Thursday, 31 October 2013

Welcome to my Bookshelves: Kirsten Krauth

I used to be quite organised with my bookshelves. I used to categorise them all via publisher so those neat symbols lined up. These days my bookshelves are pretty chaotic. I moved from Sydney to Castlemaine a bit over a year now, and books are still in boxes. In Sydney, the removalist said to me, 'my god, you have a lot of books!', as if I was a lunatic, and after I'd just taken a whole bookshelf's worth to the op shop!

In pride of place is a top bookshelf that has all my autographed books. I have always been an autograph hunter. I have Germaine Greer, Jonathan Franzen, Margaret Atwood, Elizabeth Jolley, Kate Grenville. I like to meet the authors and get the books signed directly. But many are gifts that people have given me too. Also on this shelf are all my dad's books. Yes, he's a novelist...

My books are generally divided into fiction and non-fiction and sometimes I have all authors' works together, eg Murakami, because I love the black and white covers. I have a lot of books on film that I like to look at longingly.

In my bedroom I have a teetering pile on my bedside table, the 'I will write about this one day' pile, to review for blogs or newspapers.

In my bedroom the first thing I see when I wake up is the 'I will read these one day soon' bookshelf that I hoped would retain some space for new books - but seems to be overflowing already.

I take enormous pleasure in looking at my bookshelves, and others' too. I can quite happily look at them for hours. It's the combination of design, categorisation and remembering and imagining literary worlds.

One day I would like a room of bookshelves with a couch in the middle, a room designed only for reading and writing.

Sunday, 27 October 2013

Walking on Trampolines by Frances Whiting

Walking on Trampolines
Frances Whiting
Pan Macmillan, 2013

If you've ever had a best friend and you are a woman, you will probably identify in some way with this book.  In fact, if you have ever had a first love, parents, or setbacks, you will probably identify in some way with this book.  Because this book gets it.  This book is about the universal experience of finding yourself in your twenties and overcoming the little bits of baggage that you pick up on your way there.

Tallulah (Lulu) de Longland has a slightly more complicated than average name, and a slightly more complicated than average teenage experience.  Growing up in the small town of Juniper Bay, Australia (coastal, of course, this is the country that produced Puberty Blues after all) nothing much has ever really happened to Lulu until the day that Annabelle Andrews decides that Lulu is going to be her best friend.  Annabelle is part of a family of notable, eccentric artists.  Her parents are really non-traditional and out there but Lulu loves them and Lulu loves Annabelle although sometimes she secretly wishes that Annabelle would leave her alone a little bit.  Still, their best friendship is special in the way that all best friendships are- marked by summers and secrets and sunburns.  It looks like she's going to have a great life.

And then she finds her boyfriend Josh with Annabelle and it all goes off the rails.  Cut to four years later and Lulu is doing admin work for her Dad, a small town plumber, and running around after her manic depressive mother, who names her dresses and marks her moods by them.  That's what Lulu does.  She takes care of things and people.  But she doesn't take care of herself.  It's pretty plain to everyone, Lulu included, that she is running away from her feelings.  So her Dad takes some drastic action and fires her.  And kicks her out of home.  Lovingly.

Lulu goes to the city and gets herself a job that she is brilliant at- she becomes the personal assistant of a radio talk-back host named Duncan.  She also gets a life- slowly and with the help of her friends.  Duncan takes on the role of Fairy Godmother, even standing by Lulu when finding herself means making a huge, huge mistake.  But after all, don't things always get much much worse before they get better?

This is a highly original, funny, and well plotted book, with feel-good sub plots galore.  I couldn't help but feel like there were a few two many little sub plots about Lulu taking care of people, and I almost felt as through Duncan's method of ensuring Lulu got the prince was a little like going through the motions, but it obviously didn't bother me that much as I finished this book in a matter of hours.  It's the kind of book I've always wanted to write about the friendships I've formed and lost along the way, and Lulu is one of the most endearing and wholly real characters that I have encountered in a long time.

Four stars.

Thanks to Shelleyrae from Book'd Out for recommending this one!

Sense and Sensibility by Joanna Trollope

Sense and Sensibility
Joanna Trollope for The Austen Project
Harper Collins, 2013

Am I going to get pelted with rocks for saying that I read this?  Will I be burned alive for saying I enjoyed it?  Tune in and find out...

In all seriousness though; let's talk Jane Austen spinoffs.  Cry until you are blue in the face, Jane-ites, it isn't going to stop these getting written or published, despite the idea being removed from fan fiction only in name.  It's undeniable-- these Jane Austen revisitation novels appear to be cash cows.  Which means they'll be coming off the presses for years to come, so either get used to it, or learn to live with it my dears, because guess what?  No one is going to press a gun to your head and force you to read one of them.

I was appalled by the idea too.  What?  I thought to myself. They expect me to read a modern updating of Sense and Sensibility written by a woman whose novels are widely regarded as commercial women's fiction (horrible label, I know), which boldly mentions Facebook on the back cover?  Egads.   But the thing is, I was also curious.  And so I read the first chapter and found myself ensconced.

We know the story.  Elinor and Marianne Dashwood are two sisters who couldn't be more unalike, both lovely, who live with their recently widowed and slightly... erm... incompetent mother and their younger sister.  They are thrown out of their home as a matter of inheritance, and move to Devon, and the whole thing turns into a comedy of errors but with fainting and trips to London.  And witty dialogue.  And love.

The modern updating of the story is a part of the Austen Project, which you can read about here - and is very much a celebration of Jane Austen's contribution to the worlds of booklover's worldwide.  Her classic characters and plots slip neatly and unputtdownably into the modern age.  If you were severely let down by the latest Bridget Jones 'adventure' then perhaps this will be more your cup of tea.

In Trollope's version, Elinor is an architecture student and Marianne a sensitive musician.  They still find themselves surrounded by the aristocracy, albeit now rather outmoded and slyly poked fun at, and hilarity ensues as their little English Country village- aided by Facebook and Twitter, and texting and Youtube- ties itself up in knots.  Admittedly, some of the crucial things about Regency England must be stretched for the plot still to work; laws of inheritance for example, and class barriers; but this book is so entertaining that I hardly minded.  I found myself wincing at the biting cruelty of Fanny and John Dashwood, cringing at the inanity of Mary Middleton, and cheering for Edward and Elinor, although I still felt, as I did in the original, that making Lucy Steele run off with Robert Ferrars was a bit of a deus ex machina.

Don't get me wrong.  This book is not perfect.  You will encounter Nancy Steele talking like a cross between a Brooklyn Gangster and a cast member from The Only Way Is Essex, and if that's not enough, you'll find even Marianne's namby pamby emotional stuff trying at times (I mean, come on, it is the 21st century... I know you have asthma and your boyfriend left you but please grow up!)  I also felt that while Trollope tried to minimise it, the age difference between Colonel Brandon and Marianne was more inappropriate now in a modern updating, and I would have perhaps liked to have seen a more realistic change in the ending- maybe this would have been a nice opportunity to try out the ending suggested in Jane Austen Book Club and set up Brandon with Mrs Dashwood.  I mean why does Marianne need to settle in the end at all?  I think she needs to learn to be alone for a while... and get a job and stop letting Elinor do everything just because she's the pretty, delicate one.

Sigh.  Rant against wilting lilies over.  For now.

If you're looking for a great beach read, you've found it, but be warned.  This is Jane Austen-lite, Austen for the Austen lover looking to be reminded that the things Jane teaches never go out of style.

Four stars.

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Successes and Failures

If you asked me about my recent publications, I wouldn't be able to tell you anything.  Not because I have a contract that's stopping me- just because there isn't anything.  I don't think I've been published anywhere or won anything since 2011 but perhaps that's a pessimistic cloud in my eyes.  Correct me if I'm wrong.  I'll thank you for it.

One thing I am learning as I grow older is that the writing world is a really really big place, and there are a lot of people attempting to break into it.  It seems to me that every rejection email I get begins with "We had an astonishing number of entries" or, "We have chosen from 280 entries" or even "We were inundated with high quality entries."  Actually, once I won a competition and the Judge's report began with something along the lines of "I was concerned by the general tendency for navel-gazing amongst all stories submitted this year," which is just a great way to talk to young writers, don't you think?  (Now, in my twenties, I actually appreciate this honesty but at the time, I put a black mark next to this person's name on my shovel list.  Marian Keyes reference for you right there.  Deblina will get it.)  Still, I keep entering competitions, despite these tough odds, confident that if I keep practising, eventually I will beat them.

Last year, I took a year off from it because I was doing my honours degree and I was supposed to spend all my writing time, you know, doing my honours.  I did a fair bit of writing on the side as well, just to keep the voices in my head at bay. (I don't really have voices in my head...)  I didn't send these stories anywhere.  I didn't have time.  For my trouble I won an award for my honours thesis.  Plus bragging rights.  How on earth do I top that?

This year, I've been entering loads of competitions and being rejected by them.  Just because I'm a glutton for punishment, here's a bit of a look at my 'wins' versus my 'losses' this year.

I was invited to read an excerpt at the Subiaco Library by local author Annabel Smith.   
I was a state representative blogger in the reviewing process for the update of Dear Writer by Carmel Bird

I did not get accepted into the Ampersand project at Hardie Grant (for my YA novel which needs to have a  major redraft and become an adult novel because that's what I prefer.)          
I did not get into the Big Issue fiction edition, most likely because the theme was "Make me Smile" and I  wrote about a starving artist type and his fickle, drug addled girlfriend, but hey, I thought I was being   ironically funny.    
I was not even short listed for the Best Blogs competition run by the Australian Writers Centre 
The Sleepers Almanac rejected two of my short stories, one of which was about four girls living in a house made out of soap, one of whom had a genetic disorder that caused her to become a nymphomaniac on the full moon.  The other was about art theft and religion. 
My short story 'Shinjuku 2020' was rejected by the Carmel Bird Short Story Competition, but to be fair the theme was The Twilight Zone, which I've never watched.  

Last week my novel, my precious baby, was not included in the shortlist for the QWC/ Hachette Manuscript development program.  By the way, best of luck to all those who were shorlisted.   
             And yesterday the short story I wrote earlier this year that my Mum loved so much she restored my              faith in my ability to write was rejected by the Overland short story prize.  

It's probably not healthy to look at them all stacked up like that.  It's a little bit like writing a resume for despair, and this is supposed to be a hopeful and inspiring post.  So let me tell you what I have learned this wonderful year.  It is the secret to happiness in writing.

Your achievements are not measured in how often you get published but by how steadily you improve.

If you want to, write that on a piece of cardboard and stick it above your computer or desk.  Make it a daily affirmation.  I certainly need to.  When I'm sitting in the bathtub with my knees up to my chest and sobbing like a little baby because my book got rejected by Hachette/ QWC, I should be thinking that.  I should have  been thinking that, because that particular rejection happened last Tuesday and for some reason I was convinced that this year was going to be my year.  But now it's nearly over, and I have a total of 0 non blog publications for this year.  This leads people close to me to ask me why I keep submitting to competitions.  Didn't they hear me say I am a glutton for punishment?  But also, my darlings, you must be in it to even get close to winning it, and as Sylvia Plath once said,

I love my rejection slips.  They show me I try.  

The other thing I have learned is that I love to write.  I love to lose myself in typing things, I love to handwrite things, I love to have my own head as a captive audience while I tell myself a story.  I love it.  At the moment, I am researching POW camps and trying to be Richard Flanagan, and I LOVE IT.  I am elated to sit down to my work, I am elated to tell people about my progress (although always careful to write more than just talk about it.)

I have learned how to measure success from within.  Everything else will come.  That wins column will grow.  I know it.

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Guest Post: Welcome to my Bookshelves- A.J. Betts

I have bookshelves in most rooms, including the bathroom! There's no official filing system, though I do try separate YA, non-fiction, poetry, short stories, and general fiction.

YA shelves: these are two of my YA shelves, mostly recent titles. I have another YA shelf with older books, such as Adrian Mole, and other fantasy series.

Research shelf: this is for the books bought to help me plan my next book, which is speculative fiction. There's a mix of non-fiction (bees, geology, sustainability, indigenous cultures, Tasmanian history) and some sci-fi fiction. Beneath these are some of the 'how to' books I sometimes dip into. I recently read Stephen King's 'On Writing' and loved it.

On loan from library shelf: I visit the library weekly and have to keep these separate otherwise I forget to return them! They're all for research into topics such as oceans, anthropology, technology, plants, and even nuclear power.

General bookcase: this is where most books end up. In the mix, there's a section for short stories, and another for non-fiction. There's also a small, separate stand on the right. That's where mine end up.

General (2): originally this short bookcase was used for books of a particular height...but it's evolved to house local (West Australian) books/authors of adult fiction in the middle section, and poetry in the right section. The left section is a mish-mash.

Monday, 14 October 2013

Bridget Jones Up to Her Old Tricks in Mad About the Boy

Bridget Jones Mad About the Boy
Helen Fielding
Jonathan Cape/ Random House $32.99

It is a truth universally acknowledged that the author of a best selling series will be in want of a sequel.

Such is the case with Helen Fielding's Bridget Jones, who is back for more singleton adventures in the latest book, Mad About the Boy.  Yes, that's right- even though Bridget got her man at the end of The Edge of Reason, she's once again a singleton.  And if you don't want the book spoiled for you, I suggest you close this window right now.  I'll wait.

Alright, so if you're still reading this, you've either already seen the big revelation about this book or you just don't care if I ruin it.  Which is good, because in order to talk about why this book even exists, something big must be revealed.

Helen Fielding has killed off Mark Darcy.

In an interview, Fielding has defended her decision to kill top human rights barrister, Mark Darcy, saying that readers are most interested in Bridget's diaries when there is some sort of struggle for her to face.  If Bridget was to be happily married, with two beautiful children and finally settled, where would be the story.  This makes me wonder if Fielding might have the fabled but illusive perfect marriage in which in laws, messy houses, affairs and mortgages do not exist.  However.  Darcy is dead and Bridget is now the grieving mother of two to Mabel and William (Billy) who attend a posh school populated with children who have been given strange indie names, and busybody mothers ala  Where did you go, Bernadette, minus the hilarious antics with the mudslide.  (If you have not read that book, you really must.)

While entertaining, with genuine laugh out loud moments, I can't help but feel as if I have read this story before.  Bridget makes cringe-worthy mistakes in her career (think the HR Leavis fumble in book 1), carries on with totally unsuitable man and has lots of sex but discovers this is not the key to marriage, and finds love interest in the form of stern-but-sexy disapproving male.  Great.  Tried and tested formula, if slightly predictable.  As usual, Fielding's characterization is spot on, leaving me talking in disjointed Bridget-diary sentences for days on end.  Oh yes, and she's still worried about her weight, which fluctuates like crazy throughout the book, largely due to her bizarre and annoying tendency to eat entire bags of grated cheese.

When it comes to the supporting cast, I can't help feeling like I've missed something.  Bridget famously carried on her antics in a regular column in a British newspaper, but I've failed to catch up on those.  I've instead come in to discover that not only is Mark gone, but that he and Daniel have made up (yes, that is the sound of hell freezing over) and that Shazza, aka the one who said f*ck a lot, has moved away and been replaced by an older, glamorous, botoxed creature called Talitha.  As I've mentioned before, Bridget has also acquired some adorable children, but they must take after Mark because they seem far too intelligent at times for their age.  Perhaps that is the influence of the fancy prep schools.  Bridget's mother is still crazy, although now she and lumpy gravy Una Alconbury have been set loose in a retirement village as their husbands have passed on.  Luckily there are no orange Julian's in sight, and even the fling with the obviously gay pasty chef Pawl is a passing fancy.

Finally, I am loathe to mention Bridget's obsession with Twitter.  Yes, we were warned it was coming, but did we really expect it to be so much of the plot?  Maybe I'd discounted that as a possibility. Not only does Bridget count followers in her daily tallies, she actually conducts entire conversations on the medium and somehow manages to keep track of how many followers (and whom) she is losing with each passing tweet. This seems to prove that her use is a full blown fixation!  However, kudos to Fielding for managing to deal with Twitter as a writing medium in a way that not only made sense but did not dumb down the writing, only the main character, who has already proven herself willing to be dumbed down.  (Hedda Gabbler by Chekhov.  Come on.  She used to work in a publishing house!!! It hurts...)

All in all, this book brings back the Bridget Jones we know and love, older and a little more world weary.  If you were expecting much to have changed, you'll be sadly disappointed, but you will be jolly well entertained if nothing else.

Three stars.

Sunday, 13 October 2013

Guest Blog: Welcome to My Bookshelves- MJ Hearle

I have a bookshelf in my study. It is a particularly cluttered and disorganised affair. Pulp fiction shares space with philosophy text books while Batman comics jut out from between literary classics. Every now and again, I attempt to organise my bookshelf into genres or authors or alphabetically but this never lasts for long. Inevitably, the books will leap back into a chaotic jumble the moment my back is turned. I have come to accept this and to understand this is their natural state. Like my imagination, these books refuse to be tamed or tidy. That’s fine. A little messiness never hurt anyone.

The bottom shelf contains a few interesting titles but by far the most significant is this one:

The title on the spine has more or less disintegrated but it once read The Great Book of Movie Monsters. It was given to me nearly thirty years ago by my dad. I’m sure he didn’t know that giving his five year old such a book would ignite a life long passion for the macabre, the supernatural and the fantastic but this is precisely what happened. It is a simple book, an A – Z compendium of all the monsters that had appeared in cinema up until 1984, yet I doubt I have ever loved a book as much. Without this book, I probably would never have gravitated towards the works of Stephen King which, as you can see, occupy a significant portion of the top shelf.

I have owned even more King books over the years but they have since been lent to friends or lost. My first exposure to Stephen King was through The Shining. My parents had a copy though refused to let me read it. Apparently, I was too young and the book was too scary. I promised I would not read it without their consent. Promises meant less to me as an eight year-old than they do now and so the moment I was unsupervised I pushed a chair up against the bookshelf (The Shining had been placed on the top shelf to keep it out of my reach. Silly parents) and retrieved the book. I knew I wouldn’t be able to read the whole thing before my parents caught me so I turned to somewhere in the middle and started there, hoping to find some of these forbidden thrills. Boy, did I ever. I happened to turn to the chapter where young Danny Torrence visits room 237 where he encounters one of Mr King’s more chilling creations. I had never been afraid by mere words on a page before but reading The Shining in my brightly hit home I experienced such terror it left me breathless. I’ve been chasing that thrill ever since.

When I have kids, I will pass on The Great Book of Movie Monsters gladly. So long as it’s still in one piece. I hope they will love the black and white pictures and creature biographies. I hope that they will fall in love with monsters as I did. And I will point to the Stephen King books on my top shelf and sternly forbid them from touching them until they are suitably old enough. However, should one of them sneak a look when my back is turned, I will not be mad. Not too mad, anyway. The odd nightmare isn’t a bad thing for a child. It helps stretch and develop the imagination. And you never know? They might just end up becoming a writer.

About MJ Hearle

M.J. Hearle’s first novel Winter’s Shadow was published in 2011 by Pan Macmillian. It tells the story of Winter Adams and her relationship with the mysterious Blake Duchamp. It features magic and monsters and other worlds and not a single glittery vampire or shirtless werewolf. The sequel Winter‘s Light was published in 2012. Claudette in the Shadows, a prequel to Winter’s Shadow was published as an eBook by Momentum in October 2013. M.J. Hearle lives in Glebe with his wife, Greta, and is currently hard at work on the third Winter novel.

M.J. Hearle writes a blog at

Find M.J. Hearle on Facebook and follow him on twitter @MJHearle

Thursday, 10 October 2013

What I Read Last Month, Hosted by Bookcaffe!

Every month I will be updating what I've been reading for Perth local bookstore, Bookcaffe, complete with short blurbs and reasons why you'll love those books too.  Check out September here and remember to support local independent booksellers who support local writers who support local readers.  Aw yeah.

You can also connect with me on Goodreads and let me know what you're reading.

my currently-reading shelf:Emily's book recommendations, liked quotes, book clubs, book trivia, book lists (currently-reading shelf)

May your day be full of words.   

Friday, 4 October 2013

Blog Tour: Richard Flanagan's The Narrow Road to the Deep North

The Narrow Road to the Deep North
Richard Flanagan
Vintage Books/ Random House
Review copy courtesy the publisher

Richard Flanagan's The Narrow Road to the Deep North is a novel which brings poetry, honesty, beauty and dignity to the now well known tales of atrocity along the Thai Burma Railway, or, The Railway of Death.

Dorrigo Evans, named (it is revealed later in the text) for the town in which he is born, is a puzzle of a man.  He is imbued with a deep sense of selflessness, which baffles even him, when it comes to his army comrades, but in his personal life he is unable to remain faithful to his wife Ella, whom he marries because he believes she is the perfect partner for a man destined to be great, and also because everyone expects him to.  Quite beautiful, if misguided, is Dorrigo's sentiment that sex is not unfaithfulness, but sleeping all night beside someone else is, something he never does.  His inability to settle, is it revealed, comes from a torturous experience as a Weary Dunlop figure in a POW camp in Siam, and a pre war affair with his Uncle's wife Amy which leaves him searching for a consuming passion he is unable to recreate with anyone else.

This is a novel full of missed connections; Amy believes Dorrigo is  dead, and Dorrigo believes Amy is dead, both being misinformed by their spouses.  When they pass one another on a Sydney street, neither one knows what to do, and they do not speak.  Months later, Amy dies of a cancer that goes un-named.  Dorrigo, on the other hand, is a skilled surgeon and a war hero.  He is asked to write a forward to a book of sketches which he smuggled out of the war, sketches by a man named Rabbit Hendricks.  Rabbit died of cholera, and it was Dorrigo's sad duty to burn him on the funeral pyre.  The sketches were tossed on to be burned as well, but were thrown out of the fire to land at Dorrigo's feet, open to a sketch of Darky Gardiner for whom Dorrigo had a lot of respect.  Darky and Dorrigo, it is later revealed, had more of a blood connection than they ever could have known, although the tale of Dorrigo's brother's affair with Darky's mother is told in passing and seems like an afterthought; a moment of weak writing in which the author attempted to imbue their friendship with a mystical significance that really wasn't needed.

It is also a novel of deep historical complexity.  While Dorrigo is undoubtedly the protagonist, and we see the story from the Allied point of view, Flanagan is also careful not to draw the Japanese and Korean guards in the camp as evil caricatures.  He explains their viewpoint and their ethos, giving each enough background to show that their thinking as a culture was worlds away from what the Australian soldiers would have known.  While each main character is undoubtedly twisted: Colonel Kota with his lust for necks to severe and 'The Goanna' with his stories of beating a dog to death out of spite at his treatment as a Korean; they are fully realised people and even occasionally have redeeming moments, as Nakamura does once he becomes a father and husband.

While the novel has a poetic and atmospheric style that makes it difficult to become engrossed in at first, it is worth pursuing, because it is a beautiful novel, a realistic novel, and one that makes my heart ache with jealousy because I did not write it.  I would definitely read more of Richard Flanagan's work after reading this.

Five stars.