Tag Archives: fiction

My story ‘Romantic’ in the Review of Australian Fiction

8 Dec

RAF_VOL16_ISS_5My story ‘Romantic’ appears in the Review of Australian Fiction this week, partnered with a story by Emma Ashmere, ‘Seaworthiness’. Emma’s first novel, ‘The Floating Garden’ came out this year and you can find my review of it here.

The Review of Australian Fiction is an online magazine that aims to support Australian fiction by publishing stories by established writers partnered with an emerging writer of their choice. In 2012 I was published in the RAF as an emerging author, introduced by Venero Armano and three years later, I am now honoured to be able to introduce Emma.

The Review of Australian Fiction operates by passing royalties on to the authors of the stories so you can subscribe, happy in the knowledge that you are keeping an author in coffee!

Read a preview here.

 

A rediscovered slice of Sydney’s history – ‘The Floating Garden’ by Emma Ashmere

29 May

the floating gardenThe Floating Garden is the debut novel by Northern Rivers local, Emma Ashmere. It is set in Sydney in the 1920s, where the arches of the Harbour Bridge are still making their way through the air towards each other. Down below in Milson’s Point, a colony of misfits are losing their homes as construction proceeds.

The Floating Garden interweaves the stories of two women. Ellis is an eccentric who runs a boarding house for women and girls while Rennie is an artistic Englishwoman in an unhappy marriage. When Rennie plucks up the courage to leave her abusive husband, she finds a temporary home in Ellis’s guesthouse, which is about to be demolished.

Both women look to each other to provide security – Ellis needs money, while Rennie needs a bolt-hole to hide out from her husband. As her Milson’s Point home disintegrates, Ellis relives her escape to Sydney at the age of sixteen. Her unlikely saviour was the charismatic, scheming theosophist, Minerva Stranks. She also hints at a troubled liaison in the past with Minerva’s protégé, the fragile Kitty.

I loved so many things about this book, but the characters were especially delightful. Ellis has many secrets, not least of which is her anonymous authorship of a controversial gardening column under the name of Scribbly Gum. The flamboyant Rennie hails from a life of privilege and has a hard time adjusting to her new circumstances in the poorer part of town. Her effort to blend in and cope with her situation provides a subtle touch of humour. I also enjoyed learning more about theosophy – a spiritual belief system which was very popular in the 1920s.

An early review has compared this book to Tim Winton’s Cloudstreet and there certainly are some similarities. Both books explore the wider events in society through the lens of the people affected and both focus on a working class group of colourful individuals. Like Tim Winton, Emma Ashmere has a fine hand with exuberant Australian types.

The author has a PhD focusing on the use of marginalised histories in fiction and her novel does a superb job of bringing this fragment of our past to attention. The Floating Garden is a beautifully written, gently humorous and highly detailed slice of history. It also has an absorbing story-line which kept me turning the page.

This is my third review for the 2015 Australian Women Writers Challenge.

‘Arkie’s Pilgrimage’ – a sneak pre-Christmas preview

12 Dec

Hello,

I hope things are going well for you as the year ends. It always seems like the days are speeding up at this time of year.

It’s less than two months now until my new novel ‘Arkie’s Pilgrimage to the Next Big Thing’ hits the shelves, and Christmas is coming so I thought I’d post a little extract here to celebrate…

 

Chapter Onearkie cover 2

 

It has been precisely a year since Adam left me.

On the streets, New Year’s Eve partying is in force, but here on the station, all is quiet. Byron Bay has turned out to be not at all what I needed. Despite determined efforts to be cheerful, to smile at strangers, to exercise and swim, even to have a Reiki treatment, I have slid further and further over the line.

My feet are placed squarely on the white mark beyond which you may not pass. Two steps and I will be over the edge.

Why a train? Why not pills, drowning or a blade? Perhaps I was thinking of Anna Karenina – the snow, the rushing wheels, the final jump. I always have been fond of trains.

How did I come to this point? Perhaps it is as simple as a loss of pleasure. That’s how it seems. The world feels tuned to black and white. This black and white world has been mine for a year now. It no longer seems likely that it will change.

A Dali print used to hang in the bathroom which Adam and I shared. Every morning and evening, the drooping clocks mesmerised me as I brushed my teeth. They hung off tree branches and walls like melting cheese on a hot summer day. If time was really as soft as a camembert cheese, would I bend it back and do things differently now?

A raindrop lands heavily on my head and a clay-like smell drifts towards my nostrils. I check the battered timetable I have plucked from the drawer in my motel room. The train from Sydney arrives at 21.20. I do the figures again. Fifteen more minutes to wait. I tap my feet on the concrete, watch spots of rain decorate the rails, try to focus my mind, so I will be ready.

‘Excuse me.’

The voice is an unwelcome distraction.  I thought I was alone.

‘Would you like play bingo?’

I turn.

The girl is a strange figure in this setting – neatly cut hair, glasses, a short-sleeved collared shirt tucked into too-high jeans. A briefcase hangs from one hand. Most of the Japanese I’ve seen in Byron are hip. They have jagged-cut bleached hair and low-slung shorts. This girl shares one thing with them – a surfboard in a silver cover is slung over her shoulder.

She doesn’t look like a surfer.

Bingo. I could almost laugh. Do I want to spend the last moments of my life playing bingo? With a girl who has no dress sense? Let me just think about that. Hm, no. I picture the irony. Did you hear? She was playing bingo.  Before she jumped. Sad. She used to really be someone.

‘No thank you.’

The girl bows. ‘Sorry.’ She turns to go.

I feel bad. She seems lonely. She wants to play bingo. I don’t want to leave this life feeling selfish. Pretentious and delusional maybe, but not selfish.

‘Wait.’

She swivels back, her eyes apologetic behind her glasses.

‘How do you play bingo with two people?’

 

A few links… 

Moya Sayer-Jones will be launching ‘Arkie’s Pilgrimage to the Next Big Thing’ at the Northern Rivers Writers Centre in Byron Bay at 6pm on January 30th. All welcome and you can find more information here.

I will be talking at:

– Ashfield Civic Centre in Sydney at 1 pm on February 10th. More details here.

– Margaret Martin Library, Randwick, Sydney at 6.30 pm on February 10th. More details here.

–  literary lunch at La Vida Restaurant, Lismore at 12.00 on February 12th. More details here.

– Elanora Library on the Gold Coast at 10.30 am on February 26th. More details here.

 

My clever son Tim Eddy has made a book trailer for me which you can check out here.

‘Arkie’s Pilgrimage to the Next Big Thing’ is available now for pre-order in e-book or print. You can do this via the Random House website here.

 

Best wishes for a wonderful Christmas and a Happy New Year!

 

Innocent desire clashes with the wider world – My review of ‘Deeper Water’ by Jessie Cole

27 Jul

cov_deeperwater (1)‘They say every hero has to leave home, but what those first steps are like I’m yet to know,’ reads the first line of Jessie Cole’s second novel, ‘Deeper Water’.  Jessie draws us at once into the distinct and unusual world of her protagonist, Mema. Already we can intuit that this is a novel about awakening.

Mema lives with her mother in an isolated valley in northern New South Wales – a place of green hills and flooding creeks. Home schooled and naive for her age, Mema has an almost pagan attachment to her land, to the creek that runs through it and the animals –native, feral and domestic – which it supports.

Men are always passing through Mema’s world, only the women stay. Her four brothers and various fathers are long since gone, swallowed up by the wider world. But when she rescues a stranger whose car has been washed off a bridge, just like that everything changes. Even though the stranger, Hamish, is the most ‘passing through’ of men he captures Mema’s interest. A tentative longing builds for Hamish and what he represents – the outside world.

Despite the beauty of Mema’s creek-side home, it is no rural idyll. Their local town has an ugly side and the ‘knowns and the unknowns’ in Mema’s past form a darker undercurrent to the story. Mema’s relationship with Anja, a wild girl who grew up sleeping in a tree hollow, also adds tension. Threatened by the addition of Hamish to their tight friendship, Anja creates ripples that spread in unpredictable directions.

Like Jessie’s first book, ‘Darkness on the Edge of Town’, this novel is distinctive for its careful observations that bring us into Mema’s world. Mema listens to the chickens’ ‘morning clucks’ and imagines her siblings’ fathers ‘washed up like survivors of a shipwreck, lost and beaten by the waves.’

The writing is candid about the pain of first love and longing. But this is not only a story about sexual awakening; ‘Deeper Water’ also explores environmental themes with a light-handed touch. Hamish, an environmental consultant, clashes with Mema over his views on cats and cane toads. Gender relationships are also questioned – when seeing Anja, Hamish comments on her beauty. But Anja is many things, Mema thinks, and beautiful is only one of them.

‘Deeper Water’ is a sensuous portrayal of what happens when innocent desire clashes with the hardened edges of the wider world. Mema will linger in your mind for some time after you close the pages.

 

‘Deeper Water’ will be launched at the Byron Bay Writers Festival this Friday. Read more about Jessie here. 

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

Vivid and sensual – The Pagoda Tree by Claire Scobie

1 Nov

the pagoda treeThe Pagoda Tree is the first novel by journalist Claire Scobie, whose previous book was a travel memoir, Last Seen in Lhasa. Here, Scobie turns her gaze from Tibet to India.

The novel is set in 1765 and is the story of Maya, who is destined from birth to become an Indian temple dancer or devadasi. Scobie’s inspiration to write the book came from a visit to a temple in Southern India. Here she saw the names of 400 dancing girls engraved upon the 11th century walls. From this starting point grew Maya’s story.

Highly trained in dancing, music and love-making, the temple dancers were married to the God Shiva and often became courtesans of powerful men. Devadasis had a level of control over their lives not given to other Indian women and were the only women taught to read and write at the time.

Mentored by Palani, a powerful devadasi, Maya becomes a dancer of rare beauty and skill. But while she is destined to be given to the prince, the turbulent times cast her adrift. Set during the British colonial era, the book shows the effect of the occupation on Indian traditions.

Maya’s dancing captivates the Europeans as well as the Indians. In Madras she forms a risky liaison with a young British trader. This clash of cultures drives the story. Her lover, Thomas, is torn between his desire for Maya and his ‘true life’ waiting for him back in England. His choice is complicated by the birth of their daughter, a girl with no status in either culture.

This carefully researched novel provides an insight into Indian culture. The title of the story refers not only to a temple but also to a common expression among the British of the time. ‘Shaking the pagoda tree’ was a term for making quick, easy money. The cruelty of some of the British colonial practices forms a backdrop to Maya’s story.

Scobie says that researching the story was hard due to the lack of historical records about the dancing girls. In writing The Pagoda Tree she sought to bring their untold story to life. This is a vividly told and sensual novel which will be especially enjoyed by those with an interest in India.

For those in the Byron area, Claire Scobie is conducting a workshop on travel writing in Byron Bay on the 7th of December. See www.nrwc.org.au

My blog seems to have become strangely popular in Mauritius and Trinidad and Tobago of late. So if you’re reading this from there – a big hello to you! I’m glad to be getting to some exotic locations, if only in spirit. 

Hard to put down – ‘The Husband’s Secret’ by Liane Moriarty

31 May

the husband's secretThe Husband’s Secret is the fifth novel by bestselling Australian author, Liane Moriarty, but it is the first I have read of hers. The premise is a cracker – what would you do if you discovered a letter from your husband with this written on the front, ‘For my wife, Cecilia Fitzpatrick. To be opened only in the event of my death’? Why, open it at once, of course!

Cecilia, the main protagonist of this story, is the perfect wife – a P and C President and Tupperware party queen who also keeps her sexual techniques up to date. Clearly she is a better person than me, because she does struggle with herself over what to do about the letter, which she discovers while her husband, John-Paul is overseas. But when she asks him about it and senses he is lying, well…

The novel opens with a short excerpt of the story of Pandora, who famously opened a box that would have been better left shut. With this metaphor in mind, clearly Cecilia would have done better to forget about the envelope but of course she can’t. And once the secret is out, the ripples spread.

I read this novel in two sittings and only just restrained myself from staying up all night to finish it. Moriarty interweaves Cecilia’s story with that of the other characters to great effect, so that you just have to turn the page to find out what happens next.

The other major players are Tess, who has come back to Sydney, her home town, because her husband has fallen in love with her best friend and Rachel, an elderly woman who is still mourning the death of her teenage daughter many years before. Rachel’s dead daughter, Janie, also appears as a point-of-view character from time to time.

All of these strands are deftly handled, taking on the terrain of grief, infatuation, love and mid-life crisis in a simply-told but honest and affecting style. Each of the characters grows and learns throughout the novel, coming to grips with their particular problem.

Be warned that the pace of the novel accelerates towards the end, so clear your diary; you won’t be going anywhere until you finish it. ‘The Husband’s Secret’ is a ripping yarn and I’ll certainly be going back for more of Liane Moriarty.

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

It’s a cracker – Steeplechase by Krissy Kneen

25 Apr

 

steeplechaseSteeplechase is Brisbane author, Krissy Kneen’s first novel, and her first non-erotic work. Her previous books are a memoir, Affection and Triptych, a collection of erotic stories.

Bec Reich is a forty-year-old lecturer in art, whose own art career has stalled. Bec is getting over surgery when her sister Emily, a famous artist who she hasn’t spoken to for twenty-three years, calls and invites her to the launch of her new show in Beijing. Emily is also famous for being schizophrenic and Bec, too, hints at mental illness in her past. Emily’s call awakens Bec’s memories of their strange childhood and the games, fantasies and delusions which they shared.

 

Cut off from social contact, the sisters are brought up by their grandmother, a woman who locks all the doors and windows every night and forbids them to venture off the family property. The family live in small-town Queensland where the townsfolk assume they are part of a strange religious group.

 

As the story alternates between the past and the present, the reader slowly learns more about the sisters. Bec adores her older sister and would do anything to be included in her games. Emily is horse-mad and initiates a game of steeplechase where she forces Bec to play the part of the horse. ‘I am a bad horse, a lazy horse, a slow horse, and I take the whipping silently because it is true. I am a bad horse. I am not any kind of horse at all,’ says Bec. I enjoyed the contrast between the voices of the teenage Bec and the older Bec. A sub-plot relating to Bec’s relationship with a much-younger student is also well-drawn.

 

This story was so skilfully told so that I never knew quite which parts were reality and which parts delusion. Reading it was like putting together a puzzle. Kneen’s writing is both simple and evocative, creating a sense of lurking threat behind everyday actions. A scene where Bec listens to a phone’s ring tone, imagining she can hear someone breathing is particularly chilling. And what about Raphael, the lover the sisters shared, did he really exist?  As Bec joins Emily in Beijing, the story races towards a startling and satisfying conclusion.

Steeplechase is both beautifully written and a page-turner that provides insight into madness and art. I couldn’t put it down.

This is my third review for the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2013

For those in the Byron Bay area, Krissy Kneen will be in conversation at the Northern Rivers Writers’ Centre on the 10th of May and running a workshop on erotic writing on the 11th of May. Details here

Book review – ‘Losing February – a story of love, sex and longing’ by Susanna Freymark

17 Feb

Losing February is the debut novel by Susanna Freymark. As advertised on the back cover blurb, this is a story of love without sex and sex without love.  Bernie, a journalist, lives in the small fictional town of Repentance Creek, not too far from Byron Bay. Recently separated from a husband who didn’t love her in the way she needed, Bernie tries to find her way again in the world. When she makes contact with an old university friend a lingering passion reignites. A flurry of emails, texts and frustratingly sexless encounters draw Bernie into an obsessive love; ‘…there is a moment… starting in the month of February when I felt so deeply loved, I thought the world was mine and anything was possible.’

But this is no fairytale romance – Jack is married and guilty as hell about their involvement. Although Bernie and Jack search for a way to stay together, the end is inevitable. When Jack calls it quits Bernie’s love implodes in a binge of risky sexual behaviour. In an effort to pull herself out of depression, Bernie makes mistake after mistake with a series of unsuitable, predatory and uncaring men she meets over the internet. Most of these men seem almost as sad as Bernie herself. The plentiful, varied and explicit sex in this book is only sometimes erotic. More often it lends itself to the depressing conclusion that there is a whole lot of bad sex going on out there. The close first person voice of the story makes this an almost voyeuristic experience for the reader.

I was gripped from the first sentence of this book as Freymark skilfully captures the emotional rollercoaster of an adulterous affair. The highs, the lows, the guilt and shame – it’s all there. While the story is grim in parts, this is tempered by some beautiful writing on the transformative nature of love; ‘It spins you around and changes every cell in your body. … you’re never the same once you’ve been in love.’

Losing February could be read as a morality tale – no good can come from adultery – but it is more about the inevitability of love when it strikes. I found it a raw and honest portrayal of the grief that comes from loving the wrong person.

This is my second review for the Australian Women Writers’ Challenge 2013losing february.

It’s getting hot out there – review of ‘Madlands’ by Anna Rose

20 Sep

Madlands is a behind the scenes look at the ABC documentary – I Can Change Your Mind on Climate Change. To produce the program, climate change campaigner Anna Rose and climate sceptic and Liberal Party powerbroker, Nick Minchin lived in each other’s pockets for four weeks. They travelled from a parched farm in New South Wales to a climate station in Hawaii to the Barrier Reef. The premise of the program was that each of the protagonists would get the chance to try to change each other’s minds by introducing them to experts in their field. This is Anna’s account of that journey.

Anna Rose has been an environmental campaigner since the age of fourteen. She has always been driven, she says, by a sense that she can make a difference.

While I already had an interest in climate change, I found this book an eye-opening window into the world of the climate sceptic. If over 97% of scientists are convinced and countries like Tuvalu and Bangladesh are feeling the effects of rising sea levels, how is it that many people are so apathetic?

While most European countries are embracing renewable energy, Australia, the third most energy hungry economy in the world, lags behind in its dependence on coal. With the possibility of transitioning to renewable energy within ten years, Anna believes it is time for those who say we can’t to get out of the way of those who can.

Well written, engaging, and filled with the author’s passion and urgency, I found Madlands a page turner. Driven by a sense that time is running out, Anna Rose spent her honeymoon in Byron Bay writing this book. As she says, ‘The best time to act was yesterday, but the second best is today.’

On a personal note, I am currently attempting to write a romantic comedy about climate change as part of my Masters in Creative Writing at the University of Queensland. Possibly a strange idea, but someone had to do it.

This is my 12th review for the Australian Women Writers Challenge. 

Laughing about Climate Change – ‘Solar’ by Ian McEwan

25 May

A new Ian McEwan novel is always an event, although I must confess that this one is not very new – it was published in 2010. The world (well, me anyway) has been waiting for a long time for the great climate change novel and if anyone can do it, McEwan can.

Ian McEwan is known for his grasp of science and novels that interweave rational argument and emotion. Enduring Love features a science writer, Saturday a neurosurgeon and now, with Solar, we meet Michael Beard, a Nobel prize-winning physicist. So how does McEwan tackle this most complex and rather boring subject? Dystopian futures and eco-thrillers have been the main weapons of choice for climate change novelists, but McEwan does something different – he makes us laugh.

Michael Beard is a fat, randy has-been who has done nothing significant since his prize winning Beard-Einstein Conflation many years ago. Offered a place on an artist’s trip to the Arctic to examine the effects of climate change, Beard jumps on a jet to Norway (carbon off-set of course). Soon he is getting his delicate parts caught in a zip while urinating at minus forty degrees and fleeing a hungry polar bear on his skidoo.

Getting on board the solar bandwagon, Beard reassures his business partner; ‘Here’s the good news.  The UN estimates that already a third of a million people a year are dying from climate change. Bangladesh is going down because the oceans are warming and expanding and rising. There’s drought in the Amazonian rainforest. Methane is pouring out of the Siberian permafrost… Now the eastern Antarctic is going.’

Yes, this is black comedy at its best. The boot room on the frozen-in boat where the artists are staying becomes a metaphor for the planet as it descends day by day into further chaos. ‘How were they to save the earth,’ Beard wonders, ‘when it was so much larger than the boot room?’ There is also a laugh out loud moment when Beard helps himself to a stranger’s chips. This in turn becomes a metaphor for our need to re-examine known facts in light of new evidence.

While Solar might not be the hallelujah moment in fiction that climate change activists would hope for, it has does carry an important message – a flawed scientist does not mean that the science is wrong.

You can also just read it for laughs.

For people in the Ballina area, I’ll be talking about my writing at Ballina Library at 10am on the 4th of June. Do pop along if you can!