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BOOK REVIEW: Lament by Maggie Stiefvater

Tuesday, November 29, 2016



BLURB:

Sixteen-year-old Deirdre Monaghan is a painfully shy but prodigiously gifted musician. 


She's about to find out she's also a cloverhand—one who can see faeries. Deirdre finds herself infatuated with a mysterious boy who enters her ordinary suburban life, seemingly out of thin air. Trouble is, the enigmatic and gorgeous Luke turns out to be a gallowglass—a soulless faerie assassin. An equally hunky—and equally dangerous—dark faerie soldier named Aodhan is also stalking Deirdre. 


Sworn enemies, Luke and Aodhan each have a deadly assignment from the Faerie Queen. Namely, kill Deirdre before her music captures the attention of the Fae and threatens the Queen's sovereignty. Caught in the crossfire with Deirdre is James, her wisecracking but loyal best friend. Deirdre had been wishing her life weren't so dull, but getting trapped in the middle of a centuries-old faerie war isn't exactly what she had in mind . . .


Lament is a dark faerie fantasy that features authentic Celtic faerie lore, plus cover art and interior illustrations by acclaimed faerie artist Julia Jeffrey.



MY THOUGHTS

Maggie Stiefvater made her name with a series of teen werewolf romances that were a cut above the usual, with acutely realised characters and luminous prose. Lament is similarly a book about a teenage girl falling in love with someone not of her world, though in this book the romantic hero is an assassin sent from the faerie world to kill her. It’s a clever premise, and once again Stiefvater’s teenage characters feel real and alive. 

BOOK REVIEW: The Lost Sapphire by Belinda Murrell

Sunday, November 27, 2016





BLURB:

Marli is staying with her dad in Melbourne, and missing her friends. Then she discovers a mystery—a crumbling, abandoned mansion is to be returned to her family after 90 years. Marli sneaks into the locked garden to explore, and meets Luca, a boy who has his own connection to Riversleigh. 


A peacock hatbox, a box camera and a key on a velvet ribbon provide clues to what happened long ago. In 1922, Violet is 15. Her life is one of privilege, with boating parties, picnics and extravagant balls. An army of servants looks after the family, including new chauffeur Nikolai Petrovich, a young Russian émigré. 


Over one summer, Violet must decide what is important to her. Who will her sister choose to marry? What will Violet learn about Melbourne’s slums as she defies her father’s orders to help a friend? And what breathtaking secret is Nikolai hiding? Violet is determined to control her future. 


But what will be the price of her rebellion?


MY THOUGHTS:

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. Meanwhile, back in 1922, Violet lives the high life at the luxurious mansion but a forbidden friendship with her father’s Russian chauffeur opens up her eyes about the world and her own heart. 


A wonderful story for girls who like to imagine what life was like in the past.

BOOK REVIEW: THE LIE TREE by Frances Hardinge

Friday, June 10, 2016



Winner of the Costa Book of the Year 2015, The Lie Tree is a dark and powerful novel from universally acclaimed author, Frances Hardinge. 

It was not enough. All knowledge- any knowledge - called to Faith, and there was a delicious, poisonous pleasure in stealing it unseen.

Faith has a thirst for science and secrets that the rigid confines of her class cannot supress. And so it is that she discovers her disgraced father's journals, filled with the scribbled notes and theories of a man driven close to madness. Tales of a strange tree which, when told a lie, will uncover a truth: the greater the lie, the greater the truth revealed to the liar. Faith's search for the tree leads her into great danger - for where lies seduce, truths shatter . . .


The Lie Tree is an utterly brilliant and surprising YA historical novel with a magical twist – it recently won the Costa Book of the Year award in a decision that I applaud most enthusiastically. The story is set in Victorian times, teetering on the edge of the uneasy chasm that opened up between science and religion following Charles Darwin’s Origin of the Species. Faith is a fourteen-year-old girl with an eager, questioning mind, who is constantly being reprimanded for unwomanly behaviour. She adores her naturalist father, loves her little brother, and dislikes her pretty, manipulative mother. The family – accompanied by her Uncle Miles – sail to Vane, an imaginary island much like Jersey, to escape a scandal. Faith’s father is then found dead. Trying to find out what happened, Faith stumbles upon a complex mystery of deceit, betrayal, and murder. 

The story twists and turns, with all sorts of surprising discoveries, and the characters are all drawn with a swift, deft hand. The Lie Tree at the centre of the story is an extraordinary imaginative creation. This is one of the best books I’ve read in a long time, so please do not be put off by its young protagonist or the fantastical elements. This book is a tour de force. Read it.


BOOK REVIEW: MIDNIGHT IS A PLACE by Joan Aiken

Monday, February 29, 2016


THE BLURB:

Now, back in print, the engaging and suspenseful British fantasy by one of England’s most imaginative storytellers.

Lucas Bell is lonely and miserable at Midnight Court, a vast, brooding house owned by his intolerable guardian, Sir Randolph Grimsby. When a mysterious carriage brings a visitor to the house, Lucas hopes he’s found a friend at last. 

But the newcomer, Anna Marie, is unfriendly and spoiled—and French. 

Just when Lucas thinks things can’t get any worse, disastrous circumstances force him and Anna Marie, parentless and penniless, into the dark and unfriendly streets of Blastburn.


WHAT I THOUGHT OF THIS BOOK:

Joan Aiken is one of my all-time favourite children’s writers. Her books were out-of-print for a while and I haunted second-hand bookshops in the hopes of building up my collection. 

My copy of this wonderful book was bought from the Glebe Library years ago, and still has its yellow cardboard filing card in an envelope glued inside the front cover.

 Happily, her books have all recently been re-issued with fabulous new covers and so are easy to get hold of now. 


It’s difficult to exactly categorise Joan Aiken’s work. It’s historical fiction, with a Dickensian feel thanks to its brilliantly drawn characters (both comic and villainous), unusual names, and dark atmospheric settings. 

Her stories are fabulously inventive, and often have surprising elements in them (like pink whales). 

Some of the books have an alternative historical setting, with Good King James III on the throne of England, and the wicked Hanoverians trying to blow up Parliament House.


MIDNIGHT IS A PLACE is the most realist of her novels, and quite possibly her darkest. 

It tells the story of a lonely boy named Lucas, who lives at Midnight Court, next to a smoggy industrial town called Blastburn. His guardian is a foul-tempered, brandy-drinking eccentric who won the great house in a card-game many years before. 

One day the orphaned daughter of the previous owner comes to live at Midnight Court. Soon Lucas and Anna-Marie are left destitute, and must fend for themselves in the tough streets of Blackburn. 

There is one particular scene set in the carpet-making factory that I shall never forget – as a child, it burnt itself deep into my imagination. 

It is also striking for its refusal to restore the children’s lost wealth – instead they find happiness by making their own way in the world. 

Joan Aiken is one of the great children’s writers, and deserves to be much more widely celebrated.  


WHAT DID YOU THINK OF THIS BOOK?

INTERVIEW: Belinda Murrell author of The Sequin Star

Friday, July 25, 2014

Please welcome the brilliant and beautiful Belinda Murrell (my sister, who I am so proud of) to the blog, to talk about her new book THE SEQUIN STAR!



What is your latest novel all about?

My new book is The Sequin Star, which is the latest book in my time slip series for children aged about 10 to 14. This book was so fascinating to research and write as it is set in a circus during the Great Depression. My daughter Emily and I went to visit lots of circuses as part of my research, and we went behind the scenes to meet and interview some of the circus equestrian performers. 

The Sequin Star is the story of a modern day girl called Claire, who is very close to her grandmother. After her grandmother is rushed to hospital, Claire finds a chipped and battered sequin star brooch amongst her grandparents’ treasures. Why does Claire’s wealthy grandmother own such a cheap piece of jewellery? The mystery deepens when the brooch hurtles Claire back in time to 1932. 

Claire finds herself stranded in the camp of the Sterling Brothers Circus. Rescued by Princess Rosina, a gypsy princess and bareback rider extraordinaire, Claire is allowed to stay – if she promises to work hard. The Great Depression has made life difficult for everyone, but Claire makes friends with Rosina and Jem, and a boy called Kit who comes to the circus night after night to watch Rosina perform.

When Kit is kidnapped, it’s up to Claire, Rosina and Jem to save him. But Claire is starting to wonder just who Kit and Rosina really are. One is escaping poverty and the other is escaping wealth – can the two find happiness together?


How did you get the first idea for it?
I have always been fascinated by circuses. One of my earliest memories is visiting The Great Moscow Circus with Dad and being entranced by the performing bears (As a vet, Dad was called out to treat one of the Russian bears when the circus first came to Australia). I remember as a teenager trying to teach myself bareback circus tricks on my pony and getting thrown off multiple times. Over the years I managed to break several bones attempting fancy tricks on horseback. So I have wanted to write a story about an old fashioned circus for a long time. The 1930s seemed like an ideal time to set it because it was a very harsh period in Australian history.  


What was the most interesting thing you discovered during your research?

Lots of my books have been inspired by family stories and experiences, and at first I thought that this was one book of mine that wasn’t. However halfway through writing and researching the book, I made an amazing discovery. There actually was a member of my family who ran away and joined the circus. Nearly a hundred years ago, my husband’s great uncle Max Murrell, ran away when he was a teenager and joined a circus. He eloped with a gorgeous young girl called Gertrude and together they travelled all over the world to Asia, India, Africa and America. They developed an aerial equilibrist act which included doing handstands on the back of a chair, balanced on a tightrope high above the ground. I had great joy in poring over his fascinating old photo albums. 


What do you love most about writing?
Immersing myself in a different place and time. Discovering the stories of my characters. Experiencing the almost magical evolution from the first spark of an idea, to the outline of a story, to a complete book. 
I also love the feedback from my readers. One of my greatest joys is getting hundreds of emails and letters from kids, telling me how much they love my books.


What are the best 5 books you've read recently?

Burial Rites by Hannah Kent

Sheila by Robert Wainright

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

Call The Midwife by Jennifer Worth

I am currently reading The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd which I am really enjoying. 


What lies ahead of you in the next year?

This year I am writing four new books in my Lulu Bell series – written for younger kids (6 to 9) years old. 

I just adore my character Lulu Bell. She is an eight year old girl, growing up in a vet hospital just like we did as children. She is the eldest child, so she is creative but practical, sometimes a little sassy, but usually warm and caring and great at solving problems. 

I have just finished editing Lulu Bell and the Christmas Elf, to come out in November and writing books 10 to 13 to come out next year. The series, which is illustrated by the very talented Serena Geddes, is about family, friends and animal adventures. 

I have just been away on tour for a few weeks for the launch of Lulu Bell and the Pyjama Party visiting a wide array of schools, bookshops, libraries and literary festivals in Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland. The series is currently being translated into Portuguese and Afrikaans, and the first six books are being released in a book-shaped treasure tin. So it is very exciting to see the series doing so well.  



BOOK REVIEW: The Sequin Star by Belinda Murrell

Monday, July 21, 2014



Title: THE SEQUIN STAR

Author: Belinda Murrell

Publisher: Random House Australia

Age Group & Genre: YA timeslip adventure

Reviewer: Kate Forsyth

Source of Book: A gift from the author (who is also my sister!)


The Blurb:
In an  exciting timeslip tale, Claire finds an old trunk filled with her grandmother's treasures, including an old star-shaped brooch covered in sequins

Why does Claire's wealthy grandmother own such a cheap piece of jewelry? The mystery deepens when the brooch hurtles Claire back in time to 1932. Australia is in the grip of the Great Depression and people seek distraction from their problems through entertainment. There's the famous horse Phar Lap, cricket hero Don Bradman, and then there are circuses. Claire finds herself stranding in the camp of the Sterling Brothers Circus. Rescued by Princess Rosina, a beautiful trick rider, Claire is given a job in the camp kitchen. Life is hard, but she makes friends with Rosina and Jem, and a boy named Kit who comes to the circus night after night to watch Rosina perform. When Kit is kidnapped by a fanatical political group, it's up to Claire, Rosina, and Jem to save him. But Claire is starting to wonder just who Kit and Rosina really are. One is escaping poverty and the other is escaping wealth—can the two find happiness together?(

What I Thought: 

Many of you may know that Belinda Murrell is my elder sister, and so I have to admit to a strong partiality to any book I read of hers!

The Sequin Star is the latest in her very popular timeslip series for teenage girls. The action follows a modern-day Australian girl named Claire who finds herself thrown back in time to a Great Depression-era circus in 1932. She is rescued by a warm-hearted girl named Rosina who is riding on the back of an elephant. 

Claire has no way of getting back to her own time, and so begins to work in the circus. As well as Rosina and her pet monkey, Claire makes friends with two boys from very different backgrounds. Jem’s family is dirt-poor and living in a shanty town, while Kit has a chauffeur and lives in a mansion. Kit comes to the circus night after night to watch Rosina ride her beautiful dancing horses, not realising he is putting himself in danger. 

When Kit is kidnapped, Claire and her friends have to try and work out the mystery in order to save him. The Sequin Star is exactly the sort of book I would have loved to have read in my early teens (in fact, any time!), and is gives a really vivid look at life in Sydney in the early 1930s. Loved it!


Writer’s website: http://belindamurrell.com.au/
PLEASE LEAVE A COMMENT – I LOVE TO KNOW WHAT YOU THINK

INTERVIEW: Juliet Marillier, author of The Shadowfell trilogy

Friday, July 11, 2014

Today I'm very proud to welcome one of my favourite writers to the blog: JULIET MARILLIER!






What is your latest novel all about?

The Caller is the third and final instalment of the Shadowfell series. The land of Alban (a magical version of ancient Scotland) is ruled by the tyrannical Keldec, who controls his subjects through fear, with the help of an elite hit squad, the Enforcers. But a group of young rebels plans to challenge the power of the king, using a secret weapon: the reclusive Good Folk, the uncanny residents of Alban, who usually won’t cooperate with humankind. The key to success is Neryn, sixteen years old in this book and still learning to use her gift as a Caller, a person who can persuade the Good Folk out of their various boltholes and into action. Neryn visits the enigmatic White Lady to learn the magic of air, and is horrified by the dwindling of this powerful elemental being. Then disaster strikes and the rebel plans are thrown into confusion. Meanwhile Neryn’s beloved Flint, a rebel spy at court, is close to breaking point as the burden of maintaining his cover weighs ever more heavily on his conscience. The story builds toward a final confrontation at the king’s midsummer Gathering.




How did you get the first idea for it?
I had two main sources of inspiration for the Shadowfell series. I began writing the first book during the so-called Arab Spring, when we saw popular rebellions against repressive governments in several countries. When the Shadowfell rebels make the choice to fight for the cause of freedom, they stand to lose family, work, home, community, relationships. They know they may well be tortured or killed. The frightening thing is that while this is a fictional story, in many parts of the world that kind of risk is an everyday reality. I wanted to put my characters through that test and find out whether they were strong enough to endure it. And I wanted to know what happened afterwards!

The second inspiration was my love of Scotland. I grew up in Dunedin, a very Scottish part of New Zealand, and my ancestry is mostly Scots. I had a lot of fun creating Alban, which is sort-of-Scotland – the story does not fit into real history and I’ve taken liberties with the geography. I did include some uncanny beings from Scots folklore, such as an urisk and a trow. And I invented new ones, like the stanie mon, a gigantic rock creature who can only be summoned by reciting a particular kind of rhyming couplet. As soon as I began writing the series, the cast of Good Folk began talking in Scots, some broadly, some less broadly. Not historically accurate, but sometimes these things seem to write themselves.


What do you love most about writing?
Making a connection with my readers. That link can be so powerful it feels like magic. I’m sure I am not the only writer who has a sense of ancestral memory working through her, almost as if the stories are true, or were once true, and I am just writing down what those old, old storytellers whisper in my ears. 

I love hearing from readers that my books have got them interested in reading again; or that reading my books has inspired their own creative work, whether that is writing or painting or something else. And I love the messages telling me that one or other of my novels has helped a reader through a difficult time in her life. As a druid, I believe in the power of storytelling for teaching and healing, and those letters reinforce that belief for me.


What are the best 5 books you've read recently?
I really enjoyed The Blue Mile by Kim Kelly, a historical novel set in Sydney during the construction of the Harbour Bridge. I also liked Anne Gracie’s The Winter Bride, the second in her Chance Sisters Regency romance series – Anne’s novels evoke the period wonderfully, and the romance conventions never stop her from creating characters who are real individuals. 

I loved Following Atticus by Tom Ryan – a beautifully written memoir about a man, his dog and the remarkable connection with wild nature they made together. Then there was Donna Tartt’s 700-odd page novel The Goldfinch, which I raced through. Tartt has the winning combination of literary cleverness and fine storytelling. Last but not least, The One Plus One by a favourite author, JoJo Moyes, who writes both historical and contemporary fiction. This is a contemporary novel and I think it’s one of her best ¬– a love story, a family story, a road trip, all sorts of things. 


As you can see, I haven’t been reading much fantasy!


What lies ahead of you in the next year? 
Dreamer’s Pool, first book in the Blackthorn & Grim series, comes out in October here in Australia, and November in the US. The Blackthorn & Grim series combines history, fairytale and mystery, and features a pair of protagonists who are a bit older and more damaged than my usual – they were great to write. I’m currently working on the second novel in the series. Travel-wise, I’ll be in London for the Historical Novelists Society conference in September, and will have a week in Italy on the way home. I’m a guest at Supanova in Brisbane and Adelaide in November. 2015 will see me tackling the third Blackthorn & Grim novel and a children’s book for Christmas Press, which I’m very excited about. 


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

BOOK REVIEW: The Shadowfell Trilogy by Juliet Marillier

Monday, July 07, 2014

Nothing makes me happier than a new Juliet Marillier book! She is best known for her gorgeous thick historical fantasy novels for adults, but she has also written smaller novels for young adults (no less gorgeous, however!) 

Today on the blog I am reviewing the three books in her YA fantasy trilogy SHADOWFELL. My review of the first book was published in The Sydney Morning herald, and the reviews of the second two on my blog: 




J.R.R. Tolkien once said, ''The realm of fairy-story is wide and deep and high and filled with many things. All manner of beasts and birds are found there; shoreless seas and stars uncounted; beauty that is an enchantment, and an ever-present peril; both joy and sorrow as sharp as swords''.

Of all the fantasy writers in Australia and, perhaps, even the world, I think Juliet Marillier best captures this view of the realm of the faerie as a place of beauty and wonder and danger.

Her latest fantasy novel for young adults, Shadowfell, is an exquisitely written tale of love, fear, faith and difficult choices. It is set in a world where the Good Folk - fey creatures with strange, magical powers - live hidden in the trees, rocks and shadows.

One young woman, named Neryn, has the gift of Canny Eyes, which allows her to see the Good Folk even when they wish to stay out of sight. But this gift puts Neryn in peril, for her world is ruled by a usurper-king who fears and despises any magic. The king's soldiers hunt down fairy creatures and any human who has a magical gift, subjecting many to the terrible practice of mind-scraping, which turns them into halfwits.

The king knows of Neryn and her gift, and has set his soldiers to hunt her down. A young man, Flint, helps her escape the soldiers, but his past is shadowed with mystery and Neryn must choose whether it is safe to trust him. Her journey towards the rebel stronghold of Shadowfell becomes a series of tests, in which she must prove herself worthy of an old prophecy for the salvation of the land.

Reduced to a few lines, the plot of Shadowfell seems familiar to anyone who has read a great deal of young-adult fantasy, but as with any novel, it is the execution of the story that makes it sing. Marillier is a consummate craftswoman.

The book is perfectly composed, and the writing is lyrical and full of grace. Fifteen-year-old Neryn's confusion and fear will speak to any girl of the same age, and the mystery around the true identity of her rescuer is handled masterfully.

Born in New Zealand but now living in Western Australia, Marillier has won numerous awards, including the YALSA 2007 Best Book for Young Adults for Wildwood Dancing, and in 2008 the Sir Julius Vogel Award for Best Young Adult Novel for its sequel, Cybele's Secret. She has also won numerous Aurealis Awards for her adult historical fantasy novels, including Daughter of the Forest and Heart's Blood.

In a lifetime of reading and study, Marillier has steeped herself in myth, legend and folklore, and her intuitive knowledge of the patterns and motifs of storytelling underpin the whole novel.

Marillier has said, ''Many fantasy stories … tap into the archetypal themes of mythology, which involve the highest stakes - defeating evil, saving the world, being happy ever after … [however] that need not involve slaying a dragon or saving the whole of Middle Earth, it can be an individual, personal journey to enlightenment''.

Since Shadowfell is both a heroic quest and a coming-of-age story with a gently handled romance element, it is bound to appeal to any girl aged 13 or above. I cannot recommend this book highly enough.


Raven Flight – Juliet Marillier
Juliet Marillier is one of my all-time favourite authors and a new book from her is always reason to celebrate. So when Raven Flight appeared in my mailbox, I gave a little jump of joy and read it straightaway. Raven Flight is Book 2 in the Shadowfell series. I loved Shadowfell and it made my List of Best Books 2012 - the books are 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.  



The Caller – Juliet Marillier
This is the third and last book in Juliet Marillier’s gorgeous YA fantasy Shadowfell trilogy. I have really enjoyed these books, which are, as always with Juliet’s books, filled with wit, warmth and wisdom. You must read them in order – Shadowfell, Raven Flight, then The Caller – as the books tell the story of the continuing adventures of Neryn and her journey to understand and control her magical talents as a Caller. Set in a land very much like ancient Scotland, with all manner of extraordinary faery creatures, the Shadowfell books weave together history, fantasy, folklore and ancient wisdoms to create a beautiful and powerful story. These books are a perfect read for a dreamy, romantic teenage girl – I love them now but oh! How I would have loved them when I was fifteen. 

You may enjoy an interview I did with Juliet Marillier a couple of years ago ... and later this week I'll be running a guest post from her on ways to improve your writing, plus another quick interview.

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

BOOK REVIEW: Thornspell by Helen Lowe

Monday, May 12, 2014




Title:
Thornspell
Author:  Helen Lowe 
Publisher:  Knopf Books for Young Readers 
Age Group & Genre: Fairy Tale Retelling/Fantasy for Young Adults
Reviewer: Kate Forsyth
Source of Book: I don’t remember! I either bought it or Helen sent it to me …


What I Thought: 
New Zealand writer Helen Lowe reimagines the Sleeping Beauty story from the point of view of the prince in this beautiful, romantic fantasy for young adults. Prince Sigismund has grown up in a castle whose gardens and parklands are surrounded by a deep, tangled forest. He is kept locked away from the world, and so longs for adventures like the ones in the stories he loves so much – fantastical tales of knights-errant and heroic quests, faie enchantments and shape-shifting dragons. 

One day a beautiful and mysterious lady in a fine carriage speaks to him through the castle gates, and Sigismund's world begins to change. He dreams of a raggedy girl trapped in thorns, and a castle that lies sleeping … soon he is caught up in an adventure as perilous and strange as that of any story he had ever heard …

I absolutely adored this book! I love fairy tale retellings, especially ones that are full of magic, peril, and romance, and ‘Thornspell’ is one of the best I’ve ever read. It reminded me of Robin McKinley’s early books, which are still among my favourite fairy tale retellings. ‘Thornspell’ very deservedly won the Sir Julius Vogel Award for Best YA Novel – it’s a must red for anyone who loves fairy-tale-inspired YA fantasy.

Interested in other fairy tale retellings I have loved? Here's a list!


Helen's website 

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





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.


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