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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: 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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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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Perth Writers Festival 2012

So the festival is over for another year, and what a fantastic few days it was. My only disappointment was that I was so busy preparing for my own events that I didn’t get much chance to attend other sessions. Still, I met some wonderful authors and readers and can’t wait for next year. I’m going to be quiet for a little while now as I am hard at work finishing Shallow Breath. See you in April!

Happy New Year!

So 2012 has arrived, and it’s already looking like an exciting year. I’m looking forward to:

  • finishing my third book, Shallow Breath, getting it into production and telling everybody about it
  • seeing Beneath the Shadows published in America
  • attending the Perth Writers Festival, being involved in discussions and conducting a session on e-marketing
  • starting a brand-new book!

Wishing you all a very happy and healthy 2012 filled with great reading.

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Back from holiday and busy writing

I’m well into novel number 3 now, and looking forward to having a first draft ready early next year. I just spent ten days in Japan where I did a little bit of research as well as taking some family holiday time, but that’s all I’ll say for the moment. I hope to be able to put the synopsis/teaser for book 3 up on site early next year, so watch this space.

Heather Gudenkauf, NYT bestselling author, praises Beneath the Shadows!

I was thrilled to hear that Heather Gudenkauf has read and loved Beneath the Shadows, ahead of its US release early next year. Here’s what she had to say:

Sara Foster’s Beneath the Shadows is a haunting tale of loss and one woman’s search for the truth no matter the consequences. This vividly written novel will leave you breathless and as chilled as the starkly beautiful North Yorkshire moors where this compelling story unfolds.

Heather’s first book, The Weight of Silence, (called Behind the Silence in Australia) was nominated for an Edgar award, and is part of the UK’s The Summer Read. Her latest book, These Things Hidden, was on the February 2011 Indie Next List “Great Reads from Booksellers You Trust”. To find out more visit her website www.heathergudenkauf.com.

Thank you so much, Heather!

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Perth Writers Festival #1: Going… going…

I’ve attended the Perth Writers Festival every year since I arrived in WA back in 2004, and I always seem to forget just how damn inspiring it is – that is, until I’m back in the auditoriums, listening to beautiful, radical, compelling and disturbing ideas, whereupon it all comes rushing back to me. Last year I was caught up with the fact that I had events of my own to participate in – a particularly daunting affair as they were my first public speaking engagements as a ‘published novelist’. Therefore, this weekend it was lovely to sit among the audience and try to take in as much as possible by osmosis – as well as scribbling quotes and thoughts in my notebook too.

I was particularly interested in sessions concerning the natural world. I have found myself becoming increasingly drawn to and protective of untouched landscapes, and I’m fascinated and terrified by the commentary of some front-line thinkers and researchers on the state of the planet. In a session on landscape, Annie Proulx talked about how her surroundings inspire her, saying, ‘there’s something about striding out and looking at far distances that sets the mind on fire’, while Tim Flannery gave the best description of climate change I have ever heard, and I think most others agreed, as he got a major round of applause in the packed Octagon Theatre. In essence he explained that the earth goes through a predictable 100,000-year warming/cooling cycle, but what is happening now is a warming spike caused by man rather than the normal pattern of nature. As a result, the seas are predicted to rise one metre in the next ninety years. If they rise just half of that, then we can expect to see major events such as flooding, which have so far occurred approximately every hundred years, happening every month or up to ten times a month. I repeat: ten times a month. If that isn’t an impetus to look carefully at what we are doing at all levels from superstructure to personal, I don’t know what is.

Later in the day I listened to Tim again, this time with Dorothy Rowe, someone I’ve always admired for her ability to examine and explain the more difficult and disturbing sides of human nature. Her latest book, Why We Lie, looks at why we hide from unpalatable truths, such as the scale of climate change we could be facing. She was marvellous to listen to, and I was very moved by her comment on mourning and grief being the great themes of human literature. ‘If you love other people you will suffer loss. And if you want to avoid loss you will be lonely. To be a human being is to choose between these two.’ It could have been demoralising, but these speakers all talked with open minds, passion, and a brilliant sense of humour, and what came across most in the sessions is that while we can be ambushed by our fears and our feelings of helplessness in the magnitude of the problems we’re faced with, the irrepressible spirit of Hope keeps on finding a way through.

I’ll be writing more about the diverse range of PWF events later in the week, but tomorrow I am delighted to welcome Nicole Alexander, who visits my blog to talk about her new book, A Changing Land.

The month that was… February 2011

DURING FEBRUARY I’VE BEEN…

BUSY WITH… Promotion for Beneath the Shadows. So far I have visited three gorgeous independent bookshops and four libraries proudly supported by Dymocks, and met lots of lovely people. I have only noticed one person nod off briefly during my talks (FTW!), and I think I managed to speak fairly coherently to a brilliant turn-out of 80 at one of my local libraries, Joondalup, on Tuesday night.

THINKING ABOUT… Natural disasters – surely everyone is due for a break right now. My heart goes out to those who has been affected this past month, whether by fires and storms in Perth or the earthquake in Christchurch. I first saw the terrible news from New Zealand on twitter, and it quickly became apparent that it wasn’t a good idea to watch streaming coverage. I’ve been very interested in the subsequent debate about how the media should/shouldn’t report such events, I think it’s a really important issue but a difficult one to resolve. If you are interested, check out these two articles by Jonathan Green on ABC’s The Drum, and the response from Lyndal Curtis on the same site.

READING… I am alternating between Lauren Oliver’s Delirium, and Thich Nhat Hanh’s Peace is Every Step (I’m a big fan of the Buddhist monk/Zen master genre!). I’m also desperate to get back to The Distant Hours by Kate Morton.

WRITING… I’ve been working on an article about London-inspired books and films for the holiday goddess travel book that will be out later this year (www.holidaygoddess.com). It’s been a wonderful piece to research, and as a result I now have an extra-long list of books to read and films to watch.

PLAYING… I’ve been building a lot of towers in my spare time, with an array of multi-coloured blocks. I’m busy trying to teach my daughter to understand that ‘per-pol’ is not the default colour of everything, and loving all the new words she comes out with every day.