Discoveries / What I'm reading

Three books. One album. Four inspiring women.

If you don’t already know these names, I think you should.

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1. Rashida Murphy

I am proud to call this talented writer my friend.

Among other accolades, the last 18 months has seen Rashida complete her PhD, win the 2016 Magdalena Prize for Feminist Research, and publish her first novel — which was shortlisted for the prestigious Dundee Prize.

Rashida’s written words shine with the same lyrical beauty as her speaking voice. Watch her recent interview with William Yeoman and you, too, may find yourself reading her debut novel in her very voice.

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The Historian’s Daughter traverses India, war-torn Iran, and Western Australia as the book’s mysteries unfold around a set of wonderful but flawed characters, among my favourites: the Historian, the Magician, the protagonist with the excellent name…

From the opening line, I was enthralled.

In addition to its richly-drawn cast and sense of place, I found this book’s treatment of contemporary issues, secrets, and nods to classic characters equally appealing. The crazy aunt in the attic gave me shivers of Jane Eyre; the threat of the khatna blade made my own flesh sting; I felt the Magician’s spice and warmth as keenly as the Historian’s black cloud of a presence.

The Historian’s Daughter is a captivating read, available for purchase from UWA Publishing.

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2. Portland Jones

In person, Portland Jones comes across as quiet, kind, determined. I can see how her manner would help her to be effective in her other job — training horses with her partner, Sophie.

When she starts talking about her writing, however, she lights up — and this happened when she read a page of just-pressed prose at our inaugural book club meet-up.

Seeing the Elephant, Portland’s debut novel about the Vietnam War, was shortlisted for the TAG Hungerford Prize in 2014.

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Having a personal interest in the Vietnam War, Portland wanted to tell a story that honours its veterans. I believe she has done that. What she has produced is well researched, and sensitively and uniquely presented, raising issues not given much space in the mainstream.

These pages acknowledge the darkness of this time and place but rise above it, on the wings of friendship and love.

Seeing the Elephant is available for purchase via Margaret River Press — and I recommend the Kindle version if small print hurts your eyes.

And here is a little tidbit to enjoy while you wait for your new book to arrive:

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3. J. M. Peace

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This is Jay. At least that’s the moniker she gave herself when we met at the Scarlet Stiletto Awards two years ago. A serving police officer, Jay can’t reveal her real name or put her face online. As such, her book launches are virtual, which is actually pretty cool.

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This is Diego. His fetching necktie won me a copy of Jay’s book, The Twisted Knot.

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This is Jay’s second book. Her debut novel, A Time to Run, sucked me into the world of the police procedural thriller, and this one had me similarly gripped.

Aside from knowing her police procedures inside and out, Jay’s grasp of pacing is a major strength. She tells you just enough to hook you into the turns and frustrations of the story while she explores elements of her protagonist’s battle with post-traumatic stress.

I’m not giving too much away when I say that, if you are a parent, you will want to hug your kids extra close after reading this book.

The Twisted Knot is published by Pan MacMillan Australia, and you’ll find more of Jay’s words in Cops & Novels.

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4. Gwenno Saunders

It was a recent Wired article that first stirred my interest in Gwenno, electro-pop feminism, and Welsh science fiction.

Now I own the debut CD and the matching t-shirt, and my four-year old and I can’t stop dancing to ‘Fratolish Hiang Perpeshki’ — the song that’s lived in my head since Saturday night, when I was fortunate enough to see the inimitable Welsh singer/synth player/cultural warrior perform at Mojo’s Bar in Fremantle.

When Gwenno addressed us, initially it was about the weather. She had been told that Perth is experiencing unusual weather for this time of year, which it is, and she went on to announce that it’s like this in Wales every day. Maybe it takes weather so unruly to produce a sound as ethereal as hers.

Her vocals have a Björk-ish feel, set to an electronica that creates an atmosphere like Tame Impala crossed with chilled-out 80s disco. It’s an other-worldly combination that I love, but what really draws me into Gwenno’s music is her message: her songs cover big themes, from revolution to failed town planning and cultural identity.

Gwenno’s re-released 2014 album — Y Dydd Olaf (The Last Day) — is based on Owain Owain’s 1976 sci-fi novel of the same name. All tracks are in Welsh except for the lullaby ‘Amser’ (Time), which she sings in Cornish, although amser also translates to “time” in Welsh.

Please don’t be put off by the foreign lyrics. Her angelic tones are easy to get lost in and the words, ripe with uncomfortable truths, are conveniently translated on her website.

Gwenno is performing tonight as part of the Melbourne Festival. If you can’t make it there, there is still Newtown on the 13th. Or Cardiff on the 21st.


Addendum of 12 October: As well as changing the post title, I corrected links and amended awkward wording.

I also realised that I hadn’t directly addressed a central theme of this post: Why these women? And why do I find them so inspiring?

It’s simple, really.

Each of these women has released a new work that I have enjoyed in the last few months — and I have had the privilege of meeting them all.

They have faced different challenges in their personal and creative lives, and turned their adversity into new paths and stepping stones. In spite of what life throws their way, they keep going. They see their projects through.

They are all mothers who make the time to create their art, their way. And it’s beautiful.

That’s why I’m inspired.

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