#AWW Review; Songlines by Carolyn Denman

So last year I had the opportunity to read this amazing book. Below is an adaptation of my Amazon review:

Songlines

“Can you hear the river crying?”

Songlines was such an amazing, beautiful story, it gave me goosebumps! And so Australian. I loved the way the author has woven together strands from completely different cultures in such a way they work seamlessly together! This story has biblical, Aboriginal and fairy stories all merged into one believable explanation.

The only thing that jolted me out of the story occasionally were the sometimes unusual metaphors – though I loved this one “as helpful as a chihuahua rounding up cattle.”

Such a unique story, I’m really looking forward to the next one in the series!

(Which happens to be available now!)

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Review – Egg and Spoon by Gregory Maguire

egg-and-spoon

Stars crown the world, she said, but the lights in your eyes, those are stars, too.

They make up your crown, he said.

I am no queen of anything.

Something too few of us know while we are alive, he told her. We are all crowned with glory. Peasants no less than kings.

Egg and Spoon is the story of two Russian girls – Elena, the peasant girl, who believes in Baba Yaga and the Firebird; and the wealthy and highly educated Ekaterina, Cat for short, who believes the Baba Yaga and the Firebird are foolish superstitions.

Elena is suffering alongside all the other Russian peasants, struggling to care for an ill mother after her father has died and her brothers have been dragged into service for the Baron and the Tsar respectively.

One day, a train stops in their village, unable to go forward due to a broken bridge. The train holds Ekaterina, on her way to St Petersberg to meet the godson of the Tsar.

Through a certain twisting of fate Elena ends up stuck on the train to St Petersberg, and Ekaterina ends up left behind in Miersk.

While Elena experiences a life beyond her wildest imaginings, so too does Ekaterina, who after fleeing Miersk finds herself in Baba Yaga’s cottage, being eyed-off as a tasty treat.

Overall the character of Baba Yaga sits a little closer to the side of kindly-grandmother than fearsome-hag (as I imagine her from the Vasalisa tale, from which I know her best), and yet I like this portrayal. Mostly the old hags have been misunderstood, after all.

Baba Yaga is, in her own words… “I am the larch root in the spring and the feverwort blossom in the fall. I am the forlorn echo in the dry community well. The tisane that can chase away the blues. I live in isolation for my own protection and for yours.”

Both Ekaterina and Elena end up in St Petersburgh, which is flooded, because the snows have not come, and winter has not been as cold as it usually is.

The challenge now is to discover why things are not as they should be.

While the style of writing is unusual – there is a narrator who is seperate from the story (though he does have a minor part), and who occasionally addresses the reader, this is a brilliant tale, full of snippets of wisdom.

I couldn’t recommend this more.

 

Welcome to 2017

welcome-to2017

I’m more than a little relieved we have finally said goodbye to 2016. Many people complained that it was a terrible year, citing the ever-rising rate of celebrity deaths as one of the reasons the year was so awful, alongside the numerous other occurances and events that I’m sure I don’t need to mention here.

For me personally, the bulk of 2016 was not so bad. I worked hard, potentially too hard when I found myself a little burnt out in September and unable to even comprehend writing another blog post, despite the couple of ideas that popped up later in the year. But I kept up with my fiction writing, completing two novellas to achieve my 50,000 word count for NaNoWriMo, and editing various other stories, one of which is now submitted to a competition (cross your fingers for me!).

But for me and my local community the tragedy of 2016 occurred in the days leading up to Christmas, when the mother of one of our homeschooling families was killed in a car accident. She was one of the loveliest people I have ever met, and I’m still not sure I’ve convinced myself that I’ll never see her again. It has been a time of shock and sorrow, and yet also profound awe as the local community has pulled together to support the family and each other, in a way I’ve never witnessed before. It’s given me great hope for the future, despite the terrible things that are happening in this world.

You know, I was not ever going to write about Gem’s death on my blog, but there I have, and now I’m pondering whether to delete it, or let it stay, and how on earth do I move from that topic to what I intended this post to actually be about – which is my plans for the coming year?

Perhaps this is a time to follow through on the one New Years Resolution I have every year, which is to be brave. I regularly fail at it, and yet when I do remind myself of this resolution, and follow through, I find it that little bit easier to be braver next time.

So… on to this year.

Once again this year I’m taking part in the Australian Women Writers Challenge, and, along with my local writers group, have decided to read and review books by Tasmanian Women Writers. I’ve committed to six and have finished the first one ‘The Spare Room’by Kathryn Lomer. I read another of her books a couple of years ago, ‘Talk Under Water‘ and loved it, so was really happy to read another of her novels

#AWW2016 Review – Barbed Wire and Cherry Blossoms by Anita Heiss

barbed wire, cherry blossoms

 

Set during the Second World War, Barbed Wire and Cherry Blossoms tells the story of Hiroshi, a Japanese Prisoner of War, and Mary, a young Wiradjuri woman living at Erambie Station, an Aboriginal mission.

At the beginning of the story, Hiroshi is held, alongside many others, in the No. 12 Prisoner of War compound in Cowra, NSW. But being kept prisoner is shameful for the Japanese soldiers, who have been raised to either fight or die for their country – even to the point of committing suicide should they be captured – and so a decision is made amongst the prisoners to stage a rebellion and escape from the the compound.

In the melee, and immediately afterwards, many of the Japanese prisoners die: some are killed, some take their own lives, and many are recaptured. But Hiroshi manages to escape, and he is taken in by the Williams family at Erambie. Looking after a Japanese prisoner of war is not easy when the very act of hiding him could put them all in a lot of trouble, and the people living at Erambie are already struggling to survive, living as they are under the Protection and Assimiliation Acts, and always under the watchful eye of the mission Manager.

As Hiroshi soon discovers, life in the Prison Compound was better than the life the Australia’s Indigenous people experience on the missions.

Hiroshi is hidden in the family’s air-raid shelter – a risk in itself, as if there really is an air-raid, it is not only the Williams family who will need to shelter there, but also their neighbours. The Williams eldest daughter, Mary, is given the once-daily task of delivering food and water to the man. These visits must be kept short, so as not to strike up anyone’s curiosity, but over time Mary finds she is staying longer and longer, as she and Hiroshi share stories about their lives.  Love blossoms between them – but will they be able to stay together, and overcome the restraints imposed by Hiroshi’s culture, and the living conditions imposed on Mary and her people by the Australian government?

This was such a sweet story. Anita captured the reality of life as a Japanese soldier so well, and presented life at Erambie station in a way that made it real. So often we think we know what has happened in the past, but actually being fully aware of the experiences of people living in that time is not. This is where fiction really sheds light on situations and experiences where text-books cannot.

Highly recommend this great read.

 

 

 

 

 

My Leibster Award

Liebster-award

Just over a month ago I learnt that Alisdair Daws had nominated my blog for a Leibster Award! Wow! Thanks Alisdair! I announced the fact to my family, (we were all gathered in the lounge room) who asked me what, exactly, a Leibster Award is. I had a vague idea, but thought I’d better head over to Alisdair’s blog to make sure I was right before I started telling everyone about it.

I was on the right track. As Alisdair notes, the Liebstar Award is a way for bloggers to connect with other bloggers and let them know they’re doing a great job. It works like a chain letter – a blogger nominates blogs they enjoy, and those bloggers in turn nominate other blogs.

Its great feedback from other bloggers – a confirmation you’re on the right track with your blog – and a great way to share your enjoyment and appreciation of other blogs!

So – the rules, as passed on via Alisdair:

  1. Display an image of the award and write about your nomination.
  2. Thank and link the person who nominated you for this award.
  3. Answer the 11 questions prepared for you by the blogger who nominated you.
  4. Nominate 5-11 awesome bloggers who you think deserve this award, and create 11 questions of your own for your nominees to answer.
  5. List these guidelines in your blog post.

Alisdair’s Questions:

  1. Who is your favourite James Bond, and why?

My first thought on answering this question was – ‘I’ve only seen one James Bond, who was it? Ah – that guy from Mamma Mia’, which of course is Pierce Brosnan – but then I realised that was a lie, and I’ve also seen Daniel Craig and Sean Connery as James Bond – and I’d probably have to say Sean Connery- purely for the accent!! 😉

  1. Pride and Prejudice or Bridget Jones’ Diary?

Pride and Prejudice. I love Bridget Jones’ Diary too – but if I have to choose one then Pride and Prejudice would have to be my top pick.

  1. What was your favourite tv show as a kid?

The Mysterious Cities of Gold. I was devastated when it ended!

  1. What is your favourite tv show now?

Well – we don’t actually have a tv, so we don’t really watch it as a rule, but the new ABC series Cleverman intrigued me so much I bought it on iTunes, and we downloaded each episode. Loved it!

  1. What is your favourite city to visit? (Or the city you’d most like to visit if you haven’t been there yet.)

Edinburgh. I was only there two nights, but I honestly felt like I’d come home! Amazing city!

  1. You’ve just been captured by an evil villain. Who comes to your rescue?

My hubby, without a doubt. ❤

  1. Night out on the town or night in?

Night in.

  1. What prompted you to start blogging?

I read that it was a thing authors needed to do, and so I did.

  1. What motivates you to keep blogging?

I’ve been blogging for four years now, and there have certainly been moments where the motivation has waned, but, for this year at least, I’d have to say my motivation at the moment comes from the facebook community that has built up around the ‘Build Your Author Platform’ course through the Australian Writers Centre. There’s a Facebook page for all current and former students. The support and encouragement is fantastic, and seeing what other people are up to on their blogs is great motivation to keep going. But aside from that I really enjoy reviewing books that I adore – if I finish a good book I just want to share it with the world.

  1. Who is your favourite author?

This is too hard! Hmm… I loved Isobelle Carmody’s Obernewtyn series growing up, and Enid Blyton and Roald Dahl. Margaret Atwood’s stories are always thought-provoking, I love Steven King’s Dark Tower series, as well as The Green Mile. I’ve only recently discovered Heather Rose, with her novel ‘Butterfly Man’, and then there is Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman and I love Joanne Harris’ books – especially Blackberry Wine. Then… well, I think you get the picture. There are so many incredible authors out there – it’s impossible for me to pick just one.

  1. What book has most influenced you?

I never know how to answer this question. I think the answer is something like the above – there are so many books that have influenced me over my life, that I struggle to pick the one that has influenced me above all others. Perhaps if I narrow the field down a bit, to focus on my writing… but I still have two that come to mind – ‘The Artist’s Way’ by Julia Cameron, and ‘Negotiating with the Dead: A Writer on Writing’, by Margaret Atwood.

I first read ‘The Artist’s Way’ around 6 or 7 years ago, at a time when I was trying to manage a daily writing and meditation practice all while raising two young children all on my own (quite successfully, actually). What resonated with  me then was the idea that the writing ‘is’ the meditation practice. It’s something I’ve fallen back on when time seems to fold in on itself and disappear.

‘Negotiating with the Dead’ is a more recent read. I only finished it last month, but I loved it!

“…its hypothesis is that not just some, but all writing… is motivated, deep down, by a fear and fascination with mortality – by a desire to make the risky trip to the Underworld, and to bring someone or something back from the dead.”

As an author of historical fiction I almost feel this is exactly what I am doing when I am writing, listening for the stories from those who lived long ago, and presenting their story to the world.

 

 

My nominees for the Liebster Award

https://emmaleegough.com.au/whatiffiction/

Emma Lee Gough’s blog is very new, but I love her approach to reviewing books: “Every story has a What If. What’s yours? What If Fiction drills books down to a single “What If” scenario and analyses the execution.” (I also love her cover image – wow!) Emma is a speculative fiction and fantasy writer, based in Brisbane, Australia.

https://sophiawrites.net/

Sophia Auld has another fairly new blog. She shares excerpts from her daily writing practice, and peeks into her days.

https://katarajade.wordpress.com/

I met Katara through our local write-in group (it started as part of a Nanowrimo Write-In in November last year, and four of us decided to continue, so we’re still meeting 9 months later!) 🙂 Katara writes memoir and her blog reflects this, forming part of her writing practice. “Online writing forces you to think about audience (unlike a private diary), and since I am a biographical writer, forces me to think about just how much of myself I make public before I formally publish anything.”

https://insigniastories.com/

Kelly Matsuura is a member of my other writers group – an online writers group formed 5 years ago!! :0 We haven’t met in the real world yet, though I’m sure we’ll arrange it one day. Kelly has numerous blogs, but I’m sharing her blog of the ‘Insignia’ anthologies which she compiles and edits. The Insignia Anthologies are short stories based in Asian countries, with Asian characters. Submissions have just closed for vol. 4, but if you write Asian fiction then keep your eye on the page for future submission calls.

http://elizabethfoster.com.au/musings/

Elizabeth Foster writes stories for children, and her first ‘Esme’s Wish’ has already been submitted to publishers. Though still new, her blog has some great posts about the writing process.

 

And now it’s my turn to ask the tricky questions!! 😉

11 Questions:

  1. What is your favourite book?
  2. What makes you happy?
  3. What’s your favourite pastime?
  4. Do you have a favourite quote?
  5. Who (dead/alive/real/fictitious) would you most love to meet?
  6. What do you like most about blogging?
  7. Is there anything you don’t like about blogging?
  8. Seaside or mountains?
  9. What was the last movie you saw?
  10. What is your favourite season?
  11. Where is your favourite place?

There is absolutely no obligation to play along, but if you do, let me know and I’ll link to your post. 🙂

#AWW2016 Review – A Single Stone by MegMcKinlay

A Single Stone

 

I first read of this book just before its release last year. I was immediately intrigued, but somehow misplaced the title and author, and with a pile of books to work my way through searching for it fell to the bottom of the priority list,  until earlier this year when I was listening to the Podcast ‘So You Want To Be A Writer’ (ep. 103).

(If you are a regular listener to the show, you’ll know that at the end of each interview Alison asks for 3 tips for writers. Meg gave what has to be one of the best writing tips I’ve ever heard:  let yourself be your absolute strangest self. (And if you’re not a regular listener I highly recommend you subscribe!))

A Single Stone is the story of Jena. She is leader of the line, a group of seven girls trained since birth to travel the mountain tunnels and crevices to find the mica that fuels their fires over winter. This is the most important work of all, for the winter snows bury their houses, and where wood fires create smoke that makes it hard to breath, the mica burns without smoke. It is the only way they can survive the winter.

The village is led by a group called the Mothers, and Jena trusts in their judgement, as do all the villagers. But something happens – on offhand comment that does not match with what she’s been told, and as Jena attempts to make sense of this one thing, more and more questions arise.

Soon Jena finds life does not have to be the way it is, and there is something better not so far away.

This was a beautiful story, with a fascinating premise. Well worth the read! 🙂

 

 

 

#AWW2016 – Review – The Butterfly Man by Heather Rose

The Butterfly Man

 

The Butterfly Man is a fictional account of the later years of Lord Lucan, a man accused of killing his children’s nanny and attempting to murder his wife. In reality Lord Lucan disappeared the night of the murder, and no one has seen him since (no one who’s saying anything, anyway).

It’s a compelling tale, a man in dire straights – separated from his wife, desperate to gain custody of his children, and in an enormous amount of debt. Things only get worse for him, when he finds himself in his former kitchen (the house now belongs to his ex-wife), the children’s nanny dead at his feet. What to do but run, and use what influence he has to escape from England, to change his face, his name, even his accent.

And where does he end up? Tasmania, a house on Mt Wellington, living with his defacto partner.

The problem is that Lord Lucan, now known as Henry, is much older. He’s ill. He has tumours growing in his brain, little ones, inoperable ones. The tumours are causing him to lose his memory. He has a secret he’s kept for ever, not a scrap of paper to reveal him – it’s all in his head. But now it looks like that is all for nothing.

The Butterfly Man is an amazing story, in which the circumstances in which Lord Lucan found himself with a dead woman at his feet are revealed gradually, throughout a story in which everyone has secrets.

There was so much to love about this story, but I worry if I share it I’ll be giving away spoilers (I love the last chapter in particular), so I won’t say anything. But please – read it! This is such a fantastic story!

#AWW2016 Review – Searching for the Secret River by Kate Grenville

searching_for_the_secret_river

 

I’m reviewing another memoir this week – this time a writing memoir – the story of Kate Grenville’s journey to writing her historical fiction – ‘The Secret River’.

Kate didn’t set out to write a historical fiction. In fact, the journey began not as an idea for a novel, but rather through a brief connection with an Aboriginal woman, the realisation that Kate’s great great great grandfather had been in Australia at the same time as the Indigenous woman’s great great great grandfather. Next, of course, came the question: how had Kate’s ancestor treated the Aboriginal people?

So the search began for her family history. She describes well the frustrations of genealogical research: frustrations I can well relate to after spending untold hours down the rabbit hole that is my own family history. The hours upon hours of searching for something that is not there, only to find it in the least expected place, or worse, not find it at all. Luckily for Kate she seemed to find all that she searched for (or if she didn’t, she didn’t write about it in her book!). Unlike Kate, I had no concerns with being labelled a ‘family historian’ even as a 20 year old in  a ‘hobby’ dominated by much older women.

It was not until much later in the research that Kate realised this research was not leading to the writing of a family history, but a novel.

Kate’s journey was so easy to read, peppered as it was with funny anecdotes and interesting tales.

“I knew I’d left the city behind when I passed a pile of bulgin bags on the roadside outside a farm with a big handwritten sign: POO $2.50”

Reading Kate’s experience in writing a historical fiction was immensely helpful to the writing of mine, despite that I found it so late in the process. It seems she struggled with the same things I have struggled with: presenting accent without making it difficult to read, writing some sections of the first draft in 1st person and some in 3rd, and how to connect with the past – how to bring it to life and treat it’s inhabitants with respect.

“I didn’t want to get inside the Aboriginal characters, but I needed to see what Thornhill would have: people of unmixed Aboriginal descent, living in traditional ways.”

Kate’s research for the book involved not just time spent in dusty archives, but also time in the landscape exploring the setting of her novel, and she writes much about this.

“The place was speaking to me as I sat listening, and although I couldn’t hear it properly, and didn’t know how to tell its story, I knew I was going to try.”

But the best help I received from this book, which replicates advice from many other people, comes in these few paragraphs:

“I thought of the book that I was circling around, that I’d been trying so hard to control. It was the problem with having written a few books. You got cocky, thought you were the boss. You thought it was your book, to squeeze into this shape or that. Non-fiction. Memoir. The fictional quester.

How puny and little-minded all those plans seemed from the perspective of this ridge-top, in this vast room made of leaves and air. How presumptuous I’d been, thinking that this was my story alone, to pummel into shape as I saw fit, a story I understood enough to force into the form I wanted.

The breeze had picked up. The bunches of leaves whipped against each other, whipped at the air. The was speaking. It was a language I didn’t know, but even so I was starting to understand.

How could I know what kind of book this was going to be? My job wasn’t to take what I’d learned and squeeze it into the shape I thought it should have. Before it could be a book this was a story. That story was somehow part of all this–these trees, these rocks full of language that was lost. I didn’t own that story. It had to be allowed to speak for itself. My job was to get out of its way.”

In many of the drafts of On Demon’s Shores, I let my fear about certain things get in the way of the story, and I tried to change it and adapt it as best would suit me and cower to my fears. In this most recent draft I’ve given the story control (as best as I can), and it’s certainly a better story for it.

 

 

 

 

 

#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. 🙂