Australian Women Writers Challenge 2014


This year I thought I’d get in early and sign up for the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2014.

I procrastinated last year, life got in the way of my reading pursuits, and while I read a few books, I didn’t get around to registering for the Challenge. One of my New Year’s resolutions this year was to get back into one of the things that I love the most: reading great books. What better way to do that than by joining the AWWC?

The AWWC promotes reading Australian women writers as they are notoriously under-represented in the press and book reviews, with male writers still gaining the majority press presence. Readers, men and women alike, still tend to lean towards reading works by male writers, and the AWWC is about shifting that focus not just to women writers, but to Australian women writers. There are a lot of talented women writers in Australia, and my goal is to expand my horizons and add some new writers to my list of favourites.

My nominated reading challenge for the 2014 Australian Women Writer’s Challenge is:

  • Miles  – to read 6 books and write reviews for at least 4 books.

I haven’t decided on the six books just yet, but I am building a steady stack  of  books on my bedside table and in my Kindle from which I’ll draw my short list. I’ll be posting my reviews on my blog throughout the year.

The books I’ve read so far are:

  1. Elemental by Amanda Curtin
  2. The Night Guest by Fiona McFarlane
  3. Mateship with Birds by Carrie Tiffany
  4. Holiday in Cambodia by Laura Jean McKay
  5. In Certain Circles by Elizabeth Harrower
  6. The Strays by Emily Bitto

I hope that you enjoy reading my reviews as much as I’m sure I’ll enjoy reading the books (and writing about them), and perhaps you’ll even feel inspired to buy a copy and enjoy the creative talent that Australian women writers have to offer.

For more information about the Australian Women Writers Challenge, visit their website:

THE NIGHT GUEST by Fiona McFarlane

The Night Guest

Fiona McFarlane’s debut novel The Night Guest is a well-crafted story that focuses on Ruth, an elderly widow living alone in a beach house on the sand dunes of a NSW coastal town.

Ruth awakens one night to hear a tiger huffing and panting in her lounge room. While she knows it’s not real, the arrival of the tiger unleashes in Ruth a flood of memories from her youth spent in Fiji that begin to overlap, encroaching on her nights in hot, steamy, cloying clarity. In the midst of this fraying tapestry appears Frida, a carer claiming to be “sent by the government” to cook and clean for Ruth. Frida is larger than life with hairstyles that change on a daily basis, and a robust enthusiasm for cleaning, and she soon insinuates her way into Ruth’s life, house and heart.

Ruth’s eldest son Jeffrey is conflicted: he’s suspicious of this new arrival but also glad that someone is there to look after his mother. Frida charms Jeffery into complacency, yet he remains uneasy. Nothing dramatic happens but as the story gently unfolds over days spent together in the beach house, Ruth begins to detect an underlying foreboding that she can’t quite define. She is aware that her childhood memories are colliding with the present but struggles to untangle the threads. Ruth reaches out to Richard, an unrequited love from her teenage years in Fiji, and after 50 years apart they reunite to discover their love is for one another is still alive. They begin to plan a life together, however, Frida and Ruth’s deteriorating memory conspire against the couple’s newly-found love.

McFarlane has approached this story of love, ageing loneliness, and deceit in impeccable style. The writing is subtle and sensitive, the pace slow and meandering in some parts, chaotic and in others, until the underlying tension accelerates to reach a sinister crescendo.

The Night Guest  by Fiona McFarlane. iPublished by Penguin Books Australia.

ELEMENTAL by Amanda Curtin


It’s been a long time since I’ve read such an evocative, richly woven story that drew me into the depth of the pages so convincingly that I felt I was experiencing the life of the character in Technicolor.

Elemental is the story of Meggie Tulloch, a Scottish lass from Roanhaven, who promises that she will never resign herself to the harsh life of the cold, wind-blown fishing village that generations of her family were born into and never left. She promises herself that she will never carry a man on her back from the shore to the fishing boats so that his socks may remain dry.

We first meet Meggie as an old woman who, sensing she is dying, decides to write selected stories of her life as a gift for her granddaughter, Laura. Meggie’s story is one of love found and lost and of family and secrets that are fiercely hidden from prying eyes but that live on, eating away at the hearts of those who carry their knowledge. Meggie’s life is about many things but one element that stood out to me is her remarkable strength and endurance: the enduring determination in her young heart to follow her dreams and leave Roanhaven and venture into the world, taking her from the icy cold winds at the top of the world to the endless blue skies and scathing heat of Fremantle, in Western Australia; the physical endurance of fingers eaten and disfigured by salt through her working as a fish gutting girl on the Shetland Isles; the endurance to keep going in the face of despair at the loss of so many people that she loves; and the endurance to overcome her fears and open her heart to the joys that life delivers like sunshine on a rainy day. Spanning several generations, Elemental highlights the strength of women, their capacity for love and friendship, laughter and forgiveness, and just getting on with things in a world dominated by men, because that’s how it’s always been.

Elemental is a testament to Amanda Curtin’s ability to turn words into beautiful, evocative and haunting lines of prose. Contributing to the success of this book is the vivid characterisation and voice of Meggie as she tells her story. The depth of Curtin’s historical research is evident and this has allowed her to create the rich background against which the story is told. The use of Scottish, Doric and Shetland words enhance the sense of connection to time and place, bringing Meggie and her family members to life. There is a succinctness to the writing that drives the narrative forward and each sentence has been weighed and considered, shaped by the sharpness of an editor’s eye, resulting in prose that flows, and rolls, and swells. It’s magic.

Elemental by Amanda Curtin. Published by UWA Publishing.




12 thoughts on “Australian Women Writers Challenge 2014

  1. Pingback: January 2014 Wrap Up: Historical Fiction | Australian Women Writers Challenge

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  3. I hadn’t heard of this challenge before, but what a great idea – I’ve often berated by friends/partner for not reading books by women, let alone Australian women.

    Last year, I enjoyed reading Foal’s Bread by Gillian Mears so much that I literally wrote her fan mail. She’s one of my favourite writers, and it is worth digging out some of her short stories and older books. Her life story is fascinating too – she was “one to watch” in the 1980s, and I think she won the Vogel, but then got struck down with health problems that eventually got diagnosed as MS. This makes the illness depicted in Foal’s Bread all the more poignant.

    Another favourite is Helen Garner. Her book The Spare Room is about having a sick friend come to stay – but it captures the claustrophobia and weirdness of having guests, and feels like a thriller. Also enjoy her older books about 1970s/80s bohemian Australian city life (which I’m too young to have experiences).

    I also found The Albanian by Donna Mazza to be an unforgettable portrayal of being young and out-of-ones-depth overseas. I relate to it.

    MJ Highland – unflinching portrayals of nutcase kids, like an even creepier Lionel Shriver.

    Also really enjoyed Beneath The Bloodwood Tree by Julienne Van Loon.

    And of course, there is the MIGHTY Kate Grenville. I don’t know how she manages to be funny, profound and horrific all within the same chapter. Reading The Secret River made me feel disturbed, like I’d witnessed a crime.

    It might sound like I read a lot, but I actually don’t. And I probably only read one book by an Australian woman author each year. So perhaps I’ll join this challenge in my own way, by trying to read more this year (even though I’m not a blogger). KEEP IT UP!


    • Hi Pippa,
      Thanks for your post. You’ve read some really good books. I’ve read The Albanian, by Donnna Mazza, as well. It was a wonderful book, and I think described it well. It’s been some time since I read it and may have to add it to my pile of books and revisit it. Kate Grenville’s The Secret River is a powerful, emotionally charged book and the memories of it linger, despite my having read it some years ago. I guess that’s the power of good writing, it stays with you. 🙂


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  6. Pingback: Interview with ‘Elemental’ author Amanda Curtin | Australian Women Writers Challenge

  7. Pingback: Australian Women Writers Challenge—2014 wrap-up | looking up/looking down

  8. Pingback: March 2014 Roundup: Classics and Literary | New Australian Women Writers Challenge Blog

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