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Dear Anna,

What I have to tell you is difficult to write, but I know it will be far more difficult for you to hear, and I’m so sorry…

The unfinished letter is the only clue Tara and Emerson have to the reason behind their close friend Noelle’s suicide. Everything they knew about Noelle—her calling as a midwife, her passion for causes, her love for her friends and family—described a woman who embraced life.

Yet there was so much they didn’t know.

With the discovery of the letter and its heartbreaking secret, Noelle’s friends begin to uncover the truth about this complex woman who touched each of their lives—and the life of a desperate stranger—with love and betrayal, compassion and deceit.

This is a story about friendship, fate, and impossible choices, and it had me ignoring everything I should have been doing until I’d finished. The characters and their circumstances were so vivid (I loved the teenage Grace), and the slow unravelling of the chain of secrets was beautifully crafted. I’m looking forward to reading more by Diane Chamberlain.

(Thanks to my friend Jen for the recommendation!)

  “They [the elephants] taught me that all life forms are important to each other in our common quest for happiness and survival. That there is more to life than just yourself, your own family, or your own kind.”

 

This is one of the most remarkable stories I’ve read in my life, and has been inspirational to me over the past year. Lawrence Anthony’s retelling of the rescue of a herd of traumatised elephants moved me from the first page to the last. I’ve spent some of the last year writing about elephants for my new novel, and I’d planned to contact Lawrence and tell him how much his book had inspired me. When I came out of my writing haze, handed my book in, and looked up his details on the internet, I found he had died a few weeks earlier, in March 2012, aged 61.

His death was terribly saddening and shocking, and appears to have been unexpected, as he had forthcoming plans to promote his new book The Last Rhinos. He is a great loss to the conservation world, but the most touching tribute does not seem to have come from his fellow man, but from the elephants he saved and loved, who apparently, inexplicably, made the long journey from the bush to his house, and stood for two days in mourning (http://delightmakers.com/news/wild-elephants-gather-inexplicably-mourn-death-of-elephant-whisperer/).

Vale Lawrence Anthony. The world will miss you.

This is a story of right and wrong, and how sometimes they look the same …
1926. Tom Sherbourne is a young lighthouse keeper on a remote island off Western Australia. The only inhabitants of Janus Rock, he and his wife Isabel live a quiet life, cocooned from the rest of the world. 

One April morning a boat washes ashore carrying a dead man and a crying infant – and the path of the couple’s lives hits an unthinkable crossroads.

Only years later do they discover the devastating consequences of the decision they made that day – as the baby’s real story unfolds …

What a sensational debut by ML Stedman! Even the strapline is one of the best I’ve read: This is the story of right and wrong, and how they sometimes look the same. I loved so much about this book. The central dilemma is absorbing, and I found myself alternately rooting for (and sometimes angry with) each of the characters as they struggle to find resolution. Throughout the story, the descriptions are mesmerising. My favourite lines are 96 pages in: ‘In a place before words, in some other language of creature to creature, with the softening of her muscles, the relaxing of her neck, the baby signalled her trust. Having come so close to the hands of death, life now infused with life like water meets water.’ I did find the beginning a little bit slow, but it’s well worth persevering. ML Stedman manipulates her narrative like a master, and I’m looking forward to finding out what she does next.

NB: This book has been optioned for a film too, and I hope it gets made. It would be great to see a story based in Western Australia on the big screen.

 

I am a glutton when it comes to books. My desires are larger than my reading time – which is why I have two crates full of books sitting in my bedroom right now, all of which I want to read, and yet I keep getting more – because there’s just so much temptation around! Sometimes, during the periods when my writing gets intense, I have to put my reading pleasures aside for a while, and boy do I miss it. I emerge from isolation like a racehorse from a starting gate, and the pile of books at my bed begins a period of rapid turnover (or at least it did before I had a child, I’ve had to slow down a bit). During these times, I try to blog about the books I love. You’ll find these recommendations listed on my facebook page, and full reviews on my website and on goodreads.com. I read a wide variety of genres, but I think you’ll quickly determine that I’m attracted to strong psychological dramas – which probably won’t come as much surprise if you’ve read my books. I hope you enjoy my selections, and wish us all many hours of happy reading!

Dr Anita Heiss

It’s great to be involved in Aussie Author month, and what better way to begin than by having a brilliant Aussie author visiting my blog. Anita Heiss is an inspiration  – her books are fabulous, her work rate incredible, and  her gratefulness blog perfectly reflects her positive take on life. Her energy is at whirlwind level, as I discovered first of all at Perth Writers Festival, where I was lucky enough to be on a panel with her. I’ll always remember how supportive she was to this first-time author.

Anita’s latest book, Paris Dreaming, has just been released. Here’s a teaser:

Libby is on a man-fast: no more romance, no more cheating men, no more heartbreak. After all, she has her three best girlfriends and two cats to keep her company at night and her high-powered job at the National Aboriginal Gallery in Canberra to occupy her day – isn’t that enough? But when fate takes Libby to work in Paris at the Musée du Quai Branly, she’s suddenly thrown out of her comfort zone and into a city full of culture, fashion and love. Surrounded by thousands of attentive men, nude poets, flirtatious baristas and smooth-tongued lotharios, romance has suddenly become a lot more tempting. On top of it all, there’s a chauvinist colleague at the Musée who challenges Libby’s professional ability and diplomatic skills. Then there’s Libby’s new friend Sorina, a young Roma gypsy, desperate to escape deportation. Libby must protect her work record and her friend, but can she protect herself from a broken heart?

I asked Anita what Libby was most grateful for in life, and here’s what she said:

1. CIRCLE OF FRIENDS: Libby is grateful for her circle of friends she calls her ‘tiddas’. In Canberra her bestie is Lauren, a visual arts curator who believes in romantic love. Her ex flat-mate Denise is a primary school teacher, who’s witnessed both Libby and Lauren’s relationship sagas over the years, and yet she still believes in ‘the One’. And the latest addition to the posse, Caro, is a lawyer with a dry sense of humour who likes to wet-her-whistle often. Together they unpack the serious issues of life: relationships, careers and good food! When Libby moves to Paris, her new tidda is Canelle, a sleek-bobbed black woman from Guadeloupe with a passion for bling, who ups the fashion-and-fella-anti!

2. A COMPLETE LIFE: Libby has her core group of friends and an active Canberra social life. She has a healthy long-distance relationship with her mum and five brothers in Moree. She’s got a tertiary degree and has excelled in her job as Manager of Educational Programs at the National Aboriginal Gallery in Canberra. Libby isn’t that interested in children just yet, but loves her two cats – Bonnie and Clyde. She’s fit from running and riding her bike around the streets of Braddon, on a total man-fast and is grateful for her complete life, until…

3. PITCH FOR PARIS: Libby is grateful her Pitch For Paris – to work at the stunning Musée du Quai Branly – is successful. She gets to do what she loves best: promoting Indigenous arts, this time on the international stage. But once arriving in the city of love with its cravats, culture and classy men, the ‘man-fast’ isn’t that easy to stick to. But she’s grateful that at least she’s a long way from home… and so no-one will ever know what she gets up to, or will they?

4. NUDE POETS: Libby is grateful to a new friend, Ames from Burgundy, because he introduces her to the revolutionary Maximilien de Robespierre. But the most revolutionary thing about their English and French poetry readings is that they are all done in the nude. Libby says: ‘I liked the feeling of freedom in being without clothes just for the sake of it.’

5. MOULIN ROUGE: Libby goes to the Moulin Rouge with staff from a job she ends up doing through the Australian Embassy. While she gets a tad jealous of the barely covered dancing girls, she’s grateful she won’t have to do any can-can moves to impress her fella. She simply says she can’t can’t and won’t won’t.

To find out more about Anita, visit www.anitaheiss.com and http://anitaheissblog.blogspot.com/ I’d highly recommend going to one of her events – you’re guaranteed a fun evening.

Thanks for dropping by, Anita, and wishing you every success. xx

I’m still pinching myself that now I have two books out in the big book-buying world. Friends keep asking me how it feels, and to be honest I’m not sure I’ve really taken it in. What with the busy promotional blitz and caring for a toddler, I’m usually doing something work or child-related from the moment I get up until I go to bed, and when my head hits the pillow it’s lights out pretty quickly! But the publication of Beneath the Shadows marks the end of my first two-book deal in Australia, and already I am thinking about what I want to do next. I have two firm ideas that seem to be developing in tandem in my head, and I’m really excited about both of them. I don’t like sharing much of my writing until I’m finished – I’m a bit secretive like that – but my overall plan is that the first will be a complicated love story set around a passion for the sea, and the second is a family mystery with photography as an underpinning theme.  

It is both daunting and exciting to be very close to moving on from projects that have consumed the last few years of my life. I can’t wait to write something new, but thinking about what I hope to achieve next has led me to some reflection on what my overall goals are in my writing. Many aspects of my writing lend themselves to lots of other books too – most of us are touching on universal themes of love, friendship, journeys, psychology, freedom, fears and longing in one form or another. But I’m very interested in examining the psychology of traumatic events, and the different ways people try to cope with what fate deals them. I want readers to grow attached to my characters – not necessarily agree with them, but certainly relate to them, and recognise aspects of them in themselves or others.

I love to tell stories through the medium of suspense, with compelling chapters and twists and turns, because it’s what I want to read –there’s nothing better than a story that grips you. All that drama! The biggest compliment you can give me is saying you couldn’t put my books down – I want to grab my readers, pull them into the world I’m creating and completely absorb them until we’re finished. I hope I’ve achieved that in my first two books, but there is still plenty more to come.

I am currently reading one of the longest, most talked about books of last year on my smallest new device. Jonathan Frantzen’s Freedom is over two thousand pages long on my iPhone, and it is the first book I have ever downloaded to it. The writing is way too small, and with a wayward swish of the finger I sometimes find myself back on the title page. However, over the last few weeks it has been easy to snatch reading time on car journeys, while waiting in queues for changing rooms, and in the darkness of an aeroplane with a sleeping toddler lying across my lap. And when we all shared a hotel room, hubby and child could go to sleep, and I could still carry on reading in the dark. Hurray!

Since I always want more time to read, it has been great to have such a flexible and portable way of accessing a book. But the rise of the e-book has brought with it some very serious concerns. Bookstores are struggling to maintain a viable market share; publishers are worried about maintaining control of rights; and authors are concerned about impacts on sales and royalty rates. Meanwhile, what is happening to the art of reading itself? Because that cold, hard little phone screen doesn’t encourage me to savour each word in the same way a softly turning page might give me pause. With an e-book you no longer hold a complete work in your hands (does this make the story itself less tangible?). Instead, you can simply switch your book off – or, when you are in the middle of a particularly moving passage, a message pops up over the top reminding you that your battery is dying.  

No, I might venture into e-books now and again, but I desperately need their printed older brothers and sisters to survive too. Let’s hope they can eventually be friends and work together.

Watching the King’s Speech last week served as a great reminder of how quickly things change. All those nervous comments about broadcasting being rather dangerous and distasteful seem so innocent now. And yet, back then, how long would it have taken to get word out about the terrible flooding in Queensland, and all the help needed? In fact, technology has been an incredible ally in the past week, and it’s been inspiring to watch everyone supporting each other.

I’d love to hear what other people think about the rise of e-books. In the meantime, happy reading everybody, in whatever form it takes!

To donate to the Queensland flood appeal, go to http://www.qld.gov.au/floods/donate.html, or check out some fantastic fundraising initiatives set up by writers:

Authors for Queensland: http://authorsforqueensland.wordpress.com/ Signed copies of Come Back to Me and Beneath the Shadows are on there, as well as a fantastic array of signed books, and other writing and reading related services and ideas. You can even bid to get a character named after you in upcoming novels!

Writers on Rafts – Rebecca Sparrow and the Queensland Writers Centre are putting this together, offering more chances to win an amazing host of writing/reading prizes for a small entry fee. Details to follow soon, but you can read about it now on Rebecca’s blog.

PS Look out for the lovely Natasha Lester, my very first guest blogger and author of the fabulous What is Left Over, After, who’ll be featured here next week.

 

When paramedic Bruce Pike arrives too late to save a boy found hanged in his bedroom, the unusual circumstances of the death return him to his memories of adolescence, a turbulent time of unlikely friendships and recklessness that pushed him towards the darker edges of life.

I am a little ashamed to admit that this is the first Tim Winton I’ve read, since he is perhaps the most prestigious author in my home state of WA. I have long had Cloudstreet and Dirt Music on my list as well as this one, but when a friend suddenly gave it to me all other books were cast aside. I read it in a couple of days, and while it wasn’t exactly what I was expecting, on reflection I think it was better. I am regularly disappointed by lauded, award-winning books – perhaps the hype kills them for me. Yet Tim Winton’s prose here is beautiful, stark and spare – it’s to-the-point, incisive fiction. The subject matter and the plot didn’t grab me all the way through, but the writing did – Winton absolutely lives and breathes his characters. I’m really looking forward to Cloudstreet now.

NB: At the moment, Save Our Marine Life (Australia)’s page on facebook features an open letter from Tim Winton about the importance of marine conservation. It’s well worth reading.

A story of love, ambition, and a spirited elephant called Rosie, set amid a travelling circus during the Great Depression of the 1930s.

I had heard lots of good things about this book, but the subject matter didn’t automatically appeal so I took my time in getting to it. However, I’m really glad I did – the characters and the circus jumped right off the page and every time I picked it up I was absorbed. Highly recommended.

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