Challenge Complete – sort of

I signed up to do the Australian Women Writer’s Challenge as usual, aimed for the Franklin level (read 10 books, review 6) but only managed to get as far as Stella (read 4, review 3). The main thing that got in the way was the creative writing course I started through Tabor Adelaide, which ate time and led me to read differently. Getting an iPad for my birthday also contributed.

The three books I reviewed were:

Her Father’s Daughter by Alice Pung

Tasting Life Twice by Ramona Koval

The Messenger Bird by Rosanne Hawke

 

I read more than four, have read 9 and counting, these were mainly nonfiction:

A Fig at the Gate by Kate Llewellyn (again)

First Things First – Selected Letters by Kate Llewellyn (read it twice) Editors were Ruth Bacchus and Barbara Hill

Piano Lessons by Anna Goldsworthy (again)

The Floral Mother by Kate Llewellyn (again)

The Fictional Woman by Tara Moss

Kerenza by Rosanne Hawke.

the shifting fog

I have borrowed a stack of Rosanne Hawke books and some Kate Morton, who I’ve not read before, to read over the summer. Then I must read them, instead of playing Pocket Trains!

 

 

 

Advertisements

The Messenger Bird by Rosanne Hawke

First published 2012 by UQP.

messenger bird

As I will be taking Writing Young Adult Fiction with this author in the new year through Tabor Adelaide’s Creative Writing program, I borrowed a few of her books of hers to read over the holidays. This is one I loved from the start.

It has everything I want in a novel: history, mystery, a crumbling old house with a secret garden, and a little romance. And all set in a South Australian landscape.

There is a girl who needs saving and some men who would like to save her – if only she would let them. The girl is Tamar, a musically inclined wearer of floaty dresses who has lost her brother Trystan in a car accident the previous year. She and her father are struggling along at home while the mother is away for a few weeks. She is lost and withdrawn while her father is keeping himself busy renovating the place. He also wants to restore some basement rooms which have been closed up for over a century. And in an old fireplace, they find a photo of a young man and some sheets of handwritten music.

Tamar hasn’t played any music since her brother died, but she has a go at this piece, The Maiden’s Prayer by Tekla Bądarzeweska-Baranowska, and something unexpected happens. The young man from the photo turns up, straight out of 1887. He too, has had a recent tragedy in the family, and Tamar and her time travelling visitor (Nathaniel) lean on each other as the book progresses until both are ready to face the griefs that they had been hiding from.

Not all the chapters are written from Tamar’s perspective – many are told from the point of view of Gavin, a new arrival to the area (north of Kapunda) whose family lost their farm near Orroroo. He made a nice hero, a good sensible farm boy who is only interested in Tamar and barely looks at other girls. The world could do with a few more Gavins. Nathaniel, being from the past, is slightly more interesting, and he is also a gentleman. There are also a couple of chapters from 1886 included.

Other characters are the old olive tree and Henry the cat, who clues us in on the fact that Nathaniel is not a ghost, but a messenger bird. The title refers to the willie wagtail, which Aboriginal people said brought news of death. We’ve had one appear unexpectedly in the garden on the morning of an impending death.

I’ve always loved a good grief book, and even before I went through any myself, as a teen I loved Tiger Eyes by Judy Blume. A death is not a bad way to start a book. And I love it when a main character rises from the bottom of the pit and begins to restore their life.

From the moment I opened the book I was captivated, and was back in an earlier place in time, that being when I really started loving books around age 10. I still re-read some of the books I loved then, just to recapture the joy I felt disappearing into another world. Over the years I have picked up a few books for young people, hoping to feel that same feeling again. Most of them were let downs. Even the Harry Potter books. While the second book was really good, somewhere in the fourth book the story headed to places too dark and disturbing for my liking.

So to read The Messenger Bird was wonderful – it not only revived my appetite for reading fiction (I mainly read memoir these days), but it has made me excited about writing it again. I am now itching to finish the novel I started a couple of years ago, and can’t wait to get studying next year.

Some years ago I wanted to write for young people but was hesitant, mainly as I had not yet ever sent a text at that time. Roseanne’s work shows me that I don’t need to get hung up on whether I can do social media or use a smart phone, as none of this stuff is present. Just the house, the vets and the past. And the creek, the secret garden and the old olive tree groaning in the wind.

As for the music itself, when I looked up The Maiden’s Prayer on YouTube, I wondered what there was to like about it. I had hoped to find it more moving, so that was a bit of a letdown. But there must be other people out there who love it, as this obscure piece of music is still around.

Tasting life twice by Ramona Koval

First Published 2005 by ABC Books.

tasting life twice

Tasting life Twice: Conversations with remarkable writers gets its title from a quote by Anaïs Nin, ‘We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospection.’ I found this book in an obscure corner of the Tea Tree Gully library, and what a find it was. 26 interviews with some of the biggest names in writing. Originally for ABC Radio National, these interviews were conducted around the turn of the millennium, and were later turned into this book.

At the time of writing this blog post, 12 of the writers have passed on, and of the 14 who are left, most are aged about 80, with the two ‘babies’, Ian McEwan and Martin Amis being old enough to get the pension. And I was dazzled, absolutely dazzled that Koval even managed to get this opportunity to meet these people in the first place, and she does the job well, and asks the sorts of questions that make the interview very interesting. She goes beyond the nuts and bolts of writing and gets to the deeper philosophical reasons why these people are writers and the other things that make them tick.

But then that old issue of gender raised its head. While I am glad the author has made the book her own without giving into the dreadful business of political correctness, and that whinge about there not being enough coloured or gay or whatever people represented, I would like to reflect a little on how it might have worked out that 8 women and 18 men were included.

Continue reading

The dreaded TBR pile – saved for a rainy day

Today has been one of those rare rainy days that we get here, and at some stage I went through the pile of books in the little cupboard next to my bed.

P1180100

I set up this little bookshelf early 2012, taking anything I had not yet read out of my main bookshelf and storing it here. At the time I declared that I would not go back to the library until I had made my way through most of these, but I only read one or two. This is what is left, and the pile continues to grow while the library keeps tempting me to go astray. And before my Kobo fell from a great height and died, I had another stash of ebooks, all those lovely free classics, and only a couple of them were finished also.

Of the books pictured here, most were from secondhand bookshops, a couple were new, some were gifts from my mother and others gifts to my father (he returns them a few months later, so this influences what I buy him now!) Some I’ve had sitting around for almost 15 years. Naughty me! The stack at the front are books by AWWs (Australian Women Writers), so I might spend the rest of the year working through these, as I’ve only done one book review for #AWW2015 so far, and have five more to go!

I wonder at this tendency of mine to hoard books though. I live in such a dry place that when I save them for a rainy day, this is the result. But at the heart of it is fear I think, a  fear of what the future might bring. Perhaps I’m anticipating a future without libraries or bookshops or even books. So should it come to pass, well, you know where I’ll be!

Her Father’s Daughter by Alice Pung

First Published 2011 by Black Inc.

her father's daughter

I was dazzled by her first book, the memoir Unpolished Gem. The line that stuck in my head was the part where she had “a funeral in my brain and we hadn’t even studied Emily Dickinson yet.” I was also dazzled by her bio – her being a writer and lawyer, yet to see her on the telly speaking at some writer’s festival, I was struck by what a nice down to earth person she seemed to be.

Despite all that, I must have borrowed Her Father’s Daughter five or six times before I finally read it. There were little things that put me off starting, such as her use of the third person, I mean who writes about themself as if they were someone else – except when preparing a bio of course! Another thing that made me bump the book in favour of others was the alternating perspectives, daughter-, father-, daughter- etc.

However the real reason if I look a little deeper, was that one of the settings was Cambodia, a place I wasn’t sure I wanted to go, after what I had heard.

But Cambodia lurks all through Unpolished Gem, although it is carefully stepped around. As the story progresses it is the elephant in the room, the why of half of the odd quirks of Pung’s family.

Her Father’s Daughter begins with a few introductory chapters, in which the overprotective behaviour of Pung’s parents continues well into adulthood. This part where she tries to break away is easy and pleasant reading. Then finally, we must bite the bullet and face the horrors of the killing fields, and her father’s story of the suffering that went on is one the reader must grit their teeth to get through. No wonder her father didn’t ever speak of it. But it seems that only after Pung delves into this history and visits the country is she finally allowed to grow up.

Having now read both books I find that neither of them can really exist without the other. You could read Unpolished Gem as a standalone book, but more depth is obtained through reading Her Father’s Daughter. Her Father’s Daughter is not a book that can be just read either, it needs the scene setting of Unpolished Gem.