Once Upon A Time – Fairy Tales and The Pre-Raphaelites with Kate Forsyth

Kate_ForsythIt is very rare that I get to meet my favourite authors, or in fact, any authors, even though we interact over social media, so when I heard that Kate Forsyth would be at an author event at Kincumber Library, I booked to go before the tickets were all gone. It was a lengthy month waiting to go, but finally the day came to go and listen to Kate talk about her writing and fairy tales – creating a very interesting evening for all. Last night, Tuesday the 4th of July, was a magical evening and it was one of the most enjoyable evenings I have had.

The night began with Kate telling us about her writing journey. Like me, she has always wanted to be a writer and has always loved reading, and at age 7, wrote her first novel, followed by her second and third at ages 9 and 11 – around the same ages I began writing and dreaming up stories, and at age sixteen, she sent off her first manuscript – something I would not have dreamed of doing at that age, as I had only just started thinking of writing novels then. But it has since been a goal of mine to achieve publication, and Kate had many words of encouragement about writing and publishing – to keep writing and trying, and rewriting and getting your work out there, so I am going to try entering a local short story competition, using her words as my inspiration and drive to do so.

IMG_0341At age 25, Kate’s boyfriend, and now husband, gave her five years to get published – five years, where she could polish her work and query it, and learn her craft through study and writing and rewriting. As Kate tells it, the story came, as several of her stories have, from a dream. Using this as a launchpad, she set out to write what would become her first book, with the contract signed two days before she turned thirty, and that book is turning twenty years old this year. I still have my original copy of this book that Kate signed for me after the talk on last night. This book was the beginning of a six-book saga that introduced me to the world of fantasy, and led me into reading Kate’s books for life. This book was Dragonclaw, first book in the Witches of Eileanan series, which is followed by the Rhiannon’s Ride Trilogy. Kate has written forty books, and has had them published into 17 languages across the world, and has cemented her as an extraordinary storyteller, with a broad audience across ages and genres, as evidenced by the gathering at the event at Kincumber Library.dragonclaw

Fun fact: Dragonclaw was published a month before Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone in 1997, and both just turned twenty this year!

B_bitter-greensDragonclaw’s publication then led to Kate’s career as a full time writer, resulting in that series, and the trilogy that followed, her children’s books which include The Puzzle Ring in 2009, The Starthorn Tree, The Wildkin’s Curse and The Starkin Crown, as well as recent kids series The Impossible Quest and Chain of Charms, as well as picture books and the adult books: Bitter Greens, The Wild Girl, Dancing on Knives, The Beast’s Garden and Beauty in Thorns, all fairy tale infused historical fiction, apart from Dancing on Knives, which has a more contemporary setting – a distinction Kate and I discussed last night – that tell powerful stories of humanity and love against all odds and set against the back drops of very different time periods within each novel, resulting in powerful stories and characters that seep into your subconscious and dreams as you read.

Kate and her siblings have a literary lineage that can be traced back to at least colonial Australia, and Charlotte Waring-Atkinson, who wrote the first children’s book in BeautyinThorns_CoverAustralia: A Mother’s Offering to Her Children by A Lady Long Resident in New South Wales in 1841, the mother of four children, fighting to keep them safe, and loved in a harsh world that tried to separate them, and this book is a testament not only to the literary blood in Kate’s family but to the love, sacrifices, triumphs and moments of grief that Charlotte went through to keep her family safe.

KnivesHearing about Kate’s writing process and literary family was fascinating and she had the audience captured with her words, and very interested to hear about her writing journey, and the moments in her life that affected her and her writing, and introduced her to a love of fairy tales, a love that I share with her, just as we both enjoy reading and watching different fairy tale retellings to see how someone else interprets a fairy tale. The fascination of fairy tales has as much to do with their history and where they came from as what we know them as today – from the oral traditions to the many interpretations that have come about since they were first recorded the early 1800s by Jacob and Wihelm Grimm, whose stories mostly came from Dortchen Wild, their neighbour. During the talk, Kate recounted the childhood incident and subsequent hospital stays that had sparked her interest in fairy tales and desire to write, specifically the fairy tale of Rapunzel. puzzle_ring_med

Most people would associate Rapunzel with the version recorded by the Grimm Brothers, and this is the version Kate began focussing on in her Doctoral research. During this research, she found out more about the fairy tale, and that the first versions pre-dated the Grimm Brothers by about two hundred years, dating back to the 1600s and Giambiattista Basile, and soon came to the story of Charlotte Rose de la Force in the seventeenth century, and her imprisonment in a convent, while she was writing the story. There are three threads, the other two, the witch, and the third, Rapunzel’s perspective, and together, they form an intricate and surprising story, much like Kate’s other books.

aww2017-badge
Moving on from Bitter Greens, Kate discussed her latest novel, Beauty in Thorns and the Pre-Raphaelites. Beauty in Thorns, and Kate’s journey in writing it, had been the first time I had heard about the Pre-Raphaelites talked about collectively. The art and poetry of the Pre-Raphaelites was inspired by myth and fairy tale, and a longing to be awakened from the dreariness of accepted art in Victorian times, to bring colour back into the world.

Before Beauty in Thorns and Kate Forsyth’s talk, I had heard the wild girlof individual names such as William Morris and Dante Gabriel Rossetti, and had read some poetry by Dante’s sister, Christina – my favourite of hers was Goblin Market and re-reading it, I wondered if the characters of Lizzie and Laura in her poem had been inspired by Sleeping Beauty as well, and those in the Pre-Raphaelite circles, though perhaps not as obsessively as the series of paintings of her done by Dante Gabriel had been – an obsession that led him to running back to her after affairs, and burying his only copy of his poetry with her, and seven years later, digging her up to retrieve his poetry. Beauty in Thorns tells the stories of Lizzie Siddal, Georgie MacDonald, who married Edward Burne-Jones and Janey Burden, and the various affairs and love triangles that happened with each other and the models that the men longed to paint. But the main story became the story of Margot Burne-Jones, daughter of Georgie and Edward, whose father longed to keep her from growing up and falling in love an experiencing the pain of adult life, and the contrast in her longing to be awakened like Sleeping Beauty, an obsession that Edward had had for many years, since childhood. Together with Georgie’s story of being the faithful wife, Margot’s story shows how obsessions ate away at these artists, and what their passions did to their families and their great loves, how their obsessions became what finally consumed them in the end. Kate said she structured this story along the lines of Sleeping Beauty, with Margot representing Sleeping Beauty, and Georgie as the Queen, and the paintings were Edward’s way of awakening the world, as the Pre-Raphaelites were trying to do through their involvement in the suffrage movement, for example. I was lucky enough to be an early reader and reviewer for Beauty in Thorns, and it was full of hope, love, tragedy and despair, and everything else that makes Kate’s novels so good. Like her written word, Kate’s spoken word is powerful and weaves a spell on her audience, capturing their attention wholly and completely across the room, not even a gasp at times flying forth from the crowd. And like her books, the talk was over all too soon. It was a lovely evening for all, and Kate was so generous with her time afterwards as well.

 

IMG_4195

After the talk, she signed books for us all, and spent time answering our questions, and when I approached the signing table, she gave me a huge hug, and we talked about her books, the book launch I had just attended, and my reviewing. Hearing how supportive she was, and getting advice on writing and reading and reviewing – to only review what I like, and not to worry about not reading something I get sent that isn’t my thing, so I am going to try this method, as well as being more honest i my reviews about things I don’t like or am unsure about. I appreciated this talk with Kate, and all the interaction she has with me and her other fans on social media, and hope to attend more events with her soon.

Booktopia – Free Shipping!

Booktopia

Blog Tour: Girl In Between by Anna Daniels

Title: Girl In Betweenimage004

Author: Anna Daniels

Genre: Fiction

Publisher: Allen and Unwin

Published: 26th April 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 314

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: Life can be tricky when you’re a girl in between relationships, careers and cities… and sometimes you have to face some uncomfortable truths. The sparkling debut from comic TV and radio presenter, Anna Daniels.

Lucy Crighton has just moved in with some gregarious housemates called Brian and Denise… who are her parents. She’s also the proud mother of Glenda, her beloved 10-year-old… kelpie. And she has absolutely no interest in the dashing son of her parents’ new next-door neighbour… well, maybe just a little.

When you’re the girl in between relationships, careers and cities, you sometimes have to face some uncomfortable truths… like your Mum’s obsession with Cher, your father’s unsolicited advice, and the fact there’s probably more cash on the floor of your parents’ car than in your own bank account.

Thank goodness Lucy’s crazy but wonderful best friend, Rosie, is around to cushion reality, with wild nights at the local Whipcrack hotel, escapades in Japanese mud baths, and double dating under the Christmas lights in London.

But will Lucy work out what she really wants to do in life and who she wants to share it with?

Anna Daniels is a natural-born comedian. She originally set out to write a screenplay that was part Muriel’s Wedding, part The Castle. Instead, she wrote Girl In Between, which was shortlisted for the 2016 Vogel’s Award. She says ‘I’ve always loved comedy which not only makes you laugh but also pulls at your heartstrings. I think a lot of people may be able to relate to Lucy’s story!’

Girl in Between is a warm, upbeat and often hilarious story about life at the crossroads. Featuring an endearing and irrepressible cast of characters, it will have you chuckling from start to finish.

~*~

aww2017-badgeSet in Rockhampton, and London, Girl in Between is a story about the cross roads of life that Lucy Crighton, in her early thirties, is faced with. At her age, stuck between jobs, and living at home while she works towards her dream of becoming published, and recovering from a relationship that ended recently, and that she would rather forget, Lucy is in a rut. On one side, she has her parents nagging about the real world and real jobs, and at times, their slightly embarrassing jokes. On the other, her best friend Rosie, working part time, chummy with her parents, and pushing Lucy into the arms of the son of a new neighbour, and conspiring with her mother, Denise. Combine that with the re-emergence of her ex, and Lucy has become the Girl n Between: in between relationships, in between careers, in between life.

Lucy Crighton lives with her parents – Brian and Denise, a ten-year-old kelpie called Glenda, and her mother’s obsession with Cher, and a variety of hobbies that come in and out of the house all the time. Her best friend, Rosie, makes herself at home. And the people who drift in and out of their lives in Rockhampton are just as quirky and interesting, and they all ensure a story full of fun and laughs, where big mouths get people into trouble and reveal things that shouldn’t be revealed. Through a series of mistakes that anyone can make, each character is shown to be not so perfect – a refreshing change in a novel with a hint of romance, as having characters in a romance who aren’t flawed and who are perfect and where finding their path isn’t complicated can be boring. Lucy’s journey to where she finally ends up certainly isn’t boring.

There is romance in this novel, however, I quite liked that it took a while to develop and that Lucy didn’t jump into it head first, rather she floundered, and travelled and tried different things. The London chapters were perhaps my favourite, as I felt like I was there, and working with Lucy in Scribe. As an aspiring author and book lover, and someone in their thirties, I could identify with Lucy, and hopefully others will too. She’s not perfect – she has her flaws, and like characters such as Bridget Jones and Nina Proudman, she makes mistakes, and at times, seems to fumble her way around life – but we all do. That is what makes characters like Lucy so relatable.

In a story about life and the choices we make, and the people in our lives, Girl in Between is fun and contemporary, with a creatively driven character who is unwilling to settle for things but at the same time, is faced with choices that must be made, and a character who has her ups and downs. In a story where these are embraced and not swept away under the carpet, Girl in Between by Anna Daniels gives readers after something a little more in their romance novels, where romance occurs but isn’t necessarily the goal a book to enjoy. It is a story about cross roads and discovering yourself, and how things work out – and where you end up in life. The eventual romance bubbled and simmered as the story went along, which made if more enjoyable for me, as I got to experience Lucy as she found her way in life without worrying about falling in love: it was something that just happened.

Girl in Between is a delightful and funny story about finding yourself at a point in your life were not everything is working out, and finding a way to make it work.

 

Girl in Between by Anna Daniels is published by Allen & Unwin, RRP $29.99, available now.

Find Anna here on social media:

• Twitter: @annadtweets
• Insta: @annamdanielsAnna Daniels
• Website: http://www.annamdaniels.com

 

Disappearing off the Face of the Earth by David Cohen

DOTFOTE-cover-600x913.jpg

Title: Disappearing Off The Face of The Earth

Author: David Cohen

Genre: Fiction

Publisher: Transit Lounge

Published: 1st May 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 224

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: Hideaway Self Storage, located just off Brisbane’s M1, is in decline. But manager Ken Guy and his assistant Bruce carry on with their daily rituals even as the facility falls apart around them. Lately, however, certain tenants have been disappearing off the face of the earth, leaving behind units full of valuable items. Ken has no idea where these rent defaulters have gone but he thinks he might be able to turn their abandoned ‘things’ into a nice little earner that could help save his business. But the disappearances are accompanied by strange occurrences such as Bruce’s inexplicable late-night excursions, Ken’s intensifying aversion to fluorescent lights, and Ken’s girlfriend’s intensifying aversion to Ken. While  further along the motorway, construction of a rival facility – Pharoah’s Tomb Self Storage, part of a nationwide franchise – hints at a  mysterious past and a precarious future.

A surprisingly funny study of physical and mental deterioration, David Cohen’s second novel is never quite what it seems. Sharply attuned to the absurdities of contemporary urban life, it is that rare literary beast, a comic drama that is at once intelligent and suspenseful, humorous and deep.

~*~

Dropping Off The Face of the Earth begins with the main character, Ken, working at his business, Hideaway Self Storage near Brisbane, with his assistant, Bruce, whom he has worked with before, yet, until Bruce started working at Hideaway, had not seen him for years. As the story progresses, Ken’s relationship with Ellen begins to deteriorate, and the people renting out storage spaces begin to go missing. And so begins a mystery that has elements of being disturbing and mixes it with a warped sense of humour to look at the day to day working life of an individual. And also, into how the relationships they have deteriorate or area affected by the strain on the body and the mind of the job Ken is in, interrogating the way the mind can begin to play tricks on you, and shake your sense of what is real.

As the story was told in first person narration, the world of the story was seen purely from Ken’s point of view. For what the author was trying to achieve, this worked but still had it’s flaws: the other characters didn’t feel fully thought out, and only seeing them through Ken’s eyes gave a warped view of his world that didn’t always make sense. As the novel flicked back and forth, I started to wonder if there was more to Ken, and when Bruce disappeared, and Ken went in search of him and recognised some places and names but couldn’t recall being there, I wondered if the author was examining how one’s mental health can begin to deteriorate and affect our perceptions of the world.

At times, the comedy shone through but at other times it was a little obscure for me – I may not be the right audience for this book. David Cohen has taken a usually dry and boring subject and injected humour, and wit into it. I felt that the story looked at the fragility of human life and mental health, and as the story progressed, Ken’s telling felt like it flickered all over the place, making him and the reader question a sense of what was real and what wasn’t by the end. I read the last few pages a few times, but the ending was obscure and offered little in a satisfying conclusion in either direction for me.

Whilst this book wasn’t for me, and I am unlikely to read it again because at times I found it confusing, and simply didn’t enjoy the story or connect with the characters, there will be an audience out there for this book.

Under The Same Sky by Mogjan Shamsalipoor and Milad Jafari with James Knight

under the same sky.jpg

 

 

Title: Under the Same Sky
Author: Mojgan Shamsalipoor and Milad Jafari with James Knight
Genre: Non-fiction, biography
Publisher: Hachette Australia
Published: 26th April 2017
Format: Paperback
Pages: 331
Price: $32.99
Synopsis: The powerful and incredibly moving story of Mojgan Shamsalipoor and Milad Jafari – two young Iranian asylum seekers who are showing that the power of love can conquer all obstacles.
After fleeing their homeland, Australian refugee policies threaten to tear this young couple apart. An unforgettable story of love, hope and a quest for freedom.
At seventeen, all Mojgan Shamsalipoor wanted was to be safe from physical and sexual abuse, go to school, and to eventually marry for love. In Iran, she was denied all of this.
Milad Jafari was a shy teenage boy who found his voice as a musician. But the rap music he loved was illegal in his country. All Milad’s father, a key maker, builder and shopkeeper, wanted was for his family to live free from the fear of arrest, imprisonment or execution. To do that they all had to flee Iran.
Mojgan and Milad met in Australia. But in the months between their separate sea voyages, the Australian government changed the way asylum seekers were treated. Though Milad is recognised as a refugee and will soon become a proud Australian citizen, Mojgan has been told she cannot stay here even though the threat of imprisonment and further abuse, or worse, means she can’t return to Iran.
UNDER THE SAME SKY, is a powerful insight into the human face of asylum seekers and the way history has shaped the lives of these two young people. It also shows the compassion alive in our suburbs. For Mojgan and Milad, their love keeps their hopes alive.

~*~

Under the Same Sky is the story of Mojgan and Milad’s lives in Iran, and their escape as asylum seekers to Australia. In Iran, both led very different lives under a regime that restricted what women could do, and promoted one religion over all others, persecuting anyone who didn’t fall into line with what the government dictated to them. Eventually, both their families saw the need to flee: Milad’s together, and Mojgan with one of her older brothers, Hossein. With the government as it was, each had to pretend they were only headed to Indonesia for holidays, and that they would return to Iran. Doing it this way, they were able to leave, yet still had to find a way to Australia, where they hoped to find safety. In each chapter, Mojgan and Milad tell their story as their journeys progress, and in some ways, they had similar journeys, but in other ways, their experiences as asylum seekers and refugees differed.

After traumatic events that led to Mojgan and Hossein fleeing Iran for Australia – with the uncertainty of their fate and the fate of the family members they had had to leave behind, and months spent in detention, the two met at a Baha’i camp, and became good friends, and eventually, started dating. However, the government had decided on Mojgan and Hossein’s fate – they had not been granted visas and after months of living in community detention, and a relationship, and marriage between Mojgan and Milad, the brother and sister were sent back to detention, where they were again in limbo, awaiting decisions.

Throughout these turbulent times, Milad, his family and the friends and teachers Mojgan had met at Yeronga at school began fighting for her to be freed, and returned to a safe home with people who cared about her. This fight is included in the story, in some of the chapters told by James Knight, who gives a lot of background to the instability of Iran and the changing attitudes towards asylum seekers and refugees and their treatment. Mojgan’s experiences in detention affected her deeply –even though she wasn’t always harshly treated, the instances she was, and the guards who were rough with her stood out in her mind. Even the guards who tried to help her , who were nice, couldn’t fully erase these experiences.

At the time of the publication of the book and the writing of this review, a final decision is yet to be made and Mojgan and Hossein, though now living with Milad and his family, are still in limbo.

Mojgan and Milad’s story sheds light on an issue that is fraught with complexities and often simplified in the media – which does not always allow for in depth discussion. Mogjan, Milad and James all acknowledge throughout the complexities, especially in the constantly changing attitudes at the political level and in public opinion about refugees, illustrated by interviews with teachers who knew Mogjan and Milad, and quotes from papers about refugees and asylum seekers and references to speeches by the former Minister for Immigration, Scott Morrison. What these do is to establish the political backdrop of Australia, and in a way, contrast it against what Milad and Mojgan ran from – the stark contrast of a dictatorship like Iran, whose government demanded to know the whereabouts of Mogjan long after she left, and the freedom of Australia that they sought but that they were unsure they would ever gain. James Knight’s statements are supportive of those who helped Mogjan and Milad, and less supportive of the government of the time. Some come across as political because issues of asylum seekers and refugees can never be divorced from politics, but I feel like he fell short of outright condemnation and name-calling.

It was an interesting book to read, because it presented a side to the issue not often seen, and one that maybe, should be given more attention. Cases such as Mogjan and Milad’s, where they’ve fled danger and persecution, and simply want a safer life, are the ones we should be hearing about as well as any negative stories that come out. Reading it, I felt moved and shocked by what Mogjan had gone through in Iran and detention. It is only their experiences of fleeing and people smugglers, and becoming asylum seekers. It touches on the issue of how difficult it can be to leave a place like Iran for good. I recommend it for anyone interested in human rights and those wanting to know about the experience from the perspective of someone who has been there.

The Bombs That Brought Us Together by Brian Conaghan

the-bombs-that-brought-us-together

Title: The Bombs that Brought Us Together

Author: Brian Conaghan

Genre: Children’s Fiction

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Published: 1st May 2016

Format: Paperback

Pages: 368

Price: $16.99

Synopsis: WINNER OF THE 2016 COSTA CHILDREN’S BOOK AWARD

Fourteen-year-old Charlie Law has lived in Little Town, on the border with Old Country, all his life. He knows the rules: no going out after dark; no drinking; no litter; no fighting. You don’t want to get on the wrong side of the people who run Little Town. When he meets Pavel Duda, a refugee from Old Country, the rules start to get broken. Then the bombs come, and the soldiers from Old Country, and Little Town changes for ever.

Sometimes, to keep the people you love safe, you have to do bad things. As Little Town’s rules crumble, Charlie is sucked into a dangerous game. There’s a gun, and a bad man, and his closest friend, and his dearest enemy.

Charlie Law wants to keep everyone happy, even if it kills him. And maybe it will.

~*~

Set in what could be a not so distant future, but in an indiscriminate country, divided into Little Town and Old Country, Charlie Law’s life begins to change when he meets Pavel Dude, a refugee from Old Town. Charlie soon becomes embroiled in a rebellion plot against the army of Old Country that has taken over Little Town following the devastation of a bomb attack, increasing tensions between people, with enforced rules and danger lurking everywhere. Charlie must decide between keeping his head down and not getting involved, or becoming involved in ways he had never imagined he would at the age of fourteen.

Told through the eyes of a child who has always known war and oppression, The Bombs That Brought Us Together show the realities of war and state sanctioned oppression, and the way the innocent acceptance of children who have only known this life change, and work to fight against it or simply accept the new way of life. Seeing war and the consequences of war through the eyes of a child, watching people he cares about suffer without medicine because the chemist was bombed, or go missing, without a trace for days. Charlie’s voice is clear throughout the story, and the reader experiences the events through his eyes.

I found Charlie to be a likeable character – one which had flaws but was loyal to his friends and family, who questioned people when he thought something was up and didn’t simply accept things. I felt his fear and uncertainty in his dealings with the Big Man, his absolute loyalty to Pav, the refugee who struggled with Little Town lingo, who feared Old Country, yet still didn’t feel safe from the thugs and those who hated anyone from Old Country.

Brian Conaghan has captured the voice of a child affected by war, invasion and occupation, illustrating how a dictatorship can threaten lives but at the same time, feel like everyday life to those living in it and who may never have known anything different. I think it encourages readers to understand history and how events like these fictional ones can happen, and what drives people to extreme measures, such as the deal Charlie had to make for medication for his mother.

An intriguing read, and ideal for teenagers, The Bombs That Brought Us Together shows the importance and the strength of trust of friendship in the uncertain and dangerous times in the novel.

A Waltz For Matilda by Jackie French (Matilda Saga #1)

A waltz for matilda.png

Title: A Waltz For Matilda (Matilda Saga #1)

Author: Jackie French

Genre: Historical Fiction, Children’s Fiction

Publisher: HarperCollins AU

Published: December1 2010

Format: Paperback

Pages: 496

Price: $19.99

Synopsis: ‘Once a jolly swagman camped by a Billabong Under the shade of a Coolibah tree And he sang as he watched and waited till his Billy boiled You’ll come a‐waltzing Matilda with me…’ In 1894, twelve-year-old Matilda flees the city slums to find her unknown father and his farm. But drought grips the land, and the shearers are on strike. Her father has turned swaggie and he’s wanted by the troopers. In front of his terrified daughter, he makes a stand against them, defiant to the last. ‘You’ll never catch me alive, said he…’ Set against a backdrop of bushfire, flood, war and jubilation, this is the story of one girl’s journey towards independence. It is also the story of others who had no vote and very little but their dreams. Drawing on the well-known poem by A.B. Paterson and from events rooted in actual history, this is the untold story behind Australia’s early years as an emerging nation.

aww2017-badge

~*~

Jackie French notes in her end notes about the history behind the story that during the fight for Federation, and at other times in history, the role of women can and has often been forgotten, and given way to that of men, and in the case of the history of Federation as written by those in power – mostly white men and land owners.

A Waltz for Matilda opens in 1894, seven years before Federation, with young Matilda O’Halloran sleeping in an alley to avoid what she calls the Push, so she can go to work at a jam factory, earning a pittance so she can provide food for her mother, and a roof over their heads. Set in a generic city slum that could be anywhere in Australia, Matilda is faced with a reality that others do not know, and that they will never know. She is young in years, but the work has aged her. And when her mother dies suddenly, she leaves in search of her father at a place called Drinkwater. Here, she encounters her father, and the union men fighting for a united Australia. Her father’s death inspires the song Waltzing Matilda, and this is the basis for Jackie French’s novel, a fictionalised imagining of the events that may have inspired the famous song by Banjo Paterson.

Jackie French states in her endnotes that her inspiration came from the invisibility of women in the stories – what was their role in forming the nation? Did all women just sit at home, sewing and cooking for the men? The exploration of these questions, against a backdrop of racism, classism, sexism and family secrets work together to tell this story in an effective and accessible way, using a what if the jolly swagman had had a daughter, what if she had seen him jump into that billabong to get away from the troopers and the land owner? Matilda’s answer is to take her father’s farm, Moura, and turn it into a home, with the help of Mr. Sampson and Auntie Love, two Indigenous Australians – referred to as natives in the historical context of the novel – with whom she becomes close to and they become her constant companions over the harsh years on the land during a time of constant drought. To many though, the men her father knew in the union, her friend Tommy, people in town, and the Drinkwaters next door, Matilda is not invisible, in contrast to Florence, James and Bertram Drinkwater’s cousin, who has a presence, though she takes on the expected and typical feminine roles that Matilda rejects, and through this acceptance, Florence is perhaps one of the invisible women working behind the scenes of history, rather than at the forefront like Matilda, and women like her, whose achievements should be given more focus – where they did more than just fight for suffrage and temperance – they started the fight for equality and visibility of everyone.

In addressing the issues of racism at the time, Jackie French’s use of natives sets up the attitudes of the time for the modern reader. Though these attitudes are somewhat softened, they are still there. As a reader, and an Australian, I find it important that they are present – to recognise all facets of history, all the faces, the powerful and the powerless, whether based on sex/gender, class and race. Literature that deals with these issues is confronting – and it is meant to be. Seeing an Australian Woman Writer who has lived through times where certain ways of thinking were accepted, and where she heard stories of the fight for suffrage of Australian women brings a feeling of authenticity to it: the author has heard these stories first hand, lived through some of these fights. The character of Matilda grows throughout the novel, physically, and once she learns of her heritage. She is not invisible by any means in the story, but history, as we know can tell a different story. Matilda’s fight for the visibility of those who weren’t rich and powerful had an influence on the surrounding characters – and hopefully, on readers.

Matilda is the kind of female character that can become a positive influence on girls: she steps out of what is expected of girls and women in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, but at the same time, she is able to step into these traditional roles as needed, with a slight twist on how she interacts with people.

I re-read this book as part of the Australian Women Writer’s challenge, and have moved onto book two in the Matilda Saga, The Girl From Snowy River. This is a fascinating book for anyone interested in history, and how the nation of Australia came about. It is well researched, and Jackie French provides a summary of her research and the topics utilised in the book at the back. A Waltz For Matilda is enjoyable, and I hope the rest of the series is as well.

Australian Women Writer’s Challenge 2017

aww2017-badge

Six years ago, in an attempt to read and review more books by Australian Women Writers, the Australian Women Writer’s Challenge came about to encourage readers to read and review more books, and it runs from the first of January to the 31st of December each year.

Within the challenge, there are four challenge levels. The first three are named after prominent Australian Women Writers who have had an impact on Australian writing. They are:

  • Stella: read 4 – if reviewing, review at least 3
  • Miles: read 6 – if reviewing, review at least 4
  • Franklin: read 10 – if reviewing, review at least 6
  • Create your own challenge: nominate your own goal e.g. “Classics Challenge”.

As this is my first year, I have decided to go with the Miles level, and read six, and review at least four of those – with any luck, I will have some nice options in the coming months from review books and purchases by some favourite authors such as Lynette Noni, Kate Forsyth and Sulari Gentill. Most of my books are likely to be fiction, and I may do a few re-reads if I need to.

In general, I read and review books by women writers not just in Australia, but from other countries too. As the books I intend to read are not out yet, I do not have covers for them yet, and these will be included in my reviews when I post them. I am aiming for mainly new releases but just in case, here are the other options I will go to if I necessary.

The Good People by Hannah Kent

good people.jpg

The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Steadman

light between oceans.jpg

The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton

forgotten garden.jpg

There may be others but these are the ones that I am the most keen to read, alongside any new releases that come my way from publishers for reviewing purposes.

Best of luck to everyone participating in the challenge.