2015 has, overall, been a very successful year for me.
Healthwise, for the first time in a long time, things seem to be improving. New medication is making a huge difference, and while I’m still not able to work a “normal” full time job, I am generally doing better than I have been for the last handful of years. It’s kind of awesome, and I am frantically knocking on wood, lest it end.
I’ve got to watch my son keep on growing into an amazing individual. He finished his first full year of school, and has done incredibly well with it all. There have been some hiccups along the way, but such is life. Sometimes I find myself just watching him do things and just be utterly floored by the fact that he exists. Parenthood (or more precisely, parenting a baby and toddler) has been one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do, and I am so grateful that I’ve had the chance to do it.
Writing wise, it’s been a slower year in terms of getting things finished than I’d like, but there’s been forward motion. A few years ago, I sat down and wrote out a list of achievements that I would like to make in my writing career. This year, I achieved three of them. The last one I can’t talk about yet (but hopefully soon, for I am incredibly excited about this project). The others? I had a story, Escapement, nominated for both a Tin Duck and a Ditmar (my first non-fan writing nominations) and had the same story reprinted in a Year’s Best anthology). I am so thankful to the good folks at Ticonderoga Publications and editor extraordinaire for publishing my weird steampunk dystopia story.
I do feel like I’ve levelled up a bit as a writer, and I am really happy with the works I’ve had published this year – Broken Glass in Hear Me Roar and The Flowers That Bloom Where Blood Touches Earth in Bloodlines, both from Ticonderoga. Huge thanks as always to my brilliant critique partner, Pia van Ravestein, without whom none of my stories would be what they are.
In terms of reviews, I’m less than happy. I did manage to finish my Australian Women Writers Challenge pledge, but I have fallen way behind on my Netgalley reviews. Next year, I really want to tackle them and try to increase my review percentage.
Overall, though, a fairly good year. Only a few more days, and then we’re onto 2016.
From now on, I’m not going to be posting reviews here to my website, but have set up a secondary website for them: The Forest of Books. Feel free to follow me over there if you want to keep up with my reviews.
I’m planning on going back and copying all of my past reviews over to that website as well as time allows. All of my reviews will still be crossposted to Goodreads, and I’m going to try to remember to post over at Amazon as well.
The cover for Bloodlines, the urban fantasy anthology which includes my story, The Flowers That Bloom Where Blood Touches Earth, has been revealed. And isn’t it gorgeous? The cover design is by the talented Kathleen Jennings (who also has a story in the anthology).
Pre-orders for the anthology have also opened, get yours here.
We’re thrilled to be able to reveal the cover to our forthcoming original anthology Bloodlines. The artwork is by the awesomely multi-talented and multiple award-winning Kathleen Jennings (who also has a story in the anthology),
Bloodlines, the new non-traditional dark urban fantasy anthology edited by the award-winning Amanda Pillar. These 16 incredible original stories are:
Joanne Anderton “Unnamed Children”
Alan Baxter “Old Promise New Blood”
Nathan Burrage “The Ties of Blood, Hair and Bone”
Dirk Flinthart “In The Blood”
Rebecca Fung “In the Heart of the City”
Stephanie Gunn “The Flowers That Bloom Where Blood Touches Earth”
Attendees of Conflux, in Canberra 2-5 October will be treated to the first look at this book, at a launch on 3 October. The rest of the world can experience this fantastic collection at World Fantasy Convention 2015.
– See more at: http://ticonderogapublications.com/web/index.php/our-books/185-bloodlines/390-bloodlines-cover-and-orders-available#sthash.JbYg0GdE.dpuf
Yesterday, I finished a full draft of the latest version of Never. It’s horribly broken, and needs at least one more full redraft, but it’s finished.
And in probably related news, I am burned out. Empty. Burned out on writing, burned out on reviewing. So I’m going to be taking a short break away from both. An actual holiday, even. I’m anticipating lots of Aurealis reading coming in, so there will be that. And I’ve technically finished my challenge for the Australian Women Writers Challenge, but I’d still like to add some more decent reviews (namely to the things I’ve read and marked over at Goodreads as wanting to review).
Now, what is that people do when they’re not running around a mouse wheel made of words? I forget.
I’m really happy to be able to announcement that my weird steampunk dystopia novelette, Escapement, will be reprinted in The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror 2014 coming out soon from Ticonderoga Publications! And holy crap, look at some of the people I’m sharing that TOC with! Congrats to everyone involved.
Anna Tambour, “The Walking-stick Forest” [Tor.com]
Kyla Ward, “Necromancy” [Spectral Realms #1]
Kaaron Warren, “Bridge of Sighs” [Fearful Symmetries: An Anthology of Horror]
Janeen Webb, “Lady of the Swamp” [Death at the Blue Elephant]
In addition to the above incredible tales, the volume will include a review of 2014 and a list of highly recommended stories.
The editors will shortly begin reading for the sixth volume of The Year’s Best Australian Fantasy and Horror.
The Year’s Best Australian Fantasy and Horror 2014 is scheduled for publication in late-October 2015 and can be pre-ordered at indiebooksonline.com. The anthology will be available in hardcover, ebook and trade editions.
The Grimm Brothers published a beautiful version of the Beauty & the Beast tale called ‘The Singing, Springing Lark’ in 1819. It combines the well-known story of a daughter who marries a beast in order to save her father with another key fairy tale motif, the search for the lost bridegroom. In ‘The Singing, Springing Lark,’ the daughter grows to love her beast but unwittingly betrays him and he is turned into a dove. She follows the trail of blood and white feathers he leaves behind him for seven years, and, when she loses the trail, seeks help from the sun, the moon, and the four winds. Eventually she battles an evil enchantress and saves her husband, breaking the enchantment and turning him back into a man.
Kate Forsyth retells this German fairy tale as an historical novel set in Germany during the Nazi regime. A young woman marries a Nazi officer in order to save her father, but hates and fears her new husband. Gradually she comes to realise that he is a good man at heart, and part of an underground resistance movement in Berlin called the Red Orchestra. However, her realisation comes too late. She has unwittingly betrayed him, and must find some way to rescue him and smuggle him out of the country before he is killed.
The Red Orchestra was a real-life organisation in Berlin, made up of artists, writers, diplomats and journalists, who passed on intelligence to the American embassy, distributed leaflets encouraging opposition to Hitler, and helped people in danger from the Nazis to escape the country. They were betrayed in 1942, and many of their number were executed.
The Beast’s Garden is a compelling and beautiful love story, filled with drama and intrigue and heartbreak, taking place between 1938 and 1943, in Berlin, Germany.
An eARC of this book was provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.
I’m a longtime fan of Kate Forsyth (I vividly remember stalking the bookstore shelves waiting for each Witches of Eileanan book to be released), and particularly loved her last two books, The Wild Girl and Bitter Greens, and was thus extremely happy to be asked to read and review The Beast’s Garden.
I will admit up front, I went into this book with a small sense of trepidation. I had very high hopes, based on how good The Wild Girl and Bitter Greens were, but I did wonder about the premise of The Beast’s Garden– namely, combining a version of the fairytale Beauty and the Beast (specifically, The Singing, Springing Lark) and Nazi Germany during World War II. It wasn’t that I wasn’t sure that Forsyth could pull off such a story, I wondered if anyone could pull it off.
And now that I’ve read the book, the question: did Forsyth manage to pull it off? The answer is a resounding hell yes.
It should be noted that this book isn’t going to be for every reader. There are scenes set in a concentration camp, and while Forsyth doesn’t linger overlong on any of the atrocities, neither does she shield the reader from the true horrors of of WWII and the Holocaust. If any of this is a trigger for you, this isn’t going to be the book for you. But please, if you haven’t done so, go and read all of Forsyth’s other books. They’re more than worth it.
In the role of “Beauty” we have Ava, a German girl who is training as a singer. In looks, Ava takes after her dead Spanish mother, while her two sisters are blue-eyed and blonde-haired, fitting the Aryan ideal. Ava and her family are not safe beneath Nazi rule. Ava’s own darker colouring puts her at potential risk of being declaimed as having Romani blood, and one of her sisters has a daughter who is possibly learning disabled. More, Ava’s family are close to a Jewish family, the Feidlers. After Ava’s mother died, Ava was practically raised by Mrs Feidler, and regards Rudi Feidler (an out gay man) as a brother. Ava and Rudi are both musicians, and both attend illicit jazz clubs together. To protect all of her blood and found family, Ava marries a Nazi officer, Leo von Lowenstein.
Leo, naturally is the “Beast” of the tale, and it is the romance between Leo and Ava which drives much of the novel. At first, Ava fears Leo, only knowing him as a Nazi officer. As she gets to know him, and see beneath the public mask he wears, she discovers that he is a lot more than he first appeared. Like her, he is fighting against Hitler’s rule, and is part of an underground resistance movement.
The story follows Leo and Ava as they both navigate Nazi Germany and the various plots to disrupt Nazi rule and attempt to assassinate Hitler. We also get to follow Rudi after he is arrested for “subversive activities” and deported to the concentration camp, Buchenwald. Yet another story thread is shown via Rudi’s sister Jutta, who evades arrest and lives in hiding from the Nazis.
On the surface, it is hard to see much hope in any story set in WWII Germany. Forsyth doesn’t shy from any of the horrors: we get to see the Jewish people suffering both in the camps and in hiding, as well as the German people starving as their country begins to bend and break beneath the weight of Nazi rule and the war. But in the darkness, there is light. Even while deathly afraid, Ava finds ways to fight. And in Buchenwald, Rudi plays illicit music, saves others where he can (and is saved in turn) and even finds love.
Forsyth skilfully weaves in many historical figures and events into the narrative, giving a real weight to a book that, in less talented hands, could easily have become little more than a fluffy romance between the Brave German Girl and Nazi With a Heart of Gold, or something extremely problematic. If you’re worried about either of these issues, let me put your worries to rest right here.
With The Beast’s Garden, Forsyth cements herself as one of the most talented authors writing historical fiction (with a good dash of fairytale retelling) in Australia today.
I made the decision partway through this month to stop writing every day, after having written daily for over a year. I was feeling burned out and utterly exhausted, and wanted my weekends back. I’m not making any commitments to keeping this writing pattern permanently, but for now, it’s a relief to have the weekends for myself and my family.
I am a squeak away from reaching 80k on this draft of Never. I’m basically totally redrafting the last third, so it’s slower and harder going than the first two thirds. I’m at the point where I’m looking forward to this draft being done. Mostly so I can start editing it.
Reading and Reviewing
I voted in the Hugos. Which translates mostly as slapping No Award on most of the categories. I’m looking forward to seeing the stats after the winners are announced, though I anticipate anger at the good works which got pushed off the ballot.
On the [date redacted] of the [year redacted], [names redacted] of the [organisation redacted] discovered a hidden text that documented realities other than our own.
Dark, weird realities.
Within these pages they discovered monuments to a dying alien race, sentient islands caught like fish, a tree that grows pencils, a baby transformed into a hummingbird, and a steampunk Maori whaling crew.
They were afraid, as you should be afraid. They saw life, death and the space between; metamorphosis, terrible choices and bitter regrets.
[Names redacted] looked into the abyss, and what they saw within was nameless and terrible.
Insert Title Here is an unthemed anthology from Australian small press Fablecroft Publishing, said by editor Tehani Wessley to be their darkest offering yet. Of note is the fact that the call for submissions for this anthology actually resulted in Fablecroft publishing two separate anthologies: Insert Title Here and Phantazein.
It is always a different experience reading an unthemed anthology. I find it harder to read more than one story in a row, since there are no connecting threads between stories, and as such, it took me longer than usual to finish this book. This is absolutely no comment on the quality of the book, of course, which is, as to be expected from Fablecroft, extremely high.
I’m not going to discuss every story in this anthology, but I will point out some of my favourites. I’ll note that I loved the darkness of this anthology (you can take the girl out of horror, but you can’t take the horror out of the girl), and all of the stories were worthwhile reading.
The book opens with a story from Jo Anderton, 2B. And holy hell, what an opening this is. I was drawn in immediately by the vivid imagery of this world: a place where things grow in strange ways, tyres growing from trees, pencils which can be planted to grow trees which fruit more pencils. If you’ve never read any of Anderton’s work, this could be a good place to start, as this story highlights her grasp of imagery and strangeness, while still being able to wring deep emotion out of only a handful of words. Dreamlike and haunting, this is one of my favourites in the anthology.
D.K. Mok’s Almost Days is another story which tends towards the dreamlike, this time taking the reader into a place called the Wings. This is definitely a story where you want to go in without being spoiled, but suffice to say that this is an incredible story. Read it, then read it again. Then go and devour everything Mok had written. You’ll thank me.
Her Face Like Lightning by David McDonald takes us deeper into human darkness: of ritual magic and sorcery and grasping for power. I feel very much like this story only begins to skim the surface of a fascinating world, and I hope that McDonald will come back to it at some point in the future (I’d happily read a novel set in this world, hint, hint, David ;)).
Sara Larner’s Living in the Light begins with one of the best first lines I think I have ever read: “My child turned into a hummingbird.”. How could you not read on after that? There is something almost feverish about this story, but in the sheer strangeness of it, there is also heartbreaking emotion. Highly recommended.
Reflections by Tamlyn Dreaver takes us to the terraformed (and failing) moon, where Hana lives with her mothers. This is a gorgeous story, short but filled with sadness, but a sorrow tinged with hope. I’ve found myself thinking of this story often since finishing it, which is always a sign of a good short story.
My last favourite, and the concluding story in the anthology, is Stephanie Burgis’ The Art of Deception. I need to make note here that Burgis is a friend, and someone who I have beta read for, but this does not influence the fact that I would have loved this story, no matter who had written it. Pure epic fantasy, which is extremely hard to make work well in the short form, with a fascinating world and characters, I kind of really hope that Burgis will expand upon this world more at some stage in the future.
Overall, this is an extremely strong collection. The stories are varied, and I suspect that most readers will find at least one or two which speaks to them. Highly recommended.