#AWW2017 Review – The Spare Room by Kathryn Lomer

the-spare-room

A couple of years ago I saw Kathryn Lomer in conversation with Cate Kennedy, a fantastic conversation about writing that encouraged me to buy at least one book by each of these fantastic authors. I bought ‘talk under water’ by Kathryn, and loved it, so I was really looking forward to reading this one, and I wasn’t disappointed.

The Spare Room is a beautiful story. Nineteen year old Akira has ben sent to Australia by his very stern, (an as Akira puts it himself) ‘very Japanese’ father.  The plan is that Akira will learn English and will then be able to take over the international arm of his father’s company. But Akira has desires and plans of his own, and his time in Australia shows him that he can have a life outside of his father’s plans.

But there is another story here too. Akira has lost his closest friend, Satoshi, who could not take the pressure of his own father’s expectations. In Australia, there is something off about Akira’s host family. As time goes on Akira learns that they too have suffered their own loss, and to begin with at least, Akira’s presence is not helping the situation.

I love the way Kathryn expresses the struggle of learning a foreign language:

“You often want to say something entirely different but you are limited to the vocabulary you know and you have to try and construct something from the little that you have. A bit like trying to make a salad when you only have braising vegetables, or trying to build a boat using nails. You get kind of warped into the shape of the words you know. There is a big gap between what you think and what you say. It would be a long time before I felt that the real me, the one with ideas and opinions and funny stories to tell, could find his way out again. For a while that person was trapped inside a new language.”

(Sometimes I feel this way with English too… except English is my first language.)

This is a lovely story, of how complete strangers can help each other heal, and how facing our fears often helps us overcome them.

#AWW2016 Review – Flywheel by Erin Gough

Flywheel

 

I first heard of The Flywheel at the Tamar Valley Writers Festival earlier this year. Author Erin Gough spoke about her experiences discovering her sexuality as a teenager. Attending an all girls school she had never ever heard of anyone who was gay – it wasn’t mentioned at school – there was not even any teasing, and she’d never come across gay characters in any of the books she read. She assumed that the only reason she liked girls was because she didn’t know any boys, or at least, not well enough to develop a crush on.

She wrote this because she wanted other young gay girls out there (and guys too I guess) :), to be able to see themselves in fiction – to learn that they are normal, that there are others out there just like themselves.

I loved The Flywheel, it really is such a sweet story.

Delilah is 17 years old, and gay. It’s the universal high school story – misplaced crushes and the embarrassment that stems from the world finding out – but there’s a twist – the popular girl Delilah has a crush on likes her back, but is not confident enough to admit to the world she’s gay, let alone she’s attracted to one of the uncool kids.

Struggling with the taunts after popular-girl’s friends find out and believe the attraction is all one-sided, Delilah decides to ditch school for a bit and focus on the family cafe she’s supposed to be running while her father is away. This also gives her more time to spy on her newest crush, the beautiful Rosa, who dances flamenco at the tapas bar across the road.

This is such a well written story – and I’m sure totally relatable to anyone who has ever attended high school, regardless of their sexuality. Highly recommended! 🙂

#AWW2016 Review – A Kiss From Mr Fitzgerald by Natasha Lester #kissfitz

#kissfitz

I’ve been a follower of Natasha Lester’s blog for some time now – she always has fantastic information for writers – even before I’d read any of her novels! I think I fell in love with ‘A Kiss from Mr Fitzgerald’ from the moment I first read about it, and I certainly was not disappointed.

‘A Kiss from Mr Fitzgerald’ is a break from Natasha’s previous publications which were both more literary: ‘What is Left Over, After’ and ‘If I Should Lose You’. (I haven’t read ‘What is Left Over, After’, but I loved ‘If I Should Lose You’ – it reminded me very much of Jodi Picoult’s novels).

#kissfitz (as the twitter hashtag goes), is a historical romance set in 1920’s New York [think Great Gatsby], but it’s not your average romance either. Evie is coming of age in a time where it’s still the accepted thing for young women to marry and stay home with their needle-work. But Evie wants something more – in fact, at a time when Universities were only just opening their doors to female students, she wants to study medicine.  Unfortunately her family and intended fiance, Charles Whitman will not abide by it. Luckily she has a supporter in Charles’ mother, and she soon finds support from another, rather unexpected source.

This is a beautiful book, and such a well-written story! Highly recommended, I was hooked right from the start!

Interview – Historical Fiction Author – Barbara Gaskell Denvil

I’m a little bit excited, because this week on the blog I’m interviewing a fellow historical author – Barbara Gaskell Denvil! Barbara’s latest book ‘Fair Weather’ has just been released and she’s come over to have a chat about the book and her writing process.

Welcome Barbara!

  • To begin with, can you tell us a bit about yourself?

Thanks so much, Heather. I’ve been an author of sorts for most of my life, starting in
my teens publishing articles and short stories while working for publishers and television companies as a tutor, script writer and editor. However, I took a large break for domesticity and bringing up three daughters, two of whom are identical twins. Once my children were grown with lives of their own, I spent some years sailing the Mediterranean and living in several European countries while indulging my sense of adventure and learning, first hand, what romance is all about. Now I live in Australia, and write of medieval England while gazing out of my window at kangaroos, parrots and kookaburras. A considerable contrast – but my imagination soars from one to the other with no problems. It all adds to the joys of inspiration.

  •  Briefly, can you tell us what Fair Weather is about?

FW CoverMystery – history – dark magic – romance – and adventure! Fair Weather is set a little earlier than many of my other novels, going back to the reign of King John. It is a time-slip story with a large dose of the paranormal so the heroine, at first against her wishes but increasingly eager, is pulled from her modern comforts into the dangers of the past.  The storyline delves deeper and deeper into the threats and the mysteries, but as the plot develops the mysteries begin to unfold, and the principal male character shows himself as multi-faceted and far from average hero. This very unusual hero is one of my favourites but neither of my two heroines find him an easy companion. This book and its plot are multi-layered, and carries many twists…

  • What inspired you to write Fair Weather?

Vespasian Fairweather came marching into my head one dark and chilly evening, and introduced himself without permission. I found him immediately intriguing, challenging and compelling. This is actually a novel I first wrote back in 2004 when time-slip plots were rare! But I have polished since then – and I believe the book has grown a little. But for all that time, Vespasian has been with me. He’s not always the easiest companion, but I love having him around. He is charismatic and never predictable. So he has been my inspiration right from the start. Where he came from – well – I’m not sure!

  • I see you’ve written quite a bit of historical fiction. What drew you to this genre?

I suppose originally because it’s a genre I love to read, and I grew up with an adoration for Dorothy Dunnett, Shakespeare and Mary Renault. I became interested in researching the dark cramped and brutal life of the ordinary people during those long-past years. I also love fantasy – and I think both fantasy and historical fiction draw the reader into new worlds. Escapism of the deepest and most compelling kind. I adore wandering other dark roads in my mind and exploring what made people think and believe as they did. I am greatly interested in many important figures from the past (Richard III, Shakespeare, Rochester, Wellington and many more) but it is the huge heaving population of the poor that absorbs me, and how they coped with such difficulties. We are now what the past has made us, and I find that an absorbing puzzle to study.

  • Fair Weather is not strictly historical. Is this your first time-slip novel?

Yes, it is, and I have loved writing it. I believe the time-slip plot draws the reader into the past along with the characters, and that is always my aim in all my books, even when time-travel is not at all included. When I actually wrote Fair Weather back in 2004, time-slip was quite a rarity in books and I cannot remember a single book I had then read based on time travel, although now it is quite fashionable. My mother had recently died, and I think my mood was generally dark – and from there I slipped into the past myself.

  • I’ve had a peek at your website, and I’m intrigued by your story line. You mentioned that one of your main characters ‘Vespasian’ arrived fully formed and proceeded to dictate the story (I’ve experienced this myself!). Was there much research involved?

Yes, isn’t it a wonderful experience when a compelling character seems to come alive!

I have always loved researching the past and started with massive academic research on the Viking era when I was just 12 years old. So yes indeed, I researched the time period for Fair Weather with much passion, even though the plot of my novel is not based on historical events. Certainly the presentation of old London and the way of life at that time are all very accurate. Vespasian certainly strode through my head and wrote my book for me, but I still had to check that the facts were right. Now I have trouble with fading sight, and research is a problem. However, I will never write a historical fact without ensuring its accuracy.

  • I’ve found research can be a bit of a black-hole – there is so much information out there. How did you know when you’d done enough?

Yes, it can be hard, but that black hole has never swallowed me up. I enjoy research and never stop, and it is endlessly valuable. You need a feel for the period, and an understanding of what life was like then. I have researched many periods of history without the slightest intention of setting a book in that time. The past has fascinated me most of my life and I am passionate about understanding the way we have grown from previous mistakes. I have a passionate sympathy for the terrible experiences the ordinary people suffered before we learned tolerance, before medical science understood disease and hygiene, and before a regard for equality was accepted. Battle was the most brutal business and yet people accepted the inevitability. Many fought willingly, but the suffering continued unabated through every reign. I will not turn away from the misery those poor souls faced in bygone eras, and I write of their lives with the utmost care. Now humanity is maturing beyond those past horrors, but we still have a lot to learn. That is what research means to me. I have never entered into any research purely as a short term exercise for one book alone.  I dream of these times, and feel as though I live there as I write my books.

  • What inspires you to write?

The whole world and everyone in it becomes my inspiration. The sunset over the hills, the dawn rising in soft pastels over the ocean, forests in the spring and open moors bleak in the barren winter. Every person I meet and every word they say inspires me. I get sudden ideas from dreams too. My dreams are vivid and compelling, and they remain with me long after I have woken. Some films have inspired me too, and books of course, for reading the work of others is perhaps the biggest inspiration of all. I also have my own memories, and after leading a very varied and interesting life, there is plenty to remember and plenty to inspire within those memories.

  • What is your next book about?

I am now writing a Tudor adventure. As usual it contains romance, adventure, crime and mystery, as well as a good deal of historical context. Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn are important characters within the book, but I follow my normal practice by bringing my own fictional characters into the foreground as the principal protagonists.  But the book is only about half way finished, and it will be some time before I choose to publish it. I insist on rewriting and polishing my work several times, and therefore finally publish my very best attempt at perfection. Well – nothing is ever perfect of course – but I can try.

  • What is your writing process? Do you have a daily routine? Do you plot your stories – or do you let them come to you as you write?

More or less a routine, and I try to write for many hours each day, depending on other duties such as marketing and keeping up with articles, and fascinating interviews such as this one. I love writing. I have no problem with writing for hours. I always start off with my basic plot and characters very firmly in my mind, but then as the book begins to develop, it takes on a life of its own and runs away with me. In the end I always feel as though it has written itself. Sometimes it feels so real that I think it has written me!

My leading characters leap into my head fully formed and demand that I give them the freedom to do whatever they wish. And that’s exactly what I do. I have written a crime mystery before, where I have changed the culprit half way through simply because the original character I had chosen as the guilty one, turned around and told me in no uncertain manner that he was innocent. Who can argue with a character stamping his feet inside your head?

  • Why did you decide to self-publish?

My traditional publishers (Simon & Schuster) treated me very well. My books sold well and I intended continuing in the traditional manner. But then I began to dream of taking back some of the control I had inevitably had to surrender to my publisher. I had no complaints, but most matters were no longer my choice and even the basic direction of my books was sometimes altered by them. Only one book a year is published traditionally of course, they chose covers, and with a small budget allotted (large budgets are kept strictly for the famous names and huge best-sellers) there was very little possibility for publicity or marketing. Eventually I decided that self-publishing would bring me vastly more pleasure, and renew all my freedoms., So that is what I chose.

Sadly there is still some stigma hanging over those who self-publish, as though they have all initially failed. This is most unjust. It may sometimes be true, of course, but usually it is not. I was offered the traditional path – accepted with pleasure – and then backed out. Self-publishing has become a great joy, although challenging – but it is the way I now wish to travel.

 

  • What advice would you give to people just starting to write, or considering self-publishing?

I don’t think I am in a position to advise anyone really, as I am still learning what I want to do myself. I suppose I would advise any prospective author to take the idea seriously – never to give up – and to re-write, re-write, and re-write again. Many new authors finish a book quickly and assume that is good enough. In the following years they inevitably regret having rushed the process. I think a measure of perfection should be attempted through endless polishing before going out to face the public. Beta readers can be extremely helpful in this.

  • Do you have any website/social media links you’d like to share?

My Amazon author’s page,

www.amazon.com/Barbara-Gaskell-Denvil/e/B005M8E3ZS/ref=ntt_dp_epwbk_0

My website – and please do subscribe –

http://barbaragaskelldenvil.com/index.html

and my F/B author’s Page –

https://www.facebook.com/B.GaskellDenvil/?fref=ts

I should dearly like to meet you all on any or all of these sites.

 

– Fairweather is available now from Amazon

https://www.amazon.com/Fair-Weather-Barbara-Gaskell-Denvil-ebook/dp/B01GBV40CU

and Amazon UK

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Fair-Weather-Barbara-Gaskell-Denvil-ebook/dp/B01GBV40CU

 

– Thank you so much for having a chat with me today Barbara – I’m really looking forward to reading Fair Weather, and learning a bit more about Vespasian Fairweather and the heroines who accompany him in this story.

 

Barbara’s bio:

barbara 3Born in England, I grew up amongst artists and authors and started writing at a young age. I published numerous short stories and articles, and worked as an editor, book critic and reader for publishers and television companies. I broke off my literary career to spend many hot and colourful years sailing the Mediterranean and living in various different countries throughout the region.

When my partner died I needed a place of solace and came to live in rural Australia where I still live amongst the parrots and wallabies, writing constantly, for my solace has now become my passion.

With a delight in medieval history dating back to my youth, I now principally set my fiction in 15th century England. I also write fantasy, tending towards the dark and adult. Within these two genres, I now write full time.

http://barbaragaskelldenvil.com/index.html

#AWW2016 Review – Mullumbimby by Melissa Lucashenko

Mullumbimby

 

“Circles protect you, if you let them, girl. But you gotta let ’em. Gotta not get in their way.”

After a divorce, Jo has enough cash to go halves in 20 acres of land with her brother, land that is located in the valley where her Indigenous ancestors once lived. She sets about rebuilding her life: raising a thirteen year old daughter alone, and working at the local cemetery mowing lawns and trimming shrubs.

“Spend enough time among the silent majority, Jo discovered, and you found yourself worrying less about tomorrow, and more about today. There are so many tomorrows, after all. How could a person keep track of them all?”

She recalls conversations from her Auntie, who tried to teach her the ways of the land and the spirits, and particularly of dadirri, a way of deep listening. But just as things seem to be falling into place for her, who should turn up but a hot, dark-skinned, dreadlocked fellow by the name of Twoboy. The attraction is mutual, and Jo learns that Twoboy has put in a native title claim for the land along the valley where her home is. Though Twoboy grew up in Queensland his great-grandfather  belonged to the Bundjalung nation, the Valley where Jo’s property is located. The trouble is, Twoboy has competition from local Indigenous folk who did grow up in the area (though their ancestors were from other Aboriginal nations), and who are doing everything in their power to block Twoboy’s claims.

This was such a beautiful story about love, and triumph over adversity, and finding help in the most unexpected of places.

#AWW2016 Review -‘Meet Marly’ and ‘Marly’s Business’ by Alice Pung

Meet Marly

I’m reviewing something a little different this week.

Meet Marly, and Marly’s Business, by Alice Pung, are middle-grade fiction (actually, I noticed on the publisher’s website they are listed as ‘historical’ fiction – hmm… I realise 1983 was in the past, but ‘historical’? I was around in 1983… makes me feel ancient!)

These two books are the first in a series of four, belonging to the ‘Our Australian Girl’ series from Penguin Random House Australia. They follow the life of 10 year old Marly, a refugee from Vietnam, and the struggles she has in trying to fit in at school, when home life is so different to that of her class mates.
Marly's BusinessMy daughter received the first three of these books for her birthday (the third is ‘Marly and the Goat’ and I see the fourth: Marly walks on the Moon is due out at the end of this month – what perfect timing!), and every night we’ve been reading half a chapter or so each (except last night – last night we were so keen to find out what happened in ‘Marly’s Business’ we read the entire last half of the book!)

It’s been a great way to give my daughter not only an example of another culture, but also discuss the differences between growing up now and growing up 30 years ago.

These books are a great read, and certainly have kept me entertained as we work our way through the series. Highly recommended – especially if you have children around that age you can read them with! 🙂

 

#AWW2016 Round-up (Happy Mother’s Day!)

First up – Happy Mother’s Day!! I hope you all get as spoiled as I did – breakfast and hot chocolate in bed, along with a wonderful home-made card and a bag of home made gifts -perfect!

Just a short post this week.

AWW2016

In my first post of the year I wrote about how I’d signed up for the Australian Women Writers Challenge for 2016. My goal was to read 6 books by Australian Women Writers this year – at least half of which were by Indigenous Authors.

I’m really pleased to say that 1/3 of the way through the year and I have already acheived that goal. My reviews were:

By Indigenous Authors:

And Non-Indigenous Authors:

So I’ve extended my goal a little, with the hope to read and review another 6 books by Australian Women Writers,  with at least three by Indigenous authors, before the end of the year.

Hope you’ve enjoyed my reviews, and if you have any recommendations for great Aussie authors/books, please let me know in the comments. 🙂