Book Review: ‘The Whispering’ by Veronica Lando

Imagine a rainforest that overshadows your local town. The sounds of the leaves rustling, the swoosh of the trees moving and the crackle of branches being trodden on the damp and mossy floor which create a sort of compelling whispering.

A whispering that many young people have heard before.

A whispering that is believed to take people away, into the rainforest and never come out again.

‘The Whispering’ by Veronica Lando had an eerie, compelling and unique spin on crime fiction. I have only read one other novel similar in this spiritual/naturalist/mystical sub genre of crime fiction, and that book was ‘The Bluffs’ by Kyle Perry. It was one of my favourite books of 2021. It was a given as soon as I read the blurb of this novel, I was hooked. ‘The Whispering’ was also the winner of the Banjo Prize for Fiction in 2020, therefore I was also more inclined to start reading. This prize is awarded by Harper Collins Australia to an unpublished Australian manuscript and author with the hope of launching their writing career.

Now about the book … Callum Haffenden never believed he would return to Granite Creek. It’s a place of heartbreak, sickening memories and feelings of physical and emotional loss. In the past and as a teenager, Callum was involved in an accident that caused the loss of his leg from the kneecap down. At the same time, he also lost the girl who was his first love and she lost her elder sister. The tragic series of accidents have always been swirled with mystery and secrets. But a feeling, or a whispering of events unresolved, are calling him back now.

In the present, a local, well-known and well-loved community man has gone missing in the rainforest, around the same dangerous boulders of Callum’s accident. When his body is soon discovered, Callum’s previous journalism traits jump to action. In search of answers, Callum’s past and present collide. This isn’t the only secret that Callum begins to uncover the more questions he asks around town. You quickly discover as the reader that nobody is trustworthy and everybody has a motive to be part of this towns historical eeriness.

This was a quick but slow read. Quick because the storyline mostly flowed and the amount of dialogue included helped to move things along well. Slow because, I personally felt some aspects were disjointed. One moment I was in one place and then the next the story had moved on without a clear explanation or connection. HOWEVER, I will hand on heart admit I read a lot of this novel before bed and mostly falling asleep. This is also one the first crime book I’ve read in a while (like, 6 months a while), so my judgement could be swayed. Overall an enjoyable read for a debut fiction ⭐️⭐️⭐️💫 (3.5/5 stars)

WWW Wednesdays

WWW Wednesday is hosted by Sam @ Taking on a World of Words 📚 It is a book tag to broaden the reading community and help connect avid readers!

All you have to do is answer the following three questions:

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

CR: ‘Words in Deep Blue’ by Cath Crowley is my current read. I’ve picked this book up as inspiration and current writing research. This dual perspective follows two teens on the brink of just finishing high school and the lead up to where their decisions will take them. Swirl in some romance, a setting in a secondhand bookstore, plus some beautifully raw writing, and you have the masterpiece that is this Aussie YA novel.

RF: I recently finished ‘Heartstrong’ by Ellidy Pullin. Read my full review here 💫

RN: ‘Verity’ by Colleen Hoover is my first ColHo novel and I think it may be the only one suited to me … I’m yet to decide as I’ve only started the first few chapters. This psychological and disturbingly twisted thriller is said to keep you on the edge of your seat and gaping until the final chapter. This year I’m searching for fast paced and intriguing – I think I’ll get those things from this novel. Have you read this? Comment below and tell me your star ratings ⭐️👀

Book Review: ‘Heartstrong: Chumpy, Minnie & Me’ by Ellidy Pullin w/ Alley Pascoe

Chumpy, Ellidy and Minnie’s story is one for the ages. Their perspective on love, life and strength is unbelievable. In particular I strongly admire Ellidy’s ability to keep living through her grief and bring Minnie into a world swirled by strong belief that she is loved, she is a miracle creation and first and foremost, that she is the daughter of Alex ‘Chumpy’ Pullin.

Let’s start by chatting about the big and colourful being that was Chumpy.

Alex ‘Chumpy’ Pullin was an Australian snowboarder who competed at the 2010, 2014 and 2018 Winter Olympics. He held the honour of carrying the Australian Flag in the opening of the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics. He won the snowboard cross World Championship – twice. He was an athlete. He was the musical creator and singer behind Chumpy and the Sunsetaroonies. He was a bright soul and he was Ellidy’s person for this wonderful thing called life.

On the 8th of July 2020, the life that Ellidy knew took a devastating turn. Chumpy tragically passed away in a shallow water diving blackout at the age of 33. This unfathomable accident shook those who knew Chumpy personally, had followed his athletic life and achievements, those who competed with him, those in his home town, celebrities across the globe and just ordinary people like myself who heard this on the news one morning. A fit, healthy and active man who was incredibly experienced in the water, passing away. Surely this doesn’t happen right?

A little about Ellidy – she and Chumpy met at the age of 21 and fell immediately in love. She had studied nursing, commerce and worked in a variety of jobs. Chumpy used to describe her as someone who was ‘always happy’ and ‘woke up happy’. For Ellidy to still find that light within herself and for Minnie, even now after the tragedy she’s experience, I’m just in awe and admiration. A really large part of what Ellidy’s purpose, advocacy and awareness is around shallow water diving blackouts. She also aims to shine a light on post mortem sperm retrieval, as this is how little Minnie was created.

Ellidy and Chumpy always knew they’d start a family and they’d been trying for the past 12 months before Chumpy’s accident. Luck was never on their side. They felt as if they came close a few times, but sadly never fell pregnant. IVF appointments were discussed, plans were made and then suddenly, Chumpy wasn’t there. In the hours after Chumpy’s passing, a close friend that actually brought Ellidy and Chumpy together in the first place, relayed to Ellidy’s brother this amazing procedure called post mortem sperm retrieval. Ellidy only had to hear the words, “There is still a chance you and Chumpy can have a baby” and that was enough for her to say “Yes, go, do what you need to do”, for close friends and family to jump to action. There are a number of loop holes in making a procedure like this happen, including time sensitivity after a persons passing, legal requirements and state legislations. The stars aligned and Ellidy likes to believe that Chumpy was along the journey pushing for those green lights from above.

Even through her grief, Ellidy knew that having Chumpy’s baby was something she had to do. She had her parent’s support, her brother, Chumpy’s parents and sister, as well as her multitude of close friends encouraging her to make this happen when she was ready. 15 months after Chumpy’s passing, que the creation of Minnie Alex Pullin. And let me tell you folks, she’s bloody gorgeous!

I’m so glad this heartbreakingly beautiful story was one of my first reads this year. I love watching my daily Instagram stories of Minnie, as found on Ellidy’s profile, and watching her grow surrounded by love. I encourage you to read this book, educate yourself on the power of true love and absorb the wonderful miracles that are created through modern medicine. Below, you’ll find one of the most heartwarming videos of Minnie and her dad 💫💖

My Year in Books (2022 edition)

It’s here folks! Here you have it in all its glory – ‘My Year in Books (2022 edition)’ 🥳

2021 was a slow reading year for me. Many life events, challenges and fantastic times came far above and beyond my reading habits which I’m both happy and bummed about. Sometime life happens and that folk, is quite alright 🤗 Yet, in all the messiness …

This year I have:

⭐️ Conducted 5 interviews on my blog with Australia authors whom I admire

⭐️ Interviewed Sulari Gentill in person and organised the book launch for ‘The Woman in the Library’

⭐️ Connected Australian Authors to my book club meetings

⭐️ Started writing my own novel

In 2022 I read a total of 38 books! If you’d like to see my individual ratings for each book, you can jump onto my GoodReads (click here

  •  The 🔦 TORCH emoji will indicate if these books were part of my Crime Fiction Fanatic Book Club
  •  The 🎨 ART PALETE emoji will indicate if these books were part of my Literature Lovers Book Club
  •  The 🎤 MICROPHONE emoji will indicate if these books have a review on my blog – have a read

‘Devotion’ by Hannah Kent 🎤 (read 2x)

‘The Spanish Love Deception’ by Elena Armes 🎤

‘The Love Hypothesis’ by Ali Hazelwood

‘The Natural Way of Things’ by Charlotte Wood

‘Infinite Country’ by Patricia Engel 🔦

‘The Unhoneymooners’ by Christina Lauren 🎤

‘The Paper Palace’ by Miranda Crowley-Heller 🎤

‘The Woman in the Library’ by Sulari Gentill (read 2x) 🔦

‘It Happened One Summer’ by Tessa Bailey

‘Hook, Line & Sinker’ by Tessa Bailey

‘Only A Monster’ by Vanessa Lin

‘You and Me on Vacation’ by Emily Henry

‘A Flicker in the Dark’ by Stacey Willingham 🔦

‘The Girls of Lake Evelyn’ by Averil Kenny 🎤 *read our interview here*

‘Insomnia’ by Sarah Pinborough 🎤

‘Sunbathing’ by Isobel Beech 🎤 *read our interview here*

‘Forging Silver into Stars’ by Brigid Kemmerer

‘Love at First Spite’ by Anna E. Collins

‘Double Booked’ by Lily Lindon

‘Heartstopper 1, 2, 3 & 4’ by Alice Oseman 🎤

‘A Place Near Eden’ by Nell Pierce 🎤🎨 *read our interview here*

‘Paperbark Hill’ by Maya Linnell 🎤 *read our interview here*

‘The Marriage Portrait’ by Maggie O’Farrell 🎤

‘Today. Tonight. Tomorrow.’ by Rachel Lynn Solomon 🎤

‘The It Girl’ by Ruth Ware 🎤🔦

‘When Only One’ by Meg Gatland-Verness 🎤 *read our interview here*

‘The Seven Sisters’ by Lucinda Riley 🎤

‘The Murder of Fleet Murder’ by Lucinda Riley

‘The Book Thief’ by Markus Zuzak

‘The Space Between’ by Michelle Andrews & Zara McDonald 🎤

‘Marriage For One’ by Ella Maise 🎤

‘The Flatshare’ by Beth O’Leary (read 2x)

‘Daisy Darker’ by Alice Feeney 🎤

‘The Shearer’s Wife’ by Fleur McDonald

‘The Whispering’ by Veronica Lando

Books I attempted to finish in October …

Look … I know book friends, here we are again … We’re at the strung together list of Mel’s books she has yet again, not finished this month BUT hey, glass half full – am I right?

See previous update for reference.

At the beginning of October, I was still feeling the non-fiction vibes. To be honest, I’m even still feeling them now and I think after investing 😉 some personal time in an educational session on finances last night … I may pick up a money and investing book quite soon! I know – who am I?! Somebody get this reader back in line!

I digress, I did try a fantasy novels in October and it just wasn’t to my tasting at the moment. Rivers of London wasn’t bad or poorly written (in fact it was quite entertaining and humorous), just my mood reading again flicking on and off light a dance floor strobe light.

A literary fiction is in there to smooth out the palate and I’m needing to have a bit more of this done by next week when I meet the author in store, EKK! Her Death Was Also Water is great though, so I’m excited.

One Aussie YA in the mix as well, and this, I will definitely be going back to as it’s been on my radar for months. We were privileged enough to have the publishers generously send us a finalised copy for pure bookseller enjoyment. Thanks Text Publishing – you’re the bomb.com!

Let’s see what you’ve got November!

Book Review: ‘The Space Between’ by Michelle Andrews & Zara McDonald

Do you ever wonder if what you’re doing at this point in your life is right? Here’s an example;

You’re in your twenties and society tells you that this is the time to be SLIVVVING! You should be out every weekend, but still have the money to keep up with the latest trends. You should be loving the idea and options of going on different dates with different people, but so many others around your age are married with kids. You should be travelling overseas, but hold down a successful career at the same time.

There are so many implied expectations of your 20’s about who you are, what you want and what you have so far in life. But the reality is, NOBODY knows what the heck they’re doing. Hell, our brains only fully develop and construct into what health expects call ‘adults’ at 25. So that space between, yeah that, what are we supposed to do with that time.

Creators of the super successful Aussie podcast Shameless, Michelle & Zara, share their honest thoughts, opinions and experiences in this book. I finished this book in a matter of a week because right now, it resonates with me strongly, and I have a good feeling it will/does with a lot of people after that scary pandemic thing, unemployment and finance rates rising … gahh adulthood. How is a young person supposed to flash their newest pair of exercise leggings and not have to have eaten tinned tuna for a week these days?!

Admittedly, I have not listened to a lot of the Shameless pod. I was introduced to them not that long ago by one of my besties and have found myself hooked ever since. I try to listen to one of their episodes every week and I encourage you to do the same. Sometimes they talk gossip, sometimes they talk relationships, sometimes they talk health and then once a month, they do book club! It’s great. So onto the book Mel, tell us about it. Okay, so it is split into 4 parts; Love; Ambition; Mind and Body; & Voice. It’s hard for me to pick a favourite because all of them used both Zara and Michelle’s personal experiences to bring home an idea. And I must say, near all of their experiences are relatable.

Love covers the fantastic aspects of being single, like; going on however many dates you please; a night out is always full of exciting opportunities to meet someone new; watching a whole tv series to yourself and not feeling guilty having to wait for someone else before hitting resume; and not having to share your precious bed, chocolate stash, dinner meal or time, with someone else. It also covers being the breaker of hearts and the receiver of broken hearts, in both romantic and friend relationships. The benefits and bamboozling implications of situation-ships. The space between family and their beliefs.

Ambition covers finishing uni and how terrifying going out into the big wide world is. It covers the space between our expectations of a career and what our life after having a 4,5,6,7 year uni degree in our back pocket actually means to our quality of life and happiness. In the ambition section, Mich and Zara cover their huge pivot of working for one of Australia’s top female lead media and journalism companies, to risking it all to start their own podcast. For them, if you read this book and find out, it was a matter of mental survival, professional growth and a touch of ‘What the heck are we thinking, are we crazy, will this even work?!’. The answer is yes, and they’re still taking the podcasting world by storm to this day. They encourage you to trust your gut, work hard for the times when you have that sparking feeling of hey, this could actually be something truely magical. They talk success and sacrifice. They talk unequal pay gaps and appropriate workplace treatment. They talk openly about mental health, anxiety and work-life balance. It’s relatable, raw and fantastic. (… okay maybe this was my favourite section …)

Mind & Body covers, you guessed it, all things mind and body. A checklist is included to help you differentiate if you have in-fact matured beyond the point of pasta for dinner every night ‘semi-adult’ or full blown, I have a grocery list and do not wander outside of its bounds ‘adulthood’. Mich and Zara talk about sex and the uncomfortableness that can be female pleasure. They talk anxiety and what that looks like for some people who lead a day-to-day, busy and bustling life but still cope in the face of adversity and crippling mental illness. They talk fertility, endometriosis and personal experiences with family planning. One of my favourite parts of this section was their discussion on influence – it literally made me jump on my instagram and unfollow any, and all of the female and male ‘influencers’ that felt, to me, that they were not teaching me anything. They were not bringing anything new and positive into my brain. That’s not to say I went and followed all of these inspo quote type of pages – no. I followed people like Julia Gillard and Malala Yousafzai, AND Michelle Andrews and Zara McDonald.

Voice covers the big things that we believe can’t be coffee table discussions or casual chats over a glass of wine (but in actual fact is totally acceptable) – and that is empowerment. Empowerment to tell a bloke when he’s taken a joke too far. Empowerment to disagree with someone even when you know they will challenge you and believe you wrong. Empowerment to say “No thanks” to another vodka soda when you know you’d rather spend your Sunday going for a walk, cleaning your house, Facetiming a friend, working on your side hustle or grabbing a coffee – instead of lying in bed all day hungover. Empowerment to stand up for your workplace rights. Empowerment on YOUR autonomy and allowing you to lead your own life. You’re a strong woman, you can make the right choices for you.

If you’ve read this book review to the end, I hope you can feel through my words just how passionate this book made me feel. It helped me and if you pick it up because you’re feeling a little lost and hopeless – don’t worry, it’s got you xx

‘The Space Between’ by Michelle Andrews & Zara McDonald

Author Talks with Meg Gatland-Veness

Meg Gatland-Veness 📸 by Dane Howell via Pantera Press

Meg Gatland-Veness is a powerhouse of a modern woman. She not only inspires and teaches children in her day to day life, but she also produces works of fiction, targeted to youth and inquisitive adults, that have such feeling, motivation and passion. Meg is the author of two published novels, ‘I Had Such Friends’ & ‘When Only One’.

Welcome Meg, to Mel Reviews Her Books 🌸🎙

Meg, I’ve found the experience of reading your novel extremely compelling, funny and moving. At what point did you decide to write such a prevalent, timely and frightening topic in an Australian setting? 

When I teach creative writing to my students I give them two pieces of advice. One, write what you know and two, write about the things that make you mad. And When Only One is a combination of these two things for me. My novels are all set in an Australian context because it is where I live and where I grew up and I think we need more fiction, especially YA fiction, set in Australia, especially regional and rural Australia. And secondly, it makes me so mad that in places like America, someone can buy a gun, take it into a school and shoot a bunch of children. And maybe that sort of thing doesn’t happen in Australia, but violence still does, every single day. Women are killed by their husbands, children are abused by the people who are supposed to protect them and teenagers are still taking their own lives. So, I’m not under the misconception that this novel will end violence, but if even one person who picks up this book thinks twice before enacting violence on another human being, then it will have been worth it.

How did you take care of yourself while writing on such a topic?

I actually wrote this book during lockdown, which I know was a tough time for a lot of people, but I actually really enjoyed it! I went for walks or kayaks everyday, I spent a lot of time with my partner and my three cats, I read lots of books, I got really into gardening. So, I was in a really good place mentally while I was writing the novel which helped a lot, I was able to do some writing in the morning and then spend the afternoon in the garden or out on the water.

Seeing Australian teenage life through Samson’s eyes was a perfect, well-rounded perspective. What was it about Samson that made him stand out as your main voice and lens? When did he come to you?

My first draft pages of the book were actually from the point of view of a third person omniscient narrator, but it wasn’t personal enough and it was too removed from the tragedy, so I rewrote from Sam’s perspective. I think one of the nice things about Sam as a narrator is that he is such an optimist and even though a lot of terrible things happen during the novel, his positive outlook on life helps to make the future not seem so bleak. I also wanted to buck that typical Aussie, surfer stereotype by making him quite sensitive and empathetic. Sam is a very loving person, he really cares deeply about his family and friends which I think is also something that is important to show some of our male readers that it’s okay to show affection.

Samson’s relationship with Emily is brotherly, deeply emotional, loving and romantic in ways. Did you always plan and foresee the events that would happen in Emily’s life, or did they unfold as your writing progressed? 

The first idea I had for this story was the relationship between Sam and Emily, before there was ever a school shooting or anything else. The very first scene I wrote was Emily and Sam at the front door handing over the shoe to Emily’s mother and the idea of them making paper boats to send down the gutters was another initial idea I had. Emily was always going to come from a family that was struggling to keep things together and Sam was always going to be the opposite, having a classic loving family, loads of brothers running around, a mother who cooks all his meals and washes his clothes and a father who works hard to pay the bills. Their relationship is really at the heart of this novel and everything else that happens is grounded by them.

What’s next on your agenda Meg? You’re an accomplished writer, dedicated high school drama teacher, and a woman who holds a large passion for advocating and creating topical conversations about the adversities faced by young Australians. Where can you see this all leading you?

Well, When Only One and I Had Such Friends are actually just two books in a set of ten that I plan to write in the same universe which span from about 1965 to 2018. I am currently working on another novel set in between the first two, but there are lots more that I have planned out as well. I also want to learn to sail!

Thank you Meg for your time, thoughts and responses on the blog! I look forward to seeing the next novel 😊💫🌸

Author Talks with Maya Linnell

📸 Maya Linnell w/ Allen & Unwin

Maya Linnell is a bestselling Australian rural fiction author. Her writing career launched into the lime light in 2019 with the successful publication of her first novel ‘Wildflower Ridge’ with Allen & Unwin. From that year on, Maya’s has written 3 more books, she’s been backed by huge recommendation platforms such as Better Reading, and launched a fantastic blog, digital newsletter and reading community.

Welcome Maya and thank you so much for being a part of my Author Talks space online! It is an absolute pleasure to be hosting one of my favourite Australian rural fiction writers on the blog 💖

Maya, when did you fall in love with country romance writing? And what was your turning moment that influenced you to write your own novels?
In my 20s I was lucky enough to score a cadetship at a rural newspaper, which provided the perfect base for my love of words and country stories. I covered everything from school news and netball reports to front stories and advertising features, but the longer feature pieces, where I was allocated 3000 words to tell the amazing tales of local residents, quickly became my favourites.
This enthusiasm for long-form writing put me in good stead for fiction, although it wasn’t until mid-2016, following a late-night conversation with my husband, that I decided to write a novel. I’d been a stay-at-home mum for eight years at that stage, we’d almost finished owner building our home and our youngest child was about to start kindy. It was the first time I’d shared my dream of writing a novel and from that moment on, I did everything in my power to make it happen!

Taking a step back to ‘Wildflower Ridge’ your first novel published with Allen & Unwin, how would you have described that time in your life? Debut novelist, book deal and expectations?
It was a whirlwind of excitement, and I celebrated so many momentous steps along the way; finishing my first draft, making finals in writing competitions with Romance Writers Australia and sending my manuscript out into the world. I was thrilled to score a two-book deal with
Allen & Unwin a few months after I’d started pitching my novel. The contract offer burst into my inbox when I was grocery shopping with the kids on a midwinter’s afternoon, July 2018 (cue cries of delight in the fruit and veg aisle). We threw an impromptu party with our neighbours
that night. Champagne never tasted sweeter!
In terms of expectations, as a debut author, I just hoped that someone other than my school pals, family and former colleagues would buy Wildflower Ridge and enjoy it! Seeing the novel in bestseller lists and award finals was phenomenal the first time, and to experience that success again with the following three books completely exceeded my expectations. I’m so grateful for the generous support from readers, booksellers, bloggers and fellow authors, plus my fabulous publishers, Allen & Unwin.

Describe your life now for me and those reading, 4 years on from the publication of ‘Wildflower Ridge’
Nowadays, I write full time and juggle my author life with family commitments, book blogging and our small property in rural Victoria. Letters from readers are one of my favourite things and it’s a joy to share snippets of our country life on social media @maya.linnell.writes, in my
monthly newsletter and with occasional podcast takeovers. I’m also an advocate for authors and libraries and host a free online show called ‘Library Lovers’ on the third Wednesday of every month. We talk all things books, baking and gardening during the show, and I’ve just
locked in Jane Harper for October. I couldn’t be happier!

‘Paperbark Hill’ is the final story in the sister quartet you’ve created, written and published with Allen & Unwin. Has it been hard bringing the McIntyre sisters’ stories’ to an end?
The McIntyre sisters have been wonderful company these last four years, and after such a warm response from readers, it is hard to farewell them. I’ve had plenty of requests for future stories using minor characters from this series, so perhaps one day I’ll revisit Bridgefield and
check in on them. But for now, I’ve got a whole new series to write!

Maya, you are a powerhouse of a woman and I have been honoured to meet you in person, therefore I can easily say you’re a loving mother, incredibly humble and kind being. You’re also a flower enthusiast, poddy lamb mumma and skilled baker. Among all of these jobs, what is next on the agenda for your successful writing career? 
That’s very kind of you, Mel, it was lovely meeting you when we passed through Wagga Wagga and it’s clear you share that same passion for books! My main focus this month is redrafting my 2023 manuscript – A Place in the Vines – before submitting it to my publisher, Annette Barlow, in August. Then once that’s done, I’ll dive straight into writing my 2024 manuscript. And of course, there’s always plenty to be done around the property with three busy kids, rambling gardens and bottle feeding our latest intake of orphaned lambs!

(Images below are courtesy of Maya’s Instagram page @maya.linnell.writes 📸🌸)


Thank you Maya for your time, generosity and well, your novel! It’s an absolute joy to have shared our interview on melreviewsherbooks.com 💖📚💫 One big thank you to you, Maya, and Allen & Unwin for sending me this copy of ‘Paperbark Hill’ for review.  
Thank you for having me, Mel! And on behalf of the Aussie writing community, a big thanks for all your enthusiasm and good work getting our books into the hands of readers.

Book Review: ‘ When Only One’ by Meg Gatland-Veness

How do you help someone who doesn’t want to be helped?

I need to be explicitly upfront about this novel and its raw topics before I feel dive into this review. This book surrounds the tragic event of a fictional high school shooting in Australia. It provided insight into grief and loss, poverty, domestic abuse, neglect and suicide. These are heavy topics but if you are up to it, do not let that deter you. ‘When Only One’ is one of THE BEST books I’ve read this year and I have absolutely no doubt, in all fibres of my body, that this book will be winning awards in the Australian contemporary young adult category.

Let’s jump into talking about this special novel shall we?

Samson is a teenager, the eldest of five boys and belongs to an average income earning household. His father works a desk job while his mother is unfaltering in her Catholic faith, stability and routine at home with five boys. Sam’s home structure is just that – stable. However his reemerged best friend, Emily, comes from a household that is anything but stable. Her father works when he wants too, drinks too much and is abusive toward her mother. Cynthia, Emily’s mum, suffers from mental illness which becomes quite evident early on in the book. Her mother collects shoes and requires a ‘shoe-toll’ before Emily or Sam can enter the house. She hoards these shoes and gathers them around her for a sense of comfort. The shoe collecting is quite humorous at times with Emily and Sam searching all over town for shoes, to Emily missing her shoes within the floor to ceiling shoe garage, to Sam giving up his good runners for a desperate chance to speak with Emily. Until one afternoon when Emily’s dad snaps – the humour is gone.

Emily’s household is violent, neglectful and poverty-stricken. The local town, school and teenagers know this but nobody believes they can or should do anything to help, as they themselves would rather turn a blind eye and continue on with their safe and comfortable lives. Emily finds her solace and safety in sneaking through Sam’s bedroom window and sleeping on top of his clean bed. Sam lets her, while he takes the bean bag. Emily sometimes stays for meals, plays with Sam’s brothers and gets driven around by Sam’s mum if they both need to go somewhere. However, there is always this divide and ‘frowned-upon’ nature that Sam’s mother holds towards Emily. She will never quite let her be a part of their family, even though it is clearly obvious that she needs help. Emily is also adamant on refusing help, claiming she can handle the cards life has dealt her, but she’s only a teenager. She shouldn’t have to handle these challenges on her own, let alone suffer the consequences of them.

Sam and his close group of guy friends are all training for the Ironman Championship and sporting scholarship. They all want to be fit, athletic and well trained sportsmen, like on the Nutri-grain cereal box. His closest friends consist of; Daniel – a flirtatious Italian; Jeff – quiet and hardworking; Patrick – from a well off family but doesn’t like to admit it; and Milo – who grew up on a dairy farm, his mother committed suicide from postnatal depression, leaving Milo, his under 1 year old sister and their father falling apart. There is a piercing passage on pg. 218 that throws the social divisions of Australian high school and small town communities in your face. It reads;

“At our school, there are three main factions. First, there’s the rich kids from town. They mostly have two working parents and a swimming pool. Then there’s us, mid-grounders. We live in town but the wrong side of the main road. We mostly have stay-at-home mums or single parents. We have clean clothes and brushed hair, but our uniforms are clearly from the faded second-hand box and not shiny and bright from the uniform shop. Jeff, Daniel and I fall into that category. Patrick likes to pretend he does, but he’s secretly a rich kid. Then there’s the third faction: the farm kids and derros who live on the outskirts. The Emilys and Milos of the school. The ones with foetal alcohol syndrome, or mums with no teeth, or brothers in jail, or dads with restraining orders against them. They are the ones who hardly ever last to the end of Year 10.”

Meg’s ability to put social hierarchy in such plain words created real feeling for me. I believe it rang true in its bluntness and clear vision through the teenage eyes of Sam, who is discovering the awareness of adversity and privilege all around him. From this, Sam is learning the unwavering power and influence that adversity and privilege have over a persons life. One teenager in this story who was aware of their privilege was Rei. Rei has recently moved to Sam’s school and it was love at first sight for him. Her Asian background and unidentified faith plagued Sam’s mother at times, but he does truly love Rei. Rei advocates for social justice, wins schooling debates and cries over inequalities. Meg does a great job of still painting Rei as a young teenager, with emotion led decision making, self-confidence issues and the feelings of grief and loss surrounding migrating to a new country.

Ultimately, the adversities, disadvantages and addictions faced by the characters in this story, create the demise for severe loss of mental control and physical actions. The escalation is chilling, sickening and unexplainable, but arguably explainable from the perspective of the one character committing the action. I have to say that the novel does not keep you in this heaviness. It gives the reader a clear feeling of immediate grief and how that looks in the realistic lives of teenagers, yet we also see and feel the ongoing cycle of grief. We learn its moving sensation and how it becomes a part of who you are, then you keep growing, then growing, then growing. To say this novel touched me is an understatement. Even now writing this review, I am flipping open pages and thinking gosh I want to write about this, and this, but I can only give you so much book lovers. I need to leave the rest up to you 💖

Author Talks with Nell Pierce

Nell Pierce is the prestigious winner of the 2022 Australian/ Vogel’s Literary Award. This award is presented to an unpublished author and their manuscript, in the hopes of finding Australia’s next BIG literary author and launching their writing career. Nell Pierce was this year’s winner. Nell is already topping charts and our very own Literary Lovers Book Club is very excited to read Nell’s ‘A Place Near Eden’ for the month of July.

Welcome Nell and thank you so much for being a part of my Author Talks space online! It is an absolute privilege and pleasure to be discussing your debut novel and writing experience with you 😊

Nell, how does it feel to be a debut novelist and award winner all wrapped up in one? Congratulations 🥳

Thank you! It feels pretty great!!

I wrote a lot of A PLACE NEAR EDEN when I was living in New York. I was working as a literary agent, which was fun and fast paced (and also sometimes quite stressful) and before work I’d go to a Pret near the office to do a little writing. My job involved working with authors and helping them get published, so it was very inspiring but also sometimes a reminder of how hard publishing can be. I made my peace with the fact that my novel might end up only being read by my mum and dad. I just enjoyed the process of writing and having that part of the morning that I dedicated to myself. It was nice to have a project to work on that was just for me. I’d sit down with a coffee and sometimes some oatmeal or a yogurt and get out my laptop and that half hour was a little luxury.

When I found out I’d won the Vogel I was pregnant with my daughter, who was born around the same time the book published. It was funny timing, because I’d kept my pregnancy a secret for the first trimester, and had just started telling people, and was feeling really relieved not to have the burden of a secret anymore. I’m a terrible secret keeper, especially with happy secrets, like having a baby, I just want to tell everyone. So then, just when I thought my secret keeping was over, I got another happy secret when I found out I’d won the Vogel. I found out in September but I wasn’t allowed to tell anyone until the announcement was made in May of the next year. In the meantime, I worked with Allen and Unwin to edit the book, which was a fantastic experience.

I guess in summary I’m feeling really lucky!

What was your turning moment that made you click “submit” on your manuscript for The Australian/ Vogel’s Literary Award?

It was my partner, Mark, who convinced me to submit to the Vogel. I’d been working on the manuscript for so many years, I think I could have kept working on it forever! The Vogel’s Literary Award was a great deadline to help me stop working on the manuscript and start thinking about moving onto something new. And then when I won, I got to go back into the manuscript and start editing. It was very hard to part with the pages when it was time to finally turn them in. Even now, I’ll be in the shower, and I’ll think of a paragraph or passage that I wish I’d included.

Have Tilly, Sam and Celeste’s story always been with you? How did they come about and then their written stories come to fruition?

I really love the area around Eden on the south coast of NSW. I used to visit there a lot as a kid, and I love the ocean, the contrast between the calm inlet waters and the surf beaches, the gum trees and bush, and the sense of wildness in the rugged landscape. When I was living in New York I really missed that landscape, and so I started writing something set there so that I could mentally visit even though I was physically so far away. So I started with the setting even before the characters. Maybe because I spent a lot of time around Eden when I was a teenager, I started to think about a coming of age story in that setting. And, I think, the landscape around there is beautiful but also, especially in the context of ocean rips, sometimes dangerous, and so I think that gave rise to some of the darker themes in the novel.

After I had the setting, the characters of Tilly, Sem and Celeste came next. When I was coming up with their characters I was thinking a lot about the ways that we’re responsible for other people, especially the people we love, and also about the ways we can fail in that responsibility. I think Michael Ondaatje’s THE ENGLISH PATIENT touches on this in a way. Ondaatje’s characters claim that they are not ‘beholden’ to each other, despite their romantic relationships. I think about that a lot, perhaps because I struggle to understand it. I’m not able to have cool and detached relationships like that. So in my novel I wanted to explore the ways that we are all beholden to each other, and what it looks like to fail in those obligations.

From your experiences of working in Family Law Court of Australia, do you feel this has influenced your writing, depictions of characters and behaviours?

One thing that struck me when I was working at the Family Court was the way the parties to a relationship can have such different understandings of shared events. And I see it all the time in my own life as well. My partner and I have fought because he thought I was giving him unsolicited advice about his career when I thought he’d directly asked me for my input. Or there was the period he didn’t cook me mushrooms because he thought I’d said I don’t like them when in fact I love mushrooms and have no memory of saying anything to the contrary. And there’s nothing more frustrating and lonely than getting to the place where you just have to kind of ‘agree to disagree’ when you both just remember things differently. Those are small examples, but miscommunication and misremembering can easily turn into something much bigger. There can be a kind of horror in not knowing what the truth is, or having your idea of the truth disputed or disregarded, or not knowing who to trust.

I was captivated from the moment I started ‘A Place Near Eden’, until the moment I put it down. My favourite quote came from Sem and it surrounded his desperate need to make his own choices in a world where before the age of 18, jumping around homes and changing environments – he didn’t hold a lot of autonomy. My question to you is, where are you choosing to take your writing career from here? Are you a planner or choosing to let your creativity lead the way?

I am a planner! Some people can sit down and write a novel in a burst of passionate inspiration, but unfortunately I’m not one of those people. I like to take my time getting to know my characters and the setting and themes for the novel before I start writing. And I keep the first draft in handwritten form to remind myself that it’s just a draft and won’t be turned in or shown to anyone. That way I feel like I have the freedom to experiment and take risks. So that’s what I’m doing at the moment for my next novel. I’m experimenting with a few characters who knew each other in high school but are now in their thirties, and thinking about Melbourne, Amsterdam (where my family lives) and New York City. It can be tricky because sometimes I have ideas that I struggle to fit into my idea of the novel I’m working on. Like yesterday I had a vision of one of my new characters in her sixties, but I’m not sure if there’s room for that period of her life in the book. I try to hold all those ideas loosely and just see where it goes.

Thank you Nell for your time, care in response and well, your novel! It’s an absolute joy to have shared our interview on melreviewsherbooks.com 💖🎙 Another big cheer for Allen & Unwin for sending me a copy of ‘A Place Near Eden’ for review and recommendation 🥳 To check out my review of Nell’s book, click here!