“The judges were impressed with the ambition of many of the works and heartened by the depth and breadth of vision demonstrated by this generation of writers.”
– Kathryn Heyman, senior fiction judge for the 2012 NSW Premier’s Literary Awards


Anna Funder’s (above) All That I Am is shortlisted for 2 awards. Photo by Alan Pryke via The Australian. 


The shortlist for NSW Premier’s Awards for 2012 was finally announced this week. Normally timed to coincide with the Sydney Writers’ Festival in May, the incoming premier, Barry O’Farrell ordered a review of the awards’ administration, delaying the award by six months.

The administration of the prize has now passed from Arts NSW to the NSW State Library and the delay has also resulted in an unusual situation where two Miles Franklin winners, are both shortlisted for the $40,000 Christina Stead Prize for Fiction in the same year. Anna Funder’s All That I Am and Kim Scott’s That Deadman Dance won the Miles Franklin in 2012 and 2011 respectively.

The overall winners across nine categories will be announced on November 30, but, more importantly, the voting for the People’s Choice award is open now and closes 5pm Thursday, 29 November. Voting details are here.


The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton

London, May 1941

“…Dolly managed to block out the noise of a diving plane, the answering ack-ack fire, the horrible thoughts of buildings and people being crushed into pulp.

The pair of them huddled together and Dolly listened as Vivien said, ‘Go to the railway station tonight and buy yourself a ticket. You’re to –.’ A bomb landed nearby with a thundering crump and Vivien stiffened before continuing quickly: “Get on that train and ride it all the way to the end of the line. Don’t look back. Take the job, move again, live a good life.’

A good life. It was just what Dolly and Jimmy had talked about. The future, the farmhouse, the laughing children and the happy hens…Tears streamed down Dolly’s cheeks as Vivien said, ‘You have to go.’ She was crying now, too, because of course she’d miss Dolly – they’d miss each other.

‘Seize the second chance, Dolly: think of it as an opportunity. After everything you’ve been through, after everything you’ve lost…”

In 1961, sixteen-year-old Laurel is hiding in the tree house daydreaming about Billy Baxter instead of joining her family to celebrate her little brother’s birthday.

Her mother Dorothy, Dolly, has forgotten the knife, the one they always use to cut birthday cakes, but before Laurel has a chance to climb down and fetch it for her mother, Dorothy walks up the path carrying baby Gerald.

What happens next is shocking and the truth of it will remain a secret until the day Dorothy dies.

As Dorothy is inside fetching the knife, a stranger walks up the path towards the house. Dorothy leaves the house with the knife in her hand. Upon seeing the stranger, she places the toddler on the ground and plunges the knife deep into the man’s chest. The man falls and dies where he lies and Laurel sees the whole thing, including the look of fear and panic on her mother’s face.

The police determine the stranger must be the picnic stalker terrorizing the local area or a burglary gone wrong and the case goes quietly away. Laurel and her mother never speak of the incident again but in 2011, as Dorothy lies dying, her mind travels back the past and she talks of second chances, Jimmy and Vivien.

None of Laurel’s sisters know what or who she is talking about but Laurel has never forgotten the look of fear on her mother’s face as the stranger approached. She knows that her mother must have known the man she killed and determined to uncover the truth about her mother’s past, Laurel starts with the one identity she does know, the name of the murdered man.

Kate Morton is such a gifted storyteller.

She fills your head with luscious details of history inhabited by characters who are as flawed as they are fascinating and then just when you begin wondering how she will resolve her story, what possible surprises can there be, Morton sideswipes you with the resolution.

Her mysteries are part vintage Agatha Christie and so very Daphne Du Maurier.

The romance is as large as a Greta Garbo movie and the history is meticulously researched. The Secret Keeper crosses from war torn London of 1941, to the beginning of the 1960s through to the current day and Morton never slackens her pace or loses control over her characters.

Morton fans will not be disappointed with this, her fourth novel. And if you are yet to be converted to Kate Morton, perhaps wondering what makes this Australian author so popular (7 million copies across 26 languages and 38 countries kind of popular).

The Secret Keeper is as excellent an introduction to Kate Morton as it is an eagerly anticipated addition for her droves of fans.


More Awards News!

Yesterday, Western Australian poet, Graham Kershaw won the 2012 Blake Poetry Prize for his poem, Altar Rock.

The poem addresses the mixed inheritance of white settlement in the Murchison district of WA.

The actual Altar Rock, also known as Mass Rock, is where 1920’s architect and priest, John Hawes, took communion to indigenous people who were reluctant to attend a church.

The judges described Altar Rock as, “marking a place where understanding and forgiveness are oases amidst a maelstrom of doubt, where poetry presents the final word.”


The Happiness Show: A Novel by Catherine Deveny

“Happiness is about what you want, not what you have. Rich is the man who is content with what he has.”

Lizzie Quealy has every reason to be happy. In Jim she has the kind of partner every woman envies (the ones who do their fair share of housework and child rearing) she has two gorgeous children, a successful career, a best friend and below average money worries.

In fact, happiness is a subject close to Lizzie’s heart, a subject she has researched in depth for her stand up comedy show and has now been contracted by the BBC to turn into a television series. Travelling to London for pre- production meetings throws Lizzie in the path of an old flame, Tom.

Now very much married, with his own perfect wife, lovely child and successful career, neither are prepared for the tumultuous emotions that overwhelm them on meeting again.

“Virtue never tested is no virtue at all.” says Billy Bragg, liberally quoted throughout the novel, and with eyes open wide, Lizzie allows her feelings for Tom to takeover, risking all the happiness she already has for the chance of another kind of happiness.

There are many things that are clever and entertaining about this novel. Deveny captures the awkward teenage years of 1980s Melbourne with the clarity of remembering only a Gen X can. Dialogue is whip-smart and the story crackles along at a fair clip.

Sex is lusty, if somewhat anatomical, but perhaps that’s a reflection on Lizzie’s character rather than a stylistic issue. What makes this novel shine though is the exploration of its core theme of happiness. It is such a big concept with so many ways of looking at it but via Lizzie and her best friend Jules, Deveny (pictured below) engages in a wide-ranging discussion on the many factors that influence individual happiness and the price happiness, or even the quest for happiness, can extract.

Deveny’s style smacks you in the face with reality one minute and then mulls over the meaning of life the next.

But what she does incredibly well in writing about love, happiness and marriage and all those complicated questions that pursue all of us in life, is make you think about what it means to be happy.

The Happiness Show will resonate long after you’ve stopped laughing and long after you’ve finished the last page.


On My Bedside Table Are…

I’ve been dipping into Edna O’Brien’s memoir, Country Girl. O’Brien is one of Ireland’s great literary voices, male or female, having published over twenty works of fiction and winning more prestigious awards than there is space here to mention.

Her debut novel from which her memoir takes its title, The Country Girls caused outrage in Ireland when it was published and her books were publicly burned. Her writing reflects the influences of growing up in rural Ireland in the 1950s, being a young woman in London in the Swinging Sixties, and of teaching and writing in New York.

Writing her memoir as a 78 year old woman, O’Brien reflects on ‘life’s many bounties’ and her experiences as a woman striving for independence and intellectual freedom, and fighting for her right to have a voice despite being told by critics that she was ‘past my sell-by date’ and a ‘bargain basement Molly Bloom’. Her writing is lyrical and smart.

If you are already a Kate Mosse fan, you probably have been eager to see the release of her new novel, Citadel, part three of the Languedoc trilogy. This is not one of those trilogies where you have to have read the first two to appreciate number three, as the books are set in different time periods, it’s the region that links them. This time, Mosse sets the story during World War II, in the villages where the war is one of resistance and sabotage rather than in trenches and tanks.

Mosse calls the Languegoc her second home and her novels are full of rich local detail and intriguing historical facts. These are big fat adventures that drag you in. By the end of the first paragraph of Citadel, I was hooked.


The old cliché says that good things come in small packages. The Conversation by David Brooks is just such a book. Inside the beautiful cover, is a delicious tale about a man and a woman who meet in a restaurant in Trieste.

Neither are natives. He is an Australian engineer in Trieste for meetings and she is a translator from Turin. An accidental meal, if you will, where on a perfect spring evening, great food, good wine, stories and secret thoughts are shared.

The Conversation is a meditation on the aspects of life that make it meaningful: philosophy, art, history, food and love.

Combined with the exotic and perennially romantic setting of an Italian piazza, Brooks’ story is sensuous and timeless.


Booktopia’s Top 5 Non-Fiction Books

Jamie’s 15-Minute Meals by Jamie Oliver   BUY THE BOOK
Guinness World Records 2013   BUY THE BOOK
Total Recall: My Unbelievably True Life Story by Arnold Schwarzenegger   BUY THE BOOK
Rod: The Autobiography by Rod Stewart   BUY THE BOOK
Black Caviar by Gerard Whateley   BUY THE BOOK


Enough of what I’ve been reading, what have you been reading? And is it any good? As always, leave a comment in the thread and share you picks and pans or opinions on any of the books we’ve talked about today.

Until next week! Mx


*The Hoopla’s books editor Meredith Jaffe is a book reviewer and blogger. She lives in Sydney with her husband and four children. You can follow her on Twitter: @meredithjaffe.



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  • Reply November 9, 2012

    Sam W

    Thanks for these great recommendations Meredith! Always on the prowl for a meaty read. I have just put down Anna Funder’s first book, Stasiland…utterly compelling through to the last page. I had no idea how suprressing and cruel the GDR were, and I loved the fact Funder kept it balanced expressing views and thoughts of both the Stasi and the civilians. Told with ascerbic wit too, terrific!

  • Reply November 15, 2012


    I am reading WILD by Cheryl Strayed (yes it’s not her real name) which is excellent and strangely compelling despite the fact that it’s set on a hike on the west coast of the USA. Lots of flashbacks, drama and a messy life needing to be straightened out.

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