Book review – Dinner with the Schnabels, by Toni Jordan

Title: Dinner with the Schnabels

Author: Toni Jordan

Publisher: Hachette, 30 March 2022; RRP: $32.99

Toni Jordan is an established Australian author with six novels to her credit. Amongst her well-known works are Addition in 2008 and the Miles Franklin longlisted historical novel Nine Days in 2011. Nine Days was also judged Best Fiction in 2012 at the Indie Awards. Toni has received numerous other prizes and accolades for her writing and holds a Bachelor of Science in Biology and a PhD in Creative Arts. She lives in Melbourne.

Dinner with the Schnabels is an entertaining, fast moving, funny and relatable story that ranges over a one-week period. Simon Larsen is having a tough time. He’s lost his job and business and he and his wife, Tansy, and their two children have moved to a cramped flat after being forced to sell their former home. Tansy now works full time and Simon spends time on the couch, his self-worth in tatters and struggling daily for motivation.

Tansy’s family, her mother, sister and brother are heavily involved in her life and add to the pressure Simon feels to get his life in order. He agrees to take on a hurried backyard landscaping job for a friend who is to host a special event for the Schnabels. Simon has from Monday to Saturday to complete the undertaking before the big occasion on Sunday.

A relative who is unknown to them arrives and Tansy takes her in despite the difficulties the family is under. Monica has alternative ideas and views about life and comes and goes at all hours. In the meantime, Simon procrastinates with the backyard overhaul but convinces his in-laws, Tansy, and himself that he is on track for completion for Sunday. He is also worried about Tansy and the future of their relationship as he discovers she is holding a secret from him.

Toni Jordan on writing

at the garret

This is a modern-day depiction of life in the fast lane and how quickly life can unravel when circumstances change. The story delves into the daily struggles, ambitions, and pressures from extended families.  Simon, Tansy and their children, Mia and Lachie, are lovable and funny and at times sad and reactive. The reader is invited to travel with them, particularly with Simon who is suffering emotionally and yet trying to pretend otherwise. His agonising, lingering procrastination brings tension and frustration as the time ticks by and the backyard work remains unfinished.

The characters are vibrant, well developed and stay in the reader’s head well after the last page is turned. There are several twists and turns laced with anticipation that keeps the story galloping along at an enjoyable pace until the very end. Does Simon make the deadline?  What happens on the day?

Toni Jordan’s Dinner with the Schnabels is relevant to current-day life and is a laugh aloud reading experience.

Review by: Heather Whitford Roche

Ballarat Writers Book Review Group 2022

Review copy provided by the publisher

The 2022 Pamela Miller Prize

It’s that time of the year again with the Pamela Miller Prize, our annual flash fiction competition.

The winner of the Pamela Miller Prize will receive a certificate and $100 first prize, as well as publication in the Ballarat Writers newsletter and website. The winner will be announced at the Ballarat Writers July members’ night. 

The Pamela Miller Prize first ran in 2015, in memory of Pamela Miller, who was a very active and productive member of Ballarat Writers. She was a writer of short stories and poetry, and won the short story competition with ‘Murder at MADE’ in 2014. Early in 2015, Pamela wrote a very popular poem called ‘Bronze Heads—The Prime Minister’s Walk’ as part of a Ballarat Writers project during the Begonia Festival.

Entries open: Sunday 1st May

Entries close: Wednesday 1st June

Ballarat Writers is accepting fictional prose entries of up to 500 words on the theme Something Overhead. Entry is free. 

This is limited to members of Ballarat Writers, so make sure you’ve joined or renewed your membership!

All entries must:

  • be original and unpublished
  • be written by a current member of Ballarat Writers (committee members are not allowed to enter)
  • engage with the theme Something Overhead, and be 500 words in length or less (not including the title
  • be sent to competitions@ballaratwriters.com with the subject line, ‘2022 Pamela Miller Prize Entry’

As the competition will be a blind judging, please do not include your name or contact details on the entry. 

You can read more about the Pamela Miller prize here.

Good luck and happy writing!

Book review – Something to Hide, by Elizabeth George

Title: Something to Hide

Author: Elizabeth George

Publisher:  Hachette Australia, 2022; RRP $32.99

Elizabeth George is the bestselling author of British crime novels featuring Detective Inspector Thomas Lynley and his partner, Detective Sergeant Barbara Havers. Her crime novels have been translated into 30 languages and developed into a television series by the BBC. Something to Hide is number 21 in the series.

George is also the author of a young adult series set on the island where she lives in the state of Washington. She has taught creative writing at colleges, universities, writers’ retreats, and conferences internationally. Her awards include the Anthony Award, the Agatha Award, France’s Grand Prix di Litterature Policiere, and Germany’s MIMI.

This novel is set in London where DI Lynley, DS Havers and Detective Sergeant Winston Nkata investigate the death of a Nigerian-born fellow officer. This leads the detectives into the world of the Nigerian community and a way of life that is both foreign and challenging to them. They uncover a controversial practice, accepted in parts of Nigeria but illegal in England. This practice causes trauma and conflict and touches upon all who are involved.

Further investigation leads the detectives to discover the murdered police officer had gone undercover into that community. As they delve deeper into the murder, it becomes evident there are major problems within her family as they uncover secrets and lies and a family in disarray. This leads to further complications for the detectives as they face a case that has multiple issues, twists and turns, and experiences they have not faced before.

This is a story dealing with many characters and multiple facets of human behaviour. Elizabeth George has taken a controversial subject and written a disturbing and thrilling crime novel. It moves along at a rapid pace and keeps the reader engaged. This novel opened my eyes to a practice I knew little about. The author has managed to achieve this with great sensitivity and skill.

Reviewed by: Linda Young

Ballarat Writers Inc. Book Review Group

Review copy supplied by the publisher

Book review – Mother’s Boy, by Patrick Gale

Title: Mother’s Boy

Author: Patrick Gale

Publisher: Tinder Press (UK)/Hachette, March 2022; $32.99

Patrick Gale was born on the Isle of Wight and grew up in Winchester before attending Oxford University. Gale is well known and revered for his popular works of fiction with over 20 titles to his name. Gale lives in Cornwall.

This novel, set in Cornwall and spanning both WW1 and WW2, is based around the similar circumstances of the Cornish poet Charles Causley and his mother Laura.

The story begins with Laura, a poor working-class girl, who marries Charlie. They have a child before he goes off to war in 1918. He returns a changed man, becomes ill and dies, leaving Laura to raise their son, Charles. Laura works as a laundress, and this sustains their meagre village lifestyle. Of particular delight in this book is the Cornish lifestyle and the local characters.

Charles is all that Laura lives for. Charles is considered to be a boy of immense talent and Laura makes it possible for him to develop his musical skills in playing the piano. Despite their obvious closeness, as Charles matures, he remains distant and secretive toward his doting mother. He is always polite but subtly withholds from her.

Joining the navy in 1941 marks a turning point for Charles. He establishes himself and earns a rank as a coder. This world, far removed from his Cornish village and his adoring mother, allows Charles to explore and take risks with his sexuality and to search for love in his own way. It is a harsh and dangerous time as he becomes closer to the war front and experiences the death of navy personnel and friends.

Patrick Gale talks to Valerie Khoo about Mother’s Boy and other things

at the Australian writers centre

The story turns full circle when Charles eventually returns to his village in Cornwall where he once again resumes living with, by now, his elderly mother. She knows nothing of Charles’ personal life in the navy and is simply satisfied just to have her son back home. Charles carries a life within that can never be shared with Laura and she never intrudes. At times Charles seems aloof. Or is it a manifestation of wanting to protect his mother from a truth that he feels is too complex for her to comprehend or accept?

Mother’s Boy is a story about challenges, identity, sexuality and the hardship of class and societal expectations within a small community. And it’s a story about the love a parent has for her child and the fierceness of strong mothering.

Patrick Gale is a master storyteller. His ability allows the reader to experience a closeness with the characters, their sadness, and small joys along the way. This is a historical novel that’s engaging and full to the brim with substance.

Reviewed by: Heather Whitford Roche

Ballarat Writers Book Review Group 2022

Review copy provided by the publisher

Book review – Missing, by Tom Patterson

Title: Missing

Author: Tom Patterson

Publisher: Allen & Unwin, January 2022; RRP: $32.99

Missing is the first book for Tom Patterson, who grew up in the New England region of New South Wales. A hiker himself, he spent time in the gorge country, but he never saw or met Mark May, the man whose true story he tells with compassion and insight.

The author pays tribute to the May family, especially Peter May, Mark’s brother who provided Tom with documents, photos, and details of Mark’s life. Peter even spent time with Tom in the Gorge where Mark lived for thirty-five years.

Born into a Catholic family in the fifties, Mark was the second of seven boys. They lived in Armidale before moving to a fifty-acre property called Bynalong, just outside of town. Their father, Phil, along with the boys established the property from scratch. Mark was never a willing participator and avoided his father. Mark and his brothers became familiar with the rugged terrain and often camped out, becoming accustomed to the tough conditions.

Mark’s rebellion started early, and his school days were marked with difficult encounters. He was an unsettled student but bright. Drugs and drink became problematic until Mark decided to put things right. It didn’t last long. He and two of his brothers went away to boarding school where Mark’s problems surfaced but he managed to sit his Higher School Certificate. He obtained entry to Australian National University to study law but continued to heavily use drugs. Mark eventually took to the life of a hermit, only coming out of the remote gorge country to collect supplies and sometimes to have fleeting contact with family members.

In 2017, after not sighting Mark for many months, his brothers Pete and Steve with two other family members decided to search for him. Their suspicions and concerns were well-founded when they found one of Mark’s campsites and discovered his remains.

Tom Patterson talks about Missing with Deborah Knight

at 2GB

Tom Patterson has structured this book in a way that gives Mark’s life understanding, an understanding that we are often not privileged to see. Mark, through his letters to friends and family in the earlier years, showed his emotional state at the time, his ongoing struggle and his fine and clever mind. He had extreme reactions to the norms of society; living a life as a hermit may have been his only workable choice. It’s hard to imagine such a tormented mind and not want to reach out to him. But Mark was also strong. He lived for three and a half decades in survival mode in extremely rough terrain.

I recommend Missing, a sad and unique story of a man and his unconventional life.

Reviewed by: Heather Whitford Roche, February 2022

Ballarat Writers Book Review Group

Review copy provided by the publisher

Book review – 28, by Brandon Jack

Title: 28

Author: Brandon Jack

Publisher: Allen & Unwin,  2021; RRP: $29.99

Brandon Jack, known as BJ, is the youngest son of a sports-mad family. His father is an ex-professional rugby player, and his two brothers also played at a high level. His mother, he admits regretfully, was someone he did not know outside her role supporting her sons’ football-filled childhoods. Family life circled around sport: attending training, playing games, talking about and watching games with all family members fully involved.

When BJ reached 18 he was drafted to the Sydney Swans AFL side where his brother Kieren also played, joining an intake of 44 new players that would fill only 22 available spaces in the senior games. His journey is told chronologically, from childhood to his final decision to leave professional football.

BJ stayed with the Swans from 2014 until 2018. The first two years he went all out, doing all that was asked of him and more, undertaking gruelling training sessions and extensive post-game sessions watching replays of the game and micro analysing personal and team performance. Despite all his efforts he was frustrated by how he failed to be chosen for senior games, instead relegated to reserve. At the same time he continued his love of heavy metal music, learning guitar and enjoying writing, including songs.

Around 2016, as disillusionment set in at his repeated failure to fulfil his football dreams, he began to question his life choices. In the process he discovered a stronger than expected identification with the music and writing side of himself. His changing feelings included re-evaluating the almost hothouse environment in which he spent his childhood with his sports-obsessed family, discovering in the process that underlying his dream to pursue high-level football was mainly a desire to play with Kieren.

At this point, still floundering and unable to make a final break but already committed to a second two years, he decided to complete the two years simply to honour his contractual obligations. This he did, playing as required and fulfilling only basic training requirements. To fill the emptiness he felt inside he indulged heavily in drugs, alcohol and expensive and stupid pranks, which meant when he finally finished he discovered he had only $30,000 in savings to show for five years’ work.

Brandon Jack talks about life after footy

at ABC news breakfast

I found this autobiography totally engrossing despite the fact that my interest in sport is casual at the best. Its raw and unfiltered honesty leaps off the pages. His analysis of those in his life is rigorous, whether he is looking at himself, his family, or the sporting personnel central to how the Australian football world operates.

He comes across as focussed and fair, and worth reading about, an athlete and a writer who can speak with careful insight into his upbringing and his disillusionment with the way high-level football works and also share stories of his football mates, some of whom he maintains connection with, such as regularly meeting with a favourite coach to kick a ball back and forth in a local park after he left the Swans.

His relationship with his family is complex and written through the eyes of a still-angry son and brother but he writes with care as well as passion. Family and football come across as intertwined, his dedication to the game born of family ties as exclusive and blinkered as that of a high-level football team. 

The language of 28 was particularly effective in drawing me in. He uses the short, terse and urgent notes in his training manuals to describe his first year, which captures perfectly his almost manic commitment to training and self analysis. He uses football language, blithely assuming we will all know what he is referring to, as do all those deeply enmeshed in their chosen worlds. While the words and phrases were warm and familiar, as I have heard them in the background on radio and TV all my life – sometimes to hear how Geelong was doing – some did require googling to understand what he was referring to. 

Once past the first year, football language doesn’t dominate as much as he moves into areas such as a thoughtful section analysing the difference between sport and creativity, and artist and athlete. This shift adds to the raw feeling of the book, strengthening the sense of who Brandon Jack is and showing the artist and musician within and emphasising the struggle it was to extricate himself from who he thought he was to being who he actually was.

 It’s also an excellent opportunity to be a fly on the wall in the training room of an Australian Football League team!

Reviewed by: Rhonda Cotsell, February 2022

Ballarat Writers Inc. Book Review Group

Review copy provided by the publisher

Book review – Silent Sorrow, by Russell Kirkpatrick

Author: Russell Kirkpatrick

Title: Silent Sorrow – The Book of Remezov Volume 1

Publisher: IFWG, 2021

A highlight of Russell Kirkpatrick’s fantasy fiction is the world building. As one might expect from a geography lecturer and cartographer (and accomplished novelist, with two previous trilogies under his belt), he knows how to express the lay of the land and the cultures it supports.

Kudos to the publisher for supporting Kirkpatrick, a Kiwi now resident in Australia, in going the extra mile in this first book of a new series.

Not only does he use weather, topography, flora and fauna to imbue his world with a tangible sense of reality, but he illustrates key moments too – with maps, naturally.

Given the titular character is a gifted geographer specialising in earthquakes, such attention to detail is not surprising, but seeing the drawings of this and other characters’ observations adds an extra touch of verisimilitude to this sprawling yarn of a continent under siege.

Silent Sorrow opens with Remezov encountering the threat coming from over yonder as he battles the politics of his order, such hierarchical contests quickly subsumed under the weight of an invasion of mythic proportions.

Then a flick, and a flick again, as the other point-of-view cast members go through their own rites of passage – the siblings Spit and Polish and the talented soldier Hab bring fresh eyes to the threat hanging over Medanos.

Inexorably, the paths of the four converge, revealing along the way the strengths and weaknesses of each as they are caught up in the deeper battle between reason and belief.

Read a short interview with Russell Kirkpatrick

at the 2020 Australian SF snapshot project

Not quite as effective as the maps is the attempt to show simultaneous action by splitting the page into two columns; the technique is the only point of disruption in an otherwise smooth narrative flow, the text enhanced by gems of description that only rarely overreach.

Book 1 lays the groundwork for its successors while delivering a satisfying and suitably significant climax of its own, more than sufficient to entice the reader to resume the journey. There is plenty of world – and character – left unexplored, and Kirkpatrick is an eminently capable guide.

Given that Silent Sorrow’s publication date was set back from 2020 by the turmoil of the pandemic, one trusts the next instalment is not too far distant.

Reviewed by: Jason Nahrung

Ballarat Writers Inc. Book Review Group

Book review – Love Marriage, by Monica Ali

Title: Love Marriage

Author: Monica Ali

Publisher: Virago Press (UK)/Hachette, January 2022; RRP: $32.99

Monica Ali has written five novels including Love Marriage. Her 2003 debut novel Brick Lane was shortlisted for the Booker Prize. Monica’s books are translated into 26 languages, and she is also a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in the UK. Living in London, Monica has both British and Bangladeshi heritage.

This story is about two cultures and two families who endeavour to join together when the lead protagonist, Yasmin Ghorami, a trainee doctor, plans to marry Joe Sangster, a paediatrician. Yasmin’s family migrated from Bengal to the UK. Her father, now a doctor, came from extremely poor circumstances. He has succeeded in his role in medicine against all odds but is dogmatic in his expectations of his family. Her mother is a discontented homemaker and the younger brother rebellious. The family is Muslim.

In contrast, Joe’s mother is a high-flying social celebrity due to a controversial writing and public speaking career. She is larger than life and they live in extravagant circumstances. Joe’s father left when he was tiny and has played no significant role in his life. His mother has been a dominating but liberal influence in Joe’s life and the two are happily enmeshed. The two families couldn’t be further apart in lifestyle or culture.

Watch the book trailer for Love Marriage

at youtube

As the story progresses and the marriage arrangements between the two families play out, long-held assumptions challenge current beliefs. Family secrets seep to the fore and unravel, causing disruption to the lives of all.

The writing is honest and shows the reality that often lurks behind our behaviours and the lengths we go to in order to keep the top layers of our functionality afloat. This can go on forever, it seems, unless circumstances force hidden and unfinished business to shatter our equilibrium. In Love Marriage, this happens as the parents of Yasmin, the mother of Joe and Yasmin’s younger brother – all make decisions that change their lives and those around them. Yasmin and Joe’s future is in upheaval as they confront their own secrets, which bring their marriage plans into question. The ending of this novel is satisfying and unexpected.   

Monica Ali has written a clever and generous story, highlighting the issues of class, race, and identity. The book has an authentic London atmosphere to it, as this is where the story is based, but these circumstances could relate to other settings in current times. I enjoyed this novel, cringing at times, laughing often and yet impressed by the sincerity nestled just below the surface. Monica Ali is indeed an author who digs deep and writes with confidence and proven competency.    

Reviewed by: Heather Whitford Roche

Ballarat Writers Book Review Group, January 2022

Review copy supplied by the publisher

BWI 2021 AGM Results

Our 2021 AGM has been and gone. We would like to thank all of the members who turned up to vote, and all the members who stood for positions on our 2022 committee.

We would like to introduce to you all the 2022 BWI committee:

Chairperson: Rebecca Fletcher
Treasurer/Membership: Darren Rout
Secretary/Public Officer: Laura Wilson
Competitions Officer: Rachel Mitchell
Publicity Officer: Vacant

General committee members:
Phil Green
Nicole Kelly

All nominations were uncontested. If you are interested in the publicity position, or helping out with publicity, please contact us and we’d love to have a chat.

Thank you to everyone in the 2021 committee. Your work has been greatly appreciated!

Book review – The Master: The Brilliant Career of Roger Federer, by Christopher Clarey

Title: The Master: The Brilliant Career of Roger Federer

Author: Christopher Clarey

Publisher: John Murray/Hachette Australian, 2021; RRP: $32.99

Christopher Clarey is a well-known international sports writer for The New York Times, having covered global sports for the Times and International Herald Tribune for more than 25 years. He is one of the world’s leading authorities on tennis, reporting on 90 grand slams and interviewing many of the major tennis stars. Clarey has followed Roger Federer since the beginning of his tennis career, and has had wide access to Federer’s inner circle. 

In The Master, Christopher Clarey tells of the rise of Federer as a young tennis player through to the champion the world knows today. He delves into the style and persona Federer developed over the years, and gives an insight into the player he has become.  Of significant importance has been the team Federer based around him: the fitness trainer, the coach and the psychologist.  Their contribution to the success of Federer is woven throughout the book.  

Having spent years interviewing him, and being in his company on and off the tennis court, Clarey writes of the growth of Federer on a personal level. He looks at the man behind the image, describing how Federer dealt with ups and downs and losses and wins of his career.

Christopher Clarey talks about ‘The Master’

ubitennis interview at youtube

Threaded throughout the book are interviews with other great tennis players, particularly those who have challenged and beaten Federer over the years.  Amongst those are Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Roddick. They speak of friendship and respect as well as the influence that Federer has had on the development of their own game. His early meeting with Mirka Vavrinec, who later became his wife, was a pivotal moment in his life. Her support and belief, and her involvement in Federer’s career, gave him the solid foundation to become the best tennis player he could be.

For fans of Roger Federer, and the world of tennis competition, this book is a fascinating read.  It gives great insight into Federer as a tennis player, the man who transitioned from a difficult teenager to one of the greatest tennis players in the world.  It is well written and engaging. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Reviewed by: Linda Young

Ballarat Writers Inc. Book Review Group

Review copy supplied by the publisher

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