I’m not sure I really have a norm in my reading any more. I do prefer fantasy or science fiction but I’ve been reading more mainstream fiction and recently rediscovered my love of historical novels through Philippa Gregory’s The Cousins War series. While I might find it hard to articulate my comfort zone, however, I definitely have one and I know when I’m stepping outside it. That’s happened a few times this year, to mixed results.
In 2015, my third year signed up to the Australian Women Writers Challenge, I committed to reading and reviewing at least twelve books written by Australian women. I ended up reading fifteen, with a leaning towards historical fiction. Goddess, The First Man in Rome and Just a Girl are all based on the lives of real – and extraordinary – people, while Currawong Manor is a mystery set half in the 1940’s and half in the 1990s. Wild Wood has a similar mix (1300s and 1980s) with a fantasy element. Genre fantasy reads for this year were Splashdance Silver, Sourdough and Other Stories, A Wrong Turn at the Office of Unmade Lists, Dreamer’s Pool and its sequel Tower of Thorns. Representing science fiction were the first two books in the Starbound series, These Broken Stars and This Shattered World, though I also finished reading Tansy Rayner Roberts’ delightful blog serial Musketeer Space, which started last year and concluded in July. Under the name Livia Day, she also wrote the cosy mysteries A Trifle Dead and Drowned Vanilla, both set in contemporary Hobart. The one and only mainstream Australian fiction novel for this year is Kate Forsyth’s Dancing on Knives.
It’s actually interesting, looking back, to see only a third of these books were set in Australia. Six had Australian characters. From Tudor England to ancient Rome, to fantasy realms and other planets, the settings could hardly be more varied.
Though I can’t review them, thanks to a rather obvious bias, I’m honoured to be a part of several anthologies edited and published this year by Australian women. Tehani Wessely and Tansy Rayner Roberts produced Cranky Ladies of History, about female rebels and rulers. Tehani also edited Focus 2014: highlights of Australian short fiction. Liz Grzyb pulled together a collection of stories about powerful fictional women for Hear Me Roar and, together with Talie Helene, released Ticonderoga Publications’ 2014 edition of The Year’s Best Australian Fantasy and Horror. It is always a delight and a privilege to work with so many talented women and in such a vibrant corner of the Australian publishing scene!
Not all the books I’ve read for the Challenge this year worked for me. It’s also how I found three of my favourite books of 2015. The point of this project has never been to read only Australian women, and I certainly haven’t – the point, for me, has always been to be more mindful of what I’m reading. Since I started participating in the Challenge, I’ve noticed the works of Australian writers more and have made space for them on my reading list. That’s something I intend to continue. Australian women have fantastic stories to share. And I have so much reading to do.