Chris Womersley, author of Bereft, answers Ten Terrifying Questions

The Booktopia Book Guru asks

Chris Womersley

author of Bereft, which has been shortlisted for 2011 Miles Franklin Award,
and The Low Road

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 Melbourne in 1968, and have lived in that city for most of my life, aside from periods travelling overseas and living in Sydney and the UK. I went to a few schools, but ended up at Melbourne High School where I did my HSC.

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

At 12 I wanted to be an archaeologist because I liked the idea of hanging out in Egypt. At 18 I wanted to be a rock star because I liked the idea of hanging out in mansions in the south of France. At 30 I wanted to be a writer because there seemed there was little else I could actually do.

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

When I was 18 I tended – as many of us do at that age – to view the world in rather black-and-white terms. Since then I have learnt that the world is actually more complex and harder to pin down, which is necessary for a novelist, because it helps me create more interesting characters and stories.

4. What were three works of art – book or painting or piece of music, etc – you can now say, had a great effect on you and influenced your own development as a writer?

I vividly recall seeing the Sergio Leone film The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, which had a great effect on me as a 12-year-old or so.

Wuthering Heights was also a great influence, a story of intense love and violence.

I also loved The US band The Velvet Underground, who produced music that was by turns beautiful and terrifying. It’s often said The Velvet Underground only sold 1000 copies of their first album in 1968, but every person who bought it was inspired to start their own band.

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

The novel still strikes me as the most involved art-form we have, the narrative form that can still go deeper and take people further than any other.

6. Please tell us about your latest novel…

Bereft is set in the immediate aftermath of World War One during the Spanish Influenza pandemic. A returned soldier named Quinn Walker returns to a country town in rural NSW where he meets a young girl he comes to believe is the ghost of his murdered sister. Bereft is about loss and longing, the way families and communities deal with grief. It is a ghost story and a love story.

(BBGuru: Here’s  the publisher’s synopsis -

It is 1919. The Great War has ended, but the Spanish flu epidemic is raging through Australia. Schools are closed, state borders are guarded by armed men, and train travel is severely restricted. There are rumours it is the end of the world.

In the NSW town of Flint, Quinn Walker returns to the home he fled ten years earlier when he was accused of an unspeakable crime. Aware that his father and uncle would surely hang him, Quinn hides in the hills surrounding Flint. There, he meets a mysterious young girl called Sadie Fox, who encourages him to seek justice — and seems to know more about the crime than she should.

A searing gothic novel of love, longing, and revenge, Bereft is about the suffering endured by those who go to war and those who are forever left behind. Read the Prologue here)

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

I want readers to be compelled by the hook of the narrative, moved by the emotion of the story and intrigued by the possibilities of longing people back to life.

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

That’s very hard to narrow down. I admire Joyce Carol Oates’ productivity and her ability to write in whatever genre the story needs to be told, without fear or favour.

(BBGuru: Click here for an incomplete list of Chris’ favourite things.)

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

Each time I set out to write a novel, I try to write something that has never been written before. I usually try and write the novel that I would like to read but hasn’t yet been written.

10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?

Read everything you can get your hands on, write a lot and persevere.

Chris, thank you for playing.

Toni Whitmont review: 2011 NSW Premier’s Literary Award winners announced – Alex Miller and Malcolm Fraser scoop the pool

The winners of the 2011 NSW Premier’s Literary Awards were announced at a gala dinner at the Sydney Opera House last night. Some of the countries leading writers and luminaries were at the event, including ABC TV presenter Jennifer Byrne (as MC), NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell and former Prime Minster of Australia, Malcolm Fraser.

One of Australia’s best-loved writers, Alex Miller, was awarded the Christina Stead Prize for Fiction for Lovesong, described by the judges as “a magnificent novel of desire”.

(No surprises there – we are Miller groupies here at Booktopia. Go here to see his answers to our Ten Terrifying Questions and here to see my interview with him on the publication of Lovesong).

Alex has received numerous awards for his writing, including twice winning the prestigious Miles Franklin Award. Miller also won The People’s Choice Award. Introduced three years ago to increase public engagement with the arts, the People’s Choice Award was chosen by Australian residents from the six novels shortlisted for the Christina Stead Prize.

Former Prime Minister of Australia, Malcolm Fraser, along with Margaret Simons, were awarded the Douglas Stewart Prize for Non-Fiction for Malcolm Fraser: The Political Memoirs. It also took out Book of The Year. The judges described  it as an engaging work that demonstrates how literary craft can transcend the usual limitations of political autobiography.
The NSW Premier’s Literary Awards, established in 1979, were Australia’s first premier’s awards. In their 32 year history, they have honoured many of the nation’s greatest writers, including Continue reading

The 2011 Miles Franklin Award Shortlist

The three novels shortlisted
for the 2011 Miles Franklin Award are…


When Colts Ran by Roger McDonald

‘There was nothing more definite when it came to promise than the worn old earth.’

In this sweeping epic of friendship, toil, hope and failed promise, multi-award-winning author Roger McDonald follows the story of Kingsley Colts as he chases the ghost of himself through the decades, and in and out of the lives and affections of the citizens of ‘The Isabel’, a slice of Australia scattered with prospectors, artists, no-hopers and visionaries. Against this spacious backdrop of sheep stations, timeless landscapes and the Five Alls pub, men play out their fates, conduct their rivalries and hope for the best.

Major Dunc Buckler, ‘misplaced genius and authentic ratbag’, scours the country for machinery in a World War that will never find him. Wayne Hovell, slave to ‘moral duty’, carries the physical and emotional scars of Colts’s early rebellion, but also finds himself the keeper of his redemption. Normie Powell, son of a rugby-playing minister, finds his own mysticism as a naturalist, while warm-hearted stock dealer Alan Hooke longs for understanding in a house full of women. They are men shaped by the obligations and expectations of a previous generation, all striving to define themselves in their own language, on their own terms.

‘When Colts Ran’, written in Roger McDonald’s rich and piercingly observant style, in turns humorous and hard-bitten, charts the ebb and flow of human fortune, and our fraught desire to leave an indelible mark on society and those closest to us. It shows how loyalties shape us in the most unexpected ways. It is the story of how men ‘strike at beauty’ as they fall to the earth. Order a copy now.

Read Roger’s answers to my Ten Terrifying Questions here


That Deadman’s Dance by Kim Scott

Big-hearted, moving and richly rewarding, That Deadman Dance is set in the first decades of the 19th century in the area around what is now Albany, Western Australia. In playful, musical prose, the book explores the early contact between the Aboriginal Noongar people and the first European settlers.

The novel’s hero is a young Noongar man named Bobby Wabalanginy. Clever, resourceful and eager to please, Bobby befriends the new arrivals, joining them hunting whales, tilling the land, exploring the hinterland and establishing the fledgling colony. He is even welcomed into a prosperous local white family where he falls for the daughter, Christine, a beautiful young woman who sees no harm in a liaison with a native.

But slowly – by design and by accident – things begin to change. Not everyone is happy with how the colony is developing. Stock mysteriously start to disappear; crops are destroyed; there are “accidents” and injuries on both sides. As the Europeans impose ever stricter rules and regulations in order to keep the peace, Bobby’s Elders decide they must respond in kind. A friend to everyone, Bobby is forced to take sides: he must choose between the old world and the new, his ancestors and his new friends. Inexorably, he is drawn into a series of events that will forever change not just the colony but the future of Australia… Order a copy now.

Read Kim’s answers to my Ten Terrifying Questions here


Bereft by Chris Womersley

It is 1919. The Great War has ended, but the Spanish flu epidemic is raging across Australia. Schools are closed, state borders are guarded by armed men, and train travel is severely restricted. There are rumours it is the end of the world.

In the town of Flint, Quinn Walker returns to the home he fled ten years earlier when he was accused of an unspeakable crime. Aware that his father and uncle would surely hang him, Quinn hides in the hills surrounding Flint. There, he meets the orphan Sadie Fox — a mysterious young girl who seems to know more about the crime than she should.

A searing gothic novel of love, longing and justice, Bereft is about the suffering endured by those who go to war and those who are forever left behind.

‘Bereft is a dark, brooding story of war, family secrets and a man’s search for justice.  Chris Womersley knows how to shine light into the darkest corners of rural Australia.’ – MICHAEL ROBOTHAM

‘Bereft is a beautiful novel . . . Womersley writes with such compelling power it is barely possible to put the book down.’ – DEBRA ADELAIDE Order a copy now.

To the three shortlisted authors…
Congratulations from Booktopia.

That Deadman Dance by Kim Scott

Kim Scott won the Miles Franklin more than a decade ago for his novel Benang. His latest, That Deadman Dance, must surely be under consideration for a raft of major prizes.

A Noongar man from SW Western Australia, Scott has written a novel of first contact, which traces the first couple of decades of British presence in a fictional settlement on the coast. The story revolves around Bobby Wabalanginy, his people and the shifting alliances and relationships that link him into the fledgling colony as much as distance him from it.

The insights into earlier colonial times in WA are fascinating, especially the contact with the Yankee whalers. However, it is Noongar people, and their light touch on the landscape, which hold the greatest interest in the book. What starts as a reasonably promising relationship between English and Noongar, gradually deteriorates as the power shifts towards the newcomers until Bobby is forced to choose between the old world and the new.
There is interest enough in the story to make this a compelling book.

However, what lifts it way above that is the writing. Scott’s prose shimmers. This is a book that demands to be savoured. The readers will want to pause and re-read passages for the sheer beauty of the language and imagery.
The book has much to say about the first Australians and the English who changed their lives irrevocably. While contemporary writers such as Kate Grenville, Richard Flanagan, Andrew McGahan and Alex Miller have all wrestled with related themes, Kim Scott’s flawlessly written tale adds both meaning and depth to the Australian writing experience.

That Deadman Dance is available in both hard back and paper back now.

(Review by TW  published in  Bookseller and Publisher Magazine)

BREAKING NEWS: Peter Temple Wins the 2010 Miles Franklin Literary Award for his Novel, Truth!

The Miles Franklin Literary Award 2010

Congratulations to Peter Temple who was awarded the Miles Franklin Literary Award for 2010.

Announced at an award dinner in Sydney on 22 June 2010, Peter Temple was presented this year’s prize of $42,000 for his novel Truth.

Temple’s winning novel is the much anticipated sequel to The Broken Shore and comprehends murder, corruption, family, friends, honour, honesty, deceit, love, betrayal – and truth. A stunning story about contemporary Australian life, Truth is written with great moral sophistication.

On behalf of the judging panel, Morag Fraser commented “It was a controversial and challenging shortlist, accomplished and diverse in many ways that made the judges’ task very difficult. Each novel offered quite a distinct and compelling fictional journey”.

(from the Miles Franklin Award website)

2010 Miles Franklin Award Shortlisters Answer Ten Terrifying Questions

On the eve of the announcement of the winner of the 2010 Miles Franklin Award we are delighted to be able to offer readers an insight into the minds of some of those shortlisted.

The following four shortlisted authors have answered our

Ten Terrifying Questions.

Here is a taste – one question and answer each – click on ‘More…‘ or the author’s photo to be taken through to their answers to the full Ten Terrifying Questions.

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ALEX MILLER – award winning author of Lovesong, The Ancestor Game, Journey to the Stone Country

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

At eighteen I believed in the moral progress of our species. More…

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CRAIG SILVEY – author of Jasper Jones, Rhubarb and The World According to Warren

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

Because a knee injury prevented me from a promising career in interpretive dance. More…

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DEBORAH FORSTER –  author of The Book of Emmett

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

I hope they get confused about love because I think if it’s not confusing, it’s not real. I hope the characters are so alive you think about them for a very long time. I hope they are memorable. More…

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Photograph of Brian Castro by Susan Gordon-BrownBRIAN CASTRO – author of Birds of Passage, Shanghai Dancing, The Bath Fugues and more

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

At eighteen I believed I could read all the books in the university library shelved between 820 and 900. Now, with failing eyesight, I think of Borges and dream imaginary libraries. More…

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Booktopia’s Ten Terrifying Questions have been answered by a wide variety of authors, from Jackie Collins and Lee Child to Tara Moss and Michael Koryta – from Rodney Hall to Peter Allison! – And we’d like to take this opportunity to thank them all for participating!

Click here to view our full list of participating authors.

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Here are the 2010 Miles Franklin Award shortlisted novels:

Lovesong

by Alex Miller

Chez Dom – a small, rundown Tunisian cafe in Paris run by the widow Houria and her niece Sabiha – offers a home away from home for the North African immigrants working at the abattoirs of Vaugiraud.

One day a lost Australian tourist, John Patterner, seeks shelter in the cafe from a sudden Parisian rainstorm. John is like no one Sabiha has met before – his calm grey eyes promise her a future she was not yet even aware she wanted. Theirs becomes a contented but unlikely marriage, and yet because they are essentially foreigners to each other, their love story sets in train an irrevocable course of tragic events.

Years later, living a small, quiet life in suburban Melbourne, what happened at Vaugiraud seems like a distant, troubling dream to Sabiha and John, who confides the story behind their seemingly ordinary lives to Ken, an ageing, melancholy writer. Lovesong is the story of a marriage, of people coming undone by desire, of ordinary lives and death, love and struggle. Into the wonderfully evoked contemporary settings of Paris and Melbourne, memories of Tunisian family life, culture and its music are tenderly woven. Buy Now

The Bath Fugues

by Brian Castro

The Bath Fugues is a meditation on melancholy and art, in the form of three interwoven novellas, centred respectively on an aging art forger; a Portuguese poet, opium addict and art collector; and a doctor, who has built an art gallery in tropical Queensland.

These characters are tied by more than their art, each dealing with questions of deception and discovery, counterfeiting and rewriting, transmission and identity and each stretching the bonds of trust and friendship. Buy Now

Jasper Jones

by Craig Silvey

Late on a hot summer night in the tail end of 1965, Charlie Bucktin, a precocious and bookish boy of thirteen, is startled by an urgent knock on the window of his sleep-out. His visitor is Jasper Jones, an outcast in the regional mining town of Corrigan. Rebellious, mixed-race and solitary, Jasper is a distant figure of danger and intrigue for Charlie.

So when Jasper begs for his help, Charlie eagerly steals into the night by his side, terribly afraid but desperate to impress.

Jasper takes him through town and to his secret glade in the bush, and it’s here that Charlie bears witness to Jasper’s horrible discovery. With his secret like a brick in his belly, Charlie is pushed and pulled by a town closing in on itself in fear and suspicion as he locks horns with his tempestuous mother; falls nervously in love and battles to keep a lid on his zealous best friend, Jeffrey Lu. Buy Now

The Book of Emmett

by Deborah Forster

A stunning first novel from a Melbourne author. The story of the Brown family will wrench at your heart and make you hug those you love ever tighter.

Emmett Brown is as dark as Heathcliff, and as unpredictable. Sometimes he’s an inspiration, but not often. He’s a man of booze and obsessions: one of them is his ‘System’, an attempt to bend the laws of probability. But when the lottery numbers and horses fail him, so do love and reason, and he becomes an ogre to his wife and children.

For the innocents – Louisa, Rob, Peter, Daniel and Jessie – the bonds formed hiding in hedges at the end of the street, waiting for the maelstroms to pass, are complex and unbreakable. Over the years, the consequences of Emmett’s rages shape both their spirits and psyches, but as he lies dying they discover that love – however imperfect – is the best defence against pain. Buy Now

Truth

by Peter Temple

At the close of a long day, Inspector Stephen Villani stands in the bathroom of a luxury apartment high above the city. In the glass bath, a young woman lies dead, a panic button within reach.

So begins the sequel to Peter Temple’s bestselling masterpiece, The Broken Shore, winner of the Gold Dagger for Best Crime Novel.

Villani’s life is his work. It is his identity, his calling, his touchstone. But now, over a few sweltering summer days, as fires burn across the state and his superiors and colleagues scheme and jostle, he finds all the certainties of his life are crumbling. Truth is a novel about a man, a family, a city. It is about violence, murder, love, corruption, honour and deceit. And it is about truth. Buy Now

Butterfly

by Sonya Hartnett

On the verge of her fourteenth birthday, Plum knows her life will change. But she has no idea how.Over the coming weeks, her beautiful neighbour Maureen will show her how she might fly. Her adored older brothers will court catastrophe in worlds that she barely knows exist. And her friends – her worst enemies – will tease and test, smelling weakness. They will try to lead her on and take her down.Who ever forgets what happens when you’re fourteen? Buy Now


Deborah Forster, author of The Book of Emmett, Answers Ten Terrifying Questions

The Booktopia Book Guru Asks

Deborah Forster,

author of

The Book of Emmett

Shortlisted for the 2010 Miles Franklin

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 Seddon in the western suburbs of Melbourne. I grew up largely in Braybrook and then Footscray. Went to school at various state schools around there.

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

When I was twelve I wanted to be a doctor because I had the urge to help but then I discovered I couldn’t actually do maths ( I was okay up to the five times tables, after that it was a charade). At eighteen I wanted to a write but money was an issue so I became a journalist. At thirty I still wanted to be write but I also wanted to be a mother so I wrote a bad novel (unpublished) and had a baby. Writing has been the most consistent thing in my life.

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

At eighteen I thought it wasn’t really possible for me to be a writer, it seemed to be for others so I kept finding ways to stop myself. Now I disagree. I reckon a bit of quiet determination gets you further than a whole lot of wishful thinking.

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?

Books have always been my main influences but I like anything that makes me feel. When I read J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye, I was about seventeen and it felt like waking up. Joni Mitchell’s album Blue moves me. All paintings by the Melbourne painter Clarice Beckett are beautiful. The film Midnight Cowboy. I wrote ‘Emmett’ listening to music from Leonard Cohen (Ten New Songs) to Bird York to Los Lobos. Music helps me write.

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

Writers create worlds out of words and that’s magic. Besides – can’t sing, can’t draw, can’t dance.

6. Please tell us about your latest novel…

The Book of Emmett is the story of a family whose father is a moody, violent bully. He gambles and he drinks, but somehow he loves the Arts. He inspires and terrorises. The children who survive their father are bonded like soldiers; they lived through the trenches together. Some forgive him, some don’t. What is love when you hold it up to the light?

(BBGuru: From the publisher – A stunning first novel from a Melbourne author. The story of the Brown family will wrench at your heart and make you hug those you love ever tighter.

Emmett Brown is as dark as Heathcliff, and as unpredictable. Sometimes he’s an inspiration, but not often. He’s a man of booze and obsessions: one of them is his ‘System’, an attempt to bend the laws of probability. But when the lottery numbers and horses fail him, so do love and reason, and he becomes an ogre to his wife and children.

For the innocents – Louisa, Rob, Peter, Daniel and Jessie – the bonds formed hiding in hedges at the end of the street, waiting for the maelstroms to pass, are complex and unbreakable. Over the years, the consequences of Emmett’s rages shape both their spirits and psyches, but as he lies dying they discover that love – however imperfect – is the best defence against pain.)

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

I hope they get confused about love because I think if it’s not confusing, it’s not real. I hope the characters are so alive you think about them for a very long time. I hope they are memorable. I hope you love them and hate them and forgive them. I hope you cry with them and laugh at their daggy jokes. I hope you never forget them. I hope they come to live in your heart.

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

So many incredible writers have given us so much. I’ll begin with Christina Stead because her masterpiece The Man Who Loved Children was a revelation; so real to me I could barely hold it in my hands. A book about a family that’s off, that doesn’t work but still loves. The book is perfection. I also admire the southern American gothic writers, Eudora Welty, Harper Lee and Carson McCullers. Also Jonathan Franzen and Jonathan Safran Foer, Lorrie Moore, Elizabeth Strout and Alice Munro. I like novels that are surprising, well-written and memorable. I hate bland, hate pretentious.

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

I really only want to write books I’m proud of. My goals are just to keep writing, trouble is, I’m easily distracted so I’m considering nailing my bum to the chair.

10.What advice do you give aspiring writers?

I’m so newly launched in all this, it seems presumptuous to offer advice but anyway here goes, the best I’ve got is to believe in yourself. After that, it’s like that old sign they put up in the London Underground during the war: Keep Calm and Carry On. Treat the reader as your friend, remember they don’t have to read your book. Don’t dwell on knockbacks, just listen to the reader within and give that reader the truth in an authentic voice. That’s what readers want.

Deborah, thank you for playing.

Click here to view The 2010 Miles Franklin Literary Award Shortlist.

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