The Intervention: An Anthology – Introduced by Co-editor Dr Rosie Scott

Anita Heiss and I decided to publish an anthology gathering together some of Australia’s best writers and thinkers to analyse and illuminate one of the most invasive, puzzling and unprecedented actions by a government in Australian history – the 2007 Intervention by the Howard Government.

nt-assimilationWe think that these writers and Indigenous leaders will bring anew perspective and urgency to an issue that has remained largely outside the public radar.

We believe that the basic premises of this intervention are deeply flawed, resulting in a serious breach of human rights.

It has never been fully debated nationally nor has there been significant consultation with the Indigenous communities most affected.

In June 2007 Prime Minister John Howard announced after the tabling of the ‘Little Children are Sacred’ report, ‘It is a disgrace that a section of the Australian population, those little children should be the subject of serious sexual abuse.’

A week or so later the Howard government staged a massive military and police Emergency Response costing $587 million, as outlined in the NT Emergency Response Act.

This Act prescribed a number of drastic measures which appeared strangely irrelevant to their stated aim of combating child abuse. Some of these measures contravened the Racial Discrimination Act and several revolved around land use. Nowhere in this very extensive legislation was there a significant mention of a child or children.

Since then there has been little or no change in the figures of child sexual offending in the Northern Territory.

This extraordinary, costly and largely unexplained action has had immense and long-reaching effects on the very cornerstones of Indigenous community and identity. There has now been substantial evidence gathered that much of this change has been negative. As the Intervention has morphed into Stronger Futures for another ten years in a disgraceful bipartisan agreement, many commentators have been asking what the justification for this continuation is, given the alarming figures of increasing suicide rates, child health problems and unemployment.

Editor Dr Rosie Scott

The fact is the real motives of this intervention have never been fully explained or justified and in spite of constant opposition by Indigenous communities, most significant Elders, peak human rights organisations as well as other Australians across a broad spectrum, the situation remains the same with only a few cosmetic touches.

We have published the voices of the Elders and other Northern Territory Indigenous community leaders in their many communiqués, media releases and statements issued throughout the period. As time goes on, the tone of these statements becomes angrier, more despairing and anguished as their very reasonable requests are simply ignored by the authorities and the Intervention is kept in place.

We believe this collection of essays, fiction, poetry, and memoir by leading Australian writers and statements by the Elders will give a new perspective, power and clarity to an issue that will continue to be highly controversial. And most importantly, we believe the role of the writer in this instance is to make Australian readers think about the plight of other largely voiceless Australians.

Many voices both Indigenous and non-Indigenous have been raised in eloquent protest against the Intervention ever since its first announcement by John Howard. Contrary to the carefully managed spin that there is deep disagreement within the Indigenous community, the fact is there is strong consensus about the Northern Territory Intervention amongst most experts, people on the ground and organisations.

Editor Anita Heiss

Editor Dr Anita Heiss

Most importantly, the majority of Elders and community leaders in the Northern Territory oppose it, some of whom have petitioned the United Nations. These include Rosalie Kunoth- Monks of Utopia, Djiniyini Gondarra of Galiwin’ku, Harry Nelson of Yuendumu, Djapirri Mununggirritj from Yirrikala, Yananymul Mununggurr from the Laynhapuy Homelands, Diane Stokes at Muckatty Station, Maurie Ryan and John Leemans at Kalkarindji, Reggie Wurridjal and Helen Williams at Maningrida, Joy White with the Larrakia mob in Darwin, Barbara and Walter Shaw in the Alice Springs Town Camps, Harry Nelson at Yuendumu, Dhanggal Gurruwiwi from Wallaby Beach and Matthew Dhulumburrk Gaykambayu from Ramingining, Miriam Rose Ungunmerr-Baumann of Nauiyu, Rachel Willika,Yalmay Yunupingu and George Gaymarani Pascoe of Milingimbi.

Local groups like Stop the Intervention Collective, Sydney and Intervention Rollback Action Group, Alice Springs which have worked so hard to publicise the facts, organisations representative of local Indigenous people like Yolŋuw Makarr Dhuni, eminent Indigenous and non-Indigenous figures like Tom Calma, LowitjaO’Donoghue, the late Malcolm Fraser, Alastair Nicholson, Chris Graham and Olga Havnen as well as international organisations like the UN, Amnesty and church groups have all stated their strong opposition.

One dissenting voice had a particularly powerful effect on me personally. Rachel Willika, a Jaowyn Elder from the remote community of Manyallaluk spoke at a protest meeting we at Women for Wik convened in 2007 in Sydney when news of the Intervention had broken. This meeting was chaired by Dr Anita Heiss and addressed by eminent Indigenous women we’d invited from the Territory. These women included Olga Havnen, the then national Indigenous leader from the newly formed Combined Aboriginal Organisations, Eileen Cummings, and former advisor to the Chief Minister of NT on Aboriginal and Women’s Affairs,her daughter Raylene Rosas and Rachel Willika. An emotional and attentive audience packed the hall and spilled out into the foyer.

Rachel Willika had never been on a plane before, or to Sydney but she stood in front of us with quiet dignity and grace. Her speech was one of the most eloquent and powerful I’ve ever heard and moved many of the audience to tears. And, in my case anyway, to action. Her description of the fear in their community when the soldiers came has stayed with me permanently and so in part inspired this anthology.

In a statement to The Guardian at around the same time she said,

That John Howard has no heart. This intervention is hurting Aboriginal families.

It is no coincidence that eloquent speech has the power to spur people to political action.And as always, writers, film makers, painters and other artists have been major players in this history of analysis and dissent.

There are some towering examples of this; The Swan Book by Alexis Wright and the movies Charlie’s Country by David Gulpilil, Our Generation, a superb documentary film by Sinem Saban and Damien Curtis, and John Pilger’s Utopia. All of these have received serious recognition, mostly internationally. David Gulpilil received a standing ovation and the prestigious prize for best actor in Un Certain Regard competition in Cannes, also winning best lead actor for the Australian Academy Cinema Television Arts awards. Charlie’s Country won best film and best director at the Film Critics Circle of Australia Awards. It’s safe to say this film will receive more awards.Stoptheinterventionrally21Jun2015

Our Generation was voted Best Campaign Film in the London International Documentary Festival, and Pilger’s Utopia was voted by the London Film Review as one of the five best films of the year. Alexis Wright’s critically acclaimed book, which I believe will become an Australian if not international classic, was shortlisted for all the major prizes including the Miles Franklin, the NSW Premiers, the Stella and the Voss. A review in the Sydney Morning Herald described The Swan Book as possibly ‘one of the most important Australian novels yet,’ another in the Sydney Review of Books ‘… and perhaps the first truly planetary novel.’

Other more direct examples of eloquent voices raised are those of people like Rosalie Kunoth-Monks, Djiniyini Gondarra, Pat Dodson, Jeff McMullen, Tom Calma, Jon Altman, Judy Gurruwiwi, Barbara Shaw, Paddy Gibson, and many others. Their passionate speeches around Australia are a powerful example of inspiring oratory when all too often dumbed down, evasive, clichéd and impenetrable bureaucratic language is the norm for the authorities defending the Intervention. These people are true Australian heroes. They spend many hours travelling around Australia speaking and campaigning about what the Intervention actually means to the people who are suffering through it.

When we decided to compile this anthology we were delighted with the calibre of writers who agreed to contribute and felt very confident about putting our proposal forward to publishers. Six months later not one publisher took the project on, though most said it was a great project with an excellent list. But thanks to heart-warming support from the community –a dedicated group of women, who called themselves Women Inspired to Action, or WITA for short, raised funds for us through crowd-funding – with generous contributions from people all over Australia; a generous grant from the CAL Cultural fund; keen interest and support from Michele Harris and the members of ‘concerned Australians’, an extraordinarily generous offer by Graeme Jones and Tracey Kirby of Kirby Jones to do our typesetting and design free, the committed work of Tara Wynn of Curtis Brown and people like Pamela Hewitt and Danny Vendramini who have donated their time and expertise; we have been able to continue with our plans to publish this book in 2015.

So this is our hope for the anthology – that our distinguished list of Australian writers and Elders will join in with these other artists, supporters and community leaders to provide an in depth, eloquent and thoughtful dimension to this urgent debate, so long neglected by mainstream Australia.

We believe that the truthfulness, clarity and passion of their language will provide an inspiring antidote to the spin and disinformation which has been the official language of the Intervention up until now.

Above all we intend this anthology of eloquent Australian voices to take the debate to a wider audience and through this unique compilation prove that the abuse of human rights by the Northern Territory Intervention has no place in this country.

Grab your copy of The Intervention: An Anthology here

the-intervention-an-anthologyThe Intervention

An Anthology

The Intervention: an Anthology is an extraordinary document –deeply moving, impassioned, spiritual, angry and authoritative –it’s essential reading for anyone who wants to understand what lies behind this passionate opposition.

In this historic anthology, award-winning writers Rosie Scott and Dr Anita Heiss have gathered together the work of twenty of Australian’s finest writers both Indigenous and non-Indigenous together with powerful statements from Northern Territory Elders to bring a new dimension and urgency to an issue that has remained largely outside the public radar.

One of the most invasive, puzzling and unprecedented actions by a government in Australian history – the 2007 NT Intervention by the Howard Government- has resulted in an ongoing and flagrant breach of human rights. The introduction of this racist legislation has never been fully debated nationally nor has there ever been any significant consultation with the Indigenous communities most affected.

In compelling fiction, memoir, essays, poetry and communiqués, the dramatic story of the Intervention and the despair, anguish and anger of the First Nations people of the Territory comes alive.

The Intervention: an Anthology is an extraordinary document – deeply moving, impassioned, spiritual, angry and authoritative –it’s essential reading for anyone who wants to understand this passionate opposition.

Grab your copy of The Intervention: An Anthology here

Nicole Trope, author of Hush, Little Bird, answers Ten Terrifying Questions

The Booktopia Book Guru asks

Nicole Trope

author of Hush, Little Bird

Ten Terrifying Questions

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

I was born and raised in South Africa. I came to Australia at eighteen and went through university here. I have a Master’s Degree in children’s literature and I was a high school teacher before I had my first child. I originally went to university to study Law but gave that up after writing my first essay. I was more interested in the drama of ancient Greece and less interested in what that all meant for the study of Law. While trying to figure out what to do I wrote a short story for the university magazine and flippantly thought, ‘If this gets published I’ll switch to an English degree.’ It did and I did.

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

I always wanted to be a writer. Even when I couldn’t even conceive of writing a novel I knew that immersed in a book was my favourite place to be. At eighteen I wanted to write children’s literature and I think I stuck with that idea until I came up with the plot for my first published novel.

At thirty I wanted to be able to say that I was a published writer, not just an aspiring author. It took many years after that for my dream to be realised.

Author: Nicole Trope

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

I believed that there would be a time when I truly felt like an adult and where I was in control of all aspects of my life. Now I know that maturity brings with it the realisation that this will never really be the case. Very few things in life are clear cut and absolute control of anything is really just an illusion.

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

I am, as most writers are, a great reader. Because I have read so widely I can’t really say that any novel in particular has had a great effect on my writing but rather that certain novelists have taught me some things about the craft. I love Fay Weldon and Terry Pratchett for their dark humour and Joanna Trollope for her light touch when it comes to domestic drama. I love the music in Alice Hoffman’s language and the spare prose of Australian writers like Olga Masters. Over time I have read everything from romance novels to crime series. Now when I read and am struck by a sentence or an idea I will take time to look at how the author has been able to create that feeling and learn from that.

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

Stories have always been my preferred form of expression. It never occurred to me to try anything else.

6. Please tell us about your latest novel…

Hush, Little Bird is the story of two very different women; Rose who has lived her life in the spotlight and Birdy who has lived her whole life hiding from the truth. It takes an act of violence for Birdy’s secrets to overwhelm her and then fate steps in and brings the two women together. The novel unfolds through the eyes of each woman and the reader gradually learns what connects them and why Birdy is determined to have her revenge.

Grab a copy of Nicole’s new book Hush, Little Bird here

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

I always hope that readers wish they didn’t have to put the book down and that perhaps they have been able to think about something in a different way.

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

Just a few of the authors I admire are: Fay Weldon, Terry Pratchett, Elizabeth Berg, Alice Hoffman, Peter Goldsworthy, Douglas Adams, Alice Walker and Margaret Atwood. Every couple of weeks I pick a letter of the alphabet at the library and try to find a new author to admire.

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

I just want to keep writing and keep getting published and hopefully have readers say that each book is better than the last.

10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?

The obvious ones-which are to read all the time and to write all the time, even when you don’t want to or are feeling despondent about your latest rejection. Also there are a lot of organisations you can join and competitions you can enter that will get your novel or short story in front of someone who can see the potential in a writer’s work. Give everything a go!

Nicole, thank you for playing.

Grab a copy of Hush, Little Bird here

Hush, Little Bird

by Nicole Trope

A celebrity wife. A damaged young woman. How did they both end up in prison and what is the secret they share? White-knuckle reading from the queen of domestic suspense.

Birdy thought she would have to wait until she was free again to see Rose, but now Rose has been convicted of a shocking crime and she and Birdy will be together. Birdy has been saving all her anger for Rose. It is Rose who should have protected her and kept her safe. Birdy was little but Rose was big and she knows Rose could have saved her.

This is a story about monsters who hide in plain sight and about the secrets we keep from ourselves. It is about children who are betrayed and adults who fail them. This is the story of Birdy who was hurt and Rose who must be made to pay.

A provocative and compassionate read from the queen of white-knuckle suspense and searing family drama. You won’t be able to put it down.

About the Author

Nicole Trope is a former high school teacher with a Masters Degree in Children’s Literature. In 2005 she was one of the winners of the Varuna Awards for Manuscript Development. In 2009 her young adult novel titled I Ran Away First was shortlisted for the Text Publishing Prize. The Secrets in Silence is Nicole’s third novel. Her previous titles include the acclaimed The Boy Under The Table and Three Hours Late.

 Grab a copy of Hush, Little Bird here

Q&A with Owen Sheers

When we meet Michael in the first pages of the novel, there are many hints about his past and his future, but the novel keeps us in suspense about what exactly those events are. How much did you know about Michael and his life before you began the novel?


Author: Owen Sheers

This book had several beginnings. Four, to be exact, in that I wrote the first 10,000 words three times over, before finally starting again on what would become the finished novel. I mention this as these false starts meant that my knowledge of Michael and his life repeatedly shifted, deepened and shallowed over those different beginnings. What I can say is that I always knew what he had done and what he would do. I knew he’d been an immersion journalist in the US and I knew the broad brushstrokes of his emotional hinterland – his relationship with Caroline and his grief in the wake of her loss. I also knew how he’d react to what happens inside the Nelsons’ house. But none of that is the same as knowing him. In terms of the man himself, I had to come to know Michael in the writing. Which is how it should be, I hope. This seems to me to be the most natural, and perhaps the most true, way for a character to develop – under the shaping influence of event and interaction with the world and others rather than through extensive planning in the abstract. In the small details of their movements, the junctions of their thoughts.

The hints about his past and future that you mention were a narrative intention from the outset, in that I wanted to try to create a two-way tension throughout the first half of the book. I didn’t just want a reader to be thinking about what would happen next, but also about what had happened before the opening page. I recognised this was something of a risk, in that a ‘push – me – pull – you’ approach to suspense in the story would require a complex temporal structure, but at the same time it was important to me that a reader feel absolutely centered on the action of Michael entering the Nelson’s house. His journey through that house forms the narrative spine for much of the novel, and for it to do so it needs to be sustained by a suggestive approach to his past, and a gradual release of information, rather than a reader have full knowledge of his psychological history from the start. In the other direction, looking beyond the events of ‘‘I Saw A Man’’, I wanted the narrative voice of the novel to have a strong sense of being rooted in the future – to be imbued not only with a retrospective knowledge of what happens in the book, but also of what happens long after its final page. Nearly all third person fiction carries this tone by association, but I did want to turn the volume up on this quality a little, with an eye towards the end of the book…

Can you describe how you came to write the novel – did you begin with a character, a scene, an event, something else?


‘‘I Saw A Man’’ grew for me in a different way to anything else I’ve written before. And yet at the same time it grew from those pervious books too. My journey into fiction before this novel was primarily historical, and often interwoven with, or seeded in, an element of real event or experience. In the wake of those other books I knew I wanted to write something next that would take a deeper step towards a work of ‘purer’ imaginative fiction. Or to put it another way, I didn’t want an external trigger for the book; for it to be based upon, inspired or drawn from a true story. In this respect perhaps ‘I Saw A Man’ didn’t so much as grow from my previous books, as grow in reaction to them.

The truth is, however, that while you can have all the intentions and plans in the world, you often have little control over which story will take hold of you sufficiently for you to spend seven years of your life working with it. This was certainly the case with ‘I Saw A Man’, which entered my life as a single image. That of a man entering his neighbours’ house by the back door, thinking there is no one inside, when there is.

The rest of the story grew from that image and the questions it provoked. Who is this man? What is his relationship with his neighbours? Who are they, and what are their stories?

There were two other elements that were there from very early on. The first of these was the anticipatory draw of a reader knowing that someone was inside the house but not knowing, from a cast of several possible characters, who that person was. The second was more a personal literary challenge than an aspect of plot or story, in that I knew I wanted to try to manipulate a reader into a position where they don’t want Michael to confess to what he’s done. Given the nature of the event that happens, I always knew this would be very difficult to achieve, and I still don’t know to what extent I was successful in this aim or not.

Click here to grab a copy of I Saw a Man

The first line of the novel is immediately captivating – so much so that it was used on the book jacket! Was this always the first sentence of the novel?

No, and yes. The first sentence always carried the same sense, the same information and meaning. But how it carried that sense changed and altered constantly for many months, if not years. This was often a question of listening to cadence, or searching for more economy of phrasing, or playing with the temporal weight of the line.

The novel turns on several acts of violence, and depicts an intense love affair as well. Is it more difficult to write about love or violence?

Both are difficult to write about well, mostly because both have been written about so much to the extent that many of their truths have become clichés. I’m also reminded of what Auden said about sex in literature in his essay on Shakespeare’s sonnets, and how the same applies to violence too. He writes about how the central tension in any writing about sex is between the unconscious nature of the sexual act, and the highly conscious nature of writing about it. Although I suppose one of the things that interested me about the central act of violence in ‘I Saw A Man’ was the extent to which it is very conscious, planned, mediated.

If pushed to answer this question, though, I’d have to say love. Love is, you hope, experienced by more of your readers than extreme violence. As such there is a greater knowledge of its varieties, its shades and tones, and often a greater ownership too. Love (as opposed to sex) is also an emotion experienced over a span of time, in contrast to the sudden, and therefore naturally dramatic, nature of much violence. It’s harder to write authentically about the shifting patterns of a love over time, than it is to write about the ‘puncture point’ of a moment of violence.

I SAW A MAN’ explores the difference between how we tell the truth in fiction versus journalism. How do you feel about this, particularly as a writer who works across different spheres, from fiction to poetry to drama?

I enjoy reading quality non-fiction, reportage and journalism, and often do, but the very reason I choose to write in imaginative forms, even if the material is documentary based, is because I’m interested in the truths you can tell when you have a license to invent, to let go of pure ‘fact’ and imagine from it instead. It’s part of the ongoing alchemy of literature isn’t it? The deception that reveals, the lying that tells the truth. Unfettered by the bounds or chronologies of real events, the writer of fiction, poetry or drama is able to shape, omit, pace and juxtapose at will, answering only to the internal credibility and coherence of the story, poem or play. As such, if done properly, they’re able to evoke truths beyond fact that don’t only live, but also live on, resonating with a reader or an audience.

On one level it’s this question that drives Michael’s writing, and then Michael himself, in the novel. The concept that the facts alone, without their context or motivations, are incapable of telling a true story.

Much of your writing is concerned with war and its impact on soldiers, civilians and those on the homefront. Has this subject always been important to you, and can you talk about how you’ve done your research?

pink-mistI’m often asked about why I write about conflict and its aftermath so much. The first thing to say is that I never set out to do this. Rather, the subject has grown organically across a number of different books, poems and plays. The main reason for this is, I think, that my adult writing life has progressed in parallel with the post-9/11 conflicts. Ever since I’ve been writing seriously, they have been there. I knew boys from my school in Abergavenny who joined the army when they were 16, and watched from a distance as they went on multiple tours of Iraq and Afghanistan. That in itself triggered an initial interest, which was further added to by the ongoing stories from those conflicts and their consequences throughout the first decade of the 21st century. Even if a work was historical, such as my novel ‘Resistance’ or a one man play about the WWII poet Keith Douglas, they were always prisms through which to refract contemporary issues about war and its aftermath too.

Then, in 2011, I was asked to write a play as part of a rehabilitation project. The idea was to create a piece of theatre based upon the experiences of around 30 recently wounded service personnel, many of whom would then perform in the cast. The finished play was called ‘The Two Worlds of Charlie F’ and it ended up being performed 125 times, touring in the UK and Canada. I also drew upon those interviews, and others, to write ‘Pink Mist’, a verse drama about three young friends who join the army and go on tour to Afghanistan in 2008/9. In this piece I was also interested in exploring the effects of either a psychological or physical wounding on the soldiers’ families too, the women in their lives who are often the people who have to pick up the pieces, who remain on the frontline of a wounding long after a conflict has come to an end. I’ve recently begun researching what I hope will be a cousin piece to Pink Mist’, another verse drama but this time based upon interviews with young Afghan boys who were trafficked to the UK when they were 11 or 12, and who have come into manhood as asylum seekers and refugees. The characters will, I suppose, make the reverse journey to the friends in ‘Pink Mist’ who travelled from the UK to Afghanistan. But both groups will be brothered too, in their sharing of the shadows of that war.

Moving away from the specific, however, I’d say the other reason I’ve found myself writing about conflict is that it is an anonymising force – men become ‘soldiers’, people ‘civilians’, families ‘refugees’. The public narratives of war tend to be blunt, broad and not particularly nuanced. Literature can provide vital countering narratives, I think. Stories, novels, poems and plays that pursue the specific, the human, the nuanced. Writing that re-humanizes not just the horror of it all, but also the full spectrum of its experience.

The novel is wonderful on London – how we do and don’t know our neighbours, the contrast between the wildness of Hampstead Heath and the tightly packed streets around it, how history has shaped the city and its buildings. Do you have any favourite novels about London?the-end-of-the-affair

Oddly I was reading mostly US fiction, rather than London novels when I wrote ‘I Saw A Man’. Going back a few years though, I greatly enjoyed and admired, Zoe Heller’s ‘Notes on a Scandal’, which is a book set in similar London territory. And of course even now back alleys at night in the city evoke the London of Dickens. Raymond Williams captures the growth of suburbia very well in his novel ‘Border Country’ and Michael Frayn does the same for the wartime suburbs in ‘Spies’. Probably my favorite London novel though, and again with a wartime setting, is Graham Greene’s ‘The End of the Affair’, the title of which is enough alone to send me back to a mist and rain-blurred, blacked-out Clapham Common.

You write fiction, poetry and plays. When you have an idea for a story, is it clear what form it will take?

Usually, yes, which I’m very relieved about. When I was younger I was often torn between an idea or story becoming a poem or a short story, and for a while toyed with the idea of a book half of which dealt with a set of subjects as poems, and the other half of which dealt with them as stories. I never even started it, which is probably a good thing. Now, though, on the whole an idea and its form seem to arrive at the same time. Martin Amis talks about the early intimations of a novel being like a ‘throb’ somewhere in the mind, and I find that throb rarely just carries suggestions of subject matter, but also of form, structure and voice.

Your first novel, RESISTANCE, was turned into a film. What was it like to see your novel on the screen?resistance

I didn’t. I saw a version of the screenplay, one which had been through the mill of an editing suite, on the screen. Which is just how it should be. I loved the experience of witnessing the translation of a story between media. There were many frustrations and regrets when elements of the original story couldn’t be achieved – either due to limits of the form, or the budget, or both – but there were just as many moments of pleasure at what you gain in a film too. The first day on set was especially strange. You feel as if you’re stepping into a version of your own imagination. Characters you’d gradually fleshed out across the pages of a manuscript were now there, standing before you, literally fleshed out in actors lending their nervous systems to a world you’d invented many years before.

Who are some of your favourite writers and/or books?

They tend to keep changing, which I hope is a good thing. But a few names that come to mind – James Salter, Richard Yates, Barbara Kingsolver, Louis MacNeice, Muriel Spark, Dannie Abse, Seamus Heaney, Graham Greene.

What are you reading at the moment?

Ben MacIntyre’s book about Kim Philby ‘A Spy Among Friends’, E. L. Doctrow’s ‘The Book of Daniel’, an anthology of Mexican short stories, ‘Sun, Stone and Shadows’ and ‘Ask the Moon’, the collected poems of Dannie Abse

What are you working on next?

I’m keen to get started on the next novel, but while that’s slowly coming into shape I’m also working on a few other projects including the verse drama I mentioned above, a poetry film for the BBC, some nature writing about the Gower coast and a three-hander play which I’m developing at the NT studio.

i-saw-a-manI Saw a Man

by Owen Sheers

The event that changed all of their lives happened on a Saturday afternoon in June, just minutes after Michael Turner – thinking the Nelsons’ house was empty – stepped through their back door…

After the sudden loss of his wife, Michael Turner moves to London and quickly develops a close friendship with the Nelson family next door. Josh, Samantha and their two young daughters seem to represent everything Michael fears he may now never have: intimacy, children, stability and a family home. Despite this, the new friendship at first seems to offer the prospect of healing, but then a catastrophic event changes everything. Michael is left bearing a burden of grief and a secret he must keep, but the truth can only be kept at bay for so long…

Moving from London and New York to the deserts of Nevada, I Saw a Man is a brilliant exploration of violence, guilt and attempted redemption, written with the pace and grip of a thriller. Owen Sheers takes the reader from close observation of the domestic sphere to some of the most important questions and dilemmas of the contemporary world.

Click here to grab a copy of I Saw a Man

Extract from After the Blast: An Australian Officer in Iraq and Afghanistan

after-the-blastSince the first IED strikes on US soldiers in mid-2003, the insur­gents had been learning from their successes and failures, targeting both Coalition troops and Iraqi security forces. We said, even back then, that there were only clever IED makers left, as the stupid ones had blown themselves up long ago.

The IEDs were getting more and more sophisticated. Radio-controlled switches, using remote-control garage-door technology or remote-control toy parts, were common. These were used to complete the circuit that would send a current from the battery pack to the detonator, which exploded, igniting the main charge – an explosive reaction that could blast air and fragments at up to 8000 metres per second and instantaneously create overpressure in the confined space of an armoured vehicle, which could break down the cellular structure of tissue in the human lungs and brain. After IED strikes, armoured crewmen were regularly found dead without a scratch on them, their brains and lungs a mash.

The succession of wars fought in Iraq had left a supply of muni­tions, referred to as ‘explosive remnants of war’, that could be easily adapted for use as main charges. Artillery rounds, mortar bombs, grenades and rockets were the most common. There were stories of the Americans and Iraqis alike abandoning huge stockpiles of munitions. So the insurgents had an ample supply of explosives.

And when we found ways to jam the radio-controlled switches, they would just change back to a ‘command wire’ switch. In this case, the bomb was detonated in a concealed location by a triggerman who would physically press a button, or, even more crudely, join two bare wires, thus completing a circuit. The current would run from a battery pack down the wire to the explosives.

While this had its limitations, with the triggerman having to be within 100 metres of the bomb, it was still a very effective way of targeting conveys.

Garth Callender publicity

Garth Callender

There was talk of the insurgents using Russian anti-armour charges, which would explosively fire ball bearings that could penetrate the hull of a vehicle, particularly the light armour of our ASLAVs. The insurgents were constantly looking for new ways to defeat whatever we tried to do to protect ourselves.

Then there were the suicide bombers. What can you do to protect yourself against someone who has decided to die in order to take you with him? We would get daily threat reports from the intelligence blokes: ‘Look out for a yellow taxi with mixed panels, sagging on its suspension, driven by a male between twenty and forty years of age, cleanly shaven and sweating.’ Which came close to describing a third of the cars on the road. There were heaps of yellow taxis with shitty panel-beating jobs. They all sagged on their suspensions, whether they had bombs in the back or not. As for twenty-to forty-year-olds, cleanly shaven and sweating: most men in Baghdad didn’t wear beards and it was fucking hot – so they sweated – probably about as much as if they were about to blow themselves to Allah.

There was always talk of snipers, and a lot of the boys thought they had been fired on at one time or another, particularly on Route Irish. On one occasion, a patrol commander came back swearing that he had been shot at and showed us the indent in the smoke-grenade discharger on the side of his turret. Something didn’t smell quite right, and this commander had been known to fire off his pistol as he drove down Route Irish. We looked at the angle of the indent. It was all wrong for sniper fire; it was the perfect size of a 9-mm round – the same as our Browning pistols. He must have shot his own smoke-grenade discharger with his pistol. He was about to rotate back to Australia, so we let it slide. But it left a bad taste in our mouths to think that our blokes could be driving around firing off rounds with such careless neglect that they could strike their own vehicle – what else were they inadvertently hitting?

Extract from After the Blast: An Australian Officer in Iraq and Afghanistan by Garth Callender

after-the-blastAfter the Blast

by Garth Calllender

A very Australian story of heroism and healing.

In 2004 Garth Callender, a junior cavalry officer, was deployed to Iraq. He quickly found his feet leading convoys of armoured vehicles through the streets of Baghdad and into the desert beyond. But one morning his crew was targeted in a roadside bomb attack. Garth became Australia’s first serious casualty in the war.

After recovering from his injuries, Garth returned to Iraq in 2006 as second-in-command of the Australian Army’s security detachment in Baghdad. He found a city in the grip of a rising insurgency. His unit had to contend with missile attacks, suicide bombers and the death by misadventure of one of their own, Private Jake Kovco.

Determined to prevent the kinds of bomb attacks that left him scarred, Garth volunteered once more in 2009 – to lead a weapons intelligence team in Afghanistan. He was helicoptered to blast zones in the aftermath of attacks, and worked to identify the insurgent bomb-makers responsible.

Revealing, moving, funny and full of drama, Garth Callender’s story is one of a kind.

About the Author
Garth Callender left the regular Australian Army in 2013 after a distinguished seventeen-year career, during which he served in Iraq and Afghanistan and rose to the rank of major. He left an enduring legacy in weapons technical intelligence, and trained many hundreds of soldiers from raw recruits through to deployment. He now works for an Australian technology company that is developing new ways to detect concealed explosives.

Grab your copy of After the Blast here

Rochelle Siemienowicz, author of Fallen, answers Ten Terrifying Questions

The Booktopia Book Guru asks

Rochelle Siemienowicz

author of Fallen

Ten Terrifying Questions

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

I was born in Geelong, Victoria, but my family moved so quickly and so often that I have no memory of it. My parents were Seventh-day Adventist missionaries and we lived in various parts of New Guinea and Fiji until I was 14 and then we moved to Perth where I finished High School. I moved to Melbourne to start University in the early 1990s and have been here ever since.

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

Twelve: A schoolteacher because although I really wanted to be a writer I didn’t think it was possible.
Eighteen: A journalist because it seemed the likeliest way of making a living as a writer. Or an academic, because I was good at writing essays and this seemed a continuation of that.
Thirty: A film journalist and sometime novelist as this combined all my passions – cinema, literature and connecting with communities of likeminded creative people.

Author: Rochelle Siemienowicz

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

I was raised in a strict religious household and believed that the end of the world was imminent – that Jesus Christ was going to return in the clouds and rescue his chosen people while the rest of the earth burned. These days I’m an atheist, though I still harbour apocalyptic fears – now related to environmental destruction.

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?

1. The huge changes in Australian Higher Education during the late 1990s and early 2000s meant that an academic career seemed too hard and too precarious to pursue. I was surrounded by bitter academics and underpaid sessional staff, so I finished my PhD on Australian cinema and fled academe, never to return.

2. Becoming involved in The Big Issue magazine’s family of writers and editors from 1997 until the present has been life changing. The Big Ish was the first publication to pay me for my words and so many of my closest friends and associates are people I met there.

3. Reading Andrew McGahan’s searingly honest, funny and distinctively Australian Vogel-winning debut novel Praise (1991) changed my life. I fell in love with McGahan’s candor, courage, and skilful blending of autobiography and fiction. This was controlled confessional writing at its most deceptively simple – unafraid to get dirty, but also able to rise above the grime into pure poetry and wry philosophical reflection.

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?

I was raised on books, especially the Bible, and I always wanted to have my name on the cover of one. I love to hold the physical objects and there’s nothing quite as immersive as a really good book. Also, you can read them during take-off and landing when flying on an aeroplane.

6. Please tell us about your latest book…

Fallen is my first book. It’s a memoir about sex, religion and marrying too young, and it traces a crucial period in my early twenties when I broke away from everything I’d been raised to believe. Raised as devout Seventh-day Adventists, who believe that the end of the world is near and premarital sex is a terrible sin, my husband and I married at twenty while still at University. But after leaving the parental nest, we started experimenting with all the things that were forbidden to us – alcohol, meat, rock and roll, cinema and literature that stretched the boundaries of ‘decency’. We loved each other sincerely and took our marriage vows very seriously, but part of this experimentation involved having an open marriage. My book is about three weeks at the end of that marriage when I revisited my hometown of Perth and broke the rules of our agreement. It’s a sexual coming of age story, a tale of first love and innocence lost.

Grab a copy of Rochelle’s new book Fallen here

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

Telling the truth about the variety and detail of female sexual experience is still a radical act – even in our supposedly liberated and highly sexualised culture. If my book could counter some of the shame around sexual desire, and make readers feel less alone, less dysfunctional, and less ‘sinful’, then that would be a huge achievement.

8. Whom do you most admire and why?

Right now I’m full of admiration for the people close to me who are enduring heartbreak, divorce, unemployment and depression. These are the supposedly ordinary people who keep on doing what they have to do, with kindness and generosity, even when getting out bed in the morning feels like the most courageous and impossible act. Life is tough a lot of the time and there’s a lot of everyday heroism. Being human is hard.

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

I want to be as honest as I can be, in both my life and my work. I also want to spread pleasure. There’s really no higher achievement than writing something people enjoy reading for the pure pleasure of the language, the characters and the rich, beautiful world you’ve created. Pleasure should be an end in itself.

10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?

Read. Read all the time. Stay off social media long enough to become absorbed in the words of others. Read the great books. Read them aloud. Hear how they work, or don’t work. Read your own work aloud. Feel where it gets boring or sticky. It’s not just that you’re tired of it. The writing is bad when that happens. Good writing is good even when you’ve read it fifty times.

Rochelle, thank you for playing.

Grab a copy of Fallen here

Fallen: A Memoir About Sex, Religion and Marrying Too Young

by Rochelle Siemienowicz

“Call me Eve. It’s the name I call myself when I think back to that time when I was a young wife – so very young, so very hungry. I picked the fruit and ate and drank until I was drunk with freedom and covered in juice and guilt.”

In this frank, compelling and beautifully written memoir, Rochelle Siemienowicz provides an intimate portrait of the last days of an open marriage.

Raised as devout Seventh-day Adventists, who believe that the end of the world is near and that premarital sex is a terrible sin, Eve and her husband marry young. Rebelling against their upbringing, and in an attempt to overcome problems in their relationship, they enter an agreement that has its own strict rules. But when Eve holidays alone in her hometown of Perth during a hot West Australian summer, she finds her body and heart floating free. Fallen is a true tale of sex, love, religion and getting married too young – and about what it feels like when you can’t keep the promises you once sincerely made.

About the Author

Rochelle Siemienowicz is a writer, film critic and former editor at the AFI | AACTA. She has a PhD in Australian cinema and was the long-time film editor for The Big Issue. She currently reports for Screen Hub, reviews for SBS Film and is Film Columnist for Kill Your Darlings. She very occasionally blogs at It’s Better in the Dark, and is currently working on her first novel, which has nothing at all to do with movies.

Grab a copy of Fallen here

Fiona McArthur, author of The Homestead Girls, answers Six Sharp Questions

The Booktopia Book Guru asks

Fiona McArthur

author of The Homestead Girls

Six Sharp Questions


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

Five women, a sheep station in drought and the 22-year-old granddaughter’s last ditch measure to keep the farm after her grandad is seriously injured. A flying doctor, a flight nurse, an 80-year-old ex-bush nurse and 16-year-old diva meld into The Homestead Girls and become a family in the harshness of a desolately beautiful landscape.

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

We’re talking books and writing here –right?
So the best had to be seeing Red Sand Sunrise up on the shelves and selling well. Crazy fabulous reviews, people telling me that was just how it was, and the fun of getting out there to research in an area I knew too little about.

My worst is nothing compared to some people. I’m just happy to be here.

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.

It was raining in Adelaide, they’d called off the cricket, and that was only four hours away. It looked promising all day but the dry electrical storms set everyone’s teeth on edge.

An hour and half across the boarder they had a deluge. None at Blue Hills. The heat increased the pall of anxiety in the homestead and the air palpated with tension.

Soretta chewed her nails as she watched the sky because the house water tank was almost empty. Lachlan had gone into town to order another tank just in case the heavens opened and Klaus had started up the old bulldozer and scraped the empty dam another few feet deeper in case they had a downpour they could capture.

Billie had offered to pay the water carrier to bring a load for the house, but it wasn’t just the house that needed water. Soretta was praying the water table they were using from the bores to keep the stock alive would hold up. Everyone felt it so close to rain that the waiting was torture, made worse by hearing of rain everywhere else. It had passed them by before.

Click here to grab a copy of The Homestead Girls

red-sand-sunrise4.    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 write when everyone else is asleep. So I get up at 4am to write before I get ready for work at 6. Nobody talks to me then. Please don’t talk to me when I’m writing. On writing-at-home days I’m vague, my eyes are constantly flicking from place to place as my brain lives in two worlds. My husband just shakes his head. I guess that would be interesting to live with – or not.

5.   Some writer’s 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 love writing stories of ordinary women doing extraordinary things. It’s my theme. The upsurge of  interest in rural romance and rural comtempory fiction allowed me to write my medical version of the big books I put off writing. Current marketplace is an incredibly exciting time for someone like me so it influenced me to take a gamble, stop my three small books a year of steady income, and write one big book. Great satisfaction in that.

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?tomorrow-when-the-war-began

Tomorrow When The War Began. Because I want them to actually read and if they are ill-educated they probably need to be enticed into falling in love with reading. The Tomorrow series started one of my son’s reading.

Harry Potter for the same reason. And Harry was out of his comfort zone and had to make friends.

The Old Man and The Sea – because simple can be incredible.

Pride and Prejudice – because we don’t need that much civilising and other people had to do it harder.

Kings In Grass Castles – because some people did it really tough and we need to honour them. I think of the women in this book.

Fiona, thanks for playing!

Click here to grab a copy of The Homestead Girls

The Homestead Girls

by Fiona McArthur

After her teenage daughter Mia falls in with the wrong crowd, Dr Billie Green decides it’s time to leave the city and return home to far western NSW. When an opportunity to pursue her childhood dream of joining the Flying Doctor Service comes along, she jumps at the chance. Flight nurse Daphne Prince – who is thrilled to have another woman join the otherwise male crew – and their handsome new boss, Morgan Blake, instantly make her feel welcome.

Just out of town, drought-stricken grazier Soretta Byrnes has been struggling to make ends meet and in desperation has opened her station house to boarders. Tempted by its faded splendour and beautiful outback setting, Billie, Mia and Daphne decide to move in and the four of them are soon joined by eccentric eighty-year-old Lorna Lamerton.

The unlikely housemates are cautious at first, but soon they are offering each other frank advice and staunch support as they tackle medical emergencies, romantic adventures and the challenges of growing up and getting older. But when one of their lives is threatened, the strong friendship they have forged will face the ultimate test . . .

About the Author

Fiona McArthur has worked as a rural midwife for many years. She is a clinical midwifery educator, mentors midwifery students, and is involved with obstetric emergency education for midwives and doctors from all over Australia. Fiona’s love of writing has seen her sell over two million books in twelve languages. She’s been a midwifery expert for Mother&Baby magazine and is the author of the nonfiction works The Don’t Panic Guide to Birth and Breech Baby: A Guide for Parents. She lives on an often swampy farm in northern New South Wales with her husband, some livestock, and a blue heeler named Reg. She’s constantly taking photographs of sunrise and sunset and loves that researching her books allows her to travel to remote places.

Click here to grab a copy of The Homestead Girls


What Cathryn Read – Bestselling author Cathryn Hein on her May reading

Australian novelist Cathryn Hein, author of The FallsThe French Prize, Heartland and much more gives her verdict on the books she’s been reading.

Lyrebird Hill

by Anna Romer

I thoroughly enjoyed Romer’s debut novel Thornwood House and her follow up, Lyrebird Hill, didn’t disappoint. The story unfolded beautifully, slipping between the present and colonial times, and held me captivated throughout. As with Thornwood house, the story had a wonderful gothic feel which made the suspense part of the novel even more intense, and Romer is a master at bringing the Australian bush to vivid life.

Lyrebird Hill unfolds with Ruby Cardel discovering that her sister Jamie’s death – an event she’s managed to blank from her memory – may have a sinister connection. When Ruby journeys back to her childhood home, the vault of her memory begins to open, bringing with it uncertainty and danger.

Highly recommended.

Grab a copy of Lyrebird Hill here

Already Dead 

by Jaye Ford

The suspense and action begin almost immediately in this gripping thriller from Jaye Ford and barely lets up until the final page. When an armed stranger jumps into her car, journalist Miranda Jack is forced on a terrifying ride. Her abductor, Brendan Walsh, seems a madman, but as her ordeal progresses and Miranda listens to his paranoid rants, Miranda is left with doubts. Doubts that force her to seek answers even when it appears doing so might place her in danger.

As with Jaye Ford’s previous novels, Already Dead was a page-turner so compelling all I wanted was to gobble it down in one sitting. I loved the thrill ride, loved the touch of romance and loved the landscape. She’s an auto-buy author. Next please!

 Grab a copy of Already Dead here

You’re Just Too Good To Be True

by Sofija Stefanovic

This short book looks at online romance scams, how they operate and the devastating impact they can have on those caught up in them. Triggered by her eighty-year-old friend Bill’s experiences, Stefanovic sympathetically reveals how Bill’s search for online love took him from hope to bankruptcy. It’s sad and frustrating and I feel desperately sorry for Bill and others caught up in these scams. To have the human need for love exploited so badly is horrible.

The story gets even more interesting when Stefanovic decides to lure a scammer into talking to her about their operations, and finds herself in turn being drawn into this morally murky world.

Fascinating. And an eye-opener on how easily people can be manipulated, regardless of background.

Grab a copy of You’re Just Too Good To Be True here

The Diabolical Miss Hyde

by Viola Carr

This book is brilliantly cross-genre, spanning romance, steampunk, horror and crime, and probably a few others, and, as the title indicates, takes more than a little bit of inspiration from classics such as The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, Frankenstein and more. It’s dark, no question and certainly not a typical romance, but it worked thanks to an intriguing plot and great characters, and some seriously lush world building.

Crime scene investigator Eliza Jekyll is daughter of the famous Dr Henry Jekyll (from the classic novel) and suffers his same condition. Her “evil twin” is Lizzie, and she’s a blast compared to straight-laced Eliza, if a tad violent-minded. The two are in a constant battle for domination, a battle that becomes more fraught when the Royal Society’s enforcer, Captain Lafayette, comes to assist in the hunt for the bizarre new serial killer stalking London’s streets. For this is the man who could see Eliza’s career and life destroyed. Except Lafayette may not be all he seems either, and Lizzie is on the trail. So perhaps is someone even more dangerous.

Great fun!

Grab a copy of The Diabolical Miss Hyde here

Hein, CathrynThanks Cathryn Hein, we look forward to seeing what you have read next month!

Cathryn Hein was born in South Australia’s rural south-east. With three generations of jockeys in the family it was little wonder she grew up horse mad, finally obtaining her first horse at age 10. So began years of pony club, eventing, dressage and showjumping until university beckoned.

Armed with a shiny Bachelor of Applied Science (Agriculture) from Roseworthy College she moved to Melbourne and later Newcastle, working in the agricultural and turf seeds industry. Her partner’s posting to France took Cathryn overseas for three years in Provence where she finally gave in to her life-long desire to write. Her short fiction has been recognised in numerous contests, and published in Woman’s Day.

 Click here to see Cathryn’s author page

The Falls

by Cathryn Hein

For as long as she can remember, Teagan Bliss has wanted to manage her family’s property. She’s invested everything in the farm, knowing that when her parents retire she’ll be ready to take the reins. But when a family betrayal leaves her reeling, Teagan is forced to rethink her entire future.

Heartbroken, Teagan flees to her aunt’s property in the idyllic Falls Valley. Vanessa is warm and welcoming and a favourite of the locals who drop in regularly for cocktail hour. Teagan soon catches the attention of sexy local farrier Lucas Knight, and with a new job, new friends and the prospect of a new relationship, she slowly begins to open up again.

But the village is a hotbed of gossip and division and when Teagan gets caught up in town politics, Lucas and Vanessa become concerned. As the tension in town escalates, Teagan must decide who to trust. But when she realises those close to her have been keeping secrets, the fallout may split Teagan apart forever.

Grab a copy of The Falls here


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