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This tenting life – birds, books and bush

17 May

I’ve spent five of the last six weeks sleeping in a tent. And while I did love staying in a house in Margaret River – thank you Margaret River Readers and Writers Festival! – I was keen to get back in the tent. Living out of a tent is a very immersive experience. There is almost nothing between you and the environment. You hear every bird call, every shower of rain and every wind gust. It seeps into you, this richness. In the house, I enjoyed the soft bed, the hot water and cooking in a proper kitchen. But I missed the birds.

Camping in the middle of Wilpena Pound, Flinders Ranges

I’ve never been a birdwatcher, but I’m trying. I’ve got binoculars and a bird book and when I see a little brown bird I attempt to identify it. It’s been enjoyable trying to put a name to all those flitting friends.

The other thing about camping is that there is often no phone reception in the places – mainly national parks – where we like to camp. The result of this is that I’ve read a lot of books. I’ve found some treasures here and there, given to me by other travellers or picked up at a roadside stop. I also read on my kindle and listen to audio books in the car. I’ve posted a list of all the books I’ve read and the birds I’ve seen below and chosen a favourite of each.

In a couple of weeks, on May 31st, I’ll be talking at Katherine Susannah Prichard Writers Centre in Perth and then from June 13 to 16, I’ll be at Geraldton Big Sky Writers Festival. I’ll make an effort to spruce myself up a bit before then, so I don’t look like I just crawled out of a tent!

Emus at Flinders Ranges

Books read over the last six weeks.

‘The Story of a Marriage’ by Andrew Sean Greer

‘Catching Teller Crow’ by Ambelin and Ezekial Kwaymullina

‘The Third Wheel’ by Michael J. Richie

‘Imaginary Friends’ by Alison Lurie

‘A Widow for One Year’ by John Irving

‘The World Made Straight’ by Ron Rash

‘Dead Parrot’ by John Huxley

‘Women in Black’ by Madeleine St John

‘Longbourne’ by Jo Baker

‘Coming Rain’ by Stephen Daisley

‘The End of all our Exploring’ by Catherine Anderson

‘The Passenger’ Lisa Lutz

‘The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells’ Andrew Sean Greer

‘The Big Twitch’ Sean Dooley

‘Life List’ Olivia Gentile

‘The Lessons’ Naomi Alderton

Favourite book: ‘Catching Teller Crow’ by Ambelin and Ezekial Kwaymullina

Birds sighted (and identified) over the last six weeks.

Pardalote

Hooded plover

Flame robin

Yellow-tailed black cockatoo

Wedge-tailed eagle

Magpie

Sulphur-crested cockatoo

Galah

White-browed scrub wren

Richard’s pipit

Eastern rosella

Crimson rosella

Rainbow lorikeet

Raven

Spur-winged plover

Currawong

Black-headed cuckoo-shrike

Little hawk

Swallow

Major Mitchell Cockatoo

Purple-crowned lorikeet

Superb blue wren

Port Lincoln parrot

Grey shrike-thrush

Hooded robin

Red-eared firetail

Chestnut-breasted shelduck

White-tailed black cockatoo

Kookaburra

Peregrine falcon

Red-capped parrot

Rufous treecreeper

Rock parrot

Red-capped dotterel

Sooty oystercatcher

Pied oystercatcher

Crested tern

Samphire thornbill

Emu

Red wattle bird

Australian bustard

Golden whistler

Silvereye

White-eared honeyeater

Willy wagtail

Brush bronzewing pigeon

Sanderling

Pacific Gull

Silver Gull

Brown falcon

Dusky wood swallow

Mulga parrot

White-browed babbler

Mallee ring-necked parrot

Pelican

Black swan

Butcher bird

Budgerigar

Wood duck

Caspian tern

Elegant parrot

Ibis

Corella

Favourite bird: Major Mitchell Cockatoo

Loving the Apocalypse: Why I wrote a romantic comedy about climate change

20 Dec

2018 has been a big year. In April, my first young adult novel ‘Paris Syndrome’ came out and hot on its heels was my climate change comedy, ‘Melt’. I’ve been having fun doing the rounds, to talk about both books.

With Philip McLaren and Tim Tomlinson at Federal Writers Festival (image by Jessie Cole)

Most recently, I was at the Quantum Words Science Writing Festival in Sydney and the first ever Federal Writers Festival, near Byron Bay. At both of these events, I spoke about why I wrote a romantic comedy about climate change. I thought I’d share a little of that here.

Six years ago or so, I read an article which said that climate change is the most boring subject humanity has ever confronted. To me that was a red rag to a bull. I decided to roll my sleeves up and write a comedy about climate change. And not just a comedy, a romantic comedy.

With climate scientist Lesley Hughes and authors James Bradley and Hannah Donnelly at Quantum Words (image: Writing NSW)

People sometimes look at me like I’m a terrible person when I say I’ve written a romantic comedy about climate change. ‘You think climate change is funny?’ they say. Anything can be funny if you put your mind to it. Humour is a good way of approaching topics that we find hard to contemplate. I’ve read my fair share of dystopian fiction, but I find that there are only so many scorched wastelands I can take. There’s also room for funny climate change love stories.

Climate change is vast, overwhelming and depressing. We’re all to blame and there isn’t an easy solution. That makes it a difficult problem for fiction writers. It isn’t easy to turn it into a story which is small, hopeful and funny. But I’ve done my best.

It’s important to have stories about climate change out there. The more, the better. My book isn’t going to save the world, but it adds to the conversation. I’ve been careful not to harangue the reader. I think novels should be about people who have issues, rather than the other way around.

I’ve always enjoyed writing fish-out-of-water comedies. It’s so much fun placing a protagonist in a situation that they don’t have the skills to handle. ‘Melt’ is the story of Summer. She’s a TV production assistant who, in an unlikely turn of events, ends up impersonating a science superstar in Antarctica. Summer knows nothing about glaciology, penguins or krill and her boss forbids her to talk about climate change.

I put a lot of thought into how to introduce the science. I have a science background, so it would have been easy to overload the book with carbon dioxide and rising sea levels.

Instead I adopted the ‘strip club approach’. In movies, when they have to do an information dump, they always do it somewhere exciting, like a strip club. So, in ‘Melt’, whenever I introduce some science about climate change, I make sure that Summer is sliding backwards on her skis towards a crevasse. Or having a wardrobe failure.

I think comedy can be an effective way to tackle difficult issues. Authors need to woo their audience, not knock them over the head with a message. Climate change is scary, but it’s important to leave the reader with a subtle feeling of hope. Change is possible.

Best wishes for the holiday season and here’s to a fulfilling and positive 2019.  

Acknowledgement:
I would like to thank Create NSW for funding my travel to the Quantum Words Festival.

Sex, Lies and Bonsai – writing the outsider

12 Jun

have you everMy writing desk has a view of the sea. From here, at any time of day, I can see surfers skimming across the waves.  What would it be like, I thought, to live in this town and be scared of the water? To have skin that burns instantly in the sun? To have a rich and imaginative inner life but be so shy that no-one ever gets to know that part of you?

Darling Head, where ‘Sex, Lies and Bonsai’ is set, is a serious surf town – one where the wetsuit is the look on the street and the clothes shops stock only surf wear. The town even has its own lingo – been gettin’ any? is the usual greeting. It is, in fact, very much like my own home town. While I am a keen surfer myself, my kids are not really into it. In a town with such a strong surfing culture, whether you do or don’t surf becomes an important part of who you are.

Into this town I threw Edie – a shy redhead whose father is a former surf champion, a girl who hasn’t been in the water since she was twelve. Edie’s father is the town celebrity, but Edie has spent her whole life feeling like she doesn’t belong. While she escaped to the city for a few years, a failed relationship finds her washed back up in her childhood home.

In search of more money, Edie takes up erotic writing. And of course, there is something much worse than being the water-shy daughter of a surf champion – being outed as an erotic writer in a small town. I’m sure we all know the terror that comes with exposing an intimate part of ourselves to the cruel light of day…

While ‘Sex, Lies and Bonsai’ is a comedy, it is a tender one. It’s about the joy of finding someone who makes you feel like it’s okay to be the crazy mixed up person that you are.  Edie has spent most of her life trying to hide what she sees as her peculiarities. I wanted to see what would happen if she was brave enough to let them all come out.

‘Sex, Lies and Bonsai’ has become the little book that could. It’s now out with HarperCollins in the UK and HarperCollins in the US . Go little book. This book trailer for ‘Sex, Lies and Bonsai’, set in my home town, sets the scene.

Some links to buy…

‘Sex, Lies and Bonsai’ in the US: 

HarperCollins

Barnes and Noble

‘Sex, Lies and Bonsai’ in the UK :

Foyles

Amazon

‘Sex, Lies and Bonsai’ in Australia:

Booktopia

Angus and Robertson 

tile sex lies

 

Releasing Wild Books on the Camino

6 Jun

“A book is not only a friend, it makes friends for you. When you have possessed a book with mind and spirit, you are enriched. But when you pass it on you are enriched threefold.”
— Henry Miller
The Books In My Life (1969)

bookcrossings pic

I first walked the Camino about two years ago with my husband and two sons. It was an intense experience. We averaged twenty-five kilometres a day for thirty days – no rest days. There were blisters, bed bugs and tears. It wasn’t the most enjoyable walk of my life, but it was memorable. In a large part, the pleasure was about meeting people and the shared experience of doing a walk with such a long history.

This week, I’m going back. We’ll start walking on Sunday. The main reason I’m returning is that I’m writing a novel set on the Camino and I want to refresh my memory, get some new colour and smells for the book.  I’m not doing the whole Camino again, just the section from Leon to Sarria. And I plan to take it a bit easier than last time.

Last week I did a radio interview about my two new books, ‘Paris Syndrome’ and ‘Melt’. The interviewer pointed out that in both books, a book is left behind for someone else to read. She asked me if I had ever done that and, well, I have.

I like the idea of leaving books around for others to pick up as they wish. I helped to set up a street library in my home town, which is a similar principle. It’s interesting to see how often the shelves turn over and what books people leave behind.

This week I came across Book Crossings. It is a community of almost two million people who have released over twelve million books into the wild. Each book is given a special identification number and its journey across the world can then be tracked. I love the image of wild books crisscrossing the globe, making friends wherever they go.

I thought to myself, what better place to release books than on the Camino? You have a multi-national tribe of people, who hopefully have time to read, going past every day. I’ve decided to take some of my books and set them free along on the path. They say that the Camino gives you what you need, so I hope they will find their perfect readers.

 You can follow my Camino book releases on Facebook  Instagram or Twitter.

boots and books

 

Launching…

15 May

 

For those who live in my local area, I would love to see you at one of my events in Lismore or Byron Bay.

On Thursday May 17 (this Thursday) I will be discussing both my recent novels ‘Paris Syndrome’ and Melt at the Lismore Book Warehouse. There is a charge of $5 to cover drinks and snacks.

On Thursday May 31, Author Sarah Armstong will be launching ‘Melt’ in Byron Bay, with a Welcome to Country by Delta Kay. This is a free event (with drinks and snacks! )

RSVPs to both these events are appreciated to help with catering.

*****

Reveiws, reviews, reviews…

‘Melt’ and ‘Paris Syndrome’ have both been getting some lovely reviews, which warms the cockles of my heart on these cool autumn mornings.

Melt

It’s a lovely romp of a RomCom, involving Climate Change, Mistaken Identities and Antarctica! 

Karl Kruszelnicki (Dr Karl) (on Twitter)

I wish I could find more books just like this one!

Bree, One Girl Too Many Books 

Paris Syndrome

YA novelist Lisa Walker has woven a multi-layered story of love and loss… Highly recommended.

Alison Paterson in Magpies Magazine

This is a quirky affectionate read that will have teens laughing one minute and tearing up the next.

Riverbend Books

There are more reviews of both books on my website. 

‘Melt’ release day – write what you know…

2 May

I came to writing after a varied career. I worked as a wilderness and backcountry ski guide for many years, then in environmental education and then in community relations for the national parks and wildlife service.

My life has seeped into my work. My first novel, ‘Liar Bird’ was about a woman working in community relations for national parks – so, yes, somewhat autobiographical… In ‘Sex, Lies and Bonsai’, my protagonist Edie works at a university dissecting and drawing crab larvae – a position I held myself while I was doing my first degree in Zoology. My third novel, ‘Arkie’s Pilgrimage to the Next Big Thing’ features a woman doing a pilgrimage around the ‘Big Things’ of coastal Australia. And I have visited more than a few Big Things in my time…

‘Paris Syndrome’, my first Young Adult novel, is about a young girl in Brisbane who yearns for Paris. I grew up in Brisbane and spent a fair amount of time wishing I was somewhere more exotic.

I think authors often find that the more they write, the further from autobiography they go. Basically you just have to start making things up! Which brings me to ‘Melt’…

I’ve never been to Antarctica and nor have I presented a TV show and yet, this is what my protagonist Summer does. I did research it extensively though. If you’ve never survived an Antarctic storm in the Antarctic Centre in Christchurch, New Zealand, I can highly recommend it. It helped that I’ve spent a lot of time in snowy environments. I could visualise the hardships and the beauty of living in that environment. I loved being in my protagonist, Summer’s head as she saw Antarctica for the first time…

The sea edge is rimmed with turquoise cliffs of ice. They are brilliant, luminous. I hadn’t dreamed they’d be that colour. My mouth is hanging open again. I shut it. We drop lower and I see black dots on the white. ‘Penguins,’ I squeal.

Rory jabs me hard this time.

‘Ow. Penguins,’ I repeat in a more subdued manner. ‘As you’d expect.’

‘Melt’ is a fish-out-of-water comedy about a young woman impersonating a TV science superstar. She is learning glaciology and climate science on the fly, building a secret igloo, improvising scripts based on Dynasty, and above all trying not to be revealed as an impostor. I had a lot of fun writing it.

‘Melt’ is freshly hatched today and widely available in ebook and paperback worldwide, including through the links below.

Lacuna (paperback) Amazon Australia (paperback and kindle) Booktopia (paperback and ebook) Amazon US  Amazon UK 

It will be launched in Byron Bay on May 31st by author Sarah Armstrong. More details here.

I am also doing an author talk about ‘Melt’ and ‘Paris Syndrome’ at the Lismore Book Warehouse on May 17, 6pm. RSVP to: 66214204

‘Melt’ is on Goodreads here.

LISA WITH MELT 2

 

9 Apr

Sharing this post from the lovely Kim Kelly’s website. Looking forward to being part of the Millthorpe pop-up in May!

A touch of Paris in Brisbane

8 Apr

I first heard of Paris Syndrome a few years ago. The condition is a form of culture shock and is particularly experienced by Japanese tourists who become distressed when Paris doesn’t live up to their romantic expectations. It was a strange idea to me, that people could have such an idealised view of Paris that they would fall sick when it failed to deliver. Yet, it is true. Few other cities come with such a wealth of fantasies attached.

Paris is the City of Love, after all, the most romantic place in the world. It is easy to believe that it’s a city full of accordion players and elegant women walking poodles but, as wonderful as the city is, that is not the reality of Paris today.

A few years ago, I dragged my family along on a Parisian literary pilgrimage. We drank café au lait at the Café de Flore, where Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir used to hang out discussing existentialism. We browsed the bookshelves in the historic Shakespeare and Company bookshop, where writers can sleep for free among the books while working on their novel. We strolled around Victor Hugo’s house, where he wrote Les Misérables, and gazed out at the manicured park and chimneyed apartments outside. In Paris, I felt that I was at the centre of something – in a place where ideas are the lifeblood.

So I was very tempted to write a novel set in Paris, but, well, it seemed a little obvious. I decided to subvert that idea. The jarring clash between reality and imagination which causes Paris Syndrome was more interesting.

I grew up in Brisbane, which has its own charms – it’s warm, liveable and not too big – but it sure ain’t Paris. The character of Happy came to me. A Brisbane girl who dreams of walking the streets of Montmartre. Of skipping stones in St Martin’s Canal. Of popping into a photo booth in the Metro and flirting with an eccentric Frenchman. A girl who is so crazy about the movie Amélie, that she imagines when she gets to Paris her hair will morph into an elfin bob as she rides her scooter past the Arc de Triomphe.

So, while I do adore Paris, I decided to set ‘Paris Syndrome’ in Brisbane. Instead of the Seine, Happy has the Brisbane River. Instead of the Eiffel Tower, she has the much smaller replica which sits outside a café in Milton. Gradually she starts to realise that problems aren’t solved by changing locations. Life unfolds wherever you are.

You can read more about ‘Paris Syndrome’ over on my website.

IMG_1085 (002)

Where it all started – at Amelie’s greengrocer in Montmartre

paris syndrome cover low res

‘Paris Syndrome’ release day and launch

18 Mar

It’s always a moment of mixed emotions when a book goes out into the world, but ‘Paris Syndrome’ is particularly special.

‘Paris Syndrome’ is my first book with a young adult protagonist. The first novel I ever wrote, which will never see the light of day, was a young adult fantasy, but I turned to adult fiction after that. Many years ago, a publisher said to me, ‘You know, you have a great voice for YA.’ I never forgot that, and at last decided to give it another go. I have always loved reading young adult fiction. Things seem closer to the bone and that adds extra power to the story-telling.

So today my protagonist Happy goes public. She’s a quirky Brisbane girl who’s obsessed with Paris. I loved writing her story and hope she goes well. Bon anniversaire Happy! If you live in my local area, I’d love to see you at the launch.

And if you’d like to watch a 15 second book trailer with some accordion music to get you in a Parisian mood click here

Impossible Things – Science, Denial and the Great Barrier Reef

1 Aug

My essay, ‘Impossible Things – Science, Denial and the Great Barrier Reef’ appears in the latest issue of Griffith Review. This is a personal essay about my experience of working in scientific research on the Great Barrier Reef in the early 1980s and looking back on that today, knowing what we do about the effects of climate change on the reef.

The essay was prompted by a feeling of shock, grief and guilt after the coral bleaching in the summer of 2016 which killed over half of the northern section of the reef and a quarter of the reef overall.

I started going to the barrier reef as a teenager studying biology at university. They say that memories laid down in this period of your life are the most vivid and that’s the case for me. If I ever need to conjure up a picture of paradise, I think of being on a little boat off Lizard Island and looking down into the water, seeing giant clams and reef sharks and plate after plate of coloured coral stretching down into the depths.

Although my life took me away from the reef for many years, hearing that so much of the reef had died felt like news of a car crash. I had to go back.

So this is an essay about returning to the reef. It is also a reflection on the erosion of confidence in science as a decision-making tool and how this relates to the denial of climate change in Australia and overseas.

I will be on a panel at Byron Writers Festival on Saturday morning (5th of August), where I will join chair Julianne Schultz as well as Jim Hearn, Bri Lee and Phillip Frazer, talking about The Perils of Populism.