BOOK REVIEW: The Bit in Between by Claire Varley (Review by Andrew Cattanach)

Andrew Cattanach finds plenty beneath the surface of local author Claire Varley’s debut The Bit in Between

the-bit-in-betweenIn The Bit in Between, Claire Varley explores the trials and tribulations of the talented and tortured young writer Oliver, as his ambitious prospective writing retreat is turned upside down by the enigmatic Alison, who enters his world in the most spectacular, stomach churning of ways.

It’s always a treat when a book surprises you, but rarely are you surprised by what you’re surprised by in a book that surprises you. Surprising way to start a review?

Well, blame Claire Varley’s The Bit in Between. It’s not your average book.

You see, I knew it was going to be well written, even before I’d read Varley’s recent answers to our Ten Terrifying Questions (they’re pretty amazing). I had heard from some astute folks within the book industry that this was something special, and sure enough it was.

I also knew what to expect, with early noise about it being the Australian equivalent David Nicholl’s One Day being dead on. The writing is sharp, the characters witty and the story is alive in an assured, pacey manner that belies the author’s relative inexperience in long form fiction.

What surprised me about what surprised me about The Bit in Between was the changing trajectory of the novel, what it strode for, what story it told. Rarely do you finish a relatively mainstream novel, love it, yet still turn to someone and say, can you read this and tell me what you think? Is it a love story? Is it a story of loss? Is it cutting travel writing? Is it a meditation on self discovery? Is it a love letter to the writing life?

The truth is that it’s all these things and more. This is the first glimpse of an exciting new local talent, equal parts accessible, ambitious, fun and challenging.

One Day was good, and had its moments, although it never resonated with me like The Bit in Between did. Perhaps it’s the local flavour, perhaps it’s the nods to the art of writing, but I’ll take The Bit in Between every day.

Grab your copy of Claire Varley’s The Bit in Between here

the-bit-in-betweenThe Bit in Between

by Claire Varley

Writing a love story is a lot easier than living one.

There are seven billion people in the world. This is the story of two of them.

After an unfortunate incident in an airport lounge involving an immovable customs officer, a full jar of sun-dried tomatoes, quite a lot of vomit, and the capricious hand of fate, Oliver meets Alison. In spite of this less than romantic start, Oliver falls in love with her.

Immediately. Inexplicably. Irrevocably.

With no other place to be, Alison follows Oliver to the Solomon Islands where he is planning to write his much-anticipated second novel. But as Oliver’s story begins to take shape, odd things start to happen and he senses there may be more hinging on his novel than the burden of expectation. As he gets deeper into the manuscript and Alison moves further away from him, Oliver finds himself clinging to a narrative that may not end with; happily ever after.

Grab your copy of Claire Varley’s The Bit in Between here

Claire Varley, author of The Bit in Between, answers Ten Terrifying Questions

The Booktopia Book Guru asks

Claire Varley

author of The Bit in Between

Ten Terrifying Questions
____________

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

Born in Geelong, raised on the Bellarine Peninsula and schooled in the art of wit and one-liners that don’t quite deliver. Geelong is great; it is a pilot city of the NDIS and directly elected mayors, and when I was growing up it had a zedonk farm.

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

When I was twelve I wanted to be fourteen because that’s how old the babysitters of the Babysitter’s Club were. In my head fourteen was a magical age when you were given responsibilities beyond your years and did exciting things like solve pet-napping mysteries and move to California when your parents got divorced and your dad remarried a younger woman named Carol.

When I was eighteen I wanted to be someone who lived in a house with heating because I spent my winter wandering around my sharehouse wearing a doona-muu-muu and feeling sad that I had dragon breath inside the house. But I acknowledged that alongside drowning with a book of Keats’ poems in your pocket, such is the life of a would-be writer.

I am currently 29 and hope, at thirty, to be a) still alive, b) wiser and c) David Sedaris.

Author: Claire Varley

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

That living in a house with heating meant I had made it.

Also, that skirts and dresses would never be a part of my wardrobe. For some reason my brothers and I have a thing about always dressing in a way that is conducive to suddenly having to run away from something. It’s as if we were conditioned from childhood for an imminent zombie apocalypse. Now, having realised I am not particularly agile or swift, I wear skirts a lot more.

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?

Terry Pratchett taught me that laughter is the best teacher of both compassion and sadness. I revisit Under Milk Wood by Dylan Thomas every year to remind myself what perfection is. And Solveig’s Song by Edvard Grieg is my go to song for when I need to remember the value of stillness and silence within my work. And when I need the confidence to kill my darlings.

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

Because I legitimately have no talent in any other field. See self-portrait below.

sg

6. Please tell us about your latest novel…

The Bit In Between is my debut novel. It’s an awkward love story about Oliver and Alison, two young Australians, who have landed in the Solomon Islands looking for their truths. Oliver is writing his second novel and as they settle into island life coincidences start to happen that make him question how much life is influencing his book, and vice versa.

Grab a copy of Claire’s new book The Bit in Between here

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

At its heart it is a story of people, love, life, the paths we choose, and those we don’t. I hope it makes people laugh, then cry, then laugh again and feel guilty for laughing so soon after they cried. As David Foster Wallace said, ‘good writing helps readers become less alone inside’, and I do so hope it does this.

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

When I sit down at my computer I say to myself, ‘pretend you are the love child of Zadie Smith and Steve Toltz and you have been given the task to write!’ Zadie Smith’s ability to capture people is breathtaking and in A Fraction of the Whole Steve Toltz, to me, created the perfect novel. And reading the first page of Under Milk Wood makes me rage against the genius of Dylan Thomas’s mastery of language.

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

My bar is so low – see aforementioned home heating goal. Obviously I would like total global literary domination and to see a statue of myself erected outside the Westfield in Geelong in the manner of Hans Christian Anderson in Central Park, but in lieu of this, I’d be perfectly happy to continue to have opportunities to tell stories that make people happy, sad and content.

10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?

Read books, buy books, love books and never let anyone tell you to stop buying them because you have too many and the house has become a firetrap.

Write lots – for others and for yourself – because like any skill you need to practice.

When people tell you that no one makes a living from writing anymore, point out that no one has ever really made a living from writing, then go home, put on your doona-muu-muu and write until your heart sings.

Claire, thank you for playing.

Grab a copy of The Bit in Between here


The Bit in Between

by Claire Varley

Writing a love story is a lot easier than living one.

There are seven billion people in the world. This is the story of two of them.

After an unfortunate incident in an airport lounge involving an immovable customs officer, a full jar of sun-dried tomatoes, quite a lot of vomit, and the capricious hand of fate, Oliver meets Alison. In spite of this less than romantic start, Oliver falls in love with her.

Immediately. Inexplicably. Irrevocably.

With no other place to be, Alison follows Oliver to the Solomon Islands where he is planning to write his much-anticipated second novel. But as Oliver’s story begins to take shape, odd things start to happen and he senses there may be more hinging on his novel than the burden of expectation. As he gets deeper into the manuscript and Alison moves further away from him, Oliver finds himself clinging to a narrative that may not end with; happily ever after.

About the Author

Claire Varley grew up on the Bellarine Peninsula and lives in Melbourne. She has sold blueberries, worked in a haunted cinema, won an encouragement award for being terrible at telemarketing, taught English in rural China, and coordinated community development projects in remote Solomon Islands.

Her short stories and poems have appeared in Australian Love Stories (‘A Greek Tragedy’), Australian Love Poems (‘Beatitude’), Seizure online (‘Poll’, ‘Hallow’), page seventeen (‘Once’, ‘Hamlet, Remus and Two Guys Named Steve’), Sotto (‘in the name of’) and [Untitled] (‘The Nicholas Name’, ‘Behind Tram Lines’). The Bit In Between is her first novel.

 Grab a copy of The Bit in Between here

Eleanor Limprecht, author of Long Bay, answers Ten Terrifying Questions

long-bay

The Booktopia Book Guru asks

Eleanor Limprecht

author of Long Bay

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 Washington DC in the United States. My dad worked as a Foreign Service Officer in the State Department so we lived overseas (in Germany and Pakistan) and in Virginia – never anywhere for more than four years at a time. I went to university at Virginia Tech while my parents were posted to Uzbekistan. I moved to Australia when I was 24 after falling in love with an Australian I met in Italy. Later I returned to university in Australia to get my Masters and recently my Doctorate of Creative Arts in writing from UTS.

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

When I was 12 I wanted to be a veterinarian. I loved animals so much that I stopped eating meat at the age of twelve (after a few years of nagging my parents). I couldn’t imagine a better job than one in which I’d get to interact with animals constantly. Of course I didn’t think about the fact that I would have to deal with blood, disease, and pet owners as well.

When I was 18 I wanted to be a park ranger. I was studying Wildlife Sciences at university. I transferred to English Literature after a few months – it only took one semester for me to realise that I would have to be proficient in science in order to major in Wildlife Science….

When I was 30 I wanted to be an author. I had been a journalist and I wanted to write fiction, because it is what I have always loved to read. I had been working on my first novel manuscript for a few years (while freelancing and giving birth to my first child). I worked on it for a few more years and it is still in a drawer. Luckily my second novel was published – What Was Left. It is the story of a woman who, after giving birth, struggles with postnatal depression and leaves her family in a search for her own father, who left when she was a child.

June-2014-26-13. What strongly held belief did you have at eighteen that you do not have now?

I believed that good and evil are easily defined – easily delineated. I believed you could avoid causing suffering in the world – this was why I was a vegetarian and an animal rights activist. Now I think that there are so many grey areas, no one is immune from causing suffering, and I am far less judgmental. I think that this is something literature taught me – for every person who does some terrible thing – delve enough into their past and into their world and you can come to understand why they have done it.

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?

Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. This book to me was about the power of paying attention – noticing the world around us – and how much darkness and death are as intrinsic as life and light. This book taught me there is as much beauty in death as there is in life. She writes: “…the world is actual and fringed, pierced here and there, and through and through, with the toothed conditions of time and the mysterious, coiled spring of death.” It’s a stunning book.

Joseph Cornell’s boxes. I love these assemblages and the miniature worlds they evoke, the sense of nostalgia and fragmentation that you get by juxtaposing strange things.

Charley Pride singing “Is Anybody going to San Antone” – my dad loved old country music and had this on a record compilation. I listened to it non-stop when I was about seven. I knew all of the words by heart. I was an unusual kid. What it taught me is the way just a few words can tell a heartbreaking story – and the way an image can evoke emotion. Here are the first two stanzas:

Rain dripping off the brim of my hat
It sure is cold today
Here I am walking down 66
Wish she hadn’t done me that way.

Sleeping under a table in a roadside park
A man could wake up dead
But it sure seems warmer than it did
Sleeping in our king sized bed.

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

Because I express myself best through writing. I become tongue-tied and self-conscious when trying to speak. I love music but I am not musically trained, and visual arts inspire me, but literature is the language I speak. I find fiction to be the natural home of truth. George Eliot said “Art is the nearest thing to life” and to me that art is the art of the novel. I love nothing more than to lose myself in a novel. I love the way it makes me look at my own life in a new light.

long-bay6. Please tell us about your latest novel…

Set in Sydney in the first decade of the 1900s, Long Bay is based on the true case of a young female abortionist who was convicted of manslaughter and served out her sentence in the newly opened Long Bay Women’s Reformatory – the first of its kind in Australia. The woman, Rebecca Sinclair, was pregnant when she went to prison.

Long Bay looks at how Rebecca became involved in the burgeoning illegal abortion racket in Edwardian-era Sydney and how she was drawn into this underworld. In unadorned prose, it examines the limiting effects of poverty, the mistakes we make for love, and the bond between mother and child.

Grab a copy of Eleanor’s new book Long Bay here

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

I hope they are able to imagine a little more clearly what it was like to live in Edwardian Sydney as a woman of the working class, and why you might make choices which now we judge harshly. I hope people reflect on the novel in relation to contemporary life as well. I also want my readers to come away as well with a sense of hope – of possibility. I like dark subjects but I am still an optimist. I have a particular weakness for love stories.

the-poisonwood-bible8. Whom do you most admire in the realm of writing and why?

Barbara Kingsolver. She manages to be a supremely skilled writer but also someone who is concerned about the planet and food sources and social justice. Somehow she does this without preaching. She just shows it in her writing, through her intensely identifiable characters and her believable plots. But there are so many other writers I admire as well: Anne Enright, Kate Grenville, Hilary Mantel, Hannah Kent, Curtis Sittenfield, Emma O’Donoghue, Toni Morrison, William Faulkner. I could go on…

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

Mine are not so ambitious. Balance is important to me: having time to spend with my family, time to give back to my community and keep myself sane (running). So my goal is just to write the next book, I cannot see beyond that (I’ve never been very good at planning for the future).

10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?

Not everyone is going to like your writing. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to improve – you should always be trying to improve – but you will never make everyone happy, so never let your own sense of success depend on that. Write because you love to write, not because you want to be published. But also, be persistent. Carve out uninterrupted time to write.

Eleanor, thank you for playing.

Grab a copy of Eleanor’s new book Long Bay here

——————————————————–

long-bayLong Bay

by Eleanor Limprecht

Set in Sydney in the first decade of the 1900s, Long Bay is based on the true case of a young female abortionist who was convicted of manslaughter and served out her sentence in the newly opened Long Bay Women’s Reformatory – the first of its kind in Australia. The woman, Rebecca Sinclair, was pregnant when she went to prison.

Long Bay looks at how Rebecca became involved in the burgeoning illegal abortion racket in Edwardian-era Sydney and how she was drawn into Donald Sinclair’s underworld.

In unadorned prose, it examines the limiting effects of poverty, the mistakes we make for love, and the bond between mother and child.

Grab a copy of Eleanor’s new book Long Bay here

Tim Winton to release a new book, Island Home, this year!

NEWS FLASH: Arguably Australia’s greatest living writer, Tim Winton, will have a new book out in just a few weeks!

Due to be released in September this year, Tim Winton’s Island Home explores the story of how his relationship with the Australian landscape came to be, and how it has determined his ideas, his writing and his life. 

ISLANDHOME9781926428471It is also a passionate exhortation for all of us to feel the ground beneath our feet. Much more powerfully than a political idea, or an economy, Australia is a physical entity. Where we are defines who we are, in ways we too often forget to our detriment, and the country’s.

‘I’m increasingly mindful of the degree to which geography, distance and weather have moulded my sensory palate, my imagination and expectations.

The island continent has not been mere background. Landscape has exerted a kind of force upon me that is every bit as geological as family…’
– Tim Winton

‘Tim Winton’s Island Home is a revelation – an insight into the life and work of one of our finest authors and an inspiration about how to live in and listen to this land.

It’s an answer to the question of what it means to be Australian, in which we learn a lot about its author’s views and practices, and even more about ourselves.’
Ben Ball, Publishing Director, Penguin General

‘I grew up on the world’s largest island.’

This apparently simple fact is the starting point for Tim Winton’s beautiful, evocative and sometimes provocative memoir of how this unique landscape has shaped him and his writing.

For over thirty years, Winton has written novels in which the natural world is as much a living presence as any character. What is true of his work is also true of his life: from boyhood, his relationship with the world around him – rockpools, seacaves, scrub and swamp – was as vital as any other connection. Camping in hidden inlets of the south-east, walking in the high rocky desert fringe, diving at Ningaloo Reef, bobbing in the sea between sets, Winton has felt the place seep into him, with its rhythms, its dangers, its strange sustenance, and learned to see landscape as a living process.

Island Home is the story of how that relationship with the Australian landscape came to be, and how it has determined his ideas, his writing and his life.  It is also a passionate exhortation for all of us to feel the ground beneath our feet. Much more powerfully than a political idea, or an economy, Australia is a physical entity. Where we are defines who we are, in ways we too often forget to our detriment, and the country’s.

Click here to pre-order your copy of Tim Winton’s Island Home

Booktopia_FrontPageBanner__TimWinton_770x200_CGClick here to pre-order your copy of Tim Winton’s Island Home

Lucy Treloar, author of Salt Creek, answers Ten Terrifying Questions

salt-creekThe Booktopia Book Guru asks

Lucy Treloar

author of Salt Creek

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 Malaysia, where my family lived for several years. My schooling was in Melbourne, England and Sweden, and I went to Melbourne University (Fine Arts) and RMIT (Prof Writing and Editing).

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

I realize now that I always wanted to be a writer (I can still recite a horrible poem in rhyming couplets that I wrote at seven or so, which I’ll spare you) but it took me years to find that out. In any job I held I always gravitated towards writing. I love words. How can you not?

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

At eighteen, I believed without even knowing it that the world would continue in much the same way as it always had, with a few technological developments. Life has become more precarious andLucy Treloar the world’s fragility better understood in the intervening years. I’m more fearful, I think, partly because I worry about the future for my children.

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?

The hardest question. Only three? The Emigrants – a gripping historical series by a Swedish writer, Vilhelm Moberg, the first really adult books I read; Narcissus and Goldmund by Hermann Hesse (the first time I saw that books could be about ideas, not only character and plot) and Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre (I felt as if I’d become a different person after I read it). These books were so much part of my growing up (read between the ages of 11 and 17) and my thinking that I can’t separate them from me. They and the universes of human existence that they contained were like explosions in my life. I longed to be able to do that.

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

I’m just not very good at other things. I would love to be an artist, but all I can do is appreciate art longingly, enviously from a distance.

6.    Please tell us about your latest novel

salt-creekSalt Creek is the story of Hester Finch, an educated, highly intelligent fifteen-year-old of the 1850s whose family moves from early Adelaide to a remote and spectacular part of South Australia where over several years her father tries (and fails) to improve the family’s fortunes, destroying the indigenous culture as he does it. It’s about love in its many forms, power, and civilization and its failings.

Grab your copy of Salt Creek here

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

For people to care and wonder about the world and the people of Salt Creek, even the ones who behaved badly.

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

It’s very hard for me to go past Marilynne Robinson. The scope of her fiction is apparently small, yet the range of human emotion and experience that she is able to explore, and the generosity of her understanding, is vast. Cormac McCarthy (especially his Border Trilogy and Blood Meridian) is another writer I read and reread. Herman Melville’s Moby Dick is extraordinary. Among writers of historical fiction, Hilary Mantel, Kate Grenville and Geraldine Brooks are the benchmarks for me.

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

All I really want is an excuse to keep writing, for my skills to develop, and to continue to be published. That feels wildly ambitious to me.

10.    What advice do you give aspiring writers?

Getting negative feedback goes with the territory of being a writer. But don’t let that feedback stop you; don’t let anyone else decide for you that you’re not a writer. Let that be your decision. The other piece of advice is from Marilynne Robinson: ‘Forget definition, forget assumption, watch’.

Lucy, thank you for playing.

Who is Orry-Kelly and why should I buy his memoir?

Who the hell is Orry-Kelly and why should you buy his memoir?

Let us tell you…

women-i-ve-undressed– Orry-Kelly was the professional name of Orry George Kelly, an Australian who was, during the 1950s, one of the most famous names in the film industry, winning three Academy Awards for his work on An American in Paris, Les Girls and Some Like It Hot.

– Orry-Kelly died of liver cancer in 1964, and told friends he was working on a memoir that he wanted published. Nobody could find it until recently, when residents at his former home found them stored in a pillowcase!

– Born in Kiama, he travelled to New York in the hopes of becoming an actor, sharing an apartment with Carey Grant.

– He made a living painting murals for illegal underground bars before falling in love with set and costume design.

– He was a close friend of Hollywood immortals like Marilyn Monroe, Bette Davis, Tony Curtis, Katharine Hepburn, Billy Wilder, Jack Lemmon and Ava Gardner just to name a few.

– He knew how to make an Oscar speech…

 

Grab your copy of Women I’ve Undressed here

women-i-ve-undressed

Women I’ve Undressed

by Orry-Kelly

Found in a pillowcase, the fabulous long-lost memoirs of a legendary Hollywood designer – and a genuine Australian original.

Orry-Kelly created magic on screen, from Casablanca and The Maltese Falcon to Some Like It Hot.

He won three Oscars for costume design. He dressed all the biggest stars, from Bette Davis to Marilyn Monroe.

He was an Australian. Yet few know who Orry-Kelly really was – until now.

Discovered in a pillowcase, Orry-Kelly’s long-lost memoirs reveal a wildly talented and cheeky rascal who lived a big life, on and off the set. From his childhood in Kiama to revelling in Sydney’s underworld nightlife as a naïve young artist and chasing his dreams of acting in New York, his early life is a wild and exciting ride.

Sharing digs in New York with another aspiring actor, Cary Grant, and partying hard in between auditions, he ekes out a living painting murals for speakeasies before graduating to designing stage sets and costumes. When The Kid from Kiama finally arrives in Hollywood, it’s clear his adventures have only just begun.

Fearless, funny and outspoken, Orry-Kelly lived life to the full. In Women I’ve Undressed, he shares a wickedly delicious slice of it.

Grab your copy of Women I’ve Undressed here

Who is Jonathan Brown and why should I buy his memoir?

Who the hell is this Jonathan Brown character and why should you buy his memoir?

Let us tell you:

jonathan-brown-life-and-football– Jonathan Brown is a former AFL player for the Brisbane Lions, winning three premierships by the age of 22.

– He is widely regarded as one of the greatest players of the modern era.

– He is one of the most loved players of his generation, stepping straight into the media after retiring in 2014.

– Leigh Matthews, arguably the greatest player of all time, described Brown as the most courageous player he has ever seen.

– He did this once…

– And this…

– And footy folks have this to say about him…

Grab your copy of Jonathan Brown: Life and Football here

jonathan-brown-life-and-footballJonathan Brown

Life and Football

Three premiership wins, three-time club best and fairest winner, two-time All Australian and winner of the Coleman Medal: Jonathan Brown knows footy, and he knows success.

Browny’s head-first on-field leadership style, coupled with an outstanding highlights reel, earned him the respect of the entire football community. This tell-all account will take you behind the scenes of his extraordinary career. From growing up in country Victoria, to becoming the pride of Brisbane, to his devastating decision to retire mid-season, this former captain has seen it all – and he has stories to tell.

A formidable player and a man’s man, Browny is the people’s champion.

Browny’s head-first on-field leadership style earned him the respect of the entire football community, and his revealing autobiography will take you behind the scenes of his extraordinary career. From growing up in country Victoria, to becoming the pride of Brisbane, to his devastating decision to retire mid-season, Jonathan Brown has seen it all – and he has stories to tell.

Grab your copy of Jonathan Brown: Life and Football here

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