Friday, 30 December 2016

Book Review: Today Will Be Different

Today Will Be Different
Maria Semple
Weidenfeld and Nicolson 2016 (I own a copy, courtesy the publisher)

After the phenomenal success that was Where'd You Go, Bernadette?, Maria Semple found her way onto my list of go-to authors.  Her writing did that rare thing-- it made me laugh without making me feel like I was reading something that was going to rot my teeth.  I can still remember the way that it felt to be sucked into the world of Where'd You Go, Bernadette?, right down to the fact that I played Monopoly with my family the evening after I finished it.

In the interim between these two books, I've read Semple's (then) hard to find debut, This One is Mine, which in my opinion was a better, edgier book than its Baileys' Women's Prize follow up, and watched all of television's Arrested Development, which Semple was involved in writing.

So when I heard that she had a new book out in 2016, you could say that I was excited.

The protagonist of Today Will Be Different is eminently relateable.  Eleanor Flood was once the head animator on a beloved television show called Looper Wash.  These days, she is mother to Timby (named by an autocorrect mishap) and wife to Joe, a surgeon who caters to sports stars and famous people who won't wait in the same waiting rooms as the normal folk.  The book, aside from a number of flashbacks, takes place over the course of a single day, beginning with Eleanor telling herself when she wakes up that today is going to be a better sort of day and she is going to be a better version of herself.  However, the best laid plans and all that, Eleanor's day turns out nothing like she had planned, beginning with the moment Timby's school rings to say that he has yet another stomach ache and needs to be picked up.

The thing about Today Will be Different is that I expected it to be funny but I think it would be more accurate to say that it is wry.  The cynical thoughts we encounter through Eleanor's first person narration are those which are familiar, be it the incarceration of trendy young Mums and ultra- PC private schools ala Liane Moriarty's Big Little Lies or the very familiar indictment of people who wear yoga pants but don't actually go to yoga.  While this book is interesting and makes some great observations, it did not have the laugh out loud moments that I was expecting.

Perhaps that is because there is tragedy in Eleanor's backstory which makes her (unbeknownst to herself even) quite prone to bouts of low mood and ultra high self-criticism.  She seems to me to not be coping well at all, and yet she believes the things that are not going so well for her are due to failings on her part, rather than the fact that her mother died when she was nine, her father was an alcoholic bookie, and her sister married an emotionally manipulative man who separated two women who had previously been very close.

I was intrigued by the story of Eleanor's life before the today of the title, but the book never really lets you get close enough-- those parts of the story are told in third person, including, bizarrely, an anecdote about an altercation with a yoga teacher told by Joe.  I would have liked to have seen more of what happened, and more of a resolution of what came after the day of the novel, as these were the moments when there was a real sense of how low Eleanor had sunk in the time that had passed.

The high points of this novel were Eleanor's interactions with Timby, which were often full of surprising but realistic truisms out of the mouths of babes.

Go into this novel not expecting Bernadette, but expecting something a lot more real.

Friday, 23 December 2016

Book Review: The Woman on the Stairs

The Woman on the Stairs by Bernard Schlink
Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 2016 (I own a copy, courtesy the publisher)

Bernard Schlink is most well-known for his novel The Reader, which admittedly, I have never read.  His newest novel, The Woman on the Stairs is a highly anticipated release, and tells the story of a painting which reappears in a gallery in Sydney after having disappeared decades before from the home of a German businessman.  Our narrator, an unnamed German lawyer, stumbles across the painting while he is in Australia on business, and feels compelled to track down the woman whom he is sure is the unnamed patron who has donated the piece.

He is right.  His searching leads him to Irene, both the subject of the painting and the woman who stole it, many years before, with the narrator's help.  She has placed the painting in the gallery in the hopes of luring both the painting's former owner and the painter himself to her secluded island home, to see them both one more time.

Schlink is a master wordsmith-- that much is apparent to me-- but as I read this novel I was struck by the fact that this simply wasn't enough.  The narrator tells the story in an odd, distanced fashion, which at times was blatantly repetitive, and which allowed me to neither feel as if I knew him nor his subjects.  For a novel which was inherently character driven, this proved to be a problem, as I realised increasingly that I did not care for any of the characters.  I was also frequently confused by the shifting between times, and the large tracks of text which were actually characters relaying stories about pasts of imagined pasts.  Indeed, the majority of the book's third act shows our narrator telling stories to Irene about what their life could have been if they had become a couple all those years ago.  While I believe the rules of writing are there to be broken, show don't tell does serve the purpose of allowing your reader to be in the moment with you as they read along, and that was certainly missing from this book a lot of the time.  I wondered if perhaps this was due to the book having been translated from German, or if perhaps this simply wasn't a book for me.

A small item of nitpicking too was the character's name-- when he discovers her whereabouts, Irene is living under her maiden name, Adler.  Yes, Irene Adler.  Which happens to be the name of a character from the Sherlock Holmes novels.  Sure, it could very possibly also be the name of a lot of people worldwide,but it leaves me to wonder if this was a deliberate reference.  If so, the similarity stopped there and I failed to see the point.

There have been so many books out lately which use the central plot point of a missing work of art resurfacing in an unlikely place-- to name a few I can think of Jessie Burton's The Muse which I enjoyed, and The Last Painting of Sara de Vos which I could not get into.  For such a well-trodden path, I think I expected more from this novel, but I would not be put off reading Schlink again if the subject matter interested me because he has certainly shown that he could write.

Overall, I found the lyricism of the prose beautiful but it wasn't enough to redeem a book which hung a fairly flat story onto the backs of mediocre characters.  Unfortunately this was not for me, and I have to disagree with the many readers out there who have been raving about this one.  I gave it 2 stars out of five.

Monday, 19 December 2016

Most Anticipated Reads for 2017... so far!

It's torture reading about all the books that are due to come out in 2017 when I can't go and read any of them straight away!  New books are always exciting, but for the last week or so, I've been keeping a list of the books that I'm keen to read when they're published next year.  Not surprisingly, the list is already quite long...

The Fifth Letter by Nicola Moriarty

This promises all the delicious social drama of a book by that other Moriarty lady-- the very famous Liane.  When four friends go on an annual holiday and decide to send each other letters revealing their secrets anonymously, it's all supposed to be a harmless game... until a fifth letter shows up, that is!  It sounds like the perfect weekend read and I can't wait.

Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders

Many, many moons ago a writer recommended to me that I read Tenth of December, which is a collection of stories by Saunders that I have never got around to reading, even though it sounded extremely good and it won all sorts of awards.  I think this is Saunders' first novel, and it's a historical novel about Abraham Lincoln.  I'm not normally into American history but this sounds very, very good...

A little taster from the blurb on Goodreads... On February 22, 1862, two days after his death, Willie Lincoln was laid to rest in a marble crypt in a Georgetown cemetery. That very night, shattered by grief, Abraham Lincoln arrives at the cemetery under cover of darkness and visits the crypt, alone, to spend time with his son’s body. 

The Possessions by Sara Flannery Murphy

A novel about a young woman who works for a company that helps clients connect with loved ones who have died... Obsession, the supernatural... yes please!  Plus, just look at that cover.

The Roanoke Girls by Amy Engel

I can't lie, I was initially attracted to this novel by its cover, which features the most amazing wallpaper I have ever seen, but I stayed interested because of the comparison one of the early reviewers made to Jeffrey Eugenides.

From the Goodreads blurb: After her mother's suicide, fifteen year-old Lane Roanoke came to live with her grandparents and fireball cousin, Allegra, on their vast estate in rural Kansas. Lane knew little of her mother's mysterious family, but she quickly embraced life as one of the rich and beautiful Roanoke girls. But when she discovered the dark truth at the heart of the family, she ran fast and far away.Eleven years later, Lane is adrift in Los Angeles when her grandfather calls to tell her Allegra has gone missing.

See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt

Lizzie Borden.  Comparisons to Burial Rites.  I actually have a proof copy of this so WHY HAVEN'T I READ IT ALREADY?

Sarah Schmidt has fictionalised the infamouse Lizzie Borden murder case of the late 1890s-- and like Hannah Kent with Burial Rites, the inspiration for the book seems to have come from an eerie, otherwordly compulsion...  Read more on Sarah Schmidt's blog if you dare!

Difficult Women by Roxane Gay

I really liked Roxane Gay's collection Bad Feminist, so now I am keen to try out her short stories which seems to have a similar theme to my own but from a different cultural context.  Here's a little taster from the Goodreads blurb: A pair of sisters, grown now, have been inseparable ever since they were abducted together as children, and must negotiate the elder sister's marriage. A woman married to a twin pretends not to realize when her husband and his brother impersonate each other. A stripper putting herself through college fends off the advances of an overzealous customer. A black engineer moves to Upper Michigan for a job and faces the malign curiosity of her colleagues and the difficulty of leaving her past behind. From a girls’ fight club to a wealthy subdivision in Florida where neighbors conform, compete, and spy on each other, Gay delivers a wry, beautiful, haunting vision of modern America reminiscent of Merritt Tierce, Jamie Quatro, and Miranda July. 

The Keeper of Lost Things by Ruth Hogan

This delighful debut tells the story of Anthony, who rescues things that other people seem to have lost or forgotten about, and his assistant Laura who finds herself tasked with returning these things to their rightful owners.  Aww.  I feel a tear jerker coming on.

You Too Can Have a Body Like Mine by Alexandra Kleeman

Yes!  Finally.  I've wanted to read this since it came out overseas over a year ago but I stopped short of actually importing the hardback because who can afford that.

From Goodreads: A woman known only as A lives in an unnamed American city with her roommate, B, and boyfriend, C, who wants her to join him on a reality dating show called That's My Partner! A eats mostly popsicles and oranges, watches endless amounts of television, often just for the commercials— particularly the recurring cartoon escapades of Kandy Kat, the mascot for an entirely chemical dessert—and models herself on a standard of beauty that exists only in such advertising. She fixates on the fifteen minutes of fame a local celebrity named Michael has earned after buying up a Wally's Supermarket's entire, and increasingly ample, supply of veal.

Meanwhile, B is attempting to make herself a twin of A, who in turn hungers for something to give meaning to her life, something aside from C's pornography addiction. 

Trapeze Act by Libby Angel

I love books about circuses, plus I'll read pretty much anything Text Publishing puts out because they are so top notch.

This novel is about a young woman whose mother was a world-famous circus performer, worked out on her lout of a husband while on tour in Australia, and tried to settle down in Adelaide...  sounds great, right?  Hurry up January so I can find out!

Came Back to Show You I Could Fly (Text Classics) by Robin Klein

Ouch, my heart, it hurts from remembering how much I loved this book as a child.  I'd completely forgotten about it until I saw that Text were republishing a whole bunch of Robin Kleins as part of their legendary Text Classics range.  Nostalgia...

A Writing Life: Helen Garner and her Work by Bernadette Brennan

At last year's WA Premier's Book Awards I was totally starstruck at being in the same room as Helen Garner.  She's a legend and this book is an opportunity to find out how her brain works...

The Shadow Land by Elizabeth Kostova

The author of The Historian has a new book coming out.  Of course I am excited!

Her Mother's Secret by Natasha Lester

If you don't hang out in the WA Writing Community, maybe you don't know how beloved Natasha Lester is, but the release of her fourth book this April will be a major publishing event and I can't wait!  Natasha has also very kindly agree to be the April Guest of Honour for the WA Authors Book Club, run with Westbooks and the State Library of WA, so put April 6th in your Diary and let me know if you want more details.  As for the book...

Armistice Day should bring peace into Leonora's life. Rather than secretly making cosmetics in her father's chemist shop to sell to army nurses such as Joan, her adventurous Australian friend, Leo hopes to now display her wares openly. Instead, Spanish flu arrives in the village, claiming her father's life. Determined to start over, she boards a ship to New York City. On the way she meets debonair department store heir Everett Forsyth . . . (Goodreads)

Ambulance Girls by Deborah Burrows

Another Perth writer, Deborah Burrows has now turned her pen to writing about the Blitz in London and boy am I excited!  I told Deborah that she could name a character after me if she wanted and so I shall have to read the book to find out whether she did or not...

From Goodreads: As death and destruction fall from the skies day after day in the London Blitz, Australian ambulance driver, Lily Brennan, confronts the horror with bravery, intelligence, common sense and humour.

Gwen by Goldie Goldbloom

I already have this ready to read, thanks to the lovely Claire at Fremantle Press.  The Paperbark Shoe remains one of my favourite reads of all time so I'm very excited to read this one.  Here's what Goodreads has to say:

In 1903, the artist Gwendolen Mary John travels from London to France with her companion Dorelia. Surviving on their wits and Gwen’s raw talent, the young women walk from Calais to Paris. In the new century, the world is full of promise: it is time for Gwen to step out from the shadow of her overbearing brother Augustus and seek out the great painter and sculptor Auguste Rodin. It is time to be brave and visible, to love and be loved – and time perhaps to become a hero as the stain of anti-Semitism spreads across Europe.

The Hope Fault by Tracy Farr

Another favourite of mine, I discovered The Life and Loves of Lena Gaunt a few years ago and was totally gobsmacked by the amazing world created within its pages.  It was fantastic and I am sure this new novel from New Zealand's own Tracy Farr will be excellent too:

Iris’s family – her ex-husband with his new wife and baby; her son, and her best friend’s daughter – gather to pack up their holiday house. They are there for one last time, one last weekend, and one last party – but in the course of this weekend, their connections will be affirmed, and their frailties and secrets revealed – to the reader at least, if not to each other. The Hope Fault is a novel about extended family: about steps and exes and fairy godmothers; about parents and partners who are missing, and the people who replace them. (Goodreads)

The Lonely Hearts Hotel by Heather O'Neill

Tell me something is perfect for fans of The Night Circus and I am there.

Goodreads says: Two babies are abandoned in a Montreal orphanage in the winter of 1910. Before long, their talents emerge: Pierrot is a piano prodigy; Rose lights up even the dreariest room with her dancing and comedy. As they travel around the city performing clown routines, the children fall in love with each other and dream up a plan for the most extraordinary and seductive circus show the world has ever seen. 

The Woolgrower's Companion by Joy Rhoades

I refer again to The Paperbark Shoe, as that's where this book's blurb transported me.  I hope it's like that, but even if it's not I am still keen to read it.  There's no blurb up anywhere online so I'll leave this one as a bit of a surprise for you all...

Before You Forget by Julia Lawrinson

I have lost count of how many times I have read Skating the Edge.  A new YA book by Julia Lawrinson is always a must-have for me as her words spoke to me when I was a teen and continue to do so now that I am a grown-up (hey, the numbers say so even if the behaviour doesn't!).  Here's what Goodreads has to say:  Year Twelve is not off to a good start for Amelia. Art is her world, but her art teacher hates everything she does; her best friend has stopped talking to her; her mother and father may as well be living in separate houses; and her father is slowly forgetting everything. Even Amelia.

Miss Lily's Lovely Ladies by Jackie French

No cover yet.  (Shame, it will be lovely, trust me.)  This is a novel about four debutantes and the way their lives are changed by World War One.  I love Jackie French's historical novels and I just can't wait!

Four Seasons in Rome by Anthony Doerr

A non-fiction release from the author of Pulitzer Prize Winning Novel, All The Light We Cannot See, which chronicles his time living in Rome after winning The Rome Prize, and includes reflections on the birth of his twins.  Who knows, maybe he'll include the secret of how to win a Pulitzer and the Rome Prize while he's at it!

And I'd Do It Again by Aimee Crocker

I'll just let Goodreads speak for me on this one:

Aimee Crocker was an heiress to gold and railroad fortunes and a daughter of Judge Edwin B. Crocker (1818-1875), legal counsel for the Central Pacific Railroad, Justice of the California Supreme Court in 1865 and founder of the Crocker Art Museum. Her father was a brother of Charles Crocker, one of the "big four" California railroad barons. Aimee had a tale or two to tell. Aside from lavish parties, husbands and lovers, she traveled widely throughout Asia. She tells of escaping headhunters in Borneo, poisoning in Hong Kong, and avoided murder by servants in Shanghai. While away, she was christened Princess Palaikalani Bliss of Heaven by King David Kalakaua, the last king of Hawaii, and then Princess Galitzine when she wed her fifth and final husband, Prince Mstislav Galitzine. This is her autobiography, first published in 1936. 

I'm sure there will be many many more titles due out in 2017 which will catch my eye but this list was very long already so I will call it quits here.  What are you looking forward to reading in 2017?

Friday, 16 December 2016

Favourite Reads (2016 Edition)

I love seeing all the best books of 2016 that keep coming out-- the only problem is, with every list I read, my TBR (to be read) pile gets that little bit longer.

Read on for the books that I loved best over my 2016 reading year.  Click the titles to read my reviews.

The Life and Death of Sophie Stark by Anna North  

Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff

The Words in my Hand by Guinevere Glasfurd

A Kiss from Mr Fitzgerald by Natasha Lester

Waer by Meg Caddy

Like a House on Fire by Cate Kennedy

Illuminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

The Midnight Watch by David Dyer

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte

The Paper House by Anna Spargo-Ryan

The Windy Season by Sam Carmody

A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara

Alice I Have Been by Melanie Benjamin

Words in Deep Blue by Cath Crowley

The Historian's Daughter by Rashida Murphy

Dark Roots by Cate Kennedy

Our Tiny Useless Hearts by Toni Jordan

Three Sisters, Three Queens by Philippa Gregory

What were your favourite books in 2016?  Let me know in the comments :)

Sunday, 11 December 2016

Highly Anticipated 2016 Books I Didn't Get Around to Reading

Earlier in the year, I posted a list of all the books I was really looking forward to reading on the website of the bookshop I was working at-- a bookshop which has since closed down, taking its website and my original post with it.  On the one hand, I am now saved from measuring how poorly I stuck to my guns on the books I wanted to read!  On the other, I'm now flying blind and so I am going to assume I knew about all of these books at the beginning of the year.

Reading can be a funny thing-- you're so keen on a book and it comes out, you buy it and then... huh, you're not in the mood to read it straight away and other things sneak up the TBR (to be read) pile.

Without any further to do, here is a list of GREAT 2016 Books that I'm still keen to read but haven't got to yet.

The Mothers by Brit Bennett

It's sitting on my shelf and I will get to it soon.  This was definitely one which snuck up on me.  I'd seen the cover and I knew nothing about it, and then suddenly everyone on Youtube was talking about it and I HAD to track down a copy.

It is the last season of high school life for Nadia Turner, a rebellious, grief-stricken, seventeen-year-old beauty. Mourning her own mother’s recent suicide, she takes up with the local pastor’s son. Luke Sheppard is twenty-one, a former football star whose injury has reduced him to waiting tables at a diner. They are young; it’s not serious. But the pregnancy that results from this teen romance—and the subsequent cover-up—will have an impact that goes far beyond their youth.

The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry

I was so keen to read this that I had my Mum bring me back one from London-- it's since come out in Australia and I WILL read it in the next few weeks.  I hope.  

Cora is a well-to-do London widow who moves to the Essex parish of Aldwinter, and Will is the local vicar. They meet as their village is engulfed by rumours that the mythical Essex Serpent, once said to roam the marshes claiming human lives, has returned. Cora, a keen amateur naturalist is enthralled, convinced the beast may be a real undiscovered species. But Will sees his parishioners' agitation as a moral panic, a deviation from true faith. Although they can agree on absolutely nothing, as the seasons turn around them in this quiet corner of England, they find themselves inexorably drawn together and torn apart.

Today will be Different by Maria Semple

I loved Maria Semple's previous two novels, and I've also recently watched all of Arrested Development for the first time, which I believe she was involved in.  I am planning on saving this one for a time when I need a hilarious read.  

Eleanor knows she's a mess. But today, she will tackle the little things. She will shower and get dressed. She will have her poetry and yoga lessons after dropping off her son, Timby. She won't swear. She will initiate sex with her husband, Joe. But before she can put her modest plan into action-life happens. Today, it turns out, is the day Timby has decided to fake sick to weasel his way into his mother's company. It's also the day Joe has chosen to tell his office-but not Eleanor-that he's on vacation. Just when it seems like things can't go more awry, an encounter with a former colleague produces a graphic memoir whose dramatic tale threatens to reveal a buried family secret. 

Skylarking by Kate Mildenhall

This debut novel was one which came across my desk and I could not pass it up-- lighthouses, Australian history-- it ticks so many boxes for me and I think it's a book which will have to come on holidays with me.  

Kate and Harriet are best friends, growing up together on an isolated Australian cape in the 1880s. As daughters of the lighthouse keepers, the two girls share everything, until a fisherman, McPhail, arrives in their small community. When Kate witnesses the desire that flares between him and Harriet, she is torn by her feelings of envy and longing. But one moment in McPhail’s hut will change the course of their lives forever. 

Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue

Jende Jonga, a Cameroonian immigrant living in Harlem, has come to the United States to provide a better life for himself, his wife, Neni, and their six-year-old son. In the fall of 2007, Jende can hardly believe his luck when he lands a job as a chauffeur for Clark Edwards, a senior executive at Lehman Brothers. Clark demands punctuality, discretion, and loyalty—and Jende is eager to please. Clark’s wife, Cindy, even offers Neni temporary work at the Edwardses’ summer home in the Hamptons. With these opportunities, Jende and Neni can at last gain a foothold in America and imagine a brighter future.

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

Cora is a slave on a cotton plantation in Georgia. Life is hellish for all the slaves but especially bad for Cora; an outcast even among her fellow Africans, she is coming into womanhood - where even greater pain awaits. When Caesar, a recent arrival from Virginia, tells her about the Underground Railroad, they decide to take a terrifying risk and escape. Matters do not go as planned and, though they manage to find a station and head north, they are being hunted.

The Hating Game by Sally Thorne

There was a brief couple of weeks during 2016 when this book was all anyone could talk about and I was obsessed with getting a copy.  Yet once I had one, Uni got in the way and I forgot my keenness!  Another one I want to get to and SOON.  

Lucy Hutton and Joshua Templeman hate each other. Not dislike. Not begrudgingly tolerate. Hate. And they have no problem displaying their feelings through a series of ritualistic passive aggressive maneuvers as they sit across from each other, executive assistants to co-CEOs of a publishing company. Lucy can’t understand Joshua’s joyless, uptight, meticulous approach to his job. Joshua is clearly baffled by Lucy’s overly bright clothes, quirkiness, and Pollyanna attitude.

The Girls by Emma Cline

Northern California, during the violent end of the 1960s. At the start of summer, a lonely and thoughtful teenager, Evie Boyd, sees a group of girls in the park, and is immediately caught by their freedom, their careless dress, their dangerous aura of abandon. Soon, Evie is in thrall to Suzanne, a mesmerizing older girl, and is drawn into the circle of a soon-to-be infamous cult and the man who is its charismatic leader. Hidden in the hills, their sprawling ranch is eerie and run down, but to Evie, it is exotic, thrilling, charged—a place where she feels desperate to be accepted. As she spends more time away from her mother and the rhythms of her daily life, and as her obsession with Suzanne intensifies, Evie does not realize she is coming closer and closer to unthinkable violence, and to that moment in a girl’s life when everything can go horribly wrong. 

The Butcher's Hook by Janet Ellis

Anne Jaccob is coming of age, the daughter of a wealthy merchant. When she is taken advantage of by her tutor — a great friend of her father’s — and is set up to marry a squeamish snob named Simeon Onions, she begins to realize just how powerless she is in Georgian society. Anne is watchful, cunning, and bored.

Swing Time by Zadie Smith

This was the most recently published of the bunch and I am hearing exciting things, like Ferrante comparisons!  I'm looking forward to a few good weeks of bunking down with novels like this one in the very near future.  

Two brown girls dream of being dancers--but only one, Tracey, has talent. The other has ideas: about rhythm and time, about black bodies and black music, about what constitutes a tribe, or makes a person truly free. It's a close but complicated childhood friendship that ends abruptly in their early twenties, never to be revisited, but never quite forgotten, either.

That's all I'm willing to admit it for now, folks-- what didn't you manage to get to this year?  Share your books below in the comments.

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.