (they still exist as an online bookseller, to prove it, just click that nice little link below,) so perhaps if you've been contemplating it, if you're stuck for something to read, or you just feel like helping out a struggling indie author, then consider clicking on one of the links below.

The good folk at Angus & Robertson offer free shipping on all of their books, so postage won't cost you a cent:

Amazon also offers a good deal, a kindle option and a range of sellers. Check it out here:

PS If you'd really rather an eBook that is available at the just the fraction of the price in a variety of formats, this link will take you straight to Smashwords:

Thursday, 29 March 2012

Babysitting RL Stine Style

Just to prove that not all babysitting adventures from the 1990s are saccharine sweet or have happy endings, my next review is of a classic children's horror novel, The Babysitter by RL Stine. I remember being desperate to read this book at age twelve after seeing it advertised inside a Dymocks catalogue. Fortunately, my mother saw the same catalogue and bought me a copy as a surprise gift. Actually, I think she was hoping that it might encourage me to read something other than Sweet Valley High and The Baby-sitters Club. Which would certainly fit in with the other books that she purchased me around that time. Without the help of my mother, I never would have discovered wonderful young adult authors such as Judy Blume and Paula Danziger. (Parents, please take note.) But that is another story. (Pardon the bad pun.)

The Babysitter is a fairly simple but surprisingly memorable tale. It tells the story of Jenny, a high school student who takes a job babysitting a young boy by the name of Donny, unaware that the boys father is a lunatic who wants to kill her. And that's basically it. The story works well, because it plays on the notion that this could happen to anyone - Jenny is more or less an ordinary teenager, Donny's parents appear to be completely ordinary. The book also spawned three sequels, each one worse than the last. (In The Babysitter IV for example, Jenny is pursued by a pair of murderous ghost children.)

The Babysitter is also arguably one of the best of the Point Horror series that peaked in the mid-1990s, for its simple story telling and believable outcome. Written by a variety of popular authors, including RL Stine and Carolyn B Cooney, each of the novels involved an ordinary teenager who found themselves caught up in an unpredictable and frightening experience. Some novels involved the supernatural, others had logical explanations. Most of the novels and authors have been long forgotten, while others, such as The Babysitter have enjoyed numerous reprints.

Monday, 26 March 2012

Looking Back: The Baby-Sitters Club

Baby-sitters Club author Ann M. Martin stands beside
a poster that features cover artwork from Kristy's Great
, the first volume in the series
Now that I've spent the past few weeks making fun of (or perhaps paying tribute to, who knows,) Sweet Valley, it is time to turn my attention to that other big pre-teen series from the 1980s & 1990s, The Baby-sitters Club. With sales around the 170 million mark, and merchandise that included a board game, nightgowns (mine had a picture of the BSC gang hanging out in New York on the front,) dolls, a 13 part series on VHS and a feature film, The Baby-sitters Club meant big money by the early 1990s. In an attempt to mimic Sweet Valley's successful cradle to the grave formula, by the mid 1990s the series was spawning numerous spin-offs aimed at various age groups Baby-sitters Little Sister and The Kids in Ms Coleman's Class for those still too young for the books, and The California Diaries and Friends Forever for those who had grown out of the books. The core series was also supported by numerous Super Specials, a Mystery series, and a portrait collection, where the older members of the club wrote their childhood memories (i.e. things that happened to them before they joined the club,) for a school project. (I confess. The last Baby-sitters Club I read as a child was the first book in the portrait collection. By then I was 13, almost 14, and had just started high school. By then, the realities of teenage life had set in and the books were soon forgotten in favour of novels by Paula Danziger and Judy Blume. Escapism came in the form of the more daring, and often soap-like Sweet Valley University.)

Sales and merchandising aside, the greatest achievement of The Baby-sitters Club is how surprisingly well written the books are when compared to other series aimed at pre-teens. Each book was self contained, and lacked the soap-like shenanigans that often went on in Sweet Valley, finding a boyfriend was not the sole purpose (or any purpose,) of their club, unlike the characters in Pen Pals or the aptly titled The Boyfriend Club. Even The Unicorn Club a female friendship series set in the Sweet Valley world that involves the key characters volunteering at a child care centre, fails to meet the extraordinary high benchmark that was set by the early Baby-sitters Club novels.

The key characters of the early novels, Kristy Thomas, Claudia Kishi, Mary Anne Spier and Stacey McGill live in Stoneybrook, a quiet American town that has a wonderful sense of timelessness about it. We know that the novels are set in the latter part of the 20th century, but the books (or the early ones at least,) are free from references to technology and popular culture. The main radio station in Stoneybrook seems to like playing classic hits from the 1950s and the girls enjoy watching classic movies like Mary Poppins and anything that stars Hayley Mills. Their favourite hobby is, of course, babysitting. When Kristy decides that the quartet may be able to run a successful babysitting business. The girls pool their talents in order to make the business work. Kristy has strong organisational skills, so she becomes president, Stacey is a whizz at Maths (or Math in the books,) so she takes on the role of treasurer, while Mary Anne is a good listener and has good writing skills, so she becomes the club secretary. Claudia, the rebellious artist of the group, offers the venue (her bedroom, which has a private phone line,) and the snacks and in return is appointed Vice-President. While a group of twelve years olds starting a babysitting business might be cause for concern in the real world, each of these girls appears to be mature beyond her years and Stoneybrook is a small town where everyone knows everyone and apart from the occasional burglary, is free from crime. As well as documenting the girls many babysitting adventures (often their charges, such as Mallory Pike, were the same age as the target audience for the novels,) the early novels discussed a variety of medical and family issues that affected the girls. Kristy comes from a single-parent family and battles conflicted emotions when her mother starts a serious relationship with a man from her workplace. Claudia, who is said to be Japanese-American, struggles with her grades lives in the shadow of her older sister, Janine, a genius with an IQ of 196. Her parents often use giving up the Baby-sitters Club as an ultimatum if her grades do not improve. Mary Anne's mother died when she was a baby (possibly from breast cancer, though it is never said explicitly in the series,) and she has been raised by her over-protective father. However, the most interesting story, is told in the third novel of the series, The Truth About Stacey. Stacey is a type one diabetic. This novel tells of her diagnosis and the way her illness causes her to be isolated and bullied by her former best friend in New York, before she moved to Stoneybrook. Her parents repeatedly take her to various pediatricians who offer miracle cures in exchange for a considerable amount of money. Fortunately, the parents of one of Stacey's sitting charges is also a doctor and refers Stacey to a well-respected pediatrician who helps set her parents straight. Later novels in the series, such as Book #43 Stacey's Emergency show how the character lives with her illness and the many challenges that she faces along the way. What makes The Truth About Stacey so remarkable is the honest, straightforward way her illness was explained by the author. Ann M. Martin does not talk down to the children that she writes for. The characters speak to the reader in everyday terms, and the first person narrative makes it seem more like a conversation between friends, rather than an adult and a child. In chapter 3, Stacey explains her illness:

Diabetes is a problem with a gland in your body called the pancreas. The pancreas makes insulin, which is a hormone. What insulin does is use the sugar and starch your body takes in while you eat, to give you heat and energy, and to break down other foods. When the pancreas doesn't make enough insulin to do the job, the glucose from the sugars and starches builds up in your blood and makes you sick. And not just a little sick. If you don't treat diabetes properly, you could die.

During the course of the first six novels, the girls all grow and mature, and eventually take on a new club member, Dawn, who has moved to Stoneybrook from California after her parents divorce. Throughout the series, Dawn and her brother Jeff, struggle with homesickness and another readjustment when their mother marries Mary Anne's father. Late in the series, Dawn leaves for a six month holiday to California, returns to Stoneybrook, but eventually decides that California is her real home, leading to the set up for the spin-off series The California Diaries. She also continued to make regular appearances throughout the series, which includes another outstanding installment in the series, The Babysitters Club #77 Dawn and Whitney, Friends Forever where Dawn is a paid companion for a girl her own age who has Downs Syndrome. Whitney has no idea that Dawn is being paid to look after her and believes that the pair are best friends. This leads to all kinds of complications when Whitney learns the truth. Meanwhile, Dawn learns a valuable lesson about the way people with Downs Syndrome are often treated in public. The novel ends with Whitney being made an honourary member of the We [heart] Kids Club, the Californian version of the Baby-sitters Club and is trusted to help with various group activities. 

In book ten, the girls start eighth grade at Stoneybook Middle School, where they remain until the end of the series, despite enjoying numerous non-canonical summer holidays, including two trips to Sea City (where book eight Boy Crazy Stacey is set). At about this time, the members of the club begin to expand and contract. Mary Anne's boyfriend, who also likes babysitting, is made an honorary member, as is Shannon Kilborne, Kristy's snooty new neighbour. (Over the summer, Kristy's mother had married her wealthy colleague and the family has moved to wealthy part of Stoneybrook.) In book #13 Good-Bye Stacey, Good-Bye Stacey returns to New York, leaving Dawn to take over as club treasurer. Two new characters join the club soon after - Mallory Pike, who is now in sixth grade and her new best friend Jessi Ramsey, who has moved in to Stacey's old house. The theme of book #14 Hello Mallory is bullying. As the only black family in Stoneybrook, the Ramsey's experience racism from various ignorant townspeople. Meanwhile, Mallory suffers some bullying from none other than the members of the Babysitters Club, who set a series of difficult tests (which she fails) before refusing to allow her into the club. Mallory and Jessi set up their own successful baby-sitting business. Realising that the younger girls are capable baby-sitters, the older girls ask Mallory to join their club. Mallory agrees, but only on the condition that she receives an apology and that Jessi is also allowed to join the club. The girls are then welcomed with open arms into the club by all except Dawn, who struggles with her own feelings of jealousy, which are eventually resolved in the next book in the series.

As the series continues, more social issues are explored. In book #26 Claudia and the Sad Good-Bye Claudia copes with the death of her grandmother. Meanwhile, adoption is explored in books #24 Kristy and the Mother's Day Surprise and #33 Claudia and the Great Search, after Kristy's mother and stepfather adopt Emily, a child from Vietnam (in a process that is far faster than a normal overseas adoption, but it is doubtful that the target audience would be interested in such matters). After caring for Emily, Claudia begins to question her own origins and wonders if she is adopted as she does not fit in with her own family. She later discovers that she was not adopted at all, and the issues of family relationships and communication are explored. In book #28 Welcome Back Stacey, Stacey struggles with her parents divorce and having to choose between her parents. In books #30 Mary Anne and the Great Romance and #31 Dawn's Wicked Stepsister (the only real two-parter in the whole series,) the issue of blended families is explored. In book #32 Kristy and the Secret of Susan Kristy is left in charge of an autistic girl. She struggles to help Susan fit in with the local children and learns some valuable lessons about special needs children and acceptance along the way. The only age-appropriate issue that is never discussed in the books is puberty. 

When we reach book #34 Mary Anne and Too Many Boys, the quality begins to deteriorate. The first problem is that up until this point, the books (excluding the super specials) had all followed a chronological order. The girls had aged and matured. Suddenly, at the beginning of book #34, school is out. No mention is made of the fact that the older girls would have just graduated from middle school (in Stoneybrook children attend middle school in grades six, seven and eight,) and would be starting high school in just few months. No mention is made of high school, or any type of graduation ceremony. Even as a child, I found this odd. Book #34 opens with:

I was so excited I felt like doing cartwheels across Claudia Kishi's bedroom floor. It was summer (at last!) and my friends were gathered for a special meeting of the Baby-sitters Club.

The book details two weeks that Mary-Anne and Stacey spend in New Jersey with Mallory and her family. Book #35 Stacey and the Mystery of Stoneybrook opens with Stacey and her friends back in Stoneybrook and still in eighth grade at Stoneybrook middle school. Umm, what happened there? Did the Baby-sitters Club just travel back in time? Worse is yet to come. In book #67 Dawn's Big Move and Reader's Request: Shannon's Story the older girls all start eighth grade yet again, despite the fact that both novels make indirect references to events that have happened over the course of eighth grade, such as Jessi Ramsey moving to Stoneybrook, Stacey's parents divorce and how Kristy and Shannon put their differences aside and became friends. At least Shannon's Story could be partially explained by the fact that the book is a non-canonical entry in the series and the story develops over several months. Even so, it would have been nice to see a reference to the events that occurred in Book #11 Kristy and the Snobs, where Shannon and Kristy first meet. The continuity errors that occur in Book #67 are harder to ignore. How did a series that started out so well-written and so researched deteriorate to the point where continuity errors could be found by a nine year old? You could expect this in Sweet Valley (where the Wakefield twins enjoyed at least six Christmases as twelve year olds and several more as sixteen year olds,) but in Stoneybrook?

The answer lies in the copyright page of book #23 Dawn on the Coast, where Ann M. Martin thanks Jan Carr for her assistance in writing this book. In book #27 Jessi and the Superbrat Jan Carr is thanked again. In book #34 Mary Lou Kennedy is thanked for her help. From this volume onward, a number of individuals are thanked at the front of nearly every book. The names that come up again and again are Ellen Miles (whose name appears often inside the Mystery books,) Mary Lou Kennedy and from Book #44 Dawn and the Big Sleepover onward, the name Peter Lerangis appears quite regularly. In other words, the books were now being written by a team of ghost-writers, overseen by Ann M. Martin. Her autobiography (written for children and) later acknowledges this, explaining that it was too difficult for the author to write three children's books every month (at that stage, the series was at its peak with one Baby-sitters Club, one Baby-sitters Little Sister and one Baby-Sitters Mystery book being released every month). Of the ghostwriters, Peter Lerangis soon became the star, ghostwriting more than forty volumes in the franchise. (Click here for more information.) 

As the series wore on, the quality began to vary. Serious issues such as children with Downs Sydrome, Book #77 Dawn and Whitney, Friends Forever, peer group pressure, Book #87 Stacey and the Bad Girls, and coping with asthma Book #90 Welcome the the BSC, Abby, were discussed, along with books with less interesting titles and subject matter--Books  #78 Claudia and Crazy Peaches, #89 Kristy and the Dirty Diapers, #120 Mary Anne and the Playground Fight. 

In the late 1990s, the series finally came to an dramatic conclusion. Mallory falls out with Jessi and leaves for boarding school, Dawn has long decided to stay in California for good and then the most dramatic event of all, the fire that destroys Mary Anne's home. In 2000, the final spin-off series is released Friends Forever which is written for a slightly older audience. Although the series begins with Kristy being reunited with her deadbeat dad (who is now a successful chef who hints that David Michael may not in fact be his son, though this may easily escape the attention of younger readers) the bulk of the subject matter revolves around the fire at Mary Anne's house, along with the older girls starting eighth grade yet again. The final volumes of this series tie in with The California Diaries before a two part special editions which sees the older girls finally graduate from Stoneybrook Middle School.

2006 BSC Graphic Novel
In May 2010 Schlastic released The Summer Before, a prequel to the series that features the back stories of Kristy, Claudia, Mary Anne and Stacey. Unlike other series, which have released volumes written specifically for adults who grew up with the series--Sweet Valley Confidential and Sisterhood Everlasting--this book was written for children. (Of course, it may help that Scholastic is an exclusive children's publisher.) Shortly after the release of The Summer Before selected early volumes of the series were re-issued with a new cover. Four volumes were released as graphic novels in 2006.

On the whole, the Baby-sitters Club is a well-written series for pre-teens that discusses a number of social issues in a way that is interesting and relevant to children. While the quality deteriorated in later volumes, the series is a benchmark for what books for pre-teens should be its themes of friendship and responsibility. 

Friday, 23 March 2012

The Editing Process Continues

I am still working away, editing a hard copy of the manuscript for my latest masterpiece, Behind the Scenes. The first time I went through the manuscript, I picked up just a few errors. I have now been through the manuscript several times. Slowly, more and more errors are becoming noticeable. There have been some small continuity errors - on one page, Kimmy's eyes were said to be blue, on the next page her eyes are said to be green. I have picked some repetition of facts and information. And then there are larger errors. Early in the novel, a character called Phil is seen scheming with the villain of the piece. Later on, Phil is shocked when he discovers the villain's handiwork. Phil will need to be edited out of the earlier scene. At the end of the novel, another character does not get the closure that he deserves.

Overall, it has been enjoyable editing a novel that would appear to have no major faults or failings. I will keep going through the hard copy of my manuscript until I'm satisfied that I've picked up every error, no matter how small. And, no doubt, I will keep you updated on my progress ...

James L. Matthewuse & Cover Artwork

As follows of this blog will know, I posted a three-part Sweet Valley High spoof a few weeks ago. Seeing as I took so much time and care to make fun of the books, I thought it might be nice to pay tribute to what is easily the most striking part of the novels - the artwork.

Matthewuse Artwork on
an early cover of
Tiger Eyes

The vast majority of covers for the Sweet Valley High series, including the iconic circle covers were painted by James L. Matthewuse, who has painted cover artwork for many American publishing houses, including Bantam, who, of course, published the Sweet Valley High novels. Matthewuse artwork was also featured on the covers of the Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys series, as well as Judy Blume's wonderful young adult novel, Tiger Eyes.

Matthewuses' artwork was often simple but always told a story. The cover artwork for Sweet Valley High #6: Dangerous Love is a wonderful example:

Original cover artwork.

On this cover, we see the normally conservative Elizabeth Wakefield riding on the back of a motorcycle. Her hair is blowing in the wind, free of the clips and pins she normally uses to hold it back. The reader know instantly that, for this novel at least, Elizabeth will be living life on the edge. The cover is far more interesting and symbolic than the 2008 reissue edition, which features an insert of a smiling, blonde teenager and a motorcycle:

2008 reissue

He was also clever with his use of colour:

Original cover artwork.

The background for SVH #26 Hostage is dark, using a mix of grey, brown and black. An attractive young woman (though not as attractive as the Wakefield twins, of course,) trembles in fear, while her faceless kidnapper  holds out a rag. It is one of the few early covers to feature the twins friend Regina Morrow, or a female character who isn't blonde. Later reissues of the book feature a pink cover and photograph of the Wakefield twins looking far older than their supposed sixteen years. It tells us nothing of Regina's kidnapping:

1996 Reissue
This cover tells us nothing about the book.

While some of the covers were dark, it's surprising just how sexy Matthewuse cover artwork was for novels aimed at pre-teens. This cover for a Nancy Drew/Hardy Boys crossover is prime example, offering sexual connotations that probably went by unnoticed by young readers:

Who would have thought that young Nancy Drew could look quite so, shall we say, shapely, in her bathing costume? And I'm sure that thing in her hand is all the Hardy boys are staring at. Including the one who is half buried in the water and could not possibly see what she has in her hands. Another surprisingly sexy cover from Matthewuse is this one:

And sexy too, is this cover for SVH #54 Two Boy Weekend in which Jessica Wakefield looks remarkably like a young Marilyn Monroe. (I must confess, this is my favourite SVH cover. I'm eternally grateful that the publisher never reissued this title with a new cover):

Many others, particularly those Matthewuse painted for the Sweet Valley Twins series (a spin-off series, aimed at younger readers,) suggested that Sweet Valley was a fun, wholesome, and ultimately innocent town to live in. By reading the book, you too could be part of the fun. These are all typical covers:

Matthewuse has painted covers for many more novels for children and adults over the span of about 30 years. Matthewuse also has a keen interest in Native American culture. Much of his recent artwork features Native Americans in traditional dress. He also paints portraits by appointment in his hometown, Tallahassee. You can learn more about him here.

Thursday, 15 March 2012

The Editing Process

I'm now on day two of editing a hard copy of the manuscript for Behind the Scenes. The thing that has surprised me most so far is how few errors I have encountered. This is a stark contrast to when I started editing the manuscript for Being Abigail, when I found errors practically screaming out at me on every page, to the point where I had to print the darn thing out three times, and even later, when I received a proof copy from Createspace, there were more errors to be found and much editing to be done.

So to discover that the manuscript for Behind the Scenes contains only a few niggling spelling and punctuation errors, was something of a surprise and not necessarily a pleasant one. Granted, it has taken me a lot longer to write Behind the Scenes (about eight months, as opposed to four,) and the novel is about ten thousand words shorter in length. I would also hope that maybe, just maybe, I have improved over the past two years as an author. But what remains is a second, and at this stage, far more likely explanation, that the errors are there, but I simply cannot see them. 

I will keep working.

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Behind the Scenes

My latest masterpiece, a novel for young adults titled Behind the Scenes. It tells the story of a young woman who travels to Melbourne to work on a popular television show. She moves in temporarily with the father that she barely knows and uncovers some surprising family secrets ...

I intend to spend the next few days editing and checking for continuity errors. Wish me luck!

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Adelaide Writers' Week

Crowds gathering around the West Stage,
waiting for the lovely Gail Jones to speak.
This afternoon, it was my pleasure to walk down to the Pioneer Women's Memorial Gardens and join in some of the events that were being held for Adelaide Writers' Week. For those of you who don't know, Adelaide Writers' Week is a biannual event that is free to the public and makes up part of the much larger Adelaide Festival of Arts. What some of my friends and colleagues may find more surprising, however, is that this is only the second time that I have attended Writers' Week. The first time was in 2002, back when I was still a university undergraduate, who quite happily spent the (very hot) day trampling around the gardens in thongs, denim shorts and a very old tank-top. The highlight of the day was spotting Scott Hicks, the director of Shine in the crowd. My companion and I had a good laugh the whole drive home about how pompous and arty-farty the whole event seemed. 

Attending Writers' Week in 2012 as, dare I say it, an adult, was a very different experience. The first thing I noticed as I walked through the gardens was the diversity of the crowd. Old or young and from many different cultures, many, many people had come to share the experience of meeting and listening to some truly wonderful authors. As I approached the Gardens a little after 1.15pm, a large group was clustered around the East Stage, quietly listening to M.J. Akbar. Meanwhile, I was attracted to the larger crowd that had gathered around the West Stage. Here, Bill Gammage was speaking with Phillip Jones about his book, The Biggest Estate on Earth: How Aboriginies Made Australia. Standing on the outer fringes of the crowd (no seats left,) and searching for what little shade was left, it was not only my pleasure to listen to Gammage share his vast knowledge of the traditional owners of the land, but I got to share that experience with a pair of Indigenous teenagers who had come to Writers' Week specifically to hear Gammage speak about his book. 

When the talk came to an end, I took a quick detour to buy a bottle of orange juice, before finding myself  a more comfortable position to sit and listen to Gail Jones. Although I have not yet read her novel Five Bells I was interested to hear what inspired her to write the novel, and her characters, who come from very different backgrounds. All of her characters see the same thing in the book, Sydney's Circular Quay, but describe it very differently, based upon their own backgrounds, outlook and experiences. Immediately after the session, I purchased a copy of Five Bells (and somehow lost my bottle of orange juice, but that is another story,) and read a section of it during my train journey home. The talk, combined with the first section of the book made me think about many individuals may describe the same thing differently. Which makes me stop and think. I wonder how many other people attended Adelaide Writers' Week today and how they would sum up the experience?

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Kathryn's Inbox Exclusive: The Lost Sweet Valley High Novel. The Explosive Finale!

When we left off, the real Elizabeth Wakefield was escaping a desert island in a leaking row boat. Meanwhile, cleverly disguised as Elizabeth Wakefiled, Margo was planting a bomb under Todd Wilkins patio, in order to destroy the citizens of Sweet Valley. Will she succeed? Find out in the explosive finale of Sweet Valley High #182 Elizabeth's Psychosis.

'Ten ... nine ... eight ...' Sitting in a tree outside Todd Wilkins house, Margo stared at her watch and smiled. It was eight-thirty and Todd's welcome home party was in full swing. And in just a few seconds, Margo thought, the party would come to an explosive end ...

Elizabeth Wakefield stared down at the complex series wires. It was lucky that Margo had opted to destroy Sweet Valley with a bomb, Elizabeth thought, seeing as Elizabeth had just recently completed her Junior Counter-Terrorism Class at Sweet Valley high, in which she had learned to safely defuse bombs and to phone the terrorism hotline every time that she saw a foreigner. Which had caused a little bit of confusion when Elizabeth had discovered that her Counter-Terrorism teacher was actually British and she had promptly called the hotline. Still, Mr Windsor had been awfully nice about the whole thing and even sometimes sent Elizabeth postcards from his new home in Guantanamo Bay.

Elizabeth smiled, as the bomb was safely defused. Meanwhile, from the car, Margo was growing impatient. Why had there not been any explosions? Sighing, Margo climbed out of the car and walked in the direction of Todd's house.

"Looking for something?" 

As Margo entered the house, she was confronted by an angry Elizabeth Wakefield. Behind her were all the other kids from Sweet Valley, and the sole adult who was supervising the party, Todd's Aunt Lindsey. (So far, Aunt Lindsey had spent most of the party convincing Jessica to sell bags of her special new talcum powder that was designed for the inside of ones nose, before departing upstairs to show Winston something that was even more exciting than his collection of Archie comics.) 

"A bomb, perhaps?" Elizabeth continued.

"Umm, yes." Margo forced a smile. "Silly me, I left it here during my last visit."

"Well, that's all right then." Todd flashed Margo a smile in return. "I guess Margo wasn't trying to kill us after all."

"Don't be an idiot Todd." Elizabeth sighed. "You know how this turns out. The killer is always Margo, back from the dead, or escaped from prison."

"Oh, yeah," Todd murmured, as Sergeant Mashall slapped a pair of handcuffs on Margo and thanked Elizabeth for a job well done. "Oh well, if that's all over, do you think we could get back to the party now?"

"Sure!" Elizabeth laughed as Margo was hauled inside a police car. Meanwhile, Margo was smiling. Fools. They may have found the bomb, this time, but she would get them all one day. Just you all wait, she thought. Just you all wait ...

Will Margo ever succeed in her plans to destroy Sweet Valley. Look out for our exclusive lost Sweet Valley University book, where Margo teams up with Sweet Valley's other criminal mastermind, William White ...

Calvin & the All-Important Issue of Salt

To those of you who may not have caught on yet, I am a big fan of cartoons and comics. From the age of about eight, reading the comics page in my local newspaper has been one of my favourite parts of the day. Back then, The Advertiser was a conservative broadsheet that contained just a few comics - The Phantom, Peanuts, Footrot Flats, The Wizard of ID and possibly one or two others that I have forgotten. On the weekends, the Sunday Mail offered a greater variety of comics, including Ginger Meggs and Andy Capp, along with the Possums Pages, and the (vasty superior) version of the Kangaroo Creek Gang that existed in the late 1980s. My parents rarely bought the saucy evening tabloid, The News, unless something very, very, important had happened during the course of the day and they couldn't be bothered waiting for the ABC news bulletin at 7pm. (My father did not, under any circumstances, watch the news on any of the commercial stations. Unless the cricket was on. That was different.) Anyway, on the few occasions when my dad did buy a copy of The News (like they did one afternoon in January 1991, with the headline that took up half a page that said WAR,) the comics pages were read over several times. The News had different comics, including Garfield and Calvin and Hobbes. A year later, the two newspapers would merge - or more to the point, Murdoch bought out The Advertiser and more or less rebadged The News as The Advertiser. Adelaide has never been the same since. Meanwhile, my love of comics and the comic pages would continue well on into my adulthood. Over the years I had mourned the death of Charles Schultz with his farewell comic, cried when Calvin's home was burgled and Hobbs went missing, watched as the Patterson children from For Better or For Worse grew up and had children of their own and was invited to Dagwood's birthday party. (Note: The Advertiser doesn't actually run Dagwood, so when I learned the creator was doing a spectacular crossover, I jumped straight online.) And then, every now and again, I would read a comic that somehow, reminded me of something in my own life. Like this Calvin and Hobbes comic that ran in The Advertiser today:

In this comic, Calvin's teacher very much reminds me of my old year three class teacher, Mrs Pettingill. Meanwhile, I can see a lot of myself in Calvin. Although basically a good kid, at about this age, I became somewhat talented at asking questions that my teacher could not answer. In particular, I remember a morning where we were all supposed to be doing a reading comprehension exercise that detailed how table salt was produced. The reading card stated that salt came from mines and described the process of how one mines for salt and how that salt is processed before it eventually makes its way to the supermarket shelves. Interesting enough little exercise, except for one small detail. As I said before, I live in Adelaide. And not only do I live in Adelaide, but I had relatives who lived in Gawler and Moonta, who we used to visit in the school holidays. If traveling by car, we nearly always took the Salisbury Highway. And that meant, of course, we would pass the Salisbury Salt Works. Each time that we passed, one of my parents could be trusted to mention the big mountains of salt that we could see inside the works and the process by which it was created. (Which, for the record, somehow involved extracting it from sea water.)  It was also mentioned that I had a Great Uncle Arthur who worked there. Consequently, by the time I was presented with this reading comprehension exercise, I considered myself to be quite the expert on all matters relating to how salt was made. And had no qualms about raising my hand and telling Mrs Pettingill that her reading card was wrong.

Now, I'm not a school teacher, but I imagine at this point, the sensible thing to do would have been to explain that salt may be sourced in a number of different ways and that the reading card was simply describing one of them. My teacher, however, decided to take a different option and told me that I was wrong. According to her, salt was exclusively sourced by mining, as evidenced in her reading card. Salt simply was not created by the process of evaporating sea water. The conversation was then brushed aside and I received a lousy grade for the whole exercise. The lesson learned? Sometimes teachers could be wrong.

Anyway, with this in mind, I read the Calvin and Hobbes comic again. Of course, Calvin never does very well in school and he certainly does not have a good relationship with his teacher. However, what comes through very well in the comics is that Calvin is an intelligent an imaginative individual, who simply has trouble seeing any kind of relevance in the things he is taught at school. His teacher takes very little interest in addressing his needs and far more in humiliating him at every opportunity. One can only wonder what the future has in store for Calvin when he grows up. Maybe, like me, he will eventually shrug his shoulders and realise that sometimes, other people get it wrong and that the only person he can trust to teach him about human existence is himself.