Review | The Pause by John Larkin

The Pause won the 2015 Griffith University Young Adult Book Prize after its release earlier this year.  I got to meet author, John Larkin, at the 2015 Queensland Literary Awards.  Larkin’s intimate and confronting acceptance speech explained how he wrote this book to give young adults a language to discuss depression and other mental illnesses – something he saw a desperate need for during his own mental breakdown and hospitalisation.  

But I didn’t give it a chance because the agony was too much, my nerve endings had ruptured, my sense of logic and scale had vanished.  It was too much because I had no reference point.  I called it quits on an impulse when all I had to do was ride it out until it had passed.  And pass it would … I thought I would be stuck with this agony forever.  But I had the wrong mixture of chemicals whirring around in my brain … My mind was broken.  And when your mind breaks you need help.  External help.  Because the thing you rely on most to get you through the screaming darkness is the very thing that’s broken.  And that’s where and why it all falls apart – page 40

The Pause 
is told from the perspective of 17-year-old Declan.  When he attempts suicide, the narrative splits into two alternate realities Sliding Doors style: in the first, he dies and is stuck in purgatory; in the second, he pauses and eventually recovers from his depression with medical and psychiatric help.

Statistics published on Mindframe Australia’s website show that in 2013, suicide accounted for a total of 2,522 deaths in Australia.  That is 6.9 deaths by suicide in Australia each day.  

9780857981707John Larkin uses this book to help break the stigmatisation around mental illness.  He considers this to be especially important for young men who are less likely to be confident with communicating their difficult feelings.  Without discrimination, The Pause shows the recovery process and demystifies the causes of suicidal thoughts.  The result is a story that gives validation and hope to people who don’t know how to process or articulate their experiences.  A lot of emphasis is placed on the importance of lasting connections with caring family members and friends.  Declan has to learn to ask these people for the help he needs, rather than making the fatal mistake of thinking he’s a burden to the loved ones who would give the world to help him.

This book was written for people who aren’t big readers.  Its cast of characters and plot cover easy-to-recognise cliches, successfully making the story palatable and entertaining.  Young adult readers will love its Australian setting and constant authentic references to topics every Aussie kid will know by heart.  It reminds of an Australian equivalent of Stephen Chbosky’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower.  Perks – both the book and the movie – is a massive hit with the same demographic as The Pause, and deals with many of the same ideas, although without John Larkin’s clarity and focus.

I think that The Pause is essential reading.  It delivers an unforgettable message and gives  young adults, especially young men, the words to talk about their experiences of depression.  My copy is now battered and dogeared at my favourite pages- nothing is more moving than reading a passage that expresses, validates, and puts into context something you thought only you felt.  These aha! moments can save lives.  I am grateful that John Larkin survived his own experience of depression to give us this incredibly important book.  

Review | A Single Stone by Meg McKinlay

Released only May this year, A Single Stone won the 2015 Griffith University Children’s Book Award.  I got to meet its gorgeous author, Meg McKinley, at the QLD Literary Awards ceremony.  (You can read all about it!)  

asinglestone_hiresA Single Stone tells the story of Jena, leader of the line.  For generations, her tiny village has been cut off from the outside world, and survives by harvesting heat-giving mica from the mountain.  However, this honoured task can only be performed by young girls small enough to fit inside the mountain’s claustrophobic tunnels.  One small discovery makes Jena question everything she knows about herself, her family, and the world of her village.

The story was so gripping that I gobbled it up in a few days.  I loved the fast, cleverly structured plot.  Jena’s world is gradually puzzled together, slowly unveiling the depth of McKinlay’s imagination.  The expert pacing kept me hooked to learn more right up until the final pages.

McKinlay’s writing is lyrical and measured.  I loved the constant sensory descriptions of tunnelling into the mountain.  Jena’s intuitive relationship with the mountain is beautiful to read.  I can so clearly see her world through her eyes and get lost in its detail.

When she was through, she paused, waiting for the next girl.  They were deep now, in the heart of the mountain.  Around her, the earth pressed so tightly it was hard to tell where her body ended and the stone began.

– page 5

Even as an adult, A Single Stone is a riveting and rewarding read.  It’s loaded with challenging themes.  However, the story develops these ideas and progresses carefully through them to deliver a layered and stimulating plot.  It combines a uniquely gritty and rich atmosphere with empathetic characters and a great plot to resonate with readers much older than its target early-teen audience.  McKinlay’s perfectionism as a writer results in a haunting work of literature.  

Meeting Meg McKinlay at the Queensland Literary Awards 2015

At this year’s Queensland Literary Awards at the State Library of Queensland, I had the pleasure of meeting children’s author, Meg McKinlay.  Meg’s latest novel, A Single Stone, won the Griffith University Children’s Book Award.  During her acceptance speech, I was thinking to myself how amazing it would be to go up to her and say hi.  But then what after “hi”?  I was feeling nervous already.  

After the ceremony, I raced out, bought a copy of A Single Stone, and then began the mincing dawdle of someone who prefers to wait awkwardly nearby a celebrity rather than interrupt them.

Screen Shot 2015-10-11 at 11.06.11 pmWhen Meg noticed me star-strickeningly clutching her book, she offered to sign it for me.  I needn’t have been nervous.  We ended up sitting down to chat about our mutual love of The Silver Chair from The Chronicles of Narnia, a book that resonates deeply for us both.

It was amazing to have such a natural, down-to-earth conversation with an author that I admire.  I felt humbled.  Meg McKinlay was so open to share about herself and expressed sincere interest in my passion to be a children’s author.  She wrote a kind note to me inside A Single Stone which I will treasure.

I can’t wait to read A Single Stone.  You can expect a review when I do.  What an amazing experience!

If you haven’t already, don’t forget to check out the other Queensland Literary Award winners.  You can even read the short story finalists of the State Library of Queensland’s 2015 Young Writers Award.  My earlier post has all the links you need to check them out.

Important Links:

Meg McKinlay

Queensland Literary Awards

An Afternoon with R.A. Spratt at Brisbane Writer’s Festival

I went to the Brisbane Writer’s Festival for the first time ever today!  There were so many amazing events I would have loved to have gone to, but I managed to fit in one masterclass between uni and work.

rh3BWF is an annual event held in the State Library of Queensland.  Writers and publishing industry professionals flock from all over Australian to share their experiences and knowledge in panels, seminars, and workshops.  The festival also offers great volunteering opportunities that students and emerging writers can take advantage of to network and gain experience.  Check out the BWF website here to see what’s on offer.  It’s running until the 6th of September so you still have a few days left to get in on the action.

The masterclass I attended was led by bestselling Australian children’s author and television writer, R.A. Spratt.  She’s the adult responsible for the Friday Barnes and Nanny Piggins series.   She talked about how to plot a novel and come up with interesting characters through several interactive workshopping exercises.

My favourites of her advice for writing characters were:

  • Remember that everyone has something wrong with them

So make your characters flawed and interesting!  What might be a quick character hook?

  • Borrow qualities from people you know

Basing your character on a real person makes it easier to imagine what your character would say or do in a particular scenario.

  • Ask yourself how and why each of your characters think differently

All of your characters are unique, so figure out how their minds work and why.  This will decide what your character says and does, and how.

R.A. Spratt’s great sense of humour made the masterclass fun and comfortable.  Not to mention she brought chocolate to inspire us (getting a sugar rush is her version of putting on a thinking cap)!  She was bursting with hilarious anecdotes about how she finds ideas and runs writing classes in primary schools.  I’m now very excited to get my hands on one of her books.  Please check out her website here.  You can also follow her on Twitter!

I hope you have a great week, full of inspiration and exciting new learning.

Haul | Avid Reader Bookshop and Cafe

I’m normally too far away from Brisbane’s West End to visit Avid Reader, but this particular day I was down that way buying frames at the optometrist.  I was lured into the bookshop by 1. their advertised sale and 2. the need to buy a book on my university set text list.  It was too good an opportunity to miss.  Here’s what I got!

Complete Prose by Woody Allen

417GW7EVDXL._SX294_BO1,204,203,200_This collection contains fifty-two pieces by famous film director, Woody Allen.  People seem to either love him or hate him, but you can always find me in the Woody Allen adoration camp.  I’ve enjoyed his uniquely neurotic humour ever since I first watched Annie Hall.  

Short story collections are easy reading.  Complete Prose is almost 500 pages long, but a single story will only take me a short sitting to read.  This makes them perfect for relaxing before bed or as a pick-me-up first thing in the morning before getting ready for the day.  I’ve read Woody Allen’s writing before, and I can confidently expect to be laughing out loud at this book.  I’m very chuffed to have got it for only $9.95 in Avid Reader’s sell out sale!

Barracuda by Christos Tsiolkas

barracuda-book-coverYou might remember that I talked about Barracuda previously on my blog.  You can read that review here.  I ended up having to buy my own copy for my university unit about Australian writing.

This is a hefty-sized book, but it’s very readable and fast-paced.  I know I’ll enjoy analysing it more deeply for uni.  It has smart techniques and complex characters and themes that will be engaging to talk about in my research essay.

The Empathy Exams by Leslie Jamison

9781847088420Disclaimer: I didn’t actually buy this book from Avid Reader.  I met my friend at the bookshop and she leant me her own copy of this book, insisting that it would be right up my ally.  I couldn’t resist sharing it with you in this post.

The Empathy Exams is a collection of personal essays.  Through various scenarios, Leslie Jamison challenges the how, what, when, where, why of empathy.  I am so excited to read this.  Empathy is a quality that I’m deeply interested in and committed to, and I can’t wait for this book to challenge and teach me.

Back cover reviews describe The Empathy Exams as “fiercely, prodigiously brave” and “a work of tremendous pleasure and tremendous pain”.  I am hooked.  Expect a review when I finish reading!

So that’s all I got!  I sheltered my brown paper bag from the driving rain and got them safely (and drily) home.  What about you?  Have you bought any exciting new books recently?  Do you have a favourite bookstore to share?  

Don’t forget to check out Avid Reader’s website here or ‘like’ their Facebook page here to keep track of the exciting things happening in store. 

Book Review | Brisbane by Matthew Condon

Brisbane Review Paige's Pages.jpgTITLE: Brisbane
AUTHOR: Matthew Condon
PUBLISHER: University of New South Wales Press
RELEASE DATE: December 15, 2010
GENRE: Nonfiction, Memoir, History

Australian author and journalist, Matthew Condon, captures the essence of his childhood city in this memoir of Brisbane’s past and present.  As a fellow “Brisbanite”, I struggled to relate to Condon’s romantic point of view.    

Brisbane pieces together the city’s elusive history with painstaking detail.  The key focus is on rediscovering John Oxley’s original 1824 landing site, following the misjudgment of the memorial’s placement in North Quay. Continue reading

Book Review | My Hundred Lovers by Susan Johnson

My Hundred Lovers Review Paige's PagesTITLE: My Hundred Lovers
AUTHOR: Susan Johnson
PUBLISHER: Allen & Unwin
GENRE: Adult Fiction

During the daily grind, we rarely pause to appreciate the small joys that life has to offer. My Hundred Lovers by Susan Johnson is literary fiction that celebrates these pleasures. At the age of 50, protagonist Deborah looks back on 100 moments from her lifetime of sensual exploration. These moments include everything from erotic encounters to the memory of her mother’s red fingernails. All prove how a woman’s head, heart, and body make one perfectly imperfect whole. This is a book about the raw beauty of life and love without cliché. Continue reading

Book Review | Barracuda by Christos Tsiolkas

Barracuda Review Paige's PagesTITLE: Barracuda
AUTHOR: Christos Tsiolkas
PUBLISHER: Allen & Unwin
RELEASE DATE: November 1, 2013
GENRE: Adult Fiction, LGBTQI+

Undressing cultural taboos, Barracuda is a crucial book for everyday Australians.  Now with a brand new ABC mini-series, I can’t wait for it to rise to the same fame as author Christos Tsiolkas’ controversial novel, The Slap. 

14-year-old Danny is at home in the water.  He is obsessed with being the best swimme at his school and making it to the 2000 Sydney Olympics.  Failure is unthinkable. Continue reading