Tuesday, 22 August 2017

Short Story Book Club (The Podcast) Ep 2: The Love of a Bad Man

It's back!  The Short Story Book Club was on again for August.  This month, it was all about The Love of a Bad Man by Laura Elizabeth Woollett, and I was lucky enough to be joined by two guests, Leonard and Veronica.  We tried extremely hard not to go off on too many tangents, and hey, I think we did a pretty great job, so here it is for your listening pleasure!

Remember, you can join us next month (September 19) when we discuss Pulse Points by Jennifer Down, and you have plenty of time to pick up a copy from your bookstore of choice and get reading.  Just make sure you register here.
  The Love of a Bad Man was published in 2016 by Scribe.

Thanks to Caroline and Claudia and all of the team at the Centre for Stories.  See you next month!

Leonard and Veronica- Episode 2 Guests

Saturday, 12 August 2017

Unexpected Writing Lessons

So here's a piece of writing wisdom I never expected to pick up:

Sometimes, you have to write it like a midday soap opera.

I don't mean that your book should read like one.  I'm talking about in your early drafts, or perhaps in your middle-of-the-process revisions.

Let me explain.

I'm currently working on the eleventh or twelfth iteration of my historical novel, Between the Sleepers.  The last time I rewrote it, I thought it was done.  I thought it was the best that it was ever going to be.  I'd taken it to a residency at the Katharine Susannah Prichard writers centre, where I'd reworked 40000 words in ten days and gone home feeling like a superhero.  I'd had a feeling in my gut that the book was as done as it was ever going to be.

And I pitched it to a few agents, some of whom even read the whole thing.  It was close.  But it wasn't getting over the line.

Readers, I took a year off from that novel.  It was probably the largest amount of time I'd ever had of not thinking about it since I started working on it back in 2008.

This year, I engaged an amazing local writer to mentor me through the process of revising the novel one more time.  And when I reread my work alongside her comments, I was shocked and embarrassed by the dross on the page before me.

This wasn't the amazing novel that I thought I had written.  This was a script for some soap opera with mistaken identities and identical twins swapping places, and characters being lost at sea for long periods of time only to return at the exact moment their ex-wife was about to marry another man.  (Or whatever actually happens on soap operas, who even knows...)  I had poured everything I had into that novel.  Every big word I knew, every romantic gesture, every seemingly deep thought.

And I had overdone it.

There were a few big factors in the overdoing it recipe.  First of all, I obviously felt the need to describe every little gesture or facial expression my characters had.  It was constant.  And I was taking away from the things that they said and did.

Second of all, my characters spent a lot of time spitting.  Spitting with rage, spitting their words, swallowing their spit when they were nervous.  And as my mentor rightly pointed out, it was a bit uneccessary and more than a little gross.

But the third and most unforgivable sin in this draft of mine was that I felt the need to make my characters go through the entire spectrum of human emotions time and time again when there just wasn't any need for it.

So.  This time around, I sat down and I wound back my novel.  And this weekend, I've realised something very important.

I needed to take my book through that woefully overwritten soap opera phase in order to get to the stage I am at now.  I could not have realised my characters' emotional journeys in the way that I have unless I made them wildly overemotional first, and then wound everything back.   What I now have is an almost complete book that I have been excited to rediscover.  It is a book that I understand better now, and I understand myself better as its writer.  (Corny, I know.)  I have learned through this process that one year ago, I was simply done with this novel.  But when I finish my novel this time around, I will have a book that I am proud of.  A book that I know will be some of the best writing I have ever done.

I almost don't want the process to be over.

Tuesday, 25 July 2017

Short Story Book Club (The Podcast): Ep 1- Australia Day + Portable Curiosities (guest- Melissa Davies)

The Short Story Book Club occurs monthly at The Centre for Stories. In July, emerging writer Emily Paull was joined by writer and poet, Melissa Davies, to talk about Australia Day by Melanie Cheng. We then flashed back to the 2017 Perth Writers Festival, where Laurie Steed and Emily Paull caught up with visiting writer, Julie Koh.

To find out more about The Short Story Book Club, visit The Centre for Stories online.  You can join us next month, when we discuss The Love of a Bad Man by Laura Elizabeth Woollett.

To pre-order Melissa Davies' poetry collection, Pineapples in the Pool, please click here.  

Monday, 24 July 2017

Author Interview: Melanie Cheng

‘After all, she had only looked to Cambodia when the hospitals in Melbourne failed to provide the validation she’d been searching for.  At the idealistic age of eighteen, she had chosen a career in health to make a difference, save lives, change the world, and Cambodia, with its reputation for tragedy, seemed like just the place to do it.’ (page 72)

This is part of the story ‘Hotel Cambodia’, one of the stories in the middle of Australia Day by Melanie Cheng.  I caught up with Melanie via email this past weekend to ask her all about this collection, and about the short story as a form.  'Hotel Cambodia' is the story of Melissa, a young Australian woman who goes to Cambodia to ‘make a difference’.  There’s a sort of double awareness in Melissa’s point of view.  On the one level, she’s there to save lives, to help the less fortunate.  But on a deeper level, one which the reader sees through the third person narration, but Melissa doesn’t really say out loud, she’s aware of the hypocrisy of going to a very poor country for the sake of validating her own need to feel helpful and selfless.  This is one of the ideas in Australia Day which was striking to me—the myth of the Western Saviour.  Do you think there’s a tendency in Australia to think that the traditional, White European way of live is ‘better’ than the way of life lived by some of the people living in neighbouring countries, or of those who migrate here from different backgrounds?  Was this something you were intentionally trying to explore in your work?

Melanie Cheng: In 2006 I lived in Cambodia for 5 months doing volunteer medical work with an NGO, and so to a great extent Melissa’s revelations are my revelations. When I arrived, a few people told me Phnom Penh was an NGO Disneyland because there were just so many different charities and organisations operating with little to no regulation. Most people I met had noble intentions but the Western Saviour phenomenon you refer to was a definite driving force. Once there, I felt ashamed for imagining that I—a junior resident with little experience—could have anything to offer the local Khmer doctors. Like Melissa, I was forced to acknowledge that my true motivations were more selfish and na├»ve than I was originally willing to admit. I don’t think the Western Saviour myth is an Australian construct, but rather a Western, developed world phenomenon. And it’s hardly surprising when the mainstream media and much of our popular culture perpetuates and celebrates these myths.

Monday, 17 July 2017

Westerly Volume 62 Issue 1 is here!

... And I am in it!
Front cover image Nina-Marie Thomas, Ten 2017. 

I'm so excited to have had a piece accepted by Western Australia's longest running literary journal, and to have my work published in the same issue as amazing writers like Susan Midalia and Caitlin Maling.

My piece is called 'Sister Madly Deeply'-- it's about the bond between two sisters, and how they cope with a family tragedy.  

You can get a copy from Westerly's website, and I think there are a few bookshops around Perth who stock it as well.

Friday, 14 July 2017

Wimmera by Mark Brandi

Hachette Australia, 2017
My copy was borrowed from the library

Wimmera by Mark Brandi | Book Review by The Incredible Rambling Elimy

Almost overnight, Wimmera by Mark Brandi became one of the most talked about Australian debuts of 2017.  With comparisons to Jasper Jones being bandied around, I couldn't help but be curious.  Wimmera is the story of Ben and Fab, who grow up in a small town in Victoria.  After the suicide of a local girl, a stranger moves in down the road from Ben, and hires Ben to do odd jobs around the house.  Years later, Fab is still living in the town, collecting trolleys at the local supermarket.  When a grisly discovery is made, it draws Fab back into the past and the events of that year, and his friendship with Ben.

Part literary novel, part courtroom drama, part mystery, part coming of age tale, Wimmera has a little something for everyone.  Brandi cleverly evokes the obsessions and preoccupations of pre-teen boys, and switches perspectives with a deft hand, as the novel is broken into several parts and perspectives.  This is a subtle book, and one which allows the reader to draw their own inferences about how the parts are all connected.  The voice of Ben in the early part of the novel is a particular strength.  Ben is a likeable character; he's tough and loyal, good at sport, but also trying to work out his place in the world.  His moral compass is definitely working-- while Ben is big and strong, he's not a bully, though he does resort to violence when it comes to defending his friend Fab.  Fab is cheeky and a source of fun for the local bullies, who call him a 'wog' and tease him mercilessly.  Not that Fab is a meek victim... he has his revenge in other ways.  The second part of the story is told from the point of view of a much older Fab-- a Fab who is going nowhere in life.  He drinks too much, has a terrible job, is in love with a married woman and is still the victim of merciless bullying.  And this time there is no Ben to back him up.

Did I love this novel?  Yes, I did, but I wanted more out of it.  In each of the sections, we see the character narrating the story clearly, but the other character is a little inscrutable.  Some of the scenes left too much up to the reader to work out, and seemed to end abruptly, such as when we're left to assume that Fab is the one who has unscrewed the front wheel on Pokey's bike, causing an accident.  And while the central intrigue of the story was cleverly built, I felt a little like the resolution was over too soon.  This was a powerful novel of friendship, of revenge, of deep hurts, and I loved every minute of it, but now that I've finished, I find I wanted more.  The author did such a fantastic job creating the world, the characters, the situation-- I was transfixed.  I wanted to stay in the world of Wimmera-- gruesome though it was-- for a lot longer.

I gave this book 4 stars.

Tuesday, 11 July 2017

Anne Boleyn: A King's Obsession by Alison Weir

Headline Review, 2017
I own a copy, courtesy the publisher.

Of all of Henry the Eighth's brides, Anne Boleyn is probably the most infamous.  Mother to Elizabeth the 1st, Anne was Henry's second wife, for whom he broke with the Catholic Church and set aside his Spanish Queen, Katherine of Aragon.  Of course, she was also accused of adultery and witchcraft, and beheaded.

This is the second book in her Six Tudor Queens series, which will see a book on each of Henry's brides published one a year for six years.  Alison Weir is the one of the top-selling historians in the United Kingdom, and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts and Sciences, as well as an Honorary Life Patron of the Historic Royal Palaces.  She has published numerous books on the Tudors and the Wars of the Roses, both fictional and factual.  As she explains in her author's note at the end of the book, it is hard for any modern reader to really know what was going on in Anne Boleyn's head during her courtship and marriage to Henry Tudor, as most of her letters have been lost to the years.  Modern interpretations see her portrayed as ambitious, a vixen, wily-- history has not been kind to Anne Boleyn.  We've seen her portrayed by Natalie Dormer (The Tudors), Natalie Portman (The Other Boleyn Girl) and if I'm not mistaken, by Claire Foy (Wolf Hall-- which I've yet to watch, though I've read the novel).  In most portrayals, she is clever and cunning, but not likeable.  She is, in short, a villain.  But Weir's novel, Anne Boleyn: A King's Obsession shows a new interpretation of Anne Boleyn.

It is a long novel, but books of this sort always are.  (I'm looking at you, Hilary Mantel...)  Much of the early parts of the book focus on Anne's early life, first at the court of Margaret of Austria, and then at the French courts of Margaret of Anjou and Queen Claude.  At these courts, where strong women abound and men are unscrupulous and brutelike (there are several accusations of rape, which seems to me a more modern term than perhaps women would have bandied about at the time), Anne learns her own mind, and comes to support some quite radical views.  While she's not a Lutheran in this book as she is in some others, she does support the philosophical underpinnings of church reform, and is also exposed to what could perhaps be seen as an early form of feminism.  Anne's strength of will and character make her a likeable heroine-- for once-- even despite the considerable overlap between this book and the earlier volume, Katherine of Aragon: The True Queen, in which she is despised.

Where the book lagged a little was in the latter parts of the narrative, where she was in favour and out of favour, over and over, and came to be pregnant time and time again to no result.  Unfortunately, this is the trouble with writing about true events-- you cannot bend the narrative to your will unless the history supports it.  As Anne grew more frustrated with Henry's treatment of her, she became less strong in her character, though her final scenes in the Tower of London do give me more respect for this woman and the way in which this fictional version of her met her end.

I loved this book and I can't wait for the next one.  Though I've never been interested in Jane Seymour over much, I am fascinated to see what sort of person she may have been, under the tutelage of the ever-capable Alison Weir.

Anne Boleyn: A King's Obsession is available now.

Four stars.

Sunday, 2 July 2017

Miss Lily's Lovely Ladies by Jackie French

Miss Lily's Lovely Ladies
Jackie French
Angus and Robertson Publishing, 2017

Miss Lily's Lovely Ladies| Book Review at www.emilypaull.com
I have long been a big fan of Jackie French's writing-- I still remember taking a copy of Somewhere Around the Corner out of our local library and inhaling it in a matter of hours.  Perhaps that was even my first encounter with historical fiction, a genre which remains my favourite to this day.  So to discover that Jackie French was releasing historical fiction for adults this year was very exciting for me.  I was not disappointed.  Miss Lily's Lovely Ladies had everything I could have asked for.  It combined the lost world of society drawing rooms, ala  Downton Abbey with the meticulous historical research and fresh interpretation of a Philippa Gregory novel, and this book too, I read quickly and compulsively.  Though it is not a short book (500+ pages), I read it in a matter of three days.

It is the story of Sophie Higgs, the daughter of Australia's largest producer of corned beef, who has money but no 'position' in society.  When she looks to make an ill-advised match with the son of a local politician, her father suggests she first spend some time abroad, with the cousin of his business associate, the Earl of Shillings.  This cousin is the eponymous Miss Lily, a woman whose influence seems to be everywhere, yet her name appears nowhere in Debrett's.  Sophie is charmed by Miss Lily, and soon becomes one of her 'lovely ladies'-- young women who are 'finished' at Shillings and prepared for a London Season during which they will charm and delight, and hopefully, make suitable matches.  But there is more to Miss Lily's students than meets the eye, which is entirely the point.  Using the skills that they have learned at Miss Lily's knee, the young ladies embark on missions of utmost importance, learning and passing information, and using their influence wherever they can in an effort to ensure that a war with Germany which seems inevitable, never comes.

I usually prefer to read novels set during World War Two, but this was a novel which brought the world of World War One vividly to life for me-- not only the horrific scenes of the battlefields at Ypres, but also of the home front, and of the convalescent hospitals fashioned from old country manors.  These hospitals become a lifeline for Sophie Higgs when war is declared.  Cut off from her friends and family, she finds a purpose in caring for others, and turns her keen organisational mind to ensuring that the wounded soldiers under her care are looked after.

Much happens over the course of this book.  There is heartbreak, and there is triumph, but regardless of how the story turns out, Sophie is a heroine to cheer for.  Hers is a tumultuous life, and she takes it all as it comes and weathers it as only one of Miss Lily's students could.  These characters felt as if they could be real people to me, and I enjoyed spending time in their world.  Imagine my joy at discovering there will be two more books.

Jackie French has captivated me again.

Five stars.

Thursday, 29 June 2017

The Love of a Bad Man by Laura Elizabeth Woollett

The Love of a Bad Man 
Laura Elizabeth Woollett
Scribe Publishing 2016

The Love of a Bad Man by Laura Elizabeth Woollett- Book Review by The Incredible Rambling Elimy
The Love of a Bad Man is the first collection of short stories from former Voiceworks editor, Laura Elizabeth Woollett.  It consists of twelve thematically linked pieces, each one told from the imagined point of view of a real female character who was the wife, girlfriend or lover of a notorious 'bad' man.  In this context, bad men generally tend to be killers, and the host of notorious names on the pages of this book range from Adolf Hitler, to Jim Jones, to Charles Manson, and -- closer to home, to Western Australia, where Woollett is originally from-- David Birnie.

This is a chilling collection, but in the most fantastic way.  From page one, Woollett shows that she is skilled at getting inside the heads of different characters.  Each narrative, told in the first person, has its own unique voice, and in many cases, it feels like you are being spoken to directly by the woman in question.  These women were after thoughts or offsiders in the original media reporting of most of these cases, at most, an interesting footnote in the case, or a sidekick to the man who was the brains behind it all.  But Woollett tells their stories in a way which gives them back agency, helping us as readers understand what may have motivated some of these women.  While each story is an interpretation and a fictionalisation, the stories have been meticulously researched and are written in such a way that makes them feel real.  The outcomes vary.  In some pieces, we see the women as victims, such as poor Janice, the girlfriend of Cameron Baker.  In others, they are perpetrators, just as sick and predatory as the men they claim to love, such as Veronica, the young playwright writing letters to Kenneth Bianchi, who was one half of the 'Hillside Stranglers' duo.  By giving them back this agency, Woollett turns the narratives of these women's lives on their heads.

The only story which fell flat for me was the last one, about Wanda Barzee.  It lacked some of the punch of the earlier stories, though I can't seem to put my finger on why.  Highlights of the collection were 'Blanche', which opened the collection, telling the story of Bonnie and Clyde, but also of Buck Barrow (Clyde's brother) and his wife, Blanche, and 'Martha'.  Though I wasn't familiar with every case in the book, it didn't affect my enjoyment of the pieces, and I was able to flick back to the glossary in order to look up who the narrator was and what they may have done.  It would perhaps have been useful to have these descriptions at the end of each piece, but that was only a very minor thing.

I loved this collection as much as someone can love a book about killers.  The writing was fresh and exciting and the characters were unlike any others I'd ever come across.  After a few weeks of reading some fairly average things, it was my absolute pleasure to give this book five out of five stars.

Saturday, 17 June 2017

10 Self Care Tips for Tough Weeks

10 Tips for Self Care in Tough Weeks | The Incredible Rambling Elimy- Book Reviews and Creative Writing
Like most writers, I have a tendency towards being highly emotional.  I'm a naturally anxious person, and I stress out about things a lot.  When I was younger, I thought that these bouts of anxiety were unstoppable.  That once bad things started happening, I just had to ride the roller coaster into periods of feeling depressed or irritable or panicked, and wait for it all to be over.

I know that I'm really lucky-- my anxieties are far less severe than those of others-- but today, I wanted to share with you all some of the things that have really helped me this week (which has been a bit rocky) and at other times of my life when I've felt like I was stuck standing in the path of an avalanche.

I understand that sometimes, things really can get a bit much and that none of these things will help  Different things help different people.  Sometimes, none of these will work for me either.

If you're struggling, the number for Lifeline Australia is 13 11 14.

If you have some tips for things you do that help you feel better, I'd love it if you could share those with me in the comments too.

1. Heat packs

I don't know about you, but I tend to experience lower moods more frequently in the winter.  We've been really lucky (or not, I suppose, if you're a farmer) in Perth this year because this is the mildest winter I can remember.  Today it's about 22 degrees, and my apartment is so warm, I'm not even wearing stockings or a jumper.  One thing that I've found comforting this week has been to take a heat pack with me to bed.  I have two favourites-- one is shaped like a lemur with gigantic eyes which is great for cuddling and smells a little like lavender.  The other is a big pillow shaped like a rainbow unicorn, which is perfect for putting on hunched shoulders or sore lower backs.  Cuddling up to something warm helps to unclench tight muscles or sore, stressed tummies and ensures that I can fall asleep when I need to.

2. Long, rambling walks

Sometimes when I'm emotionally exhausted, one of the best things I can do is to physically exhaust myself too-- to get some sunshine, to look at the scenery, and to pound the pavement.  I'm not naturally a person who enjoys going to the gym (although I know I should be forming a more regular exercise habit), but I do enjoy walking around the area near where I live.  On beautiful sunny days, or even gloomy rainy ones, armed with an umbrella and sturdy boots, I find it relaxing to get outside and walk to places I need to go-- such as the library, the post office, or the coffee shop.  If I'm feeling particularly stressed, I extend this walk and take in the sights.  This morning, I went to the library to return some books and stumbled upon a busting farmers' market.  If I hadn't been walking home, I might have come home with a stack of cute cacti or a knitted coat for my parents' dog...  Seeing the blue sky and all the autumnal leaves, and even the smiling faces of other people out and about walking made me feel pretty upbeat, so I highly recommend this.  If you're like me and sometimes need to avoid silence, try downloading a podcast and listen while you walk.  I recommend The Readers, Adventures with Words or the slightly more risque Banging Book Club.  Better Reading also has some great interviews with authors you can listen to.

3. Pamper

Whatever your personal style may be, there are always some slightly self indulgent things you can do to make your body feel good-- whether that's getting into the shower and washing your hair really thoroughly, or painting your fingernails, or having a bubble bath, or moisturising.  Sometimes, I find that getting into the shower and making myself feel really squeaky clean and fresh is a great way to hit the restart button on a mopey day.

4. Read an amazing book

What kind of a book blogger would I be if I didn't suggest this?  What you want to do during tough times is pick a book that is really going to hold your attention.  If I find myself reaching for my phone to check Facebook every chapter, the book isn't doing the trick.  If the book you've been reading isn't working, try picking up something completely different, a book you've loved in the past or even a childhood favourite.  When in doubt, I always go for Harry Potter, Little Women or Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants.

5. Limit phone use

I've noticed that there's a bit of a cycle with me and my phone going on at the moment.  The more stressed I am, the more I check my phone, which makes me more stressed. There's probably some psychological explanation for this, but for now, all I know is that I need to cut back.  If you're the same, try putting your phone on loud so you don't miss any calls or messages, but leave your phone in another room if you're at home.  Ask a friend or loved one to speak up if they see you've been on your phone a bit much.  If you're out and about, leave it in your bag and try to enjoy whatever it is that you're doing.  Whatever it was that was going on across social media will either still be there later, or wasn't that important to begin with.

6. Do something crafty

I feel less hopeless when I have a project, but if I'm a bit down in the dumps, sometimes it can be hard to get to the desk and write.  One of the other things I really like doing in my down time is knitting and crocheting.  I'm better at crocheting-- I can only knit things that are straight lines, like scarves!  At the moment, I am working on a blanket made of crocheted granny squares, which I am making out of left over wool from other projects.  I'm going to join it together with black wool and make it look like licorice allsorts.  Having this to do with my hands helps me limit my phone use too.

7. Watch something that you can just escape into

I've been watching season 11 of Bones, which in my opinion has lost some of the punch of the earlier seasons-- but I can't stop watching!  Every season, the showrunners tease a plotline that draws me in, so I know I'll watch the final season too, because I've seen they're bringing an old cast member back.  I know that the dialogue is cringeworthy, the cases are a stretch of what's plausible and there's no way that they can do some of the things they pretend to do with technology, but I enjoy watching it because these are characters I've watched for a long time, and it's comforting to see them solving murders, falling in love etc.  Likewise, I used to love watching One Tree Hill, for which I have been teased many times, but hey, for some people it's Bones  and One Tree Hill, for others it's Gossip Girl or Orange is the New Black ... or whatever.  You get the idea.

8. Clean things

Organising my physical space helps me feel like my mind is organised too.  If you're needing a project, try emptying out your wardrobe for a big clean out.

9. A little help from my friends

Talk to someone.  Go for a coffee, write them a letter, invite them over just to hang out.  It's okay to feel down about things, and it's okay to be overwhelmed.  There is no shame in letting people know that you need help, or even just company.

10.  Write about it!

Do you keep a journal?  I do.  Sometimes I can't write about things right away, but if I pour out everything that's been happening, and how I feel about it, onto the page, sometimes it's easier to let go of some of the tension that's built up.  Other things I've found useful this week are:
Making lists of things I need to do.
Writing fiction and getting out of my own head.
Planning upcoming projects and looking ahead.

I hope you're all having a great weekend.   What do you do when you feel a bit overwhelmed?  Let me know in the comments below, or on Facebook, or on Twitter.  (My handle is @BatgirlElimy)

Take care of yourselves.

Sunday, 11 June 2017

What Am I Working On? About Between the Sleepers

In a nutshell...

Between the Sleepers is a wrong side of the tracks love story with a twist.  It follows the story of working class Winston Keller, who falls in love with Sarah Willis, the daughter of a wealthy tycoon. Winston not only has to battle the differences between their social classes, but also the feud that has raged between the two families for a generation. In the midst of all this, World War II breaks out, and Winston finds himself working on the Thai-Burma Railway, while back home, Sarah must work out who she really is and what she really wants.

Between the Sleepers is a 90 000 word Historical Fiction novel set in Fremantle between 1937 and 1945.

It would suit readers who enjoy the works of Deborah Burrows, or The Light Between Oceans by ML Stedman.

About the book...

I've long been a lover of historical fiction.  I remember reading Kate Morton's The Shifting Fog for the first time and being totally blown away by it.  That book has always been a little bit magical to me.  As someone who loves history, the fact that great stories continue to be written which combine the past with the present in such a meaningful and exiting way, is something that makes me extremely happy.

I've been known to describe Between the Sleepers as what would happen if Richard Flanagan's The Narrow Road to the Deep North and Kate Morton's The Shifting Fog had a book-baby.  Those two novels would have to be the biggest influences on this particular work to date.  In writing Between the Sleepers, I've tried to be mindful of the deep reverence Flanagan showed for his subject matter and the scene setting and characterisation in Narrow Road, as well as integrating some of the romance and magic of The Shifting Fog.  

Between the Sleepers begins in 1937 and ends in 1945.  It is the story of Winston Keller, a working class boy with artistic leanings, and Sarah Willis, whose father owns a cigarette factory and is doing quite well for himself.  The two meet at a dinner party and are drawn to one another despite the differences in their situation.  However, Sarah's father isn't particularly keen on the match, and when Winston goes to the Willis house to ask for Sarah's hand, he is sharply rebuffed.  Secrets from his father's past will come back to haunt him in this tale of love, endurance and growing up set in Fremantle, Western Australia.  

Part of this book was written while I was Young Writer in Residence at the Katharine Susannah Prichard Writers' Centre in 2014, and the most recent reworking of the manuscript has been done as part of a mentorship with WA Writer, Annabel Smith.  An earlier draft of my novel was appraised by Deb Fitzpatrick, who wrote that ‘the strengths of this manuscript are many; the clever use of dialogue to reveal characters and keep the pace ticking along is perhaps my favourite.  The authentic detail you populate your scenes with is another.  You are also adept at describing ghastly events…’ 

This is a story that has taken hold of me and won't let go.  I began writing in in 2008 and have rewritten it so many times that I've lost count.  I hope one day I'll be able to share this book with all of you.  

Friday, 9 June 2017

Book Review: Idaho by Emily Ruskovich

Idaho by Emily Ruskovich
Chatto and Windus 2017
I own a copy

Idaho was one of my most anticipated books of 2017.  If I am being totally honest, it was largely due to the striking cover, and the fact that I was seeing it talked about everywhere in the online book reviewing community.  I saw special bound proofs of it on people's Twitter and Instagram feeds (part of a set of YA books being released this year, I think--- bizarrely, as it's not YA at all), and I even saw a few bloggers raving about it early on.

For some reason, I got it into my head that it was an historical novel.  Bizarre, given that American history is seldom something I am drawn to.  But it's not, it's a contemporary novel which switches back and forth over a period of something like forty years.  It's hard to boil down the premise of this book without over simplifying it.  This is a book which is told from multiple perspectives, shedding light on the aftermath of something really terrible that has happened in a particular family.  But, oddly enough, all of the points of view telling this story are removed either by time, or by proximity to the event, so that the perspective being given is really oblique.  The book begins first with a chapter from the point of view of Ann, who is now married to Wade, the father of the family who experienced the tragedy.  Ann was a music teacher at the school where the two girls went, and she taught piano to Wade before the incident.  Ann and Wade were attracted to one another, and in this section, Ann had begun to wonder if perhaps she was somehow responsible for the terrible incident-- I don't think it's spoiling anything to tell you what this incident is, but if you don't want to know, stop reading now.  One day, the Mitchell family go out onto the mountain where they live to chop firewood with their two little girls, May and June.  During this afternoon, the wife, Jenny, kills May with a hatchet and no one is really sure what caused her to do this.  In the confusion, June is left behind on the mountain and never seen again.


And the thing is, the book keeps reiterating the horrible fact of this event, but it doesn't provide us with any resolution.  It's not going to offer you any insight into what happened to June, or why Jenny really did it.  But what it does offer you instead, is a portrait of this really weird extended family, including cell mates and new wives, and then some segments in the past, that tell you a little about the period leading up the event and then the years that followed, without taking you to the event itself.  In the beginning of reading this book, when I was two chapters in and being talked to (in beautiful prose by the way, this woman can really write) by characters who were so peripheral that I felt like nothing was happening, I was tempted to give up this book.  And I thought of all the rave reviews I'd heard and thought to myself, no, there's got to be a payoff.  So I kept reading.

Was there a payoff?  Not of the sort I wanted, but at the same time, I didn't feel ripped off by the ending to this book the way I did with another book that never resolves its trauma which I really loathed-- The Little Friend by Donna Tartt.  I think the real strengths of this book are its prose and its characterisation, but if you go into it looking for plot you're going to get cross.  It's a book you have to read slowly, but if you're willing to do that, there are some real gems to be found.

I gave this book three stars.

Saturday, 3 June 2017

Not a Review: Joiner Bay and other stories

Joiner Bay and other stories
Edited by Ellen van Neerven
Margaret River Press 2017

This is not going to be a review of the 2017 Margaret River Short Story Competition Anthology... because I have a piece in it, and that just wouldn't be fair.  This is just my thoughts... which resemble a review.

But I did want to say that once again, Margaret River Press have done an absolutely stellar job publishing this collection of stories.  From hundreds of entries, the team of judges (including head judge, Ellen van Neerven, who selected the shortlist) have whittled this year's selection down to seventeen different pieces, showcasing the breadth of talent in the Australian short story scene.

Winning piece 'Joiner Bay', by Brisbane-based writer Laura Elvery shows off exactly why Elvery is a name to watch.  With an impressive list of writing credits to her name, including the Griffith Review and The Big Issue, Elvery is a practised hand at the short form.  At the 2017 Margaret River Readers and Writers Festival, Elvery talked a little bit about the inspiration for her piece, which is about a teenage boy who has thrown himself into running after the suicide of his best friend.  But as much as she'd love to chalk it up to snippets of overheard conversations in cafes, it's plain to see from reading 'Joiner Bay' that it's 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration and talent for this writer-- the story reads effortlessly and is a perfect ending to a collection which spans topics of grief, aging, love, survival, confronting past traumas and other such themes.

This collection also features 'Sheen' by Else Fitzgerald, a speculative fiction piece about the not too distant future which took out second place in the competition this year, and 'Harbour Lights' by Leslie Thiele, winner of the South West Writers Prize, sponsored by ECU Bunbury.  In 'Harbour Lights', a clear sense of Bunbury is evoked on the page, as the main character navigates a routine dinner party that takes a nasty turn.

Other stand out stories for me were 'Oh, The Water' by Keren Heenan, which was simple and understated in the most beautiful way; 'Things to Come' by Charlotte Guest, a heartbreaking story about love and the terror of losing control of one's faculties; and 'Still Life with Dying Swan' by Gail Chrisfield, which left me close to tears.

I feel incredibly privileged to have a story in this collection, alongside these writers.

Joiner Bay and Other Stories is published by Margaret River Press, and you can find a copy at any good bookshop.  If they don't have it, make them order it!

Happy reading.

Monday, 29 May 2017

Book Review: Bloodlines by Nicole Sinclair

Nicole Sinclair
Margaret River Press 2017 (I own a copy, courtesy the publisher.)

Nicole Sinclair's debut novel Bloodlines is set between Western Australia and a small island in Papua New Guinea.  It is the story of Beth, who heads to PNG to work with her father's cousin at a mission school, in an attempt to run away from the recent breakdown of a relationship.  From page one, we know that Beth feels guilty for this breakdown, and that she thinks she has done something very bad indeed.  It's a classic tale-- after a life changing event, the protagonist seeks healing through travel.  But there are many layers to Bloodlines besides this.  Told in a literary style, this is a novel which examines the clash between traditional and Western culture, the hangovers of colonialism, relationships, romance, and the power of female friendships.  Strong women abound in the pages of this book, from Beth herself, to her father's cousin Val, who has run the mission school for many years and lives a single but self sufficient life surrounded by the friends she has made, the island women in the compound such as Lena, who makes her own way in the world despite the objections of her brutish and mostly absent husband, and, in flash back, Beth's mother Rose, who leaves home and strikes out on her own in a new state.

The inclusion of the story of Beth's parents' courtship is an interesting stylistic choice, and one which works very well.  Clem and Rose's romance, while following less of a literary bent than the rest of the book, softens what could otherwise be quite a solemn and introspective narrative, and builds on the character of Beth by hinting at the kind of home life she has had and the kind of people who raised her.  While the reader knows from early on that Rose is not alive for most of Beth's life, as their love story progresses, it's easy to enjoy the gradual unfolding of Clem and Rose's courtship.  I admired the simple way that Sinclair wrote these scenes-- there was no purple prose to be found, no sighing, no hearts fluttering.  While the book probably could have functioned without these scenes, I found them a useful inclusion, and they went a long way to making this story an original and familiar one, grounding it in West Australian life.

Truth be told, I didn't expect to enjoy this novel as much as I did.  I've never been particularly interested in books about healing through travel (not since Eat Pray Love...) but Bloodlines won me over.  I found myself bawling in parts, and this is no mean feat-- the only times I seem to cry in books is when dogs die, so for me to cry over the death of a human character is an achievement on the part of the author.

I highly recommend you pick up a copy of this incredible book.

I'll be in conversation with Nicole Sinclair at the State Library of WA on Thursday June 8th at 5.30pm.  You can book tickets here.  

Friday, 26 May 2017

Book Review: Crimson Lake by Candice Fox

Crimson Lake by Candice Fox
Published by Penguin/Random House, 2017
(I borrowed a copy from the library)

I wasn't going to review this book.  In fact, not being a crime reader by nature, I probably wasn't even going to read it, until the lovely Erin chose it for our June Book Club meeting.  That being said, from the prologue, I was totally hooked, and I read the entire book in a twenty-four hour period.  What made Crimson Lake so appealing, I think, mainly comes down to the excellent characters.  We've seen the sleuthing duo trope done many times before, both in books and on television (it's rife on television!  One quirky optimist + one tough pessimist, one or other of them a cop or an ex-cop etc etc) but in Crimson Lake, while this dynamic is still in play, the characters' backstories feed directly into active subplots.  So really, while the plot of Crimson Lake revolves around the disappearance of a Far North Queensland fantasy writer, there are actually three mysteries to be solved by the reader as they follow along with the book.

First in importance to my mind is the mystery of what really happened to Claire Bingley.

Our protagonist and narrator, Ted Conkaffey, has been accused of her abduction, rape and attempted murder but he's innocent (or says he is, but he hasn't revealed himself to be an unreliable narrator to my mind).  It's completely ruined his life.  And while there wasn't enough evidence to go through with the trial (because why risk getting him acquitted?) the police could still pick him up again any time they like.  After spending almost a year in jail, during which his wife has left him, taking their baby daughter with her, Ted moves to Crimson Lake, up in Queensland's top end.  A place where the crocs sing you to sleep of a night and the cops are bent.

Ted is railroaded into teaming up with Crimson Lake's local Private Investigator, Amanda Pharrell.  They have something in common.  A decade ago, Amanda was convicted for the stabbing murder of Crimson Lake teenager, Lauren Freeman.  She spent ten years in jail.

But the more Ted gets to know Amanda, the more he feels there has to be something missing from her story.  She doesn't seem like the kind of cold blooded psycho killer the world seems to think she is.  Mystery number three.

This was a real page turner, and though like many popular crime books these days, the mystery at its heart is a little convoluted (suspend your disbelief and just go with it), I can't wait to read book 2.  Too bad it won't be out until February 2018...

Monday, 22 May 2017

Book Review: The Hope Fault by Tracy Farr

The Hope FaultTracy FarrFremantle Press, 2017 (I own a copy, courtesy of the publisher)

Australia seems to have a habit of claiming talented New Zealanders for their own when it suits them-- but if the talented Kiwi in question is Tracy Farr, I have no problem naming her a West Australian.  After all, she's originally from here.  Tracy's first novel, The Life and Loves of Lena Gaunt was longlisted for the 2014 Miles Franklin Literary Award, and remains to this day one of my favourite novels of all time.  Her second novel, The Hope Fault was released early in 2017, and I have been kicking myself for not getting to it sooner.  More experimental in style than The Life and Loves of Lena Gaunt, The Hope Fault tells the story of an unconventional family, who spend one rainy long weekend packing up a holiday house ready to sell it.  

Yet, to sum up this novel in just that one sentence seems horribly wrong to me.  This is a slow burner of a novel, and one which takes its cues not just from polished literary fiction styles, but also the techniques of poetry and film, geology and-- dare I say it, cross stitching.  Farr's prose is beautiful, her imagery evocative without being overdone.  Some of her scenes last for less than a page, and yet she tells you all you need to know to get inside the heads of her cast of characters.  

The novel takes place in three parts.  The first part is the first half of the long weekend, and we meet Iris Diamond, her son, Kurt and her ex-niece/ daughter of her best friend, Lucy, as they drive down to the old family holiday home at a place called Cassetown, somewhere in WA's coastal South West.  Cassetown is named for a geologist, Casse, who drowned on an expedition to the bay.  (Fairly certain that Cassetown is not a real place, though it seems to be based on real places.)  Joining them at the house are Paul (Iris's ex-husband/ Kurt's father), Kristin (the woman Paul left Iris for) and their as-yet unnamed baby daughter.  Much of the depth of this novel comes from the nuanced way the writer explores the complicated relationships between these characters, and the way that they have become family despite Paul's infidelity to Iris.  

The second part of the novel follows the life of Iris's almost-100 year old mother, Rosa Golden, who was once Rosa Fortune, author of Miss Fortune's Faery Tales.  Rosa's life is told backwards, in 100 jigsaw pieces, some like confessions or diary entries, and others, letters.  The task of revealing the secrets that have shaped both Iris's and Rosa's lives in this reverse fashion would not have been an easy  one, but Tracy Farr has deftly managed to create tension in her narrative here and the result takes the reader into the third section of the novel searching everywhere for hidden meanings that not even the characters know.  

Section three is the last two days of the long weekend, the aftermath of a large House Un-breaking party held by the Diamond clan to send their house off in style.  I won't say much about this part of the novel, as you need to experience it for yourself.  

While I would have loved more of something like Lena, I enjoyed delving into the world of The Hope Fault, and was inspired by the craft of the novel-- the way that something as simple as a family weekend down south can be fertile ground for a literary fiction novel which I would not be surprised to see on prize shortlists in the near future.  

Thursday, 18 May 2017

18 000 Words In

After months of 'not feeling it' creatively, it's really great to be back at the desk (or the kitchen table), working on a project.

It's great to be reserving more books than I could possible read over three weeks from two different libraries, in order to immerse myself fully in the dialect of the era I am writing about.

It's great to feel my fingers flying along the keyboard, retyping familiar words.  It's even better when they go off script, adding or replacing words which are defunct or have no place.

It's great to be showing my work to beta readers, getting feedback-- though always jarring to hear that the things I thought I'd done well were not the parts that stood out, and things I'd overlooked were the parts that shone.  Writing is bizarre.

It's great to be drinking cups of tea.  It's even great to be getting so caught up in writing that I forget said cup of tea, only to take a tepid sip an hour or two later.

It's great to want to rush home from wherever I am of a night and sit down at my desk (or kitchen table).

I am 18 000 words in, and this is the first night since I got the edits back that I have wondered-- am I making this book better, or am I making it worse?

The only way out is through.

Back to the desk. Or kitchen table.  Or wherever.

Monday, 1 May 2017

Book Review: The Midsummer Garden

The Midsummer Garden by Kirsty Manning
Allen and Unwin 2017 (I bought a copy)

I have been wanting a copy of The Midsummer Garden ever since I saw the cover a few months back.  Yes... I judge books by their covers, or rather, I lust after them and want desperately to have them in my collection.  Never underestimate the value of a great jacket design, folks!  When I read the blurb for this gorgeous looking book, I was sold.  Multi-narrative historical fiction, a found object tying the past to the present-- yes please.  It sounded like exactly my cup of tea.  The kind of book I could get absolutely lost in.

And boy, did this book live up to expectations!

Pip Arnet is given a big set of cast iron pots for an engagement gift.  Inside, she finds papers with French recipes written on them, and is intrigued.  Who wrote them, and how long ago?  The answer, revealed to the reader, takes us back to Medieval France, where Artemesia is cooking a lavish feast for the wedding of Lord Bouchard to Lady Rose, and thinking of her own betrothed, Andreas.  As Pip and her partner Jack navigate the bumpy road that comes after their engagement, their love story is bolstered by the story of Artemesia and Andreas, who in a sense, watch over our modern lovers and influence their love story in more ways than Pip and Jack could possibly be aware of.

First of all, Kirsty Manning can write.  This is a book that is first and foremost about romantic relationships.  Love, marriage, and all the stages that come in between.  But at no point is the writing sodden with soppy adjectives.  Manning writes deftly about the emotions associated with loving someone in a mature, engaging way.  While anguish, confusion and heartache all have their roles to play, the book never thumps you over the head with repetitious, overly emotional descriptions, which seems to be the way with quite a few books these days.  I think it can mostly be put down to the fact that the character of Pip is so well-developed.  Yes, she's following the story line that belongs with her relationship, but she's also got a lot else going on too-- just like a real woman would.  She's trying to finish her PhD in Marine Biology, she's trying to figure out what she wants to do with her life, she's worried about her sister... and of course she's fascinated by these beautiful old recipes that were found inside a set of pots given to her on her engagement.

Second, this book is relatively realistic.  Looking at the acknowledgements in the back of the book, Kirsty Manning has spoken to a lot of experts to get this right.  And unlike in so many books of this historical fiction/ contemporary fiction blend, there is no convenient, overly expositional revelation of the truth behind the manuscript that Pip finds.  We, the reader get to know the truth, but Pip only ever gets part of it, and she does with that what she will, which is great.  As someone who studied history, I only wish that some of the convenient coincidences that happen in historical fiction could have happened to me.  (What?  Your great great aunt wrote this diary and you happen to have the other half which reveals who the murderer was?  Great.  Thanks.  I love that you just happened to live in the same city as me even though the artefact is actually from half the world away.  NO.)

Put simply, I really loved this book and I think that if you enjoyed books like Le Chateau by Sarah Ridout, Labyrinth by Kate Mosse or The Shifting Fog by Kate Morton, you'll really love it too.

I gave it four and a half stars.

Friday, 28 April 2017

Book Review: See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt

See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt
Hachette Publishers 2017 (I own a copy, courtesy of the publishers)

Arguably one of the most anticipated Australian debuts of 2017, the word of mouth marketing campaign for Sarah Schmidt's See What I Have Done began late last year, when the book was featured at the Christmas Roadshow as a book to look out for.  A fictional account of the 1892 murders of Andrew and Abby Borden, allegedly at the hands of Andrew's daughter Lizzie, melds the genres of historical fiction and thriller, providing a tantalising premise akin to that of Hannah Kent's Burial Rites.

For many people, the name Lizzie Borden won't be an unfamiliar one.  She is the subject of a chilling rhyme, and it's from this that the book gets its title:

Lizzie Borden took an axe
And gave her mother forty whacks.
When she saw what she had done,
She gave her father forty-one.

And yet, the book calls into question Lizzie's guilt.  Did she really kill her father and stepmother?  And if so, might she have had a good reason.

The answers are not so simple.

Told from four different points of view, See What I Have Done paints a complicated portrait of family life at 92 Second Street, the house where the murders took place.  There is Lizzie, 32 years old and still living at home, teaching Sunday school.  Her voice is an eerily childlike one, hinting at some sort of stunting in her emotional growth.  Then there is Lizzie's elder sister, Emma, also still living at home after a broken engagement.  Lizzie and Emma are close, but Emma often feels stifled by her sister's neediness towards her.  For Lizzie, Emma is a kind of mother figure, as she took over much of the care of her younger sister after the death of their mother at two years old.  Lizzie is not a sweet, innocent kind of needy-- she is in fact a controlling, manipulative and competitive sort, and at times her treatment of Emma is quite cruel.  Yet Emma seems to let her get away with it, and only seems to gain some measure of control over her life once she goes to Fairhaven to stay with a friend.  She has just begun to relish the freedom associated with not replying to Lizzie's letters when the murders occur.  The second point of view in the book belongs to Bridget, a young, Irish maid who appears to be grossly overworked by the Borden women.  She is annoyed by their strict rules of locking all of the doors in the house, and has made two attempts to leave their service, but both times she has been thwarted by Mrs Borden.  The second incident was on the day of the murders.

But it is the final point of view which is the strangest.  It belongs to Benjamin, a young itinerant man who is approached by the Borden girls' Uncle John, and asked to put the hard word to Andrew Borden about the way he treats his daughters.  Benjamin and John travel to Fall River, with the express intention of Benjamin intimidating Andrew Borden, and along the journey, we learn that Benjamin has had a somewhat violent past and has a reputation for being a little bit of a thug.

Not having known much about this story beforehand, I'm not sure if Benjamin was a real character or not, but his presence at the house on the day of the murders does serve an interesting role in getting the story told, particularly when Lizzie's account is less than sound.

If the author's intention here was to leave the reader thoroughly creeped out, then she has certainly achieved her goal.  Lizzie's voice was unsettling and somewhat manic, and led me around and around in circles until I was thoroughly disoriented.  At times, the writing in this novel became almost a stream of consciousness, with certain onomatopoeic words repeated for effect-- such at tick tick for a clock on the mantle.  Most of the action in the novel takes place in the one house or the surrounding area, on the one day, and the result of this plus the off-beat sense provided by the writing style is a kind of tense claustrophobia-- akin to when a secret is being kept by people in close proximity, which in a sense, was true.

This was an interesting novel, but I wasn't as blown away by it as I had hoped that I would be.  Instead of the kind of historical recreation that I adore, this novel took more cues from a kind of tense, domestic thriller, akin to books like Gone Girl, minus a shocking twist at the end.  I think the writing in this book was stunning, the metaphors and similes fresh and stimulating, the characterisation of Lizzie and Emma in particular was spectacular, and the novel completely distinguished itself from anything else out there.  But I wanted more.  I wanted secrets and twists, and the novel just didn't go deep enough into the why for that.

I gave this book 4 stars.

Friday, 21 April 2017

Back Between the Sleepers once more

Those of you I've met around the place in Perth this year will probably know that I've been working on a collection of short fiction entitled "Well-Behaved Women".  This collection, featuring the stories which have been previously published or shortlisted in other places, as well as some new work I've been developing over the last six months, has been a consuming project.  I was inundated with different character voices I didn't know I'd been storing up for later.  All sorts of things were inspiring me.  The news.  Our trip to Albany.  Classic Australian literature.  People I saw on the street.  I was getting close to having enough stories to start thinking about arrangement.

And then everything came to a crashing halt.  

I mean everything.  My short stories, this blog... even writing in my journal.  I was fresh out of ideas, and what's more, I was completely out of words for the stories I was trying to rework.  

All of this happened at around the time of the Perth Writers' Festival which was two months ago now.  

You see, I handed over the manuscript of my historical fiction novel to a local writer who had offered to mentor me.  I thought I would be fine, that I would work away on my short stories, practise my craft, sharpen the knives of my prose on the metaphorical whetstone so to speak.  But the part of my brain that writes fiction seemed to shut down.  

Okay, I thought.  That's fine.  I'll have a break.  I'll read some of the many novels piling up next to my bed and on my desk and in our living room.  I'll write some reviews.  I'll get myself mentally ready for the next draft of Between the Sleepers.  I had a few months.  I would be fine.  

Essentially, I was going to trick myself into writing again, but I wasn't going to be fooled by myself that easily, as it seemed.  

As time wore on, it got worse and worse.  It reached its apex two weeks ago when I couldn't even bring myself to write during one of the fortnightly Write Nights sessions which I help run at the Centre for Stories.  Writing prompts did not move me, writing books did not move me, listening to Elizabeth Gilbert's podcast did not move me and meditation did not move me.  By this point, I was ropeable.  I had a mini tantrum just the other night because I felt like I was turning into a blocked drain with legs.  

And then, like the clouds parting after a particularly vicious storm, a thought came to me while I was sitting at my desk at work.  Just a simple premise at first, but then layers started to build until I had a character and a situation.  I quickly scribbled them down, and that night, when writing time came around... 1000 words came.  

And then the next day, my manuscript assessment came back.  So now, it's time to get down to business on the tenth draft of Between the Sleepers, and wait for the short story well to fill up again.  

Monday, 17 April 2017

Easter Long Weekend- The Four Day Book Binge

I don't know about all of you, but I find it somewhat frustrating when I go a while without finishing any books.  I've had writer's block lately, and I've also been reading really long fantasy novels that were recommended to me, so I actually was reading-- but it had started to feel like all I ever did was sit around watching television.  It's the Netflix curse.  It's far too easy to turn the TV on now and then realise a few hours later that you've forgotten to do vital things like wash clean clothes for the next day, or take a shower, or exercise.  (Just kidding.  You can't forget to do something you had no intention of doing in the first place... although I really should...)

Anyway, with the glorious prospect of a four day weekend ahead of me (thank you, Easter), I decided to hit the reset button, and set myself a reading challenge.  I was going to finish four books in four days.  Or, to be realistic, I knew that I could probably finish two books in that time, but that if I really loved the books I chose, I could probably make it to four.  So I aimed high.

It's been a great weekend.  Many cups of tea have been consumed.  In fact, I have had so many cups of tea this weekend that my boyfriend is sick of making them for me.  (He shouldn't make such delicious tea, then I wouldn't ask him all the time.)  I've eaten WAY too much chocolate (see above comment about exercise.)  And I've almost finished my fourth book.  I also have a slightly sore back from lazing around so much but I'm not going to dwell on that.

Here are the books I read over the long weekend.

Before they are Hanged by Joe Abercrombie

The last book in the the First Law trilogy.  This was a recommendation from the boyfriend, who loved these books he's devoured all three of these, plus the three companion novels, and is currently reading the recently released short story collection from the same universe.  Yep.  He loves them.  And I can see why.  There are a lot of tropes in fantasy, but Abercrombie's characterisation is complex and challenging, and it's not always true that you can see clearly who the good guys are and the bad guys are.  It's hard to guess any of the major plot points in these books but they've clearly been thought out.  I really enjoyed jumping out of my comfort zone and into the realm of epic fantasy... but gosh did these books take FOREVER to read.  Full disclosure, I was halfway through this book when I woke up Friday.

The Hidden Hours by Sara Foster

I think Sara Foster has really hit her stride with her last two novels, which were more firmly grounded in the thriller genre.  She's a master of making you turn the page, enticing her reading through a trail of breadcrumbs to keep going until the whole book has been read in a single sitting.  I loved that the premise of The Hidden Hours was a murder within the publishing industry, because it was that detail which made this reader who usually avoids crime novels pick up this book as soon as the library got it in stock (in fact, she may have asked the library to get it.)  Through a recent trend in domestic thrillers which feature a central character who is not a detective or part of the police, books like this are challenging the typical and frankly sometimes tired murder mystery genre, experimenting with unreliable, inexperienced and sometimes untrustworthy points of view to force the reader to take a more active role in the investigation.  Though the fact that Eleanor, the main character of The Hidden Hours, was unable to remember her part in the crime because of memory loss led me to think of The Girl on the Train, I relished the way that Foster used clever characterisation to flip notions of 'victim' and 'perpetrator' on their heads.  I definitely recommend you read this.  Make sure you have a whole day free.

The Wrath and the Dawn and The Rose and the Dagger by Renee Ahdieh

A YA/ Romance retelling of the 1001 Nights, The Wrath and the Dawn and it's sequel, The Rose and the Dagger tell the story of Shahrzad, who volunteers to wed the caliph of Khorasan, knowing full well that he murders his brides with a silver cord at dawn.  She enters the marriage intent on getting revenge for the murder of her best friend, Shiva, but discovers that there is more to the situation than meets the eye.  But can that ever excuse what has been done?  I've not finished the sequel yet, and I'll be back in the chair after this to do so, but what I love about these books is the way the elements of the setting and the culture have been gently braided into the narrative, the strength of Shahrzad as a character, and the effortless feel of the romance between the two main characters.  There are no heaving bosoms, there are very few cliches, and I completely believe that these characters belong together without the author having to lecture me about it.  She saves her words for more important parts of the plot.  I recommend if you're going to read book one, you have book two ready to go-- don't make the mistake I made, finishing book one when all the libraries and bookstores were out of your reach.

Now that I'm feeling nice and rested (and actually ready to go back to work... who knew!?), hopefully my writer's block will go away.  
Here's hoping!

Monday, 10 April 2017

Progress Report- Most Anticipated Reads

Last December, I posted this piece about the books coming out in the first half of 2017 I was excited to get my hands on.  But like so many bookworms, I have a habit of never getting around to reading all of the things I want to read-- or, even worse, buying them, and letting them pile up and never reading them.  In an effort to keep myself accountable, I thought I'd check in and see how many of the books I wanted to read I had actually read!

I've removed a few that aren't out yet or have only just been released.

The Fifth Letter by Nicola Moriarty

Have I read it?  Yes!

Did I love it? Yes!  I enjoyed this book so much more than the latest book by that other famous Moriarty and I would definitely put another book by Nicola Moriarty on my most anticipated books list again.  


Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders

Have I read it? No, but I do own it.  I am hoping to get to it very soon!

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

Have I read it? Yes.

Did I love it? The Possessions is already a strong contender for one of my top books of the year. It was dark and delicious with this intelligent, Margaret Atwood style writing and I want more. 


The Roanoke Girls by Amy Engel

Have I read it?  Not yet but I do own it.

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

Have I read it?  It one of the books on my TBR pile next to my bed.  I still can't believe I didn't read this months ago when I first got the proof copy.  

Read more on Sarah Schmidt's blog if you dare!

Difficult Women by Roxane Gay

Have I read it?
Technically yes, but I didn't finish it.  

Did I love it? No.  I was a bit disappointed in this book. 


The Keeper of Lost Things by Ruth Hogan

Have I read it?

Am I still going to? Probably not!  This was a case of cover lust for me and I have to be realistic--- there are only so many books I can read a year.  

You Too Can Have a Body Like Mine by Alexandra Kleeman

Have I read it?
Am I still going to?  Again, probably not.  

Trapeze Act by Libby Angel

Have I read it? No, but I own it and I plan on getting to it soon.

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

Have I read it? Yes, I finished it last week and I can't believe I read this in Primary School.  There's no way I would have understood all the references to drugs and clinics and prostitution back then.  Still an excellent book.  I am now pondering whether I want to read all of the Melling Sisters books.  

Her Mother's Secret by Natasha Lester

Have I read it yet?  

Did I love it?  I love all of Natasha's books and always enjoy escaping into them.


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

Have I read it? Just finished it recently.
Did I love it?  It was pretty delightful and made a great weekend read.  My favourite Burrows is still definitely Taking a Chance though.


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

Have I read it yet?
No!  And I have had it since before Christmas.  Shameful.

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

Have I read it yet? Again, no!  I am sorry Tracy.  *Hangs head in shame*

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

Have I read it yet? No, but I just got it for my birthday last week. 

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

Have I read it yet? No, but I think this will be one I get out of the library at some point.  It is definitely a subject I am interested in but I have been drawn to other sorts of books recently.  

From Goodreads: Kate Dowd’s mother raised her to be a lady but she must put away her white gloves and pearls to help save her family’s sheep farm in New South Wales.

It is 1945, the war drags bitterly on and it feels like the rains will never come again. All the local, able-bodied young men, including the husband Kate barely knows, have enlisted and Kate’s father is struggling with his debts and his wounds from the Great War. He borrows recklessly from the bank and enlists two Italian prisoners of war to live and work on the station.

With their own scars and their defiance, the POWs Luca and Vittorio offer an apparent threat to Kate and Daisy, the family’s young Aboriginal maid. But danger comes from surprising corners and Kate finds herself more drawn to Luca than afraid of him.

Scorned bank managers, snobbish neighbours and distant husbands expect Kate to fail and give up her home but over the course of a dry, desperate year she finds within herself reserves of strength and rebellion that she could never have expected.

The Woolgrower’s Companion is the gripping story of one woman’s fight to save her home and a passionate tribute to Australia’s landscape and its people.

Before You Forget by Julia Lawrinson

Have I read it yet? No, which is ridiculous because it won't take me long and I know I am going to love it.  

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.

Scorecard: 6/ 22

Hmmm time to get reading I think!  

Have you read any of these?  Let me know what you thought in the comments.