GUEST BLOG: My Inspiration for The Sunnyvale Girls by Fiona Palmer

My latest release, The Sunnyvale Girls, has real life past and present moments weaved into it. My inspiration for this story originated from the Italian prisoners of war stationed on farms in our wheat belt area in rural Western Australia. One of my friends and her family told me about Giulio Mosca, who was on their farm Sunnyvale, during the war. Hearing about Giulio and his house building skills I set out to learn more.

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This involved searching the archives for his prisoner records, which I found and requested. It was amazing to see these, and my friend’s farm written on the registered employers form. We learned so much about Giulio, where he was captured, where he went, where he was born and details about his father and also the ship he went home on. I couldn’t find out any more online. I had to visit Italy and search in person. A trip to Italy. Why not? So I packed my bags and went on a three week adventure to Italy visiting Venice, Rome, Montone, Florence, Lucca, Pisa, Naples, Pompeii….But the main stop was a little town of Chiaravalle in the province of Ancona, in the Marche region.

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Through sheer luck (and maybe the foresight to write down Italian words for ‘looking for the council, shire, records office’) we bumbled our way through the streets and found the building that looked like the shire office after directions from two lovely Italian ladies, who spoke no English. Inside this building we came across a policeman, Mimmo, who spoke enough English to understand (with the help of the documents and translations I had) what we were after. Mimmo took us to a nearby building and through a lengthy discussion with a lady, who didn’t want to give out personal information; we ended up with a name and number. Thank God Mimmo went into bat for us. We were told Giulio’s daughters didn’t speak English, so he’d given us the granddaughter’s number. We thanked him and headed off down the street to pay some more money into our parking meter. Then minutes later Mimmo found us again and introduced us to Giulio’s daughters, who he must have called earlier, and who came down to meet us. Here we are in the street. There were hugs and tears and conversation where we had absolutely no idea what either one was saying.

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Through their English speaking daughter Sylvia, we organised a lunch date and they came and visited us in Montone, where we were staying. Sadly we learnt Giulio passed away over twenty years ago from cancer. During our lunch, poor Sylvia had two conversations going trying to translate for both sides. But it was wonderful to share the stories of Giulio and to see the same photo’s he’d kept from Australia. His daughters said he never talked about the war times, except to say he’d liked being on Sunnyvale. It was a trip to remember and I came home with so much to write about. The Sunnyvale Girls is a book that will always hold a special place in my heart and I’m just so honored to have met Giulio’s family.

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Grab a copy of Fiona Palmer’s The Sunnyvale Girls here


9781921901454The Sunnyvale Girls

by Fiona Palmer

Three generations of Stewart women share a deep connection to their family farm, but a secret from the past threatens to tear them apart.

Widowed matriarch Maggie remembers a time when the Italian prisoners of war came to work on their land, changing her heart and her home forever. Single mum Toni has been tied to the place for as long as she can recall, although farming was never her dream. And Flick is as passionate about the farm as a young girl could be, despite the limited opportunities for love.

When a letter from 1946 is unearthed in an old cottage on the property, the Sunnyvale girls find themselves on a journey deep into their own hearts and all the way across the world to Italy. Their quest to solve a mystery leads to incredible discoveries about each other, and about themselves.

Grab a copy of Fiona Palmer’s The Sunnyvale Girls here

Read an extract from John Williamson’s Hey True Blue

Hey True Blue

by John Williamson

Wallabies coach Rod Macqueen says, ‘John, you’ve gotta sing Waltzing Matilda straight after the All Black’s haka. That’ll stir ‘em up. That’s what the Wallabies need.’

I agree, but will I get away with it? I’m treading on rugby sacred ground here. All hell could break loose. Some big Maori will kill me. The haka’s over. Go! Go! Go! The television camera is pointing in my direction. It’s just the microphone and me. Dark green shirt and gold scarf. No guitar. I need a spare hand to conduct the crowd . . . if they sing . . .

Well, they sang alright – 70 000 Aussies in full tonsil. They really belted out the song like never before, especially when I stopped singing for a moment on purpose. That always works. That’s when the crowd sings louder because they don’t have to listen to me.

Through my in-ear headphones the crowd sounded faint but I could feel and see what was happening. Great comments afterwards confirmed what I felt, but the greatest compliment of all came from Wallaby front- rower Phil Kearns after the game. ‘Mate, I felt about a metre taller as the crowd sang Waltzing Matilda. You know, traditionally, the All Blacks are on the front foot after their haka, but tonight you turned the tables.’

John Eales raised the Bledisloe Cup high that night in 1998. And the Wallabies went on to win the World Cup the following year at Cardiff Arms Park in Wales.

To me, Waltzing Matilda is our larrikin anthem. It describes things that are deep down in our Aussie psyche and will never die: affinity with the underdog, love of the bush and the campfire. I’ve always loved the song and have had some amazing experiences when I’ve been asked to sing it publicly.

My forty-four years in music have been quite a journey. But my life has not really been about music, more a continuing love of the Australian character and especially the bush. Songwriting became my way of expressing how I feel. Nature has been my enduring inspiration, the songs have flowed from that and I’ve been blessed that some of them have become well-known celebrations of our great land and its people.

This country is what makes me tick.

Grab a copy of John Williamson’s Hey True Blue here

Grab a copy of John Williamson’s Hey True Blue here

Masterchef’s Gary Mehigan introduces his new book Favourites

Favourites

by Gary Mehigan

Sometimes it strikes me that my obsession with food is bordering on the unhealthy. Everything I do is centred around it: my work, obviously, but also evenings at home spent cooking for the family, watching food programs on television and tweeting and facebooking about food. Going to the growers’ market bright and early on a Saturday morning, followed by breakfast at a cafe, then same again on Sunday. Dinners out, too many coffee stops, long drives in the country that strangely enough always end with a food reward (cheese, chocolate or wine from the Yarra Valley; berries, cherries and olives from the Mornington Peninsula; or beer, bread and honey from Beechworth). I mean, who drives seven kilometres for a tub of the best, freshly churned ice cream? These are the forgotten food miles.

Holidays are worse. My first thoughts are always ‘Where haven’t I eaten?’ and ‘Where would I like to eat again?’ Whether it’s France, Spain, Thailand, Vietnam or New Zealand, the pattern is the same and, frankly, inescapable for my family. We went to Tuscany for our last holiday so I could visit the Amedei chocolate factory. I mean, you’ve seen one duomo, you’ve seen ‘em all, right?

Grab a copy of Gary Mehigan’s Favourites here

My wife, Mandy, has succumbed to the inevitable (my daughter, bless her cotton socks, doesn’t know any different). ‘Any chance we can go out for a change?’ Mandy might ask. ‘What!’ I reply. ‘We go out four or five times a week, always trying the latest thing.’ ‘No,’ she says, ‘out, but not involving food. Maybe dancing, the pictures, a walk, the ballet or a museum?’ I’m still digesting that one!

Now and then I wonder if I should be doing something else with my time, like learning to play tennis or finally nailing my conversational French instead of making do with my culinary pidgin. But, on the whole, I’ve come to accept that my obsession with food is all – encompassing, and that’s the way I like it. I’m never happier than when I’m thinking about food, talking about food, shopping for food or eating. I love the generosity of spirit that comes with being a cook: feeding people and feeding them well, often to bursting point. Years ago I very deliberately stopped trying to draw a line in the sand to distinguish between work and play, and now I live by the motto ‘Always working, always playing’. This has helped me manage my condition considerably.

Not only do I love experiencing all that a good food life has to offer, but I also relish sharing my experiences and knowledge with others. For this, my fourth cookbook, I was inspired to sit down and write a list of my favourite dishes: absolutely everything I love to eat. I thought back to the meals of my childhood as well as those from my early career as a chef in London. I thought of the food I cook for my wife and daughter at home that have become family classics. And I thought of the wealth of amazing dishes from talented cooks and chefs, both here and abroad, that I have been lucky enough to try over the years as co – host of MasterChef Australia. As the list ballooned to over 200 dishes, I had to restrain myself! After much deliberation, I whittled it down to just over 100, and here they are – my all – time favourite dishes.

Grab a copy of Gary Mehigan’s Favourites here

This is a diverse collection. I was classically trained in French cuisine, and there is no getting away from the fact that I love French cooking – the flavours are bold, satisfying and familiar. By contrast, living in Australia we are inescapably immersed in the pleasures of food multiculturalism; we think nothing of eating Thai or Chinese on a Monday night, Malay or Vietnamese on a Tuesday, maybe Spanish or North African on a Wednesday and roast chook on a Thursday. We love fresh food, we love sweet, sour, salt and heat and, above all, crunch. How lucky we are.

Good food always starts with good shopping – it’s where the inspiration begins. We are all guilty of trudging around the supermarket and putting exactly the same things in the shopping trolley each week (you know what I mean: skinless chicken breasts, lamb chops, a block of cheddar and some tinned tuna). It’s easy, let’s face it – but it’s pretty uninspiring too. I’ve found the secret to creative cooking at home is to buy at least a few different fruits or vegetables, cuts of meat, fish, spices, pastes or vinegars, get them home and have a go at a new recipe or two each week. I also find that a trip to the local Asian grocer always turns up a few surprises; things that add instant authenticity to a dish, like thick dark soy sauce, coconut vinegar, lily buds, black beans or rice noodles. Pop them in your basket and they’ll change the dishes you put on the family table.

If you’re lucky enough to live near a growers’ market, make the most of it. The stallholders are a wonderful source of information because they live what they do, and most often they love it too! You’ll easily fall into a pattern of buying the best the season has to offer. When a particular ingredient looks fantastic, seems to be everywhere at once and is at its cheapest, buy it and eat lots of it!

I hope this book is a little window into my life of food. Have fun, and remember to bite off small chunks of recipes, give yourself time to chew and always leave room for more. In other words, never get frustrated in the kitchen, take a little time if you are tackling something out of the ordinary and enjoy the journey as much as the destination.

Cook, Eat and Live Your Life Well!

Grab a copy of Gary Mehigan’s Favourites here

Grab a copy of Gary Mehigan’s Favourites here

Claire Zorn, author of The Protected, answers Ten Terrifying Questions

The Booktopia Book Guru asks

Claire Zorn

author of  The Protected and The Sky So Heavy  

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

I was born, raised and schooled in the lower Blue Mountains. I lived there until I was about 24 when I moved to Sydney’s Inner West. Now I live in Wollongong.

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

Twelve: Artist/writer/Olympian show-jumper/horse-breeder. Why? Why on earth not.

Eighteen: Artist/jewellery designer for Dinosaur Designs. My obsession with Dinosaur Designs started at seventeen when I went into their Sydney Strand Arcade Store. I was so inspired that I changed my university plans from equestrian science to visual arts. I continue to squander all my money on DD stuff and am in the habit of writing them occasional fan mail.

Thirty: Writer. I’ve always imagined stories and characters. While film-making would probably be more fun, all you need to write a story is some paper and a pencil. It’s simpler and more direct. If anyone wants to spot me a few thousand dollars to make a film, I’m up for it.

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

I was convinced there was no God. Now I’m 99.9 percent sure there is one.

Author: Claire Zorn

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?

Only three? Cruel. Radiohead’s Hail to the Thief and King of Limbs (Can’t choose.) Zadie Smith’s White Teeth and Pipilotti Rist’s video installation Sip My Ocean

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

Because I love stories most of all. It’s that simple. I find story-making to be the most satisfying pursuit aside from swimming in the ocean, and no one’s offered me money to do that. Writing seems to be the most direct way of getting stuff out of my head. I mentioned film before, but to cram all the details and tangents novels allow for into a film, you need tens of hours. You also need to collaborate with multiple people and schedule stuff and there’s probably diagrams involved. I’m not organised enough for all of that.

6. Please tell us about your latest novel…

Hannah is just shy of sixteen and her family has recently been ripped apart by tragedy: her sister – whom she loved but didn’t like – has been killed. An unexpected ramification of this is that the bullying she has endured throughout high school has ceased, something that puts her in a strange place emotionally. While she is trying to come to grips with this she begins to form her first friendship in years – with the crossword-obsessed delinquent, Josh.

Grab a copy of Claire’s book The Protected here

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

Golly, I hate that question! Perhaps some small sense of camaraderie for those who were/are miserable in high school. I also wanted to pay homage to the lovely, genuine, noble guys I have known over the years. You don’t come across them all that often in books.

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

This is one that tends to change a lot. I’m going to break the rules and choose two! Vince Gilligan: the character arcs he created in Breaking Bad were nothing short of Shakespearian. And Sonya Hartnett. I don’t have words to describe how great her writing is. I also like how she doesn’t seem to give a brass razoo about genres or markets or any of that annoying stuff. She seems to just write what she wants.

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

Oh dear. This is going to be embarrassing. May as well aim high: the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award would be quite nice. That would mean I could stop renting! Or perhaps if we are going to be absurd I could write the first YA to win the Booker. I’m pretty sure that’s impossible, although I dare say Harper Lee could have won it. On a more achievable level: I really, really want to write and illustrate a picture book. 

10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?

Choose carefully whose opinion of your work you listen to. And write. It sounds obvious but until you get the words out on the page, nothing will ever come of them.

Claire, thank you for playing.

Grab a copy of The Protected here


The Protected

by Claire Zorn

I have three months left to call Katie my older sister. Then the gap will close and I will pass her. I will get older. But Katie will always be fifteen, eleven months and twenty-one days old.

Hannah’s world is in pieces and she doesn’t need the school counsellor to tell her she has deep-seated psychological issues. With a seriously depressed mum, an injured dad and a dead sister, who wouldn’t have problems?

Hannah should feel terrible but for the first time in ages, she feels a glimmer of hope and isn’t afraid anymore. Is it because the elusive Josh is taking an interest in her? Or does it run deeper than that?

In a family torn apart by grief and guilt, one girl’s struggle to come to terms with years of torment shows just how long old wounds can take to heal.

 Grab a copy of The Protected here

Read an extract from Will to Live by Matthew Ames – An inspirational must read

will-to-liveWill to Live

by Matthew Ames

I have always been intrigued by how things work. It’s a trait I’ve inherited or learned from Dad. I was his assistant growing up, and I’ve had a lot of practice thinking about how to put things
together.

I have memories from when we lived in Sydney of holding tools and pieces of gyprock, and of Kate, Rachel and myself dressed in garbage bags with holes at the seams for our arms, helping Dad paint a new rumpus room he had built onto the back of our house.

By the time I was at high school, I was helping Dad renovate the old Queenslander he and Mum had bought when we moved to Brisbane. We were building a major extension, which involved lifting floors, altering rooflines and building a back deck. Dad and I would hang from the roof, working hard, occasionally looking into the lounge room where we could see the girls sitting around drinking coffee with friends who might have dropped in.

I had been free labour until, one afternoon, I mentioned to Dad that I thought it was unfair that my sisters didn’t have to help – although I knew they had been part of Dad’s construction crew when they were younger and less sociable. Dad agreed, and from that point I earned pocket money for the hours I helped him with the house. I was only 13 or so at the time, but a few years later, I had saved up some money.

Grab a copy of Will to Live here

I needed a car. I had been driving Kate’s Mazda 1500 while she was overseas for a few years, but she had returned and swiftly repossessed it.

Matthew AmesRachel had a 1960 Hillman Minx that she wanted to sell. It had a column shift, white leather seats and was ember red with white wings. It was part of the family, and we called it Harriet (the Chariot). It had a rumble in the engine that meant you could hear it coming from blocks away, and I was interested. It wasn’t worth much to anyone else, and was costing Rachel a fortune, so for $50 she agreed it could be mine.

The engine was having problems, so I decided to buy a manual, strip the engine and rebuild it. People asked me why, but my response was, ‘Why not?’

I took it apart under our house, labelled each piece, and laid them all out on the concrete floor in the garage area. I recognise now how patient my parents must have been to give up the entire area where the cars normally parked for the duration of my project.

Piece by piece, I put the engine back together. I thought I had followed the instructions perfectly, but at the very end, I had a few extra nuts and bolts left over. It didn’t surprise me then that it almost worked when I started it up. I didn’t want to have to take the car apart again, so I called the RACQ for help, telling them my car wouldn’t start.

985141-9716bb5e-d484-11e2-b1c3-c244da926effThe RACQ mechanic turned up. He took one look at the car, and one look at me.

‘You’ve been rebuilding the engine, haven’t you?’ He looked me in the eye. I thought for a moment about my response, but decided to confess. ‘Yep. I couldn’t quite work out how to put the distributor back in properly again.’

The mechanic paused, and looked at the car.

‘We’re not supposed to do this, but I haven’t seen one of these for ages.’

He spent around three hours helping me with the final touches of the rebuild and we got the car going. It worked well.

I guess I just never envisaged a day when bolts and nuts would stick out of my arms and legs. Fortunately, there are people as experienced as that RACQ mechanic looking after me.

Grab a copy of Will to Live here

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BOOK REVIEW: Where Song Began by Tim Low (Review by Justin Cahill)

Way back in 1987, while flicking through New Scientist, an article on birds caught my eye. It was about research that indicated the ancestors of Lyrebirds were among the world’s earliest songbirds. Back then, Australia was thought to be a refuge for species left over after it spit from the supercontinent, Gondwana. Songbirds were generally associated with Europe. The idea they had first evolved here seemed so unlikely that I kept the article, assuming the whole thing would go the way of cold fusion.

In Where Song Began, Tim Low tells how what was once theory became accepted fact. This is an exceptionally important book. High quality, up-to-date works on our natural history written for a general audience for are rare. Low generously stuffs his account of with fresh insights. It turns out the Treecreepers that live in the Blue Gums at the bottom of my street evolved from another ancient song bird. The Magpies that pick their way through the lawn only recently diverged from the local Butcherbirds. Once-mighty theories come crashing down. I was taught New Zealand’s endemic flightless birds, including the Kiwi, only survived as it had split from Gondwana just before mammals big enough to eat them evolved. It turns out that their able-to-fly ancestors probably came from Australia after New Zealand drifted away and were large enough to suppress the development of mammals there.

Author Tim Low

There is much we still don’t know. The eminent archaeologist Colin Renfrew once observed that human DNA, archaeological and literary evidence remain difficult to reconcile. It’s the same with our birds. While it has long been known that Australia, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea had a distinct birdlife, is only now becoming clear just how unique many local species are.

And how have we treated them? As Low recounts, we have destroyed large parts of their habitat, shot them en masseto decorate hats with their tail feathers, killed their young and collected or smashed their eggs. For decades, thousands of muttonbirds were bludgeoned to make a tanning oil, ‘Vita Tan’, sold to unsuspecting bathers at Bondi Beach. In Sydney, habitat destruction has caused the populations of many once-common species to decline sharply. Some face local extinction.

Low also provides fascinating insights into Australia’s economic history. Before the advent of plastics, we had a thriving trade in‘exudes’, the saps and gums that oozed from our native trees. They were used to make an extraordinary range of products, including gramophone records, cosmetics, chewing gum, paint and tooth paste.

Low’s accessible style makes this a very appealing book for those looking for an insight into Australia’s unique flora and fauna. It is a book you can dip into and be assured of learning something new.

Grab a copy of Where Song Began here


Justin Cahill is a historian and solicitor, his university thesis being on the negotiations between the British and Chinese governments over the return of Hong Kong to China in 1997.

His current projects include completing the first history of European settlement in Australia and New Zealand told from the perspective of ordinary people and a study of the extinction of Sydney’s native birds.

He is a regular contributor to the Sydney Morning Herald’s ‘Heckler’ column.

GUEST BLOG: Oh, What Fun! By Anna Campbell

Anna Campbell has been one of Australia’s favourite romance writers for a long time now, charming readers everywhere with her unforgettable characters and turn of phrase.

In this exclusive blog, Anna talks about the F word. Fun.

Recently there has been a spate of very earnest articles about how reading romance can improve your mind, your health, your fine motor skills, and your love life, not to mention help you win the lottery and give you a free mowing service for the next twenty years. I’ve even written one, “Romance Mythbusting”, which appeared in the Queensland Writers Centre newsletter and is now available on my website here.

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Author Anna Campbell

While all these articles (including, I hope, mine!) make a lot of sense, I think in many ways they miss the point. Do people read romance because it makes a feminist statement or because it helps people to understand the intricacies of a Regency wardrobe? Well, partly, I’m sure. I have to say I personally love the clothes in a historical romance, but that’s by the by.

However I suspect the most honest answer to that question would be no.

I think people read romance because it’s fun! Even when it’s packed with angst, as some are.

the-wickedest-lord-aliveThere’s the delicious thrill of watching two people who are perfect for each other slowly wake up to the fact – or wake up at the start of the story and struggle past whatever barriers are keeping them apart. Any good romance involves that lovely simmer of sexual tension that frequently blazes out into a full-scale inferno. There’s watching the characters make mistakes and try and correct them, often by making bigger mistakes. There’s great dialogue! Read a Georgette Heyer or a Christina Brooke or a Susan Elizabeth Phillips, and you’ll find yourself chortling away at the way the prickly dialogue goes nowhere near hiding how deeply drawn the hero and heroine are to each other. There’s the chance to go through a profound emotional journey with these people.

And the best fun of all? The fact that if you pick up a romance, you know there’s going to be a happy ending. Whether it’s in a dramatic, emotion-racked story or a sweet romantic comedy, these people will end up together, better, wiser, happier. There’s something marvelously reassuring about that. And when you’re going through a tough time in your own life, believe me, knowing that somewhere holds a guaranteed happy ending is reward enough on its own!

Is that unrealistic? Personally I don’t think so. I don’t believe that all human effort comes to dust. I think most people have as much chance for happiness as unhappiness. Hmm, perhaps you should call me a cockeyed optimist. Or a romance reader!

what-a-duke-daresThis August, I have got a new historical romance out. What a Duke Dares, book 3 of the award-winning Sons of Sin series, was great fun to write (I hope I’m not overusing the ‘F’ word!). Partly because I love the characters – falling in love with your own creations is an occupational hazard in romance. Even if they don’t start out as people you’d want living next door, they often end up that way. Partly because I got to travel through Italy in the company of my hero and heroine and observe how hard they’re fighting against succumbing to irresistible attraction. Partly because I got to hang out with the great and the good in the London season of 1828, not to mention visit a few extravagant stately homes along the way. I must say I’m a sucker for the glamour elements! Partly because when Cam and Pen from WHAT A DUKE DARES finally get their happy ending. They have really had to battle for it. Watching two people work their way, despite everything ranged against them, toward each other is always a wonderful experience.

And I guess there in a nutshell, you have the secret of why reading romance in any setting is fun!

So why do you read romance? Do you think it’s fun? Why?

My website is: http://www.annacampbell.info
You can read an excerpt of What a Duke Dares here.


Sons of Sin Trilogy Pack – Exclusive to Booktopia

Three Great Books – One Low Price!

by Anna Campbell

Click here for more details

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