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BOOK REVIEW: An Isolated Incident by Emily Maguire

Wednesday, July 05, 2017

An Isolated Incident – Emily Maguire

The Blurb (from GoodReads)

When 25-year-old Bella Michaels is brutally murdered in the small town of Strathdee, the community is stunned and a media storm descends.

Unwillingly thrust into the eye of that storm is Bella's beloved older sister, Chris, a barmaid at the local pub, whose apparent easygoing nature conceals hard-won wisdom and the kind of street-smarts only experience can bring.

As Chris is plunged into despair and searches for answers, reasons, explanation - anything - that could make even the smallest sense of Bella's death, her ex-husband, friends and neighbours do their best to support her. But as the days tick by with no arrest, Chris's suspicion of those around her grows.

An Isolated Incident is a psychological thriller about everyday violence, the media's obsession with pretty dead girls, the grip of grief and the myth of closure, and the difficulties of knowing the difference between a ghost and a memory, between a monster and a man.


"At the heart of ... Emily Maguire's work lies an urgent need to pull away at the interconnecting threads of morality, society and human relationships." Sydney Morning Herald

"What you get, along with a sharp mind and a keenness to investigate cultural confusions, is an engaging ability to put the vitality of the story first." Weekend Australian 

My Thoughts:

An Isolated Incident by Australian author Emily Maguire is a contemporary psychological suspense novel set in a small Australian town, with a particular emphasis on the traumatic effects of suspicion, grief and the voyeuristic curiosity of the public.

Bella Michaels is only twenty-five when she is found brutally raped and murdered on the side of the highway. Her sister Chris must find some way to deal with the intense scrutiny that the police and the media bring to every aspect of her and her sister’s lives. Chris works at the local pub, and sometimes takes a truckie home in return for a little extra cash. She has a broken marriage behind her, and drinks too much. She is haunted by her sister’s last moments, and paralysed by her own bleak future. 

Intense, powerful and raw, An Isolated Incident is an all-too-real look at the terrible cost of sexual violence in our society, and a profoundly intimate portrait of anguish and rage. It has justly been shortlisted for the Stella award. 

I also really enjoyed The Dry by Jane Harper, a very different but also very readable novel about murder in a small Australian country town - read my review here. 

BOOK REVIEW: Enemy: A Daughter’s Story by Ruth Clare

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

THE BLURB (from GoodReads):

'I was born into the war still raging inside my father.'

Ruth Clare's father came back from the war a changed man: a violent and controlling parent and a dominating, aggressive husband. Through a childhood of being constantly on guard, with no one to protect her but herself, Ruth learned to be strong and fierce in the face of fear.

After escaping her difficult upbringing, Ruth went on to have children of her own. The challenges of parenting left her desperate for reassurance that she would not repeat her father's behavior. She met with other veterans and began learning about the effects of conscription, military training and post-traumatic stress disorder. The stories Ruth uncovered left her with surprising empathy for the man who caused her so much pain, and renewed her determination to stop the legacy of war passing down to the next generation. 

Weaving a striking personal narrative with a revelatory exploration about the effects of war, Enemy is a bold, compelling and ultimately triumphant memoir from a hugely impressive new Australian writer.


I met Ruth Clare at the Brisbane Writer’s Festival, and was so intrigued by her story I bought her book – a memoir of growing up with a brutal and domineering father who had been damaged by his experiences in the Vietnam war. 

I’ve always been interested in the way violence done to one generation can warp and cripple the generations to follow, and the difficulties in breaking the cycles of harm. Ruth Clare’s memoir is a searing indictment of the shadow cast by the Vietnam war, and a timely reminder of the imperative to learn from the mistakes of the past.

The most poignant aspect of the novel, for me, was the way Ruth Clare’s mother was broken by her husband’s violence … and the fact that Ruth herself was able to survive and heal, and build a new life for herself. 

A powerful and heart-rending memoir, told with grace and empathy.

AUSTRALIAN WOMEN WRITERS CHALLENGE! Make November the month to read as much as you can

Tuesday, November 01, 2016

It's been a really busy year for me, and much of my reading has been proscribed for me by research for my new work-in-progress Beauty in Thorns.  This means lots of neo-Victorian literature and gorgeous thick books on Pre-Raphaelite art.

Now the manuscript has been sent off to my publishers, I'm aiming to catch up on some reading for pleasure. And I've decided to make November the month I attempt to catch up with the Australian Women's Writers challenge. I really want to help and support the work of my fellow Australian women, and what better way than to read & review their work? 

Last year I only read 10 books by Australian women writers, and I am absolutely determined to do better this year!

So I've been on a shopping spree, and dug out a pile from my to-be-read bookshelf, and am eagerly wondering what I will discover.

Here are the books I'm going to try and read. I hope I get though them all!  


Why don't you give it a go too? See if you can read as many as I do. And let me know what treasures you discover. 

BOOK REVIEW: Gallant Waif/Tallie's Knight by Anne Gracie

Thursday, August 04, 2016

Anne Gracie is one of Australia’s most popular historical romance novelists, for good reason. Her style is smooth and pleasurable to read, and her heroes and heroines feel like real people, with all their faults. Gallant Waif and Tallie’s Knight were her first published works, and have her trademark warmth, humour and poignancy. 

In Gallant Waif, orphan Kate Farleigh accepts a job to keep house for a reclusive lord who had been badly scarred in the Peninsular War. He is angry and embittered – disinherited by his father and dumped by his fiancée – but Kate is determined to put his life back into order. 

In Tallie’s Knight, dreamy Tallie has a life of drudgery caring for her cousin’s three adorable children. One day, to her great surprise, the Earl of d’Arenville decides he must have a wife – and chooses Tallie because of her kindness to her charges. And so begins a wonderful romantic adventure story that moves to the Continent and back, and is filled with many humorous encounter and characters. 


Thursday, July 28, 2016


Henry has ended his marriage to Caroline and headed off to Noosa with Mercedes’ grade three teacher, Martha. Caroline, having shredded a wardrobe-full of Henry’s suits, has gone after them.

Craig and Lesley have dropped over briefly from next door to catch up on the fallout from Henry and Caroline’s all-night row.

And Janice, Caroline’s sister, is staying for the weekend to look after the girls because Janice is the sensible one. A microbiologist with a job she loves, a fervent belief in the beauty of the scientific method and a determination to make a solo life after her divorce from Alec.

Then Craig returns through the bedroom window expecting a tryst with Caroline and finds Janice in her bed, Lesley storms in with a jealous heart and a mouthful of threats, Henry, Caroline and Martha arrive back from the airport in separate taxis—and let’s not even get started on Brayden the pizza guy.

Janice can cope with all that. But when Alec knocks on the door things suddenly get complicated. 


The fourth novel by award-winning Australian author, Toni Jordan, Our Tiny, Useless Hearts is a clever, funny, wise-cracking novel about love, infidelity and divorce. It reminded me of one of those farcical 1960s movies in which a group of people tumble in and out of bed with each other, but finally end up in the right person’s arms. The pace is manic, the one-liners brilliantly funny, and there is also a real insight into some of the problems that beset modern-day couples. And Toni Jordan’s diamond-cut prose lifts this book well out of chick-lit territory into something quite extraordinary.


Thursday, July 28, 2016

Juliet Marillier’s books are an enchanting mix of romance, mystery and historical fantasy. Tower of Thorns is the second in her new series ‘Blackthorn & Grim’ which tells the story of the damaged and disillusioned healer Blackthorn and her faithful companion Grim. Both have been badly hurt and betrayed in the past, and they carry the scars deep inside them. In this episode of the series, the two friends are asked to help a noblewoman who has a strange and uncanny problem – a creature has taken up residence in an old tower and howls all day, driving the people of the land mad. Bound by the fey to help anyone who asks, Blackthorn has no choice but to do what she can – even though the task will tax her to the limits of her strength. As always, Juliet Marillier’s prose is luminous, and the story both powerful and poignant. The books in this series can be read and enjoyed on their own, but I’d recommend beginning with Book 1: Dreamer’s Pool.

INTERVIEW: Georgina Penny, author of Summer Harvest

Monday, May 30, 2016

Interview with GEORGINA PENNEY, author of A Summer Harvest 

 Are you a daydreamer too?
Definitely! If I don’t give myself time to daydream I don’t get any sleep at night. I find my best ideas turn up when I just let my mind wander for a bit. A nice sunbeam and a comfy couch to do said mind wandering are always welcome.

Have you always wanted to be a writer?
According to family legend, I’ve been telling stories since conception so I’ll have to say yes. I just didn’t really know how to get around to it until I found myself an expat wife in Saudi Arabia around ten years ago now.

Tell me a little about yourself – where were you born, where do you live, what do you like to do? 
I was born in Kununurra in the top end of Australia and have lived all over really. I think I counted over 30 house moves in Oz and internationally the last time I sat down and thought about it. I love to travel and meet new people. I think having a good conversation with someone is the peak of human experience and I definitely know how to talk!

How did you get the first flash of inspiration for A Summer Harvest?
I was listening to a friend who was going through a tough time recovering from breast cancer tell me about the fear she faced every day of a relapse and I decided I wanted to get that down on the page.

How extensively do you plan your novels? 
Enough that I have my head around a setting, my lead characters and their main conflicts. Everything else is a sweary, messy fight to wrangle those characters into some sort of plot!

Do you ever use dreams as a source of inspiration?
Absolutely. I’ve been known to launch out of bed on many occasions, muttering to myself over forgetting to leave a notebook out ready. I tend to find my brain uses dreams to let me know about plot holes in the stories I’m writing. I wish it would pick a better method and a more convenient time but there it is☺

Did you make any astonishing serendipitous discoveries while writing this book?
I love writing characters of all ages, especially in families. I think that’s the discovery. I loved writing the secondary characters and especially Rob Hardy and Gwen Stone, they were an absolute joy to get on the page.

Where do you write, and when?
I try and work to a 9-5 schedule but when I say that, I’m kind of lying. What usually happens is that I sit down in the morning, intending on getting everything down and then my imagination decides to go on strike until around 3 in the afternoon when I’m left frantically trying to get all the ideas down before they escape. I’ve tried sitting down at 3 to start my day but it doesn’t work. It seems I need the run up!

What is your favourite part of writing?
Getting the ideas initially and then the editing afterwards. Essentially everything but the actual writing of the first draft!
What do you do when you get blocked? 
I go for a walk or better yet, have a conversation with someone. I’m a talker and the minute I start chatting with someone, I tend to find interesting solutions to whatever problem I’m having on the page.

How do you keep your well of inspiration full?
I shut out all the white noise. I find being online too much or watching too much mindless TV numbs me out. Instead I try and listen to good music, watch good movies and read good books. Oh, and I travel a lot! Even when it’s to the next village here in Scotland as opposed to somewhere international, I always find something new to experience and think about.

Do you have any rituals that help you to write? 

Definitely. I’m a fruit cake with that kind of thing. I have to have a cup of tea next to me when I start my day and it has to be in my ‘writing’ cup if I’m writing or in my ‘editing’ cup if I’m editing. I’m also been known to talk to myself to nut out problems and I may sing far too loudly to music when I’ve got my headphones in. There’s a whole raft more of battier things that may involve taking whiteboard markers into the shower to scribble on the tiles when I’m really stuck on a problem but then it gets a little weird… ;)

Who are ten of your favourite writers?
This kind of question is always so hard because depending on my mood and the day, the list changes. So, how about I go for the first ten authors I have on the top shelf of my’ comfort read’ bookcase?
Terry Pratchett, Zadie Smith, Amanda Quick, Susan Elizabeth Phillips, PG Wodehouse, Rohinton Mistry, Haruki Murakami, Val McDermid, Elmore Leonard, Junot Diaz

What do you consider to be good writing?  
Anything that fires the imagination and transports the reader. While I truly appreciate beautifully written prose, my first port of call for a good book is whether or not it triggers my emotions and takes me on a journey. 

What is your advice for someone dreaming of being a writer too?
Want it badly, be brave and do it. It’s a messy, random, wonderful, sometimes exasperating process and if you want it badly enough, you’ll get there. Oh, and know that your best opportunities will come from kindness to others☺

What are you working on now? 
 Too many things! I’m beginning to suspect that I’m a workaholic. At the moment I’m pottering away on my next Aussie set book, the first in a steampunk series and the second in a US based contemporary series. I’ve worked out that the way to keep myself from going nuts worrying about sales, fate and whether or not the universe is going to smile on any given day is to keep on truckin’ ☺

Love interviews with writers? I have lots more!

WRITING: is Romance Fiction an easy beginning for aspring Authors?

Friday, July 24, 2015

Is Writing Romance an Easy Beginning for Writers?

Lisa Chaplin reveals the truth about the widely held belief that writing a romance novel si the quickest and easiest way for an aspiring author to be published.

All my writing life, I’ve heard these comments: “Oh, I’ll write a romance novel when I have a free weekend” or “I’m starting with romance novels and building my way up to mainstream” or “I’ll build my name/fan base and take it to mainstream. What I really want to write is X (crime, historical, mystery etc).”

Have you ever thought that way – that it’s dead easy to write a romance novel, or that it’s the easy way to sell to mainstream later? So many people seem to think that romance novels are a jumping-off point, a weigh station to something better.

I respectfully disagree. You see, that’s what I did – at least in the publishing stakes. Having sent my completed mainstream saga to a reputable Sydney agent back in the late 90s, I was very, very lucky that she called me a few weeks later. The upshot of the call was that she wouldn’t represent me – yet – but she wanted me to write a few romance novels. 

I was taken aback. Why, I asked (for I’d tried and failed at writing romance 5 years before) – for the ease of selling to mainstream later? Because romance is so easy to write? The agent’s answer to both questions was an emphatic no. She wanted me to write romance novels for two purposes. One: she said I needed to learn closer focus on human relationships, which good romance novels are expert at doing; and two: to quote her, “Romance writing is the best editing discipline in the world.”

She went on to say that I’d overwritten the book – I’d been, in her words, too self-indulgent in my writing, using far too much narrative exposition and not enough dialogue and action. She said it was a very common failing of mainstream writers; they won’t discipline their work (her words, not mine). She said, “I hope you’ll take this advice – very few writers do when I tell them this. Romance writing will help you focus on the core story, will make your characters’ relationships deeper and stronger, and hopefully, the best lesson of all, you’ll be able to do it all in fewer words.” She went on to advise me to join RWA. I had to ask what that was. She said, “The Romance Writers of Australia. There are also counterparts in New Zealand, America and the UK. I think, if you go into this venture with the respect it deserves, you could learn a great deal about focused, disciplined writing from these groups.”

Her final words were that she believed I’d go on to be published in romantic fiction, and when I’d written 5 or 10, I’d “know what to do” with my mainstream books.

I called the Romance Writers of Australia that day. When I discovered there was a conference in Sydney only two weeks ahead, I talked my husband into paying the fee to join the organization and attend the conference. In one weekend I found my first critique partner, met my first and still current writers’ group, and learned more about writing discipline than I believed existed. I also learned about writing contests (I really was in the wilderness back then – I wasn’t even on the internet yet!). For the next three years, romance writing became my focus – and my writing improved a great deal. At the end of that time, I’d won my first contest, finalled in others, and signed my first and second contracts. One company went belly-up, sadly, but the second was with international giant Harlequin. 

I wrote 20 books, novellas or online reads for 3 different lines of Harlequin, and most of them sold well. I was happy. 



Then, reading a biography on early Napoleonic Europe, I got the kernel of an idea that excited me. Before long my focus began to change: I knew what I wanted to do with the rest of my writing life: to write historical mainstream novels. It took 8 years to complete the book that would sell – and not because my romance career hindered me or cheapened my work. Writing romance gave me the focused writing and central relationship, as Sophie had promised, but I discovered I still had a lot to learn about writing quality historical mainstream fiction. 

Lucky for me I have a very patient agent, and I attended two excellent courses: The fabulous 5-day Popular Fiction MasterClass with Fiona McIntosh, and the excellent History, Mystery and Magic with Kate Forsyth. I believe those courses have helped me write stronger, more intense historical fiction. The advice I received completed my education to the degree I needed. I completely rewrote The Tide Watchers in 8 weeks (and got my title, thanks to Fiona), and it sold to my absolute dream publisher, William Morrow (a mainstream imprint of HarperCollins New York). 

I will always bless that agent for her advice. Because I took what she said on board, The Tide Watchers will be my 21st release with a major publishing house. 

But I do not now, nor have I ever believed that writing romance was “easy”, or some kind of quick intro for me to sell to mainstream. Romance taught me the editing and self-disciplinary skills I needed to write a tight, focused historical mainstream. Though I admit it was easier to write contemporary romance (less intensive research than historical mainstream, though writing about PTSD, racism, anorexia and bulimia, child rape and the other issues in my contemporary romances demanded fairly thorough research), the lessons the genre taught me, and the excellent skills that I took with me when switching genres, will ensure that I will always treat this much-maligned genre with the respect it deserves.


INTERVIEW: Lisa Chaplin, author of The Tide Watchers

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Today, on the blog, I welcome Lisa Chaplin, a friend of mine who has written an incredible historical novel inspired by the true story of British spies who sought to prevent Napoleon's forces from invading Great Britain in 1803. Here's my review of her novel THE TIDE WATCHERS if you'd like to know more about her book, but today we're exploring Lisa's dreams and inspirations. Please give her a warm welcome!   

Are you a daydreamer too?

I always have been, always will be. It was the reason I got in trouble at school – but by year 3, teachers and school counselors were telling me to aim at becoming a writer. I still dream on walks, on trains and in cars, working my fictional characters into real-life situations. A lot of my best work comes from those daydreams!


Have you always wanted to be a writer?

No, not at all. Though I loved to dream and make up stories as a child, I was completely focused on becoming a nurse. Nothing anyone said changed my mind. I did nursing until I got pregnant with our first child. I only began writing after our second child, when my husband came home with an article about writing and said I should try it. I did, and was soon wondering why I’d never listened to anyone before!


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

I was born in Darlinghurst, Sydney. After a childhood in Sydney, both east and west, we moved to the Central Coast five years after I married. We’ve owned a house there ever since, raised our three children there. I’m afraid I’m a complete history nerd – I love to research, to find out more about “hidden history” that the victors never tell. Apart from that, I love to read, and walking the dog and jogging on the local beach. I do a swim class that I really like, as well.


How did you get the first flash of inspiration for THE TIDE WATCHERS?

That’s a story! Short version: I took an American friend and her family around Sydney in 2006, and at the Sydney Maritime Museum, picked up a book that completely ignited my dormant love of history. I stood there so long, reading the book, my friend had to remind me that her family were hungry! So I bought the book, and 9 years later, it’s still with me on my travels. I found an untold story in that book, one I had to tell…but because it was a hidden history, I had to piece it together over time. 24 books, 3 DVDs and a trip to France and the UK later, The Tide Watchers finally grew from a story kernel to a full-blown story.


How extensively do you plan your novels?

Before I began historical writing, not nearly so much as now. As Melissa James (my contemporary romance pseudonym), I could make up stories and let my imagination play. However, I always did plan the deeper story beneath the romance. I wrote about issues: PTSD, anorexia, bulimia, missing family members, etc; so that part was always plotted, as were my three espionage books, the Nighthawks series; but the rest was my imagination basically running free. Now it’s a different story, because so many of my characters were real people. I need to know where they were at any given time, what they wrote, said, or did, so I can weave my fictional characters in without jarring the well-read historical fiction reader with any inaccuracy. I have currently in front of me more than 50 pages of timelines, plot points, and information about every living character I use. I’m on a research trip now so have folders full, and books filling my suitcase! They’re my “American Express card”: I never leave home without them!


Do you ever use dreams as a source of inspiration?

In a strange way. My dreams are usually vivid, frightening things that tell me when I haven’t used my imagination enough lately. Quite often I’ll wake very early with a dream, get up and write, and quite often on a similar subject to my nightmares. I wish I did dream about my characters, but alas, I don’t. I think it’d be much easier if I did!


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

Oh, definitely! The book I mentioned earlier talked about a fleet of French ships that sank eight miles out to sea, and that Britain, who had been conciliating France until then, declared war ten weeks later; but there was nothing more. Researching that led to amazing discoveries, some that fellow history lovers said never happened – but they did. The realization that “history is told by the victors” led me to France, to a small town and some villages that held a history few know about. Discovering the part Lord Camelford, (“The Mad Baron”) played in world events of the time, really changed the book. Then a friend from my writers’ group gave me a book (an out-of-print book worth far more than I knew when she gave it to me) that had the real-life code-names of British spies, and the French spies working for and against Britain. That book changed everything! Without those serendipitous discoveries, THE TIDE WATCHERS wouldn’t be what it is.


Where do you write, and when?

I still have two grown children at home, and their friends often drop in, so I tend to write whenever I can. My family is really understanding of my work, including my nieces where I’m staying right now. When I’m at home, if the house is too noisy (there are dogs galore in our street, and few owners at home) I go to my favorite café, an eclectic little place with kitschy furniture and great food, and set myself up there for hours. They look after me beautifully there!


What is your favourite part of writing?

I think for me it’s the whole finding out astonishing facts, and dreaming up ways to work it into the story and characters. Often it means changing whole chapters and even more to make it work. Lucky for me I have a very patient agent, and a fabulous editor who not only goes along with my changes, but she gets excited when I tell her why. She’ll call me to discuss it if she doesn’t understand, and we work out storylines together sometimes. So I’m one of those annoying writers that love revisions. I take every chance to improve the book, to do more research to make the book bigger, faster-paced, more exciting.


What do you do when you get blocked?

Research! For me, a block means I’ve forgotten something important. I go back to my books or my timelines. I have 13 whiteboards in my study covered in facts, plus cork-boards with maps and pictures. I took pictures of everything, printed it up and brought it with me on my travels, or the next book wouldn’t be written. I also tend to make soundtracks and create signature scents that trigger imagination. I also go for long walks if those things don’t help.


How do you keep your well of inspiration full?

One thing I constantly do is new writing courses, in person if possible. I find learning a continuous source of inspiration, and really revs me up to keep writing. Also, I’m constantly on the lookout for things I didn’t know. It’s the real history hidden beneath the story of the victors that excites me. Telling the tale from the perspective of those who lived with the consequences of the great political decisions: the ordinary people and the spies. I’m in contact with several historians, specialists in their chosen subject or person, all of who have been wonderfully eager to share tidbits with me. A really big thing is travelling to the places I write about. I can’t do it all via books and the internet. For real stories that brim with life, that take the reader to the places and times you write about, I have to walk it, smell it, feel it, taste it. I was lucky to live in Europe for four years, which made all the difference to THE TIDE WATCHERS; now I have friends and family living only a few hours’ travel from the places in my books.


Do you have any rituals that help you to write?

Very much so. The aforementioned whiteboards and cork-boards surround me in reminders. I’m a very visual person; if I didn’t have the reminders I’d forget vital pieces of the story. Even now while travelling they’re beside me, and I have blue-tack to put it on walls around me. I create soundtracks for each book, usually a mix of classical, modern opera and acoustic versions of popular songs. I also find a signature scent for each book, one that transports me to a place or a person. For The Tide Watchers, I don’t know how many L’Occitane Winter Forest candles I bought! Now it’s lavender water, made to the 18th century recipe, and ocean scent. I walk the dog, jog or go to the gym or pool before I get into writing. I find, as I get older, that it’s hard to write if my body’s uncomfortable. I also stretch quite a few times through the day.


Who are ten of your favourite writers?

I tend to go through phases of loving different kinds of writing, but authors I keep returning to for inspiration and beautiful writing, or just plain enjoyment of story are: J.R.R Tolkien; Sharon Penman; Elizabeth Chadwick; Markus Zusak; Carlos Ruiz Zafon; Paulo Cuelho; Jane Austen; Georgette Heyer; Agatha Christie, and L. M. Montgomery. I read widely of other, newer authors as well. I’m currently enjoying Tasha Alexander’s Lady Emily mystery series, and Charles Todd’s Bess Crawford mysteries. 


What do you consider to be good writing? 

I tend toward the lyrical and historical. Ever since reading Lord of the Rings at fifteen, I’ve loved the beauty amid danger, shimmering poetry in the frightening. The opening of The Shadow of the Wind by Zafon is amazing, as is the narrator of The Book Thief by Zusak. I’m not at that level, but would love to be one day. 


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

To quote Rocky Horror, “don’t dream it, be it.”  My biggest advice, though, is respect the craft. Writing is an ongoing apprenticeship and should be treated with respect. Don’t indulge in “writer’s block” – fight your way through it. Taking writing courses refreshes creativity (I took your History, Mystery and Magic course after I sold The Tide Watchers to refill the well when I felt a bit blocked, and it really helped me get my revisions done!). Publisher-requested revisions are part of making your book the best it can possibly be for the shelves. Taking courses and doing revisions is part of an ongoing journey; I never want to be arrogant about my writing, and think I know enough. Just as you wouldn’t go to an unqualified doctor or lawyer because they’re cheap, don’t do cheap courses, or buy self-published books simply because they’re cheap (or free). You wouldn’t do so with university courses or an apprenticeship; don’t cheat your writing. One final thing: try not to let anyone, even your family, treat writing as your self-indulgent hobby. I made that mistake. Trust me, you’ll regret it when you sell and it becomes your job!


What are you working on now?

BLIND WINTER is the second book in the series following The Tide Watchers. The more I researched the time, the more it became a real-life, four-way ‘game of thrones’ between leaders and spymasters, between countries and power struggles inside governments. It was also a time of rapid change with inventions being used in warfare. For The Tide Watchers, it was the infancy of submarine-torpedo warfare. Blind Winter has quite a few new, surprising kinds of inventions that were used at the time. Robert Fulton, an American inventor I fell in love with during The Tide Watchers, returns in Blind Winter with new and exciting ideas, while the games of kings and spymasters complicate the lives of all my main characters.

BOOK REVIEW: The Light Between the Oceans by M.L. Stedman

Monday, May 18, 2015


After four harrowing years on the Western Front, Tom Sherbourne returns to Australia and takes a job as the lighthouse keeper on Janus Rock, nearly half a day’s journey from the coast. To this isolated island, where the supply boat comes once a season and shore leaves are granted every other year at best, Tom brings a young, bold, and loving wife, Isabel. Years later, after two miscarriages and one stillbirth, the grieving Isabel hears a baby’s cries on the wind. A boat has washed up onshore carrying a dead man and a living baby. 

Tom, whose records as a lighthouse keeper are meticulous and whose moral principles have withstood a horrific war, wants to report the man and infant immediately. But Isabel has taken the tiny baby to her breast. Against Tom’s judgment, they claim her as their own and name her Lucy. When she is two, Tom and Isabel return to the mainland and are reminded that there are other people in the world. Their choice has devastated one of them. 

M. L. Stedman’s mesmerizing, beautifully written novel seduces us into accommodating Isabel’s decision to keep this “gift from God.” And we are swept into a story about extraordinarily compelling characters seeking to find their North Star in a world where there is no right answer, where justice for one person is another’s tragic loss. 

The Light Between Oceans is exquisite and unforgettable, a deeply moving novel. 

This novel has at its heart a disturbing moral dilemma. A young woman married to a lighthouse keeper longs for a child of her own, but has lost all of her own babies. One day a boat washes up on their remote island. Inside the boat are a dead man and a baby, who is very much alive. The lighthouse keeper and his wife take in the founding child and, before long, Izzy begins to pretend the little girl is hers. The consequences of that decision will change their lives forever. 

The 1920s setting of a small Western Australian town, and the remote island with its lighthouse, is brilliantly evoked. The loneliness of Tom and Izzy’s life on the island, the vast stretch of sea and sky, the comfort of its routines, all are brought vividly to life.

The story is simply but powerfully told, and the slow-building suspense soon has the pages turning fast. Each step the characters take, each choice they make, is utterly in character, giving the story the feel of an inescapable fate, like a Greek tragedy. The Light Between the Oceans really is a superb book, so tightly constructed that not a word feels out of place. I am very curious to see what M.L. Stedman writes next, as this is an astonishingly assured debut. 

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