Book review: It’s a Bright World to Feel Lost in by Mawson

I could not resist reviewing this charming picture book for adults by the irresistibly cute Mawson bear!

“Are you feeling a little lost? Got that ‘left in the spare room’ emptiness about you? Mawson does too.
He sits atop his cushion and ponders about baffling things.
The world is a baffling place for a curious teddy bear to live in. Friends approach him about their own dilemmas. They seek instant answers that will make everything all right. Mawson does his best. But after he ponders deeply, most things remain for him just as baffling as they were before.
Take a moment out of your day to pawse with him and explore the world. For the many frazzled readers who feel, secretly, much the same, he offers the comfort that the world is a bright place to be.”

My thoughts:

Mawson has penned a simple and moving tale of love and devotion, of belonging and losing the one you were born to protect. Brief text explains charming and evocative photographs of Mawson and his friends. Mawson is the most ponderous and baffled of bears. He tries to make sense of the world around him, but is challenged at every turn. Each page contains a message to dwell on and there is a satisfying twist at the end.

The shift in perspective as a loveable teddy bear reflects on how he needs to be loved stimulates a different way of viewing the world, encouraging us to put ourselves in the bear’s shoes. When we do, we are suddenly faced with our own selfishness and lack of empathy. Sure, Mawson is just a bear, a fluffy toy, and not a real animate being, or is he? Isn’t he a metaphor for all those living creatures we neglect? And what about those times when we feel neglected? Where do we turn?

It’s a Bright World is a meditation on the nature of love, missing, grieving, solace and healing. The story contains a powerful message: those who provide comfort are too often taken for granted.

It is possible to read this little book in about ten minutes, but then, you might find yourself dipping back in, again and again, leaving your copy on the coffee table to return to at whim. It’s a Bright World is that sort of book.

You can purchase a copy here.

Visit Mawson’s blog

 

The Tides Between by Elizabeth Jane Corbett

I am delighted to share my review of Elizabeth Jane Corbett’s debut novel, The Tides Between.

“In 1841, on the eve of her departure from London, Bride’s mother demands she forget her dead father and prepare for a sensible, adult life in Port Phillip. Desperate to save her childhood, fifteen-year-old Bridie is determined to smuggle a notebook filled with her father’s fairy tales to the far side of the world.

When Rhys Bevan, a soft-voiced young storyteller and fellow traveller realises Bridie is hiding something, a magical friendship is born. But Rhys has his own secrets and the words written in Bridie’s notebook carry a dark double meaning.

As they inch towards their destination, Rhys’s past returns to haunt him. Bridie grapples with the implications of her dad’s final message. The pair take refuge in fairy tales, little expecting the trouble it will cause.”

My Review

Told from three viewpoints, Elizabeth Jane Corbett’s debut novel is a fearless yet endearing exploration of the day-to-day existence of a small cast of characters, each with their troubles, who are incarcerated along with numerous families in the steerage deck of a ship bound for Australia. The Tides Between is an ironic tale in some ways, for the duration of a voyage that spans half the globe, the epic journey that unfolds is one situated at the hearth of human existence.

Corbett writes with a deft pen. The author is unafraid to expose the reality of life for working class migrants making the treacherous voyage to Australia. In true literary fashion, the narrative presses forward through the unfolding realisations of its characters, the backstory interwoven in fragments.

The Tides Between opens with fifteen-year old Bridie clutching a notebook of fairy stories she was forbidden to keep as she boards a ship bound for Port Phillip. What unfolds is in part a coming of age story, as Bridie learns to handle the grief she feels at the loss of her father, and accept the benevolent affections of her stepfather, Alf. Yet The Tides Between is less a story of one girl’s entry into adulthood and more a meditation on trauma and its consequences, and on identity and the power of myth.

These themes are strikingly played out through Rhys, a young Welshman and miner’s son crippled by claustrophobia.  His wife, Sian, is pregnant, as is Bridie’s mother. Will either woman manage to safely birth her child before the ship pulls in at its destination? Will Rhys transcend his anguish? Will Bridie shake off her adolescent ill humour? Can Alf, a man strangled by his sense of duty and obedience, find the courage to confront the ship’s surgeon?

Corbett carries her plot forward with intricate attention to emotional detail. The heaving waters of the various oceans traversed a powerful metaphor for those heaving in the hearts of protagonists Bridie, Rhys and Alf.

Corbett’s writing is visual, metaphoric and intelligent.

“The night air fell like a chill shawl on her shoulders. Turning back towards the hatchway, she heard an eerie drawn out sound from beyond the deckhouse. She halted, nerves feathering her spine.”

It is in this fashion that dramatic tension is maintained, the reader treated page after page to Corbett’s elegant prose.

The theme of fairy tales is prominent, but these are not the stories of children’s books. They are powerful myths rich with significance. Bridie strives to make sense of the world and relationships through the lens of fairy tales, questioning, comparing, speculating. Corbett juxtaposes Bridie’s musings with the reality of her situation, conveyed through the harsh, albeit sensible worlds of her mother.    Meanwhile, Rhys grapples with his own demons. The only time he can cope with being in steerage is when he is on stage, telling Welsh fairy tales to a captive audience. Through the friendship that grows between Bridie and Rhys, Corbett explores the healing power of fairy tales, a release as much for the teller as the listener.

In one respect, The Tides Between is a vivid portrayal of life in steerage. The reader is there with the stench and the lice and the privy buckets. Just as she is unflinching when it comes to portraying the physical hardships onboard, Corbett casts a microscopic eye over the complexities of grief and shame, taboos and social rejection.

Despite its heartrending moments, The Tides Between is ultimately a story of redemption, transformation and hope.

“She had begun to treasure their moments together, like bright beads, slipping through her fingers and puddling at the bottom of memory’s purse.”

The Tides Between pulls the reader in two directions, the desire to continue turning the pages at odds with an equally a strong wish to pause and reflect on its various intricacies, its depth. The only difficulty faced in reviewing a book of this quality is putting it down long enough to scribe reflections. A work I would describe as literary historical fiction, The Tides Between, is a captivating and immersive read.

 

About the author

When Elizabeth Jane Corbett isn’t writing, she works as a librarian, teaches Welsh at the Melbourne Celtic Club, writes reviews and articles for the Historical Novel Society and blogs at elizabethjanecorbett.com. In 2009, her short-story, Beyond the Blackout Curtain, won the Bristol Short Story Prize. Another, Silent Night, was short listed for the Allan Marshall Short Story Award. An early draft of her debut novel, The Tides Between, was shortlisted for a HarperCollins Varuna manuscript development award. Elizabeth lives with her husband, Andrew, in a renovated timber cottage in Melbourne’s inner-north. She likes red shoes, dark chocolate, commuter cycling, and reading quirky, character driven novels set once-upon-a-time in lands far, far away.

BUY your copy here

An interview with Martin Rodoreda, author of SALVAGE

I’m delighted to welcome to my blog, Sydney author Martin Rodoreda, whose debut novel, Salvage, is set to take the speculative fiction scene by storm. Salvage is a work of climate fiction utterly relevant to our time, and I can’t wait to get my hands on a copy! Read on, for a fabulous interview.

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Tell me a little about yourself, Martin.

I was born and raised in Liverpool, in the south-west suburbs of Sydney. I was blessed with a very stable childhood, if a somewhat sedentary one. Being one of four children in a single income family we didn’t holiday or move around much. My parents still live in the family home I grew up in, and there is something nice about having that consistency.

I had a great childhood though; I enjoyed school, was very active, and found adventure in books. Our Christmas stocking would always have at least one new book in it, and Mum would take us on frequent visits to the library to find new material to read.

After school, I did a communications degree at UTS where I met my beautiful wife, Cara. We got married in 2007 and now live in the Macarthur region with our three boys. So with family, writing and work, life is busy!

At what age did you realise your fascination with books? 

As I mentioned, from an early age I found books to be a source of adventure. Reading was encouraged in our household and all my siblings read a lot. We used to read books together as a family, sitting around the dinner table taking turns reading out loud. Roald Dahl was my favourite author whilst in primary school and I would read and re-read his books every time the annual MS Read-a-thon came about at school.

In year six at school, our teacher got the entire class to enter into a short story writing competition. I and one other student in the grade made it through to the finals group and a two-day workshop. I didn’t go on to win the final prize, but it was a good experience.

Perhaps discouraged for not taking out the ultimate prize in the competition, or perhaps just busy with other things, it would be another twelve or thirteen years before I started writing again. But I remained both active and creative through this time, with a fairly eclectic mix of hobbies, from role-playing games to playing AFL, from miniature painting and table-top gaming, to listening to grunge and alternate music. I think my nerdy pursuits were counter-balanced enough to earn the label of cool nerd.

I never properly considered writing as a career option. Sitting through my careers class at high school, trying to pick a degree to do at university, looking for jobs post study; I could never quite pin down what I wanted to do. Even five or six years into the workforce and a career I still had that feeling. I think I had this trouble because deep down, I knew what I wanted to do, but did not see writing as a legitimate career option. I think this is probably shared by many authors.

So back to the question – when did I start writing? I started writing seriously when my work and home resulted in a lengthy commute to and from the city each day. For those of you that have experienced it, Sydney traffic is something to be avoided at all costs, so the train became my friend. I wanted to use this time productively and, as much as I love reading, I didn’t want to spend it all reading. So I started writing my first book. That was about nine or ten years ago now. I have done virtually all my writing since then on the train. While a long commute can be frustrating, it has afforded me regular time to write, and so rather than eating into my day, it has enhanced my day.

Who inspires you in your writing?

I mentioned Roald Dahl as an early favourite author of mine. I then migrated into Tolkien and the fantasy genre and read a lot of that through my teens. After discovering the Greek Historians in Ancient History at school, I found myself enjoying a lot of writing from this period; Homer, Herodotus, Thucydides and Plutarch. In mid to late high school I also started reading a lot of the late, great Terry Pratchett and have read a book or two of his every year since.

As I’ve gotten older, my reading has slowed a bit (on account of using what spare time I have to write!), but also diversified. I still enjoy the Speculative Fiction genre above others, and like many, I’m still waiting on George RR Martin to release the final book (books?) in the Game of Thrones series. But I enjoy books outside of the genre as well. A couple that stand out are Burial Rights by Hannah Kent and The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion. Another book I had low expectations of but really enjoyed was Bram Stoker’s Dracula. I read it for the first time just five years ago and, having been disappointed with a number of other classics, I didn’t have high hopes for it. But I loved the way the book blended intensely dark fantasy scenes with high period drama I would expect out of a Jane Austen book. It was an interesting and utterly enthralling read.

I seem to draw inspiration from most things I read or watch. I can’t help but finish a book or a movie and think of something I could draw from it in my writing, whether it be an alternate take on the themes in the book, character traits that I’d like to explore further or a mood or environment that really resonated with me. I have at least fifty book ideas that I have written a basic outline and plot for and then filed away. I have a strange feeling of excitement and apprehension every time I consider opening the file!

Tell me a little about Salvage.

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It is set in Sydney about one hundred years in the future. The world has been devastated by pollution, excessive mining and war, and a dome built over the city protects what is possibly the last bastion of human civilization from the caustic elements. Inside the dome, its citizens are ruled by the dictator Silmac, who holds a monopoly over the energy supply of the city. Outside, in what was once Greater Sydney, savage sub-human’s known as mutes scratch out a brutal existence in the unforgiving elements, posing a deadly threat to those what would venture beyond the protective barrier of the dome.

The main character, Silver, is a member of a Salvage crew; heading outside the dome in search of metals and other items of value. When she is abandoned in the Badlands one day by her crew, Silver faces a hike back to the dome on foot with very little chance of survival. On the way, she uncovers a relic from the past that holds the secret to break Silmac’s hold over the dome. The discovery ultimately leads her into direct conflict with the dictator.

In the early stages of the book, Silver’s primary motivation is personal survival; from dangers both outside and within the dome. Living in constant fear, she craves change but feels helpless to effect it. She must face these fears in order to realize that she is more powerful than she thinks, and not alone in her desire for change.

how long did it take you to write?

It took me roughly two years to write and edit Salvage, writing almost exclusively on the train on my commute to and from work. The story was constantly in my head over that time. Writing in fifty minute pockets on the train meant that I’d often have to stop part way through a scene and not be able to get back to it till that afternoon, or the next morning. While this could be frustrating, it afforded me the time to reflect on each scene as I wrote it, and helped maintain a clarity of purpose throughout the book.

Thank you Martin, for taking the time to chatting with me today!!

You can find Martin via Facebook

His website: martinrodoreda.com

And purchase a copy of Salvage via the publisher, Odyssey Books.

Author Interview – Felicity Banks

I’m delighted to welcome to my blog, Steampunk author Felicity Banks whose debut Heart of Brass is released today! Happy Publication Day!!

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At what age did you start writing?

I was seven years old the first time I attempted to write a novel. It featured cats, naturally. I have two children of my own now, which has given me a new perspective on the many illegal activities of my heroines. My daughter is four, and an excellent storyteller. She once told me she couldn’t go and wash her hands because there was a bear in the hallway. That was the beginning of many hours of free entertainment for me. My son is two, and loves the absurd and fantastic. He once drew a picture of me with wings, so I could fly. I also have a cat who brings live mice into the house and does her best to pretend she’s the injured party.

I’ve written fourteen books altogether, not counting an ever-increasing number of Choose Your Own Adventure-style interactive books (all of which are listed and linked under “Felicity Banks” at the Interactive Fiction Database ifdb.tads.org).

“Heart of Brass” was my third book to be accepted, but the first to be published.

Because the interactive fiction world moves faster than the world of print, “Heart of Brass” already has two interactive sequels. “After the Flag Fell” is included with the novel (the main character is one of the minor characters from the novel), and “Attack of the Clockwork Army” is available as an app through various platforms (it allows you to play as one of Emmeline’s siblings, if you wish). Right now I’m writing an huge interactive tale set in the same universe as “Heart of Brass”, but it is set in 1837 Britain (before Emmeline was born) and doesn’t involve Australia (or spoilers). It will begin release on 17 August 2016, with a new section of the story released as an app each week for forty weeks. The publisher is Melbourne-based company Tin Man Games.

I’m delighted and astonished at the huge number of people who are obsessed with app-based interactive fiction. After all these years of writing, I suddenly find myself with readers around the world waiting for my next story!

What’s your background? Where are you from?

The answer to both is Canberra. It’s the middle of July now and I’m in my annual semi-hibernating state until September.

Who are your favourite authors? Who Inspires you?

I adore Garth Nix’s Abhorsen series, Pamela Freeman’s Castings series, Philip Reeve’s Larklight trilogy, anything by Gail Carriger, Scott Westerfeld’s Leviathan series, the Narnia series by CS Lewis, the Samurai Kids series by Sandy Fussell, anything by Naomi Novik, the Quarters series by Tanya Huff, the Jane Yellowrock series by Faith Hunter, the Woodcutter Sisters series by Alethea Kontis, the Fairyland series by Catherynne M. Valente, the Wind on Fire trilogy by William Nicholson, and so on!

I usually read young adult fantasy, because I like a fast-moving plot that also gives me the sense that absolutely anything could happen. Plus young adult books usually (although not always) have less intense sex and violence. I realised quite a while ago that I get terribly bored writing anything without magic, so my own steampunk tales also feature a unique magic system.

Tell me a little about heart of brass.

I really wanted to write a steampunk story set in Australia—the land of droughts, dreamers, bushrangers, gold rushes, convicts, etc. But I’m not a historian! So before I even wrote an outline I started by reading, reading, reading. Some of my favourite non-fiction writers are Liza Picard (“Victorian London” is wonderful), Krista D. Ball (“Hustlers, Harlots, and Heroes” is as good as it sounds), Ruth Goodman (“How to be a Victorian”, including her own experiments), Susanne Alleyn (“Medieval Underpants and Other Blunders”, which is surprisingly useful for the Victorian Era), Bill Bryson (“At Home”—Bryson usually writes funny travel books), and Geoffrey Blainey (for absolutely everything Australian). My overwhelming impression from all the research I conducted was that history is far madder than you might think. Cross-dressing (both ways)? Mad scientists? Bizarre contraptions? Famous lesbians? Charming rogues? Cannibalism? Villains? Heroes? It’s all there.

Heart of Brass is a tale of a convict woman whose life was ruined by one small crime… but who quickly discovered that her life wasn’t ruined after all. It’s a tale of a nation and a person realising that high society isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. It’s a tale of daring escapes, duels, and literal flight. It’s an Australian story through and through, despite and because of the fact that none of the characters think of themselves as Australian. It’s a tale about a heart that’s powered by magic and steam, but is just as faulty and inconvenient as the usual kind.

heart of brass

Emmeline Muchamore is a well-bred young lady hiding explosive family secrets.

She needs to marry well, and quickly, in order to keep her family respectable. But when her brass heart malfunctions, she makes a desperate choice to steal the parts she needs to repair it and survive.

She is unable to explain her actions without revealing she has a steam-powered heart, so she is arrested for theft and transported to Victoria, Australia – right in the midst of the Gold Rush.

Now that she’s escaped the bounds of high society, iron manacles cannot hold her for long.

The only metal that really matters is gold.

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Felicity Banks is a Canberra author specialising in fantasy and interactive fiction, including several Choose Your Own Adventure-style stories that take place in the same magical steampunk universe as Heart of Brass. All her interactive fiction is listed under “Felicity Banks” at http://ifdb.tads.org and most of her interactive fiction can be read as an app.

Heart of Brass is her thirteenth completed novel, her third novel accepted for publication, and her first novel to be published.

The Antipodean Queen Series facebook page is at https://www.facebook.com/Antipodean-Queen-Fantasy-Steampunk-Books-1123139861084253
https://felicitybanks.wordpress.com/2016/07/21/heart-of-brass-cover-reveal/
http://odysseybooks.com.au/titles/9781922200587/
YOU CAN BUY A COPY HERE

In conversation with Cli-fi author Sue Parritt

After reviewing Pia and the Skyman a few days ago, it’s a pleasure to speak with author, Sue Parritt and discover what motivates her to write Climate Fiction.

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Starting with the obvious, tell me a little about yourself. Where were you raised? Where do you live now?

I was born and raised in Bournemouth, a seaside town in southern England. At 19 I married my childhood sweetheart, Mark, and seven months later we emigrated to Brisbane, Australia. We have one son, David. After graduating (B.A. University of Queensland 1982, with majors in English Literature, Drama and French) I worked in university libraries until taking early retirement in 2008 to concentrate on creative writing. I now live in a bayside town, Mornington, in southern Victoria, where I spend many hours writing in my beautiful garden studio built by Mark.

 When did you start writing fiction?

I have always loved books. As a sickly child often away from school for weeks at a time, I read voraciously, immersion in fascinating stories enabling me to forget about illness for a while. My favourite childhood books were: David Copperfield, Great Expectations, A Christmas Carol, Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, Little Women, Good Wives, Tess of the D’Urbervilles and Moonfleet, a novel set not far from my home. My grandparents loved Dickens and I read most of his works from their nineteenth-century editions. My parents stressed the importance of education, provided a houseful of books, recordings of Shakespearian plays and the opportunity to discuss what I had read or heard. My father, in particular, shared his love of literature with me, often reading aloud excerpts from Shakespeare, poems and the Bible.

Writing has been a passion since my teenage years when I wrote poetry, usually reflecting my feelings about social issues or newly discovered love. During my teens and early twenties, I also entered public speaking competitions, often including snippets of my poetry in my speeches. I spoke about the threat of nuclear war, mental illness, and pacifism.

Since taking early retirement, I have written four novels: Sannah and the Pilgrim, the first of a trilogy, which draws on contemporary conservative attitudes towards climate change and refugees to present a dystopian view of a future Australia. Published by Odyssey Books in 2014, Sannah and the Pilgrim was commended in the FAW Christina Stead Award 2014. The second, Pia and the Skyman was published in April 2016, the third, The Sky Lines Alliance is scheduled to be released in October 2016. My fourth book, Safety Zone, deals with gender equality, pacifism and emerging feminism and is yet to be published.

During my employment at the Victorian College of the Arts, I was encouraged by a Senior Lecturer in Film and Television to try my hand at scriptwriting. I have since written several drafts of a feature film screenplay: Feed Thy Enemy based on my father’s unusual experiences in Naples during and after World War II. So far I have been unable to find a producer, so plan to rewrite the project as a novel. My short TV drama script, ‘Last Fling’ (based on a short story, published in ITA 1996) received First Prize in the FAW Whitelight TV Drama Award 2009 and I have also written the pilot for a TV series based on Sannah and the Pilgrim.

That’s an impressive achievement. Every author draws inspiration from other authors. Who inspires you?

I don’t have a favourite author or genre. I have always read widely, however some of my preferred authors are: Helen Garner, Margaret Drabble, Mary Wesley, Sebastian Faulks, Ian McEwan, Kate Grenville, Anita Shreve, Joyce Carol Oates, Elizabeth Jolley.

I am inspired to write by the issues facing our twenty-first century world, such as climate change, refugees, war, inequality. By creating speculative fiction that I believe could easily become fact, I hope to inspire more ordinary people to take a stand and work for a more equitable and sustainable future.

Having just read Pia and the Skyman I’m interested to hear what drove you to write it.

PIA AND THE SKYMAN

Pia and the Skyman, is the second book in my trilogy of a future Australia scarred by the ravages of climate change and decades of totalitarian government.

In this tale of loyalty, betrayal and duplicity, I focus on a tiny population forced to flee their home and the ramifications when a significant percentage, including hundreds of children, are refused asylum due to unacceptable difference. I present choices for the reader that are intended to be disconcerting as Pia and Kaire risk not only lengthy imprisonment to help those still suffering in apartheid Australia, but become involved in a conspiracy that if discovered, will see them wandering the universe forever stateless.

Age 20, Pia’s heritage is Pacific Islander and European. She is passionate, volatile, adventurous and unwavering in her determination to help liberate her people from generations of domination by an oppressive regime. Intelligent and savvy, she knows how to survive in a harsh world.

Age 28, Kaire is of European descent. A senior pilot from space station Skyz59, he originally came to Earth on a pilgrimage to experience the world of his ancestors but appalled by the society in which he found himself, now assists those trying to undermine the Australian government as well as those fleeing imprisonment for seditious activities. Naïve, uncomfortable with conflict, especially if it involves physical violence, Kaire still struggles to cope with Earth-life.

Pia and the Skyman took me a year to write, in sharp contrast to Sannah and the Pilgrim, which, including research, took about four years. As the second book in my trilogy, I already knew the central characters and had a good idea of the plot. I spend most weekdays (10-5) writing and occasional weekends if I have a deadline. My dream of becoming a published novelist has been realised with the publication of two novels and a third to be released soon. I took a risk in giving up paid work eight years ago to concentrate on writing but have no regrets. Writing is making retirement the best time of my life.

You can find out more about sue parritt by visiting her website. www.sueparritt.com
find my review HERE
and you can purchase pia and the skyman at AMAZON and all good booksellers

Pia and the Skyman by Sue Parritt

Sue Parritt’s Pia and the Skyman is the second in her Climate Fiction trilogy, following on from Sannah and the Pilgrim, which I reviewed last year.

PIA AND THE SKYMAN

From the very first sentence, Pia and the Skyman engages the reader in the action, Parritt quickly and skilfully establishing the backstory carried over from Sannah and the Pilgrim. Sannah’s daughter, Pia, and her former lover, Kaire, are thrown together to help maintain ‘the women’s line,’ a resistance movement in a climate changed future, set up to help free prisoners doomed to a lifetime in underground desert prisons in what has become an ‘Apartheid Australia.’

Then there’s the matter of Kaire the Skyman and his cohort of clones languishing on a space station that was launched many centuries before with the aim of seeking another planet for humanity. Kaire is not without criticism. “How arrogant to imagine they could wreck one planet then move on to another without a backward glance.”

Lies, deceit, betrayal and tragedy along with a healthy dose of passion carry the narrative along in what turns out to be a remarkably engaging read.

Pia and the Skyman is a thoughtful, carefully considered work.   Parritt’s writing is assured, confident and commanding, a steady pace maintained, the use of passive voice creating an emotional detachment befitting the stark conditions of a climate changed dystopia. “Desert desert go away…let us live another day,” the children in the playground chant.

Parritt is adept at creating an edge-of-survival atmosphere without recourse to over dramatisation. Her setting is vividly real, painted with a simple palette, and fine craftsmanship and attention to detail. Her characters are deftly portrayed and immediately recognisable.

The scenario Parritt depicts is not far removed from our own current reality, the story a metaphor for our times, and a logical extrapolations of successive Australian governments’ commitment to off-shore detention of asylum seekers in gulags. Environmental refugees are among us now. How many more will there be if we don’t amend our ludicrous dependence on fossil fuels?

There’s a deeply pacifist moral undertone that runs right through the story, carrying forward values of peace and right human relations, values elevated partly through Kaire, who in a fashion represents the higher moral ground. “Down there [in Aotearoa] his fellow settlers were doing their utmost to live a sustainable life, yet still found time to help those at risk in Australia. He wanted to shout out his admiration, tell them never to give up the struggle.”

Pia conveys values of compassion and goodwill. She acts, decisively and sometimes impulsively, exemplifying the determination and resilience of all the women who sacrifice their own safety for the sake of others in the Women’s Line – a powerful symbol of cooperation, collaboration and resistance founded on principles of solidarity and trust found amongst women in all situations of oppression and hardship the world over.

Through Pia and the Skyman Sue Parritt makes an important statement about the myopia that seems to have befallen our political leaders, especially in Australia. Humanity will be faced with harsh choices if environmental conditions become as brutal as they are in Parritt’s reality. As well they might. And I very much doubt humanity would have the capacity to respond all that differently to that of Parritt’s Apartheid Australia. On the whole we seem incapable of transcending our own selfish, divisive and hate fuelled beliefs. We’ll need a lot of goodwill and far-sightedness to avoid the scenario contained in this trilogy. Sue Parritt might as well be a soothsayer.

PIA AND THE SKYMAN CAN BE FOUND AT ODYSSEY BOOKS

Port of No Return by Michelle Saftich

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There are stories that need to be told, stories sidelined, destined to languish on the periphery of our knowledge of history, stories eclipsed by bigger, more sensational stories. Until an author like Michelle Saftich comes along.

Port of No Return is a work of historical fiction, set at the end of WWII, which tracks the stories of four families as they flee their war-ravaged city of Fuime, Northern Italy, for the refugee camps in nearby Trieste, as communist Yugoslavia, under the command of General Tito, claims ownership.

Saftich leads the reader by the hand into the intimate domestic lives of Contessa and Lena and Bianca, and Ettore, Edrico and Roberto, with all of their children, and of course Nonna. Their homes are bombed, their lives under threat. When Fuime was under German occupation, many locals were required to work in the arms factories. The Partisans created lists of the traitors. When they seized control, those men were rounded up and shot, or imprisoned and tortured, and then shot. It’s a familiar story. I’m easily reminded of current times in Syria and Iraq. And to that end alone, this book is an important read.

And as we face a refugee crisis second only to World War II, in Port of No Return Saftich depicts the struggles of millions of refugees displaced across Europe and the challenges they faced finding a place, any place, to live.

The hunger, the awful conditions, and the waiting, endless waiting, are portrayed through the eyes of the characters as they scratch out a day to day existence. It is a story in which hope and despair vie for supremacy.

Saftich portrays her characters with sympathy and sensitivity in confident, down-to-earth prose. The narrative is well-crafted and well-researched. Port of No Return is a story of survival, of hope, of the tenacity of those Italian families determined to have a future. And through it Saftich opens our hearts to compassion, a commendable feat.

ODYSSEY BOOKS, 2015

A Single Light by Patricia Leslie

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With A Single Light Patricia Leslie melds city grit and ethereal myth, the twin demands of Urban Fantasy, to form a perfect unity. The plot is simple, a good and evil battle to save humanity from extinction. Yet there is nothing simple in its execution, Leslie demonstrating both a depth of knowledge of her subject and writerly finesse.

Protagonist Rick Hendry, along with a federal agent, a doctor, an archeologist and a journalist, are thrust into a realm of angels and ghouls through a spate of mysterious deaths and disappearances in suburbs surrounding one of Sydney’s natural parklands. They are joined by a Hunter, one of the Afflur whose eternal task is to protect humanity from the evil Bledray. On the face of it, scarcely a unique tale, but as with most stories that comply with the strictures of genre fiction, the originality is all in the telling.

Urban Fantasy is a blend of crime and fantasy fiction. In A Single Light, Leslie displays mastery of both genres. As I was reading, I could imagine the author producing a fabulous crime novel one moment, an epic fantasy tale the next. Yet A Single Light also contains elements of horror, the reader forgiven for sensing echoes of Stephen King. It’s a fair comparison, Leslie’s storytelling, imbued with a mounting dread, and her detailed depictions of the acts of the Bledray, easily sit inside the horror genre, the quality of writing, fairly compared to King’s.

“A shift in the light; shadows moving across the room, horrendous and distorted, and then settling into a more recognisable form as they reached the windows. The curtains dropped as the window closed. The back door opened with a creak and the shadows left. Only the fan kept moving, blowing warm air and a trail of dust around the room, back and forth back and forth …”

Leslie’s characters are well-crafted and come alive on the page with all their foibles. Equally so, the otherworldly figures, the Afflur and the Bledray. Each shift in perspective clearly defined. Each scene carefully crafted.

“At once her whole form relaxed, hair-neat and pulled back in the cab of the truck-escaped its bonds to caress her shoulders, bright eyes became tired and lined, tight lips softened into a tanned face well-used to travelling at the whim of a hooked thumb and a driver’s caprice.”

The narrative is well-paced, the reader carried along by the dramatic tension established from the first page. A perfect mix of action and introspection, held together with vivid descriptions, never overdone, enshroud the reader in a reality so convincing, the very existence of A Single Light’s fantasy figures endures beyond the page.

Leslie’s prose is commensurate with the Urban Fantasy sub-genre, which demands both the earthy realism of crime and the imaginative transcendence of fantasy. It’s a fine balance, one that Leslie achieves with flair. The voice is unselfconscious, mature and poised, absent the pretensions of over-adornment, or the stilted prose the result of an overuse of Occam’s razor, one that plonks the reader in an emotional desert. Evident in Leslie’s writing, is a balance of sophistication and simplicity that will satisfy those after a work of substance while remaining immediately accessible to the page turner reader.

ODYSSEY BOOKS, FEB 2016

Featuring Michelle Saftich

Today I’m in conversation with Michelle Saftich, author of the acclaimed novel Port of No Return (Odyssey Books, 2015), a work of historical fiction I reviewed earlier this year.

 

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Where were you born and raised?

I was born and raised in Brisbane, Australia. I have also spent time living in Sydney and Osaka, Japan. What I love most about each city – I love Brisbane’s warm weather, Sydney’s harbour and Osaka’s food!

So, where are you now?

I am still in Brisbane, living with my husband, who is an accomplished musician and singer/songwriter and who helped to edit the first drafts of my book, and my two school-aged sons; not to mention my demanding black cat!

When you you decide you wanted to be a writer?

By the age of six, I knew I wanted to be a published author and that dream never wavered. As soon as I could read, I fell in love with books and wanted to write them.

My grandmother is a playwright and I have always felt a connection with her. As a young girl, I would sneak into her writing area, ogling her huge, heavy typewriter, scanning all her press clippings about her plays and I longed to have such a space of my own. I can recall sitting on her lap at age nine, reading to her an eight-page story I had written, just for fun.

Authors love books. What are some of your favourites?

I have read broadly, exploring a range of genres and authors. As a younger reader, I loved historical fiction and romance. I treasure such books as “To Kill a Mockingbird” and Jane Austen novels and I loved Wild Swans by Jung Chang. I have enjoyed biographical novels about Marie Antoinette and early writers such as Mary Shelley. I like stories about strong, inspiring women and works that inform and educate as well as entertain.

What inspired you to write port of no return?

I was greatly moved my grandparents’ true story of having to flee their Italian town, with their children, at the end of World War II. At that time, their city, Fiume, a beautiful portside city, was taken and absorbed into Yugoslavia – lost to Italy forever.

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In May, 1945, Yugoslav Partisans came down the hills into the city of Fiume and began rounding up those Italians, known to have worked with the Germans during the war, and executing them.

My father, a great oral storyteller, had told my sister and I a few snippets of his parents’ plight. He was fond of telling how his mother had stood up to the Yugoslav Partisans when they had come knocking on their door, seeking to arrest and kill her husband. She had shown great bravery in telling them that her husband had left her for another woman, and was not at home.

Inspired by these family tales, I decided to do some research about the city and came across a startling post-World War II conflict. Hundreds of thousands of Italians fled the region as the Yugoslav Army moved in, leaving behind their homes, their livelihoods, their friends.

I decided to write about their experiences.

How long did it take you to write?

It took two years to write. I talked to other Italians who had fled Fiume – ones who could remember being shot at trying to cross the town border to escape, ones who could recall the Partisans coming down the hills.

I have tried to capture their fear, their loss, their desperation – while informing readers of this little known conflict that affected so many.

Personally, it has been wonderful to write about and record my family heritage, while giving the people of this region a voice. I have felt honoured to tell their story and have loved every word of it.

There’s a whisper of a sequel. To find out why, read Port of No Return, and, like me, you’ll be left wanting more.

You can find Port of No Return at Odyssey Books

at Amazon and all good booksellers.

Meanwhile, here’s how you can connect with Michelle:

Website https://michellesaftich.com/

Facebook Page https://www.facebook.com/msaftich/?fref=ts

Twitter  @MichelleSaftich

Goodreads https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/26102499-port-of-no-return

What a sight!!!

The penultimate day of our stay on the island proved to be intriguing.

Our first stop was Arrecife, the island’s capital famous for it’s warren of narrow streets. Until this day we had taken the ring road, avoiding the confusion. This time, on a mission to deposit copies of The Drago Tree at a book shop near the Castillo de San Gabriel, we had no choice but to enter the fray.

Somehow we found our way to the Cabildo, on the southern end of town, an impressive modern building constructed in Spanish colonial style and surrounded by car parks. Not wanting to re-enter the warren of streets, we parked and walked the promenade back to Calle Leon y Castillo.

Lanzarote

The day was sunny and warm and it was a pleasant walk, first through a neatly laid out cactus garden fringed with low stone walls flanking the sea, and then around the creamy sands and sapphire waters of Playa Reducto – my kind of beach too, shallow and still. There were couples, old and young, women with strollers, the people of the city walking leisurely, relaxed. It’s a vibe you lock into, immediately.

Once past the 5 star Gran Hotel, the promenade continued on to Castillo de San Gabriel. Here, major road works impeded the flow of our walk, but the view of the old fort and the shimmering sea drew our attention.

We found the Libreria El Puente, down a side street off Calle Leon y Castillo – Arrecife’s main thoroughfare – the owner happy to take our remaining copies of The Drago Tree, to sell on our behalf.

By now it was lunch time. We had to eat. After walking around a number of side streets, passing eateries either uninspiring and notably empty, or exciting and predictably overflowing, we ended up back at the bookshop, and the restaurant next door. A small, friendly affair, with original paintings for sale on the walls and fried rabbit on the menu. Irresistible.

Arrecife

I imagined intense conversations between leftist intellectual types over salami and hard cheese. And I wondered at who the two men were who ran the joint and whether they were really from Andalucia. I doubted it.

We ambled over to the old fort along a narrow causeway, pausing at the old drawbridge for photos, staring down into the tranquil water, watching a woman taking advantage of the warmer shallows and edged by basalt walls, little beaches, pebble strewn, appearing unexpectedly.

Arrecife

The fort was closed. So we posed by the cannons, had a snoop around and strolled back along the other causeway. I told Michelle I thought I could rent an apartment in Arrecife, one facing the ocean, and write a book or two. Something about the vibe of the city aroused me. Maybe all those narrow streets filled with secrets.

We stopped for gelato near the Gran Hotel. By the time we reached our car it was 4pm.

Perfect timing for a drive to Famara. I wanted to provide Michelle with a contrast.

El Risco

It took about 1/2 an hour to drive across the belly of the island. And there we were facing north, with the cliff of El Risco towering to our east, the low rollers pushing in the tide. So we walked along the beach, pebbly and not so easy on the feet (I had rather stupidly chosen sandals for the outing), and kept on heading east, hoping that the lower the sun, the less cyclists would be on the roads when we headed back to our farmhouse in Maguez. On and on we went, in no hurry to turn around. Then Michelle stopped and asked me if I wanted to continue. I said I didn’t care either way but sensed she wanted to head back. As I turned I saw a man, naked, heading our way.

His speed was greater than ours. I turned back a few times, to admire the cliffs, say adios, or hasta luego, and there he was in all his glory. So I said to Michelle, ‘He’s spoiling my view.’

‘Complete with his semi,’ she replied.

I have to admit it took me a while to connect his half-erect penis jutting out like those of the male figurines that sometimes appear above male ablutions, or indeed abound in my friend Domingo’s studio, with her comment – semi.

Harianovio del mojon

We laughed all the way home. I was still wiping away the tears as I set about making cauliflower soup. (We’re down to using up the scraps of the groceries we’ve been buying from the local supermercado in Arrieta. Tomorrow is chorizo day. Don’t ask.)

Michelle is happy to report that we walked 16,000 steps today. She has an app. What the app doesn’t say is that they were all steps of contentment.