Absolutely love this book! Although I am not a clever reader of literary fiction, Fiona McFarlane got me hooked. It is sometimes a demanding read but so alive and full of richly portrayed characters.
Of course, the South Australian landscape is the main protagonist, tortured and decimated as it is, ruined by European settlers who did not see beauty or learn bush secrets nor had the ability to properly sustain the land; they just saw desert to be conquered. And they did it badly.
September 1883, in the South Australian outback, young Denny is lost in a dust storm but author McFarlane’s tale spins off into other areas as well; the climate, people showing strength and fear, love, intimacy, unthinking cruelty, making good and bad decisions, and those who trek back and forth across the bone-dry landscape on enduring camels. Colonial Australia was raw and rough; every human emotion is detailed here, channelled into finding a lost boy, coercing the reader into moods of discomfort, dreamlike imaginings, and showing the struggles needed to sustain a viable future.
Although I dislike the non-indigenous trees on the bookcover, I could write copious notes on each character in this story. McFarlane brings to mind earlier Australian authors, superlative Patrick White and inimitable Thea Astley. Here, McFarlane’s character of Mrs Joanna Axam reminds me of my great-aunt, a strong and opinionated woman with natural cunning subdued for polite society and an unerring ability to read people’s personalities, often using it against them.
Joanna Axam has a whippet named Bolingbroke which shows her sense of humour. Henry, her deceased husband, left behind a biblical garden, not because he was devout but because he liked the idea. Joanna knows it’s thirsty, a waste of water, but cannot let it die even though their land is barren due to cattle over-farming. I found her chapters quite riveting and she is obsessed with the possum cloak worn by Jimmy, one of Sergeant Foster’s trackers. What a schemer! Did she want it taken from the rightful owner to cover her own disfigurement? Did she understand mob and Country significance of a possum cloak?
Although young frightened Denny is the catalyst, over seven long days, there are many people good, bad and indifferent, trying to find the youngster by using their own particular skills. Two people spring to mind, Karl and Bess, penniless itinerant artists wandering in the desert in search of creative inspiration. They are woven through Denny’s story for better or worse, you decide.
I read this book when I was feeling strong otherwise I may have been overwhelmed by emotion at what Fiona McFarlane has created. As indicated by my first name, I am a descendant of German settlers to South Australia where the story is set. My great-great grandfather was a Lutheran pastor who documented the sad decline of Indigenous populations, caring for them as best he could. His records are in University archives and that’s all I know.
Just like life ‘The Sun Walks Down’ has turmoil then a resolution of sorts.
My small selection of How To Write books from various decades.
Interestingly the most handled judging by its spine is ‘Writing For Pleasure And Profit’ by Michael Legat 1992 (published Robert Hale Ltd London) with a foreword by P D James.
Chapter One says “…the obvious practical necessities for writing are pencil, pen, paper, typewriter, or get a typewriter friend to transcribe your work for you. Or have it professionally typed.” Legat used a word processor and called it a magic machine. Times have changed. Has creativity?
The book ‘Writing Down The Bones’ by Natalie Goldberg generated the most interest when I purchased it at a book fair. School’s out on this approach. In my opinion it depends on the genre.
Of course, all these books are senior citizens now, mainly due to the electronic era and the whole world on our phones. I cannot find my Stephen King ‘On Writing’ and I gave away my hardcopy of Julia Cameron’s perennial ‘The Artists Way’ but she is now live online https://juliacameronlive.com/the-artists-way/ However, I did find ‘See Me Jump: 20 things I’ve learned about writing books for children’ by the inimitable Jen Storer who has hundreds more tips now!
Books, hand-written, keyboard, paper drafts, online, speech-to-text, any format writing is writing and you just have to keep at it.
Books on writing: ‘How to Write History that People Want to Read’ by Ann Curthoys & Ann McGrath ‘The Writer’s Guide’ by Irina Dunn ‘How to be a Successful Housewife Writer’ by Elaine Fantle Shimberg ‘Weasel Words’ by Don Watson ‘Writing for Pleasure and Profit’ by Michael Legat ‘The Maeve Binchy Writers’ Club’ by Maeve Binchy ‘Writing Down the Bones’ by Natalie Goldberg ‘The Stage Manager’s Handbook’ by Bert Gruver & Frank Hamilton ‘Why We Write’ edited by Meredith Maran (20 acclaimed authors advice) ‘Picador New Writing’ edited by Helen Daniel and Drusilla Modjeska General inspiration: ‘The Works’ by Pam Ayres ‘See Me Jump’ by Jen Storer ‘Playing Beatie Bow’ by Ruth Park ‘Short Story Favourites’ edited by Walter McVitty ‘The Animals in That Country’ by Laura Jean McKay (shown below, adult concepts, indigenous animals not included with book)
My Thoughts: A beautiful story of ordinary life and love with extraordinary depth. Author William Trevor invited me into the pages so I could gently and thoughtfully read my way through the summer months in an Irish village named Rathmoye and learn about those who lived there in varying degrees of peace, comfort, toil and hardship. So different from today’s way of living, except our emotions never change, human nature is what it is.
I read this novel for ‘A Year With William Trevor’ Reading Challenge (info below). I could see the countryside, the characters. William Trevor captures the very essence of humanity with ease. His style of writing is deceiving, he makes it look simple but every sentence is meaningful.
Gradually rural mid-century characters show the reader their world, from joy to sorrow, their hidden thoughts amid the daily grind. Making do ‘just because’ the majority of things are hard to come by.
There are the not-so-hidden thoughts from people in the village about the visiting stranger from Castledrummond, Florian Kilderry, and local lass Ellie Dillahan who are the two main characters on a collision course. Among others, we have Miss Connulty with secret desires, wearing mother’s jewellery, wondering if she is jealous of Ellie. There is advice from Sister Ambrose, and old Orpen Wren who wanders about with his hopeful memories and tragic past.
FOUNDLING QUOTE: Ellie “We were always there. The nuns pretended our birthdays, they gave us our names. They knew no more about us than we did ourselves. No, it wasn’t horrible, I didn’t hate it.”
Everyone and everything has a part to play; woven through the story is a decaying estate; dogs, sheep and Ellie delivering farm fresh eggs on a bicycle; sewing a summer dress on the kitchen table. Amid the endless toil of farm life, Ellie’s husband battles his own demons after losing his first wife and child. Most of all, religion and the Irish nuns who cared for and raised Ellie from a baby, the lessons they taught her never forgotten.
‘But she saw Florian…’ Ellie watches him, she is captivated. He stirs her in strange and mysterious ways, slowly drawing her onto forbidden ground. Florian is both accessible and distant. They come from different and difficult backgrounds, they both have the vestiges of abandonment. Not getting too close, searching for something, they don’t really know what that something is—Ellie is smitten but she also has a strong conscience.
Florian Kilderry starts off photographing a funeral with his old Leica camera but later feels that photography would fail him like everything else. We know that he has other plans but he cannot get the lovely Ellie out of his thoughts as he prepares to sell the family estate.
They pass notes in a niche in a stone wall, go walking, talking. In between times, Florian is literally burning everything from inside his family home, it seemed such a waste to me but his memories are bitter-sweet. A charming flashback has Florian and cousin Isabella reading some of his short stories written by hand in an old field journal years before. I wondered if they were really William Trevor’s when he was young?
The ending is powerful and actually crept up on me.It is three-pronged and at first I wondered if I’d interpreted it correctly. Snappy vignettes of speech and thought are used to heighten the denouement.Also a tantalising question is left hanging in the air. Great stuff!
Conclusion: I finished this book and wanted to meet the characters, sit and chat with them in the sunshine. To ask questions and maybe visit the village pub; walk through the fields, splash across streams, eat a farmhouse meal. So much of this tale is real and true but mostly vanished from the universal landscape. Domesticity, societal rules and etiquette, that time immemorial quality of hard, tedious tasks being done by hand, without grumbling, because there was no other way.
For better or worse, close-knit farming communities are changing and moving on from villages like Rathmoye in many ways except for emotions, our deep desire for love and tenderness and a partner to walk beside us.
William Trevor (1928-2016) was an Irish writer who left behind an amazing legacy—dozens of novels, novellas, short stories and plays—for us to enjoy. In 2023, on the occasion of the 95th anniversary of his birth, what better way to celebrate his work than by spending a year reading it?
That’s why I (Kim) have joined forces with Cathy from 746 Books to spend ‘A Year with William Trevor’. Between the two of us, we think we can cover a good chunk of his writing over the course of 12 months—and we’d love you to join in!
We have come up with a proposed reading schedule and we’ll be posting our reviews in the first week of every month between January and December 2023. #williamtrevor2023
Biography William Trevor Ireland (1928 – 2016)
William Trevor was born in County Cork in 1928 and spent his childhood in various provincial Irish towns. He went to Trinity College, Dublin and then to England in 1953. In 1977 William Trevor received an honorary CBE in recognition of his services to literature, and in 1998 he was awarded the prestigious David Cohen British Literature Prize for a lifetime’s achievement in writing. He wrote novels, plays, essays and short stories, appeared in anthologies and won many literary awards.
Postscript: At the time of writing this book review, I did not know that ‘Love and Summer’ was the last NOVEL William Trevor wrote. (My review posted on St Valentine’s Day)
Photography: My book-styling image was hijacked by JoJo who insisted that I use it in my ‘Love and Summer’ review. Apparently all other William Trevor novels had flown off the shelves, so I borrowed a large print edition from my local library. It has an odd front and back cover design as though someone has scribbled postcard graffiti to match an element in the story. Happy reading! ♥ GBW.
Forward thinking and backward reading. Or a calendar in nearly every room and at least three retro books on the bedside table…
First in line‘The Fourth Crow’(2012) a Constable & Robinson Ltd hardback featuring a series written by well respected historical fiction author Pat McIntosh. Her Gil Cunningham murder mysteries are lusciously populated with all manner of people and goings-on in Glasgow in fifteenth century Britain. The ye olde atmosphere is so vividly written that you can imagine yourself right there, and this series was recommend to me by a medieval historian and lecturer.
Historic Note: 👑 The movie ‘The Lost King’(2022) is a story about the real Philippa Langley who actually found the final resting place of King Richard III. The poetic licence has been challenged but it’s immersive viewing, filmed entirely on location in Edinburgh Scotland with great care and compassion, humour and heartache and so relevant on so many levels. Can recommend!
Nextin line‘Death in Disguise’ (1992) by Carolyn Graham on BorrowBox Audio, but do I really have to mention anything about Caroline Graham’s Midsomer Murders mystery series? DCI Tom Barnaby has had so many crimes to solve over so many years in books and on ITV television that he’s almost a real person.
This story is nicely read by John Hopkins with a foreword by John Nettles who played the first Tom Barnaby. I have to admit I am not far into this tale of criminal intent because I am finding the plot slow and the scene-setting long. However, the writing quality is top notch in relation to some of the light-weight stuff around today.
The third book‘Love and Summer’ (2009) a Charnwood large print hardback written by highly regarded award-winning Irish author William Trevor. I had not heard of him until a WordPress blogger Reading Matters posted and wrote about the William Trevor Reading Challenge. https://readingmattersblog.com/2022/12/17/a-year-with-william-trevor-is-almost-here/ This tale hooked me straight away with subplots, instant twists and turns and interesting characters. “Ellie falls in love with Florian, although he’s planning to leave Ireland and begin anew after what he considers to be his failed life… and a dangerously reckless attachment develops between them”.
Of course, I review books on Goodreads regardless of whether or not anyone reads them. Either the books or my reviews! The interesting fact of my 2022 Goodreads Reading Challenge is I nominated to read 37 books over the year. I ended up reading 78 books (211%) so that was a surprise.
Happy New Year 2023 and may you be pleasantly surprised by________________(fill in the blank).
Hey, all you emerging writers out there. This is serious stuff. Tired of the garret lifestyle, the self-imposed deadlines you never meet. Well, you could blame that Covid-19 thingy but you need to get moving again. Actually you really need to get moving…
Go for a walk, think over your future options.
You are not really looking for fame and fortune (cough) but it would be nice for someone to show some interest, read your work, comment on it, appreciate it, encourage you and, perhaps maybe, take your manuscript one or two steps further, or even work towards (gasp) publication.
Twill never happen if those pages and pages of Word.doc and PDF drafts sit idle or continual rewriting takes up all your time; your precious creative time.
You need to be actively finishing work and getting it out there, but—
Your inner voice mutters alluring proposals about buying that new How To Write book, the literary organisations to join, writing workshops and conferences to attend, the obligatory book festival rounds, catching up with your book club Zoomies, and that not-to-be-missed favourite author talk.
The above-mentioned diversions take planning, I know because I have done that for over five years.Let’s not get into the time-sucking Socials and lists of new books waiting to be read because writers “gotta keep their finger on the pulse”.
Dream-on pen pushers and keyboard tappers
It took me awhile to realise that it is a daydream, a distraction, a cunning brain slip to lull me into thinking that I know my craft reasonably well and could be half good at writing…
My writer’s brain has to accept that it takes courage to submit my work and to undergo scrutiny.
Otherwise, as my aunt Joyce would have said, “All window-dressing, darling” or if you prefer something more contemporary “Totally photoshopped, dude.” It means I am concealing the desire to find out the truth about my writing, the culmination of my creative energy.
This is where the hidden “I can’t push myself out there” syndrome rears its ugly head. “I only write as an outlet”, “I only write for myself” blah, blah, blah.
Snap out of it! I ask myself why not submit something really good, work I am proud of?
Then my inner roadblocks appear
Heaps of knockbacks
Fearful of feedback
My lack of polish
People will know I wrote it
The veracity of my stories
Nightmare of unsold books
All useless babble; but if it’s not true, what next?
Stop hanging around! You have many choices, one decision—
Do what author Jack Roney did!
Enter a manuscript development prize!
As a second-place winner of Hawkeye Publishing’s Manuscript Development Prize, Jack Roney pays tribute to the Hawkeye team. I recently read and reviewed his excellent book The Ghost Train and The Scarlet Moon.
Like mine, I hope your writer’s brain is tick, tick, ticking— Thinks “I’ll take a look at Hawkeye Manuscript Development Prize 2022“ Thinks “I’ll read eligibility and terms and conditions of entry” Shouts “I WILL enter the Hawkeye Manuscript Development Prize 2022!”
Entry to the program is open to applicants WORLD-WIDE who write for an English-speaking audience.
Winner receives Author Coaching, Structural Edit and Line Edit (Prize Value AU$2,500) with the structural edit kindly sponsored by Brisbane Writers Workshop, and line editing and author coaching sponsored by Hawkeye Publishing.
A balmy Friday night with a nip in the air because it’s still winter, and it seemed everyone wanted to head in the same direction we were going. The bus was late, the traffic was jammed and lunch seemed a long time ago. Worst of all, we were most certainly going to arrive late for the author talk. And what a prestigious author!
The bus finally got us into town (or more accurately the Central Business District) to attend a Brisbane City Council Lord Mayor’s Writers in Residence Series author talk in City Hall.
Ready to race… off the bus, through the ornate vestibule, up in the lift, straight through the door…
And there she was—Ann Cleeves author of Vera and Perez fame. She sat in a relaxed pose on the stage, speaking calmly, eloquently and humorously to the 300-plus audience seated in the ancient Ithaca Room. On such uncomfortable chairs with bad sightlines. But we were enthralled.
The host may have read Ann Cleeves’ Vera Stanhope crime novels but his inept questions did nothing to ruffle her calm and considered replies. Such aplomb! Especially when the floor was opened for general question time. Needless to say she held the audience of besotted readers in the palm of her authorial hand.
It was fascinating to learn how book-Vera came into being, based on real women the author had known, and also the rapport she has with ITV actor Brenda Blethyn aka Vera. Later I discovered Ann was awarded an OBE in the 2022 New Year Honours List “for services to Reading and Libraries.”
When the event drew to a close, people filed out into the foyer, clutching their favourite book for signing or to buy the latest book for a signature on the pristine flyleaf. The book signing queue was jam-packed with readers nattering about their favourite characters.
I purchased two books The Rising Tide and Raven Black (see photos) but the line was too long and too slow for me to consider waiting while my stomach grumbled so loudly.
Across mosaic hand-cut floor tiles, through the huge doors and outside into King George Square where the city was an evening fairyland of lights presenting countless alluring restaurants and eateries. My companion and I compared notes as we ate dinner, having purchased different books from the series. Then it was time to return to the suburbs.
Standout book quote so far, page 40, Joe Ashworth says of the deceased “They didn’t find a note. He was a writer. You’d think he’d want to leave a few words for his friends.”
Two accidental milestones: As of August 2022, the number of my blog posts is 499, one digit off the magic marker of 500. This post will click it over to 500 posts. Ironically, and surprisingly for me, I am also one number off my current Book Reviews tally of 99. This will click over to 100 book reviews when I read and review Ann Cleeves latest novel The Rising Tide and discover what crimes DCI Vera Stanhope has sorted out this time.
The literary equivalent of a supernova, sheer plotting brilliance, mind blown!
The Trolls are looking hungry and humans are on the menu. In besieged Cornwall, unhealthy scenarios are playing out and Jennifer Strange, Court Mystician to the Kingdom of Snodd, does not like it one bit.
Jennifer is always cool under pressure and prepares to take action, indeed it is her destiny. She is joined by her best friend Tiger, the sword Exhorbitus, a VW Beetle with links to her past, and a Quarkbeast. Meanwhile megolomaniac Mighty Shandar is a sorcerer out to conquer the world and needs another Quarkbeast to do it.
Jennifer hopes the Button Trench will hold back the ravenous hordes and that Mighty Shandar will back off. He ain’t gettin’ her Quarkbeast that’s for sure.
Unfortunately even regular characters Lady Mawgon and sorceress Once Magnificent Boo are floundering to find ways to thwart the ever-expanding evil. Drooling Trolls are multiplying daily and Mighty Shandar’s over-inflated ego expands by the minute.
In the mix are—Royal Princess Shazine Snodd in a commoner’s body whom glamour boy Sir Matt Grifflon is keen to marry; Mighty Shandar’s obsequious assistant Miss D’Argento; the two delightful reconnaissance dragons Feldspar and Colin (I learned how dragons make flames) plus integral quirky characters throughout. The likes of Kevin Zip and Full Price add to the story and you will probably recognise their personalities whether or not you have read the other books. But as the ubiquitous footnotes hint, read the other books!
Just as The Big Bang Theory song says “Maths, science, history, unravelling the mystery…” this book has it all, from subtle throwbacks, movie references, intertextuality, the Chrysler Building, to a very different type of submarine Bellerophon. I was surprised by an unexpected, unnamed Special Guest appearance—breaking the fourth wall—I would love to say who and why but in respect to spoilers I will abstain.
Over the years, author Jasper Fforde’s signature wit has given his readers a slightly skewed look at locations in Wales but this time it’s Penzance where Bergerac TV actor John Nettles has become an icon, venerated with a bronze statue in the town square. Jennifer ponders her life as she strolls through beautiful Morrab Gardens.
+Jasper Fforde will be in North Cornwall for the Book Festival 24-25 September 2022+
I think Royal pomp and circumstance take a bit of a pounding in this Dragonslayer plot, so the unscheduled appearance of Molly the Troll is a zany twist. As Jennifer says “I can’t think of much that isn’t weird about all this.” The wizard Great Zambini says “Bigger and bolder than anything you can imagine” and he’s right. Jennifer knows a reconnoitre is needed so she and the dragons set off on a dangerous mission with devastating results and further repercussions.
The Great Troll War is the ingenious fourth and final book in The Last Dragonslayer series promoted at young adult readers but I believe it sits nicely in that unique niche reserved for novels devoured by all age groups. Those interested in a retro-present-day twist on believability, tweaking the norm and perhaps even glimpsing into the future while grounded in the everyday.
Find out the truth about the orphanage and Jennifer’s absentee parents, what role buttons play, and how not to recruit warriors. Oh, yes, stay away from creepy Hollow Men. I loved the chunks of humour and lightbulb moments as strategies are worked out amid the ever-present whiff of disaster and universal annihilation.
At the heart of The Great Troll War Jasper Fforde has written a relatable fantasy sci-fi story about the power of friendship and trust, with strong messages on clear-thinking and using available knowledge to work out the best, most logical and kindest way to end a war before it starts.
Jennifer certainly has a tough job.
♥ Gretchen Bernet-Ward
The Last Dragonslayer synopsis for the series below:
The Last Dragonslayer (2010) In which we meet Jennifer Strange, learn about Kazam and a Dragon is despatched but not without magnificent events that lead on to a Big Magic.
The Song of the Quarkbeast (2011) The King wants to control magic and use it for his own ends, but Jennifer and Kazam will not let that happen, and we learn what may happen if Quarkbeasts collide.
The Eye of Zoltar (2013) Jennifer goes on what is emphatically not a quest in the Cambrian Empire. She finds the mysterious Eye of Zoltar and also learns a thing or two about Jeopardy Tourism.
The Great Troll War (2021) A ramshackle band of humans hold out against the Troll invaders led by Jennifer Strange. An evil mastermind is plotting a dastardly plan, and all seems hopeless. Or is it?
Special Features section on the website has details about each book, places to order it, and a host of extra information. None of Jasper Fforde’s books have a chapter 13. You can read more on his website: FAQ
Many people read more than one book at a time and I have been doing this for several years. If one book is slow or doesn’t capture my immediate interest, I switch to another one. Plots and characters never seem to get confused because I usually read different genres.
And I always like to finish a book!
Watch out for a special blog post for my 100th Book Review. This milestone took me by surprise. I have many more reviews on Goodreads but I personalise my blog post reviews.
Have a quick look at Fantastic Fiction, my favourite go-to resource:
Heads up… Brisbane’s longest-running Book Fair is coming soon! The UQ Alumni Book Fair will be spread over four glorious days in April/May 2022 with heaps more than text books.
This annual fundraiser is a much awaited event for Brisbane booklovers. Based at the University of Queensland, St Lucia campus, there is something for every reader and collector.
I’ll be going with a BIG carry bag!
The Book Fair is organised by volunteers who harness their love of books and generously donate their time to help raise funds to support researchers, educators and residential scholarships for UQ students.
Come along to the Book Fair for a huge range of—-
Pre-loved books of every genre for every age group
Occasional photographs, print or piece of memorabilia
Special Family Day for young readers
The Rare Book auction is biennial and next event is 2023
Register now White Gloves talk on rare Australian books at UQ Fryer Library.
The Owl Service by Alan Garner was a totally unexpected read for me. For a start the title does not refer to a Harry Potter-style owl delivery service. First published in 1967, I read the 2017 50th Anniversary Edition and had to adjust my thinking.
Winner of the Carnegie Medal and The Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize, Alan Garner’s story is set during summertime in an old house in a picturesque Welsh valley. There is a wonderful introduction by Philip Pullman and The Observer writes ‘Remarkable… a rare imaginative feast, and the taste it leaves is haunting’.Susan Cooper adds ‘The power and range of Alan Garner’s astounding talent has grown with every book he’s written’.
Okay, let’s get the owl service bit out of the way. It refers to a dinner service (plates) long hidden in the attic above young Alison’s bedroom where she is convalescing from a tummy bug. From the moment she sees them, she is besotted with the curious floral owl pattern and begins to copy them onto paper, cutting and folding them into tiny owls, little realising her actions will unleash events that affect several lives. Thus the atmosphere gets a little bit odd as ancient mythological forces seem to stir in the Welsh countryside.
Teenagers, Alison and her stepbrother Roger, and local lad Gwyn feel the vibes but only the caretaker Huw Halfbacon seems to understand it. The youngsters devise ways to get hold of all the owl plates because Gwyn’s mother Nancy, the cook, is horrified at their discovery and warns the children off. Too late, of course, and gradually they become not only secretive but snippy-snappy with each other and resentful of arrangements they have no control over, mainly their parents. Adult dad Clive seems to be the only calm one.
Added to the owl mystery is the local legend of a man who takes another man’s wife Blodeuwedd, a woman made from flowers. Retribution involves a rock and a spear which supposedly speared straight through the rock killing the man.
After a swim in the river, Roger discovers this rock with the hole: the Stone of Gronw. He’s an amateur photographer (think rolls of B&W film and F-stops) and muses over the paradox as he lines up trees on the horizon. This significance (and others!) was lost on me. What were the odd sounds like scratching, the motor bike, villagers mumbling or even Huw’s strange pronouncements?
Amazing artwork is found hidden in the billiard room of a dairy shed conversion. Behind the pebble-dash wall is a vision of womanly loveliness or perhaps evil? The trio are uneasy. Is it payback for that bygone grievance? Is floral Nature emerging to take revenge? The most puzzling question is what roles do the paper owls play and why are they vanishing? These vignettes do not bode well and I was floundering for a rationale, trying to conjure an explanation. Is it that the clues are merely to mislead the reader? (Here I pause thoughtfully to study the subtext, slowly untangling it)
As tension mounts within the families, Gwyn likes Alison and he fights with his mother who wants to leave. I kept wondering where things were heading. The way is not clear-cut. At times I found the writing style difficult to get into and emotionally overwrought. Alison is the mercurial girl and Roger the snobbish boy; cruel things are said, especially to Gwyn and eventually he cracks under pressure. Huw watches on… this is where things get fast and furious and brilliantly captures the angst, the rain, the mountains, the desperate urge to escape.
The awe-inspiring Welsh setting, and the subtle way author Alan Garner has subverted the norm, is intriguing. Garner actually stayed in the valley where he based his story, using ‘an expression of the myth’ the legend of mythical woman Blodeuwedd and he carried out extensive research—even the owl plates are real, designed by Christopher Dresser sometime between 1862 and 1904.
The characters are fleshed out by their dialogue alone (not Welsh) and everyone plays their part—perhaps leaning towards a stage play ensemble. Indeed The Owl Service was made into a Granada Television series of the same name in 1969, and was dramatised for BBC Radio 4 in 2000. (Wikipedia facts behind the book)
Another Welsh fantasy novel of the 1960s written by Susan Cooper Over Sea, Under Stone indicates that Young Adult fiction in general began to thrive in this decade as books were being published and marketed expressly at teenagers.
I would suggest The Owl Service rating as mild fantasy with a psychological twist. It is certainly a literary milestone, although I did wonder if millennial teenagers were reading it. In my opinion, this story is more suited to those who have lived through the no-internet era. Enjoyable, yes, but far removed from the type of graphic and immersive YA fantasy novels published today.
This will be my fourth Reading Wales #dewithon and I am excited at the list of Welsh authors and poets which Book Jotter has assembled to tempt our reading taste buds.
Source one book, source ten! Create your own list! See my list! Join in Reading Wales!
Currently I have six books on a waiting list at my local library because it will be easier to collect them rather than hanging around waiting for an interstate or overseas parcel delivery.
I hold Covid-19 responsible and also a catastrophic flood which swept down the Queensland coast, through my city of Brisbane (everything is still soaked) and pounded coastal New South Wales before heading towards Sydney. Notice how I worked in the word ‘Wales’?
A MESSAGE FROM THE CREATOR BOOK JOTTER, PAULA BARDELL-HEDLEY
Welcome to the fourth Reading Wales celebration (aka Dewithon 22), a month-long event beginning on Saint David’s Day, during which book lovers from all parts of the world are encouraged to read, discuss and review literature by and about writers from Wales.
For more in-depth information on this reading jolly, head over toDHQ (Dewithon Headquarters), and to see what’s happening this year, please follow this link. You can also share your thoughts and posts on Twitter by using the hashtags #dewithon22 and/or #walesreadathon22.
visit DHQ Reading Wales Dewithon22 websites below.
click‘On Our Shelves’ to browse Dewithoner’s suggested reading list.
source books relating to Wales from library, bookshop, online.
post a book review and tell everyone!
N.B. Dewithon22 reading includes fiction, non-fiction, poetry, plays, in fact anything with a significant link to Wales.
What have I ambitiously chosen and which are available to me?
The Owl Service by Alan Garner was too tempting, so I’ve added it to my list. The Guardian says “…the plot is very gripping and slightly creepy.” AVAILABLE in my local library.READ
Sugar and Slate by Charlotte Williams – past winner of the Arts Council of Wales Book of the Year, an autobiographical story of a Welsh-African mixed-race woman who brings her unique qualities to the story, transforming it into a lively and living account of her life. ON ORDER.
I’m keen to get started 😀 and already made some headway!
My thoughts are that I will eventually read them all—perhaps not all in March—and I am looking forward to having my mind held captive by the literati of Wales. When I put down the books and walk Terra Australis again, my reviews will be either here or Goodreads.
Looking forward to reading about what you are reading!
King Anne by Ethel Turner was published in 1921 and my great aunt gifted this novel to her sister, my paternal grandmother, at Christmastime in 1922 after she had first read it. Many years passed by and when Grandma thought the time was right she passed King Anne on to me.
Unfortunately at that time I was not the least bit interested.
British-born Australian author Ethel Turner (1870-1958) was a novelist and children’s literature writer. She wrote over 30 books and collections of short stories and verse, mostly centred around girls and for girls. King Anne was Turner’s thirty-sixth published work.
Perhaps because I didn’t quite get into her first novel, the epic family saga Seven Little Australians (1894) of which NSW State Library holds the original hand-written manuscript, I therefore gave pseudo-royal King Anne’s weighty tome (as it seemed to me at the time) a wide detour.
The bookcover faded and King Anne languished for many, many years on the family bookshelves, sandwiched between ancient copies of Kidnapped, Pilgrims Progress and Wind in the Willows, and enduring several moves until by some quirk of fate I reached for it today February 2022 when my great aunt and grandmother would have read it one hundred years ago. (Shivers)
I have no memory of the storyline. Now I WILL have to read it!
First I shall create a pictorial and some background information—
The book has foxing and is not in good condition but you can see the etiquette of the time. Written in brackets underneath ETHEL TURNER is the abbreviation Mrs coupled with her husband’s name thus Mrs H. R. Curlewis. Herbert Raine Curlewis was a judge.
The frontispiece and three illustration plates are beautifully rendered, showing family life at the time. They are miniature works of art in their own right, sometimes removed and framed by the book owner. The far right image was adapted and embossed on the front cover of King Anne.
The artist has not been acknowledged and from online booksellers information you can take your pick. Possibly Harold Copping, and it seems A.J. Johnson‘s small-format illustrations were later replaced by full page works from J. Macfarlane. Each had illustrated books for Ethel Turner.
Inside the back leaves of King Anne (you leaf through a book because the pages are called leaves) under the heading Charming Stories by Isabel M Peacocke – another author of similar genre – there is a rather ambiguous book review of My Friend Phil (1915) from a Queensland Times reviewer which reads “… without doubt the best since Ethel Turner took the reading world by storm with her ‘Seven Little Australians’…” poor Isabel M Peacocke.
The difference between the size and weight of these two books was misleading until held in my hands. Natasha Pulley’s The Kingdoms is a slimmer volume with a lighter bookcover and thinner pages compared to Ethel Turner’s bulky King Anne with its fabric-over-cardboard bookcover, cotton stitching and stiff parchment-like pages. The modern publication is 200g heavier.
Australian author Ethel Turner booklist:
Seven Little Australians (1894) The Family at Misrule (1895) Story of a Baby (1895) Little Larrikin (1896) Miss Bobbie (1897) Camp at Wandining (1898) Gum Leaves (1900) Three Little Maids (1900) Wonder Child (1901) Little Mother Meg (1902) Raft in the Bush (1902) Betty & Co (1903) Mothers Little Girl (1904) White Roofed Tree (1905) In the Mist of the Mountains (1906) Walking to School (1907) Stolen Voyage (1907) Happy Hearts (1908) That Girl (1908) Birthday Book (1909) Fugitives from Fortune (1909) Fair Ines (1910)
An Orge up to Date (1911) Apple of Happiness (1911) Fifteen & Fair (1911) Ports & Happy Havens (1911) Tiny House (1911) Secret of the Sea (1913) Flower O’ the Pine (1914) The Cub (1915) John of Daunt (1916) Captain Cub (1917) St Tom & The Dragon (1918) Brigid & the Cub (1919) Laughing Water (1920) **King Anne (1921) Jennifer, J. (1922) Sunshine Family (1923) (with Jean Curlewis her daughter) Nicola Silva (1924) Ungardeners (1925) Funny (1926) Judy & Punch (1928)
**King Anne is Number 36 on this list and according to the list in my book (photo above) this was her 21st novel.
Ethel Turner’s literary works have been largely forgotten but she, and a handful of other women writers, paved the way for Australian books for Australian children. My grandparents were educated with, and read, British books, so I admire Ethel Turner’s achievements. The following websites make interesting reading – GBW.
Tea With Ethel Turner by author blogger Rowena (link below) is exceptionally well written and researched. On my own research, so far I have found scant reference to King Anne.
Important Addendum: Australian Women Writers Challenge The Early Years is concentrating on past Australian women writers of all genres who were published then faded away. AWW have restructured their blog to highlight the writing of earlier Australian women; works published 50+ years ago. If you happen to find and read a forgotten gem, AWW would be interested in your book review.
I will be posting my King Anne review in due course. In the meantime, perhaps YOU might find another first edition little-known Ethel Turner on your bookshelf?
‘The Oldest Foods on Earth’ introduction by author John Newton who asks ‘What do I mean by Australian native produce?’
Quote “Indigenous foods we have always eaten, e.g. oysters, crabs, rock crayfish and all the fish that swim around us… and varieties of duck and quail… but outside the familiar are an estimated 6,000 edible plants including 2,400 fruiting trees in south-east Queensland alone, and 2,000 truffles or subterranean mushrooms. Of those, 6,000 non-Indigenous Australians currently use less than fifty.
“Why should you eat these foods? Firstly, for their unique flavours, then for their nutrient values… they are among the richest on the planet in the nutrients we need for health.
Published by NewSouth Publishing Australia with recipes from chefs such as Peter Gilmore, Maggie Beer and René Redzepi’s sous chef Beau Clugston. ‘The Oldest Foods on Earth’ will convince you that this is one food revolution that really matters.
♥ Gretchen Bernet-Ward
DID YOU KNOW? Former teacher Suzy Wilson, the owner of Riverbend Books in Bulimba, Brisbane, got the ball rolling in 2004 when she launched the Riverbend Readers Challenge to raise money to boost literacy levels. The Challenge grew, and then teamed up with the Fred Hollows Foundation and the Australian Book Industry to become the Indigenous Literacy Project in 2007. In 2011 it was superseded by the Indigenous Literacy Foundation (ILF), a national not-for-profit charity focussed on improving literacy levels in very remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.
Don’t look too closely, there’s plenty of dust on them thar bookshelves. These books have sentimental value but may be destined for the University of Queensland Alumni Book Fair 2021 at St Lucia Campus, Brisbane— Link https://alumni.uq.edu.au/uq-alumni-book-fair
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
This Alan Bradley story is deserving of 10 stars. The irony, the wit and the revealing portrayal of 1950s English village life, is both hilarious and horrible. Events are seen through the eyes of young Flavia de Luce, an implausibly precocious 11 year old girl who lives with her family in genteel decline.
Young Flavia’s encounters turn into forensic investigations and she has an inherent love of chemistry, brewing dangerous concoctions in her late grandfather’s lab.
The village of Bishop’s Lacey appears to be close-knit, yet even gossipy Mrs Mullet didn’t seem to know who or what killed young Robin Ingleby at Gibbet Hill. The story really kicks off when well-known BBC puppeteer and bully Rupert Porson gives his last performance. The scene-setting is brilliantly done and I felt immersed in the story from the beginning right through to the end.
Perhaps not a book for younger readers because they may get tired of the mid-20th century writing style. Mature readers who like a quirky character will enjoy this tale. I have never encountered the likes of Flavia de Luce, a strange mixture of Wednesday Addams and Bones.
But she certainly knows how to snoop or turn on the charm when necessary.
Generally the main players are conventional but it’s what I expected, having been raised on a diet of British books, magazines and television series. Their dialogue and the descriptions of village society in post-war Britain were familiar to me – at least fictionally – and it’s clever how the tension and Flavia’s ‘fluctuations’ from girl to grown-up and back again is established.
Question: Apart from the shock value, what is the significance of Jack’s puppet face? And I don’t mean who it represents.
‘The Weed that Strings the Hangman’s Bag’ is book 2 in the current 10 book Flavia de Luce mystery series, and takes its title from Sir Walter Raleigh. With my thanks to Goodreads friend and writer Chris Hall for recommending this delightfully different book.
Alan Bradley is a mystery writer known for his Flavia de Luce series featuring this pre-teen sleuth with a passion for chemistry. The series began with the acclaimed ‘The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie’. See more books in the series at Penguin Random House. Bradley is also a New York Times bestselling author of many short stories, children’s stories, newspaper columns, and the memoir ‘The Shoebox Bible’. More about Alan Bradley
Not so much a circus as a train. Or a circus on a train. Not a speeding train, not the Orient Express, not even a suburban train. This book is a fully loaded interstate train heading inexorably towards a broken bridge over a river. Along the way, passengers are jostled around, some jump out the doors, most get drunk in the dining carriage, several are angry and the rest are bemused.
Inspector John Carlyle is the most bemused of them all
I love a criminal book, you can comment hard!
Somewhere along a distant track I had stopped reading James Craig’s Inspector Carlyle series and this fourth book refreshed my memory. It contains such a high level of macho rubbish, female exploitation and smarmy politics that it is well past the read-by date.
It is astounding that the book doesn’t run off the rails with the ludicrous amount of murders
If Inspector Carlyle didn’t have off-sider Joe Szyszkowski and other sensible police personnel to back him up, he would still be floundering for answers at the end of the ill-fated journey. Maybe he’s on the wrong train? He gets cranky and often causes ‘accidents’ to himself and others due to his own dullness. Yes, he gets bashed up but never thinks his nemesis and ugly thug Trevor Miller knows where he lives – operative words ‘never thinks’. Miller is now the Prime Minister’s security adviser and totally out of control.
When it comes to using high-end brand names, from beer to clothes, watches to furniture and a plethora of cafés, this story takes the cake. Or biscuit if you are Carlyle who pays more attention to topping up his blood sugar levels and imbibing strong coffee than policing. The ending will have you spluttering in your coffee, it is beyond contrived.
Published in 2013, the political issues and phone tapping scandal is old. The dialogue is old, most characters give a neutral “Hm” when asked to respond. There are too many hands placed on arms, too many raised eyebrows; and the plentiful white males POV often switches to an omnipotent narrator.
For me, the best character is the City of London
Without alcohol the stratagem would flounder, trim the sexual abuse and the chapters would be less, without repeat paragraphs like Carlyle whining about the declining standards of UK newspapers this book would be blessedly shorter. And without packing in umpteen suspects from the Prime Minister to residents of greater London, this whole book would not have dragged on and could have been more effective.
“When the body of journalist Duncan Brown is found in the back of a rubbish truck, Inspector John Carlyle is thrown into the middle of a scandal that threatens to expose the corrupt links between the police, the political establishment and the hugely powerful Zenger media group.
Hunting down Brown’s killer, Carlyle finds himself going head-to-head with his nemesis, Trevor Miller. A former police officer turned security adviser to the Prime Minister, Miller has dirty money in his pockets and other people’s blood on his hands. Untouchable until now, he is prepared to kill again to protect his position – having failed once already to dispose of Carlyle he is not prepared to slip up again.”
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.
Bookcovers, 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.
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 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.
City of Orphans trilogy
A Very Unusual Pursuit (2013) or How to Catch a Bogle
A Very Peculiar Plague (2013) or A Plague of Bogles
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