For Pity Sake

Harry Potter Versus the Ghosts of Literature Past: What Makes a Classic?

Charles Dickens, William Shakespeare, the Brontë sisters, William Wordsworth, Jane Austen.  These names are the first in a very long list of authors associated with ‘literary genius’ that are shovelled down our throats in English classes at school.  I should stress here that I am an English girl who received a very English education.  This included years of patting ourselves on the back for what a good job we did studying a book that, more often than not, has been studied since its release some two-hundred-years ago. And I mustn’t forget to mention the seriously biased teaching of these books and how they glorify colonialism. That’s not to say that I don’t tear up when Jane finally marries Rochester or I crack a smile while reading one of Shakespeare’s comedies.

This list got me thinking. Why is it that the only ‘great writers’ we first think of are all dead, writing the same generic characters? The damsel in distress, the brooding Byronic hero, the young pauper setting out on a quest for adventure and fortune?  These are just a few characters I have read time and time again in the classics, and I’ve seen them trickle down through history.  You’ll find them in most books in your local Dymocks store, just ask for E. L. James or Stephanie Meyer.  I think there is a worrying backwards focus in the way we teach English nowadays which has resulted in a literary dry spell in terms of originality and diversity.

Why are we so reluctant to celebrate modern authors in line with the classic authors of the centuries before us?  In their day, writers such as Austen, Shakespeare and Dickens were heralded for their modern, intelligent and witty use of language, yet we are so reluctant to redefine these terms to suit the 21st century.  It seems that the quality of modern writing is the elephant in the room; and don’t let the use of ‘mastery’ we so often see in book reviews today fool you.  One of the books for me growing up that I felt deserved to breach this canonical list was Harry Potter. At first I was dubious about a series that focused on magic, but  once I started to read, I was laughing and sobbing like no other book had made me before  Here, the term ‘mastery’ can be used, and deservingly so.

Having only just reached its 20th anniversary, J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series has sold over 400 million copies and been translated into 68 languages since its release in 1997, but is still – despite Rowling’s obvious talented writing and gigantic fan base – in some regards thought of as a ‘kiddies’ book.  This puts Rowling’s status as ‘good but not as good as the classics’, or in other words, not good enough to be taught at schools, which seems an injustice when the series is globally adored and revered in the literary world.  Harry Potter should be considered a new classic, not only because of Rowling’s frankly amazing imagination and wonderful way with words, but the immense franchise the books have created, now worth some $25 billion dollars.  The reason for this overwhelming success: J.K. Rowling is a bloody good writer.

What makes Rowling so great is that she challenges the stereotypes found in the colonial era and the ‘great age of literature’. The female characters throughout the series are wonderfully powerful, strong, and confident.  She considers deeper themes than fickle love interests like life and death, identity and purpose.  And to anyone who argues that Rowling is racially unrepresentative, all I say is look not only at the international readership but consider the diversity of characters across Harry Potter, including African, Egyptian, Chinese and Indian.  The decision to cast Noma Dumezweni, an English actress of Swazi descent as Hermione in Harry Potter and the Cursed Child last year provoked huge backlash because people apparently didn’t want to see Hermione as a black woman.  Criticisms of the inclusivity of Rowling’s writing don’t stop here: the series has regularly been dubbed anti-Christian owing to its celebration of all things ‘occult’.  It seems the social and religious conservatism of the classics is trying to cling on for dear life.

Perhaps it’s my frustration and boredom with the books we learn about in school being recycled year after year. Do you really expect a modern, suburban student to sympathise with a Scottish loon hallucinating daggers?  Or a sad old English guy wandering as lonely as a cloud?  I love literature so much I decided to put myself in thousands of dollars’ worth of debt so I can read more of it, and I think there are some books everybody should know, even if they don’t read.  But you can’t complain that young people nowadays don’t care about reading. Literature is supposed to be enjoyable. Instead, young people are being bored to death by reading books that no longer have cultural relevance, all for the sake of celebrating the ‘classics’. Is it because J.K. Rowling’s writing isn’t that great or popular that Harry Potter isn’t discussed in schools? No. It’s because the series works against a historical religious stronghold on society and a strict check-list of requirements for a book to be good. What we need in schools today is someone to close the gap between those who love to read and those who have to read.  Someone who can breathe excitement into a story, someone who at the core is representative of today’s multicultural societies.  Someone like J. K. Rowling.

Get your copy of the special 20th edition Harry Potter and the Philosophers Stone from Booktopia today!

'The Dinner' - Review

“There are two things I hate in this world. People who are intolerant  of other people’s cultures, and the Dutch.” - Nigel Powers, in Austin Powers: GoldmemberAfter Dinner one can forgive anybody even one’s own relations” - Lady Caroline, in Oscar Wilde’s A Woman of No Importance

Both of these quotes are completely apt for a review of The Dinner, by Herman Koch, a Dutch author writing about a dysfunctional family set around a dinner, as the title would suggest.

I have always enjoyed a good restaurant meal with beautiful food and companions who enjoy conversation and a drink. Can’t beat it really, especially in the long format.

In the process of experiencing the meal as time goes on, you become one with the event itself and yes, you can forgive anyone and anything…until the next morning that is, when the piper has to be paid.

You always start out with good intentions but as you call for more wine things can sometimes get out of kilter.

When I started into Herman Koch’s The Dinner, it seemed to be all about a meal and past meals. Memories were evoked of the halcyon days as a young journalist going out to long lunches and dinners to discuss the world and what meant to us all. That’s how I slipped into the plot of this book for a chapter or two.

The book is set up as a meal and its various courses starting with the aperitif, and then on and on.

I had a feeling I was going to enjoy the book. The style is almost Salinger-esque, a strongly descriptive, first-person analysis of a dysfunctional situation with an unexpected sarcastic humour that made me laugh out loud.

However, as I progressed I started not to enjoy this tome so much. The constant analysis of the situation was getting up my nose in a big way, combined with the tedious nature of the narrator - who could best be described as a sociopath residing somewhere on the spectrum -  made me want to put the book down. But I persisted.

The author cites Tolstoy’s opening paragraph of Anna Karenina on the nature of families and happiness, “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way,” to underline the story of dysfunction between brothers, their wives and more importantly their children. The narrator is filled with jealously. He is a failed teacher, he is vastly overshadowed by his older brother, a Prime Ministerial aspirant. When combined with his violent and irrational behaviour it provides for a volatile mix.

The narrator is sniping and critical of each and every action and reaction of this elder brother and that too becomes wearing as we progress through the courses.

The constant pickiness of the narrator, critical of everything and everyone, the waiter who points out the specials on the menu using his pinky finger, his brother, the food, the restaurant, the staff etc., etc., begins to wear the reader down after a while.

But then the real story starts to emerge. First that the narrator is, to use the vernacular “not the full bottle”,  and second that the families have a secret, a terrible secret which threatens the futures of all members of the family. The dysfunction of the family is seen through the eyes of the narrator who has - how shall we put it - forgotten to take his meds.

It’s a brutal tale told by someone who would probably buy the t-shirt I saw advertised the carrying the motif Walk away, this service engineer has anger issues and a serious dislike of stupid people”. The certain belief that they, and only they have the hot line to the truth and that everyone else is an idiot often helps to shade their own failings.

The book provides a few twists and turns and by the end I was somewhat enjoying what the author had done here. I can see how this novel could be adapted for screenplay, and can imagine it will probably become a successful movie. It provides us with our worst fears and shows us how one family dealt with them.

So I would probably give it four and a half out of ten.

the dinnerClick here to grab a copy of The Dinner by Herman Koch from Booktopia!

Hooked on Romance

I have a bone to pick with Diana Thompson. With her debut novel Winterflood's Passion and the second in her Bowral-based series, Unbridled Passion, Diana has made me into a reader of romance novels!

Before assessing Winterflood's Passion manuscript with a view to publishing it, I wasn't a romance reader. It's not that I disliked the genre - hey, I'd read my fair share of Victoria Holt's and Mills and Boon in my time - but romance novels had never stuck with me as a reader past my teen years. To be fair, neither had any other genre. Crime, biographies, fiction or non-fiction, I was eclectic in my taste and very soon, romance slipped well and truly off the radar...until bloody Diana Thompson.

I've known Di for many years. Our husbands went to school together and I've been a frequenter of her exclusive jewellery store, Briolette, in Canberra on several occasions.  Knowing her in that incarnation, imagine my surprise when on hearing I was starting a publishing company, Di sent me a completed manuscript for her debut novel.

Soon after I displayed my spectacular ignorance of things romance when I asked Di if works of this genre typically contained so many sex scenes. She assured me they did but there seems to be less and less good old fashioned fucking and more and more just plain fucked-up sex in the 'romance' novels of today.  Although I've never read Fifty Shades of Grey, one couldn't fail to miss the hubbub over the controversial, kinky and confronting nature of the sexual encounters in that particular series. I think Diana might be right on that score.

Now there are a couple of questions about this sex thing to my way of thinking - the first being, is a novel really a romance novel if it doesn't contain any explicit and (with any luck) well-written sex scenes? A friend of mine reports throwing Stephanie Meyer's Breaking Dawn up against her bedroom wall (violently enough to wake her flatmate in the next room) because the prick-teasing of the previous three books was seriously unrequited in the fourth and final installment in the Twilight vampire romance series. Readers of romance might well be into foreplay but consummation is clearly a must-have and I can attest that Diana Thompson has that covered in both of her books to date.

Which brings me to my second question - whether artfully written or not, are sex scenes the only draw card to the romance genre? I'd have to say not, and while my evidence is totally anecdotal I've been surprised by the number of people - blokes even - who've told me it's the setting, the story and the characters that really drew them into Diana's work.  One friend said she skimmed the sex bits on the first reading of Winterflood's Passion because she knew she could always go back to them. She was more interested in how things would turn out for the beautiful but lonely heroine, Charlotte Ranleigh, and the unlikely hero, playboy art entrepreneur, Daniel Winterflood.

It's Di's character development and her vivid descriptions of country life in the picturesque NSW Southern Highlands that had me hopping from one foot to the other to read the manuscript for the second in the Bowral series, Unbridled Passion, where the fate of the sexy vet Dr Nick Delaney was to be revealed.  With apologies to Diana's loyal readers, I got the jump on all of you as it was my happy duty to edit the manuscript ahead of the book’s publication last year.  Unbridled Passion was finally unveiled at the inaugural Canberra Writer's Festival in August 2016 to rapturous applause and much voyeuristic gratification that finally, we would learn about Nick's journey to love with a newly introduced character, Jordana Talbot.

As is my wont, and in keeping with my new-found 'romance novel reader' status, I re-read Unbridled Passion recently, marvelling yet again at how Diana Thompson has made me care about the romantic lives of the good burghers of Bowral.  The streets and surrounds of the town were very familiar to me and I warmly welcomed Charlotte and Daniel's intermittent appearances throughout the book as if they were old friends!

The expansion of Nick's story doesn't disappoint either.  Although he seems to have it all - looks, a successful veterinary practice and many loyal co-workers, clients and friends - there's strong themes of abandonment and betrayal running through his life coupled with just plain bad timing in not 'getting the girl' in Winterflood's Passion. The other main protagonist in the story, Jordana, is equally fortunately endowed with looks and talent but like most people in romance novels (or in real life, it would seem) she's also known her fair share of trauma.

Unbridled Passion isn't a sequel per-se and could happily be read as a stand-alone book. But I'd be willing to wager that you'll want to backtrack and read Winterflood's Passion once you're done. If that's the case, save time and buy both books together at a 10% discount when you purchase from the For Pity Sake website. Just type in the coupon code UNBRIDLED at check out and voilà, your Valentine's Day is well and truly covered!

Diana Thompson will be 'in conversation' with Jen McDonald at Muse Canberra in Kingston ACT on Sunday 5 February at 3.00pm.  Tickets are $10 with a free glass of wine and bookings are essential - http://www.musecanberra.com.au/events/.

Sitting on ‘The Fence’

‘The Fence’ by Meredith JafféPan Macmillan Australia 2016 Reviewed by Jennifer McDonald

I've never been a fan of reality TV shows, often calling them 'unreality TV' for their ridiculous propositions and scripted conflicts. It seems odd to try and pass off something that is highly orchestrated as being 'real' when most of the stuff that happens in everyday life actually is 'stranger than fiction'. In her debut novel The Fence, Meredith Jaffé achieves the diametric opposite of an 'unreality TV' show, deftly taking a fictional suburban scenario and making it all too real, highly believable and what’s more, compelling.

A small confession here, with apologies to Meredith. When I first read the back cover of the book the idea of a story centring on a dispute between neighbours over a fence didn't exactly inspire me.  I wondered if I could ever be drawn into a story about a suburban scuffle that, while fictional, seems so very real and prevalent to the point of being formulaic. These things occur in just about any urban locale one might care to name! 'Too close to home,' I said to myself and yet, all my misgivings quickly flew out the window of my own suburban lounge room within the first few pages of The Fence.

The story starts with Gwen Hill, a lady of advancing years who's raised a family, made life-long friends and established and nurtured an impressive garden in a quiet cul-de-sac on Sydney's leafy north shore. The decline and eventual passing of her next-door neighbour and best friend on the street triggers cataclysmic changes to Gwen's idyllic suburban existence, not the least of which is the sale of her neighbour's house and the arrival of the young Desmarchelliers-Boyd family.

This family is straight out of trendy inner-city suburb central casting with kindergarten-aged twins, a toddler and a babe in arms, two designer dogs, stay-at-home dad and career-oriented mum, the latter being the other key protagonist in the story. Francesca, or Frankie Desmarchelliers, is hoping this tree-change to the outer suburbs will be a new lease of life for her young family while serving the dual purpose of keeping her errant husband out of harm’s way, if you get the drift.

Nothing but a carefully-tended, much adored crab apple tree boundary separates Gwen's house and garden from that of her new neighbours, a boundary that's been more than sufficient for privacy in the past while allowing easy access from either property  From the moment they arrive the Desmarchelliers-Boyd children and dogs seem almost fatally attracted to Gwen's garden, trampling the garden beds, picking primulas without invitation and defecating on the pristine lawn (the dogs not the kids). And then there's Gwen's husband Eric's retirement man-cave which is brimming with word-working projects and dangerous looking tools, the always open door of which is like an enduring invitation to mischief and injury.

No doubt used to the cheek-by-jowl inner-city life where gardens and communing with neighbours are just this side of foreign concepts, Frankie is horrified at the 'prying' Gwen and the osmotic boundary between their properties. She announces immediately that a fence will be constructed between the properties to ensure the safety of her young human and canine brood.  What you might think will unfold as a predictable story of an unseemly suburban scuffle turns out to be anything but.  Small slights, spats and inconveniences quickly snowball into major dramas with life-changing effects, all while 'the fence' stands as a grim, metaphorical sentinel over the proceedings.

Meredith tells the tale in a seasonal fashion alternating between Gwen and Frankie's perspective and interspersed with timely, allegorical excerpts from a gardening column that Gwen writes for ‘Outback+Outdoors’ magazine. I found this 'dual perspective' approach incredibly beguiling and vexing at the same time. I dearly wanted to come down on one side or the other of the fence (if you'll pardon the pun), barracking for Gwen or Frankie depending on who's perspective resonated with me the most. However, I found myself unable to take one neighbour's side over the other thanks to Meredith's detailed (but not overbearing) descriptions of what was going on in both Gwen's and Frankie's minds at any one time. It allowed me to make up my own mind about when either character was deserving of sympathy or being totally unreasonable - a very cool technique, artfully executed.

Apart from learning an awful lot about seasonal gardening from Gwen’s fictional magazine columns, The Fence also sheeted home the message that when one walks a mile in the other person's gumboots (in the case of Gwen) or patent leather corporate heels (in the case of Frankie) it is nigh on impossible to do anything other than sit on the fence.

Click here to buy your copy of ‘The Fence’ by Meredith Jaffé from Booktopia.

 

A Brave New World of Publishing

Jennifer McDonald, the founder of For Pity Sake Publishing and author of Vegetarian Vampires and What We Can Learn From Them, recently appeared on Artcetera on FM 92.7. She spoke with the host Barbie Robinson about her writing, breast cancer journey and her exciting work as the owner of an independent publishing company. [audio mp3="http://forpitysake.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/Jen-McDonald.mp3"][/audio]

Buy a copy of Jenny's debut self-help book here.

For more information on our Manuscript Appraisal Service follow this link.

The Port Lonsdale Camel Theft

Writing Through a Camel’s Eye is inextricably linked, for me, with the experience of coming home. I was born in Geelong, Victoria and my parents built their house at Point Lonsdale, at the tip of the Bellarine Peninsula. When I was in my teens I left home to go to university in Melbourne, and in the late nineteen seventies I moved to Canberra, where I was to remain for the next thirty years.

Through all my years away, Point Lonsdale, small sister town to Queenscliff – the two are practically joined at the hip - became the place of my heart, the place I retreated to in my imagination when the real world got too much.

When I returned to help care for my mother in her last years, I felt first of all the joy of home-coming, each day a revelation, then a flood – once unleashed there was no stopping it – of youthful memories.

Out of this rush of memory and imagination the first of my sea-change mysteries was born.

One memory was of a story I first heard in the 1960s, about a group of young men from the Point Lonsdale Surf Life Saving Club, who stole a camel from a circus camped at the bottom of the club house stairs. This story, part of Point Lonsdale folklore, gave me the beginning of Through a Camel’s Eye. Chris Blackie and Anthea Merritt, the two police constables who are my protagonists, are drawn into searching for a missing woman almost by accident, having been presented with the task of finding a stolen camel and restoring him to his rightful owner.

I’d already written four mystery novels when I embarked on my new one; a quartet set in Canberra, one for each of the four seasons. I knew this book was going to be very different, but there was still some research to be done.

I’d driven past the police station in Gellibrand Street, Queenscliff, countless times, but still felt nervous when I knocked on the door with my notebook in my hand.

I’m comfortable about taking a fair amount of ‘poetic licence’ when creating characters, but I still needed to know what Queenscliff constables were likely to do in certain circumstances, how far their responsibility extended, or could be stretched, and some basic facts.

The police officer I spoke to the day I nervously knocked on the door was very helpful. If he treated some of my questions with wry amusement, then he showed no more than a hint of this, and politely set me on the right track. I was able to thank him for his help again, very recently. Imagine my surprise when I found him running a vegan restaurant in Geelong’s CBD!

Through a Camel’s Eye is what I would call a character-driven mystery; I spend a fair amount of time exploring my main characters’ personalities and psyches, and I make no apology for that. It is also about a domestic murder – grave, endemic in our society, often over-looked. I hope readers will appreciate both the gravity and the novel’s light side. I’m thrilled that it’s being published, and would like to thank everyone who’s been so supportive – my family and friends and the wonderful team at ‘For Pity Sake’.

Buy your copy of Through a Camel's Eye here!

 

Dorothy will be appearing at The Book Bird in Geelong West on the 6th of May. Booking is essential, RSVP to info@thebookbird.com.au or by calling (03) 5224 1438 to reserve your spot!

Five Rules for Writing Historical Fiction

With the second season of the Outlander series now gripping the world, and with the re-release of not one but two of Peter Yeldham historical fiction novels only days away, it seems fair to say that historical fiction is now very much in vogue. It seems we’ve monkey-swung from sparkly vampires (Twilight) to titillating BDSM (Fifty Shades of Grey) to re-examining our collective past. In truth, historical fiction never really went out of vogue. Technically speaking, the vast majority of Shakespeare’s works were historical fiction. It could be said even our most basic folk lore (Red Riding Hood, Goldilocks and the Three Bears, etc.) are a kind of proto-historical fiction that harkens back to a generic fairytale time tinged with nostalgia.

Still, there’s never been a better time to be a historical fiction author, and we’re thrilled to publish quite a few. But before you put pen to paper, you might want to consider a few critical tips that we’ve learned from reading our award-winning authors.

Researching and Reading Research is obviously incredibly important when writing historical fiction. There’s no quicker way to alienate a reader than to make them stop believing in the authenticity of the world you’re trying to create. So research and read. A lot. Read historical accounts of the time, and even dig into other historical fiction that’s focussed on similar eras of history.

Researching and Talking If you’re able to actually talk to living survivors of your chosen historical era, don’t be shy in asking to sit down and have a chat. A minute in conversation can illuminate areas that history books simply can’t tell you. The colour of the wallpaper, or the smell of a place, or the daily, mundane routines that shaped their (and your characters) lives.

Researching and other reading An extremely helpful tip comes from Elizabeth Gilbert, award-winning author of Eat, Pray, Love, as well as critically acclaimed historical fiction The Signature of All Things. While it’s valuable to read history books, it can be even more helpful to read documents, novels or journals that were written in the specific time period that you’re setting your work in. This will tell you so much about the lexicon of the age, along with the concerns, dialogue and details of your characters.

Know when to stop researching This is the trickiest bit. Some historical novels feel more historic than novel, and can be too dense a read to be truly pleasurable. Always remember that your novel still has to operate under the same laws as any genre, and needs to create a compelling story with intriguing characters. The research will only take you so far. If you’re on the right track, you’ll usually feel a mounting sense of excitement as you’re researching, and there will simply come a point where you’re desperate to write. So write! The research will be there when you need it, and you can always return to hunt for extra details.

Be Authentic to the Politics of the Time …while not being too offensive to modern sensibilities. This is tricky, and most complicated around gender politics. Times past are often incredibly violent places to write about, and women are often treated abhorrently. It’s important to be authentic to this, and not create a rose-tinted version of the past that readers will find too sickly sweet. On the other hand, every reader has a line, and so much of narrative is frequently about the under-dog becoming a hero. Claire in Outlander is a classic example, who is subject to the subjugation of her time, but constantly subverts the gender norms for wonderfully entertaining results. Peter Yeldham often places an under-dog at the centre of the story, who is able to see with greater moral clarity than most of his peers.

Don’t know where to start reading? Why not try Peter Yeldham’s fantastic historical fiction around World War 2 in Above the Fold . Or if you’re in the mood for more sparkly vampires, you might be interested in Jennifer McDonald’s take on how Edward Cullen brought about a spiritual awakening in her memoir Vegetarian Vampires. Then again, you may be more into the Fifty Shades of Grey trend and want some page-turning romance. In that case, try Winterflood’s Passion by Diana Thompson.

 

The Bowral Bodice-Ripper

When I read the first draft of Diana Thompson's just released Winterflood's Passion I dubbed it the 'Bowral bodice-ripper' a name that has stuck much to the bemusement of the author, I'm sure. An article in the Southern Highland News and the program of the Southern Highlands Writers Festival (where Winterflood's Passion was recently launched) both picked up on the term with unfettered glee at having a novel set in Bowral, a jewel of the Southern Highlands region of New South Wales. Who can blame them? It is a beautiful place and a very apt setting for the passionate love affair between the fictional young and beautiful widow, Charlotte Ranleigh and the dashing, playboy art entrepreneur, Daniel Winterflood. The bodice-ripper part is not so easily explained, except to say that, not being an aficionado of the romance genre; I had no idea before reading Winterflood's Passion that there would be so much explicit sex in a romance novel. Silly me! Hot sex is writ large here - and stirring stuff it is too without being kinky, dark or dysfunctional. The bodice-ripper term refers not so much to the timeframe (bodice-ripper inferring an historical or regency theme) but to the unbridled lust and its many earth-moving incarnations of which Diana writes so skilfully in this, her first novel.

It's certainly not my intention to leave you with the impression that plentiful, well-written sex is the only thing that attracted me to this book as a publisher and a reader. Like most things in life it is far more complicated and multi-factorial than that - so please, let me attempt to explain.

Firstly, Diana's work is very descriptive and I found that really drew me in.  From the herbs that Charlotte grows in her garden to the Aubusson rug and Margaret Olley painting in the living room, to the detailed description of the furnishings in Daniel's bachelor lair in Sydney and every meal they consume together - Diana's attention to detail is, dare I say it, very seductive. A vivid picture is painted around the main protagonists, how they look, feel and live, that I found myself quite spontaneously seeing them in my mind's eye – even wondering who might play them on screen.

The second thing I love about Winterflood's Passion is that Diana doesn't push the boundaries of fantasy too far.  Sure there's escapism here - beautiful, wealthy people living in luxurious surrounds with fabulous careers - what's not to like? But in amongst all that Diana deftly weaves in some strong correlations with anyone’s real life - a tragic death, misplaced guilt, thwarted dreams and self-doubt. All of these make an appearance and help to ground what would otherwise be fantasy characters that one only reads about in, well, romance novels.

And finally, the greatest appeal of Winterflood's Passion is the context of true love in which the mind-blowing sex is set. Call me old fashioned but reading about sadistic or violent sexual encounters that are way beyond my understanding or aspiration is not my idea of a rollicking good roll-in-the-hay read. Diana's novel strikes a brilliant balance between the raunchy, wanton, get-on-board-or-get-out-of-the-way sex and exquisite love-making between two people with a very deep connection.

Diana Thompson is a long-time friend of mine and a highly acclaimed jewellery designer in her own right.  To my way of thinking, Di epitomises the person who is strangely compelled to write and who's actually sat down and done it while carrying on with life as normal. She is the very type of writer we had in mind when we founded For Pity Sake Publishing and the fact that our fledgling publishing house has been able to produce her first novel brings me more joy that I can adequately express here.

Bowral bodice-ripper it is.

 

 

Buy your copy of Diana's debut novel Winterflood's Passion here!

A Bitter Harvest- Review

What is a book – to different people I’m sure they represent different things. There are textbooks, educational journals, fiction, non-fiction, biographies; the list is endless. Realistically it is merely a combination of words on a page, jumbled together to make sense out of this big wide world of ours – or to transport you to another one entirely, to create sense in an otherwise muddled reality or to recount the past to educate those in the future. Books are inanimate objects, so how pray-tell do they take me from being euphorically happy to the depths of sadness in the space of a few pages. Like music where the perfect combination of notes equals a beautiful composition; when words are placed into the perfect order, symmetry occurs that has the ability to transport the reader to a place where you feel the complexity of despair, the freedom of flight or the powerlessness of imprisonment.

Never before has a book done this so well than Peter Yeldham’s,  A Bitter Harvest, a thought provoking, emotional roller-coaster of love, despair, triumph and new life. Set in the harbour side city of Sydney at the time of federation to the end of the Gallipoli campaign, Yeldham’s natural affinity for story-telling weaves the reader through a complex set of events, places and times, culminating in a book with a genuine sincerity towards its characters and their surrounding world.

The lives of William Patterson, a career politician with a shady past, his beloved and beautiful daughter Elizabeth and a penniless German, Stefan, collided in a storm of events that left the family all but torn apart. Now, separated by not only distance but opinions and loyalties the family try to rebuild before the strangle of the first world war wraps its hands around the beautiful Barossa Valley and hysteria sweeps the nation.

Yeldham beautifully highlights the effects of the Gallipoli campaign on the German migrant population settled in Australia prior to the war. Following Stefan and Elizabeth’s love, the reader feels the hatred toward the racist police, the love for their growing family and the injustices that were occurring throughout the nation at the time.

Not only did this book send me on a roller-coaster emotional journey, it opened my eyes to the perspective of the down trodden, the power trips of the rich and influential and the despair of those who can’t speak up for themselves.

A book becomes more than just a combination of glued pages with words on each, it becomes more than just a simple book when, after you’ve closed the final page you see the world with a slightly altered lens – one coloured with a touch of the imagination, wit and empathy the author has presented you with.

If you are to read one book this year – make it this one.

 

Buy your copy here.

Wise Words From a Seasoned Author

A day or so ago I came across a post on Facebook that drew one’s attention to a recent article by Katie Roiphe “Stop Attacking Male Writers for Being Sexist”. Entirely worth reading and certainly for context to my comments, but the article in itself did not hold my attention. No, for me of much greater import were these comments from Jane Smiley the enormously talented, multi-award winning author (a Pulitzer Prize for Fiction amongst them). Jane, in her Facebook comments through the thread to the Roiphe piece struck as something special, as it went right to the heart of what happens in publishing from the perspective of writer, reader and publisher.

These observations made me stop and think and I hope they will you as well.

With her permission I share them here:

“Every reader is entitled to his or her own opinion, because every reader has his or her own experience of the book”.

“Salter was born in 1925, one of the WW2 generation. That generation was very male and very much like a club. Most were in New York or on the east coast. If they were important, it was because they were important to one another, and they wrote about male consciousness with little evident self-awareness. Times changed, and in order to be widely read, novelists had to appeal to women, who are the most populous group of readers. Readers are free to choose, and a lot of modern women readers have not chosen to read Mailer, Roth, Salter”.

 “I think writers do write their vision, and I think Salter did write his. He just hit the market at a bad time for finding lots of readers. Even when the publishers pretend to analyze the market, they are wishing and guessing. A lot of every career is simply luck and demographics. I also think the hyper-masculine WW2 generation was a bit of a blip. If you look at Hollywood movies from the 30s, female characters are self-actualizing, sexy, and active. By the fifties, Barbara Stanwyck has turned into Doris Day. Roiphe is entitled to her opinion, but she doesn't seem to think that feminists are entitled to theirs, and she has always seemed to have that view. But political shifts are different from readers' tastes. Reading has to be an internal act, and an act of freedom”.

Jane Smiley is published by Knopf. The second in her The Last Hundred Years: A Family Saga trilogy Early Warning is out now. For anyone not familiar with Jane’s work I attach here a review from the Los Angeles Times that provides a lovely profile of Jane and a review of Early Warning.