Skip to content

Posts from the ‘news for right now’ Category

Running out of time on a fragile planet: Rod Taylor

The fragile state of our planet prompted author Rod Taylor to collect stories about the impact of climate change in his book Ten Journeys on a Fragile Planet. I asked Rod what inspired him to start writing.

Rod Taylor – inspired by nature

Rod: In late 2016 I was an IT consultant, not a bad job, paid well. By night I was a science columnist for Fairfax and doing radio, occasionally for the ABC.


So while things were pretty good for me personally, I was becoming increasingly concerned about the future of humanity. My scientist friends were telling me ever more alarming news about the state of the planet. Things are looking really grim and we’re running out of time.

Author Rod Taylor

Author Rod Taylor


Then Trump got elected, which is a pretty clear message that a lot of people have no idea of how serious our situation is, often viewing it as a green-left socialist conspiracy to attack our freedom.
What to do? I am by nature a problem solver and it was clear to me that the only way forward is people. People are the solution.


While I am by nature optimistic, this is profoundly gloomy. I can’t live with that, so I decided to write a book.

This book would tell the stories of people who inspire me and, I hope, the reader.

We have a maggot farmer, a politician, a physicist and a guitar-playing part Maori. According to the title, the book charts ten journeys, but really it’s eleven because it’s partly mine too, as I navigated this path.

Thanks Rod.

Rod’s book features contributions from:

The Activist: Simon Sheikh
The Solar Pioneer: Professor Andrew Blakers
The Maggot Farmer: Olympia Yarger
The Accidental Activist: Charlie Prell
The Thoughtful Salesman: Leonard Cohen
The Politician: Susan Jeanes
The Climate Game Changer: Inez Harker-Schuch
The Advocate: Professor Kate Auty
The Lady with a Laser: Monica Oliphant
A Question of Hope: Dr Siwan Lovett

 

Here’s an extract from the book. Thank you so much Rod for sharing this with us.

 

The Activist: Simon Sheikh

Extract from Ten Journeys on a Fragile Planet by Rod Taylor

 

Outside it was beautiful and sunny, but it was a bleak day. Donald

Trump had just delivered his inauguration address and already

he was attacking climate science. The world had just broken

temperature records for the third year running, while then Prime

Minister Turnbull was blaming renewable energy for blackouts in

South Australia. All this was just as the nation was about to record

mean temperatures for the month (0.77°C above average) and

eastern Australia would be hit by a run of heatwaves.

 

After reading all this grim news I met Simon Sheikh, but he

was cheerful, friendly and upbeat. We were about to record a live

interview, but it was he who started asking me questions. How long

had I done radio? How did I start writing for the newspaper? What

were my plans for Fragile Planet? I could see he’s a good operator

because of his genuine interest in other people and it was hard not

to be carried along by his enthusiasm. It gave me a glimpse of how

he’s been able to stir people out of their complacency to get them

active with groups such as GetUp.

 

Like anyone I don’t mind talking about myself, but we were

about to go on-air and I needed to get ready, so after a few minutes

I had to cut in, “Hey, I’m supposed to be interviewing you.”

Transcribing the interview later, I was struck by his use of

language, which was peppered with words like “passionate” and

“enthusiastic”. I made a note to learn about how a person could stay

hopeful in the face of relentless bad news.

Simon’s father was born in India and spent time in Pakistan.

 

Somewhere in his heritage is Saudi Arabian, which is where he gets

his surname. On arriving in Australia, his father quickly detached

himself from his ethnic background and assimilated. He’s even

largely forgotten his native Urdu. Sheikh, who was born in Sydney,

says he doesn’t think too much about this, but sometimes wishes

he knew more about his mixed background. He thinks of himself

as Australian and was surprised one day when his wife Anna Rose

told him most people don’t think of him as a “white Australian”.

 

Simon is tallish with soft features and breaks into an easy smile.

His Indian heritage is visible but not dominant. If you meet him on

the street, you’ll see he’s obviously not “full blood white”, but with

the ethnic mix in Australia, it’s hardly noticeable. What stands out

more is his surname, which, with his public profile, has made him

a target for online racist attacks. Even in a multicultural, relatively

progressive nation, some of these forces are just below the surface.

Still, he’s prosaic and shrugs it off. “That’s the nature of modern-day

engagement on things like social media.”

 

His sister Belinda died before he was born and his mother had a

bout of encephalitis when she was much younger. Later she suffered

mental health issues, which left Simon’s father the job of looking

after him. Sheikh describes those times in a Sydney Morning Herald

article. His mother’s mental health worsened during her pregnancy,

and by the time he was born, Simon’s parents were living apart.

His mother was becoming increasingly delusional with psychotic

episodes.

 

Simon had to deal with his mother’s instability such as the

day she set fire to the kitchen while cooking chips. It wasn’t made

easier living in the inner-Sydney neighbourhood. Enmore was a

rough neighbourhood back then and drug and alcohol abuse was

common. It was an unsettling start to life as he recalls, “I’d often hear

huge fights as I lay awake at night. I remember being scared a lot.”

“I slept with an axe next to my bed after being threatened for

not paying enough protection money to a local gang.”

 

When Simon was 10 or 11, his father had a major heart attack

leading to a quintuple bypass. Now the young Sheikh found himself

caring for his father as well as his mother. He says his father “really

didn’t recover full strength for quite some time” and at various

times both parents were dependent on welfare.

For Simon, it was a formative moment that could have gone

either way. In an ABC interview, he told Richard Aedy:

 

[His father] would come back from work, in those years that

he was working, cook dinner, ensure that I was studying, and

then go back home again. Every single day. And that put in

place for me a regimen that was very helpful in keeping me

grounded and particularly in keeping me away from a lot of

the troublemakers that I grew up around.

I had a year or two there where things could have gone

wrong.

 

By Year 7, Simon was showing glimpses of his future life and the

energy that would propel him into national prominence. Already

he had an emerging political awareness and a sense of social justice.

His first rally was against the rise of Pauline Hanson. It was, he says,

something he did with encouragement. “I was lucky in high school

to have teachers help propel that along.”

 

Simon’s impressions from the “fairly poor” community of his

childhood have stayed with him. “I got to see a few challenges faced

by the people around me.” There were sole-parent families and most

parents didn’t manage the finances very well. There were high levels

of drug and gambling addiction. His parents had other problems,

but he’s grateful for the strong grounding they gave him. “I owe a

lot to my dad,” he says.

 

After a day at school, he would go off to private tuition, which

was something few other parents could manage. Today he can

see that it was the commitment of his parents and their focus on

education that got him into university. “They were always putting

every dollar they could into education,” he recalls. “Growing up

the way I did meant I learned to be self-sufficient and to navigate

systems to achieve the best outcomes.”

 

LINKS:

Website: https://tenjourneys.blogspot.com/2020/04/ten-journeys-on-fragile-planetcoming.html

Inspire me in 2021

After the roller coaster that was 2020, it’s time for a change.

Welcome back to Last Word of the Week. In the 2021 series, I’m looking for inspiration.

Each week, a different author will tell us  what inspires them. Then they will share an extract from one of their books!

I’m looking forward to their encouraging words and their stories.

I’m going to launch the series

My inspiration for stories comes from family, from culture, and from nature. Our precarious planet provides us a flimsy shield from the vastness of the universe. I love to look out and in, to our own species and the precious flora and fauna around us, for insights into what it means to be alive.

Inspired by a puppy

Inspiration comes in many shapes

The worldwide refugee crisis and Australia’s punitive response is the inspiration behind my sci-fi fantasy series, The Chronicles of the Pale. Writing these three books helped me work through my despair to find a way to hope for the future.

 

 

Here’s an extract from Book 3: The Ruined Land. In this scene, Feather of the Storm tribe arrives at the den of the canini (yep, taking wolf-dogs) of the Ravine. Oh, you can see a list of characters here if you wish.

 

The Ruined Land cover

The Ruined Land

The Ruined Land

‘I never thought to belong to such a pack,’ said Callan, one paw scratching busily behind his ear.

‘Nor I,’ commented Feather, cross-legged on the hard floor of the pack’s main den. He shifted a little as Callan leant back against him. On his other side, the half-grown canini cubs Niccolò and Rhosyn were tangled in slumber, their paws occasionally flapping against his leg in a dream run. Feather watched as Callan rose to all four feet, shook himself vigorously, and then settled again by his side with a long, soft exhalation. In the hours since they had rediscovered each other, the big white canine and the tribal envoy had been almost inseparable.

Freeing one hand to stroke a bit of comfort over Callan’s back, Feather looked around the den. From where they sat against the far wall, they had an excellent view of the astonishing company they shared. By the entrance, Hippolyta the leader of the ravine canini was engaged in serious conversation with Marin, huntmaster of the Storm tribe, and his partner Willow. Beside Willow, Jarli sat quiet and frowning, listening much more than he spoke. From the way that he leant close every time Willow spoke, Feather guessed that the Storm’s foremost couple had recognised the outclansman as the father of the twins, a man whose claim to raise them was greater than Marin and Willow’s plan to adopt. The older pair were probably trying to convince Jarli to stay with the tribe rather than taking his infants back to the less safe life of the outclan Owl. Feather was glad to be out of that conversation. The decision was Jarli’s, and it would not be easy.

For himself, his only thought was to return as quickly as possible to the new settlement of Newkeep Port, where Jana, and little Rasti, would be waiting. His father Helm, too. The easy, joyful reunion he had with his own daughter Freya, here in the ravine, had made him think again that he should make more of an effort to connect with his father. He was uncomfortably aware that he had not only failed to mention Helm’s return to Freya or to anyone else in the tribe, but also that he had avoided serious discussion with Helm during the weeks that they had laboured at the Newkeep site. He swallowed his worries. Problems for another day. It was enough to enjoy the nearness of Callan and the sense of happy community that pervaded the ravine.

In the space between the elders and the den, a handful of tribal children slept among the rest of the canini, human and canini young mingled in attitudes of casual trust while their parents guarded the ravine. He had not seen such a thing since the days when the packs of Callan and Waleen had shared their lives with the Storm. It was a pleasant sight. Lifting his gaze, Feather could see the shadows of equii – Pinto and Violeta, whom he had met within minutes of reaching the ravine. He had been told that the senior equii liked to visit the canini every few days, taking it into their round of the territory as they led the rest of the herd from pasture to pasture. It had given him much joy to find that quite a large herd of equii had found shelter here in the ravine. On their journey, he and Jarli had seem more bones than they cared to study, but Feather was sure that some of them were equii. He had feared that all of them, all who had run from their confined life in the Settlement, had perished on the unforgiving stretches of Broad Plain. That many had found safety, and that some at least of them had once more opened their minds to speech, was an unexpected but joyful discovery.

‘That was a good thought of yours, Callan,’ he commented, indicating the visitors.

Callan looked away, hiding some emotion. ‘For them, I daresay. There was no future for them out on Broad Plain. I don’t know that they’ve added much to our comfort, though.’

Feather smiled at the back of Callan’s head. ‘They have rediscovered their language, and they are safe. Knowing that must be counted as a benefit to all of us as well. Their lives are precious, and worth saving.’

‘Hmm.’ Callan sent a look back over his shoulder, his face creased in the semblance of a grin. ‘Trust you to find some good in that. As long as they don’t completely strip the ravine, I suppose there will still be food for all.’

‘Undoubtedly.’

They stayed silent for a while, enjoying the contentment of their reunion. The afternoon was fading, and Feather noticed a ripple of movement as the next detail of lookouts left to take up position at the pinch point of the trail. A good sentry post, but also a death trap, by everything Callan had told him. He returned Freya’s wave as she returned from her turn on guard, glad that he had seen no sign of the ravening horde of giant vulpini as he and Jarli had crossed Broad Plain. They had encountered only carcasses. In fact, it looked as if the vulpini had grown to excessive size and then suddenly died, all their life force sucked out of them by the freakish growth spurt. Interesting.

Just as the thought stuck him, he saw the humachine Hector join the group by Hippolyta. The big silvery creature sat at the leader’s feet, accepting a bowl of stew which one of the Storm youngsters handed him. Feather stilled his hand on Callan’s back. ‘And that one,’ he said softly. ‘What is he? Who is he? Can we trust him, Callan?’

‘Ah!’ answered Callan. ‘That is Hector of the Ravine. Mashtuk adopted him. He is to be trusted, yes.’

‘He’s from the Pale,’ murmured Feather, frowning, although he heard the faith and affection in his friend’s voice.

‘Let me tell you his story,’ offered Callan.

 

Thanks for reading! See you next week.

Clare and Aeryn

Clare and her distracting writing companion

 

 

The Ruined Land Links

Who’s Who in The Ruined Land

Amazon buy link

The Chronicles of the Pale box set

 

*PS: If you are an author who would like to be featured here this year, please contact me via this form. Cheers!

Love Books? Keep them coming!

It’s no secret that I love books.

This year I’m sharing some bookish ideas for end-of-year gifts, for yourself or others.

I recently heard society philanthropist Lady Primrose Potter interviewed. She’s an interesting person. One comment that stayed with me was that if you love something and you want it to last, do everything your power to support it.

We all have different amounts of power.

Lady Primrose is an important patron of the arts in a number of fields. While I don’t have that kind of might, I can give my love to books in other ways.

I buy books, I read books, I review books, I recommend books, and I do my best to help fellow authors with purchases, reviews and shares. I know how much effort goes into writing.

But buying books costs money

Which is wonderful if you have it. If you don’t, you can truly support books (and authors) for FREE – see the tips at the end of this post. It all helps, truly!

Books to Buy

There are so many good books out there! If you need help deciding which book to buy for a particular person, I recommend that you check out the reviews and recommendations from the independent booksellers such as

Readings: https://www.readings.com.au/newsletters-and-e-news

Here you will find the archive of their newsletters with reviews of 2020 publications in all genres and age groups.

Independent BookSellers Australia: http://indies.com.au/catalogues/

Listings of 2020 books in every genre, with extra attention to Australian authors and presses

Small Press Network Book of the Year: https://smallpressnetwork.com.au/book-of-the-year-award/book-of-the-year-2020/

Supporting small independent presses in Australia, the Indie awards are highly regarded

My 2020 Reviews on Goodreads: Clare’s Books

You will be able to see my short reviews and ratings of the 89 books that I’ve read this year, and the 300+ that I’ve rated on this site since joining in Dec 2016. Feel free to follow my reviews on Goodreads into 2021 and beyond!

Buying Books:

You choose the source: e-books are of course online, and print copies can be found via online retailers, department stores, OR YOUR HEROIC LOCAL BOOKSHOP.

My courageous local bookstore is Benns Books of Bentleigh. They supported me throughout lockdown with local deliveries to my door, yay. Their excellent Christmas Gift Guide is here.

 

Free bookish gifts for authors

Finally, some suggestions to cheer up the writers in your life with some free love.

  1. Use the local library, because authors get a tiny percentage of a cent for each borrowing.
  2. Suggest titles for your local library to buy, because authors will get a little percentage of the cover price for every sale.
  3. Use a free reading platform to rate the books you read, such as Goodreads, BookBub, or Voracious Readers.  If you happen to ever buy anything on Amazon, you can probably post a star rating or even a review on there too. These days, ratings and reviews help sell books.
  4. Share the books you have. The author won’t get another sale but they will get another reader, maybe with a word of mouth recommendation or a library borrowing of their other books. Chances are that the person you lent the book to wouldn’t have bought it or even found it on their own.
  5. Recommend our books. You have access to readers that your writer friends will never meet, especially if you are a member of a book club. More readers is always better for writers, even if it isn’t more book sales. See above: borrowing from the library helps support us too!
  6. Invite us to talk to your book club, especially virtually in these times of virus. We would love to go viral online! Zoom me in, Scotty.
  7. Drop us a line. Let an author know, by email or tweet or Facebook follow, that you enjoyed our books. One of the most satisfying email I ever received was from a reader who told me that my book The Stars in the Night had helped her understand her grandfather, a veteran of WWI. This actually made me cry. All my efforts were worthwhile!
  8. Share our Beautiful Covers: Instagram and TikTok are great platforms for sharing lovely images of the books you’ve enjoyed. #booklove, #bookstagram, #amreading are all useful. Oh, pro tip: if you wish to tag, please tag the title or the publisher, not the individual author. Some algorithms will demote a post that tags individuals as a friend-share, not a customer recommendation. Hey ho.
  9. Enjoy Reading. Keep it going. Like many other industries, publishing has struggled with new releases this year. Online launches sell about a quarter of the books sold in real-life launches. Love your books and pass on the love.

Happy Reading! I look forward to seeing you in 2021.

Until then, love your books to life.

 

Luce Brett takes on the leaky lady taboo

Today I’m pleased to be speaking with English author Luce Brett about her new book, PMSL: Or How I Literally Pissed Myself Laughing And Survived the Last Taboo to Tell The Tale, which she describes as part motherhood memoir, part healthcare memoir, and on a bigger scale, an honest, no-holds-barred tale of unspeakable conditions, taboos and what has to change.

When Luce became incontinent at the age of 30, after the birth of her first son, she felt her life had ended. She also felt scared, upset, embarrassed and shocked. How the hell had she ended up there, the youngest woman in the waiting room at the incontinence clinic?

Over ten year period, Luce faced plenty of difficulties, a lot of hurt, and a world of pain as well as downright craziness. She also started the very useful blog When You Are That Woman.

In opening an honest discussion about the normally taboo world of being a leaky lady, Luce reassures us that just because a problem is difficult to talk about, it shouldn’t be swept under the carpet. Post natal care, birth trauma and incontinence tend to be overlooked in research and treatment, maybe regarded as something that shouldn’t be talked about or that only happens elsewhere. For centuries, women have been expected to suffer in silence, and not to scare others with their stories of embarrassing conditions.

As a long-time sufferer and I guess “survivor” of endometriosis and cystic hyperplasia, I know a little bit about invisible lady illness that nobody wants to discuss. It’s wonderful that Luce is able to combine her writing skills to address the important topic.

Author Luce Brett

Author Luce Brett, photo credit Cannon Pictures

 

Welcome, Luce, great to speak with you. Why is writing this book important to you?

Luce: Writing PMSL was incredibly important to me. I was sure there were leaky people out there who needed to hear they were not alone. I dedicated the book to them.

Incontinence is an everyday taboo, a commonplace story that never gets the attention it deserves and the ramifications of that aren’t just personal. Yes, women – and men  – with these intimate problems don’t always get help or suffer in silence, but worse, that taboo trickles down and incontinence treatments aren’t researched well enough, there isn’t the innovation or focus there could be, it isn’t part of policy.

The picture is changing but it needs to be a new and open conversation.

I really hope PMSL helps get people talking about both the condition and how to help and cure it – which for many, many sufferers is totally possible, cheap and quick.

So do I! That sounds really important. I’m so glad What would readers never guess about you?

I am actually quite shy about my body, very squeamish and really embarrassed about all my parts. It is weird that my first book is about my most private parts, and is very frank and straightforward about exactly what eg birth was like, how my injuries and complications looked and felt. I went all-in because I felt I owed that to readers. If I was asking them to stick with me in such a strange and stigmatised world, I just couldn’t lie to them. That’s why I get pretty down and dirty with the details, even about the biggest taboos like poo incontinence, wetting myself in public, getting depressed, and the effect on my relationships.

That cultural imposition of embarrassment is so hard to overcome, even when we’re talking health conditions that are so important and not all that uncommon. Good on you for getting stuck in! Writing is hard enough without having to face your fears as well. What was your favourite book as a child?

Anne of Green Gables fiend. I once cried so much at Anne that I was nearly sick. I didn’t cry that much again until books like And When Did You Last See Your Father, One Day and What I Loved.

I also adored Roald Dahl’s Boy and then Going Solo, which I read with my Grandpa. He shared my love of Dahl’s vicious humour and Blake’s illustrations. I can still remember the thrill of dead mice in sweetie jars, but also the melancholy of Going Solo: the expanse of Dahl’s airborne views, the strangeness of war stories from his POV.

In one story, Dahl’s eating olives and watching a ship burn on the horizon. I was entranced by what he captured in a simple scene with limited action. Until you asked, I’d never made the connection that Boy and Going Solo are memoirs.

All books about people and their connections, I see. What’s the best response you’ve ever had to your writing?

I’ve had extraordinary responses from people to my blogs and articles, telling me they’ve had a problem, sometimes for years and years, and never once told anyone, or that thanking me for being open. That includes from doctors, patients, other mums, men with incontinence issues, physiotherapists, journalists. Some are ashamed, some aren’t, many feel voiceless, like they have all these thoughts and feelings about it and nowhere to put them, no-one to speak to, no opportunity for anyone to provide the space to talk. It is so gratifying and if it doesn’t sound too weird, it’s a real honour to know that what I’ve written has allowed someone to do that, even if only briefly.

How do you feel about reviews?

Terrified.

Haha! I know that feeling! How much research is involved in your writing?

Lots. Alongside trawling my letters/emails/diaries/photos, I spoke to practitioners, campaigners, physios, nurses, surgeons, midwives and charities, including ones that help women in other countries with poor obstetric care who end up with terrible injuries. I did some historical research into the appalling, racist history of some gynaecological operations and procedures, surgical techniques, and medical and social research. I also took a deep dive into the cultural impact of incontinence – where it crops up in literature, pop culture, myths, poems, and why we have such a perfect storm of shame around it.

That’s a very good phrase for it – a perfect storm of shame. What five words would best describe your style?

Frank. Witty. Honest. Self-deprecating. Open (also, probably worth mentioning sweary).

Love it! Did you write for yourself or for a particular audience?

My writing is a combination of personal memoir and wider musings on a theme. I’m introducing a difficult topic that people really find hard to talk about, and telling the reader my experiences – some hilarious, some nice, some ghastly, some gory, some empowering, some sad – frankly and with no coyness, in the hope they feel less alone.

Obviously, one huge audience is leaky people (an often ignored group), especially anyone who felt they were the only one reacting in a certain way (finding it sad, funny, depressing, terrifying, shocking, disturbing or whatever). But I hope it is more than a patient memoir, and it definitely isn’t a blame game or a rant. It looks at social issues, medical history, misogyny but it’s about resilience, and how you react to, and grow from, trauma and all our attitudes to broken bodies.

I want it to be immediate and engaging, and very up close, as if we’re sitting in a pub having one of those oddly deep and meaningful conversations you sometimes have with relative strangers. The illustrations are designed to look like sketches on a napkin giving you an idea, rather than using complicated or intimidating medical diagrams.

Excellent concept. What’s the scariest thing you’ve ever done?

Read the audiobook for PMSL: three days straight talking about my broken fanny, and my darkest moments, knowing some other people might hear it. I cried a lot reading it back. Also, having a second child, though he’s beyond worth it. Surgeries and tests. And reading a eulogy. All of them felt exposing but important.

So we can get your book as an audio book?

Yes, read by me. Cursing myself for my long sentences and alliteration.

Perfect. What do you read yourself – what’s your favourite genre?

Memoir and murder mystery/crime.

If you could write a note to someone about to read your book, what would you say?

If you have similar problems I’m so sorry. It sucks. And though we (everybody) need to be more kind and open about embarrassing medical problems, and stop shaming leaky people, you don’t have to be pressured to shout about your problem. I’ve done that already. Just try and get help. It is available in so many different places. And you aren’t alone. I promise.

Fantastic words. Thank you so much for speaking with me today. I’ll be sprucing this book far and wide!

LINKS for LUCE BRETT

Where Luce’s story to publication began: www.whenyouarethatwoman.co.uk

On twitter @lucebrett

On instagram @lucebrett

I am thrilled if anyone buys my book anywhere, but my local bookshop is the amazing co-operative bookshop The All Good Bookshop.

@allgoodbookshop:

https://allgoodbookshop.co.uk/order-books-1/ols/products/pmsl-or-how-i-literally-pissed-myself-laughing-and-survived-the-last-taboo-to-tell-the-tale

Amazon

https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/1472977483/

Waterstones

https://www.waterstones.com/book/pmsl-or-how-i-literally-pissed-myself-laughing-and-survived-the-last-taboo-to-tell-the-tale/luce-brett/elaine-miller/9781472977489

The Queen’s Almoner has a problem…

Today I’m excited to share in celebrating the release of a new historical novel, set in the days of Mary Queen of Scots. Mary QoS is one of the most intriguing  women of the 16th century, inspiring a large body of fiction and drama, the latest being the movie Mary Queen of Scots (2018) starring Saoirse Ronan. Her story has so many facets to explore. I sometimes wonder how her experiences would look in a modern-day context, but am more than happy to read more about her in historical fiction.

The Queen’s Almoner by Tonya Ulynn Brown is being released today and is going directly to my TBR list. I’m also looking forward to interviewing Tonya later this year for Last Word of the Week, and discovering more about her historical fiction.

In the meantime….Look at the blurb! Look at the cover! Enjoy!

 

The Queen’s Almoner

Sometimes loyalty to the queen comes at a cost. 

Thomas Broune is a Reformer and childhood friend of the young queen, Mary Stuart. When Mary embarks on a new life in her estranged homeland of Scotland, Thomas is there to greet her and offer his renewed friendship. But the long-time friends grow closer, and Thomas realizes his innocent friendship has grown into something more. Yet he is a man of the cloth. Mary is the queen of the Scots. Both of them have obligations of an overwhelming magnitude: he to his conscience and she to her throne.

The Queen's Almoner by Tonya U Brown

The Queen’s Almoner by Tonya Ulynn Brown

When he must choose between loyalty to his queen or his quiet life away from her court, he finds that the choice comes at a high price. Driven by a sense of obligation to protect those he loves, and crippled by his inability to do so, Thomas must come to terms with the choices he has made and find a peace that will finally lay his failures to rest.

Chrystyna Lucyk-Berger and The Road to Liberation

Chrystyna LUCYK-BERGER is the author of the award-winning, RESCHEN VALLEY series, and this year she released a collection of short WWII stories called Souvenirs from Kiev, based on the lives of her relatives from Ukraine,

Starting on May 5th, Chrystyna’s new novel Magda’s Mark is featured in The Road to Liberation,  a six-author collection of novels dedicated to commemorating the end of WWII.

Chrystyna is an American ex-pat living in Austria (yes, Austria in Europe – not Australia!) and apologises to the proper English speakers for her American “spelling” mistakes.

In the Alps

In the Alps

Thank you so much for joining me today, Chrystyna. You have an impressive list of novels now. Can you tell me about the time you decided you are a writer?

Chrystyna: I was in the second grade and Mrs Sharon Davis “made” us write stories. Around Halloween, she told us to write a ghost story. At that time, I was really into haunted house and ghost stories – I was reading way above my level and things that were probably not really meant for a 7-year-old.

I compiled a hodgepodge of impressions (read: I plagiarized) and on the day, we were all told to sit in a circle on the floor. One kid after another stood up and read their “paragraph” to us. I tried to pay attention, but everyone was bored, and squirming, and poking at one another and giggling about this and that. You know how it is? Then Mrs Davis called my name.

I stood up with about six sheets in my hands. I saw her raise her eyebrows; I saw the jawline tighten. I was really nervous – chunky kid, glasses, a nerd, really – but I stood up and started “telling the tale” so to speak. A minute or so into it, I realized something was really wrong. It was quiet; absolutely silent in the room. When I looked up from my story, I saw everyone – including Mrs Davis, her face beaming full of pride – was paying attention. I went home and told everyone I wanted to be a writer when I grew up.

That’s brilliant! What a great story. You obviously have a great imagination, but how much research is involved in your writing?

I write historical fiction and so I do a lot of research. I read somewhere that a historical fiction writer reads an average of 35 books before they’re done with one novel. That sounds about right. My mother is a history buff. She’s now involved in my research: she prepares the research for my history and culture blog and she does all the groundwork for my new books now.

A lot of my invested time (and money!) is spent visiting the settings in my books as well. So, for the Reschen Valley series, only for the purposes of writing the six books, I’ve been in South Tyrol probably fifteen or sixteen times. I travelled to Ukraine and lived in Poland while writing the Ukrainian stories. For Magda’s Mark, I just managed a trip to the Czech Republic and the town of Litomerice before the Corona shut-down. I hope to go again before we republish the book as a standalone. It needs another gust of Czech wind in there.

How wonderful to visit all those places. I hope we can all travel again soon. How do you deal with plot holes – if you ever have any!

I plot these days and still I manage to get stuck because I have a tendency to overcomplicate things. This is something very true about my nature, period. I’ve been fighting hard to simplify, simplify, simplify in all aspects of my life. It’s working pretty well for the most part; I chalk it up to über-50 wisdom. However, when I’m writing intensely I can still get tangled up in the weeds. My husband is my sounding board and 90% of the time he is the reason I get unstuck.

I love a handy husband! What’s your writing goal for the next twelve months?

It’s insane, really. I’m actually “writing” four horses across the river at once. I’m rewriting the first half of the next Reschen Valley installment and still have to draft the second half by mid-July; I’ve got some smaller rewrites to do on Magda’s Mark before it gets published as a standalone (some of my readers have already begged for an expansion of the story); I have another WWII novel forming in my head; and the last installment of the Reschen Valley should come out sometime next year, too. And then? I’d love to tackle my 16th-century Ottoman series that I plotted in 2017!

Wow, I think you need to be locked down to get all that done! What do you think about covers, and do you have any say in yours? I think they are wonderful.

I might have the most remarkable and unique relationship to a cover designer out there. Ursula Hechenberger-Schwärzler was one of my first trainees when I started to doing corporate trainings in Austria. She and her colleagues became my first friends here. She was working as a graphic designer, then left for Australia to do her master’s in photography. When she returned, I hired her to do the branding for my company and she’s been working for me since and is also one of my dearest friends. When I decided to go Indie, I asked whether she thought she might be able to design my book covers. We did everything: research trip to study English book covers in Zurich bookstores, storyboard for the Reschen Valley series, costuming, finding the models, photo shoots, coming up with the final titles, everything. She happened to travel to Ukraine to work with a dog sanctuary and had photos of Kiev available when I put out Souvenirs. She went to the Czech Republic with me for Magda’s Mark and we spent almost a week together as she shot scenery and architecture and I did my historical research. She’s so fully invested in the projects!

Chrystyna and Ursula

Chrystyna and Ursula

That’s wonderful. What a great partnership. Where do you write?

Four years ago, my husband and I finally moved into our dream house. Some people would balk: we live in the mountains of Austria, in the middle of woods and field, on a hiking trail. We bought a holiday home where we live year-round. Our heating is a tiled oven, we have a huge outdoor area where we practically live half the year, and we renovated the hut in a way that the walls and ceilings never feel as if they are about to crash around us. We have learned to live more simply, get by with a lot less, and to simplify (remember, it’s my motto). I work from my office or in the garden or in the Stube, the traditional Austrian “living area”. I also run a coaching and training business, where I teach business communication courses and do consultations, so I actually do go out and mingle with people. I need that as much as I need my peace and quiet. It’s a great balance!

That sounds wonderful. Do you send out newsletters to readers?

I do! I have three segments: a Morning Coffee with Chrystyna that goes out once a month and provides an update and more personal view of me and my work. Then a Free-Books Fridays segment that goes out once or twice a month depending on the cross-promotions I do with other authors. And there is a Historical and Cultural Background segment that deals with some aspect of my WIP or most recent release. I have also done author interviews in these segments, which you were a part of last year featuring your novel, Stars of the Night.

Yes, I remember gratefully. And readers can sign up for these goodies at your website, using this link. I’ve signed up just now.

The Road to Liberation Collection (featuring Chrystyna’s story Magda’s Mark) was released on May 5th and the ebook is only 99 cents until May 11th. It’s a great deal for six novellas in one book.

 

Chrystyna’s Social Media Links

Facebook: www.facebook.com/inktreks

Twitter: @ckalyna

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/ckalyna

Subscribe to her Newsletter: https://www.subscribepage.com/RSV

Homepage: www.inktreks.com

Reschen Valley Box Set

https://www.books2read.com/u/bppvLg

Souvenirs from Kiev

mybook.to/Souvenirs

Road to Liberation (Featuring Magda’s Mark)

books2read.com/RoadtoLiberation

It’s Here! People Like Us by Louise Fein

Earlier this year I had the great good fortune to review an astonishing debut novel: People Like Us by Louise Fein. You can read my review here, where I describe this as a heartbreak of a book. It’s so much more, and I recommend you read it too.

People Like Us is being released worldwide this month, and I’m thrilled to have Louise on board in this special Something to Say post. Here she isto tell us a bit about the background of the novel and how is came to be published.

Welcome, and congratulations on your novel, Louise. It must be exciting to finally have it launched, even into a world filled with strangeness. Can you tell us a bit about the process and the story behind the story?

Louise: I’m delighted to announce the publication of my debut novel, People Like Us (in the USA, it has a different cover and the title Daughter of the Reich). Like so many authors, having a book published has been my ultimate lifelong dream. As a child, my ambition was to become an author and I spent many hours writing stories, usually based around the subject of ponies. But then I grew up, needed to earn a living and the appeal of ponies dwindled (well, only a little), so the writing took a back seat for a while.

The appeal of ponies never really dies. But you did get back to writing?

The writing bug never left me, and over the years I wrote ideas for novels, poems, diaries and stories, in and around work and family commitments. But I never fully committed to writing a novel until I finally took the plunge and began a master’s degree in creative writing at St Mary’s University, London. It was then that I began work on People Like Us. My idea, initially, was that I would have the novel finished alongside the MA in a year. How naïve I was!! The first draft took around two years to complete, after I ditched the first attempt half-way through my MA year. But it was just that. A first draft. It required a lot more work, many re-drafts, and a good deal more research, until finally I had a manuscript ready for submission to agents.

I haven’t found the agent road an easy one to travel. How did you get on with it?

It took essentially another year to find an agent. There were many rejections, but I also had interest from some and that spurred me on to keep going and keep submitting. I carefully selected agents I would really like to represent me, and I was very lucky that one of my favourite agents liked my work. Much of the agenting and publishing world works very slowly, but sometimes it moves at the speed of light. I sent my manuscript to the agent who is now my agent one Friday afternoon, and I heard back from her the very next morning that she loved my book. The same process happened when I went on submission to publishers. Within a week there was interest from a publisher in the UK and then I went on submission to the US and there was interest the same afternoon. In the end the book was pre-empted by William Morrow (imprint of Harper Collins).

That’s such a great story! Rejections to instant acceptance – definitely the stuff of dreams.

My dreams had more than come true, they had exceeded all my imagination. On top of that, I have also had some wonderful foreign translation deals (eight to date) and these really have been the icing on the cake. So what I would say to any unpublished authors out there: Keep going: keep improving your work, keep submitting. What feels like an impenetrable wall can be breached. I was hooked off the slush pile and knew nobody in the publishing or agenting world at all. It is all possible, but it’s a long game.

That’s such an affirming story, thank you, Louise. Now about the book…

So, a little bit about People Like Us. It’s a story of  forbidden love, set in the tumultuous backdrop of 1930s Leipzig. The novel is told from the point of view of Hetty, a young girl who has grown up on a diet of Nazi propaganda and is hungry for a part to play in Hitler’s thousand-year Reich. Until, that is, she encounters Walter, a friend from her past, a Jew. As the thirties spiral ever deeper into anti-Semitic fervour, Hetty and Walter’s developing relationship puts her beliefs into stark conflict and danger forces them to make choices which will change their lives forever.

People Like Us by Louise Fein

People Like Us by Louise Fein

I believe you have a family connection to this story?

The book was inspired by the experiences of my father’s family, Leipzig Jews, most of whom fled Germany for England or America during the 1930s. Whilst the story and the characters are fictional, the setting is authentic, and it is based around real events. My father died when I was only seventeen and he never spoke of his experiences of living in Nazi Germany.

Instinctively, I knew the book should be fictional, but its form and content were shadowy. I read Mein Kampf and learned about the experience of growing up under Nazi rule; I travelled to Leipzig and met with experts; devoured family papers and listened to the memories of survivors. The characters of Hetty and Walter came to me, and with them their story. The more I read, the more interested I became in trying to understand how a democratic, civilised nation could, in just a few short years, overthrow democracy, demonise the Jews (and others), and descend into a violent, fear-filled fascist state who aimed to exterminate the Jewish race. I felt my story would be powerful if told from the point of view of a young, innocent girl, brought up to fear and hate perceived difference. What could possibly change her beliefs?

It’s a story of the fragility of freedom, and the ease with which one group can de-humanise another to the extent of un-imaginable horror. But it is also the story of friendship, hope, and above all, the power of love.

It’s a very important book, I think, and I’m so glad that you wrote it. Thank you for telling us about the release, and I look forward to speaking with you again soon about how it’s going. Stay safe, Louise!

You can discover Hetty and Walter’s story here:

UK

https://www.amazon.co.uk/People-Like-Us-Louise-Fein/dp/1789545005

https://www.waterstones.com/book/people-like-us/louise-fein/9781789545005

https://www.hive.co.uk/Product/Louise-Fein/People-Like-Us/23814992

Australia

https://www.harpercollins.com.au/9781789545012/people-like-us/

https://www.amazon.com.au/People-Like-Us-Louise-Fein/dp/1789545013

USA

https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0062964054

https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/daughter-of-the-reich-louise-fein/1132922940?ean=9780062964052

https://www.harpercollins.com/9780062964052/?utm_campaign=aps&utm_medium=athrweb&utm_source=aps

The Ten Minute Rule and other anti-sad hacks

I’m not sure about you, but I find our current life has moments of deep worry and depression. The certainty that life will never be the same; the danger that prevents socialisation; the thousands of deaths.

I’m not a truly depressive person in general. Usually the opposite. Anyone who studies WWI needs a basis of balance if they are not to fall into despair, and I got through my PhD without losing my mind (I think). But this? Without the structure of the old normal, sometimes I don’t even know what day of the week it is.

With my routines (gym, work, book events, social commitments, family gatherings) now relegated to ‘the old days’, I need to find another way to be me. Who would have thought that my old study practices could be useful during a global pandemic?

I’m a born student.* I love to learn something new. Not only that, I love to be tested on what I’ve learned (I know! Crazy stuff.). Give me a deadline to write an essay. Please! Invent an assessment task that will keep my mind busy. Now! Structure, people, structure! It’s delicious, and it keeps me balanced.

So here are five modified tips from my happy study years. These show you the ways that I now attempt to sort my days into chunks of time. These hacks give me a feeling of being useful, of playing my part, and of being me, as well as a sense of achievement. Maybe they’ll help you too.

  1. The Ten Minute Rule. This is the one for activities that don’t thrill you. Like picking up your study books after a long day at work. Like clearing out the garage. Like doing the ironing. Like cleaning the bathroom. The rule is this: Do what you have to do for just 10 minutes. Time it with the stopwatch on your phone. It’s only 10 minutes. Anyone can do that. And woo-hoo when the buzzer goes. Naturally, if you get hooked into the task and can stick at it for longer, yay for you. If not, at least you’ve done it for ten minutes. That, my friends, is progress.
  2. Limit Your Time Strictly. I know what you’re saying. That’s counter-intuitive. But it actually works. Choose a specific time to tackle an unattractive task – say 7.30pm to 8.30pm – and go to. But you MUST cease at 8.30, and leave the room to go and do something else like relax with the fam in front of a movie. Chances are that you will be itching to get back the next evening to complete the task. So, yay, you have just stoked your own motivation. Or if it’s still a horrible task, you’re an hour up on getting it finished. Still winning.
  3. Make a List. Sounds obvious, right? But now is the right time to think about multiple lists. A list of jobs you dislike. A list of activities you want to do. A list of people to phone or email. I enjoy the satisfaction of crossing items off my list (I favour tick boxes myself) and the sense of order that lists bring. You can prioritise items by difficulty, by time required, by level of unattractiveness, by tools needed, by energy expenditure, and so on. Another fun way to do this is to cut your list into strips of single tasks, fold them up and put them in a jar (or a few jars – one for 10 minute jobs, one for daylight tasks, whatever…). Then have a lucky dip to see what job to do next. Yay, you’ve just added excitement to a list of boring tasks!
  4. Be Kind to Yourself.  Saints and perfect people, of course, don’t need to read this tip. But the rest of us do. Your plan didn’t work out? You skipped a day? You fudged a task? You decided that you needed rest more? You got distracted by reading a good book? (Perfect excuse, IMHO.) Thats’ OK. Last time I looked, you were a human being. Please stay that way. Life doesn’t always go to plan, even without interruptions from global pandemics. Give yourself permission to try again another time.
  5. Be Your Own Administrator. This sounds weird, but how can you judge your progress if nobody checks? I think that it’s a great idea to put aside 30 minutes once a week. Me, I like Friday afternoon tea time. Grab a cuppa and a snack, and check over your lists. Some items can be removed from the lists. Bonus. Maybe you finished them, or you don’t care now whether it happens or not, or changes in the world mean certain tasks are no longer possible. Some items need to be moved up in priority, and others can be demoted. Further items may just have appeared. After all, you’re about to start a new week, and a week is a long time in the world’s history as we now know it. You might need to give yourself a pat on the back, or a pep talk, or a bit of both. But now you know where you are, and you can make new lists to forge ahead.

These are the fuzzy lines I draw around my days. Maybe they can help you too. Next time, I’ll write a bit more about the three top considerations for emotional health during the pandemic shutdown: flexibility, empathy, and creativity. But that’s for another post.

* Study and me – a love story. You can read more about my excessive education on the About Clare page.

 

The Stars and Anzac Day

This week, we will mark Anzac Day in Australia and New Zealand. For the first time in over a century, there will be no attending official services. The pandemic changes how we mark historic events, just as it changes how we celebrate or grieve personal events. I’m aiming to be up at 6am next Saturday, to watch dawn from my front garden and to think about the enduring legacy of war, and how world events affect us here Down Under.

Just in time, there is a fabulous new review of my WWI Anzac story.

My heartfelt thanks to Baffled Bear Books for this brilliant, thoughtful review of The Stars in the Night.

The Stars in the Night is indeed a tale of enduring love. This review is well worth a read. I’m very grateful to find such wonderful readers!

https://baffledbearbooks.com/2020/04/18/stars-in-the-night-by-clare-rhoden-a-story-of-broken-lives-and-enduring-love/

Aunt Jodie’s not-so-little secret

Jordan Bell is a psychologist and educator with a passion for helping children and parents learn about science. She also has a not-so-secret super-hero identity: she is Aunt Jodie of Aunt Jodie’s Guides to (just about) Everything!

Jordan’s first book, Aunt Jodie’s Guide to Evolution, gives kids a fun and fascinating understanding of the key concepts underlying the theory of evolution, using REAL science. It’s perfect for parents who want to inspire a love of science in children (7-11 year olds) or to start a child’s science education early. It’s especially useful for parents who would like their kids to have more female role models in science.

Definitely on board with that, I say (tucking my B App Sci into my back pocket with a happy sigh).

Author Jordan Bell

Author Jordan Bell

Welcome, Jordan, and thanks for speaking with me on this episode of Last Word of the Week. Can you tell us a bit more about you and your books?

Jordan: As a nerdy mama to a curious primary-schooler who always wants to understand the “why?” of life, I have had lots of experience in putting complicated ideas into words that little brains can understand.

So what is Aunt Jodie’s Guide to Evolution?

It’s not just another boring bedtime story! It’s a science adventure into the ancient past that makes learning about the basics of evolution fun and engaging, and uses words and concepts that are right for kids in middle and upper primary school. For anyone new to science, my Aunt Jodie’s Guides also include an easy-to-read glossary, explaining the scientific terms used in the book and how to pronounce them.

Sounds great. Now let’s find out a bit more about you. What was your favourite book as a child?

My favourite book as a child was The Neverending Story by Michael Ende. Not only is it an amazing tale about the power of stories, but also such a spell-binding title to a child who constantly begged for yet another trip to the library – a book that never ended? Sign me up! My dad bought me a really beautiful hardback edition when it was first released in English, which was printed in red and green ink with illustrated chapter initials. That exact copy was lost to the mists of time but my husband tracked down a copy for me a few years ago and I treasure it. I’ll be reading it to my daughter this year!

A book that deserves to be a lifetime favourite! Do you have a go-to routine for writing?

I’m most productive when I have a morning to myself and I can take my laptop to my favourite café, fuel up on french toast and tea, and write for 3-4 hours. They are used to me doing this now and top up my teapot without asking. I can write anywhere as long as I have half an hour and a computer, but that’s my preferred routine.

That sounds like the perfect writing space, and writers should always have a ready supply of French toast and tea. How do you feel about reviews?

I love them! I would really like some more! Having said that, if there’s anyone out there who hasn’t appreciated my book, they haven’t chosen to share those thoughts with me, so my experiences have all been positive at this stage. I might feel differently after some critical feedback!

What’s the best response you’ve ever had to your writing?

The greatest review I ever got was from the son of a friend:
“I thought the book was fantastic. I learnt lots, I never got bored and never wanted to stop reading it, it was very clear and it’s also a very fun way to put it. I would rate this book 5 stars and I normally pick out every single fault.”

But I’ve had lots of people excited about the idea of a book about evolution for children, it seems like a book that is needed out there in the world!

Aunt Jodies Guide_Cover Print

Yes indeed! What kind of reader would like your books?

I write Aunt Jodie’s Guides for primary-school aged kids, to help them get their heads around big scientific ideas that will have an impact on their life. I started with explaining evolution, because I think that’s the kind of idea that — if you can understand it as you are growing and learning — will change the way you view the world. We desperately need future citizens who are well-informed about the science that underpins our natural and technological worlds, and I think kids are a capable of understanding a lot more than we give them credit for, if we explain it properly.

Hear, hear! Is it easy for readers to find your book/s?

Anyone who searches Aunt Jodie’s Guide should find my online store pretty easily, and the bookshops that have stocked me so far have been very generous about displaying my book face out so hopefully a few people have stumbled across it that way!

That’s great, let’s hope for more stumbles. What would be a dream come true for you?

I’d love to have my book picked up as a series by a publisher with the scope to share these ideas worldwide and maybe even in other languages! I’m currently working on Aunt Jodie’s Guide to Climate Change, and I have strong ideas for more books in the series as Aunt Jodie explains the human body, space science, and computers!

All books that I think need to be in the world as soon as possible. Please keep writing! And thank you so much for sharing with me today.

 

Aunt Jodie’s links:

https://www.facebook.com/AuntJodiesGuides/

www.auntjodiesguide.com

Twitter:  @AuntJodiesGuide

Best online buying link: www.gumroad.com/jordanbell