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BOOK LOVE: Ferney by James Long

When Mike and Gally Martin move to a cottage in Somerset, it’s to make a new start. But the relationship comes under strain when Gally forms an increasingly close attachment to an old countryman, Ferney, who seems to know everything about her. What is it that draws them together? Reluctantly at first, then with more urgency as he feels time slipping away, Ferney compels Gally to understand their connection – and to face an inexplicable truth about their shared past.

It is great to see Ferney being re-released in the UK. HarperCollins published this book not long before I began working there back in 2000, and I know the publisher felt that it should have had more attention than it got. I read it over ten years ago, and the ending is still particularly vivid. The love story is absolutely original – a forerunner to The Time Traveller’s Wife – with a beautiful English countryside setting. I won’t give any more away, but if you can find it, read it!

NB: There’s also a sequel, called The Lives She Left Behind, which I’ll be looking out for. Check out details for both books, and Sarah Broadhurst’s review, on the lovereading website.

 

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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 Hunger Games trilogy

In the ruins of a place once known as North America lies the nation of Panem, a shining Capitol surrounded by twelve outlying districts. Long ago the districts waged war on the Capitol and were defeated. As part of the surrender terms, each district agreed to send one boy and one girl to appear in an annual televised event called, “The Hunger Games,” a fight to the death on live TV. Sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen, who lives alone with her mother and younger sister, regards it as a death sentence when she is forced to represent her district in the Games. The terrain, rules, and level of audience participation may change but one thing is constant: kill or be killed.

This mega-selling trilogy is down as YA fiction (as is Lauren Oliver’s Delirium, another of my Book Loves), but I definitely want to read more if this is where YA is at these days. I refrained from this series for a while as I thought the premise sounded pretty macabre. And it is, but after a few recommendations from trusted reader friends, I shook off my reservations and I’m glad I did. From the first chapter, I was completely absorbed in Katniss Everdeen’s journey. I’ve obviously got a thing for dystopian fiction – I love their vivid re-imagined worlds, the fast-paced action, and the exploration of control and subversion. I’m obviously not alone. Why do these stories appeal to so many people, and teenagers in particular? Perhaps it is because there is obvious and terrible injustice in the real world as to how powerful people control and manipulate others, and in these books there is an opportunity of redress by an everyday, ordinary person. The story of Katniss Everdeen might belong to a fantastical world, but I found one of its strongest themes was that there is hope to be found even in the most powerless, grotesque and overwhelming situations.

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BOOK LOVE: Am I Black Enough for You? by Anita Heiss

In Am I Black Enough for You, Anita Heiss directly tackles the belittling idea that there is only one identity to be found within a specific cultural or ethnic background. With her trademark humour and razor-sharp insight, Anita gracefully explores her identity as an Aboriginal woman, and the intersecting lines of sameness and difference to the people around her. Through her own story, Anita raises numerous questions great and small as to how we all respond to this idea of ‘otherness’, and makes a succession of hard-hitting, challenging points about the narrow-minded assumptions still embedded in western society, which affect everything from the way that history is taught in schools to assuming Anita has a natural affinity for camping (and I think it’s safe to say she doesn’t!).

Anita also talks about the well-known court case where she and eight other applicants took on Andrew Bolt, who had written an article in the Herald Sun suggesting these women had used their Aboriginality to gain professional advantage. The case was won, but that was not the end of it for Anita. When Am I Black Enough for You? came out in April, I was on lockdown trying to finish my novel, but I didn’t miss what happened next. Anita was attacked on various online sites, with racist and derogatory comments, some of which I had the misfortune to read. What struck me most was the suggestion that with this victory, Anita had somehow denied the notion of free speech, when nothing could be further from the truth. In the promotion of free speech as a universal ideal, there is now, ironically, a platform for slander and misrepresentation on a staggering scale. I’m so glad that Anita and her fellow applicants didn’t allow these assertions to go unchallenged, and that they stood up for who they are and everything they have achieved. The Australian book industry wouldn’t be the same without Anita doing all she can to close gaps of communication and understanding, and telling stories to make us think and make us smile.

Anita writes across a number of genres. To find out more visit http://www.anitaheiss.com/. You can also watch Anita on YouTube talking about Am I Black Enough for you.

 

First reviews of Beneath the Shadows in the US

I’m seeing some lovely reviews of Beneath the Shadows in the US. This from Carole Barrowman at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

‘Foster’s captivating story is steeped in secrets locked in attics and hidden in cellars, good sisters, bad sisters, a ghost, a couple of brooding handsome men and almost as many characters with mother issues as a Sophocles play.’

And from Kirkus:

‘Foster’s second page-turning tale of suspense set on the snow-covered moors has something for everyone:mystery, romance, paranormal activity and mortal danger.’

It’s very exciting watching my book spread its wings a little further!

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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 Midwife’s Confession by Diane Chamberlain

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!)

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BOOK LOVE: The Light Between Oceans By M.L. Stedman

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.