Month: February 2021

Book review – The Left-Handed Booksellers of London, by Garth Nix

Title: The Left-Handed Booksellers of London

Author: Garth Nix

Publisher: Allen & Unwin, 2020

The Author

 Garth Nix is an award-winning writer of fantasy fiction, mostly for young adults.  A full-time writer since 2001 with about thirty titles to his credit, Garth is no stranger to the world of publishing and book selling. He is a 1963-edition Melburnian now living in Sydney with his wife and two children.

The Book

At eighteen, Susan, an art student, is ready to step out into life.  But first she must find out who her father is. Her mother, though loving and caring, is vague and a scatterbrain; perhaps too many drugs in her early days, an excuse for not remembering the details of Susan’s father. Susan’s only clues include a silver gilt cigarette case, a faded library reading room ticket, and a so-called Uncle Frank in London.

The story, set largely in a somewhat alternate 1983 London, opens with the demise of crime boss Frank Thringly at the hands of a young and attractive Left-Handed Bookseller called Merlin.  Frank is a Sipper (of blood), there being no such things as vampires.  The Booksellers are an extended secret family policing the mythic Old World to prevent it intruding into the Modern World. Left-handed family members are action oriented, doing the dirty work in the field, such as eliminating miscreant Sippers. Right-handed members are intellectual.  The family also sells books.

Merlin is caught red handed, so to speak, by Susan, but before she can call the police the two are attacked by a horse-sized bug. Merlin shoots the bug and gives Susan the choice of staying to be killed by Frank’s evil associates or escaping through the open window with him.  Taking her chances, she opts for Merlin and the window, and quickly becomes enmeshed in the intrigues of Booksellers and the Old World.

After the initial escape from danger, Susan is aided by Merlin and his sister, Vivian, in unravelling the secret of her father and her connections to the Old World. The obvious romantic spark between Susan and Merlin smoulders in the background while they escape from attacking monsters and thwart the ambitions for power and domination by evil forces. The trio’s quest for the truth becomes a battle for the future.

Garth has done a great job of putting this story together. He borrows from classic Hollywood chase movies and at one point our heroes are pursued by villains and police, the police at times made to act like villains. 

Read a second opinion

book review by jason nahrung

The underlying themes and metaphors are familiar to this genre, with demons and mythical characters as metaphors for the challenges of life and growing up.  Garth also touches on the ideas of challenging the status quo, and the flow of responsibility from generation to generation.  

The story has an endearing quirkiness, a typical English silliness, perhaps reminiscent of the era in which it is set. There are plenty of  colourful phrases  like “pre-owned mustard-coloured three-piece suit”, “two-inch Cuban heels and “being stuck square on his roseate nose with a silver hatpin”. Adding to the eccentricity are nuances such as the idea of a special safe house run by Mrs London, the use of Black Cabs by the Booksellers referencing the TV spy series of the time, Callan.  One might even wonder if the name Frank Thringly is a nod to the infamous Melbourne actor Frank Thring?

The Left-Handed Booksellers is an entertaining, fun read, well-paced with engaging characters; a light-hearted romp through some of the darker aspects of life. Perfect for idling away a few hours of a COVID lockdown.

Reviewed by: Frank Thompson, February 2021

Ballarat Writers Inc. Book Review Group

Memoir workshop with Jenny Valentish

Memoir writing – be it book, blog, essay, or legacy for the family – can be daunting. That might be because you’re stumped as to how to start (your life has been EPIC … and spans ‘several’ decades). Or perhaps you don’t know where would be a fitting point to end. Maybe the thing that’s always stopped you from writing your story, or a part of it, is you’re afraid of exposing yourself – or of upsetting other people. That can be paralysing, but there are ways around all of this.

In this workshop, journalist Jenny Valentish, journalist and author of Woman of Substances: A Journey into Addiction and Treatment, trouble-shoots the concerns you may have. We’ll go deep into structure – prologues, ways of ordering things, themes as motifs, and weaving in research (if that’s your thing). There are methods of jogging your memory and reinhabiting your younger self. We’ll find ways to describe different people without you getting cast out of your family, and look at some of the disclaimers that famous memoirists have put on their work. There’s a section on nailing tone, humour and finding your voice, and we’ll look at how to avoid sounding self-conscious.

Workshop details

When: Saturday 20 March 2021, noon-3pm

Where: Training Room 1, Eastwood Leisure Centre, 20 Eastwood St, Ballarat Central, VIC 3350

Cost: Ballarat Writers Members $80, non-members $90. Please note: the workshop is limited to 12 participants.

Bookings: At Trybooking

Other details: Due to the venue’s COVIDSafe procedures, we are unable to serve drinks or share food at this event. Please BYO water bottle and snacks. The centre is directly across the road from Ballarat Central’s Ferguson’s and Baker’s Delight bakeries. Hand sanitising will be available. Social distancing will be in place and participants will not be required to wear masks under current protocols.

Sign up to become a Ballarat Writers member. 

writer Jenny Valentish

About Jenny Valentish

Journalist Jenny Valentish’s third book is Woman of Substances: A Journey into Addiction and Treatment, which blends research and memoir. It was long-listed for a Walkley Book Award and is now on the recommended reading list for several university courses. Jenny is the former editor of Triple J’s Jmag and Time Out (Melbourne edition) and regularly contributes to The GuardianABCThe Age and more. She is working on her fourth book, to be published by Black Inc in 2021. She has held a memoir writing workshop for The Monthly, delivered a course to Writers Victoria members three times and has taught first-person writing at Monash, Collarts, and to Catherine Deveny’s Gunnas. A version of the workshop has also been developed for drug and alcohol professionals and their clients. Find out more at Jenny’s website

Committee for 2021 announced

Following on from the AGM this month, the committee welcomes Nicole Kelly to the role of Competitions Co-ordinator!

Last year’s co-ordinator, Megan J. Riedl, has moved to a general committee position.

The committee thanks departing general committee members Zoe Werner, David Mellows and Brooke Vogt for their contributions last year.

Otherwise, familiar faces abound!

The 2021 committee is:

Chair:                                                  Rebecca Fletcher      

Treasurer & Membership Officer:     Kirstyn McDermott  

Secretary/Public Officer:                    Laura Wilson             

Publicity & Media Coordinator:          Jason Nahrung

Competitions Coordinator:                 Nicole Kelly

Unassigned Committee Member:      Megan Riedl  

Unassigned Committee Member:      Phil Green

The committee welcomes contributions and suggestions from members. If there is a project you think would be well suited to Ballarat Writers that you’d like to be involved in, please feel free to get in touch at a Members’ Night or through this website.

If you’d like to contribute to the blog, please email the Publicity and Media Coordinator (publicity AT

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