Meeting Ceridwen Dovey

Last month, the TBYL Book Club enjoyed a shared read of Only the Animals by Ceridwen Dovey (Penguin), and from those I chatted with, it seemed that this book really got us all thinking.

I reviewed the book, a collection of short stories told from the perspective of the souls of animals killed in human conflicts (you can read the review here), but I was also lucky enough to be able to ask the collection’s author Ceridwen a number of questions. Her answers shed some light on what I found to be a really moving, curious read…

Ceridwen_Dovey_author photoI’m going to start with a really obvious question, only because I’m personally really curious about the answer – what made you think of, and choose, to write a book from the perspective of the souls of dead animals? It’s such a unique concept, I’d love to know what brought you to it.
When I first thought of using animal narrators to look at human conflicts from a slightly offbeat perspective, I realised I’d have to be very careful not to fall into the trap of sentimentalising the animal voices. It’s really hard to write an animal voice that doesn’t end up being cutesy or mawkish – maybe because we’re so used to animal characters in children’s literature and film – and also that doesn’t anthropomorphise the animal to the extent that all the strangeness of the creature and the way it experiences the world is lost. So two of the tactics I came up with to avoid this were to have the animal souls writing from beyond the grave, telling us about their deaths, to give the tales a bit of a Gothic edge, and the other was to have them channeling the voice of a human author who wrote about animals in the last century, so that each animal narrator sounded different.

You work lots of authors and poets into your stories; Henry Lawson, Tolstoy, Virginia Woolf, Robert Browning, Sylvia Plath, and more. Are these particularly favourites of yours, or did their histories just sit nicely with the time and place of the animal’s stories?
It depended on the story – because each story weaves together an animal voice, an author who wrote about animals, and a conflict, I let the research lead me to some authors, while with others the authors led me to the animal or to the conflict. All of the authors who are mentioned in the book used animal characters in their fiction in some way or another, and the ones I knew I wanted to use as inspiration were Virginia Woolf (who wrote a biography of the poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning from the perspective of her dog, Flush, in the 1930s) and Franz Kafka, because so many of his short fictions feature animals, and the way he uses them in his writing is the opposite of sentimental: his animal stories are often macabre and disturbing.

Do you have a particular favourite of the ten stories?
The elephant story (set in 1980s Mozambique during the civil war) one was the most difficult to write because it’s the one that is probably the saddest, with no humour or playfulness to temper the sadness, and it was written in a sort of tribute to my sister, so I’d say either that one or the tortoise story (where a Russian tortoise ends up being shot out around the moon by the Soviet Space Program during the Cold War) because it was so much fun to write.

You treated the theme of death and conflict with a skilfully soft touch. At no point did I feature guilted, lectured or horrified, just moved, which in turn caused me to reflect (not recoil). Was this a deliberate technique? Could you tell us a little bit more about how you approached what could have been a heavy topic, with such a deft hand?
Thank you for saying this! Yes, it was deliberate, and it was something I knew was crucial for the book not to be off-putting because of the serious themes. I’m by no means an animal rights activist (I’m not even a vegetarian), so the book wasn’t really coming from a place of activism but was instead a way for me to push my own imagination to the limits and see if I could pull it off. I wanted to see if perhaps readers might be jolted into feeling something different by looking at these human conflicts through animal eyes, just to see them afresh and feel something authentic instead of the compassion fatigue so many of us suffer from in modern times.

Similarly, many of the stories had a very distinct style – I particularly enjoyed the Beatnik mussels of ’Somewhere Along the Line the Pearl Would be Handed to Me’ – how did you decide on the style you would choose? Was it difficult to work up an authentic storytelling style for each story?
It was just really fun. I’d sort of lost my way with my fiction writing when I started working on the stories that became this book, and this was the project that reminded me why I love writing and why I absolutely need it in my life, even if I’m writing for nobody but me. It was all just an experiment, really, and I just went with crazy ideas (like a talking mussel who speaks in the style of Jack Kerouac and dies in Pearl Harbor) without questioning whether they were good crazy or bad crazy! Again, the human authors led me to the style of each story, often – and in many of the stories I use words, phrases, paragraphs that the author him/herself used in fiction or journal writings, so their style and words are literally embedded in the animal narratives.

only the animalsWhat’s the feedback been like to your book so far?
It has been very kind so far. I’m trying not to read reviews this time around – even the good ones can kind of mess with your head – but my parents and husband tell me that reviewers have been very generous, and of course my friends and family tell me they like the book but they have to?

What do you hope readers take away from this collection?
I hope that readers come away from the collection re-inspired to explore authors they might not have read – to go to some of the original texts mentioned in the book, and keep exploring the idea of animals in fiction from all these varied perspectives.

What’s next for you?
Next up is a novel set in Sydney about an elderly man who gets involved in the dying with dignity movement. And I’m also trying my hand at speculative fiction.
I really enjoyed chatting with Ceridwen Dovey, and can’t wait to see what she produces next. If you’d like to find out more about Only the Animals, please visit Penguin 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!

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…

Back on Board, and His Stupid Boyhood

You may have noticed that it’s been a little quieter at That Book You Like… of late. I’ve been popping up weekly, but not daily (as I’d like). In short, moving house, relocating TBYL HQ and an increase in my ‘day-job hours’ have, as you might expect, interrupted my writing time somewhat. In saying that, I’ve still been reading like a fiend and I’ve got the most incredible pile of books that I’ve read over the last couple of months but haven’t had a chance to write about yet.

And that’s where the fun starts…

TBYL HQI’m pleased to say that I’ve now settled into my new, wonderful home and TBYL has a brand new HQ. I’ve rejigged my timetable to account for the extra hours in the city, and scheduled lots and lots of great reviews.

Some of these write-ups will feature books that have been out for a few months, other books that are brand new. In the near future, I’ll be introducing a few new friends, and I’ll give you a chance to pick up some bargain-basement bookish gifts. And of course, there will be give-aways, lots of chances to win.

I hope you’ll join us for another year of That Book You Like, and as promised, here’s a nice shiny new review for you…


A disclaimer before I start today’s review – I’ve not read anything by Peter Goldsworthy, and I read his memoir His Stupid Boyhood (Penguin) because it was sent to me to take a look at, and it sounded interesting…

his stupid boyhoodFew Australian writers have delved as deeply as Peter Goldsworthy into the mysterious state of being that is childhood. 

In this memoir he applies his fascination with that state to his own boyhood, from his bizarre first memories to the embarrassments of adolescence. For all his working life Goldsworthy has been both doctor and writer – Australia’s Chekhov – and here he reveals a mind charmed equally by science and literature, by the rational and the imagined.

And you know what? I’m so glad that I read this book! It has introduced me to a fascinating Australian author (and poet, and composer, and doctor) and it has also revealed to me a new kind of memoir, one all-together more skilfully complied than your average autobiography.

For me, reading memoirs can be a little challenging. I find the revelations and details interesting, mostly entertaining, but I also find it hard to get past the quiet, almost unavoidable egotism that goes hand-in-hand with writing ones own story.

Interestingly, I can honestly say Peter Goldsworthy’s book seems to have quite successfully moved away from this. The self-deprication, the humility and absurdity of some of Peter’s tales lighten the tone, making it easier to believe that Goldsworthy has written this memoir as a kind of revelation of his foolishness as a child…

“In my final year of high school I took to wearing a cravat and smoking a pipe when heading out for a night on the town. This would have been a major style disaster for a pimple-pocked sixteen-year-old string bean in any bush town, but in tropical Darwin the effect of a cravat worn with the formal Territory rig of short-sleeved shirt, shorts, long socks and suede Hush Puppies was beyond parody. I wore this ensemble to parties, to the drive-in, to the Parap open-air picture theatre; I wore it to the Mecca coffee lounge round midnight before heading home.

On Friday nights, fishing with my best friend Iggy from the Darwin wharf, I wore the cravat with shorts and thongs.

What was I thinking? I think I was thinking that I looked like an intellectual, although I spent far more time thinking about being one than being one, thinking…

…What was everyone else thinking? That I looked like a skinny, pimple-pocked, would-be Hugh Hefner, stranded in the great outdoors with not a single Bunny in sight.”

It’s this focus on childhood that makes His Stupid Boyhood really readable. The scope of the tale is very manageable, spanning only about eighteen years, a coming-of-age story. I was grabbed by the writer’s humour, but also by his dedication to detail and to learning (both then and now.) I was taken in by his name dropping; Corso, Ginsberg, Ferlinghetti and frequent mention of Penguin Modern Poets 5 made my ears prick up – I’ve a much-treasured copy of that book on my own bookshelf. Further, I was impressed by the inviting, entertaining and literary writing style of this unique boys-own-adventure.

Whether you’re a fan or not, I’d have to recommend this memoir as a good read. It’s a great snap-shot of Australia, of how one grows up writing and of what makes a multi-talented, slightly eccentric gentleman tick.

You can find out more about Peter Goldsworthy’s His Stupid Boyhood here…


Trouble: Zero to the Bone

TBYL Reviewer Adam had a pretty unusual reaction to this very time-stamped genre piece. Here’s what Adam made of David Whish-Wilson’s Zero at the Bone (Penguin).
Perth. The year is 1979. You don’t get much for a dime these days but then what else is new? Then she walked into my life, blonde flowing hair, that mysterious, melt a man with a wink look and I knew I was in trouble. Bloody dames…
zero at the boneWell, the year was 1979 and the city was Perth, but the rest of it I’ll explain later…
Max Henderson is a Geologist with a wife, property and a future, so his suicide comes as a shock, to no one more than his wife, who doesn’t buy it. Jennifer Henderson is an intelligent woman grieving for her partner and hung up on that fateful question… Why?
Enter detective Frank Swann, hired by Mrs Henderson to investigate the reasons behind Max’s suicide. Swann’s first enquiries lead him to a recent report on a mining site in outback Western Australia that seems to throw up more questions than Frank can think to ask. The primary one being – how did Max find himself involved in the various members of Perth’s underworld, the purported owners of the drill site?
The further Swann is drawn in, the more trouble rears its head from all sides, none more than from the direction of his former colleagues, the extremely questionable vermin that currently inhabit the Perth Police Force.
The story comes to a fantastic conclusion when Frank realises that nothing was ever what it seemed and no matter how hard you try, you can’t fight money!
Let me say – at no point during the reading of this book, did it really grab me. Interestingly though upon review, I realised I actually loved it! The concept of corruption that goes undiscovered and undefeated, and criminals that are not just hiding but also running things, creates an exciting read. The story concluded in a very satisfactory manner, but just not an expected one.
The one thing that kept drawing me out of the story was the style in which it was written. It felt less like a novel and more like the script of a 1940’s Bogart detective movie. Every second paragraph left you expecting a reference to a Maltese Falcon or a dame that walked into his life. If that wasn’t distracting enough, there were times where I really felt like I was missing something. David Whish-Wilson obviously grew up in Perth in the 70’s, which served him well in writing something familiar to the era, but unless you grew up there too, there are many references which may sail right over your head.
Still, if you can get past the writing style and the constant 70’s pub slang, David Whish-Wilson can tell a story. One I can honestly say I really enjoyed… after a while.
Find out more about Zero at the Bone by David Whish-Wilson on the Penguin website here… 

True Safran: Murder in Mississippi

As we swelter away in our first real heatwave of the season, what’s better to do than read, or write or better still – both?!

Today’s review is of a book that I’ve recommended to at least a dozen people since I read it in November. John Safran’s Murder in Mississippi (Penguin) is skilfully written, effortlessly compelling and a really easy read, despite its dark subject matter…

murder in mississippiWhen filming his TV series ‘Race Relations’, John Safran spent an uneasy couple of days with one of Mississippi’s most notorious white supremacists. A year later, he heard that the man had been murdered – and what was more, the killer was black.

At first the murder seemed a twist on the old Deep South race crimes. But then more news rolled in. Maybe it was a dispute over money, or most intriguingly, over sex. Could the infamous racist actually have been secretly gay, with a thing for black men? Did Safran have the last footage of him alive? Could this be the story of a lifetime? Seizing his Truman Capote moment, he jumped on a plane to cover the trial.

Over six months, Safran got deeper and deeper into the South, becoming entwined in the lives of those connected with the murder – white separatists, black campaigners, lawyers, investigators, neighbours, even the killer himself. And the more he talked with them, the less simple the crime, and the world, seemed.

As a true crime title Murder in Mississippi has been compared to numerous other true crime books, most particularly Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood. Having read Capote’s book a couple of time I’d say this is a fair and interesting comparison to make. Both expose a deprivation, a kind of evil that is hard to comprehend, but in a very factual manner. They communicate shock and bemusement but not indignation. This allows the reader to observe the situation, the crime itself, objectively and almost calmly, giving us the best hope of somehow making sense of a moment of violence.

John is a talented writer and a deft storyteller but interestedly, one feature of his writing that differentiates him from other true crime writers is his subtle self-deprication. This habit of poking fun at himself (and the people around him) is fairly typical of Safran’s work, you’ll find it in his documentaries and radio work as well, and I think it adds a humility, a ‘realness’ to his stories.

“You need to know about my job to understand all this. I’m a documentary filmmaker, or sorts. That’s how I pay the bills for the flat where I’m typing these words. That’s how I buy the bagels from the bakery one minute from my flat. I say ‘of sorts’ because they’re not the straightest of documentaries. I often ask dangerous people indelicate questions and try not to get thumped. And I often ask them about race. I’m a bit of a Race Trekkie – like a sci-fi Trekkie, but with race not space.

This story really begins – although I didn’t know it at the time – about ten years ago. I was filming a segment for a television series call ‘John Safran vs God’, in which I tried to join the Ku Klux Klan even though I’m Jewish.”

As a reader, his bluntness and honesty made me really trust the story that he was telling, and it’s an incredible story, made all the more incredible by the fact that John was himself, a part of the story, even if he didn’t know it at the time. He was personally involved in the ‘before’ and ‘after’ of the murder of Richard Barrett, and as he revisits Mississippi, he endeavours to complete the picture, to fill in that gap that is ‘during’.

“Every time I feel I’ve got a hold of Richard, he slides off again. I haven’t been able to get any sort of consensus on whether Richard might have made a pass at Vincent, and an aggressive one at that. I wonder whether the people who think Richard was gay are using ‘gay’ as another word for ‘just suspicious’. He was queer, bent, but as he literally homosexual? He was a racist, but was he aggressive enough to threaten Vincent?”

By the close of Murder in Mississippi we have a pretty good picture of the before, during and after of this violent tale, but as testament to Safran’s honestly, it’s still very difficult to say that anyone will ever really know what happened between Richard and Vincent. Richard takes his lies, double-life and ‘queerness’ to the grave, and Vincent seems to be an incarcerated bundle of misdirections, delusion and contradictions. Makes for a damn good story though…

For lovers of true crime or fans of John Safran’s work, this book is a must read. You can find out more, and pick up a copy over at Penguin.

Are you a fan of true crime? Do you have a favourite?


Taking a Dip: Three Titles

Over the last couple of weeks, life has gotten in the way of any decent writing sessions. Between birthdays, christmas preparations, school functions and a close relative passing away, I’ve been called away from the computer far more than I am accustomed to. Still, I’ve been reading, even if I’ve not had much time to write about it. Here’s a little of what I’m reading at the moment…

Actors Anonymous, by James Franco (Allen and Unwin)
Ambitious, fairly odd but strangely compelling, I’m having fun trying to grab the tale of this slippery collection of short stories by Hollywood actor James Franco.

actors anonymous

My favourite part so far…

Jack Nicholson struggled for twelve years before Easy Rider. He started as a gopher in the animation department of MGM at eighteen. He loved basketball even then. Eventually he took an acting class with Jeff Corey, James Dean’s old teacher. Later Jack studied with Marten Landau, James Dean’s old friend.

Jack might not have even wanted the role in Easy Rider. It was intended for Rip Torn. Dennis Hopper was a nut that Jack knew from the coffeehouses on Sunset, and then was in a movie that Jack wrote for Roger Corman called The Trip, about LSD. The story goes that Jack did the role in Easy Rider as a favour to his friends Bob Ragelson and Bert Schneider, the producers, in order to look after Dennis.

It’s these random bits of trivia, close-to-the-bone observations and memiors that make this book interesting. Most of the time it’s impossible to tell where Franco’s own opinions end and the fiction begins. It’s interesting, to say the least and you can find out more about the book here.

Yours Truly, Women of Letters (Penguin)
I can’t wait until I have more time to delve into this incredible collection of letters…

yours truly

The act of letter writing allows us to slow down and truly connect, with a person, a subject, an idea. At their hugely popular Women of Letters events, Marieke Hardy and Michaela McGuire encourage and allow our best and brightest to lay bare their sins and secrets, loves and loathings, memories and plans. Collected here for the first time, these dispatches from Australia’s favourite people are warm, wonderful and astoundingly honest.

The first ones that I’m going to read; Amanda Palmer to Anthony (‘To the person who told me the truth’); William McInnes to Wendy Sykes (‘To the woman who changed my life’) and Leigh Sales to Amanda (‘To the moment the lights came on).

I love letter writing, and to read letters like this feels like the ultimate in eavesdropping. Find out more about the book here…

Letters of Note, Shaun Usher (Allen and Unwin)
In a similar vain, albeit with a slightly broader scope is Shaun Usher’s compilation of letters, collected together in this beautiful hardcopy publication…

letters of note

Letters of Note is a collection of over one hundred of the world’s most entertaining, inspiring and unusual letters, based on the seismically popular website of the same name – an online museum of correspondence visited by over 70 million people.

From Virginia Woolf’s heart-breaking suicide letter, to Queen Elizabeth II’s recipe for drop scones sent to President Eisenhower; from the first recorded use of the expression ‘OMG’ in a letter to Winston Churchill, to Gandhi’s appeal for calm to Hitler; and from Iggy Pop’s beautiful letter of advice to a troubled young fan, to Leonardo da Vinci’s remarkable job application letter, Letters of Note is a celebration of the power of written correspondence which captures the humour, seriousness, sadness and brilliance that make up all of our lives.

This time, for me, I’m most looking forward to reading Hunter S Thomspon’s letter to Hume Logan; Nick Cave to MTV and Zelda Fitzgerald to F. Scott Fitzgerald.

You can find out more about the book here. I’d love to know which letter you’d read first!

The greatest thing about all three of these books is that at this very busy time, they are the kinds of books that I can dip in and out of. They allow the reader five minutes of escape from the day-to-day without requiring a substantial time commitment. Of course, in saying that, I can’t wait until the holidays start and I can really sink my teeth into these amazing collections.




Meeting Steve Worland

Last night, we held another wonderful online conversation at TBYL, this time having a chat with the author of the explosive novel Combustion (Penguin) Steve Worland…

In case you weren’t able to tune in on the night, here’s a transcript of our chat with Steve…

Steve WorlandTBYL: My first question for Steve tonight is this… you’ve created a really interesting cast of characters in your novels. Do you have a personal favourite?

Steve: I love them all of course, but Corey and his cattle dog Spike would be my favourites. They’re funny and uniquely Australian, though I do love Severson, the out-for-himself-at-all-costs NASA executive, and Lola, the tough as nails Hollywood agent. I think they add interesting variations to the mix of characters. And that’s what you’re always looking for, an appealing mix that will give you conflict (even when the characters really like each other), lots of humour, insight into the human condition and that little something that feels genuinely unique and unexpected. Basically, I want the readers to love spending time with the characters, but to understand that they’re both heroic and flawed, often at the same time.

TBYL: Do you think there would be one particular character that readers would like most?

Steve: I think Corey and Spike give my stories an element that is humorous, heartfelt and genuinely Australian so they tend to be crowd favourites, certainly in Oz!

TBYL: I would think Corey would be very popular, wonderfully recognisable! I really liked Rhonda too!

Steve: Yeah, she’s great value. I kind of based her on my wife.

TBYL: Oh wow, that’s great! Can your wife fly a plane?

Steve: No, she’s an actress so she can pretend to do it!

TBYL: Perfect! Are the other characters based on real people too?

Steve: Well, the astronauts are all based on elements of real people. There’s a bit of Neil Armstrong, first man on the moon, in Judd, and Sally Ride, the first American woman in space, in Rhonda. Lola, the Hollywood agent, is a little bit like my agent. So, you use parts of people you know and read about, then make up the rest!

TBYL: Steve, there’s an element of the bizarre in Combustion, adding to the fun. I’m talking especially in regards to Corey and his dog Spike. Why did you decide to add these elements to the story, rather than take a straight action/adventure path? 

Steve: I wanted to create a point of difference that was both humorous, heartfelt and genuinely Australian, and I think Corey and Spike give my stories that element. Interestingly, the idea for the duo comes from a very real place. I have many friends and family in country NSW and when you see the almost telepathic communication between the guys who work the land and their cattle dogs, it’s not a huge fictional jump to reach the relationship Corey and Spike have. Then to take that relationship and throw them into a big action-adventure story is a lot of fun.

TBYL: Did you spend time in rural Australia and LA to get a sense for how this duo would translate from one to the other?

Steve: Well I’ve spent a bit of time in country NSW because of family, but never more than about a week at a time. I lived in LA for a year at the start of my screenwriting career, which was an interesting experience.

TBYL: I would imagine so! How did you find LA, especially as a resident?

Steve: It was all work really. Not a lot of time for fun. Just working at Lightstorm (James Cameron’s company) or writing. It’s a real company town that way and it can consume you.

TBYL: A bit like a really long business trip?

Steve: Yes, the film business doesn’t sleep so you do need to be on the ball.

TBYL: I always find it interesting when someone moves from one type of writing to another, and so I was wondering… what made you decide to make the shift from script and screen to novel? How have you found the transition?

Steve: Making the shift was pretty easy. I had been working as a screenwriter for almost twenty years and felt that I needed to write something for myself rather than for a director, producer or studio. Screenwriting is really about creating a blueprint for someone else’s work of art, which is fine for a while, but I just reached that point where I needed a little more autonomy. Having said that, a movie I co-wrote (with the Director) is in production at the moment in WA so that is exciting.

TBYL: Ooh, can you say any more?

Steve: Sure, it’s a kid’s adventure movie that Sam Worthington is starring in called ‘Paper Planes’. It’ll be released in 3D in January ’15.

TBYL: I’ll have to take a look at ‘Paper Planes’, sounds interesting.

Steve: It’s a little way away but the idea is to make an Australian kid’s movie.

CombustionTBYL: Hypothetically speaking, if your book were to be made into a film, who would you have play Judd, Corey, Rhonda and Lola?

Steve: Well there are so many choices! In a perfect world: Chris Pine or Bradley Cooper as Judd, Hugh Jackman or Sam Worthington as Corey, Jennifer Lawrence or Rachel McAdams as Rhonda, Greg Kinnear or Jeff Goldblum as Severson and Eva Mendes or Mila Kunis as Lola.

TBYL: Oh wow, the book has just taken on a whole new dimension! I’m so glad I asked that question! Would you like to see it on screen?

Steve: Absolutely! I just have to convince someone to spend the money!

TBYL: Not too harder sell I wouldn’t think Steve, especially with that many explosions! Next question – Steve, do you love watches?

Steve: I do indeed! I’m old school, I’d prefer to look at my wrist than my phone to tell the time! I think watches are pretty much the only jewellery men can get away with so I find it interesting what guys wear. That’s why I often mention the watches people are wearing in my books. It’s a personal choice that says a lot.

TBYL: I wish I knew more about what makes for a good watch, it’d probably help me shop for my husband for Christmas!

Steve: Just ask me. I can send you in the right direction.

TBYL: I might just do that! Okay, I’ve one last question for Steve tonight… Can you tell us anything about the third instalment in the series?

Steve: Well the Judd and Corey will finally make it in to space but not in a way you would imagine. It will tie up a number of story strands set up in the first two books and will be, hopefully, a rollicking, humourous adventure along the way. It’s due Father’s Day 2015. Next year I have different action adventure novel coming out that is set in the world of Formula One. It’s has a new cast of characters and some huge action sequences so I’m really looking forward to getting out into the world. I’m in the middle of writing it now!

TBYL: That sounds really interesting – lots of fast and furious car facts? Are you enjoying taking a break from the series?

Steve: Yes, lots of big car action, and a lot more beside. I think it’s good to give the Judd & Corey series a short rest. I want it to be fresh and hopefully, by the time Book 3 comes out, more readers will have found it!

TBYL: I’m sure they will have!


If you’d like to find out more about Steve’s books, visit the Penguin site here. You might also enjoy his personal website which is here…


Waiting for Wednesday

Although I’m not sure if TBYL Reviewer Carolyn was completely convinced when I gave her Nicci French’s crime novel Waiting for Wednesday (Penguin) to read and review, I get the feeling from this review that she’s starting to come around…


Today’s review is of Waiting for Wednesday by crime writer Nicci French. It’s a very well written book and takes the reader on many twists and turns before the crime is solved.  This novel is one that I suspect lovers of crime fiction will enjoy.

waiting for wednesdayAlthough it took me a little bit of effort to get into this book, upon finishing it I can honestly say that I thoroughly enjoyed it, and that it has contributed to my growing interest of this genre.  I discovered early on that this novel belonged to a series. The storyline was new but characters had already been introduced in previous books in the series. As you might expect, this meant it took me a little to grab hold of the context, but once I got to know the characters, it was no obstacle to my enjoyment of the novel.

Ruth Lennox, beloved mother of three, is found by her daughter in a pool of her own blood. Who would want to murder an ordinary housewife? And why? 

Psychotherapist Frieda Klein finds she has an unusually personal connection with DCI Karlsson’s latest case. She is no longer working with him in an official capacity, but when her niece befriends Ruth Lennox’s son, Ted, she finds herself in the awkward position of confidante to both Karlsson and Ted.

When it emerges that Ruth was leading a secret life, her family closes ranks and Karlsson finds he needs Frieda’s help more than ever before.

But Frieda is distracted. Having survived an attack on her life, she is struggling to stay in control and when a patient’s chance remark rings an alarm bell, she finds herself chasing down a path that seems to lead to a serial killer who has long escaped detection. Or is it merely a symptom of her own increasingly fragile mind?

Because, as Frieda knows, every step closer to a killer is one more step into a darkness from which there may be no return…

Waiting for Wednesday is the third instalment of the Frieda Klein series.  The novel opens with a horrific murder of an ordinary middle-class wife and mother of three, which, on its own captivated me and had me re-reading passages looking for clues.  I was to some degree left wanting, as not many clues are given at the beginning of the story; instead the writer takes her time recapping incidents that occurred in the previous two novels, reintroducing characters and their relationships.  As a first time reader to this series, I found it hard to get into the story because of this ‘revisiting’ and kept putting the book down to find something else to do.  However, as Mandi was waiting for me to write this review, I knew I had to persevere and devote my time to psychotherapist Frieda Klein no matter what terrors she had experienced in the other books. I’m glad that I did.

Waiting for Wednesday is written by two people, Nicci Gerrard and Sean French. Together they write under the pseudonym of Nicci French.  I had no idea until after I finished the book that this author was in fact a married couple.  The writing is seamless and they are able to get into the head of the main character very well. The further into the novel I got and the more I got to know Frieda, the more I wanted to stop the book and start the Frieda Klein series from the first book, Blue Monday.  The second in the series Tuesday’s Gone suggests that there will be seven in this series and judging from how Waiting for Wednesday was written, I think it will be great.

If we take a look at this book on its own and not as one in a series, the crime that occurs takes up only a small part of the story and is a fairly straightforward case.  Waiting for Wednesday spends a lot of its time developing characters that have featured earlier in the series and I’m assuming will be present in future books.  This book is very much the hump day in the series.  It appears that a climax will happen when Frieda Klein gets to the weekend.  Nicci French touches on something dark and frightening, waiting in the shadows, which had me wanting to know more.

You can read Waiting for Wednesday as a stand alone book however I think it would be more enjoyable to read the other two books in the series first. I know that reading this latest instalment has made me want to go back and read the first two, and I’d certainly do just that before reading the next in the series.


If you’d to find out more about Nicci French’s Waiting for Wednesday you can visit the Penguin website here…



Lots of fun coming up for TBYL!

November and December are turning out to be particularly busy and extra exciting for the TBYL crowd. I don’t want you to miss out on anything, so here’s a calendar of what’s coming up in the next couple of months!

marketTBYL at the Fair
Sunday, 17 November 2013

We’ll be setting up a TBYL stall at the Strathaird Primary School (Narre Warren South) and if you’re in the area, we’d love for you to pop by and say hi! We’ll have books, gifts, stories and free goodies on offer. Find out more about what’s going on at this great school event on their page…

Steve WorlandMeet Steve Worland

Monday, 25 November 2013 7:30pm (EST)

This month’s TBYL Event is an online conversation with the exciting Steve Worland, author of the newly released Combustion (Penguin). A great chance to find out more about Steve’s action-packed adventure series.

RSVP today to make sure you don’t miss out on this entertaining chat and be sure to tune into the TBYL Facebook page at 7:30pm (EST).

CombustionTBYL Book Club November

25 – 27 November 2013

Join us online to discuss Steve Worland’s Combustion for the TBYL Book Club. We’ll be chatting on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, on the TBYL Facebook page.

You can RSVP here for a reminder, and get hold of a copy of Steve’s book here.

You can read my review of Steve’s book here if you’d like to find out more about this fast-paced novel.

christmas giftsTBYL Christmas Clearance

Saturday, 30 November 2013

This is your chance to pick up some Christmas bargains from the TBYL Store! For one day I’ll have a great range of books for adults and kids, set up in my front room. Now, I know you probably can’t join me in real life, and so I thought I’d share the goodies with you on Facebook. Put it in your diary, and on Saturday 30 November make sure you visit our Facebook page to find amazing specials on books to clear. They’ll be discounted, some at cost. It’s a great opportunity to pick up a fantastic read at a low price, plus a chance to take a look at the stock that the TBYL Store has.

RSVP here to make sure you don’t miss out!


the goldfinchTBYL Book Club Special Event, with guest host Rachel Devine
Monday, 2 December 2013 7:30pm (EST)

I’ve been chatting with a new friend Rachel from Rachel Devine Photography / sesame ellis. As well as being a very talented photographer, she’s also a fellow book lover. She’s been enjoying Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch and I couldn’t resist – I’m going to join her.

I’d like to invite you to do the same. We’ll have a chat about the book on the evening of Monday, 2 December TBYL Facebook. I hope you’ll tune in and join the conversation (you can RSVP here) and meet some wonderful new bookish friends.

You can find out more about the book at the Hachette Australia website.


bundle of booksTBYL News: Christmas Edition
Monday, 2 December 2013

This special Christmas edition of our newsletter will not only feature a wrap up of TBYL’s 2013, but will also give you lots of chances to win great books! Consider it my Chrissy present to you!

Subscribe now to make sure you don’t miss out!


champagneTBYL at Contagious Enthusiasm’s Christmas Fair
Friday, 13 December 2013 5pm – 9pm

We’ll be attending the Contagious Enthusiasm’s Christmas Fair in Hampton just before Christmas, offering you a final pre-Chrissy chance to pick up TBYL goodies for your family and friends. Come along to 571 Hampton Street, Hampton and enjoy a little shopping, a massage and a drink and nibble. It’ll be a lovely night out! Find out more on Contagious Enthusiasm’s website or Like them for updates.


The end of 2013 is coming up fast, but as you can see, we’ve got a little something for everyone, to help you see the year out in bookish style! I hope you’ll join us!