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Showing posts from April, 2018

On writing — When characters take control

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This should never happen! Even a writer who makes it up as she goes along should be in total command of her characters. She is their creator. She decides whether they live or die, and what horrible things will happen to them along the way. She controls every aspect of their lives — their age, appearance, and personality. So what happens when a character leaps from the shadows and threatens to derail an entire well-thought-out plot? Well, firstly, that’s a clue that the plot wasn’t really as well planned as the author fondly believed. And next, something must be done. This happened to me when I was writing The Corrieva Contract (relaunched in 2021 as Runaway Spy).  My protagonist, Joanne, is not on good terms with her mother. In a vague sort of way, I saw this as just one thread in explaining Joanne’s character. But then the mother actually arrived on the scene. He [an interfering neighbour] turned to strut away, but stopped, transfixed by the sight of the ancient rustbucket crui

Reading journal: The Dark Lake by Sarah Bailey

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Genre: Crime Published: 2017 Read: February 2018 A gripping story about a murder in a large Australian country town. Detective Sergeant Gemma Woodstock is investigating the death of an old school friend, a woman for whom she had an unhealthy obsession. As the investigation progresses, the consequences of decisions and actions made in the past come back to haunt Gemma. Traumatic events from her teenage years are slowly revealed to be integral to solving the case. I stayed up very late to finish this, as it was too difficult to put it down. The book is written in the present tense, which I usually find difficult, but in this case it seemed completely appropriate and easy to read. One word of warning. If you’re reading an ebook version, my copy didn’t open at the beginning (a prologue labelled “now”), instead leaping ahead to Chapter 1. Reading the prologue would have helped! Fast paced, lots of twists and turns and emotions, recommended.

Reading journal: Beauty Like the Night by Joanna Bourne

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Genre: Historical romance Published: 2017 Series: Spymaster Read: February 2018 After the French Revolution came the Napoleonic Wars, and after the wars came the wash-up of displaced people, resentment and revenge. But “spies never retire” . Séverine de Cabrillac, a French-born British spy, is working in London. When not busy helping the British service prevent an assassination attempt on Lord Wellington, she takes on a case helping jewel thief Raoul Deverney to find his missing daughter. I enjoyed this book, although not quite as much as earlier books in the series. Some favourite characters make a reappearance, including the deadly Adrian Hawkhurst — “Hawk lounged at his side of the table with all the noncommittal menace of one of the better breeds of cat.” I suggest starting with the first book in the series, The Forbidden Rose , which takes place in France during the French Revolution. It has a cracking beginning — the starving protagonist talks to the rabbit she

Reading journal: Dark Emu by Bruce Pascoe

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Genre: Nonfiction Published: 2014 Read: March 2018 This book is subtitled “Black seeds: agriculture or accident?” Pascoe’s short and readable book summarises the output of a range of primary and secondary sources that examined the economy of Indigenous people in Australia before European settlement destroyed that economy forever. Most convincing are the quotes and illustrations from the diaries and reports of early inland explorers, describing flourishing grain production and harvesting, robust houses, fishtraps on rivers, smoking fish and other meats for preservation, yam planting and harvesting, maintenance and protection of wells and the use of fire to maintain the environment in a useful grassy state. All these methods of making a living from Australia’s intermittent rivers and thin infertile soils were gone within a few years of the arrival of European stock animals and crops, and the environmental degradation continues. Pascoe argues that it is the Europeans who w

Reading journal: Persuasion by Jane Austen

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Genre: Romance Published: 1817 Read: February 2018 The novel follows a period in the life of Anne Elliot, a woman cursed with a vain, social climbing family. In her youth she refused an offer of marriage from Frederick Wentworth, a young sailor of no family or means. Now, years later, he has returned, wealthy from his exploits fighting in the British Navy in the Napoleonic Wars, to find her unmarried still. The novel explores the difficulties of navigating family and social pressures. Anne’s original rejection, seen by Frederick as due to weakness of character in letting family and friends persuade her against him, also had elements of immaturity and realistic prudence. He himself suffers from the expectations of family and friends, and forms a more mature judgement, leading to an unsurprising happily ever after, with a marriage based on love rather than family alliances. This novel is literary in style. Not much actually happens. Instead we see page after page of Anne’s pe

Reading journal: The Boy Next Door by Josh Lanyon

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Genre: Crime/Romance Published: 2017 Read: February 2018 A readable novella about Merle Madison, former boy detective and now aspiring real private eye, and his childhood friend, now estranged lover, Police Chief Isaac Ramsey. The style is conversational and humorous, the mystery just juicy enough to matter, and the conflict (leading to reconciliation, if there was any doubt) between the two men is wonderfully done. Recommended.

Reading journal: Binti, The Night Masquerade, by Nnedi Okorafor

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Genre: Science fiction Published: 2018 Series: Binti Read: February 2018 Binti is a young woman with a foot in many worlds. In the first book in the series, Binti , she leaves her home world to travel through space to university, and becomes the only survivor of a deadly attack on the space vessel. In Home , she returns for a coming of age ceremony, bringing an alien friend with her, and discovers unexpected secrets about her family background. In The Night Masquerade Binti tries to prevent a war and to reconcile her cultural threads and new experiences into her adult persona. In the end she chooses her own path. I love these novellas. They blend a science fiction plot with African folklore and Binti’s coming of age story to create a wonderful whole. Binti’s commitment to her Himba culture, symbolised by her application of otjize to protect her skin, persists even as she is changed for ever by her extraordinary encounters with aliens and her personal growth into

Reading journal: The Widows of Malabar Hill by Sujata Massey

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Genre: Mystery/Historical Published: 2018 Read: February 2018 Perveen Mistry is one of the first women lawyers in India, working in her father’s practice in Bombay (now Mumbai) in 1921. Paperwork around an inheritance leads her to help three Muslim widows living in seclusion and vulnerable to exploitation. A second thread of flashbacks exposes the collapse of Perveen’s own marriage some years earlier. A meaty story with many interesting characters and a firm historical background. Massey describes India under British rule, long before independence or partition. As a lawyer Perveen must deal with the languages and legal systems appropriate to particular religions and ethnic groups. Massey depicts this rich cultural mix as well as exploring the strictures around women and marriage. Highly recommended.

Reading journal: Resurrection Bay by Emma Viskic

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Genre: Crime Published: 2015 Series: Caleb Zelic Read: March 2018 Caleb Zelic is an investigator looking into warehouse thefts in Melbourne. Things go wrong, a friend is killed, witnesses are disappearing, and Caleb’s partner has become unreliable. Deaf from childhood, Caleb has relied, perhaps too much, on Frankie’s help, and now he’s out on his own, trying to succeed in a world of sounds that he can often only guess at. Caleb retreats to his home town of Resurrection Bay and reconnects with his separated wife, his brother and his childhood friends. But the bad guys follow, and Caleb’s pride has put those he loves in danger. And he’s not prepared for the shocking betrayal that makes him doubt his own judgement. A great book, plenty of pace and character-driven action, and insight into how the world operates for a person with hearing impairment. Highly recommended.

Autumn (fall) downunder in Australia — Party time!

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If you live in the northern hemisphere, Australia's seasons can be confusing. Here's what you need to know about autumn. Autumn goes from 1 March to 31 May. It's the best season in most places. Weather is calmer, temperatures more moderate (your milage may vary, I'm talking about you, 2018!) We have festivals at this time. Mardi Gras in Sydney, Moomba in Melbourne, the alternative arts festival WOMADelaide in Adelaide, the Sydney Easter Show, Melbourne Food and Wine Festival, Melbourne International Flower and Garden Show, Melbourne International Comedy Festival, the Formula 1 Grand Prix and the Virgin Australia Melbourne Fashion Festival, and many others. You get the idea. Party time! We celebrate Easter with public holidays on Good Friday and Easter Monday. For many this is an opportunity for a long weekend, the last chance to go away before the nice weather finishes. Of course, the whole message of renewal, new life, Easter bonnets, bunnies and so on, m

Reading journal: Come to Grief by Dick Francis

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Genre: Crime Published: 1995 Series: Sid Halley Read: January 2018 This is the third story featuring Sid Halley, a jockey forced from racing after a catastrophic injury to his hand. Instead, he has become a successful investigator. In this harrowing story he tries to find the sick individual who is mutilating horses, and is horrified to discover that the culprit is a friend. Sid’s problems begin after he has solved the crime, with heavyweights behind the scenes going to great lengths to discredit him and ruin his reputation. Sid also helps a sick child and a teenager on the edge in this excellently written book. This is one of Dick Francis's best books, in my opinion, with an engaging plot, real danger and emotional depth. Highly recommended.

Reading journal: Evangeline and the Mysterious Lights by Madeleine d’Este

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Genre: Fantasy Published: 2017 Series: The Antics of Evangeline Read: January 2018 Evangeline is a 17 year old inventor and troublemaker in 1882, in steampunk Melbourne, Australia. In this outing she tackles a mystery involving dirigibles. Both Evangeline and her father confront old nemeses and win the day through derring-do in the skies. I thought this book was a little rushed compared with the earlier stories, but still fun for young teens.

Reading journal: Midwinter by John Buchan

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Genre: Action adventure Published: 1923 Read: January 2018 I didn’t enjoy this as much as I remembered from my last read a couple of decades ago. It jumbles together too many strands—the 1745 Jacobite rebellion in Britain, spies, treachery, a love affair, Samuel Johnson the dictionary writer, and secret bands of men who are part of an older,   better England. The protagonist, Captain Alastair MacLean, is engaged in spy work for Bonnie Prince Charlie. He is rescued from difficulties and ethical errors by Midwinter, the leader of hidden men who live close to nature and form the mystical backbone of old England. In many places the pace drops off and the story becomes dreary and dull. The disappearance and reappearance of Samuel Johnson is confusing and adds little to the tale. There isn't enough suspense. The only really scary part is when MacLean is in danger of being thrown into a pothole, a deep pit with grinding rocks at the bottom. Nasty. I think they could ha