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

Anzac Girl: The War Diaries of Alice Ross-King by Kate Simpson and Jess Racklyeft (illustrator)

anzac girlTitle: Anzac Girl: The War Diaries of Alice Ross-King
Author: Kate Simpson and Jess Racklyeft (illustrator)
Genre: Historical
Publisher: Allen and Unwin
Published: March 2020
Format: Hardcover
Pages: 32
Price: $24.99
Synopsis: The true story of Anzac girl Sister Alice Ross-King, who sailed to war in December 1914 and became the most decorated woman in Australia.
It was 1914 when Sister Alice Ross-King left Australia for the war. Nursing was her passion – all she had ever wanted to do. But Alice couldn’t have imagined what she would see. She served four long years and was brave, humble and endlessly compassionate.

Using extracts from Alice’s actual diaries kept in the Australian War Memorial, this true story captures the danger, the heartache and the history of the young nurse who would one day become the most decorated woman in Australia.

~*~

Anzac Girl: The War Diaries of Alice Ross-King is a picture book, based on the war diaries of the WW1 nurse, written by her great-granddaughter, author Kate Simpson, who is also the co-host of kids lit podcast, One More Page with Liz Leddon and Nat Amoore. This has been a book that has been on my shelf for a few weeks – and I thought Anzac Day was the perfect time to read it.

ANZAC Day 2020 Lest We Forget

 

Like many authors who have released or will be releasing books in the next few months, Kate had the launch of her book cancelled. I hope my review can bring some publicity for this special book alongside my other reviews and Isolation Publicity series.

When Alice Ross-King sets off for war as a nurse, she isn’t prepared for what she will see and who she will meet. Kate has used extracts from her great-grandmother’s diary to tell the story, and the illustrations by Jess are combined with photos of the actual documents from the war and Alice’s time spent as a nurse across Gallipoli and Europe. Told simply for kids aged six and older, it is still very evocative and encapsulates the sense of what the war was like for Alice. It captures what the war was like in a time of war in a way that isn’t too confronting for younger readers. Readers feel Alice’s heartache, hope and despondence throughout. It is one of the most engrossing picture books I have read recently. It is a great book to read for history lessons or ANZAC Day or both. I would have loved to have had a story like this to study during history at school, and hopefully, it finds its way into future curriculums for all levels and ages.

An excellent picture book that captures the ANZAC spirit.

Lest We Forget

Continue reading “Anzac Girl: The War Diaries of Alice Ross-King by Kate Simpson and Jess Racklyeft (illustrator)”

Announcement 2020 Vogel Winner – Media from Allen and Unwin Australia

2020-Australian-Vogel-winner

Every year, Allen and Unwin run the Vogel Awards for an unpublished manuscript for authors under the age of 35. This year, the announcement had to made online, and was hosted by Claire Bowditch. Below is a copy of the press release sent to me by Allen and Unwin, about the winner, A Treacherous Country by K.M. Kruimink. Here is the author’s reaction to seeing her book for the first time as well.

A Treacherous Country

About the book:

Set in the 1800s, Gabriel Fox is newly arrived to Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania) from England. Drawn by the promise of his heart’s desire and compelled to distance himself from pain at home, Gabrielle is on a quest to find a woman called Maryanne Maginn.

His guide, a Cannibal who is not all he seems, leads him north. As Gabriel traverses this wild country, he uncovers new truths buried within his own memory.

Media Release for distribution: Monday, 20 April

In conjunction with the Vogel’s company and The Australian, Allen & Unwin is pleased to announce the 2020 winner of The Australian/Vogel’s Literary Award, A Treacherous Country by
K.M. Kruimink. This authentic, original and playful novel is about loyalty, wisdom and the freedom to act.

The Australian/Vogel’s Literary Award is one of Australia’s richest and most prestigious literary prizes for an unpublished manuscript from an author under the age of thirty-five. This longstanding award is integral to Australia’s cultural landscape having launched the careers of over 100 Australian authors including Tim Winton, Rohan Wilson, Kate Grenville, Andrew McGahan and Gillian Mears.

K.M. Kruimink says she entered The Australian/Vogel’s Literary Award with no concrete thought of what would happen to her submission.

‘For me, at that time, the value in entering was in the structure and the deadline: it helped motivate me to complete something. To actually win is helping me articulate to myself what I would really like to do with my career, and it’s given me permission to articulate it to others, too.

‘It’s astonishingly wonderful to have my book published, and it’s just as wonderful to be able to say, “Yes, this is something I’ve wanted to do”.’

About A Treacherous Country

About K.M. Kruimink

K.M. (Katherine) Kruimink was born in Tasmania and spent most of her childhood in the Huon Valley, with an interlude on the West Coast. After completing a largely ornamental Arts degree at the University of Tasmania, she lived and worked interstate and abroad for several years. Today, she lives once again in the Huon Valley, now with her husband and daughter. A Treacherous Country is her first novel.

Set in the 1800s, Gabriel Fox is newly arrived to Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania) from England. Drawn by the promise of his heart’s desire and compelled to distance himself from pain at home, Gabrielle is on a quest to find a woman called Maryanne Maginn.

His guide, a Cannibal who is not all he seems, leads him north. As Gabriel traverses this wild country, he uncovers new truths buried within his own memory.

The judges were unanimous with their praise, saying:

‘Witty, warm, lively and delightful. It has an assured voice that rose out of the pages rich, complete and true. The development of character and plot is simultaneous, elegant and natural.’  Tegan Bennett Daylight, award-winning author of Six Bedrooms

‘Dialogue and interplay are fantastic. The characters and storyline completely “hooked” me. Loved the ending.’ – Megan O’Brien, bookseller

Inheritance of Secrets by Sonya Bates (Inaugural Banjo Prize Shortlisted author)

Inheritance of SecretsTitle: Inheritance of Secrets

Author: Sonya Bates

Genre: Historical Fiction, Contemporary Mystery

Publisher: HarperCollins Australia

Published: 20th April 2020

Format: Paperback

Pages: 420

Price: $32.99

Synopsis: No matter how far you run, the past will always find you…

Juliet’s elderly grandparents are killed in their Adelaide home. Who would commit such a heinous crime – and why? The only clue is her grandfather Karl’s missing signet ring.

When Juliet’s estranged sister, Lily, returns in fear for her life, Juliet suspects something far more sinister than a simple break in gone wrong. Before Juliet can get anymore answers, Lily vanishes once more.

Juliet only knew Karl Weiss as a loving grandfather, a German soldier who emigrated to Australia to build a new life. What was he hiding that could have led to his murder?  While attempting to find out. Juliet uncovers some disturbing secrets from WWII that will put both her and her sister’s lives in danger…

Gripping. Tense. Mysterious. Inheritance of Secrets links the crimes of the present to the secrets of the past and asks how far would you go to keep a promise?

~*~

Moving between the present, and a postwar period of transition, Inheritance of Secrets opens like many crime novels – with the crime, or the aftermath of the crime and the beginning of the investigation. Juliet arrives to identify the bodies of her grandparents, Karl and Grete at the morgue. From here, the detectives tell her what has happened, and Juliet begins to wonder what could have happened.

AWW2020As she investigates, her relationships fracture or come together – she finds herself drifting away from her partner, Jason, and closer to her childhood friend, Ellis, and her sister Lily as she uncovers secrets that Lily has kept from her for years. Yet it there is more to the case than previously thought – and Juliet and Lily soon find themselves pursued by Nazi Hunters, determined to find something they claim Karl stole more at the end of the war. But what is it, and what secrets are hidden within?

As the novel weaves back and forth between Karl’s post-war journey to Australia, and contemporary times, where Lily and Juliet are on the run from those who are demanding something from their grandfather, the mystery of what Karl was hiding all these years and the secrets he carried over from Germany. These elements make up the story, filled with intrigue, and questions about how well you know someone, morals, ethics and how far you’ll go to protect secrets even if they could hurt someone or make you see someone you love in a different light. And once you’ve discovered something about that person you could never have imagined – how far will you go – how far will Juliet go – to make sure that secret stays hidden?

This novel is about the grey areas of morals and ethics – where the choices one makes might not be what we want or might be forced on us. Or might be something that needs to be done yet is morally and ethically wrong. It shows the contrast between what we know of history and what may have been hidden, or the secrets that individuals kept even from family – to protect them. This novel combined historical fiction, mystery and thriller in a new way, and showed a different side to the story of World War Two, and the post war period than we are used to seeing – filled with moral ambiguity that left me wondering whether the right thing had been done – and whether the threat was truly gone as well.

 

Isolation Publicity with Tanya Bretherton

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.

However, even the authors without new releases, anniversary releases or events need our love and appreciation during this crisis, and Tanya reached out to me to appear on the blog. So far, as you may have seen, I have tried to have as many different interviews, authors and genres as possible – it all comes down to who wishes to appear in this series. I still have slots open, and will be going for as long as I can during these hard times.

Hi Tanya, and welcome back to The Book Muse!

  1. Where did your interest in researching and writing about true crime, particularly historical crimes, come from?

Like many people, I enjoy reading true crime, listening to crime podcasts and watching documentaries.  I didn’t initially set out to write in this field though.  My background is sociology, but not criminology.  My first book, The Suitcase Baby, emerged from my day job.  I am a research consultant, and when tracing the history of child protection legislation in NSW I stumbled across an article about a murdered child, cast off into the waters of Port Jackson in the early 1920s.  My interest in true crime as a writer began with that article.  The harbour is such an iconic place in Sydney.  The crime was just so horrible.  I needed to know why it happened – who could kill a child?

  1. So far, your three books – The Suitcase Baby, The Suicide Bride and The Killing Streets have covered crimes that people may have never heard about in today’s society. What is it about these crimes that one could say have disappeared from wider knowledge?

I am really interested in forgotten history or hidden history – overlooked crimes, but also overlooked people.  My books aren’t about wealthy people.  The people I write about don’t bequeath grand estates.  The private letters they wrote were not kept by anyone, and any diaries they may have written are long gone.  They weren’t perceived to be significant historical figures, so you won’t find remnants of their lives held in a private collection or in a museum somewhere.  My field is labelled true crime, but I focus a lot on family history.  I write about death, but I also write about those things that matter most in life: family, love, relationships, tragedy and healing.  True crime is fascinating to me, not because it exists at the extremes, but because there is always a family drama surrounding it in some way or other.

True crime also presents a rich terrain for us to explore heroism.  I write about perpetrators and victims, but I also write about forgotten heroes who try to humbly and quietly work to make the lives of those around them better.  There is villainy in crime, but there are also acts of heroism to be found as well.  I think of the grizzled old police officer in 19th century Newtown who bravely tried to save a young boy drowning in a flooded brick pit, despite the fact that the officer couldn’t swim.  I think of the farm worker in the 1950s who fought to save the life of his work mate dying of a heart attack, out on a remote and dusty plain of the Australian outback.  I think of the single Dad in the 1930s who fought to keep his daughters, at a time when the state deemed the unmarried unfit to parent.  Tragedy creates victims, but it also creates heroes.

 

  1. True crime is a genre that has seemed to gain traction in the last five or so years with books, shows and podcasts. What is it about true crime stories that people find fascinating?

I wonder about this too.  It is often said that the growing interest in true crime is being driven by the dark parts of the human psyche.  Some people believe that we delight in reading about those things that we cannot do, and perhaps even wish we could do.  I think it is also possible that the interest is true crime is driven by an inherent goodness in people.  The vast majority of the more recent true crime writings and documentaries deal with the miscarriage of justice – those who are imprisoned unfairly or trials that go awry.  People tune in because they are interested in the discovery of truth, and there is a genuine interest in the pursuit of fairness and equity.  True crime is about much more than violence, or gore, or delighting in misery.

  1. Do you think there is a correlation between the interest in crime fiction – Sherlock Holmes, Rowland Sinclair, Phryne Fisher, crime shows – Blue Heelers, Criminal Minds, the Law and Order franchise – and an interest in true crime amongst readers and viewers, and podcast listeners?

I have drawn a conclusion about this, and it may be entirely wrong as it isn’t based on any marketing knowledge or demographic data.  I have always got the impression that there are two very distinct camps.  There are those that like crime fiction, and those that like true crime.  There are fence sitters, but most people tend to fall on one side of the fence or the other.  I feel this in a very real way because I feel the wrath of readers who mistake my work for fiction (eg “I didn’t like the book because I didn’t like the ending”) and those that believe non-fiction must conform to some very set rules and can only be written without emotion (eg “history isn’t a novella”).

  1. Your stories always have an element of social and economic aspects to what happened and who committed the crimes. Can you briefly outline how this was a feature in each crime you have looked into in your books, and what makes these aspects important when considering any crime?

You have absolutely hit the nail on the head!  I like to write about crimes that can tell a big story and a little story at the same time.  My books start with a true crime event and that creates momentum for the story to be told, but in truth, my books are social histories.

There is a dark side to crime writing, of course, and issues of gender in this context are of particular interest to me.  The Suitcase Baby explores friendship and loyalty.  The bond between the two women in that story is remarkable and deserving of a thorough exploration.  The relationship between Jean and Sarah was dangerous, and some very conflicted choices were made by both women.  The Suicide Bride looks at the institution of marriage at the turn of the twentieth century, and the challenges of mental illness in a society which had little compassion nor understanding for those suffering from it.  The Killing Streets examines women as victims and considers one of the most elusive criminal archetypes: the serial killer.  They are all true stories, driven by facts, but they are also family dramas.  True crime often places greatest emphasis on pathology or the psychological profile of a criminal.  I place more emphasis on the relationship profile.  The people in my stories do not have money nor power, and they find themselves in very difficult circumstances.  Any judgements we might make about their decisions need to be made with that in mind.  I am not an apologist for crime, but choice is a loaded term, it’s a relative term.

  1. When you begin your research journey, where do you start – with primary sources or secondary sources?

I start with both.  I go back and forth between the two, checking facts as I gradually build a narrative and decide which characters I am going to focus most closely on.  I only select a criminal case if it can provide a platform to tell a bigger social history story.

  1. How many historical crimes that are potentially unsolved or that have gone largely ignored do you think there are in the archives?

Too many to count, and very few of these will ever be solved.  The historical periods I write about were a looong time ago.  Police had to work with very limited forensics, so it isn’t like there are blood samples stored in cabinets just waiting to be re-discovered and tested.  Many records have also been destroyed over the years as well.  The methodologies used to build cases were also often quite skewed.  Suspects were often profiled with very racist, and classist overtones and this means it would be impossible to try and solve many of these crimes now.  The records are simply too tainted by the biases of the era in which they were created.

  1. From what I can remember about The Killing Streets, the real killer was never identified – do you think this case will ever be solved?

The murders of women that occurred in parks across Sydney from the 1920s to the 1940s won’t ever be solved.  I can understand that some people might find reading a book about that infuriating, but I must admit I find the mystery of it fascinating.

  1. Are there any other cases that have caught your eye that you would like to write about?

I am writing my fourth book at the moment – on poison in post-war Sydney.  I also have three other manuscripts at a slow simmer point on the stovetop as well.  My books involve a huge amount of research, and it takes time to prove the dough, so to speak, to see if a fully formed book can emerge.  When I find a story that has some great twists and turns, and surprises, that becomes my next book.

  1. Can you tell the readers a bit about your publishing journey with Hachette Australia, and how you got started with submitting to publishers?

Like everyone, I have experienced rejections by both agents and publishers.  I can only say to people who are genuinely interested in writing – keep going.  My journey into publishing has been a long one, and I think that apprenticeship has been important.  The more you write the more you learn, and the more you learn the better prepared you will be when an opportunity to publish presents itself. It will happen when it is meant to happen, and chances are that won’t be overnight.

 

  1. When not investigating these crimes, what do you enjoy reading or doing?

I have a day job, as bills need to be paid.  I spend time with family and friends – they matter more to me than anything else.  The rest of my spare time is consumed by writing.  My books involve a lot of research and endless hours of labour go into them.

  1. Are there any authors or books, or podcasts you recommend people interested look into, apart from your books, of course?

I listen to so many! I tend to be drawn to podcasts with a history focus.  The State Library of NSW produces some great ones.  I have just listened to The Burial Files on the history of the Devonshire st cemetery – it was brilliant.

  1. Have you had any events cancelled, and if so, what were they, or were you planning on attending any events as a visitor rather than hosting something this year?

The Killing Streets is definitely a Covid-19 casualty.  The pandemic struck just after the book launch so all of the events we had planned for the book have been cancelled.  This is of course, a small disappointment in the scheme of what we are all facing right now.  I feel for the entire world at the moment.

  1. Which booksellers are your favourites to frequent, and do you hope to be able to support them as much as possible during this time?

I guess I can only say – buy local wherever you are.  I try to buy from my local booksellers.  I also love secondhand bookstores, and libraries.  I know that the internet is increasingly playing a role in the way we share and celebrate books.  It is also wonderful to have the big chains involved, as they play such an important role in selling, but our local stores and libraries are the heart and soul of book-life and we should support them.

Is there anything you’d like to say that I may have missed?

Thank you, Tanya, for reaching out and helping me with this venture

March 2020 Round Up

March was a strange month – it started out as normal as could be, though we knew about the coronavirus, and then a few weeks into March, everything changed, and by the end of it, they had changed again with strict social distancing rules. Despite this, I got a lot of reading done. My stats are:

20 books read overall
11 read for the Australian Women Writers Challenge
8 for the Nerd Daily Challenge
1 for the Dymocks Reading Challenge
1 for the STFU Reading Challenge
1 for Book Bingo
1 for Books and Bites Bingo

Overall stats so far:

The Modern Mrs Darcy 9/12
AWW2020 -26/25
Book Bingo – 10/12
The Nerd Daily Challenge 40/52
Dymocks Reading Challenge 12/25
STFU Reading Society 5/12
Books and Bites Bingo 11/25
General Goal – 51/165

Most of these books have been reviewed on my blog.

 

March – 20

Book Author Challenge
Esme’s Gift Elizabeth Foster AWW2020, Reading Challenge, The Nerd Daily, Dymocks Reading Challenge
Friday Barnes: Girl Detective R.A. Spratt AWW2020, Dymocks Reading Challenge, The Nerd Daily, Reading Challenge
The Last Firehawk: The Cloud Kingdom

 

Katrina Charman The Nerd Daily, Reading Challenge
Christmas in Paris (Miss Lily 3.5)

 

Jackie French Reading Challenge, AWW2020
The Lost Future of Pepperharrow Natasha Pulley The Nerd Daily, Reading Challenge
The Paris Secret Natasha Lester The Nerd Daily, Reading Challenge, Book Bingo, AWW2020
Museum Kittens: The Midnight Visitor Holly Webb The Nerd Daily, Reading Challenge
Firewatcher Chronicles: Phoenix Kelly Gardiner Reading Challenge, AWW2020, STFU Reading Challenge
The Lost Jewels Kirsty Manning The Nerd Daily, Reading Challenge, AWW2020
The Girl She Was Rebecca Freeborn Reading Challenge, AWW2020, Books and Bites Bingo
Ninjago: Back in Action Tracey West Reading Challenge,
Layla and the Bots: Happy Paws Vicky Fang Reading Challenge
Friday Barnes: Under Suspicion R.A. Spratt Reading Challenge, AWW2020
Daring Delly: Going for Gold

 

Matthew Dellavedova and Zanni Louise Reading Challenge,
Aussie Kids: Meet Katie at the Beach 

 

Rebecca Johnson and Lucia Masciullo Reading Challenge, AWW2020
Aussie Kids: Meet Eve in the Outback 

 

Raewyn Caisley and Karen Blair  Reading Challenge, AWW2020
The Besties Make A Splash Felice Arena and Tom Jellett Reading Challenge
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them JK Rowling/Newt Scamander Reading Challenge
Liberation 

 

Imogen Kealey The Nerd Daily, Reading Challenge
The Year the Maps Changed

 

 Danielle Binks Reading Challenge, AWW2020

 

Onto April and hopefully lots of reading during these trying times.

The Paris Secret by Natasha Lester

the paris secretTitle: The Paris Secret

Author: Natasha Lester

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publisher: Hachette

Published: 31st March 2020

Format: Paperback

Pages: 460

Price: $32.99

Synopsis: A wardrobe of Dior gowns, a secret kept for sixty-five years, and the three women bound forever by war… from the New York Times bestselling author of THE FRENCH PHOTOGRAPHER.

England, 1939
 Talented pilot Skye Penrose joins the British war effort where she encounters her estranged sister, Liberty, and childhood soulmate Nicholas Crawford, now engaged to enigmatic Frenchwoman Margaux Jourdan.

Paris, 1947 Designer Christian Dior unveils his extravagant first collection to a world weary of war and grief. He names his debut fragrance, Miss Dior, in tribute to his sister, Catherine, who worked for the French Resistance.

Present day Australian fashion conservator Kat Jourdan discovers a secret wardrobe filled with priceless Dior gowns in her grandmother’s vacant cottage. As she delves into the mystery, Kat begins to doubt everything she thought she knew about her beloved grandmother.

An unspeakable betrayal will entwine all of their fates.

THE PARIS SECRET is an unforgettable story about the lengths people go to protect one another, and a love that, despite everything, lasts a lifetime.

~*~

Skye Penrose dreams of flying and following in the footsteps of her mother and Amy Johnson – yet when war breaks out, and all civilian flying is grounded, Skye finds another way to help the war effort with the ATA – transporting planes between bases for repairs and when they need to be turned into scrap metal. During her tenure doing this, she is reunited with her childhood friend from Cornwall, Nicholas Crawford, and the sister she hasn’t seen since she was eighteen – Liberty. Skye then meets Margaux Jourdan, and from here, it weaves in and out of World War Two as Skye and her fellow pilots fight for their right to fly, fight discrimination and eventually, find that they have to hide their own secrets as the novel progresses and the war heads further and further into darker days and eventually, towards the end.

In between the stories of Margaux, Skye and Nicholas and those they work with, is the 2012 story of Kat Jourdan, Margaux’s granddaughter, who uncovers a trove of Dior dresses in her grandmother’s Cornwall home, and a link to the well-known designer. It is here that she starts unravelling Margaux’s past when Elliott Beaufort starts asking questions about a Margaux Jourdan, an ATA pilot and SOE agent who helped the French Resistance and survived imprisonment and escaped. As Kat delves further into the mysteries with Elliott, and finds out about Skye, Margaux, Nicholas, and Liberty, she begins to question what she knows.

AWW2020The novel weaves in and out of the years leading up to World War Two, World War Two, the years just after the war and 2012, telling the reader and Kat the story as it moves along – as though Kat is reading the diaries of those from that time. Each part and perspective is richly brought to life through all the senses and a range of emotions as the war lurches on, and Skye faces loss over and over again, in many ways, tearing her apart from what she knows.

Cleverly, Natasha Lester ensures that the reader does not get lost in the changing characters – each part is clearly marked as to whose story it is, and each part is told in third person, making the transitions seamless and at times, they feel like they are sitting side by side – as something in the past happens, it feels like it might relate to the future.

Fashion plays a big role in this book – the Dior dresses are key to Kat finding out who her grandmother really is, and what happened to Margaux, Skye and Liberty – and why Elliott is determined that Kat’s Margaux is the one he is looking for.

Natasha Lester does something amazing with her books – she puts female history front and centre – and makes this the focus of her book, and leads us gently, and delicately into the romance at the end – much like Kate Forsyth and Jackie French in their historical novels where women are front and centre. The story is about what the women did, and how they coped in the face of sexism and discrimination, and assumptions about what they could do. This is what draws me to these books – seeing the women like Skye as active participants in history and learning about topics and perspectives that I had never known about even with all my reading. These are perspectives that are not always shared widely and books like this give an introduction to this history and for me, a deeper and further interest in trying to find out more. The happy ending was great too – and left me with a huge smile on my face.

Natasha also drops her clues very carefully and cleverly, and I enjoyed trying to work out who was who with what I was given – a very nicely written mystery!

I hope all of Natasha’s fans enjoy this book when it comes out, as it covers so many things – war, friendship, family, and love of all kinds, and illustrates the complexities of history in an accessible manner.

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

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

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

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

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

Hi Danielle, and welcome to The Book Muse!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

12. Favourite Beatles song, and why?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Any comments about something I may have missed?

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

Christmas in Paris (Miss Lily #3.5) by Jackie French

christmas in parisTitle: Christmas in Paris (Miss Lily #3.5)
Author: Jackie French
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: HarperCollins
Published: 18th November 2019
Format: eBook
Pages: 104
Price: $14.99
Synopsis: Paris, Christmas Eve, 1933
For once it was an accident. Violette did not mean to kill St Nicholas. But there he was, with blood on the cobblestones, and a family waiting for the Christmas Eve miracle that would never come. And her own family expecting her to eat Christmas goose tomorrow at Shillings Hall in England.
Violette Jones had led a life of melodrama since being born in the middle of a war to an espionage agent. But even she had never had to face a bloodied St Nicholas, and somehow conjure three miracles for Christmas.
Another story for the many fans of the Miss Lily series.
~*~

Each year, a few months after the main Miss Lily book comes out, Jackie French releases a short story – a Christmas story about the characters that takes place in between the main books. Christmas in Paris takes place in 1933 in between book three – The Lily in the Snow, which ends in 1929 as the Great Depression begins and book four – Lilies, Lies and Love – which is out in the next few months and will pick up the story in 1936, around the time Edward VIII abdicates to marry Wallis Simpson. In Christmas in Paris, Violette, the orphan from book three, is the focal character, and when she stumbles across a dead Santa Claus, and a worried American, she must call on her family – Sophie, Miss Lily and her parents – to help her solve the mystery.

AWW2020Violette’s story is mostly told in the latest Miss Lily novel yet hinted at here. She has certainly changed a lot since we last met her, and she is growing nicely as a character and will I feel become one who will be important in the later books and will help Sophie. However, Sophie is in the background of this story as Violette manages to pull together three miracles to bring Christmas to those who are not having a good time. Violette still has that spark she had when we first met her, yet she seems to have put it to good use for those who are now her family, and for what is to come in the next book. Whilst it might not set up for the main novels, each of these books will still add to the series for avid Miss Lily fans, and they are amongst some of the only eBooks I read – alongside any for work, as I find shorter works easier to read on screen than longer works. And let’s face it – it’s Jackie French and her books are always ones I will read, or even listen to if I had the chance. Thank you for these books Jackie, the Christmas ones and all your books. I’ve been a reader of them for over twenty years, since year seven when I first read Somewhere Around the Corner – and I still have my original copy.

The mystery of the dead Santa Claus, replacing him and pulling off an event that will appeal to Americans and Parisians drives this short story, and is perfect to fill the wait in between each main Miss Lily novel, though a couple of them go back in time, much like some of the Miss Lily books go back and forth as needed. Each can be read alone, yet they work better as a series. In my mind they work best when read like this – though the eBook short stories are optional and not crucial to understanding the rest of the series:

1. Miss Lily’s Lovely Ladies (1902 to 1919)
2.With Love from Miss Lily (Christmas 1918 – Miss Lily #1.5 Short Story)
3. The Lily and the Rose (1919 – 1926)
4. Christmas Lilies (Christmas 1914 – Miss Lily #2.5 Short Story)
5. The Lily in the Snow (1929/1920s)
6. Christmas in Paris (Christmas 1933 – Miss Lily 3.5 short story) – this review
7. Lilies, Lies and Love (1936-) – yet to be released

I’ve read all that are out and have loved them all. I am keen for the next one. When reading historical fiction like this, I often find myself caught between knowing what is to come and hoping none of the characters are hurt, yet at the same time, hoping that what is dreaded does not come to pass, though it inevitably does. These books give women a voice in these histories, allowing them to speak about what they did and to highlight that much more went on during the wars and interwar period than the history books tell us. Jackie French has brought history to life, and in this book, has given people a moment of hope in a dark time in history – even if only for a day at Christmas.