Monthly Archives: January 2013

The next big thing

Last month Annabel Smith, author of Whisky Charlie Foxtrot (Fremantle Press), tagged me in the latest book meme, immodestly titled ‘The next big thing’, which asks writers to answer ten questions about their forthcoming work. (You can read Annabel’s responses about her exciting work-in-progress, a multimedia novel called The Ark, here.) So here goes.

1. What is the working title of your current work-in-progress/next book?elemental_COVER

Elemental

2. Where did the idea come from?

Different sources—some I’d been thinking about for a long time and some that sprang from research. I don’t keep journals but I accumulate ideas, often just words, on scraps of paper in a folder. Elemental came, in a roundabout way, from three of these scrap words—‘fishermen’, ‘consequences’, ‘butterflies’—and from my fascination with things like memory, inheritance, generativity, history, ethics, families.

3. What genre does your book fall into?

Literary fiction—three parts historical and one part contemporary.

4. What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

Well, the lead role of Meggie would need several actors as we see her from childhood through to her forties, and then as an elderly woman. And the actor would need to manage a Doric accent (the rich dialect of north-east Scotland), with flourishes of Shetland and Australian thrown in. I don’t want much, do I! Maybe Cate Blanchett or Miranda Otto? (I can dream!)  I don’t see either of them as ‘my’ Meggie, the one in my head, the one I think I’ve written, but that would not matter as long as the actor caught the heart of the character. Film is its own art.

5. What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

Meggie Tulloch is writing to her granddaughter—a story of a tiny fishing village in north-east Scotland at the turn of the twentieth century, of the wild, witchy sea that gives and takes, of the herring girls who escaped the lives mapped out for them from birth, of women’s work and women’s friendship, of a love that carries Meggie across the world to Australia, of the secrets she has spent a lifetime trying to forget.

6. Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

It will be published by UWA Publishing in May 2013.

7. How long did it take you to write the first draft?

I began the research in 2007 and finished the first draft just after midnight on 22 May 2011, at the Tyrone Guthrie Centre, Ireland. I was so elated that I crept down to the kitchen to celebrate with leftover cake, accidentally scaring the hell out of German artist Maria Maier. When Maria recovered, she and I shared the cake and toasted the draft with tea.

8. What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

I don’t think writers are always the best people to judge these things—I know I’m not—so this is more a wish list on my part: The Shipping News by Annie Proulx; ‘In the Machine’, part 1 of Specimen Days by Michael Cunningham; Possession by A. S. Byatt.

9. Who or what inspired you to write this book?

Mostly covered in #2. But I have an enduring interest in exploring the past and how it affects the present.

10. What else about the book might pique the reader’s interest?

Part of the story highlights the history of the herring girls—gutters—who were contracted by curing companies to travel in teams around the north-western islands of Scotland, up to the Shetlands, then down the north-east Scottish coast to East Anglia, following the shoals for nine months of the year. The more I read about the phenomenal skill and speed of these women, the more I admired them and wanted to know more. It’s reported—in so many disparate sources that it’s hard to doubt the veracity of the accounts—that many of them could gut and grade fifty, sixty, up to seventy herring a minute!

And now I’m tagging four other writers in the hope that they will tell us about their next big thing: Dianne Touchell, Magdalena Ball, Meg McKinlay, Denise Deegan.

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Book review: Consumed, by Caroline Hamilton

Consumed, Caroline Hamilton’s first novel, is an assault on the senses—not just taste but smell, texture, sound, sight. Its territory is kitchens and kitchen gardens, markets, restaurants, gourmet stores, farms. Cellars, too, although by the time you reach those scenes, you are in the thrall of a new kind of territory, one best left for readers to discover for themselves.165133

The novel is driven by a first-person voice, a present-tense consciousness: the voice of Amelia, a lone, food-obsessed soul hungering for more than just food, with a singular view of the world and a penchant for the absurd. I wondered at first whether she has Asperger’s but she is too complex a character to wear such an easy label.

Hamilton’s prose draws readers in from the first paragraph: a series of direct questions that seduce us with chocolate frosting and announce Amelia as no ordinary narrator. Descriptions of food are sometimes sumptuous and sensuous, sometimes raw and visceral, sometimes just charming; for example, Amelia’s observation of pig hocks lined up on a store counter for a difficult-to-please customer:

ankles touching, feet together, like debutantes expectantly waiting their turn to dance.

In her search for the secret ingredient in a perfect sauerkraut, Amelia finds Katarina, a feisty elderly Polish woman who becomes her mentor and brings light, love and purpose to Amelia’s solitary life. Katarina teaches her that food is life, and both require death, and the scenes involving the backyard killing of a chicken and, later, on Gianni’s pig farm are uncomfortable to read, as indeed they should be.

The death of Katarina pivots the story completely. Amelia’s grief is intense and deeply affecting, and then becomes shocking, and the meaning of stray threads of suggestion are suddenly clear, revealing the story of Amelia’s destiny that they have been weaving. At this point, the pace accelerates, racing towards Amelia’s outrageous moment of triumph—something I think I’m unlikely ever to forget!

Consumed draws on myths involving the strength of women: different versions of Vassalissa the Brave, and Lilith in the Garden of Eden. It is also laced with recipes and lavish devotions to food that will make you hungry as you read.

This ambitious novel won the 2008 FAW Christina Stead Award for Fiction. I found it compelling, quirky and original.

Consumed by Caroline Hamilton (ABC Books, 2008)

ISBN 9780733320910

This review counts towards my total for the 2013 Australian Women Writers Challenge.awwbadge_2013

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Australian Women Writers Challenge 2013

awwbadge_2013I’m signing up for the 2013 Australian Women Writers Challenge, which supports and promotes books by Australian women. There are various levels for the challenge, and you can participate as a reader/reviewer, or just as a reader. I’ve opted for the ‘Franklin’ level, with a target of reading at least 10 books by Australian women during the year and reviewing at least six.

I didn’t participate formally in the 2012 challenge, but here are some of the books by Australian women writers that I read in 2012 (* indicates reviewed for The West Australian). Each one gave me something to think about—and taught me something about writing.

A Common Loss by Kirsten Tranter

A Dissection of Murder by Felicity Young

All that I Am by Anna Funder

An Unknown Sky by Susan Midalia

Animal People by Charlotte Wood

Black Cow by Magdalena Ball

Black Jack Anderson by Elaine Forrestal

Creepy & Maud by Dianne Touchell

Five Bells by Gail Jones

Forecast: Turbulence by Janette Turner-Hospital

If I Should Lose You by Natasha Lester

Like a House on Fire by Cate Kennedy

Losing It by Julia Lawrinson*

Shallow Breath by Sara Foster

Tarcutta Wake by Josephine Rowe*

The Bookshop on Jacaranda Street by Marlish Glorie

Whisky Charlie Foxtrot by Annabel Smith

9781922089144_WHISKYCHARLIEFOXTROT_WEBI suppose I could also describe Whisky Charlie Foxtrot as ‘reviewed’, as I wrote the back-cover endorsement to this fabulous novel.

I look forward to all this new year will bring from Australian women writers.

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