Three Authors Offer Advice for Writers: Matthew Reilly, Sandy Thorne and Leah Giarratano

I had promised to post a new set of three authors offering writing tips every Friday evening but this is the second time in a row I have forgotten to do so. Hmmm… Maybe I should just promise to post every Saturday? Or even better, forgo the promise… I know what I’ll do.

New announcement: I have long thought the advice offered to aspiring writers in answer to question ten of my Ten Terrifying Questions deserved a vehicle of its own. Well, here it is. I shall post the advice of three very different writers  every [mumble mumble]. Is that clear? Every [mumble mumble].

Bit of history: On March 1, 2010 I posted the first of the Ten Terrifying Questions author interviews. Since that date I have posted over 200 interviews with authors ranging from mega selling global stars like Jackie Collins and Lee Child to brilliant, relatively unknown debut authors such as Favel Parret and  Rebecca James.

Q. What advice do you give aspiring writers?


MATTHEW REILLY

“Write what you yourself love to read. If you love poetry, don’t try to write a thriller because you think you’ll make money. Or if you like more cerebral works of fiction, don’t try to write a romance. Fans of those kinds of books can spot a fake in ten seconds flat (and writing the wrong kind of book will quickly become a chore, not a labour of love).

If you write what you enjoy reading yourself, not only will every writing session be a joy (I love sitting down at my computer and writing the biggest, baddest, most outrageous action stories I can think of), but readers will detect your enthusiasm and warm to your work. Money and glory are not the end goals of writing—appealing to those who like your kind of book is.”

Read the full interview here

Click here to buy Scarecrow and the Army of Thieves from Booktopia Australia’s No.1 Online Bookshop


SANDY THORNE

“To always carry a pad and biro, everywhere, plus keep a diary. To always put anything they write away in a drawer for at least a month, then read and edit it. To assess the time-wasting factors in your life, e.g. watching crap on t.v., verbal diarrhoea on the ‘phone, cut them out, and use that time to write. To only write about what you know about.”

Read the full interview here…

Click here to buy Great Australian Old-Timers from Booktopia Australia’s No.1 Online Book Shop


LEAH GIARRATANO

The inner critic is your worst enemy. Find the mute button, or you’ll always be thinking, ‘One day…’

One day is today.

Read the full interview here…

Click here to buy Watch The World Burn from Booktopia Australia’s No.1 Online Book Shop


For more advice from published writers go here

Sue Williams, author of Welcome to the Outback & Outback Spirit, answers Ten Terrifying Questions

The Booktopia Book Guru asks

Sue Williams

author of Welcome to the Outback & Outback Spirit

Ten Terrifying Questions

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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 the UK, just outside London, as an ‘Essex Girl’ – British shorthand for the most bogan of bogans. Even worse, Essex Girl has now been replaced to some extent by ‘Basildon Girl’ – the name of the town in which I was born. I lose out every way. I left there at 18 to go to university in the north of the country and arrived in Australia in 1989. Since then, I’ve never looked back!

2. What did you want to be when you were 12, 18 and 30? And why?

When I was 12, I longed to be a Victorian-age explorer. I devoured books about Burton, Speke, Livingstone and Stanley. When 18, I realised I couldn’t be a Victorian explorer, but I still longed to travel to remote places in the world that still hadn’t seen too many outside visitors. By 30, I’d travelled the length and breadth of Africa and Latin America, around Borneo and through China and then decided I’d love to write about travel.

3. What strongly held belief did you have at 18 that you do not have now?

That everything is black and white. There’s a right way and a wrong way. As you grow older – and hopefully wiser – you realise there are many shades of grey in the world.

4. What were three big events – in the family circle or on the world stage or in your reading life, for example – you can now say, had a great effect on you and influenced you in your career path?

My first trip overseas alone at the age of 15 when I won a Lions scholarship to attend a youth camp in Denmark. It suddenly opened my eyes to the world.

Meeting a young woman on the production line on nightshift in a factory where I was working during university holidays who worked for six months to fund herself travelling around the world for six months. It made me realise anything was possible.

Reading Paul Theroux, especially The Old Patagonian Express, made me long to write about travel.

5. Considering the innumerable electronic media avenues open to you – blogs, online newspapers, TV, radio, etc – why have you chosen to write a book? Aren’t they obsolete?

There will always be room for stories and for the imaginative world, whatever the form they take. There will always be books, although they might one day all be e-books.

6. Please tell us about your latest book…

Welcome to the Outback combines two passions – travel and Australia. It’s about me, a dyed-in-the-wool city person travelling around the Australian Outback, which constantly challenges my comfort zone – whether by fighting in an Outback boxing tent, going on a cattle drive (when I can’t even ride a horse), and going trekking through mountains, in winter and in the midst of a mouse plague. Hopefully it’s humorous and entertaining, as well as opening up the Outback to all those Australians who’ve never before visited.

7. If your work could change one thing in this world – what would it be?

To help make people realise that we’re all pretty much the same, whether we live in the Outback or in one of the wildest, most remote parts of Africa, and that everyone needs to be treated with dignity and respect and compassion. A tall order!

8. Whom do you most admire and why?

Naturally Nelson Mandela, not only a stalwart fighter for his people’s rights but also a man with an enormous capacity for forgiveness towards his old enemies.

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

I’d love to be able to keep travelling, and keep writing, and be able to make a living at that!

10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?

Writing is like any activity. The more you do it, the better you become. And never give up. Have faith in your own ability, but listen to criticism carefully. But, most importantly of all, keep writing!

Sue, thank you for playing.

Below from YouTube: Author Sue Williams enters the world’s last Boxing Tent in Queensland, Australia and takes on The Beaver – a professional fighter – as research for her new book Welcome To The Outback (released March 2012, published by Penguin Books).

Chris McCourt, author of The Cleansing of Mahommed, answers Ten Terrifying Questions

The Booktopia Book Guru asks

Chris McCourt

author of The Cleansing of Mahommed

Ten Terrifying Questions

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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 Sydney, in Lakemba, which was a very different, very white bread Lakemba back in those days. When I was eighteen months old the family went to live in Tokyo for seven years due to my father’s work as a customs agent, and when we came back we lived in Lindfield. It was a very safe, very leafy, suburban childhood, and I went to a very safe and leafy north shore school.

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

When I was twelve, I wanted to be a vet. I loved animals and I was always rather partial to blood and guts and gore. I must have been the only child in Australia who was given a dissecting kit for Xmas, complete with mini scalpel and formaldehyde. I was thrilled beyond belief. I used it to dissect the mice that were unlucky enough to stray into the household mouse traps.

When I was eighteen I wanted to be an actor. I had pushed my way into the lead roles of school plays and I saw NIDA as a way of escaping both the perceived drudgery of university and the boredom of the north shore.

When I was thirty I was a scriptwriter, which I was happy to be. If I had been better at science, I might have become a vet, which I think I would have enjoyed, and if I’d had any real talent (sadly, I didn’t), I might have remained an actor. But I don’t think I would have enjoyed the life of an actor, so all things considered, things have worked out well.

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

That I knew everything and my parents and their generation knew nothing. The truth was that I knew nothing, and they at least knew something.

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?

Enid Blyton, Enid Blyton, and Enid Blyton. I didn’t know her books were racist and class bound. All I knew was that The Magic Faraway Tree, The Wishing Chair, and The Famous Five series set my imagination going in a million ways. I would lie in bed at night and imagine new lands for the faraway tree, and new adventures for George (always George of course, never boring old Anne) to have. Once I was through with picture books I started on Enid Blyton, and from then on I never stopped. (Reading, that is…I did eventually grow out of Enid Blyton, but I credit her with giving me the reading bug)

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

I originally thought about the story as a film script, but given the cast of thousands, the budget would probably have been too high for an Australian film. I also thought a novel would be the best way to really get into the main character’s head, to rattle around inside it and see what makes him tick. And after years of writing for television drama, where writers have very little control over the finished product, I thought it was about time.

6. Please tell us about your novel The Cleansing of Mahommed

It’s about Mahommed, a naïve young Afghani who comes to Australia a little before the outbreak of WW1. He arrives in Broken Hill with all sorts of dreams and a desperate desire to fit into the Australian/English way of life. Despite his best intentions, his dreams are soon shattered, and with Abdullah, who is both the local mullah, and his friend and mentor, he plots revenge for the many injustices that they both have suffered. The climax of the novel is very loosely based on the Battle of Broken Hill, a little known event in Australia’s history.

The novel is also a love story, which I hope will make readers cry.

Click here to order The Cleansing of Mahommed from Booktopia,
Australia’s No.1 Online Book Shop

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

When I did the initial research, Mahommed and Abdullah were described in the newspaper reports as ‘drug crazed fiends’. The same is true today…whenever something bad is done, the perpetrators are described in terms designed to obscure the fact that they are real people with real reasons (not necessarily good or sympathetic ones) for doing what they have done. I hope my story encourages people to look a little deeper.

I also hope they take away with them a feeling that they have shared some time with people who are no longer strangers to them, people who have both entertained them and moved them. “Make ‘em laugh, make’em cry”…if I have achieved that, I’ll be happy.

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

It changes depending on what I’ve been reading. So recently it’s Michael Ondaatje for The Cat’s Table and Julian Barnes for The Sense of an Ending. And a book of E.L. Doctorow’s short stories All the Time in the World, some of which I’ve read before and all of which blow me away. And last year I loved Elizabeth Strout’s Olive Kitteridge, Colum McCann’s Let the Great World Spin, Peter Carey’s Parrot and Olivier and Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom. But the list goes on…there are so many writers I admire. All of them write beautiful prose, have engaging characters, and know how to tell a good story well.

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

Mine are simple. To write better, to write well. To be able to touch people through my work, that would be wonderful.

10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?

Speak with your own voice, because it’s the only thing you have to offer a reader which is yours alone. Be true to your characters, don’t manipulate them for the sake of a clever plot twist. Beautiful prose is not enough…you need a story. Write for a reader…if you’re writing for therapy, then write a diary. Don’t listen to flattery…seek objective opinions on your work because your friends and your mother will always lie. Don’t write drunk…what looks like a work of genius when it’s swimming in front of your eyes at 3AM will not look so good in the cold light of day. And lastly, don’t give up…practice doesn’t necessarily make perfect, but it does make better.

Chris, thank you for playing.

Click here to order The Cleansing of Mahommed from Booktopia,
Australia’s No.1 Online Book Shop

Michael Pryor, author of 10 Futures, The Laws of Magic Series, and the Chronicles Of Krangor series, answers Six Sharp Questions:

The Booktopia Book Guru asks

Michael Pryor

author of 10 Futures, The Laws of Magic Series, and The Chronicles Of Krangor series

Six Sharp Questions

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1. Congratulations, you have a new book, 10 Futures. What is it about and what does it mean to you?

10 Futures is a series of linked stories looking at ten different, possible futures for humanity over the next hundred years. The stories are linked by the presence of two friends who have to cope with a world often dramatically different to our own.

10 Futures is a return for me to what might be called science fiction. The stories deal with major challenges to our species: climate change, overpopulation, the impact of medical miracles and the biological revolution. We know these things are going to happen, but what is the impact going to be? The best way to prepare for the future is to imagine it.

Click here to buy 10 Futures from Booktopia,
Australia’s No.1 Online Book Shop

2. Time passes. Things change. What are the best and worst moments that you have experienced in the past year or so?

I spent a month in London last year, which was an extraordinarily magical time. The worst time I had last year was missing out on the Booker Prize – AGAIN!

3. Do you have a favourite quote or passage you would be happy to share with us? It doesn’t need to be deep but it would be great if it meant something to you.

‘The sky above the port was the colour of television, tuned to a dead channel.’ It’s the opening line of William Gibson’s Neuromancer, and it’s one of the great opening lines. It’s evocative, mysterious, moody and a warning to the reader: you’re stepping into a strange, strange world here.

4. Writers have often been described as being difficult to live with. Do you conform to the stereotype or defy it? Please tell us a little about the day to day of your writing life.

I’m a pleasure to live with. In fact, if I had to live with someone, I’d choose me. I cook, I wash, I clean. I walk the dog. I garden, producing fresh vegetables for the table. I play music that is soothing and perfect for any occasion. I entertain in a way that people talk about for days. I return books that are lent to me. I banish mould from the bathroom. I change fuses before they burn out. I keep the carpets clean.

And I daydream a lot.

5. Some writers claim not to be influenced by the needs of the marketplace, while others seem obsessed by it. Would you please describe how the marketplace affects your writing (come on, tell the truth!).

I’m aware of the market, naturally, but I’ve learned a long time ago that you can go crazy trying to pick the next trend. I understand the need for a writer to promote themselves, judiciously, so I do what I can, especially in the world of the web. I’m more conscious of what my fans are interested in than in what the market is interested in. There is a difference.

6. Unlikely Scenario: You’ve been charged with civilising twenty ill-educated adolescents but you may take only five books with you. What do you take and why?

The Very Hungry Caterpillar (Eric Carle). Because it’s just about perfect in the way it tells a story in so few words.

Where the Wild Things Are (Maurice Sendak). Because it’s subversive and shows the power of the imagination.

The Collected Works of Shakespeare. Because we could put on plays, and that’s fun. Also, these plays are about what it means to be human, and civilised, and aware.

Flowers for Algernon (Daniel Keyes). Because it never fails to move adolescents. And grown up.

Batman: The Killing Joke (Moore/Bolland). Because it’s shocking, graphic, complex, multi-layered and it’s a comic. Pow!

Michael, thank you for playing.

Click here to buy 10 Futures from Booktopia,
Australia’s No.1 Online Book Shop

George Lois, author of Damn Good Advice (For People with Talent!), answers Ten Terrifying Questions

The Booktopia Book Guru asks

George Lois

author of Damn Good Advice (For People with Talent!)Iconic America, $ellebrity, and more

Ten Terrifying Questions

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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 Manhattan and raised in the Bronx, by Greek immigrant parents. I worked in my father’s florist store, right after each school day until dark, and all day on Saturdays, since I was seven or eight years old, delivering flowers to every corner of the five boroughs of New York.

I attended a wonderful public elementary school, and then received a superb education at the High School of Music & Art, the greatest institution of learning since Alexander sat at the feet of Aristotle. In the beginning of my second year at Pratt Institute, coaxed by a design instructor, I left college and instantly became an art director, married my Pratt schoolmate, and soon thereafter was drafted into the army to fight in Korea, the first of a series of ill-advised, ill-fated, American wars. When I returned home, I had a series of remarkably successful art direction jobs until I founded the second creative agency in the world, Papert Koenig Lois, the very first ad agency with an art directors name on the masthead.

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

Since I was a  youngster in public school, I lived to draw, design, rearrange things. I knew I was going to be an artist. What kind, I didn’t know. But at age fourteen, when I went to the High School of Music & Art in Manhattan, I soon found that my special fascination was with art that expected to persuade, to sell, and, I set a course to not only be a designer, but a pioneering cultural provocateur, and that has been my life’s work, and joy, ever since.

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

I was raised by Greek Orthodox parents and followed in their tradition. When I was 18, I thought hard about all religions and decided “the things that you’re libel to read in the bible – it ain’t necessarily so.”

4. What were three big events – in the family circle or on the world stage or in your creative life, for example – you can now say, had a great effect on you and influenced you in your career path?

I had a lot of breaks in my life, including being raised by a hard working Greek family and marrying the right woman (60 years ago), but three people recognised my talent and led me to what I do today:

A. Ida Engle, my seventh grade art teacher, sent me to the High School of Music & Art (a brilliant school founded in 1936 by mayor Fiorello LaGuardia) for an all-day exam with dozens of drawings of mine she had saved. When I was enthusiastically accepted, I knew I would be an artist.

B.   After a few months in my second year at Pratt Institute, Herschel Levit, an aesthete design teacher, jump-started my career by insisting I leave school and sent me to Reba Sochis’ design studio.

C. The greatest day of my professional life was when I met Reba Sochis – a great designer, a great dame, a great curser. I couldn’t believe that I was actually being paid to refine my craft in her Queendom of Perfectionism. May every ambitious young person be as blessed as I have been.

5. Considering the innumerable electronic media avenues open to you – blogs, online newspapers, TV, radio, etc – why have you chosen to write a book? Aren’t they obsolete?

Nothing will ever compare to the visceral experience of holding a book in your hands, licking a thumb and turning the pages. The book will never die – long live the book.

6. Please tell us about your latest book…

Damn Good Advice (For People with Talent!) is my culmination of a lifetime of iconoclastic, and iconic, thinking and teaching about the process of creativity in all phases of the graphic arts, and indeed about the conduct of life itself. With punchy writing and visuals, it’s a handful of dynamite (4 3/4 x 7 inch, 176 pages) delivering 120 no-holds barred, in-your-face lessons, explaining, demonstrating, and ultimately teaching how to unleash your potential in any creative-driven industry. If you have talent, this book can be a life-changing experience (and for a miraculously low price of $10).

7. If your work could change one thing in this world – what would it be?

My work continues to kick ass. Businessweek magazine wrote, “Every industry has its stars, and in the world of advertising, George Lois is a Supernova, the original Mr. Big Idea. Since the 1950s, he’s had a titanic influence on world culture.”

8. Whom do you most admire and why?

Muhammad Ali: from a narcissistic self-promoter who eventually became a man of enduring spirituality through a journey of formidable tests, Ali emerged as a true superhero in the annals of American history, and the worldwide Ambassador of Courage and Conviction.

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

New York magazine wrote, “George Lois, pioneer, innovator…is an advertising genius…Superman of Madison Avenue…America’s Master Communicator.” My goal in life is to keep rejecting con…and creating icon.

10. What advice do you give aspiring creatives?

I would sincerely tell them to read, study, and read once again, Damn Good Advice (For People with Talent!), it can be a life-changing experience.

George, thank you for playing.

REVIEW: The Hanging Garden by Patrick White – reviewed by John Purcell

The Hanging Garden may just change the way Patrick White is thought of by Australian readers. For many years now, the mere mention of his name has sent shivers down readers’ spines. Granted, for a small percentage of readers, these were the shivers of ecstasy but for the vast majority they were aroused by fear, dread and, for some, loathing. Australia’s only recipient of the Nobel Prize for Literature has long polarised Australia’s readers. He is a writer we are told we ought to respect but as many find his prose impenetrable this imperative has more often than not borne the fruit of resentment.

The Hanging Garden is different and comes to us at the right moment. As I see it, Australian literature is enjoying a popular revival. A more accessible prose style has been embraced by many of our best writers. From Kim Scott’s That Deadman Dance, to Charlotte Wood’s Animal People, to Christos Tsiolkas’ The Slap, we can sense a new confidence emerging. In such a climate The Hanging Garden is bound to find a receptive audience.

Begun by an ailing Patrick White back in 1981, The Hanging Garden was left unfinished at the time of his death. What we have been left with appears to have been Part One of a larger novel. Unfinished but by no means incomplete The Hanging Garden describes the experience of two refugee children brought to the relative safety of Sydney, Australia during WWII. A Greek/Australian girl, Eirene rescued from Greece during the English retreat and an English boy, Gilbert, who narrowly escaped oblivion during the London Blitz.

Told largely from Eirene’s point of view The Hanging Garden is a story of adolescent love, with all of its latent complications, its beauty and its disquiet.

Patrick White brings Gilbert and Eirene’s experiences in wartime Sydney to life with a lightness of touch which belies the depths of each word’s foundations. A great wisdom informs each scene and yet we read swiftly and eagerly. There is a startlingly raw truth to this story which conjured up in me long forgotten memories. This is great writing for our time. A book which will remind some of Sumner Locke Elliot’s Careful He Might Hear You and others of Roger McDonald’s When Colts Ran.

Moving and beautiful, The Hanging Garden is a Patrick White novel we can all read with pleasure. Five Stars.

Reviewed by John Purcell. This review was first published in Bookseller+Publisher magazine

Click here to order The Hanging Garden

The Miles Franklin Literature Award Longlist 2012

From where I sit the 2012 Miles Franklin Literature Award longlist seems right. The names I expected to see are listed, Elliot Perlman, Kate Grenville, Gail Jones, Alex Miller, as are some of the names I hoped to see, Charlotte Wood, Charlotte Wood and Charlotte Wood. There are a few disastrous exclusions,  though. The Life by Malcolm Knox, for one. Kylie Ladd’s Last Summer, is another. And my unpublished and unreadable historical epic, Untitled.

That said, I find it an attractive list. And an encouraging list. For the most part these literary titles are readable and sold quite well. And when literature sells you know you’re living in promising times.

(Pssst… just look at how many of the longlisted authors have answered my Ten Terrifying Questions. Cool.)


Charlotte Wood – Animal People

On a stiflingly hot December day, Stephen has decided it’s time to break up with his girlfriend Fiona. He’s 39, aimless and unfulfilled, he’s without a clue working out how to make his life better. All he has are his instincts – and unfortunately they might just be his downfall . . .

As he makes his way through the pitiless city and the hours of a single day, Stephen must fend off his demanding family, endure another shift of his dead-end job at the zoo (including an excruciating teambuilding event), face up to Fiona’s aggressive ex-husband and the hysteria of a children’s birthday party that goes terribly wrong. As an ordinary day develops into an existential crisis, Stephen begins to understand – perhaps too late – that love is not a trap, and only he can free himself. Click here to read more…

Charlotte answered the Ten Terrifying Questions – read her answers here
Click here to order your copy of Animal People

Read my review of Animal People


Tony Birch – Blood

From the moment he saw her, wrapped in a blanket at the hospital, Jesse knew that he’d be the one to look after his little sister, Rachel. Mum was always on the move and always bringing home trouble.

When his mum’s appetite for destruction leads the little family into the arms of Ray Crow, beneath the charm and charisma, Jesse sees the brooding violence and knows that, this time, the trouble is real.

But Jesse’s just a kid and even as he tries to save his sister, he makes a fatal error that exposes them to the kind of danger he has sworn to protect Rachel from. As their little world is torn to pieces, the children learn that, when you are lost and alone, the only thing you can trust is what’s in your blood. Click here to read more…

Click here to order your copy of Blood


Steven Carroll – Spirit of Progress

The thing that makes you, it never goes.

A sleek high-speed train glides silently through the French countryside, bearing Michael, an Australian writer, and his travelling world of memory and speculation.

Melbourne, 1946, calls to him: the pressure cooker of the city during World War II has produced a small creative miracle, and at this pivotal moment the lives of his newly married parents, a group of restless artists, a proud old woman with a tent for a home, a journalist, a gallery owner, a farmer and a factory developer irrevocably intersect. And all the while the Spirit of Progress, the locomotive of the new age, roars through their lives like time′s arrow, pointing to the future and the post-war world only some of them will enter. Click here to read more…

Click here to order your copy of Spirit of Progress


Mark Dapin – Spirit House

Long ago, Jimmy Reubens was a POW on the Thai-Burma Railway. For more than four decades, he has staved off the ghosts of his past by drinking too much, outstaying his welcome at his local RSL, and bickering with his three closest mates. But the past won’t stay buried forever.

When his thirteen-year-old grandson comes to stay after his parents marriage breaks up, Jimmy has a chance to finally begin to lay his ghosts to rest, but first he has to tell their stories. Click here to read more…

Mark answered the Ten Terrifying Questions – read his answers here
Click here to order your copy of Spirit House


Virginia Duigan – The Precipice

Thea Farmer, a reclusive and difficult retired school principal, lives in isolation with her dog in the Blue Mountains. Her distinguished career ended under a cloud over a decade earlier, following a scandal involving a much younger male teacher. After losing her savings in the financial crash, she is forced to sell the dream house she had built for her old age and live on in her dilapidated cottage opposite.

Initially resentful and hostile towards Frank and Ellice, the young couple who buy the new house, Thea develops a flirtatious friendship with Frank, and then a grudging affinity with his twelve-year-old niece, Kim, who lives with them. Although she has never much liked children, Thea discovers a gradual and wholly unexpected bond with the half-Vietnamese Kim, a solitary, bookish child from a troubled background.

Her growing sympathy with Kim propels Thea into a psychological minefield. Finding Frank’s behaviour increasingly irresponsible, she becomes convinced that all is not well in the house. Unsettling suspicions, which may or may not be irrational, begin to dominate her life, and build towards a catastrophic climax. Click here to read more…

Click here to order your copy of The Precipice


Anna Funder – All That I Am

Ruth Becker, defiant and cantankerous, is living out her days in the eastern suburbs of Sydney. She has made an uneasy peace with the ghosts of her past – and a part of history that has been all but forgotten.

Another lifetime away, it’s 1939 and the world is going to war. Ernst Toller, self-doubting revolutionary and poet, sits in a New York hotel room settling up the account of his life.

When Toller’s story arrives on Ruth’s doorstep their shared past slips under her defences, and she’s right back among them – those friends who predicted the brutality of the Nazis and gave everything they had to stop them. Those who were tested – and in some cases found wanting – in the face of hatred, of art, of love, and of history. Click here to read more…

Anna answered the Ten Terrifying Questions – read her answers here
Click here to order your copy of All That I Am


Kate Grenville – Sarah Thornhill

From the beginning Jack and I was friends. Somehow our way of looking at things fitted together. He never called me Dolly, the way the others did, only my full and proper name.

Sarah Thornhill is the youngest child of William Thornhill, convict-turned-landowner on the Hawkesbury River. She grows up in the fine house her father is so proud of, a strong-willed young woman who’s certain where her future lies.

She’s known Jack Langland since she was a child, and always loved him.

But the past is waiting in ambush with its dark legacy. There’s a secret in Sarah’s family, a piece of the past kept hidden from the world and from her. A secret Jack can’t live with. A secret that changes everything, for both of them. Click here to read more…

Kate answered the Ten Terrifying Questions – read her answers here
Click here to order your copy of Sarah Thornhill


Gail Jones – Five Bells

On a radiant day in Sydney, four adults converge on Circular Quay, site of the iconic Opera House and the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Crowds of tourists mix with the locals, enjoying the glorious surroundings and the play of light on water.

But each of the four carries a complicated history from elsewhere; each is haunted by past intimacies, secrets and guilt: Ellie is preoccupied by her sexual experiences as a girl, James by a tragedy for which he feels responsible, Catherine by the loss of her beloved brother in Dublin and Pei Xing by her imprisonment during China’s Cultural Revolution.

Told over the course of a single Saturday, Five Bells describes four lives which chime and resonate, sharing mysterious patterns and symbols. A fifth figure at the Quay, a barely glimpsed child, reminds us that some patterns are imprecise and do not resolve. By night-time, when Sydney is drenched in a rainstorm, each life has been transformed. Click here to read more…

Click here to order your copy of Five Bells


Gillian Mears – Foal’s Bread

The sound of horses’ hooves turns hollow on the farms west of Wirri. If a man can still ride, if he hasn’t totally lost the use of his legs, if he hasn’t died to the part of his heart that understands such things, then he should go for a gallop. At the very least he should stand at the road by the river imagining that he’s pushing a horse up the steep hill that leads to the house on the farm once known as One Tree.

Set in hardscrabble farming country and around the country show high-jumping circuit that prevailed in rural New South Wales prior to the Second World War, Foal’s Bread tells the story of two generations of the Nancarrow family and their fortunes as dictated by the vicissitudes of the land. Click here to read more…

Gillian answered the Ten Terrifying Questions – read her answers here
Click here to order your copy of Foal’s Bread


Alex Miller – Autumn Laing

Autumn Laing has long outlived the legendary circle of artists she cultivated in the 1930s. Now ‘old and skeleton gaunt’, she reflects on her tumultuous relationship with the abundantly talented Pat Donlon and the effect it had on her husband, on Pat’s wife and the body of work which launched Pat’s career. A brilliantly alive and insistently energetic story of love, loyalty and creativity.

Autumn Laing seduces Pat Donlon with her pearly thighs and her lust for life and art. In doing so she not only compromises the trusting love she has with her husband, Arthur, she also steals the future from Pat’s young and beautiful wife, Edith, and their unborn child.

Fifty-three years later, cantankerous, engaging, unrestrainable 85-year-old Autumn is shocked to find within herself a powerful need for redemption. As she begins to tell her story, she writes, ‘They are all dead and I am old and skeleton-gaunt. This is where it began…’ Click here to read more…

Alex answered the Ten Terrifying Questions – read his answers here
Click here to order your copy of Autumn Laing


Frank Moorhouse – Cold Light

It is 1950, the League of Nations has collapsed and the newly formed United Nations has rejected all those who worked and fought for the League. Edith Campbell Berry, who joined the League in Geneva before the war, is out of a job, her vision shattered. With her sexually unconventional, husband, Ambrose, she comes back to Australia to live in Canberra.

Edith now has ambitions to become Australia’s first female ambassador, but while she waits for a Call from On High, she finds herself caught up in the planning of the national capital and the dream that it should be ‘a city like no other’.

When her communist brother, Frederick, turns up out of the blue after many years of absence, she becomes concerned that he may jeopardise her chances of becoming a diplomat. It is not a safe time to be a communist in Australia or to be related to one, but she refuses to be cowed by the anti-communist sentiment sweeping the country. Click here to read more…

Frank answered the Ten Terrifying Questions – read his answers here
Click here to order your copy of Cold Light


Favel Parrett – Past the Shallows

Harry and Miles live with their father, an abalone fisherman, on the south-east coast of Tasmania. With their mum dead, they are left to look after themselves. When Miles isn’t helping out on the boat they explore the coast and Miles and his older brother, Joe, love to surf. Harry is afraid of the water.

Everyday their dad battles the unpredictable ocean to make a living. He is a hard man, a bitter drinker who harbours a devastating secret that is destroying him. Unlike Joe, Harry and Miles are too young to leave home and so are forced to live under the dark cloud of their father’s mood, trying to stay as invisible as possible whenever he is home. Harry, the youngest, is the most vulnerable and it seems he bears the brunt of his father’s anger. Click here to read more…

Favel answered the Ten Terrifying Questions – read her answers here
Click here to order your copy of Past the Shallows


Elliot Perlman – The Street Sweeper

From the scars of the civil rights struggle in the United States to the crematoria of Auschwitz-Birkenau, there are even more stories than there are people passing each other every day on the crowded streets of any major city. Only some of these stories survive to become history.

Adam Zignelik, an almost 40-year-old untenured academic historian at New York’s Columbia University, is the son of a prominent American civil rights lawyer and an Australian mother. One of his late father’s closest friends had been the African American civil rights activist, William McCray. Since the death of Adam’s parents it is the McCray family – William, his son Charles (Chair of History at Columbia) and Charles’ wife – that has become Adam’s adopted family.

With Adam’s career and his relationship with his long-time girlfriend in crisis, he gets a suggestion for a promising research topic from William McCray, who is a World War II veteran, that just might save him professionally and even personally. Click here to read more…

Elliot answered the Ten Terrifying Questions – read his answers here
Click here to order your copy of The Street Sweeper


Fiona McIntosh, author of The Lavender Keeper, Fields of Gold, and also author of The Valisar Trilogy, answers Ten Terrifying Questions

The Booktopia Book Guru asks

Fiona McIntosh

author of The Lavender Keeper Fields of Gold, and also author of The Valisar Trilogy

Ten Terrifying Questions

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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 Brighton on the south coast of England – so windswept promenades and piers are in my soul. I was raised in Brighton too and it was a fabulously trendy place to grow up because it was just 50 miles south of London and very sophisticated. It had terrific shopping, nightlife, restaurants and brilliant ‘discos’ and clubs for older teenagers. I was schooled at the Hove County Grammar School for Girls and was one of those irritating people who really enjoyed school despite not Continue reading

REVIEW: Bitter Greens by Kate Forsyth (Guest Reviewer: Booktopia’s Sarah McDuling)

So fairytales are pretty hot right now. If that seems like a ridiculous sentence, consider the fact that we have not one, but two “Snow White” movies set to hit the big screen this year. It seems like all of a sudden the world had gone bonkers for stories about fairytale princesses living happily ever after.

I blame Kate Middleton.

Still, having suffered from a pretty serious fairytale addiction my whole life, I’m not about to start complaining. I have always been pretty keen on fairytales. The “fairytale retelling” is one of my favourite sub-genres. So to say that I was pretty keen to read Kate Forsyth’s Bitter Greens would be something of an understatement. If I had to choose between winning the lottery or discovering that one of my favourite fantasy authors has written a fairytale re-telling… err… I’d take the cash thanks, obviously. But the point is, it wouldn’t be an easy a decision for me. I would probably have to think about it for at least thirty whole seconds before I made up my mind.

That’s how much of a sucker I am for fairytale retellings.

Kate Forsyth has had my loyalty since I was in high school and got hooked on the The Witches of Eileanan series. When I heard that her new book, Bitter Greens, was a reworking of the Rapunzel fairytale, I fully expected that I would love it. What I didn’t expect was that it would surprise me. How could it? Fairytale retellings are many things. Enchanting, heart-warming, romantic or (in my case) dangerously addictive. But they are very rarely surprising. After all, any passing six-year-old could give you a pretty accurate account of what happens to Rapunzel. We all know how the story goes (in case your memory needs jogging it begins with “Once upon a time” and ends with “Happily ever after”). But when it comes to fairytale retellings it’s not so much about what happens in the story, it’s how the story is told. And in the case of Bitter Greens it’s even more than that.

This isn’t just a simple retelling. This is the story behind the story of Rapunzel, as well as the story within the story of Rapunzel. On the one hand, it is a richly imagined reworking of a familiar fairytale. On the other, it is a meticulously researched biography disguised as historical fiction. It’s a story spanning two centuries and weaving together the lives of three women. It’s also one of the best books I’ve read this year (tied for first place with Eowyn Ivey’s The Snow Child – another fairytale retelling. I wasn’t kidding about my fairytale addiction. It’s a serious problem.)(see my review)

Bitter Greens begins in 17th century France with Charlotte-Rose de la Force, a headstrong and charismatic woman whose scandalous behaviour has landed her in trouble. Banished from court by King Louis XIV, she is made to enter a convent. Forced to chop off her hair and exchange her silken finery for a heavy black dress, to trade dancing and merriment for drudgery and confinement, Charlotte-Rose is (with very good reason) Not Happy.

I could wax lyrical about Charlotte-Rose for days on end. Suffice to say that as soon as I finished Bitter Greens I jumped online to hunt down biographies about her. This is a woman ahead of her time in nearly every way. She is bold and adventurous, witty and passionate, talented and fascinating and… well… just basically awesome. So awesome that it got her packed off to a nunnery. Enough said.

Upon arriving at the convent, Charlotte-Rose is befriended by a kindly old nun who tells her the story of a young girl locked away in a tower. The young girl is Margherita AKA “Rapunzel”. Here we have all the elements of the familiar fairytale but told in a very compelling and realistic way. Like in all fairytales, there is magic involved. But it is an artful and believable brand of magic, so subtle as to almost escape notice. And naturally there is also a swoon-worthy romance, the kind of fairytale romance that must overcome countless obstacles before you get to the “happily ever after”.

The third storyline follows the life of Selena Leonelli (otherwise known as the evil sorceress who locks Rapunzel in the tower). Selena’s story takes place in the sumptuous and seductive world of Renaissance Venice. Selena is a renowned beauty, muse to the famous artist Tiziano. Though she is the villain of the tale, she is not your typical “wicked witch” and is actually a surprisingly complicated and sympathetic character.

The stories of Charlotte-Rose, Margherita and Selena are skilfully woven together to create a captivating blend of history and fantasy. Highly recommended for fans of Philippa Gregory and Juliet MarillierBitter Greens is a tale of romance and intrigue, seduction and superstition, obsession and betrayal and… I could keep going forever. This book really has a little bit of everything and more besides. It’s a fairytale for grown-ups, a lavish three-course meal for the imagination.

And for those of you who think they don’t have time for fairytales? Those who believe they’ve heard it all before and don’t need to hear it again? Well, you’re partially correct. The Old Testament tells us there is nothing new under the sun and that was written in 300 BC. So yes. Rapunzel is an old story. You have almost certainly heard it before. But trust me, you’ve never heard it told quite like this.

Guest Reviewer: Booktopia’s Sarah McDuling

Fleur McDonald, author of Red Dust, Blue Skies and now, Purple Roads, answers Six Sharp Questions

The Booktopia Book Guru asks

Fleur McDonald

author of Red Dust, Blue Skies and now, Purple Roads,

and Booktopia Twitter Buddy

Six Sharp Questions

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1.    Congratulations, you’ve a new book, Purple Roads – what is it about and what does this book mean to you?

Actually this book is quite special. I grew up around trucks – my dad was a pioneer in the trucking industry and I wanted to honour him in some way. There are very small parts of my Dad in this book; the way Jimmy cares for his staff is one of them.

I was so excited when I started Purple Roads and I’m really proud of it.

Purple Roads is the story of a young couple fighting to make it on the farm. Matt is working two jobs – truck driving and farming, until he has a truck accident. On top of that, a large amount of fertiliser is stolen, which means he can’t put his crop in and he loses his last chance with the bank and the farm is forced into a morgagee sale.

From there it focuses on how Matt and Anna cope, the twists and turns life takes and how it is so important to fight for your beliefs and dreams.

It also has an element of how farmers and their families cope, when a someone they love has depression in rural Australia.

Click here to order Purple Roads from Booktopia, Australia’s no.1 Online Book Shop

2.    Time passes. Things change. What would be the best and worst moments you’ve experienced in the past year or so?

2011 was a very trying year for my family. It threw us well out of our comfort zone. I think it is safe to say there were a lot of ‘worst moments’, but they’ve been balanced out by exciting times; getting the edits back, having good rains, seeing stock on green grass (the last few years have been a bit lean, rain wise for us). But the most exciting thing which happened was when my daughter was announced as her sports faction captain at the end of year concert! The smile she had on her was incredible! (GO BLUE!!!!)

3.    Do you have a favourite quote or passage you’d be happy to share with us? It doesn’t need to be deep but it would be great if it meant something to you.

I love quotes! In fact I love quotes so much I wrote a blog on them.

I have to share two with you. The first one is how I try to live my life:

Speak love, live love, be love.

The second one is because I was a witch in a former life… Oh no, wait, that was angel!

‘Women are Angels! When someone breaks our wings, we simply continue to fly on a broomstick. We’re flexible like that!’

There are many more of my favourite quotes here: http://fleurmcdonald.com/whats-you-favourite-quote/

4.    Writers have often been described as being difficult to live with. Do you conform to the stereotype or defy it? Please tell us a little about the day to day of your writing life…

When I was a child I wanted to be a lawyer. My cousin is though and she tells me the first thing you learn when you become one is: ‘deny, deny, deny.’ I am denying I am difficult to live with, although request you don’t put this question to my husband! (looks over shoulder to see if he’s reading this!)

I have no routine when it comes to writing. It all revolves around the kids, the farm and whatever is going on in my world at the time. I can go months and not put finger to keyboard. I wouldn’t recommend it and I don’t like it, but that’s the way it is.

5.    Some writers claim not to be influenced by the needs of the marketplace, while others seem obsessed by it, would you please describe how the marketplace effects your writing…

I write because I love it – it’s a release for me to be able to put ideas which have been running around in my head, on paper.  Because of that, marketplace doesn’t come into it. I write for the pure joy of putting words into sentences and them becoming a story.

Although in saying all of that, my main aim is to write quality words. I think people will always buy quality.

6.    Unlikely Scenario: You’ve been charged with civilising twenty ill-educated adolescents but you may take only five books with you. What do you take and why?

So at the risk of getting heavy handed with my love of books… I read recently a beautiful quote which said: “Children are made readers on the laps of their parents.” – Eilie Buchwald

Getting kids or young adults involved in reading is about finding something, which interests them. All these books, I’ve chosen, should have a conversation starter, which can lead to thoughts being expressed out loud; dreams being vocalized and recognized. That’s how to get kids reading and books hold all these keys.

A Fortunate Life by AB Facey – everyone needs to know what the older generation went through and most of us have it easy, compared to them.

To Kill a Mockingbird – I studied this when I was in year 10 and I STILL love every word. If I loved it then, there is no reason kids now, shouldn’t love it.

A dictionary – I can’t understand half the text I get sent from sixteen year olds… (and yes I know that makes me sound old!)

Wildflower Hill by Kimberly Freeman  – if they want to know about love, life and beautiful writing, they’ll find it in this book.

The Poet by Michael Connelly – there is everything you ever need here; craft, writing, plot, pace. Love it! (Hope it doesn’t give them ideas though.)

Fleur, thanks for playing!

Visit Booktopia’s Fleur McDonald author page

Click here to order Purple Roads from Booktopia, Australia’s no.1 Online Book Shop

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