Celebrating new books in troublesome times 4: Alison Booth

Today I am featuring a guest post by Alison Booth, writing about the inspirations of and background to her new novel, The Philosopher’s Daughters, whose official publication date is actually today–happy book release day, Alison!

A tale of two very different sisters

By Alison Booth

The Philosopher’s Daughters is a tale of two very different sisters whose 1890s voyage from London into remote outback Australia becomes a journey of self-discovery, set against a landscape of wild beauty and savage dispossession.

For years the idea for The Philosopher’s Daughters just wouldn’t let me alone. I kept imagining 1890s London and two strong young women, the daughters of a widowed moral philosopher. Someone like John Stuart Mill, a great advocate for the emancipation of women. Someone who gives the girls a relatively modern upbringing. Then I thought of altering the sisters’ circumstances so that they separately choose to journey into remote and wild Australia. What might happen to them?  How might they see life at the ‘frontier’ once they are confronted with the brutal dispossession of the Indigenous population? How would their characters develop as they faced danger?

The second half of the novel, set in 1893, mostly takes place in the Northern Territory of South Australia. Together with the top of Western Australia, this was one of the last areas of the continent to be appropriated by white colonisers.  At that time and in that part of Australia, the frontier wars were still being fought, largely over the establishment of the cattle industry, although they weren’t recognised as frontier wars back then. Indeed, only relatively recently has the full extent of settlement massacres and beyond been documented. See this article: https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/ng-interactive/2019/mar/04/massacre-map-australia-the-killing-times-frontier-wars

A theme that has long fascinated me is how children are shaped by the preferences and attitudes of their parents. And the closer we are to a parent the harder it can be to move away from their influence and develop in one’s own right. This is the burden in The Philosopher’s Daughters that is carried by Harriet Cameron, the older of the two daughters. It takes her some time – and a journey to Australia – to learn who she is and to slough off some of her father’s expectations about what she should do with her life.

The Northern Territory has for many years held a particular attraction for me. This began with my own father’s reminiscences of the years he spent there as a very young man after the 1942 bombing of Darwin by the Japanese, an experience that was crystallised into his evocative novel Up the Dusty Track, published by what was then the NTU Press. I visited the Northern Territory for the first time in 2002 for the Darwin launch of his novel.

On that Darwin visit I not only fell in love with the Territory landscape but also witnessed a level of casual racism that I found quite shocking. I wanted to write about it, but it took me some years to work out how I was going to do it, although right away I knew it had to be historical.

In doing the background research for the novel, I was aware that, for our history, we rely upon the words of others. And when we read those words we should ask ourselves whose stories are missing. Typically, it will be the stories of those who held no power at the time. The women and of course the Indigenous inhabitants. They are who The Philosopher’s Daughters is about.

Connect with Alison on social media:

Website: https://www.alisonbooth.net/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/AlisonBoothAuthor/

Twitter: @booth_alison

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/alisonboothauthor9723/

Blog: https://www.alisonbooth.net/blog

Buy Links:

Booktopia: https://www.booktopia.com.au/the-philosopher-s-daughters-alison-booth/book/9781913062149.html

Fishpond: https://www.fishpond.com.au/Books/Alison-Booth/9781913062149

RedDoor Press: https://reddoorpress.co.uk/books/the-philosophers-daughters/

Waterstones: https://www.waterstones.com/book/the/alison-booth/9781913062149

Celebrating new books in troublesome times 3: AJ Collins

Today, I’m featuring a guest post by Melbourne-based author AJ Collins, whose first book, a crossover YA/adult novel, Oleanders Are Poisonous, has just been released. A recipient of first prize and several commendations for the Monash WordFest awards, AJ has been published in various short story anthologies and magazines, and was awarded a place at Hardcopy 2018, a national professional development program for writers. Her work has also been read on Radio Queensland. AJ graduated from RMIT’s Professional Writing and Editing Associate Degree in 2014 and has since established a successful editing and publishing business, AJC Publishing. Previous to this, AJ had an eclectic career from managing commercial mortgages, to working in a legal tribunal, to fronting her own function band for over twenty years. A one-time devotee of adrenaline sports, including bungee, skydiving, parasailing, sky-walking, sky-jumping, and volcano climbing, AJ is now happy to be settled at home with her hubby and two fur-kids, writing her adventures instead of living them. In her guest post, AJ muses about inspiration and process in the writing of her first book.

Red soil and music

by AJ Collins

Red soil runs through my veins. It happens when the South Australian outback is your childhood playground. It’s no surprise then, it sifted its way into my first book. And later in life, when I spent hours driving through the Mallee to visit my parents, again the red soil was there, hardened and cracked with drought in summer, tempered by the buttery glow of canola flowers in harvest season.

And the music, it also runs true in my family – my father a jazz muso, myself a soul singer. But like my protagonist, Lauren, I’ve always had to fight my self-doubt and lack of confidence. I don’t think that will ever change in my music or writing. Perhaps it’s what makes my work authentic.

It took me six years to reach the publishing stage of Oleanders are Poisonous, from first words to print. It would have been four years, but a hiccup with a brain tumour put me on the back foot. For the narrative, I’ve clearly drawn from my own experiences, but I’ve also leant heavily towards fiction to make the story more accessible, enjoyable, and remove my own self-consciousness.

When I’m asked who is my favourite character in the book, I always choose Snap. He’s the light that holds the darkness at bay. Irreverent, funny and fabulous, he’s the unwaveringly loyal best friend we all wish we had growing up, though he has his own dark side, as we all do.

The stories I’ve enjoyed most in my own readings have been ones that have moved me in some way, rekindled emotions, or taught me something about myself or the world around me. With Oleanders are Poisonous, and its sequel Magnolias don’t Die, I hope to show readers they’re not alone, that others have suffered similarly, and it’s always okay to talk about your fears, no matter how dark they may be. It takes bravery to open up to family and friends, especially when we project our own thoughts of rejection in their heads, but you must do it in order to heal. I wish you resilience and joy.

Connect with AJ:

Twitter: https://twitter.com/AJCollinsAuthor

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ajcollinsauthor

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/ajcollinsauthor/

Website: https://www.ajcollinsbooks.com

Buying links for Oleanders are Poisonous:

Direct: AJC Publishing

Amazon Australia: AmazonAU

Amazon US: AmazonUS

Ebook retailers: Apple, Nook, Kobo, Scribd etc.

 

Celebrating new books in troublesome times 2: Sulari Gentill

Today I’m featuring a guest post by Sulari Gentill, whose new novel, A Testament of Character, the 10th book in her fabulous historical crime series, the Rowland Sinclair Mysteries, has just come out.  Sulari and her family, who live near the southern NSW town of Batlow, have only just come out of devastating experiences during the recent bushfires, only for this new crisis to hit just as something positive, an eagerly-anticipated new book release, was about to happen. But in this lovely post she writes with her usual light touch and deft thoughtfulness about what it’s like to write a long series that you never really expected to embark on in the first place. (By the way, the whole series is highly recommended, and the perfect candidate for binge reading in these stay-at-home times–and you can even join Rowly’s Facebook fan club here.)

’Til Death Do Us Part

by Sulari Gentill

Writing a novel is an exercise of new love, a mad, impulsive, passionate thing.  Consuming, and while it lasts, everything.  The decision to enter into the endeavour is so often irrational, made for now with no real thought of the future.  It is probably possible to be drunk throughout.

Writing a series is a more serious commitment, a pledge a fealty for good times and bad.  It has complications.  You are creating not just one story, but an institution, you are inviting reliance and expectation and scrutiny.  It is essentially a marriage.

So why would a writer, a mystery writer in particular, choose literary matrimony over the freedom of successive new loves?  After all, mysteries are by their very nature discreet stories.  And yet the genre seems rife with long-running series.  Like all affairs of the heart, there are reasons why both writers and readers choose to commit.

The Rowland Sinclair Mysteries now comprise ten books, the seventh of which—“Give the Devil His Due”— was released in the US in January 2020.  Of course, wedding rings are rarely exchanged on the first date, and I didn’t begin by writing a series—I was simply writing a novel, a standalone mystery set against all the social and political turbulence and upheaval of the 1930s.  I wanted to talk about a particular sequence of historical events, when Australia and the world teetered on the brink of Fascism, and into that I wrote a brutal murder and the struggle of one man to define where he stood in a world of increasing polarisation.

When the story that would become my debut novel — “A Few Right Thinking Men”— first caught my eye, I was inexperienced and woefully naïve about matters of pen and heart.  I was still a practising lawyer then, and I thought I was simply flirting with the literary arts.  I would write a novel, be able to say that I’d done so, and move on to another hobby—perhaps I’d restore a vintage car, or breed alpacas…  This would be a fling between a consenting adult and her imagination; Rowland Sinclair and I would enjoy each other’s company for a while, but in the end, both the book and I would stand alone.

So what happened?  Why did I settle down?

I suppose the answer is that I couldn’t forget him.   He presented me with a personal story arc that was greater than that one story, a larger mystery about how a man stands against a world that seems to be descending into extremism and violence, where democracy is being challenged, and entire peoples cast in villainy.  And he whispered that history repeats.

A trilogy, I thought.  This would be a trilogy!  Afterwards, I’d still be young enough to meet other imaginary people.

In the second book Rowland took me abroad on an ocean liner.  Dinner suits and dancing, romance, opulence, and an abundance of all things…  including bodies.  It was glamorous and exciting and dangerous.  He introduced me movie stars, mystics, and tycoons, and to the religious fundamentalism and intolerance that bubbled beneath the surface of the era.  It was intriguing and disturbingly familiar.   I began to recognise a pattern.

In the third book I took Rowland home “to meet the family”.   I introduced him to the Australian High Country where I live, led him into the rugged mountains where more than bodies were buried. And he showed me the growing political paranoia that that had permeated west into the outback, and that political principle was often entangled with personal hurt.

At some point during the writing of that novel, I came across a newspaper article which reported that Rowland’s nemesis from the first book, Eric Campbell, (an actual historical figure who led one of Australia’s largest Fascist movements) was travelling to Munich to meet Adolf Hitler and bring European Fascism to Australia.  And the man I’d created would not let that lie.  Rowland was determined to follow Campbell to Germany, to stop him. Well, I couldn’t very well let him go alone…   and so a fourth book was added to my “trilogy”.

Germany in 1933 proved to be a game-changer for Rowland and me.  As we stood together in the Königplatz, watching the Nazis burn books, I realised this would not be over anytime soon.

In the rhetoric of contemporary politicians, the growing divisions of today, I heard an unmistakeable echo of the 1930s, and I became scared.  And so I committed to seeing  this strange relationship through every mystery, every small murder that took place against the lead-up to mass murder,  to stand by Rowland Sinclair as he carried on investigating, resisting injustice and trying stop the world hurtling towards the disaster of humanity that was the second world war.  Of course, I knew that in this last thing, he would inevitably fail, but I decided to stay anyway.  Perhaps I could give him a voice to warn a different generation.  Or perhaps he would simply help me to understand the madness of my own time.

And so here we are: the author and hero of a long-running series.  This is no longer a new love, but a marriage, based on a common horror of then and now.  Occasionally, I dally with other novels, play the field a little in other genres, but I never to fail to return to Rowland, and he to me.  There are many more mysteries to be investigated, many issues we still need to talk and write about.  As each crime is solved, each novel concluded, I remain convinced, it’s not over yet.  I confess I am often still giddy and drunk with love when writing these books, but there is a sober direction, a message and purpose to all this murder.

 

Sulari’s website 

Connect with Sulari on her author page on Facebook

Follow Sulari on Instagram: @sularigentill

Free online creative writing exercises on my presentation website

Illustration © Kathy Creamer

Today I’m launching a new, free resources page on my presentation website, www.sophiemassonpresents.com  On the page, I’ll be featuring fun free creative writing exercises for children and adults which people anywhere in the world can access directly from the page, or download for later use as a PDF. To launch the page, I’ve put up the first exercise, Fairytale Flurry, which, as the name indicates, is based around a fairytale theme. I’ve collaborated on it with the fabulous illustrator Kathy Creamer, who has provided three great illustrations as story starters. This exercise is suitable for both children and adults, and is very flexible, so you can add characters, settings, formats, etc, as you like, and shuffle everything around.

I’ll be adding more exercises, around all sorts of themes and genres, as time goes on. Check out the page, and Fairytale Flurry, here–and hope you enjoy!

Celebrating new books in troublesome times 1: Lisa Walker

This new blog series, ‘Celebrating new books in troublesome times’ is about showcasing and celebrating promoting new books that have come out this year, especially but not only those coming out in these next few months, books whose authors were looking forward to celebrating with launches and other events, which have now been cancelled in the face of the situation we all face due to COVID-19. It’s also about giving authors a promotional space with guest posts which I hope may help them to connect with readers.

I first suggested the idea in the fantastic Facebook group set up to help Australian authors with new and upcoming books, Writers Go Forth. Launch. Promote. Party.Several authors contacted me about it, and today I’m featuring the first of them, Lisa Walker, who writes for both adults and young adults, and whose new novel, The Girl with the Gold Bikini  is out with Wakefield Press.

Enjoy! And remember–bookshops are still open for orders, even if online!

Surfing the words to the shore

by Lisa Walker

Writing a book with a surfer-girl heroine has made me reflect on the relationship between surfing and writing in my life. One of my favourite authors, Haruki Murakami, has famously said that everything he knows about writing he has learned from running. For me, it’s surfing.

My surfing and writing journeys both started when I moved to the north coast of New South Wales. The surf was at my doorstep, it seemed a shame to waste it. My hometown is world-famous for its waves. A looming basalt headland captures the big swell and a rocky reef creates smaller waves on the inside. With such waves at my doorstep, what else could I do but buy a surfboard?

So I bought myself a beginner’s surf board – soft and fat. Each time I took it out I challenged myself to stay in the water for a little longer. I floundered around in the whitewash, falling off and getting pummelled by the waves, emerging with nostrils full of saltwater and hair caked in sand. But then I started catching little waves. I glided over the reef. I was hooked.

For twenty years now, I have surfed almost-daily. If I count it up, allowing for times when I was away from home, or the surf wasn’t happening, by even a very conservative reckoning this is thousands of hours immersed in the water.

My process of learning to write was somewhat similar. I got less sand in my hair and water up my nose but the slap downs were still painful. With both writing and surfing, you need to be able to take a pounding and come back for more. It takes hours and hours of thankless practice. You are going to wipe out. Get used to it. I wrote three complete novels before I got my first one published. That’s a lot of words. A lot of practice. A lot of rejections. Every writer and every surfer is different. Different doesn’t mean wrong. You can learn from others, but there’s no point in trying to copy them.

You need to go out as often as possible, no matter the conditions. Some days are good, others not so good, but as long as you keep turning up, you will get somewhere. Once in a while everything goes right. The waves are perfect. The words flow. Those days are rare, but oh so beautiful.

Both writing and surfing are more about the journey than the destination. You don’t surf with the aim of getting to shore. Nor does it make sense to focus on the outcome – the book, rather than the process of getting there. That’s where the magic is. There is always another wave on the horizon, another story to tell.

 

My social links are:

Website: https://www.lisawalker.com.au/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/lisawalkerhome/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/LisaWalkerTweet

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/lisawalkerwriter/?hl=en

Blog: https://lisawalkerwriter.wordpress.com/

 

Buy links

Wakefield Press, Booktopia, Readings, Amazon Australia, US, UK

A foxy tale…

About ten days ago, I was sitting at my computer after lunch, writing, when I happened to glance out of the window which looks out over our front yard–and to my astonishment, saw a long, low, and instantly recognisable shape pass rapidly right in front of the pawlonia tree, right in front of my eyes. The fox was utterly oblivious to my presence behind the glass, utterly intent on one of our hens that was calmly scratching away near the front gate. It was only the flash of an instant that I was transfixed by the sight; and then I cried out ‘Fox!’  to David and rushed outside, yelling my head off. As I barrelled out of the door, the fox hardly deviated in his path, heading straight for the hen that still didn’t move, though the others were flapping around in panic, in my mind crying ‘Oh help! Oh fire! Oh fox!’  (a quote brilliantly expressing chooky panic which I’ve never forgotten, from Patricia Wrightson’s wonderful short novel, A Little Fear.) Then the fox suddenly seemed to clock me and my shouting and yelling, turned smartly, and ran out through the garden gate, splendid tail high, abandoning the chook hunt, and disappearing in a flicker of a moment in the long grass across the road.

All the chooks were safe, if a little nervous, except for the bird that the fox had zeroed on, which hardly even appeared to notice that she had escaped certain death. But if she had no apparent idea what had happened, I found the images from it kept popping into my head. Living in the country as we do, over the years I’d seen more than a few sad aftermaths of fox attacks, including on our own poultry; but I had never seen an attack in progress before. Indeed, I think it is a rare sight, though sometimes foxes are surprised in the middle of a killing spree. And I couldn’t get it out of my mind. Of course I’d not had any time at all to snap an actual photo of him (I say ‘him’ because the fox’s size clearly indicated it was a male), and never even thought of picking up my phone before I rushed out 🙂 . But my mind’s camera was clear and bright and vivid. And it clicked through snapshot after snapshot of those instants: it was simply extraordinary, to see that intentness, power and speed, expressed in one superbly built, supremely healthy and confident red body, ears pricked, tail streaming, sharp eyes fixed on that tempting plump prey. And it was also simply surprising–and reassuring, in a funny sort of way!– to know that my reaction, after that very first flash of stunned astonishment at the bold presence of the fox, was to rush out, without hesitation, to confront him and stop him in his tracks. I might be impressed by the sleek, deadly beauty of the fox, but I was certainly not going to let him get his teeth into our hapless, helpless cluckers.

But the fox thriller wasn’t yet finished; its star was not going to let us have the final word, with the thwarted predator sent packing once and for all. We kept the chooks locked up for several days, thinking that the fox would get tired of waiting and would move on to greener pastures. But the chooks weren’t happy, though their pen is large; they’re used to roaming around the block, eating grass and worms, pecking and scratching and dirt-bathing. Besides, what’s the good of having free-range birds if you keep them locked up like prisoners, even if it’s for their own good? So after a week, David let them out, just for a few hours a day, in the little orchard which is fenced and close to the house, and which he can keep an eye on when he’s working outside. All seemed well for a couple of days, and then one day we both had to go out on separate errands, and didn’t think of locking in the chooks. David got back before me–but the fox had got there before him, climbed the fence into the orchard–and well, one chook wasn’t so lucky as that first one. A young rooster lay dead and half-gnawed (ironically one we’d been raising for our own eventual chicken dinner!); but the carnage wasn’t as great as it might have been, because all the other chooks were unharmed, so the fox must have been spooked by something and taken off before he could add to his predator’s tally. And, oddly, the surviving chooks seemed hardly perturbed, no sign of any post-traumatic reaction, despite the fact they must all have been present when the fox killed their brother. Our own reaction of course was quite different to that first episode when the fox had been successfully routed; shame at forgetting to lock in the chooks added to shame at misreading the capacity both for patience and cunning of our vulpine adversary.

So of course now the chooks were locked up, and they’re still locked up. But the foxy tale hasn’t quite ended; because yesterday afternoon, working at my computer again, I happened to look up–and there he was again, a bit further away than the first time, creeping through the long grass near the pine tree, heading for the chook pen, bold as brass again, clearly still intent on checking out opportunities. The chooks were in no danger, the pen is utterly impregnable, as it is enclosed by netting wire not only on all four sides but on top as well: the only way he could conceivably get in is by digging underneath, a risky and time-consuming process that normally only a desperately hungry animal would take on, and this particular one, with his sleek body and shining fur, looks neither hungry nor desperate, but rather carries the air and the M.O of a boldly opportunist gourmet 🙂 But the sight of him still persisting in his campaign, despite the odds, was a signal to us that this isn’t over, not by a long shot, and that this outwitting–outfoxing!–tale was certainly not complete. And somehow, this episode seemed at last to really rattle the chooks, who last night at a time when they should have been cosily in bed on their perches, were pacing about anxiously outside in the pen, making the disturbed clucks that let you know something’s wrong. We went out to check of course, several times; there was no obvious sign of the fox, this time, but somehow there was a sense of his presence, hidden, watchful–waiting.

So my foxy tale ends there, for the moment, maybe waiting, like the fox, for the final twist. And it made me aware of course of our own conflicted reactions to what happened, and to the fox itself. It’s not exactly uncommon, those mixed feelings. People have always had an ambiguous relationship to foxes: seen both as bloodthirsty adversaries, like wolves, but, unlike wolves, traditionally also admired for their patient guile and effrontery. Fiction and poetry are full of that ambiguous image of the fox, from Roald Dahl’s Fantastic Mr Fox, where the fox is clearly the hero, to the disturbing English folktale, Mr Fox, a version of Bluebeard, where the main character is basically a serial killer. But it is perhaps in medieval French literature that we see the most compelling and extraordinary picture, in the shape of the anonymous episodic novel Le Roman de Renart. This represents its fox anti-hero, Renart as the very epitome of the clever, unscrupulous, risk-taking outlaw who preys on the stupidity and herd mentality of the geese and chicken mainstream, but also outwits, through a combination of hypocritical flattery and daring moves, the much more powerful and dangerous, but much less smart, wolf and bear lords. So hugely popular and influential was this novel–which is still both remarkably entertaining and highly disturbing in equal measure–that it changed the very name of the animal itself in French. In Old French, the word for fox was ‘goupil’, but after Le Roman de Renart, that name changed to the given name of its  main character. And so ‘goupil’ became ‘renard’, which is still what it is today.

A few years ago I wrote a retelling of the classic Russian folktale, The Rooster with the Golden Crest, where the tables are turned on the crafty fox by the nice but stupid rooster’s resourceful friends, the cat and the thrush, which was published in my picture book with David Allan, Two Trickster Tales from Russia; and it’s certainly more than possible that one day some fiction of mine will come out of these recent personal foxy encounters experiences; but right now I’d like to finish with a poem I wrote a couple of years ago, after hearing a fox’s screaming call late one night whilst at my father’s place in France. The poem was published later in The School Magazine. In this poem, it’s a vixen, not a dog fox, that’s prowling…

 

Looking forward to Scone Literary Festival

I’m really looking forward to the Scone Literary Festival, which kicks off on Friday March 13 with a schools program and goes all through the weekend with a fabulous program of talks, readings, workshops and social events, with a great cast of speakers and presenters. There’s also a couple of writing comps, see here.

I’ll be presenting on the Friday at Scone schools and library with the fabulous illustrator Kathy Creamer, and on the Sunday, I’m giving a workshop called Journey of a Book, a practical and entertaining look at the whole writing and publishing process, based on my experience both as an author and a publisher. See the pic at left for all details of the workshop, and how to book.

You can check out the whole three-day program here.