Monthly Archives: October 2010

Free Royalty-free Music


I recently created a book trailer for my novel, The Wings of Leo Spencer, and I faced the same problem as anyone who wants to add music to a video-clip, be it for YouTube or any other short video website: music is copyrighted, in the same way as any kind of writing, photos etc. You don’t want to have to pay royalties for a thirty-second piece of music you used in one of your homemade video placed on YouTube! There is a lot of royalty-free music on the Web, but it is usually very expensive. While creating my book trailer, I stumbled upon Donosongs, an artist based in New York, and his website, which offers free royalty-free music for your own use. There are lots of different styles, and the music is pretty good. I highly recommend it to anyone who wants to avoid trouble with the music they use for video-clips. Check it out. Dan-O is pretty cool.

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New trailer and review for The Wings of Leo Spencer


There’s now a book trailer for The Wings of Leo Spencer. Here it is:

There’s also a review of the novel in Buzz Words Books this morning. Buzz Words Books posts reviews of young adult books on its website daily. It’s an extension of Buzz Words, the newsletter created by Jackie French, which now has its own life. You can find the full review with pictures here.

Here’s the review’s full text:

The Wings of Leo Spencer

The Wings of Leo Spencer by Jerome Parisse (Sid Harta)
PB RRP $24.99
ISBN 1-921642-14-9
Reviewed by Anke Seib
Fourteen year old Leo, diagnosed with a fatal illness at age twelve, has lived a relatively normal existence, surfing with his best friend Peter and longing to travel the world so he can photograph birds and share his work with others. His parents never told him the truth about his illness and he first hears it mentioned when, having just passed away, his dad phones his grandmother to say that what was expected has happened.
When Leo enters heaven, the Council of Angels assesses and declares him ‘apt’ for the role of guardian angel as he has lived his past four lives in a worthy manner, meeting previous life contracts successfully. In his last life he ‘was a good son, gentle brother, faithful friend, who suffered illness without complaining.’ He is to be guardian to Peter, allowing him to return to Earth, which turns out to be a lucky thing because his family needs him.
Heaven is a place where one can have everything and anything they desire. Leo’s great desire to photograph birds is now possible but does not satisfy as it is of his own mind’s making. He makes friends quickly and easily though not with everyone. The Father of All Lies has worked with an insider to amend life contracts so that Leo’s family will die in a house fire. Leo’s attempts to resolve the situation will allow the Father of All Lies illegal entry to heaven.
Angels on Earth cannot physically touch humans but harnessing his love for his friend allows Leo to fight two men attempting to attack Peter. Helping his family does not prove that easy though. When Leo’s family is surrounded by fire Leo manages to contact Peter, urging him to call the fire brigade. As the family climbs down to safety, their house collapses around them and all seems saved.
Not so, for the Father of All Lies is really angry now, and he and Leo come face to face in battle. It is when Peter and another of Leo’s friends from heaven come to help him that the three can fight strongly enough for good to conquer evil. Although he has broken some rules the Council of Angels forgives Leo as he did it for the right reasons. He happily returns to heaven to photograph birds.

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Reference material for learning Chinese


I’m very disappointed. The SUPER TYPHOON MEGI, which was heading towards Hong Kong two days ago changed its course and is now about to hit the North Guangdong province. Xiamen is going to get a lot of rain… and today is sunny in Hong Kong! I love typhoons and I was planning to spend a full day revising my Chinese while stuck at home. So here I am instead, planning to go swimming… Tough!

I thought I would post a few words about the material I find very useful to learn to speak and read Mandarin (not an easy task, as many of you would know!).

For learning to write and read characters, I find the following books most useful:

250 Essential Chinese Characters for everyday use (Vol 1 and 2) by Philip Yungkin Lee (from UNSW, SYDNEY!), Tuttle Publishing. These two books are excellent to learn to write the characters and understand their meaning and how they were created. The books present both the simplified version used in Mainland China, and the complex version used in Taiwan and Hong Kong.

To remember as many characters as possible, I use flashcards. Chinese in a Flash (Vol 1, 2, 3 and 4) by Philip Yungkin Lee,Tuttle Publishing, is perfect. I highly recommend them. They allow for quick self testing.

I also use Reading and Writing Chinese (simplified character edition), by William McNaughton, Tuttle Publishing, which presents over 2000 essential characters for reading everyday Chinese. The layout is beautiful, the blue ink for characters works well, the order of strokes is clearly presented and the different meanings and pronunciations are explained. This one complements nicely the material above.

For grammar, I use Modern Mandarin Chinese Grammar: A Practical Guide, by Claudia  Ross and Jing-heng Sheng Ma, Routledge, Bilingual Edition.

For Vocabulary building, I like the visual Chinese English Bilingual Dictionary (Dorling Kindersley). It displays photos and pictures, with arrows pointing to the different elements, the Chinese and English words, and the PinYin correspondence.

I also use Schaum’s Outline of Chinese Vocabulary, by Yanping Xie and Duan-Duan Li, McGraw-Hill Publishers.

It’s hardly enough and it does not replace face to face conversation, but it’s a good start. I’d better get going though, so I’m going to sign off now. Enjoy your weekend!

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Grease… or a failed English test


Last night I saw Grease, the musical, at the Hong Kong Lyric Theatre. We went with a large group of friends, which was part of the fun. The Lyric Theatre is not a very big theatre, which is fine, except that for a musical, I tend to prefer big, visual performances. Grease was fun to watch and took me more than thirty years back when I was sitting an English language test. The teacher said to the class something in English, which he asked us to translate into French. We were thirteen years old and had only been learning English for about six months or so, so we had no idea what he had just said. He decided to give us a clue and said, “This is the title of a song that can be heard on the radio every ten minutes at the moment.” Suddenly all the girls in the class got really busy and started scribbling things down ,while we boys were at a loss about what it all  meant. What the teacher had said was, “You’re the one that I want”, the title of the famous movie song. Of course, all the girls got it right and we boys failed miserably. We were fuming and accused our teacher of discrimination and of being totally unfair. That’s when I started paying attention to English songs. Of course, Olivia Newton-John is Australian and I am now one of her fellow countrymen, which makes the song even more special for me. And yes, I have forgiven my English teacher.

Last night’s performance was of good quality and the dancing and signing were (technically) fine. I must admit however that I found it missed emotion. It was fun, great to watch, and the audience did participate, but for me it lacked that special thing that makes you never forget a show. No big names, as far as I know, in the supposedly “spectacular international cast”. The girl who played Sandy really looked like Newton-John, especially at the end when she leaves behind her goodie-goodie persona. The guy who played Danny, on the other hand, was on the chubby side and looked more like John Travolta in his forties than in his twenties! Having said all of that, I had a great night. Hurry up if you want to see it, as it finishes on the 7th of November.

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What are you reading?


My pile of books to read is growing, or so to speak, since several of them are actually on my Kindle. At the moment I am reading Hong Kong Murders by Kate Whitehead, as part of the research I am doing for my next novel. The book tells the story of fourteen high-profile homicides in the city. I am sure to find inspiration for my story!

Other books in my to-read pile are as follows.

Paperbacks:

  • Parrot and Olivier in America (Peter Carey)
  • Le premier jour (Marc Levy)
  • The Corrections (Jonathan Franzen)
  • The Ice House (Minette Walters)
  • L’insomnie des etoiles (Marc Dugain)
  • Dejame que te cuente… (Jorge Bucay)
  • Amor, curiosidad, prozac, y dudas (Lucia Etxebarria)
  • Les yeux jaunes des crocodiles (Katherine Pancol)

And in my Kindle:

  • Jane Eyre (Charlotee Bronte)
  • Room (Emma Donoghue)
  • Solar (Ian McEwan)
  • City of Cannibals (Ricki Thompson)
  • The Dog in the Wood (Monika Schroder)
  • Warriors in the Crossfire (Nancy Bo Flood)

There are a few more that I want to read too, but have not acquired yet.

What about you? What are you reading now?

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Preah Khan… a video attempt


I did an experiment with my digital camera when in Cambodia last week and tried to create a short film of the Preah Khan temple. It’s not perfect, but it will give you an idea…

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The temples of Angkor at Siem Reap, Cambodia


I came back last week from four, too-short days in Cambodia, on a visit to Siem Reap and its innumerable temples. What an amazing place! The temples were built during the 12th century, and the scale of the buildings and their geographical spread is staggering. There are hundreds of them, silent witnesses of an empire that stretched from Burma to Vietnam and of a capital city that boasted a population of one million inhabitants when London had only 50,000! Abandoned to the jungle for centuries, the temples are now surrounded by towering trees and thick vegetation. Some of them are well-preserved, some of them are just ruins, and others are still totally covered by vegetation. It is really an amazing sight. Many temples can be visited in a day from Siem Reap, Cambodia’s tourism mecca. In fact most tourists are quite happy with visiting Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom, the best preserved and larger temples, about five kilometres away from town. We visited the area on rented bicycles and ended up riding around thirty kilometres in a day, which was fun except for the intense heat. However, some of the farther temples such as Beng Mealea are really worth a visit. The Cambodian people welcome you with open arms and a smile is never very far. Their recent history is quite amazing. The Khmer people have been to hell and back, and it is impressive to see how the country has survived and recovered, when a fifth of its population was wiped out by the Khmer Rouge. You may have seen The Killing Fields, a film by Roland Joffe (1984) which tells the story of a New York Times journalist covering the civil war in Cambodia and of his local representative, who stays behind when the Khmer Rouge move in. It’s a great movie. As a consequence of these terrible years, many places are too dangerous to roam around, because of land mines. Fortunately, all land mines have been cleared around Siem Reap. You can reach the city by air, road, or boat from Phnom Penh. If you decide to travel up the river and Tonle Sap lake, you will come across an interesting - albeit far too touristy for my liking - floating village, with its own school, church and shops. Siem Reap is bustling with restaurants, bars, shops and hotels, but it hasn’t lost its charm. Be warned, Khmer food is addictive! But it is an addiction that will not cost you an arm and a leg: for a few dollars, you will be eating like a king. Try amok, a dish of baked fish with coconut, lemongrass and chilli in banana leaves, and you will understand what I mean!

Here are, in decreasing order, my favourite temples:

  • Angkor Wat: the largest temple, and also the better preserved as it was never abandoned to the elements. You can’t miss it, as you can see its outline from far away. It is surrounded by a huge moat full of water. Try to go early in the morning if you can, as it quickly swarms with tourists.

  • Preah Khan: a maze of vaulted corridors, fairly well-preserved. Walking around this temple is the experience of a lifetime, with the jungle all around, the songs of the birds, and with a little bit of luck (as was our case), no tourists.

  • Beng Mealea (60 kilometres from town) : this is the ultimate lost-temple experience. Beng Mealea has been left to the jungle on purpose, to give people an idea of what temples looked like when they were rediscovered. I am lost for words to describe it: trees, bushes, jungle mixing with old stones and corridors in an Indiana Jones atmosphere. Visitors are supposed to keep to the wooden walkways erected for the filming of Two Brothers by Jean-Jacques Annaud, but most stray from the well-worn paths, as we did. It’s an experience I’ll never forget. We got caught by heavy downpour and had to take shelter in one of the corridors for half an hour, feet in mud and water, hoping that the roof wasn’t going to collapse on us. A few stones (each one of around one ton) fell on the ground not far from us, and as can be expected we were a little worried!

  • Ta Prohm is another jungle temple, but is well looked after, and close to Siem Reap. A very atmospheric ruin left to be swallowed by the jungle.

  • Angkor Thom was a city of around 10 sq km, with five huge gates. Bayon is a three level structure with huge heads carved into the stone. Here again we got lost in the jungle and came across several smaller temples.

And a few more pictures…

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A little lower than the angels


A little lower than the angels by Geraldine McCaughrean is not a new book. In fact, it won the Whitbread Children’s Novel Award in 1987. But I enjoyed reading it this week. The story takes place in the feudal era and features several likeable characters, including Gabriel, a stonemason’s apprentice who leaves an abusive master to play the part of an angel in a traveling play group. His new master sets up a miracle cure hoax that has believing peasants showering Gabriel with money and gifts, and making him believe that he can produce miracles. His friend Izzie and her father Lucie try to warn him, to no avail. Gabriel will learn the hard way who he really is and who matters and doesn’t in his life. This is a classic growing up story, albeit in a fascinating setting. The main characters are vivid, the atmosphere is heavy and real, and values of loyalty, honor, and even literacy are at the core of the book.

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61 hours by Lee Child


I didn’t know what to expect when I started reading 61 Hours, by Lee Child. I had read good things and bad things about Child and needed to make my own mind, so I decided to read his latest novel. So what’s the verdict? To me, it’s okay. But just okay. The story is another story of drug lords and thugs, and deals gone wrong, with a witness to get rid of. The setting is interesting and plays a big part in the plot: you find yourself in the middle of a snow storm in South Dakota and the entire world literally freezes. Except that it’s overused and after being told for the umpteenth time that the protagonists have never experienced cold like that, you just want to move on. Jack Reacher is the main character in the book, and, apparently, because I’ve never read anything else by Child, Child’s books always feature him. Reacher is ex-army, with no ties and a lot of baggage. Fine. But he’s good at everything, he always guesses what the bad ones are thinking and will be doing, he’s so strong that nobody can beat him, he’s loyal, in a word he’s just too good and too perfect for me. A killing machine with a heart. The story features a countdown (61 hours) that is slightly annoying because used too much. And when a second countdown appears for a short while two-thirds into the story, you want to scream “enough”. Last negative for me, it’s a little too easy to guess who the bad cop is. Having said that, it’s an easy read, there is good tension and suspense, even if it gets bogged down in the middle. Oh, and by the way you won’t know what happens at the end… you’re kept guessing what happened to Reacher so that you want to buy the next installment in the series, Worth Dying For. I find this a cheap marketing device. It’s okay to leave a few minor elements unsolved, such as relationships, but when they are fully part of the story, it’s just not on, sorry. My final verdict: a good book for a long flight.

Tony Martin, a Melbourne-based author, does not like Lee Child! In May this year, he wrote a hilarious post about a past interview of Child. You can find the post here. There’s a lot of truth in what he has to say!

And here’s an interview of Lee Child, if you want to know more about Jack Reacher and 61 Hours.

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