WA Premier’s Book Awards winners…

The WA Premier’s Book Awards for 2020 releases were announced last night at a lovely ceremony at the State Library of Western Australia.

WA Premier’s Award for an Emerging Writer: Rebecca Giggs, Fathoms: The World in the Whale (Scribe Publications)

WA Premier’s Award for Writing for Children: Meg McKinlay and Matt Ottley, How to Make a Bird (Walker Books)

Daisy Utemorrah Award for Unpublished Indigenous Junior and YA fiction: Carl Merrison and Hakea Hustler, Dirran

WA Writer’s Fellowship: Sisonke Msimang

Congratulations to the winners, and also to the wonderful shortlisted authors (a full list of those shortlisted is on the State Library’s website).

Before the announcement, A.J. Betts and I, as previous Fellowship winners, took part in a discussion about the impact of the Fellowship with Jo Trilling (ABC Perth). The event was streamed live on the State Library’s YouTube channel.

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Something new—the York Writers Festival…

I love regional festivals, and they hold a special place in my heart: the very first festival I took part in as a writer was one (sadly now defunct) in Albany, where I discussed my debut novel, The Sinkings. The historic murder that is at the centre of Little Jock’s story in The Sinkings took place at a lonely campsite near Albany, and one of the thrills of my writing life was when several Albany residents introduced themselves to me at the festival as descendants of the real people who feature in the novel.

The York Festival—a diverse, family-friendly multi-arts festival held in the historic town of York—has been running for many years. But this year its program includes a one-day writers festival, curated by the wonderful William Yeoman and featuring some fabulous Western Australian writers—many of them introducing new books.

The writers festival, to be held on Saturday 2 October, is divided into several sets:

The Fiction Set: Skyglow by Leslie Thiele, Wherever You Go by Monique Mulligan and Locust Summer by David Allan-Petale, with a discussion on Truth in Fiction

The Crime Set: The River Mouth by Karen Herbert and Death Leaves the Station by Alexander Thorpe, and a panel on Criminal Speculations

The Non-Fiction Set: Isolation by Stephen Scourfield and Many Maps by Bill and Jenny Bunbury, with what sounds like a fascinating conversation entitled Westralia Triumphant?

The Children’s Set: Beneath the Trees by Cristy Burne, The Wrecker’s Curse by Norman Jorgensen and Where Do Stars Go? by Katie Stewart, and a panel on Writing for Children

The Poetry Set: John Kinsella, Caitlin Maling, Fr Robert Nixon and Rose van Son, and a discussion on Wordmusic

There’s also a Long Table Breakfast, featuring Stephen Scourfield and Will Yeoman, with proceeds going to the local River Conservation Society.

Details and bookings here (check the ‘Writers’ box).

I’m thrilled to be taking part in the festival, chairing sessions with Monique Mulligan (10.30am), Cristy Burne (11.30am) and Rose van Son (4.30pm). In this episode of the festival’s Pod Fiction podcast, Will Yeoman and I talk about these sessions and the festival in general.

York, situated on Ballardong Nyoongar land, is 98 kilometres east of Perth—a short drive for Perth residents. It is the oldest inland town in the state (established 1835), and really worth visiting, with its heritage buildings and vibrant arts scene.

I’d love to see you there.

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Talking (new) fiction: Zoe Deleuil talks about The Night Village

Today it’s my great pleasure to be talking with another debut Western Australian novelist: Zoe Deleuil. Zoe’s accomplished psychological suspense novel, The Night Village, was shortlisted for the Hungerford Award in 2018 and subsequently picked up by Fremantle Press. (What a wonderful vehicle such awards are for unearthing new talent and exciting manuscripts!)

Zoe’s short fiction and poetry have been published in literary journals and anthologies, and she also writes feature articles for newspapers and magazines.

She has an MA in Creative Writing from Bath Spa University in the UK, and currently lives with her family in Berlin.

When Simone arrives in London from Perth for a working holiday, a newborn baby is not on her agenda. But she is determined to be a good mother, even though she barely knows her boyfriend, Paul. Even though his apartment at the Barbican is grey and isolated. Even though she feels utterly unprepared for motherhood. When his cousin Rachel comes to stay, the claustrophobic apartment starts to feel even smaller, as Simone begins to wonder why Rachel has come, and what secrets the cousins share.

Sinister roots

AC: Zoe, The Night Village is a psychological thriller, a tale that burrows into the darkness of what seems, on the surface, a domestic scenario. I must commend you: you do sinister very well! But I wondered where all of this came from.

ZD: It’s strange trying to trace the story’s development, as when I started writing I didn’t expect it to turn into a suspense novel. Looking back, though, I do remember visiting my local library a lot, accompanied by two rowdy toddlers. With no time to look for the perfect novel, I’d always take something from the Librarian’s Pick of the Week table, and most of those books were psychological suspense and thrillers—SJ Watson, Daphne du Maurier, Shirley Jackson, Susan Hill and more. So when I started writing The Night Village I had that style fresh in my mind. I always wondered which librarian picked the books, but when I asked one day I was told they all did!

Having said that, my imagination does veer quickly towards the sinister—anything from a closed shower curtain to a creaking branch can set me off. Writing a novel at least puts that tendency to good use.

Alien places

AC: The novel is set in London, and in particular in the Barbican Estate, a large postwar residential complex in the ‘Brutalist’ architectural style. Could you please talk about what role/s the city and the estate play in the world of the novel?

ZD: With its soaring concrete towers and fortress-like design, the Barbican Estate is revered by many architects, but to visitors it can feel almost post-apocalyptic on a winter’s day. Simone can’t hear her neighbours through the thick walls, at night she looks out to empty offices, and the apartment itself is sealed and quiet and colourless. All these elements increase her sense of isolation and unease, and hopefully add to the spooky atmosphere.

London itself also drives the story forward, as Simone is constantly bumping up against strangers, both friendly and menacing. There’s a beautiful novel by Russell Hoban called Amaryllis Night and Day and much of the narrative is simply the main character wandering around London to his own unique map. As a new mother, Simone also creates a new map of the city, ending up somewhere very different from where she started.

That other country, Motherhood

AC: Motherhood is at the centre of the novel, and there is so much that could be discussed concerning your portrayal of Simone’s entry into this new world. I imagine book clubs are going to love doing just that! I’ll confine myself to asking about the issue of motherhood and gender roles—as expressed, for example, in the following passage:

[The use of valium in the 1960s and SSRIs today] made it easier for us to keep smiling and to keep doing and to not feel quite so very, very angry, because despite everything nothing had changed. We got to work, yes, but we still had to do everything else.

How much did this sense of ‘ordinary madness’ (I’m borrowing the term from Susan Midalia’s superb novel of the same name) caused by socially constructed parental roles play into the development of your characters?

ZD: For Paul and Simone, what had been a pleasant and undemanding relationship changes overnight with the arrival of an unplanned baby. After two weeks of paternity leave Paul returns to work, while Simone is left at home, holding a wailing newborn, her identity reduced to one word: mother. Add sleep deprivation, the impact of pregnancy and birth and her isolation in an unfamiliar city, and Susan Midalia’s wonderfully accurate ‘everyday madness’ soon descends. Simone feels isolated and unsupported, while Paul doesn’t really know how he can help apart from going out and earning money. It’s a dynamic familiar to many new parents, and in Paul and Simone’s case the tension is ramped up further by the fact that they don’t really know each other. From a storytelling point of view, it gave me a lot to work with.

When a character knocks on your door…

AC: Into the fraught situation of new motherhood comes a character who destabilises the already unstable. Could you talk, please, about Rachel (without, of course, giving away any spoilers)?

ZD: Rachel turned up at the door of the apartment, much as she does in the novel, when I was writing one day. Until that happened, I never believed writers who say that a character can just appear fully formed, but now I only hope it happens again. She felt like someone whose story I was getting to know as I wrote, and she’s a persistent and shadowy presence who is probably more than a little inspired by all the gothic novels I’ve read over the years.

Wise elders

AC: I loved your character Jennifer, who works at the V&A Museum of Childhood. She seems to play a pivotal role in Simone’s story. Could you tell us about her and what she represents?

ZD: Jennifer is a sixty-something woman who befriends Simone one day when she visits the museum with her baby. She makes Simone a cup of tea, sits with her, listens, and is a kind of substitute parent and wise elder when Simone’s own mother is far away. So much of parenting is simply being present, being there and nowhere else, and I think that’s the lesson that Jennifer brings.

Writing place from afar

AC: Zoe, I understand you were born and raised in Perth, went to London to live and work (as your character Simone does) and now live with your family in Germany. With The Night Village set in London, I was wondering about your connection with place. Is it a major inspiration for your work? And as someone who finds it easier to write about a place when I’m not in it, may I ask about your take on whether it’s easier to write about a place from afar?

ZD: Place seems to come first when I start a story, and then I think about who might live there and how they respond to their environment. I wrote The Night Village in Perth, and in some ways remembering London—the milky winter light, the warmth of buses and museums, the streets and sounds—was as good as being there.

I moved to Berlin, my husband’s hometown, in 2018, thinking rather blithely that I’d set a novel here. But the longer I stay, the less qualified I feel to write about Germany. I’m learning German and maybe, if I’m lucky, a story will come. Strangely enough, my imagination is now directed towards Perth. So yes, I am with you, Amanda, on finding it easier to write about a place when you aren’t there.

The title from within

AC: As a book editor, I’ve often had to assure the writers I’ve worked with that titles can be the devil, and that probably every writer, at least once in their career, has had to go through the agonising experience of discovering that the title they love and are wedded to has not found favour with the publisher’s marketing department. The Night Village strikes me as a very effective title for this story. Did it emerge organically, or was it a difficult one to get right?

ZD: This manuscript was originally called She Came To Stay, borrowed from the Simone de Beauvoir novel when I needed to quickly come up with a title before submitting it to the Hungerford Award. The Night Village did emerge organically, first as I wrote about the doll houses at the Museum of Childhood and then as I started to think about an unseen village of wakeful parents and children, all in their separate houses yet somehow connected across every sleepless night.

The Night Village is published by Fremantle Press
Follow Zoe via her website, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

Image credits: author photo by Jan Radke; Barbican image by Max Whitehead

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Two July releases by WA writers…

David Allan-Petale
Locust Summer
Fremantle Press
$26.99

This beautifully written debut novel from writer/journalist David Allan-Petale is set in a fictional town in Western Australia’s Wheatbelt. Although strongly evocative of rural life and the relentless work involved in farming the land, the novel’s strength, for me, lies in the delicacy of its handling of family relationships and the way those bonds are tested by internal and external pressures. Locust Summer was shortlisted for the Australian/Vogel Literary Award.

On the cusp of summer, 1986, Rowan Brockman’s mother asks if he can come home to Septimus in the Western Australian Wheatbelt to help with the harvest. Rowan’s brother Albert, the natural heir to the farm, has died, and Rowan’s dad’s health is failing. Although he longs to, there is no way that Rowan can refuse his mother’s request as she prepares the farm for sale.

This is the story of the final harvest—the story of a young man in a place he doesn’t want to be, being given one last chance to make peace before the past, and those he has loved, disappear.

Read reviews by Lisa Hill at ANZ LitLovers and Gemma Nisbet in the West Australian.

Meg McKinlay
Bella and the Voyaging House
Fremantle Press
$12.99

Perth writer Meg McKinlay has produced some of my favourite children’s picture books and fiction for young people—A Single Stone (Prime Minister’s Literary Award, Queensland Literary Award), Catch a Falling Star (SCBWI Crystal Kite Award, WA Premier’s Book Award), Ten Tiny Things, Once Upon a Small Rhinoceros and many others. And I’ve lost count of how many copies of The Truth about Penguins I’ve bought! This is her latest, a chapter book for young readers.

Bella’s house likes to travel, setting sail across the ocean while everyone sleeps. Bella’s parents don’t mind as long as the house is home by daylight. One night, Bella has a wonderful idea for her grandfather’s birthday. She wants to find a figurine he made of her grandmother, which was lost overboard in an accident. Bella and the house go in search of it, but things don’t quite go according to plan…

Read a review by Writing WA

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NAIDOC Week…

This year I’ve chosen to acknowledge NAIDOC Week by ordering my next bundle of books from the Foundation for Indigenous Sustainable Health online store. FISH also has a retail store at 769 Beaufort Street, Mt Lawley (Western Australia), which sells Indigenous-only books, artworks and gifts (read an excellent article about it here). I’m looking forward to visiting soon—the artworks look beautiful!

The Foundation for Indigenous Sustainable Health is an organisation that aims, through various initiatives, ‘to provide opportunities for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to share their wisdom and insights to the broader community to teach people how to connect and care for each other and for country, whilst closing the gap and breaking generational cycles of poverty, trauma, and engagement with the justice system.’ I first found out about the organisation via WritingWA, which has been promoting its work throughout NAIDOC Week.

The books I’ve ordered, and am looking forward to reading, are Homecoming (Magabala Books), a debut hybrid work (poetry/prose) from Noongar and Yawuru writer Elfie Shiosaki; God, the Devil and Me (Magabala Books) by Alf Taylor, an autobiography described as ‘darkly humorous and achingly tragic’ about Taylor’s childhood years spent at the New Norcia Mission, 120 kilometres north of Perth; and one I’ve been meaning to read for a long time, Growing Up Aboriginal in Australia (Black Inc. Books’ ‘Growing Up…’ series), a collection of essays edited by Anita Heiss.

During the week, Lisa Hill has been hosting Indigenous Literature Week over at her wonderful ANZ LitLovers blog, and has posted reviews of Homecoming and Growing Up Aboriginal in Australia, among many others—all of them well worth checking out.

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WA Premier’s Book Awards shortlists…

The shortlists for the WA Premier’s Book Awards have just been announced! It’s hard to believe a year has gone by since I found myself on the shortlist for the WA Writer’s Fellowship. Congratulations, everyone, and good luck!

The Premier’s Prize for an Emerging Writer ($15,000)

  • Father of the Lost Boys by Yuot A. Alaak (Fremantle Press)
  • Fathoms: The World in the Whale by Rebecca Giggs (Scribe Publications)
  • A Question of Colour by Pattie Lees and Adam C. Lees (Magabala Books)
  • We Can’t Say We Didn’t Know by Sophie McNeill (ABC Books: An imprint of HarperCollins Publishers)
  • The Salt Madonna by Catherine Noske (Pan Macmillan Australia) *2, 2 and 2 interview with Kate

The Premier’s Prize for Writing for Children ($15,000)

  • How to Make a Bird – Written by Meg McKinlay and Illustrated by Matt Ottley (Walker Books Australia)
  • Littlelight by Kelly Canby (Fremantle Press)
  • Shirley Purdie: My Story, Ngaginybe Jarragbe by Shirley Purdie (Magabala Books)
  • Across The Risen Sea by Bren MacDibble (Allen & Unwin)
  • Willy-willy Wagtail: Tales from the Bush Mob by Helen Milroy (Magabala Books)

The Daisy Utemorrah Award for Unpublished Indigenous Junior and YA ($15,000 and a publishing contract with Magabala Books)

  • Home is Calling – Natasha Leslie
  • Dirran – Carl Merrison and Hakea Hustler

The Western Australian Writer’s Fellowship ($60,000)

The full press release from the State Library of Western Australia here.

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2021 Fogarty Literary Award winner…

Congratulations to Brooke Dunnell, who tonight won the 2021 Fogarty Literary Award, receiving a $20,000 cash prize and a publishing contract with Fremantle Press for her novel The Glass House.

The Fogarty Literary Award is open to Western Australian writers aged 18 to 35, and Brooke only narrowly scraped in, turning 35 a week after the award deadline. She is widely published in the short fiction genre, and her collection Female(s and) Dogs was a finalist in the 2020 Carmel Bird Digital Literary Award. She lives in Perth and has worked as a creative writing mentor and workshop facilitator.

The judges described The Glass House as

an assured work of fiction, full of well-drawn characters, an involving plot and an ultimately affirming message…36-year-old Julia presses pause on a fractured relationship with her husband Rowan in Melbourne in order to fly to Perth to begin the difficult task of cleaning up her father’s house and helping him to move into an aged-care facility. From the childhood friend Julia runs into in the supermarket, to the dog that she finds her father suddenly minding, to the recurring bad dreams she begins to have about her stepdaughter, this novel is full of tension, complex emotion and surprises.

Being shortlisted for any award is a mark of great achievement, so congratulations also to the other shortlisted authors, Patrick Marlborough for A Horse Held at Gun Point (novel) and Georgia Tree for Old Boy (narrative non-fiction). Both will be working with Fremantle Press editor Georgia Richter on further developing their manuscript, which is a wonderful opportunity in itself.

And I want to mention the five authors whose manuscripts the judging panel chose to recognise as highly commended. Huge congratulations to Alex Dook, Daniel Juckes, Emily Paull, Luke Winter and Alice Woodland—I hope their manuscripts also find the right publishing home.

It’s heartening to see so many talented young writers hitting their stride.

The goal of the award sponsors the Fogarty Foundation is to ‘support and provide educational and leadership opportunities for young people across the spectrum of the Western Australian community’, and how good it is to see literature recognised as a vehicle for that.

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More new releases from WA writers…

Elfie Shiosaki
Homecoming
Magabala Books
$24.99

I’ve heard wonderful things about this debut hybrid work (poetry/prose) from Noongar and Yawuru writer Elfie Shiosaki, who lectures in Indigenous Rights at the University of Western Australia.

Homecoming pieces together fragments of stories about four generations of Noongar women and explores how they navigated the changing landscapes of colonisation, protectionism, and assimilation to hold their families together.

This seminal collection of poetry, prose and historical colonial archives, tells First Nations truths of unending love for children—those that were present, those taken, those hidden and those that ultimately stood in the light.

Homecoming speaks to the intergenerational dialogue about Country, kin and culture. This elegant and extraordinary form of restorative story work amplifies Aboriginal women’s voices, and enables four generations of women to speak for themselves. This sublime debut highlights the tenacity of family as well as First Nation’s agency to resist, survive and renew.

Elfie Shiosaki has restored humanity and power to her family in this beautifully articulated collection and has given voice to those silenced by our brutal past.

Listen to an interview with Elfie Shiosaki on ABC Radio Perth here.

Mel Hall
The Little Boat on Trusting Lane
Fremantle Press
$29.99

Some of my favourite writers (Simone Lazaroo, Rashida Murphy, Laurie Steed) have been talking up this newly released novel from Fremantle Press. Mel Hall has previously published a novella (The Choir of Gravediggers, Ginninderra Press, 2016), and was shortlisted for the Fogarty Literary Award in 2019.

Richard runs his alternative healing centre from an old houseboat in a scrapyard on Trusting Lane. The Little Mother Earth Ship provides spiritual sustenance at regular meetings of the Circle of IEWA. While Richard plies his new-age wisdom, disciples Finn and August help to run the centre. But warning letters from the council are piling up down the side of the fridge and the arrival of a new mystic, Celestiaa Davinaa, is about to rock their world. How many alternative healers can one small boat hold before the enterprise capsizes?

Read a review by Books + Publishing here.

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Little Jock’s bag…

Earlier this year, Albany visual artist Annette Davis told me about her proposed entry in the 2021 Bunbury Biennale, and it was an honour to hear that she was taking as her inspiration an image from my novel The Sinkings.

The Biennale’s curator, Caroline Lunel, describes the theme of this year’s Biennale, He She They, as springing from

the belief that gender continues to be a much relevant and current topic, particularly within the visual arts. Our culture is becoming increasingly more diverse, as we progress beyond the social idea that gender only comes in two forms, thus exposing the complexity of gender related issues.

A selection of 37 cis gender, queer, and nonbinary artists have been invited to explore and interpret this extensive theme…

I recently had the pleasure of visiting the exhibition at the Bunbury Regional Art Gallery. Here are Annette Davis’s artist statement and her fascinating work, Carrier Bags

I am interested in the item of a bag as the carrier of identity.

I’ve been inspired by the novel The Sinkings by Western Australian author Amanda Curtin, which starts with a real event from 1882—a brutal murder at the Sinkings, a well near Albany. The victim is Little Jock, who has lived most of his life as a male, though at the autopsy the body remains are described as female. In today’s terms, Little Jock would have been known as intersex.

The basic known facts of Little Jock are the starting point for this story. In the novel Little Jock becomes the subject of research by a contemporary woman, Willa, whose own child was born with ambiguous genitalia. Following medical advice, the child was operated on and grew up as a girl. In her teens she discovered the truth of the medical procedures done to her, and leaves home distraught and angry. The novel weaves Little Jock’s story with Willa’s research, and her feelings of longing for her child.

Little Jock has a bushel bag in which he keeps some women’s clothes, including an embroidered vest. This tightly woven bag hides its contents, just as Little Jock hid his identity. The other suspended bags carry the stories of contemporary intersex people on the paper from which they have been woven. The weaving style of the bags reflects the loosening of society’s attitudes and a growing acceptance of gender diversity.

Annette Davis, Carrier Bags, 2021

He She They is at the Bunbury Regional Art Gallery until 6 June 2021.

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Windows into war…

Perth is about to begin a snap three-day Covid lockdown, which means that Anzac Day this Sunday will be our second in lockdown. Services have been cancelled and driveway remembrances encouraged.

As I wrote in a blog last year, I’m always conflicted in my thoughts about Anzac Day. I turn to novels not to resolve those ambivalences but to explore them further—something that good fiction does so well.

Here are five wonderful Australian novels that give us windows into war, encouraging empathy and compassion, and it’s perhaps not surprising that they are all also stories of love…

World War I

Where the Line Breaks by Michael Burrows (Fremantle Press, 2021): my interview with Michael here

Matthew Denton, a starry-eyed Australian completing his PhD in London, is determined to prove that the Unknown Digger—Australia’s answer to England’s Soldier Poets—is none other than war hero Lieutenant Alan Lewis VC of the 10th Light Horse.

Like Lieutenant Lewis, Matthew is in love, and fighting for what he believes in—but the footnotes to Matt’s thesis come to reveal that all is not fair in love and war.

One hundred years and a lifetime’s experience apart, it becomes more and more difficult to say what makes a hero, especially if that hero is supposed to be you.

Traitor by Stephen Daisley (Text, 2011): review by Lisa, ANZLitLovers, here

What would make a soldier betray his country?

In the battle-smoke and chaos of Gallipoli, a young New Zealand soldier helps a Turkish doctor fighting to save a boy’s life. Then a shell bursts nearby; the blast that should have killed them both consigns them instead to the same military hospital.

Mahmoud is a Sufi. A whirling dervish, he says, of the Mevlevi order. He tells David stories. Of arriving in London with a pocketful of dried apricots. Of Majnun, the man mad for love, and of the saint who flew to paradise on a lion skin. You are God, we are all gods, Mahmoud tells David; and a bond grows between them.

A bond so strong that David will betray his country for his friend.

Stephen Daisley’s astonishing debut novel is a story of war and of love—how each changes everything, forever. Traitor is that rarest of things: a work of fiction that will transport the reader, heart and soul, into another realm.

The Wing of Night by Brenda Walker (Penguin, 2006): review in Sydney Morning Herald here

In 1915 a troopship of Light Horsemen sails from Fremantle for the Great War. Two women farewell their men: Elizabeth, with her background of careless wealth, and Bonnie, who is marked by the anxieties of poverty. Neither can predict how the effects of the most brutal fighting at Gallipoli will devastate their lives in the long aftermath of the war.

The Wing of Night is a novel about the strength and failure of faith and memory, about returned soldiers who become exiles in their own country, about how people may become the very opposite of what they imagined themselves to be. Brenda Walker writes with a terrible grandeur of the grime and drudge of the battlefield, and of how neither men nor women can be consoled for the wreckage caused by a foreign war.

World War II

Bodies of Men by Nigel Featherstone (Hachette, 2019): guest 2, 2 and 2 blog here

Egypt, 1941. Only hours after disembarking in Alexandria, William Marsh, an Australian corporal at twenty-one, is face down in the sand, caught in a stoush with the Italian enemy. He is saved by James Kelly, a childhood friend from Sydney and the last person he expected to see. But where William escapes unharmed, not all are so fortunate. William is sent to supervise an army depot in the Western Desert, with a private directive to find an AWOL soldier: James Kelly. When the two are reunited, James is recovering from an accident, hidden away in the home of an unusual family—a family with secrets. Together they will risk it all to find answers. Soon William and James are thrust headlong into territory more dangerous than either could have imagined.

Vietnam War

Seeing the Elephant by Portland Jones (Margaret River Press, 2016): review by Lisa, ANZLitLovers, here

Seeing the Elephant is the poignant story of a remarkable relationship between Frank Stevens, an Australian soldier sent to the Vietnamese Highlands to recruit and train the local hill tribes during the Vietnam War, and his Vietnamese translator, Minh.

The story is told through letters from Frank to his grandfather. Seconded by the CIA, Frank has been sent to the Vietnamese Highlands to recruit and train the local mountain tribes to resist the North Vietnamese. Once Frank returns home the letters document his struggle to cope with life in Australia after the war.

Nearly fifty years later, Minh, now living in Australia and seriously ill, reads through Frank’s letters and remembers the experiences that he shared with Frank, and discovers that even amongst his traumatic memories, there is consolation and joy.

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