Wednesday, 26 October 2011


1Q84 is the phenomenal new novel from Haruki Murakami, author of Norwegian Wood and The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle.

Released as a trilogy in his native Japan, it went on to become a massive bestseller - the first print run sold out the day it was released. The title is a wordplay as the number 9 in Japanese is often pronounced as 'kew', and the title is a reference to Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four.

From our perspective in the shop, this buzz surrounding this book has been huge. It's definitely going to be one of the biggest titles this Christmas.

As for the plot, here's how the local publisher Random House describe it:

The year is 1984. Aomame sits in a taxi on the expressway in Tokyo.

Her work is not the kind which can be discussed in public but she is in a hurry to carry out an assignment and, with the traffic at a stand-still, the driver proposes a solution. She agrees, but as a result of her actions starts to feel increasingly detached from the real world. She has been on a top-secret mission, and her next job will lead her to encounter the apparently superhuman founder of a religious cult.

Meanwhile, Tengo is leading a nondescript life but wishes to become a writer. He inadvertently becomes involved in a strange affair surrounding a literary prize to which a mysterious seventeen-year-old girl has submitted her remarkable first novel. It seems to be based on her own experiences and moves readers in unusual ways. Can her story really be true?

Aomame and Tengo's stories influence one another, at times by accident and at times intentionally, as the two come closer and closer to intertwining. As 1Q84 accelerates towards its conclusion, both are pursued by persons and forces they do not know and cannot understand. As they begin to decipher more about the strange world into which they have slipped, so they sense their destinies converging. What they cannot know is whether they will find one another before they are themselves found.

1Q84 is a magnificent and fully-imagined work of fiction – a thriller, a love-story and a mind-bending ode to George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four. It is a world from which the reader emerges stunned and altered.
1Q84 is available now.

Event: Bill Granger

"My favourite all-time question is 'Are your teeth real?' and the answer is 'Yes!'"

Whilst the wind was blowing a gale outside the ILVE showroom last night in downtown Leichhardt, inside was only the gentle and tantalising waft of Asian flavours produced by chef extraordinaire and all round good bloke, Bill Granger.

"Life is distracting and time taken at the end of the day to eat together is important."

In his new book Bill's Everyday Asian, Bill entices us to import a range of Asian flavours into our everyday cooking and last night he proved that not only can the process be quick and easy, but bloody tasty too. Cooking a Mild Curry Chicken with Cucumber salad, thrown together from a range of recipes included in his new book, Bill impressed on us that recipes don't need to be set in stone, but can be tweaked according to what you have available in your pantry and whilst it's important to
include authentic asian flavours, one can do so without having to rack up a shopping list as long as the Great Wall of China.

Like most Australians, Bill loves to eat simple and fresh.  He touted Australians as some of the most adventurous and easy eaters mainly because of our multicultural population.  He obviously hasn't met my Dad, but then my Dad has yet to meet Bill's Everyday Asian - that'll sway him.

After leaving us with some incredibly useful tips (from which mortar and pestel is best to invection versus gas), and teased us with news of his new restaurant in Notting Hill (but wouldn't reveal its name...), Bill then signed everybody's book while they nibbled on (oh my gosh) melt in your mouth Ginger Fudge. What a night!

"Jamie Oliver is so successful because he's genuine."

One could say the same about Bill.

Signed copies of Bill's Everyday Asian are available here.
You can find out about Bill Granger, his restaurants and books at

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Interview: John Birmingham

Hi John, thanks for your time! Let's start with an easy one, what are you reading at the moment?
As always I have a coupla books on the go at the moment. Walter Isaacson's bio of Steve Jobs, which I decided to get in iBooks because it seemed appropriate, Mira Grant's zombie thriller Deadline, the excellent sequel to the awesome Feed, and George RR Martin's A Storm of Swords.

Can you tell us about Angels of Vengeance?
Angels brings together all the threads of the stories I plucked apart in Without Warning and After America, bringing vengeance to those in need of it, and closure to those who survive. It's a much more intimate novel than the previous two. Still violent and accelerated, of course, but at a much more personal level. A lot of characters die. Some good, some bad. 

How do you approach writing a trilogy? Is there lots of forward planning involved or does it unfold as you write it?
I like to know in general terms where I'm going to end up when I set out on these long journeys. If you don't have any clue, you're likely to get horribly lost. But apart from setting the broad outlines and themes I want to follow, I prefer to let the characters decide where they're going to take us. I learned in my earlier series that if the story is to really come alive you have to let it tell itself.

The trilogy envisions a parallel reality where a mysterious energy wave wipes out the American population just before the Iraq war of 2003. What inspired this idea and how did it turn into the story that you're now concluding?
Haha. It grew out of an argument I had with a campus idiot over twenty years ago. He was one of these characters who blames every evil in the world on America. We were arguing about the Tiananmen Square massacre in China, which he blamed on George Bush, and at some point he became so enraged that he screamed at me, "We'd all be much better off if we woke up one morning and America was gone, just gone!"

That crazy thought came back to me decades later when I was trying to think of a new idea for a series after finishing the Axis of Time novels.

Considering the events of the first book, can you lay claim to having killed more people on paper than almost any other writer?
I can probably lay claim to running up a megadeath body count faster than anyone else. Four hundred million in the first few pages.

Of the many characters in the series, was there someone you preferred to write for? And will you miss them now that the series is over?

I will really miss Caitlin and Milosz. Between them they were far and away my two faves. Enormous fun to write and the sort of characters I'd love to count among my friends in real life. Because you really wouldn't want them as enemies. I started to miss them within minutes of finishing the final draft.

What sort of research was involved for the series?
Weapons and maps. If you get the guns and the scenery wrong people get right up in your face about it. There's always lots of incidental research to do, like the rate at which a human body decays when hung from from a lamppost for example. That was a special one from After America. But getting the geography and the weapons right takes up huge amounts of time. Luckily so much of that stuff is online now I can do the research on the fly.

Have you had a reaction from the American audience?
Yeah, you'd think they'd be put out, but no. Most of my US readers really enjoyed the way the world went to hell when they weren't around to set it to rights anymore.

When you were writing Angels of Vengeance you kept your fans in the loop via twitter, teasing them with plot points, getting them to join you in the 'pomodoro method', how important do you find social media for yourself as a writer?
It's a two edged sword. On one hand it can be hugely helpful for doing research, and of course for letting readers know what's coming up, but of course if you're an addictive type, like me, when it comes to human contact, it can also be very dangerous. There's a lot of time just waiting to be wasted on Twitter in particular.

Speaking of social media and technology, what's your take on the impact that technology will have on books and reading?
I'm very bullish on the future of books and on independent booksellers in particular. I think in the future a lot more people will do a lot more reading, thanks to ubiquitous ereading programs and apps, not just on dedicated readers but on phones. But I don't think the market for hard copy books will disappear. It'll be less important, in a comparative sense, but there will always be people who want to collect the physical artifact of a book. In future I think we'll distinguish as readers between disposable titles and what I call 'shelf worthy' books.

What are you working on next? Is there another action/adventure trilogy waiting to be written?
I'm writing some novellas set on the Weapons of Choice story world, and will start a new long form series in a couple of weeks. But I'm still nailing down the final details of the latter so can't really talk about it.

Thanks for your time!
Angels of Vengeance is available here.

Without Warning is currently available at the special price of $14.95. After America is also available.
You can visit John Birmingham at

Interview: Claire Corbett

Hi Claire, thanks for taking the time to talk with us, let's start with an easy one. What are you reading at the moment?
Catch-22, which I've never read before. It took me a while to get into it because there are so many characters but now the humour is really beginning to work on me. I'm also reading Seven-tenths: The Sea and Its Thresholds by James Hamilton-Paterson for research and I've just finished Animal People by Charlotte Wood, which I loved. What a great portrait of Sydney and Sydney types.

Tell us about When We Have Wings.
The book is set in a very recognisable near future where the dream of being able to fly is now physical reality. Only the rich can afford the surgery, drugs, and gene manipulation to get their own wings, however. My main character Peri, a poor girl from the regions, will sacrifice anything to get her wings and join this elite but the price is higher than she could have imagined.

When Peri kidnaps the baby of her rich employers and flees, a private investigator is hired to track her down. He doesn't have wings but is facing the dilemma over whether to pay for his son to have the surgery, much as parents agonise over private schools now.

The book explores the exhilaration and terror of flight as well as the dilemmas around such a radical modification of the human.

When We Have Wings has been getting some serious praise; when you were writing it did you know it was something special?
I always believed it was. I always had faith in it. It seemed like an original idea and yet somehow a story that had always been there, like the sculpture waiting in the stone for the sculptor to release it.

Where did the inspiration for the book come from?
From many sources; a great deal of it from living near the Rocky Mountains and envying eagles and hawks soaring off cliffs. Also from flying dreams. It seems all of us know what it feels like to fly from our dreams and for many people these dreams are among the most important experiences of their lives.

The idea of enhancing the human body is a classic sci-fi concept, did you look to any of the classic authors and stories when writing your book?
I've read a fair bit of classic sci-fi and love the great films such as 2001: A Space Odyssey, Alien and Terminator but I wasn't consciously aware of any influences. I love great women speculative fiction writers such as Margaret Atwood, Marge Piercy and Ursula Le Guin. Atwood and Piercy write across many genres and styles and they are interested in the social consequences of the changes they describe.

I'm more inspired by the incredible advances happening in the real world - authors could get all the inspiration they need from reading New Scientist every week. I was affected by the social evolution of fertility technology and plastic surgery, the way these technologies were seen as shocking, controversial, then commonplace and in some cases almost expected.

A reader drew a link for me recently between the glass paperweight in Orwell's 1984 and the glass paperweight my character Peri gives to her employer, architect Peter Chesshyre. The link was unconscious on my part but has resonance, especially as Winston Smith buys the paperweight in the prole district and Peri symbolises the underclass up to a point in my book.

What is it about the sci-fi/speculative fiction genre that attracts you?
I think it's the main way fiction can deal with reality now, with all that is looming. The world is changing faster than ever in our history; the rate of change itself is increasing exponentially. I notice that so many recent novels and short stories could have been written any time in the past fifty years or so - you can't say that about Cory Doctorow or Neal Stephenson. If we wait until the changes bearing down on us are here, it's already too late to think about them. I love that speculative fiction gives you ways to think about important ideas and issues in an imaginative, sometimes liberating, sometimes terrifying sense. It allows you to write beautifully about fascinating things.

Do you think genre classification is important and if so, where do you see When We Have Wings fitting?
No; classification allows people to dismiss categories of interesting work wholesale. The desire to do that is understandable but I'd like to see what would happen if fiction was just shelved alphabetically in a bookstore and you had to approach every book with an open mind. Kerryn Goldsworthy said in a terrific review of Stephen M Irwin's The Broken Ones that crime is where plot went when it was kicked out of literary fiction and that sci-fi is where the ideas went. You can have it all; ideas, story and literary craft. Allen & Unwin decided When We Have Wings is literary fiction and I wrote the book with that intention; that every sentence would be as crafted and beautiful as I could make it.

You've lived in and visited some very interesting and contrasting parts of the world; has this been something you've drawn on as a writer?
Yes. When We Have Wings is set in a City reminiscent of Sydney but it's become an even more Asian city in the book, with many Buddhist monks and people putting out colourful offerings of flowers on the street as they do in Bali. It's hot, humid, with almost monsoonal downpours. There are slums and I was interested in making the place a mix of cultural influences. The more I travel, the more I want to write out of this melange of cultural influences.

What was the path that led to you becoming a published author?
A long one! Endless rewrites, really. I sent my work off and my agent took me on. Then there was a lot more rewriting and my wonderful agent sold When We Have Wings to Allen & Unwin, who are just fabulous to work with.

What are you working on next?
I am now contracted for a second novel. This book is set under the sea. That's all I can say for now except that my passion for the sea is deeper even than my interest in flight.

 When We Have Wings is available here.
Claire Corbett is appearing at the Speculative Fiction Festival at the NSW Writers' Centre on Saturday 5 November. You can visit Claire at her website

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

The 2011 Booker Prize Winner

by Julian Barnes

The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes has "the markings of a classic of English Literature. It is exquisitely written, subtly plotted and reveals new depths with each reading," according to Stella Rimington, the chair of judges for this year's Man Booker Prize.

Barnes has previously been shortlisted three times for the Booker Prize and has finally won the £50,000 award, plus the inevitable bump in sales that the winner always gets. Last year's winner, The Finkler Question by Howard Jacobson, has sold over 250,000 copies since winning the prize. 

The Sense of an Ending is the story of one man coming to terms with his personal history. Memory, middle age and friendship are the subjects of this insightful and surprising novel. It's also one of the shortest Booker Prize winners in recent memory, at approximately 150 pages.

On a personal note, I accurately predicted the prize yet again. I've accurately predicted it every year since working here, but I never tell anyone until after the prize has been announced, in case I jinx it. 

Congratulations to Julian Barnes and his local publisher Random House for this achievement. 

Thursday, 13 October 2011

Kate Grenville Event

As someone who is a strong advocate and avid reader of Australian literature, I was anticipating great things from our event with Kate Grenville and the night did not disappoint. Promoting her new book, Sarah Thornhill, Grenville captivated a packed Shearer’s bookstore, proving that her mastery of storytelling extends beyond the page.

In 2005, Kate Grenville released The Secret River - arguably one of the most important Australian novels and certainly one of the most talked about. The story follows the life of William Thornhill, an Englishman sent to the NSW penal colony for steeling timber and who, once receiving his pardon, settles along the Hawkesbury River. The story is inspired by Grenville’s great-great-great grandfather, Solomon Wiseman, for whom Wiseman’s Ferry is named after. At first glance, it is a simple story, even a familiar one, yet Grenville realised that there are no simple stories of settlement; there are always darker and more complicated implications hidden underneath. Wiseman’s story was handed down through Grenville’s family using well-worn phrases. One of those was that Wiseman ‘took up’ land in NSW. When Grenville realised that those words were a euphemism for the fact that Wiseman appropriated  land from the Darug people of the Hawkesbury, she began a long journey of reconciliation, not only with Australia’s larger history but her personal history as well.  The result of that journey is the recently completed trilogy that includes The Secret River, The Lieutenant, and Sarah Thornhill. Collectively, these stories explore what the phrase ‘took up’ land actually meant; they explore the colonial project.

Grenville is passionate about the past and stresses the importance of knowing our personal histories. She reminded us that if one generation doesn’t write down their family stories they are lost forever. So, at the urging of Grenville, start writing now!

Sarah Thornhill picks up the story of the Thornhill family that were introduced in The Secret River. As before, this novel is inspired by a mixture of the ‘enormous scattered tapestry of Wiseman descendants’, and historical events and archives. In her research, Grenville discovered that Solomon Wiseman had a son, William, who was a sealer who lived in New Zealand for his work. There, he married a Maori woman and they had a daughter together even though he already had a family waiting for him along the Hawkesbury. When William and his wife drowned, Solomon Wiseman sent for their child - his granddaughter - and brought her up in NSW. The girl’s name became Sophia Betty Wiseman.

For Grenville, Sophia's story parallelled the story of Australia’s Stolen Generation. This young girl was taken away from family, taken away from language and even taken away from her own name. The story also fitted with Grenville’s two previous books - notions of black and white and having a foot in both these worlds. It was reflective of Australia's sad misguided history.

Grenville has always been open about her creative process. Her book, Searching For The Secret River is a fascinating look-behind-the-scenes of The Secret River that reveals the people and events that the story was inspired by, and also gives insight into her research and writing processes. For Sarah Thornhill, Grenville claims to owe the Cosmos for bringing the story to life. The universe conspired for Grenville to attend a literary event in Auckland. As she was hiking up the side of a volcano, Grenville says the Cosmos spoke to her, urging her to write a book about the Wiseman's granddaughter. All Grenville had to write on was a brown paper bag that was holding her lunch, but it was enough. She sat down and ‘dictated’ the plot of Sarah Thornhill on the crumpled wrapper. The Cosmos even gave her a first sentence, that has since been moved to another part of the book: ‘It was a Sunday when she arrived. None of us could say her name, so we called her Betty.’ It took Grenville two and a half years to produce the rest of the novel. 

Grenville explained that even though she had the themes, there needed to be an emotional pull. That pull ended up being the most compelling plot line of them all - a love story. The inspiration for the Betty’s lover once again came from real life. Thomas Chastler, a friend of William Wiseman, was born to a convict father and an Aboriginal woman (a 'New Holland half-caste' according to the records). Grenville shared how he leaped out from the archives as a strong, charismatic and handsome man. In imagining how the story of her great-great grandmother, renamed Sarah Thornhill, and Thomas Chastler, renamed Jack Langman, could have met and fallen in love, Grenville was able to write her latest novel, Sarah Thornhill.

Grenville is an important author on the issue of reconciliation in this country. She uses fiction to confront Australia’s past and the personal distress of knowing that white Australians, like herself, have the lives that they do because their ancestors had committed crimes against the Aboriginal people. Grenville believes that we do not have to necessarily feel guilty about that history but we need to know about it and tell the story. In answering how Aboriginal tribes have responded to her novels, Grenville said that the response has been hugely positive - to have their story told – or the ugly part of that story told - by a whitefella means something.

The release of Sarah Thornhill is a major Australian literary event. If you haven’t already started reading Grenville’s Hawkesbury River trilogy, I would encourage you to put it at the top of your reading list. Not only is it a well written and entertaining read, but it is an important step towards understanding Australia and each of our places in it.

Written by Natalie

 are available now.

A Picture Book Review

I Want My Hat Back
by Jon Klassen

It was with great excitement that the staff at Shearer's Bookshop picked up I Want My Hat Back, the latest work by Jon Klassen. This is his first time writing as well as illustrating (you may recognise his style from The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place by Maryrose Wood). For his first writing job he has given us a dramatic crime noir story, implemented with great skill and subtlety in the unusual form of a children's picture book. Klassen's premise is simple, but it is displayed with the deft skill of a wordsmith and the illustrations of a true talent in the world of watercolours. The main narrator, a bear, wants his hat back. Has he lost it? Has it been stolen? These questions and more will plague you until the book's gripping finale.

Now if you're anything like us, this adventure into the seedy underbelly of a seemingly picturesque woodland grove might come as some surprise to you. It might even seem that the themes of loss and self-discovery are overshadowed by theft and revenge but Klassen has thrown aside the traditions of contemporary story telling and presents us with just dialogue in the text, leaving his evocative and yet simple illustrations to evoke our sympathies on behalf of the bear, and our suspicions of these cunning forest creatures.

This exceptional work is not a 'whodunnit' but is instead replete with themes that will resonate and leave the reader pondering how so many ideas, such as examinations of animal rights and capital punishment, can fit into a work only 40 pages long. Especially one so exquisitely told with the light brushstroke of a master of subtlety and sly humour. But be warned, the blurb might give away the ending.

Basically, this review is not serious but this book is completely awesome. Read it.

Written by Elissa

I Want my Hat Back is available now

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Elliot Perlman Event

Last Wednesday, Shearer’s hosted an event to promote The Street Sweeper – the latest novel from multi-award winning Australian author, Elliot Perlman. Elliot said that, ‘Coming to Shearer’s was like coming home’ and we were happy to welcome him back. Elliot has recently returned from New York where he lived for four years. During that time, his home was opposite a renowned cancer hospital. Elliot used to watch people gather outside the building to smoke their cigarettes and realised that these were people who should never have met. The assortment of personalities on the sidewalk – doctors, nurses, cleaners, people from the hospital gift store and library, family and friends of patients – could not have been more disparate. If New York was a microcosm of the world, then this hospital was a microcosm of New York. Elliot began to imagine, ‘What if a friendship developed?’ With that thought the seed for The Street Sweeper was planted in his mind.

The Street Sweeper follows two main characters. The first is Lamont Williams, an African American probationary janitor who works in a hospital and forms an unlikely friendship with an elderly Holocaust survivor.  The second is an Australian historian, Adam Zignelik, whose career and long-term relationship are falling apart. Both stories lead the reader through the Civil Rights struggle in the United States to the Nazi death camps of Auschwitz-Birkenau. The Street Sweeper ambitiously spans Chicago, New York, Melbourne and Poland and brilliantly weaves together characters, countries, history and the present day in a compelling and thought-provoking style of writing.

Elliot admitted that he is a stickler for detail so it is no surprise that The Street Sweeper took six years to write. In handling such significant and sensitive events as the Civil Rights movement and the Holocaust, Elliot knew he had to do extensive research. It was crucial for him to accurately and respectfully get the facts right. In addition to studying historical archives, Elliot travelled to many cities and towns talking to people in order to get a feel for the book. Elliot told us about the six times he visited Auschwitz in the company of Robert Novak, a guide at Auschwitz Museum. On one occasion, when Elliot was standing in the ruins of Crematorium Four, it began to snow. He commented to Novak that it must have been like that sometimes, only it wouldn’t have been snow, it would have been ash as well. Novak replied, ‘You say that because you saw it in Schindler’s List’ and then went on to explain that it wouldn’t have happened like that because the ash from human bodies wouldn’t have floated that far. Such information is not crucial to the plot of a novel, but those details allowed Elliot to really know his story and gave him the courage to write the book; to face the weight of the story.

Elliot also shared an account of a historian who was the first person to record the oral testimonies of Holocaust survivors. In each interview, the historian showed no emotional response. That is until the very last one. In that interview, a Jewish woman told of leaving her baby with a neighbour that she had only met twice in a plan to save her child’s life. The neighbour, who was Polish, was terrified of helping the lady – anyone caught helping Jews would be executed by the Nazis. The two women agreed that the mother would leave the baby bundled in the snow where the neighbour would go and pretend to innocently discover the child. At the end of the recording, the historian collapses and begins to speak in English into the wire. He asks himself, asks whoever is listening, ‘Who is going to stand in judgement over all of this? Who is going to judge … my work?’ The historian's reaction puzzled Elliot. Why did the man felt so guilty about his research? Where did the guilt come from? It was a question that Elliot needed to answer and The Street Sweeper is a step towards doing that.
The novel is also about other things. To paraphrase Elliot, The Street Sweeper is about history, memory, love and extremes of racism. It is about astonishing heroism and kindness and how close we all are to people who at first seem so far away. Ultimately, there is a line spanning from his first work, Three Dollars, to The Street Sweeper that explores the inalienable dignity of every human being no matter where they come from.

At the close of the evening, Elliot reflected on the important role fiction plays in his life. Despite relationships and friendships, he said, there is always a part of yourself that silently ruminates in isolation. The closest you can come to not being alone in that space is through literary fiction. Perlman strongly believes that the richness of literary fiction is the best way to nourish your soul and your intellect simultaneously. If this is case, The Street Sweeper is an example of the highest quality literature and one that should not be missed.

Written by Natalie