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BOOK LIST: Best books of 2013

Saturday, January 04, 2014

I have read so many brilliant books this year that I had great trouble narrowing it down to only a few. However, at last I have managed it – here are the best books I read in 2013, divided by genre. 

Because I love historical fiction, and stories that move between a historical and a contemporary setting, most of my favourite books are in these genres. However, there are a few utterly brilliant contemporary novels and fantasy novels as well. As always, my list is entirely and unashamedly subjective – many of these writers are my friends and colleagues, and one is my sister! 

However, all I can say is I am incredibly lucky to know so many über-talented writers. 

Best Historical Novel for Adults

Chasing the Light – Jesse Blackadder
A beautiful, haunting novel about the first women in Antarctica.

The Crimson Ribbon – Katherine Clements
Set in England in 1646, in the midst of the English Civil War, this is a utterly riveting tale of passion, intrigue, witchcraft, and treason. 

Longbourne – Jo Baker
A beautiful, intense, heart-wrenching tale about the lives of the servants at Longbourne, the home of the Bennets from Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice. 

A Spear of Summer Grass – Deanna Raybourn
Set during the Roaring 20s, this is the story of debutante Delilah Drummond who has caused one scandal too many and so is banished to Kenya .. where she finds intrigue, murder and romance. 

Letters from Skye – Jessica Brockmole 
This charming epistolary novel moves between the First World War and the Second World War, and tells the story of the blossoming romance between a young Scottish poet and an American university student. 

Best Historical Mystery

The Affair of the Bloodstained Egg Cosy - James Anderson
As one can probably tell from the title, this book is a gentle spoof of the Golden Age type of mysteries written by authors such as Agatha Christie and Ngaio Marsh – utterly clever and charming!

Bellfield Hall, or The Deductions of Miss Dido Kent – Anna Dean
Imagine a novel where Miss Marple meets Jane Austen, and you will begin to have a sense of this delightful Regency murder mystery. Miss Dido Kent, the heroine and amateur sleuth, is clever, witty, and astute … and finds a touch of romance in her search to uncover the murderer. 

Best Historical Thrillers

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.

The Tudor Conspiracy – C.W. Gortner
A fast-paced, action-packed historical thriller, filled with suspense and switchback reversals, that also manages to bring the corrupt and claustrophobic atmosphere of the Tudor court thrillingly to life.

Ratcatcher – James McGee
A ratcatcher is a Bow Street Runner, an early policeman in Regency times. A great historical adventure book, filled with spies, and intrigue, and romance, and murder. 

Best Historical Romance

The Autumn Bride - Anne Gracie
Anne Gracie never disappoints. This is beautiful, old-fashioned romance, driven by character and situation and dialogue, and, as always, is filled with wit and charm and pathos. 

A Tryst with Trouble – Alyssa Everett
Lady Barbara Jeffords is certain her little sister didn't murder the footman, no matter how it looks … and no matter what the Marquess of Beningbrough might say ... A fresh, funny and delightful Regency romance. 

I bought this book solely on the cover – a Regency romance set in Venice? Sounds right up my alley … I mean, canal … It proved to be a very enjoyable romantic romp, with musical interludes. 

Best Fantasy/Fairy Tale Retellings for Adults

The Year of Ancient Ghosts – Kim Wilkins
'The Year of Ancient Ghosts' is a collection of novellas and short stories - brave, surprising, beautiful, frightening and tragic all at once

Beauty’s Sister – James Bradley
Beauty’s Sister is an exquisite retelling of the Rapunzel fairy tale, reimagined from the point of view of Rapunzel’s darker, wilder sister. 

Best Parallel Contemporary/Historical

Ember Island – Kimberley Freeman
A real page-turning delight, with a delicious mix of mystery, romance, history and family drama. One of my all-time favourite authors, Kimberley Freeman can be counted on to deliver an utterly compelling story. 

Secrets of the Sea House - Elisabeth Gifford
An intriguing and atmospheric novel set in the Hebrides Islands of Scotland, its narrative moves between the contemporary story of troubled Ruth and her husband Michael, and the islands in the 1860s when crofters are being forced to emigrate and science and religion are in conflict.

The Shadow Year – Hannah Richell
A perfectly structured and beautifully written novel which uses parallel narratives to stunning effect. A compelling and suspenseful novel about family, love, and loss.

The Perfume Garden - Kate Lord Brown
A young woman inherits an old house in Spain, discovers clues to buried family secrets, meets a gorgeous Spaniard, and finds her true path in life ... interposed with flashbacks to her grandmother's experiences during the bloody and turbulent Spanish Civil War  ... 

The Ashford Affair – Lauren Willlig
I absolutely loved this book which moves between contemporary New York, and 1920s England and Africa. It's a historical mystery, a family drama, and a romance, all stirred together to create a compulsively readable novel.

Best Contemporary Novel

The Midnight Dress – Karen Foxlee
A beautiful, haunting, tragic tale of love and loss and yearning. 

The Rosie Project – Graeme Simsion
A feel-good romantic comedy, with wit and charm. 

Best Contemporary Suspense Novels

Sister – Rosamund Lupton
Utterly compulsive, suspenseful, clever, surprising, this is one of the best murder mysteries I have ever read. 

Shatter – Michael Robotham
Chilling, powerful and superbly written. Highly recommended for the brave.   

Best YA Fantasy/Fairytale Retellings

Thornspell – Helen Lowe
Helen Lowe reimagines the Sleeping Beauty story from the point of view of the prince in this beautiful, romantic fantasy for young adults. 

Raven Flight – Juliet Marillier
A classic old-fashioned high fantasy with a quest at its heart. The writing is beautiful and limpid, the setting is an otherworldy Scotland, and the story mixes danger, magic and romance - sigh! I loved it. This is YA fantasy at its absolute best.  

Pureheart – Cassandra Golds
Pureheart is the darkest of all fairy tales, it is the oldest of all quest tales, it is an eerie and enchanting story about the power of love and forgiveness. It is, quite simply, extraordinary. 

Scarlet in the Snow – Sophie Masson 
I just loved this retelling of the Beauty and the Beast fairy tale, told with flair, dash, and panache, by one of my favourite Australian women writers. This is YA fantasy at its best - filled with magic, adventure and just a touch of romance. Loved it!

Best Historical Novel for Young Adults

The River Charm – Belinda Murrell
This beautiful, heart-wrenching novel is inspired by the true life story of the famous Atkinsons of Oldbury, earlier settlers in colonial Australia. It moves between the life of modern-day Millie, and her ancestor Charlotte Atkinson, the daughter of the woman who wrote the first children’s book published in Australia (who was, by the way, my great-great-great-great-grandmother. So, yes, that means Belinda is my sister.) 

Code Name Verity – Elizabeth Wein
One of the best YA historical novels I have ever read, it is set in France and England during the Second World war and is the confession of a captured English spy. 

Witch Child – Celia Rees
Set in 1659, during the tumultuous months after Cromwell’s death and before the return of Charles II, this is a simple yet powerful tale that explores the nature of magic and superstition, faith and cruelty.

Act of Faith - Kelly Gardiner
A heart-breaking and thought-provoking historical novel for young adults, set during the rule of the Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell. 

Best Children’s Books

A Monster Calls – Patrick Ness
What can I say? It's brilliant, surprising, harrowing, humbling. I found it hard to breathe after I finished reading it – such an emotional wallop!

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. 

Wonderstruck – Brian Selznick
A perfect title for a book that is, indeed, struck with wonder. 

Best Non-Fiction

Hanns & Rudolf: The True Story of the German Jew Who Tracked Down and Caught the Kommandant of Auschwitz – Thomas Harding
The author of this utterly riveting and chilling book found out, at his great-uncle’s funeral, that the mild-mannered old man he had known had once been a Nazi hunter. And not just any Nazi. His Great Uncle Hanns had been the man who had hunted down and caught Rudolf Hoss, the Kommandant of Auschwitz. 

84 Charing Cross Road – Helen Hanff
84 Charing Cross Road is not a novel, but rather a collection of letters between an American writer and an English bookseller over the course of many years. That description does not really give any indication of just how funny, heart-wrenching and beautiful this book is – you really do have to read it yourself.

The Bolter: The Story of Idina Sackville – Frances Osborne
The Bolter is the non-fiction account of the life of Idina Sackville, the author's great-grandmother, who had inspired the key character in Nancy Mitford's Love in a Cold Climate. She married and divorced numerous times, and was part of a very fast set in 1930s Kenya that led to scandal and murder - I loved it. 


BOOK LIST - Books Read in August 2013

Wednesday, October 02, 2013

August is Book Week in Australia, and that means lots of authors, including myself, have been on the road, talking about our books at schools, libraries and literary festivals. With so much travelling and talking, there’s not much time for reading and so this month I managed only eight books – however, I discovered a couple of wonderful new authors and read the new work of a few old favourites and so it was a happy reading month for me. 

1. The Tudor Conspiracy – C.W. Gortner
The Tudor period was a time of turmoil, danger, and intrigue … and this means spies. Brendan Prescott works in the shadows on behalf of a young Princess Elizabeth, risking his life to save her from a dark conspiracy that could make her queen … or send her to her death. Not knowing who to trust, surrounded by peril on all sides, Brendan must race against time to retrieve treasonous letters before Queen Mary’s suspicions of her half-sister harden into murderous intent.    

The Tudor Conspiracy is a fast-paced, action-packed historical thriller, filled with suspense and switchback reversals, that also manages to bring the corrupt and claustrophobic atmosphere of the Tudor court thrillingly to life. It follows on from C.W. Gortner’s earlier novel, The Tudor Secret, but can be read on its own (though I really recommend reading Book 1 first – it was great too). 

2. Pureheart – Cassandra Golds
Cassandra Golds is one of the most extraordinary writers in the world. Her work is very hard to define, because there is no-one else writing quite like she does. Her books are beautiful, haunting, strange, and heart-rending. They are old-fashioned in the very best sense of the word, in that they seem both timeless and out-of-time. They are fables, or fairy tales, filled with truth and wisdom and a perilous kind of beauty. They remind me of writers I adored as a child – George Macdonald Fraser, Nicholas Stuart Gray, Elizabeth Goudge, or Eleanor Farjeon at her most serious and poetic. 

I have read and loved all of Cassandra’s work but Pureheart took my breath away. Literally. It was like being punched in the solar plexus. I could not breathe for the lead weight of emotion on my heart. I haven’t read a book that packs such an emotional wallop since Patrick Ness’s A Monster Calls. This is a story about a bullied and emotionally abused child and those scenes are almost unbearable to read. It is much more than that, however. 

Pureheart is the darkest of all fairy tales, it is the oldest of all quest tales, it is an eerie and enchanting story about the power of love and forgiveness. It is, quite simply, extraordinary. 

3. Park Lane – Frances Osborne
Park Lane is the first novel by Frances Osborne, but she has written two earlier non-fiction books which I really enjoyed. The first, called Lilla’s Feast, told the story of her paternal great-grandmother, Lilla Eckford, who wrote a cookbook while being held prisoner in a Japanese internment camp during World war II. The second, called The Bolter, was written about Frances Osborne’s maternal great-grandmother, the notorious Lady Idina Sackville. Married five times, with many other lovers, Idina was part of the scandalous Happy Valley set in Kenya which led to adultery, drug addiction, and murder. Both are absolutely riveting reads, and so I had high hopes of Park Lane, particularly after I read a review in The Guardian which said ‘Frances Osborne will be in the vanguard of what is surely an emergent genre: books that appeal to Downton Abbey fans.’ Well, that’s me! I should have been a very happy reader. 

I have to admit, however, that the book did not live up to my expectations. This was partly because it is written entirely in present tense, a literary tic which I hate, and partly because of the style, which felt heavy and awkward. 

The sections told from the point of view of the aristocratic Beatrice are the most readable, perhaps because this is a world that Frances Osborne knows well (she is the daughter of the Conservative minister David Howell, Baron Howell of Guildford, and wife of George Osborne, the British Chancellor of the Exchequer, which means she lives next door to the Prime Minister on Downing Street in London.) However, the sections told from the point of view of her servant, Grace, are less successful, and her voice did not ring true for me. Also, I was just getting interested in her story when she disappears from the page, popping up again at the end. 

The sections I enjoyed the most were those detailing the suffragettes’ struggle for the vote. These scenes were full of action and drama, and draw upon Frances Osborne’s own family history, with her great-great-grandmother having made many sacrifices for the women’s cause. I’d have liked to have known much more about their struggle and the hardships they faced (maybe I’ll need to write my own suffragette novel one day). 

4. The Devil’s Cave – Martin Walker
I really love this series of murder mysteries set in a small French village in the Dordogne. A lot of the pleasure of these books does not come from the solving of the actual crime – which is often easily guessed – but from the descriptions of the town, the countryside, and the food and wine (I always want to cook the recipes, many of which can be found on the author’s website). These books also really make me want to go back to France!

The hero of this series is the small-town policeman Benoît Courrèges, called Bruno by everyone. He lives in an old shepherd’s cottage, with a beagle hound, ducks, chickens, a goat and a vegetable garden. He’s far more likely to offer some homespun wisdom than arrest anyone, a trait I appreciate. There’s always a touch of romance, and a cast of eccentric minor characters who add warmth and humour.  

The first few books were lazy and charming; the tension is slowly growing in later books which I think is a good thing as the series may have grown just a little too comfortable otherwise. In this instalment – no 5 in the series – there is a dead naked woman in a boat, satanic rituals and chase scenes in an underground cave, a Resistance heroine to be rescued, a local girl led astray, and an omelette made with truffle-infused eggs and dandelion buds. A big sigh of happiness from me. 

5. Let It Be Me – Kate Noble
I bought this book solely on the cover – a Regency romance set in Venice? Sounds right up my alley … I mean, canal …

I have never read a book by Kate Noble before, but I certainly will again. Let It Be Me is clearly part of a series, as is often the case with historical romances, but I had no trouble working out who everyone is. 

The book was set in 1824, and our heroine is the red-haired Bridget Forrester. Although she is quite pretty, none of the men at the ball ask her to dance as she has a reputation for being a shrew. It seems she has been over-shadowed by her sister, the Beauty of the family. 

So Sarah is over-joyed when she receives an invitation to be taught by the Italian composer, Vincenzo Carpenini. After a series of troubles and complications, Bridget ends up going to Venice and before she know sit, finds herself part of a wager to prove that women can play the piano just as well as men. All sorts of romantic entanglements occur, with a wonderful musical leitmotif running through – a very enjoyable romantic read. 

6. The Sultan’s Eyes – Kelly Gardiner
I was on a panel with Kelly Gardiner at the Melbourne Writers Festival, and so read The Sultan’s Eyes in preparation for our talk together. Historical fiction is my favourite genre, and I particularly love books set in the mid-17th century, a time of such bloody turmoil and change. I set my six-book series of children’s historical adventure novels ‘The Chain of Charms’ during this time and so I know the period well. I absolutely loved reading The Sultan’s Eyes, which is set in Venice and Constantinople in 1648, and am now eager to read the book that came before, Act of Faith.

The heroine of the story is Isabella Hawkins, the orphaned daughter of an Oxford philosopher, and educated by him in the classics as if she had been a boy. She has taken refuge in Venice with some friends following the death of her father, after what seem like some hair-raising adventures in Book 1. An old enemy, the Inquisitor Fra Clement, arrives in Venice, however, and afraid for their lives, Isabella and her friends free to the exotic capital of the East, Constantinople, which is ruled by a boy Sultan. His mother and his grandmother are engaged in covert and murderous intrigues to control him, and it is not long before Isabella and the others are caught up in the conspiracies. I loved seeing the world of the Byzantine Empire brought so vividly to life, and loved the character of Isabella  - passionate, outspoken, intelligent and yet also vulnerable. 

7. The Wishbird – Gabrielle Wang
I love Gabrielle Wang’s work and I love listening to her speak, so I was very happy to be sharing a stage with her at the Melbourne Writers Festival.  Her new novel The Wishbird is a magical adventure for young readers, and has the added bonus of illustrations by Gabrielle as well, including the gorgeous cover. 

Boy is an orphaned street urchin in the grim City of Soulless who makes a living as a pickpocket. One day he has a chance encounter with Oriole, a girl with a ‘singing tongue’ who was raised by the Wishbird in the Forest of the Birds. The Wishbird is dying, and Oriole has come to the city to try and find a way to save him. She finds herself imprisoned for her musical voice, however, and Boy must find a way to help her. What follows is a simple but beautiful fable about courage, beauty, love and trust that reminded me of old Chinese fairy tales. 

8. Elijah’s Mermaid – Essie Fox
Elijah’s Mermaid is best described as a dark Gothic Victorian melodrama about the lives of two sets of orphans. One is the beautiful and wistful Pearl, found as a baby after her mother drowned in the Thames, and raised in a brothel with the rather whimsical name of The House of Mermaids. The other two are the twins Elijah and Lily, also abandoned, but lucky enough to be adopted by their grandfather, an author named Augustus Lamb. 
The voices of Pearl and Lily alternate. At first Pearl’s voice is full of street slang and lewd words, but as she grows up many of these are discarded. For the first third of the book, the only points of contact are the children’s fascination with mermaids and water-babies (Pearl has webbed feet), but then they meet by chance at a freak show in which a fake mermaid is exhibited. After that, their lives slowly entwine.
Although the pace is leisurely, the story itself is intense and full of drama and mystery. The Victorian atmosphere is genuinely creepy. I could feel the chill swirl of the fog, and hear the clatter of the horses’ hooves on the cobblestones, and see Lily struggling to run in her corset and bustle. The story’s action takes place in freak shows, brothels, midnight alleys, underground grottos, and a madhouse, and so the dark underbelly of Victorian society is well and truly turned to the light. Yet this is a novel about love and redemption, as well as obsession and murder, and the love between the twins, and between Elijah and Pearl, is beautifully done.  

This monthly round-up of my reading was first posted for BOOKTOPIA and if you want to buy any of these books, they have all the links you need.

INTERVIEW: Cassandra Golds, author of PUREHEART

Friday, August 30, 2013

Australia has some of the most extraordinary children's writers working in the world today and one of them is Cassandra Golds, whose books have all the deceptive simplicity of a fairy tale. I am very happy to welcome her to the blog today, to talk about her new book Pureheart which left me in tears. 

Here she is:

Are you a daydreamer too?

Yes! When I was about 15 I remember thinking to myself, I MUST try to do something USEFUL with all these DAYDREAMS! I guess I felt they must somehow be my vocation. That was when I started pursuing publication in earnest.

Have you always wanted to be a writer?

Yes, for just about as long as I can remember. I wrote my first story almost as soon as I could write.

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

I was born in Sydney — Paddington Royal Women’s Hospital, to be precise — and my first home was in Waterloo, a very old inner city suburb. I grew up in Katoomba in the Blue Mountains, and Penrith in the Western suburbs. Then for many years I lived in Manly, near beautiful Manly Beach. Then, just two years ago, I moved to Melbourne for love! I like to read and write and meditate and drink soothing cups of interesting tea. And I like to talk. And listen to other people talk. And I love to laugh!

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

A picture came into my head of a girl or young woman gazing out from an upstairs window in an old building at night and seeing a boy waiting outside next to the streetlight, looking up at her. I knew she remembered this boy from some time in her past, and that he was the most important person in the world  to her, but I also knew that she had never expected to see him again. The story grew from there.

How extensively do you plan your novels?

When I first began to write seriously as a teenager, I used to spend a lot of time just planning. I started out very disciplined and controlled. But then I underwent a personal revolution and got converted to spontaneity! Now I just collect lots of notes, ideas, memories, quotes, pieces of music, bits from movies and books — all kinds of inspirations — and keep looking over them and adding to them as I write. I know where I’m going in a general kind of way but I try to let it blossom as I go. I aspire to a balance between the two — a kind of disciplined spontaneity.

Do you ever use dreams as a source of inspiration?

I have once! The Museum of Mary Child was inspired by the worst nightmare I ever had. The chapter in that book where Heloise is first shown the museum is pretty much a description of it.

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

At one point when I was a little bit stuck, my boyfriend  suggested that I reread one of my all-time favourite novels, Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol. Suddenly I realised that I had, to an extent, been retelling it unconsciously. I couldn’t believe I hadn’t noticed it before! Once I was aware of that, I knew the best model for one particular section of the story I was trying to tell. And for me, models are everything.

Actually, I would say that all of my writing is inspired by serendipitous or paradoxical connections between things that are apparently dissimilar or incongruous. I love the fact that you can retell a fairytale as a hard boiled detective story, or give a great 19th romance like Wuthering Heights a contemporary setting. I love unexpected connections, I love serendipity, I love incongruity and I love paradox! I once named a heroine Serendipity Starr. 

Where do you write, and when?

Most of my actual working time I spend on the floor in the living room, or sitting cross-legged on my bed, with my laptop on a tray. But the most crucial things happen more unpredictably — perhaps early in the morning, or when I'm traveling somewhere, or because of something I've seen or heard, or even while I'm asleep and dreaming. That's when things in my head shift. They feel like seismic shifts. So I make lots of notes, wherever I happen to be. Then I write them properly and revise them later, sometimes much later, at the computer.

What is your favourite part of writing?

Oh, the seismic shifts! They don’t just help me to write. They show me how to live.

What do you do when you get blocked?

I daydream! For me, the best time for inventing something is early in the morning, after I've woken up but before I get up. I try to let a story tell itself to me.

How do you keep your well of inspiration full?

I feed it (to mix a metaphor)! I'm a great believer in cramming yourself with culture — books and films and music and art and poetry and non fiction and anything of interest, really. I read very slowly, on purpose — I like to read every word, and to really drink in the shape of a paragraph. I read prose almost as if it were poetry — which means, unfortunately, that I don't get through as many books as I would like — but when I do get through them I know them off by heart! Lately I've become almost more fascinated by what's NOT there — in a paragraph, I mean, or even a whole story — than by what is. I’m fascinated by how writers achieve their effects — make you love a character, for example, or scare you, or compel you with suspense. I also think deeply, and devote a lot of energy to trying to understand — everything, really.

Do you have any rituals that help you to write?

I used to, when I first started writing seriously. I was a very disciplined adolescent, and this lasted into my mid-twenties. I used to do everything in exactly the same way — from my daily writing pattern, to the phases of preparing a manuscript. It was all very ordered and organised. But then I went through a long period when I couldn’t write at all, and when eventually I started to write again, I found that the only way I could do it was to be much more free-spirited, even a little chaotic. It’s almost like I pretend not to be writing — just, sort of, playing. Otherwise I seem to start spooking myself. The way I write now is actually much more like the way I wrote as a child in primary school than the way I wrote when my first book was published.

Who are ten of your favourite writers?

Charles Dickens, Victor Hugo, Charlotte Bronte, Nicholas Stuart Gray, Hans Christian Andersen, C.S. Lewis, Elizabeth Goudge, Joan Aiken, Lorna Hill, Elizabeth Coatsworth.


What do you consider to be good writing? 

This is rather a vexed issue for me. I’m keenly aware that much of what is considered to be good writing doesn’t do a thing for me. This does not mean that I believe that, contrary to expert opinion, such writing is bad. 

It’s just that, all my life, I’ve been looking for something in what I read — some kind of an answer to a question that I always seem to be asking, although I couldn’t tell you quite what it is. And unless I find it — this thing I’m looking for — I seem to have little appreciation for the work in question. Or at least, my appreciation is purely academic.

Even if I define good writing as something that has what I’m seeking, it’s still a mystery to me. Ever since I was a child I have tended to read things I like with very intense attention, over and over again. But I still cannot work out how the writers I admire most achieve what they achieve. I always feel myself that I’m writing “blindly” — as if I have no idea whatsoever whether what I’m writing is going to say what I’m trying to say to a reader. I know how I feel about the story and the characters, but how do I go about conveying this to someone else, so that they can feel it too? Similarly, I don’t know how it is that my favourite writers do it to me. It’s frustrating, to an extent, but in a peculiar kind of way it’s also something to live for. 

Pursuing this mystery, I mean.

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

I would say read, read, read — also see movies, look at pictures, listen to music, observe what goes on around you, find out about things and people, have adventures. (Studying dance and music and drama has come in very useful to me as a writer even though I never pursued any of those professionally.) Then think, think, think — about the world and people and what matters most to you. Then write, write, write. Write about what you care about — be yourself in your writing — and be patient and persistent. Writing is a life-long apprenticeship...

What are you working on now? 

Would you believe, The Three Loves of Persimmon meets Colditz?

Thank you so much, Cassandra!

I have to say that Cassandra and I share a passionate love for the work of such writers as Elizabeth Goudge, Joan Aiken and Nicholas Stuart Gray - you can read about my own devotion to Nicholas Stuart Gray here 


SPOTLIGHT: Cassanda Golds and her creative infleunces

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Cassandra Golds is the author of the haunting and heart-rending novel Pureheart which I reviewed earlier this week, calling it simply extraordinary. I am very happy to elcoem her to the blog today to talk about her creative inspirations: 

I want to tell you about something that fascinates me. 

Influences. Creative influences, that is.

When I love a book, or a film, or a piece of music, I just adore finding out who its parents were. You what I mean? For example, I love The Beatles, and I’m fascinated by the fact that their music grew out of, not only Elvis Presley and Chuck Berry and rockabilly and The Everly Brothers and early Motown and goodness knows what else from the whole tradition of rhythm and blues in America, but also ragtime and vaudeville and British radio comedy like The Goon Show. 

I love the novel The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, and I’m entranced by how much it seems to be modeled on an earlier novel its author loved, Charles Dickens’s Great Expectations, and for that matter how similar it is to my favourite fairytale, Hans Andersen’s “The Little Mermaid”. 

Nothing could be more original than The Beatles, or The Great Gatsby. And all of my favourite books and films and pieces of music are original in their own way. Nobody wrote novels like those of Charles Dickens, or the Bronte sisters, before Charles and Emily and Charlotte and Anne wrote them. 

But Charles and Emily and Charlotte and Anne (like The Beatles and F. Scott Fitzgerald) read things before they wrote them — they read The Arabian Nights and The Bible and Shakespeare, and they heard fairy and folktales. Their creativity blossomed out of the things they loved. And of course when they digested all those influences and started to write their own works, those works were such a fascinating mixture of imagination and experience and personal temperament that they felt entirely new. 

They still feel entirely new! 

To cut a long story short, I think the best way to be original is to come up with a new mixture of old, old, old things. That and a pinch of your own character and experience, of course.

Now, as a writer, I have always been fascinated by my own influences. Perhaps I am more influenced than most writers. Or perhaps I just notice my own influences. I’m really more interested in what I’m inspired by, what I’m copying and modeling myself on, than in what I’m creating. That’s partly because I know very well that I only ever wrote stories in the first place because of how much I loved the stories of other writers.

So I decided that in this guest blog post I would give you a list of the ingredients I know went into the cauldron that produced my new book Pureheart. And there are so many, that no matter how long my list is, I know that it will never be complete! But I’m going to give it my best shot. 

You ready? Here goes!

First of all, my favourite children’s authors, Hans Christian Andersen, C.S. Lewis and Nicholas Stuart Gray. I wouldn’t be writing anything if I hadn’t read, and fallen in love with, their stories as a child. 

Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol, Little Dorrit and Great Expectations. 

Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights

The Arthurian legend of Sir Galahad and the Holy Grail, the idea of the Grail Maiden and the Grail Castle, and Arthurian mythology generally, particularly the story of The Fisher King. 

Edgar Allen Poe’s short story “The Shifting Heart”. 

The real life story of the Winchester Mansion (look it up on Wikipedia!). 

The fairy tale Rapunzel. 

The film Angel Heart (1987) and the ancient Greek play Oedipus Rex (they have something important in common)

The films A Prayer for the Dying, The Wicker Man, 1408 and Sex, Lies and Videotape (which shares something important with The Fisher King!) 

The hardboiled pulp fiction novels The Grifters by Jim Thompson and They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? by Horace McCoy 

The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

The ancient Greek story of Persephone

Several Biblical motifs

An old romance comic I read when I was about ten

The plays of Tennessee Williams

Grey Gardens, both the documentary and the subsequent TV film

Emily Dickinson’s poem, “One Need Not Be A Chamber To Be Haunted,” 

John Keats’s poem, “La Belle Dame Sans Merci” 

Joseph Mary Plunkett’s poem, “I See His Blood Upon The Rose”

The piece Eliza’s Song by Elena Katz-Chernan from the ballet The Wild Swans 

The fascinating psychological concept of “enmeshment”  — for example when a mother and daughter are so close that they actually share each other’s minds, cannot tell where one’s emotions begins and the other’s ends

Jungian psychology generally

The sound of a small child crying

My mother’s dementia

The experience of falling in love

Now, if you put all of those together, and threw in a bit of my own personality and history, do you think that would make an interesting book? 

If you do, you might just like Pureheart.


BOOK REVIEW: Pureheart by Cassandra Golds

Monday, August 26, 2013

Title: Pureheart
Author: Cassandra Golds
Publisher:  Penguin Books
Age Group & Genre: A magical fable for 8-80
Reviewer: Kate Forsyth

The Blurb:
Gal and Deirdre have forgotten something. something really, really important.

When her grandmother dies, Deirdre is left alone in a crumbling block of flats. Looking out the window one misty night, she sees a boy who seems familiar. Together, he and Deirde must discover the secret of the old building, before it collapses and the secret is lost forever . . .

What I Thought: 
Cassandra Golds is one of the most extraordinary writers in the world. Her work is very hard to define, because there is no-one else writing quite like she does. Her books are beautiful, haunting, strange, and heart-rending. They are old-fashioned in the very best sense of the word, in that they seem both timeless and out-of-time. They are fables, or fairy tales, filled with truth and wisdom and a perilous kind of beauty. They remind me of writers I adored as a child – George Macdonald Fraser, Nicholas Stuart Gray, Elizabeth Goudge, or Eleanor Farjeon at her most serious and poetic. 

I have read and loved all of Cassandra’s work but Pureheart took my breath away. Literally. It was like being punched in the solar plexus. I could not breathe for the lead weight of emotion on my heart. I haven’t read a book that packs such an emotional wallop since Patrick Ness’s A Monster Calls. This is a story about a bullied and emotionally abused child and those scenes are almost unbearable to read. It is much more than that, however. 

Pureheart is the darkest of all fairy tales, it is the oldest of all quest tales, it is an eerie and enchanting story about the power of love and forgiveness. It is, quite simply, extraordinary. 


BOOK LIST: Books I Read in March

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

I read only nine books in March, but then its been rather a whirlwind of a month for me, travelling all around Australia talking about THE WILD GIRL. 

These are the books I read:

1 The Venetian Contract – Marina Fiorato

I loved this book so much! Fabulous historical novel with romance, intrigue and adventure in one heady brew. Marina Fiorato is fast becoming one of my favorite authors (look out for a review & interview with her next week!)

2. Finnikin of the Rock – Melina Marchetta

I was really impressed with Melina Marchetta's first epic fantasy novel. Better known for her contemporary social realist novels for young adults, Melina made a bold move switching to fantasy. Her plot is cleverly built and well-handled, the pace never flags, and her characters are all intriguing and believable. Well worth the read!

3. The Three Loves of Persimmon – Cassandra Golds 

Cassandra Golds is one of the most bewitching and original writers Australia has ever produced. Her novels are fables about love, hope, and faith, and unlike anything else being written by any other writer I know (except perhaps Kate di Camillo, whose work I also love). Her books are all utter treasures, and 'The Three Loves of Persimmon' is no exception. Look out for an interview with Cassandra, coming soon!

4 An Uncertain Place – Fred Vargas

An intriguing murder mystery with a shambling, slow-thinking and slow-moving Parisian detective. These books are translated from the French, which adds to their charm. I found it a little slow, but I loved the settings and the characters were all quite unique. 

5 Nine Days – Toni Jordan

What a beautifully written little masterpiece of a novel! I loved it. Once again, I'll post a longer review and an interview in the next few weeks. 

6. When Maidens Mourn – C.S. Harris

This is the latest in a series of murder mysteries set in England during Regency times. Think the dark underbelly of a Georgette Heyer romance novel. The amateur detective is a Viscount with a troubled past  - his suffragette wife is a delight and my favourite character in the books. 

7. The Somnambulist – Essie Fox

An intriguing and unusual book set during Victorian times, with the feel of a Victorian melodrama. The historical setting is superbly well done, with a rather creepy foggy atmosphere, and more twists and turns than a roller-coaster ride. 

8. The Last Templar  - Michael Jecks

A very enjoyable medieval murder mystery, with an appealing hero and a puzzling mystery. I'll be trying another of these.

9. On the Way to the Wedding – Julia Quinn

Frothy and funny as ever. 

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