August/September 2014 Roundup: Diversity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


About Me

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

Focus on Australian Women Writers with Disability Roundup

ThroughTheCracksHoneyBrownThe light and shade woven into one’s writing from disability, memoir as protest, a rugged journey to wellness, and the consolations of deafness – these were all ideas explored in our guest posts by writers with disability over September. Honey Brown, author of five novels, described how writing saved her following a farming accident which left her with a spinal cord injury. Her first completed manuscript reminded her of who she was, while each subsequent story, she wrote, ‘revealed a little more of me.’ Writing gave her pride and restored her sense of self.

the-art-of-being-deafJust as sadness can motivate one to write, so too can anger. In the process of writing her memoir, The Art of Being Deaf, Donna McDonald created ‘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.’ Although Donna was dubious about the impact of her efforts, her memoir defies the assumption that to be deaf is to lead an impoverished life.

madnessamemoirThe genre of memoir opens its hands to readers and guides them through the life of an author. Kate Richards, who suffered from depression and psychosis, was compelled to write Madness: a Memoir because she ‘couldn’t find any books written by someone with mental illness that expressed the ragged rawness of their experience, the intensity, the in-the-moment exhilaration or bewilderment or black despair.’ Her finished work details the baffling and often terrifying world of mental illness, the negative impact of the irregular provision of mental health services, and the solace of literature as she strove courageously to become well. I didn’t want to let go of Kate’s hand when I finished the book.

entitlementI lost one of my senses – my hearing – when I was small, but the equally fundamental act of writing replaced it. Writing was foremost a means to process the painful emotions of deafness, but as my craft developed, it also became a vehicle for articulating the lives of other people on the margins. As I explained in my guest post, my two novels, A Curious Intimacy and Entitlement, express the emotions of my childhood and adolescence through their characters. They also make a plea to their readers to contemplate the effects of ostracism and estrangement from home and society, experiences which are common to people with disability.

Our readers also picked up and reviewed books by women writers with disability over this month, which was fantastic to see.

Elizabeth Lhuede of Devoted Eclectic bravely persisted with Gillian Mears’ Foal’s Bread after finding the opening emotionally distressing. She concluded ‘There aren’t too many books I can honestly say have changed my life, but Gillian Mears’ Foal’s Bread is one of them.’ Amazing words, indeed! Mears, who has multiple sclerosis, tells the story of Noah, her husband Roly and their daughter Lainey with an exquisite use of language. She also renders the complexity of childhood sexual assault with ‘remarkable sensitivity’, which gave Elizabeth a space to re-negotiate trauma from her own childhood. This book, Elizabeth writes, ‘could sneak inside your soul, break your heart, move even the most prosaic reviewer to poetry.’

survivingpeace-simicOver at Whispering Gums, Sue contemplated Olivera Simić’s Surviving Peace: a political memoir. Written ‘unapologetically … from the point of view of a survivor’, the work details Simić’s post traumatic stress disorder, a condition which severely disables the lives of its sufferers, and which affected Simić following the bombing of Sarajevo. Among a discussion of the Yugoslav, Bosnian and Kosovo wars though which she lived, identity, ethnicity and the aftermath of war, the discussion of PTSD is ‘the most personal, intimate part of the book.’ Sue writes that she’s ‘never one to say you must read a book,’ but even without this gentle exhortation, her review has persuaded me to add this title to my TBR pile.

Deeper Water Jessie ColeOther mentions of disability in the books reviewed over September include Melina Marchetta’s Saving Francesca. The protagonist Francesca’s mother, as Rally the Readers writes, ‘fell into a deep depression that left the rest of the family at a loss to help her.’ Jessie Cole’s Deeper Water features a character, Mema, who has a club foot. Mema has an affinity with nature that erases her sense of difference, for the land ‘shored up all my weak points.’ In town, however, ‘all the straight lines and pavements tripped me up. The world became even, no undulations, and I became off centre.’ It’s an interesting challenge to the concept of the ‘civilised’ world, which often doesn’t treat people with disability well. Mema’s difference makes her attractive to a stranger to her town, a worldly older man, but Lou Heinrich of the Newtown Review of Books found this a ‘kind of an old story.’

The Singing GoldOne of the things I love about the AWW Challenge is that it introduces me to new writers. When I asked for suggestions to add to the list of Australian Women Writers with Disability, writer Michelle Dicinoski mentioned Dorothy Cottrell. I picked up Cottrell’s novel, The Singing Gold, and enjoyed its theme of a woman gaining financial independence through writing. I was also impressed with Cottrell’s nature writing, and I wonder if her attention to the natural world might have come about because, being confined to a wheelchair because of polio, she had an opportunity to observe more than most.

The Golden Age Joan LondonPolio also features in Joan London’s The Golden Age, reviewed by Brenda at GoodReads. It’s the story of two young people who meet at the Golden Age Children’s Convalescent Home in Perth, where they develop a ‘ burgeoning and secret friendship.’ Brenda describes the book as melancholy and sad, uplifting and hopeful, the word pictures are painted with a passion that shows the fragility of life, the deep impressions of a childhood love and the strength of coping with what life sometimes throws at you.’

Indeed, among all of these stories – those reviewed by our readers and those of the guest authors – the most pervasive theme is that of resilience. Having a disability can be exhausting and humiliating, while our interactions with others often show us the ugly side of human nature. It’s no surprise that literature by writers with disability is threaded with so much darkness. Yet people with disability, like their able-bodied counterparts, still strive to live their lives well and to access love, education, relationships and respect. By reading the works of Australian women writers with disability, we can become aware of the issues they face and join them in their fight for accessibility and equality.

We also held a book giveaway for four books by the guest authors this month, and many thanks are due to Penguin Books for copies of Honey’s and Kate’s books. I plugged our 5 reviewers (minus myself, to be fair!) into, and the winners are Sue, Elizabeth, Brenda and Lou. Thank you for your reviews, and I’ll contact you about your books. In the meantime, if anyone would like more ideas for Australian women writers with disability, you always can head to the list on our diversity page.


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.

September 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.


The Golden Boys by Sonya Hartnett


Colt Jenson and his younger brother Bastian live in a world of shiny, new things – skateboards, slot cars, train sets and even the latest BMX. Their affluent father, Rex, has made sure that they’ll be the envy of the new, working-class suburb they’ve moved to.
But underneath the surface of the perfect family, is there something unsettling about the Jensons? To the local kids, Rex becomes a kind of hero, but Colt senses there’s something in his father that could destroy their fragile new lives.

 Kate from Booksaremyfavouriteandbest writes; “Like of all of Hartnett’s stories, there are many layers – I haven’t even mentioned the significant theme of children realising faults in their parents OR her wonderful analogies with seawater OR the brilliant scene where the Jenson’s above-ground swimming pool is filled OR how Hartnett slowly, slowly build the evidence and the tension OR how the violence jumps off the page OR how much I loved the character of Syd OR how the back-stories of Garrick and Avery were very, very cleverly constructed.” Bree from All the Books I Can Read concludes; “a highly skilled novel, well crafted and written and it’s the sort of story that sneaks up on you and leaves you thinking about it long after you’ve completed it.”


Mothers and Daughters by Kylie Ladd



Four mothers. Four teenage daughters. An isolated tropical paradise with no internet or mobile phone reception. What could possibly go wrong? There’s tension, bitchiness, bullying, sex, drunken confessions, bad behaviour and breakdowns – and wait till you see what the teenagers get up to…
How can we let our daughters go to forge lives of their own when what we most want to do is hold them close and never let them go? How do we let them grow and keep them protected from the dark things in the world at the same time? And how can mothers and daughters navigate the troubled, stormy waters of adolescence without hurting themselves and each other? A clear-eyed, insightful and wildly entertaining look into the complicated, emotional world of mothers and daughters

Thematically, Mothers and Daughters hit the spot. However, the overall emotional impact given those themes was less than I expected.” asserts Monique from Write Note Reviews. Lynette from The Clothesline thinks; “…Ladd does provide a nuanced look at life in a remote Aboriginal community. Mason, an Aboriginal man and Tia’s father is an interesting character with an authentic voice. Ladd addresses problems and deep-seated racism, facing them head on usually through Amira’s empathetic eyes, and it is possible to feel you have glimpsed some of the complex difficulties facing Indigenous people in Australia, and also to have an insight into a possible solution where healthy, functional, self-managed Indigenous communities can exist.” Shelleyrae @ Book’d Out writes; “I glimpse elements of my own relationship with my mother, and my teenage daughter, in this story of these women and girls, and pieces of mothers and daughters I have known in the characters.”


Lyrebird Hill by Anna Romer



When all that you know comes crashing down, do you run? Or face the truth? Ruby Cardel has the semblance of a normal life – a loving boyfriend, a fulfilling career – but in one terrible moment, her life unravels. The discovery that the death of her sister, Jamie, was not an accident makes her question all she’s known about herself and her past.
Travelling back home to Lyrebird Hill, Ruby begins to remember the year that has been forever blocked in her memory . . . Snatches of her childhood with beautiful Jamie, and Ruby’s only friendship with the boy from the next property, a troubled foster kid. Then Ruby uncovers a cache of ancient letters from a long-lost relative, Brenna Magavin, written from her cell in a Tasmanian gaol where she is imprisoned for murder. As she reads, Ruby discovers that her family line is littered with tragedy and violence. Slowly, the gaps in Ruby’s memory come to her. And as she pieces together the shards of truth, what she finally discovers will shock her to the core – about what happened to Jamie that fateful day, and how she died.

“Beautifully written, richly characterised and intricately plotted, Lyrebird Hill is one of those books that draws you in and doesn’t let go …:” writes Monique of Write Note ReviewsDebbish says; “I found myself very eager to discover Brenna’s story in particular. And although it didn’t feature heavily, I also loved the insight into the challenges and injustices being faced by the Indigenous community (and to a lesser extent, women) over a century ago. “


When the Night Comes by Favel Parrett


Running away from the mainland was supposed to make their lives better. But, for Isla and her brother, their mother’s sadness and the cold, damp greyness of Hobart’s stone streets seeps into everything. Then, one morning, Isla sees a red ship. That colour lights her day. And when a sailor from the ship befriends her mother, he shares his stories with them all – of Antarctica, his home in Denmark and life onboard. Like the snow white petrels that survive in the harshest coldest place, this lonely girl at the bottom of the world will learn that it is possible to go anywhere, be anything. But she will also find out that it is just as easy to lose it all. For Isla, those two long summers will change everything. Favel Parrett delivers an evocative and gently told story about the power fear and kindness have to change lives.’

Brenda’s opinion is effusive; “What an amazing novel! Evocative, pure, resonating and powerful, this second novel by Aussie author Favel Parrett is absolutely beautiful. 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.” Kathryn; “…was quickly seduced by the style and rhythm of Parrett’s prose and read the book in just a few hours. “


The Golden Age by Joan London

The Golden Age Joan London


He felt like a pirate landing on an island of little maimed animals. A great wave had swept them up and dumped them here. All of them, like him, stranded, wanting to go home. It is 1954 and thirteen-year-old Frank Gold, refugee from wartime Hungary, is learning to walk again after contracting polio in Australia.  At the Golden Age Children’s Polio Convalescent Hospital in Perth, he sees Elsa, a fellow-patient, and they form a forbidden, passionate bond. The Golden Age becomes the little world that reflects the larger one, where everything occurs, love and desire, music, death, and poetry. Where children must learn that they are alone, even within their families.

 The Incredible Rambling Elimy suggests; “This is not a novel which is heavy in plot; in fact were we to focus on the plot it would be a rather short book indeed.” “The Golden Age is a beautiful book – melancholy and sad, uplifting and hopeful, the word pictures are painted with a passion that shows the fragility of life, the deep impressions of a childhood love and the strength of coping with what life sometimes throws at you.” writes Brenda.


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



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 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.


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.





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.

July 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.

Let Her Go by Dawn Barker

let-her-go-barkerHow far would you go to have a family? What would you hide for someone you love?
Confused and desperate, Zoe McAllister boards a ferry to Rottnest Island in the middle of winter holding a tiny baby close to her chest, terrified that her husband will find her or that her sister will call the police.
Years later, a teenage girl, Louise, is found on the island, unconscious and alone.
Flown out for urgent medical treatment, when she recovers she returns home and overhears her parents discussing her past and the choices that they’ve made. Their secrets, slowly revealed, will shatter more than one family and, for Louise, nothing will ever be the same again.

“Barker’s skill as a writer is her ability to develop realistic plots based on complicated issues.  She does this with sensitivity and a balanced understanding of the situation from many points of view.” writes Emily of The Incredible Rambling Elimy. Lauren of The Australian Bookshelf agrees and also commends Barker’s ability to “create characters who are likeable yet flawed, who present with strength and determination on the surface and who have a wealth of uncertainties, fears and doubts lingering deep below.”  The Opal Octopus says “Another thing I adore in a book is a vivid, effective sense of place. Let Her Go is set in Perth/Fremantle, my hometown, and throughout the book the setting plays a part – the layout of the city, how the summer’s heat feels, the native vegetation, and more.


Being Jade by Kate Belle

Being Jade - Kate BelleBanjo Murphy is killed on the night he finally walks away from his wife, Jade, after twenty-five years of her adultery. In the aftermath, Banjo is bewildered to discover he still exists, and in despair he watches Jade collapse into deep depression and his daughters, Lissy and Cassandra, struggle with their unexpected loss.
Lissy is tortured by the mystery surrounding her father’s death. What compelled Banjo to leave the night he died? And why won’t Jade talk about what happened? Despite their volatile relationship, Lissy believes her parents’ love to have been enduring, but sensible
Cassandra sees things differently. When Cassy discovers a sketchbook chronicling Jade’s affairs, the truth of their parents’ relationship begins to unfold and Lissy’s loyalties are divided.
Searching for answers, Lissy contacts Jade’s ex-lovers. And watching from afar, Banjo aches as he discovers what these men meant to Jade – until Lissy’s quest reveals an explosive truth … One that will finally set their family free.

“This is such an eloquent, sensual and visually stunning read…” states Carol of Reading, Writing, Reisling. “…a near faultless, emotion-rich portrayal of love, family and the clarity brought by grief.” writes Rowena Holloway. Shelleyrae of Book’d Out concludes her review with “A searing portrait of the complexities of love, intimacy and truth Being Jade is an eloquent and powerful piece of storytelling from author Kate Belle.”


Lost & Found by Brooke Davis

LostAndFoundBrookeDavisMillie Bird (aka Captain Funeral), seven-years old and ever hopeful, always wears red gumboots to match her red, curly hair. Her struggling mother leaves Millie in a local department store and never returns.
Agatha Pantha, eighty-two, has not left her house – or spoken to another human being – since she was widowed seven years ago. She fills the silences by yelling at passers by, watching loud static on the TV and maintaining a strict daily schedule.
Karl the Touch Typist, eighty-seven, once used his fingers to type out love notes on his wife’s skin. Now he types his words out into the air as he speaks. Karl is moved into a nursing home but in a moment of clarity and joy, he escapes.
A series of events binds the three together on a road trip that takes them from the south coast of WA to Kalgoorlie and along the Nullarbor to the edge of the continent. Millie wants to find her mum. Karl wants to find out how to be a man. And Agatha just wants everything to go back to how it was.
They will discover that old age is not the same as death, that the young can be wise, and that letting yourself experience sadness just might be the key to life.

“I don’t fall in love with many books. It’s happened maybe 3 or 4 times in the last few years…But I’ve another to add to my list.” says Debbie of DebbishJo of Booklover Book Reviews writesIn Lost & Found Davis has fearlessly unleashed a quirky band of characters on Australian suburbia. She allows the reader to see the world as each of her characters do, through their unique narrative voice as they process what they see before them and reflect upon their lives and the people they have shared them with. Their observations exude a compelling rawness and honesty – a potent mix of the extremes of childlike wonder and world-weary experience.”


What Came Before by Anna George

what came before - anna george“David Forrester and Elle Nolan are sophisticated, mature people who don’t understand love. They live in a world where love is revered but marriages commonly end in divorce, or worse.
When jaded lawyer David meets Elle, he decides she’s his last chance of happiness and does everything he can to woo her and keep her. Everything, that is, except face his demons.
Elle, a lawyer herself once but now a blossoming filmmaker, is done with heartbreak. But romance can be intoxicating and David is determined.
Over the course of one ill-fated night, David and Elle recount the journey of their love affair. And it begins with David admitting into his dictaphone to the killing of Elle.
Hovering above her broken body, Elle sees the sweep of her life, its triumphs and its mistakes. She sees how, when she first met David, her newfound success as a filmmaker had made her reckless and her idealised ideas about romance misled her.
As the night progresses, we learn their story of a love of unprecedented intensity; a love David was compelled, at turns, to destroy. A love that Elle has yet to survive.”

“With keen insight and deft characterisation, George exposes the dynamic of domestic violence from the perspective of both abuser and victim.” writes Shelleyrae @ Book’d Out. Monique of Write Note Reviews recommends “… readers who might be triggered by the subject matter to consider how much they will be affected, before diving in; for everyone else, it’s a dark, complex narrative with a profound message that needs to be heard.


Simmering Season by Jenn J McLeod

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.

Marcia of Book Muster Down Under writes, “There’s a certain enchantment to Calingarry Crossing that I just can’t help but be drawn to and I love the way the little town almost becomes a character in its own right.  It’s a place where there’s a lot happening to the people who live there and, as with House, it’s main focus is on relationships – the good, the bad and the ugly.” Brenda had this to say, “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, and one I have no hesitation in recommending highly. “


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

Trope Secrets in Silence Elianne Nunn dont know what youve got till its gone - gemma crisp



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.




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, 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

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”.


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