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BOOK LOVE: Sister by Rosamund Lupton

Nothing can break the bond between sisters …When Beatrice gets a frantic call in the middle of Sunday lunch to say that her younger sister, Tess, is missing, she boards the first flight home to London. But as she learns about the circumstances surrounding her sister’s disappearance, she is stunned to discover how little she actually knows of her sister’s life – and unprepared for the terrifying truths she must now face. The police, Beatrice’s fiance and even their mother accept they have lost Tess but Beatrice refuses to give up on her. So she embarks on a dangerous journey to discover the truth, no matter the cost.

I was on my sickbed when I read this book, and it completely distracted me from the fact that the rest of the family had gone whale watching without me! This Not only does this book have an absorbing mystery, with fascinating character dynamics, but it’s also got one of those rare finishes – a brilliant twist.

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BOOK LOVE: The Stone Diaries by Carol Shields

This wonderful piece of fiction won the Pulitzer Prize in 1995. It chronicles the life of Daisy Goodwill, which spans most of the twentieth century. Each chapter jumps forward a decade, through her childhood, marriage, motherhood, and later life, combining reflection on these broader themes of her life with insight towards the other banal moments that also make up living. The narrative is interspersed with photos, letters, even shopping lists, and we see Daisy through the eyes of those around her, providing fascinating insight into the notion of identity. If you want to study a master of inventive narrative and character construction, read this book!

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BOOK LOVE: The Weight of Silence by Heather Gudenkauf

It happens quietly one August morning. As dawn’s shimmering light drenches the humid Iowa air, two families awaken to find their little girls have gone missing in the night.

Seven-year-old Calli Clark is sweet, gentle, a dreamer who suffers from selective mutism brought on by a tragedy that pulled her deep into silence as a toddler. Petra Gregory is Calli’s best friend, her soul mate and her voice. But neither Petra or Calli has been heard from since their disappearance was discovered.

Now these families are tied by the question of what happened to their children. And the answer is trapped in the silence of unspoken family secrets. (www.heathergudenkauf.com)

The Weight of Silence is a brilliant depiction of the complex and entangled lives of a small community, and how the desperate circumstances of missing children brings some people together and makes others turn on each other. Calli is a sweet character, so well drawn, and the secret that has stopped her from talking is heart-rending. I couldn’t stop reading this until I’d finished it. I’ll definitely be watching for more of Heather’s books.

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BOOK LOVE: The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

We were the people who were not in the papers. We lived in the blank white spaces at the edges of print. It gave us more freedom.

We lived in the gaps between the stories.

Set some time in the future, the main character, Offred, has been designated a Handmaid, and her function is to endure mating rituals in order to bear a child for the couple she belongs too.  The Gilead society is cruel and swift to exact punishment on those who disobey its rules. But Offred remembers a life before this, where she had a husband and daughter. Unable to forget the freedom she has known, she makes dangerous choices, and is slowly drawn towards disaster.

This book is right at the top of my all-time favourites, and just writing about it makes me want to go and find it again. I haven’t read it for years, but I can still hear those names called out in the darkness at the end of the first chapter, the brave reassertion of identity under a monstrously repressive regime. Atwood’s writing is mesmerising, and the dystopian world that she has built, where women have no rights and have become classified according to their purpose in relation to men, is both terrifying and heartbreaking. I could contemplate many of the sentences in this book for hours. I was so disappointed when I saw the film – but I think it’s just because there’s no way to translate Atwood’s writing, you need to read this story in its purest form.

 

 

 

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Hello US and Canada – today’s the day! Beneath the Shadows is available to buy!

I’m absolutely thrilled that Beneath the Shadows is released in the US and Canada today! Its journey began over ten years ago now, when I sketched out the first chapter in a small room in our little rented flat in Kent, south England. My central character Grace was with me for a long time, and after many years (and another novel!), the final chapter was written in our house on the west coast of Australia. Since then it has been a privilege to share the story with readers, and I’m delighted that from today it has spread its wings even further and reached such distant shores. Storytelling is the best job in the world for exactly this reason: it knows no boundaries, a story can be shared between people who are half a world apart as though they were sitting in the same room. So hello to everybody in North America who picks up Beneath the Shadows – I really hope you enjoy getting to know Grace and the colourful cast of characters in the little village of Roseby.

My final word of thanks must go to the fabulous team at St Martin’s Press and Minotaur, who have done such a fabulous job putting Beneath the Shadows together, and getting the word out. In particular, thank you to Anne Bensson, for showing such faith in a new writer, who lives so far away in the most isolated city on earth!

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BOOK LOVE: The World Beneath by Cate Kennedy

Once, Rich and Sandy were environmental activists, part of a world-famous blockade in Tasmania to save the wilderness. Now, twenty-five years later, they have both settled into the uncomfortable compromises of middle age — although they’ve gone about it in very different ways. The only thing they have in common these days is their fifteen-year-old daughter, Sophie.

When Rich decides to take Sophie, whom he hardly knows, on a trek into the Tasmanian wilderness, his overconfidence and her growing disillusion with him set off a chain of events that no one could have predicted. Instead of respect, Rich finds antagonism in his relationship with Sophie; and in the vast landscape he once felt an affinity with, he encounters nothing but disorientation and fear.

Ultimately, all three characters will learn that if they are to survive, each must traverse not only the secret territories that lie between them but also those within themselves.

I haven’t read any of Cate’s renowned short stories, but I will be looking for them now. This book is a masterpiece of character study combined with beautiful, lyrical writing. I don’t think I’ve read a better depiction of a teenager’s tumultuous relationship with her parents, and the internal struggles of middle age. While I love a page-turner, there is no rushing this read – Cate makes sure you immerse yourself in each sentence, and it’s no surprise it was shortlisted for numerous accolades, and won the People’s Choice Award in the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards back in 2010.

Authors for Queensland – AUCTION OPEN!!

A group of wonderful writers spent last week collecting donations and setting up an auction website where you can bid for signed copies, tickets to events, manuscript assessments and mentoring, or even the chance to have a character named after you in a novel. All money goes to help those affected by the Queensland floods. For full details go to: http://authorsforqueensland.wordpress.com/ On the site there’s a chance to win signed copies of Come Back to Me and my second book Beneath the Shadows, which won’t be out in bookstores until 1st February 2011. Bidding closes 11 pm on 24 January (Sydney time). Good luck with the bidding, and thank you for your support.

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Sources of inspiration

Where do you get your ideas from?

It’s a question I am asked regularly. And my answer is ‘everywhere’. Considering my profession is writing, I spend much more of my time thinking about what I might write rather than actually noting it down. I am a compulsive thinker – not just that, but I like to replay, analyse, deconstruct, reconstruct, rewind and fast-forward. Occasionally I might even add a soundtrack. I find it difficult to switch off the whirring of my brain, though I have trained myself to get better at it, and my thoughts are widespread and random. I wonder what the cat is thinking on its morning prowl around the back garden. I wonder who made all the things in my house, which hands these objects passed through, and how curious it is that through them I am connected in some small way to hundreds of other stories I won’t ever know. I wonder who first thought of putting vinegar on a potato chip, or chilli in chocolate, and whether they received the recognition they deserved. These thoughts and others zip through my head all day long, and when I’m building a story, occasionally something will linger for a moment, and I’ll connect it to a character, and it eventually becomes part of my book. That’s if I can stop my thoughts long enough to find a pen and write them down. I often seem to have my best eureka moments just before I fall asleep, which is an endless source of frustration. I’m either constantly switching the light on and off to make notes, or trying to repeat ideas like mantras so I might remember them in the morning (which I rarely do).

I can’t ever imagine running out of inspiration, because I can’t see that I’ll ever run out of these streams of questions. And somewhere within my fascination with them, and the possible answers to them, is the place where a story begins to form.

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Friends and family readers

Book pages 2This blog also appeared on the Random House ‘Random Blogs’ website on 7th April 2010

For the past eighteen months I have been telling family and friends that my book will be published. Before that I was just ‘writing a book’ – an oft-heard phrase. I think many of them have grown so used to hearing about this mythical book that it will actually be quite a surprise when they see it on sale. However, waiting for family and friends’ reactions is in many ways as daunting as waiting for the reviews. Because they read it from a different perspective, knowing me and my story. And because I can’t scrunch them all up and throw them in the bin if I don’t like what they say! Although, I’m not sure I can even trust their feedback – after all, I don’t think I would tell anyone I was fond of that I thought their book was a load of rubbish – at least, not if I wanted to remain on speaking terms.

I also realised a while ago that there’s another potential problem with having people I know read my book. I’m not sure if it’s a bigger problem for me or for them really. The question is: how many of them will be looking for themselves somewhere inside the pages? Sure enough, when my mother had finished reading Come Back to Me, one of her first comments was that she hoped the character of Chloe’s mother wasn’t modelled on her! I was pleased to reassure her that it wasn’t the case. None of my characters have been modelled on anyone I know, though no doubt at times I have drawn on my own experiences with people to help me to look further into a character’s actions and motivations. But it’s very general – believe me! Although perhaps I should do a quick friend tally now, and see if anyone stops speaking to me in the next few months – the reason why, whether valid or not, might just lie within the pages of my novel.

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Come Back to Me

Book Group Questions for Come Back to Me

1. Explore the different ways that the title theme of ‘Come Back to Me’ resonates throughout the book.

2. What do you think of Alex’s dilemma and choices? Can a person be truly in love with two people at the same time?

3. The changing nature of relationships between parents and children features prominently in the book. Discuss the nature and complexities of adult children’s relationships with their parents.

4. Each character goes on some kind of figurative journey within the novel. By the end, what do you think they each have learned, and how might it change them?

5. Different types of loss feature heavily in the novel. Which types of loss stand out most for you? How have these losses shaped the characters’ lives?

6. Each character in the book has personality traits that appear to be holding them back in life. Can you identify them? Do they change during the course of the story? If so, how?

7. Explore Alex’s motivations and experiences in the story. How much is he a victim of circumstance, and how much does he bring on himself through his decisions?

8. Where did your sympathies lie during the course of the novel, and why?

9. **NEW** At one point, Chloe asks: ‘What had she done to cause everything that was happening to her?’ This may be a harsh question to direct at herself, but it is an understandable one. Discuss how the notion of responsibility plays out in the novel, and the extent to which the characters are responsible for themselves or each others’ actions or reactions.

10. **NEW** Chloe, Alex and Julia/Amy have all pushed memories away or suppressed them in order to get on with their lives. Explore why they have done this, and what it means for them.

11. **NEW** Towards the end of the book, Margaret suggests to Chloe, ‘…maybe Alex is trying to protect you…’ Do you agree with this statement? Is that what Alex was trying to do?

12. **NEW** Throughout the book, there are lots of references to opportunities for connection between the characters, opportunities that might not come round again, or moments when they have to choose whether to speak or to withhold information. Can you identify these, and what do you think of the choices each character makes?