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.

 

‘Writing in the Light’: Roundup of Queer/Lesbian Australian Women Writers

Visibility, invisibility, ghosts, mirrors, shadows … all these are terms that have appeared in the posts by lesbian/queer Australian women writers this month.

Ghost WifeMichelle Dicinoski, author of the memoir Ghost Wife, commented that ‘when you are a gay or lesbian or queer or trans writer, or a writer with disability, or a writer of colour, maybe you are always writing in the light, always aware in some way of your own shadow.’  Performance poet Eleanor Jackson also wrote about being in the light on a stage.  She described the discomfort that comes from being aware ‘that what I look like, as a woman, as a queer woman, as a woman of colour (light-skinned or otherwise) says something to an audience that I cannot always control, let alone neutralise.’  Yvette Walker, author of Letters to the End of Love, describes how lesbian/queer writers dip in and out of vision,We appear. We disappear. We are in. We are out. Our history (such as it is) has mostly been made on the run, written in code, whispered from one generation to another.’ 

LettersToTheEndOfLoveWalkerThis history of appearing and disappearing, of glimpses and readings and mis-readings of identity, echo Terry Castle’s words in The Apparitional Lesbian: ‘When it comes to lesbians … many people have trouble seeing what’s in front of them.  The lesbian remains a kind of “ghost effect” in the cinema world of modern life: elusive, vaporous, difficult to stop – even when she is there, in plain view, mortal and magnificent’ (2).  As Castle details in her book, this ghosting has happened for centuries, and our guest writers’ posts, with their meditations on appearing and disappearing, show that it’s still happening.

So, what can one do to increase the representation of queer/lesbian women writers?  How can one, as Eleanor writes, ‘eras[e] the kind of shame that has been appended to those categories’ and draw into question ‘the assumptions we all make about what is good, what is normal, what is acceptable, and what is valuable’?

You pick up a book.

You ask,’ as Yvette writes, ‘who am I, and somewhere, someone will answer you back.’  She found answering voices in Elizabeth Bishop and E.M. Forster, and I compiled a list of Australian lesbian/queer women writers so that there would be other voices for readers to find. 

redback-cameronThese voices were also to be found in crime fiction by lesbian/queer Australian women writers, as detailed in Bernadette Bean’s post on lesbian characters, and in interviews with two wonderful crime fiction writers, Katherine Howell and Lindy Cameron.

Lindy also suggested that straight writers shouldn’t ‘be nervous about including queer, gay, lesbian, trans and bi characters’, while readers can ‘read more widely. Don’t be put off if you think the book is ‘full’ of lesbians or gay guys.’

To this end, it was fabulous to see AWW participants reading and reviewing books by Australia’s lesbian/queer women writers.  Writer Amanda Curtin reviewed Andrea Goldsmith’s The Memory Trap, a work about the entrapment, the different faces of memory, and unrequited love.  She liked the book well enough to chase up Goldsmith’s other works – as she mentions, a good endorsement!

Deserving-death-howellSally from Oz loved Katherine Howell’s Deserving Death, writing that ‘I always briefly worry before I open a new Katherine Howell book that maybe this book is going to be the one that doesn’t quite make it when compared to the others, it never is – it’s always amazing.’  She also appreciated the way Howell made her characters human, by detailing their personal as well as their professional lives.  Howell talks more about this novel in her fabulous interview with AWW contributing editor Marisa.

AHandwrittenModernClassicMoorheadMarilyn of Me, You and Books reviewed Finola Moorhead’s A Handwritten Classic.  Moorhead’s Remember the Tarantella is one of Marilyn’s favourites, and she also enjoyed this earlier book which is ‘a compilation of [Moorhead’s] thoughts and definitions during two specific weeks of her life and is full of spontaneity.  It is literately a visual reproduction of what she wrote by hand; meaning that the reader must figure out what words are before addressing their meaning.’  Moorhead is not, Marilyn notes, ‘an easy author to read, especially if you prefer writing that is clear, linear, and conventional’, but often this makes for more rewarding reading.

RupettaSulwayThere were two reviews of Nike Sulway’s speculative fiction novel Rupetta – one by Jane from GoodReads, who found the writing ‘liquidly delicious’, while the world that Sulway created was ‘brilliantly imagined and purely itself’, although she felt that perhaps too many ideas were canvassed.  I came across this book while compiling the list of queer/lesbian women writers and it knocked my socks off.  You can read my review hereI also reviewed Michelle’s beautiful memoir Ghost Wife, which I loved for its poignancy and humour.

All these stories contribute to the process of recognising and increasing representation of lesbian/queer women writers, although categorising writers like this is of course problematic.  As Indigenous author Anita Heiss commented at a salon at Avid Reader for the Stella Prize on International Women’s Day in 2012, ‘I don’t want to be pigeon-holed as a black woman writer, I just want to be a writer.’  However, this takes time, and until then we need stories to, as Eleanor notes, ‘make “other” people, gay people, ethnic people, less unfamiliar’ so that ‘perhaps we will recognise their intrinsic humanity more easily.’

And as Michelle observes, ‘The world bubbles with stories about different kinds of lives, but often we don’t hear much about them’.  Thank you to AWW’s readers and reviewers for listening to those stories and increasing the knowledge and visibility of Australia’s lesbian/queer women writers – I hope you’ll keep reading their works.  Also, the winners of our book giveaway are Marilyn of Me, You and Books, and Sally from Oz!  I’ll be in touch about getting your books to you.

Thank you also to our wonderful guest writers, AWW editors, and to Katherine and Lindy for your contributions, which have made March an exciting and rewarding month!  I’ll be back at the end of April with my regular diversity roundup.

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 Lindy Cameron

Lindy CameronFollowing Marisa’s brilliant interview with crime writer Katherine Howell last week for our focus on lesbian and queer women writers in March, we have an interview with another crime writer, Lindy Cameron.

Lindy wears a number of literary hats: she’s the author of crime titles including the Kit O’Malley trilogy Blood Guilt, Bleeding Hearts and Thicker Than Water, and the recent Redback; she runs the publishing company Clan Destine Press; she’s a founding member of Sisters in Crime Australia, which promotes crime writing by women; and has edited the group’s magazine Stiletto for nearly two decades.  I’m impressed she found time to answer my questions!

Clan Destine PressLindy has a special offer for AWW participants who sign up to the Clan Destine GOLD newsletter.  If you subscribe, you can get 35-50% off all titles. See this post for further details.

Lindy has always thought of herself as a writer – her first ‘novel’ was a serialized mystery written when she was age 11. She suspects, like many Aussie crimes writers that it was Enid Blyton’s fault that she turned to a life of crime. Below, she talks about her writing, publishing queer/lesbian writers, her research, and juggling everything in between.

Does your identity as a queer/lesbian writer inform what you write and publish?

redback-cameronIt informs what I write. While the ‘story’ dictates the types of characters I need, I always have a least one gay – female or male – in every story. And they mostly just turn up. It’s not a conscious thing – except in the case of the O’Malley series; and in my scifi novella Feedback. Even in Redback – which is my kickarse, all-explodey action novel– the sexuality of my female protagonist Bryn Gideon is ‘queered’. But, as there’s no actual sex happening on the page, it was all in the subtext. I was looking for a different audience for my books and thought making the hero a woman was enough – for the first book at least.

Given the success of queer protagonists like Lisbeth Salander, though, I’m thinking I should ditch the subtext and get to the point. Then again, that series was written by a man… so there’s a whole other topic for possible-ranty discussion. Would the Millennium Trilogy have been relegated to being a women’s crime series, rather than an international phenomenon, if it had been written by ‘Stella’ Larsson?

Out of the Black LandIn terms of publishing I am actively looking for QILTBAG writers. I’ve been scouring the woodwork – looking for Aussie writers who identify with any of those initials. So far I’ve scored some short stories and novellas for Encounters – our erotica imprint – but I’d love some crime, specfic, and urban fantasy (please, some queer urban fantasy); and oh, hello!, gay and lesbian sci fi writers – where are you?

We do have Unnaturals, a terrific dark urban fantasy novel which includes action, romance, more action, lesbians, monsters, and polyamory, but some more historical writers too would be fabulous. The boys in Kerry Greenwood’s splendid Out of the Black Land are getting lonely, and would love some new characters to join them on the Clan’s history shelf.


How do you go about researching  your novels?

BloodGuiltAKitOmalleyMy5226_fIt depends. My character-based O’Malley novels sort of grew organically. As my hero, the lesbian ex-cop private investigator Kit O’Malley, began her fictional life in Blood Guilt by investigating an errant husband, there wasn’t a lot needed for research.  It was more along the lines of ensuring that one of my other main characters – the city of Melbourne – was accurate and interesting and vibrant. I did have a couple of drug and gun type things I needed to verify when the book was finished, so I asked an ex-cop I knew.      I didn’t really need to research the ‘lesbian’ part of the series, but it was my aim to create a lesbian hero/protagonist who was totally comfortable with who she was. And was also surrounded by completely ‘out’ lesbian and straight friends, none of whomever felt the need to talk ‘about’ their sexuality. Kit was falling in lust and love while solving crimes – but there was zero angst about who she was falling for – except in the best tradition of URST making the whole sexual tension last as long as possible.

Bleeding HeartsBy the time I was writing Bleeding Hearts and Thicker Than Water – the second and third books in the series – I had, and still have, a wealth of contacts within the Sisters in Crime membership to call on for research before, during and after writing. Sisters in Crime Australia – of which I am a founding member and National Co-Convenor – is the best organisation for authors, emerging crime writers and readers of crime fiction.

The research for my very first novel Golden Relic – which is an archaeological mystery adventure – I did mostly using library books and the fledgeling internet. And I mean ‘fledgeling’ – given Golden Relic was one of the first ever officially serialised books on the internet.

Redback – my most recent action adventure – however was researched almost entirely via the internet. It was the best way to find out about terrorist organisations, the White House, various kickarse weapons and how to blow up a train and a helicopter. As you do.

What was the spark for establishing Clan Destine Press?

The idea to start my own publishing company had been floating around my ‘in-your-dreams, Lindy,’  imagination for a long, long time.

thicker-than-waterI’ve been part of countless conversations and rants with many fellow authors over the years about the general state of publishing, and the lack of opportunities for authors in Australia. Too many of us were dissatisfied with the attention paid by the Big Publishing Houses to their own mid-list Australian authors. We were frustrated by those same publishers who pigeon-holed their authors into one genre and wouldn’t let them experiment with others. And we all knew emerging writers who just weren’t getting noticed because the big four or five Houses were too busy importing bestsellers from overseas to notice what was going on here. So the idea of wishing we could do something about it was a regular topic of conversation amongst my fellow writers.

And then, one day in 2010, I realised that I had the all the skills necessary to start my own ‘small’ totally-independent publishing company. I had been a book editor for many years, I knew layout, I new lots of authors and cover artists and designers. I had industry contacts. I had time.

Clan Destine Press was created as a genre fiction specialist.

We were looking for new Australian voices in crime, spec fic, historial fiction, horror, scifi, fantasy and horror – for adults, YA and kids. I also offer opportunities to existing authors to talk to us if they have a project that doesn’t fit their current publisher’s pigeon-hole. We publish many of our authors in paperback and eBook; and have a huge ditigal-only list, which includes the backlists of authors who have joined the Clan with their latest books. We now also have three (and counting) digital Imprints – Crime Shots, Encounters, Clan Destine Fictions – for our true crime; and for our novellas, short fiction, and short-story collections.

What can be done to encourage more representation of lesbian/queer characters in fiction?

QueermanceBlogs like this are a great way to start. And, as readers and writers, reposting this and other discussions about writing more-inclusive fiction. Also – even if you’re a straight writer – don’t be nervous about including queer, gay, lesbian, trans and bi characters. I’m sure you know one or two in real life that you could consult if you’re worried about ‘getting things right’. But then, you know, we’re humans first, so being gay etc., can be mentioned in passing in much the way as any of your straight characters who don’t acutally have sex in your book. Minor characters Bill or Jim can go home to Barry or Steve; and Linda can go on a date with Julia.

If you’re a reader the thing you can do is read more widely. Don’t be put off if you think the book is ‘full’ of lesbians or gay guys. Given the ‘hot thing’ at the moment is male/male romance written by women for women, that’s probably less of an issue than it used to be. (And possibly a topic for another blog.)

What are some great books we should be reading?

The Raven's HeartHmm – well, as the publisher of Clan Destine Press, I would naturally say all of our books.  In terms of the QILTBAG context of the blog I would say, all of my books; the aforementioned Out of the Black Land and Unnaturals; and the following from our Encounters imprint: Loveless, Homecoming, Standing Date, Perfect Timing, and the brand new Queermance Anthology.

Australian queer-themed books (by women) that don’t belong to Clan Destine Press: The Raven’s Heart by Jesse Blackadder; Kerry Greenwood’s latest Phryne Fisher novel, Murder and Mendelssohn; the fantasy duology Eon and Eona by Alison Goodman; and anything by the late, extraordinary Dorothy Porter, but especially The Monkey’s Mask.

How do your juggle writing with the day-to-day running of the press (or with life in general)?

I will let you know when I work it out.  My own writing fell by the wayside in CDP’s first couple of years, so I now have a weekly writing day, when I go to a cafe with a writer friend and work on my current book.

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We’re looking forward to Lindy’s next book when it comes!  In the meantime, you can read any of the titles by lesbian/queer Australian women writers that she’s mentioned to be in the running for a copy of either Michelle Dicinoski’s Ghost Wife and Yvette Walker’s Letters to the End of Love.   You have until the end of March to link your review!

Interview with Author Anita Heiss

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 but…

Photo of Anita Heiss by Amanda James

Photo of Anita Heiss by Amanda James

Dr Anita Heiss is the author of non-fiction, historical fiction, commercial women’s fiction, poetry, social commentary and travel articles. She is a regular guest at writers’ festivals and travels internationally performing her work and lecturing on Indigenous literature. She is an Indigenous Literacy Day Ambassador and a proud member of the Wiradjuri nation of central NSW. She is an Adjunct Professor with Jumbunna Indigenous House of Learning, UTS and currently divides her time between writing, public speaking, MCing, and being a ‘creative disruptor’. Anita was a finalist in the 2012 Human Rights Awards and the 2013 Australian of the Year Awards. Her latest novel is Tiddas.

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

There weren’t many books in my house growing up. We had a couple of sets of encyclopaedias like Funk & Wagnalls and the Complete Encyclopaedia of Everything that Crawled (that wasn’t the title but it was about animals and reptiles and things that young girls aren’t really interested in!). I was allowed to buy a book occasionally from the book club and I went in the MS Readathon I think that what it was called back then (mid-late 1970s). But the most vivid memory I have of reading at home as a child, is quite a specific one, sitting on my father’s lap one night and him reading me a Golden Book when I was about five. I remember vividly where we were sitting, and what was on telly in the background. For some reason that moment has stayed with me forever. My love of reading didn’t really come until I was doing my PhD- can you believe that?

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

My first job out of university in 1992 was writing comic scripts for Streetwize Comics in Sydney. I found a love of writing then – not for comics – but for the other side of my job, which included writing columns and articles for youth magazines and journals. I published my first piece of paid journalism in 1992 in Habitat Magazine and it was about the Aboriginal Housing Company in Redfern. I guess I didn’t really get serious about my writing until after my PhD in 2001 when my first novel came out Who Am I? the diary of Mary Talence, Sydney 1937, and I could see the difference writing novels could make when discussing very important issues.

TiddasWhat research did you have to do for Tiddas and how did you go about it? I spent a month in Brisbane in 2011, living in some of the suburbs where my characters reside; West End, Kangaroo Point and Ashgrove. I had a residency at QUT (thank you CAL) and drove, walked and ferried to all the places mentioned in the novel. I sat in the cemetery in Brookfield, ate in the cafes and restaurants in Paddington and walked along the river a LOT! I am a method writer and put myself in the head space and physical space of my characters.

I then spent six months in Brisbane last year while editing the novel and adding more detail. I spoke to women there about everything from who does what where, and how they cope with menopause. I gave drafts of the novel to local Murri women to read also. I always spend time in any place I write about, to get the complete sense of landscape – what it looks like, what it smells like and how it might make my characters feel. To date I think Tiddas does place the best. I hope the local readers in particular feel I have captured there city well.

Have you had any surprising or unusual reader responses to your books? I’m always surprised when men read my chick lit. I’ve had two fellas ask questions from the floor at different events. One fella in Brisbane was the only man there for a talk about Not Meeting Mr Right and he’d read the novel, and asked me to read a particularly funny scene out loud. The other was a gentleman in his (I’m guessing) 70s, who questioned why a man didn’t appear to have a role till rather late in Paris Dreaming. He even cited the page number. I was gob-smacked!

What are your writing habits?

I write in blocks of time. I will set aside weeks or months where all I do is sit and write and only work on the one thing.  I write in my office in Sydney mostly and will aim for between 2000 and 4000 words per day. I will rest comfortably with 3000 but readers need to understand I can do this because I have already mapped out each chapter and know where the story is going before I start. When working on the first draft of my last five books my day had a structure reflecting morning exercise, writing from 9am-2pm (maximum), and then onto personal emails and other work (but there would be no other major project at the same time). I finish early on my writing days because I am generally exhausted and my eyes burn. I rarely read anything when I am in the writing process, but I do consume a lot of caffeine and chocolate during the first draft stage.

What do you do when you feel creatively stuck?

Because my methodology relies on thorough research and I’m a plotter who maps out each chapter across the whole novel before I sit down to write, I rarely get stuck to the point I can’t write anything. If in fact I can’t move forward on a certain scene I just leave it and move onto the next chapter or further on in the book, and return to it later. Of course, on those days when I am just feeling creatively lacking generally, I will take myself to the beach for an hour or so to just relax – mentally and physically. And I find that chocolate also helps!

What are you working on next?

I can’t believe this is the first time since about 2001 that I haven’t had a book project of some description on the boil. I’ve always had a self-imposed or contracted deadline on a book to be working towards, but right now I don’t. It’s actually liberating. I want to really enjoy the release of Tiddas – the events, festivals and meeting my readers. Usually I’m sitting in my hotel room working edits of the next book while traveling. This year, I want to be able to reflect each day and write blogs, get back into being grateful for everything my writing journey has given me.

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

It’s been well documented that one of my favourite books by an Australian female author is Butterfly Song by Terri Janke but if you asked me, what is my most recent favourite book I’d say Mullumbimby by Melissa Lucashenko.

Your turn: Have you read any of Anita’s books? Which has been your favourite?

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:

Dawn Barker, author of Fractured

Honey Brown, author of Dark Horse, Red Queen, The Good Daughter and After the Darkness

Loretta Hill, author of The Girl in the Hard Hat and The Girl with Steel-Capped Boots

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.

January 2014 Roundup: Diversity

Welcome back to the monthly wrap-ups for reviews of books that showcase diversity!  2014 is shaping up to be an exciting year, with a focus on Australian queer women writers in March and on women writers with a disability in September, while in July we’ll bring you an interview with an Indigenous women writer.

We strive to draw attention to such diverse authors all throughout the year however, and over January the challenge kicked off with six great reviews.

theswanbook-wrightChris White reviewed Alexis Wright’s The Swan Book, which is about a girl, Oblivia, surviving in a world altered by climate change.  The book inspired a variety of emotion, leaving Chris ‘deliriously happy, thanks to the beautiful combinations of brilliant prose and of the teasing, twisting poetry. It made me feel guilty, as a white Australian, of the Intervention and of our treatment of Aboriginals in general’.  Chris’ final recommendation – ‘If I didn’t feel like giving The Swan Book six stars was cheating I’d give it seven’ – should persuade anyone to pick up this novel!

channelling mannalargenna marksSue of Whispering Gums mused on an essay by English author Kathy Marks which won the Indigenous Affairs award at the Walkley Awards.  Titled ‘Chanelling Mannalargenna’, it discusses the ‘thorny issue regarding the definition of indigeneity in Tasmania.’  The essay reminded Sue of Anita Heiss’ Am I Black Enough For You? in that it, as Heiss writes in her book, pointed to the ‘complexities around individual and collective Aboriginal identity’.  The essay is available online through Griffith Review’s website and is part of their bestselling issue on Tasmania, and it’s well worth a read.

Old-school-196-300There’s been much excitement about the release of PM Newton’s second novel, Beams Falling, a sequel to her tightly-bound, plotted and paced The Old School.  Bree of All the Books I Can Read reviewed the latter, and ‘was engrossed … from the very first page and couldn’t wait for each twist to unfold and each new bit of information to present itself.’  The story revolves around Ned, a detective whose Dad was Irish-Australian and Mum was Vietnamese and who, as Bree writes, ‘seems to face judgement and preconceptions about her appearance every day with few people understanding that she identifies as Australian with no real connection or ties to her Vietnamese heritage’. The book was such a good read for Bree that she’s been persuaded to ‘read more crime’.  As an admirer, too, of The Old School, I’m also really looking forward to the sequel.

beloved-faulknerIt was great to see another review of Annah Faulkner’s The Beloved.  As reviewer Maureen writes, the protagonist Bertie’s encounter with polio leaves her ‘with a disability which means she must eventually wear a boot to correct her gait. Her deformed foot impacts on her perception of herself and how she chooses to dress, as well as forces her to compensate in many areas of her life.’  Despite her disability, Bertie is determined to practice her art, an impulse which is at odds with her mother’s desire that she become a doctor.  The conflict is a plot device, as Maureen notes, and ‘the battle between mother and daughter draws the story along at a page-turning pace, ensuring an easy read.’

caleb-200-300Australian women writers such as Geraldine Brooks have  focussed on the encounters and histories of Indigenous people in other countries.  In Caleb’s Crossing, as Marilyn of Me, You and Books writes, Brooks’ depiction of a friendship between Bethia, a girl from a Puritan family, and Caleb, a Native American, contributes to the dismantling of the ‘widespread assumptions that all Indians were like those involved in the wars with settlers in the late 1800s.’  For Australian readers, Marilyn continues, it also ‘provides a comparison with their own nation’s initial settlement a century and a half later. And the book excels as simply an enjoyable novel.’

gil-scott-heron-parole-clarkeDiversity was also showcased in poetry this month, with poet Katie Keys penning a review of Gil Scott Heron is on Parole by poet Maxine Beneba Clarke, an Australian poet of Afro-Caribbean descent (also mentioned by Marisa in the poetry/short stories roundup).  In this work, as Katie writes, ‘Clarke highlights and re-writes stories from the convenient myths of colonialists, oppressors and misogynists to white-faced fairytales and out-dated definitions. The collection is at moments harsh and angry, sometimes shocking. But change isn’t always polite and the revolution will not be televised.  Overall, it is powerful, persuasive and justified’.

On the topic of things poetic, on Tuesday we will have the first of our guest writers for our spotlight on queer women writers, Michelle Dicinoski.  Michelle is also a poet – her first collection is the stunning Electricity for Beginners – and author of the memoir Ghost Wifeabout her journey to Canada to marry her wife Heather. Stay posted for further details!

 

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 ‘Paper Chains’ Author Nicola Moriarty

Nicola Moriarty has been a popular novelist in the first two years of the AWW Challenge with more than 14 reviews of her novels Paper Chains, Captivation and Free-Falling.

PaperChains_CoverPaper Chains is a heart-warming story of family, friendship and forgiveness – and the crazy twists of fate that shape our lives. Hannah and India are new best friends. Hannah is running from her life back in Sydney. Now in London, she’s trying to put the past behind her, if only she could stop punishing herself for what she did. India knows Hannah is hiding something big, and she’s determined to figure it out. Because India has a secret of her own… one that is currently sealed in a love letter that’s making its journey across Europe. Before it reaches its destination, can India help Hannah learn to forgive herself? And will Hannah wake up and realise that India needs rescuing too?

Nicola 026Nicola Moriarty is a writer, student and mum to two small (but remarkably strong willed) daughters. Her writing was once referred to as ‘inept’ by The Melbourne Age. Luckily on that same day The Brisbane Courier Mail called her work ‘accomplished, edgy and real.’  She has been fueled by a desire to prove The Age wrong ever since. She has now published two novels and one novella with Random House Australia and has written for the websites Mamamia.com and iVillage Australia. She blogs regularly on her website. I interviewed Nicola about the influence of her writing siblings and the difficulties of overcoming writer’s block, as well as her favourite books from the AWW Challenge.

Did you grow up in a bookish house? What was your early relationship with books? I think my house was pretty bookish – definitely my elder sisters were big readers. I can remember my sister Kati teaching me to read by reading The Enchanted Forest to me, she would get me to (very slowly) read one page out loud, and then my reward was her reading the rest of the chapter out to me! I also remember taking Flowers in the Attic from one of my sister’s book shelves to read when I’m sure I was far too young for that book! I think I was fairly traumatised by the story.

When did you begin writing in a serious way, and what motivated that? I started writing more seriously in my mid-20s and it was definitely my sisters’ success that motivated me. Seeing both Liane and Jaci get published made the possibility so much more real for me and much less of an unobtainable, crazy dream. I’d always loved to write, but I don’t think being published had occurred to me until I saw it happen to them!

ImageHow did your debut novel Free-Falling come to be published? After getting about fifteen friends and family members to read it and reassure me that it was good enough, I finally sent it off to a literary agent (at Curtis Brown). She passed it on to one of her colleagues, who agreed to represent me and then sent it out to about 9 publishers. I got back 8 rejections, but luckily I only needed that one yes!

What research did you have to do for Paper Chains and how did you go about it? Much of Paper Chains is based around post-natal depression. As this is something I’ve suffered from myself, a lot of the book draws from personal experiences. However there was some medical information I needed, and for that I spoke with a few friends who are nurses, they were very patient with my incessant questions and gave me a lot of valuable advice and assistance.

Have you had any surprising or unusual reader responses to Paper ChainsI’ve had some lovely feedback from readers who identified with Hannah, in particular, there was one review (from the very wonderful Inkcrush blog) that talked about feeling liberated from having read Paper Chains, “from things (she) didn’t even realise she was holding onto… secret thoughts and pressures. Doubts and expectations…” This was definitely unexpected, I had never imagined that anyone would be affected in this way from my writing and it made me feel as though whatever happens now with my writing career, even if I never sell another book, I’ve achieved something to be proud of.

What are your writing habits? At the moment, my writing habits are DISGRACFUL! I think perhaps I’ve hit a spot of writer’s block… maybe because right now I have about 4 different book ideas and I can’t decide which one to work on first! However, usually, if things are going well, I set myself word limits that I want to reach (either daily or weekly), and I find I have to leave the house to work – so I either go to a café or work in the office with my husband (we run a design business together). I also usually need music to write, preferably The Submarines or Group Love or Little Birdy!

What do you do when you feel creatively stuck? Well, as you now know from my last answer, I happen to be a bit stuck right now, so I should probably pay attention to how I answer this question and actually put it into practice! I either do some free writing, to try and get myself to relax and stop over-thinking things, or, I eat some chocolate (okay, that’s just an excuse to eat chocolate), or change my environment, go outside, write in the sunshine… or just stop for a bit – leave it until I’m really in the right frame of mind.

Real Cover +What are you working on now? Good question! But I think I’m going to be working on a novel length version of a short story that I wrote for the Sunlounger anthology earlier this year (that’s one of the 4 book ideas I currently have and I’m pretty sure that’s the one I’m not leaning towards working on first). It’s called ‘The Red Glove’ and it’s about a single mum called Penny who lives in outback NSW and sometimes has prophetic dreams…

What’s your favourite book by an Australian female author? I’m going to have to choose two:

What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty

The Betrayal of Bindy Mackenzie by Jaclyn Moriarty

I love all of my sisters’ books, but these are two of my favourites!

Your turn: Have you read Nicola’s books? Which has been your favourite?

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:

Dawn Barker, author of Fractured

Honey Brown, author of Dark Horse, Red Queen, The Good Daughter and After the Darkness

Loretta Hill, author of The Girl in the Hard Hat and The Girl with Steel-Capped Boots

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.

January 2014: General Fiction

The 2014 AWW Challenge  has attracted over 200 participants in its third year and during January, contributors have shared almost 150 review links. Of that number, around one fifth of books have been identified as general fiction, that is – fiction set post mid 1950′s, which do not fit neatly into a specific literary genre.

winter sea morrisseyBestselling author Di Morrisey attracted reviews for both her newest release and a backlist title. For Monique of Write Note Reviews,  ” the descriptions of the south coast were vivid and enticing” in The Winter Sea, “a sweeping saga of family, honour and secrets set on the beautiful NSW south coast”, published late last year, though she admits to being less impressed with Morrisey’s style of “telling [rather] than showing”. Jennifer Cameron Smith reviewed The Last Mile Home published in 2008. Set in the 1950′s in New South Wale’s New England district, it is a story of true love’s triumph about which  Jennifer wrote, ” Some parts made me sad, some aspects made me happy and certain elements of coincidence (or timing) caused me to remember that while in fiction, anything is possible, it doesn’t have to be probable.”

mr-wigg-simpsonWe have a handful of men participating in the challenge, one of whom is John @ Musings of a Literary Dilettante. He was completely charmed by Mr Wigg by Inga Simpson Mr Wigg is a little gem. A story with heart. Reading it makes you want to plant an orchard, preserve some fruit, and get baking while the cricket is playing on the radio….It makes you thankful for the little things, the slow things, the moments between you and those you love. And being reminded of these things is never a bad thing.”

beloved-faulknerMaureen Helen reviewed The Beloved by Anna Faulkner, a Queensland Premier’s Literary Award for Emerging Author (2011) winner, later shortlisted for the  2013 Miles Franklin Literary Award,with the prompting of her book club.  Maureen, “loved the way Annah Faulkner portrays her characters, even minor ones, giving them a distinctive life of their own. The author’s passion for, and knowledge about art is apparent throughout the book. But what impressed me most was the fascinating use of the voice of the child to tell this story in first person as she develops from a little girl a thirteen-year old.”

close-up-forsterAuthor Kate Forster released her fourth adult fiction novel in January, Close Up. Bree of 1girl2manybooks describes the writing as engaging, enjoying the characters and the dynamics between them. Monique of Write Note Reviews writes ,“secrets, illusions, ambition, desire, love and a glamorous Hollywood setting combine to create a glitzy, beachy, time-out read” , suggesting, “If pure escapism is what you’re after, then Close Up should be just the ticket.”

Other titles that were recommended during January include The Outside Story by Sylvia Lawson, a dance through the fraught and contested history of the Sydney Opera House, which Jennifer Cameron Smith enjoyed, Unforgivable by Sharon Robards was awarded five stars from Brenda for her “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”,  and Sea Dog Hotel by Marlish Glorie was reviewed by Louise Allan who wrote it was, a thoroughly enjoyable, quirky novel about a troubled woman in search of happiness but who cannot forgive herself for the past”

outside-story-Lawsonunforgivablesea-dog-hotel-marlish-glorie

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.

2013 AWW Challenge: Poetry and Short Stories

liquid-nitrogenJennifer Maiden’s win of the overall prize for the Victorian Premier’s Prize for her poetry collection Liquid Nitrogen is a boon for Australia’s women poets.  As Paula notes in her roundup of these awards, author Magdalena Ball reviewed this collection, contemplating its themes of waking and politics, and its technique of layering:

Though Maiden’s poetic description of the Carina Nebula alone is worth the price of the book, this building up of smaller things into something larger, powerful, and transformative, is exactly what Liquid Nitrogen does, taking the many cultural, political and literary characters and references, in order to create a complex theory of everything, woven together on a Maiden’s “spinning jenny.” 

Like-a-house-on-fire-kennedyShort stories also garnered recognition in the prize stakes.  Cate Kennedy’s Like a House on Fire was shortlisted for the 2013 Stella Prize and won the 2013 Steele Rudd award for short story collections offered by the Queensland Literary Awards.  It was reviewed by 6 readers for the AWW challenge – If Not, Read, Kathy, Janine, Denise, myself and Belinda - making it our our most-reviewed collection of stories.

This shows that, although winning brings literary recognition, readers are most the most important prize of all.  Happily, there were 33 reviews of poetry collections last year, eclipsing 2012’s count of 7 reviews, and 89 reviews of short stories or short story collections, up from 76 last year – an amazing effort!  Below are some highlights from the year.

Poetry

Elizabeth Hodgson, Skin paintingPhillip Ellis and Jonathon Shaw blitzed the reviews, with 10 and 8 penned respectively.  Philip paid care and attention to collections by Indigenous authors, including Oodgeroo Noonuccal’s The Dawn is at Hand, Anita Heiss’ I’m Not Racist, But … and Elizabeth Hodgson’s Skin Painting.  The latter, winner of the 2007 David Unaipon award for Indigenous writers, has ‘a level of candour running throughout the whole’, perhaps because it is, as Philip explains, ‘nonfiction poetry, poetry arising out of and engaging with the poet’s lived experience of the world and her life’.

domestic-archaeology-pilgrim-byrneLesbian relationships featured in Limen, reviewed by Sue of Whispering Gums, and Marilyn of Me, You and Books, while Phillip Ellis reviewed Domestic Archaeology, about poet Kelly Pilgrim-Byrne’s conception of a child with her partner.  Dorothy Porter’s lesbian thriller classic The Monkey’s Mask was reviewed by If Not, Read and WriteReaderly, who sums it up nicely: ‘The plotting is smart, the affair is sexy, Sydney is gritty and real, the poems are bitey and sharp – a damned fab book.’

Lilliey-realiaIn terms of other contemporary works, Jon Shaw penned an entertaining review of Kate Lilley’s Realia (in tandem with John Tranter’s Ten Sonnets) in which, piqued by Lilley’s poem “GG” on the sale of auctions from the estate of Greta Garbo, he consulted the list of said items on the web to check her source, and uncovered an image of a collection of irons.  ‘Some liberty taken as befits a poet,’ he concludes, ‘but an honest steal.’

What I enjoyed about Jon’s review is his articulation that poetry isn’t necessarily easy, as he writes, ‘Neither of these books appealed to me much on first contact, but when I came to write about them, even so spottily, I warmed to them both.’  Even if a poem seems difficult on a first reading, persistence with it pays off.  The poem opens up as you get to know it, and might even become a friend.  I look forward to reading your reviews on making the acquaintance of works by Australia’s women poets over 2014.

If you’d like to read the reviews in full, and also look at others that I haven’t had space to mention here, you had head to our Weebly pages:

January – June 2013

July — December 2013

 

Short Stories

When I look at the pages for our short story reviews, I’m always blown out of the water by the diversity of genres.  They cover speculative fiction, classics and literature, nonfiction, romance, contemporary fiction and historical fiction.  I’ve penned a snapshot of reviews from these genres below.

Caution contains small parts mcdermottReaders of spec fic/fantasy/horror/sci fi were our biggest contributors, with 34 reviews.  As Tsana mentions in her wrap-up of speculative fiction, Margo Lanagan’s collections Cracklescape (reviewed by Mel and Dave) and Yellow Cake (reviewed by Heidi, in her admirably titled Salute Your Shorts feature) were popular with readers, as was Kirstyn McDermott’s Caution: Contains Small Parts (reviewed by Stephanie, Mark and Narelle), while Thoraiya Dyer’s Asymmetry proved the most popular work after Kennedy’s Like a House on Fire, with 4 reviews (from Tsana, Alexandra, Mark and Dave).

letters-george-clooney-adelaideIn contemporary fiction, which includes literary fiction, there were 28 reviews.  It’s hard to go past the title of Debra Adelaide’s Letter to George Clooney, reviewed by Kylie in the Newtown Review of Books.  Although she found it an engaging read, she was disappointed that some of the stories were so similar, especially as ‘one of the attractions of the short story to both writers and readers is the opportunities the form allows for experimentation with structure, voice and narrative’.

great unknown meyerAngela Myer, editor of The Great Unknown, pulled together a selection of stories from some of Australia’s finest writers to unsettle her readers.  Also reviewed by Kylie, it sounds like the book is a corker, with novelist Krissy Kneen opening the proceedings with ‘a genuinely spooky tale about a sleepwalking woman and her watchful husband’.

It was also good to see women of diverse heritage being reviewed, with WriteReaderly commenting on Merlinda Bobis’ White Turtle.  She found it ‘competent enough’, but wasn’t enamoured, and recommended that readers pick up Bobis’ Fish Hair Woman for a more satisfying read.

dear ruth parryRomance stories also featured strongly, with 22 works reviewed.  Many of these were single stories, such as Bronwyn Parry’s ‘Dear Ruth’ (reviewed by Brenda, one of our prolific reviewers, and Jess) and Robin Thomas’ ‘Bonjour Cherie’ (reviewed by Lauren).

There were also two reviews of classics by Sue of Whispering Gums, who pays detailed attention to the use of language and its unsettling effects in Barbara Baynton’s ‘Scrammy ‘and’ and ‘A Dreamer’.  Historical fiction featured twice, in ‘The Convict’s Bounty Bride‘ and ‘The Last Gladiatrix‘, both reviewed by Lauren.  Finally, there was one book of nonfiction, Bush Nurses, reviewed by Marcia.

In all, it seems like reading short stories are an excellent way to sample the diversity of talent in Australia’s women writers.  If you’re pressed for time (as so many of us are!), reading stories is a great way to participate in the AWW Challenge in 2014.

As with poetry, if you’d like to see these reviews in their entirety, please head to the Weebly pages listed below.

January – June 2013
July — December 2013

 

About Me

JessI’m Jessica White, a writer and researcher.  I have a PhD from the University of London and have published two novels with Penguin, A Curious Intimacy (2007) and Entitlement (2012). My short stories and poetry have been published in OverlandSoutherlyIsland and the Review of Australian Fiction.  You can find more information about these at my website.  I’m also on Twitter @ladyredjess.

2013 AWW Challenge Wrap-up: Diversity

In her essay “Literature as Pleasure, Pleasure as Literature” (Antaeus, 1987), Joyce Carol Oates wrote, ‘Reading is the sole means by which we slip, involuntarily, often helplessly, into another’s skin, another’s voice, another’s soul’.  This is why reading stories is one of the most accessible and enjoyable ways of learning about the lives of other people.  There are many voices that make up Australia, and it’s been great to see so many AWW Challenge participants listening to and reflecting upon them throughout 2013.

Indigenous Authors

Paris Dreaming by Anita HeissOver 2013, there were 45 reviews of works by Indigenous women writers.  Dr Anita Heiss was the most reviewed, with 6 reviewers penning their thoughts on her works.  These included Paris Dreaming (reviewed by Sue), Am I Black Enough for You (reviewed by Marilyn, Sue and Kevin) and I’m Not Racist, But… (reviewed by Phillip and Shannon).

mullumbimbyMelissa Lucashenko’s Mullumbimby was also popular, with reviews by James, Lisamyself and Writereaderly, who delightfully describes it as ‘such a pleasure to read this place [Mullumbimby] rendered with such smart-arsey love. The multifaceted examination of indigenous rights is smart-thinking and smartly plotted, the narrative trips along, the characters are human, the language vernacular and gritty, and the book an accessible, informed, good-timer.’

Sue from Whispering Gums reviewed two of Melissa’s essays, ‘How Green Is My Valley’ and her Walkley-award winning ‘Sinking Below Sight: Down and Out in Brisbane and Logan’ published in Griffith Review.  In the latter essay, Melissa poses the question, ‘what dreams are possible for the Brisbane underclass in 2013?’ and follows the lives of three women living in poverty.  As Sue notes, Melissa’s essay ‘may not be statistically significant from an academic perspective, but anyone who reads contemporary social commentary knows that what she writes rings true’.

heaven-I-swallowed-hennessyOver July we held a focus on Indigenous women writers to celebrate NAIDOC week, and encouraged our readers to pick up a work by an Indigenous woman writer.  Among the books reviewed was Rachel Hennessy’s The Heaven I Swallowed, a story inspired by the author’s grandmother, who was one of the Stolen Generations.  The book was appreciated by both Sue and Shelleyrae.

theswanbook-wrightAnother standout novel was Alexis Wright’s The Swan Book, a speculative fiction novel set in a near future devastated by climate change.  Marilyn Brady, who runs the Global Women of Colour Challenge, named it as one of the best ten novels that she read and reviewed over 2013 not least because, as she writes in her review of the novel, Wright is one of the few Indigenous authors she has read who ‘are using their unique history and culture creatively and experimentally to address universal themes’.

Such an innovative approach can also be seen in Lynette Russell’s Roving Mariners: Australian Aboriginal Whalers and Sealers in the Southern Ocean 1790-1870, reviewed by Janine.  This history, about the South Australian sealing industry, was prompted by Russell’s desire ‘to create a more complex and less linear narrative than has been previously produced for southern Australia’ which required  attention to the particularly unstable boundaries of who was Indigenous and who was not.

The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf by Ambelin KwaymullinaIn other genres, there were reviews of speculative fiction novel The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf (by Mark, Heidi and myself), children’s books such as The Burrumbi Kids (reviewed by Narelle), Oodgeroo Noonuccal’s poems The Dawn is at Hand (reviewed by Philip) and young adult novels such as Melissa Lucashenko’s Too Flash (reviewed by My Book Corner).  This is by no means a comprehensive list, and you can find more works under the heading of Indigenous Writing on our Listings Page.

Authors writing on Indigenous Issues

Red Dirt TalkingA number of readers also commented on works that revolved around Indigenous people, characters or issues, but were not necessarily penned by Indigenous authors.  Marilyn reviewed Jacqueline Wright’s Red Dirt Talking, winner of the Western Australian TAG Hungerford award and longlisted for the Miles Franklin and Dobbie awards, describing it as ‘A complex and entertaining Australian novel about a white woman who comes to an Indigenous community looking for information, only to find herself changed and involved in the concerns of the community.’

Patti Miller’s The Mind of a Thief, about Miller’s exploration of the history of the Wiradjuri people, original custodians of the place where she was raised, was longlisted for the Stella Prize, and was reviewed by Deborah, Melissa and Anna.

Paisley lone protestorThe Lone Protestor, Fiona Paisley’s marvellous history of Anthony Martin Fernando, Indigenous activist in Europe in the first half of the 20th Century, was also reviewed by Jenny and Yvonne.  ‘Creative, intelligent and audacious are some of the words that came to my mind when reading about A M Fernando’, Yvonne writes, for he was a remarkable man whom Paisley brings to life despite, as Yvonne continues, ‘only tiny scraps [of information] hidden in vast archives’.

Disability

beloved-faulknerIt was positive to see a novel about disability reaching the limelight.  Annah Faulkner’s The Beloved, about Roberta Lightfoot, who suffers from polio and its ramifications, won the Kibble award and was shortlisted for the Miles Franklin award in 2013, and previously won the 2011 Queensland Premier’s Award (when the awards were still hosted by the premier) for an emerging author.  I was impressed with Roberta’s tough personality and the lush Port Moresby setting, while Maree describes it as ‘a well-written novel with a great heart’.

Other works about disability included Kate Richards’ Madness: a memoir, about the author’s mental illness.  This was thoughtfully reviewed by Stephanie and Christine, who describes the work as ‘not just a plea for understanding but also for the recognition of the complexity of mental illness  that increased expenditure and thought in the mental health field might address’. 

Queer Writing

LettersToTheEndOfLoveWalkerQueer writers, characters and subjects appeared in a wide range of genres, including romance (Anna Cowan’s Untamed, reviewed by Kat), history (Suzanne Falkiner’s Eugenia: A Man, reviewed by Janine), literary fiction (Yvette Walker’s Letters to the End of Love, reviewed by Amanda, Annabel, Jennifer, Emily and myself), poetry (Susan Hawthorne’s Limen, reviewed by Sue and Marilyn), young adult fiction (F2M: the Boy Within by Hazel Edwards and Ryan Kennedy, reviewed by Stevie) and an anthology (Car Maintenance, Explosives and Love, and Other Contemporary Lesbian Writings, reviewed by writereaderly).

We don’t yet have a list of queer women writers on our Reading for Diversity page, but I’m hoping to redress this by holding a spotlight on queer writing in March.  Stay tuned for details! 

Diverse Heritage

unpolished-gemOver October, we held a spotlight on Australian Women Writers of Diverse Heritage, with guest posts from Tseen Khoo, Alice Pung, Malla Nunn and Merlinda Bobis.  Tseen, a researcher and writer on Asian-Australian issues, outlined her frustration with the limited readings of texts by Asian Australian women, such as those by Hsu Ming Teo’s Love and VertigoAlice Pung, author of Unpolished Gem and Her Father’s Daughter, discussed the theme of class and ostracism in relation to Ruth Park’s novels.  Malla Nunn reflected on how her move to Australia gave her the opportunity to write about her childhood in Swaziland, while Merlinda Bobis, author of Fish-Hair Woman, for which she was awarded the Most Underrated Book Award, wrote a post about the influence of her Filipino culture on her writing.  Next year we’ll be holding similar spotlights on lesbian writers (as mentioned above) and women writers with disabilities.

AWW no borderI have loved working with the AWW team this year, and am proud to be part of an initiative that contributes to the fair representation of women writers in Australia’s literary culture.  In addition, even though I’m deaf, by reading I listen to much, much more than I ever could in real life, and I’m indebted to AWW’s readers – your reviews have allowed me to slip into so many skins, voices and souls.

If you’d like to continue the challenge in 2014 (and I do hope you will!), you can sign up here.  For further suggestions as to what to read from a diverse range of Australian women writers, please visit our Reading for Diversity page.  Those who are also interested in Australia’s fantastic women Indigenous authors can head to the Indigenous and Indigenous Issues lists on our Review Listings page.  Do venture forth and explore!

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), about botany and lesbianism, and Entitlement (2012), about Native Title and grief.  You can find more information about me at my website.  I’m also on Twitter @ladyredjess.

2013 AWW Challenge Wrap-up: Contemporary Fiction

Another year has passed and with it, AWW challenge participants have read and reviewed over 500 contemporary fiction titles. Broadly, the label of contemporary fiction applies to any novel set in the time period from the mid 1900′s to the present. However, in terms of this summary of the challenge, we have assigned the label of contemporary fiction to apply to those works, set between the mid 1900′s and the present, which do not fit neatly into any single genre category, like crime, literary or romance.

There were several debut novelists who earned attention from readers and reviewers during 2013.  Fractured by Dawn Barker, How To be a Good Wife by Emma Chapman, House of All Seasons by Jenn J McLeod, Losing February by Susanna Freymark, and Peace, Love and Khaki Socks by Kim Lock were among the most popular.

fractured-barker  How to be a Good Wife house for all seasonslosing-february-freymarkpeace-love-khaki-socks

Novels dealing with topical issues such as immigration, the environment and social boundaries  were a draw for many readers with In My Arms by Kylie Ladd, No Place Like Home by Caroline Overington, Shallow Breath by Sara Foster. just_a_girl by Kirsten Krauth and The Yearning by Kate Belle widely reviewed.

into-my-arms no-place-like-home-overingtonshallow-breathjust-a-girl-krauthYearning_Belle

Fiction focusing on domestic drama, family relationships and secrets and also proved popular with The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty, The Shadow Year by Hannah Richell, Paper Chains by Nicola Moriarty, Rules of Conception by Angela Lawrence and Whisky, Charlie, Foxtrot by Annabel Smith earning acclaim from their readers.

husband's-secret-moriartyshadow-year-richellMoriarty Paper Chainsrules-of-conception-lawrencewhisky-charlie-foxtrot

Though not garnering as much attention as other titles, House of Memories by Monica McIerney, Sisters of Spicefield by Fran Cusworth, The Engagement by Chloe Hooper, The Vale Girl by Nelika McDonald and Traces of Absence by Susan Holoubek were all highly recommended by those who reviewed them.

house-memoriessistersofspicefieldHooper The engagementvale-girl-mcdonaldtraces-of-absence-holoubek

Rural fiction continues to prove popular and amongst the years releases, Currawong Creek by Jen Scoullar, Blackwattle Lake by Pamela Cook, Flame Tree Hill by Mandy Magro, Saving Grace by Fiona McCallum and Silver Clouds by Fleur McDonald were well read.

currawong-creekBlackwattle Lake by Pamela Cook (published by Hachette Australia)flametreehillSaving Grace McCallumsilver clouds

The diversity of contemporary fiction in Australian literature is evidenced by the wide range of titles read by the challenge participants. I have been able to showcase only a few in this post, and recommend you browse the list of contemporary reviews listed in our database and previous round-up posts, there will surely be something you are tempted to add to your reading list for the 2014 challenge and each month through the year you can expect I will return to showcase more fabulous contemporary titles.

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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. While I have a degree in Education, I hope to gain a diploma in librarian studies in the near future.

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