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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.

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Walter Mason: I’ll show you mine if you show me yours

Walter Mason, Destination CambodiaI thought it might be fun to do a tandem blog post every now and then, 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. First up, I chose Walter Mason and his travel memoir, Destination Cambodia: Adventures in the kingdom.

Walter has been a wonderful mentor to me in many ways. We first met when he rocked up to my book launch in Sydney and, since then, I’ve seen him launch his own book too (from afar) and we spent an afternoon together at the NSW Writers’ Centre’s Open Access seminar, talking about marketing as a creative act.

Walter is someone you don’t forget. He fills a room with his quiet (wicked) humour and grace. While he’s an expert promoter, he also spends a lot of time helping others with their writing.

DESTINATION CAMBODIA

In 2005, I desperately needed to leave the country. I was fed up with working in a bureaucracy, I was creatively stifled, and I needed out. I had never travelled internationally on my own before. I wanted to go somewhere in Asia. I chose an Intrepid tour in Cambodia — and it was one of the best experiences of my life. The tour did more than just fly in and out of Siem Reap to see Angkor Wat. We tracked some of Walter’s journey. Phnom Penh to Battambang to Sihanoukville. Although I only went for a quick two weeks (and Walter went for months), I was forced to continually readjust my idea of how I was positioned in the world (as a traveller, and as a white and privileged person). I came back to Sydney with a deep sense of loss, an acute awareness of how structured and wealthy my position was, and wanting to return immediately and live near the ocean there (unfortunately, like many travel dreams, this wore off and got lost).

What I like best about Walter’s book is his sensitive rendering of the characters and friends he makes along the way. This is not an overarching look at the history of the place but a cultural assessment, based on the small things and day-to-day of people’s lives and, really, isn’t that what makes engaging history anyway? I visited Cambodia with a Lonely Planet list of all the books I needed to read but, when I landed, I was so electrified and confused, and too switched on to every detail, that I was reluctant to read a set of facts and figures.

But Walter paints a clear picture of the devastation and beauty of Cambodian lives. When describing the Pol Pot regime, and the complete lack of care for the general populace, he comments:

In Khmer Rouge hospitals, untrained nurses were, according to journalist Joel Brinkley, ‘injecting patients with Pepsi or coconut milk’.

Images like that, and there are many, are impossible to forget. They mix with my own: a three-year-old, living in cardboard, begging for pizza from my table and returning to share it with other children, no older than five; a local guide laughing at moments when revisiting his past (losing family) to reassure us; finding a quiet place in the grounds of the Tuol Sleng Torture Museum to rest my head on my knees and breathe and cry after seeing the photographs: documentation of a generation tortured and murdered; a group of men on motorbikes taking us on a tour of rice paddies, and then to a Battambang nightclub, where they treated us with great respect under the strobe-lights, and screamed ‘Oh my Buddha’ in joy as they raced us back to our hotel.

Like the best travel writing, Walter’s book reveals as much about him as the Cambodians he writes about. I’m always drawn to writers on the outside looking in (my characters tend to be like that too). Walter is a curious mix: he describes himself as having ‘few inhibitions’ (which is why he tries to avoid alcohol) and yet he can be shy. People seem drawn to him, to open up in his company, and yet ‘[he] had been brought up never to ask difficult or personal questions, even if [he] was burning with curiosity’. I’m like this too, hampered by my own politeness. A difficult trait for a writer keen to engage with the world.

But one of the best things about travelling is that you are often forced to communicate, especially if no-one speaks your language. I remember days of agony on my first trip to Europe, trying to get up the guts to approach hotels with my execrable French.

Walter also knows how to keep you on the edge of your seat. One chapter details a huge event that Walter is invited to (with hundreds of people waiting expectantly), where he gradually realises, with dawning dread and fear, that he is the key speaker on the topic of Buddhism (to a parade of venerated monks). It’s like the worst of my nightmares where I’m completely unprepared, and exposed to the world. I won’t reveal the final outcome – it’s too excruciating; I just can’t go there. But Walter does.

The book is also centred on the sacred. Walter’s friend Panit ‘recognises the forest as sacred in many ways, fearing certain spots and glorying in the beauty of others’. My Japanese character Tadashi  (in just_a_girl) observes his mother’s Shinto religion, and sees everyday objects, and nature, as having kami, or spirits. Walter comments:

I had learned to not laugh at such statements, or to launch into a rationalist lecture about the absence of spirit realms. Friends spoke casually of spectral presences, of visitations by dragons and angels, of possession and trance … When faced with the possible alternative existence I felt only curiosity and a willingness to indulge in the possible wonder of multiple worlds.

Angkor Wat, Cambodia

Angkor Wat, Cambodia

Where Walter is in his element is turning his sharp focus back on Westerners and how they approach different cultural encounters. I particularly loved his writing on Angkor Wat, on how a spectacularly beautiful place is pretty much ruined by the sight at dawn of thousands of photographers perched for the perfect shot which, ironically, will be mainly of other photographers. I was lucky in 2005 to have a lot of this place to myself at certain moments. But I do remember sitting in the early morning behind some British backpackers, one loud girl in a see-through white mini-dress that revealed a bright pink thong, and wanting to push her off the edge of the temple to an untimely death. Walter contrasts the ‘Westerners strolling through [the sacred site] dressed as though for a day at the beach – a bad day at that’ with his friend, Panit:

Panit had taken a half-hour that morning to select the clothes he was going to wear to Angkor Wat, that proudest symbol of the Khmer people. All of the Cambodians we encountered were dressed neatly, respectfully.

And Walter is not afraid to expose himself to the light either. As a very camp and large man — the locals call him ‘fat’ (often favourably) — he often longs to be able to just fit in, be a part of the crowd. His description of the raucous encounter with a nasty masseuse who grabs his flesh and calls him names is a reminder of the pitfalls of travel, of trusting someone, of cultural differences where not everyone is ‘polite’ and it’s customary to comment on someone else’s body. At another point, two men get off their motorbikes and spontaneously grapple with and stroke his flesh. Through it all, Walter steps back, is passive, let’s things happen. This is disturbing and exhilarating for the reader, and something I understand well: being frozen by an extraordinary moment, unable to think, let alone act.

Fried spiders, Cambodia

Fried spiders, Cambodia

One night in a beach bar in Sihanoukville, I shared a joint with a friend. The next thing I knew, after falling asleep, I woke up, unable to find friends. Disoriented, I stumbled down the beach, stopping every now and then to have a little lie down, gradually becoming aware as I moved that I had no idea where my hotel was, had no idea how to get there, and couldn’t even remember its name. All I could hear was my mum’s voice saying ‘what were you thinking?‘. I strolled up to a road. It was about 3am. No-one around. I heard a putting motorbike coming my way. I hesitated as it approached me: do I flag it down? I’d never do it in Australia. I decided to take the risk.

The man stopped. I got on the bike. We didn’t say a word. He drove me through the streets and straight to the gates of my hotel. He refused my offer of money — a very generous offer.

It is my enduring memory of Cambodia. Along with eating a tarantula.

Walter’s Destination Cambodia is a collection of memories that offers an open and generous perspective of what it is like to confront another culture head-on.

Read Walter Mason’s review of just_a_girl.

WHAT ABOUT YOU? WHAT ARE YOUR FAVOURITE TRAVEL BOOKS?

OR HAVE YOU BEEN TO CAMBODIA? PLEASE SHARE YOUR MEMORIES OF THE PLACE…

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