Emma Hooper, author of Etta and Otto and Russell and James, answers Ten Terrifying Questions

The Booktopia Book Guru asks

Emma Hooper

author of Etta and Otto and Russell and James

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 Alberta, Canada. That’s right in the middle of Canada, where the long low prairies meet the rocky mountains. That’s where I was raised and schooled too. Saskatchewan, where Etta and Otto and Russell and James is set was right next door (it’s nothing but prairie), and my childhood holidays were spent out there visiting my mom’s family. Long hot empty days in that long hot empty place. Nothing but wheat fields and gophers…

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

I never gave the same answer twice. One day it was a vet, the next a lawyer. Once it was a choral conductor because I noticed they got a lot of flowers. An ice-hockey player, an actor, a palaeontologist … the only certain thing was my indecision.  And now that I’m all grown up with three jobs I still can’t decide…

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

I was fiercly, fiercly, independent at that age. Didn’t want to have to rely on anyone for anything ever… I still value independence and want to be able to always land on my own two feet, but I now also see the value, the potential, of needing other people sometimes. Of teaming up…

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?

A book: Ocean Sea by Alessandro Baricco

A painting: The collected works of Erin K Hooper (my sister) and Jeff Kulak (my friend)

A piece of music: ‘Heartland’ by Owen Pallet

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

I’ve always been fond of narrative, of story-telling, that folds in and out of itself, everything from Borges’ Labyrinths to Egger A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius. We don’t experience life linearly, we’re always thinking about what happened yesterday, or where we’ll be tomorrow, or both at once, so I was striving for a form that could capture some of that fluidity. That, and I’ve got quite aLabyrinths fondness for puzzles… for taking a bunch of seemingly disparate pieces and figuring out how to fit them together into one beautiful whole… A novel seemed the only and best form for that.

6. Please tell us about your latest novel…

My favourite is The Times’ (of London’s) description, so I’ll steal that: “a fantastical yet deeply human adventure story starring a wild, brave, outdoorsy heroine striding alone across the North American wilderness. A heroine who happens to be a little old woman…”

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

I hope they get the inspiration and impulse to do whatever it is they want to do. We all have goals and desires like Etta’s, that don’t always make sense to everyone else, or even to ourselves, sometimes. The “I’ve always wanted”s. If the book inspires one person who used to say, “I’ve always wanted to do X” to go ahead and do it, I’ll be happy. Swim with dolphins, living in Japan, making fudge, making a rocket, anything, everything.

8. Whom do you most admire in the realm of writing and why?one-hundred-years-of-solitude

I admire writers who play with magic and reality, and who embrace joy as well as suffering in their books. Examples are Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Karen Russell and Jonathan Safran Foer.

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

Never stop making. 

10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?

Learn your grammar. Really. No one’s above the basics. And no one will take you seriously until you do.

Emma, thank you for playing.

Etta and Otto and Russell and James

by Emma Hooper

‘I’ve gone. I’ve never seen the water, so I’ve gone there. I will try to remember to come back.’

Etta’s greatest unfulfilled wish, living in the rolling farmland of Saskatchewan, is to see the sea. And so, at the age of eighty-two, she gets up very early one morning, takes a rifle, some chocolate and her best boots, and begins walking the 2,000 miles to the water.

But Etta is starting to forget things. Her husband, Otto, remembers everything, and he loves … Read more

Grab a copy of Etta and Otto and Russell and James here

About the Author

Emma Hooper is a musician and writer. As a musician, her solo project ‘Waitress for the Bees’ tours internationally and has earned her a Finish Cultural Knighthood. Asan author, she has published short stories, non-fiction pieces, poetry and libretti as well as a number of academic papers. She is a research-lecturer at Bath Spa University, in the Commercial Music department, but goes home to cross-country ski in Canada as much as she can afford.

 Grab a copy of Etta and Otto and Russell and James here

Caleb Krisp, author of Anyone but Ivy Pocket, answers Ten Terrifying Questions

The Booktopia Book Guru asks

Caleb Krisp

author of Anyone but Ivy Pocket

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 somewhere near the beginning and raised in a series of locked rooms up and down the east coast. My schooling consisted of a one-legged governess with a prominent overbite and whatever I could gleam from the back of coffee tins.

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

Like any twelve-year-old, I dreamed of overthrowing the government, declaring my homeland a dictatorship and enslaving the general population.

At eighteen, I longed to enter a convent and devote myself to weaving tapestries, overthrowing the Mother Superior and enslaving the nuns.

By thirty my more radical instincts had been tempered and my sole ambition was to be ironically jaded and short of breath when climbing stairs. I am happy to say, I achieved my goal.

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

At eighteen I was of the firm belief that Charles Darwin was the root cause of both my existential angst and my post-breakfast bloating. It took years for me to realise he was only the cause of my post-breakfast bloating.

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 wPicnic at Hanging Rockriter?

The classic sitcom The Munsters was repeated numerous times throughout my childhood and I’d suspect it was, at least partly, the inspiration for my first book – Watching the Munsters. In  literary terms, the missing chapter of Picnic at Hanging Rock, in which the girls vanish through a tear in time, caused a brief, but profound, dizzy spell – resulting in several majestic and highly libellous letters to Joan Lindsey’s estate. Lastly, Kate Bush’s Hounds of Love blew the windows open and allowed me to consider that living in my imagination was a perfectly reasonable thing to do.

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

In my mid-twenties I noticed that due to a certain amount of excessive creative energy, my weekly shopping list ran to three hundred pages and contained long tracts of surrealist poetry and third person narratives with a whimsical bent. As such, I felt becoming a novelist was the path of least resistance.

6. Please tell us about your latest novel…

Anyone But Ivy Pocket is the compelling tale of a twelve year old maid of no importance. She is violently deluded, majestically self-important, frequently ill-mannered and has the intuitive sense of a pound cake. What’s more, Ivy’s caught up in a ghastly business involving a murdered duchess, a mystical necklace, a brattish aristocrat and a most remarkable destiny.

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

It’s my sincere hope that they take the book away with them after reading the work – and then burn it. I’m against lending books to family or friends. Ditto, libraries in general. This has less to do with any philistine tendencies and more to do with a thirst for royalties.

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

Wilkie Collins springs to mind, primarily because he is a master of understatement and economy. As does Charity Bullhorn – Charity was Beatrix Potter’s maiden aunt and is long forgotten. She wrote a dozen novels in her short life, including A Certain Kind of Trollop and Tart with a Teapot. One cannot read her books and fail to be confused.

The Hunted Hotel The woman in whitethe-moonstone

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

My artist goal is to complete my forty-four volume nordic noir novel exploring the co-dependent relationship between a vegetarian serial killer and a psychologically damaged kitten suspended from active duties. I am three pages in and so far it’s going gangbusters.

10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?

Stop. If that is not an option, then write the book you’ve always wanted to read.

Caleb, thank you for playing.

Grab your copy of Anyone but Ivy Pocket here

Anyone but Ivy Pocket

by Caleb Krisp

anyone-but-ivy-pocketWho can you rely on to deliver a priceless diamond to an undeserving heiress? ANYONE BUT IVY POCKET! Fans of Lemony Snicket – your new hero awaits.

Ivy Pocket is a twelve-year-old maid of no importance, with a very lofty opinion of herself. Dumped in Paris by the Countess Carbunkle, who would rather run away to South America than continue in Ivy’s companionship, our young heroine (of sorts) finds herself with no money and no home to go to … until she is summoned to the bedside of the dying Duchess of Trinity.

For the princely sum of £500 (enough to buy a carriage, and possibly a monkey), Ivy agrees to courier the Duchess’s most precious possession – the Clock Diamond – to England, and to put it around the neck of the revolting Matilda Butterfield on her twelfth birthday. It’s not long before Ivy finds herself at the heart of a conspiracy involving mischief, mayhem and murder. Illustrated in humorous gothic detail by John Kelly, Anyone But Ivy Pocket is just the beginning of one girl’s deadly comic journey to discover who she really is …

Grab your copy of Anyone but Ivy Pocket here

About the Author

Caleb KrisCaleb Krispp was raised by militant librarians who fed him a constant diet of nineteenth century literature and room temperature porridge. He graduated from the University of Sufferance with a degree in Whimsy and set out to make his mark in the world as a writer.

Years of toil and failure followed, until, following a brief stint working in a locked box, Caleb moved to an abandoned cottage deep in the woods and devoted himself to writing about the adventures of a twelve-year-old lady’s maid of no importance.

Caleb has a strong dislike of pastry chefs and certain domesticated rabbits. His only communication with the outside world is via morse code or kettle drum. He trusts no one.

 Grab your copy of Anyone but Ivy Pocket here

Grey : Fifty Shades of Grey as Told by Christian by E. L. James (Reviewed by Shikha Shah)

Shikha Shah, Booktopia’s biggest Fifty Shades fan, has been up all night reading E.L. James’ latest offering. The review we’ve all been waiting for is finally here!

Miss Shah will see you now…

greyTo all Fifty Shades Fans – the book that we have been waiting for is finally here!

In Grey we delve into the mind of Christian, what he thinks, how he thinks, how he feels (especially when he is physically touched) and what motivates him.

Let’s face it fans, we all want to know what makes Christian tick.

This is the kind of book that readers will devour as quickly as possible. Even though we already know the story, there is just something about reading it from a different perspective that adds a new dimension, giving us a clearer picture of this divisive character we have come to know so well.

When we read Anastasia’s point of view in the Fifty Shades trilogy, she is painted primarily as a character with low self-esteem. From Christian’s view, however, she is a beautiful and intelligent woman. After their initial meeting all he can do is think about her. It is here that Grey provides us with some real bonus material! We get to read the file that Christian keeps on Anastasia – as well as getting to peek into his mind and finally grasp the true depth of his jealousy and obsession. (Christian gives Edward Cullen some serious competition when it comes to stalking!)

fifty-shades-of-greyReaders are given more details of Christian’s traumatic childhood and how it still tortures him (manifested in his fixation on food and stunted emotional development). We also gain a better understanding of how Elena influenced the sexual lifestyle he is now accustomed to.

Unlike the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy, which was self-published, Grey has been professionally edited. While I really enjoyed the trilogy, I have to admit that the writing occasionally seemed a bit weak. Luckily this is not an issue with Grey. The writing is very fluid, which allows the story to flow smoothly.

Basically, this book everything fans of Fifty Shades would want.

Click here to grab your copy of Grey

Fifty Shades of Grey as Told by Christian

by E. L. James

greySee the world of Fifty Shades of Grey anew through the eyes of Christian Grey.

In Christian’s own words, and through his thoughts, reflections, and dreams, E L James offers a fresh perspective on the love story that has enthralled millions of readers around the world.

Christian Grey exercises control in all things; his world is neat, disciplined, and utterly empty—until the day that Anastasia Steele falls into his office, in a tangle of shapely limbs and tumbling brown hair. He tries to forget her, but instead is swept up in a storm of emotion he cannot comprehend and cannot resist. Unlike any woman he has known before, shy, unworldly Ana seems to see right through him—past the business prodigy and the penthouse lifestyle to Christian’s cold, wounded heart.

Will being with Ana dispel the horrors of his childhood that haunt Christian every night? Or will his dark sexual desires, his compulsion to control, and the self-loathing that fills his soul drive this girl away and destroy the fragile hope she offers him?

This book is intended for mature audiences.

Grab your copy of Grey here

Click here to see the Fifty Shades of Grey Trilogy


Sally Gardner, author of The Door That Lead to Where, answers Ten Terrifying Questions

The Booktopia Book Guru asks

Sally Gardner

author of The Door That Lead to Where

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 Birmingham, raised in London and went to quite a few schools due to the fact I was dyslexic. It’s one part of life I have no regrets about leaving. I remember it exceedingly well and didn’t like being a child. We’re all brought up by giants, some more monstrous than others. In the end we become giants and the art is not to forget what it felt like to live under them.

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

We all have dreams. We have dreams that our parents put on us when we are young, we have conventional dreams that we think we should have, and then we have the main dream, the thing we really want to do, which we sort of know from the beginning. What I told people at the age of twelve was that I wanted to be an artist. At eighteen, I told people I wanted to go to theatre school, and be the best set designer in the country. What I wanted to be at thirty was a children’s illustrator, and what I never told a soul ever, was my main dream, and that was to be a writer and tell my stories.

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

Sally Gardner, June 24, 2013.

Author: Sally Gardner

That I would find the love of my life. I didn’t, but I did have three wonderful children and other amazing things have happened to me, but the love of my life never appeared. Maybe it did in a way in the sense that it is now writing.

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?

Edith Sitwell’s Facade. I first heard it with my father in his study and I just adored the jamboree of words, the jumble of sounds, and the joy of language. Mixed with William Walton’s music I thought it was absolutely fabulous. I think a book that had a profound effect on me was The Lost Domain by Alain Fournier. It is a coming-of-age story, is completely magical, and is a book that made me want to be a child again just so that I could read it for the first time again. The illustrator and writer who had a profound effect was Edward Gorey. I discovered him when I was 16 and that love has never waned.

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

They weren’t necessarily open to me. I am severely dyslexic and to this day people find the idea of writers being dyslexic a contradiction. I was very artistic though, and went into theatre mainly because I love story. I couldn’t imagine working without a story. I was very lucky to have been taken to the theatre a great deal when I was younger and I had a huge love of the theatre. When I went into illustration, I still thought the main dream I had to be a writer was impossible and I would never achieve it.

6. Please tell us about your novel, The Door That Led to Where

I always start a book with a question, even if it’s just to myself. The question I asked was: Would three boys, who I would call ‘Govian failures’ after our ex-education minister Michael Gove, fare better if they went back to 1830s England, than they would do here in the present? I was thinking about a particular lad who had been educated from age three to five, and then again from fifteen to seventeen, who was mainly self taught. He wanted to be a correspondent at the Houses of Parliament, and I was wondering if he stood a chance of getting a job at, say, The Times. Would they even let him though the front door? The resounding answer was no, they wouldn’t. That young man happened to be Charles Dickens. Where are they young men of today who are the future Dickenses, and are we over looking them in favour of a tick-box education? In London particularly boys at the age of seventeen are either mummified or villainised. The one thing they’re not seen as is young men. I think we make a terrible mistake in doing this. We leave too many pathways open for fanaticism, radicalisation and anything that would give a young man a sense of power and respect.

Grab a copy of Sally’s new book The Door That Led to Where here

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

I always hope that if my work does anything it encourages people to ask questions, to think a bit more about where we are going. If it does that I feel I have achieved quite a lot.

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

I absolutely adore Angela Carter, I love magical surrealism in all its formats. And I would have to say the book that’s been my bible has been the Grimms’ Fariy Tales. I think basically all my stories are fairy tales. The other writer that I stand in awe of is Charles Dickens.

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

My goals are to have good, original ideas, and try and stay true to the world novel, which in the 18th century meant something new and unexpected; a novelty. I still think my ambition is to have original ideas and thoughts and to play as much with language as I can. As well as the vague hope that one day I might win the Carnegie Medal, which I am absolutely over the moon to have done.

10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?

My main advice is to not get published too young. There is a horrifying trend at the moment of finding two year olds who are trying to write Proust. I would encourage everyone to grow up, work on their ideas and publish them a little later. When people ask me about how to become a writer, I always suggest that they read Stephen King’s On Writing. It is one of the best books he ever wrote, and is also a very true and direct story about being an author and what that might entail. I also think you need to read a great deal, and try not to use the word ‘like’, if you can help it. I have a slight aversion to ‘like’. If I read a book and in the first paragraph there is a ‘like’, I think to myself, can I manage another 300 pages? I think that a ‘like’ asks you to stand outside the story, when you should feel like you are all the way inside it. The other thing I feel very strongly about is that you don’t need an adjective with ‘said’. Whatever is being said has to hold all the power.

Sally, thank you for playing.

Grab a copy of The Door That Led to Where here

The Door That Led to Where

by Sally Gardner

When the present offers no hope for the future, the answers may lie in the past.

AJ Flynn has just failed all but one of his GCSEs, and his future is looking far from rosy. So when he is offered a junior position at a London law firm he hopes his life is about to change – but he could never have imagined how much.

Tidying up the archive one day, AJ finds an old key, mysteriously labelled with his name and date of birth – and he becomes determined to find the door that fits the key. And so begins an amazing journey to a very real and tangible past – 1830, to be precise – where the streets of modern Clerkenwell are replaced with cobbles and carts, and the law can be twisted to suit a villain’s means. Although life in 1830 is cheap, AJ and his friends quickly find that their own lives have much more value. They’ve gone from sad youth statistics to young men with purpose – and at the heart of everything lies a crime that only they can solve. But with enemies all around, can they unravel the mysteries of the past, before it unravels them?

A fast-paced mystery novel by one of the UK’s finest writers, The Door That Led To Where will delight, surprise and mesmerise all those who read it.

About the Author

Sally Gardner grew up and still lives in London. Being dyslexic, she did not learn to read or write until she was fourteen and had been thrown out of several schools, labeled unteachable, and sent to a school for maladjusted children. Despite this, she gained a degree with highest honors at a leading London art college, followed by a scholarship to a theater school, and then went on to become a very successful costume designer, working on some notable productions.

 Grab a copy of The Door That Led to Where here

Georgia Madden, author of Confessions of a Once Fashionable Mum, answers Ten Terrifying Questions

The Booktopia Book Guru asks

Georgia Madden

author of Confessions of a Once Fashionable Mum

Ten Terrifying Questions

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

Here, there and everywhere! I was born on Sydney’s Northern Beaches, but moved to Hong Kong with my family when I was five and lived there until 18. I came back to Australia for university, and moved to London a few weeks after graduating. I lived there for 12 crazy, glamorous, fun-filled years, working in PR and magazines, before returning to Sydney with my family 10 years ago.

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

At 12, I had dreams of a being an actress, but one disastrous and very embarrassing audition in front of my entire year at school put an end to that. At 18, I had visions of becoming a very serious political journalist, reporting for a Hong Kong newspaper on what was happening across the border in China. I still have no idea why. At 30 I was quite partial to the idea of becoming an editor of a magazine. But always, always, in the back of my mind was the dream of writing fiction. I just never really believed it was possible.


Author: Georgia Madden

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

That in order to pursue the things you really want, everything in your life has to be just so. But life doesn’t work like that; if you’re waiting for all your stars to line up perfectly, you’ll be waiting forever. I’ve found that it’s better – and braver – to just jump right in and get the ball rolling, whether you’re ready or not. Fake it till you make it!

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?

As a child, anything by Enid Blyton. Her stories swept me away, and they still do today when I read them to my kids. The song Don’t You (Forget About Me) by Simple Minds. I’m a true child of the 80s, and whenever I hear that song on the radio my mind starts bristling with ideas – always romantic in a tragically teenage kind of way. The beautiful aria in that scene in A Room With A View where George kisses Lucy. I’m not sure whether it was the music or the poppies, but it stayed with me for years.

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

I’m not really sure I ever really had a choice! Despite all the twists and turns I took in my career (a used car parts auctioneer in a grotty part of east London at one point) the idea of writing was always there in the background, a steady hum I couldn’t switch off.

6. Please tell us about your latest novel…

Confessions Of A Once Fashionable Mum follows new mum Ally Bloom, a dedicated fashionista with a very clear vision of the yummy mummy she’s meant to be – a glamorous Angelina Jolie-type, wafting along red carpets, with her latest accessory, baby Coco, tucked up under her wing. Then reality hits – her marriage is in crisis, her mother-in-law-turns up unannounced for an open-ended stay, the dishwasher won’t stop making that weird banging sound, and she’s pushed aside at work by a 22-year old airhead. Ally suddenly finds herself thrust into her own version of hell – life on the suburban SAHM circuit. Here, she begins to ask life’s bigger questions on motherhood, identity, friendship and whether it’s socially acceptable to leave the house in Havaianas after 7pm.

Grab a copy of Georgia’s new book Confessions Of A Once Fashionable Mum here

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

I would love to think that after getting through one of those nightmarish days with the kids, where every single thing has gone wrong, they can curl up with Confessions and it puts a smile on their face, maybe even makes them laugh. See? There’s a little bit of paying it forward, right there.

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

I tend to develop crushes on whoever I’m reading at the time. Most recently it’s been Hannah Kent, Elizabeth Gilbert and Rainbow Rowell. I’ve just finished ‘Dietland’ by Sarai Walker – a sort of gutsy feminist manifesto that sends an arrow straight at the heart of the diet industry. I think I’m in love.

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

To be able to support myself and my family doing what I love. 

10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?

We’ve all done it – picked up a book and been blown away by the scale of the story, the beauty of the prose. It’s enough to make you want to give up on the idea of writing before you’ve even begun. But I can’t imagine that anyone’s work resembles the finished product in its early stages. To me, writing a book is a bit like making one of those multi-layered French desserts; it’s a long and time-consuming process of building from the ground up, layer by layer. So my advice is, don’t waste precious time trying to perfect that opening paragraph. Get the bones of your story down – as fast as your fingers can type them – before you even think about trying to turn it into a masterpiece.

Georgia, thank you for playing.

Grab a copy of Confessions Of A Once Fashionable Mum here

Confessions of a Once Fashionable Mum

by Georgia Madden

Successful hubbie? Tick. Facebook-worthy baby? Tick. Bikini-body six weeks after giving birth? Um . . . not so much.

Fashion PR exec Ally Bloom got her happy ending. Okay, her marriage might be showing the odd crack, her battleaxe mother-in-law might have come to stay, and she might not be the yummy mummy she’d imagined, but it’s nothing a decent night’s sleep and a firm commitment to a no-carb diet won’t fix.

But when Ally returns to work and finds she’ll be reporting to a 22-year-old airhead, she decides to turn her back on life as a professional fashionista and embrace her inner earth mama instead. So it’s out with the Louboutins and champagne and in with the sensible flats and coffee mornings with the Mummy Mafia.

From attending her first grown-up dinner party only to discover that placenta is top of the menu to controlling her monster crush on local playgroup hottie Cameron, Ally must find her feet in the brave new world of the stay-at-home mum.

About the Author

Georgia Madden began her career in journalism at Homes & Gardens magazine in London, before returning to Sydney with her young family to work as a freelance writer. She writes for House & Garden, Inside Out and Home Beautiful, as well as a number of interiors websites. She lives in Sydney with her family. Confessions Of A Once Fashionable Mum is her first novel.

Grab a copy of Confessions Of A Once Fashionable Mum here

GUEST BLOG: Ber Carroll speaks on Missing Mums and her latest novel ‘Once Lost’


Author: Ber Carroll

The article in The Australian Women’s Weekly caught my eye straight away. Three smiling vibrant women who each seemed strangely familiar to me. They could have been women I knew from school, or from sport, or from the local neighbourhood, and it seemed incongruous that these happy photographs should be married to the chilling caption: MISSING MUMS.

These women, these ordinary every-day mothers, had vanished, leaving behind a plethora of unanswered questions, a tangle of suspicions and mistrust, and the shattered lives of those who had loved them. I felt quite overwhelmed by the scale of the tragedy, for the mothers themselves and everything they had missed out on – birthdays, weddings, grandchildren – and for their family and friends and the debilitating uncertainty that they were still living with, years later. I imagined myself as the missing mother, and then imagined myself as a daughter left behind. I read the article three or four times, trawling for clues as to what might have really happened to these women. In worlds-apartMarion Barter’s story alone, there seemed to be so much conflicting evidence. I tried to rationalise Marion’s odd behaviour before she went missing, and to find some explanation for why she might want to escape, or not be totally honest with her family. Had customs made an error? Who, exactly, did the police speak to that time on the phone? Was the stolen wallet the missing link, the key to everything? What, out of all that contradictory evidence, could be eliminated by some simple explanation? The most disturbing thing was that I couldn’t quite shake the deep-down feeling that Marion Barter was alive.

Every now and then something goes missing in our house. I’m sure this happens in every household, but my reaction can be quite – there’s no other word for it – obsessive. I search every nook and cranny of the house. I wake in the middle of the night, suddenly remembering an obscure location where I have not yet checked, and have been known to jump up then and there – in the middle of the night – to go to investigate. The most significant item I’ve lost is my car keys. I invested hours and hours searching for them (I even went through the rubbish bins!). The keys were never found; I had to pay a lot of money for a replacement set. Ten years on, I still occasionally find myself wondering What, exactly, happened to those keys? The fact that I don’t know, and never will know, is enough to drive me quite mad. Maybe I am a product of my generation. We have resources at our fingertips, answers at the click of a button. We aren’t used to things being grey or unclear or ambiguous. One thing I do know for sure is that if my mother, or my sister, or a friend, vanished like Marion did, I would never be able to let it go. I would never be able to put it behind me and move on. I would be looking for answers, for clues, waking in the middle of the night and conjuring up new explanations, until my dying day.

once-lostIn Once Lost, I tried to capture some of that conflicting backdrop. Louise’s mother was not perfect: she had an unhappy marriage, an abusive partner, and a history of ‘zoning out’. One day, while Louise was at school, she took her purse and some clothes and disappeared. Sixteen years later, Louise is an accomplished young woman, but the only way she can get through the uncertainty that surrounds her mother’s disappearance is to channel all her energy into searching for her. What keeps her going is the deep-down belief that her mother is alive, and that one day she will know the truth of what really happened the day her mother disappeared.

I wrote most of Once Lost in a state of uncertainty myself: I didn’t decide what happened to Louise’s mother until the very end. Because I am an author, and this story isn’t real, I was able to insert some certainty in the ending. Louise does find some answers, some closure, which is something that has been denied to the families of those three beautiful women whose faces have stayed in my head since reading that article in The Australian Women’s Weekly.

Grab a copy of Once Lost here

once-lostOnce Lost by Ber Carroll

Are some things better left unfound?

Best friends Louise and Emma grew up next door to each other in a grim inner-city suburb of Dublin.

Now Louise, an art conservator, is thousands of miles away in Sydney, restoring a beautiful old painting. She meets Dan, whose family welcome her as one of their own, but she will always feel lost until she finds her mother who walked out when she was just eight years old.

Back in Dublin, Emma is stuck in a job where she is under-appreciated and underpaid, but her biggest worry is her ex-partner, Jamie. Emma has lost so much because of Jamie: her innocence, her reputation, almost her life. Now she is at risk of losing Isla, her young daughter.

So where is Louise’s mother? Will Emma ever be free of her ex? Both women frantically search for answers, but when the truth finally emerges it is more shattering than they had ever expected.

About the Author

Ber Carroll was born in Blarney, County Cork, and moved to Australia in 1995. She worked as a finance director in the information technology industry until the release of her first novel, Executive Affair. Her second book, Just Business, was published in Ireland and Germany and these novels, plus her third,  High Potential, were released in Australia in 2008 and The Better Woman in 2009. Once Lost is her latest novel.

Grab a copy of Once Lost here

BOOK REVIEW: All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven (Review by Shikha Shah)

Looking for the winners of our Facebook competition? Scroll to the bottom of the post…

All the Bright Places is a heartbreaking and touching novel exploring a wide range of issues such as depression, mental disorders, suicide, coping with the loss of a loved one and finding hope.

The book begins with Theodore Finch – an outsider with his own unique brand of coolness –standing on his high school’s bell tower asking himself “Is today a good day to die?”. He then gets distracted by the sight of Violet Markey – a popular girl who seems to have everything – standing on the other side of the bell tower. Finch proceeds to calmly convince Violet to step off the edge and so begins a complicated relationship that will change both their lives.

Violet and Finch come across each other under extreme circumstances and they are both broken in their own way. Finch helps Violet fight her inner demons and her guilt over her sister’s death. He encourages her to experience new things and see new places, helping Violet to find herself again. Unfortunately, Violet struggles to helps Finch in the same way.

This is not a typical boy-meets-girl love story about overcoming all obstacles to live happily-ever-after. Instead, this book delves into deeper real-life issues. All the Bright Places takes readers on a tragic journey as Violet and Finch each fight their own battle against depression. It also deals with the aftermath of what happens when someone cannot be helped…

If you enjoyed reading Solitaire by Alice Osmon as much as I did and The Last time we say Goodbye by Cynthia Hand, then this novel is a must-read. A little warning to readers – have a tissue box handy as this novel will probably going to make you cry like a baby.

Grab a copy of All the Bright Places here

all-the-bright-placesAll the Bright Places

by Jennifer Niven

Theodore Finch wants to take his own life. I’m broken, and no one can fix it.

Violet Markey us devastated by her sister’s death. In that instant we went plowing through the guardrail, my words died too.

They meet on the ledge of the school bell tower, and so their story begins. It’s only together they can be themselves . . .

I send a message to Violet: ‘You are all the colors in one, at full brightness.’

You’re so weird, Finch. But that’s the nicest thing anyone’s ever said to me.

But, as Violet’s world grows, Finch’s begins to shrink. How far will Violet go to save the boy she has come to love?

About the Author

Jennifer Niven is the author of two narrative non-fiction books, The Ice Master and Ada Blackjack; a high school memoir, The Aqua Net Diaries; and four historical novels for adults: Velva Jean Learns to Drive (based on her Emmy Award-winning film of the same name), Velva Jean Learns to Fly, Becoming Clementine, and the forthcoming American Blonde. All the Bright Places is her first book for young adults.

Grab a copy of All the Bright Places here


Congratulations to Jessica Gilham, Marie Davis, Barbara Clapperton, Julie Clark and Adey McKinney!

Email us at promos@booktopia.com.au with your address details to claim your prize!


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