Eloise and the Bucket of Stars by Janeen Brian

eloise and the bucket of starsTitle: Eloise and the Bucket of Stars

Author: Janeen Brian

Genre: Historical Fiction, Magical Realism

Publisher: Walker Books Australia

Published: 1st June 2020

Format: Paperback

Pages: 240

Price: $16.99

Synopsis: Left in a pail at an orphanage as a baby, only something magical can save Eloise from a miserable life and give her the one she’s always dreamed of.

Orphaned as a baby, Eloise Pail yearns for a family. Instead, she lives a lonely life trapped in an orphanage and made miserable by the cruel Sister Hortense. Befriended by the village blacksmith, Eloise soon uncovers some strange secrets of yesteryear and learns that something terrible may be about to happen to the village. As troubles and dangers mount, she must learn who to trust and choose between saving the village or belonging to a family of her own. Unless something truly magical happens…

  • A powerful tale of how magic weaves its way into the real world.
  • Explores themes of belonging, what it takes to be a friend and what constitutes a family.


Eloise has spent her whole life in an orphanage run by the cruel Sister Hortense. Sisters Genevieve and Bernard, Sister Genevieve in particular, try to help Eloise, and make things a little more bearable for her. Eloise has never been adopted – trapped in a cruel place that doesn’t value her. Her only place of solace and friendship with the local blacksmith, and his horse, Dancy. Her lessons with Sister Genevieve are cut shortly after Janie Pritchard, a newly orphaned girl arrives. At first, Eloise wants nothing to do with her, but the two soon become friends, and start to unravel the mystery of the poisoned water, and the unicorn stories that Sister Genevieve has told them.

Eloise wants a family more than anything – but Sister Hortense has a secret that has prevented this from happening and will do anything to punish and break Eloise, making her watch the Littlies get adopted and leave the orphanage with new families, and punishing her when she starts to look happy. But with a curse threatening the village, and whispers about men wanting to hunt the unicorn for their own gain. What will Eloise sacrifice to save the unicorn and her village?

Eloise and the Bucket of stars is a charming, delightful and magical story – set in an orphanage during Victorian times, it shows the hardships faced by orphans, and the treatment they received in places like the orphanage Eloise lived in. It also shows how harmful beliefs can be when taken to the extreme and the lengths people like Sister Hortense will go to protect dark secrets – even from those they work with, just to make sure they’re not outed as what drives her to punish Eloise.

AWW2020At its core, this is a story about friendship, being yourself and family – and what makes a family. How does someone like Eloise find a family, and find love, when every time she finds herself in a place where she is happy, it is taken away from her. The world is shown through Eloise’s eyes – and you truly feel for her. Eloise drives this story, and it is slow and lyrical on purpose – we’re meant to feel the drudgery and frustrations of Eloise’s daily life, and her feelings of hopelessness. It is gentle yet when action is required, it happens when and where it needs to.

Family and friendship are strong themes here, where the characters let their individuality, and bonds of friendship shine through the uniformity that Sister Hortense forces upon them. Sully, the cook, is one of Eloise’s friends. Everyone can see how Sister Hortense treats Eloise – but what will make her realise she needs to stop?

This tender story is about finding family and following your heart, and never giving up on your beliefs or compromising for anyone. Staying true to yourself and your dreams is a message at the core of this novel, and it moves gently and eloquently through towards this goal. It is one of those novels that demands time be spent with it to take everything in and let it sink in properly, following Eloise on her journey – the physical journey to get water every day and her own inner journey to finding family and friendship. It is Janie who sparks this journey and what will happen in the second half of the novel, and Janeen has created a beautiful story that will be beloved by many for years to come.

I loved this book – it evoked the same sense of wonder that The Secret Garden did all those years ago, with an orphaned child discovering magic beyond what she could ever imagine in a mundane world that didn’t appreciate her at first. Orphans are common in children’s literature and dealing with them in gentle ways, and each story is of course different, and this one had a sense of magic and wonder about it that many don’t, which is what made it so special and why I really enjoyed it, and hope that younger readers do as well.

Isolation Publicity with Kylie Howarth


Due to recent events, many Australian authors have had to cancel book launches and festival appearances. For some, this means new novels, series continuations and debut novels are heading into this scary, strange world without much publicity or attention. The good news is, you can still buy books – online or get your local bookstore to deliver if they’re offering that service. Buying these books, talking about them, sharing them, reading them, reviewing them – are all ways that for the next six months at least, we can ensure that these books don’t fall by the wayside.

Howarth Headshot small
Kylie Howarth

Over the next few months, a lot of us will be consuming some form of art – entertainment, movies, TV, radio, music, books – the list goes on. It is something we will be turning to take our minds off things and to occupy vast swathes of free time. One of the things I will be doing to support the arts, and specifically, Australian Authors, will be reading and reviewing as many books as possible, conducting interviews like this where possible, and participating in virtual book tours for authors.


Kylie Howarth is the author of several picture books, and the new Fish Kid series. The second Fish Kid book was released in March, as restrictions started coming in, and would have had launches and events cancelled. It looks like a really fun series, too. Like many authors, Kylie has turned to online publicity – the best we can do in these times, across as many channels as possible. I hope this interview helps more readers find their way to Kylie’s work.



Hi Kylie and welcome to The Book Muse

  1. You write and illustrate books – did you start with illustrating or writing, and when did you begin to combine the two?


Initially a friend approached me to see if I’d illustrate a book she’d written. We soon discovered that was not the way things are usually done in the publishing industry. This sparked something in me though, so from there I began writing and illustrating my own stories and was lucky enough to find a publisher who was keen to acquire them.

  1. Can you tell my readers about your illustration process, and the mediums you work with?

I love to use my children’s paintings as background textures in my books. We have messy backyard art sessions, then I scan the textures we create into my computer. I’d usually draw all my linework in pencil on paper, then add colour and texture digitally. More recently though, I’ve begun drawing my linework in Procreate and illustrating my books on my iPad.

  1. What style of books do you usually write – picture books or longer works, and what age group do you aim to write for?

I initially started out creating only picture books as these were the type of books I was reading to my children. As they grew and became interested in junior fiction, I began writing and illustrating my Fish Kid chapter book series. I have two books in this series out now, which is great for kids aged 6 – 12 and am currently working on the third. I’m also working on a new picture book which is top secret for now.

  1. When you first submitted to a publisher, what was that process like, and how long did it take you to be accepted?

It took submitting three different picture book manuscripts before I had one accepted. A publisher I met a SCBWI event, was interested in my very first manuscript. She held onto it for a year! I’d sent her another in the meantime and eventually she contacted me to say they weren’t going to take either. She did however ask if I’d consider illustrating another author’s book. I agreed to take a look at the manuscript and at the same time, sent her a third story idea of my own. She picked up the phone five minutes after I’d sent ‘Fish Jam,’ and said she wanted to publish it! She then asked how soon I could get the final artwork to her.


  1. Did you have any new releases coming out in the next few months, and what were they?

Fish Kid and the Mega Manta Ray was just released in March.


  1. Did you have to cancel any events, launches or author appearances due to the pandemic, and if so, what were they?

Yes, my book launch for Fish Kid and the Mega Manta Ray was scheduled for the 29th of March. I’d ordered all the book stock, booked the venue, printed book marks and bought 2 boxes of sea creature lollies. My wonderful friends had bought manta ray cookie cutters, sea creature costumes and shark fin cupcake toppers, as they always help and support my book launches. Unfortunately the launch was cancelled due to the pandemic, so I’ve had to eat a lot of sea creature lollies all by myself.

School workshops and festival events I was booked for were also cancelled.

  1. What do you usually do during school visits, and how many have you had to cancel over the next few months?

At school visits I like to get kids excited about the themes in my books. For my Fish Kid talks I bring along shark egg cases, read out crazy fish facts, show them images of me diving with hammerhead sharks and swimming with humpback whales, and even play them songs on my conch shell! I explain how these experiences inspire the ideas for my stories. Then the kids draw along with me as I show them how to draw sea creatures step-by-step. For the younger kids, I’ll read them my ‘Chip’ picture books, teach them how to draw him, then we have fun brainstorming things we could find on the beach to dress him up in disguise.

I had several visits and events cancelled at the end of last term, as well as a trip to Sydney to promote the Dulux colouring in book I’d recently created. I’d normally start to get a lot of school visit bookings coming in now for Term 2 but that won’t be happening.

In saying that, I’m thrilled that the CBCA have delayed Book Week until Term 4 this year. Term 3 is usually the busiest for authors, and hopefully now, all our Book Week bookings will be postponed rather than cancelled.


  1. Your Fish Kid series looks like fun – what age group is it aimed at, and did you illustrate this series as well?

They are aimed at kids aged 7 – 12 but I’ve found that people of any age enjoy them.

I illustrated the first book in the series, Fish Kid and the Lizard Ninja, using pencil and ink on paper. Then I got my fancy new ipad and actually illustrated the second book digitally. So it’s interesting to compare the two – most people can’t see a difference.

  1. Your website says you run workshops for all ages – how do you alter these presentations for younger children compared to middle grade or young adult readers?

It’s actually fairly easy to adjust to the different age groups. I show them similar images and talk about similar things, but just add more detail for the older groups.

For the kindy kids I’ll print out a template with the basic shape of ‘Chip’ the seagull already on it, and they can add the beak and eyes etc from there. The older kids will get to do a few different drawings, develop their sea creatures further into characters and then begin thinking of story ideas for those characters as well.

  1. What is your favourite thing to draw – either for your books or just for fun?

Definitely sea creatures.


  1. Do you prefer in person events, or online events?

I do like in person events because its wonderful to engage and interact with the kids personally. In saying that, you can still do that to a degree online. You can also wear your Ugg boots!

  1. Favourite medium to work with, and why?

I love the HB pencil brush in Procreate. Working digitally is saving me so much time right now, particularly when I’m working on roughs. I can draw a scene quickly, erase, enlarge and move bits around, then hit ‘share’ and email it straight to my art director. No scanning or cleaning up the scanned images in photoshop.

  1. What inspires your stories and illustrations?

My kids and the adventures we have together. I write stories that I think they will love, about things that they are interested in. We spend a lot of time snorkelling and boating as a family, which is why the ocean is a consistent theme in my books.


  1. As an arts industry worker, what is the most important thing about the arts and supporting the arts for you?

If the pandemic has proved anything, it’s how important the arts really are. Everyone is relying on the arts for enjoyment, schooling, mental health and so many other reasons, right now. Its important to support our creators as the world would be a sad and boring place without us.

  1. Do you have a favourite local bookseller where you live? What do you like about them?

There are some fabulous bookstores in Western Australia and I thank them all for being so supportive of local authors. Paper Bird Children’s Books & Arts are particularly amazing. During the pandemic they’ve been running Home Club live on Instagram, where a different author or illustrator joins them each day, shows you around their studio and does craft and drawing activities with the kids watching. I was supposed to be on this week, but unfortunately tweaked my neck and have been bed ridden, but I’ve certainly enjoyed watching them all! If you don’t catch them live, you can watch the episodes later on YouTube.

Anything I may have missed?

Thank you, Kylie,


Isolation Publicity with Monique Mulligan

Monique having high tea

Due to recent events, many Australian authors have had to cancel book launches and festival appearances. For some, this means new novels, series continuations and debut novels are heading into this scary, strange world without much publicity or attention. The good news is, you can still buy books – online or get your local bookstore to deliver if they’re offering that service. Buying these books, talking about them, sharing them, reading them, reviewing them – are all ways that for the next six months at least, we can ensure that these books don’t fall by the wayside.

Monique’s writing space

Over the next few months, a lot of us will be consuming some form of art – entertainment, movies, TV, radio, music, books – the list goes on. It is something we will be turning to take our minds off things and to occupy vast swathes of free time. One of the things I will be doing to support the arts, and specifically, Australian Authors, will be reading and reviewing as many books as possible, conducting interviews like this where possible, and participating in virtual book tours for authors.



Monique has two books coming out this year – Alexandra Rose and her Icy Cold Toes with Serenity Press in May. The release and launch of this book have been affected by cancellations and her adult book, Wherever You Go, is out in September. So far, events in August and September – from what I can tell from these interviews – haven’t been affected as such yet. It will be interesting to see if they are, and how – if they are cancelled outright or have limited numbers based on distancing laws and how this might affect the overall event – will more time be allowed, or will there be multiple sessions?


brathe (1)

Hi Monique, and Welcome to The Book Muse

Thank you!

1. How did your writing career begin, and where did it begin?

In a way, my career has always involved writing of some sort – from training programs in the Australian Public Service and writing children’s curriculum for an educational publisher, to journalism, news editing, and later, publishing. When did I start writing creatively? After a few false starts around 2004-6, I would say late 2015, when on a whim, I entered a short story competition. My story was Highly Commended and I won a small cash prize. That gave me the confidence to try writing in different genres, but I soon realised what I wanted to do was write novels.

2. You’ve had several books and anthologies published with Serenity Press – what can you tell my readers about these books?

I have such a soft spot for these anthologies (which I also commissioned and edited as then editorial director of Serenity Press) – A Bouquet of Love and Destination Romance. Each one features ten emerging Australian writers and each story is linked to a common setting, such as a bridal shop and a travel agency. My stories are rom-coms – when I write romance, that is what I am drawn to (the same if I read a romance).

3. Do you still work with Serenity Press? If not, what are you focused on now?

I left Serenity Press in 2018 so I could focus more on my own writing. There were so many wonderful things about being a publisher, but I struggled to co-own a business and manage the editorial side, and find time to finish my novel. I also had a part-time job, which I still have, so something had to give.

4. Your new book, Wherever You Go, is out in September – has the COVID-19 health crisis affected any events or launches you have had planned for this, or another book – and also, both as an author and a publisher?

Not yet – it’s at copy edit stage so I haven’t planned launches yet. It’s being published through Pilyara Press and we’ll start looking at the marketing very soon. However, I do have a children’s book coming out next month – Alexandra Rose and her Icy-Cold Toes – with Serenity Press and I need to come up with some strategies for that!

5. You’ve worked as a publisher, newspaper editor, journalist, children’s curriculum writer and a magazine editor – what were the things you loved about each of these jobs, and what were their individual challenges?

Each of these jobs brought me wisdom and joy in many ways. As a publisher, I was able to commission some gorgeous books, such as Kate Forsyth’s fairy tale series, and travel to London for the London Book Fair and Northern Ireland for a writing retreat in a castle. But being a publisher was all-consuming and left little time for anything else.

As a journalist, newspaper editor and magazine editor, I had some fantastic experiences and met some wonderful people. But these were all high pressure jobs. I went from a casual journalist to senior journalist in a matter of weeks, and within two years, I was the newspaper editor. Big responsibility and late nights while juggling a growing family was really tough.

I was a curriculum writer when my boys were in the earlier years of primary school and the best thing was that I could work from home (back when this was a new thing) and still do all the school mum things I wanted to do. Funny thing, it paid better than all my other jobs! And they paid for me to fly to Sydney once a year … it was perfect for that time of my life.

6. Did any of the skills and techniques of the above jobs ever cross over?

Absolutely. Interviewing techniques, writing under pressure, knowing how to sell a story to a journalist – these are just some of the skills I carry from one role to another.

7. What is Wherever You Go about, and where did the inspiration come from?

Without giving away too much, Wherever You Go was inspired firstly by a news article that led me to wonder how grief and loss affects a marriage. I’ve always been more interested in how relationships worked than in the romance aspect. Other inspirations included my love of food and cooking, and Bridgetown, Western Australia, a place I’m thinking of moving to one day. Here’s the blurb:

A life-shattering tragedy threatens to tear apart chef Amy Bennet’s marriage. Desperate to save it, she moves with her husband Matt to Blackwood, a country town where no one knows who they are.

Forced to deal with her crumbling marriage and the crippling grief that follows her wherever she goes, Amy turns to what she knows best: cooking. She opens a café showcasing regional seasonal produce, and forms the Around the World Supper Club, serving mouth-watering feasts to new friends. As her passion for food returns, she finds a place for herself in Blackwood. But when a Pandora’s Box of shame and blame is unlocked, Matt gives Amy an ultimatum that takes their marriage to the edge.

8. What do you do/have you done with Stories on Stage?

I founded Stories on Stage in 2012 so my workplace could offer something literary in their arts programming. The events are held in a theatre and combine an in-conversation with a supper (home-made by me). It’s always a great night. Since 2012, I’ve hosted more than 50 Australian authors at Stories on Stage. This year, due to COVID-19, we’ve had to cancel our regular events so we’re starting an online edition. I’m excited because it means I can interview a lot of interstate authors who normally couldn’t make it to Perth.

9. You’ve done a lot of work in the arts sector – what has been the most rewarding thing about working in this industry?

One thing? That’s hard … but I’d have to say the connections I’ve made with such wonderful, talented creators. And the opportunities I’ve had to read early copies of books!

10. When not writing, what do you enjoy doing or reading?

Lots of things. I love cooking for other people. It brings me pleasure to feed people and see them enjoying what I’ve made. And spending time with those I love brings me great joy.

I love taking photos, especially when I travel – so many times, I look at things and think ‘That would make a great photo’. But I also am being mindful of being in the moment and not always trying to capture a moment.

I love going for long walks (uphill, not so much), rambling around the countryside, and seeing new places.

And most nights, I look forward to chilling out with my husband, my cat on my lap, a glass of good wine in my hand, and watching whatever show or movie we’re into at the time. And later, I read, all sorts of books, whatever my mood tells me to read at the time.

11. Have you won any awards for your writing, and what are they?

Once I won first prize for a poem … but that was a long time ago. The closest I’ve come to winning since then is a Highly Commended. But, I don’t enter many things, and like the lottery, you’ve got to be in it to win it.

12. How do you think the arts industry will cope in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, and how can people help support the industry? Also, how important do you think the arts are in this time?

The arts industry has been terribly affected by COVID-19, restricting many creatives in sharing their experiences. It’s really tough when all the gigs that earn money are cancelled and there is such uncertainty about when things will change. But artists are survivors. They will survive, albeit by embracing different ways of sharing their experiences. What I have seen across the arts community is a beautiful ‘pulling together’, wherein artists help each other to share music, story, art and more in innovative ways. I hope this continues, because Art in all its forms has always helped people connect and keep on going.

How can people help? Buy books. Buy art. Buy music. Make the most of the free experiences being offered online. Tell people about it. Review whatever you buy.

13. Do you have any favourite authors or books that you always turn to?

Daphne du Maurier is one of my favourites, especially Rebecca. I’ve read it so many times. I was thrilled to visit a town she lived in for many years – Fowey, in Cornwall. I’ve started writing a gothic-style novel set in the Blue Mountains, NSW, because I love that genre so much. Stories with big old houses and secrets will always tempt me. I also recently discovered Sarah Waters and really admire her writing.

14. Even though I probably know this – favourite writing companion – cat or dog?

My rescue cat Boogle is my treasured writing companion. When it suits her, she sits on my lap while I write. Also, when it suits her, she sits in front of my screen and makes loud huffing noises.

15. Favourite writing snack?

Chips. It’s always potato chips. Original Smiths Crisps will get me every time.

16. Do you have a favourite local bookseller you are always going to?

We have a chain bookstore nearby which is okay, but I prefer independent bookshops, and none of those are close. I wish they were. I used to dream of owning a bookshop/café at one point, but not any more. I’d never find time to write if I did that! Booksellers work so hard – it’s definitely not as easy as it looks on TV.

17. What are you currently working on?

The Story You Tell, which is the second book in my Around the World Supper Club series. It picks up from Wherever You Go about two years later, but features a different main character. It’s partly inspired by the Echo and Narcissus myth.

18. What’s more of a challenge – shorter works, longer works, fiction or non-fiction?

Writing fiction is more challenging for me than non-fiction – that just flows, probably due to my journalistic background. All forms have their challenges, but I find writing short stories – not my rom-coms though, they just about fell onto the page – harder than long form. Maybe it’s because I can tend to waffle on when I tell anyone a story … you know, you have to set the scene first and give the context. Right?

19. You write for a variety of audiences under the same name, where some authors choose separate names for different genres or audiences – what made you decide to maintain the same name across all books? (This by the way, is something I support – I’m curious as to why different people do it differently).

I’ve thought about this from time to time – should I have a different name for different genres? But I’ve worked hard to build the platform I have under one name, and I don’t want to have to start from scratch. Or look after yet another set of social media accounts – I already have my own plus a work one to look after. It does my head in sometimes!

Also, I have no plans to write more children’s books, so I’m comfortable with maintaining the same name for my future writing.

20. Finally, what is next for your writing career?

Biting my nails and pacing for weeks once Wherever You Go is launched … writing the next book …

I dream of being invited to writers festivals and having a book tour … of having the opportunity to research a book idea overseas.

But in the more immediate future, I just need to stop procasti-cleaning, watching hilarious cat videos or making cups of tea, and write.

You can find Monique at:
Website: moniquemulligan.com
Twitter: @MoniqueMulligan
Instagram: @moniquemulliganauthor
Facebook: Monique Mulligan, Author

Anything I may have missed?

Snow White and Rose Red: And Other Tales of Kind Young Women by Kate Forsyth and Lorena Carrington

SnowWhiteCover copyTitle: Snow White and Rose Red: And Other Tales of Kind Young Women
Author: Kate Forsyth and Lorena Carrington
Genre: Fairy tales, Fantasy,
Publisher: Serenity Press
Published: 1st May 2020
Format: Hardcover
Pages: 120
Price: $32.99
Synopsis: An enchanting collection of little-known fairy tales about young women who prevail because of their kindness and compassion

1. Snow-White & Rose Red save an enchanted bear from an ungrateful goblin
2. Marushka is sent to find strawberries in the snow by her cruel step-sister but wins the help of the Twelve Months
3. Ailsa climbs Mischanter Mountain to rescue her sister, armed with nothing more than her sewing kit and her parents’ blessing
4. Reinhilda outwits a witch and saves her sweetheart
5. A kind henwife helps Morag find a home for her family with the help of a magic pot
6. Agnes and a young Romany woman together overcome the curse of an enchanted cup
7. Brigid honours a promise she made, even though it takes her to the underworld and back

With an introduction by Isobelle Carmody, Snow White, Rose Red & Other Tales of Kind Young Women contains tales from Germany, Slovenia, Ireland and the Scottish Travellers.

It will transform the way you think about fairy tales.


For the third time in the past few years, superstar author and illustrator team, Kate Forsyth and Lorena Carrington have collaborated on amazing collections of fairy tales. These fairy tales come from all traditions, and often have several versions across different countries and cultures, that fit into one of the Aarne-Thompson classifications that categorises fairy tales and folk tales thematically under numbers and a brief description of the type of archetypes and characters present in the tales collected from all cultures across the world. Under this classification system, each fairy tale or folk tale type and then each folk or fairy tale, is listed for comparison and is an easy way – once you’ve learned the system – to find all the tales that come under something like Tale Type 313 – ‘The Magic Flight’. This tale type is one of the world’s most widely told stories, and Kate retells an example in this collection, called ‘Tricking the Witch’.

AWW2020From the first story retold, ‘Snow White and Rose Red’, is another common tale to the last – ‘The Corpse Watchers’ – Kate has drawn on fairy tales from lesser known traditions, but also, fairy tales collected by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm that aren’t as well-known as some, and in some cases, literary Victorian fairy tales written or recorded by women. In these retellings, Kate has given the female characters agency, and carefully removed pejorative terms from one or two where she has been able to, in order to make them inclusive whilst still capturing the oral magic of these tales, and the beauty behind the tales. They capture the historical periods they were recorded in or originated from (at the point we can trace to) perfectly, whilst still evoking a sense of wonder and magic that comes with fairy tales. They are in lands far, far away yet at the same time, in familiar places that live deep within us – even if we have not been there physically.

Kate’s magical and evocative words are accompanied by the delightful illustrations by Lorena Carrington, who uses photography and everyday objects to create her images – in the author and illustrator notes after each tale, Kate and Lorena describe their process for each tale, which adds to the richness of the book, the stories and the illustrations. Each illustration is layered with texture and colour, with silhouetted figures against colourful and textured backdrops, or framed in a door or window against a white background. I found it really hard to choose a favourite – they were all lovely and fit very nicely with the rest of the series. Kate and Lorena are currently working on the fourth book in the series, and I’m eager to see what they do with that one, and if they are able to, any others. Each book has seven stories – a magic number in fairy tales!

This is one of those books that will be treasured and adored, and will set well with other fairy tale collections and fairy tale retellings. I love Kate and Lorena’s work, and hope that there will be many more of these collections to come.


Isolation Publicity with Josephine Moon

Due to recent events, many Australian authors have had to cancel book launches and festival appearances. For some, this means new novels, series continuations and debut novels are heading into this scary, strange world without much publicity or attention. The good news is, you can still buy books – online or get your local bookstore to deliver if they’re offering that service. Buying these books, talking about them, sharing them, reading them, reviewing them – are all ways that for the next six months at least, we can ensure that these books don’t fall by the wayside.

Over the next few months, a lot of us will be consuming some form of art – entertainment, movies, TV, radio, music, books – the list goes on. It is something we will be turning to take our minds off things and to occupy vast swathes of free time. One of the things I will be doing to support the arts, and specifically, Australian Authors, will be reading and reviewing as many books as possible, conducting interviews like this where possible, and participating in virtual book tours for authors.

cake makers wish

Joephine Moon has written several books, but it’s her latest, The Cake Maker’s Wish, that has been impacted by the COVID-19 health crisis. She found out early on in the crisis, and as the days and weeks went on, like many, things were cancelled left, right and centre. This interview is getting some of her publicity out there in these trying times.

Hi Josephine and welcome to The Book Muse

1. To begin with, what was the book you were supposed to be launching in the next few months when the pandemic hit, and can you tell my readers what it is about?

I was in my publisher’s office having a team meeting to discuss the publicity and marketing strategies for The Cake Maker’s Wish quite early on in the history of Covid19. I don’t think any of us could have predicted that within weeks they’d be cancelling all author tours and events. It happened so fast.

The Cake Maker’s Wish follows the story of Olivia Kent, who bravely decides to move herself and her young son Darcy from their family home in Richmond, Tasmania, to the (fictional) village of Stoneden in the Cotswolds in England. She (along with many others from around the world) has answered the call to help the village in an experimental project to revive its dying economy. At the same time, she has just one wish—to have a family once more. She hopes that the move may help her reconnect with her grandmother’s history in the village, perhaps find some long-lost relatives, help Darcy to connect with his Norwegian father, or at the very least build a new family of village friends. When she gets there, though, she finds that not everyone in the village is as happy about the project as she believed. And while she hasn’t thought about romance in eight years, some unexpected opportunities arise.

2. Are all your books family dramas, or do you dabble in other genres and styles?

Both The Beekeeper’s Secret and The Gift of Life are mysteries.

3. What attracts you to writing family dramas?

It’s funny, but I haven’t really ever thought of them as family dramas necessarily, though you’re right in that they all contain main characters and their family circumstances either support or hinder their progress. I guess the family—whatever it looks like—is the building block of society and also the main driver behind people’s formative experiences and therefore personalities and behaviours. The narrative richness about families is that they are all so different. There are literally endless possibilities to explore in terms of relationship dynamics. Probably, too, the reason family can be such a strong theme in my books is because I frequently write multi-generational point-of-view characters, therefore they do tend to be linked by family bonds of some sort.

4. The new novel begins in Tasmania, and the moves to the Cotswolds in England – what made you choose these two locations in particular?

I went to the Cotswolds to find a story and was indeed lucky enough to find one so that setting was naturally driven by my time there. As for Tasmania, I simply love the island! My dad and stepmother had a cottage in Tasmania for a number of years and I’ve been down there many times. The first time I went to Evandale I declared that I would set a book there—and I wasn’t even yet published! (That book became my second novel, The Chocolate Promise.) I hold fantasies of having a second home down there where I go simply to write books. I had originally intended for there to be more than one chapter set in Tasmania but as it worked out, we only have the prologue. On the up side, I think that gives me an excuse to try again in the future for another Tasmanian book

5. Can you tell my readers about Story Dogs?

Story Dogs is a nation-wide charity that supports early readers by providing volunteers and their dogs as a form of reading assistance. They primarily have their human-dog teams going into schools, where the kids can read to the dogs. The dogs lift their confidence and provide a comforting, non-judgemental ear.

6. What made you decide to become involved with Story Dogs?

Originally, I wanted to be a volunteer for them with my Golden Retriever, Daisy. My son wasn’t yet in school but I thought it was wonderful and wanted to help. But when I read about the attributes a good reading dog needed, I realised Daisy would never pass the test as she was way too excitable. When Flynn started Prep, I came across the organisation again and thought it was a great initiative and one that married together many of my passions—animals, kids and literacy.

7. Prior to becoming an author, what did you teach, and what about this subject did you enjoy?

I was a high school English teacher as well as teaching Film and TV. I don’t think I enjoyed much about it, which is why I didn’t last long 😉

In hindsight, I think I should have been a primary school teacher. When I left high school teaching, I did eighteen months on contracts in primary schools and really enjoyed it. In primary school, you get the chance to build strong relationships and nurture young minds and capture that sense of natural curiosity and love of learning. I love that. After my son started at school and I was volunteering in his class, I had a real hankering to get back in the classroom. It hasn’t really gone away, but there is no way I could write novels and teach as well.

8. What sort of books did you edit during your editorial career?

I worked in an aerospace company for two years, editing aircraft maintenance manuals and company tenders. I also got myself a niche role creating training workshops for the engineers to improve their communication skills, which broke up the monotony of the job, but the whole experience was pretty soul destroying for a creative person. After that, I got a job as a project editor, working on full-colour high school text books. It was such a fun job. Hands down the best job I ever had. (And I have had a LOT of jobs! All good research material now for building characters.)

9. When did you decide to write a novel, and what gave you the confidence to submit to a publisher?

In 1999, I attended at workshop with the Queensland Writers Centre and had what I call a ‘full body moment’ when I thought, ‘This is it—this is what I want to do with the rest of my life’ I knew that I couldn’t just write a novel, though. That’s a bit like trying to build a house when you can’t even pitch a tent. I spent years writing short stories and articles and lots of other things. At some point I moved to novels and wrote across many different genres. It took me a long time to find the style I wanted to write in. Along the way, I submitted manuscripts to agents and publishers and was rejected by everyone in the country at least once.

I don’t think I ever felt confident; I’m not sure I ever feel that way even now. What I did feel was passion for wanting to improve and a hope that wouldn’t die, no matter how many times I was rejected. I’m a big believer in just having a go, so I think that was always my driving force.

10. Have you had any shorter pieces published elsewhere?

Yes, several short stories and multiple articles for newspapers and magazines.

11. When not writing or helping with Story Dogs, what do you enjoy doing?

I’m a huge animal lover, and we live with a lot of animals, so I’m always patting a cat, playing with a dog, or taking care of horses or goats. I bake a lot and read a lot. I also work as the Business Coordinator for an aged care company and create digital content for them too. And, of course, I am a mum to a gorgeous seven-year-old and that’s a huge part of my day and life.

12. Which is easier to write – fiction or non-fiction, or do you find each has its own challenges?

For me, non-fiction is far easier for the simple fact that all the information you want is already ‘out there’ somewhere. Your role then becomes one of being a curator of that information. Writing fiction on the other hand is so difficult. You are creating whole worlds and people out of nothing. It’s much trickier to find the boundaries of the story and set the course for the narrative and I spend vast amounts of time rewriting. Non-fiction uses a completely different part of my brain so it’s an enjoyable counterpoint.

13. Did your background in education and literacy help when it came to crafting your stories?

Being an editor definitely helped because you need to drill down into the really fine points of language that are mostly overlooked.

14. During your writing process, what kind of research do you do?

Research is my happy place and I spent loads of time there. It’s where I find my stories, the inspiration for characters and content for settings. I love location research for settings. I’m also very much a ‘method writer’, so if my character wants to do a coffee cupping, I need to do it too to have that hands-on experience to write about. I also do a lot of interviews with people because human beings are always the best source of information.

15. What events did you have to cancel when the lockdown hit Australia, and which were you looking forward to?

All my touring events were cancelled. Usually, I visit several cities and do dozens of book signings and author talks. I love meeting readers and I’m lucky enough to have some people come out to see me every year. I’m really sad about not seeing my readers.

16. You’ve worked in education and the arts – how do you think these industries complement each other?

Education (at its best) teaches us how to think. The arts teach us how to think creatively, differently and compassionately, and strengthens our resilience.

17. Top five books or authors that you always enjoy?

Monica McInerney, Marian Keyes, JoJo Moyes, Liane Moriarty, and two new favourites this year in Rachel Givney (Jane in Love) and Rose Hartley (Maggie’s Going Nowhere).

18. What are your plans for your future novels?

Right now, I’m working on my 2021 book, currently called The Jam Queen. After that, I honestly don’t know. With the world as it is right now, I’m finding it difficult to organise three meals a day, let alone a new novel

There are many things I’d still like to write, passion projects and children’s stories, and I have many non-fiction books still inside me that I’d like to bring forth too. Part of being a creative is that I need to stay open to what comes my way. I’m always open to a story ‘arriving’ and demanding to be written.

Anything else you’d like to say?

Thank you so much for having me along and for supporting authors, especially at this time. The Cake Maker’s Wish is out on 2 June and pre-orders are open now, with all the links here.

Thanks Josephine!

A Treacherous Country by K.M. Kruimink

A Treacherous CountryTitle: A Treacherous Country
Author: K.M. Kruimink
Genre: Historical Fiction, Literary
Publisher: Allen and Unwin
Published: 21st April 2020
Format: Paperback
Pages: 256
Price: $29.99
Synopsis: The winner of the prestigious literary award that has launched over a hundred authors – The Australian/Vogel’s Literary award

There is a woman, somewhere, here, in Van Diemen’s Land, unless she had died or otherwise departed, called Maryanne Maginn.

Gabriel Fox, the young son of an old English house, arrives in a land both ancient and new.

Drawn by the promise of his heart’s desire, and compelled to distance himself from pain at home, Gabriel begins his quest into Van Diemen’s Land.

His guide, a Cannibal who is not all he seems, leads him north where Gabriel might free himself of his distracting burden and seek the woman he must find. As Gabriel traverses this wild country, he uncovers new truths buried within his own memory.

Authentic, original and playful, A Treacherous Country is a novel of loyalty, wisdom and the freedom to act.


When Gabriel Fox arrives in Australia in 1820 – just over thirty years since the First Fleet arrived, he sets out with his Irish companion, called his Cannibal, to Van Diemen’s land in search of a woman who was transported thirty years ago – Maryanne Maginn. But he’s also running away from pain at home, and seeking something new, which he hopes to find in this wild country – as seen through the eyes of those who came here from Europe. On this quest into Van Diemen’s land, Gabriel does not know what he will find nor what dangers he will stumble across as he seeks to find this woman who was transported when she was very young. As Gabriel searches for her, her learns more about this country and land that is new to him – yet so ancient for others, and for another group, it is a prison. Gabriel’s task is simple – find out whether Maryanne is dead or alive – and survive his journey.

The story is told solely through Gabriel’s eyes, so we see the results of colonisation through his lens and what others tell him about the convicts and displacement – which is hinted at throughout the novel, but the main focus is the quest for Maryanne, more than the history of the land and colonisation. Through this quest, Gabriel shows how little those who are new to this country understand the land, but also, their desire to tame it for their own will. It shows how colonisation affected the land – and a world shown through the eyes of those with power – and what this means for those forgotten or ignored.

AWW2020It is a quest with a clear goal, yet an ending that might lead into another story, as it was so open to interpretation, anything could have happened, but I think I know what the author was aiming for – to find out you’ll have to read it for yourself though. It is a book about freedom in some ways and being a prisoner or tied to something awful in other ways, as shown through Gabriel’s eyes, story and experience. It is another way of exploring Australia’s history in a micro sense – taking one experience and telling that story to expand on what we already know, or to add to the myriad of voices out there. This is just one example of how the known story is not the only one out there. There are many others that can be told from a variety of diverse perspectives, and to be able to read them alongside this story and other stories would help give a well-rounded view of Australian history.

K.M. Kruimink has crafted a story that is compelling and intriguing, and that explores the unknown world of Van Diemen’s land, as well as the interior world and mind of her main character, Gabriel. The isolation he feels physically mirrors the isolation and at times, desolation he feels emotionally and mentally as his mind and body battle an unknown world and situation. It is an interesting novel – one that needs to have time spent with it to unravel everything in the novel, and work out where everyone fits and especially, some parts of the final chapters. Not everything is made obvious, but this is what makes it work within the scope and purposes of the novel. It is at times gentle and at times wild, but when combined, these aspects are what makes the novel work for what is and its audience.

It is more literary than historical, though the historical elements are there and help to create the world that Gabriel is in, showing just how the colonists saw Australia and Van Diemen’s land as wild and untamed land as they see it. This was an intriguing novel that will certainly find an interested audience, and sometimes, it is these stories of individuals that give history its colour and richness, in all shapes and forms.


An Alice Girl by Tanya Heaslip

an alice girlTitle: An Alice Girl

Author: Tanya Heaslip

Genre: Biography

Publisher: Allen and Unwin

Published: 19th May 2020

Format: Paperback

Pages: 344

Price: $32.99

Synopsis: From the bestselling author of Alice to Prague, for fans of Toni Tapp Coutts’ A Sunburnt Childhood and Mary Groves’ An Outback Life, comes Tanya Heaslip’s extraordinary story of growing up with her sister and brothers in the late 1960s and early 70s on an outback cattle property just north of Alice Springs.

An Alice Girl is Tanya Heaslip’s extraordinary story of growing up in the late 1960s and early 70s on a vast and isolated outback cattle property just north of Alice Springs.

Tanya’s parents, Janice and Grant ‘the Boss’, were pioneers. They developed the cattle station where water was scarce, where all power was dependent on generators and where a trip to town for supplies usually meant a full day’s journey. Grant was determined to teach his children how to survive in this severe and isolated environment and his lessons were often harsh.

Tanya and her siblings led a childhood unimaginable to many Australians. Whether working the mobs of cattle with the stockmen, playing cattle-duffing on horseback or singing and doing lessons at their School of the Air desks, the children were always aware of the demands of the land.

But while her sister and brothers loved riding and working stock, Tanya’s heart longed to be back at the homestead with her books and stories.

In a childhood that many would consider very tough, Tanya tells of this precious time with raw honesty, humour, love and kindness. This is the story of an Alice girl.


Tanya Heaslip grew up in the outback near Alice Springs with her brothers, sister and parents, working with cattle or playing games once their work had finished. For Tanya, this was a precious time but also a time of isolation – where her only connection with the outside world at first was with her School of the Air friends and Correspondence School teacher. Yet through School of the Air and her friend Jane, she discovered a world beyond her family’s home and beyond spending every day with her family and nobody else.

This biography tells the story of Tanya’s first eleven to twelve years, before she headed off to boarding school in Adelaide, as the rest of her family did in the following years. This is a story of isolation and a life that seemed tough – as Tanya tried to please her father but also, found solace in writing and books – in a world of words.

These stories precede Alice to Prague, and show readers where Tanya came from and how she found herself on the journey and in the career she has now. Reading both is a great experience – two periods in her life, both as fascinating and as intriguing as the other. From one extreme to another across both books – isolation in Alice and the Northern Territory to surveillance under a Communist regime in Prague. Both are fascinating stories.

AWW2020In An Alice Girl, we get a glimpse of what life is like on a remote cattle station, how everything they did differs from what most of us know, and the way of life they led, what was most precious to them and how they managed – the tough exteriors Tanya and her siblings built up, and the way they learned to cope with what they had and accept it.

Tanya explores why this is, and how her parents, who were born on the cusp of World War Two, were impacted by living through war, and how it made them who they were. Vastly different from her family, Tanya was still very close to her siblings – for much of their lives, just about every day – they could only interact and play with each other – there were times when there were other children around, but this was often temporary and short lived.

The Northern Territory came to life in this book, and was as big a character as Tanya’s family, evoking a sense of place that feels familiar yet at the same time new and unfamiliar to many readers who live in cities or suburbs. For those who lived in regional or remote areas, some things might be relatable, others might have been experienced differently. It is part of Australia’s story – one person’s experience of the world around them and how they navigated it through childhood and learned things along the way and in adulthood that they hadn’t realised or noticed at the time.

It is honest, at times brutal, and also has many heart-warming moments. Combined, this makes it an engaging personal and family story of childhood, and what having an isolated childhood is like, up to the feeling of being ripped away from all you know to a boarding school in another city, another state. An Alice Girl is the story of a childhood where what she had was loved, yet Tanya also wanted more. It explores her love of words and books, of school – of friends she had never met until she was able to attend a country show where she watched her friend compete.

It was a different world to today. Tanya only knew her friend’s voice, whereas these days, we know how our friends who live far away from us write, what they look like but not always what they sound like. We’d recognise their faces, but maybe not their voices. For so long, this was the opposite for Tanya. But she shone through and her life is fascinating. Reading about it showed there was a whole world out there beyond what we know in the cities and suburbs along the coast.

I enjoyed reading this book about Tanya’s early years, seeing how she grew up and what initiated her taste for writing, and the outside world, which is further explored in Alice to Prague. For readers of that book and new readers, this is a fantastic read that everyone will get something out of.