Tag Archives: chick lit

Friendship at Forty – my review of ‘Tiddas’ by Anita Heiss

3 Mar

tiddas coverI jumped at the chance to read Tiddas, because while I have read Anita’s memoir, Am I Black Enough for You? I had not yet read any of her women’s fiction. Anita, a proud Wiradjuri woman, has created a whole new genre in fiction — Koori chick-lit. Her novels are about smart, urban, Aboriginal women who like to shop, but are also socially aware and deeply rooted in their culture.

With Tiddas, she departs from her four previous novels about footloose singles by introducing us to a group of women on the cusp of forty. The title of the book means ‘friends’ and the story revolves around five tiddas who grew up together in Mudgee, but have found their way to Brisbane.

The action in the story takes place over about a year and uses the device of a monthly book group meeting as a marker for the changing seasons and lives of the five. The nature and value of female friendship is the thematic backdrop to the way each tidda deals with the central issues in her life.

There were so many things I enjoyed about this book. Having grown up in Brisbane, I loved the setting — the river, the joggers at Kangaroo Point and the gorgeous jacarandas that feature on the cover. The tiddas, Izzy, Veronica, Xanthe, Nadine and Ellen are well-rounded and despite, or maybe because of, their faults they are all likeable and fun to be around. On one level this is a study of issues relevant to all woman of this age — sex, fertility, career and relationships. But the book also gives an insight, through the tiddas, into Aboriginal culture and politics. Izzy, for example, aspires to be Australia’s Oprah, while Xanthe is a cultural awareness trainer and Ellen a funeral celebrant. I found the tiddas’ journeys realistic — their friendship waxes, wanes and sometimes falters. As in life, not everyone gets tied up with a ‘happily ever after’.

Tiddas is a warm-hearted book, which delves gently into both personal and social issues in a way that feels intrinsic to the story. I became involved in the lives of the tiddas and read the book quickly, finishing it with a sense of having been enriched by some lively and intelligent company.

Those of you who live near Byron Bay are lucky because Anita Heiss will be in our town soon… 

I will be discussing Tiddas with Anita at the Byron Bay Library on March 14 5.30pm for 6.00 (Phone 6685 8540 to book) and she is also running a workshop on writing women’s fiction on March 15 (see www.nrwc.org.au).

You can find out more about Anita and the Byron Bay event here. 

This is my first post for the 2014 Australian Women Writers Challenge

Finding joy in simplicity – My review of Mr Wigg

1 Jul

mr wiggMr Wigg is an enchanting new novel by Queensland author, Inga Simpson. Set in 1971, the story takes place on Mr Wigg’s farm in South-West NSW. Here he grows a range of stone fruit, listens to the cricket on the radio, bakes with his grandchildren, reminisces about his life and works hard on a secret project.

‘Mr Wigg had squandered his life’ reads the first line of the book. And for some it might seem so. He has led a quiet life on the farm with his wife, Mrs Wigg, who died a few years ago. He has no great achievements to show for himself, just his orchard and his family. His son thinks it’s time he moved into town.

But Mr Wigg has a special relationship with all the fruit trees in his orchard and each has its own personality and quirky ways. The younger trees, the peaches and nectarines, tend towards silliness, while the older trees are wiser but sometimes impatient. Rhubarb, meanwhile, is characterised by a lack of manners. ‘Rhubarb’s speech was crude, and muted by soil.’

Things even get a bit saucy in spring, when the pears and apples get taunted by the trees which don’t need cross-pollination. ‘His books didn’t have much to say on the sexuality of fruit trees. Mr Wigg figured it was best to keep quiet until the storm of pollen had settled.’ Who knew that life on an orchard could be so intriguing?

Simpson tells us the story of an ordinary man in an extraordinary way, casting a light on the little events that make up a life. Whether it is meeting Mrs Wigg at a dance, making strawberry tarts with the children or telling mythical and magical tales about fruit, each moment is beautifully rendered. The outside world intrudes from time to time; his neighbour’s son is drafted for the Vietnam War and the Springbok’s tour is cancelled after protests.

Mr Wigg is poignant, a little sad, but having the still quality of a meditation. It says on the cover that this is, ‘A novel that celebrates the small, precious things in life.’ And so it does. Quietly contemplative, Mr Wigg is about simplicity; taking joy in the moment and each day as it comes. Turn off the computer and read slowly with a peach to hand.

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Inga Simpson will be appearing at the Byron Bay Writers Festival 2-4 August.

This is my sixth review for the Australian Women Writers’ Challenge. On a related note, I have been co-opted onto the panel of the Stella Trivia Night at the Byron Bay Writers Festival where I will be quizzed about my knowledge of Australian Women’s Literature. Scary stuff but should be a fun evening with lots of audience participation.

And for anyone interested in unleashing their inner chick-lit goddess, I’ll be running a half-day workshop on Monday 29 July as part of the Festival. Learn how to find humour in everyday situations, make your dialogue sparkle and give your character’s sex lives a little more sizzle. Come on, you know you want to…

Here’s hoping the rain abates before the marquees go up!

You know what they say about sex – what’s in a name?

9 Jan

I have terrible trouble with book titles. My first novel, ‘Liar Bird’, started off being called (ahem) ‘Toading – a tale of lies, lust and feral pests.’ Yes, it’s quite embarrassing, but I feel better for having shared. Clearly it was never going to make it to a bookshop near you with a title like that. My good friend Jane Camens came up with the title ‘Liar Bird’ and I never looked back.

So, you are now asking no doubt – what title did I used to have for ‘Sex, Lies and Bonsai’Sex Lies title before alighting on this one? Well, it used to be called, ‘The Greatest Child Failure in History.’ The protagonist, Edie, believes she is a terrible failure because she doesn’t surf, unlike her surf-champ dad. The trouble was that as the story grew; this particular theme didn’t feel quite as central as it was in the start. Some folks also gently suggested that it was not a very good title. In fact it was a bit of a downer.

So, I had a powwow with my publisher and she suggested ‘Sex, Lies and Bonsai’.  Just off the top of her head in a coffee shop. Just like that. It totally fits with the story. It looks great on the cover of the book. It’s easy to say. And of course it has that magic word – sex.

But is sex a double-edged sword? It has been suggested that the key to a good cover is that people should not feel embarrassed reading it on the train in the morning.  Hence those dreary grey covers that have proliferated in bookshops this year. Anyway, there’s no mistaking my cover for one of those. It’s bright, it’s beautiful and I couldn’t love it more.

I now suspect that the duller the cover, the more suspicious your fellow commuters will be as to what lies within. What do you think?

Our town is like the twelve days of Christmas…

22 Dec

Edie in my book ‘Sex, Lies and Bonsai’ has just fled Sydney and moved back to her home town, a small village on the north coast of New South Wales. As she re-discovers, no one is anonymous in a small town…

Here’s a short extract.surfing_santa

“The nice part about living in Darling Head, as opposed to Sydney, is that you do know who you are dealing with. I sometimes think our town is like the twelve days of Christmas. On the twelfth day of Christmas, Darling Head sent to me:

Twelve trained baristas

Eleven school teachers

Ten sporty nurses

Nine well-dressed lawyers

Eight pretty hair dressers

Seven fashion retailers

Six surfing doctors

Five real estate agents

Four surfboard shapers

Three drug dealers

Two millionaire developers

And a milkman in a white van

To be honest, you don’t normally see that many lawyers and I think there might be more than three drug dealers, but you get the picture. In our town, no-one is anonymous.”

How about your town?

You can win a copy of ‘Sex, Lies and Bonsai’ at Book’d Out (Australian residents only) or Goodreads (Aust, NZ, Canada, US, GB)

Happy Christmas and best wishes for the season.

Sex, Lies and a Book Trailer

2 Nov

Opinion is divided about book trailers. Some think they work, some think they don’t. Some, like Jonathan Franzen, are fundamentally opposed to them, but do one anyway. See Franzen’s grouchy take on a book trailer for ‘Freedom’ here.

Me, I have no idea, but I’ve done one anyway. Why? Just because it’s fun. And maybe they work… Who knows?

I don’t have any high profile friends, like Gary Shteyngart, who called on James Franco, Jeffrey Eugenides and others to act in his video for ‘Super Sad True Love Story.’ But what I do have is… a talented teenage son. Lucky me.

So here’s my trailer for ‘Sex, Lies and Bonsai.’ It’s thirty seconds long. It’s set in Lennox Head (as is the book). It’s got SEX. It’s got LIES and there’s even a BONSAI. Featuring me on the computer keyboard, me on vocals, with all cinematography by Tim. (here’s his YouTube site)

What do you think about book trailers? Do you reckon they work?

 

Book Review: Fall Girl by Toni Jordan

7 Apr

What’s not to love about a good romantic comedy? You know that the girl’s going to get the guy and there’ll be some laughs along the way. Toni Jordan has positioned herself as the thinking woman’s rom com author of choice. Her first novel, Addition, was a best seller and Fall Girl is a worthy follow up.

The plot centres on Della Gilmore, part of a family of con-artists, as she attempts to pull off the biggest con of her life. Her ‘mark’ is Daniel Metcalf, a millionaire with a penchant for the Tasmanian Tiger. Enter Doctor Ella Canfield, evolutionary biologist. Boy, has she got a proposition for him.

Della is a loveable character who carries the story. Her supporting cast of con artists are also fun as they pretend to be PhD students in biology. I found Daniel Metcalf a little undefined but I was enjoying Della and her gang so much I didn’t really care.

Della’s masquerade as a field hardened researcher is hilarious. Take this dialogue, when faced with a river in need of crossing. ‘This is a minor problem. When I was at Harvard researching I walked all day to a skunk research site, then I had to wade a raging river carrying my tent over my head. Alone. In the dark. If I remember right, it was raining. That was fairly hard.’

The plot unfolds with twists and turns as Della suspects that Daniel, too, is not who he seems to be. Her growing interest in Daniel is nicely drawn. ‘I watch the way his shoulders tense and flex through his shirt… It is somewhat compelling, the sight of him, merely because this part of the trail is boring and there is nothing else to look at but trees trees trees.’ The reader’s expectations are playfully subverted; ‘I catch a glimpse of Daniel’s face and am not surprised to see desire etched there. He’s also looking at the water.’

Jordan’s writing is fresh and original. It is also very, very sexy. In fact her sex scenes are some of the best I’ve read.  I was tempted to quote from one, but this being a family blog… In short, if you want a light, humorous read that won’t insult your intelligence, Fall Girl is for you.

‘Fall Girl’ is the fourth of my book reviews for the Australia Women Writers Challenge

I will be on a panel at the Gloucester Writers Festival on the 6th of May with another Lisa, Lisa Heidke. The topic we’re discussing is… ‘Chick lit is not Dumb lit’. Indeed! Love to see you there if you’re in the vicinity. 

Book Review: The Freudian Slip by Marion Von Adlerstein

22 Mar

Marion Von Adlerstein is the author of two other books on shopping and etiquette. The Freudian Slip is her first novel. It draws upon her own experience in a territory familiar to viewers of Mad Men – an advertising agency in the early sixties.

Set in Sydney, the novel revolves around three women. Desi is a television producer, Bea a copywriter and Stella, an ambitious ‘want to be’ from the wrong side of the tracks. Stella’s efforts to establish herself as part of the creative team at the agency generate most of the plot momentum.

While Stella has boundless energy and willpower, originality is not her strong point. Elevated from typist to copywriter, she soon learns that the package rules over the product – a message she apples to updating her look. Her outdated fifties beehive hairdo and princess-line dress make way for the a-la-mode look of the sixties. ‘Which persona to adopt? … an impersonation of Jeanne Moreau would be unsuitable. Jean Shrimpton? She no longer found that role model exciting. Then she remembered Audrey Hepburn…’

As with Mad Men, the role of women in the agency made me a little uncomfortable, but no doubt it was true to the time. Women are regularly described in terms of their vital statistics. Men are predatory and blatantly sexist. The agency’s male executives enjoy long boozy lunches while the women hold the fort. The social mores of the time regarding sex make interesting reading. A divorced woman is ‘spoilt goods’ and an affair with a married man is headline grabbing social death.

I enjoyed the period details of clothing and food which Von Adlerstein obviously remembers well. ‘Onion dip, devilled eggs and stuffed tomatoes were ready before the first guests were due. Swedish meatballs and cocktail frankfurts were standing by to be re-heated. A dozen bottles of sparkling Barossa Pearl sat among ice in a large tub…’ The brainstorming around the ad campaigns was also fun. The Freudian Slip of the title is a daring label for a new line of underwear.

The novel had a fast pace and enough intrigue to keep me turning the pages. The characters’ career and relationship dilemmas provide plenty of action. Von Adlerstein’s copywriting background shows up in the easy to read prose. This is a lively and entertaining book for those in the mood for a light-hearted romp.

This is my third review for the Australian Women Writers Challenge.

I’m sorry, Madam, but your novel is picaresque

12 Mar

A few months ago I received a rather long report from my publisher in regard to my next novel. I can now share with you that it will be called ‘Sex, Lies and Bonsais’. Probably. Titles are funny things, but that’s another story…

The length of the report was scary enough, but there was one section in particular that had me worried. ‘Your novel is picaresque.’

Picaresque! Oh no. I must have looked like that painting ‘The Scream’ by Munch. It can’t be. Please tell me it isn’t true. Eventually I calmed down enough to Google the word. Here is what I found.

‘of or relating to an episodic style of fiction dealing with the adventures of a rough and dishonest but appealing hero. Usually satirical.’

    I’d never thought of my heroine as being like that. Appealing, yes (hopefully), but rough and dishonest, no. Well, maybe just a little. I Googled more and found examples such as Don Quixote and Huckleberry Finn described as picaresque. At least I was in good company.

As I looked into it further, I realised that a lot of chick-lit could actually be described as picaresque. Rather than following a traditional three act – beginning, middle and end structure, it relies on the charm of the    protagonist to carry the reader through their rough and tumble life. Bridget Jones’s Diary is a classic example.

It’s funny how once your mind is open to a word it starts appearing everywhere. Almost every novelist I read now seems to be described as picaresque.

Who have you heard described as picaresque lately?

 

If you would like to learn more about picaresque fiction (among other things) I am running a workshop called ‘Beyond Sex and Shopping: Writing fiction that sells’ this Saturday – the 17th of March in Byron Bay. Contact the Northern Rivers Writers Centre.

Finding my Mojo (and other serendipitous events)

28 Feb

I think every writer has them – moments when life imitates art in a way which raises hairs on the back of your neck. Coincidences multiply until you start to feel that the act of writing is almost magical – a prediction of events to come.

I have been struggling away for over a year now, on a novel about a woman who loses her mojo. I feel like it has been the hardest of my novels to write (I have written five previously), but perhaps I always feel like that. Perhaps the act of finishing a novel is like childbirth and you instantly forget the pain that came before.

Yesterday, to clear my head, I went down to the beach for a swim. I threw down my bag and noticed next to it an abandoned dog collar. The tag on the collar read – you guessed it – mojo. I FOUND MY MOJO. Perhaps I have been on the north coast too long, but I find this, like, totally amazing.

This is not the first time I have had this type of rather woo woo experience. Another scene in this novel requires my mojo-less heroine to visit the Big Redback in Brisbane. I wrote this scene before I went there, adding a garden gnome, which I described in some detail, to serve the needs of the story.

I got to the Big Redback, had a bit of a look around, and was just about to drive off when I saw it – hiding shyly among the ferns – the gnome just as I had already described it.

And wait, there’s more! Those of you who have read Liar Bird – check out this link. If you haven’t, hold off so you don’t spoil the story.

Have you had any similar bizarre cases of life imitating art?

 

I am running a workshop called ‘Beyond Sex and Shopping: Writing fiction that sells’ on the 17th of March in Byron Bay. If you are interested, contact the Northern Rivers Writers Centre.