The Wild Girl in the Wicked Wood

The Australian Women Writers Challenge, as you may know if you’ve been reading this blog awhile, is a project that promotes the work of Australian women across all genres. 2014 has been my second year participating and this time I signed up to the Franklin level, which meant I had to read at least ten books and review at least six. I also planned to find more books through reviews on the AWW Challenge blog.

Of the eleven books I ended up reading, just over half were speculative fiction, four were historical fiction and one was contemporary. To my delight, I managed to find three fairy tale-inspired works for the Challenge – Allyse Near’s bewitchingly bitter concoction Fairytales for Wilde Girls, Isobelle Carmody and Nan McNab’s collection of retellings The Wicked Wood, and Kate Forsyth’s exploration of a real-life tale-teller, Dortchen Wild, in The Wild Girl. Juliet Marillier’s Shadowfell also draws on British folk lore as part of its worldbuilding and though Ruth Park’s My Sister Sif is really more science fiction than fantasy, it uses mermaid stories and Pacific Islander legends. The vampire element, meanwhile, had representation this year with The Blood Countess by Tara Moss and The Amethyst Curse by Chantelle Thomson.

The Wild Girl contains just a trace of fantasy, but I think it’s more accurately classified as historical fiction. Other books in this genre I’ve read in 2014 include Kimberley Freeman’s Ember Island and two Kate Morton novels, The Secret Keeper and The House at Riverton. While all three of these contain contemporary subplots, the only 100% contemporary novel I’ve read this year was Anita Heiss’s Tiddas. As a Queensland girl, I’m not accustomed to seeing my home state represented much in fiction and always get a kick from an insider reference – Ember Island, The Secret Keeper and Tiddas all have Queensland as a setting.

I would like to count Tansy Rayner Roberts’s serialised space opera Musketeer Space, a genderswapped reinterpretation of Alexander Dumas’s classic The Three Musketeers, but that would kind of be cheating as she hasn’t finished writing it yet. At the time of my posting this, she’s up to Chapter 30 and I am SO HOOKED. There’s swordfights and spaceships and ever so much snark, and all of the story so far is available for free on her blog. Go get addicted too!

Then, of course there are the books to which I’m lucky enough to be a contributor. My stories have appeared in four collections this year, all of them with Australian small press, all compiled by fantastic female editors. Ticonderoga’s steampunk anthology Kisses by Clockwork was edited by Liz Grzyb, Twelfth Planet Press’s Kaleidoscope by Alisa Krasnostein and Julia Rios, Tehani Wessely produced FableCroft’s fairy tale-themed Phantazein and The Year’s Best Australian Fantasy and Horror 2013, edited by Liz Grzyb and Talia Helene, was released just last month. Until I started selling short stories I knew almost nothing about Australian small press – like how AWESOME it is, and how much fun all these people are to work with. I feel so very honoured to be a part of all these works.

So that’s my challenge completed for 2014. It’s been an adventurous year for me as a reader and a wonderful one as a writer. Roll on 2015!

Review No.125 – Tiddas

Tiddas – Anita Heiss

Simon & Schuster Australia, 2014

The five members of the Vixens book club have known each other since childhood. They are tiddas, the closest of friends, familiar with the ins and outs of each other’s lives – or so it seems. Each woman has her own secrets. Dealing with a surprise pregnancy while on the cusp of a career triumph, Izzy doesn’t know how to explain her mixed feelings to Xanthe, who is so desperate for a baby it’s all she can think about. Meanwhile Veronica is struggling in the aftermath of her divorce, Ellen’s loner lifestyle gains unwanted complications and Nadine would rather spend her evenings in the company of a bottle than finish writing her latest novel. Is there really such a thing as best friends forever?

Tiddas takes a very laid-back approach to each woman’s issues, sometimes to the detriment of the story – the plot is meandering rather than focused, and Xanthe in particular gets shortchanged emotionally. Heiss’s writing style was also a problem for me, being very much prone to telling rather than showing. I was delighted, though, to find a novel set in my home state. That hardly ever happens! Tiddas is speckled with affectionate references only a Brisbanite would really get, giving it a very strong sense of place. It’s also wonderful to read a book in which Aboriginal culture, and Aboriginal characters, are given such prominence. Heiss’s other works include Manhattan Dreaming and Paris Dreaming.