Kate McFadyen

The first time The Engagement’s narrator, Liese Campbell, sees the family homestead owned by her lover, Alexander Colquhoun, she is struck by its imposing physical presence: ‘We turned a corner … The second storey came into view: eight upstairs windows and each chimney intricate as a small mausoleum.’ As she surveys the isolated Victorian mansion, wit ...

In the afterword to The Ghost of Waterloo, Robin Adair reveals what attracts him to writing historical fiction...

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One of the things I am often called on to do as a bookseller is to make recommendations, particularly when it comes to fiction. This involves making a judgement about what a customer wants from a book, rather than what a book may want from its reader. Many readers declare from the outset that all they want from a novel is a good story they can escape into. They happily admit that they don’t want to be challenged, don’t want to work for their enjoyment.

This is the frequently offered rationale for mass-market fiction: pure escapism. It exists to entertain, not to edify. Hackneyed storylines and wooden dialogue don’t matter, so the argument goes; all that does matter is giving people the kind of uncomplicated enjoyment they crave. The writing might not be stylish, but neither is it pretentious. Fair enough, perhaps. If you are the kind of reader who sees nothing wrong with lines such as ‘a fresh spike of fear gripped him’ or ‘there was only one way to heal his thirst for revenge’ or ‘Iris has always been blindly attracted to people who don’t fit the mould’, then criticism of this book is probably redundant. If, however, mixed metaphors, clichés and melodramatic flourishes make you cringe, be warned that Fiona McIntosh’s Fields of Gold is full of them.

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The Diamond Anchor by Jennifer Mills & The China Garden by Kristina Olsson

by
June 2009, no. 312

It is a common assumption that nothing much happens in small country towns; that they are insular places where people live their entire lives, unchallenged by the outside world. But I never found the towns I lived in to be stagnant: conservative and sometimes small-minded, yes, but never uniformly dull. Individuals and families come and go; people run away or arrive, seeking refuge; people return after years of absence to settle down again.

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I recently went back to New England. It is a long drive from Melbourne, but as I passed through Coonabarabran and Tamworth and began the ascent up the Moonbi Ranges, my gaze responded to the strange and familiar landscape. I periodically wound down the car window to smell the air – crisp but still warm for autumn. I grew up in a few different New England towns – Inverell, Glen Innes, Armidale – so I am familiar with the territory covered in the fascinating essays in High Lean Country. The high elevation of the Tableland makes the winters cold, summers mild. The dramatic landscape is dotted with granite mounds and monoliths. It is edged to the east by the escarpment and the gorge country of Judith Wright’s poems.

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There is a mesmerising scene in Carpentaria when Joseph Midnight is asked if he has seen the fugitive Will Phantom, a young local Aboriginal man who is single-handedly waging a guerrilla war against a large lead ore mining company. He eyes the questioner and astutely spots him as a ‘Southern blackfella …

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