Singing My Sister Down And Other Stories by Margo Lanagan

singing my sister downTitle: Singing My Sister Down and Other Short Stories

Author: Margo Lanagan

Genre: Fiction, Short Stories

Publisher: Allen and Unwin

Published: 26th January. 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 208

Price: $19.99

Synopsis: An outstanding collection of thirteen short stories from the internationally acclaimed, multi-award winning author of Sea Hearts and Tender Morsels.

‘We all went down to the tar-pit, with mats to spread our weight.’ So begins ‘Singing My Sister Down’, Margo Lanagan’s internationally acclaimed, award-winning short story.

Singing My Sister Down and Other Stories brings together ten celebrated short stories, along with three new ones, from the extraordinarily talented author of Tender Morsels and Sea Hearts.

A bride accepts her devastating punishment. A piece of the moon is buried. A ferryman falls into the Styx. Wee Willie Winkie brings a waking nightmare. A new father dresses a fallen warrior princess. A sniper picks off clowns one by one. Margo Lanagan’s stories will stay with you, haunting you with their quiet beauty and fine balance.

 

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aww2017-badgeSinging My Sister Down And Other Stories by Margo Lanagan brings together a collection of surreal, fantastical and timeless short stories. They are not interconnected, but each reflect on the human condition, and aspects of the fantastical. In the title story, Singing My Sister Down, a bride is forced to accept a devastating punishment while her family watches and assists – it is heartbreaking and yet, has a feeling of fairy tale or the distant past, where punishments were harsh. One story, Ferryman, draws on Greek Mythology and the underworld, with the ferryman of the River Styx falling into the river he crosses every day, ferrying the recently departed to the Underworld to live with Hades and Persephone. Not All Ogre is an unusual retelling of Sleeping Beauty, with a not so happy ending for the sleeping princess. These are just three of the thirteen stories that are included in this anthology, and that evoke a sense of timelessness mixed with a fairy tale or mythical feel. Another story shows a more sinister side to the Wee Willie Winkie nursery rhyme.

 

Each story is written in first person, and set in undetermined times and places, and at times, drawing on myth and fairy tale to create the story. This gives each story an eerie feel, but at the same time, it works really well, allowing the reader to immerse themselves in the stories that Lanagan has written. In some tales, the sinister side of tradition and fairy tales or nursery rhymes emerge –Wee Willie Winkie is shown as a living nightmare, a world where the worst dreams come true and haunt people for a long time. Yet others are more surreal, where I was unsure about the setting and plot and characters – yet at the same time, show a world that is not quite perfect at times, but idealised through the eyes of some of the narrators. The characters are all flawed, but driven by their own natures and desires towards the final outcomes of each story.

 

Within each story, Margo Lanagan has created a world we can recognise – the world of human nature and human flaws, not a physical world. It is lyrical and full of rich language and imagery that makes each read compelling, something that I didn’t want to set aside. It is another book that can be devoured or savoured, and I tried to do both, wanting to know how each story ended, yet not wanting to finish it too quickly.

 

In most anthologies, the stories can be linked by a theme, or even a series of characters or other plot devices. Yet in Singing My Sister Down, each story is its own entity, and yet, this works. I liked the different stories and characters within each tale, alternating between timeless worlds or worlds of magic and wonder, or unknown worlds hinting at a non-human existence. She does all of this in a wonderful way that captures the imagination and brings together ideas of what makes us human – and how an individual might deal with certain circumstances. If I had to pick a favourite, or at least one that sticks with me, it is probably Not All Ogre – I recognised the fairy tale motifs and this was exquisitely done, even though the conclusion and events that led to the conclusion were unexpected. I think this worked well for this tale in particular, leading the reader to believe one thing and then allowing another to happen – this made it intriguing and memorable.

 

A good read for young adult and adult readers. It can be read in a few days, and I hope to revisit it.

 

 Booktopia

Under The Same Sky by Mogjan Shamsalipoor and Milad Jafari with James Knight

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Title: Under the Same Sky
Author: Mojgan Shamsalipoor and Milad Jafari with James Knight
Genre: Non-fiction, biography
Publisher: Hachette Australia
Published: 26th April 2017
Format: Paperback
Pages: 331
Price: $32.99
Synopsis: The powerful and incredibly moving story of Mojgan Shamsalipoor and Milad Jafari – two young Iranian asylum seekers who are showing that the power of love can conquer all obstacles.
After fleeing their homeland, Australian refugee policies threaten to tear this young couple apart. An unforgettable story of love, hope and a quest for freedom.
At seventeen, all Mojgan Shamsalipoor wanted was to be safe from physical and sexual abuse, go to school, and to eventually marry for love. In Iran, she was denied all of this.
Milad Jafari was a shy teenage boy who found his voice as a musician. But the rap music he loved was illegal in his country. All Milad’s father, a key maker, builder and shopkeeper, wanted was for his family to live free from the fear of arrest, imprisonment or execution. To do that they all had to flee Iran.
Mojgan and Milad met in Australia. But in the months between their separate sea voyages, the Australian government changed the way asylum seekers were treated. Though Milad is recognised as a refugee and will soon become a proud Australian citizen, Mojgan has been told she cannot stay here even though the threat of imprisonment and further abuse, or worse, means she can’t return to Iran.
UNDER THE SAME SKY, is a powerful insight into the human face of asylum seekers and the way history has shaped the lives of these two young people. It also shows the compassion alive in our suburbs. For Mojgan and Milad, their love keeps their hopes alive.

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Under the Same Sky is the story of Mojgan and Milad’s lives in Iran, and their escape as asylum seekers to Australia. In Iran, both led very different lives under a regime that restricted what women could do, and promoted one religion over all others, persecuting anyone who didn’t fall into line with what the government dictated to them. Eventually, both their families saw the need to flee: Milad’s together, and Mojgan with one of her older brothers, Hossein. With the government as it was, each had to pretend they were only headed to Indonesia for holidays, and that they would return to Iran. Doing it this way, they were able to leave, yet still had to find a way to Australia, where they hoped to find safety. In each chapter, Mojgan and Milad tell their story as their journeys progress, and in some ways, they had similar journeys, but in other ways, their experiences as asylum seekers and refugees differed.

After traumatic events that led to Mojgan and Hossein fleeing Iran for Australia – with the uncertainty of their fate and the fate of the family members they had had to leave behind, and months spent in detention, the two met at a Baha’i camp, and became good friends, and eventually, started dating. However, the government had decided on Mojgan and Hossein’s fate – they had not been granted visas and after months of living in community detention, and a relationship, and marriage between Mojgan and Milad, the brother and sister were sent back to detention, where they were again in limbo, awaiting decisions.

Throughout these turbulent times, Milad, his family and the friends and teachers Mojgan had met at Yeronga at school began fighting for her to be freed, and returned to a safe home with people who cared about her. This fight is included in the story, in some of the chapters told by James Knight, who gives a lot of background to the instability of Iran and the changing attitudes towards asylum seekers and refugees and their treatment. Mojgan’s experiences in detention affected her deeply –even though she wasn’t always harshly treated, the instances she was, and the guards who were rough with her stood out in her mind. Even the guards who tried to help her , who were nice, couldn’t fully erase these experiences.

At the time of the publication of the book and the writing of this review, a final decision is yet to be made and Mojgan and Hossein, though now living with Milad and his family, are still in limbo.

Mojgan and Milad’s story sheds light on an issue that is fraught with complexities and often simplified in the media – which does not always allow for in depth discussion. Mogjan, Milad and James all acknowledge throughout the complexities, especially in the constantly changing attitudes at the political level and in public opinion about refugees, illustrated by interviews with teachers who knew Mogjan and Milad, and quotes from papers about refugees and asylum seekers and references to speeches by the former Minister for Immigration, Scott Morrison. What these do is to establish the political backdrop of Australia, and in a way, contrast it against what Milad and Mojgan ran from – the stark contrast of a dictatorship like Iran, whose government demanded to know the whereabouts of Mogjan long after she left, and the freedom of Australia that they sought but that they were unsure they would ever gain. James Knight’s statements are supportive of those who helped Mogjan and Milad, and less supportive of the government of the time. Some come across as political because issues of asylum seekers and refugees can never be divorced from politics, but I feel like he fell short of outright condemnation and name-calling.

It was an interesting book to read, because it presented a side to the issue not often seen, and one that maybe, should be given more attention. Cases such as Mogjan and Milad’s, where they’ve fled danger and persecution, and simply want a safer life, are the ones we should be hearing about as well as any negative stories that come out. Reading it, I felt moved and shocked by what Mogjan had gone through in Iran and detention. It is only their experiences of fleeing and people smugglers, and becoming asylum seekers. It touches on the issue of how difficult it can be to leave a place like Iran for good. I recommend it for anyone interested in human rights and those wanting to know about the experience from the perspective of someone who has been there.

Stars Across the Ocean by Kimberley Freeman

stars across the ocean

Title: Stars Across the Ocean

Author: Kimberley Freeman

Genre: Fiction, Historical Fiction

Publisher: Hachette Australia

Published: 26th April 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 450

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: The powerful new novel from Kimberley Freeman.

A rich and satisfying story of two women with indomitable spirits and the high costs they have to pay for being strong-minded, from the author of the bestselling LIGHTHOUSE BAY and EMBER ISLAND.

1874: Only days before she is to leave the foundling home where she grew up, Agnes Resolute discovers that, as a baby, she had been abandoned with a small token of her mother: a unicorn button.

Agnes always believed her mother had been too poor to keep her, but after working as a laundress in the home she recognises the button as belonging to Genevieve Breckby, the beautiful and headstrong daughter of a local noble family. Agnes had seen Genevieve once, in the local village, and had never forgotten her.

Despite having no money, Agnes will risk everything in a quest that will take her from the bleak moors of northern England to the harsh streets of London, then on to Paris and Ceylon. As Agnes follows her mother’s trail, she makes choices that could cost her dearly. Finally, in Australia, she tracks Genevieve down. But is Genevieve capable of being the mother Agnes hopes she will be?

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aww2017-badgeStars Across the Ocean opens in the present, in first person. Victoria, or Tori as she prefers, has travelled from Australia to England to assist her ailing mother, who following an accident at work, is recovering in a rehabilitation centre. Tori is sent by her mother to her office to recover some work she has, and in the process, Tori finds a letter from about 1855: To My Child, Whom I Could Not Keep. And so begins Tori’s adventure into the past, via this letter, which abruptly ends and transitions from the first person perspective of Tori in the present and the letter, to 1874, third person, and Agnes.

Agnes Resolute is a foundling child of Perdita Hall in Hatby, Yorkshire. She has lived there for nineteen years, since her abandonment as a baby, with only a unicorn button the only clue to her past. Putting together her memories of a young woman named Genevieve from Breckby Hall, and a connection to the button, Agnes sets off on a journey to London, where she becomes the companion to Marianna Breckby, Genevieve’s sister and someone whom Agnes hopes, can help her find Genevieve.

Her time in London is cut short as she travels to Paris, where Genevieve’s son, Marianna’s nephew, Julius, finds her and listens to her story, and decides to help her find out about her family, telling her a few secrets of his own that make her question their relationship and what they might mean to each other. From Paris, Agnes travels alone to Ceylon to find Genevieve, and instead, finds a former lover, whose stories about Genevieve lead Agnes to Melbourne, Australia and the theatres. It is here that Agnes hopes to find Genevieve and have her questions answered,

Throughout the novel, it flicks back to the present as Tori struggles to put the letter together, with several sections missing, and whilst she is trying to solve the mystery of the letter, she is also struggling with her own demons back home in Australia, the lack of contact with her husband, and her ailing mother, who seems to need constant care.

It is a story about a young woman finding her place in the world, and reuniting with a mother who wanted her despite her family, and finding an unexpected love in the process. The romance was done exceptionally well, because the characters were given a chance to be their own people first and foremost; Agnes was allowed to be her own woman for a time, and find answers to questions she had had for years. It was a small part of the novel, but at the same time, a nice addition to a story that became about knowing who you are and not accepting what other people expected of you. There are two endings to this – the ending to Agnes’ story and the ending to Tori’s story. One was satisfying in many ways, and the other was a little abrupt, though realistic in relation to the plot. However, this second ending still left me wanting to know more, and wanting to know what else Tori and her mother would find out.

A delightful historical fiction story set in Victorian London, with a heroine who in some ways, fits into the gender expectations of the time but is still her own person and refuses to be tied down – the kind of character who can spread her wings when she wants to, and come home when she needs to. It is a lovely tale, and I hope to read it again soon.

A great read for lovers of historical fiction, and anyone who has read and enjoyed authors such as Kate Forsyth.

Booktopia

2017 Sydney Writer’s Festival

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The Sydney Writer’s Festival is held annually across various precincts of Sydney, with many ticketed and free events across the five days of the festival. This year, the dates are the 22nd to the 28th of May.

Each year, the Sydney Writer’s Festival presents over 300 events, with audiences of over 100,000 people over the week travelling to the harbourside events and many other precincts that host the festival. Whilst the hear of the festival is at heritage wharves in Walsh Bay, there are also events at the Sydney Opera House, Sydney Town Hall, the suburbs of Sydney and the Blue Mountains. The spread of these events means many can participate, but planning a day or days will need to be done carefully, to ensure getting to and from venues that aren’t that close.

One such event this year is the Keeping Company: Characters Across A Series, where Lynette Noni (Medoran Chronciles, Pantera Press) will be appearing and talking about writing characters in a series, as the title suggests. Other YA authors including Garth Nix will be in attendance. This could be a very interesting panel, but all of them sound good, and it is very hard to choose which ones to attend and which locations to focus on when booking and choosing.

The list of authors is diverse, from well-known authors to ones that might not be well-known but are just as good.

The Sydney Writer’s Festival unites writers from various forms of writing and backgrounds, including the best contemporary novelists, screenwriters, musicians and writers of non-fiction – some of the world’s leading public intellectuals, scientists and journalists. The finest writing and story telling are at the core of the Sydney Writer’s Festival; the programming is diverse and is driven by ideas and issues that animate a broad spectrum of literature.

The program is live, and you are able to purchase tickets and book events, as well as exploring the program to see what events will be the best options for you to attend.

There are many wonderful authors appearing at the festival this year, including S.D. Gentill, author of the Hero Trilogy, published by Pantera Press, who is hosting a Mining Mythology event on the Tuesday. Her trilogy delves into Greek Mythology and the idea of heroes and betrayal. Other events and authors will cover specific books, or genres of writing, and even hot button topics that can have an impact on what and sometimes how we write.

This is a festival that I hope to be able to go to, if I can decide on the events I would like to attend, as there are a few that interest me.

Booktopia

The 2017 Richell Prize is open.

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The 2017 Richell Prize for Emerging Writers, sponsored by Hachette in partnership with The Guardian Australia and The Emerging Writer’s Festival is open for submissions. It is a prize that is awarded annually, and it is now in its third year, honouring Matt Richell, Hachette Australia’s former CEO, who died suddenly in 2014.

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THE KEY DATES FOR THIS YEAR’S PRIZE:

ENTRIES OPEN: 27th March, 2017

ENTRIES CLOSE: 3rd July, 2017

WINNER ANNOUNCED: 1st November, 2017

From the Press Release:

Hachette Australia, along with the Richell family, is honoured to launch the third year of The Richell Prize for Emerging Writers, in partnership with The Guardian Australia and The Emerging Writers’ Festival (EWF). 

‘Hachette Australia’s core purpose is to contribute to the development and health of Australian culture through the power of storytelling, The Richell Prize is integral to that aim, and we are so proud to once again offer this prize to emerging writers’ – Fiona Hazard, Publishing Director – Hachette Australia.

‘The Richell Prize has opened, and continues to open, so many wonderful doors, from the support, interest and expert advice given by Hachette Australia and many others to renewed self-confidence in the writing process.  It is a unique, exciting and generous prize, a real game-changer that keeps on giving’ – Sally Abbott, author of the forthcoming CLOSING DOWN (to be published by Hachette Australia in May 2017) and winner of the inaugural Richell Prize for Emerging Writers (2015).

The Prize is once again open to unpublished writers of adult fiction and adult narrative non-fiction. Writers do not need to have a full manuscript at the time of submission, though they must intend to complete one. The Prize will be judged on the first three chapters of the submitted work, along with a synopsis outlining the direction of the proposed work and detail about how the author’s writing career would benefit from winning the Prize.

‘The Richell Prize provides a unique opportunity for an emerging writer in that it not only comes with a cash prize – which directly translates into time to write and further develop craft – but also a 12-month mentorship with one of Hachette Australia’s expert publishers. The prize can provide a foot in the door to the publishing industry not only for the winner, but also other entrants and shortlisted writers.’ – Izzy Roberts – Orr, Creative Director of the Emerging Writers’ Festival

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The winner of the Richell Prize receives $10,000 in prize money from Hachette Australia, a year’s mentorship with a publisher at Hachette, and the winning writer will work with Hachette to develop their manuscript – with Hachette receiving first option to consider the finished work and the shortlisted entries for publcation.

There have been two winners so far:

2015 – Sally Abbott – Closing Down, published in May 2017, and a shortlisted author from the same year – Brodie Lancaster – No Way! Okay, Fine to be published in July this year.

All details of the award can be found at www.emergingwritersfestival.org.au and www.hachette.com.au.

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Booktopia

Aurealis Awards

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Established in 1995 by Chimaera Publications, the publishers of Aurealis magazine, to recognise the achievements of Australian writers of fantasy, science fiction and horror. These awards are intended to complement the Ditmar Awards of the Annual Australian National Science Fiction Convention and the Australian Children’s Book Council Awards, as well as the various other state and national literary awards such as the Stella Prize, as none of these awards distinguishes the different categories of speculative fiction that fantasy, horror and science fiction fit into.

 

Out of these winners, I have read the Best Children’s Fiction recipient, When the Lyrebird Calls by Kim Kane, and the winner of the Convenor’s Award for Excellence, The Rebirth of Rapunzel by Kate Forsyth.

 

Congratulations to the winners.

 

 

The 2016 Winners are listed below:

 

Congratulations to the winners of the 2016 Aurealis Awards!

BEST CHILDREN’S FICTION

When the Lyrebird Calls, Kim Kane (Allen & Unwin)lyrebird

 

BEST GRAPHIC NOVEL / ILLUSTRATED WORK

Negative Space, Ryan K Lindsay (Dark Horse Comics)

 

BEST YOUNG ADULT SHORT STORY

“Pretty Jennie Greenteeth”, Leife Shallcross (Strange Little Girls, Belladonna Publishing)

 

BEST HORROR SHORT STORY

“Flame Trees”, TR Napper (Asimov’s Science Fiction, April/May 2016)

 

BEST HORROR NOVELLA

“Burnt Sugar”, Kirstyn McDermott (Dreaming in the Dark, PS Australia)

 

BEST FANTASY SHORT STORY

“Where the Pelican Builds Her Nest”, Thoraiya Dyer (In Your Face, FableCroft Publishing)

 

BEST FANTASY NOVELLA

“Forfeit”, Andrea K Höst (The Towers, the Moon, self-published)

 

BEST SCIENCE FICTION SHORT STORY

“Of Sight, of Mind, of Heart”, Samantha Murray (Clarkesworld #122)

 

BEST SCIENCE FICTION NOVELLA

“Salto Mortal”, Nick T Chan (Lightspeed #73)

 

BEST COLLECTION

A Feast of Sorrows, Angela Slatter (Prime Books)

 

BEST ANTHOLOGY

Year’s Best YA Speculative Fiction 2015, Julia Rios and Alisa Krasnostein (eds.) (Twelfth Planet Press)

 

BEST YOUNG ADULT NOVEL

Lady Helen and the Dark Days Pact, Alison Goodman (HarperCollins Publishers)

 

BEST HORROR NOVEL

The Grief Hole, Kaaron Warren (IFWG Publishing Australia)

 

BEST FANTASY NOVEL

Nevernight, Jay Kristoff (Harper Voyager)

 

BEST SCIENCE FICTION NOVEL

Gemina: Illuminae Files 2, Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff (Allen & Unwin)

 

THE CONVENORS’ AWARD FOR EXCELLENCE

The Rebirth of Rapunzel: A Mythic Biography of the Maiden in the Tower, Kate Forsyth (FableCroft Publishing)

 

Congratulations to the 2016 winners, announced on .the 14th of April, 2017.

The Stella Prize 2017

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In 2013, The Stella Prize, a major literary award that celebrates Australian women’s writing and Australian women writers was established. Named after one of Australia’s most iconic female writers, Stella Maria Sarah “Miles” Franklin, The Stella Prize seeks to:

  • Recognise and celebrate Australian women writers’ contribution to literature
  • Bring more readers to books by women and thus increase their sales
  • Provide role models for schoolgirls and emerging female writers
  • Reward one writer with a $50,000 prize – money that buys a writer some measure of financial independence and thus time, that most undervalued yet necessary commodity for women, to focus on their writing,

aww2017-badgeThe Stella Prize also participates in the Stella Count, looking at how many male and female writers are reviewed each year for newspapers. This count is conducted to understand reading and reviewing habits, and hopefully, highlight more women writers, authors of various sexualities, ethnicities, race and gender identities, and also disabilities. The Australian Women Writer’s Challenge encourages this too – in reading more women writers whose identity can be made of one, or several of these distinctions, the profile of women writers is highlighted.

The Stella Prize has been running for five years. Below are the winners for each year, from the most recent to the earliest prize:

2017 Winner

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The Museum of Modern Love by Heather Rose “The Museum of Modern Love is an unusual and remarkable achievement, a meditation on the social, spiritual and artistic importance of seeing and being seen. It is rare to encounter a novel with such powerful characterisation, such a deep understanding of the consequences of personal and national history, and such dazzling and subtle explorations of the importance of art in everyday life.”

2017 Shortlist

Between a Wolf and a Dog by Georgia Blain

The Hate Race by Maxine Beneba Clark

Poum and Alexandre by Catherine de Saint Phalle

The Museum of Modern Love by Heather Rose (Winner)

Dying: A Memoir by Cory Taylor

2017 Longlist:

Between a Wolf and a Dog by Georgia Blain

The Hate Race by Maxine Beneba Clark

Poum and Alexandre by Catherine de Saint Phalle

The Museum of Modern Love by Heather Rose (Winner)

Dying: A Memoir by Cory Taylor

Victoria by Julia Baird

Offshore by Madeline Gleeson

The High Places by Fiona McFarlane

Avalanche by Julia Lee

Wasted by Elspeth Muir

The Media and the Massacre by Sonya Voumard

2016 Winner

The Natural Way of Things by Charlotte Wood

 

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2015 Winner

The Strays by Emily Bitto

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2014 Winner

The Forgotten Rebels of Eureka by Claire Wright

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2013 Winner

Mateship with Birds by Carrie Tiffany

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Link to the website with the short and long lists for each year: http://thestellaprize.com.au/

I haven’t read many of the winners or the short and long list books yet, but have Burial Rites by Hannah Kent (2014), and The Golden Age by Joan London (2015) and a few undecided titles on my want to read list. I look forward to trying to read a few this year, and seeing what next year brings.

By these books here: