wild colonial girl

A freelancer moves to Castlemaine

Archive for the category “Novels”

Festivals: Clunes Booktown, Sydney Writers’ Festival + how to approach them

Alex Miller, Castlemaine-based author and winner of Victorian Premiers Literary Award for Coal Creek, will feature at Clunes Booktown

Alex Miller, Castlemaine-based author and winner of Victorian Premiers Literary Award for Coal Creek, will feature at Clunes Booktown

Before I head into a general ramble about festivals, I’ll get the topical bit out of the way to say: yes, I am in! May is festival time so if you live in Sydney, Melbourne, or the regions surrounding me (Ballarat, Bendigo, Castlemaine, etc), please come and see my fest debuts; it’s always nice to have bums on seats. And I always like to get audience questions from people I already know.

CLUNES BOOKTOWN, 3-4 MAY

This is one of my favourite festivals, where the beautiful old streets are taken over by second hand booksellers; a literary paradise. It’s a nice day trip from Melb or a fun weekender.

I’m excited to be including on the program, doing a session with graphic novelist Nicki Greenberg (where we push the boundaries of the novel), plus I’ll be pushing things even further when I head up on stage for the first time with my dad, Nigel Krauth, also an author (well, he did win the Vogel Award for his first novel Matilda My Darling and the NSW Premiers Literary Award for JF Was Here). We’ll be duelling light sabres and talking about how to write fathers and daughters and how we both get caught up in our own and shared fictions.

My sessions at Clunes:

Sat 3 May: 11.15-12.15, Pushing the Boundaries of the Novel, with Nicki Greenberg, Venue: Warehouse

Sun 4 May: 12.30-1.30, Writing the father Writing the daughter, with Nigel Krauth, Venue: Warehouse

The highly esteemed Alex Miller and Henry Reynolds will also be in attendance. Full programme is available here.

SYDNEY WRITERS’ FESTIVAL, 19 + 22 MAY

Felicity Castagna, Friday Night Fictions author, will be doing a session with me about first novels at Sydney Writers' Festival

Felicity Castagna, Friday Night Fictions author, will be doing a session with me about first novels at Sydney Writers’ Festival

One of the things I love about writers’ festivals these days is that they’re spreading like a virus out of the inner-urban into regional areas. I’m very excited to be appearing in Katoomba in the Blue Mountains (where just_a_girl is set) alongside another debut author Felicity Castagna (whose work appeared in Friday Night Fictions).

Again, city-dwellers could do a great day trip or locals will probably already have their tickets. Apparently they are selling well.

What I’m really keen on is that two of my favourite writers of the moment (Richard Flanagan – YES! – and Emma Donoghue) will also be in Katoomba. I’ll be staying at Varuna, the famous retreat for writers, so I’ll be able to suss it out before returning to hopefully work on the second novel at some point this year.

I never would have dreamed when I was about to launch my book that down the track I would be talking about marketing, but there you go. At Forest for the Trees, an all-day NSW Writers’ Centre seminar on the state of publishing, I’ll be hanging out with Kate Forsyth and discussing how you go about marketing novels, and how social media (and blogging) can help. I like to target these sessions to the modern introvert (like me) who can go a long way to promote their work without moving from their bedroom (except to get the occasional cup of tea).

My sessions at Sydney Writers’ Festival:

Here and Now: Debut Fiction, Monday 19 May, 10–11.10am, Carrington Hotel, Katoomba. (More info – tickets for session at venue or day passes available.)

Forest for the Trees: Writing and Publishing in 2014, how to publish and market a debut novel, Thursday 22 May, State Library of NSW, 10am–4.30pm. (More info – tickets available from SWF website.)

THE GENTLE ART OF APPROACHING WRITERS’ FESTIVALS

Richard Flanager, author of my fave book from last year, will also be appearing in Katoomba as part of the SWF

Richard Flanagan, author of my fave book from last year, will also be appearing in Katoomba as part of the SWF

I don’t tend to think of myself as naive, but if I’m being completely honest, perhaps I’m a bit more like my character Layla than I tend to admit.

Along the marketing ride (I mean gallop)  for just_a_girl, some things have taken me by surprise. One has been the notion of the writers’ festival.

Now I have been going to writers’ festivals since I was a child. My dad Nigel Krauth (see Clunes above) sometimes took me along to his sessions (I remember CUB Malthouse in Melbourne) and I’d watch with pride and awe as he read filthy passages that made me blush and roll my eyes, and fielded questions from the audience as if he was very important. In my twenties and thirties I attended many festivals as a reader, never in quite as much awe, but keen to glean as much know-how as I could, for the day when I would be a famous writer.

But back to earth. Writers’ festivals are quite hard to get into. I didn’t know this. I never did the maths (ie 10,000 aspiring writers does not equal 400 writers in festival program). I thought that once I had a novel published, there it was. I was a WRITER now. I wasn’t emerging any more. I was OUT. THERE. There’s this book in your hand. Anyone can see it. Feel free to programme me.

But no. Like anything else these days, it is no longer just about the book. It’s about the writer. And you have to sell your soul! I mean, your self. This is all about strategy. It’s taken me nearly a year to break into the festival circuit (since just_a_girl was published). Here are a few things that I’ve learnt so far that could help:

Tim Ferguson, author and DAAS (see earlier blog post), will be teaching comic writing at Sydney Writers' Festival

Tim Ferguson, author and DAAS (see earlier blog post), will be teaching comic writing at Sydney Writers’ Festival

1. You need to get in early. It’s good to think about approaching festivals pretty soon after the last one has finished. Not too soon … but.

2. The personal touch works. Don’t just send a media release with a review copy of your book. Write about you, what you’re about, why you wrote your book, how your angle differs from everyone else’s.

3. Offer to do extra stuff. Look you’ll get taken advantage of, but that’s the fucking industry all over, isn’t it! Offer to convene other sessions (if you’re the extroverted type) or blog about other sessions (more my style).

4. Try the regional angle. Of course everyone wants to get into Sydney and Melbourne and they have wonderful prestige and the chance to hobknob but in terms of promoting your books, you might get lost in the crowd…Look for festivals in your area (see Clunes Booktown again!) or check out online databases of literary festivals and try a smaller one that concentrates on your genre.

My good mate Walter Mason (Destination Cambodia) will be appearing with Stephanie Dowrick at Sydney Writers Festival

My good mate Walter Mason (Destination Cambodia) will be appearing with Stephanie Dowrick at Sydney Writers Festival

5. Rejection is hard. The difficult thing about being knocked back from festivals is if you focus on point 2 above, as you need to, it can start to feel personal. Not only does the festival not want the book, they can’t place you as a person either. But each festival director is different, looking for a new angle on old topics. Look at the program and see where you slot in. Try again next time. Try and find another writer working in a similar vein. Are they sexier than you? Good. Use them. Pitch as a team.

6. Look to the experts. I commissioned Angela Meyer, of LiteraryMinded fame, to write a terrific sum-up of how to appear at writers festivals for Newswrite magazine (NSW Writers’ Centre) because she’s been to loads. Her article has since been reproduced at ArtsHub so it’s a great starting point…

AND WHAT ABOUT YOU? DO YOU GO TO WRITERS FESTIVALS? WHICH ARE YOUR FAVOURITES — AS READERS OR WRITERS?

Wild Colonial Girl has a Facebook page too! If you could LIKE I would really LOVE.

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Friday Night Fictions: February 2014

Michele Forbes, Ghost Moth

Our FNF debut author of the month is Michele Forbes. I look forward to reading Ghost Moth and talking to her about it…

Welcome back to another year of Friday Night Fictions, for debut authors (novelists, short story writers) in all genres and formats (self-published and digital-only welcome!). Over the break, I did a wonderful interview with Tracy Farr, author of the lyrical and memorable The Life and Loves of Lena Gaunt. I also met a number of other writers featured here (at the Victorian Premiers Literary Awards, all pomp and ceremony) including Kate Belle (The Yearning, in the August edition) and Laura Jean McKay, who you will meet soon, talking about her short story collection, Holiday in Cambodia (November edition).

This year I’ve decided to make FNF a three-monthly event, rather than monthly, and I hope it continues to grow in 2014 and recognise new talent.

I’ve found myself a tad time-poor lately and I’m keen to return on the blog to writing about issues burning within me — like the transformation of Matthew McConaughey in True Detectives and Dallas Buyers’ Club. If you haven’t seen this TV series and film, his performances are extraordinary. I’d like to wrestle with that at some point.

I’ve got a busy year coming up. I’ve finally broken the festival barrier (more of that to come), I’m busily seeking an office in the Maine, I’ve started to apply for grants so I can actually afford to write, and I’ve just begun researching my next book (oh, how I LOVE libraries). In the meantime, I continue to look into ways to market and promote just_a_girl, I’m enjoying all the reviews and ‘best of’ lists that happened over the Christmas period, and I hope all you debut authors are enjoying success too.

If you are a writer keen to promote your debut novel published in 2013 or 2014 (or know someone who is), please read the guidelines before submitting your book to FRIDAY NIGHT FICTIONS. Australian and international authors all welcome. You can also check out previous editions too. The next soiree will be at the end of May…

Here’s the selection for February: as usual, a brilliantly eclectic mix… happy reading, everyone! And this month I’ve plucked the debut author Michele Forbes to be featured in an upcoming interview. I look forward to reading her novel set in Northern Ireland, Ghost Moth, and talking about it in upcoming months.

WARREN CRAIG SHAN, Abandoned

Abandoned, Warren ShanA girl of approximately two years of age is found abandoned on a park bench in Glasgow, Scotland in 1979.

Named Emily, by the Scottish welfare system, she is discovered to be fundamentally different.

Five narrators recount their experience when their lives cross with this extraordinary girl/woman as she journeys through the various stages of her life.

Genre: Mystery/thriller/science fiction

The book is available for sale via the folllowing outlets:

Amazon.com.au

Kobo

MICHELE FORBES, Ghost Moth

GhostMothA stunning new voice reminiscent of Maggie O’Farrell, which has been acclaimed by John Banville, Sebastian Barry, Roddy Doyle and Anne Enright. Unabridged edition, written and read by Michele Forbes.

GHOST MOTH will transport you to two hot summers, 20 years apart.

Northern Ireland, 1949. Katherine must choose between George Bedford — solid, reliable, devoted George — and Tom McKinley, who makes her feel alive. The reverberations of that summer — of the passions that were spilled, the lies that were told and the bargains that were made — still clamour to be heard in 1969. Northern Ireland has become a tinderbox but tragedy also lurks closer to home. As Katherine and George struggle to save their marriage and silence the ghosts of the past, their family and city stand on the brink of collapse…

Surprising, mesmerising and astonishingly written, GHOST MOTH will show you the extraordinary in the ordinary.

Meet Michele at her blog

Buy the book at Amazon

ISABELLA HARGREAVES, The Persuasion of Miss Jane Brody

The Persuasion of Miss Jane Brody, Isabelle HargreavesThe Persuasion of Miss Jane Brody is set in Regency England. Jane Brody is a passionate follower of Mary Wollstonecraft’s beliefs in the rights of women. She campaigns for better education and employment opportunities for girls so they can be independent of men.

Jonathan Everslie, Marquis of Dalton, needs a wife and heir, but can’t find a woman who doesn’t bore him. Then he meets Jane Brody. He finds her attractive, but her politics dangerous.

After Jane’s father dies, she is left to raise her younger siblings. Her efforts to support them by running a girls’ school fail because Society decries her beliefs.

The conservative Marquis of Dalton wants her, but can Jane overcome her fears and put aside her beliefs to marry him to save her family? Will Dalton risk his political career to win Jane’s love and persuade her that they belong together?

Buy the book

Read an extract


LISA KNIGHT, The View From Here

The View From Here, Lisa KnightMillie has decided that this will be her year for a relationship and when she meets sexy plumber Adam things start to look up, until he dumps her after what she thought was a fabulous date.

Unknown to Millie, Adam is only trying to keep her out of harm’s way from the rather villainous Stan, who’s out to collect on a gambling debt.

It takes a bit of stalking and an accidental back kick to bring down the bad guy, leaving the path wide open for Millie and Adam to really get to know each other.

Buy the book

Read an extract

KIRSTEN KRAUTH, just_a_girl

Kirsten Krauth, just_a_girlLayla is only 14. She cruises online. She catches trains to meet strangers. Her mother, Margot, never suspects. Even when Layla brings a man into their home.

Margot’s caught in her own web: an evangelical church and a charismatic pastor. Meanwhile, downtown, a man opens a suitcase and tenderly places his young lover inside.

just_a_girl tears into the fabric of contemporary culture, a Puberty Blues for the digital age, a Lolita with a webcam, it’s what happens when young girls are forced to grow up too fast. Or never get the chance to grow up at all.

““Krauth’s debut is alive with ideas about isolation and connection in the digital age, particularly the way the internet raises the stakes of teenage rebellion.” – Jo Case, The Australian

Read an extract

Buy the printed version at ReadingsBooktopia or Amazon

The ebook is available at Amazon.com.au and iBooks.

See reviews of just_a_girl here.

Contact Kirsten at Goodreads, her blog (Wild Colonial Girl), Facebook and Twitter.

GABRIELLE TOZER, The Intern

The Intern, Gabrielle Tozer“Melons. The girls. Gazongas. I could rattle off every nickname in the world for my boobs — oops, nearly forgot jubblies — but it didn’t change the fact they were small. Embarrassingly small. Think grapes over melons, fun-size bags over fun bags, shot glasses over jugs.

Which was why I shouldn’t have been surprised when my boobs were the catalyst for squeals of laughter from my younger sister, Kat, on the eve of an important day. A Very Important Day.

‘Geez, put those puppies away,’ Kat smirked from my bedroom doorway. ‘Some of us haven’t had lunch yet and I’d hate to lose my appetite.’

I paused from rifling through piles of crumpled clothes on my bed. ‘What? I don’t know what you —’

‘Just look down,’ said Kat, tossing her jet-black ponytail. I hated when she did that.

Following her instructions, I looked down and saw my left nipple peeking out of my bra.”

Visit Gabrielle at her blog, Facebook and Twitter for more information

Available to buy in all good bookstores and online, via BooktopiaBoomerang Books and Book Depository.

ROWENA WISEMAN, Searching for Von Honningsbergs

Searching for Von Honnigsbergs, Rowena WisemanLawson is sent overseas to retrieve three paintings for a Kurt Von Honningsberg exhibition.

He has a thorny love affair with an anorexic Russian Latvian firetwirler, does a deal with two shady characters in Brazil and runs for his life from a madman in Beijing.

When Lawson discovers that he has actually become involved in an art world scam, he begins to question the true value of art.

Read an extract on Goodreads

Available as an ebook from Screwpulp

Contact Rowena via her blog or Twitter

Debut author profile: Tracy Farr

Author Tracey Farr, photo: Liane McGee

Author Tracy Farr, photo: Liane McGee

Tracy Farr’s debut novel The Life and Loves of Lena Gaunt featured in the October soiree of Friday Night Fictions. Dame Lena Gaunt is in her 80s. She takes gentle doses of heroin, she swings between men and women as lovers and confidantes, she moves with the times via Perth, Sydney, various parts of Asia and New Zealand, all the while dreaming of her electrified passion: the theremin (see Clara Rockmore playing it).

As Lena raises her fingers and moves her body, Farr’s lyrical and elegant prose places us in the picture — an audience for memories and music — as Lena negotiates a documentary crew keen to capture a look-back at her life. The idea of documentary sets up a dynamic tension between what Lena wants to reveal, and what actually happened to her. She occasionally hides behind the persona of a vague elderly lady, all the while sorting out just who she can trust.

I’m always drawn to writers who pack an emotional punch by holding things back. Jon Bauer does it well. Jo Case and Annabel Smith too. It’s something I aim for in my writing: to not tell readers what to feel, but to hope they feel it deeply anyway.

It’s exciting to read a debut novelist as exciting as Farr, as she has a career set in writing novels. Her fiction is strong and unique. She is about to head (from Wellington in NZ) to Perth for the writers’ festival. I spoke to her about how to capture a long life in fiction.

Do you remember the moment when you decided you wanted to be a writer?

I don’t remember one moment. The ‘want’ was there from a young age. I wrote mostly songs and narrative poems when I was a kid, and I always kept journals and notebooks for scribbling and sketching. It wasn’t until I was in my late twenties that I started trying to write stories, though. Even then, I was tentative and unsure about my abilities. I was slow to come out of the author-closet and declare myself even a wanna-be writer.

What inspired you to set out on the long road to writing a novel?

The Life and Loves of Lena GauntThere are several unfinished novels in the bottom drawer; Lena wasn’t my first attempt at writing a novel, just the first one that was worth finishing. When I first started trying to write fiction, it was writing a novel that I had in mind — or a novella, in the vein of Brenda Walker’s Crush and One More River. But I just didn’t have the staying power — I’d get ten or twenty thousand words in, even forty thousand, then hit a big wall. I pulled back; I wondered if I could somehow develop my writing muscles by writing short stories, and that seemed to work for me. The novel and short story are very different forms, but I needed to learn how to write by learning to write short stories. Once I had the idea for Lena Gaunt, I realised I could trick myself into writing that novel by thinking of it as a series of related short stories. I’ve learnt enough through the process of writing this novel that I haven’t felt the need to trick myself into the next novel in the same way.

What is it that you love most about writing?

Moving words around until they start to sing; inventing other lives; surprising myself; shutting myself away and (literally or metaphorically) curving my arm around the page to write and write and write and perfect before letting the words out to the world.

I love what comes after the writing, too; that once my novel is out in the world, what I intended as its meaning is irrelevant — it comes down to what the text says to a reader, and how the reader receives it. I love the idea that there are readings of the book that I haven’t foreseen (or consciously invited, or intended), and that it has a life beyond and without me.

What do you put off doing when you sit down at your desk?

Housework (happily). Gardening (wistfully). Socialising (guiltily). Television/DVDs (smugly). Reading (mournfully).

How did you go about getting the book published?

It was a long, long road. When I finished the first polished draft of the novel, I didn’t  — I still don’t — have an agent and I knew that, without one, I needed to rely on my contacts, and/or submit it to the few publishers that will still accept unsolicited manuscripts directly from authors. Several of the publishers I fancied fell within that set, so I thought I’d give it a go without an agent.

So I sent that finished, but early, draft of the novel to a New Zealand publisher who I’d been in touch with over the years, and who’d been keen to see a novel from me. They knocked it back. I was devastated, even though I’d been pretty sure that the novel I’d written wasn’t the novel they were looking for from me, and even though I knew the novel needed more work, and wasn’t yet the best it could be. In that devastated, desolate, rejected state, I fired the MS off in a mad hurry — as it was, still needing work — to the slush pile of an Australian publisher. That rejection, when it came, hurt less. I pulled my head in, paused, took a breath.

I worked for a solid six months on a major revision, overhauled the MS, took in comments from my wonderful early readers, then sent the much-improved MS, unsolicited, to Fremantle Press. Fremantle Press was always in my sights as a natural home for the novel, particularly because the story was so strongly grounded in place, and that place was Cottesloe Beach, near where I grew up in Perth. It was nearly six months after sending them the MS that I received the news that they were keen, but thought it still needed work; would I consider working with them to revise the MS? Yes, I would. We worked back and forth for nearly eighteen months — slowly, but as fast as their schedule and mine allowed — on the MS before, in June 2012, we signed the contract to publish.

Your writing moves between Perth, Sydney, New Zealand, and various parts of Asia. How did you go about researching and recreating these very different parts of the world?

I’m originally from Perth, I lived there until I was nearly 30. I left Perth in 1991, the year the contemporary part of the novel is set, so Perth in 1991 is very real, very specific to me, sort of set in amber — a time before mobile phones and the internet, before we were all connected. When I started writing the novel I was living for a month in Perth, up in the hills at Katharine Susannah Pritchard Writers’ Centre as Writer in Residence, and I’d catch the bus and the train and the bus to Cottesloe and walk around and breathe the air, watch the light, listen to the streets, when I needed to remind myself of the setting.

I’ve spent time in most of the places the novel is set in. The sections of the novel that are set in Sydney I originally set in New York, where the theremin was actually invented in the 1920s. But I only knew New York from movies and, more importantly, I wanted to move firmly away from the ‘real’ characters — Leon Theremin, Clara Rockmore — who had inspired my characters and their story, and move them closer to what was home for Lena. It was only when I started rewriting scenes from their New York setting that I realised the gift that a move to Sydney in the timeframe of that section would give me: Sydney Harbour Bridge under construction. I layered research on Sydney in the 1920s and early 1930s with my own memories of a long summer spent in Sydney at the age of 16 (about Lena’s age when she arrives there).

I had fantastic resources to draw on for the sections of the novel set in (and travelling to) Singapore and Malacca. My paternal grandmother shares with the fictional Lena Gaunt a birth place and year (Singapore, 1910), childhood in Singapore and Malacca, and jaunts back to boarding school in Perth, and in writing Lena’s story I leaned heavily on stories my grandmother told me over the years, as well as written resources from her father, my great-grandfather. I was able to overlay their experience of South-East Asia early in the twentieth century with mine of the same places sixty or seventy years later.

In all of these very specific settings, though, I wasn’t aiming for strict historical realism. I was seeking to create a version of each time and place that was intensely believable within the context of the novel, yet was — filtered through Lena’s eyes and experiences — slightly off-true, off-kilter.

The novel shifts from historical to contemporary fiction as you trace Lena’s life. How difficult was it to structure this so it moves seamlessly?

That was one of the biggest challenges in the revision process. I wrote the contemporary sections quite separately from the historical sections, and I wrote each of those historical sections quite separately from the other historical sections. There was also a whole other part of the novel in earlier drafts — it didn’t make it in the final cut — in the voice of the filmmaker character, Mo Patterson, and stretching forward in time to the 2010s. I worked hard, through revisions, on the relative weights (in word length as well as emotional weight) of the sections, and on where and how to interleave the contemporary sections with the historical sections. I found it really interesting that in the final structural revision — a really fantastic process of tightening and fine-tuning, and the murder of a few darlings — some of the most effective changes were those that shifted a paragraph or even a whole chapter, say from the end of one section to the start of the next; it was unpicking the endpoints that were artefacts from my writing process. Working collegially with my editors was a really pleasant and unexpectedly energising part of the publishing process; I had great editors, and I always felt as if my book and I were in safe hands.

With your lyrical prose, you beautifully capture the magic of the theremin. When did you come up with the idea of Lena playing this mesmerising instrument and was the character based on an existing figure?

Lucie Rosen and the theremin, Caramoor Centre for Music and the Arts

Lucie Rosen and the theremin, Caramoor Centre for Music and the Arts

I’d first seen the theremin played live when I went to see the band Pere Ubu in Vancouver in the mid-90s. Mesmerising is just the word; I couldn’t take my eyes off it. It was more than ten years later that I watched the documentary Theremin: An Electronic Odyssey. The film — a history of this bizarre musical instrument and its inventor, Lev Termen (usually anglicised as Leon Theremin) — was where I encountered Clara Rockmore, the first virtuoso player of the theremin. About that time, I’d started writing notes, circling around a character I wanted to write about, a musician. I knew, when I watched that film, that I’d found Lena’s instrument — an instrument you play without touching was perfect. But I knew I didn’t want to base my character, Lena, strictly on Clara, so I more or less stopped my research then and there. Film and still images of Clara — from a young girl to an old woman — in the documentary gave me some really strong visual cues for Lena. I started with a lot of notes based on my recollection of the film, then as I developed the character, I aimed to distance myself and Lena from the film and from real life events. Clara Rockmore was a starting point for Lena, rather than a model.

Do you have a writing community where you live? Do you like the company of other writers when working on drafts, or are you someone who prefers to go it alone?

Wellington has a really strong community of writers and people who care about writing and books. We have the International Institute of Modern Letters at Victoria University, and writing courses at Whitireia and Massey University; New Zealand Book Council is based in Wellington, and we have an active local branch of the NZ Society of Authors. There’s always something happening.

That said, my tendency is to be a loner; but there are times when the input and company of others has been hugely helpful. I’ve been part of writing groups at various times, mostly arising from workshops or classes I’ve taken. Being able to sit in that classroom or living room or cafe, to swap writing, to give and take criticism and comment, is a great thing. But I do find that the more my time is squeezed and limited and precious, the more likely I am to just shut the door on everyone else and write, by myself. It’s much later in the process that I seek the company of others.

What is the most important thing you’ve learned in the process of writing your first novel, that you wish you knew at the beginning?

Be patient. The process takes a long time. Don’t rush. Find a great editor/editors, and trust her/them.

Which authors have been instrumental to your own reading and writing?

My first loves were my parents’ books from their childhoods: A.A. Milne in my dad’s precious editions from the 1940s; Enid Blyton from Mum. As a teenager, I read widely — I spent a lot of time in the school and public libraries — but developed obsessions with authors who I’d focus in on at different times: science fiction writers (Arthur C. Clarke, Asimov, John Wyndham, Ray Bradbury); the murder mysteries of Agatha Christie (after an earlier diet of Trixie Belden, Nancy Drew, Famous Five, Secret Seven et al.); an assorted bunch of American writers (J.D. Salinger, Paul Zindel, Sylvia Plath, John Steinbeck, Richard Brautigan); the short stories of Katherine Mansfield.

By the time — years later, in my late twenties — I was starting to try to work out how I might write, I was reading and inspired by Helen Garner, Beverley Farmer, Brenda Walker, Elizabeth Jolley, Peter Carey, Tim Winton; Patrick White, too. I was in love with Australian writing. I was in love with women writers: Virginia Woolf, Jeanette Winterson, Angela Carter, A.S. Byatt. I somehow didn’t discover Alice Munro and Carol Shields until I lived in Canada — they joined my pantheon. Men got a look-in too: Martin Amis, Ian McEwan, Julian Barnes, Jim Crace. Moving to New Zealand in the mid-90s, I was struck most by the poetry that runs through this country’s literature (poetry and prose) — Elizabeth Smither, Jenny Bornholdt, Bill Manhire, Sarah Quigley, Fiona Kidman, Damien Wilkins, Ian Wedde.

This is a very white, very anglo list, I know. But the writers who have influenced me most have been overwhelmingly white, writing in English from the mid- to late-twentieth century onwards.

My reading (I’ve resisted the silly urge to qualify and diminish this with ‘for pleasure’; all of my fiction reading is for pleasure) always circles back to one early obsession: murder mysteries and thrillers. I return again and again to Ian Rankin, Val McDermid, Peter Temple (a recent discovery), Ruth Rendell, P.D. James, John Le Carré, Henning Mankell; I find strange comfort in reading and re-reading Lee Child’s Jack Reacher novels. One of my early, unfinished novel MS is a murder mystery; I still fancy writing one, one day.

Your central character, Lena, lives into her 80s. How do you see yourself when you reach this age?

I look to my grandmothers. I was thinking a lot about them when I wrote this novel, and I dedicated it to them. At eighty, both of them were feisty, active, interesting, stroppy, interested, full of life and opinions. I hope I’m the same. I see myself as a kick-arse crone.

For more about Tracy Farr, or her debut novel, visit her website.

Each month I choose a debut author to profile from Friday Night Fictions. Read interviews with Michael Adams and Nina Smith. Next up is Laura Jean McKay, writer of the short story collection, Holiday in Cambodia — from the November soiree.

WHAT ABOUT YOU, DEAR READER? HOW WOULD YOU LIKE TO BE WHEN YOU TURN 80? OR ARE YOU ALREADY THERE AND CAN OFFER SOME ADVICE?

 

All I want for Christmas is…

Fancy a Sylvia Plath doll for Christmas?

Fancy a Sylvia Plath doll for Christmas?

I’m one of those people who is easy (some would say dull) to buy for. Every year, when my family asks what I want, I usually say books, books, books, magazine subscriptions or notebooks to write in. God, how I love touching and feeling notebooks. And there’s a Moleskin now that links up to Evernote so you can scan in your notes. Wow! I know this is starting to sound like a sponsored post, but I can’t help it if I’m a bit passionate.

I’ve also just been mouth-watering over Allison Tait’s list of gifts for writers (Ernest Hemingway or Sylvia Plath doll, anyone?).

What I like most of all is getting book vouchers so I can wander through indie stores like Gleebooks (Sydney) or Stoneman’s (Castlemaine) or Readings (Carlton) and just browse and choose randomly, usually going purely on design (yup I like doing that).

In the past year, though, I’ve been more and more seduced by the Kindle. Covered in soft leather, I can read it lying on my side in bed (my favourite position). The idea that it holds instant access to not just worlds, but whole solar systems of material, still blows my mind. I need a book right now, and I have it. Great for lazy, procrastinating types. I also prefer it for books to do with work. The highlights and notes function is incredibly useful for reviewing and analytical work, and very quick to jump around and trigger memories and ideas – and I’ve never been comfortable with writing in pencil directly in books; I like the pages designed and clean.

Which leads me to my book-hamper competition in a roundabout way. Just a quick reminder! If you are a fan of any of the following Australian writers — Jon Bauer, Simmone Howell, Walter Mason, Jo Case, Dawn Barker, Jenn J McLeod, Jessie Cole, Annabel Smith, Wendy James or Angela Meyer (first edited collection!) — there’s a chance to win autographed copies of all ten books!

All you need to do is write a little review of my novel, just_a_girl! If you’ve read it, just hop to amazon.com.au and pen a few lines here.

If you haven’t … the book is also available to download for under 10 buckeroos at the same place or you could offer it to someone you love for Xmas (parent of a teenage girl, perhaps!).

All authors really love reviews of their work, and the Amazon.com.au site is pretty new so would love some commentary there. Just see it as a gift to me:-)

I’ve also decided to extend the date of the competition to 15 January. Gives you a bit more time to read just_a_girl in wind-down time…

Which leads me to pressie time. All the books in my Xmas hamper have been carefully selected and fawned upon over the past year. I’ve been thinking about who I might give them to in my inner circle (see below). I’ve linked to their Kindle editions if you’d like to buy them too. They won’t be signed, but, so you can still enter the competition.

Walter Mason, Destination CambodiaJo Case, Boomer and MeWendy James, The MistakeDarkness on the Edge of TownFracturedThe Great UnknownJon Bauer, Rocks in the BellyGirl DefectiveAnnabel Smith, Whisky, Charlie, FoxtrotJenn J Mcleod, House for all Seasons

  • Jon Bauer‘s Rocks in the Belly  would go to my Mum. I’ve been raving about it since I first read it, and then he moved to Chewton and joined the writers’ group I’m in. I was a bit scared of him at first (read the book and you’ll get it). But, seriously, it’s a tense and brutal drama, and Mum would enjoy the edginess of it, and the strong characterisation.
  • Simmone Howell‘s Girl Defectiv would go to my mate, Klare. The seedy side of St Kilda. A record store on the verge of collapse. And a strong teen girl lead. She would love it. Simmone is also in my writers’ group and is one of the most dynamic authors I’ve come across in recent years. So witty and her characters have such unique voices.
  • Walter Mason‘s Destination Cambodia would go to my friend Jane, who I met on an Intrepid trip to Cambodia. The journey was characterised by hilarity and pathos, and Walter’s book captures the intricacies of the place well. Jane is always on an adventure somewhere and has just returned from trekking in Nepal *jealous*.
  • Jo Case‘s Boomer and Me would go to a fellow mum and friend I’ve made in Castlemaine, Karen. We have talked often about what it means to be a ‘good mum’ and what a relief it is to read a book by a mother, finally, who doesn’t pretend to be perfect and jolly hockeysticks and a domestic goddess. I mean, we can’t all be Nigella (although I’ve heard she has some ‘help’ anyway).
  • Dawn Barker‘s Fractured would go to my mother-in-law. I think she would enjoy the fast pace, the cool structure and the piercing narrative that makes you question all your assumptions about motherhood…and it’s scary in places; she likes thrills.
  • Jenn J McLeod‘s House for All Seasons would go to my Nanna. She is a big reader, likes drama and intertwining lives, along with strong female characters and a good dose of mystery. Whenever I visit Nanna, she has the week’s TV viewing circled into the wee hours of the morning, nearly all crime and suspense. I usually head off for my nanna nap at 9pm and leave her to be a night owl.
  • Jessie Cole‘s Darkness on the Edge of Town would go to my boss, Julia. I’m cheating a bit here because she has already read and raved about it. So I know she likes it! When staff at the NSW Writers’ Centre were asked to pick their favourite reads for 2013, Jessie’s debut novel came out on top.
  • Annabel Smith‘s Whisky Charlie Foxtrot would go to my sister in law. The book is cerebral, sensitive, pared back and unconventional (just like her). Annabel Smith is my great find of the year. As I’ve said often to anyone who will listen, she should be on the world stage, people! Soon she’ll be mentioned in the same para as Christos.
  • Wendy JamesThe Mistake would go to my best friend, Jill. Like Fractured, it’s a thriller that manages to straddle the literary and popular worlds. It teases the reader with its ‘suburban noir’, a dark underbelly of the domestic.
  • And finally, Angela Meyer‘s brilliant new edited collection, The Great Unknown, would go to my husband. With its short stories capturing the fantastical, macabre and absurd, he’d be able to dip in and out (while working on his laptop, checking his iPhone and looking at films on his iPad at the same time).

WHAT ABOUT YOU? WHAT BOOKS WOULD YOU LIKE TO RECEIVE THIS CHRISTMAS?

Dawn Barker: I’ll show you mine if you show me yours

Dawn Barker, author of Fractured

Dawn Barker, author of Fractured

In the past couple of months, I’ve started a new series — where I review someone’s book, and they review mine — and we put them up at the same time. My idea was for it to be a kind of ‘two of us’ of books/authors, where we find the connections between our work — and our lives. The first wonderful exchange was with Walter Mason (I reviewed  Destination Cambodia: Adventures in the kingdom and he took a squiz at just_a_girl).

This time, I take on Dawn Barker’s popular debut novel, Fractured.

Just from the outset, this review is going to have *Spoilers*. There is so much exciting plot happening in Dawn’s book that I don’t want to pussyfoot around it…

I recently became familiar with Dawn Barker’s work, as part of a posse of writers in WA  (Annabel Smith, Amanda Curtin, Natasha Lester, Emma Chapman, Sara Foster, to name a few) and her book featured in Friday Night Fictions (August issue). Fractured also often featured in the Australian Women Writers Challenge, where it was a hot favourite with reviewers, and Annabel Smith did an in-depth interview with Dawn.

Reading Fractured brought up all kinds of memories. Nothing prepared me for the emotional and physical onslaught of having children. Pregnancy was tough. I spent the first three months pretty much unable to stand up due to so-called ‘morning sickness’ (god, that term doesn’t do it justice) — twice! Before the second pregnancy, I engaged in some heavy-duty magical thinking and decided that if I just wished hard enough, I surely couldn’t get that sick the next time. It was worse!

I learnt the true meaning of the term ‘shit a brick’ (constipation, OMG!) and then, just as I was starting to enjoy putting on copious amounts of weight and eating carrot cake every day, I found out I had gestational diabetes, which put me on a strict and boring regime of no sweets, rice, pasta, and involved injecting myself in my wiggly stomach each night.

After I gave birth (lucky for me, quick and straightforward: knew those dancing hips were going to come in handy at some point), I had the pinks the first time. I was joyous (verging on manic I suspect). The second time, I got the blues. I thought it would be easy peasy the second time around. No troubles with breastfeeding. Relaxed. Settling and swaddling a cinch. But no. GG decided she would not sleep unless in my arms (or my husband’s). For the first three months, due to various people pleading with us not to lie in bed with her, my husband and I alternated nights of trying to sleep half-sitting up on the couch. For the first three months, I never got more than two straight hours sleep.

I fought the definition of postnatal depression at the time because I thought ANYONE would go nuts having to endure that kind of sleep deprivation for so long (this is not to dismiss the idea of postnatal depression as a serious issue, though, for many women). It got to the point that, even when I had the chance to sleep, I just couldn’t seem to work out how.

FracturedWhich brings me to Anna, the central character in Fractured. Anna doesn’t sleep either. The world leading up to getting pregnant and giving birth is shown to be one of illusion, of unrealistic expectations. Highly organised, nothing seems to go to her often rigid plan. Her birth plan is ignored. Her feelings for her baby are not the way she had hoped.

She feels isolated and cornered, unable to communicate with her husband, Tony. He leaves the house to go back to work pretty soon after she returns from hospital, not understanding that she is afraid, anxious, and on the verge. She doesn’t have the language to ask him to stay. Or to ask him (or anyone) to help. The amount of responsibility she takes on completely destroys her.

And on top of that, the reader gradually learns that Anna is contending with something equally serious. She is starting to hear voices, urging her on an increasingly paranoid and soul-destroying route. Her son is not yet six weeks old. But she cannot protect him from her thoughts.

I was familiar with postnatal depression but had never heard of postnatal psychosis. Dawn Barker is also a child psychiatrist so her insight into this condition (and Anna’s character development) is crucial. The book also takes us into some disturbing contemporary hospital practices, including giving Anna ECT without her permission — in a very short timeframe (when she’s in no position to contest the decision). The idea that this is possible, that a patient’s rights are systematically stripped when they enter hospital for care, is terrifying.

The book’s clever structure, that interweaves chronology, and various characters’ stories, means Fractured takes a while to reveal important moments, and there’s a real sense of doom and mystery surrounding Anna’s uncharacteristic behaviour. It’s a cliffhanger of a book, in every sense of the term.

It’s also a book about blame. Certain family members are quick to withdraw from Anna, unable to reconcile her actions with their definitions of acceptable boundaries to cross. Tony wrings himself dry, wondering at his own absence, his selfishness, his culpability in the desire to escape family for work.

Self-blame can be the most poisonous thing of all. Anna condemns herself for not living up to her own ideas of what a ‘perfect mother’ should be. In just_a_girl Margot, Layla’s mother, shares this black-and-white way of looking at the world. When looking at Layla, she sees her own failings reflected, rather than a child who deeply loves her and is desperately seeking her attention. By continuing with her blinkered thinking from when Layla is a baby, Margot misses out on all the good things, unable to see beyond her own limited view.

Lionel Shriver's We Need to Talk About Kevin was a big influence on Dawn Barker's novel

Lionel Shriver’s We Need to Talk About Kevin was a big influence on Dawn Barker’s novel

I was excited to read that one of the main influences for Dawn when writing her novel was Lionel Shriver’s We Need to Talk About Kevin. It taught her that a mainstream novel could take on highly emotive and harrowing topics. I read it when writing just_a_girl and found it changed my whole idea of character too. I realised that Margot didn’t have to be likeable but her way of thinking needed to be believable (if misguided). The way she perceives Layla is, from early stages of motherhood, influenced by the fact that she can’t breastfeed, she feels guilty, she is isolated in the community, her husband is often away working, and her mother was no role model at all. She crucifies herself rather than acknowledging that it’s damn hard.

It’s also good to get a husband’s insight in Fractured. Dawn’s third-person narrative means she can fly in and out of all the characters’ lives, exposing their dreams and perceived failings. I can only imagine how hard it is, too, for the significant other like Tony who get no sleep, haul themselves off to work, feeling guilty at the sight of mum looking so exhausted and fragile (but hey, the experience is not like this for everyone, I hope!). I remember my husband leaving our house for his first day of work after my second child (at six weeks), and pleading with him to stay. Still operating on no sleep, I breastfed my daughter in tears for an hour, as my two-year-old son ran rings around us, asking for all the things he knew I couldn’t provide with a baby latched on; I had no idea how I would get through the day, and all the ones after that. In the end I called my best friend and she turned up, all action-stations, made lunch, sat me outside, told me everyone felt like that (in a sympathetic way), and those feelings drifted off for a while and I saw that I just had to get through it a bit at a time.

The death of a child remains a taboo topic. It’s not something people want to contemplate, let alone talk about. But this book opens up the subject for debate. The reader is constantly being forced to confront their own questions of morality, wavering backwards and forwards, and it’s a mark of Dawn’s skill as a writer that we can condemn and be sympathetic to Anna at the same time, asking: at just what point, is she ultimately responsible for her own behaviour?

You can read Dawn Barker’s review of just_a_girl here. I’m very curious to see what a child psychiatrist thinks of Layla!

If you’ve read Fractured, I’d love to hear your thoughts. Were you familiar with postnatal psychosis? Any other novels dealing with this issue, or postnatal depression? If you’d like to ask Dawn any questions, fire away! I’m sure she’d be keen to answer them.

just_a_girl Christmas competition: win a book-hamper

FracturedI thought I’d get in the Christmas spirit and hold a little competition …

So … I have a prize pack on offer of 10 BOOKS from some of the fabulous writers who’ve shared their stories on Wild Colonial Girl over the past year. The winning Christmas book-hamper features SIGNED copies of:

  • Simmone Howell – Girl Defective
  • Walter Mason – Destination Cambodia
  • Jon Bauer – Rocks in the Belly
  • Jenn J McLeod – House for all Seasons
  • Jessie Cole – Darkness On the Edge of Town
  • Annabel Smith – Whisky, Charlie, Foxtrot
  • Dawn Barker – Fractured
  • Angela Meyer (editor) – The Great Unknown collection
  • Jo Case – Boomer and Me
  • Wendy James – The Mistake

TO WIN?

My novel, just_a_girl, has just been listed as an e-book at Amazon.com.au and it’s looking a wee bit lonely.

Simply write a review (2 words, 2 sentences, 2 paras, a thesis – I don’t mind) and put it on Amazon here by 31 December (gives you a bit of time to do some holiday reading).

I’ll be choosing the winner (most unique response) on 1 January, and will announce it on the blog early in the New Year when I’ve recovered from staying up to 9pm to watch the fireworks (it’s never the same after you have kids).

I’ll also feature some of the reviews I love on Wild Colonial Girl next year.

THE BOOK-HAMPER: here’s a spotlight on the books you might win

Simmone Howell, Girl Defective

Girl Defective“It was just Dad and me and Gully living in the flat above the shop in Blessington Street, St Kilda. We, the Martin family, were like inverse superheroes, marked by our defects. Dad was addicted to beer and bootlegs. Gully had ‘social difficulties’ that manifested in his wearing a pig-snout mask 24/7. I was surface clean but underneath a weird hormonal stew was simmering. My defects weren’t the kind you could see just from looking. Later I would decide they were symptoms of Nancy.”

This is the story of a wild girl and a ghost girl; a boy who knew nothing and a boy who thought he knew everything. And it’s about life and death and grief and romance.

All the good stuff.

From the award-winning author of Notes from the Teenage Underground, and Everything Beautiful.

Walter Mason, Destination Cambodia

Walter Mason, Destination CambodiaThe ancient and mysterious ruins of Cambodia have long captured the imagination of visitors, more so now than ever before. In Destination Cambodia, Walter Mason charts an affectionate, intimate and deeply personal look at a Kingdom that has drawn him back again and again since his youth.

Whether he’s watching young monks recite the Buddha’s life stories, visiting shamans and fortune tellers, or discovering the darker alleys of Phnom Penh with a romantic novelist and a world-weary street hustler, Walter takes the reader straight to the heart of this famously unknowable country. As heat, dust and weariness take their toll, he remains alive to the charms, and even seductions, of a place that was once a byword for misery and human suffering.

Destination Cambodia takes us on a joyful and constantly fascinating literary journey in which Cambodia is vibrant and its people excited about the future while never denying their haunted past.

Jon Bauer, Rocks in the Belly

Jon Bauer, Rocks in the BellyHow far can you push a child?

Rocks in the Belly follows a precocious eight-year-old boy and the volatile adult he becomes. During childhood his mother fosters boys despite the jealous turmoil it arouses in her son. Jealousy that reaches unmanageable proportions when she fosters Robert, and triggers an event that profoundly changes everyone. Especially Robert.

At twenty-eight the son returns to face his mother. He hasn’t forgiven her for what happened. But now she’s the dependent one and he the dominant.

Jenn J McLeod, House for All Seasons

Jenn J Mcleod, House for all SeasonsBequeathed a century-old house, four estranged friends return to their home town, Calingarry Crossing, where each must stay for a season to fulfil the wishes of their beloved benefactor, Gypsy. Here they finally face the consequences of the tragic accident that occurred twenty years ago and changed their lives forever.

Sara, a breast cancer survivor afraid to fall in love;

Poppy, an ambitious journo craving her father’s approval;

Amber, a spoilt socialite looking for some purpose to life.

Jessie Cole, Darkness On the Edge of Town

Darkness on the Edge of TownMy dad, he collects broken things … Where other people see junk he sees potential … My dad collects broken people too …

Vincent is nearly forty years old, with little to show for his life except his precious sixteen-year-old daughter, Gemma: sensitive, insightful and wise beyond her years.

When a stranger crashes her car outside Vincent and Gemma′s bush home, their lives take a dramatic turn. In an effort to help the stranded woman, father and daughter are drawn into a world of unexpected and life-changing consequences.

DARKNESS ON THE EDGE OF TOWN is a haunting tale that beguiles the reader with its deceptively simple prose, its gripping and unrelenting tensions, and its disturbing yet tender observations.

Annabel Smith, Whisky, Charlie, Foxtrot

Annabel Smith, Whisky, Charlie, FoxtrotWhisky and Charlie are identical twins. But everything about them is poles apart. It’s got so bad that Charlie can’t even bear to talk to his brother anymore – until a freak accident steals Whisky from his family, and Charlie has to face the fact he may never speak to his brother again.

‘It is rare to encounter fiction that will appeal to adults and Young Adults alike that so intelligently explores the downright messiness of family relationships through adult characters; rarer still to find an author who writes of traumatic injury and the looming shadow of death with such verve and sensitivity.’ Australian Book Review

‘… by far the enduring sense of this novel is of having been in the hands of a storyteller with more than just a good story, one with something to say about how to live, and the energy and pluck to say it.’ The Australian

Dawn Barker, Fractured

FracturedAn unforgettable novel that brings to life a new mother’s worst fears.

Tony is worried. His wife, Anna, isn’t coping with their newborn. Anna had wanted a child so badly and, when Jack was born, they were both so happy. They’d come home from the hospital a family. Was it really only six weeks ago?

But Anna hasn’t been herself since. One moment she’s crying, the next she seems almost too positive. It must be normal with a baby, Tony thought; she’s just adjusting. He had been busy at work. It would sort itself out. But now Anna and Jack are missing. And Tony realises that something is really wrong…

What happens to this family will break your heart and leave you breathless.

Angela Meyer (editor), The Great Unknown

The Great UnknownThe imaginative stories in The Great Unknown take inspiration from vintage American TV programs such as The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits—and their contemporaries and successors—paying tribute to the cultural influence these shows have had on lives ‘down under’.

Episodes of these programs were often metaphors for equality, justice, the nuclear threat and other issues, while being memorably spooky and fun. Editor Angela Meyer wanted to see what themes might seep into the writing of contemporary Australian writers working with the spooky, the strange, the eerie, the fantastic, the speculative, the macabre and the absurd.

Jo Case, Boomer and Me: a memoir of motherhood, and Asperger’s

Jo Case, Boomer and MeLeo is having trouble fitting in. Whether it’s pulling his pants down in the schoolyard or compulsively saluting Mazdas because the company sponsors his football team, Leo can never seem to say or do the right thing. And Jo is struggling to help him find his place as she juggles work and the ordinary demands of motherhood. But her beloved only child has been reading novels since he started school, amazes strangers with his encyclopaedic knowledge of sport statistics, and displays a wit sharp beyond his years – could he be gifted? In fact, it turns out Leo has Asperger’s Syndrome.

This is the bittersweet, blackly funny story of a boy and his very twenty-first-century family, and why being different isn’t a disability – it just takes a bit of getting used to.

Wendy James, The Mistake

Wendy James, The MistakeThe past isn’t dead. It isn’t even past …

Jodie Garrow is a teenager from the wrong side of the tracks when she falls pregnant. Scared, alone and desperate to make something of her life, she makes the decision to adopt out her baby – and tells nobody.

Twenty-five years on, Jodie has built a whole new life and a whole new family. But when a chance meeting brings the illegal adoption to the notice of the authorities, Jodie becomes embroiled in a nationwide police investigation for the missing child, and the centre of a media witch hunt.

Friday Night Fictions: November 2013

Howdy again, and hope you enjoy the final edition of FRIDAY NIGHT FICTIONS for the year*. This NOVEMBER issue, we’ve got high-pumping action, a fair smattering of YA, short stories galore and literary fiction to blow your mind. I love the mix that comes in each month…

I also did a recent debut author profile of Mr September, Michael Adams, about his genre-bending novel, The Last Girl (that slips between YA and lit fiction). Coming up soon is Tracy Farr  (whose Life and Loves of Lena Gaunt featured in the OCTOBER edition).

AND my pick of the month this time is Laura Jean McKay’s Holiday in Cambodia. I’ve heard great things about this debut, and it continues a Cambodia thread that I seem to be following… I look forward to talking to Laura Jean and finding out more about her book.

I’m really excited to hear what all the FRIDAY NIGHT FICTIONS authors have been up to. Many are getting coverage on blogs and in mainstream newspapers. A big thanks to the writers who have started commenting on, and writing about, other writers’ work. I’ll be posting reviews and comments as they come in.

Sharon Kernot has done a wonderful review of Margaret Merrilees’ The First Week (see the Reviews section at the bottom of the OCTOBER edition). Even now, with a few reviews under my belt, I know how exciting it is to see someone engage in a meaningful way with the book (and finding out another writer’s views can be especially stimulating!).

If you’re new to FRIDAY NIGHT FICTIONS, you can find out more here, read the AUGUST, SEPTEMBER and OCTOBER editions + read my author profile of Nina Smith (Hailstone).

If you’re a debut author who’s been published in 2013 (or 2014 as it comes), and would like to contribute, read the guidelines and contact me.

*FNF will take a few months’ break (I’m hoping to spend a bit more time offline) but will be back at the end of February. Have a great Christmas and New Year, relax, read, and write (if that’s what you’re planning)…

SCOTT BAKER, The Rule of Knowledge

Scott Baker, The Rule O fKnowledge Faith, history, science and love collide in this fast-paced action adventure. High school teacher Shaun Strickland is shocked when he receives a last-minute invitation from Cambridge University to deliver a paper on the relationship between space and time, something he has been studying for years. It’s the break he’s been longing for.

But as he speeds through the cold Carolina night, his car slams hard into something surging from the bushes; an old and tattered hobo, carrying an ancient package whose mystery is irresistible. But there is something else, a book, sealed airtight for millennia, written in modern English, and predicting the exact moment it will be found.

Relentlessly pursued, Shaun must immerse himself in an ancient world to uncover something bigger than he could have possibly imagined.

What he finds is that much more than his own fate is at stake…

‘Indiana Jones’ meets ‘Back to the Future.’

In stores now. Buy the book online.

KASPER BEAUMONT, Elven Jewel

Kasper Beaumont, Elven JewelThis sword and sorcery fantasy begins when the magical continent of Reloria is threatened by cruel, scaly invaders called Vergai from the wastelands of Vergash. These invaders are barbaric and are intent on destroying the protective elven forcefield and conquering peaceful Reloria.

Halfling friends Randir and Fendi and their bond-fairies are the first to discover the invaders and they embark on a quest to save the threatened Elven Jewel.

They leave their peaceful farm village with their fairies and race against time to stop the invaders. They join forces with dwarves, elves, men and a mysterious dragon, and call themselves the Hunters of Reloria.

The quest is perilous, with numerous encounters with the ruthless Vergai. The Elven Jewel is stolen and the quest becomes a race to the portal to retrieve the jewel before it can be taken to Vergash.

Online extract and YouTube clip.

Buy the book at Smashwords, Amazon.com and Writersweb.com.au.

FELICITY CASTAGNA, The Incredible Here and Now

Felicity Castagna, The Incredible Here And NowSomething terrible happens the summer Michael turns 15.

But The Incredible Here and Now is not about tragedy. It is about his place, the West, where ‘those who don’t know any better drive through the neighbourhood and lock their car doors’.

But Michael knows it intimately and lets the reader in: to the unsettled life of his family, the friends who gather in the McDonald’s car park at night, the one girl who will acknowledge he’s alive, the white Pontiac Trans Am that lights up his life like an omen.

It is here that he finds an escape from his mother’s growing silence and the absence of his brother Dom, who could charm the whole world with his energy and daring.

Michael’s stories are about love and joy and wonder, felt in the company of friends, and in the place he lives in.

Read an extract from the text.

Buy the book.

Meet Felicity at her website and on Twitter.

ELIZA CREWE, Cracked

Eliza Crewe, CrackedAt 17, Meda Melange is already an experienced serial killer. It’s not her fault, she doesn’t do it because she likes it (though she does). Meda eats souls, and there’s really only one place to get them — and it’s not the Piggly Wiggly. Then Meda learns she’s not the only soul-eater, she’s part demon, and the other demons are out to get her.

Fortunately, Meda finds the perfect place to hide — in a school for demon-hunters. The modern Knights Templar are dedicated to fighting demons and protecting Beacons, people marked by God as good for mankind. Because the demons are determined to kill her, the Templars are convinced Meda is a Beacon trying to fulfill her destiny.

Meda’s goals are far less saintly. She just wants to find out why the demons are out to get her and, well, that’s easier to do with back-up — even if her back-up would kill her if they knew the truth.

Meet Eliza at her Website + Twitter.

Buy the book:
Worldwide (except India): The Robot Reader (E-book).
AU: Booktopia + Readings.
UK: Amazon + Book Depository  + Waterstones.
US: Amazon  + Barnes and Noble + Indiebound + Powell’s.
Canada: Amazon + Chapters + Kobo.

LESLEY DIMMOCK, Out of Time

Lesley Dimmock, Out Of TimeLife is about to get really complicated for Lindsay ap Rhys ap Gruffud as Queen Elizabeth the First lands in her garden.

Not only does Lindsay have to try and find a way to get Elizabeth back to her own time …

… but she also needs to avoid the thing she dreads most — falling in love — as Lindsay’s best mate, Meg, enlists librarian, Kate Spencer on the quest to send Elizabeth home before a sixteenth century plot to seize the throne can succeed.

Time is running out … for Elizabeth I and Lindsay ap Rhys ap Gruffud

Read an excerpt.

Buy the ebook at Amazon,  iTunes and Lulu.

Meet Lesley on Facebook  and Twitter, and at her blog.

NICOLE HAYES, The Whole of My World

Nicole Hayes, The Whole Of My WorldDesperate to escape her grieving father and harbouring her own terrible secret, Shelley disappears into the intoxicating world of Aussie Rules football. Joining a motley crew of footy tragics — and, best of all, making friends with one of the star players — Shelley finds somewhere to belong. Finally she’s winning.

So why don’t her friends get it? Josh, who she’s known all her life, but who she can barely look at anymore because of the memories of that fateful day. Tara, whose cold silences Shelley can’t understand. Everyone thinks there’s something more going on between Shelley and Mick. But there isn’t — is there?

When the whole of your world is football, sometimes life gets lost between goals.

“A poignant coming-of-age tale with a fresh, original angle. No matter what your feelings are about AFL, this novel is bound to have you cheering by the end.” – Junior Books + Publisher

Buy the book at bookshops, at Random House, Booktopia and Bookworld, as an e-book at all the major outlets in Australia, and in the USA and the UK, where you can also buy the paperback.

Read the first chapter here. Find Teachers’ Notes at the Random House Website and an interview at Hypable.

Like The Whole of My World on Facebook and visit Nicole’s website for more information. Or follow her on Twitter @nichmelbourne.

AMANDA HICKIE, AfterZoe

Amanda Hickie, AfterZoeZoe’s not completely happy with the way her life has turned out but she’s even less impressed with her death.

She is blindsided by an afterlife of perpetual contentment arranged by paternalistic angels. Most of heaven’s population enjoy their eternity with the aid of an elixir which ensures they forget their loved ones, but Zoe doesn’t want to forget.

She joins an underground resistance group and starts to explore the might-have-beens with an old lover.

Zoe’s insistence on her right to absolute memory becomes more complex when her husband shows up.

This alternative heaven explores the nature of relationships, the possibility of identity without memory and what it would take to be happy for eternity.

The book is available in paperback and on Kindle, Smashwords, Kobo, iBooks and others.

Find out more and read an extract here.

JANIS HILL, Bonnie’s Story: A Blonde’s Guide to Mathematics

Bonnies StoryA Young Adult/New Adult chick lit tale told by Bonnie, a smart self-imposed blonde hairdresser with an attitude and cynical outlook on the life of science she grew up in.

The first time I met Rogan, he was wandering down my street taking pictures of the street signs with his phone.

His name wasn’t really Rogan, it was Josh, but due to the crowd he hung around with and the quirky sense of humour science geek types have, he’d become Rogan Josh. Rogan for short.

Still, this wasn’t something I learned until a lot later.

Since meeting him, I’ve not just learnt this little soliloquy; I’ve visited the Moon, watched life begin, and discovered the true depth of mathematics. I can tell you now; maths really isn’t as boring as you’d have thought.

Click here to read the full sample and for details on how to purchase the book.

HEATHER KINNANE, A Faery Dream

Heather Kinnane, A Faery DreamEver had a dream you wished would come true?

Melissa is blessed, or cursed as she most often feels is the case, with the ability to dream true; an ability she knows was passed down from the mother she never met.

Now in her 30s, and plodding along in her failing relationship with Tom, Melissa is having dreams she wishes were prophetic.

Tall, strong and sexy Kellen lives in the forest, clad usually in nothing but a loin cloth. Though he makes her heart flutter, and is the man of her dreams in more ways than one, Melissa knows this dream is too far from reality to ever come true.

So when Kellen does turn up in Melissa’s life, with secrets from her past and plans for her future, can Melissa trust that this dream isn’t too good to be true?

Buy the book.

Read an excerpt.

KIRSTEN KRAUTH, just_a_girl

Kirsten Krauth, just_a_girlLayla is only 14. She cruises online. She catches trains to meet strangers. Her mother, Margot, never suspects. Even when Layla brings a man into their home.

Margot’s caught in her own web: an evangelical church and a charismatic pastor. Meanwhile, downtown, a man opens a suitcase and tenderly places his young lover inside.

just_a_girl tears into the fabric of contemporary culture, a Puberty Blues for the digital age, a Lolita with a webcam, it’s what happens when young girls are forced to grow up too fast. Or never get the chance to grow up at all.

““Krauth’s debut is alive with ideas about isolation and connection in the digital age, particularly the way the internet raises the stakes of teenage rebellion.” – Jo Case, The Australian

“It’s about porn/love, isolation/connection, sexualisation/justification, misogyny/mentality, Facebook and the face-to-face. It’s about our world, right now, and it’s a little bit brilliant.” – Danielle Binks, ALPHA READER.

Read an extractBook Club Notes are available.

Buy the printed version at ReadingsBooktopia or Amazon. The ebook is available at Amazon.com.au and iBooks.

International readers please contact me direct…

See reviews of just_a_girl here.

Contact Kirsten at Goodreads, her blog (Wild Colonial Girl), Facebook and Twitter. You can see her read from her work at the Sydney book launch, along with Emily Maguire (who introduced it).

LAURA JEAN McKAY, Holiday in Cambodia

Laura Jean McKay, Holiday In CambodiaBeyond the killing fields and the temples of Angkor is Cambodia: a country with a genocidal past and a wide, open smile. A frontier land where anything is possible — at least for the tourists.

In Holiday in Cambodia Laura Jean McKay explores the electric zone where local and foreign lives meet. There are tender, funny moments of tentative understanding, as well as devastating re-imaginings of a troubled history.

Three backpackers board a train, ignoring the danger signs — and find themselves in the hands of the Khmer Rouge.

Elderly sisters are visited by their vampire niece from Australia and set out to cure her.

A singer creates a sensation in swinging 1969, on the eve of an American bombing campaign.

These are bold and haunting stories by a remarkable new talent.

“Polished, Hemingwayesque snapshots, vivid and atmospheric” – Steven Carroll

“Subtly encompassing — these unostentatiously wrought stories look at the residual effects on their characters of the low, persistent fallout of catastrophe.” – James Tierney, The Australian

Buy the book.

Read an extract.

Read reviews in The AustralianCrikey and Artshub.

GERALDINE MEADE, Flick

Geraldine Meade, FlickFelicity Costello, aka Flick, is like any other 16-year-old — except for one difference. A difference she doesn’t want anyone to know about. A difference she hardly admits to herself.

Flick tells the story of a girl struggling with the secret of her sexuality and who goes to great lengths to hide the fact that she’s a lesbian.

In her efforts to conform to what she and her peers think is ‘normal’ Flick’s life spirals out of control until she sees no escape.

Will Flick succumb to the darkness? Or will she find the courage to realise that you can’t help who you fall in love with?

“Flick is the sort of book I wish I could have read in my teens. It never talks down to the reader but still manages to shine a light on some of the darkest and most confusing moments of becoming an adult.” – Graham Norton

Shortlisted for The Reading Association of Ireland’s Children’s Book Awards 2013.

Read an extract of Flick.

Order Flick here.

Buy e-book or paperback here too!

Follow Ger on Twitter or on Facebook.

Meet Ger at her website.

SKYE MELKI-WEGNER, Chasing the Valley

Chasing The ValleyEscape is impossible. Escape is their only hope.

Danika is used to struggling for survival. But when the tyrannous king launches an attack to punish her city — echoing the alchemy bombs that killed Danika’s family — she risks her life in a daring escape over the city’s walls.

Danika joins a crew of desperate refugees who seek Magnetic Valley, a legendary safe haven. But when she accidentally destroys a palace biplane, suddenly Danika Glynn becomes the most wanted fugitive in Taladia.

Pursued by the king’s vicious hunters and betrayed by false allies, Danika also grapples with her burgeoning magical abilities. And when she meets the mysterious Lukas, she must balance her feelings against her crew’s safety.

Chasing the Valley is the first book in an epic trilogy of magic, treachery and survival.

Buy the book at Random House.

Read an extract.

Watch the book trailer.

Get in touch with Skye at her website, Twitter and Facebook.

ANGELA MEYER (editor) AND WRITERS, The Great Unknown

The Great UnknownThe imaginative stories in The Great Unknown take inspiration from vintage American TV programs such as The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits — and their contemporaries and successors — paying tribute to the cultural influence these shows have had on lives ‘down under’.

Episodes of these programs were often metaphors for equality, justice, the nuclear threat and other issues, while being memorably spooky and fun.

Editor Angela Meyer wanted to see what themes might seep into the writing of contemporary Australian writers working with the spooky, the strange, the eerie, the fantastic, the speculative, the macabre and the absurd.

Authors include Paddy O’Reilly, Ali Alizadeh, Chris Flynn, Carmel Bird, Ryan O’Neill, Marion Halligan, Krissy Kneen, AS Patric, Damon Young, Chris Somerville, PM Newton, Deborah Biancotti and Kathy Charles, and the winner of the Carmel Bird Short Fiction Award, Alex Cothren (with his first ever published story).

Find out more about the book at Goodreads and Facebook.

Available in December (and on pre-order) from Readings, Booktopia and Fishpond.

FELICITY VOLK, Lightning

Felicity Volk, LightningAmid the chaos of sweeping bushfires, Persia gives birth alone at home with tragic consequences. Traumatised and grieving, she travels north, and encounters Ahmed, a refugee fleeing deportation and his past in Pakistan.

So begins a road trip to the dead heart of Australia, a journey that transcends the limits of ordinary experience. In Persia and Ahmed’s world, ancient winds wreak havoc across generations, lightning ignites flames that both destroy and rejuvenate, and water drowns then delivers. Hearts break, days are leavened with loss, laughter kills and cinnamon preserves.

Lightning is an odyssey across continents and centuries that explores identity and connection, and our yearning to reveal ourselves even when cloaked in crippling grief.

A moving meditation on finding hope in the rubble of our lives, Lightning celebrates the way our stories and their telling keep us alive when all else is pulling us under.

Lightning can be found at most book retailers including Pan Macmillan, Booktopia, Bookworld and Amazon.

Read an extract.

Meet Felicity at her website and Facebook.

For reviews of Lightning see her website and, specifically, in The Weekend Australian. Read the story behind Lightning.

Debut author profile: Michael Adams

Michael Adams, star of FRIDAY NIGHT FICTIONS, and author

Michael Adams, star of FRIDAY NIGHT FICTIONS, and author of The Last Girl

I must confess I didn’t know too much about YA until quite recently. I always had in my head that it was a closed genre, featuring vampires and werewolves and girls with ballgowns and insipid romance. But everyone makes mistakes. Reading more widely this year — and the YA community’s quick embrace of just_a_girl led me down this path — I realised that it’s an enormously diverse market with exactly the kind of narratives that excite me, a genre often caught in between the adult and teen worlds.

I’m always a sucker for coming-of-age-girl-as-outsider-awkward-moments-until-she-realises-everybody-is-like-that narratives. Blame the 80s and Molly Ringwald. When I was an adolescent, the idea of books for teens was just gaining ground. I devoured SE Hinton, Paul Zindel, Judy Blume, Robert Cormier. These writers tackled dark subjects, spoke of sex and drugs and religion (and all those things I’m still writing about), and empowered teens to fight for themselves.

Michael Adams’ The Last Girl is a strong addition to the genre, that also fights to be let out into literary fiction. Highlighted in the September edition of FRIDAY NIGHT FICTIONS, it demands close reading. While lead girl Danby confronts an apocalyptic vision of Sydney, where most of the inhabitants can read each other’s minds, it’s also about communities separated by high-density living, soaring property prices, environmental catastrophe, the legacy of stealing someone else’s land, and addiction to personal-technologies.

Michael knows how to cram in big ideas. His background as a film critic (editor for Empire — where he employed me to write on Bergman [bliss]  — and even appearing on The Movie Show on SBS) serves him well here. The fiction is full of pop-culture references, sly humour, out-of-the-blue violence, and challenges to narrative conventions.

Danby is a memorable figure through the death and destruction around her, intuitive, strong, countering expectations to be led astray by wayward boys, dealing with challenges effectively with humour and courage. I’d like to meet her one day. Let’s hope she makes it to the end of the trilogy (The Last Girl is the first in a series). Knowing Michael, this isn’t entirely certain.

Here I talk to him about Stephen King, Sydney and the Blue Mountains on fire, and heroines that break free of conventions…

Do you remember the moment when you decided you wanted to be a writer?

Not the precise moment but it goes back as far as I can remember. As a six-year-old I’d write and illustrate little stapled books about soldiers and sharks and dinosaurs — sometimes all in the same story. By the time I was in my early teens I was trying to write novels. Then I got into journalism and creative writing took a backseat. It wasn’t until I’d tried my hand at screenwriting and non-fiction that I finally, finally, achieved the goal I’d set for myself when I was about 13. Oddly — or maybe not oddly — The Last Girl contains echoes of those adolescent efforts.

Michael Adams, The Last GirlWhat inspired you?

The Last Girl came as a bit of a flash — at least in concept. In 2008 I was in New York and at dinner at a restaurant with my partner. We were having a great time talking to another couple who’d survived Hurricane Katrina. But at another table there was a couple who didn’t say a word to each other all night. At some point I wondered: what if they could read each other’s thoughts, hear everything that wasn’t being said. Then I wondered what it’d be like if the phenomenon spiralled out to encompass the city, the country, the world.

My book and yours share some common themes: teenage girls on the edge; a narrative that swings between Sydney and the Blue Mountains (on the train tracks); the questioning of digital cultures and their effects on psychology and relationships. Why did you decide to pursue these ideas in a YA novel?

Initially I thought I was writing an adult book about a young adult character. It wasn’t until I’d sent the book to Allen & Unwin that it was explained it was a YA. The definition was that YA focuses on young characters who have to make their own decisions in the absence of adult authority. That pretty much summed up Danby’s situation in The Last Girl. But I’m not sure about the YA label because it wasn’t used to describe similar books when I was growing up. The Catcher In The Rye and Lord Of The Flies spring to mind. Back then they were literature — now they’re YA. And then there’s the US statistic that says 84 per cent of YA is purchased by people over 18. I guess what’s important is that it’s a good story well told and in a voice authentic to the age of the character.

You’ve written extensively on film (as a reviewer and non-fiction writer). To what extent did cinema, and in particular B-grade films, influence your narrative?

I wanted the story to grab readers by the throat, take them to a cliffhanger and then tease them with backstory that’d become important throughout the trilogy before plunging back into an ever-escalating series of disasters for poor Danby. But I wanted to throw her and readers constant curveballs so it’d be difficult to predict where the story was heading. So the movies I kinda had in mind were those that’ve had that effect on me: Se7en, Fight Club, Zodiac, Psycho, The Usual Suspects, Night Of The Living Dead are a few that spring to mind. I also put as much black humour into the book as possible and in that the touchstones are films like Dr Strangelove, Bride Of Frankenstein and Repo Man.

Breaking Bad

The biggest influence on The Last Girl? Breaking Bad…

But the biggest influence wasn’t film — it was Breaking Bad. I watched the entire series twice and really tried to understand how Vince Gilligan created an emotionally charged character-driven suspense thriller that was so dense, complex and funny — while also layering in all of his narrative callbacks, in-jokes and Easter Eggs. There’s a lot of that kind of thinking in The Last Girl. Seemingly throwaway details become pivotal to survival. References to pop culture echo the themes. There’s a reason Danby’s dad orders a plate of shrimp and a Miller. Google it and you’ll see why.

The Last Girl is the first in a series. Did the publisher commission a number of books at once? How hard is it as a writer to plan out a series?

Yes, A&U bought the trilogy. By that stage I had a solid first draft of The Last Girl and about 20,000 words of the sequel. Now book two, The Last Shot, is at the final proofreading stages and I’ve got three months to finish the first draft of The Last Place, which will wrap things up. When I started The Last Girl, I was pretty much making it up as I went along. The ending I eventually decided on and worked towards would’ve left a lot unresolved. I wanted to know what came next. The fun — and tough — thing is to ensure continuity while you juggle drafts. But I’ve really enjoyed playing with the world — or end of the world — and seeing how the puzzle pieces actually do fit together. Mostly it’s been an organic process. But I’ve also worked to ensure the books don’t repeat scenes or scenarios. I hate sequels that’re just a reheat.  So I see the series as one story, which also means that I need the end of book three to be bigger and more powerful than what’s come before. I want it to be my Toy Story 3 and not The Godfather Part III.

Your novel is playful and toys with genre conventions: the romantic lead; the heroine as victim/survivor; futuristic horror; the quest. Was this always something you had in mind when you started writing, or did it evolve as you went? How did this go when you were trying to get the book published? Was there pressure to make it one thing or another?

There was a lot I didn’t want my book to be. Passive heroine? Fuck that. Instant love between characters? No thanks. Scared suburban types who suddenly become fearless warriors? Uh-uh. I hate reading or watching stories in which you spend your time shaking your head at bad character decisions and/or illogical scenarios. So as much as possible I wanted Danby’s nightmare to feel real, to be blow-by-blow. Yay, she’s made it to the car! But can she drive? Can you feasibly escape a burning city on clogged roads? And if not, then what? I wanted characters who haven’t got all the answers. I tried to imagine myself in her shoes and in doing that painted Danby into some seemingly inescapable corners. A few of these took months to figure out. And that meant walking the actual locations until the “A-ha!” moment struck. Writing like that intrinsically bends genre expectations because we’re so often fed the same-old people and situations. Tough guys walk in slow-motion from the explosion without looking around? Stupid. How about sensibly shit-scared guys run but one can’t help looking back and gets flash-blinded while another’s cut in half by shrapnel and they all end up concussed by the shock wave that shatters every window for five blocks? By doing the latter you’re being logical and realistic but it’s also bleakly funny and subversive because it’s not what we’re used to seeing. As for how A&U reacted, they were brilliant. I was never asked to make it anything other than what I’d envisaged. The cuts and changes suggested were more to do with me overwriting, paying too much attention to secondary scenes or wandering away from the character voice.

You live in the Blue Mountains (I used to as well). Your book deals with catastrophic events, including, it seems, a whole city and mountain on fire. How did it feel when the recent Springwood fires were happening (after the book had been published)? Did it feel like life imitating art in some hellish way?

It was freaky because a few scenes, particularly smoke blanketing Parramatta and Silverwater, were exactly as I’d imagined them. I got a few messages from people saying, “Whoa, dude, that’s spooky.” But we were too busy packing up our and getting out of Katoomba to think about it too much. I did get asked by a big newspaper if I’d comment on the book’s similarities to the events but I declined because I thought it disrespectful to trivialise an ongoing situation threatening people’s lives and homes. Writer turns down publicity: film at 11!

Is there a writer community in the Blue Mountains? Can you survive being a writer up there, or do you still commute to Sydney for a day job?

There are a lot of writers in the Blue Mountains but I work a day job in Sydney so I haven’t had much time to explore the community. Couldn’t even go to the SFF events they had last year. Sad face. But the dream is to do exactly that: hang out up there and write. But for the foreseeable future I’ll be commuting to the office gig — and freelancing my butt off to supplement those wages. It’s all freaking glamour, me tells ya.

What is the most important thing you’ve learned in the process of writing your first novel, that you wish you knew at the beginning?

I guess it’s something you learn and re-learn every time you pick up a pen or sit at the keyboard: you’ll think your first jottings are amazing and you’ll be so very wrong. But they’re a start. And the next draft will be better …  and then the next …  and the next …  and so on. But what’s equally important is to be ruthless, murder darlings in the nest before you get too attached. The first submitted draft ran to 111,000. The final book’s about 87,000. The 25,000 words or so that were cut were words I’d spent a long time writing and polishing. There was a lot in there that didn’t need to be but I was too close to it. By contrast, the first draft of The Last Shot was 80,000 — and it’s ended up at 93,000. So maybe I swung too far the other way. Perhaps the third book will be just right — but I doubt it!

Dead Zone

Michael’s favourite book as a teen

What were your favourite books to read when you were a teenager?

I am indebted to Stephen King. I loved that supernatural events were happening in our very ordinary world and to ordinary people. The Stand and The Dead Zone were hugely influential. Later, at school, we did Lord Of The Flies, The Loved One, Nineteen Eighty Four, Shakespeare: and I loved all of them too. So a mixture of the high and lowbrow — but, like YA, I’m never sure exactly where the border lies.

Of course, the book screams film rights. If you could choose anyone (director, actors) to adapt and star in your film, who would they be?

David Fincher [Fight Club, Panic Room, Zodiac, The Social Network]. I love his obsessive attention to detail, the mood he creates. As for actors, I’m going home-grown. Eva Lazzaro as Danby. She’s the right age, she looks the part and she’s really talented. I thought she was the best thing about Tangle. Alex Russell as Jack. He was funny and charismatic in Chronicle and he had an edge to him. Nathan’s young and from Sri Lankan parents. I wonder if cricketer Ashton Agar can act?

Michael Adams’ The Last Girl was featured as part of FRIDAY NIGHT FICTIONS for September. You might also like to read an interview with August’s debut author, Nina Smith and YA author of Girl Defective, Simmone Howell.

WHAT ABOUT YOU? WHO ARE YOUR FAVOURITE YA AUTHORS? IS IT TRICKY TO DEFINE YA? OR HAVE YOU READ MICHAEL’S BOOK YET? LET US KNOW WHAT YOU THINK!

Writing Mothers: Annabel Smith

Author Annabel Smith

Author Annabel Smith

Novelist Annabel Smith is a writer who kind of slipped by me. I’m not sure how this happened (but she has blogged extensively on it).

I read her first novel A New Map of the Universe earlier this year as if I was in a fever. The language is at times extraordinary. The opening scene where the lovers trace maps of stars on each other’s bodies is *sigh* so erotic, in the best shape of the word, that I felt like I might dissolve. It’s a book about abandonment (something that, as a writer, I identify with strongly), and about mothers who disappear (slowly, slowly). It’s a daring and transcendent debut, packed with emotion and punch.

I read her second novel pretty much immediately, intrigued by her ability to manipulate me as a reader (in a good way) and pluck at my tender bits and vulnerabilities.  Whisky, Charlie, Foxtrot is also assured but completely different in tone, a signal to me that Smith is quite an exceptional writer in the Australian cultural landscape. With this book, I think she deserves to be considered on the international stage (many Australian writers other than Peter Carey should be there). Beautifully structured, pared back in style, it’s a contemporary novel about technique as much as plot, about how words are shaped. As a family negotiates feelings around a brother (or son) in a coma (you can throw away all the cliches too), Smith negotiates how memories are formed and relationships battered by seemingly small misunderstandings — miscommunications and withdrawals — that grow into obstacles almost too big to crawl over.

Annabel Smith, A New Map of the UniverseI’ve got to know Annabel (virtually) in the past year. Her debut novel was published by UWA Publishing, like my own. And since just_a_girl was published she has been quick to review it and give feedback, helping me over initial hurdles. She invited me to contribute to her Which Writer For a Day collective blog (with other WA writers) and to think about my favourite book for her ‘Friday Faves’ series. She taught me the importance of writerly communities, and helping each other out online in innovative ways. I was also fascinated by her latest project, The Ark, a digital narrative that pushes the boundaries of fiction — I look forward to seeing it in final form.

Here I speak to Annabel about motherhood, writing, and writing mother characters in her fiction.

When you were pregnant, what were your expectations regarding having a baby and writing? Were you planning to write after the baby was born?

I prepared for pregnancy as I prepare for most things — by reading about it. What I read led me to believe that my baby would usually have 3 naps a day, adding up to 3 or 4 hours in total. Based on this information, I expected I might be able to spend perhaps an hour a day writing.

What was it like in reality? Did you get any writing done in the first year after your baby was born?

My son was colicky and difficult to settle. He had an abnormally short sleep cycle (only 25 minutes as opposed to the average 45 minutes), and never napped for more than 1 cycle. The time it took to settle him was often longer than the duration of his nap and was horribly stressful. I felt that getting him to sleep was one of my primary functions as a mother and I was failing horribly at it. Often by the time he fell asleep I was completely strung out, and there were a million things to do around the home, so writing didn’t get a look in. I didn’t write a word for the first six months after he was born and I felt incredibly frustrated and resentful about this. Eventually, we worked out a routine where my husband would look after him for half a day each weekend and I would spend a few hours at the library working on my book.

Did you find it difficult to sit down and write? Or was it the opposite? Were you more creative, as you had less time, and had to be super disciplined?

I was amazingly productive. My writing time was so precious, I didn’t waste a minute. I would sit down at the desk and barely look up for three hours.

Did you find the experience of motherhood starting to seep into your characters? Into the way you portray people?

Annabel Smith, Whisky, Charlie, FoxtrotI was writing Whisky Charlie Foxtrot then. After my son was born I wrote a scene in which my protagonist Charlie goes to see his mother, and talks to her about his feeling that his brother was her favourite child. She reveals that it was in fact the opposite, and shares her guilt about this feeling. Parental guilt is something you can’t imagine if you haven’t had children. I’d heard people speak about the feeling that they were constantly doing something wrong, or letting their children down in some way and I’d think, just let it go, stop beating yourself up about it. Then I became a parent and I experienced it for myself and I understood how it gets hold of you. So I wouldn’t have thought of writing that scene unless I had experienced that.

Did having a child mean you had to go back and rewrite or change characterisation (of mothers or other characters) in any ways?

Not that I remember, although having a baby also affected my memory really badly so it’s hard to be sure!

In your novels, mothers are often seen as difficult to reach or disappearing slowly out of grasp. Is this a common thread in your work?

It isn’t always easy to see the threads in your own work because often they seem to be driven by unconscious impulses. My first two novels both focus on the idea of communication in families — things that need to be said and aren’t, things that shouldn’t be said but are. All sorts of the relationships are fractured, not just those between mothers and children. But when I think about it more carefully, in my third novel The Ark (to be published in 2014) I have a character called Ava, who has a nervous breakdown, and worries about the impact of this on her 8-year-old daughter. And my current work-in-progress centres on a cult built around a woman known as ‘la madre’ which means ‘mother’ in Spanish. So perhaps it is an idea I feel a need to keep exploring in different forms, but it is not deliberate.

Mothering can involve managing many conflicting emotions. To what extent do these emotions transform or play a part in your writing?

What a great question. But also a difficult one to answer. I have certainly had many conflicting emotions as a mother and perhaps more extremes of emotion too. I had post-natal depression so some of the lowest times of my life have been since the birth of my son. The silver lining of this, for me, is having more compassion for others, especially people suffering with mental illnesses. I think if a writer has compassion for their characters, the reader is more likely to as well, even the difficult characters. So I hope that my experience with depression has helped me to write characters with more depth, and characters who readers might be able to feel sympathy for, even if they are behaving in ways that are hard to understand.

Both your books challenge the idea that motherhood and nurturing come naturally. Your characters struggle with grief and detachment. Do you think these are feelings many women negotiate but feel uncomfortable talking about?

Undoubtedly. I think there’s a terribly repressive culture which perpetuates the myth that all women are natural mothers and that motherhood is the most wonderful thing that can ever happen to us, and this culture makes it difficult for women to express their true feelings about motherhood which are often ambivalent and complex. I think this culture is changing, which is great to see, but it still has a long way to go.

Annabel Smith’s novel Whisky, Charlie, Foxtrot has been nominated for the Small Press Network’s Most Underrated Book Award, to be announced at the Wheeler Centre tomorrow night. Good luck, Annabel, and I’ll keep you posted.

THIS POST IS PART OF THE WRITING MOTHERS SERIES: You can also read interviews with Anna Funder, Debra Adelaide, Susan Johnson, Kirsten Tranter, and many other wonderful writers

WHAT ABOUT YOU? ARE YOU A WRITING MOTHER – OR IN THE PROCESS OF WRITING MOTHER CHARACTERS? HOW DO YOU HANDLE IT?

Friday Night Fictions: October 2013

Howdy, and welcome to the third soiree for FRIDAY NIGHT FICTIONS*.

It’s a strong contingent this month. Each time I do this, seek out debut novels and collections of short stories, I’m impressed by the scope and daring of the writing, especially that released by the smaller and independent publishers.

The more I wade into the deep of promoting my book, the more I realise that success is based on personal connections. In the list below, I have previously reviewed Cameron Raynes‘ dry and exquisite collection of short stories (for The Australian), which prompted me to hire him to write an article for Newswrite (the magazine I edit for the NSW Writers’ Centre) on how a stutter has helped (and hindered) his creative life (one of my favourite articles, that makes me cry every time I read it). I have watched Alex Hammond talk at a NSW Writers’ Centre panel on how to market crime fiction. And I have read with interest the reviews of Snake Bite, that seem linked to my own work: both novels billed as Puberty Blues(es) for the contemporary age.

One of my favourite moments of pulling together FNF is to choose a writer to profile each month. Next up is an interview with Michael Adams  (whose book The Last Girl featured in September) and I’ll be chatting to him next week.

And, ta dah!, the chosen one for October is Tracy Farr. “This is the story of Dame Lena Gaunt: musician, octogenarian, junkie.” With that opening line, I’m in!

If you’re a debut novelist or short story writer who’d like to contribute to next month’s edition, check out the guidelines and the August and September clubs.

For previous clubbers, I’ve also updated the August and September pages to see how writers are faring a couple of months in. Congrats to Dawn Barker, whose  Fractured has been the most reviewed book on the Australian Women Writers’ website, and Melissa-Jane Pouliot, whose novel about a missing person has really struck a nerve (see both in the August edition). I like the idea of all the pages evolving each month (rather that remaining static), so please email me updates at any time, so everyone can track how you’re going, and get some inspiration…

Indie (self-published authors) have had a bit of a rough trot lately. Where are you hiding? Give me a hoy. This monthly club is especially geared to you!

FINALLY, I was also pretty thrilled to see the Sydney Morning Herald‘s Susan Wyndham give FRIDAY NIGHT FICTIONS and debut author Nina Smith a little plug in her weekly column. This has brought many new visitors to the site…

just_a_girl SMH column

just_a_girl (and Friday Night Fictions) promoted in Susan Wyndham’s column in Sydney Morning Herald

*PS, as I post this, I realise it’s actually just turned to November and, due to unforeseen error (ie partying with Mikelangelo and the Black Sea Gentlemen at the Spotted Mallard in Brunswick), it’s more like Saturday Night Fever. Whoops. Anyway – enjoy!

SARAH AYOUB, Hate is Such a Strong Word

Hate Is Such A Strong Word Sophie Kazzi is in Year 12 at an all-Lebanese school where she is uncool and bored out of her brain. She’s desperate to find a little more to her life, documenting her hates in a journal that sounds like a rant list, not a diary.

Unfortunately, her father has antiquated ideas about women, curfews and the ‘Lebanese way’. Bad news for Sophie, who was hoping to spend Year 12 fitting in and having fun — not babysitting, studying or thinking about the accounting course she doesn’t want to do.

Then Shehadie Goldsmith arrives at school. Half-Australian and half-Lebanese, he’s even more of a misfit than Sophie. And with his arrogant, questioning attitude, he also has a way of getting under her skin.

But when simmering cultural tensions erupt in violence, Sophie must make a choice that will threaten the cultural ties that have protected her all her life.

Are her hates and complaints worth it?

Read an extract of the book on Harper Collins’ Summer of Supernatural page here.

Catch Sarah on her website + Facebook  + Twitter.

Buy the book at any of these retailers.

CRAIG CLIFF, The Mannequin Makers

The Mannequin MakersTwo rival window dressers at the beginning of the Twentieth Century try to outdo each other with ever more elaborate displays and lifelike mannequins.

When one of the window dressers, Colton Kemp, is rocked by the sudden death of his wife, the rivalry takes on new dimensions. Inspired by a travelling Vaudeville company, Kemp decides to raise his children to be living mannequins.

What follows is a tale of art and deception, strength and folly, love and transgression, which spans a century and ranges from small-town New Zealand to the graving docks of Scotland, an inhospitable rock in the Southern Ocean to Sydney’s northern beaches.

Along the way we meet a Prussian strongman, a family of ship’s carvers with a mysterious affliction, a septuagenarian surf lifesaver and a talking figurehead named Vengeance.

Buy the printed version at Fishpond, Booktopia, The Nile or Mighty Ape. Buy the e-book from Amazon, iBooks or Kobo.

Read the first chapter here. Find Reading Group Questions on The Mannequin Makers here.

Visit Craig’s website or blog, or follow him on Twitter for more information.

 

SHADY COSGROVE, What the Ground Can’t Hold

What the Ground Can't HoldTwo Americans are presumed dead and nine people are trapped in a cabin after an avalanche in the remote Andes…

Among them is Emma, an Australian faced with an impossible decision that could see her parents jailed.

Jack, a teenager obsessed with Jack Kerouac, guided by a skewed moral compass.

Carmen, a tango dancer whose estranged father is dying of cancer.

Pedro, the cabin manager who’s in hiding from those he loves most.

And Wolfe, an American on a deadly family quest.

With food supplies dwindling, these unlikely companions are forced to extremes and discover they are bound by more than their surroundings — each has a secret that links them to Argentina’s Dirty War.

What the Ground Can’t Hold is a gripping exploration of the ways the past closes in on the present, and destroys the foundations upon which we build our lives.

Buy the book from Pan MacmillanBoomerang Books and Booktopia.

Read an extract.

Shady’s November update:

Shady’s book has been getting some great coverage. See her blog for details + the Sydney Morning Herald, That Book You Like blog and Write Note Reviews.

TRACY FARR, The Life and Loves of Lena Gaunt

The Life and Loves of Lena GauntThis is the story of Dame Lena Gaunt: musician, octogenarian, junkie.

Born in Singapore, bundled away to boarding school in Perth, Lena Gaunt has made her own way — through music — to a glittering career on the world stage as Music’s Most Modern Musician, the first theremin player of the twentieth century.

“Music from a theremin can sound like a human voice, an electronic scream…or the low moan of a cello.”

Through a life shaped by love and loss, her relationship with music endures. Lured out of retirement to play at a music festival, Lena finds herself under the gaze of documentary filmmaker Mo Patterson. Mo wants to tell the story of Lena’s life, loves and music — but Lena is reluctant to comply.

The Life and Loves of Lena Gaunt is a novel woven with sound, sea, the stories we tell (and don’t tell), and the spaces between.

Buy the book (paperback or e-book).

Read an extract.

Contact Tracy on Twitter  and Facebook  or at her website.

Listen to an interview with Tracy on ABC RN Books and Arts Daily.

Listen to Tracy read from her book at its New Zealand launch.

Tracey’s November update:

My book has been reviewed at The Incredible Rambling ElimyOtago Daily Times and recommended, MUBAs and Shakers list, on the Kill Your Darlings blog. See my post about it.

ALEX HAMMOND, Blood Witness

Blood WitnessMelbourne defence lawyer Will Harris is reluctantly drawn into a bizarre murder trial. A terminally ill man claims to have witnessed the brutal crime — in a vision.

But the looming trial is more than just a media circus: it’s Will’s first big case since the tragic death of his fiance.

With pressure mounting, Will’s loyalties are split when his fiance’s sister is charged with drug trafficking.

The strain of balancing both cases takes its toll and Will finds himself torn between following the law and seeking justice.

“a slick, fast-paced legal thriller set in Melbourne but with a genuine international flavour and with enough twists to surprise even the most avid fans of the genre” – West Australian

“There’s romance and rumbling, knife fights, knuckle sandwiches and a cracking twist in the tale. Verdict: fast paced and gripping” – The Courier Mail

See more reviews.

Read an extract.

Buy a copy.

DIANE HESTER, Run to Me

Run to MeIt’s been two years since Shyler O’Neil’s beloved son Jesse was killed, but his final moments are as vivid to her now as they were that dreadful day. Suffering from post-traumatic stress, and convinced she did not do enough to protect him, she retreats to an isolated cabin in the woods of northern Maine.

Zack Ballinger — a ten-year-old boy who’s never known a mother’s love — has seen too much and is running for his life. Pursued into the woods, he finds himself at Shyler’s cabin. He’ll take whatever help she can give — even though, for some reason, she keeps calling him Jesse . . .

Protecting Zack may well be Shyler’s one chance at redemption.

Or she is the child’s greatest threat . . .

Buy this book at Dymocks, Big W, Kmart, and other independent bookstores.

Available online from Dymocks and Angus & Robertson.

Available as an ebook from Amazon.

Read an extract.

Connect with Diane on her website and on Facebook.

ANGIE HOLST, Expectations

ExpectationsMeet Sophia, Elise, Joe and Zoe. Four students at St Andrew’s College, tired of junior school’s same old routine, but starting to feel the heavy weight of expectation and responsibility that early adulthood brings.

Sophia is sick of being a part of shallow Gen Y, and feels like an old lady trapped in a young girl’s body: oh, and she’s realised she is identifying as lesbian, just to complicate matters.

Elise is an Aussie through and through except, well, she looks thoroughly Vietnamese and she’s a mathematical genius. But she really doesn’t want to become just another Asian nerd and she’s pretty sure she doesn’t want to study maths at uni.

Quirky Joe has always hung out with them so everybody at school has concluded that he’s kind of girly: you know, he’s smart and funny and gets along with girls, so clearly he must be gay or at the very least, metro. In reality, he’s a bubbling mass of testosterone, and that volcano of energy is about to blow as his home life becomes more and more tense.

And finally there’s Zoe. Zoe is beautiful, smart, and popular but she spends most nights alone, what with her mother running a busy solicitor’s practice and her father a politician. She wants to grow up fast, and have sex on her terms. But it’s that impatience that’s clouding her judgement — and will lead her to an absolute train wreck of a situation.

In the short space of a fortnight new friendships will develop, old friendships will change, and life lessons will be learnt. But one thing is certain: being sixteen has never been easy.

Read an extract.

Follow Angie on Twitter: @awoo75

Buy the ebook at Kobo.

SHARON KERNOT, Underground Road

Underground RoadDamien, Edith, Kenneth and Mary are residents of a single street whose lives are ordinary to the last degree and as such encompass addiction and domestic violence, quiet achievements and small acts of kindness and treachery.

Jack and Mary, locked at uncomfortably close quarters on Jack’s retirement, chafe and sulk and fret.

Edith finds solace playing the pokies.

Damien lives in terror of his stepfather Marcus and the school bully and broods on revenge.

And Kenneth, unhinged, wanders the streets.

Lives intertwine and decisions are made, and the tension quietly grows to its shattering climax.

“There is dread in this work coupled with a great sense of normality and ordinariness. This is uncomfortable, political, ‘get real’ literature. The final scenes are riveting.” – Francesca Rendle-Short

Read an extract.

Buy the book.

November update:

Sharon Kernot has done a wonderful review of Margaret Merrilees’ ‘The First Week’ (which also features in this edition). Read her review in the REVIEWS section (at the bottom of this post).

KIRSTEN KRAUTH, just_a_girl

Kirsten Krauth, just_a_girlLayla is only 14. She cruises online. She catches trains to meet strangers. Her mother, Margot, never suspects. Even when Layla brings a man into their home.

Margot’s caught in her own web: an evangelical church and a charismatic pastor. Meanwhile, downtown, a man opens a suitcase and tenderly places his young lover inside.

just_a_girl tears into the fabric of contemporary culture, a Puberty Blues for the digital age, a Lolita with a webcam, it’s what happens when young girls are forced to grow up too fast. Or never get the chance to grow up at all.

““Krauth’s debut is alive with ideas about isolation and connection in the digital age, particularly the way the internet raises the stakes of teenage rebellion.” – Jo Case, The Australian

“It’s about porn/love, isolation/connection, sexualisation/justification, misogyny/mentality, Facebook and the face-to-face. It’s about our world, right now, and it’s a little bit brilliant.” – Danielle Binks, ALPHA READER.

Read an extractBook Club Notes are available.

Buy the printed version at ReadingsBooktopia or Amazon. The ebook is available at Amazon.com.au and iBooks.

International readers please contact me direct…

See reviews of just_a_girl here.

Contact Kirsten at Goodreads, her blog (Wild Colonial Girl), Facebook and Twitter. You can see her read from her work at the Sydney book launch, along with Emily Maguire (who introduced it).

Kirsten’s November update:

Erin Stewart did a review of ‘just_a_girl’ and Christie Thompson’s ‘Snake Bite’ (see below) for Birdee Magazine. There have also been wonderfully thought-provoking reviews from Elizabeth Lhuede at Devoted Eclectic and Margot McGovern at LIP magazine — and the book featured on a list of MUBAS and Shakers at the Kill Your Darlings blog.

MARK LAMPRELL, The Full Ridiculous

The Full RidiculousA story about an ordinary family who go through an extraordinarily difficult time, told from the dad’s point of view, after he is hit by a car.

When he doesn’t die, he is surprised and pleased. But he can’t seem to move from the crash position.

He can’t control his anger and grief, or work out what to do about anything much.

His wife is heroically supportive but his teenage children don’t help his post-accident angst: daughter Rosie punches a vindictive schoolmate, plunging her parents into parent-teacher hell; son Declan is found with a stash of drugs.

A strange policeman starts harassing the family and to top it all off, his professional life starts to crumble.

This novel about love, family and the precarious business of being a man, examines the terrible truth: sometimes you can’t pull yourself together until you’ve completely fallen apart.

Buy the book.

Mark Lamprell on Radio National’s Life Matters.

Contact Mark on Twitter.

MARGARET MERRILEES, The First Week

The First WeekThis is a novel with its roots in a battered ancient landscape — the south of Western Australia.

But above all it is the story of one woman, Marian Anditon: pragmatist, farmer, mother.

When disaster strikes she is shocked and disorientated.

Hidden layers of grief and distress rise up around her like the salt of the degraded earth.

Her journey through the next week challenges all her previous assumptions.

Winner of the 2012 Unpublished Manuscript Award at Adelaide Writers’ Week.

Read an extract.

Order a copy.

Meet the author.

November update: 

Sharon Kernot (see ‘Underground Road’ above) has done a wonderful review of Margaret’s book. Heather Taylor Johnson (see below) also fell in love with Margaret’s book. See their reviews at the bottom of the page.

EIMEAR MCBRIDE, A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing

A Girl is a Half-Formed ThingThis novel tells the story of a young woman’s relationship with her brother, and the long shadow cast by his childhood brain tumour.

After years of rejections by UK publishers because it was too difficult to sell, A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing was picked up by a tiny independent press.

What followed was a debut novelist’s dream — an avalanche of critical acclaim and a rapturous response from readers.

In an intimate and compelling voice, McBride charts the progress of a young girl and her brother raised in a small Irish community.

A claustrophobic backdrop of poverty and devout faith surround this profound and devastating tale of love, betrayal and self-destruction.

Buy the book at Amazon.

CAMERON RAYNES, The Colour of Kerosene (and other stories)

The Colour of Kerosene (and other stories)A welfare worker is asked to spy on a colleague. An artist finds ragged consolation in the breakdown of a relationship.

And, in the award-winning title story, a taxi driver accepts a fare he knows he shouldn’t:

“They headed east, the nude hills of the Geraldton plains, stripped bare of trees a century before, leaning into them on both sides as the car climbed into the marginal country. Behind him, Luke heard the gurgle of fluid sluicing out of a bladder and into a cup … It occurred to him that it was not too late to turn back.”

The fourteen stories in The Colour of Kerosene lay bare the ordinary moral dilemmas we face in contemporary Australia. The small wars we fight; the alliances we forge; the compromises we make. These are crafted stories in which regret and failure are often tempered by the possibility of redemption.

See samples (with illustrations).

Read an extract.

Buy the book.

November update: Jane Skelton commented (see her book ‘Lives of the Dead’ below):

The Colour of Kerosene – I love the title. The cover’s fab — and there’s a quote from Ron Rash! I’m always interested in new short story collections and this one, set in dry, harsh places, is certainly on my list. I’m intrigued to see this collection has illustrations — mine has photos. What do people think about that idea? Does it distract from the prose or add interest, another layer?

CLAIRE SCOBIE, The Pagoda Tree

The Pagoda TreeTanjore, 1765. Maya plays among the towering granite temples of this ancient city in the heart of southern India. Like her mother before her, she is destined to become a devadasi, a dancer for the temple and it’s expected she will be chosen as a courtesan for the prince himself.

But as Maya comes of age, India is on the cusp of change. The prince is losing his power and the city is sliding into war. Maya is forced to flee her ancestral home, and heads to the bustling port city of Madras.

Maya captivates all who watch her dance. Thomas Pearce, an ambitious young Englishman is entranced from the moment he first sees her. But their love is forbidden, and comes at enormous cost.

Weaving together the uneasy meeting of two cultures, The Pagoda Tree is a captivating story of love, loss and fate.

Buy the book.

See the book trailer.

Read an extract.

Contact Claire on FacebookTwitter and on her website.

November update: Jane Skelton (see below) commented:

I picked up ‘The Pagoda Tree’ at a friend’s place and began reading while she was dressing to go out. I love the enticing pink and green cover. I decided it’s a ‘can’t put it down’ kind of book from the the bit I read. But I couldn’t very well slip it into my bag! The prose is very vivid and filmic. It’s on my Christmas reading list for sure. I’m really interested to see how Claire Scobie brings to life a very different time and culture and resolves the story of Maya’s destiny. It’ll be one to take travelling.

JANE SKELTON, Lives of the Dead (and other stories)

Lives of the DeadIn this short story collection, Jane Skelton writes cool prose about hot landscapes, about characters seeking relief from strong emotions. Her characters twist and turn in the violent weather that is trying to break them, while inside their bodies the turmoil is as great as or greater than the outside world.

Combined with the spare prose, the emotion of the weather and the landscape is almost unbearable, except that, like waiting for the southerly buster on a hot afternoon, we wait to know what will happen to these characters. Will the storm pass over the islands, will it rain in outback Queensland and take the pressure down?

These evocative descriptions of the Australian landscape and keen observations of the people who inhabit it, bring to mind Thea Astley and Jessica Anderson.

Lives of the Dead is a haunting and lyrical debut collection by a talented writer.

Meet Jane at her website.

Buy the book online or in good bookshops.

See the book trailer.

Jane’s November update: 

I’m interested in all the books here – it’s great to be part of this site and conversation. I’ll be checking back each month for updates… I’ve had a really good review by Heather Lunney on the NSW Writers’ Centre’s website.

HEATHER TAYLOR JOHNSON, Pursuing Love & Death

Pursuing Love and DeathIt is customary to bring gifts to a wedding.

But as daughter Luna prepares to marry her dream husband, the Smith family instead have in tow their own idiosyncratic brands of emotional baggage.

Her father, Graham, struggles to write his own own obituary; her mother, Velma, attempts to negotiate her mid-life crisis with a lover seventeen years her junior; her brother, Ginsberg, tries to come to term with being a homosexual who has inadvertently fallen in love with his wife.

Pursuing Love & Death is a darkly comic family saga, written with wit, lyricism and poignancy.

The storyline is believable, tragic and hilarious as clashing personalities unite for the first time in years — with explosive results.

Meet Heather at her blog.

Buy the book at Amazon.

Heather’s November update:

My book has been reviewed in the Advertiser by Katherine England … 

Heather has also done a wonderful review of Margaret Merrilees’ The First Week. Read it at the bottom of this page.

CHRISTIE THOMPSON, Snake Bite

Snake BiteJez is seventeen and lives with her alcoholic single mum in in a government rental in Canberra’s outer-suburbs, with little money or future prospects. As well as suffering from terminal boredom, Jez has got epic First World Problems: where is her next pill coming from, what will her first tattoo be, and how will she ever lose her virginity?

Over the course of one blazing summer, Jez runs a gauntlet of new experiences and discovers the real meaning of home. Filled with humour, brilliant observations and raw revelations, Snake Bite is a coming-of-age story of a wild teenager in a Canberra you never dreamed existed. It will sink its fangs into, inject you with its intoxicating venom, and never let you go.

Read reviews at ABC’s Books and Arts Daily, That Book You Like blogGoodreads and Sydney Morning Herald.

November update: 

Erin Stewart reviews just_a_girl (see above) and Snake Bite for Birdee Magazine.

FRIDAY NIGHT FICTIONS REVIEW: Heather Taylor Johnson looks at Margaret Merrilees’ The First Week

I read Margaret Merrilees’ The First Week during my first week of convalescence with shingles. Having been too uncomfortable to move, reading seemed a good option and thus far I had read Flanagan’s The Narrow Road to the Deep North (dare I say it? Yes, yes I do: the next Miles Franklin) and Barracuda (by the author I think is doing something really important for our booming Australian identity, the brilliant Christos Tsiolkas). After such heavyweights, I was prepared to settle back into something less confronting, get off that obsession-train one sometimes finds herself on when reading back-to-back stunners of novels. But then I read the first paragraph of Merrilees’ book, and I simply couldn’t stop reading until I was through. Such was my fascination with Marion, the sixty-plus year old protagonist who finds herself way in over her farm-living head when her city-based son is found guilty of murdering two strangers in a grocery store, that I read the book in one day. It was a fantastic commentary on character, on Australia, and on where the two rally. A perfect triumvirate: Flanagan, Tsiolkas and Merrilees. And now I’m onto Winton. Will the goodness ever end?

FRIDAY NIGHT FICTIONS REVIEW: Sharon Kernot also responds to Margaret Merrilees’ The First Week
When Marian receives a phone call with the news that her youngest son has committed a serious crime her life changes dramatically and permanently. Prior to the incident Marian’s life is tough but predictable and seemingly dull. She has been a widow for many years and brought up her two sons on her own on a farm near the Stirling Ranges in Western Australia. Her eldest son stayed on at the farm while the younger one went to Perth to study at university.

 The novel follows Marian’s first week after she receives the news that her youngest son, Charlie, is in trouble and, it turns out, has committed murder. She is understandably devastated and as she travels to Perth to find out exactly what has happened she is overwhelmed with confusion and grief and despair. She wonders how her son could do such a thing. She also wonders about her relationship with him and what might she have done to cause it. Who is to blame? And why?

When she arrives in Perth, Marian meets with Charlie’s friends and it becomes evident that his life is completely alien. He is like a stranger and his values are now opposed to those that he grew up with. His social activism and choice of friends are initially bewildering to Marian. Her opinions regarding racism, sexuality and farming practices are challenged and over the course of the week Marian struggles to reconcile these views. It is a strange and bleak time and Marian moves through it in a fog of sleep-deprivation doing things she would not normally do. At one point she allows herself some comfort with a stranger, and even goes back to his hotel room.

When Marian heads back home to the farm she does not have all the answers she hoped for. The motivation behind Charlie’s crime is not fully resolved but she has much to think about and her view of the world has changed considerably.

 The First Week won the 2012 Wakefield Press Unpublished Manuscript Award at Adelaide Writers’ Week and it is easy to see why: it is instantly gripping and I was compelled to read on. Marian’s struggle to come to terms with her son’s actions, her grief, despair and confusion are insightfully and compassionately articulated, and the Western Australian environment — its dry salt-damaged landscape is beautifully and evocatively depicted.

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