Take Your Pick at the ABDA Awards

Although there are lots of book awards out there, one of the awards programs that fascinates me the most is Australian Book Design Awards. This is probably because, for me, books are not just about the words within them, but about the object itself – the book’s production, its print, and its design. It’s part of the reason why I love recipe books and coffee table books so much, but it’s also why I am a complete sucker for a beautifully-designed cover on a print-based book. I’m afraid, I am a bit inclined to judge a book by its cover.

abda-carousel
In late 2013 the Australian Publishing Association decided to discontinue the Book Design Awards. To keep the longest running Australian  graphic design awards alive for the 62nd consecutive year, a group of designers formed the Australian Book Design Awards. ABDA exists to support Australian book designers — to promote their work to, and connect with, the broader publishing community. One of their main aims is to discover and foster emerging talent.

As announcements of the winners fast approaches, you, as part of the reading community, have an opportunity to get involved. For just a couple more days, you can cast your vote in the People’s Choice Award for Best Designed Book of the Year, proudly supported by Bookworld.

Bookworld is proud to host the People’s Choice Award for Best Designed Book of the Year, placing the power in the hands of the public to determine their favourite design out of 65 entries. To vote, all you need to do is visit the ABDA People’s Choice Award page on Bookworld’s website and choose from a gallery of book designs. The winners will be announced on 22 August 2014 at the ABDA Awards Party held in Melbourne.

You’ve got until the 19 August 2014 to cast your vote! Trust me, there’s some stunners to choose from.

bookworld logo

Bookworld (formerly Borders Australia) is an Australian online book shop and a division of the Penguin group. Headquartered in Melbourne, Bookworld stocks more than 13 million titles of books, eBooks, audio books, CDs, DVDs, eReaders and gifts on their website. Bookworld boasts low prices and offers free delivery on all orders Australia-wide.

In short, they love books, and would love to hear about which one you love too! You can visit their website here, to have a browse for yourself.

So what are you waiting for? Go and take a look at the 65 books, and feel free to pop back and let us know what you voted for. I’m off to vote myself, right now!

Getting Crafty: Pretty Funny Tea Cosies

TBYL Reviewer Narelle is one of the craftiest people I know, so it was only fitting that I had her take a look at Pretty Funny Tea Cosies by Loani Prior (Murdoch). I loved the designs in this book, but not being a knitter, knew little what to do with these gorgeous patterns. Just quietly, I was hoping that Narelle might get inspired and have a go at some of these gorgeous tea cosies. Here’s what she thought of Loani’s book…

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On a dull and dreary winter’s afternoon, a Sunday in Melbourne, I was fortunate enough to pick up Pretty Funny Tea Cosies (& other beautiful knitted things) to review. What a beautiful burst of colour, as I flicked through this book! As an avid crafter with moderate knitting experience, I was very keen to read through and find a project that might suit my abilities.

pretty funny tea cosiesFloral and fruity, stripy and checkered; there are tea cosies to suit every pot and every taste. In addition, Loani has included patterns for delicate knitted gift bags, vibrant pot holders, colourful knitted coat hangers and a simply divine neck warmer that I’ve earmarked as my pet project.

Loani’s use of carefully dyed yarn is evident throughout her creations and they leap from the page, begging to be replicated.

Loani is generous in her assertion that “knitting is easy. If you know how to knit a stitch, purl a stitch, cast on and off, you can do anything.” Such faith could inspire a simple knitter to attempt any of her many patterns. Instructions for methods used throughout the book are carefully detailed and photographed to assist in beginning and completing the projects. Each project is explained thoroughly with helpful tips and beautiful stories of how the project came to life.

tea cosies 2

Pretty Funny Tea Cosies is a warm, cosy read ideal for both novice and experienced knitters. I’m sure it could inspire a non-knitter to pick up some needles. I’m looking forward to stretching my skills further and making my teapot warmer in the process!

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So Narelle, just in case you’re wondering, I’ve got a four-cup Donna Hay teapot in need of a lovely bright cosy. If you feel so inclined…

You can find out more about Pretty Funny Tea Cosies by Loani Prior here…

Taking us Back of Beyond

Today’s review from TBYL Reviewer, Stephanie Hunt takes us to the back of beyond

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Former sheep shearer, dingo trapper and horse breaker Hugh Tindall reminisces on his extraordinary life in outback Queensland…

backofbeyondBack of Beyond by Freda Marnie Nicholls (Allen and Unwin) is a great read, one I thoroughly enjoyed. If you have ever had an older member of your family who told great stories, true or not, reading this book will bring back memories of listening to them tell their tales. Part history book, part biography, you don’t have to have a rural background to enjoy Hugh’s story as the history and his insight into the past are fascinating. His experiences give you a great respect for those who persevered in the face of adversity in the early years of agriculture in Australia.

Hugh Tindall has had a rich and interesting life and from the very first chapter I was hooked. Freda Marnie Nicholls has captured his voice perfectly and you feel as though you are sitting listening to Hugh tell his story in person. I am so pleased that Freda has recorded Hugh’s memories as all too often, gems like Hugh don’t have the chance to pass on their stories to a wider audience. Reading Back of Beyond reminded me of listening to my grandfather tell stories about his life growing up in rural Tasmania, doing many of the same things as Hugh.

The descriptions of life in the early 1930s and 40s are fantastic and Hugh’s admiration and love for his mother, a woman who raised six children in very tough conditions, shines through in every word. Later, we hear about shearing and the big strike in 1956 and again we see the admiration and respect Hugh has for rural women, this time his wife. It’s a fascinating first hand recount of the debate and strike over wages, conditions and roles. Hugh’s descriptions of how he learnt to shear as a teen, events that occurred during the strike and the effect the strike had on his family and friends is insightful and non-judgmental. Incidents are recalled matter-of-factly, that’s just how it was.

In the latter part of the book we learn about dingos and sheep and Hugh’s life after retirement, not that old farmers ever really retire!

Back of Beyond is a book that anyone can read and enjoy. Hugh not only recalls his personal experiences in the outback but also gives us a fascinating glimpse of how rural Australia emerged and what life was like for the extraordinary men and women who lived on and developed the land. It’s important for all of us to understand how people like Hugh and his family shaped the Australia we have today.

This book will be top of my list of books to give to my Dad, as I know he would enjoy reading every word.

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You can find out more about Freda Marnie Nicholls’ Back of Beyond here…

A Curiosity: Actors Anonymous

Well, what can I say about James Franco’s Actors Anonymous (Faber)? Should I say, for a writer, he’s a pretty good actor? Should I say, by many accounts, his prose outshines his poetry? Should I say that this book is an absolute curiosity? Is it real, or unreal, or somewhere in-between?

One thing I will say is that James Franco is a strange bunny. And of course, that’s what makes him fascinating and in turn, what makes this book worth reading.

actors anonymousInspired by Alcoholics Anonymous’s 12 Steps and 12 Traditions, Actors Anonymous is a dark, genre-bending work that mixes memoir and pure invention – an audacious examination of celebrity, acting, and the making of Fiction.

Actors Anonymous is unsettling, funny, and personal – a series of stories told in many forms: a McDonald’s drive-thru operator who spends his shift trying on accents; an ex-child star recalling a massive beachside bacchanal; hospital volunteers putting a camera in the hands of a patient obsessed with horror films; a vampire flick starlet who discovers a cryptic book written by a famous actor gone AWOL, who may have killed his father.

The book contains profound insights into the nature and purpose of acting, as well as deeply moving portraits of aspiring actors who never quite made it.

Franco mercilessly turns his “James Franco” persona inside out while, at the same time, providing fascinating meditations on his art, along with nightmarish tales of excess. “Hollywood has always been a private club,” he writes. “I open the gates. I say welcome. I say, Look inside.”

I’ll be honest, I didn’t always get what this book was doing. I had to skip bits here and there, parts that I found just a bit too awkward. Still, in the same way that books like The Hottest State by actor Ethan Hawke, and Horse’s Neck by Pete Townshend do, Actors Anonymous gives the reader a glimpse of a new side of a person that you know through a completely different medium.  Interestingly, it’s not the sort of glimpse you get from a memoir or a straight autobiography. Rather, it’s a view of the author’s imagination, and as creative people, this view is usually pretty wild.

Actors Anonymous is a very candid look at Hollywood, at acting and at fame. As I mentioned earlier, it’s really difficult to pin down what’s true to life here, and that can be quite disconcerting. At times I felt embarrassed, almost worried that Franco would be taken to task for exposing something ugly – about himself, about his peers, and about his craft. But then, to my relief, something would happen on the page that was so exaggerated that it’d prove that this story could not possibly be real, and I’d relax. A little.

Now, Franco’s not the best writer. His writing isn’t horrible, but it is a little clunky at times, and a bit self-involved. But, for me, the curiosity factor of this book well and truly makes up for that. It’s entertaining, and as long as you can suspend your disbelief for a little while, quite enjoyable.

If you’re a fan of James Franco, have a fascination for celebrity or just enjoy a quick, quirky read, take a look at Actors Anonymous. You can find out more about the book here…

Do you like straight books, or something a little more on the unusual side? 

To Inspire: The Priority List

I wasn’t brave enough to read today’s book, David Menasche’s The Priority List (Allen and Unwin), I thought I might struggle with the subject matter a little, and so I passed it on to TBYL Reviewer Narelle. She’s made me wish I’d read it, and I’m sure you’ll feel the same way too. Here’s her thoughts…

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I picked up David Menasche’s The Priority List and immediately warmed to the premise outlined on the cover: “A teachers final quest to discover life’s greatest lessons.” With an endorsement from Elizabeth Gilbert and the back cover questioning “What truly matters in life?” I had mentally slotted this in somewhere alongside Tuesdays with Morrie and Life’s Golden Ticket, as an uplifting, moving read that would warm my heart. What I read was altogether more intriguing and absorbing than first glance suggested.

the priority listWith two retired school teachers as parents, the teaching world that Menasche inhabits is a familiar one, I’ve seen first-hand a similar dedication and passion for teaching. As Menasche begins his story though, life throws a huge boulder in front of him – a diagnosis of an aggressive brain tumour. It’s his response though, that shows his strength and courage, telling family, friends and beloved students “Don’t worry – I’ve got this.”

Menasche weaves his story back and forth, telling stories of students and his encounters with them alongside a history of his teaching career. His passion for learning and for igniting a similar passion in his students is evident throughout his story. He tells of his excitement of having a classroom and students to call his own at Coral Reef Senior High.

“But as much as I wanted to make a good impression on my coworkers, what mattered to me most were the kids. I couldn’t wait to meet them. “The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires.”, the author and scholar William Arthur Ward wrote. I wanted to be great teacher. The best they’d ever had.” 

David candidly shares the terror of his diagnosis and the at times brutal toll his cancer treatment takes on his body. Throughout his illness, his unwavering passion for teaching and inspiring his students keeps him afloat, and indeed he credits them with giving him the will to continue. As his health deteriorates, he reaches a crushing realization – that he can no longer continues his classroom teaching. His body and eyesight failing, but his determination firm, he begins a new quest – to visit his former students and find out where life has taken them.

And in this modern age, how best to connect with his now scattered flock? Why, through Facebook of course! With a swift response from all over the US, David sets out to meet and learn about the many students he inspired in his classroom. Along the way, he faces physical and personal challenges that will alter his life forever.

Ultimately I found The Priority List many things – inspiring and moving, deeply sad at moments and joy-filled in others. Menasche’s love of teaching, learning, and life shine through, reflected through the testimony of many students that experienced first hand his passion for learning. A quirky mixture of John Keating (Dead Poets Society) with a dash of rebellious Walter White (Breaking Bad), David Menasche’s story is unique, and one that deserves to be shared.

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You can find out more about David Menasche’s The Priority List, here…

August TBYL Book Club (we’re back!)

It’s been a little while between books, but I thought it would be fun to start up our online TBYL Book Club again!

For those new to That Book You Like… the TBYL Book Club is an online book club designed specifically for those of us who live busy lives, live remotely or just generally have trouble getting to face-to-face book club catch-ups.

The club will allow you to connect with fellow book-lovers in our online community, and to get involved in an amazing range of online forums about the book of the month. The chats run for three days at the end of each month, so you’ve got the flexibility to pop in and chat whenever you’ve got the time.

Each month brings you a new, exciting book to read, discuss and share. It’s a perfect excuse to get reading, and to make time to chat with other readers about great books.

only the animalsThis month, I’m suggesting that we read Ceridwen Dovey’s Only the Animals (Penguin)…

The souls of ten animals caught up in human conflicts over the last century tell their astonishing stories of life and death. In a trench on the Western Front a cat recalls her owner Colette’s theatrical antics in Paris. In Nazi Germany a dog seeks enlightenment. A Russian tortoise once owned by the Tolstoys drifts in space during the Cold War. In the siege of Sarajevo a bear starving to death tells a fairytale. And a dolphin sent to Iraq by the US Navy writes a letter to Sylvia Plath…

… An animal’s-eye view of humans at out brutal, violent worst and our creative, imaginative best, it asks us to find our way back to empathy not only for animals, but for other people, and to believe again in the redemptive power of reading and writing fiction.

You can read my review of this really stunning collection of short stories, here…

I’d like to invite you to read Only the Animals during August, ready for us to chat about on the TBYL Facebook page starting Monday, 18 August 2014. If you’d like a reminder, RSVP to the Facebook event here and I’ll give you a shout when we start chatting.

I really hope you’ll join us!

Chatter: TBYL Reviewers in July

On the weekend I had a chance to catch up with some of the TBYL Reviewers. It was a chance to have a chat, drink some tea and have them pick a few books they’d like to read and review for the blog. I’m really keen to move That Book You Like… in a really collaborative direction this year, and part of making that happen is catching up with this wonderful group of bookish friends more regularly. I am very excited about being able to bring new voices, new ideas and new reviews to the blog, and just quietly, I think they might be excited too.

chatSo, on a chilly Sunday afternoon, we sat around the fire in my humble ‘library’ and talked about all kinds of things. Here’s a few of the things that we chatted about, I’d love to hear what you think on these topics too…

We talked about what we’d been reading lately, always one of my favourite things to do. Stephanie had just finished Paper Towns, by John Green. She’d been impressed, a fan of young adult lit, and this book didn’t disappoint. This got us on to talking about The Fault in our Stars (as you might expect) and about the target demographic of YA fiction. I wondered out loud if I would ever be able to convincingly write a teenage voice, I feel so far away from 16-years-old at the moment, I think I would be too self conscious to even try. Tam suggested that maybe that that is what it is to be a talented author, the skill and empathy to write in many voices, even ones far removed from yourself.

What do you think? Do you think an adult can authentically write teen?

Tam and Narelle had both been busy reading books from the TBYL Reading Pile, Tam with Crimson Dawn (Allen and Unwin), and Narelle with The Priority List (Allen and Unwin). They’ve since written reviews for me to share, which will be coming up next week.

Carolyn had just finished Margaret Atwood’s The Year of the Flood. It broke a bit of a reading drought for her, so I asked her if she’d mind putting a few words down on what she thought of the novel:

the year of the floodThe Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood follows two women, Toby and Ren, who have independently survived a pandemic, each believing that they are the only person left in the world. The story alternates between each woman, both of whom managed to remain barricaded when the waterless flood hit. Both Toby and Ren tell their story, of when they were part of the cult “God’s Gardeners” before the outbreak.

The Year of The Flood is the follow-up book to Atwood’s 2003 novel Oryx and Crake and it is these characters who appear throughout the second instalment but under different names. It is not until the end that you realise who they are and their connection to Toby and Ren.

I loved this book and was gripped until the end. It is set in the future in a world that I personally hope never eventuates, where pigs have been spliced with human brains making them more intelligent, and lions and lambs have been combined, making them appear gentle yet have the ferocity of a lion. Atwood’s storytelling is brilliant and if you are a fan of hers, then I think you will thoroughly enjoy this book.

As for myself, I raved a little more about Ceridwen Dovey’s Only the Animals, which I reviewed last week. I can’t stop recommending it, and I think it’s voices will stay fresh in my mind for a little while yet.

I’d love to hear about what you’re reading at the moment…

We had a bit of a chat about book clubs, about how great they are, but how difficult it can be to keep up the momentum – life gets so busy! Carolyn mentioned that her mum had been going to the same book club for over twenty years! Can you image?!

That got me to thinking about the fact that we’ve not had an online TBYL Book Club book for ages. I’ve been missing it, and so next month I’m going suggest a book for us all to share. Stay tuned next week for details of the what and when…

Are you part of a book club? Do you find it hard to make time to chat about what you’re reading?

Throughout the afternoon a whole bundle of titles were mentioned; The Book of Rachel, which made me think of The Red TentHaruki Murakami’s 1Q84 and The Hottest State, by Ethan Hawke (random, I know). We talked about the scandal that was Judy Bloom’s Forever and Carolyn shared with us how this little book from the 70s managed to sully her reputation at high school (well, almost).

pretty funny tea cosiesOnce we’d finished up, the guys took their picks from the TBYL Reading Pile, all of them walking away with some amazing stories to enjoy. I’m particularly pleased that Narelle took a copy of Pretty Funny Tea Cosies and Other Beautiful Knitted Things, by Loani Prior (Murdoch Books). Just quietly I’m hoping she knits something from it, she’s so wonderfully crafty and these tea cosies could not be cuter!

In short, this all means that we’ve got lots of new reviews in store for you guys. They’ve even agreed to help out with our book clubs in the future, and I’ve invited them to review other lovely things the do and see. I can’t wait to hear what they’re up to!

If you’d like to find out more about fantastic team of TBYL Reviewers, pop over and read a little more here…

Any of the titles mentioned here tickle your fancy? I’d love to know what’s next on your reading pile…

Two Stories in One: Driftwood and Poppy’s Dilemma

Earlier in the year, Tam J got on a bit of a roll, enjoying a few rural romances back to back. Lucky for us too, as it means that today I can bring you two reviews for the price of one! Here’s what Tam has been reading, first up, Mandy Magro’s Driftwood (Harlequin)…

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Taylor is a city girl, born and bred, but deep down she knows there is more, something a little more country. It’s always been her dream to be a jillaroo and to sing country songs. Despite pretty unrelenting pressure from her mum and step-dad to forget these dreams she loads her guitar and her beloved dog, Floyd, into her car and hits the road. Taylor doesn’t have a plan…she just drives.

driftwoodTo Taylor Whitworth, knowing that she’ll never meet her biological father is devastating. All she knows is that before he died, he was a stockman. Taylor yearns to be like her father — and to become a jillaroo. So she packs her bags and hits the road, destination unknown, until she happens upon the country township of Driftwood.   

Life-burdened Jay Donnellson is a cowboy through and through. Both his passion for the outback and bad boy image have been inherited from his forefathers. The whole town whispers about him but Jay doesn’t care…until his rough and tumble lifestyle is stopped dead in its tracks when he happens across Taylor on a deserted country road.   

When Jay offers Taylor a job as a jillaroo on his cattle station, their mutual love of horses helps to form a bond between them. It’s not long before they find their wonderful friendship developing into something more.   

Mandy Magro cleverly tells two stories within Driftwood. The first is set in the mid 1800s and focuses on a bushranger named William who is on the run after being falsely accused of the murders of a local family. William is in love with Anne, landlady of the local hotel and he plans to take them both away from their troubles.

The second story is set in the present day and Magro very comfortably places these two stories alongside one another. Each tale has its own cliffhangers set to keep you reading.  She entwines both narratives until they each meet at Waratah Station.

Heartbroken and troubled, Jay is in charge of Waratah Station and he has faced his fair share of tragedy. He has vowed to protect himself from more hurt. As you might expect, this includes shutting out Taylor. Still, he can’t help by wonder if this will only deny himself happiness? And even if he tries to block her out, would it even be possible? They seem destined for each other from their very first meeting!

At times this story was a little clichéd and the writing was a little messy, but I enjoyed the two takes on this story, giving the reader a touch of the historical as well as injecting real-to-life and easily relatable characters.

I love a good bit of ‘Chook Lit’, and this story ticked all the boxes. If you’d like to find out more about Mandy Magro’s novel, you can visit Harlequin’s website here.

Shortly after reading Driftwood, I moved onto Poppy’s Dilemma, by Karly Lane (Allen and Unwin).

I completed adored this novel! This was partly due to the story of Poppy and of Maggie, but also because it took me back to a place of my childhood, a place of beautiful memories of growing up spending time with my Nan, learning to bake, being part of a small town and hearing Nan’s own childhood stories.

poppy's dilemmaPoppy Abbott seems to have it all. Bright, successful and attractive, she lives in a beautiful apartment with sweeping views of Sydney. However, since the recent death of her beloved grandmother, she’s been struggling to come to terms with her grief.

Feeling nostalgic one evening, Poppy decides to sort through her grandmother’s belongings, which she hasn’t been able to face before. She’s hardly started when she comes across an old leather diary with the name ‘Maggie Abbott’ written in the front. It’s not long before she’s drawn into Maggie’s life and her fears for her soldier boyfriend during the First World War.

As her interest in Maggie’s diary intensifies, Poppy decides to spend some time at her grandmother’s house in the country. Away from the city, Poppy begins to wonder if all the things she’s always valued so much are what she really wants out of life. And then love intervenes…

Karly Lane manages a beautiful balance within the story between present and past. When Poppy begins to read Maggie’s diary we are taken on a trip back to the 1910s, and it is nothing short of fascinating. As a reader, I was given an way into sharing their experience; the pressures that the Australian families were put under when their loved ones went away to war; the roles that would have traditionally been filled by men that needed to be filled by women in their absence; the judgement reserved for the men who, for whatever reason chose not to go and fight; and the tragic and all too frequent loss of the men who didn’t make it home alive. The tragic love story of Maggie and Alex had me completely captivated. Perhaps the much of my fascination about Maggie’s story came from the fact that it was based on a true story that the author read about in an old newspaper clipping. As it happened, the story had taken place in her own home town… hence inspiring this novel.

Poppy’s Dilemma also follows the blossoming romance between Poppy and Jim. Poppy has been hurt and lives life without attachment so as to avoid being let down again. But her handsome country-boy neighbour may just change all of that…

This story has it all; mistakes, intrigue, history, healing and of course romance! And to top it all off it was set in a small town of Australia so it was easily relatable. It was truly beautiful.

To find out more about Poppy’s Dilemma, check out the Allen and Unwin website here…

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Tam is currently reading Charlotte’s Creek by Therese Creed (Allen and Unwin) and she’s promised to let us know all about it soon! Find out more here

My Picks: MWF 2014

It’s that time of year again, when I buy my one newspaper for the year, and carefully extract and peruse the Melbourne Writers Festival program for 2014. I booked my leave from work and bought my Paperback Pass.

I spent the better part of an afternoon working my way through the program, with an incredibly diverse range of writers, readers and thinkers to choose from, I didn’t want to rush it. There are over 400 events to pick from, on almost as many different topics.

After much consideration these are my selections…

GeraldineGeraldine Doogue: Women of Influence
“Geraldine Doogue and Louise Adler discuss The Climb: Conversations with Australian women in power, Doogue’s inquiry into how the beliefs and values of Australian women are changing, informed by candid and personal conversations with 14 of Australia’s most powerful women.”

I don’t know who the fourteen women are, but I can’t wait to find out. I’m fairly sure I’ll be inspired but the end of this session.

Sonya Hartnett: In Conversation
“Sonya Hartnett is an outstanding and versatile author who can probe psychological states with uncanny accuracy and depth. A writer who has always pushed the boundaries of literature for both adults and young people, Hartnett returns to adult fiction with Golden Boys, a dark suburban tale. In conversation with Jo Case”

Probably no surprise to anyone that I booked a ticket for this one, quick-smart. I’m a big fan of Sonya’s writing, particularly her books Of a Boy, and The Midnight Zoo. As an special treat, this is a free session, being held mid-week at the Wheeler Centre.

mwf2014fullPhilip Hensher: Handwriting
“When English writer Philip Hensher realised he didn’t know what a close friend’s handwriting looked like, he felt that something essential was missing. Hensher explores the lost art of handwriting, how it made us who we are, and why it still matters. In conversation with David Astle.”

I love handwriting, and am always buoyed when I hear of someone else who does too. Plus, I’m looking forward to hearing from David Astle, I’ve been part-way through reading his book Cluetopia for months.

Media Makers: Media Darlings
“Simon Crerar (Buzzfeed), Emily Wilson (The Guardian) and Barrie Barton (The Thousands) will take part in a broad-ranging and diverse discussion about media in Australia and how a new spate of international online mastheads are changing our media landscape. In conversation with Gay Alcorn.”

In today’s life and times, this topic is not only interesting, but incredibly important. Diversity is key.

Limits of Fiction
“Australian Mark Henshaw and British writer Philip Hensher discuss the interplay of voice, form and structure in their writing and how novelists can exploit other forms of writing, such as thrillers and memoir, to create something new. In conversation with James Ley.”

With this session, I continue my quest to pin down exactly what makes a good novel tick. What makes some writing work and some not, how can an author drag you in to their tale and not let go until the final page (and them some)??

john safranTrue Crime
“John Safran (Murder in Mississippi) and Julie Szego (The Tainted Trial of Farah Jama) have each turned their hand to writing true crime after stumbling across their Truman Capote moment. They discuss their immersion into the complex worlds of crime and justice. In conversation with Damien Carrick.”

Having read Murder in Mississippi earlier this year, I’m keen to hear from John and Julie. I’m hoping they might be able to shed some light on what it is about True Crime that fascinates readers so much, despite (or because of) all its horror.

There are also a handful of free sessions I’ll try and get along to as well. As you can see, I’ve been able to pick a really interesting range of sessions – different topics, people, opinions. Now to just wait until August!

The festival will be held, at venues around Victoria, from 21 – 31 August 2014, and you can find out more about MWF 2014 at their website. You can check out this year’s program here…

Are you going to be at MWF 2014? I’d love to hear about what you’re going to see…

Voice of souls: Only the Animals

Interestingly, I almost didn’t pick up Ceridwen Dovey’s Only the Animals (Penguin). I had a lot of books on the go when it hit my desk, and I really wasn’t quite sure about the premise – a book told from the point of view of dead animals? Still, the book’s cover brimming with wandering green cats piqued my interest, and so racing out of the house one morning I grabbed it, starting it on the way to work. I’m so glad I did, what a treat!

only the animalsOnly the Animals is a strange endeavour:

The souls of ten animals caught up in human conflicts over the last century tell their astonishing stories of life and death. In a trench on the Western Front a cat recalls her owner Colette’s theatrical antics in Paris. In Nazi Germany a dog seeks enlightenment. A Russian tortoise once owned by the Tolstoys drifts in space during the Cold War. In the siege of Sarajevo a bear starving to death tells a fairytale. And a dolphin sent to Iraq by the US Navy writes a letter to Sylvia Plath…

… An animal’s-eye view of humans at out brutal, violent worst and our creative, imaginative best, it asks us to find our way back to empathy not only for animals, but for other people, and to believe again in the redemptive power of reading and writing fiction.

I’ll admit to being a little fearful that the book might be a little didactic, a bit preachy. To my relief, Dovey avoids this on all accounts, instead creating a series of short stories that are ‘playful and poignant’. Their comments on humanity – on its writers, its artists, its soldiers and their conflicts – subtly highlight their absurdities without out ever screaming out loud ‘you are wrong, you are misguided, war is bad, bad, bad.’

The stories don’t have to, the message is self-evident. The starving bear in Sarajevo never has to say; ‘War is killing me’, we just know it to be so.The Paris house-cat lost on a World War I battlefield effectively illustrates the horror of the frontline, its brutality against humans and quadrupeds alike. The sharp wit of dolphin Sprout, daughter of Blinky, draws our eye to the travesty of conflict, the ridiculousness of justifying abuses in the name of protection. This done through recollections, not lectures.

I’m a fan of short fiction, so I thoroughly this collection of skilfully constructed stories. Linked by theme, each story picks up on a new time period. We’re guided through each period by a unique voice – a chimp, a bear, a dog or a tortoise. Dovey cleverly captures authentic animal personalities. She has a deft touch, and her characters are dealt with sensitively and often quietly humorously. Each tale is written in a style suitable to their time, none more so than the story of the soul of a mussel (died 1941, United States of America) written as a Beat tale…

In the morning, looking bloated with too much seawater, her gills not functioning so well anymore, she said, ‘You stay hungry, boy. You’re onto something. I’ll give you that, living so spontaneous and all, improvising, making it up as you go. It’s the only way to endure this grubby life, turn it into something sparkling. You’ll get there if you can survive this. But there’s no virtue in rushing towards death, remember that. Let the others live fast and die young. You live slow and die old.’

It surprised me how well this worked. I got no sense of parody, it seemed completely appropriate, even if just a tiny bit absurdist.

archyOnly the Animals reminded me many times of the obscure classic Archy and Mehitabel,  a quirky tale by Don Marquis. His story of a cockroach and an alley cat planted itself firmly in my mind after a single read and comes to mind often. Similarly, I think this collection of voices from Dovey will resonate with me for some time. 

You can find out more about Ceridwen Dovey’s Only the Animals here…