All the Birds, Singing

Evie’s Wyld’s brooding novel, All the Birds, Singing is hard to let go of. A damp menace clings to the story from the very first line and draws the reader in as the main character Jake Whyte attempts to discover who or what is mutilating her sheep. At the same time we are sucked backwards to the Australian outback, to uncover Jake’s past and understand why she is living on an isolated British island – her only companion: a dog named Dog.

All the birds singingWyld’s book recently won the Miles Franklin award, beating Tim Winton’s Eyrie, Richard Flanagan’s The Narrow Road to the Deep North, and others, with its evocative prose. “Spare, but pitch perfect,” was how the judging panel described Wyld’s writing – “visceral and powerfully measured in tone.” But it’s the structure of All the Birds, Singing that also has me intrigued.

Wyld uses alternating chapters to move the story forwards on the windswept farm and backwards through the outback. The tense of the writing also alternates, with Wyld using the present tense for the flashbacks and the past tense for the rest of the story. The book leaves great gaps in the narrative, but compels the reader to find the source of Jake’s damaged emotional and physical state as well as the identity of the sheep killer.

Wyld apparently had intended to keep the narrative simple when she started this story, but found barriers were thrown up by her choice of writing in first person. She had to find a way to solve them. After writing 50,000 words she decided that reversing the chronology of Jake’s past was a better was of telling the story.

“I was quite reluctant to do it,” she says in an interview with the BBC. “It ended up being a maths problem. I had to make endless charts and work out where I was. I did confuse myself a lot, writing it.”

Wyld builds tension with the flashbacks that take us deeper into Jake’s past, and ultimately to the decision that changed everything. We are fed uncensored snapshots of an ugly side of Australia – in outback towns, on a fly-blown sheep property and above a greasy take-away shop, meeting a cast of troubled characters along the way. These scenes are contrasted with the boggy sheep farm where Jake has gone to escape her past. But even here she’s haunted by some kind of beast.

A maths problem has never been so darkly engaging.

Feel free to visit my website or you can follow me on Twitter and Facebook.

A Snapshot of Australian YA and Fiction in the USA

The Book ThiefI’ve just returned from visiting some major cities in the USA. It was illuminating to see which Australian literature is stocked in their (mostly) indie bookstores. This is anecdotal but shows which Australian books browsers are seeing, raising the profile of our literature.

Marcus Zusak’s The Book Thief was the most prominent Australian book. I didn’t go to one shop where it wasn’t stocked.

The ABIA (Australian Book Industry) 2014 overall award winner, The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion was also popular. And a close third was Shaun Tan’s inimical Rules of Summer, which has recently won a prestigious Boston Globe-Horn Book picture book honour award. Some stores had copies in stacks.

http://www.hbook.com/2014/05/news/boston-globe-horn-book-awards/picture-book-reviews-2014-boston-globe-horn-book-award-winner-honor-books/#_

I noticed a few other Tans shelved in ‘graphic novels’, including his seminal work, The Arrival – which is newly available in paperback.

All the birds singing

One large store had an Oceania section, where Eleanor Catton’s Man-Booker winner, The Luminaries rubbed shoulders with an up-to-date selection of Australian novels. These included hot-off-the-press Miles Franklin winner All the Birds, Singing by Evie Wyld and Hannah Kent’s Burial Rites, plus expected big-names – Tim Winton with Eyrie, Richard Flanagan’s The Narrow Road to the Deep North and works by Thomas Keneally and David Malouf. Less expected but very welcome was Patrick Holland.I chaired a session with Patrick at the Brisbane Writers’ Festival a few years ago and particularly like his short stories Riding the Trains in Japan.

Australian literary fiction I found in other stores included Kirsten Tranter’s A Common Loss, Patrick White’s The Hanging Garden and some Peter Carey.

One NY children’s/YA specialist was particularly enthusiastic about Australian writers. Her store had hosted Gus Gordon to promote his picture book, Herman and Rosie, a CBCA honour book, which is set in New York City. They also stocked Melina Marchetta’s Looking for Alibrandi and Saving Francesca, John Marsden, David McRobbie’s Wayne series (also a TV series), Catherine Jinks’ Genius Squad (How to Catch a Bogle was available elsewhere) and some of Jaclyn Moriarty’s YA. One of my three top YA books for 2013, The Midnight Dress by Karen Foxlee was available in HB with a stunning cover and Foxlee’s children’s novel Ophelia and the Marvellous Boy was promoted as part of the Summer Holidays Reading Guide.

The children of the king

Elsewhere I spied Margo Lanagan’s The Brides of Rollrock Island, published as Sea Hearts here (the Australian edition has the best cover); Lian Tanner’s Keepers trilogy; John Flanagan’s Ranger’s Apprentice and Sonya Hartnett’s The Children of the King. These are excellent books that we are proud to claim as Australian.