Posted by: Lisa Hill | October 30, 2016

When is a book challenge not a challenge?

I am cheating with this post.

Over at Whispering Gums, Sue has completed the AWW (Australian Women Writers) Bingo Card for 2016.


I could do that, I thought.

But I shouldn’t, I thought.  Because I hadn’t signed up for it.  I have given up doing challenges altogether.

And then I thought about the purpose of it: it’s to encourage readers to read books by Australian women.  I  like to think that I do that all the time (eight reviews of Australian women authors so far this month, plus an interview and plans for Christina Stead week), but this is an opportunity to shine a spotlight on them again.  So I thought, why not?

Here they are:

  • A book with a mystery: Easy! I’ve just read a book about the mystery of the disappearance of the Queen of Mystery Writers, Agatha Christie: On the Blue Train by Kristel Thornell.
  • A book by someone under 30: I spent far too long on this.  I read heaps of debut novelists but these days they all do PhDs before their first book is published and that seems to put them the other side of 30.  I trawled through my books hoping to find birthdates with the cataloguing details on the verso page, and then I trawled through Wikipedia’s list of Australian women novelists.  The closest I got was A Loving Faithful Animal by Josephine Rowe, but by my calculations she was 32 when that was published in 2016.  That would make her under 30 when her short story collection Tarcutta Wake was published in 2012, right?
  • vance-and-nettie-palmer-plaqueA book that’s more than ten years old: Another recent read, Henry Handel Richardson, a study (1950) by Nettie Palmer, a marvellous woman who did much to promote Australian writing in the postwar era.
  • A book by an indigenous author: I have lots to choose from because this is a major focus on this blog.  I’m going to go with Larissa Behrendt’s important Finding Eliza, Power and Colonial Storytelling which sounds a bit ‘academic’ but it’s not.  It’s important because it shows us how Indigenous people have been represented in our literature.  IMO anyone reviewing OzLit ought to read it.  Any non-indigenous author in Australia ought to read it too – whether including Indigenous characters or not.  Because, you know, choosing not to is a political choice just the same choosing to.
  • My choice (Free square): This just has to be Two Sisters, a true story by Ngarta Jinny Bent and Jukuna Mona Chuguna.  Every bit as riveting as The Rabbit-Proof Fence by Doris Pilkington.
  • A bestseller: For this one I had to do some hunting around to find an Australian bestsellers list … and what a disappointment they are.  I could get on my soapbox here and rant about how few Australian titles make it amongst the international authors, but instead I will direct you to The Light between Oceans by M.L. Stedman, up near the top of the list I found and which has just been released as a film.  (LOL I hear that my prediction about the requisite number of hankies has turned out to be true).
  • A book set in the outback: I discovered an interesting phenomenon when I trawled through my blog for this one.  Is it just me and the books I happen to have reviewed, or do women not write much about the outback?  Yes, I know that there’s a whole genre of romances with handsome stock riders, but are there not women writers exploring the kinds of serious issues so brilliantly depicted by Stephen Orr, Roger McDonald and Stephen Daisley?  Only one came to mind and that was Dominique Wilson, an Australian author of French-Algerian origin, whose debut novel The Yellow Papers is set in Broken Hill.
  • A short story collection: Short stories are not my thing, but it just so happens that I posted about the Fiction edition of The Big Issue  this week.  Eight of the twelve stories are by women and it includes a story by ANZ LitLovers’ favourite Guest Reviewer Karenlee Thompson.  So I think that counts…
  • A book published this year: One of the best books I’ve read so far this year, An Isolated Incident by Emily Maguire, and you can find out more about her at Meet an Aussie Author too.

So there you are, my completed Bingo card! I hope you like my choices:)

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  1. Haha, Lisa … hard to resist some challenges when they are for goals you support, isn’t it. Thanks for joining in. You have cheated a bit though cos they are supposed to be books you’ve read and reviewed this year … Still, I reckon the ends justifies the means!

    You make an interesting point about contemporary women writing about the outback. I immediately thought Stephen Orr’s Two hands too. I did think too that Charlotte Wood’s The natural way of things would have done for me at a pinch though she’s not really specific about location and the outback setting is not important, just that it’s a remote setting.

    • *chuckle* I’m hoping someone will tell me that one of the books I’ve reviewed this year is by a 30-something and then I can fix up the second one. (I could have read a book in the time that I spent scouring my shelves today!) But as for bestsellers, well, I rather suspect that Salt Creek by Lucy Treloar might be one, but how can we know? I don’t pay any attention to best seller lists…

      I was quite surprised by the difficulty of finding a woman author writing about the outback. They certainly did in years gone by, but again, I’m hoping someone will suggest something I’ve overlooked.

      • Yes, bestsellers are tricky for us. Somehow a Google search on likely books brought back some Readings Top Sellers of the week. I bet Lucy Treloar would be there!

      • Oops, and I meant to say that there is one area in which women write a lot about the outback, and that is rural romance and outback sagas. People like Judy Nunn, and I think Di Morrissey, but there are many others I think. It’s a popular genre! But not one we tend to come across, eh …

        • I know about rural romance, there are some incorrigible publishers who send them to me unsolicited, and they all end up at the op shop because *ducking for cover* I just can’t take romance writing seriously. I tried a Di Morrissey years ago but found she was not for me either.

          • I’ve never had any rural romance sent to me, but I do hide under the radar a little. I must say I’ve never tried Di Morrissey. I know people love her and I’m glad we have women writers who clearly meet the needs of people who love family sagas by telling Aussie stories.

            • Oh yes, absolutely, we need an Australian publishing industry that suits all kinds of readers!

  2. Well done you, Lisa – if you got this together in a hurry I’m pretty sure you’d win hands down after a few days contemplation. I don’t know about books specifically about the outback but a book I read years ago has remained in my psyche The Murder of Nellie Duffy by Stephanie Bennett, Simon & Schuster 2001. It’s set in Qld’s remote Carpentaria Downs and the author reinvestigates an unsolved 1908 murder. Her research amazing and her passion for history evident but I loved the way life in remote communities, class divisions, racial exploitation,police bungles, family secrets etc are revealed and explored with the characters and society mores of that time fascinatingly recreated.

    • That’s the thing, isn’t it, that the outback setting gives you a microcosm of society. But there are also issues unique to the outback: inheritance issues, for one, and coming to terms with indigenous ownership for another. I’m a city girl, but I’m very interested in those issues, and I care a lot about the little towns that seem to be dying as population declines.

  3. Meg reminded me of Jessica White’s Entitlement, and that jogged my memory of another book you and I both read last year, Alice Robinson’s Anchor Point! They are there but they don’t pop quickly into our heads do they? Another issue to add re outback setting to your inheritance, and indigenous ownership is climate change.

    • Yes, I loved Anchor Point, and climate change is indeed very relevant. There’s also Foal’s Bread though that’s not this year either.

  4. Isn’t Lucy Trelor’s Salt Creek set in the outback?

    • I did think of Salt Creek (because I loved it) but it’s on the coast down on the Coorong, not the outback.

      • Interesting – I think of anything remote and sparsely settled as “outback”. I hadn’t really thought of it as inland before….

        • Ah, well then, I wonder what the makers of the Bingo card had in mind? I tend to think of it as, yes, remote and sparsely settled, like NT cattle stations or mining towns in WA.

  5. Kudos to you and Sue for completing this even though both of you didnt sign up for it exactly! I started reading The Light Between Oceans but couldnt get into it. Reading your review again makes me think I could give it another go. Most likely in about 10 years if my current success with getting through wish lists is any marker…….

    • I am starting to think that I need to be cloned in order to tackle my ever-expanding TBR …

  6. Hi Lisa, I’m so glad you joined in this! It was a real rush at the end for everyone and I’m only just catching up with all the links… I am still one short to finish a card but perhaps I should take a more critical look back over my AWW titles so far…

  7. Good work. I was a bit hamstrung on this challenge because of my self-imposed book-buying ban and had to work with what I already had in the TBR stack – I could fill a few spaces on each card but not a whole card. Outback category was certainly a stumbling block for me.

    • Does the ban include no library books too? (I admire your fortitude, I couldn’t possibly be so strong-minded, I never last longer than 3-4 weeks at the most).

      • The only books I’ve borrowed are audio-books that have doubled up with hard copies on my TBR list and books I needed for my book group. I have received some ARCs which has meant I don’t feel completely out of the ‘new releases’ loop however I’ve limited the number I request this year.

        The ban was tricky to start but as the year has gone on I’ve found it easier and oddly enjoyable – have found that I’m not distracted by the latest and greatest because I’ve tuned out the hype and noise.

  8. […] writing. But posts yesterday by Sue from Whispering Gums (here) and then Lisa from ANZ LitLovers (here) served to remind me that I had ‘planned’ to undertake one of the two AWW Bingo card […]

  9. […] I posted my completion of the AWW Bingo Card yesterday a discussion ensued on Lisa’s ANZLitLovers blog regarding her comment on the dearth of books written by women “set in the outback”. […]

  10. Leaving aside pre-War books, in my own post I suggested Robyn Davidson, Tracks and Nikki Gemmell, Alice Springs (first pub. as Cleave). and also Sarah Henderson, From Strength to Strength. Mary Durack, Kings in Grass Castles (1959) is a bit older. The most recent I have is the Ernestine Hill biog, Call of the Outback (2016) by Marianne van Velzen. Though, on reflection Sue Parritt’s Sannah and the Pilgrim (2015) and Pia and the Skyman (2016) also have outback settings.

    • I’ve got a new edition of Tracks on my TBR:) I’m pretty sure I read it years ago, but that might just have been an extract in the paper, truly, I can’t remember now. I haven’t read any of the others you mentioned, though you’re right, Sannah and the Pilgrim is an outback setting…

      • I really like Tracks, it’s more of an interior memoir than it is an outback adventure. I’ve been planning (wishing!) for some time to get hold of the dvd and do a joint review. Davidson toured with the movie, answering questions but I was away with work.

        • LOL I wouldn’t be bothered reading it if it were an outback adventure!

  11. I hadn’t seen the “Bingo Card” concept in reading until I read your review! I love it, especially since it is actually an achievable number of books. My daughter invited me to join a challenge, but the list is quite long and seems rather daunting to me, since I like most readers, have stacks and shelves and lists of other books that I want to read as well.

    Your posts are so inspiring and I am looking forward to adding some Australian authors to my 2017 reading list.

    Many thanks!

    • Challenges are tricky things…as you say, there are all those books on the TBR and you bought them because they appealed to you. It makes sense to read them!
      I don’t do challenges any more, as I say, I did this one by just looking through what I’d already read and found that I’d completed it without even trying.

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