The Stars in the Night is here. It’s been a long journey with Harry Fletcher and his WWI adventures.
You can now buy the story of Harry and Nora from Amazon and all online retailers. Plus it will soon be in some retail bookshops!
I think I’ve done it!
After a couple of days of fiddling and frowning, I *think* that my newletter sign up function is working…Apologies if you tried and had no success previously. (Please feel very welcome to try again!)
Now I’ll rock on with preparing my very first newsletter for January 31st!
I have entered a dangerous territory … pop-ups! If you are able to see the pop-up subscribe box on my website, I hope you will consider joining my new project.
At the end of each month, I’ll be sending out a newsletter email with news about books, my latest book reviews, and a little extra now and then.
There will also be FREE flash fiction from me and from guest authors.
I think you’re going to love it. See you soon 🙂
Fabulous news! In 2019, I’ll be starting my very own newsletter – a monthly digest of interviews, book reviews, event notices and flash fiction. Stay tuned for more information!
I’ll be looking for contributors too. If you have some short-short fiction that would like an airing, keep an eye open for my submission process.
This is SO exciting! I can’t wait to get started.
Happy New Year everyone! See you in 2019.
You will have noticed that this is not your regular ‘Last Word of the Week’ fix. As December draws to a close and everyone gets busy with end-of-year tasks and (for the lucky ones) holiday preparations, we’re putting LWOTW away for this year. In its place, I thought I’d give you a quick overview of my ten top reads of 2018. My aim was to read 60 books this year, but I am currently at 75 and hope to get a couple more in before 2019. Books are addictive, yes?
Not all of these books were published this year, but with TBR lists growing faster than I can read, it’s not always easy to keep up.
1. Station Eleven, Emily St John Mandel
My best read of the year. First published in 2014, this book was recommended to me by word of mouth from a trusted friend. I found it to be: Wonderful. Uplifting. Thoughtful. Perceptive. Clever. Kind. Worrying. Sad.
It’s a perfectly comprehensible tale of the advent of the apocalyptic virus and the world inherited by the survivors. There is a large cast of characters, and at times it seems they have no connection, but their lives do intersect – as all of ours do, in truth. The hope and desolation of this novel will stay with me for a long time.
I’m so glad I read it.
2. Record of a Spaceborn Few, Becky Chambers
This is an amazing book, and I loved every minute of it. It’s my first Becky Chambers and now I have to read more. It’s rare and wonderful when fantastic books — and I mean fantastic in the sense of books that aspire to a different realism — speak to the reader in her own life. This book does.
Here are my three top quotes:
“Yet it was a quiet grief, an everyday grief, a heaviness and a lightness all at once.”
“That’s how we’ll survive, even if not all of us do.”
“Our species doesn’t operate by reality. It operates by stories.”
I loved the cast of diverse characters and the plot threads that connected them all. I loved the worlds and the perspectives, and the clarity of this story. I was a little impatient with teenager Kip, but hey, that’s what teenagers are for! The alien viewpoints were also fascinating.
One of the best reads of 2018, for sure.
3. La Belle Sauvage, Philip Pullman
I am glad that I waited a bit to read this wonderful book, because now (I hope) I will manage the wait for the next of the trilogy. I confess guiltily that it’s my first Philip Pullman (he’s been on my TBR list for a long time) and I’m hooked. I could tell by the first page that this was exquisite, assured writing backed by a huge, compassionate, intelligent imagination.
The characterisation is masterly and Pullman doesn’t offer any short cuts or quick fixes to the dire circumstances of living in the time of a totalitarian government. I am in love with the daemons too. More please! Oxford forever.
4. From the Wreck, Jane Rawson
I really loved this extraordinary book. The dovetailing of historical family story plus alien lifeform may not be for everyone, but it really is worth trying. Some of the sentences will stay with you for a long time, even if you’re not entranced by the combination of alien and history. Personally, I LOVED it.
I don’t do spoilers if I can help it, so I won’t go into detail. I just want to say that this book makes the reader ask all the important questions. As in, what is life all about? What is our place in the universe? Are we the cosmic specks we sometimes feel? What about love and care for others? How do we take care of ourselves and our loved ones in the face of the vast majesty of life?
5. Winter, Ali Smith
I fell in love with this book, after being a little puzzled at the start. Don’t get too caught up in the whys and wherefores in the beginning. A floating head? Why not? All will become clear. I soon got into the swing of things and enjoyed every nuance. Essential reading for the Christmas holidays – thoughtful and compassionate, interesting and tender.
6. Den of Wolves, Juliet Marillier
I very much enjoyed this third book in the Blackthorn and Grim trilogy – all of which I have now read. However it is so neatly written that it would stand alone. Very good consistency of characterisation, and the ending wasn’t squibbed. Loved it!
I pick up every Marillier book I see and have had some glorious times reading her wonderful, rich, insightful prose. This is the type of fantasy that resonates across the ages.
7. The Ocean at the End of the Lane, Neil Gaiman
I absolutely loved this book from the very first line. Neil Gaiman’s writing is exquisite. Everything he writes about magical events seems so right that it sinks in. Of course the world is as he says it is.
You will love the Hempstocks and you will also be able to use ‘Ursula Monckton’ as an epithet for any annoying person you know!
8. The Orchard Underground, Mat Larkin
First up: I knew this guy in a former life, so I had some trepidation reading Mat Larkin’s debut middle grade novel. What if I didn’t like it? What could I say? I planned some soothing platitudes in advance, crossed my fingers and eyes, and started to read…
Well, all my planning was a waste of time. The Underground Orchard is seriously good. It’s smart, funny, accessible, well-structured and a wonderful read. I’m SO sorry that I didn’t get to read books like this when I was in middle school. Sure, I made a heroine out of Mary Grant Bruce’s Norah of Billabong (who could ride horses, muster cattle, AND cook!), but where was Attica Stone, with her confidence, succinct way with wirds, love of strong black coffee, and refusal to give up?
You’ll love Pri Kohli and his quirky way of talking, and his world-view completely immersed in the town of Dunn’s Orchard. You will meet the amazing Attica Stone, and the wonderful Slotcar character (who reminds me a bit of Luna Lovegood in the Harry Potter series). Pri’s parents – it’s nice to have a middle-grade protagonist with parents, just for a change 🙂 – are doing their best to stay cool while he navigates the craziness of the Razz Wood and does his best to save his town – or the wood – or the orchard – or his friends – or … but no spoilers here.
Read it. Read it to yourself, read it aloud to others. Nobody needs a backup plan with this excellent offering. I have my fingers crossed that Mat has more adventures planned for Pri, Attica and co.
9. The Cruel Prince, Holly Black
This novel has given me much to think about. I am so enthusiastic at the brilliant writing and the neat characterisation, but the plot is pretty dark. It’s my first Holly Black, and perhaps I need to read one or two more to delve a bit deeper. I wrote a blog about it, which you can read here — warning, *spoilers*.
That said, I’ve rated this book 5 stars on Goodreads, because I couldn’t put it down. It’s like George RR Martin, Juliet Marillier, and Paula Hawkins got together to write a completely captivating dark thriller set in Faerie.
By the way, I adore the cover.
I think if you love GOT, you will love this. So that’s most people!
10. Dyschronia, Jennifer Mills
I devoured this fascinating book, and I’m still thinking about it. That’s a sign that it has some important things to say, I think. There are also many phrases that I noted as worth re-reading, and adding to my list of cool things written by excellent authors.
The story in this novel is like a cracked mirror – there are shards of time and we don’t always exactly know where or rather when we are – but every piece shines with reflections of reality that we almost recognise, but of course everything looks different now that reality has been broken apart and reassembled.
This novel charts the dystopian future of a careless Australia, where the environmental damage is so gross that there is no future to be had. The wondrous, worrying dreams of local girl Samandra (Sam) are dismissed as, Cassandra-like, she debates how much to tell the people around her, people who prefer not to believe. Her mother Ivy in particular is determined to be head-in-the-sand, spending years trying to have Sam’s migraines diagnosed correctly. The resulting pronouncement of ‘dyschronia’ never quite settles the question, for Ivy, of whether Sam is truly foreseeing the future or just dreaming vividly and strangely. The entrepreneur Ed (who is meant to be charming, but I have pre-raised hackles about this kind of guy) is a credible saviour-cum-villain, or is it villain-cum-saviour, of the town. Sam’s best friend Jill is probably the most likeable of all the characters. I loved the device of the ‘chorus’ of locals whose comments intersperse Sam’s dreams and Sam’s story.
Equally prescient of a dire future and nostalgic of the simple ignorance of the past, this elegant story of loss and the inevitability of bad choices deserves an enduring place among the best Australian books of recent years.
So that’s it for another year! I can’t wait to see what 2019 brings in terms of new, re-discovered, and old books. Then of course there’s my TBR pile waiting patiently.
Safe and happy times to you all!
I’m getting a bit excited about the release of the next book in my dystopian survival series. Broad Plain Darkening (The Pale #2) will be published on October 20th. Thank you to my awesome publisher Odyssey Books.
Plus I’m thrilled about the launch: at Readings Carlton on Monday November 5th.
If you are keen to reacquaint yourself with the canini and to meet the equii, this is the sequel you’ve been waiting for. Oh, and there are some interesting humans as well, not to mention the humachines of the Pale…
In the meantime, I’m playing with a number of online tools to create posts and notices. The beautiful wolves above are from Canva’s extensive library of free images.
Today I’m pleased to host S.C. Karakaltsas on Something to Say, an occasional blog series in which I chat with creatives who have a timely event or launch to talk about.
S.C. Karakaltsas is the author of two historical fiction novels, Climbing the Coconut Tree, and A Perfect Stone. Sylvia has also written a contemporary short story collection, Out of Nowhere. She has received awards for two of her short stories and has work published in the Lane Cove Literary Awards Anthology and Monash Writers Anthology. In her spare time, Sylvia also blogs and reviews many amazing books at https://sckarakaltsas.com/
Welcome to STS Sylvia. What project are you talking about today?
Thanks for having me. My current project is my new novel called A Perfect Stone.
A Perfect Stone is set for release today, I see. Congratulations! Is there one aspect of the novel that you relate to most – a favourite character, scene, or effect? Can you tell us more about that?
A Perfect Stone is a dual timeline historical fiction novel set in 1948 during the Greek Civil War and Melbourne in 2016. Released 10 October and launching 18 October, I am very excited about this project.
It’s a story told from the point of view of eighty-year-old Jim, who finds something which triggers the memories of the childhood he’s hidden, not just from himself but from his overprotective daughter. When Jim has a stroke and begins speaking in another language, his daughter is shocked and confused. Jim must confront what happened when, as a ten-year-old, he was forced at gunpoint to leave his family and trek barefoot through the mountains of Northern Greece to escape the Greek Civil War in 1948.
I fell in love with my character Jim. He’s endearing and vulnerable but also quite eccentric in some ways. He makes me laugh and he makes me cry and he reminds me of a few older men I know, including my own father.
That sounds really interesting. What do you think drives you to pursue your creativity? Is it family history or the past in general, for example?
With my novels, I’m inspired to tell little known stories. In my first novel Climbing the Coconut Tree, I was inspired by the double murder of two Australians living on a phosphate mining island. In A Perfect Stone I was inspired by the fact that 38,000 children from the ages of 2–14 were forced to leave their homes without their parents during the Greek Civil War. Of the ones who survived, many ended up behind the Iron Curtain and some never saw their families again.
I write short stories as well which are mostly contemporary looks at life in suburbia, poking fun or digging at the unexpected things that happen. I wrote a short story collection which was published last year called Out of Nowhere which was well received.
Many writers describe their processes using analogies – the famous Hemingway one, for example, in which he says that writing is simply a matter of sitting in front of the typewriter and staring at a blank page until you start to sweat blood. Others speak of stitching scenes together, following characters on a journey, immersing themselves in a storyline. What can you say about your process?
My process is purely and simply sitting down and writing to see what comes out and it often shocks me. I only started writing four years ago after having spent years in the corporate world and I’m staggered that I can string at least a sentence together let alone a whole novel.
That’s amazing. Finally, what five words would you use to describe yourself as a writer?
Persistent, single minded, wide-eyed and dogged.
That sounds like a recipe for even more success. Thank you so much for joining me in Something to Say, and all the best for the release and launch of A Perfect Stone.
You can find the books by SC Karakaltsas at these links:
Out of Nowhere: A Collection of Short Stories : https://www.amazon.com.au/Out-Nowhere-collection-short-stories/dp/0994503245/ref=tmm_pap_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=&sr=
Something to Say is pleased to welcome Pernille Hughes, whose debut novel has just been released. So exciting. Brand spanking new book!
Photo by I. Hughes
STS: Welcome, Pernille. This must be a thrilling time for you! Tell us something about your project.
My debut novel Sweatpants At Tiffanie’s was published on August 3rd. It’s a Romcom, a second-chance love story, a HEA story, and ‘getting up again when life punches you in the face’ story.
STS: That’s HEA as in Happily Ever After, yes?
It certainly is! Tiffanie Trent gets dumped by boyfriend Gavin on their 10th anniversary. Heartbroken and homeless, Tiff, a bookkeeper at an old-school boxing gym, figures that at least she has her job. But then the owner drops dead, leaving her floundering. When she then inherits the gym, Tiff, not sporty at all, needs to decide if she can take it on, defy the naysayers who say she can’t do it, and bring the club and her life into a better state of play.
STS: And Sweatpants At Tiffanie’s was just released last week on August 3rd. That’s awesome. Is there one aspect of the story that you relate to most – a favourite character, scene, effect? Can you tell us more about that?
As well as sharing Tiff’s reluctance to take part in physical exercise, I relate to her coming to see that she needn’t let others tell her what she is capable of. A teacher once said I couldn’t be a writer and I believed her, abandoning writing for about ten years. When I had my kids I turned back to the words to keep my brain clocking over and saw that actually I get to decide whether I am a writer or not. Tiff gets to examine her life too and understand that she determines what she can do, not others.
Photo by C. Knappe
STS: I’d like to meet that teacher now! What is it that drives you to pursue your creativity, despite that lack of encouragement?
Without wanting to come across as scary, the voices just rattle around in my head and need to come out onto the page. I’ve been making up dialogue since I was little, verbally playing out scenes either in my room, or say, if we were walking on holiday. Additionally I’m conflict shy and so always end up coming away from issues and spending the rest of the day making up what I should have said and wished I’d said. Writing stories is great for getting it out, although it doesn’t make me better at wading into conflicts.
What pushes me to get my writing out there is partially a desire to make others laugh with my words and also to get validation for them (so, I’m ‘giving’ and ‘needy’ at the same time…). Also, as a stay-at-home mum, words and my stories are my marketable commodity.
STS: Many writers have described their processes using analogies – stitching scenes together, following characters on a journey, immersing themselves in a storyline. What can you say about your process?
I visualise my process as sculpting. First I’ll write what I call a Vomit draft, just splurging words onto the page, only writing forwards and chronologically, not going back to correct anything, even if it means writing ‘something about XX, here’. That feels like choosing the material, like clay or stone.
The next draft will be looking at the ugly lump of words and deciding what the form of it is, what the essence of the piece will be and beginning to shape it. Each draft is then shaping the clay/stone until the sculpture is defined and the final draft will be the polishing. I like to have everything rounded off in my stories, ideally no loose ends, so when I’m asked to make edits, I find it really hard. In this analogy it’s like having to add an arm or something to a contained piece and then having firstly to make it look like it was always supposed to be there in the balanced piece and secondly smoothing the edges so no one can see the joins.
My stories start from an idea and then conversations around that idea come into my head. Until now my Vomit drafts have been extremely loosely plotted, after which I’ve found that when starting the first proper draft, I work best if I have a fully plotted plan and know the arcs of my key characters so that the choices they make from the start are true to their needs.
STS: That’s amazing. I love the name Vomit draft! Thank you for that – I’ll feel better throwing out great chunks of draft one now. Finally, what five words would you use to describe yourself as a writer?
Contemporary, Funny (hopefully), Plotter, Un-ambiguous (I’m not a fan of an ambiguous ending), Distraction-prone (ach, Twitter, you are my downfall…)
STS: Wonderful! Thank you so much for sharing your news with us today, Pernille, and I look for to a HEA future for your writing!
You can Find Pernille at the following links:
Pernille’s teeny tiny blog www.writingfromtheedgeofdistraction.blogspot.com
Here’s where to buy Sweatpants at Tiffanie’s: