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

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

The year’s favourite books: Leah Kaminsky

Today I’m delighted to welcome Leah Kaminsky to my blog, to tell us about her favourite book of the year.

My Favourite Read of 2019

FLAMES by Robbie Arnott (Text Publishing)

I love brave, imaginative writing that takes wild risks, and Robbie Arnott’s Flames ticks all these boxes. Weaving magic and stark realism with suspense, he has created a polyphonous novel, that shifts from a generation of women who catch on fire when they are enraged, to a talking rakali and a curmudgeonly coffin-maker. The prose is poetic and fresh, without ever becoming pretentious. Flames captures the beauty of the wilds of Tasmania and calls us to pay urgent attention to both the awe and fragility of nature. A novel very much for our times.

 

 

Leah Kaminsky’s debut novel The Waiting Room won the Voss Literary Prize. The Hollow Bones won the 2019 International Book Awards in both Literary Fiction & Historical Fiction categories and the 2019 Best Book Awards for Literary Fiction.  She holds an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts. (www.leahkaminsky.com)

 

https://www.penguin.com.au/books/the-hollow-bones-9780143788911

The year’s favourite books: Jenny Blackford

Today I have the pleasure of welcoming Jenny Blackford to my blog, to introduce us to her favourite book of the year.

Kate Atkinson’s Life after Life (Doubleday, 2013) is a near-perfect historical novel, full of far more than the standard number of what-ifs through the magic of lives rerun over and over again. It’s also incredibly moving on the horrors of World War Two, particularly in blitzed London. The sequel, A God in Ruins, is even sadder and more beautiful.

Jenny Blackford’s middle-grade adventure novel full of spooky spiders has recently appeared from Christmas Press.

 

The year’s favourite books: Anna Thomson

Today I’m very pleased to welcome Anna Thomson to my blog, to introduce us to her favourite book of the year.

 

My favourite read this year was the non-fiction book “Why We Sleep,” by Matthew Walker. I began to read it as research for my writing and was riveted. It’s a fascinating and accessible insight into our current knowledge of sleep, what it is and why we need it.

Walker covers research into not only sleep but dreams and the role of sleep in the prevention of serious diseases. There’s also discussion of how many great thinkers have recruited their subconscious and pre-sleep states to assist in problem solving.

I often hear people say “This book changed my life.” This one actually did change mine and I recommend it frequently! It made me fundamentally rethink my (lackadaisical) attitude to getting enough quality sleep, and reassess its importance for wellbeing, clear thought and creativity.

 

Anna Thomson (who writes as Anna Bell) is the winner of the inaugural Varuna/New England Writers’ Centre Fellowship. A a freelance editor and writer, she has an honours degree in literature. She has three published short stories, White Christmas, Santa’s Little Helper and The King of Winter in anthologies by Christmas Press. Anna lives in New England with her husband and a giant homicidal house plant.

The year’s favourite books: Trish Donald

Today I have the pleasure of welcoming Trish Donald to my blog to write about her favourite book, or in this case, books, of the year.

Ash dresses her friends – Fu Wenzheng

This children’s picture book is charming and sweet. Ash is lonely but through the kind act of sewing beautiful shirts and other cloths for animals, along with helpful things like a cover for a chair and a tiny blanket, she is able to make friends. The size of the animals helps to move the story forward. At the beginning Ash is tiny next to an elephant, and then, as the book progress and the animals get smaller, she eventually becomes the giant next to a tiny mother and baby snail.

I find myself revisiting this book because I love the illustrations so much. The limited colour palette of striking red depicting strong bold patterns, against the soft grey brushwork is striking and beautiful. Red also punctuates the pages in the form of spotted mushrooms, red cherries, and Ash’s little red jacket!   Elements such as Ash sitting in a chair in her nest made of sticks with a vase next to her are also beautifully drawn.

Fu Wenzheng is Chinese and her story has been translated into English.

Illustration from Ash Dresses her Friends

 

Tales from the Inner City – Shaun Tan

Well, this book confirms yet again why Shaun Tan is my favourite author and illustrator! Tales from the Inner City is a combination of illustrated short stories which capture humanities relationship to animals. Whether it be crocodiles or dogs, snails or a parrot, each story poignantly reveal something about our inner nature and our bond or rejection of animals. We save them and they save us. We destroy them and they destroy us. The animals reflect our love and they reflect our greed. We are them and they are us.

Cats in sea, from Shaun Tan’s Tales of the Inner City

Shaun Tan has a way of tapping into the readers’ heart. For me, this is particularly true with the illustration of the cat, swimming in a stormy sea, a mini mother clutching her child protectively upon its head. The dramatic lighting reveals their peril as the wave’s tower above them, yet, the cat swims on, with just its head above the water. We cannot see the cat’s face, but to me it appears unyielding and brave as it faces this danger. I find this scene extremely touching.

The size of the animals often contrasts with their size in reality which serves to deepens the stories meaning. The textures on these illustrated paintings are delicious and his use of colours exquisite. In true Shan Tan masterfulness, the lighting creates drama which in turn helps to support and reveal each story.

I received this book from my teenage children last Christmas. As the year progressed I visited and revisited it, taking pleasure in the stories and the illustrations, finding new colours, new textures and new meaning. This book will always be a treasure for me.

Trish Donald is an author, illustrator and graphic designer. Her first picture book, Tissy-Woo and the Worry Monsters(which she wrote and illustrated) was published in 2018, and her second picture book, Squitty Fish, with text by Jill Eggleton, was published in 2019. Her website is at https://www.trishdonald.com/