Book Review: Lion by Saroo Brierley

I saw the movie first and was blown away by this amazing story. I then read the book and it was no less powerful.

This is the story of five-year-old Saroo, who accidentally becomes trapped on a train which travels half way across India. When the train eventually stops, he finds himself in Calcutta lost and alone. He dodges disaster and with luck on his side ends up in an orphanage where he is adopted by a caring Australian family. Growing up in Tasmania, he wonders where he has come from and his nagging memories stir him into action to find out. It takes years of dogged patience and with encouragement from friends he uses technology to methodically trace his footsteps back to his family.

It’s an engrossing story despite the fact I’d seen the movie which by the way, does a remarkable job with the adaptation. The vulnerability you feel for this five-year-old keeps you on edge and it is incredibly brave of the author to reveal it all on the written page. It’s well written enough although with a matter of fact approach. Although we’re not privy to every one of Saroo’s emotions, we nevertheless feel his every agonising step of what was a difficult journey.

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Book Review: Into the Water by Paula Hawkins

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I read the first page late at night and although barely more than a paragraph, I put it down in fright. Not because it was bad but because it was so horrifying, I was scared to read more. A few days later, I picked it up again, moved past that first haunting page and read the next fifty pages in one sitting. I’m glad I did as there was a crowd of characters to keep track of and I knew then, this was not a book where you read a couple of pages a night. I reserved two to three hour reading sessions to remember who was dead, who was alive and what they all had to do with each other.

Nel Abbot is found dead in the Drowning Pool with a suspicion of suicide. It so happens that Katie, the teenage friend, of her daughter Lena was found dead, months earlier in the same spot which had been a place of many a woman’s death through the century’s, hence the name of the spot. Nel’s sister, Jules (who, we are repeatedly told doesn’t like being called by her correct name Julia) hasn’t spoken to her sister since she was a young teenager and is called back to her old home to look after Lena. The mystery of the deaths unravels from the point of view of ten characters and it becomes very clear that there is a vault of secrets and lies in the town.

There were moments of suspense which fell away as the clues came together. Some of the characters had little depth and I found it difficult to believe their behaviour in particular, Sean Townsend, the Detective Inspector and his wife Helen and even Katie. The inclusion of the mystic, Nicki, seemed to be a red herring which we could have done without. Jules seemed remote reflecting on her broken relationship with her sister and we learn very little else about this thirty something woman. Her reactions were self-centred enough to lose some credibility. I wonder if this book would have been better had there been less characters and a concentration of effort on Nel, Jules and Lena?

Was it on par with Girl on a Train? It wasn’t as good but perhaps my expectation was heightened because of the first book. However, it was a compelling enough read and a page turner, perhaps because I wanted it to end. It held my interest but it wasn’t brilliant.

Book Review: The Fortunate Pilgrim by Mario Puzo

It feels good to go back in time and read a classic. I read The Godfather by Mario Puzo many years ago and indeed it is a classic. The Fortunate Pilgrim, written before The Godfather and published in 1965 is no less so. But unlike The Godfather, The Last Don and many of Puzo’s legendary novels centred around men, this book is about an uneducated, peasant woman, Lucia Santa, plonked into New York’s Hell’s Kitchen from Italy.

It is said that Lucia Santa is Puzo’s mother and what a woman she must have been. Her life as you can expect, is not easy with six children, one dead husband and another husband with mental illness. Lucia Santa, has the strength of several men, ruling her family with an iron fist through the Depression and War. Like so many women past and present around the world, she can’t afford to succumb to self-pity and has no choice than to work hard to protect and nurture her brood in order to survive.

Puzo captures summer in New York in the Tenements with the community of Italian women whose lives were governed by poverty yet pioneers in their own right. … ‘they moved in a sadder wilderness, where the language was strange, where their children became members of a different race.’

The language is almost poetic as we are introduced to Lucia’s seventeen-year-old son Lorenzo, riding his black horse through the streets of New York in 1928. One by one, Puzo allows us into the lives of the older children, giving tantalising glimpses of other families on the street and takes us on a journey of struggle, despair, and joy until the second World War.

The characters are well drawn and we learn of the petty small mindedness of the community in which Lucia Santa lives. ‘What cronies they were. How they ran to each other’s apartments, up and down the stairs, into the adjoining tenements… taste this special dish. After the initial pity and condolences, the true face of the world showed itself to Lucia Santa.’

The writing is inspirational and is truly a wonderful chronical of a matriarch and the immigrant’s life.

Interview: Peter Lingard, Author of Boswell’s Fairies

Instead of a book review, this week, I thought I’d chat with internationally published author, Peter Lingard who has just released his debut novel, Boswell’s Fairies – see my earlier review

I hope you enjoy it.

Peter Lingard, tell us a bit about yourself.

My life has been in phases. I went to a good school but quit at 15. I worked in a bank and found it stultifying. I served in the Royal Marines and, after leaving them, worked for a shoe importer because marine shipping was the closest thing to Royal Marines on the filing system used by the employment agency. The man that owned the company considered taking me on a good deed. It was an easy jump to freight forwarding and later my employer sent me to the US to open a new office for them at JFK airport. It took me a number of years but I eventually owned my own freight forwarding company in NY.

I yearned to travel again and returned to the UK where I worked as an accountant and a farmhand for a while. However, too many people were saddled with attitudes that soured me. (I wrote to a newspaper in Wales suggesting that if they put as much energy in their work as they do in hating the English, they be a very successful country. The responses were less than pleasant.) As Australians speak English, I thought this country might be a good place to visit, and I arrived in 2000.

You’ve just published your first novel. What is your book, Boswell’s Fairies about?

A lot of servicemen are adept at telling fantastic stories. Marines I knew swore they’d swum the widest oceans, climbed the highest mountains (not without justification – think of the Falklands war), and dated the most beautiful and willing women. I have blended these colourful lies with the story of a squad of recruits undergoing the 10 months of basic trading. The main characters are a bored banker, not too hard to image, and a pro wrestler who was fed up of having to lose every fight until someone decided he’d paid his dues.

What inspired you to write this story?
What’s the point of having a good story if you can’t tell it to people? Writing it was enjoyable. That is until one has to edit and edit and re-edit.

How long have you been a writer and what influenced you to first put pen to paper?
I was always a good joke teller and I excelled when it came to shaggy-dog stories. I could take a shaggy-dog story and make it shaggier but then sometimes forget about the punch line. While there was never a decision to start writing, I used to write things down and improve my jottings, as I did with jokes. Once I was happy with the result, I’d forget about them. In 2002, or then about, my wife suggested I join a writing group to see what others might think of my musings. The Americans have an expression that fits … run it up the flag pole and see if anyone salutes it. Well, quite a few did salute my stuff. A radio station in Queensland liked my tales but not my writing skills and the host, Charles Eeles, took the time to give me some pointers. Then I progressed from one writing group to another until I found the current bunch of writers at Phoenix Park. We are a good mix and are well advised by the facilitator, Nicole Hayes.

You’ve written more than 300 short stories, many of which have been published. How difficult was it to write a full length novel?
It wasn’t much different in some respects. Each chapter in my novel was a short story and the continuity of the plot and main characters strung the stories together. Once I’d finished the book, I did away with chapters and only had breaks for changes of location. I’m working on another book which is another a collection of stories without much connection … well, the main character is a barman in a London pub and there will be an ongoing romance, but it’s still just a bunch of stories. Shaggy dog stories.

What books have influenced you the most and what are you currently reading.
I was impressed by My Son, My Son. I can’t remember the author’s name (if anyone says that about me, they die!). Another one was, I Bought a Mountain (again no author). I found Great Expectations enjoyable, even if though I had to read it as a school project. I like books by Scott Turow and Sebastian Faulkes. Dan Jenkins is an author who influenced my style. John le Carre’s The Pidgeon Tunnel (and everything else he’s written) please me greatly. Kamila Shamsie, A God In Every Stone impressed me. What am I reading now? Scott Turow’s Personal Injuries, but I’m not into yet (at 200+ pages).

I was raised to respect books. Never bend them back (it ruins the spine), never turn down the corner of the page to mark where you’re up to, and never leave a book unfinished. I still respect the first two, but I’ve decided the third is bull, so this book better buck up soon.

If you could give advice to an aspiring writer, what would it be?
Use advice carefully. Make sure you keep your style – unless of course it’s your style that’s holding you back. Be judicial … remember the adage; people do, teachers teach.

What’s next in writing for you?
As I mentioned before, I’m writing about the life of a London barman. The working title is The Book of Dave. It’s humorous and perhaps barbed at times but readers will laugh and, if I find the right lines, they’ll be sometimes saddened. Then I have two more books featuring the main characters in Boswell’s Fairies. One covers their time in the Philippines, Singapore, Malaysia and Borneo, and the other is about their return to England to find guys have grown hair to their shoulders and girls have hiked up their dresses. I don’t have titles for those yet; perhaps Asian Tour and Swing Time? We shall see.

 

Boswell’s Fairies     Now available on Amazon or on http://peterlingard.com/

About the Author

Peter Lingard’s  short stories have been published over 300 times in The Literary Hachette, Blue Crow, Structo, Crack the Spine, Short and Twisted, 100 Stories for Queensland, and other such magazines. Many pieces have aired on 4RPH, Brisbane, and Radio NAG, Queensland.  Fifty-two of his stories are published by Alfie Dog in the UK. He also appeared on Southern FM’s program ‘Write Now’  and on 3CR ‘Spoken Word’ to read, recite and discuss his work and was a regular guest  on 3WBC to read his tales. Peter’s  work has garnered praise, prizes, and accolades from critics around the world including Australia, America, and the UK.

 

 

Are you remembering where you were when Princess Diana died?

I thought I’d share a story below that I wrote for inclusion into my collection of short stories released earlier this year. I hope you enjoy it.

The Robbery

It’s funny how we remember where we were and what we were doing during the big moments in our lives. The ones that are forever etched in our minds and dragged out at unexpected times.

Like when Diana died in 1997. The morning after a wonderful overnight stay in the city, I arrived home to relieve my mother-in-law, Grace, of babysitting duties. The day was overcast and cool, not unusual for August in Melbourne. Twenty minutes later, Grace rang to say someone had broken into her home while she’d been staying at mine. With two kids in the car, I was on the freeway on my way to Grace’s house, when I heard the news for the first time on the radio. There’d been an accident and Diana was injured. The headline held me. I remember thinking, from the words the announcer used, that it wasn’t that bad.

Arriving at Grace’s, my focus shifted to her. The house ransacked, a window broken and stuff strewn everywhere. Questioned by the kids, I grappled to explain to them what a burglary meant. Could it happen to us they asked? The rise and fall of their anxiety required all my energy to calm them, and my mother-in-law. Dealing with the police who were in autopilot – questions, writing, bland expressions reflecting a run of the mill problem – somehow steadied me. It wasn’t a big deal. I wanted to take Grace’s mind off the fact that someone had rifled through her draws, invaded her sanctity and peace of mind. But it unnerved us all. What if Grace had been home alone? With my own husband, Michael, away, what if this happened to me? My euphoria of partying from the night before completely disappeared.

Then I remembered Diana. But Grace’s television had been stolen and I didn’t own a mobile phone. I wanted an update. News about her was better than what I had in front of me.
“Make a list of everything that was stolen for the insurance company,” the well-built twenty-something policeman said.
“Will the robber come back?” My nine-year-old daughter Sarah frowned with concern when she asked him.
“Probably not,” he said kindly. Then to my mother-in-law, “They might revisit once you’ve replaced everything. They know what you have now.” Writing something on his clipboard, he missed the look of horror and fear across the faces of my mother-in-law and the kids.
“Mummy, will the robber come to our house too?” my six-year-old daughter Lily whimpered. I scowled at the policeman imploring him not to educate us with statistics. But he was already on the move to examine the broken window.
“No, darling. Not at all. He doesn’t know where we live.” I don’t know why it came out. It was stupid. Home burglary was usually random. I knew that. But it satisfied her. “Why don’t you both go out and see if you can pick some flowers for grandma’s table?”

The other policeman who looked to be in his thirties smiled at me. Did he understand my stupid response? Did he have kids too? I glanced at the gleaming wedding ring on his finger – mine looked dull in comparison.
“We notice that the garage window is also broken. Have you checked the garage?”
“Oh, that window was already broken. A branch fell on it a few years ago and my husband was going to fix it but …” Grace choked on the words.
I rushed to her side, put my arm around her and pulled her close. The tissues I’d stuffed in my pocket for my hay fever came in handy for both of us.
“He passed away not long after the window broke,” I explained.
“Sit down, Grace,” I said. “I’ll make a cup of tea. Officers, would either of you like a cup of tea or coffee?”
“No thanks.”
I left Grace slumped on the couch dabbing her eyes with the twenty-something policeman sitting next to her.
“Are you OK to give me some details?” I heard him ask. “A bloke is coming to dust the window for fingerprints. Then you can arrange for it to be fixed. It shouldn’t be too much longer.”
“Yes, thank you,” she sniffed.

Filling the kettle, I watched the kids through the kitchen window. They were chasing a butterfly around the backyard. Their worry had been fleeting, while mine was still anchored. How will Grace feel about sleeping here tonight, all alone? Should I offer to stay until Michael gets back from his business trip? I’d dropped him at the airport this morning, before picking up the kids. I looked at my watch. He’d still be in the air. I’d have to wait at least until this evening before getting him at his hotel. I wondered if he’d heard about Diana before he boarded.

I rummaged in the cupboards for the tin of biscuits. Lifting the lid, I released the aroma of dark chocolate and peppermint. Picking two, I took them outside.
“Girls, come and get a biscuit!”
They ran to me, their arms outstretched, pretending to be airplanes. They swooped past, plucking the biscuit from my hand then ran to the back of the garden.
“Where are the flowers?” I called out.
“They’re coming, Mum,” Sarah replied.
“We’re planes flying high in the sky to see where the best flowers are for Grandma’s table,” Lily explained, swooping by me again, bits of biscuit spilling from her full mouth.

I tried the door to the garage and stepped inside. It was as it had been. The old curtain flapped from the chilled air squeezing through the splintered cracks of the grimy glass. Dust had settled thickly on the workbench and the scattered tools. A creeper had wound its way through a concrete roof tile and around a dark wooden beam. Cold seeped from the cracked concrete floor through to my thin shoes and into my feet. Dry, rust-brown splatters were still smeared on the sides of the bench, but the rest had been washed away from the floor. I sneezed twice to expel mildew. Nothing had been touched since my father-in-law had fallen here, the electric saw still going in his hand. I wondered if Grace had ever stepped foot in here since that day. Whether she had made peace with herself for having been only metres away in the house, while he lay here for hours. Dying.

“Mum! Mum. Where are you?” Sarah voice pierced my ears. Shivering, I glanced around for one last time and spied the radio. Should I get a news update on Diana? But Sarah’s nagging call pulled me out and I closed the door behind me.
“Yes, what is it?” The words came out sharper than I intended.
“Can we have another biscuit? Please?” she pleaded.
“Please? Mamma, please.” Lily’s occasional lisp hung in the air.
“Only one more,” I said, pulling my cardigan around me. “Stay here.”

Setting a plate with several biscuits I took two more outside before taking the tea into the lounge room.
Grace looked lost in the big armchair. It was as if I was seeing her for the first time: her tired eyes peering through their dark circles as she took the steaming cup with shaking hands. I offered her and the policemen a biscuit, but I was the only taker.
“It’s cold in here. Do you mind if I put the heater on?” I asked.
Grace nodded but her attention was on the older policeman.
“I’m worried that he might come back,” she said. “Could he return?”
“Highly unlikely,” he said. “Perhaps you could have someone stay with you tonight?”
He glanced at me.
“Of course. I’m happy to stay with the girls or you could come back to my place?”
She looked doubtful.
“It’s better to help her settle if she does stays here tonight … ideally with someone here,” he explained to me. “Then you might like to get deadlocks on the doors and windows. It’s always good to make it as hard as possible for the perpetrator.”

This is not like falling off a bike where you have to get back on immediately, I thought. Was he a psychologist now? I was irritable. The plans for today had already been dashed, not that I could remember what else I was going to do, apart from clean the house. Still, what right did he have to give advice? And why was I angry at him instead of the burglar? Or Michael. He should be here dealing with this, not me.
But all I did was nod agreeably and answer the door when the bell sounded.

A man in blue overalls stood there holding a bag. “Ah, err, hello. I’m here to do the fingerprinting.”
I stepped back onto the shoe of the older policeman who had crept up behind me.
“G’day Steve. This way, mate.”
He showed Steve to the broken window while I joined Grace in the lounge.
“Just the fingerprint guy.”
She nodded. We could hear the murmured voices of the three policemen. The room was growing warm from the wall heater’s blast. Grace’s face was flushed.
“Why did this happen to me?” she whispered.
“It’s not you. It was just an opportunity. That’s all.” What did I know? I had never been robbed. “It’s probably some young kid on drugs looking to get his hands on anything he can sell quickly. Chances are he won’t even remember where he’s been.”
There was hope in her sad eyes. “Do you really think so?”
“Yes, I do.” I thumped my empty cup onto the coffee table. “This is your home and you deserve to feel safe. Now, I’m going to call a glazier to come and fix the window and the locksmith to change the locks. Then I’ll duck home for some clothes and we’ll stay for a couple of days with you.”
“Thanks, love. I don’t know what I’d do without you. But I feel a bit guilty about pulling the girls from their beds and their routine.”
“They’ll think it’s fun. And anyway, Michael won’t be back for a few days. It’ll be company for me too.”
Her grateful smile made me forget my own selfishness.

The police eventually left and the clean-up started as, outside, the heavy clouds burst. The girls arranged the flowers on the table then sat down to draw a picture each to pin to the fridge.
Sweeping the glass and the invasion away as best we could, I told Grace about Diana. She clasped a withered hand to her mouth. Tears sprouted and the emotion of the day spilled out.
“That poor woman,” she said. “Hasn’t she had enough? I pray she’s alright.” Of course we both knew of Diana’s problems: her husband’s infidelity, her growing boys, the divorce, her work with children, the gossiped affairs. It was the soap opera of the nineties hitting the front pages of our papers, dominating the news and our lives, as if Diana were a part of it.

Then Grace gasped from her bedroom – her grandmothers priceless diamond ring was gone. It had been earmarked for Sarah. An emerald and ruby engagement ring for Lily was also missing.

I left the girls and went home. Flipping between radio stations to get news, all I got was inane music for the ten minutes it took to get home. Grabbing clothes for us all and a portable television, I jumped in the car. While I stopped to give way on the freeway on-ramp, a song by the Spice Girls was cut off with the announcement that Diana was dead. It was only the beep of a car horn behind me that made me move. I don’t remember the rest of the drive. I wiped the tears away as I walked through the front door and told Grace.
The glazier arrived soon after. “Have you heard the news?” he said.
“Yes,” I said. “It’s just too awful.”

Now, here I am, ten years later, with Grace in a home, Michael living with another woman and both daughters overseas. And all I can think of, as I see my own shattered kitchen window, is where I was the day Diana died.

(Extract from Out of Nowhere: A collection of short stories by S.C Karakaltsas which is now available in paperback or eBook – https://sckarakaltsas.wordpress.com/my-books/stockists/)

Where did June go?

I mean the month of June, of course. Apart from the plunge in temperature in Melbourne, a lot’s happened. My book of short stories, Out of Nowhere was published. My webpage had a makeover. I held my first radio interview. My book was officially launched and I’ve made a further dent into my current novel. Whew!

Publishing a book means getting it out there to let readers know. I shot off a bunch of emails to libraries, distributors, and book stores. The two book stores who have my first book happily agreed to stock my second. Goodreads held a giveaway for five copies and 853 people from around the world entered; 300 put it on their book shelf to read. I did a couple of ads on Facebook with mixed results but overall got some good exposure. How that translates into sales is too early to say.

The radio interview was done a few weeks ago on 3SER 97.7 Casey community radio on a show called Viewpoints. I chose to pre-record it and was surprised how easy it was to talk about my work. Of course the host, Henry Grossek was the consummate professional and made it very easy by asking all the right questions.

Soon after I held my book launch on June 24th at the Wheelers Hill library with a good crowd in attendance. Book sales helped to defray the costs of publication. Award winning YA author, Nicole Hayes launched my collection with a wonderful speech. The support and encouragement I received from everyone was nothing short of phenomenal and the reviews so far have been very complimentary.

Amongst this feverish activity, I finally worked out the ending of my next novel, A Perfect Stone. Now on to finish my second draft then constant rework for the next few months.
Yes, it’s been busy.

It’s my anniversary.

Twelve months ago I launched my debut novel, ‘Climbing the Coconut Tree.’ Three years ago I commenced my writing journey, made a heap of mistakes and learnt a lot along the way.  How time flies.

So how’s it been going?

Here’s my report card on Climbing the Coconut Tree-:

  • It received 23 reviews across various sites.
  • It’s available to buy across UK, Europe, USA, Australia and NZ in print format and across more than 70 worldwide digital platforms including Amazon, Kobo and Apple.
  • E-book sales are 12.6% of my total sales.
  • It’s available in seven libraries and two independent book stores in Melbourne.
  • Three book groups have included it on their list.
  • It’s travelled the length and breadth of Australia, across the Pacific to the US and  Europe in the hands of multiple readers, many of whom have embraced the beach lifestyle and drink of choice, gin and tonic.
  • It’s been spotted with a number of celebrities, including past Presidents, sportspeople and movie stars although they may have been in a wax museum . . . see my earlier post on that one https://sckarakaltsas.wordpress.com/2016/10/25/whos-reading-my-book/

What else is coming?

My collection of short stories, ‘Out of Nowhere’ is completed and once the cover is finalised will be released shortly.

A short story, On the Side of a Hill was recently published in the Monash Writers Anthology. Another called, ‘The Surprise’ was short listed in the Lane Cove Literary Awards in 2016. Both stories will be available in my collection.

I’m also working on another historical novel called, ‘The Perfect Stone’  set during the Greek Civil War in 1948. Hopefully it will be out in 2018.

Whew! I guess I have been just a little bit busy.