To celebrate the merging of my two blogs, I'm putting up this post which I shared some time ago on the old blog. So although it may be familiar to some, I'm sure it won't be for everyone.
Sometimes just one moment can change the way we look at things.
An eye-opening experience I had was stopping over at Tokyo Airport on
the way to Heathrow, when I was 20 years old. As we walked through the
long airport terminal, the only three Anglo-Saxon faces to be seen
anywhere belonged to me and my parents. The rest of the vast crowd was
comprised of Asian faces, Japanese specifically. There were thousands of
pretty girls with glossy, jet-black hair, cute toddlers and
smart-looking men. Undoubtedly, a stream of western tourists turn up in
that international airport all the time, but at that moment, for as far
as I could see, there was just us.
We were getting covert glances and sometimes smiles. Growing up as a
fourth or fifth generation Australian in Adelaide, I had carried an
unconscious sense that most people were like me. We were the 'common'
type. Of course I'd been taught at school that the vast majority of the
world was filled with other races, who had different coloured skins and
spoke different languages. The dry facts and text book photos obviously
hadn't made it sink in. Now, during that long walk with our suitcases
through Tokyo Airport, I had my first experience of feeling 'foreign'.
The world was a far bigger place than I'd ever imagined.
I sometimes remember my impressions of that day in 1990. It's healthy to
think of ourselves from someone else's point of view for a change. I
find it a good remedy for remembering that the world doesn't revolve
around me. It's wise also to consider how easy it is for individuals to
carry a sort of delusion of grandeur and self-importance. Although I am
ME to myself, the crucial person in my life's story, I am an OTHER to
everyone else on our planet, who are busy being the centre of their own
stories. From this perspective, any special sense of entitlement has to
It's the same for why fiction is a good medium to read and write. When
people ask me why I write it, I've sometimes felt put on the spot,
unable to come up with a reasonable sounding answer. I have an inner
conviction that it's excellent and important, but a simple, "I've always
enjoyed it," seemed a self-indulgent answer and certainly not
acceptable. When I remember my impressions in Tokyo that day, I think
it's all tied in with the reason why.
Fiction enables us to remove ourselves from our own egos and look at the
world from the perspective of others. Studies I've read about have
indicated that fiction readers really are higher on a measured empathy
scale than non-fiction readers or non-readers. This doesn't surprise me.
When we are reading a novel which switches from one character's point
of view to that of another, we are filled with new ways of looking at
the world. We may begin a story automatically endorsing one person's
opinion and rejecting another, but when we read part of the story being
told from the opposite point of view, it allows us the experience of
entering a head which is totally different from where we might have
expected to find ourselves.
It's so easy not to realise that all this is happening when we are
simply reading a good story. What a great exercise for helping to
understand and broadening our tolerance, even if just a little bit. This
is what I often aim to do with characters who don't seem so lovable. In
my opinion, being able to see a glimpse of the world from someone
else's perpective, even just a flash, is well worth the effort a fiction
writer may have to put in to provide this.
Wednesday, November 26, 2014
Move beyond Coping and Surviving to a Rejuvenating Place of Soul Rest
How many of us find ourselves exhausted, running on empty with no time for rest, no time for ourselves, no time for God? Bonnie Gray knows exactly what that's like. On the brink of fulfilling a lifelong dream, Bonnie's plans suddenly went off script. Her life shattered into a debilitating journey through anxiety, panic attacks, and insomnia. But as she struggled to make sense of it all, she made an important discovery: we all need "spiritual whitespace."
Spiritual whitespace makes room--room in one's heart for a deep relationship with God, room in one's life for rest, room in one's soul for rejuvenation. With soul-stirring vulnerability and heartbreaking honesty, Bonnie takes readers on a personal journey to feed their souls and uncover the deeper story of rest. Lyrical writing draws readers into Gray's intimate journey through overwhelming stress to find God in a broken story and celebrate the beauty of faith.
"We live in a culture that brags and boasts about being busy. Into that reality steps Bonnie with a new idea. Whitespace is an important concept and Bonnie has captured it perfectly. If you're exhausted with being exhausted, read this book. If you feel too busy to read this book, then that's probably the best sign of all that you need it."--from the foreword by Jon Acuff, "New York Times" bestselling author of "Stuff Christians Like"
I think this book is unusual, but not for the reasons the foreword says it is.
Many self-help style books are authored by people who seem to write from a lofty position as if they have all the answers. Perhaps publishers and marketers think their authors won't have enough credibility if they don't come across as 'super pastor' or 'super psychologist' who aim to tell us how to be as strong and together as they are. I've been getting a bit tired of the mold, but Bonnie Gray is different. She has been in a really dark head space and isn't too reticent to share about it. She starts from the devastating events of her childhood, when her parents used her as a tool to vent their bitterness at each other, and goes on to explain how hard it's been for her to hold herself together as a wife and mother of small boys. She lets readers glimpse everything from her fits of tears to her hopelessly messy house. It's all very well for some 'expert' to tell us what to do, but sometimes what we need more is an understanding friend who may say, "I've been there too. I was a mess and still am sometimes. I'm familiar with panic attacks and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder." It's refreshing to see Bonnie Gray write with a tone that doesn't try to set herself up as different or better than the rest of us, as she has experienced her share of terror and shame.
I didn't find Bonnie's ideas of moving forward particularly unusual. I'm sure you've often heard many of them before. Clear out your clutter, pamper yourself, eat tasty food and chew slowly, phone a friend with a sympathetic ear. But to be fair on her, maybe the ideas don't come across as original because they are tried and tested, and proven to work.
I'm sure it will be valuable for some readers to understand, through Bonnie's experiences, how the terrifying features of PTSD may strike a person out of the blue, years after the events which set the ball rolling. It may be just what some people need to see that our dreams and foibles, rather than being shameful idols or self-indulgences, are features of the way God made us. I think people who need to learn to treasure themselves more may get a lot of good from this book, but on the other hand, some readers may let Bonnie Gray's long, sad flashbacks into her own childhood stir up their own melancholy natures and do the opposite of what they expect. I think it's a good idea to mention this, so potential readers may be forewarned.
Thanks to Net Galley and Revell for my review copy.
Monday, November 24, 2014
Today, I'm happy to introduce my fellow Australian author friend, Carol Preston, who has written several unique novels. Carol bases her stories on her own extensive family tree research. As well as being her direct ancestors, the characters in her novels give us an accurate picture of what life in the Australian colonies of the 1800s must have been like. I enjoyed the opportunity to ask her some of the questions I've often wondered as I've read her stories.
1 Do you do all your research before you begin planning a book or do you get excited by what you discover and begin to combine both stages?
For me the research mostly happened before I planned to write a book. I was immersed in my family history research for quite a few years. It was a great hobby. It was only when I had completed most of it that I began to feel the urge to write the stories which had emerged from my research. I didn’t want to write them up just as a social history. I wanted to delve into what my ancestors’ personalities might have been like, think about their day to day existence and survival. So my ‘faction’ stories started to take shape in my head. Of course as I write, even now, I go back to my sources and check various details, and inevitably find new bits of information that I love to include in my stories.
2. Do you get a feeling for individual personalities as you begin to learn about facts from the past? Are you able to share some memorable discoveries which have surprised you?
I definitely get a feeling for individual personalities when I start to write. I usually spend quite a bit of time immersing myself in the particular facts around the story I have decided to write and try to imagine what the main characters were like, how they developed, what made them make the choices they did. I guess the psychologist in me focussed in very much on individual personality traits, and I like to think about how my ancestors might have grown and changed depending on the events going on around them. I find human nature and human interactions fascinating and it’s great fun to develop and explore these when creating a story.
My great grandmother, Sarah Oakes, ne Taylor, kept a small photo album which was given to me by my father when I began my family research. This had photos of most of her family and I spent many hours examining those faces, for clues about the individual personalities. It also started me on a search for some of her descendants who were still alive. Contacting a few of those, exchanging memories and hearing their stories, gave me great insights and fascinating bits of history to include in my books. I have often been surprised by how much I didn’t know, and how diverse have been the lives of those descended from Australia’s early colonials.
3. You have written several interesting novels over the past few years. Have you a personal favourite or two? If so, why?
I have to say that Suzannah’s Gold, my first novel, is definitely one of my favourites. Perhaps it’s because in writing this I discovered the joy of writing, and had the satisfaction of completing something that was very precious to me. I also found myself very attached to the character of Suzannah, (my great, great grandmother) who arrived in Australia alone at the age of thirteen, and made a life for herself with a thirty-five year old ex-convict in southern New South Wales, in extremely difficult circumstances. When I first put these facts together, I could hardly imagine how she survived, and I thoroughly enjoyed putting together her story. One of my other favourites is The Face of Forgiveness, my fourth novel. It’s about my recalcitrant Irish ancestors and I had great fun writing about an Irish rogue. I also found the focus on forgiveness a very stimulating and helpful process. A few years ago I re-released that story in serial form in a blog, under the title, Forgiving Michael, so it’s available for anyone to read, should they be interested, www.carolpreston.blogspot.com.au
4. Have you a writing routine which you try to stick to? Do you aim to write a certain amount every day and stick to a certain time of day?
No, I don’t have a writing routine. My life and other commitments at the moment don’t allow for that. I write whenever I have opportunity, and if I can block out a couple of days here and there I do so. When I’m in the middle of a chapter or a scene that’s flowing well, I push aside other things and focus on it for as long as I can. I prefer to begin writing early in the morning when it’s possible, and then I can become so immersed in it, the day is gone before I know it. I think I could fill any amount of spare space with writing.
5. What advice would you give anybody who would really like to write but may feel daunted by the work and the research involved?
I can only say from my own experience that writing comes from being thoroughly familiar with the subject matter, immersing yourself in it, loving it, being fascinated with the characters, whether based on real people or imagined ones. I find the research almost as much fun as the writing. It’s like being a private detective. And the writing is very cathartic as well as an exciting art. If a person feels all those things, then I think writing happens. It’s not work at all.
Carol lives in Wollongong with her husband, Neil. She is a psychologist and has a part time private counselling practice, as well as being an author and speaker. Carol enjoys spending time with her children and four grandchildren, as well as bushwalking, gardening and holidaying overseas with her husband. One of her hobbies over many years has been family history research. It was this research which started Carol on the journey of writing novels. Her first trilogy is about the Oakes Family; Suzannah’s Gold, Rebecca’s Dream and The Price of Peace, which takes the reader from 1838 when her great great grandmother, Suzannah Casey was transported from Ireland, through to the end of the First World War when Suzannah’s children and grandchildren are involved in the battle, not only to survive the war but to survive the waiting at home. The first two of these have recently been re-released by EBP. Carol’s fourth novel, The Face of Forgiveness, is about two young women who are transported to Australia in 1839. The most recent of Carol’s novel is a series based on her mother’s family, which begins with the First Fleet of convicts to Australia. These include Mary’s Guardian, Charlotte’s Angel, Tangled Secrets, and Truly Free. For more information about Carol’s books and her other interests she can be contacted on her website: www.carolpreston.com.au, on her Facebook author page: www.facebook.com/writingtoreach
or her Amazon author page: www.amazon.com/author/carolpreston
Thursday, November 20, 2014
Weary of the expectations imposed on her by her strict upbringing, eighteen-year-old Mazy Pelfrey prepares to leave her home in the Kentucky mountains for the genteel city of Lexington, where she'll attend secretarial school. She knows her life is about to change--and only for the better. Everything will be blue skies from now on.But business school is harder than she thought it would be and the big city not as friendly, until she meets a charming young man from a wealthy family, Loyal Chambers. When Loyal sets his sights on her, Mazy begins to see that everything she'd ever wished to have is right before her eyes. The only hindrance to her budding romance is a former beau, Chanis Clay, the young sheriff she thought she'd left firmly behind.Danger rumbles like thunder on a high mountain ridge when Mazy's cosseted past collides with her clouded future and forces her to come to terms with what she really wants.
Young sheriff, Chanis Clay, looks forward to eventually settling down with his sweetheart, Mazy Pelfrey. He's just waiting until she finishes secretarial school, which he considers a bit of a whim to get out of her system. He doesn't stop to consider that things may have changed for Mazy while she's away. She's been enjoying a more fashionable lifestyle in a bigger town, and the flattering attention of Loyal Chambers, a young man who is completely different to Chanis.
A strong romantic thread is hinted at, especially with the addition of the lover's triangle, but as Mazy and Chanis are in different scenes, living their separate lives, for such a large part of the book, it lost some of its impetus with me. It wasn't the sort of novel I wanted to grab every spare moment to find out what was going to happen next. Having said that, I was vaguely curious to eventually find out why Mazy would choose one of the fellows when her heart seemed to be so wrapped up in the other.
It's clear this is a character driven book. Many of the secondary characters are well-depicted. The 'girl stuff' at secretarial school seems true to life. Eva is the ringleader, who all the others tread carefully around because her opinion carries weight. I felt 'princess' was a good appellation for this entitled girl who felt she should have even been exempt from the dishwashing roster. In contrast, there's Cinnamon Spicer, the cheerful, poverty-stricken girl we first see raking through garbage dumps, intending to sell other people's trash as treasure. As Cinnamon was the first character in the story, I'd expected to see more of her than we did. She seems like such a strong, unique person to end up with what turned out to be a supporting role in which nothing much happened to her.
Overall, although the characters were really well-depicted, I found the plot itself to be a bit episodic and rambling to carry them well. Still, some other readers may well love it, as I've seen books of a similar style do well for themselves. Jan Karon's books set in Mitford spring to mind. If 'Buttermilk Sky' does suit you, I see there's a whole series, featuring other members of Mazy's family, to pick up next.
By the way, I don't know if this was intentional, but it would seem Chanis might have been right about secretarial school.
Thanks to Net Galley and Tyndale House for my review copy.
Monday, November 17, 2014
A single mother must protect her teenage son-from organized crime and from himself.
Carol Daniels thinks she out-ran her enemies, until a detective arrives at her door with a warning from her convict brother. Minor incidents take on a sinister meaning. An anonymous phone call warns her not to hide again.
Now she must cooperate with a drug lord while the police work to trap him. Carol has always handled crisis alone, but this one might break her. Late-night deejay Joey Hill offers friendship and moral support. Can she trust him? One thing's certain. She can't risk prayer."
Immediately, Carol struck me as a woman on edge, jumpy and suspicious not by personality but because of circumstances. Not only is convicted serial murderer and rapist Harry Silver her brother, but she lost her husband, and also a 12-year-old son due to drug overdose. All she feels she has left is Paul, her 16-year-old remaining son, who she will do anything to protect. Joey, the DJ, recognises Carol as a survivor without even knowing the full picture at the start. She has fled across the country to start fresh in a new province where nobody will connect her with her brother, but discovers that an angry drug lord, who seems to feel he has unfinished business with Harry, has chosen to target her and Paul as victims of his threats.
I was interested to see how Carol and Paul were going to fare as I soon as I found out about this book. Having Harry Silver as a brother and uncle is a huge challenge on its own. This mother and son were always going to have to deal with the challenge of having something to hide, even though they were innocent, for revealing close blood ties to a man like Harry would never win them friends. How do you live when your whole life is forced to be a cover-up? How do you approach possible friends, not to mention potential dates, when you have something (or rather, someone) so sinister to hide?
As with the prequel to this novel, Janet Sketchley has evoked a chilling, edge-of-your-seat atmosphere. Through Carol, we learn that even when we are on constant vigilance, never relaxing, determined to trust nobody, threats may still find their way through the cracks because of their innocent appearances. Other themes in this book include the nature of legitimate faith, the danger of using drugs, and who your real friends are. All through, I was hoping for relief and trust for Carol, and a satisfying life for Paul, who was a down-to-earth young man who sometimes perceived things his mother couldn't. And there's always the question of how Carol will ever choose to let down her guard, trust God and pray, after all that she feels life has delivered her.
Thanks to the author for providing me with a copy to review.
Saturday, November 8, 2014
Detective Sergeant Steve Keller has begun to see things. He desperately hopes the visions mean something and not that he's going crazy. But the visions don't go away, and when they start meaning something more, Steve finds himself caught in an investigation way bigger than he ever imagined. As the pieces begin to fit together, something dangerous emerges. He can't hide what he knows, but to expose it doesn't just stir up controversy, it provokes someone who lurks in the shadows; someone who will kill to keep this information quiet. Mortal Insight, E.B. James new novel, brings you conspiracy, crime, action and asks the question: when your life is at stake, are some truths worth bringing out into the open?
I thoroughly enjoyed this unpredictable plot. It was great having no idea what might happen next. It's categorised as a detective/mystery story, and there's also a touch of the supernatural.
Detective Sergeant Steve Keller has started to see some weird phenomena on the job at sexual assault scenes. Although some believe his visions to be a stress reaction following a break-up with his wife, the accuracy with which he's able to predict potential perpetrators and victims indicates that there's more to it. He also has a very personal reason to believe the introduction of a new 'feel good' chemical, tanordebetian (TDB), added to non-alcoholic party drinks and the mains water supply, may help explain a heightened wave of sexual crime.
Steve is one of a handful of Davids trying to fathom the Goliath behind TDB. Others include his mother-in-law, Dorothy, who leads a group of social activists, Isaac, a local politician and his personal assistant, Nicole. It doesn't take long for them to work out that whoever wants them silenced is prepared to stoop to murder.
Are Steve's supernatural visions integral to the plot? I think the main storyline of the research being conducted could stand without this element, especially as he decides early on to keep quiet about it. However, it does make things more intense by revealing deeper truths which emphasise the stakes of their quest. Anyone who wonders about the significance of the front cover image will quickly figure it out.
I like the questions this book raises about the nature of our society. We've got to love the sort of novel that challenges us to think. Do groups, such as the Community Aware Group, cause more harm than good through the way they operate? Does their input extend to the reputations of others who side with their issues? Anybody would have to wonder whether they would even want the well-intentioned help of the CAG. And is it possible for anybody with integrity to last in politics over the long term?
May we sometimes be too quick to judge individuals for crimes without delving into all the extenuating facts? And to what extent does the media filter and spoon feed exactly what they want the public to know? To quote Steve's superior officer, Alan Pryor, in this story, 'they are notorious for twisting the facts to represent the agenda of whoever is paying their bills.' Do Davids really stand a chance against huge, corporate Goliaths?
If asked whether this story finishes with a 'good' or 'bad' ending, I have to say there's good reason to say both. That's just one of the surprises of this story. I hope E. B. James has more of this genre up her sleeve.
Wednesday, November 5, 2014
A second Krispy Kreme doughnut outlet is very soon to open in Adelaide, this time in the city centre. People will surely be camping outside the doors, because the very first customers will be given a lifetime supply of free doughnuts, whenever they want them. With the media hype beginning again, I'm reminded of this post I wrote earlier this year, in the winter when our city's first outlet opened. I'd like to share it again.
Last week, some poor teenagers were mugged for the boxes of doughnuts they'd bought at our new Krispy Kreme factory outlet which has just opened in Adelaide. In news reports, the robbers were hailed as the 'Krispy Krooks'. I'm not sure if they've been discovered and apprehended yet, but our city is going crazier over the new outlet than I ever would have expected, just because they are a well-known brand we've never had before.
On Saturday, my teenage daughter and her best friend got caught up in the hype and decided to make a trip to the factory outlet. They had to catch a bus into Adelaide from the Hills where we live, followed by a tram to the suburb where the shop is situated. They found a line twisting and curling from the shop door way down the road. The girls decided that as they had already spent so long getting there, they might as well join the end of the queue.
The wait turned out to be almost three hours. As they inched closer to the door and into the shop premises, they saw a policeman on the job, striding around eating doughnuts the staff had given him. I don't think there would have been any risk from muggers in a crowd that size. He was probably there just to make the public feel safe. The two girls decided to buy a couple of boxes each, since they'd already put in such a lot of effort.
On the way back to the tram stop, they began feeling nervous that crooks might spring out at them from the shadows, to steal their doughnuts. By the time they'd caught the bus back to the Hills and made it nearly home, the winter night was pitch black and had started to rain. They had covered many kilometres in public transport for their treats.
I couldn't really blame my daughter when she snapped at her brothers not to dig into them straight away. 'You don't know what I've been through today to get these doughnuts. My feet are aching, I've spent heaps of money, and I was cold and bored. You can have some when I say so.'
When we did get a taste, were they any good? Well, I have to be honest and admit that they were okay, but nothing special. Certainly no better than the doughnuts we can buy from our local shopping centre. The boys agreed they were nice but nothing to rave about. If I'd done what the girls did, I might have considered it a bit of a wasted day.
In fact, the loveliest, most delicious cakes and doughnuts I've ever eaten were from an Aussie country town named West Wyalong. It's like a scrub oasis in the middle of New South Wales. We were on a tour of our country with our three children, aged 9, 5 and new born. We stopped to stretch our legs and chanced upon the bakery with these delicious goods. Even though it was 2004, I've never forgotten them. I'm afraid they were far more delicious than those from Krispy Kreme last week, but nobody hears about them.
How true such things are in all of life, including the books we read. We can't help hearing about the books which are at the top of the most well-known publishers' lists, because they tend to spread through the media. Maybe these are the equivalent of Krispy Kreme in the literary world. They are the books which we hear hype about, and can't help having our curiosity aroused. We may find it easy to forget that these are by no means the only books in the market.
I enjoy receiving recommendations of more obscure books from trusted reader friends who tell me, 'I'm sure you'll love this.' And I love stumbling across books I can spread the word about in turn. It is a joy to get stuck into fiction from different nations, which I can pass on to others, saying, 'You really get the feel of the setting from this story,' or 'You'll never think of the place in the same way again.' It's been fun hosting guests who let us know about their new books. The best thing about them is that, thanks to digital purchasing options of the 21st century, they are readily available, unlike the delicious doughnuts from West Wyalong.
Saturday, November 1, 2014
The year is 1901, the literary sensation The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is taking New York City by storm, and everyone wonders where the next great book will come from. But to Annie Gallagher, stories are more than entertainment—they’re a sweet reminder of her storyteller father. After his death, Annie fled Ireland for the land of dreams, finding work at Hawkins House.
But when a fellow boarder with something to hide is accused of misconduct and authorities threaten to shut down the boardinghouse, Annie fears she may lose her new friends, her housekeeping job . . . and her means of funding her dream: a memorial library to honor her father. Furthermore, the friendly postman shows a little too much interest in Annie—and in her father’s unpublished stories. In fact, he suspects these tales may hold a grand secret.
Though the postman’s intentions seem pure, Annie wants to share her father’s stories on her own terms. Determined to prove herself, Annie must forge her own path to aid her friend and create the future she’s always envisioned . . . where dreams really do come true.
Annie Gallagher is a young Irish woman who immigrated to New York around the turn of the twentieth century. She leaves behind a volatile extended family situation and some traumatic experiences, but does manage to hold onto her beloved father's stash of children's stories. He was a hedge school master, who used to try to make a living traveling around, teaching under his own terms in the great outdoors for barter. Annie lives at a boarding house run by the loving Mrs Hawkins, who treats all the young women beneath her roof as if she's their mother.
Stephen Adams is the friendly postman, who has lost everything, including his family, but still tries to stay optimistic. He finds himself in a bind when his landlord, who is also a publisher and a bit of an opportunist, threatens to kick him out for his debt, unless Stephen can find a great children's manuscript for him to publish. Given the title of this book, it's not difficult to predict where the story is heading.
A great chunk of Annie's back story jams up the first few chapters, making me wonder if there's a prequel. It turns out there is (I haven't read it), but not necessarily the sort I would have expected. It's about Grace, one of the other girls who lives in the boarding house, and I don't know how much of Annie's story is revealed in it. I just finished wading through her back story, when another great block, this time her friend, Kirsten's, is introduced in the next chapter! It all made the movement grind off to a slow start, deferring the start of this novel's plot.
I never really got over this feeling of dragging, even though the premises of the story were so good. We have the backdrop of interesting, early 1900s America, and the sensation the publication of L. Frank Baum's 'The Wizard of Oz' was making. There's also Annie's dream of building a library to bless and cheer poor folk like herself. Maybe it's because the plot seemed to move like clockwork in several ways, with things falling into place, reminding me of a High School drama performance. I couldn't get over the feeling that an author was pulling the strings for these characters.
I did appreciate the evidence of Annie's wounds from her past, which she found hard to shake off. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder wouldn't have been named in 1901, but it was happening. Even though Annie had been rescued from the trauma of her past, she was still grappling with the memories of betrayal and dread feelings. I looked up Magdalene Laundry, and discovered that such a horrible place really existed under that name. How human, to be insecure and worried that something awful might happen again, even in new and cheerful surroundings.
Overall, though I wanted to love this book with its appealing blurb and cover, it wasn't really my cup of tea.
I received a copy from Net Galley and Tyndale House in return for an honest review.