Sasha Wasley’s new novel Dear Banjo was only officially released on June 3, but it’s already generating considerable positive interest on bookish blogs and online reader forums. Set on a cattle station in Western Australia’s remote and spectacular Kimberley region, it’s described in the blurb as a story about “two best friends who were never meant to fall in love”. The ‘Banjo’ of the title is Willow ‘Banjo’ Paterson, whose family owns and runs Paterson Downs station. She and neighbour Tom Forrest were best friends throughout their childhood, until a rift comes between them. Ten years later, after she’s completed a Masters degree and teaching sustainable practices at university, Banjo returns to take over management of Paterson Downs, keen to introduce humane production methods and gain organic certification, and hoping to renew her friendship with Tom. It’s the first of three books in Sasha’s ‘Daughters of the Outback’ series, through Penguin Random House, and heralds the arrival of a significant new talent in Australian rural fiction.
Sasha was born and raised in Perth, Western Australia, and has completed a PhD in cultural theory. According to her biographical notes, she loves “nature, Jane Austen and puns”. She lives in the Swan Valley wine region just outside Perth, with her partner and two daughters, “surrounded by dogs, cats and chickens”.
I’ve known Sasha professionally for ten years or more, through her work in PR and communications, so it was a delightful moment of serendipity for both of us when a mutual friend suggested I might read and review Dear Banjo. Of course, I was also quick to invite Sasha to be a guest on Shelf Aware, and I’m confident you’ll enjoy reading her responses to my questions. Boil the billy, put your feet up, and take a few minutes to find out a little bit more about Sasha Wasley.
Q. Sasha, how would you describe the work that you do and how you do it?
A. I am a two-thirds author and a one-third communications officer for a not-for-profit youth organisation. I write commercial fiction, mostly romance but always with a meaningful plot through which the romance develops. I’ve written in paranormal, mystery, young adult and now rural romance genres! I write and edit every single day, and when I finish a book and let it sit for a few weeks, I get very twitchy until I find something else to work on!
Q. What can you tell us about your new book?
A. Dear Banjo is my first foray into rural romance and also my first major book deal with a traditional publisher. It’s about Willow Paterson, a young woman of 29 years old who returns from years of study and academic work in Perth to take over the management of her family’s cattle station. Her dream is to build it into an organic, humane operation – a dream she once shared with her best friend and neighbour, Tom. But romance got in the way and a decade has passed since she even spoke to Tom. Dear Banjo is the tale of Willow’s return, how their relationship is reignited, and the leap of faith that is opening up and being vulnerable with another person.
Q. Where are the main bookcases in your home or office? Do you also keep books in other places at home (or elsewhere)?
A. I have a book case in my study, one in my lounge, and one in my bedroom. My daughters both have them in their rooms, too. And I have an unofficial bookcase (AKA a precarious stack) of books on my bedside table … not to mention the digital shelves on my Kindle. It’s safe to say we are quite fond of books around here.
Oh, and I also have a small shelf of my own books!
Q. How are your books organised/arranged?
A. Ahem, arranged, yes.
Let’s call it ‘randomly’! Actually, I moved house last year and I did carry out some vague organising of my books. My Ikea Expedit shelf now holds reference books in one square, cooking and science books in another, and various eclectic novels and kids’ books in the other sections! Our bedroom bookshelf is largely my partner’s sci-fi/fantasy collection and most of my university theory books reside in the lounge, along with a goodly mix of more novels and kids’ books. When I was a child, I organised my books like a library, even cutting and sticking little labels with the first three letters of the author’s surname on the spine. But I had more time as a kid, so now they just get shoved on shelves at random! It can take months to find one I’m looking for.
Q. What sorts of books predominate?
A. There are a lot of my old favourites – Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (and Through the Looking Glass), Agatha Christie, etc. But if I had to name any predominating category of books, I would say it’s a pretty even cut between novels (commercial and ‘literary’) and my theory texts from my PhD days – feminist and postmodern theory. There’s also a healthy smattering of humour – comic books (The Far Side), comedian’s books, as well as real life mysteries.
Q. Describe your favourite reading place.
A. I usually lie in bed to read. Often, I am accompanied by my gorgeous white cat, who sleeps beside me on the pillow with her beautiful purr going next to my head. It’s very Zen. Otherwise, I read in a recliner lounge chair.
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 Nona and Me by Clare Atkins. She wrote the book while living at the remote Aboriginal community of Yirrkala, in north-east Arnhem Land, which is also where her novel is set. I’m reading it because I stumbled across it in the process of doing research for a novel I’m writing that also features a remote community. It’s a young adult novel, and a very good read that cleverly expresses the dual pressures of conscience/heart and school/teen life. It has some beautifully real descriptions of life on the land, and some very clever inner monologue about how we make choices.
Q. What are your favourite books and/or who are your favourite authors?
A. My all-time favourite author is Jane Austen, and the book is Persuasion. It combines the magic of quiet tension, high drama, perfect structure, and a loyal, lifelong love that makes your heart melt. I have too many favourites to list, so I will just mention a couple of my recent favourites. I really loved We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler, and Gould’s Book of Fish by Richard Flanagan. In recent months, I read Tess Woods’ Love at First Flight and it made me cry and gave me a terrible book hangover!
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’m going to cheat and choose some collected works! I rarely re-read any books, but there are certain authors I will happily re-read because reading their books feels like wrapping myself in a comfy old blanket. It would be my collected works of Jane Austen (several novels and her juvenilia in one enormous volume!), because her novels are so beautifully constructed they almost make me weep with envy, and her childhood works are hilarious. The collected works of Lewis Carroll (that guy was weird), because he’s very funny, and his poetry is brilliant, and his subversion of great institutions was wonderfully clever. And an Agatha Christie omnibus, because when you go back to re-read Christie books, it’s good fun spotting the subtle clues she drops throughout her mysteries.
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 would enjoy having a chat with Helen Razer about feminism and comedy. I would also invite Anne Shirley and Virginia Woolf over to talk about how the world has changed and thank them for being bookish young women and inspiring me. I would serve them gluten-free coconut energy balls (just to see their faces) and WA southwest sparkling wine!
You can find out more about Sasha and her books here: