Australian Romance Author Showcase with…Natasha Walker

As part of Australian Romance Month, Romance Specialist Haylee Nash will be interviewing one Australian Romance author per day. Much like a beauty pageant, each author will be using their charm, wit and grace (and the power of social media) to take home the Booktopia Romance Bestseller crown. Booktopia invites bestselling erotic romance author Natasha Walker.

1. Describe the perfect date.
Natasha: The date that isn’t a date. The date which begins with an accidental meeting – at a coffee shop, in a bookshop, on a train platform – a casual chat, an awareness of each other, an awareness of that awareness and then the parting. A parting which is interrupted by a return, and an exchange of numbers, a daring comment, a touch, a suggestion, an arrangement to meet later which is brought forward to now. The corner of a bar. A drink. Two. For courage. Hands shaking. Staring silences. Urgent need to leave the bar. On the street. Wandering. Talking. Bumping, touching. A kiss.
John: What she said. Continue reading

Eccentricity – Curse or Ally?

The 19th century British philosopher John Stuart Mill once remarked, “The amount of eccentricity in a society has generally been proportional to the amount of genius, mental vigor, and moral courage it contained. That so few now dare to be eccentric marks the chief danger of the time.”

The world of writing is filled with just the eccentric folk Mill was talking about. We’ve picked 10 examples of some of the greatest writers having some strange sides to them. Enjoy.


J.M Barrie

The creator of Peter Pan would always order Brussels sprouts for lunch, but he never ate them. When asked the reason for this, he replied, “I just love saying the words.”


Samuel Johnson

Once called “the most distinguished man of letters in English history”, Johnson often shaved all the hairs off his body and document how long it would take for them to grow back again.


Charles Dickens

One of the greatest writers to ever live, Dickens used to get so excited performing his own work in front of audiences that he would faint.


Rudyard Kipling

The much-loved writer behind The Jungle Book would paint all of his golf balls red so he could play in the snow.


H.G. Wells

The father of Science-Fiction always carried two pens with him; a big one for long words and a smaller one for the little words.


Dorothy Parker

The Queen of Satire once bought herself a new typewriter for no better reason than the fact the ribbon on her old ran out and she didn’t know how to install the new one.


Percy Bysshe Shelley

Despite his writing being one of Gandhi’s greatest inspirations to the path of passive resistance, Shelley hated cats so much that he once tied one to a kite in a thunderstorm in the hopes of seeing it electrocuted. (Poor Kitty!)


Giacomo Casanova

Literally the original Casanova, the womaniser used to grow the nail on his pinkie extra long specially so he could pick earwax out with it.


Thomas De Quincey

Would be so immersed in his writing (and perhaps other things) at night he set himself on fire more than once from the candle at his desk.


Samuel Beckett

Once said to an actor in one of his plays (regarding a pregnant pause in his script): “You’re playing two dots at the moment, the script calls for three!”


Do you know any other examples of writers going a bit balmy? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Penguin Classics UK: Top Ten Cruellest Classics

In my inbox today was a newsletter from
Penguin Classics UK in which they list the…

Top Ten Cruellest Classics (wah, ha, har!)

They didn’t say ‘wah, ha, har!’ that was me. I thought it needed something.

They did say this, however:

Despite some sunny days recently, we wouldn’t dare argue with T. S. Eliot – and since it’s April, here is our top ten of the very Cruellest classics:

1. Thérèse Raquin by Emile Zola

‘It was like a lightning flash of passion, swift, blinding, across a leaden sky’

In a dingy apartment on the Passage du Pont Neuf in Paris, Thérèse Raquin is trapped in a loveless marriage to her sickly cousin Camille. The numbing tedium of her life is suddenly shattered when she embarks on a turbulent affair with her husband’s earthy friend Laurent, but their animal passion for each other soon compels the lovers to commit a crime that will haunt them forever. Thérèse Raquin caused a scandal when it appeared in 1867 and brought its twenty-seven-year-old author a notoriety that followed him throughout his life. Zola’s novel is not only an uninhibited portrayal of adultery, madness and ghostly revenge, but is also a devastating exploration of the darkest aspects of human existence.

Robin Buss’s new translation superbly conveys Zola’s fearlessly honest and matter of fact style. In his introduction, he discusses Zola’s life and literary career, and the influence of art, literature and science on his writing. This edition also includes the preface to the second edition of 1868, a chronology, further reading and notes. Buy


 2. Laughter in the Dark by Vladimir Nabokov

“Once upon a time there lived in Berlin, Germany, a man called Albinus. He was rich, respectable, happy; one day he abandoned his wife for the sake of a youthful mistress; he loved; was not loved; and his life ended in disaster.”

Thus begins Vladimir Nabokov’s Laughter in the Dark; this, the author tells us, is the whole story–except that he starts from here, with his characteristic dazzling skill and irony, and brilliantly turns a fable into a chilling, original novel of folly and destruction.

Amidst a Weimar-era milieu of silent film stars, artists, and aspirants, Nabokov creates a merciless masterpiece as Albinus, an aging critic, falls prey to his own desires, to his teenage mistress, and to Axel Rex, the scheming rival for her affections who finds his greatest joy in the downfall of others. Buy



3. Titus Andronicus by William Shakespeare

Ah, why should wrath be mute, and fury dumb?
I am no baby, I, that with base prayers
I should repent the evils I have done;
Ten thousand worse, than ever yet I did
Would I perform, if I might have my will.
If one good deed in all my life I did,
I do repent it from my very soul.  Continue reading

Sophie Masson, author of My Father’s War, answers Ten Terrifying Questions

The Booktopia Book Guru asks

Sophie Masson

author of My Father’s War, The Understudy’s Revenge and more…

Ten Terrifying Questions

——————————-

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

I was born in Jakarta in Indonesia, but of French parents who were working there for a big French construction company. (They built the port of Tanjung Priok in Jakarta, and later a big air force base in Surabaya). My parents and two older sisters(who were born in France) were there for six years but when I was 9 months old my mother took me back to France as I was very sickly and they didn’t think I’d survive if I stayed in Indonesia. She left me with my paternal grandmother and aunts in Toulouse and I was raised by them till I was nearly five years old, when my parents and sisters (with another little addition, who’d been born in Surabaya while I was away!) picked me up and took me with them to their next home–in Australia! (dad had been transferred there.) I arrived in Australia with no English at all, and had to start school the very month we landed! We stayed in Australia after that but went back to France every two years for a holiday as per my father’s contract. And sometimes we even had to go to school in France during those holidays! My parents never migrated, they just kept renewing their work contracts–so in many ways it was a funny way to live, suspended between two countries and languages–like living in two different worlds. I sometimes think that’s why I became a writer.

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

Well even further back than that, at the age of four I wanted to be a princess! That’s the first ambition I remember clearly. At twelve it was a toss up between actress and writer, both of which I loved–I was doing heaps of drama in and out of school and I was already writing lots of stories and poems and even comic books. By eighteen actress had receded into the background (stage fright too acute by fourteen) and I wanted to be a writer. At thirty I still wanted to be a writer–and was one!

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

I thought the Celts were much better than the Romans! Sounds nerdy I know but I was obsessed by the Celts–Bretons, Irish, scots, Cornish, Manx, Gaulish–and thought the Romans were a bunch of technological deadheads. Now I’m much more even-handed about it, and can see both have their good and bad points!

4. What were three big events – in the family circle or on the world stage or in your reading life, for example – you can now say, had a great effect on you and influenced you in your career path?

1/Coming to Australia, which made English into not my native tongue but my adopted tongue, a tongue I learned to love and mould and in which I really discovered I could express myself and my love of stories.

2/Discovering Shakespeare, whose works continue to inspire me;

3/Writing, as a teenager, to Australian poets whose work I’d admired at school, and sending them some of my own work–and getting generous letters back from them, giving constructive criticism. I knew nobody in the publishing industry and had no idea how to get published but these letters were my first introduction to the idea that there really was a kind of fellowship of writers, and encouraged me greatly.

5. Considering the innumerable electronic media avenues open to you – blogs, online newspapers, TV, radio, etc – why have you chosen to write a book? aren’t they obsolete?

No way, they’ll never be! all those other things are ephemeral–the book will always remain, in whatever medium, print or electronic, it happens to be in. There is nothing more satisfying than reading a good book–except writing one! I might add that I’m no Luddite, I love the Internet and I participate fully in all kinds of electronic media, including writing blogs, creating trailers for You Tube etc etc–but none of these can ever replace the book. It’s not an electronic ephemeral which was arguably the biggest cultural phenomenon of modern times–but a series of books, the Harry Potter books.

6. Please tell us about your latest book…

The Understudy’s Revenge is a historical mystery, inspired by Shakespeare’s Hamlet, and set in 1860, in the exciting London theatre world of Charles Dickens’ and Wilkie Collins‘ time (they both appear as cameos in the book!) It’s told by lively young Millie Osborne, daughter of a theatre company’s manager, who decides to investigate the story behind a mysterious new arrival, who’s taken on as an understudy–Oliver Parry. He’s fascinating–but he’s also hiding a secret… And curious Millie and her friend Seth are determined to find out what it is–and fall into great danger.

My Father’s War is set in 1918, in the last year of the First World War, and is about an Australian girl called Annie whose soldier father has been away for two years fighting on the battlefields of northern France. They haven’t heard from him in months; Annie’s French mother is very worried and decides they’ll go to France to look for him. They arrive in Amiens and start the search–but then Annie’s mother also goes missing… at the very moment when the war starts hotting up again. Annie’s desperate to find them–but will she be too late? This is very much about the experience of war as seen from a child’s viewpoint–and it climaxes around the ‘other Anzac Day’–the terrible but decisive battle of Villers-Brettoneux on 24-25 April 1918.

7. If your work could change one thing in this world – what would it be?

That people might not take life and the people they love for granted.

8. Whom do you most admire and why?

Well, that’s a hard one! There’s quite a few people I admire! they range from Shakespeare to Solzhenitsyn, the people of the Philippines for freeing themselves bloodlessly from a corrupt dictator, and the peoples of Eastern Europe for at last tearing down the grey regimes that had controlled them for so long; from my maternal grandmother who despite a hard life and much suffering never showed any bitterness but was the kindest, most loving and genuinely joyfully religious person I have ever known, to my English teacher in high school who encouraged me in every way–and that’s just a beginning!

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

In terms of my writing, to be the best writer I can possibly be, within my own nature and the abilities I was granted–not to look over my shoulder at other people, not to be envious, but just to do the very best I personally can, every time. I am very very lucky–I can earn my living doing what I was born to do, the thing that comes as naturally to me as breathing. but that doesn’t mean I can be complacent, not for one minute!

10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?

Read as much as you can, observe as much as you can, practise as much as you can. Don’t be afraid to imitate–it’s good practice–but develop your own voice, learn to understand it and what it’s telling you. People often say–write about what you know–but that doesn’t mean limiting yourself to the details of your life. It means–write about what you know–from the inside. Be true to your emotions. Your own way of seeing things. But don’t be closed to others. Don’t look over your shoulder. Don’t waste time thinking, I would like to be writing like so and so. Work with what you have. Don’t be afraid to do things differently. And don’t take anything for granted!

Sophie, thank you for playing.

A blazing sun… LITTLE DORRIT By Charles Dickens

LITTLE DORRIT

By Charles Dickens

BOOK THE FIRST: POVERTY

CHAPTER 1. Sun and Shadow

Thirty years ago, Marseilles lay burning in the sun, one day.

A blazing sun upon a fierce August day was no greater rarity in southern France then, than at any other time, before or since. Everything in Marseilles, and about Marseilles, had stared at the fervid sky, and been stared at in return, until a staring habit had become universal there. Strangers were stared out of countenance by staring white houses, staring white walls, staring white streets, staring tracts of arid road, staring hills from which verdure was burnt away. The only things to be seen not fixedly staring and glaring were the vines drooping under their load of grapes. These did occasionally wink a little, as the hot air barely moved their faint leaves.

There was no wind to make a ripple on the foul water within the harbour, or on the beautiful sea without. The line of demarcation between the two colours, black and blue, showed the point which the pure sea would not pass; but it lay as quiet as the abominable pool, with which it never mixed. Boats without awnings were too hot to touch; ships blistered at their moorings; the stones of the quays had not cooled, night or day, for months. Hindoos, Russians, Chinese, Spaniards, Portuguese, Englishmen, Frenchmen, Genoese, Neapolitans, Venetians, Greeks, Turks, descendants from all the builders of Babel, come to trade at Marseilles, sought the shade alike—taking refuge in any hiding-place from a sea too intensely blue to be looked at, and a sky of purple, set with one great flaming jewel of fire.

The universal stare made the eyes ache. Towards the distant line of Italian coast, indeed, it was a little relieved by light clouds of mist, slowly rising from the evaporation of the sea, but it softened nowhere else. Far away the staring roads, deep in dust, stared from the hill-side, stared from the hollow, stared from the interminable plain. Far away the dusty vines overhanging wayside cottages, and the monotonous wayside avenues of parched trees without shade, drooped beneath the stare of earth and sky. So did the horses with drowsy bells, in long files of carts, creeping slowly towards the interior; so did their recumbent drivers, when they were awake, which rarely happened; so did the exhausted labourers in the fields. Everything that lived or grew, was oppressed by the glare; except the lizard, passing swiftly over rough stone walls, and the cicala, chirping his dry hot chirp, like a rattle. The very dust was scorched brown, and something quivered in the atmosphere as if the air itself were panting.

Blinds, shutters, curtains, awnings, were all closed and drawn to keep out the stare. Grant it but a chink or keyhole, and it shot in like a white-hot arrow. The churches were the freest from it. To come out of the twilight of pillars and arches—dreamily dotted with winking lamps, dreamily peopled with ugly old shadows piously dozing, spitting, and begging—was to plunge into a fiery river, and swim for life to the nearest strip of shade. So, with people lounging and lying wherever shade was, with but little hum of tongues or barking of dogs, with occasional jangling of discordant church bells and rattling of vicious drums, Marseilles, a fact to be strongly smelt and tasted, lay broiling in the sun one day. In Marseilles that day there was a villainous prison. In one of its chambers, so repulsive a place that even the obtrusive stare blinked at it, and left it to such refuse of reflected light as it could find for itself, were two men. Besides the two men, a notched and disfigured bench, immovable from the wall, with a draught-board rudely hacked upon it with a knife, a set of draughts, made of old buttons and soup bones, a set of dominoes, two mats, and two or three wine bottles. That was all the chamber held, exclusive of rats and other unseen vermin, in addition to the seen vermin, the two men. To keep reading – click here

Little Dorrit by Charles Dickens (BBC adaptation now screening on the ABC)

IN A DARK SQUALID PRISON A BABY GIRL IS BORN . . .

Little Amy Dorrit grows up in the Marshalsea debtors’ jail, looking after her father who has been an inmate there for many years. During the day she goes to work as a seamstress for a strange old lady, Mrs Clennam. When Mrs Clennam’s son Arthur returns from abroad and enters Amy’s life, her family’s fortunes change beyond belief.

Soon Amy is plunged into a world of high society, guilty secrets, mysterious villains and financial scandal. But will she ever truly escape the shadow of the prison walls – and find the love that eludes her?

Extract: Little Dorrit

BOOK THE FIRST: POVERTY

CHAPTER 1. Sun and Shadow

Thirty years ago, Marseilles lay burning in the sun, one day.

A blazing sun upon a fierce August day was no greater rarity in southern France then, than at any other time, before or since. Everything in Marseilles, and about Marseilles, had stared at the fervid sky, and been stared at in return, until a staring habit had become universal there. Strangers were stared out of countenance by staring white houses, staring white walls, staring white streets, staring tracts of arid road, staring hills from which verdure was burnt away. The only things to be seen not fixedly staring and glaring were the vines drooping under their load of grapes. These did occasionally wink a little, as the hot air barely moved their Continue reading

Politically Incorrect Parenting: Before Your Kids Drive You Crazy by Nigel Latta

Why is it so hard to be the parent you thought you would be?

Do your kids sometimes make you feel your head is going to explode? Ever yelled at them until you were hoarse? Do you have days when you feel like making a run for the airport?

For harassed parents struggling to understand why they end up screaming at their kids and tearing their hair out trying to make them understand that bad behaviour has inevitable consequences, this is the perfect book to help your family make it through the crucial first decade or so and still enjoy each other′s company.

Practical commonsense answers and real life examples, logical and realistic strategies, and innovative behaviour modification tools that work in the real world – all from a parent and family therapist who′s seen almost everything there is to see and offers some hard-won battlefield wisdom. Written in down-to-earth language, this book needs to be handed out at birth, an essential guide for the struggling parent who knows family life can and should be better.

Clinical psychologist, bestselling author, and father of two, Nigel Latta specializes in working with children with behavioural problems, from simple to severe. A regular media commentator and presenter, he has had two television series adapted from his books —BEYOND THE DARKLANDS and THE POLITICALLY INCORRECT PARENTING SHOW (both of which screen in New Zealand and Australia) — and has had a regular parenting segment on national radio.

More helpful advice on the raising of children can be found here: Nicholas Nickleby by Charles Dickens… Continue reading

Charles Dickens and Malcolm McLaren…Spot the Difference

“My name is Malcolm McLaren. I have brought you many things in my time…. But the most successful of all was an invention of mine they called Punk Rock”.

The weekend press has been full of retrospectives, obituaries and reminiscences of Malcolm McLaren, impresario, anarchist svengali,  and iconoclast. McLaren, the enfant terrible of the British punk scene, manager of the  Sex Pistols, New York Dolls and Bow Wow Wow and former partner of Vivienne Westwood, died on Thursday at the age of 64.

Perhaps a measure of the time, most of the books about McLaren have come and gone. David Dalton’s El Sid: Saint Vicious which chronicles the rise and fall of his royal punkness Sid Vicious, himself a creation of McLaren, is no longer available. Nor is Paul Taylor’s Impresario: Malcolm McLaren and the British New Wave. No doubt Max Wooldridge is re-working his Rock ‘n’ Roll London as we speak.

However, amongst everything I heard and read in the last 24 hours, the most interesting has been McLaren’s claim that British rock and roll owes its genesis to Charles Dickens. He sounded completely serious when he said it.

According to the late Mr M, in an interview I heard not once but twice on Radio National (recorded in the late 90s) Oliver Twist has inspired more British rock songs than any other story. Mind you, while he quotes rockers near and far, he didn’t actually mention the songs to which he was referring. I had never thought of the seminal role of Oliver Twist before but clearly McLaren was on to something. Just look at the cover image of the Vintage Classic we have in stock. The dog collar looks like it could have come straight from Sex, the rubber and fetish clothes shop that he and Westwood set up in their original venture. I tell you, the man had a gift.

So if you really want to decode punk, or perhaps re-visit your frenzied youth, you don’t have to listen your way through a scratchy vinyl rendition of I am the Antichrist. You can just reach for your dog eared copy of Dickens.

Charles Dickens and Malcolm McLaren – bet you’ve never read those two names in a sentence together before.

North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell

When you love Jane Austen, Charles Dickens and George Eliot, and love to talk about their work, there comes a day when someone recommends that you read Mrs Elizabeth Gaskell.

Recommendations are funny things, if they come at the right moment, and that ‘right’ moment is impossible to define, you may pick up the book immediately and read it without prejudice. If a recommendation comes at the wrong moment, the recommendation will be forgotten, with no judgement recorded.

However, if a recommendation comes from someone we do not like, or, more importantly, we do not respect, the recommendation will be remembered, but the book will be associated with all that is wrong with the world and, henceforth, will be avoided like the plague.

My experience of Mrs Elizabeth Gaskell started badly. Those who recommended her were, more often than not, from a peculiar group – the lovers of Jane Austen who maintain that Georgette Heyer should be considered Austen’s equal.

Jane Austen’s genius, like Shakespeare’s, is that she is accessible to all. In her novels, some find a mirror, seeing only themselves in fancy dress reflected, while others find Continue reading

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