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.

2018 Stella Prize, Australian Women Writers Challenge, Author, AWW2018, Book review, Fiction, Indonesia, literary fiction, Literary prizes, Mirandi Riwoe, Publisher, Seizure, Setting

‘The Fish Girl’ by Mirandi Riwoe

The Fish Girl

Fiction – Kindle edition; Seizure; 110 pages; 2017.

Winner of the 2017 Seizure Viva La Novella Prize and shortlisted for the 2018 Stella Prize, Mirandi Riwoe’s The Fish Girl is a lush, fable-like novella set in Indonesia.

It tells the coming of age story of Mina, a young village girl whose life is changed forever when her fisherman father sends her away to become a servant for a Dutch merchant. Sent to work in the kitchen under the bold and fierce tutelage of head cook Ibu Tana — a woman so large she has to come down the staircase sideways — Mina finds herself learning new dishes and discovering new tastes: her sense of wonder is palpable.

[…] in the Dutch house Mina eats well, tastes sauces and sweets she never knew existed. She wishes her mother could try these wonderments, and vows to take her some food wrapped in banana leaves when she returns to the village for a visit, even if she has to steal morsels from behind Ibu Tana’s back. One of the first things she learns to cook is pisang epe. Ibu Tana teaches her to fry the banana with palm sugar until it is brittle and sweet, how to recognise when to take it from the pan. Mina learns to knead dough for Dutch desserts and Chinese dumplings, how to slice the shallots and garlic so finely that, when fried, they become as wispy as wood shavings.

Slim and pretty, she is soon promoted to serving the food to the Master and his regular guests, one of whom — a fat, jolly sea captain — takes a shine to her. Before long she is asked to give him Malay language lessons and he bestows her with lavish gifts, including  a wooden box filled with frangipani flowers and a delicate gold anklet.

But Mina, who is young and naive, is unaware that this attention might come at a price: she is more interested in Ajat, the beautiful boy who drives the horse and cart when she is sent to buy goods from the Chinese produce store.

They’re quiet on the short drive to the produce store. Her arm rubs against his as they sway along the dirt road and she watches for finches in the trees, on the curiously shaped roofs of the Dutch houses. Sometimes she glances down at Ajat’s fingers, dark and tapered, controlling the reins. She peers at the vein that ropes up from the heel of his hand and across his forearm. He doesn’t smell of the sea anymore. His scent is sweeter, of sweat and horse. His knee bumps against hers once in a while. They trundle down the road towards the beach and she leans forward, yearning for a touch of the salt water on her toes. Ajat presses her back.

The course of true love never did run smooth, though, and Mina is betrayed in a brutal, devastating way, leaving this reader somewhat shell-shocked.

Many of you might know that The Fish Girl was inspired by Somerset Maugham’s short story The Four Dutchmen, which is about a native girl who breaks up the lifelong friendship between a ship’s captain and his three companions. I’ve not read that story myself, so it certainly didn’t hinder my enjoyment of Riwoe’s novella, but I suspect it might enrich or enhance the reading experience if I had. (Sue, at Whispering Gums, has reviewed both and this seems to confirm my theory.)

What I loved about The Fish Girl, aside from the lush descriptions of food and landscapes and the achingly beautiful way Riwoe writes about life through Mina’s eyes, is that it perfectly encapsulates worlds colliding, whether that be Mina’s traditional upbringing coming up against colonialism or the Dutch sea captain’s love of a Javanese girl coming into conflict with his companion’s lowly view of native women.

The story is tender and sweet, brutal and charming. I read it in one sitting and was bereft when I came to the end. It is a worthy contender of the Stella Prize.

This is my 4th book for #AWW2018 and my 1st for the 2018 Stella Prize shortlist.