REVIEW: Monkey Business by Kathryn Ledson

Last week, after a slight (okay, six week) reading hiatus, I guiltily reached for my pile of advanced reading copies, looking for something that would entertain and delight, without asking too much of my poor out-of-use brain. I picked up Monkey Business by Kathryn Ledson, and boy am I glad I did. Much like the hypercolour cover,  Ledson’s latest proved to be the perfect pick-me-up for my greyer-than-usual grey matter.  Monkey Business is the second book in the Erica Jewell series (a series I now realise I heard about at this year’s Romance Writers of Australia conference, but only just now made the connection with) and, while the series is very closely linked, the book does not suffer from being read in isolation. Having said that, after reading Monkey Business, I now want Kathryn to hurry up and write more books so I can devour them. Continue reading

GUEST BLOG: Sulari Gentill On Imaginary Friends

sulariYasser Arafat is notoriously credited with having said that a war about religion is like having a fight over who has got the best imaginary friend. As provocative as the statement is to people of faith, it cannot be denied that human beings have long been capable of intense personal relationships with figures who have no objective existence. Whether such a person is called devout or insane depends often on the social acceptability of the said imaginary friend.

But such friendships are not just the domain of the pious and the mad. Writers, too, can lay claim to relationships with people they’ve made up. Of course, the zealot, the deranged and the author, are not mutually exclusive conditions. The latter two may in fact be interchangeable.

For me, writing is a kind of glorious madness, a descent into the world in my head where it is me who is the figment, the ghost, the imaginary observer. It is a seductive world which I often leave only reluctantly to engage with the real world to which I was born.

The relationships between writers and their protagonists are intriguing, not for the least part, because they can be so varied in intensity and quality. There are writers who insist their protagonists are merely literary constructs, and others who set a place at the table for the hero/heroine of their latest novel.

I have known my imaginary gentleman sleuth, Rowland Sinclair, for five books now, two years of his life, four years of mine. In that time he has always stood in the periphery of my vision, regarding me with a kind of amused resignation, watching me as I watch him. We have an understanding, he and I.

With each book I have, admittedly, become increasingly involved with Rowland, to the point that he is now all but real to not just me, but also my family. My husband and I will often talk about Rowland as if he were an old friend with a tendency of finding trouble. You know the kind. We will argue about the rights and wrongs of Rowland’s actions, as if those actions were fact. Every now and then, I hear our conversations as a third party might, and find myself both alarmed and vaguely embarrassed by the extent to which this figment of my imagination has insinuated himself into our lives. But I reassure myself that I am a writer, and as such a certain level of delusion is not only acceptable but possibly necessary.

My personal writing process is quite instinctive and impulsive: there is no form or formula to my method, just a pursuit of story. I simply sit down and make things up, allowing the words of come out as they will. I write chronologically, beginning with the first word of the novel, and proceeding with little idea of what is coming until I write it. This is undoubtedly dangerous, and risks an outcome that has no structure or resolution or rambles interminably. Somehow though, my work seems to find a natural structure and rhythm, and an internal consistency with ensures it makes sense. I never work in a quiet or serene place, writing instead in the midst of my noisy family, or in airports or cafés, or half listening to the evening news or some late night television show. I used to think that was out of necessity—I was a mother with a demanding day job and I had to multi-task if I ever hoped to find time to write. But I realise now that there may in fact be a purpose to this insane way of working. Writing in the midst of noise and movement, where I am not completely focussed, allows me to engage my subconscious in a way that absolute concentration cannot.

It is not uncommon for a writer to gain new insight into his/her or own work through reviewers or readers, who point out nuances and themes which we ourselves hadn’t noticed. Of course, we’re usually quite happy to claim them after the fact! Because I write without plotting, I have always been surprised at the serendipity by which the details of my narratives fall into place, asides I wrote in chapter one on a whim, by chapter thirty prove crucial as if I had laid the thread on purpose. Both the above, I think, owe more to the storyteller’s subconscious than they do to chance or luck. There are many things we do as writers for reasons, about which we not consciously aware, but which have a purpose and a design nonetheless. Somewhere in our subconscious is stored everything we know and have read, every revelation of research, every image, every sound and every feeling. It’s not surprising then that this is cradle of our creativity, where stories are born. The writer’s trick is tapping into that and then trusting it.

Though I don’t consciously plan or plot, there probably is a subliminal design to my work. What I see as Rowland Sinclair leading me through his world and his story is possibly just my subconscious guiding a story it has planned without needing to bother the poor beleaguered and limited conscious part of my brain which has to deal with the realities of the world.

So what I’m trying to say is that we “pantsers”, we writers who just go with the story and allow our protagonists to do as they choose, are probably not as unruly and unstructured in our writing as we may seem.  It is just that we elect not to look too hard at what exactly is at work to produce our plots and our characters. We trust that part of ourselves which tells us “this is the way it was”.

The lawyer in me feels the need to insert a disclaimer at this point.  I am telling you what I think I do. It’s my best guess… but I really can’t be sure, and I haven’t tested the theory in any way. Some part of me feels that examining a spell too closely, articulating it too precisely, will break it, rob it of its magic. And I can’t risk that. After all, I have got the best imaginary friend.

Sulari Gentill’s Gentlemen Formerly Dressed is a Booktoberfest title. Buy this book now to go in the draw to win Booktopia’s weekly giveaway – a $250 Booktopia voucher – AND order by 31st October 2013 to go in the draw to win the fantastic publisher prize.

Click here for prize details and to see the full Simon & Schuster Showcase

Gentlemen Formerly Dressed

by Sulari Gentill

After narrowly escaping Nazi terror, Rowland Sinclair and his companions land in London, believing they are safe. But they are wrong.

A bizarre murder plunges the hapless Australians into a queer world of British aristocracy, Fascist Blackshirts, illicit love, scandal and spies.

A world where gentlemen are not always what they are dressed up to be… more

REVIEW: Bittersweet by Colleen McCullough (review by Haylee Nash)

Romance Specialist Haylee Nash has her first taste of Colleen McCullough in Bittersweet…and finds herself going back for more.

I must confess something – prior to Bittersweet, I had never read a Colleen McCullough (I know, I know,  take away my romance specialist badge). So when the review copy for Bittersweet landed on my desk, I approached the book with an equal mix of excitement and trepidation. Continue reading

Caroline Baum Interviews Donna Tartt

Booktopia’s Editorial Director Caroline Baum interviewed Donna Tartt for Fairfax papers over the weekend. Here’s a glimpse of the wonderful article, don’t forget to click below to see the whole thing.

Don’t expect to find Donna Tartt on Twitter or Facebook. The author who became a recluse following the hype about her 1992 debut, The Secret History, at the age of 28, remains as private and enigmatic as ever. It’s been a decade since she last gave interviews about her second novel, The Little Friend. Websites buzzed with rumours of subject matter and slipped deadlines but Tartt remained off the radar, earning inevitable comparisons to Salinger and Pynchon.

Although she has agreed to a few interviews to promote her new novel, The Goldfinch, Tartt does not enjoy the process any more than when she found herself in the spotlight for her stylish, slightly mannish wardrobe and cool friends (including Bret Easton Ellis, whom she briefly dated) as much as her poised and polished prose.

When we speak by phone Tartt is in Manhattan, though she spends much of her time at her farm in Virginia, where she writes in the company of her Boston terrier, Punch. “Everything is improved by the presence of a dog,” she says.

It is 8am but Tartt announces cheerfully she has been up for hours and mentions it is Fashion Week in New York. Clearly her love affair with clothes has not abated. “Vintage is still my thing but it is much harder to find, though I just bought a Japanese embroidered coat at a flea market.”

Check out the rest of the article here.

The Goldfinch

by Donna Tartt

Donna Tartt, author of the phenomenal bestsellers The Secret History and The Little Friend, returns with a breathtaking new novel.

Aged thirteen, Theo Decker, son of a devoted mother and a reckless, largely absent father, survives an accident that otherwise tears his life apart. Alone and rudderless in New York, he is taken in by the family of a wealthy friend. He is tormented by an unbearable longing for his mother, and down the years clings to one thing that reminds him of her: a small, strangely captivating painting that ultimately draws him into the criminal underworld. As he grows up, Theo learns to glide between the drawing rooms of the rich and the dusty antiques store where he works. He is alienated and in love – and his talisman, the painting, places him at the centre of a narrowing, ever more dangerous circle.

The Goldfinch is a haunted odyssey through present-day America and a drama of enthralling power. Combining unforgettably vivid characters and thrilling suspense, it is a beautiful, addictive triumph – a sweeping story of loss and obsession, of survival and self-invention, of the deepest mysteries of love, identity and fate.

Click here to buy The Goldfinch from Booktopia,
Australia’s Local Bookstore

Kathy Reichs talks to John Purcell about her latest book Bones of the Lost

Bones of the Lost

by Kathy Reichs

The gripping new Temperance Brennan novel from the world-class forensic anthropologist and Number 1 bestselling author

The body of a teenage girl is discovered along a desolate highway on the outskirts of Charlotte. Inside her purse is the ID card of a local businessman who died in a fire months earlier.

This is no ordinary hit-and-run. Who was the girl? And was she murdered?

Dr Temperance Brennan, Forensic Anthropologist, must find the answers. She soon learns that a Gulf War veteran stands accused of smuggling artefacts into the country. Could there be a sinister connection between the two cases?

Convinced that the girl’s death was no accident, Tempe takes courageous action to find justice for the dead. But her search throws her to the centre of a conspiracy that extends from South America to Afghanistan – and places her in terrible danger.

Click here to buy Bones of the Lost from Booktopia,
Australia’s Local Bookstore

Eleanor Catton, Man Booker Prize winning author of The Luminaries, answers Ten Terrifying Questions

Earlier this year we interviewed a young New Zealand writer we believed was destined for great things.

That writer was Eleanor Catton, the newly crowned Man Booker Prize Winner for 2013. Sit back and enjoy our chat with her, highlights of which were featured recently in the LA Times.

the-luminariesThe Booktopia Book Guru asks

Eleanor Catton

Man Booker Prize winning author of The Luminaries

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 London, Ontario, Canada, while my dad was studying at the University of Western Ontario. (My birth was a bit of an accident: nobody else in my family is Canadian.) The family moved back to New Zealand when I was six, and I grew up in Christchurch.

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Kerry Greenwood, creator of Phryne Fisher – Why I Write

Why do I write?

Money.

Oh, all right. I write because I can’t not write. I’ve been a story teller since I could speak and I get uncomfortable if I can’t write. It’s a form of benign possession. I wake up in the middle of the night with a story insisting on immediate attention and I write and write and write until I fall exhausted from the chair three weeks later and I have a book. I wrote my first novel when I was sixteen and have been writing what I would like to read ever since.

Fortunately my learned colleague the beautiful David is there to feed me and remind me to sleep occasionally, and the cats bite me when I have left something unattended on the stove for more than about an hour. Also my feline Muse, Belladonna, hits the Caps Lock if I have been writing for more than two hours. It gets her cat treats and it preserves my wrists.

Currently I am thinking about a childrens’ book called The Princess of Cats, a fantasy novel, working on a biography from tapes, and a new Corinna. I am also currently researching folk songs and reminding myself firmly that I might still be working for the public service writing opinions on Section 9 (1) (h) (a) of the Land Tax Act and that I am very, very, very lucky.

Kerry Greenwood’s Murder and Meldelssohn: A Phryne Fisher Mystery is a Booktoberfest title. Buy it now to go in the draw to win Booktopia’s weekly giveaway – a $250 Booktopia voucher – AND order by 31st October 2013 to go in the draw to win the fantastic publisher prize.

Click here for prize details and to see the full Allen & Unwin Showcase

Murder and Meldelssohn: A Phryne Fisher Mystery

by Kerry Greenwood

The divine and fearless Miss Phryne Fisher returns in her 20th adventure in a vastly entertaining tale of murder, spies, mathematics and music.

To the accompaniment of heavenly choirs singing, the fearless Miss Phryne Fisher returns in her 20th adventure with musical score in hand.

An orchestral conductor has been found dead and Detective Inspector Jack Robinson needs the delightfully incisive and sophisticated Miss Fisher’s assistance to enter a world in which he is at sea. Hugh Tregennis, not much liked by anyone, has been murdered in a most flamboyant mode by a killer with a point to prove. But how many killers is Phryne really stalking?

At the same time, the dark curls, disdainful air and the lavender eyes of mathematician and code-breaker Rupert Sheffield are taking Melbourne by storm. They’ve certainly taken the heart of Phryne’s old friend from the trenches of WW1, John Wilson. Phryne recognises Sheffield as a man who attracts danger and is determined to protect John from harm.

Even with the faithful Dot, Mr and Mrs Butler, and all in her household ready to pull their weight, Phryne’s task is complex. While Mendelssohn’s Elijah, memories of the Great War, and the science of deduction ring in her head, Phryne’s past must also play its part as MI6 become involved in the tangled web of murders.

A vastly entertaining tale of murder, spies, mathematics and music.

Click here to buy Murder and Meldelssohn from Booktopia,
Australia’s Local Bookstore

Anna Romer, author of Thornwood House, answers Ten Terrifying Questions

The Booktopia Book Guru asks

Anna Romer

author of Thornwood House

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 Sydney, and spent much of my childhood in the gorgeous little village of Sawtell on the NSW north coast. I grew up in Queanbeyan where we lived in a wonderful house (complete with secret rooms and passageways) on the edge of town.

2. What did you want to be when you were 12, 18 and 30? And why?

At twelve I wanted to be a vet. When I was a kid Granny used to read me books about ‘animal doctors’ in Africa, and I was always daydreaming about having a pet lion and rescuing elephants from poachers. By eighteen I had decided to be an artist – which was again inspired by Granny as she was a wonderful painter and I thought the world of her. When I got to thirty, my lifelong reading obsession had evolved into a yearning to write stories of my own.

3. What strongly held belief did you have at 18 that you do not have now?

At eighteen I believed very strongly in my own limitations. I thought that if you weren’t born with a particular talent, then too bad! Now I believe that if you set your heart and mind to what you want, and resolutely close your ears to negativity (both your own and that of others) – then you will definitely succeed.

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?

1) The poem Kublai Khan by Samuel Taylor Coleridge. I loved this mysterious poem about a ‘stately pleasure dome’ (whatever that was!), and was intrigued to learn it had been inspired by an opium dream. I did a painting of it once, and still carry the image in my mind of an idyllic palace hidden in the hills near a river (a bit like where I live now, except in a bungalow instead of a palace). The undercurrent of threat I perceived in the poem stayed with me all my life, and one of my favourite themes to explore even today is the concept of menace lurking unseen beneath a beautiful facade.

2) Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. As a teenager I identified with the poor monster – so misunderstood, so alone! I was always drawn to stories of darkness and mystery, and this book’s themes – relationships and loss, death and the frailty of life, and our emotional connection to the natural world – all really resonated with me. I can still pick up this gothic masterpiece today and find within its pages the echoes of themes I’m exploring now in my own novels.

3) Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights. I loved this story for its untameable passions and wild windswept setting, and for the notion that love is not always rosy and goodhearted, but can also be cruel and self-serving. My teenage enthrallment with this novel probably explains why I’m still so drawn to explore obsession and other dark interpretations of love.

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

Even when painting was my main creative outlet, I was still telling stories. My pictures were full of images I’d brazenly stolen from one fairytale or another – modern Rapunzels trailing their long hair through windows, or sleeping beauties clutching books, or white rabbits darting through shadowy landscapes. Eventually I came to realise that no matter how many stories I depicted, I was only ever scratching the surface of the more complex tale I wanted to tell. Writing a novel has allowed me to dig deeper and explore the story from all angles and through many layers, as well as delving deeply into the psyches of my characters.

6. Please tell us about your latest novel…

Thornwood House is set in rural Queensland, in the fictional town of Magpie Creek. Audrey has inherited a beautiful old homestead where she finds, in a dusty back room, the photo of a handsome World War Two serviceman. She quickly becomes obsessed with him, only to learn that he was accused of murdering a young woman on his return from war.

Driven by her unwillingness to live in the shadow of a murderer, Audrey goes on a quest to understand what really happened that night in 1946. Her fixation with the past stirs up trouble, and she soon realises she’s given the killer good reason to come after her.

Click here to buy Thornwood House from Booktopia,
Australia’s Local Bookstore

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

My favourite stories are the ones that leave me pondering and savouring the journey they’ve just taken me on; sometimes there’s even a sense of wonder and revelation and renewed excitement about life. I guess that’s the kind of enjoyment I’d really love readers to take away from my stories.

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

I’m a devoted fan of Australian fiction; there are so many wonderful home grown authors and I love the freshness and originality of the Australian voice. . . so I’d have to say the person I admire most is my agent Selwa Anthony. She’s a champion for Australian authors and is tireless, fearless, and dedicated. She stuck by me for 10 years, had faith in me (despite the avalanche of rejection letters I got), and always gave me the wisest advice. She knows when to be tough, and when to be kind (both of which I’ve experienced over the years!), and I admire her greatly.

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

Seeing as it took me more than a decade to get published, I’ve got a swag of embryonic novels that I’m itching to write. If I could write a novel every year, while continuing to improve my storytelling skills, then I’d be a very happy little camper indeed.

10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?

Find a theme that gives you the tingles: Reincarnation, forbidden love, sacrifice, a life burdened by guilt etc. Explore this theme by collecting images and newspaper articles that grab you, watching movies, reading. Keep following the trail of your excitement and fascination, keep listening and watching and exploring. . .and pretty soon your story will surface. Then just go for it – immerse yourself, enjoy the process, and write what you love.

Joseph Campbell said, ‘Follow your bliss,’ and that’s probably the best advice for life as well as for art.

Anna, thank you for playing.

Click here to buy Thornwood House from Booktopia,
Australia’s Local Bookstore

Romance at Booktopia’s Saucy Six with Beth Kery

Booktopia’s Romance Specialist, Haylee Nash pins down bestselling erotic author Beth Kery for the Saucy Six…and gets all hot and bothered in the process

 1.       When do you feel your most beautiful?
Probably on a day when I actually take care of myself and think about how I look. Unfortunately, that’s too rare these days due to work, which is a shame. I am a huge spa-lover. I adore pampering myself, not just because I’m into self-indulgence, but because it’s a reminder that I need to relax and focus on myself for a precious moment. A big favourite thing is to do a spa day with my friends or sisters, think healthy, drink lots of water, get a treatment, do hair and make-up there and then go out on the town. I feel like I’ve checked in with myself on a day like that, had fun. And yes, it makes me feel beautiful. :) Continue reading

Fiona McFarlane, author of The Night Guest, answers Ten Terrifying Questions

the-night-guestThe Booktopia Book Guru asks

Fiona McFarlane

author of The Night Guest

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 and raised in Sydney, in a house with a long garden and a palm tree that looked exactly like a pineapple. I went to my local primary school and then to MLC School Burwood; when I finished school, I did an Arts degree at Sydney University. After working in magazines for a few years, I moved to England to study for a PhD at Cambridge University and later still did a Master of Fine Arts in fiction at the University of Texas. I moved back to Sydney in December 2012.

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