Inbetween Days by Vikki Wakefield

First published 2015 by The Text Publishing Company

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I’d heard great things about this Vikki Wakefield over the past couple of years, so when I came across her three YA novels at the Jamestown Library I thought, you bewdy!
The writing is so good that all professional envy is wiped away, and all that is left is awe and respect.

My favourite is the first one, All I Ever Wanted, which while not overly complex (which suits me fine BTW) is brimming with hope and contrasting lives. These people had their troubles but things were only going to get better by the end. And just before the end you find out some startling piece of information that makes you want to start the book over, with new info in hand.

Friday Brown was a completely different kettle of fish. I was at odds with the street kids from the start, and being out of a familiar environment, I was wanting Friday to be gone from them, but I did not get my wish. Altogether it was a bit too Lord of the Flies for me; I still haven’t recovered from reading that almost 30 years ago.

Inbetween Days for me was an in between novel. I liked the slower pace of it, and with such a title any other pace would have been wrong. It is set in a small town and the main character Jacklin is living with her older sister Trudy, and working at a roadhouse. Each Sunday she meets with a guy named Luke from the next town; Inbetween Days not only refers to the days she spends waiting for Sunday to come, but to this time she spends waiting for her ‘real life’ to start. And as the story unfolds this day to day life gradually goes to shit and she is unable to do anything about it. She feels rejected by her family and friends and ends up spending time with Jeremiah, the boy next door who is home from uni for the summer, Jeremiah’s friend Roly, Pope who is camped in the nearby ‘suicide forest’ and Mr Broadbent, her boss’s father who has dementia. Rather than risk giving out any spoilers I’ll just add that the novel did had a hopeful ending, a good one, in fact. Jacklin manages to find herself and make peace with pretty much everyone.

This novel is different to the other two in that the main character has a father around. Neither Mim from All I Ever Wanted or Friday Brown knew their fathers at all, nor had they much interest in having anything to do with them. Friday loses interest in her father all too quickly, which made me wonder about Wakefield herself and what father-related baggage she carries around (but I’d be too scared to ask such a personal question).

The town the novel is set in is named Mobius, and is a dying town people might be able to leave occasionally, but somehow they end up back where they started. I love the line, ‘people drove in by accident and left on purpose’. Another sentence that stood out was ‘Mrs Gates had a big mouth and reserved seating at the bar’. The book is also full of clever little insights such as when Jeremiah says, “Your problem is you still insist on mapping your own position relative to everybody else’s. It’s no wonder you’ve lost all sense of direction…you’re always checking who’s behind you and who’s in front. I just keep my head down and read my own compass.”

When it comes to settings, a novelist can be vague or they can be specific and use one of those map pinpoint things. Wakefield has opted to be vague. While All I ever wanted seemed to be set squarely in the northern suburbs of Adelaide, down the hill from where I grew up (Modbury), the city in Friday Brown could have been any of our big cities with a river, although I was imagining something south of the Murray in Victoria for the country setting. As for Inbetween Days, I spent most of the book ranging the mountains with a pinpoint in my head, trying to work out where exactly in the Great Dividing Range it could be. It’s humid but Jacklin thinks she can smell snow at one point. I think I settled on somewhere in NSW in the end. But am not sure which real life town Mobius might be near.

She has not stated when the novel is set either, and I can only guess by the landline and phone boxes, as well as the drive-in being closed but still able to function, that it is somewhere in the 80s, when Wakefield was Jacklin’s age. But I like the timelessness of Wakefield’s novels, and that they are not bogged down with social media which will make them seem dated very quickly. The beginning of Dirt Music by Tim Winton is spoiled somewhat by the main character’s surfing the internet pre web 2.0. For me it warns against a reliance on current technology in novels, yet such things are so integral to our lives now that it is a tricky thing to avoid. So hats off to Wakefield for succeeding in her novels.

The downside to reading Vikki Wakefield is the effect on whatever book I read next – the writing seems pedestrian; she ruins it for so many other authors! And for me too, I mean what is the point in trying to write…?

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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!

 

 

 

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.

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.

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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!

Me of the Never Never by Fiona O’Loughlin

First published 2011 by Hachette Australia.

me of the never never

Ah the celebrity memoir. I do not read a lot of these because all too often they are ghosted by someone whose name never sees light of day.

I’m not sure why I picked this one up, except for the Alice Springs connection, because I was living in Alice Springs in 1998-2004 when O’Loughlin’s career took off. Even though I didn’t go to her big show at Araluen, I remember it being advertised everywhere and in a way I feel like I was there. I like the clever title too, heh heh, Me of the Never Never.

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Burial Rites by Hannah Kent

First published 2013 by Picador.

burial rites

We humans are so fascinated with murder and murderers. Some of us devour every jot and tittle written by salivating journalists of real murder cases; others love their crime shows, be it Underbelly or NCIS or The Doctor Blake Mysteries. The masses buy the Chopper Read books, but even people who consider themselves higher minded than that are drawn to things like Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood or whatever Helen Garner has spent years researching. Some of us think that life is so tough we only wish for light reading, and sit up late with Hamish Macbeth or Miss Fisher or some old Agatha Christie mystery. As someone sagely put it, “happiness does not sell books; murders do”.

Based on true events, Burial Rites is about a woman convicted for her role in the murder of two men; awhile ago my stepson was put away for the murder of two women. In the year and a bit since this happened I’ve pondered the subject a lot, and have passed very few days in which I did not think about it, and I think I’ve come up with an answer to why we are so interested in it. What we want to know, in a nutshell is, “what drives people to murder?” and “am I capable of doing the same if I were in their shoes?” Sub-questions I imagine Hannah Kent to have asked are “what drives a woman to murder?” and “what drives a woman to two murders?”

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All the Rivers Run by Nancy Cato

First Published 1978

all the rivers run

My parents were absolutely enthralled with All the Rivers Run the miniseries when it first screened in 1983 – I was a kid of 12 and didn’t get to stay up to see all of it. My dad, who is mad about paddle steamers and has had a lifelong passion for the Murray, was in heaven.

We made trips to Echuca in early ’84, when the Pevensey still had its “Philadelphia” name plate, and again when it screened again in 1987. By then I was old enough to see the entire thing; I was now going on 16, and got the book for my birthday from my newly remarried dad.

Having spent so many of my childhood holidays at different spots along the river, I could not only picture the happenings in the book, but also smell and almost taste those places. And with a family friend, Judith Crossley, writing folksongs about the riverboats Coonawarra and Enterprise, I felt that I belonged to the river and its steamers.

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