Australian Women Writers Challenge 2017

It’s already February and I’ve yet to do my sign up post for #AWW2017. That doesn’t mean I haven’t been busy.

Over at the AWW blog, we’ve finished our roundups for 2016, started a series on small publishers and hosted a guest post on mid-twentieth-century Aussie midlist author Ernestine Hill. For Australian Day, I compiled a list of forgotten and classic titles by Australian women from 1840-1940 and gave the links in the article, “100 years of Australian Women’s Writing Online.” I’ve also been organising a new series of Q&As with authors who have books coming out this year. (You can see the draft calendar of new releases here.)

Apart from kicking off the AWW challenge, I’ve made time to read a few books and have written several (mostly short) reviews on Goodreads, where I’ve keeping track via our AWW Goodreads group.

So, to my #aww2017 reading so far:

  1. A Few Days in the Country: And Other Stories by Elizabeth Harrower (review)
  2. Medea’s Curse by Anne Buist (review)
  3. Dangerous to Know by Anne Buist (follows on from Medea’s Curse; review)
  4. Where The Light Falls by Gretchen Shirm (review)
  5. The Woman Next Door by Liz Byrski (review)
  6. An Isolated Incident by Emily Maguire (review)
  7. Promise by Sarah Armstrong (review)

I’ve also read The Millwood Mystery by Jeannie Lockett, a classic published in serial form in Australian Town and Country Journal in 1886-1887. If you’re interested, you can find Chapter 1 here. I’ve tagged the other chapters and fixed up the digitised text so they can be downloaded, but I’m thinking of putting it all together in an ebook. (Would anyone be interested?) Reading The Millwood Mystery is my first contribution to our “classics” push on the AWW blog this year.

Apart from doing AWW-related things, I’ve been helping my 93-year-old aunt with her memoirs. The ebook is almost finished and we’ll be organising a print run for the family. I’m also continuing to research our family history, with a view to maybe writing something inspired by it. We’ll see.

~

If you haven’t already joined the AWW challenge, it’s never too late. You can find out all about it on our sign-up page. And look out for the Bingo cards (coming soon). It should be a lot of fun and there’ll be a great prize this year: Writing the Dream, donated by Serenity Press. (Thanks, Monique!)

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Australian Women Writers Challenge 2016 – the final tally

imageTime to wrap up what I read and reviewed for the Australian Women Writers Challenge during 2016.

This year I read 35 books and reviewed 12 – up on my reading tally and down on my reviewing from previous years. Although I kept reading in the latter part of the year, I didn’t find the time or energy to review. This was especially true if I left too much of a gap between finishing and putting fingers to keyboard. I tried to make the effort when a publisher sent me a review copy. Of the books I read but didn’t review, the majority were bought or borrowed from the library – or, in the case of My Sister Rosa, won in a competition. (Thanks, Newtown Review of Books!) Some books were chosen simply to help me fill the AWW Challenge Bingo cards. Others were selected as part of my research into 19th- and early 20th-century Australian life, something I’ve become interested in since helping my 93-year-old aunt with her memoirs and researching our family tree.

In terms of categories, my reading lived up to my blog title, “Devoted Eclectic”. Books read included psychological suspense, classics, literary, historical and speculative fiction, YA, “women’s fiction”, romance and nonfiction. Books reviewed tended to be what I think of as “intense human drama”, stories that got my heart and mind churning. Of these, the one that has stuck in my mind most is Dying in the First Person by Nike Sulway. I’m hoping it gets to the Stella Prize long list – if not further! A book I wished I’d made the effort to review is In the Quiet by Eliza Henry-Jones. A very moving debut.

So, here are the books, including hot links to reviews (the first twelve). The remainder includes some books I reviewed on Goodreads but, as they only contained a few lines, I haven’t bothered giving links. (Though every little review helps the authors’ visibility, I’m told. I must update the rest!)

  1. That Devil’s Madness by Dominique Wilson
  2. The Light on the Water by Olga Lorenzo
  3. Ghost Girls by Cath Ferla
  4. I For Isobel by Amy Witting
  5. Out of the Ice by Ann Turner
  6. Dying in the First Person by Nike Sulway
  7. Wild Chicory by Kim Kelly
  8. A Loving, Faithful Animal by Josephine Rowe
  9. Hired By the Brooding Billionaire by Kandy Shepherd
  10. Running Against the Tide by Amanda Ortlepp
  11. Our Eva by Anna Jacobs
  12. Rebellious Daughters eds Maria Katsonis and Lee Koffman
  13. Crown Prince’s Chosen Bride by Kandy Shepherd.
  14. All The Birds Singing by Evie Wyld (audio book)
  15. Defying Doomsday eds Tsana Dolichva and Holly Kench
  16. Like I Can Love by Kim Lock
  17. The Group Settler’s Wife, a novella by Anna Jacob
  18. A Pennyworth of Sunshine by Anna Jacob
  19. Intensive Care by Nikki Edwards
  20. Desperate Deception by DB Tait
  21. My Sister Rosa by Justine Larbalestier
  22. Wild Lavender by Belinda Alexandra
  23. Salt Creek by Lucy Treloar
  24. In the Quiet by Eliza Henry-Jones
  25. Heat and Light by Ellen Van Neerven
  26. Hopscotch by Jane Messer
  27. The Time of the Peacock by Mina Abdullah and Ray Mathew
  28. The Little Bush Maid by Mary Grant Bruce
  29. Reluctantly Charmed by Ellie O’Neill
  30. Small Acts of Disappearance: Essays on Hunger by Fiona Wright
  31. The Safest Place in London by Maggie Joel
  32. Greek Tycoon’s Mistletoe Propoal by Kandy Shepherd
  33. A Match Made in Mistletoe, a novella by Anna Campbell
  34. Millionaire Under the Mistletoe, a novella by Kandy Shepherd
  35. Festive Deception, a novella by DB Tait

How did you go with the challenge? Are you going to participate next year? You can sign up for #aww2017 here. And a reminder that we now have a new Facebook group for AWW challenge participants, and another for authors’ and publishers’ news. Hope to see you there!

AWW Bingo Updated: Finished!

I’ve been inspired by Christy Collins’ success to check out how I’ve gone with AWW’s Bingo challenge. (You can read Christy’s wrap-up here.)

For those of you who don’t know, Kelly from Orange Pekoe Reviews created two AWW Bingo cards earlier this year and posted them on the AWW Challenge blog. They are:

bingocard1

bingocard2

So, how have I done so far?

The answer is…okay, if I combine Update: BINGO! I’ve finished the two cards. I have:
Card #1

Card #2

By My count, that makes four squares to go for completing both cards – or 2 to complete either card. With the challenge ending on October 31, I’m not sure I’ll make it.

Update: I made it! With two hours to spare before midnight on October 31.

Have you been participating in the AWW Bingo challenge? How did you go?

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Rebellious Daughters – a review

rebellious-daughtersWhat makes girls and women conform or rebel? What challenges have Australian women faced growing up in ethnically, religiously and culturally diverse families over the past sixty-plus years?

Rebellious Daughters, edited by Maria Katsonis and Lee Kofman, is a collection of stories about growing up, parenting and being parented, by seventeen Australian women of diverse ages and backgrounds, including Greek, Jewish, Asian, Anglo and Bosnian. It is book-ended by – I suspect – the two oldest contributors, Marion Halligan and Jane Caro. Halligan’s piece harks back to a time when the contraints on girls growing up were just as much internal as external; when saying the word “brothel” (which happened to rhyme with her “maiden” name) wasn’t the done thing in polite society, and that norm was adopted by the author almost unquestioningly. Caro’s contribution, by contrast, reflects on a time of vastly different mores; when she not only shows no affront when her teenaged daughter swears at her (“If you’re so keen on fucking counselling…why don’t you fucking go?”), she actually takes her daughter’s advice. Elsewhere in the collection, the narratives reflect a huge shift in Australian women’s lives, the result of changing attitudes towards sexuality, contraception and marriage; religion and cultural beliefs; as well as expectations of women regarding motherhood and careers. Along the way, it ranges over themes of obedience and disobedience; mental health and illness; travel and education; pregnancy and mothering; as well as the sometimes fraught choice of whether or not to have children. Weaving through them all is a common theme: how can one, as a woman, grow up to lead a “good” life, without having to be a “good girl”?

For me, there were a number of standout contributions. Some made me laugh, including Lee Kofman’s “Me, My Mother and Sexpo” and Michelle Law’s “Joy Ride”. Others moved me to tears, including Halligan’s “Daughters of Debate” with its “landscape of loss”, and Eliza-Jane Henry-Jones’ “Just Be Kind”. Some use metaphor as a vehicle for carrying complex emotions, such as guilt and love in Leah Kaminsky’s “Pressing the Seams”; while Rochelle Siemienowicz, in “Resisting the Nipple”, takes a more psychoanalytic approach, quoting Jung as a way to help navigate such complexities. Several times I found myself holding my breath at the raw honesty of some of the contributors as they revealed their flaws in relation to the choices they have made, such as when reading Caroline Baum’s account of her estrangement from her parents in her early forties in her piece titled, “Estranged”.

The winner of the 2014 Stella Prize, Clare Wright, is quoted on the cover: “This is the first book I’ve read in a long time that has given me such unadorned pleasure.” “Pleasure” doesn’t quite cover it, for me. After reading Eliza-Jane Henry-Jones’ piece, I took to Twitter, declaring I felt “gutted”. The author got back to me, saying, “Glad you enjoyed it (is enjoyed the right word???!)” I responded, “A new word needs to be invented, embracing mangled, uplifted, saddened and heartened. With just a touch of amused thrown in.” That new word – if it existed – might apply not only to Henry-Jones’ piece, but also to the entire collection. It’s well worth a read.

~

Title: Rebellious Daughters: True Stories from Australia’s Finest Female Writers
Eds: Maria Katsonis & Lee Kofman
Publisher: Ventura Press
Date: 2016
ISBN: 9781925183628

This review forms part of my 2016 Australian Women Writers Challenge. My thanks to the publishers for a review copy.

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Our Eva by Anna Jacobs

Our Eva JacobsThis saga has been sitting on my To Be Read pile for ages. I picked it up because I’m determined to read more historical fiction, stories about our ancestors and nation-building, having been inspired by tales told to me by my 93-year-old aunt who is writing her memoirs. How do authors bring the past alive? How do they incorporate research without swamping the reader with unnecessary detail? These are the questions on my mind when I read.

Our Eva by Anna Jacobs was first published in 2002, Book 3 in the Kershaw Sisters series, which includes Our Lizzie, Our Polly and Our Mary Ann. The family hails from Lancashire, where Jacobs herself comes from, although when she wrote Our Eva she was living in Mandurah in Western Australia. When I mentioned to Anna on Facebook that I was finally reading one of her novels, she quipped, “Only seventy-four more to go.” She celebrated her 75th publication in May of this year! Surely one of Australia’s most prolific authors – if she counts as Australian. Some of her books do include an Australian setting, I’ve discovered. Coincidently, when I asked a local librarian the other day to help me find any fiction which deals with bounty migrants from England to Australia in the 1840s, one of the strands of my own family background, she recommended Jacobs’ book, The Group Settler’s Wife. I looks like I might have to go on a Jacobs reading binge. It won’t be a hardship.

Our Eva has all the hallmarks of a rattling good yarn, as my elderly aunt might put it. I remember hearing Jacobs speak at a writers conference years ago, giving advice about plotting: “Put your heroine up a tree and throw rocks at her.” Our Eva exemplifies that in every respect. Eva Kershaw is the less-attractive sister among the Kershaw girls, happy to live a quiet life with her guardian Alice at the end of the Great War, with the expectation that she will eventually inherit Alice’s estate and be well-provided for. When Alice is dying, the unexpected arrival back from the war of her estranged and possibly ne’er-do-well nephew Gus puts an idea into her head. Instead of leaving her estate to her unmarried ward unencumbered, she changes her will. You can guess at some of the mayhem that ensues when she dies and Eva discovers her plan.

With a spin on the marriage-of-convenience trope and insights into village life in Lancashire in the 1920s, Our Eva romps over 500 pages. The prose is simple, the characterisation more than two-dimensional, the twists enough to keep the reader turning the pages.

I’m looking forward to my next Anna Jacobs yarn.

~

Author: Anna Jacobs
Title: Our Eva
Publisher: Coronet, Hodder & Stoughton, 2002
ISBN: 0340821329

I’m submitting this book as part of my Australian Women Writers Challenge 2016 – even though I’m not sure it qualifies. What do you think?

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Running Against the Tide by Amanda Ortlepp

Running Against Tide OrtleppI made a false start when I first picked up Amanda Ortlepp’s Running Against the Tide. I’m not sure of the mood I was in, but the idea of a woman running away with her two teenaged sons to a remote part of South Australia to escape an unhappy marriage didn’t instantly appeal to me. Maybe I’d been listening to too much news. When I recently got back to the book, I’m glad I returned to it. It’s worth the read.

Running Against the Tide introduces Erin Travers and her two sons, Mike and Ryan. Nineteen-year-old Mike is the sociable one, willing to yarn with the kindly-and-not-too-nosy neighbours, oyster-farmer Jono and his wife Helen. Ryan is the one you have to worry about: taciturn, possibly anti-social – or a typical fifteen-year-old grieving the absence of his gambler father? Erin herself is struggling to find her feet back in the remote town where she grew up, dating again, but attracted to men who may not have her best interests at heart; struggling to find peace and privacy in a place where everyone knows each other’s business.

Throw into this family mix bullying, intrigue, theft and arson and you have a good, suspenseful read.

For me, the real star of the book is the setting, South Australia’s Eyre Peninsula, and the slow pace of life of Jono’s oyster farming.

Sully pulled the punt level with the line and Jono slipped over the side with a satisfied sigh. Mike dropped into the water behind him. The water was so warm today, they didn’t even need their waders. On days like this, waist deep in warm water with the sun on his back, there was nowhere Jono would rather be. Even in winter, when the cold penetrated his waders and rain felt like pinpricks on his face, he knew it was still better than working in a cubicle day after day, dealing with customers and demanding bosses. The lease was his office and unlike people, oysters were easy to deal with: quiet, compliant and predictable. (89-90)

Well, almost. Jono is soon to discover even oyster farming has its trial.

Ortlepp describes the remote coastal region of Mallee Bay with such precision and beauty I was sure the township must exist. I even looked for it on Google maps and congratulated myself when, after following the clue that it’s 500 kilometres from Adelaide, I worked out it must be based on the real-life town of Cowell. I needn’t have gone to the trouble: Ortlepp notes in the Acknowledgements that Cowell was the inspiration, a town where her grandparents lived in the latter part of their lives and which she visited as a child. Now I want to go there, too!

If you like a mix of psychological suspense and intrigue with your family drama, you’ll enjoy Running Against the Tide.

~

Country SecretsPS My novel Snowy River Man is now available in print as part of the “3-in-1 Australian Bestsellers” anthology, Country Secrets, published by Harlequin Mira, alongside novels by Mandy Magro and Sarah Barrie. To celebrate, I’m giving away two copies of the anthology to Australian residents, or your choice of either Snowy River Man or By Her Side as ebooks, if you’re outside Australia. You can find details on how to enter on my Lizzy Chandler author blog here. Entries close 31 August.

~

Author: Amanda Ortlepp
Title: Running Against the Tide
Publisher: Simon & Schuster, 2016
ISBN: 9781925030631

This review forms part of my Australian Women Writers Challenge 2016. My thanks to the publishers for a review copy.

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Hired By the Brooding Billionaire by Kandy Shepherd

hired by brooding billionaireOne thing you can be certain of when you pick up a romance novel written by Kandy Shepherd, you’re in for a well-written, light-hearted read. It’s no accident Shepherd subtitles her website: “fun, feel-good fiction!” Her scenarios are fun; the inevitable happy ending is fun. Yet there are often surprising elements in the writing that adds an extra layer of enjoyment.

In Hired By the Brooding Billionaire, Shepherd rewrites the familiar and favourite trope of Beauty and the Beast. The “Beast” is Declan Grant, a man who has hidden himself away after the death of his beloved wife. He’s inordinately rich – hence the “billionaire” of the title – having made his fortune from a computer game. Despite his wealth, Declan doesn’t find life easy; he has shut himself away inside his Sydney-Eastern Suburbs mansion, rarely seeing daylight, and letting the garden his wife had once cherished grow unkempt.

Into his life walks Shelley Fairhill, not your usual “beauty”, but an amazon-like landscape gardener. The two meet when Shelley approaches Declan for work, wanting to bring his garden back to its former glory. She recognises it as having been designed by “probably Australia’s most famous landscape designer” of the 1920s, Enid Wilson, a woman Shelley wrote her dissertation on at uni. (It’s pretty clear Wilson is based on the real-life Australian landscape designer, Edna Walling, and this is the kind of gently feminist reference I’ve come to expect from Shepherd’s writing.) Despite his need for solitude, Declan is persuaded to let Shelley loose on the garden, and becomes increasingly attracted to her as a muse: he needs a model for his next female-starring computer game.

Shelley is passionate about her work and becomes equally passionate about her employer – this is a romance, after all; but more than Declan’s tragic past throws doubt on their chances for a “happy ever after”. For one thing, Shelley has a desire to work in the most famous gardens in England, and she’s not going to let a man stand in her way.

Don’t get me wrong: Hired By the Brooding Billionaire isn’t a feminist romance. In many ways, it’s a typical Mills and Boon novel: traditional, warm and sweet. But it does portray Shelley as strong-minded and independent; she doesn’t have to rely on a man for her success or happiness, though her “happy ever after” with Declan is welcome when it comes.

~

Author: Kandy Shepherd
Title: Hired By the Brooding Billionaire
Publisher: Mills and Boon
Year: 2015
ISBN13: 9780373743506

This review forms part of my Australian Women Writers Challenge for 2016.

Disclaimer: Kandy Shepherd is not only a fellow Blue Mountains romance writer, she is also a friend and critique partner.

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A Loving, Faithful Animal by Josphine Rowe

a Loving Faithful Animal Josephine RoweI bought a copy of A Loving, Faithful Animal by Josephine Rowe at Megalong Books in Leura a couple of weeks ago after hearing the author interviewed on ABC radio. During the interview, Rowe read an extract conveying the repercussive horror experienced by one of her characters, Lani, after witnessing a rape during her teenage years. In the book, something seemingly innocuous triggers Lani to a flashback of the abuse, forcing her to hide until the nausea and horror subsides. Rowe’s prose was so crisp, the emotion so accurately evoked, that I instantly recognised that she had suffered what many adult survivors of childhood abuse have suffered, what some call “traumatic witness”. In the interview Rowe spoke of the trauma of having grown up with an abusive father who, in turn, had been traumatised by the Vietnam war; somehow Rowe not only survived, but also found the language, the imagery and form to transmute those horrors into powerful fiction.

A Loving, Faithful Animal is told sequentially from the points of view of Ru, her mother Evelyn, her father Jack, her sister Lani and her uncle Les, with Ru’s story, the only one told in the second person, bookending the novel. Each character has a distinctive voice, their narratives intersecting during a shared period, New Year’s Eve 1990, a time shadowed by the Iraq war and still haunted by Vietnam, the war Ru’s father brings daily into the family’s living room.

Your father. His head is a ghost trap. It’s all he can do to open his mouth without letting them all howl out. Even so, you can still see them, sliding around the dark behind his eyes like a Balinese puppet show. At night he’ll let his guard down. Too bad for everyone. Now he’s out here somewhere. Wasting his New Year’s Eve in a shabby, forgetful room… (p12)

In a time when domestic violence is high on the national agenda, Rowe gives an insight into the family dynamics of abuse, including a sympathetic – but not sentimental – portrait of the abuser and the abused, as well as the effects on the children and extended family. It’s not an easy read; there’s little in the way of comfort; but it has the compelling ring of truth.

~

Author: Josephine Rowe
Title: A Loving, Faithful Animal
Publisher: UQP, 2016
ISBN: 9780702253966

This review forms part of my 2016 Australian Women Writers Challenge.

Wild Chicory by Kim Kelly

Wild Chicory by Kim KellyWild Chicory by Kim Kelly is a novella-length celebration of stories, family and migration. Each of its chapters has a theme, indicated by the chapter title: for example, “Good White Bread”, “The Fire Trail” and “The Little Milk Maid”; each presents a snippet of life of the Kennedys, an Irish-Australian family, as they migrate from their ancient rural home in County Kerry in the early part of last century, to the streets of Surry Hills – with scenes reminiscent of Ruth Park’s Harp in the South – and beyond. Threading through the stories is the image of “wild chicory”, a plant that figures in both countrysides, and comes to symbolise both the wildness of the characters and the tales they tell, and the connections between generations over time.

A character who figures prominently in the stories is Nell Kennedy, the only daughter in a family of fourteen children, a feisty redhead who wages a battle with a neighbour and comes a cropper over some stolen forget-me-nots. In the way of children, Nell believes this theft is the reason her family uproots from Ireland and travels with nothing to a new home in Australia.

And after thinking about it for quite some time now, Nell realised that there was only one person in all of her family that could be blamed for what had befallen the Kennedys: and that was her small but wicked self. It was Nell’s fault that they’d had to sell up and leave their farm; it was Nell’s fault that Stanly the stag-pig was killed in his stall with his blood all running out into the med along the edge of the stone path there and reaching towards the back step; it was her fault that they were all here now, tossed on the black sea, bound soon, surely, to hit a subtropical iceberg and plunge to the fathomless depths – just like the Titanic. If only she hadn’t teased and taunted Mrs O’Neill, and squirted her with Maggie’s [the cow’s] milk. (p37)

Nell also figures as “the grandmother”, seen through the eyes of her Australian-born, half-Irish, half-Polish granddaughter Brigid. Like her grandmother, Brigid has a gift for storytelling and knows instinctively the vital role it plays in carrying people through the travails of everyday life. She clamours for her grandmother’s oft-told tales, stories that have taken on the feel of fables, knowing telling them will provide solace for her grandmother as she grieves the loss of her husband and lifelong mate.

Being one of twelve kids from an Irish-French Catholic family, I was primed from the start to enjoy this book. My Irish ancestors came to Australia earlier than these Kennedys, but many of the same values were passed down, including the prayers, the superstitions, the valuing of education, the adventurous spirit, the humour and, above all, the love of tall tales. One aspect that Kelly touches on that I found both interesting and moving is the reason she gives for the loss of language: the shame associated with the use of Gaelic, a marker of poverty and ignorance, which subsequent generations sought to erase. I know I was well into adulthood before I realised that certain idioms and cadences common among my family – especially my cousins in the country – were forms more common to Irish English speakers than speakers of standard English, vestiges of a language no longer spoken.

I always hesitate to say that my mum would love this book, but she will; so will my friend Denise. It’s a well told series of connected tales that vividly recreates a slice of Australian-Irish history.

~

Author: Kim Kelly
Title: Wild Chicory
Publisher: The Author People
Year of Publication: 2015

This review forms part of my 2016 Australian Woman Writers Challenge. Thanks to the publishers for a review copy.

Snowy River Man coming out in print!

Country SecretsI’m thrilled to announce my first novel, Snowy River Man, will be coming out in print with MIRA, as part of an anthology called, Country Secrets.

Today I can reveal the cover. What do you think?

My friends and family will know what a big deal this is for me – finally, after all these years of writing, to have a printed version of something I’ve written.

If you’d like to preorder a copy of Country Secrets, you can find it at the following book stores.

By the way, I’m looking forward to reading both Mandy’s and Sarah’s stories – I’m told by avid rural romance fans they are both excellent.

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