BOOK REVIEW: Nine Days (Toni Jordan, Text)

We first meet the Westaway family through the character of young Kip, brother to Francis and Connie, son to a grieving mother Jean and a recently deceased father. It is 1939 in Richmond, Melbourne’s inner-city working-class suburb, and the growing conflict in Europe is moving rapidly towards war. As we meet the rest of Kip’s family—and in time we meet his children and grandchild—we discover generations of the Westaway family at key moments in their lives. Nine days will see different members of the family making life-changing decisions—and not all of them happy ones. The tragic fate of Kip’s sister Connie Westaway has repercussions for the family and its reputation for many years. The other character in the book is Richmond; from the streets of tiny weatherboard houses in the 1930s where everyone knew everyone else’s business to today’s cosmopolitan blend. This is a Richmond story, a Melbourne story and an Australian story. Toni Jordan has written a beautiful novel which captures the loves and fears of an ordinary Australian family through hard times and better times. It reminded me of Elizabeth Stead’s books.

Chris Harrington is the co-owner of Books in Print in Melbourne

Top picks from the current issue

Which books got good reviews in the October issue of Bookseller+Publisher you ask?

Well…

The proof copy of Caroline Overington’s novel I Came to Say Goodbye came covered in glowing quotes from Random House staff who’ve read the book and our reviewer Scott Whitmont has joined the chorus. He calls the novel ‘a gripping blockbuster that booksellers can recommend unreservedly’ and predicts Overington’s following ‘is destined to grow in leaps and bounds’.

Toni Whitmont was impressed with That Deadman Dance by Miles Franklin winner Kim Scott (Picador, October), suggesting it will ‘surely attract consideration for a raft of major prizes’. ‘While the story is compelling,’ writes Whitmont, ‘what makes this an extraordinary book is the writing. Scott’s prose shimmers.’

Andrew Wilkins was equally taken with a collection of work by the late Dorothy Porter. Love Poems (Black Inc., October) ‘brings together poems and song lyrics from across Porter’s career, gathered into sections that suggest love in its various phases’ and is ‘simply an essential collection of Australian poetry,’ says Wilkins.

Other eagerly awaited books being reviewed in this issue include Tim Flannery’s Here On Earth (Text, October), which Eliza Metcalf says is ‘an important read’. ‘Flannery traces our species’ evolution and expansion out of Africa and across the globe, noting the trail of destruction we left in our wake,’ she writes. ’The picture he paints is a fairly devastating one, but also quite awe-inspiring.’

Paul Landymore assures readers that When Colts Ran, the new novel by Roger McDonald (Vintage, November), lives up to expectations raised by the author’s Miles Franklin win in 2006. ‘If you’re a fan of Australian literature then I’m sure you will find this book, as I did, a deeply satisfying read,’ writes Landymore.

Deborah Crabtree, our regular music book columnist, was taken with Paul Kelly’s How to Make Gravy (Hamish Hamilton, October), a book that grew out of series of performances Kelly put on in 2004. ‘Part memoir, part tour diary, part song-writing manual, this sprawling book is filled with all manner of letters, lists, confessions, hymns and yarns,’ writes Crabtree, adding that the book gives Kelly ‘space to explore his storytelling skills further, which he does admirably, weaving in and out of the past and present easily and with an intimacy that invites the reader into his world’.

And that’s not to mention Lloyd Jones’ Hand Me Down World (Text, October), Kate Holden’s The Romantic (Text, October), Things Bogans Like (E C McSween et al, Hachette, November), Toni Jordan’s Fall Girl (Text, October), and many, many more…

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‘Addition’ rights sales add up

With the film rights to her debut novel Addition just sold, and a new novel—Fall Girl—due in October, things are looking pretty good for Toni Jordan. And that’s before you mention that Addition has now sold into (count them), 16 territories: the US, Brazil, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Israel, Netherlands, Portugal, Quebec, Russia, Serbia, Spain, Taiwan, Turkey, the UK and Italy.

Fancy Goods asked the author which of her many international covers she liked best. ‘That’s like choosing between offspring,’ she says. ‘Right now, I love the Italian one [left], but that might just be because it’s the newest. And I really want that coat.’

For Jordan, the international covers are something of a surprise. ‘Even though I don’t have jacket approval in my Australian contract, the publishers were fantastic in showing me their ideas and discussing them with me,’ she says. ‘My first Australian jacket was the toothbrushes. I loved it from the beginning. Kinda quirky, kinda sexy.’

‘The overseas jackets I have no input into whatsoever. They just appear in the mail.’ Continue reading

Books, history, dress-ups: dare we say the Clunes ‘Back to Booktown’ fair has it all?

To quote our Weekly Book Newsletter (circa May 2009) at last year’s annual Clunes ‘Back to Booktown’ fair:

Rose Michael and her Arcade Publications colleague Dale Campisi (pictured) garnered local press attention by dressing up to promote the Arcade Publications title Madame Brussels: This Moral Pandemonium (L M Robinson).

‘From established antiquarian dealers like John Sainsbury to the woman in the bluestone church on the hill who didn’t even have a shop but was a passionate buyer and traipsed her collection to markets, the town was overrun with secondhand books,’ said Michael. ‘One bookseller [was] even selling by the pound!’

The annual Clunes fair is designed to attract visitors to the historic Victorian goldmining town and is celebrating its fourth year this weekend, 1 to 2 May. The 2010 event features writers Sonya Hartnett, Stefan Laszcsuk, Margaret Simons, Arnold Zable, Nigel Krauth, Malcolm Fraser, Toni Jordan and Commonwealth Prize Best First Book winner Glenda Guest.

Arcade Publishing’s Dale Campisi has promised Fancy Goods he will be donning a fake moustache when he attends again this year and encourages others to break out their most dashing gold rush attire and come along too. ‘Bustles, bonnets, crinolines, leg o’ mutton sleeves, top hats, tails, cross-bow ties, mutton chops, sovereign purses and penny farthings encouraged,’ he says.

You can find out more about the event here: http://www.booktown.clunes.org/.

Emerging Writers Festival: program launched

The program for the 7th Emerging Writers Festival (21 to 30 May, 2010) was launched at the Wheeler Centre in Melbourne last night. New director Lisa Dempster said it would be a ‘bold, innovative and exciting’ festival, and the program, available to guests in compact little booklets (you could choose the colour scheme you liked best, nice touch), looks promising.

As a festival unashamedly for writers, the EWF centres around a lot of the vocational and workshop events that are only really offered on the fringes of the bigger writers’ festivals. From the Express Media Skills Share ‘how to write’ workshops (‘…reviews’ with The Big Issue’s Jo Case, ‘…television’ with Paul Kooperman, ‘…computer games’ with Paul Callaghan and ‘how to edit your work for publication’ with Davina Bell and Julia Carlomagno), to the great Living Library concept in which you can ‘borrow’ industry people for a brain-pick (getting fifteen minutes with, for example, Arcade’s Dale Campisi or literary agent Donica Bettanin of Jenny Darling & Associates), the events on offer are aimed squarely at those looking to be published—or published more often.

Prices for sessions are pretty reasonable—the Express Media workshops are $10, you can borrow Mr Campisi et al for a bargain $5, and even a full weekend pass will set you back only $45 ($30 concession). Of course some events are free too, including the great-sounding ‘Stuck in a Lift With …’, in which an emerging writer gets to quiz a literary hero on writing and the books they love.

Scattered through the festival booklet are various Twitter addresses for authors, and tweeters can join the EWF’s TwitterFEST at #ewfchat; Twitter addresses and hashtags aren’t something you see a lot of at the big festivals either (though of course, one of the best things about any festival is the chance to be there in the flesh with a lot of other excited and inspiring people, and the EWF has made a name for itself providing just that).

The festival booklet is worth tracking down, not just for the program itself, but for its participant bios: this year panellists were asked to describe how they write and the result is a whole lot of bite-sized writing advice to get attendees thinking.

Check out the EWF program at http://www.emergingwritersfestival.org.au/program/.