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SPOTLIGHT: My Australian Women Writers Challenge for 2016

Saturday, January 07, 2017

1.1


    Every year I take part in the Australian Women Writers Challenge, in which readers all around the world do their best to read as many books written by Aussie women as possible. Last year I read only 10 books  by Australian women, and so I was determined to do better this year. I'm really rather proud of myself because I managed 28 books in total, and enjoyed them all.


     Here is my list (in the order in which I read them). Most of them have longer reviews that you can read by clicking on the title.


    I hope you are inspired to try the challenge for yourself in 2017. You can sign up here



1. 1. Wild Wood – Posie Graeme-Evans

WILD WOOD is a dual timeline narrative that moves between the Scottish Borderlands in the 14th century and an unhappy young woman in the 1980s who finds herself compelled to draw the same Scottish castle over and over again 


2.  Summer Harvest – Georgina Penney

A funny, romantic story with lots of heart, set in the Margaret River wine region and featuring engaging characters and light-hearted encounters. 



3. The Wife’s Tale  - Christine Wells 
The Wife’s Tale is a dual timeline novel that alternates between the point-of-view of Liz Jones, a young Australian lawyer whose ambition and drive to succeed have put her marriage at risk, and Delany Nash, who was at the centre of an infamous scandal in the 1780s.  




4. Tower of Thorns – Juliet Marillier 
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. 




5. Our Tiny, Useless Hearts – Toni Jordan
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. 




6. Nest – Inga Simpson
Inga Simpson is an Australian writer and Nest is a rhapsody about the importance of being at one with the natural world.. 




7. Daughter of the Forest – Juliet Marillier
This is one of my all-time favourite books, that I like to re-read every few years. A retelling of the ‘Six Swans’ fairy-tale, set in ancient Ireland, it is a beautiful story of courage, love, peril and wonder set in a world where magic is only ever a hairsbreadth away from us all. 



8. The Lost Sapphire – Belinda Murrell
I always love a new timeslip adventure from my brilliant sister, Belinda. In The Lost Sapphire, a teenage girl Marli is reluctantly sent to stay with her father in Melbourne. Things began to get more interesting, though, when she discovers an abandoned house with a mysterious past, and makes a new friend, a boy with his own connection to the house. 





9. Hexenhaus – Nikki McWatters
Hexenhaus is a gripping story of three different young women at different times of history who all find themselves persecuted in some way for witchcraft. 




10. Enemy: A Daughter’s Story – Ruth Clare
A memoir of growing up in Australia with a brutal and domineering father who had been damaged by his experiences in the Vietnam war. 



11. The Good People – Hannah Kent
Dark, poetic, and intense, The Good People is a fascinating and atmospheric tale of the ancient fairy lore of Ireland and how it shaped the people who believed it. One of my best reads of 2016.



12. The Summer Bride – Anne Gracie
The last book in Anne Gracie’s delightful Regency romance quartet, ‘The Chance Sisters’. 



13. The Ties That Bind – Lexi Landsman
An engaging and heart-warming read that moves between the story of a modern-day woman’s desperate search for a bone marrow donor for her son, and the hidden secrets of the past.



14. Den of Wolves – Juliet Marillier
The final book in Juliet Marillier’s latest magical historical trilogy, Den of Wolves wraps up the story of Blackthorn and Grim beautifully. A wonderful mix of history, romance, and fairy-tale-like enchantment. 



15. Where the Trees Were – Inga Simpson
A beautiful meditation on the Australian landscape and the Aboriginal connection to it, Where the Trees Were is a must-read for anyone who has ever swung on a tyre over a slow-moving brown river or lain on the ground looking up at a scorching blue sky through the shifting leaves of a gum tree. 



16. On the Blue Train – Kristel Thornell
This novel was inspired by the true-life story of how Agatha Christie disappeared for eleven days in 1926. A slow, melancholy, and beautiful meditation on failed love. 




17. The Dry – Jane Harper
Set in a small Australian country town, The Dry is a tense, compelling and atmospheric murder mystery, as well as an astonishingly assured debut from English-born novelist Jane Harper. 



18. Castle of Dreams – Elise McCune
A gorgeous cover and intriguing title drew me to Castle of Dreams by Elise McCune, described as an ‘enthralling novel of love, betrayals, loss and family secrets.’  



19. The Family with Two Front Doors – Anna Ciddor
Inspired by the real-life stories of Anna Ciddor’s grandmother, The Family with Two Doors is a charming and poignant account of the life of a family of Jewish children in 1920s Poland. 



20. Beyond the Orchard – Anna Romer 
A story that moves between the past and the present, with intrigue, passion, betrayal and the metafictive use of a dark fairy-tale – it’ll be no surprise to anyone that I loved Beyond the Orchard, the first novel of Anna Romer’s that I have read. 



21. The Locksmith’s Daughter – Karen Brooks
An absolutely gripping page-turner of a novel set in Elizabethan times. 




22. The Waiting Room – Leah Kaminsky
Set in modern-day Israel, The Waiting Room tells the story of a single day in the life of a female Jewish doctor who is haunted by her parents’ tragic past. 



23. Rose’s Vintage – Kayte Nunn
A warm-hearted and very readable contemporary romance set in an Australian vineyard, Rose’s Vintage throws failed-British chef-turned-au-pair Rose into the midst of a range of lovable, eccentric characters including two adorable children and their brooding, difficult but gorgeous father. 




24. The Anchoress – Robyn Cadwaller
Set in England in 1255, the story begins with 17-year old Sarah being enclosed within her cell. Her door is literally nailed shut. Yet the world is not so easy to lock away. Sarah sees and hears glimpses of the life of the village, and is threatened by desire, grief, doubt and fear just as much as any other woman. 



25. Kumiko and the Dragon – Briony Stewart
26. Kumiko and the Dragon’s Secret – Briony Stewart
27. Kumiko and the Shadow-catchers – Briony Stewart
A trilogy of charming fantasy books for very young readers, inspired by the tales that Briony Stewart’s Japanese grandmother used to tell her. 



28. Victoria the Queen – Julia Baird
Described as ‘An intimate biography of the woman who ruled an empire,’ Victoria the Queen busts open many of the myths about both the woman and the era. 


Want more? Read my list of Books by Australian Women Writers in 2016 

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!
 


BOOK REVIEW: SUMMER HARVEST by Georgina Penney

Sunday, May 29, 2016


THE BLURB:

 English dog trainer Beth Poole is having trouble getting her life back together after beating a life-threatening illness and divorcing her husband. When her Aussie-soap-obsessed grandma sends her to Australia to recover, it seems a great opportunity for some rest and relaxation while she figures out what's next.

But when Beth arrives in Australia things get off to a rocky start. To begin with, she's on the wrong coast and there are deadly creatures everywhere.

And if that weren't enough, her neighbours are driving her crazy. She's staying in the beautiful Margaret River wine region, right next door to a family-owned vineyard. 

It should be perfect, but the boisterous Hardy clan just don't seem able to leave her alone. 

The usually reserved Beth is soon reluctantly embroiled in their family disputes and romantic entanglements. And eldest son Clayton Hardy is proving surprisingly persistent.

The more Beth gets to know Clayton and the Hardy's, the more she sees what she wants for her future. But as the end of summer approaches, her past comes back to haunt her and will test her new found relationships to the limit.

From the author of Fly In Fly Out comes this entertaining and touching story about family, friendship and love among the grapevines.

WHAT I THOUGHT OF THIS BOOK:

A funny, romantic story with lots of heart, set in the Margaret River wine region and featuring engaging characters and light-hearted encounters. Beth Poole is a Yorkshire lass who has had a rough time. 

Her Aussie-soap-loving grandmother gives her a ticket to Australia as a birthday present.

Beth is terrified of snakes and spiders and sharks, and in fact, nearly everything. And her heart has been badly bruised in the past. 

However, the warm-hearted Hardy clan, who own the vineyard on which Beth stays, soon have her embroiled in all sorts of complications. 

My only reservation about this engaging book is that about halfway through I began to realise that it was a follow-on from an earlier book by Georgina Penny called Fly In, Fly Out.

I usually like to read books in order, and so I’d have liked to have done so here. However, the books clearly stand alone, and I look forward to picking up Fly In, Fly Out now that I’ve been charmed by the Hardy clan. 

WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON THIS BOOK?


Perth Writers Festival round-up - February 2015

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

I spent the last few days in Western Australia for the wonderful Perth Writers Festival. Big congratulations to Katherine Dorrington, the program director, for such a lively and inspirational program, and thanks to Maria Alessandrino and the whole team for taking such good care of all the writers. 

I began my events last Thursday with a wonderful event with Sean Williams. I've known him for years, and love his work, but did not know his favourite book is The Weirdstone of Brisignamen by Alan Garner, which is one of my favourites too! I plan on digging it out and reading ti again - its been years!

Sean has a brilliant new series out called TWINMAKER with Book 1 called Jump in Australia. It's an extremely clever Sci-Fi thriller that imagines a world in which technology has completely transformed the world. One of the most wonderful - and dangerous - inventions is a machine that transports you anywhere in the world in just a moment. Called a d-mat, you can catch it to an extraordinary old observatory in the mountain heights of Switzerland, then to the deserts of the Sahara, all in the time it takes to go down in a lift. Of course everyone wants one! I want one! But the whole book is about what this kind of technology could do to our bodies ... and our souls ...


I then talked about my new children's fantasy adventure series THE IMPOSSIBLE QUEST to a tent full of excited kids. It was great fun (if rather hot!), and I impressed all the boys in the audience with my sword-fighting skills. 

 

Book 3: The Beast of Blackmoor Bog has just been released, and it was wonderful to see so many kids eager to get their hands on it. I also had a number of older kids bringing along piles of my other books for me to sign. 

Then, on Friday, Danielle Wood and I did a panel on Fairy Tales with Delys Bird as our very warm and embracing chair. I have written about Danielle's incredible, intense and surprising fairy tale retellings for The Sydney Morning Herald, saying she "writes with acute insight into the inner lives of women, and all in prose so precise and crystal-cut, the whole shines with an unsettling beauty." It was wonderful to hear Danielle speak of her interest with fairy tales and why she "repurposes" them into contemporary social realism. Our books are very different indeed, but we share the same fascinations with these old, beautiful and sometimes very strange stories.

I sold out of all copies of BITTER GREENS and THE WILD GIRL after our talk, which is always a good sign (though a shame as I had another two days at the festival in which to woo new readers).

On Saturday, I had the whole day off but instead of going shopping, going to the beach, or exploring Perth I went straight back to the festival - of course! And I'm so glad I did. 

I saw a wonderful panel with Liane Moriarty, Liz Byrski and Hanni Rayson - I loved so much my cheeks ached. They were all so warm and clever and funny - the audience was in heaven! I have read Liane Moriarty's brilliantly funny & brilliantly sad The Husband's Secret (you can read my interview with her here), but the other two authors were new to me. Can't wait to discover their books!


Then I listened to Emma Healey, author of Elizabeth is Missing, and John Darnielle, author of Wolf in White Van, talk about their books, about writing from the point of view of a damaged psyche, their lives and much more. It was fascinating. John made my favourite quote of the day when he said "writing a book is like having a vampire living in your home, festering in their coffin, demanding to be fed blood every day."

Another highlight was listening to Georgina Penney talk in 'Romance is Not a Dirty Word', a panel in which Anna Cowan, the author of Untamed, was meant to be sharing but unfortunately could not make it because she is just about ready to pop out a baby. Georgina did a fabulous job despite her absence, being as warm and funny and passionate as she seems to be in her books. Favourite quote from her website is that she likes to spend her days imagining: "buff medieval Scotsmen in kilts (who have access to shower facilities and deodorant) living behind every bramble hedge."

Then I went to see Erik Jensen, Miranda Richmond Mouillot, and Tom Rob Smith talk about their books, all inspired by real lives and real stories. They were discussing the ideas of truth versus good storytelling, who owns their stories, and what right we have to draw upon them, and many other fascinating philosophical  questions that I have grappled with in my own writing. Once again, I feel I have to read all their books! That is the magic of festivals. 

On Sunday, I was on a panel called 'Drawing From History' with Joe Abercrombie, Juliet Marillier and Robyn Cadwaller, with the elegant Natasha Lester as our chair. Everyone knows Juliet Marillier is one of my favourite novelists (you can check out the dozens of blogs in which I rave about her here), but both Joe and Robyn were new to me. I managed to read Joe's new book Half a King (brilliant! I will rave upon it anon) but Robyn's book The Anchoress is still on my tottering to-be-read pile (sorry, Robyn, I'll get to it soon, I promise). 

I enjoyed this panel hugely. It was so much fun, and I wish we could have talked on for another hour.  

I also went to see Andrea de Robilant speak about his new book, Chasing the Rose, which I ended up buying and devouring on the plane home. It was a wonderful story, and I think I want his life (descendant of Venetian nobleman, lives in Venice and travels the world, rose named after his family ... you get the picture).  

I had an utterly brilliant time, and to top it all off, I sold out of all of THE IMPOSSIBLE QUEST as well!

My display box before my event: 

My display box after my event: 


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