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A Roman Death by Joan O’Hagan

This ancient-world whodunnit, A Roman Death, is set in 45 BC. Julius Caesar is at the height of his power, yet disquiet grows under his dictatorship. The Ides of March looms and Rome will soon descend into turmoil. And yet Caesar's is not the only Roman death!

There were old tea chests in a spare room at my grandparents' house, from which my younger brother and I unearthed 78 RPM records, 1940s Film Fun Annuals and Biggles books that had belonged to my father and uncle as boys. But the greatest treasure for this boy was a mint copy of The Gorilla Hunters.

Over the summer holidays, I caught an ABC Science Show podcast, The Year in Tech. Science reporter, Ariel Bogle, discussed with her editor, Jonathan Webb, tech stories that had caught her eye in 2017. She opened with an audio clip from the Ex Machina movie that instantly spiked my interest.

Ask anyone who, like me, was a kid in Australia the 1970s, "What books did you read at school?" and we're likely to recall at least three novels. For me, these three are the classics, the ones I had to read, analyse and write essays on in English. And I still have copies of them in my bookcase!

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Fiction

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A faded photo of my dad from the 1970s inspired this microfiction. He had a faraway look in his eyes and a Mona Lisa smile on his much younger face. As art lovers have done for centuries with Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa, I wondered what was on my dad's mind when the photo was taken?

To celebrate the introduction of 280-character Tweets by Twitter, Meanjin Quarterly ran a microfiction competition. The rules were simple: tweet a 280-character story and include the hashtag #meanjin280! The top ten stories to be published on the Meanjin Blog and the authors paid $1 a word.

"Fiction writers, magicians, politicians and priests are the only people rewarded for entertaining us with their lies." ~ Bangambiki Habyarimana

It's a warm, sunny day and I'm strolling along Brighton Promenade during my lunch break. The seagulls are circling and squawking and the sun's shimmering on the flat blue-green English Channel.

My class had a lesson on "conservation" at school the other day. Miss said that this was where people reused old things or used new things more carefully. She said conservation was important to stop the world from getting more dirty and to help make it healthy again.

"And now the piece de resistance," the old Colonel announced, leading his guest into a sunlit garden. "What do you think?" he enquired, waving his walking stick at the garden's centrepiece. Two life-size marble figures stood face to face, their hands caressing each other, their lips fused in a kiss.

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Nonfiction

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It was a flight of fancy, inspired by a newspaper ad: "Moscow and St. Petersburg, 7 nights with Jules Verne Travel". It sounded exotic, impossible. But this was 1993, Leningrad was St. Petersburg again, Boris Yeltsin was Russian President, Russia was opening up. Glasnost made all things seem possible.

Slept soundly, only waking whenever our train ground to halt and there was no comforting clickety-clack. Guard woke us at 7 AM, leaving the compartment door open. Music blaring from corridor ensured we didn't fall back to sleep. As did serving of hot, sweet tea, in glass tumblers with pewter handles.

"When you deal with nonfiction you deal with human characters." ~ Marya Hornbacher

Unlike my son, born in the era of digital cameras and phones, there are few photos of me from my childhood years, and even less of me as a teenager. I do have one with my mother and two of my brothers, taken on Xmas Day 1976 when I was a surly sixteen-year-old. *Gulp*, my son is sixteen this Xmas!

When I was five-years-old, my parents separated, and my little brother and I moved in to live with our grandparents. While our Nan embraced her two young grandsons with warm grandmotherly arms, our Pop could be standoffish and a little scary, especially when angry with a couple of "naughty boys".

Dahab sits on the southeast coast of the Sinai Peninsula in Egypt, 80 km northeast of Sharm el-Sheikh on the bottom tip, 148 km south of Israel and Jordan, and across the Gulf of Aqaba from Saudi Arabia, whose desert hills are visible from the beachfront on sunrise and sunset.

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Reviews

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Beneath the Willow opens with a prologue set in rural NSW in 1953. It is a dark scene of fear and domestic violence. The novel then steps back in time and place to the working class suburb of Balmain in 1915. Australia is at war in foreign lands and sons of families have answered her call to arms.

Kristel Thornell’s On the Blue Train is a novelisation of the eleven days in 1926 when, in a mystery worthy of Poirot, Agatha Christie disappeared. The novel opens with Agatha outside Harrods. She is confused and cannot enter the store, unable to "even recall what she needed to purchase".

"When you're tired of book reviews, you're tired of life." ~ Lev Grossman

It is Christmas Day 1994 at Bilgoa Beach on Sydney’s northern beaches. A "pink shouldered" Charlie Bright is pacing up and down on the sand at the water's edge, "like a coach on the touchline", calling out to his children, mastering their sleek new Christmas present surfboards on the waves.

When Writing NSW asked if I would like to review On the Blue Train by Kristel Thornell, a novel about the eleven days in 1926 when Agatha Christie disappeared, I thought it would be an interesting assignment and a chance to learn more about this famous author and to perhaps finally read one of her books.

Jennifer Mills sets Dyschronia in the run-down coastal town of Clapstone. Sam is twenty-five years old. The town views Sam as an oracle and depends upon her visions for their survival. And yet a great catastrophe has occurred: the sea has disappeared, seemingly taking with it Clapstone’s last hope.

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