Feb newsletter is out, and 3 events in Perth this week

It’s almost Perth Writers Festival time – one of my favourite weekends of the year! I think this year’s highlight for those of us lucky enough to have tickets will be hearing Margaret Atwood speaking about her amazing body of work. I’ll be rushing there from my ‘Glass of Wine and a Good Book’ event in conjunction with WritingWA, where I’ll be talking about Shallow Breath. I’ll also be at South Perth library on Tues 19th Feb and at the Stella Prize quiz night on Fri 22nd Feb. For full details visit my Events page.

The February newsletter is also out, with a round-up of what’s been happening in my life over  the last  couple of months. Read all about it here, and if you haven’t signed up to receive this direct to your inbox then you can do so from my website or by clicking this link.

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BOOK LOVE: Searching for the Secret River by Kate Grenville

Searching for the Secret River is the extraordinary story of how Kate Grenville came to write her award-winning novel. It all begins with her ancestor Solomon Wiseman, transported to New South Wales for the term of his natural life, but who later became a wealthy man and built his colonial mansion on the Hawkesbury.

Increasingly obsessed with his story, Grenville pursues him from Sydney to London and back, and then up the Hawkesbury itself. Slowly she begins to realise she must write about him, and begins to discover what kind of book she will write. Grenville opens the door and invites the reader into her writing room, and tells us about how this novel was formed, the research she did, the false starts she made and the frustrations she experienced.

 

Having devoured The Secret River, I felt lucky to have this to hand. I am always fascinated by other people’s writing processes, and there were a number of things I really enjoyed about this book. I felt a strong kinship with Kate’s search among archives for pieces of information that would help her put together her story, having just done something similar for Shallow Breath. I thought she did pretty well in not getting the book bogged in details that were probably fascinating to her but perhaps not so much to an outsider – there were only a couple of times I felt I was getting a bit lost in facts and figures.

I really valued the importance Kate placed on visiting the places she was writing about, where possible, to get a feel for them, to try to become a part of the story, and flesh out the small details that would make the book interesting and memorable. I loved envisaging Kate climbing down to stand next to the Thames, and pocketing a bit of old roof tile!

What I also liked very much was how Kate outlines her struggles to find the way to tell this story – the false starts, the realisations, the certainties becoming uncertainties. I think it’s a wonderful thing for all writers to see that a fantastic book comes about through hard work, through being prepared to question your own decisions and change your mind, and that it is not just an effortless slipstream from mind to paper for even the most talented of novelists.

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BOOK LOVE: The Secret River by Kate Grenville

In 1806 William Thornhill, a man of quick temper and deep feelings, is transported from the slums of London to New South Wales for the term of his natural life. With his wife Sal and their children he arrives in a harsh land he cannot understand.But the colony can turn a convict into a free man. 

Eight years later Thornhill sails up the Hawkesbury to claim a hundred acres for himself.Aboriginal people already live on that river. And other recent arrivals—Thomas Blackwood, Smasher Sullivan and Mrs Herring—are finding their own ways to respond to them.

Thornhill, a man neither better nor worse than most, soon has to make the most difficult choice of his life.

Inspired by research into her own family history, Kate Grenville vividly creates the reality of settler life, its longings, dangers and dilemmas. The Secret River is a brilliantly written book, a groundbreaking story about identity, belonging and ownership.

 

Whenever I’m in London I am always captivated by the sense that I am walking through history, that each grandiose building or cobbled alleyway holds a host of hidden stories – some completely lost, others glimpsed through tiny carvings, or street names, or, if you’re really lucky, commemorative plaques. So I loved reading long-ago London brought back to life so vividly. The book is also a stark reminder of the timeless horrors of being poor, and the desperation that often led the destitute to lives of crime. William Thornhill and his family came alive to me from the first page to the last. Kate Grenville absolutely inhabits these characters, and makes it look effortless – a master’s trick, which actually belies an incredible amount of hard work (see also my review of Searching for the Secret River).

Once the story moved to Australia, Grenville’s writing adjusts seamlessly. The story made my senses come alive to the descriptions of the Australian bush. Once Grenville moves on to describing the settlers’ contact with the local Indigenous people, the simple scenes and actions of the characters are pared back to allow the reader to experience for themselves the fear and suspicion, the miscommunications, and the resulting horrors. Thornhill’s thoughts and decisions were frustrating, at times horrifying, but believable. It might be a fictional story but it points to a number of confronting truths.

 

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Beneath the Shadows – go beyond the book and uncover more of the story

To celebrate the 2-year anniversary of Beneath the Shadows‘ first publication, I have added all the extras to the book onto a brand-new website at www.beneaththeshadows.com. You can find a video of me talking about the creation of the book, with footage from the moors. There’s a ‘bonus chapter’  – a short story from Annabel’s perspective which ties in with the novel. And there’s Annabel’s completed article too, plus an artist’s interpretation of the inside of Grace’s cottage. You can check all this out at www.beneaththeshadows.com.

SHALLOW BREATH now available on Kindle in US and UK!

I’m very excited to announce a new Kindle edition of Shallow Breath, available via Amazon.com. I have had quite a few emails from people in the US and the UK asking about getting hold of my other books, and Come Back to Me will also be available in this format within the next couple of weeks.

Find Shallow Breath on Amazon.com

Find Shallow Breath on Amazon.co.uk