Interview with Eleanor Limprecht, Author of The Passengers

On the blog today, I am delighted to host Eleanor Limprecht, author of The Passengers, published on the 21st of February, and reviewed on the blog as well. Eleanor has kindly answered some questions about the book, war brides and her research process, so I hope you enjoy and that it gives some insight into a very interesting book and a history not often taught in classes.

Hi Eleanor, and welcome to The Book Muse. I’m happy to host you here today.

Hi Ashleigh and thanks for having me!

I’ll start by saying how much I enjoyed The Passengers. It had a little bit of everything, and I liked that each journey was connected by the sea and the cruise, and a sense of self for both Sarah and Hannah. This was a very well executed story.

Thank you very much.

Now down to the questions.

Was there anything in particular that got you interested in the stories of war brides from Australia during the Second World War, and what was this?

There were two things – firstly, in 2013 I took my family to visit my Great Aunt Marge Fogel in San Diego, she was living in a retirement home and we met her boyfriend, Bert, who was in his 90s. Bert was telling us how he’d been to Sydney in the 1940s on R and R, when the war was on, and how he remembered, ‘the beautiful girls, and how they loved to dance’, and he told me how many Americans had married those Australian girls. It got me thinking – wondering how those marriages had turned out.

 

Then we were visiting a family friend of my husband’s a year or two later in Northern NSW and his wife spoke of how her aunt had married an American GI during the war and ended up moving to Kilmarnock, Virginia – and she’d never seen her again. I knew the town of Kilmarnock very well as one of my best friends is from Kilmarnock, and it’s a very small town, and I was intrigued by how that woman would have settled in. The culture shock coming from Sydney, the sheer distance, and then that knowledge that she had never returned. That her family never saw her again.

Prior to World War Two, had war brides been a common societal change in the modern world, or did this trend, and these experiences evolve as a result of American troops staying in Australian cities after 1941?

War brides have been around as long as there have been wars fought in foreign lands. However, what changed with World War II is the numbers of women who married foreign soldiers. Up to 15,000 Australian women are estimated to have married American GIs and moved to the US, but even more German and British brides married foreign soldiers. So war brides were around, particularly during World War I, but the numbers grew massively in WWII.

If inspired by family, are there any interesting stories from family members that informed the narrative and characters you have created?

They are more second hand stories, the ones I related above. But there is also my own story: that I met and fell in love with an Australian man while travelling in Italy in 2001. We spent less than a month together and a year later I left my home, my family, the degree I was studying for, my friends…everything (except my dog – I brought my dog) and moved to Australia to be with him. So in a deeply personal way I related to the stories of these women. I compared my own experience and felt privileged to have the ability to travel back and forth, to FaceTime with my mother and sister, to have the freedom to work and travel and expect some degree of equality. These women really ventured into the unknown. They were incredibly brave.

One thing I am always interested in is how much research authors do, and what kind of sources they use. How many sources and what kinds of sources did you consult for this novel, and which were the most informative and useful?

I love the process of research, and I can get a little carried away! I read everything I could find about war brides – the best sources were social histories and interviews in which the women spoke about their experiences. Trove is an excellent source of old newspaper and magazine articles. I went to the Australian War Memorial and read the pamphlets and letters in their archives, I spent a night on board a restored bride ship in Long Beach, The Queen Mary, which is now a floating hotel, and I travelled up the West Coast of the United States to interview two war brides from Australia who met and married American GIs.

The most informative and useful sources were the women themselves, just meeting them in person and seeing the way they have straddled two worlds – fully at home in neither. One has a collection of old Arnotts biscuit tins and porcelain koalas and kangaroos in her house, but only managed to get back to Australia thirty years after leaving. That was the most moving thing to me, seeing their strength in the face of adversity, how they built new lives, sometimes with everything against them. I also love the coincidences – the reason I was able to meet the war brides on the West Coast of the US is because I was doing a writing workshop in Portland Oregon in 2016. My first day there I sat down in the cafeteria for lunch at a table with a complete stranger. We got to talking, I mentioned that I had come from Australia, and she said: “My mother was Australian.” It turned out that her mother was an Australian war bride. It was the most extraordinary coincidence, and her mother’s story which she told me was one of the most moving and transformative to the way I thought about the novel.

You’ve told Hannah and Sarah’s stories in alternating first person narrative, and both in a present tense format. Was there any reason to do this, or was it a natural progression as you wrote the novel?

The present tense came about because I was also writing Sarah’s memories, and I wanted to delineate between the memories (in the past tense) and the present voyage with Hannah. So it happened fairly naturally. I did experiment with third person narrative voice several times during drafting, but it didn’t have as much power. My previous two novels have been in third-person limited voice – it is generally what I prefer – but I found the intimacy of first person here integral because it is a story being told.

Sarah’s experience after marriage was interesting, and I found it intriguing that Roy’s mother supported her leaving, and Roy seemed to hint that he didn’t want to come. Was Sarah’s experience of leaving, getting a job and divorce and eventually settling down with Jim a common one that came through in your interviews? Why or why not?

I don’t think Roy knew that Sarah was going to leave, but the experience with the mother-in-law being hostile was certainly a common one. A lot of war brides felt as though their mother-in-laws resented them for not being American, and a lot of the brides found themselves having to live with the in laws because of the post-war housing shortages. Getting a divorce was not a common experience, but it was certainly one which I heard and read about, there were definitely marriages which did not work out and there were also instances of the war brides marrying another American. There were also those who went back to Australia. I also realised while researching this story how many unhappy marriages were just tolerated because divorce was frowned upon. But there were definitely divorces as well.

You’ve managed to write for a modern audience whilst at the same time, maintaining certain attitudes of the time, but presenting them in a way that readers will understand these were the attitudes of the time, such as the line “take delivery of his wife after signing for her” – referring to the collection of war brides at the other end. Was this a challenge for you, to maintain authenticity of the time and write for a modern reader? Why/why not?

I have a real desire to maintain this authenticity so I’m really pleased that you found this to be the case. The novel I wrote before this, Long Bay, gave me so much experience in how to avoid placing my own sensibilities on my characters; understanding the social fabric of the time and what their desires, capabilities and expectations would have been. I wrote Long Bay as part of a Doctorate of Creative Arts at UTS and the Professor of History Paula Hamilton advised me early on in my degree to consider carefully how the way we think is a product of the time we live in, and the expectations that society has placed upon us. Discovering what these expectations are is always an important part of my research process.

Sarah’s struggles are with leaving her family, and Hannah’s are with her health – the journey back to Sydney felt like a healing process for both of them and brought Sarah’s story full circle from her departure in 1945. Was this what you intended for the characters?

It is certainly what happened, but I’m not sure that I intended it because I’m not much of a planner when I’m writing. I’m more of the “sit down and write what comes to you” school. It probably takes more drafts but I find the process of discovery enjoyable. And when I discovered what Hannah struggled with I realised that in hearing her grandmother’s story, Hannah gains new perspective on her own. And in journeying back to Australia, Sarah has to confront her past. I was very close to both of my grandmothers, and I loved hearing about their lives and considering the challenges they had to face, and how I would have managed in the same circumstances.

When she leaves Sydney, there are some children travelling with their mothers to meet their fathers in America – which was more common – wives with or without children

 

Wives (and fiancées) without children were more common, but there were plenty of children and babies. For instance – a typical ship was the SS Monterey which arrived in San Francisco in March, 1946 with 562 Australian and New Zealand war brides and their 253 children on board. All of the war brides had free passage to America. Interestingly, fiancées were allowed free passage but a $500 bond had to come from the American fiancé which would cover the return trip to Australia should the marriage not take place three months after arrival in the US!

Was the cruise motif meant to be used as a journey and transitions into new lives at both ends for both women, and what inspired you to use the cruise motif in this way?

 

I didn’t think I would write part of the novel on a cruise ship, but I was so captivated by the experiences of the war brides on the ships to the US that it got me thinking about how travel is this time of limbo – of being stuck between. And sea voyages make for a longer period of limbo, there is more time to consider where you are coming from and where you are going.

Not long after I moved to Australia, my Grandma Lorraine and my Great Aunt Marge took a cruise to Sydney from San Diego, we picked them up and saw their cruise ship, the huge white behemoth at Circular Quay, and they told us the stories of playing bridge and dancing. And I remember thinking then that a cruise is a return to a slower pace, which was part of why my grandma loved them. There was nowhere else to be. And when I thought further about this, I realised it was the perfect place for Sarah to remember, and tell, her story.

As a finale, could you give some more insight into war brides and their experiences, and how an experience like Sarah’s would have been viewed in society at the time?

 

I think we’re coming to realise that the experiences of war brides were an integral part of the stories we tell about WWII. For so long these stories have been dismissed as the ‘domestic’ side, but I think they are incredibly important. Women certainly had more freedom to work, to fall in love, to be in control of their own lives during World War II. But when the war was over there was a backlash, and those who married men who had been away at war found themselves dealing with a generation of husbands who were scarred by their experiences and didn’t have the language to talk about it. Women were told to ‘not ask him too many questions’. They were meant to stay at home and raise the children, but now they had experienced so much more.

Sarah’s experience would have been looked down upon. Australian women who married Yanks were disparaged by Australian men and the Australian media. In America, they were given a hard time for ‘stealing’ American men – who were in short supply post-WWII. And then divorce was highly controversial as well. Sarah would not have been viewed well in society at the time, which was what would have discouraged her from speaking openly about her experiences. Divorce is something we discuss now quite openly, but in the recent past it was still a great source of shame.

 

Any further comments on anything you think I have missed?

No, this was so thorough and I hope my answers are useful and not too long!

Thank you for allowing me to interview you, and appearing on my blog.

Thank you Ashleigh for reading my novel, asking such thoughtful questions, and for having me on your blog.

 

All the best – Eleanor

the passengers

The Passengers by Eleanor Limprecht is published by Allen & Unwin. $29.99. Out now.

You can purchase The Passengers through Booktopia: https://www.booktopia.com.au/the-passengers-eleanor-limprecht/prod9781760631338.html?bk_source=PASSENGERS&bk_source_id=QWEEKREVIEW

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The Passengers by Eleanor Limprecht

the passengers.jpgTitle: The Passengers

Author: Eleanor Limprecht

Genre: Literary Fiction

Publisher:  Allen and Unwin

Published: 21st of February 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 344

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: A luminous novel about love by an acclaimed rising star of Australian literature.

‘A stunning exploration of hope and desire, fear and control, this story is full of heart and heartbreak’
ASHLEY HAY, author of The Railwayman’s Wife


‘A compelling novel about the bruises inflicted by fate and by ourselves, and the blessings to be found in resilience, determination, and love.’
DEBRA ADELAIDE, author of The Household Guide to Dying

Sarah and Hannah are on a cruise from San Diego, California to Sydney, Australia. Sarah, Hannah’s grandmother, is returning to the country of her birth, a place she hasn’t seen since boarding the USS Mariposa in 1945. Then she, along with countless other war brides, sailed across the Pacific to join the American servicemen they’d married during World War II.

Now Hannah is the same age Sarah was when she made her first journey, and in hearing Sarah tell the story of her life, realises the immensity of what her grandmother gave up.

The Passengers is a luminous novel about love: the journeys we undertake, the sacrifices we make and the heartache we suffer for love It is about how we most long for what we have left behind. And it is about the past – how close it can still feel – even after long passages of time.

‘Two women, two generations, two countries, two journeys. Eleanor Limprecht gracefully navigates the crosscurrents of history and creates vibrant characters from the extraordinary true experiences of Australian war brides. Sarah and Hannah’s urgent search for love and wholeness moved me in both senses: they touched my heart and I still feel I am churning across the Pacific with them. A deeply satisfying novel.’
SUSAN WYNDHAM, former literary editor, The Sydney Morning Herald

~*~

AWW-2018-badge-roseSixty-nine years after leaving her home in Australia, Sarah is heading home with her granddaughter, Hannah, on a cruise, the same way she left at the end of World War Two, to join the man she married, Roy, an American soldier serving in the Pacific theatre of the 1940s war. Up until the age of sixteen, Sarah had lived on a farm, and attended school, but just before World War Two breaks out, Sarah and her parents and brothers move to the city, where they must find work. When her brothers sign up for the war, Sarah watches them leave, and finds herself working as a typist for the Americans when they start to arrive. Caught between falling in love and loyalty to her family, Sarah has a choice to make when Roy proposes to her. They wed, and it is several years before they can be reunited in Roanoke, Virginia, and their reunion is not without its struggles – struggles that are not helped by Roy’s conservative parents. Soon, Sarah finds herself separated and alone. She soon reconnects with Jim, the Navy officer who was kind to her on her journey from Sydney.

Hannah is in her early twenties, and at constant war with anorexia. For her, this trip is a way to have time away from the stresses of her nursing course, and help her grandmother reconnect with the home she hasn’t seen for almost seventy years, having left when she was the same age Hannah is now. Struggling to keep up appearances and hide her reasons for not eating on the cruise, Hannah listens as Sarah tells her the story of how she became a war bride, and when the war hit the shores of Australia in February 1942, when Darwin was bombed by Japan. Both journeys have been on ships, one on the SS Mariposa, a luxury liner that had been repurposed for military personnel, and then again at the end of the war for the war brides and any children they had with them from Sydney to San Francisco, and the other a cruise ship taking them back to Sydney. Both journeys are transitions in the lives of the women, points at which things change for them, and alter their lives dramatically.

The Passengers is part historical fiction, part family drama, with two engaging female leads with vastly different experiences and lives on a journey to connect the present with the past and reconnect with family and homelands. With touches of romance that add to the story but do not overtake it, it is a nicely written book, and well researched, showing that not every war experience and not every war bride experience was the same. Eleanor Limprecht has shown the complexities of human nature and isolation in its various forms through each of the characters and their struggles to show how life can affect people and what can come out of it to make things better and the importance of family.

Read my interview with Eleanor here when it goes live.

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Miss Lily’s Lovely Ladies by Jackie French (Miss Lily #1)

Miss Lily 1Title: Miss Lily’s Lovely Ladies

Author: Jackie French

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publisher: HarperCollins

Published: 27th March 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 524

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: A tale of espionage, love and passionate heroism.

Inspired by true events, this is the story of how society’s ‘lovely ladies’ won a war.

Each year at secluded Shillings Hall, in the snow-crisped English countryside, the mysterious Miss Lily draws around her young women selected from Europe’s royal and most influential families. Her girls are taught how to captivate a man – and find a potential husband – at a dinner, in a salon, or at a grouse shoot, and in ways that would surprise outsiders. For in 1914, persuading and charming men is the only true power a woman has.

Sophie Higgs is the daughter of Australia’s king of corned beef and the only ‘colonial’ brought to Shillings Hall. Of all Miss Lily’s lovely ladies, however, she is also the only one who suspects Miss Lily’s true purpose.

As the chaos of war spreads, women across Europe shrug off etiquette. The lovely ladies and their less privileged sisters become the unacknowledged backbone of the war, creating hospitals, canteens and transport systems where bungling officials fail to cope. And when tens of thousands can die in a single day’s battle, Sophie must use the skills Miss Lily taught her to prevent war’s most devastating weapon yet.

But is Miss Lily heroine or traitor? And who, exactly, is she?

~*~

AWW-2018-badge-roseSophie Higgs lives in Australia at Thuringa, in 1913. Her father runs a corned beef empire, and Australian women have had the vote for eleven years, unlike the women in England, who are still fighting for suffrage. Sophie’s father sends her across the seas to Shillings, where, alongside women from the upper echelons of European society and royalty, Sophie will be taught by the mysterious Miss Lily about society, and how to behave at dinner, how to talk to men and captivate them, how to flatter them, and how to speak about topics that are said to be not right for a woman to know about. But Sophie is a bit of a challenge – the “colonial” who is outspoken and questions everything she is told. Miss Lily takes Sophie under her wing and sets about preparing her for a society life where she can fit in yet still be who she is. As 1914 inches towards war between Germany and England, Sophie must decide who she can trust. Emily, who has always been aloof and focussed? Or Hannelore, a German princess who is friendly but determined that Germany will win any war that breaks out on the continent. As war breaks out, and the Lovely Ladies head home or get married, Sophie is adrift, but determined to make a difference. With the Australians joining the call to duty and heading to Gallipoli, Sophie helps Alison turn her home into a hospital for injured soldiers. As soldiers die, and babies are born, Sophie is drawn further into the war, and across the seas to the battlefields of Ypres and Flanders, where she recounts her tale to a soldier out on the fields, before they head off the battlefields, where the war slowly wraps up, and Sophie finds herself looking to an uncertain future in the inter-war years.

In Miss Lily’s Lovely Ladies, Jackie French does not shy away from the horrors of war or the expectations of pre-war Georgian society. The dangers are present, and spoken about, openly and in veiled terms. When Sophie speaks about the threat of war openly. it surprises many, but she finds some men who find relief in not having to curb their chit-chat too much. Like her other novels, Jackie French is telling the stories that have been silence, or relegated to the quieter corners of history, away from the victories of those on the battlefields. whose voices are always heard. The extensive research she has done to uncover these stories is exemplary, and shows just how deep Australian history is, and how much we often miss out on in history lessons.

Sophie’s story ends with a few threads dangling, as a good series does, leaving some mystery for the books to com. The power of friendship felt more important than the romance in this book, though both were present. The romance was woven throughout nicely, so it didn’t overpower what Sophie was trying to do in the war, or her relationship with Alison and the other Lovely Ladies. I had a delightful surprise to meet Midge MacPherson from A Rose for the Anzac Boys again, and I hope she’ll come back in the next book.

The friends that Sophie made throughout the war became important to her, unable to return home because of the threat of enemy attacks, she treasured those she became friends with. As it is a story about war, I felt the deaths and consequences were dealt with realistically and sympathetically, showing the changes in Sophie over the war that altered her perception of herself and the world. I thoroughly enjoyed Sophie’s journey and look forward to it continuing, as I did with Miss Matilda and the Matilda Saga.

An excellent addition to my Jackie French Library, and a great read for fans of the author and historical fiction.

This marks off another square in my book bingo, and will be included in my next post in two weeks time.

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Book Bingo Three: A book by someone over 60, a book by an author you’ve never read before.

 AWW-2018-badge-rose

In my third book bingo posts of the year, I have two books to report on – a book by an author I have never read before, and a book by someone over sixty. Both of these books have already been reviewed on my blog, so I have linked back to the longer reviews in this post.

oceans edgeSquare seven, a book by an author I have never read before has been filled by The Secret’s at Ocean’s Edge by Kali Napier, and it is Kali’s debut novel, and draws on family history and the geography of Western Australia to craft a story that is filled with ups and downs, and characters who are flawed and complex. It is a story about family, and sacrifice, and the lengths that some people will go to so they can protect family, and hide secrets that threaten those they care about. Set in the Great Depression, it shows a side to Australian history and life often not heard about in history books and draws on issues of Aboriginality and how the government defined this during the 1930s, injecting some of the hidden history not taught in schools into the novel. I enjoyed this debut, and hope Kali writes more.

My next square checked off is a book published by someone over 60. Eventual Poppy Day eventual poppy dayby Libby Hathorn (b 1943) fits into this square. Eventual Poppy ay is another story inspired by family history, in this case, a family link to the battlefields of World War One and what would become known as Remembrance Day and Anzac Day, where poppies would become the symbol of a generation lost to the ravages of war. It flicks between the story of Maurice in the war, and his great-great nephew in the twenty-first century, trying to find his place in the world. It is a moving story that gives a sense of what the war was like, the suffocating trenches and the feelings of helplessness during the stalemates.

Both of these were historical fiction as well, as I feel many of my books this year will be. Keep an eye out for my next post in two weeks time with more updates.

book bingo 2018.jpg

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Adelaide Writer’s Week 2018

The third of March, 2018 marks the beginning of the six-day festival of authors and writing in Adelaide, South Australia. Eighty-Four Australian and international authors will attend the event for a variety of talks, across a diverse range of authors, books and genres to discuss literature and how the world impacts the stories we tell. The Adelaide Writer’s Week is part of the Adelaide festival that celebrates art and culture.

This celebration allows the community to engage with authors and the arts, and with each other. The various events will appeal to people of all ages and in all groups.

Hachette Australia has several Australian and international authors attending, and they are as follows, with the works they had published by Hachette last year:

Mark Brandi, author of Wimmera, appearing at the Small Towns event on the 3rd of March, 2018 at 3.45pm – East Stage Pioneer Women’s Memorial Garden. Wimmera was published in 2017, and tells the story of Ben and Fab, and the body that is found twenty years after summer in 1989, and the mystery that unfolds. It is one I am yet to read and hope to do so soon.

terra nulliusClaire G. Coleman author of Terra Nullius, a speculative fiction that looks at the effects of colonisation, and displacement in a suggested future where humankind has been colonised and invaded by aliens. It draws parallels to the effects of real world invasion and colonisation on Indigenous populations, and it was an interesting read, as it started out as what felt like historical fiction, but the reveal half way through was quite a surprise, and admittedly, took some getting used to. It was an interesting read though, and one that will hopefully start conversations or make people think about the issues it draws upon. Claire will be appearing at 2.30pm on the 7th of March, West Stage Pioneer Women’s Memorial Garden.

Thomas Mullen, author of Lightning Men, The Revisionists, and Darktown, will attend three events: American South, on the 3rd of March, East Stage Pioneer Women’s Memorial Garden, at 2.3opm, Making history, East Stage Pioneer Women’s Memorial Garden, at 12pm on the 5th of March and Darktown, at 10.45am on the 6th of March at the East Stage Pioneer Women’s Memorial Garden.

Louise Penny, author of Still Life
, Dead Cold, The Cruellest Month, The Murder Stone
, The Brutal Telling
, Bury Your Dead
, A Trick of the Light
, The Beautiful Mystery, How The Light Gets AWW-2018-badge-roseIn, The Long Way Home, The Nature of the Beast, A Great Reckoning, and Glass Houses ­– the Inspector Gamache series, will be attending two events on the 4th and the 5th of March: Glass Houses at 9.30am on the 4th of March, at East Stage Pioneer Women’s Memorial Garden, and Into the Woods on the 5th of March at 5pm, at the East Stage Pioneer Women’s Memorial Garden.

see what i have doneAnother Australian Author published by Hachette attending will be Sarah Schmidt, author of See What I Have Done, a fictional retelling of Lizzie Borden and her murdered parents, planting seeds of doubt and suggesting that there may have been other suspects, but not coming to any full conclusions, and working with the evidence provided from research. A strange and intriguing read, it gives insight into the people behind the history, as historical fiction aims to do. Sarah will be appearing with Thomas Mullen at Making History on the 5th of March at 12pm, at the East Stage Pioneer Women’s Memorial Garden.

Much-loved Scottish author, Alexander McCall-Smith, whose extensive backlist, including the latest in the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency Series, The House of Unexpected Sisters, has been published by Hachette, will also be attending. The main event he will be attending will be Love and Tartan, on the 8th of March at 5pm, at the East Stage Pioneer Women’s Memorial Garden. The House of Unexpected Sisters is book eighteen of the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency.

Sarah Winman, author of Tin Man, A Year of Marvellous Wats and When God Was a Rabbit will also be attending and taking part in two events. She will be attending Friends on the 3rd of March at 9.30 am at the at the East Stage Pioneer Women’s Memorial Garden. and Tin Man on the 5th of March, at 9.30 am at the at the West Stage Pioneer Women’s Memorial Garden.

Links:

http://artsreview.com.au/2018-adelaide-writers-week-program-announced/

https://www.adelaidefestival.com.au/writers_week_blog/

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Olmec Obituary by L.J.M. Owen

OLMEC_B_SML.jpegTitle: Olmec Obituary

Author: L.J.M. Owen

Genre: Crime/Mystery

Publisher: Echo

Published: August 2016

Format: Paperback

Pages: 342

Price: $19.99

Synopsis: Archaeologist Dr Elizabeth Pimms thoroughly enjoys digging up old skeletons.

But when she is called home from Egypt after a family loss, she has to sacrifice her passions for the sake of those around her.

Attempting to settle into her new role as a librarian, while also missing her boyfriend, Elizabeth is distracted from her woes by a new mystery: a royal Olmec cemetery, discovered deep in the Mexican jungle, with a 3000-year-old ballplayer who just might be a woman.

She soon discovers there are more skeletons to deal with than those covered in dirt and dust.

Suitable for readers young and old, Olmec Obituary is the first novel in a delightful cosy crime series: Dr Pimms, Intermillennial Sleuth. Really cold cases.

~*~

AWW-2018-badge-roseElizabeth is having the time of her life in Egypt, delving into tombs, uncovering new secrets, and searching for the women of antiquity amongst all the evidence of male rulers. When family tragedy strikes, Elizabeth is summoned home, and must give up her archaeology career for the stability of one in the National Library of Australia (referred to as the Mahony Griffin Library in the book) and support her family. In pain, and curious as to a fellow librarian’s behaviour towards her, Elizabeth finds herself volunteering to help uncover the secrets of a three-thousand-year-old Olmec cemetery. But all is not what it seems, and there are more than just bone-related secrets to uncover. What is the head of the project, Dr. Carl Schmidt up to, and why? Who is he covering for? And why does Mai hate her so much? Back at home, Elizabeth is grappling with younger siblings and grandparents who need her to work to support them, but also need her to help around the house and be there for them. Between work, and her family, Elizabeth hopes she can solve the mystery of the Olmec women, and prove to the university and library what has really been happening – and perhaps even why.

The first in what I am sure will be a wonderful new cosy crime series with cases so cold, nobody is left to speak for the dead but archaeologists and historians, Olmec Obituary brings a new sleuth to life, who deals in cases so cold, finding a witness would require a time machine. However, without one, Elizabeth settles on solving the crimes and mysteries of the past from the future, using her skills as an archaeologist, and with the help of Alice, a PhD candidate, and friends who study ancient languages, will make discoveries that will alter perceptions and cause Elizabeth to look to her family, and uncover more than just the skeletons at work. Olmec Obituary introduces us to a cast of characters who are unique and diverse, to a family with Welsh, Chinese and French heritage, with a female led cast of characters, with female-centric narratives driving the story, both the story of the Olmec burial and Elizabeth’s story, where she comes up against sexism in her voluntary position, and an unexpected altercation with a library employee she has never met – Mai – and who gives no indication as to why she has decided to hate Elizabeth – something I am intrigued by and look forward to finding out. I was just as surprised as Elizabeth at the instant hatred – it added another mystery to the story as I wondered what the hatred was about. It added a layer to the story and characters that contributed to the mystery.

Not only is the story-line compelling and interesting, Olmec Obituary’s diverse cast of characters, and female-led story brings a new voice to Australian literature in the last few years, offering up something meaty and intriguing for new readers who want their women doing new and interesting things, and seeking diversity. Combined, these work, and Elizabeth’s love life is present too, but already established and not at the forefront of the plot, which makes for exciting reading. As stubborn as she is, Elizabeth still has weaknesses and flaws that she tries to keep guarded and hidden, but it is these flaws that make her an intriguing character to read about.

The genre of cosy mystery, where the murder happens off page, without gratuitous violence and sex is becoming a favourite – and in this genre, all my current favourite authors are Australian women writers, with one being a British male – Vaseem Khan, author of the Baby Ganesh Investigation series. My other favourites which are by Australian women are:

LJM Owen, Dr Pimms, Intermillennial Sleuth

Sulari Gentill, The Rowland Sinclair Mysteries – and the series that got me into this genre.

Kerry Greenwood, Phryne Fisher Mysteries

Janine Beacham – Rose Raventhorpe Investigates.

So, in my vast collection, Elizabeth is in good company, and she is an intriguing character, much like Rowly, Rose, Phryne and Inspector Chopra and his baby elephant. Where Rowly has his artist friends, and Phryne has trusty maid Dot, and Rose, the Silvercrest Butlers, and Chopra has a baby elephant, Elizabeth’s companions are her cats, named for Egyptian gods and goddesses, who are there when Elizabeth is working at home, always watching, and always faithful.

This is a great start to what I am sure will be an engaging and educational series. Elizabeth looks to be a character whose secrets will be revealed across the series and watching this happen will be intriguing. I liked the way Olmec Obituary ended with a touch of a mystery to come and be resolved, whilst wrapping up key aspects of the main plot and revealing characters for who they truly are not the facade that they put on for everyone else.

A great read, and I can’t wait to get stuck into book two.

Booktopia

2018 NSW PREMIER’S LITERARY AWARDS

The NSW Government has a long tradition of celebrating and connecting the public with art and literature. The NSW Premier’s Literary Awards are an opportunity to highlight the importance of literacy and literature, whilst enjoying and learning from the work of our writers in NSW and Australia. Like other literary awards, this award in highlighting the spectacular Australian Literature Australian writers produce, highlights and honours the achievements of Australia’s writers, and their artistic contributions to society, but also to highlight our literary achievements to the world. The State Library administers the awards.AWW-2018-badge-rose

The NSW Premier’s Literary Awards have more categories than the Victorian awards. These categories are:

Christina Stead Prize for Fiction

2017 Winner: The Museum of Modern Love by Heather Rose

2017 Shortlist: Vancouver #3 in the series Wisdom Tree by Nick Earls

Their Brilliant Careers: The Fantastic Lives of Sixteen Extraordinary Australian Writers by Ryan O’Neill

Where the Light Falls by Gretchen Shirm

After the Carnage by Tara June Winch

The Natural Way of Things by Charlotte Wood.

UTS Glenda Adams Award for New Writing

2017 Winner: Letter to Pessoa by Michelle Cahil

2017 Shortlist:

The Memory Artist by Katherine Brabon

Dodge Rose by Jack Cox

Our Magic Hour by Jennifer Down

Portable Curiosities by Julie Koh

The Bonobo’s Dream by Rose Mulready

Douglas Stewart Prize for Non-Fiction

2017 Winner: Our Man Elsewhere: In Search of Alan Moorehead by Thornton McCamish

2017 Shortlist: Everywhere I Look by Helen Garner

Talking to My Country by Stan Grant

The Art of Time Travel: Historians and Their Craft by Tom Griffiths

Avalanche by Julia Leigh

Prince of Darkness: The Untold Story of Jeremiah G. Hamilton, Wall Street’s First Black Millionaire by Shane White

Kenneth Slessor Prize for Poetry

2017 Winner: Ghostspeaking by Peter Boyle

2017 Shortlist: Burnt Umber by Paul Hetherington

Breaking the Days by Jill Jones

Fragments by Antigone Kefala

Firebreaks: Poems by John Kinsella

Comfort Food by Ellen van Neerven

Ethel Turner Prize for Young People’s Literature

2017 Winner: One Thousand Hills by James Roy and Noël Zihabamwe

2017 Shortlist: Elegy by Jane Abbott

The Ghost by the Billabong by Jackie French 

the-ghost-by-the-billabong

The Sidekicks by Will Kostakis

The Boundless Sublime by Lili Wilkinson

One Would Think the Deep by Claire Zorn

Patricia Wrightson Prize for Children’s Literature

2017 Winner: Iris and the Tiger by Leanne Hall

2017 Shortlist: Magrit by Lee Battersby and Amy Daoud

Something Wonderful by Raewyn Caisley and Karen Blair

Desert Lake Pamela Freeman and Liz Anelli

Figgy and the President by Tamsin Janu

Welcome to Country by Aunty Joy Murphy and Lisa Kennedy

Nick Enright Prize For Playwriting

 

2017 Winner: The Drover’s Wife by Leah Purcell

2017 Shortlist:  The Hanging by Angela Betzein

You, Me and the Space Between by Finegan Kruckemeyer

Ladies Day by Alana Valentine

Betty Roland Prize for Scriptwriting

2017 Winner: The Code – Series 2, Episode 4 by Shelley Birse

2017 Shortlist: Down Under by Abe Forsythe

Sucker by Lawrence Leung and Ben Chessel

The Kettering Incident episode 1 by Victoria Madden

Afghanistan: Inside Australia’s War by Victoria Midwinter Pitt

Cleverman Episode 5 “Terra Nullius” by Michael Miller

Multicultural NSW Award

 2017 Winner: The Hate Race by Maxine Beneba Clarke

2017 Shortlist: Offshore: Behind the Wire on Manus and Nauru by Madeline Gleeson

Not Quite Australian: How Temporary Migration is Changing the Nation by Peter Mares

Of Ashes and Rivers that Run to the Sea by Marie Munkara

Promising Azra Helen Thurloe – on my To Be Read pile.

The Fighter: A True Story by Arnold Zable

NSW Premier’s Translation Prize

 2017 Winner: Royall Tyler

2017 Shortlist: J.M.Q Davies

Penny Hueston

Jennifer Lindsay

Multicultural NSW Early Career Translation Prize

 2017 Winner: Jan Owen

2017 Shortlist: Christopher Williams

Indigenous Writer’s Prize – Biennial Prize Next Awarded in 2018

Last awarded in 2016.

2016 Winners: Dark Emu by Bruce Pascoe and Heat and Light by Ellen van Neerven

2016 Shortlist: Ghost River by Tony Birch

Inside My Mother by Ali Cobby Eckermann

Dirty Words by Natalie Harkin

Not Just Black and White by Lesley Williams and Tammy Williams

Other Awards:

NSW Prize for Literature

2017 Winner: The Drover’s Wife by Leah Purcell

People’s Choice Award

 2017 Winner: Vancouver #3 in the series Wisdom Tree by Nick Earls

 Special Award

 The Special Award was last awarded to Rosie Scott AM in 2016.

Across these twelve categories and the three additional ones, there is a diverse range of authors and stories, that tell of personal experiences, imagined worlds and that draw on history and the world the authors have lived that led them to write these books. Each prize I have looked at so far has shown a different degree of diversity, with this one having a broader range, if only because it has more categories than the others I have looked at. Last year’s winners and nominees are in good company with past winners Peter Carey, David Malouf AO, Elizabeth Jolley, Thomas Keneally AO and Helen Garner.

Each prize has a different amount of money, and further details can be found in the provided links. In 2018, the total prize money, including sponsored awards is up to $305 000, and to be nominated for any of these awards, the writer and illustrator must be living Australian citizens or hold permanent resident status.

Taken from the website:

The NSW Premier’s Literary Awards are presented by the NSW Government and administered by the State Library in association with Create NSW. We are pleased to acknowledge the support of Multicultural NSW and the University of Technology Sydney (UTS).

The 2018 winners will be announced on 30 April 2018.The short-list will be announced in March.

Purchase any of the above books here:

Booktopia