Thursday, 27 February 2014

Mr Wigg by Inga Simpson

Mr Wigg
Inga Simpson
Hachette Publishing

I'm a little bit late to the dinner table with this particular review; I admit, when I first received a copy of this book I was somewhat underwhelmed.  Mr Wigg has the outward appearance of being a particularly beautiful book, but the blurb failed to engage me.  "It's a lot of work for an old man with shaking hands, but he'll give it a go, as he always has," teases the blurb, and I immediately thought that was all well and good but not really for me.  To quote a young lady I know "Cool story, bro- needs more dragons."

Then, last week, I met Inga Simpson.


To put it very plainly, I don't think I would have read this book if I hadn't met Inga.  She is the best possible marketing resource for her work because she is funny, and warm, and generous with her time. In short, she must be a publisher's dream to work with.  While Inga was in the store (Bookcaffe Swanbourne), the time passed quickly (too quickly) as we talked about the publishing industry, what makes a great bookstore, and books we have read and loved.

So, that night I went home and read Mr Wigg.

The book is set in the summer of 1971 on what is left of a family farm in the fruit growing district of New South Wales.  Mr Wigg is a man in his eighties and for various reasons he's had to sell his farm land- which is just as well because he wasn't really very good at it.  His passion is growing fruit.  Mr Wigg spends his days listening to the bickering of his fruit trees, and watching the seasons pass with the growing and flowering of different flavours.  He cooks a myriad of delicious pies and jams with his grandchildren, all the while telling them a fable about The Peach King.  

This is a character driven novel.  People have said to me, since I finished it, that they cannot believe I liked it- nothing happened!  Perhaps these people were not paying close enough attention.  Things happened, but the most important aspect of the book was that we got to know Mr Wigg, who is a wonderful, rich character who feels so real I am still not entirely convinced he will not walk into the store.  Simpson is an accomplished writer with a style that is gentle and decorative without being overwritten.  As a result, this is a book with a wide appeal.  There is something for almost everyone, young, old and in-between.  It contains meditation on aging, gender and the Australian psyche, racism in the cricketing world at the time, the nature of inheritance in rural families, an Anti-Vietnam message, an examination of grief and a consideration of the role of art and creativity, and who has access to it.  To those people who have said they found the novel dull, this begs the question "Were you paying attention?"

To sum up: this novel is the perfect remedy for the hustle and bustle of modern life.  Slow down, sit back and get ready to crave peaches.  I give Mr Wigg by Inga Simpson 4 out of 5 stars.

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Book Review: Cicada by Moira McKinnon

Moira McKinnon
Allen and Unwin

Some of the best novels I have read have been by first time novelists.  Perhaps this has something to do with how much work goes in to getting a publisher to put their faith in you.  I think that Cicada by Moira McKinnon is a shining example of this.  It is a lyrical novel full of authentic Australian scenes, and on top of this, it is immensely enjoyable.  It is my great pleasure to invite you all to help my new friend Marlish Glorie to launch this book into the world on March the 7th 2014 at the home of the Fellowship of Australian Writers W.A.  But first, let me tell you more about the book.

It is 1919, and Lady Emily Lidscombe is in labour with her first child.  The process is gruelling.  She is assisted only by her dark-skinned maids Wirritjil and Blackgirl, whom she regards as savages, but the women know what they are doing and finally, Joseph Lidscombe is born.  But something is wrong- Joseph is dark skinned, and in horror Emily realises that she may not be able to keep her night of passion with the Aboriginal stockman, Jawandi Jurulu, a secret from her husband.  After a number of days sleeping and waking, always disoriented, Emily comes to to find that her husband William has flown into a jealous rage.  He claims the baby has died by natural causes, but when Emily digs up the body, she finds his throat has been cut.  Jurulu has been shot.  Fearing for her life, Emily flees into the remote outback with only her nightdress, and her maid Wirritjil for company.  If she wants to survive, she's going to need to learn to understand the "savages" and their ways.

This novel has echoes of great classic Australian literature.  The most stark comparisons for me would be Doris Pilkington's Rabbit Proof Fence and Joan Lindsay's Picnic at Hanging Rock.  Thematically, it covers the territory of fraught historical tensions between indigenous and European cultures, particularly in the realms of law and relationship, showing the danger and the heartbreak when these two worlds collide.  At times, it feels as if McKinnon is arguing that the two worlds can never coexist, but at others, she shows how each party can receive benefits from friendship with the other- Emily survives only because Wirritjil helps her to navigate the land, but without the help of Emily and later her sister Katharyn, Wirritjil would be lost in the European justice system forever.

One thing that does strike me about this book is a sense of repetition.  Certain images, such as pandanus plants along the river, and Emily constantly waking, revive with a half poetic, half accidental consistency.  Nonetheless, the book is compelling and readable, particularly the scenes in which the women are forced to hide from their pursuers.

I think this is an excellent novel and I look forward to its publication in March.

You can come along and meet Moira, and hear her speak about Cicada at an exclusive event at the home of FAWWA

What: Cicada Book Launch
When: March 7, 2014- 6.30pm
Where: FAWWA; Mattie Furphy House, Allen Park, Swanbourne

Some light refreshments provided.

Books will be available for sale on the night, thanks to Bookcaffe Swanbourne

Sunday, 23 February 2014

Writers Festival Roundup- 2014

Sadly, today another Perth Writers Festival draws to a close.  It has been an amazing weekend, full of wisdom, and marked most noticeably by discussions which have renewed a zest for reading and literary critique which I have not felt since my time at Murdoch Uni nearly two years ago now.  To put this succinctly; this weekend, I felt smart again.

I can now say with a degree of authority that how much you get out of these sorts of events is dependent on how much you put yourself into them.  Being presented with an opportunity, as the people of Perth are at this time each year, to come along and talk to, and more importantly listen to, writers from local and international backgrounds, is an important cultural institution that I hope never goes away or is diminished in any way.  In fact, I wish it were bigger.  This year for the first time I actually purchased tickets to some of the bigger events.  I was lucky enough to put myself in the same rooms as people I have admired, and people I have been inspired by; people like Hannah Kent and Eleanor Catton, and (a big one for me) Richard Flanagan, whose latest novel will surely win the 2014 Miles Franklin award.  In past years, I've come home from events determined to write something.  This year, I've come home determined to read.  I've been writing so much lately as it is, I think.

I've also come home with pages and pages in my latest notebook filled with scribbles of thoughts and quotes out of each of the sessions I attended.  One of the best sessions that I went to was yesterday morning, entitled Love and War, which was Richard Flanagan talking to Tom Keneally about their latest novels, both of  which deal with some aspect of the Australian/ Japanese relations during World War 2.  It was one of the later tickets that I purchased, but shed the most light on my own work.  I also loved listening to Eleanor Catton speak- she is a wise and well-read woman indeed!  I learned so much about how her wonderful novel came to be, and I was inspired to, at some point, take it up and read it again.

Other highlights included Hannah Kent, a session on The Presence of Greatness and the forgotten voices of Australian literature, who are being rediscovered, a session on Art Theft, a session on Jo Baker's Longbourn, and a writing workshop on historical fiction with Amanda Curtin. (My boyfriend got quite excited when I told him I was doing this session, as he said it was perfect for me.  I loved that he was enthusiastic on my behalf.  Thank you to Louise Allan for the ticket, I am so so grateful.)

Just this afternoon, I went to a session entitled Small and Perfectly Formed, all about the writing of shorter forms of fiction.  If you've been reading this blog for a while you might know that short stories are the bane of my existence at the moment.  I write them, but I can't get them polished enough to impress any editors or judges and it really concerns me that I might just be spending too much time gazing at my navel.  As the presenters read from their own work, I was captivated by the tone of their pieces, each in turn, and I think I might not give up on short fiction just yet.  That session was chaired by Annabel Smith, who did an absolutely amazing job as MC.  Her questions were insightful and balanced, and steered the session along at a good pace and structure, leaving enough time for questions.  I believe that it was during this session as well that the best questions were asked, so well done Annabel.

At the beginning of her session, Annabel raised the issue of Live Tweeting.  She said that she had been unfairly lambasted by another patron at the Martin Amis session on Saturday night for using her phone throughout the talk.  In previous years, I know that Live Tweeting has actually been encouraged by the festival, and I recall that one year MOST of the sessions began this way, with an explanation of the accepted hashtags and twitter handles.  I think the hashtag may even have been on the posters.  Live tweeting at these sorts of events is a way of enhancing their cultural value, and keeping the discussion going.  It gives you a means of connecting with other people in the room who might have a totally different perspective on what they have just seen.  Constructive debate is alive and well, and it exists in the Twittersphere!  If anyone was lucky enough to catch Annabel's tweets this weekend (and her handle is @AnnabelSmithAUS you will see that her information blasts were insightful and informed, and not at all a nuisance.  I had a similar experience to Annabel's on the Friday night when I was tapped on the shoulder by the woman behind me and hissed at to put my phone away, a command which I was so mortified and miffed that I actually followed (once I had finished my tweet).  I think what these two incidents signify is a real tension between different schools of thought on how festivals like this engage with the wider world.  One the one hand, there is a traditional view of sit down, shut up, and be respectful to the presenter by watching passively and letting them speak.  On the other is an emerging idea that the best way to pay respect to what you are listening to is to actively engage with it.  I enjoy live tweeting, and I think it's a fairly polite way of doing this; more polite than say, hijacking question time with your own analysis of the novel or your tale of unpublished woe, and how the whole publishing industry is unfair to you.  My response to this lady who tapped me on the shoulder, had she spoken to me about it again, would have been that (with due respect), unless my phone was in the way of her seeing the stage, or making some sort of noise, it was really none of her business what I did with it.  I was not, like the women who sat in front of me at Cavalia, looking at photos of a baby in a santa suit- I was joining a discussion with countless others interested in the Festival in the same way I was.  I would be interested to see someone from the Festival take the initiative to generate a more widespread understanding of social media practices like this within the events next year.

A more positive note; it's not all over and the fat lady has not sung yet!  I'll be back to the campus tonight to see three of my favourite literary ladies, Tracy Farr, Inga Simpson and Liz Byrski tonight, talking about "Til Death We Make Art."  I am very much looking forward to this session indeed.

Monday, 17 February 2014

Reading Speeding

According to this Staples test I read 137% faster than the average reader, and could be done with War and Peace in 17 hours.  Whoa.

Take the test by clicking below.

Thanks to Emma Chapman for sharing this link!

You can read Emma's Blog here.

Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Beginning Draft #8

Ask any writer you like- your first draft is never going to be the one that gets published. I like to think of my drafts as being like practice runs.  Each time I write a full version of my book, I learn things.  Sometimes these things are about the craft of writing, other times they are about my characters, and sometimes (if I do my research) I learn things about the historical context of my book.

But between the last draft and the one I began today, I embarked on a learning exercise of a different kind.  I took the plunge, bit the bullet etc, and engaged the services of a professional editor to help me make my book the best possible book it can be.  I've learned a lot.  For example, I use the word GOTTEN a lot.  Did you know that GOTTEN is not only a stupid word, it's an Americanism?  Don't use GOTTEN when GOT will do.  I've also learned that sometimes I need to pare back on the metaphors.  My writing can be pretty descriptive apparently, so I don't need so many similes.  Most of all, I've learned one of my characters has a penchant for melodrama.  She's been sent to the naughty corner to calm down now, so hopefully there will be less gnashing and wailing in draft eight.

If you're reading this, oh great editor lady, I am really, really grateful.

I'm also really grateful to everyone who encouraged me to take this step.  It was expensive, but it was an investment in myself.  Plus, you don't win awards with books full of grammatical errors!

Anyway, I have added a progress meter to the sidebar of this blog, so if you want to know how I am going with the novel, just check there.  I'll post significant updates if there are any!



Friday, 7 February 2014

Reality by Ray Glickman

In today's publishing climate, consumers are increasingly confronted by writers who are themselves as much products for the buying as their books.  Against such a backdrop, it was extremely refreshing to witness Ray Glickman launching his book at the Fremantle Arts Centre, not with some preprepared speech designed to make the audience *like* him and therefore feel onside about buying his work, but with the intent of celebrating the momentous occasion that was putting his first published book out there into the world.  In Glickman's words- indeed in his countenance- I saw a joy, and a relief, at the figurative birthing of a brainchild several years in the making.

Reality would by no means have been an easy book to write either.  It is a complicated book which transposes the form and structure of a reality television show onto the lives of six ordinary people, all under the control of a bored Melbournian businessman who is not given a name.  Glickman stated that he hoped his book would be read on two levels- on one as a pisstake; and on the second, deeper level, as an analysis of personal responsibility, morality and ethics.  Well.  He's certainly given us that.

I am most struck as a reader by the scope of this ambitious idea.  The reality television model does not necessarily lend itself to narrative structure, with the idea being that the show is a social experiment, where the outcome is unknown.  Glickman gives order to his book by structuring it in stages as the tangle grows more and more complicated.  Initially, we see the six people meeting.  This is Reality Conceived.  Mario, the almost stereotypical loan-shark meets up with sexy, predatory lawyer Kathleen. Garry the handyman begins work on survivor of the Nazi era, Hannah's, home renovations.  And Dr Robert performs a gynaecological examination on sad, dissatisfied housewife, Julia.  In this phase, the people seem 2D, cardboard.  We've met them before, they don't surprise us.  The man-eating lawyer woman appears in most American dramas, the Mario character could be summed up by perhaps every role Vince Colossimo has ever played.  But we read on.  Something tells us that this is too simple, and that all will be revealed in time.  And we are right.

When the unnamed Narrator selects their six names from the phone book, intending to creative a reality game of his own, my first thought was, hang on they've all already met.  But it soon became clear to me that the thread of the story had jumped back in time.  The seeming coincidences had first been shown as the players saw them.  Now we saw them from the point of view of the puppet master.  He carefully infiltrates their lives, learns their problems, and brings them together, and the story begins.

Ultimately, the book sets out to ask the reader who is responsible for what unfolds?  Is it the narrator or is it the characters themselves?  Personally, I have to come down on the side of the individuals... the narrator, charming as he supposedly is, can only do so much.  He refers the characters to each others' businesses, but he does not employ any underhand tactics in order to cause them all to sleep with each other, or steal from each other, or ruin each others' lives.  In fact, up to a point, he only wants them to get involved in each others' lives superficially.  But the characters themselves don't fully master this concept, barring perhaps Hannah, who knows that no one caused her to set the trap for Garry but herself... this plot point even surprised the narrator.

At times this book is confusing, and it is peppered with cliched turns of phrase in almost dramatic monologue style chunks of prose, but beneath these (and they're all matters of personal taste) Reality is a complex and thought provoking book and would make a great read for a book club, or for the discerning reader with an interest in politics or psychology.

I give this book three stars.

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

The Tournament by Matthew Reilly

The Tournament
Matthew Reilly
Macmillan Publishing

The Tournament represents a departure from Matthew Reilly's usual big screen inspired adventure stories.  Set in 1546, it is a novel about an international chess tournament that takes place in the Hagia Sophia, Constantinople under the command of the formidable Sultan Suleiman.  And the main character of the book is none other than the 13 year old Princess Elizabeth Tudor.

I had never read anything by Matthew Reilly up to this point.  His books never really seemed to be for me, and they probably weren't, but when I heard that his newest book was set in the Tudor Period, my little ears pricked up.  Tudors, you say?  Well count me in!  Of course I promptly received the book and then relegated it to one of the many towering piles of books I have yet to read.  Then, I found out that Matthew Reilly was going to be on Australian Story this Monday just past.  I was reading something else at the time, something good but slow going and fairly depressing.  And I was on holidays, so really, who wants to slog through something like that.  I thought to myself, no, stuff it, I'm going to dig out The Tournament.

I was nearly finished it by the time Australian Story went to air.  I won't go into detail of the program because I can be pretty sure most of you saw it, but suffice to say that this book is a triumph all the more so because of how hard it must have been for Matthew to make himself write it.

When the young Princess Bess and her teacher Roger Ascham accompany the King's Champion to Constantinople, they are in for a feast of the mind, but they do not count on the series of gruesome murders which will take place during the games.  Roger has a reputation as a clever man, a logical man, and the Sultan approaches him to solve the murders discreetly so that the games will not be spoiled.  Bess goes along as Ascham's assistant, and in the process, learns many of the precepts by which she will come to be known as a ruler.  The young Bess is an amazingly well drawn character, a young woman who is both a keen observer and narrator, as well as a likeable and realistic figure, but it is her teacher who truly shines.  Through Bess's eyes, Ascham is the hero of the novel not because of his dashing but because of his brilliant mind.

The book is exciting and well paced- a real read in one sitting type of story, and the mystery itself has been carefully considered so that not a piece is out of line.  The inclusion of many facts about chess provide an interesting metaphor for the medieval court system.

I was glad to see that Reilly had included a warning at the beginning of his book that this was not for younger readers, as there are many scenes of a gratuitous sexual nature.  As the author explains in the interview at the back of the text, he wanted to provide some sort of context that might lead to the Queen later eschewing sexual intercourse as an unnecessary political diversion.  I do like the way that the almost stale facts about Elizabeth's later life are given fresh and plausible context in the book.

The Tournament is exciting, intelligent, well researched and well paced.  In short, I really enjoyed reading this book.

Monday, 3 February 2014

Guest Post by Jamie Baywood

Disclaimer- I, Emily, have not read Jamie's book yet.  Jamie very kindly contacted me to tell me that she liked my blog and I really like her story of finding love accidentally on her travels.  I hope you will too!  Take it away Jamie...

It was always my dream to live abroad when I was growing up in California.  I had bad dating experiences in California and read in a New Zealand tour book that the country’s population at 100,000 fewer men than women.  I wanted to have some me time and an adventure. New Zealand seemed like a good place to do so. Although I intended to have a solo adventure I ended up meeting my husband in New Zealand.

I consider myself an accidental author. I didn’t go to New Zealand with the intentions of writing a book about my experiences there. I had funny experiences that I had trouble believing were true. I wrote the stories down to stay sane. I wrote situations down that were happening around me and shared them with friends. The stories made people laugh so I decided to organize the stories into a book and publish in the hopes to make others laugh too.

One of the first people I meet was Colin Mathura-Jeffree from New Zealand’s Next Top Model. I had no idea who he was or that he was on TV when I meet him. He is friends with my former flatmate. We had a steep staircase that I kept falling down. Colin taught me to walk like a model so I wouldn’t fall down the stairs.

In New Zealand, I had a lot of culture shock.  One of the most memorable moments was learning the meaning of the Kiwi slang word “rooted.” One night I was brushing my teeth with my flatmate and I said, ‘I’m really excited to live in this house because I have been travelling a lot and I just need to settle down, stop traveling and get rooted’. He was choking on his toothbrush and asked me if I knew what that meant because it had a completely different meaning New Zealand than it does in the States.

I had the opportunity to write and perform for Thomas Sainsbury the most prolific playwright in New Zealand. I performed a monologue about my jobs in the Basement Theatre in Auckland.  The funny thing about that experience was Tom kept me separated from the other performers until it was time to perform. I was under the impression that all the performers were foreigners giving their experiences in New Zealand.  All of the other performers were professional actors telling stories that weren’t their own. At first I was mortified, but the audience seemed to enjoy my “performance,” laughing their way through my monologue. After the shows we would go out and mingle with the audience. People would ask me how long I had been acting. I would tell them, “I wasn’t acting; I have to go to work tomorrow and sit next to the girl wearing her dead dog’s collar around her neck.”

I love making people laugh more than anything else. I feel very grateful when readers understand my sense of humor. I plan to divide my books by the countries I’ve lived in. My next book will be about attempting to settle in Scotland. 

About the book Getting Rooted in New Zealand:

Craving change and lacking logic, at 26, Jamie, a cute and quirky Californian, impulsively moves to New Zealand to avoid dating after reading that the country's population has 100,000 fewer men. In her journal, she captures a hysterically honest look at herself, her past and her new wonderfully weird world filled with curious characters and slapstick situations in unbelievably bizarre jobs. It takes a zany jaunt to the end of the Earth and a serendipitous meeting with a fellow traveler before Jamie learns what it really means to get rooted.

About the author Jamie Baywood:

Jamie Baywood grew up in Petaluma, California. In 2010, she made the most impulsive decision of her life by moving to New Zealand. Getting Rooted in New Zealand is her first book about her experiences living there. Jamie is now married and living happily ever after in the United Kingdom. She is working on her second book.

Sunday, 2 February 2014

Monthly Catch-Up : January

I've been reading lots and lots this last month but I haven't actually bothered to sit down and review any of the books.  Very remiss of me.  This seems to be a January problem for a lot of people- it's just too gosh darn busy!  Have you found that?  Anyway, I thought I would do a bit of a monthly catch up and let you all know what I've been reading and what I thought of it.

Books I've been Reading This Month (January)

The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton...okay okay so I finished this in December and I actually did review it but it was just so good I can't stop thinking about it!  Also, Eleanor Catton is going to be a guest at this year's Perth Writers Festival.  I was literally so excited to see this that I screamed.  I'm dragging Mum along with me, and hopefully I can convince her to read this amazing book.

The Freudian Slip by Marion von Adlerstein- The prize in my recent giveaway!  This was a light and funny read but I can't say that it's made it into my favourites.  I love the setting and characters because there is a frivolity and friskiness to the advertising industry thanks to TV's Mad Men, and von Adlerstein was actually a part of the scene she so expertly lampoons in this book.  At times the phrasing was a little simplistic.

Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell is a book which often appears on lists of must read coming of age stories.  It's a young adult book set in the eighties, and it's a real read in one sitting text.  It's about a girl named Eleanor who is a bit weird and definitely from the wrong side of the tracks.  When she moves to a new school she looks destined to be ostracised and bullied but then she sits next to Park and everything changes.


A Girl is a Half Formed Thing by Eimear Mcbride- I kept hearing about this book everywhere, in all the bookseller's newsletters that get pushed under my nose, so when I got given a voucher for Christmas, this is what I chose.  I got stuck into it one weekend at a reading picnic (this is a thing I do with my boyfriend from time to time) and finished it the next day, despite a disorienting stream of  consciousness style of writing.  For fans of Kirsten Krauth's Just_a_girl 

Cicada  by Moira McKinnon is being launched on March the 7th at FAWWA so come along if you're interested.  This book really gets stuck into the cannon of Australian literature and plays with it in a very satisfying way.  It features quite deep thinking on the relationship between white landowners and Aboriginal maids/ stockmen in the early 20th Century.  Review to come later this month.

Shame and the Captives by Tom Keneally is another one I have already reviewed, and I have to say it wasn't for me.  I've done a lot of research on Australian/ Japanese interaction from the point of view of Singaporean prisoners in the course of writing my own book- I was really looking forward to seeing a big name in Aussie Literature tackling the other side of that coin, and I was disappointed and bored by the huge amounts of exposition in this book.  I can see it's still a pretty great book but it didn't impress me much.

Longbourn by Jo Baker- another author I am really keen to see speak at the Perth Writer's Festival.  Be warned!  This is Jane Austen paraliterature.  But more-so, it's very very very good!  This book tells Pride and Prejudice from the point of view of the servants, and although it slightly spoiled my good opinion of Mr Bennet (and we all know "my good opinion once lost is lost forever") it also situated P and P in a more meaty historical context.  This was a learning experience and I loved it.

Cairo by Chris Womersley- My first Womersley but not my last.  I'd love to pick up a copy of Bereft.  Cairo is all about a writer reflecting about his adolescence, moving out for the first time, and ending up involved in the infamous theft of Picasso's Weeping Woman.  Could easily have been cliched but it was enthralling and witty and subtle.  I'm going to see Chris speak with Rick Gekoski at PWF.

The Rehearsal by Eleanor Catton was an amazing post modern and post structuralist walk though the high school psyche and it really took me back to my days as a drama student.  It's a real feat and I recommend it.

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green... I think I may have been the only person left in the world who hadn't read this yet... I read it at the recommendation of my friend Jen who now lives in Canada and it was beautiful and sad.  I cannot wait to see the movie now.  Shailene Woodley is the perfect actress to play Hazel.

What did you read this month?  Always happy to get recommendations.