We’re kind of assuming you know the big Aussie names like Isobelle Carmody, Odo Hirsch, Catherine Jinks (if only because we’ve raved about her before), John Marsden, Garth Nix and Shaun Tan (whose genius is mentioned here) to name but a few. Forgive us if that was too presumptuous. But it is for that reason that those featured in this post are the (possibly) lesser known authors from the land out West. For all the competition between our two countries, we are, in many ways, very similar. We’ve fought in wars together, we share a colonial history, a love of the outdoors, similar national past times, incomprehensible accents, a love of barbequed food … and the list goes on. Yet we often know very little about one another’s literature. Which is why, without further ado, we give you: R ‘n’ R’s Guide to (a few) Australian authors.
Ursula Dubosarsky (pronounced Ersh-ala Doob-oh-sars-kee) is an enormously prolific writer, and award winner for that matter. A full list of the awards she has won can be found here on her website – if you’ve got time definitely go explore it! Of the forty or so books she has written, our favourites are The Golden Day and The Red Shoe. Both are set in Australia’s recent past (from the 1950s to the early 1970s) which Dubosarsky brings to life through her fantastic characterisations. Matilda, the funny, tough and fiercely intelligent narrator of The Red Shoe is one of three sisters whose father is mentally unstable and largely absent, their mother is possibly in the thrall of his brother, and a headline-making Russian spy defection is taking place next door. As well as the mystery of what is happening next door, at the centre of the story is a family secret that no one will talk about or acknowledge but is quietly tearing them all apart.
The Golden Day has a fantastically ambiguous ending (fair warning). As the Vietnam War rages overseas, in a year that begins with the hanging of one man and ends with the drowning of another, eleven schoolgirls embrace their own chilling history when their teacher abruptly goes missing on a field trip. Part gripping thriller, part ethereal tale of innocence lost, The Golden Day is a poignant study of fear and friendship, and of what it takes to come of age with courage. We love all of Ursula Dubosarsky’s books but especially these two because the richly drawn characters create an intricate web of individual and family psychology. If you need more of a reason than that, Dubosarsky has a gorgeous use of language, making her work a pleasure to read.
Margo Lanagan is primarily known for her dark fantasy short stories, some of which are influenced by folktale. Black Juice was a Michael L. Printz Honor Book, won two World Fantasy Awards and the Victorian Premier’s Award for Young Adult Fiction. It’s a collection of 10 short stories that will (according to the publisher) delight, shock, intrigue, amuse and move the reader to tears with their dazzling imaginative reach, their dark humour, their subtlety, their humanity and depth of feeling. Yellowcake is another collection of hers and she’s featured in collaboration collections such as Zombies Vs. Unicorns. If you’re after a longer work of fantasy then try Sea Hearts which features the sea-witch Misskaella who on, remote Rollrock Island, discovers she can draw a girl from the heart of a seal. So, for a price, any man might buy himself a bride; an irresistibly enchanting sea-wife. But at what cost? Perhaps you’re looking for some more realistic fiction? Then try The Best Thing which is your traditional love story (girl meets boy from the other side of the tracks, their parents disaprove, her friends don’t understand her, they’re faced with a challenge to overcome) but with a something extra that comes from Margo Lanagan’s skill as a writer. All of her writing will entertain and move you in equal measure with her stunning use of language and the emotion it conveys.
Melina Marchetta is incredible! Although not hugely prolific, her books are consistently award-winning. Her first novel, Looking For Alibrandi was awarded the Children’s Book Council of Australia award in 1993 and her second novel, Saving Francesca won the same award in 2004. Looking For Alibrandi was made into a major film in 2000 and won the Australian Film Institute Award for best Film and best adapted screen play, also written by the author. On the Jellicoe Road was released in 2006 and won the WAYRBA (West Australian Young Readers’ Book Award) voted by teenagers in Western Australia in 2008. It also won the US Printz Medal in 2009 for excellence in YA literature. This was followed up by Finnikin of the Rock in 2008 which won the Aurealis Award for YA fantasy, The Piper’s Son in 2010 which was shortlisted for the Qld Premier’s Lit Award, NSW Premier’s Lit Award, Prime Minister’s Literary Awards, CBC awards and longlisted for the Miles Franklin Award. Just as a personal aside, all her books are in our Librarian’s Choice section as well. On the whole, we would class her books as ‘realistic fiction’ with the exceptions being the ‘Lumatere Chronicles‘ which are fantasy.
Maureen McCarthy writes wonderful stories about young women in their late teens and early twenties. We particularly love The Convent which follows the hidden and intertwined lives of four young women as they face difficult, life-changing, impossible choices during the 1920s, 1960s, and the present. Peach is 19 and pretty happy with the way things are. But when she takes a summer job at a café in the old convent, her idea of who she is takes a sharp turn into the past. Where once there were nuns, young girls and women who had fallen on hard times, Peach discovers secrets from three generations of her family. It’s incredibly warm and real, intense and provocative, and tackles questions of fate and how the choices we make ripple and reverberate through time. Maureen McCarthy’s earlier novel Rose by Any Other Name similarly features a young woman on a road trip of discovery (quite literally) struggling with family dynamics and growing up. Somebody’s Crying however takes on an entirely different subject matter. A murder in a country town is the backdrop for the story of three young people, Alice, Tom and Jonty, who are bound together because Alice’s mother was murdered and Jonty is the suspect. They’re all wonderfully compelling reads because Maureen McCarthy really is a master storyteller.
Patricia Wrightson was an Australian writer of several highly regarded and influential children’s books. We’ve got a number but the ones we class as Young Adult is “The Song of Wirrun” series which include The Ice is Coming, The Dark Bright Water and Behind the Wind. Patricia Wrightson’s reputation came to rest largely on her magic realist titles which were among the first Australian books for children to draw on Australian Aboriginal mythology. The most famous of her books to do so is The Nargun and The Stars which is set in Australia and involves an orphaned city boy named Simon Brent who comes to live on a 5000 acre sheep station called Wongadilla, in the Hunter Region, with his mother’s second cousins, Edie and Charlie. In a remote valley on the property he discovers a variety of ancient Australian Aboriginal Dreamtime creatures. The arrival of heavy machinery intent on clearing the land brings to life the ominous stone Nargun. The Nargun is a creature drawn from tribal legends of the Gunai or Kurnai people of the area now known as the Mitchell River National Park in Victoria. Other creatures featured in the story include the mischievous green-scaled water-spirit Potkoorok, the Turongs (tree people) and the Nyols (cave people). Her 27 books have been published in 16 languages. Furthermore, for her “lasting contribution” as a children’s writer she received the biennial Hans Christian Andersen Medal in 1986.
You’ve heard of The Book Thief right? The award winning, brilliant, tear jerker that has been translated into over 30 languages, as well as being made into a film? Well, all of Marcus Zusak’s earlier work has been just as wonderful. He started his writing career with The Underdog (which took a seven years to publish) which is about down-and-out 15-year-old Cameron Wolfe, his family and the girl he falls for. It’s not a book that takes on huge social issues but rather explores a family dynamic and the trials of growing up and falling for a girl. It was followed up by Fighting Ruben Wolfe and also When Dogs Cry – technically, a stand alone companion novel.
Then there is The Messenger, which also features a down-and-out character, Ed Kennedy, but whose story is something completely different. Ed is standing in a bank queue when a robbery takes place. He accidentally foils the robbers’ escape, and is proclaimed a hero. Shortly after, he receives an Ace of Diamonds in the mail. The ace is from an unknown source. On the ace is written a list of three addresses and specific times next to each one. These represent a series of tasks that Ed must complete. He does so successfully and is rewarded with more aces and more tasks. The last card is a Joker and has his own address written on it. Ed was the ‘guinea pig’ of an experiment to see if an ordinary (very unsuccessful) man could perform the impossible and give hope to the world that this generation is not useless. Ed, who had always thought of himself as pathetic and second-loved to his brother, discovers that he has the ability to change lives.
If you’re a fan of Marcus Zusak then get excited, there’s a new book called Bridge of Clay. Although that said, he has been writing it for ten years and it was supposed to be released two years ago 🙁