Jenny Blackford's Web Site
I am a writer and reviewer with interests ranging from science fiction and fantasy, through technology and ecology, to the religion and literature of the ancient world. I was born in Sydney, went to High School and University in Newcastle, and live in Melbourne with writer and philosopher Russell Blackford and our Ragdoll cat Felix (pictured on the right). I can be contacted on j_blackford [at] hotmail.com (just replace the [at] with a normal @), and I blog at jennyblackford.livejournal.com/.
Since I gave up my day job in 2001, my science fiction, fantasy and ghost stories for people of various ages have appeared in great places, including Jack Dann's Australian showcase anthology Dreaming Again, Random House's 30 Australian Ghost Stories for Children, and Paul Collins' blockbuster YA anthology Trust Me! (Ford Street Publishing). My historical novella The Priestess and the Slave came out from Hadley Rille Books in April 2009 (see below for more).
From November 2008 to September 2009, I read
all that I possibly could
of the floods of fantasy novels, novellas, short stories and criticism written in 2008, as
one of the
2009 World Fantasy
Now that the judging is over, I
will get back to work on my
project: a novel based on the dramatic life of Bronze Age princess Medea, grand-daughter of the Sun.
But first, I'll go to San Jose for the World Fantasy Convention 2009, held (as is traditional) over the Halloween
But first, I'll go to San Jose for the World Fantasy Convention 2009, held (as is traditional) over the Halloween weekend.
The Priestess and the Slave:
The Priestess and the Slave, a historical novella set in fifth century BC Greece, is now available from Hadley Rille Books. I was commissioned to write it by the publisher, archaeology buff Eric Reynolds, as the first in a Hadley Rille Books series of archaeologically-accurate short novels about the daily lives of ancient people living and coping with real historical crises.
Most historical fiction is told from the perspective of aristocratic males, but The Priestess and the Slave looks at the political turmoil of fifth century BC Greece through the eyes of two women, one a slave and one a farmer's daughter who became a Pythia in her fifties.
The novella intertwines the stories of
Thrasulla, a Pythia at Delpi
appalled by the actions of her fellow Pythia Perialla, who was bribed by the Spartan king Kleomenes around 491BC, and
Harmonia, a slave looking after the family which owned her during the
devastating Plague of Athens (which broke out
in the second year of the Peloponnesian War,
six decades after Perialla's
The two women never meet, but their
very different stories echo and complement one another .
The two women never meet, but their very different stories echo and complement one another
Multi-award-winning editor and author Jack Dann, whose acclaimed historical novels include international bestseller The Memory Cathedral, set in Renaissance Italy, and The Silent, which takes place during the American Civil War, has this advance praise for The Priestess and the Slave:
“It’s such a joy to read a historical novel written by an author who has such authority over her material. Jenny Blackford’s first novel The Priestess and the Slave brilliantly recreates the politics, culture, and mindset of ordinary and extraordinary people caught up in extraordinary circumstances. I can only wait impatiently to discover what treasures her next novel will reveal.”
Alison Goodman, brilliant author of Eon: Dragoneye Reborn (set in a feudal fantasy Asia, and published in Australia as The Two Pearls of Wisdom), writes:
And Kate Forsyth, best-selling author of the Chain of Charms series, set amongst the gypsies of Cromwell's England, says,
The first two chapters are available as a sample on the publisher's website.
See below for many more reviews.
And my multi-talented fellow Hadley Rille Books author, Amy Herring,
interviewed me for the Dragon*Con Daily Dragon. Here's a link to the excellent inteview:
As David Hartwell announced at the 2008 World Fantasy Awards ceremony in Calgary on 2 November 2008, I am one of the five judges of the World Fantasy Awards 2009. The other four judges this year are Ellen Klages, Delia Sherman, Chris Roberson and Peter Heck. The judging is over for the 2009 awards (for 2008 work), but if you want to enter something in the field of fantasy published in 2009, the new instructions on how to enter will be on this page of the World Fantasy Awards website when the new judges (and the winnere!) are announced at the Awards Ceremony at WFC in San Jose over the Halloween weekend.
As well as writing fiction, I review both fiction and non-fiction for the Australian science magazine Cosmos, the ecological magazine G, and for the New York Review of Science Fiction. I regularly assess manuscripts of diverse genres for the amazing Kirsty Brooks at Driftwood Manuscripts.
During the 1980s, I was a principal in the small press publisher Ebony Books and a member of the Editorial Collective of Australian Science Fiction Review: Second Series, an award-winning fanzine. In 1985, I co-edited Contrary Modes: Proceedings of the World Science Fiction Convention, Melbourne, Australia, published by Ebony Books and the University of Newcastle. Other Ebony Books publications include Transmitters: An Imaginary Documentary, by Damien Broderick, and Urban Fantasies, edited by David King and Russell Blackford.
I was one of the judges for the Fantasy division of the Aurealis Awards in both 1998 and 1999, and fantasy reviewer for The Age in the early 1990s. In 2001, I co-edited (with Russell Blackford) Foundation 78 (Spring 2000), the special Australian issue.
I studied Classics (Greek and Latin) at the University of Newcastle, NSW, and sneaked in a year of German and Sanskrit as well as four years of Greek and Latin. At the end, I was awarded First Class Honours and a University Medal. I have always been fascinated by prehistory and ancient history, archaeology, ancient languages and mythology. My postgraduate study in ancient religion was rendered discouraging by the shrinkage of Classics departments worldwide. I saw an ad in the paper seeking graduates of all disciplines, which was the start of an unexpected career in computer networking, beginning with seven years with IBM as a Systems Engineer in the field of Data Communications. Since then, I have forgotten more Sanskrit than I ever learned, but my favourite poet is still Catullus, and my favourite playwright is Euripides.
"Dave's Diary" (children's sf) published in Pearson Education's Spinouts Sapphire volume They're Here, 2002.
"Emily's Big Chook" (children's sf) published in Explore, Longman magazines, 2002.
(children's ghost story) published by the NSW
School Magazine in the August
Touchdown edition, 2005. The School
Magazine is now planning to reprint "Bertie".
The School Magazine is now planning to reprint "Bertie".
"Barry" (children's fantasy) published by the NSW School Magazine in the July Touchdown edition, 2006.
"Losing Weight" (children's sf) published by the NSW School Magazine in the August Touchdown edition, 2007.
"Trolls' Night Out" (adult fantasy) published in Jack Dann's anthology Dreaming Again (HarperCollins Voyager), July 2008. Dreaming Again is the ten-year-on follow-up volume to the World Fantasy Award-winning Dreaming Down Under (which Jack edited with Janeen Webb). This story received an Honorable Mention from Gardner Dozois in his Year's Best Science Fiction 26.
"Fee" (children's sf) published in Explore, Longman magazines, January 2009.
"Ariadne" (adult fantasy set in ancient Greece) published in Aurealis 41.
"Glukera" (children's historical fiction) forthcoming in the NSW School Magazine.
"Nits!" (children's sf) forthcoming in the NSW School Magazine.
"Adam" (adult fantasy) forthcoming in Kaleidotrope.
"Geshtinanna" (adult fantasy based on Assyrian mythology) forthcoming in Gilgamesh Press's anthology In the Footsteps of Gilgamesh.
"Slugs and Snails" (children's fantasy) forthcoming in Tehani Wessely's anthology Spec Fic for Kids.
"Medea" (adult fantasy set in ancient Colchis, at the far end of the Black Sea) forthcoming in Aurealis issue 45.
A few reviews:
ReadPlus called my troll story "Trolls' Night Out" in Dreaming Again "an unexpected gem", and several reviewers, including Aurealis editor Stuart Mayne (in aurealisXpress) and Niki Bruce (in The Cairns Post), listed it as one of the standouts of the collection. Stuart Mayne also wrote, "Jenny Blackford's playful "Trolls' Night Out" was supernatural fun."
Paul di Filippo's review of Dreaming Again on the Barnes & Noble website includes my story, and Russell Blackford's "Manannan's Children", in his list of "exemplary instances of all the major subgenres" (mine of urban fantasy, Russell's of retold fairy tale). And Gardner Dozois gave both stories Honorable Mentions in his Year's Best Science Fiction 26!
"Python" was one of the two stories from Ruins Terra selected for mention by Gardner Dozois in his review of the anthology in Locus February 2008. The story also received an Honorable Mention from Gardner Dozois in his Year's Best Science Fiction 25.
Stuart Mayne, the editor of Aurealis, writes this in aurealisXpress about The Priestess and the Slave: "This is a beautifully written short novel that follows two separate lives in fifth century Greece. The stories are vignettes of a turbulent time in Attic politics rather than parts of a unified plot line. ... Indeed, The Priestess and the Slave is a tremendous debut novella by one of Australia's most exciting emerging writers of speculative fiction and, happily, historical fiction."
On the ReadPlus site, Alison Woodward recommends it for readers 14+, and says, "These two emotionally moving tales give a glimpse at what life was like during ancient times, from the perspective of two quietly courageous women. It is written with such detail and accuracy that it is easy to see history through the eyes of those who lived it. Whilst being a short book, the themes are mature in nature and discerning readers will ponder the themes of survival, corruption and human nature. This is a highly recommended book for those who are interested in or studying Ancient Greece and gives a touching view of life in ancient times."
The June issue of inCite magazine - the news magazine of
the Australian Library and Information Association - has a lovely review by Jill Enks of The Priestess and the Slave.
Rosaleen Love writes on AS if!: "If other books in the Archaeology series live up to the high standard of The Priestess and the Slave, they will also make great enrichment texts for school and university history archaeology courses." – Rosaleen Love."
Lisa J. Hayward writes on LibraryThing: "Highly, highly recommended for anyone after a quick but great read, even if you’re not interested in Ancient Greece. And if you are, then welcome to a refreshing view of a world most often shown from the lofty heights of the aristocracy."
Satima Flavell writes on Specusphere, "In The Priestess and the Slave, Blackford displays such world-building skills as can only be acquired through a deep and intimate familiarity with the world in question. I have said before that true historical fantasy is an under-populated sub-genre, and the reason is not hard to deduce – the writer must be a true expert in the period concerned or risk the wrath of experts both professional and amateur. In this, Jenny Blackford meets every criterion. She gives us Greece in the fifth century BC with brushstrokes deft and sure, and paints in enduring colours a realistic picture of the lives of her two subjects. The novella intertwines the stories of Harmonia and Thrasulla in a manner that makes them not only believable, but likeable as well. We care about them and their world and at the end of the book, we want to know more."
Alison Spicer-Wensley, in a review in the WA Department of Education and Training's magazine Fiction Focus: New Titles for Teenagers, writes, "Each of the two stories reveals a great deal of thoroughly researched historical detail woven seamlessly into the narrative of these two very different women." She recommends The Priestess and the Slave for 15+ readers with an interest in ancient Greece, and ends, "It would be valuable enrichment material for upper secondary students studying Ancient History".
Rich Horton reviews The Priestess and the Slave in the August Locus. He calls it "a worthwhile read", and says, "This isn't really fantasy, but the characters act as if the Greek gods are real, which gives the story a fantastical feel."
The current Newcastle University Alumni Magazine has a
lovely picture of me with the charming Dr Bernie Curran, and a small article about The Priestess and the Slave.
Bernie was my supervisor for my (unfinished) PhD about comparative ancient religion, and The Priestess and the
Slave indeed incorporates much of what Bernie taught me
Swancon Launch of The Priestess and the Slave:
The lovely and talented Trudi Canavan launched The Priestess and the Slave (see below for more details) at Swancon in Perth over Easter. We had anachronistic ouzo and baklava, and Dave Luckett was hilarious as Master of Ceremonies. Many thanks to Trudi, Dave, Paul and all who came along!
Trudi said this about the book:
"The Priestess and the Slave not only evokes the time beautifully; the characters within are real and utterly believable, fully fleshed and compelling. The time is fifth century BC Greece, and Jenny shows us a glimpse of it through the contrasting lives of a female slave, the humblest of the society, and a priestess of Apollo, known as a Pythia, through whom the god answers the questions of visitors to the temple of Delphi. The former is young and powerless, the latter old and powerful. But both are bound by a sense of right and wrong, and both are strengthened by compassion.
"Their past is shown in snatches of reflection, enough to inform and enchant, but not distract. Their present is beset by terrible plagues and political manipulations. War and death surround them. Their future is uncertain. There is a sense of impending doom that gathers you up and draws you through, for both the characters and the world. It is a time of change. Mere mortals are being swept up in important events, and are in danger of being swept away by them.
"Why is it so good? In short, Jenny knows what she's writing about, and she writes it beautifully. She packs a lot of detail into this little book, but with such skill that it's never slow or heavy to read."
Melbourne Mini-Launch on 28 May:
There was a mini-launch in Melbourne for The Priestess and the Slave as part of the 15 Minutes of Fame component of the Emerging Writers' Festival. Angela Meyer (of the well-known LiteraryMinded blog) hosted the launch beautifully, interviewing me, Tiggy Johnson, Hoa Pham for Peril Magazine, and Helen Ross.
Jenny Blackford with Felix Blackford
Jenny Blackford with Trudi Canavan at Swancon (photo (c) Cat Sparks)
Kara Saunders, Jenny Blackford and Trudi Canavan at Swancon launch of Priestess (photo (c) Sonia Helbig)
Cover art (c) Rachael Mayo for The Priestess and the Slave
The Temple of Poseidon at Sunium (photo by Russell Blackford)
Jenny Blackford at the Temple of Poseidon at Sunium (photo by Russell Blackford)