Aug 29, 2015

Book Review: Day Boy by Trent Jamieson

day-boy (1)I recall Lisa L. Hannett writing about the Australian Gothic in Wide Open Fear, a piece for her column in This is Horror.  Trent Jamieson is part of that cultural/ literary trend in Australian genre writing and his previous short works and his Death Works series make valuable contributions to a cohort of  writers and writing that holds its own internationally. 

Then comes Day Boy , which I think might be the finest book Trent Jamieson has written to date, and perhaps the finest articulation of Australian Gothic in a single novel yet.  There’s elements of his Nightbound Land Series, the imagery and the tone, but its subtle and more powerful for that. There’s a strong voice (haunting in its poetry) that firmly pins you down to this nightmarish world and makes you believe.

DAIN SAYS WE fight to breathe. We fight to be born and forever after we’re all rage at the brevity of the world and its multitudes of cruelties. I’m not sure about that. But we fight. And we Day Boys fight like we’re men angry and sanguine. Little soldiers marking doors with chalk, sketching the seven-pointed Sun upon the wood. Working and walking, all strut and talk—until we fight. And then the talk doesn’t matter anymore.

Writing good, entertaining stories is difficult in itself, writing stories that work one subtler levels at the same time is a sign of craft and this book is a work of well honed crafting.  You could say that Day Boy is a tale of post-apocalyptic Australia ruled by vampires as seen through the eyes of one of it’s yet- to-be masters and you would not be wrong but you’d be missing much: Jamieson’s artistry at bending well used genre tropes to his will, his explorations of relationships between fathers and sons (even if they are proxies), about the relationship or tension of living with the Australian environment (even in its post apocalyptic state) and about loving, losing and growing up.

It’s a work that the Australian Speculative Fiction community needs to notice not just because its a fine rendition of what one of our best writers is capable off, but of what can separate Australian writers from a homogeneity of genre tales internationally. I commend Text Publishing for publishing it, for recognising why it’s an important tale and for perhaps exposing it to a slightly different audience.

Buy it or borrow it. Just don’t miss it.

Did you enjoy this review? Would you like to read more? You can subscribe to the blog through a reader, by Email or Follow me on twitter.

Aug 22, 2015

Book Review- Not My Father’s Son by Alan Cumming

not-my-father-s-sonHow do you judge a memoir? Are we judging the quality of the writing or making value judgements on the life displayed within? Both?

Looking purely at its technical aspects Not My Father’s Son was exceedingly well structured.  The writing fits with Cumming’s public persona - it’s lively and cheeky and witty but not silly.  Above all I’d say it feels honest and perhaps that’s what enabled it to get under my guard. I wouldn’t say that I am a fan of Alan Cumming but I have certainly enjoyed his work since first seeing him in Circle of Friends.

I read Not My Father’s Son without any forewarning as to the contents, I hadn’t seen the episode of Who Do You Think You Are referred to in the book.  If I had to pin down what piqued my interest I’m not sure I could tell you, other than having seen him recently on Australia’s Book Show and thinking to myself that he’d be an interesting character to read about.

So the fact that he starts with the physical and emotional abuse perpetrated by his father came as a little surprise.  That’s not to say that it was structured this way as to hook in the reader, more I think that Cumming decides from the outset that you, the reader, are going to get the truth straight up.

Despite its rather harrowing content, it felt like it had the pacing of a page turner. Sure, famous peoples lives can be interesting, can fulfil a morbid curiosity but I don’t think it was some perverse voyeurism that kept me glued to the ereader screen.

Not My Father’s Son, is billed as a family memoir.  This is an apt description, for though it focuses on Alan’s early life and his abusive Father, it also investigates and interrogates( with help from the Who Do you Think You Are program) the death of his maternal Grandfather.  Cumming switches between childhood,the present and the near past weaving three parallel narratives together and finishing with a heart warming conclusion.

It’s part catharsis, part historical mystery.  If it weren’t true I don’t think the events that stretch across generations and families would be believable in fiction.

I had an idyllic childhood by comparison.  That Alan Cumming was still here to write and reveal this story is a testament to his spirit and humanity.

Kate Forsyth Answers 3 quick questions on The Beast’s Garden

Kate Forsyth’s latest novel is an Historical Thriller set during World War II. Based on a Grimm’s fairytale, The Beast’s Garden is a mix ofthe-beast-s-garden tense wartime espionage and enduring love. It’s a very human story, about what small groups of people can do and what we hope people would do when faced by an evil that is unacceptable.


1. What challenges or advantages does reworking a fairy-tale or folk tale present to you?

One of the biggest challenges in reworking a myth, or legend, or fairy tale, is that people often know the story, and so it can be difficult to build suspense, or to surprise the reader. I think suspense and surprise are two of the most crucial ingredients in any story, and so I spend a lot of time thinking about how I can subvert or confound readers' expectations, while still remaining true to the spirit of the story.   

2. The setting and characters of The Beast's Garden bring with it the added requirement of sensitivity due to the atrocities perpetrated by the Nazi's.  What was your greatest concern in dealing with the Holocaust as part of your fictional tale?

It was soul-harrowing research and soul-harrowing writing. I was conscious at all times of the need to show, as much as I could, the true horror of the Third Reich, while not losing sight of hope and love and the small acts of kindness and courage that helped to save a few - only a few - from the horror of the death camps. 

Isabel Allende says to write what must not be forgotten. I wanted badly to honour the lives of those who did their best to resist Hitler, even at the cost of their own lives. It's been a great relief to me that so many readers have contacted me, and told me that they found the book incredibly beautiful and moving as well as heart-rending and sad. 

3. Your Doctorate in fairy-tale retelling and your recent novels would suggest that you have a far greater exposure to the genre than most people.  What discoveries have you made about the genre that might surprise those of us who grew up on abridged versions of Grimm's tales?

It was fascinating to me to discover that fairy tales have their roots in ancient myths of death and resurrection, from the very dawn of human language - around 300,000 years ago.  I had not truly realised just how old such wonder tales are. 


I’d like to thank Kate Forsyth for taking time out of a relentless schedule to pen some thoughts for the blog. You can purchase The Beast’s Garden from all good bookstores or if you’re remote like me, Booktopia.

Did you enjoy this post? Would you like to read more? You can subscribe to the blog through a reader, by Email or Follow me on twitter.

Aug 7, 2015

Fae Visions of the Mediterranean – Call for Stories

Fae-logo The wonderful folk over at The Future Fire (who brought us We See A Different Frontier) have just extended the cut off date for their latest venture Fae Visions of the Mediterranean.

To be edited by Valeria Vitale and Djibril al-Ayad, Fae Visions of the Mediterranean hopes to showcase the Mediterranean sea, and all the myths, legends and history related to it.

Here’s the Call for Stories:

Quivering mirages, ghost ships, glossy scales slipping away beneath the waves; we are seeking progressive and inclusive short stories about wonders, terrors, omens, sea-monsters, apparitions and other folk creatures and horrors from throughout the Mediterranean region. You might find inspiration in medieval bestiaries and the margins of maps and manuscripts; stories whispered by pirates in the long nights at sail; horrible and marvellous visions shaken travellers barely dare to recall; names of creatures known by everyone in the streets around the harbour; particularly troubled nightmares you had or someone shared with you.


You have until September 30 and the guidelines are to be found here

It’s worth noting that they are also running a Kickstarter for the Tenth anniversary of The Future Fire Magazine on Indiegogo. Check that out here.

Did you enjoy this post? Would you like to read more? You can subscribe to the blog through a reader, by Email or Follow me on twitter.

Aug 2, 2015

Book Review – The Beast’s Garden


Very well known for The Witches of Eileanan Series, Kate Forsyth continues to establish a foothold as a writer of historical fiction for adults. 

It began (at least in my reading of her work) with Bitter Greens, which managed to blend historical fiction with myth and fairytale; to give the reader a set of tales that inhabited a narrative borderlands where the fiction and non-fiction elements were separated only by a thin veil. 

Then with The Wild Girl, (Forsyth’s tale based on the life of Gretchen Wild), the fairytale element formed part of the backdrop, informing the story or perhaps underlining it.  Readers were given a well researched and imagined historical.

The Beast’s Garden, is slightly different again.  It’s a reimagining of one of the early Grimm tales, The Singing, Springing Lark.  So if you know the tale then the plot might not present too many surprises.  Then again part of the fun in reading fairytale remakes is seeing what the author does with the story.  I must stress though, while based on the plot of The Singing Springing Lark, The Beast’s Garden is not in the least bit fantastical.  Indeed in the afterword, Forsyth informs us, that apart from the central characters and their families, all the other major players are historical figures.

While ostensibly a love story, there’s tension and action reminiscent of the World War II thrillers I grew up reading and watching.  The setting is Berlin 1938-45, covering the rise to prominence of the Nazi’s and the effect of the regime not only on the Jewish-German Berliner’s but on those who saw their beloved country torn apart by an ideology of hate.

In The Beast’s Garden we have Ava (the Beauty) the third daughter of a previously prominent Professor of Psychiatry, she’s inherited her mothers Spanish looks and talent for singing. Her family is close with the Feidlers, a Jewish family whose father worked with hers and whose mother practically raised Ava after her own mother’s early death.  We have Graf Leo von Löwenstein.(The Beast) an officer in the Abwehr (German Military Intelligence) who is smitten by Ava’s beauty and her forthright spirit in the face of the regime.  What follows is chiefly Ava’s and Leo’s story as they struggle against the fear and the regime, each in their own way.

Writing an historical fiction set during World War II is a daunting prospect – it’s a period that’s been worked over considerably in non-fiction, fiction and by Hollywood and countless other entertainment industries.  Indeed some 75 years on and it isn’t hard to find a contemporary project based on this era of conflict.  Then the writer must consider the Holocaust, how to handle a reality that still effects so many.

So the bar is set high, I think for a writer who wants to write fiction that entertains but is also true, not only to the written history but the emotional one.  I think in this case Forsyth has done well.  The holocaust is not glossed over and it’s not played on to manipulate our emotions.  There are scenes set in Buchenwald, but Forsyth keeps the emotional focus tight on particular characters and their attempts to survive. The enormity of the holocaust (hard to envision on a personal level) is revealed through juxtaposing reports received by Leo of the mass exterminations with what the reader knows from the prisoners point of view – a personal response magnified by numbers on a page, large numbers.

I also felt that Forsyth captured particularly well the state of fear brought to bear by the Nazi’s not only on the Jews but on other Germans who didn’t support the regime - fear of being reported to the Gestapo by your own servants or family members.  Much of what propelled me through the novel was Forsyth’s ability to sustain tension, fear of the authorities, fear of being discovered engaged in subversive activities, fear of those you love.

There are many stories in war and with 75 years of storytelling the action adventure angle has been done with varying degrees of success.  The Beast’s Garden is not about strikes and counter strikes, hero’s storming the beaches but it’s every bit as engaging. It’s a very human story, about what small groups of people can do, what we hope people would do when faced by an evil that is unacceptable.


This review is based on an uncorrected proof.

aww-badge-2015This review is part of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2015.  Please check out this page for more great writing from Australian women.




Did you enjoy this review? Would you like to read more? You can subscribe to the blog through a reader, by Email or Follow me on twitter.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...