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BOOK LOVE: The Church of Dead Girls by Stephen Dobyns

 “If ever there was a tale for a moonless night, a high wind and a creaking floor, this is it … I don’t expect to read a more frightening novel this year.” STEPHEN KING

For decades, the faded, rural upstate New York village of Aurelius has lain dormant – until it is stirred to life when, one by one, three young girls vanish…

Nightmares are turned into horrifying reality when their corpses are found, brutally murdered, each missing their left hand…

As the search for a madman gets underway, suspicion shrouds the quiet streets of Aurelius when its residents soon realize that monster lives amongst them…

I don’t read much in the way of gory crime at the moment, but in the days when I did I thought this book was one of the best. The small town claustrophobia is brilliantly done, the narrator is fascinating, and the whole thing gave me the creeps all the way through. It’s been some years since I read it and I can still remember the chilling last few lines. Don’t read it on your own at night!

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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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BOOK LOVE: Absolute Trust in the Goodness of the Earth by Alice Walker

The forces of nature and the strength of the human spirit inspire the poems in Absolute Trust in the Goodness of the Earth. Alice Walker opens us to feeling and understanding, with poems that cover a broad spectrum of emotions. With profound artistry, Walker searches for, discovers, and declares the fundamental beauty of existence, as she explores what it means to experience life fully, to learn from it, and to grow both as an individual and as part of a greater spiritual community. (www.randomhouse.com)

My love for Alice Walker’s writing began back in 1995 when I wrote about The Colour Purple as part of my dissertation. It remains one of my favourite books of all time. I came across this 2004 publication more recently. I was in the library, supposedly working on my own book, but instead I spent the morning devouring these poems.

I loved the whole book, but would particularly recommend: ‘Coming Back from Seeing Your People’; ‘What Will Save Us’; ‘Thanksgiving’; ‘(Yours and Mine) Is Obsolete’; and ‘You Too Can Look, Smell, Dress, Act This Way’.

I’m in awe of the way Alice Walker can convey panoramic landscapes of emotion within just a few words. She shines an unerring light on the subtle corners of living, revealing that what we consider unimportant might be far more significant than it first appears. Most of all, I love the fact that despite her unflinching consideration of pain and suffering, I always walk away from her writing feeling uplifted.

NB: To read an extract from this book, click here.

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Restful holidays and an unexpected cameo!

Nicky the dolphin at Monkey Mia

Sunset at Monkey Mia

I’ve just returned from a short holiday on the Western Australian coast with my family, where we camped at one of my favourite spots, Monkey Mia. Many people know Monkey Mia for the family of dolphins who come into shore – at 8 am there is usually a crowd of tourists standing ankle-deep in water, marvelling at these friendly cetaceans. However, apart from this daily gathering, it is a quiet place in winter. The water is unbelievably tranquil, as clear as polished glass, and the temperatures are still pleasant. From the water, all you can see is the long stretch of the Peron peninsula, where the sand gradually changes from pale yellow to a vivid ochre. It makes for a perfect, restful break.

This one-of-a-kind place has found its way into part of my upcoming novel, along with Nicky, the matriarch of the shore-visiting dolphins, who makes a very brief cameo appearance. How does Nicky fit into a psychological suspense novel that spans five continents and twenty years? All will be revealed in December, when Shallow Breath is published in Australia!

Beneath the Shadows hits stores in the US and Canada on June 5th

I’m getting more and more excited about the release of Beneath the Shadows in the US and Canada on June 5th, 2012. I’ve already seen some lovely reader reviews from those who have scored advance copies from the publisher, and I’m so happy to be working with a wonderful team at St Martin’s Press, who have done a wonderful job on the book – just check out the beautiful cover for starters. I’m also thrilled to have not one but two New York Times bestselling authors in Heather Gudenkauf and Julia Spencer-Fleming being quoted on the cover. I’ll be writing more in the countdown to release. Meanwhile, a big hello all the way from Western Australia to my American and Canadian readers!

 

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That sinking feeling…and yet…

It doesn’t seem like a very good time to be part of the book publishing business. The industry is in a parlous state of flux – publishers and agents appear stressed and depressed, and many bookshops are struggling. In my local area I have watched two lovely independent bookshops open, flounder, and close in the past couple of years. And as of today, industry knowledge has become public knowledge: Borders and Angus & Robertson are in big trouble too.

E-books are on the up, and they have risen so quickly that when we were negotiating my first publishing deal the e-book portion of it proved a little bit tricky, because we were all still getting to grips with the ramifications of the format. Traditional book formats are expensive at RRP – and many of my readers are happy to tell me they got my book out of the library. I don’t mind this at all (I get some books out of the library too), and writers do earn a little bit from library borrowings. Nevertheless, I made more in my final year of editing than I have done in my last three years of writing combined, and soon I will probably need to supplement my writing with another source of income. 

It seems that for everyone in the book business it’s time to adapt in order to survive. I hope as many as possible make it through to the other side, and that diverse, original, independent booksellers can tough it out against the big discounters. And I hope that all writers, published and those to be published, can ignore this horrible blip in the business and pursue their ideas wholeheartedly, because surely, at some stage, things will settle down, and earning a living this way might get a little easier. In the meantime it’s a pleasure to be part of the book-business community, because I’ve met (or cyber-met) so many superb, supportive people in the last couple of years: booksellers, authors, readers, agents, journalists, salespeople, librarians, editors and publishers. Good luck to every one of you, and here’s to a brighter day tomorrow.

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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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BOOK LOVE: Breath by Tim Winton

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.

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BOOK LOVE: One Day by David Nicholls

Emma and Dexter meet on the night of their graduation. Tomorrow they must go their separate ways. So where will they be on this one day next year? And the year after that? And every year that follows?

This was on my reading list for ages. It took me a little while to get into the characters, but once I did I really enjoyed it, and there were a few laugh-out-loud moments. A compelling exploration of the evolution of a relationship while trying to find one’s way in life beyond the university years – some of it disconcertingly familiar!