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BOOK LIST: Books read in January 2013

Friday, February 15, 2013

I've been meaning to keep a better track of all the books I read so here is, a little late, a list of all the books I read in January 

1. The Falcons of Fire & Ice - Karen Maitland

An utterly compelling historical novel which moves between Portugal and Iceland as a young woman searches for two rare white falcons in a desperate attempt to save her father's life. Her journey is fraught with danger, betrayal, murder and horror, with the strangest set of seers ever to appear in fiction. Highly recommended.

2. Jewels of Paradise – Donna Leon
Donna Leon is best known for her murder mysteries set in Venice, which I really enjoy. This one was a disappointment - it was rather slow and the characters were unappealing. Stick to her Guido Brunetti series instead. 

3. Fire Spell – Laura Amy Schiltz

I absolutely adored this book! Laura Amy Schlitz reminds me of one of my all-time favourite authors, Joan Aiken, which is very high praise indeed. This is a rather creepy story about children and witches and a puppet-master in London a century or so ago. Brilliant. 

4. Madonna of the Almonds – Marina Fiorato

I've been slowly reading my way through Marnia Fiorato's books since enjoying her debut The Glassblower of Murano a few years ago. This one is set in Renaissance Italy, and tells the story of the love affair between a painter and a young woman who invents a liquor made from almonds in order to save her beloved house. I really enjoyed this and will be interviewing the author later this month. 

5. The Mystery of Rilloby Fair  - Enid Blyton

An old childhood favourite.

6. Shatter – Michael Robotham

Warning: this book must be read with all the lights on and a man or a large dog in the house. I have not been so freaked out by a book in a long time. Seriously scary, this book is possibly the most brilliant psychological thriller I have ever read. I still shudder from time to time thinking about it ... wondering what I'd do if I was faced with such a situation ... and determined to keep my children closer than ever ... Chilling, powerful and utterly superbly written. Highly recommended for the brave.   

7. Nine Rules to Break When Romancing a Rake – Sarah McLean

I really enjoyed this Regency romance novel - it was funny, sexy, and had a really appealing hero and heroine. Great fun.  

8. Island of the Blue Dolphins – Scott O’Dea
I've had a vague plan to read all the Newbery Medal winners, and slowly I'm getting through them. This one is very restrained, almost cold, yet its a compelling story of a young Indian girl left alone on an island and her struggle to survive. It won the Newbery in 1961, and so its older than I am. One of those short, yet very strong books that leave a lingering impression.  

9. Chasing the Light – Jesse Blackadder
This is the most beautiful, haunting novel about the first women in Antarctica - I'd really recommend it to anyone who loves books about forgotten women in history (in fact, I'd recommend it to anyone who loves historical fiction.) Here's my review of 'Chasing the Light' and here's my interview with Jesse Blackadder

10. Bury Your Dead – Louise Penny
I really enjoy Louise Penny's contemporary murder mysteries set in Quebec - she's very good on character and dialogue, and her mysteries are always clever and puzzling, the way mysteries should be. 

11. The Lavender Keeper - Fiona McIntosh
Loved this book! Loved it! Its the story of French resistance fighters in the Second World War, and their loves and fears and betrayals. I believe there's a sequel coming out - I can't wait. 

12. White Truffles in Winter – N.M. Kelby
This is a slow moving but beautifully written account of the famous French chef Escoffier and his life and loves. It desperately made me want to eat the amazing food described in the  book - larks cooked with truffles and such things and brought to life that period of history for me most vividly. 

13. Ratcatcher – James McGee
A ratcatcher is a Bow Street Runner, which was like an early policeman in Regency times. This was a great historical adventure book, filled with spies, and intrigue, and romance, and murder. I'm looking forward to reading the next one. 

14. The Last Runaway – Tracy Chevalier
I love Tracy Chevalier so much. She's what I'd like to be. Each book is very different from what has come before, each is beautifully written - walking that fine line between the high style of the literary novel and the accessiblity of the popular - and she is interested in the subjects that interest me. I've always been intrigued by the Quakers and I've always wanted to know more about the Underground Railway that helped runaway slaves escape. I've even thought I might one day write a book about it. Once again, Tracy has beaten me to it - this book brings to life both the inner world of a Quaker woman and her struggle with the narrow strictures of a Quaker life, and the drama of the Underground Railway, and the bounty hunters that seek to drag back the runway slaves. 'The Last Runaway' is rather a quiet book, yet its utterly readable and compelling. I really loved it - I just wish Tracy wrote faster!

BOOK LIST: Some of my favourite romance novels

Friday, February 15, 2013

Its 'Romance Week'on the blog as we celebrate St Valentine's Day and all things romantic. Already this week, I've interviewed my favourite Australian romance writer, Anne Gracie, and reviewed her new book, 'The Autumn Bride'.

To continue with the theme, I thought I'd list a few of my own favourite romance reads.

1) 'These Old Shades' by Georgette Heyer is one of my all-time favourite books. It is an utterly perfect mix of humour, adventure, and romance, though modern day readers may find it lacking in the levels of sensuality they are used to. I don't care one whit. Georgette Heyer is the queen of Regency romance because she writes so  well, and because even minor characters are an utter delight.


2) 'Roselynde' by Roberta  Gellis. I read this, and all the other books in the Roselynde Chronicles, when I was in high school and they utterly swept me away. They were the first romance books I ever read that had a strong sensual component, but they were also filled with the political machinations of living under the evil King John, and brought the life of 13th century England vividly and compellingly to life. 

3) 'Desperate Duchesses' by Eloisa James brought me back to reading historical romance after quite a few years when I had not read any. It is witty, sexy, and filled with feisty and likeable female characters, as well as quite a bit about chess and Shakespeare. This is romance writing at its most intelligent, and I've enjoyed many more of her books since discovering this one quite by chance. 

4) 'The Secret History of the Pink Carnation' is the first in a series of frivolous, funny and utterly fabulous romances by the US author Lauren Willig. Its quite hard to categorise them, as they mingle a contemporary chick-lit-style romantic narrative, with a historical spy-thriller-romance narrative. Its best to read them in order, as characters appear and reappear, but each is a sparkling little gem in its own right, and I always looks forward to them eagerly. 


5) I read the 'The Lost Duke of Wyndham' by Julia Quinn only recently, and really enjoyed it. She has a light, humorous touch, some sparkling dialogue, and the story moves along at a spanking pace. I liked it enough to order some more of her books.

6) 'Seven Nights in a Rogue's Bed' is by an Australian author, Anna Campbell, who I had never read before. This is a seriously sexy book, but the high level of sensuality is utterly believable as the hero and heroine are given a chance to fall in love, even as they fall into bed. There's a dastardly villain, some wonderful descriptions of food and clothes, and a very satisfying denouement, in all senses of the word. It's wonderful to see Australian authors writing such world-class romance.

7) 'His Captive Lady' is one of my favourite books by Anne Gracie, one of my favourite romance writers. I really loved the sub-plot of a missing child in this book, and the strong and silent hero. This is part of a series about four friends who fought together in the Napoleonic Wars, and now have to adapt to peacetime England, and so there's a darker undercurrent to these books than in many romances set during the same period. 


INTERVIEW: Anne Gracie, author of 'The Autumn Bride'

Thursday, February 14, 2013

I've always loved historical romance novels, ever since I read my mother's Georgette Heyer books to utter rags when I was a young teenager. I find that when I'm very busy and very tired - like I am now - I read a lot of romance. My favourite contemporary romance novelists is Australia's own Anne Gracie, and so I thought I would celebrate Valentines Day by chatting with her about the wonderful, warm-and-fuzzy world of romance fiction. 

Kate: Why do you think romance is such a popular genre of fiction?

Anne: Pure, feel-good escapism. The world can be a grim and stressful place and romance fiction provides an escape that guarantees you a happy ending. The story might take you on a wild journey, with danger and sad or scary moments, but no matter what dark places it might take you to, you know it'll finish well. That's a very appealing kind of escape.

Kate: Romance has many different sub-genres - romantic suspense, Regency romances, paranormal romance to name just a few. They each seem to have different conventions or tropes, and a different type of readership. Can you please give me a brief run-down on the various sub-genres and their tropes?

Anne: No, sorry. <g> I couldn't begin to do them all justice. The genre is constantly evolving and new sub-genres are appearing all the time. Let me just say there is enormous variety under the romance umbrella — pretty much any other genre can be combined with romance and as long as the development of the romance is a central part of the story, it's still regarded as romance. The best way to become familiar with the conventions is to read widely; that said, people are breaking conventions all the time.

The best advice I can give to anyone wanting to explore the romance genre and what it offers is to trawl the web, and the romance sites. And read the books. In Australia, there are romance specialist bookshops that you can browse and the assistants are generally great readers of romance and can advise you. Some will also will send out catalogues by post or email. 

Kate: My particular favourite sub-genre is historical romance, particularly Regency romance, which is what you write. What do you think is the appeal for this particular period of history?

Anne: It's a brilliant period for writers — wars, Napoleon rampaging around Europe, the industrial revolution and the growth in all kinds of knowledge, the glamor of balls and fabulous fashions, Almacks and gentlemen's clubs, aristocrats desperately trying to maintain their exclusivity in the face of the rise of the merchant class, the growth of the British Empire, desperate poverty and a surge in crime — this is when Australia was colonized, remember. You can write almost any kind of story you want. It's historical enough to feel exotic, but modern enough for modern audiences who know little of the period, to still feel at home.

For me personally, the Regency is a place I feel very comfortable in because I grew up on Georgette Heyer. Because of her and Jane Austen, the Regency novel is also associated with humour, which suits me, too.

The incomparable Georgette Heyer

Kate: What are the other 'hot' historical periods?

Anne: In the USA the Victorian era is very popular. In the early part of my career my English editor warned me off the Victorian era because she said it held dreary memories for everyone. But not in the USA. There it's seen as almost modern and very glamorous, with fabulous clothes and exciting inventions and suffragettes and adventure. And of course it ties into steampunk — yes there's steampunk and dystopian romance, and also paranormal historical romance.

The medieval period used to be very popular, and I'm still very fond of medieval romances, but some of the best medieval writers are now writing Regency historicals because that's what the market wants. (If you want a great medieval romance, try "By Design" by Madeline Hunter)

Kate: I've noticed many romance novels have the hero as the primary point of view. The book opens with  their POV, and the reader spends more than half of their time in his head. This puzzles me. I would have thought it was the heroine who should dominate the novel's 'screen time'.  Why do so many romance writers give so much space to the man's thoughts and feelings?

Anne: As I said, romance is a constantly evolving genre. In the past, the heroine's point of view (pov) ruled, and the hero was this distant, mysterious "other" whose thoughts and motivations and feelings the heroine (and the reader) could only guess at.  It made for some lovely tension, and some people mourn the passing of the single pov story.

But in the last twenty years or so, the male point of view has become incredibly popular. There are several reasons for this, I think. For a start, people have been going darker and darker in romance — pushing the boundaries. And if we consider character arcs, often the one who most needs to change, who most needs to confront his inner demons, the one who the story is really about, is the hero, usually because of damaging experiences in his past that have made him resistant or even actively hostile to the idea of love. 

Readers barrack for a happy ending, and if the hero seems completely surly and damaged and inexplicable and hostile, readers won't want the heroine to end up with him, and if his change seems superficial and convenient, they won't buy the happy ending. But if we can slip into his head and start to see what's driving him, and what's holding him back, and  feel how difficult this journey is for him — well, we're on his side and barracking madly. And it makes the happy ending that much more satisfying.

Using the hero pov allows the reader to experience the slow stages of the hero falling in love— suspiciously, reluctantly, fighting against it but unable to stop himself. Readers love that kind of journey. They also enjoy seeing the heroine through the hero's eyes — it's part of the romantic fantasy. For instance, my hero in The Perfect Rake is the only person in the story who doesn't see the heroine as little and dumpy and ordinary looking — he thinks she's the beauty of the family. Readers loved that.

Of course, as romance writers, we put the kinds of thoughts in men's heads that we want them to have. It's possibly not how they think at all, but it adds to the fantasy. And the fun.

Kate: Romance novels have been getting sexier and sexier. Some seem to have abandoned story for a string of sex scenes (not you! I think you have the perfect mix :))
Why do you think this is so? How do you judge how much is enough?

Anne: The horrid truth is, sex sells and the more it sells, the more people want it, so it's market driven. For me, the sexiness or otherwise of the story depends completely on the characters and the story. I don't find sex scenes easy to write, so they have to fit the story. Quite a few of my stories are marriage of convenience stories (a trope I'm fond of) and in that situation, sex plays an important part in the development of the relationship. My new book, by contrast, has only one lovemaking scene, right at the end. 

In the end, it's up to each individual author to decide how much is enough. I've heard that some publishers urge their authors to put more and more sex in, but that's never happened to me.

Kate: I've also noticed a lot of romance writers are now writing in series. Often the writer follows the romantic adventures of a whole family - the brothers or the sisters, or a combination of both. Why?

Anne: Again, this is market driven. People love to follow the fortunes of a family, and really, romance readers are a bunch of matchmakers who want practically everyone — sometimes even the villain, if he's a dashing sort of villain— to have a happy ending.  So they will write to the author begging for so-and-so's story.

It's also partly to do with not wanting to leave that particular world, so you follow each character through their own journey. Some fantasy series do that too. 

Kate: I do think humour is such an important ingredient in a successful romance novel. It can be hard to get the tone just right, however. How do you go about inserting humour into a story?

Anne: I don't really try to insert it, but it comes pretty naturally to me. I was always getting in trouble at school for inappropriate humour. The one time I set out to write a story with a brooding, dark and dangerous hero, a charming, flippant rake strolled onto the page instead, making me laugh. (The Perfect Rake.) So now I just go with the characters and the story, and some turn out light and funny and some are darker and more angsty. I don't seem to have a lot of control. 

Unless it does come to you naturally, I wouldn't advise anyone to try to make a story funny. Sense of humor is personal and variable and if you try too hard, and force it, you can get it horribly wrong. I have writer friends who will read my work in draft and they have excellent comedy instincts and will tell me if I've gone too far, or it doesn't work. 

Kate: I've always wondered why the heroes of romantic novels are often given such silly tongue-in-cheek names i.e. Lance, Rod, Steel etc. However, I recently read a blog which said the blogger found that the sillier the hero's name, the funnier the book. What do you think?

Anne: I haven't come across many as silly as that and I suspect that blogger or possibly the writer was slightly tongue-in-cheek — or simply having fun playing with some OTT tropes. I have seen a few surnames of the iron, steel and rock type. (Remington Steele, anyone?) and I wrote a series of short stories once that were very much tongue-in-cheek, starring Troy Hunkthighs, Clint Shoulderman and Miss Pouty Luscious. But it was all in fun. 

Names are important though, and no matter what the genre, authors choose character names to give a particular impression. I'm always looking for good names, as long as they fit the era and the country. For a hero, I want a name that sounds reasonably strong and masculine, but if I were foolish enough to name someone Lance O'Steele I'd deserve all the mockery I'd get. (Unless I made him one of Hunkthigh's mates, which I just might do.) My heroes have names like Gideon Carradice, Sebastian Reyne, Nicholas Blacklock, Dominic Wolfe, Gabriel Renfrew, Max Davenham... All pretty ordinary really.

Kate: Any tips you can give to someone wanting to write romance?

Anne: It's no different than any other genre — read widely until you find books in the genre that you love. Find authors whose writing you love and subgenres that excite you. Then write the very best book you can. The more you read and the more you write, the better your writing will get.

Also join Romance Writers of Australia. It's an organization that does a lot to promote good writing in the genre and supports writers on their journey to publication.
Romance Australia website's

Kate: Finally, is it true romance readers have better sex?

Anne: Of course. University tests prove it. 

An excellent reason to read more romance books! Thank you, Anne, for illuminating the romance genre for us.


SPOTLIGHT: It's Eleanor Farjeon's birthday!

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Eleanor Farjeon is one of my all-time favourite children's authors, and today is her birthday. She was born on the 13th February 1881, and I love her so much I called my daughter after her.

To celebrate, we're running a guest blog by storyteller and children's literature expert Shirley Way ...


A romantic child, Eleanor Farjeon wished her birthday had been one day later. Today, on the eve of Valentine’s Day, Eleanor and her many stories, poems and songs have their 132nd birthday.
Performer Anne Harvey wrote: “Eleanor Farjeon once said that she was singing songs before she could write, and even before she could speak, and as soon as she could guide a pencil she began to write them down.”
Her niece Annabel Farjeon said: “I was touched and surprised when, one day in her eighties, she said a little sadly, yet with the confidence of one who can face her own limitations, ‘I have always tried to use what little talent I had to the full’. This remark had to do with the statement in the preface to Silver-sand and snow, … that – ‘In my youth I dreamed of being a “real” poet, but half way through my life that dream died, and whatever figments of it remained went into writing songs and verses for children.’”
Eleanor was the inaugural winner of the Hans Christian Andersen award for career contribution to children’s literature. Her ability to paint word pictures with the cadence of speech made her stories, poems and plays beloved favourites for storytellers and listeners the world over.
Legendary storyteller Diane Wolkstein, who told stories monthly at the Hans Christian Andersen statue in New York’s Central Park, would hold an annual skipping contest after the tale. (2011’s winner was Vicky Belin, 38.) 'Elsie Piddock skips in her sleep' was one of the last tales Diane told in Central Park before her recent death.  
Singers’ favourites include 'Morning Has Broken' and the Christmas hymn, 'People look East'. We know them with her words, but music by others. For all the songs that Eleanor wrote, I’ve been unable to discover any paired with music by herself or her talented brothers. (If you can shed light on this, please drop me a line!)
British and other folk-tales inspire her lyrical novels and short stories from Tom-Tit-Tot (The Silver Curlew), the ninth wave (Jim at the corner), to The King’s daughter cries for the moon (recently made in Japanese anime).
In many, magical charms of protection and spells are spoken in rhyme. Naturally talented, Eleanor would have been a success in fairyland or, in another century, might have been burned at the stake.
The mermaid of Rye, born in a winkle in the salt marshes, charms the owner of the notorious smuggler’s haunt The Mermaid Inn. Although ‘such a very common mermaid’, they exchange rhymes. Septimus says: “What can one say of an oyster but that it’s moister?... But a winkle! You twinkle and tinkle, the sea-spray you sprinkle, you smile like a rosebud about to uncrinkle –” 


In The Glass Slipper, based on the play written with brother Bertie, the court play hide and seek to find Ella and the Prince at the ball.
“Princess, where are you? Where are you? …
Hiding, seeking,
Seeking, hiding,
Peeping, creeping,
And colliding,
Is that she?
Is that she?
No! No!
It’s only a tree…”
'The Little Bookroom'
Edward Ardizzone’s illustrations were among her personal favourites.
His illustration of Eleanor for 'The Little Bookroom' shows her hunched shortsightedly over a book with volumes piled high and tumbling open around her. The family’s library of 8,000 books was open to them all: “A lottery, a lucky dip for a child who had never been forbidden to handle anything between covers,” she wrote.

For this collection of short stories, Eleanor was honoured with three medals: the Carnegie Medal (British Library Association), Regina Medal (America), and the international Hans Christian Andersen award.
Her niece records that Eleanor determinedly refused to be photographed. In reply to a photographer who phoned to ask her description, she said: “Like a cheerful suet pudding.” “Well, your hair, I suppose is silver?” “No dear, it’s gunmetal.”
Although Eleanor’s youthful shyness did wear off in middle and old age, niece Annabel concluded Eleanor’s biography, Morning has broken, with: “Her grave is generally smothered by a big rambler rose and is hard to discover. She was never keen on personal publicity.”
Today, on the eve of Valentine’s Day - happy birthday, Eleanor!

To read my review of Eleanor Farjeon's wonderful retelling of the Cinderella fairy tale, 'The Glass Slipper', please click here

Please leave a comment, I love to know what you think!

BOOK REVIEW: 'The Autumn Bride'by Anne Gracie

Monday, February 11, 2013

Title: The Autumm Bride
Author: Anne Gracie 
Publisher: Berkley Sensation
Age Group & Genre: Historical Romance for adults

The Blurb:
Governess Abigail Chantry will do anything to save her sister and two dearest friends from destitution, even if it means breaking into an empty mansion in the hope of finding something to sell. Instead of treasures, though, she finds the owner, Lady Beatrice Davenham, bedridden and neglected. Appalled, Abby rousts Lady Beatrice's predatory servants and—with Lady Beatrice's eager cooperation—the four young ladies become her “nieces,” neatly eliminating the threat of disaster for all concerned!

It's the perfect situation, until Lady Beatrice’s dashing and arrogant nephew, Max, Lord Davenham, returns from the Orient—and discovers an impostor running his household…

A romantic entanglement was never the plan for these stubborn, passionate opponents—but falling in love may be as inevitable as the falling of autumn leaves...  

What I Thought: 
I love Regency romances, probably because – like so many people – I grew up devouring the wonderful romantic adventure stories by Georgette Heyer. In recent years, however, I’ve found many Regency romances quite disappointing, mainly because the characters all seem so interchangeable, and because so many of them get so heavy-handed with the sex scenes. Don’t get me wrong. I love a little sizzle in my romance. However, many recent novels seem to abandon story itself – with all of its plot and character development - so that I find myself skimming over endless descriptions of rumpus in the drawing room, to find out what happens to the characters. 

Then I discovered Anne Gracie. Her books are wonderfully warm and subtle, perfectly blending romance, suspense, pathos and desire. I never, ever skim over her scenes of seduction and I always end up with a little sting of tears at the end, my way of knowing when a book has genuinely moved me.

Her latest book is ‘The Autumn Bride’, which I really loved because of the strength of the characters. 

Her protagonists are Abby, a genteel governess struggling to support her young sister and friends, and Max, a rather stern lord who has had to struggle to bring his family back from the brink of ruin. An utter delight is the character of Max’s aunt, a frail-bodied but strong-spirited old woman who meddles in everyone’s business. 

Another favourite character of mine was Max’s best friend Freddy, because he brought so much humour to the story – I can’t wait to read what romance lies ahead for him.

The slowly growing attraction between Max and Abby is delicately done, and feels much more natural and believable than all those books which have the hero and heroine rolling in the hay after five minutes’ acquaintance. There is also a mystery to be solved and a few adventures to be had, all adding to the immense readability of ‘The Autumn Bride’. 

This is romance as it should be – making you laugh one moment, swoon the next, and then blink back tears at the end. I loved it. 



INTERVIEW: Jesse Blackadder, author of 'Chasing the Light'

Friday, February 08, 2013

What was the first flash of inspiration for 'Chasing the Light'?

My Antarctic obsession began with an old black and white photograph of two women sitting on the deck of a ship on the way to Antarctica. One of them, Ingrid Christensen, gazed into the camera enigmatically. When I learned she was the first woman known to have seen Antarctica, I wanted to know more.
One problem – there was little more to be found. I discovered that Ingrid, a 38-year-old Norwegian, left her six children behind and travelled to Antarctica by ship four times with her husband Lars in the 1930s as part of his whaling fleet, taking a female friend or two on each trip. But the question of her ever making a landing seemed to be unanswered, and history books cite another Norwegian woman as the first to land on Antarctica. None of Ingrid’s own words have survived, if they were ever written down in the first place. This intrigued me.

You travelled to Antarctica to research the book. That must have been amazing! Can you tell me all about it?

I went the first time as a tourist, on a 10 day cruise from Argentina to the Antarctic Peninsula. It’s a very dramatic and beautiful place, with lots of wildlife, and that’s where most tourists go because the sea crossing is short – just two days. The second time I went as the Antarctic Arts Fellow, with the Australian Antarctic Division’s ship Aurora Australis. That’s a two-week crossing each way to a very remote part of Antarctica – and it happens to be the part of the continent where Ingrid Christensen visited. In fact I went to “Ingrid Christensen Land”, as it’s now known. Going as part of a working ship was completely different and the landscape at the other end was different too – less picturesque in some ways, but very dramatic and with its own incredible beauty. I had five days on the continent, including three days staying out in huts and travelling across the sea ice in a Hagglunds all terrain vehicle. I can truly say I will never forget it. Antarctica is beyond all the superlatives. I’d go back in a moment.

I particularly loved the characters of the three women at the heart of this novel. They were each so different, and yet so strong and full of life. Can you please tell me how you came to create them?

Lillemor and Mathilde almost created themselves – somehow from the little scraps of history that survived they emerged in my imagination almost fully formed. The main character, Ingrid, was harder. What was it that drove her to go to Antarctica four times? There wasn’t a simple answer to that question, and I puzzled over it, revisited it and imagined it over and over again as I was writing. I had to balance my own desires for her as a character – that she was brave, intrepid and adventurous – with historical realities – that she was extremely wealthy and possibly quite spoilt. In the end I had to let the imagined character take over – this is a novel after all, not a history, though it is deeply informed by history.

Lillemor, who tricked her way on board the ship, and uses her charm and vivacity to always get her own way, was actually my favourite character. Was she yours?

Good spotting! Yes she was my favourite. The glimpses of the real woman that echoed down from history were fascinating. Living in London in the 1920s and 30s, doing charity work in the slums during the great depression, marrying a diplomat who divorced his wife and left his children to be with her, travelling twice to Antarctica, keeping a diary (which is now lost) and taking photographs that ended up being published – she was fascinating. I could let her be competitive, canny and self interested, which was fun.

Grief and loss are the haunting themes of 'Chasing the Light'. I felt sure you must have felt some great sorrow of your own in order to be able to capture Mathilde's paralysing sense of loss over the death of her husband, and  Ingrid's abiding awareness of her mother's absence. Can you tell us how you manage to connect with these women and their grief?

That’s true, Kate. I had a major family tragedy when I was just 12, and my two year old sister drowned in our backyard swimming pool. It was a defining moment, when childhood suddenly ended and adulthood began through the experience of profound grief. My mother also died young, at age 46, at a time when we were quite estranged and though that was more than 25 years ago, I still feel a sense of loss, and think about how I could have acted differently. 

I particularly loved the passages with the whales - both the cruel and the beautiful. I've been thinking about them ever since I read the book. Can you share with us your own feelings towards these parts of the book?

I found the research into whaling to be the most disturbing part of the process. Some years ago I spent a week on a humpback whale research vessel in Hervey Bay and that’s where I first learned about deep sea whaling in the Southern Ocean, and the toll it had extracted. We’re talking about 40,000 whales killed in a single season in the late 1920s and early 1930s. The whaling museum in Sandefjord, Norway, where Ingrid lived, has a blue whale fetus in a jar as part of its display and it’s a very sad sight. I live near Byron Bay, so the annual humpback whale migration is part of my life and I find those creatures deeply moving. I mourned them while I was writing.

Finally, I believe you wrote the novel as part of a doctorate of creative arts. Tell me about the process.

I enrolled in a Doctor of Creative Arts at the Writing and Society Research Centre at the University of Western Sydney. It was a great experience, and I was lucky enough to have novelist Gail Jones as my supervisor while writing 'Chasing the Light' – her feedback helped me stop and reconsider during the first draft, and then start all over again with a different approach – something I’m not sure I would have done by myself. It also meant the book was informed by the academic side of my research into gender and Antarctica – I think that’s an invisible, but important influence. I loved being part of the research group – the staff and other students were inspiring and incredibly supportive and it challenged me to think harder and in a different way. I’ll miss it!

If you enjoyed this interview, you may also enjoy an earlier interview I did with Jesse, talking about her novel 'The Raven's Heart'

Jesse's website is here.

Please leave a comment and tell me what you think

BOOK REVIEW: 'Chasing the Light' by Jesse Blackadder

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Title: Chasing the Light’
Author: Jesse Blackadder
Publisher: Harper Collins 
Age Group & Genre: Historical Fiction for Adults

The Blurb:
It′s the early 1930s. Antarctic open-sea whaling is booming and a territorial race for the mysterious continent between Norwegian and British-Australian interests is in full swing.
Aboard a ship setting sail from Cape Town carrying the Norwegian whaling magnate Lars Christensen are three women: Lillemor Rachlew, who tricked her way on to the ship and will stop at nothing to be the first woman to land on Antarctica; Mathilde Wegger, a grieving widow who′s been forced to join the trip by her calculating parents-in-law; and Lars′s wife, Ingrid Christensen, who has longed to travel to Antarctica since she was a girl and has made a daunting bargain with Lars to convince him to take her.
Loyalties shift and melt and conflicts increase as they pass through the Southern Ocean and reach the whaling grounds. None of the women is prepared for the reality of meeting the whaling fleet and experiencing firsthand the brutality of the icy world.
As they head for the continent itself, the race is on for the first woman to land on Antarctica. None of them expect the outcome and none of them know how they will be changed by their arrival.
Based on the little-known true story of the first woman to ever set foot on Antarctica, Jesse Blackadder has captured the drama, danger and magnetic pull of exploring uncharted places in our world and our minds.

What I Thought: 
‘Chasing the ‘Light is a beautifully written novel about Ingrid Christensen, the first woman to ever see Antarctica (and, quite possibly, the first woman to ever set foot there). It’s also about the two women who accompany her there, the grief-wracked Mathilde and the determined and vivacious Lillemor, who is determined she shall be the first – and will stop at virtually nothing to get her way.
Antarctica herself is a character (is it wrong to call a continent a ‘she’? Because somehow that vast, mysterious, and dangerous land just seems like a woman to me).
Sorrow and courage and the singing of whales weave their way through the story, adding poetry and depth – yet the story swings along at a compelling pace, never losing its narrative drive. The novel is not only about the race to be the first woman in Antarctica, but also about friendships, betrayals, and the hidden mysteries of the human heart.

BOOK LIST: Best Books Set In Antarctica by Jesse Blackadder

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Jesse Blackadder, author of 'Chasing the Light: a Novel of Antarctica' shares her favourite Antarctic books:

Kim Stanley Robinson’s 1971 novel 'Antarctica' is considered one of the most prominent far southern genre novels of recent decades, and it certainly was an early influence on me, provoking my fascination with Antarctica. Apparently an eco-thriller set in an unspecified but near future, Antarctica engaged with and challenged many of the conventions of Antarctic literature, reflecting on the glory and foolishness of the heroic era explorers, introducing other cultural perspectives through the character Ta Shu, a Chinese poet who is part of the Artists and Writers’ Programme (his poems and reflections on the feng shui of Antarctica are scattered through the text) and exploring questions of becoming indigenous to Antarctica. Among the many things happening in this novel, women play a central role throughout, working in all aspects of Antarctic life.

Elizabeth Arthur’s 1995 novel 'Antarctic Navigation' follows the journey of a woman who sets out to reenact Scott’s sledging journey to the South Pole. Like Robinson’s novel, it’s epic in nature, and powerfully elicits Antarctica, while raising fascinating and absorbing questions about the nature of life, science and reality. I still can’t believe that I won’t meet its main character Morgan one day.

Leslie Carol Roberts has written a lyrical history of aspects of Antarctic life in her non fiction work The Entire Earth and Sky, which would have been a husky’s breakfast of facts and thoughts, were it not for her skill as a poetic writer. Thanks to that, it’s a stunning meditation on the ice.

We have some fabulous Australian books of Antarctica including Robyn Mundy’s The Nature of Ice, which matches a contemporary story of a photographer in Antarctica with Mawson’s journey; Karen Vigger’s The Lightkeeper’s Wife, which weaves stories from present to past; L A Larkin’s recent thriller Thirst, Craig Cormick’s In Bed with Douglas Mawson which recounts his journey on Aurora Australis and his conversations with Mawson’s ghost, and Tom Griffith’s work of history Slicing the Silence, to name just a few.

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WINNERS ANNOUNCED! Plus a round-up of what I discovered with my survey

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

As part of the Australia Day blog hop, inspired by Shelleyrae at Book'd Out blog and the gals at Confessions From Romaholics blog, I ran a survey about my blog and had some very interesting results.

How do you choose the next book to read?

Most visitors to my blog choose their next book as a result of word-of-mouth recommendations, either from friends or from book blogs. Goodreads was another very popular way to choose a new book (and really this is another form of word-of-mouth recommendation, isn't it?). Many others said they chose the book by browsing bookshops, either in real space or on the internet, and were swayed by the cover and blurb. I must admit I always am! Facebook and twitter were also quite influential, but traditional media such as newspapers and magazines had much less impact. 

I found this very interesting - but it does reflect the changes in my own book choices.

How could I improve my blog?

Most people said they would like more posts about the craft of writing, which really surprised me. I had thought people must be so sick of writers writing about writing. But no! About 70% of the respondents wanted me to give them more insights into my own writing process, and more writing tips. So I shall! I'll need to think about the best way to do it ...

Most people also said more reviews and more interviews - I'll try!

A few made suggestions about the look, and the ease of moving around, and other practical tips - thank you so much! I plan a redesign in the next month or so - please feel free to tell em what you think!

Favourite Genres

Not surprisingly, most of you love fantasy and historical fiction, which are my own favourite genres. A few asked for more romance, which makes me happy as I was planning a Romance Month in February. A few also asked for more crime and mystery, which I must admit I don't read and review as much. However, I love this genre too so this is no stretch for me. 

Should I Give My Blog a Name?

NO! was the resounding answer (though some had some very funny nor lovely suggestions - thank you for these)

So, finally, who are the winners?

Well, I had 55 comments and only 5 books to give away and so this one is a real toughie!

Here is what I've decided:

Tracey Allen - Dragonclaw, Book 1 of 'The Witches of Eileanan'

Alissa Callen - The Starthorn Tree

Eily - The Starthorn Tree

Riz Bulatao - The Starthorn Tree 

Jo-Anne - Bitter Greens

Jen - Bitter Greens

Jess S - Bitter Greens

Allison Tait - The Wild Girl 

Kirstie - The Wild Girl

Teddyree- The Wild Girl

Angelya - The Wild Girl

Lisa Wardle - The Wild Girl

Emma Tingay - The Wild Girl

Jeffrey Doherty - The Wild Girl

Tash - The Wild Girl

Sam - The Wild Girl

Maureen - The Wild Girl

Sharon - The Wild Girl 

Elspeth - The Wild Girl

Spike - The Wild Girl

So that's TWENTY books I'm giving away instead of five. Whew! 

It'd be really good if you could all email me and let me know if you want an e-book or a p-book - and where I can send it. 

Anyone who doesn't email me, I'll try and get to you in the next week or so - please be patient as I am overwhelmed with work at the moment.

Anyone who didn't win a copy - I'm so sorry! I really appreciate your feedback and your support, and I'll try and hold another giveaway soon.

Many thanks!


Friday, January 25, 2013

I've been quietly blogging for a year now and have had so much fun and learnt so much.

However, I still have a lot to learn. Let me know what you'd like this blog to do better, fill out my survey (short & sweet, I promise), and you can have a chance to win any book of mine that you please (including my new novel 'The Wild Girl')

To WIN any book of mine that you like, all you need to do is fill out the survey below, then leave me a comment telling me what book of mine you'd like and why. The competition begins on January 25th and closes at midnight on January 28th, 2013. I'll give away FIVE books, choosing the comments I like the best. So dazzle me with your brilliance!

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Create your free online surveys with SurveyMonkey, the world's leading questionnaire tool.

This blog is part of the Australia Day Blog Hop, organised by the absolutely brilliant Shelleyrae at Book'd Out, and the wonderful girls at Confessions from Romaholics, which are two of my favourite book blogs. 

Another lovely Australian author doing the BOOK GIVEAWAY BLOG HOP is Elizabeth Storrs, author of 'The Wedding Shroud: a novel of Early Rome'. She is giving away copies of my book 'Bitter Greens', so if you hop along to her blog you can have the chance of winning TWO of my books. What a great way to celebrate Australia Day!

You can also check out the other participants in the BOOK GIVEAWAY BLOG HOP here!

Don't forget to leave me a comment, telling me WHAT book of mine you'd like to win and WHY! And, of course, your email address so I can let you know you've won.

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