Australia Day Book Giveaway Blog Hop

imageI’m participating in Book’d Out’s Australia Day Book Giveaway Blog Hop over on my Lizzy Chandler author site. Please visit for your chance to win a copy of Snowy River Man or (for Australian residents) another book of your choice.

Guess what I found on Goodreads?

Snowy River Man ChandlerGuess what I found on Goodreads over the weekend? My cover for Snowy River Man.

I’m thrilled!

It won’t be available until February 22nd, but if you’re a member of Goodreads you can add it to your “Want to read” shelf.

If you’re a book blogger and would like to request a review copy, please let me know.

Getting excited…

Meanwhile, if you want to check out what romance novels were reviewed for 2014 Australian Women Writers Challenge, you can read my wrap-up here.

Happy Birthday Ethel (Henry Handel) Richardson

henry handel richarson

Ethel Richardson by Rupert Bunny, 1920s nla.pic-an8136809

The Australian author, Ethel Florence Lindesay Richardson – better known by her pen-name, Henry Handel Richardson – was born on this day, 3 January, in 1870.

In 1988 the Australian Dictionary of Biography published a piece on Richardson’s life by Dorothy Green, a version of which is now available online here. The piece is strangely dated in both language and values, with its references (emphasis?) on the achievements of the men in Richardson’s life and the defensive (dismissive?) references to speculation of ‘deviance’ in Richardson’s relationships with women. It does, however, mention the key events of her life, including her expatriate stays in Germany and England, her novels and her interest in music, so it still works as an introduction to the novelist.

Richardson died in 1945 and her novels, now out of copyright, have been made available free online as part of Project Gutenberg Australia.

Some have also been recorded and are available as Mp3s through Librivox.

Ethel would be 145 if she were still alive today.

Reblogged: Thank you for 2014! What’s new for 2015

AWW 2015 badge

AWW 2015 badge

Reblogged from the new Australian Women Writers website.

In 2014, the Australian Women Writers challenge attracted 1578 reviews of books by Australian women (and there may be more to come). That’s a fantastic achievement and I want to thank you all – readers, bloggers, writers and the AWW team volunteers.

As you probably know, the AWW challenge was established at the end of 2011 in response to discussions about gender bias in the reviewing of books by women. (If you’re new to the challenge, you can read more here.) Although I ran the challenge for the first year, it has always been a team effort, with the real work being done by the many book bloggers – mostly women and a few men – who for the past three years have been reading and reviewing books by Australian women. We have posted our reviews on blogs, Goodreads and other platforms; chatted about them on Twitter and Facebook; talked about the challenge at festivals; seen it mentioned on writers’ centre websites and in mainstream media; and we’ve encouraged others to join us – both as participants and as volunteers to help run the challenge websites. Behind the scenes, the AWW team has been posting regular round-ups of the reviews linked to the challenge, updating the database with images of book covers, and checking links entered in the “Link Your Review” form.

In my case, as well as contributing to the above tasks, I’ve tried to read posts by challenge participants, responding sometimes with a “like”, sometimes with a comment. Via Twitter, I’ve broadcast reviews of participants who tweet including “@auswomenwriters” or the challenge hashtag, and I’ve kept an eye on the AWW Facebook page. As much work as this involves, I know there are many reviews I haven’t read or responded to, and I feel I’ve done comparatively little to show challenge participants how much their efforts are appreciated. At least one person I know, an early member of the challenge, didn’t sign up this year after noticing their “likes” and “comments” on their reviews on Goodreads had dropped off.

This signals to me the importance of continuing to invite others to help build a community of readers, and show participants just how much their reviews are contributing to something bigger. This year saw the #readwomen2014 campaign on Twitter, a global movement with similar aims to the AWW challenge. It was a great success, but ongoing work is still needed. Both VIDA and the Stella Award published counts of reviews in literary journals during 2013. The counts demonstrate that the number of reviews of books by women continues to lag behind the number of reviews of books by men. We won’t know the count for 2014 until next year – and hopefully there’ll be an improvement. But whatever it is, we can be confident that we’re doing our bit to help raise the profile of this important issue.

Why is it important?

Let’s not even go down the track of discussing the gender pay gap, statistics on violence towards women, the decreasing number of female CEOs and parliamentary ministers, or how the lack of acknowledgement of women’s achievements generally may help to perpetuate entrenched injustices. Let’s focus on the writers. The AustLit account on Twitter recently noted that its database has entries for 38 500 individual Australian women writers. (There are probably more, but some women aren’t identified as they published using initials.) But how many of those have you heard of? How many have you read? This morning, I was trawling through Librivox and Project Gutenberg Australia for free audio and ebooks of out-of-copyright books by Australian women. Just a quick glance at the lists makes it obvious how few books there are by women in comparison to books by men. If we want the voices of Australian women of the twenty-first century to go down in history, the work starts now, with us. Without records, without evidence books by Australian women are being read and appreciated, historians of the future may think they weren’t good enough to be remembered, when clearly this isn’t true.

The AWW Challenge will continue in 2015, with the aim of continuing to promote and support books by Australian women. Until now, we’ve had two websites, one for the blog and one for the review lists (or three, if you count the AWW Challenge Goodreads page). The new site is a work in progress, but it will have a searchable database, making it easier for readers to find participants’ reviews. My hope is readers – librarians, teachers, bloggers, writers and researchers – will follow the links and show appreciation by “liking” or commenting on the reviews of the books they discover. This will help consolidate and grow the AWW reading community. I’d also encourage people to subscribe to the AWW blog via email (see side bar) and discuss their reading on social media using the challenge hashtag: #aww2015. If you have any other ideas how we can raise the profile of Australian women writers, or if you’d like to volunteer to help behind the scenes or contribute to the AWW blog, please let me know.

So, who’s in for 2015? You can sign up here.

Suspense and thriller readers – where are you?

Hades Candice FoxOn Tuesday book bloggers from around Australia attended a “National Book Bloggers Forum” at the offices of Random House Australia (RHA) in North Sydney.

Digital gurus, editors and the RHA publicity team all pitched in. We were given insights about Search Engine Optimisation and how to use Google Analytics to drive relevant traffic to our blogs. We were told about up-and-coming titles and given a goodie bag full of books. Authors including Judy Nunn, Sneh Roy and Bruce McCabe spoke about their books and writing process. Throughout the day, Twitter was awash with the hashtag #NBBF14. In the breaks, and over a generous lunch, names, cards, twitter handles and blog URLs were swapped among participants.

I was especially interested in the pitches for thrillers, including Bruce McCabe’s debut Skinjob (in the goodie bag, so more of that another time) and Candice Fox’s forthcoming follow up to Hades, Eden.

Eden – no cover available – was introduced by publisher Beverley Cousins. Cousins pitched Fox as an “Australian Gillian Flynn”. I’m not convinced of that. Cousins was once editor for the Nicci French writing duo – from memory, she worked on Secret Smile, one of the creepiest of the NF books. To me, that’s a closer fit with Fox and Hades. (If you’ve read my reviews of Hades, Flynn’s Gone Girl, and my discussion of Nicci French’s writing,  you’ll know what I mean.) Maybe Eden will be different.

In the open forum at the end, I asked whether there were any other bloggers who review crime and suspense novels. Only one person put up her hand, Debbish from Debbishdotcom. Most of the others, I think, specialise in YA and teen fiction, although I did come across a “vlogger” who reads classics, and there were at least two who specialise in nonfiction.

So where are all the crime fiction readers/bloggers? Maybe they all live in Melbourne?

And, while we’re at it, where were all the men? There were only two men among 35+ bloggers, a gender imbalance that caused Bruce McCabe to comment, “Who are the real readers out there? Spend one minute in this room and you’ll know.”

Do you read crime, thrillers and/or suspense fiction?

Bruce McCabe addresses National Book Bloggers Forum 2014

Bruce McCabe addresses National Book Bloggers Forum 2014 – photo courtesy of Dymmocks Books

 

National Book Bloggers Forum tomorrow

The Penguin Random House RHA_Bloggers2014_Badge2National Book Bloggers Forum will be held tomorrow to coincide with the opening of the Sydney Writers Festival.

I’ll be attending, along with other Australian Women Writers Challenge participants including Shelleyrae of Book’d Out, Yvonne Perkins of Stumbling Through the Past and Paula Grunseit from Wordsville. There’ll also be a contingent I’ve ‘met’ through Twitter and the Aussie Book Bloggers Facebook page.

I’m looking forward to the program, which includes a “Behind the Scenes” look at what goes into publishing a book, and “insider secrets and tricks to improving your SEO and promoting your blog” by Random House Australia’s digital gurus. (SEO stands for “search engine optimisation”, handy for bloggers wanting to boost relevant traffic to their blogs.)

I’m also keen to hear how Random House’s crime page is going. Together, Penguin and Random House have published some extraordinarily talented Aussie women writers of crime, thrillers and suspense. These include P M Newton, Honey Brown, Jaye Ford, Wendy James, as well as Caroline Overington, Sara Foster, Y A Erskine and debut authors Candice Fox and Dianne Hester. I’m hoping to discover some more. I’d love to talk RHA into putting “Australian author” into their tags for search engines, or creating teacher resources for Aussie crime novels, now HSC English includes “Crime” as one of its specialty subject areas.

Other bloggers planning to attend the forum include:

Suzy has started a public list of Twitter NBBF participants, and people can follow the day’s events on Twitter via the #NBBF14 hashtag.

I’m looking forward to meeting everyone.

Do you know anyone not on this list who will be attending the Forum? Are there any questions you’d like us to ask?

Introducing Lizzy Chandler – a new name, a new blog and a new story

When I was about seven I defaced the inside back cover of a picture book by writing my first story. I don’t remember much about it, except that it featured the Nativity. Instead of getting me into trouble, my act of vandalism gave me unexpected celebrity with my (usually distant) father. He said it should be printed out and sent in to the Catholic Weekly. Receiving that praise was the start of my lifelong ambition to be published in fiction.

Last year a good writer friend, Cathleen Ross, did a spontaneous psychic reading for me. She said my “guides” had just one message: I needed a good kick up the backside as I should have been submitting my work to publishers. As I’d once had a reading by an Indian psychic in Agra near the Taj Mahal, I was dubious. That psychic hadn’t picked me as a writer. Nevertheless, I listened to Cathleen. She suggested I approach Kate Cuthbert of Escape Publishing (the Australian digital arm of Harlequin) with one of my romance novels, a story that had been a finalist in the Clendon Award some years ago. After seeing the first three chapters, Kate requested the whole manuscript. A couple of weeks ago, she sent me an offer of publication.

This is it. My lifetime ambition is about to be realised, after years of rejections and near misses, and all the self-doubt and frustrations any aspiring author will know only too well.

While I’ve shared this news already to family, close friends and the Australian Women Writers team, I wanted to organise a few things before I went public with my news. The first thing I needed to do was to settle on a pen-name. (Anyone who has pronounced my surname, Lhuede, as “lewd” will understand why this isn’t a great name for romance.)

So I’ll be publishing under the name Lizzy Chandler.

Chandler is a family name that I’ve been able to trace back to the late eighteenth-century in Gloucestershire, UK. My great-, great-, great-, great-, great-grandmother was Sarah Chandler, on my mother’s side. Elizabeth is also a family name that goes back many generations, and my darling grandmother was always known as Lizzy, so I love my new name (and it’s much easier to spell).

If you’re a friend, family or writing acquaintance, if you participate in the Australian Women Writers challenge, and if you love a good story with romance and suspense, I hope you’ll like my Lizzy Chandler Facebook page, find me on Twitter @Lizzy_Chandler, and follow my new Lizzy Chandler blog. I’ll keep you posted when my book is out. It’ll  be available in digital format (ebook) all around the world.

In the meantime, I want to share this photo of the countryside that inspired my story, Her Man From Snowy River Country. It’s a cabin where we stay from time to time. I’ll keep the incredible tale of what happened when I was down there researching this story for another time.

Special thanks to my family and friends, the team and participants of the Australian Women Writers Challenge, and Kate at Escape Publishing. I’m thrilled that I’ll be a published author after all this time.

Photo by Rodney Weidland (used with permission)

Photo by Rodney Weidland (used with permission)

What inspired the Australian Women Writers Challenge?

awwbadge_2013Do you know the background to the Australian Women Writers Challenge?

if:book Australia, the think tank associated with the Queensland Writers Centre, asked me to write an article about how I came to establish the challenge in the National Year of Reading, and they’ve published it as part their N00bz series.

You can read the full story here.

By the way, apologies for the long gaps between posts. I’ve been busy reading and writing, but I’m way behind on my reviews.

Stella Prize Longlist Announced

stella-logo-largeThe longlist for Australia’s first women’s literary prize, The Stella Prize, has been announced.*

From almost 200 original entries, the Stella Prize judges — writer and critic Kerryn Goldsworthy, author Kate Grenville, actor and creator Claudia Karvan, bookseller Fiona Stager and broadcaster Rafael Epstein — have selected 12 books for the longlist.

In alphabetical order, they are:

  • Floundering by Romy Ash (Text Publishing)
  • Mazin Grace by Dylan Coleman (UQP)
  • The Burial by Courtney Collins (Allen & Unwin)
  • The People Smuggler by Robin de Crespigny (Penguin/Viking)
  • Questions of Travel by Michelle de Kretser (Allen & Unwin)
  • Sufficient Grace by Amy Espeseth (Scribe Publications)
  • The Sunlit Zone by Lisa Jacobson (Five Islands Press)
  • Like a House on Fire by Cate Kennedy (Scribe Publications)
  • Sea Hearts by Margo Lanagan (Allen & Unwin)
  • The Mind of a Thief by Patti Miller (UQP)
  • An Opening by Stephanie Radok (Wakefield Press)
  • Mateship with Birds by Carrie Tiffany (Pan Macmillan/Picador)

Criteria for The Stella Prize are that the works be “original, excellent and engaging.” It is an “eclectic longlist,” according to the judges, one “that reflects the breadth of imagination, knowledge and skill in contemporary Australian women’s writing.” The longlist includes works of several genres, including short stories, speculative fiction in verse, fantasy and nonfiction: “stories from the past and from the future; stories of children at risk, of racial tension, of world travel, and of unimaginable danger and loss.” (You can read more about books on the longlist on The Stella Prize website).

Given the interest in books by Australian women by participants in the Australian Women Writers Challenge, it’s surprising to discover that only six out of the 12 books on the Stella Prize longlist have been reviewed for the challenge. (Paula Grunseit gave a wrap-up of some of those reviews on the AWW blog.)

Longlisted books still to be reviewed are:

  • Mazin Grace by Dylan Coleman which won the David Unaipon Award in 2011#
  • Sufficient Grace by Amy Espeseth, which won the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for an Unpublished Manuscript in 2009#
  • The Sunlit Zone by Lisa Jacobson which was shortlisted for the same prize that year#
  • Like a House on Fire by Cate Kennedy
  • The Mind of a Thief by Patti Miller and
  • An Opening by Stephanie Radok.

#Source: AustLit News

For the Stella Prize judges, these books are “reading treasures,” books that represent the best of the best Australian women’s writing. Their absence from AWW’s review lists suggests that quality books by Australian women still aren’t coming to the attention of readers — even avid readers, like the hundreds of bookbloggers participating in the AWW challenge, readers strongly motivated to discover new works by Australian women.

The Stella Prize aims to help to change that.

The shortlist will be announced on Wednesday March 20, and the prize itself will be awarded in Melbourne on the evening of Tuesday April 16.

Book giveaway: Scribe Publications, in conjunction with AWW, is giving readers a chance to win books by several Scribe authors, including two authors longlisted for the Stella Prize, Cate Kennedy and Amy Espeseth. Details can be found on the Australian Women Writers blog. Entries close on February 28.

*Note: This is a modified version of a blog post which first appeared on HuffPost Books.

An All-male Australian Writers Challenge?

Establishing an Australian Male Writers Challenge to help overcome gender bias? Isn’t that counter-intuitive?

First some background about the Australian Women Writers Challenge for those who may be coming across this initiative for the first time.

The Australian Women Writers Challenge (AWW) was established in 2012 to draw attention to the gender imbalance of reviewing in Australia’s literary pages and to do something towards redressing this imbalance. It caused a social media sensation by generating links to over 1500 reviews, and attracting national and international attention. It has now entered its second year, with a team of 15 book bloggers curating it. While the original objective of helping to overcome gender bias remains, it also now seeks actively to support and promote books by Australian women.

Although the challenge was a great success, feedback to a recent survey suggests its approach had shortcomings. At least one (male) participant commented that he wouldn’t be signing up for the challenge again, principally because it had – according to him – become an exercise of “ignoring” books written by Australian men. Others, only recently hearing about the challenge, claimed they wouldn’t be signing up because they are male. (It’s only for women, right?) This perception is obviously widely held: stats show AWW participants are, overwhelmingly, female.

How do we attract more male readers and reviewers? How do we overcome the belief, held by some, that the challenge is for women, by women, or – worse – that it’s anti-male?

Far from AWW being about ignoring books by men, its longer term aim is to make itself redundant, to help create an atmosphere of reading and reviewing equality in which positive discrimination for either gender is unnecessary.  The willingness of some participants to create this equal space is evident in various 2012 wrap up posts; several female participants have noted that the challenge has made them more aware of the need to promote and support all Australian writers, not just women. Historian Yvonne Perkins from Stumbling Through the Past has declared her support for all Australian writers of histories; Shaheen of Speculating on Speculative Fiction aims to read and review an equal number of male and female writers in 2013; while Tsana Dolichva from Tsana Reads wants to promote more Australian Horror and Science Fiction, regardless of gender.

Could there be room for another challenge – a “male writers challenge” – one that makes “male” a visible category rather than the norm?

Last night on Twitter when I put this idea forward for discussion, I could almost hear the gasps of protest. Wouldn’t such a challenge be, at best, a step back to the gender-imbalanced status quo; at worst, a capitulation, pandering to male readers, writers and reviewers whose noses are out of joint at AWW’s success, allowing them to make the challenge about them? Why would I support – let alone establish – such a challenge? Doesn’t it go against my original premise?

I can understand those fears. And I acknowledge it would be a gamble. But, for me, marginalisation of women’s writing in Australia is not only due to gender bias, and overcoming gender bias in male reviewers is more complex than simply issuing an invitation to read – or coercing them into reading – more books by women.

The lack of visibility of women writers in Australian literary review pages has to do with genre as well as gender. If the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2012 is anything to judge by, the books women are reading, and reviewing online – and probably buying and borrowing from the library – are overwhelmingly Fantasy, Romance, commercial popular fiction, Young Adult fiction and Children’s fiction, along with some – but not many – well-known crime or thriller authors. In most of these genres, women are doing well; yet they don’t all make it to the literary review pages, or First Tuesday Book Club discussions, for example, or Radio National’s Books and Arts Daily. Nor are these genres, I’d hazard, that the Stella Prize committee seeks to champion (even though it is ostensibly open to all genres). The Stella Prize was established to counteract the bias that favoured men in recent Miles Franklin Awards: it aims for fair recognition and acknowledgement for female literary writers, the best of the best, the “finest” writing (which, in Australia, hasn’t always meant a very readable “story”). Participants in the Australian Women Writers Challenge have helped the Stella’s aims by creating a community of readers who read and review lots of books by women, regardless of genre, with many literary books thrown in: not by focusing on the “literary”. The men who participated in the 2012 challenge, with a couple of exceptions (including the disgruntled one), didn’t read literary books, for the most part: they read Speculative Fiction and some crime, with one brave reviewer throwing in some Romance, almost as a dare. They read the books whose stories they thought they’d enjoy, given their reading preferences.

My thought is this: rather than fight against male readers’ lack of interest in reading books by Australian women, why not work with it? First find the readers via a challenge that attracts them, see what they enjoy – whether its genre fiction or something more literary. Then, include them among a broader social media reading community, and recommend good books by women, great stories that suit their tastes. At the same time, we’d be helping to support and promote male Australian genre writers who, it could be argued, also suffer genre bias against their work. By helping to create an Australian Male Writers reading and reviewing challenge – and perhaps a tandem “Australian Writers” challenge that promotes reviewing of an equal number of books by men and women – we could find future potential participants for AWW.

This strategy – perhaps as ambitious and unlikely to succeed as some AWW participants on Twitter decried it to be – might also help to address another problem, one that Cameron Woodhead raised on Tara Moss’ blog back in 2011. It was his comment on Moss’s now-famous post, in which she recapped a recent Sisters In Crime conference, that led indirectly to the creation of the AWW challenge. When Moss mentioned the issue of gender bias in reviewing, and Women in Literary Arts’ VIDA count, Woodhead remarked, “According to latest ABS data, women are 4% more likely than men to have sufficient prose literacy to cope with life in a knowledge-based economy.” After someone (male) criticised him for calling Moss’s stance “privileged whining”, Woodhead went on, “If you’re educated enough to understand and in a position to care about this subject, you’re privileged by definition. Unlike the 4% more Australian men than women who can’t even read a book.” Burying himself even deeper, as far as most of the other commentators were concerned, Woodhead declared: “Am I to deduce that you care more about the underrepresentation of female authors in literary awards than you do about the preponderance of illiteracy among Australian males?”

These are actually (dare I say it?) fair points, although misappropriate and offensive appearing in the context of Moss’s blog. But what if the two are connected: the marginalisation of women writers and Australian males’ comparatively poor literacy? What if adult males’ poorer literacy is in part due to a lack of awareness of books that appeal to them? Books with easy-to-read good stories which are aimed at adults, not children. Books like… genre fiction. By promoting – and valuing – genre fiction, might we not encourage both male and female children to keep reading into adulthood, rather than coming to see reading as a “worthy pursuit” which they rarely, if ever do, but which they associate with the kind of reading they had to do in high school, Capital “L”, “Literature”? I’m speaking, by the way, as an ex-tutor of creative writing at tertiary level, who heard one student admit not to having read a book since Looking for Alibrandi when she was 14. Literary books didn’t interest her, fair enough – but to enter adulthood with no reading? Instead, such students opted to spend their leisure seeing movies, playing computer games, or hanging out on social media; if they did read, it was magazines.

And the consequence? They were inundated by images and storylines that weren’t a reflection of their own lived experience, or the experience of Australian lives around them, or created by the imagination of their fellow Australians of all backgrounds and gendered positions. By combating genre bias, in addition to gender bias, we could help to capitalise on the success of last year’s National Year of Reading and prevent this kind of abandonment of reading from happening to a future generation, and perhaps influence for the better adult males’ poorer literacy. We could help to build an adult Australian reading community which loves reading books, good stories, because they’re as interesting and exciting to read as anything they read as kids. (That such a strategy might also help the literacy levels of Indigenous readers, those of a lower socio-economic background or limited schooling, or children and adults with a first language other than English is also important, but not my focus here.)

Would such an endeavour detract from the aims of The Stella Prize and the original premise of the Australian Women Writers challenge? I don’t think so. Fine writing, combined with a riveting story, won’t be overlooked – such books may even attract more mainstream attention.

The alternative?

At best, the Australian Women Writers Challenge will have a positive impact, helping books by Australian women receive the attention they deserve. At worst, it will be more of the same. Literary books that may or may not attract reviews by male reviewers. Women (and a few men) reading books by women; both men and women reading books by men. And publishing houses like Random House Australia listing at the top of their “Top 10 Australian Bestsellers 2012″ two books by Americans: Deborah Rodriguez and James Patterson. Why? Why else? Unless our own fine genre writers are comparatively invisible. Genre bias – as well as gender bias – is alive and well in Australia, and it doesn’t impact only on women.

So what do you think? Is there room for another Australian reading and reviewing challenge?

random-house-bestsellers-2012

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