GUEST BLOG: Caroline Baum on judging the Stella Prize

CaroJudging a literary prize is the one thing that no algorithm, no matter how sophisticated, can do. It is an intensely human and subjective endeavour. Now that the winner of this year’s Stella prize has been announced, I can say with complete honesty that this was the hardest prize I have ever judged: partly because of the sheer volume of books that we five judges had to read, in a relatively tight time frame, and partly because the quality of the books made it such a difficult process.

I spent a lot of this summer reading so intensely that on some days, I simply never got dressed. I taped the three criteria to my bedside table -original, excellent and engaging- and repeated them to myself like a mantra whenever I was unsure.

Some books snuck up on me unexpectedly, including a couple I had missed when they came out. One or two had completely failed to appear on my radar, causing me genuine concern: how could it be that I had overlooked them, when my role at Booktopia gives me the opportunity to see everything that’s out there? Answer: I’m human. An algorithm could come up with a formula that suggests what I might like based on previous preferences, but it won’t necessarily spot the book I failed to notice.

Judging for the Stella introduced me to some voices I will now follow with acute and sustained interest: Sofie Laguna and Biff Ward, I await your next books keenly.

As the process and the summer wore on, emails trickled through in the heat, becoming more urgent as deadlines neared. Oh the relief of realising some of my most fervently held enthusiasms were shared!

I thought of what it takes to do this as a kind of fitness, requiring muscle tone like a long distance athletic challenge. You need reading stamina to stay the course as well as lots of uninterrupted time.

When it came to whittling the longlist down to the shortlist, I read all twelve books again to get to six. There was no way round it. The revelations on re-reading were astounding and sometimes conviction-shaking – which just goes to show how much you miss when you are binge-reading, swallowing a book down without digesting it properly.

Our deliberations, when we finally came together on a warm day in Melbourne, were respectful, polite, fair but intense. Navigating towards the shore of consensus, we avoided the rocks of heated argument, all equally keen to avoid boiling it down to the simple, bald maths of a vote.

Being the first cab off the rank in the sequence of the year’s literary prizes is interesting: when the lists appear for prizes like the Miles Franklin it is surprising to see where you overlap and where you don’t.

I think it’s great for the vigour of the culture if one book does not scoop all the prizes, but it was surprising to see that our winner this year was not even longlisted for The Miles Franklin, given that The Strays certainly ticks the box when it comes to the vexed criterion of depicting an aspect of Australian life.

If Joan London wins it for The Golden Age, that would mean a pair of prestigious wins by two fine women writers who use language with similar precision, delicacy and maturity, despite the fact that one is making her debut, and the other is arguably one of our finest midcareer novelists. Both books about outsiders with heightened sensibilities, and which bring a fresh perspective to complex aspects of our past.

Caroline Baum is Booktopia’s Editorial Director, for which she produces The Booktopia Buzz. She also writes for the Sydney Morning Herald, Qantas in flight magazine, Slow Magazine, SBS Feast and other publications about books, food, travel, the arts, and aspects of contemporary life.

230914carolinebaumbuzzheader616+x123Check out Caroline’s Books of the Month in The Booktopia Buzz

BOOK REVIEW: All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven (Review by Shikha Shah)

Looking for the winners of our Facebook competition? Scroll to the bottom of the post…

All the Bright Places is a heartbreaking and touching novel exploring a wide range of issues such as depression, mental disorders, suicide, coping with the loss of a loved one and finding hope.

The book begins with Theodore Finch – an outsider with his own unique brand of coolness –standing on his high school’s bell tower asking himself “Is today a good day to die?”. He then gets distracted by the sight of Violet Markey – a popular girl who seems to have everything – standing on the other side of the bell tower. Finch proceeds to calmly convince Violet to step off the edge and so begins a complicated relationship that will change both their lives.

Violet and Finch come across each other under extreme circumstances and they are both broken in their own way. Finch helps Violet fight her inner demons and her guilt over her sister’s death. He encourages her to experience new things and see new places, helping Violet to find herself again. Unfortunately, Violet struggles to helps Finch in the same way.

This is not a typical boy-meets-girl love story about overcoming all obstacles to live happily-ever-after. Instead, this book delves into deeper real-life issues. All the Bright Places takes readers on a tragic journey as Violet and Finch each fight their own battle against depression. It also deals with the aftermath of what happens when someone cannot be helped…

If you enjoyed reading Solitaire by Alice Osmon as much as I did and The Last time we say Goodbye by Cynthia Hand, then this novel is a must-read. A little warning to readers – have a tissue box handy as this novel will probably going to make you cry like a baby.

Grab a copy of All the Bright Places here


all-the-bright-placesAll the Bright Places

by Jennifer Niven

Theodore Finch wants to take his own life. I’m broken, and no one can fix it.

Violet Markey us devastated by her sister’s death. In that instant we went plowing through the guardrail, my words died too.

They meet on the ledge of the school bell tower, and so their story begins. It’s only together they can be themselves . . .

I send a message to Violet: ‘You are all the colors in one, at full brightness.’

You’re so weird, Finch. But that’s the nicest thing anyone’s ever said to me.

But, as Violet’s world grows, Finch’s begins to shrink. How far will Violet go to save the boy she has come to love?

About the Author

Jennifer Niven is the author of two narrative non-fiction books, The Ice Master and Ada Blackjack; a high school memoir, The Aqua Net Diaries; and four historical novels for adults: Velva Jean Learns to Drive (based on her Emmy Award-winning film of the same name), Velva Jean Learns to Fly, Becoming Clementine, and the forthcoming American Blonde. All the Bright Places is her first book for young adults.

Grab a copy of All the Bright Places here


FACEBOOK COMPETITION WINNERS

Congratulations to Jessica Gilham, Marie Davis, Barbara Clapperton, Julie Clark and Adey McKinney!

Email us at promos@booktopia.com.au with your address details to claim your prize!

BREAKING NEWS: 2015 NSW Premier’s Literary Awards Shortlists Announced

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The shortlists for this year’s NSW Premier’s Literary Awards have been announced, featuring some of Australia’s most celebrated writers and young up and comers.

How many have you read?

CHRISTINA STEAD PRIZE FOR FICTION

* Ceridwen Dovey – Only the Animals golden-boys(More…)

* Elizabeth Harrower In Certain Circles (More…)

* Sonya Hartnett – Golden Boys (More…)

* Mark Henshaw – The Snow Kimono (More…)

* Joan London – The Golden Age (More…)

* Gerald Murnane – A Million Windows (More…)

UTS GLENDA ADAMS AWARD FOR NEW WRITING

* Michael Mohammed Ahmad – The Tribe (More…)9781922213211

* Maxine Beneba Clarke – Foreign Soil (More…)

* Emily Bitto – The Strays (More…)

* Luke Carman – An Elegant Young Man (More…)

* Omar Musa – Here Come the Dogs (More…)

* Ellen van Neerven – Heat and Light (More…)

DOUGLAS STEWART PRIZE FOR NON-FICTION

* Alan Atkinson – The Europeans in Australia (More…)the-bush

* Philip Dwyer – Citizen Emperor: Napoleon in Power 1799 ‐ 1815 (More…)

* Helen Garner – This House of Grief (More…)

* Iain McCalman – The Reef: A Passionate History (More…)

* Biff Ward – In My Mother’s Hands (More…)

* Don Watson – The Bush (More…)

PATRICIA WRIGHTSON PRIZE FOR CHILDREN’S LITERATURE

* Allan Baillie – The First Voyage (More…)9780143307679

* Trace Balla – Rivertime (More…)

* Tamsin Janu – Figgy in the World (More…)

* Glenda Millard, Stephen Michael King (Illustrator) – The Duck and the Darklings (More…)

* Catherine Norton – Crossing (More…)

* James O’Loghlin – The Adventures of Sir Roderick, the Not-Very Brave (More…)

ETHEL TURNER PRIZE FOR YOUNG ADULT’S LITERATURE

* K.A. Barker – The Book of Days (More…)9781742614175

* Jackie French – The Road to Gundagai (More…)

* Darren Groth – Are You Seeing Me? (More…)

* Justine Larb alestier – Razorhurst (More…)

* Jaclyn Moriarty – The Cracks in the Kingdom (More…)

* Clare Strahan – Cracked (More…)

 

Love reading about History and War? We have 2 prize packs up for grabs!

In the lead-up to Anzac Day we’re giving away two amazing prize packs, perfect for history buffs.

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Like to sit back and listen, order from The Bolinda Anzac Day collection by April 30th and go in the draw to win a Bolinda Audio Book pack, worth $224! *Terms and Conditions apply.

1914-order-now-for-your-chance-to-win-1914 : The Year the World Ended – Re Issue

Author: Paul Ham
Read by: Robert Meldrum

Few years can justly be said to have transformed the earth: 1914 did.

In July that year, Germany, Austria-Hungary, Russia, Britain and France were poised to plunge the world into a war that would kill or wound 37 million people, tear down the fabric of society, uproot ancient political systems and set the course for the bloodiest century in human history.

In the longer run, the events of 1914 set the world on the path toward the more…

Click here to check out The Bolinda Anzac Day Collection

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the-anzacs-100-years-on-order-now-for-your-chance-to-win-The Anzacs 100 Years On : In Story and Song

by Ted Egan

Order The Anzacs 100 Years On by April 30th and go in the draw to win the entire Dennis Jones Anzac collection, worth RRP $1000! *Terms and Conditions apply.

The Anzacs: 100 Years On: In Story and Song is a unique contribution to the commemoration of the centenary of the Anzacs. Ted Egan weaves personal stories and songs into a highly readable history of the Anzacs and the two nations, with amusing anecdotes and tales of great courage and ingenuity serving to leaven somewhat the brutal truth exposed, of a tragic and senseless war. The soldiers, nurses, politicians, wives, and the mothers who lost their sons, or welcomed them home severely damaged, all feature in this book and its songs.

Egan’s stories and poignant songs infuse the facts with the pain and loss (of life and innocence) and suffering that this war created both on the battlefields and in every more…

Grab a copy of The Anzacs 100 Years On here


We have more prizes to giveaway! You could win an awesome Mother’s Day gift. Check them out here.

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GUEST BLOG: Five Things I Learnt From Editing Mothermorphosis (by Monica Dux)

The importance of valuing the hard work of writers.

The effort that goes into good short form writing is frequently undervalued. People often imagine that all it takes is for someone to come up with an idea, sit down and type out an essay, run a spell check, then deliver their work.

Of course writing a strong essay is so much more than this; for most of us it’s a long and arduous process, from conception to execution, involving an enormous amount of thought, re-writing, re-thinking, editing and polishing. The net result of all this labour is to submerge the effort that was required, making the finished piece read as if it really was easy and effortless.

All the writers who contributed to this collection were professional, and the quality of work reveals how much time and thought they put into their pieces. This is a collection that relied on the good will of its contributors, so I was profoundly grateful for their efforts.

That every mother really does have an important story to tell.

Susan Carland, one of the contributors in Mothermorphosis, wrote in her essay “My unique tale is just the same as yours”.

In the past I’ve thought a lot about this tension, but it became more pronounced for me when reading the contributions. Every mother has her own unique story to tell, but there are also so many things that bind us all, so much that is universal. It’s a fascinating contradiction.

As an editor, it’s amazing how good a prompt, polite decline can make you feel.

There were a few women I invited to contribute to this book who weren’t able to write something for the collection but who declined the offer quickly and graciously. Getting such rejections felt almost as valuable as having a writer come back saying they’d be happy to contribute.

I’m often invited to participate in projects that I don’t have the time or resources for. Editing Mothermorphosis was a timely reminder about the importance of being polite and positive about such offers, even if you are unable to be involved.

Editing is fun.

I thoroughly enjoyed putting the collection together. Instead of having to angst over my own work, I was able to luxuriate in the excellent work of other writers.

It was a real privilege facilitating this book, especially knowing that we are hoping to raise awareness for PANDA, the Post and Antenatal Depression Association. I feel that not only will the collection be enjoyed by many people, but it also has the potential to contribute to an organisation for which I have immense admiration.

That it’s hard to write an introduction for a collection that you’ve edited.

It took me a long time to get my introduction right. When you’re a contributor you can follow your own path, writing in relative isolation. By comparison, introducing a collection requires you to strike a peculiar sort of balance. To be interesting and engaging, without dominating. To showcase the individual essays in the collection, without simply name checking the various contributors. To write something that contextualises the work and draws out the underlying themes, without resorting to empty generalisations. In the end I hope I managed to pull it off, although I’ll leave it to the readers to decide!

Grab a copy of Mothermorphosis here

——————————–

mduxmug-edit-smaller1Monica Dux is a columnist with The Age, a social commentator and author of Things I Didn’t Expect (when I was expecting), and co-author of The Great Feminist Denial.

She can be heard regularly on ABC radio and 3RRR, and has published widely, especially on women’s issues.

You can find Monica on twitter at @monicadux

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mothermorphosisMothermorphosis

Australia’s Best Storytellers Write About Becoming a Mother

In Mothermorphosis , some of Australia’s most talented writers and storytellers share their own experiences of motherhood. In telling their stories they articulate the complex internal conflicts, the exhilaration and the absurdity of the transformation that takes place when we become mothers. We read about the yearning for a child, the private and public expressions of maternal love, the questioning, uncertainty and unexpected delight, as well as unfathomable loss.

Mothermorphosis reveals that there is no ‘right’ version of this epic experience and no single tale that could ever speak for all mothers. Yet it is in reading about other women’s experiences and dash;the hard bits, the joyous bits and even the ridiculous bitsandmdash;that we can become more compassionate, not just to other mothers but hopefully to ourselves.

Mothermorphosis includes writing from: Kate Holden, Kathy Lette, Lorelei Vashti, Rebecca Huntley, George McEnroe, Fatima Measham, Jo Case, Hilary Harper, Cordelia Fine, Jane Caro, Hannah Robert, Susan Carland, Kerri Sackville, Catherine Deveny, Lee Kofman and Dee Madigan.

Grab a copy of Mothermorphosis here

Author Josephine Moon talks about her favourite chocolate recipe!

My favourite chocolate recipe: chocolate beetroot cake…

This recipe comes from The Saffron Girl.

10947253_422641974566135_8175922899149544241_oI talk about chocolate a lot. I think about it a lot. And, yes, I even eat it a lot. But what I’ve learned while doing research for The Chocolate Promise, is that you need to know how to eat it in order to get all the great health benefits without all the fat and sugar nastiness that comes with so much of the commercial confectionary on the market.

In this recipe, I take two of my favourite foods—chocolate and cake—add some awesome beetroot and get a delicious, healthy indulgence.

But before we get to the recipe, let’s take a quick look at where chocolate comes from.

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This is a fruit pod from Theobroma Cacao. Inside the pod are flesh-covered beans, and inside the beans are the cacao nibs. And that’s from where we derive cacao, which is fermented, dried and roasted, and artisans then combine it in varying quantities with cocoa butter, some sort of sweetener, and perhaps vanilla or other flavours.
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In its most natural state, cacao is ridiculously good for you, containing a plethora of vitamins, minerals, enzymes and a whopping great load of antioxidants—twice those found in red wine and three times that of green tea.

The problem is that most of what we know as ‘chocolate’ is really just cocoa-flavoured fat and sugar. Bummer! To get the absolute best out of chocolate, you need be consuming high-quality fare of at least 70% cacao.

Better yet, just do what I like to do and put raw cacao powder in whatever you can manage! Smoothies, goodie balls, cakes… go for it!

DSC_0001
So, here is my chocolate beetroot cake. In the first picture, it is still in the making while in the food processor. Look how amazingly red it is! You know it’s good for you when it’s naturally red. Just like tomatoes and red wine, beetroot is full of fantastic cancer-fighting properties because of that red colour.

Red beetroot + chocolate = awesome!

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And here it is out on a plate, with a sprinkle of coconut and a sprig of lavender (because lavender is my thing—seriously, I will put it in everything given half the chance).

My tips for this recipe:

Measure the beetroot accurately (otherwise it can turn out runny if you use too much) and watch it carefully as it’s baking. Anytime I’ve made it, it needs much longer in the oven than the recipe suggests. Every oven is different so use your best judgment.

Also, it goes really well with coconut milk yoghurt and grated dark chocolate on top for decoration.

Enjoy!

Ingredients

•    3 cups of grated, cooked beetroots
•    4 eggs
•    1/2 cup olive oil
•    1/2 cup raw honey
•    1 tablespoon vanilla extract
•    1 teaspoon baking soda
•    1/2 teaspoon sea salt
•    1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
•    1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
•    1/2 cup raw 100% cacao powder
•    1/3 cup coconut flour (for a slightly fluffier and dryer cake, use 1/2 cup coconut flour)*

Process

1    Preheat oven to 170C (350F).
2    In a food processor or blender, beat the beetroots, eggs and olive oil.
3    Add the honey, vanilla extract, baking soda, sea salt and spices. Blend well.
4    Add the cacao powder and coconut flour and mix until well incorporated.
5    Pour into a greased cake pan of choice. I used a 9-inch diameter tart pan.
6    Bake for 35-45 minutes, or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean.
7    Cool completely before cutting and serving. Garnish as desired.


MoonThe Chocolate Promise

by Josephine Moon

For a limited time only, order a copy of The Chocolate Promise and get a free copy of My Little Chocolate Book. *Please note: offer available while stocks last and limit one free copy per order.

From Tasmania to Paris and beyond, an enchanting story of the proprietor of a specialist chocolate shop who must learn that some rules are meant to be broken – this real-life fairy godmother must learn to find her own magic. The new novel for readers who love Cathy Kelly and Monica McInerney from the bestselling author of The Tea Chest.

Christmas Livingstone has ten rules for happiness, the most important of which is ‘absolutely no romantic relationships’.

In The Chocolate Apothecary, her more…

Grab a copy of The Chocolate Promise here

Order Testament of Youth and receive a double pass to see it in Cinemas!

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In celebration of the release of Testament of Youth, which has been described by the Evening Standard as “Stunningly good…desperately moving”,  we are giving you a free double pass to see the film when you order a copy of the book.

Synopsis: Testament of Youth is a powerful story of love, war and remembrance, based on the First World War memoir by Vera Brittain, which has become the classic testimony of that war from a woman’s point of view. A searing journey from youthful hopes and dreams to the edge of despair and back again, it’s a film about young love, the futility of war and how to make sense of the darkest times.

Order Testament of Youth and receive a free double pass to see this breathtaking film on the big screen.


testament-of-youth-order-this-book-receive-a-free-double-pass-Testament of Youth

by Vera Brittain

A film tie-in edition of Vera Brittain’s classic autobiography, published to coincide with the major motion picture adaptation starring Dominic West, Emily Watson, Colin Morgan and Kit Harington.

In 1914 Vera Brittain was eighteen and, as war was declared, she was preparing to study at Oxford. Four years later her life – and the life of her whole generation – had changed in a way that was unimaginable in the tranquil pre-war era. Testament of Youth, one of the most famous autobiographies of the First World War, is Brittain’s account of how she survived the period; how she lost the more…

Grab a copy of Testament of Youth here


Vera Brittain (1893-1970) grew up in the north of England. At the end of the war she moved to Oxford where she met Winifred Holtby, author of South Riding. poet-brittain.

EXCLUSIVE VIDEO: The 2015 Vogel’s Literary Award winner Murray Middleton in conversation with John Purcell

Melbourne author Murray Middleton was announced the winner of the coveted Vogel’s Literary Award on Monday night for his exquisite short story collection When There’s Nowhere Else To Run.

The award, which offers publication by Allen & Unwin and $20,000 prize money, has been the launching pad for some of Australia’s most successful writers including Tim Winton, Kate Grenville and Gillian Mears.

We were spoiled with a visit from Murray to chat about his win and sign copies of his breathtaking debut. Check out the video below.

 

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When There’s Nowhere Else to Run – Vogel Winner 2015

by Murray Middleton

For a limited time only, order When There’s Nowhere Else to Run and you will receive a signed copy. *Offer available while stocks last.

The winner of the 2015 Australian/Vogel’s Literary Award.

‘Masterfully controlled … lingers long in the memory.’ Rohan Wilson, author of The Roving Party and To Name Those Lost.

In one way or another, isn’t everyone on the run?

A survivor of Victoria’s Black Saturday bushfires takes asylum with old friends in the Dandenong Ranges. An editor-in-chief drives his sister halfway around the country to an east-coast rehabilitation clinic. A single mother flies to Perth with her autistic son for one last holiday. A father at the end of his tether tries to survive the chaos of the Sydney Royal Easter Show. A group of young friends hire a luxury beach house in the final weeks of one of their lives. A postman hits a pedestrian and drives off into the night.

When There’s Nowhere Else to Run is a collection of stories about people who find their lives unravelling. They are teachers, lawyers, nurses, firemen, chefs, gamblers, war veterans, hard drinkers, adulterers, widows and romantics. Seeking more…

Grab a copy of When There’s Nowhere Else to Run here


middleton-200x0Murray Middleton was born with fractured hips in 1983. He spent the first three months of his life in plaster and has broken most bones since. He won The Age Short Story Award in 2010 with ‘The Fields of Early Sorrow’. When There’s Nowhere Else to Run is his first published collection of short stories. He currently lives in Melbourne and won’t publish a second collection of stories until the Saints win a second premiership.

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