Sunday Spotlight with Elizabeth Jane Corbett | Australian Women Writers Challenge Blog

Welcome to Sunday Spotlight. Today our guest is Elizabeth Jane Corbett, here to talk about her debut novel, The Tides Between, due for release on the 20th October, published by Odyssey Books. &nbsp…

Source: Sunday Spotlight with Elizabeth Jane Corbett | Australian Women Writers Challenge Blog

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How to Dress a Dummy by Cassie Lane

How to Dress a Dummy by Cassie Lane

‘I was a weird kid.’

I wasn’t sure quite what to expect when I picked up this book. While I vaguely remembered hearing Cassie Lane’s name, I certainly had no detailed recollections.  But I was intrigued by this sub-heading on the cover:

‘From international model to worst dressed at the Brownlow.  How I learned to love imperfection.’

So who is Cassie Lane?  She was an international model, an ex-girlfriend of Collingwood AFL player Alan Didak, and has completed degrees in Creative Writing and Editing, and in Communications and Psychology. This book is both memoir and exploration of image.  Cassie explores both her own self-image, as well as her projected public image.

As so many of us do, Cassie grew up feeling like she didn’t fit in.  She describes, often with self-deprecating humour, various mishaps as a child and as an adolescent.  And then, at age 16, Cassie developed large breasts.  She was tall and otherwise slender.  A career as a model, with work overseas, beckons.

In this book, Cassie writes of the unreal (and unrealistic) world models so frequently inhabit.  She writes of the (seemingly) endless partying, of the pressure, of the drugs.  She also writes of the vulnerability, of living only in the moment, of surviving some pretty bad lifestyle choices. I began to think that Cassie must be invincible, but decided instead that she was very fortunate to survive.

And that’s the key to this memoir. Cassie is reminded, brutally at times, that modelling is work for young women. I felt uncomfortable at times while reading this book.  My inner judgemental parent wanted Cassie to make different choices earlier.  My inner awkward teenaged self could relate to not fitting in, to a certain herd instinct and wanting to belong.  You are smart, I wanted to say, you have other choices.  You are a valuable person, not a saleable product. And I’m not going to mention the hazards of pubic shaving with a rusty razor, or bedbugs.

By the end of the book, I was cheering for Cassie.  She’d survived the rampant sexism and objectification of the modelling industry, the very public life which is part of being the girlfriend of an AFL star, and acquired insight along the way.

I closed this book, happy that I’d read it and pleased that Cassie Lane had made a new life for herself.  I enjoyed her humour and could relate to more aspects of her journey than I would have thought possible at the beginning.  Congratulations, Cassie!  I hope to read more of your work in future.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith

#AWW2017

Sixty Seconds by Jesse Blackadder

Heartbreaking.  Beautifully written, challenging, but heartbreaking.

Sixty Seconds by Jesse Blackadder

‘The boy steps into the day like he owns it – …’

The Brennan family (Finn, Bridget and sons Jarrah and Toby) have recently moved from Hobart to Murwillumbah in northern New South Wales.  While it’s a joint decision to leave Hobart, to make a new start, Finn has some regrets. His wife, Bridget has secured a new job, and Finn is an artist who works from home.  He has just been asked to submit a piece to an outside sculpture show.  A new routine is needed, if Finn is to meet the deadline required.  Jarrah is in his teens, but Toby is only two and a half.

The purple weatherboard house the Brennans bought in Murwillumbah has an outdoor pool, and the family use it often.  How else can a family from Hobart manage to adapt to the heat and humidity of northern New South Wales?

And then tragedy strikes.  Toby drowns. In sixty seconds a family is fractured.  Guilt and grief overwhelm each of the surviving members of the family.  The past is revisited, the present is frozen, any future appears unattainable.  How did Toby get into the pool?  Everyone is looking for explanations, for an explanation.

In this novel, Jesse Blackadder takes the reader deep into each family member’s reaction to Toby’s death.  At a time when they need each other, Bridget and Finn retreat into their own grief.  And Jarrah has to try to negotiate his own difficult world without much assistance from either parent.

My words cannot do justice to how Ms Blackadder makes each of these characters so real.  Bridget’s rage, Finn’s attempt to protect, Jarrah’s search for self: each struggle felt so real to me.  Add in the police investigation, the public scrutiny, the other issues that families deal with.  In the back of my mind, I kept wondering how I would react in such circumstances.  Short chapters deliver the reactions of Finn, Jarrah and Bridget.  Switching between characters provides the reader with a momentary breathing space, to try to make sense of each character’s views and  enables the story to move forward.  Because life (for the survivors) does go on.  Eventually.

In her Author’s Note, Jesse Blackadder writes: ‘It took more than forty years to write this book.  Forty years to understand my own sister’s death and how it shaped my life, and nearly two to write a fictional story about a family facing a tragedy in some ways like mine.’  Thank you, for putting into words, some of the aspects of such a devastating tragedy.  For moving beyond loss and blame, for reminding us of vulnerability, and for introducing the prospect of forgiveness.

Note: My thanks to NetGalley and HarperCollins Australia for providing me with a free electronic copy of this book for review purposes.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith

#AWW2017

The Lone Child by Anna George

‘Neve Ayres pretended she didn’t know the baby strapped to her chest.’

Neve Ayres is 39, and an architect.  But Neve’s world is disintegrating around her. Her lover abandoned her when she was eight months pregnant, and trying to manage an unsettled, restless newborn child on her own is not easy.  Neve is sleep deprived, focussed on survival, trying to juggle feeds and sleep.  Cliff, her son, is six weeks old.  Neve has retreated to her cliff-top holiday home in coastal Victoria, an enormous split-level home.  Here, alone, she attempts to manage.  Clearly, to the reader, she isn’t.

Then, as Neve walks along the beach trying to get Cliff to settle, she encounters another child.  A small girl playing on the beach alone.  It’s autumn, the child is bare-legged, dressed in threadbare clothing.  Close-up, Neve sees that the child has bruises and ‘teeth chipped like crockery’.  Eventually the mother appears, and the child leaves.

‘On Friday morning, a child appeared in my garden.’

But then the girl, whom Neve calls Jessie, reappears in Neve’s garden and begs to be allowed to stay.  What should Neve do?  What will Neve do?  Who is this little girl, and where is her mother?

While the events of this novel play out across the Easter long weekend, elements of the past are also important.  Much of the novel is provided as a third-person perspective from Neve’s mindset, but we also get glimpses into Leah’s world (Leah is the little girl’s mother).  It is not only the children in this novel who need nurturing.

I found this novel haunting.  Partly because of the subject matter and partly because some twists at the end had me questioning what I thought I’d understood along the way.  Can reality be so mutable, so fragile?

Jennifer Cameron-Smith

#AWW2017

Driving Too Fast by Dorothy Porter

Dorothy Porter (1954-2008) published seven collections of poetry, two novels for young adults, two librettos for operas performed in Sydney, Melbourne and London, and four verse-novels. She received a number of awards for her work, including The Age Book of the Year Award and the National Book Council Award (Poetry) for ‘The Monkey’s Mask’, and the FAW Christopher Brennan Award for Poetry in 2001.

‘Driving Too Fast’ was published in 1989, and is the first of her collections of poetry I have read.  I will remedy this.  Reading poetry is very much mood-related for me, and I need the time to read and reflect, time to follow the poet’s words in order to visualise and analyse the images.  Between 1975 and 2009 life was usually too busy to take the time to enjoy poetry.  It certainly wasn’t a time for me to discover and appreciate new poets, although I continued to enjoy poems by Mark O’Connor, Judith Wright, T S Eliot, Emily Brontë and (some) Thomas Hardy.

So, when I picked up ‘Driving Too Fast’, I had no idea what to expect.  There are three sections in this, the fourth of Ms Porter’s poetry collections.  The first section (In Extremis) includes poems about Carmen, about Trucanini:

‘I’m trying to hear the Black Drive of 1830;

but hear instead the rattle of pneumonia

and the bedside voice of white Christianity’

and about the Antarctic explorers Oates:

‘We dug up Christopher’s head

and it was rotten –‘

and Wilson:

‘Cri de coeur

is simply

strength of character

whimpering to itself on sea-ice

that is yielding

to the spine

of a killer whale – ‘

The second section (‘A Girl Mad as Birds) moves from others towards the more personal: lorikeets flash with colour, kookaburras cackle.  And I smile at ‘The Lazy Poem’:

‘Writing poetry

is for the indolent.’

The third section (‘Amulet’) is personal.  These are ‘I‘ poems: about desire, dreams and love.

I need to read more of Dorothy Porter’s poetry.  While not all of these poems appeal to me, many of the images become real.  Consider the opening of the poem ‘Hawkesbury River’:

‘The light over the Hawkesbury River

Has been clawed at –

it’s a dismal warder of a river

winding around

its sandstone cells

its mangrove pits

like grey hair – ‘

 

I just wish I’d discovered Dorothy Porter earlier!

Jennifer Cameron-Smith

#AWW2017

A Dangerous Language by Sulari Gentill

I really enjoy this series!

A Dangerous Language by Sulari Gentill

‘The 1934 Melbourne International Motor Show was in its final day.’

Rowland Sinclair, Clyde Watson Jones and Milton Isaacs are at the show.  Edna Higgins, who prefers not to see ‘grown men reduced to simpering lovesick boys by shiny machines’ has not accompanied them to Melbourne. Rowly has purchased a new car: a Chrysler Airflow.    The plan is to pick up Edna at Albury on their way to a house party in Yackandandah.  What could possibly go wrong?

Ms Gentill weaves her fiction around facts, and quite a lot was happening in Australia and in Europe in 1934.   A visit by Egon Kisch, an internationally renowned peace advocate is planned.  It is possible that the government might refuse him entry, or delay his entry so that he cannot speak at the All Australian Congress of the Movement Against War and Fascism to be held at the Port Melbourne Town Hall, Melbourne between the 10th and 12th of November 1934.  Rowly volunteers to fly to Perth to bring Kisch to Melbourne. Additionally, Rowly Sinclair is approached by the Communist Party of Australia, which was quite active then, to observe proceedings at the Australian Parliament in Canberra.  Rowly refuses: he may be broadly in sympathy with the party, but he’s not a member.  Milton Isaacs is, though, and the four friends decide to travel together to Canberra.

Against a backdrop of the struggle between Australian fascists and communists, the MacRobertson Air Race (part of Melbourne’s centenary celebrations), the mystery of the ‘Pyjama Girl ‘ murder, life for Rowly Sinclair and his friends becomes complicated.

There’s a murder in Canberra, on the steps of Parliament House.  There’s a woman from Rowly’s past, and a trip to Perth to try to get Egon Kisch into Melbourne before he is banned.

It would be possible to read this novel without reading the earlier books, but I wouldn’t recommend it.  Ms Gentill has developed such richly three-dimensional characters that knowledge of their backstories is important as is immersion in the history of the 1930s.  At this distance, it may be difficult to understand the struggle between the communists and the fascists within Australia before World War II.  And, if you’ve never heard of Egon Kisch and the infamous dictation test, then you might be interested in looking up the Immigration Restriction Act 1901.

‘A Dangerous Language’ is the eighth novel in Ms Gentill’s award winning Rowland Sinclair mystery series, and is set in Australia in 1934.  I’d recommend these novels to anyone interested in a mystery series set in the 1930s which uses historical fact as its background.

Note: My thanks to NetGalley and Pantera Press for providing me with a free electronic copy of this book for review purposes.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith

The Way Back by Kylie Ladd

One of every parent’s worst nightmares: a missing child.  Does the nightmare ever end, though, even if the child returns?

The Way Back by Kylie Ladd

‘Tic-Tac shifted beneath her, blowing slightly.’

Charlie Johnson is thirteen years old when she goes missing.  She’s been on a late afternoon ride in a Victorian national park with her friend Ivy when her horse Tic-Tac goes lame.  Her friend Ivy decides to ride back to the pony club, leaving Charlie to lead Tic-Tac and follow on behind. This will be the last time that family or friends will see Charlie for four agonising months.

In this novel, Ms Ladd explores life for members of the Johnson family before, during and after Charlie’s disappearance.  We readers shift our observation of events between Charlie, her mother Rachael, father Matt and brother Dan.  We also have glimpses into a couple of other characters: Charlie’s abductor Col, and Terry, the police officer who has been involved since Charlie was reported missing.

It makes for confronting reading.  Matt, Rachael and Dan alternate between hope and despair.  Matt and Dan need to do something, whereas Rachael is almost unable to move.  And Charlie herself?   How does she face her ordeal?

Charlie manages to escape, and re-join her family.  And, for me, this is the most powerful part of the novel.  Life after such an ordeal never returns to what it was before.  How does a family deal with such a trauma? How do individuals manage to rebuild their lives?

‘Trauma stained you, it stayed with you, it got under your skin like a bad tattoo.’

Ms Ladd has written a novel about one of every parent’s worst nightmares: a missing child.  And in every case, the return of the child is what is hoped, prayed and wished for.  But as Ms Ladd portrays so well in this novel, while the child’s return may be the end of their physical absence it’s not the end of the ordeal.

Given the subject matter, this is not really a novel to ‘enjoy’.  It is a novel to read and think about, a novel that does provide both heart and hope.  I admire the way in which Ms Ladd gave a voice to each of the major characters, even Col.  This is a challenging read and uncomfortable in parts.  But I am glad I read it, and I’d recommend it to anyone who appreciates contemporary fiction about difficult issues.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith

#AWW2017