May 2020 Round Up

In May, we seemed to settle into a lockdown routine, so I got a bit more reading done. This month, I read 20 books – the vast majority of those – seventeen – were by Australian women writers – some for review, some my own reads and one or two that I read alongside Isolation Publicity interviews. Below is a breakdown of my current numbers, and a table with each read and the challenge they worked for. Some categories are easier to fill, as always, and some have multiple entries. I’ve got plenty to read – the books keep coming so I’m trying to keep on top of everything as best I can.

The Modern Mrs Darcy 11/12
AWW2020 -53/25
Book Bingo – 11/12
The Nerd Daily Challenge 45/52
Dymocks Reading Challenge 22/25
Books and Bites Bingo 15/25
STFU Reading Challenge: 10/12
General Goal –89/165

May – 20

Book Author Challenge
The Monstrous Devices Damien Love Reading Challenge, STFU Reading Challenge, AWW2020
An Alice Girl Tanya Heaslip Reading Challenge, AWW2020
Daisy Runs Wild Caz Goodwin and Ashley King Reading Challenge, AWW2020
Peta Lyre’s Rating Normal Anna Whateley Reading Challenge, AWW2020
Her Perilous Mansion Sean Williams Reading Challenge
What Zola did on Monday

 

Melina Marchetta and illustrated by Deb Hudson Reading Challenge, AWW2020, The Nerd Daily Challenge
Henrie’s Hero Hunt (House of Heroes)

 

Petra Hunt Reading Challenge, AWW2020,
The Power of Positive Pranking Nat Amoore Reading Challenge, Dymocks Reading Challenge, AWW2020
Edie’s Experiments: How to Make Friends Charlotte Barkla Reading Challenge, AWW2020
Alice-Miranda at School Jacqueline Harvey Reading Challenge, The Nerd Daily, AWW2020
Alice-Miranda in the Outback Jacqueline Harvey Reading Challenge, AWW2020
The Giant and the Sea Trent Jamieson, Rovina Cai Reading Challenge, Book Bingo, STFU Reading Challenge
Shoestring: The Boy Who Walks on Air by

 

Julie Hunt and Dale Newman Reading Challenge, AWW2020
Orla and the Serpent’s Curse C.J. Halsam Reading Challenge
Elephant Me Giles Andreae and Guy Parker-Rees Reading Challenge, Dymocks Reading Challenge, The Nerd Daily Challenge
A Treacherous Country K.M. Kruimink Reading Challenge, AWW2020
Eloise and the Bucket of Stars Janine Brian Reading Challenge, AWW2020
Snow White and Rose Red: And Other Tales of Kind Young Women  Kate Forsyth and Lorena Carrington Reading Challenge, Dymocks Reading Challenge, AWW2020, Books and Bites Book Bingo
Tashi: 25th Anniversary Edition

 

Anna Fienberg, Barbara Fienberg and Kim Gamble Reading Challenge, AWW2020
On A Barbarous Coast Craig Cormick and Harold Ludwick Reading Challenge, STFU Reading Challenge, Dymocks Reading Challenge

 

In June I am hoping to read more and get further on top of all my reviews – look for more great books by Australians and especially kids and young adult books to come in the next few weeks.

Peta Lyre

On A Barbarous Coast by Craig Cormick and Harold Ludwick

barbarous coastTitle: On A Barbarous Coast
Author: Craig Cormick and Harold Ludwick
Genre: Speculative Historical Fiction
Publisher: Allen and Unwin
Published: 2nd June 2020
Format: Paperback
Pages: 320
Price: $29.99
Synopsis: On a Barbarous Coast is an alternative retelling of Captain James Cook’s story co-written by Craig Cormick and Harold Ludwick in the tradition of imagined histories.
We were becoming the wild things we most feared, but could not see it at the time.

On a night of raging winds and rain, Captain Cook’s Endeavour lies splintered on a coral reef off the coast of far north Australia. A small disparate band of survivors, fracturing already, huddle on the shore of this strange land – their pitiful salvage scant protection from the dangers of the unknown creatures and natives that live here.

Watching these mysterious white beings, the Guugu Yimidhirr people cannot decide if they are ancestor spirits to be welcomed – or hostile spirits to be speared. One headstrong young boy, Garrgiil, determines to do more than watch and to be the one to find out what exactly they are.

Fierce, intriguing and thoughtful, On a Barbarous Coast is the story of a past and future that might have been.

‘Australia’s “origin” story brilliantly re-imagined, in which Indigenous Australians rightfully assume their central place.’ Susan Johnson, author of The Broken Book

~*~

We all know the story of Captain Cook and the Endeavour, and from there, the story of the First Fleet and colonisation. We know it mostly from the perspective of those who were in power and recorded their version of events at the time – the official record. What we don’t know is how the people whose names and voices often ignored or not heard saw these events and interacted with those in power and with each other. What would have happened to our historical record if these voices had been given a chance to share their stories? Alternatively, what if Captain Cook’s story had a different ending?

This is what Craig Cormick – a non-Indigenous author, and his co-author, Harold Ludwick – an Indigenous author (Guugu Yimidhirr and Kuku Yalanji descent) have posited in their book, On A Barbarous Coast. Using historical figures and records, and oral stories, the story takes a different tack – where the Endeavour is shipwrecked, Captain Cook injured and the survivors splinter into two groups – the armed marines, and the unarmed botanist – Joseph Banks, and several other crew members. Craig tells the white man’s story through the eyes of Magra, and the struggle to survive – the fear of the unknown, and the feeling of not knowing what to do or expect from anyone – except those in his group. He’s even scared of Judge and the other marines and hopes to try and communicate to the Indigenous people these fears.

Harold tells the Indigenous perspective through the eyes of a young boy named Garrgiil, who spies on these white strangers and reports back to his clan and family. They are just as cautious of interacting as the book moves along, and both groups are curious. Yet there are layers of what one group understands as right and wrong in their contexts. This is shown through alternating chapters. Each character is given a unique voice, and authentically shows their different understandings of the world – for Garrgiil, it’s the sacred land that the newcomers are sheltered on. For Magra and his fellow crewmates, they are just glad to be on dry land, and are not sure who they will encounter or where – or indeed how.

Much of the novel revolves around their observations of each other and quest to survive and maintain the way they live. For Magra and his group, it is the hope that someone will find them and be able to take them home. What happened in the years following 1770 and 1788 could have been very different if the newcomers and the Indigenous people had been able to work together and find a way to live together peacefully – which is what this novel posits. It is an interesting thing to consider – how different might Australia as we know it have been if everyone was given the chance to contribute to how the country was run and formed, and how developments and changes might have happened differently. What would have changed and how, isn’t expanded on in this novel beyond the integration of those from the Endeavour and Garrgiil’s people – that is left up to the imagination and what we know of history. This what if type novel explores themes of history and integration and looks at how things could have been very different if attempts at communication had been made and attempts to understand each other and the first people here were made. We cannot go back and change the past – we can only change how we interact and understand each other going forward, and part of doing this is to learn about the stories that are not often heard and that were often ignored or left out of the history books used for many years in education. What this book offers is a different way of looking at our history and understanding of how our nation was formed.

In collaborating and finding two very unique and distinct voices that both stood out as individual people but also melded together to create an engaging story, Cormick and Ludwick have looked at the stories and records from both sides – oral and written, to bring this speculative historical fiction to life that explores first contact, misunderstandings and differing world views that illustrate how each character sees the world and where they realise they might be wrong – or might just need to work together towards an understanding of each other, even though each will always be different in some ways.

This was a unique story, told in a unique and collaborative way that made me wonder if our historical record would be richer if we had always had that collaboration, and if we did, and it was hidden, whether it would have made a difference to how we understand and relate to the history of Australia as we know it.

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
WINNER OF 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.

 

Isolation Publicity with Madelaine Dickie

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.

Madelaine Dickie is the author of Troppo and Red Can Origami. Like many authors, she had launches and events cancelled surrounding the release of her book. Whilst this is disappointing for authors, giving them an opportunity to virtually promote their books here and as some publishers and booksellers have done, will help with the release.  

Hi Madelaine, and welcome to The Book Muse

 

  1. To begin with, what genre do you usually write in, and what audience do you primarily focus on?

 

My audience, my readers, love racy plots, gorgeous language and vivid characters. They’re deep thinkers, who are empathetic, curious and not afraid to question the status quo. They also love a good dash of danger—a flirtation with risk!

I write across a number of genres and forms. My early publications were mostly poetry and creative non-fiction, my first novel is a surf-noir thriller, my second novel is literary fiction, and I’m currently working on a biography, a 14,000-word essay on art and violence in Mexico, and a crime novel.

 

 

Madelaine's second novel, Red Can Origami, was released by Fremantle Press in December 2019
Red Can Origami was released by Fremantle Press in December 2019

 

 

  1. Your latest novel, Red Can Origami, is about the conflict between a Japanese mining company and a local Aboriginal group in northern Australia – what inspired you to write this story?

 

I spent about six years living and working for Traditional Owners in the Kimberley, first in Broome, then in Wyndham. It was a privilege to reside in a living cultural landscape, where people have a continuing and powerful connection to country. Through my work, I had the opportunity to attend native title consent determinations, Indigenous Protected Area celebrations, back to country trips and huge bush meetings attended by hundreds of people. Red Can Origami came out of these wonderful and wild years. The book has serious subject matter, but it’s also funny and fast-paced, and the action flies from the rodeos and fishing holes of northern Australia, to the dazzling streets of night time Tokyo …

 

 

  1. Did you have any events related to your book or books planned for this year before everything had to be cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic? What were they, and which were you most excited about?

I was really looking forward to all of my events. They included talks for the City of Fremantle; Melville Library; Margaret River Readers and Writers Festival; and Corrugated Lines up in Broome.

 

  1. You’ve travelled to Japan, Mexico, and many African countries – how have these trips informed your writing, and do you have a favourite place you’d love to go back to one day?

 

Martha Gellhorn spoke of countries being like lovers. For me, Indonesia was my first love affair—passionate, troubled, exhilarating, exhausting. I’ve spent about three years in Indonesia all up on different trips. It’s where I wrote my debut novel Troppo. Troppo is set in Sumatra and is about mad Aussie expats, black magic and big waves.
Now, my tastes and interests are shifting. In Mexico last year, I wrote a non-fiction essay about representations of violence in Mexican textile art and lithographs, as well as manifestations of violence in the surf culture. This is coming out in an anthology with Fremantle Press in 2021 and I’ll be allowed to share more details soon.

I think generally, travelling has always meant the space to write, the space to dream, to think, to read, to drift, and to reflect with some objectivity on my own country, on Australia, on our strengths and shortcomings.

I’d love to go back to Pavones in Costa Rica, and one day, I would love to visit Angola and Equatorial Guinea.

 

  1. When did your writing journey begin with Fremantle Press?

 

My journey with Fremantle Press began when I won the City of Fremantle T.A.G Hungerford Award for Troppo in 2014.

 

Madelaine's first novel Troppo won the City of Fremantle Hungerford Award
Madelaine’s first novel, Troppo, won the City of Fremantle Hungerford Award in 2014

 

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

 

At university, I won the Illawarra Mercury Journalism Prize and the Nicholas Pounder Prize. I received a Prime Minister’s Asia Australia Endeavour Award to write the first draft of Troppo in Java … and the book went on to win the Hungerford Award, as well as to be shortlisted for the Barbara Jefferis Award and the Dobbie Literary Award. Red Can Origami was written in Tokyo, at Youkobo Art Space, with the support of an Asialink Arts Residency.

 

  1. Do you prefer writing with pen and paper, or on the computer, and why?

 

I write in pen or pencil on blank sheets of A4 paper. This slow form of writing lends itself to stronger, more poetic work. It gives me the chance to see how the words within a sentence settle next to each other. I write and rewrite and rewrite until the rhythm is exactly right.

 

  1. Apart from Troppo and Red Can Origami, have you written anything else in either short or longform that has been published?

 

My first short story won a national competition and was published when I was seven years old. I wrote it on a typewriter and my dad helped me with the editing! Since then, my short stories, radio stories, poetry, essays and creative non-fiction pieces have consistently been published, mostly in Australia, and sometimes overseas. While I was in Japan, I wrote a piece titled ‘Wandering the Yellowcake Road’ about my journey through parts of the Fukushima Da’ichi Nuclear Exclusion Zone. If you Google the title, you should be able to find this one online, published by Coldnoon International Journal of Travelling and Travelling Cultures.

 

  1. Have you ever appeared at, or attended writer’s festivals, and have there been any that have stood out for you?

 

I was invited to Makassar International Writers Festival in 2017, organised by Lily Yulianti, and presenting in Indonesian was an incredible (and challenging!) experience. I was inspired by how many young people were in attendance. They were curious, engaged, energised and intelligent. It was really different to the vibe at writers’ festivals in Australia.

 

  1. How important do you think the arts are in society, and what can people do to support them in these difficult times?

 

I think literature is crucial to our contemporary society. Literature is our memory, our history, and our mirror. I hope people are able to keep reading. My reading has suffered a blow since the coronavirus pandemic—I’m spending more time on that endless scroll of Facebook, or Instagram, or news, and finding it harder to focus, to lose myself.

 

  1. Do you have any favourite booksellers you support in your local area?

 

I live in Exmouth, a remote town on the Ningaloo Reef of Western Australia, and I’m very pleased to have the support of The Social Society and Exmouth Newsagency and Toyworld. They both stock copies of my books!

 

  1. Who are your favourite authors and/or books?

 

I love the work of Barry Lopez, Don Winslow, Thea Astley, James Crumley, Antonio Lobo Antunes, Merlinda Bobis, Ludmilla Petrushevskya and Denis Johnson.

 

Madelaine's writing schedule is structured around tides, winds and the arrival of swells. Photo by Aimee Jan.
Madelaine arranges her writing schedule around tides and swells. Photo by Aimee Jan

 

  1. Other than writing, what do you enjoy doing during your spare time?

 

I’m a surfer—and not a summer surfer, or a sometimes surfer. My writing days and weeks are structured around tides, winds and the arrival of swells. Many of our surf spots here are boat access only, and my best days in the surf are off the reef with my girlfriends. They’re amazingly capable water women—they have their skippers’ tickets, can 4WD, own their own boats, and are incredibly brave. When I’m not surfing or writing, I like going for long walks through the desert with my husband, and I like drinking cold white wine on hot desert evenings.

Red Can Origami came out of six years living, working and fishing in the Kimberley region of Western Australia.
Red Can Origami came from 6 years living, working and fishing in the Kimberley region of WA
  1. Working in the arts, what have you learned from others in the industry, and have you been able to apply this to your own work?

 

My greatest lessons have been from the masters—from writers who push the boundaries of form and of language. From the way Beckett finds rhythm in minimalism, to Joyce’s bold and shameless play, to Kurniawan’s quirky narrative structures, writing is a constant learning process. I have also learned a great deal from Georgia Richter, my wonderful editor at Fremantle Press.

 

  1. What do you think the most important thing the arts can bring to people in these trying times?

 

I think the arts can bring escapism and hope, can prompt reflection and contemplation.

 

  1. Do you have any other novels in the works, and when do you hope to be able to release them?

 

I’m currently working on a biography of the Kimberley Aboriginal leader Wayne Bergmann.

Wayne is a Nyikina man, a boiler-maker welder, a lawyer, and a former finalist in the Western Australian of the Year Awards.

He has rubbed shoulders with Queen Elizabeth, the King and Queen of Sweden, as well as numerous Australian Prime Ministers and Western Australian premiers. His most demanding role was as CEO of the Kimberley Land Council (KLC). At its helm, Wayne successfully negotiated a 1.5-billion-dollar compensation package for Traditional Owners relating to Woodside Petroleum’s proposed gas plant at James Price Point, north of Broome. Wayne came under constant assault during this time, was called a ‘toxic coconut’ and accused of thinking white, lying white, and talking white. He approached me to write this book out of a desire to set the public record straight.

It’s a fantastic project and I’m genuinely thrilled to be at the desk each day. This book is going to be really special and really powerful! I’m hoping to finish a first draft by the end of the year.

 

 

Anything you wish to say that I may have missed?

 

Thanks Madelaine and best of luck in your career.

 

Isolation Publicity with Alison Booth

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.

the-philosophers-daughter-cover

Alison Booth has a PhD from the London School of Economics, and is the author of several books, including The Philosopher’s Daughter, which came out in early April. Like many of my participants, she had events and launches cancelled. With some of these moving online, my series is one aspect of how these authors are getting the word about their books out there, and in some cases, I am reviewing them – these reviews will appear in separate posts as close to the interview date as possible – or as soon as I can get them up – I am hoping to stick to keeping them close together, otherwise will link them to each other in the posts when I am able to.

 

Hi Alison, and welcome to The Book Muse!

 

  1. Your novel, The Philosopher’s Daughters, came out on the second of April, 2020. To begin, can you tell my readers a bit about your latest book?

 

The Philosopher’s Daughters is a tale of two very different sisters whose 1890s voyage from London into remote outback Australia becomes a journey of self-discovery, set against a landscape of wild beauty and savage dispossession.

 

  1. What inspired this book in particular, and what genre do you usually write in?

 

For years the idea for The Philosopher’s Daughters just wouldn’t let me alone. I kept imagining 1890s London and two strong but very different young women, the daughters of a widowed moral philosopher. Someone like John Stuart Mill, a great advocate for the emancipation of women. Someone who gives the girls a relatively modern upbringing. Then I wanted to introduce an alteration in the sisters’ circumstances so that they separately choose to journey into remote and wild Australia. What might happen to them?  How might they see life at the ‘frontier’ once they are confronted with the brutal dispossession of the Indigenous population? How would their characters develop as they faced danger?

 

The second half of The Philosopher’s Daughters mostly takes place in the Northern Territory of South Australia, one of the last areas of the continent to be appropriated by British colonisers.  At that time and in that part of Australia, the frontier wars were still being fought, largely over the establishment of the cattle industry, although they weren’t recognised as frontier wars back then.

 

I’ve long been fascinated by how children are shaped by the preferences and attitudes of their parents; they can react against them, agree with them, or be crushed by them. The closer we are to a parent, the harder it can be to move away from their influence and develop in one’s own right. This is the burden that Harriet, the older of the two sisters, carries.

 

 

  1. What events did you have to cancel due to the pandemic, and where were these events going to take place?

 

We’d planned events in the UK, which is where the novel is published. Needless to say, these have had to be cancelled and my trip to the UK had to be shelved too. To make things more complicated, the London warehouse went into lockdown some weeks ago so book distribution halted. However, the publisher organised a British book bloggers tour that began before the lockdown, and I’m thrilled with the responses.

Amazon has the kindle version of the book on its UK and Australian websites, and once the UK lockdown ends and the paperback version of the book is mobile again and arrives in Australia, we have plans for events in Australia.

I’ve been very impressed with the outreach from the book community to authors whose releases have been affected by the Covid-19 lockdowns. I’m very grateful to you and all the others who have offered coverage on their blogs.

 

 

  1. Other than The Philosopher’s Daughters, what other works have you written, and what genre are they in, or are they all different genres?

 

My previous novels include A Perfect Marriage (2018), a work of contemporary fiction, while my first three novels (Stillwater Creek (2010), The Indigo Sky (2011), and A Distant Land (2012),) are historical fiction spanning the period from the late 1950s through to the early 1970s. More details can be seen at my fiction website: http:// http://www.alisonbooth.net

 

  1. Have any of your books won any awards?

 

Stillwater Creek was Highly Commended in the ACT Book of the Year Award in 2011 and A Perfect Marriage was Highly Commended in the 2019 ACT Writing and Publishing Awards.

 

  1. You’re also a professor at ANU in Canberra – what is your PhD in, and what do you teach?

 

My PhD is from the London School of Economics and is in economics. During my teaching career, I taught a variety of courses and my favourites were graduate labour economics and public economics. I am Emeritus Professor now and I no longer teach but I’m continuing with research projects.

 

  1. What is your area of interest, and why did you choose this area in particular?

 

My research interest is behavioural economics, which studies the effects of psychological and cultural factors and the like on the economic decisions of individuals and institutions. I chose this area because of my interest in the links between cultural factors, economics and psychology.

 

  1. Does this area of study and research inform your fiction writing, or do you find they are completely separate?

 

There is some overlap to the extent that fiction involves human psychology and I’ve always been interested in this. But also my research is concerned with inequalities, both in terms of racial and gender issues, and this comes across in the fiction.

 

  1. When not teaching and writing, what do you enjoy doing?

 

Reading, bush walking, visits to art galleries and the cinema, and dining with friends.

 

  1. Do you have a favourite book or comfort read, and why this one in particular?

 

My father introduced me to the novels of Patrick White. I love reading and rereading them. While at each stage of my life I’ve noticed different things about these books, I particularly appreciate the landscapes White describes and his acute psychological insights.

I don’t have a comfort read but I do have a comfort TV programme, and that is the complete set of episodes of Dad’s Army. The characters in this series are superb.

 

  1. How do you switch between academic writing and fiction writing, or do you have a schedule and process to do this easily?

 

When I’m writing the first draft of a novel, I work very regularly and aim for 300 words a day. This is not many words and I can fit this in with other things happening in my life. Once a draft is finished, I put it away for a while and then block off a chunk of time when I can work on revising it. I don’t mind the actual switching between the different forms of writing any more, though I did find that shift between heart and head difficult to begin with. I write many drafts; for each novel there are typically well over twenty.

 

 

  1. What do you have planned next for your fictional worlds?

 

I’m working on two book drafts. Both are historical although not in the purists’ definition of historical as being set more than fifty years ago. I’m at the redraft stage for both projects, so would prefer to keep them under wraps until I work out what needs doing to each of them.

 

 

  1. Books are important in these trying times – what booksellers are you trying to support and purchase books from?

 

Local bookstores and for some purchases Booktopia and Fishpond.

 

  1. With many festivals and launches heading online at the moment, do you think this will continue after the pandemic, making access to these easier for those who can’t attend in any capacity?

 

My guess is that online events will continue for a while, but with time – assuming the pandemic goes and the associated fears fade – we will return to the physical form, perhaps modified in some way and there may well be hybrid events. If we do return to where we were before the pandemic, I think it is very important for organisers of book events and festivals to provide podcasts for those who are unable to attend for whatever reason. Maybe this lockdown will have provided us all with more skills so this can be achieved.

 

 

  1. Do you have a favourite book or author?

 

That’s a difficult question! I admire a great many authors and read widely. My favourite authors include Patrick White, Toni Morrison, Peter Carey, Kate Grenville, Rose Tremain, and Anna Burns. This year I’ve read some wonderful books including Yaa Gyasi’s Homegoing and Anna Burns’ Milkman.

 

 

  1. What were your favourite books to read when you were younger?

 

When I was very young my favourite books were by authors Arthur Ransome and Enid Blyton, and I also loved the children’s encyclopedias on my parents’ bookshelves.

 

 

Thank you, Alison,

 

Thank you so much, Ashleigh. If anyone reading this interview likes my books, I’d be delighted if they could post a review on the website of their favourite bookstore and on Amazon. Online feedback is really important to authors and particularly so in this pandemic period.

 

Isolation Publicity with Sonya Bates

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.

My next interview is with Sonya Bates, author of The Inheritance of Secrets, one of the shortlisted authors of the inaugural Banjo Prize with HarperCollins Australia – in 2018. I reviewed it here on the 20th of April, it’s review date. Sonya, like many authors who have appeared, has had events, launches and appearances cancelled due to COVID-19. She agreed to participate in my Isolation Publicity series – there are more to come, and I am waiting for some answers to pop back, so be on the lookout over the next few weeks.

Inheritance of Secrets

Hi Sonya, and welcome to The Book Muse,

  1. Where did the idea for your novel, Inheritance of Secrets, come from?

The idea for Inheritance of Secrets came from a character – the character of Karl from the historical thread of the novel. Karl is a fictional character who was inspired by my dad, who grew up in Germany in the same era, when Hitler was in power. Like Karl, he was drafted at the age of eighteen and sent to war. My dad was such a quiet, peace-loving person and I couldn’t imagine him being involved in such a terrible part of history. It made me want to write something that involved an ordinary person caught up in terrible times.

  1. What was it like growing up being aware of what your father went through?

It wasn’t something I thought about a lot. It’s not something he talked about. He was just my dad. But every once in a while, something would trigger thoughts about it. Like around Remembrance Day when the teacher would ask if anyone’s father or grandfather had fought in either of the World Wars. I never said anything, because he’d fought on the side of the enemy (we were living in Canada).  I needn’t have been embarrassed about that. He was an ordinary man fighting for his country like so many thousands of men on both sides of the conflict were doing.

  1. Do you think novels like yours with basis on real events and experiences, and presented in a fictional way, can help people understand the grey areas of history and people?

That’s an interesting question. I know, from a reader’s perspective, I love historical fiction because it makes history personal. It puts the reader in a character’s head as they deal with the issues of the time, and gives history a sense of reality. It humanises it. It may also give readers a glimpse of the times of their ancestors, and allow them to connect with their own history. How factual it is depends on the author’s research and their understanding of the time, so in that sense it is, as is all history, one person’s perspective on the time period. But it can put a new slant on history, allow the reader to look at it from a new perspective and consider it in a different way. Novelists have been doing that for quite some time – think Jane Eyre, The Color Purple or The Book Thief. The stories of individual people behind the big events of history. And it’s becoming more prevalent in recent times, especially the telling of stories from the female perspective, which has traditionally been largely ignored in history. Hannah Kent’s novels are a great example, as is Molly Murn’s Heart of the Grass Tree. Inheritance of Secrets isn’t purely a historical novel, and the historical thread is deliberately linked to the contemporary story and designed to provide clues to the mystery. But early readers have said how interesting they’ve found it, and I love that they’ve connected with it.

  1. Roughly how long did it take you to write this novel?

From the first spark of an idea to publication? Probably ten years! But I wasn’t working on it all that time. The idea mulled around in my head for years before I started working on it. I was writing children’s fiction at the time as well as working in Speech Pathology. I dabbled around doing a bit of research and writing a couple of scenes. Ideas were building in my head, but I couldn’t seem to get them down. Finally I concluded that if I really wanted to tackle this, then I needed some dedicated time to write it. I took some time off and did just that. It took me about ten months to write the first draft. Then another couple of years editing before I thought it was close to ready for submission. I signed the contract with HarperCollins late in 2018.

  1. What sort of research beyond your father’s experiences did you undertake whilst working on Inheritance of Secrets?

 

Most of the research was done either online or in libraries and museums. I did talk to my dad some on the phone and when I visited him in Canada, but it wasn’t something he ever wanted to talk about, and so I didn’t pry about his own experiences. He shared a portion of his private memoirs with me while I was researching, and we spoke more in general terms, about the character Karl and what he might or might not have experienced. I relied more on reading memoirs and personal accounts, letters and diaries I found at the State Library or online. As well as scholarly texts on the time periods and the war years both in Germany and Australia. In 2018 I went to Germany and visited many of the museums dealing with the time before, during and after WWII, and also went to Halle (Saale) where Karl and Grete grew up, to walk the streets they would have walked and see the river park where they said their good-byes.

  1. What inspired you to enter the Banjo prize, and do you think it’s a good step for first time authors to take?

The Banjo Prize came at the perfect time for me. I’d done a number of edits on the manuscript, had feedback from beta readers, and felt I was almost ready to send it out to look for a publisher. I’d actually sent it off to a couple of agents, and while they weren’t prepared to offer me representation, they gave me detailed feedback that was immensely helpful. It was about that time that HarperCollins announced the launch of the Banjo Prize. I still wasn’t sure that the manuscript was ready, but basically thought, ‘You’ve gotta be in it to win it.’ So I did one last edit and sent it off with fingers crossed.

I think competitions like the Banjo Prize are a brilliant way for first time authors to get noticed. You can guarantee your manuscript will be read within a timely period for one, and if it does catch the attention of the publishers, even if you don’t win, being shortlisted for a competition looks great on your resume. And you never know, shortlisted manuscripts may be picked up, like mine was.

  1. After your manuscript was acquired, what did you have to do to get your work ready for publication?

The editing process can be a daunting one, especially the structural edit, but I knew that it would be the final step to making the book the best that it could be. For me, it involved fleshing out some of the characters, delving more into their relationships and expanding on the historical thread so that the character of Grete was more real to the reader. I think, coming from writing children’s fiction, my writing is quite spare. I’ve learned to say as much as I need to in as few words as possible, which is something I appreciate as a reader as well. I don’t like things spelled out too clearly. But going this step further with Inheritance of Secrets has made the book so much better. The editors at HarperCollins were brilliant. They didn’t tell me what to do, just pointed things out, asked questions and made suggestions, and then let me consider what was the best thing to do for the book. I think the changes will help the reader to form a stronger connection with the characters.

  1. A debut novel is an exciting event – what events did you have planned for the launch of your novel prior to the current crisis?

The release of Inheritance of Secrets was still a couple of months away when COVID-19 reared its ugly head and things started shutting down. So while my publicist had all sorts of events in mind, not many had been booked. The official book launch at Dymocks Adelaide was cancelled, as well as a collaborative author event that some writer friends and I had booked at a local library. I was able to get around to meet booksellers in Adelaide and Brisbane in January, which was really nice. Everyone was very welcoming and enthusiastic about the book.

  1. When did you decide you wanted to write books and explore stories?

I’ve always liked to write. I wrote stories as a child, although I never showed them to anyone. And after university, I wrote stories to use in therapy when I was working in Speech Pathology. It was when my girls were small and I was taking time off from work that I started to consider writing with the intent of being published. I saw an ad in the newspaper for a correspondence course in writing for children. I needed something for myself, and it seemed like the perfect opportunity. It was great fun, and rekindled my desire to write more. Soon after, I had my first chapter book accepted for publication, so that was very encouraging and the start of an ongoing pursuit of writing and being published.

  1. What was the book that made you fall in love with reading? Any particular reason that book stands out for you?

I don’t remember one particular book. I’ve loved reading since I was a kid. The whole family loved to read. Some favourites were Anne of Green Gables and the Little House on the Prairie series, so even then I loved historical fiction.

  1. War seems to be a common theme in lots of historical fiction at the moment – what is it about war that you think lends itself so well to telling a multitude of stories for a modern audience?

Another great question! I think times of extreme circumstances bring out the best and the worst in people, and can be a catalyst for strong human emotion. And war is definitely one of those extreme situations – especially a world war. People were fighting to survive, and when your family and your life is at stake, you may do things you wouldn’t do under ordinary circumstances. Both good and bad. It’s not something many of us growing up in the modern western world have experienced. Historical novels about war and desperate times put the reader into the head of the character and allow them to experience second-hand what they hope they never will see in real life. War stories may also give readers a different perspective on a period of history. They can put a face to the ‘enemy’, and provide a glimpse of them as a person, possibly provide some insight into their mind and motivation. Every story needs conflict and an antagonist, but no antagonist is completely evil, and revealing those layers of humanity is what makes a story compelling.

  1. What are you currently reading, and do you have a favourite author?

I’m currently reading The Dictionary of Lost Words by Pip Williams and also Silver by Chris Hammer. I don’t often read two at once, but it demonstrates my love for the two genres of historical fiction and crime. I also read contemporary fiction and recently finished Saving Missy by Beth Morrey. I have many favourite authors. Hannah Kent and Jane Harper are probably the two that come to mind as stand-outs.

  1. You’ve previously written for children – what have you written, and which one do you think you enjoyed writing the most?

I’ve written ten books for children and young adults, chapter books and high-interest low-reading-level books for reluctant readers. Most of them have been published by Orca Book Publishers in Canada. To be honest, the children’s novel I enjoyed writing most hasn’t yet found a publisher. It’s a science fiction adventure for middle-grade readers and was just so much fun to write – creating a whole new world and writing from an entirely different perspective. And great fun consulting with my brother on the technical aspects of it too.

  1. Has your career as a speech pathologist helped you understand story and language differently in any way?

I’ve worked in speech pathology for most of my life, so it’s hard to say how it’s influenced my understanding of story and language. Certainly my study of linguistics and speech pathology gave me a good grasp of grammar and the nuances of dialect and colloquial speech. And an understanding of basic story structure. But that’s something that all writers develop at one point or another. I think what working in this field has given me is an appreciation of the difficulties some people have with language and reading and the need to make story accessible to everyone, whether it’s through hi/lo books, audiobooks, graphic novels or even music.

  1. What do you think you’ll be working on for future stories, and will these be for adults or children?

I’m currently working on another adult crime novel. As with Inheritance of Secrets, it explores family dynamics, relationships and trust issues. That seems to be a recurrent theme in a lot of my writing, both for children and adults. Beyond that, I don’t have anything planned. I’ll work with the ideas that present themselves, whether for children or adults.

Anything that you think I have missed?

No, this has been very comprehensive and given me some interesting food for thought.

Thank you Sonya, and best of luck with your novel.  Thank you!

April 2020 Round Up

In April, we found ourselves amidst a pandemic – and I found myself with an influx of review books, some quite long, and some not so long. As I usually do, I aim to read ahead in my review stack, to get things cleared, and posted or scheduled to save time. I’m still a bit behind, reading some books that should be on this list on the day of writing and posting. However, this is the case due to the fact that the books may have arrived after or a day before publication date due to the current overload of deliveries due to the COVID-19 crisis we’re facing.

I’ve also been doing an Isolation Publicity series with Australian authors – which by the looks of things will take me into mid – late August at this stage, a month short of the planned lockdown. Some of these interviews are really exciting and make me wish I could share them now, but the schedule means everyone gets a special day for their interview. Many authors have had launches cancelled, festivals and appearance cancelled or moved online – which has meant a loss of income and has been detrimental to the arts sector. These authors need the love and publicity the book blogging community can give them so their work can get into the hands of readers.

I read 19 books this month, and all except The Austen Girls and The Unadoptables have a live review at this stage. The Austen Girls will be appearing around the 19th of May with several other reviews and posts. The latter is appearing in June. I also ticked off a few challenge categories – not as many as I had hoped, however, I am getting there and should hopefully have filled them all in by the end of the year.

April – 19

Book Author Challenge
The Deceptions Suzanne Leal AWW2020, Reading Challenge
Puppy Diary: The Great Toy Rescue Yvette Poshoglian AWW2020, Reading Challenge, Dymocks Reading Challenge
The Octopus and I Erin Hortle AWW2020, Reading Challenge
Friday Barnes: Big Trouble R.A. Spratt AWW2020, Reading Challenge, The Modern Mrs Darcy
The Strangeworlds Travel Agency

 

L.D. Lapinski Reading Challenge, Books and Bites Bingo
Inheritance of Secrets Sonya Bates Reading Challenge, AWW2020
Secrets of a Schoolyard Millionaire Nat Amoore Reading Challenge, AWW2020
Jane in Love Rachel Givney Reading Challenge, AWW2020, Dymocks Reading Challenge, The Nerd Daily
Persuasion Jane Austen Reading Challenge, Books and Bites Bingo
The Austen Girls Lucy Worsley Reading Challenge
The Unadoptables Hana Tooke Reading Challenge
Friday Barnes: No Rules R.A. Spratt Reading Challenge, AWW2020
Anzac Girl: The War Diaries of Alice Ross-King Kate Simpson and Hess Racklyeft Reading Challenge, AWW2020
Sherlock Bones and the Natural History Mystery Renée Treml Reading Challenge, AWW2020, The Modern Mrs Darcy (Nominated for the 2020 Readings Children’s Prize)
Shortlisted Readings Children’s Book Prize 2020 AU; Shortlisted Speech Pathology Award, Eight to Ten Years 2019 AU 
Nim’s Island Wendy Orr AWW2020, Reading Challenge, STFU Reading Challenge
Ribbit Rabbit Robot Victoria MacKinlay and Sofya Karmazina AWW2020, Reading Challenge
Nim at Sea Wendy Orr AWW2020, Reading Challenge
Rescue on Nim’s Island Wendy Orr AWW2020, Reading Challenge
The Complete Adventures on Nim’s Island Wendy Orr AWW2020, Reading Challenge, STFU Reading Challenge