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.

Black Glass by Meg Mundell

Set in a near future, Black Glass is about two teenaged sisters who get separated after the death of their father, and are thrown on their own resources in a strange and sometimes violent city.

While it’s the girls’ story the reader comes to care about, there are a number of secondary characters who appear intermittently throughout the novel, including a ‘mood enhancer’, Milk, whose job it is to micro-manage the populace through the manipulation of scent, and an investigative journalist. The journalist is trying to get the next big scoop in a city which has slid beyond the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’ into the ‘docced’ and ‘undocs’ – those with and without identifying papers.

In a society where surveillance and control are everything, and the undocumented are prey to all sorts of – fascinating – dangers, the two sisters, due to their lack of papers, are pushed to the edge of survival. While I love a good conspiracy story, the conspiracies in Black Glass – and there are more than one – don’t pay off in the way of a traditional thriller. They are evoked, rather than explored.

Mundell opts for an experimental structure which, for the lazy reader, isn’t straightforward to follow – mostly because the episodic, report-like format makes it a task to get to know and care for the main characters. The girls aren’t traditional ‘heroic’ protagonists, either, as, for much of the novel, they lack a sense of agency, of being in control of their own lives. They have almost no resources at their disposal beyond what comes their way by chance, so it’s hit or miss whether they’ll be able to find one another. With the possibility of a happy ending unlikely, Mundell creates and sustains an alarming sense that these two could be victims in the making.

Had the novel started closer to the events dramatized toward the end, this story could have been truly disturbing and gripping, instead of simply fascinating – but perhaps less true to the possible future society that Mundell has carefully imagined. As it now stands, Black Glass would make a compelling movie.

Black Glass was given “Highly Commended” in the 2012 Barbara Jefferis Award, an “Honourable Mention” in the 2012 Norma K Hemming Awards, and shortlisted for the 2011 Aurealis Awards  (in two categories), and the 2012 Chronos Award. It has been reviewed for the Australian Women Writers Challenge by Tsana – who considers it an outstanding read; Janine Rizzetti, Annabel Smith and Jason Nehrung.

This review appeared earlier this week on GoodReads and is Book 3 in my Aussie Authors Challenge.

  • Goodreads

  • Country Secrets – anthology

  • Snowy River Man – rural romance

  • By Her Side – romantic suspense

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