Thursday, 28 May 2020

The Future and the Past

The Future: Expiration Day by William Campbell Powell

Expiration day is an unusual futuristic novel. Although set in a dystopian future, it’s a poignant and heart-warming coming-of-age novel about what it means to be human.

To maintain peace in a world where few human children still exist, a corporation called Oxtet creates teknoid children for adoption. Tania Deely discovers only two children in her entire school are human. The rest undergo regular upgrades to give them the appearance of growing up. To maintain the illusion, most of them don’t know they’re not human.

In this confusing world, Tania writes a diary describing her life, loves, hopes, dreams, fears and doubts. But as her friends disappear one by one (even the human ones) Tania realises every family faces an Expiration Day.

I highly recommend giving the audio book a listen. Gabrielle de Cuir gives a terrific reading.


The Past: No Small Shame by Christine Bell

As the first World War begins, a young Scottish migrant is embroiled in her own battles at home in Australia. Mary’s determined build a better life for herself and her loved ones, but is hampered by a reluctant husband, an overbearing mother, and the general attitudes and opinions of the day.

Between all the heartache, Mary’s warmth and compassion shine through. Every time I put the book down, I found myself worrying and wondering what would happen, always hoping the best for the characters.

These two books couldn’t be more different and yet at their heart they both feature strong female protagonists who strive to make the world a better place.

Who decided who got to go where and when? Or what a person could or couldn't do? Who wrote the rule book? - No Small Shame by Christine Bell

Monday, 20 April 2020

Lockdown faves

It’s a bit over a month since a state of emergency was declared here in Melbourne, so thought I’d compile a list of lockdown faves so far.

Favourite TV series: The Man in the High Castle (Amazon)
A fantastic show full of compelling and complex characters set in an alternate history where the Nazis won the war. Rufus Sewell is particularly exceptional as Obergruppenführer John Smith, a ruthless man who will do anything to protect his family, including turning his back on everything he believes in, (and who happens to have the most tongue-twisting job title in the world. Props to the actors who had to say it repeatedly).

Favourite movie: I only watched one and it was dreadful. Hopefully something better comes along next month.

Favourite book YA: Call Down the Hawk by Maggie Stiefvater
A book about dreamers and the dreamed. If a dream will sleep forever when you die, you have a lot to live for. It’s a great premise well executed. Can’t wait for book two to come out.

Favourite book MG: The January Stars by Kate Constable
Two sisters accidentally kidnap their grandfather from a nursing home and go on an adventure to find him a new place to live. A beautifully written, heart-warming tale with a sprinkle of stardust magic.

Favourite book PB: Cicada by Shaun Tan
I expect nothing less than brilliance from Shaun Tan and Cicada does not disappoint.

Favourite book A: Dark Emu by Bruce Pascoe
Okay, I read this just prior to lockdown, but it’s the most recent book for adults I’ve read, so I’m including it in the list. A fascinating study of indigenous agriculture and development prior to European settlement in Australia. There is much this country can learn about environmental sustainability here.

Favourite board game contest: Scrabble
I lost, but as far as Scrabble games go it was a corker. I started with four Ns, a Z, and zero vowels. We backed ourselves into a corner early on and, with barely any room to move, it looked likely we’d have to start again. The addition of two letters to an existing word got us out of trouble and my son scored a triple word score with a long Q-word. The most remarkable thing of all: at the end of the game there were only two 1-point tiles left.
A very close second in this category was when I bankrupted everybody in Monopoly *maniacal laugh*.

Favourite small moment: Standing in the backyard listening to dozens of birds hold a raucous AGM in the Leylandii trees.

Hope everyone's finding their own favourite moments in lockdown.

Friday, 14 February 2020

News, Views and Beauteousness

I was planning to call this post News, Views and Reviews, but realised I didn’t have much to review, and as an online rhyming dictionary insisted that beauteousness rhymed with news (???), I’m rolling with it.

First the news: I have had a short story called Curse of the Swan Prince selected for the anthology South of the Sun: Fairy Tales for the 21st Century. You can read about it here:

This is my very first acceptance for publication of any piece of writing I’ve done ever done, so it’s super exciting.

I’d had the characters I used in the story hanging out in my head for quite a long time. Years in fact. I knew they had a story to tell, but as I was busy working on other things, I kept pushing them aside. I finished work on my YA manuscript around the same time I saw the call for submissions to the anthology and knew these characters would be perfect for a fairy tale. It had been a long time since I’d attempted writing a short story, but in another twist of serendipity, I’d been reading an anthology called The Ghostly Stringybark, which gave me a really good feel for how to structure the tale. It all came together rather quickly, and I was proud of the result. I'm stoked the selection committee liked it too.

To views and beauteousness: For our annual family holiday this year, we went to Tasmania. Best holiday ever! Check out the scenery:

Bicheno Blow Hole

Sleepy Bay, Freycinet NP

Richmond Bridge

Franklin Wharf, Hobart

Horseshoe Falls, Mt Field NP

Marakoopa Cave, Mole Creek

Mt Round Lookout

Mersey Bluff Lighthouse, Devonport

View of Mt Roland from Wilmot

This is just a small selection of the hundreds of photos I took. If you've never been to Tassie, tick it off your bucket list asap.

Tuesday, 20 August 2019

The dark and the light

Two of the most recent books I've read have been polar opposites.

First I listened to the audio book of Sonya Hartnett's Surrender, in which a young man on his death bed remembers the harrowing events of his childhood. This incredibly dark tale recounts the twisted friendship between repressed Anwell (who at the age of seven accidentally killed his disabled brother) and free-spirited Finnegan. In a moment of bonding, Finnegan absolves Anwell from doing any wrong and names him Gabrielle. Finnegan vows to always do bad so that Gabrielle can always do good. Finnegan begins by setting fire to things and those things always belong to people who have crossed or slighted Gabrielle in some way. Gabrielle grows increasingly anxious at Finnegan's retribution and their friendship gradually erodes. As the lines between good and evil start to blur the story gets even darker.

Not a book for the fainthearted, but a beautifully told tale nonetheless.

And then there's The Rosie Result. I adore the Rosie books by Graeme Simsion. Heartwarming, funny and uplifting they are a delight to read. The first two books in the series probably had more laugh-out-loud moments than this third and final instalment, but as the parent of someone on the autism spectrum I found The Rosie Result highly relatable. Don and Rosie's son has issues at school. The school would like to have Hudson assessed for autism, but Don and Rosie are reticent. Don decides to take time off work (which wasn't going so smoothly anyway) to help. Applying his unstinting logic to the Hudson project, Don manages to make things a whole lot worse before they get better. 

Amidst the hilarity, The Rosie Result debunks many of the myths surrounding autism and addresses some of the problems faced by many parents with kids on the spectrum.

And to finish, a quote that is neither dark nor light, but important:

'I'm not a person with autism any more than I'm a person with lesbianism. I'm lesbian. I'm autistic. When I get a cold, I have a cold; I'm a person with a cold and I want to get rid of it. Medical help appreciated. But being autistic and lesbian – that’s who I am, and I’m not interested in anyone trying to cure me of who I am.' - Liz the autism activist from: The Rosie Result – Graeme Simsion

Sunday, 30 June 2019

More Highlights

I sincerely hope there comes a time when I can be more consistent with my posts here – once every three to four months is not ideal, and my goal has always been once a month. However away from Life Amidst the Unreal there is that pesky interruption called life. You know the one, where there’s money to be earned, kids to get where they’re supposed to be at any given time, bills to pay, food to cook, appointments to attend, pain to ease or tolerate if it can’t be eased. The one where husbands injure themselves at work and require an operation and a chauffeur (luckily my daughter has her Ls now, so she can take over that job sometimes). The one where manuscripts won’t edit or submit themselves and blog posts won’t write themselves.

But enough of the Real! Time for highlights of the Unreal:

Writing highlights: I currently have three separate manuscripts out there in the slush. Two PBs and a YA. Also bashed out a couple of rough chapters for a sequel to my YA urban fantasy.

Reading highlights: Aurora Rising by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff, The Nancys by RWR McDonald, Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow by Jessica Townsend, Ship of Dolls by Shirley Parenteau, and by Jaclyn Moriarty I read Gravity is the Thing and reread A Corner of White. I highly recommend all of these books and would happily read anything written by any of these authors.

Viewing highlights: Not a lot to list here, too many good books to read, and too much happening IRL. The Handmaid’s Tale (1st series on Stan, 2nd and 3rd series on SBS on Demand), Yesterday (currently in cinemas)

Opening lines highlight: Madeleine Tully turned fourteen yesterday, but today she did not turn anything.
Oh, wait. She turned a page. – A Corner of White, Jaclyn Moriarty

Tuesday, 12 March 2019


Been working hard getting my manuscript ready for submission, so here's a few highlights from Life Amidst the Unreal over the last couple of months:

Writing highlights: finishing off the YA urban fantasy I’ve been working on for what feels like forever. So close, so close…

Reading highlights: Take Three Girls by Cath Crowley, Simmone Howell and Fiona Wood; Mao’s Last Dancer by Li Cunxin; A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett; currently reading Vicarious by Paula Stokes.

Viewing highlights: The Bodyguard series on Netflix; Good Girls series on Netflix; The Cry BBC/ABC miniseries; Bohemian Rhapsody movie on DVD.

Holiday highlights:

Mount Kilcoy, Qld

Random river stones, Mount Kilcoy, Qld

Lake Somerset, Qld

And I'll leave you with a couple of "Royal" highlights:

Roger Taylor: You’re a legend, Fred.
Freddie Mercury: You’re bloody right I am. We’re all legends. But you’re right, I am a legend. 
- Bohemian Rhapsody

Rio: You wanna be the king, you gotta kill the king. This stuff's medieval darlin'.
- Good Girls

Sara: There's nothing so strong as rage, except what makes you hold it in - that's stronger. It's a good thing not to answer your enemies.

- A Little Princess, Frances Hodgson Burnett

Monday, 26 November 2018

Gap Year Nanny by Goldie Alexander

Part of the Shakespeare Now! trilogy (also available as an anthology), Gap Year Nanny takes Macbeth from historic Scotland and brings it to modern Melbourne.

During her gap year, Merri watches the rise and fall of her employers, corporate climber Stuart Macbeth and his wife Lorna, while looking after the couple’s young children. The familiar tale of greed and corruption plays out against Merri’s day-to-day problems, such as getting her charges to trust her, losing old friends, making new ones, and balancing a social life with the demands of her job.

Placing Macbeth’s main themes and characters in a modern setting (the witches make a memorable appearance as internet gurus) makes this book a great introduction for young people studying “the Scottish play” for the first time.

I look forward to reading the other two books in the trilogy – The Trytth Chronicles based on The Tempest and set in the future, and Changing History? a time-slip novel set in 1928 Berlin based on Romeo and Juliet.