Interview — Eric Van Lustbader

During the 30+ years of my journalism career (so far!), I’ve had the privilege and pleasure of interviewing many people I greatly respect and admire. Local heroes, prime ministers, gifted students and researchers, elite sportspeople and popular performers.

More recently, I’ve also interviewed a swag of local and international authors, including the late (and great) Colleen McCullough, Pulitzer Prize winner Geraldine Brooks, doyenne of royal historical fiction Philippa Gregory, the incomparable Isabel Allende and Australian-Irish bestseller Monica McInerney.

This month I interviewed New York-based Eric Van Lustbader, author of the last eleven Jason Bourne novels, about his latest blockbuster The Bourne Initiative (HarperCollinsPublishers), for a story published in The West Australian. Eric took over the Jason Bourne series after the death of its creator Robert Ludlum and combines writing stories about the amnesiac assassin with writing his other novels (and there have been many).

I must confess to being a bit tongue-tied during our lengthy phone chat, between his home in New York and mine on the outskirts of Perth, Western Australia, but he was gracious and accommodating — and consummately professional.

We shared a couple of laughs, he revealed his genuine concern about the state of US and international politics, expressed his feelings of grief following the death last year of his beloved mother-in-law,  and fondly described his personal and professional relationship with his wife, fellow author and editor Victoria Lustbader.

People who know me well will appreciate how thrilled I was when Eric shared links to my interview from The West on his website, on Facebook and on Twitter. I’m sharing the link here, so I hope you’ll take the opportunity to grab a cup of something hot or a glass of something cold (depending on the time of day), and enjoy this insight into brilliant thriller writer Eric Van Lustbader


#EricVanLustbader #jasonbourne #robertludlum #thebourneinitiative #thriller #mattdamon #uspolitics #thewestaustralian #thewest #authorinterview #internationalespionage #clandestineservices #internationalpolitics #victorialustbader

Book Review — Beautiful Messy Love — Tess Woods



Themes of love, lust, loss, grief, family conflict and duty can all be found in Perth-based author Tess Woods’ new novel Beautiful Messy Love (HarperCollinsPublishers), but it’s the broader social themes that set it apart from other contemporary women’s fiction, and will ensure it generates plenty of debate and discussion.

The novel’s exploration of serious contemporary issues – including the plight of asylum seekers, the impacts of depression, dwindling privacy in the digital age, the challenges of cross-cultural relationships, ignorance about religious difference, and the threat of terrorism – adds depth and breadth to the narrative, without overwhelming the dual love stories at its heart.

Woods’ deft and delicate handling of these contentious subjects confirms she is a deep-thinking, compassionate and fearless writer with the skills and finesse to incorporate lofty ideas in her storytelling, without preaching or proselytising.

While these themes challenge her readers, Woods has also challenged herself, by writing the novel from four alternating perspectives – those of the two men and two women whose lives and loves become irresistibly entwined as the story progresses.

Nick Harding is an elite Australian Rules footballer prone to shallow, short-term encounters with women he barely knows, and struggling to come to terms with a niggling injury that recurs during the first match of the new season.

After a night of overindulgence, Nick ventures into a local café, where he is immediately captivated by the beautiful, enigmatic Egyptian woman who serves him.

Anwar “Anna” Hayati is a refugee, raised by a Christian mother and a Muslim father, and determined to pursue her ambition to study law. Her reciprocal attraction to Nick presents all sorts of complications in the strict Muslim community that has given political and spiritual asylum to Anna and her mother.

Anna’s days are filled working in the café and her uncle’s restaurant, looking after her severely depressed, grieving mother, and visiting the cancer-stricken young asylum seeker in their care, and she is determined that her relationship has time to develop slowly.

Nick’s sister Lily, a fifth-year medicine student facing a personal crossroad, struggles to control her emotions when she encounters the critically ill boy on her first oncology round at a busy specialist hospital.

Among her other patients is Jenny, a terminally ill young woman, who urges Lily to contact her husband, Toby, after she has passed away.

Reeling from her boyfriend’s shock decision to end their relationship, Lily is drawn to Toby, who is facing his own troubles – obliged to follow in his father’s footsteps in the family building company, yet longing to pursue a career as a photographer, and bereft by the loss of his first love.

Toby and Lily begin a passionate affair with the potential to evolve into an enduring love, if only she can overcome her crisis of confidence and he can overcome his grief and follow his dream.

While the protagonists of Tess Woods’ 2016 novel Love at First Flight were hard to like and their actions left much to be desired, the four key characters in Beautiful Messy Love are flawed yet immensely likeable, and their complicated relationships bear an authenticity certain to satisfy readers attracted by the romantic elements of the story, as well as those looking for more.

Secondary characters are also well crafted, with Anna’s Tante Rosa – possibly inspired by some of the author’s Egyptian relatives – providing a moral compass, and some welcome levity amid the drama. There’s also a rumour that several sexually charged cameo roles may be named after some of Tess Woods’ writing friends.

Beautiful Messy Love is charming, enthralling and thought-provoking, and it looks set to cement Tess Woods’ place among the most sought-after writers of contemporary Australian fiction. — MAUREEN EPPEN

Beautiful Messy Love, by Tess Woods, is published by HarperCollinsPublishers, rrp $29.99. eBook also available. My copy was provided by Tess Woods and HarperCollinsPublishers in exchange for an honest review.

Shelf Aware — Sandi Parsons

Sandi Parsons 2017I met Perth author and children’s librarian Sandi Parsons at a Rockingham Wrtiers Centre event last year, but I was keen to find out more about her long before that day. You see, I’d read an early copy of the Writing the Dream anthology (published by Serenity Press), and was impressed by her personal story about her passion for books, reading and writing, and about how she overcame significant challenges to pursue her writing dream. She’s a bright, articulate and utterly charming woman, with a comprehensive understanding of what children are looking for in a good book and, as her delightful new novel Pepsi the Problem Puppy proves, the skills to write one. She has also written a remarkable children’s picture book called The Mystery of the Sixty-Five Roses, to help educate and raise awareness about cystic fibrosis.

As Sandi explains, she’s a Book Nerd at heart, a children’s librarian/Book Warrior by day, and she “sings along to Cyndi Lauper songs (rather badly) while posting pictures of her disgracefully behaved blue heeler, Pepsi Parsons” in her free time.

Sandi considers her guardianship of gifted lungs as one of many victories in her ongoing battle with Cystic Fibrosis. She lives in Western Australia with her husband and a “To Be Read” pile of books “so high that they frequently threaten to cause a book-a-launch”.

As you can see, Sandi also has a terrific sense of humour — and you’ll see further evidence of her wit, and wisdom, in her answers to my questions, below. Find a few spare minutes, grab a cuppa, and enjoy the experience of getting to know a little about Sandi Parsons, the books and authors she loves, and that pesky but loveable puppy, Pepsi Parsons.

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

A. Pure and simple, I’m a book nerd. I live and breathe books – as a reader, a writer and as a librarian.
As a reader I read almost everything (the exception being westerns).
As a librarian I strive to create a place that would have been my ideal haven or reading nook as a child.
As a writer, I dabble with a mix of short memoir and children’s fiction.

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

A. A long term project – Pepsi the Problem Puppy — will be released this week.
Pepsi, who bears a striking resemblance to my pooch, Pepsi Parsons, is a sweet-natured but disgracefully behaved dog who disrupts the household. It’s a chapter book for confident readers with fabulous illustrations by Aśka.

I’m currently working on the first draft of a middle grade mystery novel which features a very feisty female who has a love of old, forgotten and unusual words and an impetuous but loveable boy who loves to sneak and spy. Together they discover that their art teacher has stolen Ned Kelly’s death mask.

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

A. There are 14 bookcases in my home, and several book cupboards. They are scattered all over the house, including the study, the lounge, the kitchen and the guest room.
A large chunk of them reside in “the book room” (which sounds very fancy but in reality it’s organised chaos as it contains all the books for sale on my online second hand bookstore as well as a storage space for my props and realia for library displays).
There’s also a very large wobbly pile of books by my bed, which never seems to get any smaller and is often in danger of collapse – there have been times when Pepsi has been in danger!

Signed ShelvesQ. How are your books organised/arranged?

A. Given my librarian background, you’d think it likely that my personal books would be organised with an efficient system. Instead it’s more a loose genre based system, with my husband and I sharing some bookcases while others are exclusive.

I have two bookcases totally dedicated to my books – they are organised in a kind of mishmash of loose groupings. My signed books take up most of the two top rows (this allows me to scan my other shelves for books if I’m going somewhere that a book signing could be likely).

The rest of my shelves are roughly grouped in genre, although the fantasy books are starting to spill onto other shelves due to lack of room.

Q. What sorts of books predominate?

A. Topping the list would be thrillers & crime, as my husband reads those genres also, in fact one of our combined bookcases is dedicated to those books. It’s very squishy in there at the moment.

Fantasy (in all its subgenres and age groups) would follow closely behind, as that is my favourite genre. Children’s books that don’t have fantasy elements would a close third.

Q. Describe your favourite reading place.

A. I’ve never had a favourite place – I can read anywhere and anytime. But I consider the most comfortable reading space to be snuggled in bed during winter – especially if it’s raining outside.

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’ve just finished The Call by Peadar Ó Guilín which was fabulous. I read it in 24 hours (and didn’t accomplish much else during that time). I discovered it at the Perth Writers’ Festival – I had originally chosen ‘The Books That Shaped Us’ panel because Garth Nix was participating. But Peadaer spoke about his book and the premise intrigued me enough to put it on my must read list. I’m now interested in reading his Bone World Trilogy.

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

A. Given that I consider fantasy to be my favourite genre, it’s kind of surprising that Lily Brett ranks so highly on my favourite authors list – but she does. I think in a way I’m fascinated by how she weaves her own situations into her books. Other long-time favourites include Morris Gleitzman, Dianna Wynne Jones, Stephen King, Juliet Marillier, Tamora Pierce, Teena Raffa-Mulligan, Karin Slaughter & Jonathan Stroud.

My favourite series include: Artemis Fowl, Dragonriders of Pern, Dresden Files, Harry Potter, Incarnations of Immortality, Iron Druid, Magic Ex Libris, Ranger’s Apprentice, Skulduggery Pleasant, and Wardstone Chronicles.

I enjoy biographies, in particular Maya Angelou’s autobiographical books and those written about Marilyn Monroe. Finally, as a standalone novel I adore The Time Traveller’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger.

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’ve never been attached to a specific book or edition, often trading a book in my collection for one with a prettier cover or in better condition, so I would choose three books that can’t be replaced

Robyn’s Book by Robyn Miller –For me, this was a book that changed my life. It was the first time I read something that had been written by a person with Cystic Fibrosis. It made realise that there was a very real possibility that I could one day write my own books.

My copy of The Mystery of the Sixty-Five Roses. It’s not simply the first copy of my first book; this copy is signed by Stacey who brought Jeremy to life with her illustrations. The Mystery of the Sixty-Five Roses was a first book for both of us, and she has written a lovely message about working with me on the inside.

P.I. Penguin and the Case of the Lost Little Penguin. I’m one of two people this book has been dedicated to. As a book nerd, there’s no greater honour than a dedication from a fellow author.

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’ve chosen two authors and one fictional character, with only one of the three fitting within my favourite genre.

Number one on my invite list is reserved for Robyn Miller. Her words have always resonated with me, in both a sense of a shared journey and as unexplained sadness for someone that I never met but wish I had. Her writing influenced mine for years. She died knowing her book would still be printed, but never got to hold a copy in her hands. The opportunity to tell her that her words mattered would be one I couldn’t pass up.

Number two would be Cyndi Lauper (not only is she a songwriter, she’s also written her autobiography – so I’m not even stretching the rules a tiny bit!!) with the first question being if we could write a song together. I have a line (overheard but never forgotten) which would make a great premise for a song, but as I have a complete lack of musical ability, other than being decisively off-tune, I need a co-writer and I may as well aim high.

My lucky last guest would be The Doctor, not only can he facilitate the arrival of my other guests but I’m also including him because of the potential opportunity to travel in the TARDIS – who wouldn’t want that?

You probably noticed that I didn’t mention afternoon tea there at all. I’m not a cook (my husband will tell you that’s the understatement of the year), if I was entertaining my chosen guests it would have to be a catered party.

Find out more about Sandi Parsons on her website, Facebook and Instagram. Sandi can also be found on Litsy (SandiParsons).

Shelf Aware — Tess Woods


Let me introduce you to a kindred spirit of mine… I have only known Perth-based author Tess Woods for about 18 months, but I feel like we’ve been friends for so much longer than that. We share opinions on important social issues, such as equality, the plight of refugees and asylum seekers, the need for education and compassion around the subjects of suicide and self harm, and the need to bring dignity to disadvantaged and homeless women however and whenever possible. We may even share opinions about a certain small-handed politician in a position of great global power — although this might not be an appropriate forum to dwell further on that.

Tess released her first novel, Love at First Flight, through HarperCollins, last year, in which she bravely tackled the subject of marital infidelity in a sometimes-confronting narrative that brought forth heated discussion among readers. Her second novel, Beautiful Messy Love, will be officially launched later this month, and is already generated plenty of buzz in online reader platforms. I’ll let her tell you more about that in her post, below, though.

As you will see from her answers to my questions, Tess is a dynamo with a heart of gold. She’s warm, witty, kind-hearted and considerate, and she simply cannot help sharing the love with those people who are important to her. I know a couple of her responses will make you smile; and others may even make you laugh out loud. I hope you’ll have an opportunity to sit back, put your feet up, and appreciate this opportunity to get to know a little bit about the delightful, de-lovely Tess Woods.

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

A. Even though my books don’t have a guaranteed happily ever after, which is how the romance genre is defined, I very much consider myself a romance author. I’m published with HarperCollins and my novels are all contemporary Australian love stories centred around issues close to my heart – motherhood, marriage, career, as well as social issues such as the asylum seeker crisis, Australia’s involvement in war, the effects of social media, drug legalisation, mental illness, suicide and self-harm.

How do I do it? What an interesting question… I start with an idea (and believe me, I don’t get many – think one idea a year!) and I go from there. Something I see or hear will inspire me and my ‘but what if’ kicks in.

With my stories I don’t plot, they fall into place on their own and are revealed to me as if they’re being told by someone else and I’m the scribe. I have no writing pedigree, I don’t do writing courses, I write purely on gut instinct and make my editors work really hard!!

The actual ‘how’ part of how I do it is I plonk myself in front of my laptop and I write for hours every day. I never ever want to write. Literally never. I enjoy the results of my writing just as I enjoy the results of exercise without ever being excited about doing the actual exercise!

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

A. My second novel, Beautiful Messy Love, released at the end of July, is my latest project. I’m about to start my book tour for that beginning with a launch in Perth, then off to Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and finishing up in Bunbury.

Here’s the blurb, because I’m terrible at describing what this book’s about and nobody would want to read it if I was to put it in my own words:

BMLWhat happens when love and loyalty collide? Two couples must deal with the consequences of their messy love not just for themselves but for those who depend on them. For lovers of passionate romance in the vein of Nicolas Sparks.

When football star Nick Harding hobbles into the Black Salt Cafe the morning after the night before, he is served by Anna, a waitress with haunted-looking eyes and no interest in footballers, famous or otherwise. Nick is instantly drawn to this exotic, intelligent girl. But a relationship between them risks shame for her conservative refugee family and backlash for Nick that could ruin his career.

Meanwhile, Nick’s sister, Lily, is struggling to finish her medical degree. When she meets Toby, it seems that for the first time she is following her heart, not the expectations of others. Yet what starts out as a passionate affair with a man who has just buried his wife slips quickly into dangerous dependency.

Through attraction, breakups, triumphs and tragedies, these two couples learn just how much their beautiful messy love might cost. A West Side Story for the modern day.

Aside from the new release, I have so much other stuff in the pipeline too!

I’m thrilled and honoured to have been the author chosen by the City of Wanneroo for National Reading Hour, in August. I’ll be speaking in front of the members of 75 book clubs for that event. Wish me luck!

I’ve written my third novel, Love and Other Battles, which will be out next year. It’s a three-generation family drama. In a nutshell, it’s the story of a Queensland grandmother who, as a young woman, fell in love with a soldier sent to fight in Vietnam and is now dealing with the effects of Parkinson’s Disease; her middle-aged daughter, who has never recovered from the loss of her first love; and her granddaughter, who is struggling with life as a teenager in today’s social media-controlled world. The question of whether legalising marijuana in Australia is a good or bad thing runs through all the stories in the novel. (Seriously, I need my publisher to write me a blurb ASAP, I just read over this and the story is HEAPS better than how dull I just made it sound. I promise!)

I’m also running my first writing retreat in Wales in December and a second writing retreat on the South West Coast in July next year. This exciting development in my life of facilitating week-long writing retreat holidays is something I never saw coming!

And aside from that, I’m organising the West Coast Fiction Festival next November in Perth with my bestie Rachael Johns and our fantastic committee. It’s the biggest project I’ve ever undertaken and the whole thing makes me buzz with excitement. It will be Perth’s first-ever event of its kind – a whole day and night of Australia’s best traditionally and self-published authors along with readers, celebrating fiction writing and raising money for Share the Dignity, a charity I’m honoured to belong to.

I’ll also keep up my job as a physiotherapist in the clinics I own and manage with my husband and continue with my own volunteer project, Meals by Mums, where my friends and I cook and freeze meals for the homeless.

Never a dull moment around here!

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

A.We have three bookcases at home and four in our offices at my physiotherapy clinics. Are you sitting down for this? None of the books on any of those bookshelves are mine except for one less than full shelf in the lounge room. Yep, I’m an author without a book collection!

Everyone who knows me knows I’m an incredibly sensitive and sentimental person (too sensitive hubby would say!) I still have notes stashed in my room that my best friend wrote to me when I was five years old. But when it comes to ‘stuff’ I’m completely unsentimental. I don’t hang onto any items really that aren’t notes, cards or things that were made by people I love. I’m much more about creating memories rather than accumulating things – hence I live in a totally crappy house with just the basics in it but I’ve had a lifetime of going on heaps of amazing trips and we spend a lot of money on eating out – happy stomach before possessions! I also have a habit of giving everything I don’t desperately need away. I’ll never be accused of hoarding!


Bridges of Madison CountyAnd my philosophy of ‘only keep what you need’ applies to books. I LOVE books, I’m an enormous bookworm and it’s only my love of reading that made me become a writer myself. But I haven’t got an emotional attachment to keeping the actual physical versions of the books themselves and (gasp!) this includes signed books or my favourite titles. I think I had my favourite book of all time, The Bridges of Madison County, in my possession for about a week before passing it on, and I never saw it again!

Because I’m in the writing community, I support my friends and buy all of their books so I have bought hundreds if not thousands of books in my lifetime, it’s just that I don’t keep any of them. I only keep the books I haven’t read. The rest get passed around to my friends – I turn up like a bag lady to our get-togethers and they all get excited and dive in to choose.

I lose track of most of my books, and lately this started to bug me because more and more I found that I wanted to recommend a particular book to someone and be able to give them my copy, but I couldn’t remember who had it. So some months ago, I had the genius idea of taking photos of who had which book. But this plan failed miserably because my friends passed on the books to friends who passed them on to more friends and I completely lost track again. Here’s evidence of the dinner where I had the brainwave that I would hold people accountable for which books they had. You can see my mates are literally laughing at me and thinking ‘as if you’ll ever see these books again!’

So there you go, there are hundreds of my books out there in circulation today. Maybe after reading this, you’ll end up with one of my books and see that it was signed for me by the author – wouldn’t that be cool?


With my books out roaming the world, this means that at any stage I usually only have a half to one full shelf of books at home. And then whenever there’s an Indigenous Literacy Foundation Book Swap, I can’t help myself, I get rid of the books left on that shelf too, so then I end up with nothing! We realised about two months after the release of Love at First Flight that I didn’t have a copy of it up on my shelf so I grabbed one from my stash in a box in the shed that I save for giveaways and guess what? That copy I displayed proudly on my shelf went missing and I couldn’t care less! I know I wrote it, I’ve held the book in my hands, I’ve seen it in shops, I know if I need to I can easily get my hands on a copy, I don’t need it lying around. Told you, unsentimental!

So, after having read loads of your other Shelf Awareness interviews, Maureen, and having been in awe at the magnificence of people’s libraries let alone basic bookshelves, the best I can do for you is this photo of my one top measly shelf of books that are between hands at the moment.

Tess's bookshelf

This is the bookcase in our lounge room which is shared between the four of us in our family (my kids both have their own book cases in their rooms as well). The titles on that shelf change all the time depending on who I’m seeing and what books they want to take from it or return to it.

And for the second part of that question – YES do I keep my books elsewhere at home! Because my shelf of books on our bookcase is a ‘help yourself’, I need to keep the books I haven’t read yet away from the shelf so that they don’t get pinched by my friends who visit until I’ve read them. So what do I do? I use them as my door-stoppers!

When it’s time to pick up a new book, I’ll roam around the house, pausing in the doorways, to see which one takes my fancy. I keep the book I’m reading next to my bed though. When I’m home I only ever read at night before going to sleep so the book of the moment gets pride of place next to me!

Q. How are your books organised/arranged? (ie alphabetically, by theme or genre, using some sort of formal or informal filing system, by colour perhaps?)

A. Bahahaha – ah, there is no arrangement aside from blobs on the floor! See above.

Q. What sorts of books predominate?

A. Our house of books reflects the rest of my family’s taste in literature rather than mine as they all own more books than me. The four of us are book obsessed. It’s not uncommon on a holiday for all of us to be lying on a beach and nobody speaks for three hours until someone’s hungry because we’re all lost in our books!

Family bookshelf

The books that dominate our shelves at home include my husband, Paul’s, novels, which are mainly crime, thriller and horror. Stephen King is his favourite author and he really enjoys reading books by James Patterson and Lee Child too.

Tom's shelf

Tom, my seventeen-year-old son, loves fantasy and thriller. He’s a huge fan of Rick Riordan, hands down his favourite author, and he has heaps of his books on his shelf. He also loves JK Rowling and JRR Tolkien and at the moment he’s devouring the Pittacus Lore series, he has that set of books stacked up on his bedside table.

Lara's shelf

Lara, my fourteen-year-old daughter, reads dystopian, fantasy and young adult contemporary fiction. Her favourites are JK Rowling, James Dashner, Suzanne Collins and John Green. She has an entire Harry Potter-devoted shelf in her room!

Both of my kids have bedside lamps designed for books where they keep the books they’re currently reading rather than use bookmarks. How cool are these?

Tom's floating shelves

And, and, and speaking of cool – check out Tom’s floating shelves with some of his non-fiction books!

As for me, well no books predominate because I don’t keep any!

Q. Describe your favourite reading place.

A. On holiday. Don’t care where as long as it’s somewhere I can read during the day and that only ever happens on holiday!!

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 reading Eliza Henry Jones’ Ache right now (it’s April by the way as I write these answers. I’m just a Type A freak doing my interviews like this one, months before my own book release.) One of the perks of being with HarperCollins is that my lovely publisher, Mary, sends me all the advances of books she thinks I might like. Eliza is also a close friend who I adore, so choosing hers to read when I had the opportunity to before its release was a no-brainer!

So far it’s exactly what I would expect of a novel penned by Eliza Henry Jones, utterly breathtaking. Brilliant. Read it.

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

A. Contemporary general fiction is not only what I write but what I love to read the most too. My favourite non-Australian authors who write in this genre are Maeve Binchy, Kate Kerrigan, Adriana Trigiani and Marian Keyes.

As for my favourite contemporary fiction Aussie author, a couple of years ago I would have said without question it was Liane Moriarty. But I’m not so sure anymore! My love for my friends’ work has taken over. People like Jenn J McLeod, Rachael Johns, Lily Malone, Lisa Ireland, Jennie Jones, Sunni Overend, Nicola Moriarty, Sara Foster all write contemporary stories I’ve adored lately as have many other wonderful contemporary authors – I could rattle off another twenty! We’re so lucky and spoilt for choice.

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. Well, as someone who turfs all her books, I have no collection! Sorry I’m such a dud interviewee for Shelf Awareness :)!

So instead, I’ll choose three books that I loved rather than three I have on my shelf. Let’s go with Twilight by Stephenie Meyer, The Shell Seekeers by Rosamunde Pilcher and Sushi for Beginners by Marian Keyes.

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. This one’s easy, forget the characters, I’d go with authors who have passed away and I can only wish I could have met. I’d give anything for an afternoon with Maeve Binchy, Colleen McCullough and Jane Austen.

I’d serve them some Egyptian treats such as my baklava and short bread as well as my non-Egyptian but world famous Rocky Road and I probably wouldn’t make much intellectual conversation at all if I was perfectly honest with myself. I’d be way too busy crying and carrying on, fan-girling, taking selfies – basically acting like the eleven-year-old air-head that I am deep down!

Thanks so much for having me beautiful Maureen, love you to pieces, you gorgeous woman! xx

Find out more about Tess Woods on her website, Facebook or Twitter.

Shelf Aware — Alli Sinclair


Alli 2016.jpg

Award-winning Australian author Alli Sinclair.

As has happened with a number of my guests on Shelf Aware, I “met” Australian author Alli Sinclair in the comments section of a mutual friend’s Facebook page.  We had a lengthy exchange about Milwaukee folk rock / country punk band The Violent Femmes. Alli was going to a Femmes concert “over East”, and I was here in the West wishing I could be there too. It has been more than 30 years since I last saw them in concert with a great mate of mine — another Ali — at the old Melbourne Hotel, in Perth. With the exchange of a few remarks about a group of musicians we both admired, Alli and I cemented our online friendship, and we’ve shared many “likes” and “chatted” via Messenger in the ensuing months.

I now know that Alli is a multi award-winning author who, according to her website, “spent her early adult years travelling the globe, intent on becoming an Indiana Jones in heels”. Alli scaled mountains in Nepal, Argentina, and Peru, rafted the Ganges, and rode a camel in the Sahara. She lived in Argentina and Peru for a few years and, when she wasn’t working as a mountain guide or tour guide, Alli “could be found in the dance halls dancing the tango, salsa, merengue, and samba”.

Alli was voted Australian Romance Readers Association “Favourite New Romance Author 2014”, her novel Luna Tango was the Australian Romance Readers Association’s 2014 Book of the Year, and in 2016 she was named Best Established Author in the AusRomToday Readers’ Choice Awards. Alli also volunteers with Books in Homes.

beneath-the-parisian-skies-high-resWhen I learned that Alli would be releasing Beneath the Parisian Skies (Harlequin Mira) this month, I knew I wanted to invite her to write a guest blog for Shelf Awareness. As a bonus, I’ll be getting the chance to meet Alli in person when she is a guest at Stories on Stage, at Koorliny Arts Centre, on July 26. If you’re in the area, pop in and say hello.

For now, sit back, make a cup of hot chocolate — as enjoyed by a couple of the characters in a pivotal scene in Beneath the Parisian Skies — and take a journey of discovery that includes Alli Sinclair’s favourite books and authors. 

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

A. I am a literary travel agent, meaning I write books that take people on adventures to exotic destinations and immerse them in history and culture with a dash of mystery and romance.

Q. What can you tell us about this new book?

Ballet RussesA. Set in present-day Paris and the Bohemian era in 1917, Under the Parisian Sky is an emotional journey of intrigue that explores love, truth, grief and passion—and what it takes to fulfill a dream.

In Paris, 1917, Ballerina Viktoriya Budian narrowly escapes Russia with her life. She arrives in Paris, determined to start fresh with the famed Ballets Russes but her newfound success is threatened when her past returns to haunt her. Forced to choose between love and fame, Viktoriya’s life spirals out of control and the decision she makes seriously affects the lives of many for years to come.

In present-day Paris, Australian dancer Lily Johansson returns to the city that broke her heart and destroyed her ballet career, hoping to move past her fiancé’s death and to make amends with her estranged sister Natalie, a ballerina with the Bohème Ballet.

Terrified of loving again, Lily nevertheless finds herself becoming entangled with talented composer Yves Rousseau. Lily has many reasons for keeping Yves at arm’s length but as he recounts the drama of the Ballets Russes in Paris, the magic of this Bohemian era ignites a spark within her.

Meanwhile, vying for the role honouring Ballets Russes dancer Viktoriya Budian, Lily’s sister Natalie develops an unhealthy obsession. Natalie’s behaviour becomes increasingly erratic as elements of Viktoriya’s tragic life resonate in her own. Lily fears for her sister’s safety and sanity so when Natalie goes missing, she and Yves set out on a desperate quest across France to find her and, along the way, battle their own demons.

Will they unravel the one-hundred-year-old mystery that will led them to Natalie before it’s too late?

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

A. We have bookcases scattered all over the house as my whole family are readers. We have communal bookshelves and individual bookshelves. I have quite a few in my office and they’re overflowing!

Alli’s captions for the above photos: 

Left: Living amongst my books are photos and souvenirs from my travels. The collection of stuffed animals are from the Galapagos Islands in Ecuador. The local women make them by hand and all the animals are found living on the islands. 

Right: Books and souvenirs! The coffee set is from Peru and there are also souvenirs from Mexico, Indonesia, Argentina, Thailand, Colombia and Egypt. The two paintings with blue matting are from my first trip to Argentina. I met an artist in the tango district and bought these paintings after I watched my first-ever street tango performance and fell in love with the dance and music. Although I wasn’t writing fiction at that stage, tango stayed with me and inspired my first-ever book, Luna Tango. The artwork in the middle is of a woman reading a book and was given to me by my awesome uncle who shares a love of reading and travel like I do.

Q. How are your books organised/arranged?

A. This question has come at the right time as I finally went through my shelves in my office and reorganised things! I used to code them by colour (it always looks so pretty!) but I couldn’t find a particular book if I didn’t remember which colour cover it has! Now I’ve gone back to sorting the books into genres – much easier!

Alli’s captions for the above photos:

Left: A few of the travel and climbing books I possess, as well as a handful of the many new-age books I own.

Right: My complete Trixie Belden collection and a handful of Sweet Dreams and Enid Blyton books that survived the various moves I made from country to country! Oh, how I wanted to be Trixie Belden when I was a kid – riding horses and solving mysteries … a dream come true!

Q. What sorts of books predominate?

A. I have a very eclectic collection of books and they tend to represent the different phases of my life. Back in my late teens and all through my twenties almost everything I read was non-fiction and travel related. I worked as a mountain climber so I have a lot of books by world-famous climbers and explorers, as well as travel guides, travel memoirs and books about history and culture from various countries around the world.

When I first started writing I discovered craft books and even though I have plenty I still keep buying them! You never stop learning, right?

Of course I have a huge fiction collection and it’s really lovely to have so many of my books signed as many are by authors I know and love and have met. My fiction ranges from historical to contemporary and everything in between. Some are romances, some women’s fiction, some pure adventure or mystery. It’s nice to have a wide choice depending on my reading mood!

Alli’s captions for the above photos:

Left: Some of the guide books I’ve used as well as some of my travel diaries I wrote during my years away from Australia. Once again, some lovely artwork from the kids!

Right: My shelves are scattered with lots of artwork by my kids – some of my most treasured possessions.

Q. Describe your favourite reading place.

A. Anywhere I won’t be interrupted! One of my favourites, though, is snuggled under a doona at night while the wind and rain smash against my window and I’m dry and warm.

Mae WestQ. 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 a book about Mae West. It’s for research but also out of interest. It’s a super interesting book and I’m learning a lot about Mae, who is fascinating, intelligent and had amazing business sense.

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

A. Oh, that’s a very difficult question to answer! I’ll name my automatic buy authors to narrow my list down a little. I will read anything by Michelle Moran. Michelle writes amazing historical fiction, mostly from the point of view of someone not famous. For example, Nefertiti is written from the point of view of her little sister. It’s a clever way to give the reader insight into Nefertiti’s life but from a more objective viewpoint. I also love Belinda Alexandra’s books. Belinda’s stories are so colourful and vibrant and it’s very easy to immerse oneself into the worlds she creates. I also love Monica McInerney’s books as she is a master storyteller with such lovable characters.

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. Only three? Gah! But if you insist on only three … First, I’d grab, A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth. At over 1500 pages this book should keep me occupied for some time. Plus I can always use it as a pillow, it’s that thick. I’m a huge fan of Indian writers like Vikram Seth as there is something magical in the storytelling and insight into family and community. I would also take A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson because laughter is good for the soul and Bill’s writing never fails to make me feel good. Number three would be Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel as I love a romance that I can be swept away and lose myself in the story, get emotionally attached to the characters and live their highs and lows and finish the book with a big sigh and a smile on my face while I wipe away a tear (or twenty).

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 would love to meet Chilean author Isabel Allende. I was first introduced to her books when I was living in South America and I fell in love with magical realism and the rich imagery of these stories. I’d love to talk to Isabel about her amazing characters and whether they come to her fully formed or if she layers them with each draft she writes. Her books also have a lot of symbolism in them and I’d like to discuss whether the symbolism is planned or whether it unfolds naturally as the story is written. I’d serve Isabel authentic Chilean pastries with a nice strong coffee.

I’d also love to meet Stephen King. I grew up reading Stephen’s books and they used to freak me out but I still persisted in reading them until the wee hours of the night. Stephen has had such an incredible journey in his career and his personal life and his book, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, was the first craft book I have ever read and I often reread it. I’d love to hear more about his writing life and his processes. I’m not sure why, but I picture Stephen as a tea drinker and a lover of cucumber sandwiches. I’m hoping I’m right because that’s what I’d serve him!

For a fictional character, I’d love to meet Bridget Jones. From the moment I read Bridget Jones’s Diary I knew I’d found my kindred spirit. When the book first came out my friends nicknamed me Bridget (some still call me that now!). She’s such a fun character and I’d love nothing more than to have lots of laughs over a few wines and tapas.

You can find out more about Alli Sinclair on her website or on Facebook, Twitter or Goodreads.

Shelf Aware — Monica McInerney

Monica McInerney photo by Ashley Miller (landscape)

Author Monica McInerney. Photo: Ashley Miller.

Monica McInerney, one of Australia’s most popular contemporary authors (now based in Dublin, Ireland), has released a new novel this month, and I can confidently say she has another bestseller on her hands. The Trip of a Lifetime (Michael Joseph/Penguin Random House) reacquaints Monica’s readers with one of her most popular characters — the feisty and flamboyant Lola Quinlan, matriarch of the family that featured in the hugely popular The Alphabet Sisters and its follow-up, Lola’s Secret.

In the new novel, Lola, now 85, is melancholy and restless, feeling little pleasure in her daily life in South Australia’s picturesque Clare Valley. It has been more than 60 years since she left her home town in County Kildare, but she finally feels the time is right to return to her roots — and she’s determined to take her granddaughter, Bett, and great-granddaughter, Ellen, with her. The tale of that trip “back home” is brimming with all the love, laughter, surprises, treasured memories and family squabbles you’d expect from such a journey, all revealed in Monica’s evocative, poignant, warm and witty way.

I’ve been so very lucky to have the opportunity to interview Monica for Good Reading and The West Australian, and she was kind enough to answer my questions and share photos of some of the bookshelves in her Dublin home for this latest Shelf Aware blog post. Monica is touring Australia this month to promote The Trip of a Lifetime, and you can find out where she’ll be — and when — on this link. In the meantime, sit back with a hot cuppa and enjoy her guest blog post.

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

A. I write big novels about big, complicated families, in all their comedy and drama. I also write short stories and non-fiction articles. I spend many hours alone in my attic writing, editing, deleting, rewriting… I also do a lot of walking while talking to myself, as I figure out plotlines and characters.

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

A. I’m currently writing newspaper and magazine articles to coincide with the July publication of my twelfth novel, The Trip of a Lifetime. I’m also in the early stages of my thirteenth novel, at the exciting but also fragile thinking and researching stage. I’m several chapters in to a series for children aged 10-12, that I’ve been having fun with for some time now. I’m also co-writing a TV drama series with my journalist husband.

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


A. We have books in nearly every room in our house. I’d have them in the bathroom too if there was a way to stop the pages from steaming up.

Q. How are your books organised/arranged?

A. They are slightly organised. Downstairs at least. One room is fiction, the other room is non-fiction. But upstairs all of our bookshelves (and the piles of books beside the bed) are a complete mixture.

Q. What sorts of books predominate? (ie general fiction; specific genres such as romance, science fiction or historical fiction; non-fiction; reference books; short stories; novels; poetry; drama; children’s or young adult fiction; picture books etc)


A. Absolutely all of the above. I read everything and anything.

Q. Describe your favourite reading place.

A. In bed. I’ve banned myself from having my smart phone in the bedroom. It was badly affecting my reading, I’d find myself wasting hours online each night and morning rather than picking up a book. Since the ban, I’m reading much more and I am so much happier.

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 reading Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman. A good friend recommended it to me and I am loving it. Next I’ll be reading a proof copy of a new historical novel by an Irish writer friend: The Cottingley Secret by Hazel Gaynor. I’m honoured to be launching it for Hazel in Dublin this September.

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

A. My list of favourite books is long and ever-growing. Recent additions are Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout, Commonwealth by Ann Patchett, An Isolated Incident by Emily Maguire, Before the Fall by Noah Hawley, All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, The Dry by Jane Harper.

Childhood favourites were The Railway Children by Edith Nesbit, The Chrysalids by John Wyndham, Little Women by Louisa M Alcott and all of Enid Blyton’s books. My favourite authors include John le Carre, Rosamund Pilcher, Anne Tyler, Carol Shields, Maggie O’Farrell, Helen Garner, Roddy Doyle (especially his Booker-winning Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha), Margaret Mahy (especially The Tricksters), David Sedaris, Maeve Binchy, Tim Winton, Eleanor Lipman, Geraldine Brooks, Kristan Higgins, Clare Chambers, Miles Franklin, JK Rowling, Curtis Sittenfeld, Garrison Keillor…

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. (1) An illustrated book of Russian Folk Tales that my Uncle Phin gave me for my 7th birthday. I read it so many times as a child I nearly memorised it. It’s travelled with me on every house, city and country move in the 45 years since I was given it. It’s battered but beloved.


(2) A collection of linked short stories called Lake Wobegon Days by the American writer Garrison Keillor. I love his wit, wisdom, generosity of spirit, wry eye and decency. The first night I met my husband-to-be, we had a long conversation about books and authors we both enjoyed, and discovered we had this book in common. (That sealed it for me in regard to my husband.)


(3) I have many signed copies from authors I met when I was a book publicist back in the 1990s and from other authors I’m now friends with. They are all on two shelves in our living room – I’d quickly choose one of those at random and apologise to the ones left behind.

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. Instead of sitting down with them, I’d rather be the waitress and eavesdrop. I’d invite Enid Blyton, JK Rowling and Jane Austen. I’d like them to talk about their characters, their plotting, their working day, their politics… I would deliver many pots of tea and plates of sandwiches, try to be invisible and hang on every word they spoke.

Find out more about Monica here: