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INTERVIEW: Kate Constable, author of Crow Country

Friday, January 24, 2014

Please welcome Kate Constable, author of Crow Country, to the blog today: 



Are you a daydreamer too?
Not so much these days, but I drifted through the first thirty years of my life wrapped in an imaginary world that seemed much more vivid to me than reality. I still love to go for a long walk and let the daydreams rip!


Have you always wanted to be a writer?
Ever since I knew it was something you could be. I created my first masterpiece at age four, Jingle and the Robbers, complete with violence, nudity, and crayon illustrations. I like to think my writing has improved since then; sadly, my drawing skills have not. I've been writing stories ever since.


Tell me a little about yourself – where were you born, where do you live, what do you like to do?
I was born in Melbourne, but I grew up in PNG. Now I live in a house in Preston a few streets away from where my parents lived when I was born, just behind the primary school my mother went to, and which my daughters now attend. I love that my family has come full circle like that! When I'm not writing, reading, doing author-stuff, and looking after the family (husband, two daughters, bearded dragon, dog and rabbit), I follow the football.


How did you get the first flash of inspiration for Crow Country?
I wish I could say it came to me in a flash, but it was a more calculated and difficult process than that! Having written a fantasy series that was set in an imagined world (The Chanters of Tremaris), I decided I wanted to write a fantasy that was set firmly in the Australian landscape. It only occurred to me afterwards that if I wanted to write about Australian magic, that would mean Aboriginal magic. That started a long journey of research and thinking and discussion and reading, and a few false starts before the story of Crow Country arrived in my head. A few different elements wove themselves together: the legend of Waa, the ancestral Crow spirit; an internet article about a dried up dam exposing its hidden secrets; a visit to a country town for a family reunion; curiosity about Aboriginal Anzacs; the idea of mistakes repeating themselves, generation after generation. Once the story came, it just poured itself out quite quickly.


How extensively do you plan your novels?
I love planning, and I love revising and rewriting; but first drafts are torture! I do like to write an outline before I start, it's like having a rope to guide you through a dark maze. But you have to feel free to drop that rope at any time and pick up another one. I'm always prepared to throw the plan away and rewrite it, depending on where the story seems to want to go.


Did you make any astonishing serendipitious discoveries when writing this book?
Oh, so many. The biggest one was this: my first draft of Crow Country was set in a town I'd invented, which I called Cross Creek. I knew I wanted to set the story somewhere in mid-north-western Victoria, in Dja Dja Wurrung country, but I was wary of writing about an actual town, since I wasn't familiar enough with any specific towns in that region. 

So I set myself free to invent all the things I needed for my story: a war memorial, an abandoned rail line, a footy club, cemetery, pubs and shops and most importantly, a dried lake. But when Gary Murray, a Dja Dja Wurrung elder, read the manuscript to check it for me, the first thing he said was, 'This town you've written about - this town is Boort.' 

I'd never even heard of Boort, but it's a real town, way up in northern Victoria, and when I went to visit there, I found every single thing I'd written into my 'imaginary' town  including the dried lakes. The pubs, the cemetery, the memorial: it was all there, just as I'd written it. And Boort used to be an important Indigenous meeting place, the lakes there are surrounded by scarred trees and ceremony places. So Cross Creek became Boort.

I've even had someone tell me, 'I come from Boort, and I know who all the characters in your book are.' I was too scared to tell him that I'd invented them all… or at least, I thought I did!

Another strange and spooky thing that happened during the year I wrote Crow Country was that a family of crows came and took up residence just outside our house. Every time I walked out of the front door, there they'd be, strutting up and down the street, making remarks to each other: waa-waaa! They hung around all that year, but after I finished working on the book, they went away. I do think that they come to keep an eye on me, and just make sure I was doing the right thing.


Where do you write and when?
While my kids are at school. It's hard to get much done in the holidays. I have a laptop and I carry it around the house as the mood strikes me. Sometimes I sit on the window seat in the family room and stare out at the garden, sometimes I huddle on the couch in the library, or sit on my bed. I have a study/spare room, which is a bungalow in the backyard, but our nephew is staying in it at the moment, so I'm a nomad.


What is your favourite part of writing?
Revising and rewriting. It's so much easier and more fun to work with words that already exist, than to struggle to fill a blank page (or screen).


Who are ten of your favourite writers?
It changes all the time, but off the top of my head, and at this precise moment, I'd say: Rumer Godden, Helen Garner, Nancy Mitford, Antonia Forest (she wrote school stories, no one's ever heard of her), Penelope Lively, Edith Nesbit, Gerald Durrell, CS Lewis, Susan Cooper, Noel Streatfeild.


(I just have to say that these are many of my favourite writers too, and I have heard of Antonia Forest, though its been a long while since I've read any of her books ...)


What do you consider to be good writing?
I find myself drawn to what I think of as 'transparent' writing, where you're hardly conscious of the words, but just being drawn along by the author's voice and the story. Rumer Godden and Noel Streatfield have been big influences on me in that way. I very much admire Helen Garner's writing, she is so sharp and she chooses her words with such perfect precision, but it's never flowery or over-written. 


Advice for someone dreaming of being a writer?
Read a lot. Practice a lot. Don't be afraid to imitate writers you love when you're starting out, your own voice will find you. And be patient! I called myself a writer for ten years before I had my first book published.


What are you working on now?
I'm in the middle of revising a piece for an anthology of collaborations between Indian and Australian writers, illustrators and graphic artists, called Eat the Sky, Drink the Ocean. I've never worked on anything like this before, so it's very exciting. I've been paired with an Indian artist called Priya Kuriyan, it's been so thrilling to see the wonderful illustrations she's produced to go with my text  it's completely altered the way I saw the words and I'm making changes accordingly, so it's been a fascinating process.
I'm also working on a final volume for my Chanters of Tremaris fantasy series, which focuses on Calwyn's daughter. It's lovely going back to this magical world which I haven't visited for so long.


PLEASE LEAVE A COMMENT - I LOVE TO KNOW WHAT YOU THINK!

BOOK REVIEW: Crow Country by Kate Constable

Monday, January 20, 2014




Title: Crow Country

Author: Kate Constable

Publisher: Allen & Unwin

Age Group & Genre: YA Timeslip 

Reviewer: Kate Forsyth

Source: The book was given to me by Allen & Unwin quite some time ago – thank you!


The Blurb:
From the author of the Chanters of Tremaris series comes a contemporary time travel fantasy, grounded in the landscape of Australia.

Beginning and ending, always the same, always now. The game, the story, the riddle, hiding and seeking. Crow comes from this place; this place comes from Crow. And Crow has work for you.

Sadie isn't thrilled when her mother drags her from the city to live in the country town of Boort. But soon she starts making connections—with the country, with the past, with two boys, Lachie and Walter, and, most surprisingly, with the ever-present crows. 

When Sadie is tumbled back in time to view a terrible crime, she is pulled into a strange mystery. Can Sadie, Walter, and Lachie figure out a way to right old wrongs, or will they be condemned to repeat them? 

A fantasy grounded in mythology, this novel has the backing of a full consultative process on the use of indigenous lore.


What I Thought: 
I am in such admiration of Kate Constable’s bravery and delicacy in writing this beautiful book, which draws upon Aboriginal mythology and Australian history to deal with themes of injustice, racism, truthfulness and atonement. 

As a child, one of my favourite Australian authors was Patricia Wrightson. Many of her children’s books draw upon Aboriginal mythology and Australian landscapes, creating stories filled with beauty, mystery and strangeness. 

However, when I studied children’s literature in my undergraduate degree in the late 1980s, Patricia Wrightson was lambasted for her so-called ‘cultural appropriation’; indeed, for a kind of imperialist exploitation. I have struggled with this for a long time. I loved Patricia Wrightson’s work and, as a result of reading The Nargun and the Stars and The Ice is Coming, I have been fascinated by Aboriginal mythology and art ever since. 

I have long wanted to write a book set in Australia which drew upon Aboriginal history and stories, but I have been held back by my desire to be sensitive and respectful to those of Aboriginal descent. Crow Country has shown me that perhaps it is possible for a non-indigenous Australian to write a novel filled with the magic and mystery of this ancient land while still being sensitive to the sacredness of those beautiful old stories and songs, and to their vital importance to the voices of Australian indigenous cultures. 

Crow Country is a simple book, simply told, but that is part of its great strength. It tells the story of Sadie, an unhappy teenager who moves to the country with her flighty but loving mother. One day she stumbles across an Aboriginal sacred site, and a crow speaks to her – she is needed to right a wrong that occurred many years earlier. So Sadie slips back in time, into the body of one of her ancestors, and observes a crime that is covered up. 

The novel encompasses three generations of families living in the small country town of Boort in Victoria, and their different responses to racism. In the contemporary tale, the three families are embodied in Sadie, Lachie (son of the white farmer who owns the property on which the sacred site is found), and an Aboriginal boy, Walter. Their relationships are complicated by the past history of Sadie’s mother, Ellie, who – as a teenager – dated both Lachie and Walter’s fathers, and stirred up dormant racism in the town. 

Somehow, Sadie must find a way to make amends for the past and help the town and its inhabitants heal and grow closer together. 

A quote from Crow Country: “The Dreaming is always; forever... it's always happening, and us mob, we're part of it, all the time, everywhere, and every-when too.”

PLEASE LEAVE A COMMENT – I LOVE TO KNOW WHAT YOU THINK

BOOK LIST: Books Read in December 2013

Friday, January 03, 2014

I discovered some wonderful new writers this month, which always makes me happy. I also managed to read five books by Australian women writers, as part of the AWW 2013 Challenge (bringing me to a total of 30 for the year.) Many of the books I read sent me straight to the bookstore to find other books by these authors, always a good sign. Twelve books read in December brings me to a grand total of 130 books, well over my target for the year. I hope you have all had a happy reading year too! 


1. 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 ... 

This is a really fresh, funny and delightful Regency romance. I really loved it. Of course, I always do think a little murder and mayhem improves a book! The balance of humour, romance and suspense is really well done and I’ve gone in search of more books by Alyssa Everett – hoping they are just as good!


2. The Midnight Dress – Karen Foxlee
The Midnight Dress is a beautiful, haunting, tragic tale of love and loss and yearning. Told in a series of stories within stories, it circles around the mysterious disappearance of a girl one night in a far north Queensland town. The setting is superbly created, the characters are vivid and achingly alive, and the writing is exquisite. I particularly loved the character of the old seamstress Edie who, by teaching the young, sullen heroine  Rose to sew and telling her stories of her own past, teaches Rose how to live. A standout read of the year for me.


3. Half Moon Bay – Helene Young
I enjoyed this contemporary romance suspense novel set in the north coast of New South Wales. The heroine Ellie is a photo-journalist still struggling with grief over the death of her sister Nina in Afghanistan two years earlier, while the hero is an undercover government agent and ex-military officer who feels responsible for Nina’s death. They are on opposite sides of a small town’s struggle with corruption and drugs, yet neither can deny that sparks fly whenever they meet. 


4. Crow Country – Kate Constable
I am in such admiration of Kate Constable’s bravery and delicacy in writing this beautiful book, which draws upon Aboriginal mythology and Australian history to deal with themes of injustice, racism, truthfulness and atonement. Crow Country is a simple book, simply told, but that is part of its great strength. It tells the story of Sadie, an unhappy teenager who moves to the country with her flighty but loving mother. One day she stumbles across an Aboriginal sacred site, and a crow speaks to her – she is needed to right a wrong that occurred many years earlier. So Sadie slips back in time, into the body of one of her ancestors, and sees what happens. With the help of a local Aboriginal boy, she sets out to try to fix things.

A quote from the book: “The Dreaming is always; forever... it's always happening, and us mob, we're part of it, all the time, everywhere, and every-when too.”

I loved it. 


5. Sister – Rosamund Lupton
Oh my gaudy heavens! What a brilliant book. Utterly compulsive, suspenseful, clever, surprising. I think it may be one of the best murder mysteries I have read this year. Perhaps even ever. Told from the first person point of view of Beatrice, and addressed to her murdered sister Tess, the story packs a really powerful emotional punch (perhaps because I am so close to my sister Belinda and so could so well imagine the anguish Beatrice was feeling). Although the book follows Beatrice’s dogged investigation into her sister’s death and ultimate confrontation with the killer, it is so much more than that – it’s an exploration of the bonds of love and duty between sisters, a meditation on the harrowing experience of grief, and a clever literary game. Ten seconds after I read this book I bought her next book and I cannot wait to read it. ‘Sister’ was that good!


6. Under the Wide Starry Sky – Nancy Horan
As soon as I heard about this book, I grabbed hold of it and read it. There were two reasons for this. One: I really enjoyed Nancy Horan’s earlier book ‘Loving Frank’, about the passionate love affair between Mamah Borthwick Cheney and Frank Lloyd Wright. Two: the novel tells the story of Robert Louis Stevenson and his wild, strong-willed American wife, Fanny. I have had a soft spot for Robert Louis Stevenson since I was given his poetry to read as a little girl. In particular, his poem ‘The Land of Counterpane’ (about being a sick boy made to stay in bed) resonated with me strongly as I was a sick girl who spent far too much time in hospital. Consequently, I have read nearly every book he has ever written, including obscure ones like ‘Catriona’, plus have read many biographies of his life and collections of his letters. I was always intrigued by his relationship with his wife, and was eager indeed to read Nancy Horan’s imaginative recreation of their turbulent romance. I was not disappointed. This is a brilliant book, that brings the lives and times of RLS and his circle vividly to life. Read it!


7. The Bone Garden – Tess Gerritsen
This was my first book I’ve read by Tess Gerritsen, and I really enjoyed it. She is best known for her Rizzoli & Isles series of contemporary forensic thrillers, known for their anatomical precision and grisly detail, and so this book – which moves between the present and the past – is a departure for her. It was the historical aspect of the novel which first attracted me but I’m willing to try her other, more contemporary novels now (I just hope they are not TOO grisly). 


8. Who Am I? : The Diary of Mary Talence, Sydney 1937  – Anita Heiss
‘Who Am I?’ is part of the My Story series’ published by Scholastic Australia. Set in Sydney, 1937, this is the fictional diary of a young Aboriginal girl who was stolen from her parents under the White Australia government policy. Mary grows up in the Bomaderry Aboriginal Children's Home and is given the diary by the matron when she is ten years old. In its pages, she describes the daily events of her life, as well as her fears and anxieties and confusions. She soon has to leave the home, as she is adopted by a white family who live in St Ives, on the North Shore in Sydney. Here she faces racism in perhaps its most poisonous form – the daily stares, sniggers, casual insults, and calm assurance that White People Are Best. This part of the book hit home really hard for me - I grew up on the border of St Ives and many of the settings are my childhood stamping ground. I too would certainly have stared at an Aboriginal child in my school playground – I did not see anyone of Aboriginal blood until I was in my late teens and it certainly was not on the North Shore. I can only hope I would have been kinder than the fictional children in this book. I found ‘Who Am I: The Diary of Mary Talence, Sydney 1937’ a really heart-breaking and eye-opening novel which moved me to tears. A really important book for all school children, whether they live on the North Shore or not.



9. A Gentleman of Fortune, or, The Suspicions of Miss Dido Kent – Anna Dean
This is the second in a charming series of Regency-era murder mysteries featuring the sharp-witted lady-detective Miss Dido Kent, who cannot help being curious about the odd circumstances surrounding the death of a rich neighbour, Mrs Lansdale. The author Anna Dean must have read the works of Jane Austen many times – she captures her turn of phrase and ironic eye for detail perfectly, and the voice never flags for an instant. The mystery is brilliantly well-done too – every clue is there, and yet I still didn’t guess the murderer …



10. Wonderstruck – Brian Selznick
A perfect title for a book that is, indeed, struck with wonder. I absolutely loved Brian Selznick’s earlier book, ‘The Invention of Hugo Cabret’, which was turned into a gorgeous movie called ‘Hugo’ by Martin Scorcese. Like that book, ‘Wonderstruck’ is told partly in extraordinarily beautiful and detailed pencil drawings and partly in text. It tells the stories of Ben, who has lost his mother, and Rose, who stares longingly at pictures of a silent screen movie star. The first narrative is told in words, the second in pictures. 


Slowly the two tales intersect in surprising ways, becoming a heart-touching story about love, art, and joyousness. Although this would be a wonderful book for a child who loves both stories and art, this is really a book for everyone who still has room in their lives for a little wonder. 


11. Wild Lavender – Belinda Alexander
An epic historical saga that follows the life of Simone Fleurier from her days as a poor girl on a lavender farm in Provence to the heights of fame as a singer on the Parisian stage and then through to her involvement with the French Resistance during the dark horror of Nazi Occupation. I enjoyed every moment of this rags-to-riches-to-rags story – the characters and the historical period were all so real and I really enjoyed every aspect of it. 


12. The Crimson Ribbon – Katherine Clements
I was utterly enthralled from the very first line of this novel: ‘Sometimes death comes like an arrow, sudden and swift, an unforseen shot from an unheeded bow.’ 

THE CRIMSON RIBBON is set in England in 1646, in the midst of the English Civil War. Oliver Cromwell leads the army of the people against a tyrannical king, witches are hunted down, the skies are full of evil portents. A young woman named Ruth Flowers is on the run, trying to find a safe place for herself. She is helped by an enigmatic young soldier named Joseph, but – bruised by the encounter - takes refuge in the house of an extraordinary young woman named Elizabeth Poole. Her beauty and kindness ensnare Ruth, and she uses an old charm to tie herself to her new mistress. But Elizabeth is as troubled as she is charismatic, and – as the King of England finds himself imprisoned and on trial for his life - Ruth finds herself drawn into danger, intrigue, witchcraft, and treason. 


I found myself utterly unable to put this book down, constantly surprised, and constantly rewarded. This is an astonishingly assured debut title from Katherine Clements, and I’m really hoping she has more stories like this one up her sleeve!


PLEASE LEAVE A COMMENT - I LOVE TO KNOW WHAT YOU THINK!

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