GUEST BLOG: My Five Favourite Books of All Time (by Susan Duncan)

Susan Duncan, author of Gone Fishing, the sequel to the bestselling The Briny Cafe, tells us her five favourite books of all time.


 by Tim Winton

It reminds me of what it is to be deeply Australian – the good, the bad, the ugly and the very, very funny.

From separate catastrophes two rural families flee to the city and find themselves sharing a great, breathing, shuddering joint called Cloudstreet, where they begin their lives again from scratch. For twenty years they roister and rankle, laugh and curse until the roof over their heads becomes a home for their hearts. Tim Winton’s funny, sprawling saga is an epic novel of…more

A Fortunate Life

by A.B. Facey

Anyone who thinks they had it tough should read this book. The integrity and decency of this man shines through and inspires.

Born in 1894, Facey lived the rough frontier life of a sheep farmer, survived the gore of Gallipoli, raised a family through the Depression and spent sixty years with his beloved wife, Evelyn. Despite enduring hardships we can barely imagine today, Facey always saw his life as a ‘fortunate’ one.

A true classic of Australian literature, his simply written autobiography is an inspiration. It is the story of…more

The Book Thief

by Marcus Zusak

The most original writing I’ve read for years. It makes you look at the world from a different perspective.

It is 1939. Nazi Germany. The country is holding its breath. Death has never been busier, and will become busier still.

Liesel Meminger and her younger brother are being taken by their mother to live with a foster family outside Munich. Liesel’s father was taken away on the breath of a single, unfamiliar word – Kommunist – and Liesel sees the fear of a similar fate in her mother’s eyes. On the journey, Death visits the young boy, and notices Liesel. It will be the first of many near encounters. By her brother’s graveside, Liesel’s life is changed when she…more

The Thorn Birds

by Colleen McCullough

I read this while I was living in New York. I wanted to get on the next plane home.

Treasured by readers around the world, this is the sweeping saga of three generations of the Cleary family. Stoic matriarch Fee, her devoted husband, Paddy, and their headstrong daughter, Meggie, experience joy, sadness and magnificent triumph in the cruel Australian outback. With life’s unpredictability, it is love that is their unifying thread, but it is a love shadowed by the anguish of forbidden passions. For Meggie loves Father Ralph de Bricassart, a man who wields enormous power within the Catholic church…more

The Cook’s Companion

by Stephanie Alexander

One of the first books to document Australian ingredients and tell us how to use them, it’s an encyclopedia of food.

The Cook’s Companion has established itself as the kitchen ‘bible’ in over 300,000 homes since it was first published in 1996.  Stephanie Alexander has added over 300 new recipes as well as 12 new chapters to this thoroughly revised and updated edition. Stephanie believes that good food is essential to living well: her book is for everyone, every day. She has invaluable information about ingredients, cooking techniques and kitchen equipment, along with…more

Susan Duncan enjoyed a 25-year career spanning radio, newspaper and magazine journalism, including editing two of Australia’s top selling women’s magazines, The Australian Women’s Weekly and New Idea. She now lives in her own patch of offshore paradise, Pittwater, with her second husband, Bob, in the beautiful home built for poet Dorothea Mackellar in 1925.

Susan’s bestselling memoir, Salvation Creek, won the 2007 Nielsen BookData Booksellers Choice Award and was shortlisted for the prestigious Dobbie Award, part of the Nita B Kibble awards for women writers. Its sequel, The House at Salvation Creek, was also a huge bestseller. She has now turned her hand to fiction and is the author of two novels: The Briny Cafe and Gone Fishing.

gone-fishingGone Fishing

by Susan Duncan

For bargeman Sam Scully, life in Cook’s Basin is nothing short of paradise. A wonderland of golden sand and turquoise waters, battered old tinnies and wonky pontoons, it’s a realm unspoilt by the modern world.

But then a notice goes up in the Square that screams ‘EXCLUSIVE DEVELOPMENT!’

Paradise is about to be ripped apart.

With plans underway to build a flash resort in the heart of their community, the residents leap into action – with Sam as their leader, and a twelve-foot papier-mache cockatoo as their mascot . . . But it’s never going to be easy to turn the tide of ‘progress’.

Meanwhile there’s trouble brewing at the Briny Café. Kate Jackson is struggling to come to terms with the dreadful secret spilled on her mother’s deathbed. And as for Kate’s co-owner, Ettie Brookbank… Well, what is happening to Ettie?

Susan Wyndham: On Losing a Parent

Click here for more details or to buy My Mother, My FatherAfter my 2008 book Life in His Hands, about the Sydney neurosurgeon Charlie Teo and his patient Aaron McMillan, a young pianist who had brain cancer, I declared that I would never write another book about illness and death. But then my mother died.

Mum faded away so slowly that I didn’t even admit to myself that she was dying. I was an only child and she had been divorced and on her own since I was a small child, so we’d had a close relationship.

I was alone with her when she died at home. Mum was 82 and you could say – in that dreadful cliché – ‘‘she’d had a good innings’’, so her death wasn’t a tragedy. You could even say it was a relatively peaceful death.

But for me it was a devastating shock. I wasn’t prepared for it at all. And in the months after she died I was wracked by all sorts of complicated thoughts and feelings.

Apart from the great absence she left, I was filled with guilt and regrets. I felt the pain of her suffering and played her death over and over in my mind. I felt I hadn’t shown her enough love and care. I had lost the person who had loved me most and longest, and with her went part of my identity and purpose. I became terribly aware of my own mortality and the brevity of life.

None of those feelings are unique to me but until you experience them you have no idea how they can bowl you over. The thing that saved me was talking to other people, hearing their stories and telling them mine. Hearing what other people went through and how they survived helped me to feel less alone and less crazy. And I realised that as a baby boomer I was surrounded by people in the same phase of life.Susan Wyndham

Towards the end of 2011 I was at a party and found myself talking to Jane Palfreyman, a publisher at Allen & Unwin whose father had also died that year. As we stood there tearily sympathising I asked, ‘‘Do you think there’s a book in this?’’ ‘‘Yes, I do,’’ she said.

So I commissioned the 13 other writers who are in My Mother, My Father. Some were people whose stories I partly knew, others were writers I admired and hoped would have something interesting to say. We could all see that we might help other people by sharing our individual stories about those great universal themes of life, death, families, love and all its complications.

Each story is beautiful and tough and moving – and sometimes funny – in its own way. I hope readers will find stories with particular meaning and resonance for them.

Thank you for sharing this with us Susan.

Click here for more details or to buy My Mother, My FatherMy Mother, My Father

edited by Susan Wyndham

Some of Australia’s best known writers share their wise and searingly honest experiences of losing a parent.

The loss of a parent is an experience that we all face without any training – relating to a parent through old age and illness; going through the actual death in different circumstances and whether we can help parents to have a good death; the emotional aftermath – shock, grief, relief, the effect on families; funerals, wills and other rituals; clearing out the house and keeping memories alive; recovery and carrying on with life; the longer-term changes in us and our relationship with our parents.

Edited by Sydney Morning Herald literary editor, journalist and writer Susan Wyndham, My Mother, My Father is a collection of stories from 14 remarkable Australian writers, sharing what it is to feel loss, and all the experiences and memories that create the image of our parents. Contributors include Helen Garner, David Marr, Tom Keneally, Gerard Windsor, Susan Duncan and Caroline Baum.

These stories are intimate, honest, moving, sometimes funny, never sentimental, and always well written.

About the Editor

Susan Wyndham is the literary editor of The Sydney Morning Herald. In her career as a journalist she has been editor of Good Weekend magazine, New York correspondent for The Australian and a deputy editor of the Herald. She is the author of Life In His Hands: The True Story of a Neurosurgeon and a Pianist, and has edited and contributed to several other books.

Click here to order a copy of My Mother, My Father from Booktopia,
Australia’s Local Bookshop

Get Reading with Booktopia

Here is a question for you. Is there a scent that you associate with books? I don’t mean the smell of the paper, or the leather when you walk into a room full of old books. I mean, is there a smell that immediately transports you to reading heaven? Do you associate a perfume with a particular memory of reading, or a particular book?

For me, it is an easy ask. The minute I catch even a whiff of jasmine, I am in sensory heaven – jasmine poking through the paling fence, a sprig or two tucked behind one ear, sun on my back, book in my hand, sheltered from the cold early spring wind in a walled courtyard, pot of tea steaming by my Continue reading

The Briny Café by Susan Duncan: Review by Toni Whitmont

I am the first to admit that I was a late comer to the Susan Duncan phenomenon. I had plenty of recommendations for Salvation Creek from happy customers, but I didn’t actually get around to reading any of her books until I interviewed her on the publication of A Life on Pittwater, the wonderful visual memoir of the community on the islands off the northern most tip of Sydney.

There is a clip of that interview here.

A couple of weeks ago we were able to source a supply of her two memoirs plus A Life on Pittwater in a pack, and we sold nearly 100 of them in a about 10 days, such is the measure of enthusiasm amongst the reading public for her story.

And so to The Briny Café, Susan’s very first novel.

What works so well about this book is that it is based on a fictitious water-accessed community already so familiar to us from Salvation Creek. More importantly it plays to that deep yearning for both community, and connection, that so many people experience.

The main character is Ettie Brookbank, a woman in her 50s who is central to everyone’s lives in sleepy Cook’s Basin, only accessible by boat. The community is held together by The Briny Café, a sagging, decrepit, weatherboard construct that is in danger of collapsing down into its moorings.

The Briny Café is a book where nothing much happens – and I say that as a good thing. The focus is on the characters, the vignettes of interaction, the integration of new comer, the allowances for small eccentricities, the cementing of some relationships, the fracturing of others. Yes, there is a villain of the piece, and yes, he is pretty nasty, but the book is essentially about ordinary people doing ordinary things in a most extraordinary location – and finding their place.

Don’t misunderstand me. The Briny Café shines. It is the simplicity of the tale, the familiarity of the characters that makes it work so wonderfully. Susan avoids cliché while offering something that we all really want – to feel good about life, to feel good about other people, and to get some respite from the stuff of everyday madness.

The Briny Café is warm, engaging, nourishing and refreshing. Settling down to read it is rather like settling down to a good cup of tea and one of Ettie’s famous raspberry muffins.

The Briny Café is a September release and is available to pre-order here. Meanwhile, go here to read Susan Duncan’s answers to our Ten Terrifying Questions.

Susan Duncan, author of The Briny Café, answers Ten Terrifying Questions

 The Booktopia Book Guru asks

Susan Duncan

author of The Briny Café

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 Albury, on the NSW and Victorian border and raised until the age of ten, at nearby Bonegilla Migrant Camp. Later, I attended Clyde School, a girls’ boarding school at Woodend,  that has now been amalgamated with Geelong Grammar.

2.  What did you want to be when you were Continue reading

Fast movers from November’s Booktopia Buzz

The November Booktopia Buzz is up on the site and I always like to have a look at it about 6 hours after we’ve sent it to our customers, just to see what is really moving.  After all, there is so much about bookselling that is speculative, trying to anticipate the fickle and diverse taste of readers. You can imagine then how I pour over the figures the day the newsletter goes out. Those first few hours gives me a really good  indication of what is going to be hot and what is not.

Of course, the best surprise is when I have to do a top up order even before the book is published. From time to time we actually have pre-sell all of our stock, and then have to scramble to supply customers who actually wait pub date to put in their orders.

So, any guesses for the top five for November from the latest Buzz?

Go to Booktopia Buzz and check it out. See how much you are in accord with the wider book buying public.

And the winners are….(or at least, these are the titles which I have had to re-order today)



9781741666694-pittwater 9780007241552songdaylight




And what about the one that I didn’t put in Booktopia Buzz but I should have?

Everyone is going crazy for John Ilhan: A Crazy Life.


Susan Duncan’s A Life on Pittwater – in a word, stunning

9781741666694-pittwaterI had a real treat last week. I managed to get a sneak peak at the Anthony Ong and Susan Duncan take on Pittwater, called appropriately, A Life on Pittwater.

This is the “little guide book” that Susan set out to write all those years ago, before it got waylaid, turning up instead as her eminently readable memoirs, Salvation Creek and The House at Salvation Creek.

I certainly came to the Salvation Creek books late (in fact I think I must be just about the last person in the world to have read them) but last weekend I completely fell under their spell. Susan is a great communicator and manages to tell her story in a way that it becomes an “every woman” story.

Well, her original little guide book as she refers to it, never did get written. What is about to hit the shelves (from November 1 but plenty of people are pre-ordering) is the very warm and vibrant A Life on Pittwater. This book is beautiful to look at, a treat to read, and an absolute celebration of community. While the topic is ostensibly about Pittwater, (and certainly this bush-meets-waterways gem on Sydney’s northern most tip is quite unique), I would feel it makes the most appropriate gift to anyone who wants to get a sense of what Australia can be at its best. And Anthony Ong’s photography completely captures the essence and spirit of Pittwater.

A nervous Susan had just got the thumbs up from her neighbours when we recorded this interview last week.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 15,962 other followers

%d bloggers like this: