2012 – Wrapping up the Australian Women Writers Challenge

I signed up for the highest of the three levels of the inaugural Australian Women Writer’s Challenge which required me to read and review 10 books written by Australian women. I also agreed to ‘dabble’ with genres which meant reading more than one genre but not as many genres as I could find.

In the end I read a few more books than I needed to (which feels pretty good) but I did not come anywhere near the super-human efforts of Shelleyrae of Book’d Out who has, at the time of drafting this post, read and reviewed 106 books by Australian women writers this year! Because that wasn’t enough she also interviewed and/or featured many of the authors at her blog, hosted giveaways of many of the books, designed the challenge logo, kept the Good Reads discussions flowing, tweeted up a storm and generally put the rest of us to shame. I am in awe Shelleyrae and just so you know there were a couple of times during the year when I thought I’d slink away from the challenge due to the various annoyances of the non-bookish elements of my life but I figured if a busy mum of four could find the time to be such a stalwart the least I could do would be to stop my grizzling and get on with it. Thanks for leading the way with such an enthusiastic spirit Shelleyrae..

Before giving you a full list of the 18 books I read I thought I’d tease out some of the reading themes and highlights I noticed:

Meaning to get some of the dreaded genre-dabbling over with early I started out the challenge by plucking a book at random from my library’s shelves that I would not otherwise have bothered with. Caroline Overington’s MATILDA IS MISSING was an unexpected treat, offering genuine insight into family breakdown plus a narrator eerily reminiscent of my own father. Along with Overington’s latest novel, SISTERS OF MERCY, this novel prompted a late-year rant about the dangers of labelling of books as women’s fiction. I am still reflecting on this issue as I think it’s at the heart of why books by women are, still, under represented in wider literary discussions and the subject of such puerile nonsense as this.

As far as demographic groups receiving consideration at any level of politics, the media or wider society women over 60 are not even a blip on the radar. If they appear at all in popular culture they are either kindly, grandmotherly types or crazy cat ladies and are rarely the focus of a single scene let alone an entire novel. But the protagonist of Virginia Duigan’s THE PRECIPICE, octogenarian Thea Farmer, is a vibrant, intelligent, socially awkward, sarcastic, hilarious heroine and is, without doubt, the favourite character of my reading year. She is who I want to be when I grow old (I’ve started early on socially awkward and sarcastic).

This year one of my new favourite authors, Sulari Gentill (whose first book of her 1930’s historical crime series was only released in 2010) released two novels in the series. They were both the kind of great reads I have come to expect from Gentill but the second of them, PAVING THE NEW ROAD, was particularly pleasing. I have railed against authors who hit on a winning formula then keep churning out the same novel time after time in seeming disdain for the intelligence of their readers and with this novel in particular Gentill made it clear I don’t have to fear her treading this path. This novel does have the same core elements as its predecessors – a delightful lightness of tone and an intriguing minor cast of real historical figures to add spice to the adventures of the four key characters – but the tough issues that one might imagine would crop up in a novel set during the rise of the Nazi regime are neither ignored nor turned into ridiculous clichés. It’s a more sombre novel than the earlier ones but still a marvellous read and a great addition to the series.

Living in Australia you could be forgiven for believing that the only places which produce writing worth reading (or even settings worth reading about) are Sydney and Melbourne and so, even though I live in a different under represented part of the country, I am thrilled to see TASMANIA feature so strongly. THE BETRAYAL, PAST THE SHALLOWS and POET’S COTTAGE were all written by women who have lived on the island in the past even if they don’t live there at present and though very different novels all three offer a great sense of their Tasmanian setting. Funnily enough I’ve just today bought what might be my first read for next year’s challenge and it too is set in Tassie. It’s an epidemic!

In the end I read a mixture of crime, historical, contemporary, women’s (ugh to the term) and literary fiction by a nearly even mix of authors I knew and those who were new to me.  I overcame my lingering aversion to literary fiction (thank you Favel Parrett), reconnected with some old favourite authors and found several new authors whose writing I want more of. I am ever grateful to Elizabeth Lhuede for creating the challenge and to these talented women for providing such a plethora of delights for my personal enjoyment. I can’t wait to do it all again next year.

My full list: (in reading order):

  1. Caroline Overington, Matilda is Missing
  2. Sulari Gentill, Miles Off Course
  3. Sylvia Johnson, Watch Out For Me
  4. Kerry Greenwood, Cocaine Blues
  5. Wendy James, The Mistake
  6. Felicity Young, A Dissection of Murder
  7. Virginia Duigan, The Precipice
  8. Annie Hauxwell, In Her Blood
  9. Ellen Mary Wilton, Hysteria at the Wisteria
  10. Sulari Gentill, Paving the New Road
  11. Katherine Howell, Silent Fear
  12. Gabrielle Lord, Death by Beauty
  13. Y.A. Erskine, The Betrayal
  14. Kathryn Fox, Cold Grave
  15. Tara Moss, Assassin
  16. Caroline Overington, Sisters of Mercy
  17. Favel Parrett, Past The Shallows
  18. Josephine Pennicott, Poet’s Cottage

AWW2012 Books Read

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18 Responses to 2012 – Wrapping up the Australian Women Writers Challenge

  1. Bernadette – Impressive! And you make such a good point about the way women who are past their 60’s are treated. I think that very often happens in crime fiction in general. I can think of several notable exceptions but you do make a well-taken point. And I loved the sense of Tasmania that I got from reading Erskine’s work. I must read the Parrett and the Pennicott too.

    Of the books you list here that I’ve also read, I’d say you picked some fantastic ones. The Mistake will stay with me (in a good way). And so will The Precipice and The Brotherhood. Such a lot out there by terrific Aussie women writers and I’m glad I made such great discoveries .

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    • I’m glad I could highlight books for your reading list for a change Margot 🙂 And here’s to more books for/about women over 60 (I’m not there yet but it’s not far off and I want to have interesting things to read when I get there)

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  2. shelleyrae @ Book'd Out says:

    You give me far too much credit Bernadette, but I am glad if I inspired you to stick with the challenge 🙂 Congrats on your achievements!

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  3. Rebecca says:

    It’s hard for me to find books by Australian women in the US (hard, but not impossible), but your posts are useful to me because I eouldn’t have known where to start.

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    • I so wish all the geographical restrictions on publishing would vanish in a puff of smoke Rebecca – it can be very frustrating to hear of a great book and not be able to get your hands on it. Hope you manage to track down some of the wonderful Aussie women crime writers anyway

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  4. Bill Selnes says:

    Bernadette: Canada has but one female sleuth past 60 that I have read in Hazel Micallef from the books by Inger Ash Wolfe. When I read of the demographics of mystery fiction readers I would have thought publishers would be clamouring for female sleuths in their 60’s.

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    • Oh yes I liked Hazel very much Bill – have read her first two outings so far and know there is a third but the books were also very graphically violent so I wasn’t sure I would go back again – maybe I’ll just close my eyes for the bloody bits 🙂

      I think the problem is that publishers – like everyone else – don’t even think of women of that age as existing let alone being a group that could be marketed to.

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  5. sue says:

    Loved this post Bernadette. Planning to read Y A Erskine over Christmas. I read recently that the West Australian writer Liz Byrski has set a reading list of women writers for men to read. The aim is to address the imbalance of men reading only male writers; I must check this out.

    Thea Farmer sounds like a superb role model.

    sue

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    • Oh I’d love to see Byrski’s list Sue…so sad to think that people still make decisions based on such arbitrary things as gender rather than let the person’s work or art speak for itself

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  6. I haven’t read a lot of Australian fiction. Looking forward to adding these to my book list for 2013.

    Thanks for your wonderful reviews!

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  7. Anonymous says:

    Surprisingly to myself, I’ve read 10 books by women writers from Oz, all mysteries. They’re great. I could pull my hair out with frustration at trying to find Aussie women authors’ books over here or doing without essentials to buy some at market prices here; prices are exorbitant for many books. And Kindle isn’t for me. So I’ll read what I can access by any means.

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  8. Kathy D. says:

    The above was from Kathy D. I’ll have to re-sign up here.

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  10. Congratulations on completing the challenge Bernadette! I’ve loved being involved, but I’ve missed out on a bit of the chatting (due to being an amateur in the worlds of Goodreads and Twitter!) I’m looking forward to discovering more book blogs as I get going with the 2013 challenge. I’m really glad I’ve discovered yours today! Merry Christmas 🙂

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