Clancy of the Overflow by Jackie French (Matilda Saga #9)

clancy of the overflow.jpgTitle: Clancy of the Overflow (Matilda Saga #9)

Author: Jackie French

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publisher: HarperCollins Australia

Published: 21st October 2019

Format: Paperback

Pages: 448

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: From Australia’s best-loved storyteller comes the final book in the bestselling Matilda Saga

This is a love song to our nation, told in a single sweeping story

Jed Kelly has finally persuaded her great aunt Nancy to tell the story of her grandparents. The tale that unfolds is one of Australia’s greatest romances – that of Clancy of the Overflow, who gave up everything for Rose, the woman he adored, and yet still gained all he’d lost and more.

But Nancy’s story is not the history that Jed expects. More tales lurk behind the folklore that surrounds Clancy – the stories of the women hidden in Australia’s long history, who forged a nation and whose voices need to be heard.

It is also a story of many kinds of love. Clancy’s growing passion for the bush, immortalised in Paterson’s poem, which speaks to him in the ripple of the river and the song of the stars, and Nancy’s need to pass on her deep understanding of her country.

But perhaps the most moving love story of all is the one that never happened, between Matilda O’Halloran and Clancy of the Overflow. And as Jed brings all of these stories to life in her book, Matilda and Clancy will once again waltz beside the river and the forgotten will be given a new voice.

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After nine books, The Matilda Saga is coming to a close – after almost one hundred years of retelling history, of telling the stories of women and their role throughout Australian history. These are the stories that are untold – from pre-Federation to the late twentieth century, and women from all walks of life  – whether it be race, disability, age or economic situation, and everything in between. From Matilda to Flinty, Blue and Nancy, Jed, Fish, Scarlett, and all the people of Gibber’s Creek – the family comes together – blood and chosen – as Nancy tells Jed the story of her grandparents – Clancy and Rose.

But Clancy and Rose’s story is not simple, and they face many obstacles. The tales Nancy has to offer are horrific and complex, filled with conflicting ideas and feelings as love – for family, for country, for the bush and friends . These stories have come to life through Jackie’s words and characters, and have, through fictional characters based on poems, real events and indeed, real people at times, reinvigorated Australian history and brought through new voices that were once silenced, and now, have the chance to speak.

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I have been following The Matilda Saga since the beginning – from the early days of Matilda O’Halloren living in a city slum in 1894, seven years before Federation, through to World War One, the interwar period, World War Two, Vietnam, the moon landing and in between, crises amidst the families – injuries, internments, and working towards goals that a character may have been told are insurmountable for them.

More than anything, this encapsulates a lot of what is missing from the official historical record, whilst at the same time, drawing on it, and marrying it with the untold stories we all need to know. And drawing on Jackie’s own experience of the sixties and seventies, and family stories, makes it all the richer.

Throughout each book, the words simply dance off the page, and sing their love song, based on the words of poets like Banjo Paterson, and Dorothea Mackellar, and many other poets, as well as the oral traditions and stories. It brings together a century of stories, of women and what they experienced, expressed through nine books, and unites Clancy of the Overflow and Matilda in a waltz by their billabong, as life goes on around them and their families are happy.

I have loved this series for ten years, since I first picked up A Waltz for Matilda, and coming to the end is bittersweet. It had to end somewhere, and it was given the ending it needed and deserved. Yet I am going to miss these characters, but can revisit them anytime, simply by re-reading the books, which I plan to do, in order, one after the other, to get the full story in a new way, and with a new understanding of all of the events and characters. A wonderful series.

Women to the Front: The Extraordinary Women Doctors of the Great War by Heather Sheard and Ruth Lee

women to the frontTitle: Women to the Front: The Extraordinary Women Doctors of the Great War

Author: Heather Sheard and Ruth Lee

Genre: History, Non-Fiction

Publisher: Ebury Press/Penguin Random House

Published: 2nd April 2019

Format: Paperback

Pages: 320

Price: $34.99

Synopsis:At the outbreak of World War I, 129 women were registered as medical practitioners in Australia, and many of them were eager to contribute their skills and expertise to the war effort. For the military establishment, however, the notion of women doctors serving on the battlefield was unthinkable. Undaunted, at least twenty-four Australian women doctors ignored official military policy and headed to the frontlines.
This book explores the stories of the Australian women who served as surgeons, pathologists, anaesthetists and medical officers between 1914 and 1919. Despite saving hundreds of lives, their experiences are almost totally absent from official military records, both in Australia and Great Britain, and many of their achievements have remained invisible for over a century. Until now.
Heather Sheard and Ruth Lee have compiled a fascinating and meticulously researched account of the Great War, seen through the eyes of these women and their essential work. From the Eastern to the Western Fronts, to Malta, and to London, we bear witness to the terrible conditions, the horrific injuries, the constant danger, and above all, the skill and courage displayed by this group of remarkable Australians. Women to the Front is a war story unlike any other.

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I spent many years in high school and university studying history – modern and ancient, and across Australia, Europe and the Middle East, Rome and Greece when it came to Ancient History – at least when it came to courses. Beyond that, I have tried to read diversely, to fill in the gaps of a predominantly male driven historical record where women and other groups were not always present, or at least, not acknowledged. The one course I studied that was perhaps the most diverse – yet still concise due to the twelve week semester – was women’s history, where each lesson covered a different aspect and practice across the world, and where our further reading, text books and assignments gave a broader view of practices such as foot binding, sati, or widow burning, and many others that informed and built on my knowledge.

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Yet when it came to Australian history, I heard about the suffragettes but I learnt about them in depth in Society and Culture, and learned much more about World War One and Two in history – from the Australian, British and German perspectives across years ten, eleven and twelve. I learned about the causes, the battles, and the key figures. I learned that women were part of the war effort on the home front and as nurses – but not much else.

So when I came across Women to the Front, I was overjoyed because here was the book that would have made some of what I studied more interesting. Here, I discovered one hundred and twenty-nine women doctors went to the various theatres of war as surgeons and anaesthetists, pathologists and medical officers – not just nurses. These one hundred and twenty-nine women did not let the patriarchal system wear them down or chase them from the medical profession – they pushed forward, became doctors in the decades leading up to the war and volunteered to go.

At first, of course, they were often denied. They were called ‘lady doctors’, the assumption being they couldn’t handle the battlefield reality the men heading over would face. Of course, these 129 women went on to prove the society wrong. These women were serving their country and doing their jo, a job they loved doing and that at the time, was probably not as common as it is today, due to societal expectations from parents, and all those around them, often based on class. Books like this – fiction and non-fiction, driven by women and what they can do, not just romance, are amongst my favourite because they fly in the face of what is expected or assumed women will do and like. Allowing girls and women to read and access stories like this is important because it allows them to see what they can do and be beyond what popular culture often shows.

Their stories are collected here in five parts, each divided into a year of the war, and from there, into chapters that are then divided by theatre and location for each woman or several women who worked together. From Gallipoli to Ypres and Passchendaele, the battlefields of France and Belgium, and the many men they helped and treated after battles, this book tells the stories that I wish we had learned about in history, or at least been given a side box on in text books to investigate on our own for assignments – which I tried to do for one on war memorials in Sydney – but found that for the one I wanted to do, I could not access enough information to write a decent report.

These days, we are getting more diverse historical accounts, and whilst many of these women were white and had British heritage, it is still important to read and know these stories – it shows that the war was experienced by more than just men at the front or doctors. So these stories about women doctors from Ruth Lee and Heather Sheard are an important addition to the historical record, and could be used as a text book, or even placed on a reading list for a history course that touches on or focuses on World War One.

At the end of the book, there is a biography of each woman. Some are shorter than others, so much like anyone in history, sometimes more is known about one than another, yet each has their own unique story. I thoroughly enjoyed this and I’m continuously seeking the untold histories that were either ignored or erased by those who wrote the history books.

The Distance Between Me and the Cherry Tree by Paola Peretti, translated by Denise Muir

cherry tree.jpgTitle: The Distance Between Me and the Cherry Tree

Author: Paola Peretti, translated by Denise Muir

Genre: Fiction

Publisher: Bonnier/Allen and Unwin

Published: 29th August 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 208

Price: $16.99

Synopsis: A novel for all ages about a young girl losing her sight, inspired by the author’s own life story. For fans of Wonder, The Little Prince and The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly

A novel for all ages about a young girl losing her sight, inspired by the author’s own life story. For fans of Wonder, The Little Prince and The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly

Mafalda is a nine-year-old girl who knows one thing: some time in the next six months her sight will fail completely. Can Mafalda find a way through a seemingly dark future and still go to school, play football and look after her beloved cat? With the help of her family, and her friends, Mafalda needs to discover the things that will be important to her when her sight has failed. A moving, empowering tale of courage and determination that will inspire young and old.

~*~

Mafalda is going blind – she knows, at nine years old, that she has six months left until her world changes forever – her house, what she can do now and what she will have to give up when she loses her sight, and the changes she will have to make. At home, she has her cat, Ottimo Turcaret, and her parents. At school, a counsellor called Estella, who is hiding a dark battle of her own, and her new friend, Filippo, who helps her navigate a world that is slowly descending into darkness. As she ventures towards her new reality, each part measuring the distance she can see until her whole world is taken by the darkness, Mafalda crosses off everything she can no longer do on her list and prepares to live a new life. However, Mafalda doesn’t really want things to change, and as her sight diminishes, the other changes in her world become more apparent as well.

Translated from Italian, and inspired by the life story of the author, who has Stargardt disease like Mafalda, the novel explores what it is like to live with a disability that is constantly getting worse, that has no cure, and impacts on everything Paola and Mafalda are able to do. It a story about friendship, family and hope, but also about how disability can affect the life of the disabled person and those around them, and how family and friends choose to act, the roles the must take on and what they do when the disability becomes more apparent or perhaps difficult for them to understand.

Through her experience of an encroaching disability, Mafalda finds friendship in an unlikely place with Filippo – someone she never thought would be her friend, but it is Filippo and Estella, the school counsellor, who help her through the encroaching darkness and whose loyalty proves she can still be who she is, just a little bit different to before. Having a friend like Filippo helps her through the changes she is going through.

The disabled experience is not often explored in books – and if it is, not always allowing the disabled character to be disabled -they must be healed or freed somehow. So what I liked about this book was the reality of Mafalda’s disability and how it will change her life, how illness can affect people and take them away. It is all seen through the eyes and feelings of a child, Mafalda, but is still very powerful. It allows people of all ages who are disabled to see themselves reflected in literature – to see how a disabled person navigates and must learn to adjust the way they navigate the world they live in are real experiences for disabled people that differ from person to person, and through Mafalda, some of these struggles can be seen.

A very powerful book about family, friendship and identity that will stay with you long after you finish.

Facing the Flame by Jackie French (Matilda Saga #7)

Facing the Flame.jpgTitle: Facing the Flame (Matilda Saga #7)

Author: Jackie French

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publisher: HarperCollins

Published: 20th November 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 292

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: There have been fires before, but not like this. Heartbreaking and powerful, FACING THE FLAME is a story of the triumph of courage and community, and a love for the land so deep that not even bushfire can erode it.

‘The perfect read for anyone who loves immersing themselves in Australian fiction. Gripping, emotional and moving, Facing the Flame is a great book to curl up with on a warm spring night.’ – New Idea

There have been fires before, but not like this.

In 1978, as the hot wind howls and the grass dries, all who live at Gibber’s Creek know their land can burn. But when you love your land, you fight for it.

For Jed Kelly, an even more menacing danger looms: a man from her past determined to destroy her. Finding herself alone, trapped and desperate to save her unborn child, Jed’s only choice is to flee – into the flames.

Heartbreaking and powerful, Facing the Flame celebrates the triumph of courage and community, and a love for the land so deep that not even bushfire can erode it.

~*~

Seven books in, and the Matilda Saga is getting better with each book. From the late nineteenth century to 1979. From the slums of Grinder’s Alley to Gibber’s Creek, Moura and Drinkwater, the journey of young Matilda O’Halloren to find her father after her mother’s death is what kicked off this series, and the ongoing relationships between the families of Drinkwater, Overflow and Rocky Valley, the Thompsons, the Clancys, the McAlpines and the Macks have all watched seasons come and go, watched generations grow up, and new life enter the world. Picking up two years after If Blood Should Stain the Wattle, Facing the Flame opens with a wedding, and an announcement that will change Jed’s life forever.  As her pregnancy progresses in its final days, Gibber’s Creek and the neighbouring areas become threatened by a devastating bushfire, and someone from Jed’s past determined to eke revenge and destroy her. With the life of her unborn baby at stake, and encouraging her sister Scarlett Kelly-O’Hara to head off into town to help those sheltering there after evacuation, Jed must flee into the flames, back towards her house as she tries to save two lives. As the fire eats away at the paddocks and earth, the community of Gibber’s Creek will not allow itself to be beaten. Regardless of age, gender and ability, these courageous women will fight to save their land.

aww2017-badgeFire and the land are as much characters as the humans, and in many chapters, we end with the perspective of the fire as it ravages the land. It effectively sets the scene and you can feel the threat of the flames as they progress to their final fate towards the end of the book, where there are a few secrets left unsolved, and where there is hope for the future of Jed and her family.

Moura, Drinkwater, Dribble, Rocky Valley and Overflow are the key homes that have helped to link the series together, and link the families of these places together. A few books ago, we were introduced to River View, a rehabilitation place for disabled and ill children whose parents needed help, or where children like Scarlett would live, receiving specific care for disabilities that impacted their lives, but that the children, and Scarlett in particular, did not use to define themselves. Scarlett has come a long way since we first encountered her in Ghost by the Billabong, becoming independent and able to care for herself and live in the city to attend university. Now, River View is home to a few kids seeking specific help. Lu Borgino is blind, and feels at a loss for what she has been told or made to feel her life will become. But with the help of the Gibber’s Creek clan, she realises she can still achieve her dreams. It is characters like these girls that the Matilda Saga has given a voice to – the forgotten, the ones left out of history books.

Throughout the seven books, Jackie French’s main characters have been primarily women, who in each of their respective time periods, have faced different challenges and obstacles because of gender, or race – Aboriginal – Nancy Thompson, Chinese – Mah McAlpine, or disabled – Scarlett, and Lu. Each woman has had to fight against prejudices of gender and race, and sometimes poverty, to have their voices heard. These interlocking and diverse families provide an insight into the history that we are not taught in school, the history of those that are not often heard from, but might be heard about more – a carefully hidden history that would make any historical account richer and more interesting than what might be on offer. Jackie French has uncovered some of Australia’s secrets through fiction, raw and bare, and created a strength of character and story that anyone can relate to, even if they explore stories that can hurt and harm, we need to remember them.

As an author with a disability herself – dyslexia – Jackie’s passion in these characters having their voices heard and the lengths she goes to for accuracy and research is admirable. These lengths make the story all the more engaging and full of life. Flinty and Lu, who acquired their disabilities, have fought through – Flinty recovering (The Girl from Snowy River), and Lu learning what she is capable of, and learning new ways of seeing, show the power of the human spirit, as have characters climbing out of poverty – Matilda, and escaping abusive homes – Blue, Mah and Jed, not letting racism define her – Clancy and Mah, and, the irrepressible Scarlett, who refuses to let her disability rule her life, and pushes on towards doing what she dreams of doing. Even though Old Matilda is gone, her spirit remains, and is there to give her family a good kick into gear when they need it from the beyond.

Each of the first six books were based on a poem written by some of Australia’s best-known poets:

A Waltz for Matilda – Waltzing Matilda by Banjo Paterson

The Girl from Snowy River The Man from Snowy River by Banjo Paterson

The Road to Gundagai – by Banjo Paterson

To Love a Sunburnt Country – My Country by Dorothea MacKellar

The Ghost by the Billabong – Waltzing Matilda by Banjo Paterson (links in with A Waltz for Matilda)

If Blood Should Stain the Wattle – Freedom on the Wallaby by Henry Lawson

The final book, Facing the Flame, includes a poem written by Jackie herself, titled A Land of Love and Flame, and can be found at the beginning of the book. In doing so, Jackie has tied each book to a tradition of Australian poetry, and taken the hidden stories of these poems and given them life. The latest book in the Matilda Saga ends on a note of mystery, that will hopefully be answered in the next one.

Booktopia

Small Publisher Spotlight: Serenity Press

In 2012, Karen McDermott founded a vanity press called Inner Light Publishing which, in 2014, became Serenity Press, with Karen as its Creative Director. Current Editorial Director Monique Mulligan first worked on the Serenity Romance imprint, before joining the publisher full time in 2016 when it became a company. Serenity Press’s mission? To create “beautiful…

via Small Press Spotlight: Serenity Press — Australian Women Writers Challenge Blog

 

Another in the series I have been writing. Apologies for these next few appearing out of order, I forgot to share the last two or three. so this is the most recent, and will be followed by April and March. I am enjoying writing these posts and discovering new presses and also sometimes new books to try and track down to read. An enjoyable task.

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