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BOOK LOVE: Jasper Jones by Craig Silvey

Late on a hot summer night in the tail end of 1965, Charlie Bucktin, a precocious and bookish boy of thirteen, is startled by an urgent knock on the window of his sleep-out. His visitor is Jasper Jones, an outcast in the regional mining town of Corrigan. Rebellious, mixed-race and solitary, Jasper is a distant figure of danger and intrigue for Charlie. So when Jasper begs for his help, Charlie eagerly steals into the night by his side, terribly afraid but desperate to impress.

Jasper takes him through town and to his secret glade in the bush, and it’s here that Charlie bears witness to Jasper’s horrible discovery. With his secret like a brick in his belly, Charlie is pushed and pulled by a town closing in on itself in fear and suspicion as he locks horns with his tempestuous mother; falls nervously in love and battles to keep a lid on his zealous best friend, Jeffrey Lu. 
And in vainly attempting to restore the parts that have been shaken loose, Charlie learns to discern the truth from the myth, and why white lies creep like a curse. In the simmering summer where everything changes, Charlie learns why the truth of things is so hard to know, and even harder to hold in his heart.

I read Jasper Jones last year, and it instantly became one of my all-time favourite books. It has everything. The central dilemma is brilliant and the characters spring immediately to life – Jeffrey Lu and his family’s stoic endurance of terrible (superbly understated) prejudice have remained incredibly vivid to me twelve months down the line. Furthermore, the dialogue and description are so incisive that I want to take one page at a time and try to break down exactly how Silvey does it. His writing runs like water – racing and eddying and bubbling and dancing, while Silvey masterfully manipulates its flow and charts its course. If you haven’t read Jasper Jones, and you only have time to read one book for the rest of the year, I strongly suggest that you make it this one.

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An evening with Jodi Picoult and Samantha van Leer

It’s safe to say I am a HUGE Jodi Picoult fan. Her writing style appears effortless, but that is the trick of a master: to move a plot at entertaining speed while still capturing those compelling intricacies found in small moments. What’s more, her subject choices are always gritty and compelling, and her characters complex and real. So it was a real thrill to be in the audience last night when Jodi and her daughter Samantha visited Perth to talk about their new book.

Between the Lines was conceived by Samantha, who had the idea of a fairytale character with a life beyond the book’s pages, and a lonesome teenage girl who wishes this prince was real. Both Jodi and Samantha read excerpts from the book, and talked about what a great time they had writing it together – spending eight hours a day working on it line by line, speaking the story out loud to one another, and aiming for a certain number of pages a session.

In the Q&A afterwards, Jodi named Second Glance as the favourite of her books (because she had a great time researching it, and felt she nailed its complexity). Samantha spoke of her disconcertion as she watched readers devour their book in a few days, after she and Jodi had spent three years working on it. (I remember a similar feeling when Come Back to Me came out – I couldn’t believe people could move on so fast when I’d been absorbed in the story for such a long time!) And Jodi gave her verdict on writer’s block as a writer having too much time on their hands. Just write, she urged. You can edit a bad page but you can’t edit a blank page.

I love this photo! It looks like I just ran in with a cheesy grin while Jodi and Samantha were having their picture taken.

Afterwards it was well worth waiting in the very long line to get my battered old copy of My Sister’s Keeper signed by Jodi, and my brand-new copy of Between the Lines signed by Samantha. Most of all, it was a real buzz to be able to say to Jodi directly, in the few brief moments I was in front of her, that she has been a true inspiration to me. Reading a Picoult book always re-energises me, and makes me aim higher in my own work.

NB: The first book I read by Jodi Picoult was, like many others, My Sister’s Keeper. It was fascinating to find out what she thought of the film, particularly the different ending. I found a blog link where Jodi answers a similar question, and you can read it here: http://filmvsbook.blogspot.com.au/2012/03/jodi-picoult-on-my-sisters-keeper.html

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BOOK LOVE: The Elephant Whisperer by Lawrence Anthony

  “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.

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BOOK LOVE! The books I love to read

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!

New blog, and win a copy of Beneath the Shadows

Jayne at the fabulous Australian Bookshelf site invited me to write a guest blog as part of Aussie August month. There’s also a copy of Beneath the Shadows up for grabs, and all you have to do is leave a comment. Offer ends 31 August. Click here to visit the page, or go to http://australianbookshelf.wordpress.com/

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Perth Writers Festival #2: The death of print?

On Sunday morning I attended a Perth Writers Festival session discussing the future of printed books in this world of rapid, almost rabid, technological change. I was completely engrossed listening to the panel of Geordie Williamson (chief literary critic of the Australian), James Bradley (novelist), Lev Grossman (novelist) and Angela Meyer (writer, Literary Minded blog) as they contributed a wealth of suggestions and observations. There were a few differences of opinion, but one thing was for certain: change is already upon us, whether we are prepared for it or not.

I came away feeling reasonably positive. James Bradley noted that, as happened with the music industry, the restructuring of the book industry would engender a new wave of creativity. Lev Grossman suggested that the new technologies need not mean the death of the old ones, but rather the advent of something ‘more complex and interesting’. And Angela Meyer proposed that the bookstores who prevail will be the ones who create a culture around themselves, such as the Readings chain in Melbourne (which I’m excited to be visiting for the first time next week). Geordie Williamson observed that we may end up seeing a more diverse industry, akin to the way things operated before conglomerate consolidation.

One question raised was whether the enhanced e-book is a good or bad thing – or indeed if it is possible to authentically translate all books into standard or enhanced e-formats.  I loved Lev Grossman’s statement that ‘just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should’ (something that sprang to mind again as I looked longingly at the scones in my local cafe this morning). Geordie Williamson’s related comment, that in our excitement we may begin to see technology as a virtue in itself instead of a tool, also rang bells with me – because my fiction books are written with the aim that I want you to lose yourself in them. I don’t want you to pause to click on words to find out their meaning unless you absolutely have to. I don’t want your e-reader battery life to run out just before the final chapter. I don’t want you to accidentally press the wrong button and find yourself reading a random page. I guess in some ways my novels (and, heaven forbid, me?!) are a little bit old school, so I’m happy I am writing at a time when I can see them in print.

I got home that night and saw on Twitter that the publishers of the Oxford dictionary have conceded there is no point in publishing the printed version any more. From now on it will be online only. I thought of my enormous dictionary in the study, which I frequently don’t bother to haul out, since I can look up a word much faster on the internet. And yet… to flick through page after page of minuscule text and find random words you never knew existed … to be able to feel the English language as a weight in your hands… The loss may not be registered by future generations, but at that moment I began to feel it.

However, on the panel, James Bradley told us that Socrates apparently deplored the coming of the written text as he said we’d no longer have to remember things. It’s a reminder that many fears prove unfounded, and that change, loss and adaptation are part and parcel of life. So while I may get nostalgic for the vanishing worlds of this wonderful business, I’m also looking ahead with optimism and excitement at what may come next, and enjoying being part of it all.

GUEST BLOG: NICOLE ALEXANDER, author of A Changing Land

I’m delighted to welcome Nicole Alexander, author of the bestselling debut novel The Bark Cutters (Bantam 2010), which I had the  true privilege of reading before it was published. Her travel, poetry & genealogy articles have been published in Australia, America and Singapore and her first volume of poetry, Divertissements-Love·War·Society (Kre8 Publishing) was published in 2008. Nicole is the business manager on her family’s rural holding north west of Moree and is a regular contributor to New England Country Living Magazine. A Changing Land, her second novel, has just been published, and is already climbing the charts. Over to Nicole to tell us more:

When I signed my contract with Random House for my rural novel, The Bark Cutters, I hadn’t planned on writing a sequel. I was still getting over the excitement of landing a major publishing contract when the publisher said they would like one. However as the initial contract was for two books I excitedly wrote a one page synopsis and sent it off. Then reality set in. I had twelve months to write it. Twelve months less the editorial process involved in turning The Bark Cutters from manuscript to novel form, twelve months less a month touring for the first novel, less my normal work commitments on the property where I live 110km northwest of Moree in north western NSW.

While the concept of bringing two novels out in quick succession in order to cement your reading audience makes perfect sense from a marketing perspective, from the author’s perspective suddenly your days are measured in terms of how many words you put down on paper: In an hour, a day, a week. Eventually I wrote A Changing Land in eight months. Along the way I suspect I wrote and deleted approximately thirty thousand words, suffered from cramping in my fingers and right hand, developed a healthy fondness for merlot and became acutely conscious of how much faith a publisher must place in a new fiction writer. Publishers invest many hours and thousands of dollars in establishing new authors and I’m sure Random House were holding their collective breaths hoping I wasn’t a one book wonder. So was I!

Luckily they liked A Changing Land. The writing of this novel was made easier as I already knew the world my story was set in. I knew my environment. I can still mentally wander the landscape that is Wangallon and I can draw a mud map in the dirt as to the exact location of the Wangallon homestead, creek, aboriginal camp and river. I could envisualise my characters talking to each other and through them the plot gradually unfolded, a natural progression of the original story. The environment was so real to me I could smell it and I realised how important it is to know your created world even better than your real one, for otherwise how can you make it believeable?

For those of you who have not read The Bark Cutters, A Changing Land is a stand-alone work. You can certainly pick it up and be thrust into the continuing legacy of the Gordons. So for a brief story rundown it is about four generations of a rural family, the Gordons. The work has an interweaving narrative with the story split between 1909 and 1990.

It’s 1909 and Hamish Gordon has a large rural holding built on stock theft. Determined not to bow to his wife Claire’s genteel need for respectability, he embarks on a final stage of land acquisition. His ruthless plan, triggered by an antagonistic English neighbour nearly destroys Wangallon and has serious repercussions eighty years on.

In 1990 after the death of her grandfather and family patriarch Angus, fourth generation Sarah Gordon now runs Wangallon with her fiancé, Anthony. Their relationship begins to deteriorate when a power struggle develops between them, Sarah’s problems escalating with the arrival of her Scottish half-brother. Jim Macken is intent on receiving the thirty percent share of Wangallon bequeathed to him by Angus. Stunned by her grandfather’s will which effectively destroys the family legacy of a strong succession plan, Sarah discovers that Anthony has embarked on a project that will ultimately change the face of the property forever. Unable to buy Jim out and with the possibility of losing one third of Wangallon, Sarah finds herself fighting the law, her half-brother and her beloved Anthony.

Sarah knows she must continue in her forefathers’ footsteps, however has she the same unescapable Gordon qualities that will ensure both her and Wangallon’s survival.

I’m touring NSW/QLD to chat about A Changing Land during March & May (while trying to write book 3!) so please visit www.nicolealexander.com.au for details or contact me through my site. Enjoy!

Thanks for popping by, Nicole, and wishing you the best of luck with your novels.

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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.

 

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Shallow Breath

NEW AUSTRALIAN EDITION

COMING JULY 2017

How far would you go to save someone you love?

Two years ago, Desi Priest made a horrific mistake and destroyed her family.

Now, she is coming home to make amends: to her daughter Maya, who’s nurturing her own dangerous plan; to her brother Jackson, who blames himself; and to her close friend Pete, who has spent years shielding her from a devastating truth.

But as Desi returns to her beloved house by the ocean, there is a stranger waiting for her. Someone who needs her help. Someone whose arrival will reveal a chain of secrets hidden for over twenty years.

And one by one the family will be forced to confront the possibility that they have somehow got things terribly, tragically wrong …

Set across five continents, Shallow Breath is a compelling novel of dashed dreams and second chances. But most of all it is a story about love, and what it really means to be free.

‘Gripping, touching, and close to my heart. I was hooked from start to finish.’

Favel Parrett

Australian ISBN: 978-1925533248

E-book ISBN: 978-1925533255

Available in Australia and New Zealand from this website, and in all good bookstores, including Booktopia, Dymocks and independent retailers.

Shallow Breath by Sara Foster

INTERNATIONAL READERS:

You can find the Kindle international edition of Shallow Breath on all Amazon stores outside Australia (ASIN: BOOCEXVEEW)

If you are overseas and you would like to purchase a print edition, please send a message of enquiry using the Contact form.

Book Group Questions

1. The shoutline of the book is ‘How far would you go to save someone you love?’. How did this resonate for you within the novel?

2. What does the pearl necklace symbolise?

3. Why do you think the author chose to put in one chapter towards the end of the book from Connor’s perspective, when most of the information is found elsewhere or could easily have been added?

4. Discuss Luke’s character and his role within the story.

5. Who was your favourite character? Which characters did you feel the most sympathetic towards, and why?

6. How did you feel about the decisions the characters made towards the end of the book? Are their actions justified? Is it ever okay to do something wrong if it makes something right?

7. ‘The thing that makes you is the thing that breaks you.’ What do you think of Pete’s comment, and how does it apply to the story?

8. Did you like the introduction of a new ‘voice’ in each part? Why do you think the author did this?

9. At the beginning of each part there is a short, italicised section from an unidentified perspective. How do you think these short pieces contribute to the novel? What effect would it have on the story if they were removed?

10. What did you think of the ending? What feelings does this book leave you with?

Reviews

‘Shallow Breath invites breathless anticipation, building towards a shocking climax. It is a really satisfying read.’ www.aussiereviews.com

‘…the steady unveiling of all that lies below the surface is suspenseful, complicated and deeply mired in oceanic metaphors … Foster is a gifted writer who has much to teach us in amongst this intriguing family saga.’ This Charming Mum blog, March 2013

‘a thrilling novel about love and freedom’ Green Lifestyle magazine, Feb/March 2013

‘compelling, emotional and graphic’ 5/5 stars Book Muster Down Under, February 2013

‘Shallow Breath is a beautifully written novel that quite easily draws you in to this somewhat broken family and the fragile relationships that are struggling to knit themselves back together … It further cements Sara Foster as a writer with a real talent for suspense and pacing and the ability to flesh out her novels with characters that are so real you can imagine yourself living next door to them.’ 1Girl2ManyBooks, February 2013

‘… with Western Australian author Sara Foster’s skilled pen, there is a vitality and urgency to the pace of Shallow Breath than catapults the reader right into the heart of the action.’ Australian Women’s Weekly, January 2013

‘set quite uniquely against a fascinating and intelligent backdrop of Australian wildlife and it’s struggle for survival in the modern world’ Australian Women’s Weekly, January 2013

‘…beautifully researched and written with enormous passion … the perfect holiday companion for those wanting to lose themselves in a good story.’ Writing WA review in the West Australian, January 2013

‘The narrative burden shifts between characters, all of whom have winning strengths and credible frailties, and the action emanates from these qualities with effortless suspense and dramatic power…’ Sydney Morning Herald PICK OF THE WEEK, December 2012

‘well-crafted psychological suspense’ Saturday Age PICK OF THE WEEK, December 2012

‘Shallow Breath is a fast-paced read which interweaves drama, intrigue, loss and the fate animals can face at the hands of humans. The author’s clever use of psychological suspense played out in this book reeled me in and delivered the animal conservation message with a powerful punch.’ Port Macquarie News, January 2013

‘SHALLOW BREATH is a modern Australian saga, written by an author who knows how to breathe life into characters. The story reaches through the pages pulling you into its watery depths and when it is over the characters will stay with you as if you’ve connected deeply with new friends.’ An Adventure in Reading, December 2012

‘An engaging novel that is sure to haunt you, this is an absorbing read. Dive into Shallow Breath – you won’t regret it.’ Book’d Out, December 2012

‘…an absorbing novel about the loneliness of secrets and how love yearns to be free of them.’ Canberra Times, December 2012

‘a double whammy of suspense coupled with some nicely nuanced characters…’ Geelong Advertiser, December 2012

‘Foster has such a knack for intrigue and is so engaging with her storytelling…,and this, her third novel – set in her adopted WA – is sharper and more mysterious than ever.’ The West Australian, December 2012

‘another taut, suspenseful read bursting with family secrets and hope…Shallow Breath is one of those books you want to dive into and not come back out of until it’s finished.’ Monique Mulligan, Write Note Reviews

‘a love letter to the ocean’, Bookseller and Publisher, October 2012

‘Gripping, touching and close to my heart. I was hooked from start to finish.’ Favel Parrett

For author interviews and general media, click here