Review: Claiming Noah by Amanda Ortlepp

 

Title: Claiming Noah

Author: Amanda Ortlepp

Published: Simon & Schuster AU March 2015

Read an Excerpt

Status: Read from March 01 to 02, 2015 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

Claiming Noah, from debut author Amanda Ortlepp, tugs on the heartstrings, exploring a modern day dilemma raised by fertility treatments which challenges society’s ideas of motherhood and family.

Unable to conceive naturally, Catriona and James turn to IVF to create their family but after the failure of two cycles, Catriona, already ambivalent about motherhood, agrees to just one last attempt and when her pregnancy is confirmed, insists the remaining embryo be donated. After a difficult pregnancy and long labour she delivers a son but from the moment Sebastian is placed in her arms she feels a nameless dread, and begins to spiral into postnatal psychosis.
Diana and Liam are excited when they are told a donor embryo is available and thrilled when it takes. Nine months later, Diana gives birth to Noah, and despite the exhaustion that comes with a newborn and Liam’s casual indifference, Diana adores her beautiful son and then her world is turned upside down when he is abducted during a moment’s inattention.
Almost two years later, while Diana still clings to the hope Noah will be returned to her, Catriona, is happily preparing to celebrate Sebastian’s and James’ birthday with family and friends… and then comes a knock on the door.

Claiming Noah is a heartrending story that eventually sees the lives of Catriona and Diana intersect. Though I found some parts of the plot to be a little melodramatic, the situation Catriona and Diana find themselves is thought provoking and confronting.

At its core, Claiming Noah is an examination of the legal, moral and ethical issues related to embryo donation and adoption. Ortlepp admits she became fascinated with the topic when she stumbled across it and her research shows. Claiming Noah explores a kind of ‘worst case’ scenario which develops into an untenable crisis when tragedy strikes.

By choosing to present the alternating viewpoints of Catriona and Diana, the author encourages the reader to explore the complexities of their individual situations. Both women are sympathetic characters, and there are no easy answers to the dilemma Ortlepp has created. As a mother, the heartache of both Catriona and Diana when faced with the loss of their sons is touching.

A story about motherhood, loss, betrayal and love, Claiming Noah is an emotionally charged novel.

 

Learn more about Amanda Ortlepp and Claiming Noah in the guest post published earlier here on Book’d Out.

Claiming Noah is available to purchase from

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AWW Feature: Amanda Ortlepp and Claiming Noah

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I’m pleased to introduce Amanda Ortlepp today who is celebrating the release of her debut novel, Claiming Noah. Amanda always wanted to be a writer but it took thirty years and a decade working in marketing and communication roles before she started her first book. She lives and works in the inner west of Sydney and is currently working on a second novel.

An emotionally challenging novel, Claiming Noah is a taut and thoughtful story.

Catriona and James are desperate for children, and embark on an IVF program. After a gruelling round of treatments, Catriona finally falls pregnant, and they donate their remaining embryo anonymously.
Diana and Liam are on a waiting list to receive an embryo. Sooner than expected, they are thrilled to discover one is available.
After a difficult pregnancy, Catriona gives birth to Sebastian. But severe postnatal depression affects her badly, and quickly turns into deadly psychosis. For her protection and her baby’s, she’s admitted into psychiatric care. When she comes home, she again struggles to bond with her baby, but gradually life finds its own rhythm.
Meanwhile, Diana has given birth to a beautiful little boy, Noah.
But when he is two months old Noah is abducted … and Diana and Liam’s nightmare begins.
Where is Noah?
This gripping, emotional thriller binds together the stories of Catriona and Diana and will leave you on the edge of your seat.
What if your child belonged to someone else?

My review of Claiming Noah can be read HERE, in the meantime, please read on to learn more about  Claiming Noah.

Delving into a scary new world

by Amanda Ortlepp

I don’t have children. And I’ve always been on the fence about whether or not I want to someday. I adore children, especially my nephews and my friends’ children, but having your own is another thing entirely. I feel it’s the single biggest decision people have to make in their lives. I’m often asked if I want children and when I say “I’m not sure” I’m consistently told “You will one day.” Perhaps they’re right, but I think there are plenty of people like me out there who are ambivalent about wanting to have children. And after all the research I had to do for Claiming Noah, I’m not sure that I’ll ever be brave enough to become a mother.

While writing Claiming Noah I researched fertility treatments, miscarriages, difficult pregnancies, even more difficult childbirths. Then of course there are all the problems you can face after the baby is born: trying to get your baby to feed and sleep while facing a barrage of advice (mostly unsolicited, from what I’m told) and dealing with the expectations placed on you by others and by yourself. I learnt that postpartum disorders are extremely common. Eighty per cent of women experience the baby blues, one in seven experience postnatal depression, and one or two in every thousand new mothers experience postpartum psychosis. They’re grim statistics and I really feel for any woman who has had to deal with these disorders while trying to take care of a newborn. Then there’s the competitive gauntlet of mothers’ groups, juggling work and childcare, and dealing with other people’s judgment and advice while trying to work out how to raise your child to be a decent human being. As an outsider to all of this it seems incredibly difficult and I’m in awe of anyone who can get through raising a child unscathed.

Claiming Noah is about two couples on either side of an embryo donation: the couple who decide to donate their excess embryo, and the couple who adopt and implant the embryo to raise as their own child. I hadn’t heard of embryo donation before I started writing Claiming Noah and I was surprised when I found out that it has been available in Australia for over 10 years. I knew that in the past IVF used to produce a lot multiple births – twins, triplets, even quadruplets. We all remember hearing about the mother who after going through IVF gave birth to octuplets in the US four years ago. But most fertility clinics won’t implant multiple embryos anymore. In Australia they’ll only implant one at a time (two at the most). The science behind IVF is progressing all the time and embryologists can work out which embryos have the best chance of survival, so those are the ones implanted first. A consequence of this change in process is that there are thousands of excess embryos in frozen storage. It’s estimated that there are over 120,000 in Australia. So embryo donation makes a lot of sense, even though only a small percentage of couples choose to take up that option.

I was interested in how the lives of couples on both the donating and receiving end of an embryo donation would intersect, so I decided to tell the story of Claiming Noah in alternating chapters from the viewpoints of each of the two women. I wanted to tell the story this way because the characters’ lives are so closely linked, even though they haven’t met each other, and I wanted to explore how the actions of one woman affected the other.

The other reason I had for structuring the story in this way is because I want the readers to empathise with both women and therefore find themselves torn about whose side they’re on. There isn’t a clear antagonist in this story, even though many of the characters do awful things at some point, and I think that’s an accurate representation of life. Everyone has their own agenda and we don’t always think about what impact our actions will have on other people.

I’ve been asked many times by people who have read Claiming Noah how it affected me to write a story that deals with such extreme emotional issues and moral dilemmas. Let’s just say I wasn’t a barrel of laughs while I was writing the first draft. I was working full-time, coming home from my marketing job to have dinner and relax for a while before I started writing at about 10pm and worked into the early hours of the morning. I’m a night owl anyway, so that isn’t as extreme as it sounds, but I remember the feeling of panic when I’d look at the clock, realise it was three o’clock in the morning, and then realise I had to get up for work in four hours. As well as the sleep deprivation, I was carrying around in my mind thoughts of infertility, postpartum psychosis, kidnapping and a mother’s grief at losing her son. Some scenes made me cry as I wrote them, others made me feel like a sociopath. But that’s what writing is all about. If you don’t feel anything, how can you expect your readers to?

Claiming Noah is available to purchase from

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Review: Snowy River Man by Lizzy Chandler

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Title: Snowy River Man

Author: Lizzy Chandler

Published: Escape Publishing February 2015

Status: Read on February 24, 2015 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the author}

My Thoughts:

Lizzy Chandler’s debut novel, Snowy River Man, is an engaging contemporary romance, with an edge of suspense, set in rural Australia.

Katrina Delaney is stunned when she learns that the lost and frightened child she has seen in her dream is Jack Fairley’s son. Seven years ago she and Jack spent a single passionate night together, only for everything to fall apart the morning after.
Jack Fairley is frantic when his young son disappears while at a rodeo, seemingly without a trace, and he is willing to do anything to ensure his safe return, even if that means accepting the help of Katrina Delaney.
Though wary of their history, Katrina and Jack are determined to put aside their differences in order to ensure Nick’s safe recovery but in saving the lost boy, they just may lose their hearts.

I really like the bones of the story, for such a short novel (just 165 pages) the author has developed a well layered plot, even if several elements seem somewhat truncated. The main conflicts expose personal and professional betrayal and shocking family secrets providing plenty of dramatic tension. The suspense is well crafted and nicely paced.

Katrina is an interesting character, only recently having found some sense of equilibrium after enduring several difficult years related to a tragic loss and the intrusiveness of her psychic gift, it’s brave of her to offer Jack her help, knowing she could be opening herself up to more pain.
Jack is a fairly typical leading man for the genre, he has made mistakes but in general is kind and honourable. He is a loving father and a savvy businessman though it’s his rugged farming persona that I found most appealing.(I have to mention too, I am a fan of the cover model representing him – yum!)
The chemistry between Katrina and Jack is portrayed well, their simmering attraction, complicated by the past, eventually boils over in a sensual scene.

I must admit I wish the author had chosen to exploit the story’s potential and developed Snowy River Man into a full length novel but it is a quick, engaging read offering an appealing tale of love, betrayal, forgiveness and family.

You can learn more about Snowy River Man in the guest post shared by Lizzy Chandler here at Book’d Out earlier today.

Win a copy of Snowy River Man by visiting http://lizzychandler.com/snowy-river-man-giveaway/. Entries close March 1st, 2015.

 

Snow River Man is available to purchase from

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AWW Feature: Lizzy Chandler and the Snowy River Man

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I am thrilled to welcome Lizzy Chandler to Book’d Out today to introduce her debut short novel, Snowy River Man.

Lizzy Chandler is the pen-name of Elizabeth Lhuede, a writer, book blogger and creative writing tutor who founded the Australian Women Writers Challenge. She reviews books under her own name at Devoted Eclectic.

Lizzy has written a number of novels in a variety of genres, including romance, romantic suspense, fantasy and psychological suspense. Her unpublished manuscripts have earned recognition in a number of competitions, including New Zealand’s Clendon Award and Australia’s Emma Darcy Award (now “Emerald”). Lizzy is a founding member of the RWA Turramurra group in Sydney. She is a trained counsellor and also teaches creative writing by distance through TAFE (NSW) Oten. She spends most of her time in the Blue Mountains.

coverSnowy River Man, published by Escape Publishing, Harlequin’s digital imprint, is an engaging contemporary romance with a hint of suspense.

The last time Katrina Delaney saw Jack Fairley was the morning after a one-night stand, when she discovered he was engaged to be married. Seven years later, she dreams of a missing boy – Jack’s son. Katrina has worked with police to find missing children before, and she knows she must help. But seeing Jack again comes with its own set of dangers, and Katrina fears the risks she is taking with her heart.

Jack Fairley’s standing in the community can’t keep his son from wandering off during a country rodeo. Frantic with worry, Jack is willing to do anything to find him, even put aside his scepticism and accept the help of a woman who sees his son in a dream. But when that woman turns out to be Katrina Delaney, he’s immediately suspicious. Neither Katrina nor Jack have any reason to trust each other, or the attraction that flares between them again. But trust they will have to, if they want any chance at love.”

My review of Snowy River Man can be read HERE, but first, please read on to learn more about Snowy River Man in this guest post from Lizzy Chandler.

‘The Lost Child’

Snowy River Man opens at a country rodeo, with mountains grazier Jack Fairley riding a brumby stallion. When he finishes his ride, he looks around and discovers his six-year-old son Nick has disappeared. Jack lost his wife when Nick was still a baby and he’s terrified the boy has wandered off into the Snowy Mountains wilderness.

The story of the “lost child” is an enduring motif in Australian culture, but it also has a special meaning for me. When I was three and my mother was in hospital with her tenth child (yes, we’re a big family!), my aunt took me and my older brothers and sisters down to a harbourside netted pool to swim. While my aunt was minding the 18-month-old, I paddled on the shore. As the late afternoon shadows crept, I looked back at the beach and I couldn’t see my family. I thought they’d gone home without me. So I walked. I walked up the hill for a couple of kilometres till I arrived back out our old Federation bungalow and found no one there. After that, I had a terror of getting lost. I remember the horror of looking around and not finding the person you want to see. I’ve used those emotions in this story.

The motif also has a deeper resonance. While I was writing Snowy River Man, there was a lot in the press about the stolen generations, and the anguish of mothers losing their children. It’s a national shame and the injustice of it still impacts on current generations of Aboriginal people. When I chose to hint that my heroine, Katrina, was part-indigenous, I wanted to gesture in some way towards the stolen generations, but also to make it personal. I’ve never lost a child, but I did lose the opportunity to have one, and have endured that grief. I know what it’s like to yearn for a baby in my arms, to look at the children of my ex-boyfriend and current partner and wonder what might have been.

In Snowy River Man, I take “what might have been” and give it a happy ending.

Win a copy of Snowy River Man by visiting http://lizzychandler.com/snowy-river-man-giveaway/. Entries close March 1st, 2015.

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Snow River Man is available to purchase from

Escape Publishing

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Review: Intensive Care by Nicki Edwards

 

Title: Intensive Care

Author: Nicki Edwards

Published: Momentum February 2015

Read  an Excerpt

Status: Read from February 15 to 16, 2015 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

Crushed when she discovers her live in boyfriend of three years has been having an affair, ICU nurse Kate Kennedy packs up her belongings and desperate to move on, impulsively accepts a position at a hospital in the small country town of Birrangulla, five hours west of Sydney. Everything seems to be falling into place, she’s found the perfect job, the perfect home, and in search of the the perfect cup of coffee, may just have found the perfect man, but

Intensive Care is a contemporary rural medical romance in which the author, Nicki Edwards, draws on her love of country Australia and her personal nursing experience.

I found Kate to be a bit of a passive-aggressive character. There is a lot of emphasis on her dislike of confrontation but I thought she was often over sensitive, snappish and impatient. I understood her avoidance of her cheating boyfriend Marcus, especially as more details about their relationship were revealed, and sympathised with her feelings of hurt and betrayal. And while I admired Kate’s professional compassion for her patients, her reaction to Joel’s sister’s concerns bothered me, she didn’t demonstrate a lot of understanding for the younger woman’s fears.

Taking place over the period of about a year the romance between Kate and Joel develops slowly. Though they both have good reasons to be wary of beginning a new relationship, I found their chemistry a bit lacking. Joel in particularly seems disinterested much of the time while Kate tries to force the issue, which was slightly discomfiting.

Joel, with his Irish accent, coffee making genius, and handyman skills, is an appealing hero, made more so by his tragic past. Though perhaps a little passive for my taste, I found him sweet and charming.

A blend of medical drama, and rural romance, Intensive Care is a pleasant novel which should appeal to fans of both genres.

 

Please click here to learn more about Nicki Edwards and her writing journey.

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AWW Feature: My Writing Journey by Nicki Edwards

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I’m happy to introduce you to Nicki Edwards today.

After twenty-five years of marriage, travel, children, study and work, Nicki decided she wasn’t busy enough. In January of 2014 she woke up and decided to fulfill a lifelong dream to write a novel. Nicki calls herself a city girl with a country heart. Unfortunately the only way she can escape to the countryside of her dreams is by living vicariously through the lives of the characters in the rural romance novels she loves to read. If she could spend her days dressed in jeans and boots out on the farm surrounded by horses, dogs, cows and sheep, she’d be in her element. When Nicki isn’t dreaming, reading or writing about rural life, she can be found in her scrubs in the emergency department where she works fulltime as a nurse.

Intensive Care is her debut novel, a medical romance, drawing on her love for all things country and her nursing experience.

“Escaping to the country was meant to be easy …
On the surface it looks like busy intensive care nurse Kate Kennedy has it all: a long-term relationship, a great career and a sleek inner city apartment. But appearances are deceiving, and in one fell swoop everything comes crashing down around her. In a moment of spontaneity, Kate leaves her city life and takes a new role as Nurse Unit Manager at Birrangulla Base Hospital, but her dream move proves harder than expected.
Local cafe owner Joel O’Connor finds himself increasingly drawn to the gorgeous new nurse, but like Kate, he’s been scarred by love and isn’t looking to jump into anything. Yet their chemistry is hard to deny and after a near fatal incident, Joel and Kate find themselves opening up to one another.
Just when Kate thinks she’s found love again, their fragile relationship is thwarted by their pasts. Can they both let go of their guilt and grief to move on to a bright new future?”

My review of Intensive Care can be read HERE, in the meantime, please read on to learn more about Nicki Edward’s writing journey.

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My Writing Journey

Thanks for having me on Book’d Out.
It’s been a busy couple of weeks since the launch of my “book baby”, Intensive Care – a rural romance full of medical drama and I have to keep pinching myself that it’s all real – I wrote a book!
As a child I always had my nose stuck in a book, and ever since I learned to read I harboured a secret desire to one day write my own. I was encouraged by teachers at school to pursue some sort of career in writing, but I never thought I was good enough. After all the years of reading, I’d put authors on a very high pedestal indeed!
At the start of 2014 I decided enough was enough. If I ever wanted to tick off the next item on my bucket list and write a book, then I had to stop talking about it and actually do it! I started writing at the end of January in 2014 and four months later submitted what I’d written to Momentum. Intensive Care is my debut novel, and I’m currently working on the follow up, titled Emergency Response. I’ve also written another medical rural romance, The Peppercorn Lease, which is yet to be published.
Inspired after reading best-selling rural romance author Rachael Johns’ book Jilted, and then being introduced to the rural romance genre, I decided to write my own rural romance. They say “write what you know”, and “write what you love”. What I know is nursing and what I love is the country: so it was these two things that inspired the writing of Intensive Care.
Everyone knows the saying that truth really is stranger than fiction. As a nurse, I have the incredible honour and privilege of being with people in both their moments of triumph and in their tragedies – often in a single shift – and I wanted to be able to share some of these incredible stories. I hope that I have been able to portray the incredible work that intensive care nurses do every single day. I’m now working in the Emergency Department so it’s pretty easy to guess where my next stories are coming from! While some of my characters and stories are real (names changed of course), some of my colleagues may recognise themselves as minor characters in my books!
The other inspiration for writing rural romance comes after living in regional Australia for three years. Now living back in the city, I still yearn for the simple lifestyle I had back then when I drove past paddocks full of cows and sheep on my way into town. There’s something special about life in the country and one day I plan to return and have my own little “escape to the country” moment, just like Kate. Hopefully it won’t be because I have a broken heart.
One of the most rewarding things about embarking on this writing journey is the new people I have met – many have only been online, but I feel like we’ve been friends for years and I can’t wait for the day that I meet some of these readers and writers in person. Being connected with other writers has been a very important part of this journey. When I’m filled with self-doubt, they’re there to encourage me to keep going. I joined Romance Writer’s Australia and am involved with a number of smaller writer’s groups, both of which provide immense support.
Intensive Care is about a young city nurse who escapes from Sydney to regional NSW after a relationship breakdown. She hopes the country move will heal her broken heart. She quickly falls in love with life in Birrangulla, enjoys her job working in the intensive care unit and then meets and falls in love with cute Irish barista Joel O’Connor. Unfortunately, adjusting to country life and fitting into the community isn’t as easy as Kate expected. This is a story of loss and grief and of finding hope and love again.
I hope readers enjoy the sweet nature of the book as well as the emotional moments that Kate faces with her patients in the intensive care unit in the backdrop of a small Australian community. I think the characters are very ‘real’, and while Kate and Joel’s relationship develops slowly, (they have a long friendship before it finally blossoms into romance), I’m hoping that the readers will enjoy this. I don’t write open door bedroom scenes, so if you’re looking for hot and steamy sex scenes, you might be disappointed by my book.  At the end of the day, I hope readers like the book enough to want to read Emergency Response which is the love story between Kate Kennedy’s brother Nathan and nurse Mackenzie Jones.
Now I just need to find time to finish it!

Intensive Care is available to purchase from

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Review: Arkie’s Pilgrimage to the Next Big Thing by Lisa Walker

 

Title: Arkie’s Pilgrimage to The Next Big Thing

Author: Lisa Walker

Published: Random House February 2015

Status: Read from February 07 to 09, 2015 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

A quirky tale with a hint of magical realism, Lisa Walker’s third novel, ‘Arkie’s Pilgrimage to the Next Big Thing’ is the story of one woman’s search for all the things she has lost….including herself.

“I am forty-one years old but perhaps it is possible … Can my life begin again?”

A year ago, Arkie Douglas’s life fell apart. Her husband left her when Arkie confessed to an affair, and shortly after her business failed, her trend forecasting mojo having deserted her. It’s New Year’s Eve and Arkie is waiting on a deserted platform in Byron Bay planning to throw herself under the next passing train when a young Japanese woman carrying a briefcase and a surfboard, strikes up a conversation. Despite herself, Arkie is intrigued by Haruko Iida and excited when she recognises her own brand of trend spotting magic in the twenty year old. Abandoning her plans for suicide, Arkie convinces Haruko to work with her, hoping to recover her career.

“Pilgrimages are so hot right now. I think they are the Next Big Thing.”

The idea is Haruko’s, suggesting society is ready for a resurgence of spirituality, self discovery and simplicity. Arkie enthusiastically embraces the idea but traveling to Japan is out of the question, so instead she proposes a journey closer to home, a pilgrimage to Australia’s ‘Big Things’. Traveling by train, bus and on foot, while avoiding the Yakuza and Arkie’s ex husband’s divorce lawyer, Arkie and Haruko set out their unusual pilgrimage in search of the Next Big Thing.

From the Big Redback Spider, to the Big Banana and the Big Prawn, Arkie and Haruko look past the peeling paint and wire fences to find the beauty and meaning in the outsized icons. Their adventure is blessed by the Shinto Gods and smiling Buddha’s found in unlikely places, but they face challenges on the ‘yellow brick road’ along the way. Arkie in particular is forced to reflect on the root causes of her present unhappiness and look closer to home for fulfilment .
I enjoyed traveling to the Big Things with Arkie and Haruko, I have visited a few in my time. In fact the town where I live is home to The Big Oyster. It was once a restaurant, housing a roadside cafe underneath for highway travellers between New South Wales and Queensland, but the bypass forced its closure and the site was redeveloped, so now The Big Oyster is empty, presiding over a car dealership.

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Truthfully Arkie doesn’t engender a lot of sympathy, she is self absorbed and a confessed adulterer, but I could sort of relate to the questions she is struggling with. Her life has imploded and she is lost, looking for a way to regain her equilibrium.
Haruko is an unlikely spiritual guide in the guise of a quirky, hip Japanese girl. An enigmatic character with an ethereal quality, she is self possessed with a talent for reinventing herself.

Arkie’s Pilgrimage to the Next Big Thing is an offbeat, sometimes surreal, contemporary novel that will have you reminiscing about your last visit to one of Australia’s ‘Big Things’ and perhaps yearning for your own spiritual road-trip.

Learn more about Arkie’s Pilgrimage to the Next Big Thing and Lisa Walker’s connection to Japan her guest post for Book’d Out.

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AWW Feature: Lisa Walker and the Japanese Connection

Lisa Walker

I’m excited to welcome Lisa Walker to Book’d Out to celebrate the release of her newest novel Arkie’s Pilgrimage to the Next Big Thing.

Lisa was born in Holland, spent her early life in Fiji and her teenage years in Brisbane. Following a stint as a barmaid on the Barrier Reef she became a wilderness guide in the Snowy Mountains. She then moved on to lecture in outdoor education and work in environmental communication. She now lives (and surfs, and writes!) on the north coast of New South Wales with her husband and two sons who tend to come and go. Back in the distant past somewhere she started writing. Many novels later, her ‘first book’ was selected for the Varuna HarperCollins Program. This book, ‘Liar Bird’ was published by HarperCollins in 2012, followed by ‘Sex, Lies and Bonsai’ in 2013.  ‘Arkie’s Pilgrimage to the Next Big Thing’ is her third novel,  published by Random House.  She has also written a radio play, Baddest Backpackers, which was produced for ABC Radio National in 2008 and many, many short stories.

About Arkie’s Pilgrimage to the Next Big Thing.

Arkie's Pilgrimage to the Next Big Thing - cover image‘I watch the highway go by and ponder my situation. I am on the run from my husband’s divorce lawyer, my mojo is still missing in action and my demon ex-lover is lurking . . . But, all things considered, my pilgrimage is going well . . .’ Arkie used to be a trendspotter, running a successful business advising companies on ‘the next big thing’. Until she lost her marriage and her mojo along with it. Her eccentric new friend Haruko suggests a pilgrimage in Japan. But funds are tight, so instead Arkie’s going on a very Australian trip, to all the ‘Big Things’. With Haruko as her guide, magic is everywhere. A Buddha appears next to the Big Redback, the Big Macadamia rises from the jungle like a lost temple and inside the Big Shell she can hear a tinkling voice, reminding her of the child she never had. As her improbable adventure unfolds, realisation dawns: could it be that, despite her celebrated foresight, Arkie’s been missing what was right before her eyes?A delightfully funny and inspiring novel about a very modern pilgrimage, and one woman’s chance to rediscover what she’s lost.

My thoughts about Arkie’s Pilgrimage to the Next Best Thing can be read HERE, in the meantime please enjoy this guest post from Lisa Walker.

The Japanese Connection

In ‘Arkie’s Pilgrimage to the Next Big Thing’ my protagonist, Arkie, meets her friend, Haruko at Byron Bay railway station on New Year’s Eve. Haruko introduces Arkie to her own way of celebrating. First there is bingo at fourteen minutes past nine, then soba noodles at fourteen minutes past ten and a prayer at fourteen minutes past eleven. At fourteen minutes past midnight Haruko gives Arkie a present in a drawstring bag – the Seven Lucky Shinto Gods. These gods become a touchstone for Arkie on her journey. There is fat and happy Hotei, whose stomach you rub for good luck, Ebisu, the god of fishermen, Bishamonten, who heals the sick and Fukurokuju the god of wisdom. Arkie’s favourite, the only goddess in the group, is Benzaiten. Benzaiten is the goddess of everything that flows, her shrines are usually situated near water. She is fertile and a competent wife. Everything I am not, Arkie thinks.
???????????????????????????????Haruko tells Arkie that every New Year’s night the Lucky Gods travel around to houses on their treasure ship. Arkie must draw a picture of the Lucky Gods and place it under her pillow. If she has a good dream then it will come true.
I was drawn to the Lucky Gods because I kept seeing them everywhere I went in Japan. Sometimes they were ancient statues covered in snow, sometimes little models for sale on the street. I began to notice how the individual god’s names popped up everywhere. Ebisu, for example, is both a brand of beer and a locality in Tokyo. I bought a model of the Lucky Gods and brought it home. It sat next to my computer while I wrote the novel and gave me inspiration when I flagged.
???????????????????????????????Haruko’s present becomes an integral part of Arkie’s journey but she also introduces her to many other facets of Japan. When Haruko writes a trendspotting proposal about pilgrimages she includes a picture of Tori gates – archways which guide you from the everyday world to the spiritual. The picture is from a temple near Kyoto where you walk through hundreds of Tori gates on your way to the shrine at the top of a hill. This shrine, called Fushimi Inari, is for the fox goddess, Inari, who is also associated with fertility.

Inari appears in my story in the form of a white foxy dog with a mysterious influence.
‘Inari possesses you through your fingernails,’ Haruko says.
‘What happens if you are possessed by Inari?’ says Arkie.
‘You go a little crazy,’ says Haruko.
Strange things start to happen. Each way Arkie turns she finds a little bit of magic. A dusty teapot picked up on the side of the road could be Tanuki, Haruko tells her. Tanuki is a racoon dog who is a bit of a trickster. Tanuki takes many forms and often turns himself into a teapot, Haruko says.
Under Haruko’s guidance Arkie’s pilgrimage becomes much more than just a journey to the Big Things. Two worlds merge and every day is filled with new revelations.

Arkie’s Pilgrimage to the Next Big Thing is available to purchase from

Random House Iboomerang-books_long I Booktopia I Bookworld I via Booko

Amazon AU  I Amazon US

and all good bookstores.

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Review: Let Down Your Hair by Fiona Price

Title: Let Down Your Hair

Author: Fiona Price

Published: Momentum Jan 2015

Status: Read on January 14, 2015 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

Billed as story with a modern twist on the classic fairytale story of Rapunzel, the two stories share several elements. In essence, Sage was given to her grandmother (the wicked witch) in exchange for her mother’s desires and then kept captive, albeit in an ivory tower. And it is a ‘Prince’ who saves Sage, though not in the manner touted by Disney, and their separation and reunion, has more in common with the original Grimm tale.

Let Down Your Hair isn’t a light read though, there isn’t a lot of humour and the romance is sidelined. Instead, this is a coming of age story in which Price explores a fairly specific agenda related to ‘women’s’ issues such as body image, the portrayal of women in popular culture and feminism.

Price deliberately uses stereotypes to emphasise her themes. Sage’s grandmother, Andrea is a feminist zealot, rejecting anything male, while Sage’s mother, Emmeline, is the quintessential shallow beauty, whose self worth is tied to her attractiveness, especially to men. Astute readers will however glean that the views of both women were shaped in reaction to particular incidents. (view spoiler)

Caught between two such extremes, Sage struggles to find a moderate path that suits her, and her journey is a difficult one. Condemned by her controlling grandmother when her relationship with Ryan is discovered, then rejected for a second time by her mother, and separated from her lover, she finds herself pregnant and alone.

Let Down Your Hair is well written, offering an interesting and engaging modern day spin on Grimm’s Rapunzel.

Read about the inspiration for Let Down Your Hair in this guest post by Fiona Price posted earlier today.

Let Down Your Hair is available for purchase from

Momentum I Amazon AU I Amazon  I Amazon UK

Barnes and Noble  I Google Play  I iBooks Store  I Kobo

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AWW Feature: Fairytales with Fiona Price

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I’m welcoming Fiona Price to Book’d Out today to share with you her debut  Let Down Your Hair, a novel with a very modern spin on the Rapunzel fairytale.

Fiona Price has a lifelong passion for words. She has studied multiple languages, talks too much, and spent her teens exchanging long letters with penfriends all over the world. After declaring she was going to be a writer, aged six, she began work on her first masterpieces: a novel about a wild pony and an incisive satirical song called ‘Baa Baa Rainbow Sheep’. Since then, she has attempted just about every form of writing, from bush verse and screenplays to elegies and academic articles. When not writing, Fiona uses her storytelling skills as a cross-cultural trainer and public speaker. She runs workshops on cultural diversity issues, is a member of Toastmasters, and was MC at the 2014 Chinese New Year Dinner for the Museum of Chinese-Australian History. Her non-fiction book Success with Asian Names was published in 2007, and she was a co-author for the HarperCollins International Student Survival Guide in 2014. Fiona is plotting further novels based on fairy tales, and is currently working on a fantasy trilogy for young adults. She has an Australian father and a Chinese mother, and she lives in Melbourne by the sea.

About Let Down Your Hair

 At 22, Sage Rampion has led a strange and cloistered life. She’s been homeschooled, and she’s never owned a cell phone, watched TV or spoken to a man on her own. Everything she’s seen, read and watched has been vetted by her grandmother Andrea, Professor of Women’s Studies and hardline old school feminist.
When Sage and Andrea see Ryan modelling naked below their office window, Andrea marches out to charge him with indecent exposure. But he waves up at Sage, and his grin is the warmest thing she’s seen in her lonely existence. She rushes down to warn him, and as they grow close her sheltered world begins to unravel. Sage starts asking questions about the way she was brought up, and the beautiful teenage mother who abandoned her.
But answering those questions means confronting Andrea, and she’s not a good enemy to make. Taking her on brings Ryan and Sage more trouble than either of them could have imagined.
A timely re-telling of the Rapunzel fairytale in the era of selfies and smartphones.

My review of Let Down Your Hair can be seen HERE, in the meantime please enjoy this guest post from Fiona Price.

Re-imagining Rapunzel

My first encounter with fairytale retelling was “Roald Dahl’s Revolting Rhymes”. I was seven, and I thought Dahl’s rhyming twists on well-known tales were the funniest things I’d ever heard. Inspired by his gun-toting Little Red Riding Hood, I wrote a story called “Petrolella” for my next primary school assignment. I’m happy to say my teacher gave me a star for it!

The idea of retelling Rapunzel came to me many years later. My plan was to find crafty ways of adapting the tower and the hair for a modern-day setting. I toyed with a few ideas, but the one that grabbed me most came when I fell pregnant with my first child. For the first time, I found myself looking at the world as the place where I planned to raise a child. And the more I looked, the more scared I got about the prospect of having a daughter. How could I protect a girl from the message that Looking Hot is a girl’s most important duty? I figured there was no way to stop that message reaching her; I’d just have to arm her against it.

Then I got to thinking. If I did want to protect her from crippling sexist messages, what would I have to do? I’d have to home-school her, and vet everything from what she saw and read to the company she kept. No TV. No unsupervised internet. No commercial music. No contact with anyone who might leak that message through to her. I’d pretty much have to lock her away from the world… rather like the Witch in Rapunzel.

What sort of modern-day woman might bring up a child in so extreme a way? A feminist, obviously, but not an ordinary, sane feminist. A zealot. A purist. An unhinged hardliner with separatist leanings and a powerful need for control. A woman, in short, like Andrea Rampion, Professor of Womyn’s Studies.

Making my Wicked Witch a feminist professor was a risk, but it worked on so many levels. Not only could I milk the term “ivory tower”, I also got a strong link to hair. Because, of course, a woman like Andrea would emphatically reject the pressure on women to keep their bodies bald, brows groomed and head hair long and luscious. All I had to do was figure out how Rapunzel managed to grow hers so long while living under Andrea’s hairy thumb.

Turning a short fairytale into a novel means you have to take some liberties. In Let Down Your Hair, I added a second tower, and expanded the cast of five quite a bit. All the same, I tried to keep all of the key symbols and plot twists, including the gritty ones cut out by the Brothers Grimm. To my mind, if you’re retelling a fairytale, you need to do it properly!

The other thing I did was update the archetypes in the tale to familiar ones we see in the media today. The Humourless Man-Hating Feminist. The Blonde Alpha Girl. The Rich Guy Who Dates Blondes. The Ugly Duckling Who’s Really A Gorgeous Actress In Glasses. I wanted to take these tropes and turn them into real people with histories and inner worlds of their own.

‘Let Down Your Hair’ is my debut novel, and I’m really excited that it’s out. If all goes well, I’d like to tackle another fairytale soon, and I’ve already got my eye on Snow White…

Let Down Your Hair is available for purchase from

Momentum I Amazon AU I Amazon  I Amazon UK

Barnes and Noble  I Google Play  I iBooks Store  I Kobo

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