Forever telling stories: Interview with Annabel Smith

Annabel Smith

Annabel Smith

I can’t imagine ever not wanting to tell stories.
– Annabel Smith

In case you have been living under a rock, our very own Annabel Smith, she of the interviewing and other exciting things on Australian Women Writers, is not only an Australian and female but also a writer herself.

And so over the past few months, we have been badgering her to tell us about her third book The Ark, which finally in the midst of writing her fourth book she relented to do. You can’t accuse her of not being organised or prolific.

And The Ark is important – not only is Annabel going down the self-publishing route via Gumroad for this book but she has also created an app for the readers who want to delve into the experience a bit more via the wonders of digital publishing.

It says something about Annabel’s view of digital publishing and about her personality as well: rather than wait to tell a story in a particular format, she has jumped straight into it instead and gone it alone. She called the debate over digital publishing a “no-man’s land”:

“We seem to be in a no man’s land, where publishers are frightened to invest in books that seem too old-fashioned, but equally frightened by newfangled iterations of the book. It’s a time of great uncertainty in publishing.” she said, quick to point that out that while the media might herald the death of the book, in her experience so far, publishers aren’t going to completely let go of print books for a while yet.

The Ark by Annabel Smith

The Ark by Annabel Smith

But The Ark is more than an experiment with formats, it’s also an experiment with the financial models that currently exist in the industry. Annabel may get more of a cut of the final sales of her work with digital publishing but she doesn’t necessarily have the resources of a traditional publishing house behind her to have the same level of sales or reach.

“Self-publishing The Ark has helped me to understand the prevailing fee structure in which publishing houses get 50% of the retail price, booksellers 40% and writers the remaining 10%,” she said. “Publishers take all the financial risk, and invest heavily to get a book out into the world. Increasingly, many books fail to break even.”

She even gave us figures to drive the point home:

“However, most writers can’t nearly make ends meet on a meagre 10% of retail sales. I sold around 1500 copies of my first two traditionally published novels, banking approximately $4000 a process, which roughly equates to $1000 for each year spent writing them.”

But she remains hopeful about what technology can do for the publishing industry:

I hope in the future there will be financial models which might be more mutually beneficial for authors and publishers.

- Annabel Smith

The Ark can be read as a standalone book but then readers get to use the app if they want to learn more about the world the story is set in, want additional information or want to create content of their own related to the book.

Readers can contribute to the world of The Ark via the app & website

Readers can contribute to the world of The Ark via the app & website

“Advances in technology are presenting new ways for people to consume, connect with and interpret ‘fiction’,” said Annabel. “I wanted to play with some of these emerging options and discover for myself exactly how they might enhance the experience of reading a book.”

For other authors out there considering creating apps for their titles, be forewarned. It’s different and it seems to require a lot more organisation and is not as fun as it sounds:

“After the initial creative phase in which I developed my ideas, it basically became a project management task, involving meetings, emails, spreadsheets, budgets and timelines, etc,” Annabel explained. “It was time-consuming and sometimes dull. On the plus side, I worked with a fantastic team and enjoyed taking part in a collaborative project, compared to the solitary nature of most writing.”

But that’s the app. What all those who dream of following in Annabel’s footsteps want to know is, what’s the writing process like?

Annabel’s process has changed greatly over the years and from book to book. With her first two, she wrote in longhand but this changed with The Ark: “I wrote my first two novels longhand, switching to writing straight onto the computer for The Ark, because it felt counterintuitive to handwrite the text of a digital document like an email or blog post.”

The biggest change has been her shift from a “pantser” to a “plotter” – she now writes with a plan. In the case of her current work in progress, Monkey See, it’s with “an eight point story arc”: “Writing Monkey See I discovered Scrivener which I’m sure has changed my process in subtle ways, simply because I feel I can ‘see’ my book so much better now, and view it through a variety of filters.”

Monkey See is about, well, monkeys and tsunamis and of course one’s mind boggles a bit when trying to figure out what the plot could possibly be. It involves a cult that a spider monkey, Chaco as he is named, and his friends, must overthrow before a tsunami destroys their city. If that doesn’t appeal to the inner child in you then what will?

And there may be more than one book:

“He [Chaco] is a wonderful character – smart, loyal and super-tough,” Annabel explained. “I have written 60,000 words, with perhaps another 10,000 left to write, so I’m close to the end, but this is the first book in a trilogy, so in the bigger picture there is still a long way to go.”

So with three books on both the real and virtual bookshelves and one more, with possibly two others eventually, on the way, what advice does Annabel have for other writers?

“Think of it as a long game, and enjoy the process – and by that, I mean all of it – the writing, the learning, the reading, the conversations with other writers,” she wrote in her email to me. “The external outcomes such as publication and awards are much less important than the joy you take in the process.”

She also recommended writers’ groups:

“It is wonderful to have a space of trust in which to first share a fledgling work, as that is a very nerve-wracking experience,” she said. “I have no doubt that the feedback of these writers has improved all my manuscripts, and has honed my writing skills in general.”

The act of close reading another writer’s work has also taught me a great deal.

- Annabel Smith

And as all writers do, she reads widely. Voraciously, even. Her childhood was full of Enid Blyton, Nancy Drew and Sweet Valley High amongst classics like Anne of Green Gables, The Secret Garden and Little House on The Prairie but her current favourites include Ann Patchett’s Bel Canto, Yvette Walker’s Letters to the End of Love and Emily Bitto’s The Strays.

But that’s the past, what about the future? How many stories does she have left to tell? Or is there a never-ending supply?

“I can’t imagine ever not wanting to tell stories,” Annabel said. “I love how writing is not like a job – it’s not something people retire from – most authors are working on books when they die and I hope I’ll be like that.”

Telling stories seems to be something that always has been on her mind and despite her claim of probably being a master chocolatier if she couldn’t be a writer, her admission of a childhood ambition to be an actor seems more in tune with her need to spin a tale.

This childhood dream was set aside in favour of something that would be more lucrative as a career.  Which kind of makes you wonder why choose to write but she fell in love with writing during her undergraduate degree in English and went on to work on a PhD in creative writing.

Love may be the right term for it – Annabel claimed an addiction:

“The first book was difficult to write but by the time I had finished, I was hooked,” she said.  “Now I am unhappy if I’m not writing. Though it is sometimes – often – difficult, it is also strangely soothing. This is terribly unoriginal, but writing is a way for me to make sense of my world, to dig deep into the parts of life that puzzle or worry me.”

Which may go some way to explaining why there seems to be a theme of sorts of grief and loss that has run through Whisky Charlie Foxtrot and A New Map of The Universe. According to Annabel this is somewhat accidental and completely unplanned:

“I never consciously consider theme when I’m writing a book,” she said.  “The themes evolve organically, from the characters and their stories. In hindsight, it is easy to see there is considerable thematic overlap between my first two novels; both deal with unresolved family issues, with loss, and grief.”

Her view is that perhaps themes in writing reflect the author’s unconscious, possibly unresolved issues:  “I seem to have moved on to other themes now so fingers crossed I have healed some childhood wound.”

But there are stories to be told, be they in the digital or traditional space and format, whether they come with optional extras or not, whether they have thematic similarities or differences. And Annabel Smith, taking the plunge and exploring her options is an author to watch if you want to keep your finger on the pulse of what is changing in the publishing industry.

Because when there are stories to be told and you aren’t daunted by the prospect of an eternity in which to spin tales, you will spin them any way you can.

To jump into the world of The Ark and contribute to it by creating additional characters, documents and stories, you can check out The Ark‘s website for both the book and the app.

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

There was a lovely collection of books and reviews over the past two months, covering a wide range of topics, characters and locations. It’s exciting to see so many books reviewed in the lead up to the end of the year – and the gift buying season!

cooperbartholomew-jamesOne book – Cooper Bartholomew is Dead by Rebecca James was reviewed three times. This alternating perspectives book deals with the events leading up to the death of the title character – a death which was ruled suicide by the police, but which is being questioned by Cooper’s girlfriend. Shelleyrae describes is as more psychological drama than a thriller, pointing out that it lacked the expected drama. However, she found that narrative compelling, partly due to the investment in the character.

All four protagonists felt genuine in ways to me that other characters in the New Adult genre have rarely done, I believed in their emotion, motivation and actions. The characters have distinct voices, which is important given the structure of the narrative, and are complex individuals. The relationship dynamics are also convincingly drawn.

Shaheen spoke about how the structure of the book – with four narrators and a timeline that jumped between then and now – worked well as the author was able to completely control how much information the reader has.

raindance-woodShelleyrae also looked at Rain Dance by Karen Wood, an Australian rural romance for young adults (I’ve noticed an increase in this particular genre recently, which is really interesting). Holly and her family are forced to relocate from a coastal home to a rural area after the bank takes their house. Meanwhile Kaydon is shocked and suspicious when he returns from boarding school to find that his father is expanding their cattle farm during drought conditions. Shelleyrae talks of how the book has a sweet romance, but also action scenes and a sense of intrigue. She also talks about how there’s a good sense of reality through the book, through the strains on both Kaydon and Holly’s families and through the experiences of the minor characters.

laurinda-pungBree reviewed Laurinda by Alice Pung, the story of Lucy who has just won an Equal Access scholarship to an exclusive girls school. The school is ruled by ‘the Cabinet’ a trio of girls who are able to control the students and – at times – the teachers of the school. Lucy finds herself drawn into the world of ‘the Cabinet’ and struggles to hold onto herself and her beliefs.

Laurinda is a very clever, funny portrayal of the school portion of life as well as gender and the role of friendship and power. Lucy is frank in her observations in her letters and yet at the same time, she can see herself changing, the more time she spends at Laurinda . . . Lucy’s is a wonderful voice, full of life and she gives real vision to the life she leads and how Laurinda and the lives of the other students there, is very different to hers.

Just before I sat down to write this post, the shortlist for the 2014 Queensland Literacy Awards came out and it was wonderful to see so many Australian Women Writers on both the Young Adult and Children’s shortlists.

In the Young Adult category there was:

In the Children’s category there was:

  • Refuge by Jackie French
  • The Ratcatchers Daughter by Pamela Rushby
  • Nature Storybooks: The Big Red Kangaroo by Claire Saxby
  • Smooch and Rose by Samantha Wheeler

More wonderful books by Australian Women Writers to buy, borrow from your local library or gift to someone special!

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

Most Underrated Book Award Winner 2014 Announced

wrong turn rawson

Congratulations Jane Rawson! Jane is the winner of the 2014 Most Underrated Book Award (MUBA) for her debut novel A Wrong Turn at the Office of Unmade Lists, published by Transit Lounge.

The announcement was made at an event during the Small Press Network Independent Publishing Conference which was held in Sydney November 13-14.

As reported in my roundup of this year’s shortlist, the MUBA aims to “shine a light on some of the outstanding titles that are released by small and independent Australian publishers that, for whatever reason, did not receive their fair dues when first released”.

The judges of this year’s prize included Books Plus bookseller Jenny Barry, Kinokuniya book buyer Helene Byfield and blogger Nick Hudson. They described A Wrong Turn as “a genre-busting work of dark humour.”

Transit Lounge’s publisher, Barry Scott told the Sydney Morning Herald that: “Jane plays with genres but the story and characters are what is important. The fact that the book is set in a future Melbourne and the western suburbs where we are based was an added bonus. Three people from Transit Lounge read the book in manuscript form and we all loved it.”

The other shortlisted MUBA titles were Holy Bible by Vanessa Russell (Sleepers) and Gardens of Fire by Robert Kenny (UWA Publishing).

holy-bible    gardens-of-fire

About the winning novel

“It is 1997 in San Francisco and Simon and Sarah have been sent on a quest to see America: they must stand at least once in every 25-foot square of the country. Decades later, in an Australian city that has fallen on hard times, Caddy is camped by the Maribyrnong River, living on small change from odd jobs, ersatz vodka and memories. She’s sick of being hot, dirty, broke and alone.

Caddy’s future changes shape when her friend, Ray, stumbles across some well-worn maps, including one of San Francisco, and their lives connect with those of teenagers Simon and Sarah in ways that are unexpected and profound.

A meditation on happiness – where and in what place and with who we can find our centre, a perceptive vision of where our world is headed, and a testament to the power of memory and imagination, this is the best of novels: both highly original and eminently readable.”

About the author

Jane Rawson, grew up in Canberra and now lives in Melbourne. She is a writer and editor who has worked for Lonely Planet and The Conversation. You can visit Jane’s website here.

About me

I’m a freelance book reviewer, journalist, editor, and a librarian. I blog over at Wordsville and can be found on Twitter @PaulaGrunseit

Interview with ‘Elemental’ author Amanda Curtin

1052 AC2 23 low resolution copyAmanda Curtin is the author of two novels, Elemental (shortlisted for the 2014 WA Premier’s Book Awards) and The Sinkings, and a short story collection, Inherited. She has also worked as a freelance book editor for many years (AE, Institute of Professional Editors), and is currently the fiction editor for the literary journal Westerly. She lives in an old house in an old suburb of Perth with her husband and an extremely opinionated Siamese cat.

Her official website is


What was your early relationship with books?

When I loved a book, I loved it to death. I read Little Women so many times that I could recite the dialogue. (I also re-read the sequel, Little Men, a few times in the hope, and with a degree of inexplicable optimism, that I would grow to like it, but I never did.)

Another of my favourites was Heidi by Johanna Spyri. That book was given to me by a family friend who said the cover illustration looked like me. I remember staring at that little girl with blonde plaits and no freckles, running across an Alpine field in her rustic pinafore—searching for myself, in vain, in that pastel world. (My first thought on remembering this: the narcissism of children! But, on reflection, children always seem avid for anything that might tell them who they are. And perhaps this was my first revelation that the way others see us isn’t always the way we see ourselves—a lesson for life and a lesson for writing, too.)

I was always keen on series books, like Enid Blyton’s Famous Five and Secret Seven and Malory Towers sets and, later, the Trixie Belden series by Julie Campbell Tatham. There was a character in the Trixie Belden gang who had an adventurous vocabulary, and it was he who introduced me to words like ephemeral—glorious, even though he happened to be describing doughnuts.

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

After working as a book editor for many years, I began an undergraduate degree in English and took elective creative writing units because I thought they would help me to become a better editor. But they also revived in me the desire to be a writer that I’d had at a very early age—and dismissed because it seemed as impossible as wanting to be an astronaut or Sophia Loren.

It was a while before I gained the confidence to pursue it seriously. Winning a couple of awards and being encouraged by tutors I admired gave me more courage than I could otherwise have managed. Even so, I only started describing myself a writer, as opposed to an editor, very recently.

How did your debut novel, The Sinkings, come to be written and published?

I wrote The Sinkings as part of my PhD in Creative Writing. I don’t think there is any other context in which I could have written that novel. It took twelve months of full-time research in athesinkingsrchives and libraries here and in the northern hemisphere before I wrote a word—and only with the help of a scholarship could I have done that.

The Sinkings is based on the life of a real person who was transported to the Swan River Colony (Western Australia) as a convict in the mid-nineteenth century and was murdered near Albany in 1882. When the body was discovered—dismembered and the pieces buried at a campsite known as the Sinkings, it was initially determined to be female, but was later identified as being that of male sandalwood cutter and former convict, Little Jock. I heard about those bare facts many years ago and never forgot them, never stopped being intrigued by them, and I always thought I would read a book about Little Jock one day. That didn’t happen, so it was an obvious choice for my PhD project.

Terri-ann White, director of UWA Publishing, heard about the manuscript and expressed interest in reading it. I was thrilled when she chose it for her list.

What was the inspiration behind your latest novel, Elemental?elemental

I began with three words: fishermen, butterflies, consequences. Cryptic, but they carried a weight of thinking and pondering over many years. And the nature of research is such that initial ideas grow, gather to themselves new threads, turn into other things. The first word—fishermen—related to Scottish fishing superstitions I had come across during my research for The Sinkings. When I began to read further, I discovered the herring girls of the early twentieth century and knew immediately that I’d found the key to the trajectory of my main character Meggie’s life.

What are your writing habits?

It depends on what else I am juggling. At the start of a project I try to isolate some concentrated time for writing and nothing else. When this happens, I work all day, usually editing the previous day’s work and perhaps doing some research in the morning and writing solidly in the afternoon (and often late at night). Someone asked me recently why I don’t write in the morning ‘when I’m fresh’. Thing is, in spite of being an early riser, I’m not a morning person; I feel fresher after lunch!

What are you working on now?

Something very different from my two published novels—short rather than long, contemporary rather than historical, set in France rather than Scotland or Australia.

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

An impossible question! Sixty Lights by Gail Jones, Tirra Lirra by the River by Jessica Anderson, The Travel Writer by Simone Lazaroo, The Alphabet of Light and Dark by Danielle Wood, Reunion by Andrea Goldsmith, The Nature of Ice by Robyn Mundy… I’m going to force-quit here because that’s only scratching the surface.

Reviews of Amanda’s books

Reviews of The Sinkings and Inherited by Karen McRea

Elemental reviewed by Angela Savage

Sonja Porter reviews Elemental

Want More?

Interview with When the Night Comes author Favel Parrett

About Me

annabel-smith2Annabel Smith is the author of interactive digital novel/appThe Ark; 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, holds a PhD in Writing from Edith Cowan University and is on the editorial board of Margaret River Press.


October 2014 Roundup: Classics and Literary

Drusilla Modjeska, The mountain

Drusilla Modjeska, The mountain

We must have had great weather in October because reviews in Classics-Literary Land were down! I do hope that means everyone was outside getting fresh air and exercise instead. Meanwhile …

As we get to the end of the year, the awards excitement is slowing down. However, we did see the announcement in October of the shortlist for the Barbara Jefferis Award:

  • Amy Espeseth: Sufficient grace
  • Tracy Farr: The life and loves of Lena Gaunt
  • Jacinta Halloran: Pilgrimage
  • Margo Lanagan: Sea hearts
  • Fiona McFarlane: The night guest
  • Margaret Merrilees: The first week
  • Drusilla Modjeska: The mountain

My main reason for listing these is to say that Sufficient grace and Pilgrimage have not been reviewed this year for the challenge, and only Pilgrimage was reviewed (once) last year. So, if you are looking for something to read that will make a BIG contribution to the challenge, you know what to do!

Oh dear, October

October must have had the least number of reviews we’ve had to date, with just 18 being posted. Still 18 is better than a spit in the eye as my father would say and, anyhow, I only contributed one review myself this month!  On with the highlights:

  • Only one of the novels shortlisted for the Barbara Jefferis Award was reviewed this month, Tracy Farr’s The life and loves of Lena Gaunt
  • One book received three reviews, Annabel Smith’s The ark, and another received two, Helen Garner’s The house of grief.
  • Our most prolific reviewer was Debbie Robson with 3 reviews.
  • No reviews this month (in this category) were flagged as being by indigenous authors or dealing with indigenous issues or reflecting diversity.

The highlights say it all, a quiet month.

The Classics

There was just one classic reviewed this month and it was another new one for the challenge, Jean Curlewis’ The ship that never set sail, reviewed by Debbie Robson who has been our most prolific reviewer of classics over the last few months. Debbie reviewed another work by Curlewis last month, and writes this month that she is pleased to have discovered Curlewis who she says is “a very original novelist”. This novel is about a young girl with big dreams for adventure. Debbie particularly liked Curlewis’ evocation of 1920s Sydney and is keen to read more “lost authors, to read, review and discover the Australia they lived in.” I couldn’t agree more.

Older, but not yet classics

Fifteen of the eighteen reviews this month were for books published in 2013 or 2014 which, as I’ve said before, is great to see. We want our current authors to be able to eat. However, it’s always good to see books from the recent past getting some air, so I thought I’d focus on the two (besides the classic above) that were reviewed this month.

The older one is Candida Baker’s The hidden, which was published in 2000. It, too, was reviewed by Debbie Robson (hello Debbie!). I was intrigued when I saw this because, embarrassingly I suppose, I only know of Baker through her books Yacker: Australian writers talk about their work (1986, 1989, 1990). Robson, though, has sussed out one of her novels. It’s a short novel “told in the first person by Caroline Savage a British photography who is putting together an exhibition of the photographs she took in Australia way back in the late 1970s”. Baker enjoyed it though said it was a challenging read because it switches in time, place and point of view, with Caroline’s voice switching to third person for her time in Australia. Robson found these switches “dispersed” the tension but despite this:

I enjoyed the novel and found the mounting tensions and my desire to find out what happened was one of the best reading experiences I’ve had in twelve months.

Amanda Lohrey, VertigoThe newer book was published in 2008, and is Amanda Lohrey’s fifth novel, Vertigo. Like The hidden it’s a short novel. Reviewer Angie Holst describes it as “a beautiful reflection of a marriage in transition”. It’s told third person, and gives us the perspectives of both partners in the marriage. The couple, in their mid-thirties, have come to the point where they are assessing what their inner-city based lives are about, with the result that they opt for a country sea-change. The ending, says Holst, is reassuring and generous, and she concludes her review by saying:

Lohrey writes simply and elegantly: this is well worth a short read.

Newtown Review of Books

Tracy Farr, The life and loves of Lena GauntA regular provider of reviews to the challenge is the Newtown Review of Books. I’m not sure whether the reviews are posted by the individual reviewers, or by the Review editors, but it’s good to see such a source appearing regularly among our reviews. For those of you who haven’t heard of this site, the Newtown Review of Books promotes itself as “Sydney’s original online review of books”. It was established in March 2012 by writer Jean Bedford and publisher/editor/literary agent Linda Funnell “as an independent site for book reviews” because they “believe that a strong reviewing culture is important for both writers and readers”. It is a volunteer run enterprise. Twenty of this year’s literary-classic reviews have come from this site, so I’ve decided to give some love back by highlighting the five reviews posted this month.

Favel Parrett, When the night comesThe five reviews are:

  • Tracy Farr’s The Life and Loves of Lena Gaunt: Jeanette Delamoir found “much to enjoy in this novel [longlisted for the Miles Franklin and shortlisted for the Barbara Jefferis Awards]. Like its narrator, it is unconventional, sometimes irritating, but always intelligent, intriguing and very closely controlled.”
  • Paddy O’Reilly’s The Wonders: Michelle McLaren liked O’Reilly’s “riotously clever, dark-hearted look at fame and the human body”. It’s about a young man with an implanted artificial heart and the woman who offers to turn him into a superstar. Sounds like it might address a few issues of concern to us in the 21st century, don’t you think?
  • Favel Parrett’s When the Night Comes: Robyne Young enjoyed Parrett’s debut novel, “Into the shallows”, and found this second novel about siblings and struggling parents authentic, so much so that when she got to the end, she wanted to return to the beginning and experience it all over again
  • Lorelei Vashti’s Dress, Memory: Kylie Mason says that “the power of this memoir lies in the sensitive way Vashti handles the retelling of her own life and in the familiarity of many of her experiences to her readers”. Dresses apparently provide the impetus for Vashti’s memory and also work, says Mason, as a metaphor for her growing up.
  • Danielle Wood’s Mothers Grimm: Folly Gleeson opens her review with: “This wonderful title has been lurking in the zeitgeist for over 200 years. I don’t think it’s been used before and that is perhaps because it was waiting for this book. It’s a title that is almost magically apt – four stories and one wicked prologue go to make a motherhood statement that is like a slap.” She enjoyed this collection finding it “often witty and so very, very perceptive” despite some “gloom”, and argues that it liberates readers from the schmaltz often associated with maternity. “Expect”, she says, “to recognise some painful truths, pleasurably.”

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.


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.

Guest Post & Giveaway: Get Cosy with Ilsa Evans!

nefarious-doings-evansIll-gotten-gains-evansforbidden fruit

For some time I’ve flirted with the idea of a tree change but, being a rather cautious (and lazy) person, wishing and wondering and collecting the occasional real estate pamphlet is about as far as I’ve gone. Instead I came up with an altogether less stressful idea – I invented my own town and then peopled it with a mixed assortment of interesting characters – some of whom I’d be happy to have next door and some whom I most definitely would not, just to give it colour. The result has been the Nell Forrest mystery series (published by Pan Macmillan’s Momentum Books), with the latest instalment, Forbidden Fruit, released just last month. The books feature the fictional country town of Majic, on the outskirts of Melbourne, and Nell Forrest, a middle-aged divorced mother of five girls who has a habit of stumbling into an array of nefarious doings and then, sometimes only barely, stumbling back out.

I’ve been writing books for about fifteen years now but one of the greatest compliments that I ever received from a reader was the news that, the evening after finishing one of my books, she was idly contemplating hosting a barbecue for the weekend and began mentally listing those she would invite. Halfway through, she realised that she’d included several of the characters from the book itself. The fictional characters. In the short amount of time that it had taken her to read the story, they had become her friends. And I know exactly what she means (I even developed a sort of crush on a male character I wrote once, and the ending – especially pairing him up with someone else – was a little like being dumped). Every time I finish writing a book, I experience an oddly nauseous mix of elation and regret. It’s impossible to even contemplate a new project until I go through a period of recovery, of separation. I mope around the house, eat copious amounts of chocolate, and make complicated calculations regarding the sun and the yardarm and a glass of wine. Although experience tells me that turning my book hangover into a real one doesn’t help. At all.

But that’s also why I’ve enjoyed writing the Nell Forrest series so much. Starting each new book has been like re-visiting old friends, catching up with what’s been going on in their lives, accompanying them as they move forward. It’s a reunion of sorts. Sure, there’s always a few characters best avoided (and if they turned up at the door, just ring the police. Don’t let them in), but Nell Forrest – well, she’s the sort that I’d invite to a barbecue. And I knew I’d have to write her that way if she was going to stay around (Hercule Poirot is not the type of protagonist I’d be able to have in a series). As both a reader and a writer, I like to connect. But Nell is more than a connection – she’s a friend. I might not have her phone number but I know where she lives. It’s a lovely little town just a stone’s throw from Melbourne where eccentricity meets rural pragmatism and then sits back to enjoy each other’s company. Just like I enjoy Nell’s. She’d know when to give me space if she knew I was moping, or drop in with buckets of chocolate (we’d probably even go retro and have a fondue, with strawberries and bananas and marshmallows), or help me with the sun/yardarm calculations and then say ‘what the hell, let’s open the bottle regardless – and make it champagne!’ In fact, I think I’ll start collecting those real estate brochures again…

To win a copy of Forbidden Fruit, Book 3 in the Nell Forrest Mystery Series, leave a comment on this post with your name and email address.

forbidden fruit

“This time it’s personal …  The last thing Nell Forrest expected when she tried to plant a tree was to unearth the skeletal remains of a former resident. Now her new backyard is swarming with police, there’s a television news crew camped next door, and once again she is smack in the middle of a murder investigation. And the timing is dreadful. Two of Nell’s daughters are about to give birth and she is surrounded by new in-laws with agendas of their own.  But it soon becomes clear that this time the investigation is personal – so personal that enquiries bring her long-estranged father back into the family fold, and the answers shed some very uncomfortable light about the proclivities of her parents when they were young. Who would have thought that the little country town of Majic had ever been such a swinging place to live?”


Nefarious Doings {Book 1} is FREE for a limited time for the Kindle AU I US I UK


Welcome to the sleepy town of Majic, where neighbourhood watch is a killer … For Nell Forrest, life in the little town of Majic is not going smoothly. One of her five daughters has just swapped university for fruit-picking, another is about to hit puberty, while a third keeps leaving aggrieved messages on the answering machine. On top of all this, her mother is infuriating and it’s only been a matter of months since Nell lost her husband of twenty-five years. It’s no surprise, then, that she is even struggling to write her weekly column.  But the floodgates of inspiration are about to swing open, almost knocking her out in the process. Murder and mayhem, arson and adultery, dungeons, death threats and disappearances are just around the corner. Despite Nell’s abysmal aptitude for investigative work, she manages to shine the light on the local Richard III Society and that’s when things really start to heat up. Throw in some suspicious widows, nosy neighbours, a canine witness, plus a detective who is getting a little closer than he should, and it’s clear that nefarious doings are well and truly afoot.

Ill-Gotten Gains {Book 2} is ON SALE for a limited time for the Kindle AU I US I UK


“There are secrets in the sleepy town of Majic, where the past trips over the present … and then looks the other way. The country town of Majic is about to celebrate a milestone. It’s been 150 years since the founding father, Petar Majic, rode into the bush after a liquid lunch, vowing to build a house at whatever spot he reached by sunset. However, what happened next isn’t quite what town legend would have you believe. A minor act of cemetery vandalism lands local columnist and amateur detective Nell Forrest right in the path of historical inevitability. An apparent murder-suicide leads to the unveiling of a century-old scandal and a trail left by a trio of long-dead women.  Nell’s investigations are hampered both by the arrival of the handsome district detective and by her family – whose dramas almost eclipse that of the town itself. With directionless daughters, unplanned pregnancies, a spot or two of adultery and an ex-husband who wants her house, Nell barely has time for the case, let alone the energy to keep her wits about her at the same time.  And Nell will need her wits about her as the mystery of Majic begins casting its shadow into the present day, putting Nell and her family in grave danger. In the end, Nell must decide whether it is a tale of epic fortitude, or treachery and ill-gotten gains, before the past catches up with her.”

The Nell Forrest Mystery Series can also be purchased from

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Amazon: AU I US I UK


ilsaIlsa Evans was born in the Dandenongs, east of Melbourne, in 1960 and enjoyed a blissful childhood that has provided absolutely no material for writing purposes. Fortunately adulthood served her better in this regard. After spending time in an eclectic range of employment, from the military to health promotion to seaside libraries, she returned to tertiary studies and completed a doctorate on the long-term effects of domestic violence in 2005. She has now settled into an occasionally balanced blend of teaching, public speaking and writing and lives in a perpetually partially renovated house, not far from where she was born, that is held upright by a labyrinth of bookshelves.

Ilsa is the author of twelve books in a variety of genres, including the three books in the Nell Forrest Mystery series. She also contributes to several newspapers and online journals on social issues and won the Eliminating Violence Against Women (EVA) Award for online journalism in 2011.

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October Speculative Fiction Reviews

Hello all! It looks like some of you took my ongoing admonishments to write more AWW spec fic reviews to heart. We’ve got a massive haul this month!


springtimeDespite the large review haul, the proportion of reviews for books in each subgenre has not much changed. We’ve had one horror novella reviewed, Springtime by Michelle de Krester. In the review Lou Murphy writes:

Reading Springtime is like peering through the lock of a closed door. Not everything is immediate or apparent. As with all good ghost stories, some things are obscured from view. Without shying away from the banalities of domestic life, the poetic nature of the writing captures small moments poignantly, imbuing them with meaning.

Science Fiction

the-arkThe most popular science fiction book this past month was The Ark by Annabel Smith, an epistolary novel set in a post-apocalyptic Australia. It garnered two reviews from Whispering Gums and myself and Amanda Curtin ran an interview with Annabel. Whispering Gums wrote:

It’s well worth a read if you like dystopian fiction and/or if you are interested in experiencing different ways of telling stories in our digital world. I’d never want straight prose novels to disappear – and I don’t believe they will – but the arts should also be about experimenting and playing with boundaries, and this is what Smith has done here. Good for her.

languedotdoc-polackOn a different note, I reviewed Gillian Polack’s new novel Langue[dot]doc 1305 about a time travel expedition to France in the year 1305. It’s a thoughtful novel, full of office politics and a whole lot of no one listening to the historian. Not your usual time travel book.

Finally, and on another completely different note, I reviewed Nicole Murphy’s Loving the Prince, a science fiction romance novel with a strong plot and a sizzling romance element. I enjoyed it more than I expected to.


falcon-throne-millerAs has been the norm, fantasy was the most popular genre this month. The book which garnered the most reviews was the newly released The Falcon Throne by Karen Miller, the start of a new BFF (big fat fantasy) series. It was reviewed by Shaheen, Rochelle Sharpe and Random Alex. Shaheen writes:

Another thing I love about this book is the variety of the characters. I loved them all! There isn’t a protagonist or antagonist in the story … There just people, with hopes and dreams, who sometimes did things I liked, and more often did things that I didn’t agree with. But every character is well realised and amazingly crafted.

dreamers-poolThe second most popular author, with two reviews for different books, was Juliet Marillier. Helen Venn reviewed Raven Flight, which is the sequel to Shadowfell. She enjoyed it and can’t wait for the last book in the trilogy. The other Juliet Marillier novel reviewed was Dreamer’s Pool, reviewed by Nalini of Dark Matter Zine, which she thoroughly enjoyed. It was the first Marillier book she’d read and she reports that she’s looking forward to the rest of the series.

For serious fantasy in smaller portions, I read and reviewed Phantazein, an anthology edited by Tehani Wessely. It’s heavily fairytale and folklore themed with lots of different takes on fairytales (without being straight fairytale retellings). Highly recommended for fans of twisty fairytales.

TheLascarsDaggerGlendaLarkeBack on the BFF theme, Shaheen also reviewed The Lascar’s Dagger by Glenda Larke, the start of a new trilogy. She writes:

My favourite aspect of The Lascars Dagger is definitely its plotting and the complexity of the world it is set in. I bring those two up together because they are intertwined in this story. At its heart this is a story about a handful of people with their own fears and motivations, but their positions in society and histories mean that their every thought and action has the potential to shape the future of entire countries.

small-shen-chanOn a completely different note, I reviewed Small Shen by Kylie Chan and illustrated by Queenie Chan. It’s a short novel with sections illustrated in a manga style, interspersed with text. It’s a really interesting meeting of media and also an interesting story which is a prequel to Kylie Chan’s White Tiger.

Rapid-fire round

Because there were so many reviews this month, I’m just going to list the last few that didn’t fit above.power-and-majesty-250-408


And finally, not a review but an interview of Jo Anderton, author of the Veiled Worlds trilogy.


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.

MUBA: Most Underrated Book Award 2014 Shortlist Announced

The Small Press Network (SPN) has announced the shortlist for this year’s Most Underrated Book Award (MUBA).

The shortlisted titles are:

gardens-of-fire  wrong turn rawson holy-bible

  • Gardens of Fire: An investigative memoir (Robert Kenny, UWA Publishing) Memoir by writer, historian Robert Kenny about his experiences during the Black Saturday Victorian bushfires of 2009.
  • A Wrong Turn at The Office of Unmade Lists (Jane Rawson, Transit Lounge)
  • Holy Bible (Vanessa Russell, Sleepers Publishing).

The judges of this year’s prize include Books Plus bookseller Jenny Barry, Kinokuniya book buyer Helene Byfield and blogger Nick Hudson.

The MUBA aims to “shine a light on some of the outstanding titles that are released by small and independent Australian publishers that, for whatever reason, did not receive their fair dues when first released”.

Martin Shaw, head book buyer at Readings Books in Melbourne and Small Press Network Board member said: “We hear a lot about the top end of town in the book industry: your Penguin Random Houses or Hachettes invariably inhabit a good proportion of our bestseller and awards lists. But equally fine work is also being done at a much smaller scale, often by publishing houses with as little as 1 or 2 staff, and with none of the sales & marketing clout of the majors. It’s to acknowledge their work that the MUBA prize came into being.

This year we were presented with a wide range of entries across all genres. The judges are charged with making a judgement on not just the literary quality of the long-listed works, but also that the publisher had gone to every effort in terms of editorial and production expertise to bring to market the best book they possibly could. And, within their means, to disseminate it in an engaging way through as many channels as possible.

The shortlist for this year’s MUBA 2014 exemplifies this creative spirit. It is gladdening to be able to say that the small press scene is thriving in this country, and deserves every support and recognition.

The winner of the MUBA will be announced on 13 November at a presentation as part of the SPN Independent Publishing Conference in Sydney. Last year, Merlinda Bobis won the award for Fish-Hair Woman (Spinifex Press).

Reviews Roundup

wrong turn rawson

A Wrong Turn at the Office of Unmade Lists by Jane Rawson

From the blurb: “It is 1997 in San Francisco and Simon and Sarah have been sent on a quest to see America: they must stand at least once in every 25-foot square of the country. Decades later, in an Australian city that has fallen on hard times, Caddy is camped by the Maribyrnong River, living on small change from odd jobs, ersatz vodka and memories. She’s sick of being hot, dirty, broke and alone. Caddy’s future changes shape when her friend, Ray, stumbles across some well-worn maps, including one of San Francisco, and their lives connect with those of teenagers Simon and Sarah in ways that are unexpected and profound. A meditation on happiness – where and in what place and with who we can find our centre, a perceptive vision of where our world is headed, and a testament to the power of memory and imagination.”

Marisa Wikramanayake reviewed A Wrong Turn at the Office of Unmade Lists saying: This is a book about “What if” moments and “Definitely” consequences. What if you could hop, skip and jump across the creases? And what if your world ended when the map you held did? And what if you could go back to a particular time, if the space around you had altered enough to change it? And can you not see that A will definitely lead to B?

“Reading A Wrong Turn At The Office of Unmade Lists is a blinkers on sideways rollercoaster ride – you can see the ups and downs but you can’t see the changes in direction and they surprise and delight you. Jane Rawson has a knack for describing settings and place and for conveying meaning through perfectly picked, hammered and nailed down dialogue. And yes there are jokes. There is a thread of snarkiness all throughout this book. And underneath all the surprises, the snark, the ‘I have no idea where I am going with this’ sense of surrealistic madness, it’s about how we choose to live our lives and what creates the most meaning for ourselves and how we come to understand that about ourselves.”

You can read Marisa’s interview with Jane Rawson here.

David Golding who says he decided to read the book because he was after a sci-fi read, rated it 5 stars saying that “Rawson has a light touch, fluid prose, and charming characters to carry you through whatever strangeness you perceive.” Golding says that the author “keeps the material honest (and honestly material), letting the reader draw their own conclusions. I was put in mind of — its affinities with and oppositions to — a number of other novels (and The Matrix), but probably what it most felt like was a more genial yet more doomed version of M. John Harrison’s Nova Swing.”


Holy Bible by Vanessa Russell

From the blurb: “Meet the Bloom family — a large, raucous but quietly damaged family growing up in a small Christian sect in Ballarat. To them the Bible provides everything that any of them need to know about life, the future and Jesus Christ’s imminent return. They are a small but close-knit community where you are forbidden from straying, or risk being ostracised.

Funny, touching and heart-wrenching all at once, Holy Bible explores what it would be like to grow up in a highly controlled environment. What happens when we confront the fear that has held us in that space for so long? What happens to the family? And is it possible to rewrite the book by which we live?”

In her review of Holy Bible, Jane Rawson says that she likes “period pieces set in the recent past” particularly if set outside a capital city as this one is (Ballarat). Rawson writes: “Vanessa Russell did a brilliant job of weaving the textures — clothes, food, TV, current affairs — of 1991 into her storyline without going over the top. And the dialogue and descriptions are great: utterly small-town Australia, authentic and easy to read.”

Rawson found that there were two conflicting tones in the novel’s first and second halves as she explains here: “The first part of the book is light, a comic story of a young woman struggling to create a life which embraces both her religious upbringing and family, and her passionate desire to be a nurse and help people “on the outside” (forbidden by her religion). The sect she’s part of is portrayed as bumbling, out-of-touch, on the brink of dissolving, but overall quite likeable. The second part strips away the goofy charm and focuses on the young woman’s mother and brother, and the traumas that eat away at them and may destroy them, all brought on by membership of this sect.” Rawson preferred the second half’s tone and her favourite thing about the book was its attitude towards “fringe religion”. “I was really glad Russell didn’t tear apart or belittle this sect and their beliefs. Her approach is critical but always tender and understanding. All the characters are human, their motivations believable and their flaws are at human scale,” writes Rawson.

We’d love to read more of your reviews of these two shortlisted novels so please send them in!

All AWW Challenge reviews are accessible here.


About Me

I’m a freelance book reviewer, journalist, editor, and librarian. I blog over at Wordsville and can be found on Twitter @PaulaGrunseit

August/September 2014 Roundup: Diversity

As Indigenous author Ambelin Kwaymullina wrote in a recent guest post, ‘The stories that people read about us matter, especially because, for many non-Indigenous people, stories are all they know of us.’ It’s important that we read the stories of Indigenous women not only to gain an understanding of their lives, but also because readers’ consumption of such stories finances the production of many more, in turn creating even greater awareness of and respect for Indigenous culture. Ambelin also offered five reviews of books by Indigenous women writers, and her post and these books are a fantastic read.

The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf by Ambelin KwaymullinaOver August and September, participants in the AWW challenge continued to read and think about the characters, themes, structure and politics of books by Indigenous women writers. Jane of GoodReads reviewed Ambelin’s speculative fiction novel, The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf, and loved it. She was ‘particularly impressed by the structure, which allowed the story to completely turn on its axis about one-third of the way in. It was clever, and it worked logistically and emotionally. The reader is left to figure things out for themself, but never left hanging, unsure of what happened.’ In the very best recommendation for a book, Jane writes, ‘When I finished it I wanted to rush to the library for book two (the library was shut).’ Oops!

amostpeculiaract-munkaraMaree of GoodReads picked up Marie Munkara’s novella A Most Peculiar Act, which is set in Darwin in WWII and uses a short extract from the Aboriginal Ordinances Act of 1918 to introduce each chapter. Maree described this structure as ‘an ingenious way to weave the harsh facts, and point out the peculiarities (or rather injustices) that ruled the lives of Aboriginal people forced to live under the Act, and ones like it, throughout most of Australia in the twentieth century.’ While she felt the writing was uneven at times, she also found the book had many positives, including ‘an original voice, great structure, some laugh out loud moments and some strong passages.’

TiddasAnita Heiss’ latest novel Tiddas was reviewed by Faith of Beyond the Dreamlines. Faith was delighted that ‘Tiddas is speckled with affectionate references only a Brisbanite would really get, giving it a very strong sense of place. It’s also wonderful to read a book in which Aboriginal culture, and Aboriginal characters, are given such prominence.’

Hannah Kent, Burial RitesNalini of DarkMatterZine posted on an interview with Anita about her novel at the Melbourne Writers Festival, revealing Anita’s motivations for and crafting of her work. Nalini also posted on queer author Hannah Kent’s interview with Bethany Blanchard at the Melbourne Writers Festival, describing Kent’s fascinating research process and search for a voice: ‘There was no room for Agnes to tell her story. Agnes needed her own language to tell her story as an outsider. Agnes employs body-centric, lyrical, deep-seated language, telling her story outside the dominant language-form.’ It’s a recovery project akin to Clare Wright’s The Forgotten Rebels of Eureka (which tells the story of the women at the Eureka stockade), but uses fiction rather than history.

Banana Heart Summer Merlinda BobisA good number of reviews featured books by Australian women writers of diverse heritage. Marilyn of Me, You and Books reviewed Filipino-Australian author Merlinda Bobis’ Banana Heart Summer, a work about a girl growing up in the Philippines in poverty. ‘As in her other books,’ Marilyn writes, ‘Bobis blends the imaginary and symbolic with concrete bits of reality. Perpetually hungry, Nenita fills her story with recipes and descriptions of food.’ These act as a vehicle for commenting on the characters, including the protagonist and, ‘underneath the banana hearts and coconut milk, we see her own need not just for food, but for love.’

Maree of GoodReads reviewed Lily Brett’s Lola Bensky. Brett is the daughter of Holocaust survivors, and Maree found that the power of her writing lies in ‘the juxtaposition of the ordinary, even banal, with the horror of inhumanity. I imagine that this is what it must be like to grow up in the shadow of such overwhelming grief, and it adds a poignancy to Brett’s writing that pulls me in time and again.’

wedding-seasonRochelle of Inside My World enjoyed Su Dharmapala’s The Wedding Season, about happily single Shani whose mother is desperate for her to wed. Like an Indian version of Tiddas, this book focuses on female friendship, and Rochelle ‘felt as though I was part of [the friends’] inner circle, sharing their lives with them.’ She was also impressed that she didn’t see the plot twist coming, and thought it was ‘so great to see the representation of an Australian group that you don’t see much of in fiction.’ I think so too!

And if you’d like to read up on books by Australian women writers with disability, you can find a swag of them in last month’s focus, summarised in my post. I was so happy with the reviews and guest posts written for this focus that I bounced into October with a spring in my step. At this rate, you’ll have me skipping to the end of the year!


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.

Indigenous Women Writers: Guest post by Ambelin Kwaymullina

Ambelin photoIn an interview I gave on this website in July, when asked to recommend specific books by Indigenous women, I said people should read all of them, because it is only by reading them all that non-Indigenous readers can begin to grasp the diversity and complexity of Indigenous women’s lives.

The stories that people read about us matter, especially because, for many non-Indigenous people, stories are all they know of us. When those stories are false, distorted or simply misinformed – and the legacy of colonialism means there are many stories like this – it has real-life consequences. It shapes how Indigenous women (and Indigenous peoples more generally) are perceived and consequently how we are treated. That is why the continued production of stories by (rather than just about) Indigenous women is of such critical importance. And if it matters that the stories are written, it matters just as much that they are read.

So, in the spirit of my suggestion to read all the stories, I am offering reviews of five very different publications by Aboriginal women (including one by an Aboriginal community) that offer insights into Aboriginal culture and existence. It is my hope that in so doing I will encourage others to begin to come grips with the vast diversity of Indigenous literature published in Australia.

All the books can be purchased from online retailers (such as Fishpond or Booktopia); the essay is part of a special Indigenous edition of Westerly magazine which can be downloaded free of charge.


Trauma Trails, Recreating Song Lines: The Transgenerational Effects of Trauma in Indigenous Australia by Judy Atkinson (Spinifex Press)

000e8312_mediumTrauma Trails, written by Jiman and Bundjalung psychologist Judy Atkinson, details the harrowing effects of colonial trauma on Indigenous peoples and communities – but trauma is only the beginning of this story, and not the end. Just as our individual and collective experiences of colonial violence are not all of whom Indigenous peoples are, so Trauma Trails takes the reader on a journey from heartbreak to hope. The many harms inflicted by colonisation, sometimes referred to by Indigenous peoples as a ‘soul wound’, are complex and difficult to address; this book does not suggest otherwise. But nor does it underestimate the capacity of all human beings, and of Indigenous peoples in particular, to defy and overcome the worst of experiences. What Trauma Trails ultimately offers is a pathway to healing through the listening to, and telling of, stories that is based in Indigenous cultural and spiritual practices (the We-Ali program). This book speaks to the wisdom of the elders, to the incredible strength of Indigenous peoples, and to the enduring power of women. In Judy Atkinson’s words:

“My great-grannie gave me a gift – she taught me. We are Women. We are not victims. Nor are we merely survivors. We are women. We have creation powers.

We are the Creators of the Future.”


Our World: Bardi Jaawi Life at Ardiyooloon by One Arm Point Remote Community School (Magabala Books)

Our WorldThis is a story of life – and it is particularly a story of the life lived by the boys and girls who attend the One Arm Point Remote Community School (located in the Ardiyooloon community on the tip of the Dampier Peninsula in the Kimberley region of WA). Beautifully and joyfully illustrated with both photographs and with drawings done by the students, it displays the experiences of the Ardiyooloon community in all its complexity, containing everything from traditional stories, to fishing techniques, to a Bardi language word list and kinship chart. This is a book that seems to speak and move; for in the photos of children walking on the reef at low tide, in the images of their expressions as they listen to a story, or in the drawings showing their own interpretations of the world around them, the reader becomes a part of the saltwater and the campfire smoke and the cries of triumph when a fish is caught. It is a story which more than lives up to the words of the One Arm Point Culture Team in the introduction to the text: “In this book, we share our world.”


Iwenhe Tyerrtye: What it Means to be an Aboriginal Person by Margaret Kemarre Turner OAM (IAD Press)

Iwenhe TyerrtyeThe book offers exactly what the title suggests it does – a view into an Aboriginal reality, through the art and writing of Arrente elder Margaret Kemarre Turner. In her words: “Non-Indigenous people often wonder just how Aboriginal people really are, just what it is to be an Aboriginal person….That’s one reason why I’m writing this book about my experience…So that those white people can see things through our eyes.”

I once wrote about the stories of Aboriginal elders as gifts that can be continually unwrapped because there is no end to the wisdom that the tales hold or the comfort they can bring. This is one of those stories. Every page, every picture offers profound insights, grounded in the rich culture and life experience of the author. Iwenhe Tyerrtye speaks of land, of healing, of kinship and ceremony and the power of story. It speaks of life. And in opening a window onto an Arrente reality, this book is a bridge to the greater understanding that must surely be nurtured between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples if we are to move forward together, and which is not out of reach. Or, as Margaret Kemarre Turner puts it: “Two cultures can hold each other.”


Down the Hole by Edna Tantjingu Williams and Eileen Wani Wingfield (authors); Kunyi June-Anne McInerney (illustrator), (IAD Press)

Down the HoleThis is a picture book, and it is not. It is a picture book in that it is an illustrated narrative; it is not a picture book in that, like so many Aboriginal stories, it defies the boundaries of Western story-categories. It is a work of art, of history, of resistance; and it is an incredible bilingual testament of the Stolen Generations. The stripped-back narrative is both immediate and powerful. Whether speaking of being hidden down a hole to avoid the authorities who’d come to take them (Ngaltutjara wiya! – No, poor things! No kids used to play around here in Coober Pedy…all the kids were in the piti – in the holes), or the panicked instructions given to the children by their terrified parents (Just GO – and keep going!), this is a book which conveys the reality of the Stolen Generations era as can only be done by those for whom it was a lived experience. And the text is beautifully accompanied by Kunyi June-Anne McInerney’s illustrations which capture the tale to perfection as it winds from fear and flight to ultimately, escape and triumph: I been still hiding away – and here I am today.


Bronwyn Bancroft, ‘The Invisible Sleeper’ in Westerly 54:2 (downloadable free of charge at

WesterlyThis essay is a reflection on the complexities of being an Aboriginal person and a working Aboriginal artist in contemporary Australia by award-winning Bunjalung artist and illustrator Bronwyn Bancroft. The title of the essay, ‘The Invisible Sleeper’, refers to Bronwyn’s father: “…my father worked as a sleeper-cutter. He was the invisible Aboriginal man who left home early and came home late, spending a month at a time in the bush alone. He was the invisible sleeper.”

The Invisible Sleeper is the story of Bronwyn’s struggles and those of her family; of her career and her frustration at having to deal with stereotypical conceptions of Aboriginal art and culture; and of some of the many strands that make up her existence. It is one woman’s story, and like the story of each and every Aboriginal woman, it is not a simple one nor one that is free from hardship and pain. And in Brownyn’s thoughts and experiences, articulated in a clear and insightful voice, the reader is able to step into a world of art, culture and Aboriginality. In Bronwyn’s words:

“Creating art is not just about making pictures – it is about challenging the stereotypical that attempts to contain our visions as Aboriginal people. I have been constantly challenged by ignorance – that anyone can allow themselves to pass judgment on others is beyond belief. It creates a division in our society that is ‘us’ or ‘them’. It is not right that anyone feels or asserts that they are superior to another human being – we are all just different.”



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