Three awards were given to Australian women writers of histories and memoirs in the last month. The biggest news was the awarding of the Stella Prize to Clare Wright for The Forgotten Rebels of Eureka. There has been a flurry of publicity about the book since this award and it is now available in paperback.
The Forgotten Rebels of Eureka was reviewed this month by Annette Hughes for The Newtown Review of Books. She praised the “vivid imagery of Wright’s writing” and the “minute detail of Wright’s delicate stitching together of facts”. Annette compared Wright’s writing to Barbara Tuchman’s history of the fourteenth century, A Distant Mirror:
Like Tuchman, Wright can conjure up the smell of woodfire and the stink of sweat, dogshit and the damp bedding of camp life, all of which clings to your senses as she leads you though the great dramatic social and political ferment of world events that underpinned the exodus from Europe to anywhere – especially a goldfield at the bottom of the known universe.
For some further insights into this book you can read the interview of Clare Wright that I wrote for the Challenge a few weeks ago.
This month two memoirs written by Australian women won major awards. Kristina Olsson, who I interviewed last week, was the joint winner of the Douglas Stewart Prize for Non-fiction at the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards. Her family memoir, Boy, Lost was reviewed for the Challenge this month by Janine Rizzetti. She describes it as “an anxious, hand-wringing book”. “There are abrupt stops, loose ends and silences throughout all their stories, and the structure reflects that well”, she comments. Olsson has also won the nonfiction prize at the Queensland Literary Awards for this book and has been shortlisted for numerous other awards.
The other award that was announced this month was the Finch Memoir Prize. Written by Karen Harrland, Spinifex Baby is about a couple who left Tasmania to settle in central Australia. Several participants enjoyed reading last year’s winner. I hope that in the coming weeks the Challenge will receive some reviews of Spinifex Baby.
Two reviews of books about indigenous Australians were received this month. Carolyn wrote a succinct review of Rabbit Proof Fence by Doris Pilkington about her mother and a friend who made an incredible escape from the prison-like school where Aboriginal children were forced to live after being removed from their parents.
Marilyn Brady “whole-heartedly” recommends Listening to Country by Ros Moriarty. This is the story of a woman who was raised in Tasmania but settled in the Gulf country of northern Australia after marrying an Aboriginal man from this region. Moriarty is accepted by her new Aboriginal family. “She is consistently open to the goodness she can learn from the people and angry at the ways in which they have been treated”, Marilyn comments. “Her goal is to honor her Borroloola family; not to appropriate their secrets but to hear their songs.”
Like most of the books mentioned in this roundup, Shattered Anzacs by Marina Larsson is about family. It is about how difficulties faced by injured Australian soldiers who returned from World War affected their families. Janine Rizzetti comments that this history does not have the “emotional nuance of a fictional rendering” but says that the stories in this book “form a good counter-balance to the emotion-sodden identification with heroic great-grandfathers that is being encouraged amongst school children in our present-day Anzac commemorations”. She concludes:
Like all good history books, it brings phenomena out from the shadows in a way that you wonder why you didn’t see them before, and once you’re aware of the issues raised, you continue to see things differently in the future. In the tsunami of Anzac celebration that will engulf us over the next year, that’s a very good thing.
We read books and write reviews because we enjoy doing this and want to share great books with others. At times we may think that what we do is an insignificant hobby. However, in the last week several things occurred which reminded me that what we do matters to publishers and authors.
Firstly I draw your attention to a significant article on the Challenge website, ‘If you aren’t part of the solution…‘. On the weekend a publisher of Speculative Fiction wrote about the Challenge and gender issues in the Australian speculative fiction scene. You may have missed seeing the post or skipped it thinking that it was a niche article about a genre that you don’t read. If you haven’t read it I urge you to read it now. In this powerfully worded article, Alisa Kranostein emphatically states how important the Challenge is to publishers like Twelfth Planet Press. This Challenge makes a real difference and Kranostein says that our work has led to more readers discovering the work of authors published by Twelfth Planet Press.
We make a difference.
The second event was a National Book Bloggers Forum organised by Random House and Penguin. Held last week, bloggers from around Australia gathered in Sydney for a day of talking books. The fact that Random House and Penguin made the effort to organise the program and host book bloggers speaks volumes for their regard for book bloggers. “We want to acknowledge you are part of the book publishing industry”, said Brett Osmond, the Australian Random House Director of Marketing and Publicity, at the start of the Forum. Several reviewers from the Australian Women Writers’ Challenge team were at the Forum.
Both a small publisher and a very large publisher have recognised the work of the online book reviewing community in the same week.
We make a difference.
As we already know, authors are grateful for reviews, it helps their sales if people are talking about their books. Yet authors don’t just care about sales. People write because they want to be read. They want to engage readers with the ideas they explore in their books. This week I have received expressions of gratitude from several authors and I know that I’m not the only one.
We review books because we enjoy reading and writing. We want to tell others about great books we have read. However, in moments of despair when we might question why we put the time into this, it helps to hear that our work does indeed make a difference.
Keep the reviews coming!
I’m Yvonne Perkins. Currently I am researching the beliefs, religious or otherwise, of soldiers who served in World War I. In my spare time I enjoy reading history and sharing history on my blog, Stumbling Through the Past. I can also be found @perkinsy on twitter.