Review – Egg and Spoon by Gregory Maguire


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.



#AWW2017 Review – The Spare Room by Kathryn Lomer


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.

Welcome to 2017


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.






Book Week Challenge – A-Z of Characters from Australian Children’s Stories

This post is a few weeks late, I know. The last fortnight I’ve had a run of sick children, my son, then my daughters, then my son again, then me and hubby. I haven’t read a lot over this time, though I do still have a couple of books that I’ve read, but haven’t yet reviewed, that I need to type up and post in the coming weeks, but they all require a little more brain power than I’m capable of giving at the moment.

Instead I thought I’d share with you our book week activity. As a homeschooler, I still try to incorporate all the awesome things the kids loved about school, and Book Week is definitely one of them. After searching out some ideas online, this year we sat down and made a list of all the characters we could think of for each letter of the alphabet. We tried to focus on books by Australian Authors, though you’ll see that a few non-Australian characters have snuck in there as well.

mm-chronicles A – Ash (Mapmaker Chronicles by AL Tait), Ashala Wolf (The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf by Ambelin Kwaymullina), Andy (The Treehouse Series by Andy Griffiths and Terry Denton), Alfonso (Cat’s Ahoy by Peter Bentley)

B – Blinky Bill (Blinky Bill by Dorothy Wall), Booger Boy (Captain Underpants by Dav Pilky), Bilbo (The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien)

C – Cuddlepie (Snugglepot and Cuddlepie by May Gibbs), Cleaver (Mapmaker Chronicles by AL Tait)

D – Damon (Obernewtyn Chronicles by Isobelle Carmody)

E – Elspeth (Obernewtyn Chronicles by Isobelle Carmody) and Ellie (Tomorrow When the War Began by John Marsden)

F – Figgy (Figgy in the World by Tamsin Janu), Frodo (Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien)figgy

G – Grandma Poss (Possum Magic by Mem Fox)

H – Hush (Possum Magic by Mem Fox), Harry Potter (Harry Potter by J K Rowling

I – Isabeau (Witches of Eileanan by Kate Forsyth)

J – Jericho (Mapmaker Chronicles by AL Tait), Jill (The Treehouse Series by Andy Griffiths and Terry Denton)

K – Koala Lou (Koala Lou by Mem Fox)

L –

M – Mary, Margaret (Who Am I by Anita Heiss), Marly (Meet Marly by Alice Pung)

N – Nana (Figgy in the World by Tamsin Janu), Nell (Sail Away, The Ballad of Skip and Nell by Mem Fox)

O –

P –obernewtyn

Q – Quinn (Mapmaker Chronicles by AL Tait)

R – Rushton (Obernewtyn Chronicles by Isobelle Carmody)

S – Skip (Sail Away, The Ballad of Skip and Nell by Mem Fox), Snugglepot (Snugglepot and Cuddlepie by May Gibbs)

T – Terry (The Treehouse Series by Andy Griffiths and Terry Denton)

U –

V – Very Hungry Caterpillar (The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle)

marlys-businessW – Wilfred Gordon Macdonald Partridge (Wilfred Gordon Macdonald Partridge by Mem Fox)

X –

Y – Yousra (Marly’s Business by Alice Pung)zaza

Z – Zain (Mapmaker’s Chronicles by AL Tait), Zaza (Zaza’s Baby Brother by Lucy Cousins)


Though we tried our best, we couldn’t come up with a character for every letter.

Can you think of any children’s book characters for the letters we missed?

Novel Writing by Hand? Yay or Nay?

Novel Writing by Hand


If you follow me on Twitter you may have seen (a couple of months ago now) that I’ve been having a go at writing a novel by hand.

I’ve long been hearing of the benefits of writing by hand. Heaps of authors do it (so I’ve read); Isobelle Carmody and Stephen King, for example.

Then there were all these amazing articles about the benefits of handwriting: all of which I have managed to lose, despite planning on keeping links for this post. The Australian Writer’s Centre podcast ‘So You Want to be a Writer’, also discussed this in Episode 108.

In this podcast, Allison and Valerie refer to an article in Forbes magazine: ‘Three Ways writing with a pen positively affects your brain’.

“sequential hand movements, like those used in handwriting, activate large regions of the brain responsible for thinking, language, healing and working memory”

Nancy Olson

The theories are that handwriting increases creativity, as well as increasing neural activity in certain sections of the brain, similar to meditation, and it forces us to slow down and think about what we’re doing.

So I tried it out.

These are my findings…



You can carry an exercise book with you wherever you go, and all it takes is a moment to flip open the page and start writing. I almost never take my laptop anywhere, and when I turn it on it always takes several minutes to load up, and then to get the document open. If I have an idea burning to be written down – it could well be lost by the time my laptop is ready. (On saying this, I carry a notebook with me everywhere anyway. So I do often jot down story ideas that come to me when I’m out and about, and then I just transcribe them to the computer when I get home. The only real benefit here is that you’ve got your whole story with you where-ever you go.)

Crinkly pages

I love the sound of pages that have been covered in writing – there’s that lovely crinkle that they have when you turn the page or pages. Music to my ears.



Speed = slow!

I type fast. When I’m in the zone, I can manage 2000 words in half an hour – though it usually takes me time to build up to that, time that I don’t really have at the moment with three kids about. But it’s not hard for me to hit 1000 in an hour or so if I have the time and space to do it. Not so for my handwriting. I struggled to hit 500 words a day. My best day was day 2, where I managed 1600 words, and out of 36 days in total I managed to reach 750 words (or above) on only 9 of those days. The rest ranged between 250 and 500, with the bulk down the 250 end. And every day I stayed up for a good couple of hours after the rest of the house had gone to sleep to make sure I got some words down.

Lost story…

This is linked to the above. When I write a story, I have ideas flowing all the time for what is coming up next. If I’m typing, I can get the story down quick enough to get to those ideas and write them down. Handwriting… no. I had so many ideas that were lost because it took me so long to get this-little-bit-now down. (Interestingly, as I type up what I’ve handwritten, I’m having all sorts of new scenes and ideas come to me, which I’m able to add now. Scenes which improve and expand the story line. I have no idea whether they were the same ideas I had first time round, but they seem to be improving it either way!)

Too hard to back up

When I’m typing out a story, it’s easy to email myself a version at the end of every day (or every couple of days), to provide a back-up should something dreadful happen. If I’m carrying my entire story around with me, it could end up lost somewhere. And with children running around there is always the risk of drinks being spilled, or pages torn out and lost. The story I’ve been handwriting has lovely ‘illustrations’ from my two year old – directly over my writing (or perhaps she’s getting into editor mode early, and letting me know what needs fixing??). Thankfully I can still make out my own words underneath her scribbles, if I squint hard enough, so all is not lost… it’s just been made a little more complicated.


My Verdict

For me, writing by hand is definitely a ‘nay’. While I would never get rid of either the notebook beside the bed or the one in my handbag for jotting down those moments of inspiration, I just can’t see myself writing a full novel this way. While it’s possible that I had a boost in creativity (it didn’t feel any different to usual), I wasn’t able to capture all those new ideas, so they were lost to me. Maybe that’s a good thing, maybe they weren’t as great as I thought they were at the time, but without having recorded them to glance over, I’ll never know for sure. And while I obviously have no real idea what my neural activity is doing, I often feel the same affects from writing a story as I do from meditation, regardless of whether I’m typing or writing by hand.

– – –

If you’re a writer, (of any form) how do you prefer to write? And have you ever tried to do it another way?

#AWW2016 Review – Flywheel by Erin Gough



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! 🙂