Month: July 2021

Book review – Widow Land, by C.J. Carey

Title: Widow Land

Author: C.J. Carey

Publisher: Quercus, 2021

C. J. Carey is the pseudonym of Jane Thynne,  British novelist, journalist and broadcaster who has also written a number of fictional historical series.

Widow Land is heavily reminiscent of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale but there are significant differences. Instead of being set in a dystopian American future it looks back to an alternative outcome in real-life history where an alliance is made between England and Germany, and World War II is avoided. Real personages are referenced from history among both the English and German aristocracy and including politicians at the time who supported Nazi beliefs. In Widow Land Prince Edward and his American socialite wife Wallis Simpson will be crowned King and Queen of England.

In the early days of the Alliance every female over the age of 14 has to present for Classification. At the bottom of the new caste system are the Friedas who live in a decrepit area outside the city called Widowland. The Friedas are ‘the widows and spinsters over 50 who had no children, no reproductive purpose, and who did not serve a man’.

The main character, Rose, is a Geli, an elite, and the book begins with her unthinking acceptance of the new regime, protected by her status, endeavouring constantly to stay within the protocols demanded of them all. She accepts without question the caste system that relegated all women to rules which affected every second of their lives ranging from how many calories they received daily to denial of any rights over their baby’s lives.

Though the Gelis are more protected than the others they are also little more than playthings for the mainly older SS men who pick and choose among them for potential girlfriends or wives. The threat of demotion hangs consistently over their heads should they fail to find a man willing to marry them. They are also unable to keep any child born of their liaisons.

Rose works for the Culture Ministry editing the work of the great writers ranging from Virginia Woolf to the Greek and Roman classics. Her task is to rewrite anything that presents women as strong and independent, preferably replacing those characters with representatives of the Protectorate.

She is sent to to Widowland to question a group of older women living there suspected of writing the slogans taken from literary classics mysteriously appearing all over London. When she arrives she discovers the women she is sent to interview are living lives of quiet rebellion, and a life more genuine than her own, despite the strictures under which they labour.

At the same time she has her own secret. Alone in her room each night she has begun to explore writing, something forbidden to all women. Initially motivated by the stories of dragons she makes up for her beloved niece Hanna she keeps a journal, writing fragments mainly detailing private and daily aspects of her life. The introspection and honesty it allows slowly strips away her unthinking view and she begins to see more clearly what is around her.

The novel is well crafted, particularly in how it depicts how Rose moves from blind acceptance to awareness that, despite her hitherto precious privileged status, her life prospects are severely crippled and her future uncertain. Also how that realisation comes from the illegal texts she works with and her own writing practice. The weaving of historical reality in an imaginative framework is particularly skilfully done.

Widow Lands is both entertaining and informative, and chilling in the way it exposes the very real methods used by many in power in the past to manipulate the way we think.

Reviewed by: Rhonda Cotsell, July 2021

Ballarat Writers Book Review Group

Changes to our regular programming

Late Night Lines will NOT be running on Friday night, 30 July. Rather, this monthly critique gathering is now planned for Thursday 19 August, still at 7pm at the North Britain Hotel, 502 Doveton St Nth, Green Room – to be confirmed closer to the time and dependent on restrictions. It will shift to the third Thursday of the month from then on.


Writers Corner, to have been held on Tuesday 3 August, has been postponed to Tuesday 7 September due to coronavirus restrictions. The subject remains family history!

Be it a memoir or a story of adventure and mayhem, Family History is a popular topic, bringing a lot of people to the activity of writing.

Motivation can include simple curiosity, a desire to document notable events or the opportunity to tell your side of the story. Many people simply want to preserve their story for future generations.

And there are as many approaches to telling a family history as there are motivations – memoir and narrative, story form, and historical fiction, to name a few.

The hows and whys, the joys and pitfalls, of writing family history will be on the table for Writers Corner on Tuesday 7 September, a casual, loosely moderated discussion that is open to members and prospective members of Ballarat Writers. It runs at the Bunch of Grapes hotel, Pleasant St, Ballarat, from 2pm to 4pm.

Please register your interest at the Facebook event, or feel free to turn up on the day.

Book review – The Others, by Mark Brandi

Title: The Others

Author: Mark Brandi

Publisher: Hachette, Australia, June 2021

The author

The Others is Mark Brandi’s third novel. His first, Wimmera, won the British Crime Writers’ Association Debut Dagger and was released in 2017. His second, The Rip, was published in 2019. Mark’s shorter work has been published in various publications within Australia. He lives in Melbourne.

The book

The Others is a tormenting story of childhood naivety and trust—almost.  A diary, which the young boy keeps, is the narrative to his unusual existence. Jacob, an eleven-year-old boy, lives with his father on an isolated bush property refusing outside contact. His mother died when Jacob was a small child; he has vague memories of her. 

Sometimes, Jacob’s father leaves the property without him to collect sparse supplies in a nearby town. He promises to take Jacob with him on one of the next rare visits, but it never happens. He tells Jacob of fleeing the plague and that the outside world is unsafe. The boy’s knowledge consists of what his father has taught him in their home school lessons, often referring to the ‘others’, who can’t be trusted. The boy’s love of animals and his gentle, intuitive nature are woven cleverly into a rather harsh tale. 

Read a review of Mark Brandi’s first book, Wimmera

by sue turnbull, smh

Jacob learns to tread carefully and watch for signs of his father’s agitation. The boy suspects that something is going on when his father starts to frequent a certain area on the property that he is forbidden from. Jacob eventually follows his father and learns that all is not as it should be.

Mark Brandi has subtly combined the complex issues of child abuse and innocence with mental health. He also subtly identifies the futuristic time frame of the story by using the current pandemic as a past event.

Reading this novel is like riding a bike without brakes, down a long, sloping hill, knowing something is going to happen but unsure of what and when. The tension and truth the writer creates through the voice of a young person is superb and keeps the reader page turning to the very end. The Others is a book worthy of much acclaim.

Review by: Heather Whitford Roche, July 2021

Ballarat Writers Book Review Group

Pamela Miller Award winner announced

The winner of the 2021 Pamela Miller Award was announced at the June Members’ Night on 30 June.

Richenda Rudman was judged the winner with ‘Returning the Sharps’. Richenda won $100, an engraved glass and a certificate. Congratulations!

Eight entries were received for the contest, for BW members only. Judges were members of the Ballarat Writers committee: Rebecca Fletcher, Kirstyn McDermott, Laura Wilson, Nicole Kelly, Megan Riedl and Jason Nahrung.

Entries had to be fictional prose entries of up to 500 words on the theme A New Start.

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