Guest Post & Giveaway: Get Cosy with Ilsa Evans!

nefarious-doings-evansIll-gotten-gains-evansforbidden fruit

For some time I’ve flirted with the idea of a tree change but, being a rather cautious (and lazy) person, wishing and wondering and collecting the occasional real estate pamphlet is about as far as I’ve gone. Instead I came up with an altogether less stressful idea – I invented my own town and then peopled it with a mixed assortment of interesting characters – some of whom I’d be happy to have next door and some whom I most definitely would not, just to give it colour. The result has been the Nell Forrest mystery series (published by Pan Macmillan’s Momentum Books), with the latest instalment, Forbidden Fruit, released just last month. The books feature the fictional country town of Majic, on the outskirts of Melbourne, and Nell Forrest, a middle-aged divorced mother of five girls who has a habit of stumbling into an array of nefarious doings and then, sometimes only barely, stumbling back out.

I’ve been writing books for about fifteen years now but one of the greatest compliments that I ever received from a reader was the news that, the evening after finishing one of my books, she was idly contemplating hosting a barbecue for the weekend and began mentally listing those she would invite. Halfway through, she realised that she’d included several of the characters from the book itself. The fictional characters. In the short amount of time that it had taken her to read the story, they had become her friends. And I know exactly what she means (I even developed a sort of crush on a male character I wrote once, and the ending – especially pairing him up with someone else – was a little like being dumped). Every time I finish writing a book, I experience an oddly nauseous mix of elation and regret. It’s impossible to even contemplate a new project until I go through a period of recovery, of separation. I mope around the house, eat copious amounts of chocolate, and make complicated calculations regarding the sun and the yardarm and a glass of wine. Although experience tells me that turning my book hangover into a real one doesn’t help. At all.

But that’s also why I’ve enjoyed writing the Nell Forrest series so much. Starting each new book has been like re-visiting old friends, catching up with what’s been going on in their lives, accompanying them as they move forward. It’s a reunion of sorts. Sure, there’s always a few characters best avoided (and if they turned up at the door, just ring the police. Don’t let them in), but Nell Forrest – well, she’s the sort that I’d invite to a barbecue. And I knew I’d have to write her that way if she was going to stay around (Hercule Poirot is not the type of protagonist I’d be able to have in a series). As both a reader and a writer, I like to connect. But Nell is more than a connection – she’s a friend. I might not have her phone number but I know where she lives. It’s a lovely little town just a stone’s throw from Melbourne where eccentricity meets rural pragmatism and then sits back to enjoy each other’s company. Just like I enjoy Nell’s. She’d know when to give me space if she knew I was moping, or drop in with buckets of chocolate (we’d probably even go retro and have a fondue, with strawberries and bananas and marshmallows), or help me with the sun/yardarm calculations and then say ‘what the hell, let’s open the bottle regardless – and make it champagne!’ In fact, I think I’ll start collecting those real estate brochures again…

To win a copy of Forbidden Fruit, Book 3 in the Nell Forrest Mystery Series, leave a comment on this post with your name and email address.

forbidden fruit

“This time it’s personal …  The last thing Nell Forrest expected when she tried to plant a tree was to unearth the skeletal remains of a former resident. Now her new backyard is swarming with police, there’s a television news crew camped next door, and once again she is smack in the middle of a murder investigation. And the timing is dreadful. Two of Nell’s daughters are about to give birth and she is surrounded by new in-laws with agendas of their own.  But it soon becomes clear that this time the investigation is personal – so personal that enquiries bring her long-estranged father back into the family fold, and the answers shed some very uncomfortable light about the proclivities of her parents when they were young. Who would have thought that the little country town of Majic had ever been such a swinging place to live?”


Nefarious Doings {Book 1} is FREE for a limited time for the Kindle AU I US I UK


Welcome to the sleepy town of Majic, where neighbourhood watch is a killer … For Nell Forrest, life in the little town of Majic is not going smoothly. One of her five daughters has just swapped university for fruit-picking, another is about to hit puberty, while a third keeps leaving aggrieved messages on the answering machine. On top of all this, her mother is infuriating and it’s only been a matter of months since Nell lost her husband of twenty-five years. It’s no surprise, then, that she is even struggling to write her weekly column.  But the floodgates of inspiration are about to swing open, almost knocking her out in the process. Murder and mayhem, arson and adultery, dungeons, death threats and disappearances are just around the corner. Despite Nell’s abysmal aptitude for investigative work, she manages to shine the light on the local Richard III Society and that’s when things really start to heat up. Throw in some suspicious widows, nosy neighbours, a canine witness, plus a detective who is getting a little closer than he should, and it’s clear that nefarious doings are well and truly afoot.

Ill-Gotten Gains {Book 2} is ON SALE for a limited time for the Kindle AU I US I UK


“There are secrets in the sleepy town of Majic, where the past trips over the present … and then looks the other way. The country town of Majic is about to celebrate a milestone. It’s been 150 years since the founding father, Petar Majic, rode into the bush after a liquid lunch, vowing to build a house at whatever spot he reached by sunset. However, what happened next isn’t quite what town legend would have you believe. A minor act of cemetery vandalism lands local columnist and amateur detective Nell Forrest right in the path of historical inevitability. An apparent murder-suicide leads to the unveiling of a century-old scandal and a trail left by a trio of long-dead women.  Nell’s investigations are hampered both by the arrival of the handsome district detective and by her family – whose dramas almost eclipse that of the town itself. With directionless daughters, unplanned pregnancies, a spot or two of adultery and an ex-husband who wants her house, Nell barely has time for the case, let alone the energy to keep her wits about her at the same time.  And Nell will need her wits about her as the mystery of Majic begins casting its shadow into the present day, putting Nell and her family in grave danger. In the end, Nell must decide whether it is a tale of epic fortitude, or treachery and ill-gotten gains, before the past catches up with her.”

The Nell Forrest Mystery Series can also be purchased from

Momentum I iBooksB& N I Kobo I Google Play

Amazon: AU I US I UK


ilsaIlsa Evans was born in the Dandenongs, east of Melbourne, in 1960 and enjoyed a blissful childhood that has provided absolutely no material for writing purposes. Fortunately adulthood served her better in this regard. After spending time in an eclectic range of employment, from the military to health promotion to seaside libraries, she returned to tertiary studies and completed a doctorate on the long-term effects of domestic violence in 2005. She has now settled into an occasionally balanced blend of teaching, public speaking and writing and lives in a perpetually partially renovated house, not far from where she was born, that is held upright by a labyrinth of bookshelves.

Ilsa is the author of twelve books in a variety of genres, including the three books in the Nell Forrest Mystery series. She also contributes to several newspapers and online journals on social issues and won the Eliminating Violence Against Women (EVA) Award for online journalism in 2011.

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AWW2014 Crime Roundup #4

alreadydead-fordThe most popular book for crime fiction fans during the past two months of AWW2014 has been Jaye Ford’s thriller ALREADY DEAD. The book’s opening act depicts a man [Brendan Walsh] leaping into the car of a random stranger (Miranda Jack) waiting at traffic lights. He points a gun at her, demands she drive on and frantically rants that he is being watched. Marcia at Book Muster from Down Under thought it a great introduction to Ford’s work and she plans to go back to the earlier titles

Her writing is powerful, with her use of short sharp sentences conveying the urgency of her voice, so much so, that you can’t help but keep turning the pages, as the third person narrative point of view effectively transports the reader into the mind of a woman who has been placed in a situation where she is no longer sure of what is real or imagined. And it doesn’t end there!

She continually ups the ante by throwing in other characters whose motives are questionable and, by revealing only a layer at a time the real circumstances surrounding the carjacking, she keeps the suspense taut as she makes Jax’s life (and ours) a living terror.

While Shelleyrae at Book’d Out was struck by one of the novel’s themes

Ford’s exploration of the issues associated with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in Already Dead gives added depth to this work of crime fiction. Walsh has struggled to readjust to civilian life after two tours in Afghanistan and people are quick blame PTSD for his accusations. Jax, in the wake of the abduction, is also suffering from the disorder’s symptoms – nightmares and anxiety, exacerbated by her still fresh grief and a history of tragedy

Other novels to receive attention this month included:

murderinthetelephoneexchange-wrightJune Wright’s 1948 novel MURDER IN THE TELEPHONE EXCHANGE was re-issued this year and was the subject of a delightful review and commentary (with great photos) from present-day author Josephine Pennicott

Knowing June is drawing on her personal experience in her experience as a telephonist,  also makes it an absorbing read. I’d never considered before how frantic and overwhelming it could be for switchboard operators working through bushfire seasons, and international crises. The pressure seeing the girls collapsing from exhaustion, the stress on the late roster girls when the evening shifts are cut right back, the strained concentration you need when you have half-a-dozen lines under your fingers… Not to mention of course, the girls who love to listen in on socialites’ private calls. And little details like the possessive emotions the Hello Girls foster towards their telephone sets. And Maggie, the hero of the story, laughing over that wherever she goes, she runs into somebody from the telephone exchange, including when she went to New Guinea on a trip. You can really touch the author herself through those little flourishes, and they make for authentic insights into a particular era and career. And it is through her knowledge of the telephone exchange that Maggie Brynes, the book’s hero is able to help solve the crime

let-her-go-barkerDawn Barker’s LET HER GO tackles the currently hot topic (in Australia at least) of surrogacy with a woman having a baby for her sister, Angela Savage says of it

Some heavy handed dialogue notwithstanding, Barker shares with authors like Wendy James and Honey Brown an ability to inject credible drama into ordinary people’s lives, encouraging readers to imagine what they would do in similar circumstances…

Let Her Go ultimately raises more questions than answers about surrogacy. But Barker’s novel can and should contribute to current national discussions about infertility, surrogacy, parenthood and the rights of the child.

cooperbartholomew-jamesRebecca James’ COOPER BARTHOLOMEW IS DEAD about a boy whose death from suicide is not accepted by everyone left behind. Shaheen at Speculating on SpecFic

The first thing that struck me about this book were the extremely vivid characters. Libby, Sebastien and Claire practically fly off the pages as they each take turns narrating the story after their friend Cooper dies. Cooper himself gets to take centre stage often as the story jumps between THEN and NOW, showing the times before Cooper’s death and afterwards.

I think the time jumps and the four narrators work perfectly because it allows the author to control how much information Libby (and the reader) has. It makes for a brilliantly suspenseful book that will keep you guessing.

Shaheen also posted an interview with Rebecca James which is well worth a read.

canyoukeepasecret-overingtonCaroline Overington’s CAN YOU KEEP A SECRET which Marcia from Book Muster Down Under found thought-provoking

Even though I think that some will find the subject matter a bit of a challenge, this aside, Caroline’s writing has a surprisingly relaxed and easy feel to it which immerses you into Caitlin’s world and keeps you turning the pages. She’s also been rather shrewd in choosing Caitlin to be the narrator as we get nobody else’s viewpoint until the very end. For me, the title itself asks the reader “can you keep a secret”? As a reviewer, yes, I sure can!

Claustrophobia Tracy RyanTracy Ryan’s CLAUSTROPHOBIA is a suspense novel that hooked Monique from Write Note Reviews

Claustrophobia is set in Perth, Western Australia. It’s a fitting backdrop for a book that examines feelings of social isolation – and even isolation within a relationship – since Perth is one of the most remote cities on Earth…Married couple Pen and Derrick live, work and do most things together (both work at the same school). While renovating their house, Pen discovers a letter to Derrick from a former lover.

Taut, tense and surprising … Claustrophobia is a slow-burner with themes that lingered in my mind long after I put the book down. If obsessive attachment, isolation, betrayals, secrets and lies is the sort of thing that gets under your skin, give this one a go. It will hook you slowly, but when it does, it will reel you in tight.

♣ ♣ ♣ ♣ ♣ ♣ ♣ ♣ ♣

If you’re after some ideas of more crime/mystery/thriller or true crime books to read then head over to the genre’s reviews page for this year’s challenge to see what else is being discussed or check out the previous roundups for this review category

About Me

I’m Bernadette Bean. I’ve been reading avidly for as long as I can remember, blogging about reading since late 2008 at Reactions to Reading and co-hosting Fair Dinkum Crime, a site devoted to promoting and discussing Australian crime fiction, for the past couple of years. I read and reviewed 18 books as part of my own participation in the 2012 challenge. Some of them weren’t even crime novels!

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.





AWW2014 Crime Roundup #3


As the AWW Challenge’s resident crime correspondent I have been woefully and inexcusably inactive in recent months but at least I have emerged from the ether at a great time to celebrate crime writing by Australian women. The Ned Kelly Awards are the country’s premier awards for crime writers and women writers have fared well in this year’s shortlists. In the Best Fiction category books by Australian women occupy three of six spots and the news is equally good for the Best First Fiction category where women writers take two of the four spots. For the Best True Crime category there are five books with one being authored by two women and another being co-authored by a female and male author. Let’s see what AWW reviewers have made of the titles.

In the Best Fiction category the shortlisted novels by women are

fatal-impact-foxKathryn Fox’s Fatal Impact takes her series heroine to Tasmania in a forensic thriller in which dead bodies take a back seat to the very topical issue of food security. So far I’m the only one to have reviewed the book for AWW and I said

It takes real skill to produce a ripper of a yarn that is at the same time thought-provoking. To additionally depict more than one view of a complex issue is even more rare and I applaud Fox for pulling it off. She does so mainly through depicting her central protagonist as not being completely informed about food politics at the outset of the book and allowing her to meet various experts and opinion-holders on both sides of the fence. As the novel progresses she draws her own conclusions based on the facts and information she collects (a radical concept in this age of shock-jock spouted mumbo-jumbo masquerading as knowledge)…I thoroughly enjoyed this novel and recommend it highly. It is full of surprises, never lets up its frenetic pace, provides much food for thought (pun intended) and is entirely able to be read without any prior knowledge of the series.

BeamsFallingPMNewtonP.M. Newton’s Beams Falling is set in the recent past and features an Australian-Vietnamese police woman recovering from trauma. The book has been reviewed 8 times in the challenge so far including by Yvonne Perkins who wrote

Newton excels in writing about place. Her books are not about the bells and sparkles façade that Sydney likes to parade to the rest of the world. They are about grungy Sydney, the real Sydney that most residents have to live in. There is no glamour here, but the truth of the parked car that expels over-heated, stale air when someone opens the door; the crowded train stations; the broken people; the ugly, unloved buildings of neglected suburbs.

In addition to grabbing yourself a copy of this excellent novel you should also check out the interview Challenge founder Elizabeth Lhuede carried out in May with Pam Newton.

the-dying-beach-angela-savageAngela Savage’s The Dying Beach features an ex-pat Australian working as a private detective in Thailand who investigates the death of a tour guide. The book was reviewed over at Whispering Gums where crime fiction is a rare sight, as is hinted at by the review’s final paragraph

The Dying Beach is a compelling page-turner that also makes some points about cultural difference and tolerance, the challenge of tourism, and the complexity of environmental management in developing countries. It achieves this without, to the best of my admittedly limited knowledge, deviating dramatically from the conventions of its genre. And that is a good thing, because the result is the sort of novel that could appeal to a cross-over audience. The challenge, though, is how to get readers, like me for example, to cross over.

I love it when we get a convert.

Turning to the Best First Fiction category the shortlisted novels by women are

everybreath-marneyEllie Marney’s Every Breath has not been reviewed during this year’s challenge but the young adult novel featuring two Melbourne teens who investigate a crime received an enthusiastic review at Speculating on Specfic last year

Every Breath is an engaging crime thriller that most will enjoy, especially because of its rich setting, exciting plot and great characters. I’m glad there are more books to come about Mycroft and Watts, because I’m not ready to let them go yet! I’ll be eagerly looking forward to the sequels!

hades foxCandice Fox’s Hades is a dark tale of a hunt for a serial killer and the twisted personal history of one of his hunters. It has attracted four reviews this year including one at Book’d Out

The pace is compelling, the writing tight and concise and the tension high from the novel’s first pages. It builds to a stunning climax that left me breathless and eager for more…Hades is is a gripping and exciting read journeying into a atmospheric underworld of Sydney.

Unfortunately neither of the shortlisted true crime books with female authors have attracted the attention of AWW reviewers (yet) but the novels are

  • No Mercy by Eleanor Learmonth & Jenny Tabakoff who outline the physical and neurological changes that typically affect the victims of disaster. Then, using true stories from history as case studies, they investigate the scenario famously imagined by William Golding in Lord of the Flies and borne out by the extraordinary Robbers Cave experiments of the 1950’s
  • Forever Mine by John Kidman & Denise Hofman which chronicles the abduction and murder of Sydney schoolgirl Samantha Knight, who seemingly vanished into thin air from busy Bondi Road, in the late afternoon of August 1986.

The Ned Kelly Award winners will be announced in a ceremony as part of the Brisbane Writers Festival on the 6th of September. Good luck to all.

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ThroughTheCracksHoneyBrownAs far as regular reviewing goes the most popular novel since the last roundup has been Honey Brown’s Through the Cracks which is an unconventional crime novel about a boy emerging from years of abuse. At Sam Still Reading the book’s confronting sensibility is summed up nicely

Through the Cracks is not a cushy, comfortable read – let’s get that out of the way first. You won’t be chuckling to yourself as you read this – in fact, you’re more likely to be squirming in your seat as your mind conjures the images that Honey Brown suggests has happened to her protagonists. It’s a well written novel, but it deals with subject matter that most of us are fortunate not to have any experience with. It’s a book that you’ll feel slightly guilty for racing through the pages, trying to work out if someone, anyone, gets their happy ending

Dancing on Knives Kate ForsythA review that really stood out for me from the recent batch was of Kate Forsyth’s Dancing on Knives, a novel about an agoraphobic girl living in terror, over at The Opal Octapus

I love the way that Dancing on Knives is about how the most ‘fragile’ person can be the only one holding things together. The book is thoroughly food-infused (and definitely needs a recipe glossary!). Others have critiqued it for its gently moseying pace. Sure, it’s not a driving thriller, but you don’t read a Forsyth for the page-turniness. It is less a speedboat ride and more a paddle-steamer meander through a sublime, dark forest. With Spanish food.

Talk about a review which really gives you a sense of how the book affected the reader!

what came before - anna georgeAnd one of this year’s ‘big things’, Anna George’s What Came Before, which is the story of a man who admits to killing his wife, has garnered its share of attention from AWW participants including at All The Books I Can Read

What Came Before is a gripping insight into domestic violence and showcases how a strong and confident woman like Elle can find herself in a situation where she’s enmeshed with a man such as David, who has temper and alcohol issues, who manipulates and justifies his every action

♣ ♣ ♣ ♣ ♣ ♣ ♣ ♣ ♣


If you’re after some ideas of more crime/mystery/thriller or true crime books to read then head over to the genre’s reviews page for this year’s challenge to see what else is being discussed or check out the previous roundups for this review category

About Me

I’m Bernadette Bean. I’ve been reading avidly for as long as I can remember, blogging about reading since late 2008 at Reactions to Reading and co-hosting Fair Dinkum Crime, a site devoted to promoting and discussing Australian crime fiction, for the past couple of years. I read and reviewed 18 books as part of my own participation in the 2012 challenge. Some of them weren’t even crime novels!

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.

April 2014 Roundup: Diversity

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


About Me

JessI’m Jessica White, a novelist and researcher, and I’ve been deaf since age 4 when I lost most of my hearing from meningitis.  I have a PhD from the University of London and have published two novels with Penguin, A Curious Intimacy (2007) and Entitlement (2012).  I’m currently writing a book of creative non-fiction on Queensland novelist Rosa Praed and her deaf daughter Maud.  You can find more information about me at my website.  I’m also on Twitter @ladyredjess.

Mystery and mirth making: An interview with Marianne de Pierres

Marianne de PierresA fan once told Marianne de Pierres that she was getting a tattoo of her book title because it was what turned her onto reading.

It’s not surprising that she engenders such a reaction from a large loyal fanbase – the first time I met her was at a convention where she was happily signing books, gossiping and offering advice to them.

Approachable is a good word for it especially since she readily agreed to be interviewed for Australian Women Writers and we have been teasing you about this interview for months.

She’s a long time supporter of all things AWW, often lurking in the background:

“I watch everyone’s blogs avidly and try and pick up new writers to read. I’m a big fan of the AWW Challenge, cheering from the sidelines.”

But where to begin?

Perhaps with the enticing news that her next novel Peacemaker is now out and with the information that she straddles two genres: speculative fiction, of which Peacemaker is the latest offering, and crime fiction.

She is also working on Dealbreaker which will be Peacemaker‘s sequel but Tara Sharp fans do not fret, there is more crime around the corner.

“I also have two crime novels that I’m gently pursuing, including Tara Sharp 4 and a new concept about a private detective who specialises in Art Theft.” she told me via email from over on the East Coast.

And two genres aren’t enough as she starts diving into the world of Young Adult fiction as well:

“Then there’s some other bits and pieces, like my YA novel Emo Trader and a SF near future thriller entitled Pharmakon. The latter are all in various stages of development.”

I asked if she was able to choose between the genres – if there was such a thing as a favourite. Her reply was interesting:

“My perfect genre is science fiction crime. I’m, at heart, a futurist, but I love mysteries and puzzles in stories.”

The reason it is interesting is because that’s pretty much what she does try to do when writing her speculative fiction works – the plots always have a hint of mystery, something to puzzle out and often quite a few characters who tend to kick various parts of other people’s anatomy and dabble in nomenclature. And when you pick up her crime fiction, Tara Sharp makes you laugh.

Marianne, herself, makes you laugh as well but she’s quick to get to the point about the important things. And the writing, anything to do with the writing is certainly one of those important things:

“Writing is very central to my inner peace and happiness,” she said, honestly. As a writer, I nodded very sagely each time I read this.

“It’s the meditation I need to get through life. It gets me excited but it also calms me down, if that makes any sense at all!”

It’s important, integral, all consuming perhaps and overwhelming and cathartic all at the same time perhaps but it also did take her quite some time before she put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard with any intention of serious storytelling.

“I never considered it as a career until I was about mid-thirties. Even then, it was more of a ‘let’s make a start and see where it takes me’, rather than a well-constructed plan.”

And before her thirties? Well, life had intervened and there was also a lot of growing up and learning to be done. Again the honesty came through:

“I spent my childhood and adolescence writing bits and pieces, inspired by the books that I loved, but it took me until my thirties to develop any self-discipline about it.”

And there were children as well to consider:

“At that point in my life, I was still very caught up in child rearing and writing time was a precious commodity.” she replied. “Maturity brings a lot to the writing table.”

It’s not just the sort of maturity where it brings depth to your characters and a sense of realism to your plot that she was referring to here. There was the maturity of realising just what needed to be done to get a book out. Including gluing yourself to the desk chair every day.

Her best advice came from Bill Congreve in the late nineties when she took it to heart:

“Finish what you start. Best advice I ever got, thanks, Bill! Sounds simple but you’d be amazed by how many writers have files full of partials, and very few completed manuscripts. No one publishes a story that isn’t finished!”

It’s now part of her steady routine. No magic, according to her, just a formula. And consistency:

“A little every day except Sunday. Sometimes only a paragraph, sometimes a thousand words. I’m not one to write huge amounts in a day, but I do write most days.”

I asked how she puts her crimes together. To me, this is a feat that is logically impressive – to keep track of all possibilities within a puzzle and to weave the solution, the crime and the clues all in together.

Her humour came through again. Marianne’s weapon of choice is a notebook and doodling – one that I have an urge to now look at, as I am sure many fans would. The doodles in particular sound intriguing. Once she has thought up the idea of course.

“I might start writing notes in a large note book. These will be basic dot points and are sometimes  accompanied by squiggly diagrams. That’s my plot resource! From then on, it’s just straight into the writing process.”

I am also keen to know what influences her. She admitted, as most any writer would, to a love of reading and started talking about why she thinks AWW is so important and who the first female Australian author she can remember reading was:

“Probably Elizabeth Jolley back when I was at uni in the late 70’s, but even then most of the writers on my course lists were male. The next time a female author stood out to me was Sarah Douglass back in the early nineties. Sad, isn’t it? All those years reading almost entirely male Australian authors.”

But there have been female influences, right? She listed them out, both male and female, for us:

  • Lilith’s Brood - Octavia Butler
  • Ash – Mary Gentle
  • Divine Endurance – Gwyneth Jones
  • Beggars in Spain – Nancy Kress
  • CrashCourse, ClipJoint – Wilhelmina Baird
  • Guns with Occasional Music – Jonathon Lethem
  • Neuromancer – William Gibson
  • Chaga – Ian MacDonald
  • Vermillion Sands – J G Ballard
  • Twilight Beach – Terry Dowling
  • A Separate Reality – Carlos Castaneda
  • Rama Revealed – A. C. Clarke

She does read other female Australian writers and she was keen to recommend names, though she refused to play favourites:

“I’d be lynched by all my friends.” She joked. “But some Aussie women writers whose work I’m quite partial to and never see enough of due to their infrequent publishing are: Maxine McArthur, Lucy Sussex and Leanne Frahm. I want more publishers to grab their work and wave it around!”

Which led to the question of being a female author in Australia and being supported by the industry.

“Publishing Science Fiction in Australia is hard full stop.” She explained. “The reading audience for it is small and the publishing industry doesn’t really support it currently. I’ve had to get inventive in the ways I manage this problem – but that’s for another discussion!”

It’s slightly different when it comes to crime fiction though.

“As a female crime writer, Sisters in Crime has been a godsend. Without them I think I’d be very disillusioned with crime publishing. They have made great progress in promoting the voice of Australian women writers.”

But what about the next generation of Australian female authors? What advice does she have for them? What heffalump traps should they avoid?

She was quite direct in her response:

“Head down, keep writing. NO. SUBSTITUTE. FOR. IT.”

The authoritative tone makes you sure that there is writing that should be getting done. “Other than the Internet, the worst trap is being overly critical of your first draft. That’s what leads to writers block and stagnation. Let yourself off the hook when you’re getting the story down.”

And if you do it right, you might find yourself with fans who get tattoos inspired by your work. As Marianne explained to me, it’s much more common than you think. But then again, she also had someone name their firstborn after her.

Marianne’s latest book Peacemaker is out right now and you can find out more at her website.

About me
Marisa Wikramanayake is a freelance journalist, writer and editor. She published her first book at 17, has lived on three different continents, been in ground zero of a bomb blast twice and is currently hibernating in Perth, Australia. She’s also been freaked out by the Scientologists, helped run a national publishing conference for the Society of Editors (WA) and currently sits on the WA Media Alliance committee. She is dangerous when bored, having terrorised educational institutions to finish an Honours thesis on Archaeology and a Masters thesis on Neuroscience and Science Communication. She pens book reviews for The West and the ABR, science news and then writes and edits novels in the spare time that’s left over after painting, dancing, gaming and mentoring. She contributes her two cents as non-fiction editor at Australian Women Writers and lends her geek goddess expertise to the Guys Read Gals project. Feel free to badger her at her blog at, onFacebook or tweet at her at @mwikramanayake

Q and A with crime author P M Newton

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

Newton kindly agreed to answer the following questions for AWW.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

P M Newton Photo Credit Peter Rae - Fairfax

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

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

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


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

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

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



February/March 2014 Roundup: Diversity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

About Me

JessI’m Jessica White, a novelist and researcher, and I’ve been deaf since age 4 when I lost most of my hearing from meningitis.  I have a PhD from the University of London and have published two novels with Penguin, A Curious Intimacy (2007) and Entitlement (2012).  I’m currently writing a book of creative non-fiction on Queensland novelist Rosa Praed and her deaf daughter Maud.  You can find more information about me at my website.  I’m also on Twitter @ladyredjess.

AWW2014 Crime Roundup #2

With respect to reviews posted, the weeks since the last Crime Roundup for AWW2014 have been a two-horse race between a couple of new release novels: Wendy James’ THE LOST GIRLS and P.M. Newton’s BEAMS FALLING. In the end, both books garnered 8 reviews a-piece but I feel I ought to apologise to P.M. Newton at this point because if I hadn’t knocked my copy of her book in the full kitchen sink while I was only half-way through reading it she’d have ‘won’, numerically speaking :)

BeamsFallingPMNewtonIn BEAMS FALLING policewoman Nhu ‘Ned’ Kelly is suffering the physical and psychological effects of the events depicted in the first novel in which she appears (THE OLD SCHOOL) and while on ‘light duties’ is assigned to an Asian crime unit in Sydney’s Cabramatta. All reviewers were positive about this book, commonly discussing the credible way various themes were depicted as well as the multi-layered feel to the storyline. Carol at Reading, Writing and Riesling wrote

Firstly I was very impressed with the authentic voice of this police procedural and the harrowing accuracy of PTSD as it is presented in this narrative; life constantly on alert, hyper vigilant, hyper alert, anxious, breathless, paranoia…panic. I could feel this disorder blossoming in my mind and chest as I read on, the descriptions so real.

Among the highlights for Yvonne Perkins was the book’s depiction of Sydney

Newton excels in writing about place. Her books are not about the bells and sparkles facade that Sydney likes to parade to the rest of the world. They are about grungy Sydney, the real Sydney that most residents have to live in. There is no glamour here, but the truth of the parked car that expels over-heated, stale air when someone opens the door; the crowded train stations; the broken people; the ugly, unloved buildings of neglected suburbs.

For Lou Murphy at Newton Review of Books the book’s layers are singled out for a mention

Beams Falling is much more than an exciting crime thriller: it works on many levels. The personal story is about coping with trauma, about the questions Nhu needs to ask herself in order to function again. The process of repair is dealt with poignantly as she attempts to heal her physical and psychological wounds

WendyJamesTheLostGirlsDemonstrating the breadth of what constitutes a crime novel these days THE LOST GIRLS is a different kind of story, though it too focuses at least as much narrative energy on the impact of a crime as it does on whodunit. It is a standalone novel of ‘domestic suspense’ in which the decades-old murder of a teenager still haunts her extended family in the present day. A common theme among the universally positive reviews of this novel is its disturbing ordinariness, as highlighted by Angela Savage

James has a special talent for depicting everyday suburban lives and adding unexpected but entirely plausible drama. The suspense is driven not only by the characters’ predicaments, but by the fear that something like this could happen to us or someone we love

Jess at The Never Ending Bookshelf was taken by the way the story explores the notion of truth

It’s the kind of story that shows us just how many shades of grey are in our seemingly black and white world. How the past is sometimes different to our memories and that circumstances are sometime unfortunate.

and at Book’d Out Shelleyrae explores this concept further

The Lost Girls is told through memories, interview transcripts, newspaper articles and the story of the present day, revealing the events that led up to, and followed, the death of Angie. As the novel unfolds, moving between time, place and perspective, the reader begins to piece together a wider view of the tragedy, and those affected, than any one character has

If you need a bit more information about either of these great novels check out fellow writer Angela Savage discussing both books on a recent episode of Radio National’s Books and Arts Daily

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AWW participants were reading other books over the past two months though and some lesser-known titles deserve particular mention here.

  • At Whispering Gums Angela Meyer’s book of mysterious short stories, THE GREAT UNKNOWN was a winner, offering “a collection of stories that vary greatly in setting, voice, subject matter – and even tone. Some are funny, some sad, most are disconcerting and some, of course, are scary.”
  • At Books and Musings from Downunder Sally reviewed Kaz Delaney’s first young adult mystery, DEAD, ACTUALLY, high praise indeed “Excellent Stuff – a real page turner and hard to put down. I carved out extra reading time just so I could finish it. This book got carted into the bathroom with me, read over meals, read at work, and/or kept me up late at night. If this author has more work, I will certainly read it
  • While she was a bit disappointed with the amount of ‘fluff’ in the writing, Cait at Aussie Owned and Read found some things to like about Lucy Christopher’s THE KILLING WOODS, saying of the plot “Seriously, it’s not everyday that a plot takes me by surprise! I’d heard everyone saying “I never guessed the killer!” so of course I thought, “Pfft, I’ll guess straight away.” I didn’t. (I suspected everyone, but that hardly counts because I was on my guard.)”. I love the format of Cait’s reviews too.

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As part of a month in which the AWW challenge celebrated diversity I wrote a post on Sleuthing and Sexuality , the research for which surprised me in that it highlighted how few crime novels feature lesbian characters, while Marisa Wikramanayake interviewed Katherine Howell and Lindy Cameron, both of whom have written crime fiction which features lesbian characters

If you’re after some ideas of more crime/mystery/thriller or true crime books to read then head over to the genre’s reviews page for this year’s challenge to see what else is being discussed or check out the previous roundups for this review category

About Me

I’m Bernadette Bean. I’ve been reading avidly for as long as I can remember, blogging about reading since late 2008 at Reactions to Reading and co-hosting Fair Dinkum Crime, a site devoted to promoting and discussing Australian crime fiction, for the past couple of years. I read and reviewed 18 books as part of my own participation in the 2012 challenge. Some of them weren’t even crime novels!

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