Look out Victoria – here I come


I am delighted to say that my jaunt down to Victoria has the green light for mid-August. Victoria will always be The Garden State to me (I’m pretty sure that’s what the number-plate logo was ‘back in the day’). Gardens. Culture. Fashion. Great Food.

I’m hoping to spend time visiting some Melbourne bookshops – I’ll keep you posted on that. I can confirm that there will be a wonderful country cruise-around in the company of fellow author Eliza Henry-Jones. More details shortly.

I love Melbourne and I love country Victoria, and it seems to have ‘been a while between drinks’ so I’m really looking forward to it. I hope the southerners will turn on a bit of sunshine for me!



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After the Carnage by Tara June Winch: Book Review

I have been exceptionally quiet on the review front of late. I had committed to review a couple for the Australian Women Writers Challenge but, apart from that, I have insulated myself a little to concentrate on my own work. However, as Lisa Hill – one of the busiest women I know – is once again hosting Indigenous Literature Week at ANZ LitLovers and will no doubt be continuing her phenomenal reading and posting routine, I feel the very least I can do is offer up one review.

After the Carnage by Tara June Winch is a collection of short stories, themed (it seems to me) on humanity; what it means to be human, to travel great distances both literally and metaphorically, to see and hear and question, to taste fear and to touch poverty.

I was so busy wallowing in the Australianness of the opening story ‘Wager’ that I skated over the abandoned pre-teen Tom just to hear more of the conversation between the now adult Tom and his stepfather. Tom is so eager to please, talking about hoping to become a doctor in “a little voice so he wouldn’t think I was trying to be a big man under his roof” (5) and ordering chips and rissoles with a question mark, by way of a request for approval from his mother. My sense of unease grew as the grog flowed and the pokies coerced but – despite having been given a warning in the opening sentence – I still wasn’t prepared for the ferocity of the denouement when it reared up and socked me in the jaw.

‘After the Carnage, More’ is stunning in its simple, ordinary descriptions of a complex, extraordinary situation. On a day in Lahore when the sky is “rapidly remodelling itself in ash” (35), a man remains calm in the face of his own pain and injury while he tries to quell any underlying sense of panic about the location and condition of his wife.

My two favourite stories of the thirteen – ‘Easter’ and ‘The Proust Running Group of Paris’ – both echo back to my long-held belief that fiction can be as important as non-fiction (sometimes more so) in telling us truths. Fiction can wrap truth into manageable and palatable parcels that are a joy to unwrap, even when the contents are far from jubilant.

The narrator of ‘Easter’, an American journalist, has “bottled” his memories into:

. . . the taste of yak cheese, the pungent marijuana, the hangover from brandy and altitude, the feeling of dirty hostel blankets, every conversation. (88)

He tries to be a rock for his sister. As she cries on a Paris street, he comforts her with an arm over her shoulders, “as if protecting her from a wild wind blowing in from Ohio” (99) and he hoards the memory (just as he’s done with those from childhood) so that he can revisit it.

In ‘Easter’, the author gives us relatable packaged memories but in ‘The Proust Running Group of Paris’ it is the characters that tinkle a faint bell from the past. If you’ve ever known an alcoholic intimately, you’ll likely relate to this description of Barcry, the first runner to join the group, formed online through a forum topic.

Barcry was a four-month-sober alcoholic who’d drink everything in a two-mile vicinity, until all last orders were called, and then he would arrive home and open his children’s Holy Communion non-alcoholic wine – in the faint hope that the stuff had fermented in the previous decade. (159)

I was mildly disappointed that many of the stories are peppered with the universal Americanisms of cell phones and Moms while I hankered for more wattle flowers and possums scratching at fly screens but Tara June Winch has taken us around the world with this collection and I, for one, feel all the richer for it.

Tara June Winch, After the Carnage, UQPress, St Lucia, Queensland, 2016
ISBN: 9780702254147
This book was gifted to me by a very dear friend.


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I like Bob Dylan BUT . . .

I’ve just listened to Bob Dylan’s Nobel Lecture which was described as ‘extraordinary’ and ‘eloquent’ by the Swedish Academy’s permanent secretary Sara Danius. ‘Rambling’ was the word that came to my mind but that’s okay because that’s Dylan, and I’ve always been a fan. But the word that really springs to my mind is ‘Why’.  Why?

I do not presume to diminish Dylan’s contribution to the world of words but, seriously, I have to ask: With the number of wonderful literary names alive in the world today, why did the prize have to go to a musician and lyricist? And, if such a radical move was warranted, why Dylan above the (now late) great Canadian, Leonard Cohen? In addition to providing a poetic and lyric backdrop to our lives, the always erudite and entertaining Cohen socially and philosophically influenced our times dynamically.

When I think of the Nobel Prize for Literature, I think, firstly, of books. Yes, Dylan has published books – seven books of his drawings and paintings, some collections of the lyrics to his songs, a memoir and one work of prose poetry. Let’s face it, he is not known for his books. He is known for his lyrical compositions and the profound impact he has made in the music industry, winning a slew of awards and breaking record sales.

Leonard Cohen published books of song lyrics too.  But he also wrote two extraordinary novels (The Favorite Game and Beautiful Losers) and published over a dozen collections of poetry.

The announcement of the 2016 Nobel Prize for Literature may very well have been the straw to tip the burden. By all accounts, Cohen was a good, decent, kind man but I feel somewhere deep in his soul, a tiny pebble of bitter sadness may have vied with his congratulatory thoughts toward his fellow lyricist. He died less than a month after the announcement that Bob Dylan had won the 2016 Nobel Prize for Literature.

In Dylan’s lecture, delivered as a recording rather than presented in person, there’s a strange kind of book review – or three to be precise – followed by a roundabout questioning of what literature is. He says: ‘But songs are unlike literature. They’re meant to be sung, not read.’ I agree with him there and so I am left with that same word when I think about the Swedish Academy’s 2016 decision . . .  WHY?


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Avid Reader Event

In breaking news . . . Avid Reader in West End will be hosting none other than Eliza Henry-Jones and Yours Truly as we jointly promote our latest releases and chat about all manner of things!

When I was reading Eliza’s latest novel Ache, I was immediately struck by the similar way in which we both, as writers, had been metaphorically engulfed by flames. Bushfire is central to her novel, as it is to my collection of short fictions Flame Tip. So I am absolutely thrilled that we will be sharing the limelight.

Avid Reader
193 Boundary Street, West End
Wednesday 28th June, 6pm.
Drinks and nibbles, followed by Eliza and Karenlee in Conversation.

Bookings online at Avid Reader



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ACHE by Eliza Henry-Jones: book review

After reviewing In The Quiet and then having the privilege of interviewing its author Eliza Henry-Jones (for the Australian Women Writers Challenge), I was looking forward to reading Ache with both anticipation and wariness, concerned that this second book may not live up to expectations. My fears, I am pleased to say, were ungrounded. Ache is a powerful novel with a deep sense of place and, as Henry-Jones signed a three-book deal with Harper Collins, I will eagerly anticipate the third.


For now, it’s all about Ache.

There is a city/country binary throughout the book reminiscent of the old Lawson/Paterson rivalries with country coming out the clear winner. Specifically mountain country: when the central character – Annie – thinks of her nana pressing her hands to the rough face of a tree, she remembers the life of it, ‘But the eucalypts in the city feel different.’ (5). Of country life, Annie remembers ‘trees and wood and the hum of bees’, the ‘thick smell of honey’ (6) where, in her city space she has a sparse backyard, most of it concreted. The yard is grey, the fence is grey, life itself seems to splinter into shades of grey. She worries about her daughter growing up, moving in the small circles of the terrace and the narrow streets, instead of the wide circles on the ‘safe’ mountain of her own childhood.

In the opening pages of Ache we are presented with twin mysteries: 1) what led to photos of Annie and her daughter’s escape from the fires appearing on the front page of the newspaper, and  2) what happened to Annie’s first love – Alex. And there are little mysteries to be teased out as well such as why Annie’s daughter Pip insists on being called Phillip since the onslaught of the bushfires.

Henry-Jones shows a deep understanding of the accoutrements of grief, like the food in Tupperware containers that Annie couldn’t stomach: it ‘tasted like grief.’ (9).

There’s a gritty realism to the scenes between Annie and her husband Tom, when they love and when they argue.

Annie breathes out. She wants to press up against him, breathe sorry into his ear until he softens and hugs her back. But she doesn’t. It’s like she has to punish him, over and over, for something he hasn’t done. (21)

I felt the embrace of the circle of life between the lines: Annie grieves for her grandmother and mourns what is lacking in her relationship with her mother. At the same time, she experiences jealousy over the easy rapport between her daughter and her mother and begins to understand that her mother would have felt those same emotions when Annie was growing up so close with her grandmother.

There’s some careful word choices and beautiful phrasing throughout:

An increase in tetanus in the region makes Annie ‘feel blanched with sadness’ (131).

When she encounters her ex-lover she thinks how different it would have felt in the city. ‘Out here, after the fires, she feels the lines of herself become like water.’ (143)

And how’s this for a visual that you can almost hear? ‘A breeze picks up, snaking all of the wind chimes along their balcony into song.’ (5)

Henry-Jones writes carefully and with understatement of the fire’s aftermath. It is the unsaid that makes it so powerful. Skirting around burnt-out cars, Annie looks the other way. ‘Terrified of what she might glimpse in the wreckage. Seatbelts, still done up, perhaps. The charred suggestion of bones.'(122). Less than a page later, Annie is far from looking the other way as she steels herself and does what needs to be done. The language is spare, making the content here all the more cruel and startling.

Eliza Henry-Jones should be rightly proud of her second novel. She is indeed a startling young talent.

I have not searched for other reviews as the embargo has only just lifted and I am pleased to be able to post this review today. I am sure there will be many more.


ISBN 9781460750384
Henry-Jones, Eliza: Ache, Fourth Estate, Sydney. 2017.



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If you live in the greater Brisbane area or maybe the Sunshine Coast and you are thinking of a trip to Eumundi markets on Saturday 13th, make sure you call in to Berkelouw Bookstore and Café. What a gorgeous place! I’ll be there with Flame Tip and I love chatting to readers and fellow writers.

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Tasmanian Writers’ Prize

Well, I am a bridesmaid – again.

Congratulations to Jennifer Porter from Victoria who is the winner of the 2017 Tasmanian Writers’ Prize for her entry ‘The Reverend’. Judges labelled her story a ‘nearly flawless piece of writing’.

Congratulations, also, to all the other finalists. I am thrilled to be with you.

On the Ebb Tide by Margaret Dakin (QLD)
The Church of Lost Objects by Penny Gibson (VIC)
Matchbox Beetles by Annabel Larkey (TAS)
The Rasp of a Hungry Flame by Carmel Lillis (VIC)
Liberty by Ruairi Murphy (TAS)
Wash-up by Melanie Napthine (VIC)
Tybee Bomb by William Stanforth (VIC)
Alice … Incomplete by Karenlee Thompson (QLD)
The Tartan Factor by Polly Whittington (TAS)
Tears of Chios by Lynette Willoughby (SA)

More details at Tasmanian Times or on the Forty South website



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