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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 

BOOK REVIEW: OUR TINY, USELESS HEARTS by Toni Jordan

Thursday, July 28, 2016

THE BLURB:

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. 



WHAT I THOUGHT:

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.

BOOK LIST: My Favourite Books by My Favourite Australian aUTHORS

Saturday, June 08, 2013

Get Reading! is running a search for the favourite Australian books of all time. I've given them a list of some of my favourite books by my favourite Australian authors - here are 16 books by my favourite Australian contemporary authors. I will compile a list of my favourite classic authors very soon. 

Vote for your favourites at the Get Reading! website

Jesse Blackadder -  THE RAVEN'S HEART


Geraldine Brooks - YEAR OF WONDERS


Alison Croggon - THE GIFT 



Kimberley Freeman - WILDFLOWER HILL


Pamela Freeman - BLOOD TIES


Kate Grenville - THE SECRET RIVER


Lian Hearn - ACROSS THE NIGHTINGALE FLOOR


Toni Jordan - NINE DAYS


Margo Lanagan - SEA HEARTS


Fiona McIntosh - THE LAVENDER KEEPER


Juliet Marillier - DAUGHTER OF THE FOREST


Kate Morton - THE FORGOTTEN GARDEN


Belinda Murrell - THE RIVER CHARM


Hannah Richell - THE SHADOW YEAR


Kim Wilkins - ANGEL OF RUIN



Marcus Zusak – THE BOOK THIEF


INTERVIEW: Toni Jordan, author of 'Nine Days'

Friday, April 26, 2013


I absolutely adored Toni Jordan's book Nine Days, and I was thrilled for her when it was recently chosen by Australia’s independent booksellers as Novel of the Year. 

On collecting her award, Toni said:

"Nine Days is a novel with nine first-person narrators and a mixed-up chronology. 

It’s not an easy book to explain. If it wasn’t for the support of independent booksellers who took the time and trouble to read it and like it and put it in people’s hands, I’d be stuffed. It’s been that way since the beginning of my writing career: when I wrote my first novel, I had no public profile, no ‘platform’. I’d never been on Big Brother and I’d never slept with a footballer. 

My first novel, Addition, was a romantic comedy about a woman with OCD. OCD is not normally considered romantic or funny. Lucky for me, independent booksellers love books and they love Australian writing and they give books like mine a chance. I’m very grateful for their faith and support. I wouldn’t have a career without them."



Here Toni answers my usual raft of questions with all her trademark humour and flair:

Are you a daydreamer too?
Constantly! I've been away with the fairies for as long as I can remember. 

Have you always wanted to be a writer?
It honestly never occurred to me until my late 30s. I'd always been a voracious reader of everything, but it seemed that writers were a special breed of person. For a long time I thought that someone like me could never have a job like that.

Tell me a little about yourself – where were you born, where do you live, what do you like to do?
I'm from Brisbane and live in Melbourne now. Other than read (see above), I love being home, cooking and spending time with my husband and my dog, Myron the Wonderwhippet. It's a pretty quiet life.
 
How did you get the first flash of inspiration for this book?
My publisher first gave me the photo, the one that's on the jacket of Nine Days. He'd kept it for years hoping one day that someone would write a story around it. I stuck it above my desk and looked at it for months, and then one day I just knew who the people were, how they met, and what happened to them.  




How extensively do you plan your novels?
Not at all! I make it up as I go along. My biggest challenge is to keep my intellectual brain out of the driver's seat so my heart and instinct can take over.

Do you ever use dreams as a source of inspiration?
I can't remember my dreams! 

Did you make any astonishing serendipitous discoveries while writing this book?
This book reminded me that the job of a novelist is to find compassion for people.
 
Where do you write, and when?
I write three days a week, usually Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. (Maybe because I'm making it up as I go, my unconscious needs a day off in between each writing day.) On those writing days, I start at 9.30am, usually with reading some fiction I admire. Then I write between 1250 and 1500 words. I sit there until it's done (toilet and tea breaks not withstanding). 

What is your favourite part of writing?
Dialogue! When I can hear the people talking to each other--that fills me with job and wonderment.

What do you do when you get blocked?
Whenever I try to think it out or force it, I get blocked. I need to feel my way. No analysis, just typing. And no worrying about what happens next.

How do you keep your well of inspiration full?
Reading. Writing a novel seems like an impossible task: perhaps 70,000 words, each one in the right order, with a sensible overarching plot and theme, and people who seem real. It's only by reading other people's work that I'm reminded that it's possible.
 
Do you have any rituals that help you to write?
 I like having my books around me, and my dog to talk to.

Who are ten of your favourite writers?
This changes constantly, but at the moment:

The locals Michelle de Kretser, Carrie Tiffany and Chris Womersley, Peter Temple and JM Coetzee.
And Margaret Attwood, Zadie Smith, AS Byatt, Jonathan Franzen and Hilary Mantel.


 
Michelle de Kretzer

What do you consider to be good writing? 
I loathe explanations, and being told something twice. I consider readers to be much more intelligent than most writers assume. I think that good writing makes space for the reader to enter into the story and engage by filling in gaps.
 
What is your advice for someone dreaming of being a writer too?
Read, read, read. That's how your brain actually learns how to do it: by absorption stories.
 
What are you working on now? 
Gah! Starting is always the most difficult part. Right now, I'm suspecting it's a 60s coldwar spy novel, but because I don't plan or plot, it might yet turn into something completely different.


WRITING ADVICE: Toni Jordan - On the Difficulties of Writing Historical Fiction

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Today I'm very pleased to welcome Toni Jordan, the author of the magnificent historical novel 'Nine Days' to my blog. She's chosen to talk about the difficulties of writing historical fiction (oh, Toni, I feel your pain!)

Here she is: 






Ah, the bliss of ignorance!

So. It turns out that writing historical fiction is hard. (In other news, the Pope is Catholic.) 

It’s way harder than writing contemporary fiction. I know this because my first two books, 'Addition' and 'Fall Girl', were contemporary romantic comedies. They were a joy to write and fun to research. It was easy to imagine the characters as people I could meet, living lives that, if things had turned out differently for me, I could live.

            

My most recent book, 'Nine Days', turned out quite differently from 'Addition' and 'Fall Girl'. For a start, it became clear early on that it wasn’t a romantic comedy. Instead, it was a family saga. OK, I thought. I know families. I can write about them. Then, in the course of writing about families, it became clear that I would have to go back in time to write about generations that had gone before. Large chunks of the book would need to be set in the late 1930s and early 1940s. 

At this point, I wasn’t fazed. (The bliss of ignorance.) I wrote 'Nine Days' the same way I’d written my other books: by trying to understand the way different people see the world, and trying to feel compassion and understanding for the choices they make. When I finished the manuscript I sent it to my publisher, as I usually did. The feedback I received, however, wasn’t what I wanted to hear.

Yep. I’d done just about everything wrong. For a start, my geography was wrong. I’d set the book in the Melbourne suburb of Richmond and I’d put bridges and schools in the wrong places and had my characters going in the wrong direction and working in the wrong areas. The social mores I described were wrong. And (and this is the worst bit): the language my characters used was wrong. (One example among many: a keen-eyed novelist friend pointed out that I had my teenage boys hurrying to cricket ‘training’ in 1939. The word ‘training’, as she pointed out, was an Americanism that crept into our language much later. The boys would have gone to cricket ‘practice’.)


At this point, I tried to look on the bright side. I had a decent story and good, strong characters. If I had done the required research at the beginning of my writing process, it might have taken much longer, and I might have been distracted by the fascinating process of dipping into history. As it stood, I knew exactly what I needed to find out. 

So I dug through Trove, the National Library’s digitised newspaper and magazine project, and immersed myself in language, preoccupations, and even the weather of particular days. I looked at sewage maps and talked to local historians and walked the streets. I visited the school that the characters attended, St Kevin’s College, the staff of which were kind enough to let me look through the archives. I found a number of reference books on early Australian language, and I ran some words past my grandmother (96 and sharp as a tack).

I’m still haunted, though, by the idea I might have made some shocking mistake. Suspension of disbelief in fiction is a tenuous web. The tiniest error might jerk the reader out of the story, and once you’ve lost the trust of a reader it’s near impossible to win it back. As to people who make a habit of this historical business? (I’m looking at you Kate.) All power to them. I’m not sure I’ll be brave enough to climb on that particular ye olde horse again.


BOOK REVIEW: 'Nine Days' by Toni Jordan

Monday, April 22, 2013



Title: Nine Days
Author: Toni Jordan
Publisher: Text Publishing
Age Group & Genre: Historical/Contemporary Novel for Adults


The Blurb:
One family. Nine momentous days. An unforgettable novel of love and folly and heartbreak.

It is 1939 and Australia is about to go to war. Deep in the working-class Melbourne suburb of Richmond it is business—your own and everyone else's—as usual. And young Kip Westaway, failed scholar and stablehand, is living the most important day of his life.

Ambitious in scope and structure, triumphantly realised, this is a novel about one family and every family. It is about dreams and fights and sacrifices. And finally, of course, it is—as it must be—about love.


What I Thought: 
I had enjoyed Toni Jordan’s first novel ‘Addition’ enormously, describing it to myself as ‘intelligent chick lit’. I remember mostly its warmth, its wit, and its willingness to be bold and unconventional, all qualities I admire.

I’m not a big reader of ‘chick lit’. I am, however, a huge reader of historical fiction, as you all know – it’s my favourite genre of fiction.

So I got all excited when I heard Toni had tackled a historical novel. I was also curious. How would she go? I wondered. Historical fiction is harder to write than most people realise. 

Well, firstly I need say to say I absolutely adored ‘Nine Days’! 

But it’s not really historical fiction. Not entirely. It is both historical and contemporary, but it’s not a parallel story, where the past and the present are woven together.

Rather it moves through time, each section describing a single day in the life of a character. Each character is joined by bonds of blood, and love, and fate, and heartbreak. It is almost a collection of short stories, except each section is so strongly tied to each other, and there is a clear, taut narrative thread running through the whole book. It is both linear and non-linear, experimental and highly readable, unconventional, yet filled with compassion. I loved it!

This is one of my top picks of the year and was recently chosen by Australia's independent booksellers as Novel of the Year (well deservedly) – I urge you not to miss out!


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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