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INTERVIEW: Emma Viskic

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

 

Today I welcome Emma Viskic, author of And Fire Came Down, to the blog.

Are you a daydreamer too?
My tendency to daydream was mentioned frequently in my primary school report cards, and I haven’t grown out of it since then. I’m particularly prone to daydreaming when I’m doing mundane things like cooking, so I’ve bought myself an electric kettle, coffee maker and rice cooker to try and make things a little safer. Unfortunately I still manage to burn tea towels on a regular basis.

Have you always wanted to be a writer?

I’ve been writing since I could read, but never really imaged I could be a writer when I was a child. Writers lived in places like Britain or America and always seemed to be men. It wasn’t until I turned thirty that I began writing with a view to possibly getting published. I wrote two never-to-be-published full length manuscripts before I wrote Resurrection Bay.

Tell me a little about yourself – where were you born, where do you live, what do you like to do?
I grew up on the fringes of Melbourne with my brother, sister and parents. It was a pretty free-range childhood, without much money, but with plenty to do. I went to the local schools, then went on to study classical clarinet at the Victorian College of the Arts in Melbourne and the Rotterdam Conservatorium in The Netherlands. These days I live in inner Melbourne with my family, dog and chickens. I spend a bit of my down time bushwalking and bike riding, and a lot of it reading.

How did you get the first flash of inspiration for this book?
And Fire Came Down deals with the aftermath of trauma, and a lot of its inspiration came from scar trees. There are still quite a few scar trees in Victoria, the scars on their trunks showing where Indigenous people removed bark to create canoes and vessels. I’ve been drawn to them ever since my father-in-law, a Gunditjmara elder, showed me one over twenty years ago. The idea of the bark growing inwards to protect, but not erase, the wound is one that resonated strongly with me, as it was a difficult time in my life. When it came to writing And Fire Came Down, it felt natural to use a scar tree as a metaphor for pain and healing.

How extensively do you plan your novels?
I never pre-plan, but spend a lot of time plotting as I go. I tend to begin with a few significant scenes in mind, which act like sign posts. I know I have to get to those scenes, I’m just not sure how. This way of plotting involves a lot of rewriting, but all my efforts to pre-plot have failed miserably.

Do you ever use dreams as a source of inspiration?
No, but 3 am does bring me a lot of plot ideas. They usually turn out to be terrible ones in the bright light of day, but occasionally they’re exactly what I need. I always keep a pen and paper under my pillow in case inspiration really does strike.

Did you make any astonishing serendipitous discoveries while writing this book?
Nothing serendipitous, but I discovered a lot about myself! I’m always surprised at how much my subconscious runs the writing process. Every time I read over a finished piece I realise that it’s been working away in the background, pushing me in directions I wasn’t aware of at the time.

Where do you write, and when?

I work part-time and have a family so every day has its own pattern. I sublease a writing studio a few days a week, otherwise I write on the living room couch, with my dog, Otto, by my feet. If I need to escape my family, I go into the bedroom. I usually start writing around 8. I do my best work before lunch, so the morning hours are precious. After lunch my brain powers down, so I write in short busts to try and keep focused. I used to write late into the night but I struggle with insomnia so I’ve got a computer off at 9:30 rule now. Except when I’m on a tight deadline. Or on a real roll. Or have one more idea...

What is your favourite part of writing?
I love writing dialogue and the actual work of crafting sentences. There’s also a special moment in every manuscript when I’m able to slip into my character’s minds. It’s wonderful when I manage to get lost in their world, even when it’s not a great place for them.

What do you do when you get blocked?

Moving is pretty much the only way for me to shake ideas loose. I’ll go for a walk or a run, or even do housework if I’m really desperate. The worst thing I can do is sit in front of the computer. As a classical musician, I find it hard not to keep trying to push through, but I’ve learnt that time away from the computer is an important part of the process.

How do you keep your well of inspiration full?

I read and go to plays and exhibitions, watch TV and eavesdrop shamelessly. Public transport is one of the best places to get inspiration for a character or story. I never listen to music when I’m on the train – there are too many great conversations to overhear.

Do you have any rituals that help you to write?

Coffee before, coffee during, coffee after.

Who are ten of your favourite writers?
Oh this is a hard question. I can’t do an exclusive top ten, but a few of my favourites are Elizabeth Strout, Vikram Seth, Peter Temple, Kate Atkinson, Raymond Chandler, Kazuo Ishiguro, John le Carré, Annie Proulx, Don Delillo and Hilary Mantel.

What do you consider to be good writing?

There are so many different aspects to good writing. It can be poetic sentences, or a story that makes me think, writing that draws me into a character’s head, or dialogue so real I can ‘hear’ it.

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

Nothing you read or write is ever wasted. It’s like practising scales: every word you write and every word you read makes you a better writer.

What are you working on now?

I’m working on the third novel in the Caleb Zelic series, Darkness For Light. It will be out in 2019.

You can read my review of And Fire Came Down here.

BOOK REVIEW: And Fire Came Down by Emma Viskic

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

 

The Blurn (From Goodreads):

Deaf since early childhood, Caleb Zelic is used to meeting life head-on. Now, he’s struggling just to get through the day. His best mate is dead, his ex-wife, Kat, is avoiding him, and nightmares haunt his waking hours.

But when a young woman is killed, after pleading for his help in sign language, Caleb is determined to find out who she was. The trail leads Caleb back to his hometown, Resurrection Bay. The town is on bushfire alert, and simmering with racial tensions. As Caleb delves deeper, he uncovers secrets that could ruin any chance of reuniting with Kat, and even threaten his life. Driven by his own demons, he pushes on. But who is he willing to sacrifice along the way?


My Thoughts:

A contemporary crime novel set in Australia, and featuring a hearing-impaired private investigator, And Fire Came Down by Emma Viskic is bold, fresh, original, and achingly real.

I bought her book after putting out a call on Facebook for some great crime recommendations. Emma Viksic’s name was mentioned several times and so, seeing this novel while browsing in a bookstore, I grabbed it.

It’s the second in a series, with the first book Resurrection Bay winning a swathe of awards including the Ned Kelly Award for Best First Fiction. I do wish I’d bought Book 1 first, as there are inevitable references to what happened previously, and some of the characters are introduced only briefly, the reader obviously meant to recognise them from earlier encounters.

Nonetheless, I was hooked in from the very first page, in which a mysterious young woman asks the hero Caleb for help in sign language … and then dies. Written in taut, pared-back language, with moments of dark wit and humour and high-octane action, And Fire Came Down is a compulsive page-turner.

The setting is vivid and memorable too – a small Australian country town baking in the summer heat with drug-fuelled violence and racial tensions simmering just below the surface. I could feel the sweat sliding down Caleb’s back and smell the dangerous hint of bushfire smoke in the scorchingly hot air. Just brilliant.

You might also be interested in my review of another great Australian crime novel, The Dry by Jane Harper.

I was lucky enough to interview Emma Viskic for the blog this week, you can read it here.

BOOK REVIEW: Three Gold Coins by Josephine Moon

Friday, May 25, 2018



The Blurb (From Goodreads):


One coin for love, one for marriage, one to return to Rome.

Two days ago, Lara Foxleigh tossed three gold euros into the Trevi Fountain. Now, she is caring for a cranky old man and living in a picturesque villa, ...half a world away from her home and the concerns of her loving family.

Soon, it seems as if those wishes she made in Rome just might be coming true, and she may even be able to help heal a fifteen-year-old tragedy.

Until Lara's past threatens to destroy everything she loves...

Three Gold Coins is a masterfully written celebration of food, family, triumph over adversity, and love - a deliciously imperfect life.


My Thoughts:

A warm-hearted contemporary tale set in Australia and Italy, Three Gold Coins is the first book written by Josephine Moon that I have read but it won’t be the last. I just loved the skilful twisting together of romance and suspense, chick-lit and family drama. This is a novel which celebrates family ties, food and the importance of kindness, all things which I passionately believe in.

The story begins when Australian tourist Lara Foxleigh tosses three gold coins into the Trevi Fountain in the age-old superstition: one coin for love, one coin for marriage, one coin to return to Rome. As she watches the crowd passing by, she notices a stooped old man struggling along, helped by a young woman in tight flashy gym gear. Then the old man is alone. His carer has robbed him and abandoned him, and he has no way of getting home. Lara is moved to help him, and ends up offering to drive the old man home. She does not realise Samuel lives in Tuscany, a long way from Rome, and so finds herself embarked on a much bigger adventure than she had imagined.

Before long, Lara finds herself cooking and caring for Samuel, and drawn into his family feuds. The only person to talk to him is his nephew Matteo, a handsome young man with a debilitating stutter. My heart was won at that moment. As someone who has struggled all my life with a stutter, I could not help but warm to the world’s first stuttering romantic hero!

Lara learns to milk the goats and make pasta and ricotta cheese, while slowly falling in love with Matteo.

Yet there is darkness in both Lara and Samuel’s pasts that threatens her new-found happiness. Back in Australia, Lara’s mother, Eliza, her sister Sunny and Sunny’s young twins, Daisy and Hudson, are facing a threat that Lara has tried to run from. And in Italy, Samuel’s loneliness and isolation are a problem she must try to solve.

The story moves back and forth between the voices of Lara and Sunny, and between the past and the present, slowly revealing the secrets that are overshadowing Lara’s life. Josephone Moon sensitively explores themes of depression and mental illness, psychological abuse and violence, which give her story extra gravitas and depth to balance the warmth and charm.

You might also be interested in my review of The Midsummer Garden by Kirsty Manning.

I was lucky enough to interview Josephine Moon for the blog this week, you can read it here.

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




INTERVIEW: Josephine Moon

Friday, May 25, 2018

 

Today I welcome Josephine Moon, author of Three Gold Coins, to the blog.

Are you a daydreamer too?
Of course! I'm forever burning the rice or leaving the tap running in the horse's trough because I've been whisked away somewhere inside my mind. (And the latter is particularly bad because we're on tank water. I did once actually drain the entire tank!)

Have you always wanted to be a writer?
I wrote my first book at aged nine. It was called Starlight the Brumby. I was obsessed with The Silver Brumby series and I acted the whole thing out in the backyard before writing it down. My dad took it to work and asked his secretary to type it up, which was such a thrill. I was always a writer of some sort but throughout school I wanted to a vet because animals are a huge part of my life and I wanted to help them. But when I got to Year 11 Physics it was abundantly clear that Physics and I were never going to get along, which dashed my hopes right there. It took me quite a few false starts before I had the 'full body moment' of realising I wanted to be a career author. The wonderful thing about writing is that I can write about whatever passion I want, which includes animals.

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

I was born in Brisbane and lived there most of my life but now live in Noosa's hinterland. As a child, I holidayed in Noosa each year with family, which cemented my love for the northern beaches of the Sunshine Coast and it was always my dream to live here. Because I always had horses, I thought I'd end up in Eumundi, but when we finally bought some acreage here in 2012 it was in Cooroy, where we still live. We just love it here. It feels like my 'true' home.

My son is still young (just turning six) so he is still tremendous fun and we love our family time together with him. We also have twenty animals, so a lot of my time is spent caring for, playing with, nursing and loving our animal crew. I'm a foodie in as much as I am passionate about food and I spend a lot of time reading about it, researching it, following foodies online, growing it and eating it, though I tend to read and drool over recipe books more than I actually cook from them.

How did you get the first flash of inspiration for this book?

In 2016, I went to Italy to attend a writing retreat. My sister came with me and we started our time in Rome. On the very first day, as we were walking the cobblestone streets towards the Trevi Fountain, I saw a stooped, elderly man ahead of me, struggling to stay on his feet, leaning on his cane, with a young woman next to him. I had such a strong feeling of concern for him and instantly had so many questions. I wanted to know his story. I pulled out my phone and snapped a couple of photos and a week later, sitting under the trees next to a seventeenth century villa in Tuscany, the image of that man came back to me and that's exactly where the story of Three Gold Coins starts.

How extensively do you plan your novels?

I wish I was a hard core plotter! I am sure that would save me so much time in rewrites but it just never seems to pan out that way, despite my best intentions for every book. I have a mud map of where I'm going, but as for breaking down scenes and chapters, it doesn't work for me. My characters very much lead the story and inevitably I have one idea of what I want the story to do but my characters want to do very different things. Still, I will keep trying to improve my plotting with each new book.

Do you ever use dreams as a source of inspiration?
I have wild, crazy, technicolour dreams every single night but so far they haven't resulted in any particular narrative.

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

Not one specific thing, but I had a moment between the second and third versions of Three Gold Coins when the story told me it wanted to go in a certain direction and I was resisting it. Once I committed to take it in that direction, for the next two weeks, at least every second day, someone or something turned up unexpectedly that was directly related to that new direction. It was astonishing and felt like a real sign from the universe that I was on the right track.

Where do you write, and when?
I have a writing room in our house and now that my son is at school I write there more often than not these days. I used to have to leave the house because if he was home I'd get nothing done. What I would really like is a glamorous 'She Shed' in the backyard, though I think I'd spend a terrible amount of time styling it and dressing it up and then changing my mind and wanting to change the theme, from French country, to gypsy caravan, to colourful Indian or fairy garden.

I also have about three cafes that I write from, all of them laid back, with lost of space and earthy, family friendly atmospheres and they don't feel the need to hurry me on.

I mostly write during school hours, though sometimes I will write in the middle of the night when I can't sleep, or at four o'clock in the morning, and on weekends too.

What is your favourite part of writing?
That moment when I don't have to 'conjure' up words and actions for my characters but instead just have them fully alive in my mind and all I have to do is type fast enough to get down everything they're saying. That is magic.

Other than that, I do a lot of research for my books and I am very much in my happy place when researching. I love learning new things and I am free to follow rabbit trails of interest all over the place before I'm boxed in by the limitations of the story. Research time is such a free, optimistic stage of writing.

What do you do when you get blocked?
If it's a small block, I take a walk outside in the sunshine and water my plants or do something with the horses. If it's a bigger block, I might have to go for a drive to a different location, go see a movie for some visual input, or bake (baking is remarkably good for breaking through blocks). Sometimes, I just need to wait it out. If I can sit with the discomfort long enough, something usually gives and it often gives in a big way and all sorts of wonders are on the other side. If I'm really in a tizzy about something, I will make a bargain with myself that I only have to sit there for ten minutes. I don't think I've ever gotten up after ten minutes. It just breaks the psychological pressure to perform. You can't expect much in ten minutes, right? Works like a charm.

How do you keep your well of inspiration full?
I've recently started going to the movies again. I didn't go for years after my son was born but now I see it as an essential part of narrative and visual input. I'll always book tickets to a few theatre performances a year as well. I love live theatre and find it so invigorating. I try to go out on 'artist's dates' by myself, often with no plan except to just see where life takes me. (A small warning on that one, though. One day I did this and came home with a kitten.)

Do you have any rituals that help you to write?

Masala chai brewed on almond milk accompanies me to each writing session (or coffee if I'm really tired). I also like to put on a really energising song that I know all the words to and sing it out loud and preferably do a bit of crazy dancing to shrug off whatever domestic scene has been playing out a minute before. This gets the blood pumping, the oxygen flowing and raises my optimism. After that, I have to switch to some sort of calming, instrumental music, otherwise I just keep singing instead of writing.

Who are ten of your favourite writers?
Monica McInerney, JoJo Moyes, Marian Keyes, Enid Blyton, James Herriot, John Marsden, Kimberley Freeman, Mem Fox, Jane Austen, Glennon Doyle.

What do you consider to be good writing?

I love writing that is clever, original, thought provoking, entertaining and transportive all at once.

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

You wouldn't go and pick up a hammer and start building a house if you had no idea how to build a cubby house, right? Same goes for writing. My advice is to invest effort into writing short stories. Putting together a story of a couple of thousand words is not a big investment of time but it will give you a lot of valuable feedback. Take those opportunities to write in a variety to styles and across many genres. This will help you to find your voice, your strengths and your passions. You'll be stuck in a full length manuscript for years so you want to have some idea that you can carry it through to the end before you get bogged down in it. Short stories will help you work that out.

What are you working on now?

I'm working on my fifth contemporary fiction novel, which is due out in April 2019. It is set in Melbourne and follows the story of a woman who has had a heart transplant and the wife of the organ donor of that heart. Together they are trying to solve a mystery. My food theme is coffee (because there's always a food theme in my books).

You can read my review of Three Gold Coins here.

INTERVIEW: Holly Ringland

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

 

Today I welcome Holly Ringland, author of The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart, to the blog.

Are you a daydreamer too?

Oh, yes. Daydreaming has been an escape and salvation throughout my life, like books. I had a boyfriend once, when I was younger, who’s favourite criticism of me was that I always had my head in the clouds, in 'Holly-land'. It’s taken twenty-something years for me to realise what a gift an active imagination is; to be able to daydream, and wonder, and ponder is the best way I know to enrich our interior lives.

Have you always wanted to be a writer?

Ever since I was a child. My mum taught me to read when I was three (thank you, Mama!) and it was then that I first grasped an understanding of what an author was. It was Sungglepot and Cuddlepie that did it. Lately, Mum has been joyfully recalling how, aged three, I walked out of my bedroom clutching my May Gibbs books and announced with great ceremony I was going to grow up and be like her. I don’t remember ever knowing anything else about myself so surely: I have always wanted 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 born in Gladstone, Queensland. Now, I live between Manchester, England, with my English partner, Sam, and the Gold Coast hinterland, Queensland, with my parents who very kindly share their home with me as my base when I’m, in Australia. It’s heaven. Three acres, Mum’s garden, and our three dogs. I feel so incredibly lucky every time I get on the plane here or there. I love to read, write, garden, cook, hike, swim in salt water, travel, and be with people I love.

How did you get the first flash of inspiration for this book?
It’s strange feeling that rises when I think about what my answer is. This is my first book and so, in some ways, it feels like this story has been brewing in me all my life. The genesis of this novel was trauma. I’ve lived with male perpetrated violence for a lot of my life, which silenced my voice, courage and the dream of being a writer I’ve had since I was a child. In 2012, I started a PhD in Creative Writing. I used my research to look at the relationship between traumatic experience and the process of writing fiction. It was through this research that I discovered Tom Spanbauer’s concept of ‘dangerous writing’, which is the idea of going into the sore place we all have inside of us, and writing from that place; using fiction as the lie that tells the truth. I realised that I’d never written from the sore place. If anything, I’d written around it, aside it, in spite of it. Never from it. So, my research became my own call to arms, but threw up all kinds of questions for me. What would become of me and my life if I wrote the thing I was most scared to write? What story would emerge, and how might it live in other people’s hearts, if it ever saw the light of day? What else can trauma be made into, other than unrememberable memories? These kinds of questions are why I wrote The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart.

How extensively do you plan your novels?

I handwrote the first 11,000 words of Lost Flowers in May, 2014; they poured out, and then dried up. I knew enough to know not to force it, and to take care of my mental health (I was bereaved at the time) so I stepped away from writing prose to focus instead on daydreaming. You were such a force for good in teaching me this, Kate. I did that for about 14 months – vividly dreaming the story to life – before I returned to writing in August 2015. I wrote the 100,000-word first draft in the following three months, finishing at the end of October. I didn’t plan it extensively, but while I was gathering and developing the story in my mind I did uncover major skeletal bones before I went near my keyboard. I’ve learned about myself that I can’t write blind to find where I'm going… when I’ve done that in the past I just end up writing hundreds of thousands of unnecessary words, trying to find my way. I believe nothing is wasted, all of those words got me to where I needed to be, but writing is enough of a leap of faith as it is, I don’t need extra fodder for the anxieties and doubts in my mind. I find writing to be more joyful when I know vaguely where I’m going in the story, versus writing through darkness to find my way.

Do you ever use dreams as a source of inspiration?

In the past, I have. Usually I’m driven to write by the kind of dreams that are so potent and so vivid that they don’t leave you alone the next day. They haunt me with their realness, even if they’re not frightening in nature. They’re the dreams I know I can only exorcise by writing them out.

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

Many. Writing Lost Flowers changed my life in innumerable ways.

Where do you write, and when?
If I’m not in a project, but am free-writing, I will write whenever and wherever I can. Like, a café, or a library, or a hotel room, or my Mum’s kitchen table. When I’m in a project, I need a base camp, like my office, where I can pick up and leave off and pick up what I’m working on, on a daily basis. I seemed to need that stability when writing Lost Flowers. Maybe the process will be different with my next work. Sometimes the creative process is a wonderful mystery!

What is your favourite part of writing?
The daydreaming and the researching and the connecting and the imagining. I can’t get enough of that time when everything is possible. Also, I love observing how my natural response to being in that phase means that I physically embodying the story. While I was writing it, Lost Flowers spilled over into all areas of my life, which is no bad thing! My wardrobe has never contained so many florals/birds/butterflies/books motifs. Our dreams are worth working hard to honour and enjoy. And embodied, if we so like.

What do you do when you get blocked?

I step away from the keyboard and deliberately redirect myself to spend time with my imagination in a gentle way. I deliberately make space and time to do other things that feed my senses, like going to a plant nursery and getting into the garden, or, I go to the art gallery and sit to look at the corners of paintings where the details are, or I go to a stationery shop (because the smell alone of crayons and pencils and paper can be enough to cause a shift), and I carry a notebook and pen just in case. But I keep a close ear to my inner self talk and storytelling and make sure the loop tape that is play is kind. Self-flagellation and writing don’t work for me. My writing blocks are nearly always connected to anxiety so when I’m blocked, I know my mind needs compassion and I’m learning how best to respond.

How do you keep your well of inspiration full?

I really believe in the adage, input is output. If my output is thin, I know it’s time to go foraging. I take my cues from bowerbirds, except rather than gathering to dazzle and impress a mate, I gather to dazzle and impress myself. Whether it’s going for a slow walk in the golden hour and taking photos, or cooking something delectable no matter how long it takes or the mess it makes, or doing yoga with candles, or wearing red lipstick, or listening to live music, or travelling to a place I haven’t been before, I find inspiration by feeding my mind things that awaken my sense of wonder.

Do you have any rituals that help you to write?

If possible, I burn essential oils and make the space I’m writing as aesthetically lush and bright as I can. That doesn’t only mean having a space near natural light, or a vase of fresh flowers on my desk, or a stack of the books of that most inspire me but also having evocative writing tools within reach, like a notebook with sumptuous creamy pages, or a pen with glossy black ink. I need both analogue and digital. Sometimes I work in silence, but most often I listen to classical music, or soundtracks, whatever it is, it has to be music without lyrics.

Who are ten of your favourite writers?
Alice Hoffman, Brooke Davis, Myf Jones, Favel Parrett, Ali Cobby Eckermann, Kate Forsyth, Inga Simpson, Zora Neale Hurston, Eliza Henry-Jones and Anthony Doerr.

What do you consider to be good writing?

To be frank, writing that I take with me to pee. If I can’t bear to be away from something I’m reading for those ten seconds, I know it’s good. When I was writing Lost Flowers and I was asked what kind of book I wanted to write, my instinctual answer was, something readers can’t put down, but then when I thought about what that actually looked like for me, it was the book you take with you to pee. But also cook, or fold laundry, or do anything that requires you should technically put down your book, but you just simply cannot.

What is your advice for someone dreaming of being a writer too?
You are braver than self-doubt will have you know.
Give yourself the love and kindness you didn’t receive.
The answers can always be found in books.
Fear will never go away, it’s part of the process. Offer it a seat, buckle it up, give it an iPad to watch, and get in the driver’s seat. This is your road trip; fear doesn’t get to dictate where you go.
Your first draft is perfect, it only has to exist: you can’t edit a blank page.

What are you working on now?

I’m daydreaming to life the bones of my next novel. At the very beginning of gathering and researching. Protecting the seeds before they sprout. It’s the most delicious time.


You can read my review of The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart here.

Please leave a comment and let me know your thoughts!

BOOK REVIEW: The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart by Holly Ringland

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

 

The Blurb (From Goodreads):

The most enchanting debut novel of 2018, this is an irresistible, deeply moving and romantic story of a young girl, daughter of an abusive father, who has to learn the hard way that she can break the patterns of the past, live on her own terms and find her own strength.

After her family suffers a tragedy when she is nine years old, Alice Hart is forced to leave her idyllic seaside home. She is taken in by her estranged grandmother, June, a flower farmer who raises Alice on the language of Australian native flowers, a way to say the things that are too hard to speak. But Alice also learns that there are secrets within secrets about her past. Under the watchful eye of June and The Flowers, women who run the farm, Alice grows up. But an unexpected betrayal sends her reeling, and she flees to the dramatically beautiful central Australian desert. Alice thinks she has found solace, until she falls in love with Dylan, a charismatic and ultimately dangerous man.

The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart is a story about stories: those we inherit, those we select to define us, and those we decide to hide. It is a novel about the secrets we keep and how they haunt us, and the stories we tell ourselves in order to survive. Spanning twenty years, set between the lush sugar cane fields by the sea, a native Australian flower farm, and a celestial crater in the central desert, Alice must go on a journey to discover that the most powerful story she will ever possess is her own.


My Thoughts:

An astonishingly assured debut, The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart is a story of love, loss, betrayal and the redemptive power of storytelling. It is both heart-breaking and life-affirming.

A coming-of-age story with a vividly evocative Australian setting, this novel follows the story of Alice Hart who must learn to escape the shadows of an abusive father in order to build a life for herself.

At the age of nine, Alice suffers the tragic loss of her mother and baby brother. She is taken from her seaside home to live with her grandmother, June, who grows bush flowers and takes in battered and abused women so they can heal in peace. June has developed a secret language of Australian native flowers, to help say the things that are too hard to speak aloud.

Mute and damaged, Alice slowly begins to recover from the wounds of her past, but there are too many secrets, too many shadows. Hurt and betrayed, Alice flees the flower farm and heads into the hot red heart of the Australian desert. She begins to rebuild her life once again, and falls recklessly and dangerously in love.

Sensitive, sympathetic, and vulnerable, Alice is like so many young women, struggling to make sense of their life, wanting to love and be loved but hurt by the danger of feeling so deeply, and needing to find their own voice so they can finally speak up and tell their story. Her journey is one that feels so familiar, and yet is uniquely and powerfully her own.

The Australian landscape, and its strange and beautiful flora, also has a potent presence in the novel. I absolutely loved the use of the secret language of flowers, and how it helped those inarticulate with pain and grief find a way to speak out, tell their story and so find release and healing. The sparkling waters and deep dragging undertow of the seashore, the dull green-grey of the bush with its hidden beauties only visible to those who take the time to see, and the extraordinary fierce grandeur of the red heart of Australia were evoked with such clarity and intimacy, I could feel the heat on my skin, taste the dust on my tongue, smell the tang of eucalyptus and salt in the air.

The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart is beautiful, powerful, intense, and tender, a book to shake your heart and bring a lump to your throat.

You might also be interested in my review of Sixty Seconds by Jesse Blackadder.

I was lucky enough to interview Holly for the blog this week, you can read it here.

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

BOOK REVIEW: Becoming Marie Antoinette by Juliet Grey

Friday, May 18, 2018



The Blurb (From Goodreads):

This enthralling confection of a novel, the first in a new trilogy, follows the transformation of a coddled Austrian archduchess into the reckless, powerful, beautiful queen Marie Antoinette.

Why must it be me? I wondered. When I am so clearly inadequate to my destiny?

Raised alongside her numerous brothers and sisters by the formidable empress of Austria, ten-year-old Maria Antonia knew that her idyllic existence would one day be sacrificed to her mother's political ambitions. What she never anticipated was that the day in question would come so soon.

Before she can journey from sunlit picnics with her sisters in Vienna to the glitter, glamour, and gossip of Versailles, Antonia must change everything about herself in order to be accepted as dauphine of France and the wife of the awkward teenage boy who will one day be Louis XVI. Yet nothing can prepare her for the ingenuity and influence it will take to become queen.

Filled with smart history, treacherous rivalries, lavish clothes, and sparkling jewels, Becoming Marie Antoinette will utterly captivate fiction and history lovers alike.


My Thoughts:


As the title suggests, Becoming Marie Antoinette is biographical fiction inspired by the life of the ill-fated queen of France, who lost her head to the guillotine during the French Revolution.

It is one of my favourite periods of history (I’m actually writing a novel set during the Terror now), and I read many novels inspired by her life by writers like Jean Plaidy and Victoria Holt when I was a teenager. I have also read many biographies by historians such as Antonia Fraser and Evelyne Lever, as well as life histories of her hairdresser, her perfumerer and the like.

Juliet Grey’s novel is the first in a trilogy, and begins when Maria Antonia is still a child in the court of her mother, the formidable Empress of Austria. Impulsive, warm-hearted and mischievous, Maria Antonia knows her destiny is to be married for political gain and hopes that her chosen husband will not be too old or too unkind. Her mother begins negotiations with the French king, Louis the Fifteenth, for a betrothal with his grandson, the young Dauphin. Marie Antonia begins her journey of transformation, having her teeth straightened, her posture corrected and her meagre education rectified. She is only fourteen when she is married by proxy and sent off alone to Versailles, and Juliet Grey brilliantly brings her sweetness, naïveté and natural charm to life.

Versailles is, of course, a gilded trap for the young dauphine, and she makes many mistakes by trusting too easily and not submitting to the strict etiquette of the court. Even worse, poor Marie Antoinette fails to entrance her awkward, immature 14-year old husband and the marriage remains unconsummated.

Light, sparkling and yet psychologically acute, Becoming Marie Antoinette is the best novel I have yet read about the young Austrian arch-duchess’s journey towards becoming the most infamous French queen in history.

You might also be interested in my review of The Wardrobe Mistress: A Novel of Marie Antoinette by Meghan Masterson.

I was lucky enough to interview Juliet Grey, you can read it here.

Remember to leave a comment and let me know your thoughts!

INTERVIEW: Juliet Grey

Friday, May 18, 2018

 

Today I welcome Juliet Grey, author of Becoming Marie Antoinette, to the blog.

Are you a daydreamer too?
I’ve always been a daydreamer. I daydream even when I’m walking down the street. And when I’m in a place I don’t want to be, even in a city I don’t want to be living in, it gets me through the day. Being an actress as well as a writer, I live inside my head a lot.

Have you always wanted to be a writer?

No, although I have writers on both sides of my family and my paternal grandfather always encouraged my writing when I was a little girl. He was a humorist and a poet and taught me various poetic forms (such as the limerick, sonnet, and ballade – I was a huge fan of Cyrano de Bergerac): I began life as a professional actress, which is what I have also been for years as I pursued writing as an additional career. I find that each discipline feeds the other. And I also narrate audiobooks, so that marries both careers splendidly.

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

I was born in New York City and that will always be my home no matter where I live. The soot of the subway is embedded in my veins. Central Park is my spiritual plot. I live in Denver now, because that’s where my husband got a terrific job; but I am not terribly outdoorsy—not a hiker, biker, or skier, and the thin air just isn’t for me. I don’t know whether it’s a chicken and egg thing, as I write historical books (fiction and nonfiction) I’m drawn to old places or whether it’s the other way around; but I love exploring the oldest part of a city and walking in the footsteps of those who have been there before me. I never met a museum I didn’t like. I love to travel to old cities like Bath and Venice and hunt around for the untouched bits where I imagine people in period costumes will emerge from ancient buildings. I love water, too. I am inspired by looking at the sea, or by rivers. The view calms my soul.

How did you get the first flash of inspiration for this book?
I was writing a chapter on Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI for NOTORIOUS ROYAL MARRIAGES, my second nonfiction book on the loves and lives of European royalty, and I was so struck by how young they both were (she only 14; he, 15) when they were forced into a loveless marriage as so many royal marriages were, by what was ostensibly an international peace treaty between France and the Austrian empire—entities that had been enemies for more than 950 years. And these 2 teens were expected to make a go of it and cement a national friendship? From the start, it was clear that these two children were caught in a web of events not of their own making and that were so much larger than them; and moreover, that their lives, especially Marie Antoinette’s –the foreigner in France, the “other” from the start—were so propagandized and distorted—and that was the story of them that has been handed down through the past several centuries as fact that I felt compelled to tell their story. Their true story. And the only way I felt I could do that was by writing historical fiction so I could get inside the characters’ heads and hearts and minds and souls, while still sticking to the historical record.

How extensively do you plan your novels?
I tend to be a bit more of a pantser because I become impatient to start writing already! That said, I take extensive handwritten notes; I research my books for several months before I begin writing, and when I’m writing a novel based on someone’s life I know what the arc of the story will be and where I want it to end, or where it has to end, but I have to plan where the breaks will be (chapter breaks, and for the Marie Antoinette trilogy, what will be in each of the 3 novels themselves). With my historical novels I am extremely keen to get the details right. I try to locate portraits of the characters so I know what they really looked like (it drives me crazy in TV or movie versions where the creators didn’t even bother to cast actors who resemble their real-life counterparts: it takes me right out of the story!). And I have a strict rule for my own writing: if it did happen or could have happened, it’s fair game for inclusion in the novel. If it never could have happened, I would never play fast and loose with the historical record. I will add an author’s note at the back of the book explaining where I may have truncated a timeline, for example. But I will not move a major battle for the sake of expedience and therefore alter history; or have a character survive when we know he or she was executed, just to provide them with a happy ending!

Do you ever use dreams as a source of inspiration?
I’m sure I do; I just can’t think of any examples right now. I always hope that a convenient dream will help me out of a stick plot situation that I can’t seem to fix in my waking hours!

Did you make any astonishing serendipitous discoveries while writing this book?
Marie Antoinette actually had to undergo an extensive physical “makeover” in order to be considered physically attractive enough to be a suitable bride for the Dauphin of France, the grandson of the reigning monarch, Louis XV. The match was arranged when she was only 10 years old and after the French received a portrait of her, the king dispatched a hairdresser to Vienna; a dentist, Pierre Laveran, was sent to straighten her teeth (18th c. orthodontia!) a dancing master was hired to teach Marie Antoinette all the court dances she would need to know in France, a tutor was hired to cram academics through her brain; and Empress Maria Theresa, Marie Antoinette’s mother, made the miscalculation to hire a pair of actors (!!) to train her youngest daughter in elocution. Actors—as we all know—were the second lowest life forms for centuries (only a step above beggars and prostitutes). With my mania for adhering to the historical record, I researched and found, then used in the novel, the names of each of the men who were actually involved in Marie Antoinette’s makeover. When it came to the actors, these two Frenchmen were performing with a troupe in Vienna. I had their actual names, but knew little more, so I began to ascribe fictional personalities to them. Then I delved deeper and discovered that one of the actors had been a vicomte in France but had fallen madly in love with an actress and gave up his cushy life and title to marry her and become an itinerant player! The real backstory was heaps better than what I’d invented for him!

Where do you write, and when?

I always write in my home office, which is another bedroom in our apartment. So far, except for brief periods when I’ve been moving and been between apartments (in corporate housing where I didn’t have a separate room to write in), I’ve had, as Virginia Woolf declared of paramount importance, “a room of one’s own.” It’s my sacred space with many of my bookshelves (the rest of the bookshelves are in our living room; I own about 2000 volumes). I need light and air. And wherever we move, I tend to let the room itself tell me how it wants to be decorated. It’s been different in each city. I write like a shark moves. It has to keep swimming or die. I must keep writing or die. Any and all times of day, 7 days a week, except for the middle of the night. I have no specific times of day, or days of the week when I write.

What is your favourite part of writing?

When the ideas are flowing and I am not “thinking about writing.” I adore researching. I love writing dialogue for characters and getting inside their minds. I am not one of those writers who loves editing.

What do you do when you get blocked?
Go to a museum. Change my view/the scenery. Bake. Do needlework (I learned when I played Jane Austen in a two-character play that she did the same thing until an idea came to her again). Act. Something else that is creative or viewing the creativity of others often unblocks my creative issues.

How do you keep your well of inspiration full?
See the question above! And travel! I love to travel.

Do you have any rituals that help you to write?

If I am writing something historical I like to collect totems that belonged to, or remind me of the characters or the era in which I am writing; scented candles, period-appropriate music. When I wrote a novel about Emma Hamilton and Lord Nelson, I had their autographs sitting by my computer, as well as a bust of Nelson that had been made from metal melted down from his flagship, the Foudroyant.

Who are ten of your favourite writers?

I am only going to name deceased writers because they are the ones who inspired me as a child and as a young woman, and whose work I loved performing—and also because it’s also a loaded question to ask an author who hates to discuss her colleagues’ work. I never name any living colleagues on a “best of” list because there are invariably those who wonder why their names are not on it.

William Shakespeare, George Bernard Shaw, Oscar Wilde, Noël Coward, Antoine de St. Exupéry, Jane Austen, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Earnest Hemingway, Molière, A.A. Milne.

What do you consider to be good writing?
Writing that takes me on a journey. Writing that has a strong, unique author’s “voice” that sounds like no other “voice”. Complex, nuanced characters. Atmosphere that is a character in itself. Writing that makes me think, feel, question, and that I remember long after I close the book.

What is your advice for someone dreaming of being a writer too?
Write. And if you are serious about getting published, get a literary agent. And write.

What are you working on now?

Promoting my current nonfiction title, AMERICAN PRINCESS: The Love Story of Meghan Markle and Prince Harry. It’s been a whirlwind. I had only 1 month to write and deliver the manuscript; then we went into edits and copyedits, and promotion. After the royal wedding, I will need a nap!

You can read my review of Becoming Marie Antoinette here.

BOOK REVIEW: Jamaica Inn by Daphne du Maurier

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

 

The Blurb (From Goodreads):

The coachman tried to warn her away from the ruined, forbidding place on the rainswept Cornish coast. But young Mary Yellan chose instead to honor her mother's dying request that she join her frightened Aunt Patience and huge, hulking Uncle Joss Merlyn at Jamaica Inn. From her first glimpse on that raw November eve, she could sense the inn's dark power. But never did Mary dream that she would become hopelessly ensnared in the vile, villainous schemes being hatched within its crumbling walls -- or that a handsome, mysterious stranger would so incite her passions ... tempting her to love a man whom she dares not trust.


My Thoughts:

I have set out to read my way through Daphne du Maurier’s novels again, and am so enjoying the exercise. Jamaica Inn is one I have not read since I was a teenager, and I love the dark brooding windswept atmosphere of the moors, the tightening screw of dread and suspense, and the psychological strain of cruelty, murder and madness.

The story begins with a young woman, Mary Yellan, in a coach, driving away from her home and towards an uncertain future. Her mother has died, and she is honouring a promise to go and live with her maternal aunt, Patience. All is dark and wild and stormy, and the coachman is reluctant to set her down at her uncle’s residence, Jamaica Inn, for it has a bad name and an evil prospect.

The heightened atmosphere, the brooding sense of tension, and the foreshadowing of wickedness to come is all set up in this opening scene – and, once Mary meets her uncle, a sense of impending sexual danger as well. It’s a tour de force in neo-Gothic narrative art, mirroring the opening scenes of Bram Stoker’s Dracula and the hero’s approach to the vampire’s castle. It also, of course, has echoes of Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre’s journey to Thornfield Hall.

Jamaica Inn
is Daphne du Maurier’s fourth novel, and was published when she was only 29. It has all the suspense, ambivalence and thwarted desire of her more famous novel, Rebecca, published two years later. She is often dismissed as a writer of romance, but I find her inventions dark, haunting and powerful.

You can read my review of Rebecca here.

Please leave a comment and let me know your thoughts.


BOOK REVIEW: The Wardrobe Mistress: A Novel of Marie Antoinette by Meghan Masterson

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

 

The Blurb (From Goodreads):

It's Giselle Aubry's first time at court in Versailles. At sixteen, she is one of Marie Antoinette's newest undertirewomen, and in awe of the glamorous queen and her opulent palace life. A budding designer, it's a dream come true to work with the beautiful fabrics and jewels in the queen's wardrobe. But every few weeks she returns home to visit her family in the Parisian countryside where rumors of revolution are growing stronger.

From her position working in the royal household, Giselle is poised to see both sides of the revolutionary tensions erupting throughout Paris. When her uncle, a retired member of the secret du roi, a spy ring that worked for the old King, Louis XV, suggests that she casually report the Queen s actions back to him as a game, she leaps at the chance. Spying seems like an adventure and an exciting way to privately support the revolution taking the countryside by storm. She also enjoys using her insight from Versailles in lively debates with Leon Gauvain, the handsome and idealistic revolutionary who courts her.

But as the revolution continues to gain momentum, and Giselle grows closer to the Queen, becoming one of the few trusted servants, she finds herself dangerously torn. Violence is escalating; she must choose where her loyalty truly lies, or risk losing everything...maybe even her head.

The Wardrobe Mistress is Meghan Masterson's fascinating and visceral debut, not to be missed.


My Thoughts:

I am currently working on a novel set during the French Revolution, and so I am deeply immersed in books on the subject. As well as plowing through all the in-depth biographies and histories I can find, I am also reading novels set during the period. The Wardrobe Mistress is a new addition to the oeuvre, by debut author Meghan Masterton.

The book is told in first-person by Giselle Aubry, a young woman who is employed by Marie Antoinette to help look after her sumptuous wardrobe at the royal court in Versailles. Giselle is therefore perfectly placed to see the dramatic events of the French Revolution unfolding. Her uncle asks her to spy on the queen, so that the family may know how best to react to any news, and in a spirit of adventure, Giselle accepts the role. However, Giselle finds herself torn between sympathy for the heady new principles of liberty and equality, and empathy for the beleaguered queen and her children. This ambivalence is only complicated by her attraction to a young and handsome revolutionary, Leon. Somehow Giselle must navigate her way through these conflicting loyalties as the revolution escalates towards violence and bloodlust.

I love the idea of showing the Revolution through the eyes of an ordinary young woman. Giselle’s bedazzlement by the glamour of the queen and her desire to please her family ring so true for the time, as does her confusion and anxiety over the right thing to do. I loved all the descriptions of court life and the queen’s gorgeous clothes, and also how the fashions of the time became a political statement. Meghan Masterson does a brilliant job of bringing to life many of the cataclysmic events of those years, without weighing down the narrative with too many characters or too much historical explanation. The Wardrobe Mistress is perfect for anyone who is intrigued by the French Revolution and wants a fast-paced and romantic tale set during its tumultuous era.

For another great read set during the French Revolution, check out my review of The Chateau on the Lake by Charlotte Betts.

Please leave a comment and let me know your thoughts. 

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