2018 Dates for the book-lover’s diary.

A list of some of the brilliant books that are being released in the first quarter of this year.

Welcome to February! That bittersweet moment when work and school resume and life kicks off in earnest for another year.  I have always liked returning to the gentle rhythms of routine come February, a more predictable week means more a predictable word count. Also it’s nice to sleep again once the tennis is done (Go Fed!).

But – if you find it hard to get enthused about the prospect of returning to work and the end of summer (although I’m pretty sure all the writers out there are rubbing their hands in glee as Autumn approaches) then I have an antidote for you. If you have used up all your leave over the summer and now face eleven long months of nose-to-grindstone then I have the solution for you. Or, if you just love books, then this is the post for you. Read on, dear reader.

Here is a list of some of the brilliant books that are being released in the first quarter of this year. A couple are already out, and I can personally vouch for the lyrical beauty of The Sisters’ Song by Louise Allan since I am part way through it. (Actually I am sacrificing reading time to revive my blog right now. A moment’s appreciation for my resolution, please.)

The rest are books that I have been (im)patiently waiting for (Natasha Lester, A.L. Tait, Kirsty Manning, I’m looking at you) or that have caught my eye with their fabulous covers or intriguing blurbs.

There are also some books that don’t feature because I couldn’t find any concrete release details, but Wendy Orr, author of Nim’s Island and Dragonflysong has another Minoan tale coming later this year and I’m pretty sure Kate Morton must be publishing this year based on the amount of editing I’ve seen going on on her Instagram. That may just be wishful thinking.

 

sisters song

January  2018 : The Sisters’ Song by Louise Allan

Set in rural Tasmania from the 1920s to the 1990s, The Sisters’ Song traces the lives of two very different sisters. One for whom giving and loving are her most natural qualities and the other who cannot forgive and forget.

As children, Ida loves looking after her younger sister, Nora, but when their beloved father dies in 1926, everything changes. The two young girls move in with their grandmother who is particularly encouraging of Nora’s musical talent. Nora eventually follows her dream of a brilliant musical career, while Ida takes a job as a nanny and their lives become quite separate.

The two sisters are reunited when Nora’s life takes an unwelcome direction and she finds herself, embittered and resentful, isolated in the Tasmanian bush with a husband and children.

Ida longs passionately for a family and when she marries Len, a reliable and good man, she hopes to soon become a mother. Over time, it becomes clear that this is never likely to happen. In Ida’s eyes, it seems that Nora possesses everything in life that could possibly matter yet she values none of it.

Set in rural Tasmania over a span of seventy years, the strengths and flaws of motherhood are revealed through the mercurial relationship of these two very different sisters. The Sisters’ Song speaks of dreams, children and family, all entwined with a musical thread that binds them together.

the secret at oceans edge

January 30 2018: The Secret at Ocean’s Edge by Kali Napier

1932. Ernie and Lily Hass, and their daughter, Girlie, have lost almost everything in the Depression; all they have keeping their small family together are their secrets. Abandoning their failing wheat farm and small-town gossip, they make a new start on the west coast of Australia where they begin to build a summer guesthouse. But forming new alliances with the locals isn’t easy.

Into the Hasses’ new life wanders Lily’s shell-shocked brother, Tommy, after three harrowing years on the road following his incarceration. Tommy is seeking answers that will cut to the heart of who Ernie, Lily and Girlie really are.

Inspired by the author’s own family history, The Secrets at Ocean’s Edge is a haunting, memorable and moving tale of one family’s search for belonging. Kali Napier breathes a fever-pitch intensity into the story of these emotionally fragile characters as their secrets are revealed with tragic consequences. If you loved The Light Between Oceans and The Woolgrower’s Companion you will love this story.

this is a tale of secrets, and one of the great achievements of the novel is that the author knows how to keep a secret, how to betray a secret, how to pass on a secret and how – and when – to divulge a secret.

— Cass Moriarty, author of The Promise Seed and Parting Words

water under the bridge

February 2018: Water Under the Bridge by Lily Malone

Ella Davenport hasn’t been in a swimming pool since a bad decision ruined her chance of Olympic gold. So when Ella decides on a new career selling property, she chooses Chalk Hill. The country town is a long way from the water, with no pool in sight. Perfect!

Jake Honeychurch doesn’t want to sell his nanna’s house, but circumstances force his hand. Listing the property with the rookie real estate agent in town and asking a hefty price means it shouldn’t find a buyer. Perfect!

But determination and persistence are traits Jake admires, and Ella has them in spades. After all, no one ever made an Olympic team by being a quitter.

When news breaks of a proposed waterski park, a local developer starts sniffing around Honeychurch House. Ella’s first sale is so close she can taste it, until a sharp-eyed local recognises her. Between sale negotiations with Jake that keep getting sidetracked, and a swimming pool committee hellbent on making a splash, Ella has more to contend with than kisses and chlorine.

Can she throw off the failures of the past and take the chance of a new start? Or will her dreams of a new life be washed away?

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March 27 2018: The Paris Seamstress by Natasha Lester

How much will a young Parisian seamstress sacrifice to make her mark in the male-dominated world of 1940s New York fashion? From the bestselling author of A KISS FROM MR FITZGERALD and HER MOTHER’S SECRET.

1940. Parisian seamstress Estella Bissette is forced to flee France as the Germans advance. She is bound for Manhattan with a few francs, one suitcase, her sewing machine and a dream: to have her own atelier.

2015. Australian curator Fabienne Bissette journeys to the annual Met Gala for an exhibition of her beloved grandmother’s work – one of the world’s leading designers of ready-to-wear clothing. But as Fabienne learns more about her grandmother’s past, she uncovers a story of tragedy, heartbreak and secrets – and the sacrifices made for love.

Crossing generations, society’s boundaries and international turmoil, THE PARIS SEAMSTRESS is the beguiling, transporting story of the special relationship between a grandmother and her granddaughter as they attempt to heal the heartache of the past.

ateban

Also March 27: The Ateban Cipher by A.L. Tait.

An orphan in exile. A band of rebel girls. And a prince whose throne has been stolen. Come on a journey full of danger, intrigue, adventure and incredible secrets.

‘The Ateban Cipher,’ Lucien continued, ‘is also known as the Book of Answers.’
‘Answers to what?’ Eddie asked.
Lucien sighed. ‘Everything.

In the second gripping Ateban Cipher novel, Gabe and his companions journey to a remote mountain citadel where they learn the secret of the mysterious, encrypted book that Gabe has been tasked with protecting. But their enemies are close behind them, and new dangers lie ahead.

As Eddie seeks to regain his crown, and Merry and Gwyn race to free their father, Gabe will discover the answer to his own great mystery – his true identity.

jade lily

April 24 2018: The Jade Lily by Kirsty Manning

‘…compelling, passionate and admirable.’
Australian Women’s Weekly

In 2016, fleeing London with a broken heart, Alexandra returns to Australia to be with her grandparents, Romy and Wilhelm, when her grandfather is dying. With only weeks left together, her grandparents begin to reveal the family mysteries they have kept secret for more than half a century.

In 1939, two young girls meet in Shanghai, the ‘Paris of the East’: beautiful local Li and Viennese refugee Romy form a fierce friendship. But the deepening shadows of World War Two fall over the women as Li and Romy slip between the city’s glamorous French Concession and the desperate Shanghai Ghetto. Eventually, they are forced separate ways as Romy doubts Li’s loyalties.

After Wilhelm dies, Alexandra flies to Shanghai, determined to trace her grandparents’ past. As she peels back the layers of their hidden lives, she begins to question everything she knows about her family – and herself.

A compelling and gorgeously told tale of female friendship, the price of love, and the power of hardship and courage to shape us all.

you wish

Also April: You Wish by Lia Weston

Sometimes imagination is not enough.

Thomas Lash grants secret wishes . . . on-screen, that is.White wedding gone horribly wrong and need to swap the groom?
Never went to university but must have a graduation photo?
Need to create a fake family for that job interview?

Problem solved with expert Photoshopping and Tom’s peculiar ability to know exactly what you desire. Tom never says no, even when giving grieving parents the chance to see what the lives of their lost children may have looked like.But where do you draw the line . . .
and what happens when the fantasy Tom sees on-screen
starts to bleed into his real life?

I hope you found something to keep you company and warm your cockles during the long working year ahead.  I have every intention of keeping this blog a little more active this year. And to that end I have already been given a helping hand (or pen) by my sister (also a writer – a secret one, so shhhh) who was horrified to find that this blog was not celebrating the 200th anniversary of the publication of Frankenstein. She has rectified that oversight by writing a guest post for me (actually she wrote two) about Mary Shelly, her scientist and his monster. The quality of my sister’s writing is much higher than that usually found on this blog, so be sure to look for that post next month. I got a lot of joy from reading it.
Until then, happy reading, happy writing, happy life.
Sarah x

 

How Motherhood has Allowed me to Write

This has been a valuable lesson in what I am capable of, even from the depths of exhaustion. If I write, something eventually will come out of it.

Having Children has allowed me the time to write.

Not the physical time — I honestly don’t know what I did with all those hours in the days before kids — but the mental time. I’m very lucky in that I haven’t had to go back to full time work since having children, the few hours a week I work are stimulating rather than draining, and that means when I’m spending an hour and a half walking 500m down the road, or endless hours at the park, or doing the dishes, or playing Lego, or cooking, my mind is fresh and sharp and eagerly plotting its way through the next hurdle of my story.

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And being short on time means I don’t waste a free second. If the children are happily distracted, or even asleep, I sit down and I write. Even when I’m exhausted and feel like my three-year-old could come up with better material, I write, because I don’t know how long it will be until the next opportunity comes along. And this has been a valuable lesson in what I am capable of, even from the depths of exhaustion. If I write, something eventually will come out of it.

The children are all at an age where they constantly crave my attention.

I keep reminding myself to embrace this period of unconditional love and desire for my approval. I know it’s not going to last. This isn’t always easy, and I’m often not as gracious about it as I would like to be. When my 3-year-old asks me if I need a lie down, I know I have not been winning at the so-called peaceful communication, but I have learnt that if I can give them my attention in full, at regular intervals, I can ask more of them down the track.

 

For instance, we are a household of book lovers. Occasionally there are rare, glimmering moments of domestic bliss when all of us are bunkered down in the loungeroom with a book — even the 17mo who likes to identify as many dogs as she can in any given book. The girls emulate the thousands of times they have heard us read to them to facilitate their own reading experiences, usually with quite hilarious digressions. These moments last twenty minutes at the outer limit, but during these times I feel so much love for my family, so much gratitude for my blessings, and not a little smug at my household management abilities. Inevitably these moments will end abruptly and catastrophically in a potty-training incident or something broken, or someone in tears, or all of the above, usually before I’ve even properly enjoyed my smugness.

Motherhood is an incredible blessing.

Having this time at home, watching my children grow, getting to be with them every moment of the day is a blessing not everyone has, and I am daily grateful for it. Even when I’m an emotional wreck, even when it’s hard, even when all I want is for everyone to shut up for five minutes. I know how blessed I am to be given this chance.

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 Also, I am grateful for the pause in my professional working life that has allowed me to give myself permission to follow my creative desire. And I am especially grateful to my husband for all his love and support. He doesn’t necessary understand the havoc my imaginary world can wreck on my day, but he understands that it is important to me, and has been an unfailing support, and a quiet encourager through the slow journey to creative ownership, even if he often falls asleep when I’m nutting through a plot problem with him at 11:30pm (at least I know the story won’t be spoiled for him when the book comes out).

Above all, the biggest thing that my children have taught me is that I really want to do this. It’s hard. Keeping little people alive day in day out is hard enough, trying to carve time out of that to write a novel is, emotional. But I love it and want it too much to quit, so I will make it work — hopefully without turning completely nuts and damaging my children beyond repair in the process.

 Last week we welcomed the newest member of our family into the world. Our first little boy, bringing our clan to a total of 3. Needless to say, he is an adorable little bundle, all snuggles and beautiful new-born smells and cute little pops and squeaks.

Which brings me to a massive thank you I must give.

This blog post is brought to you courtesy of my fabulous mother, who has given up weeks of her time to come and cook, clean, wash, mediate, grandmother and basically take charge while I take time out to get to know our little man and create. She is incredibly untiring and it is so wonderful to have this time with her all to myself (and my children) and I am so grateful for her support. Thanks Mum. You are the absolute best.

The all-important question of balance.

I mentioned back in January that I would pass on any tips I had for achieving an elegant breast-feeding-1582923_1280motherhood/creativity balance. I would have to say the biggest lesson I have learnt (and I learnt this the hard way with little cherub number two) is that you have to let go of expectations. If I try to plan my day around a certain word count or to do list, I will inevitably end up stressed off my nut, cranky, exhausted and all without having achieved my target. It’s like the kids can sense when you have an ulterior motive and do their darnedest to interrupt your plans. If I resign myself instead to taking all the stolen moments I can and doing my best with those, my mind (and my heart) are free to devote my attention to the kids with more joy. This is the way that works for me. I tried the other way and it was messy, emotional and detrimental to the entire family.

 

 This way, I can still work towards a goal, but in a more relaxed fashion (and it is surprising how much you achieve with those stolen moments), and, more importantly, I am not missing those precious moments of the childhoods that are all too fleeting.

Where I’m at.

I’ve spent the time granted to me by Mum’s visit beginning the first round of re-writes for my manuscript, I’m excited by the direction the story has taken, and enjoying the improvements! I’ve also been doing some research for my upcoming blog posts. Next week marks 100 years since the beginning of the Russian revolution, and I had planned to write a historical post on Russia, but it evolved into a European history post, with a twist of political musing, something a little different from me. To make sure you don’t miss it, or any of my posts, be sure to subscribe to my blog using the box at the bottom of the page. If you’d like to get in touch between posts, or take a peek into the world of my writing, reading and mothering, then you can find me most days on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram. Happy autumn everyone (every writer’s favourite month), I’ll see you next week!

 

 

 

 

5 Surprising Facts from Australian History

‘Australian history… is full of surprises, and adventures, and incongruities, and contradictions, and incredibilities; but they are all true, they all happened.’ Mark Twain

I read the above quote as a fairly accurate description of our hurly-burly, courageous, messy, spectacular and sinister history. Below are five snippets of that history that I have come across in my reading that have both surprised and amused me.

 

Royal Assassination Attempt

 

While Queen Elizabeth II is the only reigning monarch to have visited Australia, there have been plenty of visits from members of the British royal household in the history of Australia. The first was made by Prince Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh in 1867 and included an attempt on his life. Queen Victoria’s second son was picnicking on the beach at Clontarf (Sydney) when he was shot by Henry James O’Farrell, an impoverished Irishman suffering from mental illness.

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Henry James O’Farrell. There were rumours of a Fenian conspiracy after the Irishman’s attempted assassination attempt.

The Duke was wounded but not fatally, and hospitalised for two weeks. Prince Alfred tried to have the life of Henry O’Farrell spared, but the latter was executed in April of 1868.

 

Franco-Prussian Media War

 

Vietnam has often been referred to as the TV war, but the Franco-Prussian War has been dubbed ‘the first media war’. This conflict erupted in Europe in 1870-71, the first major conflict to break on European soil since the end on the Napoleonic wars, and the first to take place after Europe and America were connected via the telegraph. For the first time, people in Britain and America could know the outcome of a battle on the same day it had been fought.

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The Franco-Prussian war: the first media war.

The Australians had yet to be so closely connected to Europe as the Americans, and the quickest way to receive up-to-date information on the war was via the fastest mail boats from the US. This caused quite an air of anticipation as the people of the colonies awaited each fresh snippet of information.

‘The entire population was in upheaval until the whole town was in possession of the news. The War Intelligence was the subject of animated discussion in the business marts and under the veranda in the afternoon, and in the evening the clubs, cafes and bars resounded with varied comments on the credibility of the telegrams.’

Sensational Melbourne: Reading, Sensation Fiction and Lady Audley’s Secret in the Victorian Metropolis. Susan K Martin and Kylie Mirmohamadi

 

Russian War Ships in Adelaide

 

The ‘Russian threat’ was a very real concern in nineteenth century Australia. There was a feeling in the late 1870s that war was imminent between England and Russia, and the Australian Colonies were terrified of becoming a victim of this potential conflict, lying vulnerable, undefended and wealthy at the bottom of the globe. Therefore, when the residents of the seaside town of Glenelg in South Australia awoke to find a Russian fleet anchored on their doorstep in February of 1882, the initial reaction was one of panic.

ships-in-adelaide
Port Adelaide in 1888 from The Picturesque Atlas of Australia 1888

The Civic Authorities, however, were in a pickle. War between Britain and Russia had not been declared, so they had no choice but to invite the unwelcome visitors ashore, and throw a ball in their honour.

As the Russians sailed away a few weeks later (without having plundered Adelaide) it was decided that perhaps some defence measures ought to be put in place along the South Australian coast.

 

The Block

 

It seems incredible to any twenty-first century resident of Melbourne, but in the late nineteenth century, the Saturday AFL game took second place to another social institution. This was known as ‘the Block’.

‘Doing the Block’ was a social must for the upper classes of Colonial Melbourne, and took place on Thursday and Saturday afternoons between two and four o’clock.

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‘Doing the block’ c1905 from The Streets of Melbourne by Joe Murray and Peter McIntosh

 

The Block was essentially a promenade that was enjoyed along the North side of Collins street, between Elizabeth and Swanston streets, and one ‘did the Block’ in order to see and be seen (preferably arrayed in the latest fashions) and to meet friends and beaux (under the strict eye of a chaperone of course). The beaux even had a fashionable lamppost, on the corner of Swanston and Collins streets, that they gathered under as they appraised the fair parade that passed by.

Japanese Invasion Currency

 

In the museum of the small Northern Victorian town of Benalla, I came across a Japanese Australian one shilling note. This money formed part of what was known as the ‘Japanese invasion currency’, currency issued by the Japanese Military Authority as a replacement for local currencies after conquest was achieved during the second world war. According to the Australian War Memorial website, the philosophy behind the currency was ‘to maintain stability within the occupied country and to abolish all traces of Western influence and establish Japan as the dominant economic influence’.

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Japanese Invasion Currency: Japenese-Australian one shilling note

I must admit, I was impressed by the confidence and organisation of the Japanese, even while being grateful that the currency, in Australia at least, never got the chance to be used.

 

This list could be a whole lot longer.

The history of Australia is nothing if not interesting. If you have any facts of your own that you’d like to add, post them in the comments below, or let me know on Facebook or Twitter.

Next week on the Blog

I’ll be sharing some more research with you-this time on the limitations and restrictions of life in Nazi occupied Rome. To make sure you don’t miss this, or any of my posts, be sure to subscribe to the blog using the box at the bottom of the home page. If you’d like to get in touch between posts, or take a peek into the world of my writing, reading and mothering, then you can find me most days on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram. Happy Australia Day everyone, I’ll see you next week!

 

 

The Letter Allure

What do you talk about in letters that your correspondent hasn’t already seen on your Facebook page or on that of your mutual friends? You can’t actually share news via letter anymore, and because of that, that the letter loses something of its magic.

‘Sarah, my love for you is deathless… the memories of the blissful moments I have enjoyed with you come crowding over me, and I feel most deeply grateful to God and you that I have enjoyed them so long. And how hard is it for me to give them up; and burn to ashes the hopes of future years when God willing we might have still loved and loved together and see our boys grow up to honourable manhood around us.’

So goes one of my all-time favourite letters. I first heard it read aloud on the ABC radio as I was driving to work one morning. It was written by a man called Sullivan Ballou to his wife, Sarah, in July of 1861, as his company prepared for the first major battle of the American Civil War. Sullivan wrote this letter because he was ‘suspicious that Death is creeping behind me with his fatal dart’. As I listened to the presenter read the letter with all its haunting tenderness, I was desperate to hear that the story had a happy ending. Sullivan, however, was right in his premonition; he was killed two weeks later, his 24-year-old widow never re-married and I arrived at work a blubbering mess.

I have always loved letters. I love their ability to capture the essence of a writer unlike any other medium. There is something about having an expanse of paper laid out before you that invites a plumbing of your thoughts, bringing to light confidences you might not otherwise have thought to share. Often times, passion is more easily expressed via a letter, which is why letters are the favourite weapon of lovers and haters alike.

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Letters: the weapon of choice of lovers and haters alike.

 

The Age of Letters is Over

Even though I write and receive more letters than most (and yes, I hear you languishing epistolarians — the writing of the letters has been in sad proportion to the receiving of late, but I’m writing a novel for crying out loud. I’ll get on it, I promise) I see that the need for letters is shrinking with the advent of each new social media platform and the ever-increasing ease of information sharing. What do you talk about in letters that your correspondent hasn’t already seen on your Facebook page or on that of your mutual friends? You can’t actually share news via letter anymore, and because of that, that the letter loses something of its magic.

This fact was born home to me recently as I was — get this — writing a letter. I have a friend whose circumstances have recently changed dramatically. She has left her highly connected, social media saturated world and joined a convent. In another country. There is no social media allowed. No mobiles and only a few phone calls a week that naturally go to her family.

I have to be honest, at first I was (rather selfishly) depressed by the reduction in communication. Obviously this change was much harder for my friend than it was for me, but I still got a pang of sadness every time I had to skip over her name in my Snapchat kid-spam list, or refrain from sharing a post I knew she would like on Facebook, or sending her yet another Trump meme.

But then I got her first letter.

I was not prepared for the utter joy and anticipation receiving that missive brought me. Finally, I could hear her thoughts, find out what the convent was like, the other sisters, the food, the accommodation, the rules. How she was enjoying it, her studies — what were they like? And I could share again, pour onto paper all the things I’d been holding back for her because I could no longer send aimless thoughts her way with a half-conscious click of a button.

I was so excited to ‘talk’ to her again that (please glance aside neglected correspondents) I immediately pulled out my writing set and spent the next week replying to her, filling her in on all the little dramas that had unfolded during my domestic week, savouring particularly entertaining news items, and anything about our common friends that I did not think she would have heard through her family. It was such a joy to be able to disseminate information that one knew would be novel to the reader, rather than just stating yet another opinion on a topic already well canvassed online. A nice, comfortable, newsy (read gossipy) letter.

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A whole pile of gossip.

 

Two of my sisters, my mother, my grandmother and an aunt of mine all keep up a semi-regular correspondence.

I am sadly in debt, having received mail from all of them which has gone unanswered since as far back as September, but we’ve texted, talked, and caught up in the mean-time, so it is easy to forget the urgency. The letter from my friend in the convent has made me realise what a pale excuse of a letter they have all been receiving from me to date. I have spent some time thinking over this during the preparation for this blog post and I see now that I need to formulate a better plan for our correspondence, that my letters to them need to include unique pieces of information and request the same in return.

I need to raise the stakes.

Think of Pride and Prejudice’s Lizzy Bennet’s impatience in waiting for her Aunt Gardener’s response to her request for information regarding Mr Darcy’s presence at Lydia’s wedding. That’s the sort of anticipation I want for my future letter-writing efforts.

How to achieve this? What should I put in my letters to increase the drama and expectation? Do you have any suggestions? What news would you like to receive in your letterbox?

Next week, to celebrate Australia Day, I’ll be sharing a list of my top five most surprising discoveries about colonial Australia. To make sure you don’t miss it, or any of my posts, be sure to subscribe to my blog using the box at the bottom of the home page. If you’d like to get in touch between posts, or take a peek into the world of my writing, reading and mothering, then you can find me most days on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram. Have a great weekend everyone, I’ll see you next week!

Author Interview: Carolyn Denham on her debut novel Songlines

I recently finished reading Songlines, the first Young Adult book I’ve read in a long time. It’s a genre that I’ve always loved, and conveniently I have younger siblings who quit that age group much more recently than I did to keep me abreast of what’s good in the YA field. Like everything though, I phase in and out of it. I’ve been focussing on reading a lot more in my own genre this year (Historical Fiction/Women’s fiction) and it was nice to pick up a book to read for reading’s sake alone again.

Songlines is the story of Lainie, a country girl who is just trying to finish year twelve. But there’s a problem. When a big mining company starts exploring on Lainie’s sheep farm, strange things start happening, to Lainie and to the people around her. Suddenly year twelve is the least of her problems as she has to come to grips with a family secret that is about to change the whole course of her life.

I could not put this book down (not strictly true, I did put it down to feed the children and sleep occasionally, but I wasn’t happy about it) and once I was finished I immediately stalked Carolyn to find out when the next one would be out — which happily, is soon-ish. April 2017! The main character Lainie is such fun company and her growing tribe of fellow victims of the mining interruption are an endearing bunch to spend your days with. Carolyn has taken a fantasy theme and layered it in casual rural Australiana to produce a story that is a compelling mix of intensity and laid-back humour.

The more time I spend in the Australian bush, the more I realise that this is a country made for fantasy stories of raw power and brutal passions, and Carolyn has captured that perfectly in her debut novel Songlines.

If you would like a taste of Lainie’s world, there is a free prequel Barramundi Triangle Available to read. There is also a book trailer for Songlines available to view via YouTube.

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I had a chat with Carolyn after I’d finished Songlines, just to make sure that she was working hard to get the next book out, and to find out some more about her and her writing. The details of that chat are below, but first, a little about Carolyn herself:

Carolyn lives on a small hobby farm on the outskirts of Melbourne. She has a science degree, far too many pets and a fear of the ocean that makes her Mauritian mother roll her eyes. Somehow between her mortgage-broking job, driving her kids crazy (mostly by asking their friends’ opinions about the Singularity) and feeding 63 baby axolotls, she has managed to write short stories for Aurealis and Andromeda Spaceways magazines. She is currently working to complete the fourth and final book in The Sentinels of Eden and after that she has promised that she will finally vacuum the bedrooms.

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Carolyn, when did the idea for the Sentinels of Eden first occur to you? Did you think it would be just one book or were you always planning a series?

 It’s so hard to pinpoint an exact moment when random thought turns into an ‘idea’. I was having many discussions with my brother regarding Christian apologetics at the same time as I was trying to encourage my daughter to write a spec fiction story. Thinking through what a perfect God (whose nature is the very definition of Love) would have intended for the human race… who wouldn’t get caught up in the possibilities? And no, at the start I wasn’t even confident that my ramblings would turn into a whole story, let alone a series. I was just trying to get my girl started. Whoops.

What sort of research did you have to undertake to write this book?

Other than a crash course (by pulling other books off the shelf) in how to structure my writing, the research took me all sorts of places. Farm life – I live on a small acreage, so that part was easy and fun to explore (although my first editor did say it sounded like it was set on a hobby farm – I wonder why?) Aboriginal culture – I never set out to write about it, but I quickly realised it would be an unforgiveable tragedy to disregard. Certainly that research made me ask questions that every Australian should be asking. Get curious. Ask questions, share stories appropriately, keep those complex and beautiful cultures as relevant as possible.

How long did it take you to write your first book?

The first draft took me just a few weeks to finish. Then four years to get right!

What was your biggest learning curve?

Mastering all those apps, platforms and marketing tools. I think I created about 20 new accounts in the space of 2 months. All easy to learn, but there were just so many. 

What was the biggest surprise about writing?

How addictive it can be. And embarassing. Yeah, when someone asks how your day has been and you reply with: ‘Stressful! You wouldn’t believe what Noah did last night!’

What is your favourite thing about being a writer?

 Playing out conversations in your head between characters you’ve made up. If only I could control both sides of real life conversations the same way. Life would be much more interesting.

And your least favourite?  

Self-doubt. Happens to everyone. It will make me a better writer though, so it’s necessary. Just keep swimming.

I really enjoyed reading this story through Lainie’s perspective, she cracks me up. Is her character inspired by anyone?

 Not intentionally, but she does have a lot of similarities to my eldest daughter. Also to me, so I’ve been told. It worries me a little, because it’s important to write characters with their own ‘voice’, but what if Lainie has my voice and all future characters I write just end up sounding like me too? Good thing I’m so likeable…

How do you manage to juggle your family, your work, your farm and your writing?

 Badly! I can smell the scent of burning gnocchi as we speak… Or is that simply my secret way of encouraging the kids to start helping out with dinner more often? The truth is, you will always find time for the things you enjoy, and that’s exactly as it should be.

Have your kids read your book? What do they think of it?

 They hounded me for each new chapter of the first draft – four years ago, but apparently the novelty has since worn off. Possibly because this journey has turned them into talented editors. Oh… I’ve ruined reading for them forever! (Sob) So much for my original intention.

The note in the back of Songlines mentions that you are working on the final book of Eden, What’s next?

 That’s easy. I’m hanging out to sink my teeth into a fresh story. First draft of book 1 is done, but remember, it took me years to get Songlines right. Hopefully I’ve learnt enough that it will be a bit quicker now. I hope so, because this post-singularity-time-distortion-romance-adventure needs to be out in the world. Or at least out of my head.

And finally, when can we get our hands on book two?

Release is scheduled for April 2017. First I need my amazing beta-readers to tell me things like ‘wattle trees don’t flower at that time of year’ and ‘myna bird populations haven’t spread that far north yet, pick a different species’. Yeah, I am blessed with some very clever (and patient) helpers.

 

If you have any questions of your own for Carolyn, or if you would like to keep an eye on Carolyn’s progress you can find her at the following places:

 

carolyndenman.com

Facebook: Carolyn J Denman

Twitter: @CDenmanAuthor

Email: carolyn@carolyndenman.com

 songlines-cover

 

Songlines is available in paperback or ebook form and can be purchased from Amazon.    

Jane Austen on Editing

There is a wealth of differing information in the two choices of phrasing. A woman who is mortified suggests and entirely different social situation than a woman who is angry.

It is a truth universally (if somewhat despairingly) acknowledged that a manuscript once written is no more fit for the eyes of a publisher or agent than a manuscript half written. One does not get to hit the send button simply because one has slogged it out until typing The End. The simple (and occasionally depressing) fact is that just because it is written, does not mean that it is finished. There are the edits.

 

What are these edits that everyone talks about with hushed voices and glazed stares? What makes them so daunting and universally loathed? Well, there is of course the structural edit, there might be something more after that, and then there is the line edit, see?

No? I didn’t either.

Since finishing my second draft (an almost complete re-write of the first) I’ve been trawling the internet and doing a bit of poking about in my various writing books to try and discover what is involved in this horrible task of editing that lies ahead of me.

I decided to start with the purpose of the edits. What exactly am I trying to achieve by reading my manuscript over and over and over until I’m heartily sick of the thing? In the introduction to the Wordsworth Classics edition of Jane Austen’s Lady Susan and Other Works Nicholas Seager describes Austen’s revision process as ‘the art of controlling readers’ responses to characters and situations’. He gives some examples of Austen’s edits to show the power of choosing the right words for a given situation. In an excerpt from The Watsons (an unfinished manuscript by Austen) there is a line in which a woman is shown ‘stifling her own angry feelings [mortification]’. There is a wealth of differing information in the two choices of phrasing. A woman who is mortified suggests and entirely different social situation than a woman who is angry. Nicholas Seager makes the point that you can be angered by your inferiors, but not your superiors. Which goes on to change our opinion, not only of the victim, but of the perpetrator as well. To anger someone is different, and perhaps more forgivable than to mortify them.

 

So, I had an aim: to control responses to the characters and situations I had created, but how to go about it exactly? I had lots of little scraps of information about things that needed to be cut from first (or second first) drafts, but the whole thing was still a terribly confusing mass of formless information that was as overwhelming as the edits I was supposed – somehow — to be doing.

 

That was when I stumbled upon a gem of a blog post by Zachery Petit on writersdigest.com called What to Look for When Editing Your Manuscript. In it he details a list of edits (and I mean details) that need to be considered before sending your work off to an agent or publisher. The list is not his own, he got it from the Crime Writer Patricia Gussin, and I am in turn stealing it from him. I won’t give the full details of the list here, for that you should check out the blog post, but I’ll give a brief overview of what is involved. The editing method is called the 5 Reread Program, in which you re-read your manuscript five separate times looking for specific flaws and doing specific edits each time.

Read 1: The content (I think this is what is also known as structural edit. Does your manuscript make sense? What can you cut out of it?)

Read 2: The enhancement (this will be the part where I’ll be cracking out the Thesaurus of Emotions so that my characters can show surprise by more than a lift of their eyebrows every second page)

Read 3: The sentence level (also known as a line edit. Do you really mean that sentence? Do you? Can it be said any better? Agonise over it… and repeat. For Every Sentence. Just like Jane did.)

Read 4: The little things (I have a Margaret who somehow became a Moira by the end of the book — stuff like that)

Read 5: Read out loud (my husband can’t wait for this one, although I suspect it will be my new little baby who will be the privileged recipient of most of this edit.)

 

The original list is much more extensive, there is a beautiful structure to it and I love having a game plan once more, rather the vague aim of ‘making this manuscript better’. I highly recommend checking it out if you’d like to demystify the editing process.

 

Today I started Read 1 in earnest. I have already completed bits and pieces of this one along the way, so I’m hoping it won’t be too painful. My aim is to cut a whole lot of words and iron out some time-line issues that have cropped up along the way. There are also quite a few notes peppered throughout my manuscript to the tune of ‘insert vital-yet-to-be-determined piece of information here’, so hopefully I work those out while I’m at it. I would like to get Read 1 finished by the end of January. Any fingers crossed on my behalf would be very much appreciated!

 

Next week on the blog is my very first Author Interview! I’ll be interviewing Carolyn Denman, the super talented author of Songlines, a YA novel, the first in the Sentinels of Eden series, and a cracking great read. To make sure you don’t miss it, or any of my posts, be sure to subscribe to my blog using the box at the bottom of the home page. If you’d like to get in touch between posts, or take a peek into the world of my writing, reading and mothering, then you can find me most days on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram. Happy New Year everyone, I’ll see you next week!

 

Ancient Secrets of the Written Word

There is a large scale fascination with cryptography and cryptanalysis, and the root of this fascination lies in the fact that codes are secrets and secrets were made to be discovered.

Writing in code is an old art. Apparently human beings have had secrets and intrigue right from the start. There is a large scale fascination with cryptography and cryptanalysis, and the root of this fascination lies in the fact that codes are secrets and secrets were made to be discovered. The breaking of codes, without the help of a computer or a savant has always seemed impossible to me. Like Columbus and his egg, I just can’t comprehend how it can be done until someone shows me the way.

I have always loved codes. In my box of mementos I still have the collections of fabulous substitution ciphers my friends and I devised to send each other our classroom secrets. There is one cipher that is made up of a particularly elaborate system of symbols, and another that looks like the love-child of shorthand and hieroglyphics. The hours we put into devising our codes and encrypting our (not overly exciting) messages!

When we were feeling less artistic or inventive, my friends and I often reverted to the simple alphabet shift ciphers (or Caesar Shifts as I have since learnt they are called). Though these codes still appeared difficult, I could see how, with a bit of perseverance, they could be broken. We just trusted to the fact that, if found, none of our teachers or classmates would invest the required time to crack them. The substitution codes though, with their captivatingly confusing array of dots and lines and squiggles were, we thought, much more sophisticated and impossible to break.

However, in the course of writing my current novel, I’ve done a bit of research on codes, and it would appear that these substitution ciphers are amongst the easiest to crack. The undoing of these codes is down to the Muslim scholars of the Islamic culture golden age (which lasted from about 750CE to the thirteenth century). They realised that letters in any language appear with regular and reliable frequency and so they developed a technique to crack substitution ciphers called Frequency Analysis. This process was explained beautifully in my go-to code resource; Codebreaker: The History of Secret Communication by Stephen Pincock and Mark Frary. I’ve used it as a reference for an earlier blogpost, Chapel of Secrets and as a guide for the secret writings in my novel. Below I’ve summarised the method of breaking a substitution cipher.

Basically, as explained above, there is a certain frequency followed by the English alphabet as to how often each letter will appear in a body of text. E makes the most regular appearance, coming in at 12 percent of all the letters in any given piece of writing, followed by T at 9 percent and A at 8 percent. The expected relative frequencies of the whole English alphabet are shown in the table below.

expected-relative-frequencies-graph

Now, if you have an encrypted piece of text, one which has been encrypted using a substitution cypher, you can make your own record of how often each letter or symbol appears by using a similar chart to the one above. Say for example we have the text (encrypted using www.braingle.com) :

Znoy oy znk vuckx, otjkkj znk cnurk vuotz ul zngz zoxkj urj (haz tkbkxznkrkyy zxak) sgtzxg ‘ynuc jut’z zkrr’. Ol eua igt ynuc payz ktuamn yu zngz euax gajoktik corr lorr ot znk mgvy znksykrbky, znke corr zgqk ut g qotj ul uctkxynov ul euax yzuxe. Euax gajoktik hkiusky otbkyzkj ot g cge zngz qkkvy znks iruyk zu znk yzuxe, grsuyz g vgxz ul oz.

Then the corresponding graph would look like this:

coded-graph

A similar shape to our original expected frequencies graph, only shifted. So, comparing our two graphs, it would seem that the letter K has been substituted for the letter E. Which means that G has been substituted for A, and H for B and so on. And following this through, you get the decrypted cipher (from last week’s blog post) reading:

This is the power, indeed the whole point of that tired old (but nevertheless true) mantra ‘show don’t tell’. If you can show just enough so that your audience will fill in the gaps themselves, they will take on a kind of ownership of your story. Your audience becomes invested in a way that keeps them close to the story, almost a part of it.

So there you have it, quite simple once you know how, isn’t it? Of course, this technique only works for monoalphabetic cyphers, which are cyphers that use a single substitution for each letter of the alphabet. Polyalphabetic cyphers, in which each letter of the alphabet can be represented by a number of different letters, numerals or symbols, are a different story. I’ll tell you more about them some other day.

In case you’re itching to have a go at this, I’ll leave you with this coded piece of text from one of my favourite authors. Let me know the name of the author in the comments below if you manage to break it (but leave the text a secret so that everyone can enjoy the fun). NB: I’ve taken out all the punctuation for this piece to make it more realistic.

ro cdyzzon k zkccsxq qekbn led nsnxd nkbo woxdsyx zvkdpybw xsxo kxn drboo aekbdobc dro qekbn rkn xofob rokbn yp ryqgkbdc kxn grox rkbbi myevnxd ofox dovv rsw grsmr zkbd yp dro myexdbi sd gkc sx ro cdkbdon dy qod kxxyion kc dryeqr rkbbi gkc losxq cdezsn yx zebzyco

If you’d like a peek into the world of my writing, reading and mothering, you can find me most days on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram. Until then, I’ll see you next week, happy cryptanalysis!

The Loneliest Bride in Paris

The decision they have made that what they build together in love will be more than what they could do apart. I love those stolen, tender moments.

There is a black and white photograph of a tired Parisian street in 1963. The day looks to be just beginning, empty chairs are clustered outside a café where the curtains are still drawn, mobile kerbside market stalls have their wares under cover and shutters are still closed on the apartments above the stores.

In the centre of the photo is a bride striding across the street, the sole person in the frame. Her head bent, a bouquet grasped tightly in one gloved hand, she is wearing a lace gown with three quarter length sleeves, the ballerina style skirt ending at the knee, showing off her thin calves and white pointed stilettos. She wears a communion length veil that has a fine detail picked out along the edge and her dark hair is piled on top of her head. She is completely alone.

Her lack of attendants and family and fuss is exacerbated by the slightly shabby feel of the street. Uneven awnings hang limply over one of the street stalls, another has someone’s forgotten coat and a page from a newspaper littering the top of it. One of the stalls is a hand cart, another appears to be on the back of a small truck and the third is simply a few boards sat atop some upturned crates.

The bride walks with great determination, the photographer (xx) has caught her mid stride, the moment that both her feet clear the ground. She has about her the air of someone very much set on where she is going, a woman with a job to do.

This is not your typical romantic bridal shot, no bridesmaids, no glossy car, no softly lit church, and no adoring groom. But then perhaps the solitary bride, making her way unattended through the unkempt streets of Paris in the early morning to her wedding is the most romantic figure of all. Perhaps she is marrying despite the lack of support of her friends and family because she truly loves this man, and she can’t afford to wait any more on the convenience of others.

What I love about this photo is the absolute certainty of the bride. The early sixties were still a relatively conservative period, Woodstock was still six years away from the time of this photo, and women bucking social trends was not the norm. This woman is in charge of her destiny, and she is off to meet her groom, with or without anyone’s blessing.

misty-forest

There is a certain romance to this shot too. My favourite movie wedding scene is the one from Braveheart where William Wallace and his bride meet in a forest clearing in the middle of the night with only a priest to witness their marriage. It is a beautifully poignant and romantic moment. That these two people have decided to marry, despite the danger that doing so will put them in, means that for those few hours in the forest all that matters is the promises they make to each other. The decision they have made that what they build together in love will be more than what they could do apart. I love those stolen, tender moments.

What do you think about this bride? Is she off to a happy marriage, a prosperous future, a life of love? Or is her decision to go her wedding alone a portent of a lonely life? Let me know in the comments below, and if you’d like a peek into the world of my writing, reading and mothering, you can find me on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram. Until then, I’ll see you in a week!