Natasha Walker, author of The Secret Lives Of Emma series, answers Six Sharp Questions

The Booktopia Book Guru asks

Natasha Walker

the Australian author of the bestselling
Secret Lives of Emma series

Six Sharp Questions

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1. Congratulations, on completing your new book. What is it about and what does it mean to you?

Thanks. Unmasked is the final book in The Secret Lives of Emma trilogy. At the end of book two, Distractions, I was a bit mean and left readers hanging right at the point where nothing was going right for my heroine, Emma Benson. In geekspeak – it was my The Empire Strikes Back.

I can’t say much about Unmasked. I don’t want to spoil it. What I can say is Emma ends up on the southern coast of Italy in midsummer.

Unmasked is my favourite of the three. It’s a happy ending. But only those who know Emma well can possibly predict what a happy ending for Emma means.

Click here to buy The Secret Lives of Emma : Unmasked from Booktopia,
Australia’s Local Bookstore

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

The past year has been completely bizarre. The best moment was getting a publishing deal. The worst moment was not being able to tell the whole world I finally got a publishing deal. For the sake of my family I decided to publish under a pseudonym. I was the tenth highest selling Australian novelist in 2012 and my proud mum can’t tell any of her friends!

3. Do you have a favourite quote or passage you would be happy to share with us?

Of all forms of caution, caution in love is perhaps the most fatal to true happiness – Bertrand Russell.

4. Writers have often been described as being difficult to live with. Do you conform to the stereotype or defy it?

I work full-time so all my writing is done at night, in the early hours of morning and on weekends. This can put a strain on relationships but thankfully, when I am writing I write quickly, in intense bursts of inspiration and so far have hit all of the brutal deadlines set by my publisher. (I’ve had three books published in under a year)

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!).

The marketplace did not influence the writing of The Secret Lives of Emma but the publication of it was very much influenced by it. After the sudden initial success of Fifty Shades publishers worldwide were scrambling to publish other erotic novels as fast as they could. Luckily enough for me at that precise moment my agent had just read the draft of an erotic story I had written. The rest is history!

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?

Why would I want to civilise a bunch of adolescents? Age and responsibilities will civilise them soon enough. I’d prefer to keep them uncivilised.

If I really had to take some books with me I’d take – The Philosophy of the Bedroom by The Marquis de Sade, Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll, Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte, The Zombie Survival Guide by Max Brooks and Green Eggs and Ham by Dr Seuss. Though I think very soon they would be used to fuel the fire we made to cook the smallest of the group.

Natasha, thank you for playing

Click here to buy The Secret Lives of Emma : Unmasked from Booktopia,
Australia’s Local Bookstore

Women dominate the 2013 Miles Franklin shortlist

Last year’s winner All That I Am by Anna Funder

The shortlist for this year’s Miles Franklin Literary Award features five books by Australian women, with this year’s winner due to receive $60,000, up from $50,000 last year. Last year’s award was presented to Anna Funder for All That I Am. This year’s shortlist features three debut novels—Floundering by Romy Ash, The Beloved by Annah Faulkner and The Mountain by Drusilla Modjeska—and one previously shortlisted author, Carrie Tiffany, who was a finalist for the 2006 Miles Franklin Literary Award for Everyman’s Rules for Scientific Living. Ash, de Kretser and Tiffany were also longlisted for the inaugural Stella Prize, which was awarded to Tiffany for Mateship with Birds in March.

Richard Neville from the State Library of New South Wales said the five novels on this year’s shortlist share a common theme. ‘The five novels … are at a surface level all about family—the searching for their comfort, the crises when they fail, escaping their pervasive grasp, or the despair when they do not seem possible—but more deeply, these books write about the intersection of people’s lives with national, indeed international, stories and ideas,’ said Neville. ‘Each approaches their subject from very different perspectives, but all deliver complex, engrossing narratives which persist long after the books are closed.’

You can see the full shortlist in detail below. If you haven’t read any of these wonderful books, grab a copy today and choose your winner before the judges do.


Floundering

by Romy Ash

Tom and Jordy have been living with their gran since the day their mother, Loretta, left them on her doorstep and disappeared.

Now Loretta’s returned, and she wants her boys back.

Tom and Jordy hit the road with Loretta in her beat-up car. The family of three journeys across the country, squabbling, bonding, searching and reconnecting.

But Loretta isn’t mother material. She’s broke, unreliable, lost. And there’s something else that’s not quite right with this reunion.

They reach the west coast and take refuge in a beachside caravan park. Their neighbour, a surly old man, warns the kids tostay away. But when Loretta disappears again the boys have no choice but to askthe old man for help, and now they face new threats and new fears.

This beautifully written and gripping debut is as moving as it is frightening, and as heartbreaking as it is tender.

About the Author

Romy Ash is a Melbourne-based writer. She has written for GriffithREVIEW, the Big Issue and frankie magazine. She has a regular cooking column in Yen magazine and writes for the blog Trotski & Ash. The forthcoming Voracious: New Australian Food Writing features one of her essays.

Floundering is her first novel.

Click here to buy Floundering from Booktopia, Australia’s Local Bookstore


Questions of Travel

by Michelle de Kretser

A dazzling, compassionate and deeply moving novel from one of world literature’s rising stars.

A mesmerising literary novel, Questions of Travel charts two very different lives. Laura travels the world before returning to Sydney, where she works for a publisher of travel guides. Ravi dreams of being a tourist until he is driven from Sri Lanka by devastating events.

Around these two superbly drawn characters, a double narrative assembles an enthralling array of people, places and stories – from Theo, whose life plays out in the long shadow of the past, to Hana, an Ethiopian woman determined to reinvent herself in Australia.

Award-winning author Michelle de Kretser illuminates travel, work and modern dreams in this brilliant evocation of the way we live now. Wonderfully written, Questions of Travel is an extraordinary work of imagination – a transformative, very funny and intensely moving novel.

About the Author

Michelle de Kretser was born in Sri Lanka and emigrated to Australia when she was 14. Educated in Melbourne and Paris, Michelle has worked as a university tutor, an editor and a book reviewer.

She is the author of The Rose Grower, The Hamilton Case, which won the Commonwealth Prize (SE Asia and Pacific region) and the UK Encore Prize, and The Lost Dog, which was widely praised by writers such as AS Byatt, Hilary Mantel and William Boyd and won a swag of awards, including: the 2008 NSW Premier’s Book of the Year Award and the Christina Stead Prize for Fiction, and the 2008 ALS Gold Medal.

The Lost Dog was also shortlisted for the Vance Palmer Prize for Fiction, the Western Australian Premier’s Australia-Asia Literary Award, the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize (Asia-Pacific Region) and Orange Prize’s Shadow Youth Panel. It was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize and the Orange Prize for Fiction.

Click here to buy Questions of Travel from Booktopia, Australia’s Local Bookstore


Mateship with Birds

by Carrie Tiffany

On the outskirts of an Australian country town in the 1950s, a lonely farmer trains his binoculars on a family of kookaburras that roost in a tree near his house. Harry observes the kookaburras through a year of feast, famine, birth, death, war, romance and song. As Harry watches the birds, his next door neighbour has her own set of binoculars trained on him. Ardent, hard-working Betty has escaped to the country with her two fatherless children. Betty is pleased that her son, Michael, wants to spend time with the gentle farmer next door. But when Harry decides to teach Michael about the opposite sex, perilous boundaries are crossed.

Mateship with Birds is a novel about young lust and mature love. It is a hymn to the rhythm of country life – to vicious birds, virginal cows, adored dogs and ill-used sheep. On one small farm in a vast, ancient landscape, a collection of misfits question the nature of what a family can be.

About the Author

Carrie Tiffany was born in West Yorkshire and grew up in Western Australia. She spent her early twenties working as a park ranger in the Red Centre and now lives in Melbourne, where she works as an agricultural journalist. Her first novel, Everyman’s Rules for Scientific Living (2005) was shortlisted for numerous awards including the Orange Prize, the Miles Franklin Literary Award, the Guardian First Book Award and the Commonwealth Writer’s Prize, and won the Dobbie Award for Best First Book (2006) and the 2006 Western Australian Premier’s Award for Fiction. Mateship with Birds is her second novel.

Click here to buy Mateship with Birds from Booktopia, Australia’s Local Bookstore


The Beloved

by Annah Faulkner

“It came one morning with the milk, and it seemed – at first – almost as innocent…”

When Roberta “Bertie” Lightfoot is crippled by polio, her world collapses. But Mama doesn’t tolerate self-pity, and Bertie is nobody if not her mother’s daughter – until she sets her heart on becoming an artist. Through art, the gifted and perceptive Bertie gives form and voice to the reality of the people and the world around her. While her father is happy enough to indulge Bertie’s driving passion, her mother will not let art get in the way of a professional career.

In 1955 the family moves to post-colonial Port Moresby, a sometimes violent frontier town, where Bertie, determined to be the master of her own life canvas, rebels against her mother’s strict control. She thrives amid a vibrant new tropical palette, secretly learning the techniques of drawing and painting under the tutelage of her mother’s arch rival.

But Roberta is not the only one deceiving her family. As secrets come to light, the domestic varnish starts to crack, and jealousy and passion threaten to forever mar the relationship between mother and daughter.

Tender and witty, The Beloved is a moving debut novel which paints a vivid portrait of both the beauty and the burden of unconditional love.

About the Author

Sporadic bursts of poetry and occasional short stories defined Annah’s early writing. In 1996 experiences from a career in acupuncture prompted her to write a non-fiction manual. This was followed by a humorous biography, Frankly Speaking, which enjoyed considerable success in Australia and New Zealand. In 2007 her story, The Blood of Others, was published by the American literary journal Antipodes. Annah and her husband split their time between Queensland’s Sunshine Coast and the South Island of New Zealand. She is presently working on her second novel.

Click here to buy The Beloved from Booktopia, Australia’s Local Bookstore


The Mountain

by Drusilla Modjeska

In 1968 in Papua New Guinea there is excitement and violence on the streets. The country is on the brink of independence, but many Papuans are disillusioned with the pace of change, and the tension in Port Moresby is palpable. Amidst the turmoil, Leonard, an anthropologist, arrives with his alluring Dutch wife, Rika. Leonard wants to film villagers from a remote settlement in the mountains, and take Rika with him – the first white woman to go up there. But his new colleagues have other ideas.

Rika befriends two young women from the new university: Laedi, a Papuan with a local mother and Australian father, and Martha, a sweet-natured Australian student. But it is to Aaron and Jacob – two very different clan-brothers – to whom Rika is most dangerously drawn. Her relationship with these two men will change her and Leonard’s lives for ever.

Thirty years later, Jericho, a young art historian, travels from London to Port Moresby to try to make sense of his muddled past, of his birthplace on the mountain in 1968, and to bring back with him the girl he has loved since he was a boy.

About the Author

In 1971 Drusilla Modjeska moved to Australia, and within that decade graduated with a BA (Hons) in History from the Australian National University and a PhD in History from the University of New South Wales. Exiles At Home, her first book, was published in 1981. Poppy (1990), a ‘fictional biography’ of her mother, won the National Book Council Banjo Award for Non-Fiction, the NSW Premier’s Douglas Stewart Prize for Non-Fiction and was shortlisted for the Fawcett and PEN International Awards. The Orchard (1994) also won the NSW Premier’s Douglas Stewart Award for Non-Fiction and the Nita Kibble Literary Award, as did Stravinsky’s Lunch (1999), which explored the lives of the Australian modernist artists Grace Cossington Smith and Stella Bowen.

Click here to buy The Mountain from Booktopia, Australia’s Local Bookstore


The winner of this year’s award will be announced on 19 June at the National Library of Australia in Canberra. To see a list of all the titles longlisted for this year’s award, click here.

Source: Bookseller + Publisher (http://www.booksellerandpublisher.com.au/DetailPage.aspx?type=item&id=27014)

Gayle Forman, author of Just One Day, answers Ten Terrifying Questions

just-one-dayThe Booktopia Book Guru asks

Gayle Forman

author of Just One Day

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?

To begin with why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself – where were you born? Raised? Schooled?
I am what was once known as a Valley Girl (for more information, see this song. Or this movie. What this means is that I was born in the San Fernando Valley of Los Angeles, in a culture that valued shopping malls and the perfectly torn sweatshirt. So perhaps it’s not surprising that I got out of there as soon as possible. I was an exchange student in England at 16. Took off to go traveling through Europe for three years at 18. At 21, I went to college in Oregon and then after graduation, moved to New York City where I’ve been ever since.

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

When I was twelve, I wanted to be an actress. When I was eighteen, I wanted to be a traveller. When I was thirty, I wanted to be an author (though not yet a fiction writer). I think there’s a through line connecting all three, so stick with me. I gave up on acting when I realised that success depended on so much more than talent (which I didn’t have that much of to begin with). As for the thirty-year-old, she was about to go traveling around the world for a year, and she wanted to write a book about it. Which I wound up doing (my first book, a nonfiction travelogue called You Can’t Get There From Here, like my acting, isn’t that great). But after I came back from that trip and finished writing that book, I started writing fiction (more on that in the next question). I realised that I could continue to travel in my imagination (which was handy because now that I was a mother, going to places like India with my infant daughter wasn’t nearly as appealing) and also could tap into that old love of acting. I feel like when I write novels, I inhabit the characters, much the way an actor might, and it allows me to write them in a real immediate way. Acting. Traveling. Fiction Writing. Voila.

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

I had very strong feelings about Sonic Youth and the Pixies that don’t feel relevant anymore.  I also had strongly disdainful feelings about college. I thought anything worth learning could be learned In Life. I now know that to be wrong. That there is something incredibly valuable about knowing the wider world, meeting people from all walks of life, expanding your comfort zone, etc. But that there is something equally important about grounding all of this in an understanding of history or economics or politics. I’m very grateful for both of my educations. All of them, really.

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?

1. She Being Brand by E.E. Cummings. My eighth grade English teacher bravely introduced this very racy poem to my English class, and not only did I love the wordplay, the way the language sounded tripping off my tongue, I  also loved how the poem could speak out of both sides of its mouth. It was my first understanding of how playful language could be, how you could talk about one thing but really be saying something else entirely.

2. Rags by The Waterboys. I was a huge music geek as a kid, and I loved a lot of bands, but The Waterboys were probably the first band that connected to me on a deeply emotional level. Something about this song (the entire Pagan Place album) really resonated with me, made me feel deeply, an emotionality that I didn’t fully understand back then but I do now. It’s that emotionality, which music still ignites in me, that I need to access as a writer.

3. To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee.  It remains one of my favourite novels. I think it sums up why I write young-adult novels. Sometimes to tell a truly deeply moral story, you need to tell it via young people. Also, this book nails its setting. I haven’t read it in years, but I can still feel the dustiness of Maycomb in the summer.

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

It chose me. After traveling around the world for a year and writing a book about it, I had a baby and didn’t want to travel for work as I had done in the past (I’d been a journalist). But I needed to be able to pay the bills and someone suggested I write a young-adult novel. It wasn’t completely out of left-field. Well, it sort of was because I’d never written a novel, but I had written for and about young people my entire career as a journalist. Within days, I sat down and started my first novel, Sisters in Sanity, based on an article I’d written years before on behaviour modification bootcamps. Once I wrote that book, I knew I’d found my true calling. I may have backed my way in, but this was it.

just-one-day6.    Please tell us about your latest novel, Just One Day

I like to describe Just One Day as a Trojan Horse love story. It begins with what seems like a very Before Sunrise plot. Uptight American Girl (Allyson) and Free-spirited Dutch boy (Willem) meet in Europe and wind up spending a magical day together in Paris. But after one day, Allyson wakes up to find Willem gone and over the next year must grapple not just with humiliation and a broken heart and university life that is not living up to expectations, but with losing the liberated, better version of herself she became that day in Paris. The book is really about Allyson searching for that part of herself, and maybe Willem, too. Willem gets his own book, Just One Year, which will come out later this year.

Click here to buy Just One Day from Booktopia,
Australia’s Local Bookstore

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

For me, the best books are the ones that I finish a slightly different person than I was when I started them. The ones that give me an emotionally cathartic experience, that feeling in my chest, when I can feel my heart expand (be it from heartache or joy or some other emotion). As a writer, that’s what I aim for, too, to provide my readers with that same experience.

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

One of my favourite authors is one of yours: Melina Marchetta. That feeling I describe in the previous question, the emotional catharsis, her books deliver that. I’m a huge fan of Margaret Atwood. The first two books in her MadAdam Trilogy are incredibly inventive with language, fascinatingly good stories, and also both manage to be profound statements about the world we’re living in. I love George Saunders, too, because he’s just out there, but also so humane. These are three very different writers, but they all take incredible risks in their work, which I admire.just-one-year

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

To have each book I write be better than the last one. Not necessarily more commercially successful, but better written, more ambitious in scale.

10.    What advice do you give aspiring writers?

To let the work be the guide. To write in the voice that comes naturally to them, not the voice they think they should write in or the one the market demands. To write the story that is bursting to come out of them and not worry about the market. Because if you write a compelling and authentic piece of work that makes you feel breathless when you are writing it, chances are so much stronger that readers will find it, and react in kind.

Gayle, thank you for playing.

Click here to buy Just One Day from Booktopia,
Australia’s Local Bookstore

Fifty Shades: The Musical – An 18+ post from Bookopia’s Editorial Director Caroline Baum

Booktopia’s Editorial Director Caroline Baum is on assignment in the Big Apple. She shares an experience of musically titillating proportions.

So I’m in New York flicking through the show listings in Time Out when an off-Broadway musical catches my eye. Its called Cuff Me, which also works when you say the first word backwards.

I book a ticket online, managing to score the last one for opening night. Imagine my complete  disbelief when I get to the theatre and discover that the Actors Temple is not a jumped up version of the Actors Studio, it is exactly what it says it is: a synagogue.

Feeling like I’m in a Seinfeld dream sequence (George invites Jerry to a smutty show only to discover its at the local shul, where they are greeted by the rabbi who turns out to be Elaine in disguise) I find myself surrounded by a party of women speaking loudly in Hebrew. But there are also quite a few couples there. One man has bought tickets for his partner as a gift.

“Surprised?” he asks her.
“With you, never,” she purrs, stroking his chest.

Unlike a traditional service at conservative synagogues, at least men and women get to sit together.

The set is pretty simple, three panels on wheels festooned with various sex toys including a double ended dildo that looks a bit like a boomerang.

There is a cast of four, two men, two women (Tina Jensen, who plays our heroine’s friend Kate and her inner goddess was outstandingly energetic in her broad  lewdness) and they are hugely competent singers and movers, as you’d expect in this city and while the lyrics are not consistently sharp in their savagery they are very adult, explicit and completely trash the book.

Tunes are borrowed and distorted, with apologies to Mamma Mia, Britney and Beyonce (a spirited All You Horny Ladies with the gesture of putting a ring on it substituted with page turning). There is an effective abuse of If I were A Rich Man and Hey Big Spender for good measure. And while there is warning about the strobe effect, there is no warning about the language which is as raunchy as it gets (a sample lyric : ‘ I wanted to finger your butthole with mayonnaise’).

Nice.

The only literary wink is that the lawyer who negotiates the contract Anastasia signs with Christian is called Willy Blowman. Oh and there are some references to the Twilight saga.

Crude? You bet.

Unauthorised? Ooh yeah, baby.

I’m tempted to say it was spankingly good, and a surefire hit. There, I just said it.

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Caroline Baum is Booktopia’s Editorial Director and a journalist and broadcaster, working as founding editor of Good Reading magazine, features editor for Vogue, presenter of ABC TV’s popular bookshow, Between the Lines, and Foxtel’s Talking Books, and as an executive producer with ABC Radio National.

She is a regular contributor to national newspapers and magazines and is in demand as a presenter at arts and literary festivals around the country and overseas.

You can follow Caroline on twitter at @mscarobaum

Real Girl Romance – From Booktopia’s Romance Specialist Haylee Nash

You may find this difficult to believe given the glamorous creature I am today, but once upon a time, I was awkward. Not fairy tale awkward (long-limbed, unusually-featured girl turns into supermodel à la The Ugly Duckling) and not rom-com awkward (girl in overly-matching outfits with quirky sense of humour wins the heart of the secretly smart and soulful school jock), just plain awkward.

No surprise then, as mentioned in my first blog post, that I turned to Mills & Boon romances at an early age. It wasn’t just my lack of male interaction that led to my dirty paperback obsession, it was the chance to read about women who were beautiful, graceful and effortlessly elegant (at least from the hero’s perspective).

These women never burnt their foreheads while using the iron to straighten their hair. They were never confused for being a lesbian due to their lack of boyfriends. They had never felt the cool rush of air on their bare behind after ripping their new sparkly denim skirt in a less than sensual bend-and-snap dance move (on the same day they decided to debut their beige coloured g-string). So you can see the appeal.

As I got older (left high school, learned to tame my hair, speak to boys and apply liquid eyeliner), I found that I was open to different kinds of romance. Books in which the girl doesn’t always get it right in front of her chosen guy. Books with women who didn’t have enough cash, patience or care factor to look awesome all the time, but who could look quite lovely on occasion. Women who weren’t necessarily sexy, but told a helluva dirty joke. Women I could relate to.

Women like Kristan Higgins’ Faith Holland – a jilted, twenty-something year old with a penchant for food, gay men and spanx.  Certain episodes of my life would fit perfectly into one of Higgins’ books: that time where I fell up the stairs on a shuttle bus (en route to an evangelical church) and shouted a curse word.

That night when I fell on stage and almost into the arms of my crush, flashing most of my undercarriage to the world. That date when I confidently took the unopened bottle of red wine, only to push the cork into the bottle with such force that I wore most of the contents of said bottle all over my clothes and face.

That’s why I love Kristan Higgins’ books. Not just because she writes a damn sexy hero, or the kinds of romantic situations you can both laugh at/with and swoon over. Mostly, I love her books because I feel like they could have been written about me but with a guarantee happy ending – something we’d all like to have.

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Haylee Nash has been reading and raving about romance for 15 years. She has previously worked as the Publishing Manager at Harlequin Australia and during her time there launched the Harlequin Teen, Harlequin Spice and local acquisition programmes, as well as Harlequin’s digital-first romance imprint, Escape Publishing. Haylee is now the Romance Specialist at Booktopia.

You can follow Haylee on twitter at @HKretrospect

Farewell Black Caviar

The fairytale ended last week as a teary Peter Moody and owners of Black Caviar announced they would be retiring the national icon, with her amazing unbeaten stretch stopping at 25.

I was lucky enough to be at Randwick for her last run, although the 28,000 spectators there didn’t know at the time. Premier Barry O’Farrell had earlier in the week clamboured for headlines with his misjudged quote, “The only thing better than a Black Caviar victory will be if Sydney is known as the place where Black Caviar was beaten by a horse with Jim Cassidy on its back.”

But for a nation where state lines are most divisive in the sporting arena, where the tall poppy syndrome is a celebrated part of our national culture, nobody at Randwick that day wanted to see her lose.

Sure the GFC isn’t The Great Depression, nor the War Against Terror the Great War, but Black Caviar came at just the right time like the preeminent people’s champion Phar Lap. And during these times, everyday people start to believe in fairytales. It’s in our nature.

Black Caviar wasn’t considered much of a horse, from not much of a lineage. She was casually bred, broken, and put up for auction. And as the huge mare circled the pens at auction, she only turned one head. Young, ambitious trainer Peter Moody. He convinced a conglomerate of prospective owners to invest $210,000 to secure the horse with one of them, Pam Hawkes, asking one major question.

“Is she fast?”

“She’s lightening,” Moody replied.

And the rest is history.

And last Saturday in Randwick in her last race, she blew the field away, and the crowd cheered like never before.

We don’t hold the Ashes, we don’t hold the Rugby Union World Cup, or the Rugby League World Cup, or the Football World Cup.

But we had the fastest horse in the world, perhaps the fastest ever. And I’ll never forget the roar of the crowd as that great champion galloped down the straight for one last time.
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Andrew Cattanach is a regular contributor to The Booktopia Blog. You can see other posts from him here, and follow his ramblings on twitter here.

Click here to buy Black Caviar from Booktopia,
Australia’s Local Bookstore

Divinyls singer Chrissy Amphlett passes away, aged 53.

Sad news from New York this afternoon as word filtered through that Divinyls singer Chrissy Amphlett has passed away aged 53. 

Amphlett lived in New York with her husband, former Divinyls drummer Charley Drayton. She had revealed in 2010 that she had breast cancer, and she had also battled multiple sclerosis, although the extent of which was unknown for much of the general public.

Amphlett was the cousin of 1960′s icon “Little Pattie” Thompson, and inspired a generation of Australians as lead singer of the Divinyls, who formed in 1980.

The screen adaptation of Helen Garner’s brilliant novel Monkey Grip would prove the catalyst for the Divinyls early success, featuring their first hits Boys in Town and Only Lonely.

Her cousin, Patricia ‘Little Pattie’ Thompson and family have released the following statement.

“Our beloved Chrissy peacefully made her transition this morning. Christine Joy Amphlett succumbed to the effects of breast cancer and multiple sclerosis, diseases she vigorously fought with exceptional bravery and dignity. She passed gently, in her sleep, surrounded by close friends and family, including husband of fourteen years, musician Charley Drayton, her sister, Leigh, nephew, Matt, and cousin Patricia Thompson (“Little Pattie”).

“Chrissy’s light burns so very brightly. Hers was a life of passion and creativity; she always lived it to the fullest. With her force of character and vocal strength she paved the way for strong, sexy, outspoken women. Best remembered as the lead singer of the ARIA Hall of Fame inductee, Divinyls, last month she was named one of Australia’s top ten singers of all time. Chrissy expressed hope that her worldwide hit I Touch Myself would remind women to perform annual breast examinations. Chrissy was a true pioneer and a treasure to all whose lives her music and spirit touched.”

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Click here to buy Chrissy Amphlett’s autobiography Pleasure and Pain
from Booktopia,
Australia’s Local Bookstore

Books with Bite – Kylie Ladd offers up Five Great Uncomfortable Reads

One of Booktopia’s favourite authors, Kylie Ladd, has proven to be a deft hand at exploring uncomfortable terrain. Her wonderful upcoming novel Into My Arms is no exception.

In keeping with the theme of challenging yet brilliant reads, (and on the birthday of Vladimir Nabokov, author of Lolita) Kylie was kind enough to share her five favourite books that make us explore the darker corners around us.

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Sunnyside-9780143005360Sunnyside

by Joanna Murray-Smith

Murray-Smith is better known as a playwright, but her novel Sunnyside was long-listed for the 2006 Miles Franklin award. In it, Murray-Smith deploys her scalpel-sharp wit and insight on the moneyed middle classes, on those aspirational Australians we all know (or, wince, are). There’s Molly, who wants to find inner peace by visiting the local swami (“It was a hell of an improvement on Pilates, that was for sure”) but panics when she’s asked to leave her new Gucci handbag in the change room; there’s the couple who’ve got rich from manufacturing heritage paint colours that they joke to each other should be re-named ‘Frowsy Suburbanites’, or ‘Gruesome Affluence’. There are BMWs and breakdowns, there are “forty-something yummy-mummies at Dunes by the Beach making cynical asides about their husbands. What a salad-fest that would be- rocket coming out of their diamond- studded ears. How many decades had it been since grown women ate something cooked?”  For all this, Sunnsyide isn’t a cruel book, but rather a deeply knowing one, and laugh-out-loud funny in parts. I re-read it often for a reality check, and for the frisson of the flinch.

Click here to see more books from Joanna Murray-Smith from Booktopia,
Australia’s Local Bookstore


another countryAnother Country

by Nicholas Rothwell

This one isn’t funny, and is far, far more sobering.  Nicholas Rothwell has long been the Northern Australia correspondent for The Australian, and Another Country is a collection of his essays for the newspaper. In it, Rothwell details the realities and inequities of life in the top end, an Australia that is so different to the one most of us inhabit that it may as well be another country. In eloquent and moving prose Rothwell documents the effect white settlement has had on the native inhabitants of this land: the massively increased rates of suicide and violent death, the dramatically lowered life span, the loss of language and identity, the endemic kidney failure, the systematic sexual and physical abuse of young children in remote communities, the alcohol abuse, the petrol sniffing, the financial exploitation of desert painters. Rothwell never lectures, just observes, which makes this book all the more harrowing. Read it alongside The Tall Man (Chloe Hooper) and Follow the Rabbit Proof Fence (Doris Pilkington) for an Australia that you don’t see in the Lara Bingle commercials.


lolita-popular-penguinsLolita

by Vladimir Nabokov

Is this the creepiest novel ever written? Its protagonist, Humbert Humbert, initially comes across as a cultured and sophisticated man, a doyenne of taste and refinement, but turns out to be the most unreliable narrator of them all. Humbert is a middle-aged literary professor who becomes obsessed with the 12 year old daughter of his land-lady, who he in turn kidnaps, sedates and eventually molests over and over for a number of years. The girl’s name is Dolores, but Humbert calls her Lolita, stripping of her of her identity along with her innocence and her childhood: ““Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Lo. Lee. Ta. She was Lo, plain Lo, in the morning, standing four feet ten in one sock. She was Lola in slacks. She was Dolly at school. She was Dolores on the dotted line. But in my arms she was always Lolita.” Lolita was banned in France and the UK for its erotic content, but really isn’t an erotic book at all- just a very sad one. I am glad I have read it, for its power and its prose, and I will never open it again.

Click here to buy Lolita from Booktopia,
Australia’s Local Bookstore


the-winter-of-our-disconnectThe Winter of Our Disconnect

by Susan Maushart

And now for something completely different. Maushart is an academic living in Western Australia who became concerned when she began realising the effect that ever-proliferating technology- mobile phones, the internet, iPods and iPads- was having on her and her three teenage children; that, to use her words, the lounge room was morphing into a docking station, that we can have five or six hundred “friends” and no idea who our neighbours are. Taking matters into her own hands, she put the whole family on a digital diet: six months with no television, computers, MP3 players or mobile phones. Her diary of this time- interspersed with literature reviews covering, for example, the effects of our obsession with connection on our sleep patterns, socialising and sex lives- make fascinating and thought-provoking reading. We have plenty of computers in our house, but thanks to me reading this book we don’t have wi-fi: anyone who wants to get online has to do so in a public space where every other member of the family can see what they are doing and yell at them to hurry up. My kids think we are living in the stone age, but I’m grateful to Maushart for encouraging me to think about controlling technology, not letting it control us.

Click here to buy The Winter of Our Disconnect from Booktopia,
Australia’s Local Bookstore


never-let-me-goNever Let Me Go

by Kazuo Ishiguro

I tossed up the number five spot between Sophie’s Choice and Never Let Me Go, but chose the latter because really, if a Holocaust novel doesn’t make you squirm, what will? Too easy. Never Let Me Go, in contrast, is set at Halisham, a boarding school in England. At first the novel unfolds as a standard, though lyrical, coming of age story. Gradually, however, the reader begins to realise that there’s something else going on here… why are the teachers called ‘guardians’? Why is it so important that the students keep themselves healthy?  I’m absolutely not going to give anything further away other than to say that even once you’ve twigged as to what’s going on, you can’t stop reading, and the ending has stayed with me for many, many years. A bewitching and horrifying novel.

Click here to buy Never Let Me Go from Booktopia,
Australia’s Local Bookstore


Honourable mentions by category… read these to make you feel uncomfortable about

Motherhood: A Life’s Work (Cusk)
Marriage: Caribou Island (Vann)
Friendship: The Myth Of You And Me (Stewart)
Parenting: We Need To Talk About Kevin (Shriver)
National security: The Unknown Terrorist (Flanagan)
Sending your kids to uni: I am Charlotte Simmons (Wolfe)
Wanting it all: The Bitch in the House (Hanauer)
The family pet: Dog Boy (Hornung)


Into My Arms

By Kylie Ladd

When Skye meets Ben their attraction is instantaneous and intense. Neither of them has ever felt more in synch – or in love – with anyone in their lives. What happens next will tear them both apart. Into My Arms is a searing love story and a gripping family drama – a shocking, haunting novel in the tradition of Jodi Picoult and Caroline Overington.

The kiss ignited something, blew it into being, and afterwards, all Skye could think about was Ben. One day a woman meets a man and falls instantly and irrevocably in love with him. It hits her like a thunderbolt, and she has to have him, has to be with him, regardless of the cost, of the pain of breaking up her existing relationship. She has never felt more in synch-or in love-with anyone in her whole life. So this is how it feels, she thinks to herself, this is what real love feels like.

It’s like that for him too; he wants her in a way he’s never wanted anything or anyone before: obsessively, passionately, all-consumingly.

She has found her one true love, her soulmate, and he has found his. What happens next will tear them apart and unleash havoc onto their worlds.

This brave, brilliant, electrifying novel from the acclaimed author of After the Fall and Last Summer, will move you deeply and shock you to your core. Love, lust and longing have rarely wielded such power, nor family secrets triggered such devastation.

Click here to buy Into My Arms from Booktopia,
Australia’s Local Bookstore

John Purcell, my two cents:  I just finished Into My Arms and I can’t recommend it enough. Anyone who has read and enjoyed Caroline Overington’s novels or Jodi Picoult’s will love it. Kylie Ladd engages the reader from the first page to the very last. One of the most interesting and moving books of 2013.

This book will get people talking – great for book clubs and reading groups. Order it today.

The Rosie Project — An Autism Mum’s Review

The Rosie Project has been a publishing phenomenon, melting the hearts of readers everywhere with its unconventional love story. Benison O’Reilly, the co-author of The Australian Autism Handbook, casts an informed eye over the bestseller from Graeme Simsion.

The Rosie Project — a debut novel sold to over 30 countries and welcomed with seemingly universal glowing reviews. We could hardly forgive its author, Graeme Simsion, if not for the fact he’s in his 50s and has written such a beguiling book.

For the unenlightened, The Rosie Project tells the story of Don Tillman, a 39-year old professor of genetics, who’s been less than successful in love. Tired of leaving things to chance, he embarks on The Wife Project, designing a 16-page ‘best practice’ questionnaire to help him find the perfect mate. Into his life enters Rosie Jarman. She’s a thoroughly unsuitable candidate for The Wife Project, but is on a quest to find her biological father and Don, with his knowledge of genetics, is perfectly equipped to help. We know that Don and Rosie will end up together, although predictably their romance faces several obstacles along the way.

What makes their romance different is that Don has Asperger’s syndrome, a form of high-functioning autism.

Novels based around characters with Asperger’s are hardly new; Mark Haddon’s award-winning The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is the best known example. But a romance where the central character has Asperger’s — well, that’s more of a leap.

Benison O’Reilly

For me the interest was personal; my youngest son is on the autism spectrum. Could Simsion produce a convincing portrait of Don, cast him as the romantic hero, yet still capture his Aspergian essence? The answer, it turns out, is yes.

Don’s quirks are a major source of humour in the book, particularly the legendary ability of folks on the spectrum to ‘call a spade a spade’. Somehow, however, we’re never laughing at Don, probably because the book is written in the first-person. Once we start seeing the world through Don’s eyes it’s almost impossible not get drawn into his particular brand of logic.

When an opportunity arises for Don to have sex with Rosie he approaches the challenge in a typically systematic way. He procures a book about sexual positions and starts practising in his office, with help of a skeleton on loan from the Anatomy Department. This encounter of Don’s with best friend Gene was one of many laugh-out-loud moments:

‘So why the stress?’ said Gene. ‘You have had sex before?’

‘Of course,’ I said. ‘My doctor is strongly in favour.’

‘Frontiers of medical science,’ said Gene.

He was probably making a joke. I think the value of regular sex has been known for some time.

I explained further. ‘It’s just that adding a second person makes it more complicated.’

Yet, two-thirds into the book I became anxious. Firstly that, for the sake of the comedy, Simsion might choose to sanitise the reality of Asperger’s, to gloss over the very real challenges that individuals on the spectrum have to face.  But on that count he didn’t disappoint. He alluded, realistically, to darker time in Don’s life, treatment for a mental health condition in his early twenties.

Then, near the end, when Don bought some new clothes and refined his social skills, I worried that he was somehow going to lose his Aspie-ness. Relax! It turned out Don was just playing a part to win over Rosie — he remained at heart the same old Don. Again, this is accurate. In maturity many individuals with high-functioning autism learn to fake it. They observe and imitate us ‘neurotypicals’ because it makes it easier to fit in, not because our behaviour actually makes much sense.

Rosie falls in love with Don because he offers stability, fidelity and kindness, and (after the makeover) a passing resemblance to Gregory Peck. When it comes to finding a mate you could definitely do worse.

But then I suppose I’m biased.

Click here to buy The Rosie Project from Booktopia,
Australia’s Local Bookstore

_______________________________________

Benison O’Reilly is the co-author of The Australian Autism Handbook. A new edition of the bestselling Handbook was released this month. You can follow her on twitter here.

Click here to buy the latest edition of Benison’s The Australian Autism Handbook

Star Trek: Into Darkness trailer keeps fans guessing

Star Trek fans have been treated to a gossip extravaganza this week, with the release of the second trailer for Star Trek: Into Darkness, the second installment in the J.J. Abrams reboot.

Check it out below.

And for those not familiar with the old Star Trek movies, the villain Khan has long been rumoured to feature in the reboot. And with the appearance of the so-hot-right-now Benedict Cumberbatch as “unnamed sinister ultra-villian”, many in the know think this might be the battle of Kirk v Khan.

The original battle gave birth to perhaps the greatest 13 seconds in movie history.

Stay tuned for more, and if you haven’t seen the first installment in the reboot don’t miss out. It won a whole new legion of fans, and kept the old fans very very happy. Which as George Lucas will tell you, can sometimes be hard to do.

Click here to buy Star Trek (2009) from Booktopia,
Australia’s Local Bookstore

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