Posts in YA Fiction

New Oz writing: for the Santa sack

Each year, I go to the bookstore during the Christmas rush and get overwhelmed. Then I head for the first table I see and buy the same names I did last year as gifts. But Tim Winton, Alex Miller, Bill Bryson, Jamie Oliver don’t need me any more.

I asked some Oz writers about their favourite Oz reads from the past year. It was an impressive list. I’d like to share it with you, in the hope you’ll share it widely too. All these women writers have achieved remarkable things: to get published in the first place (it’s never been tougher); and to support each other and gain inspiration from reading other women’s work.

I’d love to hear if you’ve read these books. If you’ve written reviews of them, or interviewed the authors, I’d be happy to feature your words on the Wild Colonial Girl blog. I’m time-strapped (with the PhD reading and writing) but I’m hoping to get to some of them too…

 

Kirsten Krauth's list of top Oz writing 2015

Every holiday was father’s day: writing fathers + daughters at Clunes Booktown

At Clunes Booktown, I shared the stage with my dad for the first time (at my first festival) and we talked about writing fathers, writing daughters, creating unique voices (we both feature 14-year-old girls in our work), what our characters share, how we translate family stories into fiction, and whether our memories ever come at things from the same angle. It was a very moving session for both of us (perhaps more than the audience realised), a sharing of ideas, sad moments, and joys too.

Here are the edited highlights (thanks to Damon Girbon for the video and editing):

Dad (Nigel Krauth) is a writer who’s had many novels published, both for adults and YA audiences. He wrote a play Muse of Fire that was performed by the Adelaide Theatre Company and directed by Keith Gallasch (now the editor of RealTime, where I worked for many years). His first book, Matilda My Darling, won the Vogel Award, and since then his novels have gone on to win a number of awards, including the NSW Premier’s Award for JF Was Here.

Although my parents separated when I was young, I spent school hols with dad. Sleeping in his study, I saw the hard work involved in bringing fiction to life. I had no romantic ideals about being a writer. I thought it involved hard yakka, building words like bricks. My dad often seemed in a state of distraction or excitement about a breakthrough. I never really thought I would be a fiction writer, not until I was in my mid 30s and struggling with the world. A friend pointed out that I needed a creative project to survive it all. And she was right. I’m not sure dad was ever too keen on me being a writer. Perhaps one in the family is enough. Perhaps it came as a bit of a shock.

Sin Can Can: I’ve been to Bali too

SinCanCanCoverDad’s first YA book, Sin Can Can, was released when I was 14 and it was basically about me. My picture is on the front cover (have I changed that much?) riding on the back of a motorbike. Inside is a dedication to me. I was both thrilled and rolling my eyes when it was released. Dad came to boarding school (I got a scholarship, ok) and read it out to my class. I sat in the back with my head on the desk, proud and cringing at the same time. But  it was so funny and had that perfect Dolly pitch of the time. The voice is fresh, direct and dynamic, bringing to life many of my passions. I was obsessed with music, and boys of course. I loved junk food. I went to boarding school in Years 7 and 8. I found boarding school tough. A private person, I hated the open dorms where you had to sleep, the locks that didn’t work on the showers, the continual noise so I couldn’t read a book — and the rules, those bloody rules (having to wear a skirt to dinner, having to serve the older girls at dinner time). But the book reminds me of the good times and the lingo: tinned tomatoes known as ‘abortions’, the gardener who we all drooled over in his khaki shorts, the Alpines we pretended to smoke.

When research goes awry

The sequel to Sin Can Can was called I Thought You Kissed with Your Lips. It was banned in Queensland for its very erotic description of putting a condom on a cucumber. I think it was a cucumber. You don’t want teenagers learning how to put a condom on. No. Dad likes to do intense research. He’s almost like a method actor. He likes to go on location. Take on a role. Me? Not so much. I’m more into psychological studies. I begin by getting inside someone’s head. And the drama comes from there.

Nigel Krauth, serious writer shot
Nigel Krauth, serious writer shot

But one thing our books share is location; as writers (and characters) we are drawn to Surfers Paradise. It’s the contradictions that fascinate us both, and contradictions are what teenagers are all about. .

When I was researching just_a_girl, I found out more about teenage girls by listening and observing when they didn’t know it, rather than asking directly. When I was a teenager, even with liberal parents, even though I knew I wouldn’t get in trouble, I still didn’t share much. I was pretty sensible. I was the one cleaning up the vomit rather than the one paralytic. I was too hellbent on control to take drugs. I didn’t like inhaling so smoking and marijuana weren’t really my thing. I didn’t like the idea of snorting up my nose so coke was out. And injections? Not a chance in hell. Now I wonder how I can raise my kids to be like that? To be independent yet safe? But I have to admit defeat. I know I can’t really guarantee it. And it scares me. But I pretend to myself that I can find out what they’re doing on their iPads. Or whatever they’re using in ten years’ time.

There’s a fraction too much friction

Having a writer around, family members and friends need to be careful. When I was growing up, everything was ‘grist for the mill’. I knew that, but I still didn’t always welcome it. All writers collect material from everywhere, waiting for the right moment to add it to the mix – or the moment waits for us, which is how it seems to work for me. Dad is more cavalier about using other people’s stories in his own work, seeking to camouflage it in some way. When I use a story relayed by someone else, I tend to ask permission and show them the text; I feel more comfortable.

You can’t handle the truth!

just_a_girl by Kirsten KrauthOften people ask you which parts of the book are based on the truth. While this is a complex question that would take a PhD to answer, there are parts of just_a_girl where I have translated almost word for word something a family member or friend has told me. Often these are conversations I didn’t want to hear at the time, for example, my dad telling me about having a trip on hash, and wanting to strangle me when I was a baby (watch the clip).

When I was in my 20s, Dad contributed to a collection called Daughters and Fathers (edited by Carmel Bird), an essay, nonfiction. I had been happy to hide behind the disguise of fiction, but seeing myself represented in nonfiction was completely different. This felt like an expose. I was glad, this time, that dad sent me the final essay for approval before publication. Because there were things in the original that I didn’t want the world to know. As it is, it’s still pretty brutal. But through all his work I now see Dad’s drive for connection with me, his daughter. It was made clear to me at Clunes, but it’s something that I couldn’t see before.

But still, there are things I have always kept hidden from Dad, knowing he might use it one day. Perhaps Layla emerged out of that secretive side, exposing the darkness of teen life.

Fathers and daughters: shared meanings

My favourite part of the Clunes session was where Dad and I selected parts of each other’s work to read, that had transported us, represented us, made us laugh or cry.

Dad was brave for selecting the most emotional scene for him in just_a_girl, the case of the missing kittens. While I took a safer route in Sin Can Can, enjoying the comic yearnings of a teen desperate to escape her hippie parents.

And, finally, we agreed on many things throughout the conversation that surfaced at random: how writing comes from and through the body; how our work teases at power, politics and sexuality; and how choosing the right name for our characters is fundamental to getting our work going.

 

Friday Night Fictions: November 2013

Howdy again, and hope you enjoy the final edition of FRIDAY NIGHT FICTIONS for the year*. This NOVEMBER issue, we’ve got high-pumping action, a fair smattering of YA, short stories galore and literary fiction to blow your mind. I love the mix that comes in each month…

I also did a recent debut author profile of Mr September, Michael Adams, about his genre-bending novel, The Last Girl (that slips between YA and lit fiction). Coming up soon is Tracy Farr  (whose Life and Loves of Lena Gaunt featured in the OCTOBER edition).

AND my pick of the month this time is Laura Jean McKay’s Holiday in Cambodia. I’ve heard great things about this debut, and it continues a Cambodia thread that I seem to be following… I look forward to talking to Laura Jean and finding out more about her book.

I’m really excited to hear what all the FRIDAY NIGHT FICTIONS authors have been up to. Many are getting coverage on blogs and in mainstream newspapers. A big thanks to the writers who have started commenting on, and writing about, other writers’ work. I’ll be posting reviews and comments as they come in.

Sharon Kernot has done a wonderful review of Margaret Merrilees’ The First Week (see the Reviews section at the bottom of the OCTOBER edition). Even now, with a few reviews under my belt, I know how exciting it is to see someone engage in a meaningful way with the book (and finding out another writer’s views can be especially stimulating!).

If you’re new to FRIDAY NIGHT FICTIONS, you can find out more here, read the AUGUST, SEPTEMBER and OCTOBER editions + read my author profile of Nina Smith (Hailstone).

If you’re a debut author who’s been published in 2013 (or 2014 as it comes), and would like to contribute, read the guidelines and contact me.

*FNF will take a few months’ break (I’m hoping to spend a bit more time offline) but will be back at the end of February. Have a great Christmas and New Year, relax, read, and write (if that’s what you’re planning)…

SCOTT BAKER, The Rule of Knowledge

Scott Baker, The Rule O fKnowledge Faith, history, science and love collide in this fast-paced action adventure. High school teacher Shaun Strickland is shocked when he receives a last-minute invitation from Cambridge University to deliver a paper on the relationship between space and time, something he has been studying for years. It’s the break he’s been longing for.

But as he speeds through the cold Carolina night, his car slams hard into something surging from the bushes; an old and tattered hobo, carrying an ancient package whose mystery is irresistible. But there is something else, a book, sealed airtight for millennia, written in modern English, and predicting the exact moment it will be found.

Relentlessly pursued, Shaun must immerse himself in an ancient world to uncover something bigger than he could have possibly imagined.

What he finds is that much more than his own fate is at stake…

‘Indiana Jones’ meets ‘Back to the Future.’

In stores now. Buy the book online.

KASPER BEAUMONT, Elven Jewel

Kasper Beaumont, Elven JewelThis sword and sorcery fantasy begins when the magical continent of Reloria is threatened by cruel, scaly invaders called Vergai from the wastelands of Vergash. These invaders are barbaric and are intent on destroying the protective elven forcefield and conquering peaceful Reloria.

Halfling friends Randir and Fendi and their bond-fairies are the first to discover the invaders and they embark on a quest to save the threatened Elven Jewel.

They leave their peaceful farm village with their fairies and race against time to stop the invaders. They join forces with dwarves, elves, men and a mysterious dragon, and call themselves the Hunters of Reloria.

The quest is perilous, with numerous encounters with the ruthless Vergai. The Elven Jewel is stolen and the quest becomes a race to the portal to retrieve the jewel before it can be taken to Vergash.

Online extract and YouTube clip.

Buy the book at Smashwords, Amazon.com and Writersweb.com.au.

FELICITY CASTAGNA, The Incredible Here and Now

Felicity Castagna, The Incredible Here And NowSomething terrible happens the summer Michael turns 15.

But The Incredible Here and Now is not about tragedy. It is about his place, the West, where ‘those who don’t know any better drive through the neighbourhood and lock their car doors’.

But Michael knows it intimately and lets the reader in: to the unsettled life of his family, the friends who gather in the McDonald’s car park at night, the one girl who will acknowledge he’s alive, the white Pontiac Trans Am that lights up his life like an omen.

It is here that he finds an escape from his mother’s growing silence and the absence of his brother Dom, who could charm the whole world with his energy and daring.

Michael’s stories are about love and joy and wonder, felt in the company of friends, and in the place he lives in.

Read an extract from the text.

Buy the book.

Meet Felicity at her website and on Twitter.

ELIZA CREWE, Cracked

Eliza Crewe, CrackedAt 17, Meda Melange is already an experienced serial killer. It’s not her fault, she doesn’t do it because she likes it (though she does). Meda eats souls, and there’s really only one place to get them — and it’s not the Piggly Wiggly. Then Meda learns she’s not the only soul-eater, she’s part demon, and the other demons are out to get her.

Fortunately, Meda finds the perfect place to hide — in a school for demon-hunters. The modern Knights Templar are dedicated to fighting demons and protecting Beacons, people marked by God as good for mankind. Because the demons are determined to kill her, the Templars are convinced Meda is a Beacon trying to fulfill her destiny.

Meda’s goals are far less saintly. She just wants to find out why the demons are out to get her and, well, that’s easier to do with back-up — even if her back-up would kill her if they knew the truth.

Meet Eliza at her Website + Twitter.

Buy the book:
Worldwide (except India): The Robot Reader (E-book).
AU: Booktopia + Readings.
UK: Amazon + Book Depository  + Waterstones.
US: Amazon  + Barnes and Noble + Indiebound + Powell’s.
Canada: Amazon + Chapters + Kobo.

LESLEY DIMMOCK, Out of Time

Lesley Dimmock, Out Of TimeLife is about to get really complicated for Lindsay ap Rhys ap Gruffud as Queen Elizabeth the First lands in her garden.

Not only does Lindsay have to try and find a way to get Elizabeth back to her own time …

… but she also needs to avoid the thing she dreads most — falling in love — as Lindsay’s best mate, Meg, enlists librarian, Kate Spencer on the quest to send Elizabeth home before a sixteenth century plot to seize the throne can succeed.

Time is running out … for Elizabeth I and Lindsay ap Rhys ap Gruffud

Read an excerpt.

Buy the ebook at Amazon,  iTunes and Lulu.

Meet Lesley on Facebook  and Twitter, and at her blog.

NICOLE HAYES, The Whole of My World

Nicole Hayes, The Whole Of My WorldDesperate to escape her grieving father and harbouring her own terrible secret, Shelley disappears into the intoxicating world of Aussie Rules football. Joining a motley crew of footy tragics — and, best of all, making friends with one of the star players — Shelley finds somewhere to belong. Finally she’s winning.

So why don’t her friends get it? Josh, who she’s known all her life, but who she can barely look at anymore because of the memories of that fateful day. Tara, whose cold silences Shelley can’t understand. Everyone thinks there’s something more going on between Shelley and Mick. But there isn’t — is there?

When the whole of your world is football, sometimes life gets lost between goals.

“A poignant coming-of-age tale with a fresh, original angle. No matter what your feelings are about AFL, this novel is bound to have you cheering by the end.” – Junior Books + Publisher

Buy the book at bookshops, at Random House, Booktopia and Bookworld, as an e-book at all the major outlets in Australia, and in the USA and the UK, where you can also buy the paperback.

Read the first chapter here. Find Teachers’ Notes at the Random House Website and an interview at Hypable.

Like The Whole of My World on Facebook and visit Nicole’s website for more information. Or follow her on Twitter @nichmelbourne.

AMANDA HICKIE, AfterZoe

Amanda Hickie, AfterZoeZoe’s not completely happy with the way her life has turned out but she’s even less impressed with her death.

She is blindsided by an afterlife of perpetual contentment arranged by paternalistic angels. Most of heaven’s population enjoy their eternity with the aid of an elixir which ensures they forget their loved ones, but Zoe doesn’t want to forget.

She joins an underground resistance group and starts to explore the might-have-beens with an old lover.

Zoe’s insistence on her right to absolute memory becomes more complex when her husband shows up.

This alternative heaven explores the nature of relationships, the possibility of identity without memory and what it would take to be happy for eternity.

The book is available in paperback and on Kindle, Smashwords, Kobo, iBooks and others.

Find out more and read an extract here.

JANIS HILL, Bonnie’s Story: A Blonde’s Guide to Mathematics

Bonnies StoryA Young Adult/New Adult chick lit tale told by Bonnie, a smart self-imposed blonde hairdresser with an attitude and cynical outlook on the life of science she grew up in.

The first time I met Rogan, he was wandering down my street taking pictures of the street signs with his phone.

His name wasn’t really Rogan, it was Josh, but due to the crowd he hung around with and the quirky sense of humour science geek types have, he’d become Rogan Josh. Rogan for short.

Still, this wasn’t something I learned until a lot later.

Since meeting him, I’ve not just learnt this little soliloquy; I’ve visited the Moon, watched life begin, and discovered the true depth of mathematics. I can tell you now; maths really isn’t as boring as you’d have thought.

Click here to read the full sample and for details on how to purchase the book.

HEATHER KINNANE, A Faery Dream

Heather Kinnane, A Faery DreamEver had a dream you wished would come true?

Melissa is blessed, or cursed as she most often feels is the case, with the ability to dream true; an ability she knows was passed down from the mother she never met.

Now in her 30s, and plodding along in her failing relationship with Tom, Melissa is having dreams she wishes were prophetic.

Tall, strong and sexy Kellen lives in the forest, clad usually in nothing but a loin cloth. Though he makes her heart flutter, and is the man of her dreams in more ways than one, Melissa knows this dream is too far from reality to ever come true.

So when Kellen does turn up in Melissa’s life, with secrets from her past and plans for her future, can Melissa trust that this dream isn’t too good to be true?

Buy the book.

Read an excerpt.

KIRSTEN KRAUTH, just_a_girl

Kirsten Krauth, just_a_girlLayla is only 14. She cruises online. She catches trains to meet strangers. Her mother, Margot, never suspects. Even when Layla brings a man into their home.

Margot’s caught in her own web: an evangelical church and a charismatic pastor. Meanwhile, downtown, a man opens a suitcase and tenderly places his young lover inside.

just_a_girl tears into the fabric of contemporary culture, a Puberty Blues for the digital age, a Lolita with a webcam, it’s what happens when young girls are forced to grow up too fast. Or never get the chance to grow up at all.

““Krauth’s debut is alive with ideas about isolation and connection in the digital age, particularly the way the internet raises the stakes of teenage rebellion.” – Jo Case, The Australian

“It’s about porn/love, isolation/connection, sexualisation/justification, misogyny/mentality, Facebook and the face-to-face. It’s about our world, right now, and it’s a little bit brilliant.” – Danielle Binks, ALPHA READER.

Read an extractBook Club Notes are available.

Buy the printed version at ReadingsBooktopia or Amazon. The ebook is available at Amazon.com.au and iBooks.

International readers please contact me direct…

See reviews of just_a_girl here.

Contact Kirsten at Goodreads, her blog (Wild Colonial Girl), Facebook and Twitter. You can see her read from her work at the Sydney book launch, along with Emily Maguire (who introduced it).

LAURA JEAN McKAY, Holiday in Cambodia

Laura Jean McKay, Holiday In CambodiaBeyond the killing fields and the temples of Angkor is Cambodia: a country with a genocidal past and a wide, open smile. A frontier land where anything is possible — at least for the tourists.

In Holiday in Cambodia Laura Jean McKay explores the electric zone where local and foreign lives meet. There are tender, funny moments of tentative understanding, as well as devastating re-imaginings of a troubled history.

Three backpackers board a train, ignoring the danger signs — and find themselves in the hands of the Khmer Rouge.

Elderly sisters are visited by their vampire niece from Australia and set out to cure her.

A singer creates a sensation in swinging 1969, on the eve of an American bombing campaign.

These are bold and haunting stories by a remarkable new talent.

“Polished, Hemingwayesque snapshots, vivid and atmospheric” – Steven Carroll

“Subtly encompassing — these unostentatiously wrought stories look at the residual effects on their characters of the low, persistent fallout of catastrophe.” – James Tierney, The Australian

Buy the book.

Read an extract.

Read reviews in The AustralianCrikey and Artshub.

GERALDINE MEADE, Flick

Geraldine Meade, FlickFelicity Costello, aka Flick, is like any other 16-year-old — except for one difference. A difference she doesn’t want anyone to know about. A difference she hardly admits to herself.

Flick tells the story of a girl struggling with the secret of her sexuality and who goes to great lengths to hide the fact that she’s a lesbian.

In her efforts to conform to what she and her peers think is ‘normal’ Flick’s life spirals out of control until she sees no escape.

Will Flick succumb to the darkness? Or will she find the courage to realise that you can’t help who you fall in love with?

“Flick is the sort of book I wish I could have read in my teens. It never talks down to the reader but still manages to shine a light on some of the darkest and most confusing moments of becoming an adult.” – Graham Norton

Shortlisted for The Reading Association of Ireland’s Children’s Book Awards 2013.

Read an extract of Flick.

Order Flick here.

Buy e-book or paperback here too!

Follow Ger on Twitter or on Facebook.

Meet Ger at her website.

SKYE MELKI-WEGNER, Chasing the Valley

Chasing The ValleyEscape is impossible. Escape is their only hope.

Danika is used to struggling for survival. But when the tyrannous king launches an attack to punish her city — echoing the alchemy bombs that killed Danika’s family — she risks her life in a daring escape over the city’s walls.

Danika joins a crew of desperate refugees who seek Magnetic Valley, a legendary safe haven. But when she accidentally destroys a palace biplane, suddenly Danika Glynn becomes the most wanted fugitive in Taladia.

Pursued by the king’s vicious hunters and betrayed by false allies, Danika also grapples with her burgeoning magical abilities. And when she meets the mysterious Lukas, she must balance her feelings against her crew’s safety.

Chasing the Valley is the first book in an epic trilogy of magic, treachery and survival.

Buy the book at Random House.

Read an extract.

Watch the book trailer.

Get in touch with Skye at her website, Twitter and Facebook.

ANGELA MEYER (editor) AND WRITERS, The Great Unknown

The Great UnknownThe imaginative stories in The Great Unknown take inspiration from vintage American TV programs such as The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits — and their contemporaries and successors — paying tribute to the cultural influence these shows have had on lives ‘down under’.

Episodes of these programs were often metaphors for equality, justice, the nuclear threat and other issues, while being memorably spooky and fun.

Editor Angela Meyer wanted to see what themes might seep into the writing of contemporary Australian writers working with the spooky, the strange, the eerie, the fantastic, the speculative, the macabre and the absurd.

Authors include Paddy O’Reilly, Ali Alizadeh, Chris Flynn, Carmel Bird, Ryan O’Neill, Marion Halligan, Krissy Kneen, AS Patric, Damon Young, Chris Somerville, PM Newton, Deborah Biancotti and Kathy Charles, and the winner of the Carmel Bird Short Fiction Award, Alex Cothren (with his first ever published story).

Find out more about the book at Goodreads and Facebook.

Available in December (and on pre-order) from Readings, Booktopia and Fishpond.

FELICITY VOLK, Lightning

Felicity Volk, LightningAmid the chaos of sweeping bushfires, Persia gives birth alone at home with tragic consequences. Traumatised and grieving, she travels north, and encounters Ahmed, a refugee fleeing deportation and his past in Pakistan.

So begins a road trip to the dead heart of Australia, a journey that transcends the limits of ordinary experience. In Persia and Ahmed’s world, ancient winds wreak havoc across generations, lightning ignites flames that both destroy and rejuvenate, and water drowns then delivers. Hearts break, days are leavened with loss, laughter kills and cinnamon preserves.

Lightning is an odyssey across continents and centuries that explores identity and connection, and our yearning to reveal ourselves even when cloaked in crippling grief.

A moving meditation on finding hope in the rubble of our lives, Lightning celebrates the way our stories and their telling keep us alive when all else is pulling us under.

Lightning can be found at most book retailers including Pan Macmillan, Booktopia, Bookworld and Amazon.

Read an extract.

Meet Felicity at her website and Facebook.

For reviews of Lightning see her website and, specifically, in The Weekend Australian. Read the story behind Lightning.

Debut author profile: Michael Adams

Michael Adams, star of FRIDAY NIGHT FICTIONS, and author
Michael Adams, star of FRIDAY NIGHT FICTIONS, and author of The Last Girl

I must confess I didn’t know too much about YA until quite recently. I always had in my head that it was a closed genre, featuring vampires and werewolves and girls with ballgowns and insipid romance. But everyone makes mistakes. Reading more widely this year — and the YA community’s quick embrace of just_a_girl led me down this path — I realised that it’s an enormously diverse market with exactly the kind of narratives that excite me, a genre often caught in between the adult and teen worlds.

I’m always a sucker for coming-of-age-girl-as-outsider-awkward-moments-until-she-realises-everybody-is-like-that narratives. Blame the 80s and Molly Ringwald. When I was an adolescent, the idea of books for teens was just gaining ground. I devoured SE Hinton, Paul Zindel, Judy Blume, Robert Cormier. These writers tackled dark subjects, spoke of sex and drugs and religion (and all those things I’m still writing about), and empowered teens to fight for themselves.

Michael Adams’ The Last Girl is a strong addition to the genre, that also fights to be let out into literary fiction. Highlighted in the September edition of FRIDAY NIGHT FICTIONS, it demands close reading. While lead girl Danby confronts an apocalyptic vision of Sydney, where most of the inhabitants can read each other’s minds, it’s also about communities separated by high-density living, soaring property prices, environmental catastrophe, the legacy of stealing someone else’s land, and addiction to personal-technologies.

Michael knows how to cram in big ideas. His background as a film critic (editor for Empire — where he employed me to write on Bergman [bliss]  — and even appearing on The Movie Show on SBS) serves him well here. The fiction is full of pop-culture references, sly humour, out-of-the-blue violence, and challenges to narrative conventions.

Danby is a memorable figure through the death and destruction around her, intuitive, strong, countering expectations to be led astray by wayward boys, dealing with challenges effectively with humour and courage. I’d like to meet her one day. Let’s hope she makes it to the end of the trilogy (The Last Girl is the first in a series). Knowing Michael, this isn’t entirely certain.

Here I talk to him about Stephen King, Sydney and the Blue Mountains on fire, and heroines that break free of conventions…

Do you remember the moment when you decided you wanted to be a writer?

Not the precise moment but it goes back as far as I can remember. As a six-year-old I’d write and illustrate little stapled books about soldiers and sharks and dinosaurs — sometimes all in the same story. By the time I was in my early teens I was trying to write novels. Then I got into journalism and creative writing took a backseat. It wasn’t until I’d tried my hand at screenwriting and non-fiction that I finally, finally, achieved the goal I’d set for myself when I was about 13. Oddly — or maybe not oddly — The Last Girl contains echoes of those adolescent efforts.

Michael Adams, The Last GirlWhat inspired you?

The Last Girl came as a bit of a flash — at least in concept. In 2008 I was in New York and at dinner at a restaurant with my partner. We were having a great time talking to another couple who’d survived Hurricane Katrina. But at another table there was a couple who didn’t say a word to each other all night. At some point I wondered: what if they could read each other’s thoughts, hear everything that wasn’t being said. Then I wondered what it’d be like if the phenomenon spiralled out to encompass the city, the country, the world.

My book and yours share some common themes: teenage girls on the edge; a narrative that swings between Sydney and the Blue Mountains (on the train tracks); the questioning of digital cultures and their effects on psychology and relationships. Why did you decide to pursue these ideas in a YA novel?

Initially I thought I was writing an adult book about a young adult character. It wasn’t until I’d sent the book to Allen & Unwin that it was explained it was a YA. The definition was that YA focuses on young characters who have to make their own decisions in the absence of adult authority. That pretty much summed up Danby’s situation in The Last Girl. But I’m not sure about the YA label because it wasn’t used to describe similar books when I was growing up. The Catcher In The Rye and Lord Of The Flies spring to mind. Back then they were literature — now they’re YA. And then there’s the US statistic that says 84 per cent of YA is purchased by people over 18. I guess what’s important is that it’s a good story well told and in a voice authentic to the age of the character.

You’ve written extensively on film (as a reviewer and non-fiction writer). To what extent did cinema, and in particular B-grade films, influence your narrative?

I wanted the story to grab readers by the throat, take them to a cliffhanger and then tease them with backstory that’d become important throughout the trilogy before plunging back into an ever-escalating series of disasters for poor Danby. But I wanted to throw her and readers constant curveballs so it’d be difficult to predict where the story was heading. So the movies I kinda had in mind were those that’ve had that effect on me: Se7en, Fight Club, Zodiac, Psycho, The Usual Suspects, Night Of The Living Dead are a few that spring to mind. I also put as much black humour into the book as possible and in that the touchstones are films like Dr Strangelove, Bride Of Frankenstein and Repo Man.

Breaking Bad
The biggest influence on The Last Girl? Breaking Bad…

But the biggest influence wasn’t film — it was Breaking Bad. I watched the entire series twice and really tried to understand how Vince Gilligan created an emotionally charged character-driven suspense thriller that was so dense, complex and funny — while also layering in all of his narrative callbacks, in-jokes and Easter Eggs. There’s a lot of that kind of thinking in The Last Girl. Seemingly throwaway details become pivotal to survival. References to pop culture echo the themes. There’s a reason Danby’s dad orders a plate of shrimp and a Miller. Google it and you’ll see why.

The Last Girl is the first in a series. Did the publisher commission a number of books at once? How hard is it as a writer to plan out a series?

Yes, A&U bought the trilogy. By that stage I had a solid first draft of The Last Girl and about 20,000 words of the sequel. Now book two, The Last Shot, is at the final proofreading stages and I’ve got three months to finish the first draft of The Last Place, which will wrap things up. When I started The Last Girl, I was pretty much making it up as I went along. The ending I eventually decided on and worked towards would’ve left a lot unresolved. I wanted to know what came next. The fun — and tough — thing is to ensure continuity while you juggle drafts. But I’ve really enjoyed playing with the world — or end of the world — and seeing how the puzzle pieces actually do fit together. Mostly it’s been an organic process. But I’ve also worked to ensure the books don’t repeat scenes or scenarios. I hate sequels that’re just a reheat.  So I see the series as one story, which also means that I need the end of book three to be bigger and more powerful than what’s come before. I want it to be my Toy Story 3 and not The Godfather Part III.

Your novel is playful and toys with genre conventions: the romantic lead; the heroine as victim/survivor; futuristic horror; the quest. Was this always something you had in mind when you started writing, or did it evolve as you went? How did this go when you were trying to get the book published? Was there pressure to make it one thing or another?

There was a lot I didn’t want my book to be. Passive heroine? Fuck that. Instant love between characters? No thanks. Scared suburban types who suddenly become fearless warriors? Uh-uh. I hate reading or watching stories in which you spend your time shaking your head at bad character decisions and/or illogical scenarios. So as much as possible I wanted Danby’s nightmare to feel real, to be blow-by-blow. Yay, she’s made it to the car! But can she drive? Can you feasibly escape a burning city on clogged roads? And if not, then what? I wanted characters who haven’t got all the answers. I tried to imagine myself in her shoes and in doing that painted Danby into some seemingly inescapable corners. A few of these took months to figure out. And that meant walking the actual locations until the “A-ha!” moment struck. Writing like that intrinsically bends genre expectations because we’re so often fed the same-old people and situations. Tough guys walk in slow-motion from the explosion without looking around? Stupid. How about sensibly shit-scared guys run but one can’t help looking back and gets flash-blinded while another’s cut in half by shrapnel and they all end up concussed by the shock wave that shatters every window for five blocks? By doing the latter you’re being logical and realistic but it’s also bleakly funny and subversive because it’s not what we’re used to seeing. As for how A&U reacted, they were brilliant. I was never asked to make it anything other than what I’d envisaged. The cuts and changes suggested were more to do with me overwriting, paying too much attention to secondary scenes or wandering away from the character voice.

You live in the Blue Mountains (I used to as well). Your book deals with catastrophic events, including, it seems, a whole city and mountain on fire. How did it feel when the recent Springwood fires were happening (after the book had been published)? Did it feel like life imitating art in some hellish way?

It was freaky because a few scenes, particularly smoke blanketing Parramatta and Silverwater, were exactly as I’d imagined them. I got a few messages from people saying, “Whoa, dude, that’s spooky.” But we were too busy packing up our and getting out of Katoomba to think about it too much. I did get asked by a big newspaper if I’d comment on the book’s similarities to the events but I declined because I thought it disrespectful to trivialise an ongoing situation threatening people’s lives and homes. Writer turns down publicity: film at 11!

Is there a writer community in the Blue Mountains? Can you survive being a writer up there, or do you still commute to Sydney for a day job?

There are a lot of writers in the Blue Mountains but I work a day job in Sydney so I haven’t had much time to explore the community. Couldn’t even go to the SFF events they had last year. Sad face. But the dream is to do exactly that: hang out up there and write. But for the foreseeable future I’ll be commuting to the office gig — and freelancing my butt off to supplement those wages. It’s all freaking glamour, me tells ya.

What is the most important thing you’ve learned in the process of writing your first novel, that you wish you knew at the beginning?

I guess it’s something you learn and re-learn every time you pick up a pen or sit at the keyboard: you’ll think your first jottings are amazing and you’ll be so very wrong. But they’re a start. And the next draft will be better …  and then the next …  and the next …  and so on. But what’s equally important is to be ruthless, murder darlings in the nest before you get too attached. The first submitted draft ran to 111,000. The final book’s about 87,000. The 25,000 words or so that were cut were words I’d spent a long time writing and polishing. There was a lot in there that didn’t need to be but I was too close to it. By contrast, the first draft of The Last Shot was 80,000 — and it’s ended up at 93,000. So maybe I swung too far the other way. Perhaps the third book will be just right — but I doubt it!

Dead Zone
Michael’s favourite book as a teen

What were your favourite books to read when you were a teenager?

I am indebted to Stephen King. I loved that supernatural events were happening in our very ordinary world and to ordinary people. The Stand and The Dead Zone were hugely influential. Later, at school, we did Lord Of The Flies, The Loved One, Nineteen Eighty Four, Shakespeare: and I loved all of them too. So a mixture of the high and lowbrow — but, like YA, I’m never sure exactly where the border lies.

Of course, the book screams film rights. If you could choose anyone (director, actors) to adapt and star in your film, who would they be?

David Fincher [Fight Club, Panic Room, Zodiac, The Social Network]. I love his obsessive attention to detail, the mood he creates. As for actors, I’m going home-grown. Eva Lazzaro as Danby. She’s the right age, she looks the part and she’s really talented. I thought she was the best thing about Tangle. Alex Russell as Jack. He was funny and charismatic in Chronicle and he had an edge to him. Nathan’s young and from Sri Lankan parents. I wonder if cricketer Ashton Agar can act?

Michael Adams’ The Last Girl was featured as part of FRIDAY NIGHT FICTIONS for September. You might also like to read an interview with August’s debut author, Nina Smith and YA author of Girl Defective, Simmone Howell.

WHAT ABOUT YOU? WHO ARE YOUR FAVOURITE YA AUTHORS? IS IT TRICKY TO DEFINE YA? OR HAVE YOU READ MICHAEL’S BOOK YET? LET US KNOW WHAT YOU THINK!

Friday Night Fictions: October 2013

Howdy, and welcome to the third soiree for FRIDAY NIGHT FICTIONS*.

It’s a strong contingent this month. Each time I do this, seek out debut novels and collections of short stories, I’m impressed by the scope and daring of the writing, especially that released by the smaller and independent publishers.

The more I wade into the deep of promoting my book, the more I realise that success is based on personal connections. In the list below, I have previously reviewed Cameron Raynes‘ dry and exquisite collection of short stories (for The Australian), which prompted me to hire him to write an article for Newswrite (the magazine I edit for the NSW Writers’ Centre) on how a stutter has helped (and hindered) his creative life (one of my favourite articles, that makes me cry every time I read it). I have watched Alex Hammond talk at a NSW Writers’ Centre panel on how to market crime fiction. And I have read with interest the reviews of Snake Bite, that seem linked to my own work: both novels billed as Puberty Blues(es) for the contemporary age.

One of my favourite moments of pulling together FNF is to choose a writer to profile each month. Next up is an interview with Michael Adams  (whose book The Last Girl featured in September) and I’ll be chatting to him next week.

And, ta dah!, the chosen one for October is Tracy Farr. “This is the story of Dame Lena Gaunt: musician, octogenarian, junkie.” With that opening line, I’m in!

If you’re a debut novelist or short story writer who’d like to contribute to next month’s edition, check out the guidelines and the August and September clubs.

For previous clubbers, I’ve also updated the August and September pages to see how writers are faring a couple of months in. Congrats to Dawn Barker, whose  Fractured has been the most reviewed book on the Australian Women Writers’ website, and Melissa-Jane Pouliot, whose novel about a missing person has really struck a nerve (see both in the August edition). I like the idea of all the pages evolving each month (rather that remaining static), so please email me updates at any time, so everyone can track how you’re going, and get some inspiration…

Indie (self-published authors) have had a bit of a rough trot lately. Where are you hiding? Give me a hoy. This monthly club is especially geared to you!

FINALLY, I was also pretty thrilled to see the Sydney Morning Herald‘s Susan Wyndham give FRIDAY NIGHT FICTIONS and debut author Nina Smith a little plug in her weekly column. This has brought many new visitors to the site…

just_a_girl SMH column
just_a_girl (and Friday Night Fictions) promoted in Susan Wyndham’s column in Sydney Morning Herald

*PS, as I post this, I realise it’s actually just turned to November and, due to unforeseen error (ie partying with Mikelangelo and the Black Sea Gentlemen at the Spotted Mallard in Brunswick), it’s more like Saturday Night Fever. Whoops. Anyway – enjoy!

SARAH AYOUB, Hate is Such a Strong Word

Hate Is Such A Strong Word Sophie Kazzi is in Year 12 at an all-Lebanese school where she is uncool and bored out of her brain. She’s desperate to find a little more to her life, documenting her hates in a journal that sounds like a rant list, not a diary.

Unfortunately, her father has antiquated ideas about women, curfews and the ‘Lebanese way’. Bad news for Sophie, who was hoping to spend Year 12 fitting in and having fun — not babysitting, studying or thinking about the accounting course she doesn’t want to do.

Then Shehadie Goldsmith arrives at school. Half-Australian and half-Lebanese, he’s even more of a misfit than Sophie. And with his arrogant, questioning attitude, he also has a way of getting under her skin.

But when simmering cultural tensions erupt in violence, Sophie must make a choice that will threaten the cultural ties that have protected her all her life.

Are her hates and complaints worth it?

Read an extract of the book on Harper Collins’ Summer of Supernatural page here.

Catch Sarah on her website + Facebook  + Twitter.

Buy the book at any of these retailers.

CRAIG CLIFF, The Mannequin Makers

The Mannequin MakersTwo rival window dressers at the beginning of the Twentieth Century try to outdo each other with ever more elaborate displays and lifelike mannequins.

When one of the window dressers, Colton Kemp, is rocked by the sudden death of his wife, the rivalry takes on new dimensions. Inspired by a travelling Vaudeville company, Kemp decides to raise his children to be living mannequins.

What follows is a tale of art and deception, strength and folly, love and transgression, which spans a century and ranges from small-town New Zealand to the graving docks of Scotland, an inhospitable rock in the Southern Ocean to Sydney’s northern beaches.

Along the way we meet a Prussian strongman, a family of ship’s carvers with a mysterious affliction, a septuagenarian surf lifesaver and a talking figurehead named Vengeance.

Buy the printed version at Fishpond, Booktopia, The Nile or Mighty Ape. Buy the e-book from Amazon, iBooks or Kobo.

Read the first chapter here. Find Reading Group Questions on The Mannequin Makers here.

Visit Craig’s website or blog, or follow him on Twitter for more information.

 

SHADY COSGROVE, What the Ground Can’t Hold

What the Ground Can't HoldTwo Americans are presumed dead and nine people are trapped in a cabin after an avalanche in the remote Andes…

Among them is Emma, an Australian faced with an impossible decision that could see her parents jailed.

Jack, a teenager obsessed with Jack Kerouac, guided by a skewed moral compass.

Carmen, a tango dancer whose estranged father is dying of cancer.

Pedro, the cabin manager who’s in hiding from those he loves most.

And Wolfe, an American on a deadly family quest.

With food supplies dwindling, these unlikely companions are forced to extremes and discover they are bound by more than their surroundings — each has a secret that links them to Argentina’s Dirty War.

What the Ground Can’t Hold is a gripping exploration of the ways the past closes in on the present, and destroys the foundations upon which we build our lives.

Buy the book from Pan MacmillanBoomerang Books and Booktopia.

Read an extract.

Shady’s November update:

Shady’s book has been getting some great coverage. See her blog for details + the Sydney Morning Herald, That Book You Like blog and Write Note Reviews.

TRACY FARR, The Life and Loves of Lena Gaunt

The Life and Loves of Lena GauntThis is the story of Dame Lena Gaunt: musician, octogenarian, junkie.

Born in Singapore, bundled away to boarding school in Perth, Lena Gaunt has made her own way — through music — to a glittering career on the world stage as Music’s Most Modern Musician, the first theremin player of the twentieth century.

“Music from a theremin can sound like a human voice, an electronic scream…or the low moan of a cello.”

Through a life shaped by love and loss, her relationship with music endures. Lured out of retirement to play at a music festival, Lena finds herself under the gaze of documentary filmmaker Mo Patterson. Mo wants to tell the story of Lena’s life, loves and music — but Lena is reluctant to comply.

The Life and Loves of Lena Gaunt is a novel woven with sound, sea, the stories we tell (and don’t tell), and the spaces between.

Buy the book (paperback or e-book).

Read an extract.

Contact Tracy on Twitter  and Facebook  or at her website.

Listen to an interview with Tracy on ABC RN Books and Arts Daily.

Listen to Tracy read from her book at its New Zealand launch.

Tracey’s November update:

My book has been reviewed at The Incredible Rambling ElimyOtago Daily Times and recommended, MUBAs and Shakers list, on the Kill Your Darlings blog. See my post about it.

ALEX HAMMOND, Blood Witness

Blood WitnessMelbourne defence lawyer Will Harris is reluctantly drawn into a bizarre murder trial. A terminally ill man claims to have witnessed the brutal crime — in a vision.

But the looming trial is more than just a media circus: it’s Will’s first big case since the tragic death of his fiance.

With pressure mounting, Will’s loyalties are split when his fiance’s sister is charged with drug trafficking.

The strain of balancing both cases takes its toll and Will finds himself torn between following the law and seeking justice.

“a slick, fast-paced legal thriller set in Melbourne but with a genuine international flavour and with enough twists to surprise even the most avid fans of the genre” – West Australian

“There’s romance and rumbling, knife fights, knuckle sandwiches and a cracking twist in the tale. Verdict: fast paced and gripping” – The Courier Mail

See more reviews.

Read an extract.

Buy a copy.

DIANE HESTER, Run to Me

Run to MeIt’s been two years since Shyler O’Neil’s beloved son Jesse was killed, but his final moments are as vivid to her now as they were that dreadful day. Suffering from post-traumatic stress, and convinced she did not do enough to protect him, she retreats to an isolated cabin in the woods of northern Maine.

Zack Ballinger — a ten-year-old boy who’s never known a mother’s love — has seen too much and is running for his life. Pursued into the woods, he finds himself at Shyler’s cabin. He’ll take whatever help she can give — even though, for some reason, she keeps calling him Jesse . . .

Protecting Zack may well be Shyler’s one chance at redemption.

Or she is the child’s greatest threat . . .

Buy this book at Dymocks, Big W, Kmart, and other independent bookstores.

Available online from Dymocks and Angus & Robertson.

Available as an ebook from Amazon.

Read an extract.

Connect with Diane on her website and on Facebook.

ANGIE HOLST, Expectations

ExpectationsMeet Sophia, Elise, Joe and Zoe. Four students at St Andrew’s College, tired of junior school’s same old routine, but starting to feel the heavy weight of expectation and responsibility that early adulthood brings.

Sophia is sick of being a part of shallow Gen Y, and feels like an old lady trapped in a young girl’s body: oh, and she’s realised she is identifying as lesbian, just to complicate matters.

Elise is an Aussie through and through except, well, she looks thoroughly Vietnamese and she’s a mathematical genius. But she really doesn’t want to become just another Asian nerd and she’s pretty sure she doesn’t want to study maths at uni.

Quirky Joe has always hung out with them so everybody at school has concluded that he’s kind of girly: you know, he’s smart and funny and gets along with girls, so clearly he must be gay or at the very least, metro. In reality, he’s a bubbling mass of testosterone, and that volcano of energy is about to blow as his home life becomes more and more tense.

And finally there’s Zoe. Zoe is beautiful, smart, and popular but she spends most nights alone, what with her mother running a busy solicitor’s practice and her father a politician. She wants to grow up fast, and have sex on her terms. But it’s that impatience that’s clouding her judgement — and will lead her to an absolute train wreck of a situation.

In the short space of a fortnight new friendships will develop, old friendships will change, and life lessons will be learnt. But one thing is certain: being sixteen has never been easy.

Read an extract.

Follow Angie on Twitter: @awoo75

Buy the ebook at Kobo.

SHARON KERNOT, Underground Road

Underground RoadDamien, Edith, Kenneth and Mary are residents of a single street whose lives are ordinary to the last degree and as such encompass addiction and domestic violence, quiet achievements and small acts of kindness and treachery.

Jack and Mary, locked at uncomfortably close quarters on Jack’s retirement, chafe and sulk and fret.

Edith finds solace playing the pokies.

Damien lives in terror of his stepfather Marcus and the school bully and broods on revenge.

And Kenneth, unhinged, wanders the streets.

Lives intertwine and decisions are made, and the tension quietly grows to its shattering climax.

“There is dread in this work coupled with a great sense of normality and ordinariness. This is uncomfortable, political, ‘get real’ literature. The final scenes are riveting.” – Francesca Rendle-Short

Read an extract.

Buy the book.

November update:

Sharon Kernot has done a wonderful review of Margaret Merrilees’ ‘The First Week’ (which also features in this edition). Read her review in the REVIEWS section (at the bottom of this post).

KIRSTEN KRAUTH, just_a_girl

Kirsten Krauth, just_a_girlLayla is only 14. She cruises online. She catches trains to meet strangers. Her mother, Margot, never suspects. Even when Layla brings a man into their home.

Margot’s caught in her own web: an evangelical church and a charismatic pastor. Meanwhile, downtown, a man opens a suitcase and tenderly places his young lover inside.

just_a_girl tears into the fabric of contemporary culture, a Puberty Blues for the digital age, a Lolita with a webcam, it’s what happens when young girls are forced to grow up too fast. Or never get the chance to grow up at all.

““Krauth’s debut is alive with ideas about isolation and connection in the digital age, particularly the way the internet raises the stakes of teenage rebellion.” – Jo Case, The Australian

“It’s about porn/love, isolation/connection, sexualisation/justification, misogyny/mentality, Facebook and the face-to-face. It’s about our world, right now, and it’s a little bit brilliant.” – Danielle Binks, ALPHA READER.

Read an extractBook Club Notes are available.

Buy the printed version at ReadingsBooktopia or Amazon. The ebook is available at Amazon.com.au and iBooks.

International readers please contact me direct…

See reviews of just_a_girl here.

Contact Kirsten at Goodreads, her blog (Wild Colonial Girl), Facebook and Twitter. You can see her read from her work at the Sydney book launch, along with Emily Maguire (who introduced it).

Kirsten’s November update:

Erin Stewart did a review of ‘just_a_girl’ and Christie Thompson’s ‘Snake Bite’ (see below) for Birdee Magazine. There have also been wonderfully thought-provoking reviews from Elizabeth Lhuede at Devoted Eclectic and Margot McGovern at LIP magazine — and the book featured on a list of MUBAS and Shakers at the Kill Your Darlings blog.

MARK LAMPRELL, The Full Ridiculous

The Full RidiculousA story about an ordinary family who go through an extraordinarily difficult time, told from the dad’s point of view, after he is hit by a car.

When he doesn’t die, he is surprised and pleased. But he can’t seem to move from the crash position.

He can’t control his anger and grief, or work out what to do about anything much.

His wife is heroically supportive but his teenage children don’t help his post-accident angst: daughter Rosie punches a vindictive schoolmate, plunging her parents into parent-teacher hell; son Declan is found with a stash of drugs.

A strange policeman starts harassing the family and to top it all off, his professional life starts to crumble.

This novel about love, family and the precarious business of being a man, examines the terrible truth: sometimes you can’t pull yourself together until you’ve completely fallen apart.

Buy the book.

Mark Lamprell on Radio National’s Life Matters.

Contact Mark on Twitter.

MARGARET MERRILEES, The First Week

The First WeekThis is a novel with its roots in a battered ancient landscape — the south of Western Australia.

But above all it is the story of one woman, Marian Anditon: pragmatist, farmer, mother.

When disaster strikes she is shocked and disorientated.

Hidden layers of grief and distress rise up around her like the salt of the degraded earth.

Her journey through the next week challenges all her previous assumptions.

Winner of the 2012 Unpublished Manuscript Award at Adelaide Writers’ Week.

Read an extract.

Order a copy.

Meet the author.

November update: 

Sharon Kernot (see ‘Underground Road’ above) has done a wonderful review of Margaret’s book. Heather Taylor Johnson (see below) also fell in love with Margaret’s book. See their reviews at the bottom of the page.

EIMEAR MCBRIDE, A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing

A Girl is a Half-Formed ThingThis novel tells the story of a young woman’s relationship with her brother, and the long shadow cast by his childhood brain tumour.

After years of rejections by UK publishers because it was too difficult to sell, A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing was picked up by a tiny independent press.

What followed was a debut novelist’s dream — an avalanche of critical acclaim and a rapturous response from readers.

In an intimate and compelling voice, McBride charts the progress of a young girl and her brother raised in a small Irish community.

A claustrophobic backdrop of poverty and devout faith surround this profound and devastating tale of love, betrayal and self-destruction.

Buy the book at Amazon.

CAMERON RAYNES, The Colour of Kerosene (and other stories)

The Colour of Kerosene (and other stories)A welfare worker is asked to spy on a colleague. An artist finds ragged consolation in the breakdown of a relationship.

And, in the award-winning title story, a taxi driver accepts a fare he knows he shouldn’t:

“They headed east, the nude hills of the Geraldton plains, stripped bare of trees a century before, leaning into them on both sides as the car climbed into the marginal country. Behind him, Luke heard the gurgle of fluid sluicing out of a bladder and into a cup … It occurred to him that it was not too late to turn back.”

The fourteen stories in The Colour of Kerosene lay bare the ordinary moral dilemmas we face in contemporary Australia. The small wars we fight; the alliances we forge; the compromises we make. These are crafted stories in which regret and failure are often tempered by the possibility of redemption.

See samples (with illustrations).

Read an extract.

Buy the book.

November update: Jane Skelton commented (see her book ‘Lives of the Dead’ below):

The Colour of Kerosene – I love the title. The cover’s fab — and there’s a quote from Ron Rash! I’m always interested in new short story collections and this one, set in dry, harsh places, is certainly on my list. I’m intrigued to see this collection has illustrations — mine has photos. What do people think about that idea? Does it distract from the prose or add interest, another layer?

CLAIRE SCOBIE, The Pagoda Tree

The Pagoda TreeTanjore, 1765. Maya plays among the towering granite temples of this ancient city in the heart of southern India. Like her mother before her, she is destined to become a devadasi, a dancer for the temple and it’s expected she will be chosen as a courtesan for the prince himself.

But as Maya comes of age, India is on the cusp of change. The prince is losing his power and the city is sliding into war. Maya is forced to flee her ancestral home, and heads to the bustling port city of Madras.

Maya captivates all who watch her dance. Thomas Pearce, an ambitious young Englishman is entranced from the moment he first sees her. But their love is forbidden, and comes at enormous cost.

Weaving together the uneasy meeting of two cultures, The Pagoda Tree is a captivating story of love, loss and fate.

Buy the book.

See the book trailer.

Read an extract.

Contact Claire on FacebookTwitter and on her website.

November update: Jane Skelton (see below) commented:

I picked up ‘The Pagoda Tree’ at a friend’s place and began reading while she was dressing to go out. I love the enticing pink and green cover. I decided it’s a ‘can’t put it down’ kind of book from the the bit I read. But I couldn’t very well slip it into my bag! The prose is very vivid and filmic. It’s on my Christmas reading list for sure. I’m really interested to see how Claire Scobie brings to life a very different time and culture and resolves the story of Maya’s destiny. It’ll be one to take travelling.

JANE SKELTON, Lives of the Dead (and other stories)

Lives of the DeadIn this short story collection, Jane Skelton writes cool prose about hot landscapes, about characters seeking relief from strong emotions. Her characters twist and turn in the violent weather that is trying to break them, while inside their bodies the turmoil is as great as or greater than the outside world.

Combined with the spare prose, the emotion of the weather and the landscape is almost unbearable, except that, like waiting for the southerly buster on a hot afternoon, we wait to know what will happen to these characters. Will the storm pass over the islands, will it rain in outback Queensland and take the pressure down?

These evocative descriptions of the Australian landscape and keen observations of the people who inhabit it, bring to mind Thea Astley and Jessica Anderson.

Lives of the Dead is a haunting and lyrical debut collection by a talented writer.

Meet Jane at her website.

Buy the book online or in good bookshops.

See the book trailer.

Jane’s November update: 

I’m interested in all the books here – it’s great to be part of this site and conversation. I’ll be checking back each month for updates… I’ve had a really good review by Heather Lunney on the NSW Writers’ Centre’s website.

HEATHER TAYLOR JOHNSON, Pursuing Love & Death

Pursuing Love and DeathIt is customary to bring gifts to a wedding.

But as daughter Luna prepares to marry her dream husband, the Smith family instead have in tow their own idiosyncratic brands of emotional baggage.

Her father, Graham, struggles to write his own own obituary; her mother, Velma, attempts to negotiate her mid-life crisis with a lover seventeen years her junior; her brother, Ginsberg, tries to come to term with being a homosexual who has inadvertently fallen in love with his wife.

Pursuing Love & Death is a darkly comic family saga, written with wit, lyricism and poignancy.

The storyline is believable, tragic and hilarious as clashing personalities unite for the first time in years — with explosive results.

Meet Heather at her blog.

Buy the book at Amazon.

Heather’s November update:

My book has been reviewed in the Advertiser by Katherine England … 

Heather has also done a wonderful review of Margaret Merrilees’ The First Week. Read it at the bottom of this page.

CHRISTIE THOMPSON, Snake Bite

Snake BiteJez is seventeen and lives with her alcoholic single mum in in a government rental in Canberra’s outer-suburbs, with little money or future prospects. As well as suffering from terminal boredom, Jez has got epic First World Problems: where is her next pill coming from, what will her first tattoo be, and how will she ever lose her virginity?

Over the course of one blazing summer, Jez runs a gauntlet of new experiences and discovers the real meaning of home. Filled with humour, brilliant observations and raw revelations, Snake Bite is a coming-of-age story of a wild teenager in a Canberra you never dreamed existed. It will sink its fangs into, inject you with its intoxicating venom, and never let you go.

Read reviews at ABC’s Books and Arts Daily, That Book You Like blogGoodreads and Sydney Morning Herald.

November update: 

Erin Stewart reviews just_a_girl (see above) and Snake Bite for Birdee Magazine.

FRIDAY NIGHT FICTIONS REVIEW: Heather Taylor Johnson looks at Margaret Merrilees’ The First Week

I read Margaret Merrilees’ The First Week during my first week of convalescence with shingles. Having been too uncomfortable to move, reading seemed a good option and thus far I had read Flanagan’s The Narrow Road to the Deep North (dare I say it? Yes, yes I do: the next Miles Franklin) and Barracuda (by the author I think is doing something really important for our booming Australian identity, the brilliant Christos Tsiolkas). After such heavyweights, I was prepared to settle back into something less confronting, get off that obsession-train one sometimes finds herself on when reading back-to-back stunners of novels. But then I read the first paragraph of Merrilees’ book, and I simply couldn’t stop reading until I was through. Such was my fascination with Marion, the sixty-plus year old protagonist who finds herself way in over her farm-living head when her city-based son is found guilty of murdering two strangers in a grocery store, that I read the book in one day. It was a fantastic commentary on character, on Australia, and on where the two rally. A perfect triumvirate: Flanagan, Tsiolkas and Merrilees. And now I’m onto Winton. Will the goodness ever end?

FRIDAY NIGHT FICTIONS REVIEW: Sharon Kernot also responds to Margaret Merrilees’ The First Week
When Marian receives a phone call with the news that her youngest son has committed a serious crime her life changes dramatically and permanently. Prior to the incident Marian’s life is tough but predictable and seemingly dull. She has been a widow for many years and brought up her two sons on her own on a farm near the Stirling Ranges in Western Australia. Her eldest son stayed on at the farm while the younger one went to Perth to study at university.

 The novel follows Marian’s first week after she receives the news that her youngest son, Charlie, is in trouble and, it turns out, has committed murder. She is understandably devastated and as she travels to Perth to find out exactly what has happened she is overwhelmed with confusion and grief and despair. She wonders how her son could do such a thing. She also wonders about her relationship with him and what might she have done to cause it. Who is to blame? And why?

When she arrives in Perth, Marian meets with Charlie’s friends and it becomes evident that his life is completely alien. He is like a stranger and his values are now opposed to those that he grew up with. His social activism and choice of friends are initially bewildering to Marian. Her opinions regarding racism, sexuality and farming practices are challenged and over the course of the week Marian struggles to reconcile these views. It is a strange and bleak time and Marian moves through it in a fog of sleep-deprivation doing things she would not normally do. At one point she allows herself some comfort with a stranger, and even goes back to his hotel room.

When Marian heads back home to the farm she does not have all the answers she hoped for. The motivation behind Charlie’s crime is not fully resolved but she has much to think about and her view of the world has changed considerably.

 The First Week won the 2012 Wakefield Press Unpublished Manuscript Award at Adelaide Writers’ Week and it is easy to see why: it is instantly gripping and I was compelled to read on. Marian’s struggle to come to terms with her son’s actions, her grief, despair and confusion are insightfully and compassionately articulated, and the Western Australian environment — its dry salt-damaged landscape is beautifully and evocatively depicted.

Friday Night Fictions: September 2013

Howdy folks and welcome to the September edition of Friday Night Fictions, a monthly club set up to promote the work of debut authors (and short story/microfiction writers: where are you hiding?) both local and international, working in any genre or format (ebooks and indie authors welcome). There’s a sea of talent listed below. I hope you will read these new writers, let them and us know you think, and help them on to pursue their next book. I look forward to your comments and reviews on the blog.

If you want to be included in Friday Night Fictions, see the guidelines. And check out the August edition: I have updated with reviews where people have sent them to me. If you are featured in August or September, and have new reviews, interviews or social media links to mention, let me know…

Last month I announced that I would feature Nina Smith, and her book Hailstone, on the blog. Look out for a profile and review early next week [here it is…].

And to be featured from the September club? Michael Adams‘ YA debut, The Last Girl, brings this great writer on film and pop culture (and you may have seen him on SBS talking about movies) into the fiction realm. I look forward to hanging out with him in late October…

If I have missed anyone (it does happen), let me know, and I’ll add you to the October club.

*

MICHAEL ADAMS, The Last Girl

Michael Adams, The Last GirlThe end of the world happens in an instant. But it’s not caused by an asteroid or zombies or any scenario we’ve ever conceived. The apocalypse comes from within us. One second we’re wearing our usual social masks — and the next our every secret thought and feeling is exposed as a global telepathic outbreak drowns humanity in a psychic tsunami.

Within minutes, suburbs erupt in madness, cities explode in flames and countries collapse in chaos.

Sixteen-year-old Danby Armstrong is protected from the worst of the phenomenon because while she can tune into other people’s minds, no-one else can read her thoughts.

But it’s not much consolation when her family implodes, her neighbours start killing each other and every road out of town offers only more death and destruction.

Set in a very recognisable near-future, The Last Girl combines literary and pop-culture smarts with spectacular action in a frightening scenario that echoes our obsession with constant connectivity.

Buy the book.

See Michael talking about his YA novel.

November update:

Kirsten Krauth reviewed The Last Girl and interviewed Michael Adams for her September debut author profile.

 

ROSS CROTHERS, Running Dead

Ross Crothers, Running DeadAn exclusive London hotel. Two shots, two men executed. Ten years earlier they helped convict a conman. Ash Todd of the Australian Federal Police assisted Scotland Yard in that case. Now The Yard has called him in again.

The search for the killer propels Todd across Europe, the US and the Caribbean. In every city his life is threatened, his trust betrayed, his every move anticipated.

Worse, on the cusp of a breakthrough, The Yard seemingly withdraws support — which leaves him hanging.

Did they really want the case solved — or were they just Running Dead?

Alone and increasingly isolated, he can rely on no-one but himself. With a mounting death toll, and twists in the end that leave him distraught, Todd discovers some vital truths — to the murders; to the 10-year-old fraud case, and ultimately who had betrayed him.

Buy the book (paperback or e-book) from Ross’ website .

Read an extract.

SAM ELLIOTT, Sisters of Satan

Sam Elliott, Sisters of SatanIt all began as a fairytale…

Fast forward to a devastating text from Amelia and this magical evening becomes a terrifying nightmare. Devastated, Seth soon commits to drinking himself into oblivion.

Dead drunk and thirsty for conflict, the wayward soul stumbles into adesolate park.

Reality returns, Seth finds himself naked and shackled to a wheelchair, listening in disbelief to their unspeakable plans, his death wish may be answered but now he decides he wants to live.

To do that he will have to break free and rise against sadistic monsters.

The Sisters of Satan intend to carve him up and feast on his soul. Seth is all that stands between an endless rampage leaving many dead in its wake—a journey taking him through a labyrinth of blood and fire to a vicious showdown with the sisters in the arena where their wicked ways were born.

Buy this book from: Customs Book Publications, Amazon.com, Angus and Robertson.

Read extracts.

DAVID M HENLEY, The Hunt for Pierre Jnr

David M Henley, The Hunt for Pierre JnrThis is a return to classic science fiction with a contemporary spin. While juggling a pacy storyline, filled with unexpected turns, David M Henley brings fresh ideas to the genre.

Book one of a trilogy, The Hunt for Pierre Jnr begins in 2159 CE. There has been fifty years of peace since the great collapse and a complex but egalitarian society controls the planet, but the foundation of their peace is rocked when a psychic event destroys a suburb of Paris.

Nobody is really sure who was responsible, but many believe it is the semi-mythical child Pierre Jnr.

This triggers a capsizing in the governing hierarchy and a new harsher Prime takes over the operation to find and pacify Pierre Jnr.

“I was deeply impressed with the way that neither side (and there are definitely sides to be taken) has a monopoly on what is absolutely right.” Read review.

Meet David at his website.

Contact him on Facebook and Twitter.

Buy the book.

JANE JERVIS-READ, Midnight Blue and Endlessly Tall

Jane Jervis-Read, Midnight Blue and Endlessly TallWhen Jessica, a recently divorced mental-health carer, meets her new patient, Eloise, their lives quickly become entangled. The boundaries of their roles begin to dissolve and questions from the past are uncovered, revealing the fractured histories that brought them together.

Midnight Blue and Endlessly Tall is an original and unpredictable novella about the relationships that consume us when we’re least expecting it.

Winner of the 2013 Viva La Novella Prize.

“Jane Jervis-Read’s beautiful little book … kicks above its weight … and shows the power of leaving things unsaid.” Cate Kennedy

Buy the book.

November update:

Jane read Ellie Marney’s book (see below) and commented: Just finished ‘Every Breath’ in two sittings. Total page-turner with a well-crafted plot and interesting characters. Loved every… breath of it.

SALLY-ANN JONES, Stella’s Sea

Sally-Ann Jones, Stella's SeaStella moves from her wheatbelt family home to a run-down house in Cottesloe on WA’s coast. Her daughter, Miff, has died in a motorbike accident; her husband can’t bear to look at her; her father is in a nursing home; her brother is overseas. Her only company is her daughter’s dog.

Every morning Stella walks with Miff’s dog along the beach. She’s not a part of the scene even though she’s conspicuous in her beekeeper things and mismatched garments.

Her yellow scarf sparks the interest of Ari, an ex-prisoner and coastcare volunteer. As a new friendship slowly forms, Stella recollects her past to deal with her present. But can she acknowledge the guilt that prevents her from moving into the future?

Stella’s Sea is a beautiful novel about the symbiotic nature of life: bees and orchids, loss and love, nurture and growth.

This novel will be released in October.

Pre-order from UWAP.

Read an extract.

KIRSTEN KRAUTH, just_a_girl

Kirsten Krauth, just_a_girlLayla is only 14. She cruises online. She catches trains to meet strangers. Her mother, Margot, never suspects. Even when Layla brings a man into their home.

Margot’s caught in her own web: an evangelical church and a charismatic pastor. Meanwhile, downtown, a man opens a suitcase and tenderly places his young lover inside.

just_a_girl tears into the fabric of contemporary culture. A Puberty Blues for the digital age, a Lolita with a webcam, it’s what happens when young girls are forced to grow up too fast. Or never get the chance to grow up at all.

Read an extract.

Book Club Notes are available.

Meet Layla on Pinterest.

Buy the printed version at ReadingsBooktopia or Amazon.

Read the ebook on Kobo. International readers please contact me direct…

See reviews of just_a_girl here.

Contact Kirsten at Goodreads, her blog (Wild Colonial Girl), Facebook and Twitter.

You can see her read from her work at the Sydney book launch, along with Emily Maguire (who introduced it).

DARCY LEE-TINDALE, Her Story, My Story

Promise anthology by PenguiDarcy’s short story features in the Penguin anthology: Promise.

This anthology includes the top 15 stories selected from over 400 entries in the Monash Undergraduate Short Story Prize.

The book was organised by the Emerging Writers’ Festival.

Darcy is a dramatic arts teacher, director of stage productions, actor, author, theatresports player, puppeteer, and has appeared in TVC, film and on stage.

Her plays, poems, articles, short stories, radio satire and comedy skits have been published, performed and received numerous awards.

She’s studying a BA in Creative Writing.

Buy the ebook from Penguin, iBooks and Amazon.

ELLIE MARNEY, Every Breath

Ellie Marney, Every BreathRachel Watts has just moved to Melbourne from the country, but the city is the last place she wants to be.

James Mycroft is her neighbour, an intriguingly troubled seventeen-year-old who’s also a genius with a passion for forensics.

Despite her misgivings, Rachel finds herself unable to resist Mycroft when he wants her help investigating a murder.

He’s even harder to resist when he’s up close and personal — and on the hunt for a cold-blooded killer.

When Rachel and Mycroft follows the murderer’s trail, they find themselves in the lion’s den — literally. A trip to the zoo will never have quite the same meaning again …

Sizzling chemisty and urban intrigue combine in this thriller from a fresh, exciting new talent.

Buy the book.

Meet Ellie at her website.

November update: Jane Jarvis-Read (see her book above) commented:

Just finished ‘Every Breath’ in two sittings. Total page-turner with a well-crafted plot and interesting characters. Loved every… breath of it

FIONA McFARLANE, The Night Guest

Fiona McFarlane, The Night GuestRuth is widowed, her sons are grown, and she lives in an isolated beach house outside of town.

Her routines are few and small. One night, she wakes to hear a tiger walking around her lounge room.

The next day, a stranger arrives at her door, looking as if she’s been blown in from the sea.

This woman — Frida — introduces herself as a care worker sent by the government. Ruth lets her in.

How far can Ruth trust the mysterious, magnificent Frida?

And, with a tiger on the prowl, how far can Ruth trust herself?

Meet Fiona on Facebook.

Buy her book.

Read an extract.

JENN J McLEOD, House for all Seasons

Jenn J Mcleod, House for all SeasonsFour women. Four lives unravelled. The truth will bind them forever.

Bequeathed a century-old house, four estranged friends return to their hometown, Calingarry Crossing, where each must stay for a season at the Dandelion House to fulfil the wishes of their benefactor, Gypsy.

But coming home to the country stirs shameful memories of the past, including the tragic end-of-school muck up day accident twenty years earlier.

Sara, a breast cancer survivor afraid to fall in love;
Poppy, a tough, ambitions journo still craving her father’s approval;
Amber, a spoilt socialite addicted to painkillers and cosmetic procedures;
Caitlin, a doctor frustrated by a controlling family and her flat-lining life.

At the Dandelion House, the women will discover something about themselves and a secret that ties all four to each other and to the house—forever.

Buy, read a chapter, read the reviews at Jenn’s website.

ANDREW NETTE, Ghost Money

Andrew Nette, Ghost MoneyCambodia, 1996, the long-running Khmer Rouge insurgency is fragmenting, competing factions of the coalition government scrambling to gain the upper hand. Missing in the chaos is businessman Charles Avery. Hired to find him is Vietnamese Australian ex-cop Max Quinlan.

But Avery has made dangerous enemies and Quinlan is not the only one looking. Teaming up with Heng Sarin, a local journalist, Quinlan’s search takes him from the freewheeling capital Phnom Penh to the battle scarred western borderlands. As the political temperature soars, he is slowly drawn into a mystery that plunges him into the heart of Cambodia’s bloody past.

Ghost Money is a crime novel about Cambodia in the mid-nineties, a broken country, what happens to those trapped between two periods of history, the choices they make, what they do to survive.

Visit Andrew’s website.

Buy the book at Amazon.

Insight into how Andrew came to write the novel.

Andrew’s October Update:  

Ghost Money got this very favourable review on the travel website Vagabonding and will be for sale at The Readers Feast Crime & Justice Festival, 15-17 November 2013, where I will also be interviewing Australian author, Garry Disher.

HAVE YOU READ ANY OF THESE DEBUT NOVELS YET? ANY REALLY GRAB YOUR ATTENTION? I LOOK FORWARD TO HEARING YOUR THOUGHTS ON THE SEPTEMBER CLUB.

Meet the locals: festival director Lisa D’onofrio

Lisa Donofrio teaching
Lisa Donofrio teaching

Last year, after pretty much just landing in Castlemaine, I went along to the Castlemaine Children’s Literature Festival. The kids and I saw innovative puppet shows and powerful Sudanese storytelling and song. All the sessions were booked out. Sometimes kids’ programming (at other festivals) can be lazy… so it was great to see so many hands-on sessions.

This year, the program is even more expansive. It’s a wonderful initiative, with a carefully creative program aimed directly at children from a wide range of age groups. It starts at the end of this week. For Melbournites, it’s worth a trip down to explore the options during the school hols.

I first met festival director Lisa D’Onofrio at Castlemaine Word Mine, a regular gathering of local writers here. She hosted a reading I did with Simmone Howell and Ellie Marney on adult and YA fiction, and the crossovers between them.

I spoke to Lisa about the festival, that starts this weekend, and how she ended up landing in the Maine.

Why did you move to Castlemaine?

The short answer is we needed to settle somewhere fast, and Castlemaine had good schools, a train line and a rocking library. We also knew one person here!

Ajak Kwai launching last year's festival
Ajak Kwai launching last year’s festival

Why start a Children’s Literature Festival?

That’s a very good question, which I ask myself several times a day, especially in the lead up to the festival! When we first came to Australia around three and a half years ago, we did a bit of travelling. In Queensland I read about PL Travers, who wrote the Mary Poppins series, and I wanted to do something that celebrated Australian children’s literature, so it grew from there. I’ve got a background in literature/literacy development, and a long history of facilitating arts projects so it seemed a perfect fit.

The CCLF is a unique festival which focuses on children and young people as creative producers and active participants, which isn’t the usual model for festivals, where the children’s program seems like an add-on, or is purely schools-based. Selfishly, I also wanted my own kids to have access to local, cheap but quality, arts-based activities in the holidays!

What are some of the highlights of this year’s fest?

So many highlights! Most of the performers/facilitators are local, which is wonderful, and we were very lucky to have  multi-award-winning author Melina Marchetta do some pre-festival workshops.

Johnny and Evie Danger developed their show Oceanic Daredevils for the festival, which has been booked out twice over.

I’m looking forward to Monsters in my Wardrobe, a production by Mark Penzac, which has had some input from Castlemaine North primary students, and the dance/word workshop with Thais Sansom on the Saturday, which I wish I was young enough to particpate in!

Monster Mash Up Rhyme Time is an annual favourite starring Jess Saunders, our library worker extraordinaire, which is always lovely — outside under the big tree in the beautiful surrounds of Buda.

Johnny and Evie Danger coming up at the CCLF
Johnny and Evie Danger coming up at the CCLF

The Wordy Wonder Day will be a cracker, including a sound walk led by the poet Klare Lanson and Luca Sartori, who runs a cafe in town, singing Italian tunes!

You can check out the program here and book here.

Festival events will take place in Taradale, Fryerstown, Maldon and Newstead as well as Castlemaine.

 

WHAT ABOUT YOU? WHAT WAS YOUR FAVOURITE BOOK AS A CHILD?

Also check out:

  • Top 5 Australian Children’s Books to Re-Read Until You Go Mad
  • Meet the Locals: Castlemaine YA Author Simmone Howell

Friday Night Fictions: for debut authors

Taylor Kitsch, Tim Riggins, Friday Night Lights
Taylor Kitsch, Tim Riggins, Friday Night Lights

When you are releasing a first novel, the most unexpected things can happen. One is that you attract guardian angels — fellow readers and writers who decide to champion your work (even complete strangers).  This is especially important for debut novelists. If a writer with a following retweets you, invites you to guest blog or writes a review, it makes an enormous amount of difference to how your work is perceived, and whether it gets any attention. Two champions for me have been the authors and social media experts  Walter Mason and Angela Savage. Both have done everything in their power to help promote my book (without me even asking). I had never met Walter before the Sydney launch, and only recently met Angela for the first time in Melbourne (after conversing via blogs).

It started me thinking. What I am hearing via FB and blogs is that many debut authors are releasing books or stories into the current climate and the reaction is … NOTHING. Can you imagine spending many years on a project (12 years in my case) to get absolutely no reaction in the media? It can be heartbreaking. Especially as the books are often well-reviewed (if they finally do get reviews). On Twitter it can be like millions of writers all with their own little megaphone, and you can’t hear a thing.

So, I thought I’d take a hint from Walter and Angela, and start a new item on my blog called Friday Night Fictions, with the sole purpose of promoting debut authors’ fiction. I’m also keen on digital fiction, short stories, and Flash or micro-fiction. If you can link to it, even better. The idea is to start a club that promotes first-timers, and we can check out and comment on each other’s work too…

I also realise how important bloggers and reviewers have become in promoting first time writers’ work. If you review any of the works featured, or interview any writers, in Friday Night Fictions, I will link your reviews in the following edition so there is a developing dialogue around each writer’s work…Email me and let me know.

The scope of the internet means first-time works don’t have to come and go without a trace. Unlike printed book publishing, there is time online — to reflect, to debate. Works can stay current and relevant for as long as readers want to look at them, with ebooks available…that’s why I encourage writers who have published in 2013 and 2014 to contact me.

The title comes because I’ve become addicted to the TV show Friday Night Lights. I started watching it on Friday nights. I know, I always come to things a bit late. I’d get the kids to bed early, wrap myself in a doona, hold my husband’s hand and settle in for some good drama and great southern American hairstyles. Then it eked out to Thursdays, Saturdays, Sundays. Then series one ended and now I’m wringing my hands each night as I wait for the next series to arrive in the post on DVD. Sometimes it’s good to wait for good things. You know, like we used to. I originally discovered the series when a friend sent me this article written by Lorrie Moore (you now need to subscribe to get it, but it’s worth it).

Back to Friday Night Fictions. If you would like to be included, I have a series of conditions.

1.If you submit work, you need to subscribe to my blog at Wild Colonial Girl (http://www.wildcolonialgirl.com).

2. You promise that when your work is published on the blog, you will help promote Friday Night Fictions on social media and to your mates. You also promise to read at least one OTHER writer’s work featured, and comment on it.

3. All work needs to be fiction and published in 2013 and 2014.

4. All books need to be debut novels (any genre, from anywhere on the planet). E-books and self-published books are fine.

5. Short stories and Flash/micro-fiction OK, as long as you can link to it.

6. You can only enter a particular work once.

7. Please email submissions to info(at)frecklefeatures(com)au with FRIDAY NIGHT FICTIONS in the subject line.

8. Email submissions need to include: Author’s name and title made clear, and up to 150 words on the work (I will not be editing down so if you include more words than this, it won’t go in); a small image, preferably of the cover, where applicable; a link to where readers can buy or access the work; a link to an extract already available online so readers can get a sense of the style, if possible. Please note: emails must come from authors. No publishers or publicists/agents please.

9. Friday Night Fictions will go up on the last Friday night – every three months. The next issue is May 2014…

10. Reviewers can only send links to reviews of works featured in Friday Night Fictions. These will be updated for the following edition, so featured writers can see responses…

11. Each month I will choose a writer/work from the submissions whose work EXCITES me – to feature for the following edition.

Please pass on to anyone who has had a debut novel published this year, or any emerging writers in fiction. I look forward to your comments and hope we can build a global community of first-timers in fiction…

Meet the locals: author Simmone Howell

Simmone Howell
Simmone Howell

Simmone Howell’s recent YA novel Girl Defective is a smart and punchy coming of age tale set on the meanstreets of St Kilda. In a record store owned by her dad, Sky negotiates love, loss and a little brother who always wears a pig mask.

Simmone’s narrative voice (in whatever character she is writing) is the kind that you long for, so strong it becomes a part of your own interior monologue, and changes how you see the world for a while. Her dialogue, description and humour are fresh and seamless. Her rapid fire delivery floors you. I’ve read a lot of YA fiction recently and this book stands out in the genre (or any genre, really).

As it happens, Simmone is also a local (for the moment, anyhow). I first saw her on stage at Castlemaine Word Mine, hosting a session with Martine Murray and Sally Rippin, and we recently did a session together (with Ellie Marney) on teen fiction. 

Here I speak to her about writing, nostalgia and folk music …

When did you move to Castlemaine? What drew you to the area?

I moved here in 2008. I wanted to try living in the country and Castlemaine had good coffee, plus a cinema and a train to Melbourne …

How does the area inspire your own writing?

I’m yet to see if the area has inspired my writing. I’m not sure that it does except for the fact that I walk a lot more than I used to and as a result have more ‘forward thoughts’ … but I also seem to have less time to write them down. And I spend a lot of time dreaming of escape.

How does a writer survive in Castlemaine? Do you do other work as well?

I do a little freelance writing stuff here and there, and I run creative workshops with Lisa D’Onofrio. I live lean and am nearly always thinking of finishing a Grad. Dip.

You seem to be drawn to YA fiction, novels with strong and humorous young female voices. Does the teen voice come naturally to you?

Yes! Even when I write an old man character he manages to sound like a 15-year-old girl. (This could be a problem …)

You’re a writing mother. How does having a family influence the way you work? Your characterisation?

Having a family means I have more resources in one way – I am constantly being pulled into the child’s perspective and I think it also makes me very nostalgic about my past and the feeling of time passing. I think being a parent has made me a nicer person. Not sure if that helps with the novelling though.

Girl DefectiveYour new novel, ‘Girl Defective’, seems to be about the importance of preservation (records, St Kilda’s iconic buildings) and an embrace of the vintage. Do you collect things? Are you drawn to record stores and op shops?

Yes and Yes. I have always been a collector and a cataloguer. I also love to throw things away and then mourn them.

‘Girl Defective’ has a wonderful sense of place. Why did you decide to set it in St Kilda?

I lived in St Kilda for a little while, and it was also the land of my teenager dreams. It always seemed like a mythical place to me – like Australia’s version of Los Angeles where everything is surface and the darkness is never far away. I love the history of St Kilda and the geography. I’m not sure if I would live there again so it was great to be able to live there vicariously through Sky.

Sky seems to be a girl coping in many ways on her own, with a lot of responsibility (her mother is absent, her dad relies on her to look after her brother). Do you think she is essentially taking on the parenting role in the narrative?

Yes. I think responsibility is one of the themes of the novel. Put baldly like that, ‘responsibility’ seems to be quite a boring theme, but when I was writing I was thinking a lot about the roles that people take on, how we can fall into them without wanting them, and then, sometimes surprisingly, be good at them.

You’re currently working on your latest novel. What’s the process? Do you research extensively? Or do you hit the ground running once you’ve found a character?

No research unless I really have to. I’ve been quite good about writing forward. With Girl Defective I remember I changed the tense about fifty billion times, re-writing the book each time … with my current manuscript I’m playing around with the voice. I’ve been writing it in 3rd person, but now I think I’d quite like it to be in 1st. Basically my process is to write something and then at a crucial point in the narrative go back to the start — this way it takes me years to finish.

Are you a writer who likes to stick to a routine, who finds comfort there, or do you embrace spontaneity?

I would love to stick to a routine, but I seem unable to. My only routine now is that I use the software Freedom which allows me to turn off the internet.

You’ve worked in other genres including an award-winning screenplay. What drew you to film, and how does writing a short film differ from narrative fiction.

I love films. I spent most of my teen years lurking at the video store slowly working through actors and genres … the short film Pity 24 came from a short story which was basically an oral biography, so in that instance there wasn’t a lot I had to change. (The film is like a fake documentary, though not a ‘mock’ documentary because no-one’s being mocked in it … I think there’s a difference.)

Actually I find screenwriting really challenging. I would love to adapt one of my books but think I might need a bravery injection first.

You’ve been successful in exporting your fiction internationally. Do Australian writers in YA stand a chance in the US market?

Definitely. There is a lot of love for Australian YA in the US. Margo Lanagan, Melina Marchetta, Jaclyn Moriarty, Marcus Zusak, John Marsden — the big names here garner a lot of respect there. Very generally speaking, I think they love the ‘direct’ Aussie voice. My writing has been called things like ‘unvarnished’ and ‘raunchy’ in the US and for some reason it feels like a compliment!

You have recently hosted a local radio show, Folkish on Tuesday mornings (currently in hiatus). What are your top 5 folk tracks (at the moment)?

Simmone’s earlier novel Notes From The Teenage Underground won the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for YA Fiction and the Gold Inky in 2007. The short film Pity24 won an AWGIE for screenwriting.

A UNIQUE VOICE IS SO IMPORTANT IN FICTION … WHO ARE YOUR FAVOURITE WRITERS — WHO MANAGE TO CREATE A VOICE SO MESMERISING THAT YOU DON’T WANT TO LET GO?

IF YOU ENJOYED THIS, YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE TO MEET LOCAL WRITERS JON BAUER AND ADAM FORD …

Do you remember the first time? Part 2: readings + The Voice

You can pre-order my book, just_a_girl. Just click on the pic.
You can pre-order my book, just_a_girl. Just click on the pic.

I’m one of those people who would rather die than get up and say a few words. I think this is in part genetic (my grandmother on my mum’s side and my grandfather on my dad’s side were both content to sit in corners and observe at social situations, and confessed their fears to me of standing up to speak) but also influenced by my experiences in primary school.

I don’t remember being self-conscious until about Grade 4. I feel like I can pinpoint the moment it began. When — as my character Layla takes up the narrative in my book — I had a teacher who decided to conduct a class experiment. Mr S told me to go outside and pick up rubbish. A strange request but I was a dutiful student (pretty much). When I returned I went to my desk as usual. Later in the day he smashed his ruler down in front of me and got me to stand up in front of the class while he accused me of hitting and hurting a small boy. This was so against my nature that I threw it off for a while, but then he got a student to go and get the little boy in question, and he lied convincingly. I felt stranded and confused. Did I actually do it? Without realising? When I sat down, my teacher revealed it was an experiment. To see how boldly I stuck to the truth. To see if I changed my story. The class all had to write about me (and the scenario). I felt completely exposed.

And recently I realised: when I stand up in front of an audience now, I feel like I’ve done something wrong — even though I haven’t. It’s a hard thing to shake off. Of course, a therapist may say I’d feel this sense of dread anyway (many writers do). So, when I finished the book, I realised I had to confront it. The public/private persona. The exposure to strangers. Writers are expected to speak and be comfortable speaking (even when this is a completely different skill to writing). I heard a saying recently, ‘hiding in plain sight’, and I relate to this well. Every day I confront it. The need to compose myself.

Harrison Craig on The Voice
Harrison Craig on The Voice

I’ve been hooked on The Voice lately. This show is my guilty pleasure. I watch all the auditions. I watch them again on the net. It’s the only TV show I get really addicted to. I love singing, and distinctive voices. But when I’m watching it’s as if I’m searching for something. For clues. And I realise I’m fascinated by that moment of connection. When the singer touches the audience (or judges). It’s about letting yourself be vulnerable. Being unique. Allowing emotion to move through your body. It is a mystery to me.

Now, singing and dancing are different from speaking. I could get up on a stage and sing and dance in musicals at school. The Wizard of Oz. Godspell. Musicals meant you could hang out with older boys (I went to a girls’ school) who played guitar. There was a freedom there. But I never auditioned for a play. I guess, people who stutter would understand this. It seems a different part of the brain handles song, as opposed to speech. When I get nervous, I go mute. Not just my voice, but my brain! I can’t access what I need when asked a question in front of people. Many times at school and university I had to leave the room. For fear of not being able to find the right words.

But recently it all came to a head. I was asked to do my first reading of the book (a preview) at the Castlemaine Word Mine with Simmone Howell and Ellie Marney. I knew that this was make or break time. That from this point on, leading up to and beyond the launch, it was only going to get harder. Or easier. Depending on how the night went. And you know what? I drove home pumping my fist at the moon and screaming ‘Fuck, yeah!’ because I got to the other side. Where it actually felt good. And here’s what I learnt.

Join a writers’ group 

Even though I’ve written my first novel, I’ve never had any group feedback. I chose a research masters to avoid classes (of course). One on one feedback I can handle. But in Castlemaine I stumbled upon the most wonderful group. All experienced writers. All willing to be both gentle and pernickety. I started to tentatively read aloud. I couldn’t look up from my page. But I started to hear my own voice.

Say yes first and panic later

Q&A with Kirsten Krauth, Ellie Marney, Simmone Howell, Castlemaine Word Mine
Q&A with Kirsten Krauth, Ellie Marney, Simmone Howell, Castlemaine Word Mine

Make a commitment to doing the talk. All writers deep down really want to share their work. While I didn’t write my book for an audience, it has ideas I want to share. Find out as much detail as you can about the event. How long will you read? Are you on with a panel? Who’s on first? Is there a Q+A? Can you get an idea of the questions?

Practise for a week

Choose an excerpt from your book that you really love, and that has strong narrative drive. As a fellow writer told me, don’t go for beautiful words. They may look good on paper (and the reader will appreciate this) but they inspire daydreaming. Take your audience on a trip; include them in the journey. Read your excerpt out loud, once a day, for a week leading up. Learn the words that you stumble on and change or eliminate them. Write down where to pause. Write down where to smile. Reminders are great. Most importantly, write yourself an intro, even if you have to write ‘Hello! I’m Kirsten Krauth’! For me, the stumble is that initial opening. Once my voice actually comes out, I’m getting there…

Good old NLP + love your toes

Neuro-linguistic programming seems odd. Replacing words and concepts with others. Too good to be true? But every time you say ‘nervous’ to yourself or friends and family, replace it with ‘excited’. I did this and it worked. Couldn’t believe it. By the time I got to the reading I was pretty fucking excited. But actually, something weird happened and the nerves seemed to evaporate as the (very long) day wore on.

Moments before I stood up to read, I concentrated on my feet. They were dug into the ground. I scrunched my toes up (another tip from a friend) and thought only of them. When the time came my feet were happy to move me from A to B.

The art of performance: become your character

When I hit the stage, my only goals for the night (other than turning up) were to slow down and look up from the page once. But as I started to read the practice paid off. The words and timing seemed effortless and as I was reading in first-person, I started to play with the voice of 14-year-old Layla. I started to embody her, and she started to embody me. It turned into a performance rather than a reading. As we moved together, I actually started to enjoy it. Character acting. That’s what it was about.

Invite your friends and family

I’ve had lots of conversations about this one. Most writers agree that it’s easier to speak to a room full of strangers; and to read from a script. But as my eyes furtively darted from the page, I began to see people I know. People I like. People who had given up precious time to turn up on a cold night and listen. I saw they were smiling. They were keen. They were encouraging me to keep going. And this was an amazing help.

I wasn’t in a classroom being humiliated or attacked. Things had moved on.

WHAT ABOUT YOU? ARE YOU A NERVOUS (READ EXCITED) OR COURAGEOUS PUBLIC SPEAKER? ANY TIPS OR ADVICE? HAVE YOU EVER BEEN BLOWN AWAY BY SEEING A WRITER SPEAK? HAVE YOU EVER WISHED YOU COULD SINK INTO THE FLOOR?


PS And … the exciting news is that you can now pre-order  just_a_girl online (it comes out 1 June). I’m really excited about the cover. Although I originally didn’t want a girl on the cover, I was talked around. It’s dark and techie and murky — not girlie — and represents the book well, I think. If you can’t afford to buy a copy, and let’s face it, many people can’t, it would be great if you could request it at your local library. That way, they can order it in:-) Or, if you want to get a review copy for your journal or blog, let me know! It’s also available as an ebook.