Monday, 18 April 2011

Join us for the launch of The Tin Ticket!

Abbey's will be hosting the launch of The Tin Ticket: The Heroic Journey of Australia's Convict Women on Thursday 12 May (6:00pm for 6:30pm) at our shop at 131 York Street Sydney.

The author Deborah Swiss will be here to talk and take questions from the audience about the heartbreaking, horrifying, and ultimately triumphant story of the women exiled from the British Isles and forced into slavery and savagery, who created the most liberated society of their time.

Please RSVP to David Hall or 02 9264 3111 by Tuesday May 10. We hope you can join us!

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Our Fiction Cup Runneth Over in April!

We have some excellent new fiction books this month. Here are Lindy's thoughts on her favourites:

There are many excellent novels on WWI, and this one should join them! Riley Purefoy is working class, bright and eager to improve himself. Coming to the notice of a famous artist, he forms a friendship with Nadine Waveney, whose parents are rich, artistic bohemians. He is sure of his place in her world, until her mother's prejudices force him to the impetuous act of signing up to fight in the war that should be finished by Christmas. In the trenches of France, he forms relationships, most notably with his commanding officer, Peter Locke. Peter's beautiful wife Julia, and his sister Rose, a nurse with no hopes of marriage, wait for him to return. Nadine, defying parents and social expectations, volunteers to nurse in France, and waits for Riley. I can't say much more without spoiling the story but characterisation is pitch-perfect, descriptions of class and prejudices ring true, and the appalling nature of the new way of warfare, and the de-humanising of the soldiers is clearly caught. As well, the effects of the people back home are well portrayed, and the awfullness of not understanding what their loved ones are going through - all this is captured in a clean and sparse narrative style, vividly distinctive and flowing easily. One of the very best books I've read about the war, I can't recommend it highly enough!

In an unnamed country, one with deep similarities to somewhere once contained by Yugoslavia, Natalia learns that her grandfather, a once respected doctor and surgeon, has died in a town no-one knew he was visiting. Being a doctor herself and engaged in a mission to an orphanage nearby, she sets off to find out why. She suspects it has to do with the Deathless Man, someone he kept meeting at pivotal moments in his life. As she tries to find out, the narrative is interspersed with scenes from her grandfather's childhood, in a remote village where superstition ruled. In the war, an escaped tiger had found his way there, and the deaf-mute wife of the local butcher had made a connection with both the beast, and the young boy. A very promising debut with some wonderful imagery, from the youngest ever author to make the New Yorker's Top 20 Writers Under 40.

Rose discovers on her 9th birthday, that she can taste emotions in anything she eats. Her cheerful mother is revealed, through the agency of a chocolate lemon cake, to be full of despair. Her father, a scientist, is detached; but her older brother, a strange, probably undiagnosed Asperger's person, is the real worry with his unexplained mental and physical absences. Rose is too young to know the things she learns from eating, and this in turn fuels a true aversion to food that anyone has touched - even then, she can taste the emotions of the people who grew or harvested the food sources. An inventive tale, where the strangeness of Rose's family life and 'gift' actually does not seem so fanciful.

Personally I found last year's fiction very disappointing - but this year! There are some wonderful novels and this is one of them. When I got to the end of the book, I immediately went back and re-read it with as much delight as the first time! Elly is a precocious child, due more to her brother Joe's influence rather than anything her eccentric parents do. At school she has one friend, Jenny Penny who is a wild-haired oddity of a child with peculiar talents. She also has a rabbit (who sometimes talks to her), a madly endearing famous actress lesbian aunt, and a secret only her brother knows. When her father wins the pools and relocates the family to Cornwall, life becomes even more interesting. A book about love, and what makes family, and friends. Every character, no matter how minor, is fully drawn; the writing is sparkling and fresh; there are moments of deep poignancy and others of comic brilliance. Not to be missed -really!

This is another favourite novel for me so far this year. It is about Ernest Hemingway's first wife, his Paris wife, Hadley Richardson. Swept off her feet by the younger Hemingway, they marry in 1920. Escaping their respective (and respectable) families, they manage to go overseas hoping it will be both cheaper to live, and closer to the artistic heart of post-war culture. It isn't long before they are part of the ex-pat society, living, loving and drinking to the full. As Ernest struggles to find his literary voice, and experience as much as he can, Hadley fights to keep up, particularly when their son is born and it becomes increasingly apparent that having a family and stability isn't what Ernest wants. A believable voice of quiet intensity and some desperation, this book appealed highly (and I'm not even much of a Hemingway fan - so getting me to feel some sympathy for the man is a great feat indeed!)

Monday, 11 April 2011

The Award-Winning Shaun Tan!

It is always heart-warming when someone you have been following for years is given acclaim by the world at large. So it is with Shaun Tan. Awarded the prestigious (and valuable!) Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award for 2011, this follows on from his Oscar Award given for the animation of his fabulous picture book The Lost Thing. Shaun has also recently won the Dromkeen Medal 2010, which is awarded to an Australian citizen who has made a significant contribution to children's literature. A thoughtful artist who interprets the world around us with great technical proficiency and an eye for the parallels of narration and illustration, Shaun does not create his books solely with children in mind, but for anyone who is open to the beautiful oddities of the worlds around us, and within. Take the time and have a look! Memorial (written by Gary Crew), The Rabbits (written by John Marsden), The Red Tree , The Lost Thing, The Arrival ,(also in a special box set along with Sketches from a Nameless Name ) Tales from Outer Suburbia. See also The Bird King and Other Sketches. Lindy

Monday, 4 April 2011

Gary Corby talks about The Pericles Commission

Gary Corby's first book, The Pericles Commission has been very well received by both the public and the critics. He was kind enough to answer some questions from Abbey's about his work - oh, and he dropped in and signed some copies of his book as well!

You have set your crime novel in the somewhat neglected period of Classical Athens compared to Ancient Rome or Egypt. Was this a conscious decision and why a crime novel rather than a straight novel? I've always loved puzzle stories, both of the murder mystery kind and the science fiction kind. (Galaxy Bookshop was a favourite haunt, back in my university days when I could pass by frequently!) Classical Athens was one of the most exciting periods of human history. These people started western civilization; you can't get much more critical than that! They all lived in a period of just 50 years, in a place no larger than a modern town, and they all knew each other. Also, they killed each other in such interesting ways. So when I decided to write a novel, it was the most natural thing to write a murder mystery set in ancient Athens.

In the next novel Nico visits Themistocles in the Persian Empire. Are you going to continue a longer series with Nico as the main character? If so, how far afield do you see him travelling? Nico’s adventures will eventually take him around much of the known world. The second book is The Ionia Sanction. Ionia was the western coast of what's now Turkey, and part of the Persian Empire. The third book takes place at the Olympics of 460BC. Nico's definitely going to Egypt some time. I already have notes for that one and a fair idea of the characters. After that, there are so many options: Southern Italy was entirely Greek; Carthage was up and running; Marseilles in southern France began as a Greek colony called Massilia. Readers have begun to send me requests for Nico to go to certain places! Several readers want him to go further inside Persia. I'd like to get him to Susa and Babylon. That would certainly be a perilous mission because it's right in the heart of the enemy empire. I'll keep writing these books so long as people want to read them. There's no shortage of material. The Golden Age of Greece was 50 years packed with tales of adventure, war, conspiracy, lust, love, corruption, power politics, name it and it happened.

You have used a mix of real and fictional characters and events will this continue in future books? Absolutely. Luckily for me, because the period is largely untapped, there are huge wells of history from which to turn real events into stories so strange, they read almost like fantasy. I’m somewhat driven by when things actually happened. The years 460 to 461 BC were among the most momentous in history and the first three books take place in quick succession in less than 12 months of story time. I’ll have to slow the pace soon though, or at 3 books per story year I’ll need 150 books to get my heroes through the entire Golden Age.

Did you do any specific research for this book, or did you just draw on your existing knowledge of ancient Greece? I do massive amounts of research. I once spent three hours proving the ancient Greeks had garlic, so I could write one line of text. Because I use a large number of historical people in the stories, I study their lives in minute detail to make sure I don’t break real history. I’m very keen on the historical accuracy aspect. Original sources are crucial. I read a lot of classics written in the 5th century BC, which may sound ultra-nerdy, but really is fascinating. Herodotus was the father of history, and he's researching his great work, which we know as The Histories, at the very moment Nicolaos is solving murders. So I’ve picked a very decent time to be writing in! (I can absolutely guarantee Herodotus will appear as a character in a later book.) Being immersed so heavily in the ancient world makes you view the modern world in a very different way. If you think modern politics is tough, try the ancient version in which losers are regularly exiled or killed. Also, the mindset of everyday life was a weird combination of the totally familiar and something like from another planet.

Can you recommend any non-fiction books for anyone who wants to learn more about Periclean Athens? All the Greek novels of Mary Renault! They're fiction, not non-fiction, but they're simply the best stories of ancient Greece ever written, and I'm quite sure they'll be available at Abbey's Bookshop. Other than that, why not go straight to the horse's mouth? Herodotus and Thucydides! Herodotus is a fine old chatterbox and reads more like a Boys' Own Adventure than the founding document of history and anthropology. Thucydides is full of geopolitics and is better than any modern thriller. Thanks for the terrific questions! I've really enjoyed answering them. If anyone's interested, I keep a blog at, in which I rattle on about the publishing experience and ancient history.