Thursday, 1 December 2016

The Smell of Other People’s Houses – Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock

The Smell of Other People's Houses - Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock
Can you picture flowers in a whisky bottle? I can; Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock did and this conjuring permeates the pages of this novel beautifully. It's her debut and my goodness....

From the visceral first pages, I was already in a different time and place, and the novel kept me right there with Ruth, Dora, Dumpling and Alyce in rural 1970s fishing and hunting Alaska. The time and setting were refreshingly different to read about.

The Smell of Other People’s Houses has a charm and poignancy that avoids a sickly nostalgia by moving swiftly (and sometimes matter-of-factly) through a very busily interweaved plot: Catholicism, teen pregnancies, broken families, perfect families, poverty, small town social stratifications, territorial and indigenous politics, and naked boys in convent gardens. It’s all there, and told from a number of diverse teen characters' perspectives.

There is a lot of plot in this novel, but it also lingers in wonderfully and often comically observed social scenes. The Smell of Other People’s Houses captures a wonderful and loving sense of a changing time and place and the characters who live in these pages are a delight.

I adored it.

The Smell of Other People’s Houses has been nominated for the 2017 Carnegie medal.

Publication details: 2016, Faber & Faber, London, paperback

This copy: received for review from the publisher

Saturday, 26 November 2016

Australian fiction highlight

Dust, steam, grit and wonder. I am very much a fan of the Australian children's and YA fiction that is published in the UK. Of the novels we've reviewed on We Sat Down, all of them immediately transport you to to a different place. You can feel the dust, or the steamy rain. You can feel the grit and you can feel the magical and lyrical wonder. The Australian fiction that I love is a whole sensory experience. Here's a recap of the ones We Sat Down has featured:

Most recently, are two from this year's Carnegie nominations:

The Stars at Oktober Bend by Glenda Millard: Lyrical and distinct voices, poetry, and injured subjects. A little gem.


The Bone Sparrow by Zana Fraillon: Two more marvellous narrators, one in a refugee detention centre and one recovering from her mother's death. An exceptional story.

Going further back, there is: 

Alex As Well by Alyssa Brugman: One of the first YA novels I'd read that discusses the complexities of gender identities and assignment. Full of grit and rub.

The Midnight Dress by Karen Foxlee: Texture, texture, texture. You can feel everything about this story.

Yellowcake by Margo Lanagan: Fantasy short stories; visceral, beautiful and very rumbling. A must-look for those interested in inclusion and diversities. 

Friday Brown by Vikki Wakefield: the most mesmerising and shocking psychological thriller I'd read in  while. Beautiful and absolutely heartbreaking. 

And then, of course, there is Lyndon Riggall, the winner of the 9-12 category of Hot Key Young Writer's Prize 2013, the year I was on the judging panel.

We sat down for a chat......with Glenda Millard

Glenda Millard is the author of Australian novel The Stars at Oktober Bend, published in the UK by Old Barn Books. As part of our Carnegie 2017 theme, we asked her a few questions:

Australian Author Glenda Millard
WSD: You say you like going down roads you've never been before (on
your web bio). Did any of these lead you to Oktober Bend?

Glenda Millard: My physical meanderings are motivated by a number of things - curiosity being high on the list. But writing a story is also a journey. Planning isn’t one of my strengths, so taking the initial step, writing the first sentence, not knowing how I’m going to get from there to the end, who I’ll meet along the way, how I’ll discover what’s shaped them and the joys and sorrows we’ll face together before we arrive at journey’s end are to a large extent unformed. So in that sense, I did go down a road I’d never been before and it did lead me to Oktober Bend. But then again, Oktober Bend has always been a place inside me, partly real, partly imagined and so are the people I met along the way.

WSD:  If you were placing unread poems that you hoped would be read,
where would you put them?

GM: On the backs of bus seats, or bathroom doors at doctor’s rooms, in magazine racks at hairdressing salons. Places where people stop and sit for a while - where they have time to think and where I would have a captive audience.

WSD:  Why a 'k' in Oktober?

GM: I remember reading an article about a wonderful artist and illustrator of children’s books whose name is Tricia Oktober. I love Tricia’s paintings, I love that she loves animals and gardens and I loved the look of her surname; the ups-and-downs of it - the surprising spiky bits, the beaky obliques and the smooth round humps and hillocks. Yes.....there is much to appreciate about words, including their music, their meaning and their visual delights.

The Stars at Oktober Bend - Glenda Millard
WSD: A top tip for budding writers?

GM: Read. Read A LOT - and learn to appreciate the writing, not simply the story.

WSD: Cats or dogs person?

GM: Dogs - always, utterly and absolutely.


You can read our review of The Stars at Oktober Bend here.

Tuesday, 22 November 2016

The Bone Sparrow – Zana Fraillon

The Bone Sparrow - Zana Fraillon
As far as refugee novels go, The Bone Sparrow presents an unusual perspective as it harnesses both the charming naivete of a young narrator as well as the world of dystopian novels: what if you were born inside a refugee detention centre and this was your bubble? And what if everybody else who lived with you didn’t see things inside the bubble as positively and magically as you do?

As far as general novels go, with The Bone Sparrow, Zana Fraillon’s prose offers up the earthy grit that is so characteristic of Australian novels but she also layers it with a gentle mist. Subhi, a growing and curious boy, has a distinctive voice and his night sea treasures introduce elements of what might be described as magical realism. Combining this, the plot and the symbolism of The Bone Sparrow (a necklace, and a story, and a metaphor), I wouldn’t be surprised if some readers start going down the path of allegory.

Narrative and plot wise, The Bone Sparrow is inherently Subhi’s story but it is Jimmie’s too. Jimmie is a ten year old rural girl living on the outskirts of the town housing Subhi’s detention centre. Her mother has recently died and her family is struggling to come to terms with this. The novel’s progression alternates from Subhi’s first person narration to Jimmie’s story in the third person, and of course, their stories intertwine.

All of these elements work together to produce an immersively good story. Of course, though, this is a novel about the plight of refugees and it makes no apologies for exploring the dehumanising conditions imprisoning them, the good (and the bad) that is in so many people, and our agency as individual human beings. As dark as the subject matter of the novel, The Bone Sparrow reinforces the idea that hope is what keeps things moving on.

The Bone Sparrow is the sort of book that sits very comfortably on award lists.

Publication details: Orion Children’s Books, 2016, London, hardback
This copy: for review from the publisher