Australian Women Writers Challenge, AWW2019, Book lists

26 books by women: completing the 2019 Australian Women Writers’ Challenge

In what has become a bit of a tradition over the past few years, my New Year’s Day post is focused on Australian Women Writers — specifically listing all the titles I have read as part of the Australian Women Writers’ Challenge the year before. (You can see my wrap-up for 2018 here, 2017 here and 2016 here.)

In 2019, I aimed to read 10 books by Australian women writers. At the time I didn’t know I’d be moving back to Australia, so I kept my goal relatively achievable. But when I moved to Fremantle in June I suddenly had access to books — in both the shops and the library — that normally wouldn’t be available in the UK. As a consequence, I read a total of 26 books by female writers.

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) and I have tried, where possible, to provide information on availability outside of Australia, but note this is subject to change:

‘Little Gods’ by Jenny Ackland (2018)
A gorgeously evocative coming of age story set in Victoria’s mallee region during the 1980s.
Fiction. Only published in Australia. Check for copies.

‘A Constant Hum’ by Alice Bishop (2019)
The literary equivalent of a concept album, this collection features short stories and flash fiction focused on the aftermath of bush fire.
Fiction. Only published in Australia, but Kindle edition available in other markets.

‘New York’ by Lily Brett (2001)
This humorous and entertaining collection of 52 short articles is largely about the author’s own insecurities, anxieties and dislikes, with a special focus on New York life.
Non-fiction. Widely available.

‘Room for a Stranger’ by Melanie Cheng (2019)
A beautiful, bittersweet story about finding friendship in the most unexpected of places.
Fiction. Only published in Australia, but Kindle edition available in other markets.

‘Wedderburn: A True Tale of Blood and Dust’ by Maryrose Cuskelly (2018)
A deeply contemplative and gripping analysis of a small-town murder in Australia written very much in the vein of Helen Garner’s true-crime style.
Non-fiction. Only published in Australia. Check for copies.

‘Springtime: A Ghost Story’ by Michelle de Kretser (2017)
A richly written short story about what it is like to begin a new life in a new city.
Fiction. Only published in Australia, but Kindle edition available in other markets.

The Bridge book cover

‘The Bridge’ by Enza Gandolfo (2018)
Moving tale focused on the families whose lives were drastically altered following the collapse of Melbourne’s Westgate Bridge midway through construction in 1970.
Fiction. Widely available.

‘Yellow Notebook: Diaries Volume I, 1978-1987’ by Helen Garner (2019)
This collection of sublime and pithy journal entries spans 10 years of Garner’s life and showcases her ability to capture the tiniest of details to elevate seemingly ordinary occurrences into scenes of extraordinary power.
Nonfiction. Due to be published in the UK in May 2020.

‘The Bride Stripped Bare’ by Nikki Gemmell (2003)
Originally published under the author “anonymous”, this is an erotically charged tale about a married woman’s sexual awakening.
Fiction. Widely available.

‘The Arsonist: A Mind on Fire’ by Chloe Hooper (2019)
A true-crime story looking at the police investigation and subsequent court trial of a man charged with deliberately lighting a fire in Churchill, Central Gippsland that burnt 32,860 hectares and killed 11 people.
Nonfiction. Widely available.

‘Shepherd’ by Catherine Jinks (2019)
A fast-paced chase novel about a teenage poacher from Suffolk who is transported to New South Wales as a convict in 1840.
Fiction. Widely available.

‘Dustfall’ by Michelle Johnston (2018)
A haunting novel following the twin paths of two doctors — 30 years apart — who both settle in the doomed asbestos mining town of Wittenoom to lick their wounds after disastrous career mistakes. (Please note, I never got around to reviewing this one: it’s really excellent.)
Fiction. Paperback available.

‘Pink Mountain on Locust Island’ by Jamie Marina Lau (2018)
The story of a troubled lonely teen living with a drug-addicted father is told in a fragmentary style structured around a series of short vignettes.
Fiction. Only available in Australia, but can be ordered online from

‘The Erratics’ by Vicki Laveau-Harvie (2018)
This year’s Stella Prize winner, Laveau-Harvie’s memoir recounts how she had to deal with her Canadian-based elderly parents — one of whom was trying to kill the other — from afar.
Nonfiction. Due to be published in the UK in August 2020.

‘Beauty’ by Bri Lee (2019)
A long-form essay looking at body image and the ways in which young women are conditioned to think that being thin is the only route to happiness and acceptance.
Non-fiction. Only available in Australia. Check for copies.

‘Eggshell Skull: A memoir about standing up, speaking out and fighting back’ by Bri Lee (2018)
This riveting memoir marries the personal with the political by charting the author’s first year working in the Australian judicial system as she grapples with an eating disorder stemming from her own sexual abuse.
Non-fiction. Only published in Australia. Check for copies.

‘Too Much Lip’ by Melissa Lucashenko (2018)
Winner of this year’s prestigious Miles Franklin Literary Award, this brash, gritty and hard-hitting novel is about an indigenous family trying to save their land from the local mayor’s plans to build a new prison on it.
Fiction. Only published in Australia. Check for copies.

‘The Van Apfel Girls Are Gone’ by Felicity McLean (2019)
A disappointing novel about the fictional disappearance of three blonde sisters — the Van Apfel children of the title — from the perspective of their childhood friend, Tikka Malloy.
Fiction. Widely available.

‘The Trespassers’ by Meg Mundell (2019)
A dystopian tale set on a ship filled with Brits headed to Australia, but midway through the voyage, someone is found dead and an unplanned quarantine situation arises.
Fiction. Widely available.

‘Her Father’s Daughter’ by Alice Pung (2013)
This moving memoir explores the author’s early adulthood in Australia, the daughter of two Cambodians who fled the killing fields of the Khmer Rouge when she begins to unearth the story of her father’s frightening past.
Non-fiction. Widely available.

‘Bruny’ by Heather Rose (2019)
A political satire-cum-thriller about a terrorist attack in sleepy Tasmania some time in the very near future.
Fiction. Only published in Australia. Check for copies.

‘See What I Have Done’ by Sarah Schmidt (2017)
Fictionalised account of Lizzie Borden’s possible culpability of the brutal murder of her father and step-mother in Massachusetts in the 19th century.
Fiction. Widely available.

‘Axiomatic’ by Maria Tumarkin (2018)
A heady mix of storytelling and reportage, this book looks at five different axioms — an accepted truth — and examines, often in great detail and with much intellectual rigour and anecdotal evidence, as to whether they can be debunked.
Non-fiction. Only available in Australia, but can be ordered online from

‘Cusp’ by Josephine Wilson (2005)
A beautifully layered narrative about a mother and daughter trying to recalibrate a sometimes fraught relationship.
Fiction. Only available in Australia, but can be ordered online at

‘The Weekend’ by Charlotte Wood (2019)
A lovely story about friendship and growing old, it focuses on three women in their 70s who spend a weekend together cleaning out the holiday home of their now dead friend.
Fiction. Due to be published in the UK in June 2020.

‘Fake’ by Stephanie Wood (2019)
A respected journalist who dreamt of finding a special man to spend the rest of her life with, Wood fell victim to a charlatan — and this is her raw, unflinching account of their relationship.
Non-fiction. Only published in Australia, but Kindle edition available in other markets.

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 2020 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. I am going to aim to read and review 20 books.

If you want to participate, you can sign up via the official website. Please note you don’t need to be an Australian to take part — it’s open to everyone around the world. The more, the merrier, as they say!

2019 Stella Prize, Australia, Australian Women Writers Challenge, Author, AWW2019, Book review, Brow Books, Fiction, Jamie Marina Lau, literary fiction, Literary prizes, Publisher, Setting

‘Pink Mountain on Locust Island’ by Jamie Marina Lau

Fiction – Kindle edition; Brow Books; 190 pages; 2018.

Jamie Marina Lau’s debut novel Pink Mountain on Lotus Island has been shortlisted for this year’s Stella Prize. The judges claim that “this book is like nothing you have ever read before — a kaleidoscope of colours, smells and fragments of life observed by a teenager in a Chinatown somewhere in an unknown city”.

In my case, they are only partly right: I *have* read books like this before, because there is nothing new under the sun and all literature is in some ways influenced by all that has gone before.

Lau’s story of a troubled lonely teen living with a drug-addicted father has echoes of other novels in it — J. D. Salinger’s 1951 novel The Catcher in the Rye, for instance, or, more recently, Katherine Faw Morris’s Young God. This, I hasten to add, is not a criticism of the book, just an observation.

A novel of vignettes

Told in a fragmentary style structured around a series of short vignettes — most chapters are no more than two pages long, some contain just a single sentence — the story is about 15-year-old Monk navigating the world largely on her own. Her mother has fled to Shanghai and her father, a washed-up artist, spends his time zoned out on Xanax and alcohol, lying on the couch in front of the TV.

When she introduces her father to Santa Coy, a 19-year-old artist she has befriended, the pair hit it off to the point of excluding Monk. Little does she know they’re passing off Santa’s paintings as her father’s, which will lead, eventually, to a violent reckoning.

Meanwhile Monk, free to do her own thing, gets drawn into a dangerous world of pimps, drug addicts and wild parties. Her naivety is alarming, but not even her well-meaning Aunt can keep her under control.

Admittedly, the chopped-up nature of the story makes it a fast-paced gallop of a read, but I had some issues with it.

What I didn’t like

Some of the writing feels over-worked to the point of being completely nonsensical.

We sit on top of the Commodore and pretend the heatwaves are different types of canine growls.


Just standing in the middle of an orgy of paints and other people’s false brains.

There’s an over-reliance on mentioning people’s mouths, lips, smiles and grins. Once I noticed these constant references I couldn’t help continuing to notice them: they are everywhere — in fact, the word mouth is used 24 times and lips are mentioned 40 times! (The tally for smiles is 19, grins 16.)

  • “pulps his lips until it’s a smile.”
  • “His mouth is a tilted line.”
  • “He smiles with teeth”
  • “mad grins, shallow smirks.”

And finally, some of the editing is a bit messy. Every good editor should know you don’t need a hyphen to describe a “nearly-empty burger” because the “ly” does the job of the hyphen.

Another example of bad editing is the missing comma in the following sentence, which makes it sound like Monk is drinking soda AND batteries:

I’m on my computer, drinking fizzy orange soda and batteries do nothing if you put them in the refrigerator.

And the following doozy, which sounds like Monk’s boobs are about to walk out the door!

My boob top has been tugged down so that I’m popped out on one side and I lie on my stomach until they’ve both gone out the door.

What I did like

Much of the writing is clever and highly original. It makes you sit up and take notice. Her similes, of which there are many, are very good. Here is a selection I highlighted because I thought they were imaginative and unique:

  • “There are canvases everywhere, leaning up against each other, looking like shanties from disaster city.”
  • “The printing machines erupting like cramps.”
  • “I am waving my legs in the air like windshield wipers.”
  • “There are no more canvases in the apartment, only sudokus like leftover hieroglyphics.”

There’s a good sense of humour at work here, too. There’s a laugh-out loud scene where Monk’s dad drops her off at school:

My dad pulls up to the curb. Hurry up, he says. It’s no standing here. He throws himself across the passenger seat and opens the door for me. It dents into the pavement. It’s stuck I tell him, looping the sack around my body. Then get it out! It’s no standing here. It’s a tug of war between the pavement and my underarms. The door making scraping noises. He warns me: don’t break the car. I pull in smaller tugs. He tells me: hurry up, this is no standing. I tell him: maybe drive forward a little. Not with half your body and legs hanging out of the car, I won’t. Pull your legs in, hurry up, this is no standing. I hold my sack tight. This is like a constable’s arrest. The bottom of the door snaps off like a biscuit.

And this scene, in which Monk criticises Santa Coy’s choice of clothing, had me laugh out loud:

I tell him he isn’t on a catwalk in 1994 of the spring season DNKY, you can’t dress like this. His facial expression jumps, wow. He crosses his arms, raising his brows. He asks me, you into fashion? I tell him yes, as a matter of fact fashion is my whole life. His face is a giant ticking smirk. He says: then you’ll know it’s pronounced D.K.N.Y., not ‘dinky’, dinky.

Pink Mountain on Lotus Island is an innovative, unexpected and sometimes surprising novel, but I wasn’t completely convinced by it. That said, the author is only 21, so this definitely marks her as a young talent to watch.

This is my 4th book for #AWW2019 and my 3rd for the 2019 Stella Prize shortlist. This one is available as an eBook in the UK, though expect to pay a hefty price for the paperback edition.

2019 Stella Prize, Literary prizes

2019 Stella Prize shortlist

Stella Prize badgeIt seems fitting that today, on International Women’s Day, the shortlist for the 2019 Stella Prize has been unveiled.

This relatively new prize, which is worth $50,000 to the winner, was set up in 2013 to champion women writers in Australia. Both fiction and non-fiction is eligible.

I would normally have posted the longlist, but I was travelling (in Australia) at the time of the announcement so never quite got around to it. (But if you are interested you can see it on the official website.)

As usual, I plan on reading everything on the short list (I made sure to buy pretty much the entire longlist when I was home), which comprises the following titles:

Please keep popping back here as I will update the hyperlinks above as and when I review each title.

The winner will be announced in Melbourne on Tuesday 9 April.

* These books are available in the UK as ebooks.