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.

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 www.howtoshuckanoyster.com, 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.

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 www.ambelin-kwaymullina.com.au.

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”.

 

May 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.

ChildOfTwilightCarmelBirdChild of Twilight by Carmel Bird

“′It is strange and fascinating to me to think of people — Avila in particular — praying me into existence.′
Sydney Peony Kent is nineteen years old. She was a longed-for IVF baby, ′product of an unknown egg and unknown sperm′ implanted in her mother, Avila. Avila not only used the latest scientific techniques to conceive Sydney, but also prayed to the Bambinello, a small carved and jewelled statue of the infant Jesus housed in the church of Santa Maria in Aracoeli in Rome and said to have miraculous properties.
Avila′s distant relative Father Roland Bruccoli was conceived in a more conventional manner, but his mother too prayed to the Bambinello before his birth — and that of his twin sister Eleena. It is when the adult Roland is visiting the church of Santa Maria one evening that the Bambinello is stolen. Roland hopes that Father Cosimo, an archivist, poet and riddler said to speak in the ancient green language of the troubadours, can assist in discovering what has happened to the Bambinello. But when matters of belief are involved, nothing is straightforward, as Sydney discovers herself when she too becomes caught up in tracing the Bambinello′s fate. Deftly weaving together religion, science, pregnancies wanted and unwanted, love, loss and belief, Carmel Bird has created a luminous novel that both questions and celebrates the miraculous.”

Reviewed by Wayward Fancy “The constellation of characters past and present, living and dead, dance an intricate and whimsical tale of faith, magic, science, mystery, love and loss. The book delights at every turn. Read it. With Carmel Bird, you are in the hands of a masterful story teller.”

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The Hum of Concrete by Anna Soldinghum-concrete

The Hum of Concrete is an evocative novel about a city and its people. Set in the multicultural city of Malmö, Sweden, The Hum of Concrete is the story of five people whose lives intersect.

Consumed with despair, Palestinian Nassrin walks into the ocean with her baby in her arms. Susanna dares to take a stand against gay-bashers. By starlight, Bodil sees the city from the roof of a church. Estella meets her tough little half-brother for the first time. Lonely Rhyme seeks shelter in a tree full of fairy lights. And all round them, the hum of concrete.

With photographic precision, Anna Solding captures both light and shadow found in the fleeting beauty of everyday life. From the silences between people and the ordinariness of places, she conjures narrative jewels of intelligence and pleasure.

- See more at: http://midnightsunpublishing.com/books/the-hum-of-concrete/#sthash.Pj2DYILn.dpuf

“The Hum of Concrete is an evocative novel about a city and its people. Set in the multicultural city of Malmö, Sweden, The Hum of Concrete is the story of five people whose lives intersect. Consumed with despair, Palestinian Nassrin walks into the ocean with her baby in her arms. Susanna dares to take a stand against gay-bashers. By starlight, Bodil sees the city from the roof of a church. Estella meets her tough little half-brother for the first time. Lonely Rhyme seeks shelter in a tree full of fairy lights. And all round them, the hum of concrete. With photographic precision, Anna Solding captures both light and shadow found in the fleeting beauty of everyday life. From the silences between people and the ordinariness of places, she conjures narrative jewels of intelligence and pleasure.”

Reviewed by Monique @ Write Note Reviews Anna Solding mixes intelligence and heart into The Hum of Concrete; it’s a surprising read that uses interesting and original literary techniques, but one I thoroughly enjoyed. It’s a book for those who like a little more literary in their fiction.”

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love-like-water-mcdonaldLove Like Water by Meme McDonald

“A piercing discussion of racial relationships, this powerful and sensual love story is about Cathy, a young woman from the country who moves away from home and has her beliefs and sense of identity challenged. As she falls for Jay, her friendship with Margie, a wild city girl always up for a good time, is confronted. Lively characters, deep emotion, and humor collide in a tough city in the harsh but beautiful landscape of central Australia. Emotionally charged and intense, this complex and important novel explores the blurred boundaries between black and white, city and country, lover and friend.”

Reviewed by Me, You and Books  “Love like Water is an excellent novel, one I recommend strongly to a variety of readers.  As a non-Australian, I learned a great deal about the continent and its racial tensions, somewhat unlike those I see in the USA.  McDonald is a delightful writer, wise without ever being polemic.  This is a novel to be read for strength and for hope.”

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unforgivableUnforgivable by Sharon Robards

Unforgivable is the story of a teenage girl and a young nun caught up in the great religious and social upheaval brought on by Vatican II, and a thriving adoption industry driven by society’s fierce disapproval of unmarried mothers. Seventeen-year-old Sylvia, like many unmarried teenage mothers across Australia in 1966, is forced to wait for the birth of her child in one of the homes and hospitals run by the Catholic Church. St Joseph’s Hospital, managed by the Sisters of St Anthony, has never had a girl walk out the front gate without first leaving behind her baby. But the sisters had never met Sylvia, defiant and headstrong and determined to keep her child.”

Reviewed by Brenda, “I thoroughly enjoyed this book. The anguish of the young women in the 60s and 70s is well documented; for those who wanted to keep their babies it was traumatic, for those who wanted to adopt them out, not so much. But the absolute shame and secrecy surrounding those “unwanted” pregnancies was heartwrenching – it doesn’t matter what side of the fence you are on.”

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YenohansLegacyJacobsenYenohan’s Legacy by Dale Lorna Jacobsen

Fran McMillan, a thirty-something chisel-wielding woman, is camped at Mount Clear in Namadgi National Park, escaping the heat of a Queensland summer, when she encounters Kelvin, one of a group of men from Canberra restoring a high-country hut. She inveigles her way into the work party — a weekend that changes her life.

Reviewed by Helen McKenna “I really enjoyed Yenohan’s Legacy. Told in an easy to read way and skillfully constructed to connect past and present, it captured my interest right at the start and continued right until the end.”

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

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bookdout_squarebadge_web

About Me

My name is Shelleyrae Cusbert I am a mother of four children, aged 7 to 17, living in the mid north coast of NSW. I am an obsessive reader and publish my thoughts about what I read at my book blog,  Book’d Out.  In 2012 I read and reviewed a total of 109 books for the AWW Challenge and in 2013 a total of 117. I juggle caring for my family with a part time job and volunteer at both the town’s local library and the children’s school library.

April 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.

Five novels that debuted in April, reviewed by AWW participants

 

LosingKateKylieKaden

“I’m the most authentic version of myself when I’m around Jack. We’ve known each other since we were kids, and our relationship was always one of mudpies and mocking. Then everything changed. Beautiful Kate, my best friend, disappeared on a moonlit beach after Jack dumped her for me. Jack was a suspect and, sure of his innocence, I lied to protect him. I know Jack didn’t kill her. Our betrayal did. Thirteen years later, I am thirty, childless and single, attempting to renovate my life rescuing a rundown worker’s cottage. All is as it should be in my safe little world – until Jack buys the vacant lot behind my house… and the feelings that we buried all those years ago – the guilt, the love and the pain – resurface. We can’t keep running away from the past – and to move forward we have to know what really happened to Kate.” {Random House}

“Kylie Kaden’s compelling debut novel, Losing Kate, is an absorbing contemporary story of secrets, betrayal, love and redemption.” writes Shelleyrae of Book’d Out. “The suspense is tantalisingly crafted,” notes Sam Still Reading while Monique of Write Note Reviews praises,  Clever plotting, well-developed characters and multi-layered tension”.

*****

the-return-kwon“War ends and the world changes, as it always does. The enemy are no longer the enemy – just people living their lives. But hate is hard to extinguish. The scars of war are not always visible, and they don’t always fade. They haven’t for Merna Gibson and they definitely haven’t for her husband, Frank. He won’t ever forget what was done to him and his mates. The nightmares, the aches, the pain of seeing things a person should never see stay with him, always. The long-ago war colours their family life. For Merna, at home on the farm, Japan is very far away. For Frank, it isn’t far enough. But their son, Paul, doesn’t carry the same beliefs. For him, Japan is a place of possibility, a country to embrace. Father and son live worlds apart even when at the same table. Hate and prejudice has created a gulf between the two. When a woman comes into their son’s life, it is left to Merna to try to bridge the gap. Caught between the two men she loves she is determined to keep her family together, while still everything keeps changing” {Hachette}

“A thought provoking and fascinating exploration of family, identity and change. A brave debut novel by a talented Australian author.” suggests Lauren of The Australian Bookshelf

*****

DrivingUnderTheInfluenceJennaMartinChelsea has had a rough week. After a few great years of professional triumphs and personal stability, she suddenly finds herself—at the grand old age of 28—homeless, jobless and single. Cheating on her boyfriend with her boss probably wasn’t the brightest idea.  Salvation comes in the form of her father, Gary ‘Turbo’ Turbiton, a once major but now fading star of stage and screen, who offers her a job as his assistant while he travels Australia promoting his recent autobiography. Chelsea adores her Dad but she knows from years of family road trips just what this ‘job’ will entail: hours and hours of mindless bush trivia, pit stops to ridiculous local landmarks and pointed interrogations about what she’s doing with her life. All the while John Denver will warble endlessly on the CD player. Resigned to her fate—and without a better offer—she says yes.  The promo tour takes the two of them across Australia—from a family wedding in Darwin to a pig farm in Port Fairy, from a chance encounter in Tenterfield to an impromptu karaoke night in Yackandandah. Along the way there are unplanned detours—and people—they have to face as they both struggle with that eternal life question: what happens next?” {Random House}

“This is a delightful debut novel about one woman’s life changing journey during a road trip with her famous father, stopping to see various lunatic relatives and landmarks along the way; full of reminiscing, hope, love and laughter this book will hook you in and before you know it you will be smiling and laughing out loud. This read is so enjoyable!” Carol @ Reading, Writing and Reisling

*****

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

“The plot was intriguing, with a couple of unexpected twists; the story was emotional and had me in tears a number of times – all in all a fabulous read,” writes Brenda.  Monique of Write Note Reviews says “McLeod is adept at infusing a distinct Australian atmosphere into her writing via characters and description”

*****

TheTeaChestJosephineMoonKate Fullerton, talented tea designer and now co-owner of The Tea Chest, could never have imagined that she’d be flying from Brisbane to London, risking her young family’s future, to save the business she loves from the woman who wants to shut it down. Meanwhile, Leila Morton has just lost her job; and if Elizabeth Clancy had known today was the day she would appear on the nightly news, she might at least have put on some clothes. Both need to start again.
When Kate’s, Leila’s and Elizabeth’s paths unexpectedly cross, they throw themselves into realising Kate’s magical vision of London’s branch of the newest and most delectable tea shop, The Tea Chest. But every time success is within their grasp, increasing tensions damage their trust in each other. With the very real possibility that The Tea Chest will fail, Kate, Leila and Elizabeth must decide what’s important to each of them. Are they willing to walk away or can they learn to believe in themselves?
” {Allen & Unwin}

“I really enjoyed this book and felt that the strengths were really in the way the four women came together and developed a working relationship and friendship” shares Bree of All the Books I Can Read. Monique of Write Note Reviews feels; “It’s cosy and heart-warming, plus filled with some gorgeous combinations of teas that I’ve never thought of. Tea lovers will definitely rejoice in this book and perhaps even be motivated to make some of their own blends.  Shelleyrae @ Book’d Out writes: ” A charming debut novel from Josephine Moon, The Tea Chest is a story about self belief, friendship, love and tea.”

****

Other April Releases

CrimsonDawnMcDonaldTimeWillTellFionaMcCallumTrackingNorthKerryMcGinnis

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

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About Me

My name is Shelleyrae Cusbert I am a mother of four children, aged 7 to 17, living in the mid north coast of NSW. I am an obsessive reader and publish my thoughts about what I read at my book blog,  Book’d Out.  In 2012 I read and reviewed a total of 109 books for the AWW Challenge and in 2013 a total of 117. I juggle caring for my family with a part time job and volunteer at both the town’s local library and the children’s school library.

 

 

 

 

 

April 2014 Roundup: Diversity

These balmy (at least in Brisbane!) autumn evenings kept our readers out of doors over April, as numbers were down in the diversity department.  Yours truly is also to blame, as I’ve been chained to my desk with writing deadlines.  However soon I’ll unshackle myself and start reviewing the books that I’ve been reading.

MullumbimbySome of our reviewing stalwarts penned great pieces this month.  Marilyn of Me, You and Books reviewed Indigenous author Melissa Lucashenko’s Mullumbimby.  Through the protagonist Jo Breen, Marilyn writes, Lucashenko ‘challenges the assumed normality of whiteness … Her views and Lukashenko’s do not romanticize Indigenous life or view it as uniformly tragic.  They simply do not take European institutions and world views as the norm.’  Lucashensko’s use of language contributes to the creation of this world view, as the work is peppered with Bunjalung words.  Marilyn sometimes found herself stumbling over these phrases, but she didn’t mind that, for it helped her ‘move away from the English I assume is universal and into a world where I am the outsider.’

TiddasA few of AWW’s regular bloggers reviewed Anita Heiss’ Tiddas, about five Indigenous women in Brisbane who get together once a month for book club.  Michael, in the Newtown Review of Books describes it as a strong and meaningful ‘fictional account of the strong Koori connections to ancestors and land’ to which she gave voice in Am I Black Enough for You?  Lauren of The Australian Bookshelf admired the Indigenous women’s ‘strength, their connection with their Aboriginal heritage and their determination to be good role models and advocate for those who are underprivileged.’  WriteNoteReviews writes that ‘Readers will relate to the issues and challenges the five women experience, such as fertility, career, family and relationships, and sex – each of us can relate to one or all of them,’ and adds that Heiss takes these ‘issues further, using her strong ensemble cast to add social commentary on Aboriginal culture, identity and politics.’

TheSwanBookAlexisWrightIt was also good to see a review of Alexis Wright’s complex and multi-layered The Swan Book from Stephanie at Goodreads, who warns that ‘if you want your story told in a straightforward manner, then you should look elsewhere.’ The prose, she notes, ‘is often poetic, slipping into colloquialisms and stream-of-consciousness and back again, often within the span of one sentence.’ It isn’t a straightforward book, but that makes it refreshing, and the reader is rewarded with something new each time they return to it.

SafeHarbourHeleneYoungIn her Classics and Literary roundup for April, Sue commented on works with Indigenous content or characters by white writers, a theme on which she sometimes meditates in her blog Whispering Gums.  To Sue’s worthy mentions I’ll add Kat of Book Thingo’s review of Helene Young’s new work, Safe Harbour, which features an Indigenous character who is important to the protagonist’s back story.  Kat writes that ‘I’ve long felt that Aboriginal characters are severely underrepresented in this genre—at least, where rural fiction intersects with romance—so I hope this is something that we’ll see more of.’

AnguliMaAGothicTaleChiVuThere were also reviews from writers of diverse backgrounds. Nalini of DarkMatterZine wrote on Vietnamese-born Chi Vu’s Anguli Ma: A Gothic Tale, set in Melbourne in the 1980s, when the flight of refugees from Vietname to Australia was at its height.  ‘Neither supernatural nor excessively bloody,’ she writes, ‘this tale has the potential to shock while illuminating the very real ramifications of disclocation suffered by refugees fleeing devastation.’ It sounds like a fascinating novella, and I’ve ordered a copy to my local library.

ABeautifulPlaceToDieNunn

Angie, of Projected Happiness, reviewed Malla Nunn’s popular crime novel A Beautiful Place to Die, set in 1950s South Africa.  Nunn’s work, she writes ‘is an education in race relations and culture mores, wrapped around an engaging whodunit.  Her language is to the point, while addressing the “jigsaw of people” who make up the nation.’

Foreign-soil-clarkeSean from Adventures of a Bookonaut reviewed Maxine Beneba Clark’s short stories, Foreign Soil, in which the majority of characters ‘are people of colour and the settings range from the West Indies, to England and Australia.’  Sean was hugely impressed with the collection, and commented that Clarke ‘has that knack of taking characters who you share nothing in common with (at least on the surface) and making you care desperately about them.’ That’s the sign of a good writer!  I’m looking forward to uncovering more of them next month.

 

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’m currently writing a book of creative non-fiction on Queensland novelist Rosa Praed and her deaf daughter Maud.  You can find more information about me at my website.  I’m also on Twitter @ladyredjess.

Interview with ‘Addition’ Author Toni Jordan

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Toni Jordan’s debut novel, Addition, was shortlisted for the Barbara Jefferis Award and longlisted for the Miles Franklin in 2009, and has been published in seventeen countries. Her second novel, Fall Girl, was published in Australia, the UK, France, Germany and Taiwan and has been optioned for film. Her latest novel, Nine Days, was awarded Best Fiction at the 2012 Indie Awards. Toni teaches creative writing at RMIT University.
Did you grow up in a bookish house? What was your early relationship with books?
My parents weren’t great readers: Dad, not at all; Mum, sweeping historical sagas with ladies in bonnets on the jacket, of which she had about six that she re-read over and over. They were always great enablers of my habit, though, and from when I turned two until high school, once a fortnight they drove my sister and me to the Carina library where they’d wait in the car and listen to the races on the car radio while we painstakingly chose our stash. I have no idea why I became such an obsessive reader.
When did you begin writing in a serious way, and what motivated that?
I enrolled in RMIT’s Diploma of Professional Writing and Editing, with the intention of opening my own business in technical and scientific writing (I am a protein chemist by trade, and had spent years writing drug dossiers and new chemical entity literature reviews, etc.). While picking out my subjects, my husband Robbie, said: ‘You’re obsessed with reading novels, so why don’t you pick one of the creative subjects just for the fun of it?’ So I did, I chose ‘novel writing’.
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How did your debut novel Addition come to be written and published?
Addition began as an assignment for that class. After the course ended, I kept working at it while working days, writing for pharmaceutical and biotechnology firms. It took two years from beginning to end. Then I put a lot of effort into choosing my dream publisher. I sent it to Text, and they were generous enough to take it.
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What research did you have to do for Nine Days and how did you go about it?

Oh, so much research. It was strange, but it somehow didn’t register that I was writing historical fiction. My first two novels had been contemporary so I just wrote it in the same way, and submitted it to my publisher as normal. Instead of phoning to schedule an editing meeting, though, he rang and just said: another draft, please, but make it historically accurate. Then I had to go back and look at early maps of Richmond, look up first recorded use of slang, visit the boys’ school that features heavily (St Kevin’s). Oh, the first draft was dreadful. I had schools and bridges and roads in the wrong place, I had people using the wrong language. Everything. Now, I’m very glad I was such an ignoramus and think this was the best way to do it. Because I had the story and the characters first, I could just go back and research very narrowly, because I knew what I needed to know.

Have you had any surprising or unusual reader responses to your books? 
I love hearing from readers, it’s one of the best parts of the job. I’ve had the most touching emails from people with OCD, that’s the best part. The worst is the (few) abusive letters from American mental health professionals, saying I was ‘unconscionable’ and was jeopardising people’s mental health. They don’t approve of the ending.
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What are your writing habits? 
I’m not one of these people who can write every day. My unconscious needs a day off to replenish in between writing days. So I write on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. (Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, I teach, write other little things, do emails and admin, etc.) I sit in the chair at 9.30am. My assistant, Myron the WonderWhippet (photo attached, in new onesie) sits next to me. We break for a morning coffee and for lunch, but we sit there until we get 1250 words. They must be keepers, obviously. Sometimes I knock off at 3pm. Other times, I’m there at 1am.
What do you do when you feel creatively stuck?
I tell myself to be patient. It sometimes takes a long time for my thoughts to bubble to the surface and the worst thing I can do is force things. Part of my challenge is to get my bossy front brain out of the way of my intuitive, imaginative brain. Walk the dog. Take a shower. Go to yoga. Read something amazing. Hold your nerve. Chillax, baby.
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What are you working on now?
I’ve just submitted a new manuscript! Huzzah! I’m in that gorgeous breathing space when I haven’t heard back yet. I like this one the least, however, out of all my novels so far. There’s an enormous gap between my ambition for this book and the words on the page. Either I’m getting shittier at this, or I’m getting fussier. I pray it’s the latter.
What’s your favourite book by an Australian female author?
With honourable mentions to anything by Michelle de Kretser and Ceridwen Dovey’s utterly staggering new collection, Only the Animals, the one I re-read each year is Thea Astley’s The Acolyte. The way she has with language, God. It fills me with this visceral intellectual envy.
Read a Review:
Fall Girl, reviewed by Elizabeth Lhuede and by Lisa Walker; Addition, reviewed on The Adventures of an Intrepid Reader and by Shanna Beale, and Nine Days, reviewed on Whispering Gums and by Natasha Lester.
Your turn: What’s your favourite Toni Jordan book? Or which one most appeals to you?
Want more?
This interview is part of a series with authors of popular books in the AWW challenge. You might enjoy reading these other interviews:
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About Me
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.

Q and A with crime author P M Newton

BeamsFallingPMNewtonP M Newton’s newest crime novel, Beams Falling, has been a favourite with challenge participants, having been reviewed eight times so far this year. It’s the eagerly anticipated sequel to Newton’s acclaimed debut novel The Old School. The Old School won both the Sisters in Crime Davitt Award and the Asher Literary Award, and was shortlisted for the Indie Award for Debut Fiction as well as the Ned Kelly Award for Best First Fiction. If Beams Falling doesn’t attract similar acclaim, there’s something wrong with the state of Australian crime fiction. Both novels draw on Newton’s long career as a police officer, feature Vietnamese-Australian detective Nhu “Ned” Kelly and are set in a fraught time for Australian policing: Sydney in the 1990s.

Newton kindly agreed to answer the following questions for AWW.

Q. One of the central questions of Beams Falling for the central character, Nhu “Ned” Kelly, is “Why be a cop?”, a question she confronts and resolves while recovering from PTSD. Have you ever suffered from PTSD? If so, could you tell us about it? If not, how difficult was this aspect of the book to write?

After 13 years in The Job I was burnt out, depressed and fed up but I did not have PTSD and I am very aware of my good fortune to have avoided it. I researched the topic, I read memoirs, clinical texts, reports, advice from health services, and texts about Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. There’s a lot information and coverage about soldiers at the moment, but I specifically researched it in respect of how it affects police. I spoke with a counsellor about how you help people who are hyper-vigilant and paranoid to overcome those behaviours when their job is essentially unsafe and the people they deal with untrustworthy. I wrote a lot about the people in Ned’s therapy group much of which didn’t end up making it into the final version – so I know them and the tales of their individual traumas very well and was able to look at different answers to that question.

Q. You have mentioned one of your literary heroes is Sethe from Tony Morrison’s Beloved, a survivor of terrible trauma, citing “her courage to live on” as the reason for your admiration. You have also stated that your “worst job” was “running a court matter involving a young victim that, unlike a TV show but exactly like real life, ended badly with no justice, no satisfaction and no resolution.” Assuming that is the kind of courage you’ve attempted to depict in Beams Falling – the courage to live on when things may end without either justice or resolution – do you see any tensions in this portrayal of a hero-protagonist’s journey and contemporary popular expectations of fictional heroes? If so, would you care to elaborate? If not, how can the two be reconciled in your view?

I have always had problems with ‘happily ever after’ as the end of a story. Perhaps I was an especially melancholy child but those lines at the end of a story always left me deeply unsatisfied, asking, ‘But how? How do you live happily ever after?’ I guess my idea of romance cleaves more to Anna Karenina, which explored what happens to ‘happily ever after’ when society, culture, religion and emotions all conspire against you. The hero’s journey has a lot to answer for, I reckon! It’s why so many Hollywood blockbuster movies feel like the same movie, remade again and again and again. Why there’s no tension in serials where you know the protagonists are safe from harm, where no matter the lengths they are put to, there will be no lasting impact.

As a craft issue, I don’t want readers to be able to guess the arc of my story from the start, not from half way, not even right up to the end.

Beams Falling is very concerned with ideas of courage and bravery. Bravery, to my mind, only exists when there is fear. If you are not scared then your actions may be mad, reckless, motivated by revenge, but I don’t know that they are brave. And bravery can mean simple acts, getting up every day, going on, doing your job, being kind to strangers, when you have been broken apart. The courage of refugee communities in going on with their lives is a case in point. But this is courage that does not come without a cost, as some of the stories in Alice Pung’s collection Growing Up Asian in Australia testify. My characters are often muddling through, they are works in progress, like we are.

Q. You have stated that, “To me, a test of a great crime novel is that you couldn’t imagine the events happening anywhere else, at any other time.” You’ve also expressed concern over a possible growing lack of diversity in our reading, and the potential loss of local stories as our reading habits are shaped by e-reading and ties to particular internet platforms. Elsewhere you’ve expressed reservations about the “kill all the women and make ‘em suffer” aspect of popular crime writing, and what you’ve described as the “blockbuster mentality” in writing and publishing. What tensions, if any, do you see between the desire to write books of “literary merit” – books of significant cultural and personal value – and being a commercial success? Do you wrestle with the idea of author as entertainer versus author as artist? (This may be just another way of asking the previous question!)

I’ve worked out that you can only write the book you care about. It’s hard work (for me anyway) writing a book. So I go in knowing it’s going to take time, and that unless I’m really committed to the characters, to the story, to the way I want to tell it, then it’s pointless. Because writing it is only the beginning, then there’s the re-writing. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want my books to find lots of readers – that’s why I write. I want to be read. And books that find lots of readers will also find commercial success. That means that you will have a happy publisher, you will have happy booksellers, you will have a bank account that allows you to pay a bill without checking the balance first. None of these things are bad things.

I believe that most writers write the story they care about and believe in. Some of those stories capture the zeitgeist. I don’t think anyone knows why, and even if they could work out the formula, I don’t think you could write that formula and make it work unless it really mattered to you on a story level. Romance is a good example. People often sneer that it’s so formulaic anyone could write it. They can’t. Readers can tell.

The move that the genre of crime fiction is taking into graphic depictions of extreme violence, usually perpetrated towards women, does disturb me. I’m uncomfortable with the connection being made that it is somehow more ‘realistic’ when the real situation of violence against women is not serial killers but husbands, boyfriends, fathers and sons.  At the other extreme I’m also uncomfortable with the idea of finding consolation in crime fiction.

Q. It’s years since I read any Graham Greene, but I had a sense while I was reading Beams Falling that you are similarly delving into morally ambiguous territory, and I wasn’t surprised to read that you consider Greene’s book The Quiet American as a pivotal influence. Can you say what it is about The Quiet American that strikes you, and what about the book, if anything, has influenced your writing in general or Beams Falling in particular?

The Quiet American was a book that purportedly contained more of Greene’s reportage than any other. His use of real events, the real time and place and moment of big social, political and emotional shifts is just inspired. To tell these momentous events through the deceptively small story of a love affair and a crime was a risk that worked magnificently. It’s a work to look up to, to aspire to.

Structurally it is so elegant. It’s not until you finish the book that you realise that it actually started right at the moment the crime was being committed, and that the narrator was culpable. Very slowly you realise you are witnessing a confession.

Greene’s world, his characters live in a morally ambiguous space. They don’t always behave well, but they behave in ways that are real, and emotionally true. He manages to treat the subject of the big choices people make about big issues like taking sides in a civil war, and the subject of what to do when your lover abandons you with equal weight.

Such a great book. I need to read it again.

Q. Before I read that the title, Beams Falling, is a quote from The Maltese Falcon, I assumed the beams referred to the structures of the “old school” way of policing. Was this ambiguity intentional?

Ha! No, I hadn’t thought of that. But I like it. I was always struck by those lines and by that story in The Maltese Falcon. I’m sure it came from Hammett’s own experience as a Pinkerton agent – it has that tang of truth to it. I see the sufferers of PTSD as people who’ve been living with the beams falling, and getting well means trying to learn to trust that they may have stopped falling.

Q. I note that you have great command of figurative language, rarely use cliche, use a lot of strong verbs, and often write in fragments or part sentences when in the deep point of view of your character (suggesting almost a stream of consciousness). To what extent does style come naturally to you, or how much of it can be attributed to rewriting and editing? Do you agree that one of the major differences between good and poor writing is the time spent crafting? How difficult is this part of the writing process for you? Who, if anyone, taught you your craft?

Thank you. I do think a lot about language, I rewrite, although some lines, like the opening line, came early and stayed. Because crime fiction does have a plot that needs servicing, I’m often thinking of ways to convey a piece of ‘information’ in a way that almost blindsides the reader rather than as a bald set of facts. Like the writer Chuck Wendig says, ‘Plot is Soylent Green, it’s made of people.’ I find it sometimes takes a few drafts before some of the minor characters start to feel like people for me, until that happens, I worry that the plot doesn’t haven’t enough Soylent Green.

I think about language, I want it to tell a story that allows people to read it, feel it, smell it, love it, hate it, take that leap into the character’s skin, into their head.

I started writing about travel and music before I attempted fiction. Maybe having to describe places and people and the emotional spaces that music opens up meant I struggled early with writing more than just facts. I was fortunate to have access to excellent tutors at UTS, writers who were writing very differently to me, but who exposed me to a lot of authors and gave me good technical advice: my tutors included Julia Leigh, Mandy Sayer, Jean Bedford, Catherine Cole, and I read widely. Discovering the technique of Free Indirect Speech opened up how to take the reader into my character’s head, without announcing it with a bunch of clumsy tags, and reading Peter Temple’s pared back punctuation and dialogue in The Broken Shore was like getting permission to write cops speaking the way I remembered it.

Q. You’ve been very generous in giving a shout to other female Australian crime writers, including Angela Savage, Malla Nunn and Sulari Gentill. You’ve also mentioned having read Kirsten Tranter’s The Legacy (which could possibly be described as “literary crime”). Is there anyone else you’ve come across you’d like to mention – including writers outside the crime genre?

I really admire Anita Heiss for claiming a space in contemporary women’s fiction – a genre that reaches a lot of readers – and she is reaching them with her thoroughly contemporary Aboriginal female characters; which, I am sure, confound the expectations and projections of many of those readers in a wonderful way. Melissa Lucashenko’s novel, Mullumbimby was a love song to place told in a funny, passionate and totally unique voice that made me aware of how much tension I projected onto certain events in the narrative. Attica Locke is writing layered novels that use crime fiction to tell stories about place and history and race in America. Jean Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea is another novel to read and re-read, to smell and feel the lush rotting landscape of the Caribbean and the tragedy of Jane Eyre’s ‘Mad Woman in the Attic’ – there are scenes in that book that never leave me. Stunning.

Q. What were the circumstances that led you to leave the police force? How hard was it for you to resign? Do you regret it? What do you miss? What don’t you miss? Was gaining your own “courage to live on” part of your decision to follow a different path?

I left because I just couldn’t imagine myself in that job in ten years, twenty years, thirty years down the road. I was smoking two packs of cigarettes a day, the culture of drinking was still strong, and the work was grinding me down. I did finally realise I’d had enough of meeting people for the first time on the worst day of their life. When I started reading about Buddhism and read the description of the endless cycle of birth, death, rebirth, death, it bore more than a passing resemblance to The Job. The never-ending parade of jobs, reports of crime, investigations, arrests, court matters, more reports of fresh crimes, like a conveyor belt.

You miss a memory of the fun, the comradeship, the jokes, but like most memories those are rather tinged with nostalgia. I don’t miss the stress. I don’t miss the unhappiness, of workmates, of victims, of criminals.

I’m not sure it was courage in the end. I think I was more afraid of staying because of how deeply unhappy I’d become than I was of leaving without any clear idea of what was going to come next.

Q. One other question I wanted to ask – which I haven’t seen discussed elsewhere – was your decision to write from the point of view of a half-Vietnamese protagonist in Beams Falling. Could you tell me how that came about, what challenges and advantages it presented, and whether we’ll be in for more of Nhu’s story? And finally, is there anything you’d like to add? 

Re Ned being Vietnamese/Australian – that’s who she was when she turned up. It’s the best and worst explanation, because it’s true, she arrived to solve this crime I’d set myself, and she walked on as a senior detective in the Homicide Squad, she was already in her late 30s and she was fully formed. She was Vietnamese/Australian, her parents were victims of an unsolved murder and her nickname was Ned. When I worked out I had the right character in the wrong story I rewound back to the beginning of her career and unpacked her backstory. I didn’t know what I was doing at the beginning, so I didn’t know enough to realize it was a risky thing to do to be writing her and once I did it was too late. I knew her and wanted to tell her story.

P M Newton Photo Credit Peter Rae - Fairfax

Photo credit: Peter Rae – Fairfax (permission granted via author)

It means I know where she’s going, so yes, hopefully, I’ll be able to tell more of her story through the 1990s. I think she’s a perfect character to talk about what happened to us as a nation when we started giving people like Pauline Hanson a serious platform. I don’t think we’ve recovered.

A huge thank you to P M Newton for her generosity in replying to these questions. If you haven’t yet read any of her work – whether you’re interested in crime or a cultural portrait of a time – you’re in for a treat.

~

About me: I’m an aspiring psychological suspense writer, interested in social justice and mental health issues. One of my novels – a romance – has been accepted for publication by Escape Publishing and will be published under the pseudonym, Lizzy Chandler. I blog at Devoted Eclectic and have recently set up a new Lizzy Chandler site. With the help of the AWW team, especially Shelleyrae of Book’D Out, I founded AWW to help overcome gender bias in the reviewing of books by Australian women.

NB. Interviews and Q&As referred to in these questions include:

Beams Falling was published by Penguin Books Australia in February 2014 under the Viking imprint.

ISBN-13:9780670074525
ISBN-10:0670074527

 

February/March 2014 Roundup: Diversity

Over February and March there were close to forty reviews of books by authors who have a diverse background, or who feature such characters in their works, which is simply stellar!

BeamsFallingPMNewtonMany of the reviews were of recently released novels.  P.M. Newton’s Falling Beams, the sequel to The Old School, led the charge, with her protagonist Detective Nhu ‘Ned’ Kelly keeping six readers glued to their books.  Nhu is an Australian, of Irish and Vietnamese heritage.  Angela Savage notes how Newton, ‘gently in the course of the story with evocative images and without preaching’ explores trauma, both Nhu’s and that of the Vietnamese who migrated to Australia.  Yvonne penned a review at GoodReads, detailing ‘the difficult moral tightrope the police are working on at the time’, the destructiveness of war (particularly the Vietnam war, felt particularly in Cabramatta), the ‘dark recesses of post traumatic stress disorder and the insidious tentacles of police corruption’.  This book, she continues, is ‘grimy’ and not for bedtime reading.  Now I am kind of desperate for all my writing deadlines to be done so I can sit down (in daylight) with a copy of the book.  For the other reviews of this work, you can check out our AWW Review Crime Listings page.

Deserving-death-howellKatherine Howell’s Deserving Death kept four people awake at night, including Bernadette at Fair Dinkum Crime, who also mentioned Howell in her a post on Sleuthing and Sexuality for our spotlight on lesbian/queer women writers last month.  Bernadette found that the story delivered more than a great plot, being ‘particularly struck by variety of topical human relationship issues the book explored. We see, for example, the complex mix of emotions experienced by Carly and her girlfriend, one of whom is fearful of her family’s reaction to the news she is gay while the other tries to cope with the fact that her part in her girlfriend’s life is a secret.’  Brenda at GoodReads loved the fast pace and action, but lamented that ‘I’ll have to wait another 12 months for the next episode of Detective Ella Marconi and her paramedic friends’.  We recommend more doses of Aussie women’s crime fiction in the interim!

If you’re interested, AWW contributing editor Marisa also interviewed Howell about her writing and lesbian characters.

TiddasThree people made themselves comfy on a couch with Indigenous author Anita Heiss’ new novel, Tiddas, about five tiddas (an Indigenous word meaning friends who are as close as sisters) in Brisbane on the cusp of 40.  Lisa Walker writes that ‘On one level this is a study of issues relevant to all woman of this age — sex, fertility, career and relationships. But the book also gives an insight, through the tiddas, into Aboriginal culture and politics.’ Bree of All the Books I Can Read loved the format of exploring issues through friends, and thought it ‘a great way to get an issue out there to a reader because it really lessens the feeling of being preached to’.  Shelleyrae of Book’d Out by contrast found ‘Heiss’s socio-political agenda’ a little overwhelming,but still ‘enjoyed spending time with the Tiddas, just as I do with my own friends.’

The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf by Ambelin KwaymullinaThere were also 2 reviews of Indigenous author Ambelin Kwaymullina’s speculative fiction novel, The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf.  Jason of Vampires in the Sunburnt Country described it as ‘a story of community, of mutual care and understanding, as well as a plea to respect the planet and the beliefs that have formed it.’  Stephanie of GoodReads also liked the book and found Ashala a ‘fascinating character’, but would have liked more worldbuilding and backstory.

MullumbimbyMullumbimby, by Indigenous author Melissa Lucashenko, gave poet Katie Keys ‘hope for the quiet revolution, the one that I have to believe is still ticking along beneath all the noise of Federal politics and policy backpedalling: a piecemeal reconciliation after a shared national shame as we all start working the way back to ourselves.’  The novel also compelled Sue of Discombobula to think about her own emotions about and connections to Australia.

TheSwanBookAlexisWrightThere was also a plethora of reviews of other interesting works, such Alexis Wright’s The Swan Book (reviewed by Annette for the Newtown Review of Books, who opens with ‘What a ride!’), Love Like Water by Meme McDonald (reviewed by Marilyn of Me, You and Books, who describes it as ‘a wise and sensitive story about young people searching for their places in the world and falling in love, a love complicated by their racial difference), and Ina’s Story (a memoir by Catherine Titasey about Torres Strait Islander Ina Mills, reviewed by Marion of Historians are Past Caring).

thefirstweek_merrileesMeanwhile, Margaret Merrilees’ The First Week was reviewed by Sue of Whispering Gums, who also meditated on the politics of white authors writing on Indigenous subjects.

Unfortunately I haven’t the space to include every review of the books that have showcased diversity over the past two months, but it’s great to see our readers responding so intelligently to them.  Keep up the wonderful work!

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’m currently writing a book of creative non-fiction on Queensland novelist Rosa Praed and her deaf daughter Maud.  You can find more information about me at my website.  I’m also on Twitter @ladyredjess.

March 2014: General Fiction

For the purposes of this challenge ‘general fiction’, is defined as fiction set post mid 1950′s, which does not fit neatly into a specific literary genre.

Tiddas

 

Anita Heiss has been one of the most popular authors in the AWW Challenge so far, with more than 19 reviews of her books including her chick-lit novels Manhattan Dreaming, Paris Dreaming and Avoiding Mr Right, her memoirAm I Black Enough For you? and her poetry book  I’m Not Racist butMarch saw the release of her newest novel Tiddas.

“A story about what it means to be a friend … Five women, best friends for decades, meet once a month to talk about books … and life, love and the jagged bits in between. Dissecting each other’s lives seems the most natural thing in the world – and honesty, no matter how brutal, is something they treasure. Best friends tell each other everything, don’t they? But each woman harbours a complex secret and one weekend, without warning, everything comes unstuck.”

Shelleyrae of Book’d Out  writes, ” These are women we can likely relate to in one way or another, smart, savvy, socially aware, they are varyingly wives, mothers, daughters, cousins, in law’s and, of course, tiddas… They variously evoke admiration, sympathy and laughter and I thought their personal journeys, and their sisterhood, to be portrayed realistically.” Bree of AllTheBooksICanRead notes, “As quite obviously, a majority of the characters are Aboriginal or connected to Aboriginals, there’s a lot of discussion of Aboriginal issues, both in a national way and also in a much more intimate personal way, such as the role of women within the family group and the community tribe.” Lisa Walker finished the book, “with a sense of having been enriched by some lively and intelligent company.”

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Jennifer Smart, who spent five years working on Home and Away as a Director’s Assistant and then scriptwriter, draws on that experience in her debut novel The Wardrobe Girl  offering a behind-the-scenes peek at television production, and a close up of the action happening off camera.

wardrobe girl smartAfter the humiliating end of her last relationship, this is just what TV costume designer, Tess Appleby, needs to hear. Sure, a wardrobe assistant on a soap is a step down from her gig at the BBC, but all Tess wants is an easy life . . . Unfortunately she’s barely arrived on set before she’s warding off the attentions of the show’s heartthrob, Sean Tyler – and, as a consequence, the hostility of its other star, Bree Brenner. And if the pressures and politics of working on a TV drama aren’t enough, she’s living with her high-maintenance mother, an ageing celebrity, and her infuriating sister Emma, an aspiring actress. Still, Tess is certain she can deal with everything they throw at her – until Jake Freeman, her ex-fiancé, the man she last saw eight years ago as he walked away and broke her heart, is named the show’s new director… “

Bree of AllTheBooksiCanRead, enjoyed the parts of the story that dealt with filming the soap and all of the intricacies involved with that behind the scenes and the banter between the crew, plus I loved that it was set in Sydney.” Sam of Sam Still Reading thought, “The characters were done well – Tess’s family in particular were cleverly drawn and ….The other actors and crew were funny and unique”. Monique of WriteNoteReviews warns,I wouldn’t class this as a romance though – it’s more soap opera, what with Tess’s family, work and relationship dramas.”

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grass-castle-viggersIn The Grass Castle, Karen Viggers tells an epic story of love and loss and the strength it takes to keep on living after. It is a beautifully written tale that I enjoyed immensely. Karen really impressed me with her writing style and I loved the setting.” writes Rochelle of Inside My Worlds.

“The daughter of a pastoralist, Daphne grew up in a remote valley of the Brindabella Ranges where she raised her family with her husband, Doug, in a world of horses, cattle and stockmen. But then the government forced them off their land and years later, Daphne is still trying to come to terms with the grief of her departure from the mountains and its tragic impact on her husband. It is during a regular visit to her valley that she meets Abby, a lonely young woman shying away from close contact with others, running from a terrible event in her early teens. But Daphne is a patient mentor, and slowly a gentle friendship develops between them. While Abby’s family history means she tries to ignore her feelings for journalist Cameron, Daphne struggles with her own past and the long shadow it may have cast over the original inhabitants of their land. Both women must help each other face the truth and release long-buried family secrets before they can be free. The Grass Castle is a sweeping rural epic that reflects the strength which resides in us all: the courage to grow and learn from the past.”

Sam of Sam Still Reading wrote, “The narrative has a quiet, lyrical feeling to it as if the reader is standing back, watching things unfold through a misty lens. At first I found the pace rather slow, but as the book progressed I found myself looking forward to the chance to slow down and lose myself in the book.” while Brenda thought, “The way the past was woven into the present was beautifully done, everything blended and wound its way to a very satisfying conclusion.”

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Other titles earning recommendations last month include Night Street by Kristel Thornell from Jessica White, Distance by Nene Davis reviewed by Simone at Great Aussie ReadsThe Corner of Your Eye by Kate Lyons given five stars by Danielle , The Memory Trap by Andrea Goldsmith reviewed by Amanda of looking up/looking down and Shelleyrae at Book’d Out enjoyed The Wrong Girl by Zoe Foster.

night street thornell    DistanceNeneDavies    the corner of your eye - kate lyons     memory-trap-goldsmith    the wrong girl -zoe foster

 

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

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About Me

My name is Shelleyrae Cusbert I am a mother of four children, aged 7 to 17, living in the mid north coast of NSW. I am an obsessive reader and publish my thoughts about what I read at my book blog,  Book’d Out.  In 2012 I read and reviewed a total of 109 books for the AWW Challenge and in 2013 a total of 117. I juggle caring for my family with a part time job and volunteer at both the town’s local library and her children’s school library.

 

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