BOOK REVIEW: The Bit in Between by Claire Varley (Review by Andrew Cattanach)

Andrew Cattanach finds plenty beneath the surface of local author Claire Varley’s debut The Bit in Between

the-bit-in-betweenIn The Bit in Between, Claire Varley explores the trials and tribulations of the talented and tortured young writer Oliver, as his ambitious prospective writing retreat is turned upside down by the enigmatic Alison, who enters his world in the most spectacular, stomach churning of ways.

It’s always a treat when a book surprises you, but rarely are you surprised by what you’re surprised by in a book that surprises you. Surprising way to start a review?

Well, blame Claire Varley’s The Bit in Between. It’s not your average book.

You see, I knew it was going to be well written, even before I’d read Varley’s recent answers to our Ten Terrifying Questions (they’re pretty amazing). I had heard from some astute folks within the book industry that this was something special, and sure enough it was.

I also knew what to expect, with early noise about it being the Australian equivalent David Nicholl’s One Day being dead on. The writing is sharp, the characters witty and the story is alive in an assured, pacey manner that belies the author’s relative inexperience in long form fiction.

What surprised me about what surprised me about The Bit in Between was the changing trajectory of the novel, what it strode for, what story it told. Rarely do you finish a relatively mainstream novel, love it, yet still turn to someone and say, can you read this and tell me what you think? Is it a love story? Is it a story of loss? Is it cutting travel writing? Is it a meditation on self discovery? Is it a love letter to the writing life?

The truth is that it’s all these things and more. This is the first glimpse of an exciting new local talent, equal parts accessible, ambitious, fun and challenging.

One Day was good, and had its moments, although it never resonated with me like The Bit in Between did. Perhaps it’s the local flavour, perhaps it’s the nods to the art of writing, but I’ll take The Bit in Between every day.

Grab your copy of Claire Varley’s The Bit in Between here

the-bit-in-betweenThe Bit in Between

by Claire Varley

Writing a love story is a lot easier than living one.

There are seven billion people in the world. This is the story of two of them.

After an unfortunate incident in an airport lounge involving an immovable customs officer, a full jar of sun-dried tomatoes, quite a lot of vomit, and the capricious hand of fate, Oliver meets Alison. In spite of this less than romantic start, Oliver falls in love with her.

Immediately. Inexplicably. Irrevocably.

With no other place to be, Alison follows Oliver to the Solomon Islands where he is planning to write his much-anticipated second novel. But as Oliver’s story begins to take shape, odd things start to happen and he senses there may be more hinging on his novel than the burden of expectation. As he gets deeper into the manuscript and Alison moves further away from him, Oliver finds himself clinging to a narrative that may not end with; happily ever after.

Grab your copy of Claire Varley’s The Bit in Between here

Claire Varley, author of The Bit in Between, answers Ten Terrifying Questions

The Booktopia Book Guru asks

Claire Varley

author of The Bit in Between

Ten Terrifying Questions
____________

1. To begin with why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself – where were you born? Raised? Schooled?

Born in Geelong, raised on the Bellarine Peninsula and schooled in the art of wit and one-liners that don’t quite deliver. Geelong is great; it is a pilot city of the NDIS and directly elected mayors, and when I was growing up it had a zedonk farm.

2. What did you want to be when you were twelve, eighteen and thirty? And why?

When I was twelve I wanted to be fourteen because that’s how old the babysitters of the Babysitter’s Club were. In my head fourteen was a magical age when you were given responsibilities beyond your years and did exciting things like solve pet-napping mysteries and move to California when your parents got divorced and your dad remarried a younger woman named Carol.

When I was eighteen I wanted to be someone who lived in a house with heating because I spent my winter wandering around my sharehouse wearing a doona-muu-muu and feeling sad that I had dragon breath inside the house. But I acknowledged that alongside drowning with a book of Keats’ poems in your pocket, such is the life of a would-be writer.

I am currently 29 and hope, at thirty, to be a) still alive, b) wiser and c) David Sedaris.

Author: Claire Varley

3. What strongly held belief did you have at eighteen that you do not have now?

That living in a house with heating meant I had made it.

Also, that skirts and dresses would never be a part of my wardrobe. For some reason my brothers and I have a thing about always dressing in a way that is conducive to suddenly having to run away from something. It’s as if we were conditioned from childhood for an imminent zombie apocalypse. Now, having realised I am not particularly agile or swift, I wear skirts a lot more.

4. What were three works of art – book or painting or piece of music, etc – you can now say, had a great effect on you and influenced your own development as a writer?

Terry Pratchett taught me that laughter is the best teacher of both compassion and sadness. I revisit Under Milk Wood by Dylan Thomas every year to remind myself what perfection is. And Solveig’s Song by Edvard Grieg is my go to song for when I need to remember the value of stillness and silence within my work. And when I need the confidence to kill my darlings.

5. Considering the innumerable artistic avenues open to you, why did you choose to write a novel? 

Because I legitimately have no talent in any other field. See self-portrait below.

sg

6. Please tell us about your latest novel…

The Bit In Between is my debut novel. It’s an awkward love story about Oliver and Alison, two young Australians, who have landed in the Solomon Islands looking for their truths. Oliver is writing his second novel and as they settle into island life coincidences start to happen that make him question how much life is influencing his book, and vice versa.

Grab a copy of Claire’s new book The Bit in Between here

7. What do you hope people take away with them after reading your work?

At its heart it is a story of people, love, life, the paths we choose, and those we don’t. I hope it makes people laugh, then cry, then laugh again and feel guilty for laughing so soon after they cried. As David Foster Wallace said, ‘good writing helps readers become less alone inside’, and I do so hope it does this.

8. Whom do you most admire in the realm of writing and why?

When I sit down at my computer I say to myself, ‘pretend you are the love child of Zadie Smith and Steve Toltz and you have been given the task to write!’ Zadie Smith’s ability to capture people is breathtaking and in A Fraction of the Whole Steve Toltz, to me, created the perfect novel. And reading the first page of Under Milk Wood makes me rage against the genius of Dylan Thomas’s mastery of language.

9. Many artists set themselves very ambitious goals. What are yours?

My bar is so low – see aforementioned home heating goal. Obviously I would like total global literary domination and to see a statue of myself erected outside the Westfield in Geelong in the manner of Hans Christian Anderson in Central Park, but in lieu of this, I’d be perfectly happy to continue to have opportunities to tell stories that make people happy, sad and content.

10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?

Read books, buy books, love books and never let anyone tell you to stop buying them because you have too many and the house has become a firetrap.

Write lots – for others and for yourself – because like any skill you need to practice.

When people tell you that no one makes a living from writing anymore, point out that no one has ever really made a living from writing, then go home, put on your doona-muu-muu and write until your heart sings.

Claire, thank you for playing.

Grab a copy of The Bit in Between here


The Bit in Between

by Claire Varley

Writing a love story is a lot easier than living one.

There are seven billion people in the world. This is the story of two of them.

After an unfortunate incident in an airport lounge involving an immovable customs officer, a full jar of sun-dried tomatoes, quite a lot of vomit, and the capricious hand of fate, Oliver meets Alison. In spite of this less than romantic start, Oliver falls in love with her.

Immediately. Inexplicably. Irrevocably.

With no other place to be, Alison follows Oliver to the Solomon Islands where he is planning to write his much-anticipated second novel. But as Oliver’s story begins to take shape, odd things start to happen and he senses there may be more hinging on his novel than the burden of expectation. As he gets deeper into the manuscript and Alison moves further away from him, Oliver finds himself clinging to a narrative that may not end with; happily ever after.

About the Author

Claire Varley grew up on the Bellarine Peninsula and lives in Melbourne. She has sold blueberries, worked in a haunted cinema, won an encouragement award for being terrible at telemarketing, taught English in rural China, and coordinated community development projects in remote Solomon Islands.

Her short stories and poems have appeared in Australian Love Stories (‘A Greek Tragedy’), Australian Love Poems (‘Beatitude’), Seizure online (‘Poll’, ‘Hallow’), page seventeen (‘Once’, ‘Hamlet, Remus and Two Guys Named Steve’), Sotto (‘in the name of’) and [Untitled] (‘The Nicholas Name’, ‘Behind Tram Lines’). The Bit In Between is her first novel.

 Grab a copy of The Bit in Between here

Comic Books: Where to start?

Guest Blogger Jeremy Vine answers the ago old question posed by comic book newbies

It’s a question that gets asked a lot by newcomers to comics. Some characters, like Batman and Superman, have been getting published every month for the last seventy five years. These aren’t really stories where you can just start at the beginning and read through to the end – there’s too much. That kind of history can be incredibly daunting to a new fan. So where do you begin?

The best answer is; where do you want to begin?

harley-quinn-volume-1-hot-in-the-cityComics were originally something that could be bought at every newsstand and rarely had a story that lasted more than an issue. Even today, with epic story arcs and massive multi-title crossovers, there’s still a strong element of the original stand alone nature. For the most part, you can enter at any point in the story and a character will exposit what has already happened. But this can still be a little overwhelming and confusing, like catching only the last two-thirds of a film. Fortunately, there is a much simpler (and more enjoyable) way.

Ask yourself; who’s your favourite character? For this example we’re going to use Harley Quinn (because of reasons), but the ideas can apply to any character. The best thing to do is start with the most recent book featuring that character – you’ll get a good idea of what the character is like when they’re the main focus of a book rather than a supporting character in someone else’s. In this case, it’s Harley Quinn vol. 1: Hot in the City. Did you enjoy that? Awesome! You can try the next one, Harley Quinn vol. 2. But you could also go back and try out some of the classic run, like Preludes & Knock Knock Jokes. It’s a different sort of book, but you get more of the character you love! Or maybe, you really enjoyed the writing style and want to see what else that writer has done. A quick trip to Wikipedia tells you that the author also wrote All-Star Western (hyperlink) – why not give that a try too?

This is a great technique for finding new characters to read about and different styles you might like. It’s also a good way to enter the world of comics. You can read as much or as little as you like just by only sticking with the characters you enjoy. Generally if something is vital to a story, it will be explained, but you can also find out where it occurred and read about it yourself if you want.

———————————————————-

Jeremy Vine has been hooked on comics since he taught himself to read with the help of Asterix and Tintin. When not dressing up in costumes and attending pop culture conventions, he is an account manager for Penguin Random House Australia.

More of his thoughts on comics and superheroes in general can be found on the Comics Watchtower Facebook page or at his Twitter account @salesreplyfe

Eleanor Limprecht, author of Long Bay, answers Ten Terrifying Questions

long-bay

The Booktopia Book Guru asks

Eleanor Limprecht

author of Long Bay

Ten Terrifying Questions
____________

1. To begin with why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself – where were you born? Raised? Schooled?

I was born in Washington DC in the United States. My dad worked as a Foreign Service Officer in the State Department so we lived overseas (in Germany and Pakistan) and in Virginia – never anywhere for more than four years at a time. I went to university at Virginia Tech while my parents were posted to Uzbekistan. I moved to Australia when I was 24 after falling in love with an Australian I met in Italy. Later I returned to university in Australia to get my Masters and recently my Doctorate of Creative Arts in writing from UTS.

2. What did you want to be when you were twelve, eighteen and thirty? And why?

When I was 12 I wanted to be a veterinarian. I loved animals so much that I stopped eating meat at the age of twelve (after a few years of nagging my parents). I couldn’t imagine a better job than one in which I’d get to interact with animals constantly. Of course I didn’t think about the fact that I would have to deal with blood, disease, and pet owners as well.

When I was 18 I wanted to be a park ranger. I was studying Wildlife Sciences at university. I transferred to English Literature after a few months – it only took one semester for me to realise that I would have to be proficient in science in order to major in Wildlife Science….

When I was 30 I wanted to be an author. I had been a journalist and I wanted to write fiction, because it is what I have always loved to read. I had been working on my first novel manuscript for a few years (while freelancing and giving birth to my first child). I worked on it for a few more years and it is still in a drawer. Luckily my second novel was published – What Was Left. It is the story of a woman who, after giving birth, struggles with postnatal depression and leaves her family in a search for her own father, who left when she was a child.

June-2014-26-13. What strongly held belief did you have at eighteen that you do not have now?

I believed that good and evil are easily defined – easily delineated. I believed you could avoid causing suffering in the world – this was why I was a vegetarian and an animal rights activist. Now I think that there are so many grey areas, no one is immune from causing suffering, and I am far less judgmental. I think that this is something literature taught me – for every person who does some terrible thing – delve enough into their past and into their world and you can come to understand why they have done it.

4. What were three works of art – book or painting or piece of music, etc – you can now say, had a great effect on you and influenced your own development as a writer?

Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. This book to me was about the power of paying attention – noticing the world around us – and how much darkness and death are as intrinsic as life and light. This book taught me there is as much beauty in death as there is in life. She writes: “…the world is actual and fringed, pierced here and there, and through and through, with the toothed conditions of time and the mysterious, coiled spring of death.” It’s a stunning book.

Joseph Cornell’s boxes. I love these assemblages and the miniature worlds they evoke, the sense of nostalgia and fragmentation that you get by juxtaposing strange things.

Charley Pride singing “Is Anybody going to San Antone” – my dad loved old country music and had this on a record compilation. I listened to it non-stop when I was about seven. I knew all of the words by heart. I was an unusual kid. What it taught me is the way just a few words can tell a heartbreaking story – and the way an image can evoke emotion. Here are the first two stanzas:

Rain dripping off the brim of my hat
It sure is cold today
Here I am walking down 66
Wish she hadn’t done me that way.

Sleeping under a table in a roadside park
A man could wake up dead
But it sure seems warmer than it did
Sleeping in our king sized bed.

5. Considering the innumerable artistic avenues open to you, why did you choose to write a novel? 

Because I express myself best through writing. I become tongue-tied and self-conscious when trying to speak. I love music but I am not musically trained, and visual arts inspire me, but literature is the language I speak. I find fiction to be the natural home of truth. George Eliot said “Art is the nearest thing to life” and to me that art is the art of the novel. I love nothing more than to lose myself in a novel. I love the way it makes me look at my own life in a new light.

long-bay6. Please tell us about your latest novel…

Set in Sydney in the first decade of the 1900s, Long Bay is based on the true case of a young female abortionist who was convicted of manslaughter and served out her sentence in the newly opened Long Bay Women’s Reformatory – the first of its kind in Australia. The woman, Rebecca Sinclair, was pregnant when she went to prison.

Long Bay looks at how Rebecca became involved in the burgeoning illegal abortion racket in Edwardian-era Sydney and how she was drawn into this underworld. In unadorned prose, it examines the limiting effects of poverty, the mistakes we make for love, and the bond between mother and child.

Grab a copy of Eleanor’s new book Long Bay here

7. What do you hope people take away with them after reading your work?

I hope they are able to imagine a little more clearly what it was like to live in Edwardian Sydney as a woman of the working class, and why you might make choices which now we judge harshly. I hope people reflect on the novel in relation to contemporary life as well. I also want my readers to come away as well with a sense of hope – of possibility. I like dark subjects but I am still an optimist. I have a particular weakness for love stories.

the-poisonwood-bible8. Whom do you most admire in the realm of writing and why?

Barbara Kingsolver. She manages to be a supremely skilled writer but also someone who is concerned about the planet and food sources and social justice. Somehow she does this without preaching. She just shows it in her writing, through her intensely identifiable characters and her believable plots. But there are so many other writers I admire as well: Anne Enright, Kate Grenville, Hilary Mantel, Hannah Kent, Curtis Sittenfield, Emma O’Donoghue, Toni Morrison, William Faulkner. I could go on…

9. Many artists set themselves very ambitious goals. What are yours?

Mine are not so ambitious. Balance is important to me: having time to spend with my family, time to give back to my community and keep myself sane (running). So my goal is just to write the next book, I cannot see beyond that (I’ve never been very good at planning for the future).

10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?

Not everyone is going to like your writing. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to improve – you should always be trying to improve – but you will never make everyone happy, so never let your own sense of success depend on that. Write because you love to write, not because you want to be published. But also, be persistent. Carve out uninterrupted time to write.

Eleanor, thank you for playing.

Grab a copy of Eleanor’s new book Long Bay here

——————————————————–

long-bayLong Bay

by Eleanor Limprecht

Set in Sydney in the first decade of the 1900s, Long Bay is based on the true case of a young female abortionist who was convicted of manslaughter and served out her sentence in the newly opened Long Bay Women’s Reformatory – the first of its kind in Australia. The woman, Rebecca Sinclair, was pregnant when she went to prison.

Long Bay looks at how Rebecca became involved in the burgeoning illegal abortion racket in Edwardian-era Sydney and how she was drawn into Donald Sinclair’s underworld.

In unadorned prose, it examines the limiting effects of poverty, the mistakes we make for love, and the bond between mother and child.

Grab a copy of Eleanor’s new book Long Bay here

BOOK REVIEW: Hot Point by M.L. Buchman (Reviewed by Kat Mayo)

Firehawk helicopter pilot Vern Taylor can’t help but be distracted by gorgeous mechanic Denise Conroy. Fighting forest fires with Mount Hood Aviation is a far cry from some of the violence Vern has seen…until they find out that MHA isn’t all that it seems.

I love heroines who have non-traditional careers, and helicopter mechanic fits that bill. I particularly love Denise’s camaraderie with the other women of MHA, and I love that she’s a bit of a contradiction – mostly shy around other people, but with a sharp mind and a weakness for fast cars. Vern is an absolute sweetheart and pure romantic fantasy. But hey, a hero who is as comfortable with just snuggling as he is at awesome helicopter sex ticks the box for me!

Grab a copy of Hot Point here


hot-pointHot Point

The Firehawks Series : Book 10

by M.L. Buchman

The elite heli-aviation firefighters at Mount Hood Aviation depend on sexy Denise Conroy, master mechanic, to keep them flying smoothly through the air.

Airplane expert that she is, Denise has never found an aircraft that she can’t fix. Her floundering love life, however, is a puzzle that she hasn’t been able to put together. Mount Hood Firehawk pilot Vern Taylor can’t repair a plane to save his life, but he was born to fly. Vern’s take-charge attitude toward every situation combined with his irresistible artistic side make him an accident waiting to happen.

But when Denise and Vern crash together in the Central American jungle with wildfire on one side and a full-fledged military coup on the other, they’ll have to work together to get out alive. It will take all their skills combined to keep passion from igniting a dangerous new flame.

Grab a copy of Hot Point here

BREAKING NEWS: Longlist For The 2015 Man Booker Prize announced

Take a closer look at the 2015 Longlist, and be your own judge…

Continue reading

BOOK REVIEW: Lady Emily’s Exotic Journey by Lillian Marek (Reviewed by Kat Mayo)

I love a good Regency as much as any romance reader, but I’m so glad that we’re continuing to see authors exploring different setting and time periods in historical romance.

Lady Emily’s Exotic Journey is set in Constantinople. Forget ballrooms and tea – Lady Emily Tremaine explores the ruins of Nineveh and experiences the wonders of travelling on an ‘odiferous donkey’. And of course, there’s French adventurer Lucien Chambertin to make this the most thrilling adventure – if he can just learn to let go of his past and embrace the call of true love.

For me, I really love odiferous donkeys! True love is a bonus. :)

Grab a copy of Lady Emily’s Exotic Journey here


lady-emily-s-exotic-journeyLady Emily’s Exotic Journey

The Victorian Adventures Series : Book 2

by Lillian Marek

From sensible, sheltered girl
Safe in the embrace of her loving family, Lady EmilyTremaine longs to feel more intensely alive. Surely the magic and mystery of Assyria and the fabled ruins of Nineveh will bring about the transformation she seeks.

To the woman his heart desires
Scarred by his past and estranged from his noble grandfather, French adventurer Lucien Chambertin desires neither a home nor the chains of emotional attachment. He seeks only to explore the far reaches of the world. But he did not know the world contained the likes of Lady Emily—whose curiosity and sense of wonder match his own.

Grab a copy of Lady Emily’s Exotic Journey here

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 15,836 other followers

%d bloggers like this: