The Best First World War Novels (in my opinion)

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You’re going to hear, see and read a lot about the First World War in the next few years. A hundred year anniversary is a big deal. But most of what you’re going to be told is bullsh*t. If you want to know something closer to the truth, read the works of those who were there.

The First World War was an equal opportunity war, destroying the lives of rich and poor, simpleton and genius alike. Some of the geniuses made it out alive, and after a few years of trying to forget, gave in and turned horror into art, the best they could. What follows is my personal selection of those efforts. The best according to me.


parade-s-endParade’s End by Ford Madox Ford

Ford’s masterly story of destruction and regeneration follows the progress of Christopher Tietjens as his world is shattered by the Great War.

In four volumes – Some Do Not . . ., No More Parades, A Man Could Stand Up and The Last PostParade’s End traces the psychological damage inflicted by battle, the collapse of England’s secure Edwardian values and the new age, embodied by Tietjens’ beautiful, selfish wife Sylvia. It is an elegy for the war dead and the passing of a way of life, and a work of amazing subtlety and profundity.

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the-middle-parts-of-fortuneThe Middle Parts of Fortune by Frederick Manning

The drumming of the guns continued, with bursts of great intensity. It was as though a gale streamed overhead, piling up great waves of sound, and hurrying them onwards to crash in surf on the enemy entrenchments. The windless air about them, by its very stillness, made that unearthly music more terrible to hear.

First published anonymously in 1929 because its language was considered far too frank for public circulation, The Middle Parts of Fortune was hailed by more…

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under-fire

Under Fire by Henri Barbusse

‘Men are made to be husbands, fathers – men, in short! Not animals that hunt one another down’

Under Fire follows the fortune of a French battalion during the First World War. For this group of ordinary men, thrown together from all over France and longing for home, war is simply a matter of survival, and the arrival of their rations, a glimpse of a pretty girl or a brief reprieve in hospital is all they can hope for.

Based directly on Henri Barbusse’s experiences of the trenches, Under Fire is the most famous French novel of the more…

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all-quiet-on-the-western-front

All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque

ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT is the most famous anti-war novel ever written.

One by one the boys begin to fall…

In 1914 a room full of German schoolboys, fresh-faced and idealistic, are goaded by their schoolmaster to troop off to the ‘glorious war’. With the fire and patriotism of youth they sign up. What follows is the moving story of a young ‘unknown soldier’ experiencing the horror and disillusionment of life in the trenches.

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a-farewell-to-armsA Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway

In 1918 Ernest Hemingway went to war, to the ‘war to end all wars’. He volunteered for ambulance service in Italy, was wounded and twice decorated. Out of his experiences came A Fairwell to Arms. Hemingway’s description of war is unforgettable. He recreates the fear, the comradeship, the courage of his young American volunteer and the men and women he meets in Italy with total conviction. But A Fairwell to Arms is not only a novel of war. In it Hemingway has also created a love story of immense drama and uncompromising passion.

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death-of-a-hero Death of a Hero by Richard Aldington

One of the great antiwar novels of all time-honest, chilling, and brilliantly satirical.

Acclaimed poet Richard Aldington based his first novel on his own experiences on the Western Front during World War I. It tells the story of George Winterbourne, who enlists in the British Army and is sent to France. After a rash of casualties leads to his promotion through the ranks, he grows increasingly cynical about the war and disillusioned by the hypocrisies of British society. Aldington’s writing about the ignorance of Britain to the tribulations of its soldiers is utterly scathing, and his prose vividly evokes the morally degrading nature of combat. As Death of a Hero races to its astounding finish, the novel builds into a masterpiece of war literature.

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the-complete-memoirs-of-george-sherstonThe Complete Memoirs of George Sherston by Siegfried Sassoon

The Complete Memoirs of George Sherston includes:

Memoirs of a Fox-hunting Man (1928)
George Sherston develops from a shy and awkward child, through shiftless adolescence, to an officer just beginning to understand the horrors of trench warfare. The world he grows up in, of village cricket and loyal grooms, had vanished forever by the time Sassoon wrote this book, but he captures it with a lyricism and gentleness that defy nostalgia.

A bestseller on publication in 1928, this superb evocation of the Edwardian age has remained in print ever since. It was the first volume of a classic trilogy, completed by more…

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GUEST BLOG: What Katie Read – The July Round Up (by award-winning author Kate Forsyth)

One of Australia’s favourite novelists Kate Forsyth, author of Bitter Greens and The Wild Girl, continues her monthly blog with us, giving her verdict on the books she’s been reading.


Night of a Thousand Stars

by Deanna Raybourn

This gorgeous romantic adventure begins when the heroine, Poppy Hammond, climbs out a window in her wedding gown, determined to escape her marriage to a stuck-up and sexually inept aristocrat. A handsome curate named Sebastian Cantrip helps her escape to her father’s quiet country village, pursued by her irate fiancé and family. Poppy doesn’t really know her father, but she can’t think where else to go. But then Sebastian disappears in mysterious circumstances and Poppy sets out to discover what has happened to him. The trail leads her to Damascus … and into danger, adventure and romance.

Like all of Deanna Raybourn’s books, Night of a Thousand Stars is utterly charming – I wish someone would make it into a movie!

Grab a copy of Night of a Thousand Stars here


Winter in Madrid

by C. J. Sansom

I’m a big fan of C. J. Sansom’s Tudor murder mysteries featuring the hunchbacked lawyer Matthew Shardlake, and so I eager to read his stand-alone novel Winter in Madrid, which is set in Spain during the 1930s and early 1940. The story is about a young man named Harry Brett, who is employed by the British embassy in Spain, primarily because of his connection with a former school friend, Sandy Forsyth, who is now a person-of-interest to the British Secret Service. Madrid lies in ruins after the Spanish Civil War.

Corruption and cruelty are rife, and Harry – who is still suffering from the aftermath of injuries he sustained at Dunkirk – is lonely and uncomfortable with his new role as secret agent. His path crosses with a young Spanish woman named Sofia, and Harry finds himself falling in love. Meanwhile, Harry needs to try and work his way into Sandy’s confidences … only to find himself caught up in intrigues beyond his understanding. Partly an old-fashioned spy thriller and partly a tragic love story, Winter in Madrid illuminates the Spanish Civil War in all its complexity and brings the place and the time to vibrant life.

Grab a copy of Winter in Madrid here


Hitler’s Valkyrie: The Uncensored Biography of Unity Mitford

by David R. L. Litchfield

I should have been warned by the words ‘uncensored’ – this rehash of the life of the least lovable Mitford sister was the worst kind of trash-mash possible. For those of you who do not know about Unity Mitford, she was one of six famous aristocratic sisters who enlivened life in Britain between the wars, but – for at least two of them – fell a cropper once World War II started. Unity Valkyrie Mitford was the fourth of the seven Mitford children (there was one boy, who died tragically at the end of the war); the sisters are popularly known as Nancy the Novelist, Pamela the Poultry Freak; Diana the Fascist; Unity the Hitler Freak; Jessica the Red; and Deborah the Duchess.

They are entirely fascinating, but this biography adds nothing but smut and slime to the tragic story of a young woman who fell in love with Hitler and shot herself as a result. There are much better places to learn her story.

 Grab a copy of Hitler’s Valkyrie: The Uncensored Biography of Unity Mitford here


Hitler’s English Girlfriend: The Story of Unity Mitford

by David Rehak

This biography of Unity Mitford – while rather lightweight and under-referenced – is a much better introduction to the sad but fascinating life of the fourth of the famous sisters. She was a rebel and a misfit as a child, never quite as clever as Nancy, or as beautiful as Diana, or as amusing as Jessica. She grew obsessed with Hitler while still a teenager, and convinced her parents to send her to a finishing school in Munich where she spent her days sitting in the Führer’s favourite restaurant, hoping for a glimpse of the man she idolised. One day he beckoned her over, and she wrote rapturous letters to her father and sisters about the experience. He was most interested to know that her full name was Unity Valkyrie Mitford and that she had been conceived in a town named Swastika (it seems too eerie to be true, doesn’t it?).

For the next few years, Unity was part of Hitler’s inner circle. She wrote awful, spine-chilling anti-Semitic rants to newspapers to prove herself to him, and denounced friends who spoke against him. It seems she hoped he’d marry her. When Great Britain declared war on Germany following Hitler’s invasion of Poland, Unity shot herself in the head. She was only twenty-five. Although she survived, her life was ruined and she died of complications from the gunshot wound nine years later.

Grab a copy of Hitler’s English Girlfriend: The Story of Unity Mitford here


The Crystal Heart

by Sophie Masson

I’m really enjoying this new series of YA fairy-tale-retellings-romances from Sophie Masson. The Crystal Heart draws its inspiration very loosely from ‘Rapunzel’, one of my own personal favourite wonder tales – yet the novel is much more interested in what happens once the girl escapes the tower. Izolda is rescued by a young army conscript called Kasper, who ends up a prisoner as a result. He must suffer his own ordeal before he can travel to the dark underground kingdom of Izolda’s father and try to win back her love.

These stories are fast-paced, suspenseful and surprising … and deserve as much attention as the many celebrated fairy tale retellings coming out of the USA at the moment.

Grab a copy of The Crystal Heart here


The Eagle Has Landed

by Jack Higgins

I’ve had this old, battered paperback on my bookshelf for years, first reading it as a teenager. Feeling in need of a good thriller, I dug it out and re-read it. He really is one of the masters of the genre. The pages just whizzed past, yet every character sprung to life on the page and the story itself is utterly compelling. A squad of crack German paratroopers sent on a desperate mission to kidnap Winston Churchill. A middle-aged but still attractive widow living in the quiet village with her dog who is really a German spy. A charming IRA assassin who falls for a pretty village girl, and finds himself torn between ideology and love.

The writer himself, stumbling upon the story one day quite by chance, and doggedly pursuing it across continents. I’ve read a few wartime thrillers lately, but this was by far the best. It just goes to show its harder than it looks.

Grab a copy of The Eagle Has Landed here


 The Husband’s Secret

by Liane Moriarty

The Husband’s Secret has had an incredible success in both the US and UK, despite being set in contemporary Australia – something which those in the know say is almost impossible to do. It’s the story of the entwining lives of several women – all mothers and all dealing with the impact of a revealed secret upon their lives. It’s an incredibly real, savvy, funny and heart-breaking book. The characters all feel as if they could just walk off the page, sit next to you, and have a chat. The story itself is incredibly gripping and suspenseful … and yet the story is set in a normal Sydney suburb, with normal Australian men and women.

It’s also a real emotional rollercoaster – one moment you’re laughing out loud, and the next you’re reaching for a tissue. Utterly brilliant!

Grab a copy of The Husband’s Secret here


The Man in the Brown Suit

by Agatha Christie

Every now and again I like to snuggle down with an old favourite, even though I know the ending…I’m a real Agatha Christie fan, and this is my favourite of her books. It is as much an adventure story as it is a murder mystery, and the indomitable heroine Anne is one of Christie’s most charming creations. She is an impoverished orphan who one day witnesses a man stepping backwards on to the tube rails. A doctor steps forward and examines the body, but something about his actions bothers Anne. She begins to investigate … and finds herself setting out for Africa on a dangerous quest that may very well cost her her life…

Blurb: A young woman investigates an accidental death at a London tube station, and finds herself of a ship bound for South Africa…Pretty, young Anne came to London looking for adventure. In fact, adventure comes looking for her — and finds her immediately at Hyde Park Corner tube station.

Anne is present on the platform when a thin man, reeking of mothballs, loses his more…

Grab a copy of The Man in the Brown Suit here


 Evergreen Falls

by Kimberley Freeman

I love Kimberley Freeman’s books. They are absolutely compulsively readable. The pages just race past as I read as fast as is humanely possible – I’m always desperate to find out what happens. I always love a novel that interweaves a contemporary narrative with a historical one, but often you find one narrative thread is much more interesting than the other (with me, I usually love the story set in the past the best). This isn’t true of Kimberley, though. Her contemporary story is as always as interesting and compelling as the other. I love her mix of romance and mystery and family drama, and can only wish that she could write just a little faster! I always get that little prickle of tears at the end of one of her books that show I’ve been really moved.

This one is set in the Blue Mountains, a place I know well. The setting of a glamorous hotel in the 1920s – and the same hotel, now decayed and half in ruins – is incredibly atmospheric and reminded me of an Agatha Christie book. In short: I loved it! A must read for anyone who loves a big, fat, heart-warming read.

Grab a copy of Evergreen Falls here


Kate FKate 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, coming in at No 16. 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.’

Click here to see Kate’s author page

Shake It Up For National Dog Day

Yesterday was National Dog Day in Australia, with our American cousins celebrating their Dog Day today.

Let’s be honest, we just wanted to post this awesome Shake video we found.

So here it is. Enjoy.

Shake

by Carli Davidson

Original, amusing, and brilliantly documented, Shake is a heartwarming collection of sixty-one beguiling dogs caught in the most candid of moments: mid-shake. This glorious, graphic volume will stop you dead in your tracks as you are presented with images of man’s best friend caught in contortion: hair wild, eyes darting, ears and jowls flopping every which way.

With Shake, photographer Carli Davidson proves how eager and elated we are to see our pets in new ways. The result is a one-of-a-kind book: a colorful assemblage of photographs that are simultaneously startling and endearing, consistently hard to look away from, and revealing.

Grab a copy of Shake here

But wait, there’s another one coming…

Shake Puppies

by Carli Davidson

The highly anticipated follow-up to the bestselling book Shake, Shake Puppies also features 61 dogs caught mid-shake-only this time they’re even more adorable and laughter inducing.

Shake Puppies features two images of each dog placed side by side to capture the action of the shake-the tousled hair, the distorted expression, the flying water droplets. The photographs capture the dogs in the most candid of moments and were shot against brightly colored backdrops to make them fresh, lively, and inviting.

Shake Puppies includes a roster listing the names, ages, and breeds of the dogs, as well as behind-the-scenes images that take readers into the studio with Carli Davidson and the smiling, playful pups. In the accompanying text, she offers never-before-shared insight into her creative process and reminds readers of the importance of animal adoption and quality pet care.

Funny and heartwarming Shake Puppies is a colorful assemblage of photographs that are startling and endearing, revealing and irresistible.

Grab a copy of Shake Puppies here

GUEST BLOG: My Inspiration for The Sunnyvale Girls by Fiona Palmer

My latest release, The Sunnyvale Girls, has real life past and present moments weaved into it. My inspiration for this story originated from the Italian prisoners of war stationed on farms in our wheat belt area in rural Western Australia. One of my friends and her family told me about Giulio Mosca, who was on their farm Sunnyvale, during the war. Hearing about Giulio and his house building skills I set out to learn more.

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This involved searching the archives for his prisoner records, which I found and requested. It was amazing to see these, and my friend’s farm written on the registered employers form. We learned so much about Giulio, where he was captured, where he went, where he was born and details about his father and also the ship he went home on. I couldn’t find out any more online. I had to visit Italy and search in person. A trip to Italy. Why not? So I packed my bags and went on a three week adventure to Italy visiting Venice, Rome, Montone, Florence, Lucca, Pisa, Naples, Pompeii….But the main stop was a little town of Chiaravalle in the province of Ancona, in the Marche region.

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Through sheer luck (and maybe the foresight to write down Italian words for ‘looking for the council, shire, records office’) we bumbled our way through the streets and found the building that looked like the shire office after directions from two lovely Italian ladies, who spoke no English. Inside this building we came across a policeman, Mimmo, who spoke enough English to understand (with the help of the documents and translations I had) what we were after. Mimmo took us to a nearby building and through a lengthy discussion with a lady, who didn’t want to give out personal information; we ended up with a name and number. Thank God Mimmo went into bat for us. We were told Giulio’s daughters didn’t speak English, so he’d given us the granddaughter’s number. We thanked him and headed off down the street to pay some more money into our parking meter. Then minutes later Mimmo found us again and introduced us to Giulio’s daughters, who he must have called earlier, and who came down to meet us. Here we are in the street. There were hugs and tears and conversation where we had absolutely no idea what either one was saying.

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Through their English speaking daughter Sylvia, we organised a lunch date and they came and visited us in Montone, where we were staying. Sadly we learnt Giulio passed away over twenty years ago from cancer. During our lunch, poor Sylvia had two conversations going trying to translate for both sides. But it was wonderful to share the stories of Giulio and to see the same photo’s he’d kept from Australia. His daughters said he never talked about the war times, except to say he’d liked being on Sunnyvale. It was a trip to remember and I came home with so much to write about. The Sunnyvale Girls is a book that will always hold a special place in my heart and I’m just so honored to have met Giulio’s family.

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Grab a copy of Fiona Palmer’s The Sunnyvale Girls here


9781921901454The Sunnyvale Girls

by Fiona Palmer

Three generations of Stewart women share a deep connection to their family farm, but a secret from the past threatens to tear them apart.

Widowed matriarch Maggie remembers a time when the Italian prisoners of war came to work on their land, changing her heart and her home forever. Single mum Toni has been tied to the place for as long as she can recall, although farming was never her dream. And Flick is as passionate about the farm as a young girl could be, despite the limited opportunities for love.

When a letter from 1946 is unearthed in an old cottage on the property, the Sunnyvale girls find themselves on a journey deep into their own hearts and all the way across the world to Italy. Their quest to solve a mystery leads to incredible discoveries about each other, and about themselves.

Grab a copy of Fiona Palmer’s The Sunnyvale Girls here

And the World’s Best Diet is…. World’s Best Diet

world-s-best-dietWorld’s Best Diet is not a ‘diet’, it’s a lifestyle change designed for real people.

Having achieved your goal weight, this is how you eat for the rest of your life. The program is based on one of the world’s largest dietary studies and combines a higher protein intake with low-GI carbs, which has been proven to prevent weight regain ‘creep’.

With delicious, satisfying recipes and easy-to-follow guidelines, this book is the ultimate solution to your weight problems.

The World’s Best Diet may sound like an extravagant claim. However, unlike many grandiose claims made in the weight loss industry, this book is backed by solid scientific evidence.

Grab a copy of World’s Best Diet here

world's best diet_1 world's best diet_2 world's best diet_3 world's best diet_4 world's best diet_5 world's best diet_6 world's best diet_7Grab a copy of World’s Best Diet here

BOOK REVIEW: Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami (Review by Andrew Cattanach)

Haruki Murakami’s quest to honour his literary hero Franz Kafka has resulted in Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage, one of his most moving and accessible novels in years.

While Franz Kafka remains best known for his genre-bending novella The Metamorphosis, most will point to his 1925 novel The Trial as his opus, a deeply personal meditation on sex, society and isolation.

Murakami’s latest offering navigates similar waters. A young male protagonist slowly driven to breaking point by, what he perceives to be, an unjust judgement handed down upon him by the people he most cares about.

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage is as down to earth as Murakami has been for a long time. Talking cats, and vanishing elephants give way to musings on Arnold Wesker, The Pet Shop Boys and Barry Manilow.

When Tsukuru Tazaki is cut off without reason by his circle of high school friends during his sophomore year in college, his world spirals out of control, craving no human interaction and little appetite for food or life, pure hopelessness.

Fast forward twenty years and, despite halting his downward spiral, he is still haunted by those inexplicable events. At his girlfriend’s urging, he tracks down his former friends to get the answer for himself. The journeys he takes turn out to be as much inward as out of town. And as is often the case in Murakami’s fiction, his characters are all about introspection.

murakamiMurakami’s prose has always enthralled me, and Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki is no exception. His overall tone remains one of the most difficult to pin down in literature, with gorgeous flourishes routinely intercepted by the sort of stark language that belongs in an IKEA catalogue. That, however, is his gift. His words pull you this way and that, tenderising you to feel the full weight of a knockout blow.

One passage in particular took my eye, “The branches of a nearby willow tree were laden with lush foliage and drooping heavily, almost to the ground, though they were still, as if lost in deep thought. Occasionally a small bird landed unsteadily on a branch, but soon gave up and fluttered away. Like a distraught mind, the branch quivered slightly, then returned to stillness.”

Is it beautiful, concise simplicity, or simple, concise beauty? That question is itself an allegory for much of Murakami’s body of work.

Taking his devotion for Kafka further in the final pages, Murakami prefers to leave some of the novel’s biggest questions unanswered, a rarity for a writer who so often neglects characters and prose in preference for themes and plot. Perhaps these are questions he can’t answer, or maybe these are questions that should stay with us, lingering, until we journey towards discovery as Tsukuru does.

Many of the questions in The Trial were never answered as Kafka died before the final edits of the book. It still remains a masterpiece, one which Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage will constantly be compared to, in itself the highest of praise.

It has become tradition that, on the eve of the announcement of the Nobel Prize for Literature, Japanese bookstores burst at the seams, champagne on ice, fans hoping that Murakami finally gets the nod. The big question is will Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage, having already sold millions of copies worldwide, be enough to tip him over the edge?

Another question that, for the moment anyway, remains unanswered.

Grab a copy of Haruki Murakami’s Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage here

Andrew Cattanach is a regular contributor to The Booktopia Blog and was recently shortlisted for The Age Short Story Prize. He enjoys reading, writing and sleeping, though finds it difficult to do them all at once.

You can follow his ramblings on twitter at @andrew__cat

REVIEW: Your Fathers, Where are They? And the Prophets, Do They Live Forever? by Dave Eggers (Review by Andrew Cattanach)

your-fathers-where-are-they-and-the-prophets-do-they-live-forever-The irony of Dave Eggers’ somewhat pretentiously named new novel Your Fathers, Where are They? And the Prophets, Do They Live Forever? is that it is a decidedly unpretentious work. But Dave Eggers knows that. He has more fun with his titles than most, from his breakout memoir A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius to his 2004 novel The Unforbidden is Compulsory; or, Optimism.

Your Fathers is a compelling meditation on the world we now live in. I say now because things are changing too fast for many of us, particularly for Eggers and his scatterbrained protagonist Thomas. His world is spinning out of control and the only way to halt it is to bunker down and ask the big questions. Not just of himself, but of the people who have ‘helped’ shape his life. His college hero, his mother, an old teacher, a politician, his soulmate. But he can’t just walk up to them in the street and grill them. He has a better idea.

It’s better if he has some time with them. Time to ask questions.

While they’re tied up in an abandoned military base.

While Your Fathers shines a light in uncomfortable corners, it’s raucously funny in many places, typical of all of Eggers’ work. It goes without saying that a man who, as legend has in, enlists friends to streak and heckle him during book readings would it difficult to hide that subversive humour from his writing. His acid wit works perfectly in tandem with some of the heavy territory Your Fathers explores.

Your Fathers is not a long book, but a dense one. It needs only 224 pages to engulf you. It’s a novel made up of frenzied brushstrokes that, only when you stand back, do you get to see the true genius of.

The brilliant thing about Your Fathers is that, despite his mania, I’m envious of Thomas. I feel like following his lead, although perhaps with less chains. A few days devoted entirely to questions.

But will Thomas get the answers he’s looking for before it’s too late?

Grab a copy of Dave Eggers’ Your Fathers, Where are They? And the Prophets, Do They Live Forever? here

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Andrew Cattanach is a regular contributor to The Booktopia Blog and was shortlisted for The Age Short Story Prize. He enjoys reading, writing and sleeping, though finds it difficult to do them all at once.

You can follow his ramblings on twitter at @andrew__cat

 

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