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.

Shelf Aware — Robert Edeson

Robert Edeson

When I initially read through Perth author Robert Edeson’s responses to my Shelf Aware questions, I wondered whether any of my previous guests had given quite so much thought to my question about how their books are arranged. I laughed out loud at the images he carefully chose to accompany that particular question — and I laughed out loud several other times while reading the rest of his guest post. His intelligence and wit were immediately evident, and have combined to make me keen to start reading his new novel Bad to Worse (Fremantle Press), which promises to entertain, delight and provoke thought.

I’m not going to spoil Robert’s post by telling you any more about him, or the new novel, because he does that splendidly. I am going to suggest that, with Father’s Day looming this weekend, Bad to Worse just might be an ideal choice for discerning dads with an appreciation for uniquely clever prose with a touch of intrigue and adventure.

Enjoy! 

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

A. I’m not sure that what I do is work in the ordinary sense; for me, it is more home-entertainment.

Still, I would describe it as writing novels that contain embedded nonfiction (I call it parafiction) that is itself indistinctly fictitious. Parafiction, such as apparently factual author commentary or academic referencing, is intended to draw the reader into believing to be true what is false, and sometimes even incredible.

It is one thing for readers to enter voluntarily and knowingly the make-believe of a story; it is quite another to have their credulity manipulated beyond the implicit boundaries of that story. But the fact that this can happen illustrates, I think, the principle and power of fiction, and ultimately its purpose, which fundamentally is to deceive.

I’m not saying that everything I write into a novel is a lie. Some of the scientific and philosophical content, both narrative and parafictional, is serious. Even so, I think of my new occupation as being a sort of literary mischief-maker.

How do I do this home-entertainment mischief-making? Like many others, I find that most writing occurs in the imagination, with only a small amount happening at the keyboard. So I spend a lot of time gazing into the distance, thinking about stuff. This state of affairs also satisfies my lifelong ambition to be a flâneur.

I don’t agonize over characters; I cannot claim they acquire agency in their own development or any autonomy in scripting. I think about what they think, what they say, and how they act; for my purposes, those three depictions construct the person, including their psychology, emotions, and motivation. I’m generally not interested in their physical appearance, what they wear or what they eat, unless it is relevant to the story. I don’t think descriptive detail necessarily drives realism, but rather risks appearing forced. I feel similarly about emotive backstories and novelistic character flaws. Let the reader imagine.

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

A. Bad to Worse is a sequel to The Weaver Fish, following a new crime-fighting adventure of its protagonist, Richard Worse. The settings are Perth, the Ferendes (in the South China Sea), Chicago, and Dante, Arizona. The plot centres on an executive aircraft crash north of Dante and Richard Worse’s investigation into its cause. This exposes a criminal conspiracy involving a certain Mortiss Bros corporation, and Worse is drawn deeper into a century-old Mortiss family vendetta directed at his Arizona cousins.

Bad to Worse is also a sequel in the sense that it continues to address some philosophical themes of the first novel, such as evidence, belief, and moral good.

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

A. Books are shelved throughout our house. My partner has her own study–library, as well as a collection of film books (and DVDs) kept in our lounge room.RE 1

RE 2

RE 3I have my own library, further shelving in a home office, and a shelf of current interest and recently referred-to books in our lounge room.

RE 4

RE 5

RE 6

RE 7There are also rogue piles that metastasize bedside or next to comfortable seating anywhere in the house.

Many years ago, when fixed abode meant books stacked on pine boards supported by rough, wire-cut builder’s bricks on rented floors, I had a bookshelf in our camper van. Its composition was fungible, but always included a Concise Oxford.

Q. How are your books organised/arranged?

A. Arrangement is one imponderable of the book-loving life that presents to us the moment we receive our second book. It is at that point, I would guess, that adult preoccupations around possession and display begin their incubation in the infant psyche.

Every bibliophile wrestles with this problem, and soon discovers that classification is a fraught business, both practically and conceptually. (This is true in general.)

As much as I like numbers, Dewey included, a personal book collection is not a public library. That is because it is sentimental. It is also idiosyncratic, incomplete, and fractured. And who amongst us doesn’t slip artifacts into or between (or even in front of) books—postcards from a national portrait gallery, theatre programmes, clippings, tourist pamphlets, maps of mystical author-places, for example?

Then there are physical problems, like the over-sized volume that can’t fit on a shelf with congeners. And even if it does, it then dominates and ruins a subliminal graphic aesthetic. Try laying it flat; that can work but may not be space efficient, or beautiful.
One might easily conclude that the obsessive personality will never find peace in any enterprise of classification, especially with books. Let’s examine just one torment of the analytic perfectionist in the following argument:

A multi-volume work should be shelved right-to-left because then, when considered as a unit, total pagination is ordered.

Consider a two-volume dictionary shelved conventionally, as illustrated.

RE 8

Although the two volumes are ordered numerically left-to-right, the pages of the work, viewed as a whole, are ordered absurdly; they both begin on the left and end on the right with an M-word. So much for a dictionary presenting entries ordered alphabetically!
To ensure ordered total pagination (albeit right-to-left), we should sensibly shelve Vol II to the left of Vol I, as shown.

RE 9

Most librarians would find this offending.

Must the thoughtful bibliophile choose between these alternatives of (1) ordering the spines intuitively left-to-right, and (2) properly ordering the whole work’s pages numerically (and entries alphabetically) right-to-left? No: fortunately, there is a way of ordering the volumes left-to-right while having the pagination properly ordered, and also left-to-right. But it comes at a cost.

RE 10

(Incidentally, the abbess Magdalena Letterby’s mastery of these unconventional reading symmetries is alluded to on page 5 of Bad to Worse.)

At this point, some might accept defeat and try the lie-down easy solution.

RE 11

Note that this is a simple transform (left rotation in the plane) of the right-to-left ordering considered above.

Finally, is it possible to arrange the dictionary such that the two volumes are upright and ordered numerically left-to-right and the total pagination is ordered and is left-to-right and the text is upright? Incredibly and beautifully, yes: there does exist a lexical-order optimum.

RE 12

(Here the transform is a rotation through the plane of the right-to-left ordering. The research shelver should confirm that the same result can be obtained by a rotation of the upside-down ordering shown previously. Of course, if independent volume rotations are allowed, this is also a simple rearrangement of the conventional ordering first presented.)

It might be noted that in the simpler case of a single-volume work, left-to-right pagination with upright text is guaranteed in a similar manner. Imagine, then, our analytic perfectionist in charge of a public library and implementing this newly discovered, lexically optimal shelving solution. Good luck with finding anything!

I trust that readers might now better appreciate the suffering of a bibliophile with even just two books to organize (an anguish, as I say, that begins in infancy). Also, I think I have found an explanation as to why librarians seem always preoccupied.

We have friends who shelve books according to colour of spine. I was slightly shocked when I first heard the idea, but if this is the feature of a book that they best remember, and given a system exists for efficient retrieval, then it would seem a good high-level classification. It can also create a wonderful Mondrian wall, seen from a distance.

Anyway, I group novels and short fiction together, ordered alphabetically by author surname. Other categories are poetry, drama, essay collections, literary criticism, classical works (Graeco-Roman, ordered chronologically), history, biography, travel, education, finance, fine arts and architecture, philosophy, and general reference. Science books are grouped according to discipline. My largest single category is mathematics.
We recently had bookshelves replaced and enlarged throughout our house, and at this point I confess that they have been restocked with haste, and not yet with enough neurotic energy.

Q. What sorts of books predominate?

A. Nonfiction predominates by far; particularly general and specialized reference books. Some relate to my career interests of medicine and science, as well as general knowledge, language, and mathematics.

Q. Describe your favourite reading place.

RE 13A. At home, amongst books, with a comfortable chair, quiet, and good lighting.

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 am re-reading Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales, as well as Middle English Lyrics, edited by MS Luria and RL Hoffman, out of interest and possibly toward a new project.

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

A. My favourites have always been dictionaries and encyclopaedias. I couldn’t identify favourite 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. I like to imagine rescuing a book of books: a single volume that contains my every other book in facsimile. (Many will recognize the beginnings of a Russell’s paradox here: Does the super book, being my book, contain itself? Let’s agree that it is defeated in this case by the qualifier ‘other’.)

The second is a volume of Keats given to me by my mother.

The third would be a book of survival, and depend on the nature of the emergency—fire, flood, earthquake, plague, Armageddon, say. For example, in the event of foreign invasion, it would likely be a Korean phrasebook.

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. Charles Dodgson, his alter ego Lewis Carroll, and the literary Alice. I don’t know that they are my favourites, but they would be interesting. Lewis Carroll has probably given the world more sophisticated bewilderment and entertainment than any other writer.

I would serve Indian tea and, if they insisted on eating, order in a curry.

I would ask them about their lives and times, pseudonymity, correspondence with Queen Victoria, early photography, logic, poetry, and sensuality.

Bad to Worse, by Robert Edeson, is available through Fremantle Press.

Shelf Aware — Goldie Goldbloom

Goldie with Gwen

In her responses to my Shelf Aware questions, below, US-based Australian author Goldie Goldbloom describes how Kelly Link’s Magic for Beginners makes her “insides go funny” when she reads it. That’s pretty much what happened to me when I read Goldie’s most recent novel, Gwen, released by Fremantle Press earlier this year. It is an exquisitely crafted imagining of the life of artist Gwendolen Mary John, who studied at the Slade School of Art in the 1890s — at that time, the only art school in the United Kingdom that accepted female students.

Goldie’s book is set a few years later, in 1903, as Gwen travels from London to France with her companion Dorelia, and the two women walk from Calais to Paris, in search of painter and sculptor Auguste Rodin.

Gwen is by turns tragic, comical, erotic, haunting and breathtakingly beautiful, charged with an undercurrent of melancholy yet tinged with hope. I’ve kept it on my bedside table long after I finished reading it, because each time I look at it I experience a surge of bittersweet satisfaction.

As you’ll see from her responses, Goldie is warm, witty, engaging and possesses an enviable way with words. She made me laugh out loud on several occasions and left a lingering smile on my face — especially when she questioned my request for her favourite books or authors.  Her magnificent bookshelves had me on the verge of swooning — they are clearly cherished and must bring great pleasure to Goldie and her family.

As you’ll also see, Goldie’s favourite authors include some names familiar to Australian readers, as well as a few whose works I now intend to seek out. Enjoy every line of this delightful guest blog… I’m going to read it again now myself!

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

A. What an interesting question! I think of my work as a kind of slow undressing of a character, bringing them back to something elemental that they might not have been aware of in themselves. It’s not easy work, and I spend a lot of time thinking about the psychology involved and also pondering the inner life of my characters. It might just be an excuse for why I’m off with the fairies for much of the day, but I don’t really think so. I enjoy thinking and thinking about a question until I am able to come up with something that feels like a solution.

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

A. A while ago, I wanted to write a funny book for my son’s birthday, and so I began work on a young adult book and that’s been a lot of fun. I stopped working on it for a while when my son said he’d really rather have a bike, but I’m back on track now.

My favourite project right now is a new novel about two women who were professors at Columbia University in New York around the turn of the last century. They both worked with an organization that promoted peace around the world, but then one of them, a professor of chemistry, ended up working on the Manhattan Project, building the atom bomb. I’m really curious how a person moves from being a peace activist to someone who is enriching uranium. And how she continued to love and be loved by her peace-activist partner.

I am also working on a memoir. That’s embarrassing to admit. I’m not sure it’ll ever be published. Oh, but it’s hilarious!

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

Works in studyA. I have far more books than anyone I know. My kids say that I’m a pack rat but only when it comes to books. That’s probably true. I have bookshelves in every room of my house except the dining room, and they are all full to overflowing. There’s a library with all of the Hebrew and Yiddish books and all of the young adult books on the first floor of the house. There’s a library of all the nonfiction books on the second floor. My study is also wall-to-wall books, but it’s the alphabetized fiction section of my library. I have three metre tall library shelving in my bedroom and another collection of bookshelves in the hallway that are full of poetry. Garden and architecture books live in the lounge room, next to the fire. Sewing, craft, art and costume books are all in the basement sewing room. There’s an eclectic collection to browse in every bathroom, just in case you are there for any time.

Goldie with books 2Q. How are your books organised/arranged?

A. I was formerly a research librarian, so my books are organized by category, and then within the categories, by either Dewey decimal system (for the nonfiction books) or by alphabetical last names of the writers (for the fiction/poetry/short stories and books about writing)

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

A. It’s a bit hard to say. I have several rooms full of some of these categories. I’ll do my best. Here goes: I have a ton of general fiction, or perhaps literary fiction might be a better descriptor, since I don’t have any James Patterson books, for example. I really love (and teach) science fiction, fantasy, speculative fiction, weird fiction of any kind, so I do have a lot of volumes from that field. Every time I see a book about death, destruction, tattoos, weird stuff, teratology, circuses, medical curiosties or bizarre things, I usually buy it, so I have a giant collection that lands on my “Weird Stuff” shelves, which are nonfiction, but they are already crowded with natural history, biology, botany, zoology. I have a larger collection of children and young adult books than my local branch of the Chicago Public Library, so there’s that. Gosh…I don’t really know. I have a ton of everything you mentioned except romance books.

Q. Describe your favourite reading place.

A. My bathtub. It’s enormous. There’s a giant skylight overhead. All of this sounds like I’m rich, but actually, I just own a huge and crumbling Victorian house and spend all of my spare cash on used books.

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 read different books in different places/times during the day. I just rounded up my books and there’s quite a pile.

I am currently reading I Forgot to Remember by Su Meck in the middle of the night when I get woken up and can’t go back to sleep. I purchased it to understand something more about amnesia, since I am writing about amnesia. I just finished reading Mary Karr’s The Art of Memoir, which was my previous midnight book. It was excellent. Highly recommended!

I just finished The Marrying of Chani Kaufman by Eve Harris which I saved for reading on the plane throughout February when I was lecturing in a lot of different places around the USA. I chose it because it’s about the chassidic community of which I am part, and I was looking forward to a well-crafted novel about my world.

Since I drive carpool for many hours a day and often have to wait for half an hour at a time, I have a special car book. Right now, it’s William Gay’s short story collection i hate to see that evening sun go down. William Gay came to me on recommendation from my friend Judy Smith. She thought I might like the harsh edges and I do. His story, “The Paperhanger,” will put icicles in your eyeballs.

I made a promise to myself to always read a short story every day, and those half-hour periods while I am waiting around are perfect for reading a short story. I keep a short story collection in my car at all times. It’s remarkable what you can get read in a day if you aren’t messing around with your phone.

My main bedside read right now is Richard Flanagan’s The Narrow Road to the Deep North, which is absolutely exquisite. I am insanely jealous of his lyrical writing. If you do nothing else today, run out and buy his book, and then sit down and read it. If I’m not in the mood for fiction (it happens!), I read Andrew Solomon’s book Far From the Tree, another must-read book. He has elucidated things about the world I have never been able to get a grip on before. Brilliant.

Waiting for the moment when I finish my Richard Flanagan, is Ruth Ozeki’s new book A Tale for the Time Being. Most of my books are recommendations from other writers who have some sense of what I like to read, and so I rarely get a dud. Unlike when people rely on certain (swear words) mammoth bookselling giants, recommendations from friends are wonderfully random, and consistently broaden my horizons in ways I couldn’t have foreseen.

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

A. It’s unfair to ask a parent to choose their favourite child.

I can give you a list of writers who are just phenomenal. Everything they write,
every time, takes my breath away. I know that’s not what you asked but it’s what
I’m willing to give…

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Richard Flanagan is a new favourite, Elena Ferrante, Andrea Barrett, Tim Winton,
Kelly Link, George Saunders, Peter Carey, Graham Greene, Angela Carter, Colm
Toibin, Shirley Hazard, Colum McCann, Deborah Levy, Ottessa Moshfegh,
Geraldine Brooks, Katherine Dunn, Margaret Atwood, William Trevor, JM
Coetzee, Patrick White.

Now I feel like a bad parent because this list is only a tiny portion of the writers I
really love and respect. See what you made me do?

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 save my kids first. And then, and only then, if everyone were out, I’d go and say goodbye to my books. But I wouldn’t save any because I’d be crying too hard.

But in the event I’d be able to pull myself together (highly unlikely), I’d maybe save Kelly Link’s Magic for Beginners because it makes my insides go funny when I read it. I’d probaby save the little handmade book I made about the first ten years of my kids’ lives, because it’s not replaceable now that my memory is going down the tubes. And Jim Crace’s Being Dead because then I’d be able to remind myself that things just keep on moving. And because it’s so extraordinarily beautiful, that while I wept over the loss of my library, I could console myself with the beauty of his words.

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. Oh! I’d love to meet my own character, Gwen John, from my latest novel! I’d pair her with Andrea Barrett, because I think they’d get on like a house on fire, and because I love them both. I’d sit back and just let them natter on, I think. And I’d have to have Tim Winton, not so much because he goes with the other two, but just because I’m a crazy fangirl and I’d want to talk whales with him. So while we were chatting about sperm whales and animal communication and neural spindles and the gorgeous gorgeous ocean, which would have to be just off to the left, I’d have an ear out for what Andrea and Gwen were saying. Maybe I’d get up the nerve to ask Gwen some big questions, ones I’ve been wanting to ask her. But maybe I wouldn’t. I’m pretty shy. Andrea would have to do all the talking and she would, because she has this amazing unforgettable voice. And I’d serve them all cheese blintzes, because Gwen is a vegetarian. And because they are yummy and quick. And there’d be oranges. With salt.

Visit Goldie Goldbloom’s website here.

You can buy Gwen by Goldie Goldbloom through Fremantle Press here.

Interview — Eric Van Lustbader

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Book Review — Beautiful Messy Love — Tess Woods

 

BML

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shelf Aware — Sandi Parsons

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Signed ShelvesQ. How are your books organised/arranged?

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

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

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

Q. What sorts of books predominate?

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

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

Q. Describe your favourite reading place.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shelf Aware — Tess Woods

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 Aware — Alli Sinclair

 

Alli 2016.jpg

Award-winning Australian author Alli Sinclair.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alli’s captions for the above photos: 

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

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

Q. How are your books organised/arranged?

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

Alli’s captions for the above photos:

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

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

Q. What sorts of books predominate?

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

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

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

Alli’s captions for the above photos:

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

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

Q. Describe your favourite reading place.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shelf Aware — Monica McInerney

Monica McInerney photo by Ashley Miller (landscape)

Author Monica McInerney. Photo: Ashley Miller.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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)

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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.

MM3

(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.

Find out more about Monica here:

www.monicamcinerney.com/

www.facebook.com/monicamcinerneyauthor

www.instagram.com/monicamcinerneyauthor

www.twitter.com/monicamcinerney

Shelf Aware — 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.

TG_bookshelves_16_My_2017_23

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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