Monday, 5 December 2016

Writing the Dream: A Serenity Press Anthology

Writing the Dream ed. Monique Mulligan
Serenity Press 2016 (I own a copy courtesy the publisher)

If I were to get a tattoo, I would get one that says 'Be The Tortoise'.

This is the title of a section in Guy Salvidge's essay 'Hard Travelin'' and it speaks to the importance of patience in any writer's career.  For many who pick up this book, the lessons that taught Guy and his fellow essayists this patience will be all too familiar.  Writing is rewarding and cathartic and beautiful and hard.  It is the overall message of Writing the Dream that despite how difficult it may be at times, it is important to keep writing anyway.

Local indie publishing house Serenity Press has embarked on its most ambitious project yet with Writing The Dream and they have been rewarded with a warm reception from the writing community in Western Australia.  Contrary to the twenty-four stories promised on the cover, Writing the Dream is actually a compilation of twenty-five personal essays on craft, on the path to publication, on personal heartbreak and many other aspects of what it means to be a writer.  Those included in the pages of the book are at various stages of their careers and publish across a wide range of genres, so there is something for everyone.  Perth readers will be no strangers to names like Natasha Lester, Deborah Burrows, Anna Jacobs and Juliet Marillier.  While other names may not be permanent fixtures on bookshelves (yet), each writer has something pertinent to share and their stories are relatable.  One of several 'aha' moments for me came from this line in editor Monique Mulligan's essay 'The Best Training Ground'

"I tried keeping a journal but it felt fake and shallow; I wanted my thoughts to be profound but something stopped me from sharing the real me, even on the pages of a notebook not meant for other eyes." (p.182)

While many of the stories were familiar to me-- such as the story of how Natasha Lester got her book deal with Hachette or the story of how Tess Woods came to write her first novel-- it was lovely to have these tales of real people realising their publishing and writing dreams chronicled in an anthology.  This is the kind of book which will be kept on shelves in offices to inspire and cheer up many a disheartened writer again and again.

Friday, 2 December 2016

Looking Up/ Looking Down

Last week I was featured in a guest post on Amanda Curtin's blog, Looking Up/ Looking Down.  The post was an update on a series from two years ago on WA Women Writers to Watch.  You can check out the original post here and read about the other ladies from the series.  My guest post is reproduced below.  

What a difference two years makes. 

Since I was featured as one of Amanda Curtin’s WA women writers to watch out for, a lot of things have changed.  Some of them were good changes—such as, for example, having short stories published in two anthologies.  My story ‘A Thousand Words’ was published in the UK in a collection called [Re]Sisters, and I was lucky enough to have a story called ‘The Sea Also Waits’ selected by editor Laurie Steed to be a part of the Margaret River Press Anthology, Shibboleth and Other Stories.  When I last wrote for this blog, I was about to begin my time as one of three Young Writers in Residence at the Katherine Susannah Prichard Writers Centre—those ten days were probably some of the most productive of my life, and I managed to revise a whopping 40 000 words of Between the Sleepers, a historical novel set in Fremantle between 1937 and 1945.  Part of this residency was a consultation with Amanda Curtin on the first fifty pages of my book, and her guidance on some of the early issues in the novel have really helped me clarify its direction as a whole.  In early 2016 I began sending the novel to agents, and started work on another project: finishing my Graduate Diploma in Professional Writing and Publishing, which I took online at Deakin University. 

I currently have two writing projects on the go.  One is another historical fiction novel which I have tentatively titled The Turing Project.  It is the story of Clementine, a university student who throws herself into researching the wartime cryptanalyst, Alan Turing, after the suicide of her childhood best friend.  The novel alternates between Clementine’s story, set in the early 2000s and Alan Turing’s story, which many people may be familiar with now due to the film The Imitation Game.  This novel began its life as a NaNoWriMo project back in 2009 (National Novel Writing Month, where you challenge yourself to write 50 000 words in 30 days).  Writing about people who existed and whose stories are well known presents a challenge in itself, but I am enjoying throwing myself into this world and learning about my new characters.  My other writing project is a collection of short stories, which is currently titled Well-Behaved Women.  It so far consists of ‘The Sea Also Waits’ (from Shibboleth and Other Stories), ‘Dora’ (Highly Commended in the 2016 Hadow/ Stuart Award for Fiction) and ‘Miss Lovegrove’, which was shortlisted for the John Marsden/ Hachette Australia Award for Young Writers at the end of 2015.  I’ve been a fan of short story collections for a long time, and I hope that my collection can find a place in the incredibly high standard of collections currently being published in Australia. 

I mentioned that some of the changes were good, but some were also not so good.  For those readers who live in Perth, you may already know that my beloved Bookcaffe closed its doors at the end of June 2016.  While we’ve been seeing for a long time that the bookselling industry is changing, and that people are tending to buy more and more of their books at cheap online retailers, I never wanted to experience this downturn firsthand… but there I was, clearing shelves and adopting as many of the unsold books as I could so that I knew they would be going to a home where they would be read (eventually) and loved.  I still work in a bookish job—I am a sales representative at Westbooks, where I visit public libraries and make sure they have all the best new releases, and I am also doing freelance work such as teaching seminars at this year’s All Saint’s College Storylines Festival.  In general, despite some of the bizarre and depressing things that have happened this year, it seems like 2016 has been a year of progress for me, and one in which I have learned a lot about myself as a writer.  I think the most important thing is that I have finally taken on board a piece of writing advice that was given to me by Craig Silvey a number of years ago, something which has taken this long to become innate.  When I asked Craig what advice he had for someone who wanted to become a writer, his answer was something like this:  You don’t become a writer, you are a writer, every day, and in everything that you do.  That feels truer to me now than it ever has before, and I am just grateful to be putting my words on pages, never knowing if anyone will ever read them or not.  

Sunday, 27 November 2016

Book Review: Beyond Carousel by Brendan Ritchie

Beyond Carousel
Brendan Ritchie
Fremantle Press, 2016

This review may contain spoilers.  If you don't want to see spoilers about Beyond Carousel, get to your nearest indie bookshop, buy a copy, read it and then come back and talk to me about it in the comments.  If you've read it, or spoilers don't bug you, feel free to read on.

When we last left Nox, Taylor and Lizzy at the end of Carousel, they'd finally managed to make their way out of the shopping centre which had imprisoned them for eighteen months.  Now, living in a deserted, post-apocalyptic Perth with no power and limited clean water and food, they're starting to think that maybe they were better off where they were.  Still, outside the confines of the centre, the trio are slowly starting to piece together what may have happened to everyone else.  The arrival of a Danish filmmaker, Tommy, to the property in the Perth hills where the gang are bunking down alerts them to some strange coincidences.  First of all, they're not the only ones who were trapped.  And second?  They're not the only artists.  In fact, the art connection had begun to be revealed at the end of Carousel, but in Beyond Carousel, Nox and his friends (Canadian rock duo and twin sisters Taylor and Lizzy-- perhaps modelled on real-life band Tegan and Sara?) realise that all over Perth, artists from various disciplines have been sequestered in Residencies, only able to leave once they've produced something great.

So where to next, they wonder?  Lizzy wants to go to the airport, to solve the mystery of the Air Canada flight which roared over them while they were staring out of Carousel's domed ceiling.  Taylor wants to follow a girl she met on Boxing Day, a girl who Tommy says may be in the city.  Nox isn't really sure where he wants to go, but he doesn't want the group to split up.  Plus, now that Tommy's told them about the existence of someone known as The Curator, he thinks maybe he has a chance of finding out what really happened to everyone from his life before.

Set aside your sceptism about the possibility of Perth turning into a hotbed of artistic production in the current political climate, because the world created by Beyond Carousel is satisfyingly compelling.  Nox sees the world through a storyteller's eyes, and his doubts about the legitimacy of his position as one of the 'Artists' will be familiar to anyone who has ever tried to create something.  There are more than just a few echoes of John Marsden's masterpiece Tomorrow, When the War Began in this book-- from the coming of age story set against a changed home landscape, to the importance of remembrance and writing things down, I found myself thinking of Ellie Linton more than once.  While the writing style in this book is a little more on the simplistic side compared to TWTWB, I think therein lies one of it's strengths-- this is not just a book for avid readers.  This is a book which reluctant readers will pick up and love and relate to.  It's a book about friendship, self discovery, survival and art.

Ritchie's descriptions of Perth are an added bonus for Perthians, as the characters take a tour of our home after the end of the world.  From the hills to the Burswood casino, to Victoria Park, to Cottesloe, Ritchie's descriptions (and Nox's observational skills as a character who is a writer) are spot on without being overblown.  From early on, Beyond Carousel has the feel of a more confident writer than the book which came before it, and I know we'll see great things from Brendan Ritchie in the future.

Tuesday, 15 November 2016

Book Review: Le Chateau by Sarah Ridout

Le Chateau by Sarah Ridout
Echo Publishing 2016

I was immediately fascinated by Le Chateau when it began to get coverage on a few Australian blogs and social media accounts the weekend before it was due to be released.  Previously, I hadn't heard a thing about it.  The premise was intriguing-- Charlotte, an Australian woman, is returning home to a French chateau in the middle of a vineyard after a head injury.  She is returning to a husband and a daughter that she doesn't remember, and the life she expected to fit back into doesn't seem to suit who she feels she is.  Add to the mix a highly manipulative mother-in-law who keeps hinting at some indiscretion that had been going on between Charlotte and the riding instructor from the next property over and the result is a novel which twists the best strands of a few genres together.  While Le Chateau could be said to be a romance, a thriller or a literary novel respectively, I think it's more accurate to say that it's the best of all three.

Ridout is a confident writer who doesn't feel the need to over-explain complex emotions to her readers and instead lets her highly intelligent heroine feel her way back into her own life alongside the reader.  It's nearly impossible to put this book down-- between the sexy, devoted French husband (who is not at all too good to be true) and the gripping whodunnit aspect of Charlotte trying to work out what really happened to her, Le Chateau had me turning pages for the good part of a couple of days.  It is no small accomplishment, either, that this novel does not stray into the territory of the cliched, because there are several aspects to the plot which have tripped up writers frequently in the past, such as the childhood girlfriend still hanging around, the vindictive mother-in-law, and the waking up from a coma trope in general.  Ridout uses her unique setting, and her intimate knowledge of it, to give her novel a concrete sense of time and place and this informs the characters, making them rich and realistic.

If you're a David Bowie fan, you'll also enjoy that this novel has a soundtrack of some of his greatest hits.  In my opinion, this just gives Charlotte and her author extra points for their excellent taste in music.

While some readers may be able to guess the solution to the novel's central mystery, there's just enough flavour to the book to ensure they'll probably never be able to guess it in it's entirety.

I gave this novel four stars.

Friday, 11 November 2016

Book Review: Love at First Flight by Tess Woods

Love at First Flight 
Tess Woods
Harper Collins, 2016 (I own a copy, courtesy the publisher)

Image from Goodreads

Love at First Flight, the debut novel by WA-based physiotherapist Tess Woods was released as a paperback in August this year, but not before garnering thousands of fans all over the world as a digital release.  The novel follows Mosman Park GP, Mel, who appears to have the whole package.  She has a great job, is married to an anaesthetist who people frequently describe as a Greek God, two gorgeous teenagers, and lives in a big beautiful house in one of Perth's most elite suburbs.  Yet as the book opens, the reader is given a glimpse of Mel's inner life.  Something is missing.  She just doesn't know what it is yet.  

Then, on a flight to Melbourne to have a girls' weekend with her best friend Sarah, Mel meets Matt.  He's younger than she is, but the attraction is instantaneous and mutual.  As the plane touches down at Tullamarine, Mel releases that her entire world has flipped upside down. 

As the tag line for the novel goes, 'what if you met the love of your life and he wasn't your husband?'

Love at First Flight has hit the ground running, with the book not only being an e-book bestseller; it is also the first and so far, only, book that Harper Collins has printed after an initial digital only campaign.  It was the winner of the 2015 AusRom Today Readers' Choice Book of the Year Award.  But let's get one thing straight-- this is not your typical romance novel. 

When I spoke to Tess Woods on Wednesday night at the Bassendean Memorial Library, she was quick to point out that this isn't technically a romance novel at all.  According to those in the know, a romance novel is ALWAYS told from the point of view of the woman alone (this book tells the story from both Mel's and Matt's perspectives), they never have infidelity in them, and they always end in happy ever after.  Love at First Flight is what then?  In an age where the books which make the biggest splashes frequently borrow elements from many genres, pushing the boundaries of what has been published before, perhaps the distinction isn't even important.  What matters is that readers cannot get enough of Tess Woods-- and the good news is they won't have long to wait, with Tess hinting that her next book should be out mid to late 2017.  

As someone who tends not to read a lot of romance, and rarely ever reads books which are quite this racy (to put it lightly), I was caught up in the emotional complexity of this novel.  At it's heart, Love at First Flight is the story of Mel's awakening-- and of the difficult choices she has to make.  It is a moral story, and while some readers have been upset by the book's content, I found the plot to be not only realistic, it was profoundly moving at times.  

The two elements of the novel which were strongest in my opinion were the setting and the points of view.  Love at First Flight is a story which could have happened anywhere, but it happens in Perth and it happens in places I have been-- places which are not only recognisable at face value but feel authentic as well.  As for the narrators, I was struck immediately by how different the two voices were, and how real the male perspective felt.  

As a novel which takes all of it's punch from it's plot, this was a heartily enjoyable romp, and impossible to put down.  A Little Life it was not, but it was the perfect book to escape a busy weekend with and I can see why thousands of readers all over the world have connected with it.  

I gave this book 3.5 out of 5 stars.