Tag Archives: book review

Weekend Coffee Share – 22nd October, 2018.

Welcome to Another Weekend Coffee Share.

This week, we’re meeting up at  Badde Manors Cafe in Sydney’s historic Glebe. I still remember coming to Badde Manors for the very first time back in 1988 as a 19 year old university student. The cafe was built within strict heritage guidelines back in 1982 and is still a local landmark. That’s quite an achievement. p

Glebe Map

Map Of Glebe, Sydney.

By the way, Glebe is about a 15 minutes walk away from Sydney’s Central Railway and across the road from Sydney University. It’s renowned for it’s bohemian markets, awesome bookshop, cafes, restaurants and terrace houses. I absolutely love and adore Glebe and can’t believe I rarely get back there these days. It’s only a train ride away and I hope it will regain lost ground and I’ll be back more often. Bring it on!

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Mural inside Badde Manors

Last week, has been an eye-opener for all the right reasons. Last Tuesday, I went down to Redfern in Sydney for Carer’s Day Out. That was fantastic. Upon arrival, we were given a show bag which included vouchers for a free BBQ lunch, a pamper session and a massage. I had a mini facial as my thing and it was very relaxing. I was also able to try out weaving in one of the tents and made a small wall hanging. That was very therapeutic and I really enjoyed it.If I wasn’t so obsessed with writing and research, I might be drawn into weaving. I also had the opportunity to meet up with the policy team I’d spoken to over the phone. My kids are young carers and I found out that having a very sick or disabled parent doesn’t entitle a student to a free bus pass if they live within the zone. I managed to get them for my kids in the end due to their own medical issues but being a young carer should’ve been enough.

As I said, the Carer’s Day Out was held in Redfern and that’s just around the corner from where I used to live in Abercrombie Street, Chippendale and a a short walk to Sydney Uni. So, I went on a walking tour down memory lane and could feel my feet step back into my old shoes and I was 19 again. You can read about revisiting my old terrace house here and I highly recommend you join me on a tour of Sydney University

While Sydney Uni has plenty of its own history (much of it never to be repeated!), my family has its own history of the place. Indeed, I am a third generation graduate. My grandfather, Bob Curtin graduated with a Bachelor of Dentistry, My Dad grauated with a Bachelor of Economics around 1965 and I graduated with a Bachelor of Arts (Hons History in 1991. After the NSW Conservatorium of Music became part of Sydney, Mum became graduate and my brother is also a graduate. Of course, I would love my kids to go there. However, I don’t want tradition to be a stranglehold.

So, over the next few days, I started exploring and I was over the moon to find out that the archives of our beloved uni newspaper, Honi Soit, have gone online right back to 1929. I’m not exactly sure when my grandfather attended uni yet. He was born in 1910. So I’d estimate that he started there in 1927. Honi Soit was launched in 1929 so he should’ve been there. I was interested to come across an article talking about the difficulties of meeting people on campus. Back in my grandfather’s day, men and women’s union facilities were segregated and women could only attend a uni dance if invited by a male. This meant that some women never made it to a dance. There was also another dilemma posted by a first year medical student who’d been paying for a female student’s tram ticket because he felt he should. He had a tram pass but was too embarrassed to produce it in front of the girl and so he was paying for two tickets and had calculated the costs over his five year degree and was freaking out. I had to feel for the guy. I’ve since moved onto the year of my birth looking for reporting on the moon landing (I was supposed to be born on the day man landed on the moon, but ran 10 days late), but instead found stories about student protests against National Service and the Vietnam War. Wow! My father had been called up to go to Vietnam but in a true “act of God”, was in a nasty car accident and was declared medically unfit. There’s a story, especially as bald tyres on a rainy night might’ve had an influence. I have also read a lot of advice about how to approach your time as a graduate, but could’ve done with that info 30 years old.

279 Abercrombie St

Our place is the one in the middle and most of the time I had the bedroom upstairs on the balcony. 

Anyway, in terms of my blogging last week, for Friday Fictioneers, there was Journey Without Steps, which generated considerable discussion about disability and chronic illness and was rather encouraging. For Thursday Doors, I followed up on my trip to Sydney Uni and posted a photo of the front door on my first home away from home as a 19 year old: The Long & Winding Road

Lastly, I don’t mean to brag but I’ve actually read a book this week. Not only that, but was a fantastic book, which comes highly recommended…David Mitchell’s: Slade House. Have you read it or any of his other works? If so, I’d love to hear your feedback. If I wasn’t almost bricked in by piles of books, I’d be moving straight onto another.

Anyway, so how was your week? I hope you’ve had a great one.

This has been another Weekend Coffee Share, hosted by Eclectic Alli. Thank you for joining me.

Best wishes,

Rowena

 

 

Must Read: Hugh Mackay, Selling the Dream.

For me, it’s a no brainer. Hugh McKay’s seventh novel, Selling The Dream is a must read.

In case you haven’t heard of Hugh McKay, he’s an accomplished Australian social researcher and best-selling author of eighteen books, including seven novels. I heard him present at the Sydney Writers’ Festival a few years ago, where he well and truly lived up to my very high expectations. He has amazing insight and can well and truly read in between the lines. More to the point, he takes us on the journey with him.  So, you can learn a hell of a lot from Hugh McKay, who is undoubtedly a man of great substance and wisdom. Words I don’t throw around lightly.

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Author Hugh Mackay.

If you have been following Beyond the Flow for some time, you might’ve noticed, that I very rarely do book reviews. This is no coincidence. Partly, it’s because I have a huge book pile, which is largely untouched. Moreover, I tend to feel that writing the odd book review bears more weight, unless you run a book review blog. I should also add, that I don’t finish books which don’t appeal on some level, let alone write a review. Indeed, I rarely write a bad review of any sort, although I’m about to spread the word about a brand of children’s vitamins which taste disgusting, despite being labelled: “chewable”.

So, when you see me write a book review and read that I couldn’t put the book down, you should take notice. Even more so, when I tell you that I bought this book for my Dad’s birthday, but read it BEFORE I gave it to him. Obviously, that says this book is not only good. It’s very good!  That’s very high praise from an Australian. (After all, “not bad” would be an Australian’s equivalent to an American’s “awesome” or something to that effect.)

Although reading a book before you gift it is poor form, my Dad’s a practical man. He’ll understand the logic in reading it while it’s here. Moreover, as a voracious reader, he’ll be grateful that I’ve bought him a book so good, that I couldn’t wait for him to read it first. I can also see Dad with his nose stuck in this book and laughing his head off, just like he did when I gave him: The Rosie Project. I’m really looking forward to talking it over with him too, especially as one of their close friends used to head up a multi-national advertising agency. That could well influence how Dad reads the book.

I’ve actually worked for two advertising agencies myself and would be back working in one in a flash. However, these days I’d be on the creative, rather than the sales side.

That said, I’m honest to a fault and would be chewed up and spat out by the likes of the characters in this book. Characters, who I’m sure weren’t characters at all. They’re so very real.

I really don’t like spoiling a read by exposing too many details. Indeed, I would recommend not even reading the back cover of this book. It says too much. Aside from being a book by Hugh Mackay which for me is reason enough, I also bought it based on this endorsement by John Clarke on the front cover:

 

“If someone asked me who should write a satirical novel about the advertising business – someone with inside knowledge who could write well and was extremely clever and amusing – I’d say, ‘See if Hugh Mackay is available.'” John Clarke

“Lincoln The Hunter is living the dream. Universally admired and terrifically charming, he has a formidable reputation in the world of advertising, and is the jewel in the crown of agency KK&C.

When Linc is handed the reins of the high-budget, high-profile campaign for the groundbreaking new snack ‘The Ripper’, he knows it’s his chance to leverage his way to greater success and greener, more glamourous pastures. No matter that it will leave KK&C floundering in his wake …”

Unfortunately, despite loving this book and being utterly impressed with McKay’s use of language, being a gift, I obviously couldn’t do my usual thing of underlining my favourite turns of phrase. So,I did a quick flick through after my post-it notes fell out. There was one excellent phrase I managed to rediscover: “Fishing off the company pier” , which refers to having an affair with a work colleague.

If you haven’t heard of Hugh McKay, perhaps I haven’t said a lot to convince you to go and read this hilarious, insightful read. That is, other than my word for it. Without spoiling its many twists and turns, I’m just going to say “you’ve gotta have faith”.

You can get to know Hugh Mackay a little better by visiting his web site.

Have you read Selling the Dream or any of Hugh Mackay’s other books? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

Best wishes,

Rowena

The Writer’s Journey… Graeme Simsion: The Rosie Project

As I mentioned in my previous post, last week I attended an author talk with Graeme Simsion, the author of the best-selling novels: The Rosie Project and The Rosie Effect.

While I have my dignity, I must confess that meeting Graeme Simsion sent me into something of a manic frenzy. I was uber-excited, although not quite to the level of Marcia Brady’s rapture when Davy Jones kissed her : “I can’t believe Davy Jones kissed me! I’ll never wash this cheek again.”

As you have probably gathered by now, I’ve really enjoyed the Rosie books and am almost frothing at the mouth telling everyone I meet to read them!

You could ask why meeting Graeme Simsion was such a rush. Yes, I loved the books but I have loved plenty of books. However, not all of the authors have bothered to talk locally in downtown Umina Beach, a place better known for its local caravan park and golden beach. While we live in a place of serene beauty, we are definitely off the beaten track when it comes to the author’s circuit. So, I was pretty impressed that he’d made the trip.

I walk in and spot Simsion at the desk signing books.

Any author encounter starts out pretty much the same. As I humbly approached Simsion with my books in hand, we make eye-contact. This is when you really get to size up what the author’s about. It’s also at this point, when you’re a bit in awe of their success that you’re tempted to start gushing. Tell them your entire life story and in this instance, tell him about every Don you’ve ever known and before you know it, you’re recommending starting a support group. I can assure you, that in my case I know an extensive list of Dons whose antics could’ve kept his pen poised ready to sign for many, many hours. However, I restrained myself and we got through the signing bit although I must admit that I did mention that I’m a writer and that I have a blog. I was just pleased that he didn’t ask me what I’d had published or how the stats on my blog were going. As a newly published author, he seems to understand that you don’t ask another writer such questions or he’d be at my book signing instead. After all, he knows just how long it can take for a writer to get where he is now.

Being a bit of a bold, intrepid admirer, I didn’t just ask him to sign the books. Rather, I went for the jugular, asking for a photo together. I’d heard it said on the X-Factor recently that the selfie is the new autograph. Anyway, when it comes to having my precious photo taken, I didn’t pull out your standard, garden-variety camera phone and go for the selfie. Oh no! Of course not! Nothing less than my Nikon SLR, which he noted was a serious camera…the photographic equivalent of Mick Dundee pulling out his knife in Crocodile Dundee. It might not have shown that I know how to write but at least my camera was impressive.

Anyway, as much as I love swanning around at literary events and having my photo taken with best-selling authors, I was there to learn. For me, writing is a serious business.

At this point, we all take to our seats for dinner and to hear what we’re all there for…the talk.

One of the things that struck me about Simsion’s journey as a writer is that he has been quite strategic, focused and methodical about how he was going to succeed. After all, he has run businesses and isn’t one of those writer’s you’d put in the dreamer category. While there were a few projects and attempts along the way, once he set his mind to it he enrolled in a screenwriting course at RMIT where The Rosie Project came to life. He decided submit it to the unpublished manuscript division of the Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards and The Rosie Project won the 2012 Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for an unpublished manuscript. Now, that’s a great way to get noticed! The manuscript was picked up by Text Publishing and he hasn’t looked back.

That is except to tell the story of his first author’s talk.

The Nullarbor Plain, South Australia viewed from the Indian Pacific Railway.

The Nullarbor Plain, South Australia viewed from the Indian Pacific Railway.

Simsion’s first author talk was held in a South Australian country town. He didn’t name the town but if you haven’t been through outback South Australia, you wouldn’t understand the meaning of isolation. South Australia is, after all, home to the sprawling and extremely isolated Nullarbor Plain colloquially known as the “Nullar-boring”. It includes the Nullarbor “town” of Cook which has a total population of 4 and it has a shop which only opens when the Indian-Pacific train is in town. Of course, Cook is hardly representative of South Australian towns. Beyond the capital Adelaide, there’s the Barossa Valley with its world class vineyards but why let a bit of truth get in the way of a good story? Let’s just say that Simsion’s launching pad was hardly New York.

https://i2.wp.com/upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/8/80/Cook-SouthAustralia.jpg/270px-Cook-SouthAustralia.jpg

Cook, South Australia. Image Wiki Commons.

Filled with all the excitement and anticipation of giving his first talk, Simsion arrived at the local library. Much to his disappointment, the local bookseller turned up with only 10 copies of his book. When he queried this, he said: “You’re new at this, are you?” As Simsion anxiously waited for the hoards to arrive, only 8 senior ladies turned up mostly to catch up on local gossip and take advantage of the free morning tea. As if things weren’t already looking dismal enough, the local librarian then told the crowd that they didn’t have to buy the book. They could borrow it from the library. Great! However, Simsion who says that the support of “the local bookshop” has been pivotal to his success, turned things around encouraging his recalcitrant audience to buy books as gifts and the copies quickly sold out.

From these humble beginnings, The Rosie Project has since topped the Independent Bookseller lists and plans are in motion for the movie. Simsion is now very much in demand and is currently touring the country with over 80 author talks ahead and the books are selling like hot cakes!

Just goes to show that taking a chance, persistence, honing your craft and strategic thinking can really make that difference. Yet, you’ve now heard the man, Don’t forget to start getting pally with the owner of your local bookshop. Take them coffee. Indeed, I’d even recommend dropping off some quality chocolates. That way once you’ve finally managed to get that manuscript out here and published, you’ll already be best friends for life.

However, in the meantime, I need to get “the book” finished, which after a pause in proceedings probably means hitting “restart”.

But…

Watch out South Australia. I know where you are!

Have you been to any good author talks recently? Or perhaps, you’ve spoken at your own? Do tell!

xx Rowena

Who is Don Tillman? The Rosie Project Uncovered.

Who is Don Tillman?

That’s the question I’ve been asking myself since reading Graeme Simsion’s  best-selling novel, The Rosie Project and its sequel: The Rosie Effect.

Both books were written in the first person through the voice of Don Tillman, a quirky scientist who developed a questionnaire to find a wife.  This voice is perfectly maintained throughout, giving the book a strong autobiographical feel as though there is no author. Indeed, Simsion has climbed so deeply inside Don Tillman’s skin, that I had to ask…Is he Don Tillman? They’re seemingly one and the same.

For those of you who haven’t read the books, Don Tillman, reminds me of Sheldon from the hit TV series Big Bang Theory. Yet, although they’re birds of a feather, Don is very much his own man. Well, he would be his own man if I wasn’t questioning how much of the author went into the supposed character. I also have a tough time separating Sheldon the character  from actor Jim Parsons. They also seem so seamlessly the same.

However, while I’ve never had the opportunity to meet Jim Parsons in real life, last Thursday night I had dinner with Graeme Simsion and my antennae were out. Was he Don Tillman? Or, as his creator, was he an exceptionally good impersonator?

So who is Don Tillman?

Don Tillman is an Associate-Professor of Genetics. He has an obsession with detail, is highly scheduled and when it comes to reading social situations,  he’s absolutely clueless. The crux of the book is that he’s looking for a wife. Having failed dismally at conventional dating, he’s now taking a purely logical approach and has devised a questionnaire to screen for potential wife candidates. He hypothesizes that the questionnaire will speed the process up by quickly eliminating unsuitable prospects and ultimately yielding the perfect wife.

The longer answer about Don’s identity is much more complex.

No doubt, Simsion has been asked many times if he’s Don Tillman, and came prepared. The answer is no. Apparently, the character of Don was inspired by a jogging buddy and the book, including the infamous yellow jacket incident, is based on true incidents. Yet, while Simsion denied that he is Don, he does admit to having some geek-like traits and concludes:

“There’s a bit of Don in all of us.”

Indeed, that’s the books’ appeal. That we’re not laughing at Don, but with him. We’ve been in his shoes at least once in our lifetimes, and know that dreadful, crushing all-consuming embarrassment when we make a mistake and all the dreadful, ensuing complications.

However, there are also those of us who have a bit more Don than most. Perhaps, that’s us. Or, perhaps it’s someone we love. Don is our Dad, a work colleague, our husband, a friend or even all of the above. Not that they necessarily recognize themselves in print. More than likely, they’ve also laughed through the book and missed seeing themselves in the mirror.

Apparently, that even includes Bill Gates. At the dinner, Simsion mentioned that Melinda Gates had given Bill the book:

“Melinda picked up this novel earlier this year, and she loved it so much that she kept stopping to read passages out loud to me. I started it myself at 11 p.m. one Saturday and stayed up with it until 3 the next morning. Anyone who occasionally gets overly logical will identify with the hero, a genetics professor with Asperger’s Syndrome who goes looking for a wife. (Melinda thought I would appreciate the parts where he’s a little too obsessed with optimizing his schedule. She was right.) It’s an extraordinarily clever, funny, and moving book about being comfortable with who you are and what you’re good at. I’m sending copies to several friends and hope to re-read it later this year. This is one of the most profound novels I’ve read in a long time.[1]

This, of course, brings The Rosie Project and The Rosie Effect back to me.

It is certainly no secret that I absolutely love these books and have almost been flagging strangers down in the street recommending they read it. With all the millions and millions of books in this world and given that my house is bursting at the seams with books, what is it about these books? Why are they so special?

Personally, I related to the chaotic, seemingly disorganized character of Rosie in The Rosie Project. Rosie is spontaneous and chaotic like myself and I pictured her as a bit of a wild character with black lipstick, locks of wild red curly hair which she swirled into a bun and wearing vintage clothing. I have also know quite a few Don’s in my time, and taken them clothes shopping and given them dating advice.

However, as I was swept along by the story, I didn’t twig that I’d only ever seen Rosie through Don’s eyes. However, in The Rosie Effect, there are just a couple of lines of dialogue between the members of her study group, which revealed that Rosie is more like Don than I’d thought. That it’s more than likely that Rosie is on the Autism Spectrum as well.

Before I head off, I just wanted to emphasize that neither of these books judge or ridicule people on the Autism Spectrum. If anything, they lift the lid on the Autistic mind and help us better understand some its quirks and some of the ways it beats to a different drum. There’s perhaps an implicit hope that through this greater understanding, that we could become more inclusive as a community. Less judgemental. Indeed, wouldn’t it be wonderful to have a more diverse, eclectic and inclusive community where there is no prescription to belong? You simply come as you are and you’re in.

I will write more about what I learned about Graeme Simsion the man and the writer in my next post. As you can see it was a very productive evening and I even left buying another set of books to give away to some treasured friends.

Have you read the books? If so, I’d love to hear your reflections!

Xx Rowena

PS I was researching dyslexia tonight and came across this spelling of Asberger’s which made me laugh: “My son has mild arseburgers”. Someone commented: “arseburgers” – a minced rump steak?

[1] Bill Gates, http://www.gatesnotes.com/Books/The-Rosie-Project, July 12, 2014.