Book chat, Kim Scott

Kim Scott named a State Cultural Treasure

Congratulations to Australian writer Kim Scott who has received a prestigious 2022 State Cultural Treasures Award.

These awards celebrate and honour senior Western Australian artists and organisations who have made outstanding lifelong contributions to their art form and community.

Only 38 people have ever received one of these awards, which were established in 1998 (and known as State Living Treasures Awards) and subsequently awarded in 2004 and 2015.

Scott is a descendant of the Wirlomin Noongar people and wrote his first novel, ‘True Country‘ while he was teaching in Kalumburu, the northernmost settlement in Western Australia, with his wife.

His second novel, ‘Benang: From the Heart’, won the Western Australian Premier’s Literary Award and the Miles Franklin Literary Award, making him the first Aboriginal author to win it.

He won a second Miles Franklin Literary Award with ‘That Deadman Dance’. This novel also earned him the prestigious South-East Asia and Pacific Commonwealth Writers’ Prize.

He has dedicated himself to reclaiming Noongar culture and language.

He was named the inaugural Western Australian of the Year in 2012 and was inducted into the Western Australian Writers Hall of Fame in 2020. He is currently a senior academic at Curtin University of Technology

You can find out more about the awards, and the other recipients, on the official website.

Book chat

What is a novella?

In his role as the Laureate for Irish Fiction, Colm Tóibín writes a monthly blog on the Arts Council of Ireland website, which always makes fascinating reading.

This month he has written about novellas (which makes me wonder does he know about Novellas in November hosted by Cathy at 746 Books and Rebecca of Bookish Beck?) and made some very bold statements about the genre.

In response to the question “what is a novella”, he writes:

A novella is something no one wants. Publishers live in dread of them because no one much will buy them. There is no prize for the best novella of the year; there never will be. If you are engaged in writing a novella, it is with a lonely feeling that no one is waiting for you to finish it. No one is ever going to say: I am so looking forward to your next novella.

He later goes on to argue that, caught between a short story and a novel, the novella generally has just “one plot-line, one protagonist, and its meaning can unfold or be revealed without any recourse to transcendence”. On this basis, he suggests that “Claire Keegan’s ‘Foster’ is a novella, but her ‘Small Things Like These’ is a novel”.  That’s because:

Furlong’s own life story is dramatized as much as the actual events that occur in the novel’s time-span. If we didn’t have the story of his upbringing, then the book would be a novella.

This made me think about all the many dozens of novellas I’ve read over the years that have complex storylines, with back stories and present stories all combining to form a single narrative. Have I misunderstood what a novella is?

I generally decide if a book is a novella by the number of pages it possesses, because if I haven’t read it, how do I know if the story is complex enough to meet the definition? My rule of thumb is this: if the book has less than 150 or so pages, it’s a novella (sometimes I might push it to 200 pages if the font size is large); more than 150 pages and it’s a novel.

According to this Wikipedia article, a novella is determined by word count — between 17,500 and 40,000 words — but that’s not something you can easily work out by picking up a book. That same article also confirms Tóibín’s idea that the narrative in a novella is generally less complex than one in a novel.

A novella generally features fewer conflicts than a novel, yet more complicated ones than a short story. The conflicts also have more time to develop than in short stories.

Later in his blog post, Tóibín suggests that some of the very best writing is to be found in the novella form (to which I agree) but then argues that because so few novellas get published, they often get buried away in short story collections and are never discovered by readers.

“But maybe novella-writers should rise up,” he writes.

Or maybe the name itself – novella – should change, just as Windscale, which had a bad reputation, became Sellafield, or Facebook became Meta. Or maybe these categories – short story, novella, novel – really make no sense and have no clear borders.

You can read the blog post in full here.

What do you think? What does the term novella mean to you? And does a definition really matter?

Book chat

The Riverside Readers on Sky Arts Book Club

Screenshot from Episode 2 video

Well, look who it is! That’s (clockwise from top left) Claire, Sakura, Dom and Polly sitting on the Sky Arts Book Club sofa. These wonderful people are my fellow book group buddies from London who were recently invited to be the featured book club on the TV show.

I co-founded the Riverside Readers with Simon Savidge more than a decade ago. Both of us have since moved on — me back to Australia and Simon to Liverpool — but the group is still going strong, meeting once a month on the Southbank in London to discuss books. It’s all fairly relaxed, and usually involves a bit of gossip, a drink or two, and a lot of laughs.

Over the years members have come and gone but the four pictured above are the stalwarts who have been there from the start — the only person missing is Armen, who couldn’t make the TV recording.

The show is hosted by Andi Oliver and Elizabeth Day, and in this episode, they are joined by writers Leone Ross and Sarah Vaughan. As an added bonus, Simon is one of the presenters.

You can watch the episode on the Club’s dedicated Facebook page.

Update: Don’t have Facebook, but live in the UK? I believe Sky Arts is free to view, so you may be able to download and watch on your desktop using a dedicated app. Try this link.

Book chat

Book news round-up: August 2022

I’m reading books faster than I can review them at the moment, but why review a book when you can put together a round-up post like this? Procrastination? What procrastination?!

¶  The winners of the 2022 Ned Kelly Awards have been announced. I’ve already got Debi Marshall’s true crime novel on the wishlist and Banjawarn by Josh Kemp on the TBR.

¶  Congratulations to Australian writer Robert Dessaix for being awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award for Literature at the 2022 Australia Council Awards. I have only read one of his books — Night Letters — which I loved for its intelligence, its humanity and its big-picture look at life. Must hunt out his other writings now.

¶ This piece in the Bookseller made me laugh out loud. It also made me wonder if the writer has been living under a rock!

¶  While this piece on the Penguin website made me scratch my head. Apparently, people who review books on Tiktok are revolutionising publishing. Um, no. It’s just another channel to promote books… it doesn’t replace all the other channels or revolutionise anything.

¶ Leïla Slimani claims the knife attack on Salman Rushdie has left her and other writers afraid, but that they have a “duty” to keep making public appearances and resist censoring themselves, despite the dangers.

¶ An interesting article about Tim Winton, his novel Blueback, his fight for Ningaloo, and 40 years of writing.

No link for this one (unless you count my LinkedIn post), but earlier this month I got to appear on a panel at the City of Melville’s Civic Square Library discussing favourite Australian books in the spirit of the ABC TV series Books that Made Us. The event was hosted by librarian and writer Emily Paull and included me, author David Whish-Wilson and bookseller Guinevere Hall from Typeface Books in Applecross.

It was a fun event — I got to champion two of my all-time favourites, George Johnston’s My Brother Jack and Randolph Stow’s The Merry-go-round-in-the-sea — and we had a wide-ranging discussion covering all kinds of questions, including whether reviews sell books, what kinds of genres Australian writers excel at, the role of literary prizes and what classics we want to read. Thanks to Emily for inviting me to take part and to the audience which was friendly and engaging. Would love to do it again at some point!

Book chat

Book news round-up: May 2022

Here’s something different for you… my covid-woolly brain can’t seem to compose any book reviews at the moment but I can put together a bunch of links. Go figure.

¶ The longlist for the 2022 Miles Franklin Literary Award has been announced. I’ve actually read a few from the list but can’t say anything has particularly wowed me.

¶ Here’s some great recommendations for anyone who loves Japanese literature including new releases and books coming soon.

¶ The winner of the world’s richest literary prize for English-language novels has been named. One to add to the wishlist by the sound of things.

¶ Excited to hear that Australian author Helen Fitzgerald has a new book coming out later this year. I’ve reviewed much of her back catalogue here.

¶ Not really book news, but for copywriters, sub-editors and grammarians alike, this new board game looks brilliant fun!

¶ The Indigenous Literacy Foundation has released two new bilingual books for children. The books are the result of a unique collaboration between children, families, Elders, authors and publishers in the Kimberley region of northern Western Australia.

¶ Love him or loathe him, I’m not ashamed to say I’ve already placed my pre-order for Bono’s memoir, due to be published on 1 November.

¶ This new reprint of a Nancy Spain novel first published in 1950 sounds perfect for cosy crime aficionados. Has anyone read her work before? Why have I never heard of her?

¶ A fireproof edition of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale is going to be auctioned off to raise funds for PEN America. (What does it say about a country that thinks nothing of banning books but won’t do anything to control gun ownership?)

Need a laugh? The 50 funniest books of all time, put together by Penguin Publishing, might provide some inspiration.

The shortlist for the 2022 Australian Book Industry Awards (ABIAs) has been announced. The winners will be named in Sydney on June 9.

The British Library is hosting a new exhibition showcasing 50 gold books, scrolls and documents in its collection.

¶  This one has gone onto my wishlist: The Netanyahus by Joshua Cohen has won the 2022 Pulitzer Prize for fiction.

Book chat

Season’s greetings to you

Sunset over Fremantle Port, taken from my living room window on 22 December 2021

I don’t normally post a Christmas message on my blog, but this year hasn’t followed convention, so why should I?

Anyway, I just wanted to quickly wish you all the best for the festive season wherever you reside and however you choose to celebrate (if you celebrate at all). I hope you’re doing okay and staying safe.

I have 10 days off work and after the craziness of the past few weeks (a new boss, lots of changes in the office and my role) on top of a rollercoaster of a year, I’m looking forward to relaxing, reading lots of books, catching up on reviews and maybe having a little splurge or two in my local independent book store (wearing a face mask, of course).

The air-conditioner is having a workout today because Perth has been hit by a heatwave. It’s going to be 42°C today (107 Fahrenheit) and 44°C tomorrow. Then it’s a week of temps in the high 30s. (I’m writing this at 11am and it’s already 33°C.)

I’m not cooking Christmas dinner because who needs a fan-forced oven pumping out more heat? I have a bag of pre-cooked prawns, plenty of salad leaves, seafood sauce and avocado, so I’ll be tucking into my own take on a prawn cocktail later. This will be followed by meringues I made last night served with cream and fresh strawberries, mini pavlova style.

And there’s plenty of local beer in the fridge.

Now to chill out on the sofa with a good book… it’s hard to choose which one, but I think I might opt for John Banville’s Prague Nights because of its snowy setting. I can dream about cooler temperatures, right?

Thanks for all your comments, likes and follows this year. I appreciate the support. I’ll post my favourite books of the year list on New Year’s Eve. That’s at least one tradition I can stick to!

Book chat

Books that Made Us: TV series about Australia’s literary canon set to screen on ABC in November

Earlier today, I was excited to learn (via Instagram) that a new three-part TV series about Australian books will screen on the ABC next month!

Books that Made Us, about great works of fiction and Australian writers, will be hosted by award-winning actor, scriptwriter and producer Claudia Karvan.

Some of the novelists that will feature include Richard Flanagan, Alexis Wright, Helen Garner, Tim Winton, David Malouf, Kate Grenville, Christos Tsiolkas, Thomas Keneally, Liane Moriarty, Trent Dalton, Kim Scott and Melissa Lucashenko. What a line-up!

A book to accompany the series will also be published. It’s billed as “a cultural history of Australia told through our fiction”.

According to the blurb, it will touch on…

colonial invasion, the bush myth, world wars, mass migration, the recognition of Indigenous sovereignty and the emergence of a modern, global, multicultural nation. Carl [Reinecke, the author] examines how these pivotal events and persuasive ideas have shaped some of Australia’s most influential novels, and how these books, in turn, made us.

You can find out more about the TV series via this ABC podcast that was first broadcast in August.

Books that Made Us will premiere on ABC TV and ABC iView at 8.30pm on 23 November.


Have now found a clip on YouTube about the series…

Book chat, News

A literary cause to support: the ‘Freadom Inside’ project

Image by Maaark from Pixabay


Imagine being stuck in prison with nothing to read. No opportunity to escape to a different world. No opportunity to better yourself.

This is obviously something that has crossed the mind of Australian writer Bri Lee (whose books I have reviewed here). Bri has set up the ‘Freadom Inside’ project, which is designed to provide women incarcerated in NSW jails the opportunity to read books that have been bought for them by the public. It is being backed by Independent bookseller Glee Books, in Sydney, which is covering the postage and dispatch of the books.

Writing on her Instagram account last week, Bri said: “What I found when researching #WhoGetsToBeSmart [her latest non-fiction book about power, privilege and education in Australia] was shocking, and I have chosen to commit to this work as one concrete way I can help share learning + resources instead of hoarding them.”

The project will be officially launched next week, on October 28, via Zoom. You can find out more and book tickets here.

In the meantime, if you would like to donate a book (or books) to the project, visit this page on the Glee Books website, choose from the preselected range (which has been approved by Corrective Services), purchase online using the “freadom” coupon code and Glee Books will cover the postage and dispatch. Find out more here.

As someone who has a TBR that spans two continents (!!), I cannot begin to imagine what it would be like to exist without access to reading material. I tend to buy at least a couple of books, both new and used, per month, so I have put my money where my mouth is and ordered Tara June Winch’s Swallow the Air, a book I read last year and really loved, for the project.

[Hat tip: I first read about this literary project on Australian writer Charlotte Wood’s Instagram account.]

Book chat

When should you give up on a book?

Man sitting on a park bench reading a book. It is a moody black and white scene.
Image by José Manuel de Laá from Pixabay

Once-upon-a-time I would persevere with a book, no matter how much I was hating it, in the belief that it might get better the further I progressed. Often I was rewarded. Many of the books I considered abandoning turned out to be wonderful reads. Some examples include Peter Fröberg Idling’s ‘Song for an Approaching Storm’,  David Park’s ‘The Truth Commissioner’ and John MacKenna’s ‘The Space Between Us’.

But lately, I’ve abandoned several books^, because I simply wasn’t enjoying them. It hardly seemed worth persevering when there are so many other books vying for my attention. Does this now make me a fickle reader? Or maybe a lazy one? Perhaps it was simply a case of right book, wrong time?

Apparently, crime writer Mark Billingham recently told the Cheltenham Literary Festival that if a book hadn’t gripped you after 20 pages, then it was OK to give up on it and “throw it across the room angrily”. I think we can do without the violence, but I’m beginning to think he’s onto something. But maybe 50 pages is a more realistic measure…?

How about you? Do you have any rules about when you should give up on a book, or do you keep going until the bitter end?

^ I’m not going to mention the titles here (head to my Facebook page if you’re really interested), because it’s not fair on the writers, plus I don’t want to put people off reading something that might really “wow” them. Just because they didn’t work for me, doesn’t mean they won’t work for you. Books are the meeting of two minds — the author’s and the reader’s — and sometimes, for the slimmest or most personal or ridiculous of reasons, the alchemy just doesn’t work.