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.

 

 

 

 

Short fiction & Poetry roundup: July and August 2014

Ok, here’s the obligatory Game of Thrones joke: Winter is not coming. Winter has come and will soon be gone.

Right. Now let’s never mention this again. On to the main event.

Picture this: tropical weather, verdant green as far as the eye can see and a gin and tonic.

Sounds good?

Ah, but there’s something missing from the picture. A book. Or two. Or three.

And I know you are scratching your heads and wondering why I am going on about tropical weather when we are almost done with winter and are about to take on spring here in Australia – but I flew north for the winter to sunnier climes. And limes. In my gin and tonic.

But I had no books. And so on my return I was most anxious to see what you turned up that would be perfect to dip into and read in short, sharp bursts in between either cuddling in front of the heater (or fireplace if you are in Tasmania and/or are allowed to burn wood) or sunbathing on the sand. Ah, the pursuit of warmth and something to engage the mind.

I digress. You found me four collections of poetry buried in the sand and fellow adventurer Sean the Bookonaut, ever trusty spade in hand, dug up two of them for us: Thread me a Button edited by Jude Aquilina and Joan Fenney and The Duties of a Cat by Jenny Blackford.

Of the former, Sean states that it was a fantastic idea not just to create a collection of poetry around the concept of buttons but to leave the authors anonymous till the last page so that you could just enjoy the poetry itself, which he commends as very accessible and engaging. I, for one agree that it is an absolute point of fun to have a collection themed around an object and I would like to see more of the same (editors, please take note). Throw out your suggestions for themes in the comments, sartorial or otherwise. It will be interesting to see what poets come up with.

With the latter, well let me tell you, the title alone makes me want to re-negotiate household rules with my moggie – I was unaware that cats had duties. They are cats. It seems odd that they should be coupled with the concept of duty (though I admit mine gets treats for declaring war on cockroaches) but Sean reassures us that the titular poem is a bit tongue in cheek. He also, however, admits his bias in recommending this work as he is a cat lover (ok, who on the internet and in the literary world, isn’t?) so perhaps what we need now is one of you lovely readers, fervently on the side of all things canine, to have a read and let us know what the verdict is (though preferably not in the form of a hairball).

See? Journalism work and crowdsourcing at it’s finest, right there.

Onto the next treasure in the sand: The Sunlit Zone by Lisa Jacobson has resurfaced amongst the lovely nutritious kelp and driftwood after a little paddle out to sea, coming right back in with the backswash and was reviewed by S’hi D’Amour, who totally and completely coincidentally thinks Lisa Jacobson is a national Aussie treasure herself. You may remember that The Sunlit Zone first meandered out from the dunes onto the beach during the actual Australian summer of 2013-14. S’hi D’Amour tells us that The Sunlit Zone is a metaphor for connection or rather our fear in connecting to one another, in having to accept that we get both joy in doing so and yet open ourselves up to pain as well and most of all in having to accept that we often need to learn to let go.

Somebody’s thrown a party on the beach. The last poetry collection for these past two months is Lupa and Lamb by Susan Hawthorne, reviewed by Marilyn. And it has a bit of everything – back in Ancient Rome, the Empress (yes, probably that Empress) has thrown a party which the Curatrix (female museum curator) is organising and on the guest list are women from across the world but also from across time (so clearly one of the Doctor’s companions has been arm wrestled into providing transportation). Some have descended from ethereal planes to attend. And as the women gather they talk, they laugh, they do what women usually do at such gatherings and the story is told through a series of poems. It’s serious and funny, riotous, freewheeling and not at all rooted in historical fact but rather merely attached to it slightly and I think you will understand what I mean when Marilyn tells us that the foreword by Monique Wittig asks women to remember a time when they were strong and happy and if they cannot remember one, to invent it.

And that’s a lovely thought to end our pirate like treasure hunt with – if it doesn’t exist yet, build/create it.

But fear not, just because I was in the tropics did not mean I forgot you. So with the weather bringing winds and rain down upon you, what tiny fictions did you lose yourself in.

What were the words that kept you warm?

Apparently, you found four works that swept you away with dreams of… wait, for it, being elsewhere. Maxine Beneba Clarke‘s Foreign Soil reappeared as if she had a multiple entry visa and you were waiting to swap wet for dry. Lou Heinrich (who sounds like a jazz musician and therefore here’s a shirt tail ending for you, darling) reviewed it for the Newtown Review of Books and what we are reminded of is how Clarke‘s writing emulates the vernacular and begs to be spoken out aloud – loud enough perhaps like Dorothy so you can go home. Or at least somewhere warm.

Sorting out your baggage is Anna Maria Dell-oso with Songs of the Suitcase reviewed by S’hi D’Amour though unfortunately like most luggage, the review link is broken and therefore the luggage is lost, presumably vacationing in the Caribbean with your new swimwear and those lovely new shoes you bought with all the gin and tonics while you shiver in your jacket over here. Typical. If you’re S’hi D’Amour, please do send us the link again. Or post it in the comments so we can see what said suitcase has been upto.

But never fear, Escape by Bronwyn Mehan is up next (and I swear she was around last year too or is that my imagination?). Lynette Washington of The Clothesline has reviewed this collection (edited by Mehan) of short stories by several different and very well known authors. She tells us that some are shorter than expected, some redefined what story means for her and some made her giggle. With 29 in the collection, you have nearly thirty different places to be transported to so have a read of this anthology.

And finally, as we wait for water to boil so we can warm ourselves with hot chocolate and mope till September comes around, we have Helen Garner‘s True Stories, reviewed by S’hi D’Amour. And as we nod to ourselves and pick it up to pass the time with, we find that she has something important to tell us – that it is winter and to those of us who aren’t winter people, it’s wet, dreary and miserable and cold. But, she reminds us, others find it a welcome change and while we may dream of leaving on jetplanes, in truth our lives are journeys too, taking us to new places in more than a physical sense and we don’t buy souvenirs, we tell stories instead to remember, commemorate and celebrate where we have been.

And where we will be.

Especially when winter is over and a September spring graces us.

And my apologies for the slight delay – some of us may still be mentally in other timezones. *looks innocent*

About me
Image
Marisa Wikramanayake is a freelance journalist, writer and editor. She published her first book at 17, has lived on three different continents, been in ground zero of a bomb blast twice and is currently hibernating in Perth, Australia. She’s also been freaked out by the Scientologists, helped run a national publishing conference for the Society of Editors (WA) and currently sits on the WA Media Alliance committee. She is dangerous when bored, having terrorised educational institutions to finish an Honours thesis on Archaeology and a Masters thesis on Neuroscience and Science Communication. She penned book reviews for The West and science news and now writes and edits novels and dreams of fun cross platform media projects in the spare time that’s left over after painting, dancing, gaming and mentoring. She contributes her two cents as non-fiction editor at Australian Women Writers and lends her geek goddess expertise to the Guys Read Gals project. Feel free to badger her at her blog at  marisa.com.au, onFacebook or tweet at her at @mwikramanayake

July 2014 Roundup: Diversity

When, in an interview with Indigenous author Ambelin Kwaymullina for our focus on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women writers over July, I asked what books by Indigenous authors we should be reading, Ambelin replied, ‘all of them.’  For non-Indigenous writers, reading these stories is the ‘only way to begin to grasp the diversity and complexity of the lives of Indigenous women.’

Swallow the AirAs our reviewers powered on into the second half of the year, it was great to see them absorbing and thinking about such stories. Marilyn of Me, You and Books and Sue of Whispering Gums both reviewed Tara June Winch’s Swallow the Air.  As Sue notes, this collected of loosely-tied stories about a young Indigenous girl trying to find her place and identity ‘is “political” in the way that most indigenous writing can’t help but be’ but at its centre ‘is a searching heart, for May has been cast adrift by the suicide of her mother.’ However, although it is a work about Indigenous identity, its themes are also universal, as Marilyn writes, ‘[Winch] seems to understand the current conditions of Indigenous life and to be able to write from an Indigenous perspective.   At the same time she has created a story that resonates with all of us who have ever wanted to belong somewhere. In doing so, Winch  has written a story which is both specific and universal.  For me, such narratives are essential to good literature.  May is a whole person, never reduced to her ethnicity.’  As well as this, the writing is ‘deliciously poetic,’ as Sue notes, with Marilyn adding that ‘Her sentences have bite and power.’

power-of-bones-mailmanMeanwhile, Yvonne of Stumbling Through the Past reviewed Keelen Mailman’s memoir The Power of Bones. Mailman ‘had a hard childhood and a poor education but she has risen from this to be the first Aboriginal woman to run a commercial cattle station. This book is a lesson in never writing a person off, no matter how bleak their background appears to be.’ As Yvonne elaborates, despite abuse and violence, Mailman worked hard and took care of her family, ‘represented herself at court in order to gain custody of her sister’s children even though it scared her and she had never been involved with courts in her life. She raised her sister’s children as well as her own and made sure they had better education than she had. She fixed cars and fences without any formal training or work experience. Keelen Mailman is courageous.’

Nalini Hayes of Dark Matter Zine was also inspired by Mailman’s story, and penned an account of her interview with Mailman, which reveals the intricacies (or, perhaps, contortions) of Native Title, something Yvonne also touched on in her review.

KayangAndMeScottBrownHaving read Marilyn’s review of Kayang and Me for the AWW Challenge last year, I decided to pick up this book, which was a dialogue between WA Indigenous author Kim Scott and his elder, Kayang Hazel, whom he grew to know as he was looking for information about his family. I loved the sound of the Noongar language and Scott’s nuanced considerations of identity, and like Marilyn I included this book in the challenge because of Hazel’s strong, straight-talking voice.

TiddasIt was fab to see another review of Anita Heiss’ Tiddas popping up again. Lynette Washington thought that in this story of five friends, or ‘tiddas’ in Brisbane, ‘Heiss strikes a nice balance between typical chick-lit subject matter (friendship, careers, romance and shopping) and race-related subject matter (racism, discrimination, cultural expectations on Aboriginal women from within their communities, inter-race marriage and connection to country).’ She also particularly appreciated Heiss’ focus on the positive aspects of Aboriginal culture.

These reviews amply demonstrate Ambelin’s observation that there is a wide range of stories and genres written by Indigenous women writers which testify to the complexity and strength of their lives. Do keep engaging with them!

a change of skies - yasmine gooneratneThere were also a handful of reviews of women writers of diverse heritage.  Marilyn reviewed Yasmine Goonerante’s 1991 novel A Change of Skies about an upper class couple that migrates from Sri Lanka to Sydney in the 1960s. The novel details how the move changes the couple, including the Anglicisation of their names and the careers they build, but Marilyn felt it glossed over the pain migration can bring.

after darkness - christine piperJane of GoodReads reviewed Vogel award winner Christine Piper’s After Darkness about a Japanese doctor who emigrates to Broome and is interred in a prisoner of war camp at the outbreak of World War Two. She found it uneven in places, but enjoyed the ‘accomplished writing and many beautifully described moments of joy and despair’.

Foreign-soil-clarkeMaxine Beneba Clarke’s book of short stories, Foreign Soil, was reviewed by Lou Heinrich in the Newtown Review of Books.  An Australian writer of Afro-Caribbean descent, Clarke’s work ‘throws racism in our faces, and adds complexity to societal stereotypes.’ Her stories capture accents and cultures, and ‘gives space to people often ignored.’ After reading Lou’s review, I’ve added this book to my TBR pile.

thornwoodhouse-romerIt was also really good to see a review of a book that features a deaf character – Anna Romer’s Thornwood House, reviewed by Rochelle.  A mystery set in rural Australia, the love interest uses sign language and, as Rochelle writes, that’s a ‘Plus one for diversity’!

On that note, next month we’ll be holding a focus on Australian women writers with disability, with guest posts from Honey Brown, Donna McDonald, Kate Richards and myself. I have also put together a list of Australian Women Writers with disability. If you know of any such writers who should be on the list, please mention them in the comments!

 

About Me

JessI’m Jessica White, a novelist and researcher, and I’ve been deaf since age 4 when I lost most of my hearing from meningitis.  I have a PhD from the University of London and have published two novels with Penguin, A Curious Intimacy (2007) and Entitlement (2012).  I’ve recently received funding from the Australia Council’s new Artists With Disability program to write my third novel, The Sea Creatures.  You can find more information about me at my website.  I’m also on Twitter @ladyredjess.

Children’s and Young Readers: Round Up Four (2014) – and bonus Children’s Book of the Year Awards!

Happy Book Week!

As children (and teachers and authors) around the country get out their best book-related costumes, I wanted to take a moment to celebrate the Australian Women Writers who featured among the winners and honours at the Children’s Book of the Year Awards.

wildlifeWildlife by Fiona Wood won the Older Readers section which was primarily reviewed last year. Belle’s Bookshelf described it as a book you can really relate to:

Wildlife is pretty much the perfect teen book. It is so incredibly realistic, while also being touching and inspiring. It’s a fun, easy read, but it also explores very important and deep issues. It will make you feel happy and sad and worried and excited and so many things all at once. It will tear you apart into tiny pieces, before patching you up again, just as whole, but not quite the same.

Wildlife was also reviewed here and here.

The Honour books in the Older Readers section were also written by Australian women. Faith described Fairytales for Wilde Girls (by Allyse Near) as “a gorgeously lyrical, gruesomely dark concoction“, while Shaheen and Welcome to my Library both talked about the deeply engaging world created in Claire Zorn’s The Sky So Heavy.

In the Younger Readers section, Catherine Jinks won for City of Orphans:A Very Unusualjinks unusual pursuit PursuitWelcome to my Library talks of how Jinks “has painted pictures with her words of Victorian London” while Amanda Curtin talks about how the main character is written:

The orphan Birdie is a beautifully realised, wholly believable character. Jinks arms her with a Victorian version of ‘girl power’ that would resonate strongly with young female readers especially (although the book’s appeal is wider than that), but she never breaches the boundaries of plausibility. Birdie is gutsy and forthright but always within the context of her time and place, her social position.

Light Horse Boy by Dianne Wolfer was an Honour Book in this category.

Other winners include The Swap by Jan Ormerod in the Early Childhood section with I’m a Dirty Dinosaur by Janeen Brian and Banjo and Ruby Red by Libby Gleeson being awarded Honours. In the Eve Pownall Award for Information section, Welcome To My Country by Laklak Burarrwanga and Family was an Honours book.

~~

The Treasure BoxThere weren’t a large number of children’s books reviewed over the last two months, but I wanted to highlight two reviews from A Strong Belief in Wicker which focused on picture books. The first was The Treasure Box, from the prolific author Margaret Wild (and the equally prolific illustrator, Freya Blackwood)

The Treasure Box raises issues of war, death, refugees and oppression. It also deals with hope, perseverance and the power of the human spirit. Just your average picture book stuff.

This review points out that picture books often stray far beyond ‘traditional’ topics of childhood stories, and that they’re an important medium in bringing diverse and important stories to readers. Picture books do not often appear among the reviews for the Australian Women Writers Challenge, which is a pity since they are quick to read and often have so many layers to discuss. (The Treasure Box was on the short-list for the Children’s Book of the Year awards)

The second book was A House for Donfinkle by new author Choechoe Brereton.a house for donfinkle - choechoe brereton

A House for Donfinkle  is an extraordinary, sparkling gem that teaches kids the importance of sticking to your guns and standing up for your taste in a fun, rhyming, and non-preachy way. Adults will recognise the dangers of committees, and the beauty and simplicity of a singular vision.

Seeing two reviews of books I have not come across – although I have a toddler and frequently spend time looking through the picture book section of the library – reminds me how important word of mouth, through reviews, recommendations and conversation, is when it comes to children’s books. Children’s books often get less review space than adults books and when they do receive space, this is often criticised by those who feel that children’s books are not ‘worthy’ of review. It’s librarians (in schools and public libraries), book sellers, teachers, parents and reviewers who help children’s books get out into the world – and help to get the right book into the right hands. And when we get the right books into the right hands – we can help to create readers.

I challenge everyone to read and review a picture book or children’s book by an Australian women writer in the next few months. There is some absolutely extraordinary work being done in this area, and we can support it so easily.

~~

About Me

I’ve had a strong interest in children’s fiction since Grade 1 when a fabulous teacher bribed me with Famous Five novels. I continued reading Melina Dchildren’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 and sporadically blogging over at Adventures of a Subversive Reader

Looking beyond the labels: Kirsten Krauth interviews author Tara Moss

Moss Fictional WomanAt the recent Sydney Writers’ Festival, crime fiction writer Tara Moss appeared on a panel with Irvine Welsh and Damon Young, talking about writing the body. As she held her new memoir ‘The Fictional Woman’ up to the audience, I was drawn immediately to the cover, a close up of her face, with labels written on in black: Dumb Blonde mingling with Feminist, Model with Bleeding Heart.

It started me thinking about the names I’ve been called, especially when I was a teenager, and how they’ve defined or ignored the essential parts of me – and how often they were contradictory, exposing the labels as fabrications.

Here are some that people have aimed and fired at me (friends, bosses, family, boys yelling out of cars as they drove past): Stupid Girl; Aloof; Too Nice; Passive; Aggressive; Party Animal; Desperate; Brainy; Up Yourself; Leso; Ugly Dog.

It’s a good list, isn’t it? It feels quite liberating to throw them out there. And these are just the ones that have stuck with me. What are yours?

In her memoir, Tara Moss looks beyond the surface to examine the fictions that surround her (and other women), tracing her life as a teen model then writer, and the way she sees herself versus how others perceive her. I spoke to Tara about personal fictions, public perceptions of women’s bodies and feminism’s place in contemporary culture.

*Although you have written lots of fiction, your first nonfiction book is called ‘The Fictional Woman’. Why did you decide to call it that?

‘The Fictional Woman’ centres on the stereotypes, limiting labels or ‘fictions’ that hold people back. It is an issue that has impacted a number of groups along the lines of race, class and other categorisations, but the book specifically focusses on how this reductive labelling has impacted women and men along the lines of gender. I highlight the issues using some of my own personal experiences in the book, along with other people’s stories, wide-ranging data and a look at the historical context of these experiences. As mainstream films are arguably our most dominant form of storytelling today, I also explore the way in which women in particular are fictionalised in line with archaic archetypes, and how, incredibly, of the top grossing films 91% of directors are men, 85% of writers are men, 98% of cinematographers are men and so on, shaping what stories are told and from what perspective.

*How was the writing process different from your crime fiction?

I have always been very motivated by research, statistics and data, though obviously in my crime novels I approached issues of violence and social justice through fiction. The process of writing non-fiction is very different, but as I had been writing OpEds, blogs and advocacy work for a few years, and was also working on my doctorate in social sciences, a full length non-fiction book on the issues I am passionate about seemed like a natural progression. The addition of endnotes was a necessary part of ‘The Fictional Woman’ but I needed to spend a lot of time on collating that data.

*Did you feel like an investigator looking into your own past, searching for clues, for what was concealed?

I knew my own story very well – some experiences really stay with you – so there was little research needed for the memoir components. What I did do was to send any draft chapters dealing with family to all of the people who were mentioned in those chapters. My mother’s death, for instance, was not simply my story to tell. It was my father’s story too, and my sister’s story, so I consulted with them for that section and any section dealing with my childhood. The memoir component of the book was necessary to the story I wanted to tell and the way I needed to tell it, but it only makes up about 10% of the overall book.

*The striking cover features labels written on your face like ‘Dumb Blonde’ and ‘Brainy’. How liberating was it to acknowledge and bring these labels to light?

I chose those labels or ‘fictions’ and the idea for the cover because it seemed like the most raw, honest and authentic way to represent the book between the pages. My face, my fictions. Everyone has labels that have been hung on them, and those ones on the cover are mine. Some of the terms are positive or dictionary-accurate (feminist, mother, wife) while some are blatantly false and pejorative, but all of the words are labels applied to me and all of the words bring their own baggage and assumptions. Everyone has their version of these labels – men, women and school children.

*Why have you encouraged other women (and men) to write labels on their faces too?

The idea of visually expressing labels (and then washing them off, which can feel quite liberating) came naturally. The first person to do it once ‘The Fictional Woman’ came out was book reviewer and author John Purcell. We talked for a while about what fictions had haunted him, and he had me write them on his face. (There is a video here.)

At the book launch for ‘The Fictional Woman’, makeup artists helped people to apply labels relevant to them. A Facebook page was even started and a wide range of people have taken part.

*The book moves between memoir and broader feminist issues, framed by a series of themes. Why did you decide to structure it in this way?

‘The Fictional Woman’ found its structure organically, albeit with a lot of hard work and research. I wanted to create a book that was accessible, enjoyable to read, but also had something to say. Because there are so many issues to discuss, and because I was using some memoir as a jumping off point, it made sense to structure the book in an essentially chronological way, touching on each issue in its own chapter.

*You mention a number of very personal stories in the book, including a scene where you were raped, and your experience of miscarriage. You wrote that you were initially uncertain about whether to include these stories. What made you change your mind?

It became clear to me that if I was to continue to move into the area of advocacy for women and children, as I have been doing in recent years, I could not avoid the discussion of violence against women, as it is such a prevalent and serious issue. And I could not in good faith address that issue without also sharing my own stories, because one of the arguments I make is that the stigma and silence around sexual assault and harassment is damaging to individuals and the general community. I wanted to show solidarity with others who had these experiences – sexual assault, miscarriage, and other difficult but common experiences. There are many of us. 1 in 3 women will be physically or sexually assaulted in their lifetime and about a fifth to a quarter of known pregnancies end in miscarriage, so these are issues that must be discussed and issues that we need to get better at dealing with. I am not arguing that everyone needs to tell their story, and certainly not in such a public way. You need to do what you need to do to cope. But in my case, because of my advocacy work, it was a natural progression to share my own experience in the context of the much broader issues.

*The book forced me to question my own judgements, what I tend to sum-up about people after taking a cursory glance. How do you step away from such quick judgements?

We all do it, but we can lessen our biases and assumptions by simply trying. Awareness can be powerful. When we are aware of our biases and the historical contexts for them, we are more easily able to reject lazy assumptions.

*Much of the harrowing early part of the book is about your experiences as a teen model, often isolated and sometimes in real danger. Why do you think there was no system in place at the time to support and help you? Has it changed now?

The modelling industry is an industry – a business. It is essentially about making money and as such the industry in general is not particularly concerned with the health and wellbeing of those working in the industry. Thankfully there are many individual people and individual businesses with high ethical standards, but a model does not generally work for a single business, but rather for a different client on practically every job, and often in different countries, so standards vary enormously. Notably, there is no modelling union I am aware of. There wasn’t at the time I was modelling and I am not aware of one now. Without collective bargaining there is little hope that working conditions will improve significantly across territories. Working conditions, particularly for underage models, need to be addressed more effectively.

*Your statistics outlined in the book and arguments reveal a world where the fight for equal rights still has a long way to go. What are the crucial next steps along this path, as you see them?

Activism and awareness are needed on many fronts, including but not limited to prevention of violence against women and domestic violence, creating more equal pay, preventing discrimination in the work place, addressing problems in superannuation and savings for older women, childcare, valuing unpaid care (which is extremely important for the community and is disproportionately performed by women), allowing women greater access to positions of power without stigma and allowing men to engage in flexible work and unpaid care without stigma.

*Your chapter on mothering and childbirth had particular resonance for me (I also went the CalmBirth way!). Why do you think women are increasingly afraid of childbirth?

There needs to be a better balance between quality, accessible specialist medical care where needed, quality midwifery care, and informed choice. Many experts working in maternity have expressed concern about the balance as it stands. The studies I drew on in that chapter pointed to the culture within a given health care system as being a significant factor in both health outcomes and what is known as ‘extreme’ birth fear, along with popular media portrayals that naturally focus on the worst possible scenarios for dramatic reasons. That conclusion seems to bear out in the different attitudes encountered in different countries. People’s birth experiences vary enormously, the subject can be a very sensitive one, people can find themselves judged viciously, and unfortunately the remaining taboos around birth make it difficult to get a balanced view.

*Women’s bodies can be seen as public property. This is often particularly the case for young women and pregnant women, where strangers approach and sometimes feel they have the right to touch. What can women do in these situations to assert themselves?

One of the most important moments in my life was when I realised that I cared more for my own dignity and sense of self than I did trying to please everyone all the time. That meant that I didn’t care if it upset someone to be told that they could not touch me, or that I did not accept their point of view. There has unfortunately been a history of women’s bodies literally being the property of others, and bodily autonomy remains a battle in some ways. It may not always be easy, but it is always worth it.

*I’m interested in the grey area between what girls/women would like to say and what they end up saying and doing in the moment. How do you think we can bring up girls to be more assertive, to express their sexuality confidently, and to move beyond the surface impressions?

There are still some negative stereotypes, or ‘fictions’ about assertive girls and women. We need to reject the idea that girls who simply want to participate in life are ‘bossy’ or leaders are ‘dragon ladies’ or ‘ice queens’ simply for being women and doing their jobs. There is a cultural shift still happening and cultural attitudes often lag behind actual changes in the law. For instance, women in Australia had the right to vote and stand for office 22 years before any woman actually did enter federal parliament, the longest lag of any western country, and incredibly, this right to vote was not extended to Indigenous women until 1962 (see Australian Women in Politics). We need to realise that just because something is, doesn’t mean it is right. We can challenge our own assumptions about what is possible, and challenge the assumptions of others.

That is part of what ‘The Fictional Woman’ is about, creating change by starting from within, challenging our own assumptions and refusing to participate in the limiting and damaging stereotyping of women and girls, and others.

~

just-a-girl-krauthKirsten Krauth is a writer and editor who lives in Castlemaine.

Her first novel just_a_girl was published in 2013 and she describes it as ‘Lolita with a webcam’.

You can hear Kirsten talking about girls growing up too fast, and writing novels for grown-ups with teenage themes, on ABC Radio National’s Life Matters and Books & Arts Daily.

~

AWW founder, Elizabeth Lhuede, would like to acknowledge Tara Moss as the inspiration for the creation of the AWW challenge. Without Tara’s original blog post in 2011 wrapping up the Sisters in Crime conference – and the outrage it generated – the AWW challenge and blog wouldn’t exist.

AWW2014 Crime Roundup #3

 

As the AWW Challenge’s resident crime correspondent I have been woefully and inexcusably inactive in recent months but at least I have emerged from the ether at a great time to celebrate crime writing by Australian women. The Ned Kelly Awards are the country’s premier awards for crime writers and women writers have fared well in this year’s shortlists. In the Best Fiction category books by Australian women occupy three of six spots and the news is equally good for the Best First Fiction category where women writers take two of the four spots. For the Best True Crime category there are five books with one being authored by two women and another being co-authored by a female and male author. Let’s see what AWW reviewers have made of the titles.

In the Best Fiction category the shortlisted novels by women are

fatal-impact-foxKathryn Fox’s Fatal Impact takes her series heroine to Tasmania in a forensic thriller in which dead bodies take a back seat to the very topical issue of food security. So far I’m the only one to have reviewed the book for AWW and I said

It takes real skill to produce a ripper of a yarn that is at the same time thought-provoking. To additionally depict more than one view of a complex issue is even more rare and I applaud Fox for pulling it off. She does so mainly through depicting her central protagonist as not being completely informed about food politics at the outset of the book and allowing her to meet various experts and opinion-holders on both sides of the fence. As the novel progresses she draws her own conclusions based on the facts and information she collects (a radical concept in this age of shock-jock spouted mumbo-jumbo masquerading as knowledge)…I thoroughly enjoyed this novel and recommend it highly. It is full of surprises, never lets up its frenetic pace, provides much food for thought (pun intended) and is entirely able to be read without any prior knowledge of the series.

BeamsFallingPMNewtonP.M. Newton’s Beams Falling is set in the recent past and features an Australian-Vietnamese police woman recovering from trauma. The book has been reviewed 8 times in the challenge so far including by Yvonne Perkins who wrote

Newton excels in writing about place. Her books are not about the bells and sparkles façade that Sydney likes to parade to the rest of the world. They are about grungy Sydney, the real Sydney that most residents have to live in. There is no glamour here, but the truth of the parked car that expels over-heated, stale air when someone opens the door; the crowded train stations; the broken people; the ugly, unloved buildings of neglected suburbs.

In addition to grabbing yourself a copy of this excellent novel you should also check out the interview Challenge founder Elizabeth Lhuede carried out in May with Pam Newton.

the-dying-beach-angela-savageAngela Savage’s The Dying Beach features an ex-pat Australian working as a private detective in Thailand who investigates the death of a tour guide. The book was reviewed over at Whispering Gums where crime fiction is a rare sight, as is hinted at by the review’s final paragraph

The Dying Beach is a compelling page-turner that also makes some points about cultural difference and tolerance, the challenge of tourism, and the complexity of environmental management in developing countries. It achieves this without, to the best of my admittedly limited knowledge, deviating dramatically from the conventions of its genre. And that is a good thing, because the result is the sort of novel that could appeal to a cross-over audience. The challenge, though, is how to get readers, like me for example, to cross over.

I love it when we get a convert.

Turning to the Best First Fiction category the shortlisted novels by women are

everybreath-marneyEllie Marney’s Every Breath has not been reviewed during this year’s challenge but the young adult novel featuring two Melbourne teens who investigate a crime received an enthusiastic review at Speculating on Specfic last year

Every Breath is an engaging crime thriller that most will enjoy, especially because of its rich setting, exciting plot and great characters. I’m glad there are more books to come about Mycroft and Watts, because I’m not ready to let them go yet! I’ll be eagerly looking forward to the sequels!

hades foxCandice Fox’s Hades is a dark tale of a hunt for a serial killer and the twisted personal history of one of his hunters. It has attracted four reviews this year including one at Book’d Out

The pace is compelling, the writing tight and concise and the tension high from the novel’s first pages. It builds to a stunning climax that left me breathless and eager for more…Hades is is a gripping and exciting read journeying into a atmospheric underworld of Sydney.

Unfortunately neither of the shortlisted true crime books with female authors have attracted the attention of AWW reviewers (yet) but the novels are

  • No Mercy by Eleanor Learmonth & Jenny Tabakoff who outline the physical and neurological changes that typically affect the victims of disaster. Then, using true stories from history as case studies, they investigate the scenario famously imagined by William Golding in Lord of the Flies and borne out by the extraordinary Robbers Cave experiments of the 1950’s
  • Forever Mine by John Kidman & Denise Hofman which chronicles the abduction and murder of Sydney schoolgirl Samantha Knight, who seemingly vanished into thin air from busy Bondi Road, in the late afternoon of August 1986.

The Ned Kelly Award winners will be announced in a ceremony as part of the Brisbane Writers Festival on the 6th of September. Good luck to all.

♣ ♣ ♣ ♣ ♣ ♣ ♣ ♣ ♣

ThroughTheCracksHoneyBrownAs far as regular reviewing goes the most popular novel since the last roundup has been Honey Brown’s Through the Cracks which is an unconventional crime novel about a boy emerging from years of abuse. At Sam Still Reading the book’s confronting sensibility is summed up nicely

Through the Cracks is not a cushy, comfortable read – let’s get that out of the way first. You won’t be chuckling to yourself as you read this – in fact, you’re more likely to be squirming in your seat as your mind conjures the images that Honey Brown suggests has happened to her protagonists. It’s a well written novel, but it deals with subject matter that most of us are fortunate not to have any experience with. It’s a book that you’ll feel slightly guilty for racing through the pages, trying to work out if someone, anyone, gets their happy ending

Dancing on Knives Kate ForsythA review that really stood out for me from the recent batch was of Kate Forsyth’s Dancing on Knives, a novel about an agoraphobic girl living in terror, over at The Opal Octapus

I love the way that Dancing on Knives is about how the most ‘fragile’ person can be the only one holding things together. The book is thoroughly food-infused (and definitely needs a recipe glossary!). Others have critiqued it for its gently moseying pace. Sure, it’s not a driving thriller, but you don’t read a Forsyth for the page-turniness. It is less a speedboat ride and more a paddle-steamer meander through a sublime, dark forest. With Spanish food.

Talk about a review which really gives you a sense of how the book affected the reader!

what came before - anna georgeAnd one of this year’s ‘big things’, Anna George’s What Came Before, which is the story of a man who admits to killing his wife, has garnered its share of attention from AWW participants including at All The Books I Can Read

What Came Before is a gripping insight into domestic violence and showcases how a strong and confident woman like Elle can find herself in a situation where she’s enmeshed with a man such as David, who has temper and alcohol issues, who manipulates and justifies his every action

♣ ♣ ♣ ♣ ♣ ♣ ♣ ♣ ♣

 


If you’re after some ideas of more crime/mystery/thriller or true crime books to read then head over to the genre’s reviews page for this year’s challenge to see what else is being discussed or check out the previous roundups for this review category


About Me

I’m Bernadette Bean. I’ve been reading avidly for as long as I can remember, blogging about reading since late 2008 at Reactions to Reading and co-hosting Fair Dinkum Crime, a site devoted to promoting and discussing Australian crime fiction, for the past couple of years. I read and reviewed 18 books as part of my own participation in the 2012 challenge. Some of them weren’t even crime novels!

July 2014 Roundup: Classics and Literary

July might be the depths of winter here in Australia but the challenge was running hot with reviews posted aplenty, at least in my little corner of the world. July was also significant for the announcement of the National Biography Award, and the Nita Kibble and Dobbie Literary Awards. These awards are all for “life writing”, though the National Biography Award is limited to biography, autobiography and memoir, while the other two are open to both fiction and non-fiction.

Joyful July

LostAndFoundBrookeDavisIf June was great with 39 Lit-Classic reviews posted, then July was even better with 46. Way to go team! Can we break the half-century next month?

The highlights are:

  • Eight reviews (nearly 20% of the total) were posted this month for books published ten or more years ago, of which two were identified as “classics”.
  • Brooke Davis’ debut novel, Lost & Found, which is being touted as this year’s publishing sensation, received 7 reviews within the first month of its publication. Publisher Hachette is clearly doing an excellent job of promoting this author and getting her book out there.
  • Two authors received four reviews during the month: Evie Wyld for her Miles Franklin winning All the birds, singing, and Helen Garner for different works, ranging across her oeuvre.
  • Our most prolific reviewer for July was Sh’i D’Amour with 7 reviews, followed by last month’s leader, Jane Rawson, with 3 reviews. Several reviewers posted 2 reviews. It’s encouraging to see such commitment to the challenge continuing into this, our third year.

The Classics

New works featured in this month’s classics reviewed. One, Katherine Susannah Prichard’s Coonardoo, reviewed by Sh’i D’Amour, is a well-known work. It jointly won, with M. Barnard Eldershaw’s A House is Built, the first Bulletin novel prize in 1929. Sh’i D’Amour writes that it is a book that should be better known, not only because of the way it deals with indigenous relationship with white Australia but for its coverage of other issues such as immigration and domestic violence. D’Amour has some reservations about Prichard’s approach to presenting Coonardoo’s story but concludes positively, arguing that:

It is only by our ability to overcome our own silences that we may reach out to each other with new understanding and new behaviours and attitudes. Let us make the attempt. And let us use such tools as Katherine Susannah Prichard has provided for us to help us along the arduous way.

The Kayles of Bushy Lodge An Australian Story Vera G. DwyerThe second work is a real surprise, Vera Dwyer’s The Kayles of Bushy Lodge. Few Australians, I expect, would have heard of Vera Dwyer, let alone read her. Not so, however, our reviewer Debbie Robson, who writes this:

A little way in, much to my surprise, I discovered that Dwyer’s novel is that rare thing – a novel set during WWI and written only a number of years later! A find indeed. The book’s timeframe is after the Australian soldiers have arrived on the Western Front but the novel’s main concerns are with the families left behind on the home front.

Robson finishes her review saying that it has “a surprisingly modern ending. This book is a delight and deserves to be read by a wide audience”.

Life writing

TheAmbitionsOfJaneFranklinAlisonAlexanderLife writing has been increasingly recognised in recent decades as a legitimate form or genre, and is now a subject of serious scholarship. It encompasses all types of writing about a life or lives, in either fictional or non-fictional form, and can include biography, autobiography, memoir, letters, diaries, oral histories, and so on. We have several awards in Australia devoted to the field, of which those mentioned in my opening paragraph are but three. In July, Tasmanian historian Alison Alexander was announced as the winner of the National Biography Award with her book The Ambitions of Jane Franklin: Victorian Lady Adventurer. It has been reviewed twice for the challenge, the second time being this month by Sh’i D’Amour. D’Amour had some quibbles with how Alexander handles Franklin’s not aligning herself with feminism. She enjoyed, however, the story of Franklin, an “intrepid” person, which she defines as having the “ability to see the world differently than most other people around them”.

The winner of the Kibble Literary Award for an established author was Kristina Olsson for Boy Lost: A Family Memoir, while the Dobbie Literary Award for a first published author was won by Kate Richards for Madness: A Memoir. Both winning books happen, this year, to be memoirs though fictional works have won in the past – and both have been reviewed for the challenge, though not this month. Paula Grunseit, our awards co-ordinator, wrote a post on these two books and their awards in July.

Older books

joe-cinques-consolation-helen-garnerAs I noted under highlights, I was pleased to see a greater than usual number of older books being reviewed this month. While it is important to support new writers and new works by established writers, it is also critical to the depth of our literary culture that we keep reviewing older works. In July, eight books published 10 or more years ago were reviewed. In addition to the two classics, they include four works by Helen Garner, reviewed by Maureen Helen (2) and Sh’i D’Amour (2), Louise Allen’s review of Joan London’s wonderful Gilgamesh and mine of Sara Dowse’s LA-set novel, Schemetime.

In her review of Garner’s Joe Cinque’s Consolation, Helen briefly discusses the form of the work, “narrative non-fiction”, in which “fact-based stories” are presented in a “compelling narrative” drawn, in Garner’s case, from “her own experience of court hearings, archival research and ‘real-world’ interviews”. Helen describes the book as:

a skilfully written, compelling and very uncomfortable story in which Helen Garner attempts to honour the young man, Joe Cinque, victim of a senseless crime, and his family.

Gilgamesh Joan LondonGarner’s third court-case based novel, The House of Grief, is to be published this year.

As I did, when I read it a decade or so ago, Louise Allen “absolutely loved” London’s Gilgamesh. A work of historical fiction set in Western Australia and Armenia between the two World Wars, Gilgamesh, says Allen,

can be enjoyed at any level of sophistication. On the surface, it’s an epic story of a young girl’s travels, yet it’s also a multi-layered literary text. It’s one of the best Australian novels I’ve ever read—a masterpiece.

Sara Dowse’s Schemetime is set in LA in the late 1960s and explores the clash of idealism with money – amongst creators (mainly filmmakers), political campaigners, lawyers and businessmen. The main character is an Australian with a dream of making an artistic film, but he has to raise the money to do so. This is a visual novel, capturing something of the way a camera sees. Dowse’s writing is crisp and evocative, and her characters engaging. Unlike Gilgamesh and Garner’s books, Schemetime is not well known, but as a thoughtful book about a significant era, I’d argue that it is well worth the read.

I have of course 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.

———————

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.

YA Speculative Fiction Round-Up: Jun-Jul 2014

Welcome to the June and July round up of YA Speculative Fiction!

Razorhurst LARBALESTIER Justine book coverThe setting: Razorhurst, 1932. The fragile peace between two competing mob bosses — Gloriana Nelson and Mr Davidson — is crumbling. Loyalties are shifting. Betrayals threaten.

Kelpie knows the dangers of the Sydney streets. Ghosts have kept her alive, steering her to food and safety, but they are also her torment.

The most popular book during June and July, with four reviews, was Razorhurst by Justine Larbalestier. Dark Matter Zine says “Homelessness, violence, morality – what makes you good or bad – are features of this 24-hour tale, which is far superior to the 24 of television. Engaging characters walk into the lion’s den while I hold my breath, anticipating ghosts bearing witness or cold dead-eyed killers extracting razors.”

Tsana @ Tsana’s Reads and Reviews also loved the book, saying “Larbalestier has a way of revealing information gradually that worked really well for me … I highly recommend Razorhurst to pretty much everyone. Well, not younger-than-YA readers, since there’s several short bursts of acute violence”

Similarly, my review reads: “Razorhurst is a brilliantly crafted story that will keep you flipping pages until the wee hours of the morning, despite being slightly lighter in speculative fiction elements than what I usually read.”

Dark Matter Zine also recapped the launch of Razorhurst, which looked like a lot of fun!

Skyfire Skye Melki-Wegner book coverWhat if you achieve everything you’ve dreamed of – and it turns into a nightmare?

The conclusion to the Chasing the Valley trilogy will reveal explosive surprises and terrifying new dangers.

Skye Melki-Wegner’s books have also been popular this month. Skyfire (Chasing the Valley #3) was released in July, and Tsana reviewed Skyfire by Skye Melki-Wegner, and said “Chasing the Valley is an excellent series. All three books have been very close to being five stars.” while The Opal Octopus praises it: “a ripping adventure with excellent pacing. The lively stakes-raising gives momentum to the story that persists to the last page. I love the worldbuilding in this series, and the slow elaboration of the magic system.”

The second book of this series, Borderlands, was also reviewed by Tsana, who pronounced it as “Unputdownable”! She continues, “As soon as I started reading Borderlands, I was wondering why I hadn’t picked it up sooner (it’s been out for 6 months). Oh well, at least I don’t have to wait to read the third book, which has just come out.”

The Caller Marillier JulietNeryn has made a long journey to perfect her skills as a Caller. She has learned the wisdom of water and of earth; she has journeyed to the remote isles of the west and the forbidding mountains of the north. Now, Neryn must travel in Alban’s freezing winter to seek the mysterious White Lady, Guardian of Air. For only when Neryn has been trained by all four Guardians will she be ready to play her role in toppling the tyrannical King Keldec.

The Shadowfell series by Juliet Marillier also finished recently with the publication of The Caller. Shelleyrae @ Book’d Out calls it a “rewarding conclusion”, citing that “[o]ne of the strengths of this series has been Marillier’s characterisation of the principles, Neryn and Flint and their struggle to reconcile their own conscience and behaviour with their need to serve the greater good.” I also sing praises of this series in my review, lamenting that “[w]hen I turned the last page of this book, I couldn’t help but be sad. I’ve grown to love the characters in the Shadowfell series and the world they live in, and I’ve found it hard to say goodbye.”

The first book in this series, Shadowfell, was also reviewed by Faith @ Beyond the Dreamline, who unfortunately did not enjoy it as much as Marillier’s other works but did enjoy “Marillier’s attention to everyday detail”.

Shimmer Paula WestonGaby thought her life couldn’t get more complicated.

She’s almost used to the idea that she’s not the nineteen-year-old backpacker she thought she was. She can just about cope with being one of the Rephaim – a 140-year-old half-angel – whose memories have been stolen. She’s even coming to grips with the fact that Jude, the brother she’s mourned for a year, didn’t die at all.

But now Rafa—sexy, infuriating Rafa—is being held, and hurt, by Gatekeeper demons. And Gaby has to get the bitterly divided Rephaim to work together, or Rafa has no chance at all.

It’s a race against time – and history. And it may already be too late.

The third book in Paula Weston’s The Rephaim series was also released recently, and it’s been getting some good buzz. Chiara @ Books for a Delicate Eternity said “I loved the Australian-ness of the book. I loved reading that Gaby missed the eucalypts outside of her home in Pan Beach. For some reason, it just makes me feel a lot closer to the characters.” I also loved it: “Paula Weston is the queen of cliff-hanger endings, and this one’s going to blow your mind! I have absolutely loved reading Shimmer, and can’t praise The Rephaim series highly enough. This book won’t disappoint fans of the vivid world that Weston has created with an Australian backdrop!”

Carrier Vanessa Garden16 year old Lena has lived all her life on a property in outback Western Australia. She’s never been outside the fence, and has never met anyone other than her overbearing mother, and late father and cousin. Life on the property is lonely, and Lena decides it’s time to leave, just for a little while, to see what’s on the other side of the fence. The only problem is that “out there” is the Y-Carrier disease. Carried by men, their only ill effect is a raised, red rash. Women however, die in the most painful way possible. Some speculate that the disease was introduced by a foreign power wanting to weaken Australia’s population before invading. Others think it’s extra-terrestrial in origin. Wherever it came from, there is no cure and cities and towns across Australia have been decimated.

Vanessa Garden’s Carrier was reviewed by Nicole @ Reading Lark, so said “At only 174 pages, Carrier is quite a short book, but it still packs quite a punch. Even the side characters are well developed … Carrier is a highly enjoyable stand-alone novel, and while the door is left open for a sequel, the story is complete in itself.”

Nicole also reviewed Captivate by Vanessa Garden, saying “this is an incredibly enjoyable read with an ending that will leave you shouting, No! I need more!!

Other reviews:

And that’s it for this month! I’ll be back in October with the August and September round-up :) Happy reading!

———————

About Me

Hi! I’m Shaheen from Speculating on SpecFic, a book blog dedicated to works of speculative fiction – fantasy, science fiction, magic realism, paranormal romance and much more. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t love reading and use my blog to peddle my love to others. When not reading (rare times indeed), I can be found completing my PhD in Astronomy and Astrophysics.

Blog | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads

July 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.

Let Her Go by Dawn Barker

let-her-go-barkerHow far would you go to have a family? What would you hide for someone you love?
Confused and desperate, Zoe McAllister boards a ferry to Rottnest Island in the middle of winter holding a tiny baby close to her chest, terrified that her husband will find her or that her sister will call the police.
Years later, a teenage girl, Louise, is found on the island, unconscious and alone.
Flown out for urgent medical treatment, when she recovers she returns home and overhears her parents discussing her past and the choices that they’ve made. Their secrets, slowly revealed, will shatter more than one family and, for Louise, nothing will ever be the same again.

“Barker’s skill as a writer is her ability to develop realistic plots based on complicated issues.  She does this with sensitivity and a balanced understanding of the situation from many points of view.” writes Emily of The Incredible Rambling Elimy. Lauren of The Australian Bookshelf agrees and also commends Barker’s ability to “create characters who are likeable yet flawed, who present with strength and determination on the surface and who have a wealth of uncertainties, fears and doubts lingering deep below.”  The Opal Octopus says “Another thing I adore in a book is a vivid, effective sense of place. Let Her Go is set in Perth/Fremantle, my hometown, and throughout the book the setting plays a part – the layout of the city, how the summer’s heat feels, the native vegetation, and more.

***

Being Jade by Kate Belle

Being Jade - Kate BelleBanjo Murphy is killed on the night he finally walks away from his wife, Jade, after twenty-five years of her adultery. In the aftermath, Banjo is bewildered to discover he still exists, and in despair he watches Jade collapse into deep depression and his daughters, Lissy and Cassandra, struggle with their unexpected loss.
Lissy is tortured by the mystery surrounding her father’s death. What compelled Banjo to leave the night he died? And why won’t Jade talk about what happened? Despite their volatile relationship, Lissy believes her parents’ love to have been enduring, but sensible
Cassandra sees things differently. When Cassy discovers a sketchbook chronicling Jade’s affairs, the truth of their parents’ relationship begins to unfold and Lissy’s loyalties are divided.
Searching for answers, Lissy contacts Jade’s ex-lovers. And watching from afar, Banjo aches as he discovers what these men meant to Jade – until Lissy’s quest reveals an explosive truth … One that will finally set their family free.

“This is such an eloquent, sensual and visually stunning read…” states Carol of Reading, Writing, Reisling. “…a near faultless, emotion-rich portrayal of love, family and the clarity brought by grief.” writes Rowena Holloway. Shelleyrae of Book’d Out concludes her review with “A searing portrait of the complexities of love, intimacy and truth Being Jade is an eloquent and powerful piece of storytelling from author Kate Belle.”

***

Lost & Found by Brooke Davis

LostAndFoundBrookeDavisMillie Bird (aka Captain Funeral), seven-years old and ever hopeful, always wears red gumboots to match her red, curly hair. Her struggling mother leaves Millie in a local department store and never returns.
Agatha Pantha, eighty-two, has not left her house – or spoken to another human being – since she was widowed seven years ago. She fills the silences by yelling at passers by, watching loud static on the TV and maintaining a strict daily schedule.
Karl the Touch Typist, eighty-seven, once used his fingers to type out love notes on his wife’s skin. Now he types his words out into the air as he speaks. Karl is moved into a nursing home but in a moment of clarity and joy, he escapes.
A series of events binds the three together on a road trip that takes them from the south coast of WA to Kalgoorlie and along the Nullarbor to the edge of the continent. Millie wants to find her mum. Karl wants to find out how to be a man. And Agatha just wants everything to go back to how it was.
They will discover that old age is not the same as death, that the young can be wise, and that letting yourself experience sadness just might be the key to life.

“I don’t fall in love with many books. It’s happened maybe 3 or 4 times in the last few years…But I’ve another to add to my list.” says Debbie of DebbishJo of Booklover Book Reviews writesIn Lost & Found Davis has fearlessly unleashed a quirky band of characters on Australian suburbia. She allows the reader to see the world as each of her characters do, through their unique narrative voice as they process what they see before them and reflect upon their lives and the people they have shared them with. Their observations exude a compelling rawness and honesty – a potent mix of the extremes of childlike wonder and world-weary experience.”

***

What Came Before by Anna George

what came before - anna george“David Forrester and Elle Nolan are sophisticated, mature people who don’t understand love. They live in a world where love is revered but marriages commonly end in divorce, or worse.
When jaded lawyer David meets Elle, he decides she’s his last chance of happiness and does everything he can to woo her and keep her. Everything, that is, except face his demons.
Elle, a lawyer herself once but now a blossoming filmmaker, is done with heartbreak. But romance can be intoxicating and David is determined.
Over the course of one ill-fated night, David and Elle recount the journey of their love affair. And it begins with David admitting into his dictaphone to the killing of Elle.
Hovering above her broken body, Elle sees the sweep of her life, its triumphs and its mistakes. She sees how, when she first met David, her newfound success as a filmmaker had made her reckless and her idealised ideas about romance misled her.
As the night progresses, we learn their story of a love of unprecedented intensity; a love David was compelled, at turns, to destroy. A love that Elle has yet to survive.”

“With keen insight and deft characterisation, George exposes the dynamic of domestic violence from the perspective of both abuser and victim.” writes Shelleyrae @ Book’d Out. Monique of Write Note Reviews recommends “… readers who might be triggered by the subject matter to consider how much they will be affected, before diving in; for everyone else, it’s a dark, complex narrative with a profound message that needs to be heard.

***

Simmering Season by Jenn J McLeod

SimmeringSeasonJennMcLeodBack in Calingarry Crossing to sell the family pub, Maggie Lindeman has no idea a perfect storm is heading her way until her past and present collide with the unexpected.
Maggie once had a crush on Dan Ireland, now a work-weary police crash investigator, still hell-bent on punishing himself for his misspent youth. Dan has ample reason for not going home to Calingarry Crossing for the school reunion, but one very good reason why he should.
Maggie is dealing with a restless seventeen-year-old son, a father with dementia, a fame-obsessed musician husband, a dwindling bank account and a country pub that just won’t sell.
The last thing she needs is a surprise houseguest for the summer. Fiona Bailey-Blair, daughter of an old friend and spoilt with everything but the truth, whips up a maelstrom of gossip when she blows into town.
This storm season, when a school reunion brings home more than memories, Maggie Lindeman will discover … there’s no keeping a lid on some secrets.

Marcia of Book Muster Down Under writes, “There’s a certain enchantment to Calingarry Crossing that I just can’t help but be drawn to and I love the way the little town almost becomes a character in its own right.  It’s a place where there’s a lot happening to the people who live there and, as with House, it’s main focus is on relationships – the good, the bad and the ugly.” Brenda had this to say, “The plot was intriguing, with a couple of unexpected twists; the story was emotional and had me in tears a number of times – all in all a fabulous read, and one I have no hesitation in recommending highly. “

***

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

Trope Secrets in Silence Elianne Nunn dont know what youve got till its gone - gemma crisp

———————————————————————-

bookdout_squarebadge_web

About Me

My name is Shelleyrae Cusbert I am a mother of four children, aged 7 to 17, 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.

 

 

 

Interview with ‘The Lost Girls’ author Wendy James

wendy james (2)Wendy James is the author of six books, including The Lost Girls (2014), The Mistake (2012) and Out of the Silence, which won the 2006 Ned Kelly Award for Best First Crime fiction and was shortlisted for the Nita May Dobbie Award for women’s writing. She currently lives in Newcastle, New South Wales with her husband and two of their four children.

Her official website with information and news about her work is at http://www.wendyjames.com.au/.

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

Our house was full of books. Both my parents were big readers – still are – and my father studied English at university (because that’s where all the girls were, he says now…). I must have spent heaps of time just gazing at the bookshelf ( or perhaps dusting it, in those child-labour reliant days) because I can remember knowing who wrote what long before I’d read them or even had any idea what they were: I could rattle off the author of, say, Lady Chatterley’s Lover, or The Outsider, or Anthony Adverse,  which would have been a pretty neat party trick if there had been anyone else at this particular party. My relationship with books was pretty intense; I think I have very few memories of my childhood simply because I spent most of it reading. I was  precocious and completely omnivorous – I can remember reading Carrie when I was about eight, and I would  have been reading Enid Blyton at the same time. There were dusty old volumes of plays too – Wilde and Shaw and Coward – and I think I turned into a terrible bore when I discovered these
When did you begin writing in a serious way, and what motivated that?

It was really always in the front (rather than the back) of my mind that ONE DAY I would write. I’d written notes sporadically, waiting for that day to arrive – the one where the muse would descend, I guess. The muse didn’t ever really descend, instead, I was actually forced to write something for a creative writing course when I was doing my BA. I was twenty-five or six, I’d already had two of my four children by this stage, and was living a very different life to most of my peers. It seemed I had heaps to write about – once I began I couldn’t stop. I had always loved short stories, and that’s what I wrote for the first five years or so. I was fortunate to be published pretty early on in literary journals and anthologies. I also won some prizes, which gives you an incredible confidence boost early on — or always, I’m thinking. I started my first novel around 1998 – though I’d written notes about the case it was based on much earlier.

How did your debut novel come to be published?I had written the novel – which I’d titled Unfortunate Creatures – as the creative component of a PhD, but this first attempt  at a PhD fell apart for a number of reasons: the novel was too longjames-outofthesilence, my husband was seriously unwell, I had four kids by this time – two teenagers and two babies – and looking back I think I was just completely overwhelmed by everything.  Anyway, I finally finished the novel after five years or so – it was a historical novel, pretty exhaustively researched – and sent it off to the lovely Pippa Masson, at Curtis Brown. After a few rejections Random House picked it up, and it was published in 2005 as Out of The Silence. It got one brilliant review, was shortlisted for the Dobbie, won the Ned Kelly for best first novel,  and then hit the remainder bins.  A pretty typical first novel experience, but it felt totally heartbreaking at the time.  Happily,  Momentum have since  released both Out of The Silence and my second novel, The Steele Diaries (whose reception was even more dispiriting) as e-books, so they’re available to any interested readers.

What was the inspiration behind your latest novel?

james-thelostgirlsThe Lost Girls was originally going to be set in the late forties, in Sydney’s Newtown, the story based on the murder of Joan Norma Ginn, a teenage girl who disappeared after being sent to buy bread for her mother, and who was found strangled to death in Camperdown Cemetery the following day.  What I was interested in was not so much the crime itself, but its aftermath – the impact on the friends and family who were left. When I began the novel we’d just moved from Armidale to Newcastle, and all the sights and sounds and sensations of coastal life transported me back to my own Northern Beaches adolescence. So while the the novel still tells the story of a young girl’s murder and the aftermath, it’s set in the late seventies, in the Sydney beach suburb of Curl Curl, close to where I spent some of my own teenage years.

Have you had any surprising or unusual reader responses to your bojames-themistakeoks? 
Hmmmm. I guess reviews and comments from people who actively dislike your work are always, if not exactly surprising, certainly memorable. One online reviewer admitted that she ALWAYS judged books by their covers, and just knew that The Mistake was going to be trashy literature aimed at vacuous Women’s Weekly reading middle-aged mums, and furthermore novels based on real life people and events were always ethically suspect. Oh boy!  The surprise was that she actually bothered to read and review the book. Of course it lived up to her expectations: I think I was probably lucky to get two stars.
What are your writing habits?  Where do you write? What does a typical day look like for you?
At the moment I’m lucky enough to be able to write almost every day. I  work – alternating between writing and my work as a research assistant – while the kids are at school. Because my husband’s currently at home full-time, and is responsible for drop-offs and pick-ups, I can I sometimes keep going until four or even five. I work in a study that doubles as a storage facility (so much stuff!) and occasional fourth bedroom. The room was actually a corner shop in a former life, and as my parents owned a corner shop when I was little, the ambience really suits me. Right now the shelves are filled with books, but I’d like to deck it out authentically one day, with jars of Allen’s lollies.  My husband has recently built me a desk to use over a treadmill – so I walk as I write, to counteract my early exposure to (and on-gioing obsession with) jelly snakes and red frogs. Oh, and Cobbers.
What do you do when you feel creatively stuck?
I tend to write in a patchwork sort of way anyway, so if I get stuck (or bored) I just move to another scene. Generally, when I come back something will have shifted, and I can continue from where I left off. But if it doesn’t work, I’m not so close that it hurts to kill it. I’m using Scrivener for this book and it works brilliantly for this particular method  (I’m calling it a method, but in reality it is anything but methodical).
What are you working on now?

I’m writing another novel about about families and crime.  This time it’s two families, and both perpetrator and victim are children. It’s about bullying and parenting and friendship, and there’s drama and suspense…  and I’m really looking forward to having that first draft done!

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

Oh, there are so many favourites … It’s impossible to pick just one!  Henry Handle Richardson’s The Getting of Wisdom is probably up there, as well as The Fortunes of Richard Mahony.  I’m currently re-reading Helen Garner’s Consolation of Joe Cinque, and I’m looking forward to her new work – though the subject matter is so painful. There are some remarkable contemporary voices in fiction – writing in all genres. I’ve just finished reading Liane Moriarty’s latest – and am seriously impressed. Her work is just getting better and better – somehow she manages to write lightly about dark subjects without lessening their impact. And I’m continually amazed by her ability to pull all the narrative threads together in the end – how does she do that?

Reviews of Wendy’s Books:
The Mistake reviewed by Angie Holst
The Lost Girls reviewed by Angela Savage and Book’d Out
Want More?
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.
  • Join us on Google+

    Add to the discussion on AWW Google+.
  • Join us at The Reading Room



    Go to Book Clubs > Find Book Clubs & search for Aus Women Writer's Challenge
  • Meta

  • Follow

    Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

    Join 6,359 other followers

    %d bloggers like this: