‘Breakfast With The Borgias’ by DBC Pierre

Bookcover DBC Pierre 03
Author interview March 2011 http://www.thewhitereview.org/feature/interview-with-dbc-pierre/

Correct thinking and clear vision are applied to wunderkind Ariel Panek, a computer scientist and associate professor but he is powerless when heavy fog sees him stranded overnight in the rambling, dilapidated Cliffs Hotel on the Suffolk coast.  Without connectivity, Ariel is tormented by the “no network” signal because he is overdue to talk at a conference in Geneva where he will meet his undergraduate girlfriend Zeva Neely.

Meanwhile the odd hotel staff and weird guests are making Ariel feel uncomfortable.  A bizarre set of circumstances conspire to prevent him leaving the hotel.  He must fend off unwanted attention, cut through the Borgia family secrets and subterfuge, and try to battle his way back to normality.

Reclusive, modernist Booker prize-winning author DBC Pierre has loaded this eerie Hammer Films-inspired novella with his trademark blend of social, scientific and spiritual matters.  Gradually the layers are peeled back to reveal the chilling truth behind this unsettling tale.

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

Reviewer Notes:
1.  The woman in the story who shares my first name is definitely not me!
2.  If you are reading this, Peter, I’d love you to autograph my copy of the above.
3.  My review of “Release the Bats: Writing Your Way Out Of It” by DBC Pierre.
4.  Synopsis quotation: “You can be insecure and be a writer.  You can be unsuccessful and be a writer.  You can be a bad person and be a writer … You just have to write.  That’s where it gets tricky”.

Bookcover DBC Pierre 02
Writer’s Guide

‘Lost and Found’ by Brooke Davis

IMG_3601
Millie

Millie knows that everything must die and keeps a record of assorted creatures in her Book Of Dead Things.  Sadly someone close to her becomes a dead thing too, which causes her mother to do something wrong.

Since Agatha’s husband died, she never leaves the house and shouts at people in the street as they walk by her window.  Until she sees Millie across the street.

Karl has lost his beloved wife and just moved into an aged care home.  He feels bereft as he watches his son leave.  Then he has a light-bulb moment and walks out in search of something.

All three are lost until they find each other and embark on a very unusual journey of discovery, reconciliation and acceptance.  A book with sadness, humour and eye-opening revelations as seven year old Millie Bird, eighty-two year old Agatha and eighty-seven year old Karl slowly but surely reveal what lies deep within their hearts.

Lost And Found is the debut novel of Australian author Brooke Davis which caused a literary sensation at the London Book Fair and sparked a bidding war overseas.  Davis, who suffered a deeply personal loss, said her ideas coalesced during a long train trip to Perth “A lot of the plot in my novel is based around that trip across the Nullarbor,” Davis said.  “The whole novel I think became a process of me trying to work through that loss.”

It is not written in the conventional manner, it does take a couple of pages to assimilate, but then this is half the book’s charm.  The funny bits are outrageous, the sorrowful times brought tears to my eyes especially reading about the older characters, and the outback backdrop is superb.  Millie is a delight throughout the road trip, a trip which is illogically undertaken yet surprisingly exciting.

The trio endure a bumpy ride but it comes out loud and clear that You Are Never Too Late and You Are Never Too Old.  I give it 5-star rating and hope you agree.

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

Writer’s Self-Help

My Reading Tray 05
Afternoon Tea

Over the years I have read a handful of self-help books aimed at emerging authors, including the iconic Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron and famous memoir On Writing by Stephen King, but recently I came across these two quite diverse publications which really gave me a nudge in the right direction.

“Use Your Words” by Catherine Deveny 2016 published by Black Inc.
“See Me Jump” by Jen Storer 2016 published by Girl And Duck.

Catherine Deveny’s book is written in plain straight forward language, and she gets right to the heart of the matter.  There’s no place to hide once the momentum starts rolling.  Be warned, this book is for adults.  Catherine uses impolite language and bad manners to push you forward, sometimes against your will.  Then you see that glowing light at the end of the tunnel, er, book.  Well worth reading this boot-camp style book.

Jen Storer’s book is slim yet informative with small sketches dotted through the pages.  Her style is easy, encouraging, friendly and humorous.  It’s a book for adults but those with a yearning to write good books for children.  Note the chapter 4 heading “Don’t let adults fix your character’s problem” which is a must for kids literature.  Many of Jen’s sentences make memorable quotes, my favourite “Be brave. Don’t wait to create.”

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

Catherine Deveny Writer
Self-Help
Jen Storer Writer
KidLit

‘The Empty Beach’ by Peter Corris

Peter Corris Cliff Hardy Banner 01
Author Peter Corris

“The Empty Beach” is about private investigator Cliff Hardy’s routine investigation into a supposed drowning.  Beautiful client Marion Singer wants to find out the truth behind the mysterious disappearance of her wealthy husband John Singer.

The truth about John Singer, illegal trader and poker machine guru, is hard to find among the drug addicts, alcoholics and ashrams of Bondi Beach in Sydney NSW.  Not to mention the hindrance of PhD rich girl Ann Winter and creepy jailer Mary Mahoud.  Hardy soon finds himself fighting for his life when his search for the truth involves some nasty venues controlled by an underworld of violent people and lead by kingpin Freddy Ward who does not appreciate his inquisitive nature.

Being an earlier novel, Hardy is ex-army, a law student dropout, insurance company investigator turned private eye who lives by a solid set of values.  And he’s seen many gruesome murders in his time.  Throughout Hardy shows understanding and tolerance of people from all walks of life, he embraces the city sprawl and the rural ethos, and doesn’t start a fight.  But he can be tough and not play nice when it comes to his own survival.  He has a habit, when in a tight situation, of jesting at the bad guy’s expense and consequently coping a beating.  This is well illustrated in the chapter where Hardy is imprisoned inside a squash court.

Crime Scene Tape 08

My suggestion is read “The Dying Trade” the first Cliff Hardy book in Peter Corris 42-book series even though a later book “The Empty Beach” was made into an Australian movie in 1985 and remains his archetypal crime story.  Based on Peter Corris 1983 novel of the same name, this movie starred Bryan Brown as Cliff Hardy and such notables as Belinda Giblin, Ray Barrett, John Wood, Joss McWilliam and Nick Tate as the ill-fated Henneberry.

While you may like to read the more current books like “Silent Kill” (above) the earlier ones are classic Australia in the 80s and 90s and my favourite is “Wet Graves”.  They have changed with the times, think internet and iPhones, and contain physical changes to Cliff Hardy at the same time they happened to the author.  For example, smoking habits or the triple bypass heart surgery Peter Corris underwent and kindly passed on to Cliff Hardy.  The relationship breakdowns do not appear to apply too much to real life.  Corris didn’t pass on his diabetes, however, the easy-going narrative speaks volumes, both men having a genuine affection for their family, the city of Sydney, and its diverse citizenry.

Now I’ve got that out of the way, let me say that one of the most enduring (and for me, best loved) of Australian crime fiction characters is Cliff Hardy.

Fast forward to future ‘Spoilers’ and Hardy is deregistered and operates on his own initiative but still maintains a rock-solid sense of fair play in the 21st century.  To date, Hardy’s longtime friend Frank Parker is now a retired senior police officer and married to Hilde, Hardy’s ex flatmate.  The reader watches this friendship evolve through a chain of novels and it’s just as interesting as following Hardy’s love life and family expansion.  Although he still holds a torch for his late ex-wife Cyn, there’s even grandchildren.  And there’s cameos from characters like tattooist Primo Tomasetti with his graphic artwork and sleazy patter.

Cliff Hardy represents the kind of bloke many law-abiding citizens would like to have on their side, a blemish yet dependable man who’d share a joke or reminisce over a cold beverage.  When it comes to Aussie mystery solving, Hardy gets my vote every time.

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

POSTSCRIPT:  Peter Corris, journalist, historian and author of the best-selling Cliff Hardy detective series, died on 30 August 2018, aged 76.  Over 37 years, from 1980 to 2017, Corris wrote 42 Cliff Hardy novels making it the longest running series in Australia.  The final installment is titled ‘Win, Lose or Draw’.

Cliff Hardy booklist https://www.allenandunwin.com/authors/c/peter-corris
Author website http://www.petercorris.net/petercorris.net/Home.html

Empty Beach
Beachside – Vale Corris and Hardy.

Coincidence: Where Were You When?

The Princess Diarist Carrie Fisher

I was listening to the audio recording of “The Princess Diarist” by actress Carrie Fisher, read by Carrie Fisher, when she passed away. I was already freaked hearing her true tales from the first Star Wars movie so the news bulletin got to me.

Carrie Fisher delivers a robust narration of her early acting career and famous mother Debbie Reynolds, whose death followed her own within days. Admittedly Carrie’s use and abuse of a variety of substances had ruined her voice and it could not be likened to that of youthful Princess Leia, but her naïve discontent and vitriolic humour pepper the story.

A frank look at the early life of a young woman shaped by Hollywood and eventually defined by George Lucas and his sci-fi series.  The extraordinary 1977 Star Wars movie launched her fame, hair buns and an affair with Harrison Ford, making this book a slice of Tinseltown history with big appeal for fans of the first Star Wars production.

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

Star Wars Poster
May The Force

One Book at a Time?

I read three books at a time …

Books A-Z
Book Slide

My books are almost in every room.  All genres and categories, all shapes and sizes, new and old, popular and obscure, loved, liked and even loathed.  I will refer to them, quote them, yet perhaps not always re-read them.  I prefer the next book, the next Great Read, something new to me but not necessarily a blockbusting bestseller.

As mentioned, I read about three books at a time, not to show off, but to suit my mood during the day.  The books can be in any format, paper, ebook, large print, audio as long as it holds my attention, sparks my imagination, gets me interested or teaches me something new.  I’ve been through my non-fiction period, my classics epoch, my intellectual stage, my steampunk phase, my romance jaunt and different levels of humour, while dabbling in between with things like sci-fi fantasy and horror, but I keep coming back to perennial crime fiction.

For me, the ‘must have’ is a good strong lead character, someone I want to know about, someone I want to tag along with throughout the day, or night.  On the weekend I read in the garden under the palms with a cool drink but mainly I read at night.  A good crime novel can be detrimental to my sleep!  Apart from a nicely twisted plot, the characters are who I care about the most.  Currently my favourite murder mysteries are written by Australian and British authors.

While I enjoy writing reviews, my ego is under no illusions that anyone would find my reviews earth-shattering or even interesting.  It’s a hobby for me and my suggestion to you, dear reader, is that you should make up your own mind on any book.  Blurb can be misleading!  It would be nice to see more conflicting, controversial reviews and posts by readers who are not looking over their shoulders at freebies/writers/publishers/fans or the next thumbs up.

I recommend books I’ve liked and occasionally pan those I’ve disliked.  My thoughts may differ from yours so if you have never written a review, why not give it a go?  Write a couple of paragraphs and see if it deepens your appreciation of the book.  My thoughts lead me to writing down the key words and hey-presto.  Get along to book launches and author signings for insider information.  And grab a copy of “Francis Plug: How to Be a Public Author” by Paul Ewen.  Kooky, hilarious and factual, it delves into the fan/author relationship with real consequences.

Francis Plug How To Be A Public Author

NOTE:  Reading three books simultaneously for maximum brain gymnastics means, for example, one on public transport, another in a lunch break, and a third at bedtime.  Happy reading!

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

 

Large Portions of Fast-Paced Comedy

Queensland Theatre Review “Noises Off” QPAC Playhouse Saturday 3 June 2017

Stage Door
Theatre

“Noises Off” theatre production is loud on laughs.

My first experience of Michael Frayn’s stage play “Noises Off” was in 1983 at Savoy Theatre, London, so I was keen to see how Queensland Theatre would handle a 21st century production in Brisbane.  Currently running at QPAC Playhouse, I was already attuned to the chaos about to transpire.

The Queensland Theatre cast cleverly mirror a blemished performance by a supposed theatre troupe in Weston-super-Mare.  This play within a play is an hilarious bedroom farce of abundant innuendo, silly mix-ups and a display of Libby Munro’s white underwear.  Simon Burke neatly portrays director and libertine Lloyd Dallas with a droll delivery, and Nicki Wendt and Hugh Parker evolve nicely as bemused husband and wife.  Cast flexibility is spectacular, especially athletic Ray Chong Nee who channels Roger Tramplemain, and Louise Siversen as spry housekeeper Mrs Clackett.

Strong language crops up but it appears that most dialogue, costumes and props are relatively unchanged, with crafty set design advancing the action behind-the-scenes.  Authentic director Sam Strong has handled “Noises Off” with finesse and his cast of nine prove that Brisbane audiences can absorb large portions of fast-paced comedy without losing the plot.

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

Noises Off Stage Set
Set Design

Jasper Fforde Ffun

Fforde Ffotos 012
Book Series

As a dyed-in-the-wool Jasper Fforde ffan, I recommend Shades Of Grey.  No, not that one!

Shades Of Grey deviates from Fforde’s brilliantly off-kilter, zany other-Britain adventures of Thursday Next, a LiteraTech operative for SpecOps-27, a crime fighting division inside literary fiction – literally – but there is some serious world building going on.  The Fforde trademark of inventiveness and unusual plot twists is there but the tone is sombre, the protagonist Eddie Russett lives in a tightly controlled world with a rigid hierarchy based on primary colours.  However, Eddie is not stupid and rises to the challenge of solving a perplexing mystery with the aid of some ‘colourful’ locals and a feisty Grey woman, Jane.

I have to say it is not my all-time favourite book in Fforde’s repertoire: Thursday Next wins.  I found the ending unsatisfying (except discovering where spoons go) although I do think it has been left open for a sequel.  If you’ve read the odd humour of Douglas Adams or inimitable Terry Pratchett and want a neo-noir version, try Jasper Fforde for ffun.  There’s enough books to keep you going!

Fforde has also written humorous Nursery Crimes series, and The Last Dragonslayer series about teenager Jennifer Strange.  Her agency, Kazam, employs weird and wonderful wizards who create magic and mayhem.

Check the website Grand Central http://www.jasperfforde.com/

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

Thursday Next Camoflage 001
LibCamo
Thursday Next SpecOps-27
Fangirl
Jasper Fforde Dodo 002
Pickwick Dodo

NEWS FLASH JASPER FFORDE WILL BE IN BRISBANE AUSTRALIA FOR BRISBANE WRITERS FESTIVAL, SOUTH BANK, FROM THURSDAY 5 SEPT TO SUNDAY 8 SEPT 2019.
https://bwf.org.au/2019/brisbane-writers-festival/artists/jasper-fforde-1

Jasper Fforde itinerary will be:

Event 1 – Workshop ‘Writing Futures’ with Jasper Fforde at QWC: Learning Centre, State Library of Queensland.

Event 2 – ‘Dream Worlds’ Panel at Cinema B, Gallery of Modern Art, South Bank.

Event 3 – Conversation ‘Early Riser’ at The Edge, State Library of Queensland.

Event 4 –  Book Club ‘Meet Jasper Fforde’ River Decks, State Library of Queensland.

Event 5 –  Lecture / Special Closing Address by Jasper Fforde, The Edge, State Library of Queensland.


Jasper Fforde at Brisbane Writers Festival Sept 2019

‘My Name is Lucy Barton’ by Elizabeth Strout

Mother Daughter
Mother and Daughter

Hmm . . . a puzzling book.  Good, then it dissolves into vignettes.

It is a book which sometimes comes back to me in flashes.  I didn’t love it but I didn’t hate it.

Lucy has an extended stay in hospital.  I found the mother-daughter part of the story made me think.  We all relate to our own personal experiences and I definitely got twinges when I related my mother’s attitude to Lucy’s mother – although my relationship was different.  I didn’t like her father, troubled but not nice.

Much of Lucy’s early family life came out in tiny bits here and there.  The trickle affect showed the reader the cruel hardship of her earlier life. Is that why Lucy was estranged?  Why was she locked in the old car?

It was interesting how Lucy loved her kind doctor, she got no real love or compassion from her father or her husband.  The author Sarah Payne was a great character, I wish she had been fleshed out a bit more.  I liked her comment after that cutting PTSD remark “…And anyone who uses their training to put someone down that way – well, that person is just a big old piece of crap.”

After Lucy came out of hospital, the story took on the quality of snapshots as though author Elizabeth Strout saw or heard something and jotted it down then couldn’t quite flesh it out but wanted to use it anyway.  There are very human insights but we don’t even know what Lucy wrote in her books.

Lucy’s relationship with her grown-up daughters was rather superficial but I liked the unnerving chapter about her brother, and also when she is bothered by the fact that friend Jeremy may have been the dying AIDS patient she saw in hospital.

The marble statue of Ugolino and His Sons by Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux in the Metropolitan Museum of Art fascinated Lucy but I couldn’t understand why.  It’s graphic but to me just shows the agony of imprisonment.

Overall, I guess I’d give this book three out of five stars because I’m not poetic enough to read between the lines!

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

Ugolino and Sons Statue NYC
Ugolino and His Sons