Why reading and writing is the road to happiness...

This blog started years ago as a place to muse on the life projects keeping me entertained. It is no surprise then that it has morphed into a blog about my reading as that has been my lifelong project. Here I review lots of different types of books, with an added focus on Australian women writers. Hope you enjoy - feel free to contribute to the conversation!

Thursday, 21 November 2013

Book Review - 'Night Games' by Anna Krien

Reading ‘Night Games’ by Anna Krien could not have come at a more chance time for me, as I finished the last page and set out that night for an end of season function held by the AFL team my husband follows. We were guests of sponsors, and due to the night being consumed by speeches and awards, I had ample time to peruse the crowd and watch at close range the players interact with their support staff, sponsors, and of course, fans. Everything Krien had written about in ‘Night Games’ was on display: the adoration from the sponsors and loyal club members of these “gods” from the field was palpable; the heavy responsibility placed on boys, many of whom were only in their early twenties was clearly apparent as they took their acceptance speeches very seriously;  the vision of the patient wives and girlfriends sitting quietly and adjusting their strapless gowns as they listened attentively to the anecdotes of their partners at the tables; and the Chairman and senior staff jovially ripping into the other clubs and proudly talking of the effort and loyalty of “their boys” to the rapturous applause of the audience. I was impressed, yes, by the sophisticated speeches of those awarded best and fairest awards – and I do understand the importance of sport in the lives of these players and their fans. I even regard some – I emphasise some - of the players in this particular team as very decent role models in our society. But goodness – I bet these boys get away with a lot. And all because they can kick and catch a ball....
Anna Krien beautifully articulates this ambivalence between admiring the players and enjoying the sport - and at the same time being deeply uncomfortable with how the fans, the media and even our pollies at times, ‘excuse’ the behaviour of some of the most well known players. She analyses this ambivalence via an exploration of a sexual assault case involving players and hangers on with the Collingwood club and a female who attended a private party of one of the players. The case itself is fascinating from a moral and legal perspective, but I also enjoyed how Krien explored wider issues in the text such as the representation of women on sporting boards, the treatment of female journalists covering sport, and the perspectives of detectives investigating these sorts of cases (illustrating attitudes which were very balanced and offered myself some reassurance that the police force are, mostly, sensitively in tune with the nuances of sexual assault cases).  Krien was able to become close with the defendant and his family, and explore his side of the allegation, but she was unable to communicate with the complainant and her evidence was kept confidential from the press (and rightly so) – I did not think this detracted from the resolution of the text, and in fact, this even more so highlighted how complex these cases are and the difficulty in coming to a satisfactory conclusion. I thought the most telling questions that Krien raised for consideration were those posed by the defendant’s family - what sort of girl would put herself in the situation under investigation, and what sort of girl has sex with multiple partners on one night  – and the question raised by one detective from the Sex Crimes Unit who asked if police were expected to be investigators of every ‘regrettable sex’ episode, as seemed to be many of these very ambiguous assaults with little tangible proof of consent or otherwise. Both suggestions and perspectives are highly prevalent in our society but make a reader such as myself very uncomfortable about the perception many have on women and their rights to sexual freedom. Krien notably explores her own concern here, while not being heavy handed in an overly pro feminist stance. The point to note about ‘Night Games’ is how many issues are raised for consideration – what a complex topic this is, that provokes so many of our prejudices and holds a mirror to the shades of grey we have in our value systems regarding sexual behaviour.
Krien has written an immensely important text here but to her great credit as well, has treated the topic with appropriate gravitas while still maintaining a page turning style. I have recommended ‘Night Games’ to many – and I thank Krien for turning my night out with the AFL club into a more thought provoking exercise than it might have previously been.

*This review has been linked as part of the Australian Women Writers Challenge

Friday, 14 June 2013

Why I Wrote My Debut YA Novel "Expectations"

In 2011 I went on twelve months maternity leave, after 15 or so years of full time work. Miracle of miracles: I had a baby who started sleeping through the night at six weeks old. Didn't expect that. Certainly didn't tell any other mothers I knew either becasue that's the sort of information that can have you killed.
So while I was still fairly tired, my eyes weren't hanging out of my head. And in those first six months you do have a lot of free time given how much those new borns sleep. What to do with myself....
In recent years I had poo-pooed my girlfriends who had avidly read the Twilight series of books, not really because they were YA books but more because they were about vampires. Vampires were everywhere, done to death. They're make believe. It's such formulaic writing. But I picked up the first book anyway because I won't criticise until I've given something a go. And the movie had come out so the series was saturated in the media, and I hate living with FOMO. Anyway, long story short: got to one hundred pages, threw the book across the room in frustration and muttered 'God, kiss her already, or run a stake through your heart yourself, you pathetic sap'. I didn't like Twilight. And I said as much to my girlfriends and may have declared something about being able to write something more realistic for teens. Which is typical for me, as I am given to overblown declarations of my perceived ability to have a successful crack at anything.
And now the time had come: twelve months off and time away from the boring job to let some creative juices flow. I confidently stated: 'I'm going to write a book for teens set in real life, with real issues, and with real kissing and sex, and actual mundane problems at school and at home, that kids want to read even though there are no vampires or werewolves'. My husband rolled his eyes, and said 'yeah right'. My best girlfriend was more polite, but I sensed her inward eyes rolling and 'yeah right'. But if there is ever a red rag to a bull (and I'm the bull in this metaphor) it's telling me that's I won't do something. Ok, ok, I'd never written a book before. Really, I was just interested to see if I could even pull out one cohesive chapter. So I understood their skepticism.

Buuuuutttt, drum roll please... here is the book, written over three months in 2011, accepted for publishing in 2012 by Really Blue Books, and available from last week on their website here:

and through Amazon


There was no crowing to the naysayers. I'm as shocked as anyone else that I was able to do it.

Now, if only it would sell as many copies as Twilight. I wish.

Friday, 24 May 2013

Update: Book Reviews and a 'Reading Challenge'

It's been a while since I've updated the books I have been reading but of course, me being me, I have turned my very reading into a challenge.  In August 2011, for whatever reason, I started noting down the books I had read and finished my list in August 2012: I was interested in how many books I read in one year. Turns out that the number was 30: is that any good?? That's one a fortnight or so. I guess that's a pretty good reading rate. But there are so many books to read - and at this rate I'll only get to approx 1113 books before I die. How will I get through everything I want to read??!!!
So the tally for this reading year so far - 10 months to date - is 26 - so looks like I'm going to hit the 30 mark again unless I start counting picture books into my tally (this is becoming like the Premier's Reading Challenge isn't it?).

Looking at the last three books I have read:

The Engagement by Chloe Hooper

Tense thriller from the Australian writer whose previous work was The Tall Man. This is a gripping read, but has that terrible feeling of being trapped pervading it. The central character goes willingly with her lover to his isolated farm in Victoria where she hopes for a relaxing, sex filled weekend. The weekend becomes a menatlly exhausting game between the two, where the main character is trapped in his house, unable to escape his increasingly disturbed behaviour. This is not an erotic thriller, but rather a psychological study into the male and female dynamic and the trust we place in relative strangers after we have had sex with them Highly original concept and well written.

Started Early, Took My Dog by Kate Atkinson

Kate Atkinson is getting a lot of publicuty at the moment for her latest novel, so I went back to her first crime novel in the Jackson Brodie series. I was really surprised by the humour in this novel and the original premise, given that I was expecting a usual Brit crime drama. Atkinson has created a completely likeable rogue in her Brodie character, and the language and dialogue are witty, despite the dark premise of the crime.  I'll be going back to Atkinson again.

Why Be Happy When You Can Be Normal by Jeanette Winterson

This has been on my e-reader for a while and I finally got to it. I have never read any Winterson but I loved her interviews when this, her memoir, was released. She is so honest and disarming which is a revelation today in the world of celebrity. And I love the title of this memoir which was what her mother said to her when Winterson told her she was gay. This is a moving and of course, well written memoir, and it is a particularly poignant examination of being an adopted child.

So what am I reading now for No 27?

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. Bestseller, thriller, acclaimed page turner. Well, I'm two thirds in and it is certainly delivering on all the promises from the great reviews. Don't know how it will finish, so that is always refreshing for a novel. I'll update when I have finished.

Until then - happy reading.

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

If only life was like a kids' show....

If we want the answer to how to create world peace and harmony we need not look to political summits or academic think tanks. Switch on ABC 4 Kids and you'll see life with a clarity and simplicity that will leave you feeling much more optimistic about the world.

I had already been thinking along these lines even before I caught part of an episode of Play School the other week. It was the day after I had read the news about ABC journalist Jeremy Fernandez and his awful experience of racial abuse on a Sydney bus - it was in the back of my mind as I was doing the housework. My daughter was playing in front of the television during Play School when I did something we should all do more often: I sat down and relaxed for a minute (we should definitely all do that more often!) and I watched a bit of the show. Without introduction, a little piece started with a South Asian family visiting a cafe. The little boy in the film explained that his dad and uncle often took he and his cousin out to have their favourite drink, a lassi. The footage just showed them enjoying their drink, with some background music. There was no extra explanation of the family's heritage, what a lassi was, what language they may or may not have spoken at home, when they arrived here in Australia or if they had always lived here, or any other commentary. Instead, the narrative was just a simple message: we live in Australia, we are a happy family, we drink something called a lassi, it's delicious. Full stop.

Last week, I was switching off the television when I caught the end of a Sesame Street episode. The gang were singing as a group on the street steps, and one child was given a solo part because, as became evident, he had an awesome voice. He owned his solo, a funky improv that had me smiling and picking my daughter up to dance around the room. It was obvious to me, but maybe not to a small child viewing, that the little boy was blind. But there was no voice-over explaining that here was a child with a difference, or some indication through the way the others interacted with him. Nope, no fanfare. He was just part of the group, and he has an awesome voice. Full stop. No further detail needed. You may remember, years ago, that it was also Play School that showed a little film of a family with two mothers: no kids complained or questioned what was happening in that clip at the time, only the adult world caused a fuss when it was aired.

Because as we all know, little kids like my daughter (who is still a few years off going to school) see the world pretty simply. They don't need lots of context to make sense of a person's place in this world. Really little kids dont label. They just understand that other people live around them, some of them drink lassis, some of them are really good singers, some of them have two mums.

Now I'm no fool: I know that kids can pretty quickly show signs of prejudice. And I know they dont watch Play School until they are fifteen mores the pity. I certainly don't look at this complex world with rose coloured glasses. But seeing kids at a playground running up to a child they don't know and instantly striking up a rapport, or watching kids engage with a television episode showing a family from a different background with only happy acceptance of that reality - it reminds you that we are all citizens of this world, and people are just living their lives. Like kids, we can just accept that, if we choose. We don't need to feel threatened by people living differently in our world, or find fault with others because they look or sound different to us - everyone else is just surviving too, with what theyve been given to get through life. Let's just get off each other's backs. We're all in this together were all just striving for a little patch of harmony. Kids understand that, Sesame Street understands that. We all need to be reminded of that.

Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Regrets - I have a few...

During a recent health check by my employer, I was given the devastating news that I have the hearing of a person ‘in her sixties’ - the devastating thing being that I’m not 60, but in fact 37. Has my hearing loss been a result of loud machinery in my workplace, the nurse asked? Sighing, I admitted ‘Noooo’, shaking my head sadly. I had to admit to her that the blame lies fairly and squarely with new wave romantic pop in the 80s, grunge rock in the 90s, and dance music in the noughtes. It was the Walkman, the Discman, the Ipod - all turned up loud, 25 odd years of musical and technological history slowly eroding my hearing. I've got to say - I'm truly lamenting the fact that I'm now too deaf to appreciate the most recent musical genius of 2012, Psy and Gangnam style. Oh, the inhumanity!
But seriously, a chill grips my heart when I think of how I'll be explaining to my daughter in twenty years time that the reason why I have to sit virtually on top of her to hear her is all because I loved to listen to Madonna's "Vogue" really loudly back in 1989 on my Sony Walkman. ‘Madonna?’ she'll ask, of the 70 year old singer, still touring. ‘That lady with all the crazy muscles?’ Indeed, I'll shake my head and wonder – was it really worth the permanent damage to my ears?

Regrets, yep I have a few. Why did I not have the foresight in the 80s to snaffle all of Grandpa's mint condition 1960s furniture? I could be sitting on a pot of gold now, negotiating inflated prices with hipsters throughout Sydney and Melbourne, desperate to pay a ridiculous sum for a formica kitchen table that you would have had to pay to have taken to the tip back in 1988. Where was the foresight??!

Well, I was probably studying too hard back then to have given it any kind of thought. And I regret that too. What was the point of all those hours studying those Arts subjects to never, ever, ever have any employer look at the actual results. I only needed one word for that CV - "PASS". Gee…all that time wasted in Sydney Uni library when I could have been partying with the St John's College guys. Hmmm, actually....scrap that thought.

But speaking of education - I regret wasting so much time in high school slagging off anything fun as totally ‘uncool’, and avoiding anything extra-curricular like the plague. Why didn't I do the school musical, the plays, the Rock Eisteddfod? Back then it was all too Mr G for this surly teen, slowly degrading her hearing with The Cure turned up loud in the ear phones, and sneering at the drama club. But what I wouldn't give now to be swapping the adult ‘thrill’ of yet another sedate dinner party, with the prospect of three weeks of rehearsals with zillions of friends, spirit fingers, sequined costumes, and themed choreography... Oh to be young again! Sadly, there is no way that there'll be a chance at a Rock Eisteddfod now at 37. I’m afraid that glittered cardboard backdrop ship has sailed...

So regrets, I have a few. And I will never have 100 per cent hearing again - I can't turn back time. But maybe I should start turning the volume down now so I can save what hearing I do have left. Because God knows I don’t want to miss out hearing with clarity what will be the latest music fad when I’m at least a spectator at my children’s future Rock Eisteddfod.