December 31, 2015 marked the last day of my “Australian authors only” challenge, but I’ve begun 2016 with three more Australian books. It’s not a self-imposed reading requirement anymore, and I do have several books in my “to read” pile that are from overseas. But it’s a sign of how positive my experience was: there was no sigh of relief, only a moment’s acknowledgment that years go fast, and maybe I don’t spend enough time in mine reading.
So without further ado, here’s what I learnt.
There are movements out there working hard to promote the work of quality Australian writers.
The 2015 challenge began as a random goal that I set for myself. I’d been looking at agent websites and found a few titles that caught my eye, and I realised that here I am, an Australian writer looking to break into the market, and I barely knew any Australian writers who weren’t on the HSC list somewhere. But as the challenge progressed and I started tweeting my reviews, I also began looking around for other recommendations of what to read next. I found #loveozYA, a wonderful movement that hasn’t given me a bad recommendation yet. I found Australian Women Writers, using the #aww2015 hashtag. I found many other teachers in the English Book Reviews for High School facebook group. I found other blogs like Bianca Hewes and the Readings blog. If you like the feel of paper between your fingers better than the push of a button on an ereader, Dymocks bookstores now have a separate Australian Fiction section. All over the country, people are reading, loving, sharing, recommending, reviewing, blogging, tweeting, shelving and teaching. I just hadn’t taken enough time to notice.
Multicultural and diverse voices are a great strength of Australian literature.
Early on in the year, I joked about getting a map of Australia and pinning the locations that I had read about. We’re a big country, and I did metaphorically travel to every state or territory (except ACT, but I can just drive there). But our diversity doesn’t stop at the coastline. In 2015 I read books set in England, Iceland, America and the fictional Kingdom of Cello. I read about second-generation Lebanese-Australians, backpackers of every nationality, Indigenous Australians, many mixed-race characters and some whose physical appearance was never described. Protagonists ranged from seven to eighty-seven, and were from every socio-economic background. One character had a prosthetic leg, another had Asperger’s, another was mute. These books reflected the diversity that I see every day in the Australia I know, but more than that, they revealed to me so much of Australia that I haven’t yet experienced.
Reviewing takes more time than you’d think.
It’s possible that I’m just slower than others – I certainly seem to read at a slower rate, and blog posts take me hours to write. But I also have a new appreciation for those who do review the piles of books they read each week. Whether self-published or traditionally published (or a hybrid), the one comment I keep hearing from my writer friends is that reviewing someone’s book is worth ten times as much to them as just buying it. There is a reason Amazon has had to crack down on “reviewers for hire” and false five star reviews. Word of mouth is a very powerful marketing tool, and the online review is a form of that. But I’m beginning to understand why it’s so hard to get people to leave their thoughts. It takes time. I used a sort of template for mine and they weren’t in depth critiques by any measure, but still, a set of 2 or 3 reviews would take up the time from when my kids fell asleep at night to when I did. That said, it’s worthwhile. I found many of these books on recommendation pages or other blogs, and I’m so glad I did. As I noted above, I’m not limiting myself to Aus-only this year, but I do think I will continue to make an effort with the reviewing. And I will appreciate other reviewers that little bit more.
In 2015 I also learnt:
- That I have a few more favourite writers.
- That I unashamedly love YA and am not “too old” for it
- That I like verse novels and should teach them more
- That I don’t read as much as I thought (or maybe all my time is spent reading for my critique group!)
- That without books, I don’t think I’d have much to tweet about.
List of Reviews
For those who missed reviews or are searching for one in particular, here’s a list of the books I posted about in 2015:
Intruder by Christine Bongers
Hate is Such a Strong Word by Sarah Ayoub
Zac & Mia by AJ Betts
Pieces of Sky by Trinity Doyle
Risk by Fleur Ferris
Brown Skin Blue by Belinda Jeffrey
The Incredible Adventures of Cinnamon Girl by Melissa Keil
The Cracks in the Kingdom by Jaclyn Moriarty
Friday Brown by Vikki Wakefield
Green Valentine by Lili Wilkinson
Wildlife by Fiona Wood
The Sky So Heavy by Claire Zorn
The Messenger by Markus Zusak
Floundering by Romy Ash
Lost and Found by Brook Davis
Burial Rites by Hannah Kent
Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty
Free Falling by Nicola Moriarty
The Rosie Project by Graeme Simpson
Cinnamon Rain by Emma Cameron
Runaways by Sherryl Clark
See Australia and Die by Wendy Lewis
Adam Spencer's Big Book of Numbers
Tincture Issue 9 (and while I’m reminding you all that literary journals are a great place to find a variety of quality short fiction, read issue 12!)