Christina Baker Kline, author of Orphan Train, answers Ten Terrifying Questions

The Booktopia Book Guru asks

Christina Baker Kline

author of Orphan Train, Bird in Hand and more

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

I was born in Cambridge, England.  My father was a country boy from the red clay hills of Georgia, the first person in his entire family tree to go to college; improbably, he earned a PhD at Cambridge and became a British labor historian.  My mother came from a long line of educators in North Carolina. Despite their different backgrounds, my parents shared a love of literature and travel and music and social justice. We spent years going back and forth from England to the American South before finally settling in Maine, where I mostly grew up. My own post-secondary education I now see as a funhouse mirror of my childhood: I went to Yale, returned to Cambridge to do a master’s in literature, and then back to the South, to UVA, for a MFA in fiction writing.

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

I suppose I always wanted to be a writer.  I am terrible at many things, but I do have one skill: I’m quite a good editor, and I enjoy it. So though at twelve I imagined myself as a writer, by eighteen I more realistically (and quite happily) dreamed of becoming a book or magazine editor. Luck and happenstance led me to publish my first novel in my mid-twenties to some acclaim, thereby perpetuating the dangerous impression that writing novels was a viable profession.

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

I thought that my mother – thin, healthy, brimming with life — would far outlive my father, who had scarlet fever as a child that weakened his heart. The doctor told him he wouldn’t live to be forty. Well, my mother died last year at 73 of complications from an unexpected stroke, and my 76-year-old (potbellied, whiskey-drinking, red-meat-eating) father is still going strong. With a 58-year-old girlfriend, to boot. There’s a lesson in this, but I’m not sure what it is.

Christina Baker Kline

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 is cheating a bit, but the three plays that make up Aeschylus’s OresteiaAgamemnon, The Libation Bearers, and The Furies – rocked my world when I read them at Cambridge. They deeply influenced the structure and tenor of my first novel, Sweet Water. “The house itself, could it take voice, might speak aloud and plain” – these words, spoken by a watchman at the beginning of the trilogy, encapsulate the themes and preoccupations of my novels: family history, secret-keeping, the search for home.

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

I’m a terrible singer, and despite years of piano lessons I never developed the slightest flair for music. I’m a mediocre painter, a pathetically bad actor, a ho-hum poet, a slapdash journalist.  Really, what’s left?

6. Please tell us about your latest novel…

The novel I’m working on now is inspired by the iconic and haunting American painting Christina’s World by Andrew Wyeth, which hangs in the Museum of Modern Art in NYC.  Christina was a real person with an incredibly interesting life and history. The strange, forbidding house in the painting is on a remote point on the coast of Maine.  I spent time there last summer.  I want to tell Christina’s story: what was she doing in that field?  What was she looking for? What did she find?

Grab a title by Christina Baker Kline here

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

I hope readers come away with some thoughts about the human experience that hadn’t occurred to them before. And this is kind of touchy-feely, but I hope they are inspired to think about their own lives and relationships.

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

As the mother of three boys I admire Kate Chopin, who wrote anywhere and everywhere, with kids underfoot and dinner bubbling on the stove.  Her example inspired me to forge ahead when it would’ve been far easier not to write.

Really, I admire anyone who actually finishes a book and puts it out in the world.  It’s harder than it looks!

And oh yeah, George Eliot.

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

Several years ago – when my fourth novel had just come out – I was at a party with a Very Famous Writer, and while I was standing in a small group with her I realized she was thinking, “Who the hell is this person and why is she speaking to me?” I had a Scarlett O’Hara fist-shaking moment (inside; in reality I slunk away): As God is my witness, I’ll never be anonymous again! If I’m going to spend my life at my desk, goddamn it, WRITING, I want at least to be known and respected by – and in conversation with – other writers. Tragically unambitious, I know, but it’s the truth.  I’d like to be part of the cultural conversation, or at least a cultural conversation at a cocktail party.

10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?

Write, write, write.  Finish a draft.  Revise.  Revise again.  Keep going even when you want to despair.  (I always think of Winnie-the-Pooh stuck in the rabbit hole: he can’t go back, so he has to go forward.  At a certain point in the process of writing a novel it feels that way to me. Every time.)  The single most important thing is to FINISH.  Many extremely talented writers I know and have taught can’t seem to finish a manuscript. At a certain point they abandon it and start over. The dream is always so much more perfect than the reality.

Christina, thank you for playing.

Grab a title by Christina Baker Kline here

Naomi Wood, author of Mrs. Hemingway, answers Ten Terrifying Questions

The Booktopia Book Guru asks

Naomi Wood

author of Mrs. Hemingway

Ten Terrifying Questions

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

I grew up in York in the north of England. When I was eight my parents announced we were moving to Hong Kong. We’d never been to the continent of Asia, nevertheless China, and we’d certainly never been to Hong Kong. My dad worked for the international schools, and my sister and I had most of our schooling out there. Now she’s in Sydney, I’m in London and my parents are in Italy. We’re spread out like butter on the toast of the globe.

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

At twelve I told people I wanted to be “a bloodsucking lawyer”. It was a brattish answer that I stole from The Addams Family movie (my favourite, at that age; for a year I watched it every afternoon over a bowl of noodles, and can still remember most of the lines.) At eighteen I was getting vibes that I wanted to be a writer. I’m thirty now, and I write and teach Creative Writing at Goldsmiths University in London, which is a pretty good combination.

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

That writing would build me a big house and swimming pool. The economics of my dreams have shrunk a little.

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?

Reading The Old Man and the Sea made me interested in Hemingway and made me want to find out everything about him – that powerful sense of loss in all of its pages made me want to write about a troubled soul and his relationships with women.  My first novel, The Godless Boys, emerged after I set about writing a short-story based on what I saw in Lucian Freud’s painting The Village Boys. If I could produce something tonally close to the cascading elegy that is Anthony and the Jonson’s ‘Hope There’s Someone’ – I’d be very happy.

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

No good at painting. Can’t sing. Can dance, but only like an idiot. I love books – short-stories, novels and poetry, and I love language, so writing seemed the obvious artistic avenue.

6.     Please tell us about your latest novel…

Mrs. Hemingway is historical fiction, set between 1921-61 in France and America. It tells the story of Hemingway’s four marriages from the perspective of each wife (and former mistress) – Hadley Richardson, Pauline Pfeiffer, Martha Gellhorn and Mary Welsh.

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

It’s definitely written for people who’ve never read any Hemingway before, so I hope people take away a portrait of him, as well as a portrait of his four incredible wives. And maybe they’ll go away and read some of Martha Gellhorn’s war reportage – or maybe some fiction of Hemingway’s.

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

I’ll choose a living writer here. I really love Marilynne Robinson’s work. I think she is a very robust, very beautiful writer. Gilead is one of my favourite novels.

the-old-man-and-the-sea9.     Many artists set themselves very ambitious goals. What are yours?

I set myself achievable rather than ambitious goals.  My current goal is to write a first draft of my third novel.

10.   What advice do you give aspiring writers?

Not to worry too much about early drafts. They’re exploratory and first stabs in the dark. I must admit this is advice I find very difficult to accept myself. I’d like things to be perfect right from the get-go. Maybe I’m quite like Wednesday Addams in this as well!

Naomi, thank you for playing.

Grab a copy of Mrs. Hemingway here

Best of Booktopia TV: Keneally, Tsiolkas and Nunn in conversation with John Purcell

Tom Keneally – Shame and the Captives

shame-and-the-captivesJohn Purcell’s Review

One of the drawbacks of living in a society obsessed with the new is that we fail to recognise the simple fact that many things get better with time. There is just no story in ‘Author Gains Wisdom by Living a Long Interesting Life: Talking, Travelling, Reading and Writing’.

But there should be. Someone gaining wisdom should be news. It so seldom happens.

Tom Keneally should be news. His last two books are a direct challenge to the more newsworthy overnight success authors. Both are the result of fifty years of writing both fiction and non-fiction. And it shows. Both Daughters of Mars and his latest novel Shame and the Captives give younger writers a lesson in writing.

More details…

Judy Nunn – Elianne

In the tough world of Queensland sugar mills, it’s not only cane that is crushed … elianne

In 1881 ‘Big Jim’ Durham, an English soldier of fortune and profiteer, ruthlessly creates for Elianne Desmarais, his young French wife, the finest of the great sugar mills of the Southern Queensland cane fields, and names it in her honour.

The massive estate becomes a self-sufficient fortress, a cane-consuming monster and home to hundreds of workers, but ‘Elianne’ and its masters, the Durham Family, have dark and distant secrets; secrets that surface in the wildest and most inflammatory of times, the 1960s.

More details…

Christos Tsiolkas – Barracuda

John Purcell’s Reviewbarracuda

This is a difficult book to write about. It has a personality rather than a plot. It is built upon emotion rather than reason. It is all shouts and whispers and nothing in between.

As a boy Danny Kelly wants only one thing – to be the greatest swimmer of all time. And his dream isn’t farfetched. His coach believes he can do it. His mother is behind him, waking early and driving him to the pool. And his peers think he can do it, though they resent him for his talent.

More details…

REVIEW: The Raider by Monica McCarty (Review by Hayley Shephard)

the-raiderLooking for an historical book to read, where the actions and emotions of the characters involved are realistic? Where passion is always high, and the atmosphere is so sensual it’s bordering on primal? Then look no further than The Highland Guard series by Monica McCarty, and more recently her new novel, The Raider.

Think of The Highland Guard, after which this gripping series is named, as the ancient equivalent of the FBI or the ASIS. Each member must fight for Scotland’s freedom during the War of Independence.

Robert Boyd, whose warrior name is Raider (you can guess why), helps us to remember that warriors can still be vulnerable to their surroundings and make mistakes. So many authors of historical romance forget this and write about figures of the past that barely seem real – go figure!  Monica McCarty’s warriors, however, are human and thus susceptible to love in whatever form that may come in. And falling in love, as Raider learns, means making sacrifices and accepting that some things cannot be changed, otherwise you risk losing the one you love.

Raider comes to realise this after he takes an English woman hostage. Though he might be the strongest man in Scotland, he is just a man when 821in the presence of this woman, aptly named Rosalin. Rosalin, the sister of a powerful Englishman and seemingly his enemy, forces him to see and acknowledge things that he doesn’t want to- both inside and out.

Rosalin thankfully is not a damsel in distress; she pushes and pushes, never giving up.  Unfortunately, most authors give their characters a happy ending after only the slightest of hiccups; they make their “heroines” do anything and everything for the man they love.

More importantly, the constant upheavals in this story are not softened by unrealistic moments of passion. Some historical romances depict moments of “passion” as a turning point in the story, where the characters come to an understanding and realise everything will be alright. In this story sex is depicted as a way for the two main characters to show their love and frustration at the situation they have been dealt with. Not only that, but it helps them to forget for a while and imagine a happier world.

So as I said before, if you want a more realistic read then pick up The Raider or any other book in the series. The tension can be unbearable, but in the end well satisfying.


Grab a copy of The Raider here

Vote For Australia’s Favourite Novelist 2014 – Final Round of Voting

There is only one more week of voting left to decide who is Australia’s Favourite Novelist!

This is the longlist as voted by you, congratulations to all the novelists for making it onto this extraordinary list.

But the job isn’t finished. We need your final vote to decide the order of the top 50.

Vote for all your favourite authors, and spread the word, tell your friends and family to get voting! The poll closes 5pm Saturday.

Next week we’ll announce the Top 50 as voted by you and decide who, in 2014, is Australia’s Favourite Novelist!

 

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Vote For Australia’s Favourite Novelist 2014 – Heat 5

January is the month of Australian Stories at Booktopia, and to celebrate we need your help to discover Australia’s Favourite Novelist for 2014!

This is it folks. Your last chance to push your favourite authors into next week’s final round of voting. Last year’s winner Kate Morton is also in this heat!

Next week we’ll have the top 100 authors from all the heats for you to vote for!

Remember you can select as many authors as you like with your vote and give them the chance to become Australia’s Favourite Novelist!

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Vote For Australia’s Favourite Novelist 2014 – Heat 4

January is the month of Australian Stories at Booktopia, and to celebrate we need your help to discover Australia’s Favourite Novelist for 2014!

Heat 4 is full of some huge names and exciting newcomers. Who will you vote for?

Thanks to everyone who has voted so far, the response has been incredible! And thanks to all the wonderful authors and publishers for spreading the word!

Remember you can select as many authors as you like with your vote and give them the chance to become Australia’s Favourite Novelist!

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Vote For Australia’s Favourite Novelist 2014 – Heat 3

January is the month of Australian Stories at Booktopia, and to celebrate we need your help to discover Australia’s Favourite Novelist for 2014!

Today’s list is full of the most popular writers in Australia today, it’s a tough one!

Remember you can select as many authors as you like with your vote and give them the chance to become Australia’s Favourite Novelist!

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Vote For Australia’s Favourite Novelist 2014 – Heat 2

January is the month of Australian Stories at Booktopia, and to celebrate we need your help to discover Australia’s Favourite Novelist for 2014!

Yesterday had some big surprises as Australia searched their hearts and bookcases, will today be the same?

A reminder that this is only Heat 2, so you might see some of your favourites missing today. Don’t worry, over the week you’ll have a chance to vote for all of your favourites in their respective heats.

Today’s list includes Nobel, Pulitzer, Orange and Miles Franklin Prize-Winners!

Vote now to see them advance to the final round of voting next week and have the chance to become Australia’s Favourite Novelist!

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Vote For Australia’s Favourite Novelist 2014 – Heat 1

January is the month of Australian Stories at Booktopia, and to celebrate we need your help to discover Australia’s Favourite Novelist for 2014!

We’ve taken your nominations and today is the day to put your votes forward. You can vote for as many novelists as you like.

A reminder that this is only Heat 1, so you might see some of your favourites missing today. Don’t worry, over the next 5 days you’ll have a chance to vote for all of your favourites in their respective heats.

Today we have brilliant bestsellers, acclaimed award-winners and exciting newbies! Vote now to see them advance to the final round of voting next week and have the chance to become Australia’s Favourite Novelist!

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