GUEST BLOG: What Katie Read – The January Roundup (by award-winning author Kate Forsyth)

One of Australia’s favourite novelists Kate Forsyth, author of The Impossible Quest, Bitter Greens, The Wild Girl and now The Beast’s Garden, continues her monthly blog with us, giving her verdict on the books she read in January.

Summer holidays! For me, a time to relax and read for pleasure. I took a stack of books away with me to the beach shack and read my way through them in complete and utter happiness – Kate Forsyth

The Observations

by Jane Harris

The ObservationsThe Observations is such a delightful read! It tells the story of a girl named Bessy who takes a job as a maid-of-all-work in a gloomy country house in Scotland in the mid 1860s. Bessy has a past she would rather forget, and so is grateful for the refuge her mistress Arabella offers her. However, she soon comes to realise that not is all as it seems in the house, and that an earlier maid has died in rather mysterious circumstances. With naïve optimism, Bessie sets out to find out what happened, and finds herself getting rather more than she bargained for.

The true pleasure of the book is Bessy’s voice – gutsy, wry, and vulnerable – and the clever way Jane Harris weaves her narrative threads together.

Learn more about The Observations here!

Wild Wood

by Posie Graeme-Evans

xwild-woodWild Wood is a dual timeline narrative that moves between the Scottish Borderlands in the 14th century and an unhappy young woman in the 1980s who finds herself compelled to draw the same Scottish castle over and over again. I love stories with parallel timelines, particularly with a good dash of romance, history and magic added in. And I also love books set in Scotland, so all the ingredients were in place for a really wonderful read.

I must admit I loved the scenes set in the past more – the story of the mute fairy wife, the battle-hardened warrior and the medieval castle were all so intriguing. The contemporary scenes did not work quite so well for me, perhaps because the 1980s is not a decade that really inspires me. However, the story of Jesse and her eerie connection with the past eventually drew me in, and the story really began to gallop along.

Learn more about Wild Wood here!

Writers’ Block

by Judith Flanders

xwriters-block.Judith Flanders is best known as the author of brilliantly researched historical non-fiction about the Victorian era. I have quite a few of her books, and return to them again and again for my own research.

Writers’ Block could not be more different. It’s a darkly funny contemporary murder mystery set in a London publishing house. It made me laugh out loud once or twice, and I roared through it in a single sitting.

Learn more about Writers’ Block here!

The Sunne In Splendour

by Sharon Penman

the-sunne-in-splendourThis book has been on my shelf for a very long time, but its sheer heft and weight meant I kept postponing picking it up. Its 880 pages long! However, so many people kept naming it as one of the best historical novels ever written, so eventually I took the plunge. I’m very glad I did. It’s quite brilliant.

Sharon Penman effortlessly weaves together an epic story of love, war, and revenge, bringing to life the enigmatic king, Richard III. Most people know Richard III from the Shakespeare play, and from the murder of the Princes in the Tower.

Sharon Penman believes him unjustly maligned and she does a very convincing job of making her readers think so too. Well worth the wrist strain!

Learn more about The Sunne In Splendour here!

The Lure of the Moonflower

by Lauren Willig

the-lure-of-the-moonflowerThe last in the utterly delightful series that began with The Secret History of the Pink Carnation.

These books are a really clever mix of chick lit & Regency romance-spy-adventure. They are clever, funny, romantic and full of suspense, packing an awful lot of frivolous fun into their pages. I’m very sad to see the series end.

Learn about The Lure of the Moonflower here!

Two Fearsome Fairy Tales from France

Retold by Adele Geras and illustrated by Fiona McDonald

two-fearsome-fairy-tales-from-franceChristmas Press has been quietly producing a range of exquisite fairy tale retellings with gorgeous illustrations for the last couple of years. This beautiful edition has the Jerusalem-born author Adele Geras retelling Beauty & the Beast and Bluebeard with illustrations by Fiona McDonald (who also illustrated my own contribution to the series Two Selkie Tales from Scotland).

The stories are simply and elegantly retold, and are carefully pitched to appeal to a younger reading age – no need to fear for a sensitive child’s sensibilities here! So far the series has included tales retold by Sophie Masson, Ursula Dubosarky, and me, with one coming soon from Duncan Ball. Other titles are in the pipeline. Together they will build to a library of some of the world’s most beloved fairy tales, with stories from Russia, Japan, Ancient Greece, Rome, and Ireland, as well as Scotland and France. A perfect gift for any fairy-tale-loving child!

Learn more about Two Fearsome Fairy Tales from France here!

Midnight is a Place

by Joan Aiken

xmidnight-is-a-placeJoan Aiken is one of my all-time favourite children’s writers. Her books were out-of-print for a while and I haunted second-hand bookshops in the hopes of building up my collection. My copy of this wonderful book was bought from the Glebe Library years ago, and still has its yellow cardboard filing card in an envelope glued inside the front cover. Happily, her books have all recently been re-issued with fabulous new covers and so are easy to get hold of now.

It’s difficult to exactly categorise Joan Aiken’s work. It’s historical fiction, with a Dickensian feel thanks to its brilliantly drawn characters (both comic and villainous), unusual names, and dark atmospheric settings. Her stories are fabulously inventive, and often have surprising elements in them (like pink whales). Some of the books have an alternative historical setting, with Good King James III on the throne of England, and the wicked Hanoverians trying to blow up Parliament House.

Midnight is a Place is the most realist of her novels, and quite possibly her darkest. It tells the story of a lonely boy named Lucas, who lives at Midnight Court, next to a smoggy industrial town called Blastburn. His guardian is a foul-tempered, brandy-drinking eccentric who won the great house in a card-game many years before. One day the orphaned daughter of the previous owner comes to live at Midnight Court. Soon Lucas and Anna-Marie are left destitute, and must fend for themselves in the tough streets of Blackburn.

There is one particular scene set in the carpet-making factory that I shall never forget – as a child, it burnt itself deep into my imagination. It is also striking for its refusal to restore the children’s lost wealth – instead they find happiness by making their own way in the world. Joan Aiken is one of the great children’s writers, and deserves to be much more widely celebrated.

Learn more about Midnight is a Place here!

Kate Forsyth

Forsyth, KateKate Forsyth is the bestselling and award-winning author of more than twenty books, ranging from picture books to poetry to novels for both children and adults.

She was recently voted one of Australia’s Favourite Novelists. She has been called one of ‘the finest writers of this generation”, and “quite possibly … one of the best story tellers of our modern age.’

Kate’s books have been published in 14 countries around the world, including the UK, the US, Russia, Germany, Japan, Turkey, Spain, Italy, Poland and Slovenia.

Visit Kate Forsyth’s Booktopia author page

The Beast’s Garden

by Kate Forsyth

Forsyth, Kate - The Beast's GardenA retelling of Beauty and The Beast set in Nazi Germany.

The Grimm Brothers published a beautiful version of the Beauty & the Beast tale called The Singing, Springing Lark in 1819. It combines the well-known story of a daughter who marries a beast in order to save her father with another key fairy tale motif, the search for the lost bridegroom.

In The Singing, Springing Lark, the daughter grows to love her beast but unwittingly betrays him and he is turned into a dove. She follows the trail of blood and white feathers he leaves behind him for seven years, and, when she loses the trail, seeks help from … Read more

Grab your copy of The Beast’s Garden here

COMING SOON: Kim Lock, author of upcoming Like I Can Love answers the Booktopia Book Guru’s Ten Terrifying Questions

likeicanloveThe Booktopia Book Guru asks

Kim Lock

author of Like I Can Love

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 six days early, and this ambition to be more mature than I was persisted throughout my childhood. I was often elected as class leader or student representative for this or that. I grew up in a conservative country town in the south east of South Australia, and then moved to Darwin at 19.

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

Twelve: Before understanding the importance of good mathematics grades – a doctor, who also writes novels. Eighteen: Creative director of a magazine, who also writes novels. Thirty: Still no good at maths and now with a toddler and a baby – someone who gets more than 90 minutes sleep in a row, and also writes novels.

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

This is an embarrassing question, because I had so many. (I was a 90s teen: Salt-N-Pepa, high-tops and South Park.) What strikes me most, now, is how much I believed that what other people thought of me mattered. I had this belief that the perceptions of others were like a mirror, or were somehow legitimate judgements of who I was. If I could go back in time I’d whisper to that 18-year-old me: Be yourself, for yourself, because that is perfect.

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?

No singular piece, but rather collections of art en masse. Libraries and bookstores have always been my go-to places for influence and creative nourishment. If I could collect and bottle Essence of Bookstore, I would wear it on my skin. And I suspect I wouldn’t be alone. (You’d wear it too, wouldn’t you?)

If I could collect and bottle Essence of Bookstore, I would wear it on my skin.

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

Oh, I’m flattered by your suggestion that I could be skilled in innumerable artistic avenues. Is papier måché still a thing? I could probably give that a go. Although there’s a lot less spare newsprint laying around these days, what with the Internet and all.

6. Please tell us about your latest novel

Like I Can Love begins on a summer’s day in South Australia’s famous Coonawarra wine district, when a young woman draws a bath and slits her wrists. She leaves behind a two-year-old son, a husband, and her best friend with a key to a self-storage unit.

Coonawarra Wine District

Coonawarra Wine District

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

A feeling. Any feeling. Because to touch the emotions of a reader is to speak to them a little. The story no longer belongs to me – that novel has graduated and moved out of home. It belongs to the reader, and that it spoke to them in some way is all I can hope for.

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

I tend to fall deeply in love with writers as I’m reading their novels. Delicious prose, witty and flawed and delightful characters, storylines that make me think – when I read these books I have a mini-love affair with the author. I admire those writers whose voices are so engaging their work could be about the life cycle of a slug and it would be fascinating.Kim Lock

I admire writers who can handle self-promotion with confidence, who can read reviews about their work and keep writing, who can Tweet fabulous things with only 140 characters. So there’s probably far, far too many to list, but to narrow it down a little, I have had a lot of these love affairs with Australian women writers lately.

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

Can I say that I’d love to see a novel I wrote turned into a film? And also, to get more than 90 minutes sleep in a row.

10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?

Read. Read more than you write. Read books you love and work out why. Read books you feel you can criticise and work out why. Read for the pleasure of it, because that reminds you why this love affair with the written word is worth pursuing.

Kim, thank you for playing!

Grab your copy of Like I Can Love here!

Like I Can Love

by Kim Lock

likeicanloveOn a hot January afternoon, Fairlie Winter receives a phone call. Her best friend has just taken her own life.

Jenna Rudolph, 26 years old, has left behind a devoted husband, an adorable young son and a stunning vineyard. But Fairlie knows she should have seen this coming. Yet Fairlie doesn’t know what Jenna’s husband Ark is hiding, nor does she know what Jenna’s mother Evelyn did to drive mother and daughter apart all those years ago.

Until Fairlie opens her mail and finds a letter. In Jenna’s handwriting. Along with a key. Driven to search for answers, Fairlie uncovers a horrifying past, a desperate mother, and a devastating secret … Read More

Grab your copy of Like I Can Love here!

Nine Naughty Questions with… Maisey Yates, author of Hometown Heartbreaker

hometown-heartbreakerThe Booktopia Book Guru asks

Maisey Yates

author of Hometown Heartbreaker

Nine Naughty Questions


Headless washboard abs, a torrid embrace, the sprawling homestead, an elegantly dressed décolletage, or the vaguely kinky object against a dark background – what’s your favourite type of romance cover and why?

I really like a clinch cover, personally. It’s classic romance to me. I like seeing the couple together, and I like how clinch covers often give you a sense of the story setting.

2. What is the secret life of a romance writer? What goes on between you and your keyboard (or quill) behind closed doors?

Basically a lot of coffee consumption, good friends available to answer my random texts when I’m having a story crisis and a lot of emailing, Facebooking and…yes, writing. That’s the most essential part!

3. At the heart of a romantic story is the way in which the main characters reveal their true natures to each other. How much of yourself do you put into your characters, and have their stories been affected by your personal experiences?NewPic-967x1024

I think my own personal experiences definitely inform how I look at the situations in a story. None of us are neutral. I don’t write characters that I always agree with, and I work hard to empathize with them and their decisions, which for me is where the main personal stuff comes in. I may never have been a small town rancher trying to keep the family spread from going under, but I’ve been afraid. I’ve wanted things. I’ve lost things. And I think as a writer you need to draw on those honest, universal emotions because that’s what makes your story resonate with readers.

4. I’m interested in how you differentiate between romance fiction, erotica and porn. Are romance readers getting naughtier?

I think romance fiction as a broad term is simply a story where the romantic relationship is at the center, and there is a happy ending. (Basically following the Romance Writers of America definition there.) Within that, there can be explicit sex, no sex and everything in between. Regardless, the story is the focus. The romantic journey is the focus – whether or not it includes love scenes. They’re simply part of it.

Erotic romance is more sexually focused, but still has a HEA. The emotional arc is tied to the sex scenes. The emotional journey of the characters still matters, it’s just that they’re working those emotions out through sex.

Erotica is different still in that it doesn’t necessarily require a happy ending (at least not of the traditional fairy tale sort…).

I think romance has always had a range of heat levels. I’m not fond of the term ‘not your mother’s romance’ mostly because…I hate to break it to you, but your mom’s romance was pretty hot too. Do I think the sexuality in romance is more front and center now as women feel more liberated to discuss it? Yes. That is probably true.

I feel like porn is one of those things…you really don’t have to question when you’ve seen it. You know. It exists purely for sexual gratification and no other reason. The emotional journey isn’t part of it.

I find it fascinating that a film like Shame for example can be sexually explicit and win awards, and not be accused of being pornography by most people, and yet the presence of sex in romance novels is this big talking point. Which I feel pertains to the fact that it is marketed to women, and is an extension of women being told that the things they enjoy are silly or fluffy or wrong in some way.

hometown-heartbreaker5. Please tell us about your latest novel!

Hometown Heartbreaker is a novella in my ongoing Copper Ridge Series, set in a small Oregon town. It’s the story of Aiden, a farmer’s son desperate to keep his alcoholic father from destroying the family business, and Casey, a woman who has spent her whole life moving from place to place.

It was fun to write the dynamic between the vulnerable bad girl who has never depended on anyone, never put down roots, and the solid, good guy who has really never been anywhere but his small town.

And it’s always fun for me to revisit Copper Ridge and give my readers glimpses of other favourite characters, like Eli from Part Time Cowboy and Ace from the upcoming One Night Charmer.

Buy your copy of Hometown Heartbreaker here

6. What’s the most memorable reaction you’ve received after a friend or family member read one of your books?

One of my friends called it marriage therapy for under $5. I was okay with that.

7. Romance writers are sometimes denigrated and asked when they’ll write ‘real’ books – what do you tell the haters?

It’s hard not to just laugh at them. Because it’s such a ridiculous sentiment, and it stems from their lack of education, both about the genre and about the publishing industry as a whole.

But that aside, I’m very proud of what I do, and I believe strongly in my books. I have no trouble telling anyone that I love what I write. I feel good about writing books that focus on love, which is something our world desperately needs.

8. Romance readers love discovering new authors. Please tell us about five books you recently read and loved to bits.9781250051783 (1)

So many books!

I’m cheating by recommending a series but… The Hathaway Series by Lisa Kleypas (alpha males, regency England, forbidden love…so good!)

Rebel Cowboy by Nicole Helm – Ex-hockey player turned llama rancher hero and the heroine he hires to help teach him how to handle his new land in Montana.

Edge of Obsession by Megan Crane – Erotic dystopian Vikings. What more do you need?

You Are Mine by Jackie Ashenden – A dark contemporary romance with a hint of suspense. The hero is to die for.

Castelli’s Virgin Widow by Caitlin Crews – I was lucky to read this M&B Sexy early, and it’s just fantastic high fantasy goodness.

9. Please tell us your favourite scene from your latest book, and why it’s particularly delicious!

I think my favourite scene is when Casey realizes that Aiden’s family and home and security – all things she’s never had – aren’t really an asset to him because of the cost. That he has a deficit too because no one in his life really loves him. I love when the differences in characters become the catalyst that really affects change.

Maisey, thank you for playing.

hometown-heartbreakerHometown Heartbreaker

A Copper Ridge Novella

by Maisey Yates

He knows that Copper Ridge’s newest bartender is running from her past… but will he recognize that she’s his last chance at salvation before she leaves town?

Aiden Crawford knows all about responsibilities. He’s already shouldering more than his share when beautiful drifter Casey James cruises into town with a broken car, a chip on her shoulder, and enough secrets to have her ready to leave Copper Ridge the second she can afford the auto mechanic’s bill. Aiden has more…

Buy your copy of Hometown Heartbreaker here


The Booktopia Book Guru asks Emma Viskic Ten Terrifying Questions

The Booktopia Book Guru asks

Emma Viskic

author of Resurrection Bay,

Ten Terrifying Questions


Viskic, Emma - Resurrection Bay1. To begin with why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself – where were you born? Raised? Schooled?

I’m a Frankston girl, but without the surfer chick cool or ability to tan. Frankston was blonde brick suburbia by the time I was a teenager, but in my primary school years it was a wonderland of building sites, bushland and swamps. I attended the local schools, and then went on to study classical clarinet at the Victorian College of the Arts and the Rotterdam Conservatorium in The Netherlands.

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

At twelve and eighteen it was an even split between being a writer and a clarinettist. Books and music have always been a way for me to make sense of this world, and escape it, but I’ve never been much of a spectator: once I could read, I wanted to write, once I could listen, I wanted to play.

Music consumed most of my time through my twenties. I played in anything from aged care homes, to the Phantom of the Opera, and concerts with Dame Kiri Te Kanawa. But by the time I was thirty, I was missing writing with quiet desperation, so I began writing a book. It was like diving into a pool after years away from the water: it wasn’t pretty, but I was finally back in my element.

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

That happiness is boring. (Although I still hold that it is in books.)

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?

I cried the first time I heard Allegri’s Miserere, and I’ve cried every time since. It’s a sacred choral piece with a soaring soprano solo: quiet and sublime. It works because it sounds effortless, but of course it isn’t. Allegri agonised over every note and the singers have practised for hundreds of hours.

I love that same apparent effortlessness in Fred Williams’ landscapes. They’re so simple, but they transport you to the Pilbara. You can smell the eucalypts, feel the hot wind on your face. I admire Peter Temple’s writing for some of the same reasons: he captures so much with so few brushstrokes.

emma viskic 25. Considering the innumerable artistic avenues open to you, why did you choose to write a novel?

Writing is wonderfully all consuming. When it’s going well, I fall into the story and emerge hours later, blinking and confused, but happy. The downside is that not all days are good ones.

6. Please tell us about your novel, Resurrection Bay

Resurrection Bay features Caleb Zelic, a profoundly deaf investigator who has always lived on the outside. When a close friend is murdered, a sense of guilt and a determination to prove his own innocence sends Caleb on a hunt for the killer. But he can’t do it alone. The investigation takes him places he’s rather not go, including to his hometown and estranged family. As he delves deeper into the investigation Caleb uncovers unwelcome truths about his murdered friend – and himself.

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

I hope they’re excited, exhausted and moved, but mainly that they carry a piece of Caleb with them. He’s very real to me and I hope he becomes real to them.

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

In no particularly order: Hilary Mantel for her wry wit and keen eye, Kate Atkinson for her subtleness. As well as Peter Temple, there is a long list of Australian writers I read and reread: PM Newton and Malla Nunn for their characters and depth of ideas, Kate Grenville for her liquid prose, Shane Maloney for his humour.

one-life the-big-ask












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

To make each book better than the last one.

10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?

Nothing you write is a waste of time. Some days you slog through a thousand soulless words and write one beautiful sentence. Don’t regret those thousand words – they led you to that sentence.

Emma, thank you for playing!

Grab your copy of Resurrection Bay here!

Resurrection Bay

Emma Viskic

Viskic, Emma - Resurrection BayCaleb Zelic, profoundly deaf since early childhood, has always lived on the outside – watching, picking up tell-tale signs people hide in a smile, a cough, a kiss.

When a childhood friend is murdered, a sense of guilt and a determination to prove his own innocence sends Caleb on a hunt for the killer. But he can’t do it alone. Caleb and his troubled friend Frankie, an ex-cop, start with one clue: Scott, the last word the murder victim texted to Caleb. But Scott is always … Read more.

Grab your copy of Resurrection Bay here!

Would you pay $4o million for a cup of tea? Someone did and Dr. Karl tells us why! All in his new book Short Back and Science

Why would anyone pay $40 million for a cup of tea? How did a toilet seat help to end the First World War? And why are there scientists running around naked in the Antarctic? All these questions and more are answered in Short Back and Science, Dr Karl’s brilliant and insightful new book.


Grab your copy of Short Back and Science here!

Dr. Karl’s Short Back & Science

Dr. Karl Kruszelnicki

Short Back and Science Lean back and settle in for cutting-edge scientific snippets from the trend-setting Dr Karl Kruszelnicki.

In Short Back & Science, Dr Karl combs through some of the greatest scientific conundrums of our age, such as what is killing half the bacteria on Earth every two days and why don’t mole rats get cancer? Are bananas really slippery, radioactive and loaded with potassium?

Brushing aside any hype about coconuts and antioxidants, there is no one better to trim down to the facts than Australia’s most trusted scientist, Dr Karl … Read more.

Grab your copy of Short Back and Science here!


Jane Rawson, author of Formaldehyde answers The Booktopia Book Guru’s Ten Terrifying Questions

formaldehydeThe Booktopia Book Guru asks

Jane Rawson

author of Formaldehyde

Ten Terrifying Questions

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

Canberra, Canberra and Canberra: the time-honoured combo of Weetangera Primary, Belconnen High, Hawker College, University of Canberra.

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

When I was 12 I wanted to play cricket for Australia. I read Dennis Lillee’s Art of Fast Bowling and practiced bowling bouncers at my brother. My favourite reading was the catalogue from the Greg Chappell Cricket Centre. I was completely obsessed, with cricket and with the blokes who played cricket. Who knows why: 12-year-olds are kind of crazy.

When I was 18 I wanted to be a lawyer or a journalist on Four Corners, because I couldn’t figure out how to be a freedom fighter in Australia and I couldn’t afford to go to Nicaragua and I very much wanted to stand up to injustice.

When I was 30 I wanted to be glamorous and witty and unafraid, the kind of person who says ‘yes’ to everything that comes along, because before I never had been and because I was starting over in a new country where no one knew that.

jane rawson

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

Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O no; it is an ever-fixed mark,
That looks on tempests, and is never shaken

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?

This question is really hard. I think the main influences on my development as a writer have been dreams that I desperately needed to tell in story form, and impressing boys. But that’s not what you asked.

So: Terry Gilliam’s movie Brazil and Vincent Ward’s movie The Navigator: a medieval odyssey, both of which made me feel that the world around me is a precarious, fragile construction hiding profound, electric, more-meaningful, more-alive worlds that we can only barely and occasionally see.

Third place is a tie between Margaret Attwood’s book Life after Man, my first inkling that politics can be told in a story, and the Flaming Lips’ album The Soft Bulletin, which told me you can make something beautiful and ambitious and meticulous without having to be all uppity and earnest about it: excellence can be full of joy and weirdness.

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

I don’t think I’ve chosen this avenue exclusively. A decent chunk of my heart still pines to be a jazz clarinettist, though years of weekly lessons don’t seem to be getting me much closer. I am also one half of an utterly terrible online-only band called Hilfenhaus – we only record songs about animals, space or Cambodia.

But words are easiest for me, all my thoughts are in words – not in pictures or music – and I’ve been training my brain with decades of intensive reading to never think any way but in sentences and stories. How very dull.

6. Please tell us about your latest novel…

formaldehydeIt’s just a little chap, a novella, called Formaldehyde. I had my first go at writing it when I was that pretend 30-year-old version of myself, who could do things like stay out til 2 in the morning and wear very high heels and play guitar in a band and also write the extremely rough first draft of a novella, it turned out.

In this novella, the government makes a mistake and someone loses their official identity while staying very much their own self; two other people swap arms and one of them becomes someone new while the other can no longer change. A fourth person can’t let go of the past. Their lives get tangled up and everyone pines for the things they could have been.

There are jokes and quite a few revelations. People tend to call it ‘Kafkaesque’.

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

If the world feels a little more intriguing and odd to them, if they’re a bit more inclined to speculate and make wild suppositions, then I think I’m happy.

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

Impossible! OK, what I really admire in the realm of writing is writers who’ve achieved some amount of success and who then make the effort to turn around and help others come up after them. They are generous with their time, support and advice, while still working on getting better themselves. It’s a lot to ask of one person. I can think of two though (and I’m sure there are many more): in Australia, Charlotte Wood; in the US, Chuck Wendig.




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

I just want to write something really, really, really good. Like seriously really good.

10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?

That depends on what they aspire to do. I can’t advise on being excellent or on being profitable. All I can say is make a serious effort to make time to write, give up other things so you can write and if, after you’ve done that for a while, you find you prefer the other things to writing, that’s OK. There isn’t anything particularly honourable about being a writer, so don’t feel bad if you find you’d rather be a cricketer or a clarinettist or a good friend or fiendishly excellent player of online games. But first, give the writing a red-hot, whole-hearted go.

Grab your copy of Formaldehyde here!


by Jane Rawson

Winner of the 2015 Seizure Viva La Novella Prize.

Lives turned upside down by a bureaucratic error in this Kafkaesque work of neo-absurdism. Formaldehyde pulls off a complex narrative with frequent time and point-of-view shifts without ever losing the reader. For a novella that borders on the Kafkaesque, it has a good deal of heart. The interconnecting stories are handled adroitly – the clever structure never gets in the way of the writing, which is sharply observed, assured and witty. Smart but never showy … Read more

Grab your copy of Formaldehyde here!

A Very Bookish Chat With Some Prime Minister’s Literary Award Winners!

We chat to some of the big winners at last night’s Prime Minister’s Literary Awards, Darleen Bungey, Claire Zorn and Ross Coulthart, about the writing life and their favourite books of 2015.


How do you get started writing each morning?

PHOTO Darleen BungeyDarleen Bungey (winner of the Best Non-Fiction award for John Olsen: An Artist’s Life):

Getting started means going straight to the desk – whether it’s 4am when I can’t get the subject out of my head, or a more reasonable hour.

0003269Claire Zorn (winner of the Young Adult Fiction award for The Protected):

I treat writing like I would any other job, it doesn’t matter if I don’t feel like doing it, it still has to be done.

PHOTO Ross Coulthart Ross Coulthart (winner of the Australian History award for Charles Bean):

Before you go to bed each night, read through the next bit of writing that has you stumped.

I find my subconscious works on it while I’m sleeping, and I have the answer in the morning.  I write it all down as soon as I wake.

Your best tip for beating writer’s block?

Darleen Bungey: Overcoming writer’s block is to stay sitting in front of the screen.

Claire Zorn: I build a playlist for every story I write. I listen to it when I get stuck and it’s helps my brain focus and stop over-thinking.

Ross Coulthart: Go for a long walk or swim. Do anything except sit in front of your desk. Stay away from actually writing as much as possible.


Where do you find inspiration?

Claire Zorn: All my books spring from song lyrics. I also watch a lot of documentaries about all sorts of different people.

Darleen Bungey: Inspiration is found by reading wonderful books.

Ross Coulthart: Read, read, read. Explore your subject. Don’t start writing until you’ve  mastered the material.  Delve into libraries/museums and explore the subject matter.  Ramble through archives. Always go the distance and get out to interview people with information. Make it fun, not a grind.  Don’t go into it with preconceived ideas.


Which was your favourite book of 2015?

Ross Coulthart: I’m absolutely hooked on all of Sunday Times journalist Ben McIntyre’s WW2 histories (Agent Zig-Zag, Double Cross & Operation Mincemeat) but his 2014 investigation of the Cambridge Six British MI6 traitors who spied for Russia  – A Spy Among Friends: Kim Philby and the Great Betrayal – is magnificent. I’d never been able to explain how British intelligence could not have detected Philby, Maclean, Burgess and Blunt but he explains how their social class and connections gave them the benefit of the doubt with the establishment for far too long.

I’ve barely had time this year to read anything outside of history and the day job but I have Robert Harris’ latest book Dictator – a reprise of his wonderful portrayal of Cicero. Harris is an ex-investigative journalist who makes a decent living out of his beautifully written historical thrillers so he’s my pin-up.

Claire Zorn: The Heart Goes Last, by the incomparable Margaret Atwood. It’s troubling and yet hilarious – the best combination in any story.

Darleen Bungey: The two books of 2015 that will remain in my mind were This House of Grief by Helen Garner, and H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald. Both works deal with grief borne of untimely and unexpected death.

Garner takes us into a courtroom where the possible crime of a father’s infanticide is being tried. She deals with the horror by bearing witness, by questioning and never looking away, even when investigating and holding her gaze demands a nightmarish effort.  Garner delivers solace by dredging from a lake of tears some sense of terrible understanding, some sort of wretched truth.

Macdonald hunts down bereavement with a bird of prey. Her father, a photographer, suffers a fatal heart attack. His final photograph, tragically snapped as he fell onto a London street, was askew. In turn his daughter’s world begins spinning out of kilter. As Macdonald explores memories of her father, her childhood passion with falconry and the writings on this subject by author, T.H. White, she retreats into a solitude shared with a goshawk. By patiently gaining the trust of this predator Macdonald forges an intimate connection to the wild world. As the bird flies and kills, she watches beauty soar and death swoop. With this acceptance of the natural cycle comes comfort and release.


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