If Blood Should Stain the Wattle

y648This doesn’t happen nearly as often as I would like, but I can honestly say that I loved this book! I’ve only ever really thought of Jackie French in terms of children’s and young adult fiction so was pleasantly surprised to see her grown up offering – If Blood Should Stain the Wattle.

Now it is probably the Australian in me, but I especially loved how Jackie uses famous Australian poetry and folklore that brought a ‘familiar’ spark to the story for me.

If Blood Should Stain the Wattle is full of wonderful, well established characters that have appeared in Jackie French’s earlier ‘Matilda’ series. I haven’t read any of these books yet but this didn’t detract from my enjoyment of this one; instead it made me want to experience them all.

There are fabulous strong female characters who are making their mark in Gibber’s Creek, finding love and setting their sights on conquering the world. Okay, maybe just Australia. Then we have the odd spiritual moment where they converse with ghosts and even manage to peek through time itself. But this is the seventies so the story wouldn’t be complete if there wasn’t a hippy commune on the edge of Gibber’s Creek and a ‘cult leader’ who is receiving messages from aliens. Did I mention that this is also the story of the Whitlam government coming to power?

Stop, come back! Don’t be put off by the inclusion of politicians and their shenanigans within the pages. Jackie French has cleverly woven the information into short excerpts from newspaper reports, and by having characters Jed Kelly and Matilda campaigning to support a Labor government. No boring political twaddle in sight; instead we get to experience first hand what it was like when the Whitlam Government came to power in early 1970s Australia and the subsequent historic dismissal of Gough Whitlam by then Governor-General Sir John Kerr.
This book really does have something for everyone and it won’t disappoint.

The Matilda series began as a trilogy, became a quartet. It was meant to be a history of our nation told from one country town, and the viewpoints of those who had no political voice in 1892, when the series begins: women, indigenous people, Chinese, Afghans.
But, by book four, I realised that history didn’t stop just because I was born, and that the series will continue as long as I live.” (Jackie French)

The quartet Jackie French is referring to is now a sextet – and who knows how many more there may be. So if you want to start at the very beginning the titles in order are:

  1. A Waltz for Matilda
  2. The Girl From Snowy River
  3. The Road to Gundagai
  4. To Love a Sunburnt Country
  5. The Ghost by the Billabong
  6. If Blood Should Stain the Wattle

Cover of A waltz for MatildaCover of the girl from Snowy Riverimage_proxy[3]Cover of To love a sunburnt countryCover of The ghost by the billabongCover of If Blood should stain the wattle

If Blood Should Stain the Wattle
by Jackie French
Published by HarperCollins New Zealand
ISBN: 9781460753118

Fast Five with Nadia Wheatley

There are some wonderful authors and illustrators for children who are coming to Auckland in August as part of the 2016 IBBY Congress. You can read all about who we are excited to meet in our post about the IBBY Congress here on the blog. We approached some of the speakers and asked them a few questions about books and libraries.

Today’s featured speaker is Australian author Nadia Wheatley:

What are you most looking forward to when you visit New Zealand for the 2016 IBBY Congress?

Meeting fellow authors, illustrators, readers and book-lovers from around the world.

What is your favourite memory of libraries?

I don’t have early memories of going to libraries and borrowing books because when I was growing up in the 1950s there weren’t many municipal libraries in Australia, and my school didn’t have a library until towards the end of my secondary years. However, my mother’s best friend from her childhood was the librarian in charge of a major library in the centre of Sydney, and sometimes we would pay her a visit when we went into town. Although my mother had been a nurse and she had many nursing colleagues who were still working, this librarian was the first woman I knew who had a professional office job. I always loved going to the library and seeing Auntie O (as I called her) sitting behind a big desk, surrounded by books.

What are 5 of your favourite books?

Impossible to choose only five favourite books, but here are some, in the order I read them:

Cover of Pippi LongstockingPippi Longstocking (Astrid Lindgren): This book provided a model of a happy orphan when my mother died, when I was nine years old.

Middlemarch (George Eliot): This was our set text in English when I was fifteen. I think it was the first really grown-up book I read.

Cover of The making of the English working classThe Making of the English Working Class (E.P. Thompson): I read this in 1968, when I was getting involved in radical politics. It helped me decide to become a historian.

The Member of the Wedding (Carson McCullers): My favourite book about what it means to be a misfit.

The Vivisector (Patrick White): My favourite book about about what it means to be an artist.

What do you love most about the world of children’s literature?

The friendship of my fellow book-makers and book-lovers.

What do you believe is the most important thing that adults can do to encourage children to read?

My general advice would be to read aloud to children, even when they are able to read for themselves. I also think of a phrase used by British novelist and critic, Aiden Chambers. He referred to what he called ‘the enabling adult’: the person (parent, teacher, librarian, friend) who introduces a particular book to a child, and helps her find her way into it. I remember that Aiden also once said to me that every time we read a new book, we need to learn how to read it. I think some wonderful books do need someone to introduce them to their readership.

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Fast Five with Leigh Hobbs

There are some wonderful authors and illustrators for children who are coming to Auckland in August as part of the 2016 IBBY Congress. You can read all about who we are excited to meet in our post about the IBBY Congress here on the blog. We approached some of the speakers and asked them a few questions about books and libraries.

Today’s featured speaker is the current Australian Children’s Laureate, Leigh Hobbs:

What are you most looking forward to when you visit New Zealand for the 2016 IBBY Congress?

I’m looking forward to meeting others as involved and enthusiastic about the world of children’s books as I am.

What is your favourite memory of libraries?

My favourite memory of Libraries is as a sort of safe haven when I was a child at school, where I could pore over books to ‘my hearts content’ – as they say…

What are 5 of your favourite books?

My favourite books are:

What do you love most about the world of children’s literature?

What I love most about the world of children’s Literature is feeling that I am, to a small degree,  a contributor to that wonderful unbridled world which is the child’s imagination.

What do you believe is the most important thing that adults can do to encourage children to read?

I think the most important thing that adults can do to encourage a child to read is to expose them to a broad range of books, not just ‘story books’, or ‘children’s books’.

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Fast Five with Ursula Dubosarsky

There are some wonderful authors and illustrators for children who are coming to Auckland in August as part of the 2016 IBBY Congress. You can read all about who we are excited to meet in our post about the IBBY Congress here on the blog. We approached some of the speakers and asked them a few questions about books and libraries.

Today’s featured speaker is Australian author Ursula Dubosarsky:

What are you most looking forward to when you visit New Zealand for the 2016 IBBY Congress?

Spending time with book lovers, readers, writers, listening to the presentations in all their glittering variety!  – and catching up with old friends especially.

What is your favourite memory of libraries?

The local library always felt to me like another room in my home – as I child I felt it was a place I belonged, without question. Just walking into the library made me feel excited, thinking of all the things inside that I would soon be able to take off the shelf to take home and read.

What are 5 of your favourite books?

Cover of An episode of sparrowsAn Episode of Sparrows by Rumer Godden (children’s novel)

Come by Chance by Madeleine Winch (picture book)

Washington Square by Henry James (adult novel)

Horizon by Patrick Modiano (adult novel)

Quartet in Autumn by Barbara Pym (adult novel)

What do you love most about the world of children’s literature?

Too hard a question! I can’t extricate the world of children’s literature from my personality…

What do you believe is the most important thing that adults can do to encourage children to read?

Well to be perfectly honest I would say TAKE THEM TO THE LIBRARY. That’s how a child will become a reader. No child is going to become a reader by being given a book as a present from time to time – they will become a reader by massive exposure to all kinds of books, which is only possible really in a library. Go into the library every week, let the child pick three or four books themselves, then you pick a few too. Then take them home and READ them. Some the child will like, some they won’t like. That’s the whole idea – by reading and loving or reading and discarding a wide variety of books they will develop their own taste, a sense of judgement, a knowledge of what books can do. I am a total public library FREAK, frankly. (!)

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Aussie teen fiction

Cover for Looking for AlibrandiOh, Australia. Home of red dirt, too many snakes, and some super readable YA fiction. I picked up another one from the new book pile yesterday entirely due to the blurb quote by Melina Marchetta. Marchetta writes books about — brace yourselves — teens with issues (so, all teenagers, because who doesn’t have issues?), but they’re funny and sad and beautifully written. She’s probably best known for Looking for Alibrandi, which was made into a movie, but the one I return to most often is Saving Francesca (and sequel The Piper’s Son).

Cover for Feeling Sorry for CeliaAnother favourite writer from across the pond is Jaclyn Moriarty, author of Feeling Sorry for Celia and sequels. She writes quirky novels told through notes left on the fridge and letters from a character’s subconscious and other epistolary ephemera, which is a favourite trope of mine (see my Epistolary Novel list). Two of her sisters are also authors (I recommend Liane Moriarty’s Big Little Lies, currently being filmed as a TV series), albeit for adult readers — what a disgustingly talented family.

Cover of WildlifeFiona Wood rounds off my top three Aussie contemporary YA authors — a colleague wrote a lovely post about my favourite of hers, Wildlife, which covers grief and friendship and living out in the bush with a bunch of teenagers. She’s also written Six Beautiful Things, a modern genderswapped retelling of Cinderella, and Cloudwish, a super sweet story about Vietnamese-Australian Van Uoc Phan, wishes, and Jane Eyre.

Any other fans out there? I’ve been writing down Marchetta’s recommendations from her blog and adding them to my list of Aussie YA, so if you’re stuck for something to read do take a look. Or let me know if I’m missing someone amazing!

Cover for YellowCover of The Yearbook CommitteeCover of The First ThirdCover of The Flywheel

Accessing the creative mind – How fiction writers write

Wow! How can I begin to describe Sue Woolfe‘s workshop Discovering the Power of One’s Own Voice? Insightful? Inspiring? Life changing? Let’s say, all of those things.

Sue Woolfe is an award winning Australian author who teaches creative writing at the University of Sydney. Festival organiser and director of the Hagley Writers’ Institute, Morrin Rout, introduced the session by telling the  eagerly awaiting participants how lucky we were to be able to attend one of Sue Woolfe’s workshops. I heartily agree with her.

Sue Woolfe started the workshop by quoting publishing phenomenon, Stephen King, who said ‘Plot is the last resort of the good writer and the dullard’s first choice.’  This statement turns on its head any traditional notion of story writing which tells you take a blank page, write Chapter One at the top of it, start at the beginning and keep on going until the story is finished. Most budding authors facing this prospect don’t know where to start, feel they’re stupid and give up.

Early in her career, Sue Woolfe realised this approach didn’t work for her. She wrote her first novel,  Painted Woman, in what she describes as a haphazard fashion. She wrote fragments here, bits there and then put it all together. She spoke to fellow author, Kate Grenville, about this and discovered she did a similar thing. They decided to investigate further and interviewed other authors. In 1993, they published Making Stories: How Ten Australian Novels Were Written. The results were conclusive – all these authors wrote haphazardly. It appears this is the way to write fiction.

The first thing writers need to do is still the mind. The imagination is a huge resource we seldom access. We live in our logical brain, ordering, sorting, reasoning, planning. To access our imagination we need to still the mind. There is neurological evidence to support this. In 1975, Colin Martindale investigated the thought processes of people he called Creatives and Non-Creatives. He asked them to think of  ‘table’. The Creatives all started with a stage of low brain activity before they burst into action. The Non-Creatives kept brain activity at a steady rate. The Creatives used more mental range. Their associations were more varied and unexpected.

In the workshop, Sue Woolfe encouraged us to still our minds and start blurting – let it all out. She set exercises which involved observing a real person in profile and imagining what was on the other side of her face. She got the person to leave the room. Where has she gone? Who is she meeting? Write freely and don’t edit anything until you’ve discovered your story. And then, edit only for suspense. ‘Plot goes on only at the end like a beautiful mantle,’ she says. ‘And that is why it is the last resort of good writers.’

If you’d like to read more about neuroscience and writing, get your hands on a copy of The Mystery of the Cleaning Lady. If you’d like to see how Sue Woolfe’s theory translates into practice, her new novel The Oldest Song in the World is a treat for lovers of literary fiction. Her website is informative and, if you ever get the chance to attend one of her workshops, go for it!

Warm and sunny reads

CoverSick of looking out the window at a dreary day? Try some armchair travel to vicariously experience warmer climes.

Read a novel set somewhere warm and sunny:

If you are interested in travel writing, subscribe to our Armchair Travel newsletter (here’s the June one).

Keep cosy this winter with downloading eBooks or audiobooks without even leaving your house!

Secrets (and lies?) at Wellington Writers and Readers Week

Cover of The Secret RiverKate Grenville appeared at an Auckland Readers and Writers festival a few years ago, talking about The secret river, a book based on the stories her mother told about her great-grandfather Solomon Wiseman, who was transported from England and “took up land” on the Hawkesbury river.

Grenville’s family’s eyes glazed over at these stories, but in 2000, walking across Sydney Harbour Bridge in a Reconciliation March, Grenville looked down, imagined a convict ship off-loading in the harbour and wondered – how did Solomon Wiseman “take up land”? Wondering led to The secret river, and, while at that Auckland Readers and Writers festival talking about the book, she climbed Rangitoto.

While she was climbing, a voice spoke to her with a synopsis of a novel and its first lines. She had nothing to write on except the brown paper bag her lunch came in, a bag she produced triumphantly on the stage at the Embassy in 2012.

Cover of Sarah ThornhillThe novel was Sarah Thornhill, and it features the story of Solomon Wiseman’s grand-daughter, a six-year-old Maori girl who was plucked from her family on Stewart Island after her parents died. To research the book Grenville visited The Neck on Stewart Island, as she believes novelists have to visit the place they are writing about, as a matter of respect, acknowledgement and humility.

Her books question everything about being a white Australian. In writing them Grenville says “let us not forget this”, but she has been attacked by the ‘commentariat’ annoyed that historians don’t sell many books, whereas writers of historical fiction do. Obviously really smarting from this criticism, Grenville gave some opinions I hope I’m reflecting accurately, opinions shared by a few fellow authors who also talked about historical fiction, but not by others.

Ron Rash seemed to be a kindred spirit as they both used the Faulkner quote “The past is not dead. It’s not even past”. Grenville said she writes fiction about the present set in the past; Rash said his book The cove was written about what is happening now in America, set in 1918.

The three ’emerging’ writers who were all writing books set in the past felt that just rendering time and place is not the point of  writing historical fiction. When Peter Carey wrote The true history of the Kelly Gang he “made it all up”; when Michael King reportedly suggested that Maurice Shadbolt distorted the historical record, Shadbolt’s’ reply was “it’s true if I say it is”.

I’m not sure what I think. Where does history end and the novel begin? Should history be registered in a “contemporary poetic”? Is voice the most important thing?

Aussie authors feature on new set of stamps

Australia Post gives the stamp of approval to literary legends reports the Sydney Morning Herald of 20 January 2010. And who were the Australian authors honoured by gettting their mugs plastered on a postage stamp?

Bryce Courtenay said modestly:

‘Stamps aren’t what they used to be … It was the king’s head on stamps when I was young. Now they just put old sh*tbags on them.’

Well I think it is wonderful to see this great selection of Australian authors philatelicly honoured.

Has New Zealand done literary themed stamps?
A quick search revealed this 1989 Authors issue :  Katherine Mansfield, James K Baxter, Bruce Mason and Ngaio Marsh.