Finding Eadie by Caroline Beecham

Finding EadieTitle: Finding Eadie

Author: Caroline Beecham

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publisher: Allen and Unwin

Published: 2nd July 2020

Format: Paperback

Pages: 368

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: The author of Maggie’s Kitchen and Eleanor’s Secret delivers another compelling story of love and mystery during wartime.

London 1943: War and dwindling resources are taking their toll on the staff of Partridge Press. The pressure is on to create new books to distract readers from the grim realities of the war, but Partridge’s rising star, Alice Cotton, leaves abruptly and cannot be found.

Alice’s secret absence is to birth her child, and although her baby’s father remains unnamed, Alice’s mother promises to help her raise her tiny granddaughter, Eadie. Instead, she takes a shocking action.

Theo Bloom is employed by the American office of Partridge. When he is tasked with helping the British publisher overcome their challenges, Theo has his own trials to face before he can return to New York to marry his fiancee.

Inspired by real events during the Second World War, Finding Eadie is a story about the triumph of three friendships bound by hope, love, secrets and the belief that books have the power to change lives.

~*~

AWW2020

Caroline Beecham’s stories about women in World War Two are mainly set on the home front, and look at lesser known stories about what women did in the war, and the various industries that contributed to the war effort on the home front. In Finding Eadie the publishing industry and books play a large role, alongside the mystery of Alice Cotton, her absence, and the three friendships – Alice and Ursula, Alice and Theo and Alice and Penny – that drive the novel. The truth of Alice’s absence is known to very few  people – she is pregnant and must go away to have her child, before returning with a story that explains why she has one. Yet soon after the birth, Alice awakens to discover her daughter, Eadie missing, and a note from her mother that sets in motion a search for Eadie that takes many weeks and months. At the same time, Theo Bloom, from New York, has come to save Partridge Press in London – and in time, Alice is helped by three friends in her search for Eadie, combining her research with an idea for books that will save the publishing house. But Theo will find he saves much more, and the power of love and friendship will change everything.

Finding Eadie is a story of family, love, and friendship – love of one’s child, love of books and reading, and love of all kinds – it does not shy away from the harsh realities of the war and what Eadie and Ursula face either. Caroline has confronted these issues head on and allowed the reader to see them for what they were – even when using a simple scene or a few simple words – it works to evoke a sense of the times and place, and what these characters faced or had to hide to appear acceptable to society. It was perhaps this that made Ursula and Alice’s friendship the strongest for me and the most meaningful. They both faced being shunned by society for who they were, and to me, they found comfort and solidarity in each other – they did not reject the other based on these circumstances, for they knew what it was to be rejected for who they were.

This beautiful friendship, the support from the beginning of the book, and Ursula’s care for, and faith in Alice was one of the most powerful and most enduring aspects of the novel- from the publishing house to the events towards the end of the book, it was clear that Ursula was truly there for Alice, as were Penny and Theo – and everything they helped her with led to the climatic final chapters, and an acceptance of everything that had happened to lead to those events. It is a touching story that proves family is what we make it and sometimes our friends become our family. It also shows that friendship is powerful, and the damage, or near damage that secrets can do.

My other favourite thing about this book was the focus on publishing and books during the war, and what they meant to people during this time – both on the home front and soldiers in the battlefields. They were a comfort – like they are during the pandemic – they gave people some place else to be during those hard times. This book is as much an ode to books and publishing as it is to friendship and justice. This is done in an exquisite and sensitive way, that reveals a dark underbelly of wartime London, with a touch of hope even in the midst of secrets, all bound together by the power of books and some determination and grit from all the characters to bring about real change – and that is based on real events of the 1940s.

 

The Mummy Smugglers of Crumblin Castle by Pamela Rushby, Nellé May Pierce (Illustrator)

Mummy SmugglersTitle: The Mummy Smugglers of Crumblin Castle
Author: Pamela Rushby, Nellé May Pierce (Illustrator)
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: Walker Books
Published: 1st July 2020
Format: Paperback
Pages: 336
Price: $17.99
Synopsis: A crumbling castle, a moat full of crocodiles, a catastrophe of kittens, and let’s not forget the villains and the mummies! This rambunctious story has it all.
England 1873
Orphaned twelve-year-old Hattie travels to the remote and mist-shrouded Fens to live with her great uncle Sisyphus and great aunt Iphigenia: Egypt-obsessed relatives she has never met.
Iphigenia, desperate to save their castle home from ruin, hosts ancient Egyptian mummy-unwrapping parties in London, aided by the mysterious and sinister Ravens.
When the mummy supply unexpectedly runs out, the family embarks on a perilous (and illegal) search for more, a thousand miles up the Nile. But Hattie is haunted by the wandering souls of long-gone Egyptians. And soon she makes an audacious dash to free them – with very unexpected consequences.

• A potent blend of fantasy and historical happenings are at the core of this extraordinary interface between fact and fiction. ·
• From an author who has experienced the remnants of the ancient world first-hand by going on a number of archaeological digs.
~*~

Hattie – or Hatshepsut – was just a baby when she was found outside of Hatshepsut’s Mortuary Temple. Since then, she has spent some of her life at Howling Hall, and the past few years at boarding school – Miss Fractious’ Boarding Establishment for Young Ladies. That is, until she hears her Uncle Heracles has been eaten by a crocodile. So Hattie now has to go live with her great uncle Sisyphus and great aunt Iphigenia – and becomes caught up in their fascination with ancient Egypt.

Their journey in Egypt with the Ravens is perilous. There to illegally procure mummies, Hattie and her family are escorted by Omar Shaydi, and his daughter, Amal – who is there to be a companion to Hattie. Yet when Hattie finds out what the Ravens are up to, she must use all her wits and ideas to find out how to prove they’re doing the wrong thing and save her new home.

Victorian England and Egypt – two worlds in great contrast, but in this novel, brought together delightfully for this story, and again, ancient and modern are contrasted in both settings, which sets up the story for the events and timeline that make the story so compelling. From the first line about hearing about the demise of one’s relative at the jaws of a crocodile, to the mummy-unwrapping parties that the author notes say were common during the time the novel was set, and then into Egypt, where ancient and modern are contrasted, the novel centres Hattie and Amal within their worlds of what is expected of girls their age and what these two girls want to do. Amal lives in a world where tradition dictates what she should be doing, yet her desire to learn maths and science drives her to make her own choices and fight, and Hattie, frustrated with the schooling she has received so far would rather learn about ancient Egypt, history and mythology. Thrown together on the illegal search led by Amal’s father, the two soon find out that they have more in common than they thought – and one of those things is that they both suspect the Ravens. Together, when Hattie begins to feel the spirits of those they’re disturbing, Amal notices.

AWW2020Yet it is the Ravens who cast a shadowy threat over the trip – their ability to influence Sisyphus and Iphigenia is not lost on Amal and Hattie, and the two decide to work out what the two are up to…if they can. But Hattie might not be able to reveal the truth until she is back in England – and to do that, she’ll need to come up with a very clever plan to find out what the Ravens are up to and save her new home. The Ravens are the kind of characters who set off alarm bells from their first appearance. They give the book its unsettled feeling. It is as though nothing will feel right until Hattie finds out what they are up to and finds a way to reveal the truth about their scheming.

This book combined Victorian England, Ancient Egypt and strong female characters in an exciting way. Amal, Iphigenia and Hattie drive the story, and Sisyphus and Omar have their role too, and I quite found great uncle Sisyphus a lot of fun – he quite enjoyed letting Iphigenia and Hattie explore their interests, so he was a really good character to have in there. Pamela Rushby has also researched this very well and explains what she had to research and the liberties she took in her author notes about each separate topic in the back of the book – which will spark further interest and research for readers.

It is cleverly put together and the history and fantasy elements in a way that makes it feel seamless and entirely possible – and makes the reader want to find out what happens next – it was one that I did not want to put down. It is clear that Pamela’s research and experience has informed much of what she has written, and this brings a sense of authenticity to the book that makes it come alive on the page and in the imagination of the reader. There is a sense of place and time in this novel – as though the modern and ancient converge and bring about a story that is evocative and intriguing that works as a stand alone, yet would also be delightful with a sequel.

A wonderful read for all readers aged eight and older.

Isolation Publicity with Dee White

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.

Dee White small author photo 2019 colour
Dee White has two books coming out, or that have come out during this pandemic – Beyond Belief, and Eddy Popcorn’s Guide to Parent Training – she has discussed them both here in one of my longest interviews yet! So it is interesting and exciting to get so many different interviews and responses, and shows how diverse our writing industry is in many ways. Like many authors, the release of Dee’s books was affected by the pandemic, and events have been cancelled. Dee agreed to take part in my series to promote these books and hopefully reach her readers.

Hi Dee and welcome to The Book Muse!

1. You’ve got two new releases that I am featuring here – one of which I do have on order. Could you tell my readers about each of them?

Beyond Belief is a work of historical fiction inspired by the true story of Muslims at a Paris Mosque who saved Jewish children during WW11. It tells the story of eleven year-old Jewish boy, Ruben and his family who are fleeing the Nazis and French police after more than 13,000 Jews were arrested and taken to concentration camps during the Vel D’hiv roundup on 16 and 17 July 1942.

Eddy Popcorn also features an eleven year-old boy, but couldn’t be more different. Eddy Popcorn is contemporary, humorous illustrated fiction. Eddy has been grounded for the school holidays for not doing his homework. Faced with not seeing the beach, or his mates, for the WHOLE holidays, Eddy puts all of his frustration into a helpful book for kids: Eddy Popcorn’s Guide to Parent Training.

2. Beyond Belief is the one I have on order, and was published in early April – can you tell my readers what it is about, and where the idea came from?

As I mentioned earlier, this book is inspired by a true story that I stumbled upon when I was researching another book, Paris Hunting. (Still a work in progress.) After the roundup, Ruben’s parents leave him at the mosque where they know he will be safe while they go looking for his sister Rosa who has been missing for some months. Ruben must wait for there for the infamous Fox who will take him to Spain to be reunited with his family. (The Fox is also inspired by a real historical character). At the mosque, Ruben must learn how to be a Muslim. One hint of his true identity and he’ll be killed, and so will the people trying to save him.

3. Following on from the previous question, Beyond Belief explores one of the untold stories of World War Two. What draws you to these kinds of stories, and how do you think we can get them into classrooms and mainstream discussions of history?

I feel like there’s so much we can learn from the past but also so much that we can relate to the modern world. Racism and propaganda are still issues we face today. In Paris and in other parts of Europe in the late 1930’s the Nazis instigated a campaign of hate against the Jews. They produced posters showing Jews taking over the world and stealing people’s hard earned money. They forced Jews from the ghettos to ‘act’ in films. They dressed them up in opulent clothes and forced them to walk past Jews dying on the streets of the ghettos to convince the general public that these people didn’t even care about their own race. It was all fake news, but people believed it. They used this propaganda to dehumanise the Jews so that when atrocities were committed against them, people wouldn’t step into help. They used these campaigns of hate to turn people against the Jews in much the same way that the Howard government used the fake ‘children over board’ campaign to turn modern day Australians against refugees. They tried to make us believe that parents were throwing their children overboard to save themselves and this was proven not to be true.

I think I’m drawn to these stories because they show the power of human kindness … and that we are all people, regardless of religious beliefs or place of birth. The interfaith solidarity between the Jews and the Muslims crossed all religious and historical boundaries. It was simply an example of genuine human concern for other humans. During the war there were examples of this all over the world between many different races. During my research I discovered an amazing organisation called I Am Your Protector. https://iamyourprotector.org/ I really believe in their ethos. They do amazing things. They are, “a community of people who speak out and stand up for one another other across dimensions of religion, ethnicity, gender, and sexual orientation. Through our work, we transcend perceived lines of division between different communities and endeavour to change the way people view the “other”. We share knowledge, stories, and tools that inspire people to become each other’s protectors.”

In February, the Victorian Education Minister, James Merlino announced that the Holocaust would become compulsory learning for Years 9 and 10 and I think that’s a great start to bringing books like Beyond Belief into schools. With themes like racism and fake news, books like Beyond Belief aren’t just a way to examine the past, they’re also relevant today. I think that all we can do is try to get the word out about books like Beyond Belief (like you are doing with your blog) and through social and mainstream media to make schools aware that these books are available and how valuable they can be in the classroom. Publishers like Scholastic also provide curriculum-based teacher’s notes to help.

4. Your other new release, Eddy Popcorn’s Guide to Parent Training, was released on the first of May – what is this about, and is it a stand-alone, or part of a series?

Eddy Popcorn’s character and story are inspired by my boys when they were around eleven or twelve. I love the ironic humour of kids at this age. Eddy Popcorn’s Guide to Parent Training is about the pre-teen relationship between kids and adults – that time when kids are starting to question the world around them and whether parents actually have all the answers. I love this age because kids are starting to develop their own perspective on the world and it’s often very funny.

Eddy Popcorn’s Guide to Parent Training is the first book in the series illustrated by Ben Johnston, whose illustrations are amazing. I’d never met or spoken to him, but he really seemed to connect with Eddy and his story. The second book in the series, Eddy Popcorn’s Guide to Teacher Taming is coming out with Scholastic Australia next year.

5. With both of these books released in the midst of a pandemic, what events, launches and appearances did you have to cancel?

I had a launch at our local library and one at the Little Bookroom organised … and of course these were both cancelled. I had received a grant to do a month long artist residence at a remote regional Victorian school in May/June but this couldn’t go ahead either. I had planned a three-month book tour (in my caravan Luna) from Melbourne to Townsville and return with school, library and bookstore visits and events booked in Sydney, Canberra, Brisbane and the Sunshine Coast. I also planned to visit isolated regional areas because I feel they often miss out on having authors visit their towns and schools. All this had to be cancelled. There were also a number of writer’s festivals that had booked me to appear and these didn’t go ahead either.

6. Did you always want to be a writer, and what do you think you would have been if you hadn’t gone down the publishing road?

I wanted to be a writer since I was seven, but it wasn’t considered a ‘proper job’ at that time so when I left school I actually went into insurance, which I hated, and then marketing and advertising. From this I was able to get a job as a copywriter so at least I was writing and from there I went into journalism. But even when I was working in insurance, I still wrote in my own time. I was compelled to write. For me it has always been as essential as breathing.

7. What are the craziest, or most outlandish things you have done in the name of research for one of your books?

Probably doing a tour of the Paris sewers for Beyond Belief. It was certainly the smelliest thing I’ve ever done. I’ve also been up in a hot air balloon and invented and trialled my own weapons in the name of research.

8. Where have you travelled to research your books, and which of these places has been the most interesting or your favourite?

My research has taken me to different parts of Australia and the world including Amsterdam, New York and Paris. Paris would definitely have to be my favourite. The month I spent in Paris researching Beyond Belief (Thanks to a Creative Victoria VicArts grant) was amazing. Everything just seemed to fall into place. And the information I needed seemed to find me. I was given an interpreter, Laetitia for the sewer tour and she was so lovely. She also happened to be a Muslim who spoke Arabic and she helped me to verify the authenticity of the events I was writing about. Her next door neighbour was the mother of a Rabbin so Laetitia was able to get me into a synagogue in Paris as well.

9. When it comes to research – how do you begin your research process, and are some topics easier to research than others?

I usually begin my research online, but I always love to visit the actual place I’m writing about if I can. It’s definitely easier to find out about some topics than others. France didn’t actually acknowledge their part in the Holocaust until about 1995 and memorials came much later so it wasn’t that easy to find out some things. Beyond Belief was also emotionally hard to research because of the nature of the subject matter. It was just so awful to visit Holocaust centres and memorials and see the faces of babies and small children who had been murdered. It was also a deeply personal story for me because my father and his parents were forced to flee Nazi occupied Austria.

I’m currently researching an historical fiction set in Australia, The Explorer’s Niece, and that’s proving difficult too because there are discrepancies between the information I’ve uncovered. And two of the local historians were at odds over it and disagree on dates and events. The research process is never smooth sailing. There are always places where you stumble. But that’s part of the challenge and fun of it. I love research because you never know where it will take you and your characters. If I do research online I always try and verify its authenticity in some other way through museums, libraries or a local historical society or by visiting the place myself and talking to people.

10. You’re also a certified writing teacher. Do all your classes take place face to face, or do you also teach online, and how has this been affected by the pandemic?

I’ve been running online writing classes for kids for almost ten years now. My students come from all over the world … From USA, UK, Australia and India, to Singapore, Hong Kong and Dubai, so that part hasn’t really been affected by the pandemic. But I also do face-to-face workshops and appearances at festivals, libraries and schools and these have all been cancelled. Also as I mentioned, my one month artist-in-residence, would all have been face-to-face workshops with students from prep to Year 8. I also mentor writers of all ages and this is often done via email so that hasn’t changed either.

11. Is the History, Mystery and Mirth tour still going ahead, or has it been cancelled or postponed – alternatively, has it been adapted into an online tour like some other festivals have?

Unfortunately I’ve had to cancel the tour for this year because of the closure of state borders and also schools are very busy at the moment with all the online learning. They have their hands full just trying to deal with the basic curriculum and paperwork and parents and technology fails etc. Perhaps I might be able to go ahead with tour next year. I’m currently in talks with the school I was going to be doing the artist-in-residence at, and hopefully that will go ahead in 2021. I am doing some online events still. I run the writer’s bootcamps at the CYA festival, which will be happening online in July. I’m also running an online workshop on creating compelling characters through SCBWI ACT on 28 June and that will feature Ruben from Beyond Belief and Eddy.

12. Who else is – or was – involved with the History, Mystery and Mirth tour?

I was organising this tour myself, but I’d scheduled a number of events through SCBWI in various parts of Australia and at a number of schools and festivals. And of course there was my artist-in-residence in Yarrawonga, which was to be part of the tour.

13. Apart from novels for children and young adults, have you had any other writing published elsewhere?

I’ve had many articles published in newspapers and magazines and online and I’ve written for a number of blogs. I started the Kids’ Book Capers blog at Boomerang Books and as well as my own blogs I ran a blog for a school for four years. When my kids were 2 ½ and 8 months old, we travelled around Australia in tents (with the family dog) for about 18 months and as we travelled I wrote articles for publications like Practical Parenting, Good Weekend and Go Camping.

14. Do you have a favourite writing companion or spot to write your novels in?

My goat Molly used to be my muse but sadly, she passed away when she was 14. I’m a bit of a nomadic writer and don’t have a single place that I work. I love writing outside and I love being in the location that I’m writing about and immersing myself in the setting.

15. Do you prefer to write with a notebook and pen, or on the computer, or a combination?

I always start out writing with a notebook and pen. It’s more portable and works well outside because I don’t have to worry about screen glare. Even in the editing process, if I have to rewrite a section I tend to do it with a notebook and pen. It seems to make it easier for me to immerse myself and connect more closely with my story and characters.

16. Do you have a favourite bookseller you’re trying to support during these tough times?

That’s a really hard one. All the booksellers are amazing and having a difficult time too. My local bookseller New Leaves doesn’t have an online store, but you can post your order through a slot in their front door and they deliver to your door. (Good old fashioned country service) Squishy Minnie is also wonderful. They’re in the next town and they have an online store and they have gorgeous books for kids and teens. And I love The Little Bookroom who are always so supportive of me and other creators and they have my books in store and online as well. Collins Booksellers in Sunbury always so enthusiastic about my work too.

17. Which authors or books are you always drawn to?

I love books with heart and a touch of humour and a bit of mystery … and of course, history as well. I love Bren MacDibble’s books because they have so much heart and originality and her characters are always so memorable. Wendy Orr’s books are like that too and I particularly like her historical fiction like Dragonfly Song and Swallow’s Dance. Kathryn Gauci is also an amazing author who writes adult historical fiction. I love Rebecca Stead’s books and Jessica Townsend and Nova Weetman and Chrisse Perry and Adam Wallace and Michael Gerard Bauer. There are just so many wonderful books and authors out there.

18. Many authors I have interviewed have also been involved in reading, writing and literacy programs – is this something you do as well?

I have worked in schools and with individuals on a voluntary basis, helping with reading, writing and literacy, but I’m not associated with any particular organisation.

19. Are all your books published by one publisher, or do you work with different publishers?

I work with different publishers. Beyond Belief and Eddy Popcorn are published by Scholastic, my picture book Reena’s Rainbow is published by EK books, I’ve had books published by Pearson Australia and my YA novel Letters to Leonardo was published in Australia by Walker Books and by Mazo Publishing in USA and UK.

20. How would you like to see people supporting the arts and artists in this time, and beyond the pandemic?

The best way that people can support the arts and artists is to engage with art and spread the word about it. Buy books and music and artworks. Go to live shows and festivals and if you like what you read, heard or saw, tell people about it. One of my local bookstores keeps selling out of Beyond Belief and that’s because people keep recommending it to others. Of course reviews are great too. If you like a book, review it on Goodreads or online bookstores.

21. What books do you have planned for the future?

I’m working on Eddy 2 – Eddy Popcorn’s Guide to Teacher Taming, and I have another historical fiction, The Explorer’s Niece. I’m working on Paris Hunting which is the book I was working on when I stumbled across the story that became Beyond Belief. I also have another historical fiction in the pipeline, Canary Girl and another humorous junior fiction work in progress, Will Smite the Nearly Fearless Knight. So plenty to stop me from getting bored!

Anything you wish to say that I may have missed?

Wow, thank you for your great questions and for having me on your fabulous blog.

I have a Youtube channel  and you can find out more about me at my website  or on social media at Dee White Author.

The other thing I wanted to mention is that I’ve been making Pop Motion videos (stop motion videos using popcorn) for Eddy Popcorn’s Guide to the Apocalypse and it is so much fun! In his pop motions, Eddy shares his experiences and tips on how to survive the pandemic. Eddy’s pop motions can be viewed on my Youtube channel and through Eddy’s page on my website. I’m also happy to do workshops in schools about using pop motion as a storytelling tool.

Thanks Dee!

Book Bingo Six 2020 Themes of Crime and Justice

Book Bingo 2020 clean

Welcome to the June edition of Book Bingo with Theresa Smith Writes and Mrs B’S Book Reviews. This time around, I am checking off Themes of Crime and Justice with the tenth book in the Rowland Sinclair series by Sulari Gentill, A Testament of Character.

Book bingo 2020

Rowly and his friends take a detour on their way home from China and find themselves in America looking into the death of an old friend of Rowly’s. As the story progresses, Rowly and his friends fall deeper into a mystery of deaths, and who killed Daniel, as well as who Otis Norcross is, and where he is. In terms of justice, it has more to it than just solving the crime. The justice system that gives certain people preferential treatment or deems certain proclivities criminal – and how Rowly and his friends help those they are working with deal with these issues in 1930s America. These issues are not always overt, but they are bubbling there and hinting at what is to come and why things are the way they are.

ATOC_3D

I’m finding this book bingo a bit easier. It means that there is the chance that all books will be read, reviewed and scheduled long before December, which is a bonus in trying to get through it all easily.

 

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.

Eloise and the Bucket of Stars by Janeen Brian

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

Author: Janeen Brian

Genre: Historical Fiction, Magical Realism

Publisher: Walker Books Australia

Published: 1st June 2020

Format: Paperback

Pages: 240

Price: $16.99

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

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

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

~*~

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

 

The Austen Girls by Lucy Worsley

the austen girlsTitle: The Austen Girls
Author: Lucy Worsley
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: Bloomsbury Children’s Books
Published: 19th May 2020
Format: Paperback
Pages: 320
Price: $15.99
Synopsis: Would she ever find a real-life husband? Would she even find a partner to dance with at tonight’s ball? She just didn’t know.

Anna Austen has always been told she must marry rich. Her future depends upon it. While her dear cousin Fanny has a little more choice, she too is under pressure to find a suitor.

But how can either girl know what she wants? Is finding love even an option? The only person who seems to have answers is their Aunt Jane. She has never married. In fact, she’s perfectly happy, so surely being single can’t be such a bad thing?

The time will come for each of the Austen girls to become the heroines of their own stories. Will they follow in Jane’s footsteps?

In this witty, sparkling novel of choices, popular historian LUCY WORSLEY brings alive the delightful life of Jane Austen as you’ve never seen it before.

~*~

Everyone knows Jane Austen’s books – the most famous of which are probably Emma and Pride and Prejudice, and there are many retellings, and many books both fictional and non-fiction that feature or are about Jane Austen in some way. But Lucy Worsley has taken Jane Austen’s nieces – Fanny and Anna – and told their story, which involves Jane in a new and interesting way.

Set in 1809, it is time for cousins Anna and Fanny to enter society and begin the search for a husband – as society dictates for young ladies at the time. For Anna, marrying rich is a must – there is pressure from her family to make the right match and for the right reasons. Her cousin, Fanny, has a little more choice, yet, both are under extreme pressure to marry from their parents, but Aunt Jane is always there to offer advice, help and reassurance for everything.

Lucy Worsley has a talent for taking the stories of women in history and giving them a voice, and an identity beyond being daughters and wives.

Her previous three novels have focused on royal houses – here, Lucy explores the early nineteenth century and Jane Austen’s life. It is fresh and fun – as readers, we get to see Jane as more than just an author. As an aunt, a sister and a daughter. It is an example of how historical fiction about someone’s life, where what we know is filled in with the possibilities of what could have happened, and extrapolations of events based on the names, dates and facts available. Lucy has used these basic facts to bring history to life for her readers, in a way that is informative, accessible and entertaining. Told through the eyes of the younger girls, Jane’s nieces, the novel illustrates societal expectations, and how even in one family, ideas of wealth and status can differ, and inform what is expected of a teenage girl. At the same time, it also explores what happens when the oldest girl in a family needs to take on certain responsibilities – and doesn’t shy away from the realities of the time, yet presents them in a way that isn’t overly confronting for readers, but also, in a way that can still be understood clearly.

I love Luc’s work – she includes all the relevant and interesting details and shows us a world that whilst very far in the past, at times, can explore universal themes, and she brings history to life for a wide audience. I look forward to seeing what she writes next.

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!