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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


About Me

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

Interview with ‘Lost & Found’ author Brooke Davis

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

She can be found on Facebook and Twitter.

Photo credit: Ailsa Bowyer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What do you do when you feel creatively stuck?

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

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

What are you working on now?

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

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

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

Reviews of Brooke’s book

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

Want More?

Interview with ‘The Lost Girls’ author Wendy James

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

August 2014 Roundup: Classics and Literary

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


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

The highlights are:

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

The Classics

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

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

New books out

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Helen Garner

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


About Me

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

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

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

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

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

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


Memoir as Protest

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

August 2014: General Fiction

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


Deeper Water by Jessie Cole

Deeper Water Jessie Cole

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

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


Family Secrets by Liz Byrski

Family Secrets Liz Byrski


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

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


Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty


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

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


Cherry Bomb by Jenny Valentish

Cherry Bomb Jenny Valentish


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

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


The Eye of The Sheep by Sofie Laguna

The Eye of the Sheep Sofie Laguna

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

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


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

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



About Me

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


August Speculative Fiction Round-up

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


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

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

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

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

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

Science Fiction

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


About Me

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

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

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

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

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


Light and Shade

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

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

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

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

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

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





Short fiction & Poetry roundup: July and August 2014

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

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

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

Sounds good?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What were the words that kept you warm?

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

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

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

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

And where we will be.

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

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

About me
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

July 2014 Roundup: Diversity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


About Me

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

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

Happy Book Week!

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

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

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

Wildlife was also reviewed here and here.

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


About Me

I’ve had a strong interest in children’s fiction since Grade 1 when a fabulous teacher bribed me with Famous Five novels. I continued reading Melina Dchildren’s and YA books  long after I was supposed to ‘grow up’ – something which served me very well when I became a teacher and was known all over the school as ‘the teacher with the books’. I’m currently on maternity leave, enjoying the rich world of picture books with my toddler and sporadically blogging over at Adventures of a Subversive Reader

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