Firelight by John Morrissey
Jane McCredie, CEO
I’ve been reading John Morrissey’s brilliant debut short story collection, Firelight. This clever, genre-bending book constantly challenges the reader’s expectations. In one story, Morrissey deftly interweaves the life of an alienated young public servant with that of alien centipedes casually wiping out the human race. Prisoners, ghosts, strange green men, and mining tycoons populate the pages.
John won the Boundless Indigenous Mentorship prize in 2020 for his manuscript and was mentored by Kim Scott. Writing NSW established the prize in 2019 in partnership with Text Publishing and the First Nations Australia Writers Network. This is the first book to be published as a result, though there are more in the pipeline! It’s been a privilege to be involved in this important prize and I’m beyond excited to see the writers’ work coming out into the world.
When One of Us Hurts by Monica Vuu
Amy Lovat, Program Manager
I’m basically always craving good Australian crime fiction, and I had high hopes for When One of Us Hurts by Monica Vuu after seeing reviews from the likes of Candice Fox, Mark Brandi and Ashley Kalagian Blunt. Thankfully, it did not disappoint. When One of Us Hurts is set in the small coastal town of Port Brighton, Tasmania, where the seams are starting to split after two deaths occur on the same night. First, a baby is abandoned at the foot of a lighthouse, and a drunken teenager also drowned in the storming seas. The town loves gossip and hates outsiders, and the perspective switches between 14-year-old Livvy who still lives in the town, and then Marie, who thankfully escaped to start a new life… but not before the tragic night of events that changed her family forever.
This is a fast-paced, twisty read and the voice is really strong — I was immediately captivated by the portrayal of the town and the characters in it. Monica Vuu is a debut author born in BC, Canada, and living in Tasmania, and I’m already excited to see what she writes next.
The Whitewash by Siang Lu
Rochelle Pickles, Professional Development Officer
When I finished Siang Lu’s black comedy debut, The Whitewash, I wanted to turn back to the first page and start again. Unfortunately, it was a library book and I did not want to suffer the wrath of a late return.
It’s rare to find a book this fun and this smart. Written mockumentary-style with a cast of self-interested characters including actors, producers, directors, film historians and click-bait journalists, The Whitewash gives an oral history of the development of a fictional Hollywood spy-thriller, Brood Empire, set to star an Asian male lead—upcoming Hong Kong actor JK Jr.—until it all goes horribly wrong.
The Whitewash is separated into parts based on different eras of Hong Kong/Chinese cinema and its emergence in the West, from Fu Manchu to the Covid-19 Remix. As plans for Brood Empire begin to unravel in increasingly unhinged ways, a resident historian provides the reader with brief lessons on that era and the whitewashing of the Asian film industry throughout time. For me, this was the real genius of the book—its expert blending of black comedy, social commentary, and cinematic history. There’s even a full chapter-by-chapter movie list in the references.
The Whitewash recently picked up an ABIA award for Audiobook of the Year, so I’m glad to have an extra excuse to revisit it, this time in audio form. Siang Lu even hints at making a cameo appearance.
Mistakes and Other Lovers by Amy Lovat
Rowena Tuziak, Membership & Operations Manager
It’s no great surprise that I am tearing through Amy Lovat’s Mistakes and Other Lovers. Amy is our Writing NSW Program Manager and it has been such a pleasure to watch Amy’s publication journey. This insightful, beautifully written work captures that weird, liminal moment in your 20s when you are a newly-minted adult trying to understand yourself and the world around you.
Visceral and emotionally raw, but executed with a deft hand, this is such a skilful depiction of that edge of adulthood. Shortlisted for Kill Your Darlings and Varuna prizes, and with the likes of Hannah Kent, Emily Maguire and Sally Hepworth praising this work, I suspect more awards are on the way. Congratulations Amy!
The Quiet and the Loud by Helena Fox
Adara Enthaler, Project & Communications Officer
Much like Helena Fox’s first book, the award-winning How It Feels To Float, her second book The Quiet and the Loud is a soft poetic narrative exploring the life and trauma of a teen girl with a unique voice. Georgia (or George) is an 18-year-old woman living in Sydney, taking a gap year and trying to find quiet peace between her two energetic mums and grandpa, her pregnant and needy best-friend Tess, her enraged activist friend Laz, her alcoholic and estranged father who keeps calling from Seattle, and the girl she’s just fallen in love with: Calliope.
Whilst the main narrative of The Quiet and the Loud is George working through her trauma from her father, improving her relationships with her friends and family, and learning how to make healthy choices for herself; the overarching theme of this book was the struggle to cope in a world with pain, pressure and dread. Set in the late 2019 NSW bushfires, the book dives into the very real panic of watching bushfires rage out of control throughout the country on the news, smoke taking over cities, and death tolls rising while houses and towns burned right down to the ground. The threat of death hangs over this book—in Laz’s climate anxiety, Tess’s constant fear of dying, the very real fires, and George’s Dad’s unwelcome news—and almost all of the characters are dealing with the world and their lives being just too much.
Unlike one might expect from a YA novel, the climax of the book isn’t everyone resolving their issues and living happily ever after, it’s everyone learning how to talk. To each other, to therapists, to voice their frustration over government inaction to climate change. As the book ends, the characters’ problems aren’t perfectly resolved, and the bushfires aren’t over—in fact, anyone who was paying attention in 2019 and 2020 knows that they continued to rage, and hadn’t quite finished when Covid-19 took over Australia and the death toll really began. The Quiet and the Loud doesn’t lie to you—everything is not okay, and there’s so much work to do—but being willing and able to do that work together is what gives us hope.
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