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 This prize is awarded by Harper Collins Australia to an unpublished Australian manuscript and author with the hope of launching their writing career.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)
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 😊💫🌸
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!
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.
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 💖
I picked up ‘Salt and Skin’ by Eliza Henry-Jones thinking I will counteract my literary book slump with another EPIC literary fiction. Sadly, this did not go as planned. Salt and Skin covers heavy topics of grief, denial and continental travel. At this point in time, these were not topics I felt in the mood for reading (and as we know, I’m very much a mood reader). The bones of this book are fantastic and I have been pining for a pre-release copy of this to land in my hands for months now, therefore I will not give up! I am determined to read this in August and without fail, I will provide you with a review.
Mixing up my genres, I decided to dip my toes into a Fantasy – I thought this may help. Our Other Worlds Book Club had recently read and throughly enjoyed ‘Atlas Six’ by Olivie Blake and I had multiple members encourage me to pick it up. I found it available at my local library and decided now was the time. I really like the witchiness, the changing perspectives and learning each characters’ powers. The mystery behind their training and schooling is really interesting to follow and kept me gripped. However, a quarter of the way through this book, I went on holidays and it just wasn’t fitting the bill for a light, funny, holiday read – you know? Enter, ‘Today Tonight Tomorrow’ by Rachel Lynn Solomon.
“Ahh, this was just cute. It was cute and feel good and made me smile and made me laugh. It had all the feels and was the perfect enemies to lovers plot. Rowan Roth is a determined young woman and hard working right up to the very end of high school but her witty drive is pushed along by the likes of Neil McNair. The two have been in hefty competition with each other since the time they met. Their schooling has been a constant battle of who will be in first place and who will come in second. Rowan is set on not placing second best in their last bid for victory … winning valedictorian.
Yet as graduation looms and their end of Senior Year celebrations of a Seattle scavenger hunt kicks off, Rowan and Neil begin to realise that rather than opposing each other, they are smarter, swifter and more aligned working together than they ever realised. Slowly, they learn about one another’s lives outside of the small portion of school they experience with one another. Outside hobbies, passions and home lives come into play, furthering even more of their connection.”
I actually picked up my copy of ‘Today Tonight Tomorrow’ by Rachel Lynn Solomonwhile on holiday in Melbourne. I purchased it at Dymocks Melbourne, located on Collins Street. At the time, I also purchased ‘The Mars Room’ by Rachel Kushner (a literary fiction listed for the Booker Prize in 2018), ‘Before the Coffee Gets Cold: Tales from the Cafe’ by Toshikazu Kawaguchi (of which I read the first book last year and adored its Japanese morals, whimsical thinking and translation) & ‘The Soulmate Equation’ by Christina Lauren (recommended by an avid reader friend who also loved ‘The Unhoneymooners’ by Christina Lauren, as much as I did).
I then visited Canberra, in which I tracked down a Harry Hartog Bookseller. I purchased my copy of ‘Last Time We Met’ by Emily Houghton (contemporary romance) on that adventure! As you can tell from this stack of 5 book purchases, I was feeling the “easy reading’ vibes, with only one literary fiction thrown in there for good measure.
Back to what I actually read! Gosh Mel, way to get side tracked with book buying 😉 Presently, at home with Covid, I have had the time to finish a crime fiction novel, ‘The It Girl’ by Ruth Ware. This was suspenseful, twisty and great at developing characters into the kind of people you suspect and cannot stop following their motives. April Clarke-Cliveden was the first person Hannah Jones met at Oxford. Decked out in her luxury branded clothing, exclusive haircut and performative posture, April is clearly the kind of girl that makes herself known. She’s the ‘it girl’. April is clever, manipulative and powerful, until she ends up murdered on the closing night of her theatre performance … and Hannah is the one to find her. Moving back and forth, past to present, we now learn that Hannah is married and expecting her first child to April’s then boyfriend. Suspicious – yes ✅. Hannah also totally isolated herself from a number of their friends at the time after the murder. Suspicious – yes ✅. Hannah also gave evidence against a security footman in court to convict him of April’s murder, yet he has always plead innocent. Suspicious – yes ✅. Lot’s of things don’t add up and it made for a very interesting story. Full review coming soon 👀
Last but not least, I am currently reading and endeavour to have finished in a few days (iso and all), ‘When Only One’ by Meg Gatland-Veness. This young adult fiction opens on a school shooting in an Australian high school. The book is giving feelings of being set around the 70’s or 80’s time era with reference to things such as old Nintendos and Catholic ideologies. The heaviness and seriousness of this novel hits you immediately and I felt gripped straight away. Meg then takes us back in time through the lens of a teenage boy and his life a year prior to the tragic event. We learn of him, his life goals, his friends and who is struggling within the community – letting the reader peel back slow layers of who may have committed this horrific crime. The writing style is perfect, captivating and feeling.
So that folks, is the STACK! What have you book lovers been reading for the month of July? Have you been book buying? Share below 💬🎙
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 momentI 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!
If you’re looking to fall in love with a new country romance writer, Maya Linnell is your gal! She just gets it – the challenges of falling in love in rural areas, small town community feelings of support and shared business, opinions and expectations. She also holds a firm grip of what the dynamics of inside a family look like. Her writing makes you feel as if you’re sitting around a dining room table, in a country home, having realistic conversations about farming, family and children.
Paperbark Hill is the conclusion to Maya’s four book series following the McIntyre sisters. All books can be read individually but have overlapping characters, environmental settings and storylines. Believe me when I say, Paperbark Hill has set me up well for devouring the rest of Maya’s books!
Paperbark Hill follows Diana McIntyre and her 4 boys as they learn to navigate and continue on their lives after the death of their stronghold, their husband and father. Diana is surrounded by her loving sisters and father, who encourage her dreams of cut flower farming, selling locally and creating a name for herself in the industry. Flower farming and raising her 4 boys is the highest priority. This remains so throughout the novel. Her thoughts and feelings do however increase when Ned Gardiner, an ex-local comes back to town after the unexpected loss of his father.
Ned is a locaum pharmacist and a bit of a gypsy. His flexible job allows him and his two beautiful, sweet and worldly children to move around. This is bit of a relief for Ned after his wife and mother to his two children, just up and left. Ned’s routines and travelling is thrown out the window when the loss of his father brings him back to his home town. His father was a keen chicken egg farmer and flower gardener. It also turns out, his father was Diana’s sidekick in maintaining and starting her flower farming. Both Diana and Ned are feeling the heavy loss of Ned’s father, which ultimately brings them together.
The warm buzz between Ned and Diana grows. Their time spent together in the flower fields, bringing their children together for play dates, stopping for afternoon tea together and chatting over salty scones, are just some of my favourite subtle ways of their relationship growing. I really could appreciate that their relationship was about stability, trust and respect. They’ve both been hurt in the past, they both have children who are the centre of their world, and they are both trying to navigate new found love at 40+. It’s slow, romantic and the development of love grows through gesture.
I think Maya was clever to include some challenges to new found love at 40. She wove the protests of children surrounding new parental relationships and the questions they ask. Diana’s teenage boy found the adjusts hard and was defiant in letting a new person into Diana’s life. He felt as if Diana would forget about his father and not acknowledge significant past birthdays or anniversaries. However, he grows to realise that it is about a balance of blending the two together and recognising that Ned is never going to stop Diana from loving, thinking of, or celebrating her late husband. Ultimately Ned and Diana show harmony within their two families individually, therefore when they bring the two together, it is just a big group of love and happiness!
Reading Diana and Ned’s story had me swept away in a matter of 48 hours – I couldn’t step away from their story for too long!! I am incredibly grateful and humbled to have received this copy of Paperbark Hill from Allen & Unwin and Maya Linnell to personally read and review 💖 This copy of Maya’s book has already been loaned a friend to read and also love 💫
Wow. Wow. Wow. Nell Pierce coming through with the award winning literary fiction. Nell is the prestigious winner of the 2022 Australian/ Vogel’s Literary Award. Okay cool Mel, but what does this actually mean? My fellow reading friends, it means that Nell had worked dang hard on her book like all authors, was selected out of a HUGE bunch of unpublished manuscripts, fit the bill of being under the age of 35 AND has now had this manuscript published, promoted and sold with Allen & Unwin. So let me tell you, this book is a no brainer for you to pick up in 2022.
A Place Near Eden follows three main characters; Tilly (Matilda); Sem; and Celeste. Their intricate, manipulative and submissive relationships with one another creates the whirlwind of events and downward spirals in this novel. The overall theme that has really kept me thinking and pondering long after I finished, is manipulation. A Place Near Eden shows the different types of manipulation a person can face in real life. This novel shows strong instances of verbal manipulation, tv and film consumption that had been manipulated to make you believe a persons’ innocence, and manipulation through the streams of social media. There has been a tragic ‘accident’ near Eden and we begin to slowing unfold who was involved by back tracking Tilly’s story, but is Tilly’s story real and honest? Or has it been created through the manipulation and impression of those around her, who are aiming to save themselves by throwing Tilly in the firing line.
At the beginning it is brought to the reader’s attention that teenage Tilly is facing a change in home environment. Her new foster brother Sem, has moved in and her parents are at odds over Sem’s behaviour and his influence on her. Tilly idolises Sem and begins to develop romantic feelings towards him. Now bring Celeste into the mix – she is Sem’s ‘girlfriend’ and next door neighbour. Celeste is older than Tilly and has a teenage strength about her. She wears her midriff tops without the worry of wandering eyes, lies and boasts about going all the way with Sem. Celeste creates arguments with her Mum and Sem for no good reason other then wanting to have a fight, she talks Tilly into drinking a lot, she criticises and makes fun of Tilly for getting a job and then goes and gets one herself, she also convinces Tilly to not keep any other friends. Celeste is clever, manipulative and calculating. She can also strongly influence and convince Tilly’s change in mindset, mood and memory.
For me, quite early in, Tilly reads as an unreliable narrator and this kept me flipping the pages. Tilly talks in the past of her coming and going relationships with Sem and Celeste, moving out with Celeste, drinking a lot, counselling sessions arranged by her Dad to draw out information on Sem, her unusual relationship with her near absent mother, and the place of spiritual awakening that Sem and her mother would visit way out bush. Tilly is talking to someone in the present, someone who will be learning about Tilly, Sem and Celeste’s story through a documentary. This documentary has been created, aired and viewed to expose the possible scenarios leading up to the accident near Eden and who is responsible. Due to Tilly being an unreliable narrator, for a long time she is convincing you, as the reader, that she is responsible. She is telling you she has destroyed someone’s life and should be punished – yet as Celeste and Tilly’s relationship begins to unravel, we can’t be so sure as to who’s the guilty one.
This novel is challenging for me to write about without giving too much away. I really enjoyed the not knowingness of jumping in with just the blurb for reference. I want you to experience that unknown feeling too! Therefore, I will finish this review with one of my favourite lines in the book. This stood out to me the moment I read it, as I felt it can sum up Celeste’s mind games, Tilly’s influenced inability to make choices and Sem’s unreliable nature. It can also sum up young adulthood, pivots in life paths and personal growth;
“Don’t look at me like I’m crazy,” Sem said. “It’s okay if you don’t see things the way I do. It’s just important to me that I make my own choices, that’s all.”
One big cheer and shout out to Allen & Unwin, as well as Nell Pierce for generously sending me this (now well read, tagged and already passed around) copy of ‘A Place Near Eden’. I am so SO very grateful for the experience 💖
Isobel Beech is going to take Australia by storm! With a background in copywriting, creative and internet news media, she is well versed in the book world. Her first book titled ‘How To Be Online and Also Be Happy’, was published in 2021. Her spectacular debut fiction called ‘Sunbathing’, has been published with Allen & Unwin this month (May, 2022).
Welcome Isobel and thank you so much for being a part of my Author Talks space online! It is an absolute pleasure to be discussing your new novel and writing experience with you 😊💬
Isobel – wow congratulations on such a moving debut novel! How long has it been in your heart to write fiction? Have you always seen fiction in your writing journey?
Well, I only started doing writing stuff around ten years ago but the first few things I ever wrote were fiction because I was studying a Bachelor of Creative Writing at RMIT. A lot of the curriculum revolves around poetic and narrative-based writing techniques, so I suppose I learned how to write – or learned how I might someday want to write – with fiction.
I’ve done a fair bit of non-fiction writing since then for online and print media but fiction writing is just less of a pressure cooker I think. It’s so much more open-ended, so much more creative, you can really go wherever with it and say whatever needs to be said. And with it you can build the worlds you wish you lived in, or the worlds you wish you had access to. Like with Sunbathing, so much of the driving force behind the story there is about having a final conversation with a person you’ve already lost. That kind of closure you can only dream about. Writing this book gave me that.
The feeling of your writingstyle had me captivated from the very instant I started readingSunbathing. That feeling of connection didn’t waver and had me finishing your novel in less than 48 hours. How long did it take you to plan, write and have Sunbathing published with Allen & Unwin?
Thank you! I’ve heard that people are finishing it quickly which I definitely take as a compliment; I love being able to read a book in a couple of days, I think it really helps to feel like you’ve been transported and lived it yourself.
And I didn’t plan the writing process at all really, I just began. I was at a writing residency in Italy and just wasn’t sure what to do with my time; I wasn’t feeling very motivated or like I had anything worthwhile to say at the time, so I just started writing some stuff down to pass the time. Things I saw that day, dreams I had, the smells and sounds around me. Then the document gained momentum and I began to find bits I liked in it that I wanted to interrogate more. And then I realised I wanted to bring the grief stuff into it – something I was kind of wading through at the time.
The writing of the first manuscript took around three weeks, then probably six months to sort out and edit and rearrange on my own. Which is remarkably quick for a novel, but I think I just had this spare time and was obviously really invested in telling this story and a lot of it wasn’t fiction – not the feelings or the essence of it – so it kind of tipped out of me. That was in 2019.
By the time I decided it was finished, I actually didn’t know if I wanted to share it with the world at all. Because it felt like a pretty big thing to write about and I was afraid of putting it out there, I guess. But I met with Kelly (from A&U) and we talked about how we saw the book and what it might mean to me or to others as a published thing and she just made the decision really easy. We edited it in 2021 between March and December, and so all up it was probably just under a two-year project.
So, quick to write and quick to read as it turns out.
I really enjoyed the namelessness of the main female character. She is one person healing from grief, yet she is many. She is one 21st century woman, yet she is many. Through this, I ultimately felt extremely connected to her. What does her namelessness mean to you in the story? Did you begin with a character name or was she always nameless?
She was and absolutely for that very reason. I’ve always enjoyed being able to step right into a character and I feel like the less information you’re given about them – particularly the superficial stuff – just makes that easier.
In the beginning she was genderless, too, and a lot the talk of ‘women’ and ‘men’ stuff included ideas and feelings on gender identity and how there’s so much outside of that binary and what that means for us and our relationships. But in the editing process I was convinced, and rightly so, that these ideas weren’t being given enough air time within the narrative to be doing them justice. So we culled that stuff and she became a she.
I think it works and is good, particularly for the function of her experiences as a daughter of a dad and what that means for their dynamic, but I’ll have to save the gender dysphoria for the next book.
What has the feeling been like for you, to walk into a bookstore and see your debut fiction novel on the shelf? Or turn on your social media to see your novel pictured, shared and reviewed with so much love?
It’s just a total smoothie of feelings right now! I feel lucky, confused, delighted, exposed. I had no idea what this time was going to be like but thinking about a few months ago, I realise I was being super pessimistic (my editor will attest to that). I just had this idea in my head that it was going to be really challenging, I guess because I’m writing about something that makes me feel vulnerable, and I was thinking I’d be having a hard time with it out there in the world, being consumed by people and commented on. But it’s just been the total opposite of that. It helps that people are saying really nice things about it, like I haven’t really been hit with any criticism yet so maybe ask me again then, but so far it’s felt like a really worthwhile thing to have done.
A friend said to me the other day, like, how great it is that somehow, this thing that used to cause me all this agony is now the source of all this solace and warmth, and that’s true. I’m suddenly associating this pretty painful thing with good feelings, with these incredibly meaningful conversations and connections. And that’s just the most beautiful, strange, incredible thing.
Thank you Isobel for sharing a piece of your time with me on melreviewsherbooks.com 💖
I sit here, writing this review with a cup of Italian coffee and biscuit in tow. I do not think I could have a set up any more fitting. Isobel Beech has created a novel that draws you in from the very beginning. ‘Sunbathing’ by Isobel Beech, takes place mostly in Abruzzo, Italy. The setting is described in such an emotionally and physically connecting way that you feel the Italian breeze, smell the freshly cut tomato salad with basil and olive oil, hear the gurgling of fresh coffee on the stove in the morning, and can imagine the footfalls and efforts of love in the vegetable garden below your window.
I need to preface that this novel does surround the topic of suicide, therefore please read this review with caution and/or pop back onto the blog for another book review soon xx
“… ‘Sunbathing’ explores the workings of the self in the wake of devastation and deep regret, and reveals the infinite ways that the everyday offers solace and hope.”. Transcribed from the back cover of ‘Sunbathing’. In summary, this quote covers the essence of this novel completely.
After suffering the great loss of someone close, an Australian woman books a plane ticket to Italy. She is travelling to stay with her best friend, Giulia, and her fiancé Fab, in their old stone village home. Isobel lets your mind wander as to the setting of this home, and I say home because this is the instant feeling the Beech portrays. It is a place of comfort, warmth, support and hope. We know there is a vegetable garden that Giulia tends to and waters from the buckets of water both the women go walking for every few days. We know that Fab is a writer and pops up to say “Ciao” whenever he hears his name being discussed, either inside or outside the home. We know Giulia and our female main character sit and talk over homemade meals deep into the evening, under the big shady tree in the back yard. We know our main character feels responsible for the loss of a significant figure in her life to suicide. We know that this feeling is one that plagues her mentally and emotionally. Her grief is incongruent to the way she believes is ‘expected’ of her – her grief does not follow a pattern.
It is incredibly unique how connected a reader can feel to the main character through the workings of their inner most thoughts and internal dialogue. The main character utilises online platforms to try and refresh her mind, yet only finds herself feeling more self-destructive after seeking it out. The online and in person conversations about suicide and taking ones life, she finds quite flippant. There is a sense of nobody knowing what she is going through, therefore nobody can help fix her and the significant shift to her life. However, the slow pace of life with Giulia and Fab in Abruzzo, learning to understand the language, making friends with a stray cat called Bric and taking care in planting, tending and caring for, then harvesting their own food and appreciating all it does for the human body, becomes her salvation. Day by day, the sun would rise, the coffee would boil and the routines would begin to heal her.
One of my favourite parts of this novel was seeing how the main characters perspective about Bric, the stray cat, changed over time. To begin with, Bric would only visit Giulia and Fab’s home every so often for food. He was more of a neighbourhood cat but this worried our main character. She was terrified that he wouldn’t return, he would become lost and starve. This became comparative to the loss of the significant person in her life. She felt that if she looked for Bric, fed him and cared for him, he would stay with her. Sadly, no matter how much nurturance and love she expressed to Bric, she couldn’t make him stay. Towards the end of the novel, our main character comes to accept Bric’s coming and going, taking the pressure off herself and understanding that Bric can only extend a portion of himself to her. Nor is he something she, and only she, can feel responsible for on her own.
I also really enjoyed the overarching concept of the old birthing room, turned guest bedroom, that our main character resides in while staying at Giulia and Fab’s home. Throughout the novel, our main character is rebirthing herself into a new person that lives with the loss and grief experienced in her life. It does not leave her completely, it just becomes a manageable part of the new person she’s growing into.
This is one of the most touching books I’ve read this year and I can see myself re-reading it in the future. It is surely one I will be recommending to my local literary book clubs. It is a novel to read with openness and care. I believe it is greatly worth it.