2014 Perth Writers Festival – afterwards

Books are piling up on my tablet and beside my bed as a result of the 2014 Perth Writers Festival last weekend. The collection surprises me. At face-value it is such a different selection from my usual choices.

For example, before the Writers Festival I’d almost forgotten my penchant for travel memoirs, although in the past I’ve read dozens of them. I have a special interest because my own first book, Other People’s Country, fits firmly into that genre, although when I was writing it as part of a Writing PhD I vaguely hoped it would also be considered as a ‘literary’ work.

Since publication, Other People’s Country has been acclaimed as journalism and history. And it has ended up on the shelves of university and public libraries in the obscure section on Aboriginal Health, and not as memoir at all. It appears on some university reading lists under ‘community health’, because it is the story about the time I spent working as a nurse on a remote Aboriginal community in the Western Australian desert.

Maybe my newly completed (as yet unpublished) memoir will end up in the ‘romance’ category, or even as ‘chick-lit’. I wonder if there’s word for a story about romance in later life? Surely there’s something more appropriate than ‘chick-lit’.

Following the Writers Festival, there are four travel memoirs on my immediate ‘to read’ list. Travel memoir is in a class of its own when it comes to books and writing. The authors don’t merely recount their journeys like travel writers. Travel memoirists also invite readers to enjoy their stories and adventures and to glimpse their experiences of personal growth as they reflect on  aspects of new and sometimes alienating cultures, and what it meant to immerse themselves in a new place.

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Sarah Turnbull’s new book, All Good Things, is a memoir about her life in French Polynesia, where she moved with her husband from Paris. At the Writers Festival, the Australian author explained to her audiences that this new book differs from her first, the highly acclaimed Almost French, because it describes a more personal journey. While her husband, Frederick, was at work all day, she had  time to enjoy beauty of the island and to think. She said All Good Things recounts many intimate details about the longing for a child shared by her husband and her. I will review this book soon for the 2014 Australian Women Writers Challenge.

 

The next three travel memoirs might not have come to my attention if I hadn’t heard their accomplished, highly entertaining authors speak in a session at the Festival. Xavier Toby, author of Mining my own Business, is a comedian who was in Perth for the Perth Fringe Festival that preceded the Perth Writers Festival. His book is about a six-month stint on a mine-site in Queensland, where he went to earn money to repay debts. I was immediately intrigued when I heard him say, ‘Miners talk in anecdotes. They don’t have conversations. I’ve known a few fly-in-fly-out (FIFO) workers, and wonder about the lifestyle, but Xavier Toby seems to have taken it in his stride.

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The next author on my list, Tim Cope, is an intrepid adventurer, filmmaker and writer who has to his credit several books and documentaries and a number of travel awards, including the Young Australian Adventurer of the Year, 2002 and the Australian Geographic  Australian Adventurer of the Year 2006. He travelled from Mongolia to Hungary on horseback, an amazing journey if ever there was one. It took almost four years for him to cover the 10 000 kilometres. His book is On the Trail of Genhis Khan, An Epic Journey Through the Land of the Nomads. 

Brendan Shanahan calls himself ‘a reluctant journalist-turned-writer’. His latest book is Mr Snack and the Lady Water Travel tales from my lost years. It is a collection of what have been called ‘darkly wicked’ stories from his travels around the world, including one about buying a house in Las Vegas, unseen, from the internet.  I can’t wait to read a book about which Annabel Crabb has said, “Eccentric and darkly hilarious. I’d read anything Shanahan wrote, but I’d never travel with him anywhere.”

The book for our next book club meeting at the end of March, chosen by a member after several of us heard the author at the Festival, is Jo Baker’s novel Longbourn, and I’m looking forward to that, too. Jo Baker said that this literary novel began from her speculation on the way ‘things got done’ in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice: a letter was delivered; the laundry was done – simple everyday events that seemed to have no agent. She asked herself, ‘Who did that?’ and ‘What would that be like?’ Taking her clues from historical research and the life and novels of Austen, Baker wrote from what she called ‘absences’. She imagined the servants and others who did the hidden work in those days, and the characters in Longbourn began from there.

9781742613093[1]And then there is Debra Adelaide’s collection of short stories, Letter to George Cluny. I’ll review that, too, in the near future, for the AWW Challenge.

There was more, much more, that attracted my attention and compelled my interest at the 2014 Perth Writers Festival. But this list is a good start to my reading plans for the next few months.

Joining the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2014

Last week, I signed up for the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2014, which began on 1 January and will finish on 31 December. For this challenge, women and men readers and bloggers in Australia and elsewhere are invited to read and review books in any genre written by Australian women.

The challenge has run for the past two years, and each time I’ve thought of an excuse not to be involved. Laziness, perhaps. I mostly choose to read books by women and talk about some of them at the book club to which I belong. Reviewing is a logical next step.

Australian Writers Challenge 2014

Australian Writers Challenge 2014

Books by male authors in Australia are far more likely to be reviewed than those by women. The stated aim of this challenge is ‘to help overcome gender bias in the reviewing of books by Australian women’. As a woman writer, I have to like that!

In the challenge, there are four suggested levels. The first three are named after Stella Miles Franklin, an Australian writer and feminist who is best known for her novel My Brilliant Career, which was published in 1901. The levels are:

  • Stella: read four books, and if reviewing, review at least three
  • Miles: read six and review at least four
  • Franklin: read ten and review at least six.
  • Create your own challenge,  which could include reading and reviewing an unlimited number of books, or simply reading a few more books by Australian women and reviewing none.

I’ve been very gentle with myself and opted for the Miles level, which means that, in 2014, I’ll read at least six books and review four. Because I write memoirs and sometimes facilitate life-writing courses at Peter Cowan Writers Centre I tend to read more memoirs than books in other genres.

My plans could easily change, but for the challenge I’d like to read and review books from several different genres. Perhaps I’ll find some books written by and about older women. I’ll report my progress and include the reviews in my posts.

There are a few reasons why I’ve joined:

  • The idea of being part of a community of people who are reading and writing about books by women writers appeals
  • Accepting the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2014 is an act of solidarity with women writers who are underrepresented in book reviews and on long- and short-lists for most writing awards
  • I like challenges, even small ones.

Anyone reading this blog can join the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2014 and read more books by women this year. I know some people would enjoy reviewing the books, as well. For those new to reviewing, there are guidelines on the AWWC website, and there are also numerous websites with information and tips on how to go about it. Perhaps members of book clubs and writing groups could encourage others to join the challenge and support each other’s review-writing.

ps. This is the first time I’ve tried to add links to one of my posts.  I can’t find any way to check until I post this. If I haven’t got it right, I’ll try again. Learning curve!

One hundred-and-one books

One hundred-and-one books make a reasonable reading list.

‘We could start a book club,’ my new friend said. ‘That way we’d get to read a lot of different books.’

‘Good idea,’ said another friend.

‘We could each invite one other person to join,’ I suggested. ‘That way we’d meet new people, too.’

That was eleven years and one hundred-and-one books ago. Continue reading