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.