September Speculative Stories

Welcome to the September speculative fiction round-up! I’m afraid I couldn’t resist the alliteration in the title of this post, excuse the cheesiness.

This month we’re back with a bunch of fantasy reviews and a couple of SF and horror books/reviews. We also have more interviews than usual so look out for those towards the end.

Science Fiction

the-arkOne new science fiction book was the talk of the challenge this month. The Ark by Annabel Smith is set post-peak oil crisis, in Australia. Jane Rawson enjoyed it and writes (as part of a longer review):

The Ark is a workplace, and the story is told through workplace communications paraphernalia: emails, instant messages, meeting minutes. I’m always delighted when a story acknowledges that most of our lives take place in offices and gives the workplace the literary recognition it deserves.

Jane had not, when she wrote her review, delved into the accompanying interactive website (also available as an app). Louise Allan did, and she writes, “Together, the book and the website create the world of The Ark, and add a whole new dimension to its enjoyment.” and goes on to say:

This book is clever in its creation of a futuristic world. I love the means of communication the group uses. For example, minutes of meetings are taken through the voice recognition software, ‘Articulate’, whose tagline is ‘Organising your thoughts since 2016′. Not only does it decipher the words used, but also the emotions conveyed, and inserts them into the minutes.

This book is a study of corruption, manipulation and power. The tension builds as things inside the Ark become more and more perverse.

Horror

bitterwood-bibleAs with science fiction, two separate reviewers were excited by the same horror/dark fantasy book: The Bitterwood Bible and Other Recountings by Angela Slatter. It’s a collection of linked short stories, or a mosaic novel, as Sean the Bookonaut puts it. He goes on to say:

What I think the mosaic format allows Slatter to do is give herself some wiggle room for story and style and let the layering effect of drip fed world details in each separate tale slowly envelope the reader to give us that realised world. That isn’t to say that Slatter isn’t doing a grand job of combining style, story and detail within each tale but that structurally the envelope of the mosaic helps in some cases to accentuate the impact of certain stories, while at the same time containing deviations is form and style in others.

Random Alex also read the book, and she writes

Here, while there are a couple of stories that feature the same protagonist, a few more with recurring cameos, and most set in the same place or with the same background characters, it’s more like a series of stories set in a couple of distinct suburbs or small towns. Of course you’re going to get the same bars, or neighbourhood characters, or landmarks mentioned; that just makes sense. But the narratives themselves aren’t necessarily connected… although sometimes they are.

Fantasy

dreamers-poolThere was more variety in fantasy novels reviewed for the challenge this month. That said, there were two Juliet Marillier books reviewed. Helen Venn reviewed Dreamer’s Pool, a historical fantasy. She writes:

The author deals with themes of healing, family and friendship in a complex tale where much is not as it seems. The world building is cleverly crafted, whether it is in the horrors of Mathuin’s prison, the mystery of the woodland or the workings of the prince’s court. The details immerse the reader in the society so even minor characters, like those in the vignette of the two farmers squabbling over a dog attack during a hearing before the prince, come alive.

prickle-moon-Marillier-JulietAlso by Juliet Marillier, I reviewed Prickle Moon, a collection of short stories, many of them rooted in fairytales. The collection is a mix of longer, intricate and fantastical tales and shorter tales which were no less serious (but of necessity less intricate). Highly recommended, especially to connoisseurs of the short story.

 

I also reviewed the (grimdark) fantasy novel Shatterwing by Donna Maree Hanson. It’s the first in a new series and it’s absolutely not for the faint of heart. That is to say:

shatterwingI really enjoyed the story but there were times when the brutality got a bit much for me. Mainly this was towards the end of part one where Salinda, our first main character, is being brutally tortured. It’s not that it’s not relevant to the plot, but it wasn’t fun to read (nor, I think, should it have been).

Faith read Tales from the Tower Volume Two: The Wicked Wood edited by Isobelle Carmody, an anthology of short stories. She describes it:

In this collection, fairy tales grow between cracks in the mundane surface of a city, a suburb, a small town. From the sinister presence of a wildly ambitious artist to the wolf hidden in plain sight, the mermaid who would trade anything for another life to the uncontrollable craving of two sisters to get theirs back, these are stories of hunger and betrayal, longing and hope.

GuardianFinally and conclusively, I reviewed the third volume in Jo Anderton’s Veiled Worlds trilogy, Guardian. It’s a very good read, but not a suitable place to start reading the series. I strongly suggest beginning with the first book, Debris, instead.

Interviews

It seems we’ve had a rash of interviews of Australian women writers on the Galactic Chat podcast. Conducted by Random Alex Pierce, you can listen to interviews with Rosaleen Love, Angela Slatter, Marianne de Pierres and Nike Sulway.

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About Me

I’m Tsana Dolichva and I’ve been reading and enjoying Australian speculative fiction since I first started reading “grown up” books (back before YA was its own genre). More recently, I’ve been blogging my reviews over at the creatively titled Tsana’s Reads. I very irregularly blog about science in science fiction over at the Science Fiction Writers’ Guide to Space. When not reading or writing, I’m probably working towards my PhD in astrophysics.

Focus on Australian Women Writers with Disability: Guest Post by Jessica White

JessTwo years ago, Elizabeth Lhuede, founder of the Australian Women Writers Challenge, approached me to become editor for the AWW in the area of diversity. She had read a blog post I’d written for the challenge on Eva Hornung’s Dog Boy, in which I discussed the way Hornung played with the supposed division between human and animal, and how people with disabilities have been perceived and treated as animals. As editor for AWW over these years, my own awareness of diversity has increased exponentially, as has my appreciation for women who write about diversity, or who are of diverse background. It seems apt, then, to write a post for our focus on women writers with disability, for it was my deafness which led me to writing and to the AWW Challenge.

We have a book giveaway for all the guest writers this month: Honey Brown’s latest novel, Through the Cracks, Donna McDonald’s The Art of Being Deaf , Kate Richards’ Madness: A Memoir, and my own novel, EntitlementIf you read and review a work by an Australian women writer with disability, or a work by an Australian women writer that features a character with disability, you’ll be in the running for one of these books! Links must be posted by 30th September through this form. You can also find authors on our list of Australian Women Writers with Disability.

 

The Consolations of Deafness

It was a morning in early summer. Nearly four years old, I lay on the pale blue trampoline beneath the apricot tree, my head, neck and shoulders awash with pain. The light chill in the breeze scraped against my skin and the sunlight, normally soft and dappled, speared through the green leaves of the tree.

My mother appeared at the side of the trampoline.

‘How are you feeling?’ she asked.

I shook my head, unable to answer.

My mother stood there for a few minutes, unable to quell a sense of disquietude. She went inside, changed her farm clothes for a skirt and blouse and collected her handbag.

Back outside, she said, ‘We’re going to town to see the doctor.’

‘Okay,’ I replied quietly.

When the local doctor in saw me, his movements became quick and urgent. He suspected meningitis: I was to go to hospital immediately. After another hour of driving over country roads, we reached the hospital, where doctors gave me a massive dose of antibiotics. I lived, but I also lost 75% of my hearing.

A Curious IntimacyWhen I was better, my mother took me to day care on Wednesdays. One day Mr Tony, who was to be my itinerant deaf teacher when I started school, paid a visit. In play he chased me through large cement tunnels and around the swings, but I was anxious rather than amused: was I playing well enough? Was I being like the other children? A sense of soreness around people, of not knowing how to deal with them, had arisen.

My father was a farmer who couldn’t leave the land, and I was too young to be sent to a boarding school for the deaf in Sydney, an eight-hour drive away, so I attended the local public school. From Year Seven, my deafness began to cause problems. Adolescents navigate puberty through interaction with their peers, but I was never able to overhear enough to understand how to chat naturally, gossip, or flirt with boys. My parents coached me on making small talk, but I couldn’t understand the point of expending so much effort and anxiety for a chat about the weather. Instead I sat alone on the cold steel benches at lunch, the crusts of my sandwich scraping against my throat as I swallowed.

I made it through school by working hard and immersing myself in books to avoid talking to people. On the bus to and from school, I either read or stared out the window at the country passing by. Every afternoon I swapped my school shoes for joggers and ran through the paddocks in a desperate bid to shed my stress. I lost so much weight that green and purple bruises dotted my skin from a vitamin deficiency. When I reached my final year, my mother bundled me off to a careers adviser, who told us that I needed a creative outlet, rather than running, for the frustrations of deafness. As soon as he mentioned the creative writing course at Wollongong University, I knew this was what I wanted to do.

Studying literature and creative writing set my mind on fire. From my English lecturers I learned about women’s writing from the 14th century onwards, and realised I could become part of that lineage. In the creative writing department, my teacher Deb Westbury told me that, to improve, I needed to write for fifteen minutes every day. Ever dutiful, I did so, and at the end of the year another teacher, John Scott, jokingly asked if I’d been drinking. I still hadn’t found the knack of making conversation, so I wasn’t partying. Instead I stayed in my room, working late into the night, gripped by the fever of writing.

 

A Curious IntimacyThe word consolation comes from the Latin consolari, which in turn stems from the words con (with) and solari (soothe). A perfectionist who was self-reliant and preferred to solve problems on my own, I found writing an ideal vehicle through which to alleviate the embarrassment and psychic pain that came when I had mis-heard a phrase and said the wrong thing in reply, or when I was standing on the outside of a group, unable to participate because I could not hear. Every evening I poured my distress into a journal and, by the time I laid down my pen, I felt slightly more in conrol.

In the bush too, or when I was running across the paddocks, there was none of the anxiety caused by trying to act naturally around other people. Instead, there was the blissful silence of hills; wattle bursting against a palette of pale green and grey trees; exhalations of locusts rising from the dry grass; and a black snake I nearly stepped on, which looped away over a fence. As I grew older and learnt about my family’s history, however, I realised that I could never claim to belong to the land over which my feet had pounded.

 

entitlementKris Olsson once said to me that by the time you reach your second or third novel, the themes which trouble your unconscious begin to form a pattern. Inevitably, my first novel A Curious Intimacy was about ostracism. A small community’s expulsion of a mentally unwell young mother mirrored the actions of my peers at school, who would not – or could not, given their age – take me into their fold. My feelings of alienation have carried through to the novel I’m currently writing, The Sea Creatures, in which the protagnoist Clare strives to belong but can’t, because aspects of her body make her different to everyone else in her community. At the same time, nature offers a respite: Ingrid, the botanist of A Curious Intimacy, finds solace in the bush and its delicate orchids and trigger plants, while Clare of The Sea Creatures needs the ocean like air.

My growing awareness that the country on which I was raised was not my own has at time contributed to my dislocation. Sometimes when I see a landscape, now, I see ghosts within it, and wonder who they were – a line of enquiry that led to my second novel Entitlement. Being unsettled is not always detrimental, however, for I believe that to be fixed in one’s identity leads to staidness and complacency, and that to traverse and to question leads to inventivess.

The soreness which began with meningitis never really went away, but the consolations have been great. Through deafness I found creativity, the ability to empathise with others, the succour of nature, a relentless curiousity about why and how things happen, and above all, writing, my raison d’être. Being peculiar might bring loneliness, but it also renders the world beautifully rich and strange.

 

 

 

Focus on Australian Women Writers with Disability: Q&A with Kate Richards

For some people, courage means leaping out of muddy trenches and running headlong into battle with a rifle, or making a speech with a dry mouth before a crowded auditorium. If you read Kate Richards’ work Madness: a Memoir, you’ll find that courage also means staying alive.

Kate Richards

Photo Credit: Monty Coles

Kate is a trained medical doctor, and for the good part of twenty years she lived with acute psychosis and depression. This meant crippling self-doubt, invasion from cruel voices in her head, frightening dreams and suicide attempts. Despite the destructive facets of her illness, she was still a person who responded to art and the gentleness of cats and nature, and who longed to contribute to society. Eventually, with medication and a trusting relationship with a psychologist, she acknowledged that she had a mental illness, and learnt what was needed to live with it. In her Penguin Specials book, Is There No Place for Me? Making Sense of Madness, she makes a plea for more awareness and understanding of mental illness, so that there is a place ‘Where our differences are not automatically judged as “bad” but are understood in the context of our illness and our lives, and perhaps even celebrated’ (63). Kate’s differences, as detailed in her memoir, show that she is an extraordinary human being, and that her life and efforts to become well are undeniably worthy of celebration.

We have a book giveaway for Madness: A Memoir as well as three others from the guest writers this month: Honey Brown’s latest novel, Through the Cracks, Donna McDonald’s The Art of Being Deaf and my own novel, EntitlementIf you read and review a book by an Australian women writer with disability, or a book by an Australian women writer that features a character with disability, you’ll be in the running for a book! Links must be posted by 30th September through this form. You can also find authors on our list of Australian Women Writers with Disability.

 

Q&A with Kate Richards

Throughout your memoir are photographs of pages you wrote while you were ill. You also describe moments when you took time out to write. What is your relationship with writing, for eg. when did it begin, what does it mean to you, and did it help you during your illness?

Writing – and reading – have always provided joy and meaning in my life. As a child reading was a form of comfort as well as a source of learning, and I think writing evolved from reading very widely. For most of my young adulthood I wrote poetry and kept a writing journal as ways of making sense of some of the chaos in my head. Writing poetry was also a source of exhilaration. I have always been in awe of the way poets distil meaning and wisdom and grace and beauty (and rage and wrath and despair) into so few words.

 

madnessamemoirWhat compelled you to put your journey from chaos to meaning into a memoir? How did you go about shaping your material into a narrative, particularly as you relied upon a large amount of material written when you were ill, as well as your memory and the notes of clinicians who treated you?

Many of us with long term illness read books about the lived experience of similar illness to know that we are not so alone and to learn from others’ journeys towards wellness. But I couldn’t find any books written by someone with mental illness that expressed the ragged rawness of their experience, the intensity, the in-the-moment exhilaration or bewilderment or black despair. So that’s what I set out to do.

There’s still a lot of stigma surrounding mental illness, especially the kind where you end up in a locked psychiatric ward. But in the end, that was to be the point of the book: to shed some clear light on these kinds of experiences so that people can see and hopefully understand them from the inside.

The narrative takes place over a period of ten years and is essentially linear, so that gave me a framework, and I worked with my editor/publisher, Andrea McNamara at Penguin, to intersperse the episodes of illness (the madness) with a more ‘rational’ voice – a voice of reason.

 

MadnessMuch has been written on the links on creativity and mental illness. In your memoir, a nurse mentions to you that, about half of those in the creative arts have a problematic relationship with alcohol and/or drugs at some time in their lives (p. 166). Is it possible to write good literature without some sort of damage to the psyche?

This is a really complex subject, and I don’t think there are any simple or easy answers. Yes, it is absolutely possible to write good literature without some sort of damage to the psyche. The majority of writers of all kinds do not have a mental illness or any kind of (serious) damage to the psyche.

There does seem to be a relationship between creativity and some mood disorders – melancholia, depression and hypomania – but these are generally episodic illnesses. Most artists, poets and writers who have suffered from mood disorders are at their best creatively when they are not suffering from an episode of illness.

Psychoactive substances, drugs and alcohol, have been used for centuries to try to ‘enhance’ the creative experience, but I think much more commonly, they’re used as a form of self-medication to alleviate or at least ameliorate the suffering associated with depressive illness, anxiety and other mood disorders. (That is certainly the case for me).

 

Is there no place for me?Your Penguin Specials book, Is There No Place for Me? Making Sense of Madness, is a practical and accessible guide to the issues faced by people with mental illness in Australia, including the difficulties created deficits of funding and understanding. Given the influence of literature in your life, and that your own work is directed at raising awareness of mental illness, can you recommend some books that will broaden our understanding further still?

Wonderful question!

There are many books which were (and still are) so influential – both in my writing life and during times of illness and recovery. These books have comforted me, challenged me, offered hope and fed my soul. Here are some of them:

 

Tell me I’m here by Anne Deveson

Darkness Visible by William Styron

Virginia Woolf’s diaries

Memoirs of a dutiful daughter by Simone de Beauvoir

All of Kay Redfield Jamison’s books, particularly her memoir, An Unquiet Mind

The quiet room by Lori Schiller

A mood apart by Peter Whybrow

The year of magical thinking by Joan Didion

Equus by Peter Shaffer

One flew over the cuckoo’s nest by Ken Kesey

The bell jar by Sylvia Plath

Death of a salesman by Arthur Miller

Beyond black by Hilary Mantel

Junky by William S Burroughs

The man who mistook his wife for a hat by Oliver Sacks

The divided self by R.D. Laing

Mind Readings: writer’s journeys through mental states ed Sara Dunn

Wasted by Marya Hornbacher

The centre cannot hold by Elyn R Saks

A beautiful mind by Sylvia Nasar

Madness explained by Richard P. Bentall

The diaries of Sylvia Plath

I know this much is true by Wally Lamb

The poetry of: Dylan Thomas, e.e. cummings, Emily Dickinson, William Blake, Byron, Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton, Walt Whitman, Coleridge, Arthur Rimbaud, Eliot, Bob Dylan, Nick Drake, Nick Cave, Rilke, Hopkins, Philip Larkin, Shelley, Hart Crane, Adrienne Rich, Charles Bukowski…

 

What has been the response to your books? And can you tell us a bit more about what you’re working on now?

The response has been wildly beyond my expectations. That’s not to say ever reader has loved the books – some have not – and of course that’s a part of all creative work: you put down in writing your heart and mind and soul and take an enormous risk by making that a public thing that people can respond to and comment on. You hope so much that the work will resonate, and in my case also provide some insight and hope, and it seems that so far, this has been the case. Mental health professionals and educators are also reading the books which is very heartening.

This year (and beyond) I’m writing a novel set in the alpine wilderness of south-eastern Australia. It’s the most terrifying and difficult and wonderful thing I’ve ever attempted.

Young Adults (Non-Speculative): Round Up Four (2014)

There was an incredibly diverse range of Young Adult books reviewed over the past two months, and some incredibly insightful reviews. I’m thrilled to be able to share some of those with you here.

just-a-girl-krauthWelcome to my library had an extended response by Angela Long to Kirsten Krauth’s just_a_girl which was a recent book club selection. The story of a girl exploring her sexuality and place in the world led to debate and discussion amongst the readers – a sign of a book that has been successful in interesting the reader.

Our century is one of connectivity and instant self gratification however Krauth’s characters are lost in their own worlds of fantasy and disconnection, each avoiding their realities and unable to connect with their emotions. But where the others are caught in the despair of their own choices, Layla openly explores her options.

I thoroughly recommend going to read the rest of the review – it is a wonderful example of the depth of Young Adult books and the discussions around them.

accident-hendrickBelle’s Bookshelf looked at The Accident by Kate Hendrick. She described the book – about the interweaving stories of three teenagers – as having beautiful writing and powerful imagery. She notes that the switching points of view can be a little confusing at first, but soon becomes engaging.

A lighter read, The Intern by Gabrielle Tozer, was reviewed by Bree (who bought it after hearing good things about it – reviews really work!). She describes it as a fun book which leaves you smiling. She also pointed out that it was nice to see a book that had a romance, but didn’t place it front and centre. The main character was focused on her job and her degree, and the romance was there, but not all consuming.

romy bright storerBree also reviewed Romy Bright by Jen Storer, another story about a girl who has a goal she wants to achieve – this time playing guitar for a real gig. However, Romy is constrained by family obligations, with her mother and step father increasingly expecting her to take on baby-sitting and other household obligations. Bree pointed out that this is a very real concern in some families and that there are a number of teenagers who would relate to looking after younger siblings, sometimes at the expense of their own interests and activities.

wildlifeAngie reviewed the recent winner of the Children’s Book Awards – Wildlife by Fiona Wood. The book, which is told in first person by two different narrators, follows the characters as they embark on a term at their school’s outdoor education camp:

The best moments of the novel are the scenes where the characters venture out for their solitary overnight experience in the bush. The descriptions of their fear felt in the threatening landscape but also their appreciation of its peaceful beauty are lovely passages: ‘It was quiet but for my puffed breathing and a wheeling spray of rosellas. I got up, legs trembling and started looking around. There was a pond, and it was full of fresh water after all the rain…Black sun spots burnt into the red of my closed eyelids when I blinked. I filled my hat with water and put it back on.’

Alexander Altmann A10567 Suzy ZailAlexander Altmann A10567 by Suzie Zail was reviewed by Rochelle. This is a very different book from the others reviewed – a historical fiction dealing with a 14 year old boy in Auschwitz. Alexander has lied about his age to be put into the men’s camp and when an opportunity arises to take care of the horses of the German soldiers, he grabs it. The book, which is based off the story of an Auschwitz survivor, shows a character who is guarded and unable to look beyond the present to hope for a future. However, it does manage to have both heart breaking moments and hope.

Just because the protagonist was 14 does not mean this should only be read by teens. I recommend this to everyone. This is a time in history that cannot be forgotten, and those looking to understand it more should read this book. Zail’s writing was flawless, she quickly drew me in and held me captive until the very last page. It was a powerful story of hope and survival. Alexander has sunk into my heart and will stay with me for a long time.

There’s been some discussion recently about Young Adult books and their intended audience. It’s becoming increasingly clear that although these stories are suitable for teenagers and deal with the lives of teenagers, that they are books which stretch far beyond a teenage audience.

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About Me

YA novels were my ticket to ‘coolness’ in high school, when my speed reading led to an invitation to choose new books for the Melina Dschool library. I continued reading children’s and YA books  long after I was supposed to ‘grow up’ – something which served me very well when I became a teacher and was known all over the school as ‘the teacher with the books’. I’m currently on maternity leave, enjoying the rich world of picture books with my toddler, saving libraries and sporadically blogging over at Adventures of a Subversive Reader

Interview with ‘Lost & Found’ author Brooke Davis

brookedavis2Brooke Davis’ debut novel Lost and Found was published in June 2014 and has reached international acclaim. She holds a PhD in Creative Writing from Curtin University.

She can be found on Facebook and Twitter.

Photo credit: Ailsa Bowyer

Lost and Found has been hugely popular with readers and reviewers taking part in the AWW Challenge, with 14 reviews in only 3 months since publication. I was delighted to be able to share this interview here, which was originally published on my website.

Did you grow up in a bookish house? What was your early relationship with books?

My mum was always a great reader, and my dad became one when he had kids, I think. I have lovely flashes of book-related memories that I sometimes catch as they float by: being read to by my parents, reading on long car trips and trying not to give into car sickness, being told off by Mum for reading in the dark, the treat of visiting a bookshop, reading well-loved books over and over. I was so proud to own books and would always nick my mum’s and put them on my bookshelf. She’d take them back without telling me, and I’d do the same. It became this silent, funny, table-tennis kind of game that we had with each other and didn’t acknowledge.

I look at all my childhood books now and I can feel the magic of that time, the feeling they gave me. I can’t remember not feeling like books were important. I don’t think this is something I could have explained as a kid—now I can attach language to the feeling, and suggest that perhaps it was something to do with the way reading tapped into my imagination and my love of learning and the need I might have felt to develop an understanding for the way people are. But as a kid, it felt natural and I loved it and I didn’t know why. It was just something I thought everyone did, like the way we all did colouring-in, and played the recorder, and dressed up in Mum’s old bridesmaid dress and glittery shoes. It was all play to me.

When did you begin writing in a serious way, and what motivated that?

I’ve kept journals since I was quite young, and there’s a line in one when I was eight years-old that says, pretty precociously, ‘I’m determined to become a writer.’ When I was nine or ten, I wrote this nonsense poem in the style of Roald Dahl in primary school about my little brother called The Pest (it obviously wasn’t overly complimentary!). My teacher asked me to read it out loud in front of the class—my classmates laughed in all the right spots, and I was urged to do a sequel. The sequel was terrible and didn’t have the same impact, but I remembered the feeling of my writing giving people pleasure. I wanted more of that feeling.

I did get a bit distracted along the way—I spent a large chunk of my early teenage years playing tennis and cricket, and wanting to be Steffi Graf/Monica Seles/Belinda Clark, and when I was fifteen, my careers counsellor at high school informed me that writing wasn’t something you did, as a job; writing was something you did as a hobby. And because I didn’t know anyone who had a job as a writer, I guess I figured she was right. So, for a little while, I wanted to be a sports scientist: I liked sport, didn’t mind science, and my dad was an academic in the field, so I knew it was something you could actually do.

But moments after I finished my last exam in my final year of high school, a strange thing happened. I’d been studying so hard and was exhausted, but I was finished. I never had to go to high school ever again, or even study again, if I didn’t want to. The normal way an eighteen year-old might have reacted to that would be to go and party, and I’m sure all my friends had that appropriate reaction, but I went straight home. I sat back down at my desk. I spent the next four hours writing a story I’d had bubbling about my head for weeks. The next day, I decided to be a writer again.

I’ve always written and was always going to, regardless of whether or not I got myself published. I assumed I wouldn’t get my novel published for years, if at all—it really is difficult to get published in the current climate, and working as a bookseller, I’m so aware of that. There are so many good books in the world, and they often take such a long time to find the right person. I wanted to set up a life that I was happy with if I didn’t ever get anything published, so I work at a beautiful bookshop in Perth called Beaufort Street Books, and sometimes teach at Curtin Uni, also in Perth. I’ve traditionally been pretty hard on myself, particularly in the academic context, so to be okay with myself and my life if I didn’t achieve the one thing I’ve always wanted to achieve—it was very important for me to get to that point.

How did your novel Lost and Found come to be written and published?

I spent five years writing Lost & Found as part of a PhD at Curtin University in Perth. It was a reaction to the sudden death of my mum: I wanted to spend time thinking deeply about what it meant to grieve, and what it meant to live with the knowledge that the people you love will die. I was particularly interested in the concept of grief not as a process that begins and ends and is only about sadness, but as a part of life. As something that we have to work out how to live with, in among everything else there is—the good, the bad, the indifferent.

When I finally completed the PhD, a bookseller friend of mine in Perth read Lost & Found and told a mutual friend of ours—Todd—about it, who happens to be a Hachette account manager. Todd rang me and said, ‘Would you like me to take this to head office at Hachette and see what they think?’ And before he’d even finished the sentence, I said ‘Yes, please.’ I was picturing teetering slush piles and not expecting to hear back for months, if at all. But within a couple of weeks, Vanessa from Hachette had rung me and made an offer, and suddenly I had an agent, and the contract was negotiated and agreed upon. It was a bit of a whirlwind. I was actually on holiday in St John’s, Newfoundland, Canada at the time, and after everything had been finalised, I took myself off to this pub and propped myself up at the bar, and I just sat there on my own, kind of giddy with it all. I got to talking to some people, and by the end of the night, all these lovely strangers were buying me drinks to help me celebrate. It was a truly gorgeous moment in my life.

What research did you have to do for Lost and Found and how did you go about it?

I did some field-work research on the Australian landscape for the road trip my characters take. I took a few drives between Esperance and Perth and Kalgoorlie, and hopped on the Indian Pacific train between Perth and Adelaide quite a few times. I adore the landscape of this country and relished the time I got to study it. In particular, I have a soft spot for that train trip. It gives such insight into the quiet, stark beauty of our landscape.davis-lost&found

I also read so much about grief and death. Novels, memoirs, academic papers on the psychology of it, historical books, newspaper articles, anything I could get my hands on, really. I talked and listened to anyone who also wanted to talk and listen. My research was mostly about trying to understand how we all do it, how we all survive with those deep sadnesses. It was a great challenge: I’d cry every now and then at my desk. I’d read about the personal experience of another person, or I’d write a section in my novel that came from a place of my own sense of emotional truth, and I’d just bawl. That part of the project was hard. But grieving is hard, and writing a book is hard. And having so much emotion tied up with what I was doing made it all the more important and real for me, so I accepted the challenge of it.

What are your writing habits?  Where do you write? What does a typical day look like for you?

I’m a pretty disciplined, hard-working type, but I’ve also learned that I need to be kind to myself to get the best out of myself, so I focus on living in a balanced way. I love to write and it’s important to me, but I also love my life outside of that. I love being social, I love thinking about things that don’t relate to writing, I love healthy food and exercise. Time away from writing is really important to my life as a writer.

I try to keep my life calm and quiet when I’m writing. I make sure I bookend my writing days with some sort of exercise and time for self-reflection. I treat the day like a job and usually work solidly for eight hours, with a few breaks. I sometimes work from home, and other times, when I’m a little stuck and need a change of scenery, I write in cafes. The disadvantage of working in public is that you can’t work in your pyjamas and you can’t nap when you want to.

But people are really important to my writing. I love being in cafes to absorb the behaviours of people around me. It’s often called ‘people-watching’, but that implies a certain kind of voyeurism, or staring. But I don’t do that. I don’t sit there with the intention of staring at people and stealing their lives. In fact, I barely even look at people: it’s more of a process of incidental absorption. A person nearby brushes their hair away from their face, or looks at someone, or walks in a certain way and for some reason the image sticks in my mind and I feel a sense of urgency to nail the moment in language, because it feels like it might represent something.

I work my best in the mornings. I’m one of those really annoying morning people. I know it’s annoying because I’ve often lived with non-morning people, and when I greet them with a cheery ‘morning!’ at 9am, when I’ve been up for three or four hours, and tell them how beautiful it is outside, etcetera etcetera, they glare at me through half-closed eyes and I can tell they wish me an early death. My mind is so clear at that time, and there’s a stillness and potential that doesn’t exist at any other time of day. The downside to this is that I’m completely useless after about 2pm!

What do you do when you feel creatively stuck?

I usually do one or two or all of these things:

Give myself a change of scenery by moving to a café or park or library or shopping mall or wherever feels right; read a writer who always inspires me; ring one of my writer friends and ask them to solve my problem for me/give me a pep talk/talk about anything but my writing; listen to a new song; exercise; have a nap; freewrite. Sometimes I accept that I’m not having a good day and stop. Other times, I think I’m obviously not good enough and should give up and become a sports scientist.

What are you working on now?

To be honest, I’m just trying to enjoy what’s happening right now. I’ll never have a First Book out ever again, so I’m allowing myself time to revel in the feeling, and not putting pressure on myself to write too seriously. The whispers of a second novel have started up, and I suspect they’re going to become louder and louder soon, but until then, I’m happy to give myself a break.

What’s your favourite book by an Australian female author?

Oh, this is such a difficult question! There are so many! We’re so lucky in Australia to have such talented writers, both female and male. I’ll have to say Lillian’s Story by Kate Grenville. It’s dark and funny and thoughtful and strange, and I was blown away by the magic of it when I first read it, many, many years ago.  More recently, I just read This House of Grief by Helen Garner, which I loved. Pretty horrifying subject matter, but she writes with this clear-eyed grace that I can never get enough of. Her writing completely stuns me.

Reviews of Brooke’s book

Lost and Found reviewed by The Newton Review and 1 Girl 2 Many Books

Want More?

Interview with ‘The Lost Girls’ author Wendy James

About MeAnnabel-smith2
Annabel Smith is the author of Whisky Charlie Foxtrot, and A New Map of the Universe, which was shortlisted for the WA Premier’s Book Awards. She has had short fiction and commentary published in Westerly and Southerly and holds a PhD in Writing from Edith Cowan University. Her forthcoming interactive digital novel/app The Ark will be published in September 2014.

August 2014 Roundup: Classics and Literary

Well, August was a slower month, review-wise anyhow, here in Classics-and-Literary land. That doesn’t mean, however, that we have nothing to report. New books continued to be published over our southern winter, and many were picked up by our reviewers … as you will see below. But, before I launch into this month’s round-up, I’d like to remind you that the Challenge is featuring authors with a disability in August. Each week there has, and will be, a featured interview with an author who experiences some sort of disability. So far this month, team member Jessica White has interviewed Honey Brown and Donna McDonald. Do check them out via the links I’ve provided on their names.

August

Although I started this post saying that reviews were down this month, you know how it is with statistics. You can always make them mean something good or bad if you try. Being an optimist, I go for the good, and so with a little search of my figures for last year, I discovered that this August is in fact stellar! Twenty-eight reviews were posted which is over 30% more than August 2013’s measly 21! The challenge is still tracking well …

The highlights are:

  • While last month saw nearly 20% of the reviews posted being for books published ten or more years ago, this month only one review was for a book more than ten years old. In fact, all but three were published in 2013 or 2014. It’s important that new authors are being recognised, but I also love it when readers explore our literary heritage a little more deeply.
  • Two authors received three reviews this month: Favel Parrett for When the night comes, and Kate Forsyth for Dancing with knives (2) and The wild girl (1)
  • Our most prolific reviewer in August was Maree Kimberley with 3 reviews, followed by Dark Matter ZineDebbie Robson, challenge co-ordinator Elizabeth Lhuede (Devoted Eclectic), and Kate W (Books are my favourite and best) with two each.

The Classics

downinthecity-harrowerJust one classic this month, Elizabeth Harrower’s Down in the city. If you have been following the buzz over the last couple of years about Text Publishing’s Australian Classics initiative, you are sure to have heard of Elizabeth Harrower. Harrower was born in 1928 and wrote five novels in the 1960s to 1970s, of which four were published then and one not published until Text released it this year. Those of us who have read any of these novels wonder why she has been so under the radar for the last few decades. Her writing is powerful and her subject-matter hard-hitting. In fact, Debbie Robson who reviewed Down in the city said she’d read an article that described her as “the F. Scott Fitzgerald of Australia”. Debbie clearly wasn’t disappointed, and would probably agree that Harrower is like Fitzgerald in her skewering of the questionable morality of the well-to-do. Robson writes this, to conclude her review:

She doesn’t flinch in taking a “real life” stance. In her depiction of domestic abuse she is decades ahead of her time… Mesmerising and powerful! Highly recommended!!

New books out

whenthenightcomes-parrettSeveral books were published in August, as I’m sure they are most months, but I did notice a few this month and the fact that our reviewers were hot onto them! One was Favel Parrett’s second book, When the night comes. You’ ll probably remember that Parrett’s first novel Past the shallows was very well received when it came out in 2011. It won the Dobbie Literary Award in 2012, and was shortlisted for several other awards that year, including the inaugural Stella Prize and the Miles Franklin. It’s not surprising then that our reviewers were quick to read her second novel. Kate W hadn’t read Parrett’s first book, but was very impressed by When the night comes. She describes Parrett’s writing:

Parrett understands lots of things very deeply – water, the difference a teacher makes, the effect of a well-timed bag of mixed lollies, silence – and talks of these things in words that are deceptively simple. The story is compact. A chapter about a wooden spoon and rainy days brought tears to my eyes.

A compact story. That appeals to me. Brenda loved it too, giving different hints of its content:

The writing is inspiring, the descriptions of Hobart, Antarctica and Bo’s home in Denmark are such that I felt I was there, experiencing the icy cold and frigid beauty.

Shelleyrae’s initial impression was different. She found it somewhat disjointed and repetitive, but

by the half way mark I’d finally settled into the dreamlike rhythm of the narrative and gained an appreciation for its unique tempo.

She then read it again, and was thoroughly “absorbed”.

The Golden Age Joan LondonTwo other new books this month came from more established authors: Helen Garner’s This house of grief, and Joan London’s The golden age. As I plan a little focus on Garner below, I’ll just discuss London here. She has had two novels published, prior to this, and three short story collections. That four of these five books have been shortlisted for, or won, awards will give you some sense of her standing. Elimy is the first to review it for the challenge, and here is her description of what it is about:

Poetry becomes a central theme in the novel as it does in young Frank Gold’s life; the quest for that illusive final line is a metaphor for a sort of quest for meaning in the life of a young person who has made his way by surviving horrors, first under the Nazis, where as a Jewish person he was forced to hide in the roof above the home of a moribund piano teacher and then in his new home of Perth, where he contracts polio and must learn to walk again.

Sounds intriguing, eh? Interestingly, these two new novels come from two of our less populous states, Tasmania and Western Australia, which speaks to a wonderful depth and breadth in Australian women’s writing at present.

Helen Garner

Every now and then I like to feature a particular writer in these round-ups. In 2013, Garner was reviewed four times in this category. This year she has already been reviewed 10 times, and there will be at least one more (from me!). It’s probably pretty accurate to say that, with the passing in the last decade of writers like Thea Astley and Elizabeth Jolley, Helen Garner is the grand dame of Australian women writers, indeed of Australian literature. She has written novels, short stories, essays and journalistic pieces. She has won many of our major literary awards, including a Walkley Award for journalism. It’s therefore great to see our reviewers delving into her books this year.

thishouseofgrief-garnerWhile the reviews to date have included her novels and short stories, the majority have been for her pioneering and controversial narrative non-fiction books, The first stone and Joe Cinque’s consolation. I say pioneering because, in addition to using the fictional techniques typical of this “genre”, she was one of the first to put herself into the pieces, that is, to tell a “true” story with herself in the frame. Writers like Chloe Hooper (in The tall man) and Anna Klien (in Into the forest and Night games) have followed her into this form.

Melbourne’s Wheeler Centre describes her narrative non-fiction approach better than I could:

She blends journalism, reportage, memoir and cultural analysis – all filtered through the distinctive authorial voice that has long made her fiction so compelling. She uses the novelist’s tools of stark characterisation, evocative language and a magpie’s eye for telling dialogue.

Now Garner has written her third in this style, The house of grief, in which she follows the trial of Robert Farquharson who was tried and convicted of killing his three sons in 2005. Lou Murphy, reviewing it in the Newtown Review of Books, believes that Garner has steered a careful course between feeling sympathy and passing blame, suggesting to me a more even-handed reportage than her previous two forays. He concludes that:

she weaves legal argument and social commentary into a compelling narrative that is a deeply moving rendering of grief and human behaviour.

It’s clearly a heartbreaking story but one in which Garner seems to have managed to explore the ambiguity in human behaviour and relationships, rather than make black-and-white statements about right and wrong. And, she writes great sentences!

I’ve mentioned only a few of the books reviewed this month. To see all of the Literary/Classic books reviewed this year to date, please check this Weebly page.

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About Me

I am Whispering Gums and I read, review and blog about (mostly) literary fiction. It was reading Jane Austen when I was 14 years old that turned me on to reading literary fiction/classics, which is why I am here today doing this round-up! Little did Jane know what she started!

My love of Aussie literature started with Banjo Paterson’s ballads and Ethel Turner’s Seven Little Australians in my childhood. But, I didn’t really discover Australian women’s writing until the 1980s when I “met” and fell in love with Elizabeth Jolley, Thea Astley, Olga Masters, Helen Garner and Kate Grenville. Ever since then I have been making sure to include a good percentage of Australian (and other) women writers in my reading diet.

Focus on Australian Women Writers with Disability: Guest Post by Donna McDonald

Following Honey Brown’s poignant account of how disability can sting and stir one’s psyche, is our second guest writer for our focus on Australian Women Writers with Disability: Donna McDonald. Donna, whose mother noticed she was deaf when she was small, was enrolled in a school for deaf children, but when she was eight she was removed from this school and sent to a mainstream school. Only as an adult did Donna consider what impact her removal from her deaf peers might have had upon her, a journey which is detailed in her memoir The Art of Being Deaf

DonnaPortraitDonna’s post shows how wearying it can be to fight for empathy, for the right to live and love in a world that is shaped for able-bodied people without, as she writes, ‘having to perform staggering, contortionist-like feats of “normalcy”’. At the same time, her act of writing is testimony to that fight. It’s a reminder that through books we can contemplate modes of being other than our own, and be compelled to support them.

We have a book giveaway for The Art of Being Deaf, as well as three others from the guest writers this month: Honey Brown’s latest novel, Through the CracksKate Richards’ Madness: A Memoir and my own novel, EntitlementIf you read and review a book by an Australian women writer with disability, or a book by an Australian women writer that features a character with disability, you’ll be in the running for a book! Links must be posted by 30th September through this form. You can also find authors on our list of Australian Women Writers with Disability.

 

Memoir as Protest

My memoir, The Art of Being Deaf, was published by Gallaudet University Press in March 2014. In the wake of its publication, I have been interviewed by radio identities and other writers; questioned by friends and students; and bailed up in the workplace by my colleagues. Two questions have become the dominant leitmotif of all those conversations: why did I write it, and how do I feel about having put myself “out there”?

My answer to the latter question is constant: I don’t feel much at all. At least, not in the way that the questioners appear to suspect that I ought to feel. My questioners give me the impression that I ought to feel exposed, as if I have stripped myself naked under the scorching arc-lights of a theatre stage. This is a misreading of the memoirist’s primary task and her multiple roles in undertaking that task. A memoirist is required to give an account—grounded in gentle reflection and tough self-scrutiny, occasionally leavened by humour—of certain themes that perhaps trouble the memoirist, or nag at her as requiring an explanation. A memoir is a personal reckoning with the self, and with the readers who the memoirist is seeking to influence, sway, inform or alter in some way. In undertaking this self-searching quest, I found myself devolved into three distinct roles: as the subject of the search—myself as the person being investigated and quarried for insights and discoveries; the narrator who “tells” the reader about the ups and downs of that usually circumlocutory investigation; and the writer who shapes the tale into a crisp, readable, entertaining story.

By devolving the-art-of-being-deafmyself into these disparate but purposeful roles, the “I” of my memoir evolved into a character who looked and sounded like me, who reportedly had the same experiences as me, and who—just like me—wrestled with questions about the implications of being deaf on the quality of her life. However, that character is not “me”. The written text is just a representation of “me” at a single point of time, the time of writing. For this reason, I do not feel vulnerable for having disclosed so much about myself. Time marches on; the “I” in The Art of Being Deaf is a person from the past. I have since moved onto fresh questions.

In contrast to this constant response, I flail about when I try to nail down a precise answer to the question, “Why write a memoir?” My equivocation is the result of the passage of time. My reasons for embarking on the memoir all those years ago—it originated as a short essay back in 2002—are very different from the reasons I offered in the final chapter of my memoir and they, in turn, are different again from the reasons I offer now with the perspicacity of hindsight.

I was prompted into writing that short essay following a visit to a psychologist who asked me (somewhat redundantly, I thought at the time) whether my deafness had had a “big impact” on my life. I mocked his question at first and responded by writing an article which showed off my writing skills but which left me exposed to an editor’s criticism that I had been glib and inauthentic. I was stung into deeper reflection, which led me into ever deepening territories of confusion, distress and anxiety shaped by the driving question: who was I? To what extent did my deafness and my being deaf shape not only my life experiences, but my sense of self?

These personal questions were the catalysing motivations for writing my memoir. However, such a narrow focus on self is not sustainable over the long haul of writing. I grew bored with myself; tired of the navel-gazing. I cast around for a broader scope, and found it by reading about the experiences of other deaf people—either as fiction or as memoirs and biographies. This wider reading acted as a lightning rod for my latent discontent. By reading those accounts, I witnessed the hurts, cruel slights, inequities, false heartiness, and strenuous efforts to fit in, and saw myself reflected in those many stories. I came to understand that my account of deafness and being deaf was no longer a singular story. It is more than that. My memoir is both a personal reckoning and a protest that stands alongside many other such accounts, contributing to a bigger picture of the struggle by generations of deaf and hard-of-hearing people around the world to secure a good education, a proper job, and the affection, respect and love of hearing friends, colleagues and family without having to perform staggering, contortionist-like feats of “normalcy”.

In writing the final chapter of my memoir, I claimed I had reconciled my childhood deaf self and my adult hearing-deaf persona. I conveyed a quiet joy about this. I still stand by that claim. It was true at the time of writing, and it remains true today.

However, since the publication of my memoir—and the subsequent re-excavation of my memoirist recollections by those interviewers, writers, friends, colleagues and students—new emotions have revealed themselves to me, settling alongside that spirit of reconciliation. Anger. Frustration. Grief. The surge of these emotions caught me off-guard, and I was puzzled by them at first. I have come to understand that they arise from the chastening realisation that my memoir, in which I set down so many of my “being deaf” experiences, is unlikely to change the quality of life of most deaf people. Individual readers may enjoy my memoir and be moved by it, but the world at large remains obtuse. The struggles of most deaf and hard-of hearing people continue. Right now, as I write these words, I am sad and exhausted. I am exhausted by my life-long commitment to being a warrior of sorts—a warrior for the rights of deaf people to be the very best version of themselves, by having access to love, education, and work. I am sad because I see no end yet to this very necessary fight for rights. I hope my anger acts as a fuel to keep my commitment burning.

August 2014: General Fiction

For the purposes of this challenge ‘general fiction’, is defined as fiction set post mid 1900′s, which does not fit neatly into a specific literary genre.

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Deeper Water by Jessie Cole

Deeper Water Jessie Cole

Innocent and unworldly, Mema is still living at home with her mother on a remote, lush hinterland property. It is a small, confined, simple sort of life, and Mema is content with it.
One day, during a heavy downpour, Mema saves a stranger from a flooded creek. She takes him into her family home, where, marooned by floods, he has to stay until the waters recede. And without either of them realising it, he opens the door to a new world of possibilities that threaten to sweep Mema into the deep.

Lisa Walker writes; ” ‘Deeper Water’ is a sensuous portrayal of what happens when innocent desire clashes with the hardened edges of the wider world. Mema will linger in your mind for some time after you close the pages.” Brenda describes Deeper Water as; “Beautifully written, evocative and poignant…”

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Family Secrets by Liz Byrski

Family Secrets Liz Byrski

 

When patriarch Gerald Hawkins passes away in his Tasmanian home, after ten years of serious illness, his family experience a wave of grief and, admittedly, a surge of relief. Gerald’s dominating personality has loomed large over his wife, Connie, their children, Andrew and Kerry, and his sister Flora, for decades.
Connie, whose own dreams were dispensed with upon marriage, is now determined to renew her long friendship with Gerald’s estranged sister, Flora. She travels to France where she finds Flora struggling to make peace with the past and searching for a place to call home. Meanwhile Andrew’s marriage is crumbling, and Kerry is trapped in stasis by unfinished business with her father.
As the family adjusts to life after Gerald, they could not be more splintered. But there are surprises in store and secrets to unravel. And once the loss has been absorbed, is it possible that they could all find a way to start afresh with forgiveness, understanding and possibility?

Shelleyrae of Book’d Out introduces her review with; ” When Liz Byrski turned fifty she keenly felt the lack of literature that reflected the lives of women in mid life, and drawing on her experience as a journalist and freelance writer, set out to change that by writing the sort of books that she wanted to read.” Emily of  The Incredible Rambling Elimy writes; “Byrski has brought sensitivity and lightness to her depiction of the Australian family.  Her characters are lifelike, each with strong opinions of their own…”  

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Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty

 

Sometimbiglittlelies-moriartyaues it’s the little lies that turn out to be the most lethal. . . . A murder… . . . a tragic accident… . . . or just parents behaving badly?  What’s indisputable is that someone is dead.   But who did what? Big Little Lies follows three women, each at a crossroads:   Madeline is a force to be reckoned with. She’s funny and biting, passionate, she remembers everything and forgives no one. Her ex-husband and his yogi new wife have moved into her beloved beachside community, and their daughter is in the same kindergarten class as Madeline’s youngest (how is this possible?). And to top it all off, Madeline’s teenage daughter seems to be choosing Madeline’s ex-husband over her. (How. Is. This. Possible?). Celeste is the kind of beautiful woman who makes the world stop and stare. While she may seem a bit flustered at times, who wouldn’t be, with those rambunctious twin boys? Now that the boys are starting school, Celeste and her husband look set to become the king and queen of the school parent body. But royalty often comes at a price, and Celeste is grappling with how much more she is willing to pay.   New to town, single mom Jane is so young that another mother mistakes her for the nanny. Jane is sad beyond her years and harbors secret doubts about her son. But why? While Madeline and Celeste soon take Jane under their wing, none of them realizes how the arrival of Jane and her inscrutable little boy will affect them all.’

Carolyn opines; “All the characters and their relationships felt very real and typical of parents at a primary school anywhere in the world.”  Shelleyrae @ Book’d Out summarises her thoughts with; “Part noir suburban mystery, part domestic drama, Big Little Lies is compulsive reading. Thought provoking, clever, witty and wonderful, this is another wickedly brilliant novel from best selling Australian author Liane Moriarty.”

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Cherry Bomb by Jenny Valentish

Cherry Bomb Jenny Valentish

 

Nina Dall is one half of Sydney pop-punk band, The Dolls. Have they got what it takes to stay on top or are they just a one hit wonder? Told through the eyes of a young singer who’s seen it all, this is celebrated rock journalist Jenny Valentish’s debut novel – a wild ride into Australia’s music scene. ‘I didn’t know it yet, but one day my Wikipedia entry would begin: ‘Nina Dall is one half of Sydney pop-punk band The Dolls. Since forming the group as a sixteen-year- old with her cousin Rose Dall under the guidance of veteran producer John Villiers, she has written and recorded one gold album, It’s Not All Ponies and Unicorns (2012), and one platinum album, Tender Hooks (2014), and has taken home six ARIA awards.’ There will be more photographs of me in existence than the prime minister, the leader of the opposition and any visiting dignitaries put together. I will only stay in suburbs with a Park Hyatt in them.’
Twenty-one year old Nina Dall has seen it all, including her own meteoric rise to fame and its inevitable aftermath. She created teen band The Dolls to escape suburban hell. Now she needs to prove she’s not a one-hit wonder and convince veteran producer John Villiers to be her own personal svengali. But he’s got his own problems. Rose Dall craves adoration, and through The Dolls, she gets it. But with the band’s every move coming under media scrutiny and cousin Nina going off the rails, she’s pushed to breaking point. Can The Dolls survive each other? Alannah Dall had a pop career in the 1980s before disappearing from public view. She’s resurfaced to steer her nieces away from the same scandals, but with her own comeback on the cards, The Dolls start to become a threat.

” Kudos to Jenny Valentish for creating a protagonist who knows she’s not everyone’s favourite and dares you to continue anyway. I love Nina’s sass.” writes Sam Still Reading. Jason Nahrung‘s conclusion is succinct; “This book — Jenny’s first fiction title — totally rocks. Read it loud!”

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The Eye of The Sheep by Sofie Laguna

The Eye of the Sheep Sofie Laguna

“Ned was beside me, his messages running easily through him, with space between each one, coming through him like water. He was the go-between, going between the animal kingdom and this one. I watched the waves as they rolled and crashed towards us, one after another, never stopping, always changing. I knew what was making them come, I had been there and I would always know.”
Meet Jimmy Flick. He’s not like other kids. He finds a lot of the adult world impossible to understand – especially why his Dad gets so angry with him. Jimmy’s mother Paula is the only one who can manage him. She teaches him how to count sheep so that he can fall sleep. She holds him tight enough to stop his cells spinning. It is only Paula who can keep Jimmy out of his father’s way. But when Jimmy’s world falls apart, he has no one else to turn to. He alone has to navigate the unfathomable world and make things right.

“This book touches on many topics, domestic abuse and family dysfunction and a mother’s love for her children but all told from Jimmy’s perspective.” writes Carolyn . Brenda offers high praise; “What a wonderful, emotional and heartbreaking story….An amazing novel…which was incredibly sad, but also uplifting and real.”

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You can browse more general fiction titles reviewed by participants on the AWW review site

My Brother-But-One - TM Clark The Golden Age Joan London Tea House in the Lime Trees Elizabeth Martin

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bookdout_squarebadge_web

About Me

My name is Shelleyrae Cusbert I am a mother of four children, aged 8 to 18, living in the mid north coast of NSW. I am an obsessive reader and publish my thoughts about what I read at my book blog,  Book’d Out.  In 2012 I read and reviewed a total of 109 books for the AWW Challenge and in 2013 a total of 117. I juggle caring for my family with a part time job and volunteer at both the town’s local library and the children’s school library.

 

August Speculative Fiction Round-up

Hello again! We’ve had quite a bit of variety in our reviews this month, which is good to see!

Fantasy

falcon-throne-millerTwo fantasy books were reviewed this month. Sean the Bookonaunt read the newly released start of a new series: The Falcon Throne by Karen Miller. He opens his gushing review with this:

What I really enjoy in a good book is total immersion; the kind that makes you forget your concerns, that actually leaves you feeling relaxed. Karen Miller’s The Falcon Throne did this while flaying me emotionally.  I dear reader, may even have required tissues at some point.  I enjoy being emotionally manipulated when it’s done well and I felt that Miller was masterful in getting me to love and hate the various characters, to break me by breaking my favourites.

If that doesn’t make you want to read it, I’m not sure what will.

winter-be-my-shieldMeanwhile, Mark Webb delved into Winter Be My Shield by Jo Spurrier, much loved by many other challenge participants. He writes:

Spurrier has constructed a cohesive political and social system that sits on top of an interesting and imaginative form of magic. … It is not for the faint of heart though – the story is definitely on the grimdark end of the fantasy spectrum. There are some very cranky people that express their crankiness in some very direct ways. However the violence and grit never seem gratuitous, rather they add texture to the world.

Science Fiction

dark-spaceLeonie Rogers was holding down the fort on the science fiction front this past month. She read and reviewed Marianne de Pierres’ Dark Space, the first book of the Sentients of Orion quartet. She writes:

The book is written from several perspectives, and slowly and steadily the separate story lines converge. The major characters are all quite complex, and not necessarily completely human, or at least as human as we’d like them to be which adds to the detail within the story.

ambassador-jansenShe also reviewed Ambassador: Seeing Red by Patty Jansen, another first book in a series. Of that book, she writes:

I loved this book. Patty Jansen has done a remarkable world building job, building a complex interplanetary society structured around ‘gamra,’ with earth and humanity as we mostly know it, sitting on the periphery. … The politics, cultural differences and language differences are complex, but well developed and understandable, and I was easily drawn into the world that she created.

Horror

perfections-mcdermottHorror was the most reviewed genre this month, which is a nice change. We had Stephanie Gunn review Perfections by Kirstyn McDermott, winner of the Aurealis and Australian Shadows Awards in 2012. She writes:

Perfections is, at its heart, a book about sisters, about daughters, about mothers.  It is a book about the way families can twist around secrets (and oh, the secrets that this family has).  The reader moves back and forth between the viewpoints of two sisters, Antoinette and Jacqueline.  Both are skilfully drawn, and it is very easy to feel empathy for both of them and the situations that they are in; especially well done is the juxtaposition between how they see themselves and how they are seen by their sister.

slights-warrenMaree Kimberley reviewed Slights by Kaaron Warren, another standalone horror novel. Maree Kimberley writes:

Kaaron Warren’s Slights is an intriguing horror novel, with a main character who repels and fascinates with equal measure. It’s a measure of the strength of Warren’s writing that I empathised with a protagonist who is a psychopathic serial killer. … Steve (Stephanie) kills people so she can see the horror in their eyes as they enter their “dark room”, a place she has been several times when she’s hovered close to death. The “dark room” is filled with people Steve has slighted during her life; there is no white light leading her to an afterlife. In its place is torture and horror as a parade of people inflict pain on her in retaliation for her slights.

Daylight-knoxAnd our last horror review was of Daylight by Elizabeth Knox, written by Jane Rawson. She enjoyed the read, writing:

The pacing and structure of this book is strange and – for me – utterly absorbing. It’s slow and wanders back and forth and in and out in a way that struck me as very adult: Knox trusts us to pay attention, to notice small asides that prove integral to the story, to stick with the unusually large cast of major characters. I liked being treated that way. I like a horror novel that abjures sensation and shock and creates subtle questions of identity and morality.

SnaphotLogo2014Finally, last month I mentioned the then in-progress Snapshot of Australian Speculative Fiction. It’s now finished and you can read a large number of interviews spread across several blogs and involving many, many interviewees, both male and female. There’s an index post of all the interviews over at SF Signal.

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About Me

I’m Tsana Dolichva and I’ve been reading and enjoying Australian speculative fiction since I first started reading “grown up” books (back before YA was its own genre). More recently, I’ve been blogging my reviews over at the creatively titled Tsana’s Reads. I very irregularly blog about science in science fiction over at the Science Fiction Writers’ Guide to Space. When not reading or writing, I’m probably working towards my PhD in astrophysics.

Focus on Australian Women Writers with Disability: Guest Post by Honey Brown

What I love about my role as contributing editor for AWW in the area of Diversity is the sheer range of viewpoints to which I’m exposed through the books I read and the reviews I collate. It fascinates me to see and understand the impact that heritage, sexuality or disability can have upon a writer’s craft. Disability has certainly influenced Honey Brown’s writing, as she outlines below in the first guest post for our focus on Australian Women Writers with Disability over September.

Honey BrownHoney’s books (there are five so far) are the sort that should come with a warning: they will keep you up at night and you will be tired for work the next day (but it will be totally worth it!). The psychology of her characters is incisive, insightful, and sometimes a little unnerving. She muses that this might stem from the trauma and sadness she endured after her accident, and writes, ‘It’s both comforting and a little disturbing to think that the depths of human emotion need to be reached so that our creative cogs can begin to turn.’

We have a book giveaway for Honey’s latest novel, Through the Cracks (thanks to Penguin), as well as three others from authors who will be guest writers this month: Donna McDonald’s The Art of Being DeafKate Richards’ Madness: A Memoir and my own novel, EntitlementIf you read and review a book by an Australian women writer with disability, or a book by an Australian women writer that features a character with disability, you’ll be in the running for a book! Links must be posted by 30th September through this form. You can also find authors on our list of Australian Women Writers with Disability.

 

Light and Shade

ThroughTheCracksHoneyBrownWith each new book I write it’s as though I’m a novice again, and my five published novels fall away, my writing ability feels fragile, and I have to remind myself of the most basic and fundamental writing rules. A similar thing happens when I’m asked to reflect on my disability – I’m unsure all over again. What do I feel? How has it changed me? How does my disability impact on my work? No matter what I’ve said in the past or what I’ve believed, it all seems to fly out the window and I’m left feeling uncertain and none the wiser for my fourteen years living with paraplegia. Creativity and adversity share quite a few traits in that way. Just as there’s no set formula and no guarantees when it comes to overcoming hardship, so it is with the process of creating. There are guidelines and lots of helpful advice, but it all comes down to an intangible thing inside us in the end. And just because I may have hit upon a winning strategy and achieved a goal once before, doesn’t necessarily mean it will translate to success a second time around.

Honey BrownI was 29 when a farm accident left me with a spinal cord injury and unable to walk. Although at the time I’d written some short stories, and had tinkered with the idea of writing a novel, I wasn’t serious about the craft or about being a novelist. After my accident I wasn’t able to go back to the sort of employment I was used to – hospitality work, casual odd jobs, customer service – not only because of the wheelchair, but also because I struggled to cope emotionally. My sadness impacted on every part of my life; I felt as though I was unable to return to who I had been as a person. I didn’t feel like I was a mother anymore, or a wife, or a friend, or an effective sister or daughter. Suddenly, all it felt like I had, the only thing that made me get out of bed each day, was my writing.

dark-horse-brownWithout realising what I was doing, I turned to my creative side as a way to reconnect with myself. That alone says a lot about how honest and personal the act of creating is. When we create, we’re tapping into our most private self, we’re making our own rules and revealing our uniqueness. My first completed manuscript reminded me of who I was. There I was, on the page in front of me – not spelt out in memoir fashion, but in the subtext, in the descriptions, within character reactions, in the ideas fuelling the story. Each manuscript revealed a little more of me. My depression lifted enough for me to feel some pride again, and with that came the want for the words I was using to do my storytelling more justice. I believed that if I put some study and academic effort into writing, I might enjoy the process even more.

after-the-darknessIf not for my accident I wouldn’t have been pushed to write with the sort of seriousness needed to write well. The joy in creating comes saddled with a fair whack of torment. Getting better at something goes hand in hand with becoming more critical. One minute I’d be smiling at a stunning line, I’d be gloating over a masterful plot twist that I hadn’t even seen coming, and then in the next moment I’d be holding down the delete button and fearing not even that would work to erase such horrific writing from the face of the earth. But without this type of yin and yang, the highs of writing wouldn’t have soared and excited me as much as they did, and the lows wouldn’t have stood out as much as they needed to. My writing would have flat-lined and been mediocre.

The Good DaughterCreativity is in us all, there to be unlocked. It might not manifest artistically. The arts aren’t the only way people express their creative side. Problem solving, and striving for change, is a form of creativity. Elite sportspeople are creative souls; they have to find new ways to improve, they put in all the basic training and work, but they have to rely on an elusive inner magic to truly shine (anyone who’s listened to Ian Thorpe talk about his relationship with water knows he’s tapping into a unique place in order to perform). My sense of wonder and adventure has been me with all my life. I was dreaming up stories as a child. At age ten, I was mouthing dialogue as I walked to school. I never grew out of my imagination. Even if not for my accident, I believe would have knuckled down and written in earnest at some point, but probably much later in my life, when I’d stopped being so exclusively a mother and a wife, a sister and a daughter. red-queenAnd, maybe, without having experienced the trauma I have, without the resulting emotions to inform my work, my writing wouldn’t have had much gravitas, my characters might have lacked light and shade. Looking back, it can only mean that adversity feeds creativity. Those two things entwine in so many ways.

We all have moments in our lives when we struggle, and we all have moments when we’re creative. It’s both comforting and a little disturbing to think that the depths of human emotion need to be reached so that our creative cogs can begin to turn. My experience of writing with a disability makes me think (for now at least) that this may well be the case.

 

 

 

 

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