Thursday, 30 June 2011

That Deadman Dance by Kim Scott

In his memoir, Kayang and Me, written with Aboriginal elder Hazel Brown, Kim Scott says,

“… ‘Indigenous writing’ may not even be a sub-category of Australian literature, and I don’t say that because many of its practitioners are working with narratives and forms which predate Australian literature. No, I say it because I have looked in bookshops for my own books and, failing to find them in the Australian Literature section, finally located them under ‘Australiana’.”

Thankfully, the divide between Indigenous and non-indigenous Australian writing has been giving way to an appreciation of good Australian writing, without labels. This has happened in no small part due to writers like Scott whose novel That Deadman Dance has won the Miles Franklin Award 2011. This is the second time Scott has won the award after tying with Thea Astley for the coveted prize in 2000 with Benang: From the Heart.

That Deadman Dance explores first contact between the English settlers, American whalers and Noongar people in south Western Australia, mostly through the eyes of the charismatic boy Bobby Wabalanginy. Bobby’s experiences with the ‘friendly frontier’ are one of many that show the brutality and deception, but also the loyalty, respect and love that existed in the varied relationships between and within communities of that time.

Scott challenges our perceived notions of Australian identity and history, especially drawing attention to how language and story can shape our understanding of one another. As Scott says, ‘I’d hope that [the novel] helps us recast relationships and rethink the way we relate to one another’. In this sense, That Deadman Dance is not only a story about the past, but how to see our way forward for the future.
That Deadman Dance has a distinctive voice and perspective that perhaps a lot of Australian readers have not come across before. As Scott’s memoir says, many Aboriginal writers work with forms that predate Australian literature, and in this novel the oral tradition of story and the fluidity of time play out wonderfully under the skill of Scott’s written words.

There were only three books shortlisted for the Miles Franklin Award this year, however the calibre of writing was not any less. That Deadman Dance has confirmed Scott as one of the most important voices of our time and there is no doubt his latest novel will become an Australian classic.

Written by Natalie 
That Deadman Dance is available from Shearer's Bookshop

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

The Ritual by Adam Nevill

I came across this new horror novel when our Macmillan rep handed me a copy. He knew I enjoyed genre fiction and the previous month I had gone gaga when he handed me a proof of Embassytown. My initial action was to add it to my 'to be read' pile, which is extensive. I knew I would get to it one day but put it off for some time because there was always something else grabbing my attention. Then I was struck down with a bad cold.

I spent two days on my couch feeling sorry for myself and I needed something escapist to take me out of my misery. I discovered this book in the pile and read the first line:

"And on the third day things did not get better."

Great opening. I had to keep reading. And as I read, becoming increasingly more absorbed I realised that this was a gem.

The story follows a group of four men who were friends at school and have recently reconnected. They're on a hiking trip in Sweden and take a shortcut through an old part of the forest. As usual with shortcuts in the horror genre, this is a big mistake - there is something ancient and terrifying waiting in that part of the forest. I can't really say more without spoiling the element of surprise, which really hooked me in and kept me on the edge of my seat.

Adam Nevill is a great writer, his sense of place is impeccable. He really sets a dark and haunting tone very early on, simply through his description of the forest and the way it affects the characters. I was there with them as they trudged on through their ordeal. The second element to make this novel so strong is the characters and their relationships. They are men who were friends. Trapped out in the forest they realise how little they now have in common, how much has changed since they were young and the petty politics of the group threatens to consume them. The protagonist is flawed, full of anger, regret and jealousy, both loathing and loving himself. The final element is the surprising nature of the narrative. The novel is written in such a tense and engrossing way that there are plenty of surprises - escpecially in the third act.

The third act of this book shouldn't work but it does. That's all I can say without giving away what happens. I found myself trying to anticipate what the end would be, and I felt it drawing nearer even though there were still well over 150 pages to go.

This book is well worth a look. Tense, genuinely scary, dark and menacing with some wonderful evocation of place and brilliantly flawed characters. I haven't had a better experience with a horror novel in years.
The Ritual is released in July and is available to preorder now at Shearer's Bookshop

Monday, 27 June 2011

A Sense of Shelf

I recently moved all the furniture in my apartment around because I was bored, and that's just how I roll (in reality we have a 6 month old daughter and are desperate for more space). Something amazing happened when I moved my bookshelves.

Having worked as a bookseller for some time now, I'm quite traditional when it comes to shelving. It's always alpha by genre, with the literary books first. But that always meant that my sci-fi collection was at the bottom and not at eye-level, where I would prefer it.

A bookseller's bookshelf at home should be a source of pride and identity. After all, we are meant to be the people who KNOW. We know what to read because we read it ourselves. We know the difference between what's cool and what's simply popular. We know what we like, we know what you like and we know what your uncle who you have to buy a birthday present for who doesn't read much wants. So our bookshelves should be full of prestige, fantastic authors, books that mere mortals haven't heard of and plenty of proofs that we somehow forgot to return to the communal pile at work.

So since I had pulled everything off I reflected on what my bookshelf said about me and decided to reorganise. What to do? Put my sci-fi at eye level? But then my literary books would be down the bottom and visitors wouldn't think that I was smart. Keep the status quo? No. The answer was simple. Annihilate the boundaries. Smash it together and live with the consequences.

Book snobs now recoil from my shelves in horror and run, screaming from my apartment when they see Blue Mars next to The Satanic Verses or The Finkler Question next to It. Personally, I find it quite liberating and have been telling everyone about it. And I have been completely forbidden from doing the same thing at work.

Written by Mark

Friday, 24 June 2011

Prizes at the Art Gallery

Last night Tony and I were invited by Michael Moynahan CEO of HarperCollins to a private viewing of the Archibald, Wynne and Sulman paintings and sculptures on display at the Art Gallery of New South Wales.

We were greeted at the Gallery entrance with a glass of champagne and a very informative and entertaining off the cuff chat from Edmund Capon explaining the history of the three prizes.

$50,000 is awarded to the winner of the Archibald Prize for portrait painting, $25,000 to the Wynne Prize winner for landscape painting or figurative sculpture and $20,000 to the Sulman Prize winner for subject, genre or mural painting.

I loved Ben Quilty’s award winning portrait of the amazing Margaret Olley. Margaret’s wonderfully quirky character just flew off the canvas.

The Packing Room Prize winner Vincent Fantauzzo’s portrait of Chef Matt Moran was posed in Matt’s cool room and was amazing.  It must have been uncomfortable for Matt and Vincent to work and pose in the cold suroundings.

The people’s choice of award winning author J M Coetzee by Adam Chang certainly showed the aura around this very private man.

I had a lump in my throat observing Angus McDonald’s portrait of the late Dr Ann Lewis. Her face was etched with pain and stoicism and was most poignant.

The Wynne Prize of a sculpture of an upside down motorcycle resting in what I think was a rickshaw was interesting and I know has perplexed many people. Richard Goodwin’s title for the work 'Co-isolated Slave' had me giving it a lingering look to work out why he came up with this title. I’m still in the dark.

Edmund told the audience that the main controversy for the year was the Sulman Prize judge Peter Bell's admission that he choose the winner by the toss of a coin. Peter Smeeth was the fortunate winner for his painting 'The Artist’s Fate'.

The amount of bright primary colours in the paintings did lift my spirits and I thoroughly enjoyed the evening.

Written by Barbara

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

A Brief Chat With Charlie Carter

What was the last book you read and what are you currently reading?
The Return of the Word Spy by Ursula Dubosarsky, illustrated by Toby Riddle was the last book I read. Right now I am reading The Innocents by Nette Hilton and loving every word. It is simply a beautiful book, written with delicate skill.

Which book from your bookshelf at home is your favourite and why?
Difficult question. There are many favourites for many reasons, and the list changes regularly. But I keep coming back to The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett. It is superbly witty, and written with a firm grasp on the economy of the English language.

What's the best thing about being a writer?
Having your mind constantly engaged. There's never a dull moment. 

How would you describe the Battle Boy series to someone who has never read it?
It's all about Time and Energy capture. Most people think that when something is in the past it is over, finished, done with. Not so. Great battles never really die. They live on as bubbles of pure energy, floating in the stratosphere. Capture those bubbles and you capture those battles; you can revisit them, relive them over and over. It may seem paradoxical, but in fact our future lies in the past. That's really exciting! 

What's next for Battle Boy?
Napoleon Augustus Smythe (aka Battle Boy 005) has made many discoveries, faced many challenges, and solved many mysteries of history. But he's never really tackled the ultimate challenge - he has never really come face to face with himself. How would he handle such a meeting? How would any of us?

You can catch up with the adventures of Battle Boy at Shearer's Bookshop

Saturday, 18 June 2011

A Brief Chat With Peter Rix

Peter Rix has just released his debut novel, Water Under Water.

What was the last book you read and what are you currently reading?
A re-read (4th or 5th time) of The Sun Also Rises. Currently, The Tiger's Wife.

Which book from your bookshelf at home is your most treasured and why?
In the Skin of a Lion by Michael Ondaatje. His writing in this story inspires more than any other - for its poetry, the word choices & sentence construction.

Which fictional character do you most identify with?
10 minutes later... I have failed this test. Perhaps I have too little preparedness to relinquish enough reality to see myself as fictional.

What are you working on next?
A book that exposes the meanings and rituals of ownership and possessed objects and another about how male sexuality explodes, matures, decays and explodes again. 
Autographed copies of Water Under Water are available now at Shearer's Bookshop

Saturday, 11 June 2011

The Life by Malcolm Knox - Book Launch

Last night Tony and I were privileged to be invited to the home of Jane Palfreyman, publisher of Malcolm Knox for the launch of Malcolm’s outstanding new novel The Life.

Christos Tsiolkas launched Malcom’s novel and began by apologizing for not speaking “off the cuff” as he felt more secure to read from his notes. Within a few minutes he firmly shut his notebook and launched into a great speech straight from the heart. Christos told the audience that he regarded Malcolm as his mentor and that he felt Malcolm was one of the best novelists writing today. In his eyes The Life was alternately evocative and lacerating, tender and unflinching. It was a gloriously honest, brutal and moving story of a man who was at the top of his game and then pissed it all away. These sentiments are also printed on the back of the novel for all to read.

Malcolm was completely overwhelmed with Christos’ launch speech. He began by thanking Christos for his friendship and support and also acknowledging the support he receives from Wenona his wife.  Wenona’s grandmother recently passed away and Malcolm reflected that the words she never wanted uttered in her presence were “shut up”.  Malcolm told the audience who included the cream of Sydney writers that these two words were often on the mind of all authors when they were in the zone of their latest work. Any comment made by family or friends could be acknowledged in an author's mind as “shut up” don’t mess up my zone of thinking. 

On a cold Sydney night the warmth of comradeship and positiveness encircled the house and we all wished Malcolm’s fourth novel the success it deserves.

Written by Barbara  
 Jane Palfreyman, Malcolm Knox and Christos Tsiolkas. Photo taken by Jane Gleeson-White

Autographed copies of The Life are available from Shearer's Bookshop

Friday, 10 June 2011

A Few Books I've Been Reading

I am an unapolagetic China MiƩville fan, and was lucky enough to meet him when he came to Sydney last year. At that point, he had just come off the back of two successful novels, The City and the City and Kraken, which was my favourite novel in 2010. Both of those books had propelled him a little more towards the mainstream and had garnered awards and praise from many critics. He is such an interesting writer, with books full of complex ideas and strange characters inhabiting a genre known as the new weird.

It's quite tough to outline what Embassytown is about in a concise manner. I found it to be his toughest read to date, there are some concepts that are, at times, difficult to get your head around and in true China fashion, he doesn't go in for lazy exposition. The most concise way I can outline the plot is to say that it's set in the distant future at the edge of the explored Universe and is about communication between two species with vastly different ways of thinking about language. It's huge, bewildering, engrossing. It's a rare book that is really an amazing experience. At the end I was left wondering whether this book was a true expression of one of the most powerful imaginations in modern writing, or just an academic experiment in genre fiction. Either way, I plan on visiting Embassytown again at some point.

Still heavily in genre territory, I recently took a look at The Last Werewolf by Glen Duncan. I'm not into paranormal creature novels as a rule, but I started to hear some amazing things about it and then a Twilight fan told she me hated it. I had no choice but to read it then.

The protagonist is a 200 year old werewolf named Jacob Marlowe (awesome name) who is, as the title suggests, the last of his kind. But Jacob is tired of life, he's been around a very long time and has experienced so much that he's had his fill. Those who have hunted werewolves to the brink of extinction are going to come for him at the next full moon. Needless to say, a few things occur in the interim that make Jacob change his mind (I won't say what as it would majorly spoil the plot). Contrary to my Twilight friend's opinion, this is a great read. Jacob is a wonderfully heavy-drinking, chain-smoking character and the book is dark, funny, violent and explicit. With nary an angsty teenage vampire in sight.

This morning I finished reading The Psychopath Test by Jon Ronson, author of The Men Who Stare at Goats. It starts off with an intriguing premise, several academics contact Jon to enlist his help in tracking down the person who has sent them a mysterious book. The book seems to be a clue or full of clues to a larger puzzle. This mission winds up taking Jon on an exploration of the madness industry.

'The psychopath test' of the title is a checklist used by doctors to determine whether someone meets the criteria for being determined a psychopath. Jon applies the test to prison inmates, powerful business men and himself, questioning definitions and categorisation and the creation of such checklists along the way. The book is written in an anecdotal style, which makes it quite engaging and leads to some unexpected turns and revelations. It's entertainingly written, quite satirical at times, but sure to make readers think more deeply about the issues involved.

So those are a few books I've read recently. They all seem to deal with insanity in some form or another, which might be worrying...

Written by Mark

Feel free to leave a comment if you'd like to share with us any books you've been reading lately.

Thursday, 9 June 2011


Last night at the Inner West Local Business Awards, we received two gongs. We won the Outstanding Specialised Retail Business Award and the big one, Business of the Year.

I personally did not attend the ceremony and simply received a cryptic text from my manager at 10pm saying 'we just beat puppies'. I could have interpreted that in several ways, but remembered that the pet store had been nominated for the Outstanding Specialised Retail Business Award too. Which just goes to show that pasty book nerds in cardigans are just as valuable as cute puppies. (Although my manager did send me that text well after the ceremony had ended....)

After that, we won the big one, Business of the Year. An award we had simply not expected to win. Barbara accepted it and made a speech about the value of bookstores, their importance in the Australian retail landscape and how thankful we are that we have a community that supports us.

We couldn't have done it without the support of our loyal customers and our local community. So a big thanks to all of you who visit us, whether online or in the store. We appreciate it and will continue to work hard to be the best booksellers we can be.

The rather pointy awards will take pride of place in our front window.

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

When Genres Attack 2!

Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the bookshop...
Tickets $7 Bookings: (02) 9572 7766

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Michael Mobbs Event

The air was crisp, the mood was chilled and the red wine warmed us all up on the night Michael Mobbs, author of Sustainable House, visited Shearer’s Bookshop.

We wanted to somehow support World Environment Day at Shearer’s and thought that nobody could help us do it better than sustainability expert, Michael Mobbs. Almost 13 years after the first edition of Sustainable House came out, the 2nd edition highlights some of the problems, the successes and the practical aspects of the original project, which saw Michael and his family converting their inner city terrace into a sustainable and environmentally-friendly living space.

Michael talked extensively of the experience and was extremely generous with practical advice. Given that he now holds his own tour of the house and is a consultant on the subject, we were extremely fortunate to have him talk to us.

He also touched on some of the work that he is now doing with his local council to reclaim the streets, which was exceptionally inspiring. We wish him all the best.

Written by Megan

Friday, 3 June 2011

June Books of the Month: 15% off the RRP in-store now!


Interview: Marion Grasby

Marion Grasby shot to fame in the 2010 season of MasterChef. She has her first cookbook, Marion: Recipes and Stories from a Hungry Cook, set for release on July 1st. She will be appearing at Shearer's Bookshop on Wednesday, June 29th at 7.30pm.

Hi Marion, thanks so much for taking time out of your busy schedule to chat with me!

From seeing you in the media and from what I’ve been told you have an absolute, all-encompassing passion for food. What drives that for you?
I think that when you have a genuine love for something you cannot help but be completely consumed by it. People often ask me when it was that I fell in love with food, but there was never an exact moment of time I can pinpoint. Cooking and eating for me is quite simply joyful and that’s why I do it.

How would you describe Marion: Recipes and Stories from a Hungry Cook?
Well, I think it’s a little bit Thai and a little bit Australian…just like me! The way I cook, eat and even gather my ingredients are all influenced by the places I’ve been and the people I love. I’ve travelled and lived all over Australia, Papua New Guinea and Thailand (my Mum is from Thailand). All those places, as well as my family, have influenced the way I cook and so my cookbook is not just a recipe book but also a little storybook about my life.

I’m not a foodie so this may be an obvious one, but why Recipes and Stories from a Hungry Cook and not Recipes and Stories from a Hungry Chef?
My Mum is a trained chef and I have great respect for the time and dedication it takes to gain the title of a professional ‘chef’. I’m not professionally trained and so I prefer to be known for what I am…a very passionate (and hungry) home cook. My recipes are not from a restaurant kitchen. The food in my book is very much for the home cook by a home cook.

What do you hope readers will take away from your cookbook?
Of course I hope that readers find recipes that inspire them to cook. But I also hope people find a much more general type of inspiration. For me, my cookbook is proof that if you have a little dream, if you take a chance and you work hard, you might just get what you want in life.

When Adam Liaw visited us he illustrated the amount of hard work and long hours involved in creating a cookbook. Can you tell me a little about the process that went into creating your book?
I loved every minute of it! Well…maybe not at 3am when I was editing the manuscript…but most of the time   In all honesty though, it was such a wonderful and inspiring experience for me. We travelled back to Darwin, where I was born, and visited the local markets and farms that I remembered as a kid. I also took a photographer and my Mum back to my mother’s village in Thailand. I got to spend time with aunties, my uncle and grandmother for the first time in 25 years. So the whole process was very special for me as well as my family.

Out of the 80+ recipes you present in the book do you have a few favourites?
Oh no! Don’t make me choose! Well…if I had to, I’d probably pick Beggar’s Chicken as my favourite. It’s a soy and star anise braised chicken that my Mum would often make when I was growing up. I guess it was our family’s version of a good ol’ roast chicken. Just the smell of that deeply spiced, simmering black broth makes me feel loved.

Is writing also a passion of yours, considering your original career as a journalist, and the writing you do for MasterChef magazine and the Marion’s Kitchen blog?
I was very much a nerdy bookworm when I was little and I think my passion for reading spilled over into a passion for writing by the time I’d finished school. I was an ABC journalist for about 3 years and it was the storytelling and writing aspect of my job that I treasured the most. I’m very lucky to have stumbled across a career that lets me cook and write.

You had left your career as a journalist to pursue a Masters of Gastronomy degree prior to MasterChef, in what direction were you hoping your food career would go?
I had no idea! All I knew was that I loved food and I needed to get out into the culinary world to figure out what I could do. I’m such a believer in ‘doing’ first and figuring out the details later. I had a teeny tiny hope that one day I might possibly convince someone to let me write a food column. Little did I know that 3 years later I would have a food column and a cookbook!

What’s the biggest myth about cooking in the MasterChef kitchen?
I think most people don’t realise how long the whole process takes. In TV time the series goes for about 13 weeks. In real time it took 10 months from my first audition to my elimination. I spent 6 of those months living in the Masterchef house, away from my partner and family. My partner Tim lost 8 kilograms while I was away!

Can you tell me a little about your other current project, the Marion’s Kitchen Food Range?
My Marion’s Kitchen food range is another dream come true for me. It’s a range of ingredient kits for some of my favourite Thai dishes – green curry, red curry, fishcakes, satay and basil and chilli stir-fry. Each kit contains all the pantry staples for each dish, for example kaffir limes leaves, Thai basil, fish sauce, coconut milk and bamboo shoots. I used all my own recipes to create the pastes, sauces and marinades. Through the six-month development process I ate more Thai curries than anyone would in a lifetime!

Since we’re a bookshop I should ask, are you a reader? And what are you reading at the moment?
I’ve always been a reader. I alternate between easy-reading novels and academic food books. I’ve just finished reading The Little Coffee Shop of Kabul by Deborah Rodriguez. Now I’m in food nerd mode and am reading Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History, by Sidney W. Mintz.

What’s next for you?
I’d really like to take some time out in the next few months to do a bit of travelling. I think it’s important to seek out new experiences and places to be inspired by. I would also like to learn how to knit.

Thanks for your time and we can’t wait for the event!
Me too! See you all there!
 Marion Grasby will be appearing at Shearer's at 7.30pm on Wednesday 29/06/11. Tickets are $15 and must be booked in advance. Call (02) 9572 7766 for bookings and information.