Join Kate’s VIP Club Now!

Follow Me

FacebookPinterestTwitter

Kate's Blog

Subscribe RSS

INTERVIEW: Louise Allan

Friday, April 20, 2018

 

Today I welcome Louise Allan, author of The Sisters' Song, to the blog.

Are you a daydreamer too?
My mind is never on what I’m doing but always gallivanting about in the clouds. If I’m washing up or doing the laundry, it’s usually preoccupied by what I’ve been writing, wondering what type of person that character really is, or what I’m really trying to say in a scene.

For me to write well, I have to immerse myself in my story, so even when I’m cooking dinner or walking dogs, I’m still in the world of my story. My family usually call me a couple of times before I hear them!

I’ve always been like it and I used to think there was something wrong with me because I couldn’t stop my mind wandering. But it’s come in useful for novel writing! It does make me hard to live with, because people must tell me things at least three times before they register!

Have you always wanted to be a writer?

No, I didn’t start writing until I was 43 years old. I enjoyed writing stories in primary school, but when I reached high school and our creative writing was assessed, I believed I wasn’t good at it because my marks in English were average. In fact, I didn’t think I was artistic or creative at all, so I pursued a scientific pathway and went into medicine and became a doctor.

It wasn’t until I was in my thirties that I realised books took many drafts and much editing. Before that, as ridiculous as it sounds, I viewed authors as magical people, for whom writing beautiful prose and books came naturally. Because I found it hard to express my thoughts in words, and anything I wrote needed countless revisions before I got it right, I didn’t view myself as someone who could write. Those marks in English really coloured my vision of myself.

My children showed me what might be possible when they started writing books and winning young writers awards. In 2010, I quit medicine, because life as a working mother of four was too hectic and, knowing I’d need something to keep my mind active, I enrolled in a writing course. I had no idea if I’d like it or not, but by the second assignment I was hooked and knew I wanted to write a novel.

Tell me a little about yourself – where were you born, where do you live, what do you like to do?

I was born in Launceston, Tasmania, and grew up there. When I was 18, I moved to Hobart to study medicine at the University of Tasmania. I worked as a GP for a number of years before moving into the field of breast cancer. In 2000, my family and I moved across the country to Perth, Western Australia, which is where we still live.

I love anything to do with nature—bushwalking, camping, swimming in the ocean. I also have an interest in photography, and that’s one of the ways I renew the creativity well when I’m feeling depleted. Of course, I also love to read!


Fishing at St Patrick’s River, Tasmania, with my sister.


How did you get the first flash of inspiration for this book?
The beginnings of my novel came from a short story I wrote in 2010. That piece was set in the ‘60s, and was about a good girl who’d been abused by her mother. In reality, that story was how I felt about my childhood.

Throughout 2010 and 2011, I worked on the story from time to time, taking it forwards in time and trying a couple of different characters’ points of view. The story didn’t seem to be going anywhere, though, until the day one of the characters knocked on her Great Aunt Ida’s door. Ida invited that character in for morning tea, and began telling the family’s story. She went back in time, from the ‘60s to the ‘50s, then the ‘40’s, and the ‘30s, and I was worried she’d never stop. But she did stop, in 1926, and I knew straight away that I’d found my narrator and this was the story I wanted to tell.

How extensively do you plan your novels?
Not at all! I have no idea where my story is going when I start. I truly fly by the seat of my pants, and would win the ‘Biggest Pantser’ award. To give you an idea of how much of a pantser I am, I added 12,000 new words during the final edits of my novel.

I have a belief that our subconscious is better at determining the course of a story than our conscious ‘planning’ brain. Having said that, I recently sent my publishers a synopsis of my second novel before I’d written it. It took a lot of self-discipline to write and was completely against my natural tendencies. The only way I managed it was by telling myself that I could still write anything I wanted later!

So far, though, I’ve kept to plan and haven’t changed much. But who knows what will happen in the future?

Do you ever use dreams as a source of inspiration?

I’ve written a couple of my dreams down if I’ve remembered them the next morning, but I haven’t used one as a source for a story … yet.

Sometimes as I’m writing, I get a feeling of déjà vu, like I’ve been in the story before, although I have no memory of it, and I wonder if it was in a dream.

I think that our dreams and our imagination come from the same place, which is why I believe that anyone who has dreams can also imagine a story. We have creativity as children, but as we grow up, we’re taught to ignore that side of ourselves, ridiculed for it even—I certainly was. So, we protect it by hiding it away because it’s so personal and fragile, and tell ourselves we’re not creative. What rubbish! We’re all creative, some of us have just learnt to shield it for our own protection.

We can get in touch with it again. It’s scary at first, but it’s an important part of ourselves and we should be proud of it.

Did you make any astonishing serendipitous discoveries while writing this book?

All. The. Time! The main theme of my novel—that women aren’t allowed to have dreams—was one of them. I set out to write about child abuse, but as I kept digging between the layers, I found what I was really trying to say.

They say all art is autobiography, and I’m a firm believer in that. It’s not necessarily in the storyline or in the characters, but in other ways, like the themes that arise as you write. I learnt much more about myself from those unplanned things than from anything I based on real life events or people. This theme is probably the most autobiographical part of the story.

Where do you write, and when?

My favourite place to write is in my lovely attic, but I can write anywhere and anytime—I learnt to while ferrying children about. Carparks are a specialty.

I can also write anytime of the day or night, but my favourite time is in the early hours of the morning, when it’s still dark and quiet because no one’s awake.

I have a favourite writing weather, too: rainy days, especially when no one’s home and I have the house to myself.


My attic on a tidy day.


What is your favourite part of writing?
My favourite part of writing is editing. I love being able to refine my sentences and ideas, and turn them into something closer to the ideal I have in my head.

This is because I’m an obsessional perfectionist. I hate first drafts because I have to ignore all the mistakes and just keep moving forwards. I usually give in, and go back to edit. Of course, then I lose the forward momentum and have to refresh my memory of where the story was going. I know I should just keep writing ...

What do you do when you get blocked?

Writing by hand is always the first thing I try. If that doesn’t work, I’ll take the dogs for a walk, or read a book. Sometimes, I pull out my camera and take photos.


A photo I took one day when I was feeling a bit blocked.


There have been times I’ve been unable to write because something is bothering me. Sometimes, I can work through it by writing about it, but other times, I have to let the writing go for a while.

Whenever I’m blocked, I worry it’s permanent, that I’ve written all the words and ideas I have inside me and I’ll never write again. But it’s never permanent; it always returns. Well, it has so far!

How do you keep your well of inspiration full?

I fill up by binge-reading and getting outside with the dogs, in amongst nature and the ocean. I also listen to music, go to the opera or a concert, or visit an art gallery. Even going to a movie helps me refuel. I find it inspiring to spend time with other writers and artists, too.

Who are ten of your favourite writers?

Only ten! Okay, I admire: Hannah Kent, Charlotte Wood, Tim Winton, Ann Patchett, Margaret Atwood, Hilary Mantel, Kazuo Ishiguro, Kent Haruf, Thomas Hardy, F. Scott Fitzgerald and the Bronte Sisters.

(I think that’s more than ten but I can’t count!)

What do you consider to be good writing?

Beautiful imagery moves me. I also love original ways of using language, but I don’t like it for the sake of it. It has to flow and sound natural, not forced. After all, the purpose of writing is to impart meaning to a reader, and no matter how beautiful your prose, if the meaning is tangled, you’re not doing your job.

What is your advice for someone dreaming of being a writer too?

Get rid of that internal censor! Give yourself permission to write whatever comes up and get back in touch with your creative self.

Also, just get your bum into the chair and do it. Don’t put it off any longer.

What are you working on now?

I’m working on my second novel, but I’m finding it hard at this ugly first draft stage. However, I’m ploughing on, because if I ever want to publish a book again, I need words, no matter how unsightly they are!

BOOK REVIEW: The Sisters’ Song by Louise Allan

Friday, April 20, 2018

 

The Blurb (From Goodreads):

As children, Ida loves looking after her younger sister, Nora, but when their beloved father dies in 1927, everything changes. The two girls move in with their grandmother who is particularly encouraging of Nora's musical talent. Nora eventually follows her dream of a brilliant musical career, while Ida takes a job as a nanny and their lives become quite separate.

The two sisters are reunited as Nora's life takes an unwelcome direction and she finds herself, embittered and resentful, isolated in the Tasmanian bush with a husband and children.

Ida's longs for a family and when she marries Len, a reliable and good man, she hopes to soon become a mother. Over time, it becomes clear that this is never likely to happen. In Ida's eyes, Nora possesses everything in life that could possibly matter yet she values none of it.

Set in rural Tasmania over a span of seventy years, the strengths and flaws of motherhood are revealed through the mercurial relationship of these two very different sisters, Ida and Nora. The Sisters' Song speaks of dreams, children and family, all entwined with a musical thread that binds them together.


My Thoughts:

A deeply moving examination of two sisters’ entwined lives in Tasmania during the 1930s & ‘40s, The Sisters’ Song is an assured debut from Western Australian writer Louise Allan.

The story begins in 1927, with two little girls shocked and grieving the death of their father. Ida is the elder of the sisters, and thought of as the ‘bad’ one, being outspoken and unruly. Nora, golden-haired and musical, is the ‘good’ one, always doing as she is told. The death of their father and the deep paralysing grief of their mother changes everything. The girls are sent to stay with their grandmother, who encourages Nora to sing. She is soon starring in the school musicals, while Ida feels left out and envious. Her jealousy causes a rift to widen between the sisters, and eventually Nora runs away to pursue her dream of being an opera singer.

Ida, meanwhile, falls in love and marries, but her longing for a child is cruelly denied as miscarriage follows miscarriage.

Then Nora returns, a child in her belly and her career in tatters. Married to a man she does not love, mother to children she does not want, she bitterly resents the mistake which destroyed her dreams. Ida, meanwhile, cannot help but feel that her golden sister has everything she ever wanted, and fails to appreciate it.

The story unwinds over the span of the two sisters’ lives, as they struggle with the consequences of their choices. Love, grief, loss, betrayal, and the enduring love of the two sisters weave a heart-breaking story that lingers long in the memory.

I was lucky enough to interview the wonderful Louise Allan this week, you can read it here.

Please leave a comment, I love to hear your thoughts.

BOOK REVIEW: Before I Let You Go by Kelly Rimmer

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

 

The Blurb (From Goodreads):

The 2:00 a.m. call is the first time Lexie Vidler has heard her sister’s voice in years. Annie is a drug addict, a thief, a liar—and in trouble, again. Lexie has always bailed Annie out, given her money, a place to sleep, sent her to every kind of rehab. But this time, she’s not just strung out—she’s pregnant and in premature labor. If she goes to the hospital, she’ll lose custody of her baby—maybe even go to prison. But the alternative is unthinkable.

As weeks unfold, Lexie finds herself caring for her fragile newborn niece while her carefully ordered life is collapsing around her. She’s in danger of losing her job, and her fiancé only has so much patience for Annie’s drama. In court-ordered rehab, Annie attempts to halt her downward spiral by confronting long-buried secrets from the sisters’ childhood, ghosts that Lexie doesn’t want to face. But will the journey heal Annie, or lead her down a darker path?

Both candid and compassionate, Before I Let You Go explores a hotly divisive topic and asks how far the ties of family love can be stretched before they finally break.


My Thoughts:

A contemporary family drama set in Alabama, Before I Let You Go is a powerful and heart-wrenching examination of the lives of two sisters and their shared love for a tiny baby. The story begins when Lexie Vidler – a doctor with a carefully built perfect life – hears her younger sister’s voice for the first time in years. Annie is a heroin addict who has caused a great deal of harm to Lexie’s life before. Lexie had sworn to have no more to do with her, but this time Annie is really in trouble. She’s pregnant, and going into premature labour. But that’s not the worst of it. Under Alabama’s draconian ‘chemical endangerment’ laws, Annie could have her baby taken away from her and be sent to prison.

In her struggle to help Annie and her tiny, fragile baby, Lexie finds her own world spinning out-of-control. She may lose her job, her fiancé, her future. Annie has been ordered into rehab, and Lexis must look after her newborn child, who is undergoing her own terrible withdrawal from her mother’s heroin use. Meanwhile, Annie struggles with her demons, born out of long-hidden secrets from their childhood living within a fundamentalist religious sect.

This is a fast-paced page-turner of a novel, written in spare straightforward prose that moves between Lexie’s point-of-view and the journal that Annie writes while in therapy. The choices the sisters must make are agonising and heartbreaking, and so very relevant in the world in which we live. A humdinger of a novel.

For another wonderful story about the relationship between sisters, check out my review of The Nightingale by Kristen Hannah.

Please leave a comment and let me know what you think.



BOOK REVIEW: Two Steps Forward by Anne Bruist and Graeme Simsion

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

 

The Blurb (From Goodreads):

Zoe, a sometime artist, is from California. Martin, an engineer, is from Yorkshire. Both have ended up in picturesque Cluny, in central France. Both are struggling to come to terms with their recent past—for Zoe, the death of her husband; for Martin, a messy divorce.

Looking to make a new start, each sets out alone to walk two thousand kilometres from Cluny to Santiago, in northwestern Spain, in the footsteps of pilgrims who have walked the Camino—the Way—for centuries. The Camino changes you, it’s said. It’s a chance to find a new version of yourself.

But can these two very different people find each other?

In this smart, funny and romantic journey, Martin’s and Zoe’s stories are told in alternating chapters by husband-and-wife team Graeme Simsion and Anne Buist.

Two Steps Forward is a novel about renewal—physical, psychological and spiritual. It’s about the challenge of walking a long distance and of working out where you are going. And it’s about what you decide to keep, what you choose to leave behind and what you rediscover.


My Thoughts:

A charming romantic comedy set on the Camino Trail, Two Steps Forward is told in alternating chapters between the voices of Martin, an engineer from Yorkshire, and Zoe, an artist from California. Both are struggling with hurt and bereavement in their lives. Martin is in the midst of a messy divorce, and trying to rebuild his relationship with his teenage daughter. Zoe’s husband has recently died, leaving her exhausted in mind and body, and not sure how to go on in her life alone.

The couple first meet in Cluny, France, and each decide independently to walk the ancient pilgrims’ way to Santiago in north-western Spain. Their paths cross and part and cross again, along with those of various eccentric and sometimes exasperating minor characters. The tone is light and amusing, with running jokes about Zoe’s difficulty in eating vegan food in a country that adores its food, and Martin’s struggle to learn to take advice. Along the way, however, deeper issues emerge. Each must learn a few lessons about life and their own inner demons before they are ready to embrace a relationship together. Their story is told in alternating chapters by this husband-and-wife writing team, with Graeme Simsion writing in the voice of mechanically-minded Martin, and Anne Bruist writing from the point-of-view of zany Zoe. This is the sort of book that you can easily imagine being filmed, with strong set pieces, gorgeous scenery, and lots of heart and humour.

You might be interested to read my post about books I read during 2013, the year that Graeme Simsion's book The Rosie Project was released.

Please leave a comment and let me know what you think.


BOOK REVIEW: Truly Madly Guilty by Liane Moriarty

Friday, April 06, 2018

 

The Blurb (From Goodreads):

Six responsible adults. Three cute kids. One small dog. It’s just a normal weekend. What could possibly go wrong?

Sam and Clementine have a wonderful, albeit, busy life: they have two little girls, Sam has just started a new dream job, and Clementine, a cellist, is busy preparing for the audition of a lifetime. If there’s anything they can count on, it’s each other.

Clementine and Erika are each other’s oldest friends. A single look between them can convey an entire conversation. But theirs is a complicated relationship, so when Erika mentions a last minute invitation to a barbecue with her neighbors, Tiffany and Vid, Clementine and Sam don’t hesitate. Having Tiffany and Vid’s larger than life personalities there will be a welcome respite.

Two months later, it won’t stop raining, and Clementine and Sam can’t stop asking themselves the question: What if we hadn’t gone?

In Truly Madly Guilty, Liane Moriarty takes on the foundations of our lives: marriage, sex, parenthood, and friendship. She shows how guilt can expose the fault lines in the most seemingly strong relationships, how what we don’t say can be more powerful than what we do, and how sometimes it is the most innocent of moments that can do the greatest harm.


My Thoughts:

I am a big fan of Liane Moriarty’s books, and was eager to read her latest exploration of the dark side of suburbia. She always has razor-sharp insights into contemporary life, cleverly wrought and suspenseful plots, and enough warmth to balance out the dark undertones. Truly Madly Guilty has a BBQ at its heart, with three couples torn apart by what happened that sunny afternoon. There is Clementine and Adam, a cellist and a marketing executive who have two gorgeous little girls. Erika went to school with Clementine and has to deal with a difficult mother who refuses to ever throw anything out. She and her husband Oliver cannot have children but lavish love on Clementine’s daughters. Their neighbours, Tiffany and Vid, are rich, flamboyant and colourful, and their ten-year-old daughter Dakota has her nose in a book all the time. Something happens that day that shakes all their worlds … but Liane Moriarty skirts around the cataclysmic event, keeping the reader guessing. Love, sex, hurt, betrayal, unkindness, and misunderstandings abound. A great holiday read.

You might also enjoy my 2015 interview with Liane Moriarty.

Please leave a comment and let me know what you think.

BOOK REVIEW: The Secrets at Ocean's Edge by Kali Napier

Wednesday, April 04, 2018

 

The Blurb (From Goodreads):

1932. Ernie and Lily Hass, and their daughter, Girlie, have lost almost everything in the Depression; all they have keeping their small family together are their secrets. Abandoning their failing wheat farm and small-town gossip, they make a new start on the west coast of Australia where they begin to build a summer guesthouse. But forming new alliances with the locals isn't easy.

Into the Hasses' new life wanders Lily's shell-shocked brother, Tommy, after three harrowing years on the road following his incarceration. Tommy is seeking answers that will cut to the heart of who Ernie, Lily, and Girlie really are.

Inspired by the author's own family history, The Secrets at Ocean's Edge is a haunting, memorable and moving tale of one family's search for belonging. Kali Napier breathes a fever-pitch intensity into the story of these emotionally fragile characters as their secrets are revealed with tragic consequences. If you loved The Light Between Oceans and The Woolgrower's Companion you will love this story.


My Thoughts:

Set during the Great Depression, The Secrets at Ocean’s Edge tells the story of Lily Hass and her daughter Girlie who have just moved to the small West Australian town of Dongarra, where Lily’s husband Ernie hopes to kick-start a new business running a guest house. Both Lily and Girlie struggle to make new friends and adapt to their new home. Secrets from the past shadow their lives, and things are complicated by the arrival of Lily’s brother, Tommy, who struggles to deal with shellshock from his experiences in the war. The narrative moves between these four points-of-view, allowing the reader a deeper knowledge of true events than any one of the characters. Themes addressed by the story include the casual racism of Australia in the 1930s, the horror of war, and the difficulties of holding a family together in tough times. Girlie was my favourite character – shy, unsure of herself, yet filled with compassion for others and a true desire to help. Simply and beautifully told, this is a poignant and memorable novel.

You can read my review of The Light Between Oceans here.

And please see my interview with the lovely Kali Napier here.

Please leave me a comment, I love to hear your thoughts.

INTERVIEW: Kali Napier

Wednesday, April 04, 2018

 

Today I welcome Kali Napier, author of The Secrets at Ocean's Edge, to the blog.

Are you a daydreamer too?
I was once upon a time, before children and mortgages came along. I yearn to reclaim that space again to disappear into my own worlds.

Have you always wanted to be a writer?
Since I was 3 years old. I can’t think of any other reason why I learned to read at 3 and write at 4, as I started writing little plays straight away. I’d adapted all my Enid Blytons into film scripts and plays by the time I was 8.

I started keeping a diary at age 11 because by then I’d read Daphne Du Maurier’s autobiographies and learnt that a writer needs years of childhood diaries to draw on for inspiration. Unfortunately, I lost all these diaries in the Brisbane floods.

I enrolled in creative writing at university when I was 16, but I had no LIFE experience to write about, so dropped out to gain some. There was a little too much grist for my mill and I didn’t write fiction for 22 years. When I put pen to paper again a manuscript came out.

The process is a little more arduous now, in turning a manuscript into a book, through multiple edits, but I still want to be a writer.

Tell me a little about yourself – where were you born, where do you live, what do you like to do?

I was accidentally born in Sydney after my parents met in London. My dad asked my mum if she wanted to come back to Australia with him on the back of his motorbike. I was conceived in Kabul, my parents were married in Delhi, and I was named after the Hindu goddess, Kali the Destroyer of Worlds. But she is also the Creator of Worlds, which I kind of like.

I live in Brisbane with my two ratbag kids, and am an MPhil candidate in creative writing at The University of Queensland.

If I get any free time, I like to spend it at bookish events, drinking sangria, and binge-watching Outlander.

How did you get the first flash of inspiration for this book?
The first flash of inspiration for The Secrets at Ocean’s Edge came from an article that popped up in my social media feed about a true historic event, the Great Emu War. I read how in 1932 the Australian Army was brought in to help the wheat farmers of Campion in WA to cull the emus destroying their crops. After several campaigns, using Lewis machine guns left over from WWI, the army had to withdraw and the emus won.

While it has become a bit of a joke, I saw story potential. I wondered about the wars men created to continue fighting when there was no longer a war, as well as what was left over from WWI 14 years after it ended. I immediately made connections with PTSD, or shell shock as it was then known, because for traumatised soldiers in 1932, experiencing flashbacks and hallucinations, WWI was still very much their ‘present-day’ but invisible war. I also thought of the women and communities these men belonged to, and the ongoing effects on them, with absent or unstable men in their lives. The working title of An Emu War came to me immediately, and I knew I would have a man suffering from shellshock, whose unpredictable actions would have devastating consequences for those closest to him.

How extensively do you plan your novels?
I try to plot the key turning points up to the climax, after which I leave it up to my characters to decide how the story ends. This approach doesn’t work so much anymore now that I am busier with deadlines and I am trialling a more structured method for my next book, sketching out scenes on index cards before I write a word.

Do you ever use dreams as a source of inspiration?
Anything sleep-related is dysfunctional right now as I have chronic insomnia! I am working towards bringing dreams, both the asleep and daydreaming type, back into my life.

Did you make any astonishing serendipitous discoveries while writing this book?

While my characters are intent on hiding, escaping from, or finding out who they really are, I had a parallel process happening in my own life while writing the book. When I was first deciding where to set the story, I recalled some family tree research I’d done years before, finding a great-grandfather who’d escaped a ‘suspicious house fire’, become bankrupt, and started a new business to reap the tourism potential of Dongar[r]a in the 1920s. He became the basis of my character of Ernie, and I wrote about this is in the author’s note.

After publication, I had several people write to me about my author’s note, saying I wasn’t who I thought I was. I double-checked the original source material that I’d used about 8 years ago, and discovered that my ‘great-grandfather’ was described as having 8 adult children in the 1920s, which meant he couldn’t possibly have been my grandmother’s father.

I was telling this sorry tale of family history research during an author talk at a Brisbane library in March. In the signing queue was a lovely lady who said to me, ‘My grandfather is your great-grandfather.’ I found out that he had had two wives, and 8 children with the first, and 5 with the second, one of whom was my grandmother, and many in each family didn’t know of the other.

The lovely lady was in fact my dad’s first cousin, when I thought I had no family in Brisbane.

Where do you write, and when?
I’m a single mother of two, and have been working part-time, studying full-time for the last few years. I work on my books every spare moment, evenings, weekends and school holidays. My 9-year-old son still punches the cover of my book in bookshops as he resents it for taking my time away from him. This situation has to change for the next book.

The upside is that as a single mother I get a mini writing retreat on alternate weekends, although I wouldn’t recommend the arrangement solely on this basis.

What is your favourite part of writing?
I love the genesis of a new idea, the research, and the joy of a first draft.

What do you do when you get blocked?

I don’t think I have experienced writer’s block yet, as deadlines tend to keep me moving. Whenever I feel fatigued with a particular writing task, and I can afford the time off, I read.

How do you keep your well of inspiration full?

*sigh* I have a few projects on the go, books 2 through to 5, at various stages of their life cycle. I am wary of burning out, as I tend to develop insomnia at the most inconvenient times (usually when I have multiple responsibilities and deadlines). From May I plan to take a day off each week to ‘fill the creative well’, by napping, reading, and watching ‘adult’ ie., not animated films.

Do you have any rituals that help you to write?
I use the Pomodoro method, though I thought I made it up myself. I set a timer for 25 minutes, write, take 5 minutes off, write for another 25, then reward myself. Start again. If this is in the evening the reward will be a glass of wine!

Who are ten of your favourite writers?
* Kate Forsyth (it is true!!! I am not just saying this)
* Karen Brooks
* Jane Rawson
* Mirandi Riwoe
* Kim Wilkins
* Maggie Joel
* Sarah Waters
* Kate Atkinson
* Lisa St Aubin de Teràn
* W. Somerset Maugham
How can I choose just ten???

What do you consider to be good writing?

When I clutch a book to my chest and sob.

What is your advice for someone dreaming of being a writer too?
Eek. If you are really passionate about something, do it. Act as if you are already successful at whatever it is. Make sure you are clear about what your true goals are. Inform yourself about the industry if you want to make any money from it. And read.

What are you working on now?

I have just hit send on the manuscript for book 2, which is set in Brisbane across three time periods: 1948, 1959-1963, and 2010-12, told through the viewpoint of one character, who realises that a mistake she’d made in her youth could cost her the ability to ever find love and redemption.

I am also writing a novella set in Egypt in 1911, and a novel set in Australia and Malta during WWI.

BOOK REVIEW: Begone the Raggedy Witches by Celine Kiernan

Wednesday, March 28, 2018


The Blurb (From Goodreads):

On the night that Aunty dies the Raggedy Witches come for Mup's mam. Pale, cold, relentless, they will do anything to coax Mam back to Witches Borough. When they kidnap Mup's dad, Mup and her mam must leave the mundane world to rescue him. But Mam is strange on this side of the border - striding, powerful, and distant. Even if they can save Dad, Mup is not sure anything will ever be the same again...


My Thoughts:

Celine Kiernan is an Irish writer, illustrator and animator best known for her wonderful Moorehawke fantasy series for young adults, which I read and loved many years ago. Begone the Raggedy Witches is aimed at a younger readership, but it shares the vivid and atmospheric world-building, the strong and empathetic characters, and the powerful plot engine which keeps the story whizzing along.
The story begins when Mup realises that their car is being followed home from the hospital by a troop of dark, raggedy, malevolent-looking witches. Her great-aunt has just died, and the raggedy witches want to seize Mup’s mother Stella, who is the heir to the throne in a magical land that presses close against our own.

Celine Kiernan’s writing is exquisite, but done with such a light hand it does not impede the progression of the plot at all: ‘The witches were gone. That was certain. There was no taint or tincture of them to the night, no trace of them in light or shadow.’

The ghost of her great-aunt saves Mup’s mother, although she is ‘nothing but a silver outline … filled in with the night.’ The witches then kidnap Mup’s father, to set a trap for Stella. Mup sets out with her mother, baby brother and pet dog to save him. Yet the magical world is ruled by a cruel and terrifying witch – Mup’s grandmother.

Mup is a delightful character. Funny, quirky, kind-hearted and brave, she stands up for what she thinks is right. After deciding to cross into the other world, she dresses herself in rainbow-striped tights, lime-green gumboots with frog faces, a pink tulle tutu, and an orange hat with rabbit ears. As Celine Kiernan writes: ‘There was something about the witches – their cold, dark eyes, maybe, their fluttering black clothes – that made Mup want colours.’

The action hurtles along, with lots of surprising twists and revelations, culminating in a petrifying denouement with the queen, in which Mup triumphs because of her goodness and kindness and trust in the world.

This is the loveliest children’s fantasy book I’ve read in a while, with a delightful heroine supported by memorable characters (including a tongue-tied raven who is really a boy), and the promise of more adventures to come. Wonderful in every sense of the word.

If you're interested in Children's Fantasy, you might like to read my review of Nevermoor by Jessica Townsend. Please leave a comment, I love to know your thoughts! 





BOOK REVIEW: Advice on Love and Life from Someone Who’s Been There by Cheryl Strayed

Friday, March 02, 2018

 


The Blurb (From Goodreads):

Life can be hard: your lover cheats on you; you lose a family member; you can’t pay the bills—and it can be great: you’ve had the hottest sex of your life; you get that plum job; you muster the courage to write your novel. Sugar—the once-anonymous online columnist at The Rumpus, now revealed as Cheryl Strayed, author of the bestselling memoir Wild—is the person thousands turn to for advice.

Tiny Beautiful Things brings the best of Dear Sugar in one place and includes never-before-published columns and a new introduction by Steve Almond. Rich with humor, insight, compassion—and absolute honesty—this book is a balm for everything life throws our way.


My Thoughts:

This is a difficult book to review, because it is such a difficult book to categorise. Basically it's a collection of columns written by the American writer Cheryl Strayed under the pseudonym Sugar. The columns are written in response to people with problems who wrote to ‘Dear Sugar’ for advice. In other words, Sugar is an Agony Aunt.

(In a complete aside, I was so fascinated by the history of the term ‘agony aunt’ I had to go and look it up. Did you know the first newspaper to offer life advice to readers was The Athenian Gazette, in 1691? And that John Dunton, the man who established it, once advised a woman afraid of a lonely old age to get herself down to the docks and hook up with a sex-starved sailor? And that Daniel Defoe, author of Robinson Crusoe, was the agony uncle for his magazine, The Review, in 1704? And that the term itself was not used until the 1950s? No, neither did I …)

Cheryl Strayed wrote the ‘Dear Sugar’ advice column for the online literary magazine The Rumpus from 2010 to 2012, and garnered a strong following. I first heard about her when her advice to a young wanna-be author, ‘Write Like a Motherfucker’, made the rounds on the internet. I thought it was a brilliant piece of writing, and loved that she quoted Emily Dickinson, one of my favourite poets. Then, of course, her memoir Wild was made into a movie starring Reese Witherspoon and released in December 2014. Suddenly Cheryl Strayed seemed everywhere.

Each of the columns in Tiny Beautiful Things are indeed advice offered in response to true-life dilemmas sent in by readers, but they are not at all like what I used to read in the back of Dolly when I was a naïve teenager. Firstly, the tone is warm, intimate and startlingly frank, as if the reader and Sugar had been friends for years and years. She shares stories from her own difficult past, including the death of her mother, her marriage breakup, her infidelities, and struggles with drug addiction. Some stories are funny. Most are poignant and even heart-breaking. I have been where you are, she seems to say. I know what is hurting you.

Here is one of my favourite quotes from the book:

“Nobody will protect you from your suffering. You can't cry it away or eat it away or starve it away or walk it away or punch it away or even therapy it away. It's just there, and you have to survive it. You have to endure it. You have to live through it and love it and move on and be better for it and run as far as you can in the direction of your best and happiest dreams across the bridge that was built by your own desire to heal.”

Here is another:

“You will learn a lot about yourself if you stretch in the direction of goodness, of bigness, of kindness, of forgiveness, of emotional bravery. Be a warrior for love.”

Tiny Beautiful Things is indeed beautiful, but not, I think, tiny. It’s big-hearted and big-thinking and warm and wise and sad all at once.

You might also be interested in my review of Elizabeth Gilbert's book The Signature of All Things. 

Please leave a comment and let me know what you think.

BOOK REVIEW: Miss Lily's Lovely Ladies by Jackie French

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

 

The Blurb (From Goodreads):

Inspired by true events, this is the story of how society's 'lovely ladies' won a war.

Each year at secluded Shillings Hall, in the snow-crisped English countryside, the mysterious Miss Lily draws around her young women selected from Europe's royal and most influential families. Her girls are taught how to captivate a man - and find a potential husband - at a dinner, in a salon, or at a grouse shoot, and in ways that would surprise outsiders. For in 1914, persuading and charming men is the only true power a woman has.

Sophie Higgs is the daughter of Australia's king of corned beef and the only 'colonial' brought to Shillings Hall. Of all Miss Lily's lovely ladies, however, she is also the only one who suspects Miss Lily's true purpose.

As the chaos of war spreads, women across Europe shrug off etiquette. The lovely ladies and their less privileged sisters become the unacknowledged backbone of the war, creating hospitals, canteens and transport systems where bungling officials fail to cope. And when tens of thousands can die in a single day's battle, Sophie must use the skills Miss Lily taught her to prevent war's most devastating weapon yet.

But is Miss Lily heroine or traitor? And who, exactly, is she?


My Thoughts:

I’ve long been a fan of Jackie French’s historical novels for children, and so I was intrigued when I heard she had written a book for adults. The cover was gorgeous and the blurb told me it was set during World War I, one of my favourite historical periods, and so I bought it to read on my summer holidays.

The novel tells the story of Sophie Higgs, whose father made his fortune making tinned corned beef. When Sophie falls in love with the boy-next-door, her father decides to send her to England for the Season, to give her a chance to see the world and meet other men. She is to spend a few months with the mysterious Miss Lily first, however, to be taught how to be charming. The idea is not just to win themselves rich and aristocratic husbands, but also to use feminine wiles to affect change in the world. She and three other young women spent their days learning how to walk, how to sit, how to hold a discussion whilst eating, and how to placate and persuade.

There is a quote from various letters at the beginning of each chapter. The first reads:

“… that was when I realised that war is as natural to a man as chasing a ball on a football field. War is a scuttling cockroach, something that a woman would instinctively stamp on. Women bear the pain of childbirth, and most deeply feel the agony of their children’s deaths. Could one marshal women to fight against the dreams of war? But women have no power, except what they cajole from men.”
Miss Lily, 1908

As Sophie learns and make friends, the world lurches ever closer to war. Sophie and the other ‘lovely ladies’ must dig deep within themselves if they are to survive. And, meanwhile, Sophie falls in love …

It’s a big book but the pace rarely flags. Sophie is a captivating character, being determined, clever and kind. The historical setting is brilliantly rendered, and I just adored Miss Lily and her wry and wise reflections on life and society. I loved the book right up until the very end, when the romantic promise of the story failed to materialise.

This was partly because Miss Lily’s Lovely Ladies is the first in a series, and so some narrative threads were left dangling. It was also, I think, because Jackie French did not want to give her readers too predictable an ending. A lot of writers avoid a happy ending because romantic love in novels has been so often equated with plots that are trite or sentimental or melodramatic. This is such a shame. The longing for love is such a universal human desire, and should be celebrated. I suspect that Sophie will find true love and happiness after many more suspenseful and dangerous adventures in Book 2 & 3. I hope so.

You can read my review of Hitler's Daughter, also by Jackie French here.

Please leave a comment and let me know what you think.




Subscribe RSS

Recent Posts


Tags


Archive


Blogs I Follow