Australian Women Writers Challenge, AWW2018

19 books by women: completing the 2018 Australian Women Writers’ Challenge

For the past couple of years I have been participating in the Australian Women Writers’ Challenge, which essentially means reading a self-imposed target of books written by Australian women over the course of a year and then reviewing them online. The idea is to redress the balance in terms of the number of female authors who are reviewed and to raise awareness of their writing.

It’s a fun and enjoyable thing to do and has introduced me to an interesting and varied bunch of women writers from my homeland, people who may not necessarily fall under my readerly radar.

In 2018, I set myself a target of reading 10 books by Australian women writers, but without even really thinking about it I managed to achieve that fairly easily and by year’s end had found I’d actually read 19. They’re an intriguing mix of literary novels, crime fiction, memoir, true crime, suspense stories, classics and speculative fiction.

Here is a list of all the books I read. They have been arranged in alphabetical order by author’s name (click the title to see my full review):

My Mother, A Serial Killer

My Mother, A Serial Killer by Hazel Baron and Janet Fife-Yeomans (2018)
Horrifying true story of a woman who murdered three men in the 1950s but was only brought to justice when her daughter turned her into the police.

The Suitcase Baby by Tanya Bretherton (2018)
Heart-breaking true crime tale of an impoverished Scottish immigrant convicted of the murder of her three-week old baby in Sydney in 1923.

No More Boats by Felicity Castagna
No More Boats by Felicity Castagna (2017)
Literary novel about a postwar Italian migrant railing against foreigners arriving in Australia.

Too Afraid to Cry

Too Afraid to Cry by Ali Cobby Eckermann (2012)
Brave and beautiful memoir about what it is like to be taken from an aboriginal family and raised within a white one.

Terra Nullius by Claire G. Coleman (2017)
Speculative fiction, with a surprising twist, that paints a damning portrait of colonial settlement in Australia.

The Life to Come by Michelle de Kretser (2018)
Award-winning novel about contemporary life, the connections we make and the values we hold, which is written with a biting, satirical wit.

The Donor by Helen Fitzgerald

The Donor by Helen FitzGerald (2011)
Engaging, if slightly over-the-top, story about a man who has to decide which of his twin daughters to save when they both develop kidney disease.

The Lost Man

The Lost Man by Jane Harper (2019)
Soon-to-be-published (in the UK) murder mystery set in the Far North Queensland outback.

The Catherine Wheel by Elizabeth Harrower

The Catherine Wheel by Elizabeth Harrower (2014)
Claustrophobic tale set in 1950s London about a young Australian woman who falls in love with a narcissistic man.

The Last Garden by Eva Hornung (2017)
Otherworldly story of a boy growing up in a repressive religious community following the murder-suicide of his parents.

the well

The Well by Elizabeth Jolley (1986)
Slightly disturbing Australian classic about an eccentric woman who invites a teenage orphan to live with her on a remote farm — with unforeseen consequences.

Storyland by Catherine McKinnon

Storyland by Catherine McKinnon (2017)
Thought-provoking tale that weaves together five interlinking stories set on one tract of land to show the environmental impact over four centuries.

The Tattooist of Auschwitz

The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris (2018)
Fictionalised account of a Slovakian Jew sent to Auschwitz who became a tattooist for the SS and fell in love with a fellow prisoner.


Soon by Lois Murphy (2018)
Deliciously creepy novel, part horror, part dystopian, set in a country town threatened by an unexplained mist.

The Fish Girl

The Fish Girl by Mirandi Riwoe (2017)
Set in Indonesia, this coming-of-age story is about a young village girl who becomes a servant for a Dutch merchant.

The Secrets in Silence by Nicole Trope (2017)
Domestic suspense novel about a teenage girl and a middle-aged woman whose lives become entwined in a strange and unusual way.

Resurrection Bay

Resurrection Bay by Emma Viskic (2018)
Dark and violent crime novel starring a deaf protagonist investigating the brutal murder of his policeman friend.

Pieces of a girl

Pieces of a Girl by Charlotte Wood (1999)
Highly original debut novel about a married woman recalling her childhood in which her mentally disturbed mother tried to pass her off as a boy.

Have you read any of these books? Or care to share a great read by an Australian woman writer? Or any woman writer, regardless of nationality?

I have just signed up for the 2019 Australian Womens’ Writers Challenge, so expect to see more reviews by Australian women writers to feature on this blog over the course of the year.  If you want to participate, you can sign up via the official website.

Ali Cobby Eckermann, Australia, Australian Women Writers Challenge, Author, AWW2018, Book review, Ilura Press, memoir, Non-fiction, Publisher, Setting

‘Too Afraid to Cry’ by Ali Cobby Eckermann

Too Afraid to Cry

Non-fiction – paperback; Ilura Press; 212 pages; 2012.

Ali Cobby Eckermann, a poet of indigenous heritage, was not a name familiar to me until she won the international Windham-Campbell Literary Prize for Poetry in 2017.

Five years earlier she had published her memoir, Too Afraid to Cry, which I purchased on my recent trip to Australia.

It’s a rather brave and beautiful book, one that charts the very personal impact — both good and bad — on a young child taken from her aboriginal family and raised within a white one, what we now know as the Stolen Generations. (You can read more about that shameful part of Australian history in this Wikipedia entry.)

In stripped back, almost skeletal (and sometimes pedestrian) prose, Cobby Eckermann tells us what it was like to never quite know where she belonged, how she buried her problems in drink and bumbled her way from one disaster to another until she decided to trace her birth mother and reconnect with the aboriginal family she never knew.

While detail is often scant and the reader is left to fill in the blanks — Too Afraid to Cry is very much a broad brushstrokes type of memoir and some chapters are only a page long — it’s a wonderful tale of perseverance and hope.

A search to belong

Cobby Eckermann was born in 1963. She was adopted as a baby and grew up in a loving family with three other adopted siblings on a farm in northern South Australia. But she was molested by a family friend and later abused by her foster brother’s friend, secrets she kept to herself and which clearly took a toll on her psychological well-being.

At school she was bullied and suffered racist taunts, but she was a promising athlete and a good student. As a teenager she succumbed to drink and was prone to violent outbursts. She left with no qualifications aged 17, moved out of home and spent the next two years in an abusive relationship.

When she returned home she found out she was pregnant. She gave birth to a baby boy, whom she adopted out, and then she spent the next decade working a series of often manual jobs, until she retrained as an office manager and found work managing an arts centre in outback Australia.

She found her birth mother, Audrey, in 1997 and her son, Jonnie, in 2001.

Her writing career, which took off in 2009 when she entered a poetry competition, is not detailed in this memoir. But her poetry is dotted throughout. This poem is possibly my favourite and a good one to end on:

Circles and Squares

I was born Yankunytjatjara my mother is Yankunytjatjara her mother was Yankunytjatjara my family is Yankunytjatjara I have learnt many things from my family elders I have grown to recognise that life travels in circles—Aboriginal culture has taught me that.


When I  was born I was not allowed to live with my family I

grew up in the white man’s world

We lived in a square house we picked fruit and vegetables

from a neat fenced square plot

we kept animals in square paddocks we ate at a square table

we sat on square chairs

I slept in a square bed


I look at myself in a square mirror and did not know who

I was


One day I meet my mother


I begin to travel I visit places that I have already been but

this time I sit down with family


We gather closely together by big round campfires we eat bush tucker feasting on round ants and berries we eat meat from animals that live in round burrows we sleep in circles on beaches around our fires we sit in the dirt on our land that belongs to a big round planet we watch the moon grow to a magnificent yellow circle that is our time


I have learnt two different ways now I am thankful for this

is part of my Life Circle


My heart is Round ready to echo the music of my family but

the Square within me remains


The Square stops me in my entirety.

This is my 8th book for #AWW2018