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Posts from the ‘Australian’ Category

Laura E Goodin, vintage adventure and cracking characters

Laura E Goodin’s first novel After the Bloodwood Staff is one of the most enjoyable reads I have ever encountered in quite a long and industrious reading career.

I’m a devotee of vintage adventure fiction and, let’s face it, adventure underpins many stories that are classified into other genres.

After the Bloodwood Staff is a treat. It’s witty and engaging, with cracking characters, and it takes the genre by the scruff of the neck and upends it with some panache.

If you love the kind of mystery, danger and excitement that infuses Sherlock Holmes, Agatha Christie, the Murdoch Mysteries, and Shakespeare & Hathaway, you will adore Laura’s books.*

In today’s Last Word of the Week, I have an early Christmas present for you: an extract from the novel. Meet two of my favourite all-time characters: the sedentary, impractical Hoyle and the irritable, no-nonsense Sybil.

And if you’re looking for a different kind of present for that special reader in your life, follow the links. It’s not too late!

After the Bloodwood Staff by Laura E Goodin

Chapter 1: In Which Hoyle Meets an Adventurer

The bookstore was a barn of a place. Hoyle thought it might have been an actual barn at one point, judging from the smell that underlay the scents of musty paper, old leather, and expensive coffee. He’d driven an hour from the DC suburbs to get here; a post on his favorite adventure-fiction forum had recommended it as a good source for overlooked authors. And he needed a change of scene. The pile of what looked like sawdust pellets that he’d found in a corner of the garage last week had filled him with a vague but relentless dread that somewhere in his house lurked a brood of termites. He’d been trying to get the nerve up to phone somebody for days. The dread had swooped again as soon as he had woken up. But it was Sunday. Can’t do anything about it today, he had thought almost jauntily. The bookstore would be the ideal distraction.

He could feel his mood lifting as he wandered along the first aisle, turning from dull worry to the bright eagerness of the hunt. He knew the look of the books he wanted; he almost didn’t have to read the spines anymore.

Oh, that one looked about right. He reached, and his hand was knocked aside by a painful swat.

“I saw it first,” snapped the woman who’d hit him. Her was hair slightly grey, like his. She was significantly shorter, but stocky enough to put a bit of sting in the swat.

“What the hell?” he cried. But she was already striding toward the cash register.

Hoyle felt a wave of loss and frustration. He rushed to the register. “Hey,” he called to the woman as she finished paying and carefully placed the book in her tote bag. “Hey, wait.” She gave him an annoyed look over her shoulder. “Please,” he said. He caught up to her. “Please. Just let me see what it was. I didn’t even get a chance …”

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She hesitated, then drew the book out. After the Bloodwood Staff, by C.G. Ingraham. The cover was a faded mustard color, the title printed in an enticing Art Nouveau font. Without thinking, he ran one finger gently across the cover, feeling the rough cloth, and the slightly smoother lines of the title. The woman did not pull the book away.

“Ingraham,” murmured Hoyle. “Never heard of this one.”

“Fabulous stuff,” she said. “He was a bit of a maverick. Not many of them wrote about Australia. It was all Africa this and South America that and the South Sea Islands the other. I’ve been looking for this one forever.” She cleared her throat. “I’m sorry I was so rude.”

“That’s okay,” he said. On an impulse, he added, “Coffee?”

They stared at each other for a moment.

“Thanks,” she said.

Hoyle and the woman placed their orders at the cafe counter and looked for a table.

“There,” Hoyle said. “You go grab it.”

After The Bloodwood Staff by Laura E Goodin
After The Bloodwood Staff by Laura E Goodin

Once he had the coffees, he twisted and shuffled through the chairs, holding the coffees at head height to keep his elbows safe from jostling. He had an uncomfortable feeling that raising his arms like this made him look paunchy. When he got to the table, he set the coffees down and sat.

“I’m Hoyle,” he said.

“What’s your first name?”

“That is my first name.”

“Your parents named you Hoyle?”

“Well, what’s your name?”

“Sybil.”

They sipped, not quite companionably. She kept glancing at him, then away, as if she were expecting something from him.

“So, um, you read a lot of adventure?” he ventured at last. Oh, God, what a stupid thing to say.

“Since I was little,” she said. “My grandfather got me started on one of Mundy’s novels.”

King, of the Khyber Rifles?”

She sat back, astonished. “How did you guess?”

Hoyle shrugged, feeling bashful. “It’s my favorite of his, that’s all. Thought maybe your grandfather might have felt the same.”

“What’s your favorite Conan Doyle?”

“I confess it’s the Brigadier Gerard stories.”

“Oh, don’t be embarrassed. Just because they’re obscure, doesn’t mean they’re not good.”

On the strength of this, he said, “Tell me about Ingraham.”

Sybil leant forward, suddenly eager. “It’s such a sad story. He spent years of his life as a sort of groupie of Conan Doylefollowed him around from one speaking engagement to another, never getting up the courage to introduce himself or even write Conan Doyle a letter. He did write Haggard once, in 1899at least, Haggard’s reply was found in Ingraham’s papers, although Haggard seems to have thrown out Ingraham’s letter. Typical.”

“What did Haggard say?”

Sybil closed her eyes. “‘My dear sir, your suggestion is entirely untenableindeed, bordering on the insaneand I trust you will seek out competent assistance. Please do not contact me or anyone associated with me again.'” She opened her eyes and took a sip of coffee. “That was all. What in the world could Ingraham have suggested? I’ve been reading his books for clues. He was prolific, toonearly thirty-five by the time he died. He starved himself to death. He’d become convinced that an evil parasite lived in his liver and the only way to kill it before it propagated was to starve itand, by necessity, himself.”

“Wow,” said Hoyle, feeling queasy.

“Oh, yes, you can look up the case study.”

“Was he English?”

“No, American, believe it or not.”

“I take it you’re doing a PhD on him or something?”

She blinked. “Oh, no. No.”

“But you know so much about him.”

“It’s a mystery, that’s all,” she said, suddenly irritable. “I want to know what his suggestion was.”

“Ah,” he said.

“That’s why I needed this book. It’s one of the last three I didn’t have. I’d checked out online sellers, everything. When I saw you reaching for it  …  sorry.”

“That’s okay.”

“Will it help make up for it if I let you in on a secret?”

“Really, it’s okay—”

She lowered her voice. “There is evidence that Ingraham travelled to Australia in the 1890s.” She sat back with an air of having given him something for which he should be very grateful.

“Wow,” he said again, somewhat more weakly.

She frowned. “Of course, wow. Youdon’t get the connection?”

“Nope.” He started drinking his coffee as quickly as he could.

“His letter to Haggard was written in 1899.”

“Okay.”

“Ugh! I’m glad I did nab Bloodwood, it would have been wasted on you. He’d found something in Australia and he wanted to mount a second expedition.”

Something in her voice made Hoyle say, “Whatever it was can’t possibly be there now. It’s been, what, over a hundred years?”

“Do you think I should go and find out? Or that I shouldn’t?”

“Well, it’s none of my business, is it?”

“Because if you’re thinking that I’m just a middle-aged woman who should stay home with her cats and her book club for a couple of decades until it’s time to go into a hospice and die, then you can just think again.”

“No! No, of course not, no, sorry.” The silence descended again. She finished her coffee and stood up.

Hoyle stood as well. “It’s been a pleasure talking with you.”

“Oh, no it hasn’t. Don’t patronize me. Oh, and thanks for the coffee.” He watched her go, then went back to the shelves. There was an unpleasant, dogged feel to his browsing now, but it was not entirely fruitless: he found a couple of Talbot Mundys he’d been looking for, and, over in the kids’ section, a copy of Richard Halliburton’s Complete Book of Marvels. He bought it, even though he had three copies already; there were nephews and nieces, and Christmas was less than two months away. The oldest of them was almost too old now for the book, and, to be frank, too interested in black nail polish, but maybe there was still time to instill a love of adventure.

Not that Hoyle himself had ever been on an adventure. In fact, he’d devoted a fair bit of effort over the years to arranging a calm life. A job that suited him, if it didn’t inspire him. A few friends, whom he saw at comfortable intervals. His sisters’ kids, when he wanted someone to give something to. The thought of trudging through a jungle somewhere, picking leeches off his privates and drinking blood from a cut on the neck of his packhorse to stay alive

Sybil, thoughshe seemed raring to go. Maybe she would go to Australia, find Ingraham’s secretor something else entirely. A thousand possibilities, straight out of a thousand musty books with frayed and mottled covers.

He drove home past the endless rows of bland, northern Virginia strip malls and office buildings, fast-food places and office-supply stores. What kind of adventures could he have here? Finding the best price on red peppers at the supermarket? Crossing the street to avoid a group of sullen teenagers?

He pulled into his driveway, got out of his car, and went inside. Sunday afternoons were for reading. But today he couldn’t settle in. Tea, then doing the breakfast dishes, then checking email, then more tea, then filing a few bills, then a walk to the convenience store for some milk, then more tea. After each task, he tried again to engross himself in one of the books he’d just bought. Each time, he was overwhelmed by the need to walk, to straighten, to do. He kept finding reasons to think of Australia.

Laura’s Links:

Email: info@lauraegoodin.com

Website: http://www.lauraegoodin.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Laura.E.Goodin.Writer/

Twitter: @lauragoodin

Insta: @lauraegoodin

Trailer for ATBS: https://vimeo.com/192767816

 *I recommend Laura’s second novel, Mud and Glass, for anyone who has ever darkened the portals of an institute of higher education, or loves cookies. Or both. Especially both.

Trailer for Mud and Glass:  https://vimeo.com/215929002

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Kate Murdoch in the Grove, where status is survival

The very talented Kate Murdoch exhibited widely as a painter both in Australia and internationally before turning her hand to writing. Her short-form fiction has been published in various literary journals in Australia, UK, US and Canada.

Her debut novel, Stone Circle, a historical fantasy novel set in Renaissance Italy, was released by Fireship Press in December 2017. Stone Circle was a First in Category winner in the Chaucer Awards 2018 for pre-1750’s historical fiction. You can see my review of Stone Circle here.

Kate’s second novel, The Orange Groveabout the passions and intrigues of court mistresses in 18th century France, was published by Regal House Publishing in October 2019. I absolutely love the cover! Isn’t it gorgeous?

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Kate was awarded a Katherine Susannah Pritchard Fellowship at the KSP Writers’ Centre in 2019 to develop her third novel, The Glasshouse.

Welcome, Kate, and thanks for speaking with me today. Can you tell us something about yourself that you think anyone who reads your book/s really ought to know?

Kate: I’m an artist turned writer so I write visually. I’m also fascinated by human motivation, the complex relationship between peoples’ past and present circumstances/traumas, and their actions.

An artist! That explains a great deal. What is your favourite scene from your own writing? Why?

Hard to say but I wrote a black mass scene in The Orange Grove and that was fun both in terms of imagery and in creating a menacing atmosphere.

It must be! If I told one of your characters (you get to choose which one) that they were imaginary, how would they respond?

Duchesse Charlotte: What a heinous thing to say. I am most certainly real, and if you don’t believe me I’ll throw a vase at your head and set one of my Bichons on you!

Brilliant! Well done, Duchesse! Can you think of any books and/or writers who inspired you on your path to be an author? Can you tell us about that?

Kate Grenville has been an inspiration for the way in which she can, with few words, create vivid imagery and layered emotional nuance.

Gabriel Garcia Marquez has also been an influence and inspiration for my writing. His lyrical style, detailed description and romantic themes made an impact as did his ability to move me.

A couple of iconic writers there; great inspiration. Now take yourself back ten years – what would you like to tell yourself?

Relax a little. You can direct things more than you realise. Appreciate all the positives and more of them will arrive.

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Relax. Of course. What’s next for you in the world of writing?

I’m on the second draft of my third novel, The Glasshouse, about a girl orphaned in the Messina earthquake of 1908 and adopted by a wealthy Palermo family. I’ve also started work on a dual-timeline novel set in World War Two Croatia and 1960’s Melbourne, told from the perspective of three generations of women.

I’m doing a number of events for The Orange Grove and am looking forward to talking with readers.

And The Orange Grove is garnering some very enthusiastic reviews. Congratulations! I have it on my summer reading list. Now finally: Who would you be if you were a fictional character – one of yours, or someone else’s?

I’d quite enjoy being Romain de Villiers, the tarot reader in The Orange Grove. Aside from his money problems, he does what he likes, has numerous love interests and moves between the château at Blois and Versailles, mixing with lots of interesting people across the classes.

He sounds very interesting indeed. Thanks so much Kate for speaking with me today. Meet you in the Grove!

 

The Orange Grove:

When status is survival, every choice has its consequence.

Blois, 1705. The chateau of Duc Hugo d’Amboise simmers with rivalry and intrigue.

Henriette d’Augustin, one of five mistresses of the duc, lives at the chateau with her daughter. When the duc’s wife, Duchesse Charlotte, maliciously undermines a new mistress, Letitia, Henriette is forced to choose between position and morality. She fights to maintain her status whilst targeted by the duchesse who will do anything to harm her enemies.

The arrival of charismatic tarot reader, Romain de Villiers, further escalates tensions as rivals in domestic politics and love strive for supremacy.

In a society where status is a matter of life and death, Henriette must stay true to herself, her daughter, and her heart, all the while hiding a painful secret of her own.

 

Kate’s Links:

Website:  https://katemurdochauthor.com/

Blog: https://kabiba.wordpress.com/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/katemurdochauthor/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/KateMurdoch3

Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com.au/katemurdoch73/

Instagram:  https://www.instagram.com/katemurdoch2/

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/47583097-the-orange-grove

And The Orange Grove buy links:       

Regal House Publishing: https://regalhousepublishing.com/product/the-orange-grove/

Booktopia: https://www.booktopia.com.au/the-orange-grove-kate-murdoch/book/9781947548220.html

Angus & Robertson: http://bit.ly/2LmLy2U

Readings: https://www.readings.com.au/products/30372648/the-orange-grove

Boomerang Books: https://www.boomerangbooks.com.au/the-orange-grove/kate-murdoch/book_9781947548220.htm

Amazon: mybook.to/TheOrangeGrove

Book Depository: https://www.bookdepository.com/Orange-Grove-Kate-Murdoch/9781947548220

Kobo: https://www.kobo.com/nz/en/ebook/the-orange-grove-5

Barnes and Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-orange-grove-kate-murdoch/1132202645?ean=9781947548220

Waterstones: https://www.waterstones.com/book/the-orange-grove/kate-murdoch//9781947548220

Foyles: https://www.foyles.co.uk/witem/fiction-poetry/the-orange-grove,kate-murdoch-9781947548220

Blackwells: https://blackwells.co.uk/bookshop/product/The-Orange-Grove-by-Kate-Murdoch-author/9781947548220

 

 

 

 

 

Gillian Polack: fruitcake that sparkles

Gillian Polack is passionate about people, about books, about history. An Australian writer and editor, Gillian works mainly in the field of speculative fiction. She has published four novels, numerous short stories and nonfiction articles, and is the creator of the New Ceres universe. I first encountered Gillian’s work when I reviewed her novel The Year of the Fruitcake for Aurealis magazine. I started my review by saying that the book ‘fizzes with smart, sparkling prose and razor wit’, and finished it with this: ‘one of the most innovative, droll and appealing voices you’re likely to encounter in modern speculative fiction. To read a page of Polack is to enter a world both astute and delightful.’

As you can imagine, I’m enchanted to host Gillian today.

Welcome, Gillian, and thank you for joining me. Can you tell us something about yourself that you think anyone who reads your book/s really ought to know?

Gillian: My novels are not about me. So many readers read one of my contemporary novels and say “Autobiography!”

This became so common that I started playing a guessing game with readers.

“Which bits of the novel are from my life?” I asked, and now I often intentionally put something in my fiction, to keep the guessing game going. In July I said, “I should stop doing this,” but I haven’t quite decided if I should stop, or if I should still add small and unpredictable bits of my life to my fiction and see if readers will ever work out what is borrowed from reality and what is invented.

Very, very few readers guess right. The most common (and entertaining) incorrect guess is about the character who swims naked in the Murrumbidgee River. I do not know how to swim and I’m exactly the wrong person to take off clothes in a public place.

Now I’ll be looking for clues! What is your favourite scene from your own writing? Why?

I am stumped every time someone asks me my favourite book, because I’m not good at choosing just one. I’m like that with most things. Favourite food. Favourite season. All difficult. My favourite scenes, plural (for each and every novel) they’re the scenes that take me into the book, every time. In my perfect world, every single word of fiction I wrote would do this to me. I’m working on that.

It’s very hard to pick favourites, I agree. If I told one of your characters (you get to choose which one) that they were imaginary, how would they respond?

Polack-JewishWomen-200x300I wanted to give you the response of my very political character in The Wizardry of Jewish Women for she would argue gloriously and precisely and with much passion to prove her existence. Then I thought of giving you the answer Melusine would give from The Time of the Ghosts. “You’re not from this universe, are you, dear? Let me make you some coffee. If you’ve the time, I’d like to ask you if you’ve seen someone who might have travelled your way.”

These are not the most interesting answers, however. My mindwiped alien (in a perimenopausal human body) in The Year of the Fruit Cake would on some days be very distressed that she’s considered fictional, on others she’d discuss it rationally and at least once a week she’d hurt so much that she didn’t understand what you were trying to say. On her best days, she’d look at the evidence, work out the mathematics behind it, and agree with you. Most of this doesn’t show in the novel, but she’s an exceptionally courageous alien and every day she doubts her reality, she handles that doubt with style.

Fruitcake

As you handled that question with style! Can you think of any books and/or writers who inspired you on your path to be an author? Can you tell us about that?

 So very many books…

I’ve known I was going to be a writer since I was eight. Since before then, actually, because I was eight when I made my big decision. I wasn’t taught to read until I was five, so every book I encountered before I was eight was critical. I read Enid Blyton and I read Edith Nesbit. I read Mary Grant Bruce and Elyne Mitchell. I read the complete series of lives of famous scientists my family owned, and I read history books about the Holocaust. No book I was able to read was banned, and I went from John and Betty (the first book I ever read – I remember learning to read with it, and then I remember helping my younger sister when she learned to read) to reading everything within reach in no time at all.

My biggest shock in between eight and thirteen was The Constant Nymph  by Margaret Kennedy (which was shelved in the children’s section until I asked a librarian to explain some critical plot points), and it was one of the books that taught me I didn’t want to write like another writer.

By the time I was thirteen I was reading Tolkien and Tolstoy and Dickens and every single science fiction and historical fiction and fantasy writer I could get my hands on. I had run out of books in the children’s section of the library, you see, and was given permission to borrow books from the adult section.

I can’t imagine life without books. What I knew when I was eight was that this was my playground and my life. That it was all the writers (except a certain few) who inspired me, not any single one. They still do. I have six piles of books to read and when I finish answering these questions, I’m going to start one of them. Today I want to read a book by Meg Keneally and one by Nick Larter. Yesterday, my reading was Kyla Ward and Jeanette Winterson. Tomorrow’s reading is Jo Zebedee and I want to re-visit Ruth Frances Long and maybe, if there’s time, read another Meg Keneally, for a friend just pointed out I hadn’t read her favourite Keneally novel yet.

There are a lot of books by Irish writers on my reading piles this week because of my research – I use my research as an excuse to find new writers. I never want to lose that spark that made me need to write, nor my love of the books of others. Each and every one of them inspires my own writing. 

What a fantastic list and a great approach to reading. Take yourself back ten years – what would you like to tell yourself?

I’ve had a scary-bad ten years. So much near-death. So much being physically incapable of doing things. I’ve found a way of surviving, and so I’d like to please tell me back then:

Life is going to throw shit at you. It will be foul and smelly and will never stop. Turn it into fertiliser and grow flowers. The earlier you start doing this the less you will hurt. The shit won’t stop, so you will have plenty of fertiliser. You’re going to grow an amazing garden.

My garden is flourishing. Like all gardens, this takes hard and constant work. This week I’m growing roses. 

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Resilience and determination combined with creativity – perfect for gardens and life. What’s next for you in the world of writing?

Three things. I always have a novel happening, and I’ll talk about that in a moment (my summer novel).

The real writing world contains problems for writers like me: I’m a niche writer (many readers love my work, but have trouble finding it, because big publishers do not often take on voices like mine) and I am physically not capable of pushing my barrow much in public (disability sucks, and living in Australia also has its limitations). Next for me, therefore, is trying to find ways of getting my books to the people who want them. I want people to enjoy my books and that means being visible. That’s the hard work bit of what comes next for me. Trying to be visible. Several publishers are helping me with this and I have novels coming out in at least two countries.

The novel I’ll be working on this summer is not going to be angry. It’s going to give some of my characters some happiness. Also, I’m going to try to not kill anyone off.

How am I going to achieve these things? I’ve noticed a lovely theme that goes through some types of teen fiction and through some Korean drama, where people find happiness with each other, as a group. I would like to give this happiness to adults who travel, each of them alone, to another world. I want them to come back changed, but with each other.

This is quite different from my third activity for the next little while. Poison and Light will be released very soon, and I need to help it on its way. It’s about the last artist from Lost Earth, it’s about the way we hide in the past when we can’t face the present, and it’s about life on a distant planet. Life with highwaymen and swordfights and amazing publishers. My favourite part of it right now is the cover art: Lewis Morley didn’t just design a street scene: he built it and photographed it. My world lives.

9781743340455_Ms Cellophane_coverThat sounds awesome, Gillian. Finally: Who would you be if you were a fictional character – one of yours, or someone else’s?

I would be someone else’s fictional character. I don’t know whose, but I know precisely what. I’d have all the things I’ve missed out in this life: beauty, health, perfect eyesight, fabulous romance, awesome clothes and strange magic that changes the world. I suspect I’d be the somewhat sarcastic heroine of a steampunk Regency novel.

 

I can see it! And I want to read it! Thank you so much for sharing with me today, Gillian, and more power to you.

Gillian’s links:

Website: http://www.gillianpolack.com

Blog: http://www.gillianpolack.com/blog/

Twitter: @GillianPolack