Sarah Barrie and Tea Cooper in Conversation

On Wednesday night I was fortunate enough to attend an author event at one of my local libraries featuring Tea Cooper and Sarah Barrie. Umina library hosted the pair for a wonderful evening of conversation. The event was remarkably well coordinated and run and it’s hard to imagine this was the library’s first time hosting this type of event.

Tea Cooper

Tea Cooper is the author of contemporary and historical fiction writing stories predominately set in regency and Victorian eras. Originally from England, she has found a new home in Australia and writes stories set in the Hunter Valley including Maitland and Wollombi. Her latest book is The Woman in the Green Dress which is due for publication 17 Dec this year. Sarah Barrie on the hand writes rural suspense and her latest book, Bloodtree River, follows on from the successful Hunters Ridge series and is available now. Listening to them discuss their writing styles and their experiences was such an enlightening time, and like most writing events makes me walk away inspired to return to my own works in progress.

The event began with nibblies and drinks before we all gathered inside for the talk. From the start it was presented as a casual conversation and Tea was quick to welcome people to interrupt and make it more of a joint conversation between them and the audience. This worked incredibly well because the audience questions prompted a variety of stories and insights from the writers.

Sarah Barrie

Questions ranged from how long does it take to create a book? And where do ideas come from? To discussing the historical research process for Tea’s stories and Sarah’s inspiration for ideas. One thing I found interesting was Tea’s answer about her research. She mentioned she never takes the historical stories from people who are living in the area, as many families still remain. All of her characters are fictional, but come from snippets of stories, Tea not liking the idea of putting words into the mouth of people who actually existed.

Through audience inquiry we learnt more about Tea and Sarah’s friendship and their relationship as writing partners. Another great audience question was about structuring writing time. Sarah gave a wise answer saying that stricture is great, but life doesn’t go to plan. She has to make the time but instead of daily goals or set times to write, she aims for writing a set amount of words per month. I quite liked this approach because it releases the constraint of daily writing, 4am writing (though it works for some quite successfully), and panicking when none of those this happen for weeks at a time.

Having a conversational style event also allowed for a lot of unexpected questions to be asked and it steered the conversation into educational and humorous avenues. There were personal stories exploring friendship and work histories together, and their own stories about getting started in publishing as well as a few tricks of the trade.

In the end the night seemed to fly by and even in the short time the women spoke a lot of ground was covered as the conversation flowed seamlessly from one question and topic to another. Local bookseller Book Bazaar was there as well so people could purchase both Tea and Sarah’s books and have them signed. It was wonderful to see people lining up to buy books both before and after the talk, the line for signings a great proportion of those who attended.

The informal and communal nature of the night was highly enjoyable and it was fantastic to hear from two local Aussie authors. Combine that with sitting in a library surrounded by books made it a very cosy night indeed.

 

You can find out more about each of these authors via the following

Tea Cooper
Website
Facebook
Twitter
Goodreads

Sarah Barrie
Website
Facebook
Goodreads

 

 

Wendy James in Conversation

Last week I attended an event at the library to see crime writer Wendy James in conversation with fellow writer Jaye Ford. It was a great evening, Jaye and Wendy have been friends for years so their conversation was informative and fun, with all the fun banter friendship throws in.

Jaye spoke to Wendy about her new book The Golden Child. James has been dubbed Queen of domestic thrillers, a term both Jaye and Wendy joke about often. What exactly is a domestic thriller? But this is a deserved title though because The Golden Child is incredible, and has already been optioned as a miniseries.

Wendy’s book is about bullying, social media, and parenting, but she is very good at not actually blaming social media or the parents for the events in this book. It’s a brilliantly complicated novel that looks at how issues of bullying can often come from nowhere. She told Jaye that she wanted the mother in the book to be unprepared, to not see where it had come from; that there are often no obvious signs. Social media, Wendy said, is so ubiquitous these days that you don’t notice it.

Wendy was asked whether it was tougher for girls these days and while she said it was harder for young girls, it is also harder to control older kids in regards to technology. One thing I really liked was that Wendy said it wasn’t about the social media or the bullying per se, it was about the women involved. She wanted it to be about how the mothers felt about the situation. Her character does everything she could to raise her kids right and yet still things aren’t perfect. What was also wonderful is there is no one person or thing to blame for everything, Wendy didn’t want to turn it into a book about how to parent or put the blame on a single entity.

The story is set in Newcastle but as Wendy said, it doesn’t mean it is a book about Newcastle. Being a newish resident there herself she wrote her idea of Newcastle, instead of the one that has the weight of someone whose whole life has been there which is something I think she did very well. It has the feel of someone who has just moved there, and not someone who knows everything there is to know about it.

The tail end of the discussion merged into a joint conversation which started with discussing each authors writing history and processes; something which I always find fascinating to hear about. Wendy spoke of her career as a teacher of creative writing and how it made her see things a bit differently, commenting that when you write you stop thinking about the craft after a while. The search and discovery for ideas was also mentioned and the pair joked about the best places to mullover ideas – driving and in the shower being optimal. The comment was made about needing a waterproof notebook in the shower and I forgot to mention it to them on the night, but there is one called Aquanotes if you’re interested, Wendy or Jaye. It’s ridiculously helpful for my own preservation of ideas.

The pair discussed research processes prompted by audience questions as well as their writing routines and styles. It was an interesting way to cap off a wonderful and informative evening. There is something wonderful about going to events like these that bring out your own inspiration and drive.

You can purchase The Golden Child via the following

Publisher | Booktopia | Kobo | Dymocks

 QBD | Angus & Robertson’s Bookworld

or check out Jaye books and Wendy’s other work because it’s amazing!

Jaye Ford

Goodreads | WebsiteTwitter |

Wendy James

Goodreads | Website | Twitter

Writing Herstory: A YA Event

It’s true dedication (or a type of madness) to endure the four-hour round trip for an often one hour or one and a half hour event in Sydney, but while some can be a letdown, others are truly wonderful and this was one of those times.

On Saturday, Jeann from Happy Indulgence hosted a panel called Writing Herstory: Today’s female experience in contemporary YA in the fabulous bookstore, Kinokuniya. It was a great afternoon listening to five fabulous women discuss important issues in YA novels and how important they can be to readers.

I often feel guilty, or feel like not a “true YA reader” (whatever that is even supposed to mean) for not knowing some of the authors on panels, but then I remind myself that I’ve been given a chance to discover some new authors. And of course, now I know of them I can read their work and fall in love with them.

Kirsty Eager, Gabrielle Tozer, Sarah Ayoub, Tamar Chnorhokian, Erin Gough. Courtesy of Kinokuniya’s Twitter.

Making up the panel of excellent women were Kirsty Eager (Summer Skin), Sarah Ayoub (The Yearbook Committee), Gabrielle Tozer (The Intern), Tamar Chnorhokian (The Diet Starts on Monday), and Erin Gough (The Flywheel). Having already fallen in love with Sarah and Kirsty, I was eager to discover these other YA authors and it didn’t take long for that to happen or for my admiration to follow.

Jeann did a great job as host, she asked wonderful questions and the discussion ranged from bullying, diversity, minority representation, and why the Aussie YA community is so wonderful. She asked the panel why they thought diversity was important and there were excellent responses such as needing your experience represented and seeing the less represented shown in a different light than they may be on TV or in films. Gabrielle made a wonderful point about it how it makes people feel included; they pick up a book and see themselves on the page. I also loved Sarah’s thought that it gives people a sense of self-worth and value when their experiences are in stories. Gabriella also pointed out that you can’t include everyone which is why there is a need for diverse writers and books.

The panel also discussed the various issues portrayed in each of their novels; peer pressure in The Yearbook Committee, sexual preference in The Flywheel, feminism in Summer Skin, body image in The Diet Starts on Monday, as well as the big issue of bullying and why it’s included in so many YA novels. The fact is, as Sarah pointed out, is that it is happening, and continues to happen not only to young people, and to ignore it is often detrimental and damaging. Erin mentioned the reason YA features bullying is because it happens and it sucks. And as Tamar pointed out, even when you are brave enough to stick up for yourself, it doesn’t mean it isn’t bullying, and it affects you in some way. As Sarah said, we tend to have a hopeful outlook on bullying, never looking at the consequences it can have.

The discussion was real and profound; it was wonderful to hear an open discussion about things like the different opinions of men and women in terms of sexual activity, and what body image is and where pressure can come from. I loved that Kirsty told us women don’t have to be role models and that Erin highlighted that there are more pressures out there than just from ones peers.

It was lovely to hear the panel talk about why they love the Aussie YA community, praising our passion and how engaging we are. Kirsty loving our open mindedness and how open-hearted we are, while Sarah loved how vocal we are about the books we love. Tamar mentioning along the same lines how she loved seeing readers react with books and characters. The common opinion from all five was how accepting the YA community is, which is a wonderful thing to have recognised by other people.

I came out of the event with five new books which I’m classing as a win. I’ve discovered new authors who were a delight to meet, so very friendly and cheerful, and I got to hear an important discussion about women and literature. I’m glad I made the trip down and so stoked to have discovered some more Aussie YA ladies to enjoy!

Signed and ready for reading!

 

 

David Dyer Talk: The Midnight Watch

David-Dyer.jpgA little over a week ago I went to a talk in North Sydney to hear David Dyer talk about his new book, The Midnight Watch. The story is of the Californian, the ship who saw the Titanic sink and did nothing to help. The story itself is incredible, I am working on a review for that at the moment, but I journeyed the many hours and had an adventurous train trip to hear David speak because I was in love with this book before I even read it.

It was a quaint little cafe and wine and canapés were offered which was very swish. There was a small but enthusiastic crowd; the 30 chairs provided being mostly filled. I discovered during the talk many people had no read the book yet which was interesting, but many did purchase it on their way in or out so I guess David’s talk was successful.

David only spoke for 30 minutes which I was very surprised about. The event had been listed as 6-7pm, and it wasn’t until about 6:15 I realised the first half hour was for the food to go around. Not to be ungrateful because David did a wonderful job, but I’m slightly indignant that it only went for 30 minutes. The argument can be made that the $35 I paid was for the food/wine/venue, but if you chose not to eat or drink, you really are paying a lot (and personally coming from a fair distance) for 30 minutes. To his credit, David fit a lot into those 30 minutes.

He told us that he’d always been passionate about the Titanic, having seen A Night to Remember when he was around four years old. Reading this book I was amazed to learn there had even been another ship in the area, I always hear about Carpathian and Titanic, never a third. The way David tells the story is beautiful and filled with history that comes straight from the records.

Click to find out more.Helen Baxter from Blues Point Bookshop introduced him and asked whether there was anything more to write about the Titanic, was it not overdone? But she complimented David for not only taking on the task but for doing it astonishingly well. David himself was surprised by the interest, the story is of course well known by the 1997 film, which catapulted the story like no film ever has. Because of this everyone knows the story of Titanic, but what surprised David was that not many people know that everyone on board could see another ship. The entire story would have been different, the Titanic may not have even been remembered, if the Californian had gone to her rescue and saved the 1500 who were lost.

David spoke about how his obsession grew over the years until he finally wrote a book about it. Even though the book is fiction it sets out to tell the truest story. As well as the Titanic/Californian story, an additional backdrop of the novel, and history really, is the suffragette movement; something David said was at its peak just before the disaster and which was set back years as a result.

Before becoming a writer David told us about training to become a doctor (but he faints at the sight of blood) before deciding to go to sea and work on merchant ships and tankers. He learnt a lot about himself at sea and this experience feeds into the novel. He was also a lawyer working in Australia and in London. In an incredible coincidence he was a litigation lawyer in the firm that represented White Star Line, the company that owned the Titanic.

When he decided to write the novel he began researching, and somehow ended up back in Sydney as a teacher. He took time off in 2009 to do hard research into the Californian and why it didn’t go to help. This took him all over the world, London, New York, Boston, and the Liverpool Maritime Museum, where all of Captain Lord’s papers are held.

Lord left all of his things to a friend who kept them all his life, and when he passed he donated them to the museum. David thought he would find an answer in these documents but only found commendations and a lot of people praising Lord, saying he was very brave. One of the greatest finds was two original letters that had been given to Lord by the two men who’d watched the distress rockets being launched and seen the Titanic in the distance.

These letters were written within a day of the sinking and listening to David read out his photocopies was incredible. These were the actual words of those who’d seen Titanic and are amazing contemporaneous evidence. As David read the words of the two men it’s no wonder Lord had the letters kept secret for 50 years because they clearly show him at fault.

David said that even more important than documents was actually visiting places and locations where events happened – New York, Venezuela, London, Liverpool etc. David called it narrative telepathy; he needed to go to the places the people went, needed to get under their skin. He went to the captain’s address and the second mate’s address to get a sense of how terrible they’d feel and what it was like for them to live among the community where so many were lost. David sensed Lord’s shame and anger, but not from malice. It was a small mistake that had consequences of 1500 lives.

In order to achieve the most narrative telepathy David was in the middle of the north Atlantic 100 years to the second over the sink site on 14 April 2012. He spent hours there looking over the water. The weather was the same, dead calm, no wind and a black night. He couldn’t imagine being in the water. Apparently one of the worst sounds heard by the 700 who escaped in lifeboats was people crying out in pain as they entered the water. The worst sound came ten minutes later when there was no sound at all because that was how long they had. This, David said, is what’s at stake in the novel – the captain should have come to help.

The audience were quite good considering most hadn’t read the novel yet. They asked why lord had kept the letters if they incriminated him. David admitted he didn’t know but thought perhaps Lord couldn’t bring himself to destroy them. There were bits of evidence to support it wasn’t the Titanic, but he may have known in his heart that it was.

David answered a question about the transcripts of the American and UK trials that took place, telling us they are available online for public viewing. The American trial was four days after the disaster and useful for being so immediate, while the UK one was more measured and thorough a few months later. Captain Lord and the two officers gave evidence and much of the dialogue in the book is verbatim from these transcripts.

Ending on a light hearted note David answered a comment about Clive Palmer stating that he would never have gotten his second Titanic to work because not only would he need to adhere to safety measures that did not exist 100 years ago, but no one would agree to share one bath between 600 people in third class as they had to do on the original.

As I said, despite only speaking for 30 minutes David managed to speak about a lot, including time for questions. There was a lot he couldn’t elaborate on which was a shame because it was clear he loved the topic and could have spoken for longer but what he did mention was fascinating. At the end I was able to get my book signed and I was even brave enough for a question (at the signing table mind you, not during the talk) so I was pretty pleased.

David is appearing at the Sydney Writers’ Festival to talk more about his novel and the suffragette movement if you’re interested. Full details are on his website and the SWF website.

Talking Heads with Fiona McFarlane

Fiona McFarlane (Photo credit: Andy Barclay)Last week I attended a book event in Sydney for Fiona McFarlane, author of The Night Guest and the new collection of short stories, The High Places. Held in Newtown library the event was small but inviting with a lovely selection of wine and cheese nibblies upon arrival.

The Night Guest has been on my TBR list since its release and I finished (and started to be honest) The High Places on the train. I’d planned to read them both beforehand by my online order didn’t arrive in time so it was a scramble to get a copy. Luckily I was able to purchase a copy of The Night Guest on the night from booksellers Better Read Than Dead.

There was a small crowd who gathered upstairs in library, perhaps 10 people, but they were all eager to listen to Fiona talk about writing and her new book. Fiona spoke about how she’d always written fiction and her time growing up in Newtown had helped inspire some of her stories. She said that making stories out of the things she saw and experienced was natural, an example being the skydivers who are mentioned in one of her short stories, were based on the skydivers she used to see landing nearby her house. She mentioned of course many of these things can be easily speculated after the story has been written, she wasn’t too conscious of it at the time.

After reading part of one of her short stories, she provided insight into a few references and the history to her ideas. She told us it surprised her when she noticed all her stories had histories. Fiona mentioned the trouble she had writing fiction after her PhD and decided she would read great sentences instead because her brain couldn’t handle creating great sentences at the time.

Another thing Fiona discussed was the commentary people provide about being a short story writer versus a novelist. She said people think that writing a novel takes much longer, thereby making short story writing easy, but Fiona disagreed and said short story writing can be intense, some of those in The High Places had taken her ten years to complete. Comparing that to The Night Guest, from first draft to publication it only took four and a half years.

She mentioned that what’s good about short stories is that they’re patient, they wait for you in a way a novel doesn’t, novels need to be written in one go while the world of the short story is easier to step back into. Another thing I liked was that she pointed out that no one asks why someone chose to write a novel, but always ask why someone writes short stories, as if a novel is a normal thing to write. But as Fiona said, “it is no way normal or sensible to write a novel” and why would anyone spend their time to write something that is 20 times longer?

Fiona had great things to say about the short story: “[They] can be anything but small; they’re compact explosive charges with the makings of existences.” She also said it was a bad idea to think of short stories as less than a novel. In fact, The Night Guest started a short story but Fiona soon realised it was bigger and had to face that it was turning into a novel whether she liked it or not.

Speaking about her new collection, The High Places, she said while there are no mountains in the book, the high places make you think of the low places as well. The joy of short stories she concluded was that short stories can play with scale; it forces you to face the large compressed into the small, which is something I love most about short stories and something The High Places does very well.

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