Hello book lovers!
We haven’t posted a book club wrap up since everything changed.
For those who don’t know, book club is still running every month and is being hosted online via Zoom.
We have had two Zoom book clubs so far and although meeting in person would be preferable it has been working quite well and it has been great being able to still catch up with everyone and discuss books!
Our most recent book club books have been:
- TYLL by Daniel Kehlmann – March
- Riptides by Kirsten Alexander – April
- The Dictionary of Lost Words by Pip Williams – May
Honestly all of these were greatly enjoyed and we had a wonderful time discussing them.
Kirsten Alexander, the author of our April book, has let us interview her and ask her a bit about the book and her inspiration behind it.
with Kirsten Alexander
Where did your inspiration for Riptides come from?
I’m not sure… The story came to me unbeckoned, and gradually, regularly, started playing itself in my head. I grew up in Brisbane, so that explains the location. And I was in a car accident when I was maybe five or six years old: a man visiting from the United States, driving a rental on the wrong side of the road, crashed into our family car (my father driving, me and a friend the only passengers), then drove off while my father was carrying my injured friend up to the door of the closest house to get help. So maybe I have some unresolved car crash issues! But the rest of the story, I don’t know.
What made you choose to set the story in the 1970’s?
I knew the story wouldn’t work if there were mobile phones, so it had to be before they existed. There are key moments in the novel that could have been instantly resolved had a mobile phone or internet access been available. Also, there were so many significant events in Australia during the 1970s – flood, cyclone, radical government reforms, the sacking of a government, social and cultural upheaval… It was a time of great turmoil (not unlike now, as it happens), which often amplifies and complicates personal struggles…
Do you have a personal connection/experience with the natural disasters that are written about in the novel?
I was a child during the 1974 Brisbane floods but I do have some memories of it. I recall seeing our Labrador, Prudence, swimming towards me across our flooded suburban street, nose up, eyes anxious. And watching my parents line up torches, candles, matches when the ABC radio warnings alerted them to a coming storm (which inevitably caused blackouts). I didn’t feel unsafe as a child but I was always aware of the extremes of nature, from scorching summers to ferocious storms.
Was there a specific character you preferred writing over the other? Was one more difficult or challenging?
No preference, but I found writing the father the most challenging. I had to imagine how it would feel to be a late middle-aged man who lost two women he deeply loved and was trying to manage his grief and anger. Writing the siblings offered different challenges because they’re two sides of the same coin – radically different but equal – and I knew I needed to feel empathy for both of them.
What kind of research did you have to do for this book?
The fun kind! I watched films from the 1970s (Australia produced some great cinema in the Seventies – The Last Wave, Wake in Fright, Sunday Too Far Away, Walkabout plus a bunch of incredible historical films like Picnic at Hanging Rock and My Brilliant Career) and tv (take a look at Aunty Jack on youtube), listened to music of the era, scoured the internet for images of clothing and magazine covers and lists of bestselling novels of the day. It was only forty-five years ago so there is a lot of available material.
How long did it take you to write Riptides?
I have no idea. Truly. I’m not being evasive, it’s just that I started then stopped, rewrote, let it sit for long periods, wrote another novel then came back to this one. I started it in 2011 I think but definitely didn’t work on it for all that time. There is nothing in the way I created this novel that anyone should try to replicate!
How did writing Riptides differ from writing your previous book?
Riptides was actually the first book I wrote but the second one published. I wrote it (and rewrote and gave up on and etc, as above), found an agent who sent it far and wide, but when it didn’t find a home I moved on and wrote Half Moon Lake. Writing a second book when your first has been rejected and is unpublished is hard in a way but also very common. I think it’s best to ignore the stories of overnight success or debuts that were effortless to write and found instant acclaim. Turn your back on them. Most of us need to write more than one manuscript before finding publication. So if you’re reading this and feeling disheartened, keep going. Chant the Beckett lines of ‘try again, fail again, fail better.’
What made you want to be a writer? Was it something you always wanted to do?
Definitely not! I’ve been a keen reader my whole life. A torch under the bedcovers type of child, a lost in the story on the train and miss my stop reader. I loved studying literature and politics (more compatible than you’d think). And the only fulltime jobs I was remotely qualified for were in magazines and later, as a book editor, copywriter and website content manager. So I’ve always read and worked with words but it wasn’t until very late in life that I decided I’d like to write a book. The impulse was woefully unexamined.
What is your writing process? Do you need to stick to a strict schedule, or do you write when inspiration strikes?
I wish my life allowed for a strict schedule. I like structure and lists. But I take whatever time I can steal. Whenever I try to follow advice like ‘write first thing in the morning’ or ‘never miss a day’, the world throws me a curveball.
What are your top five favourite books you’ve read this year?
- Phosphorescence by Julia Baird
- Essays by Lydia Davis
- Glass Hotel by Emily St John Mandel
- The Bass Rock by Evie Wyld
- Cabin Porn – This one is more about looking at pictures than reading, but one of the things I’ve found soothing during this period is looking at photos of cabins in the woods, and this book delivers only that!
Do you have any future projects in the works that you can tell us about?
I’m working on two manuscripts and while I’ve written outlines and a few chapters of each, I’m not sure where either will land. Currently, one is set in Melbourne in 2015 and follows the friendship of two women in their mid-twenties, and one is set in the present day in the Yorkshire Dales and revolves around an Australian couple who move to a village to flee trouble at home. My teenage son wants to write a book about our goofy and glorious golden retriever though, and that does sound like a good idea. Maybe that should be first.
Is there anything you would like to say to your readers?
BOOKS WE ARE LOVING
As you know each month at book club we like to discuss what books we have been loving lately.
Well since we haven’t posted a book club wrap up in awhile here is a list of books from the past couple of months that our book club attendees have loved:
- Lab Girl by Hope Jahren
- Phosphorescence by Julia Baird
- The Mirror & the Light by Hilary Mantel
- The Loudness of Unsaid Things by Hilde Hinton
- The Test by Sylvain Neuvel
- Oasis by Katya de Becerra
- Shielded by KayLynn Flanders (published 21/07)
- Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks
- The Soldier’s Curse by Meg and Tom Keneally
- The History of Bees by Maja Lunde
- The Snow Collectors by Tina May Hall
- A Long Petal of the Sea by Isabel Allende
- Sheerwater by Leah Swann
- The Tethered Mage by Melissa Caruso
Keep tuned for more book club news and author interviews!