Deborah Rodriguez — Island on the Edge of the World

Island on the Edge of the World is a vibrant tale of female friendship and motherhood. Set in Haiti, four very different women work together to find a lost child and together they venture through the teeming, colourful streets of Port-au-Prince. They travel into the worlds of do-gooders doing more harm than good, Vodou practitioners, artists, activists, and everyday Haitian men and women determined to survive against all odds. For these four women, life will never be the same again . . .

The plight of the inhabitants of the island state of Haiti in the aftermath of the devastating 2010 earthquake forms the backdrop to the latest novel by international bestseller Deborah Rodriguez. Island on the Edge of the World is released this month in Australia by Penguin Books and is already generating immense interest among readers who loved Rodriguez’s previous books, including the enormously popular The Little Coffee Shop of Kabul, Return to the Little Coffee Shop of Kabul, and The House on Carnaval Street.

As part of a month-long blog tour to promote the novel, I had the opportunity to interview Deborah about how the book came to be written, the challenges facing Haiti’s population in the aftermath of the earthquake, and how some organisations are helping the rebuild the island nation, while others are adding to the damage wreaked by nature.

ME: What prompted your decision to set your latest novel in Haiti?

DR: My research partner had been hearing a lot about Haiti from her old college roommate, and that is when I realized that all I knew about Haiti was the earthquake and the cholera epidemic. I started doing some research into the country and culture, and it fascinated me. I loved the idea of setting a book in a country full of Vodou. What I didn’t realize was all the damage do-gooders were doing to that country, and many other poor countries around the world. Then I watched the eye-opening documentary, Poverty Inc, and knew a story about Haiti needed to be told.

ME: Please tell me a little bit about your research for the story. Did you manage to spend some time in Haiti?

DR: I spent two weeks in Haiti working with my research partner and her friend, who has been doing work in Haiti for more than 25 years. Before the trip, I read everything I could get my hands on about Haiti, about Vodou. I talked to Vodou priests and priestesses. I watched documentaries. A dear friend told me her story of an orphanage she was involved in, and how she, after some time, realized how corrupt it was. I was horrified.

ME: The novel was, at times, brutally confronting in its honesty. Why was it important to you to ‘tell it like it is’?

DR: I was stunned by how much damage was being done by people trying to do good. Before working on this novel, I had no idea about the orphanage system and how it was such a lucrative business. I was shocked when I heard about the child-finders. What really hit home for me is that I am one of these do-gooders. I have always done humanitarian work, and would have been horrified to think that children were being trafficked, bought, sold, and that my donation or my “vacation with a purpose” put children at risk. This is a message that needs to be told, and needs to be heard. It is so important to help people and work with poor communities, but we need to do it responsibly and think with our heads, not just our hearts. We need to ask the people we are helping what they need, and make sure our efforts are not just ones that make us feel like we did something good. Us do-gooders need to make sure we actually do good.

ME: The female characters and their relationships with one another grow and evolve during the course of the story – in sometimes surprising ways. Why do you think readers are drawn to stories about female friendships and family relationships?

DR: It feels real. It could be you or me, or some of our friends. I have been a hairdresser all my life, I have heard countless stories of love and loss, good and bad relationships. The one common thread seems to be women sticking together. I know that is true for me. My family is so important to me, and we are very close-knit, but it is above all my girlfriends who will always come through for me. I think each and every woman can relate to female-driven books.

ME: Sections of the story relating to spiritualism and Vodou are particularly fascinating. Did your attitude towards these practices change during the writing process?

DR: I love the mystical side of life, and find researching this sort of thing so interesting. Vodou did surprise me. It was much more complicated than what I had envisioned. I think most of us picture Vodou dolls and pins, which isn’t even Haitian Vodou. I didn’t realize how deeply embedded it was in everyone’s life in Haiti. It’s a religion, a philosophy, a way of life, a code of ethics, all in one.

ME: What do you feel are the most significant issues facing the Haitian people nine years after the devastating 2010 earthquake?

DR: I am not an expert on Haiti, but it is pretty clear that nationwide corruption on multiple levels and decades of misruling governments have really disabled Haiti. People often think of Haiti before and after the earthquake. Haiti had its problems before the earthquake, and because of the earthquake, the world stopped and paid attention.
The big issue with Haiti is that people don’t have jobs. And if they do have a job, there is usually not enough in earnings to support a family. Then there is the rising cost of everything in Haiti. It’s just not enough for a family to live on and make sure their kids go to school. Everything costs money. It doesn’t matter if you are a poor nation, it still costs money to survive. One thing that really impacted me was the effect of donations of food and clothing. When an organization sends a shipping container of clothes and shoes, what happens? Haiti has clothing and shoes. It’s just that the people don’t have money to buy them. So when something is given away for free, who is affected? The market people who did not have a chance to sell a pair of shoes because someone donated 100 pairs. Now they can’t afford to take their child to the doctor and buy medicine, and that affects the owner of the pharmacy, and it just goes on and on. Haiti has had its troubles due to its own making, but it has not been without some help from many misguided acts of good.

ME: I came away from the book with conflicting ideas about whether help provided in the aftermath of the earthquake was actually more of a hindrance. What are your thoughts on this?

DR: The first thing that was happening with the money was the rescue, because the people were still in the rubble. Whole teams came in, and medical help was badly needed. A lot of people were giving very generously at that time, because Haiti was in the spotlight. Much of that money went to food, water, and medical care, and temporary housing. The United States brought in a hospital ship so people could go offshore for medical treatment. But the sad fact is that disaster can be a huge money-maker, for some. NGO’s and others moved in, and with little accountability, and no government oversight, many of the resources did not go where they were needed. People were grateful to have survived the earthquake, yet it was afterward that the real test began — surviving the relief effort.

ME: Your descriptions of the plight of orphan children is heartbreaking. Did your research uncover any effective efforts to help these innocent victims of such tragic circumstances?

DR: I am so glad you asked this question. During the research, I found an organization called Lumos, founded by J.K. Rowling. Its goal is family preservation and the elimination of orphanages. Orphanages can be a hotbed of human trafficking, and can be ripe for child abuse. Rowling is also involved with a new campaign encouraging young travellers to avoid “voluntourism.” You can read all about that here http://bit.ly/2JzZoid.

ME: While there is much sadness in the novel, it is ultimately a story about people rebuilding their lives. Do you feel optimistic about the future of Haiti and its inhabitants? If so, why?

DR: Although Haiti is a poor country, the people are resilient and strong, and will fight to move forward. I know they get tired of all the political corruption, and I do worry about Haiti. But they always appear to come through, even when everything collapses around them. I do hope for a government that is for all the people, and I believe right now Haiti is fighting for those rights. They may need some help, and that is okay. But they do not want is your pity.

ME: What can your readers do to help the Haitians, and people in other countries struggling in the aftermath of natural disaster, conflict or extreme poverty?

DR: First, do your research, and make sure you know a charity’s mission, and verify that it’s a nonprofit. I would then look into the charity’s spending ratio. When you are donating money, you want to make sure your money is actually going to the cause. I would also check their transparency and accountability practices. Ask to see their results. Most midsize or large charities have third party assessments to evaluate their efficiency and effectiveness. CharityNavigator.org is a good resource for tips to help guide you in your giving.

Most importantly, be very wary of any organization using children to draw you in. Children should not be used as bait. I have been involved much of my life with non-profits, and my personal favourites are those that help provide basic education, and those that teach people a trade. Education is the key to everything.

Find out more about Island on the Edge of the World and Deborah’s other books on her website or on Facebook and Twitter. Find out more about Penguin Books here, or follow the publisher on Facebook and Twitter

#IslandontheEdgeoftheWorld #penguinbooksaus #womensfiction #deborahrodriguez #TheLittleCoffeeShopofKabul #ReturntotheLittleCoffeeShopofKabul #TheZanzibarWife #womenwriters #fictionlovers #haiti #lumos

 

 

Friends with books…

One of the many benefits of being part of a network of Australian writers is the opportunity to read and review titles by authors with whom I’ve forged friendships – whether in person, online or both. In recent weeks, I’ve read a couple of Australian women’s fiction titles, a collection of contemporary poetry and a children’s picture book by women I respect and admire…

Graffiti Lane – Kelly Van Nelson (Making Magic Happen Press, 2019):

Dark and distressing themes such as domestic violence, bullying, gender inequity, mental health issues, suicide and discrimination are laid bare in this debut collection – yet accomplished poet Kelly Van Nelson manages to imbue Graffiti Lane with a sense of hope, rather than hopelessness. Van Nelson approaches every topic with unwavering honesty, unafraid to venture into harrowing territory to reflect on the myriad challenges of adolescence, marriage, the contemporary corporate world and wider society. Using the vernacular of the street, the boardroom and the domestic front, Van Nelson reveals a keen sensory perceptiveness, an acute awareness of injustice, a deep-rooted empathy and the life-altering potential of resilience. Stand-out pieces for me included ‘Eggshells’ and ‘Mirror, Mirror…’, which explore the impacts of domestic violence on self-esteem; ‘Defiant’, which celebrates triumph over violence; ‘The Jester’, which considers how people conceal their depression or despair; and ‘Growth Spurt’, a seven-word celebration of self-confidence.

Read more about Kelly Van Nelson here. My copy of Graffiti Lane was provided by the writer.

When the Moon is a Smile – Teena Raffa-Mulligan, with illustrations by Amy Calautti (Daisy Lane Publishing, 2019):

Prolific author Teena Raffa-Mulligan lends her deft, gentle touch to the subject of parental separation in this delightful picture book aimed at younger children. Featuring whimsical illustrations by Amy Caloutti, When the Moon is a Smile reflects a day in the life of a girl and her father, as they enjoy some of their favourite activities and explore places that have special meaning to each of them – enshrining their experiences with the beauty of imagination. Although dad and daughter understand they’ll have to say goodbye at the end of the day, they also know it won’t be long until they can be together again. Raffa-Mulligan brings her natural warmth and optimism to a scenario faced by many families, and draws on the constancy of our nearest celestial body to enable young readers to appreciate their parents’ devotion, and treasure the hours they spend with one another.

Read more about Teena Raffa-Mulligan here. My copy of When the Moon is a Smile was provided by the author.

The Cinema at Starlight Creek – Alli Sinclair (Harlequin, 2019):

The rural Queensland town of Starlight Creek in the mid-1990s is a long way from the 1950s Golden Age of Hollywood, but Alli Sinclair’s newest novel creates vivid connections between these places and times, and the characters who inhabit them. Moving deftly between the two timelines, Sinclair juxtaposes the experiences of TV series location manager Claire Montgomery with those of emerging Hollywood star Lena Lee, comparing and contrasting the issues faced by both women as they attempt to forge a place in industries dominated by men. For Claire, the art deco cinema at Starlight Creek is the perfect backdrop for her current project, but the cinema’s reclusive owner Hattie Fitzpatrick and her great-nephew Luke Jackson are reluctant to allow the intrusion of a film crew. For Lena, the politics and censorship issues that dominate the Hollywood back lots are a barrier to the roles she longs to portray. Faced with an obligation to present to the public a picture-perfect relationship with one of her co-stars, Lena must conceal her love for actor Reeves Garrity. As Sinclair’s story unfolds, both women must decide how far they will go in pursuit of their dreams.

Read more about Alli Sinclair here. My copy of The Cinema at Starlight Creek was courtesy Harlequin Mira.

Love Song (Daughters of the Outback, Book 3) – Sasha Wasley (Michael Joseph/Penguin Random House Australia, 2019):

In this highly anticipated final instalment of her Daughters of the Outback trilogy, Sasha Wasley weaves a story of love lost and renewed, and the members of a remote Indigenous community determined to retain a sense of place and autonomy. In Love Song, Beth Paterson’s life is divided between the demands of a busy general practice, her place in the local business community and regular visits to a remote Indigenous community, where she provides medical care. While she is content in the knowledge that her two sisters have found love, Beth doesn’t have the time or the energy for a romantic relationship. When representatives from the Indigenous community seek her support to thwart an unwanted development, Beth reluctantly reunites with musician Charlie Campbell, who she fell in love with when they were both teenagers – before he left town without explanation, and without saying goodbye. As Beth and Charlie are bonded by their common goal to protect the community, the truth about their teenage separation is revealed and long-suppressed emotions resurface. Like Wasley’s earlier Daughters of the Outback novels, Dear Banjo and True Blue, Love Song features complex, immensely likeable characters tackling contemporary social issues and falling in love – with the harshly beautiful landscape of Western Australia’s Kimberley region providing a dramatic backdrop.

Read more about Sasha Wasley here. My copy of Love Song was courtesy Michael Joseph/Penguin Random House Australia.

Cover reveal – The Cinema at Starlight Creek

The fictional rural town of Starlight Creek is the eponymous setting for the latest novel by much-loved Australian romance writer Alli Sinclair — and I’m delighted to be able to take part in an online reveal of it’s stunning cover.

You may recall I featured Alli as a guest on my Shelf Aware blog in 2017 (revisit her post here) and also helped to announce the release of her previous novel, Burning Fields, with a feature interview (here).

Alli’s new novel, The Cinema at Starlight Creek (Harper Collins), is due for release in May and now available to pre-order (see links below). Here’s a hint of what to expect:

“A heart-stirring novel of loss, love and new hope set against the glamorous backdrop of 1950s Hollywood and a small Australian country town.”

And here’s what the blurb tells us:

Queensland, 1994: When location manager Claire Montgomery arrives in rural Queensland to work on a TV mini-series, she’s captivated by the beauty of Starlight Creek and the surrounding sugarcane fields. Working in a male-dominated industry is challenging, but Claire has never let that stop her pursuing her dreams – until now. She must gain permission to film at Australia’s most historically significant art deco cinema, located at Starlight Creek. But there is trouble ahead. The community is fractured and the cinema’s reclusive owner, Hattie Fitzpatrick, and her enigmatic great nephew, Luke Jackson, stand in her way, putting Claire’s career-launching project – and her heart – at risk.

Hollywood, 1950: Lena Lee has struggled to find the break that will catapult her into a star with influence. She longs for roles about strong, independent women but with Hollywood engulfed in politics and a censorship battle, Lena’s timing is wrong. Forced to keep her love affair with actor Reeves Garrity a secret, Lena puts her career on the line to fight for equality for women in an industry ruled by men. Her generous and caring nature steers her onto a treacherous path, leaving Lena questioning what she is willing to endure to get what she desires.

Can two women – decades apart – uncover lies and secrets to live the life they’ve dared to dream?

Alli describes herself as an adventurer at heart. She has lived in Argentina, Peru and Canada, and has climbed some of the world’s highest mountains, worked as a tour guide in South and Central America, and has travelled the globe. She enjoys immersing herself in exotic destinations, cultures and languages but Australia remains close to her heart.

Alli has won a number of awards for her writing, hosts ‘Writers at Sea’ retreats, and presents writing workshops around Australia, as well as working on international film projects. She’s a volunteer role model with Books in Homes and an ambassador for the Fiji Book Drive. Alli’s books explore history, culture, love and grief, and relationships between family, friends and lovers. She captures the romance and thrill of discovering old and new worlds, and loves taking readers on a journey of discovery.

Pre-order The Cinema at Starlight Creek via these links:

Harper Collins
Amazon
Apple Books
Booktopia
Kobo
Google Play

Visit Alli’s website or sign up for her newsletter via these links:

Alli’s website
Alli’s newsletter

Shelf Aware — William Yeoman

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I’m curious to know how a self-described misanthrope finds himself once again as guest curator of the prestigious Perth Festival Writers Week, which each year draws tens of thousands of visitors to the University of Western Australia and other satellite locations. I’m not sure that William Yeoman’s responses to my Shelf Aware interview questions provide a complete insight, but I nevertheless found them fascinating, and I’m confident you will too.

Will, also the Books Editor of The West Australian, has taken on the curator’s role for the second consecutive year and, as you’ll see from the inspiring program, has brought together some of the most compelling writers and artists currently making headlines and prompting debate among readers and scholars here in WA and further afield.

I’m also curious to know what sorts of books top the list of favourites for a Books Editor who is greatly respected and admired for the depth and breadth of his literary knowledge. No surprise to see some titles from the Western literary canon on his list, but you’ll also find a more recent ‘classic’ among those he’s listed.

To learn more about PFWW, and Will’s role in putting it all together, read on. And if you’re in Western Australia from February 22 to 24, I hope to see you there.

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

A. As guest curator of Perth Festival Writers Week it’s my job to “curate” the writers’ festival component of Perth Festival. Yes, that’s a circular definition, but it isn’t always obvious. More precisely, I think about the kinds of themes and subjects I’d like to explore – some topical but not too much so as a lot can change in the 12 months between initial conception and final delivery – and then cast my net widely.
But if I’m being honest, a lot comes down to new releases and what the publishers are pitching. So those themes and subjects have to be broad enough to accommodate a variety of voices while still having some kind of focus. Or I need to be willing to change course mid-stream. I’m always reminded that a good chef often goes to the market, finds what’s freshest and then decides what to cook based on the ingredients to hand. This applies as much to the feast as to the individual dishes.

Other things to be aware of are budget and venue constraints, diversity, representation, children’s vs adult content and possible connections to the rest of the festival. It’s a huge, complex unwieldy beast with lots of challenges. Thankfully I work with a marvellous team, including PFWW producer Anna Kosky and Program Coordinator Georgia Landre-Ord. In fact, they do most of the real work and Make Things Happen. Which is a good thing, as I’m still a fulltime journalist at The West Australian and am generally pretty exhausted. Or maybe I’m just lazy.

Q. Can you tell us a little bit about the 2019 Perth Festival Writers Week?

A. So in reference to above, the central theme for 2019 is Our Imagined Selves. That is, how an imaginative approach to reading and writing literature both forms and informs us. I also wanted to have the feel of a ‘make your own adventure’ and so have ‘hidden’ sub-themes within each session that correspond to a Bildungsroman narrative, albeit fairly abstract: Self, Relationships, History, Imagination, Freedom. I don’t really care if anybody notices this; it’s really just a useful device to help me think about the form and content of the program.

Someone who personifies Our Imagined Selves is US queer academic madison moore, author of Fabulous: The Rise of the Beautiful Eccentric. To quote Harvey Young from the back cover, “Fabulous is an absorbing, engagingly written, and highly insightful study of how ‘beautiful eccentrics’ creatively self-fashion themselves to articulate identity, assert presence and reclaim power on the streets and in the nightclub”. Madison will be giving a late-night “performance lecture” at the State Theatre Centre’s Studio Underground. A non-traditional writers’ festival event in a non-traditional venue.

Where to go from there? We have so many fabulous authors, conversations, panel discussions, readings and breakfast, lunch and high tea events, taking place in the University Club of WA, the wider UWA campus and in other venues around town, including the City of Perth Library and the Literature Centre in Fremantle.
I don’t want to give too much away, but everyone likes a list. Other guests include Ben Okri, Anna Funder, Esi Edugyan, Benjamin Law, Markus Zusak, Peter FitzSimons, David Malouf, Trent Dalton, Gail Jones, Brenda Walker, Alice Nelson, Karen Foxlee, Fiona Wright, Rodney Hall, Hugh Mackay, David Stratton, Mikey Robins, Chloe Hooper, Sally Seltmann, Amanda Curtin, Andrew Miller, Helen Nellie – well over 100! We even have a focus on comics, graphic novels and their film adaptations, as well as a Zine Fair and photographic workshop for the whole family as part of our extensive Family Sunday program.

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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 main bookcases are at home, but I do have a lot of (mainly reference) books at work. Other places where books seem to congregate at home include on the stairs and next to the bed.

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Q. How are your books organised/arranged?

A. There are only three categories: fiction and large format coffee table books (stair well); non fiction (main bookshelves) and poetry (a dedicated bookshelf near the piano and TV!).

Q. What sorts of books predominate?

A. Most of my books comprise the above; of the fiction, mainly literary; of the non-fiction, mainly art history, philosophy and literary criticism.

Q. Describe your favourite reading place.

A. In bed.

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. Perhaps unsurprisingly, I am reading books which are featured in PFWW 2019. David Malouf’s An Open Book (because I love poetry); Fiona Wright’s The World Was Whole (because I love essays); Rodney Hall’s A Stolen Season (because I love literary fiction). I am also dipping in and out of the new edition of Art: The Definitive Visual Guide (Andrew Graham-Dixon, ed), Marina Warner’s Forms of Enchantment: Writings on Art and Artists and Andrew Scull’s Madness in Civilization: A Cultural History of Insanity (the perfect book for our times). I’m always reading the latest New York Review of Books and London Review of Books too.

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

A. Still Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, Dante’s Divine Comedy, Dickens’ Great Expectations and David Copperfield, Sylvia Plath’s complete poetry, WG Sebald’s Austerlitz, Roberto Calasso’s La Folie Baudelaire, … probably too many to list really.

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. See above. They contain infinity, if that were possible.

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. None. I am a misanthrope.

Go to Perth Festival 2019 and Perth Festival Writers Week 2019 for more news about what’s on, where and when.

#pfww2019 #perthfestival #thewestaustralian #sevenwestmedia #books #literarybooks #authors #davidmalouf #fionawright #rodneyhall #marinawarner #amandacurtinauthor #newyorkreviewofbooks #londonreviewofbooks #madisonmoore

 

Aussie rural romance – cover reveal

love song - sasha wasley - cover revealDrum roll, please.

It’s time to reveal the cover for the third instalment in West Australian rural romance author Sasha Wasley’s ‘Daughters of the Outback’ series — and it’s a beauty.

Love Song, due for release on 4 June, completes the trilogy of stories featuring the Paterson girls — Willow, Free and Beth — each of whom is carving a unique place in Australia’s ruggedly picturesque North West.

The first two books in the series have been best-sellers for Sasha, and are generating plenty of interest in Germany, where they were recently released.

To coincide with the cover reveal for Love Song, Sasha tells me she’s also excited to be able to announce that she’s just sold the film rights to all three novels and hopes to see the Paterson sisters on the screen before too long.

Here’s the blurb for Love Song:

When she agreed to tutor Charlie Campbell, falling in love was the last thing on her mind.
At 17, Beth Paterson had just lost her mother and was working hard to get in to university. She didn’t expect to lose her head over a boy – and she certainly didn’t expect him to vanish without even saying goodbye.
These days, Charlie is a big star on the alternative rock scene, while Beth is a respected doctor in her hometown. But her ordered life is thrown into turmoil when Charlie comes back to fight for the tiny community where he was raised. They can’t stop crossing paths any more than Beth can ignore the resurgence of that wild attraction they once shared.
However, Beth Paterson swore no man would ever screw her over again – least of all this man. She’s been protecting her heart since he left and she’s not about to let her guard down now.

“I love that the cover has gone back to the amazing red and blue spectrum of the Kimberley region,” Sasha says.

“Beth is perfect – strong, solitary and sexy. And the best bit is the handwritten musical notes peeping through, reminding us that Charlie Campbell’s voice is always whispering in the back of Beth’s memory.”

Revisit Sasha’s guest post in my Shelf Aware blog series here.

Love Song is now available for pre-order from your favourite book store as paperback or ebook, or online via the following links:

Paperback

E-book links

Find out more or follow Sasha on these links:

Newsletter | Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram

 

Books on Tour — Teena Raffa-Mulligan

I’m delighted to welcome the warm, kind,  hard-working and talented author Teena Raffa-Mulligan as the latest guest on my blog today. Teena is taking part in the Books on Tour series, through Just Write for Kids, and is revisiting my blog after being an early guest on my Shelf Aware series last year (you can read her post here). Teena is the first author I ever interviewed — way back in the days when I was a cadet journalist — and 30+ years later I remain in awe of her energy, the breadth of her talent, and her commitment to writing and other writers. I also feel incredibly proud that we have a publisher and an illustrator in common.

Through Books on Tour, Teena is sharing the story behind the re-release of her charming, whimsical and beautiful children’s picture book Who Dresses God? (which she self-published through Novella Distribution), and you can find her other guest appearances via the links at the bottom of this interview. For now, I’m sure you’ll enjoy her answers to my questions…

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Q. Teena, can you tell me a little bit about how you came to write Who Dresses God?

A. Our younger daughter, who was about three at the time, was tucked into bed with me for a story before her afternoon nap when she asked that question. It turned out that during a recent visit with my parents, Mum had told her God knew everything about us and could see, hear and speak without eyes, ears or tongue. This had obviously given Ariane something to think about and she took it one step further: she had someone to look after her, so God must have someone who looked after Him too. We weren’t a religious family, didn’t read the Bible or go to Church, however I had grown up being exposed to frequent kitchen table discussions about the deeper meaning of life and was always encouraged to question everything I thought I knew. I’d carried this approach through with my own children, so I answered her the best I could and thought no more about it. I had no intention of writing a picture book on the subject but a few days later the story popped into my mind fully formed and I wrote it down. There was no effort involved; it was one of those rare gifts that sometimes arrive in a writer’s life – a poem, scene or chapter that feels almost as if it wrote itself and all you did was take dictation. If only writing were always so easy!

Q. Who are your target readers for this book?

A. Children who are asking questions about God, the life we live and this world we share.

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Q. What can you tell me about the illustrator and illustrations?

A. Veronica Rooke is my talented neighbourhood illustrator. For the past 12 years we’ve lived in the same street, which is really convenient. She encourages me to pursue my someday dream of being an artist, and I encourage her to write her own stories, because she has the potential to be a wonderful author/illustrator. Veronica has illustrated my two self-published picture books, plus my picture book, Friends, for small independent WA publisher Serenity Press. I also call on her whenever I need a book cover. I usually hand over my manuscript and say, “See what you come up with for this” — and I’m never disappointed. Veronica brings her own brand of humour to appropriate stories, is versatile when it comes to style, and is a pleasure to work with because she offers creative suggestions and listens to feedback.

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Creating the illustrations for Who Dresses God? presented some specific challenges because of the nature of the story. I didn’t have a clear idea of how it could be done but I did know I wanted a style that suited the gentle mood of the story. As always, Veronica came up with exactly what I wanted, even though I hadn’t known it at the time. The front cover was a surprise because I expected something conventional such as a little girl dancing about in a field of flowers with butterflies and birds. The minute I saw the dog tugging clothes off the clothes line, I loved it.

“…For God’s house is this world we share, and God is in it everywhere.” — Who Dresses God? by Teena Raffa-Mulligan

Q. When was the book originally published and how did you come to have it re-published?

A. The book was originally published in 2012. A couple of years ago the company offered all its authors the opportunity to take over the publishing of their own books and I accepted because I wanted to see if I could take this story to a wider readership. Initially I hadn’t done anything to promote Who Dresses God? I didn’t talk about it or read it during school visits due to my concern some parents might be upset if its content was in conflict with their own spiritual beliefs.

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Q. What sort of reactions have you had from young readers of this beautiful book?

A. I’ve been told by parents that the book is a favourite with their children. Most of the response has come from adults, who have welcomed the way it explains a complex subject in a way young children can understand.

Q. Why is it important to you that children have their questions answered?

A. Children come into this world with such a wonderful natural curiosity and in their earliest years they see everything without the filter of past experience. Answering their questions as they arise, being willing to share their wonder at the world in which they find themselves, nurtures an enthusiasm for learning that will stay with them throughout their lives. Shut down that questioning impulse in a young child and you limit their potential to explore who they are. It also has a knock on effect, because it can influence the way they will relate to their own children if they become parents.

Q. How many other books have you had published? For what age groups? And in which genres?

A. I’ve had 16 children’s books published, ranging from picture books and short chapter books to middle grade novels. Many of my poems and short stories for children have also been published in magazines and anthologies.

Q. Can you tell me a little bit about some of the other work you do relating to writing and reading?

A. Apart from family time, my life revolves around reading and writing. I can’t imagine living without stories. When I’m not writing, I’m thinking about stories; proofing or editing other writers’ manuscripts; running writing sessions; reading about how to improve my writing, marketing and publishing skills; attending writing events; and catching up with writer friends. I read every day – an eclectic mix of fiction and non-fiction. If I’ve had a productive morning and ticked the most important things off my To Do list, I reward myself after lunch with reading time before getting back to the business of being a writer. Sometimes – well, often – if it’s a page turner, the rest of the day will be given over to finding out what happens next.

I’m coordinator of Rockingham Writers Centre, so that involves organising our workshop and groups program, plus being co-organiser of our major annual event, a one-day convention that features an interstate agent and publisher and a program of workshops presented by leading West Australian authors. I love being involved in supporting other authors in this way.

Q. Finally, what are you working on now?

A. I’ve put together a collection of my poems for children called Sleepy Socks & Sometime Rhymes ready for release in February and that’s at the proofreading stage. I’m planning to follow it up later in the year with a collection of my short stories for children that I’ve tentatively called Oops! so that’s at layout stage and I need to organise a cover design for it. On the writing front, I’m midway through a novel about a kid who hires a parent tamer and it doesn’t have the hoped for results. I keep putting it on hold while I play publisher.

IMG_4482Keep informed about what Teena is up to on her website, blog, Facebook page and Twitter.

Find out more about the Books on Tour blog series on the links below:

Monday Dec 10 – Friday Dec 14 – www.justkidslit.com/blog

Monday Dec 10 – blog.boomerangbooks.com.au

Tuesday Dec 11 – www.educateeempower.com.au

Wednesday Dec 12 – www.readforfun.com.au

Books on Tour – Rachel Nightingale

Rachel Nightingale

Author Rachel Nightingale

This week I’m again taking part in the Books on Tour blog series — this time to help author Rachel Nightingale share details of her latest release, Columbine’s Tale (Odyssey Books), which sounds perfect for young readers with an interest in fantasy, intrigue and a hint of romance. 

You may recall that I previously featured author Kellie Byrnes and her children’s picture book Cloud Conductor (illustrated by Ann-Marie Finn and published by Wombat Books) in this series, and Anne Donnelly who wrote and illustrated Ori’s Clean-Up, a picture book that introduces children to some important messages about recycling and environmental sustainability.

Books on Tour is a project by the wonderful folk at Just Kids’ Lit, who conducted a delightful interview with my book, Every Family is Different (here).

I hope you’ll enjoy getting to know a little bit about Rachel through her answers to my questions. You can find more Books on Tour posts about Rachel and Columbine’s Tale by following the links at the end of this post.

Col Cover SmallQ. Rachel, how would you describe the work that you do and how you do it?

A. I create magical worlds and people them with characters who are curious, brave and adventurous. Every book is a combination of research, daydreaming and writing. I love every part of the process and I love seeking out inspiration, in books and pictures and the world around me.

Q. What can you tell us about your latest writing project/book release?

A. Columbine’s Tale is the second book in the Tales of Tarya series, which is about the power of creativity. It’s about a young woman, Mina, who discovers that when she tells stories she can change the world. She joins a troupe of travelling actors and becomes bound up in romance, danger and a long hidden secret.

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 bookcases everywhere! The bathroom and kitchen are the only rooms without bookcases. There’s one in every bedroom, the study and the hallway.

Q. How are your books organised/arranged?

A. It varies by room. Each of the kids has their own bookcase and filing system. My son has a very long bookcase and one entire shelf is Terry Pratchett, in order of publication. My husband tends to group his by topic so there are different sizes grouped together. I like the look of having taller books together and shorter ones together, so mine are generally by author or topic, but size plays a role too.

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Q. What sorts of books predominate?

A. We’ve got everything. We homeschooled both kids at various times, so there are all sorts of non-fiction, educational books, as well as many genres of fiction, Eastern philosophy, historical costuming, Celtic mythology… A wide range.

Q. Describe your favourite reading place.

A. Real or fantastical? Real would be a chair in the living room, with a soft blanket, my cat nestled in my lap, my dog next to me and a cup of tea and a couple of chocolates on the table. Fantastical would be a hideaway somewhere warm, with a view of the sea or the forest. But still with a cup of tea and chocolates.

MermaidQ. 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 started a book called The Mermaid, by Christina Henry. It starts out like a traditional fairy tale, with a lonely fisherman catching and releasing a mermaid. The writing is beautiful, mythic and traditional. But from the look of the description it’s going to go in an interesting direction so I’m really curious to read on. It came in my last Never Never Book Box, which is a fantastic spec fiction subscription box that comes with books and treats every two months.

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

A. I love the Dark is Rising series by Susan Cooper, which brings in elements of British and Welsh myth so brilliantly. Anything by Ursula Le Guin is a fantastic read. And I just finished the Verity Fassbinder urban fantasy series set in Brisbane by Australian Angela Slatter – they are hilarious, great story telling and resonate with all sorts of mythical characters.

The books to save

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 would have to take the ones that are irreplaceable. Most books I could buy again, but the two my Dad wrote are hard to find now so I would have to take them. The third one would be Chase the Moon, by Catherine Nicolson, which inspires me so much with its romantic story and lush descriptions. Such a beautiful book, and again, hard to find, so I couldn’t possibly leave it behind.

Find out more about Rachel on her website, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Use these links to buy Columbine’s Tale and book one in the series, Harlequin’s Riddle.

Follow Rachel on the Books on Tour blog series on these sites:

Tuesday 23 October www.karentyrrell.com

Thursday 25 October www.readforfun.com.au

Friday 26 October www.littlebigreads.com

Monday 29 October http://sharingyourstory.com.au/

Tuesday 30 October www.carolyndenman.com

Wednesday 31 October blog.boomerangbooks.com.au

Thursday 1 November www.nikkireads.blog

Friday 2 November www.intheirownwrite.wordpress.com

Shelf Aware – Alice Nelson

ALICE NELSON PHOTO

Alice Nelson recently released The Children’s House.

Australian author Alice Nelson is a rare talent. She has the capacity to take some of the most challenging, heartbreaking and horrific topics and write about them in ways that are accessible and engaging without compromising on their oftentimes brutal honesty.  In the wake of the release of her latest novel, The Children’s House (Penguin Australia), I’ve been remembering the impact of an earlier work — After This: Survivors of the Holocaust speak (Fremantle Press) — a collection of interviews with Australian-based survivors of the Holocaust. It was released in 2015, to coincide with the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, and it remains one of the most compelling reflections of strength, resilience and the healing powers of hope that I have ever read.

Alice was named one of the Sydney Morning Herald’s Best Young Australian Novelists for her first novel, The Last Sky, and her short fiction, essays and reviews have appeared in publications such as The Sydney Review of Books, The Asia Literary Review, Southerly Magazine and The West Australian. 

I took great delight in reading her responses to my questions, and was mesmerised by the image of the magnificent floor-to-ceiling shelves that house her collection of books. I’m confident you’ll also enjoy reading this post from my latest Shelf Aware guest.

Alice desk

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

A. My first love is fiction, and I’m happiest when I’m immersed in work on a novel, though I do find the writing process frequently agonising and usually very slow. I write as much as I possibly can; in whatever spells of time I can carve out for myself.

Q. What can you tell us about your latest writing project/book release?

FCAA. My latest novel, published this month, is called The Children’s House (Penguin Australia). The book had a complex genesis. One level it grew out of a cluster of questions that would not leave me. How do we reconcile ourselves with great loss? What do we do with the complicated burdens of inheritance? How do those whose psyches have been profoundly damaged care for children? What are the best ways to remember and to memorialise? Why is the cost of love sometimes so heavy? These are all questions that inherently have no real answers, but writing the novel was a way for me to immerse myself in these concerns.

On a more tangible level, The Children’s House was very much inspired and influenced by my work over many years with refugees and asylum seekers, and some of the complex friendships I have formed with several individuals.

The novel is out soon and it’s an exciting, but also rather nerve-wracking, time to know that the book is on the cusp of its journey into the wider world.

ALICE NELSON BOOKSHELVES

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’m extraordinarily fortunate in that I have a dedicated library with floor-to-ceiling bookshelves and a sliding ladder. It’s been one of the dreams of my adult life to have such an arrangement, and it gives me immense joy. Of course, despite this extravagant amount of shelf space, my house is also full of stacks of books in various other places, including the ever-expanding pile of books to be read that I keep beside my bed.

Q. How are your books organised/arranged?

A. Despite my much more pragmatic stepson’s efforts to entice me to apply the Dewey Decimal System to the ordering of my library, I’m afraid that it is rather more haphazard than anyone scientifically minded would approve of. Fiction is ordered alphabetically, but non-fiction is arranged far more idiosyncratically, with clusters of books that just seem to belong together. There are sections for various books I’ve used for research, a poetry shelf, a section on birds, a shelf of art books, and assorted other thematic groupings which are mostly intelligible only to me.

Q. What sorts of books predominate?

A. Literary fiction seems to make up the vast majority of my collection, though there’s a substantial amount of poetry, essays and various non-fiction books too. There are also various esoteric clusters of books I’ve collected as research for writing projects. There’s a character in The Children’s House who is an avid birdwatcher, so I have a whole shelf of books on birds and birdwatching. The research for the novel also lead me into explorations of the Romani people of Eastern Europe, the Hasidic Jewish community of Crown Heights in Brooklyn, kibbutzim in Israel and the lives of Catholic nuns, so there are little pockets of all these mysterious and seemingly unrelated texts I’ve accumulated on the strange circuitous journey of writing a novel.

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

A. There are so many writers I adore and who have been so profoundly important in my life that it’s always hard to narrow it down. I love Anne Michaels, Michael Ondaatje, Chekhov, Siri Hustvedt, Lorrie Moore, Edwidge Danticat, W.G Sebald, Helen Garner, Tolstoy, Louise Gluck, Stanley Kunitz, Marguerite Duras, Colum McCann, Michael Cunningham, Toni Morrison. I have so many favourite books that it’s almost impossible to nominate them in a list but I do think that Michael Ondaatje’s The English Patient is a perfect novel; to me it is completely inexhaustible. I could read it a thousand times.

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 would choose my copy of Let The Great World Spin, which Colum McCann signed for me in New York, the copy of The Rings of Saturn by W.G Sebald that I took with me on my own pilgrimage in his footsteps along the Suffolk coast and a tiny, limited edition collection of essays by Anne Michaels called Infinite Gradation because it is such a rare and beautiful book.

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 think I would have to invite Marguerite Duras, Michael Ondaatje and Anne Michaels. We would sit in the sun under a plane tree (ideally in the south of France) and drink Lillet blanc and talk about life, love and the complex inheritances and hauntings of the past. Although in reality, writers are often reclusive and introverted so perhaps I would need to stock up on the Lillet!

After This

Alice Nelson is also the author of After This: Survivors of the Holocaust speak (Fremantle Press).

You can connect with Alice on her website or on Facebook.

How to write a successful media release

This week, the dynamic team at Marketing for Change posted a guest blog I wrote, offering tips and advice for writing a media release to help people promote their work, community group, charity or organisation. Marketing for Change is a Perth-based social enterprise helping charities, governments and social businesses deliver positive outcomes for the people they serve.

You can read my guest blog here.

Shelf Aware — David Whish-Wilson

IMG-2059

Author David Whish-Wilson.

David Whish-Wilson is one of those rare authors who has achieved both critical  and popular acclaim — and for good reason. David’s fifth novel, The Coves, was recently published by Fremantle Press, and is generating plenty of interest among readers of quality historical crime fiction.

David was born in Newcastle, New South Wales, and raised in Singapore, Victoria and Western Australia. According to his website, he “left Australia in 1984 to live in Europe, Africa and Asia, where he worked as a barman, actor, streetseller, labourer, exterminator, factory worker, gardener, clerk, travel agent, teacher and drug trial guinea pig”.

SummonsHis first novel, The Summons (Vintage — Random House, 2006) is a thriller set in nazi Germany during World War II. Line of Sight (Penguin), the first of David’s novels set in the seedier suburbs of Perth and featuring detective Frank Swann, was short-listed for a 2011 Ned Kelly Award. Penguin also released the sequel, Zero at the Bone, and Fremantle Press published the third Frank Swann novel, Old Scores, in 2016.

PerthDavid’s non-fiction book Perth, part of the New South Publishing city series, was short-listed for the 2014 WA Premier’s Book Awards. 

David has taught in the prison system in WA and in Fiji, where he started the country’s first prisoner writing program, which now operates in all Fijian prisons. He currently lives in Fremantle, Western Australia, and teaches creative writing at Curtin University.

If you’re looking for a top-notch title for a Father’s Day gift, you won’t go wrong choosing a book by David Whish-Wilson. For now, I’m sure you’ll enjoy reading his responses to my Shelf Aware questions.

 

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

A. I work in a range of forms and genres. I’ve written the text for a war memorial, for museum plaques and public artworks. I like writing creative non-fiction that refers to place, usually in essay form but with one book-length work (Perth, part of the NewSouth city series) on the subject. My primary trade is however as a crime writer, with three novels set in 1970s/80s Perth (and another out with Fremantle Press next year) that uses the form to explore the kinds of stories about the kinds of characters that you don’t necessarily find in history books, for example. I treat writing as a job like any other, and try and make sure that every book I write extends my understanding of the craft. My perfect writing day involves a long morning shift and a long afternoon shift, broken by lunch and a short siesta, with some editing done very late at night.

9781925591279Q. What can you tell us about your latest writing project/book release?

A. My latest release is The Coves, out with Fremantle Press. It’s a new form for me, mixing a coming of age story with a crime narrative structure. The main character, Samuel Bellamy, one of the first children born to the Swan River colony, travels aged twelve to gold-rush San Francisco in 1849, where he falls in with a gang of Australian criminals known as the Sydney Coves, or the Sydney Ducks.

I was lucky enough to travel to San Francisco to research the story and this fascinating bunch of men and women who ran organised crime in the waterfront area of San Francisco throughout the 1850s.  I found it an interesting experience writing from the perspective of a child protagonist in a chaotic and lawless adult setting. I like the way children observe the world, and how they experience time more slowly, enabling them to be more ‘present’ in the world. This way of seeing the world enabled me to write The Coves as a small, tight historical crime narrative rather than as a giant historical epic, with just a few main characters and a more limited setting. Using the structure of a crime narrative allowed me to work with creating suspense over a smaller timeframe, without skimping on characterisation or a developed sense of the place as it was then.

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 wife is a high-school English teacher and so most of the books at home are hers, or those belonging to my three kids. I have a massive TBR pile beside my bed. The usual process is to work through the pile and transfer them to the boot of my car. When that gets too full I move them into my office at Curtin University, which is where I keep the majority of my books.

Q. How are your books organised/arranged?

A. Fortunately my office is full of bookshelves. Even so, there are plenty in boxes and piled on the floor. There are gaps in the shelves where I’ve leant out books to students. A while back I worked as a poetry teacher in the prison system over here – I loaned out dozens of books to inmates over the years, never expecting them back. I quite like the idea of those books still floating around the prison system. A couple of years ago when I turned fifty I decided to cull my book aggregation (this term is more accurate for me, I think, rather than collection) based on the single question – will I want to read this book again before I die? Answering this question enabled me to donate away several hundred books.

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My bookshelves aren’t particularly ordered beyond categories such as poetry, crime fiction, Aboriginal subjects (which I used to teach), writing textbooks, philosophy or theory, history, and books about Perth (a subject I find endlessly fascinating). I have some favourite writers whose books are placed together, whose works I sought out until I’d read everything they’d ever written, such as Paul Bowles, Joseph Roth, Jean Genet, Penelope Fitzgerald, Megan Abbott, Peter Temple, Cormac McCarthy, James Ellroy, Saul Bellow, Gail Jones, Joan London and plenty of others. I also have a shelf of signed books written by friends, students, or books that I’ve blurbed.

Q. Describe your favourite reading place.

A. I can read anywhere, although my favourite place is reclined on the swag in my writing room, or in bed, or if the kids are being noisy, on the bean bag in our TV room.

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 reading a terrific historical fiction novel called The Making of Martin Sparrow, which I’m reviewing for ABR. I’m currently reading a book that was given to me by a writer, Alistair McCartney, who grew up in Perth but who now lives in LA. It’s called The Disintegrations and consists of short meditations upon memory and death. It’s beautifully written and recently won the USA Publishing Triangle’s Ferro-Grumley award for LGBTQ Fiction. My youngest kids are nine and twelve, and at night we’ve returned to doing bedtime ‘story-time’, involving each of us taking turns to read a couple of chapters a night of AJ Betts’ latest novel, Hive. I’m loving it, and so are they.

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

A. Too many to mention, particularly as I range widely across genre and form, with favourite writers in each. One thing I will say is that over the past decade in particular, I find myself reading more and more Australian writers. Local writers whose work I wait in anticipation for include Angela Savage, Amanda Curtin, Alan Carter, Iain Ryan, Jock Serong, Kim Scott, Josephine Rowe, Andrew Nette, Gail Jones, Julienne van Loon, Deborah Robertson, Paul Hardisty, Rohan Wilson and about a dozen more.

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 just inherited a book that my great-grandfather Oliver and his brother Francis Whish-Wilson brought out with them from India (where they were born into a Scottish soldiering family) when they migrated together to Tasmania in the early 1880s. It’s the collected poetical works of Robbie Burns. I’m just about to begin reading it, so would grab that first. I’m not too sentimental about books but would probably grab one of the Ngugi wa Thiong’o novels that I bought in Tanzania when I lived in East Africa as a teenager, and maybe Meja Mwangi’s Going Down River Road, which is equally battered and well-travelled.

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 love to get Cervantes, Peter Temple and Gogol together in a room. Spanish and Australian wit meets Russian inquisitiveness and straight-talking. I would serve them a big bowl of zarzuela, my favourite soup, with fresh bread. There would be lots of red wine. I wouldn’t speak much, I don’t think, just listen.

For more about David, visit his website, or follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

#davidwhishwilson #fremantlepress #thecoves #crimefiction #australiancrimefiction #westaustralianauthor