Shelf Aware — Kate Forsyth

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Best-selling Australian author Kate Forsyth.

With her meticulously researched stories, captivating characters, intricate plots and a touch of magical fantasy, Kate Forsyth’s rich, evocative novels have made her one of the best-selling and most-beloved of contemporary Australian authors. Her historical novels Bitter Greens and The Wild Girl have fairytale connections, and her children’s series The Chain of Charms is steeped in fantasy and has won numerous awards.

Kate recently released Vasilisa the Wise and Other Tales of Brave Young Women — a collection of feminist fairytales, retold from the originals, with exquisite photographic artwork by Lorena Carrington — through those brave women at Serenity Press, and it is already garnering significant positive reviews. I anticipated that her responses to my Shelf Aware questions would be fascinating — and I was right. For this first guest blog post of 2018, I hope you’ll sit back, relax and enjoy learning more about the latest works, and favourite authors, of Kate Forsyth. And wait until you see her book shelves!

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

A. I’m a spinner of stories. Some are immense and complex, like a tapestry, and some are delicate as cobwebs, but all are spun from words. Most days I’m hard at work on the big projects, which are usually historical novels for adults, but I always like to have a few small things to play with on the side – poems, essays, picture books and collections of stories like Vasilisa the Wise and Other Tales of Brave Young Women.

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

A. This year I will have had three books published. The first is Beauty in Thorns, a reimagining of Sleeping Beauty set among the passions and tragedies of the Pre-Raphaelite circle of artists and writers in Victorian England, and told from the point-of-view of the wives and mistresses and muses of the famous male artists.

The second is The Silver Well, a collection of short stories centred around a sacred spring in the small village of Cerne Abbas in Dorset, and co-authored with my dear friend Kim Wilkins. The stories move backwards in time from the modern-day to the time of the Roman invasion, and each feature a wish made at the well and their unexpected results.

The third is Vasilisa the Wise and Other Tales of Brave Yong Women, a collection of feminist fairy tales, retold by me and illustrated by Lorena Carrington. Our aim was to find seven little-known fairy tales which featured clever courageous female heroes who would be strong role models for our daughters and other girls on the cusp of womanhood.

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

A. It might take less time to list the rooms that do not contain books!

I have a library that has several thousand books in it, plus a fireplace and comfortable couches to curl up in to read. I also have floor-to-ceiling bookshelves in my study, containing many of my reference books.

My collection of old children’s books is on a dresser in my front hall, and all my cookbooks and gardening books are in the living room. Children’s books published after the 1960s are on a bookshelf at the top of the stairs, plus each of my three children have bookcases in their rooms displaying their favourite books.


Books to be read, on a shelf in Kate’s bedroom.

I have a bookcase in my bedroom which shelves all the books I have not yet read (I buy books faster than I can read them!) Once they’ve been read they get shelved in the appropriate place.

Q. How are your books organised/arranged?

A. My fiction books are divided into genre i.e. classics, contemporary, crime, fantasy, historical fiction, and romance, and then alphabetically by author’s name within that genre. My children’s books are divided into classic (ie published before I was born) and contemporary, and then alphabetically by author’s name. My non-fiction books are divided into genre i.e. poetry, biography & literary criticism, fairy tale & folklore, and history. Then every non-fiction genre is arranged alphabetically by author’s name, except for history which is arranged alphabetically by country i.e. Australia, Britain, France, Germany, and then chronologically. I have more than 6,000 books and I like to put my hand on whatever book I need straightaway!

Q. What sorts of books predominate?

A. In fiction, I have a lot of books in the crime, fantasy and historical genres, and a lot less in the contemporary. In non-fiction, most of the books are biographies, memoirs, academic treatises into folklore, fairy tale, and literature, and historical non-fiction about times and places in which I have set books.

Q. Describe your favourite reading place.

A. It depends on the season and the time of day. In the morning, I love to read in bed, looking out at my beautiful view of the harbour and the ocean. I have a chair in my study where I sit and read research books, and in the evenings I like to either sit by the fire in the library or in the sitting room. I also love to read in the bath at night, and in bed before I go to sleep – and on a glorious day I sometimes take a book out into the garden. I guess all reading spots are happy spots!

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 The Night Watch by Sarah Waters and Captivated: J.M. Barrie, the du Mauriers and the Dark Side of Neverland by Piers Dudgeon (I always have a fiction & a non-fiction book going at the same time. I normally read a few chapters of the non-fiction, then a novel, and then a few more chapters of the non-fiction).

I’m a big fan of Sarah Waters and had not yet had a chance to read The Night Watch so I grabbed it when I saw it in a bookshop. I’m loving it so far. I ordered Captivated online, as I’ve been re-reading all of Daphne du Maurier’s books in recent months and I’ve always been interested in the story of J.M. Barrie’s strange relationship with the du Maurier children. Piers Dudgeon’s account of it is absolutely fascinating and I’m racing through it.

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

A. This is my least favourite question! I read so much and admire so many authors in so many genres, and hate having to choose one over another. I’ve actually got a list on my website with dozens of names on it.

But, since you insist, my favourite authors include Geraldine Brooks, C.J. Sansom, Sarah Waters, Tracy Chevalier, Sarah Dunant, Philippa Gregory, Michael Robotham, Georgette Heyer, Juliet Marillier, Kate Morton, Kate Quinn, Emma Donoghue, Mary Stewart, Daphne du Maurier, Hannah Kent, Kimberley Freeman, Jesse Blackadder, Eowyn Ivey, Garth Nix and Rosamund Lupton.

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

A. I would try and save my diaries and early hand-written novels as they are irreplaceable. I’ve been writing a diary since I was 11 years old and there are about 60 volumes of it, so I’m not really meeting your criteria – but I’d save as many as I could carry.

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Kate would enjoy meeting the Bronte sisters.

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

A. I think I’d like to meet the Bronte sisters. I’d serve them tea in fine bone china cups and the most delicate finger sandwiches and cakes, and we’d talk about love and death and poetry and writing until the sun had gone down, and then we’d move to champagne and hors d’oeuvres, and finally on to a fine brandy by the fire and they would share all their secrets with me but I would promise to never tell …

Kate Forsyth and Lorena Carrington will be at the Perth Festival Writers Week to talk about their fairytale collection Vasilisa the Wise and More Tales of Brave Young Women. You can learn more about the Writers Week program here.

You can find out more about Kate Forsyth on the following links:

Website:  Facebook: @kateforsythauthor Twitter: @KateForsyth Instagram: Kate_Forsyth_

Shelf Aware — Monique Mulligan

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Before I got to know author and publisher Monique Mulligan I used to admire her from afar, and I was very much in awe of her energy, enthusiasm and her seemingly effortless achievements. She had recently worked at a newspaper where I had worked earlier in my career; she was developing a loyal and sizeable following for her bookish blog, Write Note Reviews; and she was the driving force behind an excellent literary event series called Stories on Stage, at the Koorliny Arts Centre, in my old home town of Kwinana, Western Australia. To top off those achievements, Monique also was (and still is) an exceptional cook, capable of conjuring all sorts of delicious delicacies for those Stories on Stage events.

We’d met each other a few times, through mutual friends, but it wasn’t until she tentatively shared with me a beautifully crafted short story inspired by a minor character in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet that I realised I had encountered a “kindred spirit” — all the way down to the fact that Anne of Green Gables remained one of her favourite books since childhood, just as it has remained one of mine.

Countless bookish chats, writing critique sessions, author events and cups of tea (served in elegant fine bone china) later, we remain firm friends, able to finish each other’s sentences, tune into one another’s moods and insecurities, and support one another. Apart from offering encouragement, hope and inspiration to me, Monique has also provided a means for me to make one of my most cherished literary dreams come true. Monique and her gorgeous business partner, Karen McDermott, of Serenity Press, will publish my first children’s picture book early next year, and I couldn’t be happier.

I have wanted to feature Monique on my Shelf Aware blog series for quite some time, and with Christmas looming, I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to let Monique tell you a little bit about her two most recent books — one about a flatulent dragon, and the other a charming romantic novella. In this guest post, Monique also provides an insight into some of her favourite books and authors, and shares some photos of her brimming book shelves.

My favourite fictional heroine Anne Shirley, of Green Gables fame, made this observation: “Kindred spirits are not so scarce as I used to think.” She was right. And I’d like to introduce you to one of mine…

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

A. Gee, hit me with the hard question straight away! Basically, I wear many hats (it’s lucky I like hats). Three days a week I do marketing and publicity for an arts centre (where I also run a Stories on Stage event); two days a week I am a publisher/editor/marketer/publicist/admin for Serenity Press, which I co-own.

Somewhere in there I squeeze on my author hat (usually around 6.15am and on weekends), which involves a combination of writing (my novel and blog posts), marketing, admin, creating and running workshops as booked … and so on.

I have to fit this all in around my family, which has its own challenges at times, like ‘Should I stay home with my family or go to that writing event?’ and ‘Should I bake a cake for my family or write?’ Because I love all things writing and reading so much, I have to make an effort to not always talk about it at home!


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

A. I had two rather different book releases in August – a children’s picture book called Fergus the Farting Dragon, and a short romance called Under Her Spell. The romance was trumped by the dragon, I have to say – kids and their parents have loved it and people sometimes stop me in the street and ask if I am the “farting dragon lady”. True story.

I’m currently working on my second novel with the working title “Wildflower”. Set in the 1970s, it’s a coming of age story: a young girl learns how far families will go to protect each other over an endless, simmering summer. I love the research part because it’s bringing up memories from my childhood growing up in Sydney. I’m juggling the writing with all my other roles, so it’s case of getting up early for 45 minutes’ writing and then putting in a big effort on Sundays.


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 just recently moved our biggest bookshelf into our new guest room (these start to appear once your kids move out). It never really fit into the room we had it in, but there was nowhere else.

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I also have bookshelves in the room I use for a Serenity Press office, in my living room and in the family room (where I do my Sunday writing, perched on a lounge that looks out towards the garden).

And there’s a pile of library books in the living room, as well as on my bedside table … and wherever else I leave them as I wander through the house. I have a habit of leaving them in the last place I sat to read.

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Q. How are your books organised/arranged?

A. My books are mostly arranged by genre, and books by the same author are grouped together. The big bookshelf in the spare room has mostly contemporary/crime/thriller fiction, while the smaller ones have my classics and historical fiction. Over in my new-old writing desk, there are books about writing and non-fiction fairy tale books.

But it’s genre-according-to-Monique, because some authors write books across different genres, so their books are grouped all together.

This works most of the time.

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Q. What sorts of books predominate?

A. I think my collection is pretty balanced – when I was reviewing books, the amount of general fiction outweighed everything else, but now that my reviewing has all but stopped, that’s eased back. I’ve donated a lot of books to readers who come to my Stories on Stage events, as well as op shops, school libraries and other places – I was getting about thirty new books a month at one stage!

Now I’m buying more books than I get to review and lately I’ve been building my collection of fairy tale books, both fiction and non-fiction.

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Q. Describe your favourite reading place.

A. Bed. I read every night before I go to sleep, propped up in bed with pillows arranged just so. In winter I wear fingerless gloves because my hands get so cold. I have the cutest ones at the moment – hand-knitted with owls in the pattern.

My second favourite place is my deep red antique chaise longue. It’s a classy version of a window seat because I can recline against it like an elegant woman, and watch cars and people walking dogs go by (although I do wish the view were better).


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 often have several books on the go because I’m motivated very much by mood when I read. On my bedside table, I currently have The Blue Fairy Book by Andrew Lang (I found this gorgeous edition while on holidays), Clever Maids: The Secret History of the Grimm Fairy Tales by Valerie Paradiz, and The Wild Girl by Kate Forsyth (I’m re-reading this one with different eyes, thanks to all the other reading I’ve been doing.)

I’m almost finished Clever Maids – it’s an engaging and interesting account of how the Brothers Grimm fairy tales came to be. It lacks the dryness that a lot of non-fiction books can have – it has a conversational tone that appeals to me. The Blue Fairy Book is a collection of fairy tales from a range of sources, and is one of twelve books in the complete set. As I’m reading, I’m finding more and more stories to be familiar, but there are still a few new ones. Among my favourites is the Norwegian fairy tale “East of the Sun, West of the Moon”.




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

A. That’s almost like asking who is my favourite child! I love Kate Forsyth’s historical fiction based on fairy tales and I’m just starting to get into Margo Lanagan’s work (Tender Morsels blew me away). I love Daphne Du Maurier’s writing as well, Hannah Kent, Jane Talbot, … nope, they’re all I can single out. I’m a fan of too many writers!

Among my favourite books are The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro (oh, that sense of duty brought me to tears) and Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier (I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read this).


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. Hmmm … knowing my luck they would all be in different rooms. And so hard to choose, but still it’s always good to have a plan … I would have to choose my very old editions of Jane Eyre and Pride and Prejudice, and my copy of The Blue Fairy Book.


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

A. Anne from Anne of Green Gables, because I have always known from the bottom of my heart that we would be kindred spirits; Loki from Norse mythology because he cracks me up; and the nameless girl in Rebecca so I could ask her loads and loads of questions, like ‘Was your relationship and life after Manderley fulfilling?’ and ‘Did you ever doubt Maxim’s side of the story?’

What would we eat? I love to cook, so there would probably be a feast – perhaps a little wine (cordial for Anne, the non-alcoholic sort of course), some wonderful produce from WA’s southwest such as cheese and olives, and cake. Which one? Maybe my chocolate banana sour cream cake? It would depend on my mood!


Find out more about Monique on her website, Facebook author page, Twitter and Instagram, or visit the Serenity Press website to find out how to buy copies of her books.


Shelf Aware — Teena Raffa-Mulligan



Multi-talented author Teena Raffa-Mulligan.

When I was a cadet journalist, one of the first interviews I did was with a local journalist who had just published a children’s picture book about stranger danger. I visited her in her home, not far from where I grew up, and she told me about how she came to write the book, and why it meant so much to her to see it published. A short while later, we were working in “opposition”, at competing local newspapers, and then colleagues on the same paper. She was always a delight to work with — and against! We saw each other periodically over the next couple of decades, as our paths crossed and recrossed. In 2015, Teena’s was the first familiar (smiling) face I saw at an event to gauge interest in a writers’ group in the Rockingham area, and the two of us again had a common interest as we became inaugural committee members for Rockingham Writers Centre, extending into the Friends of Rockingham Arts Centre, where the writers’ group was based.

Teena is one of the hardest working writers I’ve met, one of the kindest people I know, and incredibly generous in her willingness to help others to achieve their dreams. She juggles an assortment of fiction, non-fiction and poetry projects from week to week; facilitating a blog that includes guest posts by fellow writers, illustrators and other creative types; editing books and stories; presenting workshops and writing courses for adults and children; and helping to run a series of events via the writers’ centre. All of these things she does with a positive attitude, sincere encouragement to others (myself included), and a great deal of aplomb. She is a woman, and a writer, I greatly respect and admire — and whom I feel proud to count among my friends.

Teena also has a couple of new books out with my friends at Serenity Press, including a children’s picture book in collaboration with gifted illustrator Veronica Rooke, who is currently working on the illustrations for my picture book. I hope you’ll enjoy getting to know a little about Teena through her responses to my questions, and I hope you’ll follow some of the links at the end of her guest post, so you can find out a little more about her.

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

A. I write poems, short stories, picture books, chapter books and novels for children and recently started a flirtation with romance, which I’m rather enjoying. Working with words has been my business and my passion throughout my adult life.

These days I’m retired from journalism, but I find myself busier than ever writing my own stories, doing occasional proofing and editing for other authors and looking after the Australian Children’s Poetry blog and my own In Their Own Write blog.

Whenever I have the opportunity I also present author talks and workshops for people of all ages to encourage them to write their own stories.

I don’t have a disciplined work routine. At this stage of my life I prefer to let things evolve in their own time – though I can still work to deadline if required. My writing day usually includes a meandering walk along the beach path with The Man around the House and our dog Chloe, along with some time out to watch a TV show, read a book or chat with friends. Did I tell you I love my life?

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

A. I’m a bit of a butterfly so it’s rare for me to be working on one project at a time. There are always multiple works in progress, plus plenty of ideas brewing.

At the moment, I’m flitting between a middle grade novel about a kid who finds an alien object and begins changing colour and a romance about a single mother with a secret whose past comes back to haunt her seven years later.

I’m also working on a special project that is close to my heart. When my dad died in 2010 he left me all his spiritual writing ‘to do with as I saw fit’. I published three books several years ago and I have another six in production that I hope to release by the end of this year. I edit and format them for production as e-books and POD paperbacks.

Then there’s the ‘how to write’ book for kids and the kids’ book about a dramatic rescue that I’ve wanted to write for years…you get the picture!


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 a small bookcase in the lounge, a full-size bookcase in one of the back bedrooms and a bookcase in my office. Plus there are always a couple of books on my bedside cabinet.

We don’t have a lot of books now. When Dad died it was such a huge job to clear out my parents’ house where they’d lived for half a century so I committed to keeping things relatively simple at our place from now on. We’ve moved on boxes of books as part of that process. These days I don’t keep novels. Once I’ve read them they’re passed on to the next person. I never reread fiction — there are too many wonderful stories I’ve yet to read.

OfficebkshelfTeena2Q. How are your books organised/arranged?

A. My bookshelves are fairly organised according to genre. The bookcase in the lounge is for our photo albums and big books. Not surprisingly, my office bookcase holds my writing craft books, copies of my published titles and sales stock; and the big bookcase in the back bedroom is for all our other books. It’s also where I store my memory box, hard copy manuscripts, assorted photos that should be in albums, and the various bits and pieces I use when presenting creative writing sessions.

BigbkcaseTeenaQ. What sorts of books predominate?

A. Spiritual and self-discovery titles (I started reading them in my teens), how-to art books because I’m a wannabe artist, general fiction on the to-read shelf, and a selection of children’s books that I use when I’m presenting writing workshops.

Q. Describe your favourite reading place.

A. I’m totally addicted to reading and will read anywhere and everywhere. As a kid I would hide myself away in Dad’s parked car in the driveway so I could read undisturbed. These days I can often be found curled up with a book in the armchair by the window in the lounge, tucked snugly into bed on a wintry day or out on the back patio in the spring sunshine.

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 Natasha Lester’s Her Mother’s Secret. I read A Kiss From Mr Fitzgerald and found I couldn’t put it down, so of course I wanted to read Natasha’s new story. Essentially it’s a love story that spans the decades. I’m particularly enjoying the insights into early 20th century society and the attitudes towards women.

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

A. Anita Shreve, Jodi Piccoult, Barbara Erskine, Joanna Trollope, Liz Byrski, Sheila O’Flanagan, Monica McInerney, Susan Lewis, Julia Cameron, Dani Shapiro, Natalie Goldberg…the list could go on indefinitely. When I find an author whose work I enjoy, I will read every book by that author. I keep discovering new and exciting books and authors.


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. This is too hard! I’d need at least a small suitcase to carry my special books, including about a dozen Krishnamurti and Paul Brunton titles, and of course a copy of each of my published books.

If I have to make a choice, I suppose it will be The Happy Children, a beautiful hard-cover edition of my dad’s account of growing up in Fremantle as the son of Italian immigrants. It’s an important part of my family story.

Then there’s We of the Never Never by Mrs Aeneas Gunn, presented to me when I participated in a Youth Speaks for Australia competition at the age of 15. My English teach selected me to enter, I wrote my speech and practised it before the class and got off to a great start when I took to the stage. Suddenly I realised I had a roomful of people listening to my every word — and completely dried up and said, ‘I’m sorry, I can’t do this.’ At the end of the program, the judges asked if I would like to have another try. I did and successfully completed my speech to enthusiastic applause. Of course I couldn’t win, but was presented with the book. I’ve kept it all these years because it reminds me it’s OK to falter and stumble; what matters is picking yourself up and carrying on. It’s interesting to think that after this dubious public speaking start I’ve gone on to present countless talks and workshops to people of all ages and always welcome the opportunity to share my passion for books and writing.

Finally, I’d take a little book called Mister God This is Anna by Fynn, a magical, warm-hearted, moving story about a remarkable six-year-old with surprising powers of perception.

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. Mary Poppins. That was my nickname during my local newspaper days and a sprinkle of magic never goes astray; Julia Cameron, whose books The Artist’s Way and The Right to Write opened a new perspective for me on the creative life at a time when I was struggling to ‘be’ an author; and the Bronte sisters (it would be rude to invite only one).

Find out more about Teena at the following links:

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Shelf Aware — Megan Goldin

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Best-selling author Megan Goldin.

Megan Goldin’s debut novel The Girl in Kellers Way (Penguin) is domestic noir of the highest order, and has been greeted with the popular and critical acclaim it so richly deserves. Psychology and the ephemeral nature of memory are among the themes the former foreign correspondent explores in this tight, gripping story inspired by Daphne du Maurier’s timeless gothic thriller Rebecca.

In Megan’s story, lonely and troubled housewife Julie West may be able to lead police to the killer of a woman whose body is found on a desolate forest road, where Julie often jogs. Numbed and deluded by her tedious suburban life and the mind-altering medication she is forced to take, Julie’s account of current and past events is unreliable at best and devious at worst. Her husband Matt, a psychology lecturer specialising in the inaccuracies and inconsistencies of memory, may be an innocent man still mourning the death of his first wife, or a malicious, Machiavellian killer intent on concealing the truth.

Narrated in the first person from Julie and Mel’s alternating points of view, the novel is riveting from the first chapters, when the revelation of the identity of the dead woman raises more questions than it answers. The taut, fast-paced narrative raises questions about trust, truth, infidelity and the manipulation of memory and, as a thriller should be, it’s very difficult to put down.

Before publishing The Girl in Kellers Way, Megan had been a correspondent for the Reuters news agency, a producer for the ABC and a senior editor with Yahoo! News in the Middle East and Asia. I was delighted to have the opportunity to interview her for The West Australian not long after the book was released, and even more delighted when she agreed to be a guest on Shelf Aware. I think you’ll find her responses to my ten questions as fascinating as I did. I am in awe of her disciplined approach to writing. 

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

A. I am a storyteller and a wordsmith who creates imaginary worlds and characters that take on a life of their own in my readers imaginations.

You can’t write without reading so I read voraciously and listen to podcasts on everything from current affairs, to crime, to the arts and history. Writing novels is lonely and isolating work. I find the podcasts are very helpful in stimulating my imagination, giving me ideas and generally connecting me with the outside world when I take long walks during breaks from writing.

I try to work from about 10am to 3pm while my kids are at school. At night, I usually write from 10pm until I get too sleepy to keep writing. School holidays are the toughest time for me to write as there’s no time to write during the day and my kids insist on going to sleep late at night which cuts into my writing time. We have a small house and I can’t concentrate with disruptions at night. Since I’m often driving my kids to various sports training programs, I carry my laptop with me and write in the car or on the benches in the stadium. I’ll often write in the car while waiting to pick the kids up from school. Writing in the car has certain advantages because there’s no Internet connection so I can’t procrastinate. In winter at least it’s sometimes warmer in the car than in my house!

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

A. I have just finished the first draft of the manuscript for my second novel which is more of a corporate noir thriller than the domestic noir thriller of my first novel The Girl In Kellers Way. I have a pretty good idea for the plots of my next two books as well as other books that I’d like to write. All I really need now is time and hopefully enough income to enable me to dedicate myself to writing.

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 in most rooms in the house scattered with books. I’ve moved countries frequently over the past few years so I don’t have an extensive book collection. Also, I lived in Singapore and the tropical climate and high humidity is terrible for books so I had to throw out a lot of mouldy books when I left Singapore.IMG_4385 (2)


My book collection is not extensive. Certainly not compared to some of the authors who have participated in Shelf Aware. I find that I keep certain books that I loved and like to reread every now and again as well as history books that I pick up and read when the mood strikes me. I find it hardest to give away books that I’ve read to my kids as well as books from my childhood. There was one particular book from my childhood that I’d never forgotten though I couldn’t remember the name. I recently searched for it and found the name and a second hand copy. It’s called Tubby and the Lantern. I bought it and read it to my youngest son. I think I enjoyed it more than he did.


Q. How are your books organised/arranged?

A. There’s no rhythm nor reason in the way that my books are arranged. I generally have the kids books in the kids rooms. The recipe books are near the kitchen. The rest are scattered across bookshelves in different rooms of the house with fiction and non-fiction all mixed together. Perhaps if I had a bigger book collection then I’d have to organise them better. Though I have to say there’s a lot to be said for serendipity when it comes to choosing books.

IMG_4422Q. What sorts of books predominate?

A. I have mostly novels and history reference books. I am a great reader of history and these are often the books that I kept when I moved countries.

Q. Describe your favourite reading place.

A. I love reading in the sunshine during the warmer months, often sitting on my porch or lying on the grass in my garden. In winter, I tend to read in our front room which gets morning sun. Or of course in bed on a cold Melbourne winter night.

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 have gone on a reading binge after handing in my manuscript for my second novel. I read a heap of literary fiction as well as commercial fiction that piled up while I was too busy writing to read regularly. One of my favourites is A Horse Walks Into A Bar, which just won the Man Booker International Prize. It’s sublime. I am just about to read A Legacy of Spies. John Le Carre’s latest work. I heard him do a reading in a podcast and couldn’t wait to get hold of the novel. I’ve also been reading Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea to my sons. I also have a pile of crime novels that I am planning to read over the school holidays.

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

A. I have so many. I very much enjoy Ian McEwan’s works. Atonement is one of my favourite books. David Grossman and Meir Shalev are two remarkable Israeli writers whose works I greatly enjoy. Also, I’m a huge fan of the American writer Pat Conroy.

Steinbeck’s East of Eden is a favourite novel that I’ve read many times. Not to mention his other works. I adore Robert Grave’s I, Claudius. Another favourite is Daphne du Maurier. I read all her books as a teenager and reread most of them as an adult. Her novel Rebecca was an inspiration behind The Girl In Kellers Way. I love The Catcher in the Rye and couldn’t wait to buy it for my teenage son so I’d have an excuse to read it again. I reread Jane Austen’s works every now and again because I always enjoy them. Thomas Keneally and Richard Flanagan are among a long list of Australian writers whose novels I adore.

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In terms of commercial fiction, at the moment, I am very much enjoying Michael Connelly and of course Lee Child who spoke at the Sydney Crime Writers Festival where I recently participated on several panels.

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. It would have to be those rare books that can never be replaced. They would include Seven Pillars of Wisdom, by T.S. Lawrence, as I have a 2nd edition copy. A copy of Mila 18, by Leon Uris, as it has an inscription to my grandfather from my grandmother who gave it to him as a gift in the early 1960s. And lastly, I would save the first proof copy of my own book The Girl In Kellers Way. It was remarkable to finally see my novel in print when I was first handed that copy. I am not sure if people realise how gruelling it is to write a book and get it ready for publication. It was an amazing feeling to finally hold the finished product in my hands. It as a bit like reaching the summit of my own Everest.

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 is a very tough question because there are so many authors and book characters that I’d love to meet. Not to mention the subjects of biographies such as Churchill, Napoleon, Da Vinci and Julius Caesar.

If pressed, I’d invite Jane Austen, Mark Twain and William Shakespeare. I’d serve sushi and sashimi because it would be amusing to watch them grapple with chopsticks and the concept of eating raw fish. Perhaps I’d bring in mugs of hot chocolate and cheesecake to sweeten them up afterwards. I think they’d all be hilariously mismatched and the conversation would go in all sorts of directions. It would be a thoroughly entertaining afternoon.

Twitter: @megangoldin
You can buy The Girl in Kellers Way here or here.

Book review — All the Dirty Parts, by Daniel Handler

Anyone who picks up a book by US author Daniel Handler will immediately have a fair idea what it’s going to be about.

Just as the children’s books that he wrote and published under the Lemony Snicket pseudonym document a series of unfortunate events that befall the orphaned Baudelaire children, his new novel for adults, All the Dirty Parts, is a catalogue of, well, all the dirty parts in the life of a teenage boy.

Written in the first person through short ‘episodes’ of prose, All the Dirty Parts incorporates graphic accounts of protagonist Cole’s sexual encounters and fantasies – and it’s definitely not for children.

Handler’s explicit descriptions of Cole’s many and varied carnal experiences are utterly convincing, albeit at times confronting.

But it is the indifferent selfishness with which the sex-obsessed teen targets girls for seduction that is most alarming. Are Cole’s obsessions indicative of the base preoccupations of all heterosexual teenage boys, or are his attitudes symptomatic of the systemic objectivisation of girls and women extant in every tier of society?

Cole judges and categorises girls according to their physical attributes and their potential for satisfying his lustful impulses, giving no consideration to possible adverse impacts on the girls he manipulates and conquers. He’s also not above taking advantage of his best friend, Alec, who is grappling with his own sexual identity and impulses.

Yet All the Dirty Parts is much more than a catalogue of a schoolboy’s grubby exploits, with Handler expertly and intelligently developing the plot to accurately examine that most powerful force of human nature — desire.

For much of the book, Cole’s disregard for others makes him an unpleasant and unlikeable narrator. Yet, as the story unfolds, and Cole enters a relationship with a girl who possesses many of his own attitudes and inclinations, Handler imbues his young protagonist with a subtle vulnerability that elicits an unexpected degree of sympathy and reminds us that we were once egocentric teens too — even if we didn’t act on our impulses as frequently as Cole.

Simmering beneath the overt story of an adolescent’s erotic awakening is Handler’s deft exploration of the complex issues of sexual identity, underage sex, societal double standards and the ready accessibility of pornography, each of which impacts on the personal development, friendships and behaviour of his characters and reflects the challenges facing contemporary youth on a broader scale.

Potentially uncomfortable reading for parents of teenagers, and likely to be clandestinely devoured by adolescentss under the bedsheets, All the Dirty Parts is a revelatory and enlightening depiction of one boy’s transition toward manhood.

  • All the Dirty Parts, by Daniel Handler, is published by Bloomsbury, rrp $24.00. My advance review copy was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Here’s the blurb from Bloomsbury:

From bestselling, award-winning author Daniel Handler, a gutsy, exciting novel that looks honestly at the erotic impulses of an all-too-typical young man.

Cole is a boy in high school. He runs cross country, he sketches, he jokes around with friends. But none of this quite matters next to the allure of sex. “Let me put it this way,” he says. “Draw a number line, with zero is you never think about sex and ten is, it’s all you think about, and while you are drawing the line, I am thinking about sex.”

Cole fantasizes about whomever he’s looking at. He consumes and shares pornography. And he sleeps with a lot of girls, which is beginning to earn him a not-quite-savory reputation around school. This leaves him adrift with only his best friend for company, and then something startling starts to happen between them that might be what he’s been after all this time-and then he meets Grisaille.

All the Dirty Parts is an unblinking take on teenage desire in a culture of unrelenting explicitness and shunted communication, where sex feels like love, but no one knows what love feels like. With short chapters in the style of Jenny Offill or Mary Robison, Daniel Handler gives us a tender, brutal, funny, intoxicating portrait of an age when the lens of sex tilts the world. “There are love stories galore,” Cole tells us, “This isn’t that. The story I’m typing is all the dirty parts.”


Shelf Aware — Shokoofeh Azar


Author Shokoofeh Azar.

A few months ago, when I read on social media about The Enlightenment of the Greengage Tree, by Shokoofeh Azar, I was immediately intrigued — the title conjures so many possibilities. Not long afterward, I became friends with Shokoofeh on social media, via a connection with mutual friend (and early Shelf Aware guest) Rashida Murphy. I’ve enjoyed reading all about the success of Shokoofeh’s novel and have watched several video interviews with her about the book, but we have yet to meet in person.

A few weeks ago, when I was having lunch with another dear friend in Rockingham, Shokoofeh was presenting a workshop at the Rockingham Art Centre, and during a break walked across to the cafe where I was seated at an outside table. She messaged me later that day to say she thought she recognised my face from social media profile photos, but wasn’t certain, so decided not to approach me. I wish she had! After an exchange of messages we discovered that we live just 10 minutes apart — so a meeting will definitely happen before much longer.

As I’ve had a big pile of books to read ahead of author interviews or reviews in recent months, I’ve yet to read The Enlightenment of the Greengage Tree, but it’s gorgeous cover beckons me every time I see it near the top of my “to read” pile. It won’t be long before I get the chance to open its pages and discover the magical world that Shokoofeh has created.

Shokoofeh’s personal story is a combination of loss, love and hope. You can watch a brilliant ABC Nightlife interview with her here (and I hope you will). For now, I’d like to welcome Shokoofeh as my latest Shelf Aware guest. As you will see, there is some sadness associated with the books she has collected and loved in the past. But in her words you will also recognise the healing power of books and reading.

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

A. I am a fiction writer. Mostly I am write in magic-realism style. My stories are on base of political or social issues, surrounded by Iranian legends, myths and traditional superstitions and metaphysical beliefs. Plus using elements of classic Iranian storytelling techniques and language.


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

A. My novel titled The Enlightenment of the Greengage Tree is on base of several political and social true stories which friends or I were witness of them or I read about them as a news. These all true stories have combined with Iranian legends, myths and traditional metaphysical beliefs. Also this novel is overflowing with Iranian mysticism and classical storytelling techniques.

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

A, This question has a long and upsetting answer. When I was in Iran I had over 3000 books plus my father’s books which had been heritage to me. My bookshelves had books from 100 years ago till now. Also, I had several hand-written books reminded from my father’s library belong to 300 or 400 years ago. All of them been in my writing room in beautiful wooden shelves. After I came to Australia by force as a refugee, my mother kept them in a shed in the boxes. We had plan to transfer them to Australia by the ship, until one day my mother went to shed and accidently found most of boxes empty! After police research, they found a drugs addicted neighbour, has stolen them. My mother did not tell me this until two years later because she knew how much I am depended to my library. I even knew the name each book’s publisher or translator… Recalling of this accident, still makes me so upset. Because my library was the history of our family books and library always was/is an important element in my stories.

Shokoofeh shelvesAnyway, after that I start to buy more books here. Even I bought some books that I had in my previous library at Iran. I expend lots of money to buy them from Iranian publishers or bookshops out of Iran. The price of postage sometimes are more than books. Now I have only about 400 books. All in my writing room.

Q. How are your books organised/arranged?

A, My books always organised by genre and category. For example, category of: modern fiction, classic fiction, mythology, legends, traveling, interviews, literature critics, essays, poets, physiology, political science, social science, philosophy, theology and etc. Also I have English and Farsi bookshelves. In fiction bookshelf, I consider another category. First my favourite modern writers. Then the writers that are important but maybe not very much. Also I always sort books by name of writer. For instead all books of Milan Kundera sit next together no matter they are novel or collection of short story or essays.

Q. What sorts of books predominate?

A. First of all, modern fiction (novel and short stories), then fiction analyse, mythology, symbolism, poems, theology, legend and classic literature. After that social science and political science and etc.

Q. Describe your favourite reading place.

A. A chair in my studio while I put my legs on the table and smoke with a glass of wine or coffe or black tea. Then on the sofa under the shade of an old tree in my back yard, or sofa in living room when no one is around me or in the mid night when everybody is sleep.

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?

To Kill a Mockingbird

A. Right now, I am reading To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, translated in Farsi, and I feel so sorry that I did not read this great book earlier… I watched the movie years ago but the novel is absolutely something else. The technique of narrating and viewing angle are very interesting. Also, the story is very touching. One of the other reason that I like this novel is the story narrates by a little girl. I have strong empathy by child narrations.

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

A, It will be a long list. 😊 Briefly I can say: Writers and mythologist: Jorge Luis Borges, G. G. [Gabriel Garcia] Marquez, Milan Kundera, Marguerite Duras, Haruki Murakami, Kazuo Ishiguro , Yasunari Kawabata, Vladimir Nabokov , Kenzaburō Ōe, Mircea Eliade, Herman Hesse, Carl Jung, Herta Müller, E. L. Doctorow, J. D. Salinger, Heinrich Böll, Raymond Carver and etc.Carver

And Books: One Thousand and One Nights, One Hundred Years of Solitude, Darab Name (Iranian classic story), Gilgamesh (The oldest myth of Mesopotamia), Ardaviraf Name (The ancient myth of Iran), The Clown, Of Love and Other Demons, Kafka on the Shore, Nothing and Amen, On Mantuleasa Street and etc. Some important books like Ulysses unfortunately never permitted to publish in Farsi but I am sure if I am able to read it in English or Farsi it will be one my most favourite novel (I already read only few pages).

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

A. One Thousand and One Nights 2. One Hundred Years of Solitude 3. Ulysses or On Mantuleasa Street.

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 wished you asked me about writers and immediately I’ve answered: G. G. Marques, Mircea Eliade and Carl. G. Jung.

But choosing characters between so many books is really hard. But anyway maybe: Remedios the beauty (One Hundred Years of Solitude), Hans Schnier (The Clown) and Kafka (Kafka on the Shore).
I love to ask from Remedios the beauty: What new from the up?
I love to sit with Hans and talk about the meaning of love.
I love to sit with Kafka and talk about the meaning of life.

Thank you, Maureen. I loved the questions. They are fun and also very important to writers.

Find out more about Shokoofeh Azar here.

You can buy her novel The Enlightenment of the Greengage Tree here.


Shelf Aware — Fiona Palmer

Fiona Palmer credit Craig Peihopa

Romance writer Fiona Palmer. Picture courtesy Craig Peihopa.

Western Australian novelist Fiona Palmer is one of Australia’s most popular writers of rural romance, with heartfelt stories featuring characters we’d like to get to know in real life.

Fiona grew up in the small Wheatbelt town of Pingaring, where she spent weekends on a farm run by her aunty and uncle and attended the local primary school before boarding at Narrogin Residential College for her secondary school years.

After leaving school, Fiona did odd jobs, including rouseabouting, tractor driving and working on the Co-operative Bulk Handling grain bins, where she met her husband-to-be. At secretarial college, Fiona learnt how to type — fast — and she says this has come in handy when typing up long stories. She worked as a secretary at the Shire of Lake Grace and as a Teachers’ Assistant, before marrying and having two children, and for seven years was a speedway driver.

While running the local shop in Pingaring with her Mum, Fiona began writing down a story that was “roaming around” in her head, and which became her first book, The Family Farm.

Fiona’s new novel, Secrets Between Friends (Hachette Australia), is a departure from the usual rural setting of her first eight novels. Instead, it is set on the Western Australian coastline and is about three friends who embark on a luxury cruise, where long-held secrets threaten their friendship.

In this guest post on Shelf Aware, Fiona reveals some of her favourite authors and books, and gives us a glimpse of some of her bookshelves.


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

I try to write a book a year and this is usually done between seeding and harvest. So in about 3-4 months I try to write the first draft and I aim for 10k a week. A bit of juggling goes on as usually in this time I will have a new book release in September so I’m doing blogs, social media, book events and tours as well as family things.

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

A. Secrets Between Friends is about three friends, plus Peter, who go on a reunion cruise. It’s not all smooth sailing as they soon find out — they are keeping secrets from each other and also themselves. And they have nowhere to run! So they have to confront these issues. It’s a story of romance, family dynamics and friendship.

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


A. The main ones are in our office as my husband didn’t like my books all over the house, he wanted them in one spot. So they are mostly in the office but I’m now spreading to the kids’ bookshelf in the games room and soon I’m actually going to move them all down to our community centre (which is our old primary school that closed down in 1998) and put my books in the old library room for the community to borrow. It should please the husband and give something back to the community, who mostly come to me for a book anyway. I will keep all my author signed ones from my friends and favourite authors at home though. I do love to look at them.

Q. How are your books organised/arranged?


A. In genre. I have my own from my first to my latest and the ones I buy are grouped in a rural section, YA and other. There is also a section that is a mix which is ‘my to be read’ pile.

Q. What sorts of books predominate?


A. I would say romance. I have romance in just about all the genres! Then its rural fiction and most of these ones are signed by my author friends so they are very special. YA is my next biggest.

Greatest GiftQ. Describe your favourite reading place.

A. At the moment it’s in my bed. It seems the only time I have left to read is just before I go to sleep. Otherwise it’s when I’m on holidays at the beach that I power through a heap of books as that’s my special time. Or if I’m not ahead of schedule I will read by the fire at night after dinner. I don’t find time to read as much as I’d like.

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 Rachael John’s ARC of The Greatest Gift as she sent it to me and I’m loving it. Rach and I write quite similarly, so her books are what I love to read, as we tend to write what we love. Plus it’s nice to read a book before it’s even out in the shops.

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

A. I love series, mainly because they last longer. Sarah J Mass, I’m a big fan of, and I loved Harry Potter. Also the Vampire Academy by Richelle Mead. Then there are books I love to read from Tony Park to Liane Moriarty to the latest women’s fiction. My favourites tend to change each year as I read.

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. Julie Garwood’s book Ransom. Because I ended up with this hardcover copy many many years ago before I had any books and I found myself re-reading it every year. I now don’t have the time to read it anymore but I’d love to revisit it because I knew I enjoyed it. Next would be Harry Potter, maybe the first one, just so I can stay familiar with Harry, Ron and Hermione. Besides I look like Hagrid when I brush my curls. It’s hilarious. And last would be Rachael Treasure’s book Jillaroo as it was this book that gave me the confidence to send my first book off to Penguin which then lead to a contract and a career as a writer.

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. Oh, interesting. Jack West Jnr from Matthew Reilly’s books because he sounds awesome. I like Indiana Jones and I reckon Jack would have some stories to tell! Plus who doesn’t love a man who can get you out of a jam and save the world.
I’d love to chat to Liane Moriarty and ask her just how she does it!!! The Husband’s Secret was so well crafted. Lastly I would like to have coffee and Tim Tams with Rowan Whitehorn from the Throne of Glass series because…well he is a Fae Prince warrior. That is something I’d love to see in the flesh!

Find out more about Fiona Palmer here.

You can purchase Secrets Between Friends here.


Shelf Aware — Portland Jones

Portland Jones

In one of those delightful moments of literary serendipity, I had the great pleasure of meeting my latest Shelf Aware guest blogger Portland Jones through a mutual writer friend here in Perth, Western Australia. At the time, my friend was keen to start a book club and, as someone who knows the value of a good book club, I offered to help set it up. The first book my friend had chosen was Portland Jones’ breathtaking and heartwrenching debut novel, Seeing the Elephant (Margaret River Press), which had been right at the top of my “to read” pile. Best of all, Portland had agreed to be a guest at the book club’s inaugural meeting.

Seeing the Elephant is an unforgettable story about the friendship that develops between an Australian soldier and his Vietnamese guide, during the Vietnam War. The language is lyrical and evocative, the characters beautifully drawn, and the plot compelling and emotionally charged. In short, it offers everything I always look for in a novel.

Portland has proven that, as well as being a gifted novelist, she’s also incredibly patient — for which I’m immensely grateful. Portland answered my Shelf Aware questions several months ago, but as I had so many posts organised so far ahead, it has taken me until now to be able to share her responses. I’m confident you’ll agree they are well worth the wait.

In another delightfully serendipitous twist, in her answers to my final question, below, Portland reveals that one of the guests she would invite to afternoon tea is emerging author Louise Allan — the “writer friend” of mine who hosted that inaugural book club meeting (and who will be a guest on Shelf Aware around the time her debut novel, The Sisters’ Song, is released early next year). Another of Portland’s preferred guests is Rashida Murphy, who was also at that inaugural book club meeting, and whose debut novel, The Historian’s Daughter, was my choice for the club to read (Rashida’s Shelf Aware guest post can be revisited here).

For now, sit back and enjoy reading about Portland’s other job in the equine industry, the new novel she’s working on, and some of her favourite books and authors.

Q. Welcome to Shelf Aware, Portland. How would you describe the work you do and how you do it?

A. I’m a horse trainer. Which is a lot like being a nanny for a classroom full of 600kg toddlers on cocaine… It’s quite dynamic at times. It’s a fairly physical job, occasionally dangerous but very rarely boring.

Horses Hate Surprise PartiesMy partner and I start young horses under saddle and retrain difficult ones using an evidence based approach. We coach, give demos and I also lecture in horse behaviour at university. Last year we published a book about horse training called, Horses Hate Surprise Parties and we write for the equestrian press – mostly about various ways of ensuring horse training is ethical and sustainable.

Our days start at 5am and running the business takes up most of the day. We’re usually inside for a couple of hours in the middle of the day and that’s when we answer emails, blog, write and make sure we look after our team of sponsors via social media. I try to spend an hour each day managing the writing side of my life but it doesn’t always work out that way – which is why I am writing this in the horse truck with my laptop balanced on my knees.

I love all animals and I feel very strongly that they must be treated with respect and kindness. We try to advocate for the horse and to teach people that there is always a better way. I like to think that if I stand up for what I know is right I’m making my small corner of the world a better place.

Seeing the Elephane

Portland’s debut novel, Seeing the Elephant, was released to great critical acclaim in 2016.

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

A. At the moment I’m working on my second novel which is based on some of my family’s history. My great-grandfather was captured by the Japanese in Sumatra during WW2 and imprisoned. Like many of the prisoners he was put to work building a railway line through the jungle and, like many of the prisoners, he died. The railway that he helped to build was finished on the day that Japan surrendered and never saw a train. It’s an interesting story.

Sometimes I think I choose to write about places that I want to go to as an excuse to get there. I’ve always wanted to see Sumatra. My grandparents lived there for many years and I grew up on their stories. When I decided to write about the railway I finally had justification for a visit. I went in 2015 and loved it. Now, thanks to the internet I have befriended a New Zealander living over there who has plotted the entire course of the line with a drone and a four-wheel drive and we’re really excited to be going back in May to drive parts of it with him.

We also have another horse training book planned and I would really love to write some children’s fiction – but my main priority at the moment is the novel.


Q. Where are the main bookcases in your home or office?

A. We have books everywhere at home. Mostly they are in the two living areas but I have stacks on my bedside table and on my office desk. One entire wall of our living room is taken up with book shelves and my partner, Sophie, made me a beautiful ladder so I can reach the top shelves. We also have books about horses in our outside office and tack room. I am a minimalist in everything but books.

Q. How are your books organised or arranged?

A. I keep non-fiction books arranged (sort of) according to subject and I have a filing system for my fiction but it’s probably more about how they make me feel than any objective and demonstrable criteria. I read by theme, so when I was doing my PhD I read lots of books about the Vietnam War. They all lived in piles on my desk while I was writing but now they live together on the shelves. The day I submitted my thesis I transferred them from my desk to the shelf. The day of the great book migration was a particularly satisfying one.

Guess How Much I Love YouI also keep my favourite children’s books together. I couldn’t face the thought of giving away books like, Guess How Much I Love You. I read that book to my three children so many times that I think I can recite it all without looking at the text.

Q. What sorts of books predominate?

A. I think my books are pretty evenly split between literary fiction and non-fiction, particularly history. I love poetry too. I also love travel books – the Lonely Planet guides are definitely a guilty pleasure; I have heaps of them. And cookbooks… I really like cookbooks because they have nice pictures and always have a happy ending.

Q. Describe your favourite reading place.

A. I read in bed at night before going to sleep. It’s a lifelong, unbreakable habit. No phone, quiet and warm – bliss.

Q. What book/s are you reading right now? Why did you choose that book/those books?

A. I always have several books in circulation. I have just finished Anthony Doerr’s, All The Light We Cannot See and just loved it. But I’m also reading The Desert Anzacs which is primarily about the light horse, Walking Wounded, about a group of combat veterans walking the Kokoda Trail and The Diary of Prisoner 17326, about a boy interned in a Japanese POW camp in Sumatra. I also have 2 academic papers to read and I am very eagerly awaiting the arrival of another biography of T.E Lawrence because I am absolutely fascinated by his story.

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

A. I love Patrick White, Voss is so darkly complex and lyrical – and so perfect. And Tim Winton of course, just a monstrous talent. Richard Flanagan is a wonderful storyteller. Annie Proulx has the best ear for the spoken word I’ve ever come across, her gift is extraordinary.

I love Abraham Verghese, his novel Cutting for Stone is beautiful on every page. Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried is the most evocative book I have ever read about the aftermath of war. Michael Herr’s Dispatches started my love affair with modern history.

Randolph Stowe writes place beautifully and Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things is a masterpiece in every way. I love everything that David Mitchell has published (quite honestly I would read his shopping lists) but Cloud Atlas is one of the most immense, ambitious and wonderful books in my collection.

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. If there was an emergency the first thing I’d save is my library ladder. Not just because it’s beautiful but because it reminds me every day that hard work and optimism are the cure for almost everything. If I lost all my books I would need to be reminded of that.

Once I’d packed my ladder the first book I would save would be my much sticky-taped copy of Hamlet. I read it for the first time at 17 and cried for the impossible beauty of it. The two eldest of my three children also love it. My third child is perhaps a little young, so I would save the book for him in the hope that he, also, will find something truly extraordinary within its pages.

I would also save The Collected Works of Banjo Paterson – not just because his are the rhythms and the words of my childhood but also because my father gave it to me when I was ten in the hope that it would start a lifelong love of writing and reading. That love has been the best gift anyone could ever wish for.

Lastly, I would save my family’s copies of the Harry Potter books because, quite frankly, if I didn’t my children would disown me. They have been read and reread many times over and to me they represent what is unique and magical about the experience of reading. I think that books find you at certain times of your life – maybe they show you the way, or offer some kind of comfort, perhaps they inspire or support you. But, in the end, it doesn’t matter why a book speaks to you, it just matters that it does. The Harry Potter series helped inspire in each of my children a love of fiction and so, for me, it holds a special place in my heart.

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 have to admit that if I was asked to plan my perfect afternoon tea I would, without hesitation, choose my best friends and family as guests. Life is very hectic and I realised with sadness a while ago that I spend more time with my dogs than I do with the people who matter most. I really love my dogs but I have to say that their conversation is fairly limited.

However, that’s not really playing by the rules of this game… So I would choose three West Australian writers because I think it would be great fun. I would invite Richard Rossiter, not just because he is a great writer, editor and mentor but because he is my friend and always interesting. I would also invite Louise Allan and Rashida Murphy – I met them both quite recently (since Seeing the Elephant was published) and to me they represent the tip of what is an enormous iceberg of supportive local writers. I think there must be something very therapeutic about ink because writers are some of the kindest people I know.

I’m not sure what we would eat or talk about but champagne would definitely be on the menu. Any day when you get to sit down and spend some time with interesting people who love books is a day worthy of celebration.

Buy Seeing the Elephant, by Portland Jones, here.

Visit Portland’s website here.

Author interview — Don Winslow

Don Winslow_pic by Michael Lionstar

Best-selling US crime author Don Winslow’s latest novel, The Force (HarperCollins), has earned some very high praise indeed. Lee Child describes it as “probably the best cop novel ever written”, and Stephen King compares it to The Godfather — “only with cops”. I  concur on both counts.

The Force

Set in the gritty and perilous precincts of contemporary New York, The Force is stark in its portrayal of the physical, mental and emotional battles fought daily by police officers confronted by drug-fuelled violence and the sort of criminal behaviour spawned by multi-generational addiction and poverty. As the story unfolds, Winslow explores the circumstances that might lead a well-intentioned, once-honourable cop along the path to corruption and self-destruction.

I found the plot chilling and horrific yet utterly convincing — and the writing is sublime.

Winslow’s protagonist, charismatic NYPD veteran detective Dennis “Denny” Malone, leads an elite special unit fighting gangs, guns and drugs.  He’s arrogant and contemptuous of authority, yet he’s fiercely loyal to his team — “Da Force” — and motivated by a determination to keep his neighbourhood as safe as possible. He’s also corrupt.

With the bosses turning a blind eye to the methods adopted by Malone and his cohort, rules are broken, long-held values are compromised then abandoned, and Malone gets caught up in an investigation that threatens his career and those of his best mates.

For those who appreciate intelligently crafted crime fiction with complex characters, a driving pace and a liberal dose of realism, The Force is a must-read. Don Winslow’s answers to my interview questions also make for fascinating reading. 

A force to be reckoned with…

ME. What was the inspiration for The Force?

DW. When I was a kid I was very influenced by those great books and films such as The French Connection, Serpico and Prince and the City. They were a big part of my becoming a crime writer in the first place, so I have always wanted to do a big New York cop novel in the spirit of those works. I lived and worked in New York – was born there, actually – so this book is more of a homecoming for me than a departure from my previous books. I finally felt that I was ready to write it.

ME. Can you tell me a little bit about the research you did for this novel?

DW. In some ways I’ve been researching this book my whole adult life. I’ve spent a lot of time with cops, worked with cops, cooperated on cases with them when I was a PI. For this book, I interviewed cops, went out on the street with them, hung out, talked with their families, wives and girlfriends, spent a lot of time in the various locations in New York City. I say ‘interviews’ but most of them were more like conversations, some of them extending over the course of years.

ME. Just how accurately do you think it reflects the operations of the NYPD?

DW. Accurately, and I’ve had a lot of cops tell me so. Look, there are 38,000 officers in the NYPD, and their experience varies from location to location, assignment to assignment. So the operations described in the book would be common to some officers, perhaps unrecognizable to others. The cops featured in this novel go wrong – they’re dirty – and most cops are clean. But all them are clear-eyed and realistic that corruption happens, and that corruption is accurately portrayed in this novel.

ME. What were the greatest challenges associated with writing this novel?

DW. Voice. I had to get the sound of contemporary New York City right. And not just in dialogue – although that was challenging enough – but also in the rhythms of the narrative prose, a beat very different from the California and Mexico locales that I had been writing. Also the book deals with several subcultures – cops, Irish-Americans, Italian -Americans, African-Americans, Latino-American, all with subtle but important differences. This is one of the things that makes New York so fascinating, but also challenging to write.

To me, every location has its own ‘music’ if you will, and I think it’s important to capture that music. I hope I did.

ME. And what did you enjoy most about creating the story of Sergeant Dennis Malone?

DW. When you meet this kind of ‘rock star’ cop, you realize that they are truly charismatic. They have a certain kind of magnetism and charm that is palpable. It’s part of what makes them so good at their jobs, and it’s also a necessary tool for survival. Malone is that kind of guy, and that kind of guy is really fun to write because he’s always pushing the envelope a little bit, whether it be verbally or through action. I had to get to know Malone for years before I actually started to write the book. I also wanted to write a character who was deeply conflicted, who had to make impossible choices, because that’s when character gets really interesting.

ME. This story shows “New York’s finest” at their best – and at their worst. Is it inevitable for police officers to compromise their ideals and intentions in the 21st Century? Or is it possible for individual officers to remain dignified and honest in the face of potential corruption and under the influence of organised crime?

DW. Of course it’s possible – I know cops who have and do – but it’s very difficult. Life has a way of eroding our ideals, and that erosion is especially true of cops, given what they have to deal with on a daily basis. Some cops start doing wrong things for right reasons – they take shortcuts, they bend the law – it’s a slippery slope. And society is deeply conflicted – I would say hypocritical – about what we want cops to do. We want to be safe, we want them to take dangerous criminals off the street, and we often don’t care how they do it. I hasten to add this isn’t just a 21st century issue – I would say that, if anything, departments like NYPD are cleaner than they were at any time during the 20th century.

ME. How did your former roles as an investigator, anti-terrorist trainer and trial consultant help you in writing this novel?

DW. Well, the first and the last quite a bit, the middle one hardly at all. My former role as an investigator is always useful because it gives me the research and interview background I need for any book. My work as trial consultant helped with the courtroom scenes, and both have given me career-long access to police and lawyers. I know how interviews, interrogations and cross-examinations work, because they used to be my job. My job as an anti-terrorist trainer was pretty specific – I took people hostage in training exercises, so, fortunately, that particular skill set is rarely called for. In fact, never. Let’s hope it stays that way.

ME. Your dedication at the start of the book acknowledges law enforcement personnel who were murdered in the line of duty during the time you were writing it. Why was it important to you to acknowledge these officers? And have you had any response to the dedication from their families or colleagues?

DW. At the end of the day, the worst my wife has to worry about is that I might come home in a bad mood. But she knows I’m coming home. Police spouses don’t know that. So while I sit safely behind a desk, cops are out risking their lives, and in some cases – too many cases – losing their lives. I thought it was important to acknowledge them by name. Yes, I have heard from colleagues and families, but I’d prefer to keep the exact nature of those interactions private.

ME. The Force has been praised by some of the best-selling and highly acclaimed US authors of our time – including Stephen King, who likened it to The Godfather, and Lee Child, who described it as “probably the best cop novel ever written”. What does this sort of praise mean to you?

DW. Well, it blows me away. I have vast admiration for both the writers you mentioned, and they’re not only great writers, they’re great people. The real effect on me though, is that it makes me want to do better. It makes me want to really earn that kind of praise.

ME. Can you tell me a little bit about your writing process? Where do you write? Do you have a set routine, or are you flexible in your approach? Do you create a formal outline before you start the storytelling process, or do you let the story unfold as you go?

DWI have a pretty rigid routine. I start at 5:30 AM, write until about 10, do some combination of walking or running, and then work again until about 5. I wish it were more romantic than that, but it just isn’t. There’s just no substitute for time. I treat it like a job – a job I’m so grateful to have and the one I’ve always wanted. I most often work in an office that used to be an old gas station, a minute’s walk from the house. I don’t draw up an outline – I try to really get to know the characters, then start them out one day and see where they go. Sometimes they surprise me, and that’s a good thing.

ME. Finally, what’s the next writing project for Don Winslow, author?

DW. Right now I’m working on the third – and final – instalment of a trilogy that began with The Power of the Dog and continued with The Cartel, about the War On Drugs, Mexico and the United States. I swore after each of the first two books that I wasn’t going to write another, and here I am making a liar of myself again. But there’s still more story to tell there, and I think it’s important. I think that novels can sometimes treat real subjects in a way that journalism can’t, because we’re allowed to imagine the inner lives of characters, and therefore bring readers into certain worlds in a very intimate way, and I want to do that.

The Force, by Don Winslow, is published by HarperCollins. It’s available in Australia here.

Shelf Aware — Lily Malone

lilym_lowresRomance and contemporary fiction writer Lily Malone is charming, vibrant and warm, with a keen wit and a sharp intellgence. She lives in the South West of Western Australia, where she divides her working hours between an adminstration role for a local real estate agency and her writing. Lily has written three full-length romances stories and a novella, all published by Harlequin Escape, and her debut trade paperback, The Vineyard in the Hills, was published by Harlequin MIRA this time last year. She also recently completed her first contemporary fiction title, Ashes, inspired by the true story of a family member’s fight to recover from traumatic burns.

But the biggest news in Lily’s writing career to date is that she recently signed a three-book deal with Harlequin MIRA, for the ‘Chalk Hill‘ rural romance series. The contract was offered on the strength of the first book in the series, Water Under the Bridge, which Lily writes about in her guest post for my Shelf Aware series. I’ve been “friends” with Lily online for quite some time, and I finally got to meet her in person a couple of months ago. It felt like we’d known each other for years, and I just wish we’d had time to sit back and chat for longer. The next best thing was being able to read her answers to my Shelf Aware questions. I hope you’ll enjoy reading her post, too. As you will see, she’s a big fan of fantasy fiction, as well as romance, and she’s not too keen on systems for filing her books…

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

Lily covers

A. Well, I have two jobs. One is a good old administration day job working for a local real estate agency in my hometown, but the work I think you’re most interested in here is my writing. I write contemporary romance, usually in small-town or rural settings. I love the Australian wine industry so many of my books to date have been set in wine/vineyard regions of Margaret River and the Adelaide Hills/McLaren Vale in South Australia. I try to write three days in the week, with an aim of producing 10,000 words a week. I’ve been on that pace since school went back in February and so far, I’m sticking to it fairly nicely. 

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

A. I just finished (literally) a new rural romance called Water Under The Bridge. Shortly before writing The End I discovered that this will be a series, and Water Under The Bridge is Book 1. I can see three books in the Chalk Hill series, dealing with the stories of three brothers. The first is Jake’s story, the second is Abe’s and the third will be Brix’s book.

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

Book shelf

A. Our one and only big bookcase was bought in South Australia and has travelled through three homes and two States with us now. It’s Baltic pine — and gorgeous — and as well as our books it also has our stereo/internet radio and speakers. I do have books in my office (but these are mostly my books — boxes of them), plus some very special books that I keep in my office rather than in our bookshelf. My eldest boy, Mr 9, also has his own bookshelf in his room for kids’ books. Actually, speaking of kids’ books, these are also in a good old South Aussie meatsafe that is probably older than me! I weeded these out in the Christmas holidays but we still seem to have a lot!

Q. How are your books organised/arranged?

Shelf top

A. No filing system here. That would be way too mathematical for me. Our top shelf has a lot of our fantasy reads and my hubby’s and my favourite author, John Sandford, who writes crime fiction. Cookbooks & gardening are kind of together, on the third shelf, and my hubs has a lot of music books – Bob Dylan’s albums, lyrics, biography that kind of thing. He has a lot of guitar instruction manuals/music manuals in there too. The bottom shelf has photo albums (his and mine); two huge heavy fishing reference books, maybe something about card games, Australian Rules Football, a cricket almanac or two… and now I have to go check to see what else. (The bottom shelf is not very memorable!)

bottom shelf

Q. What sorts of books predominate?

A. We have a lot of fantasy. I loved the ‘Empire’ series by Raymond E Feist and Janny Wurts, and I’ve read those books over and over. I also have the ‘Rift’ War series, Magician etc; and Lord of the Rings on the top shelf.

We have lots of Stephen King and John Sandford. We do have a few autobiographies. Andrew McLeod (Adelaide Crows footballer); Bob Dylan. I think I have an unauthorised Shane Warne biography somewhere.


Q. Describe your favourite reading place.

reading room shelfA. In summer, it’s outside on an old but very comfortable blue chair. In winter, it is on a couch by the fire. I don’t read in bed. I have a Kindle that I like reading on these days as my eyesight gets worse — I do love that you can enlarge the font on an e-reader.

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

A. I’ve just finished a rural romance with a big twist called Shelter by Rhyll Biest. This was my ‘reward’ read after finishing my own Water Under The Bridge book mentioned up above. While my book was out with critique group and beta readers is a good time to churn through the reading pile. Then I read a Dystopian book called The Last Girl (The Dominion Trilogy Book 1) by Joe Hart. Cracking read but I needed a very big dose of ‘suspension of belief’ to work with it. Right now, I’m reading The Dressmaker by Rosalie Ham. My jury is still out on that one.

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

A. My favourite author is an American crime/serial killer writer called John Sandford, more particularly the ‘Prey’ series featuring the hero Lucas Davenport. Ahhhh, Lucas! I also love Michael Robotham’s writing in Australia.

There are so many Australian women writers who I think the world of. In no particular order these would be: Rhyll Biest, Ainslie Paton, Tess Woods, Kylie Kaden, Charlotte Wood, Louise Allan (I cannot wait for her first book later this year); Jennie Jones, Juanita Kees.

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 think I’d save the ‘Empire’ series books I mention above. Mara of the Acoma was a wonderful woman in fiction, a great role model for leadership, and as I’ve grown older I recognise more and more political themes within that book every time I’ve re-read.

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?

Body LengthsA. Afternoon tea? I think I’d pick two amazing Rhyll Biest heroes: Stein and Belovuk to have over to my place for afternoon tea, except I think we might drink Vodka. I’d also need a fireman character from somewhere, to hose me down… anyone know any great fireman characters from fiction? Perhaps otherwise, better sit them down with Leisl Jones perhaps, and we can all cool down discussing Leisl’s swimming autobiography, Body Lengths. I used Leisl’s book for research when writing Water Under The Bridge, about an almost Olympic swimmer… who never quite makes the team.

Find out more about Lily Malone here. She’s also on Facebook and Twitter.