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Events are back, baby!

9 March 2022

Yeeeeeees! How great is it that we’re getting out and about again — seeing our fellow literary peeps and drinking champagne and talking books. Oh, how I have missed it.

If you’re in need of a good literary dose, I’ve got events coming up for both adults and kids. I’ll be talking ‘Adulting and Other Catastrophes’ with Lucy Neave and Nigel Featherstone, and I’m certain this one is going to be heaps of fun.

Then I’m off on a trio of launches for my new picture book, Seree’s Story, illustrated by the incredible Wayne Harris. I’ll be in Brisbane, Canberra and Sydney, dishing out elephantine-sized fun. At all three there’ll be a book reading, craft activity, cupcakes and an awesome prize for the best elephant costume! Find details on my Events page.

 

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Then in May, I’m excited to be appearing at the Margaret River Readers and Writers Festival. (Thank goodness Perth has finally opened its borders!) It will be my first time in Western Australia, and I’ve been hearing great things about this festival, so I can’t wait. Plus I’m going to be recording a series of episodes for my Secrets from the Green Room podcast, so look out for those.

And because I haven’t posted here for months I want to highlight a couple of past events that deserve a mention. I was thrilled to be in conversation with Omar Musa for his new book of poetry and wood cuts, Killernova. The event had everything, including both laughter and tears, and Omar’s artwork surrounding us, making it a truly memorable event. The book itself is a thing of beauty, and worth your dollars!

 

I also attended fellow publishing stablemate Michael Burge’s launch for Tank Water. He was in-conversation with Nigel Featherstone and it was a fascinating evening. The book is an absolute cracker and held me to the end. It’s rural crime fiction like I haven’t read before, set against the backdrop of gay hate crimes. Definitely also worth your dollars!

Oh, and one final lovely piece of news. It’s not an event but My latest picture book, Where the Heart Is, has just been released across South America. I cannot explain the thrill of seeing your book in another language. I’m not entirely sure why it’s so happy-making but let’s just say this is a definite highlight of my career to date. Plus it means that now our story can be read in the country that inspired it (Brazil). ¿Qué Bonito! (Perhaps this calls for an event in Brazil?!)

Here’s to lots more lovely events to bring us all together. And here’s to seeing you at one of them!

Fergie reads my book!

16 July 2021

What a few weeks it has been! My latest picture book, Where the Heart Is, illustrated by Susannah Crispe, came out last month and I had no idea that it would result in possibly the greatest moment of my life. None other than the Fergie, Duchess of York, selected our humble little book to read on her Storytime channel. And it is blowing up. As I write this is has been just a little over 24 hours since it went live and already it’s had 20K views!

The reading features Paddy the dog and a complementary fruit platter that may look a bit like something other than palm trees. It’s a little wacky and a lot thrilling. And it is in fact the childhood dream that I didn’t know I had.

Paddy loving Where the Heart Is (for about two seconds)

When I was 11, like every other little English girl, I watched Princess Sarah Ferguson walk down the aisle and practically drooled over her satiny confection of a dress. Afterwards I sat on my floor and made a ‘book’ all about the wedding. I cut out pictures from magazines and wrote my best royal reportage.

Now that princess has read a real book that I wrote and it all feels completely surreal. She even pronounced my name right. All of this would have my 11-year-old self hyperventilating or screaming with joy or jumping up and down on the bed. Actually, probably all of those on rotation. Needless to say, even adult me has been riding a Fergulicious high.

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But before that came another high in the form of our book launch. We managed to sneak it in just before mandatory masks were brought in, and Dymocks Civic did the most amazing job of dressing up the shop in Where the Heart Is paraphernalia. We had a great crowd of small and big people – as Susannah said, we couldn’t have fit another person in.

 

It was such a joy to share this story, and I suppose I should tell you what it’s about! It’s based on a true story about a man named Joao who rescued a penguin, who he named Dindim, from an oil spill, just off the coast of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. They developed such a close bond that since his rescue, Dindim has spent eight months of every year with Joao, leaving in February for the Patagonia coasts of Argentina and Chile, and returning in June. The trip back to Joao is an extraordinary 8,000 kilometres. Scientists have never seen anything like it. So you can see why this heartwarming true story inspired me to write Where the Heart Is!

 

If you want to get your hands on a copy it’s available in Australia, New Zealand, the UK, US and Canada, in stores and online.

Literary adventures — around Canberra and on to Iceland

20 November 2019

Is anyone else hanging for the end of the year? I’m so madly busy right now and the pace isn’t going to let up until Christmas Day. It helps that I’m editing some incredible books which I’m so excited to see in print, but I’m also hanging out for the Christmas break when I can drink prosecco and eat mince pies and do very little other than laze about and read. Okay, so with three children that is probably going to remain an illusive fantasy, but a girl can dream.

Let’s stick with November for now which has offered up a few highlights of its own. First up was the annual celebration for the ACT Chief Minister’s Reading Challenge for which I am an ambassador.

Accepting a thank you gift from one of the Reading Challenge participants

It’s such a joy to be a part of this initiative which aims to transform kids into book addicts for life. The challenge asks them to read a minimum of 15 books but there is no set list — they can read whatever sparks their imagination. This is so important because with so many forms of entertainment competing for kids’ attention, we need to help them find the books that sing for them, the books whose worlds they won’t want to leave.

So it’s wonderful to hear about the Reading Challenge’s success stories. This year one of the standouts was a student from Holy Spirit Primary School who set himself the goal to read 1000 books over the six months of the challenge. He wasn’t previously a particularly avid reader but he smashed that 1000! I must say I’m a tad jealous. I manage about 100 novels a year — if only I could somehow claw back those luxury after-school hours of primary school again! I would only need a live-in chef, housekeeper, gardener and taxi driver to achieve this. Ah, there I go into fantasy land again.

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Another standout was two students with vision impairment who completed the challenge, one in braille and one in large print. Neither of them were big readers before. In fact, the student who read in braille (from Caroline Chisholm Primary) had previously avoided reading at all costs. But the challenge saw her reading at both recess and lunch! Hearing these stories makes my heart swell a little. Okay, a lot. Hats off to all the students who completed the challenge this year, and I look forward to going on more reading adventures with the challenge next year.

Picture book workshop participants dreaming up stories

 

This month I also helped a bunch of writers create their own fantasy lands of sorts when I taught a full-day picture book workshop. It was lovely to hear that it was the ACT Writers Centre’s most popular workshop of the year! This meant that it was elbow room only as we got cosy in the glorious upstairs space of Harry Hartog’s bookshop at the ANU. Could there be anything more wonderful than talking about how books work when you are surrounded by them? (No, is the correct answer.) They were a gorgeous and engaged group and I look forward to seeing some of their names on future picture book covers.

November also marks the end of an era for me. Since 2008, I have spent almost a decade teaching editing at the University of Canberra (yes, I realise those numbers don’t add up but I had a brief break in there). It’s been wonderful getting to know the students and seeing them go on to do all sorts of fabulous things in the world, and I’ve learned so much about myself along the way. A massive shout out to all the brilliant postgrad students who made it such a pleasure.

I’m going to briefly dip into October now because I had the absolute pleasure of interviewing literary superstar Charlotte Wood, who also happens to be one of my all-time favourite authors. As I discovered, she is also a generous and generally delightful human. We spoke about her new novel The Weekend, which is a brilliant book that examines old age and friendship. I devoured it, appropriately, over one weekend, and I’d strongly encourage you to do the same.

Harry Hartog events manager extraordinaire, Katarina, pronounced our conversation her favourite event of 2019. It was for me too! It doesn’t get better than chatting with a writer whose work you have admired for years.

Finally, my most exciting November news — drumroll please! I was thrilled to receive a phone call from artsACT a few days ago to say that my grant application was successful. This means I’m travelling to the Iceland Writers Retreat next April where I’ll be working on my second novel. It is one of the world’s most lauded retreats, with a phenomenal line-up of internationally successful authors running masterclasses. Needless to say I am dying of happiness!

Beautiful Iceland — where I’ll be come April!

Well, that’s it from me for now. Excuse me while I go back to dreaming of mince pies and endless (primary-school style) hours in which to read. And maybe an Icelandic adventure or two.

A year in books

4 January 2019

In December everyone was posting their yearly reading wrap-ups but I couldn’t bear to post mine until I’d squeezed every last reading minute out of the year.

My 2017 wrap-up was rather ad hoc because my phone failed me and I lost several years worth of reading records. Thankfully this year there has been no calamity. So I can confidently tell you that I read a total of 99 books. Can’t believe I didn’t crack the hundo! That said, the lines are rather blurred as I also read many literary journals and all manner of books with my children — neither of which are included in that figure. Plus I spend my days reading and editing manuscripts, so the real count is far higher.

Nevertheless, it’s the number of books that I’ve read for pleasure, and there were some damn fine books among them. Fifty-seven of them were by women and 42 by men. I’d say this split is generally reflective of my reading in any given year, though I have no data to back it up (I am still cursing what shall be known as The Great Phone Fail of 2017).

In 2018, as in all years, the majority of books that I read were by Australian authors (53%). I read equivalent numbers from the United States (13%), United Kingdom (14%) and Africa (15%). In 2017, I read many books from Asia but in 2018 they made up only 5% of my reading. I intend to remedy this in 2019.

Throughout this year I’ve been recording a Book of the Month, and if you’re interested you can find links to them in my quarterly wrap-ups. But today I thought I’d pick a favourite book from each different region.

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Australia — The White Earth by Andrew McGahan
To pick just one book when more than half of my reading came from Australia, especially when there were so many crackers among them, seems unfair. But I’m forcing myself to meet my own challenge! The White Earth is a book that I read right near the beginning of 2018, in fact it was my fourth book, but it has stuck with me. In my quarterly wrap-up I rightly called it a ‘masterpiece’. Sadly Andrew McGahan has terminal cancer but he has continued working on another book which is due out later this year. It’s on my must-read list for 2019.

United States — An American Marriage by Tayari Jones
I was tempted to pick Lincoln in the Bardo but since I wrote about it recently I’m going to instead pick An American Marriage, which I devoured. The story centres on Celeste and Roy, a black, middle-class, newlywed couple whose lives are bursting with promise and possibility. That is until Roy is falsely arrested and sentenced to 12 years for rape. The book is intimate and nuanced as it deals with the slow but devasting changes that occur within the family. It is also inextricably bound up with racial issues in America, making it a quiet but powerful political novel.

I want to also mention Andrew Sean Greer’s Less, which I adored. It is a comic novel that is genuinely funny (let’s face it, plenty aren’t) that follows struggling mid-list author Arthur Less around the globe from one literary event to the next. It won the Pulitzer Prize which surprised me because it doesn’t fit the mould of the ‘serious’ books that the Pulitzer usually awards. But perhaps they couldn’t resist being charmed by the familiar world of publishing that it explores. (And now I have definitely broken my own rule and snuck in two extras!)

United Kingdom — Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie
I wrestled over whether to place this one under Asia, since so much of the book focuses on Pakistan, but as Shamsie resides in the UK, and much of the novel is set in London, I decided to include it here. Whatever, this novel is brilliant. Like all the books listed here is has remained vivid in my mind. It made my second wrap-up if you’d like to read a little more about it.

Africa — Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
This novel also resists categorisation. Adichie is a Nigerian, living in both Nigeria and America. The book is also set in both countries, but as it details the Nigerian experience in America I decided to include it in my African reading. You can read my brief review here.

I want to also mention Red Dust by Gillian Slovo which is much less troubling in terms of categorisation. It exposes the flawed process of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission through the fictional case of Alex Mpondo who has been tortured and killed by the police. It is beautifully written with the pace of a crime novel. Ultimately, it painfully concludes that the truth is a slippery beast and may never be pinned down.

Asia — Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami
I’ve picked up a couple of Murakami books over the years and never been able to get into them. I have felt this as a failing on my part; afterall many of my reading friends adore his work. Norwegian Wood was given to me by a dear friend and it is apparently the ‘straightest’ of his novels. Perhaps this is why I loved it so. It focuses on 30-something Toru Watanabe and is a coming-of-age story that deals with the agonies of life, love and death. I’ve been advised by several excellent readers that Murakami’s The Wind-up Bird Chronicle should be next in line.

I’ve got a batch of books ready to kick off a new reading year. But Sally Rooney’s Normal People has been so widely and extravagantly praised by many readers whose taste I admire that I am nervous to open it. Surely it cannot live up to expectation? I think I’ll hold out a little longer until some of the hype has died down. The same goes for Milkman by Anna Burns which won the 2018 Man Booker Prize. It’s been receiving lots of hype post-Booker and looks like my kind of book, but I’m going to wait until I don’t have everyone’s words of praise ringing in my head.

I’m also really looking forward to reading The Girl on the Page by John Purcell, Director of Books at Booktopia. It’s set in the publishing industry with a young editor as the main protagonist. How can I not love this novel?

And I’m keen to pick up a bunch of books by South African authors when I visit the country later this month. I’ve found it very difficult getting hold of many African titles in Australia, so it’ll be a good opportunity to fill my suitcase. First on the list is a collection of stories by Niq Mhlongo, Soweto, Under the Apricot Tree.

I could go on, but I will stop there and wish you all a peaceful 2019 full of all the good things. May your reading pile be plentiful!

Reading recs

21 December 2018

I’m not ready to give you my 2018 reading wrap-up yet. After all, there are still 10 reading days left! But I am going to give you the last three of my Books of the Month from my subscribers newsletter, plus a bonus book.

I usually try and make connections between my picks, but it’s difficult to find any threads this time. Except for the fact that three of these books are from America, which is unusual for me, although Americanah is perhaps more a Nigerian book.

If you’re looking for last minute Christmas gifts any of these would be perfect. Frankly, I’d love it if men across Australia woke to find their stockings stuffed with Men Explain Things to Me.

October: Americanah is the most brilliant exploration of race, racism and identity of any novel that I have read, while simultaneously following the tender love story of Ifemelu and Obinze. Adichie effortlessly shifts backwards and forwards in time, and across three continents (Nigeria, America and England). Her prose gets under your skin; she is without doubt a master storyteller. I’ve previously read her Half of a Yellow Sun, but now I’m off to find her debut, Purple Hibiscus, and her short fiction collection, The Thing Around Your Neck. I recommend that you do too!

November: Miles Franklin-winning Extinctions, by Josephine Wilson, is a novel about many things: adoption, Australia’s Stolen Generations, parenting, family, drugs, loss, aging, death and the purpose of living. Frederick Lothian — a retired professor, engineer and widower — has entered a retirement village, and begun involuntarily reflecting on past actions, in particular the treatment of his wife and children. In the village he meets tough, no-nonsense Jan who is dealing with her own problems, and is not shy about forcing Fred to face his past. A finely wrought novel that is sometimes darkly humorous, often tragic, always moving.

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December: Women will obviously read Rebecca Solnit’s Men Explain Things to Me (warning: it will make you mad), but I hope all the men out there will too. Because even good men don’t seem to have a nuanced understanding of what it is like to move through the world as a woman. Here’s just one shocking statistic for you: ‘Women worldwide ages 15 through 44 are more likely to die or be maimed because of male violence than because of cancer, malaria, war and traffic accidents combined.’ To be clear, that’s combined. Please read it. That is all.

Bonus book: Lincoln in the Bardo was my book club’s final novel of the year and I’d been wanting to read it for ages. It’s a startling work and seems to have polarised opinion, with readers either loving or hating it. Groundbreaking books often do that. And it is certainly like nothing I’ve ever read before, a reinvention of the form. It took me about 20 pages to get into it and adjust to the shape of the work, but once I did I couldn’t put it down. It’s set in the graveyard where Abraham Lincoln’s son has been buried, and the events take place over a single night. Zadie Smith describes it as ‘a masterpiece’. I concur.

Over to you now. What recent reads would you recommend?