Special Interview — Sherri Crichton

Dragon Teeth_Michael Crichton.jpgIn circumstances that sound very much like the stuff of great fiction, the widow of late Jurassic Park author Michael Crichton recently discovered a previously unpublished manuscript among his extensive archives, and arranged for its worldwide release this month — to immediate popular and critical acclaim.

Sherri Crichton and a team from the Michael Crichton Archives discovered the manuscript for Dragon Teeth among thousands of folders and more than a million digital files the author amassed before his death in 2008.

Set in America’s “Wild West”, in the 1870s, the new novel takes readers back to early discoveries of fossilised dinosaur bones, and is a fictionalised account of the professional and personal rivalries of two real-life paleaontologists from the era, Edward Drinker Cope and Othniel Charles Marsh.

In Dragon Teeth, young Yale student William Johnson joins a field trip from Philadelphia to the Wyoming, Montana and Dakota territories and is confronted by deception and danger at every turn. Along the way, Johnson makes the acquaintance of a couple of well-known characters in Deadwood — Wyatt and Morgan Earp — and learns of the defeat of one George Armstrong Custer, at the Battle of the Little Bighorn.

In my review for The West Australian, I describe it as a “boy’s-own adventure in Crichton’s fast-paced, gripping style, peppered with enough facts and historical figures to give it the ring of authenticity”. It’s a story that held my attention from go to whoa, and had me wide awake into the wee small hours to finish it — because I couldn’t wait until daylight to find out what happened in the end.

Through her agents at HarperCollins, Sherri Crichton gave me permission to share her answers to my interview questions on this blog. Sherri also provided an image of herself and Michael. Sit back, relax and enjoy what she had to say…

Sherri and Michael Crichton. Photo courtesy Sherri Crichton

Sherri and Michael Crichton. Photo courtesy Sherri Crichton.

ME: Sherri, please tell me a little bit about how and when the manuscript for Dragon Teeth was discovered?

SC: When Michael passed away in 2008, he left behind a library of his life’s work so extensive it could rival that of any writer of this century. He was constantly researching, clipping articles and taking notes – all saved in thousands of folders, which filled rooms of filing cabinets and included over a million digital files. My team and I have spent years creating his Archive by cataloguing and organizing his papers, book manuscripts, screenplays, and thousands of pages of detailed notes.

In 2014 I came across the complete unpublished manuscript for Dragon Teeth and immediately recognized it as ‘pure Crichton’ from start to finish.

ME: What shape was the manuscript in when it was found?

SC: The manuscript was complete. It was literally something that Michael worked on for years then finished, but decided to put aside to publish at a later date. Jurassic Park, his ‘other’ dinosaur story took precedence… and I am thrilled that it is now being published.

ME: And what sort of work was involved in getting the manuscript into its current form, ready for publication and release? Who was directly involved in this process?

SC: I worked very closely with our publisher. The manuscript was in perfect shape, but I felt this was the opportunity to package the book in true Crichton style. [Designer and illustrator] Will Staehle designed the jacket and we then decided there should be a map inside the book, retracing the journey that the hero of the story takes; this was designed by [New Jersey-based cartographer] Nick Springer. And the type itself, as well as the design, were all very carefully designed and selected, working directly with Lucy Albanese [HarperCollins Publishers Design Director]. A lot of collaborative team work went into creating a very special book; a book Michael would be proud of.

ME: What did you personally enjoy most about reading this story?

SC: It just read effortlessly – you are immediately drawn into the world of this young man, William Johnson. It’s full of historical facts and references, but it all feels organic to the journey Johnson undertakes. There’s also a lot of humor amidst great adventure ~ pure Crichton. It’s very similar in tone to Michael’s The Great Train Robbery.

ME: In researching this novel (and those “other dinosaur novels”), did Michael visit paleontological dig sites, to spend time with palaeontologists while they worked?

SC: Michael travelled across the US for this book. We have some records of conversations he had with various palaeontologists and, as always, he read many books and did a lot of research (at the back of Dragon Teeth you will find the bibliography.) We even found photos of Michael in the Deadwood region, as well as the maps he followed to create Johnson’s journey. As was the case with all of his books, he immersed himself into the world of which he wrote.

ME: Even in this age of information overload, and time-consuming digital technology and social media, why do you think the idea of dinosaurs remains so fascinating for generation after generation?

SC: I think it has to do with our fascination with where the world started, and where we come from. Jurassic Park really showcased that desire man has to recreate the past. In Dragon Teeth, Michael explored the birth of palaeontology, as well as the character of the men who were its founding fathers—what drove them, and how their research drove them to extremes.

ME: There is an overall sense of grandeur and wonder in the landscapes and situations that Michael describes in this book. While I loved “seeing” his vividly described scenarios in my mind, I kept thinking Dragon Teeth would make an exceptional movie or TV series. Are there any plans to have the story retold for the big or small screen?

SC: Yes, we are very excited to have partnered with Amblin Television, Sony TV and NatGeo, and are creating a mini-series with writers Graham Yost and Bruce McKenna [co-writers of Band of Brothers].

ME: In the Afterword for the proof copy, you mention that you can trace the birth of Dragon Teeth to a 1974 letter to the curator of vertebrate palaeontology at the American Museum of Natural History. Are you able to reveal what that letter was about? Has that curator had the opportunity to read a copy of the finished novel and, if so, what did they think?

SC: Yes, it was one of Michael’s very first steps into researching the story. He wrote a letter to Edwin H. Colbert, in 1974 Curator of Vertebrate Palaeontology at the American Museum of Natural History, looking to gather information on Cope and Marsh, as well as any additional input Colbert might have to guide him. It took Mr. Colbert nearly two years to answer, but when he did he offered up a host of references, some of which proved very useful to Michael’s story. Mr. Colbert passed away in 2001. We have calls in to his family and look forward to sharing the book with them.

ME: In the Afterword, you also refer to the Michael Crichton Archives. Can you tell me a little bit more about that, please?

SC: For the past several years, I have dedicated myself to preserving Michael’s legacy through the creation of the Michael Crichton Archives. The archive is a way to embrace not only the finished works but also his research and his ideas, in the hopes of sharing them with his fans today— and with future generations.

Along with my team, I am working to create an additional archive that will serve as the basis for a new educational platform based on Michael’s writing. I believe that Michael’s work is more relevant today than ever and can be used to spark the curiosity and passion for learning—as well as imagination—in readers of all generations.

ME: This final question is one I ask with a measure of hope… Are there more recently discovered Michael Crichton manuscripts that we can look forward to seeing published in future? I’ve got my fingers crossed!

SC: Yes… There will be more exciting news about Michael Crichton in the near future!

Thank you so much, Maureen. I am deeply grateful for the opportunity to speak about Dragon Teeth and to offer a peek into the history. I’m so thrilled that you enjoyed the read.

Dragon Teeth is published by HarperCollins, rrp $32.99.

Shelf Aware — Alan Carter

Author Alan Carter, 21NOV10. PHOTO MEGAN LEWIS

Alan Carter — author.

Crime writer and television documentary director Alan Carter has been visiting Western Australia in the past few days, to promote the June 1 release of his latest novel, Marlborough Man (Fremantle Press). It’s a fast-paced, gritty and witty tale set in the spectacularly beautiful Marlborough Sounds region of New Zealand (where some of my favourite wines are produced), and it had me totally engrossed from the first page to the last. In fact, I’m already eagerly awaiting a sequel (no pressure, Alan).

In Marlborough Man, Sergeant Nick Chester has been relocated to the remote and idyllic Marlborough Sounds region of New Zealand with his wife and son, after an undercover operation in the UK goes horribly wrong. While maintaining a low profile in his new post, Nick and colleague Constable Latifa Rapata have their hands full trying to catch whoever is snatching, torturing and killing children. Add to the mix the threat of discovery by the mobsters Nick outsmarted back in the UK, trigger-happy hunters close to his new home, and his wife’s growing concerns about the family’s safety, and you’ve got a tale that will keep you gripped into the wee small hours.

For me, Nick Chester has the same sort of appeal as one of my all-time favourite fictional crime fighters, Ian Rankin’s Inspector John Rebus — with that attractive combination of innate intelligence, contempt for authority and black humour. The repartee between Nick and Latifa was a delightful bonus.

Alan’s previously published works are also impressive. He is the author of three Cato Kwong novels — Prime Cut, Getting Warmer and Bad Seed — which are published in Germany, France, Spain, the UK and the USA. And he has been shortlisted for the prestigious UK CWA Debut Dagger Award, was runner-up in the Penguin Crime Writing Competition, and won the Ned Kelly Award for Best First Fiction.

Born in Sunderland, in the UK, Alan immigrated to Australia in 1991, and now divides his time between his house near the beach, in Fremantle, Western Australia, and a hobby farm in a “remote-ish” valley in New Zealand (check out the view from his home, in the images below). In his spare time, Alan “follows a black line up and down the local swimming pool”.

Some of Sergeant Nick’s dry, self-deprecating wit is evident in Alan’s responses to my Shelf Aware questions, which had me laughing out loud and left me with a smile on my face. I hope you also enjoy what he has to say — and I recommend you look out for Marlborough Man in good bookshops. It’s a cracker!

Q. Alan, how would you describe the work that you do and how you do it?

A. I write crime fiction, I sit every day at the kitchen table and conjure up terrible things… and funny things, and suspenseful, and moving. Well I try my best anyway.

Q. What projects are you currently working on or do you have in the pipeline?

A. I have written 3 ‘Cato Kwong’ thrillers and am about to release a new stand-alone story set in New Zealand — Marlborough Man — due out 1/6/17. I am currently writing a 4th ‘Cato Kwong’ book.

Q. Where are the main bookcases in your home or office? Do you also keep books in other places at home (or elsewhere)?DSCN0360

A. The main bookcases are in the living area/room. I am more likely to read than watch tv these days. There’s also a granny flat with three large boxes full of books. I’ve also got a fair few on my kindle for when I need to travel light.

Q. How are your books organised/arranged?

A. No real system but I do tend to have them grouped under the same author but not necessarily alphabetic or date order. It’s like vegies on a plate, peas all together, carrots altogether. Dollop of spud…

Q. What sorts of books predominate?

A. Crime fiction predominates but sometimes I’ll chuck in something deep and literary or even factual or biographic so people don’t take me for granted. I’m also in a book club and they tend to make me read deeper, artier stuff.

Q. Describe your favourite reading place.DSCN0361

A. We have a house overlooking a river and remote-ish valley in New Zealand and a chair by the window and sometimes I feel like I can flip from book to view and back again all day.

Q. What book/s are you reading right now? Why did you choose that book/those books and what do you think of it/them so far?

A. As it’s tied in to an area of study I’m following I’m reading a whole series of crime books in the ‘Islands’ genre, set in the archipelago to Australia’s north and interrogating, sometimes, Australia’s relationships with its near neighbours. Charlotte Jay’s Beat Not the Bones in a thinly-disguised PNG, Christopher Koch’s The Year of Living Dangerously, Andrew Nette’s Blood Money. Plus a whole heap of related and sometimes turgid academic texts. Beat Not the Bones is a revelation.

Q. What are your favourite books and/or who are your favourite authors?

A. I’m a welded-on fan of Ian Rankin’s Rebus series, plus I’m enjoying Adrian McKinty’s ‘Sean Duffy’ universe. Two books I return to every decade or so are Robert Graves’ I, Claudius and Claudius the God.

Q. In the event of an emergency, if you could save just three books from your collection, which books would they be – and why would you choose them?nursing-mothers-cookbook

A. Having now experienced a significant earthquake in NZ (plus a local flood the following day) emergencies are closer to home these days. I would save whichever book I’m writing onto my thumb drive if I’ve neglected to email it to myself recently. Plus the manual for the chainsaw if we have to cut our way out of there. And maybe The Nursing Mother’s Cookbook – some mighty fine emergency recipes in there.

Q. If you could sit down for afternoon tea with your three favourite characters or authors (or poets, or illustrators), who would they be, what would you serve them, and what would like to talk to them about?

A. Sean Duffy would get a vodka gimlet in a pint glass and a spliff (though he’ll need to roll his own), John Rebus a stiff measure of highland park, and Cato Kwong a mug of strong flat white, no froth. I’d show them the stunning view out of Marlborough Man’s window then we’d sit on the back balcony, slap on some sandfly repellent, and talk about the world going to hell in a handbasket and what it takes to keep on keeping on.

Find out more about Alan here:


Publisher’s website

#alancarterauthor #crimefiction #fremantlepress #catokwong #primecut #gettingwarmer #badseed #marlboroughman #newzealandwriter #newzealandauthor #nedkellyaward 

Shelf Aware — Terri-ann White


UWA Publishing Director Terri-ann White.

“We produce beautiful books that bristle and shimmer with life.”

The words on the UWA Publishing website say it all, really. This is a publishing house with a reputation for bringing to the world books of great beauty and great substance, and sharing with readers stories, poetry, art, natural history and non-fiction works of lasting significance. UWA Publishing is also the home of the Dorothy Hewett Award for an Unpublished Manuscript, established in 2015 to “celebrate the life and writing of an Australian radical writer”.

At the helm of the small but dedicated team at this remarkable publishing house is my latest guest blogger, UWA Publishing Director Terri-ann White, whose passion for books and love of language is clearly evident in her responses to my questions, below. If you are not already following Terri-ann, and UWA Publishing, on Twitter and Instagram, I recommend that you do. You will be rewarded with insightful, thought-provoking words and images about the world of publishing.

For now, take a few minutes to sit back and appreciate what Terri-ann has to say about her favourite authors and books–and have a close look at some of the titles on her beautiful bookshelves. What could be more satisfying than waking up to see so many treasures just a few steps away?

Q. Terri-ann, how would you describe the work that you do and how you do it?

A. All of my working life has been conducted around books: in bookshops, classrooms, festivals and now in a publishing house. I’ve been Director of UWA Publishing since 2006. We are a tiny team and I’m an all-rounder member of the team concerned with ensuring everyone is satisfied and has what they need to make working life a great experience. I commission and sign up authors and books, and wherever I can I’ll talk about my favourite books for as long as my voice holds out. This guest blog is a perfect opportunity.

Q. What projects are you currently working on or do you have in the pipeline?

Collected Poems of Fay Zwicky_coverA. We publish around 32 books each year at UWAP so we are always working across a three-year span and this makes life interesting. At the moment we are finalising the May and October titles in our UWAP Poetry series—those 8 new titles give us a total of 18 new poetry books since October 2016. To write that down as I have just done is remarkable and makes my head spin: no other publisher in Australia is releasing so many poetry books.

This is a new series, and an initiative that has come from the dire state of arts funding in Australia since 2015. We are rescuing a number of excellent books that lost their homes in smaller publishing houses when funding was cut holus bolus across Australia in 2015.

Another book—not in that series—that I am anticipating with great pleasure and very proud to be the publisher of is the Collected Poems of Fay Zwicky, the sublime and wonderful Perth-based poet. It is richer and more impressive than I–as a huge fan—was expecting and will bring a new audience to the poetry that Fay has made over the last 50 years.

We are currently editing Drawing Sybylla, by Odette Kelada, this year’s winner of the Dorothy Hewett Award for an Unpublished Manuscript. It’s a real find, this one: a meditation on the lives and work of women writers, with particular reference to Australian women writers from the start of the 20th century. Highly imaginative as well as doing a balancing act between lyricism, wryness and sass.

Finally, a memoir by Marion May Campbell, formerly Perth-based and now in Melbourne, that’ll be published in 2018. Marion examines the life and death of her father and the aftershocks of this event in her childhood and beyond in richly lush language play where small bombs can be detonated at the level of the sentence.

Q. Where are the main bookcases in your home or office? Do you also keep books in other places at home (or elsewhere)?


A. At work, my bookcases are at my back on a wall of built-in shelves. At home they are in my study upstairs in specially made shelving designed by my architect. My bedroom is just two steps up from the study so I wake up looking at the books every morning.

There are also freestanding bookcases in my guest bedroom downstairs: one belonged to my grandfather Paul Raoul Le Comte, a collector of aviation books and history (and a rabid autograph hunter) and another was commissioned by a group of friends and made by one of them for my 25th birthday.  I also have what is called in the book industry a ‘spinner,’ one of those stand-alone display units for paperbacks. I think it’s a Picador unit. It is my nostalgic object from my many years (1983-94) of bookselling in The Arcane Bookshop, in Northbridge, a bookshop I opened after I graduated from university.image6

Q. How are your books organised/arranged?

A. I’m sorry to say that there is no order imposed whatsoever in my home book collection. Ashamed about that but I do seem to have an instinctual connection to them and can regularly find what I am looking for. Recently I quarantined as many of my poetry books I could find and made a separate space for them on one long shelf. Haven’t found them all and still not sure I want them to live together in this way.

Q. What sorts of books predominate?

A. I have a lot of literary fiction, non-fiction, poetry, and illustrated books about art and design. That’s about it. You can track my journey through life and the particular stages of development through these books but you may need me to give you a guided tour. I’d say that every decade since the 1970s is covered and each looks different and not just because of the ageing of paper and the trends of book design.

Q. Describe your favourite reading place.

A. It’s probably my small couch in my lounge room where I am surrounded by mid-century armchairs and glorious big pictures on the walls. I like to lie down with a cushion under my head and my legs squished under me. I look often, and always lovingly, at these pictures by Clyde McGill, Eveline Kotai, Timothy Cook, and Kitty Kantilla in between my reading. Life is good.

Q. What books are you reading right now? Why did you choose that book/those books and what do you think of it/them so far?

A. I am reading the magisterial Svetlana Alexievich, the Russian author who writes about Russia today in all of its aspects and has, I think, developed an extraordinary new form of writing with a polyphony of voices that build through her research and interviewing but build into a collective space rather than an attributable stream of responses to questions from an interviewer. It’s a bit like the results of that post-war American photographic project called The Family of Man that aimed to make a big picture of the state of the nation after the Depression and the long world war and capture the depredations of the American people. But these ones are being made with words. She is a genius.

I’m also reading Pankaj Mishra’s new book, Age of Anger, that attempts to provide antecedents to the current state of global politics with its shouty and dismissive style of denouncing diversity and free thinking. I had dinner once with Pankaj, a great cosmopolitan, at the M on the Bund restaurant in Shanghai, owned by Michelle Garnaut, a wonderful woman from Melbourne who made China her home many years ago. So I’ve read every new book he has published.

Q. What are your favourite books and/or who are your favourite authors?

A. My favourite author, since the early 1980s, is the Canadian short story writer Alice Munro. She continues to teach me how to live. I’ve had a ritual since the 1990s of reading a handful of her stories again every year, so I’ve read her backwards and forwards across my life. Someone once described her this way: her empathy is Shakespearean.

After Alice, I could make a list of beloved authors most of whom I’ve lived with for decades: poet Elizabeth Bishop, the luminous Joan London, Michael Ondaatje, EL Doctorow, Ross Gibson and Marion May Campbell. If you asked me this next week it’d likely be a different list.

Q. In the event of an emergency, if you could save just three books from your collection, which books would they be – and why would you choose them?


A. A first edition of Charles Dickens’ Little Dorrit, a gift from my mother for my 21st birthday. Elizabeth Jolley’s Cabin Fever. Signed for me by my lovely friend Elizabeth, but also holding a cheeky postcard note from her in a secret code she was fond of. I have a bound notebook/journal with the early markings of my writing interests. I’d pick that up because it gives me a direct line back to my younger, former self.

Q. If you could sit down for afternoon tea with your three favourite characters or authors, who would they be, what would you serve them, and what would like to talk to them about?

A. In most cases I’d rather not meet my favourite authors, and certainly not my favourite characters: I can have wonderful congress with them on the page and that is enough.

UWA Publishing Website
Personal Twitter and Instagram
UWA Publishing handle Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

#terriannwhite #uwapublishing #australianbooks #westernaustralianbooks #literature #art #nonfiction #poetrey #dorothyhewettawards #books #reading

Shelf Aware — Nadia L. King

File 18-1-17, 6 00 49 am

Author Nadia L. King. Photo: Louise Allan

When I was asked to compile an end-of-the-year roundup of books that made an impact in 2016, Perth author Nadia L. King’s debut Young Adult novel, Jenna’s Truth (Aulexic), was right at the top of my list. It’s a powerful and poignant anti-bullying story that raises awareness of the insidious impacts of bullying in contemporary times, particularly the effects of cyberbullying. It also deftly, sensitively and honestly raises the themes of teen drinking, sex and suicide. Written as a heartfelt response to the tragic death of Canadian teenager Amanda Todd, Jenna’s Truth is a book that should be read by every pre-teen and every teenager — as well as their parents, and their teachers.

Nadia was born in Dublin, Ireland, and now calls Australia home. She has a background in journalism and media relations and has written for magazines in Europe, Australia, and the US. On her website, Nadia readily admits she “reads voraciously and enthusiastically and inhales books the same way her Labrador inhales dog biscuits”.

I feel honoured to have Nadia as a guest on my blog today. She is an author whose storytelling brings hope to young readers and is, literally, saving lives. I’m sure you’ll enjoy her responses to my questions, including finding out what she’s working on next.

Q. Nadia, how would you describe the work that you do, and how you do it?

A. I’m a blogger, reviewer, author, and short story writer. A million years ago, I started out as a journalist and I worked in corporate communications and media relations for about a decade. Now I try to write fiction.

Q. What is your latest project, and/or what do you have in the pipeline?

A. I’m currently in the research and planning phase of my second book. It’s a YA novel and the story is centred around seventeen-year-old Jack, whose obsession is manga and graff. Jack hasn’t quite worked out who he is or where his sexual orientation lies. I obviously have to work on my blurb!

Q. Where are the main bookcases in your home or office? Do you also keep books in other places at home (or elsewhere)?

A. Although I have a large number of books on my Kindle, nothing beats holding a physical book in your hands. Alas, our home lacks a library but we have a large bookcase in the hallway by the stairs. There are a few other bookcases around the house but there are many more piles of books. Thank goodness my husband isn’t too bothered by the growing piles of books which seem to spring from nowhere.

Q. How are your books organised/arranged?

A. I would love to impress you with my organisational skills. I have a loose system of organisation. Actually, confession time — it’s so loose it’s basically non-existent. I try to keep all my poetry books, my short story collections, and books by each author grouped together but ultimately space dictates where each book lives. I have been known to jam books wherever they will fit.

Q. What sorts of books predominate?

A. Classics and general fiction predominate in my collection. I’m also interested in history and art so there are quite a few books from those topics on my shelves or in piles ;). I have a collection of Daphne Du Maurier’s works, a 1906 collection of Dickens’ writings, and a complete set of The Masterpiece Library of Short Stories — The Thousand Best Complete Tales of all Time and all Countries which I think is dated around 1920.

Q. Describe your favourite reading place.

A. I can read anywhere but my favourite place to read is on my bed. Usually with a few pillows behind my head and one of our cats by my side. I read every day without fail.

Q. What book/s are you reading right now? Why did you choose that book/those books and what do you think of it/them so far?

A. I’m currently reading three books. Through an online book club, I’m reading Cervantes’ Don Quixote for the first time. I have read precisely two pages so I can’t illuminate you on my reading but I can say I’m rather intimidated by the book; both by its size and age (it was written over four hundred years ago).

This week, the lovely people at Text Publishing sent me an advance copy of Night Swimming by YA author, Steph Bowe. It’s a coming-of-age story and deals with complex issues but it also has crop circles, a girl who loves her goat, her family and her best friend, who is intent on putting on a musical in the small rural NSW town in which they live. I’m about a quarter of the way through and I am loving it.

Father Christmas brought me Murakami and Ozawa’s Absolutely on Music. I am an adult learner of the piano and have zero musical education so I’m really enjoying
Murakami’s interviews with the Maestro which cover everything from Beethoven to pop-up orchestras.

Q. What are your favourite books and/or who are your favourite authors?

A. My favourite books are Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami and Jane Austen’s novels. Last year, I read The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath and it left me bereft so it’s way up there with my favourite books. I simply adore Australian author, Favel Parett’s writing and her book Past the Shallows is a must-read for all literate humans!

Q. In the event of an emergency, if you could save just three books from your collection, which books would they be – and why would you choose them?

A. I have a Folio collection of Jane Austen’s novels in a cardboard sleeve which lives on my desk and that would be my first pick in a house-fire. I also have a large volume of That Glimpse of Truth: 100 of the Finest Short Stories Ever Written and I would be tempted to try and grab that as I raced out. By that stage, my hands would be so full I’m not sure I could carry anything else!

Q. If you could sit down for afternoon tea with your three favourite characters or authors, who would they be, what would you serve them, and what would like to talk to them about?

A. One of my fantasies is to drink champers with F Scott Fitzgerald and I admit to being slightly obsessed with Ernest Hemingway. One day, I would also love to meet Haruki Murakami and Favel Parret. If we could use the Tardis and get all these brilliant writers together I would serve bubbles, pink Gin, smelly French cheese, apples, sushi, and Japanese cakes. I’m not sure how they would get on, or if they would like my selection of food, but I would love to grill them on self-doubt, the writing process, and how writers should use Twitter. I can imagine Fitzgerald and Hemingway getting into a fight and both demanding hard liquor (they apparently had an ambivalent friendship). I would probably corner Murakami at some point and ask him to look over my outline for Jack’s story!

Follow Nadia on Instagram , Twitter, and Goodreads.

#nadialking #jennastruth #yafiction #aulexic #teenagers #cuberbullying #suicide #australianwomenauthors #irishwriters #shortfiction

Shelf Aware — Rashida Murphy

RashidaThe first time I read the blurb for Rashida Murphy’s debut novel, The Historian’s Daughter (UWA Publishing), I knew this was a book I’d love:

“In an old house with ‘too many windows and women’, high in the Indian hills, young Hannah lives with her older sister Gloria; her two older brothers; her mother — the Magician; a colourful assortment of aunts, blow-ins and misfits; and her father — the Historian…”

Little did I know that the woman who wrote these alluring lines would also be a gentle soul and a kindred spirit — a softly spoken individual, with a heart filled with compassion and kindness, and an unwavering commitment to inclusion, diversity and equality.

Written as part of a PhD, The Historian’s Daughter is one of those novels that gently lulls you with the beauty of its language and sentence structure, with a compelling plot, and characters who are at once completely original yet recognisable from personal experience. Underneath the beauty of the writing, though, is a haunting story of secrets, lies, jealousies, love, loss, family and, finally, a sense of hope and self recognition for protagonist Hannah. I cannot recommend it highly enough, particularly to readers who value writing that is precisely evocative, emotionally satisfying and thought-provoking.

As her website reveals, Rashida’s short fiction and poetry has been published in various international literary journals and anthologies, including the Westerly, Open Road Review, and Veils Halos and Shackles. In 2015, The Historian’s Daughter was shortlisted in the Scottish Dundee International Book Prize, and in 2016 Rashida was a guest editor at the Westerly and Books Editor at Cafe Dissensus.

Rashida has a Masters in English Literature and a PhD in Writing from Edith Cowan University. She has taught ESL (English as a Second Language) and worked as an education lecturer. In 2016 she was the joint winner of the Magdalena Prize for feminist research for her thesis, which includes The Historian’s Daughter. Rashida lives in Perth with her husband and “visiting wildlife”.

As you will see, Rashida’s responses to my Shelf Aware questions reflect her passion for quality literary fiction, her innate intelligence, her genuine warmth and a delightful wit. As a tale about mother-daughter relationships, The Historian’s Daughter would be a perfect Mother’s Day choice for those who appreciate a story that will enfold them in its portrayal of family life, with characters and a plot that will remain long after the final page is turned. Enjoy!

Q. Rashida, how would you describe the work you do and how you do it?Rashida Historian_s_Daughter_Cover_1024x1024

A. It’s taken me a while to own this reality – I’m a writer and I write. Badly on some days, occasionally well, and sometimes I even finish a whole piece – usually a story, poem or essay. Most of the pieces I’m happy about arrive whole, which means I write them in a single day, over a few hours. The ones that trouble me most are the stories that I think are great, only to have them rejected by a few journals. Then there are some that are almost but not quite there and I especially like these – they trouble me, haunt me and won’t leave me alone. That sounds masochistic, but I think anyone who writes must admit to a melancholy sort of masochism occasionally.

Q. What is your latest project and/or what do you have in the pipeline?

A. I’m working on my second novel, tentatively titled, Leaving Canterbury, and I’m not sure where it’s going at the moment. I’ve got about 25,000 words and I’m enjoying it in a way I didn’t enjoy The Historian’s Daughter. Trust a PhD to take the fun out of writing. I’m also working on essays and short stories and poems. I need to do this while I write a longer work. I noticed that when I was trying to ‘just’ write a novel. The most productive period for me seems to be when I ought to be writing The Great Indo-Australian Novel – stories and poems burst forth from the confines of my confused mind.

Q. Where are the main bookcases in your home or office? Do you also keep books in other places at home (or elsewhere)?

A. My books are everywhere, especially at the moment. We’ve moved homes from north to south, and my books are waiting for shelves.* Here’s a picture of my former bookshelf, built by my clever husband who actually just got tired of buying me bookshelves every year. It held over a thousand books. Sadly, I had to leave it behind.Rashida shelf 1

At the present time, most of my reference and beloved books are unpacked and stacked wherever I can find space. I have journals that I think I collect because they are beautiful, although I do occasionally use them. This is my current study.

Q. How are your books organised or arranged?

A. I arrange books by geography and gender. My largest collection is Australian and Indian women writers, followed by the men. I worried for a long time about putting the Irish next to the English but figured John Banville and James Joyce wouldn’t really mind sitting next to D.H. Lawrence and Thomas Hardy. Ditto with the Russians and Hungarians but Garcia Marquez seems to like Salman Rushdie, who likes William Dalrymple – you understand my confusion? Poetry has its own shelf and is not divided, so Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes and Leonard Cohen cohabit comfortably alongside T.S. Eliot, Annamaria Weldon and Adrienne Rich.

Q. What sorts of books predominate?

Rashida new shelf 2

Book shelves at Rashida’s new home.

A. It’s an eclectic collection simply because I allow my husband’s books to live on some of my shelves. He reads science fiction and builds daleks in his spare time. Occasionally he sneaks one of his books into my collection just to see if I notice. I do. And evict the offending book promptly.

Rashida new shelf

Literary fiction by women dominates my shelves, followed by poetry, history and reference books. I have a lot of books about books with fabulous titles like Trafficking In Old Books, Negotiating With The Dead, The Superior Person’s Book of Words and Eats, Shoots and Leaves. My daughter gave that last one to me and this is what she wrote inside: ‘To my mother, whom I hold responsible for my anally retentive habit of always noticing bad grammar, and assuming that the creator of bad grammar is ignorant. Also, I’m sure that my tendency to create glorious, nonsensical words originates in maternal mistreatment during childhood. Anyway, love you heaps.’ Naturally it’s all perfectly spelled, in neat writing, with commas included.

Q. Describe your favourite reading place.

A. I read everywhere, usually on the couch in the lounge, in my study, on the train, while waiting for someone. I have a book in the car, in my bag, on tables scattered throughout the house. I usually read several books at the same time, except when a book is so fierce it won’t leave me alone and I devote all my time to it.

Q. What books are your reading right now? Why did you choose those books and what do you think of them so far?

A. I’ve got a stash of books from the Perth Writers Festival that I hope to get into later this year. Currently I’m reading two books by Alberto Manguel, The Library at Night and A Reading Diary. I’m loving both. Manguel is a writer I pick up and put down and think about, so I’m also reading poetry by Susan Varga and Amanda Joy and intend to start reading Clementine Ford’s Fight Like a Girl and Madeleine Thein’s Do Not Say We Have Nothing. I have a 50-page rule with books. If it hasn’t gripped me in 50 pages, I leave it and start another. Sometimes I do go back and read it anyway and call it research. I sound like a grasshopper, I know, but really, I’m quite calm and almost human.

Q. What are your favourite books and/or who are your favourite authors?

A. This question would take me about an hour to answer in detail so I’ll stick with contemporary writers for the sake of brevity. I read everything by Kate Atkinson, Kamila Shamsie, Zadie Smith, Margaret Atwood, Salman Rushdie, Nadeem Aslam, William Dalrymple, Helen Garner and Amanda Curtin. That said, I much prefer Rushdie’s earlier works. Midnight’s Children still rates among my top 10 books of all time and The Enchantress of Florence was quite wonderful, unlike the much maligned and rather boring Satanic Verses.

Q. In the event of an emergency, if you could save just three books from your collection, which books would they be — and why would you choose them?

A. I’d prefer to go down with my books than leave them. However, I’d pick the first book my husband bought for me, Harry Potter and The Philosopher’s Stone, with the inscription, “For a little magic in your life”, and Far From the Madding Crowd, by Thomas Hardy, because I’m in love with Gabriel Oak. And I’m sure I’d find room for three others, Amanda Curtin’s Elemental, The Collected Poems of T.S.Eliot and The Douglas Adams Omnibus.

Q. If you could sit down for afternoon tea with your three favourite characters or authors, who would they be, what would you serve them, and what would you like to talk to them about?

A. I’d definitely sit down with Heathcliff from Wuthering Heights for a cuppa, although I imagine a stiff Scotch would probably serve him better. I’d ask him if he would consider me an adequate replacement for Catherine, then, if he said yes, get as far away from him and his moors, because, you know, he’s crazy. I’d love to sip tea with Hiroko Tanaka, who survives the Nagasaki bombings in Burnt Shadows. Kamila Shamsie’s exquisite book begins with this haunting sentence: “Later, the one who survives will remember the day as grey.” And finally I’d invite Jeanette Winterson on a quiet evening walk by the Swan River and chat to her about being happy and being normal and how her mother thought stories were dangerous.


#rashidamurphy #uwapublishing #thehistoriansdaughter #literaryfiction #australianauthors #australianwomenauthors

Shelf Aware — Tracy Farr


When I interviewed New Zealand-based Australian author Tracy Farr for The West Australian and Good Reading magazine earlier this year — ahead of the release of her second novel The Hope Fault (Fremantle Press) — it was like being reunited with a long lost chum. We chatted for more than two hours, about the exquisite prose of the new novel (she was modest and gracious in response to my compliments); the beauty of the area in Western Australia’s South West that provided the inspiration for its setting; and the importance of family, especially, as Tracy said, “extended, messy, non-linear family”.

While her first, critically acclaimed, novel The Life and Loves of Lena Gaunt chronicles the experiences of a passionate, self-absorbed individual across several decades, The Hope Fault focuses on relationships among an ensemble of characters, who are confined to a house and its surrounds for just three days. A secondary storyline offers a backward glimpse, in fragments, at the life of the family matriarch, nearing her 100th birthday.

Inspired in part by a scientific bulletin about a geological fault line in New Zealand’s South Island, The Hope Fault is a subtly deceptive depiction of everyday life, in which it seems at first that nothing much happens, yet so much is going on beneath the surface. Again in Tracy’s words, “It’s a novel about family and, in particular, about steps and exes and in-laws and aunties and fairy godmothers. And it’s very much about parents and partners who are missing, and the people who replace them.” In my words, it’s “a slow-burner that leaves the reader contemplating its many implications long after the last page is turned”. In case you can’t tell, it’s a beautiful story beautifully told.

When I invited Tracy to be a guest on Shelf Aware, I knew that she would put a great deal of time and thought into her responses to my questions, and into her selected photos. As you will see, I wasn’t wrong. I know you’ll enjoy this opportunity to get to know a little bit about Tracy Farr through what she loves to read, and what she holds dear. And, just as a timely reminder, books make excellent gifts for Mother’s Day — especially when the central character is a mother. Enjoy!

Q. Tracy, how would you describe the work that you do and how you do it?

A. I collect, find, chase, and make connections between ideas and words and things, and puzzle them into stories – mostly novels, but also short fiction.

Q. What is your latest project, and/or what do you have in the pipeline?

A. My second novel, The Hope Fault, was published in March, so I’m enjoying the ride and keeping busy – interviews, reviews, events – as the novel finds its way out into the world. This means I’ve been neglecting my third novel, but I’m hoping and planning to get solidly stuck into it this month, once I have a clear schedule. The third novel is in its very early stages, but I’d describe it (so far) as a novel about three sisters, identical triplets, born in an amusement park in the early twentieth century.

Q. Where are the main bookcases in your home or office? Do you also keep books in other places at home (or elsewhere)?


A. Our house is small, tall and skinny with lots of stairs, and the living space is open plan, with not a lot of wall space for bookshelves. So, piles of books accumulate on tables, floor, stairs, sofas – basically any flat (or not so flat) surface. There’s one very pleasing wall of books in the living room, on shelves we had made for the space about five years ago. High shelves in the kitchen hold my cookbooks.

Downstairs, there are bookshelves in my writing room (aka the spare room), and a big old 1940s cabinet that was removed from the wall of our kitchen ten years ago is now a good-sized bookcase in our bedroom. There are more bookshelves in the shared space upstairs next to my son’s bedroom, though the books there are all shelved two or even three deep. We really need to find space for some more bookshelves (and/or get rid of some books).

Q. How are your books organised/arranged?

A. I’d love to be able to tell you otherwise, but our books are organised very badly, or not at all. I seem to operate in two modes: obsessively organised, or explosively messy, and at the moment I’m in a very random and messy phase with books (time to get obsessive!). Books are pulled from shelves (to read, to look something up), then end up in a pile with who-knows-what other unrelated books. The piles (and shelves, and boxes) of books waiting to be read are becoming overwhelming. In my ideal world, though, books’d be organised into fiction (alphabetical by author, with some themes or collections) and non-fiction (loosely by subject) shelves.

Q. What sorts of books predominate?Bedroom-shelf-1

A. Fiction predominates, and I guess you’d call it mostly literary fiction, though crime fiction is well represented. It’s mostly novels, though there are short stories and poetry collections, and plays that mostly date from my uni days; some graphic novels, too. There’s a lot of writing from the three countries I’ve lived in: Australia, Canada and New Zealand. Tracy-Farr-2013-creditLianeMcGee-168

Our non-fiction books lean mostly towards either science or music, with sidelines in film, art, architecture, popular culture, biography. I’ve accumulated some writing reference books, mostly writers writing about writing, though for those I still often dip into what’s in the public library. There are always library books in our house.

Q. Describe your favourite reading place.

A. My favourite reading place is anywhere I can surround myself with pillows and put my feet up, with my cup of tea (and the teapot, for refills) within reach. I love reading in bed (especially in the daytime), or on the sofa. I also love reading outside, especially when it’s cold and I can rug up in uggies and hat and scarf; we have a good space for that at the back of our house, snug and protected from the Wellington wind, where I often read and write.

Q. What book/s are you reading right now? Why did you choose that book/those books and what do you think of it/them so far?

A. I stayed in bed this morning and finished reading Grief is the Thing with Feathers, a slim slip of a book (only about 110 pages, with generous spacing), by Max Porter. It’s a novel, though it feels and reads like a long poem, or a collection of poems. It’s very beautiful, very sad, very funny. I’ve been wanting to read it for ages, and finally bought it for myself a week or so ago, as a treat. Auckland Writers Festival is coming up in the middle of May, so before then I’ll be reading writers I’m in session with (including Susan Faludi, whose memoir In the Darkroom is next on my reading list), or am keen to see (like George Saunders).

Q. What are your favourite books and/or who are your favourite authors?

A. I always go blank when faced with that question, as if it’s too big a concept to consider, so this is an answer for today, for now, not for always. I would read anything Helen Garner wrote – I’d read her shopping lists! – and I love her non-fiction writing, but her fiction (those slim wee books, like The Children’s Bach) is most special to me. I’ve been obsessed with Deborah Levy’s novel (yet another slim one) Swimming Home for some years – I can’t work out why I love it, but I do. An old favourite is Carol Shields’ The Republic of Love.

I return often to A.S. Byatt’s novels (Possession is a favourite). Kirsty Gunn is another writer whose work I love – The Big Music is magnificent. Joan Didion’s book (would you call it memoir?) The Year of Magical Thinking is beautiful and wonderful, measured.

Last year was a year of discoveries, catching up on great writers I’ve somehow missed, like Ann Patchett (Bel Canto, Commonwealth, and her essays and memoir), Elizabeth Hay (A Student of Weather, His Whole Life); wonderful collections of short stories by Elizabeth McCracken (Thunderstruck) and Lucia Berlin (A Manual for Cleaning Women). And closer to home, last year I was sideswiped (in a good way) by the beauty and wonder of Stephen Daisley’s novel Coming Rain, and moved, astonished and delighted by Sarah Laing’s graphic memoir Mansfield and Me.

Q. In the event of an emergency, if you could save just three books from your collection, which books would they be – and why would you choose them?


A. First would have to be my dad’s childhood copy of A.A. Milne’s The House at Pooh Corner (2nd Australian edition, published 1944) (I’d sneak in his copies of Winnie the Pooh and Now We Are Six, too). I’ve been holding this particular book in my hands since I was very young, and it’s so very familiar to me, and very precious. My grandmother inscribed it ‘With loving Xmas wishes from Mummie and Daddy Xmas 1945’; Dad stamped his name in it as a child; and I copied him, writing my own name (and arrows; why the arrows?!) in pencil – the closest I got, even as a very small child, to defacing a book.

I might save my slim copy of Helen Garner’s Postcards from Surfers, particularly now that it’s inscribed by Garner (in the signing queue at Auckland Writers Festival I 2015; I never did manage to introduce myself properly and have a natter other than in the queue, to my regret). I bought the book in Nedlands in 1989, and it was one of just four books I took with me at the start of seven months backpacking. I started reading it in Paris (starting, of course, with the story titled ‘In Paris’) on the first night of my great adventure, eked out its reading over weeks, read and re-read it. I carried it with me for months, and couldn’t bear to swap it at a youth hostel. I sent it back home in a box of treasures, posted from (I recall) somewhere in Greece, perhaps the island of Sifnos.

For the third, I’d be tempted to grab my reading copy of The Life and Loves of Lena Gaunt. It’s getting tattered, but I’ve annotated (in pencil and sticky notes – I still can’t bear to deface books) passages I’ve read over the years, crossed out words and whole paragraphs, arrowed to indicate a skip to the next page to avoid a spoiler or keep to time. It’s signed, too, by some of the writers I shared sessions with in the first festival I was a guest at, Perth Writers Festival in 2014, a tradition introduced to me by Canadian writer D.W. Wilson. I haven’t kept the tradition going, so there are only those few inscriptions (from Dave, Jordi Puntì, Inga Simpson) from February 2014, but I cherish them, marking the start of my public career.

Q. If you could sit down for afternoon tea with your three favourite characters or authors, who would they be, what would you serve them, and what would like to talk to them about?

A. I have often been spectacularly gobsmacked and struck dumb when meeting my writing heroes, so I think I’d be better off meeting fictional humans. Actually, to be even safer, I’d better stick with fictional animals. Perhaps Pooh, Paddington, and Piglet? I’d serve a large pot (or two) of honey for Pooh, marmalade sandwiches for Paddington, haycorns for Piglet. We’d talk about Darkest Peru, where to get a stylish duffle coat, How to Catch a Heffalump, and what it is like to be a Very Small Animal of timid disposition. We would, I hope, sing some songs (Tiddely pom).

Website: tracyfarrauthor.com
Twitter: @hissingswan
Facebook: /tracyfarrauthor