Tag Archives: book club

Side effects

The ripple effects of little coincidental things that happen in your life are interesting. Don’t worry I’m not getting deep and profound on you, its an observation on writing.

So as you know I joined this book club. An invitation that came about by coincidence, one of the mums at school and I were classroom helpers on the same day, we turned up one week to great apologies that their schedule had been changed and we weren’t needed. Her other kids were being looked after so we were both free for a couple of hours, went for a coffee and got chatting and she invited me to join book club.

Book club (or wine club as it is often unfairly but accurately described) has required me to read a number of books I would not have normally picked up. This month we are reading The Messenger by Markus Zusak. Everyone knows his novel The Book Thief , The Messenger is nothing like that, it is a YA novel, very Australian and I’m really enjoying it, based on the blurb I probably wouldn’t have picked it up. I do like a YA read now and then, but modern gritty YA, not my first choice. This novel is fantastic, Zusak is such an accomplished writer with incredible turns of phrase.

So to the side effect. While reading this, the conversations I am writing between my two main characters have improved out of sight. They have become much more natural and effortless, the dialogue is starting to speak to a comfortable familiarity and a shared past. I think I actually did a better job of this in the first draft and I’ve made them a little too serious in this incarnation.

A piece of advice that is regularly trotted out to writers is to read and read widely. It’s mentioned so often that I skim over it and ignore it, I do read, a lot. But every so often I get why.


Book review – The People Smuggler


The People Smuggler by Robin de Crespigny was a book club read back earlier this year.  It was the first book everyone in the group actually finished,  which is telling in itself. While it doesn’t seem quite right to use the word ‘enjoy’ about such serious and at times disturbing subject matter,  I did enjoy this read.
Ali Al Jenabi is a regular guy from a regular family who happens to live in Iraq. His father is a passionate man who questions the regime of Saddam Hussein and raises his sons to question and make their own judgements. This lands them in the infamous Abu Ghraib prison where all are tortured horribly and held for years, one brother never emerging.

What follows is the story of how an ordinary man in a violent and unjust country tries to smuggle himself and his family out to safety.

The story covers years and many attempts and travels to many countries, betrayals, sacrifice and heartbreak and enduring hope.

Ali loves his country, and you get the overwhelming sense that if he could live anywhere in the world in safety,  he would choose Iraq, even now.  But the Iraq of his childhood no longer exists and return to that country is impossible for him.

He is taken advantage of repeatedly by people smugglers and eventually, in despair of the ruthless and heartless smugglers he has encountered, begins to arrange his own boats and smuggling people to Australia himself.

The story of betrayal continues when eventually he lands in Australia himself only to be arrested, have his application for refugee status (possibly) deliberately sabotaged by the government and be the first person charged with people smuggling in Australia.

This book was an eye opener into a complex issue,  one with a great deal of misinformation and irrational and unnecessary fear.

The intention of this blog is to talk about writing and books, not politics, so I won’t get into the rights wrongs and wherefores on this issue, just to say we are a massive country with many resources and this is an issue we as a nation handle appallingly, with that said I am here to talk about the book.

There’s no doubt this book is written from one point of view and is very sympathetic to Ali’s plight and cause, the Australian government comes off very poorly, not as bad as Saddam Hussein sure, but I am sure the book does no harm in positive publicity for Ali’s asylum claim.

But it is a worthy read, particularly in this county where we hear the fear mongering every day in our media. An emotional and sympathetic telling of the people smuggler’s side serves as a counterpoint.

As a book club we also read I am Malala, another story of atrocity and injustice, but a tough and annoying read. I felt it natural to compare the two and The People Smuggler certainly came out on top. I would recommend this, and I have.

Read it, consider the issues, as one sided as this version is, it’s a worthy addition to the debate. For more info you can visit the web page set up around the book.

Apologies for typos and errors, this post was written on my phone 🙂

Book Review – State of Wonder

State of Wonder by Anne Patchett

As you know this was my selection for wine, I mean book club. I had wanted to choose something that was a good yarn but also contained enough interesting issues to generate discussion. I wanted to choose something I hadn’t read before and also something that was easy for people to access, whether at the library or to buy.

Phew! On top of that it couldn’t really be too long a book, all the book club members have young children and most struggle to finish the book in the month allotted, so when I read The Circle by Dave Eggers, while I loved it and it would have been a fantastic book club book, there was no way many would have finished it (oh, another one I need to add to the book review list!)

So, I found it tough to choose!

I haven’t read anything else by Anne Patchett I know her novel Bel Canto won both the Orange Prize for Fiction and PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction and it looks great – it’s on the ever growing list.

state of wonderSo State of Wonder is about Dr Marina Singh who works in the lab at a major pharmaceutical company. Her lab partner is sent to the Amazon to convince the obstinate but brilliant Annick Swenson to return with her research or to avaluate how close she is to producing something they can test. There has been no communication at all from her for 2 years and she is deeply resentful of any level of ‘interference’ from her sponsors. Unfortunately the first letter in two years from Dr Swenson informs Marina and the drug company CEO, her older lover, Mr Fox of the death of her lab partner.

Marina is then dispatched to find out what happened and also to finish the mission. They are in the jungle investigating what it is that allows the women of the ncredibly remote Lakashi tribe to continue to bear children into their 70s – with implications for western IVF and fertility.

I really enjoyed the novel, I read it at Christmas time to make sure it wasn’t a dog’s breakfast before recommending it to the book club, and then quickly a second time in the week before the meeting. It’s funny that the middle section that I felt dragged the first time I read it, didn’t bother me on the second reading, and others felt that while this section did drag, it needed to, to convey the emotions of Marina being made to wait by her former mentor with no knowledge of when she may be granted an audience. This nicely mirrors another evening from years before when Marina, a medical resident, was on obgyn rotation with Dr Swenson as the Dr in charge. In an emergency, Dr Swenson made Marina wait to an ultimately devastating end, resulting in the end of Marina’s medical studies and shift into pharmacology.

The novel is full of clever little writing tricks of this type. The childless Marina and Dr Swenson investigating a fertility drug, Dr Swenson’s clinical approach to reproduction but extreme attachment to a remarkable native boy.

We all felt that the ending felt rushed, that another chapter was called for, not for the neat bow-tying to satisfy a happily ever after, it just felt such a rush from the jungle, that there were consequences to be addressed if not resolved and relationships that would be changed that needed a spotlight.

However it is a wonderful book, with evocative language painting a vivid picture of the oppressive and cloying nature of the wildness in the Amazon – well worth the read.

Quite the literary weekend

What a buzz of a weekend it has been! I hosted book club at my place on Friday night, it extended into the wee hours and was such a fun night. I then had to get up and shake the hangover from my head and head into the city to attend day one of my Refine Your Novel class with the incredibly fabulous Toni Jordan.

So I am writing a book review post and also a course update and what’s next in my manuscript post, but for today I just wanted to link to this article Neil Gaiman wrote about Terry Pratchett last year, he knew his friend was going to die, but he pulled no punches about the true nature of the man the literary world lost this weekend. Over to you Neil…

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The latest…

I have a couple of book reviews I need to write up and post, some diverse options which is nice.

Not sure if I mentioned it before but I am in a book group and so I get to read books I wouldn’t otherwise pick up. Of course in my household the second Friday of the month is more commonly referred to as wine club than book club – it has been surprisingly difficult to convince BMan that yes, we do actually spend quite a bit of time discussing the book, no really, we do!

wine clubAnyhoo, wine club is at my house for the first time this coming Friday and so I was responsible for choosing the book for everyone to read. It was funny I actually found it a really difficult task. I wanted to choose a good yarn but with a thought provoking issue that would inspire discussion, I also wanted to make sure it was easy for people to actually get their hands on. I also wanted it to be a new book to me. I finally settled on A state of wonder by Anne Patchett. I’m happy with my choice but will wait to write and post my  review and let you know how wine club goes on Friday 🙂

In quite the literary weekend for me, Saturday is the first day of my Refine Your Novel course. We are concentrating on plotting and structure and have been asked to bring along some kind of plot outline or synopsis. That’s what I’m working on today – my plot outline/synopsis. Arrr, the dreaded synopsis, I’m yet to start, I know it doesn’t need to be sparkling and brilliant, this is a writing workshop not an agent or editorial submission, but I’m a little nervous, hence the blog post procrastination.

I think I’ll go grab a caffeine heartstarter and Pomodoro it. Wish me luck!

Just as a sidenote – book reviews to come are Funemployed by Justin Heazlewood, The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert and The People Smuggler by Robin deCrespigny.