Shelf Awareness — Tess Woods

Tess

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?

LAFF

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?

Eliza

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 Awareness — Alli Sinclair

 

Alli 2016.jpg

Award-winning Australian author Alli Sinclair.

As has happened with a number of my guests on Shelf Awareness, 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 Awareness — 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 Awareness 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)?

MM5

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)

MM4

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.

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(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.)

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(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.

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Shelf Awareness — Tim Graham

DSC_3232A slight change of approach for my bookish blog this week, as I introduce a behind-the-scenes operator within the world of books and publishing. Tim Graham is the deputy editor of Good Reading magazine — and I’d like to make it known here and now that he’s right up there among the very best editors and sub-editors I’ve worked with in 30-plus years as a journalist.

I’ve been writing author interviews, book reviews and an occasional column for Good Reading for a number of years now, and one of the most satisfying aspects of this job has been recognising the great care and consideration with which Tim treats every single article I submit for publication. There’s a certain degree of pedantry required to be an excellent editor or sub-editor — getting every word and every sentence just right is not negotiable for those who excel in this role — but Tim manages to bring humanity and warmth to the task. If he has to query a particular word use of mine, or question the accuracy of information included in one of my stories, he does so tactfully and, more importantly, kindly. And, I must confess, he’s usually justified in raising the question.

I also thoroughly enjoy exchanging bookish emails with Tim, which quite often divert and meander through all sorts of philosophical and moral subjects, from the benefits of yoga to the beauty and value of Pitman’s Shorthand. I may not have met him in person, but I suspect he’s a kindred spirit, and I appreciate every opportunity to collaborate with him professionally, albeit from a distance.

Of course, all of what I’ve just written means I was particularly keen to see what sorts of books Tim has on his bookshelves at home, and what sorts of authors he admires the most. Not surprisingly, there are a lot of writing, editing, language and grammar titles to be seen. What I enjoyed most about Tim’s guest post, though, is that his wry sense of humour is also clearly evident. I’m sure you’ll appreciate the opportunity to peruse his shelves and read his responses to my questions.

IMG_4836Q. How would you describe the work that you do and how you do it?

A. I’m the deputy editor of Good Reading, an Australian monthly magazine filled with interviews of authors, other interviews in which we ask various well-known people questions about the books that have made a big impact on them, a book quiz and loads of book reviews.

My work involves editing book reviews and articles and writing various parts of the magazine, such as the book trivia section, the quiz and intros to many of the articles. I also write a couple of book reviews for each issue.

I do the fact-checking of almost every part of the magazine. If I were working as a subeditor at The New Yorker, then the copy would have already been fact-checked by junior staff by the time it reaches me. We don’t have the lavish resources of The New Yorker, so I do most of the fact-checking. I also download high-resolution images of book covers from publishers’ websites.

There are no stringent regulations that govern who can call themselves an editor – unlike the laws, for example, that pertain to lawyers or psychologists – so it’s possible to have a scant affinity or facility for language yet call yourself a subeditor. Nonetheless, I take the work very seriously, as indicated by the fact that I have read countless books on the topic of writing and editing. A couple of my favourites are On Writing Well by William Zinsser and Writing Tools by Roy Peter Clark, as well as various style guides (The Economist’s Style Guide and The Chicago Manual of Style), and Bryson’s Dictionary for Writers and Editors by Bill Bryson.

One of the frustrating things about working with words is that many of them are in a state of flux. The meanings of many old words that are still used have changed over time, and expressions that were once considered infra dig often become acceptable. All that’s fine, but what do you do when an expression is in that liminal phase, where it is not entirely rejected by polite company but also not yet fully embraced by the guardians of the English language? An example might be the word ‘whom’, as in ‘That’s the man whom I saw yesterday.’ ‘Whom’ still has its place, but in many contexts it now sounds a bit stuffy although, strictly speaking, it’s perfectly grammatically correct.

TG_bookshelves_16_My_2017_24Q. Where are the main bookcases in your home? Do you also keep books in other places at home (or elsewhere)?

A. There are bookshelves in every room except the bathroom.

In the lounge room there is a large bookshelf that I bought from a romance bookshop that was closing down, so it was going cheap. It’s about 2.4 metres wide and 1.8 metres high and very sturdy; it’s made of solid timber.

Another room has a relatively small bookshelf made by that popular manufacturer of flat pack furniture, so it consists of that cheap, nasty medium-density fibreboard, which I suspect is just euphemism for a mix of sawdust and glue. The shelves tend to sag a bit if I put a lot of heavy books on them.

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The main bookshelf is also in this other room. It’s a floor-to-ceiling monster that would probably kill anyone if it fell on them. It’s 3.6 metres wide by 2.6 metres high. I had it made specially after having been driven mad for ages by piles of higgledy-piggledy books scattered around the place. I wanted a bookshelf that was going to make maximum use of the entire wall of the room, but I couldn’t find anything off-the-shelf, so to speak, that was going to fill the bill. I heard about a place called Twin Town Joinery, in the town of Forster, about 300km north of Sydney on the north coast of New South Wales. The price they quoted me for the bespoke shelves I wanted was so much cheaper than the quotes I obtained from carpentry outfits in Sydney – even taking into account the fact that they were going to have to transport this book-holding behemoth hundreds of kilometres south to Sydney.

The only thing that worried me was that the people at Twin Town Joinery weren’t going to come out to my place and measure up the wall. I had to do that myself, which made me a bit nervous. What if I got the measurements wrong? So I took the measurements – and took them again and again. And then one more time – just to be sure. Then about two more times after that. It’s the closest I’ve come to manifesting the symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder.

After they made the bookshelves, the obliging folk at Twin Town Joinery motored down to Sydney with the disassembled shelves. Within a few hours they had converted these random bits of timber into an impressive, wall-straddling library.

I was – and I am still – very happy with it. The shelves are conveniently adjustable, allowing me to accommodate small books and large ones.

The last few paragraphs, I now realise, sound like an advert for Twin Town Joinery. But I have no affiliation with them whatsoever, apart from being a satisfied customer. The message of the story is this: if you need more shelving to accommodate your books, check carpenters and joiners in regional areas and compare their quotes to those of their big-city counterparts. You might be pleasantly surprised.

Too many book lovers, unable to find affordable shelving, either put up with inadequate space for their books or throw them out. Before you throw out your prized volumes, however, consider contacting a carpenter and getting a quote for shelving. It will be so much cheaper than the stuff you see in furniture shops and, because it’s custom made, it will make maximum use of your available space.

Q. How are your books organised?

A. Over the last year I’ve encountered two people who sort their books according to the colour on the spine. One of these people was a bit abashed about divulging her chromatic cataloguing system. It’s the sort of thing that I thought an artist or interior designer might do, but these people have nothing to do with the world of visual arts.

I would find such a categorisation system utterly frustrating, because I think of books in terms of their content rather than their appearance. The appearance of a book, however, is very important to me, and contrary to the proverb that you can’t judge a book by its cover, I know – in most cases – that you can. We receive a lot of books at work, most of which come from the big publishers. But some of them are self-published, and you can usually spot a self-published book instantly just from its cover design, which is almost always far less attractive than the covers of books from the big publishers, who employ clever and skilled graphic designers.

My fiction books are arranged in alphabetical order according to the surname of the author. My non-fiction books, which predominate, are more or less arranged according to subject matter.

What is this thing called scienceThe categories of non-fiction books include religion (Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism and Hinduism), philosophy, etiquette, essays, popular sociology, economics, politics, how to argue, crosswords, fringe science (such as the books of Rupert Sheldrake), the philosophy underpinning science (books like What Is This Thing Called Science? by AF Chalmers) animal rights (books by Australian philosopher Peter Singer; I love the simplicity and clarity of his writing), various foreign language books (German, Finnish and a Mandarin primer; I can speak passable German, very little Finnish and no Mandarin whatsoever; a friend gave me the Mandarin book in the hope that I would teach myself one day, which may happen if I decide to go to China and need to get myself out of any tricky situations), yoga, cycling, memory improvement, biographies, travel books (both travel narratives and guides; my favourite travel narrative writer is Paul Theroux, who has such phenomenal energy as a writer, despite the fact that he is 76 years old), editing and proofreading, grammar, punctuation, indexing, style guides, usage guides, interviewing guides, journal writing, journalism, history, food, the politics of food, recipe books, practical psychology, photography (flash photography, exposure, Instagram, iPhone photography), Photoshop, graphic design, books on how to create a website (books on CSS, HTML and JavaScript, the three most commonly used languages for creating websites. I’ve really only got to grips with CSS and HTML; I still haven’t advanced beyond the first few pages of the JavaScript books).

Q. What sort of books predominate?

A. Non-fiction.

Q. Describe your favourite reading place.

A. My favourite reading place is on a train or bus. Suburban commuter trains are fine, but an intercity express gives me a lot more time to chew through the pages.

I seem to lose myself much more easily in the book I’m reading if I’m on a train or bus. If I’m at home, I always seem to be afflicted by intrusive thoughts about the various tasks I should be doing around the place. But on a bus or train, I’m removed from the visual cues that, I suspect, play on my subconscious mind and cause me to get distracted.

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

A. I’ve just finished reading The Seven Good Years by Israeli writer Etgar Keret. I loved it. It’s what I call one of my bus-stop books, which means I bought it as an e-book from Amazon and I read it on my phone while waiting for the bus. I’m not very good at reading real books while waiting for a bus, as I find it very difficult to juggle the book, plus the various bits of luggage I usually carry, while at the same time looking up every 20 seconds or so to see if the bus is barrelling towards me. If I’m reading a paper book, then I like to have a pencil with me to make notes in the margins or underline various parts. The pencil just adds to all the encumbrances that surround me as I travel to and from work (such as my pre-packed breakfast and lunch), so reading an e-book on my phone while at the bus stop enables me to get onto the bus within seconds without having to juggle a book, pencil and a ruler.

You asked me about the books I’m reading. Sorry for the diversion about e-books. Back to the Etgar Keret book, The Seven Good Years: it’s divided into seven sections (Year One, Year Two and so on). Each section contains short pieces – about three to five pages long – that deal with various aspects of the author’s life over a seven-year period. It’s bookended by the birth of his son, Lev, and the death of his father. Etgar lives in Israel but he often travels to writers’ festivals around the world, so his destinations also feature in the pieces. In one piece he writes about his job as a lecturer at a university in Beersheba and how he and the students often have to take shelter because of imminent rocket attacks. We might think it’s possible to live the full human experience in Australia, but no university student here, thank goodness, must regularly take cover against incoming bombs. Many of us say we want to live a rich, full life, filled with experiences, but some experiences you really don’t want to undergo. At Good Reading we champion the books of Australian writers, but this book makes me realise how fascinating it is to read books by writers who lead very different lives from those of average Australians.

Despite the threat of being bombed, the book is actually really funny. It’s been translated from the Hebrew, and although I have no knowledge of Hebrew, the translation seems very smooth. Some translations sound really clunky. I recently looked on Amazon at the preview pages of an English translation of a book by Ferdinand von Schirach, a German lawyer. The language sounded stilted and awkward. Translation really is an art – it shares some similarities with writing but it is quite different and requires extraordinary skills that not every speaker of the two languages in question possesses.

I’ve also read about half of The Pleasures of Leisure by Tasmanian writer Robert Dessaix. This is a pleasantly discursive book not only about the pleasures of leisure but also about its virtues. Dessaix notes that in many sectors of our society there is a deep distrust of leisure. He recounts an incident in which he was once seated next to a billionaire on a plane. The rich man blathered at length about his many achievements while Robert Dessaix politely listened. After the billionaire got tired of his own voice he turned to Dessaix and asked him: ‘And what do you do?’

‘Nothing,’ lied Robert Dessaix.

‘Nothing?’ the billionaire responded.

‘Nothing,’ Robert Dessaix said again.

That brought the conversation to a satisfying halt. Satisfying for Robert Dessaix, that is, who had tired of listening to the billionaire blowhard.

Another book I desperately want to read is Venice by Jan Morris. It was written in the early 1960s. I’ve read bits of it and loved her use of language.

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

A. The recently deceased AA Gill, Bill Bryson, Helen Garner, Paul Theroux. Some of Susan Hill’s ghost stories (The Woman in Black, The Small Hand, Dolly). The Tall Man: Death and Life on Palm Island by Chloe Hooper. Joe Cinque’s Consolation, This House of Grief, True Stories and The Feel of Steel by Helen Garner.

I first encountered the books of Bill Bryson about 20 years ago when a family member was sick and could not read books, but she did have the energy to listen to them. I borrowed audiobook versions of a couple of Bill Bryson books. I also ended up listening to them. They were read by an actor named William Roberts, who is an outstanding reader. I’ve since found out that many actors supplement their incomes by reading books. They have been trained in the art of using their voice, so they are natural candidates as audiobook readers. I’ve also heard Bill Bryson reading his own books. Sorry, Bill. You write great books, but you are no match for William Roberts, who reads your books much more skilfully than you do, with your soft, mumbling voice.

This discussion about talking books reminds me of another sort of audiobook that I love. It’s actually an app rather than a book. It’s called If Poems, and it features the text of dozens and dozens of well-known and well-loved poems – but also some poetry that is not so well known but which the creators thought deserved more attention. The app also features audio readings of the poems by famous UK actors, such as Tom Hiddleston, Bill Nighy and Helena Bonham Carter. The blokes on this app are good – especially Tom Hiddleston with his astonishingly good Aussie accent – but none of them can hold a candle to Helena Bonham Carter. She is a knockout reader of poetry. Her pauses, her varying speeds of delivery, the tones of tenderness and spite – she has it all. And she’s so funny. Hearing her read poems is such a delight. If you have any affinity for language, get this app – If Poems. It will cost you only a few dollars.

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. Probably the first book I would grab is one that I have only ever flicked through and have never read. It has, however, great sentimental value. It’s the Finnish–English, English–Finnish dictionary that my maternal grandfather brought with him when he migrated to Australia in the 1920s. The dictionary is over 100 years old but it’s still reasonably robust.

Some years back I learned the rudiments of the Finnish language in a class at an adult education course. I was intending to go to Finland the following year – which I did – and I wanted to know at least a bit of the language. I ended up buying a small dictionary that had been published in the previous few years, but I did occasionally consult the old dictionary to see if there were any significant changes in language over the intervening decades between the publication of the two books.

The other two books I would grab – if you could call them books – are diaries that my grandmother wrote when she and my grandfather sailed to Europe in 1957. The details are fairly mundane and would be of no interest to anyone outside my family, but I love looking at the curly, distinctive, old-fashioned script in which my grandmother wrote.

I love just about all the other books I own, but I can’t think of any that I would grab in an emergency. Most of them would be replaceable – or they would be if I were one of those people who obsessively catalogue every book they own – but my grandfather’s dictionary and my grandmother’s diaries could not be replaced.

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. This might sound a bit odd, but I have no great desire to meet my favourite authors. If a friend of mine were inviting one of my favourite authors to dinner and they also invited me, then of course I would be intrigued and go along and talk to them. But I wouldn’t make any huge effort to meet them. I’m a bit wary of celebrity and fame.

At author talks and book signings I am never one to rush up to the author at the end of the talk. The desperate need to be the first to meet an author at a bookshop always strikes me as a bit unseemly. If I happened to bump into the author on the street, I would probably strike up a conversation if I could think of something interesting to say that they hadn’t already heard thousands of times (‘I loved your last book!’). But otherwise I’d leave them alone.

That said – now that I think about it – there is one author I wouldn’t mind talking to, and that’s travel writer Paul Theroux. In one of his books he gave a bit of insight into his research process. He always carries a paper notebook and a pen with him and he constantly scribbles in it. Some writers seem to give the impression that their words magically appear on the page, as if all they had to do was transcribe the peerless prose that their brain was effortlessly conveying to their writing hand. Paul Theroux is not like that at all. Writing, for him, is not a rarefied, purely intellectual activity. He admits to the physical hard work of writing. I can see him in my mind’s eye, out in some far-flung corner of the planet, paying attention to everything around him while wielding a notebook and pen and frantically trying to get every point down while at the same time trying to observe what’s going on around him.

His practice of taking a notebook everywhere is something that many writers could benefit from. Most of us, if we don’t write down the details of what we observe or what we think, will lose those thoughts and observations. The notebook and pen (or the voice recognition app and the notes app on a phone) will counteract this tendency to forget the detail that brings writing to life.

I also wouldn’t mind talking with Helen Garner. She strikes me as such a straightforward person who isn’t reluctant to reveal her foibles and failings – unlike many people who are so desperate to impress others. Perhaps it’s this candour that contributes to the quality of her writing. I might ask her how she goes about making notes for the books she writes and what she thinks makes her such a first-rate observer of other humans.

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Shelf Awareness — Sasha Wasley

author pic 300x300Sasha Wasley’s new novel Dear Banjo was only officially released on June 3, but it’s already generating considerable positive interest on bookish blogs and online reader forums. Set on a cattle station in Western Australia’s remote and spectacular Kimberley region, it’s described in the blurb as a story about “two best friends who were never meant to fall in love”. The ‘Banjo’ of the title is Willow ‘Banjo’ Paterson, whose family owns and runs Paterson Downs station. She and neighbour Tom Forrest were best friends throughout their childhood, until a rift comes between them. Ten years later, after she’s completed a Masters degree and teaching sustainable practices at university, Banjo returns to take over management of Paterson Downs, keen to introduce humane production methods and gain organic certification, and hoping to renew her friendship with Tom. It’s the first of three books in Sasha’s ‘Daughters of the Outback’ series, through Penguin Random House, and heralds the arrival of a significant new talent in Australian rural fiction.

DB 1000 wideSasha was born and raised in Perth, Western Australia, and has completed a PhD in cultural theory. According to her biographical notes, she loves “nature, Jane Austen and puns”. She lives in the Swan Valley wine region just outside Perth, with her partner and two daughters, “surrounded by dogs, cats and chickens”.

I’ve known Sasha professionally for ten years or more, through her work in PR and communications, so it was a delightful moment of serendipity for both of us when a mutual friend suggested I might read and review Dear Banjo. Of course, I was also quick to invite Sasha to be a guest on Shelf Awareness, and I’m confident you’ll enjoy reading her responses to my questions. Boil the billy, put your feet up, and take a few minutes to find out a little bit more about Sasha Wasley.

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

 

A. I am a two-thirds author and a one-third communications officer for a not-for-profit youth organisation. I write commercial fiction, mostly romance but always with a meaningful plot through which the romance develops. I’ve written in paranormal, mystery, young adult and now rural romance genres! I write and edit every single day, and when I finish a book and let it sit for a few weeks, I get very twitchy until I find something else to work on!

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

A. Dear Banjo is my first foray into rural romance and also my first major book deal with a traditional publisher. It’s about Willow Paterson, a young woman of 29 years old who returns from years of study and academic work in Perth to take over the management of her family’s cattle station. Her dream is to build it into an organic, humane operation – a dream she once shared with her best friend and neighbour, Tom. But romance got in the way and a decade has passed since she even spoke to Tom. Dear Banjo is the tale of Willow’s return, how their relationship is reignited, and the leap of faith that is opening up and being vulnerable with another person.

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

A. I have a book case in my study, one in my lounge, and one in my bedroom. My daughters both have them in their rooms, too. And I have an unofficial bookcase (AKA a precarious stack) of books on my bedside table … not to mention the digital shelves on my Kindle. It’s safe to say we are quite fond of books around here.
Oh, and I also have a small shelf of my own books!

Q. How are your books organised/arranged?

shelf awareness wasley 2

A. Ahem, arranged, yes.
Let’s call it ‘randomly’! Actually, I moved house last year and I did carry out some vague organising of my books. My Ikea Expedit shelf now holds reference books in one square, cooking and science books in another, and various eclectic novels and kids’ books in the other sections! Our bedroom bookshelf is largely my partner’s sci-fi/fantasy collection and most of my university theory books reside in the lounge, along with a goodly mix of more novels and kids’ books. When I was a child, I organised my books like a library, even cutting and sticking little labels with the first three letters of the author’s surname on the spine. But I had more time as a kid, so now they just get shoved on shelves at random! It can take months to find one I’m looking for.

Q. What sorts of books predominate?

A. There are a lot of my old favourites – Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (and Through the Looking Glass), Agatha Christie, etc. But if I had to name any predominating category of books, I would say it’s a pretty even cut between novels (commercial and ‘literary’) and my theory texts from my PhD days – feminist and postmodern theory. There’s also a healthy smattering of humour – comic books (The Far Side), comedian’s books, as well as real life mysteries.

Q. Describe your favourite reading place.

A. I usually lie in bed to read. Often, I am accompanied by my gorgeous white cat, who sleeps beside me on the pillow with her beautiful purr going next to my head. It’s very Zen. Otherwise, I read in a recliner lounge chair.

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

Nona and MeA. I’m currently reading Nona and Me by Clare Atkins. She wrote the book while living at the remote Aboriginal community of Yirrkala, in north-east Arnhem Land, which is also where her novel is set. I’m reading it because I stumbled across it in the process of doing research for a novel I’m writing that also features a remote community. It’s a young adult novel, and a very good read that cleverly expresses the dual pressures of conscience/heart and school/teen life. It has some beautifully real descriptions of life on the land, and some very clever inner monologue about how we make choices.

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

A. My all-time favourite author is Jane Austen, and the book is Persuasion. It combines the magic of quiet tension, high drama, perfect structure, and a loyal, lifelong love that makes your heart melt. I have too many favourites to list, so I will just mention a couple of my recent favourites. I really loved We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler, and Gould’s Book of Fish by Richard Flanagan. In recent months, I read Tess Woods’ Love at First Flight and it made me cry and gave me a terrible book hangover!

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

A. I’m going to cheat and choose some collected works! I rarely re-read any books, but there are certain authors I will happily re-read because reading their books feels like wrapping myself in a comfy old blanket. It would be my collected works of Jane Austen (several novels and her juvenilia in one enormous volume!), because her novels are so beautifully constructed they almost make me weep with envy, and her childhood works are hilarious. The collected works of Lewis Carroll (that guy was weird), because he’s very funny, and his poetry is brilliant, and his subversion of great institutions was wonderfully clever. And an Agatha Christie omnibus, because when you go back to re-read Christie books, it’s good fun spotting the subtle clues she drops throughout her mysteries.

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

A. I would enjoy having a chat with Helen Razer about feminism and comedy. I would also invite Anne Shirley and Virginia Woolf over to talk about how the world has changed and thank them for being bookish young women and inspiring me. I would serve them gluten-free coconut energy balls (just to see their faces) and WA southwest sparkling wine!

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Special Interview — Sherri Crichton

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sherri and Michael Crichton. Photo courtesy Sherri Crichton

Sherri and Michael Crichton. Photo courtesy Sherri Crichton.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dragon Teeth is published by HarperCollins, rrp $32.99.

Shelf Awareness — Alan Carter

Author Alan Carter, 21NOV10. PHOTO MEGAN LEWIS

Alan Carter — author.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q. How are your books organised/arranged?

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

Q. What sorts of books predominate?

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

Q. Describe your favourite reading place.DSCN0361

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Find out more about Alan here:

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

Shelf Awareness — Terri-ann White

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UWA Publishing Director Terri-ann White.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Q. How are your books organised/arranged?

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

Q. What sorts of books predominate?

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

Q. Describe your favourite reading place.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shelf Awareness — Nadia L. King

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Author Nadia L. King. Photo: Louise Allan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q. How are your books organised/arranged?

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

Q. What sorts of books predominate?

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

Q. Describe your favourite reading place.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Follow Nadia on Instagram , Twitter, and Goodreads.

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

Shelf Awareness — Rashida Murphy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q. How are your books organised or arranged?

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

Q. What sorts of books predominate?

Rashida new shelf 2

Book shelves at Rashida’s new home.

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

Rashida new shelf

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

Q. Describe your favourite reading place.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Website:
https://rashidawritenow.wordpress.com/

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