Monday, 12 August 2019

The big reveal...

It's here. It's alive! My cover has been revealed to the world and I am so excited that for once I am lost for words!

The cover was designed by the one and only Debra Billson and picked by myself and the wonderful team at Margaret River Press. Now that the cover is in the world, the book is available for pre-order and I know many of you wonderful humans have already ordered yours so a big THANK YOU to everyone who is supporting my book on its journey into the world.

The book will be out in all good bookstores (I hope) in December 2019, but if you'd like to make sure you get your hands on one, do pop over to the website and order a copy, or speak to your friendly local bookseller. Pre-orders help publishers know how many copies to print!


Tuesday, 23 July 2019

The book that I'm publishing and how it snuck up on me...

Image result for writing image

In a few weeks, a book with my name on it will be available for pre-order. It has a cover now (not that I am allowed to show anyone yet) and it's been copyedited and rewritten and it's ready for the world to read. But it's not the book that I thought would be my first.

I've always thought of myself as a novelist. I wrote my first 'novel' in high school, a 30 000 word novella called 'Quoting Shakespeare' which was about what I realise now was a toxic friendship between a girl with a strong personality, and my main character, a girl who would do anything to be liked. I did not know what I was doing, but I enjoyed doing it. I printed pages off as I went and displayed them in a folder, harking back to the days when I used to run my own 'publishing house' in my bedroom as a child and design covers for all my short stories. A few years later, I wrote a 50 000 word 'novel' called 'Invisible Girl' which I suppose was urban fantasy, seeing as my protagonist discovered she was working for a benevolent devil when he magically swapped her life with her sister's to help the two of them gain some perspective. I was really proud of this book. I printed it off multiple times, and gave a copy of it to the librarian from my primary school to read. She'd always been really supportive of my writing. I also sent it to Fremantle Press, hoping they would publish it. I bet they're still laughing.

After a trip to Japan in 2008, inspiration struck and I began writing the novel that would become 'Between the Sleepers'. I've now re-written this book eleven times (I think... it's hard to keep track). I've taken it to a residency at KSP, entered it in unpublished manuscript awards, and pitched it to a few agents. And I really thought that this was going to be it. My first book.

Short stories have been the thing that have kept me sane in between the writing of all these novels (and there are three I haven't even mentioned in this post, so I guess I'm prolific). They're also the thing that have given me the chance to flex my creative muscles and discover that this is actually something I can do. When I first got accepted into a literary magazine, I felt relieved. The voice in my head that was saying I wasn't a writer just because I enjoyed writing was wrong. It was that self doubt monster and now I could tell it to go away with confidence. At the first annual Australian Short Story Festival, sitting on a train on my way to the second day of sessions, I thought to myself "I want to do this. I want to have a collection of short stories." A little while later, when Caroline Wood from Margaret River Press asked me if I had a collection of short stories that might be ready for publication, I said yes.

The manuscript that would become Well Behaved Women was not quite ready, and the board rejected it (kindly). Yet that wasn't the end of the road. Caroline was putting in an application for funding to run a mentoring program for three writers who had been published in previous MRP anthologies. She needed writing samples, a letter of recommendation and time. Who would I like to be mentored by? I gave her the information she needed and then I went back to tinkering with 'Between the Sleepers', garnering yet another rejection from an agent I'd set my heart on. And one day in December last year, I got a text message from my friend, Louise Allan, congratulating me on the publication announcement that I had supposedly kept up my sleeve.

This is what I mean when I say that Well Behaved Women being my first book is a bit of a surprise to me. But in many ways, it shouldn't be. The short story form speaks to me, and I've spent painstaking hours honing this craft. I've read widely, I've studied deeply. I'm a person who finds the short story form powerful and moving, and I get excited when I see the number of new collections being published in Australia at the moment. I actually think that short stories are harder to write than novels, though novels may be harder to get published as it turns out. In my case, anyway. The collection, when I finally get to share it with you all, is an archive of my writing life so far, spanning the ten years since I 'decided to give this writing thing a go for real'. It showcases my anxieties, pre-occupations, and sometimes my taste in music. And while it means that I've had to add 'writer of short stories' to my bio in front of 'and historical fiction', I think I'm okay with that.

Because this book that snuck up on me is one that I'm really really proud of.

Sunday, 14 July 2019

Book Spotlight: Fabulous Lives by Bindy Pritchard

A Book Spotlight is not a review but a feature of a book by a person I know and admire.

In Perth author Bindy Pritchard's debut collection of short stories, the ordinary is turned extraordinary by degrees. Pritchard's characters, all of whom are dealing with situations that test them in some way, are confronted with the magical, the frightening, and the down right impossible, and even occasionally manage to see the miraculous in the mundane.

The first of the sixteen stories, titled 'The Shape of Things', is the story of Leonie, a woman who finds a young, naked man lying on the ground outside her apartment who may or may not be a fallen angel. In 'The Bees of Paris', Louise befriends a woman with a curious hobby after witnessing her falling off the roof of the apartment across the street and is drawn further into her life than perhaps she would like. In 'The Egg', Bryant discovers his own capacity for greed is larger than he would have hoped after his son and a friend discover a curious and possibly valuable object while out playing. And in 'In Memoriam', two very different family members are brought together by loss and find acceptance in each others' company.

It is hard to believe that this is Bindy Pritchard's first book, as the stories within are tightly crafted and convey their messages with great subtlety. The meaning of each piece can be simply what happens on the page, but if one cares to read deeply, there are layers of meaning and symbolism to be unpeeled. This is clearly a collection that has been written by someone who loves to read, and books, writing, and literature all make their way into the worlds of the stories. Her characters are multifaceted, and often manipulative and highly flawed, meaning that the collection showcases a full range of human interaction in an extremely satisfying way.

It is an accomplished collection, and one to either savour and read slowly, or devour in a day as I did. Whichever way you read it, it's one to read again and again.

Fabulous Lives is available from all good bookstores, or direct from the publisher, Margaret River Press. 

Sunday, 7 July 2019

Book Review: The Forgotten Letters of Esther Durrant

The Forgotten Letters of Esther Durrant
Kayte Nunn
Hachette Publishing, June 2019

43605526. sy475 The Forgotten Letters of Esther Durrant is the story of three women-- Esther, whose story begins in 1951 when she is committed to a mental asylum by her husband; Rachel, whose story begins in 2018 when she is sent to the Scilly Islands as part of a research project; and Eve, whose story also begins in 2018 when a woman named Rachel contacts her to tell her that she's found some letters belonging to her grandmother. 

Unfortunately, the novels three timelines mean that little time is spent developing the characters and their stories before the plot switches to another viewpoint. Esther's point of view is the most well-fleshed out of the story, and Nunn does an excellent job of creating the remote island setting for her asylum. But there is a sense that we as readers only get to skim the surface of what could be a rich topic, and one that is close to the author's own family history. Esther is committed to the asylum by her husband John, who has to trick her into accompanying him to the isle of Little Embers in the first place. Gradually, it is revealed that Esther is suffering from depression after the death of her second child (and was probably suffering from post natal depression before that), and that she is harbouring a 'great and terrible secret'. The payoff of this secret, when it is revealed, does not have the impact that it should, and neither does the romance that begins to develop between Esther and one of the people she meets on the island. Had more time been devoted to scenes in this timeline and setting, the story certainly had the potential to be an excellent one, but as it was, it was merely so so.

Things begin to get interesting when serial loner, Rachel, is shipwrecked on Little Embers during a storm and must wait for a supply boat in the company of reclusive artist, Leah. It is on the island that she find the eponymous lost letters, and becomes determined to find out who they were for and why they were never sent. But Rachel, who is notoriously unromantic, goes after this issue like a dog with a bone and it just doesn't make sense.

It's unusual for a book of this genre to have 3 timelines, let alone two that happen in the same year. I think it was the inclusion of Eve's timeline-- which didn't really have a fleshed out plot arc-- which derailed the rest of the story, and took time away from developing the stories in the other two.

On top of this, the language used throughout the historical portion of the novel is overly formal and quite stilted, presumably in an effort to make the book read as historical, but this has the effect of holding the reader at arms length. Add to this the occasional clumsy phrasing and the baffling habit of ending scenes in places that feel unfinished, and the result is a book that doesn't live up to its potential, or to the potential of the author's previous book.

I really wanted to like this book, and perhaps I am the only one who feels this disappointed by the novel, but I had to give The Forgotten Letters of Esther Durrant 2.5 stars.

Thursday, 27 June 2019

Book Review: A Lifetime of Impossible Days by Tabitha Bird

A Lifetime of Impossible Days
Tabitha Bird
Penguin Books (Viking) 2019
My copy provided by the author in exchange for a review. 

Image with no descriptionWhile on the outside, A Lifetime of Impossible Days is a cheerful shade of sky blue, the contents of the book tell a darker story, more akin with last year's stellar debut The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart.

The book begins with Willa Waters, aged 93. Willa keeps a list of things she knows for sure and item number one instructs her to mail two parcels on the 1st of June 2050. The first parcel is addressed to someone in the year 1965, and the second to a recipient in 1992. Those recipients are Willa herself at different points in the timeline and the contents of the parcel will change the course of Willa's life-- all three of her. 

This charming, unusual time-slip novel looks at the power of humans to overcome tragedy through love in a highly original way, and explores the extended metaphor of self-forgiveness by literally giving the protagonist, Willa, the chance to meet and forgive her self at another point in time. If you think this idea has the potential to be a little twee, you clearly haven't read it yet. 

Each of the Willa's is united in the essential things that make her who she is, but along the way, different traits develop or are outgrown. For Super Gumboots Willa, aged 8, it is her imagination and her indomitable spirit that make her unwittingly wise beyond her years. Even at an extremely young age, Willa is a hero to be admired and the best big sister any child could hope for. At 33, Willa has had the stuffing knocked out of her a little bit by life but she's found more steady ground in the guise of her husband Sam. Middle Willa, as she is dubbed by the others, is at a crossroads that could change everything and it is her timeline with the most at stake. But it is Silver Willa, aged 93, with her list of fabulous words, her collection of gumboots and her determination to stay out of the 'Plastic Sheet Home' who really steals the show. 

The darkness at the heart of the conflict at A Lifetime of Impossible Days is not named until late in the novel, but the sense of menace it brings is present from early on. Tabitha Bird does an excellent job of focussing on the power of love and family and friendship to help us through trauma, rather than letting the trauma itself drag the novel into a dark and (unfortunately) well-trodden path. There is a lot going on in this novel, however, and not all of the subplot threads are resolved by the end of the book. 

Told in the three voices of Willa at various points in life, the story moves along at a fast pace, keeping you keen to turn the pages and perhaps to eat jam drops if you're culinary by nature. There is a lot to love in the book, from the relationship between Willa and Grammy-- and their midnight tea parties-- to the Willa's assertion that tea is good for the soul, to a tiny chihuahua pup named 'Frog'. One gets the impression that Tabitha Bird truly has taken the advice of a good writing teacher and truly written the kind of book she would love to read, and her joy shines through. 

This is by no means a light and fluffy book, and it WILL make you cry even if you say you are determined not to let it. 

I gave it four stars out of five.