Isolation Publicity: Interview with Danielle Binks – literary agent, blogger and author.

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 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.

One of my first interviews for this venture that I have called Isolation Publicity is an interview with Danielle Binks – literary agent, fellow book reviewer and author. Her debut novel, The Year the Maps Changed is due for release with Hachette on the 28th of April 2020, and I had hoped to participate in the blog tour run by AusYABloggers. As I wasn’t able to, I decided to interview Danielle about her new book, and plan to read it as soon as I can.

the year the maps changed
The Year The Maps Changed by Danielle Binks, out 28th April 2020.

Hi Danielle, and welcome to The Book Muse!

1. How did you get started working in the arts and publishing industry, and what was your first job?

A: I was really lucky once I finished up doing RMIT’s Professional Writing and Editing course (and after a year of still-working in my uni job at the local post-office) an internship program came up with the Australian Publishers Association, for a paid internship at one of (I think?) five placements around Australia. There were two going in Victoria, and I nabbed one. That was my foot in the door – and luckily, after my six-month internship that indie publisher decided to keep me on! I was a publicist and editor for a few indie-publishers over about 3-years, before getting tapped on the shoulder one day by Jacinta di Mase … she’d read my freelance writing for Kill Your Darlings digital and liked what I had to say about Aussie YA in particular, and offered me a job working as a literary agent with her. I joined her in 2016 and have never looked back – even as being a literary agent never even crossed my mind until she offered me that opportunity, I now can’t think what else I’d rather be doing!

2. As a literary agent, what is it about a book that makes you go wow, this has to be published?

A: Chills. I can’t quite describe it – but there are just some books you read and, no matter how raw and unpolished the writing or ideas may be, there’s something in their delivery that just makes the hair on the back of your neck stand on end. It’s that X-factor that’s so hard to describe. But it’s the exact same feeling you have as a reader, when you begin a book and just *know* you’re reading the exact perfect story for this point in time, and you’re reading something that’ll be a new favourite. That’s what I look for as an agent too – to first fall in love with a story as a reader.

3. As I follow you on Twitter, I feel I should know this, but what is your favourite young adult or middle grade series?

A: Oh, gosh – ask me this same question next week and it’ll totally change. I’ve got to say, a series I keep returning to in YA is Melina Marchetta’s set in the Saving Francesca universe – that continued with The Piper’s Son and concluded last year with The Place on Dalhousie. I don’t even care that that’s a series starting in YA and gradually progressing to adult-fiction – I just love those characters, and reading them is like going home and catching up with old friends. I also have a deep and abiding love for Melina’s fantasy The Lumatere Chronicles trilogy, big love and respect for The Tribe series by Ambelin Kwaymullina, and The Grisha by Leigh Bardugo. In middle-grade, it’s gotta bet the American series Gaither Sisters by Rita Williams-Garcia (P.S. Be Eleven is pretty much a masterpiece). I also love the Binny UK-series from Hilary McKay.

4. I am yet to read The Year the Maps Changed and hope to do so soon. What inspired you to write this novel for the middle grade readership?

A: I hope you like it when you do! … I started thinking of this idea way back in 2016, when I decided to delve into this big Australian event that happened in 1999 called ‘Operation Safe Haven’ when our then-Government began the biggest-ever humanitarian exercise, of offering temporary-asylum to Albanian-Kosovar refugees of the Kosovo War and NATO Bombings.

For a long time I wrestled with whether or not to make the book YA or MG – I thought, I was known to be a big fan and supporter of young-adult literature, and back in 2016 (even though I consumed a lot of American middle-grade lit) the readership wasn’t as clearly-defined in Australia then. But what tipped me into deciding to go all-in on MG was the fact that in 1999, I was eleven going on twelve. So I decided my protagonist would be too; and once I made that decision it was so easy to remember what that age and year was like, and my protagonist – Fred – seemed to spring fully-formed in my mind.

Between 2016 and now, MG also really took off in Australia; Jessica Townsend, Nova Weetman, Jeremy Lachlan, Bren MacDibble, and Zana Fraillon (to name a very few!) all wrote these gorgeous and ground-breaking books that really carved out that space in Australia, so by the time Maps was ready it was very clear who the book would be for.

5. It feels like we’re in a Golden Age of Australian Middle Grade fiction at the moment from a reader and reviewer’s perspective. What do you think, as an agent, author and also, if you’d like, a reader as well?

A: I’m so glad you think that, because I literally just wrote an article for Books+Publishing about this very topic! And it’s an article following-up something I wrote in 2016 for them, called ‘Unstuck in the Middle’ which was kind of looking at how robust and plentiful the MG readership was in America (especially after a book like R.J. Palacio’s Wonder became a mega-bestseller) but how in Australia, everyone was still grappling with what it was and who it was for.

Now, MG has always existed in Australia (books by Leanne Hall and Barry Jonsberg, Morris Gleitzman and Ursula Dubosarsky spring to mind) but those books would often win awards, or get labelled as ‘junior fiction/kids books’ or ‘young adult’ – and there didn’t seem to be an acknowledgment of the spectrum that also exists for those trickier middle-years of (roughly) 8-12. But Nevermoor by Jessica Townsend and The Bone Sparrow by Zana Fraillon really went a long way to defining modern MG in Australia (and at opposite ends of the genre-spectrum too) and carving out that space for the tricky in-between age-group. So many Aussie editors were aware of what was happening in America and the clearly-defined readership according to them, and the success of those books in Australia signalled them to just … go bananas and embrace! And they have. It was also things like ‘The Readings Children’s Book Prize’ acknowledging MG, and also The Text and Ampersand Prizes, putting a spotlight on the readership with their unpublished manuscript award-winners.

So it was a lot of ingredients that have gone into creating this ‘Golden Age’ of MG in Australia, for sure. And like most things … timing is everything.

6. Do you have a favourite middle grade author or series, past or present – or even both?

A: Gosh, look – I am a fan of contemporary fiction across all readerships so it’s the likes of Rebecca Stead, Jacqueline Woodson, Gary D. Schmidt, Nova Weetman and Emily Gale for me. All current-MG authors who I just adore and admire and I’m always on tenterhooks waiting for new books from them.

7. When you’re not reading middle grade, what do you enjoy reading, and what has been a favourite read recently?

A: Anyone who follows me anywhere, I hope, knows that I’m a HUGE romance-reader and fan. Everything from historical to paranormal; I just finished Kylie Scott’s latest romance The Rich Boy and loved it (it is adult though, not suitable for younger readers!) As an agent I’ve been lucky enough to get a sneaky-peek at Jenna Guillaume’s next book (the new stand-alone, follow-up to her debut What I Like About Me) it’s called You Were Made For Me and it’s so funny and romantic and brilliant. Think: Weird Science meets Jenny Han.

My go-to (adult!) romance authors are; Sarah Mayberry, Courtney Milan, Helen Hoang, Mhairi McFarlane, Lisa Kleypas, Sarah MacLean, and I’m hanging out for the TV series adaptation Bridgerton (based on Julia Quinn’s books!). I also have the sequel to The Royal We – The Heir Affair by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan – geared up on my Kindle, thanks to NetGalley!

8. What is your favourite festival, or do you have a favourite, and why or why not?

A: I went to Clunes Booktown for the first time last year, and that quickly became a new fave that I have to get to again! I’m also a big fan of The YA Room’s YA Day – just for the ingenious way they’ve found to bring the YA-lit community together in Melbourne, in a really lovely event that I hope continues to grow and thrive.

9. Do you have a favourite bookseller – which one, and why are they your favourite?

A: I have so many! Readings, Better Read Than Dead, Mary Martin, The Little Bookroom, Rabble Books, The Younger Sun, Avenue Bookstore, Antipodes … but my local independent in Mornington is Farrells and I love them so much (and they’ve been such a staple of my childhood, and now adulthood) that they even have a cameo-appearance in The Year the Maps Changed.

10. The important stuff: Cats, dogs, or both for a writing and reading companion?
A: Both! Always both! I have a very cat-like dog called Murray, so I feel he’s the best of all worlds.

11. Do you have a Hogwarts house, and which one would you be in if you attended the school?

A: Slytherin, baby. Cunning! … actually; whenever I take a quiz I literally end up like Harry and get a fair amount of Gryffindor and Slytherin in equal amounts. I guess it depends what mood I’m in.

12. Favourite Beatles song, and why?

A: I LOVE THIS QUESTION! I actually think it’s Blackbird for me. I just think it’s the most beautiful tune and poetic lullaby. And then it’s kind of a two-way tie for Hey Jude and Let It Be.

13. What is your favourite Jane Austen novel, and why?
A: Sense and Sensibility. Colonel Brandon. That’s it. That’s … everything.

14. Who played Darcy better – Colin Firth or Matthew McFadyen?
A: Laurence Olivier. Seriously: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=643d0KOkMl8

15. What inspired you to start working in the arts industry, and what did you study at university?

A: Let’s see – when I first finished high school I knew I wanted a job *writing* because that’s what I loved. So I had it suggested to me, that I should become a journalist. So I trotted off and did that at Monash within a Communications degree but I hated it – and was always being told to stick to WHO, WHAT, WHEN, WHERE & WHY and not to give any purple prose. In my last year of study, we had to choose an internship within a publishing medium and I decided to do this crazy thing of seeing if I could try and work with kid’s books – which I did; scoring an internship at Black Dog Books (now, Walker Books) in Melbourne. It was eye-opening for me; this realisation that there are so many different areas of work in books publishing, and that I could maybe work within that industry too! So I went off and studies Professional Writing and Editing at RMIT, while also getting my own book-review blog Alpha Reader – http://alphareader.blogspot.com/ – off the ground as I delved further and further into books realms. That was it. Letting myself dream of working with books, reading more, and making that my hobby too.

16. The arts industry is important to Australia, especially now. Do you think people will come to appreciate the arts more after this crisis while they consume books, music and television shows that we need the arts around to produce?

A: Look; everything that people are reaching for is ART. Be that a television show, movie, video-game, comic-book, audiobook, or interacting with the number of museums and art-galleries who have found creative ways for people at home to do virtual-tours. So much of what is alleviating personal pain and boredom, that is continuing to connect people, is … ART. And as the saying goes – the world without ‘art’ is just ‘eh’. I think we’re all feeling that right now, and I hope that as people reach for those mediums and art forms – I do hope that realise that they are reaching for creativity, and then connect that to the people who made it happen. Benjamin Law says this all so much better than I can, in his Guardian Article – and I really do pray that the Government acknowledges that too. That film and TV alone is a $3-billion-dollar industry in Australia, and at times of crisis we’ve all reached for art in some capacity – and art is hurting right now, and needs our help.

I think it all comes back to … if you asked Australians right now, what they want to happen after all this – I’m betting most would say they’d like everything to go back to normal. Well, normal in Australia is the Arts. It’s having the option of ducking into an act during the International Comedy Festival. It’s planning a weekend-getaway in Clunes for Booktown Festival. Hearing of a great exhibit at NGV you can take an international visitor to. A band starting up at the pub. That’s normality, because art is … life. If we want it to be here when this is all over, we have to protect it now – in little and big ways. That means Government crisis packages, and it means individuals requesting digital titles of new books at their libraries, and (if they can!) ordering books from their local independent bookstores.

17. Do you have any book, television, podcast or movie recommendations to get us through these trying times over the next few months?

A: I want to recommend that you all reach for what works for you, in the moment. Don’t feel guilty that you binged Fleabag (or Drag Race!) for the fourth time instead of reading The Complete Works of William Shakespeare or something. It’s all art, as I said – and it all helps us cope. That being said, I can tell you what’s working for me and if there’s any crossover with what works for you then – Hey! – maybe we do a Houseparty get-together and discuss it?

TV: Killing Eve, The Commons, Stateless, The Heights, Bluey, North & South
MOVIES: 10 Things I Hate About You, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, A League of Their Own, The Mummy movies, Jane Austen-anything
PODCASTS: Keep It, The Readings Podcast, The First Time Podcast, Booktopia Podcast, The Eleventh, How to Fail with Elizabeth Day.
BOOKS: Heartstopper by Alice Oseman, Wild Fearless Chests by Mandy Beaumont, Peta Lyre’s Rating Normal by Anna Whateley and Please Don’t Hug Me by Kay Kerr.
MUSIC: The Beatles. Lizzo. Lorde. Goldfrapp. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend soundtrack. Hamilton: The Musical.

Any comments about something I may have missed?

Thank you Danielle, and congratulations on your book. I hope it finds its readers.

Friday Barnes: Under Suspicion by R.A. Spratt

friday barnes 2Title: Friday Barnes: Under Suspicion
Author: R.A. Spratt
Genre: Mystery
Publisher: Penguin Random House
Published: 7th May 2019/1st January 2015
Format: Paperback
Pages: 272
Price: $15.99
Synopsis: Who knew boarding school could be this perilous!
When Friday Barnes cracked the case of Highcrest Academy’s mysterious swamp-yeti, the last thing she expected was to be placed under arrest. Now with the law on her back and Ian Wainscott in her face, Friday is not so sure boarding school was the smartest choice. From a missing or not-so-missing calculator to the appearance of strange holes in the school field, she is up to her pork-pie hat in crimes – and she swears not all of them are hers. There’s also new boy Christopher, who has taken quite a shine to Friday, to contend with.
Can Friday navigate the dangerous grounds of Highcrest Academy and decipher a decades-old mystery without getting caught in an unexpected love triangle?
~*~

Picking up soon after book one with Friday arrested by the police, this book ventures further into the crimes and investigations surrounding Highcrest, and the lengths students and teachers will go to so they can hide secrets and get their way. Friday befriends a vagrant, Malcolm, whose presence in the novel brings a whole new mystery to the table as Friday grapples with Ian Wainscott and new student, Christopher – though is Christopher really who he says he s, and why all of a sudden do the police have such an interest in Highcrest Academy? Friday must look into a missing calculator, strange holes appearing all over campus, and teachers who behave unlike any other teachers, and constantly being sent to the Headmaster’s office. All in all, Friday’s time at Hillcrest is getting very interesting.

I’ve now got up to book six of this series to read out of eight – and will be aiming to work my way through them all as the weeks and months go on. Friday is a great character, and she really shines in this book, proving that she will never change, and nor will her friend, Melly. They are perfect for each other, and this new genre of detective novels for kids just keeps getting better and better.

AWW2020As Friday evolves as a character, though whilst not giving up the essence of who she is, she is becoming an integral part of the school as she uncovers all sorts of crimes and indiscretions around the school. Each character within the school is unique, and each teacher has their own interesting way of teaching – like Mrs Cannon, the English teacher, who allows time to get away from her while the students read so she can hunt for a new job or do the crossword.

The stories have an excellent blend of complexity and simplicity – whereby Friday’s knowledge is clear, yet she explains it in ways that the reader and her fellow characters can understand, in stark contrast to her parents who are often referred to throughout the book. Friday seems to have all kinds of connections to help her solve the crimes of the school, and what I love most about this is that they seem to go unquestioned, and the teachers are a mix of letting her get away with it, being frustrated with her or not really caring at times, which makes it lots of fun to read.

This is a series that I feel gets better with each book, as new layers are uncovered, and new mysteries are introduced. Each book has a cliffhanger ending, so I would recommend reading these in order so the story flow makes sense. With the next four at the ready to read, I am sorted for now, and look forward to reading them and getting books seven and eight.

Books and Bites Book Bingo: A Book with a door on the cover: The Winterborne Home for Vengeance and Valour by Ally Carter

books and bites game card

For my eleventh square, I chose a book with a door on the cover. This was always going to be a challenge, and the book I chose for a book published over 100 years ago – The Secret Garden – would also have been good for this square. However, I realised I had to use – or wanted to use – a different book for each square as much as possible.

I interpreted a door as a gate as well, and that’s why I chose The Winterborne Home for Vengeance and Valour by Ally Carter. There is a gate in the foreground of the cover, with the house and its door in the background behind the kids.

Winterborne 1

I reviewed this for Hachette on the 3rd of March, and thought it was a great introduction to a new series – with a slow build towards the climatic conclusion that inevitably leads into a second book – with several threads that were worked through the book left seeking more answers beyond what April finds out in the book.  As readers, we only know what April knows, and this draws us further into the mystery, and the lives of the orphans and their world, and what is to come. I cannot wait to find out what happens next.

 

The Lost Future of Pepperharrow by Natasha Pulley

pepperharrowTitle: The Lost Future of Pepperharrow

Author: Natasha Pulley

Genre: Magical Realism, Historical Fiction, Gothic Fiction

Publisher: Bloomsbury Circus

Published: 17th March 2020

Format: Paperback

Pages: 512

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: Step back into the enchanting world of The Watchmaker of Filigree Street. This extraordinary sequel takes readers to Japan, where time, destiny and love collide to electrifying effect

‘A Japan that never was, a future lost, ghosts that are not dead, random numbers, clairvoyant samurai … not even a partial list of ingredients can do justice to this wonderful cake of a book. A lovely blending of steam punk ether science, Japanese historical figures, and a time-defying thriller’ ROBIN HOBB

For Thaniel Steepleton, an unexpected posting to Tokyo can’t come at a better moment. The London fog has made him ill and doctor’s orders are to get out.

His brief is strange: the staff at the British Legation have been seeing ghosts, and his first task is to find out what’s going on. But staying with his closest friend Keita Mori in Yokohama, Thaniel starts to experience ghostly happenings himself. For reasons he won’t say, Mori is frightened. Then he vanishes.

Meanwhile, something strange is happening in a frozen labour camp in northern Japan. Takiko Pepperharrow, an old friend of Mori’s, must investigate.

As ghosts appear across Tokyo and the weather turns bizarrely electrical, Thaniel grows convinced that it all has something to do with Mori’s disappearance – and that Mori might be in far more trouble than any of them first thought.

~*~

In 2015, readers were introduced to Natasha Pulley, Mori and Thaniel Steepleton in The Watchmaker of Filigree Street. Five years later, they’re returning in the Lost Future of Pepperharrow which sees Thaniel and Mori headed to Japan with their daughter, Six, as they seek to improve Thaniel’s health during a new posting for the British Legation in Tokyo to investigate ghosts, and strange goings on at a labour camp that bring them into contact with someone from Mori’s past – Takiko Pepperharrow.

The story moves between the past – up to ten years – particularly when dealing with Takiko, and 1888/1889 – the present in the novel, and how Mori and Thaniel navigate the mysteries and ghosts of Tokyo. In doing so, Thaniel finds himself falling into an unknown world, and when Mori disappears, and nobody knows where he is nor if he is still alive. It is an intricate plot that moves back and forth over a decade in Tokyo and Japan, highlighting issues of religion, the place of foreigners in Japan and the role of ghosts and clockwork as a common thread across both books. Denser than the first book, The Lost Future of Pepperharrow continues the story in surprising and eloquent ways.

Some aspects are most definitely historical – the Japanese Education Minister, Arinori Mori’s assassination and at least one of the prisons, whilst the rest might be based on history but has become a fantastical thing of its own, and borrows from history in order to create the world these characters populate and live in. The story is complex, immense and exceptionally told with rich detail where needed, and is immersive for time and place – making each aspect feel as though you were really there in the book with Thaniel – both when he was with Mori and whilst he was searching for him through Japan.

Each setting evoked a sense of being there – from the foggy streets of London, to the ships that sail across oceans and all the sights, sounds and sensations of Tokyo – both confronting and intriguing as seen through the eyes of Thaniel and his uncertainty as he investigates the ghosts, come together to create a story filled with so many different elements, some seem so small, it can be hard to define them easily, and with hints of magical realism, this is not a straight-forward historical fiction. It is much more layered and multi-faceted than that. It has so many layers that there were times I re-read a section – just to see if I had picked everything up, only to discover that some things had merely been hinted at in a very clever way that made sense towards the end. It maintained the balance of revealing things in the right place, and dropping little hints, and also, maintained the balance of good description and storytelling – neither was overdone. For each of these aspects – all books are going to be different in what they do and why – and when these elements as well as character, plot and setting combine, they create a story like this one that is clever and unique.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and hope that fans of Natasha’s first two books will as well.

Phoenix (Firewatcher Chronicles #2) by Kelly Gardiner

phoenix-coverTitle: Phoenix (Firewatcher Chronicles #2)
Author: Kelly Gardiner
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: Scholastic
Published: 1st February 2020
Format: Paperback
Pages: 272
Price: $14.99
Synopsis: May 1941.
The German bombing campaign is reaching its fiery climax, and Christopher and the firewatchers battle against the flames and huge bombs through the worst night of the Blitz.
Christopher tries to go back to 1666; to find his new friends and learn more about the power of his phoenix ring.
Instead, he finds himself in a deserted city, overlooking a smaller, older river port town known as Lundenwic, where the Anglo-Saxon community faces an invasion by the dreaded Vikings.
Christopher must discover why the ring has brought him here, and how to get back to his own time. But there are Viking ships on the Thames, and their warriors threaten to burn the city and conquer the whole of England.
~*~

As the Blitz rages on, and Christopher’s father arrives home, injured and discharged, London will never be the same. As the war rages on and his mother volunteers to help fight fires instead of watching for the bombers, Christopher finds himself mourning friends and neighbours, in between attending school, watching for bombs and looking for treasures with his friends by the Thames. During one of these hunts, Christopher finds a pendant with Thor’s Hammer, that transports him back to the ninth century, where Vikings are threatening to invade the Anglo-Saxon settlement of Lundenwic. Whilst here, he encounters the Vikings, a girl named Elda and is thrust back and forth between their conflict, and German destruction of London. Christopher can’t stop the German bombs coming but he can find a way to stop the Vikings attacking an empty town.

As the novel moves back and forth between 1941 and at least a thousand years in the past, and hints at London’s history, and the layers of history that lie beneath the streets of modern London are hinted at in an accessible and exciting way for young readers, aged eight and older. Aimed at middle grade readers, it combines history, time travel, action, mystery and adventure, the second book in this trilogy alludes to what came before, and the role fire has played many times in shaping London and its history.

AWW2020I waited a long time for this book to come out, and I ordered it into my local bookstore and waited for it to arrive – and managed to read it within two days.
This is a trilogy worth reading – filled to the brim with amazing diverse characters – with disabilities, who aren’t white and the women in history – the Vikings, and Elda, Molly and Christopher’s mother and teacher – who are exceptional in many ways and do not fit the supposed gender norms or expectations of their times, or what history assumes they did. I loved this aspect of the book, and the hints at history we don’t know about – it opens it up for readers and leads them – hopefully – to researching it further. Because, how can we know what is out there if we don’t look and if there isn’t anything like this fabulous series to guide us? It certainly led me to looking up Saxon women, Lundenwic and Vikings – leading me down many research rabbit holes whilst writing this review.

This is one of my favourite middle grade trilogies – we have some fantastic authors in Australia writing for all age groups, and we should be supporting them as often as we can, if not all the time. When a novel like this combines history and time travel, and adventure, it makes history fun for kids, and can introduce concepts, ideas and knowledge that they may not get elsewhere or that become facts that are picked up because they are there. At the same time, this novel confronts ideas about gender and race in the 1940s, but briefly and is shown to illustrate that these ideas existed, but that they can be challenged and people can change their perceptions and attitudes, and prove that history is more complex than previously thought and even more complex than the way we are taught at school.

This is another reason these historical fiction novels when learning about history – they introduce a new side to history that is hidden in a variety of ways, and doing so through fiction makes it exciting and relatable. With the third book out later this year, I can’t wait to see how this trilogy ends.

Books and Bites Bingo Short story collection – Radio National Fictions (various short stories on ABC Listen app

books and bites game card

I don’t read that many short story collections – nor do I listen to audiobooks. The former is simply because they don’t often cross my path, and the latter because I know I’d never be able to focus on that much audio. I’m better with short bursts like podcasts, so when I discovered Radio National Fictions podcast, I knew it would perfectly fit not only any short story categories, but the audiobook category in another challenge I had thought I would never fill. I have devoured the first six, short stories in what is called the Oz Gothic category, where each I felt left a little to the imagination and had some open endings where anything could have happened after the story ended. As each week has a different short story, written and told by a different author or presenter, they will vary in themes, and once they finish the Oz Gothic theme, I wonder what will be next, as there are many areas to be explored with genre and theme or as a sole aspect of narrative.

radio national fictions

As each is only half an hour long, I find my attention does not wander as it would with a novel length audiobook, and so, they are perfect to listen to while I work. They are engaging and though they are brief, they evoke a sense of needing to know what happens almost as soon as it starts. Of course, there are probably going to be some stories I listen to more closely than others, or find more engaging but that happens in all areas of literature and why having a diverse range of books out there in a diverse range of formats allows us to engage with reading in a way that works for us.

The Bell in the Lake by Lars Mytting

bell in the lakeTitle: The Bell in the Lake
Author: Lars Mytting
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: Hachette Australia
Published: 10th March 2020
Format: Paperback
Pages: 392
Price: $32.99
Synopsis: The first in a rich historical trilogy that draws on legend, by the author of NORWEGIAN WOOD and THE SIXTEEN TREES OF THE SOMME.
Norway, 1880. In the secluded village of Butangen at the end of the valley, headstrong Astrid dreams of a life beyond marriage, hard work and children. And then Pastor Kai Schweigaard comes into her life, taking over the 700-year-old stave church with its carvings of pagan deities. The two church bells were forged by her forefather in the sixteenth century, in memory of conjoined sisters Halfrid and Gunhild Hekne, and are said to have supernatural powers. But now the pastor wants to tear it down, to replace it with a modern, larger church. Though Astrid is drawn to him, this may be a provocation too far.
Talented architecture student Gerhard Schonauer arrives from Dresden to oversee the removal of the church and its reconstruction in the German city. Everything about elegant Schonauer is so different, so cosmopolitan. Astrid must make a choice: for her homeland and the pastor, or for a daunting and uncertain future in Germany.
Then the bells begin to toll…
Translated from the Norwegian by Deborah Dawkin

~*~

In Norway in 1880, society is changing. Astrid Hekne, the main character, dreams of a life beyond what society has in mind for her. That is, until she meets the new pastor, Kai Schweigaard to take care of an old church with pagan carvings. Here, the intersection of the old Norse ways from hundreds of years ago, and Christian traditions meet beneath the Sister Bells that Astrid’s ancestor made. They memorialise two conjoined Henke sisters. Astrid wants to try and stop their destruction.

Yet when a German architect arrives the plans to reconstruct it in Dresden are revealed. As their lives collide, and Astrid is forced into making a decision, the bells begin to tell and a fate that has been hanging over Astrid’s head begins to shape what is to come.

Told in three parts, each made up of multiple short sections or chapters, The Bell in the Lake was translated from the original Norwegian by Deborah Dawkin, and is a complex and lyrical story, exploring the lives of Astrid, Kai and Gerhard as they navigate the complexities of moving a church and how faith shapes a small community and the driving force of society to determine how people act and what is to come. Interspersed with Astrid’s story – a woman determined to be her own person and move ahead of her time, is the rich history of stave churches and what they meant to their societies. It is dense with history and plot, and many complexities that lead to an ending that was a bit surprising and needed a couple of reads to understand it, but it packed a powerful punch about the realities of the setting and how belief can be a powerful factor in what ends up happening to us.

The intersection of ancient and new religions – of a pantheon of gods versus a singular god, and how these two religions somehow came together – or how one more likely took over and appropriated another in order to convert those who were faithful to the older ways to a new, and what was seen at the time, more acceptable way of thinking. This mainly came through Kai and Gerhard but bubbled below the surface of the other characters and how their beliefs in older ways and legends informed how they wanted to live their lives.

The nineteenth century setting feels authentic – and the cold of Norway expressed throughout is biting and can be felt through the words, and there is a sense of isolation within the novel that Astrid longs to break away from. It is a unique novel and very dense with detail, character and setting – which work in this instance as it allows setting and character to be as important as the plot.