Yes, Margaret Atwood Has Written Children’s Books

Who’d have thought it?  Margaret Eleanor Atwood (1939- ) author of The Handmaid’s Tale, Alias Grace, The Blind Assassin and more than forty other books of fiction, poetry, critical essays and a graphic novel has written children’s books.

Margaret Atwood also wears various hats, from activist through literary critic, inventor, environmentalist and award-winner with honours and degrees, yet for me this news was surprising.  Not so surprising is the quirky nature of her children’s stories!


 

♦  With grateful thanks to online friend and blogger BookJotter Paula Bardell-Hedley for alerting me to these little gems within a comprehensive list of Margaret Atwood’s literary output—

Up in the Tree (1978)
Anna’s Pet (with Joyce Barkhouse) (1980)
For the Birds (1990)
Princess Prunella and the Purple Peanut (1995)
Rude Ramsay and the Roaring Radishes (2003)
Bashful Bob and Doleful Dorinda (2004)
Up in the Tree (facsimile reprint) (2006)
Wandering Wenda and Widow Wallop’s Wunderground Washery (2011)
A Trio of Tolerable Tales (illustrator Dušan Petričić) (2017)

Margaret Atwood 07


 

Being a kidlit fan, I immediately wanted to read several of those earlier Atwood books but found they (like this non-fiction For The Birds) were no longer in print, or libraries, but may be available through state archives or second-hand book merchants.  I will track down her first children’s book Up in the Tree (with her own illustrations and hand-lettering, quite possibly written for her young daughter) because the story intrigues me.

 

Along the way, Wandering Wenda and Widow Wallop’s Wunderground Washery was adapted into the children’s television series The Wide World of Wandering Wenda aimed at early readers with different adventures using words, sounds, and language.

Happily, in 2017, three of Atwood’s books were re-published, printed and bound in Canada into one compilation A Trio of Tolerable Tales.  I was able to buy a new copy with Serbian Dušan Petričić gorgeous drawings.  Atwood’s alliteration is absolutely awesome!

  Here are my reviews of these alliteration-filled, tongue-twisting tales…read on….

Margaret Atwood 05

  Rude Ramsay and the Roaring Radishes

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The reader follows the adventures of Ramsay and Ralph the red-nosed rat as they traverse various repulsive obstacles to find a round, Roman-vaulted rat hole leading to food nirvana – round red radishes ready to be devoured.  The radishes revolt and start to attack but thankfully owner Rillah comes on the scene.  She forgives their trespass and shows them around her romantic rectory, rotunda, rococo artworks and rumpus room.  There’s a bit of a ruckus with Rillah’s relatives Ron, Rollo and Ruby, so Ramsay & Co beat a hasty retreat back outside and romp rapturously under a radiant rainbow.  There is a very clever twist regarding the radishes and how they repel intruders!  A fun story which needs patience on the part of the reader, especially reading it out aloud for small children.  Laughs are guaranteed and you will marvel at how many ‘R’ words exist in the English language.  GBW.

 

 

  Bashful Bob and Doleful Dorinda

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Bashful Bob was abandoned in a basket outside a beauty parlour and nobody claimed him.  There is a neglected dog park across the street and the resident dogs are Bob’s best buddies.  There is a beagle, a boxer and a borzoi who believe “We must be benevolent” and they look after young Bob.  On the next block lives Doleful Dorinda.  She’d been dumped with despicable relatives who say “Dorinda is a dope” and make her sleep beside biohazard material.  Her food is awful and she is treated like a slave.  Finally Doleful Dorinda runs away and meets Bashful Bob on the vacant block.  You will have to read this story to find out how their names were turned into Brave Bob and Daring Dorinda but it makes a jolly rollicking tale especially if you like dogs!  The plot and resolution are more conventional, even with the proliferation of ‘B’ words.  A flowing, tangible fairytale and I found it easy to absorb.  GBW.

 

 

  Wandering Wenda and Widow Wallop’s Wunderground Washery

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Wenda is a willowy child with wispy hair and wistful eyes.  Her parents are whisked away by a weird whirlwind and thereafter Wenda wanders aimlessly.  She makes friends with Wesley woodchuck and they share food scraps and wodges of wieners until one day they are kidnapped by Widow Wallop.  She takes them to her Wunderground Washery to “wash whites whiter than white” every day.  Between the drudgery, they feel sorry for Widow Wallop’s white Welsh ponies and three other waifs, Wilkinson, Wu and Wanapitai.  Together they plot their daring escape, only to encounter wolves along the way.  How will they evade Widow Wallop’s clutches now?  There is an unexpected reveal at the end!  I think some of the scenes may disturb younger children, particularly those with separation anxiety.  Older readers will chortle at the profuse ‘W’ words and idiosyncratic wordplay.  GBW.

 

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

 


QUOTATION:  “Comfort with reading begins in childhood, when parents or other loving adults read to children.  It creates a ‘safe’ place where — nevertheless — dangers can be explored (and, in children’s books, hopefully, overcome)…. I think my children’s books function as protected spaces for me.  I look at darker things quite a lot, but the kind of children’s books I write are light, and have happy endings…. That’s a relief, when I can manage it.”
—Margaret Atwood, author.


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♦  The interior of this book is printed on paper that contains 100% post-consumer recycled fibres, is acid-free and is processed chlorine-free so there’s nothing to worry about, Wenda.

Top 10 Cool Quirky Authors with a Difference

When I discover an author with a quirky style, a neo-noir writing streak, I rejoice in their words.  It’s a delight to get away from mundane formats, tired classics and generic phrases so overworked in today’s writing scene.

I can remember when ‘dust motes’ were all the rage, not mere dust, it had to be motes floating in the sunlight.  Goodness knows why, padding perhaps.  I think it’s beneficial for both writer and reader to veer off in another direction occasionally.  Leave those tropes behind!

For bookish readers, I will list some of the absurdist fiction writers who have given me a literary lift and added a bit of sparkle to my jaded memory banks.  These 10 books impressed me with their originality and unique take on adult life, some with remarkable page layouts.

Numbered but NOT rated in order of preference:


Kelly Link Bookcover 04

1    Get In Trouble by Kelly Link

Quote “Richly imagined, intellectually teasing: these are not so much small fictions as windows on to entire worlds. A brilliant, giddying read” said Sarah Waters and I definitely agree.


Zane Lovitt The Midnight Promise

2    The Midnight Promise by Zane Lovitt

John Dorn is a private investigator solving human puzzles.  Complex and beautifully observed characters lead John towards his moment of truth as he strives to keep his promise.


An Uncertain Grace by Krissy Kneen

3    An Uncertain Grace by Krissy Kneen

Speculative erotica showing the best and worst of human nature through Liv as she ages alongside high technology innovation.  The transition to a state beyond age, to transcend the corporeal…


Jasper Fforde The Ayre Affair

4    The Eyre Affair Series by Jasper Fforde

Thursday Next, a fearless woman who traverses a parallel universe inside books.  Created with breathtaking ingenuity, her literary world is more believable than most peregrinations.


A Visit From The Goon Squad

5    A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan

Self-destruction with music in the background.  Intimate lives of several characters who reconnect again and again trying to escape the past, delay the future and defy their fate.


Don't Tell Mum I Work On Oil Rigs

6    Don’t Tell Mum I Work on the Rigs…She Thinks I’m a Piano Player in a Whorehouse by Paul Carter

Gritty, masculine and rather shocking true story of working on oil rigs in the ocean.  Horrible, humorous happenings written down in easily digestible form so that you can’t stop reading.


Atomic City by Sally Breen

7    Atomic City by Sally Breen

A stylised contemporary story set on the glittering Gold Coast, Queensland.  Chameleon Jade gets a new identity and with her grifting partner she dares to swindle the Casino swindlers. 


The Godson by Robert G Barrett

8    Les Norton Series by Robert G. Barrett

Les Norton, a red-headed country lad, works in the big city, fights men, wows women, loves the beach, is either an Aussie icon or a yobbo but each adventure guarantees a twist.


The Lucky Galah Bookcover

9    The Lucky Galah by Tracy Sorensen

Lucky, a galah in a remote coastal town, receives transmissions from a satellite dish beaming messages between Apollo 11 and Houston, Texas, which co-mingle with the community psyche.


Dead Writers in Rehab by Paul B Davies

10    Dead Writers in Rehab by Paul Bassett Davies

Foster James is supposedly in rehab but he’s probably dead.  A dystopian must-read, loaded with satire, dark humour, sexual tension and famous writers like Coleridge and Hemingway.


I think my Top 10 list will suffice . . . oops, I just have to add ‘A Dirty Job’ by Christopher Moore and ‘Insomniac City: New York, Oliver Sachs and Me’ by Bill Hayes and ‘Lincoln in the Bardo’ by George Saunders and ‘Human Croquet’ by Kate Atkinson.  I love any book by Terry Pratchett and DBC Pierre and there are further ingenious authors I could name (and so could you!) but I will stop here.

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

Elly Griffiths Forensic Archaeology Series

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Sample of this 10-book series with book 11 The Stone Circle due 2019.

I love binge-reading!  When I discover a good author like Elly Griffiths who has ten books in her crime oeuvre, I am ready, willing and able to read all.  The archaeologist Dr Ruth Galloway mystery series fits the bill nicely.  To quote the Independent ‘The perfect ratio of anticipation, shock and surprise’.

Elly Griffiths is the pen name of Domenica de Rosa; she has written other novels under her real name.  I like the historical and archaeological authenticity of this series which could be due to the fact that she’s married to Andrew Maxted, curator of archaeology at Brighton Museum.

I enjoyed the earlier books and then the later ones shown above.  I loved ‘The Ghost Fields’ WWII story and found award-winning ‘The Chalk Pit’ quite fascinating.  I struggled with ‘The Outcast Dead’ subject matter although it is fitting.  I must mention the clever yet sneaky outcome of ‘The Dying Fall’ which has a touch of Hollywood about it.

The stories mainly revolve around Norfolk UK, tidal marshlands, excavations (with an occasional nod to ‘Time Team’) coastal regions and fictional University of North Norfolk where Ruth Galloway works.  She is also a police adviser.  The relationships of the key players are intriguingly tricky because of love triangles, children, 21st century parenting, murder and mystical goings-on.

Rather than a book review, I thought I’d do a quick character overview:

  • Dr Ruth Galloway lives on the Saltmarsh, lectures in forensic archeology, makes ground-breaking discoveries, and likes old bones and her cat Flint.
  • Fast-driving policeman DCI Harry Nelson moved with his family from Blackpool to Norfolk and doesn’t really like the place but he’s a born copper.
  • Two glamorous women, Michelle Nelson is wife of DCI Nelson, and Shona MacLean is Ruth’s bestie.
  • Michael Malone (aka Cathbad) brings enjoyable highlights to each plot with his spiritual insights, Druid instincts and flowing cloak.
  • Part of Nelson’s team are police officers DS David Clough ‘old school’ and DS Judy Johnson ‘graduate’ who don’t always share the same views.
  • Phil Trent, professor of archaeology at UNN, worries about funding but loves TV cameras, publicity and himself.

As I dug and sifted through the series, I noticed less archeology and gradual changes to the main characters but that’s the grit which makes these books human and relatable.  There’s drama in their lives; a rocky layer or two over a conspiracy waiting to be uncovered.

Elly Griffiths has a nice knack of getting you up-to-speed with each book while revealing a ‘fresh’ crime involving the living and the desiccated.  At one stage I quibbled over her use of Anglo male names like Max, Dan, Tim, Tom, Ted, Bob, well, you get my drift…but this has improved and the VIP reviews keep on coming:

"I refuse to apologise for being in love with Dr Ruth Galloway and DCI Harry Nelson, one of my favourite current crime series . . . a pleasure from start to finish"
Val McDermid.

"I adore the Elly Griffiths series and have eagerly read each book. I love seeing how the recurring characters are living and working out their relationships"
Joyce of joycesmysteryandfictionbookreviews

I’m waiting for book 11 ‘The Stone Circle’ but don’t you hang around, start reading!

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

Elly Griffiths UK Author
Elly Griffiths ‘The Chalk Pit’ and something evil is waiting in the dark tunnels under Norwich – forensic archaeologist Dr Ruth Galloway had better watch her step https://www.hachette.com.au/elly-griffiths/the-chalk-pit

‘The Incredible Book Eating Boy’ by Oliver Jeffers

My picture book review
My bonus picture book lesson
My link to Just Awesome Picture Books


THE REVIEW:

Book Sliced Up on Plate with KnifeHenry is a boy who likes eating books.  He absorbs knowledge as he happily munches his way to becoming the smartest boy on earth.  Everything goes well until there’s an internal rebellion.  Share Henry’s journey as he discovers something better than eating books.

Award-winning Oliver Jeffers’ concept is clever and I found his plot madly appealing.  The illustrations are unique and show creative grunge like an old diary or well-used notebook.  For me, although the story has the potential to be scary, it is handled in an adventurous way with Henry supported by believable characters which adds intertextuality to an otherwise imprudent tale.

I think The Incredible Book Eating Boy is best suited for small group readings or child-and-parent because there’s a lot happening and the visual literacy may need some explanation for younger children.

All in all, a praiseworthy picture book with a good message for 4 – 8 years range to which I give a 5-Star rating.  GBW.


The Incredible Book Eating Boy 01
I discovered this book on Just Awesome Picture Books! Check the website https://justawesomepicturebooks.com/

THE LESSON:

In my opinion, less is more!  Wordy picture books tire the reader and the listener.  The illustrations should highlight the uncluttered wording.  The words push the narrative forward and the child uses their imagination from the visual cues.

It’s a common fallacy that picture books are easy to write.  This is far from the truth because the very minimalist nature of picture books means that every single word has to be perfectly rendered.  Learn more about writing for children from author Jen Storer of Girl & Duck.

As a general guide, here are some basics:

A children’s picture book is 32-pages but 8 pages are used for endpapers and book information.  The story is over 24 pages or 12 spreads of text and illustrations which span two opened pages at a time.  These pages can be half-page spreads, single-page spreads, double-page spreads or vignettes.  A number of vignettes are used in The Incredible Book Eating Boy.

There is symmetrical, complementary and contradictory illustration approaches and I think The Incredible Book Eating Boy is approached in a complementary manner.  Oliver Jeffers plays around with the location of text to good effect.

Board books, pop-ups and novelty may have no words, just illustrations.
Young picture books are aimed at 2 to 5-year-olds with 200 to 400 wordcount.
Trade (general readership) picture books are suitable for 3 to 8-year-old children with 500 to 600 wordcount.
Picture story books for older children 6 to 10-year-olds with 1000 to 3000 words are often non-fiction.
Chapter book fiction over 3500 words are suitable for competent readers, with a sliding age range due to small sketches and quirky touches often added between the pages to enhance the reading experience.
YA (young adult) are the more tailored books suitable for older teenagers.

Something different.  A theatre performance video of the book at The Joan, Penrith’s premier performing arts centre The Incredible Book Eating Boy production.  The cast use song, movement and puppetry to bring Oliver Jeffers’ much loved story to life on stage.

Enjoy eating, er, reading this picture book with that special little someone.

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

Jane Milburn Slow Clothing Advocate

Slow Clothing reflects author and refashion advocate Jane Milburn’s own unique style, independent of “fast fashion” trends.  Upcycled from denim jeans, the dress Jane wore during her talk at a local BCC library had the potential to look strange but was distinctive and quite beguiling.

Jane, sustainability consultant and founder of Textile Beat, touched on several key elements during her talk––environmentally unfriendly fabrics and dyes; sweat shop labour; landfill; passive fashion; synthetic vs natural fibre; signature style and minimal wardrobe.  Hot topics included recycle by exchange, shopping tips, Sew It Again mending and creating new from old.  Jane tends to hoard fabric offcuts and used buttons, and has a passion for real cotton thread.

Rethinking clothing culture doesn’t mean wearing your clothes until they fall apart at the seams, it means mindful immersion, repairing and refashioning your garments.

An attentive audience, Jane encouraged us to make thoughtful, ethical, informed choices to reduce our clothing footprint on the world.  Until recently, she regularly visited charity shops for secondhand garments but is currently resisting the temptation and working with what she’s got.  “We believe secondhand is the new organic and mending is good for the soul.  In return, we are liberated and satisfied.”

In her book Slow Clothing: finding meaning in what we wear Jane shares insights and upcycling advice.  She has created templates like Upcycled Collar and History Skirt, guiding home sewing conversion of a beloved garment to reflect the changes in our lives.

To provide meaning and story to her own favourite pieces, Jane Milburn restyles and sews her clothing by hand.  Currently testing t-shirt cotton drawstrings as an alternative to underwear elastic (elastic is made from synthetics) Jane stitches everything by hand.

Help! I can hear you say, nobody has hand-sewn an outfit since the mid-twentieth century––except maybe Vivienne Westwood––but don’t panic, Jane’s book provides testimonials, illustrations and clear instructions for eco-dyes and upside-down jumper skirts through to sewing on a button.  Eco-fashionistas unite!

Although Slow Clothing is a multifaceted, easy-to-read book with positive chapter headings (Purpose, Authenticity, Creativity, Action, Autonomy, Reflection) amid the ingenious apparel, I am missing a frivolous note, perhaps a ball gown?  On a serious mission, Jane has created a Slow Clothing Manifesto with ten tags to keep in mind when out shopping: think, natural, quality, local, few, care, make, revive, adapt, salvage.

IMG_20180723_091617Quotes from Jane embody the Slow Clothing philosophy “Slow Clothing brings wholeness through living simply, creatively and fairly” and “We buy thoughtfully, gain skills, and care for what we wear as an embodiment of ourselves.”  Personally I am hoping to see people clutching their Slow Clothing Manifesto cards at an op shop near me.

The current trail Jane Milburn is blazing makes fascinating reading.  Arts Queensland, meeting VIPs, War on Waste ABCTV, visiting 103-year-old Misao Jo in Osaka, hosting a Clothing Repair Café, conducting workshops and championing natural-fibre, Jane says “It has been personally satisfying to see the uptake of upcycling as a conscious practice with many young people interested in its potential for customising their clothes.”

Unfortunately I didn’t get to ask Jane Milburn how we go about combating the greed of designer labels.  But the clear message is––help reduce landfill by upcycling your clothes to reflect your own unique style.

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

‘Curious Affection’ Hybrids of Patricia Piccinini’s Biotechnology Art

In her “Curious Affection” exhibition, world-renowned artist Patricia Piccinini and her DNA modified beings, credible and strangely familiar, invite us to find beauty in a transgenic social order not ruled by ideas of normality or perfection.  I was hesitant about visiting this curious collection but enjoyed the experience.

INTRODUCTION:  On a grand scale, the creations of Patricia Piccinini occupy the entire ground floor of Gallery Of Modern Art, Brisbane Australia, with a retrospective of her most recognisable works from the past 20 years.  It is Piccinini’s most ambitious solo exhibition to date, running from March to August 2018, with a collection of wall art and immersive multisensory installations – including new works like Heartwood (featured above) and a large-scale inflatable sculpture Pneutopia (not shown) exclusively conceived for the Gallery which rises effortlessly through an opening to the floor above.

* SOME VIEWERS MAY FIND THESE IMAGES DISTURBING *

TAP OR HOVER OVER IMAGES TO READ MY PICTORIAL COMMENTS.  Of course, this doesn’t convey lighting or sound effects!  My photographs are by no means exhaustive, there were many more art works and hybrid creations going about their daily lives.

Our guide explained most models are made of silicone, fibreglass, polyurethane and human hair – for a deeper understanding, Patricia Piccinini has recorded video stories and GOMA blog shows the exhibition conception to completion.

CLOSING:  Like most art, there is more to it than meets the eye.  Patricia Piccinini’s works are complex.  We are asked to think about our place in a world where advances in biotechnology, genetic engineering, organ harvesting and digital technologies are challenging the boundaries of humanity.

The more I learned about this exhibition, the more I understood the science, the pathos and the dangerous waters we may sail into one day, much the same as the internet was launched on a naïve world.  With intelligence and compassion we may learn to create something new without destroying the old.

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

24 Stories: of Hope for Survivors of the Grenfell Tower Fire

My emotions overcame me when I read this piece…read for yourself…

Book Jotter

by Kathy Burke (Editor)

24 STORIES COVERMy routine was much as usual on the morning of Wednesday 14th June 2017: I arose early for work, fed the chickens, settled myself at the kitchen table for my first cuppa of the day and switched the TV on to watch BBC News.

For several seconds I stared vacantly at the screen, unable to comprehend the shocking nature of the images I was seeing. There was a man sobbing incoherently to a reporter and then emergency services vehicles were shown illuminating huddles of grim-faced onlookers in their flickering lights. It began to make sense when the picture jumped to a high-rise block of flats of the sort you find in cities throughout the UK, except this one had taken on the appearance of an immense Chinese lantern burning uncontrollably over a sleeping city.

This was Grenfell Tower, a 24-storey Brutalist-style construct in North Kensington…

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What is Bureau of Meteoranxiety?

As I read the posters on the Degraves Street subway wall, I wondered if BoMa is fact or fiction.  You see, I may have hot weather meteoranxiety.  Then I discovered that Perth-based multimedia artists Olivia Tartaglia and Alex Tate ran their ‘public wellness program trial’ at Blindside Gallery, Melbourne––so possibly both fact and fiction.

Incorporating clever posters and cutting-edge technologies including a virtual forest, an immersive storm simulation and an AI counsellor named Gail (developed by Howard Melbyczuk), BoMa offered its meteoranxious clients a means to manage their ‘symptoms’.

The Bureau of Meteoranxiety program ran from 10 - 19 May 2018 at Blindside Gallery as part of Next Wave Festival and unProjects.

Image 04: Olivia Tartaglia and Alex Tate, Bureau of Meteoranxiety (propaganda posters) 2018, A3 posters. Photo credit: Jess Cockerill.

Interviewer Jess Cockerill asks “Are you worried about the weather? Feel like the seasons are out of sync? Fretting about longer summers, strange storms or rising sea levels?  Fear not; the Bureau of Meteoranxiety (or BoMa) may have the appropriate therapy to calm your climate concerns”.  Read on––

Jess Cockerill
How did the Bureau of Meteoranxiety come about?
Alex Tate
Our original idea was definitely set more in the future, where climate change has happened, it’s devastated earth. But as we went through Next Wave’s artist development program, sincerity became more important, particularly present-day sincerity.
Olivia Tartaglia
We were thinking about how we deal with this thing that’s already upon us. You could talk about so many different ways of how it will happen, but we thought it could be more interesting to look at how it is happening right now, and how we’re dealing with that, which, in some respects, is not very well.
JC
I am curious about your choice of terminology: why meteoranxiety, and not ecoanxiety?
OT
Ecoanxiety was a starting point. We were doing a lot of research and we discovered Glenn Albrecht, who is a Western Australian ecophilosopher, and he coined the term meteoranxiety … it just seemed like a more specific definition.

It’s the feeling of being anxious about weird weather, or suddenly-changing weather, due to climate change. Glenn Albrecht talks about it as an anxiety we have but we wouldn’t necessarily know that we’re feeling it. The main point of the work is to make people aware of what they’re feeling, to put a word to the feeling.

AT
The feeling of ecoanxiety is much more closely linked to climate change, whereas with meteoranxiety, even if climate change is real or not, you still feel it. The media will just say ‘weird weather!’ ‘strange weather event!’ ‘record temperatures!’. They avoid saying climate change, because they don’t want to politically-charge these articles, but they still want to get the clicks.

And of course, it’s a play on the Bureau of Meteorology. People already have that association with bureaucracy and government policy.

JC
What are some instances where you have felt meteoranxiety?
AT
I see it in the day-to-day. You see bananas on special because there’s a bumper crop, because of unusual weather. We just moved into a new place and watched the tree at the park shed its leaves three months early.

I think we’re hypersensitive to it now we’ve done this project. We were looking for articles and research to source material, so I kinda see it in everything.

JC
To what extent do you feel growing up in Western Australia has informed this work?
OT
I always would go down south WA, once a year or even more, and I think that’s why we featured the Boranup Karri Forest in the Virtual Reality, because it’s so beautiful. We both love it there and have such a connection to that space; we want people to experience it.
AT
In Western Australia we have the Fremantle Doctor, and all these other features in our weather, that it was a given they’d be a part of BoMa.1 And in the southwest of WA, there’s so many unique plants and animals that rely on consistency, and exist because of it, that are at risk due to the weather.

We live on that point of the earth where we feel it. It will hit us closer to home sooner than other states, except probably the Northern Territory. When we get a 40°c day in autumn, I notice it, other people notice it.

OT
It’s everywhere! On the news, social media, you talk about it to like five people you see, you can’t escape it.
JC
Having created this work, what do you think: do we need to just accept these changes and adapt? Or should we still be pushing against it?
OT
Of course we need to stop climate change but I also don’t think that’s going to happen. I think people are just going to try again and again to adapt.
AT
The heavy use of technology in the work is a way of bringing up the common notion that technology will save us, that we can just use technology to solve the problem. It’s kind of a really sad waiting game, where something really terrible seems to have to happen before the government will do anything. And there’s an anxiety in that. But even once that happens, maybe it’ll be passed off as just an anomaly, just weird weather. Or even just a condition we can manage using technology.

But I really hope that BoMa serves as a starting point for people thinking about the real world … if the Bureau of Meteoranxiety fails in one aspect – which it will, because these therapies are not real – and they don’t feel that it meets their requirements, then maybe they can relate it to our real government not meeting their needs, and see the connection there.

Interview by Jess Cockerill

Image 06: as above.

Image: Olivia Tartaglia and Alex Tate, Bureau of Meteoranxiety 2018, multimedia. Photo credit: Michael Tartaglia.


  1. The ‘Fremantle Doctor’ is local Western Australian slang for the cool afternoon sea breeze that occurs during summer in the south-west of the state.
  2. Read the full BoMa article with images and credits here
  3. Review by Hannah Francis of The Age newspaper.
  4. Quote “Perhaps a future treatment for Facebookfomophobia” GBW.

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

‘The Last Dragonslayer’ by Jasper Fforde

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The Last Dragonslayer novels by Jasper Fforde

While Thursday Next lives in a parallel universe, The Last Dragonslayer is set in a world of myths, illusions and modern magic.

Orphan Jennifer Strange, a practical teenager, runs Kazam Mystical Arts Management with eccentric magicians who create irregular spells.  But magic and dragons are losing power and Jennifer discovers evil King Snodd IV wants to grab the Dragonlands, 350 acres of prime real estate.  Jennifer dislikes the King’s greed and so does the last Dragonslayer, an old wizard named Brian who controls dragons with an ancient sword.

Helped by her cool friend Tiger Prawns, and a metal-munching Quarkbeast with frighteningly sharp teeth, Jennifer rallies to protect the Dragonlands.  Meanwhile, wizard Brian is hatching a secret plan.  Jennifer doesn’t realise she is part of that plan.

This is the first book in Last Dragonslayer/Kazam Chronicles by Jasper Fforde and I loved reading their vital quest.  Suitable for 12 years and up, the second and third books are The Song Of The Quarkbeast and The Eye Of Zoltar.  There will be a fourth book in the series but at this stage only working titles have been released; possibly Humans vs Trolls or The Strange And The Wizard or The Great Troll War.  Guess we’ll just have to wait for the next quirky edition!

Author Jasper Fforde

Publisher Hodder & Stoughton UK

Movie by Mallinson Television Productions on Vimeo screened by Sky1

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

 

The Last Dragonslayer Jennifer Strange

Ioan Gruffudd Stars in ‘Harrow’ Forensic Drama Series

ABCTV Harrow Ioan Gruffudd
Image courtesy of The Australian newspaper

Actor Ioan Gruffudd stars as the boat-dwelling Dr Daniel Harrow in the new TV forensic drama series ‘Harrow’ filmed in Brisbane, Australia.  The goal for this intellectual forensic drama, featuring an unorthodox and edgy forensic pathologist who lives aboard an untidy boat on the Brisbane River, was achieved by the combined talents of ABC Studios International and Hoodlum Entertainment.

Welsh actor Ioan Gruffudd, whose recent screen credits include movie ‘Fantastic Four’, TV series ‘Liar’, ‘Forever’ and earlier ‘Hornblower’, is now 44 and says he has more life experience to get under the skin of somebody like the flawed, smart and sarcastic Dr Harrow.  Ioan, who also filmed ‘San Andreas’ in Queensland, fell in love with Brisbane, swimming with dolphins, attending theatre productions and an Ashes test cricket match at the Gabba stadium which unfortunately ended with treatment in hospital for heat stroke.

Leigh McGrath, executive producer of the 10-episode season of ‘Harrow’, says “Brisbane has got the tropical heat and humidity which I think adds a different feel to this forensic drama.  Normally they are cold, they are Scandi noir, whereas we went the opposite.”

To quote The Australian newspaper journalist Justin Burke “The pilot episode presents an exquisite personal test for Harrow: does he quit his career and sail to Bora Bora as promised with his troubled, thieving, drug-addicted daughter? Or does he heed the professional challenge of grieving father Bruce Reimers (Gary Sweet), who is begging Harrow to reopen the investigation into his daughter Olivia’s death?”
and
“In addition to the procedural, crime-of-the-week element of the show, there is an overarching mystery that we are presented with in the opening scenes. Someone is seen dusting a body with concrete and throwing it off a small boat into the Brisbane River in the middle of the night. Who and why will be revealed in good time.”

ABCTV Harrow Ioan Gruffudd 02

If you click Ioan’s name (further on) you will see video footage of ‘Harrow’ filmed around inner Brisbane.  Dr Harrow, a senior medical examiner, is based in the Queensland Institute of Forensic Medicine which in real life is the heritage-listed Brisbane Dental College near City Hall.  Postmortems are not as easy on the eye as handsome Ioan Gruffudd.

This series is like reading a crime book with my home town in the background, I love picking out familiar landmarks and wondering how the film crew recreated a gruesome scene.  The Brisbane River (Maiwar) stars but there are several familiar supporting actors to spice things up, e.g. Anna Lise Phillips, Remy Hii and Robyn Malcolm.

Keri Lee, boss of Disney’s ABC Studios Intl, is negotiating with global networks so hopefully this major drama series will be made internationally available.  Meanwhile Australian viewers can watch ‘Harrow’ on ABC1 on Fridays 8.30pm 2018 or all complete episodes on iView.

ABCTV iView LogoABCTV LogoHarrow ABCTV Crime Series 2019 02

http://www.abc.net.au/tv/programs/harrow/
https://iview.abc.net.au/collection/harrow

Well worth watching!  And Season Two hit Australian screens in May 2019.

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

‘A Garden of Lilies’ Tales from Judith Rossell

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Page 39 “Peregrine was a disobedient child…”

With a knowing smile, this Victorian-style book of manners is reminiscent of the period of parenting when misbehaving children were given orders and told dire consequences would ensue if they did not obey.  Despite warnings, when a child in this book ignores an instruction, there is an aftermath of great magnitude.

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Page 28 “Jesephany and Keziah were unruly and wild…”

In “A Garden of Lilies: Improving Tales for Young Minds – by Prudence A Goodchild” children’s author and illustrator Judith Rossell has produced an atmospherically illustrated and tightly written volume.  She has also mastered the art of a left-right jab, hitting with swift endings which leave the reader breathless.

Each punchy short story closes with a judicious moral.  For example, Isadora daydreamed too much during her chores.  One day she daydreamed while idly brushing her hair.  Let’s just say she didn’t get to finish the task.  “Moral: For hair that’s glossy, clean and bright, Two hundred strokes, both morn and night”.

After Isadora’s tale, there is what appears to be a lovely page entitled “Care of the Hair” with a recipe for making Soft Soap which “…will improve both the texture and colour of the hair” until things get a bit nauseating.  Apart from kitchen scraps, the mixture must boil for hours until it forms a clear, thick jelly.

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“A Garden of Lilies: Improving Tales for Young Minds” by Prudence A Goodchild (author Judith Rossell) ABC Books Australia

Basically the stories are about kids being kids and the 21st century reader should see the endings for what they are – a sample of Victorian etiquette and psychology which we would not dream of using on children today.  Right?  Okay, explain that to your child and laugh.

This slim book is approximately sixty pages (with attractive binding and colour plates) and scattered throughout are “Interesting Facts” and helpful hints like An Economical Recipe for a Plain Cake, A Useful Compass, Parlour Games and my personal favourite, An Album of Sea-Weeds.  I will work on drying and pressing seaweed during my next holiday!  Hmm, would seaweed smell like that starfish I once brought home?

In closing, I will give a shout-out to Mr Lindon of Woolloongabba, Queensland (Page 45) who grew a giant marrow.  I think he must have read the book’s suggestion To Grow a Giant Marrow which signifies “A Garden of Lilies” is indeed a versatile volume!

I cannot give you a childproof safety rating but I think it is suitable for a sliding age scale and my own rating is 5-star.

Gretchen Bernet-Ward


Judith Rossell — Biography

Judith Rossell is the multi-award-winning author-illustrator of the bestselling Stella Montgomery series (Withering-by-Sea, Wormwood Mire, A Garden of Lilies and forthcoming Wakestone Hall).  Judith has written thirteen books and illustrated more than eighty, and her work has been published in UK, US, Germany and translated into more than twenty languages.  Before beginning her career in children’s books, Judith worked as a government scientist (not a mad scientist, a normal kind of scientist) and also for a cotton-spinning company (which made threads for T-shirts, denim jeans, mops and teabag strings).  Judith lives in Melbourne, Australia with a cat the size of a walrus.

ACCLAIM FOR WITHERING-BY-SEA AND WORMWOOD MIRE:
Indie Awards – Winner 2015, Shortlisted 2017
Australian Book Industry Awards – Winner 2015, Shortlisted 2017
CBCA Awards – Honour Book 2015, Notable Book 2017
Davitt Awards – Winner 2015, Shortlisted 2017
Prime Minister’s Literary Awards – Shortlisted 2015
ABA Booksellers’ Choice Awards – Shortlisted 2017
Australian Book Design Awards – Shortlisted 2017
Aurealis Awards – Shortlisted 2015

‘Behind the Sun’ Series by Deborah Challinor

In a dread-laden atmosphere of shocking sights and smells, the transportation of four convicts to the women’s gaol Parramatta Female Factory is as grim as their backstory.  Although hiding a terrible secret between them, these young women are resilient and struggle against the harsh conditions.

The Convict Girls four-book series written by Deborah Challinor follows four bonded female convicts Friday Woolfe, Rachel Winter, Sarah Morgan and Harriet Clarke who are shipped from London’s infamous Newgate Prison to the penal colony of Sydney Town, New South Wales, to work off their sentences.  The penalties for petty crime, like the strange new land, are unforgiving.

Set in 1832, the travails of Friday, Rachel, Sarah and Harrie jump off the page as each book tells the story from each woman’s perspective while moving the narrative forward.  Titles are Behind the Sun, Girl of Shadows, The Silk Thief, A Tattooed Heart.  As they work through their bond in different forms of servitude, the reader follows their friendship, the physical and mental strain, and their all-important futures.

Author Deborah Challinor skilfully expands and elaborates on their new lives (the homebody, the thief, the seamstress, the prostitute) while keeping the voice true.  She gets the more risqué messages across without unnecessary crudeness.  Her well researched, well written plots and strong supporting characters, like cruel Bella Jackson and handsome Dr James Downey, blend together to spin a gripping yarn, spiced with highs, lows, loves, laughs, drama and murder.

I love good historical fiction, this quartet is superb (look beyond the chick-lit cover art) and Deborah Challinor knows how to lure her readers.  The outstanding imagery, ripe for screen adaptation, kept me reading long after I should have turned off the light.  I strongly recommend this 5-star series and suggest reading the stories in sequence so they unfold in all their splendour.

Gretchen Bernet-Ward


AUTHOR BIODeborah Challinor Author PhotoDeborah Challinor is a writer and PhD historian from Waikato in New Zealand.  She lived in Australia while researching the stories for her Convict Girls series.  The books follow four young woman transported to New South Wales for petty crimes. The character of Friday Woolfe is loosely based on her great-great-great-great-great-grandmother Mary Ann Anstey who was caught stealing a silk handkerchief and sent out to Sydney Town on Lady Juliana, a convict ship dispatched in 1789 from England to Australia.  Deborah Challinor has written over 16 books, historical fiction and non-fiction titles. Website http://www.deborahchallinor.com/index.html

Assassin and the Actress ‘Reckoning: A Memoir’

A highly charged and deeply honest memoir, ‘Reckoning’ combines research into the life of assassin and Polish World War II survivor Zbigniew Szubanski , father of Australian actress Magda Szubanski, and Magda herself as she struggles to come to terms with her father’s legacy and forge her own career within the world of television and movies.  This absorbing, eloquently written book contains remarkable revelations of wartime espionage, emotional family ties and facing the truth, and I was enthralled to the very last page.

First published in 2016, ‘Reckoning’ is Magda’s debut novel, and courageously written.  I must admit my initial thoughts were ‘Wow, she’s brave putting that in writing’ but it made me love this book even more.  Definitely a five-star read!  Magda relates one of those true stories from childhood to adulthood which hits the right cord with just about everyone.  We’ve had similar feelings and domestic issues and career changes and sexuality debates and, yes, sadly, the father we got to understand a little too late.

‘Reckoning’ has gone on to bigger things but here’s the first results:
Winner Nielsen BookData Booksellers Choice Award, 2016
Winner Book of the Year, Australian Book Industry Awards, 2016
Winner Biography of the Year, Australian Book Industry Awards, 2016
Winner Douglas Stewart Prize for Non-Fiction, NSW Premier’s Literary Awards, 2016
Winner Indie Award for Non-Fiction, 2016
Winner Victorian Community History Award Judges’ Special Prize, 2016
Shortlisted Matt Richell Award for New Writer of the Year, Australian Book Industry Awards, 2016
Shortlisted Dobbie Literary Award, 2016
Shortlisted National Biography Award, 2016

Website https://www.textpublishing.com.au/books/reckoning
Twitter https://twitter.com/magdaszubanski

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Magda Szubanski is one of Australia’s best known comedy performers.  She lives in Melbourne and began her career in university revues before writing and appearing in a number of comedy shows.  Magda created the iconic character of Sharon Strzelecki in ABC-TV series ‘Kath and Kim’.  She performs in theatre productions and has acted in movies – notably ‘Babe’ and ‘Babe Pig in the City’ – and currently ‘Three Summers’ directed by Ben Elton and ‘The BBQ’ directed by Stephen Amis.

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

DBC Pierre Writes at Feverpitch

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Photograph of novelist DBC Pierre by Murdo MacLeod for The Guardian.

“I wrote 300 pages in five weeks,” says novelist DBC Pierre, who made his debut with Vernon God Little, a Booker Prize winner, and delivers writing guidance in his contemporary work Release the Bats.

I enjoyed his gutsy and wildly perceptive advice which perhaps appeals to a ‘pantser’ style of writing rather than a ‘plotter’ but the quotable gems will stick with me.  Wisdom with a 21st century twist and language to match.

“A few pages into writing and find yourself drowning, as I did.”  DBC Pierre.

“When I started to write,” says self-confessed bad boy DBC Pierre in The Guardian interview, “I wasn’t particularly well-read, but I found two things critical. Together they can turn a pile of thoughts into a novel, in case you’re at a loose end next weekend, or are in prison. They’re also helpful if you’ve swum a few pages into writing and find yourself drowning, as I did.”

“The first might seem stupid but I actually found it the main hitch in getting words down and ‘letting rip’, ‘sticking with it’, and all that noble stuff we’re supposed to do. ‘The responsibility of awful writing’ was Hemingway’s twist on his own phrase ‘the awful responsibility of writing’. As the man who also said ‘first drafts are shit’, he pointed to a truth: if the key to finishing a novel is sticking with it, then the main challenge is to face writing crap.”

DBC Pierre Vernon God Little Bookcover

“All I liked after writing the first page of Vernon God Little was the voice. It had things to say about everything. I could feel it wanting to say them. But I went on to write 300 pages that didn’t make a book. I wrote them in five weeks, in a fever, without looking back. And at the end, I still liked the voice – but it hadn’t really said anything. Or rather, it had said plenty but nothing else had really happened. I soon found advantages to having done it that way.”

“Even writing 50 pages of crap gives a sense of achievement.”  DBC Pierre. 

“For one thing, I would usually find it hard to move on to page two if I didn’t like page one. I bet you could wallpaper the planet with books that never got to page two. And it’s a circular trap, in that some of the energy you need to forge ahead and push your page count up is generated by forging ahead and pushing your page count up. Even crap gives a sense of achievement when you get to 10, 20, 50 pages of it. When you don’t get past page one, you lose the spur. After that, the thing spirals into bad feeling and dies while you check email.”

“Half the problem is the expectation that we’ll see finished writing at once, more or less in its place. But I wouldn’t have written what I wrote if I’d thought about structure and form at the time. Obviously, if we’re writing about a boy going to the river, we make him go to the river. I don’t mean write without an idea – just that better ideas will come later. They attract each other and grow. We write crap in the meantime. It can work like a compost.”

“If you watch a dieter breaking their diet, you’ll see that they gobble things before they can stop themselves, before the internal arguments, before the shame. Guiltily and fast: that’s how to approach a first draft. A free writer is not something you are, but a place you can go. To start that climb: speed. Don’t look down. Keep a note of your page or word count, watch it grow like an investment. Amp yourself up. When we do things this way, a phenomenon comes to bear that justifies our approach: art. Some of what we write will crystallise for reasons we can’t explain, and the story comes into a life of its own.”

“If the job gets boring, loosen up…throw in a new character.”  DBC Pierre.

“Eventually, take that feverish pile, bravely or drunk, and read it back. Get over the cringing and find a glimmer, see what sentence or idea intrigues or excites you. Start from there and build out. If the job gets boring, loosen up, take a tangent, throw in a new character. In this process, the work begins to show itself. We show ourselves. When gems have grown into paragraphs, paragraphs into pages, look again. Find the part that works best and lift the rest up to it. This is how it climbs, by following what pleases us most.”

“We can’t compete with Shakespeare or Hemingway, nor should we try. Our particular feeling is all we can bring to this party, and our whole job should be to wrestle it into a story that works for us alone. After that we can dress it for others to read. A different job entirely. Save that for a strong coffee on a Monday.”

One of three different interviews by Chris Wiegand, Dave Simpson and Homa Khaleeli.  Wed 22 Feb 2017 06.00 AEDT “Culture” The Guardian newspaper.
https://www.theguardian.com/culture/2017/feb/21/frank-turner-dbc-pierre-creative-industry-advice
Heading : So You Want To Be An Artist? Then Let The Pros Show You How It’s Done.

You can also read my book review of Breakfast With The Borgias by DBC Pierre.

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

‘The Witch Finder’s Sister’ by Beth Underdown

A witch-finder compiles his list … To me, prologues are an unnecessary extension of the backcover blurb and I often don’t read them.  Resistance is futile when it comes to Beth Underdown’s deep dark 17th century historical novel based on the real witch-finder Matthew Hopkins.

When I read the prologue to The Witch Finder’s Sister I tried not to become smitten with the words, tried not to be intrigued by the premise nor overcome with a desire to read what sister Alice has to say, but I am already into Chapter 8 even though historical fiction is not my preferred genre.

As absorbing as I’m finding this tale, this is not a proper book review and “no correspondence will be entered into”.  But I will say Chapter 1 is claustrophobic and tension-filled, a classic example of how thoughts become words to become other people’s thoughts.  There is an epilogue under the guise of Author’s Note which I can live without reading.  If you wish to pursue the Prologue & Epilogue debate, check out  WordPress Blogger theryanlanz A Writer’s Path

The Witchfinder's Sister Bookcover 03

I will leave the review to Suzi Feay of esteemed The Guardian newspaper:

The Witch Finder’s Sister by Beth Underdown review – puritan or serial killer?
The Guardian Review of The Witch Finder’s Sister by Beth Underdown

 

The Witchfinder's Sister Bookcover 01

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

Here is the prologue to The Witch Finder’s Sister by Beth Underdown––
“1645, and the Civil War in England has begun its fourth year.  It is a war about God, and how best we should worship Him.  It is a war about who should govern, and why; whether the Parliament should rule, or whether the ousted King.  It is a war of thoughts, of words printed or hurled in anger: but this is also a war of guns.  Last year, at Marston Moor, more than four thousand men were killed.  Before this, women have seldom been hanged for witchcraft – one or two, every five years, or ten.  Eight were sentenced in Pendle, thirty years ago, when the land still knew peace.  But now this country is falling apart at the seams.  Now, all England is looking the other way: so there is nothing to stop Matthew Hopkins stepping forward.  Starting to make his list of names.”

‘Work-Life Balance is a Myth’ Review

Integrate by John Drury
Whole-of-life plan

Traditional work-life balance means separate compartments in our lives, but lines can become blurred, pressure can build and conflicts emerge.  Instead of working against each other, integration means all parts can work together to achieve a positive outcome for our lifestyle expectations.  Then realisation that your work-life balance is “out of kilter” will no longer apply.  I wish I had read this book before my divorce!

John Drury is a presenter, trainer, facilitator, and author of new book “Integrate” which challenges busy people to rethink their approach to life and work.  “The demands of work have never been greater.  A balancing act is not the answer.  Work-life integration is the only way forward in a 24/7 world” says Drury, whose painful personal experience with burnout, and subsequent recovery while in a senior leadership role, motivated him to start helping other high achievers create and maintain a realistic lifestyle.

In his book, Drury outlines a way to align all the parts of your life so they work in unison.  He says “This takes effort, but it’s well worth it and the end result will give you a schedule far easier to work with than just a big juggling act which no-one ever seems to make work.”  He believes that you must look after yourself at your very core; respect your health, your wellness, your relationships and your work commitments.

In John Burfitt’s interview, Drury explains that self-care and implementing achievable self-management strategies are essential.  Drury goes on to say that once important areas are defined and outlined, it becomes a matter of making decisions and planning goals “And you must do that, as a goal without a plan is just a wish.”

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Image is an edited extract from Chapter 3 of “Integrate: Why work-life balance is a myth and what you need to create a fulfilling lifestyle” by John Drury  John Drury.biz

Further reading: “Integrate” by John Drury

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

‘Kitty Peck Music Hall Murder Mysteries’ Kate Griffin Book Review

London winter 1880, Limehouse, and chorus girls are disappearing from music halls in Paradise, the criminal precinct run with ruthless efficiency by the ferocious and opium addicted Lady Ginger aka The Lady.

Kitty Peck and the Music Hall Murders
Published 2013
(First book in the Kitty Peck series)
A novel by Kate Griffin

Seventeen-year-old Kitty Peck, a seamstress at The Gaudy, is summoned by The Lady and blackmailed to perform a hair-raising act every night to uncover vital information about the missing girls.  Kitty is taunted by The Lady who withholds the truth about her family, particularly her beloved brother Joey.  Before long Kitty becomes the talk of London with her daring show and the plan begins to work.  Gradually she’s drawn into the world of high society ‘toffs’ and embroiled in depravity and murder.  With only her two friends Peggy and set painter Lucca for support, Kitty is shocked to find herself facing an adversary more horrifying than The Lady crime baron.

First of all, the pace and atmosphere is superb throughout the books.  Immediately I was right in the action and swept along on a very dark ride.  The characters evolve nicely and flesh out into interesting and tortured human beings who find themselves in rather bizarre circumstances.  They have subplots with much to hide, emotions seesaw as their personal history gradually unfolds.

There’s a heavy dose of Cockney slang which, due to an Anglophile father, I picked up quickly enough.  Some reveals are to be expected but one took me by surprise!  The novels have adult content.  However, don’t expect true romance.  It’s the Queen Victoria version of an action movie.  Grim, grimy, cold, damp London of the 19th century is a backdrop to dirty deeds done by black-hearted people and Kitty must keep her wits about her to survive.  The endings are cliff-hangers which lead into each book.

Kitty Peck and the Child of Ill-Fortune
Published 2015
(Second book in the Kitty Peck series)
A novel by Kate Griffin

Due to spoilers, I cannot reveal too much about Book Two or Three.  Certain text in the following review has been taken from the book blurb:

London’s East End, March 1881 and Kitty Peck, a spirited but vulnerable young woman, is the reluctant heiress to Paradise, the criminal empire previously overseen by the formidable Lady Ginger aka The Lady.  Kitty is now The Lady, with all that entails; servants, buildings, stock, music halls and vicious crime barons.  Far from the colour and camaraderie of the music hall where Kitty had been working, this newfound power brings isolation and uncertainty, and a disdainful lawyer Telferman.

Desperate to reconnect with Joey, her estranged brother, Kitty travels to Paris with Lucca.  She is unable to refuse the request of a handsome stranger to take a child back to London.  Within days of their return, it’s clear she has been followed by someone, and this someone is determined to kill the child and anyone who stands in their way…starting with Kitty.

There are mesmerizing and harrowing scenes throughout this book which serve to shape Kitty and her world.  More of the secondary characters emerge and betrayal rears its ugly head.  Tension builds as Kitty nears the deadline to meet the other Barons of London, merchants, jewellers, bankers, the controlling elite who are rotten to the core. Will they break her and destroy the Paradise she has inherited?

Kitty Peck and the Daughter of Sorrow
Published 2017
(Third book in the Kitty Peck series)
A novel by Kate Griffin

London, the hot summer of 1881, and the streets of Limehouse are thick with coal smoke and opium; and Kitty Peck is choking on the ever-present bitterness of evil.  At eighteen Kitty has inherited Paradise, she is The Lady of a sprawling criminal empire on the banks of the Thames.  Determined to do things differently from the fearsome Lady Ginger, she now realises that the past casts a menacing and treacherous shadow.

Plagued by city heat, haunted by a terrible secret and facing more deaths, Kitty is stalked by a criminal league intent on humiliation and destruction; she should never go out alone.  But she’s ready to fight for the future of everyone she cares for and more.  Including journalist Sam Collins?

Always difficult to review books with clever twists and turns one cannot expose.  ‘Descriptive’ and ‘gripping’ hardly does them justice.  Sense of place, POV and clothing are beautifully transcribed.  There is one minor point I noticed when reading––there is little mention of food.  Tea and gin are drunk habitually, and champagne is used as a lever, but food is not often consumed.  No matter, they are gritty stories which had me on the edge of my seat.  While it is not an era I would like to inhabit, I can highly recommend this series with a shiny five star rating.

To be concluded in Book Four – Kitty Peck and the Parliament of Shadows – Coming July 2019.

“Even though Paradise was riddled with rot, I reckoned I could make it a cleaner place for the poor types who came with the dirty trades. I could make them all love me, I thought.  I was wrong about that. I’ve been wrong about so much.”

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Kate Griffin was born within the sound of Bow bells, making her a true-born Cockney.  She has worked as an assistant to an antiques dealer, a journalist for local newspapers and now works for The Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings.  “Kitty Peck and the Music Hall Murders”, Kate’s first book, won the Stylist / Faber crime writing competition and she has written other genres.  Kate’s maternal family lived in Victorian Limehouse and her grandmother told her many stories of life around the docks.  Kate lives in St Albans, north of London.

Further reading  Author Kate Griffin is interviewed by Sarah Oliver  a close look at her lifestyle and writing methods.

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

‘The Diary of a Bookseller’ by Shaun Bythell

Real life book shop owner Shaun Bythell tells of the humorous, exasperating and often crazy experiences he encounters working in The Book Shop, the largest second-hand bookshop in Scotland.  Also, The Book Shop is situated in Wigtown, known as Scotland’s ‘National Book Town’.  Bythell writes a compelling and amusing account of his daily life, from eccentric local characters to a decline in traditional ways of life where diversity is not always good news for rural farmers or booksellers.  A good book for booklovers or would-be book dealers.  Think I’ll stick to reading!

Read a full review by George Delaney:
Readings Review of ‘The Diary of a Bookseller’

Excerpt from The Diary of a Bookseller:

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“For a few years I have given over the formal drawing room above the shop to an art class for one afternoon a week. It is taught by local artist Davy Brown and takes place every Tuesday. A dozen or so retired ladies make up the group. At this time of year the house is bitterly cold, so I left Norrie instructions to light the fire and put the space heater on for an hour before they were due to arrive, but he forgot. One of them almost needed to be resuscitated. I would happily let them use the space for free, but they kindly pay me enough to cover the heating costs and a bit more beside.”

Shaun Bythell Bookshop Owner
Shaun Bythell (PIC: Robert Perry, The Scotsman newspaper) and website link The Book Shop Wigtown Scotland

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

‘I Went Walking’ by Sue Machin

I Went Walking Picture Book
Quack

This is my first children’s picture-book book review.  Legions of preschool storytime fans are hanging out for this one!  Of course, you will have to read it to them.  I could have bored you with reams (remember reams?) of lucid, erudite adult book reviews but I’ve decided to revisit an all-time rollicking favourite “I Went Walking”.

In my no-holds-barred, honest-to-goodness style, I will explore the deeper meaning of taking a walk through a farmyard.  Or maybe it’s all just good fun.

“I Went Walking” written by Sue Machin and illustrated by Julie Vivas
An Omnibus Book from Scholastic Australia
First published 1989, reprinted approx 23 times, sometimes twice in one year.

My softcover copy of this slim 32-page volume celebrates 25 years of publication so that means at the time of writing it’s now 28 years old.  I am sure the book’s huge following of under 5s will be planning a suitable 30th shindig, perhaps everyone invited to come as their favourite barnyard animal.  There could be hay bales to sit on while devouring plate-loads of themed food.  The country and western band would…sorry, got a bit off-topic there…

The front cover artwork displays a young boy talking to a quacking duck.  Open to the second page and this young boy is putting on his coat.  Pay attention to this coat, and other parts of his apparel.  Naturally the page reads “I went walking” with the response on the next page “What did you see?” and thereafter.  Without going into too much detail, he sees a black cat, a brown horse, an apple tree, a red cow who offers him a ride, a green duck and the boy sheds his first piece of clothing.

“I went walking” and “What did you see?” other sidelines like a sack of potatoes but in this instance it’s a muddy pink pig which is hosed down, necessitating the removal of wet shoes, then socks and t-shirt.  The gang of farm animals is following the boy when he bumps into a friendly yellow dog.  He marches off with all six animals following.  They do a wild dance together and that’s the end of the story.

You really have to see the pictures in this picture book to appreciate it.  The clear, colourful drawings and uncluttered storyline combine to make a five-star bedtime reading experience.

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

Draw-a-Duck 02

‘Rain Dogs’ by Adrian McKinty

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Ulster Riot

It’s 1987 and things are still nasty in riot-torn Northern Ireland.  The Troubles in Ulster won’t go away.  A dreaded mercury tilt bomb causes a fatality in the Royal Ulster Constabulary ranks when least expected. In fact, many things happen when least expected.  The old ‘dead body in the locked room’ scenario rears its ugly head again.  The unassailable Carrickfergus Castle location is picturesque but the freaky circumstances are not.  Pretty reporter Lily Bigelow’s body is found sprawled in the snowy courtyard at the base of the castle keep.  The castle is locked.  Nobody went in and nobody came out, so what’s the deal?  The facts don’t add up and it’s a case of did she fall or was she pushed?

Northern Ireland MapWithout much to go on, DI Sean Duffy of Carrickfergus RUC uses dogged police work, video tape footage, and many repeat suspect interviews, until small pieces slowly emerge.  There is an outline to this puzzle but can it be filled in?  Convincing evidence is hard to come by.  Much in all as I love Sean, I do think he took two matters at face value even though I was shouting at him to double check.  And he does appear to be maturing, perhaps a little bit more circumspect, managing to curb his anger when insulted by hostile Larne CID Chief Inspector Kennedy at a horrific crime scene.

We are left to wonder what part Sean’s old friend and ex-cop Tony McIlroy has to play in his role as protector of the visiting Finnish delegation Mr Laakso Mr Ek & Company.  They are on a tight schedule, which involves finding a suitable factory location to manufacture Lennätin mobile phones, so these dignitaries are unhappy when Mr Laakso’s wallet is stolen.  Sean is unhappy too.  More so later when he has to interview them on the ice-road island of Hailuoto near Oulu in Finland.

The series regulars appear, solid unattractive Sergeant McCrabban and intelligent handsome DC Lawson who steals the limelight with a couple of excellent ideas.  Some of my favourite cameos are from vague Chief Inspector McArthur and major irritant Sergeant Dalziel (gotta wonder about that name) and Sean’s lady love Beth plus the ever-delightful Mrs Campbell from nextdoor, married with kids but oh-so-smouldering.  The only thing which grated on me was the dead giveaway of the chapter titles.  I like them a bit more esoteric.

It seemed to be the year for paedophilia in crime fiction; the RUC Sex Crimes Unit at Newtownabbey gets involved and Jimmy Savile puts in an appearance.  On a different note, Belfast has a visit from world heavyweight boxer The Champ, Muhammed Ali.  I do enjoy Adrian McKinty’s diversions, these little re-writings of history.  I wouldn’t class Rain Dogs as a scary thriller but in a gripping scene, Sean knew he ‘was afraid and fear releases power.  Fear is the precursor of action’.  McKinty also writes the dread and tedium of everyday life in succinct wording (without me needing grim online images) and Sean’s days are peppered with music and references.  Which incidentally are where the titles of the books are derived.

Now living in Australia, Irish-born author Adrian McKinty has again worked his magic with Sean, maybe with a little help from St Michael (or St Francis de Sales) and no doubt book six in the Sean Duffy series Police At The Station And They Don’t Look Friendly is equally as good.  At least I hope so because I don’t think readers are ready to kiss this Carrickfergus detective goodbye just yet.  I can recommend Rain Dogs if you want to sink your canines into a distinctively styled crime novel.

Books in the Sean Duffy series:

  1. The Cold, Cold Ground 2012
  2. I Hear the Sirens in the Street 2013 – my first favourite
  3. In the Morning I’ll be Gone 2014
  4. Gun Street Girl 2015 – my second favourite
  5. Rain Dogs 2016
  6. Police at the Station and They Don’t Look Friendly 2017

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

Adrian McKinty 01
The Troubles
Adrian McKinty 02
More Troubles
Adrian McKinty 03
Big Troubles