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!





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.

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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.


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!

The Young Widow’s Book of Home Improvement by Virginia Lloyd

First published 2008 by University of Queensland Press.

the young widow's book of home improvement

I had been meaning to reread this book for quite a while, as I had not looked at it for almost five years.

I originally bought it seven months after becoming a young widow myself, and what a happy day that was. I stumbled upon it in a bookshop in Mount Gambier, where I had gone for my first child-free break, and the title leapt right out at me. I had been 37 years old when my husband died. I wasn’t old. He had left me with four children and an unfinished house which we had been owner-building, so I also liked the sound of the home improvement aspect.

Right next to this book was another widow book, Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking, so I bought both and was absurdly happy for the rest of the day. In fact that moment still stands in my memory as a high point during those early months.

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Reading by Moonlight by Brenda Walker

First Published 2010 by Hamish Hamilton (Penguin Group)

Reading by moonlight

The subtitle is How books saved a life, which drew me in straight away – the reading of books has gotten me through tough times too, and lately the writing about them for the Australian Women Writer’s Challenge has been a bright spot in my life. And what a lovely concept, a cancer book which isn’t a cancer book; books are the star and cancer is merely the backdrop. After all, there are already lots and lots of cancer books out there, because unfortunately, if you or someone close to you does not already have a cancer story, you soon will.

The book begins when Brenda Walker, aged in her late forties and a sole parent of one, is diagnosed with breast cancer.  Her first decision is what book to take to hospital.  What follows are discussions of the other book friends that accompany her through the treatment and recovery process.

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Piano Lessons by Anna Goldsworthy

First Published 2009 by Black Inc.

piano lessons

There is a little game I like to play as I drive through Adelaide’s most leafy suburbs: how would my life have turned out had it begun here instead of modest Modbury with its 3-bedroom houses from the seventies? What would I be doing now, who would I have married, where would I be living, what holidays would I be taking? And I noticed that whilst reading Piano Lessons I was playing the same game; where would I be if I had had the Goldsworthys for parents instead of the Kramers? Would I be where Anna Goldsworthy is now instead of struggling on with the writing while raising four kids on my own and doing a bit of cleaning on the side?

Oddly enough, I never play this kind of game when driving through Adelaide’s rough parts. In the same way as I am not drawn to reading so called ‘inspirational’ memoirs where the author has survived a childhood of abuse, mentally ill parents and the like. But this was a book that ticked all my boxes, and I went back and read it all over again a year or so later.

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A Writing Life by Giulia Giuffré

First published 1990 by Allen & Unwin

A writing life

This is a book which every female Australian writer should own a copy of. I should dearly love one and must track one down.

I first discovered it in a library in 2004 and brought it home because Nancy Cato was in it. But through this book I discovered a whole generation of Australian women writers who are no longer with us, and I thank God that  Giulia Giuffré was able to interview them before they passed away.

As Giuffré says in her introduction, “I embarked on this project because I was curious about the women writers of Australia, especially the older ones, whose careers spanned most of the decades of the twentieth century… Many of these writers had known Miles Franklin and Katharine Susanna Prichard.” Some of these authors had their books reviewed by Miles Franklin in her diaries; Christina Stead, Eleanor Dark, Marjorie Barnard, Kylie Tennant, and others flitted in and out of the diaries.

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