Donkey Trekking Tips ‘The Only Way Home’ Liz Byron

In her memoir ‘The Only Way Home’ and YouTube video (see below) Liz Byron explains what it meant leaving her roller-coaster marriage, career, family dinners, large library and a comfortable, charming home to trek 2,500 kilometres through rural Queensland on the rugged Bicentennial National Trail.

Liz, mother and semi-retired sociolegal researcher, writes from her New South Wales Northern Rivers home.  Her writing is confronting and visceral in its honesty.

Each step on this radical journey of self-discovery helped Liz make sense of grief and trauma, including the tragic loss of one of her four children.  Liz’s fierce independence was confronted daily as she tackled details of equipment, food supply, lack of drinking water, thorny grass seeds and the hilarious will of her two devoted donkeys Grace and Charley.

PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY OF AUTHOR

EXCERPTS FROM LIZ BYRON INTERVIEW

What advice would you give to someone wanting to do a long distance trek?

LIZ : From the various facets involved in a long-distance trek, consider where you might lack experience and spend time acquiring the experience you need. From thirty years of overnight bushwalking, I was experienced at living outdoors, packing light, negotiating difficult terrain and camping, cooking in all weathers. However, I had no experience with large animals and allowed myself four years to get to know my donkeys, learn how to handle them on the road and have them face as many scary situations as I could predict might arise.

What was your most essential piece of equipment?

LIZ : My hoof pick. Everything about trekking depends upon the donkeys’ feet.

You talk about having to learn about adjusting your standards of what to expect, how did the BNT trek compare to what you expected?

LIZ : Adjusting my standards was more about adjusting my expectations of other people and myself. A strong theme in the book is that – because of all my outdoor experience – physical challenges were easily overcome. It was almost as if surviving physically demanding situations was no longer part of the lessons I needed to learn. The challenges were much more about relating to people from whom I needed help – because of the extremely dry conditions and NEVER part of my trek plan – so accepting my limitations, and theirs, changed my standards of what to expect in all sorts of social situations.

What was the most important thing that working with donkeys taught you about yourself?

LIZ : Accepting the way things are, like donkeys do, is far healthier, for both mind and body, than getting lost in thoughts about how things should be.

Several years have passed since you walked the Bicentennial National Trail, have the lessons you learned endured?

LIZ : Yes. Because lessons learned from experience, in other words, from our mistakes, naturally endure.

Thank you, Liz, I enjoyed reading ‘The Only Way Home’. Your unique memoir shows strength of purpose and insights into your remarkable journey.

Gretchen Bernet-Ward 2021

WOLLONGONG CITY LIBRARIES – YOUTUBE

MY BOOK REVIEW HERE

THE ONLY WAY HOME



PURCHASE BOOK HERE

Liz Byron ‘The Only Way Home’ Book Review

A memoir of singularity of purpose and a deep determination to overcome all obstacles.  Liz Byron challenges herself in every way, mentally, physically and spiritually to start afresh by walking the rugged Bicentennial National Trail towards a new, independent life.  The BNT on the Great Dividing Range on the east coast of Australia has some of the most unforgiving landscapes in the world.  Her companions on this journey are two donkeys with the wisdom of ages and Liz’s symbol, the wild watchful wedge-tail eagles.

‘The Only Way Home’ is an intimate memoir with a heartbreaking look into family life, the pain Liz suffers and the repercussions for those involved.  It also captures the freedom of walking through wide-ranging bushland, fording rivers, and making camp with two charming character-filled donkeys Grace and Charley.

Liz had previously done a lot of bushwalking but without encountering such a harsh and challenging environment. Taking the extremes of drought country in their stride, her donkeys are clever and observant, and prove they can be stubborn for good reason.  Humans just have to work out what those reasons are! Liz shows love and respect for her companions, their hardiness and their intuition. Grace and Charley each carried a load, packed and balanced, and it was amusing how they behaved when released to graze.

Interspersed with walking the Queensland section of the BNT, a trail originally intended for horses, Liz writes candidly about her fractured marriage, the love of her children and losing a child, the trauma of her own childhood and soothing meditation. A mixture of grief, courage and sheer willpower drives her forward as she launches herself into a second life in one of the most demanding ways imaginable. 

Admittedly I am not an adept hiker but some of the trials and tribulations Liz encountered would have had me stumbling to the nearest township, flagging down a four-wheel drive and heading back to Brisbane.  At one stage the soles of Liz’s hiking boots came adrift, not to mention needle-thin grass seeds digging into her skin.  Sometimes the track was marked and sometimes it was not; they traversed barren sections, steep topography, waist high grass, slippery rocks and rested at the occasional restorative oasis.

Along the way, Liz kept a journal rather than taking photographs and if she stopped for the night in solid accommodation in lieu of pitching a tent, all she needed was a table and chair to update her journal.  Liz often met farmers, cattlemen, country people, who were informative and willing to help with advice on the terrain ahead, plus an overnight paddock for her two stalwart pals.

Memorable lines from Liz ‘Folks in rural, remote, drought-stricken Queensland understood only too well the interdependent nature of being human.  I, on the other hand, was trying to resolve an inherent dichotomy: seeking my independence as a woman at the same time as being a homeless wanderer heavily reliant on cattle station people’ – Liz is a vegetarian and food was a source of uneasiness, both getting and eating, and fresh produce was always a joy – ‘My commitment to receive help graciously was Step One.’   

Charlie, the archetypal Australian bushman said ‘Don’t be tempted to leave the roadway. The country is the same in every direction. Getting lost around here is a lot easier than getting found.’

‘The Only Way Home’

I liked the way the chapters and timeline were introduced.  Backstory arrives at pertinent intervals with sections of Liz’s life before, during and after she walks the Bicentennial National Trail.  Through Liz’s retelling more shocking revelations emerge, putting her quest in sharper focus.

Just reading, without travelling alone for 2,500 kilometres with two Equus asinus companions, this memoir invoked many emotions in me. From an embattled marriage to conquering those kilometres, Liz shares the insights gained on her path to independence and healing.

Gretchen Bernet-Ward


ISBN: 9781925868203
Format: Paperback
Number of Pages: 257
Published: 24 Feb 2020
Publisher: Woodslane Pty Limited NSW

In her introduction, Liz Byron says ‘It was 2006, when I had been writing academic material for 20 years, before I decided to try writing my story. I had five lecture pads full of journal notes about the 2,500 kilometre trek I’d recently completed with my two donkeys. This seemed like a good place to start.  And so I did. I wrote on and off for nearly fifteen years before feeling as if I understood myself and my life well enough to explain why I had done the trek.’ My thanks to Liz Byron for a review copy, the book is available on her website here.

LIZ BYRON Q&A INTERVIEW HERE

The Bicentennial National Trail - Australia
The Bicentennial National Trail (BNT) originally known as the National Horse Trail, is one of the longest multi-use, non-motorised, self-reliant trails in the world, stretching 5,330 kilometres from Cooktown, Queensland, through New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory to Healesville, 60 km north-east of Melbourne, Victoria. This trail runs the length of the rugged Great Dividing Range through national parks, private property and alongside wilderness areas. The BNT follows old coach roads, stock routes, brumby tracks, rivers, fire trails and was originally intended for horses.  The Trail would take most of one year to walk.

Review ‘The Animals in That Country’ Laura Jean McKay

Australian native animals not include with book © Gretchen Bernet-Ward 2021

My reading was floundering until this gleaming gem came along!  ‘The Animals in That Country’ is a novel with strange overtones and intense undercurrents.  Certainly a distinctive story with fear, confusion and confronting chapters involving the catastrophic side effects of human zooflu virus and the subsequent fallout for the animal world.

Kind of dystopian, kind of quirky,
this book made me think, it made me cringe,
it fascinated me, it troubled me,
and it will stay in my mind for a long time.

People succumb as the virus spreads across the country, or they try to outrun it, and some eventually arrive at the animal park where alcoholic ranger Jean Bennett works.  Her initial despair permeates these early chapters, both for the animals and her wayward son who causes problems.  Jean is careworn by events and decides to leave the native animal sanctuary with Dingo Sue to find her runaway family.

I may not like the disarray Jean and Dingo Sue get into as the pandemic spreads but it certainly makes riveting reading.  I trekked with them along dusty outback roads via devastated townships to reach the ocean.  They meet rough characters and conmen but Jean believes in Sue’s unerring instincts leading them towards the hypnotic seashore.

With a singular writing style, author Laura Jean McKay tackles a pandemic from a different angle.  The animals and birds are not anthropomorphised in the usual sense, and definitely not suitable for children.  At first Dingo Sue is unintelligible until gradually Jean understands the patterns of mind matching physical dialogue, and ‘speech’ is cleverly enhanced by page layouts.

The subtle yet resilient nurturing instincts of both human and animal infuses the story and this primitive and powerful connection twisted my brain.  I was gripped by the overwhelmed and distraught characters who learned that we are part of nature, dependent upon it for our existence and survival but it can drive us mad.

As I was nearing the final chapters, I heard that author McKay had won the coveted Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards 2021.  In a statement McKay said she had been writing a draft several years before coronavirus devastated the real world.  Apparently she was unwell with malaria-like symptoms while writing and said this may have accounted for the creeping darkness of the story, the uncertainty and panic is eerily similar.

This novel cries out for an Australian native animal bookcover ‘The clouds have parted, leaving the lit-up ghost of a dingo, a pale and vengeful ancestor on the passenger seat beside me … Her hair shifts.  Body ripples with messages that join like drops of water in the sea.’

Thoughts on ‘The Animals in That Country’

An earthy, supernatural tale, a reminder of Earl Nightingale’s quote ‘Never compete. Create’ and Laura Jean McKay has excelled.

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

PROFILE
Laura Jean McKay is the author of ‘The Animals in That Country’ (Scribe 2020) and ‘Holiday in Cambodia’ (Black Inc. 2013) shortlisted for three national book awards in Australia.  Dr McKay is a lecturer in creative writing at Massey University NZ, with a PhD from University of Melbourne focusing on literary animal studies.
LINKS
Laura Jean McKay’s bio journal
http://laurajeanmckay.com/
McKay is the ‘animal expert’ presenter on ABC Listen’s ‘Animal Sound Safari’.
https://www.abc.net.au/radio/programs/animal-sound-safari/
FURTHER READING
Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards 2021
https://www.wheelercentre.com/projects/victorian-premier-s-literary-awards-2021
Scribe Publications information
https://scribepublications.com.au/books-authors/books/the-animals-in-that-country
The Dingos of Fraser Island Queensland
https://parks.des.qld.gov.au/parks/kgari-fraser/about/fraser-island-dingoes/dingo-ecology

Review ‘Consolation’ by Garry Disher

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When I read a good book by an author whose work I always enjoy, it is hard for me to express my thoughts without going overboard so I tried to apply self-restraint with Garry Disher’s ‘Consolation’ and hope I convey my message.  For the full impact, I suggest you read the first two books but Tiverton’s only police officer Constable Paul ‘Hirsch’ Hirschhausen conveys his job and lifestyle with great clarity so this story can stand alone.

Constable Hirsch does a huge amount of driving given the vast distances of his country South Australian beat.  He is calm, diplomatic, intelligent, sensitive, and has a lovely woman in his life.  Several threads run throughout the story; Hirsch gets stalked, good characters die, ordinary people are murdered and baddies steal money.  Not as mundane as it sounds.  For starters who are the goodies and who are the baddies?  There is more going on than I first thought.

This story is populated by a fair amount of unstable people, at the very least people with problems.  The Ayliffe family are atop the big-problems tree.  They snake in and out of the plot, stealing from homesteads, frightening farmers, bent on their own personal rampage.  Hirsch moves ever forward, ever thinking, trying to stay one step ahead, or picking up the pieces after another tragic crime has been committed.

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Hirsch knows the land better than the city cops sent to help in their black SUVs with matching attitudes.  A high wind chill factor features throughout, rain turns the roads to mud and cars bog, naturally conditions are not conducive to high speed chases.  Also, someone is nicking knickers from ladies clotheslines, and elaborate extortion schemes are in play with devastating repercussions, each investigated by Hirsch with Redruth police back-up.

There are tough themes: child abuse, parental negligence, childcare system.  The abuse of the elderly, not so much physical but extortion, dishonesty and controlling behaviour.  The harsh reality of criminal behaviour, and its impact on Constable Hirsch’s rural beat, is an immersive experience.  He combats the weather on his early morning foot patrols.  Quote “There was ice everywhere on Thursday morning. Hirsch tramped the streets of Tiverton in the saw-teeth of another frost.”

Author Disher’s rural characters have personality, and naturally not all are good honest citizens so it is gratifying when they are caught.  The master of Hirsch’s POV, Garry Disher is also the master of the neat transition.  Instead of slowing down the action, backstory came when “As Hirsch reconstructed it later…” so important, so human.

An absorbing story with everything unfolding in an almost lyrical flow of actions and emotions, and a series well worth reading.

Gretchen Bernet-Ward


“Consolation”
Format: Paperback
Extent: 400pp
Text publication date: 3rd November 2020
ISBN: 9781922330260
AU Price: $32.99
NZ Price: $38.00
Categories: Crime & Thriller, Rural Police, Australian, Fiction
https://www.textpublishing.com.au/books/consolation

Happily I only spied one typo on page 368 when “Vikki Bastian, who’d had been on her knees flicking…” GBW.

Author Info:
Garry Disher has published fifty titles across multiple genres. He has won multiple German Crime Prize and Ned Kelly awards, including the Ned Kelly Lifetime Achievement Award. To quote from Text Publishing interview “The dryness, the heat, the sense of space and the sparseness of human presence inform every page and drive every action. It is a quintessentially Australian setting for a quintessentially Australian subgenre of crime – it’s been dubbed ‘rural noir’ and Garry Disher is one of its pioneers. In fact, without him, it might not exist at all.  Farming country in the mid-north of South Australia is where Garry Disher grew up, and although he hasn’t lived there for years, the area still holds a special place in his heart…”

Read more:
https://www.textpublishing.com.au/blog/this-place-won-t-let-me-go-the-importance-of-landscape-in-garry-disher-s-crime-fiction

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My book review of CONSOLATION by Garry Disher was posted on Australia Day (as it is currently named) so I was eating a lamington shown in lower left corner © Gretchen Bernet-Ward 2021

Three Australian Flags 2021

Review ‘Death in Daylesford’ by Kerry Greenwood

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GUESTHOUSE BREAKFAST of wholegrain toast, baked beans, beef sausages, tomato sauce and one egg with a cuppa and a good book © Gretchen Bernet-Ward 2021

Supposedly on a short holiday to check out the healing benefits of mineral water for returned soldiers, while staying at Mooltan Guesthouse in the health spa town of Hepburn Springs near Daylesford, Phryne Fisher and Dot Williams bump into nice and not so nice individuals.  A cunning murderer gets to work killing men in broad daylight, while throughout the novel the Temperance Hotel and knitting entwine with a strong sisterhood bond.  

In the adventurous 1920s, fabulous Phryne Fisher is a wealthy, upper-class, down-to-earth lady detective who lives in bayside Melbourne, Australia.  She solves all kinds of crimes with the assistance of her dour maid Dot (also sleuthing companion) and is occasionally helped by the mighty Bert and Cec who are wharfies and stirrers, plus two stalwart policeman, Inspector Jack Robinson and Dot’s suitor Constable Hugh Collins.

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Snapshot from DECO Watermark Publishing Ltd and John Sands Greeting Cards

The Honourable Miss Fisher features in this long-running series of novels, and on TV and cinema screens, whilst recently author Kerry Greenwood has included keen young Tinker and adopted daughters Ruth and Jane who get their fair share of investigative work in “Death in Daylesford” although not in the company of Phryne.  A suspected murder arises for them back in Melbourne while Phryne and Dot roam the countryside.

Kerry Greenwood has nailed the era.  Apart from a doubtful reference to broccoli (was it available then?) and later a toilet roll (in an outside dunny on a country farm no less) she writes with vigour and a lust for life, and has the knack of enhancing a scene with extra intrigue.  Chapters are populated with a variety of characters like luscious barmaid Annie, copper Mick Kelly, handsome Captain Spencer and gun-toting suffragette Miss McKenzie. 

My favourite quote “Alice glowed like a hurricane lamp.  ‘I am so pleased!  Do you think that Violette…’  She left the sentence hanging in the air, like a house brick under the influence of anti-gravity.”  Gems of this type are used sparingly yet with great effect, especially when I knew hanky-panky was afoot.  Miss Phryne Fisher is more risqué than her on-screen counterpart.

Real locations are used in this story and I don’t remember but apparently I visited the mineral springs as a child.  “Death in Daylesford” is the 21st book in the series.  I have read Kerry Greenwood’s contemporary series featuring baker/private eye Corinna Chapman but self-assured Phryne keeps luring me back with her fast driving, rule-flouting and cheeky disregard for social conventions.  Always with her brain ticking over and a winning smile.

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

Two images from “The World Turns Modern”
Art Deco from National Galley of Australia Collection
Ipswich Art Gallery 2019
My original Art Deco post https://thoughtsbecomewords.com/2019/10/24/art-deco-delights-on-display/

In memory of my father who grew up in the same inner city streets of Melbourne.
He would have known what an Hispano-Suiza was… the car Phryne Fisher drives.
GBW 10th January 2021

Book Review ‘Trust’ by Chris Hammer

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“Millie the Money Box” from Westpac Bank in conjunction with Sydney Olympic Games 2000. Used for illustration purposes only. My tie-in with the crime novel “Trust” which involves a bank and lost millions. Millie is not only memorabilia, she once held pocket money in the form of 50cent pieces. I wonder if coins, pocket money and piggy banks will exist in the future? © Gretchen Bernet-Ward 2020

—Review—

Martin Scarsden is the central character but in “Trust” he shared the limelight.  His girlfriend Mandalay Blonde’s story was just as valid as Martin’s but I found events lacked drama when it came to poor-girl-makes-good-gets-stuck.  She did get her act together when a group discussion propelled her into action.  Unbeknown to Mandy she would soon face major problems from an old-boy network, creepy co-worker, money laundering and large scale corruption.  Two major questions swirled around Mandy regarding her former fiancé and her place of employment, viz, “What was Tarquin Molloy playing at?” and “Where are Mollisons missing millions?”

Backstory is not the story and I started to lose interest in author Chris Hammer’s exposé on Mandalay and her stressful life.  She arrived in Sydney and quote “She wants to flee, to get back to her son, to protect him.  And yet the past is coming, it’s here, she can’t carry it back to Port Silver; she can’t risk it getting a trace of her boy…”  The ship had sailed on that one.  In previous books, she and Martin were in the media, the talk of the town, easily found by adversary Zelda Forshaw.

Halfway in, I wanted to shake up the action and indirectly Mandy obliged even though she was on an emotional rollercoaster.  She met a dodgy cop in a dingy café in a tunnel under Central Railway station without a companion, without telling anyone where she was going.  I said “Organised crime, Mandy, people were being murdered!”  Thus the script-writing elements showed with Chris Hammer’s talking heads and scene-setting rather than people who moved through their surroundings.  Ancillary characters were great, from the homeless to corporate high-flyers, a computer geek to a retro assassin and, of course, ruthless newspaper men. 

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Anomalies were Australian judge Elizabeth Torbett with Tory politics; Martin, a seasoned journo who relied on technology and a laptop but made novice mistakes; Mandy did not regularly check on son Liam in Port Silver; Martin had coffee with Montifore in Chapter 33 but “Goffing returns with the drinks…” Oops.

“Trust” the perfect title, and Chapter 28 and Chapter 29 alone were worth the price of the book.  Martin visited Justice Clarence O’Toole of the New South Wales Land and Environment Court and asked him a few questions.  The old judge was very ill but talked at length about his membership with The Mess, a private club, and the sudden death of Martin’s mentor and friend.  Afterwards Martin thought about his journalistic career and the slow agonising demise of print newspapers.  I went straight out and bought an edition of The Courier Mail.

Chris Hammer future-proofed his crime novel with coronavirus, and mentioned the pandemic several times, but it flopped for me.  Covid-19 was not over when I read the book.  At this point in time, Sydney still has coronavirus outbreaks and restrictions.  “Wash your hands, wear a mask, keep your distance”.

Martin and Mandy’s ordeal took place over seven days and I would not have enjoyed being in their shoes, but I enjoyed the Australian setting and frontispiece map of Sydney.  There was a wonderful iffy, dicey feel to the plot which at times stretched tropes and credibility, like the ASIO meet-up, or the dance of death, however a clever twist enhanced the story and the ending was unexpected.  On the whole, I liked this third instalment, quote “some huge story, some grand conspiracy” so cheers to more books and great reading in 2021 New Year.

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

“Smartphones on and life-cancelling earbuds in”

From Trust Martin Scarsden crime series
by Chris Hammer 2020

J.M. Peace Aussie Cop Crime Writer

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Book 1—Review ‘A Time to Run’
by J M Peace

Sammi Willis is a police officer, written by a genuine police officer, so I figured the action would be authentic and the plot would be an absorbing and gripping read.  It is all that and more!  Told in real time, I counted the logbook minutes and followed police procedure to find out where Sammi had gone.  She left a suburban pub alone at night and accepted a lift back to her girlfriend’s house but never arrived.  The tension is controlled until gradually the stress levels rise and events ramp up: Sammi hasn’t contacted her partner or family and misses her work shift.  It doesn’t take much to realise that something is very wrong.

Meanwhile, the reader has access to the other side of the story––Sammi’s ordeal.  It is hard to describe what she goes through without taking some of the element of fear away for potential readers.  Sammi is made powerless in the hands of a brutal man who has killed before.  She knows she must fight cleverly to save her life, but without proper clothing, food or knowledge of her bushland location, she faces an uphill battle to survive.  Every painful step Sammi takes, every thought and emotion is totally believable. She goes through bouts of logic and hallucination while the armed madman follows her progress on his trail bike.

Waiting back at Angel’s Crossing, Sammi’s partner Gavin and her friend Candy are distraught and not coping well, but Criminal Investigation Branch reinforcements arrive in the form of go-getter Janine Postlewaite.  That’s all I am going to say, except read this book and appreciate excellent Australian crime writing.  There are two books which follow this one, I have read “The Twisted Knot” and will soon read “An Unwatched Minute”.  J. M. Peace highlights just how good, and how different, Aussie writers are at setting the scene with strong characters and electrifying content.  I was hooked from beginning to end. 

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

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Book 2—Review ‘The Twisted Knot’
by J M Peace

Written by a real police officer, gritty and unashamedly Australian, this story has twists and turns I did not see coming.  The big question is ‘Who committed what crime?” and at first I thought I knew, but the plot had a surprise in store.  A police procedural with no gimmicks, no generic dialogue but plenty of believable characters and a nasty bundle of suspects.  Constable Samantha (Sammi) Willis of Angel’s Crossing police station is in the thick of the action, handling vengeful townsfolk when paedophile rumours surface, while privately juggling her shaky marriage.

Sammi is also recovering from a near death experience with a maniac who killed for fun (see “A Time to Run” the first Sammi book by J. M. Peace) but she is ably supported by her colleagues, particularly by-the-book Bob.  Gradually she gets back into routine and Sammi leaves the front desk to attend a call-out.  It turns into a gruesome find in a farmhouse shed.  The identity and cause of death is in doubt and Terry Cousens, a Plain Clothes Constable, takes the lead rein, eager for a quick promotion.

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Fortunately Sammi knows the rural town and handles proceedings well, but Terry does not.  He also has an interesting run-in with Jeremy from Forensics. The police detective work is substantial, and the daily routine of a police station is well portrayed.  Nothing hit-and-miss, everything is methodical and eventually the clues and forensic samples compile a clear picture of what happened.  Or do they?  The reader gets snippets, sometimes from wives and mothers, and sometimes from an unknown narrator but I found it hard to pick a culprit.

Naturally, in this type of crime novel there are disturbing scenes, paedophilia and swearing.  However, I think that J. M. Peace has hit the right note.  It would be great to see her get more international recognition. I think she has the potential to grow a following like Garry Disher. With Hirsch in rural South Australia, there could be someone like Sammi in rural Queensland with the bonus of Peace’s insider knowledge.  I’ve read “A Time to Run” and I’m keen to read “An Unwatched Minute” a recent book.

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

An Unwatched Minute Bookcover J M Peace

Book 3—‘An Unwatched Minute’
by J M Peace

My review is yet to come, but here are excerpts taken from the J. M. Peace author website:

‘An Unwatched Minute’ goes behind the scenes of a small police station in the picturesque town of Tannin Bay.

When Constable Krista Danaher is transferred to the picturesque town of Tannin Bay she hopes it may help her gain much needed confidence in her new profession. She’s pleased when Senior Constable Malachi ‘Mort’ Morten takes her under his wing, both professionally and personally. But within days, a man has died in the watch house whilst in her care, triggering an intensive police investigation. It becomes apparent that not everyone is telling the truth and the gap between what happened and what the investigation can prove widens. The family of the dead man do whatever they can to make sure someone is held accountable. The police response will have far-reaching consequences on the small police station and the people who work there.

An Unwatched Minute’ is a gripping and realistic thriller, which shines a light on the grey spot where truth and justice meet.


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Author Info

An avid reader and writer from an early age, J. M. Peace wanted to be a writer. So she studied journalism figuring this would be a way of turning a passion into a job. Her career as a print journalist failed after a single year… so she took a complete change of direction and became a police officer. Over the past twenty years, she has served throughout south-east Queensland in a variety of different capacities, including Intelligence and CIB.

An award-winning author, Jay lives on the Sunshine Coast (Queensland) with her partner, wrangling her two cheeky children, a badly behaved dog and an anti-social cockatiel… You can connect with Jay on Facebook at JM Peace Author, Twitter at @jmpeaceauthor, Goodreads at JM Peace, and her blog ‘Cops and Novels’.

NOTE:A Time To Run’ was published by Pan Macmillan Australia on July 2015. The sequel ‘The Twisted Knot’ was released on July 2016. ‘A Time To Run’ was translated into German as ‘Die Hatz’ and Spanish as ‘La Cacería’.  Standalone novel An Unwatched Minute’ was released on Amazon/Kindle on May 2019.

Book Review ‘Shepherd’ by Catherine Jinks

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On my first reading attempt

I wasn’t ready for this book.  I wanted to enjoy it as much as I enjoyed Catherine Jinks other books but it didn’t work for me right from the start.  The setting was vivid but the raw, brutish behaviour and sheer masculinity of the story overwhelmed me.  Does that make me a sexist, a bigot, a wimp when it comes to macho bravado?  I don’t know.  I turned the pages with trepidation, not interest.  Maybe the colonial frontier loneliness affected me and I didn’t want to go on.

On my second reading

the story felt less crushing.  I concentrated on young English convict Tom Clay, a former poacher transported in chains to Australia, and now a shepherd.  I willed him to be okay, to learn and survive intact.  His country assignment in New South Wales works well, he didn’t steal from landowner Mr Barrett so he was never flogged and he works hard.  Through his eyes, I saw the strangeness of a harsh new land, the vast differences, and the cruel pitiless men he is forced to live and work with guarding sheep against theft and wild dogs.

Tom has a jaundiced eye

when it comes to things like Australian native wildlife and his comment on first seeing kangaroos is less than flattering.  I was disappointed with the header on the bookcover which reads “The wolf is not the only hunter”.  There are no wolves in Australia, there are dingoes (wild dogs) and that should have been apparent.

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Sheep stealing, jumbuck, billabong, Waltzing Matilda, poet Banjo Paterson

The conditions are harsh

and Tom’s fight for life against his arch nemesis Dan Carver is harsher still.  These chapters are tightly written.  The knock down drag ‘em out battles are horrific, the ghastly metal trap, the shootings, the human and animal deaths… but Tom dearly loves his sheep dogs.

I am not a fan

of an undefined location nor overused nonlinear narrative.  Tom’s past comes out in this way.  Flashback to eight year old Tom at his mother’s funeral, his former life almost as bad as his current one.  He learns “No matter what a convict’s situation might be, he’ll never persuade a trooper that he’s telling the truth.”  Flashback to when Tom first met convict Rowdy Cavanagh, a con man who joked, laughed and teased his way to success until he was caught “A single misstep and it ruined me life.”

The age rating

for this tense, chilling, thrilling story eludes me, but it is a tale I did not fully enjoy.  I do respect it wholeheartedly for the screenplay fear and fascination it instilled in me regarding the rough and thoroughly inhumane life early convicts were forced to endure.

A sequel?

Tom’s situation could lead to listening and learning from the Indigenous custodians of this ancient land, and perhaps encourage a new phase in his life.

Gretchen Bernet-Ward


Author info

Catherine Jinks ‘Shepherd’ interview on Paperchain Bookstore blog.

Catherine Jinks  (Australia b.1963) is a four-time winner of the Children’s Book Council of Australia Book of the Year award, and has also won a Victorian Premier’s Literature Award, the Adelaide Festival Award for Literature, the Ena Noel Award for Children’s Literature and an Aurealis Award for Science Fiction.  In 2001 she was presented with a Centenary Medal for her contribution to Australian Children’s Literature.

Catherine Jinks Author Photograph 02Catherine Jinks, author of over thirty books for children and adults, including the award-winning Pagan Chronicles series, was born in Brisbane and grew up in Sydney where she studied medieval history at the University of Sydney.

She became a writer because she loves reading, as well as history, films and television.  Catherine gets ideas for her novels from everywhere, particularly good science fiction films.  She lives in the Blue Mountains NSW with her Canadian husband and daughter Hannah.

Review ‘A Very Unusual Pursuit’ by Catherine Jinks

Book review

Birdie McAdam is a bogler’s assistant, a stout defender of Alfred Bunce and his unusual profession.  The ‘unusual’ relates to luring and eradicating child-eating bogles by using Birdie as bait.  Her songs sometimes quaver when a foul bogle monster leaves its lair but she holds firm.  A spear and split second timing is needed and old Alfred is the man for the job.

Before reading Catherine Jinks adult novel ‘Shepherd’ I read her children’s trilogy City of Orphans.  These stories captured my interest from the first page and held it to the last.  Following the adventures of young orphan Birdie McAdam, a lively, focused girl with a beautiful singing voice, I soon blended into the damp, grimy streets of 1870s London.

After the messy demise of a chimney bogle in a fancy parlour, the story kicks up a notch with overlapping events; Fagan-like Sarah Pickles with her young thieves and no scruples; well-to-do Miss Eames with an interest in mythology and rehabilitating young Birdie; and evil Dr Morton, a man with a heart as ugly as a bogle.  And, of course, the markets and docklands of London.

I love the levels of intrigue, grim deeds, and disagreeable behaviour which surround Birdie and Alfred.
As true protagonists, they rise to every challenge.
Birdie has entertaining friends, although she wouldn’t admit that to rascals Ned or Jem.
These lads get to shine in books two and three.
Characters are clearly and consistently written.
Together they overcome hardship and show concern for each other.
There is great strength of purpose when adversity strikes.

The fast-moving chapters are vividly written and although I am not the target audience, each time the tension rose I held my breath.  This plot builds and moves forward with fortitude, the second book in sight.  All three books are well worth reading, and while the mood may get darker and the bogles may get messier, the sequence of events lead to a very satisfying conclusion.

Gretchen Bernet-Ward 

My postscript

Poetry Clipart 08Bookcovers, like those beauties above, hold a certain fascination for me.  Way back I did a blog post about it.  In this instance, the publication of different titles and different artwork in overseas countries let me down.  They are nothing like the bookcovers shown here, their titles don’t capture the atmosphere of the era nor do the illustrations recreate how the bogles are described.  Gotta love marketing.  GBW.


About the author

Catherine Jinks, Australia (b.1963)  http://catherinejinks.com/

Catherine is a four-time winner of the Children’s Book Council of Australia Book of the Year award, and has also won a Victorian Premier’s Literature Award, the Adelaide Festival Award for Literature, the Ena Noel Award for Children’s Literature and an Aurealis Award for Science Fiction.  In 2001 she was presented with a Centenary Medal for her contribution to Australian Children’s Literature.

Catherine Jinks Author Photograph 02Catherine Jinks was born in Brisbane and grew up in Sydney where she studied medieval history at the University of Sydney.  She became a writer because she loves reading, as well as history, films and television.  She gets her ideas for her novels from everywhere, particularly good science fiction films.

The author of over thirty books for children and adults, including the award-winning Pagan Chronicles series, Catherine writes whenever she gets a spare moment, and could write for eight hours straight if she had the chance.  She lives in the Blue Mountains NSW with her Canadian husband and daughter Hannah.

Series

City of Orphans trilogy

  1.  A Very Unusual Pursuit (2013)
    or  How to Catch a Bogle
  2.  A Very Peculiar Plague (2013)
    or A Plague of Bogles
  3.  A Very Singular Guild (2013)
    or The Last Bogler

Pagan Chronicles

  1. Pagan’s Crusade (1994)
  2. Pagan in Exile (2004)
  3. Pagan’s Vows (2004)
  4. Pagan’s Scribe (2005)
  5. Pagan’s Daughter (2006)

Allie’s Ghost Hunters

  1. Eglantine (2002) – very quirky story.
  2. Eustace (2003)
  3. Eloise (2005)
  4. Elysium (2007)

Genius

  1. Evil Genius (2005)
  2. Genius Squad (2008)
  3. The Genius Wars (2010)

Review ‘Silver’ by Chris Hammer

Chris Hammer Bookcover Silver

Former journalist Martin Scarsden had vowed never to return to Port Silver so I was not too sure about his inauspicious homecoming nor his strained relationship with girlfriend Mandalay (Mandy) Blonde.  She has inherited an old house on a clifftop, while Martin seems distant from everything happening around him, plagued by unsettling flashbacks from his unsettled past.  And long-ago deaths in his family.

As the plot twists and turns with great characters and best-ever location, I was there strolling along the Port Silver shoreline; eating fish and chips; watching the waves break on Hummingbird Beach; driving the coastal road with Martin Scarsden as he tries to solve the stabbing death of his childhood friend Jasper Speight.  Unfortunately Jasper died in Mandy’s apartment and she is being held for his murder so Martin works on clearing her name using the only clue, a blood-stained postcard.

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Over nine days, Martin’s exploits unfold and move inexorable towards their goal, every question important to building the story and solving the first murder mystery.  Yes, not one but two mysteries, and I like the way Chris Hammer does not describe so much as lets slip small details until they add up to a whole.

Mandy’s creepy old Hartigan house on the clifftop is suitably introduced in Disney ‘Goonies’ fashion.

Characters formed before my eyes—all with big question marks hovering over their heads.  The mellow reunion with Martin’s Uncle Vern; the glowing backpackers Topaz and Royce; real estate agent Jasper’s mother Denise; Jay-Jay Hayes surfie greenie conservationist of Hummingbird Beach; sleazy bigwig developer Tyson St Clair; oddball Swami Hawananda; and dishonest cop Johnson Pear to name a handful.

Despite youthful recollections and emotional hurdles, Martin keeps working on the murder case, annoying the police and local land developers with questions and questionable behaviour.  He gets hauled in occasionally for interrogation and was appointed a scruffy solicitor Nick Poulos to handle his case.  Then comes a tragic mass murder … or ritual suicide?

At this stage, I am undecided if I am meant to have sympathy for Martin or not.  He certainly makes mistakes and isn’t good boyfriend material.  But he’s an inquisitive bloke, and a good journo who pursues the secondary crime of the multiple deaths.  The scoop of the decade!  By chapter 24, he’s in his element, following up leads, discovering clues, writing copy, advising Terri, editor of the Sydney Morning Herald, topping it off by having dinner with media buddies just like old times.  Hmm.

An overarching question: what happened to his mother and sisters?  I think it’s stretching it to say Martin did not have an inkling about what happened all those years ago.  School mates, friends, even his alcoholic father could have babbled.  As to the possible perpetrators, I was spoilt for choice.  The only one I could happily cross off the list was Liam, the nappy-filling baby son of Mandy.

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I love Aleksander J. Potočnik’s map of Port Silver.  The setting is similar to Byron Bay and my photographs, taken on an overcast day, show the iconic Cape Byron Lighthouse.

The lighthouse sits on a rocky headland, Australia’s most easterly point.  That’s what  I pictured in my mind while reading.  The beaches, lighthouse, Nob Hill, coastal views, inland sugarcane fields and menacing land development which are strongly portrayed by the author.  Landmarks like the ‘fictitious’ old Cheese Factory give off furtiveness vibes.

Heading towards Martin’s hard won resolution, author Chris Hammer deserves top marks for not changing certain Australian words which some readers may not understand but will eventually figure out.  I think it’s time to stop neutering, let readers learn, laugh and speak our colloquial sayings.

Grab this book and be swept away by the tidal undertow of crime and mystery—well worth it.

Gretchen Bernet-Ward


AUTHOR PROFILE:

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Chris Hammer was a journalist for more than thirty years, dividing his career between covering Australian federal politics and international affairs.  He holds a BA degree in journalism from Charles Sturt University and a Master’s degree in international relations from Australian National University.

Chris has written an award-winning non-fiction book ‘The River’ followed by crime fiction ‘Scrublands’ published 2018 and shortlisted for Best Debut Fiction at the Indie Book Awards.  Chris lives in Canberra with his wife and two children.
Website https://chrishammerauthor.com/  Recommended ‘The Coast’ a journey along Australia’s eastern shores by Chris Hammer https://www.mup.com.au/books/the-coast-paperback-softback

Review ‘Peace’ by Garry Disher

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Hypnotic, laconic writing from Garry Disher.  Another superb story featuring lone country Constable Paul Hirschhausen.  In his 4WD police Toyota, Hirsch patrols hundreds of kilometres through a vast dusty landscape around the small town of Tiverton in South Australia.

The plot weaves in and out of his long days on duty encountering misdemeanours ranging from wayward teenagers to rural theft and murder where nothing is as it seems.

The first killings are shocking (not telling who or what but it’s emotional) and expertly told through the eyes of Hirsch and his inner monologue.  I love this single POV approach.  The next murders involve a family, and two young girls disappear.  In steps sensible Sergeant Brandl of Redruth HQ as well as Sydney’s Organised Crime Squad senior sergeant Roesch and Homicide Squad senior constable Hansen, two insensitive characters, and things get very tricky indeed.

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The hot dry rural atmosphere seeps into every chapter, and unforced dialogue runs throughout the story.  The town’s characteristics and characters are spot-on, for example annoying citizen Martin Gwynne, and recluse Craig Washburn who lives in a caravan near a dried-up creek bed.  And who is spray-painting graffiti on an historical woolshed?

There’s a bit of romance with girlfriend Wendy Street although I do find her background role passive and uncomfortably supportive of Hirsch without any commitment on his part.  I would like to see her become more prominent in future books in the series.

On a positive note, ‘Peace’ does cover community matters and domestic welfare, all part of Hirsch’s extensive remit.

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I enjoyed the touches of wry humour and Christmas festivities including Hirsch’s role as Santa.  The book title comes from “In the end he found three generic snowscapes with the single word Peace inside.  That’s all a cop wants at Christmas, he thought.”  If only he could be warned of what’s to come…

Certain people seem to think Hirsch bungles everything he touches.  Well, he does bungle a couple of things and gets hauled in to explain, but when it comes to detective work he has a keen eye.  Hirsch knows that nothing is random, everything means something.

See if you can untangle the threads before he does, bearing in mind that you are reading in a nice comfortable chair.

So far, my favourite read for new year 2020!

Gretchen Bernet-Ward


AUTHOR PROFILE:
Garry Disher Australian Crime Author 03Garry Disher was born in Burra, South Australia, in 1949 and he’s the author of over fifty books, from crime fiction and children’s literature to non-fiction text books and handbooks.

Disher graduated with a Masters degree in Australian History at Monash University and was awarded a creative writing fellowship to Stanford University in California.  He later taught creative writing before becoming a full-time writer, winning numerous awards both in Australia and overseas.

Garry Disher  https://garrydisher.com/
List of books  https://www.fantasticfiction.com/d/garry-disher/

TRIVIA:  Redruth Gaol exists in Burra, South Australia, but author Garry Disher could possibly have named Tiverton after a homestead on the Yunta Creek or the town of Riverton in South Australia.

Redruth Burra South Australia

Review ‘The Elsinore Vanish’ by Joanna Baker Book Two

Joanna Baker The Elsinore Vanish Bookcover 2019

The prologue is dramatic.  A slightly unhinged magician Tim Williams is on stage at the Remember November Charity Cabaret in the local town hall, unaware of what his next trick will unleash.  Tim has just finished Year Twelve, ready for a big future, when he dies in front of a roomful of people under decidedly suspicious circumstances.

Matt Tingle and Chess Febey are youthful amateur detectives.  Like two high school students hungry for lunch, they embark on a serious yet magical mystery tour to unmask a murderer.  The setting is Beechworth, a country town renowned for its tourist attractions rather than murder.  The time is contemporary, give or take a decade for the way Chess talks, and her endearing dress sense.  Matt is solid and sensible to a point, but he does get into some hazardous situations.

Joanna Baker Australian Author Dappled Light Through Leaves 02
Sunshine dappled leaves

The opening chapter has some seriously ethereal vibes.  Matt tries to concentrate on the sunshine dappled leaves as he sits in the manicured gardens of old Langton House.  It’s an Open Garden, visitors stroll around the lawns talking in hushed whispers, and Matt sees a boy magician and a tough-looking man which makes him feel uncomfortable.  Chess turns up with a mug of coffee and when she explains why she brought them to this place, he snaps.

Chess has accepted an invitation from Jacob Langton, the son of the owners of Langton House, to investigate the murder of his magician friend Tim, and Matt’s not keen on the idea.

Beechworth Shire Town Hall Victoria
Beechworth Town Hall

The story is a classic locked-room mystery.  Tim was poisoned by his own stage prop and nobody can figure out how the poison got there when it was under lock and key.  Our dynamic duo investigate inside the hall, talk with colourful locals and Tim’s bereft family, and receive massive interference from a thug who roughs up Chess to warn her off.  The story twists and turns with red herrings galore until the final reveal.

This is where I start to get cagey because I don’t know how much to tell you without ruining the plot.

My new favourite is young magician Paz, quite a character, who speaks with a lisp and is seemingly more mature than he looks.  The Elsinore Vanish is a card trick (think Hamlet and ghosts) and Paz says ‘Magic is about the impossible.  That’s what makes it beautiful’.  He definitely knows something but flutters between the book’s pages refusing to be drawn into their investigation.

There are adults around but they loiter just long enough not to be annoying.

Sometimes Matt and Chess are determined, other times they have self-doubt, ultimately they are teenagers mature enough to handle the ramifications of their actions.  Almost.  Matt is thoughtful and his emotions are strong but he can misread people.  Chess is a socially awkward analyst, prone to unusual outbursts.  She has a troubled family background (there is a revealing vignette with her father) and although Matt and Chess would deny it, they are good friends.

Beechworth MayDayHills Mental Asylum Victoria 01
Mayday Hills Asylum

I enjoy a clever whodunit and was frequently stumped by author Joanna’s clues; mirror reflections anyone?  At times I thought there were perhaps a tad too many suspicious individuals because I had to think ‘Who was she again?’ but on the whole they were interrelated.

‘The Elsinore Vanish’ is the second book in Joanna Baker’s Beechworth trilogy set in the picturesque area of rural north-east Victoria.  The settings are wonderful, like old Mayday Hills mental asylum, well, the atmosphere anyway, and they are written with such clarity that I typed Beechworth Victoria into my search engine and had a look around the historic town.

Not a crash ’em smash ’em YA story—put your thinking cap on.

Definitely a great book for those who like to think about what they read.  There is one small point in the story where the ah-ha moment clicked for me and I enjoyed finding out if I was right.  See if you can work it out before the dramatic reveal!

Gretchen Bernet-Ward


AUTHOR PROFILE

Joanna Baker Australian Author 2019Joanna Baker is an award-winning Australian mystery writer.  Her novel Devastation Road won the Sisters-in-Crime Davitt Award for Best Young Adult Novel and was described by The Age newspaper as ‘an outstanding first novel’.

Born in Hobart Tasmania, Joanna was educated at The Friends’ School, the Australian National University and RMIT in Victoria.

Joanna sets her novels in the two places she loves: Tasmania and the high country of north eastern Victoria.  She also writes and speaks about murder mysteries – why they are so enduring, and why they are not trivial.

Her current mysteries are The Slipping Place, Devastation Road and The Elsinore Vanish with Evermore coming soon.  And I would like to thank Joanna Baker for my review copy. GBW.

Review ‘Devastation Road’ by Joanna Baker Book One

Joanna Baker Devastation Road Bookcover 2019

Author Joanna Baker knows how to start her books with a gripping first chapter.  Matt Tingle had fallen asleep in front of Mr Roland’s computer in the office of Craft Gallery and Tea Shoppe, where supposedly he was doing his history assignment, when a noise wakes him . . .

. . . things get very dangerous very quickly.

Next day, in the small rural gold-mining town of Yackandandah, our protagonist Matt is sitting in the Yackandandah Bakery trying to steady his jangling nerves.  He has a headache from inhaling toxic fumes during his misadventures the night before.  In walks his friend Chess who says ‘Golly Matty.  You look awful’.  Chess’ dialogue is not always contemporary and it’s tricky to pinpoint an exact decade but it gives the story an enduring feel.

Yackandandah Bakery Victoria
Yackandandah Bakery

Then to make matters worse for sickly Matt, pretty Tara Roland walks into the bakery, a vision of shiny-haired loveliness.  Tara is accompanied by her cousin Wando who gets a bit twitchy with the bakery assistant Debbie Wilson over her necklace and the drama escalates from there.

Egyptology comes into play in the form of an amber necklace named The Eye of Ra

At this stage, Matt and Chess are two teenagers who are unknowingly about to become amateur detectives and embark on solving two local mysteries.  One is a cold case, a baffling hit-and-run road accident which turns Chess into the queen of concentration and Matt the emperor of emotions; they bounce ideas off each other . . .

. . . and the second mystery?

This one is more personal.  Going for a walk, Matt and Chess find the drowned body of someone they knew well.  After the initial shock, they begin to investigate, slowly unravelling the mystery to discover a horrible crime.

In both cases, our intrepid pair find anomalies in the witness stories, items gone missing, half-remembered half-overheard conversations and scraps of notes.  They talk to a grieving fiancé and parents, chat to the mechanic at Yackandandah Motor Garage, join an apprehensive gathering at the Yackandandah Christmas Picnic, and Matt witnesses a hair-raising moment with Wando at Burrie Falls, the local swimming hole.

Yackandandah Creek Victoria
Yackandandah Creek

Their trial and error investigations are beautifully woven through the story with real clues and false leads.

At one stage Matt gets badly pummelled by the deceased’s brother Craig for inferring.  Matt is limping around putting on a brave face when Chess arrives.  ‘You get too carried away by things…you’re too theatrical’ she says, before getting embroiled in her own thoughts and hazardous hypotheses.  I had difficulty in picturing them at first; Matt seems solid enough but Chess has family problems, making her seem wise beyond her years.

Joanna Baker Yackandandah Motor Garage
Yackandandah Motor Garage

The settings for this novel do exist, for example the Yackandandah motor garage, bakery, the creek and Falls.  I think it’s clever how Devastation Road was named but I am not sure it exists with that name.  Here’s the link if you are interested in reading more about north-east Victoria https://www.exploreyackandandah.com.au/

This is the first book in Joanna Baker’s Beechworth Trilogy.  I did a bit of swiping back-and-forth to see if I had missed anything vital.  Concentration is needed!  There is more to this story than meets the eye.  The ending is a chilling and substantial psychological twist I bet you won’t see coming.

Gretchen Bernet-Ward    


AUTHOR PROFILE

Joanna Baker Australian Author 2019

Joanna Baker is an award-winning Australian mystery writer.  Devastation Road won the Sisters-in-Crime Davitt Award for Best Young Adult Novel and was described by The Age newspaper as ‘an outstanding first novel’.

Born in Hobart Tasmania, Joanna was educated at The Friends’ School, the Australian National University and RMIT in Victoria.

Joanna sets her novels in the two places she loves: Tasmania and the high country of north eastern Victoria.  She also writes and speaks about murder mysteries – why they are so enduring, and why they are not trivial.

Her current mysteries are The Slipping Place, Devastation Road and The Elsinore Vanish with Evermore coming soon.  And I would like to thank Joanna Baker for my review copy. GBW.

Review ‘Brisbane’s Greek Cafés: A Million Malted Milks’ by Toni Risson

Toni Risson Greek Cafe Malted Milks Bookcover

From the beautifully tactile bookcover and the glorious old photographs, to the spectacular amount of research and Greek family interviews, Toni Risson has written and created a book which is reader-friendly and as energetic as the boundless service in a 20th century Greek café.

Like a Greek café menu, there’s never a dull moment.  Toni has amassed images of people, posters, menus, waitress fashion, the furniture, big mirrors, the soda fountain, cigarette counter—the mid-century nostalgia is strong for me just looking at the old buildings.  And let’s not forget the food, ah, so much delicious food!  Everything was freshly prepared, and ice-cream, chocolates and chilled fruit drinks were made on the premises in a time before the invention of air-conditioning.

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Open from 8am to 7pm seven days a week, back when few other proprietors could match it, Greek cafés became meeting places and stopping points for a variety of daily events; late breakfast; ladies morning tea; midday meal; shopping break; date before the cinema; cool drink at the end of the day; weekend family gatherings.

Remember this was in the days before coffee chains and fast food outlets.

Visiting as a child, I recall strawberry ice-cream and also eating a banana split with “the lot” including a cherry on top.  I think I got into trouble because I refused to eat my (healthy) banana.  The malted milkshakes were huge to my young eyes, and I can still remember the aroma of warm chocolate emanating from the display cabinet.

I could rattle off the chapter titles and you’d see the important position Greek family cafés held in pre-television society in Brisbane.  But I won’t because there are 35 chapters—some bearing names I know today, Andronicos, Samios, Freeleagus and more.  Every page has a delightful story, a witty quote or snippet of memorabilia.

The type of book which I keep referring to, always finding something extra to read aloud to anyone in the room.

You don’t have to be Greek, or local, to read about the Greek café phenomenon which spread throughout Queensland.  Several towns are mentioned including Bundaberg, Charleville, Dalby, Inglewood, Stanthorpe.  You’ve heard the song “Video Killed The Radio Star”, well, television killed Greek cafés.  In this book, you can find out what happened.

IMG_20190929_172519I was fortunate enough to attend the official launch of “Meet Me at the Paragon” the State Library of Queensland’s retrospective display of all things relating to Greek café culture.

From neon signs to monogrammed crockery, this six-month SLQ exhibition runs until mid-March 2020 and ties in with Toni Risson’s book.

I saw a large amount of the items mentioned in her book, plus rare family photos during a white gloves tour.
Here’s my blog post
https://thoughtsbecomewords.com/2019/10/03/meet-me-at-the-paragon-a-greek-cafe-experience-slqgreekcafes/

Finalist in Queensland Literary Awards, “Brisbane’s Greek Cafés: A Million Malted Milks” is a time-capsule, a treasury of ephemera which will remain documented and preserved within its pages. 

This book is a great gift for a foodie friend or entrepreneur.

Suitable for readers interested in nostalgia or café trends.  And family histories, particularly those of inventive and industrious Greek families.

Gretchen Bernet-Ward


AUTHOR PROFILE

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Toni Risson is a storyteller, food writer and cultural historian.  She writes short stories and children’s novels, and her doctorate mapped Australian childhood through the magic of lollies.

In a more ‘grown-up’ vein, Toni curated the State Library of Queensland’s exhibition “Meet Me At The Paragon” which displays the meteoric rise of Greek cafés across Queensland.  She has also written “Aphrodite and the Mixed Grill” 200 pages jam-packed with photographs and stories about iconic Greek cafés in Ipswich, Queensland.

Review ‘The Man in the Water’ by David Burton

David Burton has written an outstanding story about a tenacious young man determined to solve a mystery.  In a tightly woven and highly readable plot he keeps the pressure up, and keeps it real.  Shaun sees a man’s body floating in the local lake and when he returns with Constable Charlie Thompson the body has gone.  The story kicks off from there and Shaun begins to investigate the mysterious death.  He uncovers far more than he ever imagined.  And he has a good imagination!

Set in a gritty, rundown Queensland coal mining town, the atmosphere is hot, dry and pulsating with undercurrents from personal relationships through to shonky mining regulations.  My assumptions were overturned, clues were flipped and hopes were dashed.  From angry picket lines headed by volatile Peter Grant, head of the mine workers union, to various forms of small town mindset, Shaun’s investigations pull him deeper and deeper into a world of unanswered questions.

Coal Mining Coal TruckThe subtext throughout the story is “Who believes Shaun actually saw the man in the water?”.  Not many people, it seems.  Even his mother Linda struggles to accept the situation, although a family death may be clouding her reasoning.  Shaun does appear to have a kind of obsessional limerence.

Fortunately Shaun has a keen ally in his long-time friend Will, a larrikin with a charming manner.  They both believe the drowned man was murdered and someone has masterminded a cover-up.  They negotiate their way through a minefield of possibilities, taking risks, and discovering the mental and physical challenges faced by coal workers and their families.  Only once did I suspend disbelief when Shaun infiltrates a building, but it’s a pivotal moment.

In between covert operations, annoying teachers and school classes, Shaun and Will are on the school debating team with Megan Grant.  Shaun adores Megan from afar and he imagines a future of “happy ever afters” together.  Investigations continue in Brisbane with their debating team when a challenge is held in a Harry Potteresque private school perched on a hillside (I recognised it) and they stay overnight in enemy territory.  A gripping spy-like chapter for you to discover.

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I loved the personalities David Burton has created, the characters often did the opposite to what I expected, making them fallible yet understandable.  In certain cases, there’s a fine line between liking and loathing.  There is power in subtlety, and from the frustration of workers about to lose their jobs, to the death of a loved one, nothing is overstated.

David Burton has given Shaun a proactive role with plenty of intrigue.  I have no hesitation in saying “The Man in the Water” is an excellent mystery for young adults and older readers.  I became fully absorbed in the story and was right beside young Shaun trying to unravel the riddle.  The end result is definitely worth it!

Quote from Chapter 32 “From the sky, Shaun’s home town looked like it was surrounded by yawning black holes.  It was epic.  The mines were colossal dark wounds in the earth, the town a sort of defiance among the rubble.  It was a god’s sandpit.  He pressed his face against the window and watched as the earth turned with the plane.  They were coming in to land.”

Gretchen Bernet-Ward


AUTHOR PROFILE

David Burton Writer and Playwright
David Burton, Author and Playwright

David Burton is an award-winning director, playwright and author.  By the age of 30, he’d written over two dozen professionally produced plays, published a book, and been a core part of some of the most innovative theatrical projects in Australia.

He’s now 32, a Dad, and has written a new YA fiction book “The Man in the Water” which I reviewed.

Visit http://www.daveburton.com.au/

Booktopia https://www.booktopia.com.au/the-man-in-the-water-david-burton/book/9780702262524.html

Blog 119: In which I somehow find myself walking the Corridors of Power

Fantastic win!  Congratulations to Michael Gerard Bauer on winning the Prime Minister’s Literary Awards 2019 Young Adult Literature for “The Things That Will Not Stand”.  Read his blog and check out the medals! Gretchen Bernet-Ward.

Michael Gerard Bauer Author

My YA novel The Things That Will Not Stand had its genesis in two thoughts that came to me one day when I was taking one of my regular walks around the neighbourhood.

One was a memory from my Uni of Queensland days of being in the foyer of the Schonell Picture Theatre and hoping that a particular person I knew might come through a set of doors and join me.

Spoiler alert!!!!!!!

She didn’t.

The second thought was about writing a story which took place over just one day.

That was an idea that immediately appealed to me. I knew it would be a challenge but it would also be a gift because it would free me to focus just on the characters and their immediate interactions without having all the rest of their lives to worry too much about.

In the end I used both thoughts and wrote…

View original post 1,096 more words

Review ‘Wintering’ by Krissy Kneen

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This slow burning story crept up on me.  I guess you know by now that I don’t write conventional book reviews.  For starters I’m not going to give you a synopsis.  Let’s jump right in, shall we?

The sadness and bewilderment Jessica suffers when her partner Matthew goes missing in the wilds of Tasmania gradually expands until she snaps.  The atmosphere changes into an eerie, gothic-like tale of deception and fear.  There are disturbing bits, there are gruesome bits and there are strong sex scenes, Krissy Kneen’s trademark.

Jessica lives in a flimsy wooden cottage at the edge of a seawall not far from the township of Southport.  As I read on, I was unsure of William, the man who offers to help her, and doubly unsure of the coven of local women who offer strange advice and an even stranger solution.  In the end I wanted Jessica to fight back and she did, the result is worth more than the price of admission to the spooky glow-worm caves.

Jenolan Caves NSW 10

At the time Matthew goes missing, Jessica, a scientist, is just finishing her PhD on glow-worms and works as a tour guide at the local cave complex, helping the tiny creatures to prosper.  Winter Cave is her favourite and Winter Cave coldness, the surrounding dense forest, and feral smells pervade this book.  Disturbingly, she is a good shot and needs to carry a gun to feel safe.

The character portrayals are well suited to their remote Tasmanian coastal surroundings, in particular old Marijam of Cockle Creek and her outlook on what appears to be a strange isolated life.  She goes fishing for her seafood and compares commercial fishermen to the demise of small traders “Pick on a little bookstore, put a big mega-store across the road.  Discounts on all the prices till the little fella dies, then corner the market” which she read about on the internet.

Jenolan Caves NSW 03

I queried some of the ‘things’ in the story and I was dissatisfied, or perhaps had my credulity stretched, with what transpires at the end.  Like most animal-lovers, I sincerely hope the thylacine Tasmanian Tiger still exists.  I also wondered if Jessica knew those caves as well as she thought.
My pet peeves are:
(1) More showing, less telling.
(2) Proof-reading misses, e.g. license interchanged with licence, rear-view mirror becomes rear-vision mirror.  I’d go for Aussie spelling every time.
(3) Parts of the story felt like a filmscript not a literary description.  There is a difference.

Tasmanian Tigers in Hobart Zoo
The last Tasmanian Tigers in Hobart Zoo, believed extinct by 1930s.

Krissy Kneen’s story reflects the time and effort she put into it, the sense of place is strong and at times overpowering.  As a child, my parents and I visited the Jenolan Caves in New South Wales, Australia, and I have been claustrophobic ever since.

Gretchen Bernet-Ward


NOTE Photographs depict general scenes and caves in Australia and Tasmania and are not related to places mentioned in the book.  If you want an in-depth analysis I suggest reading ‘Not a Tiger at All: A Review of Krissy Kneen’s “Wintering”’ by Madeleine Laing of The Lifted Brow.

Review ‘Too Much Lip’ by Melissa Lucashenko

The incessant fights in the Salter family are too real, their plight is real, every word is real and that’s what damaged me the most.  I took long walks due to the serious and unrelenting nature of the content.  Loaded with the troubles of the Salter family, cruel sarcasm, too much drink, too many smokes, I was getting worn down right along with them.  It took me a month to read this book in fits and starts but I’m glad I did.

Abrasive characters are well portrayed which makes them doubly annoying, they need to be accepted warts and all, like ‘mouthy’ Kerry Salter and her unlikable brother Ken who argue every minute of the day.  I’m sure I’d have put Ken in hospital at about Chapter Three.

Maybe take the pressure off young Donny.

Harley Davidson Black Softail Motorbike 02
Bad things are happening, but as long as Kerry’s Harley Softail is safe.

Early on, Bundjalung woman Kerry has returned to her home town of Durrongo, and grieves the loss of her girlfriend Allie, her Pop and her stolen blue backpack.  She does a B&E, part retribution, part spirit world, and the universe turns a notch.  Fair move, but repercussions come later.  Then there’s romance in the form of her hot eye-candy boyfriend Steve Abarco who’s the flagship for level-headed, rock-solid men.

Kerry’s tarot card-reading mother Pretty Mary celebrates a birthday and those volatile chapters are my favourites.  At the party is another brother, gay Black Superman, maybe long-dead sister Donna, plus assorted Aunts (called Mary) Uncles and children who gust through the pages like eucalyptus smoke.  But forget about opening old family wounds, I’d say a lump the size of police headquarters sits in the pit of their stomachs, continually irritating their every move.

The battle against a new prison, to be built on sacred ground where Salter ancestors are laid to rest, ramps up with a land rights campaign.  Enter cops like Senior Sergeant Trevor Nunne and money-hungry Mayor Jim Buckley.  Ken’s flamboyant gesture on a piece of Buckley’s property was not appreciated and leads to disastrous retaliation.

You will have noticed that I am not giving too much away.

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Two Aboriginal kingplates I photographed in a display cabinet at Ipswich Art Galley, Queensland.

Writing style-wise, I did wondered why Kerry wasn’t written in first person.  Some events are seeded in advance while others appear to be inserted later to up-the-ante.  Every so often the voice changes, doubt creeps in, there’s a lull.  Or a change in atmosphere with The Doctor.  Occasionally things become omnipotent and POVs jump in and out of people’s heads but that can be overlooked for scary brave writing.

If you are not Australian, you WILL become lost in the slang and cultural references.

Try anyway.

Read this rude, gutsy book if you ARE offended by swearing, truisms close to the bone, and the struggles of Indigenous people.  As Ken says in Chapter 15 ‘How to invade other people’s countries and murder ‘em, and call it civilisation’.

It’s a strong insight into the modern world and an ancient culture, one which doesn’t need skyscrapers because Country is a place of belonging and a way of believing.

Good onya, Melissa, for audaciously holding your nerve*

Gretchen Bernet-Ward


* REFERENCE : Sydney Morning Herald interview insights into the writing of ‘Too Much Lip’
https://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/books/melissa-lucashenko-too-much-lip-was-a-frightening-book-to-write-20180724-h1326h.html

AUTHOR PROFILE : Melissa Lucashenko is an acclaimed Aboriginal writer of Goorie and European heritage.  Since 1997 Melissa has been widely published as an award-winning novelist, essayist and short story writer.

AUTHOR WEBSITE : https://www.melissa-lucashenko.com/

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Bad to Worse ‘Good Girl Bad Girl’ by Michael Robotham

I haven’t written a negative book review for a while but I need to express my rebellious thoughts on “Good Girl Bad Girl” by Michael Robotham.  I would have liked to give this seasoned author a pat on the back, but it won’t happen.  He (and dare I say his publisher) goofed up, disappointing me with this latest offering.  As a supporter of the Australian writers scene, it pains me to say I have even compiled a list of unwanted gaffes.  And I’m disillusioned by such a rudimentary storyline, further dragged down by Robotham putting believability ahead of plausibility.

First, I’m not keen on psychologist Cyrus Haven, with his generic nightmares and ridiculous spontaneity when it comes to young Evie Cormac, aka Angel Face.  Plots, eh, you need to drive them forward.  Evie lived a feral existence in a secret room with a dead body outside the door and after rescue she was incarcerated in Langford Hall, Nottingham, a secure children’s home.  Being of indeterminate age, she appears mature yet lapses into teenage obviousness as inexperienced Cyrus soon finds out.  Her dubious, er, gift, is an attempt at originality until Robotham trots out tropes and formulaic predictability.

Maybe hackneyed phrases could be revised in another edition, do a bit of showing instead of continual telling, and jumping in and out of a character’s head doesn’t necessarily strengthen the story or boost the tension.  In “Good Girl Bad Girl” the title hints at naughtiness and a girl dies yet the suspects aren’t new, just the usual line-up.  When it comes to fiction, I don’t think crime scene minutia or yet another clichéd pathologist/priest/politician enhances a plot.

“Good Girl Bad Girl” is a ropey book launched into the world too soon.

I noticed these gaffes—

(1)  Cyrus Haven does not own a mobile phone.  He only has a pager and uses a telephone at the local shop, even DCI Lenny Parvel has to track him down while jogging.  How come when he’s at home looking at DVDs of suspect Craig Farley, he has a bright idea and “I punch out her number.  She doesn’t answer.  It goes to her messages. Beep!”
(2)  When Cyrus goes to an old church to talk to the murdered girl’s mother, he can’t get in the front doors because they are locked but when the priest asks him to leave he exits via the front doors.
(3)  Poor proof-reading, fluctuating spelling like practice/practise, repeat words not edited out.
(4)  Flight risk Evie’s electronic tracker on her ankle must vaporise.
(5)  Evie’s POV couldn’t hear both sides of that phone conversation.
(6)  I guess that Uber driver drove away fast.
(7)  DCI Lenny Parvel is a woman yet “Lenny is signalling me from the road.  Aiden is with him.”
(8)  Cyrus has his hands taped to a vertical wooden stair spindle so how could “Cyrus grabs my arm” when later Evie frees him?
(9)  Reader thinks “Am I missing some kind of joke?”
(10) Reader thinks “Is this an uncorrected proof?”

….. there are more blemishes, I got tired of it but you can easily find them.

A crime reader’s curse but I can also see the mechanics at work, the primary sentences, the leading questions, the verbal punches ready to be pulled, the transparent taunts and retorts used many times before, and I don’t mean just by Robotham.  I include contemporary middle-of-the-road crime writers and television scriptwriters all using the same imagery.  They must yearn for a movie deal.  Unfortunately not even banter escapes the mundane repetition seen in current crime stories.

The arthritic white rabbit is still being pulled out of the narrative hat.  Give it a rest!

I have not read any related book reviews so this is my unbiased honest opinion.  With more polish “Good Girl Bad Girl” could have risen above the ranks of ordinary.  New readers will be supportive, Australian fans will be supportive, but I think it’s a monotonous book and I say that with genuine regret.

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

 

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Peter Corris Crime Writer Cliff Hardy Crime Fighter

Peter Corris 01
The final Peter Corris crime novel featuring PI Cliff Hardy.

A few years ago I was going through a rough patch in my professional and personal life.  I wanted to close the door and read, read, read myself back to normality.

Search and ye shall read

The trouble was I hadn’t seriously knuckled down and read a well-written book for a long time.  I felt distanced from northern hemisphere writers (what’s snow?) and never really got the whole Scandi-noir buzz.  Several genres, including the ambiguous literary fiction, didn’t hold my interest.  I felt I needed comedy, something I could relate to and laugh at.  Also I wanted characters and places I understood, and possibly had visited.

Readers of my blog will know I like quirky writing so, rather than reach for self-help books, I began to search for way-out humour on the library shelves.  Unfortunately back then humorous Australian writers were thin on the ground so I hung around the bookshops until the next Thursday Next dilemma or Ankh-Morpork debacle was published.  Yes, Messrs Fforde and Pratchett saved my sanity with their insane books.

From comedy to crime

After trial and error, and iffy recommendations from friends, I discovered Australian crime writers.  The good old Aussie turn-of-phrase drags me in every time.  I know the cities, the vast distances between those cities, the weather, the beaches, the Great Dividing Range, the smell of gum trees and especially the food.  Our food is a mish-mash of many cultures but in there somewhere is real Aussie tucker and nobody does a Chiko Roll or TimTam like we do.  And our criminals are a bit special too.

I read in no particular order (and by no means all our contemporary crime writers) Garry Disher, Kerry Greenwood, Peter Temple, Leigh Redhead, Geoffrey McGeachin, Jane Harper, Robert G. Barrett, Honey Brown, Matthew Condon, Emma Viskic, Adrian McKinty (adopted Irishman) Candice Fox, Shane Maloney, Barry Maitland, Michael Robotham and my absolute all-time favourite, the iconic Peter Corris.

Peter Corris 04And Peter Corris came with Sydney private investigator Cliff Hardy

Peter Robert Corris (8 May 1942 – 30 August 2018) was an Australian academic, historian, journalist, biographer and novelist of historical and crime fiction.  As a crime fiction writer, he was described as “the Godfather of contemporary Australian crime-writing”.  After writing 42 books in his PI Cliff Hardy series, from 1980 to 2017, Corris announced in January 2017 that he would no longer be writing novels owing to “creeping blindness” because of type-1 diabetes and passed away the next year.

Naturally I was saddened to learn of his death but it hit me in another way.  I never wrote and told him how his Cliff Hardy books lead me into the badlands and showed me that my life was all right.  Well, in comparison to the criminal underworld Hardy inhabited.  Despite the sleaze, the drugs, the murder, Hardy had his own set of morals, he was a good judge of character and played fair.  However, he knew how to defend himself and fought hard when necessary.  Forget that it’s fiction.  Compared to his daily grind, I had nothing to worry about.

As Bowie said Ch-ch-ch-Changes

These Corris crime novels also documented a changing way of life through Hardy, especially the Sydney cityscape and his beloved Newtown.  For nearly 40 years, semi-permanent characters came and went, and mobile phones and laptops took hold.  High tech digital devices and spyware increased; electronic locks, security cameras and internet surveillance replaced skeleton keys and good old shoulder-to-the-door.  I feel the loss of a metal filing cabinet, its papers viewed by torchlight in the middle of the night.

But through it all, Corris always managed to side-step technology, keeping Hardy real, doing the leg work, nailing the bad guy.  His astute observations of human nature, and how he wrote plausible characters, made me feel I’d just met a crooked barrister or a smarmy crime baron.

Peter Corris 02

The book on the right is one of my favourites.  Recognise the bridge?  These days I do read more widely but I’m missing my yearly dose of hard-boiled Hardy—to use Corris’ own description.

Below I have listed all the Cliff Hardy books even though it doesn’t have the visual appeal of the bookcovers.  If you wish to check out more about each story, please visit Allen & Unwin Publishers website:

https://www.allenandunwin.com/authors/c/peter-corris

But—do authors and their books really die?

There could be reprints, anniversary issue, possible screenplay, theatre adaptation, prequel, or Grandson of Hardy for younger readers.  I won’t give away the ending of the last book because I expect you to BINGE READ the complete oeuvre, then see for yourself whether or not you like Cliff Hardy’s final installment.

My sincere condolences to Jean Bedford, wife of Peter Corris, and his family.

Gretchen Bernet-Ward


PI Cliff Hardy book series

The Dying Trade        (1980)
White Meat                 (1981)
The Marvelous Boy   (1982)
The Empty Beach      (1983)
Heroin Annie and Other Cliff Hardy Stories (1984)
The Big Drop and Other Cliff Hardy Stories  (1985)
Make Me Rich             (1985)
The Greenwich Apartments (1986)
Deal Me Out                (1986)
The January Zone      (1987)
The Man in the Shadows: Cliff Hardy Omnibus (1988)
O’Fear                          (1990)
Wet Graves                 (1991)
Aftershock                  (1992)
Beware of the Dog    (1992)
Burn and Other Stories (1993)
Matrimonial Causes (1993)
Casino                          (1994)
The Reward                (1997)
The Washington Club (1997)
Forget Me If You Can  (1997)
The Black Prince         (1998)
The Other Side of Sorrow (1999)
Lugarno                        (2001)
Salt and Blood             (2002)
Master’s Mates            (2003)
Taking Care of Business (2004)
The Coast Road           (2004)
Saving Billie                (2005)
The Undertow             (2007)
Appeal Denied            (2008)
The Big Score: Cliff Hardy Cases (2008)
Open File                      (2009)
Deep Water                  (2009)
Torn Apart                   (2010)
Follow the Money       (2011)
Comeback                     (2012)
The Dunbar Case         (2013)
Silent Kill                      (2014)
Gun Control                 (2015)
That Empty Feeling    (2016)
Win, Lose or Draw     (2017)

NOTE: “See You at the Toxteth” Published by Allen & Unwin August 2019
https://www.allenandunwin.com/browse/books/fiction/See-You-at-the-Toxteth-Peter-Corris-9781760875633
A selection of stories compiled by Jean Bedford featuring Australia’s favourite PI, plus unpublished writing by Peter Corris on crime.

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The first Peter Corris crime novel featuring PI Cliff Hardy.