ANNABEL SMITH

Aug 13

I’ve Moved! Come and Visit my New Blog!

Hello lovelies. Thanks for visiting. You can find my new blog here. And to make your life even easier, you can now sign up to receive a notification by email whenever I have a new post. Yippee! 

Jul 22

You Had Me at ‘Hello’: Top Ten First Lines in Fiction

Some books just grab you from the very first lines, don’t you think? I absolutely love it when that happens. Here’s my list of my top ten opening lines:

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If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it.

JD Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye

Recently I’ve heard lots of people saying that this book, which resonated hugely with them in their youth, is actually pretty annoying when re-read as an adult. But I still love the voice of Holden Caulfield that Salinger created, and it’s captured perfectly in these opening lines.

I’ll make my report as if I told a story, for I was taught as a child on my homeworld that Truth is a matter of the imagination.

Ursula LeGuin, The Left Hand of Darkness

An opener that immediately makes you doubt the veracity of what you’re being told…yes!

Everything within takes place before Jack died and before my mom and I drowned in a burning ferry in the cool tannin-tinted Guaviare River in East-Central Columbia, with forty-two locals we hadn’t yet met.

Dave Eggers, You Shall Know Our Velocity

Oh my gadz! This is a seriously amazing first line, and what’s more, in the edition I have, it’s printed on the cover of the book, along with the rest of the opening. I know that sounds weird, but the story doesn’t start when you open the book and have passed the dedications and publication details & whatnot - it starts right there on the cover. Genius!

I was born twice: first, as a baby girl, on a remarkably smogless Detroit day in january of 1960; and then again, as a teenage boy, in an emergency room near Petoskey, Michigan, in August of 1974.

Jeffrey Eugenides, Middlesex

Well, colour me intrigued!

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Ten days after the war ended, my sister Laura drove a car off a bridge.

Margaret Atwood, The Blind Assassin

Smash! Straight into it! Aren’t you dying to know why? I sure was.

On the morning the last Lisbon daughter took her turn at suicide - it was Mary this time, and sleeping pills, like Therese - the two paramedics arrived at the house knowing exactly where the knife drawer was, and the gas oven, and the beam in the basement from which it was possible to tie a rope.

Jeffrey Eugenides, The Virgin Suicides

I know I have two from Eugenides on this list - I guess opening lines are one of his special talents. I think it’s hard for a novel to pull off starting with the end, but Eugenides nails it here.

We ascended towards the light, five floors up, and split into thirteen rows facing the god who unlocks the gates of morning.

Peter Hoeg, Borderliners

This is just an amazing sentence. So startling and filled with puzzlement, and so beautifully expressed.

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When the lights went off, the accompanist kissed her.

Ann Patchett, Bel Canto

I love how this one brings you straight into the action of the scene, with no preamble.

The scene that the child, then the girl, then the young woman tried so hard to remember was clear enough in its beginnings.

Doris Lessing, Mara and Dann

This is a beautiful line which evokes so cleverly the sense that much time has passed between the telling of the story, and its beginning.

Many years later, as he faced the firing quad, Colonel Aureliano Buendia was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.

Gabriel Garcia Marquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude

Like Dave Eggers’ opening, this one begins with the end, but also lets us know about an amazing thing that’s about to happen right now: so clever.

Your turn:

What are your favourite opening lines? Do any of these intrigue you enough to make you want to read the book?

Jul 17

Agog About a Blog: Words for Worms

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Welcome to the second edition of Agog About a Blog, a new monthly feature in which I shine the spotlight on one of the bookish blogs I love to visit. This week I invited blogger Katie to tell us about her blog Words for Worms.

What is unique or distinctive about your blog, in 25 words or less?
Oooh Annabel, I can’t be trusted with word counts! I think my blog’s most unique feature is that I try to inject a fair amount of humor into each post. It’s not unique in that NOBODY HAS EVER DONE THIS BEFORE, but, you know. It’s my voice. I haven’t got the talent to write beautiful pieces discussing symbolism, so I compensate with lame jokes. It works.
How long have you been blogging and what attracted you to it?
I have been blogging at Words for Worms for nearly 2 years now. I’d blogged before in a personal capacity, so I liked the creative outlet, but I didn’t like the idea that I was airing my dirty laundry to strangers, so I shut it down. A while later, a friend asked me to guest post for her and I got the bug. I decided to give it a go talking about books and it’s been a wonderful ride so far.
Approximately how many books do you read in an average month?
About 8 books a month? I think? Somewhere in that neighborhood.
What are some of the regular features on your blog?
I typically participate in the weekly meme Top Ten Tuesday (hosted by The Broke and the Bookish) because I love list making. Because I love list making SO MUCH, I started my own lists of randomness earlier this year which I call Idiosyncratic Lit Lists. I run a virtual book club called The Fellowship of the Worms, and I often participate in the 6 Degrees of Separation meme hosted by the lovely Annabel Smith and Emma Chapman. Huh. Typing it out sounds like I’ve got a lot going on. Weird.
What is your most popular post ever? 
When I decided to start The Fellowship of the Worms, I held a contest to come up with an entertaining name for our group. (It’s HERE if you’re so inclined.) It’s not the most popular I’ve ever put out like, the day of, but you’d be shocked how many clicks I get from people looking for creative book club names, even a year later. I do hope they find what they’re looking for, there were some STELLAR suggestions.
What is one of your all-time favourite literary novels?
Oh my word, Annabel, I love how Australian you are with the “u” in favorite. So fun! Literary novels, huh? Classics-wise, Jane Eyre is my homegirl. More recently, I’ve got to give a shout out to Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt. A lovelier novel I’ve not met in a good long while.
What is one of your all-time favourite science-fiction novels?
I do love a good dystopia, and dystopian novels often have a sci/fi bent. I LOVED Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale and her entire MaddAddam trilogy. I will also unabashedly geek out over The Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer. Fractured fairy tales AND cyborgs, you guys. It doesn’t get much better for pure entertainment value.
What’s the best thing about being a book blogger?
Without hesitation, I can say the best thing about book blogging is the community! Finding my weird, nerdy, reading people has been the best experience. I just want to give the book blogosphere a hug.
I feel a little weird only using 8 questions so I’m going rogue and adding more. How often do you find yourself so impassioned by reading that you want to punch fictional characters?
Only all the time. Really, you have no idea what a great fictional boxer I am with all the fictional punching I do.
What is your dream job?
Other than independently wealthy book blogger? Namer of nail polish colors. That’s a thing, right?
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About Katie

Katie writes Words for Worms: An Irreverent Book Blog for the Masses. When she isn’t reading or blogging, she’s watching videos of penguins doing adorable things. Oh yeah. She has a real job too, but it has nothing to do with books or blogging. I just feel that I should mention that I’m gainfully employed. My head shot shows me wearing bunny ears, there were bound to be questions. Crap. I started writing this in the third person and switched to first. This is why I cannot be trusted!

Katie can also be found on Twitter, Facebook, GoodReads, and Instagram.

Jul 15

Journey to a Book (Part 3): The Ark

For me, the least enticing part of writing a book is re-writing. But I also know that it is a hugely important part, if you want the book to be the best it can be. I accept it as a necessary evil. But, that doesn’t mean I don’t put it off for as long as humanly possible!

Seeking First-Draft Feedback

I had feedback on my first draft of The Ark from three trusted readers and fellow writers: Amanda Curtin, Robyn Mundy and Richard Rossiter. Richard was the supervisor of my PhD, and thus played a major role in helping me to shape my first novel A New Map of the Universe. He also gave me great (and rather harsh) feedback on my second novel Whisky Charlie Foxtrot.

In my acknowledgements I mentioned that upon first reading he had asked me ’Why is Charlie such a dickhead?’ It turns out that lots of people read the acknowledgements and Richard is now slightly infamous. Joking aside, he is an amazing mentor and I feel so lucky to have had his support. 

Here I am with my son, and Richard and his mascot, Molly the wonder dog, at his beautiful home-away-from-home (and sometime writing retreat I’ve had the privilege of enjoying), near Margaret River:

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Amanda edited A New Map of the Universe, and gave me ongoing feedback on Whisky Charlie Foxtrot. She brings both her writing talent and twenty years editorial experience to the process and I trust her judgement absolutely. Robyn has also been a long-term reader of my work and part of my writing trio for Whisky Charlie Foxtrot. I feel very lucky to have such trusted insightful first readers who understand me and my work so well.

Here are Robyn and Amanda, with fellow WA author Lynne Leonhardt, celebrating the launch of Amanda’s second novel Elemental.

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Beta Readers

Feedback from other writers is invaluable, but I also like to suss out ‘garden variety’ readers. Because this book is speculative fiction, (set 30 years from now), I wanted to run it past someone who reads in the genre: enter my friend ‘The Sturmanator’. He gave me tonnes of new insights, and from a very different perspective to the rest of my readers.

I think it’s important to have both male and female beta-readers, and from a variety of age-groups. Because I think The Ark will appeal to younger readers than my first two books, I was really keen to run it past someone from Gen Y to get their perspective. But in typical Gen Y style, that dude never got back to me!

Rewriting

The feedback from my first-draft readers was that while the book had tonnes going for it, it needed some major restructuring. Restructuring is a writer’s worst nightmare. It involves the chasing up of a bazillion pesky little details that are now in the wrong spot. As a result, I put off the rewriting for almost a year. Yes, I know that’s a very long time. 

Instead of rewriting my book, I started a blog, set up a Facebook page, and entered the vortex known as Twitter. Did I mention Goodreads and Pinterest? Yes, I also had a good old suck on those crack pipes. Though none of this was wasted time, there’s really no point being all over social media like a rash if you don’t have a book to promote.

So eventually, I had to return to the main game. I restructured the book. It was slightly painful but nowhere near as bad as I thought. When I knuckled down it only took me a few weeks. Lesson learnt! (Maybe).

Second Draft Feedback

Another draft means more feedback is required. The main job in round two is to catch any of the floating details I missed in my restructure. This was done by another writer, SA Jones, and two other readers, my lovely supportive friends Jim and Katie. They reported back with minor things that required very little work. Bless them. I’m proud to say I got straight onto it.

Professional Editing

Usually, after two rounds of edits, I’d send my book off to a publisher, and they’d assign me an editor to work with for further polish. But because I am self-publishing, I had to find this person myself. I chose Susan Midalia, who came highly recommended by many people I trust and she was a joy to work with. 

Happily, Susan told me my manuscript really didn’t need all that much work. Music to my ears! Mostly, the problems she highlighted were versions of problems which had been identified by my previous test readers and which I thought I had fixed, (obviously not completely successfully).

For example, every single person that read the manuscript of The Ark told me that though the main action was in the bunker, they wanted more information about what was going on in the outside world. No matter how much I put in, those dang readers wanted more, and Susan was no exception. 

The wonderful thing about working with Susan, is that as well as telling me what wasn’t working, she gave me suggestions on how I might fix things. That was such a gift because at that stage, I was all out of ideas, let me tell you.

Copywriting

There’s only one stage left of my editing process: copywriting, in which the awesome Deb Fitzpatrick will examine my manuscript with a microscope, honing in on the tiny details everyone else has missed.

After that, The Ark will be practically perfect in every way, and ready to make its way out into the world: huzzah!

The Ark will be released on September 19th. Be cooler than all your friends by signing up for a sneak preview.

Want more?

Journey to a Book (Part 2): Creating a novel-in-documents

Agog About a Blog: The Steadfast Reader

Jul 11

Friday Faves: Out of Sheer Rage by Geoff Dyer

…in which I invite someone bookish to share one of their all-time favourite works of fiction and what it means to them. This week’s Friday Fave comes from writer Lee Kofman:

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Call me obsessive, but for a long time now I’ve been keeping a journal where I record a description of every book I read – what I liked about it, what I didn’t, and most importantly - what I learned from it as a writer and a human being. Moreover, every year I choose my top book for that year. My favourite book in 2010 - one of my most prolific years reading-wise - was Out of Sheer Rage, a creative nonfiction book by Geoff Dyer, possibly the quirkiest writer in the UK (a country with a reputation as a breeding ground for quirky writers). Dyer is a renowned author of fiction and creative nonfiction, and his books have been translated into many languages and won many awards. New York Magazine once described him as ‘one of our greatest living critics, not of the arts but of life itself, and one of our most original writers’. I find Dyer’s creative nonfiction particularly interesting and it is these books from his oeuvre that are often described as genre-defying. However, as good as Dyer’s other books are, none of those I have read can compete with Out of Sheer Rage - particularly on the account of its sheer urgency (forgive me the pun). Most writers produce one book in their lifetime into which they pour their whole heart, and I suspect this is that book for Dyer.

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Out of Sheer Rage is a book about how Dyer didn’t manage to write a book about D.H. Lawrence, who is perhaps the greatest influence on Dyer’s writing. Yes, the book’s premise is just how it sounds. Dyer, who harboured a years-long ambition to write a study of Lawrence’s work, wrote a book about not writing this book. You have to be an author of Dyer’s calibre to pull off such a feat.

Even though Dyer was already an acclaimed writer when he began working (or not working) on his study of Lawrence, he felt this was going to be his most important artistic task. At least in part due to the weightiness of his mission, he excelled in reading avoiding it. The narrative of Out of Sheer Rage traces the years when, instead of re-reading Lawrence’s novels as he intended, Dyer reads his – and even Rilke’s – letters, and instead of writing the book he traverses the globe both to create a home for himself to write undisturbed, and also to trace Lawrence’s own haunts. Thus we follow Dyer and his girlfriend throughout the book to many exotic locations, including Italy, Greece and Mexico, where they spend an awful lot of time feeling hot, making love and planning to move somewhere else.

While the book’s predominant themes are writer’s block and procrastination, and what it takes not to write a book, such a summary doesn’t do justice to the wonderful chaos that lives on its pages. Dyer is the king of the digression. Alongside the memoiristic narrative, Out of Sheer Rage is rich in essayistic passages about anything Dyer feels passionate about. Whatever subject Dyer tackles, his lack of political correctness is refreshing. I love, for example, the audacity with which he complains about Italians:

We were in one of those touchy ‘respect’ cultures where the smallest action can cause enormous offence, where people are relaxed to the point of torpor and, at the same time, ferociously uptight. They slumber and slumber and then, suddenly, they erupt.

Among the many things he is unhappy about, Dyer also discusses a topic close to my heart - the downfall of the modern novel:

Nowadays most novels are copies of other novels… Increasingly, the process of novelisation goes hand in hand with a straight-jacketing of the material’s expressive potential. Of course, good, even great, novels continue to be written but… the moment of the form’s historical urgency has passed…

But the digressions are more than a litany of (always amusing) complaints. They include stories from Dyer’s life (a bad drug trip, growing up working class in England, deciding whether to have children), amusing travel sketches and meditations on literature. Yet much larger than the particulars of the themes looms Dyer’s voice. Its singular honesty, hilarity and originality are truly distinctive in the epidemic of niceness that plagues contemporary literature.

Dyer’s is a divisive voice. It is inaccurate to say that his personality is on the page; rather, his personality takes over the page. And it is an impossible personality, built almost entirely upon contradictions. Dyer’s indecisiveness, misanthropy and restlessness drive the narrative, and also drive even his most adoring readers nuts. Forget his inability to settle in one geographical location, the man cannot even decide what books to pack on his travels. There is a Woody Allen-esque quality to Dyer’s voice – you either love it or hate it, and even if you love it you hate it a little too. Out of Sheer Rage was the only book that dramatically divided my husband’s usually agreeable book club. Yet even Dyer’s most controversial lines likely to get sympathy with many readers, since they strike a sincere note, expressing the kind of things many of us think but never say. Take the: ‘I hate children and I hate parents of children…’ for example. Besides, whether you agree with them or not, many of Dyer’s statements will make you laugh out loud. His relentless neurosis is somehow deeply relatable, although I suspect the persona of himself Dyer creates on the page is amplified for entertainment’s sake. Sometimes reading this book I got the feeling as if, to write it, Dyer dived into the depths of the collective subconscious and came up with a net full of colourful, odd, spooky creatures that live in all of us, but which we seldom glimpse. As a writer, I felt nourished after reading Out of Sheer Rage. It was a great reminder not to take myself too seriously on the page and not to tame my voice to appear ‘normal’.

Despite the ambitious range of topics this book takes on, it is held together by a unifying vision. Firstly, this book about not writing a study of Lawrence of course ends up being a study of Lawrence. Yet, rather than being another conventional work of literary criticism, Out of Sheer Rage is a deeply personal study of the great man’s anxieties and obsessions - the inner demons that underpinned his world view and, consequently, his literary vision that is in turn Dyer’s vision too. As the book progresses, more and more parallels between the author and his subject emerge. They share poor, uneducated origins; both suffer from an inability to live in one place for more than five minutes; and both are grumps. Most importantly, though, for both Lawrence and Dyer literature is not a vocation but their raison d’etre, and one of the main themes of the book is the importance of artistic integrity. Dyer is blocked because he is trying to write the kind of a book he feels he ought to, rather than must, write. His struggle reminds us of that of Lawrence, who was a literary pioneer in many ways and was therefore plagued with uncertainty and self-doubt. Thus Out of Sheer Rage explores what it takes for a writer to find their subject, which is possibly one of the most difficult tasks artists face – having the courage not to succumb to fashions or vanity or the desire to please but rather to tackle the genuinely urgent themes, which are usually uncomfortable ones. 

Out of Sheer Rage does what the best books do, it helps us to think about how to live our lives. For Dyer, the following quote from Lawrence is the essence of his philosophy: ‘How can we most deeply live? And the answer is different in every case’. Dyer also writes ‘What Lawrence’s life demonstrates so powerfully is that it actually takes a daily effort to be free…’ Accordingly, Out of Sheer Rage doesn’t offer easy solutions to the difficult questions it engages with. Dyer, and Lawrence, suggest that a good life is lived with an open mind, self-awareness and integrity. Moreover, Dyer favours confusion over clarity, and seems to think that living with neurosis while not the most comfortable, can be a rather authentic (and at times exhilarating) way of living. Sanity and contentment, Lawrence and Dyer point out in unison, are kinda boring.

Lee Kofman is an Israeli-Australian author of three fiction books (in Hebrew). Her short works in English have been widely published in Australia, the UK, Scotland, Canada and the US. Her first book in English, the memoir ‘The Dangerous Bride’ is due to appear in October 2014 through MUP. Find out more at her website leekofman.com.au or connect with her on Twitter.

You can read her post about beating procrastination for Writers Victoria here.

Your Turn: Don’t you just love the idea of writing a book about a different book you failed to write? Do you, like Lee, keep a record of every book you read?

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Journey to a Book: The Ark

Jul 09

Q & A with Author Dawn Barker

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What was the inspiration behind Let Her Go?

I first thought about writing Let Her Go after watching a documentary about a woman with a medical illness who used a surrogate mother to have a child. In the show, her husband was very much in the background, and when the surrogate mother attended the child’s first birthday party, it was clear that she was still very much attached to the child she had carried. There was something in the body language of both women that made me wonder how they both really felt, behind their smiles.

I then heard more and more about the advances in fertility treatment, and read stories in magazines about people buying eggs and embryos overseas, then paying women to carry the children for them.

I personally felt conflicted: being a mother myself, I would never deny anyone the right to experience the joy of being a parent, but there are ethical issues to consider. I wanted to write Let Her Go to explore my own feelings about this complex issue.

Were there any writers or books that influenced Let Her Go in terms of style/theme/form etc?

Around the same time as I saw the documentary that I mentioned above, I re-read Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale and saw that the world she imagined in a speculative fiction novel – where an underclass of women are used for reproductive purposes - is not that far removed from the one we live in now.

Another book that was an inspiration was David Vann’s brilliant Caribou Island. While this is set in Alaska, a long way from Western Australia, Vann is an expert at using landscape – in this case an island – to increase the intensity between characters. I loved the idea of an island being both an escape, and a prison. This gave me the idea to set the book partly on Rottnest Island. Robert Drewe’s  The Drowner, a fictionalized account of the life of CY O Connor, whose story appears in the background of Let Her Go, was really useful too.

The other big influence was the biblical story of the Judgement of Solomon where highlighted the concept of two women trying to claim a child, and whether you would rather give one up, or metaphorically split a child in two.

What research did you have to do for Let Her Go and how did you go about it?

I don’t like to research at all in my first draft, as for me, the first draft is about the characters and the ‘story’ and I find it too easy to get distracted by researching minor details and trying to make the characters fit in with facts. So my first draft came only from me imagining how it would feel to be the woman on either side of a surrogacy arrangement.

For my second and subsequent drafts, I researched some legal surrogacy issues by reading court transcripts, meeting with the director of a surrogacy clinic, and reading online forums written by both surrogates, and children of surrogates.

This research was one of the reasons why I included an adolescent character in Let Her Go: I read blogs of teenagers who were searching for their identity and feeling confused and betrayed by the legal – and often commercial – arrangements of their birth. I wanted to make sure that in my novel, as in life, we remember that all babies will grow into young adults who will want to know where they came from.

How did Let Her Go come to be published?

I was lucky enough to have a contract with Hachette Australia for a second novel despite it being unwritten at the time! It was a very different process to that of writing my debut novel, as with Fractured there was never any time pressure other than that which I put on myself! With Let Her Go, I knew I had to get it written. While this caused some sleepless nights, I also found that having a deadline inspired me to keep writing every day. With three young children, I do need some pressure to make sure that I make time to write.

Who are your writing influences?

I love the work of Lionel Shriver, particularly how she writes about contemporary social issues in a well-plotted, psychologically complex way. I love how never shies away from dark and confronting situations because she writes about the real world, and I hope I do too. Other writers whose work influences me include Caroline Overington, Jodi Picoult and Liane Moriarty.

What are you working on now?

I’m ready to start writing my third novel – I have done the background reading for the major themes, and have a pretty good idea of my characters, but I found it difficult to concentrate on it while I waited for the release of Let Her Go. Once things settle down over the next few weeks, I hope to lock myself away and start writing!

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Dr Dawn Barker is a child psychiatrist and author. Her debut novel, Fractured, was selected for the Hachette/Queensland Writers Centre’s manuscript development competition and published in 2013. She has published non-fiction articles/features on parenting and psychiatry for various magazines and websites, including Mamamia.com, Essential Baby, Quartz.com, Artlink and the Medical Journal of Australia. 

She blogs at authordawnbarker.com/

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Jul 05

Six Degrees of Separation: The Goldfinch

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This month’s six degrees of separation is kicking off with Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch. I have to come right out and confess that I haven’t read The Goldfinch. Yet. Initially I didn’t plan to, because I abandoned Tartt’s debut The Little Friend, and thought The Secret History was ridiculously overrated. But after  many people whose opinions I value told me The Goldfinch was a goodie, I relented. However, it is a giant brick of a book - I believe the official term is ‘chunkster’ - and I always seem to be moving it down the pile in favour of something briefer.

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What I do know about it is that it is about art and New York City, as is What I Loved by Siri Hustvedt, an amazingly gripping and wonderful story, which I bought as a gift for a dear friend when he moved to NYC a few years ago.

Another gift for the same friend was Palladio by Jonathan Dee. I chose this one for him because he is an ad-man and Palladio is set in the world of advertising, although it has a very unusual take on the industry. It explore the significance of irony in today’s society and is very thought-provoking.

Palladio has a scene involving a fire, which made me think of Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre. I don’t spend a lot of time on the classics but this one is an old favourite of mine and I remember the first time I read it, aged twelve or so, the scene with the fire blew my tiny mind.

Another book with an epic fire, and one in which ‘the other woman’ presents quite a challenge for a new love is Rebecca by Daphne DuMaurier. It’s a bit cheesy and old-fashioned but super-gripping.

The second Mrs DeWinter, narrator of Rebecca, meets her husband while on a mediterranean holiday. Ernest Hemingway’s The Garden of Eden is also set in the Mediterranean, before it was ruined by tourists, and is the story of a writer and his new bride and a strange love triangle they find themselves in. If you usually find Hemingway too blokey (I do) then this might be the Hemingway for you. 

The Garden of Eden touches on mental health issues, as does Patricia Highsmith's creepy psychological thriller The Cry of the Owl, in which more than one of the characters become unhinged after being spurned, and start to exhibit stalker tendencies.

Inadvertently, I bookended my list with two birds, a goldfinch and an owl, how sweet! That is the strange alchemy of Six Degrees - you never know where it will lead you. Find out how my fellow meme-host Emma Chapman ended up at Kazuo Ishiguro’s speculative-fiction Never Let Me Go.

Your turn: 6 Degrees of Separation is an original meme hosted by authors Annabel Smith and Emma Chapman. All are welcome to join in; just follow the guidelines below. And if you don’t have a blog, simply post your chain in the comments. 

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Next month: On Saturday August 2nd we’ll be starting our chains with Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl.

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Jul 03

Monthly Reading Round-Up: June 2013

I had a little bit of a slack reading month, partly because I went to Bali and found I was enjoying lounging on a sun bed too much to pick up a book.

I did at last catch up on the mega teen sci-fi sensation Divergent by Veronica Roth. It was a pacey read, if you like that sort of thing (Young Adult), and had some pretty good world-building, if a little simplistic, but it was rather formulaic, and didn’t really grow the genre in any new and exciting ways. Having said that, I’m sure I’ll read the rest of the trilogy, when I’m looking for something light and fun.

I enjoyed Fin & Lady by Cathleen Schine, the endearing story of an orphaned boy being raised by his free-spirited glamorous half-sister in New York City in the 1970s. It was a very-character driven story, with not a huge amount going on in the plot department but I enjoyed the portrait of the era, and the reflections on love and freedom.

I don’t usually judge books by their covers and rarely make impulse purchases in bookshops; I tend to buy books based on reviews and recommendations but a couple of years ago I stumbled across Felix Gilman’sThe Half-Made World and absolutely loved it. The cavalier narrative voice was in fact a major inspiration for my current work-in-progress Monkey See. This month I finally got round to reading the sequel, which is not exactly a sequel, more a companion novel, The Rise of Ransom City. While The Half-Made World was all killer and no filler, I regret to say The Rise of Ransom City was perhaps the other way around.  That wonderful, wry, whimsical voice was still there and there were many exciting episodes, but it was altogether too long and waffly and I must confess I grew weary of it and longed for it to end.

Abandoned

I abandoned two books this month. The first was The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P by Adelle Waldman which wasn’t a bad book but felt like a lesser version of other books I’ve read recently that deal with class and coming of age in NYC such as Meg Wolitzer’s The Interestings and Joanna Hershon’s A Dual Inheritance.

My great disappointment was To Rise Again at a Decent Hour by Joshua Ferris. I was a super torch-bearer for Ferris’s debut Then We Came to the End, and though I didn’t love his second book quite as much, I still thought it was a good read. But this one? Ugh! I can’t remember a book I’ve felt so irritated and disgusted by. The main character was truly odious. The voice was just ranty and depressing. I hated it so much!

Australian Women Writers Challenge

My favourite books this month have been those I read for the Australian Women Writers Challenge. My book club chose Sonya Hartnett’s Of a Boy, a heartbreaking and acutely perceived story, written from the point of view of an eleven year old boy who isn’t loved quite enough, and the devastating consequences of that. Hartnett captured so perfectly the confusion and insecurity of childhood. As a parent the book resonates on another level as we contemplate all the challenges and potential dangers that our children face. This is a very sad book, and in some ways difficult to read but it was brilliantly written and I would highly recommend it.

Some months ago I interviewed psychological suspense writer Honey Brown for the AWW Challenge website. On my holiday, I finally got around to reading her debut novel Red Queen, a post-apocalyptic thriller set in a cabin in the Australian bush after a virus has wiped out most of the population. Red Queen is the tense and exciting story of two brothers whose survival is threatened by a mysterious woman who enters their world. It is not a particularly original plot but it is very well-written; Brown cranks the tension up and up to the climactic finale.

Your turn: What’s the best book you’ve read this month? Have you read any from my list?

Want more?

Writers Ask Writers: The Difficult Second Novel

Journey to a Book: The Ark

Jul 01

Top 10 Science Fiction Movies

This week Revelation Film Festival opens in Perth. As you know, books are my big thing. But I’m also an avid movie viewer and so for something a little bit different, today I’m featuring movies instead of books.

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Giveaway

Thanks to Revelation Film Festival, I have three double passes to give away to the indie sci-fi flick Time Lapse. To enter, read on. Science-fiction is one of my best-loved genres, in movies as well as books; here are ten of my favourites:

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Stars Wars

I’m going to start with a cheat by including three movies for the price of one. I had two brothers so A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi basically DEFINED my childhood. Princess Leia - so pretty. Han Solo - so dashing. Darth Vader - so terrifying etc

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12 Monkeys

Eco-terrorism, time-travel, apocalypse, and madness. Plus, Bruce Willis! Holy heck, this movie ticks ALL the boxes, I’ve watched it about a bazillion times and will no doubt watch it a bazillion more. 

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Alien

This is one of my husband’s all-time faves. It’s just a little bit too scary for me, which is part of the fun, and *spoiler alert* no matter how many times I see it, it still freaks me out when that alien pops out of that guy’s stomach. 

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Bladerunner

Also by Ridley Scott, when he was absolutely at the top of his game, this is  a brilliant adaptation of Philip K Dick’s (let’s face it, pretty average) novel, with a KILLER twist.

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The Matrix

The Matrix feels kind of passe now, but when it came out it was pretty dang mind-blowing in terms of its top-notch story, special effects and killer styling. My son is counting the minutes til I let him watch it so I guess it’s still got cred.

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District 9

If I had to put these movies in order, this might be in my number 1 spot. The story of millions of truly disgusting-looking aliens aka ‘prawns’ who are stranded on earth, this is a scathing satire of apartheid, hilarious and disturbing in equal measure.

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Sunshine

Danny Boyle’s one and only attempt at sci-fi and a pretty darn good one, in which a team of astrophysicists are sent to ‘reboot’ our dying sun, in order to save Earth. What they don’t count on is stumbling into a deranged psychopath from the last failed mission. Action follows!

While I love me a big-budget blockbuster, I’m also a huge fan of the indie sci-fi movies in which character and great writing takes precedence over squillion dollar special effects: 

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Moon

Directed by David Bowie’s son Duncan, and featuring a wonderful performance from  Sam Rockwell as a lonely astronaut whose mind is playing tricks on him, this is a beautifully understated film.

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Sound of My Voice

One of several fantastic collaborations between director Zal Batmanglij and actor Britt Marling, this one features a cult which forms around a woman who claims to come from the future. Cults! Time travel! Hold me back!

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Monsters

Giant aliens have taken over the whole of Mexico. Two wholly-unequipped humans have to cross it on foot. Sounds promising. This guy went on to make Godzilla, and he should have stuck with the low-budget scene because this movie beats Godzilla in every way.

Your turn: What are your favourite sci-fi movies? Are you also a fan of some on my list? Do any of them appeal to you?

Giveaway

If you want to win one of three double passes to Time Lapse at 2pm, Saturday July 12th at Paradiso,here’s how:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

You might also like: 

Top 10 Speculative-Fiction Characters

Journey to a Book: My digital/interactive app The Ark

Jun 26

Agog About a Blog: The Steadfast Reader

Welcome to Agog About a Blog, a new monthly feature in which I shine the spotlight on one of the bookish blogs I love to visit. This week I invited US blogger April to tell us about her blog, The Steadfast Reader:

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The Steadfast Reader is…

a book blog covering expansive topics and genres with a little something  for everyone, from non-fiction to literary fiction, from memoirs to classics. 

I started blogging…

In September 2013 when I was unemployed and caring for my mother during an extended sickness. An old college friend, Monika, from A Lovely Bookshelf of the Wall saw how much I was posting on Goodreads and encouraged me to start a blog. Since then, it’s been an intellectual outlet and a way to discuss and explore books with other book lovers.

Each month I usually read…

somewhere between twelve and fifteen books.

My most popular post ever…

was my review of Pastrix by Nadia Bolz-Weber, because the author picked up on it and posted it on her Facebook page.

I was surprised by…

the passionate response I received to an unscheduled rant ’The Problem with Clean Reading’, 

Some of my all-time favourite novels are:

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

Catch-22 by Joseph Heller

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

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One of my favourite book blogs is:

A Lovely Bookshelf on the Wall, an eclectic blog in which Monika’s varying topics and selections always keep things interesting.

The best thing about being a book blogger is…

Community. “Meeting” other bloggers that share similar tastes and also those with varying tastes is always incredibly satisfying. Just having other people that share my passion for books is incredibly fabulous.

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About April aka The Steadfast Reader: I read widely and deeply. I love to travel. I love to eat. I enjoy literary fiction, horror, and speculative fiction, biographies, history, and case studies. I have a special place in my heart for dystopian and post-apocalyptic novels. By trade I’m an attorney but once I’m independently wealthy I will spend my time traveling the world and reading in exotic locations.

Connect with April on Twitter, Goodreads, Facebook or visit her blog.