Australian Women Writers Challenge makes the HuffPo

What a day to be out of town!

Some time ago on Twitter, I saw that @HuffPostBooks was trying to get more followers to reach 55,555. I tweeted a reply from my @auswomenwriters account saying I’d follow – if they’d consider posting more pieces on books by Australian women.

The next thing I knew, I had a Twitter invitation from the HuffPo Books blog editor to write something for their blog about Australian women writers. I immediately deflected attention to both Sophie Cunningham and Kirsten Tranter, saying either of them might be interested. When neither of those authors responded to the tweet, I took a deep breath. Maybe I could write something?

After consulting the AWW team of book bloggers and exchanging emails with the editor over the angle I should take, I chose the obvious one: the news that the inaugural Stella Prize would be awarded next April. I decided to link the news with a survey of books published this year which have been reviewed for the AWW challenge, since these books – in theory – should be eligible for the prize. They cover a wide variety of genres that don’t normally get reviewed in literary pages, and include titles which, because of either their setting or subject matter, wouldn’t be eligible for the Miles Franklin. I wrote the piece and sent it off.

Then yesterday morning I received word that my piece had been posted. I took a look, and the first thing I noticed was a formatting error. (Most book titles were italicised; some weren’t.) Isn’t that always the way? I had to remind myself that I’d asked another book blogger to look over a draft copy of the article and she didn’t notice. How important are italics anyway?

I tweeted the link to everyone I could think of and posted it on Facebook, then felt a wave of nerves as I waited for the response. Is what I’ve written crap? It’s just a survey. There’s no substance. Bla, bla, bla. The committee of critics in my head started chattering.

Maybe fortuitously, I was up in Katoomba, getting ready to go bush walking with guests from the UK. We piled in the car and travelled the 18 km dirt road out to the ancient Grose Valley escarpment at Mount Hay. A sea haze had drifted in from the coast over the Cumberland Plains, obscuring the sun and sharpening the definition of the hills in a way I’d never seen at this time of year. Many tiny wildflowers were in bloom, as well as Flannel Flowers, my bush favourites. For a few hours, I forgot about books and writing.

When I got back to town last night and a proper internet connection, however, the first thing I did was to run through email, Twitter and Facebook. There were dozens of comments in response to the HuffPo piece – too many to reply to personally – and lots of notifications that people had retweeted the link. It didn’t really matter what I’d written. The important thing was that Huffington Post Books blog had given a great big shout to the Australian Women Writers Challenge and The Stella Prize, as well as to dozens of books published this year by a host of talented Australian women.

This morning, I received an email query from the HuffPo Books blog editor about a possible correction to my piece – is Bitter Greens Kate Forsyth’s first novel written for an adult audience, or were her earlier books, The Witches of Eilaenan and Ride of Rhiannon series, also for adults? I’d read the Witches series years ago, and thought it was for Young Adults, but I checked with Kate. They are for adults, she told me; but she wasn’t worried – she was just happy to be included in the piece. (The error has been corrected, though.)

I emailed the editor back with a clarification – and cheekily asked if I might be able to write a follow-up post on The Stella Prize longlist or even the occasional author interview or review. The answer came back in the form of information about logging in as a contributor and the message, “Looking forward to reading future posts!”

That’s it! I’m now a HuffPo book blogger.

You can read yesterday’s Huffington Post piece – “Want a book by an Aussie woman in Australia? Try looking for a kangaroo on the spine” – here.

This is where we were yesterday.

Bitter Greens by Kate Forsyth

Ever since posting Margo Lanagan’s piece for the Australian Women Writers challenge, I’ve been looking forward to reading Kate Forsyth’s novel, Bitter Greens.

Forsyth isn’t a new author for me – year ago, I read and enjoyed the Witches of Eileanan, a series aimed at young adults – but Bitter Greens is the first adult novel of hers I’ve read. The novel ranges over two centuries, combines history and fairytale, and creates portraits of three different women: a real historical character, novelist Charlotte-Rose de Caumont de la Force, the girl fabled as “Rapunzel”, and her imagined captor and “witch”, the Venetian courtesan “Selena Leonelli”. It’s more ambitious than any of Forsyth’s Fantasy series, especially in its self-reflexive quality. Central to the tale are themes concerning the art of narrative, and the genesis and profession of story-telling. This ambitious structure is both a strength and a weakness.

While less than a third the way in I was spell-bound, the beginning of the novel didn’t quite sweep me away as I’d hoped. After a page introducing the chief story-teller, Charlotte-Rose, as a child, the narrative jumps to show her as a grown woman. This rapid shift didn’t allow me to get to know Charlotte-Rose, to care about her and know what she wants out of life. I felt little sense of the tragic irony I guessed Forsyth was trying to create, the sense that here is a great character destined to fall. As the book progressed, however, I enjoyed Charlotte-Rose more and more. Forsyth portrays her as a headstrong, sexually active woman, with enough self-interest, stubbornness and resourcefulness to pursue her career in defiance of the mores and life-threatening risks of her time.

I felt more immediate empathy for the other point of view characters, Leonella – the witch – and Margherita – the Rapunzel figure. In these threads of the narrative, Forsyth demonstrates her skill as a Fantasy writer, with the storytelling every bit as enchanting as fairytales of old.

~

This post completes my Aussie Author 2012 challenge, and is part of my ongoing contribution to the Australian Women Writers Challenge. AWW reviews of Bitter Greens include the following:

Kate wrote a guest post for Bree here: Bree 1girl2manybooks.

ISBN-13: 9781741668452
North Sydney, Vintage Australia (Random House) 2012
Borrowed from Avalon Community Library

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