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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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GUEST BLOG: NATASHA LESTER, author of What is Left Over, After

Why does inspiration never strike at a time when I can write it down?

I blame my children for this – they’ll end up blaming me for almost everything when they’re older so I might as well get in first. Except that, in this case, it’s true.

 Having recently had the luxury of nearly a whole week to do nothing but write, courtesy of my lovely husband who subjected himself full time to the 3 cherubs, I have discovered that I get the best ideas in the most uninspiring places. Places where there are no pens. And even if there were, it would be impossible to write anything down.

 The first day inspiration struck in the shower. I was washing my face and the solution to a major plot problem that had been niggling me for months suddenly and perfectly appeared. Short of inscribing myself with shampoo, there was no way to make a note of the idea. But I’ve learned that if I don’t write it down, I won’t remember it later. So I had to chant it in my head – Dan gets run over, Dan gets run over – while I jumped out and dried myself. My mental monologue was interspersed with shouted directions at the children: ‘Your headband’s in the doll’s cradle’ – Dan gets run over – ‘Your shoes are in the fridge’ (don’t ask) – Dan gets run over. I’m just lucky that, when I got to my study, I didn’t end up writing in my notebook: Dan runs over a doll with the fridge.

The next day we were at the Disney Live concert surrounded by a million mini Cinderellas and my two year old needed to go to the toilet. While I was holding her on the toilet seat, more inspiration struck. This time a brilliant plot twist that I knew would make the book impossible to put down at the critical halfway mark. ‘Please hurry, darling,’ I begged, desperate to get out of there and back to my notebook and pen. ‘But Mummy,’ she piped up, ‘I shouldn’t rush. I need to get it all out.’ Of course my oft-repeated advice, which was never remembered if she was in the middle of jumping on the trampoline, was thrown back at me the one time when rushing would have been very welcome.

 The day after that, the ideas came while I was driving on the freeway. No way to jot things down at one hundred kilometres an hour and I’m sure it wasn’t quite the emergency that the stopping lanes were designed to accommodate.

 Later, I realised that the reason I keep finding inspiration in unlikely places is because they are quiet places, places where the kids are either absent or silent – shower, toilet, car.

 I wonder whether this means that the ideas are there all the time but I just don’t hear them, drowned out as they are by the four year old yelling at the two year old, ‘She took my Barbie,’ and the baby delighting in his new found ability to shout Mum-mum-mum at the top of his voice.

 So my New Year’s Resolution is this: to somehow build a quiet moment into every day. The girls received a cubbyhouse for Christmas so perhaps I need to rig up some kind of lock on it – not to lock them in but as a place for me to hide! I know I won’t be lucky enough to dream up a new story idea, solve a plot problem or come up with an unexpected twist in every quiet moment, but the important thing is, I’ll be ready, pen and paper in hand, if the ideas do choose to come.

Natasha Lester lives in Western Australia and is the author of What is Left Over, After, winner of the TAG Hungerford Prize, published in 2010 by Fremantle Press. Check out her website, www.natashalester.com.au, or visit her blog, While the Kids are Sleeping.

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The Reading Revolution

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.

 

My bedside table…

Bedside table Aug 10I like to keep my current reading matter on my bedside table, but although I try very hard to maintain a small, neat pile, sooner or later it always deteriorates into a precarious tower of half-read books. I’ve just taken an inventory and thought I’d share it with you.

On the top is A Mercy by Toni Morrison. I wrote part of my Bachelor of Arts dissertation on Beloved, and I can’t begin to tell you how much I admire Morrison, but I wouldn’t call her stories easy reads. With this one, the haunting lines that close the first chapter will see me through to the end of the book on their own. Underneath A Mercy is The True Story of Butterfish by Nick Earls, which I’ve only just started, but it’s good and I’m keen to keep going. Next comes a children’s book – The Whitby Witches by Robin Jarvis – which I’m reading because a) it is set in Yorkshire, England, and b) on the cover is a brilliant but terrifying picture of a black barghest (a black dog that is legendary in the area). Both Yorkshire and the barghest also feature in my upcoming novel, Beneath the Shadows, and I want to see what Jarvis has made of them.

Halfway down the pile is Mandela, which is there because I watched Invictus the other day and wanted to find out more about ‘Madiba’.  And below Mandela are two books a friend lent me: The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak and The Observations by Jane Harris. Pretty much everyone I know has raved about The Book Thief, while I’d never heard of The Observations. When I’ve finished them, I’ll report back on both.

I always have some kind of inspirational reading by my bed too. At the moment there is an old book called the Handbook for the Soul, edited by Richard Carlson & Benjamin Shield, and a recent book called The Shift by Wayne Dyer (who I saw speak in Perth on Saturday, and who was tremendous). I love these kinds of books as they inspire me and challenge me to keep thinking about things differently. Alongside those I’ve got Karma Kids, because I’m keen to instil some Buddhist values in my daughter at some point, perhaps in a few years’ time when I can slow her down for a few seconds! And I’m also gradually making my way through two Lonely Planet books – a guide to Wildlife Travel Photography, and A Year of Watching Wildlife – because in my dreams of an ideal life I’m often in the middle of nowhere, stalking something with a camera.  

And, finally, last night I added my own Come Back to Me to the pile. The smaller paperback edition will be coming out in February along with Beneath the Shadows, so I thought I’d better refamiliarise myself with my old friends!

And that’s it…! It’s messy, I know, but at least it means I can choose just what I feel like reading on any given night. And I’ll get through them all…as long as they can keep close to the top of the pile. Because I was in New Edition bookshop in Fremantle yesterday, and there were thousands of undiscovered worlds wrapped in shiny covers, all calling out to me…