Australian Women Writer’s Challenge 2014


I made a pledge at the beginning of this year to read and review 6 books by female Australian authors. I thought it would be easy – I read all the time and writing a review of each book would be no trouble.

Sadly I got a little sidetracked along the way – the later stages of pregnancy and the early stages of having a newborn took up a good deal of my attention – especially the newborn bit – and then in more recent times there have been other issues taking up my  time and energy. In the end I managed to review the following (click on each title to go to the review):

The Sinkings by Amanda Curtain

Burial Rites by Hannah Kent

if I should lose you by Natasha Lester

I also managed to read Elemental by Amanda Curtain, Land of the Sleeping Gods (non-fiction) compiled by Jane Cooper, Tiddas by Anita Heiss, and probably several others I forgot to record!

I am hoping to repeat the challenge next year, with a new lot of novels by female Australian authors, so look out for a post early in the new year with more details.

In the meantime, I wish you all a wonderful and safe holiday period, and a very happy new year!

Burial Rites – Hannah Kent – Review #aww2014

Burial Rites

As you may remember from my March Blog Post  I was lucky enough to hear Hannah Kent speak about her book, Burial Rites, at the Festival of Golden Words in Tasmania earlier this year. Hannah’s account of the journey that inspired her book – from being an exchange student in Iceland where she originally heard the story, through to her final decision to write about the story years later as part of her Honours, the vigorous research she undertook to tell the story properly, and the rules she set for herself when dealing with the past were such great inspiration for me.

She spoke of how important she felt it was to present the story as accurately as possible, to ensure the story stayed true to its Icelandic origins, and did not become some anglicised version. I feel the same with my own story, as I wade my way through the research. As a history of my own land, Van Diemen’s Land, Tasmania, it will not be complete without a mention of the Tasmanian Aborigines, but I am doing more than merely mentioning them; an Aboriginal woman is one of the main characters. But how to present them accurately, when they have been all but wiped from the history records, and little of their culture and beliefs was ever recorded in the first place?

But my main purpose for this post is a review for the Australian Women Writer’s Challenge, and so – here are my thoughts on Burial Rites.

The book is based on the true story of Agnes Magnusdottir, the last person to be executed in Iceland. Agnes was accused of the murder of Natan Ketilsson, her employer and lover.

The story begins with the arrival of Agnes to the farm of a family who are required to house her until her execution. The members of the household, a family of four with two teenage daughters, are hostile towards this intruder, whose presence is forced upon them, and more than a little fearful of having a murderess in the house.

Due to the nature of their housing, a dwelling comprising of several storage rooms and one large ‘living’ room, in which everyone, family members, servants, visitors- sleep together, Agnes is literally thrust into the family life, and she takes on the role of servant, contributing to the household in this way.

As time passes the barriers between Agnes and the family break-down- first through a memory the older daughter has of meeting with Agnes on a previous occasion, when Agnes gave them two eggs to eat. Agnes also has some knowledge of herbal healing and midwifery, and as she helps the family and their neighbours with ailments and a particularly difficult childbirth, they come to respect her.

Beautifully imagined and thoroughly researched, Burial Rites is a tale that grips your heart and your imagination. I could not put the story down, Hannah Kent has managed to present the story of a young woman facing her own death with such realism. Highly recommended read, if you haven’t already.

Festival of Golden Words, Beaconsfield, Tasmania


This weekend I attended the Festival of Golden Words, in Beaconsfield, Tasmania. It is the first time a writer’s festival has ever been held so close to my home, and I had such a brilliant time. I started off with a workshop on getting published, which confirmed a lot of what I’d read elsewhere, but also gave me a few new hints and tips that will be very useful in the future submissions.

The weekend continued with a series of free author interviews and panels, and I was so lucky to start my Saturday morning attending an interview with Hannah Kent, author of Burial Rites, as she spoke about the process of writing her book. From where her idea emerged, through the process of writing, and the struggle to write the ending – to write of a woman facing her own death. Among the many  wonderful tidbits she shared was the fact that most of the dreams recorded in Burial Rites were dreams actually dreamt by the characters!! Each one had been recorded at some point in time! How amazing is that! Afterwards she signed my book, and I mentioned my own WIP, also a historical fiction. Though our conversation was brief, she was such a lovely person to talk to, and there was so much of what she said in her interview that really resonates with me. Keep an eye out for my review of Burial Rites in the coming weeks. It is such a brilliant story – I devoured it in a matter of days.

‘The Author-Editor Relationship’ was an interesting panel, featuring two authors: Katherine Scholes and Heather Rose, alongside Amanda Cromer, an editor with the Society of Editors, and Margaret Johnson, whose company ‘The Book Doctor’ provides everything from manuscript assessment through to finding a publisher. The authors shared their experiences with their editors, and how working with a great editor can teach you so much about your writing, but also about sticking up for yourself when you know you’re on the right track. Heather Rose gave a great example of this. She has written a children’s novel – Finding Serendipity – which was co-authored with Danielle Wood under the name of Angelica Banks. In the story is a pirate who dies, and then comes back to life. Her editor suggested she change it, because the pirate then became a zombie – but Heather and Danielle argued that he was not a zombie he just came back from the dead – just the same as he was before – no mindless drooling, no hunger for brains – just that he’d been dead, and now he wasn’t. The stuck to their wish, and the book has been published, and not one reader has said that the pirate is a zombie.

The editors all pointed out that their advice and suggestions are just that, advice and suggestions. Though there may be spelling/grammatical points that you really *should* fix, any other ideas about story, plot or characterisation is exactly that, their idea. Every editor you go to will have a different idea, but the point is to listen to what they are saying is wrong with it, and think about it, and work on fixing it – whether you use their ideas on how to fix it, or come up with your own, it’s important to take into consideration that they are (usually) well versed in what publishers are looking for/selling at that time, and they know what’s needed to make your manuscript shine.

Sunday the highlights of the day were probably ‘The Pitch’ in which a handful of aspiring authors were invited to pitch their story idea to a panel of publishers (there were representatives from Melbourne University Publishing, Random House Australia, Forty South and Island magazine), in front of an audience of close to 200 people! While the level of professionalism in the pitches varied, it was fascinating to see the different ways in which authors presented their stories, and to hear from the judges what made the winning pitch (the prize was a bottle of champagne, and consideration of your manuscript) stand out – namely telling the story succinctly, stating her audience, and validating herself – she spoke of what her story would achieve and she spoke with confidence and certainty that she could do it.

The other panel I attended on the Sunday was ‘Our Black Past – Aboriginal Stories that Had to be Told’ with fiction author Rohan Wilson, and Academic Authors Dr Kristyn Harman and Professor Henry Reynolds. This is particularly interesting to me, as my current WIP features an Aboriginal woman as one of the main characters. There was discussion of appropriating stories belonging to another people (something which was also discussed by Hannah Kent in her talk), and of representing a people for whom there are no records outside of their interactions with white settlers. Rohan Wilson’s book ‘The Roving Party’ has to jump to the top of my reading list, for his story, so I understand, discusses the frontier conflict between Aborigines and settlers, with sections from the point of view of the Aborigines themselves.

The weekend gave me so much to think about, I’m still making notes from remembered talks, and I’ve been furiously jotting down ideas for my own story as the inspiration from the weekend just flows!