Kristina Olsson and Kate Richards win the 2014 Kibble Literary Awards for Women Writers

boy-lost-olsson       madnessamemoir

Congratulations to Kristina Olsson (Boy, Lost: A family memoir) and Kate Richards (Madness: A memoir), winners of the 2014 Kibble Literary Awards, one of Australia’s most prestigious female literature awards programs which were announced at the State Library of New South Wales last week by Perpetual, trustee and manager of the Awards.

The Kibble Literary Awards for Women Writers comprise two awards (the Kibble and Dobbie Awards) which are presented annually and were established by Nita Dobbie to honour the legacy of her aunt Nita B Kibble, the New South Wales State Library’s first female librarian, who raised her from birth after her mother died. The Kibble Awards are open to Australian female writers who have published fiction or non-fiction classified as ‘life writing’. Since 1994, the Awards have recognised some of the country’s most celebrated female authors, including Annah Faulkner (The Beloved), Geraldine Brooks (Foreign Correspondence), and Helen Garner (True Stories).

In the late 1800s, Miss Kibble had successfully answered an advertisement for a junior assistant at the Public Library of New South Wales, when her signature was taken for a man’s. She later became the first woman to be appointed a librarian with the State Library of New South Wales and held the position of Principal Research Officer from 1919 until her retirement. Throughout her career she worked hard to raise the status of the library profession and was a founding member of the Australian Institute of Librarians. Miss Dobbie followed her aunt into the library profession and recognised the need to foster women’s writing in the community and so established the Awards, named after her inspirational aunt, through her will.

Perpetual’s General Manager of Philanthropy, Andrew Thomas, described Nita B Kibble as an important figure in the literary community and said her legacy highlights the critical role philanthropy plays in contributing to Australian culture.

“The Kibble Awards are a great example of the impact that philanthropy has on Australian women’s literature,” Mr Thomas said. “In the 21 years since the trust behind the Awards was established with $400,000, it has awarded close to $500,000 to female writers. We congratulate Kristina and Kate on being the latest winners to benefit from the Awards.”

Kristina Olsson

Author, Kristina Olsson. Photo: Russell Shakespeare.

The Kibble Literary Award (currently valued at $30,000) recognises an established Australian author and in 2014 was awarded to Kristina Olsson for Boy, Lost: A Family Memoir which has already won many awards.

Author Kate Richards at the Award Ceremony. Photo: Elizabeth Lhuede

Author, Kate Richards at the Award Ceremony. Photo: Elizabeth Lhuede

The Dobbie Literary Award (currently valued at $5,000) recognises a first published Australian author and in 2014 was awarded to Kate Richards for Madness: A Memoir.

Judge and Humanities Australia Editor, Emeritus Professor Elizabeth Webby AM, on behalf of the judging panel said: “Kristina Olsson’s Boy, Lost: A Family Memoir is an exceptional piece of life writing which recreates the fractured lives of her mother and half-brother with brilliant depth and truthfulness.

“Kate Richards’ book Madness: A Memoir recounts her struggles with mental illness in extraordinary language which is poetic in its intensity.”

Professor Webby was joined on the judging panel by State Library of New South Wales Research and Discovery Manager, Maggie Patton, and internationally published novelist, Dr Rosie Scott.


As I’ve said before, fell in love with this book and it smashed me to pieces (my favourite kind of book). I reviewed it for the Newtown Review of Books after I’d heard Kristina Olsson speak about it at last year’s Byron Bay Writers’ Festival in a session with last year’s Dobbie Award winner Lily Chan (Toyo: A memoir) — I interview her here.

Jessica White reviewed Boy, Lost saying: “Boy, Lost, is a memoir about Olsson’s mother Yvonne who, as a young ingénue, was swept off her feet and carried up north by a man who turned out to be brutal.  Just as she found enough courage to escape from him and to head back to Brisbane with their son, Yvonne’s husband tore Peter from her arms on the train. The memoir is an imagining of the circumstances of Yvonne’s life, while charting the impact of that missing child upon Yvonne and her other children. … Some readers and critics might quibble with the fictional elements of memoir, but all memory is, in one way or another, a fiction – we can never reconstitute memory exactly as it happened.  My impression of this work is that Kris, through conversations with family members and attention to photographic records, evokes personalities and events with sensitivity.”

AWW Challenge/History blogger Yvonne Perkins reviewed Boy Lost saying: “Above all Boy, Lost is one small story that allows us to peek into a dark period of the history of women, children and families in twentieth century Australia. Those family secrets held by too many Australian families are an important part of our history but very difficult to uncover. Through Boy, Lost Kristina Olsson shows one way that families can deal with them.” And you can read Yvonne’s interview with the author here.

Janine Rizzetti reviewed it here saying it is “beautifully told, with the crystalline clarity of authenticity.” Janine writes: “I very much enjoyed this book, even though it utilises two of the stylistic techniques that I usually dislike: very short chapters and use of the present tense.”


Janine Rizzetti begins her review of Madness: A Memoir writing: “I don’t know what to say.”

“A small preface to this book says:

This memoir relies on the many volumes of notes, observations, conversations, odd phrases and sudden ideas written during episodes of illness and transcribed here unedited.  It also relies on memory, which is commonly subjective and fragile, and on the notes of treating clinicians.  The events took place over a period of about fifteen years.  In the interests of telling a story, time is on occasion expanded and on occasion compressed.

And thus we climb into Kate Richard’s life and it’s not a good place to be.  She is a qualified doctor, but years of mental illness have made this career path untenable for her.  There is this chaotic, obsessive, hyper-sensitive existence inside her head that somehow co-exists falteringly with the semblance of a “normal” life: a job in medical research, friends, parents, a flat.”

She concludes: “This is such a brave book.  It is simply written, but it is hard to read.”


Christine Vickers also reviewed Madness: A Memoir over at her blog Freud in Oceania writing: “In these days where the evidence base counts for much — including the way the mental health dollar is spent — Kate Richard’s memoir shows the sheer humanness  that severe mental distress evokes in the patient as well as her treaters — the psychiatrists, social workers, psychologists and nurses.  It affects families and workplaces; treating professionals and the institutions in which patients and treaters reside. Kate’s is not just a plea for understanding but also for the recognition of the complexity of mental illness that increased expenditure and thought in the mental health field might address.… Kate’s memoir shows that there are still many questions to be answered.”

Congratulations to all longlisted and shortlisted authors and as always, please keep your reviews coming in — they are all accessible via this link.

About Me

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

June 2014 Roundup: Diversity

June’s roundup already! Has anyone else felt like they’ve been on a freight train, and unceremoniously tossed out at the station in the middle of the year?  Either way, our readers have certainly been keeping up to speed, as we’ve had some 20 reviews of books that contain themes of diversity, or which are written by writers with diverse backgrounds.

AnguliMaAGothicTaleChiVuThe largest such genre this month was that of books by migrant writers.  Jane of GoodReads reviewed Chi Vu’s creepy but compelling novella, Anguli Ma, a Gothic Tale, and commented it was her favourite book this year, making her look at her neighbourbood and Australia ‘in a whole other way.’ She also rightly points out that ‘There aren’t enough stories about the non-Anglo experience of living in Australia; particularly not enough stories that aren’t memoirs of growing up non-Anglo here.’

present darkness nunnIt was also exciting to see that Malla Nunn has released the fourth novel in her Detective Emmanuel Cooper series, Present DarknessShelleyrae of Book’d Out wrote that ‘the cultural framework of the novel is what really sets this series apart from other crime fiction I have read.  Apartheid affects every facet of life for South Africans, and Nunn doesn’t shy away from exposing the appalling inequities of the period.’  This observation was echoed by Yvonne at GoodReads in her review of Nunn’s first book in this series, A Beautiful Place to Die.  ‘The goal of this book is more than ‘who dunnit’,’ Yvonne writes. ‘ It demonstrates how a society becomes wrong on many levels when it is based on a person’s appearance and not their true character.’

We were privileged to have Malla write a guest post for the AWW Challenge as part of our focus on Australian women writers of diverse heritage last year, which you can read here.

TheOldSchoolPMNewtonThere were two reviews of P.M. Newton’s crime novels, which have an Australian/Vietnamese protagonist, Detective Nhu Kelly.  The Old School was reviewed by Carolyn of GoodReads, who thought that Newton ‘nail[ed] the time and place of her novel brilliantly. Several social issues of the 70s and 90s are raised – Australia’s role in the Vietnam war and its aftermath, Aboriginal activism and police corruption.’ Newton’s sequel, Beams Falling, was reviewed by Rowena, who describes how Nhu discovers that ‘Cabramatta is a community thick with desperate immigrants and those willing to exploit them, none of whom will talk to cops, that corruption isn’t just on the streets, and that a word in the wrong ear can have devastating consequences.’ She also notes that ‘Those familiar with traditional crime novels, with a clue in almost every scene, may find the pace a little slow,’ although there is enough to keep the reader interested until Nhu makes a breakthrough.

toyo2The Asian/Australian experience is also referenced in Paula Grunseit’s interview with 2013 Dobbie award winner, Lily Chan, for her memoir Toyo.  Posted on the eve of the shortlist announcement for the 2014 Dobbie and Kibble awards (subsequently won by Kris Olsson for Boy, Lost and Kate Richards for Madness: A Memoir), the interview looks at Chan’s research and writing processes, the work’s form, and the migrant experience.

MyBeautifulEnemyThis experience is also the subject matter of Cory Taylor’s My Beautiful Enemy, reviewed by Marilyn of Me, You and Books.  Marilyn describes this story of a gay Australian man who falls for an interned Japanese youth during World War Two as ‘a narrative of war and how it distorts people’s lives.’  Stanley, being ‘a sustaining dream in Arthur’s rather dull life’, is ‘unattainable but … capable of bringing Arthur bittersweet joy,’ a means of escaping his grey existence.

Jennifer of GoodReads also reviewed this novel, which reminded her ‘how much store we can place on memories and how it can be possible to be trapped in the past, longing for an ideal. How much more complicated this can become when love is caught up in struggles between nations, as well as struggles with sexuality and expectations.’

LettersToTheEndOfLoveWalkerAlso on the subject of same-sex desire, Marilyn reviewed Yvette Walker’s Letters to the End of Love.  The characters in this novel are, she notes, ‘estranged and are writing letters as part of the process of reuniting.’  Through these letters, Marilyn writes, ‘Walker pushes us to expand what we consider as love,’ as well as proclaiming love’s lasting power.  Yvette also wrote a guest post for the AWW Challenge in our focus on lesbian and queer women writers earlier this year.

The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf by Ambelin KwaymullinaThis month, in conjunction with NAIDOC week, we have encouraged our readers to pick up a book by an Indigenous woman writer. There are a few days left if you’d like to post a review!  Ameblin Kwaymullina, author of The Tribe speculative fiction series, also wrote some wonderful and thought-provoking responses about her culture and writing practice in an interview.

Meanwhile, in June, there were four reviews of books by Indigenous women writers.  Anita Heiss’ Am I Black Enough For You? was reviewed by Tarla, who found that the book encouraged her to reflect on how racism has manifested in her own life.  Jenny of GoodReads read Anita’s latest novel, Tiddas, and felt ‘a bit cheated’ for ‘the point of view didn’t stay long enough with one particular character for me to feel it was “their” story and to emotionally invest in them and see the world of the novel their way. And then I realised: that was the point. The Tiddas, the sisterhood circle, is the protagonist; not the individual women.’ This was also Jenny’s first review for the AWW Challenge this year – proof that it’s never too late to start reviewing!

Under the Wintamarra TreeThere were also two reviews from Jennifer of GoodReads of works by Indigenous women writers, Alexis Wright’s complex and marvellous The Swan Book, which made her ‘work hard in order to try to understand it, and will continue to occupy space in [her] consciousness’ – always the sign of a good book – and Doris Pilkington’s Under the Wintamarra Tree, an autobiographical work by the daughter of Molly, who trekked along the Rabbit Proof Fence.  Jennifer writes, ‘I found it unbearably sad to read Doris’s very personal account of separation from her parents. And, while ‘Under the Wintamarra Tree’ is too disjointed a narrative to hold the reader’s attention in the same way as ‘Rabbit-Proof Fence’, I will read (and re-read) it as a reminder of the consequences of depriving children of their language and culture, of their sense of belonging.’ It sounds like this book, too, left its mark.

Invisible - jim c hinesMeanwhile, if you’re after a work which contains a whole swag of themes about diversity, pick up Invisible, an anthology of short pieces which focus upon giving a voice to marginalised groups and individuals in fiction, and which contains a piece by Aussie writer Nalini Haynes.  Reviewed on the Dark Matter Zine website by Evie, the collection ‘addresses the absence or stereotyping of certain groups, exposing a tradition of racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia and ableism in popular culture. Each contribution uses personal experience to give the reader an insight into other perspectives on how humans can and should live their lives, rejecting narrow definitions of acceptable expressions of fundamental human experiences.’  Evie’s review of four of the stories from the collection showcases its wide-ranging subject matter.

I look forward to reading and discussing more of your reviews next month, in particular those by Indigenous women writers. Until then, I’m staying on this platform to get my breath back with a book!


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.

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

Another month has passed and I’m back with a round up of some really awesome Young Adult fiction reviews. Reviewers have covered books from Tasmania to Perth, with intruders, sauce making, secret organisations and summer romances along the way.

Intruder BongersThere were a couple of really interesting crime/thriller novels reviewed since the last round up.  Jason Nahrung reviewed Intruder by Christine Bongers, which uses the terrifying moment of waking up with an intruder in your bedroom to unveil the life and family of the main character Kat.

There’s a lot of charm in this yarn, mixing humour and tension in a believable scenario that unearths home truths and serves up a warning about the dangers of jumping to conclusions.

Margaret Wild’s The Vanishing Moment was reviewed by Bernadette. It’s a brief story of three people who seem to have nothing to do with each other – until their lives intertwine. Bernadette didn’t want to give too much of the book away (and recommends staying away from reviews which give away too much), but found it enjoyable overall:

It’s not a traditional crime novel in that there are no procedural elements and whodunit is never the central question but there are crimes and these events, and how people react to them, are pivotal to the story.

Melina Marchetta is often mentioned when Australian YA is talked about. For this round up, her first two books – Looking for Alibrandi and Saving looking-for-alibrandiFrancesca were reviewed. Bree reviewed Looking for Alibrandi and talked about how marriage into a Sicilian family means that she relates more to main character Josie now, than she did as a teenager. She also mentioned that it had been a long time since she’d read Looking for Alibrandi, and the impact of certain events was almost as great as the first time she read it.

It’s so easy to believe that you have it all, as a teenager, that tragedy is something that only happens to other people. There are so many things that can give you the most brutal of reminders that it isn’t true.

I reread and reviewed Saving Francesca, which tends to completely engross me every time I read it. While I love Francesca, I also find myself falling in love with all the characters in the book:

Supporting characters are a real strength of Marchetta’s and you can see that here – from the giggly ‘big-boy’ worship of Francesca’s little brother Luca, to the brisk, but sympathetic supervisor at her mother’s university, to the other students and teachers at her new school.

Two reviewers covered The Recruit by Fiona Palmer, a novel about Perth boxer Jaz, who finds herself being recruited for a secret agency. Nicole could see the scope for a series developing from this book, with more story to be told and characters and relationships to be further developed. Lauredhel was particularly interested to see that it was set in her hometown and was very impressed to see such a strong, non-white female main character – something which we don’t see a huge amount of in Australian YA.

the minnow - diana sweeneyChiara reviewed The Minnow by Diana Sweeney – a unique coming of age story. She found it difficult to characterise – it’s set in a contemporary time and setting and yet there is something ‘more’ to it.

Tom is an incredibly deep and complex character. She is one of those characters that feels very three dimensional; very real, and I loved reading about her life. She’s not perfect, but she’s funny and thoughtful and so very strong. The way she looks at life is a completely Tom way – completely her, and utterly wonderful to read about. There wasn’t one moment that I did not enjoy reading about her world through her eyes.

Finally, Jess at the Never Ending Bookshelf reviewed a series of books by G. J. Walker-Smith, beginning with Saving Wishes - the story of what happens when Charli – a 17 year old with a tattered reputation living in a small town in Tasmania – meets Adam – a 21 year old French-American born into the world of money and sensible jobs.

Ultimately Saving Wishes is a coming of age story which promises to bring change and romance to the world of its readers. Much like the stories themselves, the reader will be enchanted by Charli’s tales and her mischievous adventures and Adam Décarie will delight your senses in ways only a Décarie can do.

One thing I really notice in this round up is how diverse the books are – everything from crime to coming of age stories to romance. There’s been some interesting chat around lately about where YA is at the moment and where it’s going into the future – the wide range of books covered here makes me think that the future of YA is going to be an interesting one.


About Me

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

Interview with ‘Animal People’ Author Charlotte Wood

CWCharlotte Wood has been described as “one of the most intelligent and compassionate novelists in Australia” (The Age), and “one of our finest and most chameleonic writers” (The Australian).

Her latest work is a book of essays on cooking, Love & Hunger: Thoughts on the Gift of Food. Her last novel, Animal People, won the People’s Choice medal in the 2013 NSW Premier’s Literary Awards, was shortlisted for the 2013 Christina Stead Prize for Fiction and longlisted for the 2012 Miles Franklin Literary Award. Her earlier novels were also shortlisted for various prizes, including the Miles Franklin Award and regional Commonwealth Writers’ Prize.

She is editor of The Writer’s Room Interviews magazine and is on the advisory board for Writers in Conversation, an international open access literary journal based at Flinders University.

Charlotte writes an occasional blog at, lives in Sydney with her husband and is working on her fifth novel.

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

Yes, our house was full of books. My father was an obsessive sci-fi and how-things-work non-fiction fan. I remember shelves of dusky Isaac Asimov spines alongside those blue and green Penguin paperbacks with titles like ‘Plastics in the Service of Man’, or ‘The Etruscans’. My mother was a more literary reader, alternating quite highbrow stuff with what I suppose you might call popular literary fiction. Doris Lessing or Thomas Keneally, say, or Updike. And books like The Bridge of San Luis Rey and Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. I’m just calling these up from memory now as I write. My own childish and early adolescent tastes were very mainstream and quite juvenile – Enid Blyton, Nancy Drewe mysteries and those world-weary adolescent Paul Zindel books where the kid was always hating his parents and drinking Harvey Wallbangers, dotted with the occasional foray into grownup novels I found lying about the house. I remember being deeply affected by a strange book by Richard Adams (Watership Down man) called The Plague Dogs. Then high school English dictated my reading. I loved reading in that deliberate, thoughtful way, and loved writing essays on books.

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

After my mother died, when I was twenty-nine. My father had died ten years before that. I had begun writing little snippets of ‘creative’ things at university where I’d gone as a mature age student at 23, but only once my mother had died did life separate, very potently, into ‘important’ and ‘unimportant’ categories. Writing suddenly became something very urgent for me to commit to and take seriously. I think my parents’ deaths on some level became, without my understanding or knowing it, the ‘deep and always hidden wound’ that Flaubert said was the wellspring of fiction. 

Pieces of a GirlHow did your debut novel Pieces of a Girl come to be published?

Bizarrely easily. I had spent a few years writing it in little patches, though with great seriousness of intent. I had a couple of fellowships at Varuna the Writers’ House, including, at the last, with the editor Judith Lukin-Amundsen. She declared the book finished during the week we worked together and sent it on my behalf to Picador, who made an offer within days. It was only with my second novel, The Submerged Cathedral, that my naively blithe attitude to publishing took a giant knock; it was rejected by Picador and I was devastated. Happily for me, Jane Palfreyman, then of Random House, now Allen & Unwin, loved it and has been my staunch supporter ever since. Thank god.  

Animal PeopleWhat was the inspiration behind your latest novel Animal People?

Hmm, I don’t know that there was any ‘inspiration’ – I think at the beginning it arose more from a kind of spirit of technical experimentalism for myself. I wanted to write a book that was funny and that was set in a single day. It was a reaction against my previous novel The Children which I’d found very wearing to write. As it turns out Animal People is probably much sadder than it is funny, but I still enjoyed flexing my humour muscles. 

Love & HungerHow did your non-fiction book Love and Hunger come to be written?

I had had several friends who’d been very sick, and I wanted to put together a short practical guide to cooking for sick people. I had been blogging about cooking for a few years by then, and wrote a proposal for my publisher of this practical guide. The proposal included a quite personal introduction – which the publisher asked for more of. So it morphed from a practical guide into a sort-of-memoir, with recipes. It was fun to take a complete break from fiction for a little while, though I still feel that fiction is my natural home. 

Have you had any surprising or unusual reader responses to your books? 

Not that I can recall … I am always so gratified when readers get in touch with their responses about the books if they’ve meant something to them. Mostly they are lovely. Occasionally I’ve had a reaction in a book club or festival setting that sets me back on my heels a bit – like the time a man told me Animal People was a book about hating men because I cast all Australian men as failures. Or another time I was castigated for using the present tense in a novel … often the tone of these passionately negative responses seem to say more about the asker than the book. But doubtless there are loads more people who hate my work but are not so impolite as to get in touch and tell me about it. Bless them. 

What are your writing habits? 

My writing habits are like surges rather than a steady flow. I seem to have bursts of intense and difficult activity, as well as long periods of regular, though trickling, output. I am slow and very rarely feel a sense of abundance. I have an overactive, relentlessly self-critical faculty that I am learning to change – it doesn’t make the work any better, especially in the early generative first-draft phase, and can simply make life quite miserable. A typical good day is any where I make progress – in the first draft this is sticking to a 1000-words-a-day output, regardless of its quality. In the second draft, where I am now, it’s a lower output as much of it involves cutting as much as adding. I find writing exceptionally difficult and often very discouraging, but I need to do it to make sense of the world in which I live, to feel that I am a productive human being, and most of all, I simply find enormous satisfaction in ‘making’. It makes me feel good to have created something from nothing, even if the process of doing it is, most of the time, basically beyond my capacity. 

What do you do when you feel creatively stuck?

Keep going. I try to weigh up the balance of ‘waiting’ – accepting that much of what is best in my work comes mysteriously and without being forced – with the other essential approach to the writing life – sheer, dogged, bloody-minded perseverance. If I am really stuck – as I was yesterday – I might slightly alter my working setup, like moving from working at the desk to the bed, or take a break by going for a walk, or reading something dreamy. But then I go back to it. I hate the feeling that it’s beaten me, even for a day. Yesterday I got over a difficult hump by sheer rage at the book for making me feel like shit. I needed to retaliate, in a quite savage way. I thought, fuck you – how dare you make me feel so bad. I needed to sort of bear down on it, dominate it. Weird, obviously – and exhausting – but it worked. I think I might need to use that sense of retaliation more often. Basically I do whatever I can clutch at in the moment to get me through. It’s strange how often – after publishing five books – one is at a complete loss as to how to proceed. But I now accept that this is just what it’s like. 

What are you working on now?

A very dark, strange, not-very-realistic novel about a bunch of girls in a prison in the middle of the Australian nowhere. It is freaking me out a fair bit and I am keen to be done with it. It’s not a nice book. 

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

I can’t answer these questions; my favourites change all the time. An enduring one of recent years is Joan London’s The Good Parents … London has a new book out soon and I am very excited about its arrival. 

Reviews of Charlotte’s Books:

Love and Hunger reviewed by Books Are My Favourite and Best

 Animal People reviewed by Book to the Future

The Children reviewed by Julie Proudfoot

Want More?

Interview with Courtney Collins, author of The Burial.

Family Secrets: An Interview with Christina Olsson 

Mystery & Mirth-Making: An Interview with Marianne dePierres

About Me

Annabel-smith2Annabel 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.

June 2014 Roundup: Classics and Literary

June is probably the most important month on Australia’s literary calendar – because, of course, it’s the month when our main literary award is announced. The winner, as most of you probably already know and as our awards co-ordinator Paula Grunseit has already reported, was Evie Wyld’s All the birds, singing.

All three books by women that were shortlisted for the Miles Franklin award were reviewed this month: Fiona McFarlane’s The Night Guest was reviewed by Jane Rawson, Cory Taylor’s My Beautiful Enemy by Jennifer Cameron-Smith and Marilyn Brady (our American participant), and Evie Wyld’s All the Birds, Singing by Angie Holst and Julia Tulloch.

Jolly June

June was jolly here in Lit-Classic land because we had a stellar month, numbers wise, with 39 reviews posted. Well done, everyone.

TheSwanBookAlexisWrightThe highlights are:

  • Three books are now tying for most reviewed book (to date) with all garnering 7 reviews: Kirsten Krauth’s just_a_girl, Amanda Curtin’s Elemental, and Hannah Kent’s Burial Rites. One review behind these is Evie Wyld’s All the Birds, Singing, with two indigenous writers one behind that, Alexis Wright’s The Swan Book, and Melissa Lucashenko’s Mullumbimby. With July being NAIDOC Week, I hope that next month I will be reporting on more reviews of indigenous writers.
  • One author was reviewed 5 (yes, FIVE) times this month: Kate Forsyth, with four reviews for her latest novel Dancing on Knives, and one for Bitter Greens.
  • We love seeing authors receive multiple reviews, but we also want to see a good spread, as our aim is to promote the breadth of women’s writing in Australia, past and present. This month, 5 authors received their first reviews for 2014: Sarah Armstrong, Marion Halligan, Stephanie Campisi, Elizabeth Jolley and Julie Proudfoot.
  • Our most prolific reviewer for June was Jane Rawson who posted 5 reviews on GoodReads.

The Classics

in certain circles - elizabeth harrowerReviews for two classics were posted this month. One was mine for “Bush church” in Barbara Baynton’s collection, Bush Studies. The other was Orange Pekoe’s review of Elizabeth Jolley’s The Well. This was Orange Pekoe’s second reading of the novel and, unfortunately for her, she didn’t like it any better the second time. I applaud her for giving it another go. She felt that:

the box ticking (the inclusion of ‘otherness’ for feminist, post-modern, post-colonial and, very tenuously in my opinion, racial interpretations) was to the detriment of what could have been a good gothic horror story.

While not classified by its reviewer as a classic – and rightly so because it was first published in 2014 – Elizabeth Harrower’s In certain circles, written in 1971, would have qualified had not Harrower withdrawn it from publication at, apparently, the last minute. Sonja, who reviewed it for the challenge, is clearly glad that Text Publishing decided to publish it now because, she says, it “stands the test of time”. She describes it as an emotional read in which “psychological tension … propels the narrative forward”.

Kate Forsyth

BitterGreensForsythGiven Forsyth was our most reviewed author this month, I figured she deserved a little focus. If you are a Radio National listener, you may have heard Forsyth on Life Matters because in May they commenced a new monthly series with Forsyth looking at “how fairytales can still teach us lessons in the 21st century”. Forsyth, whose writing has been inspired by fairy tales, is currently writing her doctorate on them. The first program looked at Sleeping Beauty.

Bitter Greens, which is one of the books reviewed this month, re-tells “Rapunzel”. Karen who reviewed it for the challenge tells us that the book starts with Charlotte Rose who first told the story, which was later adapted by the Grimm Brothers. Karen writes:

Kate Forsyth has let down Rapunzel’s hair for us; we all get to climb into the tower to have a good look at what’s up there and to see what it’s like to be there, to feel the longing, the despair, the thrill of escape …

Forsyth’s The wild girl, which has been reviewed several times for the challenge, albeit not this month, tells the story of Wilhelm Grimm’s romance with Dortchen Wild, the young woman who had told him many of the stories he and his brother became famous for.

dancing on knives - kate forsythThe Opal Octopus (sounds like a book title itself, doesn’t it?) who produced one of this month’s reviews for Forsyth’s latest novel, Dancing on Knives, says:

I’m a huge sucker for books where food plays an important part! I’m also a big fan of books with a powerful sense of place. This book has both, along with family dysfunction, a murder mystery, and fairytale echoes.

I haven’t read any of Octopus’ reviews before, this being her first for the literary category, but I like how she expresses herself. Here she is again:

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.

Deborah also enjoyed the book, but notes that it departs from what she understands to be Forsyth’s main genre, speculative/fantasy fiction. Perhaps so, but from what Sam says, those influences aren’t far away in what she describes as its Gothic elements, and dark suspense.

Speaking of categorisation

Applying categories to the arts – to fiction, music, and so on – is a fraught business. Categorisation has its uses. It can help us make sense of the world. But it can also confine us. We here at the Challenge had some interesting conversations when establishing our categories. We wanted broad categories that would both encompass wide ranges of books and be easy to apply. But even broad categories are not fool-proof, and some authors create big challenges for our reviewers when they link their reviews.

Kate Forsyth is one such author. The four reviews to date for Dancing on Knives have been placed in three different categories: Mixed/Don’t know/Prefer not to say (1), Crime fiction (1), and General fiction (2). A similar thing has happened with the five reviews posted this year for Alexis Wright’s The Swan Book: Mixed/Don’t know/Prefer not to say (1), Speculative fiction (2), and General fiction (2).

There is no right answer, but it does affect where and how these books appear in our various round-ups. Just saying …

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.

Celebration of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Women’s Writing: Interview with Ambelin Kwaymullina

Ambelin photoToday marks the beginning of NAIDOC week, which celebrates the history, culture and achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.  Through my Diversity roundups for the AWW Challenge I draw attention to the wonderful and wide-ranging writing by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women writers, and this month, in the spirit of NAIDOC week, it would be great to see some reviews of their books.  You can also head to ANZ LitLovers, where Lisa Hill is holding a challenge for this week, whereby you may sign up and review a novel by any Indigenous writer from around the world.

As part of our celebrations, I have interviewed author Ambelin Kwaymullina. Ambelin is an Aboriginal writer, illustrator and law academic. She comes from the Palyku people of the Pilbara region of Western Australia. She has published a number of picture books as well as a dystopian series – The Tribe – for young adults.  The first book of this series, The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf, has received enthusiastic reviews from a number of AWW’s readers over the last few years (see our review listings for 2012 and 2013), and I’m looking forward to reading the second, The Disappearance of Ember Crow. In her interview, Ambelin discusses the importance of holism, connections, mirrors, listening, and storytelling.  If you’d like to know more about Ambelin and her books, you can visit her website at

Also, if you’d like some ideas for books to read this month, you can head to the Indigenous Authors reviews on our Review Listings page.  I really look forward to reading your thoughts!

Interview with Ambelin Kwaymullina

What was the first piece of writing you can remember creating? What then set you on the path to becoming a writer?

The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf by Ambelin KwaymullinaI always wrote. But I gave it up for a long time, because I lacked faith in myself (I still wrote but not seriously, and if you want to be a writer you have to pursue it seriously; it cannot be a hobby). What set me on the path of writing again was a dream.

I dreamed a story about a crow, a tale with a message about valuing yourself. That story became Crow and the Waterhole, the first book I ever published. It was also the first book I ever illustrated. And I have always believed that the story itself was a gift from my ancestors. They knew I needed to hear the message of it.


How does your Indigenous culture influence what and how you write?

Walking the CloudsMy people, my family, my culture, my Country – this is who I am. So of course it is in every aspect of what I create. There are times when that influence is not always obvious to those looking in from the outside. For example, I get a lot of comments that it’s unusual to be an Indigenous speculative fiction writer. But worldwide there are quite a few Indigenous authors writing into speculative fiction, and to some degree we all incorporate who we are into what we write.

There is an anthology of Indigenous science fiction called Walking the Clouds, and in it, Aninishaabe scholar Grace Dillon writes that all forms of Indigenous futurisms are part of a process of returning to ourselves. Perhaps this describes all Indigenous stories; we are always who we are, in whatever genre we write. And for some specific examples of the way in which aspects of Aboriginal culture winds through The Tribe series – it is in the bonds that the Tribe have with the animals of the forest; in kin relationships that sustain them through the hardest of times; and in an earth alive with greater wisdom than human beings can fathom.


What was the inspiration for The Tribe series, and why did you decide on the genre of a dystopia?

The Disappearance of Ember CrowI wrote about real things. And I know that sounds strange for books set hundreds of years into the future. But I write of children and teenagers in danger, and for far too many of the young of this planet, that’s just another day. Worlds end all the time – they are shattered into pieces by violence, war, poverty, and hatred – and dystopias exist on this earth. I didn’t invent a world where the young are vulnerable. I just write about how they defy that reality.


Your picture book Crow and the Waterhole is about reflection, a theme which also appears in your essay  “Seeing the Light: Aboriginal Law, Learning and Sustainable Living in Country.” Is this a theme which is particular to your work, and/or are there other themes to which you often return?

Crow and the WaterholeBoth those uses of reflection actually relate to Aboriginal culture and experience. I’ve talked about Crow and the Waterhole above. And the issue of all the young people of the earth being able to find their own reflection in the world is one that concerns me greatly. I know too well how many negative images of Indigenous peoples exist, and the effect those images can have. I’ve spoken about this before in an interview where I talked about mirrors continually displaying a distorted image of yourself, and I asked the question “If that was the only face you ever saw, if that was the image continually reflected back at you, might you not come to believe that it was all you could ever be?”

In the Seeing the Light article, I was talking about holism.  One of the broad commonalities between the diverse Indigenous cultures of this world is holism; we look to connections and the place of things in context. And yes, holism is a big feature of just about everything I write. There are repeated references throughout the Tribe series to the importance of connections; and it is in the end a group of disparate people, some from the marginalised of that world and some from the privileged, who will come together to change their reality for the better.


How do you juggle writing and a day job?  Does one inform the other in any way? 

9781921696015_HOWFROGMOUTHFOUNDHERHOME‘Juggle’ probably implies a greater degree of skill than I have; I’m not always so good at keeping all the balls in the air. I snatch whatever time I can to write and I’ve taught myself to be able to do it in five minutes, or ten, or sixty – whatever bit of time is available to me I will use as best I can. The useful thing about working under pressure is that it doesn’t give you much opportunity to worry about doing something wrong. Time spent on self-doubt is time wasted, and I’ve got very little time to begin with.

My day job is as a law academic and there’s no shortage of connections between law and storytelling. A lot of Indigenous legal scholars have written of the way in which colonial stories about Indigenous peoples (and particularly about Indigenous women) have informed, or rather mis-informed, the law. And in my own culture, much of our law is communicated through stories.


What are some great books by Indigenous women writers which we should be reading?

Bush BashRead all of them.

They are wonderful stories. And for non-Indigenous readers, it is only way to begin to grasp the diversity and complexity of the lives of Indigenous women. So don’t stop at one story, or two, or ten, and don’t limit yourself by genre – Eurocentric story-categories are in any event often a poor fit for Indigenous narratives. More importantly still, don’t limit yourself by any preconceived notions of what it is to be Indigenous. In the words of Eastern Arrernte elder Kathleen Kemarre Wallace: “Come, listen to us, we will tell you our culture…appreciate you might not know the answer or understand the question. That’s what it means to work in a cross-cultural way. Respect has to flow both ways, learning too.” [Kathleen Kemarre Wallace, Listen deeply, let these stories in, IAD Press, p 171]

The Two Hearted NumbatAccept the stories on their own terms and let the voices speak for themselves. If you are struggling to find books, a good place to begin is the catalogues of Aboriginal publishers (Magabala Books, IAD Press, and Aboriginal Studies Press). Move on from there to all the other publishers; you may also find the BlackWords database on the Austlit website to be useful.

But don’t read the stories for us, or at least not only for us. I personally believe that anyone who engages with the many cultures of this world out of some hazy notion of doing good for others has entirely missed the point. Diversity is one of the wonders of this earth. To interact with cultures different to our own is to be bewildered and amazed and inspired; it is to travel through worlds and be presented with new visions of what is and what could be; it is expand our understandings of the possible. Who would pass up an opportunity like that, if it was offered to them? And it is offered. It is presented in the form of life histories, articles, cultural narratives, picture books, novels, poetry and in the thousand of other ways in which Indigenous women cast out our voices into the world.

So read all the stories – and, to quote Kathleen Kemarre Wallace again: “listen deeply, let these stories in”.


June Speculative Fiction Round-up

Hello readers and welcome again to my monthly speculative fiction round-up! We have not had as many reviews in June, perhaps because of the sudden cold in some areas of Australia? (At least, that’s what I’ve been hearing. I, meanwhile, have been enjoying a Swedish “summer” and feeling confused about my wardrobe.) Perhaps also because of the slight upswing in YA and children’s spec fic books being reviewed? Whatever the reason, hopefully there will be an improved turnout next month. I will say though, this is the first time horror has been the most reviewed genre. Huzzah! Now to up the popularity of science fiction… (preferably not at the cost of fantasy, of course).

Meanwhile, if you’re looking for reading inspiration, where better to start than this post?


great unknown meyerA respectable turnout for horror this month, especially on the short story side of things. Jane Rawson reviewed The Great Unknown, a Twilight Zone-inspired anthology, edited by Angela Meyer. She liked some of the stories more than others and, of one she liked, writes:

Krissy Kneen’s ‘Sleepwalk’ is genuinely creepy and put ideas in my head so I was nervous when the cat stared intently at something I couldn’t see (he does this most days, but now it’s creepy).

which sounds to me like what a good horror story involving cats should do.

the-year-of-ancient-ghostsI reviewed Kim Wilkins’ collection of novellas, The Year of Ancient Ghosts, which I absolutely loved. It is, in fact, one of my favourite reads of the year. The first and titular story was heart-wrenching and poignant and I was not surprised that it won the Aurealis Award for Best Horror Short Story earlier this year. Definitely worth a read.

Moving on to standalone short fiction, C J Dee over at Dark Matter Zine reviewed “Home and Hearth”, a short story by Angela Slatter. It’s set after a homicide trial and, CJ gave it four stars.

Somewhat to my surprise, the next review is of Squirm by Cari Silverwood, a book that can be categorised as a parody of “monster porn”. Apparently, this is a horror/fantasy subgenre of erotica. I was going to say that it wasn’t something I’d come across before, but now I’m wondering whether Spar by Kij Johnson (not an Australian) might count? Anyway, reviewer Kate Belle writes:Squirm Silverwood

Far from being horrified, I was fascinated. And wildly entertained. The great thing about Squirm is Cari’s clever satirical references to the well worn tropes of sci-fi, romance, erotica and especially the 21st century phenomena, 50 Shades of Grey. She takes all the tired phrasing and eye rolling moments that goes with them and weaves them together to create characters and scenarios that will make you laugh out loud.

She also talks about some of the gender-specific ramifications of writing monster porn (men probably can’t get away with it) and possible reasons behind this. The review is well worth a read.


blood-countess-thumbOn the paranormal/dark(ish) fantasy front, Faith reviewed The Blood Countess by Tara Moss, the first Pandora English book. Unfortunately, she didn’t enjoy it as much as she might have.

I’m not sure if all the stories are strictly fantasy, but I’ll categorise it here anyway. RandomAlex reviewed Rosaleen Love’s collection Secret Lives of Books. It’s the most recent collection in Twelfth Planet Press’s Twelve Planets series, which many AWW participants have reviewed over the years of the challenge. Of Secret Lives of Books, Alex writes:secret lives of books - rosaleen love

Well, most of the stories feel pretty easy to read, thanks to that simplicity of prose Duchamp identifies [in the introduction] and the fact that there’s no padding in any of them. Most of them, though, are likely to sneak around to the back of your head and whack you one to make you realise that simplicity of prose is by no means the same as simplicity of purpose, or theme, or consequence.

Science Fiction

above_below_campisiOn what I gather is the science fiction front (I haven’t read the book yet…) Jane Rawson wrote a short review of Above/Below by Stephanie Campisi and Ben Peek, a novella double (flip the book over to read the other novella, start at either side). Both novellas are set in the same world, exploring different societies. Jane was a bit torn about this one, but ultimately decided that it was worth reading.

the white list - nina daleoFinally, Maree Kimberley reviewed The White List by Nina D’Aleo. This is a sci-fi thriller set in a different world to the author’s previous books. Maree writes:

The characters are well-rounded, and I felt empathy for the “bad guys” as well as the “good guys”. For me, it’s the humour that D’Aleo injects into her writing that gives it that extra lift and keeps me cheering Silver and her allies along in their fight.


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.


Navigating non-fiction – the Jan to June 2014 round up

It’s now halfway through the year at Australian Women Writers and while we have all dabbled happily in fiction of all forms and genres, some of us want something based not in worlds woven for our pleasure but more in the reality we know and experience right now. And we are open to not just those works in book form but also those works that turn up as enlightening essays, journal articles, informative interviews, picture books for kids, memoirs and even chapters in other books.

So then what have we been reading in this current political and social climate, the first half of 2014? What will our choices say about the things that worry us, that we feel we need to know more about right now?

We have 36 reviews of 35 authors with several tied for first place with two reviews each. The most popular book was Linda Jaivin’s Found in Translation, a piece written for Quarterly Essay where she discusses the importance of the work translators do. Both Red Bluff Review and A Strong Belief in Wicker reviewed the essay.  The latter points out that:

‘Linda tells us right on page one that “translators are used to labouring in the shadows”. She reminds us that unless we “speak all 7000 languages that exist in the world, or abide in a cave without even a copper-wire connection” that we live in a world found in translation.’

If nothing this dashes the stereotype that the only subject any women can write non-fiction about is anything domestic such cookbooks. But women, as much as men, seek to inform a wider audience of things they feel they should know – things that span a great deal of subjects. But they also engage with all things culinary and we do have four cookbooks on our list: Sophie Hansen’s Local is LovelyLiz Harfull’s Australian Blue Ribbon CookbookMerle Parrish’s Country Show Baking & Katie Quinn Davies’ What Katie Ate which if memory serves right showed up in the reviews last year as well.

So what is this great span of subjects?

Well, we have Art History to start with, with Janine Burke’s Australian Women Artists 1840 – 1940, reviewed by Debbie Robson who states that:

‘This book is so much more than a chronological account of Australian women artists during a 100 year span. Burke looks at economic, social and psychological factors that affected the rise and fall (during the Depression) of Australian Women artists. What I am amazed at in this book is how many women had the support of their families during the first quarter of the last century to pursue their dreams of becoming an artist – that is as long they didn’t marry!’

Drusilla Modjeska joins in on the commentary on female artists with Stravinsky’s Lunch which entwines feminist theory with the lives of  artists Grace Cossington Smith and Stella Bowen. Nalini Haynes breaks it down for us. Debbie Robson reviews Sydney Moderns for us, edited by Deborah Edwards and Denise Mimmochi.

We have Alison Vidotto’s 22 Leadership Fundamentals – what’s that? A woman writing a book about leadership and business? Well, tough, she is and apparently she is awesome according to Cecilia Clarke who reviewed it:

‘Alison Y Vidotto has produced an outstanding piece of work that I would unequivocally recommend to anyone wanting to improve their leadership skills and their life.
Mrs Vidotto gives clear concise signposts to leadership in her 22 leadership fundamentals and intersperses these with real life anecdotes of her own life including the disasters and mistakes that she very intelligently took stock of and learned from.

This woman walks the walk and talks the talk. She does not pull back from the hard decisions nor from ownership of the responsibility for her own actions. She has built her own success on the foundations of the lessons she has learned in life and shares these in a very readable manner.’

Back to something perhaps some people would expect of women non-fiction writers – we have a children’s picture book amongst our review offerings: Emma Quay’s Rudie Nudie, rated 70 and ‘adorable’ by Cecilia Clark.

But lest you think we are conforming, we have two works by Anne Summer: Ducks On The Pond which is about her life from 1945 to 1975 told through her evolution in political and feminist thinking and reviewed by Tiffany and The Misogyny Factor, a book about feminism in all aspects of Australia’s economy, reviewed by, rather aptly, the Subversive Reader.

Ducks on the Pond charts the author’s political evolution through her student activism in opposition to the Vietnam war. Her descriptions of the birth of the Women’s Liberation Movement in the early 1970s were fascinating for their detail, and the opposition that they faced. She was involved in setting up Australia’s first women’s shelter in Sydney, and the book is worth reading for this section alone. Yet they found it difficult to secure government funding, even from a reforming Whitlam government.

A Labor activist in the 1960s and 70s would usually have had some trade union exposure (I wonder if that’s the case now). The book’s title was a phrase that Summers heard in the shearing sheds – it was a warning that women were present and that the hands should behave themselves.’

And of course, racing into the discussion for feminism is one of the pivotal books within the movement, Germaine Greer’s The Female Eunuch. Reviewed by David Golding here, who ponders whether it is still relevant, we take no responsibility for any flame wars that may occur as a result of mentioning it. Keep it clean in the comments, people, and ensure you check your privilege (whatever it may be) before responding. There’s also Helen Garner’s The First Stone as an offering up for discussion.

Over to other issues – Indigenous issues. Female writers have spent a lot of time writing about these as well in a variety of forms. Keelen Mailman wrote an autobiography called The Power of Bones and is interviewed by Nalini Haynes in a podcast form here for thy listening pleasure. But it isn’t just Indigenous writers who write but those who are non-Indigenous such as Walkley Award winner Kathy Marks, who won for her essay Channelling Mannalargena, reviewed by Whispering Gums here. It’s a heartbreaking account of how difficult it is for those in Tasmania to establish their identity and heritage and is well worth a read:

‘Because of the particular history of indigenous Tasmanians, family lines and connections have been broken, and so the way Tasmanians discover their Aboriginal background is highly varied. In her essay, Marks talks to many of the groups and factions existing in contemporary Tasmania, and describes the bitter lines that have been drawn between some of them. Some of these lines are so strongly defended that one group, the Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre (TAC) in particular, has taken legal action against people who have claimed indigenous heritage. Officially, the definition of Aboriginality in Tasmania is the same as that established by the Federal government – the three-pronged factors of ancestry, self-identification and being accepted by the indigenous community. The TAC, however, demands a family tree as part of this.’

From Indigenous issues to history and we have Jackie French writing about A Day To Remember: The Story of ANZAC Day. But this is also a children’s picture book, designed to educate as Jess from the Never Ending Bookshelf (I need one of those) points out:

‘What I found particularly interesting with this book was the way that Jackie French focused on the concept and meaning of Anzac day through various generations and the way that it was developed, shaped and then lessened in meaning before reaching height again today. The narrative is told in almost diary-like entries ranging from covering that fateful day at war in 1915 all the way up to present time (and potentially the future). Although brief and to the point, French has tried to cover all the different aspects, beliefs and experiences of war and its aftermath in a way that both children and adults alike can enjoy and take something from it. I for one was unaware that the Sydney Dawn Service originated because of an “elderly woman [who] laid a wreath of flowers at the Sydney Centotaph” in 1927 and happened to come across ” a small group of returned soldiers” who all agreed ” that next year there would be a service here at dawn”. Likewise, I had never thought of early celebrations and services on Anzac Day and was surprised to learn that in even in 1934 after dawn services had become popular throughout Australia and New Zealand, that women were excluded “in case women’s crying disturbed the silence”. All in all I found this book fascinating to read, even as an adult who has studied the wars in great detail.’

From history we step over to journalism, with a stellar example already seen in the Walkley Award winning Kathy Marks but now also in Helen Garner’s work Joe Cinque’s Consolation – a story about the murder of Joe Cinque by his girlfriend Anu Singh, the complicity of their friends in the act, the investigation and the trial. As Nalini Haynes who reviewed it writes:

‘Helen talks about her experiences at the trial, her impressions of Anu Singh, Madhavi Rao and the people who testified on their behalf. I cried for Joe’s family as I read Helen’s account of sitting with them, their emotional burden, their financial suffering, their inability to present pertinent evidence to the court.

After spending hours trawling the court transcripts, Helen confirms pertinent evidence was omitted from at least one of the trials and adds a lay-person’s explanation for the judge’s findings.’

Women have also written about travel, opening our eyes to all that lie beyond Australian borders. Lisa Clifford and Carla Coulson have teamed up in a writer-photographer duo to produce Naples: A Way of Love, reviewed by An Italophile.

Women write about writing as well. We have Tara Moss’s The Fictional Woman, Ramona Koval‘s Speaking Volumes which is a collection of her interviews with famous writers and Gabrielle Carey’s Moving Among Strangers which is about her family’s connection to Randolph Stow, reviewed by the Subversive Reader:

‘So, a book which was connected to Randolph Stow was an exciting idea. But I had no idea that it was going to be such a wonderful, moving, whimsical and real story of Stow and his connection to the Carey family. Gabrielle Carey opens with a letter that she wrote to Stow when her mother was dying, a letter which sets up a chain of events leading to a literary pilgrimage. Along the way there’s books and poetry and shipwrecks and Australian (specifically Western Australian) history. And it’s sad and uplifting and beautiful.’

There is something for everyone in the non-fiction genre. It may not be a story but there is often a narrative to follow. And whatever your interest, there is something to spark your curiosity and lead you to explore and learn further. And whether you want a nibble such as an essay or article or a full feast, such as a book length work, there are forms to suit your particular diet in this smorgasbord. And you come out learning from a different voice, different perspective and richer for the experience whether you liked the work or not.

Non-fiction, especially that written by women, is not something to be afraid of trying.  My question for you now is, what sort of subjects and work do you want to see more female authors explore within the non-fiction genre? Tell us in the comments and leave us your suggestions for authors and works we have not tried.

About me
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, onFacebook or tweet at her at @mwikramanayake

Evie Wyld wins 2014 Miles Franklin Literary Award for All the Birds, Singing.


Miles Franklin

Congratulations to Evie Wyld for her Miles Franklin win with her novel All the Birds, Singing.

The novel was judged as being ‘of the highest literary merit’ and presents ‘Australian Life in any of its phases’ in accordance with Miles Franklin’s guidelines for the Award.

Perpetual’s General Manager of Philanthropy, Andrew Thomas, said the Miles Franklin Literary Award is a fantastic example of philanthropy for the arts in Australia.

“As an author Miles Franklin has made an impact on all of her readers and as a philanthropist she continues to make her mark on the literary community,” Mr Thomas said. “In 2014 this Award continues to make a difference to talented writers such as Evie Wyld.

“We’re delighted to have the honour of being the Trustee of this Award, growing Miles Franklin’s initial investment of $17,844 in decimal currency to its current position of more than $1.3 million. This growth has allowed us to continue to deliver the current prize money and ensure we keep Miles Franklin’s legacy alive.”

Evie Wyld’s novel was selected from a shortlist of authors which included Richard Flanagan, Fiona McFarlane, Cory Taylor, Tim Winton and Alexis Wright.

All the Birds Singing

“As an author Miles Franklin has made an impact on all of her readers and as a philanthropist she continues to make her mark on the literary community,” Mr Thomas said. “In 2014 this Award continues to make a difference to talented writers such as Evie Wyld.

Commenting on behalf of the judging panel, State Library of New South Wales Mitchell Librarian, Richard Neville, described Wyld’s writing as “spare, yet pitch perfect”, with her novel being both “visceral and powerfully measured in tone”.

All the Birds, Singing draws the reader into its rhythm and mystery, through wonderfully and beautifully crafted prose, whose deceptive sparseness combines powerfully with an ingenious structure to create a compelling narrative of alienation, decline and finally, perhaps, some form of redemption,” Mr Neville said.

“Flight from violence and abuse run through the core of the novel, yet never defeat its central character. All the Birds, Singing, an unusual but compelling novel, explores its themes with an unnervingly consistent clarity and confidence.”

Richard Neville was joined on the judging panel by The Australian journalist and columnist, Murray Waldren, Sydney-based bookseller, Anna Low, biographer, book historian, publishing editor, and Queensland Writers Centre founding chair, Craig Munro, and Emeritus Professor, Susan Sheridan.

As I’ve said, probably ranted, before — I fell in love with All the Birds, Singing when I read/reviewed it last year over at the Newtown Review of Books so, was delighted to find out it had won the Miles Franklin this year. I confess I was on duty at the library at the time and my double squees of delight at the Information Desk were audible to library patrons (how embarrassing). So far, we’ve had seven other reviews of the book (some excerpts below) and all AWW reviews are accessible here.

Julia Tulloh enjoyed the book and wrote: “I was excited when I heard that Evie Wyld’s second novel, All the Birds, Singing, was a contemporary gothic thriller about a woman in the wilder parts of the English country side who is haunted by a strange beast in the woods. I love scary novels with female protagonists, and having lived in Scotland, was excited to see how the landscape might be used to explore psychological terror. … it’s just that my hopes of a scary landscape were met in the outback, rather than the English hills.”

Candace at Word Engineer said: “It’s been a long time since I’ve genuinely enjoyed a book as much as I did All the Birds, Singing.” Despite finding it “bleak at times”, she writes that “Wyld, a gifted storyteller, knows when to take a break and integrate moments of kindness and warmth to soothe her readers.” Candace was also “intrigued by the abrupt ending.”

Orange Pekoe Reviews said it was “a short, almost perfect novel.” She went on to say that “ Jake’s character was superbly created. No specific physical description of Jake is included but the tiny snippets provided along the way made me want to know more. By the end it is clear that her physical appearance added complexity to everything she experienced and you are left wishing more detail was provided yet the novel does work better without any background expository. The flashback chapters that spun in reverse chronological order were highly addictive to read. Just when you thought you were getting close to finding out about Jake’s secret and her scars, the author takes you back even further in time. The final revelation isn’t what I expected either and I liked the fact it wasn’t predictable.”

Sue at Whispering Gums writes: “All the Birds, Singing is about how the past cannot “be left alone”. “We’ve all got pasts”, the shearers’ boss tells Jake early in the novel, but for some people the past must be dealt with before they can move on. The novel is also about redemption. It’s not the first novel about the subject, and neither will it be the last, but it is a finely told version that catches you in its grips and makes you feel you are reading it for the first time.”

Biblionetworker reviewed the novel saying: “This was definitely a book that I was very sorry to come to the end of, because I was sorry to be leaving  Jake’s story and was still not sure of its conclusion. I can’t wait to talk to other readers of this book to hear their ideas about it!”

The Miles Franklin Award was established by My Brilliant Career author Stella Maria Sarah Miles Franklin to support Australian literature and over the past 58 years has maintained her literary legacy.

About Me

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


May 2014 Roundup: Diversity

Over May, our list of reviews showcasing books that feature diversity was hearteningly diverse itself – Australia’s women writers are a vibrant bunch who aren’t afraid to express their difference.

FromTheFeetUpTanyaSaadJennifer of GoodReads reviewed Tanya Saad’s memoir From the Feet Up. Saad had inherited a gene which increased her risk of developing aggressive breast and/or ovarian cancer. As well as detailing Tanya’s decisions as to whether to have preventative surgery, the work also covers her “experiences of ‘otherness’, of growing up in regional Australia where being of Lebanese heritage would ensure she stood out, and later of being a gay woman.”

Michelle de Kretser, Questions of travelAlso on the subject of writers of diverse heritage, Karen posted “a big, sprawling review” of Michelle de Krester’s similarly expansive novel, Questions of Travel. Of Laura, the protagonist, Karen writes:

Importantly [Laura] asks herself repeatedly Why am I here? – a question I think we should all ask at frequent intervals. I wonder if it’s a question asked more often, more deeply, by the displaced, and the out of place amongst us.

And I wonder, too, if writers in general might feel themselves to be outliers from the mainstream, and if they can write at all without a sense of displacement?

madnessamemoirOne might not only be displaced by geography, and constantly searching for home, as Laura does; one can also be literally out of one’s mind or, looking at this from another perspective, trapped within it. Kate Richards’ Madness: a memoir, was reviewed by Janine of Resident Judge, who writes:

we climb into Kate Richard’s life and it’s not a good place to be.  She is a qualified doctor, but years of mental illness have made this career path untenable for her.  There is  this chaotic, obsessive, hyper-sensitive existence inside her head that somehow co-exists falteringly with the semblance of a ‘normal’ life: a job in medical research, friends, parents, a flat.

This hyper-sensitivity does give rise to moments of poetry, but also chaos, leading Janine to conclude, “This is such a brave book.  It is simply written, but it is hard to read.”

rogue-canavanLeaping from memoir to speculative fiction, Trudi Canavan’s The Rogue features a gay relationship which, Mark Webb writes in his review, was refreshingly normal, “with the same attention given to the gay character’s love life as the straight ones.”  Oh, for a world where this is real rather than fictional!

The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf by Ambelin KwaymullinaThere were also five reviews of works by Indigenous women writers, which is a great warm up for next month’s focus on Indigenous women writers. This is held in the spirit of NAIDOC week, from 6th-13th July, but all throughout July we’ll be encouraging readers to pick up a book by an Indigenous women writer, and we’ll also feature an interview by Ambelin Kwaymullina, author of the wonderful The Tribe series. And if you head over to Lisa Hill’s blog at ANZ LitLovers, you’ll find that she is hosting Indigenous Literature Week, also in celebration of NAIDOC week.

power-of-bones-mailmanThere were two reviews of Indigenous woman Keelen Mailman’s The Power of Bones, a memoir about Keelen’s difficult childhood and her later advocacy for her people. Brenda of GoodReads “enjoyed the basis of this memoir” but found the writing and time frame distracting. Meanwhile, Dark Matter Zine described Keelen’s voice in the work as “strong, talking as if we’re sitting at her kitchen table sharing coffee.” They also interviewed Keelen, noting that she is “passionate about protecting sacred sites and building bridges with non-Aborigine farmers” and explains that “Native Title co-exists with farming rights.”

MullumbimbyMelissaLucashenkoMelissa Lucashenko’s Mullumbimby also details the strain and complexities created by Native Title. It’s good to see this work still being reviewed, as it’s an accessible way of learning out about Indigenous culture and connection to land.  Maree of GoodReads also loved the book’s language, dialogue and humour.

listening-to-country-moriartyMarilyn of Me, You and Books penned a review of Listening to Country by Ros Moriaty, who married an Indigenous man and came to know his family and their culture.  Her book, Marilyn writes, “is meant to expand appreciation of the Indigenous people living so close to the edge of disappearance. Her goal is to honor her Borroloola family; not to appropriate their secrets but to hear their songs.”  As Marilyn points out, listening – to country, and to Indigenous people – is part of the ethics of understanding European colonisation, and of writing about it.

rabbit-proof-fence-pilkingtonOther books by Indigenous women writers that were reviewed include Doris Pilkinton’s Rabbit-Proof Fence, reviewed by Carolyn at GoodReads, which tells the story of three Indigenous girls taken from their families, who then escape and find their way home by following the rabbit-proof fence. Carolyn describes the story as a simply told and “incredible story of tenacity and survival [that] is powerful in portraying the devastation of white settlement on Australia’s Aboriginal communities.”

theswanbook-wrightFinally, John of Musings of Literary Dilettante penned a spectacular review of Alexis Wright’s The Swan Book, capturing its coiling narrative, in which he “sometimes felt like a mouse spinning in the loop of Wright’s wheel but not going anywhere. Maybe this was intentional on her part; maybe faced with the so-called greatest moral challenge of our time we are all, at the moment, spinning our wheels.”  I also enjoyed his reference to the novel’s “loose-electricity,” derived from “Wright’s story-telling, fusing styles, tenses, high and low registers, first and third-person points-of-view with varying degrees of ‘closeness’, left-field similes/metaphors, and numerous references to swans from other works … all underpinned by the Aboriginal belief system.”

If you’re looking for a book by an Indigenous author to pick up over July, you can certainly try The Swan Book. It isn’t necessarily a straightforward work, but it is rewarding. You can also peruse our list of Indigenous women writers at our Weebly page. I’d love to see what you uncover!


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.

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